Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Since When Chapter 1

How is this possible? We lost Fran a year ago. I thought she would like it if I posted the Introduction and first chapter of her book, "Since When". I may find a later version...if so, I'll update this post. But it gives you a quick look into the magnum opus that she worked on for the last five years of her life. Think good thoughts today about Frannie and the life she led. And enjoy "Since When."

In September 1989, I sat in the coach section on an Austrian Airlines flight headed for Vienna. I was to meet my mother, Erna, at our hotel there. I was traveling alone, because Mom had spent the last week in Israel visiting family.

I had spent the ride to the airport in tears. It had been a horrible day at the office and I was more than a little overtired, but it was still a strange reaction considering that I was on my way for the first long vacation I’d had in five years. And this trip was a special one. Mom and I were traveling alone together for the first time. We were going to see Vienna and Salzburg in Austria. From there, we were going to take the train to Budapest. From Budapest, we were scheduled to take a train roughly six hours across Hungary to the region of Subcarpathia, where my mother had been born. Subcarpathia- as the name suggests- is located just below the Carpathian Mountains that stretch from Poland all the way to Romania. After World War II, Subcarpathia had become part of the Ukraine, and now, with our Soviet visas in hand (arranged months in advance), our two-day visit there was set. For years, the Soviets had not let foreigners into Subcarpathia purportedly for reasons of national security. Recently, they had changed their minds, so Mom and I decided to make the trip.

Perhaps I was worried about how Mom and I would get along being alone together for two whole weeks. We know exactly which buttons to push and often can’t restrain ourselves from pushing them. We are always convinced that the other is the one who is off the wall. But there was more to my tears than that. This was going to be a bittersweet trip. Mom had not seen Kaszony, the town where she was born and where she lived until she was six and a half years old, since she had left it back in 1929. She had never been able to bring herself to visit Hungary. We were going to meet family in Budapest whom we had never met, and Mom would see cousins she had not seen since she was a little girl. My brothers and I had been hearing about Kaszony from our mother and grandmother, Fanny, for as long as we could remember. It was a place we felt we knew intimately- we knew all the stories by heart- but, at the same time, we really didn’t know anything at all. To us, Kaszony and our Hungarian family seemed to be lifetimes and worlds away from us. But it really wasn’t, and we knew it.  Now I would see this mysterious village for myself. Perhaps, sitting on that airplane heading for Vienna, this was all a little too much for me to comprehend.


At the Forum Hotel in Budapest, Mom and I made a six a.m. train reservation to the town of Csap which was situated just across the border from Hungary in the Ukraine. When we made the reservation with the concierge, he looked at us strangely and asked, why would you want to go there? Clearly, we were not heading towards any popular tourist spot.

We went to the Keleti train station very early that September morning. We brought with us box lunches from the hotel, which were to sustain us for the long train ride. We arrived in Csap on schedule a little past midday and were greeted by the Soviet representative, a young Hungarian man, who was to take us to our hotel in the nearby city of Uzhgorod- known in Hungarian as Ungvár. As we headed for the car parked right outside the station, we began to absorb our surroundings. We both felt like we’d stepped out of the 1980s into some strange time warp or at the very least, a studio back-lot. The place looked like it hadn’t changed in about a hundred years. And it probably hadn’t. As we got into the waiting automobile, I felt there was something peculiar about it. I realized that the car resembled those of my early childhood- the early 1960s. The car seats ended at the shoulders- headrests had not yet found their way here, and the car upholstery was the pre-naugahide fabric that I seemed to remember was ubiquitous in vintage 1962 automobiles.

We arrived at our hotel, the Zakarpatya, about a half-hour later. It was a drab, slightly seedy, quintessential Soviet-style concrete box of a building. The hotel’s Soviet Russian representative who spoke perfect, though slightly-accented, English checked us in. Unlike the man who picked us up at the train station, she was brusque and officious. It was clear that she was there to make sure that we were to stay out of trouble.  When we checked in we noticed cheaply-printed travel posters for Moscow pinned to the walls. This was all was very, very strange.

Our room was dreary and musty and smelled of strong disinfectant. It was already late afternoon by the time we were settled in.  It was two hours later here in the Ukraine than in Budapest. But we didn’t cross two time zones on our trip. Rather, the Soviet government preferred that the area adhere to Moscow time, so, incredibly, when we crossed the Ukrainian border, it’s suddenly two hours later than it was a moment before.

Mom and I took a walk in the area around the hotel. By late afternoon, the small city seemed to be deserted of its residents, and it felt like we were walking through a ghost town or possibly a De Chirico painting. We passed a plaza with tables covered with what were meant to be gaily-colored umbrellas. But the tables and the umbrellas, bolted permanently into the plaza, were grotesque in their cheap, decrepit gaiety. We went into a food store to find only a few cans on mostly bare shelves. Compared to the plenty we saw in Hungary, and knowing how rich and bountiful Subcarpathia had been, we found this both sad and disturbing.

Our meal at the hotel that night was abominable. It consisted of a slab of nondescript tasteless gray meat that lay next to a forlorn pile of cold peas that had clearly just come out of a can and dumped onto our plates. But, there was nowhere else for us or any of the other travelers at the hotel to go for food. And certainly, our Soviet hosts were not going to direct us to alternative eating establishments. That night, we went to bed hungry and in poor spirits.

Early the next morning we were met by a Jewish-Hungarian man from Beregovo- (Beregszász in Hungarian). He had survived World War II, and had lived in Subcarpathia all his life. A fellow Kaszonyer in the United States gave us his name and number. In Budapest, we called Rudy and asked if would be able to pick us up at our hotel in Ungvár and take us to Kaszony. He was delighted to do it, and we were greeted that morning by a sweet gray-haired man who whisked us away in his ancient automobile for the hour or so drive to from Ungvár to Kaszony.

As Rudy chattered away with my mother in Hungarian, my eyes opened wider and wider as I stared at the land whizzing past me. The countryside mostly was flat with rolling hills off in the distance. The morning light was soft and gentle as if it had been filtered through a filmy curtain. The horizon had faded away into a fuzzy green haze. It’s hard to explain, but this place felt different from anywhere I’d ever been before. And it felt different from first-time visits to other countries. Viscerally, I think I understood that I wasn’t just a tourist here and that there was some deeper recognition that I was actually connected to this strange place.

The roads were in terrible shape. And we were constantly jostled by the huge potholes and cracks on the paved roads and holes and ruts on the unpaved ones. We drove past tiny villages so small that you’re already through them by the time you realize you’d been in them. Rudy deftly avoided chickens and geese and cattle that wandered into the road and passed the occasional horse and wagon that was in our path. We bounced along the roads as Mom and Rudy occasionally spoke to one another. I remained silent in the back seat. 

I was abruptly awakened from my reverie. Rudy spoke excitedly. As we drove up a small hill, I could see through the morning mists a sign that read “Kaszony.” We had arrived. Rudy suggested that we stop at the Jewish cemetery that was just off the main road before we reached town. There, we hoped to find Mom’s grandmother Róza’s grave. But the cemetery was in terrible shape and had been horribly neglected. There were simply no longer any Jewish people in the town and so very few in the entire region to take care of it and clearly, the non-Jews living there had no interest in the place. The burial ground was overgrown with weeds and the headstones had either fallen down on their accord or had been knocked over by vandals. Mom, Rudy, and I spent close to an hour searching in vain for my great grandmother’s headstone. We were sad and frustrated as we headed into town in Rudy’s automobile.

Moments later, Mom and I were getting out of the car in the middle of the main square in Kaszony. By now, the sun had risen higher in the sky and it bathed the little square in sunlight. I had heard about this square my whole life. Somewhere on it, was the house where not only my grandmother grew up but my mother was born and spent the first six and a half years of her life. My mother was quiet as she slowly looked around the square as I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. Finally, after moments of silence, my mother raised her hand to her mouth and murmured to herself, “The square is so small!”

As we stood in the middle of the square, as if on cue, townspeople emerged from their homes to see who these strange visitors might be. They knew Rudy, and he explained that we had come from America to see the house where our family had lived. He introduced my mother to them, and they began chatting with her. She told them her family name.  And these middle-aged men nodded in recognition! Suddenly I heard one of these men say my mother’s uncle’s name, “Ah, Schwartz Jenö,” and pointed to a house just up the street. And then he mentioned another uncle, “Oh yes, and Elu the watchmaker.”  I was shocked. This was incredible. Almost forty-five years after their deaths, their names were casually mentioned as if they were still living there. The people in this town knew the dead- who they were, where they lived, what they did. I had been correct, albeit unwittingly, there was a real time warp here- not in Csap but in Kaszony.

I asked my mother if she knew which house had been hers. She kept looking about and almost in disbelief pointed to a little one just feet from where we stood and said, “Oh my god, that’s it…” The house was one-story high and attached to the front of it was a store that had once been run by my mother’s family. Rudy told us that the store was now being rented by a Russian, and the store’s signage was in both Russian and Hungarian. As we looked at the house, one of the townspeople hurried to find the woman who now owned the house, so she could unlock it for us. As we waited for the woman to arrive, a taciturn older man who had come out to see what all the commotion was about asked my mother if she were here to make a claim. She assured him that we had no intentions of making a claim to retrieve the lost property and that we were just there to see it. This query made me more than a little uncomfortable.

At that moment, a heavy-set middle-aged woman with dyed rust-colored hair stepped out of a house across from us carrying a large ring of old-fashioned keys. She was the current owner of the house. Rudy introduced her to my mother, and the woman said that she would be happy to show us inside. She explained that no one was living in the house at this time and that she had only made a few changes to the house since her family bought it from the government after World War II.

As the store was attached to the front of the house itself, the entrance to the house was located in the side alley to its left. The woman used one of the big keys on the ring to unlock a high gate that closed off the alley between this house and the one next to it. We walked a few feet down the alley, and the woman opened the door to the house. We stepped inside.

We entered into a very small kitchen. The house was laid out like a railroad flat with the kitchen as the middle room. In front of the kitchen was a comparatively large living space, though it was by no means large in the usual sense of the word. Behind it was a small second room. That was it. The woman explained that the house had been a little bit larger than it was now because several years back she had foreshortened the back room to build a shed behind it. Mom was still very quiet, and as she looked about the tiny house, she finally said to me, “They must have made the kitchen smaller! I remember the kitchen as being so large- this couldn’t possibly be it.”

In silence, we left the house and walked out to see the property in the back. Behind the house was the endless green and rich countryside that had affected me so on the ride over with Rudy earlier that morning. The land in back that belonged to the house was as narrow as the house itself but went on as far as the eye could see. Right behind the house, were the remains of an overgrown vegetable garden and the leftover rows of dying corn plants that had not yet been cleared after the corn was harvested. But behind the rows of corn and the vegetable patch were wonderful ripe grapes just ready for picking. The woman insisted on giving us bunches and bunches of grapes to take with us on for our long trip back to Budapest. 

Mom and I looked at our watches. It was time to go back. We didn’t even have time to drive the few miles or so from Kaszony to see the town of Jánosi where my grandfather was born. We had to catch a two p.m. train from Csap where we arrived- incredibly- only the day before. Our visa specified that we had to leave that very day, so there was no choice in the matter. So Mom and I climbed back to Rudy’s car for the hour-long trip back to Ungvár.

After a few minutes of silence, Mom finally began to speak to me about Kaszony. She said very softly that the kitchen probably wasn’t any smaller than when she had lived there. There was another pause. But what had she thought of Kaszony and was it anything like she had remembered it? She said, when she was a child, “…the square had seemed so big…but it’s really so small and mean, isn’t it?” I disagreed with her vehemently. I argued that while the town is certainly small- and poor-, it’s still charming and pretty. And the countryside is so lovely…But she couldn’t see that. This visit had been very unsettling for her. While she wasn’t sure what she had expected, it certainly wasn’t this. The Kaszony we saw this day was the town Mom had remembered. Yet, it wasn’t. Everything was in the right place. But to her, it was more like a shoddy, scaled-down replica of her beloved town. When she was a little girl, Kaszony had been her whole world, and Mom simply couldn’t reconcile her happy childhood memories with this little town she saw sixty years later.

We told Rudy to take us back to our hotel, and he was disappointed. He had wanted to take us back to Beregszász for lunch with him and his wife. But Rudy insisted that since we didn’t have time for lunch that we stop at a bakery on the way back to Ungvár to pick up bread to take with us on the train. We picked up a loaf or two and then continued on our way to Ungvár. We drove and drove through the pretty land, which was now washed in bright sunlight.

We arrived at our ugly hotel with plenty of time to spare, and Mom and I reluctantly said goodbye to Rudy who had taken such good care of us. We gave him $50 for being our tour guide. And when we did so, Rudy gasped and threw his arms around both of us. He was frantic to convey his thanks, but clearly this $50 was worth a lot more to him than it was to us. He finally found something he could give us, and he opened the trunk of his car and pulled out two sets of wooden spoons- one for each of us from a large bag full of packages of wooden spoons. We were so touched by his gift, and teary-eyed, after more hugs, we said our final good-byes.

Mom and I had a hellish trip back to Budapest, which was made slightly less so by the bag full of grapes from Kaszony. They were absolutely delicious, and made me smile.  The bread was less good- its texture rough and with little flavor. And given the little that Mom and I had learned about Soviet products, this was not a surprise. It was so sad that in a land that was so rich, the people living there had such a difficult time making ends meet and had to suffer with such poor-quality goods.

We had two lovely days in Budapest before we headed for home. Mom and I were treated to a delicious farewell dinner by our cousins living there- Rizus, her daughter Eva, and Eva’s husband, Lali. As I dined with my family on traditional Hungarian dishes, I knew that something had changed in me. My mother and grandmother’s Hungary had become a living, breathing place for me. Not the Hungary that exists today, but their Hungary. What I knew I needed to do was to transform the dead- these people who I’d heard about all my life and who were little more to me than names on a page- into flesh and blood or something close to it- and try to bring back the land of my mother’s memories.

I also realized how little I actually knew about my mother’s life. When my brothers and I were little, we were upset when we learned that she hadn’t been born in America. At that time, it was inconceivable that our mother could be so different from us- so foreign- especially when she seemed to be as wholly American as we were. When we recovered from this shock, we concluded that Mom’s being born elsewhere was actually a pretty cool thing. But I’d never stopped to really think what her immigration to America actually had meant to her and how it transformed her life. I made Mom promise that she’d let me tape her, so she could tell me about her life in Kaszony and her adjustment to life in America. And ten years after this trip, I’ve tried to fulfill my end of the bargain to make Mom’s Kaszony come to life once more. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Baby

This is Chip again. And this time I'm really stumped. What would Frannie say?

Frannie's gone. I told you that she was in the hospital, and that her breathing had gotten worse. What I didn't know at the time was that something had gotten catastrophically worse. And just five days later we were out of answers, out of options and out of time. Fran died yesterday evening.

I think Fran would probably tell you that she's ok with this. She really didn't want to be sick anymore. She didn't want to be poked and prodded. She asked me to be sure that the doctors listened to her and treated her with respect. For those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning, you know how much Fran wanted to be heard...needed to be heard.

She would also probably tell you that the life that was thrust upon her by Hodgkin's Disease, and ARDS and Pulmonary Fibrosis just didn't work for her. Never worked for her.

So Fran Lipman, our girl from Fresh Meadows Queens; product of the Port Washington Union Free School District, Penn, and NYC; the adoring step-mother of my son, Lydon; my friend, my great love, my rock, my life is gone. I'd like to believe she's somewhere she can breathe easily, but I'm not sure I'm left with enough faith to believe there is a better place. I know for certain that she is not sad anymore, she is not gasping for breath, and she's not scared.

Thank you all for reading Fran's blog. She loved writing for you. And was so excited to sit at the computer and tell you about her anger, her struggles, her triumphs, her friends and her family. It gave her a place for that remarkable voice to be heard. And it made such a difference in her life.

So, I'm pretty sure that Fran would tell you that this is ok. But I miss her so much.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Guest Author

What would Fran say? "Hello cherished readers."

This is Chip writing.

Frannie is in the hospital, and we're not sure when she's going to be able to post. Characteristically, she was concerned about you all. "They'll think I just abandoned them."

Her breathing has gotten really bad, and her choices are limited. We're trying to get her name on the Columbia-Presbyterian transplant list.

So. Prayers accepted from those of you who are of that persuasion. And from the rest of you, you know who you are, good mojo? Positive energy? Anything...send it our way.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Alive! (beta)

I have been hanging on by the tips of my fingers. I don’t quite know how I got here, but I did. I have one insidious disease, and at no time has any doctor ever told us what to expect post-hospital. They’re just thrilled they can shove me out of there alive. (Day’s over. Let’s have a drink.)

Yes, I survived Hodgkin’s Disease like a trooper. A cancer with an unheard of ninety-eight percent survival rate. While technically I’m alive (I think, to join that two percent for real, I’d have to have truly dropped dead as opposed to faking it which I’ve been doing for the past four years. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Dead people can’t count. Because they’re dead.) I believe I fell into the bin of two percent of patients instead of sailing through this mere trifle of a lymphoma.

I often forget I had cancer.

After four years I can tell you it could be worse, and it is, “my breath of sunshine” ENT becomes less and less cheery each time he sees me. He did give me a back-ended compliment yesterday though. He told me he had expected me to look much, much worse than I had when he first saw me many light years ago. Given how miserable last week’s CAT Scan is, I should look like a piece of shit.

To that, I’ll say to him and any others with similar expectations,” Au contraire.”

He took back his promise of permanent stents. These were to solve the hearing problem I’ve been suffering for months now. Instead, he put in another set of impermanent stents back in my ears knowing that they will fail, but may improve my hearing as we choose A HEARING AID. I have no more than the usual amount of hearing loss. Permanent stents require surgery. Surgery, infection. Infection, GAME OVER. Thanks for playing. Please follow lights at end of the theater where our ushers will tell which way you exit the building. (“For You, you take the BQE over the Kosciuszko Bridge…”)

So I ‘m also a member of the small group of people with complications that doctors’ usually find are a snap to fix. (I have four practitioners who come to my home to treat me in various and sundry ways. It doesn’t do anyone any good if I can’t hear them. It’s like there’s a scrim between me and the rest of the world.)

But that’s nothing. There’s The Skype of yesterday evening. Just me, Chip, and my psychopharmocologist. Nice and cozy.

Background: My drug-combo isn’t good. Not at all. I’m either tired or frightened. The sleepiness has to be my clever means of escape. Who needs therapists when I know myself so very well? Me, you toadstool.

I wanted to be crystal-clear to my psychopharmacologist about what was going on with me

Look, I’ve been doing this for four years. And it’s about all I can take. Nothing is pleasant. Nothing is fun. I feel sick every day. I’m petrified to exercise, because it makes my choke and gasp for air. I think I’ve had more than enough. And for me, death is my most appealing course. I want to die.

Was I clear enough?

He was really quite the gentleman and gave me props for four years of hell. He said he still wants to find a way to allow me to have some joy in my life. Lovely man. I was impressed. (I guess after all those years doing exactly this, he better be damned good. Otherwise, his office would be surrounded by piles of dead New Yorkers. Not a good look.)

My talk therapist who is one smart cookie. She said, “What you need are girlfriends.” (They could be boys too.) Yeah, like I used to have when I was I kid. When we shared everything and all. Okay, I don’t have that kind of staying power anymore. We’ll start with fifteen-minute visits and go from there. Whaddya think?

(Better than a visit to the theater.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Foot Stamp

I wrote this post about a week ago.

Fear. I am paralyzed by it. I think I’m going mad. I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to speak to anyone. I want to be Bubble Girl who has access only with mother, brother(s?), and my honey. A Seinfeld episode included Bubble Boy. Bubble Boy was an asshole. A real a shitheel. I‘m working on my asshole and shitheel parts. I want to be just like Bubble Boy, I have what to be an asshole and a shitheel about. I don’t do very well with those parts. But I’m a whiz at paralysis, shame, fear and loathing,

When my P.T., the best P.T. in the whole entire world, watches me as I cough and cough and gasp for five minutes or so. (This was a good day. You should hear me cough between every single, fucking rep on a bad day.) I said to her, at least you’ve seen this. You get it.

But she hadn’t. She had never seen a good Fran “Time out, all! Just give me whatever the hell time it takes to get my breath back, could you please?” I know I do my damndest not to cough excessively if I can manage to do it. It’s like stuffing the snakes that pop out of the can back in. There’s probably some exercise value to making that work over and over again.

I know she knew how rotten I feel, but I think she saw for the first time the depths of my rotteness and can’t be far from home.

Because when I go into my daily gasping, people who don’t know, don’t get it, become frightened. “Are you okay? Do you need more oxygen?” And they always look more panicked than I. I had to explain how the remainder of alveoli work to my oncologist/internist, ENT. I received totally incorrect information from my original pulmonologist. There are very few people with such severe case of ARDS who survive. Lucky me. I should get a ribbon or maybe even a medal for this.

Because I have so many fewer working alveoli, I can’t get oxygen in my blood fast enough. You can bathe me in oxygen if you like. It doesn’t make a whit of difference. I can only metabolize what my ruined lungs can metabolize. Period. (So the crazy thing is that I have slight pulmonary high blood pressure.)

Regarding nothing yet not. I just listened to Robyn Hitchcock sing, “Because he wouldn’t make love to a loaf of bread unless of course it were in his bed.” My thoughts exactly.

My eyes are always wet. I’m not experiencing an allergy. I still have a toe touching the ground that allows me to tell the difference between sad and an allergy. You’d think I’d want company, wouldn’t you? I am impervious to most of what goes in the outside world. I wish I still cared about everybody else. Oh no, I wish you all happiness and good things. They just won’t ever happen to me. That’s pretty hard to take.

I don’t see my ever accepting my situation. It’s hell on earth as it is and can only get worse.

Hey, I’ve lost ten pounds. I don’t have ten pounds to lose. But I don’t want to eat. My eighty-seven year old mother has taken to making things I’ve always loved. (The best damned chicken soup with homemade noodles. Kosher for Passover even.) Smart cookie, that one. And a damned fine cook to boot. Ma, I salute you. She sure as hell didn’t want to see her baby go through this. I think someone told me that she said way early on in this mess, “I wanted so much more for you.” This from a woman who lost her husband and mother within months of each other. (For real.)

Ma’s had it with this shit. I wish that were enough. When we were kids, and she got really pissed at us for whatever the hell we’d done, she would stamp her foot. It was loud. It was scary. And we, stupid kids that they were, jumped back utterly petrified. I like to think, if Ma stamps her foot, the whole of it, ARDS scars and the Bronchiectasis (gesundheit) would tear ass in fear. While the Foot Stamp was guaranteed to make us quake with fear, we never pushed the envelope. (What else could it do?) I never wanted to tempt failure to have Ma use the Foot Stamp to rid me of ARDS and Bronchiectasis (geundheit), and it not work. (But it would be so cool if it did!) But we all know the truth. If the Foot Stamp were so powerful, my Dad would still be with us. There’s my answer.

Ma assured us that the foot stamp had no power in my pathetic situation. (To this day, if she stamped her foot, Doug and I would turn in to jelly.) Are we not pathetic?

Actually, I didn’t have anything to lose except my poor beautiful quadriceps that I worked so hard to get. My skinny legs disgust me. I suppose if I took every waking minute every day forever and ever and ever, maybe I’ll get something back working with puny ankle weights. Frankly, I don’t think forever and ever is quite enough time. Too damned bad, Lipman.

To be continued…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Port Washington Union Free School District

I know I’ve said this too many times and in too many ways. But everyone needs a reminder now and then.

I am not brave in any way shape or form. I’m petrified. Fear has always been my motivation for everything I do. Without it, I’d be off somewhere lying on a beach chair drinking a piña colada. Fear gave me my “game face” when my whole world fell apart.

I used to live in Queens as a little girl. Right by Fresh Meadows in one of those really cute – they still are- starter houses with sidewalks, nice neighbors on porches to visit who would even welcome you with open arms, and a real honest-to-god life on The Block. It was beautiful. There was even a farm a few blocks away and we had a farm stand to pick produce. The farm closed several years ago. There was a plan afoot to use it in conjunction with our old school P. S. 26. I don’t know if it ever got off the ground. But that farm was the very last one in the city of New York.

Our family moved to Long island rather than Jamaica Estates, which was really close by and would have made every single one of us happier. Fall of ’68 was the New York City teacher’s strike and times were ugly. We didn’t honor the strike, and I remember climbing up the steps of elementary school, waving gaily to my picketing kindergarten teacher, “Hi, Mrs. Sammelson!” At least Mrs. Sammelson who never said much anyway, had the decency to look at me like a deer in the headlights.

Other teachers were hardly as pleasant, “Your parents don’t love you!” was one of the epithets I can recall. Now I didn’t see this, but a teacher, I’ve been told, lunged out to me. To do what, I can’t imagine. You try and hurt his little girl; you’re messing with the wrong man. A cop had to hold him back from ripping that woman apart. Well, they got me in and then they still had to go to the junior and senior high schools to do the same for my brothers. We all made it in and out alive and all in one piece.

Reluctantly, in lieu of the lovely Jamaica Estates, my parents decided the move would be to Long Island. And we did. To the edge of Port Washington with a Manhasset address. The basement leaked like crazy, both parents got horribly depressed and so did we three kids. (What choice did we have?) The family lore was,
“Thank goodness Franny so young. She escaped the horror that was Port Washington.”

Well I didn’t. How the hell could I unless I lived in a bubble away from my terribly unhappy family? I played it tough. I can handle it. (We all do what we have to do to get by.) I knew I wasn’t happy. But everyone around me said I was. You see, I learned at a very early age to doubt my instincts. By the way, I don’t do that anymore.

The schools were really nasty. Yes the vaunted Port Washington Union Free School District. Since we were “city” kids, we had to be ignorant and poorly educated. Doug and I were both placed in roughly the bottom of our respective classes completely ignoring the fact that our grades were sterling. For me Mom included an enormous list of books I’d read. No matter.

Doug was made to take a placement test which in the intolerable heat of an August day in the Carrie Palmer Weber Junior High School of The Port Washington Union Free Public School District. The thought balloon over his head must have something like, “Fuck you. I’m not taking your fucking test.” Whether I have the contents of the thought balloon right is irrelevant. Brave Dougie refused to take the test. And as a prize, he was placed in track two with a mess of thug-like people. Lucky for Doug, “He’s good with people.” He managed to become the “pet” of his fellow classmates as he worked himself out of the hole in which the school had placed him.

And the smartest one of us all, Eric, was kept on pins and needles for two years while the grand poobahs of Paul D. Schreiber High School of the Port Washington Union Free School District decided whether to accept his credits from his Queens high school. A week or two before graduation, he was told his old credits were just peachy.

I think it’s becoming clear why I feel as I do about Long Island in general and Port Washington, specifically. I never needed to figure out the rules of play while in Queens. I believe I was born with them. I was happy and friendly. And people responded back in kind. That was it. Simple and got the job done.

I had really big problems with Port Washington, and I think an awful lot of us had similar social issues. That’s why it’s so amazing to find such lovely people now who were there all the time.

So, fear has been a close friend of mine for a long, long time. Helped me be one of those “high achievers.” (Ugh.) And now, I go through my exercise and walking rigmarole, because, I’m more frightened about what will happen to me if I don’t do it. Except my newest hell is that I’m in a panic about doing any exercise at all. I’m so afraid of gasping for air and not getting it back. I can’t win.

Thank goodness, the psychopharmocologist recommended more Klonopin when I flip out. It’s something.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Indian Princess" circa 1970

I’m so glad didn’t write to all of you last week. Trust me, this one is way cheerier than what you would have seen.

I had two episodes of not getting enough oxygen which put me into the gasping for air abyss and thinking that I can’t imagine an uglier more painful way to die. As soon as your body realizes it’s not getting enough air to breathe, the body and hence the human caught kicking and screaming within that body, are in automatic Panic Mode. Under W.’s color-coded terrorism warning system, this would be Code Red. Everything seems to be hooked just perfectly. What the fuck is going on?!?

The first was an oxygen line squished in a doorway. This scared the crap out of me. A mere crimp can send me into a paroxysm of hysteria. Then on Friday in the bathroom…(why do these things always take place in the bathroom? Because, you silly thing, we (the gods) are in a festive mood: let’s make the situation as miserable and as embarrassing as possible…isn't that fun?) I’m sitting and I cannot catch my breath. I cough. Over and over and over again. (The kind that used to break ribs until my Pecs of Persuasion developed sufficiently to allow the bit of lung that I’ve got to remain functioning. Now they just do evil things to my back muscles. I can handle those, piece of cake. Ha!) Chip hears the commotion and checks to see if the air is going through all the tubes on my tether. So what the fuck is going on???

He jiggles the bottle of water into which my oxygen passes before getting to me. Without this little step, I’ll dry like a raisin.

Suddenly, I’m getting air. Who, beyond Chip, will think of doing this? I need not only a babysitter, but a handy babysitter at all times. No joke. I’m off in Panic Land, so I’m entirely useless. I guess whoever’s here calls 911. What other option is there?

These frightening episodes exact a toll. There’s always some of “I don’t want to live anymore’s.” But it’s what happens to me every day that makes living such an unpleasant thing to do. I’m petrified of walking and exercising—the two things I must do if there ever is treatment for this terrible disease. For it is terrible. Being a shut-in is terrible.

My fears are sometimes insurmountable. Those are my “days off.” When Franny is on overload. But a constant these days is not wanting to eat. (The really slow and painful way to die…starve yourself. Big move Lipman.) True, that I’ve lost muscle mass is to be expected, but I’ve lost nine pounds since, unlike Humpty Dumpty, I put myself back together again. I ate last night. Not a lot but enough.

Mom and Doug were over. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t take part in any conversation. I went to bed mid-evening. The night before, in a fit I had while only Chip was around to watch. I threw soft objects in the living room.

I really wanted to break every breakable I could. This took incredible self-control on my part. Chip said “What do you what?” (Attention, for one.) Me: “I want nothing! I’m nothing!” Bless that man, he put me in a bear hug. (Everyone should have a Chip. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. You can’t have mine. I found him first.

I do find it hard to be part of this world. Especially as I’m not a participant. I imagine you might say I’m more of a participant with this blog than I was when I was alive. Interesting thought.

Oh, I realized I had read Catch-22 recently when I reached the last page.

One more thing. I finished the Springbok “Indian Princess” doll from the kit my mother bought for us to make together way back in 1970. She’s 16 ½ inches tall. She looks lovely. I’m now sewing the body for “Katrina,” the little Dutch girl. This is the second kit my mother bought. It broke my heart thinking she might not be here to see them (Or hell, I might go before they’re done.). Like an idiot, I found two more on Ebay which I promptly bought. Asshole.