Out.


I am one of around 43 million people in the United States who live with mental illness. I am not ready to name mine, because it is so misunderstood and I don’t have the strength right now to explain all the facts and myths.

You’d think, with all the people out there who share this with me I would feel less isolated. But, in spite of lip service towards those among us with disease of the mind, it feels shameful, embarrassing, lonely.

I am wildly grateful to those who have stayed with me in spite of my inability to be as good to them as they are to me, including, especially, my husband and my son.

For me, there is the possibility of recovery. I was diagnosed a few years ago and it took a long time for me to believe it. I still can’t always fully accept it. I have a team of doctors I trust.

I can work. I can draw. I can walk my dog I take showers and apply make up. I clean the house. I shop. I can sleep and wake. If you didn’t know, it would be easy to miss. If you do know it’s still easy to miss but it’s there. I have a level of social anxiety that did not exist before. I am frozen by the question “how are you?”. Someone said it was impossible to stay friends with me because it felt one sided. Ouch. I work hard to be a good friend however I can in this fuzzy mindedness that exists.

I find it very hard to be in the moment.

I find it very hard.

I am tired of hiding.

So now, I’m out. Sort of.

The Sound of Thunder


  • November 27, 2019
  • Crash.
  • Airbags, powder.
  • My son is alive. My husband and A. are alive. We are alive.
  • “Are you okay?” repeated 4 times. “No” I say. “Not okay”. Holding the rectangle pillow covered in fabric to look like matzoh. I cling to it. I’d called it UGLY.
  • Would this have happened if we hadn’t rushed our son out of pajamas, to speed drink his coffee?
  • Would it have happened if I’d stayed at the house, to walk the dogs, read, to embroider? Would it have happened without me – maybe worse?
  • The other car. The other driver, in her 20’s?, talking on her cell holding a napkin to a cut near her eye.
  • A woman in dark bright blue clean pressed scrubs. Not sky blue or faded green that doctors wear on t.v. or in hospitals. She says “I was getting an oil change”.
  • She is only attentive to the young woman who never lets go of her phone. She calls out with authority for more napkins.
  • I am hunched over the matzoh pillow. I know I am broken. The doctor never looks at me. I don’t think she’s a doctor.
  • We had been at the beach. N. stripped down to his boxers and went into the clear calm ocean.
  • Would it have happened if he didn’t go for a swim?
  • But he was so happy. I was happy watching my tall beautiful son bobbing in the ocean.
  • He had to air dry. We didn’t bring towels. I was very hungry.
  • When the air dried N. we left the beach. All of us felt so glad that we’d been to the beach, that we’d seen the ocean. I was only a little sad that I hadn’t walked Sebastian and Baci and stitched and read. I said “I haven’t had any cappuccino”. A. always makes cappuccino for me when we visit. It was just a light hearted tease. A poke. It turned into: “does everyone want coffee?” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” “No.” I wanted to go back to the house. I pouted but only N. saw.
  • If I had never mentioned cappuccino would it have happened?
  • We headed towards a cute coffee shop. It was so pretty outside.
  • I saw the car driving towards us. It would happen. It happened.
  • Crash.

But, this really happened.

Multitasking


I think everyone has days or hours where you have to make calls and go through prompts spoken by machine leading you to more prompts until you get a human.

I had to call a bank, or a calling center for a bank, to close a savings account which contained $27.01. To be more specific, it was for my mother’s account. To be yet more specific, for my mother who is no longer alive.

I had let the bank know when my mom died last November. I wasn’t doing anything wrong but I felt like I was.

I was officially on her account because she had pretty much lost her ability to do things like make bank transactions. Also, feed herself, remember whether or not she ate, remember who was President, what day of the week it was, hour of the day, day or night. Things like that.

I knew I would have to wait a long time to speak to someone.

It cost $5.00 a month to keep the account. But even when it goes down to zero you are charged $5.00 a month for all eternity. So I wanted to be a responsible adult and close this account properly. By the book.

When I finally got a human I said something very wrong. I said she was alive. I don’t know why I said it. Somewhere deep in my brain I thought it would speed up the process. Instead, in an instant, my computer said we had no dollars anywhere. The account was frozen. I was being transferred to a different, higher department. A department for evil children of dead parents.

I sweartogod, in that moment, I believed the police would be knocking at my door. I believed I had screwed up so mightily that if my mother were alive she would disown me. I hung up on the higher, scarier department.

I had one day to fix this. Half the day was over. I have a weekday off every other week. I also had to get a signature guaranteed for some other important thing relating to my mom no longer being alive. This same day.

I started to cry.

I called back willing myself to fix this wrong. I had to go through the same waiting process as before. As I was crying and feeling like someone should just shoot me for being so bloody stupid I did the only productive thing I could think of to do while my ear was tethered to a phone. I scrubbed the toilets. We have three. They all needed scrubbing. I scrubbed the bowls and wiped the lids on top and bottom, and dusted off the part where the innards are hidden.

Eventually someone came on the line. It seemed like the very lowest of the phone people was waiting for me because I was put right through to the scary high level department. I was still crying. I felt like the stupidest most inept person ever. I was not a fraud or a theif. I was afraid no one would believe me.

But I got the kindest woman who treated me as though I had called the suicide hotline instead of the bank. Or maybe a suicide hotline AT the bank. She kept saying “are you still with me Jess??”. She knew I was sad about mom (though in truth it has been five months since she died and mostly I feel numb) and she went on to tell me that I will remember my mom and she would be with me always.

If she knew my mom, Mona, she would know that I would be on the wrong side of a violent temper. Had Mona been able to witness this fiasco she would have called me an imbecile, a retard, an idiot. The same words she used for herself when she started to forget things. She’d rather have believed she was witless than accept that she had dementia.

At any rate, this kind woman eventually transferred me to a kind man named Scott. Scott said everything would be okay except that I had to download forms, get them notarized, scan and send them to the bank. This day.

I went to the library where I have a friend who I knew could do what I needed to do. I signed forms and got notarized and scanned and e mailed the documents. Then I went to get my signature guaranteed. I waited. In the end, I was unable to do this because I needed things I did not have. There is always something you don’t have.

I went home and looked at my mom’s accounts on my computer and saw numbers, instead of zero’s. But I was still afraid so I decided I needed to hear everything really was okay from Scott himself.

I called the bank again and I waited until I reached Scott. While I waited, hearing the same jazz like tune on a loop, I put away all the laundry, folded the towels, washed the dishes, cleaned off our counters and put away papers and tchotchkes.

Scott assured me that the documents had come through and everything wrong was righted.

I have not been okay for the past few years. I fall apart esily. But it’s good to know that when I am in panic mode, with tears falling, there is a Scott and the kind woman at Capital One and my house will end up a little cleaner.

When life is too filled with these kind of chores, the kind of chores that come in Manila envelopes when someone close to you has died, that seemed designed to trip you and make you feel small and incapable, it is good to have a scrub brush. Cleaning toilets is a chore that I can do and I know I won’t ruin it. I know I won’t hurt anyone. If I don’t scrub enough or I miss some dirt, I will get it the next time.

It gives me comfort.

The toilets are clean. I’ll soon get a check for $27.01.

The Bare Minimumn.


I have been a maid. I wasn’t very good at it. I was too slow.

I was thinking of all my minimum wage jobs after reading a review of the memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. I haven’t read the book. I wanted to, but the review irritated me and now I’m not so sure I do.

Minimum wage jobs I’ve had:

Jeweler

Cashier at a clothing store

House painter – interiors.

Nude model (pardon me; now called life studies model).

Picture framer.

Book store clerk.

Library clerk.

The worst, hardest of those was nude model. I don’t like being naked in front of a room full of young strangers. I was really good at it, having spent 5 years at an art college. I knew how to to hold 15 second, 60 second, five minute poses. The killer were poses that lasted not just a day but weeks. It’s impossible to find any position that doesn’t hurt after a little while. So you hold it and are in pain. Sometimes you lose feeling in a limb. Still, you hold that pose.

The floors were always filthy and the rooms often cold. Sometimes a teacher would find me a space heater so I would have a circle of heat focused on one spot of my leg which would leave a round area that looked like I had an odd sunburn.

I was paid $7.00 an hour to start and each year we got a .25 cent raise. No work to be had on holidays, or school breaks. So we would scramble to find private jobs for teachers who held their own drawing circles, or art clubs.

But that isn’t the point.

I made minimum wage at the indie bookstore. I loved that job. But could I survive on it? No. The store was open 364 days a year, from 8 to midnight. The owner made damn sure that no one ever exceeded what would constitute part time. The only full time employees were the accountants. We had to find our own substitutes when we took vacations.

I loved the job even though the owner never read, and probably didn’t own a book.

I loved it even though he and the chosen few would watch us through a big glass window from their high perch.

Being an artist with a husband who had a full time job with benefits meant I had some choice. The theory is that I would work for low pay but still have time to be an artist and a decent parent. Neither of which was actually true, but never mind.

Eventually I found myself as a clerk in a library. A job that had a lovely ring to it. To this day, any time I tell people I work in a library most everyone responds “ohhhh, my dream job”. I began that job in 2005. It was my dream too. I worked for around $7.00 and hour. Same as at the book store, the frame shop, the nude modeling. The going rate for part time work in RI had not budged. I worked part time until October of 2016 when I applied for, and got a full time position or, as my husband and I joke, a “cushy union job”.

But before it was cushy I joined a growing group of part timers in my city of Cranston and growled at the city council to increase minimum wage. At last they did. To $8.00 an hour. Now it is $10.50.

When I was a maid I was paid by the job. I earned more than minimum wage in spite of my slowness. I had a certain amount of autonomy.

That isn’t the point.

The point is that minimum wage is minimum wage. Doesn’t matter how pretty the surroundings. You are hired help. You can be fired without cause. And, should anything happen to keep you from getting to your job such as a sick child, sick husband, broken car, traffic and in my case, a broken shoulder, you will not get one dime until you return, if you are allowed to return.

I was allowed to return. I had eleven years under my belt. But no income while I was out.

The point is, that whether you are a maid or work in a library or stand around naked for people to draw you, the value you hold to them is the same. You are worth the absolute minimum wage.

The point is, that is a shitty way to treat people.

The point is, I don’t think I need to read a book about it. I could write my own.

Coda.

Now I remember why the interview with Stephanie Land irritated me so much.

She has made some money from this book (which is good. I revere all who write and make to the point of publication and earnings from their words). But she said that should she ever hire someone to clean her home she would leave thoughtful gifts.

How about instead, as my parents did, contributing to their social security? Paid time off? A decent wage? Those are thoughtful. A tchotchke is something more to clean.

Burning Bridges


I’m not sure I know anyone who has burned a bridge, except my mom, who burned them often and without regret.

But now, among my friends, I don’t know anyone who has. I’ve known people who know people. I’ve seen it on you tube. But I don’t know one person who has even wanted to burn a bridge.

The world, and my tiny state of Rhode Island, feels too small, too intimate, too connected.

I might know people who need the bridge, and like it. Who want it to last. Who want to use it. These people, who are my friends, will be angry at me.

There is a bridge I have wanted to set afire for about three years.

At first, there were a few people on the bridge I hoped would be on it when it went up in flames. Now, with the passage of time, I have softened and there is only one person left on the bridge when it collapses.

I have mentioned this desire to a few people and all of them warn me against it. No who knows why I want to burn it thinks my desire is unjustified. They just believe it will backfire and somehow hurt me.

And therein lies the dilemma.

Is it always necessary to use good judgement?

In this day of cell phone recorders and cameras, how many people are going to question my judgement when the moment of wreckage is taken out of context?

At this moment I still want to burn the bridge. But I am not stupid or reckless. I have to wait.

By the time I am ready, I wonder if that one person will be around to fall. I wonder if I’ll be around both in terms of geography and of mortality.

By the time the time is right, I wonder if I will still have this desire and the courage to see it through.

I wonder if good sense and a forgiving nature will win out.

I hope not.

Just once I want to let my anger run its course. I don’t want to pour water on the flames. I want to open the door and let the oxygen rush in. I want to see a blaze and then, I want to finally walk away, walk away.

Walk away.

Doubt.


When I was 7 or 8 or 9 I was in Florida staying with my grandparents. My two brothers were there as well. Even on sunny days I spent hours coloring, drawing. I wanted to be as good as my oldest brother who is 7 years older than I am and a year older than my middle brother. My grandmother thought he was a genius. He was the most creative, most intelligent, most beautiful of us. I agreed with her.

My grandmother had taste. She knew Andy Warhol. She had a fake Picasso, a big eyed Keane, and leopard print everywhere. Also houndstooth, Cupids, turquoise. She owned Pucci dresses. I tried to make art as good as my brother’s but I just couldn’t.

One sunny afternoon I did a drawing with pencil or crayons or markers. It was half a face in blue and half, upside down, in red. It was on white paper. I was trying for Picasso, but I thought it was a failure and I think I left it on the table.

My grandmother discovered it. She thought it was amaaaaazzzzzing. She put it in a lucite frame and declared my brother the creator. I still thought it wasn’t so great but I could not believe that she would not believe me when I told her I had made it. I had no proof. But I remembered all my choices. The colors, the hair, turning the paper. My brother had no memory of making it but she would never believe me. My middle brother knows this story and thinks it’s hilarious.

I don’t. There was an infinitesimal part of me that suddenly had doubt. When she would not believe me, I did not believe me. I needed her belief in order to restore mine.

It made me feel invisible.

The drawing has long since disappeared.

I drew it.

Here I Am.


I haven’t written a blog in a long time.

Much of my life right now is not shareable in this age of sharing everything.

I am most visible at work. At the library, my full time job, I am usually in the center of a big room, standing in plain sight, with a name tag hanging around my neck on a black nylon cord.

After work, I like to run. Now that the light lasts longer, I see people I know.

I go to art events when time allows. Those are tricky. I seem to have my response time set on delay, so that when people ask me how I am, a reasonable question, I freeze for a moment.

Some nights I have time to draw. I like to have a movie playing on my studio tv; the movies I know, almost by heart.

My recent drawings are made with pencils.

As I draw, head facing paper, my favorite background movies are You’ve Got Mail, Shopgirl, and Julie & Julia.

Julie & Julia was on tonight. When Julie Powell is interviewed by Amanda Hesser from The NY Times, her life changes, and I am excited. She goes from unknown secretary at a call center to writer, with 62 messages on her answering machine from editors, publishers, literary agents. I am weepy when Julia Child gets the letter from Knopf (she says to her husband Paul “is it K-Noph or Noph? and he says “who cares! And she says who cares?!”) telling her they would LOVE to publish her cook book.

In Shopgirl, Mirabelle Buttersfield is an artist, unknown, waiting to be seen, noticed. And then, eventually, finally, she IS seen. First by the wrong man, and then the right one, as well as a gallery. Her relationship with Ray Porter reminds me of a relationship I had with a much older man, in my 20’s. This movie has a fairy tale quality, but something about it grabs me and gives me hope.

There is art. And this quote:

As Ray Porter watches Mirabelle walk away he feels a loss. How is it possible, he thinks, to miss a woman whom he kept at a distance so that when she was gone he would not miss her. Only then does he realize that wanting part of her and not all of her had hurt them both and how he cannot justify his actions except that… well… it was life.

You’ve Got Mail breaks my heart because it is about the end of an independent bookstore, swallowed whole by a giant big box store. Of course there is love and a new beginning, but there is a scene where Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly closes the store and feels like she has failed the memory of her mother. Something about that beautiful, empty shop makes me ache .

These are not great movies, but they are my movies.

I draw.

I am here.

Alice.


My husband and I were more afraid to get a dog than we were to have a child. And we were mighty afraid of being parents.

But our son goaded, pleaded, reasoned and chipped away at our resistance until finally, when he was 14 years old, we agreed to get a puppy.

Of course, we wanted to be persuaded. We had serious dog envy. We would hold out our hands to cold noses, offer up our faces to big wet tongues and get down on a sidewalk to bask in dog love. We barely looked at the owners.

Each winter when we took a trip to see my in laws in Florida we would go to DelRay where there was a pet store (I know, EVIL). This pet shop stayed open late and had a topless wood structure in the center divided with partitions. Each cubicle contained four or five puppies. Unlike other pet shops where puppies played or slept behind glass walls, out of reach unless you were SERIOUS buyers, this Florida pet store let you play with these pups to your hearts’ content. My husband and I were safe because no way could we buy one and bring it back to RI.

One night though, we came close. We found a puppy we loved. We thought about the air plane ride, the logistics and the timing, imagined explaining to our friends that we bought a puppy from a puppy mill even though this place had PROOF that their puppies were not puppy mill puppies. (They were.)

We did not buy a puppy that night. We went to our favorite hotel bar, ordered cosmopolitans for us and a coke for our son, and I wrote a contract on my trusty note pad. We were ready for a dog of our own. I would have naming rights (this was most important). We would try to get a pound puppy. Our son would walk her before and after school. I promised I would be cool and aloof so the dog would love my son more than me.

We tried to get a rescue puppy. We failed.

We got a King Charles Cavalier puppy, a breed we knew from my sister-in-law who had two we adored. I named her Alice.

I was cool and aloof for exactly zero seconds.

Our son trained her. She was a lovable, good dog.

In her puppy years she soon had a medical problem associated with her breed; a bad hip with a scary medical name. She whimpered each time she would jump on or off the couch. It got worse. We took her to the vet and the breeder paid for most of her surgery. She was healed but forever after not much of a jumper. We would lift her on to the couch, into the car, on the bed. It it did not bother her or us.

King Cavalier Spaniels are in-bred. They are also among the sweetest breed around. If every dog has a little wolf inside them, Cavaliers (called Cavs by owners) have the least. One drop of wolf. They have no ambition except to be on or near a lap. Alice was afraid of her own bark. She seemed to have no wolf at all.

We proudly walked her around our block like Rhett Butler taking Bonnie Blue out in her stroller. People stopped their cars to coo at her because she was impossibly cute.

She became part of our lives the way pets do. You leave lights on. You come home early from a night out because you worry that they are lonesome. You notice the sky and the leaves and the ground and all sorts of things because you walk at their pace. You get used to them being ever present. You miss them on vacations. You laugh at their antics and get frustrated by their shortcomings. But mostly you let their unconditional love for you give you comfort through life’s ups and downs.

Alice had seen my little family through some very dark days.

She was a dog we kept on a leash because as much as she loved us she paid no attention to our commands when she was able to run free. The only exception was on snowy days. The kind of snowy day where life slows down, and schools are closed. Neighbors come out to shovel and sled but the only moving vehicles are plows. On those days I would allow Alice to run free. She would suddenly be a REAL dog with two drops of wolf. She would run like the wind, ears flapping. She would race ahead of me and then turn her little head to make sure I was watching and she would run more. If I would stop she would come racing back to me, full throttle, and spin around my legs to run off again. It made us both so happy. She would have snow on her black nose.

When the vet first told me he heard a heart murmur on April 25th I did not worry much.

This breed also comes with heart issues. But when she started coughing every few hours, then every couple of hours, then more, we took her back to the vet. Sure enough her illness had progressed but there was medicine and we still had hope that we would have her at least a few years more.

It was not meant to be. Every night she paced around, looking up as if she could find something in the air that could help her breathe. We fed her sweet potato, her favorite food, and walked her more often because her medicine made it necessary, but for shorter walks because she tired easily.

Everyone I know who has a dog or had one loves them. Everyone can write a story like mine. But you have to believe me when I tell you she was not only loved by us, but by so many others too. Tom, a neighbor who has his own dog, loved Alice so much that when he was outside and saw her he would sit on the cement and wait for her to come running into his arms. He would pet her and rub her belly till she moaned with happiness, while his dog Murdoch, looked on patiently. His wife called Alice his girlfriend. Our friends across the street took her in when my husband and I went out of town. They became her god-family. They kept a jar of treats for her, they let her on their couch, they spoiled her. Every Thanksgiving when my husband and I went to Florida they kept Alice and Tom walked her Thanksgiving day when the god-family traveled to Connecticut.

Heart disease is common in Cavs but for Alice it progressed unusually fast. We began to think she would not survive the year, but I did not realize her last night was her last night. I won’t go into details except to say that I was at work and her god-mother Susan, my friend, called to tell me she was worried about Alice. Had I realized what was coming I’d have left work and gone with my husband to the vet. But I fully believed I would see her in the morning.

I did, but she died just about 30 minutes before we could get to her. Our vet called us at 7:30 am. She was in a coma. And then, she was gone. My husband and I patted her and stroked her as if we could somehow give her comfort after the fact. We spent a long time with her. And then we went home. And then to work.

For days after I kept forgetting to lock our door at bed time because my husband used to walk her late at night. I missed her company, her weight, her love. I told our son, neighbors, her groomer. Her god family. Their son cried. We cried.

We will get another dog. We are open to a rescue dog. We know it is the better thing, the more noble. I don’t know what we’ll get. I only know that Alice helped us not be afraid to have a dog in our family. In fact, she made it impossible to imagine not having one.

We are brave because of Alice, and my son.

A Chair


In about six years I can write about what is happening in my life. Until then, here is a story of a broken chair. 

We have plastic Adirondak style chairs on our front lawn. 


We buy them from the supermarket. In the past I could only find them in a really uninspiring, non descript green (above left). Then, when we needed to replace one, I found it in a nice lavender. I particularly liked the lavender chair even though basically they are all the same molded form. It is not shown in the picture. 

Anyway, it cracked. A big crack. I still sat in it but my husband decided we needed to get rid of it. 

At one time in my city the trash people would take everything and anything. Not so anymore. Now, if it does not fit in a designated bin, they won’t take it. Needless to say the lavender chair would not fit in the designated bin. Usually if you leave something on the curb in our neighborhood and it is remotely decent someone will come along and take it. We put our chair out on the curb but no one whisked it away even after three days. So, I put it back on our lawn. 

I wanted this chair to have a new home. A good home. The right home. 

On my weekly walk to and from therapy, about 2 and 1/2 miles each way, I started to look for places that needed a slightly broken chair.  On this walk I see a number of homes that are a bit sketchy and in need of t.l.c.. 

 


I thought one of these places might like my chair, might NEED my chair. I told my husband. He was skeptical. I was determined. I convinced him that we needed to take the chair to someplace that needed a chair. I told him I thought if we found the right place it would be appreciated. 

One night after dark we put the chair in his car. 

I knew right away my husband would not have the patience to see all the places I had staked out on my walk. He just wanted to get rid of the chair. Pretty soon we came upon a lot that has a trailer for workmen. Near the trailer there is a grassy lot with a big tree. This was going to be the new home for the chair. 

We drove in the lot, careful to make sure no one spotted us. Not because we were doing something wrong, but you know, it might look like we were up to no good.

My husband took the chair out of his car and put it near the tree, and made sure it was on a level bit of ground so it would not fall over. The whole adventure took five minutes. 

I am seeing a different therapist now but I still run on this route so I always look for the chair. I can tell you this chair IS appreciated, and used. Every time I jog past it, it has been moved just enough that I know there is a man who is hoping to catch a few rays of late summer sun. Maybe he is having a smoke and thinking about his life. I know my chair is appreciated. We found it a home, and it makes me a little happy every time a see it.