Letting Go, My Exhale

Sometime in the months to come I anticipated writing up a glowing report of victory to be posted here for the reading and celebrating. One in which my friend Cliff received his kidney transplant and settled into a lengthened lease on life filled with renewed energy. A much deserved reward for too much time spent feeling physically weary and haggard in his past year and a half of living. Last night I found a message waiting on my cell from Cliff’s mom, Susan. Her voice wavered at the end of her request for me to call her back as soon as possible. Suddenly, the various knick knacks I was perusing in the kitchen portion of a local store held no meaning. I inhaled and don’t remember exhaling as I made my way out to the car where I anxiously waited for an answer on the other end of my returned call. Jim, the stepdad, answered and recognizing my voice told me he had some really bad news. Cliff had passed away at home some time during the day. A determination as of to specifically why was under way. I lost it. The phone was then handed off to Susan where I tried to pull myself together in order to offer some sort of comfort and understanding to her.

I write now, not to make anyone uncomfortable, as such disclosures often do. I write to share the inner strength I witnessed in him despite his physical hardships. Encouragement in his memory, as part of his legacy.

It was my very first day back to school in what was to be my college sequel.

It was my very first day back to school in what was to be my college sequel. During one of the classes, the program advisor, Gary, walked by and recognizing me from our meeting together just weeks prior, stopped to say “hi.” Cliff happened to be sitting next to me. Gary turned to him and with a wink and a nod, said, “Young man, stick with this one, she’s sure to take care of you.” With that, began our friendship, one of ease and common interests built on a love of VW Beetles, classic cars in general, Macs – his knowledge and my awe and wonder, and music, the more, the better.

Cliff often worked two and three jobs off and on so that he could afford the latest and greatest in gadgets and clothing, by no means caught up and ruled by them, though, as some are. One of the best dressed guys I knew, his want of comely aesthetics extended to his home. I remember the first visit over to the condo he’d recently purchased before all the physical trauma occurred. Walking in, he had a large sander sitting in the corner waiting for a time to smooth the textured surfaces of the ceilings. There were painted charcoal grey walls, a few large sculptures he’d created adhered in various places, and the kitchen cabinets partially stripped soon to have their own turn with the charcoal paint. Touches of his favorite deep cerulean blue were here and there. A work in progress. From birth, Cliff lived with diabetes, it affecting his growth so that he appeared to be in his early to mid-teens, though, recently turning 25. Still, he was quite the ladies’ man, but never in the piggish sense. Girls found him adorable and seemed to flock to let him know that at times. He was amiable, thoughtful. Between his natural tendency to open up to others and his multiple jobs, he had many the connection. If one had a problem, he always had a potential solution to offer up with a phone number to accompany it. He totally got that life is what you make it and he embraced that. I remember his telling of his solo trip down to California because he simply had to experience Disneyland in their 50th year anniversary celebration, companion or no. How on one night of his trip, after another day spent at the happiest place on earth, he somehow found himself in a very sticky situation at a Hispanic tattoo parlor. Always creating adventure!

He deserved the many who called themselves friends and acquaintances to be there for him when he needed them.

This past summer, he was checked into the ICU for several weeks. Walking into that room, it felt cold and clinical. There was a man in the room who could be no other than Cliff’s biological father. He had that face, Cliff’s face, and the way he stood. I remembered a few years back, Cliff telling me the relationship with his dad was nonexistent. Since his physical ailment befell him, that completely changed. His dad calls him every day and makes regular trips over from Spokane where he resides. His mom, also there, introduced us and his dad teared up, asking, “You’re Deborah?” and hugged me intensely, as if the hug would convey feelings words could not. He proceeded to thank me profusely for being there for his son almost as though it were a duty. I reminded him it was a privilege, and again found I had to let go of the disgust I felt for all those who’d dwindled away. Cliff deserved more. He deserved the many who called themselves friends and acquaintances to be there for him when he needed them. He felt abandoned this past year as the calls lessened, the visits ceased. I more than understand the uncomfort in seeing one cared about as a mere shell of what they were. One doesn’t know what to say. Often activities are too much for the person to engage in and that puts all the more focus on the lack of something to say. It reminds us we’re mortal. And, it just plain hurts. Push past the uncomfort, though, push through it. Risk the uncomfort and pain. Just on the other side, is the friend you knew.

Cliff would try to draw still, as it was a huge part of his life pre-troubles, only to find the coma he came out of that began all these atrocities over a year ago caused his brain to function differently lessening the creativity that once flowed freely.
A side effect of his combined diabetes and kidney failure was that he lost his sight almost completely.
He could no longer drive, the activity he always turned to for peace of mind.
His car, driveway bound, was broken into and his DVD player, CD player and speakers were all ripped off.
In an attempt to extract his huge downloaded collection of music from his laptop with what little sight he did have, he accidentally deleted the entire collection.
His voice thickened and became gravely.
His already thin body grew frail and his face puffed up unnaturally.
He found he could no longer sleep at night, though, tired the whole day through, the lack of regular activity didn’t quite tire him out enough to give him the relief and rest that sleep brings.
This last month, congestive heart failure set in where he said he felt like he was drowning internally as fluid threatened to fill his lungs permanently.
He sat for four hours at a time three days a week for over a year on dialysis.

I list his troubles only to contrast his positive outlook.

He never, ever stopped in moving forward with the most amazing attitude amidst his struggles.
He’d say that he was just glad to be alive to breathe another moment, to share what was left in life: Family, my friendship, a simple car ride, a good song, even just waiting for a booth out amongst people at a busy restaurant.
He didn’t want to waste even a moment on thinking about what he could no longer do, only what he could.
He set lofty new goals for himself to replace the ones he had to let go.
I’d tell him it was okay if he was down and needed to talk, I’d understand, it’s just part of being human.
He said he certainly felt down at times, but it vanished each time he got to get out and about again.
He saw death and it made life precious to him and I could sense that when around him.
The weaker he became physically, the stronger he seemed to get in spirit.

We won’t be going to dinner and a movie with Bean and her friends tonight. How I wish I’d called him one last time instead of waiting until today, it’s too late. I will tell myself that all that strength he had finally just outgrew his body. Maybe it’s true … ♦

Poppins, McPhee, Fine, Doubtfire, Belvedere … and Davis?

There’ve been a handful of odd jobs I want to hold in life first to satisfy curiosity, second to use as material in a series of paintings, drawings and writings. With last January, there came such a one. That of part-time nanny. Good friends needed childcare and I needed extra money. No sooner did I begin nannying, than a plum freelance design job fell into my lap as it was, but not wanting to leave Eric and Denise high and dry, I plugged away doing both for months. My charges being the precocious 3 year old Kiana and her easy-going little brother Korban, 1&1/2 years of age. Aside: Guess what Kiana’s first word was …”book!” Yes, “book.” Neato! She so loved storytime that that word won out over even “Mama” or “Dada.” This was a munchkin after my own heart, I tell you.

It was good to have someone near who knew what it was to still be working towards something, not quite there.

Among the concerns I had, was whether I’d find myself going loopy from the lack of adult contact as the days passed by. Enter Aaron. Aaron was boarding with Eric and Denise, after getting out of the Navy, still in the reserves, with the intent to finish up school. It was good to have someone near who knew what it was to still be working towards something, not quite there. The days began to roll by and if I was lucky, I’d arrive early enough to find the kids, one per knee, perched on Aaron’s lap at the piano keyboard, all three still in jammas while he played a bit. Quite on the other hand, the kids and I, we plunked. Plunked away, loud and raucous!

If you’re a part of my life with any frequency, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll end up with a nickname or three, from me. I frequently called Kiana beautiful, as in “Hey, Beautiful.” One day, she had a playdate over and I made the mistake of using HER name on the playdate. I could feel the words trip on my tongue on the way out, as I tried to retract it, knowing that only Kiana is “Hey, Beautiful.” Her little head whipped around and she stated “Hey, that’s MY name, Debba.” Guess she told me! Kiana’s dad, Eric, joked that she was our resident lawyer as she loved to negotiate her meals. “One bite of peas and three more chickens,” or “Two more carrots and one of mac n’ cheese. Then I can have a tweat!”, she’d say.

Korban with all his strawberry blondness, so cute I could’ve eaten him. Munch on his cheeks or just kiss him to death, kisses equaling fits of giggles. Note: Do NOT wear, red, red lipstick over to homes containing munchkins. Grabbing, wiping, smearing, a clown face, I had, in seconds flat! Among other playtime activities, was a huge tub filled with every kind of bean imaginable so that the kids could scoop and pour, pour and scoop to their heart’s content. Like sand, without the sand. Korban loved to pluck off his socks and wade in the tub of beans. Often I’d look up to hear clickety-clacking along the floor and there he’d be standing perplexed tapping his little foot, clearly hearing the sound, but not yet comprehending why. He’d tottle a few more steps, stop, tap, and finally plop down on the floor to investigate.

Toddler's Feet

It occurred to me early on, the kids had no toy cars! Quelle horreur! I promptly brought over a container of cars to introduce them to the joys of vroom-vroooom-VROOOOOOMING! I taught them both “Mountain,” as I teach all little munchkins. As a kid, I’d take a blanket, stand up, hold it out in front of me with one hand on one of its corners and drop it. Voila! Insta-mountain. The blanket falls into a pile with all sorts of folds and curves perfect for roads to drive along and under, while parking in “caves” and stopping just short of “ledges.” Speaking of cars, when heading out to lunch or errands together, or the YMCA for Kiana’s swimming lessons, I was often given the use of their big black SUV complete with tinted windows. I felt like Batman! Denise doesn’t believe in minivans for families either, thank God. Hail the mighty, albeit, gas-guzzling, environment-havoc-wreaking, *grimace*, all-in-the-name-of-style, SUV!

As a little kid, did anyone else ever consider their mom’s or grandma’s or other female’s chest pillows? ‘Cause I totally did and liked to point that fact out to them basically thinking, “Score! You’ve got a built-in bonus!” resulting in their silly embarrassment and my unjust punishment. Well, my turn. Kiana and Korban were jockeying for a position amidst one of our many daily PIG PILES and all at once they both collapsed on my chest, Kiana pats me, and says “You have nice pillows. Mommy doesn’t have any pillows. Will I have pillows?” To which of course, one says, “Well, thank you. Your Mommy’s pillows are just a bit smaller, and YES! You will have pillows one day. Okay, let’s watch Elmo.” Random tip: I’m thinking all the overworked parents out there should most certainly own a dog when living with little ones. I never had to bend down and pick up the bits of food that slipped off bibs, rolled off plates, or dropped from waving utensils. The dog gets a very light snack, and all are happy!

Of a bit more substance, fears that my former rotten temper would rise once again

So, now that I’ve been done with the whole nanny experience for some time and I thankfully no longer find myself humming Someday My Prince Will Come while standing in line at stores from one too many listenings, it’s time to reflect. I’ve never been one anywhere near the front of the line for having munchkins early on in life, wanting to put it off until I myself felt like a grown up. As in, not so selfish, you know? For the longest time, I had the most shallow fear. Most shallow! Fear that I’d have an ugly, homely, unattractive child. I longed for some test where you could gage a likely visual outcome based on the chosen couple. Of a bit more substance, fears that my former rotten temper would rise once again, that I’d be constantly exasperated, annoyed and snapping at the kids existed. The meanness, the over-controlling, all the evil little things I was raised with would come up to haunt me and live through me again. (Insert Mwuhahahaha here.) I’d rather be childless than ever inflict all that on any new little being. Ultimately, two thoughts kept me on track in the nanny endeavor: “Always remember what it’s like to be a kid” and “I am responsible for their memories.” Despite hectic days, spilled juices, super runny noses, burnt toast, ringing phones, often all at once, we had a GREAT time! More than a great time. I’m now confident I’m not doomed to relive the harmful patterns of my parents when one day it will matter. Not bad for a part-time job: Money, munchkin love, art inspiration and peace of mind. ♦