Friday, April 30, 2010

Two and a Half Months on the Island of Bed

I have begun to think of this last two and a half months as resting on an island -- everything I need is nearby -- water, juice, the dogs, books, a notebook, pen, napkins and kleenex, a kitchen towel to protect my clothes from spillage when I eat. At night I wrap myself in a lavender (not the best color, but so comfortable) quilt on top of the bed and sleep until I wake up, then watch PBS or read, then maybe sleep again.

Recently I've lost the marvelous zing that characterized my middle of the nights since I started getting prednisone in the hospital. I've decreased the dose, two weeks-by-two-weeks from 60mg to 20, so that's probably why. I hate to admit that I miss it because that bit of personality that appeared so startlingly at 1am, or maybe 3, was closer to my real, remembered self. 

Two nights ago, "Hamlet," a filmed production from London, was repeated sometime very late. I'd watched most of it the previous afternoon, but wanted very badly to see it again, since I've never been really read or thought about Shakespeare (in spite of one college class, so many years ago, that I never noticed.) And there it was, in my precious high-time, only there I was, flat, dull and eager to fall asleep again.

The bed still beckons me during the day. Right now I seem tied to it most of the time whether it's because of the change in medication or because when I started to walk, fifteen days ago, I thought that going up hills was the best way to strengthen, not having considered what lying down for two months does to a person. So, as is characteristic, I did too much and probably got to the piraformis muscle which is never, never fun.

Chris and Krissy still drive me to work, only now he's taking the big dig and then the expressway. I get to go over the Zakim bridge which is truly gorgeous though I would never drive on that highway myself, being phobic. Often I shut my eyes or mutter things like, "The right lane is a very good place to be. The right lane is really nice." But I can tell how much I've calmed down since I first drove with Chris.

On the way back from my class (where they dropped me conveniently and retrieved me after three hours), we stop at the Victoria Diner, where I order steak tips. I never imagined eating beef, but I am. Which reminds me of a woman I knew who said, "Never say never." I'd been photographing in a Catholic church in Roxbury, a predominantly black congregation and an Irish priest, for a project about the old elevated Orange Line trolley that ran from Jamaica Plain down into Boston, set to be torn down within the year. 

I'd decided to photograph and interview people who lived along that stretch and managed to spend a good bit of time with most of them -- a doctor from Healthcare for the Homeless, the daughter of my friend from Guyana who moved to Boston, the art librarian at the university, and the never-say-never nun, a Sister of St. Joseph, who took me to various folks that she visited in Via Victoria and became a good friend. She lived in a pleasant house with four or five bedrooms shared with others from her community. We often had lunch in that sunny kitchen. Was it there or somewhere else that I met another woman who was talking about her rather unpleasant position in a cloister, and I must have said, "But I thought everyone is equal." and she said, "Oh, yes, everyone is equal, but some are more equal that others." I loved that simple phrase. (What was odd, wonderful, is that folks in that church group accepted that I am an agnostic, just allowed me to be me.) Of course, the images with their transcribed text, difficult and complicated and very satisfactory to make, got lost in some bureaucratic shuffle. 

But as my daughter said, when she was a little girl, and I'd just gotten out of the hospital for an infected toe nail (give me a break) and got back to the apartment to see her and found that there was no heat, no hot water and that the cats had torn down the Christmas tree, "You can't have everything." (She's right and we went to stay with a friend and her son in their loft....)

Last Sunday, when I was feeling better than I am now, I decided to test out driving. I knew perfectly well that I'm not capable of normal Boston driving, but thought I could manage to get to Winthrop to have tea with the vespersparrow. I hadn't seen her in probably three months, or at least close to it. And knew that there's very little traffic on that route which actually takes me past the barn area of the racetrack. My car can do it in its sleep....      

I won't say that I was entirely secure or that I would have been happy driving with me. My reflexes are slow and one has to drive with great defensiveness here. I'm not sure where this city is on the scale of bad drivers, but it's very high on the list. A lot of extremely impatient people drive way above the speed limit in town, run red lights, honk if you're the slightest bit slow, cut you off in a minute, turn right on the light just in front of you when it's  your right-of-way. Etc. 

I brought her the muffins I'd made with the recipe from my Panera friend, but there were only two for each of us. I could have eaten seven, with that lovely honey.

Tulip and I weren't entirely sure about the drive. She's been reading up on the traffic rules, but wasn't all that helpful, except for her earnest interest in the trip.

I still, even though I've gotten even slower and it hurts to walk, make my way down to Ping at Marketbasket where he (or Peter) make the inari with avocado and shrimp. I convinced a friend, K., to have lunch with me there which was particularly nice. He got his form of treats and I ate my usual, very pleasant fare.

I apologize for being behind on reading blogs, most especially the Cuban in London, whose site I read, but too hurriedly, but will read again, along with the next two installments. And I'm behind on Tuesday Poems, but I'll catch up.

Perhaps this wasn't the best week because I finalized my decisions to stop teaching as of this fall, even though I'm scheduled for a class. It's very hard to give up a career that meant so much to me, especially since my pension is very modest. The decision was hard, not because I'm sick, but because I've worked since I was 14 and define myself in that way. But I'd gotten to a point where I would be happier bagging groceries in a supermarket (I've never done that before!) than I was working in someone else's photo program, much as I like the person who slid into my positio personally. Obviously this was hard, perhaps a reason for fatigue, but I think it's a combination of physical factors. But who knows? Only the Shadow. I e-mailed that attachment containing my letter on Sunday.

In class on Monday, we had a critique that started at 1:15 and ended at 3:30. It involved me thinking and talking about student work, encouraging them to talk, making sure it was clear that I might voice an opinion, but it's only an opinion, not meant to sway a decision and talking about the problems with the printer not being calibrated to the computer screen or visa versa, and that you can't use 16x20 paper ($3 a sheet) without sacrificing a piece for test strips, and that it's necessary to chose satin or matt paper for digital prints, etc. By the end, most everyone seemed fried, but I was major-league gone and decided to leave early. I never do that. But as I walked to the bathroom, I thought, "I was in the hospital, 6 or 7 weeks ago, near to needing a transfusion. Who am I kidding?"

I'm kidding myself, not believing that being 71 (ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhhhhhhh) is different than being 57 or 42. I would not have been this sick at those ages. But, I think, look who I was last summer, in the barns every morning, washing water buckets, mixing feed, walking a lot, the illusion that I had built myself up considerably. And I had, even if I now walk an uneven line and imagine the police assuming I'm some drunk carrying  her two bags of groceries back from the market!

Many thanks...


  1. A very full life despite and with your convalescence. I'm glad the term is coming to an end.

    All my thanks to you for your tender tone and glimpses of your life.

  2. This is such a beautiful post, Melissa, very humbling given how much you are going through.

    I have been complaining about my lot over at my blog and it pains me now when I read about your suffering. Still everyone's pain is different. I must acknowledge that and it's not helpful to make comparisons. Still it's a bad habit I get into from time to time.

    You are so generous here with your vivid and clear descriptions of your life at present, the food, the friendships, the places, even the medication and your bed.

    I hope your decision to retire is not too tough for you. As they say one door closes and a window opens.

    I suspect you'll find this a freeing time and who knows what will slip in through that window to further inspire you.


  3. I just ordered your book. :-)

    xo love dd

  4. My dear friend, I know you hate the mushy stuff, but you have been so strong and courageous, and have shown me a lot about how to bear my sorrows. Your blog is a model, too. It feels like every morning sitting down with a dear friend over tea and telling our best stories. xo