A Sense of Place

We are moving. For us it has been a heart rendering and difficult decision. Most people I talk to about it think that we are kind of silly. And kind of making too big a deal of it. My ex-boss told me today that me quitting Diet Coke was more life changing than the move we are going to make. I have to disagree.

I moved to Hawaii around 17 years ago. That is so shocking. Yet utterly true. I moved with a boy, for a boy. Generally a dumb reason but there it is. I remember we got some tips on where to look for a place to live from a co-worker of his. We were told to look in Makiki because it was close to the University of Hawaii where my ex would be going to graduate school. We arrived in Hawaii with our package deal and had about three hotel nights to find a place to live. Looking back it was kind of crazy and, I feel undoable in this day and age. But we did it. We looked at three places and decided on a small six unit walkup right up the road from the freeway and close to a bus stop that went to UH.

When we moved in we met D & E who lived in the two bedroom upstairs and Mrs. Lee who lived in the downstairs two bedroom and fed all the stray cats. Florence lived in the other downstairs one bedroom next to us . She was a retiree with a little dog who swore that lime juice was good for her arthritis and planted a lime tree that is still downstairs to this day. The guy who lives next door to us today (upstairs one bedroom) was also here when I first moved in. We don’t know his name and he keeps mostly to himself. Very quiet and rarely seen. In the front house lives the family of the owners who are very friendly and we still see quite often. Mrs. Lee passed away some time ago and Florence’s family decided she was no longer able to live on her own. For a while there was a cast of characters coming in and out of the vacant units. A couple of girls who would come home late and make lots of noise. They were evicted. Mr. M. who engaged in loud sexual escapades very late into the night. D. would act as a sort of caretaker around the place constantly puttering about, spraying for roaches around the perimeter of the building, taking care of the plants and fixing the table out by the washer and dryer. I loved our little sense of community. And the clothesline out back. There is nothing better than wind dried sheets.

When I first moved in with the ex, I lived in the ground floor one bedroom apartment but moved upstairs when the Chinese family who was in that unit moved out. Eventually I became single and then together and ended up with a kid. D. had a stroke and seemed to be improving steadily till one day he wasn’t. Our son just kept growing and eventually we gave him the bedroom and moved into the living room. Today we live within each other’s space with nary a hair of alone time. We have gotten used to it but lately when I look at my nine year old son, I can see that he is getting too big to keep living like this. To keep trying to purge and shuffle and reorganize ourselves into some unattainable configuration that will make it all right.

We had talked about moving but part of the problem of being in the same place for so long is that you don’t want to come out from under the less-than-market- value rent being paid. Then there’s the traffic situation we would encounter if we moved someplace out of town. So we just sat and stewed and did nothing. Until we got a call two weeks ago. One of our uncles has a place in town. One street over and two blocks up from where we are now. His son had been in it but moved back to the mainland. It has two bedrooms and a washer and dryer in the unit. It sounded like heaven. We hemmed and hawed but eventually committed. We picked up the keys to the new place and will be moving in over the next few weeks.

We definitely struggled with this decision. We felt sentimental about leaving this place. The place where our son has been growing for so long. But we also knew that we would not get a better offer and if we didn’t move now, we never would. On Saturday as we were going to meet friends we ran into E. We asked about D. since we hadn’t seen him around. I thought that maybe he was in the hospital. They had recently moved from the upstairs two bedroom to the downstairs one bedroom under us since he wasn’t able to navigate the stairs anymore. E. told us that D. had passed away. She told us that his service had been that day and she had just gotten back. I gave her a hug. She said that she wasn’t sure what she was going to do now. We parted ways in the driveway. And in some ways, that made it final and real for us. We are sad to be leaving but the simple pleasure of being able to get changed in the bedroom and not the bathroom. Of potentially us all being at home and not on top of each other. Of giving our son more room to grow and thrive. We are ready.

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Structureless Summer

My son is now nine years old. Ever since he was three months old I have been entrusting his care to, well, basically strangers. It started with a lovely Nepalese woman who I handed him over to when he was three months old. Three months old. It should be illegal. But I had exhausted my three months off from work and it was time to go back. After Aunty Chandani’s he had a brief time with a woman in our neighborhood who everyone at work was using (and still does). This was just before he started preschool on his second birthday. We were freaked leaving him there. He did not yet know how to drink from a cup and was still in pull ups. Then on to kindergarten. We were absolutely certain that he would get lost on the campus which, today we consider to be pretty small. And through it all, he has survived. Survived and thrived. He is always the youngest in his class being a late December baby. He has spent every summer in a structured summer school environment. Taking academic classes and fun classes. But always taking classes.

And really it is our fault that he has had this truly alternate experience than I had when I was growing up. Back then in the suburbs of NY we knew all our neighbors. Almost everyone had kids that were close to my age. We got together all time and rode our bikes up and down the street. We went over to each other’s houses. Our parents hung out. There were front yards, backyards, basements and plenty of sidewalks. We swam in each other’s pools. I was on my friend’s gym set with him when Elvis died. We were unsure exactly who he was. Space. Pets. Friends. My son lacks much of this. This situation is partially due to our small living space (one bedroom apartment in Makiki). It is partially due to the fact that we work a lot. Sometimes we work on weekends. These are poor excuses for the state of my son’s life. I am trying to fix it.

Recently we purged and organized and created a loft bed with plenty of storage for my son. We have mostly gotten rid of the unsightly plastic storage containers. And the one bedroom is looking kind of nice. So we are having a sleepover this weekend. An actual kid from my son’s class will be at our house where the three of us can’t get out of each other’s way. So four should be fun. No, I mean it. Not even being sarcastic.

And, my crowning achievement, in an attempt to expose my son to my mother for a long period of time yet again and to give my son the 1970s summer of my youth, I am shipping him off to New York for just about two months. We will be joining him there for the last two weeks but he will have a solid month and a half of a giant fenced in backyard, three dogs, my sister, a beach just opposite the house, my aunt’s pool, my friend’s giant old wooden creaky farmhouse, lots of farm stands, serious home cooking and an extremely large greyhound who belongs to my friend Joe. It will be a summer of bike riding and skinned knees. Sunburns and cut feet. A summer of growing. A boy’s summer. A summer of love. I will miss him more than anything but it will make being reunited all the sweeter. And I know that when I do see him in NY again in July that he will be incredibly taller, wiser and more mature. Because he is growing and testing and pushing and learning. And it is time to remove all the structure which has encased him for all of these years and just let him be. So I am.

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Of Droughts and Ants

My blog has been so much more silent than usual since the new year. This is mostly due to the fact that my lovely Toshiba laptop bit the dust. It just won’t anymore. I took it to be diagnosed and there was a lot of well, you could do this and that and replace the hard drive. It all seemed beyond my personal competency level when it comes to computers. So it has been laid to rest so to speak. I will eventually have to have the hard drive siphoned off. All my photos, memories, writings and such need to be saved. I am assured that this is possible and I will make it happen eventually. So for now I am device-less when it comes to writing. It is these situations where your head becomes so full of words wishing to escape, you almost can’t stand it. It got so bad I actually wrote on paper. With a pen. I can’t lie, it is slow and unsatisfying, a typical New Yorker reaction. I have found myself dreaming of personal word processing in a bad way. I am scratching the itch today. Don’t ask how, just go with it.

And then there are the ants. No one in my house seems to care about the bugs. Remember that I live in Hawaii. My apartment is very, let’s say, porous. My screens have holes. My baseboards have cracks. It is a very thin and sometimes nonexistent line between me and the great outdoors. This makes for great opportunity for just about anything to find its way in. We’ve had lizards, roaches of the small, large and flying variety. And we’ve had ants. The ants are particularly bothersome to me. I have to move all tempting food items to the fridge, such as sugar. And honey. And cookies. I have to pack up sugary tainted trash to that they don’t find it before it goes out to the curb. Very bothersome.

I have ants right now. They are of the smallish variety but have taken over. My usual MO is to figure out where they are coming in and plug up the hole or trace around it with ant chalk. Ant chalk is something I used in Thailand where, for all intents and purposes, my house was one with the outside. In order to keep the very large, biting ants out of my place, ant chalk was the solution. Once you draw a line with it, the ants won’t cross it. Like in a western. It is awesome. It is my preferred ant deterrent. I hate sprays, I feel that I am killing myself. The baits attract them like crazy but I question their actual killing ability. And the chalk is so much humane-er. Right? All I want to do is keep them out. That’s all. They can live all they want as long as they are not in my honey bear.

It is typically pretty easy to find out where they are entering our place because they are usually streaming in the front door. But not this time. I spent a good part of the day trying to figure out where the ants are coming from so I can block up their hole. I traced them into the bedroom but lost them behind the bookcase which is too full and heavy to move. My significant other complained and said that I was on some crazy wild ant chase. I disagree. He thinks I’m nuts. I disagree. I complained to my mom. She said that I should do nothing and let the ants get into the Girl Scout cookies and then maybe I wouldn’t be the only one trying to find the hole. Part of me thinks that the ants would just be brushed off and the cookies eaten anyway. So maybe no one will ever help me find the hole. Or care that the ants are in the garbage. And the honey. And crawling on me in my sleep. Maybe I will just have to move that bookcase tomorrow. To find the hole. By myself.

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Over the summer, right before my family and I were about to head to the East Coast, I was feeling off kilter. Filled with anxiety. Forgetful. My symptoms would hang around for about a week and then go away. The symptoms would come back like a month or so later. Of course I self-diagnosed myself with a brain tumor. When I shared with my significant other, he suggested menopause as an alternative to the hypochondriac diagnosis. This seemed potentially plausible to me given my additional symptoms. My periods, after being so reliable, had turned against me. Stretching out for ungodly amounts of time. Or not. I felt betrayed after we had had such a steady relationship for so many years.

Of course, my gynecologist had closed her practice months prior. She had contacted me to let me know via mail. More than once. Told me who to call to find a new doctor. I never took any action. Honestly, the entire thing depressed me. She delivered my son. Administered all of my pre-natal care. Calmed down my significant other in the hallway outside of the operating room right before my c-section. She had this semi-annoying habit, when we would visit after our son was born, to look at him and tell us that he had my nose or eyebrows or whatever and his dad’s chin, eyes and cheekbones. Annoying after a while but she was worth it. Now I was in a situation where I wanted to see a doctor and I didn’t have one. I used the handy doctor finder online and called one who was listed as taking new patients. Sure she was taking new patients but she was not seeing them till February (this was in November or so). When I was making these calls, I was having what I was calling, one of my “spells.” My boss had told me to call her doctor. Same new patient deal. Unfortunately I needed an appointment pretty quickly. I was becoming desperate. My hairdresser had told me to call her gynecologist and tell her that she had given me her name. I actually called and when they asked who had referred me I said my hairdresser. They put me on hold, probably to laugh, and then told me that I could not have an appointment.

Truly desperate, I called my primary care physician for a referral and got one. Although I had to wait as a new patient, they agreed to see me the following week regarding my issue. I told my new doctor my symptoms. I told her perhaps I was pre-menopausal. She told me that I was too young but she did order a blood test to examine my hormone levels. Long story short, my significant other’s diagnosis was spot on – peri-menopause. My estrogen was all out of whack which was making me seriously off. I opted for low dose hormone pills to take the edge off. They work well. I feel more like me more of the time.

And it was all fine until last month when my fits and starts period never actually started. No period. Period. Does this mean, that’s that? That I am actually in menopause now? I don’t know. I figured I’d give it another month before I contact my doctor again. Honestly, there is something deeply sad about being menopausal. I have never had a desire to have another child. Ever. One is good. I really am too old for another. But to have that there, to still think that if one day I wanted to I could…..was nice. And that is gone. If it is true. I think it is but I’m not ready for it to be true yet. Because if it is, I know that I will mourn the loss of my fertility. That I will be deeply and unreasonably saddened.

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I Am Not Married

Shocking, right, that title? Here I am, closer to 50 years old than 40, raising a child in a committed relationship that for all intents and purposes resembles a marriage except that it isn’t. For me, personally, this does not bother me at all. Ever. Does it bother my long suffering significant other (or as an acquaintance called him recently the one who “tolerates me.”)? Maybe, but he has never pressed me and we have never gone beyond casual discussions on the topic. My lame and incorrect excuse used to be based on my reluctance to marry our finances because I thought that I would assume his debt. Apparently this is not the case and the only debt taken on jointly is that which is accrued jointly. So that excuse doesn’t really exist.

It would be easy to say that my divorced upbringing soured me on the entire institution. Back in the day, back when I was a kid, divorce was a big deal. Recently one of the couples in our parent crowd went through a separation for a while which involved a new boyfriend (ick!). This truly caused a conundrum for us since we really liked the husband and wife and felt an almost innate pressure to sort of pick a side. When this happened, I thought about how my mom’s circle must have felt about being put in the same position. We were a tight knit neighborhood back then and my parents were the only ones who ever divorced. Thing is, my sister and I had never been close to our dad before the divorce. I felt that the forced post divorce visitation sessions actually made us spend more time interacting than we had when my parents were married.

Maybe I can blame my inability to commit on my mother. After my parents divorced, my mom had to get a job, something she hadn’t done since before being married. With no true skills or advanced education she got a job at the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips fast food place up the road from our house. She also decided to go to college part-time at night. After her experience, her message to me was that I always had to be able to take care of myself financially. Drilled into my head, constantly, that message. So much so that, this found its way into my subconscious decisions around the men that I have been involved with. This inability to have things paid for, anything-gifts, dinners, anything led me to never be involved with anyone who could, or would. The entire thing just made me uncomfortable. On one of my infamous internet dates, my match drove us from a restaurant at Ala Moana to a club in Waikiki in his Corvette. I actually almost couldn’t even get into that car. I almost just declined. I remember driving through Waikiki wanting to shrink into the seat so that no one would see me. This is neither bad, nor good, the inability to be cared for. It is what it is.

At this point, our son knows that his parents are not married. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by it in the least. While watching Say Yes to the Dress, he told me that he didn’t think that a wedding dress would “fit” me (and not in a, mom you need to lose some weight kind of way). My significant other and I have been together for so long that almost everyone assumes that we are married. I refer to his sister in San Diego as my sister in law. We no longer correct people when they use the word husband or wife to describe the other. Based on all this, maybe there is no good reason for us not to get married and we should just legalize what we already have today. Thing is, I’m not sure that I can, for no good reason (certainly not a reflection on the tolerant man in my life). Maybe it is just because although in my heart I feel like it changes nothing, I’m afraid that it changes everything. And maybe I’m just not ready for that yet.

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The Calling

Hawaii legislators recently passed a bill supporting marriage equality for same sex couples. The Governor signed the measure almost immediately after it was passed. I was supporting from the outskirts, I watched hours and hours of testimony and dragged my son down to the Capitol the evening that the final vote took place on the floor of the House of Representatives. It was tense. It was confrontational. It was celebratory. It was fabulous and it was history.

When I saw that there was going to be an interfaith service at the chapel at St. Andrews Priory focused on gratitude and healing around the same sex marriage issue I was intrigued. I was raised Catholic because that was my dad. Once my parents got divorced all religion was off. And there’s been none since. Honestly during testimony on the bill, after listening to hours and hours of church folk saying awful things about gay people, well, I felt that I had made the right choice about religion. It helps that despite all of the Catholic schooling I had as a kid (I remember going weekly to religion class) that the whole believing thing never actually sank in. I went and did all the stuff. Stood. Sat. Got confirmed. But I never believed. Maybe I just never understood that that was the purpose of the entire thing. That I was supposed to believe. Speaks volumes about me really.

As a bit of a disclaimer, I forgot to take my hormone pill to iron me out today until too late in the day so I may have had some excessive emotional stuff going on (and now is the time that I need ironing). But when I thought about the interfaith service, I just got kind of choked up. I knew that I needed to go. I’m going to have to admit that I didn’t realize that St. Andrews was more accepting of all lifestyles. It was a nice discovery. The service was church-like and not. The women’s choir sang “Going to the Chapel” to laughs and clapping. I found myself comforted by the singing of the hymns. The gentleman in the pew beside us had one of those strong, I am a believer, singing voices. The kind that drag you along into singing despite yourself.

I loved the affirmations. And the sense of community. Of raising our voices together, even if we sounded awful. The entire experience made me feel like this was something that was missing. Something that could help me put more into the life I was living. Again, it could have just been a low hormonal day but I don’t feel like that was it. I felt like I was supposed to be there. To see and understand that there are places of worship, whatever the definition of that is, that could be OK for me. Tonight to be in one place and listen to Buddhist, Episcopalian, Jewish and Native Hawaiian worship touched me. Lately I’ve been feeling the tug. The tug that made me quit my job and move to New York for six months. And while I’m not planning anything that drastic, I feel a change in the air and in my bones. And as much as it makes me tear up (hormones?) it gives me strength to recognize and walk towards it, the change. Whatever that may be. And it may start off as being something as small as attending some sort of service somewhere on a regular basis. Or maybe it is at various somewheres. And I feel good about that.

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End of the World

Today, Veteran’s Day, is my father’s birthday. The good thing about that is that it is really easy to remember. Despite that, it got to a point in the day where I just about forgot to make the call. My dad is on the East Coast so he is now five hours behind the time here in Hawaii. Part of me wants it to be too late. To have that excuse for not calling. The time difference. It is not a good excuse as I talk to my mother each weekend day and she is also on the East Coast. But it is the excuse that I have. It is the excuse that makes me feel OK about it. I did not use the excuse today though and I called my dad at about 6:30 p.m. his time to wish him a happy birthday.

I have to admit that I was concerned. I’ve spoken to him the past and he seemed, mentally foggy. I wasn’t sure what I would do if that were the case today. It was not. My dad was full on and completely engaged today. He is currently living in the house of his caretaker. He is not healthy. He had a stroke many years ago and has never truly been well. He is suffering from a myriad of conditions. The phone conversations with him are mostly him documenting his medical maladies even though I know that he has gone through the entire litany with my sister earlier in the day. I listen and make the appropriate responses back to him. I can say that his is a true story of the failure of the Veteran’s Administration to ensure that Veterans are able to obtain appropriate care but that is another story.

My dad did remember to ask about my son, his only grandchild, surfacing in the midst the discussion. Well, it’s not really a discussion. Discussion implies give and take. On the phone with my dad is mostly give whether or not you want to take it. I suppose for me, it’s better that way. I’m not much of a giver anyway.

Then, my dad mentioned the horrific storm in the Philippines. He talked about how he had been in Manila years ago. He told me that he had been talking about all of the bad global weather with the family he lives with. The discussion had been around why there were so many awful storms and if it was meant to signal the end of the world. To warn us all that it was almost the time of the second coming. That we were being warned somehow. I was stunned into silence. After spending days hearing people discuss this same sort of thing in relation to same sex marriage which was being debated at the legislature, I was distinctly horrified. Global warming, global warming was running through my head and my dad did say that it could be that but then poo-pooed the very idea. I had no words. It was too close to the ugliness of last week. So I just listened some more until he was beckoned away for birthday cake and I could get off the phone. And I was left feeling, somehow sadder about our poor relationship than ever before.

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