Archive for January, 2008

Even if she never did this, she’d still be the best.

January 30, 2008

Follow up email from my aunt:

Just a bit more on A working at K______’s.
I spoke with Esha this morning.  She confirmed that A started working at K_____’s when she was 16.   So when Hoffa started his first union activity at K_____’s most likely A marched in the first union strike!!  I don’t think she marched along side Hoffa but he was the best dressed man from the whole bunch in the photo.   It makes me wonder???

And the picture:

 my fantastic grandmother


We are all enough.

January 28, 2008

‘Before every session I take a moment to remember my humanity.  There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human.  No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable.  And because of this, I am enough.  Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it.  This is what will allow his healing to begin.’

-Carl Rogers

Three years can be so long.

January 28, 2008

Three years ago at this minute, my grandfather was still alive. Family were all around him, the radio was on, and death was slowly winning. I was not there. A friend offered to buy some flowers and send a huge bouquet for his bedroom.

Three years ago a few hours from now, I was sitting in a meeting. We were discussing plans to create a support group for young lesbian, bisexual, gay, and trans people. For weeks I had been expecting a phone call to say that he was dead, but when it came it still surprised me. I went out into the hallway, knowing why my sister was ringing. I took a deep breath and reentered the meeting room after the call had finished.

I remember my grandfather for the way he enjoyed food when I was a child. I remember the look and feel of that old, smooth, giant popcorn bowl he would fill and empty each night. I remember the chocolate cake with the rippling icing. I remember the bowls of praline ice cream.

I also remember the endless novels – Reader’s Digest ones, with four books in one heavy volume. These were my introduction to great classics, words I didn’t understand, words I did. A quiet, thoughtful, funny man – Be well in spirit.

My grandma, the mother of trade unions?

January 27, 2008

Email I’ve just received from my aunt. When she says ‘Mom,’ she is referring to my grandmother. Odd email to receive, particularly considering I just posted that last entry a few minutes ago.

As I was cleaning up some old photos, I discovered an old picture of Mom.   She was very young, and participating in a strike against K______.   The small black & white photo shows her (the only woman) walking down the street with 6 men.  She is between 2 men, in the front of the group, with one arm around a guy with a white apron (probaly a K_____ baker?).   The guy with the apron is carrying a sign that says: “Our women and children have a right to a decent living”.   On A’s other side, a nicely dressed man has his arm under A’s, and he, also, is carrying a sign.   It reads:  “We are K_____ wage slaves”. 
I shared this story with J, and he did some internet research.  He found that Jimmy Hoffa’s very first union activity was at K_____ in the Spring of 1931!   In D_____.  It looks like Mom was there at the birth of organized labor.  One tough lady.  She would have been 17 years old.  Check out the Hoffa article, below.  The photo shows police on horses.  Mom is dressed beautiful, in white high heels and a dark dress, and a polka dot apron.  She has a serious look of determination on her face.  There are people on the side walk watching them march. 
When I have an opportunity, I will see if I can make copies of the old photo.   Let me know if you would like one.  Hope you guys would find this as interesting as I did!

I often wonder what my grandmother was like as a young woman. Pictures of her often don’t match up with the way I knew her, though her joy and big soul always shine out. Imagining her marching like this, the only woman – I never considered she would be a feminist and an activist. Maybe this is why she was so cool with The Gay?

My dream dinner party would probably include my grandmother at age 17, the evening after this march. I would have to not let on who I was, of course, because I’m sure the time-space continum would rip or something. Still, I find this really fucking cool.


Postscript: When I was about fifteen, I worked for K______. I ended up leaving the job without ever telling them I was quitting. Not saying that equates to what my grandmother apparently did, but still. As far as I know, we’re the only gals in my family who had anything to do with K_______’s, aside from my mother.

She shops there.

The day the world stopped.

January 27, 2008

In the early winter of my 26th year, my grandfather died. The weeks before his death had been filled with agonizing about whether to return home or not. Several times I said, ‘If this was Grandma, I’d be on a plane already.’ That sentence felt very right but also made me feel a creeping guilt.

When he died, I promptly bought a plane ticket to go home and support Grandma, which is the decision I had come to. Like many decisions I make, it was made before I even entered into discussion with myself; I still wondered if it was right to ignore one person’s death in favour of entering someone else’s life.

Six months after he died, I received a phone call. ‘Existere, it’s not looking too good. They’ve done another test for cancer, but her congenital heart failure is advancing. She can barely breathe, Existere. If you’re going to come home, I think it needs to be now.’

I called my grandmother, A, and she sounded almost normal. As the conversation progressed, however, her voice got weaker and weaker. I pictured a slowly deflating balloon.

I bought the plane ticket.

The first night I was home, Tuesday, we went right to her house. Most of the close female members of the household were there. I went in to say hello, and Grandma seemed surprised to see me. I looked around and recognized a scene that must have been very familiar to her from only six months before – family members milling anxiously about the house, the centre of everyone’s thoughts and activities the older person lying in bed. People pretended to be cheerful, and it wasn’t hard at first.

My grandmother has always been a bright and shining beacon of the sort of person I’d like to be. She could be in a terrible situation and smile and shrug. She had a way of putting things into perspective; she didn’t worry about things like money, she worried about giving gifts to people and prayed daily for the family. She also talked about her breasts, oogled naked swimmers through binoculars, and had a way of inserting very colourful language into the best part about her – her stories.

A had a story for everything, and many were often repeated. I developed a knack for doing her Polish accent, and retelling her stories to people who’d missed them the first (or twenty-second) time around.

On this night, the first words out of her mouth were, ‘Existere, you came so far! Have you had something to eat? Somebody make sure Existere has something to eat.’ She was cheerful, though obviously in pain and a shrunken version of her larger-than-life self. That night she got up on her own to go to the bathroom, she had conversations with people, she directed us to do whatever she wanted.

The next day she couldn’t get out of bed anymore. By the Thursday she had lapsed into a sort of coma. She was scratching and moaning a lot from the morphine, and my mother said we had to cut off the nightgown she had insisted on wearing days before. My mother took scissors and sliced through the deep turquiose fabric, which shimmered and stretched in the light. We rolled grandma, perhaps her imploring, ‘Wait, wait!’ and pulled the nightgown off.

My mother took calamine lotion and rubbed her mother’s breasts, arms, belly. We told Grandma it was her favourite Avena lotion, desperately trying to humanize this situation and make it normal. We laid a hospital gown over her, the woman who would rather be dead than have us see her naked.

As the days went by, I found myself always in her room with her sister. Esha was the youngest of a huge number of Polish children, and A was the oldest. They alone were left of their brothers and sisters. Dalia, my cousin, comprised the third member in our little group who wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Every now and then the stress would break over my mother like a top heavy wave, and I could see echos of the pain of losing her father here in the place where she was now losing her mother.

She’d take us for a pedicure, or shopping, and I went because she needed it. I still felt guilty, and terrifically terrified that A would die while I was gone. It felt important for me to be there, somehow.

My mother and I slept in a narrow twin bed on the Thursday and Friday, right across from Grandma’s hospital bed. It was her bed, the bed she swore she would not leave, but as it became harder to breathe she changed beds to make her doctor happy. She called him a good man, this crying man who brought her flowers, and asked us to buy him chocolates and wrap them with gold ribbon.

Thursday night, like every other night that week, I didn’t really sleep. Every few hours we got up to roll her. People were always in and out of the room. There was a constant emotional strain in the house, a stress of fighting with other family in an effort to try to do the best. Often the people who’d fought could be found in adjacent rooms, weeping.

On Friday my grandmother lapsed into the type of breathing I’ve heard twice before; the inhaling of life that signifies the approach of death. Everyone exchanged glances. The countdown had begun, and people seemed perplexed when Grandma kept hanging on. Her hospice nurse said she only had hours, but hours later I’d gone for one of my many walks with Bear, bought pizza, and sat in the basement with family eating and trying to feel normal.

The entire trip was like that, wanting to allow the horror and devestation wash over me, but being conscious somehow that I was there to help people. To hold people together. TMD was not there to hold me together, and so I think I was afraid of falling apart. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men would not be able to put me back together again.

Bear stepped easily into role. We went on long walks, looking at houses in the neighborhood. Once we got caught miles from her house in the rain, and we laughed and tried not to get struck by lightening. We bought lotto tickets for Esha, food for the family, time for ourselves. He took me, the sole vegetarian in a world of carnivores, out for a meal at the trashiest Mexican restaurant I’d ever seen.

But then Friday night came. I think the exhaustion of the past three/four days had caught up with me. I crawled into bed with my mother, pressed against the wood panelled walls. I faced my grandmother’s bed, hearing how hard it was for her to inhale, and not allowing myself to really feel it. Mom passed out. I soon fell asleep too.

It was a quieter night. We had agreed before bed that we wouldn’t move her anymore. Grandma was in the best position to breathe, it obviously had hurt her to move when she was conscious, and we knew she wouldn’t be alive for much longer. Esha told us of a Polish phrase her mother always said, ‘When they’re near the end, leave them alone.’ The house was still crammed with people, but it was slower and more sombre. Bit by bit, pieces of the house quieted down.

I slipped into a very deep sleep. Apparently people came in, held hands, said the rosary. Since I’d been home, it had been a feature of the day to hold hands, pray, sing. People read aloud to Grandma from her prayerbooks. Grandma clutched her favourite rosary in her hand until the very end.

At one point when I was alone in the room with her, I heard Grandma – who hadn’t spoken or moved in hours – very clearly say, ‘Momma,’ and then lapse into Polish. It was as if she was having a conversation with an invisible person, all the pauses in the right places.

This strain made me able to sleep through final giving of communion, of prayer, of people standing over my head and having conversations. Eventually they all left, and I slept on.

At around 3:30 in the morning I woke up. I still remember the oddness of it; waking completely clearheaded, having a definite feeling that I had been woken up by A. Grandma’s breathing had changed, and some primordial instinct in me knew This Was It. I tried to poke my mother awake, my fingers hitting the bare flesh of her butt cheeks.

‘I know, Existere,’ she said, swatting my hand away. ‘She’s been breathing like this for hours. You’ve been asleep.’

She quickly fell back into a doze. It was almost like a spell had been cast over the house. I heard no conversations, no muffled sounds of people in the bathroom, no pacing footsteps. I vowed to myself to stay awake until The End. I wanted to be there with her when she died.

I stayed lying in her bed, under her favourite blanket. I didn’t get out of bed, but merely propped myself up and looked over in her direction.

The next thing I know, I was awakened by my aunt leaning over Grandma. I knew then that she’d died, and that I’d probably fallen asleep at the exact instant of her death as only minutes had passed.

Then it was over.

My words earlier in the week – ‘Grandma, if I can be half the person you are, I’d be so happy’ that she’d swatted away, clearly not ready to accept that she was dying – they were gone. My showing her the rosary she’d given me as a little girl, and the delight and puzzlement on her face, that was gone.

The house felt empty. She still felt soft.

Then strangers came in, arranging everything. Arranging her body before rigor mortis set in, filling in reams of paper for her death certificate, asking us how we wanted it to be. As the early light began to show outside, still all dusty grey, two men pulled up in a vehicle.

We all gathered in the lounge, knowing what they were there to do, and silence fell. No one cried. No one tried to smile bravely. No one talked.

And then they carried her through on a sort of orange hammock, wrapped in a sheet with only her face sticking out. She seemed so small.

At that moment my life shifted and ended and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to find it again. People began to wail, and I felt this intense need to stare and stare and memorize it all. My mother threw one arm over her face and howled, ‘Mother!’

She ran into her father’s room, collapsed on the bed, and I followed. She was insensible, mumbling ‘Mama’ and thrashing around, her body shaking the bed, the room, the whole world. I rubbed her back and felt numb. I felt pain for my mother, but felt no pain for myself. After awhile she got up, wiped her eyes, and calmly walked out of the room to rejoin the family.

All that was left was me stumbling out of the bedroom, away from the people I was trying to support, and into Bear’s arms, sobbing and shaking and needing comfort. After not enough time there, I reentered the world.

And that’s where this ends, or begins. I was told not to go to the funeral home, so I spent the day lying in the living room with Dalia, talking about things I wish I had no knowledge of.

Bear and I picked up her remains, ashes in a white marble urn. Flowers were thrown, removed as the Official People put a sticker on the urn, and rearraged. Gum drops and her rosary and prayerbooks were put in the hole. I read at the funeral, rode in my mother’s best friend Anna’s car, felt like my insides were ripping out.

Before coming home, I took roll after roll of film of the house. I called TMD furtively from my bedroom and sobbed. And then I came home and cried all the time.

That August day, and all the days before it, had meant that I was on unknown ground, and all I could do was try to hold on as I felt myself rolling down into the deepest and blackest place I’ve ever been.

Now, it’s not so black. The air has gotten lighter. Unlike other things I write about from my past, though, this is not resolved. After all, the only resolution I’d want is impossible.

The day after she died, the hospital gave us her official diagnosis. B cell lymphoma.

Five months after she’s died, I’m still waiting for mine, but I think it’s pretty hard to classify a broken heart.

Posted in a previous blog 27 January 2006.

Healthy living, minus the feathers.

January 27, 2008

Mother plucker. I bought this software to help prepare me for my driving test(s). The first thing it mentioned about the practical test? The instructor has you read a license plate out – I think it’s 60 feet away.

Now I am no longer worrying about clicking on hazards, running over curbs, or accidentally killing small animals. No, I’m worried about my eyesight.

Good thing I have two obsessive compulsive eyetests booked this week, huh? One expensive one at a nice place with gorgeous, expensive frames. One at Cheapsville where everything is on sale and ugly. Expensive place is first. All going well, I will not venture into Cheapsville.

And on the theme of my general bodily health, I finally sucked it up and got a full STI screening. I’m pleased to report there are no bad things floating around in my blood or eating away at my brain.

And first up, we have the definite winner.

January 26, 2008

This morning we woke up and saw two mortgage advisers back-to-back. The second one was the husband of a friend/co-worker. I don’t know how much longer she will want to be our friend, considering we presented ourselves as Amish. I swear to fuck.

The questions about monthly living expenses were fine. We appeared normal. Then the lifestyle questions began.

How much money a month do you spend on clothes?

Uh, like ten pounds a year, actually.

How much money a month do you spend on entertainment?

We buy one takeaway pizza a month, roughly. Other than that we sit at home watching DVDs, or go to our friends over the road.

How much money a year do you spend on holidays?


How much money a month do you spend on alcohol?

We don’t really drink.

His eyebrows just got higher and higher. Hopefully his wife will still love him, because I think we made him permanently disfigured. He also suggested that we ‘treat’ ourselves to a drink when we exchange contracts. Nervous laughter was shared all around.

He then spent some time filling in forms, while my stomach put on a little show. It could not have been any louder had a microphone been inside it. Good times were had by all.

At any rate, we now know what sort of mortgage we’d like, how much people are willing to lend us (stupid, stupid people), and how much we can actually afford to pay back. We also drove up to another little area we’re considering, and we saw a house!!

You know a house is going to be good when the estate agent says, ‘That door on the right leads to the lounge. You can’t actually open the door because they’ve blocked it up with furniture on the other side.’ AND….


There is a giant, colourful map glued to the door that says ‘MAP OF THE HOLY CITY’ on it. I mean, that’s a big uh-oh if ever I saw one. Next room? Big cross hanging over the refrigerator. Lounge? Five nails hammered into the wall, with five rosaries hanging from them. And…


A big, metal machete hanging on the wall over the sofa.

This is the house for us, folks. Anyway, we had a nice wander, tried to clear the mold smell out from our lungs, and then I drove around a bit in the pitch dark. We now think we might try to buy a really ritzy flat for less money than we ever expected to spend.

A house in our budget would politely be known as a ‘fixer upper.’ These houses are likely to be owned by people who decorate with over-sized posters about the holy land and those not worthy to enter it, have hand coloured pictures of a black Jesus on their fridge, and think nothing of having GLITTERY GECKOS nailed to the wall, appearing to weave in and out of the aforementioned rosaries.

Rather than buying a piece of shit we cannot afford to rejuvenate, and therefore would probably have a difficult time selling on, how much nicer to get a flat that looks like someplace humans can inhabit. We’ll see. A three bedroom house with a garden is still the dream, but there is a bigger dream.

It involves a baby. It also involves TMD finishing her MA, me realistically being able to change jobs as mortgage payments wouldn’t be like shitting large chunks of glass every morning, and not decimating our savings account.

I’ll keep you posted.


January 22, 2008

Back to condoms, and inclusiveness.

I’m on this advanced training to do sexual health work with young people. Today, we had to plan and deliver a session to our colleagues for feedback. Two girlies I adore delivered a session on condoms. It was a good idea. Person A wants to use condoms, Person B doesn’t; they try to convince each other.

I looked at my blank piece of paper where I was supposed to list all the reasons I wouldn’t use condoms, and in big, angry letters across the top I wrote:

Lesbians don’t use condoms.

I was shocked the the anger I felt at not being recognised or included. And if I was a teenager, I can only imagine my response would have included a fair helping of feeling uncomfortable and isolated. Then my eyes drifted to the top right of the handout, and the name of the book popped out at me. It was very gender specific – two genders. What if I was a trans teen?

If you are feeling confused about your gender or sexuality, being utterly ignored in sex and relationships training is not a good thing. It could make you feel like a freak, alone, angry, sad, upset. All of which are not okay if you are trying to impart feelings of good sexual and emotional health to young people.

At the end of their session, I voiced my concerns.

After the whole day was over, one of the lovely girls asked me outright how they could have been more inclusive. Another staff member hopped in and said it had never crossed her mind that condoms wouldn’t be good for everyone. And the thing is – that’s what I expect. I expect heterosexuality to be taken as the norm, for the lesbian/gay/bi/trans community to be not included in those thoughts.

All of these books or workshops always include a few, well placed sentences that affirm being gay. (Being trans is just never mentioned – do people not realise this exists, or do they not know how to talk about it?) Those sentences piss me right the fuck off. I want to believe the person saying/writing them has good intentions, but it would be so much better to be inclusive in EVERY activity you did, rather than throwing in a token bit about the gays and expecting it to all be okay.

Lately sexuality has been on my mind a lot, and I suppose I was hurt today that two friends (who I plan workshops with in real life) would never even consider that their session could leave me/a gay teenager out of the loop.

If you are a gay teenager, or a trans teen, and you have found this site…guess what. You are not alone. And we are not freaks.

The good times, the bad times, they’ll be on my side forevermore…

January 21, 2008

The two best pieces of (written) advice I was given today:

1. The moody looking white woman with glasses is very reliable if you get a choice of staff!!

2. Sometimes it’s okay to collect a paycheck and take it easy. (I am of course not speaking from experience).

Exhilarated, almost.

January 21, 2008

I feel really, really good when I offer to help people carry their luggage up big flights of stairs.