Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thick With Memory

Daddy weaved over me, his eyes bleary yet indignant.

"Phoebe. Where’s the damn cheddar?” He grunted, then turned, the belt of his plaid robe trailing on the floor. I stumbled up, tripping over the afghan, and followed.

The kitchen reeked of vinegar and over-ripe fruit. He stood before the refrigerator, rooting in the vegetable drawer. Apples and pears and Kosher dills rolled at his feet. God. Oh God. The grandfather clock boomed. I counted each chime …ten… eleven… twelve… then exhaled.

“Daddy.” I picked up a bottle of soda fizzing under the table. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for cheese,” he said. “Your mother didn’t fix dinner.”

Mrs. Snyder didn’t look much like Mom although I did, with my long blond hair, hazel-green eyes and wisp of a body. I took in the neat stack of washed plates by the sink, the ketchup blotching his tee shirt, then lured him to the table with a glass of orange juice. He drank while I knelt in pickle juice, swabbing the floor with dish towels.

“Honey, where’s your fiancĂ©?” he said. “He doesn’t visit anymore.” He smiled at me, eyes solemn and clear. He’d never met Kevin. “Did he get lost?” He giggled. “In his lab with his crazy mice?”

My stomach clenched. “Ben and I broke up--”

“Ah, Ben… yes, that’s his name.” He nodded. “He loves you – I see it in the way he looks at you. You know, I’m not sure I approve of him, too young, too immature. Maybe it’s his manic-depression that makes him jump around like a ping-pong ball. Who knows, who knows… but I have to admit, he is good to you.”

I blinked fast. With mechanical care I returned the pickles to their jar, each one making a wet, plopping sound. I slowly stood, pitching the bruised pear toward the sink. The fruit hit the cabinet instead and splattered on the floor. Oh God, give me patience. Please don’t let me lose it now. Facing the counter so he couldn’t see me, I dabbed my eyes with the corner of the towel, but the garlicky brine only made me cry harder.

He asked again for his sandwich. I turned to the fridge, found the cheese, plastic-wrapped American, hidden behind a six-pack of grape Fanta. I grabbed mustard, deli-sliced ham, and too-fluffy white bread. Daddy hated American cheese, hated Wonderbread and ‘spam ham’ full of sulfites and God knows what else. After all, until this year he grew organic vegetables. Damn Mrs. Snyder for buying all this junk. I’d have to go to the grocery store tomorrow, always an ordeal with Daddy in tow.

I breathed in and out, concentrating on the sound of sleet skittering against the window before forcing a smile. I brought the plates to the table. Daddy stared at his sandwich, then unfolded a napkin in his lap.

“This is good.” Crumbs fell from his mouth.

I settled across from him. The cheese larded my mouth. A quarter into the sandwich I remembered his meds, kept in the pillbox on the counter. I tapped out the memantine and galantamine onto a napkin. Expensive drugs for dementia, probably useless at this stage, but maybe he’d be worse without them. At least that’s how I justified their expense. But where was the third pill? His antipsychotic? I rummaged in the cupboard until I found the almost empty bottle wedged between Maalox and aspirin, and made a mental note to order a refill in the morning.

Daddy swallowed his pills without fuss. He reached across the stained Formica table and patted the top of my hand. Still steady, still the touch of a confident physician. I wrapped my fingers around his.

“So how’s life down south?”

My shoulder muscles softened; Daddy was back. “Good. A few more months of my fellowship, then I’m on my own. A real doctor.”

“A pain specialist.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. “I’m proud of your hard work, honey. Medicine is one of the most challenging but rewarding careers. Did I ever tell you about when I was interning at Mass general and the Hong Kong flu swept through Boston? Bedlam, absolute bedlam. Up for six nights straight. Not enough beds so we had patients camped along the Charles. Warm winter that year, so the flu spread…”

I pushed aside the uneaten sandwich and closed my eyes. His voice rambled, thick with memory. I’d heard this story many times in recent weeks; he seemed stuck in a time warp from forty years ago. I wondered if this particular memory would fade like the others.

“Johanna?”

I blinked at my mother’s name.

“I’m worried, about Phoebe. She hides in her room all day long. I know you don’t feel well, but you need to speak with her - she won’t talk to me. She’s alone too much, and it doesn’t do--”

“Daddy, Mom’s dead.”

He stared at me. His next syllable hung in the air for a fraction, then he continued with his worries about me from another lifetime.

I didn’t know how much longer I could do this.

***

Excerpted from PURE, a novel currently in a state of distress. Go here to read more about Phoebe...

And hey -- this is my 200th post. Cool.

Peace, Linda

36 comments:

  1. Nice story. At first, I thought the father was an alcoholic, and then it dawned on me. Very emotional. Good work.

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  2. This book, Linda. When? I need to read it. Another beautiful excerpt here that captures with delicacy the pain of the carers. You have a great talent.

    My closest friend's grandfather Billy died of dementia in June. My friend and I cycled 450 miles around Europe in a weekend to raise money to help families like theirs who suffer greatly. Billy died the next week. My friend had not been able to 'do' anything for his grandfather for years, but he did that weekend and it felt - even for me - like redemption.

    Sorry for the essay - beautiful, thoughtful writing. Simon.

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  3. Oh Linda, with each piece of this book I grow more and more eager to read the enitre thing.

    This part was especially good. You write with such honesty, and always with that gentle touch.

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  4. Your excerpts continue to impress. Wonderous writing.

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  5. Writing is great. Keep on destressing; and congrats on 200

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  6. Congrats on your 200th!

    Great excerpt. I really love Phoebe, and I loved getting a look at her home life, in a deeply, emotional and touching way like this.

    Your writing is crisp and gorgeous as always.

    Why is Pure in distress??

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  7. That's a fabulous piece. I loved reading it. Thank you!!

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  8. Happy bi-cenpostennial!

    Novel in distress. HA! Novels are like leaky ships. You're always bailing water or trying to patch something or fighting off time pirates so you can keep working on them. Sadly the Coast Guard is rarely around when you need them.

    --John

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  9. Pure is going to be beautiful. Keep on posting. I'm hungry for more. You have the best network of writer friends in the world. Call on me anytime.

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  10. Linda, gorgeous writing and very thoughtful too. I loved this especially: 'concentrating on the sound of sleet skittering against the window'.

    Sorry to hear PURE is in distress! As per Carrie, we're here to help if you need us/want us to. Why not post a bit that's giving you gried? We might just be able to help?

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  11. Thank you all for reading. And for caring! PURE is a story I have in my head, but the structure is so blankety-blank hard to get down with 3 POVs. I write a scene, only to realize it needs to be told by another person. Kind of stalled now, but will keep plugging away -- and take you all up on a rough section or two. Promise.

    Peace, Linda

    Chrys, I SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO hope I see you Saturday! Call me when you get in...

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  12. Beautiful, tender writing. The details are so perfect, capturing the reader just as much as the dialogue does. (The dialogue is fantastic as well.) Can't wait for this to be out!

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  13. so many subtle expressions of the character's state of mind (cleaning up the pickles etc). And I loved the setpiece arguments she knew would ensue while out vegetable shopping. Was the father British by any chance? Just something about his idiom made me wonder...

    marc nash

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  14. It is probably a good thing that we don't actually mark the moment WE become parents and our Parents become our children..at least quasi-children in our care. This piece so well speaks to the pain and anguish - on both ides- of that equation. As always Linda very deft in the telling. Let me know when this book is available on Kindle!

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  15. This got into my head - and my heart. My grandmother has dementia & spending time with her is always hard, but very necessary, because sometimes she's still there, & sometimes she knows that I am...& neither of us will be there forever. Brilliant stuff Linda, it's gonna be a hell of a book! :)

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  16. I know I've said it a gazillion times already Linda, but I'll say it again - I can't wait until Pure hits the shelves!
    The writing here is absolutely gorgeous, as usual. Like Lily, my favorite line was about the skittering sleet. That one little detail adds so much emotion to this piece.
    Bravo!

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  17. Heartrending and terrific...


    Oddly enough I was listing to the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" as I read this tale...

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  18. I have goosebumps. This one is so immediate. This is beautiful writing.

    Linda, 200 posts and everything else has honed your writing. You are truyly gifted.

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  19. Congrats on your 200th post!

    This excerpt is a gem. Full of the emotion and situations one would expect to see in dealing with a parent suffering dementia. Great descriptions throughout this piece and a nice, even pacing.

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  20. Linda, your writing *is* authenticity, and you say so much with so few words. Like this, “A pain specialist.” which speaks volumes on so many different levels of this evolving story.

    I say don't let yourself to stall out, just keep writing and the structure will sort itself out later. Go with whatever POV is coming to you and let it go.

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  21. Great stuff - poignant and raw.

    One pointer: I didn't think it was necessary to mention that the father has dementia, as you conveyed that well in the dialogue.

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  22. Beautiful. I invite you to contribute to CHMagazine with your writings. Thanks.
    Daniel D. PEACEMAN, writer and editor of Contemporary Horizon, an independent and multicultural magazine
    E-mail: drgdaniel@yahoo.com

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  23. Another very potent scene, Linda. Having the father eat and enjoy food that he never would have touched back in the day - such a devastating detail. He doesn't even remember that he hates processed cheesefood.

    I don't think you need any of my meds, Linda; you're doing fine without them!

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  24. Thank you all for reading and commenting and RTs. I'm overwhelmed, and will respond to some comments shortly -- after dinner! Today was a furlough day for me, so I participated in "write your a$$ off' day with a group of others, and got enarly 3k of new words down. I'm slow, but it was good.

    You guys rock. I've been reading yours - woot! What a crowd of faby flashers. Dare I add -- we're ALL getting better? A side effect of writing every friday is, well, it's more practice.

    Ok, wine to my head, later... Peace, Linda

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  25. You reach and touch not only the people who may be experiencing this same situation, but those who have not. This excerpt brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Evocative and tender, with so many emotional layers.

    Excellent work.

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  26. Two hundred? Wow, congrats.

    You've got some good stuff here, and an apt title.

    I still don't know the answer to Neil Young's question and it's been years.

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  27. State of distress? Seems pretty polished to me. Nice excerpt, and not bad as a stand alone either.
    ~jon

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  28. As usual, Linda, your story is special. I felt the heartbreak of the diagnoss and the every day pain of the daughter. Good job.

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  29. Such a stirring piece, remarkable writing!

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  30. You've really captured the frustration and trying to keep a normal facade for the one suffering. Keeping it low key, normal, while it's like something from a bad dream.
    Is Mrs. Snyder a caretaker?

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  31. Still love this scene. Congrats on the 200th post. Popping a cork to you. :)
    Deborah

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  32. Very emotional, excellent scene and a great story. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Made me think (I'm no spring chicken myself).

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  33. It suddenly struck me that my amazing niece with Asberger's would truly enjoy and benefit from reading your work (dual diagnosis, bouncing among meds). But much more preciously, she would benefit from your skill and blessing for creating a place for the reader to experience emotion, guided to understanding. Thank you, and please let me know when your book is out for mass consumption. Congrats on #200!

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  34. Congrats on your 200th post!
    I don't know how I could deal with this kind of situation as a long term emotional drain. I hope I'll never have to find out. Wonderful writing and getting the reader to feel what is going on, Linda.

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  35. Hi Linda, Having been through this situation, it's too hard to read sometimes, and I usually avoid it because that's my favorite way to deal with things. Denial, anyone? In any case, you've really captured the difficulties and frustrations, but the love and compassion also shines through. It's a beautiful story, and I'm sending best thoughts that Pure gets itself worked out. Keep loving it, and it will! ~ Olivia

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  36. I want to thank everyone who read this excerpt and commented. Some of your observations touched my heart.

    Simon, what a wonderful tribute to your friend's grandfather.

    Marc, not British, though of Scottish descent -- funny how we know everything about our characters ;^)

    Al, I love SHINE ON YOUR CRAZY DIAMOND. It's one of my writing songs, one used for Ben when I need to write him manic.

    Daniel, I checked out your site -- thank you. Only non-fiction? I love the global reach...

    Netta, thank you for commenting on and visiting. Come back soon!

    Lisa, please share with your niece. One of my aims with my writing is to humanize mental illness, substance abuse, and cognitive and physical disabilities.

    Liv, hugs to you. You're exactly who I'm writing for...

    Happy Monday, and peace... Linda

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