Birthday in the woods.

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Happy Birthday, Grumpy Pants

Perhaps it is because I was born blue, refusing, without intervention, to breath, causing my poor mother to vomit into her own hair.  Or maybe it was my father recanting, year after year, the story of the first time he saw me, slick with my mother’s blood and amniotic goo — a sight he was not prepared for back in the days when a father’s role was to pace and smoke in the waiting lounge, and only later, to be presented with a freshly bathed, powered and swaddled little product of his loins.  At any rate, birthdays and I do not agree.  I dread them.  They seem predestined to follow one of three recurring themes, all ending, if not in horror, at the very least like a bad ‘date’ you never want to speak of or think about again.

Theme One: Illness

Whether it be tonsillitis, tooth ache, back spasms, or cancer, one will invariably land on, or linger through, my birthday roughly every three years.  Top prize goes to my nephrectomy (removal of kidney) in 2005.  To be fair, the surgery took place four days before my birthday, but the morphine-dazed hospitalization sailed right through it.  It’s a blur.

Theme Two: Trouble in Paradise

This theme only occurs when I’m in a romantic relationship, or, as sometimes happens, wishing I were not.  Ranging anywhere between a post-argument air of lingering, low-level hostility that hovers over the birthday dinner, to a full-blown, cataclysmic break-up, culminating in night of barbed text message, crying into the phone, until finally, swollen eyed and depleted, I fall into bed, hours before midnight.  Top prize for this theme goes to my thirtieth, where not only did we have the explosive break-up, but the police had to be called in to remove the jerk, who was outside attempting to deflate all my tyres.  Thankfully over the years, my attraction to high drama romances has diminished.  Nonetheless, the uncomfortably silent dinners abide.

Theme Three: I am Forgotten

This is the one where every birthday seems to vaguely follow the plot of ‘Sixteen Candles’.  It is also the most frequent of my recurring themes.  They often start out innocently enough.  Someone will remember it’s my birthday in the morning, but then, later in the day, forget all about it.  In this instance, recalling all the earlier nose-dive birthdays, I tend to just shrug it off and not remind anyone.  Classic example: my twenty-sixth, where it was decided the night before that I would meet my friend, Millie, for breakfast in the morning, then spend the evening knocking back free drinks at a row of dive bars near her house.  It was not long after ordering my morning coffee that I knew Millie had forgotten.  Over our plates of eggs over easy, hash browns and toast (ordered on separate checks – clue one), Millie regaled me with highlights from the night before, and her plans for her upcoming holiday in New York.  She was to fly out in three days.  Tight-lipped I listened, as she went over the details of her flights, what she would pack and all the sights she planned to see.  Suddenly, she sat up straight, ‘Oh, I almost forgot…’ as she fiddled inside her handbag, producing a set of two keys and a note of some kind…. For a sliver of a second, I allowed myself to believe that it was all a wind up and my birthday festivities were about to begin.  Instead, it was a list of instructions for feeding her cat and looking after her apartment — something I’d agreed to some weeks before, and of course, her spare keys for said apartment.  At the counter, we paid our (separate) checks, I hugged her goodbye and wished her a fabulous time in New York.  I did not remind her.

Today is my birthday.  Early acknowledgements are in, so I know it’s not forgotten.  I feel quite well today, so illness is not likely to mar the day.  I am romantically involved … so there is that….  My plan so far is to take the dogs for a walk in the woods, do a bit of reading, a bit of writing, perhaps some photography, then brace myself for whatever the evening brings.  Who knows? Could be grand. . .

OK Ms. Grumpy pants!! Nobody wants to hear about your opposition to my Facebook look back video!!

images (1)For my sweet son, Ian.  Thank you for the title Eeener-Neener!

Recently, (okay, not recently, for some time), I have grown increasingly disenchanted with Facebook.  First it was the timeline format unceremoniously forced upon its users; then all the targeted adverts (my own generally pertaining to ‘mature dating’, ‘wrinkle remedies’, and ‘fashion); and now, to mark Facebook’s tenth anniversary, we have ‘a look back’, an unsolicited and indeed, intrusive, tour through our Facebook photos, posts, likes and whatnot, accompanied by an annoyingly shite soundtrack.  Where’s that ‘dislike’ button when I need it most?

And yet, and yet… as I scan through my increasingly bloated news feed, I note so many on my friends list have opted to share (thankfully there is an option) their little ‘Facebook movie’ for all to see and celebrate.

Curiosity got the better of me.  I clicked the link to view mine.  Behold!  A captivating mosaic of non-contextual posts and photos, thoughtfully chosen by whatever computer generated programme Facebook used to piece this masterpiece together.  In one minute and two seconds, seven years of my life was tidily compressed into banal highlights, excluding, of course, anything remotely ‘real’ that happened.  My seven years on Facebook, as represented by Facebook, pretty much sucked.  And so has the (insert number of years) of my friends and family – if the highlights are to be trusted.

So, what is the common denominator here?  Facebook makes our lives suck, or at least makes them seem to suck, by sucking away at our time, compressing our communication with others to soundbites and tagged photos and cluttering our news feeds with so much shit that we don’t care to know, that we tune out and miss out on important moments that are ‘real’ and that did happen to ourselves and to our friends; the bits about our lives, post Facebook, that may have sucked, but didn’t suck in that hackneyed way our Facebook amalgamated lives suck.

That’s my Grumpy pants rant over.

I have no photos of Leslie…

I cannot recall a time she did not torment me.  When we were children she tortured me; tore the heads from my dolls, took sides against me with our playmates, tattled on me and hit me so hard, to this day, I believe I saw tiny birds flying around my head, like the ones in cartoons.  Once she even knocked the wind out of me.  It was terrifying.

My sister was a weightlifting, bare knuckle punching, tomboy and I was a baby doll clutching priss.  But there are always so many stories behind stories.  Leslie is no stock character.  She suffered from an almost crippling guilty conscience and confessed to all her imagined sins, so earnestly and tearfully… how could I not want to lift here back up — tell her she was normal, that she was clean, that she was a good girl; even if she did torment me.

The way I see it, despite her propensity for bullying me, all her life Leslie strove to be a good girl.  Good girls are clean, thin, straight and traditional. They are a curious mix of conservative in theory, yet apolitical in practice.  Good girls don’t make waves, and for all that sublimation and self-effacement, they are rewarded with approval, acceptance, security and love.  But it didn’t work that way. Instead she just struggled. She struggled through and out of a violent marriage, through and out of a terrible addiction to amphetamines (all in a quest for slimness..), and more recently, through isolation, agoraphobia, depression and her old friend, guilt, who’s always nearby to kick the living shit out of her over her past drug use, her first marriage, her childhood, and the everyday navigational problems of modern life.  Good girls have it hard.

We are middle aged women with years and an ocean separating us.  We talk on the phone, mutually disapproving of each other, nitpicking, arguing, but in the course of the same conversation, we turn to jokes, reminiscences, and laugh til our sides hurt. We always say ‘I love you’ before we hang up.  We fall out, we come back, fall out again and the cycle continues on and on, like it has for decades.  She’s my sister.  I love her and she loves me.

Just over two weeks ago Leslie contracted the H1N1 flu virus.  That virus rampaged through her body like Conquistadors on crack. Within days she was giddy with fever, as the infection seized her lungs and morphed into viral pneumonia.  January 24th was the last time Leslie was conscious.  That night they moved her to the intensive care unit, where, for two weeks, she has been heavily sedated, on a ventilator, a catheter, an IV drip, a feeding tube and assorted other devices inside and upon her body.  I cannot see her.  I can only imagine her, still as a stone under white sheets, with the sounds of blips and beeps and the in and out pumping of the vent.  I can only imagine the terror in her eyes, on those occasions, when the bliss of sedation weakens, and just for a moment, she swims up from wherever that place is that the Leslie in Leslie is currently deferred.  And in that moment, I wish so badly that I could be there to hold her hand and tell her it’ll be ok, I love her, and she’s a good girl.

I am four thousand miles, give or take, away from my sister.  Lack of money, lack of a dog sitter, a cat sitter and all that ordinary everyday shit of living, keeps me tethered here in Ireland, as she lies tethered to tubes and gadgets in Nebraska.  The distance is painful.  This evening I realized that I have no photographs of Leslie, even though I saw her only two years ago, at a time when it was our father lying in ICU.  She would not allow me to photograph her.  She is self conscious about her weight and does not want to see it duplicated in a digital image.  I do not know if having a photo would make the worry and sense of helplessness I feel tonight any better. Probably not.

She and her husband had planned to visit me here in March.  The last time we spoke on the phone she told me how she had been looking up places of interest in Wexford.  We talked about all the places she wanted to see, about the pubs, the seafood … perhaps a day trip into Dublin.  I would have taken her picture.