The Best and Worst of Firsts

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Out on the deck and under the umbrella, before the real heat of this August day, Sylvia wondered. Would it be more of the same? Coffee, household chores, lists. Or would she experience something new today? Perhaps a first of the best kind? As she gazed out into the woods behind the house, her curiosity wasn’t piqued by the panoramic view of the landscape that had recently changed in her life. From the quiet, seamless lines of blue where sky meets water on the cove to the lush drapes of greenery that fortressed her now, the change marked a beginning and an end. Or an end and a beginning. And that is where she stopped. The order of things had her baffled momentarily, yet with the very next sip from the sweaty tumbler of iced water, she was struck by a concept that she had never really thought about until that very second. Beginnings and endings are always, always, always firsts.

Sylvia: Firsts are daunting, anxiety-ridden, and paralyzing, Erma.

Erma: Firsts are exciting, hopeful, and motivating, my friend. Just think. When something unpleasant ends, it’s the last of it. That leaves you open and eager for the next step, a new lease, a new beginning.

Sylvia: I get that, but it also signifies the end of an era, a final point in the history of a relationship or process. That’s sad, wouldn’t you agree?

Erma: Sylvia, stop. Not every morsel of life needs to be qualified as happy or sad. It’s not that simple–or in your case, that complicated. Some times, most times in fact, firsts and lasts just happen. It’s not until you look back and you are in the thick or thin of another life experience that you can even begin to really define the impact of a beginning or an end.

Sylvia: Okay, for once I’m going to sit back with my mouth shut and let you explain. At this very second, every first of my life is flashing before my eyes and as I see each of them again, I’m becoming more and more distraught. Trapped somewhere between nostalgia and progress.

Erma: Jesus, Sylvia, it’s now afternoon, and we’re just beginning. No pun intended. I’m going to grab something out of your wine fridge. So, clear your mind, and don’t think until I get back. Seriously. Do not think at all. Do not deliberate, contemplate, and above all, do not ruminate. I’m going to share with you the best and worst of firsts over a nicely chilled Pinot Gris today. You’ll see. You can’t catalog the moments of your life as happy or sad, or as beginnings or endings for that matter. You can only define each moment as a first, for better or worse.

Firsts are when and where life takes place. All of it. Every moment. Some actions and events seem repetitive, and indeed they are! That does not mean that they aren’t different though. Two moments in time are never identical. Erma learned this powerful tidbit over the last seven-plus decades, and that fact alone imparted credibility to her words, even as she explained how brushing her teeth each morning had become firsts for her. She illustrated how she had gone from grinning ear-to-ear as she brushed her pearly whites each day of her teens and twenties to watching a reflection of a waning smile as she lost enamel and gained wine and coffee stains in her forties and fifties. And now, as she thought about those decades of brushing, Erma introduced more examples of firsts. Caps, crowns, root canals, veneers, and partials. “See, Sylvia. There are no instant replays or do-overs. Each brushing is and was a first. Each day is a first.” All of this seemed obvious and a bit comical as Erma so often tried to weave a lesson with just a dash of whimsy. It should have been clear, but it wasn’t to Sylvia. Until she and Erma mulled it over and hashed it out, Sylvia hadn’t considered that firsts represent both the best and worst of life.

Through smiles and intermingled tears of joy and sorrow (none of which either woman could attribute to the rich, sweet, golden elixir or to the fact that they had consumed the entire bottle of it as they indulged in one of their ordinary chats), Sylvia sat looking out on the verdant scenery she now called home. She reflected on those singular firsts which transported her from joyful and full of hope and pride one minute to melancholy and brimming with fear and guilt the next. First friend. First sleepover. First move. First date. First kiss. First one to travel abroad. First “D” and “F”. First one to graduate from college. All her firsts. She paused, took a breath in, and then exhaled. She began again. His first breath. His first tooth. His first word. His first step. His first tumble. His first day of school. His first heartbreak. His first paying job. His first apartment. She beamed for a split second. She hesitated, looked out to the woods beyond the fence, and started again. The first time she heard the word cancer. The first night without her. The first morning they woke up to her empty room. The first time he left the water running. The first time he forgot she had passed. The first time he couldn’t remember her name. The first time he needed to be fed. The first time he looked at her and somehow spoke more clearly than ever with his eyes because the words were no longer there. All firsts. Each and every one was the very last first of its kind. The best and worst of firsts, indeed.

Sylvia (sighing) : I get it now, Erma. It’s how you look at it and what you learn from it.

Erma: That’s right. You’ve got it, my dear. Love it or hate it? That’s not the point. Appreciate it all. Every first is your last first of that kind, with that person, in that place, at that moment. Beginning or ending.

“Choose to Remember”

Erma’s left to go about her day after coffee and conversation with her best friend. She leaves Sylvia to contemplate the day and so much more.

As we finally come into summer weather, I think often of my family, extended and adopted, as well as my many friends- both near and far- who will be celebrating big milestones with and for their loved ones and the country with great fanfare and zest. My heart becomes instantly full. And then, just as quickly, I grow agitated and even a bit sad and disgusted.

I thought about this long and hard before I decided to share these thoughts, and then I remembered, that each of you has the option to either read and reflect or skim and skedaddle. So, I’m sharing because -to me- this is the stuff that we are meant to share, so that we can help each other through the rough spots. And one day each of us has or will have a couple, several, or many very rough spots. That is inevitable.

When my mother became ill in 2007 and she and Dad came to live with me and my family in California, everything changed. Family dynamics. Relationships. Life in general. My mom fought her battle miles away from many, but still she felt connected to the world. She was still a citizen. Still a mother. A nana. A friend. A sister. An aunt. She received calls, cards, visits, emails, etc. That ability to communicate is so often, too often, taken for granted these days because perhaps it requires so little forethought to text or communicate via technology. (Communication though does require thought– for now anyway.)

When one is fighting for life, it is an internal war of massive proportions. Your loved ones try to empathize and offer support and help to fight the daily skirmishes. The war though, the one that will inevitably be lost, which is really not a defeat but a matter-of-fact in life, is a solitary one. Death. Mom fought with all her might. People admired her strength, her guts, her spirit, and her grace. And indeed, my mom was strong, gutsy, spirited, and graceful. My mother was also a fairly private person who had a very public illness. An illness which everyone- EVERYONE- is touched by and despises.

Here’s where my thoughts, sadness, and disgust come into play. Woe is not I. Woe is WE. We fail in so many ways.

My father as you all know battles another dreaded disease- Alzheimer’s. He’s in the late stages now. He, unlike my mother, was a very public person, yet he has been saddled with a very closeted disease. It is we as a society comprised of supposedly loving families and friends who fail. It’s not that people don’t care. It’s not that awareness isn’t growing. I think it’s this simple and this heart- wrenching. The man that people knew is closeted. While he is locked away in his own mind, it is the key that everyone throws away that makes me sick to my stomach. He can no longer walk the streets. He can no longer go to the coffee shop and shoot the breeze with his buddies or those about town. He can no longer enjoy a meal in his family’s presence. Whereas my mother had the choice as to whether or not she would continue to do those things, my father does not. And therein is where my sadness and disgust emerge.

Alzheimer’s does steal from the person who is afflicted, but my sadness isn’t for my father or for myself. I am saddened by and for the many who don’t see him, or their own friends and loved ones with the illness. Dad is not dead. “Life is for the living” I hear time and again. Guess what? The smiling man who looks fabulous in yellow is very much alive. His pleasures are few, but if you could see how he still enjoys a jelly donut, holding a hand, or someone who smiles at him in passing, you’d know he’s very much here. He’s not the same man at a glance, but he’s the same man. And for the record, I am not a wonderful daughter. I’m just a daughter, a human being, who is doing the best she can. I’m the girl who still sees the light and laughter in the man who taught her to step outside of herself and give back to the community and world at large.

So, during this ensuing week of remembrance, post Memorial Day, remember that the sorrow you feel and condolences you offer to the caregiver while appreciated are not warranted and do not make the caregiver necessarily feel better. I am caring for someone who is still alive. Very much alive. It is a slow process of dying, but the end is not here. In my mind and in the eyes of a power greater than any of us, my father and others who live with this disease are still human, still feel, and still contribute. They are teaching us to value life. I and others who have Alzheimer’s in their faces each day would much rather you see, really see, that our person- our father, husband, brother, uncle, and friend is still there. Is still here. Send a card. Make a visit. It may be hard for you, but trust me, the small battle of getting through the day would be so much easier for the Alzheimer’s patient if he or she was not totally forgotten and closeted. Being locked in his or her own mind is bad enough. And I guarantee that if what you are looking for is a moment to stop and appreciate what you have and to get outside of yourself, Alzheimer’s is the wake-up call.

Remember. Remember. Right now you have that extreme luxury.

Wishing all of us peace, joy, and the power of remembering what it means to live and love fully and with intention and purpose.

So many things come to light when Sylvia sits out in the sunshine on the cove.

The Best Diet Ever

How ironic that one tiny, fleeting moment can fill the heart, and that the resulting fullness renders one nearly weightless!
Savoring moments like velvety spoonfuls of an ice-cream sundae, Sylvia and Erma discover the key to successful dieting.

Being happy. Zero calories.

Erma: Sylvia, you can’t measure the immeasurable.

Sylvia: Thank goodness, Erma. That explains why I’m at my lightest when I’m at my happiest.

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.
~Zelda Fitzgerald

Watch “Are You There, Erma? It’s Me, Sylvia” on YouTube

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but Sylvia & Erma know better than anyone that old chicks and new tricks go together like peanut butter and jelly, coffee and muffins, and wine and chocolate.

Take a look and a listen to their new YouTube channel, especially their playlist. Don’t forget to subscribe so that you’ll know when “the gals” go live. Stay tuned. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvXlx7iqvz2zPRaGsgtjjHA

One Teardrop At a Time

Let the tears flow. Tears of survival. Tears of determination.

Erma: I assure you, Sylvia, it’ll pass. It’ll be over soon.

Sylvia: You think so? Promise? Because honestly, Erma, I don’t know if I have anything left. I’m so tired.

Erma: Bullshit, Sylvia. There’s always something left, so grab the Kleenex.

Sylvia Sums Up Life in a Word…or Two

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Sylvia: There’s nothing that a good fuck can’t cure. Seriously. It’s one of the most honest, if not the most liberating, pathways to freedom.  

Erma: Well, I’ll take your word for it, Sylvia.  I might be a bit too old to go that route.  

Sylvia: Well, first of all, you’re never too old! But for God’s sake, Erma, I’m not talking about the act, although admittedly that can be therapeutic and invigorating, not to mention fun. I’m talking about the word. F-U-C-K. Yep, fuck. Best word ever.  

Well, well, well. There’s food for thought most certainly.  All of her life Erma has searched for the right word.  A word that is so empowering that it possesses the unparalleled ability to convey deep dark angst, utter disgust, and unbridled joy and passion, not concurrently mind you, but at just the right times when all other vocabulary escapes you.  And in one fell swoop and three old-fashioneds later, Sylvia, more frequently the student, becomes the teacher and Erma’s purveyor of the nuances and more deeply seated meanings of what Erma and her generation used to call the golden word. FUCK. Gilded by virtue of its forbidden nature– something you can do or think but never say.

Taking long, generous sips of their afternoon cocktails, Erma and Sylvia engage in what might just be the most meaningful, candid, and unexpectedly humorous conversation of their friendship.

“Here’s the thing, Erma. Fuck holds so much power because it’s multi-purpose. It’s universal. Fuck fits everywhere. In every exchange fathomable between two people, you can imagine, feel, and use fuck. It’s a noun, a verb, an adjective. It’s a word, an action, and an emotion.”  

“It’s also quite funny, Sylvia. I have to admit that just hearing you say the word over and over is titillating.  It makes me feel like a school girl. Almost a bit giddy and undoubtedly a bit naughty. Tell me more, my friend.  I have a feeling that I’m in for a real life lesson– one that may be immediately applied.”  

“Erma, all I can share with you is what I know first hand.  I never heard my mother utter the word. Goddammit. Son-of-a-bitch. Shit. Jesus Christ. Yes, all of those would come burgeoning out at full force, especially when she was agitated duly or unduly by one of her children, her husband, work, or the dog. It wasn’t until Mom’s early 50s that fuck came into play, that it became a part of her lexicon. I remember it vividly. She was making the bed, of course in a bit of a rush as she always was in her valiant and ritualistic attempts to get organized and out the door before 7am.  As clear as Sunday church bells in a small hamlet, I heard it. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck’r. Fucking fuck. Fuck. Little mother fucker.” And there it was in all its glory. Unbridled. Free-flowing. She had stubbed her toe- the bad one, the big one with the corn and the ingrown toenail- on the over-sized, maple-footed ball of the bed. And needless to say, it hurt so much that FUCK was the only word, the sole expletive that fit.  At that moment though, as Mom grabbed her toe with tears in her eyes groaning out fuck after fuck, I had an epiphany. My mother was human. Fuck rendered her mortal. The power of fuck had been unleashed.”

“Well Sylvia, that was nothing more than a gut reaction, don’t you think?” Erma suggested, almost apologizing for Mom’s foul language. “A spontaneous response to an annoyingly unfortunate event,” she added.  

“Perhaps,  Erma, but I think it revealed so much more.  I think it was a release for her. No other word in the world could have expressed her anger while providing her with such liberation and cleansing. With each fuck, each hard and exasperated fuck, came freedom.  And in all its power and glory, fuck gained instant standing and acceptance in my book because Mom had used it fiercely, passionately, and unapologetically.”

“I get it, Sylvia, but tell me, you can’t actually believe that one single word accommodates other life situations as well?  How can one word be so multi-faceted?  Give me examples–minus the obvious, of course. 

“Fuck in a nutshell is what you are looking for, Erma.  Here goes.  Disgust: When your significant other feigns concern about your well-being and then proceeds to ask if his whites are done and what’s for dinner. Are you fucking kidding me? Joy: When your grown kid texts you before his bedtime (not yours) to share a pic of his favorite diva whom he happened to sight on his way to the subway. That’s fucking awesome! Incredulity: When the person next to you on the plane puts a used tissue in the seat-back pocket. What the fuck? Anger: When you finally find the perfect parking spot at the mall, have your blinker on to properly claim it, and then an oncoming car goes around several waiting vehicles to steal the spot. Fuck you. (That one must be accompanied with a look of disdain and the appropriately inappropriate finger.) Fatigue: You come home very late, depleted of every ounce of physical and mental energy after an excruciating day, only to find that a raccoon has rummaged through your garbage barrel leaving trash everywhere including your neighbor’s driveway. I don’t have one more fuck to give today. Indifference: When there’s just no pleasing anyone. I don’t give a fuck. Fuck it! And even though you don’t want to hear about the obvious, Erma, it really has to be said. Consider it a reminder to all women that you only get what you ask for. Desire: When you are with your lover and he’s willing to do anything to see you fulfilled time and again. Fuck me. Please. So, see Erma, the word is pure gold.  It can be melted down and morphed into so many emotions.  But of all the feelings, thoughts, and deeds that it encompasses, none is greater than the other “f” word that all fucks lead to–the mother of all “f” words–freedom. Don’t you agree, Erma?”

As Erma sat swirling the remaining ice cube in her tumbler, she thought to herself, “Fuck?  Fuck, yes. Absolutely, Sylvia, freedom indeed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 



  

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From Sylvia & Erma on Mother’s Day

This mid-May, Mother’s Day nor’easter on the Cape awakened me on multiple levels today (and too frequently last night if truth be told). However, in Sylvia-and-Erma fashion, I’ve tried to make sense of the morning chaos that Mother Nature has seen fit to bestow upon us, although admittedly my success may be lacking.

I’ve often felt that on days like today the gods are weeping- well, more like sobbing it appears as I look out my bedroom slider on the cove.  Yep, definitely sobbing.  Bawling, in fact.  You see, at the risk of sounding soft, gooey, and maybe even a wee bit emotional, my take on today is that the heavens have opened, and mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters, and all the little girls who were never given the chance to become any, all, or none of the aforementioned, are worried to the point of tears-for those of us who are here and remembering them oh-so-fondly at this moment and every single day we must live without them.  What are their worries you ask?  After all, how lovely it must be to have eternal peace! No homework to do for the little girl? No fear of not being invited by the cool girls to the slumber party?  No worries there.  For the nieces and aunts, no fear of the secrets they shared and kept just among  themselves – without fear of ever being revealed to their sisters or their mothers. For the sisters, no worries about who is the oldest, middle, or youngest; who will take over the position of matriarch in the family when Mom and Grandma have passed; who will be the glue? All of those worries, their worries, have hopefully been replaced by infinite bliss and the newly generated wisdom of what they have discovered as the meaning of life: live each day as if it is your last. Love passionately- whether it be for another person, humankind, or a slice of this earth. Care deeply. Laugh hard. Practice self-care. Dream of who you may become. Leave behind the parts of you that are draining. Love yourself as you are at this moment. Their worry, the worry of those women and girls, young and old, who weep for us this Mother’s Day is that we fail to appreciate the present.   

They weep because they know that missing them does not change the outcome. They shed tears for us with the hope that we learn from their successes, their failures, the dreams that either reached fruition or never came to be. But above all, their tears fall upon us to wake us up to the fact that we have what they don’t: life. Live it with purpose. With wild abandon. With determination. With fear. Yes, with a bit of fear.  Be afraid that if tomorrow never comes, you won’t have experienced the one thing that only you can possess. Love of self.

Mom, don’t cry.  I’m learning.  

“All that I am, I owe to my mother.”