Friends and families

I just heard a poet on the radio read a loving poem about his dead mother, and I wished I could write a loving poem about my dead mother. When she passed away 23 years ago, I grieved intensely for sixteen months. Every night, she would come in dreams, and we would know such happiness as we had never known in real life. Then I would remember that she was dead, and she would recede into the darkness, leaving me to awaken in tears. After those sixteen months, the anger came and never left. It is still my only connection to her.

Peggy had told me years earlier that my mother treated me badly, but I couldn’t see it. Or rather I could see it, but I had spent so many decades telling myself that she didn’t mean the hurtful things she said, that I couldn’t let myself believe it.

While the poet was on the radio, a caller said that her own mother died in 1971, but that the grief is as fresh as if she had died yesterday. People often say that you should get over your grief in twelve months, but I don’t think it ever ends. It might morph, like mine did, but I hardly feel “over it.” It just takes up less of my time. After my mother died, three months passed during which I never felt a moment of joy. Then I was touring the Duluth, Minnesota, train museum one wintry day when it hit me that several minutes had gone by during which I hadn’t felt sad about losing my mother. The realization taught me that I still had the capacity for joy, and that I could expect to feel it for longer periods.

The good thing about your parents dying is that you don’t have to put up with them anymore. The bad thing is that everything that bothered you about them is frozen in time so that, if you work it out, you work it out alone.

I have a half brother who doesn’t want to know me, and a half sister to whom I am a mostly a penpal. I also have a full sister, but I haven’t spoken to her in the fifteen years since our father died. She abandoned him, so he left her out of his will. She expected me to share his meager estate anyway, but I would have burned it first. The truth of the matter is that we never liked one another, so it isn’t my sister I miss but the idea of having a sister. The same is true of my parents.

My half sister, Anne, envies me because I grew up in a home that had two parents, while she was raised by an uncle who treated her like an object of charity. I meanwhile, envy Anne because she was at least raised by people who didn’t hate one another, and because she had an extended family of other aunts and uncles who loved her and for whom she has fond memories. Oddly, some of my fondest “family” memories are of those very people, yet I was only around them for a week one summer.

I had but one uncle and one aunt of my own. The uncle, I didn’t know, and the aunt and her brother—my father—disliked one another, so her six children consequently disliked me. Things would have been easier had they not been the only other children in my rural neighborhood.

When I was a young man, I imagined that I would create a family from among my friends to supplement my own small and troubled family, but what I found about friends was that when holidays rolled around, they spent them with their blood relatives, leaving Peggy and me alone—unless, of course, she went away to see her own parents and sisters in which case I was really alone. True, my friends might talk about their relatives as if they were the worst people in the world, but when holidays came they went to them, and this made me wonder how close we really were. I also noticed that friends have a way of moving across the country and losing touch.

I turned to dogs for family with some success. The best thing about dogs is that they won’t abandon you. The worst thing is that they’re like perpetual children that need taking care of their whole lives long without ever being able to take care of you. Bonnie and Baxter became significant liabilities after my recent surgeries because they still needed their daily walks and grooming even when it was cold and muddy and my belly had been split open, or I couldn’t put on my coat because my arm was in a sling five inches in front of my body.

Another attempt I made at family was the Masons and the IOOF. There is much to be said for such fraternities, but the people you meet there are no more likely to care about you than are the people you meet anywhere else. My fraternities were founded for the express purpose of serving as extended family, and the members even call one another brother and sister, but it is a mistake to take these things too seriously.

I would feel worse about my inability to maintain close ties with family or friends over the decades if Peggy didn’t have the same problem. I can’t see how it is her fault, and this leads me to think that life is just that way. I’ve known people who I imagined to have a lot of friends, but when I became their friend, I learned that I was wrong or that their friends, like my own, tended to drift away after a few months or years.

Right up through college, friendship came easily. But maybe that was because I didn’t mistrust people back then. Now, I never assume that a relationship will last.

Some news stories keep me awake nights because I understand them; others because I don’t

(May my readers in other countries pardon my use of the word "we." It just seemed too weird to write "the United States" over and over.)

Is it by accident that we are fighting “for freedom” (ours and theirs, presumably) in the oil-rich Middle East while ignoring slavery, starvation, and genocide in the jungles and deserts of Africa? What if those people had oil—or were even white? I mean, we did finally get it together to intervene in Bosnia, yet only thousands died there as opposed to over a million in Rwanda.

Why did conservatives continue to defend the War in Iraq after it became clear that George Bush invaded the wrong country on spurious grounds, yet they are now outraged by Obama’s efforts to insure that everyone has medical care? I could better understand their outrage over the one if they were also outraged over the other. As it is, what is the message here, that killing people by mistake is okay, but saving lives isn’t? Or that anything a conservative president does is acceptable, whereas everything a liberal president tries to do must be defeated?

Conservatives demand to know how Obama plans to pay for health care reform. It is a good question, but why have they never asked this about our two wars in the Middle East, wars that have been going on for seven years at a cost of $915.1 billion?

Residents of conservative states are the poorest and least educated people in America, and they are also the least able to afford medical insurance. Yet they are the very states in which opposition to healthcare reform is strongest. Why is this, do you think?

Pfizer was recently ordered to pay $2.3 billion in fines and penalties for fraudulent advertising. It was Pfizer’s fourth conviction in seven years, yet no one will go to prison, and the fine only represents three weeks of corporate profits. Every major pharmaceutical company has run into similar problems, but since the profits exceed the fines, they keep at it.

Ronald McDonald runs charitable residence houses near hospitals for the families of seriously ill children, yet Ronald doesn’t insure his own rank and file workers—or their children. This enables him to look like a philanthropist even while dumping sick children on the taxpayer’s doorstep.

The Supreme Court is expected to abolish corporate spending limits for political ads before the end of the year. Imagine how it would affect the current healthcare debate if those in favor of reform had to compete with the likes of Merck and WellPoint for attention. Through their lobbyists and political contributions, such firms already exert an undue influence on legislators. When the day comes that they persuade legislators to outlaw free speech on the Internet (to protect us from terrorists, no doubt) their control of information will be complete.

Another fairly recent Supreme Court decision that dispossessed the individual in favor of the corporation was allowing local municipalities to take away the homes and businesses of individuals and give them to corporations. A third was ruling that corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens.

The irony of such decisions is that the raison d'être of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution, a document that was supposedly created to protect the rights of the individual.

Yet another example of our government working overtime to screw the individual is that lawmakers denied Medicare and Medicaid the right to negotiate drug costs as do private insurers. Drug companies were said to be exceedingly grateful.

Such things go almost un-noticed by the press, as if to imply that they’re not relevant to our lives. So, Michael Jackson’s death is relevant?

The problem is that the press provides us with the information we want rather than the information we need. For example, thousands of people—including 191 Americans—have been killed in Afghanistan since January, yet Michael Jackson’s death in June has gotten more press coverage this year than that entire country. Given our apathy toward the things that matter to our welfare, the question becomes one of what we, as a country, deserve.

When a person joins the military, it would be well to tell him or her that, oh, by the way, if you should die for your country, your country won’t even notice, and absolutely nothing good will come from your sacrifice. In fact, the war in which you die will probably just fizzle out eventually, and, like the war in Vietnam, be judged by historians as a waste of time and resources.

No one doubts the mass corruption of the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the only reason for protecting them is that they’re on our side whereas their enemies are not on our side. It was the same with the Shah in Iran, Batista in Cuba, and the Contras in Nicaragua. I don’t remember a time when my government didn’t support evil regimes—even when those regimes overthrew elected governments—as long as we thought they wouldn’t turn on us.

Did you know that private charities hold fundraisers to pay for plastic surgery on disfigured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan? If the government doesn’t care about the “heroes” who were supposedly injured while “fighting for our freedom,” why should we think it cares about us?

Conservatives say that we should support the troops even if we despise the war. The problem is that troops make wars possible. If those who will join the military today took the trouble to become informed beforehand, they probably wouldn’t join. The most that can be said for them is that they’re awfully young, terribly naïve, and woefully ignorant.

The thing that I find most distressing about my country is its smugness. Even though we are the most obese, the least fit, and one of the most debt ridden nations on earth, and even though our scores continue to drop in regard to education, longevity, vacation time, infant mortality, and other lifestyle standards; we still congratulate ourselves on being “the greatest nation on earth.” Greatest how? That’s what I would like to know.

Three things

First Thing

I saw an abandoned rubber tree by a curb a few days ago. It was big, ungainly, and in a broken plastic pot. I didn’t want it, but I was touched by how tenaciously it clung to life, so yesterday I biked back to see if it was still there. It was still there all right, still on its side. As I stood looking at it, I thought, what the hell, I’ll just bike it home. Having to hold so much weight in one hand was a problem, but wind resistance was an even bigger problem.

I live in an area in which large loads are often seen on bikes, but never have I seen anyone with a rubber tree. No one else I passed had either, I suppose. First their mouths would drop open, and then they would laugh. There IS something funny about a rubber tree, even when it’s not being taken for a bike ride. “Oops, there goes another rubber tree.”

Second Thing

I went on a raw food diet six days ago. I ate mostly raw foods for years in the ‘90s, but I eventually got bored and went back to a regular diet. Now that I am in pain all the time and looking at multiple surgeries in addition to the four I’ve had in the past 18-months, I decided to go back to raw foods for a month and see if I can tell any difference.

It’s hard to eat enough raw food to keep weight on, so I’ve dropped from 169 to 163. I also feel positively stoned. It’s like looking at reality from a different and more interesting angle. I used to feel the same way when I fasted. Fasting brought me in touch with an inner purity that made it hard to eat again.

Raw foods aren’t exactly effervescent, but they do sparkle in my mouth.

Third Thing

Yesterday, I went to see Mark, my orthodpedic surgeon, for my six-week appointment. I’m 5 1/2 months out from surgery on my right shoulder, but still in pain. Here’s part of what I wrote to him by way of an update.

The pain is such that I can no longer exercise even with three pound dumbbells.

The pain is appreciable at night and mild during the day (most days the joint just feels a little stiff; other days, it hurts all day). The pain becomes worse the longer I am in bed.

The left shoulder also keeps me awake at times, especially if I’ve been active. My middle and upper back also hurt a great deal. I bought a Temper-Pedic type mattress, and that seemed to help for a couple of months, but now the back pain is worse than ever and bothers me no matter what position I am in. I anticipate a move back to the recliner if it gets worse.

I need two prescriptions. One for Percocet [oxycodone and acetaminophen] and one for Restoril [a sleeping pill]. I take two to three Percocets most nights, and I change ice packs every 1 1/2 to 4 hours. I also take Benadryl for the itching caused by the Percocet, but it still interferes with my sleep. Since acetaminophen now appears to be a greater health risk than formerly believed, I would prefer straight-up oxycodone.

Both the Percocet and the Restoril have the added benefit of helping me to avoid going into a funk when I wake up in the middle of the night and brood about my shoulder problems.

He blamed arthritis for the continuing pain in my right shoulder, injected it with cortisone and lidocaine, and said I will need a joint replacement within anywhere from a few months to a few years. I said I still wanted to have surgery on the left shoulder this year, and he said that would be fine if we can get rid of the pain in the right one—otherwise, he’ll operate on it instead.

Mark seemed to be leaning toward a full-joint replacement because the partials have a 20% chance of failure within two years. He said he wouldn’t consider a full replacement as a first option if I was twenty years younger. I told him not to consider it now either.

Mark has a new baby and said he was sleepy. I hope he’s getting better rest before my next surgery. Peggy said not to worry because medical people—she’s a nurse—are used to rising to the occasion no matter how they feel. I found little comfort in this, partly because mine will be a complex surgery. The bottom-line though is that I trust Mark. I don’t care how dire a situation is, if you trust your doctor, it makes it seem about half as bad. If you don’t trust your doctor, you’re screwed, especially if your doctor pool is limited.