Saturday, October 31, 2009

True Scary Story

Sometime quite a few months back, Ken and I are heading home after meeting our pastor at the church to make the initial plans for our wedding. The sun has just set. It's a regular weekday evening. Lights are on in all the units in our condo complex. The air wafting from the building vents smells of boiling rice and stewing beef. You would be hard-pressed to find a more domestic, cozy scene.

We reach our front door, unlock it, flick on the entranceway light, and step inside. I reach around the corner and hit another light switch, which illuminates our living room. Everything is just as we left it. I'm glad to be home, looking forward to putting my feet up and relaxing.

As I'm reaching to untie my shoes, Ken suddenly startles, and jumps back against the wall. His face perfectly illustrates the expression "he looked like he'd just seen a ghost". He's staring into the middle of the living room like he's spotted something terrifying. I look back into the living room. There's the sofa. There's the TV and remote control. Nothing out of order.

Ken is still backed into a corner between all wall and the hall closet door. His face is grey.

"Did you see that?" he asks me.

"See what?"

"That guy."

I look at him like, more information please!

"There was a man standing right there in the middle of our living room."

"What did he look like?"

"He was tall, bald, and creepy-looking. He was wearing a long dark coat. He saw me looking at him. Then as soon as I saw him he started vanishing from the feet up. He was gone by the time I asked you if you saw anything."

Ken was not fooling with me. He wasn't drunk, overtired, or on medication. He has no history of schizophrenia. I'm as sure as I can be that he can see disembodied spirits.

Ken's dad and his brother also have the ability to see ghosts. This isn't the only ghost story I have from Ken, but it was the only time I was there. And it made me really, really glad that, despite my ability to experience some things beyond my five senses, I can't see ghosts. Because that apparition scared the poop out of him.

Fortunately the scary ghost man never re-appeared in our living room.

Believe what you will, but this story is true to me. Happy Hallowe'en! May you have lots of fun and candy, and no ghosts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wisdom Teeth

Powdergirl's post about her recent dental misadventures reminded me: I've never told you guys about the time I got my wisdom teeth removed.

I was 21 years old, still living with my parents. Sitting in front of the TV one night, snacking on pretzels, I noticed that my teeth felt funny. Off to the dentist we went, and sure enough I had all four wisdom teeth on the advance. A date was set to have them extracted.

I fretted. I worried. I felt jealous of my friend Marcus- my 6'3" friend with the enormous jaw, who was able to let all of his wisdom teeth grow in and take their place as honoured participants in his mouth. I didn't want to face the surgery.

Be careful what you wish for. Two days before my appointment, I got a call from the oral surgeon's assistant. His father had died, so he was taking a week off. My surgery date was postponed.

By that time one of the teeth had become impacted. I was in pain. I ran a fever. I had to go on antibiotics. I was 21 years old and I was teething. It was increasingly uncomfortable. I counted down the hours to the surgery. Trust me, by the time the day came, no one could have kept me away from that appointment.

So there I was, a willing participant, lying back in the chair, sucking back big lungfuls of happy gas. I have vague memories of nasty things happening in my mouth, but I was so high at the time that I didn't care. The oral surgeon finished his work, packed my mouth full of gauze, and I was good to go.

I don't remember the next part very well, so I'll re-tell it from the point of view of my ex, who had come to help my mom deal with me after the procedure.

The scene: The surgeon's office is in a high-rise attached to a shopping mall. My mom had gone to get her car. It was my ex's job to steer me through the mall to the side exit where my mom would be waiting.

My ex is a big man, 6 feet tall, and, at the time, 200 pounds, all muscle. Not to mention he's black, in a neighbourhood where, at the time, almost everyone was white. He's usually as mild-mannered as a teddy bear, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. After a certain time of night cabbies, even the non-white ones, won't stop to pick him up.

So first of all they bring him into the recovery area, and there I am, high as a kite, chatty as can be, telling him all about the surgery and what it was like for me. Except my mouth is stuffed completely full of gauze. So I'm like Mwah mwah nhah uh uh uh! and gesticulating expressively, rolling my eyes and whatnot, and he's taking in exactly how blasted I am.

They get me up onto my feet. My ex has me by the elbows and guides me into the mall. Bear in mind what passersby are seeing here. A huge, scary-looking black guy, dressed all in black, is manhandling a tiny little white girl, limbs skinny as matchsticks, who's totally drugged out of her mind, and he's taking her... where? And what is that? Is that blood dripping down her chin?

Every few steps he hisses into my ear: "Keep your chin up! Chin up!" But I'm still floating in a cloud of nitrous. I can't remember what's happening, and my head is so heavy. Every few steps I start looking down at my feet again, and gory drool drips from my lower lip. He looks around nervously. Someone's probably called security. Surely half-a-dozen cops will come running any second now, surround us, take him down, cuff his hands behind his back.

Miraculously, we make it to the exit and into my mum's car without being confronted by the authorities. I'm free to lie down at home and swap my nitrous high for a bottle full of painkillers.

It wasn't quite a happy ending. I developed a dry socket, "characterized by severe pain following a tooth extraction". (If you're squeamish, don't click on the link.) I got to the bottom of that bottle of painkillers, and realized that after the last one wore off, I would have to throw myself out a very high window. I had never experienced such relentless, all-consuming pain before.

I paid one more visit to my oral surgeon, who tut-tutted, and then packed the painful spot with a tiny square of cotten soaked in oil of clove. The pain dissipated within minutes. It was an incredible relief. I also thought it was really cool that he was using a hundreds-of-years-old low-tech remedy even though we were surrounded by all the electric and pharmaceutical wizardry of the 20th century.

That night I ate spaghetti with meat sauce, flavoured strongly with the oil of clove leaching out of the little cotton dressing at the back of my mouth. I didn't care. It tasted like healing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Neverending Story

The squeamish may leave now. Bye, LL Cool Joe, see you next time.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my step-mum was going to have surgery due to the slight possibility of cancer in her large intestine. Details are in the previous post, but briefly, the doctors decided to remove one third of her large intestine and biopsy it. I was told that this was going to be done with a laparoscopic procedure, that the risk of infection was minimal, and that after a few weeks for her body to adjust, she could live a perfectly normal life without that 1/3 of her intestine. Kind of like having your tonsils out, or an appendectomy, I guessed. It didn't seem too bad.

I was concerned for my step-mum, and also for my father and my sister. We're pretty close relative to the average family of the type, whether you want to call it "blended", "post-divorce" or "we don't care so much about labels because we love each other". I prefer the latter.

My step-mum has always been incredibly sweet to me. I've known her since I was a kid. I was 13 years old when I was offered the chance to listen to her pregnant belly through a stethescope. I can still remember the sounds of my sister gurgling in the womb, like she was scuba-diving in there.

When I was 22 my primary parents (mum and step-dad) renovated our house. The builders kicked us out of it for 6 weeks so that they could mess around with the utilities without having to worry about our well-being. My sister, who had always wanted a chance to live with her big sister, offered to loan me her room. She slept in our dad's office, just for the sake of having me there. I hope I was worth it.

It was really weird moving into their house. I had never felt much a part of that family before, not back in those days. I felt like an outsider who didn't belong. I was nervous and self-conscious. My father seemed happy to have me there, but what amazed me was how welcoming my step-mum was. She basically told me to consider myself at home, in the warmest possible way. This despite the fact that their house wasn't large, and I was a more or less alien intruder into their living space. Back then, we didn't know each other very well.

Things were very different than at my regular house. For example, at home I was only allowed to have one box of cookies open at a time. In my step-mum's kitchen, there was choice! There was abundance! You could select the type of cookie you were in the mood for, or browse through a wide selection of opened boxes of herbal tea. The decadence of it all made my head spin.

My step-mum has never treated me as less than a fully-fledged family member. Coming from my experience, in which my actual blood family has often made me feel unwanted, I appreciate this more than I can say.

When she went in for her surgery, my father used a blog format to update all their friends and family on her progress. I was shocked by what I read.

The surgery went well, but her recovery was a nightmare. Allergic reactions to her painkillers; excruciating pain; horrible nausea; middle-0f-the-night trips back to the emergeny room; it never seemed to end.

All this week I've kept my eyes fixed on that blog, imagining every horrifying detail. I'm stressed out just from reading about it online. I can't imagine how it was to live it, for my step-mum or for my father and sister who are caring for her. They couldn't seem to catch a break. Every time my father posted that she was doing a little better, there would be another crisis in short order. They've barely slept at all this week.

The suffering that they've been experiencing is beyond imagining. It's been breaking my heart knowing what they've been going through.

But finally, finally things seem to be settling down. My step-mum has had two good nights in a row, safely in her own bed at home. There's a long road ahead, but she'll make it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Ode to Me

My good friend at What I Got So Far v.2.0 has written a lovely poem about me. It is now officially my most favourite poem of all time. It's called "Ode to Spark" and it goes like this:

She hunts ants like an aardvark,
She’s from the land of Denmark,
She helped sink the Bismarck,
She’s as dangerous as a shark,
Her bite is worse than her bark.

Then, as if my head weren't swelled enough from all this ego-boosting balladeering, DarcsFalcon added a second verse, thusly:

When angels see her, they hark!
With her, guys always wanted to park.
Her sincerity is never stark.
Being with her makes you feel safe in the dark.

It's fantastic. You might say that I'm biased and just being a sucker for attention, but you'd be wrong.

Thank you, friends, for your splendid, lyric poetry!

Then, because she's so generous, DarcsFalcon also offered me an award:

The One Lovely Blog award comes with one rule; I have to tell you seven interesting things about myself. OK, here goes...

1) When I was a kid I used to eat Smarties by biting them into quarters and eating the pieces one by one. I liked to make good things last.
2) I must be very dense, because I can't float in a swimming pool, like everyone's supposed to be able to.
3) I've been to South Africa, when I was 8 years old, in 1980 when apartheid was still in effect. My mum had a lot of trouble explaining apartheid to an eight-year-old.
4) BBQ eel is one of my favourite foods. In Japanese it's called Unagi.
5) When I was a kid I only had molars on the right side of my jaw. When my adult teeth came in I got molars on both sides, but I still only chew on the right side because that's how I learned to eat.
6) I used to be early for everything but these days I'm usually at least a little late. The older I get, the later I get. By the time I retire I'll be a day late for work every day. I'll appear to be on time but I'll work on Saturdays and not on Mondays.
7) I think freckles are cute. I have a few myself, and I never hated them.

And as if that weren't enough, Ron at The Warped Mind Of Ron also offered me an award!

The official rules are:

  • Copy and change the answers to suit you and pass it on.
  • Answers may be one word only
  • Once you have filled it out be sure to pass it on to 6 of your favorite bloggers.
  • Alert them that they have been awarded!
  • Have fun!
1. Where is your cell phone? purse
2. Your hair? auburn
3. Your mother? argh
4. Your father? two
5. Your favorite food? eel
6. Your dream last night? wedding
7. Your favorite drink? water
8. Your dream/goal? love
9. What room are you in? bedroom
10. Your hobby? sing
11. Your fear? illness
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? *shrug*
13. Where were you last night? home
14. Something that you aren’t? astronaut
15. Muffins? yum!
16. Wish list item? iPod
17. Where did you grow up? Toronto
18. Last thing you did? sing
19. What are you wearing? fleece
20. Your TV? big
21. Your pets? zero
22. Friends? Hi!
23. Your life? Good
24. Your mood? content
25. Missing someone? no
26. Vehicle? husband's
27. Something you’re not wearing? unitard
28. Your favorite store? Jacob
29. Your favorite color? blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? ??? today
31. Last time you cried? recently
32. Your best friend? Ken
33. One place that I go to over and over? work
34. One person who emails me regularly? Logan
35. Favorite place to eat? home

Now I think you're all Lovely and Tops or I wouldn't be reading your blogs. So anyone whose blog I've ever commented on can come and take one or both awards. Do the memes if you feel like it - I'm not the meme police.

Have a good weekend, all!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mostly Good News

There's just a little bit more bad news. I'm going to get that out there real quick, like pulling off a band-aid. Then we're all going to think Happy Thoughts together.

The bad news is that my mother's father is now in the hospital, due to heart failure. He was admitted on Sunday, and I found out about it on Monday. The good news is that his life isn't in imminent danger, he's not in pain, and he's being well-looked after. I'm not sure if he'll get to go home again or if he'll need to move into a nursing home, because he's awfully weak at the moment, but either way, it's not horribly shocking. He is 90 years old, after all.

Now onto some the Good Things:

1) I got a raise! Not only that, it came with a glowing performance review. As my Scottish nanny used to say, I'm chuffed.

2) Ken cleaned and de-cluttered our condo and now it looks like something out of Better Homes & Gardens. I feel that I should get dressed up to go and sit in the living room. It's very restful to exist in such well-cared-for surroundings.

3) I spent the weekend resting my body and my soul. I took time to feel my way through all the thoughts that have been overwhelming my mind in recent weeks. I feel more centered and grounded.

4) I've been escaping into mass-market paperback novels, something I haven't done much of since high school. Once I became an English major I absorbed some of the literary snobbishness that comes with the territory. Any softcover book with shiny lettering on the cover was off-limits.

During university I signed up for a week-long internship with Harlequin, the romance publisher. In order to prepare, I had to actually read some Harlequin romances. I remember sitting in Robart's library, hiding a bodice ripper behind my enormous, hardback translation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The shame associated with being found reading such "trash" would have been immense.

For the record, the most memorable parts of my internship were: a) reading unsolicited manuscripts sent in by all types of women, some of whom did not speak English as a first language. Judging by their manuscripts, it was a very distant second. Much as we chuckled over their terrible grammar, I felt bad that they had gone to the trouble of writing a whole novel and we were treating it as a joke. Writing a whole novel is pretty freaking impressive.

And b) The editor who was my mentor described to me how they determined how explicit to be when writing about sex in the various series they published. There was a line of very prim and proper romance; there was the middle-of-the-road stuff; and then there was a steamy, red-hot series. Apparently there was a major discussion in a meeting amongst the editors over whether or not they would allow use of the word "penis" in the red-hot line. That must have been some meeting. In the end they decided that "penis" was acceptable, and the first Harlequin novel containing that word was published shortly before my internship, in the early 1990's.

But I digress.

As it happens, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the published Harlequin novels I read for the assignment. I'm not so much into the romance genre for my own purposes, so I haven't read any more since then. However I have been enjoying a somewhat trashy thriller, and discovering the joys of Maeve Binchy.

I find a lot of "serious" novelists are morbidly depressed about life, and don't feel that their job is done until they've dragged the reader down with them. At this point, all I want is a good story with a happy ending.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Cruelest Cuts

I was waiting for an upbeat mood. I've written a couple of downer posts recently, so I thought I'd hold back until I was feeling more positive before posting again. It ain't happening.

It's not that I'm upset all the time lately. It's just that there's a lot of factors conspiring to make me take things seriously. Stuff in my personal life, stuff in my work life, and the onset of colder, darker weather.

My aunt's birthday party is tonight. I won't be going. I lied and said that I'd be with Ken's family eating Thanksgiving dinner, but I'm skipping that event too. It just seemed like a better excuse than the truth; I'll be spending time with a friend who's just returned home after being overseas for many months.

My mum's side of my family is pretty screwed up. We, and I openly include myself in this thing are a neurotic bunch, which is reinforced and multiplied by a factor of one thousand when we're all confined in a room together for several hours.

As an adult, the role I had assigned to myself in the dynamic was that of peacekeeper. I didn't referee directly, of course. That was against the rules. But when the verbal knives came out, the slashing began, and the emotional blood began to flow, I'd jump in with interference. Quick! Distract them with a funny story, or any rambling anecdote. I was usually successful. So much so that my mother dreads going to any family gathering without me, her shield.

"So, you're really sending me out there by myself?" she asked last night, when I told her I wouldn't be coming to tonight's party. It's no accident that she speaks like she's going off to war.

In the past, I tried to pretend that I was an observer; that it cost me nothing to run interference. But that wasn't true. It's one thing to brush off the insensitive things people might say to or about me. I can choose to see them as ignorant, and not take it personally. But it's another thing entirely to watch the people that I love smashing each other.

When I see my mother on the verge of tears because another family member is being cruel to her, or even just insensitive, I can't not care. I do take it personally. There is a cost. And eventually it overwhelms me. I invariably end up staring fixedly into the vase of cut flowers at the centre of the table, trying to block it all out. At least the flowers are beautiful.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do in the future, but something has to change. I do not wish to carry on in my current role of rodeo clown. I'm not prepared to disown my family entirely. So, what am I going to do in the future, when the situation inevitably comes up again?

Sometimes I've pictured myself getting up and walking out of one of these gatherings, in protest, but that seems too melodramatic and extreme. The meanies in the room never quite push it that far.

I do still love and care about that part of my family. What am I going to do? I have no idea. I'm open to suggestions.

On a warmer note, I had my mother over for dinner last night. I cooked her a simple meal, keeping in mind all of her many food allergies. Ken made her proper, strong English tea after the meal. Then I tucked us in under blankets on the sofa, our feet up on ottomans, to watch the movie Once. My mum loved the movie, as I knew she would. I hope that I was able to fill up her love reserves so that she has enough resources to get through tonight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The C-Word

Cancer has been skulking around lately, bullying people that I care about.

Ken's dad's cancer reoccurred a few months ago. We just got word that it's getting worse. There's no way of telling how quickly it will move, but the news has us thinking about saying that final goodbye in the foreseeable future. He miraculously recovered from his deathbed seven years ago. Every day since then has been a bonus. We just don't want him to suffer. Apparently the doctors increased his painkillers, so for now he's doing OK.

My step-mum* is also in the midst. She had a malignant polyp removed from her intestine a few weeks ago. The doctors are pretty sure it's all self-contained, but just to be on the safe side they're going to surgically remove a portion of her intestine. Not fun. And "pretty sure it's self-contained" isn't good enough, so we'll all be waiting with baited breath until the final results are in after the surgery. I personally have a lot of faith that it'll all turn out fine, but it's a horrible ordeal for my step-mum to have to go through.

And now there's my grandmother. (My mother's mother.) For the past nine years we were vaguely aware that there was something growing on the end of her nose that had to be monitored. The g.p. was keeping a close eye on it, we believed. Finally the time came for her to have it removed. She was referred to a hospital clinic.

My mum accompanied my grandmother to the appointment. She expected that there would be a brief procedure, perhaps not even requiring stitches, to remove the offending portion of skin. Then they could meet up with my grandfather and my aunt and they'd all go out for a nice lunch.

Her jaw dropped open when the consulting doctor starting talking. He was wording it as gently as possible, but the word "disfigurement" was involved. He said that there was cancer all through the end of my grandmother's nose, and that the best, simplest thing to do would be to just remove that whole piece of the nose. He said "I'm not a plastic surgeon, but I'd do my best..."

Are you kidding me? Nose cancer? If this was a movie, I would find it funny. But in real life, not so much.

In any case, my grandmother was not enthusiastic about being disfigured. Even at the age of 89, she takes care of her appearance. They were presented with another option, of localized radiation therapy every day for 2 - 3 weeks. There would be a slightly greater chance that the cancer wouldn't be completely licked, but at least my grandmother would be able to keep her nose intact. My grandmother opted for Plan B.

So, first of all my mother is completely bewildered by the fact that the cancer, which started as a simple skin spot, was permitted to progress this far without any treatment. The g.p. had NINE YEARS to do something about it. And what did she do? She let the damned cancer eat my grandmother's nose. That is not excusable.

Secondly, now my mother and her sisters have to coordinate getting my grandmother to the hospital for radiation therapy, which is going to take hours every day in itself (counting travel time and sitting in waiting rooms). Not only that, but someone has to stay with my grandfather because he's blind, frail, and gets confused. He can't be left alone. It's doable, but it's going to be an ordeal for everyone involved.

I can't think of a good ending, because none of these stories has any kind of closure at the moment. I'll just say that this is a powerful test of my faith, and leave it there.

* In deference to the preferences of the women I love, I am referring to them as "mum" instead of "mom".

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I always wish I could write more freely about my workplace. It's endlessly interesting. Never a dull day. Unfortunately, most of it is highly confidential.

I will say this: it was especially interesting this past week, due to some renovations we had done. The workers got started last Thursday evening. The affected part of our site was closed down all day Friday, and the plan was that they would keep working through the weekend until everything was done. The cleaners were scheduled to come in on Sunday evening to get everything shipshape, and Monday morning we were supposed to get right back on schedule.

I had my doubts. This same crew of workers had done a weekend renovation for us in the past. Come Monday morning, the place was a distaster area. We had to send all our clients home, and the business lost thousands of dollars. Why did these guys get a second chance? They were a lot cheaper than the next highest quote, by more thousands of dollars than were lost in the disaster fiasco. The bottom line speaks loudly.

So, what happened this past Monday morning? I bet you can guess.

It was a disaster area again. Not quite as bad as the last time. We were able to see our clients, but only because my early shift worker spent 2 hours, between 5:30 am and 7:30 am, on her hands and knees, scrubbing paint, plaster, and adhesive gunk off the floor. The other earliest workers also rolled up their sleeves and got to work throwing out the construction garbage that was left everywhere, and sanitizing the work surfaces.

The cleaners had apparently come the night before, surveyed the incredible mess, and, afraid to start moving things for fear of messing up the incomplete work, had pretty much given up and left.

One of my staff had been in on the weekend, and guess what? No really, guess. The construction workers had not shown up at all on either Saturday or Sunday. They worked until late on Friday night, and then just left the whole mess to sit for the entire rest of the weekend. Their excuse: the paint wasn't dry enough to continue. Um, hello? If that's even true, your plan and promise to be finished in a weekend was a little short-sighted! The men in charge of the job have been working as contractors for at least ten years, probably twenty. They should know better.

And then, guess who showed up on Monday morning? At 8:00 am smack dab in the middle of our business? You got it. The workers! At which point they started in hammering, sawing, sanding, and generally making a huge disturbance, right in the middle of all our clients. It was unsanitary, unsafe, unplanned, and completely stupid. It didn't take long before another layer of dust was deposited all over the surfaces that the morning staff had just cleaned. But we let them go at it, just so we could get the whole experience over with as soon as possible.

The staff was understandably aggravated at having to put up with this nonsense. I was lucky in that none of the renovations took place on my turf. I was involved because I loaned my staff to the other department head to help out, and I had to deal with all the technology that was in the affected area. Of course the workers managed to disconnect a phone jack that had previously been working. They also placed some cable connections in an office kitty-corner to the desk, so I had to direct one of my staff up on a ladder to fish extension cables through the plenum space over the ceiling. That was an adventure we don't care to repeat. The plenum space is packed with dust and obstacles, and acoustical tiles never seem to want to lie flat again once they've been popped out of their grid.

Anyway, everything's back in working order now. One of my bosses has promised me never to hire these particular contractors again. The other boss is still kind of defending them. Ah well. They pay me well enough, so at least I'm well-compensated for the irritation.