Mom loved smoking. She loved cigarettes with the power of loving a mate. When I was little, I thought I was brilliant when I hid her cigarettes in a loosely veiled location in the kitchen cabinet. She responded as a lioness protecting her cub; the shock of the fierceness in her face made it clear to me to never attempt trickery with her cigarettes again. I felt suffocated with the smoke. On car rides, I would creep the window down by millimeters, pushing my lips out the top in a frantic attempt to rescue fresh air for my squeezed lungs, knowing that I was tempting the wrath of my father who was concerned about maximizing air conditioning.
There was a brief time my mom remembered me as her partner with her and the cigarette. I remember pulling the clear plastic handles on the large cigarette machines. There were pictures of waterfalls, men on horses, aqua blue colors, words on packages I was just beginning to read. Sometimes she would let me pick my favorite picture. With importance and thrill, the handle pulled, the tidy box fell into the slot, and I passed it over to my mother, me smiling, our moment together, me feeling proud. Afterwards, we would get grilled cheese sandwiches, sitting on the turquoise swivel stools. I would get to open the package, pulling out a clean white squishy stick for mom to light up and enjoy over our sandwiches.
Mom smoking. Her quiet time away from everyone, everything, her time to be at One. Her fingers circling bits of hair, thin silky sections of hair, all through the years: from her hair color of black, to “salt and pepper,” to colored brunette, to a glorious sheen of white, twisting and twisting around two fingers, a cigarette balanced between two fingers of the other hand, and her eyes level, calm, away. Away from us, away from dad, away from and away from and away from
She smoked for 70 years.
She stopped once, well, twice. The first time was for three hours. I was with her. Her friend Pat had just died of lung cancer, and Mom had seen her all puffed up in the hospital, and then saw her dead. She stopped smoking, but all at once, as we were walking into the Rexall store in San Clemente, and I was telling her how proud I was that she was stopping, she started. Just like that. I said no, no, no…and then that face again…and she didn’t stop until
Her foot was black, and she was falling, and she was in pain, and doctors were wanting to cut off her foot, or at least her toes, and they all told me what bad health she was in: Peripheral Vascular Disease, the culprit of smoking. I made her stop, I forced her to stop, and she fell and she was in pain, and she lay crying in my lap.
70 years of a relationship with an abuser who lured my mother with the hook of contentment, the relief of pain, the comfort of going away from
Days before she died, my mother wrote in my journal, barely decipherable: “I love you, I love you Debbikins, with all my heart and soul. Thank you for my last cigarette—famous last words—I am so happy that we can really adore each other. I love your joy, brave woman.”
November 28, 2009
I didn’t mean to stop writing about this remodel, and yes, it has been continuing in full force. What has happened? The rigors of work, of the project, of meetings, of keeping up with friends and on and on has usurped time.
And Cholla died.
I thought she was depressed. I, of all people, made my own diagnosis, reasoning the effects of the move on her, until I noticed that her gums were going white. Blood tests, ultrasound, an IV in her little paw, and I was given a picture of her liver riddled with black spots. I was told that she would die in a day or two, that it would be best to leave her with the doctor right there. She curled against me, and I took her home. We stayed together for every moment for the next month…everywhere; bike rides, the grocery store, friend’s houses, Home Depot…she didn’t leave my sight, and the remodel plugged on.
One day she growled at me, lumbered over by my desk, then vomited a big pile of blood, looking straight at me, with that look of knowing between us that we had little time. I rushed home, got her into her trailer, and we rode and rode to a favorite place, sitting on a bench overlooking the harbor where we could see Russ’ boat, and with her spasoming my arms, we sat on that bench for hours; some people walking by, the sun going down, her body going limp, me stroking her, and with little yelps, her heart stopped.
My gal that guaranteed me laughter every day of her life is gone, and I don’t like it. I miss her.
I’m sitting here, Kleenex piled in two stacks on either side of me (allergies from the dust around here keeps me sneezing); a picture of Cholla on my laptop, another picture of her stuck to my little oak chest of her in the classic rump up, ears up, tail up, and front paws down…
July 27, 2009
I’m packing. And packing. And packing. Days upon days of sorting through and categorizing my things, and curiously watching myself in how I’ve gone through this process. The house is naked enough now that I am returning to my memories of my first night here: I lay in bed, unable to sleep with the awful smell of the smoke buried in the walls from the prior owners, and then crying, wondering what I had gotten myself into. I left the tidiness of my condo for this dilapidated house with so many needs.
The house had the shutters nailed shut upstairs. A friend came over and we playfully pried the shutters off, then sat on the bed during the sunset, watching the bats dart about the sky and the waves furl at the beach. We sat exhausted, but stunned…there was a view, a fabulous view! I left the shutters in the carport for a couple of weeks, the smell of smoke oozing from them all the while, and then eventually, gave them away.
Since then, I’ve been eying over this gapping hole where the stairs make their climb up, thwarting the appealing space of the best view of the house. I’ve worked through every scenario of how to move the stairs so the placement is at the back of the room, and so, in short, that’s why I got an architect. We made plan after plan of possibilities, a year of thinking, drawing, discussing. An engineer had to get involved. Beams have to come in. Now a deck is added on. Yes, I know. All this means a lot of money. A whole lot of money. A mysterious amount of money. I’ve been moving money around from CD to CD, not sure when all the work would start, and now the market is bad. Money is just sitting in a checking account, waiting, waiting like horses in the start of a race, pawing and prancing and getting ready to jump.
Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and give my plug right here and now: the doggy doors made by Pet Doors USA, DogDoors.com are really great. The doors are made of hard plastic with fuzzy brush edges. No slappy plastic sheets that get brittle and let the flies in, not to mention raccoons and other unwanted critters.
I already have an in door model that’s now 6 years old. It locks, too, which is great for vacations or when I just don’t want Cholla outside.
Today I ordered a second one; this one will go into the wall of the room I’m going to move into while the remodel is being done. Cholla and I are going to try to condense our living space while the rest of the house becomes transformed around us.
The Bathtub Controversy
Water credits are very important. Each location that spews water, and the quantity that spot spews, has a value that add up like diamonds on a wedding ring, and the quantities get written in diamond headed chisel on the title that sits forever in title land, with a panel of Important Water People guarding it.
I love the Earth. I am entering this remodel project with every intent to make the changes as sensitive to the planet as I am when I walk all around native plants on the trails, as I pick up stray garbage on my walks, as I teach children to take the easy actions to reduce, reuse, recycle. Each change I’m making is for the better in conservation and lowest impact on our precious resources.
The house had items in place back in 1969. The house had two bathtubs, and a shower. At the point of title change to me in 1999, an inspector wandered out with a clipboard, encountered the prior owner, an interesting lady often spotted with a bottle of God Knows What wandering around in front of the house, drinking. Who knows what they talked about, if anything, but the inspector had a job to do. He had to make tally marks for the number of bathtubs and showers. He noted that the heads were good on the showers, but made only one tally mark. The lady signed, and off he went with his documents in hand.
Never mind that the city shows two bathtubs and a shower on their file. Never mind that the house was listed in 1999 with two bathtubs on the MLS. Never mind that I have pictures from the open house with the bathtubs and then resident dogs in front of them. Never mind that the $500 inspection I paid for during escrow described the bathtubs in detail and the floor rot around them. Tally marks and water inspectors prevail.
And so, the interesting pressures of documentation have begun. It’s so clear why people avoid the efforts of the permit process, the rigors of inspections and “doing things right.”
I stand here, a bit flabbergasted: it’s as though someone looks me straight in the eye, saying, “Your eyes are brown.” I say, “But, you’re looking right at me! My eyes are blue!” He says, “Well, the doctor who filled out this paper says your eyes are brown, so he must be right.”
And now, the lengthy process begins of proving What Is, making my presentation in front of the Water Board, accumulating my evidence, informing the lawyer, and all the while, being
There’s a large hole in my wall downstairs. It has officially begun. The remodel. Single woman with small brown dog is remodeling her entire house. It’s a project that I’ve been working on, well, since I was a small girl and dreamed of my house by the sea, where I would write and play and have a small brown dog.
But first, I had to rent apartments for a long time. I had to fall in love, and then fall in love again, and again, and again. I had to first own a condo by the sea, a block away from where I live now. The last love lived with me here; at one time loved to build; he took down the walls, took off the banister, and we found many excuses to scramble away on inspired trips in the Westfalia with Lita, the brown dog, leaving the work behind. We found the second brown dog, Cholla, our little imp, in Mexico. We would plan for the house, discussing the possibilities, how to move the stairs to get more view space. Then he got sick. Never mind the insulation dangling off the exposed framing, and the wires laying about; the disease worked away, and Russ died downstairs with the comfort of home, of love, around him.
Four more years had to go by. I had to cry a lot. I had to cuddle with a table saw like it was a warm pillow. The pipes had to leak into the room downstairs, the sewer had to be worked on every couple of months, Lita too had to die; I had to try love again, be crushed, then befriend a wonderful man who was old and dying of Parkinson’s to be my first architect.
This project is full of spirit.
Yesterday my friend Tina said I needed to get my feet doted upon, also known as a pedicure. I did this once before in my life with the same friend, two years ago. She does it all the time, so she casually tosses herself into the chair and lets the lady work her feet over. Not me. I watch every movement. Tina works the motor on the vibrating chair like a pro. I look a bit like it’s torture. Tina picks out a color easily knowing that in three weeks she’ll get a new one. Not me. I select the color, pondering the significance of it all like the poet I am.
This time, I decided to get the nails done in the color of the poppies I so love. I figure the poppies and I have a lot in common: we’re both lovers of frilly skirts, the color orange, and we both have this incredibly fragile, vulnerable part of us, but we hang on inspite of anything. We make people smile, we dance a lot, we need our time to close up and rest. We are so open to the mighty forces of life. Dogs like us. We like a home base. So there you have it. Debi celebrating poppies now 24 hours a day, on her feet.