in which your protagonist continues a 14 year tradition of hating september

This series begins here.

September.

A sky blue month with a gash in the middle.

I’ve had Septembers like this before.

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September 4.

“There’s always the woman screaming,”

says Kate, when I tell her about the rehab center, how the knot of wheelchair-bound residents watch me as I pass, about the woman who holds out nonexistent candy begging me softly to take it, and the mean woman who hisses vague cruelties as I walk carefully with my mother to the dining room.

One minute I can’t stand for this to be real life. I curl my toes in hatred, I want to scream every second.

The next minute it’s fine. I laugh with my friends and go out to dinner and everything’s the same as it was.

And that’s how it goes.

The rehab facility is so close to my house that one night I walk there. It’s deeply black and I live on a busy road with no shoulder. I only have to walk on it for five minutes, but I’m shaken up enough by the experience to have spilled half the wine and some of the soup inside the tote bag by the time I unpack it in the sad dingy dining room.

I’m a person who slowly makes careful progress throughout my life.

I’m a person who is reasonably sure, most of the time, that the steps I’m taking are efficient and right for the plan I’ve created for a life I want.

Caretaking smashes all this. As a caretaker I am almost always unsure about what I’m doing, perennially guilty and regretful about what I didn’t do, depressingly crushed by seemingly constant failures. If I brought the soup I forgot the spoons. If I brought the spoons I forgot the salt. If I remembered both I should have called her insurance company. On and on. Every day. Why didn’t I remember she hates squash. Why wasn’t I here earlier.

September 5.

I admire people who have messy houses. I always feel most comfortable in a messy house. I like to go to people’s houses when they have ugly furniture and papers everywhere. It’s calming. I’m assuming the messiness means they’re focusing on more important things than keeping the house clean

because what is less important than keeping your house clean.

You can probably guess that my house is fucking perfect.

It’s kind of cold and dead, though with a lot of vintage fabric to attempt cheeriness. I need it to be that way because it calms me down, and I need calming so often. It’s a refuge, I need a refuge so often. It’s comfortable, but I get obsessed with stupid things like thinking even while I’m relaxing how I’m going to clean up the materials I’m using to relax—sex toys magazines food blankets whatever. I love being at Kate’s place. It’s not messy per se, there’s just a lot of activity happening.

September 5.

Everything feels more breathable this week.

I’ve been asking for help in a mega way. I haven’t really been shy about asking my trio of Maresa, Kate, and Jacob to help, but starting this week I become that person writing on Facebook asking her friends to bring over meals for her mother. Why the fuck not. The food at the rehab place is of course abominable. Katy says I should start this Meal Train calendar thing, and I do, and it’s great.

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September 6.

I get out of town for 1.5 days. Philly, and Jacob at work.

The difference between Jacob and I is that if someone in a hotel treats us badly he assumes that they may be having a bad day and/or are an idiot, whereas I assume that I’m somehow wearing something wrong and if I was wearing something different they would’ve treated me better. We’re both right, I guess.

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We have a working lunch at V Street and dinner at Vedge and god, it’s great. The Philly food scene! Amazing.

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Apparently we’re staying at the same hotel as Beyoncé’s crew. There are tables of free wine in the lobby. Everyone in the elevator is talking about the swag bags they got. “…And then he handed me this bag and said, ‘This is from Jay-Z. Personally.”

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*          *          *

I’m working my way up to talking about my first time at a real American summertime music festival (Jacob just laughed when I mentioned that I once visited him at Newport.).

And how that festival culminated in a Beyoncé show.

I told my mom the whole story and she just about plotzed (“What on earth! It sounds like Woodstock!”).

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Here’s how I woke up this morning–in the biggest hotel room of my life, with a raw throat, body covered in dust, the worst hangover of all time though I had not had a drop of alcohol, wearing a custom Puma jacket hastily grabbed in a frenzied bout of gifting tent madness. I put on lipstick like I was going to be able to function then lay on the bed another hour and thought about the apocalypse, nip slips, how good Waxahatchee and Hop Along are, girls wearing the shortest Daisy Dukes known to femme-kind, the intersection of pornography and mainstream feminism that is Bey, someone called Nick Jonas, the apocalypse, how Meek Mill kept bragging about how many Instagram followers he had, the puddles of puke and clouds of smoke, how Jacob could barely get to his soundboard to do his job because he didn’t have a Beyoncé pass, that there is a band called Bassnectar, that Bassnectar’s frequencies are so low and piercing that the art museum was worried the vibrations could damage their paintings, how mythic Jay Z and Bey have become, how if I had the strength I’d Google to see how many people had passed out from dehydration (200+, turns out), the acocaplyse (borken spelling intended), how I took twelve videos of Beyoncé’s set though I pride myself on not being that person and what that says about music consumption today, Those Two Minutes I Stood Next To Beyoncé’s Mom, American flag clothing, the terrible oddness of being a white person in a special barricaded spacious area doing nothing while other mostly white people performing the male gender were working while mostly POC bodies all around you were yelling for water and being pulled out of the ever-more-squished crowd, watching Jacob mix while burly men were grabbing young girls and putting them on stretchers, the apocalypse, and the Budweiser-Jay Z-curated Made in America fest (wifi code: #thisbudsforyou).

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jacob’s home and office

I don’t know how he’s done this for fifteen years. At 1:30 am when we were walking back to the hotel, carried along in a crowd best described as “day-after-Halloween-in-a-college-town” level bedraggleness & bedraggleosity Jacob said, “And you’ve never even been to a European festival. That’s where the real shit happens.”

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There is no floor to the strangeness of modern life.

September 7.

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In the morning I go to V Street by myself. I wanted the halva soft serve with sour cherries again.

My best things:

  • Restaurants by myself
  • Different cities
  • Vegan soft serve

I read make/shift in the park with the soft serve. Make/shift so fully conjures up the world I want to inhabit, full of radical girl scout troupes and genderqueer performance art, that I want to cry. I drive home full of good things.

That night I go to visit my mom and she tells me all the food my friends had brought, with such happiness and pride.

We’re walking down the hall—she’s walking now! With a walker, very slowly, but for good stretches. An aide calls my mom Mrs. Yearwood and she says “You can just call me Pauline. I don’t like being called Mrs. Yearwood much, because I didn’t like Mr. Yearwood all that much.” and she laughed, and the aide howled. She knows when she’s being cute, man.

September 10.

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For some reason I’ve signed up to take a three-day Planning Board training class. I love the class but by the third day I’m so nervous about all the responsibilities I’m shirking I duck out early, feeling like a failure.

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September 13.

I cook such a good Rosh Hashanah dinner that afterward Kate says she doesn’t get how everyone didn’t bow down to me as they were eating. Honestly it was pretty good. And I only invited true pals—no one I had to pay a social debt to or someone I knew would be hurt if they found out I didn’t invite them. Just sweethearts. Nicest night. My brother stared at little 10-month-old Henry. He secretly wants a family.

My brother is still doing nothing. Living by himself since my mom isn’t there. First time ever, living alone. He’s so bored he can’t stand it. Walks around town all day every day, purposefully. Going nowhere. No sign of a job. I nag him here and there. Did you get health insurance? Do you want me to look at the website with you?

If he had health insurance he could go to therapy, go to get a mental health diagnosis, get on disability or medicare, enroll in one of the many programs I’ve found for him to help him with a job, socialization skills, life. He’s 33 and is so mortified that he’s just now fixing his life that he can’t take the first step. If I take steps for him he won’t follow. His anger is ever-present, ready to explode at all times. He doesn’t explode on me because he knows I’ll cut him out of my life if he does, just like I did our father.

That leaves my mom, the only other person in his life. After he has an episode with her I call him up and he apologizes to me, is soft and vulnerable with me, tells me he doesn’t know what to do, is so scared and stuck. And the cycle continues: I gave him ideas, he doesn’t do them.

At Rosh Hashanah my mom can’t get up without it being a whole thing, so I bring her food and dessert. We have vanilla ice cream from the shop made by Kate with syrup made by me with fifteen different spices, and honeycomb crumbs smothered over it all. We’re out of bowls so I scoop some out for my mom into the cup Liz gave me—a big cappuccino bowl. My mom squints and yells so loudly that the entire room freezes: “Are you giving me that small bowl of ice cream? I want a lot of sauce, a lot more than that.” My heart goes cold. This is the new thing: she is intermittently cruel to me, unintentionally and forcefully. It’s way too hard for me to get past it.

Often the cruelty involves sauces. I recognize this sounds ridiculous. Her need of much more of them than I’ve provided is a big thing in our lives. I learn to slather, to drown. You’ve never met someone who loves saucey food like she does. Vegans are like that, sometimes. Sick people, too. The need to feel lavished.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have everyone but you making decisions about how much sauce goes on your food, what you eat, drink, wear, do? I tell myself this, but I’m still stunned. After they leave friends bring it up, and I’m so reassured to know that they were stunned about it too, that it’s not just that I’m sensitive.

My mom was always the parent I knew I didn’t have to be scared of, and this strange fear of forgetting something I said I’d bring, making a meal she doesn’t enjoy, doing something wrong for reasons I don’t understand or couldn’t know is distressing.

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September 15.

Work has me down for a few days. It’s getting so busy, I feel the rest of my year being swallowed up by it. I’m resentful. I can’t do anything fun at work when it’s so busy, I have to be a worker bee. Worker bee life has its own joys, but I’ll miss my experiments and follies and ability to waste time.

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At a staff meeting someone brings up tips.

We don’t take them. I hate tips. The trend in the restaurant world is to pay people better per hour and not make them simper and smile for tips. The idea of taking tips makes me want to throw up. We’re all women. Women helping men and getting tips for it.

I’m such a dumb idiot second-wave feminist about things.

We pay people practically double what typical waitresses get paid. I want to pay them more. I want to give them health insurance and paid vacations and IRAs. Someday. The busyness sure helps, though it makes me feel swallowed up and sad sometimes. I’m trying to explain my perspective: that taking tips demeans them, that we work so hard to drill through our customer’s skulls that we’re all chocolatiers, that we all make things, are skilled artisans. Tips belong to shitty places with shitty jobs, is the point I can’t say. A. says: “Well it would be nice to have more money. Those tips could pay a bill, you know?” and she’s right of course and I’m privileged of course but I wish they cared more about how it downgrades their jobs makes them look like Starbucks baristas pushing dirty rags across sticky counters not chocolatiers mastering a craft.

I’m so upset about it. I know very well I sound like a fucking douche. I hate if I sense there’s a division between us. I know my position is such a fancy-pants boss position. I want to offer to pay them all one more dollar an hour if they never mention tips again. Jacob tells me we just can’t do it. I shut up. No one’s mentioned it since. Is it that they can tell it wounded me? That’s awful. Is it because I convinced them?

***

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At dinner it’s just me and my mom, who knows where my brother is. She likes what I brought. She’s more herself when it’s just me. My brother changes her, hardens her. And when we have an audience we become more passive aggressive, when we’re alone we’re soft to each other.

She knows she’s depressed, and finally got to see the therapist who comes to the rehab facility once a week. I ask how it went.

“I think she was pretty impressed with me. She went to some noodnik college in Pennsylvania, and I mentioned I went to Bryn Mawr.”

Only my mom is mostly concerned with impressing a therapist.

We walk back to her room and both marvel at how she’s walking the best she has in eight months. I’m amazed. I see a future of independence for her. She looks so cute tucked up on her bed with a new stack of library books all around her, I take a photo. She looks like a coed, black turtleneck and black pants. Beatnik mom.

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September 16.

The rehab facility calls me at 3 am.

She walked to the bathroom by herself, slipped, and broke a bone. Her hip? No one knows yet. I scoop up my brother and we get on the road. We’re behind an ambulance and I’m sure it’s hers. Small town life. I hop out to see before I park. The second she sees me she starts an 8-hour litany of tortured guilt. She’s so incredibly angry with herself that she can’t function.

I sit with her all day. It’s not her hip, it’s her femur. Not as bad.

At one point she says to me:

“Maybe when they operate on my hip they can remove the tumor? Could it hurt to ask?”

I laugh for the first time, the sad, rueful cancer-laugh.

“What?”

“What what? Wait—are you serious?” I soften, fall down inside myself.

“Mom. You know the tumor is wrapped around the blood vessels still. They can’t operate on it, and anyway…”

“I know, you’d have to have an oncologist to operate. But still, Dr. M. said maybe it would keep shrinking? Maybe it has now?”

“Maybe. That was only three weeks ago though.”

There’s a 1% change the tumor could ever be removed. I stare at her.

My brother and I take a walk and I tell him resignedly that I don’t know what to do anymore about helping him. I ask why on earth he won’t go to the therapist that I found.

“I can’t go until I want to.”

“Why don’t you want to?”

“I don’t know.”

“How do you think you’ll know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think you’re depressed and stuck? Or do you think you’re fine?”

“Yeah, depressed.”

“But you don’t think talking to someone will help?”

“I don’t know.”

“WELL GOOD FUCKING LUCK.” I scream and walk away.

I go back inside after walking around for a few minutes and my my mother is yelling to the doctor “L’shana tova!!!” and he can’t hear her because he’s walking out and then she says to me, “Didn’t he have a yarmulke? I think?” And the next time he comes in she screams it again at him and he says “you, too” and my mom is satisfied. The tribe. Oy.

My brother comes back and says, “there’s nothing I can eat here.” And is so annoyed about the lack of good food that he says he’ll have to take the bus home. It makes my mom so anxious. I told him when I picked him up we’d be here for hours, but of course he brings nothing to do. My mom starts telling us we should go. I tell my brother that he has absolutely no dietary restrictions, so what the fuck is he talking about. I ask him what on earth he’d be doing at home.

“Nothing.”

“So you’re doing nothing here. And I’d be doing emails at work and I’m doing emails here. So, Mom, we’re fine.”

My brother always thinks the next thing will be the thing that fixes everything but the next thing is just sitting in a room alone in an apartment alone staring at his phone.

My mom is so cold, I keep getting heated blankets out and putting them on her. At one point she puts one over her head, and from underneath it I hear a small voice—“I want that calzone…” Jayme was on the calendar today to bring her a calzone.

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Meanwhile, Maresa tells me her landlord had left a scrawled note on the shop door telling me my mom’s August rent check bounced and her September one was never sent. I tell him I’ll give him a check tomorrow for both months. I ask my mom what’s happening and she says the same old things.

Jacob mentions mentioning to her the specter of eviction and ask him if he has forgotten that we were evicted from every place we ever lived as kids. My brother looks at me and says I should start looking for a new place without so many stairs. I stare at him. It’s so beyond his power to help look for an apartment.

I look at my to-do list:

Take mom cat to vet

Pay mom housecleaner

I add to it

Pay mom rent, 2 months + bounced check fee.

September 18.

When you get into a huge screaming fight with your brother in the hospital parking lot but then neither of you can remember where you parked your separate cars an hour earlier so you spend the next 20 minutes walking around circling each other and rolling your eyes like a five-year-old every time you see him again, but then you see each other out on the road and can’t help but wave, because even though he’s your stupid annoying brother, at least neither of us are so far gone that we actually couldn’t find our cars, and that, I guess, is something?

September 19.

I am drowning in it today, it = being the primary caretaker for someone who needs a lot of care and, i am realizing needs to move, like asap, into an apartment with no stairs; realizing slowly that my 33 year old sibling will never be able to live independently or fully unless i sort of devote my whole life to managing his care for a while as well; running a business that employs ten people and is in the process of hiring seemingly one million more for the wintertime; rapidly expanding said business to take advantage of an amazing wintertime opportunity I can’t turn down; working on a Secret Project so huge that it is a more-than-full-time job for anyone who has ever attempted it; enjoying a hilariously adventurous personal life; and all the usual stuff: picking out outfits, feeding cats, the volunteer job, adjusting levels on IG photos etc. I load laundry and forget to turn it on, I get into the car wearing my slippers and pj pants, I am keeping it together with the help of my meditation app and my circle of friends and truly I’m not asking for help, I just have to say it all right now, before I get out of bed, I am keeping it together!!! and that is something but also:

for

how

much

longer

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September 24.

My mom says: “What’s intersectionality? I see it everywhere. These new words.”

September 25.

I start doing this thing where I feel like my life is being stolen from me so I reclaim it by secretly staying up all night looking at stupid shit on my phone. You will get your alone time, it turns out. No matter how.

September 27.

I begin the house search.

I go to the 55+ apartments across the street from the shop. Two women are sitting outside, I ask them how it is.

“Oh honey, it’s a nice place. But you can’t live here! It’s for older people.”

I tell them it’s for my mom, and she says, “Oh honey—give a call today! This is a good day for you—two people just died. She can have her pick of places! They go fast, be sure to call right away.”

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September 28.

There will be a time when I will be of service to those I love and care about, and not always vice versa. I want to lavish my friends with birthday presents and homemade meals. I want to be a good friend again. All I do is take right now.

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September 29.

I’m writing this from my car, parked just out of sight from my house so I can stake out my driveway. I recently hired someone to start cleaning my house. Jacob’s on tour so often and my mom’s in the hospital so often and my business is so busy so often and I guess I’m just that person now. Obviously anarchists aren’t supposed to hire people to clean their houses. I wanted to hire a one-person operation, not a service whose workers could be underpaid. I find a friend of a friend and I pay her well and it’s the biggest treat I’ve ever given myself. Except when she has to cancel on her regular day and comes on my sacred day of having alone time in my house. Needing a few hours in my clean dreamboat before heading to Albany to pick Jacob up from tour, I’ve done all the errands I can do without going into work, so I park behind some branches where I won’t be seen and wait, feeling ridiculous, but the specter of seeing someone who’s just cleaned my house, having to make small talk with them after they’ve emptied my garbage, is too mortifying to consider. When she came to look at the house to see what to charge I went to visit my mom and let Jacob take her around. Such a baby. He points out that we’re paying her more, hourly, than we pay people who work at the shop.

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September 30.

On The View in the surgical center waiting room Whoopi Goldberg introduces Rick Santorium. He starts talking about Planned Parenthood and the room is filled with people waiting for their loved ones but still. I can’t just let this go by. I start grumbling about how I can’t sit in here and listen to this, I go out into the hall but don’t bring anything with which to do work then immediately go back and immediately start grumbling again and my brother, sitting a few chairs away, texts me

R u ok

And later he says, “So, you were just mad about the TV?”

Later,

On a show called The Chew which apparently follows The View they are making Date Night Crunch Snack, aka Puppy Chow, and Espresso Margaritas. I shit you not. What is the world. //// Espresso /// Margaritas./////

Usually when doctors come into the waiting room they take the person out into the hall and everyone can hear what they’re saying and it’s good and then they go home, or into the recovery room. The doctor calls my name and my brother and I go into the hall and he says everything went well then he ushers us into a little room and I quickly wonder how many people have gotten horrible news in that room and think about not going into the room, but he’s saying again everything is OK.

The surgery isn’t for anything fun, like a bone you broke doing ollies on your BMX, like the kinds of bones my brother used to break when he rode his BMX. It’s to put a permanent catheter into her side to collect the fluid that’s been building up in her lungs, around her heart—everywhere. The nurses can drain it every week or so. The doctor tells us the fluid was substantial, about another quart, and that even though it doesn’t seem cancerous they’ll test it anyway. He instructs us how to care for it, and says the fluid probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We talk generally about her care. When someone has cancer, I guess their family probably always goes in the little room. Everything is always so complicated.

She’s in a different, better rehab place now. The fancy one in town.

Things just keep going on.

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5 Responses to “in which your protagonist continues a 14 year tradition of hating september”

  1. dustinbuster

    OMG, Bray is a sauce person, too, and pretty much the sum total of his assessment of food is whether it’s “dry” or “wet” (those are the words he uses). Which means since I am the cook, I have to double the “wet” of everything. Also, the word wet is so disgusting, maybe in general, but definitely when talking about food.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I am, too! But not to such a wild extent, my god. Who are these crazy people we know!!

      Reply
  2. elizabeth

    as always, your blog remains some of the best writing about cancer and life that i have ever read. thank you, so much, for sharing this writing here.

    Reply

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