the strength card: november ramblings written during the caesura of an emergency


Start here.

Disorganized notes (and photos of a great Thanksgiving):


November 9.

When you’re about to have a mini panic attack and you get the numbers of your loved ones on speed dial so if you can’t breathe they can come to the shop and hold your hand and help you breathe into a paper bag you keep tucked away


I am worried about my mom moving back home.


November 11 (parents wedding anniversary 1972).

Being used to having so much done for her after a month in rehab. Increasing frustration.

Not understanding why I can’t do that much for her, as much as they do at rehab, though I am doing more than I ever have, more than most people would think possible.

Kate telling me her mom was the same way when she got out of rehab, not understanding why she couldn’t push a button and make everything happen.

Her mean text to me because Jacob and I were late coming to get her, the shock of these flashes of cruelty. The slow realization that she’s so scared to leave rehab, so scared of falls and weaknesses, and the terror that creates the short temper and lashing out.


November 12.

I have a big fight with my brother, who’s mental state

Would u have guessed

Isn’t so great.


Jacob’s doing production managing at a show in NYC for some band people would kill for tickets to see and I can never remember their name. My brother asks what he’s doing and I tell him and he erupts

Would it have killed you to invite me anywhere

What? But…Jacob’s working at the show. It’s not for pleasure.

You don’t now what it’s like for me

And he tells me in fifteen years I’ve gone all over the world and never invited him, would it have killed us to buy a plane ticket for him, just once? I try to tell him I save all year for a vacation in Hawaii where I stay in a shack because it’s free and I went to Japan and Australia and Europe because I was selling merch for bands Jacob was working for, or I got a cheap ticket and free accommodations by sleeping on a tour bus which is not glamorous but

In the end it doesn’t matter and it’s good to see where he’s coming from and the eruption helps us a little


November 13. In the ER.

My brother takes me aside. “I’m so sorry. I’m never mad at you. You’re the best thing in my life. I’m so sorry I lost my temper.”

The rest of the day when we get a minute alone at the hospital I tell him about my rage. The things I’ve broken, the time I jumped out of a slow moving car, the times I’ve had to scream at Jacob to hold my arms because I was so scared of hurting myself. He seems shocked.

“Why aren’t you like that now?”

“Almost five years of therapy. Our childhood fucked us up, and we have to deal with it in order to be ok. OK? It doesn’t matter how you deal with it, I chose this way and it’s working for me. But you have to choose something.”

We sit in the hospital.

A theater Jacob’s done shows in dozens of times is the internet tells me/////filled with blood/////he’s home from tour for the year I stare at him dully making sure he’s here, sitting next to me. I got to ride in an ambulance today I asked the driver —
do you know when to put the sirens on like, is it a thing you come to know or are there rules
and he said, you just know. obviously i guess. Mom blood pressure lower than ever might as well check it out & eight hours slip by in blank hospital time and Jacob brings pizza and cake: L’chaim. To life. Because one year ago today my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and today I wanted to celebrate the randomness the luck of the draw the work we’ve done the fight she’s put in—to life, to your life, the life of my best friend. To life. Cake in the ER blood a continent away everything so fragile but it’s Friday night  and I hate guns so much and I hate mutating cells so much 


November 14.

Jacob’s done shows at Le Bataclan for years, been there dozens of times.

Can’t sleep thinking about the sound engineer, and it probably shouldn’t be the first thing I say to j when he wakes up in the morning but I do. Obsessively reading articles. In the car on the way to work I say

“Of course the band escaped. They have exists all around them. The sound engineer is stuck in the middle of the audience. Everyone only cares about the band.”

“You know who’s even more visible? The merch person. Also, none of the reports have said if the band crew or the house crew are all OK, none of the reports have made the distinction.”

And then later that day we find out that the merch manager was killed.


November 20.

Both of them my mom my brother calling me to complain about the other one


Why doesn’t he see that I dropped a tissue why do I have to ask him to do it he knows I can’t pick it up

Mom, it’s like telling someone with a broken leg to stand up, he can’t do it he just doesn’t see things like that

He says to me why can’t she just tell me to pick up the tissue without a lot of getting mad at herself then at at me

He says to her while watching the news about Paris I wanted to go to Paris, but it’s too late for everything for me. He is obsessed with the idea that, at 33, he missed everything, he’s done


Such a pretty screensaver, she tells the dr. when she can’t think of any other compliment to pay

You both have buns, she says to me and the nurse

Something to ingratiate

Show her sweetness

It gets me every time.


November 21.

Email from Kate (see previous post re: this)

further reading on your strength card:

from “seventy eight degrees of wisdom” by rachel pollack:

“in readings the card of strength indicates the ability to face life, and particularly some difficult problems of time or change, with hope and eagerness. it shows a person strong from within, experiencing life passionately yet peacefully, without being controlled or carried away by those passions. the card represents the finding of the strength to begin or continue some difficult project, despite fear and emotional strain.”

i am struck by you pulling this card: i have always found it to be really profoundly beautiful and powerful. the rider-waite art is thus:



i see this kind of strength from you every day in so many ways. the calm of infinity above you, gracefully tempering you into handling things, despite how difficult they are.

it doesn’t always have to feel graceful, in fact, i bet it never does. it’s a sort of a fight to keep above water, to keep the people you love above water, and what could be graceful about that sort of thing. but it is. you keep going, no matter what. you don’t give up on things because you don’t even see that option.

i believe in you and you are powerful and this card speaks to it.

thank you for being.



November 23.

Chemo home day and she’s so weak.

Cuteness notes:

“What else can we find out about here, Mr. Wiggles?” she says to Shanthi as she looks at Facebook. She tells me when Shanthi was dropped at the shelter a drunk woman dumped him and he had a collar with skulls on it.

She calls to renew her prescription for her back medication and says, “Do you think they need to know I really need it? That I don’t just need it for kicks?”

An ad campaign for a new TV show has covered the 42nd street subway in vintage Nazi signage. She gets a lot of work emails about it. She’s amazed no articles about it mention that it’s an exact plot point from a Philip Roth novel. “I mean I’m no fan of Philip Roth, but this is just shoddy journalism.”


November 24.

everything is sad but also everything is as its always been

life’s assorted excitements beautiful mornings with the elegant tree outlines against slate skies etc etc

the wider world is unspeakably horrific, my life is such that i can’t take even one minute to try to help all i can do is hope the people i love aren’t touched by the guns and the horrors while i’m helping my mom down the stairs

i go to work and it all falls away


Nov 27.

My mom to Jacob: you’re just perfect. Not overly solicitous, not cold. What about me, mom? You, well, I have a different relationship with you.

I bring her to work for a change of scenery.

How does it feel to sit next to her and text my friend Christy about how badly she is doing

I take a breath and I feel her energy next to me, her powered-down quiet grumpy slightly confused energy.

She is sitting next to me & that’s what matters.

I should be helping customers, Meredith needs a break, but I’m just sitting here dully, listening to the pleasant buzz of the shop.

Heaviness is so heavy heaviness is on me it is so heavy



Nov 28.

My mind is chocolate you’re tying to scrape out of the mold but if you just let it chill in the fridge it would pop right out but I can’t stop forcing it I can’t chill

Feeling alienated from the non caretaking / worried sick world and what it must be like to have a life that light


November 30.

“I could give myself a hydration shot in the skin of my neck.”


“I mean, I did it for Mohandas all the time.”

“Well, he was a cat.”

“I bet I could do it.”

“You could just drink water though, instead of shooting yourself up with water in your neck? Or having to come to the ER for fluids?”

She laughs, and asks me if I knew that Les Miz is coming back to Broadway.

She’s calmer than she’s been in a week or so. No longer having to hide how bad she’s feeling probably helps. She tells me she appreciates me.

When I get to her place at 11 to start packing and sort out all the moving things, she’s completely fuzzy. No edges. She stares at me semi-blankly. I covertly watch her use her computer. She has stories she needs to file by tomorrow. She’s just clicking banner ads, squinting at things. The visiting nurse calls and she tells her no, she’s fine, they don’t need to come today. I ask if I can talk to her. She tells me she’s cancelled her visits four days in a row and she’s worried about her, she sounds so disoriented on the phone.

I call my brother upstairs and tell them I think we need to go to the ER. First we need to convince my mom to go. Then we need to get the new lease notarized. Then we need to see if she has enough money to pay the big first month’s rent check to the landlord. Doing these things takes two hours and at the end of them I realize that my mother has about a thousand dollars to her name and no discernable way to pay for the security deposit and rent. Jacob and I huddle up at the bank and discuss plans. Of course the only plan is for us to give her money. I’m heading into my busy season, it’ll be OK.

At the hospital where I know everything by heart, oh ER of mine, they do CAT scans and EKGs and blood pressure tests and this and that. As usual it comes down to “probably just some weird chemo stuff.” For a bit they think she’s having a heart attack or had a heart attack, then a cardiologist comes in and says the heart stuff means nothing.


Nov 29.

I guess this is depression, eh?

I’ve never had this, exactly. A fog, a bell jar ha ha ha.

Staring at the world passively. Good things happening and you looking at them, belatedly remembering to arrange your face to that of a person to whom good things are happening. Hanging out with friends or going out to dinner, you long even more than usual for a book or your phone, anything to distract from the roaring sadness pressing down. Body hurts every day, shoulders and back and shoulders and back so scrunched up at the end of the night you just sit there, feeling how bad you feel. Still getting up every day, taking showers, putting on clothes, helping customers and feeling the slow creep of the holiday tidal wave about a block away, now.

After work I go to the diner with Kate because I’m craving iceberg lettuce salad with overly xanthan-gummed industrial Italian dressing. For two hours we talk about our worried we are about our moms. We go to the places it’s harder to go to, because it’s easier to go there together. Her mom has been so sick for so long that she can talk about it without fresh tears, but it’s The Other Thing that’s hard to get to. We come up to the edge of it and recede like a tide. Finally I say it.

And we talk about it. Staring into the abyss. Things are hard and then they will get harder and then they will be over. And then things will be so much harder.

What my life is. Is caring for her. Until.

Then I won’t have a mother.


And we sit and we stare at the lettuce and think about not having mothers. Neither of us have fathers in any sense of the word, so. That’s it. Are you an adult when you don’t have parents anymore? Guess so. My mom always tells people I was born an adult. “Always with a little bag she put things in that were in the wrong place.” Always wanting things to be perfect. Always frustrated because things are never perfect.









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