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I Had Two Pawpaw Trees

 

I had two pawpaw trees, but now I only have one. The new gardeners decided that the trees were in their way; they had already cut down the first pawpaw tree when Mom looked out the window of her bedroom and screamed.

I had no idea what was going on, because I was still sleeping (afternoon naps are a thing). I heard the small scream and then the dogs barking like crazy so I got up. The first thing I saw was a puddle of pee on my exercise mat. I assume Ellie did that when she heard Grandma scream, but it could have been sitting there for a few minutes. I had to focus on cleaning up the pee, so I couldn’t ask Cricket why she was standing at our apartment door barking her head off.

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“Where did Grandma go!”

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Loud noises make me pee, Mommy.

Then the doorbell rang, and it was Mom, because she’d run outside so quickly that she forgot her key to the building. That’s when I found out what had happened. Between the scream and the doorbell, Mom had been running across the lawn to convince the gardeners to leave the second Pawpaw tree alone, and then dragging the murdered tree out to the woods, to prepare it for a proper burial.

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Pawpaw branches awaiting burial

I wasn’t taking the information in. I looked out the front door of our building and the bigger pawpaw tree was still there, but fifty feet closer to me, there was a hole. Who cuts down the trunk of a tree like it’s the errant limb of a Forsythia?

The pawpaw trees were both twelve years old and just beginning to flower. My hope was that, very soon, the flowers would lead to fruiting. Actually, we had the tiny beginnings of pawpaw fruit earlier in the summer; a little clump of four pawpaws. I didn’t want to write about it until I knew if the fruit would survive, and within a week, they were gone. We thought they must have been wiped out by heavy rains, but it turns out that the gardeners had knocked down the fragile baby fruit when they were mowing the lawn, and that’s when they decided that the overhanging bushes and trees would have to go. Except, no one mentioned this to us.

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Pawpaw flowers

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clump of baby pawpaws

I was angry, and ranting, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but there was nothing I could do.

The powerlessness is what overwhelms me. My mother is the president of our co-op board and no one even told her that the trees were in danger, let alone asked her opinion, or her permission, to take them down. Up until this year we had two maintenance men who knew the trees and knew who to ask when there was a problem with them. They figured this out early, because they’d accidentally knocked down our third pawpaw tree soon after it had been planted in place. But one of the maintenance men retired recently, and the co-op hired a gardening company to come in once a week to make life easier for the remaining maintenance man. The first time they came, Mom told them to stay away from the pawpaw trees, but they seem to have forgotten.

The trees should have had a ribbon around them. Both trees used to be marked, after the incident with the third tree way back when, but we forgot all about it. The trees were so solid, and so tall, that it didn’t occur to us that someone would try to cut them down.

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Pawpaw standing tall

Within minutes, Mom was calling around for advice on how to fertilize a lone tree; and if there was a way to save any part of the murdered tree; or if you could buy a five or six year old pawpaw tree instead of one of the two year olds, to cut down on the long wait for maturity; or, maybe we could borrow pollen from someone else’s pawpaw tree to fertilize the one tree we have left, next year?

The trees were born a few months before Cricket, and they lived in the kitchen until they were toddlers and ready to live outside, still in their pots. When the trees were planted in our new yard, seven years ago, they took root and decided to stay.

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Pawpaw toddler getting ready to go outside

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Cricket, same age

That tree was loved, that’s all I can say.

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If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. Izzy’s father then sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

The Butterfly Anniversary

 

 

Butterfly has been gone for a year now. The plan was to wait until after the one year anniversary to look for another dog, but then Ellie appeared a couple of weeks early and we couldn’t say no. I’m still not done mourning for Butterfly, and I’ll never be “over” her. No one will fill the Butterfly shaped void in my heart, but I think Butterfly is thinking of us and hoping for the best, for Cricket, and for all of us.

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My Butterfly

The Butterfly Bush seems to be thriving. Mom believes it’s because she chose a spot with good sunlight, and carefully removed the encroaching Hasta leaves, and makes sure to give it enough water and prune the old blossoms. I think it’s because I make sure to give the Butterfly Bush a fresh raspberry each time I give one to Cricket, from our out-of-control raspberry bushes.

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Raspberry-fed Butterfly bush

The anniversary has been on my mind for a while, especially because Cricket turned eleven this year, and I worry about her health. I can’t tell if my anxieties are really about her, or about a fear of reliving Butterfly’s health issues. God forbid I’d ever have to give Cricket daily shots. She’d kill me first.

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“I still have teeth, Mommy.”

We had a scare with Cricket recently, a few weeks before Ellie came home. I woke up, and wandered into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and found my keys, and put on my shoes, and still there was no sign of Cricket. I checked Mom’s room, in case they were both gone and the morning walk had already been taken care of, but Mom was still sleeping, and there was no sign of Cricket on the bed. I checked all of Cricket’s favorite hiding spots in the apartment, under my bed, under her couch, in the kitchen, by the front door, but I couldn’t find her. I was starting to freak out and went back into Mom’s room to, not so calmly, ask her where Cricket was. And that’s when I finally saw Miss Cricket, disappearing under her grandma’s bed, very slowly. I was reassured that she was still alive, and not reenacting my ever present flashbacks to Butterfly’s last weeks, and the middle of the night crises, and hospitalizations, were still reverberating. But why was Cricket hiding under the bed? Was she ill?

My only diagnostic option was to invite her for a walk, and see if she would come out from under the bed. It took her a few minutes to accept my invitation, and she walked very slowly down the stairs, and outside, and started to go into poopy position right on the brick walkway, which isn’t like her. I inched her over to the grass to do her business, and as she stood back up, I finally saw the problem. Miss Cricket had a poopy butt. She did not appreciate my laughing at her pain, but I was so relieved to find out that she was just trying to prevent the inevitability of a bath, instead of having some kind of mortal illness, that I couldn’t help myself.

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“This is so undignified.”

Cricket made sure to shake her newly clean butt in every direction once her bath was over, and she raced around the apartment in a frenzy, and gave me the evil eye for the next few hours, but really, I didn’t care. She was clean and healthy and sticking around. What else could possibly matter?

 

 

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Don’t tell Cricket, but she is very close to accepting her new sister. Butterfly would be proud.

A Butterfly Bush

 

The other day, when I was looking through pet blogs, as I always do, I came across a wonderful idea for how to honor Miss Butterfly: plant something beautiful with her ashes. Mom loved the idea, because she’s a gardener, and she immediately envisioned a pink Butterfly Bush as the appropriate tribute, and found the perfect spot for it, with enough sun, and drainage, and space to grow.

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My Butterfly

I had to research Butterfly Bushes, of course, and at first I was overwhelmed with articles about the negatives: how Butterfly Bushes are non-native plants, and invasive, and kill off native plants, and kill off insects, and on and on. But I persisted in my reading and found other views, and Mom was adamant that the positives outweigh the negatives.

But I’m still reluctant. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to say goodbye to Butterfly, or when. I don’t want to scatter her ashes too soon, because then I could never get them back. As if I still have her with me, because I still have her ashes. And scattering Miss Butterfly’s ashes here means that she can’t go with me if I ever choose to leave. And if the Butterfly Bush doesn’t survive well, then I won’t have the chance to replant her ashes somewhere else.

I didn’t feel this way when Dina, my black lab mix, died, at sixteen years and two months old. I’d had her for her whole life, minus the first eight weeks, and I saw her through every complicated stage of her development. I had Butterfly for less than five years, and it just wasn’t enough, even though she herself was ready to go.

I think the Butterfly Bush may be the right answer for us, because Miss B loved the backyard here. She loved running up the hill, through mounds of rotting leaves, and then racing back to our front door with her tongue hanging out and her eyes shining. This was her safe place. And she knew it from the first day, when two white butterflies greeted her with their fluttering wings.

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I know that I need to have some kind of marker, and ceremony, to say goodbye to Miss B. I know I need to make peace with the loss of my girl. But I still don’t want to say goodbye.

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The Butterfly Bush resting at home

 

If you want to see the post that inspired me:

https://doodlemum.com/2018/04/17/home-coming/

 

The Bird Came Back

 

Last Sunday, while I was answering heartfelt condolences on the death of Mom’s friend Olivia, and sharing the joy of a visit from a bird who seemed to be acting as Olivia’s familiar, the bird came back. This time she came into the apartment through the small opening next to the air-conditioner in the living room (where Mom leaves bird snacks year round, just in case). The bird visited the quilting closet again, of course, and the light fixture in the dining room, but then she became more bold and stood on the kitchen counter to eat pizza crumbs off of a plate, and walked on the living room rug, looking for any treats Cricket might have left behind (as if that would ever happen).

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Psst. Check the pink thing.

Cricket tolerated the invasion moderately well, until the bird stepped into Cricket’s food bowl to sample the kibble, and then wet her beak in Cricket’s water bowl. The bird even had the temerity to wander under Cricket’s couch! Cricket ran after the bird at that point, and was flummoxed by the whole flying thing.

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“I must guard my couch from interlopers, Mommy.”

The bird landed on top of curtain rods and lamps, checked out cookbooks, and stood on my computer chair for a good long time, looking over at me with what looked suspiciously like Cricket’s side eye expression.

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(This is my favorite picture – photographed by Mom and her magic camera.)

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“These had better be vegan.”

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“This chair is just right.”

At bed time, instead of remaining in the living room, or the kitchen, the bird followed me and Cricket into my bedroom, investigating the tops of my bookcases, and the notebooks on my bedside table. She even followed Cricket into Mom’s room, and stood on the blanket, about a foot away from Cricket’s tail. We were starting to wonder if we had accidentally adopted a wild bird.

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“No. Just say no to the bird.”

 

Mom did research on Carolina Wrens, through Google and bird-wise family and friends, and she found out that this is the time of year when they go house hunting, to decide where to nest in the spring. Of course, we started to worry about how much bird poop we’d be dealing with if the bird decided to bring her whole family to live in our apartment, but there was also something gratifying about even being considered for such an honor.

 

When Mom woke up in the middle of the night (she and Cricket are big fans of the late night snack), she was sure that the bird had left, but then she saw a pile of feathers on the radiator in the living room. She was afraid that the bird had died, but it turned out that this was just the bird’s sleeping pose, puffing her wings out to act as a blanket, and stuffing her head down to mute the outside noise.

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Ssh. It’s nap time.

By the next morning the bird was gone. We were able to clean up all of the lingering bird poop, which is surprisingly tenacious stuff, but there was also a sense of loss, and then hope, that maybe the bird will return again. Maybe this will become a weekly Sunday visit! Cricket would not be thrilled with a bird in the house on a regular basis, but, for me, it was nice to have another pet again. I think Miss Butterfly would have approved.

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“Birdie!”

(Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Naomi Mankowitz. Any pictures that look less than perfect were taken by me.)

Olivia

 

According to the New York Times, Olivia Cole died a week ago Friday, on January 19th, which was only a few days after the last time my Mom had spoken to her on the phone. At first, we weren’t sure the news was real; maybe someone had confused her with her mother, who died this fall. But her mother had a different last name, and lived in NY, while Olivia lived in Mexico, and the news stories had that detail right. And then we saw a quote from her agent, and too many more details that made it all sound true.

Olivia was dead.

Olivia is dead.

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Olivia and her Mom

It still seemed so unlikely, though. She was just in New York in December, traipsing across the city by foot, despite her rheumatoid arthritis, because she didn’t like spending money on taxis. She even refused to take a cab when she had to be at the airport at five o’clock in the morning, and instead chose to wear most of the clothes, so she wouldn’t have to carry them, and take the subway at three o’clock AM, in the middle of winter.

Mom was worried about that trip back to Mexico, with twenty four hours in transit, and called Olivia a number of times to check if she’d made it home safely. Olivia had a landline, but no cell phone, or email, or even a computer, so when Mom didn’t hear back, so she emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel and finally heard that Olivia had made it home safely. It still took a few weeks for Olivia herself to call, though. She didn’t like to use her phone for international calls, so she would borrow her friend’s computer-based phone system, on Mondays, to make her calls. She called on MLK day, and the two old friends talked about the need to take care of oneself, and about the foundation Olivia wanted to build, to help finance early education for children of color.

Olivia was one of my mom’s lifelong friends, from their years in the drama club at Hunter High School, and she would pop in and out of our lives every few years, sending tickets to plays she was in, and visiting when she came to New York to see her Mom. The first time I met her in person was when I was eleven, when she played Mama in A Raisin in the Sun at the Roundabout theatre in Manhattan. Seeing Olivia on stage was just like seeing her in real life: she was a character. She was larger than life. She was stubborn and opinionated and fiercely intellectual, delving into the Shakespearean canon for life lessons in even the most obscure of areas. She loved acting, and reading, and opining, but she didn’t like fame, or compromise.

Then Mom received the email, this Thursday, from a high school friend, with the attached announcement of Olivia’s death in the New York Times. The article said that she’d died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she’d lived for the past thirty years. Mom called to me from the living room, sounding odd, and the only word I understood was “Olivia” and I thought, that’s weird, Olivia wouldn’t call on a Thursday. When I reached her and she repeated “Olivia’s dead?” as a question, I was sure it was a mistake. Yes, Olivia was 75, and had rheumatoid arthritis, and no sense of her own limits, but she took good care of her health and went to all of her doctors on her most recent visit to New York. She hadn’t mentioned any heart issues to my Mom, but then again, she wouldn’t. She was full of plans for the future, and still full of piss and vinegar, never changing, and never really aging.

 

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Three old friends on a recent visit

Since we were still not quite believing the news. Mom emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel for confirmation. The email came back, yes, Olivia was found on her porch, sitting upright in a chair, reading an old article about Barack Obama. Friends hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days and decided to check on her, and they found her there on the porch. The comfort for the people who knew her is that this is exactly how Olivia would have wanted to go: reading and thinking and full of hope for the future.

I had to go to my internship soon after the death was confirmed, but Mom’s high school classmates stepped in, sending messages on their class listserv, offering memories and kindness and compassion. These New York girls grew up knowing that all that mattered was how smart you were, not the color of your skin, or which neighborhood you lived in; and a woman could become anything she wanted to be: a lawyer, a doctor, a mother, a teacher, a writer, or an actress.

There’s a sweet coda to this story. We had a visit from a bird last weekend, two days after Olivia’s death, though we didn’t know that at the time. The bird stayed in the apartment for a while, resting in the quilting closet, and on the vitamin bottles on the entertainment center, and then in the light fixture in the dining room. The bird seemed to want to stay with us, fluttering from place to place indoors, even though the window in mom’s room was wide open. Looking back at that visit, after the news of Olivia’s death, Mom is convinced it was Olivia, saying goodbye. Because that would be a very Olivia thing to do.

 

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The Yellow Warbler

 

Last week, I met a little green and yellow bird. She was standing on the front stoop of our building, with her mouth open, stunned. She must have flown into the glass door and lost herself for a minute. Mom noticed her on the way into the house, and, thinking this was a baby bird and I would want to meet her, she came upstairs to tell me about our visitor. I padded downstairs in my pajamas and socks and sat down next to the little bird on the Welcome mat. On closer inspection, the bird seemed to be an adult bird, just small in stature, and very shocked. At first, I even thought she might be a fake bird, someone’s idea of an ornament for the season, made of cloth and wood, but then she fluttered her feathers, just a little. I reached out to touch her, trying hard not to scare her, and she let me rub her head and neck with my thumb. That seemed to release the muscles in her neck just enough for her to close her mouth and tilt her head towards me. But she was still moving in slow motion and staring into space. Mom suggested picking her up, so I gently wrapped my fingers around her folded wings, feeling her rapid heartbeat against my palm, and held her loosely in my hand. She stretched one leg, and then the other, stepped up onto my fingers, and then pooped into the palm of my hand. And then she flew away.

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(from google images)

I’ve been told that having a bird poop in my hand is supposed to bring me good luck, but it was the few moments I was able to spend with that little bird that felt magical to me. The way she allowed me to be her in-between place, her respite, between trauma and flight.

Mom, of course, googled and found out that the little bird was a female Yellow Warbler, with her yellow throat and belly, her green overcoat, and her long skinny feet.

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(from google images)

And I realized that my short moment with the little warbler felt like a sped up version of my years with Butterfly. Because, it turned out, I was Butterfly’s respite too, between her first eight years in the puppy mill, and her flight into a new world. The little miracle of the bird’s visit, and the big miracle of my time with Butterfly, were both incredible gifts, and I am trying to believe that I deserved them.

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The Dailiness of Things

 

For my vacation (I had about ten days off between the end of my internship and the beginning of fall classes), I scheduled all of the doctor/dentist/haircut and groomer appointments I could, for me and for Cricket.

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“Mommy, I don’t need to go to the groomer.”

First, Cricket had to go to the vet to get the hair pulled from her ears. Poodles, and part poodles like Cricket, need to have the hair in their ears removed because they are at risk of ear infections, and Cricket had been rubbing her ears on the floor a lot more than usual lately. The vet, in his inimitable way, raised an eyebrow at me when he showed me the amount of hair he’d cranked out of her first ear. I told him that Cricket’s sister had been sick and we’d been preoccupied and waited too long, and he answered, fair enough, and then proceeded to Cricket’s other ear.

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Look at that beautiful ear!

The poor vet tech had scratches down her arm because Cricket kept trying to climb higher and higher to escape the torture. When the vet finished applying the medicated lotion to soothe her poor ears, Cricket practically flew across the room and into my arms.

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“I barely survived.”

I went to my dentist and doctor appointments, and gave Cricket’s ears a few days to recover, before she had to go off to the groomer.

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“Nope.”

We still have these moments when we come across people who don’t know yet and look around and ask, where’s Butterfly? The groomer was one of those people. We’d made the appointment with her assistant over the phone, so she didn’t realize that Cricket would be coming in alone this time. The fact is, Butterfly was the magic ingredient that made grooming manageable for Cricket. We’d tried different groomers, and added doggy Xanax, but nothing really improved until Butterfly came along and was able to whisper into Cricket’s ear that everything would be okay. So the groomer had two things to be upset about: the loss of Butterfly, and the ratcheting up of Cricket’s bad-client status.

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I’ve always hated waiting at home while the girls were at the groomer. I hate that no-dog-in-the-house feeling. But this time, knowing that Butterfly would not be coming back to help fill the void, made the wait so much worse. And I’ve been more anxious than I should be about Cricket’s health. She’s very healthy, but I worry that she won’t wake up in the morning, or will choke on something in the backyard, or won’t come home from the groomer at all.

I know it’s an exaggerated fear because of Butterfly’s death and it will pass. And I know that I had years with Butterfly, and they didn’t pass in seconds, the way I imagine it now. But time keeps rushing past me and I keep losing things and people that I want to keep. I want the bad things to be temporary and the good things to last forever. Is that so unreasonable?

 

Cricket has gotten back into the habit of giving me the stink eye. Either that, or she’s been doing it all along and I couldn’t tell until she finally got her hair cut. She gave me the stink eye the day after her grooming ordeal, because we dared to leave her home alone for a few hours while we went for haircuts and food shopping. Either her separation anxiety has reemerged at full power, or she really hates what they did to my hair. It’s hard to know.

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