A HOLE IN MY HEAD

by Cathy Arden on May 20, 2017

There’s a hole in my head.   And so I am reminded of the expression, “I need this like a hole in the head.” My mother used this expression often. And so it reminds me of her. I can hear her saying it. I can hear the tone in her voice. I can see the expression on her face. I think this must have been a popular expression in the 60’s and 70’s. I haven’t heard it lately.   Not in decades, actually. But it brings my mother back to me.

I had a tooth pulled yesterday. Top left molar, in case you’re interested. You can’t see the missing tooth when I smile. Therefore, there is no reason to replace it with another.   But something happened during the surgery. And, oh yes, it was indeed surgery as an oral surgeon had to extract this particular tooth. “Very difficult,” he told me. “Complicated. Which is why your dentist sent you to me,” he said, “and didn’t do it herself.” I thought that was a little tacky. It sounded like an insult to my dentist.

I won’t bore you with the extraction details.   Suffice it to say, the oral surgeon was correct. The tooth didn’t want to come out. It held on. I can’t say it held on for dear life, as it was already dead having been through a root canal procedure in some previous decade.   I don’t remember when the tooth died. But it was dead and it was still hanging in there. Granted, it was decayed. And impossible to salvage. But it clung to bone like nobody’s business.

The oral surgeon convinced me during our consultation two days before the extraction to allow him to give me nitrous oxide. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t even smoke weed. So I was timid about nitrous oxide. Well, not timid really, but afraid. I’ve had plenty of work done on my teeth in my lifetime. I managed it with all my wits about me as I sat in the dentist chair for I wonder how many hours over the course of my life so far.   But this doc was pretty insistent and pretty reassuring. He convinced me I’d be better off without all my wits about me for this extraction.

So a small, not so unattractive gas mask was placed over my nose on the day of the procedure, before the surgeon came into the room. They wanted to get me started on this before the shots of Novocaine, or whatever they use these days to numb you. I was told to breathe deeply through my nose and not through my mouth. Timidly, I began that process and noticed some change which was, at first, barely perceptible.

I found out later that when the doctor entered the room, and before he gave me the shots in the roof of my mouth, he cranked the gas up full hilt. I’m glad I didn’t know about that. I could feel the shots, and I can’t say there was no pain, but what happened was that I couldn’t have cared less. Bring it on. I’m totally fine. I kept giving the doctor a thumbs up when asked how I was doing.

And on it went. Intense pulling and yanking and hammering. Literal hammering in my head, which the doctor warned me about before the hammering began. “You’re going to feel hammering in your head. It will be intense,” he said. And that moment occurred that friends had told me about.   I felt a very unusual banging in my head, it was startling and yet….it was the funniest thing in the world. It was all I could do not to laugh.

Did I mention my feet were keeping time with the music wafting through the ceiling speakers? I remember only John Maher, but there were others. It was all exceedingly entertaining. I didn’t have a care in the world and I pretty much thought I was dancing.   This tooth extraction was a laugh riot.

What I didn’t bargain for is what followed after. Pain, of course. Lots of bleeding. And then, this morning, the discovery that there was a hole in my head. The surgeon had warned me about this. “It could happen,” he informed me. “But it’s no big deal, so don’t worry about it.” This morning I became aware of a hole in my sinus. “Very common,” the doc told me. When I drink water, the water comes out my nose. All air from my mouth escapes through my nose. When I speak, there’s a hollow sound. I have to be careful saliva doesn’t travel up through my sinus. Mushy foods are in order for the next two weeks along with antibiotics, gargling and googling.   I now know way too much about the down side of a hole in your sinus. If it doesn’t heal, it’s not a pretty picture. After all, the brain is close behind.

I need this like a hole in the head. Now I know from whence I speak. But there is an up side – I have become a nitrous oxide believer. There is frankly no turning back. Even the oral surgeon says he uses it to have his teeth cleaned. But there’s a chilling aspect to this, aside from the hole in my head…well okay, sinus. A close friend’s brother died in the seventies because he strapped a nitrous oxide mask to his face to get high.   In those days, many celebs in Hollywood had a tank in their home. My friend’s brother was one of these people. I feel a bit queasy and guilty that my experience with nitrous oxide was a positive one. His tragedy is very much with me. I can’t get away from death and dying when I feel the air going through my mouth into my nose and I hear a hollow sound. But for a short time I was marking the beats to a John Maher song, tapping my feet, thinking that life was pretty easy after all.

 

 

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BREATHING ISN’T ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE

by Cathy Arden on December 31, 2016

 

When my son was in high school, he used to put his head beneath the water in the pool and hold his breath for as long as he could. It was a game he and his friends played. Who could hold their breath the longest? It didn’t matter to my son that this so-called game caused his mother great distress.   And that’s an understatement. If I was present when this occurred, I’d immediately dive into panic mode as his head plunged under the water. I’d yell for him to stop, to come up, I’d yell warnings about lack of oxygen to the brain. My fear and trembling and sketchy scientific warnings didn’t deter him. He’d assure me, once he emerged and could speak, that I had nothing to worry about. And I remember him always smiling and laughing. I don’t think he was laughing at me or my fear. I just think this whole exercise was frivolous and fun for him. Breathing and not breathing for awhile. No big deal.

One New Year’s holiday I was at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Because I was there on my own, I’d eat my meals at what they called the Captain’s Table – basically, this was the “singles” table.   People traveling alone had the opportunity at the Captain’s Table to meet new people, make new friends, or, well, whatever else presented itself amongst strangers. It was at these meals at the Captain’s Table that I heard much talk about yoga and breathing.   It was a constant theme. I had no interest in yoga, I wasn’t taking yoga classes, as everyone else seemed to be doing, and after hearing conversation after conversation about breathing, I began to realize I had no interest in breathing as well. There was a moment during one lunch that I blurted out, “You know, breathing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!” Everyone looked over at me, stunned. And then they started to laugh. But, really, I was serious. I hated the idea of breathing, or rather the idea of having to be conscious about breathing. Breathing had suddenly become the designer activity.

Breathing used to be a theme as well in my therapy sessions of yore. When I was in my twenties, I had a therapist who would interrupt me frequently with only one word, “Breathe!” And sometimes she’d explain, “Are you aware that you are not breathing? You rarely breathe.” I’d stare at her incredulously and then I’d feel pressured to take a deep breath, which I so loathed and resented.

I’m still not enamored with breathing. I have, however, taken yoga in the years since Canyon Ranch, but I continue to feel resentment when I’m asked or I am told specifically to breathe. Don’t we all just get through life on a wing and a prayer and the comfort of knowing that even in our darkest hours, breathing will be right there with us? Worrying about my breathing is like worrying about when it will stop. Some things we can’t control. Most, in fact. Why try to control my breathing? As long as I’m alive, I prefer to take my breathing for granted.   Of course, there was the other week when I was awake coughing all night and went into a panic unable to catch my breath for seconds too long. It reminded me of the panic I used to feel watching my son plunge his head beneath the water, worried he’d never come back up for air, worried I’d lose what was most precious to me. His breathing. And then mine.

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THE WILD WEST

by Cathy Arden on May 30, 2016

 

WILD WEST

Out here in the Wild West — that is, southern California — we have live televised car chases. I believe every car chase is put before our eyes. We are a developing car chase nation. These car chases are frequent and so they frequently interrupt regularly scheduled programming. It is presumably mandatory that the get away cars and the cars pursuing them stay in our sights until the bitter end, no matter what that bitter end may be. We are free to assume the role of either the police, or the pursued, or the townspeople who must be warned or are seeking distraction on a lazy day or a busy one.  And there is constant narrative to go with the images, or rather the same image – a police car, or a number of police cars, chasing a fleeing car. We see it mostly from above. Those ubiquitous helicopters flying slowly over, or hovering when they must. I can’t help but always think of the images of Marshal Mat Dillon and John Wayne – holsters, guns drawn, dust from the dirt road, a squeaky saloon gate still swaying after the big guy, the hero, bolts out of the saloon to confront the enemy. California hasn’t lost its western ways and slant on the world. There is something about a car chase that brings our modern way of life into perspective. I am not exempt from the fascination. It’s hard to turn away.  I’ve risked being late for an appointment because I was compelled to see how it all ended. Will the police do a PIT maneuver (a tactic that forces the fleeing car to abruptly turn sideways)?  Will the police keep failing in their PIT attempts? Will the driver on the run pull over, bolt from the car and disappear behind small houses or inside of one? Who will win, the good guy or the bad guy? And who are we routing for? I’ve seen car chases played out in so many ways. Do I remember any one in particular? Nope. I just have this keen sense, after moving to the West from the East six years ago, that I am in a new land.  Although this land is still foreign to me, it has become strangely familiar.  I seem to be playing every role — witness, observer, and participant.  Sometimes the hero. Sometimes the one on the run.

And then there are the storms. Any rain that comes our way is considered a storm. The meteorologists warn us about the storms.  And just like the car chases, these warnings interrupt our regularly scheduled programming.   It is never just raining. And, in the hopes that I don’t offend my neighbors, friends and townspeople living here in the Wild West, I’m still puzzled by the storm warnings. The sky may grow a bit overcast, dark even, but the rain will usually last for….a few minutes? And wait, was that actually rain? Or is it just spitting, as my friends in London would observe.  I did experience something you might call a storm out here in Los Angeles though. It was my first winter here. It rained for 14 days and 14 nights, non-stop. Really. The number was 14. I was in a show that took me two hours driving time a day to get to and one evening on my way there I realized I was risking my life in my Prius. The rising water was unavoidable — the freeway, the local streets — and it was rising above the wheels of my car.   And yet I kept going.  I’d like to think I have absorbed something of a pioneer spirit, reckless thought it may be.  I kept thinking — the show must go on!

And let’s talk about earthquakes. The event you would think would get the most attention in the Wild West. But it doesn’t. Everyone out here is nonchalant about earthquakes. If one occurs, you don’t see it on the news, or at least not interrupting anything.  I was terrified of earthquakes when I first moved to LA.  I kept expecting them. What would I do if I felt a jolt? Jump out of bed and place myself under a doorway? Scoot under a table? It was all I thought about and talked about. I asked my friends what it meant to be earthquake ready. No one seemed to care or be alarmed. They’d instruct me but didn’t give credence to my fear at all. “Oh,” they’d say. “You’ll get used to it. They happen all the time.” All the time? And so the first one I experienced frightened me as I knew it would. I tried to remember what I was supposed to do, and then the shaking stopped. I was in bed. The bed shook momentarily. It took me a long time to go back to sleep. Will there be an aftershock? Was that jolt just a precursor to something much more severe?

Cut to the last earthquake jolt I experienced. I was sitting on a stool at my kitchen counter eating dinner and watching the evening news. The shaking began. I don’t think I was even aware of it at first. And when I realized what was happening, I thought, “Perhaps I should get off this stool so I’m not thrown off,” which I did actually do. And when the shaking stopped, I got back on my stool and continued eating my dinner.  No programming was interrupted. The townspeople didn’t emerge from their homes to observe and discuss the spectacle. The Wild West was quiet and uneventful. Except, of course, for the car chase that suddenly interrupted the evening news.

 

 

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MY SISTER’S MESSAGE

by Cathy Arden on March 22, 2016

Zakopane book Doren

 

Today, March 22, 2016 is 35 years since my sister, Doren, died of breast cancer. I often think about how little they knew then about breast cancer, especially in someone as young as she was. She was diagnosed in her late 20’s and died when she was 33 years old.

This year, today, I’m sharing a story and a message — from my sister to me, from me to you. And, I suppose, to her as well.

The Story:

I was in a play that ran in Los Angeles for 9 months called, Train To Zakopané. The character I played was Mme Nadia Selmeczy, an elegant woman and retired actress. The play takes place in 1928 on a train going across Poland. Mme Selmeczy is in a train compartment for much of Act One. One of the props I needed was a book, as I had to appear to be reading during a segment of one of the scenes. The Prop Master brought me a book toward the end of the rehearsal period. It was a hardbound book that looked appropriately old and worn, in brown and tan hues. The book needed to look authentically like a book a person might be reading in Europe in 1928.

I opened the book to random pages during the early performances over one or two weeks. Much to my surprise, the book was in a foreign language. I had no idea what language it was, nor did I bother to find out.   I was an actress, after all, and I merely had to appear to be reading.

After a few performances, I realized it would be much more effective if I had a bookmark placed in the book so I’d always be able to open the book to a particular page that my character had marked. It would look more authentic. I decided to look online at home for an antique bookmark. I found one that seemed perfect for my character and the play. When the bookmark arrived at my house, I brought it to the theater and gave it to the woman handling my props at that time. I asked her to place it anywhere in the book that would be placed onstage for me. It didn’t matter where in the book the bookmark was placed. What was important was merely that the bookmark be sticking out of the book at a page I could automatically open the book to. The bookmark had a ribbon and a tassel that would hang over the edge of the book.

The first time I opened the book with the bookmark placed inside of it was during a performance that first night I brought the bookmark to the theater. I looked down at a page in the book as I always had, pretending to read, when I noticed something that startled me. It was a word that appeared twice on the page I was looking at. That word was Doren. My sister’s name. I was so stunned and shaken that when the moment came that I had to say my next line, I missed my cue.

Doren. My sister. There she was. Staring up at me. Not once, but twice on the same page. It was as clear as if she were speaking to me. I’m here. I see you.

The Message:

During the last months of my sister’s life, when she was sleeping on a hospital bed in my mother’s dining room, she said to me, “You belong on a stage.” I wasn’t acting then. I had been acting when I was younger. I had left any thoughts of an acting career behind. I had devoted myself to writing. I only remembered my sister’s words when I looked down at the page that night during the performance and I saw Doren staring up at me from the page and heard her voice again, “You belong on a stage.”

Doren, I got the message.   I see you. Or perhaps you see me. Or both.

Denouement:

It’s almost two years later now since that moment on stage with my sister’s name appearing before me. The play closed in August 2015. I took that book home with me and I only just now examined the book I had on stage with me for 9 months. It’s by Taylor Caldwell. And for the first time I see it is a Danish translation of what appears to be Captains and the Kings. But in Danish it’s “Hinsidls Godt Og Ondt” (Beyond Good and Evil). And then I do a little more research on Taylor Caldwell.  She sometimes wrote under a male pseudonym. At the age of eight she started to write stories, and in fact wrote her first novel, The Romance of Atlantis, at the age of twelve (although it remained unpublished until 1975). Her father did not approve such activity for women, and sent her to work in a bindery. She continued to write prolifically, however, despite ill health. In 1947, according to TIME magazine, she discarded and burned the manuscripts of 140 unpublished novels. Although another source said it was her then husband who did the burning.

Doren was born in 1947, the year 140 of Caldwell’s unpublished novels were burned. My sister never completed the novel she was writing when she died in 1981. Whether or not there is a connection in any of this, there was a connection for me on stage during every performance from that moment on, looking down at my sister’s name in a very worn Danish version of a Taylor Caldwell book.  Some things are undeniable.

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SLEEPING WITH THE NOVEL

by Cathy Arden on January 22, 2016

naked woman with sheet

 

I have a confession to make. I’m sleeping with my novel. It’s not like sleeping with the enemy. Well, not really. And it’s not like sleeping with my lover.   But I dare say it’s intimate nonetheless and I find I can no longer ignore this intimate relationship and the fact that this….well….”being” waits for me in bed every night.

It’s not altogether whole. And yet it’s whole enough to reach out and touch beside me. Truth be told, it’s my first. And you know what they say. You never forget your first. Even after decades. And decades.

I wrote this novel, the one that’s in bed with me now, when I was 24. After writing the first two pages, I quit my job. There had been no plan for this. I was a poet. I had just received a Ford Venture Grant for my poetry and had returned from my post as a Poetry Fellow at a writer’s conference. I had sat down on my first day back from the conference to write a poem and two pages later I knew this wasn’t a poem. Three days after that I quit my job to write the book that wasn’t a poem.

Three months after I wrote those first two pages, the book was finished. I have no idea how that happened. Except that I was having an affair with a married Israeli cellist and I only remember him and the typewriter and him and the typewriter and him and the typewriter. And after three months, when I got up from the typewriter and the book was finished, the cellist went back to his wife. And I went to a psychiatrist who informed me I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. (Do people even use that term anymore?)

The book almost sold. My agent sent it out and sent it out and sent it out and, lo and behold, a major publisher wanted it. The Editor-in-Chief made the offer and it was a go. She then assigned me to an editor at her company who happened to be an aspiring writer and who also happened to be in my weekly writer’s workshop. I didn’t like this editor because I pretty much felt she hated me. I was very young, very naïve and, yes, very stupid. My stupidity kicked in when I tried handling the situation myself without ever letting my agent know what was going on. I picked up the phone and called the Editor-in-Chief. The next thing I knew my agent was calling me to say the deal was off. And that, as they say, was that. The book entered the dark recesses of closets and cartons and my psyche and, unbeknownst to me, has traveled with me incognito through life.

I thought it was lost. But recently I was going through cartons in a deep, dark closet – ones I hadn’t gone through in what felt like hundreds of years — and I pulled out the one typewritten copy I had of…drum roll please…Touring The Nile. That’s its name. I may as well tell you its name because my agent is waiting for me to show it to her and it could, possibly, be my next book out.

But I don’t know how I feel about this novel lying here in bed beside me. I keep it close because I reach for it when I gather the courage and if it wasn’t close I’d truly avoid it. It’s like a former lover you once felt passionate about in your youth coming back to you after basically a lifetime.  Does the novel understand who I am now? Do I understand the novel? How do we relate to each other? Do I allow it to stand on its own, or do I try to update it and fill it with my lifetime of knowledge and understanding, joy and grief? Could the wisdom in the novel possibly be greater than the wisdom I have gained after all these years?

I believe this novel, my first, is filled with secrets I don’t yet understand. I have no idea where it came from or why it entered me the way it did and made such an impact. It shook me to the core then, and now as I read it….slowly….I begin to unravel my fear, my reluctance, my judgment. Much as one does with a new lover who happens into your life by surprise, as new lovers always do. You embrace, you swoon, you step back, you consider, and hopefully, you fall in love.

 

 

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NAKED DANCING WRAPPING

by Cathy Arden on December 27, 2015

Elegant dancing naked woman with perfect body. Isolated image.

Many people I know, including myself, take stock of the past year as the new one beckons.  I don’t make a point of doing this, but the process seems to occur without my even being aware of it. For example, I always seem to ask myself, “Where was I last year this time?”   Last year at this time I was in New York for the holidays, in Antarctica weather conditions, suffering from the flu, wrapping myself up in layer after layer of clothing to honor the multitude of theater tickets I had purchased, praying in my seat at every show that I would stay upright, not cough, not sneeze, and not have to suddenly exit the theater with my fever spiking.

My cousin, Rena, died suddenly and tragically many years ago, just before her 50th birthday. She was 10 years my senior and as she approached her 50th birthday, she told me, “No one reveals this little secret. The core of you never grows old. I’m turning 50 but I am still, in my mind, a young woman. In some basic way, we never really grow old.”

I didn’t completely understand what Rena meant then, but I understand now all these years later, as I am well past the 50th mark.   No matter how much wisdom I gain, how much success and gratification in my work, how many stops and starts, how much sadness and grief, how much pride watching my young dependent children emerge as successful independent adults, I discover that I am still young as I am growing old.

I didn’t know this until recently. For 11 years I had been taking care of my mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She died this past January and as I look back on those years of care taking and sorrow, I am amazed that I continued on in my life and in my work even during that trying decade, as I also continued to launch my children into adulthood.  But the young woman I had once been I believe was asleep until recently. I didn’t really know the full extent of that sleep and my awakening until the night before Christmas Eve.

I had presents to wrap for my family. With full knowledge that I am the world’s most inept gift wrapper, that I have no practical artistic nor crafty ability whatsoever, I dove in with great hope, yet no delusion. The scissors and scotch tape were easy to locate. But the wrapping paper and ribbons I clumsily dug out from the back of a closet stuffed with old clothes and mementos from past lives and loved ones who have passed on. What do you throw away, what do you keep in dark spaces and what do you take out of hiding?

On this night, the night before Christmas Eve, I alternately sat and stood between my bed and my bedroom fireplace, balsam candles burning, fire blazing, Bose headphones attached to my laptop and stretched across my head, listening to my Spotify playlist of Oldies but Goodies, singing with scissors and scotch tape in hand, folding wrapping paper clumsily around gifts, and finally throwing off my comfy chenille robe and jumping up to dance naked around my room. You won’t find this detail in any Christmas storybook. But I am telling you right here, right now (as my Spin instructor at the gym repeats umpteen times during Spin classes), that even when you’ve lived hard, lived deeply, lived passionately, lived sorrowfully, lived in that dark space where real life seems to vie for your attention amongst all the mementos and ghosts from your past lives, joy and youthful hope and energy actually emerge as the winners who take all.

Do you believe in magic, in a young girl’s heart?
How the music can free her, whenever it starts
And it’s magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie
I’ll tell you about the magic and it’ll free your soul
But it’s like tryin’ to tell a stranger ’bout rock and roll
                                             (The Lovin’ Spoonful)

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PARIS, A MILLION INVISIBLE HEARTS

by Cathy Arden on November 14, 2015

Paris, you are my heart, the lost love I ache for every day since I left you. You have always been my true home.  Parc Monceau in pink light at dawn, sobbing as I sat surrounded by Monet’s lilies, my balcony for a year overlooking rue Andrieux, the faint echoes of French voices filling the courtyard beyond my bedroom shutters every morning.  When I moved back to the United States, I fell into deep despair and grief.  I woke up from a dream one morning and wrote this:

In the dark sky there are a million invisible hearts beating and the heartbeats of a million hearts are creating silent bursts of light. There are comets, hundreds of them, creating trails of pulsating color.   Stars and meteors and anything heavenly that moves through the sky is breathing and living and singing in the only way they know how. The sky is silent and yet there is great movement, illuminated joy. This is the sky above Paris. It is the sky above Paris after I have gone. It is the Paris I revisit through my grief. It comes to me at night, like a ghost who has not yet found a resting place, the ghost I love.

Shortly after I moved back to New York from Paris it was September 11, 2001. I had lost the life I loved in Paris and my grief over that loss would merge with the loss and horror of 9/11.  Now that grief has returned. My longing for Paris has never been greater than it is at this moment. Paris, you are the chorus at the center of the song.  You are Parc Monceau with it’s own inner light and life and I will enter through the tall black and gold gate in my dream and be transformed, circling, over and over again.

gated-entrance-of-parc

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IT’S ALL RELATIVE

by Cathy Arden on October 22, 2015

My stepfather, George, was my father.  Perhaps not my actual father, biologically speaking, but my father nonetheless. He was also grandfather to my children. Pa, they called him.  But my stepfather was more than just my father, he was also my cousin. And, now that I think of it, some kind of cousin to my children as well.

Father/cousin/grandfather/cousin.  Let me explain. My mother’s parents, Rose and Abraham, were first cousins. George’s father and Rose were brother and sister. This was Russia, or as we always referred to it, the Old Country. The story went like this: My mother and George were the black sheep of the family. They knew each other as young children. George left home at an early age, and my mother married at an early age. George later had a career as a screenwriter; my mother as a publisher. One of the TV series George wrote for was The Nurses. When my mother and I would watch that show together, she’d excitedly exclaim when George’s name came up in the credits, “That’s my cute cousin, George!” Which meant, of course, that he was my  cute cousin, too. When I was a young teenager, a couple of years after my mother and biological father split up, my mother and George planned a meeting. I’m fuzzy as to how that came into being. My mother either found him somehow or they ran into each other at an event. But whatever it was, when they met I am told they were inseparable from that moment on.   My mother was divorced by then, George was not. There were sticky, difficult years. But it ended with George moving in with my mother, and ten years later they were married. They were together for 30 years until George died in 2002 at age 83 of leukemia.

Family members and close friends would joke about the cousin connection. After all, we were no longer in the Old Country. When anyone asked George about this, he’d deflect the conversation by saying, “Don’t ask me. I live in the back.” But the fact remains – I’ve never seen, before or since, a stronger and more loving, committed relationship. George and Sherry. Everyone wanted what they had. I recently saw my stepsister, George’s daughter, whom I had never lived with or known well, and realized the comfort I felt in her presence was perhaps a bit more than the fact that we had both been witness to our parents’ extraordinary relationship. She and I are cousins, after all. It’s all in the family.

Today is 13 years without George. Well, I’m not really without him. I’m pretty sure I talk to him every day. He’s close by and my hope is that my mother, who died 9 months ago, is in his vicinity. Close by.  George, I’m hoping you don’t mind that I’m bringing this whole cousin thing out of the closet now. Because, truly, you didn’t just live in the back.

George & SWA

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BIRTHDAY WITHOUT CANDLES

by Cathy Arden on October 18, 2015

A birthday arrives, not with cake and candles and good wishes, but with memories, both sobering and celebratory, joyous and tragic. Today my mother would have turned 93. The first birthday at which she is no longer on this earth. And, strangely, there is gratitude that she did not make it, yet again, to another birthday being so ill, so diminished, so dependent, so unaware. For eleven years I searched various sources of wisdom hoping to find the meaning of her extended diminished life. Why? I’d always ask. A therapist, a rabbi, a trusted and wise friend, my insightful adult children. What is the meaning of this life barely being lived? Who isn’t doing the letting go? Is it me or is it her or is it both of us? Or neither of us at all? For so long my mother outlived every death sentence, every grim diagnosis, every time limit on her survival. Until the day she didn’t. Until the day I held her in her bed and her breathing slowed then stopped. That day was the release for us both. That moment I had dreaded. That moment I had braced myself for during every emergency, every surgery, every long stay in so many ICU’s over so many years.   I dreaded her death and I dreaded her oncoming birthdays because there ceased to be anything to celebrate in her ghostlike life, her frail, barely existent body like a thin silent exclamation point that punctuated the end of every day.

Now she is memory without struggle, air without form, a birthday without emergency or worry or concern or dread. Mom, I celebrate you now as I was unable to do when you were alive and suffering. You bounded through life in triumph and joy and laughter and love, dedication and success. I watched as my sister’s illness and death tore through you and crippled your heart but only until your grandchildren came into being.   You were an original, a visionary, an inspiration to your family and to those who entered your sacred circle. I am left with gratitude and awe. Sadness pales in comparison.

Mom at desk

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THE LIST

by Cathy Arden on August 25, 2015

list-for-living-16r2q1e

I resort to making a list when anxiety gets the better of me. This one covers decades.

  1. This is what happened to me in the 80’s:
    a. My sister died of breast cancer. She was 33.
    b. I was raped at gunpoint in Central Park.
    c. I survived.
    d. I fell in love.
    e. I moved across the country.
    f. I moved back again.
    g. I got married.
    h. I got pregnant.
    i. I gave birth to my daughter.
  2. This is what happened to me in the 90’s:
    a. I got pregnant.
    b. I was betrayed.
    c. My husband told me he was gay.
    d. I gave birth to my son.
    e. I got divorced.
    f. I survived.
    g. I fell in love.
    h. I got engaged.
    i. My heart was broken.
  3. This is what happened to me from 2000-Present:
    a. I ended a relationship.
    b. I moved to Paris with young children.
    c. I moved back to NY with my children after a year in Paris.
    d. I fell in love.
    e. I got engaged.
    f. I renovated my house.
    g. I combined two families.
    h. I was betrayed.
    i. My father died.
    j. My stepfather died.
    k. I ended a relationship.
    l. I took my daughter to college.
    m. My mother became severely disabled with dementia.
    n. I watched my daughter graduate college.
    o. I moved my mother into my house.
    p. My mother had a stroke.
    q. I took my son to college.
    r. I moved across the country with my mother.
    s. I sold a house on the East Coast.
    t. I bought a house on the West Coast.
    u. I adopted a rescue dog.
    v. I watched my son graduate college.
    w. I started 2 new careers , immersing myself in 3 careers.
    x. My mother died.
    y. I was in a car accident.
    z. I survived.

 

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