May 27, 2011

Being Neighborly

by Jamie

I love my neighbors across the way, a couple in their 80s who were both born, grew up and raised their family on this hill that we share. We keep an eye on each other and when the weather is good we’ll pause in our gardening to shoot the breeze and swear at the folks driving too fast down our back road. They both have a wicked and wry sense of humor and often the best gossip around, though they are never cruel or petty. I’ll bake cookies for him because he has a sweet tooth. She and I leave mysterious bags of iris rhizomes, tulip bulbs and seed on each other’s doorsteps—trading flowers. They are good, kind, loving, hard working people who live their golden years in a haze of gardening, mowing, family get togethers and grandchildren.

They drove by last week on their way, I thought, to a usual Sunday dinner. I waved and asked where they were off to. She told me over the car engine that her eldest son had come home from the hospital to die. The doctors couldn’t do anything else for him. They were going to lunch at his family’s home.

I looked at their two beautiful and weather-worn faces and felt the true meaning of the word “heartbreak” in my throat. I raised my hand to my face because I realized I was crying as they drove on past.

I finally found them at home a couple of days ago sitting on the porch swing which faces to the north and a spectacular view. As usual both she and I were covered in mud from working in the garden. Her knees now almost useless from arthritis, she crawls and rolls around weeding and planting, then sits for a spell. I gave both of them a hug and said I was so sorry and is there anything I could do to help and that I was keeping their son in my prayers.

Of course, the words “Is there anything I can do?” are usually offered in the kindest manner. But there is nothing I, or anyone, can do to ease their heartache as they watch their son, now in his early 60s--their first baby--die over the next few days. We sat and swung and the breeze wafted over us and she talked quietly about what had happened. He gruffly expressed his grief, as many men will do, through outrage: at the doctors, the hospitals, the way things are done now. Tears would well up in her eyes and I held her hand and we talked about how beautiful her iris are this year. She gets too much sun on this side of the house and they often wilt and die. But the rain has kept them strong and hearty. The colors are lush purples and joyous pinks and yellows.

Their son’s hands shake now as the disease eats his lungs and spine. She goes over every morning and rubs them. “I told him if he doesn’t like it, tough!” she says and laughs and tears spill over her cheeks and she looks out into the achingly beautiful spring afternoon and clasps my hand hard.

As I leave they take me around the garden to look at flowers like we always do. They need the reassurance of the things they’ve always done or perhaps they sense that I do. I ask again is there anything at all I can do. She says just someone to talk to now and then.

Such a little thing when I want to do so much, but I’m off now to do it.

May 25, 2011


by Veronica

I had decided to try online dating after seeing all the happy eHarmony commercials on television. My then-current relationship was ending and I was intrigued by the prospect of meeting a lot of men without trying on ten different outfits, dealing with mascara and trying to dehumidify my curly hair. Also, I was living in a small college town and had no real way of meeting men who would be able to look past all the twenty year old females to see the virtues of dating an over-forty woman.

My memory is vague on this, but I think I joined eHarmony in late January of 2008. Wow. Three years. Okay. So, within a short amount of time, say, six to eight weeks, I met a man named Brian. We emailed back and forth for a few weeks and then moved onto phone calls. Its interesting to watch relationships develop over emails. I don't have his anymore, but when I did and would read them from the beginning, it was better than keeping a journal. His emails, my responses, jokes that developed between us, revealing personal secrets because there is emotional safety in the faceless email; emails that nurtured our silent hopes that we were creating something sturdy from the delicate layering of our stories.

Brian lived about forty-five minutes away. We met halfway on our first date at a barbeque restaurant. You should know I'm not a big believer in "love at first sight." Lust? Yes. Love? No. Except for babies and kittens. Brain was handsome enough; tall, slim, blue eyes, blond hair. Great hands. I love muscular hands on a guy. We had dinner and then he asked if I'd like to sit at the bar for a nightcap. What I remember most is his ability to tell a story. He wasn't clever or loud or boastful, just truthful and unassuming. Eventually we left and said goodnight (hand shake) in the parking lot. I know, but I've turned into quite the germaphobe at this phase of my life and can't imagine kissing a stranger on the lips. Just ew. (I won't share a toothbrush with my husband, either.)

After a few dates it I learned he was only separated and that caused some delays until he had filed for divorce. He had two small children; he and his wife shared parenting - so the kids were with him for a week at a time plus he helped coach their sports leagues. Brian was quite busy being a father and sorting out his life post-divorce. Our dating became weekends at his place because he also had pets that couldn't be left unattended. I didn't mind driving over to his town and getting out of my little house. We went to ballgames, movies, dinner. I helped him move into a new house from his little apartment and we planned a vacation. We discovered we could leave messages for each other over and communicated several times a day. Then, something changed. I don't know what - to this day, I have no idea. We were at my friend's house for dinner and the next morning he showered early, and despite our plans for the day, left without any explanation. I tried not to text, call or email him to death. I had enough self control to be patient. But within a few weeks, he called a halt to the relationship via email.

I was devastated. I had no idea what I had done or didn't do or could have done or should have done. I was baffled and he wasn't going to budge and tell me. I finally gave in and sent the awful begging email that no woman/man should ever send. Its okay to write it, just send it to your best friend so they can stop you from making an ass of yourself. Of course, that just made him clam up and that was the end of that. I had a few other dates and those are noteworthy just for their hilarity - but that's another post. I ended up joining another dating website, and guess what? Within a few weeks I was matched with Brian, again. At this point some months had gone by. We actually got together and it fizzled as fast as it started. Again, I have no idea why. 

I met my husband on eHarmony some time after the last "what just happened here" date with Brian. Mr. Veronica and I met in April of 2009, were married in December, 2009 and moved to HK in September, 2010. Yeah. Wow.

I have promised to be honest on this anonymous blog so here is the deal: I never forgot about Brian. I thought of him often after our two tries. Mostly I wanted him to explain to me what IT was - why didn't things go further? What was the issue and why didn't I get a chance to solve it? Or change it? Make it better? Why was he so reluctant to be honest and straightforward? Here is the gift Brian gave me: I had to let it go. It didn't matter why or what or who. And now, from a distance, I can see all the things you do as a objective observer: he was newly divorced dad of two small kids, he wasn't emotionally ready for something serious and so committed, and - he had terrible communication skills. He could tell a story but he couldn't share his thoughts.

I never contacted him after the last date and he's never contacted me. If you read my last entry there is a brief sentence in which I tell you that I took my daughter shopping for an interview outfit. We happened to be driving from her college town to Cleveland and stopped at a mall halfway between the two places. This mall also happens to be near where Brian lives. As we left one of the stores, we passed two guys (one quite tall, the other clearly younger - my brain registered "son"). The "dad" was staring at me. I mean STARING. Staring like I had one giant eye in the middle of my forehead. I looked right at him, took in his hair, eyes and the very serious look on his face and kept right on walking and talking to my daughter. We got in the car, drove to Cleveland, I flew back to Hong Kong with my husband and it took another day or so for me to realize - it was Brian.

Here's the milestone: I didn't even recognize him and once it registered that it was him, I didn't really care, except to acknowledge I didn't really care

May 20, 2011

What Astrological Sign is the Jackass?

by Veronica

My daughter, Veronica, Jr., is at university and has nearly completed a degree in Visual Communications from a very well known program. She is currently looking for an internship and has decided nothing less than NYC will do - and understandably as she is interested in fashion photography. Daily, hourly, she trolls through websites looking for any kind of photog internship that will get her to NYC for this summer - the summer that begins in just a few weeks.

On a Thursday she got a hit - someone wanted to interview her! In NYC! She exchanged a few emails with this woman - A___ B____ and set up her appointment for Monday at 3pm. Her dad offered to drive her to NYC on Sunday, spend the night, and get her to the interview. Her stepdad and I took her shopping for an outfit for the interview, then drove her home to Cleveland to meet her dad for the ride to NYC. On the way we discussed interview etiquette, possible questions, how to answer the difficult ones. Veronica, Jr. spoke reverently about A.B. and her status in fashion photog land. Veronica, Jr. had done quite a bit of research into A's background and knew where she went to school, what her degrees were, who influenced her work, etc. She recited the job responsibilities verbatim and had brought her laptop in case A. wanted to look at her online portfolio.

Here is the conversation I had with Veronica, Jr. about the interview:

Mom: So - of course, I can't wait to hear everything. Start at the beginning.
Daughter: Well, I was all dressed up and when I got there, she was like, working and in a flannel shirt and jeans, other people were there working and dressed all casual.
Mom: Okay -but still, its important to look professional on interviews...
Daughter: Right, right. So...we started talking and she asked me what my astrological sign was..
Mom: I'm sorry?
Daughter: Yeah - so I said 'Gemini' and she said, "Oh god - not another one! Geminis are so irresponsible.
Daughter: So....then she asked about my portfolio - what online site I used and I said Flickr and she said, "God! I hate Flickr! Why do  you use that?"
Daughter: So then she said, "Well I guess we'll move onto the second part of the interview. I'm going to send you a photo to photoshop and you send it back to me." She said she'd be making her decision very soon, so I don't know what that means.
Mom: How long did this interview last?
Daughter: About 10 minutes all together.
Daughter: Yeah and then Dad was waiting outside and we headed home. Sean drove me back to school....

Now, Dear Reader, you know me well enough at this point to know I'm not really speechless. Except, I am. I'm heartbroken, disgusted, teary-eyed (even now!), disappointed, frustrated, and hateful. Thousands and thousands of dollars spent on tuition, camera equipment, laptops, printers, books, film. Years of study, work and peer/professional reviews of her work. A new interview outfit, people stopping their lives to get this "irresponsible Gemini" to an interview in NYC - after she worked three shifts over the weekend. Imagine this stoopid kid who doesn't understand how the world works. Did I tell you she and this woman exchanged emails? Is it entirely out of the realm of possibility that A.B. could have asked IN THE EMAIL about her astrological sign and saved some time and money?

Ten fucking minutes.

Dark Chocolate Kit Kat Bar

by Veronica

The title of this post has nothing to do with anything other than its my favorite candy bar.

So, I'm back in Hong Kong, my long-awaited visit home now a past event. I had lunch with my friend, H, and we talked about what its like to go home. She now holds the record among my HK friends of who has not been "home" in the longest time. She arrived in August and is scheduled in early June to go home for the summer. She can't wait. I told her that for me it was just what a vacation should be: relaxing, fun, hectic, sleepy, drinky, eaty, chatty, lots of shopping and a few times I asked myself if I really could go back to HK.

While I was home, Mr. Veronica asked me "What are you telling people when they ask you if you like living in Hong Kong?" And I answered him honestly, "I tell them I like it a lot more now, but if I had come home at Christmas, I probably would not have come back to HK." I mean, of course I would have come back, I would have needed to pack and collect my cats. But now I have a life to come back to and that makes for a cozy symmetric feeling for me. I have a life here, I have a life there, Old McDonald would be proud.

I loved driving our car while on vacation, but I missed all the walking we do here in HK.

Oddly, I was sort of creeped out by all the buildings and the lack of population. Yes, two vastly different "urban" areas - ours contains 1.2 million and Cleveland contains 300,000 - still, to run/walk for nearly 50 minutes and not see more than 3 people was bizarre - I should qualify that by saying - lots of cars drove by(!) so I "saw" more than 3 people. We walked on Bowen Road today and saw at least 30 people in less than 50 minutes.

My Dad clipped two articles about Hong Kong and was so excited to ask me about the locations that were mentioned and I was so proud to know where Pedder Building is and the difference between Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

Because we have HK i.d. cards, when we come back into HK we skip Immigration - we insert our i.d. cards into a reader, step into a booth, place our thumb over the reader, the gate opens and we're on our way to Customs - which is several people in uniforms standing around two exits, "Declarations" and "No Declarations." Sometimes they pull people out of the crowds passing through "No Declarations" but mostly they just scan the incoming folks and chat among themselves.

My friend, H, says that she likes to look at every day as an adventure - its what has kept her going all these months. I'm going to call Year One my "learning-curve" year and anticipate that Year Two will be the Adventure Year. I'll keep you posted...

May 11, 2011

Panic Shmanic

By Veronica

Okay - so you might recall my discussion below about panic attacks. I think I have solved the mystery. There might be some other related issues, but the "attacks" are definitely hormonal. Here's how I know:

I had to fly to Minnesota for business a few weeks back. I arrive at the airport, park the car, check luggage, go through security, find a seat. I'm not the best flyer but after flying 15 hours at a time back and forth to HK, I'm able to be comfortable with the routine.  So, I pull out my book (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - and that choice was inspired by some list on FB. The kind of list where others have done/read/seen 85% more than you? As if anyone cares whether or not I read this book...but I want to be culturally relevant! For Lisa: UGH!)  Reading my book (strange with weird cover art), I check out other passengers - looking for the "ringer" as my friend, Mary Beth, puts it. The pregnant lady, the priest - the person we need on board to make sure we have a safe trip. Lots of business people and then viola! The pilot flying in uniform. Yay! The Ringer!

Doesn't matter. All of a sudden, I feel a little woozy thing and that's it - I'm on the roller coaster and taking up the whole front seat. No seatbelt, up the first hill I'm climbing, chink chink chink as the car jerks towards the top. I'm frantically pushing down on the imaginary break on the passenger's side of the car, scrambling to find the handbrake, but the car keeps heading for the top. I put my headphones on and listen to BelleRuth's soothing voice, I do deep breathing, I'm fighting as hard as I can....still climbing and now the plane is boarding. I should have been an actress. I'm calm! Look at me casually get my things together while my heart beats its way up my throat. No shaking when I hand the boarding agent my ticket - I even smile at her! Hi! So glad to be here! Walk down the hall to the plane - smile at the flight attendant while my knees start to buckle and everything inside says "RUN."  To my seat (6C- aisle seat), next to a middle-age guy, slim, on his phone. I tuck my backpack and purse under the seat in front of me and now I really am on the roller coaster ride and I'm not going to make it.

I'm slow and deliberate in my movements. I can't have my headphones on during take-off so I must have some sort of distraction. I pull my purse out and start pawing through it - pretending there's something in there I need. Hmmm...what am I looking for? it in this pocket? Frown, hmmm, nope. How 'bout self control - did I pack that in here? What about this envelope - nope, not in there. And now - the flight attendant is shutting the door and its over. I am full on panic. I can't get control of my thoughts, my feelings, and I know I'm going to be the crazy lady on the plane that makes them go back. I think about calling Minnesota and saying my dad just went into the hospital or that inclement weather had us grounded (who cares if they check the Doplar Radar?) No! No! I am fighting in my head. Stay calm, the flight is short, don't give in! The flight attendant won't let you off unless you make  a real scene and then the passengers will tackle you and HATE you!

I pull out my small  notebook and a pen. I slide my purse (the picture of calm!) under the seat in front of me. I flip open my notebook and begin to casually write a to-do list for the next several days. Then the plane begins to taxi and I really think I can't do it! I can't! I start to write a little faster. Now we're speeding up (usually my favorite part!) and I know I'm trapped for the next 90 minutes. 90 MINUTES of psychological warfare with myself. Now my writing is just scribbling and I'm flipping pages as fast as I fill them and I'm sure the man next to me can tell something is wrong. I'm just short of moaning and drooling.

Here is the transcript of what I wrote. Please feel free to laugh as it really is funny:

I think this is what is making me nervous - in my mind the title of consultant - paying this person extra money to be an expert. (The plane wasn't moving when I wrote that's what follows on the next line as the plane taxis) Panic attacks last 10 minutes. they are my flight/fight response over-responding. I can let go of that over-response because I am safe. I will not be sick. I will not have any physical problems. I will relax. I look forward to seeing K___ and A____ and all the others. When we land, I will (flip page) get my bag from the luggage area and find the taxi stand. The hotel is located in Roseville - maybe 30 minutes from the airport? Flying is easy. I like to watch the flight attendants - they know their job and enjoying flying. (flip page) Once I get the cab, I'll give him the address (I feel better already) and I'll relax on the ride to the hotel. I've already packed for Athens and mostly for Savannah - I still need a white bra and shoes for my dress. I'd also like a new jean skirt - something comfy and casual (flip page). I like the feeling of success - not giving into my fear. Flying is safe and relaxing. The flight attendant knows her job and so do the pilots. She is already up and busy. Soon, I'll listen to my iPod! Food and drink - coke and m&ms - I should drink water and save my snack for later(flip page) So, what happened today that had me so panicky? The take-off was smooth - we were at our altitude quickly. I felt worried but writing helped. Listening to BelleRuth - Relaxation - going to try napping.

Okay - so that's all my gibberish. The visual is key - me, writing as fast as the plane is going, not rocking but hunched over in my seat, scribble scribble scribble, page flip, scribble scribble scribble.  As the flight continues, I continue writing - trying to think of all the flying I will be doing in the next few months: back to HK, we're going to Guam in June and Australia in July and back to the U.S. in September! Then I tried to list all of the flights I'd already been on in my lifetime. Finally, I was able to get back to my To Do list, drink my Diet Coke, eat my m&m's and then we were there. The flight attendant knew something was up because she kept engaging me in conversation - eye contact, reassuring smile, she probably has a checklist in her head of Scary Passenger traits....

Back to the hormones - the next day I woke up to my period and guess what? I have felt fine ever since. No panic. No problems on the flight home. Completely calm and rational. Every day has been "normal" and balanced. I did find a replica vitamin, Stress Relief, that is akin to the Nutricalm recommended by Jamie (another poster on this blog) but haven't taken it regularly yet. I had a glass of wine last night that triggered a small bit of woozy/panic but I recovered quickly and was fine.

So, I've opted to get Xanax because despite my alternative methods, I can't go through that again. I'll continue to work on my guided imagery, affirmations, yoga, running, healthy eating, vitamins - but if all of that leaves me helpless in the face of full on panic - I'm gonna have to bring in the big guns. If chemicals are doing me in, then I'll fight back with chemicals. And you know what? Thank God for it - I think of all the women that didn't have the option of Xanax or Valium or whatever. No wonder they had fainting spells.

May 9, 2011

Tin Cans

by Veronica

One of my favorite songs is "Love is in the Air" (listen here).  I'm thinking about my trip home this month and how much love has surrounded it, filled it, and defined it.

When I first arrived, as I shared earlier, my beautiful daughter and my dad greeted me at the airport. Big smiles, lots of hugging, dragging suitcases, talking about the flight and what to do first (eat at Bob Evans then sleep).

The next day I followed my dad into his room so he could show me where to turn on the internet. As I stepped over the threshold he said, "Don't say anything about the room."  Which was my cue to stop and really look around. The bed was the first thing I noticed and did anything about. The white pillow case was nearly black with dirt, the sheets in nearly the same state. My dad is not a slob or unclean; my dad is a widower fighting loneliness and depression. I did not say a word, as promised. That afternoon I went to Target and purchased new sheets (maroon) and five new pillow cases (maroon). I washed the new bedding and then the old bedding (now donated). I made his bed, turning down one corner and left for the evening. In the morning I threw the sheets from my bed into the wash. Dad came into the kitchen and said, "I called your brother last night and told him you disapproved of my lifestyle." I laughed and said, "I don't disapprove, Dad. I think if you walked into your parents' home and saw something mookie going on, you'd do something about as well." He didn't respond. I left for a time and when I returned in the afternoon, he had not only put my bedding in the dryer, but walked it upstairs, made my bed, and turned down one corner.

I shared food and girl talk with my dearest friends. Each time I greeted on of them for the first time, our hugs felt so real and important. Not the "pat pat, good to see you" or "pat pat see you soon" kind of hugs we generally distribute because we know the next time is just a week or two away. I felt myself staring at them, trying to fill my memory with the light in their eyes, the emotion in their voices, the passing of time written on their faces.

Driving in the blossoming greenery of late spring in Ohio has revived me. Although we have plenty of plants, trees and flowers in Hong Kong, it is the familiar pink blossoms of dogwoods, the deepening purple of the lilac and the delicate bursting of tulips that tell me I'm home. I am a creature of the defined season; the murky indecisiveness of Hong Kong's fall, winter and spring leave me flat. I'm not enthusiastic about the subtropical summers that boast highs of 95 and lows of 85. But accept that it might induce me to focus on my writing projects while hiding from the heat.

My brother married the mother of his two small children this past weekend. I could write a thousand pages about the road that led him to this moment - its stomach-clenching twists, fist-crunching turns and fear-inducing loops. I doubted he would actually make it to the alter. But there they stood, with all of my family at his side as groomsmen and audience members, promising to love and support each other, all the days of their lives. He deserves nothing less than a woman who will believe in him, love him and cherish him.

My sister is planning her wedding for the fall. We spent time looking at reception sites, talking with a florist and discussing how to handle cranky in-laws-to-be. I wondered at her future - at 33 there is so much ahead. As I look forward at 48, I have a future too, though less crowded with decisions and dreams and questions. I know the answer to how many children I'll have and what their names will be. I know divorce, single-parenting and remarriage. I know the arc of my career and my mid-life interests. I know to slow down, relax and enjoy because I can! I'm not chasing two small children or helping my husband build his career.

Finally, I have been apart from my husband for nearly 25 days. We are meeting on Thursday in Michigan, prior to a weekend trip to visit his family. He wrote me an email giving me three options. Option One: arrive on Thursday and entertain myself on Friday while he finished up his meetings. Option Two: arrive on Friday after the meetings were over. Option Three: he would quit his job, we would move to the country and he would sell tin cans in our driveway so he could spend all of this time with me.

I chose Option Three.

Love is in the air...