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(The picture is unrelated, I just liked it.)

I was poisoned (and lived to tell the tale). I can’t help saying the last phrase, they just go together. I thought if you were poisoned and you died. But as I discovered, that’s not necessarily so.

It left my kidneys functioning at 55%. (I have already claimed dibs on my sister’s kidneys. Not that she’s going to wake up in a tub of ice or anything.) I started eating mostly vegetarian and my kidney function has come up to 90%. Still, it has left me with some residual pain.

Though I’ve thought of you and my blog these last several month, I’ve been drained of all energy. Good news, I’m starting to feel more energetic and I am blogging again.

Please be patient. It might be a while before I’m back to blogging everyday. I have missed you all and am looking forward to interacting with you again.

Dee

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02 (5)

April

Uncertainty

April 1

I was cleaning off my desk. I wanted everything to be ready, just in case. There was a pile of self help books. All designed to help you figure out what you really want to do. I keep starting them, then tossing them aside. I’m not sure I ever really performed the exercises or answered the profound questions. Why do you need so many books to answer one simple question – “what should you do with your life”? I set them aside. Possible lymphoma the doctor had said. Perhaps, if she were right, I’d go through them during chemo.

I boxed up all my paints – oils, watercolors, pastels, stabilizers, thickeners, and brushes. I doubt I’ll be using them any time soon. Perhaps I should give them to some young artist, maybe the Allen boy. Art supplies are expensive and he’s in college. He’d appreciate them.

I found the paint set I got for my tenth birthday, tubes of acrylics in a little wooden box. There were plastic inserts used to mix the paints with just the right amount of water. I used these to create my first masterpiece of a horse, Old Billy, eating grass in front of the barn. The brushes are gone, the paints dried up and the plastic inserts have disintegrated, but I think I’ll keep them just the same.

I keep thinking about my mother, diagnosed with cancer at my age, dead two years later. But I don’t have to worry, I don’t have cancer.

I sorted through some old files and found sketches I’d made in high school. When I was young, I thought I’d be an artist, a painter. I’ve been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what I’ll do with these old pictures, but I can’t throw them away.

When should I tell my family? My younger sister, Allie has depended on me since our parents died. I don’t want to worry her if it turns out to be nothing, but I don’t want to wait too long either. I just don’t want to worry anyone if I don’t have to.

For more in this story, select the Meet Me By the Gate tab at the top of the page.

 

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June 28

Item # 9 – Little Used Picnic Basket

Allie,

It doesn’t have any special meaning other than I wish I spent more time with the people I loved. Use it, take your kids out and enjoy them. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. This life isn’t forever.

Love, Jo

 ***

 My box would not be complete without a letter for Allie. She was devastated after Dad died. We both were. Losing your mother was one thing, but losing your Dad not long afterwards was almost too much.

Mom had made a point of telling us how she felt about us, knowing she was dying. Still I wish I had it in writing. The pain fades over the years, but so does everything else, even the words. I wish she had written it in a letter that I could read every day and never forget.

After Daddy died, Allie tore through the house, looking for some message he should have left. She riffled through drawers, cabinets and closets, emptying their contents on the floor, clothes, shoes, papers, books, silverware, dishes, and bed linens. The list continued to grow as she worked her way through the house. No room was untouched, not even her own. She left a path of destruction in her wake.

All I could do was watch. I barely had the energy to get up in the morning. I felt the weight of my growing responsibilities on my chest. I thought that no one could live through that kind of pain. First Mom and then Dad, I was sure I was going to be next. I knew I would shatter into a million pieces. Like a puff of smoke, the wind would blow me away into nothing. I wanted to be nothing. The grief was too much to bear. I just wanted to be nothing.

Allie became desperate to read the will. She felt certain Dad and perhaps Mom had left a message for her. Finally, someone got a copy of the will and let her read it.

It mentioned nothing of the sort of thing she had hoped for, no not hoped for, needed. It had been written years ago before Mom got sick. It simply said if Mom died first Dad got everything. If Dad died first Mom got everything. If they both died, Bryan, Allie and I split everything evenly. It went on to list guardians if we were under age. If I was old enough, agreeable and able, Allie was my responsibility. Otherwise, Grandma was at the top of the list of course.

I always considered myself old enough, agreeable and able, even though I was only thirteen. I took personal responsibility for Allie from then on, making sure she was taken care of the best I could.

I didn’t want Allie to wonder what I felt, wishing for some message again. I wanted her to have something she could hold on to and read over and over again, as many times as necessary. I wanted her to know that she had been the light of Mom’s life. When she was born, Mom changed a little. Allie had been a bright, sunny baby. She laughed at the world from the start and everyone around her couldn’t help but laugh too. I wanted her to know that. I wanted her to realize she could be that light again.

Mom’s art had always been dark in color. She painted people with sad eyes, cold winter scenes, and dark abstracts, beautiful in their icy cold sadness. Once Allie was born, her art looked similar, but so different. The people had a softness about them and a small twinkle in their eyes. The abstracts were brighter and lighter. They seemed to soar. The scenes she painted were no longer bleak and forlorn. I suppose it was because she was happier too. Bryan and I hadn’t done that for her, only Allie had.

Dad loved Allie as he loved us all. There was nothing she could have done to help him. Nothing I could have done really, though I blamed myself for years.

But most of all, I wanted Allie to know that I loved her beyond sisterly love. I loved her as a daughter and a friend. I don’t think I could have lived through that time alone, without her. If things didn’t work out, I wanted her to know she saved my life already all those years ago. If I hadn’t had Allie, I’m sure I wouldn’t have survived.

And if this is my time, I was looking forward to seeing them again. I’d tell them they could be proud of Allie. I wanted her to know she would be fine without me.

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June 27

Item # 4 – Silk ivy in the brass pot

I keep it in the kitchen. Logan, this is yours. You were in second grade and having so much trouble learning to read. Your teacher gave each student a ticket for reading five pages. At the end of the year, she had an auction. You had the least number of tickets. At the beginning of the auction, you spotted this plant and wanted to get it for me.

You saved all your tickets, scared someone would out bid you. After you brought me the plant, I took you out for an ice cream sundae, just the two of us. I know you don’t remember, but this plant has been my favorite plant living, dried or silk ever since.

***

 I’ve decided to write Logan a letter. I remember how Allie was so desperate to read Dad’s will. Everyone kept telling her there was nothing in it, just standard legal jargon. As a matter of fact, it read like a form letter.

She had been hoping her Daddy had left her a message. Some personal indication of how he felt about her.

I think she’s still searching for that acceptance, even today.

I want to be sure I leave that for Logan and Allie, too. I don’t want Logan to have to wonder. I want him to know for certain how I feel about him. There are so many things I wanted Logan to know – that I’m proud of him and I love him.

I want to write him a letter for when that first girl breaks his heart, when he graduates from college, gets married, and has his first baby.

I want him to know that pain does not last forever, but love does. Cherish the little things. Money does not matter. Do what you love, because life is too short to work for money. In the end; memories are what you long for. Stay close to your family, because that’s all you’ve got and when everyone and everything seems to abandon you, you’ll know they’ll still be there for you. And if I can’t be there for you, you can depend on your Aunt. These are things I wish I had learned earlier.

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June 26

I don’t know if I can do this for six more weeks. I don’t know if I want do this for six more days. Please God, please make this stop. I don’t care how. Just please stop it.

I put together a just in case box. I gathered my will, insurance, burial wishes, and pictures of me and Logan in a box under my bed. I want everything to be together so that no one has to worry and make those decisions later.

I remember how hard it was after Dad. No one knew where anything was or what he wanted. I remember having to answer questions and make decisions a thirteen year old shouldn’t have to make.

I wanted to leave instructions and messages about the important things. I wanted to be sure nothing was lost or missed. I need to take an inventory of everything in the house and explain each item’s significance and who should keep it after me.

There was a little picture of Allie with Mom and Grandma. Mom was wearing a blue and white cotton dress and Grandma a green striped dress. Grandma was wearing red lipstick. I think everyone wore red lipstick then, even Grandmas.

Allie was about twelve months old, a big, chubby baby with red hair. Mom’s hair was still dark. It wasn’t long after that picture was taken that Mom started dying her hair. She loved Allie’s hair so much she took Allie to a salon and had her hair dyed to match.

The top of my head is barely visible at the bottom of the picture, cut off by the camera. Even then the world revolved around Allie.

I put a yellow sticky note on the back of the picture.

Allie,

I know you always hated your hair growing up, but Mom loved it so much, she had hers dyed to match yours. Love Jo

I deposited the picture in an envelope with her name on it and placed it in the box.

Next I picked up a spiral notebook, brown with pink flower. I didn’t want a yellow tablet or a plain spiral notebook, nothing generic. I wanted everything in this box to be an expression of my personality, so that, if later didn’t come, anyone looking in this box would have a sense of who I was.

I began my inventory in my spiral notebook. This was an inventory of my worthless things and what they mean to me. So that maybe when I’m gone, someone will understand and cherish them too. I think everyone should have a just in case box.

 ***

Item #1 – Fondue pot

I love chocolate and cheese, separately, not together. What’s better than something you can use for both? Allie, this is yours. You are the only one I know who loves cheese almost as much as me and maybe loves chocolate a little more.

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June 25

Charlie received a letter from a colleague he had traveled with. When the group bringing medications returned to a village, they found most of the twenty some odd inhabitants dead or dying. They did what they could to try to ease the suffering and save those that weren’t too far gone. However, they arrived too late. They were only able to save two of the twenty. Eighteen were lost. It really wasn’t a village as much as a cemetery now.

I feel guilty for hijacking Charlie from these people. He’s so close to finding a solution. I watched as he finally resigned himself to moving their pictures from the right side of his board to the left. He took each picture, stared intently at the smiling face and then tacked it on the left side.

He left his office, quietly shutting the door and began preparing me tea and crackers. He shut the door on his dream, his promises and his friends. I called Allie; I couldn’t let him do it. I couldn’t let him do what I had done. I have to find a way for him to continue his work. I am not going to be the reason he had to quit.

Allie took Charlie aside. She had a list all of my treatment and doctors’ appointments. She had names by each appointment date and phone numbers. Some I knew and some I didn’t. She had organized volunteers, so that Charlie didn’t have to choose between me and his work. Of course Allie’s name appeared almost daily.

She told Charlie she didn’t want him getting sick trying to handle it all. That he needed a break too. He was already looking exhausted and stressed. She knew he wouldn’t ask, so she decided to help him out.

I insisted he go back to work on his project. People were depending on him. At first he seemed reluctant and then relieved.

When did Allie become someone who I could trust with sensitive issues? When did she start thinking beyond herself? Sometimes, given a challenge people rise to the occasion and even go beyond your expectations. Beyond what you or even they thought they were capable of. I’m glad Allie turned out to be one of those people.

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June 24

I’ve been sick for the last few days. I’m too tired to make one more trip to the restroom. Charlie brought me a bowl and I just lie on the sofa, while he and Allie take turns dumping it. I know they’re both worried. I can hear them talking in the hall.

“I don’t know how long she can do this,” I heard Allie say.

And I agreed with her. I don’t know how long I can or want to do this.

You think you’ll do anything, give anything to live, but when it comes down to it, sometimes you wonder if it wouldn’t be easier just to let go. I’m worried I’ll feel that way before this is all done and over. Maybe that’s how Mom felt, she just couldn’t go on.

I heard Livia join in the conversation in the hall.

Livia brought Logan in to see me before they left. She wanted to show off his new outfit. I didn’t know which to look at first, the blue argyle sweater vest and plaid pants or the fact that he and Livia were wearing matching outfits.

“Shouldn’t I stay here and help with Mom,” he silently begged Allie for help.

“How sweet. But your Aunt Allie and Charlie have everything under control. Besides your mother wants you to go out and have a good time,” Livia said, getting her keys out.

“Great,” Logan replied though he didn’t sound the least bit convinced.

Allie shoved a bowl of cream of mushroom soup at me. Usually, it was my favorite, but today it was revolting.

“It’s homemade,” she said, coaxing. “Mrs. Wood at the market made it.”

I would have been shocked if Allie had cooked anything “homemade”. Her children weren’t even sure what a grocery store was for. The waitresses have her number on speed dial. She once tried cooking for a few weeks and got calls from restaurants checking to see if everything was ok.

I lied, telling her I’d try some later. I’d be lucky to keep the crackers down.

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June 23

I moved to the sofa today, perhaps a change of scenery would help me feel better. I was hoping just getting out of bed would be enough to perk my spirits and reduce my feelings of illness. Perhaps if I didn’t stay in bed, I’d feel less like an invalid. I was also hoping if I was closer to Charlie’s office, he wouldn’t feel like he had to spend every minute watching over me. If he was within calling distance, maybe he’d work for a while instead of hovering.

“Is there anything I can get for you, Dear?” Livia asked, as Logan came into the room swinging his tennis racket dangerously close to a lamp.

He was dressed in khaki shorts and a red t-shirt.

“I’m ready for my tennis lesson,” he replied, his backhand coming within inches of a long mirror.

“Logan dear, change into your tennis whites. Club rules,” Livia informed us.

Tennis whites? Both Logan and I were perplexed.

“White shorts and shirt,” Charlie explained.

“I don’t have tennis whites,” Logan said.

Livia picked up her phone, called the club and cancelled Logan’s tennis lessons. But if he thought he was going to get a Livia free day, he had another thing coming to him.

“I can take a hint. I understand the need to shop better than anyone,” Livia said, grabbing her purse and Logan. “There are some days when all you want to do is bury yourself in a little retail therapy.”

With that, she swept Logan from the room for a day of shopping.

***

Allie came as dressed for work as Allie ever was. She was in slacks instead of a skirt. With Allie around, I was able to convince Charlie to work for a while. He’d been neglecting his project and I am tired of his constant reminders to eat and drink. I know he means well, but it gets annoying. I know I need to eat and drink and if I could I would, but I can’t without getting sick.

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June 22

I wanted to paint today, maybe even paint my vegetable garden. I call it my garden, but it turns out I’m in it less than everyone else.  I can see it from my window lying in bed. Everyday Charlie or Logan drag the sprinkler around to water rows of lettuce and cabbages, tomato plants in wire cages, herbs of every sort, and corn stalks waving in the breeze.

Today must have been Allie’s turn. While Charlie was making tea, Allie was dragging the garden hose around. Dressed in a brown skirt, orange sweater set, and heeled sandals, she tromped around in the dirt and mud. Usually the sight of her in a skirt and mud would have made me laugh. Today I’m just thankful to have her.

Once she completed her chore, she came bearing tea. I guess Charlie thought if Allie brought it, I might drink more. It doesn’t matter who brings it, the result is the same. I’m already tired of the concerned looks. But, I’m determined to make a good effort. However my mind had other thoughts. Every time I tried to reach for the cup, I missed as if I couldn’t bring myself to take it. After a few failed attempts, Allie pushed the cup into my hand, holding it there for a few minutes while I secured my grasp.

She sat next to me, shoving another pillow behind me to help prop me up. She clutched my hand so tightly I could feel her desperation.

“Remember how I’d wait for you by the school yard gate?” I asked.

“And we’d walk home together. Sure.”

“Those girls, who pushed you around, pulled your hair, and called you names, like Red Head Fred.”

“Not when my big Sis was around,” she said.

I reminded her of the time I lost her or at least thought I had lost her. I’ve never been so scared. I ran around looking for Allie for what seemed like hours. I found her playing hopscotch with those girls like they were best friends. I was so angry. She scared me to death. I don’t know why I keep thinking about it.

I still remember the look on Allie’s face when I was screaming. I don’t know why I did that.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you. It was stupid,” I told Allie.

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

“I’m sorry I’m scaring you now,” I whispered.

Allie tightened her grasp on my hand.

“You’re cutting of my circulation, Carrot Top,” I said, wincing.

She laughed. It was good to hear her laugh again. I haven’t heard her laugh since that day at the sushi restaurant.

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June 21

I could hardly crawl out of bed. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I refused to let myself believe it was going to be this hard. It wasn’t just hard for me, but Charlie too. He spent the first few days of my treatment trying to coax me to drink and eat, then watching when everything came right back up. I can’t remember having spent so much time in bed.

I feel bad for Charlie. I thought he’d be able to continue working on his project in spite of my illness, but now he seems to spend most of his time taking care of me. At least he has a break when Allie stops by.

“Do you remember when you first found this house?” she asked, lying next to me as if we were just taking a little nap instead of lying here because I can barely hold my head up.

“Do you remember the look on Gordon’s face when we brought him here?” I asked.

“He thought you’d lost your mind buying some house that would be better off condemned.”

The old house had fallen on hard times. The walls were covered with peeling layers of browning wallpaper. The settling foundation had opened cracks that had torn through the wallpaper, leaving holes large enough to put your fingers through. A beam had cracked breaking through the living room ceiling. The backyard was filled with waist high weeds.

But under all that was a stone farm house built in the eighteen nineties. It was a one story structure that had been added on to over the years. Deep cool porches lined both front and back offering shade from the hot Texas summers. The backyard was almost forested by trees and beyond the weeds was a small creek. I had fallen in love with the tall ceilings; the dark wood floor with planks wider than my hand; and the long windows set into the thick stone walls.

“Remember how you spent almost every day here helping me tear this place apart?” I reminded her.

“And then putting it back together.”

“I thought we’d never finish.”

“I wish we hadn’t. How did we wonder so far apart?” Allie asked, taking my hand.

“We aren’t far apart. We see each other every week.”

I knew what she meant, but wanted to feign innocence.

“That’s not what I mean. How could we see each other every week and not see each other?” Allie asked the question I had been asking myself.

“Just life I guess.”

People continue marching along as if they have all the time in the world, never letting themselves think that their time here is limited. No one can guess how long they have, but we all live as if that day will never come. We all know we should live each day as if there will be no tomorrow, but we don’t. We think that applies to everyone else except us.

There are so many days I regret now. Days wasted in mindlessness. How I wish I had made better use of those days.

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