Ronald Davis

A truly moving video of a man who has to beg simply to survive day to day. It’s all too common that each of us pass these people on the street without a second thought. Now it’s time to meet the man who is begging for your help. This video was the inspiration for an entire series (called Big Questions – http://www.AskingBigQuestions.com) that’s just now hitting the air on WNIT Public Television.

The Woman in the Window

Today’s post is a little different from my usual. Once again I’ve traveled into the world of fiction. I hope you enjoy! 

Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

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Today is the first time I’m allowed in the patient lounge. The windows around the room cast grey light within, as menacing clouds have scared away the blue sky. The walls are grey. The carpet is grey. My cotton bathrobe is grey. My skin has turned grey. The wheelchair I am forced to sit in is grey. The other men and women scattered around the room mumbling to themselves, playing checkers alone and staring at the black TV screen, are all grey.

The only things that have retained their natural color are my hair, which refuses to submit and become any other color than that of coal; my eyes, which still contain clear pools of blue; and the woman in the stained glass window, which I have asked to sit in front of.

I have decided to name this woman in the window, Amelia. I think it is the only name lovely enough to match her elegance. Her dark, deep navy hair is pulled gently into a bun on the back of her head. I bet if she let it flow freely, it’d be just as long as mine. But I like how she has combed it effortlessly away from her face. It let’s me know that she doesn’t have to hide behind a waterfall of hair. Unlike me, she is brave. I know that one day, I want that.

Her light blue gown flows neatly against her thin frame, gathering at her feet on the green grass. It is simple, and covers her arms and chest. She must be very reserved. My mother would have been happy if I had dressed like Amelia when I was growing up. The fabric rests on Amelia’s shoulders with ease and I know that one day, I want that.

A yellow trail lies beside Amelia and I know she has traveled very far to get here. It reminds me of the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz and I imagine that if I could just get to Oz now, my spirits would surely be lifted. I wonder where Amelia came from and why in the hell she stopped here. This is no place for someone so lovely and graceful. The only things here are ugly, lifeless, and in pain. It looks like the path was built with fish-shaped bricks, giving the illusion that it is moving away from here and I know that one day, I want that.

But Amelia remains still, reaching for a perfectly round red berry on the ground, so ripe it looks as though it may burst. I wish Amelia would get back on her yellow path and follow it as far away from here as possible. I urge her. I beg her. I plead with her.

My thoughts are suddenly interrupted when I hear “Wendy, dear? Quiet down; it’s time for your medication.” I watch my left hand–identified by the scars that trace it–surrender, and close around a small paper cup while my right–identified by a glamorous, itchy, and irritating plastic bracelet–clutches onto a larger one full of water. The nurse’s footsteps shuffle away slowly. Glancing into the small cup, I see my usual pills of all colors and sizes. It’s comforting to see they have yet to turn grey.

Unexpectedly, the pools in my eyes begin to overflow and a tide pushes forth over my eyelids and down my cheeks. I peer up at Amelia through cascades of black hair, squinting to see her as rivers blur my vision. I notice that she too has water streaming down her face as the storm has finally set in motion. Looking closer, I see streaks that stain her light blue dress, revealing that the painter used too much water when designing it. It is as if you can see right through her and I immediately know, I do not want that. The tears are coming faster now. She is still frozen, refusing to get back on the path and away from here and I immediately know, I do not want that. The tears are coming harder now. Then, I notice tears pour forth from Amelia’s eyes, leaving them colorless and I quickly realize this will be my fate if I continue to let my blue pools overflow.

Fighting hysteria, I try to slow the current. I squeeze my eyes together as hard as I can. I bite my lips till the taste of iron rushes into my mouth.  But nothing works. The pools are releasing themselves and I know that soon, I will have colorless eyes like Amelia. I will be blind, just like her and I will become complacent, just like her and I will never escape. Just like her. I scream. I scream.

The Aftermath: What They Don’t Tell You

 funeral flowers

You would think that once you’ve lost someone, you’d know how to deal with all losses. You imagine there to be a generic formula to deal with loss—follow these three easy steps and you’ll feel a-okay in no time. That every time a friend lost someone you’d know all the right things to say and be able to explain it all to minimize their pain. But unfortunately, even after experiencing loss, you aren’t any closer to the answers than before.

Just yesterday, my dearest friend lost a close relative. And since I’m not particularly good with expressing how I feel verbally, I thought I would write today’s post about all the things I wish I knew happened after someone passes away that I didn’t know when I experienced it and some suggestions I have in dealing with the loss. This is based on my experience alone so in no way is this a complete list so if anyone would like to add anything, please do.

*

1) There is no pain equivalent to that you experience when you know you will never hear the voice of someone you love. No matter how much time you have to “prepare” for a death (whatever that even means…writing thank you letters for condolence cards in advance? writing a eulogy before the person has died? picking out your funeral outfit like a prom dress?) there’s no way to anticipate the pain you will feel when it actually happens. Because no matter how much “preparation” you have, the ending always feels sudden, like a book being abruptly slammed shut right after the final word has been read.

The pain usually manifests itself physically, and it’s different in everyone. For me, it was a sharp pain ripping across my abdomen as though someone had drawn a blade across my body. Other people I know have experienced the feeling of being punched in the gut, or the feeling of a rock sitting in their stomach. But need not rush to the emergency room, the good thing about the pain is that it comes in waves. It’ll crash down on you at the most inconvenient times and bring you under and just as you feel yourself drowning, the sea calms and you are pushed back to shore. Remember, you are always pushed back to the shore. Shaken and disoriented, this is when I recommend taking a nap.

2) No one knows quite what to say or even how to look at you after they know about your loss. Your friends act funny when you call to tell them the news. They hesitate on their responses, choking on words that they’ve never had to say before. All you can do is help them along the way and thank them anyways for at least picking up the phone. Don’t get mad at your friends; chances are they’ve had minimal experience with loss and have never had to comfort a friend in such a situation. And even if they have gone through it, they still don’t know what to say because they don’t know what you will want to hear.

3) At the memorial service, wake, and/or funeral, everyone will say “I’m so sorry for your loss.” The proper (and typical) response is “Thank you.” I prefer (and suggest), “Yea, me too.”

4) As you enter the funeral home, you will be assaulted by the smell of stale flowers that have been sprayed with a perfume laced insecticide and no matter how hard you blow your nose afterward, it will not go away because all the flowers come home with you since no one wants to throw out the flower arrangement that cost more than this month’s rent. The flowers sit in your kitchen as you watch them wilt and die only to remind you of loss. Throw the flowers out if you can; or maybe compost them before they began to wilt.

5) The weeks following your loss, you have to pack up all of the person’s belongings. You will open the door to their room and sit on their bed. Rest your head on their pillow and breathe deeply to inhale the remnants of their scent. Keep their door closed just to keep their smell inside as long as possible. However, even this fades in a matter of days. The pain however, lasts much longer.

Folding their clothes, you decide which ones to give away and which to keep when really all you’d like to do is leave them in the closet for when they return. Because of course they’ll come back. Of course they’ll walk right through that door in just a few hours. That’s all. They got held up at the supermarket. Or maybe they’re on vacation. One day they’ll walk right through that door with Mickey Mouse ears on their head and a nice tan….

And even after everything is packed away in nice pretty boxes, including their ashes that you keep on your bookcase, you still feel no closure. No sense of healing looms on the horizon; all you do is try and keep your head above water.

6) Take the time to heal. Whether this takes months or years, no time is too long. It will not happen if you don’t put a little work into it, though. Talk to people about your loss. Experience the pain. Only then do you learn to move ahead with your life while still keeping the person in your heart always.

7) Time passes. You learn to live without the one that was once your everything. You teach yourself new ways to exist that circumnavigate around the gaping hole that now sits in the middle of your life. You tell people what you need instead of expecting them to read your mind. You ask for help when you can’t do it alone. You learn that your identity is not just the loss that you’ve experienced. You nurture your individuality and slowly, the loss becomes only a part of your story—the headlining title no longer. Suddenly, the gaping hole shrinks and you can easily step over it without the fear of falling in. You learn that life exists after a loss. You realize that you didn’t die with the person and that your life is still going on. And that finally, you want to be present for it.

The Heart Attack

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Contrary to pop media, heart attacks are not the result of some romantic endeavor gone awry. Sorry to break the news to you Demi Lovato, One Direction, and Olly Murs. But don’t worry; I was under that impression too until one day last year when I learned what really causes a heart attack. And sorry to disappoint, but there was no catchy pop tune playing in the background.

*

I cautiously walked up my street, glancing left and right to make sure it was safe to proceed. Prowling through the streets of my neighborhood was a tiger that had escaped from the zoo. My neighbors were locked inside their homes. Being the brave soul that I am, I of course was roaming the streets trying to capture the six hundred pound feline. Suddenly, I caught glimpse of it heading toward my neighbors house. I immediately began running towards it, until it turned its head and headed straight toward me. I stopped in my tracks and began running in the complete OPPOSITE direction only to look over my shoulder to see it leaping towards me, it’s jaw wide open to flash all its pearly whites right before it chomped down on my—

“Abigail!!”

I rolled over in bed and groaned. What…? Who’s calling me?

My grandparents never woke me up in the middle of the night so I was extremely confused and totally disoriented from my nightmare. Luckily, my head was still rightfully in place.

“Abigail!!”

It was my grandma’s voice. I groaned again.

She opened the door.

“Abigail…Abigail…Wake up. I think Grandpa’s having a heart attack.”

Well, if I wasn’t awake before, I surely was now.

I immediately sat up, put my glasses on and rushed out of bed to my grandparent’s bedroom. My grandma was already downstairs calling an ambulance.

Laying on his back, my grandpa lay in bed, his blue eyes staring right up at the ceiling. Completely unsure of what to do, I asked him what was going on. Just like when he got hit by the tree (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods/) I knew he would be the one to remain calm and instruct me on what to do.

“Feel my forehead.”

Tentatively, I rested my palm on his head.

“What does it feel like?” he asked. Now is not the time to wonder if you have a fever, but alright.

Nervously, as if I was about to give the wrong answer on a test, I replied, “Uhh…cool…damp.”

“Okay,” he pointed toward his closet, “See that box? It’s an oxygen tank. Get it.”

Who in the world keeps an oxygen tank in their bedroom? But I didn’t verbalize my confusion and just followed orders.

Pulling the box down, I quickly unpackaged the oxygen tank (that looked like it had been sitting in the closet for more years than I was alive), fit the mask on his face and twisted a valve to get the oxygen to flow. Then, I sat on the edge of the bed and held his hand.

A moment later, my grandma entered the bedroom and told us that the ambulance was on its way. Within minutes, the EMTs had arrived and I left the room to stay out of the way. I put my shoes on, getting ready to leave for the hospital. My Auntie Barbara (my aunt on my mother’s side), had arrived as well and was pacing back and forth when I heard EMTs questioning my grandma about my grandpa’s medical history and what exactly happened. I could hear her struggling to answer, stumbling over words and getting confused. She was overwhelmed and flustered. After all, it was the middle of the night and this was an extremely stressful situation. I came out of my room and went to her side, answering to the best of my ability all of their questions. Being able to stay focused during an emergency is something I’m extremely proud of; there’s a sense of accomplishment I feel in remaining calm and following exact orders. And being acutely observant my whole life really came in handy to give the EMTs all the information they needed to know.

I watched as my grandpa was carried down the stairs in a specially stabilized chair since he couldn’t walk down the stairs himself. My grandma, my aunt, and I followed the whole team outside to see the ambulance lighting up the entire street against the pitch-black sky and a fire truck parked in the light’s glow. While my grandpa was loaded into the back of the ambulance, my grandma climbed in the front. One EMT told me to get in as well and then another yelled at me to get out. Excuse me, but when someone’s grandfather has just had a heart attack it is most likely NOT the ideal moment to YELL at them. I immediately jumped out and explained that I was going in the ambulance to the hospital. Or would he prefer I walk?

Turns out, he preferred I walk. And so, as my aunt returned to her home around the corner (she couldn’t come with us to the hospital immediately because of work obligations), I got in my Jeep and followed the ambulance at a heinous speed into Manhattan. Somewhere I’d never driven before, and certainly hadn’t planned on driving there alone for the first time at three o’clock in the morning.

Luckily, no one was on the road and following an ambulance really makes it easy to get to your destination. I watched the ambulance pull into the ambulance bay as I parked on the side of the street, hoping I wasn’t too far from the curb but not caring enough to check. I briskly walked into the Emergency Room (I’ve learned that running in a hospital is not recommended) and found my grandma standing at the edge of a curtain hung in the middle of the ER looking tired and scared. My grandpa was on a gurney, sitting up with wires already covering his forearms. He already looked a million times better than when I found him in bed less than an hour before. He was even joking around. Alright, so when can he go home?

But first, the most prominent question on everyone’s mind was Did he have a heart attack? Because he wasn’t even sure he had. When the ER doctor came over, he didn’t even have the answer. He said they had to run tests and that my grandma and I could wait in another building until they were done. And so, as they wheeled my grandpa away, I led my grandma along the Manhattan sidewalk in the middle of the night to another building of the hospital where my grandpa was getting his tests done. We took seats in the waiting area that was eerily quiet since it was still the night and slowly watched the sun start to rise and the hospital wake up as I called family members to tell them what happened. Finally, we were called upstairs. A female doctor came out and spoke with us.

Yes, he had had a heart attack. And if he was going to survive, he needed a triple bypass. This can’t be happening. The last time I was in the hospital with someone, they died. The thought of possibly losing another person so close to me was something I could not bear.

*

For the next two weeks, my grandma, aunt, and I went to the hospital every day to be with my grandpa. I learned how to maintain my role as “granddaughter” and did my best to stay out of the way. I stopped trying to be the leader of the situation and let my grandma and aunt take the reins even when they didn’t always understand. I knew that no matter what, my grandpa was still going to get the care that he deserved whether the rest of my family knew what was going on or not. And best of all, I was certain he would be coming home.

He had his surgery and went to a rehabilitation center afterward to regain his strength. After a month that felt like a year, he finally returned home to us in one healthy piece. Now, when people ask me how my grandpa’s doing I almost forget he even had a heart attack because he’s back to his old cranky—yet funny and lovable—self. Yet again, my grandpa had a close brush with death, but—did I mention, he has nine lives?

Purity

I’ve been working on some new poems lately so until they’re ready to be published I’ve got another Billy Collins poem for you. It reflects the writing process that we all go through in a unique and beautiful way. It’s got a little mature content so not recommended for younger audiences (although I don’t think any of my readers are children, but just in case!) 

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My favorite time to write is in the late afternoon,
weekdays, particularly Wednesdays.
This is how I got about it:
I take a fresh pot of tea into my study and close the door.
Then I remove my clothes and leave them in a pile
as if I had melted to death and my legacy consisted of only
a white shirt, a pair of pants and a pot of cold tea.

Then I remove my flesh and hang it over a chair.
I slide if off my bones like a silken garment.
I do this so that what I write will be pure,
completely rinsed of the carnal,
uncontaminated by the preoccupations of the body.

Finally I remove each of my organs and arrange them
on a small table near the window.
I do not want to hear their ancient rhythms
when I am trying to tap out my own drumbeat.

Now I sit down at the desk, ready to begin.
I am entirely pure: nothing but a skeleton at a typewriter.

I should mention that sometimes I leave my penis on.
I find it difficult to ignore the temptation.
Then I am a skeleton with a penis at a typewriter.
In this condition I write extraordinary love poems,
most of them exploiting the connection between sex
and death.

I am concentration itself: I exist in a universe
where there is nothing but sex, death, and typewriting.

After a spell of this I remove my penis too.
Then I am all skull and bones typing into the afternoon.
Just the absolute essentials, no flounces.
Now I write only about death, most classical of themes
in language light as the air between my ribs.

Afterward, I reward myself by going for a drive at sunset.
I replace my organs and slip back into my flesh
and clothes. Then I back the car out of the garage
and speed through woods on winding country roads,
passing stone walls, farmhouses, and frozen ponds,
all perfectly arranged like words in a famous sonnet.