“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Part II, Day 44: We are Family--the Disco, the Play, the Bugs, the Sisters

"We see some protozoa on Zoe's specimen slide.  Her immune system is compromised so we want to give her medicine so that the cocci we see here don't multiply."

"I'll be right there," I said, smiling.  I drove over to the Canton Animal Hospital and saw all kinds of people with dogs going in for what looked like routine examinations, and I was one of them.

This conversation cheered me up so much I wanted to sing and dance.  Maybe it wasn't just the new medicine taking away her appetite and screwing up her digestive system.  And the song I heard in my head was "We are Family."  Let me explain. 

When I was a senior in college I wrote a play called The Woman.  In it, two women wait for a man to come home.  One woman is kind, patient, nurturing, mature, wry, a little plump, and wise: an earth mother.  The other is pretty, skinny, sarcastic, demanding, a little needy and narcissistic, equal parts snarky and seductive.  As the play goes on, you realize that the two women are two sides of the same person.  That's right, readers.  In a not-subtle way, I had taken two clashing sides of my personality and put them on a stage to duke it out for all to see.  I don't remember the dialogue very well, but I think I was trying to cook up a dose of Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck" by marinating it with my favorite non-sequitors from Chekhov and Sam Shepherd and folding all the ingredients into a hearty casserole of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night.  In other words, the ambition was there, but some of the talk must have come across as pretentious and heavy.  Still, it was great fun to write and put on a show.

The best part of this experience was working with the talented cast.  Some of the most accomplished people in my college community came together to put this one-act play on stage.  I had a very insightful, gifted male director whose work I had admired from afar.  Two of the three or four most respected women in our acting program at Northwestern University played the warring selves.  My freshman year roommate, C., whose golden doodle dog I wrote about earlier this month in "My Friend Has a Hole in Her Heart Now" wrote the music: a lush piano score that was achingly beautiful and sad, a bit like Michael Nyman's score for The Piano, which you can hear again if you press here.  I remember the guy who played the man the two women love as a real sweetie, an econ major who was friends with someone in the show, maybe the director.  Years later I ran into him in New York City at a brunch and didn't recognize him.  His head was shaved because he'd just had surgery after some thugs mugged him at an ATM, and I felt so badly for him.

The two actresses were very different from one another in real life as well as the play.  The one who played the Earth Mother was probably the more talented of the two.  She just exuded authenticity. She went on to do theater and TV work, and I saw her in a show in the late 80s about a Seattle family, the young daughter of which was played by a very young Sarah Jessica Parker.  The woman who played the snarky vamp was strikingly beautiful, but not terribly warm.   She reminded me in looks and build of a young Joan Collins.  I saw soap operas and commercials in her future, not major stage credits, but success nonetheless.  She was perfect for the part in my play except that it was very hard for her to be vulnerable.  And if she couldn't come across as authentically vulnerable without seeming melodramatic, the play wouldn't work.

Then we had another problem.  Earth Mother almost dropped out because she had a financial crisis at home and needed to get a job.  I promised her I'd find her a job with flexible hours that paid well within 24 hours, and I did.  I went all around town until I found a funky vegetarian restaurant in Evanston that had just opened.  I ate there that night and by the end of the evening I had befriended the staff.  They offered me a job, and I said, "If you like me, you're going to really flip when you meet Jane."  Then I told them that if they hired her and didn't put her on shifts that conflicted with rehearsals, they would save the day for a certain aspiring playwright.  They told me they would consider it, but she had to know something about vegetarian food.  Earth Mother was a hard core carnivore, but I went home and made flashcards for her.  It had words and concepts on it like "macrobiotic," "tofu," "tempeh," Diet for a Small Planet.  Jane auditioned for this exotic new part and she got it.  Everyone at the café loved her, as I knew they would.  I think some of the crew there came out to see the show.

I continued to have trouble with the vamp.  She just seemed so cold.  When she acted out her sadness, her hidden vulnerability, she came across as wooden and whiny.  But whenever we took a break and put on the radio, if the song "We are Family" by Sister Sledge came on, she would dance around the room with joy on her face, high-fiving everyone, shaking her bootie, and we would get up there with her, boogying on down, singing how we were all sisters, all of us, so "get up everybody and sing!"

I later found out from someone that this woman, who had seemed so spoiled and difficult, had a father who was a big-deal producer in L.A..  Once she'd called him on the phone to ask for help about something and happened to catch him in bed with a young startlet who was probably her--the daughter's--age.  He said, "Sorry, honey, but I've got a pair of tits in front of me here and you'll just have to wait."

After that, whenever I saw this woman the earth mother in me softened.  I hummed her favorite song in my head.

That song is a mantra for a lot of people in all kinds of circumstances.  It's a little bit camp, as anything from the Seventies is bound to be, but it still reminds me of the power of friendship, of how sudden joy can overtake one and change the atmosphere in the room.

And it also reminds me of parasites.

I had them once.  Giardia, nasty intestinal parasites that give you bloat, nausea, headaches, misery.  I got them in Paris, of all places, when I was in graduate school.

To lighten the atmosphere, make the whole ritual of taking a stool specimen on the bus from Northampton, Mass to Amherst, a bus packed to the gills with anxious students and hipster wanna-bes in black, I sang this song, "We are Family," in my head.  To honor the colonizing microbes whom I would soon kill off, one by one, with harsh medicine I'd have to take every day for six months, I serenaded them later with this song and danced around my apartment: anything to make a dark comedy about bodily functions feel less heavy.

Zoe has had all kinds of critters inhabiting her gut over the years because she eats gross things in the woods.  When I thought her lack of appetite this week might be due to little bugs and not the anti-cancer drug, I rejoiced.

Thank god for small things.  Thank dog for small things.

Bad puns abound.

Now, back to the opening scene of this post.  I return from the vet's.  Later, after I give Zoe her kill-critters-in-the-gut medicine, I pick up my friend Rebecca and we head into Potsdam to run errands.  Rebecca's cat, Webster, now has a little kitten sister, a cute black-and-white kitty our friend Diane rescued.  "Webster's less lonely and needy now that he has a sister to play with," Rebecca says.

There is so much construction work going on in our town that the first road we go to is closed.  We try another, but there are flares in the road marking an accident.  So I turn around.  I was already running late, and now I'm really late.  Rebecca's going to be on time for her eye appointment, but I'm going to be late for my pedicure.

Now, not to be gross here, but when I get a pedicure, it's not exactly a blissful spa experience.  I have inherited my grandmother's ingrown toenails.  If you don't know what that feels like, imagine having little slivers of glass around the rims of your toes.  I have found the only person outside of a podiatrist's office who can and will get these awful internal claw weapons out while also massaging and buffing and beautifying, and she only charges $30 and won't accept tips.

She's a busy professional and has clients coming to her tonight until 10 PM.  I can't miss this appointment.

Rebecca calls from the road on her phone and then navigates as my wing-woman.  "Don't get behind that truck," she says, when we're finally on Route 11.  "He'll slow us down.  Good, now get ahead and pass him.  Go, go, go!"

My friend Rebecca is a director in the theater.  She read and critiqued the only other play I wrote in my life.  She's the perfect person to have along on this escapade.

After the conclusion of our appointments, we stop at Agway, where Rebecca found out a few weeks ago (I just linked to that post) that I could buy some rabbit for Zoe.  Rebecca is here to purchase a perennial flowering plant for her husband's grave.  I'm honored to be along for the mission.

That evening, at dinner with some of my soul sisters, one of them raises a glass and says, "We have to see each other more often.  We have to make more time to be together."

We all agree.  Schemes are hatched.  There's a lunch date coming next week.

And today, while I send this post out into the world, Zoe, my husband and I are packing up to go off to see my actual blood sister, who is hosting us this Memorial Day weekend with her husband and dog.

We weren't planning on spending the weekend together, but with Zoe's situation before us, it's carpe diem, baby, every single diem.

On the first trillium walk of the season, I called Zoe and she came running up with this dead thing in her mouth.  I forgot all about it, forgot even I had documentary evidence of her hunting prowess, but then a few days later, when she wouldn't eat, and she had the runs, I found this photo and rejoiced.  In a way, I have to admire her for taking the matter of what to feed herself into her own capable hands/teeth/paws.  She's getting tired of being force-fed medicines and here she is, reverting to her wolfy state.
We are kindred.  Even the critters who live in us that we don't want to feed.  Even the needy, difficult selves we can't accept when we're young, that take us a few decades to incorporate into our whole being.  Sisters, brothers, protozoa, with feet, with ingrown toenails, with tails.  My apologies if now there's a certain song you can't get out of your head.

No comments:

Post a Comment