Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eliza and the Banshee

Eliza, Jeremiah, and Noah were seven years old, rulers of the Minnesota house, when Laz wandered into our yard. Blood and dirt matted his long, light-gray fur. Mites infested his ears. Wounds, some healing, some still open, scarred his body, but his green eyes revealed a trusting, innocent vagabond.
            The vet gave him antibiotics and told me Laz was about a year old. I carefully washed him and gratefully welcomed this gaunt, but gorgeous, feline into our family. I was certain that the other three members of our family would too. Wrong!
            Cats are nothing if not territorial. Noah and Jeremiah mostly ignored Laz so long as he didn’t try to gobble their dry food. Eliza was a different story. She hated him on sight. Hissed. Caterwauled. Threatened him with sharp claws. I held her and explained that Laz needed a home. We had a good one to offer him.
            She ignored me. Turned her head away in a right snit, remained stubbornly jealous. I was her human. No one else’s. Two other cats might live there. After all, they always had. They offered no threat. But to add another? That was too much for Eliza.
            One day while making a sandwich, I hear the menacing yowl of an angry cat. Eliza has cornered Laz between two boxes on the side porch. He faces her, trying to squeeze into himself so as to give her less area to strike. An impossible task for Laz has Maine Coon in him. His bones are big, his body long and lean.
            “Eliza, leave Laz alone,” I order.
            Glowering at him, she yowls angrily. Hisses threat. The sounds alarm me. Laz looks terrified. He's cowering on the rice mat.
            “Leave Laz alone,” I command again.
            Eliza’s ears don’t even twitch. She crouches lower, stalks menacingly toward him. Once again I tell her to stop. She seems oblivious to my voice.
            Without warning, she leaps into the air and attacks. Fur flies. Laz shrinks before her. I yell as Eliza has never heard me yell. In fact, she’s never heard me yell at all. She pauses momentarily. Then goes at him again. Sharp claws gripping his back.
            “Leave Laz alone!” My voice reverberates around the porch.
            Abruptly, Eliza takes out running. Into the dining room, down the hall, up the steps into the first bedroom. Through the door to the second. Through the door to the third. Out of the third and down the steps.
            I race after her, wailing like a banshee, “Leave Laz alone!”
            She bounds down the steps. I follow, chasing her down the hall, through the dining room, into the kitchen. She turns. Scoots between my legs and back into the dining room. We start the circuit again. Up. Around. Down. Kitchen. I’m yelling at the top of my voice. She’s trying to get away from me.
            Half way up the steps for the third time, she stops. Sits back on her haunches. Turns and stares at me. I stumble to a stop by the bottom step and look up at her. She looks puzzled. Bemused. What the heck is happening?
            I’ve terrorized her. I’ve protected one cat but browbeat another. What kind of human am I?
            I sit on the step below her and take her in my arms. My tears fall on her long deep-gray fur. “Eliza, I’m so sorry. I love you,” I sob. “But you can’t do that to Laz. He’s a member of our family now. You’ve got to accept him.” She hears my voice and begins to purr.
            Ever afterwards, she left him alone. My wailing banshee act had scared her so, she never again threatened him. However, she never accepted him either. For all three of the cats, Laz was, and always would be, an outsider. Yet he never gave up trying to interest them in play nor did he ever let go of the peace that enveloped him when he failed in his attempts. 
            From Laz, the Outsider, I learned equanimity. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Round the Campfire

For my third birthday, Mom and Dad gave me a cowgirl outfit. It consisted of a brown skirt with yellow fringe, a fringed brown vest, brown snub-nosed boots with yellow appliqué leather swirls, a straw cowboy hat, and a shiny silver cap gun.
            Daily, Gene Autry and I mounted our horses. Gene’s Champion was dark brown with three stocking feet and a blaze down his face. Dusty was a broomstick topped with the wooden silhouette of a horse’s head. Attached to his painted mane was a leather halter. I raced the wind on Dusty.
            Gene and I galloped the lone prairie. We rounded up the doggies and ate grub from the chuck wagon. We drew our trusty six-shooters and plugged holes in the livers of dangerous desperadoes.            
            When we ambled into town, Gene’s other sidekick, Smiley, banged his fist into the swinging doors and we sauntered into the saloon. We downed our jiggered whiskey while the piano player plunked the keys for the spangle-clad women cavorting on stage.
             I alighted from the bar stool and danced with them, sashaying my fringe, kicking my boots high, clicking my heels. That summer the backyard of our apartment building became my own Wild West.
            One rainy day Mom kept me inside while she used the sweeper. Her attention elsewhere, I sidled to the desk and pilfered a sheet of paper and then tiptoed to the kitchen cabinet and palmed some stick matches.
            Gene, Champion, Dusty, and I snuck out into the second-story hall and crouched in a corner. I shredded the paper and patted all the pieces into a nice pile. Then I struck a match against the wall. When it flamed, I lit our campfire. Smoke wafted lazily toward the ceiling as the paper strips crinkled into ash.
            Still crouching, our palms held over the warmth of the flames, Gene and I belted out, “I’m back in the saddle again. Out where a friend is a friend. Where the longhorn cattle feed on the lowly gypsum weed back in the saddle again.” Arriving at the chorus, we waved our cowboy hats in the air and bellowed, “Whoop-ty-aye-oh rockin’ to and fro back in the saddle again whoopi-ty-aye-yay I go my way back in the saddle again.”
            Suddenly the apartment door banged open. Mom hurtled into the hall. “Dodo!” she shrieked, “What are you doing?”
            “Cookin’ grub with Gene.”
            By now she was stamping out the few remaining shards of my campfire. When she scooped up the ashes, I could see a burnt patch on the carpet.
            “Anna Dolores, what am I going to do with you,” Mom moaned.
            “Me and Gene needed a fire,” I explained.
            “What you need,” she muttered, “is a good whipping.” She took me by the arm and swatted my bottom as she marched me into the apartment.
            “Dusty!” I hollered. “Don’t forget Dusty!”
            She turned us right around, still gripping my upper arm, and snatched up my horse. Inside our apartment, she gave my bottom several more good swats, made me promise not to do that ever again, and put matches off-limits.
            I spent the next fifteen minutes in the corner, Dusty on the floor next to me. Gene said, “Well, Pardner, looks like we had us a right good ‘venture.” I agreed. Right good.
            That night, I overheard Mom talking to Daddy. “She can be so naughty,” Mom said, “but you gotta wonder at that imagination of hers. She’s going far, John.”
            And Daddy agreed. “Shoot for the stars, Dodo," he told me the next day.
            It’s what I’ve tried to do. I no longer have a six-shooter or a Stetson, but I do have an imagination populated by a world of movie and book and television characters. When I turned five and life suddenly became dark, that imaginary world comforted me. It offered the security of certainty. But that’s another story for another time and another campfire.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Gift of Imagination

When I was little, Mom took me to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. Everything about these animated films enthralled me—the characters, the story line, the art, but especially the songs.
            We caught a streetcar both going and coming back. For the whole of the return ride, I’d sing the songs from the movie we’d just seen. My favorite from Snow White was “Heigh-Ho.” For Pinocchio I seesawed between “I’ve Got No Strings” and “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee.” Bambi gave me “Little April Shower,” my birthday month.
            Not only did I shrilly sing those songs, I danced up and down the streetcar’s aisle, acting out the words.
            I was Doc marching off to the mines to the beat of “Heigh-Ho.”            
            I was Pinocchio gleefully waving my flesh-and-blood arms and proclaiming “I’ve Got No Strings” or  proudly announcing to the world that I was an actor who could “Hi-Diddle-Dee.”
            I was Bambi lifting my sweet face to the “Little April Shower.”
            I danced and sang and acted—and giggled—while the other riders clapped and sang along. They, too, had heard the songs on the radio. Some of them had probably taken their own children to the movies. I discovered that my delight delighted them.
            Because of that, I think I became a real ham. I can’t just tell a story, I have to act it out with body language, twitching eyebrows, and an accompanying song and dance.
            Still, today, I can remember those songs and that time in my life. Daily, I hold one of the cats against my shoulder and dance around the kitchen, singing those songs. The cats stare, long-suffering, into the distance. I pretend to be a working dwarf or a wooden puppet or a woodland rabbit.
            I owe Walt and his movies gratitude for encouraging me to imagine. I probably also owe him my thirty-year commitment to being a vegetarian and my life-long love of animals.
            Moreover, Fantasia opened for me the world of classical music. Since first seeing that film, I’ve never listened to music without imagining an entire story complete with characters, setting, and plot. Movies and music have taken me to a world beyond myself.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Divine Office in the Choir Chapel

As a postulant, I learned how to pray the Divine Office. Psalms made up the basic structure of this ancient prayer, which we chanted, in Latin, several times a day—at Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Matins, and Compline.
            To pray we sat, stood, or knelt in stalls in the choir chapel. The straight-backed stalls had a narrow, separating partition on each side. Each stall’s seat was hinged so it could be lifted upright to provide more room for standing.
            In front of each seat a small, freestanding kneeler sat on the floor. In the cubbyhole of my assigned stall, I kept my diurnal, from which I chanted the Office, as well as my missal, used during daily mass.
            On both sides of the chapel stood four stepped tiers of these stalls. The nuns on one side faced the nuns on the other as we prayed. We chanted the psalm verses antiphonally—first one side, then the other.
            Stained-glass windows depicted the life and rule of our founder—Saint Benedict of Nursia. These exquisite works of art cast jeweled color onto the satiny wood of the choir stalls and the gleaming polished floor.
         Running down the chapel’s length and separating the tiers on each side was a wide aisle. I often knelt there during Compline and, with others, made public culpa. I’d bow my head and silently ask forgiveness from the community for diminishing the praise offered that day to God. 
         This happened when I—
1.     Giggled. Next to me in chapel sat a fellow postulant with whom I shared the same sense of humor. Little things set us off, like the way a nun sneezed or even the way she blew her nose.
2.     Banged the kneeler.
3.     Mangled a Latin word.
4.     Chanted off-key. My ear simply didn’t recognize pitch.            
When all of us were in good voice, the chanted prayer lifted our hearts beyond things like public culpa, giggling, and noisy kneelers. Our bodies cast weariness aside. Peace anointed us.
            That is the truest thing I can say—that the choir chapel was a place of peace. For nearly a century before I entered, women had prayed there. Their praise had become Presence.
            Whenever I was in that chapel, I could feel the Oneness of all those who had gone before me, all those who would come after, and all those with whom I then lived. While in that chapel I became One with All Creation.
            The time came when that was no longer true for me. It was then I left.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Life as a Postualant

The convent words I use in my stories may be unfamiliar to you. So periodically we’ll explore the life I entered and lived for almost nine years—a life that differs there today.
            For the first six months, I was called a postulant. During that time, I wore black lisle hose and oxfords, a pleated black skirt that fell a little below my knobby knees, a long-sleeved black blouse, a white-collared black cape that fell to my thin wrists, and a black veil sewn to a comb anchored in my flyaway hair.
            As a postulant, I lived in the novitiate. A paved road separated this rectangular, two-story, brick building from the main convent where the scholastics and professed nuns lived. I attended classes on the first floor of the novitiate; in the office of the Novice Mistress I made culpa. That is, I admitted some flaw or fault—like losing a straight pin or talking while doing dishes.
             I slept in one of the second-story dorms of the novitiate. The rule allowed no speaking in these dorms or in the halls and bathrooms. Both day and night, I practiced custody of the eyes by not staring at whatever or whomever I passed. The hope was that by doing so, I’d center my mind on spiritual things.
            Each morning, a bell summoned me to the choir chapel. During the remainder of the day it announced meals, classes, prayer, and recreation. In the evening it rang for Compline, the final prayer of the day. Afterward, the other seventeen postulants, the sixteen novices, and I returned—in silence and in single file—to the novitiate.
            There, we each filled a basin with water and set it on our bureau. All this was done with soundless motion. Then we climbed into bed, and the Novice Mistress turned off the light. During the summer all of us were asleep before the sun set.
            The next morning the routine began again. The bell rang. We drew the curtains around our beds, washed in the basin’s water, emptied it, donned our clothes, and began the day.
            My life was one of obedience steeped in prayer, work, and silence. Living in that convent, I knew moments of rich laughter and profound joy. I also knew hours of doubt and loneliness.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Lavatory Plot

All nuns in the convent had obediences. Postulants waited tables, washed dishes, worked in the laundry, cleaned, and polished the linoleum and terrazzo floors. Cleaning a lavatory in the main convent building was my favorite. When the novice mistress assigned this task to Annette and me, we chanced upon a treasure trove—damp newspapers.
            The convent strictly forbade reading newspapers, watching television, or listening to the radio. Postulants concentrated instead on learning how to leave behind ”the secular world.” Annette and I had willingly done so but sorely missed the news.
            So those papers, which professed nuns had left behind after washing their stained scapulars, tempted us. The scapulars covered the front and the back of the ankle-length, long-sleeved tunic—or habit—they wore. The nuns would roll the wet scapulars in newspapers to absorb the wash water then dispose of these blotched papers in the lavatory trashcan.
            Reading them would be against the rules, but not reading them seemed impossible. If caught, we’d probably get in trouble. Maybe even asked to leave. We didn’t know for sure. We knew only that news awaited us if we could be inventive. If we but dared.
            We decided to risk it, but deceit was essential. We came up with a surefire, two-part plan. Picture this:
            It’s my turn to read.
            I stand on the toilet stool and steady myself. 
            I stoop with a foot balanced on each side of the seat.
            I squat low so I’m well below the top of the locked stall door.
            I quickly scan the news. 
            I finish and trade places with Annette.
            The second part of our ingenious plan dealt with a troubling contingency:
            A nun tries to open the locked stall in which my feet are straddling the toilet.
            I hold still as a statue perched atop a stool plinth.
            Annette explains that the door is locked because of a faulty toilet.
            She nonchalantly keeps cleaning.
            Not a care in the world.
            Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. 
            The visitor, totally deceived of course, uses the other stall and departs. She’s puzzled because the door’s locked on the inside, but after all one of those nice postulants said the toilet wasn’t working. They wouldn’t fib. Surely not.
            Annette and I trade places, secure in our perfect plan: Stand. Stoop. Straddle. Squat. Read. Clean. We did it for an entire year with nary a word from anyone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I pee when I laugh too much. This happened a lot in grade school. One embarrassing pee incident occurred in the seventh grade. Our teacher had asked us to speak for three minutes on something that interested us.
            One by one my classmates went to the front of the room. The boys mostly talked about wars and westerns. One of them had been to Yellowstone and described Old Faithful. The girls told us about learning to play the piano and their favorite movie stars. One of them had seen the Atlantic Ocean and talked about the thunder of its waves.             
             Finally, my time came. Already a history buff, I’d chosen to talk about the Liberty Bell that hung in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia.
            The boys knew me and my weakness because we’d all gone through grade school together. So as soon as I started talking, they crossed their eyes and tried on their most grotesque faces. I started giggling.
            Then it happened: pee trickled down my legs. I tried holding them tightly together, but that only made the boys redouble their efforts.
            More drips and dribbles.
            I stood in a spreading puddle of pee.
            I had to talk for three minutes to get a good grade, so I forged on with facts and dates.
            More seepage.
            The pee wet the tops of my anklets.
            The puddle kept spreading. How much pee does a kid’s bladder hold? I asked myself.
            Finally, I finished and raced down the aisle to my desk. Our teacher’s voice stopped me. “Dolores, there seems to be a puddle on the floor. Please get a rag and wipe it up.”
            The boys guffawed; the girls tittered.  
            I got a rag from the closet, wiped up the puddle, trashed the sodden cloth, and sat down quietly at my desk. Behind me, a classmate who was sweet on me whispered, “I liked your speech best.”
            Well, at least it was the most entertaining. A real show-and-tell.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

One Eccentric Cat

Dulcy died in July 1989. A week later, I visited the local animal shelter in Afton. There, a small, longhaired, gray cat chose me as hers. Her name—Eliza Doolittle—came to me when she groused the entire way home.
             We lived together for twenty years and five months. During that time, Eliza showed herself to be an independent feline, commanding love and attention in truly creative ways. With a note of pride, I tell you she was eccentric.
            In late September, when she was about four months old, a friend and I took her camping. We parked our car in the campsite driveway. A thick concrete strip lay at its end, effectively halting us. As we unpacked, I noticed that a small tunnel ran down the underside of the strip.  
            On the second day, I leashed Eliza to a nearby tree. She immediately lay down on the pine needles—sniffing the air, scanning the underbrush, perking her ears to the caw of birds.
            Suddenly she stilled. I followed her stare. A chipmunk was hunkered down under the car, its eyes intent on Eliza.
            It moved slightly; she edged forward.
            It moved again; she edged closer.
            Suddenly the chipmunk scampered out from under the car and into the tunnel of the concrete strip. Eliza raced after him but the leash brought her up short and she ignominiously fell on her rear end.
            I saw the chipmunk scurry out the other end of the strip. Eliza didn’t. Instead, she settled on her haunches and stared at the tunnel opening into which that accursed chipmunk had disappeared. She stared and stared and stared.
            Minutes passed.
            She continued to stare. Silent. Motionless.
            No movement from her or the chipmunk.
            Time passed with only staring and more staring and continued staring.
            Then, as if in slow motion, Eliza slumped sideways to the ground.
            She’d mesmerized herself asleep.
            Now that's eccentric!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ménière’s Disease Part 4

I first met Ménière’s in 2000. One morning in November I woke to a bell clanging loudly in my ear. This aural racket lasted a day before I visited my primary physician. He immediately referred me to a neurologist whose tests revealed nothing wrong with my brain. Next I met with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. He diagnosed Ménière’s disease.
            Flash forward to early May 2006. By then, the tinnitus was often so ear-splitting that I’d debate hitting my head against a wall to knock myself out. I’d lost 70% of hearing in my left ear. The specialist had told me I’d ultimately lose all my hearing in both ears and become totally deaf. Occasional vertigo sent me tumbling to the floor. This type of vertigo lasted only a few seconds or minutes. Nothing rotated. The world briefly whirled, then settled in place. 
            Throughout those years, the specialist dealt simply with what presented itself as it presented itself. First I learned about tinnitus. When I lost hearing, he told me that was Ménière’s. When dizziness started, he added that to the list.
            After the May 11, 2006, incident, he didn’t explain why the vertigo had suddenly changed and become something quite different from what I’d been experiencing. Nor did he give me a name for what had happened. I don't think he or any other doctor knew why. Moreover, I suspect he had no term to offer me. 
            I found the descriptive words acute rotational vertigo episode in a posting by someone who had Ménière’s. I learned that some people with the disease face this symptom often, some never, and some only once. I googled the disease only after encountering this new type of vertigo. I hadn’t done so earlier because Ménière’s wasn’t affecting my life much during those six years. 
            As the summer of 2006 passed, I found words for each of the seven distinct aspects of Ménière’s that I'd isolated in my thinking about it. On any given day, I could be lightheaded . . . tentative . . . slurry . . . imbalanced . . . woozy . . . dizzy with simple vertigo . . . terrorized by acute rotational vertigo.
            This vocabulary spans the gap between “It's nothing to write home about”—lightheaded—and “Get me to emergency!”—terrorized by acute rotational vertigo.
            The night Ménière’s high-jacked my life, I wasn’t searching for words to pinpoint what was happening. I was alone in an alternate world that was spiraling my life out of control.
            My biggest fear was that I’d have an episode that wouldn’t go away—that rotational vertigo would become my new reality. For the next sixteen months, a strong sense of foreboding took up residence within me.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ménière’s Part 3: Adrift

Four days after that May 2006 episode, I was able to get an appointment with the ear, nose, and throat specialist I’d been seeing for several years. Sitting in his office, I described what had happened. He motioned for me to talk faster.
            I speeded up my recital, trying to explain how scared I was that what had happened would not go away.
            His response then, as now, seemed cavalier to me. “Just live with it,” he said.
            “For how long?”
            “The rest of your life.”
            I stammered my terror. “You mean this isn’t going away? It’ll keep happening?”
            He nodded and then smiled. That smile perplexed me. I found myself wondering all sorts of things. Did he find all this amusing? Was he delighted that a patient now understood the complexity of his work? Was he choosing not to deal with my concerns because he had no answers? Had he ever experienced anything like this?
            Once again, I tried to articulate the terror within—the fear that this strange vertigo would entrap me one day and I’d never return to the real world. How could I live that way?
            “Others have,” he said. “You will too.”
            I drove home on Highway 36. Never, ever, should that specialist have allowed me to drive that car. He should have asked if someone was driving me. I fault him for this.
            I could have injured or killed myself and others if I had experienced that different kind of vertigo on the way home. I just didn’t think yet of the implications of what had happened four days before. It fact, it took me several weeks before I realized that I shouldn’t be on the highway at all.
            After that, I drove only the few blocks to the grocery store once a week. I always drove in the morning because that time of day I felt most normal. Later I discovered that I shouldn’t even have done that. I was an accident waiting to happen.
            I never saw that specialist again.           

You are probably wondering what in the heck happened that May night. I wondered too. So on Tuesday my post will detail what I’ve learned about this disease and the vocabulary I’ve developed to describe and explain it to others.
            On Thursday, I’ll return to the cats with a story about Eliza Doolittle.
            I’ll complete the week with a story that happened in the seventh grade at St. Mary’s Grade School.
            In the weeks following, I’ll post additional stories about Ménière’s. Just skip right on by them if they hold no interest for you. The next posting after a Ménière’s one will always be about something different.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ménière’s Part 2:One Fixed Point

The Ménière’s episode that began in the early morning of Thursday, May 11, 2006, lasted about ten hours. Here’s the second half of it as I lived it. After I vomit until my stomach clenches from emptiness, I crawl back into the kitchen . . .
 . . . reach up for countertop . . . grab hold . . . pull upright . . . stare at clock . . . numbers repeat . . . repeat . . . each number over and over . . . try to fix one number . . . try to find one fixed point . . . in midst of motion . . . can’t do it . . . can’t do it . . . can’t do it . . . concentrate on finding clock hands . . . can’t do it . . . can’t . . . can’t . . . try, Dee . . . try . . . figure it out . . . one hand on two numbers . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . what does this mean? . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . together . . . means something . . . don’t know what . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . and . . . 2 . . . yes . . . 1 . . . and . . . 2 . . . thought comes . . . twelve . . . 1 . . . and . . . 2 . . . is twelve . . . twelve means something . . . means something . . . something . . . dark . . . midnight . . . 12 means midnight . . .  I can think . . . I made a thought . . . my mind’s working . . . look down . . . nausea . . . look to side . . . bile . . . tears . . . snot . . . hear cry . . . help me, God, please help me . . . hear laughter . . . I’m laughing . . . inane . . . bedtime, didn’t believe in personal God . . . think . . .  Dee, it’s true . . . no atheists in foxholes . . . brain working . . . let go of counter . . . fall backward . . . body thuds floor . . . head bangs . . . bounces . . . lie there . . . heavy head . . . aching . . . headache . . . horrific . . . pain . . . no thoughts . . . slogging in mind . . . breathing heavy . . . lie in fog . . . brain fog . . . no thought . . . fog . . . heaviness presses down . . . brain heavy . . . time gone . . . gone . . . feel strength . . . turn over . . . breathing heavy . . . crawl to cabinets . . . pull upright . . . must know time . . . find hour hand . . . 2 . . . two o’clock . . . alternate between chills . . . hot flashes . . . have sudden thought . . . sleep . . . maybe sleep and wake in real world . . . crawl to kitchen door . . . through dining room . . . hit head on table leg . . . shudder . . . ache all over . . . in living room . . . grab hold of couch . . . pull body onto it . . . stretch out . . . reach for lamp . . . not real . . . space . . . which one’s real? . . .  which? . . . find it . . . switch on . . . fix eyes on top right-hand corner of ceiling . . . everything else moves . . . rotating . . . swirling left . . . blurring . . . moving . . . slow motion . . . ever left . . . corner steady . . . fixed . . . sleep . . . wake . . . room rotating . . . fix right-hand ceiling corner . . . sleep . . .

            When I wake at nine, the terror is over. Nothing rotates.
            I get up, feed the cats, and lie again on the couch. I sleep for sixty hours, rising only to feed the cats, visit the bathroom, and drink water. Each time I begin to doze I fear that when I wake, it will all be happening again. Everything will be rotating and I’ll be on the floor. What if it started and didn’t go away? Ever?
            I finally get up at nine pm on Sunday evening. An hour later, I pitch forward against a porch window. It shakes, but doesn’t shatter and I continue my fall to the floor, hitting my chin on the windowsill on the way down. That episode lasted for only five hours. The next day, Monday, I call the doctor. Foolishly, I drive to and from his office. Fortunately no episode occurs.
            But a day later it all happens again. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ménière’s Part 1: Night Terror

. . . sea change in head wakes me . . . groggily rise upright . . . pitch forward, fall sideways between wall and bed . . . bottom hits floor . . . head bangs wall . . . hard . . . feel movement . . . within . . . without . . . spin  . . . movement in head . . . sideways through right ear . . . nauseous . . . try to hold in vomit . . . comes up . . . hold it in . . . hold in it . . . vomit . . . gag  . . “ . . . what's happening? . . . what?” . . . everything spins . . . sheets strangle  . . . try to unwind . . . spin  . . . moon full . . . dimly lit room . . .blur of movement . . . everything rotating . . . right to left . . . walls edge around walls . . . windows move . . . furniture multiplies  . . . ceiling tilting . . . bears down on me . . . floor rising . . . vomit . . . tug  . . . get bedding loose . . . turn over . . . crawl through slime . . . where is door? . . . dark rectangles overlap . . . rotating in slow motion . . . which real? . . . which?            . . . reach forward . . . solid wall . . . solid wall . . . solid . . . open . . . hall . . . top step . . . fumble newel post . . . find it . . . try pull upright . . . everything spinning  . . . blurring . . . outside me . . . inside . . . pitch forward . . . will to lung backward from stairwell . . . thud against wall . . .  hand slams picture . . . falls . . . hits leg . . . pain . . . vomit on wall . . . oozes down . . . fall to floor . . . have to turn on light . . . try to claw up wall . . . fumble for wall switch . . . rotating  . . . multiply  . . . find it . . . click on . . . reach for newel post . . . which real? . . . which? . . . hand swishes air . . . everything multiplies . . . spindles move . . . too many for banister . . . which real? . . . all move . . . march downward . . . steps shift downward . . . pictures multiply . . . everything five . . . five shapes . . . moving  . . . overlap  . . . rotating round . . . round . . . nothing fixed . . . head heavy . . . effort to hold upright . . . pitch forward . . . start to topple . . .  grab for railing . . . real? . . . real?  . . . grip solid handrail . . . creaks . . . wobbles . . . how to manage steps? . . . narrow steps . . . steep . . . can’t sit . . . can’t bump down . . . will tumble to bottom . . . break neck . . . must stand upright . . . walk down . . . step down . . . somehow get feet on moving steps . . . which solid? . . . something must be solid . . . permanent . . . can’t figure out . . . thoughts oppressive . . . heavy . . . slurry . . . disjointed . . . weigh me down . . . pant  . . . hand trembles  . . . grip newel post . . . if lose rail, fall forward . . . have to descend steps . . . safe in kitchen . . . bathroom . . . gag . . . vomit in mouth . . . can’t hold it . . . spews on steps . . . which ones have vomit? . . . which real? . . . put one foot down . . . search for solid tread . . . only space . . . feel something solid . . . put foot down . . . bring down second foot . . . hold onto rail . . . lean left . . . vomit rises in throat . . . must keep down . . . can’t vomit on steps . . . could slip . . . fall . . . gag . . . grope for rail . . . find it . . . one hand gropes . . . finds solid . . . put other hand on rail . . . hold tight . . . one foot down into space . . . find next tread . . . second foot down . . . two feet on solid tread . . . next . . . next . . . body strains forward . . . equilibrium gone . . . everything  swirling . . . blur . . . nothing but blur . . . nothing  fixed . . . hold vomit in . . . hold in . . . gag . . . get to bottom . . . turn down hallway . . . nothing to hold onto . . .  pitch forward . . . chills . . . shaking . . . crawl down hall . . . through dining room . . . into kitchen . . . reach up . . . grab countertop . . . pull upright . . . click light . . . everything  rotating . . . swirling . . . blur . . . blur . . . multiplies . . . ceiling slopes . . . pictures moving . . . edging round me  . . . counter not in place . . . floor slanting . . . moving under me . . . hold onto countertop . . . hold on . . . hold on . . . hold on . . . bathroom door . . . hold on . . . click light . . . nothing  to hold onto . . . pitch to floor . . . bang forehead . . . crawl to toilet . . . vomit . . . violent vomit  . . . nothing left . . . stomach empty . . . eyes tearing . . . bile . . . yellow . . . stomach hurts . . . throat raw . . . snot dribbles from nose . . . body shudders . . . dripping sweat  . . . crawl back into kitchen . . . reach for countertop . . . pull upright . . . everything  rotates . . . floor . . . walls . . . ceil  . . . furniture . . . pictures . . . inside of head swirls . . . what’s happening? What . . . is . . . happening? What?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dulcy's Story

Seventeen and a half years after she selected me, Dulcy died of kidney failure. Without her, the house felt soul-less. I missed her in the marrow of my bones.
            She’d been a constant in my life for almost eighteen years, moving with me many times from Ohio to Missouri to Minnesota to New Hampshire and then back again to all these places. She’d pawed my face gently when I cried. She’d sprawled on my lap as I hallucinated. She'd loved me through seasons of darkness and moments of giddy gladness.
            She’d never deserted me as had my dad and mom when I was five. She’d stayed with me through depression and fear and thoughts of ending my own life. She was dear to me in a way that no one else was.
            She died on July 6. Two days later I woke alert, compelled to go to my computer. As I sat in front of it, my hands automatically began to type. The first words that came were these: “At the end all that matters is love. My love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone and they will comfort her.” I stared at the words, realizing that this was Dulcy speaking.
            Each morning for the next two months I spent an hour at the computer before beginning my freelance projects. During that hour, I sat before the computer, hands poised, waiting for Dulcy’s words.
            She never failed me. Each day she shared memories of our life together. I’d forgotten these stories, but from some place deep within me—that place where Dulcy dwells in Oneness with all creation and with me—the remembrances of our life together spilled forth. Even in death, she gifted me.
            After completing what writers call “a first draft,” I began to edit. I switched from the openness of the right brain to the critical editor of the left. Slowly the story glued itself together.
            For a year and a half, I sent out query letters about Dulcy’s story. In return, I received only form rejection letters. Then in April, nearly two years after Dulcy died, an editor at Crown responded with a typewritten note. In it, she said that if I’d cut half of the 42,000-word manuscript, she’d be happy to look at it again. She advised me to concentrate only on Dulcy—no other cats.
            Within three days, I did the cutting.
            I sent the manuscript back to her.
            Two months later I had a contract.
            A year later, Crown published A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. 
            Another gift then came my way: The publishing house decided to hire Judy J. King to illustrate the book. A truly gifted artist, Judy captured Dulcy’s sweetness. Her cover was as lovely as the one that later enhanced the story of Dewey, the library cat. I think Dulcy and Dewey would have been great pals.
           The royalties from Dulcy's hardcover enabled me to do three things:
·      Buy a new Mac.
·      Take six months off work to write.
·      Travel to Greece for four weeks to research a novel I’d been aching to write since I’d been in the sixth grade and studied World History.
            One of the joys of being published is the letters a writer receives. I’ve read many letters from readers who have somehow gotten hold of a hardcover or a trade paperback copy of Dulcy’s book. They write to tell me how the book has touched their lives and changed their relationship with their pets.
            I know this pleases Dulcy. It certainly pleases me.
Next week's postings will be on a disease with which I've struggled since 2000. It has taught me many things, especially that I have little control over my life. I can control my decisions, my response to the people and events of my life, and what I write. That's about it most of the time. 
          As you read the three postings, you may have questions about the disease. If you do, please query as a comment or e-mail me. In a future posting, I'll answer, to the best of my knowledge, any questions or concerns you have. 
            I hope this long weekend is being enjoyable for you as well as safe.