Thursday, July 28, 2011

the pink elephant in the sparkling tiara

July 28, 2011

There’s an elephant in the room.  It’s a pink elephant wearing a sparkling tiara, dancing a jig and doing everything it can to be noticed.  It follows me everywhere I go 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It sleeps in my bed, sits at my table, and shares my office. I try to ignore it, yet it refuses to go away.  My family ignores it too, probably because they are too used to it.  Why?  Well, because that pink elephant wearing a sparkling tiara and dancing a jig is me. 
You see, once upon a time I was a chubby child.  I was often reminded of my chubbiness by well-meaning  people in my life who thought it was important to remind the painfully shy chubby child that she was not like the others.   With puberty I grew slightly taller and my weight shifted and settled in nicely.  But the chubby-child self-image that had been ingrained in me never went away.  My weight stayed under control until I got married.  A sedentary lifestyle and two children later I blinked and the weight crept up, and up, and out, and all about.  Before I even realized what happened I was twice the size, literally, than I was on my wedding day.   The ironic thing is now that I am truly overweight by every standard known to medical science and the government,  my self-image is that of the slim, twenty-something college co-ed, wearing a sparkling tiara and dancing a jig.  That is, until I look in a mirror and the chubby child returns and deflates my spirit like a fallen soufflĂ©.
Reality set in a long time ago, but a recent trip to Ohio to visit my oldest friend and travelling partner shoved reality in my face.  I haven’t been on a plane in about six years.  Somewhere in that time did Delta make the seatbelts shorter?  They must have because mine would not fit.  I thought about sitting there quietly and covering the two loose ends with my hands to fool the flight attendant.  Then I thought about what would happen if the plane crashed.  Could I hold onto the seatbelt for dear life whilst plummeting to my fiery doom? The image of myself floating with my legs in the air and holding onto the two ends of the seatbelt was clear in my mind when the flight attendant came up to hand me an extender.  Mortification, humiliation, degradation…these words cannot describe how low I felt at that moment.  I was so troubled I wouldn’t even eat the tiny airplane pretzels and drank only water.
I have hidden myself away for the past fourteen plus years as my body grew to a plus, plus size.  It was easier for me to fade into the background than to deal with what I had become.   It was easier to skip the parties and reunions than to chance running into someone I had not seen in years.  That’s the harshest part…seeing someone and have them not recognize me.  And then the double-take, the literal step-back only to have them say something like, “oh, you changed your hair”.   No thank you, I’d rather sit at home and hold onto the two ends of the seatbelt.
Somehow throughout all this time I have managed to stay out of most photographs.  I try to be the one behind the camera whenever the occasion arises.  But with the dawn of Facebook, this has become harder and harder.  Any gathering of two or more people entices the snapping of photographs and mobile uploads.  I choose pretty flowers or vintage photos of myself for profile pictures so old friends from the past can’t see the present me.  Then someone will tag me!  I quickly un-tag and hope it was not seen by too many.
This is not a pity party.  I’m ready to come clean and say, “here I am, world, love me or leave me”.  The truth is I don’t want to stay at home any longer.  I want to get out there, have friends, and have a social life.  I want to wear the sparkling tiara and dance a jig without huffing and puffing.  More importantly, I want to be healthy.  I don’t want to go into my next decade dragging my feet and moaning and groaning over back pain, foot pain, and joint pain.   I am so ready to evict the pink elephant, steal her sparkling tiara and send her dancing away forever. I have just got to figure out how to do it.  Surgery is out, I can’t afford it.  No, this has to be something I do on my own for myself and for reasons that are pleasing to only me.  One step at a time is all I can do.  One step back from the pantry and baby steps around the walking track.  A new adventure for me, I say.   Anyone care to join me?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I'm loving Harry

July 14, 2011
Anyone who knows me well, or even just in passing, knows I have an affectionate attachment to Harry Potter.  No, I’m not attached to Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who portrays Harry in film, nor even to the fictional character of the boy wizard himself.  It’s the whole package that intrigues me and sucks me in to another world in which I feel very much at home.
I think it all stems from situations in my childhood that led me to rely on my own imagination for entertainment.  I was a bookish child, always reading something.  I loved books about magic and mysteries, and mysterious magic.  With no siblings near my age, and saddled with a crippling shyness, I lived in my own fantasy world.  Daydreams were the norm for me as my imagination became my reality.  I was especially fond of fairy tales and stories about witches and magical folk. My father encouraged me by buying me any book I wanted and telling me bedtime stories he knew from memory from his first-grade reading primer. These stories almost always involved fairies and elves and gnomes. Never would he tell me magic or fairies weren’t real.  He allowed me to believe whatever I wanted.  As Dumbledore told Harry, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Oh, did I mention I have acquired a special talent of having a Harry Potter reference for most any situation?)  The world of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s Hut and The Burrow may as well have been borrowed from my own imagined childhood.
My early years were spent locked in my own world, but as I overcame my shyness, to an extent, I found a new fantasy world based more in reality.  It was travelling.  Again, my father encouraged me by funding me.  But I didn’t go anywhere alone, I was still too shy for that.  I had a travelling partner, my oldest friend.  In high school we went twice to ancient Mexico. Then, in college we went on two study abroad trips.  Our first adventure was to discover Caribbean literature in the tropics of Jamaica.  But it was our second excursion, a trip to London to find King Arthur, which enveloped me.  There the imagined world of my childhood slowly materialized before my eyes. I belonged there.  I was comfortable there.  It was beyond what I dreamed it would be.
Fast forward about ten years and there is a phenomenon exploding around a little book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  By that time my world had evolved into marriage, work, and babies, and I didn’t have time to pay much attention to current events.  I probably would have never heard of the young wizard had it not been for the bad press he was receiving from churches and religious groups. It aggravated me to hear people passing judgment on something most of them had not even read.  After all, I grew up on fantasy books and I turned out fine.  I had no demons in my closet.  But I did have two young boys I thought one day may want to read this book, so I had to read it first to make up my own mind about it.  One little book about a boy who lived. Only seventeen chapters, no harm, right?  Well, maybe I underestimated the hype because after one book I was hooked.  Here, in black and white, were the fantasies of my childhood.  A story about a miserable, mistreated little boy from Britain, of all places, who finds out he is a wizard, of all things, and his life is important after all.  To top it off it was written by a woman about my age who went to a college I visited during the same time she was a student there.  I might have seen her around campus.  She wrote in a coffee shop in Edinburgh; I visited a coffee shop in Edinburgh.  I could have written this book!  It could have been me!  Well, I wished it was me. 
I read the first book in the series about the time the second book was coming out, so I was able to read the two fairly close together.  Then came the movies. Again, hooked.  I mean, here was the story alive with scenery, special effects, and a musical score to boot. Then the next book.  I started pre-ordering my books for fear Books-a-Million would sell out on the first day and I would have to wait to read it.  For the next eleven or so years I have spent my life in rotation, waiting on the release of the next book or the next movie. 
I can’t pinpoint exactly what led me down this path, but I think what intrigued the most was how Harry aged from year to year.  He matured with his reader.  He wasn’t stagnant like a comic strip or a character from a serial novel.   This made him more real to me.  His story got darker as it, and he, matured.  It transitioned from being fluffy happiness about flying brooms, dragons and magic wands to a tragic story of unyielding love, fierce loyalty and the epic battle between good and evil.
When the final book was released I began to feel a loss of sorts.  It was like having empty nest syndrome.  I read it very slowly while I recovered from gallbladder surgery.  I was in a funk for days when it was done. (Maybe it was the pain medicine.) I wasn’t ready to give him up just yet.  I had an idea. What better way to keep him alive then to share him with my oldest friend and travelling partner? That way we could talk about him like an old friend and keep his memory alive.  I wanted to know if she would feel the same way.  Would she feel the same connection I felt?  Well, she read all of the books in about one week.  I think part of her hates me now, because I was right.  She felt it too, and for many of the same reasons. 
In the end my affectionate attachment isn’t just because the fantasies of my childhood are mirrored in the pages.  In all frankness it is the writing that captured me and holds me yet.  The writing is brilliant. To me, Rowling is a genius in her own right.  She kept a story going for seven installments, and even the most minute detail in any given book is an important piece of the puzzle in the very end.  Brilliant. Yes, there is so much more to the story than magical mysteries solved by meddling children.  This is no Scooby-Doo.   To put it as simply as possible, in my personal opinion, it is the ultimate parable of good versus evil ever written in modern times.   But simplicity is not what has driven the phenomenon for the past fourteen years.  There is nothing simple about Harry Potter.
Now with the final movie releasing tomorrow, I have been taking trips into the pensieve, remembering my favorite moments in print and on film.  These eleven years or so are coming to a close, coinciding with a woeful end of something in my real life, the death of my mother.  Ironically, Rowling wrote her stories as a grieving process for her own mother. So, yes, like Luna and Harry, I can see the thestrals, too.
What better way to put it all to rest then to go back to the beginning in a way.  Today I am travelling again.  I am going to visit my oldest friend and travel partner.  We have seen the last two movies together, which is amazing since she lives 1000 miles away.  We are going to the midnight showing together.  We will sit in the darkened theater and weep in our sadness of our young  British boy growing up, and we will weep in sadness of leaving London yet again, and we will weep in sadness of losing my mother.  When the lights come up we will wipe our faces, act like adults, and go off to find new adventures. In Ohio.   

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


July 13, 2011
It is right before breaking dawn and I am awake.  Any other day of the week I wouldn’t consider dragging myself out of bed at this time, but today is not any other day.  This is the day my family and I will lay my mother in her final resting place.  A place made for her three years ago when my father passed.  It has been there with her name on it, waiting.  Later today the earth will be moved away and her body will be lowered in beside that handsome man she landed sixty years ago, and their bodies will lie side by side from now until. But that’s not so important to me. What is important is I know those are just bodies, shells of selves God gave them to walk around and live in during a brief time on earth.  Their true selves, their beings, their souls are joined together for eternity with all of the other saints in heaven, praising God and singing Glory Bees and Hosannas and all songs of praise we in our human bodies cannot even fathom exist.  THAT is life. My mother did not lose her life.  She gained it.
Last night I saw her in her resting state.  She was beautiful.  Absolutely glowing.  Everyone I spoke to went on and on about how beautiful she was.  Then they would look at her pictures we had set about and remark how she was so beautiful.  The ironic thing is my mother would have never thought of herself as beautiful.  Never.  She was, of course, but like all of us years piled on stress and sadness, and the burdens she carried in her heart kept her beauty from shining.  Well, she shone last night.  She was the belle of the ball.   I think it was God’s way of revealing her true self for everyone to see.  As if He was saying, “This is my daughter, she served me well.  Look closely, for this is the revelation of the meaning of inner beauty.”
The light is coming up now and I have to get a start on this long day.  I have a feeling this headache I’ve had for more than a week is finally going to lift today. So Mama, I know you are already in heaven, but if you listen in today the songs we chose for your mass say it all.  Be Not Afraid, for God will raise you Up Eagles Wings and bring you into His Amazing Grace.  And save some space in the house He has prepared for you because I will be there for Sunday lunch when it’s my time to join you.  I love you, Mama. I didn’t say it much, but I know you knew my heart. 
Your baby.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


There is a fine line between joy and sorrow.  It’s what changes weeping to laughing and back again with the wiping of a tear.  I crossed that line back and forth many times this evening.  When I heard my sister’s voice on my voicemail I knew without words that my mother had left us to cross over and to join her Savior. 
On the ride to the rehab facility where she has been only three days I was mournful knowing my mother is gone.  But a feeling of pure joy overcame me in an instant and I jumped the line.  The joy was not my joy but hers.  It was like an explosion inside my head.  For a second or two I felt what she must have felt to be welcomed to heaven by my daddy, and my sister.  Then she would see her three sisters and two brothers and her parents who all went before her.  I could see them all, together and happy and laughing and hugging. 
Seeing her lying there in her bed I again I jumped back over the line and felt remorse.  My tears, though, were selfish tears for myself and my family, not for her.  I only have happiness that her soul is free from the broken body and clouded mind that bound her to a wheelchair and most lately, a hospital bed. 
No, my tears for my mother are not in sadness.  The only tears I shed for my mother are tears of joy.  My mother is in heaven.  She will hurt no more, cry no more, worry no more.  Instead she will exult in the glory of God from now until eternity. 

Friday, July 8, 2011


July 7, 2011
Sitting here in the hospital room with my mother is a lesson in patience.  Right now she has none and that is testing mine.  Patience, or lack thereof, has always been one of my greatest weaknesses.  But now I’m thinking, is it a weakness or a crutch?  Do I use my lack of patience as a reason to keep from doing things?  Such as, I can’t draw because I don’t have the patience for it.  Or, I can’t paint a room because I don’t have patience for the detail work.  In this way I know it is a crutch, a way to get out of trying new things simply because I do not want to put out the effort.  Ah, but doesn’t that make it a weakness as well? Vicious circles.
So here we sit, one beside the other listing to QVC drone in the background, because that is something I can listen to without listening.  My ears are tuned to her,  listening to her pleads for help to get out of bed and trying to think of a different excuse each time as to why she cannot. (No, Mama, Louie can’t get you out of bed, the nurse won’t let him.  No, Mama, I’m not calling Becky, it’s too late and I’ll wake her up.  No, Mama, Julius is too tired. He had to go home to sleep).
I can’t help but go back in my mind to a time when my grandmother was in the same predicament.  I was in high school and college and she lived in the “Grandma” room at our house.  Back then I was more interested in going out and being a teenager, and resentfulness set in when I had to give up my time to stay home with her.  I didn’t even know the concept of patience back then.  I regret those feelings, and I have asked forgiveness many times. But these thoughts still plague me when I hear some of the same words Granny would say come out of my mother’s mouth. (Somebody please help me!)
But I think patience is a learned skill.  We’re certainly not born with it.  Just look at any two-year old for proof.  I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago, as the mirror constantly reminds me.   The reflection of the body is hurtful to my eyes, but it is the reflection of the soul that I see as an improvement.  (Julius has gone home; he can’t come back right now.  No, I don’t have a phonebook to look up his number.) I’m nowhere near perfect in my matured level of patience.  I still want what I want when I want it.  But I have learned to be more patient with others. Especially with this patient in the bed beside my chair.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


July 6, 2011
It’s 4:30 a.m. I’ve been awakened by a feeling of dread, pre-grief if you will, and it nags at my soul and fills my heart with so many thoughts I can’t lie in bed any longer. I slip out and shut the door behind me because I know the light will awaken my husband.  I grab my laptop and set it on the dining room table and switch on one of the buffet lamps behind me.  As I crack it open I feel, for the first time in my life, like a writer.  I know the sole purpose of opening this device is to record words and feelings, and hope they will touch someone with as much feeling I invoke with every stroke of the keyboard.  
So, what is pre-grief?  Pre-grief is something I have experienced before death.  I felt it before my sister died, my father, and now I’m feeling it for my mother.  It’s as if my heart goes through the motions of the inevitable so when the time does come my spirit is stronger to accept it.
So when I awoke this morning I found myself bracing for the phone to ring, and then the emotions took over.  The reason for all of this is because my mother, Doris Mae Mary Ann Mordica Csaszar, fell out of bed on July 2 and broke her hip.  She is 84 years old and in fair health bordering on the side of poor health.  On that day there was no other thought in my mind except that the break had to be repaired.  Letting her lie in a bed with a broken bone was not an option.  The bone doctor felt the same way and operated on her later that morning despite the risks involved.  It was a decision that had to be made.
I spent the evening with her last night, and I saw so many similarities between the way she was and the way my father was in the week leading up to his death in 2008.  In my mind I attributed it to the medication she’s being given.  Surely that is why she has no appetite, is shivering, and her voice has weakened to trembling whisper.
It is her voice that has touched me this morning.  You see, my memories of the past are few and scattered.  I keep my best childhood memories wrapped up in very small packages.  Like random presents piled under a Christmas tree, they are an assortment of the unexpected and every now and then I can shake a box and know what is inside.  This morning I visited that tree and found a small package, shook it and my mother’s voice came tumbling out.
 When I was a very small child there was one thing that would bring me comfort as nothing else.  Overwhelming, pure comfort.  That was to sit in my mother’s lap with my head against her chest and listen to the vibrations of her voice.   I could sit there as long as she or the situation allowed.  The vibrations would mingle with the voice coming out of her mouth, and that voice floated up and joined the other voices sitting around a table.  My family was always sitting around a table.  On any given day  my mother’s steady but subtle voice mingled with the other voices around the table belonging to one or many of her many sisters, laughing, reminiscing, and sharing stories about their children and their daily lives over a cup of coffee and whatever sweet my mother had baked or someone had brought with them.  These voices created a symphony from which I loathed to be detached.  My favorite place, or happy place if you will, was to sit in that box seat that was my mother’s lap and listen to the rhythms of her body with one ear and the voices of the extended family with the other.  This family could include the matriarch, my grandmother, Frances Selby Mordica, with her distinctive New Orleans drawl littered with “dahlin” and Italian words (or so she thought) she picked up from her husband and his very Italian family.  There was my Aunt Rita’s husky, smoky voice, brought to a rasp as she would throw her head back in laughter. Aunt Mary, the eldest sibling, adding her opinion in her quiet, genteel voice. Aunt Frances’s more authoritative voice laced with Southern charm and enunciation.  Aunt Angela’s higher pitched chatter and twittering laughter.  She reminded me of a little bird.  And, on occasion of her visit from Rhode Island, there was Aunt Gertrude’s booming voice with a New England-Italian-Forgettaboutit accent standing apart from everyone in the room, yet joining in perfect harmony.  These women were my influences.  These women live inside of me and shape my life in invisible ways.
I hope to use this space to delve deeper into this family and my own family, and explore these influences to learn more about myself.  A “journey” so to speak that will capture what it was like growing up in a large family that has remained relatively close for almost a century.
Join me?