Tag Archives: pain

Everyone Deserves It

I wasted time at the train station after disembarking, slowly drinking coffee and eating a donut, while waiting for the demand for Ubers to subside.  When the price of the ride returned to the reasonable rate of a minute per mile, I got in one and let it take me to the hospital that once felt like it had a room with my name on it.  As a child, I had repeated bouts of severe bronchitis and thus spent a lot of time in a building now called the old wing.  But this 21st century plaza of glass and steel was not the healing place I remembered.  Very little in the town where I spent the first 14 years of my life looked familiar, for that matter.  That fact was a bittersweet distraction.

Once at the hospital, I still delayed.  Far too much time in the gift shop to come away with a mere card – and one that said something trite that felt insincere on my part: “May an angel always be beside you.”  Not a single bone in my body believed this man had lived his life in a way that should keep him in the company of angels – certainly not the part of it that pertained to me.  He’d inflicted physical and psychological abuse on my mother and me.  He told me numerous times that he hadn’t wanted to be a father and that my existence had made his more difficult.  My mother and I were made to pay.  And so I meandered around the spanking brand new wing of the hometown hospital, the one that used to have a room with my name on it, praying for the courage to face this man who forced me to play postman at his building just to get him to come into the lobby so I could see him.  Even then, I couldn’t get him to let his grandchildren in or to come out to the car to meet them.

“…Because everyone deserves it – no matter what,” I wrote inside the blank card with the trite spiritual wish on the outside.  That I believed.  Every child of God deserves the accompaniment of an angel, no matter how damaged or damaging he may be.  “I love you!”  I added.  Through every horrible memory, that too had always been true, sometimes in spite of myself.

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When I found the room with the beautiful view of Long Island Sound, the one with his name on it, he wasn’t in it.  He was back in the old wing of the hospital undergoing stress tests on his heart.  I would have missed him even if I’d gone straight to his room without buying the card, but not if I’d bypassed the coffee and donut.  It was now going to be at least two hours before I could see him, and I had only designated six for him.  The need to be the mother and the teacher that I love being called me harder than the obligation to be the daughter it hurt to be.  That, and the fact that my business as a baker still doesn’t run without me after two years, required I return home, as long as he was stable and could make his own medical decisions.

“What time did you leave?  I could hear you in my bedroom.  Did you kiss me goodbye?  What time are you coming home?”  Such were the text message questions from my teenaged daughter, who’s on the spectrum.  The last question was, in part, to know how long she’d have to play on the computer before I was home to turn her attentions back to Chemistry and Algebra II.  But I also know that my girl must feel the love from me each day for any day to be complete. She hated my business trips when I used to have them, which always made me hate them a bit, too.

God has an interesting sense of humor.  How else can one explain such an affinity for children in the child of a man who considers children a nuisance?

“Don’t cry when you say goodbye to him, Mom; it’ll probably freak him out,” my daughter said about a student whose family was moving to the other side of the country. She was right, I knew.  So I shed my tears at home, out of sight, before giving my parting blue sash a medallion I won years ago as a goodbye present.

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Somewhere in the haze of cold, selfish, liquor-wading isolationism, I know that my father feels a measure of fondness for me that’s at least commensurate with my affection for my students.  I’ve occasionally been able to hear it in his voice, after accomplishing something he could brag about to the neighbors he didn’t want to see or the golf buddies he’s now outlived.  But I’ve spent years wishing he’d feel a little more… and now, I’m told he does.  A stroke will do that.

“He gets emotional when I mention you,” his attending physician told me.  It’s guilt.  What else could it be?  I thought, as I slowly walked from his apartment to his bank, in no hurry to return to the man who had me out running errands without so much as a “good to see you” or “thanks for coming.”

“One of these days we’re going to have to have it out,” he’d said eons ago, back when his intentional verbal cruelty could still make me livid.  But I saw no need for that. It wouldn’t have taken the fear out of a childhood long gone or made him a man who wanted a family.  It would just have been more wasted time.

I thought again about the card from the gift shop as I climbed into the Uber back to the hospital.  “May an angel always be beside you.”  Indeed… for you never wanted anyone else to be.

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Long Lines and Loss

I come from a long line of women who won’t take no for an answer – even from God.  When people told my grandmother she didn’t have the constitution to eat whatever she wanted and continue breathing, she ignored them for thirty years, until thirty feet of her intestines had to be removed.  When my father told my mother he would never marry her, she simply changed her last name to his and waited years – for nothing.  When the doctors told my aunt that an epileptic with sickle cell could not carry a child to term, she miscarried five times before menopause permanently decided the issue.

So begins a compilation of autobiographical short stories I wrote a while back.  That opening paragraph has been popping into my head for almost two weeks now, when the last of the three women mentioned in it died less than seventeen days after her ninety-sixth birthday.  That long female line of mine is down to me and my daughter.  I knew that was coming, of course, but I still wasn’t ready.

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I thought my grandmother would make it to triple digits.  Her older sister made it to 101.  But perhaps becoming the last living member of her birth family made her more ready to join her husband and half of her kids.  The longevity of the generation once removed from my own was a source of hope when the early deaths of my mother and three of her siblings made me anxious about my own mortality.  That sporadic anxiety is back.

It is now Good Friday, about a week after I first started this post.  I would love to claim that phenomenal success of the shop has occupied too much of my time to finish writing.  But mama drama is the better explanation.

My son has regressed to his 14-year-old self.  That was the year he acquired new friends and the first real girlfriend and became so out of control that I was ready to ship him to his grandparents in Texas.  Now, a lack of consideration and respect, on multiple levels about multiple big-ticket items, need not lead to a plane ticket purchase.  After all, he is legally – and financially – able to sign a lease.  While my love for him is unconditional, his ability to live in my house is not.  But that fact doesn’t keep the mama bear in me from wanting to keep him safe – especially from himself.

Loss is a natural part of life, occurring in unexpected ways, like sudden illness and teenager confusion, and expected ones, like old age or the end of childhood.  I state the obvious simply so that I can better accept a fact that sucks so profoundly.

Easter weekend was the most important three days of any year to my very religious late grandmother, the woman whose apartment was my second home when my mother was at her second job, the woman who taught me the most about baking and let her daughter provide the finishing touches.  As I receive a host of orders for end-of-Lent goodies, the absence of my baking teacher, who dealt with more loss (four children alone was enough!) with as much grace as possible, leaves me with pain both piercing and acute.

Nellie Mae made chocolate pie once a year for her youngest daughter, my aunt who couldn’t have children.   She taught me to make the ninety-something year old recipe she’d acquired as a child herself on a summer visit my family made to her house, not long after the death of my aunt.  That recipe is my most popular pie and a component of my most popular cupcake.  As long as my shop is here, my grandmother will be with me every day, even more than my mother, whether I like it or not – as will her example of how to handle child-related wounds with grace.

 


Karma Calling

I rarely use the word fair.  It’s a concept that bothers me.  I’ve never personally experienced or witnessed something that was equitable or just to one person or group that wasn’t undesirable to another.  So I tend to think that there’s usually somebody catching the short end of the stick whenever something is allegedly “fair.”

My discomfort with the concept has served me well as a middle-aged, arthritic martial artist who loves teaching the activity as much as doing it.  It especially comes in handy when, at the start of a Saturday class, just half a day after hitting pay dirt with my newest students and seeing beautiful horse stances for the first time in half a dozen classes, there’s a pop beneath my knee during a routine roundhouse drill.  Moments later, it happens again on the front kick.  And by half time, my left leg is buckling each time I put weight on it.

Damnit! I scream in my head.  When class is over, and it’s just Merle and me collecting our gear to leave, I curse aloud.  I’m so tired of injuries!  I have weak knees, surrounded by muscles that become more pronounced with every good set of low cat stances.   I also have all of last session’s students and three new ones, with interest already being expressed for next session.  It’s not a good time to be out for surgery.  Management would cancel my class.  AND it would be twenty times more challenging to bake desserts and manage a store!

And so I’ve spent the last three days stretching, rubbing, slathering with ointment, freezing in ice, and heating in microwavable heat pads a leg that I must will into continued production. In fact, several hours after the injury, I hobbled over to a carpenter’s wood shop to pick up the furniture for my store.  It was painful and perfect at the same time.

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Two or three times since the weekend, I’ve stopped in mid limp to ask why I have to go through another major leg injury.  I immediately follow the question with the answer: Because that’s just how it goes for someone my age with my physical history who does kung fu for no less than ninety minutes a day, six days a week.

There’s such excitement going on for me right now, the monkey wrench had to come in some form.  I certainly can’t say it’s not fair.


Inspired… but Tired

It’s after 1 a.m. on the East coast, and I’ve just watched the Royals battle back to win the wild card game.  It’s hard not to be inspired.

In the wee hours of this first day of October, however, I realize, as I tend to my throbbing right shoulder, that I’ve now been working on this form for the same amount of time as a full-term pregnancy – and I still haven’t been taught the final moves.  I’m ready to have this baby already!

Not yet.  Not yet….

Sleep would be good, now.


Middle of the Last Decade

“There are muscles hurting I didn’t know I had.”

My son’s very glib response to this announcement was, “Well, at least now you know you have them.”  I wanted to go a round with him after that one, but in my state, he would have won before I moved a finger.

I attended Sanshou class Monday night for the first time and walked myself into a state of contented numbness. We did footwork drills – forward and back, side to side – for so long that the pain in my knees and calves had me moments from telling Siheng that I had to bow out of the exercise, perhaps even the class. But a funny thing happened on the way to paralysis.

While chanting in my head “get to the end” in the middle of what turned out to be row ten, the searing pain in my tense, overworked, pissed-off knees and calves dissolved. It just disappeared into the steamy air that covers the windows with condensation. In its place was a numbness that enabled freer movement.

What just happened here? I thought, switching directions to do the sideways two-step back down the floor. There was the obvious, clichéd reality that by continuing to do what I was supposed to do, I’d made it to the other side. But something brand spanking new had happened, too; I could literally feel it in my bones through the aching that set in later in the night.

Sure enough, I woke up Tuesday feeling like mind and spirit had been transplanted into someone else’s body. Nothing hurt! I mean nothing. The last time I could say that without aid of a shot was about the middle of last decade! If I’d known that moving around with bent knees for the better part of thirty non-stop minutes (and then another hour of it, with a handful of standing-up and sitting-down breaks sprinkled in) would be some kind of cure for what physically ails me, I would have joined Sanshou on day one!

Perhaps it’s a fluke, and my knees and lower back will be killing me by the end of eight hours at a desk. But for now, I’m a convert on a cloud of happy anxious to practice more footwork.

Did I just say that?


The Old Man

I started my work day smiling wistfully over a father with whom I have a painful relationship.  I don’t communicate with him as often as I’d like, in part because he doesn’t own a computer and has never had an email account, but largely because he wasn’t a very good father.  He actually never wanted to be one at all – a fact he made expressly clear more than once as I was growing up.  That’s still a small bone of contention for me.

In any case, every once and a while, I’ll put a packet of pictures in the mail to him of his grandchildren and me, with a note about what’s been going on in our lives.  Today was one of those days.  (Phone calls can be a bit of a crap shoot over whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde will answer.)  This mailing included prints of my Facebook postings about the family’s medal-winning martial arts success of late.

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Perhaps that will give the curmudgeon something to smile about.  It made me smile this morning just to think it might….


Properly Introduced

I’ve always loved babies and children, from the days when I was a child myself and an older cousin to five little playmates.  By the time motherhood blew older cousin status out of the water for the second time, I was regularly developing friendships with co-workers who were soon-to-be members of the club.  But we all got older, as did our children, and soon there were no contemporaries with whom I could share the joy and drama of early parenting.

So when Sifu’s wife announced that a little white sash was on the way and later asked me for suggestions for fending off morning sickness, I took it as an opportunity to improve a relationship that had been rocky for years.  Impending motherhood would have to soften up the bad-ass perfectionist who seemed to have problems with my personality from the minute I walked in the door – especially if I was right about our similarities being the primary source of our conflict, even if she didn’t see our common traits.

It was early summer when I asked her if she wanted to grab a bite late on a Sunday morning.  By that time I’d been a fellow black sash for several months, and we were already on friendlier ground.  Still, neither of us could possibly have predicted that as the brunch rush came and went, we’d share the details of the trauma and failure of our first marriages (I hadn’t even known she’d been married before), followed naturally by sharing the details of finding the right one and hanging on for dear life.  Of course it was easy to discuss the mutual love of kung fu and the school, but I didn’t expect that to lead to details of its inner workings, its problems, the histories of some of the people that preceded her and even Sifu.  I didn’t expect to hear her concerns about issues in some students’ lives that I hadn’t been privy to; and I also didn’t foresee sharing concerns about my own children, who she was teaching twice a week, while discussing hers and Sifu’s nerves about impending parenthood.

She was open, warm, vulnerable… lovable.  I felt like we’d just been properly introduced after five years of knowing each other, and I was very happy to make her acquaintance.  By the time we vacated the table, we’d talked for more than three hours straight, without either of us looking at a timepiece – without the pregnant lady even taking a bathroom break!

When my partner arrived home from work that evening, I told her about the surprising afternoon, the wonderful time I’d had with a woman that just a few months earlier I’d argued loudly with, to the point of frustration-filled tears.  Mine, not hers.

“So, you two bonded.”  My other half responded when I was through, emphasizing the word that exactly described how I felt about the experience.   It was how I continued to feel in every conversation I had with Sijeh after that June day, both in and out of the guan, over coffee and through emails and texts.  It was how I felt when helping to clean up her house at the end of a massive baby shower, when giving her the nursing advice she solicited, when changing her daughter’s diaper so she didn’t have to leave class to do it herself.

I thought we had bonded.  I thought wrong.

There was no friend present defending me, mitigating her husband’s outrage when he came down on me like a ton of bricks with a punishment that did not fit the crime.  And she could have run interference if she’d wanted to.  She has a husband that cares very much about her opinion.

It’s taken more than two weeks for me to make eye contact with her, but I still have no desire to speak.  I’m not sure if I ever will again.  I know I’m deeply wounded; I must be.  I haven’t even been able to bring myself to smile at their baby.


In My Living Room

I’m angry, sad and touched with self-pity.  None of these emotions were invited over, but the only way I know how to kick them out is to acknowledge their presence in my living room and shake hands with each.  It just doesn’t work for me to ignore them.  So here goes.

I keep waiting for the joy to return, now that Sifu has declared a restart to our relationship.  But I’m realizing that the joy I used to feel upon merely walking into the building is conditional.  It was based on love and freedom.  I currently lack both.

I don’t have the warmth and affection from my students anymore, because they’re no longer mine.  Aside from the ones who were promoted at testing last week, I haven’t even seen them.  I miss being around them.  The earnestness and energy of little kids trying not to fall down or look goofy while working hard to perfect a move – to say nothing of their happiness at a job well done – can keep my heart warm for days on end.  For now, that’s gone.

So is freedom.  Not just to practice any form when and where there’s space to do it, but the freedom to just be, without walking on eggshells, without worrying that any gesture or lack thereof will be considered disrespectful.

This too shall pass, I know.  But in the meantime, I’m a bit chafed about what’s been lost, what feels taken.

I’ve been sure to be quiet about this in the guan.  I’ve only let the feelings hang around in the safety of my living room.

So, that’s that.  Handshakes given.  Now, I can send them on their way.


From High to Low

Last night I was called into Sifu’s office, stripped of my teaching post and threatened with expulsion from the school.  So much for being on cloud nine.  The punishable offense was telling Sifu that my feelings were hurt by his response to my tournament win; I thought I would at least get a “good job.”

I am now crystal clear on the following:  he’s had problems with my level of respect for years (I’ve admitted to being a pain in the ass for a host of life reasons when I first started kung fu – see “Let Up Already!” from 12/8/13 and “Everything I Paid For” 12/11/13 – but I thought that was long behind us); and he believes I have a problem with authority.  Additionally, I’m clear that my feelings don’t matter; my expectations of him are irrelevant; and it is totally unacceptable for me to “tell him what he should say.”  Lastly, he owes me nothing more than the classes I’ve contracted to take (and irony of ironies, the family contract is up in two weeks).

I was under the impression that lunches with his wife, babysitting his infant daughter at the school while they’re both in class, and various personal exchanges with the man himself, through black sash training and since, had added a thread or two of friendship to the hierarchical relationship.  I was apparently very mistaken.

Were I permitted to speak, I would say the following:

“Dear, Sifu.

I’m writing to simply explain myself and hopefully have you understand me better, if you care to.

I respect authority a great deal. But I’ve spent my entire life working in collaboration – TV production, making a legal case or defense, publication of news articles, theater production‎ and restaurant work are all collaborative endeavors. So I have never had a boss that I wasn’t permitted to disagree with and make suggestions to. Doing those things with you has therefore never been something personal, designed to question or undermine your authority. That’s always been quite secure to me. We just seem to see interpersonal relationships that involve hierarchy differently. Mine have never been completely dictatorial – not even the one with my ex-Marine father.

I was taught to see questions and explanations – communication in general – as positive things that better most situations. I’d be surprised to find myself in the cultural minority with this trait. But I also get that tradition is important to you, and that tradition means silence.  I will therefore do my best to leave my life and personality at the door.”

But should I have to?  Is that what he should expect?  My tae kwon do sensei, who’s in her late sixties and started teaching martial arts the year before I was born, permitted both conversation and criticism. But she is also not a Chinese American.  So perhaps I’m comparing apples and oranges.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure which end is up.


Friday’s Resolve

Fridays have been my own for almost two months now.  I decided around mid-December that I was no longer going to subject my body to the often brutal regimen of the two-hour Friday night class.  Life being what it is, Sifu decided about a week after my decision that rehearsals for the Chinese New Year demonstration would take place of Friday night, in place of class.  So my resolve has yet to be tested.  But it hit me like a ton of bricks tonight that with the Chinese New Year performance occurring this weekend, that’s all about to change.

I’ve been all kinds of happy with my kung fu life since the holiday break and for very good reasons.  I’ve worked my long staff form into highly-respectable shape, enjoyed teaching a growing group of enthusiastic students, started learning forms that are outside of our curriculum; and improved the range and pain tolerance of my knees and back.  I want to maintain this level of happy for as long as possible.

So, I hereby publicly declare that I will not be guilted into returning to something that often hurts me to an intolerable degree.  I have a couple of weeks to work with, but I’m fortifying my mind early.  My physical ability to continue doing this thing I love for as long as I want may depend on it.


The Pain of Cessation

Addiction is in the news and so very much on my mind in both a past and present sense.  As a young child, I watched my mother and grandmother fall apart at the news that my uncle was dead.  Near as I could understand from what I overheard, he was attacked when drunk and didn’t survive the altercation.

Fifteen years later, right after undergrad, I slung drinks at a bar by night to supplement the day job.  A co-worker from that job drank himself to death in a hotel room after his partner of twenty years left him.

But the addiction-related death that cut the deepest was that of a former boss, a recovering-addict, white-collar entrepreneur who apparently hopped off the wagon undetected by the dozen or so people he employed. He was a vivacious, warm, kind and abundantly generous person.  He hired me three different times: during my years as a freelance journalist; after being laid off by a network in a buyout restructuring; and as a divorced, single mother of a kindergartener and a newborn. The third time, he couldn’t really afford to hire me back in the post-9/11 recession, but he did anyway.

We got word in the office that his robbed body had been found in a hotel, with bottles and baggies decorating the room, just days after learning from his new, pregnant wife that he hadn’t been sober for months. He tossed a decade of drug-free years out the window, and within months of picking up where he left off, he left us all.

I could go on about others.  People I worked and played with in the bar world during my college years and shortly thereafter.  I know more than I need to about addiction, including that even ones that don’t take your life are no joke.

Addiction, by definition, is a negative thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences;” Webster’s dictionary says it’s “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice…to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”  Neither of these sound like a state anyone should want to be in over anything.  And yet I am currently, unapologetically.

Kung fu is a behavior I continue despite adverse physical consequences, about which even entertaining its cessation causes me mental trauma. It’s not going to kill me, of course, but I acknowledge in the tag line of my blog that it can cripple me.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told I should quit before I end up with limbs not working.  Each time I hear these concerns and warnings, I respond with what I know sounds to some like I’m wading blind in a pool of denial.  I’ve heard drug addicts sound the same way.  At least exercise addictions aren’t known to rob one of the mental faculties needed not to escalate the behavior in the middle of negative consequences.  Drug addicts just keep taking more.

At the end of the day, continuing in my addiction is as simple as knowing that the pain of activity isn’t yet greater than the pain of loss that stopping would bring.  That’s simply how fulfilled it makes me, for lack of a less dramatic word at this late hour, any and every time a training night goes well – hurt knees, hurt back, hurt arm and all.

If only all addicts of all kinds could clearly weigh the pain of continuation against the pain of cessation.  If only they lived long enough to get the chance.


Pondering Gratitude

I have an employer that offers a stellar comprehensive insurance plan at a reasonable cost to me.  Far too many people are not as lucky.  I’m very grateful. Were it not for my employer’s generosity, I probably couldn’t have stayed with kung fu long enough to become maniacally crazy about it.  The cost of patching up my legs three times would have been too high.

This is what I was thinking at eight o’clock in the morning, as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor my internist sent me to in the hopes he could do something about the lower back pain and sporadic sciatica that my orthopedist doesn’t treat.  I had a considerable amount of time to ponder my gratitude – an hour to be exact – because the woman who signed in five seconds before me, with an appointment time thirty minutes after mine, was erroneously seen first.  I couldn’t help but ask the receptionist: “Then what’s the point of having appointments if you just have to walk in first?”  I received neither a response nor an apology. That seriously muted my gratitude.  But I digress.

The flip side of appreciating the quality medical care I receive (and believe all should have) is anxiety.  What happens to my kung fu life if I lose this level of care?  It most likely goes away.

I realize that’s an upper Northwest kind of problem, as a D.C. native would say (i.e. high class), particularly when the question for many others is: what happens to life itself without healthcare?  But it would most definitely be a problem, on so many levels, were it to happen.  So chronic pain and long waits aside, I remain indisputably grateful that I continue to be patched up… and that the price of the patching is one I can still afford.