Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Val and The Italian Patio Boys's the next column for the LIA. I'm going to stop counting them down now and just tell you that yes, this piece appeared in print in a real paper that people read.

There’s a brown, webbed folding chair that sits at the head of a driveway down on Park Street in south Patchogue. This particular chair use to belong to Val DeCarlo, a long time resident of Patchogue and a retired English teacher in the Patchogue-Medford School District. The DeCarlo’s lived in that house for as long as I can remember and moved to Louisiana last year to be closer to their daughter. It’s odd to see that chair still sitting there and I wonder if the new owners have left it on purpose, a shrine to one of the more fascinating people who has ever walked through my life.

It was not easy to get an A or even a B on a paper written for Val’s class, and yet, I somehow managed too, a miraculous feat for someone who would often cut math in order to sit in the library and write those papers the day they were due. (I do my best work under pressure.) I doubt there were many who ever showed up without their work done, as he was not a teacher whose bad side you ever wanted to experience. And, as intimidating as he was, his classes were always full because in spite of the fear, you couldn’t help wanting to be there. I read my first R rated book, “The Godfather,” in his Ethnic Lit class. He had the best stories to tell and to this day, I still wonder if he really lived them.

Over the course of my adult life Val would drive by the house I use to live in and he would wave or stop to briefly to say hello. Throughout those years I would stop once or twice a summer to talk with him as he sat in his driveway. He would pull out a spare folding chair from the garage and we would sit and have a visit, which in actuality was really more like a very intense chat.

I use to think of Val on those summer nights when my son and his friends would haul all the lawn chairs from our yard and place them at the head of the driveway, in front of our pock-marked metal garage door. There they would sit and visit with all their other friends who would pass by. I started referring to them as The Italian Patio Boys, my son being half Italian, and the whole “sitting around in the driveway, watching the world pass by,” becoming their patio. Val was the first Italian Patio Boy and this past summer was the first that I did not sit on a folding chair in his driveway at least once and visit.

There are no more Italian Patio Boys sitting in my old driveway anymore. They are all grown up and the driveway no longer belongs to me. It now has weeds growing up through the seams in the concrete and exists in a yard whose new owner gives little care or thought about it. And that is a story for another time.

On my last driveway visit with Val and his family, we talked about my “getting a new life” experience. In his old fashioned way, he assured me that I would soon attract a rich guy to take care of me, the thought of which made me laugh. The whole point I explained to him, was to prove that I could take care of myself, yet I’m not sure that I convinced him.

Val, his wife Ronnie and son Peter are people I will always remember with great fondness. I miss the driveway visits and yet, it makes me very happy to see that his chair is still there. I can still imagine him walking out to the driveway and settling down in it, watching the world go by and waiting for someone to stop and visit. And although he no longer lives here, he will always exist in my memories in a larger than life kind of way. Life changes, people move on and yet we still have the ability to keep those memories alive within ourselves. So, to whoever owns Val’s house now, thanks for keeping his chair there, allowing me to pass by and in my minds eye, still see him sitting there, reminding me not only of him, but also of my other Italian Patio Boys and the driveway they use to sit in.

Monday, October 23, 2006

An act of kindness

Today I had a dramatic, very invasive medical procedure done at my local hospital. I say dramatic because I’m a Virgo and we tend to have a streak of hypochondria that runs though us. For others it might have only been considered on the semi-dramatic side. I do try to keep my medical drama in check and yet we all know how well I handled that Thallium Stress test a few months back.

The procedure I had done today required that it be done under general anesthesia in the outpatient surgery department. Of course when hearing I need to be knocked out two thoughts ran though my head. First, this must be some painful test since you need to be unconscious for it, and second, I might go to sleep and never wake up again. For a week prior I tortured most of you who read this blog with these dire thoughts and do appreciate how patient you all were, while probably thinking, “Susan, please shut up about this already!”

I think that the whole idea of no longer having a “significant other,” in my life waiting in the waiting room for me, is what freaked me out the most. Certainly my mother is a “significant other,” in my life and I am most grateful to have had her with me. Yet, it’s not the same as having someone with you, who is your partner in all senses of the word. I know that I’m whining and I can’t help it. My friend Joanne went through radiation therapy for breast cancer, without her “significant other,” the bastard left her three weeks into her treatment. I have no right to whine about this as I cannot imagine what that must have been like, and yet, I do it anyway. And, I think that Joanne understands my angst about this and forgives me for it.

I adore the two main doctors in my life and both are women. My primary care physician has been known to hug me good-bye, which is not something any doctor I’ve even had, has done…and it’s nice. My “other doctor,” is more reserved, professional and business like. They have two very different bedside manners, and yet I appreciate them both for their care of me.

Today, while lying in the OR waiting for the anesthesiologist to put me under for the cervical biopsy I needed to have done, trying to do some Zen breathing so as not to cry because I’m a baby…. and was terrified and very anxious, my very professional gynecologist came up beside me and held my hand while I faded off into oblivion. I wonder if she has any idea what that meant to me?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stuck in a Hallway - Lond Island Advance Column

This is my fourth guest column for The Long Island Advance. It may sound familiar to some of you who have been reading this blog for a while. It's the second "Stuck in a Hallway" piece, and yet, this is a bit different from the first....

I really dislike the expression “When one door closes, another door opens.” Especially when you’re really feeling like you’re stuck in a dark hallway with the door behind you almost completely closed, and you have no idea where the end of the hallway is, or if there will be another door once you get to it.

I was stuck in a hallway for long time. Probably close to a year. And it was dark and I had no flashlight or even a book of matches. In my case, a scented candle would have been nice, but I didn’t have one of them either. I had to start out walking down my hallway pretty much in total darkness. For about a year, I just stood…. still bathed in a tiny bit of light from that almost closed door, and when I finally started to move and got further away from it, the journey became more difficult, at least for a while. Gradually though, I started to see a glimmer of light ahead of me, and now, after two years I think I’m about ready to finally step through the door that I found at the end, and wow, does it look bright!

I did a lot of walking to get down this hallway and it wasn’t always easy. Patience was needed to accomplish this and it is not one of my virtues. I painted a bedroom, purchased a small amount of furniture, found a part time writing job, went back to school, bought a car, sat on my parents and my friend’s couches and cried, started going to the movies by myself, learned to balance my checkbook, went through a lot of boxes filled with stuff from my old life and had a yard sale, learned to smile at interesting people, joined a writing group, and have made a number of new, interesting friends. I will soon graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and have started interviewing on a quest for a new job that will hopefully allow me to swim in deeper water. Yes, it has been a busy year and a year that has finally allowed me to see the progress that I have made in very concrete ways.

It’s hard to do this sort of personal writing in a small, local newspaper. In many ways it would be far easier to write for a much larger publication, which would feel more anonymous. It’s difficult to be an unknown when you are writing about what it feels like to get a new life and your picture and name appear above your writing, in the small town that you’ve lived in for your entire life. It makes writing the more difficult stuff, impossible. For me though, this is the only kind of writing that I can do right now. It sounds a bit self-centered, this writing that is “all about me,” and yet it really isn’t just about that.

In the short time that I’ve had to “write in my own voice” in this space that Brian Curry so graciously loans me, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to people who have read what I’ve written here, and who are able to relate to the experiences that I talk about. It’s reinforcing to realize that I am not alone in this “getting a new life” experience, and to have someone tell me that the words I have written have made a difference in their lives, is truly huge for me. Certainly we’re not talking major life changing differences, but subtle difference in the way people view themselves, where they are heading, and helping them realize that they can get there in one piece.

So, yes, in many ways this is all about me, and yet it is about so much more. If just one person reads this and realizes that although they may be stuck in a dark hallway now, that does not have to be the case forever, then my job for today is done.