Tuesday, October 4, 2011

20 Years of Being Jake

20 Years of Being Jake

1991 Jake found his way to me. He rode underneath the hood of a dually pickup truck hauling some horses. He was found holding on to the gas tank with his claws, and had been clinging there for two hours on a stormy, rainy night trip. He was only 3 weeks old. His destiny was not to be a barn cat after all. He loved to be held and kissed on the top of his head, right between his eyes. He would spend the next twenty years seeking those forehead kisses every chance he got.

1992 Jake lived with my roommate Mo and me on Armitage in Chicago. She made me neuter him early because she had a fear of male cat spraying. He lived his whole life with a kitten like mew and a small head. She will never live it down…but consequently no spraying ever happened on her watch. He enjoyed the chaos of all of the dirty clothes we strewed on the floor and enjoyed making a bed out of them. He once got lost in my closet for two days and found his way out when he was good and ready. He enjoyed the single life, and heavy partying that first year.

1993 Jake and I moved in with my now husband Rene. He did not like the cat because he would step on fresh cat vomit in the middle of the night and it would get between his toes. He met his first dog Rene’s Australian Shepherd “Patches”. Jake loved to sit in our bathtub when it was wet and watch the drain. He did not mind getting wet. We would watch him sit on the toilet seat while watching the water go down. Once he actually fell in and jumped out seemingly in the same second. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

1994 Jake watched Rene and I come and go from our apartment. He saw me in my wedding dress. He and Patches became quite close. When Patches passed we allowed Jake to sleep with us in our bed. He was an only child again.

1995 Jake was officially adopted by our new Australian Shepherd puppy “Oliver”. Oliver cleaned him so much that he completely stopped cleaning himself. Instead he opted to lie underneath Oliver awaiting his scheduled bathing times. Oliver always allowed Jake to eat from his bowl first during feeding time. Oliver and Jake were best friends.

1996 Jake moved with us into our new town home. He was so used to the confines of apartment living that he chose to hide under our bed often; it was his favorite spot in his new great big world.

1997 There was a new sheriff in town. Time spent sitting on my lap was replaced by time spent sharing my lap with a nursing baby. He seemed so light compared to the baby. I remember that well.

1998 Ryan the sheriff became mobile. Jake was afraid of him grabbing his fur all of the time. He never once bit or scratched Ryan but he warned him often. We used like to entertain our friends by asking Ryan what sound does a cow make “MOO” What sound does the dog make? “Woof…woof…” What sound does the kitty make? “Hissssss”

1999 We moved to a bigger house once again. This one had a large basement. Jakey found a hiding place underneath our basement stairway. He made a home there and when visitors came by he would make sure he was in his safe place. People never believed that we had a cat.

2000 The millennium. Jake enjoyed his life at the bigger house. He could get away from the boy, enjoy his dog, and sit with his mama chewing my hair whenever he got the chance. Life was good.

2001 Jake spent a lot of time at the house alone. We had bought a barn and worked day and night taking Oliver with us. He was always happy to see us and did not resent it. He knew we were busy.

2002 Jake discovered green lush grass and the great outdoors. We let him outside to walk on the back patio. He would touch the grass with his front paw and quickly retract it. He tried this again and again, and finally made the big plunge on to the grass floor. He ran into the house and sat in the back window and watched the dogs play from the safety of our kitchen. He seemed proud of himself for his great outdoor adventures. He would try to go out often after that for a short explore. He was finally coming into his own.

2003 Jake got a new puppy. Austin came into the family and did not adopt Jake the way that Oliver had. Jake always accepted new pets into our house willingly and even with Austin’s raucous behavior he was not impressed or intimidated. Oliver still protected and cared for him every day.

2004 Oliver died suddenly from a fast moving cancer. Jake missed him but never left my side. He understood loss and seemed to know that his spirit friends were never far away. He helped me heal and didn’t mind the streams of wet tears I left on his fur. He completely stopped cleaning himself and had to be brushed by us instead. Oliver had spoiled and loved him unconditionally for nine wonderful years.

2005 Jake still looked like a youngster. The early neutering had served him well after all. We found paw prints on the counters from him jumping up on them when we were not around. I started counting past nine lives at this point…and couldn’t believe how strong he still was.

2006 Jake learned as many dog commands as he could. He could come and sit for a treat. He followed me around faithfully.

2007 We brought home yet another puppy for Jake to raise. He got chased but knew how to hold his ground with the strong and foolish boxer pup Baxter. He had no problem with all of the neighbor’s dogs either and their comings and goings. Even with Austin herding him constantly he learned to ignore him and understood that dogs will always be big part of his life.

2008 Jake ate out of Baxter’s dish when I would put the dog food down. Baxter stood way back and whined at him while Jakey ate his food without ever looking up. Baxter just lets him do it now and waits patiently until Jakey is finished.

2009 Jake figured out that people who came to visit were not there to take him away or harm him. He found bravery somewhere within himself on his own terms and actually started to come out to see people when they came over. He sat on laps on the couch, got hugs from family and friends, and he let anyone pick him up and pet him. It was a strange and fascinating metamorphosis. I was so proud of his personal growth, and he taught me that it is never too late to change.

2010 He started to show his age. He was well past his ninth life. His days were quieter now and his nights were spent at the bottom of the stairs calling to me and looking up for me to come to him. During the day hours he enjoyed sitting on the laps of the wonderful kids who came to hang out with Ryan and Jake played Call of Duty with them for hours.

2011 Jake gave me plenty of time to say good bye to him. I had a chance to tell him what he had meant to me, and how we had grown up together, raised a family, many dogs, and a boy who had grown up to become his friend. He let me know that he is ready to take his great and joyous journey home. He let me know in his quiet way that he will be greeted by his Patches and by his Oliver. He will be with his abuela, and my grandpa Max who so loved cats. There will be a great celebration of his life and how proud they have all been of how he took care of me, watched over me, and protected me with goodness and unconditional love everyday of his twenty years.

Sleep well my sweet boy…you deserve all of the glory you will receive after living a perfect and wonderful life of service to the forever keeper of your heart. I will be eternally grateful for each of our twenty years together and will remember you with great admiration for the life you lived and the soul you grew to be. When our journey began and you arrived in my life at just 3 weeks old, I thought I was there for you, but in fact it was you who was sent here to be with me. Thank you for all that you taught me about goodness and purity, about living, and about letting go. It was perfect. I will see you at the bridge…I know you will be waiting for me there.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Significant Purpose

We are all looking for purpose. Often, it seems that life's most profound lessons are found in the experiences we have with the most unlikely of people. It seems easy to cast aside the significance of a moment with someone, the subtleties of simple relationships; like how you felt about the man who held the door open for you at the store today, or perhaps you felt deep compassion for a beggar you felt compelled to give money to, or the more complex relationships; like time spent with your family and friends who surprise and disappoint you, guide and enlighten you, change you, and even solidify your existence here.

My uncle Cordell could easily have been forgotten by any one of us. His importance in our lives could have so easily gone unnoticed, and his role in our lives could have been regarded as burdensome and hopeless to all of us, even though we loved him. Instead, because of the loyal and perceptive wisdom of my mother, my very existence relied upon the important influence that my uncle Cordell became for her. It has been my great fortune, because of the relationship that I built with my uncle, that I have an astute understanding as to the reason people like my uncle exist in the social order. This insight became apparent to me from my early childhood experiences with this captivating man.

I always looked forward to having a visit from my uncle Cordell, and I imagined the adventure that would ensue having him home with us for a day. I was mesmerized by him and his hard-wearing reactions to the world as he saw it. I sat quietly by him for hours like an omniscient voyeur, studying him at our kitchen table, while he sat completely unconscious of who I was and why I was there.

Sometimes I would make a vain attempt to interact with him, "Uncle Cordell, I am your niece, Rhonda." looking closely for any glimpse of recognition.

On a good day he would answer me with a robotic parroting response, "My niece Rhonda...Yah..Do you like Elvis Presley?" and he would begin to snap his fingers with delight loud and strong to the perfect rhythm of the Elvis song that must have been streaming through his head. I would smile and marvel at his ability to go to a very present moment when Elvis topped the charts, and imagine what it would be like to live these moments in his mind, as only he experienced them.

My uncle Cordell always acknowledged my mother with comfort and recognition, even on days that she called "bad days". I remember the way he subtly searched for her by peering up through a subconscious, rhythmic rocking, slumped over state. The endearing way he called her name like she was the only person who understood him. "Say Delores? Got any coffee?" a question which he asked and re-asked again and again, day after day, year after year.

My mother has been his sole life line to the outside world since he was born when she was just nine years old. Their mother was loving and kind, child like and vulnerable. My grandmother possessed a sweet naivety which made her ill-equipped for the complexities and emotions of raising a child whom she painfully watched slip deeper and deeper into his own world with each passing day, during a time in our history when having such a child was unspeakable; a parental providence to be profoundly ashamed of.

My mother however, found no place for shame, and was always my uncle Cordell's primary care giver. She accepted this duty with no complaints, she always held a deep love and devotion for him, and has since continued to take to task his quality of life; insuring him the dignity that he always deserved by advocating for his well being at every turn. The Example that my mother set forth for us was that of compassion and caring for all beings, as each one is unique and significant, each one of us is born with a purpose. Though for some, purpose at first glance can be blurred by the day to day struggles of humanity and public disapproval or great personal sacrifice for the well being of another, whose very existence stands in judgment as a castaway of society.

As merciless as all of this may sound, as a child I encountered some marvelous glimpses of what it was like to care for my uncle, and although it was arduous there was often great joy. There was a comedic complexity in his simple, socially unacceptable behaviors that just cracked us up, and trying to make sense of them all became like a laundry list of diagnoses that just kept piling up. When he would visit us, we would have to watch him closely and follow him around like he was a big overgrown toddler. He loved to take things from anywhere and from anybody. He would mostly take small objects that he could fit into his pockets. Like paper weights, soaps, change, and anything else eye catching or shiny.

My mom would look at us and say, "Well he is a kleptomaniac." then turn to my uncle, "Empty your pockets Cordell." Most of the time he would comply reluctantly but sometimes he would put up quite a struggle which made my mom look like a triumphant alligator wrestler, a ninja like super hero. My brother and I always thought twice about messing with her after witnessing the five foot, 100 pound woman go a round with a frenzied, 200 pound grown man.

He would also pop used cigarette butts into his mouth, scooping them up with his cupped hand from every available dirty ash tray that we came into contact with. Sometimes he would even take a burning one right out of someones mouth and swallow it like it was candy. The shocked expression of the person who was accosted by the cigarette eating man was priceless, and though we were apologetic, my mom, my brother and I would laugh uproariously when we got back into the car, while my uncle the ever innocent, finger snapping Elvis fan carried on contently with his day.

He also loved to eat used coffee grounds from the coffee maker like he was eating a hand full of granola. My mom would say, with readied paper towel neatly folded in her palm, "Okay Cordell spit it out", then turn to us explaining, "He has pica."

When he would use an entire bar of Dove soap, lathering his face, hair, and up to his elbows with bubbles in our guest powder room, she would say with patient exasperation, "Oh geez...we need to rinse you off don't we." We always watched, my brother and me, shocked by the colossal mess. She would calmly look at us and say, "There goes his obsessive compulsive disorder. Get some towels."

When we would count playing cards with the speed of a Vegas shuffling machine, and recite from memory every math problem robotically for hours well into the billions, she would say, "Autistic savant. Well...there it is."

Sometimes, when he would show us a new socially offensive behavior she would simply say, "He's mentally ill honey."

Amusingly, in my ten year old mind, when people would say 'There is always one in every family' I assumed this was what they meant. I just kept calculating his abnormalities and adding to the inventory of disorders each time he would come for a visit. When my friends would ask what was wrong with him I would answer with great pride and exuberance, "My uncle is a mentally ill, manic depressive, paranoid schizophrenic, obsessive compulsive, kleptomaniacal, autistic savant, with pica. But other than that," I boasted,"he is actually just like you or I."

Growing up with a family member like my uncle Cordell came with other advantages too. Because of his oddities, my mother was able to determine with great accuracy the worth of a person's character immediately upon meeting them by noting and analyzing the reactions of people interacting with her brother. Were they the kind of people who understood true human compassion? Or, were they ordinary people who were fearful and ashamed to be seen with him?

This gift became a fateful one when she met my father while she was a student nurse. The reckless teen was in a serious car accident when he was 18 years old. He lay toothless and hairless in a hospital bed, and with the ego of the typical boy his age, he attempted to catch her attention. My mother was smart enough to ignore him, and she was completely uninterested in his courting methods. Insistent on luring her with his charm, as looks alone were surely not enough to do the trick, he would grab her arm when she was taking his blood pressure and complain about the pain, searching for some compassion from his adorable nurse.

None of this was terribly impressive to her, but even so, without an intimation of encouragement, when he was released from the hospital he was determined to get her to go on a date with him. My mother assumed she could effortlessly chase him away by accepting his offer with the stipulation her brother would need to come along. A tactic she often used to dispirit unworthy suitors. "No problem, bring him along." My dad unknowingly replied. A common reaction most people had when they were forced to be in the presence of my enigmatic uncle for any period of time was of shock, fear and most assuredly, loss of interest in any further encounter with her, much less a second date.

In the 1950's people like my uncle Cordell were outcasts, and most people had no coping skills or tolerance for such social pariah, and felt that people like my uncle should be locked away and hidden interminably. My dad was different. Not only was he non-reactive to the extreme social malfunctions of this boy, he also made a gallant attempt to engage with Cordell on his level. My mother watched in absolute awe as her future husband helped her baby brother learn to catch and bat a whiffle ball. My mother witnessed this man, whom she was ready to chuck aside, pitch balls to her blissfully contented brother all afternoon. She had never seen any one interact with him in this way; he showed the young troubled boy acceptance, kindness, care, and no glimpse of pity; she now looked at this man who was to be her life long companion with new eyes. After all too, his hair had grown back a bit and the new teeth really helped. All totaled, my mom knew she had found a keeper, and she most assuredly did; for even today, on "good days", my father still pitches the ball to my uncle Cordell, while he methodically counts out his goal of a hundred home runs with each glorious hit.

Cordell, at 61 years old, lives a life that is much different than the days of institutionalization which he unfortunately had to endure for much of his early adult life. My mother was unable to care for him full time at our home, and she accepted that life in an institution was the only place society had set aside for people like her brother. Visiting him at the Kith Haven Institute in the 1970's is a memory that I will never forget. A troubling memory that I am grateful to have had, as from an early age I learned compassion for people misunderstood by society and what they endured during this time in American history.

Fortunately, time has educated our society, and today my uncle lives in a group home with others who need constant care. With my mothers' close and watchful guidance, my uncle Cordell is fortunate to have individuals caring for him who are devoted to his well being. In fact, his social worker has been with him for many years, and my mother often speaks of the positive, loving influence that she has had on his life, and so admires her dedication and commitment to caring for her brother with the same sense of humor and adoration of him that we always had.

My uncle Cordell is obsessed with coffee. I remember on several occasions watching him empty the contents of a scalding hot, 12 cup, Mr. Coffee carafe into his mouth like it was a bottle of Evian. Some years ago when my grandparents were no longer able to make decisions regarding his care, my mother applied for legal guardianship. When their day in court arrived, my mother, his social worker, and my uncle were to stand in front of a judge and ask for permission to make my mom his legal guardian.

As they entered the court house, two fully armed deputy sheriffs were seated near the metal detector at the entrance of the building. My Uncle Cordell noticing that they had large cups of coffee, walked up to them, plopped his dollar on the counter (my mother and father always give him a dollar), and asked them if he could buy a cup of coffee. They both laughed, and smiled with my mom and told him that they 'don't' sell coffee', they just want him to 'walk through the metal detector'. My mom and the social worker were able to deter him from further confrontation by corralling him into the court room.

A few minutes went by, and he asked if he could go to the bathroom. Forgetting about the officers and the coffee they both followed him out. In a flash of an instant he was behind the unbeknown sheriffs, reaching in-between them, ready to pounce the Styrofoam coffee cups. Fighting him back and forth, four hands on the doomed cup, the metal detector smashed to the ground. With that, one of the officers screamed out, "Let him have it!"

My mother mortified, glaring at their fire arms and the overturned metal detector, closed her eyes and thought, "Please don't let him have it."

The officers let go of the cup at once after an insurmountable few moments, which in turn sent coffee flying all over the front of both uniforms, Cordell, and all over their table. My mom, mortified, apologized profusely. Frazzled, and back in the court room, tardy for their hearing and clearly shaken, the judge asked my mother. "Delores Hoskins would you like to be the legal guardian of your brother Cordell Cull?"

Still rattled from the chaos just moments before, she blankly shot out a simple audible "Yes".

Conversely, the judge asked Cordell, "Cordell Cull would you like your sister Delores Hoskins to be your legal guardian?"

With his once white shirt, now soiled in wet coffee, looking up from a slumped over, stupefied state, he answered the question with shocking clarity, lucidity, and a strong resolve. He looked squarely into the judge's eyes and replied, "Yes. I would like my sister Delores Anne Hoskins to be my legal guardian."

Afterwards, with the calm familiarity of day to day experiences with my uncle Cordell, his social worker explaining today's lesson told him, "Cordell, it's not cool to steal from the cops." He replied with perfect timing, "No, it's not cool to steal from the cops."

For me, my uncle Cordell represents with great clarity the significance of compassion, patience, kindness, and tolerance. At first glance, I imagine that all of these things were unclear to me as a child growing up with a mentally challenged uncle, and I did not see that the significance of his purpose in my life would materialize in such a profound and real way as I grew into an adult who learned to appreciate each individual for their unique gifts.

Even now, when I see a mentally challenged person working at the grocery store, or a group out with their care givers, I always feel compelled to smile at them, say hello, or put my hand on their arm. There is a familiarity and warmth that runs through me when I see someone who reminds me of my uncle. There is a feeling of a profound understanding of their place in our world, and the gifts that they give to those in their lives who love them; the kind of blessings only a few of us have been lucky enough to experience, reminding me that each relationship, momentous or inconsequential, joyous or painful, in a moment or in a lifetime, may significantly shape my life, shape my own purpose, or as in the case of my uncle Cordell, secure my very existence. How very fortunate I have been to have had him to teach me so many things about life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mo For Christmas

I met Mo in 1988. She liked to be called Mo because she didn't like the formality of her given name Maureen, and although it seemed to make others uncomfortable to call a young girl Mo, they did it anyway at her insistence. "Maureen". They would say.
"It's Mo. Just Mo." She would answer.

I often worried that the small nickname would eat away at her self-esteem. That she was too cute to be just Mo. That because she was so small in stature, it would diminish the size of her persona. Maureen seemed a much more suitable name for a young girl trying to develop a positive self image I thought. But, with no uncertainty, she was okay with Mo. She knew it suited her. So Mo it was, and so it should be, as it is all in the name. Those two letters summed up the little power house. Had I known the impact that those two letters would have on the rest of my life, the very reason that I sit here today; I would have never considered questioning the humble nick name. It was Mo, just Mo, and she was perfect.

Mo came into my life as a new hire in the Christmas Trim department I managed for the department store in which I worked. I remember interviewing her for the position. The Mo I met was a meek, young girl, in fear of direct eye contact, dressed head to toe in 80's black and short spiky dyed hair. She appeared in that moment to be lacking self confidence, and perhaps, I analyzed, she was a little misunderstood in life. "Perfect", I thought. "Oh the wisdom I can impart on her." My egocentric self reflected, and a sales associate in my department she became.

The weeks leading up to Christmas were challenging for Mo. Completely unfamiliar with the tradition of Christmas and the insanity which drives it all, Mo made every attempt to take a crash course while landing directly in the midst of all of the hoopla at the prestigious Dayton Hudson Department Store Company. In my vain attempt to educate her on Christmas and its true meaning, I played an ongoing stream of Barbara Streisand's Christmas album to instill in her that Jewish girls too could know the Christmas spirit. In retrospect, I think Barbara's frantic rendition of Jingle bells only added to the hysteria and panic of the chaotic trim department. Even for me, the calm and fearless leader of the very essence of Christmas retail, felt its' true spirit swirling around with reckless abandon. The final blow was realized when Mo and I were constantly victimized by the visual display department as we set up our tenth or eleventh 12' blue spruce, and could not adhere to the confines of each individual trees' theme as it was specifically explained to us in the Christmas Trim staff meeting. Our creative voices were not to be heard here, and we felt unappreciated at best.

Mo however, was not going to let this stop her from poking and jabbing me to step out of my miserably misfit managerial role. While we were in the stock room she would sometime coerce me into stepping aboard a four wheeled rolling cart, and she would push me as fast as she could in true "Thelma and Louise" style around to the service elevator. "Wanna go for a ride?" she would ask me with a Cheshire cat grin and wild laughter.

My answer which was always "No Way" was never an option. Around we would fly in my Anne Klein II suits and Kenneth Cole shoes with Mo all the while ignoring my discomfort and bellowing, "Slow down. We're going to crash and I am going to get fired." But the relentless Mo, channeling Dr. Seuss's wildly spontaneous "Thing One", refused to acknowledge my lack for the thrill of adventure.

It did not end there. Mo was constantly digging into my psyche and prodding me with uncomfortable questions about the direction that my life was taking, venturing into territory that no other employee in my group or even my other friends would ever dare to. She had no problem making me look at my life the way she saw it. I found it uncomfortable and tried to stop her but I was no match for the fearless Mo.
"Is this really it for you?" she would ask, "What are you doing here?" she would say with indignation. "Seriously Rhonda, you could be an MTV Veejay."

I would defend my position vehemently, explaining to her how great it was to be financially stable, and that I was making my way as an independent woman in the fascinating world of retail management. "And yes, Mo, this is really it!"

She would chase me down, and yell some more. "There is so much more for you. Open your eyes, and see in yourself what I see in you." she would say with complete and utter disappointment that I was so easily willing to settle into a life that did not fit who I was or who I really wanted to be. "You didn't dream of selling Christmas balls and wreaths."

She was right; I didn't dream it, but here it was, and there I was, safely within the confines of my adult responsibilities. And it was time to gear up for the day after Christmas; the grand finale, the big 50% off day. We had heard horrors about it. "Just stories" we thought. It was December 26, 1988 at 10:00 am. Mo stood atop the escalator looking down with anticipation as I heard a dull buzz of people approach. Then it got louder as the approaching feet hit the marble floor in cosmetics below. From the bottom of her gut a panicked call rang down the echoing ceramic tiled floor, "They're commmming!" As the words sang out of Mo's mouth, Hudson's was under siege by hundreds perhaps thousands of 50% off shoppers clambering to accessorize their homes with even more gusto and Christmas cheer next year.

They came running up the escalator steps, two steps at a time for the young and nimble, while we witnessed some of the older women clinging on to the escalator railing and hugging the side, trying to avoid injury from the vicious mob. Each mobster searching for that special treasure, scouring for the last great item, the best item. Mo and I and all of my other employees stood behind our registers intently ringing item after senseless item. We pounded on the keys all day. We rang and rang and rang.

Time flew and stood still all at once. Long lines brought weary, cranky shoppers, and as the hours passed, the seriousness of the first four hours became the high jinx of the next four. Mo and I were feeling slap happy and everything started to seem ridiculously funny. A young woman who had waited in line for at least an hour and a half approached Mo with a single, fragile, over sized glass bulb. "I am so excited," she said with a childish squeal, "I got the last one. I saw it in October, but I waited for the sale and hoped it would still be here and here it is!"

Like her very own answer to a Christmas miracle she carefully set the enormous beautiful glass ball on the wrap stand. And with reluctant trust, she placed the bulb in Mo's care. Mo raised the ball slowly to admire it and look at the reflection the florescent department store lighting created in its' red glow. She held it up firmly, and for a long moment. Then, as if in slow motion, we all watched with a pregnant pause, as it crackled in Mo's grip and burst open with blazing force leaving shards of colored glass wafers all over the wrap stand and on the surrounding floor.

Mo looked squarely at the astonished customer, then at my blank face, and with all of the remorse and somber empathy she could conjure, she earnestly, with her hands still holding the hanger of the once perfect over sized ornament, said, "I am sooo sorry."

The jaw drawn woman tried in vain to piece together some of the larger glass shards, and with this, in the eleventh hour of the 26th day, I leaned down in a pretentious attempt to clean up the glass on the floor, and began to laugh. It started as the kind of laughter that you have to hold together in church, and turned into uproarious and contagious laughter that I could not hide even a little bit. I sat on the floor below my register, knowing that when I stood back up lines of people would be there glaring at me, but I would not stand, and I could not stand for what seemed to be a very long while.

"I want to speak to your manager." the outraged customer said angrily, as she watched the situation unravel into hysterics that were the manifestation of an entire season filled with daily reminders of contradictions and meaninglessness.

And there was Mo, with perfect comic timing, pointing down at me. And there I sat in mouth blowing hysterics on the ground; and I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed. At that moment it was poignantly clear to me that all of our best efforts, and our good attitudes, and team building meetings, and Streisand music, that this could never be, and never was what I had hoped it was to be for me. That my search in life had merely just begun.

After the dust settled, and the trees were put away, it didn't take Mo long to realize that it was time for her to move on with her life. "I'm moving to Chicago. I'm going to film school. I'm going to make movies." It was as if she was saying she was going to the grocery store. There was no uncertainty in her decision, no doubt in her mind, that it was the right thing for her to do. "If you can make it there...you can make it anywhere."

"Isn't that New York?" I thought, but I knew she was going to do it, with or with out me.

After she left, emptiness filled my days. She would call me periodically at work and update me on the excitement of the world outside of the confines of the safe building that I called my life. "We're setting up for Valentine's day, and I am getting a promotion." I told her. And when we would hang up the phone, I would imagine the exciting uncertainty of her journey through life, and long to be brave enough to be a part of it all.

One day Mo phoned me at work, "It's St. Patrick's Day!" she said with great vigor, "They dyed the river green for you! You have to see this!" She went on with relentless description, "This is the greatest place. All of the people smile when they walk down the street, and their faces actually shine. These people in Chicago, they actually glow! It is unbelievable how beautiful everyone here is. You have to move here."

With all of the salesmanship of a great retail goddess on commission, she convinced me to leave my life, to leave all that was secure in Michigan, and try to make a life in Chicago together with her. A decision I would never have had the courage to make alone. So I moved to Chicago with nothing but my cat and my clothes, and the security of my deep friendship with Mo.

I'm not sure if it was the shining faces, the green river, or the veejay speeches, but somewhere inside of me I knew it was right. Not because I was so certain of myself but because Mo believed in me. She believed that I could do anything. And I knew that she could too. She showed me that I had courage that I had no idea that I even had. This little tiny person, who possessed the independence and strength of ten men, made me see that they did in fact, dye the river green just for me.

Today Mo lives in Seattle with her dog Wolfgang, doing what she set out to do: Make movies. She teaches video and photo shop editing, and she and her business partner recently began a film festival in the greater Washington area called The Tumbleweed Film Festival which offers an array of films, giving film makers like herself a venue to show their work. The Tumbleweed Film Festival is growing every year and will no doubt someday be one of our country's best.

I think of our amazing years together, discovering ourselves and Chicago. I am who I am because she taught me how to live my stories, not just tell them. As I journey back to those reflective learning moments, I realize that we meet the people who change our lives in the most profound ways in the least likely of places and times. When I first wrote this memoir in 2005, I sent her a copy of it and she reminded me of the Bergdorff Goodman credit card that was sent to her shortly after moving to Chicago and how outrageously funny we thought it was. On it was inscribed the name "Lady Maureen K. Fine". "Mo, just Mo." She said.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tiny Warrior

MacIntosh 1980- December 20, 2010

The world,
It is your favorite place,
No worries on your mind.
The storms,
They are not with you now,
Your chariot left behind.
Your tiny feet,
Your dappled coat,
has melted with the snow.
You're free to live in spirit now,
Safe place for you to go.
You wander through our guilded aisles,
Brings joy throughout your herd.
You lead us with your knowing calm,
Your soul has passed your word.
Your tiny ness,
Your innocence,
Is great beyond your years.
Your giantness,
Your sweet lightness,
Dissolves our greatest fears.
We would say good bye to you,
but somehow this seems trite.
We know you walk among us now,
Your leaving seems just right.

Finding My Friends

I wrote this memoir when I stumbled upon information that one of my friends died in the towers on 9/11.  Although I was stunned by this discovery, it lead me to a deeper understanding of what happened to the innocence that was lost by all of us on that day. I felt a strong connection to the time spent with my friend, and I feel even more connected to that innocent time now having brought back the memories in such detail. I think he would be pleased that I am able to tell his story, even if it is just my perspective on his short but so meaningful time here. What a cruel but relevant reminder of life's precious gift.

       The summer of my 39th year (2004)brought great reflection and yearning. While reflecting, I felt some guilt about all of the years I let so many friends slip away. On the night of my June birthday I sat up late in our bed with my husband sleeping next to me and my lap top atop my comforter, as I often do, quietly keying in the names of some of my old friends, leafing through my past to try to discover their present. As I began to have some luck locating long lost friends from college and beyond I excitedly began to dig deeper into my past, eagerly and with great anticipation I continued to work backwards from age 39. Hours later, I found myself at fifteen, when the search shifted to something most unexpected.

      I lived in rural New Jersey during my 15th and 16th year. During that brief encounter I met some wonderful people who I consider great friends, as they affected profoundly the way in which I later would view the world, and how I would always seek friendships like these throughout my life. I had never forgotten the impact they all had on me, but my thoughts went to that remarkable experience less and less as the years passed by. On this milestone birthday night I was determined to find them, and although some of the more unusual names were easy to track, the common names led me to too many leads, but I relentlessly forged on.

      I began thinking about driving around in my friend’s white Buick Skylark listening to the lyrics of Phil Collins and Genesis, which led me to type in the name Robert Wayne Hobson III. Known to his friends as Wayne, he was the kind of guy you would want to have as your brother. He was a handsome kid with wavy dark hair which he parted down the middle that he constantly tried to keep in check with the comb he kept in his back pocket. He always wore oxford cloth button down shirts in winter, layered with a turtle neck, and a blue down vest which held his Marlboro Lights that he smoked fiendishly. In summer, Wayne always wore short sleeved polo shirts. His only jeans were  faded, tight, and holey Levi's. He had grey-blue eyes that sparkled when he looked at you. He always smiled when he spoke, and you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. His wit was so sharp and his humor so wicked, you hoped he would not direct it at you, but even when he did it was always forgiveable and funny.  Even the parents were fair game, and because he was so charming he could say what ever he wanted to whom ever he wanted, and everyone loved him for his verbose honesty. He would cut right through your facades, and raise them right to the surface every chance he got. Some of my friends hated this about him, and avoided his ill mannered immature fun poking, but because he was so indifferent in his quick banter he got away with things no one else could. On any one else this would have been a character flaw, but in Wayne it was what made him ever presently honest, sincere, and brave. There was not a person in our stable who didn’t wish that they were just a little bit more like Wayne; We were all drawn to him.

      Wayne was seventeen years old, and his parents were divorced. He worshipped his father, lived with his mother. Wayne loved horses and riding but never had the opportunity to ride and show the way he would have liked to. His father was a prominent doctor who had the means to give him the object of his adoration but I think that he felt it was unnecessary, indulgent, and silly. He could not see the value in the sport nor did he care to try. Coming from the polar opposite family who could not see the value in not making sure that I was able to follow my passion for riding horses and competing, I found it hard to understand, and felt Wayne’s pain deeply.

      Wayne’s resentment for the lack of understanding of his love for the sport of riding horses became an absolute rebellion. He would follow us to the shows, and stand on the side lines, waiting patiently for the occasional catch ride. Wayne watched and cheered for the rest of us, and when I would see the expression on his face as we walked the courses with out him, I was constantly reminded of what a privilege it was to have parents that were involved in my life, parents who encouraged my every move and appreciated my passion for riding horses and competing for the betterment of myself. Each time I glanced in his direction and noticed him leaning on the arena fence with his arms crossed and his foot resting on the bottom board looking in at us dreamingly, he became a reminder of just how lucky we all were to be at these prestigious venues, walking these beautifully designed courses with our trainer, anticipating the moment in the ring that we well deserved, the opportunity to show our hard work and sometimes, when the moment arrived, get that great reward with the gratification of having the one great round Wayne only dreamed of getting a shot at accomplishing. Sadly for Wayne, he was the poster child for riders who for one reason or another were unable to realize their own equestrian dreams, and even those who did not appreciate what was handed to them would look into those blue eyes and see the ignorance in their ways, and shamefully look away from his image on the sidelines.

      But the thing that most resonated for me was Wayne's resilience. He would not allow anything to stop him from participating with us in any way that he could. Wayne would instead work for us at the shows as a groom, and he would stand at the in gate with our trainer and wipe our boots to perfection, run a quick soft brush over our horses’ coats, and carefully polish their hooves all the while listening to us repeat our course plan to our trainer. “Good luck Rhonda.” he would say in earnest, smiling as I entered the ring. He wanted to be with the horses, and he wanted to be with all of us, and we loved his charismatic infectious personality, his constant pranking and foul jokes, and his tell it like it is style. He was the most admirable character among us, and no amount of national awards, qualifying rounds, and blue ribbons that we all accomplished could make any of us hold a candle to the kind of character that Wayne had. There wasn’t a junior competitor among us that didn’t know this in our very core, and we were engrossed by him.  He really taught us something by sticking it out in that way, there was no way he was going to stay away from the horses that he loved, and the people who were his friends.  He would be there with us in any way that he could be, and we all felt a deep affection for his passion.
      As the years of my life passed I often wondered what had happened to Wayne. I was a bit reluctant to press the Go button on my computer as I had often worried about him, and hoped that he had made it in life okay. Had Wayne found happiness? I wondered.  My worry had been in vain though, and the life that he lived was nothing less than the American Dream, his American Dream.
      As I read on I learned that Wayne had grown to be an amazing man. The proud son of a military Doctor, he loved the Pearl Harbor story, and memorized all of the details of the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora”. He had opened his own bar/restaurant in Hoboken New Jersey, an old steel town which had now become the place to be for young New Yorkers. He called the bar “Hobson’s Choice” a play on words that embodied his unique sense of humor, taken from a book of the same name whose theme was that you really have no choice. Wayne’s mother helped him run the place while he worked by day at what his friends called “the town mill”. Wayne worked with a fun loving, strident, foul mouthed group of young traders much like himself, and had helped a couple of the younger up and comers get jobs working at his prestigious investment firm. He was a leader amongst the locals in the small town in which he played such a large part in changing. Wayne and his cohorts virtually rebuilt that town, with Hobson’s Choice at its' fresh and hopeful center, overlooking the grandeur of New York City.

      When I pressed the GO button my eyes were blinded by the number of links that popped up. As I read on, in a moment of shocked sadness, and hopeful desperation that the links found were those of a different Robert Wayne Hobson III. With a heavy pounding heart, I found a picture of the Ryan O’Neal look alike, and once again looked into those same sparkling blue eyes, his personality still shining through the screen before me, knowing that I had surely found the Wayne that I once knew.

One web site left a place for me to write a memorial passage which today still reads:
From: Rhonda Hoskins-Arza
Date: 07/01/2004
Message: Wayne-When I thought to search for you I never expected to find myself here. You were a bright light at our stable when we were kids together so long ago. I will never forget your humor, your smile, your very foul language for a 17 year old, and how you made me (all of us) feel. We lost touch so many years ago, and I always wondered where you ended up. Now I know. May your bright light shine upon the world, while the memory of your laughter reminds us of the joys, and innocence of growing up in America. God Bless your family and all of your dear friends, I know that you have been deeply missed. Some day we will find each other again, and have a laugh. Love, Rhonda

      That momentous night for me was three years after Wayne’s fateful day that we all watched from the desperation of our televisions. We who looked on will never forget where we stood while we witnessed them all perish in their own quiet desperation. Wayne worked on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center for Cantor Fitzgerald, and on September 11, 2001, he never returned home to his wife, his mother, or his bar in his town. I wondered if any of my New Jersey friends were trapped in the towers that day, but I hadn't placed Wayne there. Wayne Hobson lived the American Dream, and so much of that dream died with him on that day, as the rest of us just watched, mesmerized, and horrified, while so many lives were snuffed out, and many of our own dreams of the brightness of our futures changed interminably.
     Wayne Hobson though, left us at the top of his game, and for a brief moment, I envied not only his life, but oddly, I privately envied his death too. His life remained motionless in the bright lights and beautiful world in a bubble we called “Fortress America” and it was still safely protected by that fortress somehow. Protected from the knowing, and the responsibility, and the ache, from the loss of our virtue, that was once a small town in New Jersey where there lived a 17 year old boy in love with horses, who grew to be the man who collected cars, and enjoyed the people who visited the bar that he built out of a dream. A boy who was resentful that his parents missed the moment to watch him ride, who grew up to be the man, who had learned forgiveness, and later embraced his mother as his friend and partner. A mother who still carries hope for the Hoboken youth who lost so many of their high spirited friends and loved ones that day, by keeping Wayne’s bar open, protecting the bar stool where he held court and watched football with his friends. “Hobson’s Choice”, also known as “Wayne’s” to the locals, remains a thriving restaurant and pub even still today.

      When I think about how he lived and how he died, it was classic Wayne. Like a fire burning bright with prevailing and infinite energy and spirit, he lived every day as if it were his last, and when it was his last day, there were no uncertainties, no misgivings, just tears from those who would miss him, and laughter that we still remembered, so much of the particulars of the outrageous things that he had said and done. He was here and gone in a moment, as we all are, really. We miss him, but he was never really ours. What he did in his short instant here, who Wayne Hobson was for us, was a treasured dazzling beacon reminding us that we should all live the best days of our lives every day, and that life is indeed our one great ride. Wayne was here in his short time to teach us this, and he would have wanted us to reflect on his life in this way. I know that I always will.