Cameleon

 

A NEW YEAR 

December 19, 2010

Tonight is the Macayo holiday party—a catered affair on Camelback Mountain which Michael and I have attended for the past twelve years. I plan to shop at Nordstrom’s for a special dress for the occasion. This is a night I’m looking forward to. It seems odd that a widow should be excited about a get together and even stranger that I should feel expectations about this party. It’s a feeling I’ve missed for the past few months. Anticipation and hope, like a teenager looking forward to growing up and wanting to experience all that life has to offer. I concentrate on the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I wonder about the rest of my life and what lies ahead for me.

I find a tight-fitting dress in an iridescent color that changes shades depending on the surrounding lighting. It’s a tan, silver, or gold shimmer with a V-neck and a dainty bow placed strategically on the center of my waist to accentuate my flat abdomen. The saleslady assists me with the zipper, steps back and smiles. “You look beautiful in that dress. It fits your body perfectly.”  I look at myself in the mirror and turn to one side and then the other, hearing the gentle rustle of the dress as I twirl around like I’m a school girl dressing up for prom. 

I can’t help thinking about the past few months, staying home with Michael, caring for him, nursing him day and night, loving him, and all the while grieving as I continued to lose fragments of our life; the way he slept with his mouth open to a perfect circle, letting out a gentle whistling noise with each inhale. His weakness spread from his shoulders, down his arms to his hands, then his thighs to the bottom of his swollen feet. The body of my loved one seemed to disintegrate as his disease progressed.    

I purchase the dress and pick out silver fluorescent two-inch heels that seem to have that same elusive color effect as the dress. I haven’t worn high heels in years because they hurt my feet, but tonight I don’t care.

A black shawl and dark opaque tights complete the outfit. I catch myself humming as I leave the crowded store and carry out my bundles to the car. I can’t remember the last time I hummed or even listened to music.

That winter afternoon quickly melted into darkness. My mind zigzagged back and forth, as if in a private debate on whether or not I was ready for the holiday party—for any party, for any enjoyment. The discussion went on until I finally put an end to it, went into my closet, unveiled the newly pressed dress, heels, and shawl and laid them neatly on the bed. Looking at the ensemble, trying to figure out the real color of my outfit, watching as the shades of brown and silver melted together, wondering if anything was what we originally thought it was.

I nap for two hours, which has now become a commodity, something to celebrate—something that rarely occurred while my husband was ill. During the two-year period of his illness, our bedtime changed from midnight to two or three in the morning. His nighttime routine was similar to hospital care; the shift wasn’t complete without doing every necessary comfort and ordered care.

I remember my youngest daughter coming over to our home to assist in his care one Saturday night.  She sat on the couch next to him playing board games while I took a much needed warm bath; shaving my legs, washing and conditioning my hair, exfoliating  dead skin from my face, all the things I once took for granted. All the things he couldn’t accomplish for himself, all of the self-hygiene women perform routinely on a day-to-day basis.    But I didn’t want to think about any of that now. I had to get ready for the party and try to be on time. 

I take time to blow-dry and smooth out my hair before using Velcro rollers.  Everything has to be perfect, as if it was a first date with someone special. Suddenly, I remembered my first date with Michael—a blind date. We met at the Stone Cold Creamery at 20th Street and Camelback. I checked him out first, just to make sure, as I knew the make and color of his car. When we met and I looked into his eyes, I had a similar feeling of anticipation. Before we finished our ice cream, I felt as if I was melting as we walked alongside each other. I remember his remark as we drove through the city that evening. “I feel as if I could drive for hours, even though I have a busy day at work tomorrow.” I never forgot that moment and how I felt the same. I could have stayed with him forever. This is how our love affair began.

I slipped into my dress. It felt tight and I needed someone to pull-up the zipper. There was no “Michael” to surprise with a spectacular debut of my outfit. There was no husband to zip me up—no husband to fasten the tiny clasp of my diamond pendant. No one there to tell me how pretty I look.

My girlfriend, Carolyn, came to the house to pick me up. She zipped me up for the extravaganza. “Hold your stomach in,” she commanded as I sucked in a mouthful of air. In front of the mirror, I twirled around, watching my skirt rise ever so slightly. I slipped on my two-inch heels and leaned down to buckle them. Smiling, I thought about Michael, hoping he caught a glimpse of his princess, hoping that he was watching me from above and smiling all the while.

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About TRatner

Terry Ratner is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and writing instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. In June of 2004, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Writing has always served a purpose in her life, but it wasn't until her son died in a motorcycle accident in March, 1999, that she began to publish her works. What's unique about Terry is the way she balances the life of a nurse with the life of a writer. "Nursing allows me to give back to the community and then write about those experiences." Ratner teaches creative writing in a variety of settings from community colleges to a school for homeless children (Thomas J. Pappas) to wellness communities throughout the Valley of the Sun. In 2004, Terry launched an Arts and Healing program for children undergoing dialysis at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. She has published numerous personal essays, cover stories, interviews, and book reviews for a variety of national and regional publications. Her manuscript, a work in progress, features a series of twelve essays, ten of which are introduced with black and white photos, dealing with issues of family and identity.
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3 Responses to Cameleon

  1. I really like your blog, the way you write and subject you covered are just amazing. I understand how hard it is to get the website visitors involved. I have made the decision to add your website to my blog list.

  2. various says:

    Macayo Christmas party essay comments Terry, Wow, how did you do it. I don’t know that I could have attended. I would have wanted to, just like you. I commend you for handling it. I assume there were a number of times that evening that tears appeared in your eyes that could not be held back. I had difficulty with the first holiday thing I did which was attend Thanksgiving dinner at my son’s home. As we sat down to dinner and the presence of Judy not there, it was a very emotional moment for me. I’m sure others at the table noticed my tears that I tried to hide, but nobody acted as if they noticed, although I’m sure they did. If you are like me the “high emotion” state of mind that I’ve been living with continues. But I believe that is okay based on what I’ve read and feedback from other people. Back to your special evening in December. I believe your husband Michael was watching you from above , smiling and expecting you to enjoy the moment, as if he were there beside you.

    Sincerely,

    Ed D.

  3. various says:

    Macayo Christmas party essay comments Terry, Wow, how did you do it. I don’t know that I could have attended. I would have wanted to, just like you. I commend you for handling it. I assume there were a number of times that evening that tears appeared in your eyes that could not be held back. I had difficulty with the first holiday thing I did which was attend Thanksgiving dinner at my son’s home. As we sat down to dinner and the presence of Judy not there, it was a very emotional moment for me. I’m sure others at the table noticed my tears that I tried to hide, but nobody acted as if they noticed, although I’m sure they did. If you are like me the “high emotion” state of mind that I’ve been living with continues. But I believe that is okay based on what I’ve read and feedback from other people. Back to your special evening in December. I believe your husband Michael was watching you from above , smiling and expecting you to enjoy the moment, as if he were there beside you.

    Sincerely,

    Ed D.

    Dear Terry:

    Just read your Feb 2011 article in the Moon Valley Tattler and was inspired to write to you about something you said.
    You mentioned that you could not remember the last time you hummed or listened to Music. That statement hit a cord with me, I have become a fan of the music by Warren Zevon, he also dealt with His own mortality being diagnosed with lung cancer which took His Life in 2003. Warren devoted the last year of His life to writing and performing one last album, title “The Wind” There is one song that you should listen to “Keep me in you heart for awhile” You can access this tune on You Tube, along with “Don’t let us get Sick” another tune dealing with loss… Listening to these songs and others by Warren has brought some enlighten to my life.

    Chuck L.

    Dear Terry:

    I read your February column in the Tattler as I always do each time you write. I was so happy to hear about your shimmery gold/silver/tan dress and matching shoes. (Did envy you when you remarked about your flat abdomen.) It was very nice to know that you are going out once again, now that you have made your spectacular debut. I predict that a new life is opening to you and that your Michael is looking on, hoping that you are happy and encouraging you. I firmly believe he was watching you dressed as a princess.

    Your column reminded me of a Very Expensive pair of boots that I bought shortly after my radiation was completed. I didn’t wear them for quite a while, waiting for the MRI that would tell me I was clear of cancer. Then I thought maybe I should wait a little while longer — because I can always take them back — if the cancer returns.

    My friends — and my cancer doctor said: “WEAR THE BOOTS!” And so I did, happily. Of course my cancer did return and surgery was necessary, but that was nearly six years ago, and I still have the boots. And every time I put them on I
    remember hearing, “WEAR THE BOOTS!”

    So you keep on finding someone to pull up the zipper on your gorgeous dress — and go on out. “WEAR THE DRESS!”

    Sincerely,

    Norma T.

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