Tag Archives: mortality

Excerpt from “The Other Room”, a novel by Kim Triedman

Several months ago, as part of the Writers Workshop, we published poet and novelist Kim Triedman’s essay  about the how and why of using multiple points of view in her novel, The Other Room.  ”Making the choice to use multiple points of view for my novel was one of the most important – and serendipitous – decisions I made.” Now, we’re pleased to offer MidLifeBloggers’ readers an excerpt from that book, which is, as Kim described it, “a character-driven narrative, a tale of family dynamics and relationships strained to the breaking point by the trickle-down of grief.”    


By Kim Triedman, award-winning poet & novelist


Sometimes I wonder: Is my life better or worse for having had her? In the dark of night I do not always know. For months after I could not settle, could not find a place in our big, old house where I could sit myself down, listen to my breaths or watch the minutes tick themselves carefully around the clock. Every noise I heard spoke only of the stillness, the way an echo describes space. And this is what they said to me, every creak of every door: there is nobody here but you.

I understand now about that house, why neither of us could finally live there anymore. When we came back, weary and wrung, our insides turned out, it sat there, snug and compact, two newspapers stacked neatly by the front door. The garbage had been put out at the curb, and the neighbor’s cat sat contentedly atop the fence post, licking his fat double-paw. The air smelled of melting ice, and the ground beneath it. Up on the second floor, the shades were all tightly drawn, as though the family that lived there had been away on vacation. It was then I understood how long the rest of my life was meant to be.

I followed Josef up the stoop, watched him bend down to pick up the newspapers and fumble for the key ring in his pocket. I do not know how he did these things. It was all I could do to take air into my lungs and bring it out again, to place one foot squarely in front of the other. Maybe that is when I knew: that we could not survive it. Maybe it was the way he stooped over that morning to pick up the papers.

When the door opened, I stood for a long moment, looking in, testing it with my eyes the way a child might touch the bath water—gingerly, anticipating pain. And this is what I saw: everything was as it had been. The jackets still hung in a crowded heap by the door, one stray pink mitten on the carpet beneath the coat rack. The mail lay in the basket on the table, unopened, and down at the end of the hallway the answering machine flashed its urgent red light. I waited there for what seemed like a very long time, not moving, not breathing, and all that I could feel of my body were the pupils in my eyes, growing wider and wider. Somewhere, far beneath us, I heard the burner kick on and then off again, and I watched bewildered as Josef rounded the corner to check on the thermostat.

“Shit, it’s 54 degrees in here. We must be out of water.” He said it just like that, just like he had a thousand times before, not understanding what he was doing to me with those words. I looked over at him as he placed the newspapers by the door, willed him to see the panic rising in my eyes.

“I’m going down to fill it, okay? I’ll be right up.” He turned as he said it and that was that, the beginning and the end. I pulled my winter coat tightly around me and stepped up into what had once been my home, closing the door gently behind me, setting my purse down carefully on the hallway table. These things I did slowly, watching myself from a safe distance, feeling each muscle as it clenched and slackened in the service of these small movements. When I turned to find Josef once again walking down the hall toward me, I felt as though I was moving through water, or walking on ice.

“I filled it,” he said. “We’re lucky the pipes didn’t break.” And I thought about that for several minutes, rolling it around sluggishly in my mind, wondering if he felt lucky. Wondering if he felt anything at all.

I can’t say how I made it through those first few hours. There are places where my mind still won’t go, and that is one of them. That day I made it to the house, to the door, into the hallway, and then it is a blank, a place I know I may never return. I do not know if we ate, scanning our freezer for something we had made another night, a lifetime ago, laughing with one another or crying together above chopped onions. If I were to guess, I would have to say that Josef did and I did not. Already I could see that these were the things he needed to do: to open a freezer, or fill the boiler, or brush his teeth, as though the very dailiness of these acts could somehow protect him like a thick layer of gauze. I knew it the moment he bent over to pick up the paper, that those were the places he would go for succor.

For me it was quite the other way: those things that kept him anchored to the earth as it spun faster and faster were the very things that sent me reeling off in time and space. They were the enemy, all those things that people do in a day, the tiny victories. I could not do them. I did not see them as things that needed to be done. They terrified me—the refrigerator, the light switches, the laundry that piled up in the corners of our room. All these things I stared at without moving and they stared back at me: waiting, taunting, mocking me with their eyes and their crooked half-smiles.

The Other Room was published in October, but we held onto this excerpt because we think it will make a fantastic holiday gift for the writer and/or reader on your list. Here’s the link to buy it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-Room-Kim-Triedman/dp/0983476470

Spine Surgery

ship surgeons toolsI would normally start a post such as this with an ironic comment pointing to the fact that for the first time EVER, there has been no new post on MidLifeBloggers this past week. My sense of irony is elsewhere these days; I’m dealing with a  life situation that is frighteningly real.

I have to have surgery. On my spine. Actually on my neck, the cervical portion of my spine. Have I written about this before? Not really. I wrote about tripping on some shoes and breaking my shoulder, and  I wrote about doing a faceplant on the streets of San Francisco. But the follow up to those posts, the one I never wrote, was about being diagnosed with spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis: “my father/aunt/sister/cousin has that” you might say. It’s not uncommon, it usually affects the lower back and it can often be dealt with through physical therapy. That’s not the one I have. Mine is cervical spinal stenosis and it is accompanied by another condition: cord compression. Simply put, the boney growths on my spine are squeezing my spinal cord.

This is why I keep falling. This is why I’m so tentative balance-wise that I’m never without a railing, a wall, or another person to give me ballast. This is why I can’t walk more than a block without getting totally winded, needing to stop, rest, regroup.

There is if not a cure than a ‘fix’ for this condition: surgery. They cut open your neck–sometimes from the front and sometimes from the back–ream out the offending boney growths on the affected vertebrae, maybe attach a metal plate for stability, sew you back up and send you off to see how many of your “symptoms” have been resolved. No promises, no guarantees. The only guarantee they give is that if I don’t have the surgery, I will continue to get worse. Oh–and by the way, as the diagnosing neurologist advised, “Don’t get whip-lash, because you’ll end up paralyzed.”

It is amazing to me how I have and have not dealt with this. I have a quasi-medical background and yet I’ve been indulging in magical thinking for the past two years. “It’s gone away…See, I haven’t fallen in ages…It really seems as if it’s easier for me to get up from a seated position…Is it my imagination or did I heft that 12-pack of Coke with less effort than before?”

I so want this thing to go away of its own accord. I so don’t want to walk myself into the hospital and put myself under the surgeon’s knife at the same place where a decade ago an ambulance rushed me with a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.

It’s been ten years since I spent six weeks, much of it in intensive care, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. I made what doctors (and statistics) will tell you is a miraculous recovery. I show few outward signs of the stroke, or at least few that others can see. Or at least few that I think others can see. I compensate well and that too has enabled me to do some magical thinking about my health. It happened but it didn’t really happen. It happened but I can’t remember the details of it. It happened and I choose not to remember the details. Except for the ones that strike me as funny.

Perhaps that is what the aneurysm left me with: an enhanced sense of humor. As well as an inability to recall words when I’m tired. And the right side of my face is somewhat droopy. But that’s nothing to complain about when you consider that I spend most of my life sitting–at a computer, on a sofa, at a dining table–by myself. By myself I feel just fine. By myself, I’m never at a loss for words. By myself I’m the same Jane that I’ve always been.

Except, I’m not. And now I’m about to put myself through a similar experience. Who knows what will happen once the anesthesiologist puts me to sleep. And the surgeon cuts. And I wake up–to what? Will I be even less of the same Jane than before? Will I still be able to fake it? I don’t know. And I won’t know until I do it.

Which I have to do. There’s no way out. No alternative that is more palatable. I just have to do it.

Photo credit:  http://www.bl.uk/learning/images/texts/empire/large6874.html




MidLife Skin Care: Dealing with Age Spots and Collagen Loss

Can we talk?  About skin?  I mean, really talk about skin?  Specifically–the skin on my arms.  When did the skin on my arms become such a spotty, wrinkly, chicken-foot scaley mess?

And why?  Did I not spend the past decades from age 18 to today slathering myself head to toe with body lotions? Did my skin not realize there was a purpose to my pampering it?  That I expected it to return the favor by not shriveling up on me at quite such an early age?  Ha!


I think what’s happened is my melanocytes have gone crazy and my dermis has disintegrated.

Actually, what’s happened is the collagen in my skin has disappeared.  One source I read says we lose about 1% of our skin collagen every year starting at age twenty.  That’s called intrinsic aging, according to Suzan Obagi, assistant professor in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center, who explains that when “collagen (which provides skin firmness), elastin (which supplies skin elasticity and rebound) and glycosaminoglycans or GAGs (which keep the skin hydrated)” start diminishing it leads to thinner, more fragile skin.  Then there’s extrinsic aging which results from environmental damage, and which accounts for the age spots, the freckles, the lesions, and the skin cancers!

Thank you so very much.

I now have three different preparations which I apply religiously after I dry off:  (Malin+Goetz Vitamin b6 body moisturizer, c.Booth Egyptian Argan Oil Body Butter, and Rite-Aid’s Renewal Dry-Touch Body Oil) .  Do they help?  Well, at the least they make me feel as if I’m taking some action.  Does my skin look better?  Than what?  I suspect it looks better than someone who doesn’t slather themselves daily, but do my arms look as they did before they fell to the forces of intrinsic and extrinsic aging?  Probably not.

Which leaves me with these thoughts:  what’s the problem with wrinkly, crepe-y arms?  Why when I lift my arm and see the skin shimmy down do I so quickly put my arm down?  It’s me and it’s my arm and don’t I have to own the dismay with which I view it? Yes, but I don’t think the dismay has as much to do with the idea that anything other than young, firm skin is ugly as it does with mortality.   I’m not pining for my formerly taut skin and I don’t reject my aging body.  I think I’m just shocked that it’s actually happened to me.

My generation thought we’d be young forever.  Really.  And now that we’re finding out the truth–well, that takes some getting used to. Seeing my skin look exactly like my mother’s did when she was no longer young brings me face to face with the fact that just as she died, so one day will I.  Not only will I not be young forever, I won’t live forever.  Wow.  Far out…..