My seasonal antlers, the story of which is found below...
This year's Christmas season for your favorite Bunche has been one of worse misery than usual (I find the entire season to be highly irritating) and I don't like to bring this blog down with ultra-depressing entries from my world outside of the internet, but this particular story requires a bit of unpleasant preamble.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have noted that other than my annual 31 Days of Horror essays for Halloween, my general postings have been few and far between for the past handful of years. That's been due to an ongoing nightmare of personal medical issues that I will one day get around to, but let it suffice to say that those issues drastically affected my life in nearly all respect, including perpetual sleep-deprivation that nearly drove me mad and that needed strong prescription sleeping opioids to allow me to rest. There was a lot of other shit involving my health that's too involved to go into right now, but while all of that was going on, I was also dealing with a very serious situation involving my mother.
As some of you already know, my mom and I have an often tense and contentious relationship for a number of reasons, and her behavior toward me since my adolescence has been a major factor in my absolute hatred of ever having to go home to visit. I love my mother, I really do, and I appreciate all that she has done and sacrificed for me, plus to say nothing of her considerable influence on my attitudes as a warrior who fights the everyday battle that is human existence, but as anyone who knows her well can tell you, she can be rather...difficult. Now that I am in my middle age, I am aware of most of what made her the way that she is — which I will not go into publicly; that's her business and only hers to tell, should she choose to do so — and, frankly, I'm amazed she weathered the shitstorm that life put her through as well as she did. Now that I am older, I truly get her, but that understanding does not make being at home any more tolerable. I have come to accept the simple fact that she will never cease her controlling ways and deeply-ingrained and rigid Southern matriarchal sense of "propriety" or stop treating me like her "little boy," plus spending time at home alone with only her while she spends nearly every waking hour on the downstairs couch, glued to endless hours of MSNBC and CNN repeating the same news items over and over again, is boring beyond my capabilities of endurance. Couple that with the fact that our hometown of Westport, CT is not at all stimulating for a person with my proclivities and interests, informed as they are by nearly three decades as a denizen of the City That Never Sleeps and the fact that's there's nothing there for me to do, and you hand me a recipe for toxic and depressing boredom. When I'm there, I literally count down the hours until I can return to my meager hovel here in Brooklyn. And be aware that my mother has a ready wit and can be both very funny and fun when she lets her guard down, but those moments are rare...
Mom is currently about a month shy of turning 85 and the last year and a half have not been easy for her. She lives in a state of self-imposed isolation in a home kept in the micro-managed pristine condition of a collector's dollhouse, with only a handful of equally-aged friends remaining, and a support group of people she's friendly with from her church, but I am the only blood-relative with whom she is still in touch.
Thus it was that during May of 2016, my mom suffered a near-fatal car accident, in which her car ended up looking like a flimsy beer can that had been rent apart by an agitated Pit Bull. I was in Brooklyn when it happened and once the ER at Norwalk Hospital alerted me to her situation, I hastily packed a suitcase and made my way home. Seeing her in a coma, with a good number of tubes penetrating her skin and a thick feeding tube shoved down her gullets, as well as tons of monitoring wires plastered all over her body, was an experience that hit me like a sledgehammer to the guts. There was easily the fiercest human being I have ever known, a tough-as-nails survivors of a number of horrors, unconscious and utterly helpless in a bed while a machine punctuated the silence with bleeping tones from a monitor and the in-and-out pumping of the machine that breathed for her (one of her lungs had fully collapsed) and there was not a fucking thing I could do about it.
She remained in that state for several days, but she eventually rallied back to consciousness, though the massive doses of painkillers that she was on rendered her verbal communication nonsensical — which was frustrating for her, as her face clearly showed that her mind was working just fine, but she was unable to articulate her words in ways that made coherent sense — and the nerves in her hands were too damaged at that point to allow her even to hold a pen to write what she wanted to get across. I stuck around and set up a base of operations in her house's dining room, where I fielded calls from well-wishers, took care of her mail and her house's needs and, once she was able to fully communicate again, handle d paying her bills. In total, I spent about half of that summer taking care of her needs as best as I could, and during that time I believe my mother finally came to take me more seriously as an adult, and one who has her back in times of crisis. When I used to fight back against her domineering behavior and verbal/psychological abuses and I would not back down, she used to say, "Sometimes I think you hate me.." A clear misunderstanding of the ongoing state of affairs, and willful denial of why I did not tolerate her bullshit — she was raised in a harsh and iron-fisted family culture where one was utterly and unquestioningly subservient to one's mother, and that programming still holds sway over her to a good degree — but I dare to opine that I no longer believe she would ever make such a statement now.
Mom made it through her hospitalization and then spent around three months in a very good physical rehab center in Fairfield, where she learned to walk and work her hands and fingers again (though admittedly a tad more rickety than previous), but she was forever marked by the accident with damage to her vocal cords that renders her voice somewhere between a rasp and a croak, and a state where her energy is no longer what it once was. Yes, she's in her mid-'80's and slowing down is only to be expected, but she was still an energetic spitfire prior to the crash. No longer, sadly.
But she survived that awful situation...only to receive a diagnosis of cancer in both lungs a couple of months later. So once again she was back to doctors poking and prodding her and putting her through batteries of testing, all of which absolutely can wear on even the hardiest of spirits. (I speak from experience, as my own medical issues over the past five years have made me far more familiar with hospital stays, endless testing and drawing of blood, and other ancillary misery than I ever wanted to be.) These days mom is always exhausted and her condition worsens, which only compounds her frustration and sadness. She also worries about how her illness affects me, as I am the only family she has to help bear all of it.
Cut ahead to this just-passed Thanksgiving (where I gladly did all of the festive cooking), and we find my mother on oral chemo drugs that sapped her out to an alarming degree while also reducing her appetite to virtually nil. I was at home for five days, and during that time I saw her eat a total of food that might have filled on whole plate. She had also suffered a fall the previous week and had scraped her face in the process, but at least she did not break any bones. And as she lay on the couch for hours every day, she kept coughing up endless amount of the gods only know what. In short, she was utterly miserable and at the lowest physical ebb of her life. The chemo drugs were kicking her ass, and it was also clear that her body was generally beginning to give out. To be blunt, my mother looked to be on the very precipice of death.
When I returned to Brooklyn after Thanksgiving — which was absolutely miserable and sad, by the way — mom was rushed to the hospital by a church friend who happened to be present when she collapsed, and it was determined that she should be taken off of the chemo drugs, as they were rendering her anemic and unable to eat. Once back at home and off the drug, she began regaining her appetite, started feeling better, and was finally getting out of the house again. But that reprieve was short-lived, as she returned to her private oncologists and was put back on the chemo drugs. That move fucked her up again, causing her to copiously vomit and lowering her white blood cell count, which landed her once more in the ER. Her oncologists took her off the chemo meds and she's now getting back to as normal as possible, but she's still too weak to do anything. I'll be heading home in a few days and will likely handle the cooking again, and I'm going with a mind focused on making this the best Christmas that I can for my mother, as it may end up being her final Christmas celebration. The holiday has no meaning for me, as I am not religious and being at home was always unpleasant for me (for reasons previously stated), but it means everything to her and is symbolic of her fantasy of when families can get together and truly have a good time while showing that they love one another.
Me, I'm not one for decking myself out in seasonal gear, like Santa hats and suchlike, but I am perfectly happy to put on a pair of reindeer antlers, both for my own amusement, and to make my mom happy this time around. That said, finding a decent pair of antlers that are not too small or too nauseatingly "cutesy" is no easy task, but after considerable searching online I found just the pair that suited my tastes, so I ordered them. I awaited them eagerly and they finally arrived on Saturday afternoon, but when I opened them up I found that the clip that holds them fast on the wearer's head was broken and therefore rendered the item useless. They are presumed to have been damaged during transit or, more likely, when our moron of a mailman crammed the package into my mailbox, rather than simply leaving it on the floor in my building's lobby as always. Rather disgruntled, I wrote Amazon and requested my money be refunded, but I really wanted to wear those antlers. Just something to bring me and mom a modicum of happiness during this especially dire Christmas. I also wrote the seller on Amazon to see if there was any way they could get me a replacement in time,. Here's the letter I sent to the seller:
I asked Amazon for a refund before finding out I could communicate directly with you. The antlers arrived with the clip that holds them to the wearer's head broken. That presumably happened when the mailman crammed the package into my building's mailbox instead of leaving it on the lobby floor, as per usual. Anyway, is it possible for me to send the antlers to you and have a replacement sent out? I really wanted them in time for the holiday, which I got, but they are not usable in this condition.
But it was a weekend and there was likely no one around again until Monday, plus it's the ass-end of shipping time for the holiday, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was well and truly pooched.
Vexed, stressed-out, and headachey, I closed my eyes and took a nap for a couple of hours, and when I awoke I checked my emails, where I found this:
Message from 3rd party seller:
HI , Steve,
I see. Don't worry. I'll arrange delivery of new ones for you today. And I'll make a full refund to you too, no need to return the broken one, just keep it at your disposal.
I like to make my customer full satisfaction, that's it.
Have a good day, Amy
I sat there utterly gobsmacked. A random third party vendor, showing last-minute seasonal kindness to an emotionally/psychologically worn-out cynic who loathes the Christmas season. I could not believe it, but I immediately wrote back with my heartfelt thanks and an explanation as to why the antlers are particularly important this year. And I know my mother will love seeing me wearing them as we open presents on Christmas morning, which is really all that matters.
I was able to balance the antlers on my head long enough to get a couple of pics, and in doing so I discovered that my now-abandoned plan to replace the clip would not have worked, because the clip can't simply slip out. The sturdy wires inside the antlers, which makes them positionable, are actually attached to the clip at their base, so taking the clip out whould require me to rebuild the clip's wrapping, a feat of costume repair that I freely admit my skills with a needle and thread are no match for. I'm just glad that the seller is being sweet enough to send a replacement pair — for free, no less — so I can wear them to delight my mom.
Modeling the broken antlers.