Friday, May 28, 2010

It’s Always the Last Place You Look

Well, how stupid is that, anyway? Of course it is; why keep looking after you’ve found something that was lost? I’ve never taken any comfort from that saying—until this morning. Perhaps you can relate.

My friend Joan and I are taking our friend Trudy to San Francisco for a day in Golden Gate Park as a belated birthday celebration. I haven’t “done” the touristy thing in the City for close to thirty years, and was happily bustling around the kitchen packing my half of our picnic lunch, cheese, fruit, and an assortment of olives. Oh, yeah—the blanket; I was supposed to bring a blanket. I grabbed my keys from my bag, went out to the car and popped the trunk. I struggled my blue stadium blanket loose from its position as cover for the disintegrating upholstery of the back seat of my ancient Honda. I closed the trunk with a resounding thud, and turned my face to the early morning sunshine—a real treat after a couple days of rain and wind.

Back in the house I finished getting ready for our day, made my bed, and cleared the breakfast dishes. Rather than lug my usual Timbuk2 bag which carries everything I might conceivably need to get through a day (it’s a Virgo thing), I pared down the contents to a light travel size purse. Keys—where are my keys? They should be right here on the table where I put them after coming in from the car. They’re not. I glance at the clock. I have an hour.

My hearts start to pound; I can feel a line of sweat form on my forehead just below my hairline. These aren’t just my keys, these are MY KEYS—keys to my house, my car, my private practice, my agency office, my daughter’s house, my bicycle, even the deadbolt key to my deceased parents’ home in CO. Breathe, I instruct myself. In: one, two, three, four; out: one, two, three. Repeat. I’ve never actually had a panic attack, and from the reports of people who have, I don’t want to start now.

Okay. I’ll retrace my steps, starting with the car, for which I had to have my keys to open the trunk, right? I don’t have a minor in Critical Thinking for nothing. Nope, not in the trunk. I am a creature of habit; I would have laid the keys on the kitchen table when I came back in the house. Nope, not on the table—or under it, or on any of the chairs around it. Well, this is just nuts.

When my daughter Sara was little, we used to read a series of childrens books by Patricia Coombs. One of her favorites was Dorrie and the Blue Witch, in which Dorrie, a little girl witch, and her mother, known as The Big Witch, capture the mean Blue Witch in a jar. The Blue Witch is so upset she starts jumping around, throwing off sparks, and making noise like the buzzing of bees. I felt a lot like that as I rampaged though the house, opening closet doors, looking under furniture; checking and re-checking my pockets. I even looked in the refrigerator and freezer, just in case.

The phone rang. It was Joan, checking on a last minute detail of our day. “My keys! They’re gone!” My voice edged on hysteria. How could I leave for a day with something this huge hanging over my head? “Duplicates?” she wondered. Of course. I have an extra house key, so I can get in and out of my house. I have a car door key, but it doesn’t work in the ignition. I have an extra bike key. There you go; that’s it. “Have you looked…” and we went through the list of places I’d already looked.

When I hung up, I decided to take a moment to quiet my mind, slow my pulse, and calm my psyche. I turned to the same place I ask for protection and guidance (and sometimes a parking spot)—my honored ancestors, who I trust “have my back” and intercede when I’m completely in my own way. “Okay you guys,” (our relationship is as relaxed as when those relatives were still walking around in their earth bodies) “I need your help here.” Even I know that when you do the same thing over and over, you’re not going to get a different outcome. I’d been going over and over my steps since getting the blanket from the car. “Start back farther,” was the guidance that came from my slowly quieting mind.

Okay, I got up, put on my robe, had breakfast, found the cooler, assembled the things from the refrigerator, went out to the car… Whoa! I was in my robe; I hadn’t showered and dressed yet. Like a crazed woman, I jumped up off the couch and ran into the bathroom. I jammed my hand into the pocket of my robe hanging on the back of the door (the last place I would look), and felt the satisfying scrape of knuckle on metal.

I let out a whoosh of breath that I didn’t realize I’d been holding. “Thanks guys,” I sent an appreciative prayer into the universe. The rest of the day I spent taking in the splendor of nature in the park instead of obsessing about how my life was going to be inconvenienced by a missing ring of keys. And, yes, I’m getting duplicates.

AS A SPECIAL TREAT: I never know how long these things are available, so I wanted to share it with you this week. Sister Sus sent this link for those who like to doodle; it was so enthralling, I almost forgot to leave for work:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In My Dream

In memory of Jean M. Bidwell 10/2/24 - 8/9/08

Sometimes there’s a cross-over between dream and waking states. Where one ends and the other begins is hazy:

The oncologist wiped sweat from his forehead onto the back of his hand. Self-consciously he slipped his hand into the pocket of his white smock. He placed his other hand on my arm. I felt the warmth penetrate through the layers of my blouse and sweater. His eyes, the color of ocean fog, reflected blue-gray, and focused slightly to the left of my nose. His voice was grave and resonate as he said, “Your mother is dying. The cancer is back. There’s nothing more we can do.” He shook his head slowly. “I’m sorry.”

A cold stillness passed through my body. I knew my heart must still be beating, but I couldn’t hear it, couldn’t feel it. For fifteen years, she had beaten the odds. Year after year, the cancer checks had come back clean. After the twelfth year she said, “Now I believe it’s really gone.” I had believed it too. Cancer had not claimed my mother. She had beaten it into submission with her will.

I woke in a cold sweat, the blankets tangled about me as I struggled to sit upright. My heart pounded--that was good. I could feel it; I could hear it. It was only a dream.

Over a lifetime, I’ve earned the rep as the family nut who calls early in the morning to suggest, for example, my sister take her cat Sasha to the vet because I dreamed of an obstruction in her feline’s stomach that had been overlooked. I later offered to pay the bill for the x-rays that showed a perfectly healthy and functional intestinal tract.

Then there was the time I instructed my brother to look under the loose brick in the neighbor’s back yard where I had dreamed his wallet, missing for a month, had been hidden. There was a loose brick, under which a scorpion was hidden that nearly stung him. Therefore, I was now in the habit of discounting my own dreams, and would only call to share a self-deprecating chuckle over the absurdity of yet another crazy story from my subconscious.

I lingered over a cup of French Roast. Oh, what the heck, I thought. As I reached for the phone to call Mom, it rang. I jumped. Hot coffee splashed onto the sleeve of my robe and dripped off my wrist as I hurled an expletive into the light of day. I set my cup down, dabbed at my cuff with a Kleenex, reached again for the phone, and picked it up on the third ring.

“It’s your mother,” she said. Mom had a way of cutting to the chase that made me smile when it wasn’t exasperating me.

“Mom, I was just about to call you. I had this…”

“The cancer is back,” she interrupted. “It’s on my liver this time. I’m dying,” she stated.

“I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010


“Excuse me, do you work here?” the young woman with a toddler slung on one hip inquired as Jane opened the door to the waiting room to check for her Thursday, three o’clock client. It was 3:20.

“I do. Can I help you with something?” She sized up the woman—practically a child herself, undernourished physically (and no doubt emotionally) she surmised. Her limp, sand-blond hair was pulled back in a frayed-out cloth scrunchie. She wore faded jeans and a tee shirt that showed a pale stretch of belly. No make-up, no jewelry. Attractive in a ghostly sort of way.

“My therapist seems to have forgotten me...”

My client seems to have forgotten me. It’s a perfect match; come on in, Jane thought with an internal smile. “Who are you here to see?” she asked instead.

“Wendy. I mean, I could be wrong about the day, or the time, or something,” she apologized hastily, as if she were used to things being her fault.

The large-eyed toddler clung to her mother like a Rhesus monkey as she considered Jane suspiciously under eyelashes that were to die for.

“That just isn’t like Wendy. She’s as predictable as the geysers,” Jane said, glancing at her watch.

The young woman tried for a smile and failed. She looked at Wendy’s closed office door, then back at Jane.

“Would you like to leave her a note? I’ll put it in her mailbox for you,” Jane offered. “I’m sure there’s an explanation.”

The woman sat the child on the floor near her feet, searched through her bag to find paper and a pen. She scrawled a quick note, added her phone number and handed it to Jane.

“Thanks. I hope she’s okay,” she said as she gathered up the toddler, tossed her bag over her shoulder, and left through the front door.

Odd, Jane pondered, before turning to the back office where she left the note in Wendy’s mailbox. The young woman and toddler were quickly forgotten in her attempt to track down her own client who was a “no show” for the second time in a row.

“This is getting old,” she muttered to herself as the phone on the other end rang repeatedly.

At seven o’clock, Jane clicked off the Tiffany lamp, locked the door to her office and made a mental note to call Wendy. As she locked the deadbolt to the back door of the office suite, she noted the empty parking lot at the rear of the building where Wendy usually parked her Wrangler. Maybe it’s the flu, she reasoned. There’s a lot of that going around.

Jane ambled down the driveway to the front of the building and keyed the bike lock freeing her ancient Schwinn that was chained to the sign post. She secured her bag in the metal basket with a bungee cord she found in the middle of the street at the beginning of summer.

Natalie had just turned the Closed sign on the chiropractic office next door, and stepped out onto the stoop.

“Where’s you helmet?” she admonished.

“Haven’t found one yet,” Jane answered.

“Got a wing in the hospital with your name on it, girl,” Natalie called. It was a conversation they had several times a week.

“You didn’t happen to see Wendy pull in today by any chance?” Jane asked.

“Do I look like a parking monitor?” Natalie chuckled. “Why?”

“Oh, probably nothing,” Jane said. She waved as she pedaled off down the street, faster than a speeding turtle, Natalie’s favorite description.

The sun was low, but the warmth lingered. The scent of Jasmine hung thickly and mixed with dinner smells drifting from neighborhood houses. Her stomach rumbled as the scent of fried chicken wafted on the air, followed by pizza two houses later. The breeze played with her hair and she grinned with pleasure.

At home in her tiny California bungalow, Jane made wonderful dinner smells of her own. As the broccoli steamed, she sliced and heated some chicken, and forked a mound of pickled beets from a jar. She booted up her computer and opened a chilled bottle of Chardonnay. While the messages tumbled into her In Box, she typed a quick e-mail to her office mate.

Hey, Wendy, where were you today? Cute little thing was looking for you. Okay, so she was a client. You all right? Send.

Twenty messages—good God, she thought, as she closed down her computer. Jane poured herself a glass of wine, arranged the colorful food on her favorite hand-thrown pottery plate, grabbed a napkin and settled herself in front of the television. With the remote, she clicked on the Independent Film Channel. “Now this is life,” she grinned at Harley, her Tetra, who signaled his love and devotion by circling his bowl and blowing little fish bubbles at her.

Half way through Fargo the phone rang. Okay, so she’d seen the movie three times before, but still... She opted to let the machine pick up, but turned the TV volume down a notch to screen the call. Connie, who worked alternate days from Jane’s schedule, was on the line.

“Jane, if you’re there pick up. Put down your wine glass, turn off the television and answer your phone...” She was obviously going to wait her out.

“Damn,” Jane muttered, blotting chicken grease from the corner of her mouth. She wadded up the napkin and tossed it on her plate.

“Why don’t I get an evening of peace and quiet like a normal person?” she grumbled into the receiver.

“You’ve never been a normal person,” Connie bantered. “Where’s Wendy?” she cut to the chase.

“I am not my sister’s keeper,” Jane quipped, “but, funny you should ask. She missed a client hour today. Have you seen her?”

“Nope. She wasn’t around yesterday and didn’t return my phone call or my e-mail. That’s just not like her. Did she say anything about going out of town?”

“No. I usually cover for her. Maybe I’ll drop by her house on my way to the office in the morning,” Jane said.

“Tell her rent’s due at the office when you find her, okay?”

“Gee, how compassionate. Aren’t you a little worried about her?”

“I’m worried about the rent at the moment,” Connie said.

They hung up and Jane returned to the movie but couldn’t keep her mind on it. It was as if mental mice were skittering around in her brain. She had an unsettling feeling she couldn’t quite name.

“Mice do that to me,” she said to Harley. He smacked his little fish lips at her in understanding.

Wendy’s condo was ten blocks out of Jane’s way, farther by bike than by car, she figured as she puffed and panted her way up to the carport. It was empty. She chained her Schwinn to a metal post and walked up the front steps, glancing over her shoulder for neighbors who might be up and out at this hour of morning.

Five plastic-wrapped Tribunes lay at odd angles on the small porch, surrounding a potted Begonia that seemed to be suffering heat stroke. The Venetian blinds were down but not drawn shut, and Jane peered through the slats into the dark living room. On an end table near the door, a green light blinked spasmodically on the answering machine.

Without much hope, Jane pounded on the metal door frame. She lifted the lid of the mailbox next to the door and peeked in. Scrawled in spidery writing was a note on a recipe card: Wendy, I’ve got your mail. Call me when you get back. Bertha

Apparently this was the kind of neighborhood where people watched out for each other. Now, which condo belongs to Bertha, Jane wondered. She guessed Bertha didn’t know much about Begonias, and spotting the hose coiled like a dead snake under the window next to the house, Jane took the bedraggled plant back down the steps for a good soak.

Preoccupied with the plant, she didn’t notice the man approach her until his shadow fell over her like an eclipse of the sun. She turned with a start and flinched as if she’d been struck. He was huge. Eight feet at least, Jane figured, before she realized she was squatting on the ground.

“Who are you?” he boomed. The man was dressed in overalls with no shirt, and was barefooted. Copper red hair clung to his large skull in dreadlocks.

She got to her feet, the Begonia in her arms; bogish water sloshed down the front of her blouse and seeped down one pants leg.

Gathering her wits, she looked up at the giant, and said, “My name is Jane. I work with Wendy, the woman who lives here. And you would be?” The quiver in her voice belied her bravado.

“I would be wanting to change my clothes, if I were you,” he grinned, his face changing from predatory giant to overgrown imp.

Jane blushed, set the plant down and brushed at the debris that clung to the white cotton.

“Call me Bertha,” he said, extending a beefy hand. Jane’s eyes widened. They pumped hands for a moment, then he said, “She’s been gone since Saturday. Not like her.”

“No, it isn’t,” Jane agreed. “She’s been missing at the office. I thought maybe she was home with the flu or something.”

They exchanged phone numbers and promises to call if either of them heard from Wendy.

“Nice to meet you,” Jane called as she hopped on her bike. Bertha flashed a peace sign. “Live well, die with honor,” he shouted after her.

Strange, Wendy had never mentioned this neighbor to her, Jane thought. She wondered what else she might not know about Wendy’s life.

Being a Virgo had its advantages. There was a change of clothes in the closet at her office, a back-up for the unpredictable weather in the North Bay area. Jane ran a comb through her hair and sat down at her desk to check for messages. She pushed the Play button.

This is Deputy Sheriff Costa calling regarding a Wendy Philson. We have her listed as a missing person. I understand you have a business relationship with her. Please call at your earliest convenience.

Jane jotted down his number and collected the rest of her calls.
Missing person? She’d never known a missing person before. People in her life didn’t do that--didn’t just go missing. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. She expected a voice-over to say, “You are now entering the Twilight Zone.”

She gave a little shiver and checked the clock. Four clients in a row. She’d have to return the call to Deputy Costa later.

“Have a good weekend,” she called to her last client as he walked down the hall. The young man stopped dead in his tracks, his head swiveled slowly to regard Jane. A look of agitation twisted his face.

“Oh, no, Adam, that wasn’t an order—just a wish. You know, like I hope you have a good weekend.”

A slight smile smoothed the wrinkles between his eyebrows before he turned to step through the door.

Jane let out a slow sigh and shook her head. Back at her desk she dialed Deputy Costa.

“Is there anything you can tell us about your office mate that will help us locate her?” he inquired. “Like a phone number for the family?”

“Uh—well, no, actually. I’m not sure where her family lives. I’m not even sure she has a family,” Jane stuttered.

“Any pets that might be boarded with a vet or anything?” he tried again.

“Gosh, I really don’t know if she has pets. I’ve never been in her house. I’ve only looked in her window.” Oh, brilliant, Jane thought.

“Friends she may have checked in with?” he asked.

“I’m not sure who her friends are, come to think of it.” She was feeling increasingly uneasy.

“You really don’t know much about your office mate, do you?” Deputy Costa said matter-of-factly.

“Sorry,” Jane said. “Will you let us know if you find her?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Jane hung up the phone, sat back in her chair, and thought about how their group had formed. Connie, Megan, Patrice, and Jane had known each other in graduate school. They’d all gotten licensed within a year of one another and banned together to face the competitive world of private practice. Wendy was the last to join their group a year ago. She came highly recommended by someone, although at the moment, Jane couldn’t remember who. They said hello when they passed in the hallway, and they’d sat in business meetings together, twice. “Hmmm, I guess I really don’t know her,” Jane said aloud.

E-mails flew back and forth through cyberspace that night as the four therapists processed this turn of events. What was their duty to Wendy’s clients, if any? If she doesn’t return, what happens to her client files? Her furniture? When do we re-lease the office? What about the mail and the bills piling up? Should we change her out-going message?

Strangely unsettled by the recent events, Jane stayed close to home over the weekend, puttered in the garden, cleaned out a closet, baked a quiche—did all those grounding activities that helped her feel in control of her own small reality.

The following Monday, she hitched her bike to the sign post in front of the office, walked through the front door into the waiting room, and noticed Wendy’s office door ajar at the end of the hall.

Jane froze. “Burglar,” she whispered to the empty waiting room. In a panic, she backed out of the office, and inched her way down the front steps. She crept down the driveway, keeping a low profile under the windows on the East side of the building, and peered around the corner into the lot where Wendy’s silver Wrangler was parked in the shade.

“Oh, my god, she’s back!” Jane hollered. She jammed her key into the back door deadbolt and bounded through the mail room into the main hallway. The light shone through Wendy’s open door.

Jane, giddy with relief, rushed into the office. Grinning like a kid at Christmas, she said, “Wendy, you’re alive! You’re here! I’m so glad.”

“Wow,” Wendy said with a smile. “What did I do to deserve a welcome like this?” She looked up from her chair and studied Jane a moment. Something’s off, she thought to herself. Jane seems a little manic, possibly high on something, not like her usual sedate self.

“You’re kidding, right?” Jane bubbled. “Where on earth have you been? We’ve all been sick with worry. Your clients didn’t know what had happened to you. We didn’t know if you were coming back or...” she bubbled on until she noticed confusion plastered all over Wendy’s face.

“Uh, Jane—what are you talking about?” Wendy kept her voice even as she rose from her chair. She approached Jane cautiously, tried to maintain soothing eye contact like you might an injured animal. She’d never seen her like this.

“Oh, come on, Wendy,” Jane stared at her. “Where the hell have you been for the last week? Bertha didn’t even know where you were.”

“Who on earth is Bertha?” Wendy asked, trying to get a read on what was happening.

“Bertha—your giant neighbor,” Jane said, exasperated. “Your clients were calling and we didn’t know what to tell them. The Sheriff showed up looking for you...”

There was a tap on the door just then. Jane spun around to see Connie step through the doorway.

“Connie, thank god,” Jane said, her voice thick with desperation. “Look—she’s back,” she pointed wildly at Wendy.

“Were you gone?” Connie smiled at Wendy.

“Jane seems to think so,” Wendy answered.

Jane turned from one woman to the next and back again. “The rent, Connie. You said you were worried about the rent since Wendy was no where to be found. You remember that, right?” she pleaded. Jane’s eyes had taken on a wild, unfocused look. Her hands trembled.

“I banked Wendy’s check along with all of ours on Monday and mailed the rent Tuesday. What’s going on, Jane?” Connie glanced at Wendy who shrugged.

Jane’s knees buckled. The room swam and from somewhere far off, she heard a voice-over saying, “You have just visited the Twilight Zone.”

* Speaking of Gone, I'll be away from my computer next week, but I invite you to browse through my friend Nancy's blog. She just posted a wonderful piece on past lives. I think you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lavender Roses

What’s this? A bunch of gray haired women over 50? What can they possibly have in common with me, you might ask. Please keep reading.

One way creativity shows up in my life is through my lesbian theater troupe, Lavender Roses Readers Theater. This nine member cast has been performing for spiritual and secular communities in and outside of California since 1993. Our message is one of unity through diversity. Please keep reading.

With a large measure of humor and music, and a dance number or two, we share through our personal stories our similarities, differences, and the joy and challenges we’ve experienced and as we explore our spirituality as lesbians in the New Thought Movement (our branch is Religious Science, a non-denominational metaphysical philosophy that holds that the Divine is in all things). Please keep reading.

In one of our songs, we address the question, what can Lavender Roses possibly have in common with me:

“We are lesbians, homosexuals; we’re dykes, we’re queer, we’re gay.
We may be working class, or professionals, or struggling to find our way.
We may have a mate, we may have kids, and in many ways it’s true—
We are more alike than different, we and you.

We all have fears, we all cry tears; we all have hopes and dreams.
We value family, spirituality; to all of us it seems
That diversity in community is a unifying way
To honor Spirit’s presence each and every day.”

A past President of the Board of Trustees of CSLSR stated, “I can personally acknowledge Lavender Roses for the good they have done in the community and the thought provoking message they bring that is needed by so many. As I watch them perform, my heart swells with pride and laughter; then tears come as I listen to the stories of growing up and living life from a viewpoint different than the mainstream.” S.S.

If you’re interested in booking a performance, please contact Joan for further information at

And to all my sister and brother Pagans, HAPPY BELTANE!