“I Miss My Sister” Club

I was convinced I wrote about this club dozens of times; so much so that I didn’t believe the search function on my own blog. I miss my sister every single day, thinking about her many times a day, what she could be doing right now – or how she would handle any situation I might be in.

I think of her especially as my father is grappling with his sister, dying of cancer. Sisters are forever; we cannot divorce them or break up with them. Sisters are magical witnesses to your fucked up (or blissful) childhood and only they know the unique history attached to the titles, “mom” and “dad.”

How many of us are desperately missing our sisters right now?

My sister and I have not lived in the same city for over five years and for better or worse I’ve gotten accustomed to our long distance relationship. Most of our communication is done electronically via text, phone, FaceTime and we see each other a couple of times a year for a day or two at a time – always because she makes the trip down to New York rather than I to Maine with my family of four.

For four years, my sister and I lived five blocks apart on Manhattan’s upper Eastside. Additionally, we worked in the same office, in the same department, with her cubicle directly outside my office. This was not just a memorable and fun period of our life, it was freaking cool. Life brought us together when we both desperately needed one another. We had a pulse on where either one of us was at any time of day and we were there to celebrate everyday victories or to mourn annoying disappointments. We watched American Idol and ate dinner and frozen yogurt on my couch. We knew it was special, we knew it wasn’t permanent, and we savored it as much as we could but life evolved. Men entered our picture and families grew and our branches separated; she liked it cold and rural and I could never break up from NYC. She happily sought refuge to Maine.

I am convinced there is divine enchantment in a sisterly bond, a genetic link that convenes way beyond molecules. Sisters understand this; we live it. My sister is more than a best friend and different than a husband. The love I have for my sister is unlike what I feel for my parents or for my children, but it comes from the same place, deep down from source of the strongest love I can produce.

I’m relatively certain our current circumstances aren’t permanent; life is nothing if not a constant transition. The miles which stretch between us is physical distance, but it’s not an inch farther from her forever home in my heart. She will always be on my side, I will always be on hers. Whenever I hear the word, “sister,” I’m flooded with a warm nostalgia mixed with longing and I thank my lucky stars I have one of those.

“Death is a Sure Thing” Club

“It’s just her turn,” I say. Trying to justify the unjustifiable. Trying to shove words where none fit.

“Is that a consolation prize?” My father says, who is going to see his dying sister, to review paperwork while she still has her mind.

“No,” I say and my brain enters the foot-in-the-mouth, but I’ll-try-to-peddle-out of-it-by-more-talking program. “Life is the consolation prize; death is the sure thing.”

I’m not sure if it’s a poignant thing to say or a callous one, but I’m so heartbroken and feel an abyss of sadness for my aunt who has to choose to enter a hospital, knowing she’ll never check out. Knowing she has to say death – nothingness – is better than the excruciating life she’s having now. She can’t walk or eat or go to the bathroom by herself. She finds no joy or beauty and exists in the imprisonment of a painful body strangling her heart of gold.

Is putting her out of her misery another consolation prize? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like another stray bullet hit a child, another life claimed too soon.

Just last week my father picked my aunt up from the hospital for the second time in two weeks. They thought they were waiting two hours for their discharge papers but alas a nurse comes with – drumroll please…a flu shot.

My father, at wit’s end from waiting in the hospital, stared at this nurse and said, “Are you fucking kidding me? A flu shot? Do you have a shot to bring her back to life?”

The nurse snickered at my father, who stood with his eyes bulging. “Now remember this only lasts a year, you’ll have to come back next year for another one.”

My father looked at her and questioned whether he had entered the Twilight Zone through the hospital doors. They had offered this woman hospice two hours earlier and then sent her on her way with the flu shot as a goody bag for the road to dying.

You can’t choose the way you come into this world and sadly in our country, we have limited control over the way we leave this world too. You either die at home in pain or do it according to their rules at the hospital, which aren’t always the most patient-centered.

“Do you want me to bring you to hospice?” my father asked his only sister. I think “sister” and feel like I was punched in the gut. I think about the gaping hole which will forever remain in his heart where her physical presence will morph into memories. I think about how, along with his sister, he loses his final connection to his parents, to his youth, to his family.

When I started my 365-autobiographical-essay-a-day project at the beginning of the year, I didn’t know what the year would have in store. I knew I wanted to write about my life stories as they relate to the human condition; I wanted to illustrate how humans ultimately all connect because we are the same species who need the same basic necessities to survive. What I didn’t expect was the constant source material life would continue to supply. 296 days in a row and I still have a long list of my own life stories I haven’t written and yet the world spins on, the calendar advances, people keep dying, and I keep typing.

“Getting Rid of the Cow” Club

For the last two months, I’ve lived in a state of flux known as renovation/restoration from the flood. Anyone who reads my posts regularly must be rolling their eyes because just when there couldn’t be more life lessons to garner from a renovation, I find more. I find reasons for things where they might not be apparent. I often also find words where none need to be said.

The ongoing condition of tension and constant clutter involved in my renovation is enough to stretch my rubber band of patience. Just when I thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel when our new hardwood floors came in, 14 kitchen cabinets arrived to disorder my entire living room. I continue sighing audibly and moving things around from here to there and back again, hoping to feel better. It’s useless; ultimately it feels like when I have a stuffed nose and I roll over to the left and all the snot follows and while I can breathe momentarily out of the right side of my nose, there is no delusion: I am still totally stuffed up.

This situation reminds me of a yiddish fable my father told me about an old farmer who went to the local rabbi because he felt over crowded with his big family in his tiny house. The rabbi advised him to bring one of the cows into the house.The pious man, though shocked at the absurd suggestion, went home and followed the holy man’s advice.  A week later, the distraught farmer returns, complaining how the house feels (obviously) even tighter! The rabbi, stoically replies, “bring in a horse!” Once again, he is stunned at this advice, but he goes home and does as told.  A week later, he returns as disgruntled as ever. “Rabbi,” he pleads, “my house is now bursting at the seams. How can I live like this?” To this, the rabbi says, “Now let the animals back into the barn and come back next week.” A week later, the farmer returns, jubilant “How joyful my house is!” The man exclaims, “I never knew we had so much space!

“I Look for the Reason for Things” Club

I am always looking for the reason why things happen [to me]. Occasionally this makes me feel better when things seem to happen beyond my control. If I can’t explain it, my default is to believe things happen “for the story; another chapter in my life.” Ultimately, though, the most mysterious things are the ones for which I can never find explanations, like why the kindest, most wonderful people are the ones struck with the vilest forms of torturous death. I can’t find a reason for this or the reason for thousands of children dying of cancer. Adding to that list, I’ve never been able to comprehend the meaning for any of the horrific diseases lurking on every page of the Internet or the reason for the Holocaust, or any war. 

Sometimes I get stuck in traffic or miss the train and rather than getting frustrated, I think of the movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow and feel reassured that I’m exactly where I need to be. Missing the train means I wasn’t meant to be on it, or if I’m late, it’s because life is delaying my arrival until the precise moment I’m supposed to be there. Having faith in mysterious forces isn’t natural for me; I wasn’t raised with a religion controlling our lives. We knew we were Jewish – and it was important – but it didn’t influence what we ate, when we used electricity, or what we wore. My religion was more of a club I was born into, like a last name, which identified my heritage or history, but it didn’t govern my life. 

Nowadays I think about the reason for things at every step, sometimes obsessively. We had a flood in our apartment and while I didn’t plan on renovations, I convince myself the reason it happened was so I get a new kitchen I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. Every step of the way, we have been following the rules, by the books and yet we still come upon struggles and conflicts. Contractors, electricians, plumbers, cabinet makers, counter installers; they’re all bad at business, have bad work ethic, bad customer service, and an overall lack of common sense or courtesy. Every roadblock we encounter, I begin to analyze WHY is this happening now? While I take deep breaths until I feel lightheaded, I wonder if this mundane minutia is going to strangle me.

It’s fruitless. There is no reason; a gazillion writers and philosophers before me have already concluded that, but I am like a teenager desperate to make my own mistakes, and see the big picture, connect the dots.

I try to cope the way I know best, with words. Sadly, these words don’t help the plumber come when he promised or the faucet delivery on time or the cabinet maker not screw up. 

“My Aunt is Dying” Club

My aunt is dying. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer five years ago and has done countless rounds of chemo, has gone into remission once, and no matter what, cancer comes back fiercer each time. My father brought his weak, frail sister to the emergency room for the second time in two weeks. She’s in terrible pain and all blocked up; nauseated and can’t eat.

Two weeks ago they aspirated ten pounds of liquid from her abdomen. When cancer cells spread to the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum), they can irritate it and cause fluid to build up. Also, cancer can block part of the lymphatic system so the fluid can’t drain out of the abdomen as usual. The following week she had another ten pounds of fluid drained so they inserted a catheter so it could continue to empty. But this wasn’t enough. She was still nauseated and throwing up so they put a tube up her nose down to her stomach to try to extract whatever black vile poisonous fluid was stuck inside her which was causing her this discomfort. They sucked it all out and she said she felt momentary relief.

It comes back: the pain, the blockages, the fluid. THE FUCKING CANCER ALWAYS RETURNS. Groundhog’s Day: The Evil Version.

As a family, we know we’re reaching the end of my dear aunt’s circle. I was there with her the day she got her diagnosis.  I remember imagining this journey, never really being able to envision the effects on her psyche, on any of our mentalities. What it’s like to be sick for five years – every single day. What it’s like to wake up and imagine cancer spreading inside of you, a colorful dye spreading throughout the water, tinting the whole thing. How her entire life – beyond just her body – became consumed by this disease.

When my father is at his lowest, exhausted, devastated and utterly powerless, I encourage him to be strong, to take care of himself, not to let cancer corrode two lives. But it travels outside the body and taints the air with its acrimonious stench.

I was walking home from school with my 6-year-old daughter and my father called to say he was on his way to the hospital again. I stayed on the phone with him the entire walk and I explained to my daughter that my aunt, Deda’s (grandpa’s) sister, is dying and we’re extremely sad.

“Is she really dying?” My daughter asked.

“Yes, we’re all eventually going to die, but she is very sick and she is probably going to die soon. I don’t know what soon means, though.”

“That’s so sad,” my daughter says. “I feel so so bad for Deda. That’s his SISTER. His Reena [my sister].”

“Why me?” my sick aunt was crying to my father. “What did I do? I was a good person!”

She is a great person – one of those you use as a benchmark when you meet other people. Cancer is the greatest equalizer; the least prejudiced of us all. It curses the three-year-olds my husband entertains at the hospital and my aunt, the kindest woman in the world. Behavior or personality doesn’t bare weight in the court of cancer.

The doctors said there is one more chemo she can do, once a week, if she wants, but they aren’t sure if it will work. Either that or hospice.

We watch helplessly as it’s her turn to face the inevitable. You can’t escape it, can’t outrun it, can’t nuke it. It keeps coming back and strangling her from the inside out and we stand by unable to throw her a lifeline, watching her drown.

“I Watched the Third Debate” Club

When I worked in the corporate world, we had lots of meetings; I developed a habit of “meeting poetry” to pass the time. Here’s my version of the debate:

You wait as if you’re watching live theater – but the actors are a bit drunk and have all slept with each other.

I know Donald Trump’s little idiosyncrasies will turn into Saturday Night Live sketch later in the week. He sniffed again, adjusted the microphone.

Hillary Clinton supports the second amendment but just wants to eliminate some of the senseless 33,000 gun deaths a year in America.

Donald Trump wants to overturn Roe vs Wade. He said women should be punished for having abortions. Scare rhetoric.

The US Government should not regulate women’s health.

Wall versus no plan for supporting border.

We need strong borders to keep the drugs out of the country. I want to build a wall. We all want the wall. Get all the drug lords. Bad bad people have to go out SNIFF. Bad hombres need to get out.

Carla’s parents might be deported and Hillary doesn’t want to separate parents from children.

Donald takes a drink.

We would have to put people on trains and buses to send them out of our country.

Deport violent people!

Who’s paying for the wall? Not the President of Mexico, who is a very nice man. Nafta is bad and it’s Bill’s fault.

Undocumented labor to build Trump tower. You complain? I get you deported!

Obama has deported millions. It happened “bigly,” Donald says. He said it again. Is he saying “big league” or “bigly?”

$225K to Hillary for talk to a Brazilian bank. (How do I get speaking fees like that?!)

Quoting from WikiLeaks. Uh oh.

Russian government engaged in espionage! Always the bad Russians.

From Putin himself! 17 of our intelligence agencies have concluded Russians are doing this from highest Kremlin to influence our election. Gasp! The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!

She wants open borders! People are coming from Syria! From everywhere!

He wants to end Radical Islamic Terrorism and she is ignoring the whole concept!

He doesn’t know Putin but thinks it would be nice to be friends.

Putin rather have a puppet as president.

Russian cyber attacks!

Putin has a favorite (and it’s not Hillary?)

17 agencies! 17 agencies! But he believes Putin.

Does Donald condemn interference? Of course, he does! Putin is not Donald’s best friend! (But it would be nice.)

Donald says, “If we have them, why don’t we use them?”

Ice cream break (me not them).

Families making less than $125K/year should not get a tuition bill if they go to a public college.

Trickle down economics on steroids? Eek. We don’t want ‘roid rage.

Twenty trillion dollars in debt? I thought I was bad! Oh and Obama cut the deficit by 2/3! Worst inherited debt ever!

We’re going to terminate NAFTA and make a new deal! America is dying with a 1% GDP! India growing 8%, China growing at 7% and us … so bad! Our country is stagnant. We lost our jobs and our business and we don’t make anything. Products are pouring in from China and Vietnam and all over the world.

No tax raise for anyone making less than $250K.

Not top down, middle up!

The Trump hotel in Las Vegas is made with CHINESE STEEL!

She has 30 years experience. He says he did a better job because he started with a one million dollar loan and built a phenomenal company.

Hillary gave us Isis! But don’t worry, she’s going to get rid of Isis.

Talk about grabbing women. Nine women came forward and said they were groped and kissed without his consent. Why did they make this up since you deny this?

Trump says he doesn’t know those people. Stories are totally false. I didn’t know any of these women. Hillary’s campaign did it! All lies and fiction.

Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger.

Let’s demonstrate who we are and who our country is and what we expect from our next president. Do we want to pit people one against the other or lift people up and make our country even better?

Nobody has more respect for women than Donald Trump. Those stories have been debunked.

She criminally destroyed 33,000 emails! What happened to FBI? I don’t know. She’s lied to people, to Congress, to the FBI! She’s getting away with it!

Talk about that – not fame or fiction from her campaign.

Denying responsibility. Never apologizes.

WRONG Donald interjects with duck lips.

A pattern of the divisiveness of dark and dangerous vision of our country where he incites violence. That is not who America is!


Uh oh, Hillary took lots of money for the Clinton Foundation from bad people. She should give it back, Donald says. Huh?

Oh and Donald still hasn’t released his tax returns. Donald has not paid a penny in federal income tax.

We’re entitled to take massive charges on depreciation because of her laws.

Donald says the election is rigged and Hillary is stealing it from you. She should never have been allowed to run.

Google “Donald Trump Iraq”

WRONG Donald interjects with duck lips. (He does this many times.)

There was a lot of arguing about Iran and I fell asleep.

Good night and good luck, America.

“Restoration not Renovation” Club

Growing up my mother would get haircuts sporadically. She’d be sporting a curly-haired bob and when the bangs grew to an annoying length, she’d give into a mall haircut. Occasionally she returned with what my sister and I, as kids, called “a boy haircut.”

“Why did you have to go so extreme?” my sister and I would ask.

“I figured if I’m paying for them to cut it, I want it to be really noticeable.”

I’ve reflected upon this “philosophy” throughout my life, most recently with my due-to-the-flood renovation. Our hardwood floors sustained the most damage during the flood and for two months we’ve lived on cardboard and paper floors. Today, they are back, brand new, just like they were the night before the flood. 

It’s a weird sensation. It’s like I waited months for a haircut appointment, spent eight hours at the salon and stepped out looking exactly like it did before I started the whole thing.

“But we’ll have a new kitchen too,” my husband reminds me.

“Oh yeah,” I say as I look around in a strange sense of deja vu.

I guess I should never have been calling it a renovation; it was actually a restoration.

“Strong Work Ethic” Club

I totally get that renovations are a metaphor for life; I’ve written something to this effect five days in a row. I understand how surprises lurk behind every wall you open and around every corner; I’ve lived this already.

Today’s gripe is about work ethic.

When I’m hired to do a project, whether it was as an advertising executive or as a writer or as an artist, I strive to complete the project not only according to my perfectionist standards but also above and beyond the clients’ expectations. I come prepared to be spontaneous or flexible as long as the end result is getting the job done – and done well.

At one point today in my apartment, I had a contractor, four plumbers, two flooring guys, and two guys hauling flooring, which my husband and I ripped up ourselves and filled into rolling carts and one box for their easy disposal.

I watched these eight men working around me and all I could think is, “I would work harder and faster and better than this.” Getting started was problem one. Instead of a “challenge accepted” or “let’s sell this house today” attitude, we got sighs followed by excuses. Accountability was crickets; workmen just point fingers and tell you to talk to their boss, which we did over a dozen times today. If it’s not Home Depot or the bank, it’s Lumber Liquidators and Bob, the hot-headed floor layer.

When I worked at the donut shop throughout my teenage years, Dottie, my favorite waitress, the buxom redhead who became a grandmother at 35, used to get frustrated by the lazy teenagers who worked with us. “They have two speeds,” she would snap her gum and shake her head, “slow and none.”

Just like I can’t judge how other people live their life or what makes them happy, I can’t command how hard a person is going to work. I do expect, however, when someone gives me an estimate, it will be relatively close to the mark. If a person gives me a contract with a list of what I paid for in full, I expect to receive that service. If they say it will take two days to do something, I’m surprised if it takes a week.

I’m not sure if you’re born with work ethic or if you learn from your parents. As immigrants, my family came to this country already with an uphill climb. My parents had a language barrier, an education barrier, and social barriers but none of those deterred my parents. They came here to work hard and make a life for themselves and for us. They came to America because rumor had it this is where dreams came true if you worked hard enough to make them happen. Build a business, build a life.

Strong work integrity and delivering what you promise should be the default of good business. Standing behind your product and your service shouldn’t be a bonus, that should be the minimum. It sucks to have to be the ever-present boss telling them what they didn’t do right. I shouldn’t have to be a bad guy; I paid to receive a product or a service and not have to work. I paid for peace of mind and ease and instead I have aggravation, frustration, and arguments. All home improvement workers should come with a specified warning label: may cause irritation, maddening confusion and inexplicable conflict. At the least I could be prepared for the brand of renovation torture I will be put through.

“No Lazy Day Sundays” Club

Scrolling through my social media feeds on Sunday night, I see a bunch of happy posts showing families apple picking in the midst of autumnal rainbow trees or else even better, people commenting, “I’m on my third cup of coffee and not moving from this couch.”

I long for a day like this; when I have nothing to do. The clock in my mind ticks loudly and there is always more to be done. I’ve often half-jokingly longed for a “boring” or more “ordinary” life, but instead mine is chock full of stories.

It’s not enough that we had to move the entire contents of our apartment out because our new floors are coming, but we also tiled our bathroom floor. (OK actually my dad did it and we helped and got yelled at a little bit because “you’re too “artistic and picky” and “you’re not going to notice it two days after it’s installed.”)

Our fun didn’t end there. We also ordered a toilet, a sink, and two faucets online. You haven’t really shopped until you’ve shopped for toilets, right? Quite honestly I was happily content until the age of 42 without knowing there are both one AND two-piece toilet options. Furthermore, they have ones with multiple flush options for a pee or a poop. “We have to save the water for our kids,” my husband tells me and convinces me we need the one piece called The Magic Flush. I drew the line at any possibility of getting The Adonis, which tried to sell me it would be much easier to clean.

Incidentally, faucets have come a long way from the well and have many fancy options. Two-knob faucet operation is very archaic; the one-handle model is much more convenient. If that’s too much effort, there is the touch-activated variation. Finally, there is the motion sensor, which my husband convinced me, with an extended arm demonstration, how it would be dangerous and the faucet would randomly go off to potentially WET OUR SHIRTS and we wouldn’t want that! How long until voice recognition faucets?

After hours of toilet, faucet, and sink research, we placed our order on Home Depot and received a confirmation email. A few minutes later we received another email saying our payment was rejected. We called and resolved it with a new card and got a new confirmation number. A few minutes, another email canceling the new order. We called again, another card, another email. Finally, we ordered one sink on Amazon and decided to call the bank.

You know what’s fun about a bank? When you [FINALLY] have cash in there and try to use your debit card, and the bank says, “Sounds like fraud.”

So we say, “Thank you for the fraud protection, bank. Here’s our story: we got flooded and now we’re renovating our home so we’re going to be buying unusual things like toasters and tiles and toilets. We’re going to be spending thousands so we want to alert you.”

Bank says, “thank you, sir, it will be notated.”

We try to buy kitchen cabinets and we decide to proactively notify the bank of a big purchase. They say, “thank you, sir, it will be notated,” and the card doesn’t go through. We call again and they allow it and promise they’ll make the note in the file.

It happened two other times before the Home Depot incident today. We ended our non-relaxing Sunday in a hotel bed fighting with our bank asking for them to notate that we are allowed to use our money.

I’m confident, though, when I try to re-buy my toilet for the third time today, it will work perfectly because the bank promised; they assured me they always make a note in my account.

“Forever Daddy’s Girl” Club

My father helped me tile my bathroom walls today. (Correction: I helped my father tile my bathroom walls.) We worked in harmony, united on the task at hand and when he said, “Give me that thing over there,” I knew which thing he meant because I would anticipate his moves. I can’t recall the last time my dad and I had one-on-one time – hours – just the two of us, music playing in the background, working on making something beautiful. He stood at the helm of the ship as Captain, and I was his sturdy, well-trained second mate.

I passed the tiles, the mastic, the spacers and he did the official and permanent work of placing them onto the wall. He operated the tile saw, proudly showing off his craftsmanship after ever piece. “Do you see how thin this machine can slice? Look at this precision!” I marveled at each sliver and made a neat pile of baby tiles for if they’d come in handy later.

I am 42 years old, my father is 67 and today I could have been 10 years old, him 35. Only he was a calmer, kinder, softer version and I was a more forgiving, grateful daughter.

“Of course you knew exactly what he wanted,” my husband said, after I bragged about our ability to work well together, “You are him!” 

It’s interesting to see so much of myself in my father – or I guess it’s more of how much of him I see in me. As I get older, my wrinkles mimic his and often my reflection startles me by the uncanny resemblance.

The father-daughter relationship is a complicated, intricately woven web formed over a lifetime of moments, experiences, interactions, and mistakes. Today I watched my dad in awe, the ever strong, can-do-everything man standing comfortably in the spotlight I’ve always reserved for him. Not only was he able to tile my wall, but also rip out a rusted toilet, rewire my electricity, and level a floor – all while dancing along to Diego’s Umbrella with me.

I have been critical and analytical of my father for years, especially in my writing this year. It doesn’t matter how strict my criteria is for fatherhood, I’ll forever be daddy’s girl.