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Friendship, Grief, Guest Posts

Remodeling, Loss and the Kitchen Sink

December 21, 2020
sink

By Devra Lee Fishman

I could tell I confused the Home Depot kitchen designer when I burst into tears.

“Most people are happy to hear they need a new sink when they change out their countertops,” he said.

“I do not want a new kitchen sink,” I said, as I dug around in my handbag for a tissue. “All I want is a new white countertop to replace the forest green one I installed when I remodeled fourteen years ago.”

I have always decorated to my taste with no worry about resale and at the time, I had a taste for forest green. I also had a dear friend being treated for breast cancer.

Leslie and I met on our first day of Syracuse University almost thirty years previous when we were matched as roommates. We clicked immediately, lived together all through college and over the years laughed our way through good and tough times. We were in each other’s wedding and when I didn’t get my dream job and I thought my world was at a dead end, Leslie helped me see the open road. Her bad news came at the same time I was going through a rough break up, yet Leslie consoled me. “Dev, in a lot of ways having a broken heart is worse than having cancer. At least I have treatment options to get me through this.”

When I started the remodel, Leslie had just moved back to upstate New York from Los Angeles. I was looking forward to spending more time with her now that we were both living on the same coast, but she was diagnosed shortly after she unpacked. Her cancer was advanced and advancing. As time went by and her world seemed to only revolve around doctors and treatments, I thought she might enjoy a distraction so I asked her to help design my new kitchen.

I visited every few weeks and brought my architect’s plans. Leslie had a great eye for form and function and there were many decisions to be made about cabinets, hardware, and colors. I valued her opinions and I knew how much she valued having something other than cancer to think about.

After the space planning was done, I sourced the fixtures and appliances locally. The only thing I could not find was the sink. I wanted a deep, double bowl under mount. I knew it had to exist somewhere so the next time I visited Leslie we went sink hunting. She knew of a high-end home goods store that was having a going out of business sale and the thought of snagging a bargain appealed to both of us.

It was mid-August and the temperature was burning into the nineties. Leslie wore a short black and white checked shirtdress, which hung on her like a drop cloth. Even though she was cooler without it, she put on a red baseball cap to cover her chemo-bald head.

We drove to the store that had a five-foot high neon yellow banner out front advertising its closing sale – everything was marked down. Inside it was Kansas after the tornado with faucets, lights and curtain rods strewn about the shelves. After pacing several aisles we finally spotted a sticker with a picture of my dream sink but did not see any nearby. While I searched for a cart, Leslie enlisted the help of a stock boy and together they found the sink on a high shelf, behind a tangled sculpture of showerheads. The stock boy lifted the sink into the cart, and Leslie and I wheeled it over to check out.  There were four cashiers, each with lines five people deep. Leslie and I chatted while we waited.

“The stock boy, Darryl, is very sweet but he smells like he had a lot of garlic for lunch,” she said. “He’s been working here for three years, putting himself through college and now that the store is closing, he’s nervous about how he’s going to pay for his tuition next year.” She only needed a few minutes to get a life story from a perfect stranger.

“Did you also find out if he has a girlfriend, where he lives and what his mother’s name is?”

“No, didn’t have enough time. He did ask if you were single. Are you interested in cradle robbing? Because he’s up for it.”

“Cradle robbing appeals. Garlic could be the deal breaker,” I cracked.

“Hey, we’re next”, Leslie said. “I’m going to see if I can get you a better deal on your sink.”

“How you going to do that?”

“I’m going to play the cancer card.”

I caught my breath and lowered my voice.  “Don’t you want to save that for something more important than a kitchen sink?” I pointed to the sign on the cash register that said ‘PLEASE DO NOT ASK FOR A BIGGER DISCOUNT’. “I think they mean business,” I said, trying to talk her out of making a scene.

Leslie locked her eyes on mine. “Dev, I have cancer. I don’t save anything for later.”

I nodded my understanding but still tried to make myself as small as possible when Leslie stepped up to the cashier.

“Hi, my friend here is buying this sink and I’m wondering if you would give her another five percent off. After all, we had to climb all over to find it and wrestle it down from the top shelf,” Leslie said.

The clerk looked like she was barely old enough to work. Her voice was rehearsed, but warm. “We have a policy that we can’t give bigger discounts,” she said.

“Do you give bigger discounts for people with cancer,” Leslie asked as she lifted her hat. The entire store seemed to go silent as the nearby customers and cashiers froze waiting for the answer.

The girl took Leslie’s hand and whispered, teary eyed, “I wish I could, but my manager said no discounts to any one under any circumstances or I’ll get fired.”

I interrupted and asked, “We don’t want her to get fired, do we Leslie?” I quickly swiped my credit card and finished the transaction.

Leslie asked, “Can we at least get someone to help us carry this out to the car?” She was going for a victory, no matter how small.

Before the cashier could answer, the store manager and two other men who were in the line next to ours almost collided as they vied to take control of our cart.  The three of them walked us outside and lifted the sink into my car.  Each one of them gave Leslie a hug before going back inside.

Leslie died the following year and I think of her – and our sink buying adventure – every time I walk into my beautiful kitchen. But my forest green countertop was fading and there was a stain from when I did not clean up red wine fast enough. It was time for a new countertop.

The kitchen specialist explained. “When we remove the old countertop, the sink will get damaged.” The finality of the trade-off made me cry more. He pulled out a brochure and said, “We’re having a promotion on new sinks this week. Do you like any of these?”

I wanted to tell him that I bought my sink with my dear now dead friend and that shopping trip was our final crazy caper, but I just sniffled, nodded and pointed to the only double-bowl under mount on the page.

When I got home that day I called my mother for solace.

“Grief is a wicked shape shifter, honey. We never know what will trigger us. This is difficult because it reminds you that Leslie is gone,” she said.

She’s right. My kitchen holds the last memories I have of Leslie and the project we worked on together throughout her fight with cancer. I feel like I am saying goodbye to her all over again and will with each piece of the kitchen that has to be replaced. Just last month the motherboard of my original refrigerator crashed and the appliance was diagnosed beyond repair. I cried then, too.

**

I kept the sink. I had to. I planted it in my backyard and now use it as a container for irises, Leslie’s favorite flowers. I know Leslie would get a kick out of that. But the refrigerator…I had to let it go and I am trying not to resent the new one taking its place. I know Leslie would like that, too.

Devra Fishman is a writer and long-time hospice volunteer. She is currently working on a full-length memoir about the beautiful transformational friendship she shared with my college roommate who died from breast cancer way too soon. Devra’s essays have been published in The Saturday Evening Post, The Manifest-Station and Laura Munson’s summer guest blog series. She lives in Falls Church, Virginia.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Relationships

I Used To Believe In Magic

April 18, 2015

By Natalie D-Napoleon

My father was an atheist who believed that facts and science were the only thing worth basing your life on.  My mother is a Catholic, and believes in faith and prayer. Me? I used to believe in magic.

###

I’m embarrassed to say I believed Santa existed until I was 11, and my mother had to tell me he wasn’t real. I was the eldest child of four and the eldest cousin of 11, so there were no older siblings or cousins to pop my magic-believing bubble.

From the mystical power of pyramids to prevent cheese from molding and hanging upside down in yoga poses to increase the capacity of my brain I graduated to an interest in tarot cards, Jung and astrology. Jung’s signs of synchronicity and deja vu governed my life for a time, and their appearance I always took as a pointer that my life was going in the right direction; that magic was happening and I was where I needed to be in that moment.

But over time I stopped believing in magic. Magic was lies adults told to children to get them to behave, it was mythology and fairy tales, serendipity and synchronicity. The adult world taught me those things no longer existed, that magic was for children, and for those who wanted to stay children longer than they should.

My father had always been right. Magic was for those who are by nature dreamers, and my dreams had become boring, tedious, painful and adult.

###

I was sitting in my Mazda 3 in the parking lot of the university where I worked, on my cell phone, talking to Steve and sobbing.  “I can’t do it. I can’t do exploratory surgery when we don’t even know for sure if that will give us the answers we’re looking for.”

“Nat, I don’t know what to say.  Do you want to get pregnant or not?”

“I do, but…”

“Then have the laparoscopy, don’t cancel it.”

“I can’t. She said in most cases they don’t even find anything. It’s exploratory surgery. I just… I can’t do it.”

I called back the doctor’s office where I’d just finished completing my admissions forms for a laparoscopy and endoscopy in eight weeks’ time, and cancelled the surgery.

###

For two and a half years we had been trying to get pregnant.

We had tried everything.

I’d had blood tests every morning for weeks to track my hormones at a fertility clinic, plastered with pictures of happy mothers and families with babies on the walls; we’d fucked like rabbits in every position imaginable; and, finally we’d tried the Creighton Model Fertility Care System – no invasive techniques for this natural couple.  The CMFS involved a system of tracking cervical mucus using an infuriating and methodical system of checking wiped toilet tissue and recording my cervical mucus consistency, length and color, every day of the month to determine when I was ovulating. All the while we watched my best friend get pregnant, twice, my sister in law unknowingly use the girl’s name I’d picked, Lillian, and attended so many first birthday parties for our friends’ children that they now outnumbered the adult parties we went to.

It was not long after that that I ended up in the bathroom with a men’s Bic safety razor in my hands.

###

Steve screamed from the other side of the door at me to open it or he was going to smash it in.

I hated the fact that I loved my possessions so much and the door of my house so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of it being smashed. Fuck! I hated that money was so tight I hated spending it on anything unnecessary – for the sake of him finding me balling with a shaving razor in my hand.

I unlocked the door. And I sobbed a cry from so deep inside me that I thought I might never regain my “self”.  I wasn’t really going to slash my wrists but I was so desperate for a way out of the thousandth fight/conversation/emotional meltdown about our fertility problems that I didn’t know what else to do.

I was grieving for the loss of my fertility, my relationship, my music career, and my dreams of having a child to play on the lawn we had tended to in the yard. We had dug the trenches for the reticulation with my dad who had also helped us lay the pipe and solder it to the water main. We had spread the fertilizer on the ground, then worked in the lawn runners, watered it every day for the first month, then two or three times a week after that to get the runners to take. The lawnmower guy came over once every two weeks to mow it. And I spent my free time hand-weeding, to make sure there were no pesticides or herbicides used on our property.

The lawn was verdant and lush was waiting for tiny feet. All the while we tended to our lawn I had visions of my child or children running around on the grass, playing, giggling, and falling down.

Being safe, being home.

Instead I was sitting at the edge of the bath tub sobbing; impotent and holding a man’s safety razor in my hands.  There was no magic left in my life only the grinding reality of our infertility.

###

I met Steve when I bought a Rickenbacker on lay-away from him at a local music store.  I had started my first band and we’d just started gigging. When I returned the fourth time to make my last payment I asked Steve if he knew anyone who gave electric guitar lessons. He answered, “Yeah, I do.” We set up a date and a time to meet at his place and I set off with those little moths of impending love beating their wings in my chest.

When I turned up for my first guitar lesson synchronicity seemed to be at work again when I noticed he had a block-mounted poster of Susannah Hoffs from the Bangles propped against the wall in his bedroom, holding her black and white Rickenbacker, the same model as mine. I went for a guitar lesson, we started dating and I and never got another formal lesson from him – a running joke in our relationship.

When we separated I sold that Rickenbacker to fund the first solo EP I recorded, “After the Flood”.

###

We fell in love then moved in together eight months later, just after I turned 22.  He convinced me the guys in my band weren’t on my musical trajectory, so I broke up the band before it had run its course. I wanted to move on and fulfil my musical vision, and I let him convince me we could write better songs together.

The first song we wrote together happened so easily I thought that was the sign confirming that fate was at work once again. The song had a haunting guitar part in open D tuning. I began to sing over the chords and the words of the chorus tumbled out of my mouth, a gift, “My fear of falling eats me and it swallows me up / My fear of falling eats me and it fills my cup.”

After this Steve was never happy unless we wrote a song together. Once we’d started performing together as an acoustic duo, I wrote three songs on my own and played them to him, hungry for feedback. He made no comment on the songs, but instead asked, “What about me, where’s my place in this?  I…I just don’t know where my place is in our duo if you go off and write songs on your own.”

I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and withdrew because he said I needed to choose what I wanted to do, play music or write, because I couldn’t do both.

My problem was I wanted to do everything.

My problem was I was too afraid to follow my dreams.

My partner and I were like idealistic children adrift in a sea of adult responsibility, clinging to each other, yet drowning the other person in our panic to hang onto our dreams.

That was it, the map of what was to become was all there in that first song. The pomegranate had been split open, Persephone had taken a bite. From this song on I would be forever trapped in this underworld of my own making.

###

I wasn’t “ill” but I was suffering physically. Infertility leaves its sufferers in an illness purgatory. I didn’t look sick, but my body was painfully and clearly failing to do what it should: to make a baby, grow a baby, and bring a baby into the world.

There was not a single person in our family or social circle who had dealt with infertility. Admitting our struggle to family and friends only made the situation worse. “You two just need to relax,” became the empty advice mantra, which implied our problems were the fault of our character or attitude, rather than a fault of our bodily functions. So, from then on we vowed to keep our struggles “personal” and by implication secret and cloaked in shame. I took it upon myself to solve the problem by becoming consumed with the task of getting pregnant, and it was the one thing that filled my every waking hour.

Having a child would save our relationship and the life I’d built with my partner, Steve, who I had loved desperately, had imagined growing old with, having children with and continuing to share my creative musical life with.

The doctor we were working with in the Crighton Model Fertility System sent me back to the fertility clinic to get another hormonal blood work up, to track my levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone levels, which involved returning every second day for almost two weeks. The marks on my easily bruised arms covered up by Band-Aids and long-sleeved tops.

I had to believe making a child involved some sort of combination of magic, voodoo and timing we hadn’t yet worked out the hidden formula to. The answer was there, all we needed to do was hang on as we’d been doing for the last two and a half years.

###

“Nat you have to check his phone.” I talking to my best friend Donna and she was getting annoyed with me and the high moral ground stance I’d taken.

“But I can’t, it’s not fair. I can’t go behind his back and do that. That’s not the type of person I am. I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him already 20 times. He said there’s nothing going on with her.”

Then she told me she saw it, a few other people saw it. He was playing with her bracelet at my birthday party at a local craft brewery, and it wasn’t the action alone, but the intimacy of the gesture. This was another incident to add to the list of events that had transpired in the last seven months and cumulated with the bracelet-touching incident.

The phone, his phone had become the thing.

Steve spent most of his free time checking his phone, holding it underneath the table during most of my cousin’s wedding, disappearing around corners to check it, and leaving the table at family dinners. His cell phone’s constant beeping became a background to our home life and he spent most of his time hiding from me, tapping away text messages, searching for a way out.

During this week the intensity of his phone use increased, and the woman I suspected he’d been texting had been away in Europe for that week with her boyfriend visiting family. I knew it was her, but it couldn’t be her. We’d been camping together, had couples’ dinners together, I had worked with her just before I left the college.  She had a handsome, gentle, intelligent boyfriend who loved her. She’d been to my house and admired my things, picked up my grandmother’s blue 60’s Jeanie bottle, touched it and complimented me on my taste. The two of them had been working together at the college for seven months, in a job I’d gotten for him since another of his musical ventures had failed and I’d moved on to ESL teaching.

The next morning was a Saturday; while Steve had a shower I got up and grabbed his phone off our cream linoleum kitchen bench. I opened it quickly before I could second guess myself again and read the first text. It was from her:

“I L U & I miss U. Can’t w8 2 C U again. XXX.”

And one before from him, “1 wk 2 go til I C U again. I L U. XXX”

Just like that a knife had been taken to my heart and popped the magic believing bubble that held our love and our life together.

Babies lost, a lawn untread by children’s feet, songs never to be recorded and falling, falling with nowhere to land.

A line from ‘Fear of Falling’, the first song we wrote together, echoed through my mind as the room began to move, “Eve felt it too, that cold, wet, dark drop / Eve felt the fall before the apple dropped”.

I grabbed the edge of the kitchen sink and as if in some Lifetime B-grade film the walls of the room closed in towards me, the ground beneath me seemed to ripple. By the time I was able to breathe again I bolted to our en-suite and shoved the messages in his face as he stepped out of the shower naked.

He had no lies or excuses left. I knew; I had known all along. Our relationship was over. Like watching a structurally unsound high rise building get demolished by explosives the trying was over. It felt good to know where I stood once again. The walls stopped moving, the ground stood still and I knew from this moment on that there would be no more shame or secrets or lies. Only the solid ground I chose to walk on beneath my feet.

###

After we separated I continued seeing the couples’ therapist we had been to. One afternoon I went in for a solo appointment and told her about a dream I’d had that morning.

“I was underground, in a tunnel. This strange man had captured me and had kept me there for a long time. I was in a foreign country, somewhere in South-East Asia, maybe Malaysia. And all I had to eat was noodles. He gave me the same thing to eat every day. Noodles. The strange thing was, when I ate the noodles he let me go above ground, where we would eat in an outdoor restaurant, with a thatched roof, by the roadside. That was the best part of the day; I liked that, being out of the dark tunnel. In the dream I decided I’d finally had enough, so I told him, ‘I’m sick of eating noodles. I don’t want to eat the same thing anymore’. And I just got up and walked away into the street, disappearing into a crowd of people. I didn’t look back and he didn’t come after me or try to stop me.”

“Well, I don’t think you need me to tell you what that means,” she smiled. “I guess you won’t be eating noodles anymore.”

###

What happened to magic? The answer is I still play music, but I learned to ignore the voice that told me I couldn’t write songs or perform alone. I recorded an album of songs I wrote in the United States called “Leaving Me Dry”, with the help of a group of like-minded musicians. I began writing again and recently re-enrolled in a Master’s of Writing. I met a man, Brett, who helped me heal, who is kind and gentle and lets me be the person I need to be. We eloped and got married in California. Then, when we were ready I scheduled an endoscopy and laparoscopy.

Two days before the surgery I received an email from Steve. The subject of the email seemed neutral enough so I opened it. Inside the email he told me that the she of the text messages and he were married and pregnant. For the last time I put aside my pride and hurt, and the feelings of fear I had for the wolf at the door. I opened the door a crack and replied, “Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll have the happy life you deserve together. BTW in two days’ time I’m going in to have a laparoscopy and endoscopy”.

It was no surprise to me when he never replied to my email.

When I had the surgery the surgeon discovered five lesions of endometriosis and a benign cyst on one ovary that he removed.

One month later, after I’d recovered from the surgery, I took the fertility drug Clomid, to help stimulate ovulation and increase egg production. Then I made myself a little shrine in my room, with a picture of the Virgin Mary, a Buddha statue, a rock of amethyst and Brett’s favorite sea shell. Then I prayed to a higher power for the child I’d always dreamt of. I told my mother we were trying, and she said she’d pray for me. I didn’t say anything to my father, I knew he’d say it would all come down to science and medicine, and that it would be up to sperm and eggs and fallopian tubes and mucus to function in the way they were meant to.

I fell pregnant the first month we tried after the surgery.

I no longer dream of running through dark tunnels.

I started eating noodles again.

Sometimes magic comes when you call it, and sometimes no matter how hard you try, even magic needs a little help from fate and science.

Natalie D-Napoleon was raised on a farm on the outskirts of, Perth, Western Australia. She began writing poetry at ten years of age to cure her childhood insomnia. For 20 years she toured and performed as a singer-songwriter playing shows from Sweden, across Australia and in the United States. Currently, she lives in California and works as a writing tutor at a community college while completing a Master of Arts in Writing. She has had short stories, poetry and editorials published at The Manifest-Station, Literary Orphans, LA Yoga Magazine and The Santa Barbara News-Press.
The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

Featured image by Joe Longo.