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N.Y. Times
Sui Generis (Mouse Over)

Dear Kim,

After trying off and on to reach my mother all day, we finally connected. She had changed rooms at the hospital.

(Kim: I sometimes associate distance and not being able to connect with death. When you aren't with a person, or talking to them on the phone, they are not alive in your space. How is that different than if they are not alive at all?)

We had, I think, one of our better chats in months.

(Kim: Sometimes we shed our armor and pretensions and are able to talk to people better in times of crisis.)

My brother who flew in again today from New York—his third flight to Chicago this week—had just left, long with my sister and father to go to dinner at what I guess is becoming their lair du camp, Santorini, a great little place in Greek Town.

(Kim: When I taught at the Art Institute there was one place in Greek Town that we went to alot when we were interviewing teachers. It was quite good.

I miss Chicago.)

I, of course, wanted to talk about how my mother was feeling. Emotionally and otherwise. That is where I tend to go. To what Joseph Conrad called "the heart of darkness."

(Kim: So did we both read it at U. High? I remember where I was sitting in the classroom when the teacher was talking about "the heart of darkness" and I thought it was so cool that there was a parallel between the heart of a forest and the heart of a man.

I don't want to see TV or movies right now because I don't want to clutter my brain with how people visualize stuff. It is overload.)

That is not where she likes to go.

(Kim: We could divide the world up between those you are willing to go there, and those who aren't. I thought your mother was a psychologist. I guess that doesn't mean anything. My mother was a psychiatric social worker...not afraid to go there...but everyone gets scared when it really gets dark.)

But you never know. And you can’t blame a girl for trying.

She said she felt a little better. Probably as a carrot to me.

So I tried to pull some conversation out of the day that I thought might interest her.

I told her that Evelyn, my father's sister had called me to see how she was.

She perked up.

"What did she say,” she asked.

"She wanted to know how you were. I told her as much as I know."

"Uh huh. What else?"

“Well, then Evelyn said, ‘Your father doesn’t seem very upset. He seems pretty fine.’"

So I said, “That's funny. He is very upset. When did you speak with him?’"

And she said, "A few weeks ago."

“A few weeks ago? But Evelyn, my mother wasn’t in the hospital a few weeks ago. So why my father would have been upset?"

My mother and I agreed that my aunt is a dingbat.

I told my mother that my heart went out to her, that she had had to put up with this dingbat-edness for over 60 years, since my aunt came along with my dad. It was part of the territory.

I said that my dad was a bit of dingbat, too. In his own world and his own thoughts. That he was brilliant but also nonfunctioning in many of the most basic ways.

My mother agreed and then we decided that my Aunt Evelyn was a special kind of dingbat. In a league of her own.

"Sui generis," my mother said.

Lying in the hospital at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's, contemplating the morbitity rates of potential bypass surgery, getting ready to leave her home in Chicago of over 50 years, my mother said sui generis.

I was greatly relieved. Thin and wan though she sounded, her laconic take on things and stellar vocaubulary are still in tact.

I told her that it sounded like she was ready for tomorrow's New York Times crossword puzzle. My mother is the only person I know who does the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. And usually fnishes it.

We talked about other family members. She wanted to know who else had called. We talked about her only remaining sister whom she does not really like, and her sister's daughter, who she does.

"Uncle Sy is busy praying for me at the temple like he always does,” she said, sounding unconvinced.

I believe in prayer although I am not sure to what effect or for whose benefit. I just know that I feel it and I believe some part of it.

So I said, "I love Sybut maybe he needs to rethink this. He has been praying for years and look where we are."

She laughed.

So I asked, "Mom, I don't get the thing with you and Judaism. You come out of such an orthodox backround and sometimes, you seem so disparaging of it. What is the deal? "

And she said, "I don't mind Judaism. I mind religion."

"Why?"

Pause.

"Because it is too confining."

(Kim: This could be my mother talking.)

Then she said she was tired and needed to go but that she loved me very much."

Like the pathetic little kid that I know myself to be, I jumped on this bone.

Very much?

My mother has told me she loves me before never as freely or as much as I wish. But she has said it. The very much part was new.

(Kim: It is difficult to deal with your mom being sick as it reminds me of my mom being sick...and it reminds me that Friday I need to go to the hospital for a test. This is all about me and my mother as much as yours. I guess that is how we get what someone is saying when we communicate.)

"Sure," she said. "And we quarrel. But what does that have to do with anything?"

Like I said a stellar conversation. There are shooting constellations in my galaxy tonight.

Later.

Joan

Saturday, Jan 21, 2006

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