For the eight year or so, I’ve constructed the World’s Tiniest Sukkah. No, not like a dollhouse sukkah, but one that is human sized but really small. It only seats two people.
I love the holiday of Sukkot. I love having this sort-of house that is kind of like a make-believe house. Like a being in a tent, your outside and inside simultaneously. It’s a liminal space. It’s also a week-long meditation on impermanence. Life itself is a long meditation on impermanence, which becomes more and more obvious with each passing year, so really at this point in my life it’s just a pointed reminder.
It’s a dwelling space that is only has to last a week, which means it can be very fragile. This year I thought a lot about the word “fragile”. (Thanks to J. for mentioning this word, as I previously had been using “flimsy”.
I often hear the word “fragile” used interchangeably with “weak”. As in, he’s not doing so well, he’s really fragile. I hear it a lot in reference to old people. I’m sure I’ve used it this way to.
I can’t think of a way to use the word “weak” that isn’t negative. Weakness is a negative concept. I don’t thing fragility is necessarily negative.
I think about flower petals. When I describe them as fragile, I don’t mean they are weak. I mean they are transitory. They aren’t going to last. They’re not meant too. We may try to protect it or sustain it, but we are fighting it’s nature.
In this way, fragile can mean special or even precious. We need to appreciate what is fragile because we may not have it for very long.
Since the all the brouhaha erupted over a certain presidential candidate and his boasting about sexual assault, I have been following the feminist response very closely. Between @feministfightclub, #pussygrabsback, and Kelly Oxford’s #notokay, there’s a lot happening where women are coming forward to say, yes, I was sexually assaulted. And frighteningly, they were often young girls when it happened.
If you are one of my three regular readers, you know that I had a couple of close calls this year of being precariously close to be assaulted or worse but manage to escape unscathed and untouched. Since then, I have become flinchy about certain things — mostly, walking around at night alone and wearing short skirts at night. It’s shitty that I have to think about this stuff. It’s shitty that I’ve lost a feeling of safety I had, and moreso bravado — something along the lines of “I dare anyone to fuck with me.” I’ve thought that if this is how I feel, as a middle-aged women, from just a few close calls, I can’t imagine how it feels to actually be sexually assaulted. I keep thinking, thank god it never happened to me.
Then I started thinking, if a million women wrote Kelly Oxford to say that they are sexually assaulted, how did I magically escape this happening to me? How was so lucky?
Then I remembered. I wasn’t so lucky. There was no magic. I’d been assaulted.
At first I remembered one time. Then I remembered another. Then I called my best friend E. And while telling her about this, I remember yet another.
All three times I was in public. Once I was walking up Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when a man stuck his hand up my crotch and ran away. Another time a man masturbated against me on a crowded train. The third time, I was asleep on a bus and the man seated next to me threw his coat over my lap. He was creeping his hand up my thigh when I awoke.
All three times, I told no one. Until now.
I believe now that are no women who have not been sexually assaulted — just women who don’t remember.
Recently I went to look at M15 again. It’s been a while, but I have seen it probably a couple of dozen times at the Chabot Space & Science Center. I realized I’ve look at it so many times that I actually forgot many things about it.
For example, it’s 12 billion years old. The entire universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old, so M15 is *hella* old. I mean, come on, it’s impossible to even visualize so much time. It’s got about 500,000 stars in it. It’s 34,000 light years away. That means that when I look at it, I am actually looking back in time 34,000 years.
It’s the last fact that struck me. The telescope had become a time machine. Then I thought: how is it I can look back in time 34 THOUSAND YEARS, but I can’t look forward in time for even 1 second? I mean, that just seems crazy.
I brought this up with J. and apparently he’s been pondering this for decades. He also had quite a lot of information about the topic, such as the idea the on the sub-atomic level, there is no time. That is, on our level of scale, if you film something and play the film backwards, you can see that it is backwards. However, on the sub-atomic scale, if you film the motion of particles and reverse it, it looks the same. He said that based on what he understands, the main reason we sense time is because of entropy. A tree doesn’t become an acorn. Ashes don’t become burning wood. He also said that we perceive time as motion, but it’s really a dimension like space.
I pondered the last idea for a while. I guess it’s not possible for me to really grasp that time doesn’t have any motion to it. I thought of how if I try to see it like space, I get caught up in the idea that how could you possibly see all the points? For instance, now I am sitting and typing this, but in a moment I’m going to walk to the kitchen and get some water. How could a being perceive all the almost infinite individual points of time involved in my standing up and walking to the kitchen?
Then I realized that we don’t perceive space that way. When I look at the floor, there are billions of atoms. I don’t see them. I don’t see the molecules. I don’t even see the individual planks of wood unless I focus on it. I just see “wood floor”. I see where the floor meets the wall, where it is under the rug.
From this I can imagine that if I were a being who could perceive time as I perceive space, that is, not a thing of motion, I wouldn’t have to see every millisecond or even second. I would just see certain forms or shapes of time, certain delimiters of time. It’s still not possible for me to picture it, but it gives me an idea of how it could be. However, the kind of being would live in a place where time was another static dimension would be so different from how we are. They would evolve differently, exist differently, perceive differently. It’s hard for me to conceive of this place, but it’d be just as hard for them to perceive of time having a trajectory and motion.
You can read more about spacetime here, with more science and less nerging.
I dreaded this trip more than anything in a long time. I’d have to think very hard to remember when was they last time I dreaded something so much, if ever.
The dread was worse than the reality, at least so far. Things have been okay. And yet, the creepiness is present, and it reminds me of all the meanness I associate with this place.
This morning I was walking back from the laundry room to my Dads place, a distance of about thirty feet, when I heard a man say “oh wow”. I looked to my left and so someone sitting in a very large pickup truck in the parking lot across the street. He was far away so I bet he didn’t realize I could hear him until I looked over. But the he looked at me in a way men look at me in this horrid state, that is, in a very predatory way. I only glanced over at him for a second and then looked ahead and went back to my Dads.
Let me remind you, I’m in a quiet, boring retirement community.
I went out ten minutes later to check the laundry again–it had been almost dry–and now the pickup was in front of my Dads building and the guy openly staring at me in the creepiest possible way.
I again had no idea how to react. I’m washing my Dads underwear and this guy is acting like a rapist.
So I just didn’t look at him.
I saw the truck parked over there later and I thought, that guy fucking lives there? So this is how he acts towards his neighbors? And also, it’s very likely I’ll see him again.
In which case I’m still not sure what to do except ask him if he’s available to wipe my dads ass.
I realized that Florida is the opposite of sex. All the things that I associate with sex — happiness, pleasure, intimacy, joy, nice sensations, love, affection — and, well, sexiness — they aren’t here. And because of that, I lose myself, my sense of self and my connection to my body. When these creepy guys look at me, I suppose they are thinking of their version of sex, but it’s not. It’s anti-sex.
Later I was at the library and this young white guy with dreads was looking at me. Maybe he thought I was a hippie because of my hair– people sometimes do. He asked me did I make my shirt and I said no but it was handmade. He said I like the birds. Three little birds. And I realized he wasn’t being creepy. I said, yeah three little birds.
He walked away. I left the library singing,
About a thing
‘Cause every little thing
Is going to be all right
I meant to go to the ocean directly from my the rehab center, but it was already 3:00 and I could tell my blood sugar was bottoming out. I had lost my appetite completely and wasn’t eating much but I felt I had to have lunch before I went to the beach. I went back to my Dad’s apartment, ate quickly, and then saw that a storm was coming. Unlike in the beginning of the trip, I decided to go to the ocean anyway.
I felt I was racing the storm, which was moving about 30 mph to my 40 with stoplights. When I got to the beach I threw my clothes and towel under the lifeguard stand (which, per usual, had no actual lifeguard) to keep them dry. I ran into the water but after 5 minutes the heat lightning was getting more intense and I figured it was just a matter of time before the lightning lightning started, so I got out.
As I headed out of the water a man showed up on a bicycle, and mode of transportation I hadn’t seen in days. He said, do you think it’s too late to go in? I said, Well, I’m getting out because of the lightning. He said, so it’s probably stupid, right? I said, I wouldn’t go in now. We ended up hanging out and talking by the lifeguard stand. He sat under it and I stood next to it because I didn’t care if I got wet, I just didn’t want my stuff to get wet.
We realized the stand was probably a bad place to be, as it was partially metal and tall, but we stayed because we were both were optimists about getting in the water. At one point it seemed to be clearing up so we made a run for it, joking that if we get hit at least we won’t die alone. I dove under and a minute later we saw real lightning decided it was too risky to stay.
The sky was so dark at the horizon at this point and the water was different pastel hues of aqua and lavender. Against the charcoal clouds great bolts of lightning came down and hit the ocean, over and over. It wasn’t the beach experience I had wanted, but it sure was something.
My mood lifted but when I went back to the rehab and saw my Dad’s angry, miserable face that ocean, that I had just left 30 minutes ago, seemed like something from a storybook.
I finally was able to go to the ocean. I had an idea that the ocean would be life a giant mikvah, washing away all my sins, worries, fears and sadness. The chart at the entrance of the beach said the air temperature was 91 degrees and the water was 85. I had remembered to wear my suit under my clothes because there was not changing rooms or bathrooms. I laid down my towel and walked in. Normally I have to go in very slowly but it was so warm, I was walked right in and swam without a pause.
The water was beautiful, from turquoise near the shore to a deep blue near the horizon. But I didn’t smile when I looked at it. I didn’t have any feelings inside me but sadness. I swam and played in the waves for a long time. I kept trying to feel a sparkle, a bit of joy, something. I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t feel sad though, so that was an improvement.
After about an hour I got out, and walked on the shoreline for few minutes to dry off a bit. It was good that I had gone for swim and I did forget about the problems for a while. But I didn’t feel good. I would have to leave Florida for that.
Tuesday. My Dad had an appointment at a pain clinic at 10am. I arrived at the VA hospital at 9am. He was not dressed or ready to go. A nurse came in said her name was Marty, same as my Dad. I told her he had an appointment to get to. She seemed uninterested. I called the social worker. It was now 9:25. I said, my Dad has to get to this pain appointment. She said, he’ll never make it, you should take him straight to the rehab place. I was stymied. I felt it was so important to get him the hell out of the VA, but I also felt the pain appointment was crucial. Marty the nurse came back. I told her what was going on. She said, Let’s get him out of here and to his appointment. She got him dressed, found a wheelchair, and we were out of the room in five minutes.
On the way out the door I we passed the social worker in conversation with someone else. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “We’re leaving”. She just nodded and continued her conversation.
As we went to the car Marty the nurse loosened up and spoke a bit about herself. She even smiled as she said goodbye to us. Then we were in the car and off to the pain clinic. I was traveling with only written instructions I copied from online maps. I had forgotten to bring a paper map — the really old school form of travel — and my Dad had no printer, so I just had a pad with different pages of directions: Dad’s house -> VA, VA -> pain clinic, pain clinic -> rehab, rehab -> Dad’s house. I knew my “internal GPS” would kick in after a few days but for now I was tired and disoriented. I didn’t trust these notes and was terrified we’d get hopelessly lost. We didn’t.
We reached the pain clinic and I left Dad in the car. I asked if they had a wheelchair we could use. They gave me one and I went to get my Dad. Everytime my Dad got up or sat down he grimaced and groaned in agony. I wheeled him to the clinic and after a few minutes he said he had to use the bathroom. I asked where the bathroom was. They buzzed us out of the waiting area and into the clinic proper, and there was a bathroom right inside the entrance. Then I realized I had to go in the bathroom with my Dad.
You know, things happen when you are a kid that seem kind of awful but sometimes aren’t so bad later on. What I mean is that my Dad used to walk around in front of me in his underwear when I was a teenager, and sometimes left the door open when he peed (I could only see his back). I would yell at him not to do these things and thought they were disgusting but in some ways it prepared me for this moment. My Dad was in diapers (they use a brand name for adults, but my Dad just called them what they were). He needed help getting up out of the wheelchair and back into it so I had to stand there while he peed. It was kind of horrible but I had this sinking feeling that this was just the beginning.
After the doctor’s appointment we went to the rehab center where my Dad would be staying for 20 days, which is all that the insurance would pay for. He hated the place immediately. I pointed out that they had a little aviary, that they had a physical therapy room, that they had a dining room. He agreed all these things were good but still was cranky.
The next day I came back to pick him up for the minor operation he was having. When I came in his room he was talking to himself. I said, “Hi Dad, who are you talking to?” He said, “Myself, I’m so furious. No one gave me my medication since I’ve been here. My blood pressure’s gone through the roof! I don’t know if they’ll even do the surgery now! This place is a hellhole! It’s worse than the VA! Forget it — I don’t give a shit anymore!”
This onslaught of fury went on and on, and at some point something in me snapped and I started bawling saying, “Don’t be mad, Daddy”. Then I hugged him and he started to cry and he said, “Don’t make me cry, that’s all I need, I’ll really lose it then.”
The first wheelchair the rehab place had given him had a broken arm, and I had to leave my Dad to locate a working wheelchair. There seemed to be a scarcity of them. No one could find a wheelchair. I just couldn’t go back to my Dad’s room without one. Finally someone wheeled up a old, banged up thing with a torn arm. My Dad was sure to comment about that.
At the hospital my Dad cheered up considerably. The hospital seemed like a better-quality place with good staff. When no one was in the room, he pointed out that the staff was all white, unlike the staff at the rehab. Suddenly my Dad had become a racist. I suppose everyone in Florida eventually becomes a racist, a sadist, a rapist. Cruelty is part of the culture.
When I said I don’t think the problem has to do with skin color Dad, I think it has to do with the systems, he agreed, and didn’t say anything racist again. But the fact that he had, even once, disturbed me.
I stayed with him until they wheeled him off for surgery, which was several hours. I had a couple hours to myself and I thought, I’ll go see the ocean. But the minute I walked out the building, a thunderstorm begin. I thought, the hell? I can’t even go to the beach? I guess not. I guess I am just caught in a vortex of crud.
I went to the library where I could use my computer until the nurse called to say come pick him up. The minute my Dad got in the car the torrent of anger started again, because he didn’t want to go back to “that hellhole”. Several times I said, “Dad. Please. Please stop. I can’t take it anymore”. But he couldn’t stop himself.
When we got back to the rehab place he was worse than ever. They brought him his dinner but it was pork. He said, “I can’t eat that shit” and I found someone to get him another dinner. While we were waiting he was saying, “I’m so fucking angry! This place is the worst! I’m sick of this shit! I’ll tear this place apart!”
They brought back a dinner with a chicken leg. By this time I was bawling again. The nurse asked what was wrong and I said, “He’s so angry.” I started cutting up the chicken for him before he screamed about how he couldn’t eat it. I was crying as I cut it and too upset to even think about how disgusting meat is to me. Just like my Dad couldn’t control his anger, I couldn’t control my reaction to it.
Several more times I had to help him in the bathroom, and each time things were more exposed. My Dad didn’t seem to care. He said, “Now you’re going to see an old ass.” I kept trying to look away. I didn’t want to see his ass, old or otherwise. Or him sitting on the toilet to try to pee that way. Or to dump his urinal bottle. I didn’t want to do any of this.
That night I dreamed that I cleaned up the bathroom at his apartment. I had been using the spare bathroom which was just a toilet and a sink. If I wanted to take a shower, I would have to clean up the main bathroom. Somehow the dream gave me the courage to try.
The next morning I scrubbed everything and realized that it would take several passes to get everything clean. Well, as clean as I could get it. Perhaps a decontamination unit could do better. It ended up taking four passes over two days. There was no longer a shower curtain because I had to throw it away, it too was shit-speckled. Despite the lack of a curtain, I took a shower anyway. A long, long shower. I hadn’t showered in three brutal days. There was tons of water on the floor afterward so I had to mop it up for quite a while. Compared to everything else, that was easy.
I think it started with the first taxi. The driver said he would give me his phone number so I could call him directly, but when I did, he yelled into the phone that he couldn’t help me. Okay, then.
It did disturb me that the highest rating for any taxi company in the area was a three. This was the one star company, whom was waiting outside the airport and I was directed to take by the dispatcher. I thought, I’ll call the three-star company and everything will be fine.
I called, and the taxi came very quickly. The driver asked if I wanted to sit in the front or the back, and I opted for the front. He asked me if I worked at the hospital and I said no, I had just flown in from California to visit my Dad who was in the hospital. He said oh, you are here to have a little vacation? I said no, I am visiting my Dad who is in the hospital. I am not here for fun, I’m here to help my Dad. He smiled and I realized he was very, very high.
Then his cell phone rang and he answered it and starting speaking in French. You know, in Florida there’s no laws. You can ride a motorcycle with no helmet, you can talk and drive, whatever. Anyway, when he got off the phone he apologized and I said, “Pas de problème” and he started speaking to me in French. I was glad to be practicing my French.
We got the the gate where my Dad lives and I gave the guard my name and my Dad’s friend’s name, and my Dad’s name, but no one had told the guard I was coming. My Dad’s friend has dementia and although she swore up and down that she would remember to do this task she did not.
The taxi driver started yelling at the guard, Look man, just let her in, she is here to visit her Dad who is in the hospital, she just came from the hospital, just let her in. He said this loudly in an angry tone.
The guard responded, louder and angrier, look just swing your car around boy, you can’t stay here I have to let people through, move the car, boy.
He just called a Black man “boy”. I knew I was in the South, but I had never heard this myself before. I felt sick.
I got out of the car and talked to the guard directly. I had no idea why the taxi driver thought he could speak for me, especially if it was just to fuck shit up. The guard told me I had to call my Dad and get permission. My Dad thankfully answered the phone. It was bad to call him because he was already very angry about the bad treatment he was getting at the hospital, and the horrible pain, and his loss of independence. You know, people like to quote the line, “Rage, rage against the dying of light”, but in reality being witness to the raging is somewhat corrosive. I had to act like this little snafu was not a problem, just a simple thing so my Dad wouldn’t start raging again.
I hung up the phone and acted polite to the guard because I was exhausted and just wanted to get to bed. The guard gave me permission to go in.
I went back to the taxi and got in. I was giving the driver directions but now he was hitting on me, saying in French that I had a pretty name and I was a pretty woman and I didn’t know what to do so I just laughed. I thought, my god. I’m here to visit my sick Dad. Why are you hitting on me?
We got to the apartment and I paid him in cash. I asked for $5 back and he started digging around in the change, claiming he had no bills. He found a roll of dimes worth $5 and handed it to me. I thought, what the fuck will I do with this?
I got out, then he got out to hand me my suitcase. He looked like he was going to try to kiss me or something. I quickly turned and walked away. I thought, my god, first there’s the yelling, and racist slurs, and do taxi drivers here also rape their customers? It seemed like anything was possible.
I got into my Dad’s apartment. He had told me that he had had a terrible accident in the bathroom which is when he called 911. He said he had tried to clean it up. But when I saw the bathroom it was worse than I could have imagined. There was a patina of shit on every single surface. Every. Single. Surface. The toilet, the bathtub, the walls, the floor, the cabinet, the garbage can. Behind the toilet. Under the cabinet. I didn’t even know how this was possible. I mean, my Dad didn’t explode, he was still a human being in one piece. How was it possible?
That was my first day.