Monday, January 29, 2018

Rest in Peace, Ronald Reagan Davis

When I was sixteen years old, my world was abruptly upended by a move from El Paso to the outskirts of Houston, Texas.

At the time, it was the most disruptive & distressing thing that had happened during my years in teenage angst.   Of course, the previous most disruptive & distressing thing to happen to me was a move from Dallas to El Paso five years earlier.

I was not a happy sixteen-year-old Jaki Jean.  The thought of leaving my friends, my school, the mountains, the desert, for a place my father once vowed never to live, consumed me.  I began to grieve long before the departure date.

And then I had a dream.

During my childhood & youth & well into the subsequent decades, my dreams were vivid.  Sometimes involving complex plots & narratives & histories.
My dream before leaving El Paso & my familiar world was about my new high school.  I only knew its name:  John Foster Dulles High.

Somehow, I was quite sure John Foster Dulles was a major player in the Vietnam War.

In my dream, I was in an unfamiliar room – tables with seating for four to six.  Sinks, stove tops nearby.  I recognized it as a classroom I could never imagine entering willingly – Home Economics.

And in the dream were two people seated at the table with me.  A guy with a funny name & an amazing voice (I have always been a sucker for a man with an amazing voice) & a cheerleader with really great hair, dressed in red, white & blue.

At the time, I thought it bizarre – what was I doing in Home Economics?  Who was the guy with the funny name & why was he nice, so familiar, to me?  Who was the cheerleader with great hair & an engaging smile & why was she so nice, so familiar?

Why was the cheerleader wearing red, white & blue & not the navy blue & gold of Coronado High School in El Paso?

I left the dream behind with the move from the desert to life too near the Gulf Coast.

Until I found myself in my assigned Home Room, located in a Home Economics lab.

When I was led to a table, occupied by a not very tall guy with a great voice & funny name & a girl with an amazing smile & great hair.  A cheerleader dressed in red, white & blue.

Ronald Reagan Davis, who introduced himself as Dobie, was the not so very tall guy with a great voice.  The cheerleader was Lydia Court.

Both, seen first in a dream, changed the trajectory of my teenage angst-ridden life forty- five years ago.  Both were popular icons in the world of John Foster Dulles High School back in 1971.

Deposited in an unfamiliar high school world, galaxies different from my previous school, I was terrified.  The school had a dress code.  (Nothing I owned was compliant.) There was no modern dance class, no debate class.  Instead, I was assigned to library duty & a speech & drama class. 

I was lost.

But the boy with a great voice & the cheerleader with the engaging smile, took me, one of a number of new students converging on the area, under their wing.

Both of them drew me out of my self-imposed isolation & resistance to change.  Dobie & the cheerleader were not the only classmates to reach out & envelop me.  But they were the first & they were influential.

Ronald Reagan Davis was not named after a former president but after his mother’s favorite actor.  How he came to be Dobie, I have never ascertained.  Over the ensuing decades, he went by Doc, Ron, Reagan, Renigan & finally in my mind, just Davis.

As I have mentioned, Dobie had an amazing voice.  It served him well on stage, in front of an audience, in the classroom, in a quiet discussion between friends.  He loved history & politics & had a fricking unbelievable vocabulary. 

Dobie was witty & kind & more than once wrote me poetry.  He explained the high school hierarchy of John Foster Dulles to me because he had lived with the players all his life:   who was related, why relationships that seemed normal to me were contentious & secret, why the class bully liked to hit.

Our lives crisscrossed over the years after our soiree with John Foster Dulles & friends.  As “Doc,” he took me to a rehearsal for a University of Houston rendition of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors.  Done as a rock opera.

At that rehearsal, I met Steven Michael Epstein, Dennis Quaid & eventually the man I married.

Once again, Dobie Davis changed the trajectory of my life.

After our twentieth high school reunion, I saw Dobie perform on the Miller Theatre Stage in Hermann Park.   It was with the Ensemble Theatre.  About the Buffalo Soldiers.

He was still amazing on stage.  

One day, after several decades since our last crisscross, I listened to a voice mail on my crackberry & heard that Dobie Davis voice.

He had obtained my number from my sister. 

So, we had dinner several times over the years whenever he was in town.  We saw more than one play together.  We talked, we emailed & eventually interacted on social media.

I listened to his narrative.  His hopes, his ambitions, his dreams.  It was not always an easy narrative to listen to, but I let him tell it, let him interpret it.  It was his story, not mine.  And it was complicated.

At a time in my youth, when I was scared & unsure & did not see a way to fit into the culture in which I found myself, Dobie Davis chose to be my friend.

And because of that friendship, I made a decision to embrace the new world in which I found myself & enjoy my senior year of high school. 

Along the way, my existence & understanding expanded because of that world & culture & experience.

I stopped grieving over the loss of the mountains & embraced what was in front of me.  Flat & humid & waiting to implode into the diverse power player known as Houston.

Like many of us, my friend Dobie was his own worst demon.  And that demon held him back, in a place I did not always comprehend or understand. 

But Ronald Reagan Davis never lost hope, never stopped planning to reach an ambition, never abandoned his dreams.

My friend never stopped making me feel valued & welcome.  Much like those first days in that Home Economics classroom.

Rest in peace, sweet knight.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

How I Spent my Christmas Vacation, 2017

This year for Christmas, my true love gave to me:  a unit of 0- for free.

The blood bank also sent an adorable Gund bear wearing a Need a Hug t-shirt.

Of course, my 0- Christmas present (which was in keeping with the red & green color scheme of Christmas) was not the beginning of my Christmas, 2017.

It all began with a rash.

My doctor, who is ancient & all but retired, went into his office on Friday the 15th to see me because he is very fond of “Irish red heads.”  I have never had the heart to tell him that my hair comes not from genetics, but Preference by Loreal, #7LA.

An angry, aggressive, persistently itchy rash had invaded my skin.  I truly believed that it was from our thirty-year old artificial Christmas tree.  So, I went home with prescriptions for two antibiotics & something to ease the itching.

Someone once told me that what happens on the surface of our skin is often indicative of an internal problem.  In my case, this turned out to be true.

By the wee hours of the morning of the 20th, my body was doubled over with pain & I had my brother call the EMTs.  I spent some time in the ER at Methodist Hospital Sugar Land, had a cat scan & who knows what else. 

Then I was wheeled into surgery to remove a large pocket of air in my stomach (I think that is how it was described) & repair a hole in my intestine that the surgeon is convinced was caused by an ulcer.

Twenty-two staples, a feeding tube, an IV in each arm & oxygen attached to my nose, I emerged from recovery & was wheeled into Room 421.

It was several days before I understood that the apparatus in my nasal passage was not providing nourishment.  Instead, the feeding tube was a nasogastric vacuum tube to empty my stomach of what I can only describe as great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher’s guts.

Really smelly great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher's guts.  Twice there was a problem with the line leading from the tube & those really smelly gobs ended up on my gown & bed.

While it was not my first visit to Methodist Hospital in Sugar Land, my previous overnight experiences were as my mother Jean’s advocate, as the face of the family caring for her.

My stay as a patient was my first major surgery.

Being a patient is a whole different experience from being a family member’s advocate.  I now understand why Jean rolls her eyes every time someone asks her to name the days of the week backwards starting with Tuesday or who is President of the United States. 

Somewhere in the Methodist system is a physical therapist who is still telling her tale of an uncooperative patient who responded & objected to the question, “Who was President of the United States before Donald Trump?”

Seriously?  I can only name past Presidents from FDR on with clarity.  Would you like me to begin there?

OK.  I admit I was unreasonably uncooperative.  I also refused to allow her to use the strap required while I walked from the bed to a nearby recliner.  And I was not kind when I told her I would be in the chair before she unrolled it.

And that proved to be true.

I was neither in the mood for, nor did I require, physical therapy.  She arrived right after I learned I would not be home for Christmas Day.

Each day presented a new challenge beyond the constant inquiries into my body’s waste management system.  How many times would a nurse draw blood?  Better yet, how many pricks will it take for each nurse to successfully spear a vein with a butterfly needle?

How many times would I press the magic morphine button?  Would the kitchen send yellow Jello on every tray brought to me?  Would I ever be able to take a shower & wash my hair?  Was anyone going to address the incessant itching caused by the rash covering my skin?  How many times would I walk the perimeter of the fourth floor? 

My computer time was severely curtailed.  As was my phone at first – but the nurses found its hiding place & I had a device to take me out of the strange experience of living within hospital time.  I viewed & read the posts in my Facebook Newsfeed.

But I was too tired & too weary to interact.  Even from behind the veil of a computer screen.

Because it was the holidays, I chose not to post about my surgery & hospitalization.  I had no wish to be the downer during a season of celebration with family & friends. 

That, & the fact that my computer was delivered to me only because I was saddened at missing Christmas Day & my family felt empathetic.

Instead of baking cookies & gingerbread men & women (I did finish the Gingerbread House) or gathering ingredients for a Christmas brunch menu, I focused my attention on the origins of each accent greeting me.

By the time I was discharged, my body & spirit had been administered to by nurses & PCAs whose histories were rooted in the Caribbean, Mexico, East Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines, Vietnam, Pakistan, India. 

And I had my favorites – Espy, whose name was actually Esperanza & was the only nurse sufficiently skilled in blood-letting & consistently drew blood for the vampires with just one prick.  

The nurse who helped me out of bed & took me walking the day after surgery.  And rejoiced days later when she encountered me walking on my own. 
The lovely nurse expecting her second child & was pleased that it was a boy.  The devastatingly handsome young man with roots in Pakistan & the longest eyelashes ever granted a human being.  Who asked me to critique his new hair style.  (It was very fetching.)

The nurse who told me about her daughter, who collected bears – she had never heard of Build-a-Bear but was sure that if one could build an Elsa bear from “Frozen,” her bear collecting little one would be ecstatic.

I did not spend Christmas Day at home.  My son Sam brought me a tree before Christmas, with lights, & chocolate.  My son Nick & his wife brought a Christmas bird. 

I did not spend Christmas Day at home, but I did spend it with my family, who arrived in shifts.  My sister & brother-in-law for the morning shift, my son Sam (accompanied by Snoopy, the magnificent Doberman) for the afternoon shift, my son Nick & my daughter-in-law Jane for the evening visit. 

I did not eat a scrumptious brunch or turkey or ham for my Christmas meal. 

The vampires fed me a bag of 0-.

Now, I am officially off “light duty” & adjusting to a new routine.  Eating differently, approaching life differently.  Amazed that my world survived without access to MSNBC or the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.

I now possess a really gross scar.  At my follow-up to remove the staples, I read literature about the use of tattoos to cover scars while waiting for the removal.

I tried to envision a tattoo to cover what is essentially a really bad rendition of a zipper   from my breastbone to past my belly button.

And then I remember two things & toss aside the idea of a cover-up job.

One, I do not like needles & tattoo artists use something all too needle like to imprint ink on the body.

Second, while I do agree with Foucault that the body is a text, written upon by time & history & experience & heredity, I prefer the ink used on my body/text not to come from something that resembles a needle . .
After all, written on my body is that really bad rendition of a zipper.

Which is not a bad thing, given that two piece-bathing suits in Jaki Jean’s world have been absent for decades.  Although I still retain the memory of that blue & white string bikini I lost in the undertow in Puerto Vallarta . . .