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The Window Cleaner – Part 2

from Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories. By Gabriel Constans.

The Window Cleaner – Part 2 (Conclusion)

As Rob’s outrage about his mother’s cancer and subsequent death raged on, Steven waited for a pause, a cue, a sliver of an opening to address the pain that boiled below the surface. It came suddenly, when Rob abruptly stopped speaking, placed his hands on his knees and glared at Steven.

“Well?” Rob asked bitterly, “Now what?”

“I’m sorry you had to witness such suffering,” Steven said. “What an awful ordeal.” Rob waited. “You must love your mother very much.”

Every instinct of pride and privacy in Rob’s body strained to keep composure. It felt like his ligaments were tearing apart; his protective shell, of time and distance from his mother’s passing, stripped bare. Repressed liquids of loss and abandonment leaked like a broken faucet. He tried holding back the tears, by covering his runny eyes and nose with his hands, but it was as useless as trying to stop a tidal wave with a bucket. He felt dizzy, his cheeks burned and his stomach ached. He questioned his sanity and wondered how he had let his well-meaning wife convince him to attend this torture. “I must be a masochist or a nut case,” he reasoned.

Sure, he’d had some scattered days since his adoptive mother had passed on. “Who wouldn’t?” he figured. “She was only fifty-one.”

Her name was Nadine. She’d adopted him, as a single parent, when he was five years old. Everything he knew about love, security or life had come from her. She’d taken him on faith; not knowing what complications might arise as he got older. Her devotion ran deep. She had spoiled him with attention and confidence.

“How could she leave?!” his mind demanded, not able or willing to match the reality of her death with his belief in how the world should work.

He had admitted to his wife, Soledad, that he wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t feel like doing anything. “It doesn’t make sense; nothing matters anymore.”

Anxiety about the future knocked day and night. He frequently asked Soledad if they were OK; if she was sure she wanted to stay with him being so “messed up and all?” She’d smile reassuringly and tell him their love hadn’t changed since they’d met in high school. He was and always would be, “her man . . . her sweetheart. I’m not going anywhere.”

It was during one of these moments of insecurity that she suggested he call these people for help. She had promised that they wouldn’t do any touchy-feely, therapy kind of stuff on him. Now, here he was, wondering what kind of mess he was in. All he’d done so far was babble on about his private life and cry like a wet baby in front of a perfect stranger.

He should have seen the trap the minute he walked in the little claustrophobic compartment. Soft music; candles; a warm and friendly atmosphere – all there to seduce him into making a fool of himself! And there was something unnerving about this guy, like he could see right through you.

“It’s not fair!” Rob shouted, between chest splitting sobs, “Why’d she have to suffer; why not me?!”

Steven handed him some Kleenex from the conveniently placed box sitting on the glass table, waiting patiently to be of service and discarded. Rob wiped his contorted face.

“You’d want your mother to go through the pain your feeling?”

“No, but why; how could this happen?”

“Her dying or the emptiness you’re feeling?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.”

“Doesn’t make sense, does it?”

Rob nodded, blew his nose again and tossed the tissue towards the small plastic can peaking out from under the table.

Steven said, “It can be painful and confusing. The feelings are so overwhelming; it seems like you’re out of control; nothing fits together anymore.”

“That’s for sure.” Rob dabbed his wet cheeks with another willing tissue. “But why does it have to hurt so bad?” Salt water oozed from the corner of his eye and dripped on to the front of his pressed shirt.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the price we have to pay for loving somebody.”

“Pretty stiff price.”

“Sure is,” Steven leaned forward. “You’d have to be a masochist to choose this kind of pain.”

Rob nodded, “So why go through it?”

“Grief seems to be the one kind of pain that doesn’t change or go away, unless we let ourselves face it, feel it . . . almost embrace it. Most kinds of pain are good to get rid of; put a bandage on it, fix it or avoid it, right?” Rob’s river of tears trickled to a small brook as he threw his last drenched tissue toward the seemingly elusive wastebasket. “With grief there is no easy, quick fix; it’s not something you ‘get over’ or ‘recover from.’”

Steven wondered if Rob was making any connections. He was never sure. Even if the client said they understood, felt heard or thanked him for his time, there was no guarantee that his presence or words had any beneficial effect at all. There was no tangible, physical sign or material exchange, no finished product or sutured wound.

“But,” Steven emphasized, “if you allow yourself to experience it, with people you trust and at times and places that feel safe, it will lesson in duration and frequency.”
Rob shook his head in disbelief. Steven added, “Right now it doesn’t feel like it will ever change, right?”

“You got that right.”

Rob’s apprehension and anxiety flew around in his head like manic butterflies, while Steven, this quiet middle aged man with specs and out of date shoes, continued to provide his attention and seemingly sincere concern. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Rob’s fears subsided, as he realized he was safe and could allow his heart’s storms to rage.

He told Steven all about Nadine. He talked about their favorite holidays, Thanksgiving and Halloween; about where they had lived, in Providence; what she did for a living, working as a home care attendant; how he bought her a home, after working in real estate for several years. He told him about the difficult times they’d had when he was a teenager, when he was embarrassed to be around her; how he had pushed her away and his remorse at having done so. He talked about his wife Soledad; how she felt closer to his mother than to her own. He talked and talked and cried and cried and remembered.

As Rob told him about his mother, Steven thought fondly of his own. She’d had a heart attack and surgery about six years ago, coming precipitously close to death’s door. She was in her seventies now and doing well, but the thought of her dying still gave him the chills. It wasn’t like he was a stranger to loss. Various family members, friends and acquaintances had gasped their last breaths; but there was something about his mother, her solid, life-long presence and care, that struck close to the bone. The thought of her dying and disappearing from this material life, made him feel vulnerable and alone. He prayed it would never happen, knowing full well that such prayers were a futile exercise in self-delusion.

“Yeah, she was, I mean is, an amazing woman,” Rob concluded fondly, an imperceptible smile kissing his lips.

Hearing Rob pause and having a sense that their time was coming to a close, Steven asked Rob if they could meet again in a week or two. He noticed the strained expression, of someone trying to hold together a broken glass, had been replaced with a smile, a smile that said, “Thank God. I’m not going crazy. This is all to be expected. It will change. There is hope.”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Rob replied. “Would you write down the time and date? I’ve been a little forgetful lately.”

“Sure.” He wrote down the appointment, as slowly and carefully as possible, so someone beside himself could read it and handed it to Rob.

Rob checked the time and date, then turned the card over. “Steven Rice, Ph.D.,” he read silently, “Bereavement Counselor.” He stuffed it in his front pocket, stood and firmly shook Steven’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I know this sounds crazy, but I think it helped.”

“I hope so,” Steven smiled. “I look forward to seeing you next week.”

Steven watched Robert walk down the red-stained ramp, back into his life, a life without the woman who had taught him how to live. He went over to the miniature desk, sat on the rolling office chair, took out a pink form that read, “Progress Note”, grabbed his pen and began to write.

The last hour was fresh in his memory as he looked out the dirty windowpane and felt the air through the screen cooling as the sun undressed to put on its nightgown of darkness. The old knotted pine trees stood gallantly in the gully, impervious to the suns disrobing. They stood without feelings of love, loss, joy or sorrow; without consciousness of there own existence or approaching demise.

Steven put on his alma mater’s long sleeve blue sweater and placed his notes in Mr. Hartman’s file. He put the file inside the four-foot high, rusted metal cabinet and attached the combination lock. Picking up his frayed, black-leather briefcase and bottled water, he looked outside once more, before turning off the light, radio and sound machine.

“I’ll have to wash that window tomorrow,” he said to himself. “It’s filthy.”

Steven Rice walked outside, closed the vacuum-sucking door with a bang, inserted his copper key and turned the latch. The flimsy box trailer and its precarious contents were safe for another day. He walked down the shaky ramp and wondered how we keep living with all our scars and open wounds.

THE END

PART 1

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Adoption: It’s About Time!

“Be all the parent you can be – adopt!”

“If you want to change the world, become an adoptive parent.”

These fictional adds proclaim the reality and need, across this country, for people to become adoptive parents and provide homes to children who are currently living in foster care, orphanages or state run institutions. Newborns, preschoolers, adolescents and teens are waiting for security, love, commitment and yes, sacrifice. Parenting requires the endless sacrifice of one’s ego, vanity, time and selfishness, whether it’s through adoption or birth! It’s not for everyone. Some people don’t want it and some can’t hack it.

Parenting puts you on the front lines of changing society. Teaching children how to live with the reality of emotional pain and loss, in the context of a secure and safe environment, is one of the greatest gifts we can provide future generations. To do so not only heals the wounds of abandonment, abuse, and betrayal, but also helps prevent additional pain, violence and acting out as our children become adults.

I think the title that comes closest to describing the experience of parenthood is, “The Agony and The Ecstasy”. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It can be a long, arduous, painful journey that requires us to take it one day at a time. Yet the rewards and the joy are far greater than any pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! Your heart can overflow with love and pride when you see your child grow, make a new discovery or accomplish something they never thought possible.

Becoming a parent quickly removes any pretenses or misconceived perceptions and expectations one may have previously held about parenthood and oneself. It puts a mirror to your soul and makes you look honestly at your reflection.

Since the age of sixteen I knew I wanted to have children and created a lot of convenient images and fantasies of what that would be like. When, at age twenty-six, my first child was born and the reality of how much attention they needed hit me full force (night after night of interrupted sleep and demands), I fell into months of postpartum depression. The reality that I was now responsible for another person for the rest of my life ran me over like a runaway crib!

As my daughter grew older and we had another child, two and a half years later, my heart for them both was filled with all the love, wonder and compassion I had expected, along with the unexpected. The next hurdle was learning when and how to say “no” or “yes”. It wasn’t as easy as it had sounded in the books!

Then, when the children were about five and seven years old, another unexpected event took place. I got divorced. We had just adopted a five-year-old boy through the county, before our divorce, so I had to go back to court and adopt our son as a single parent. Luckily, in our area of the country, this situation was not a problem for the county adoption agency or the courts, but it was a problem for me. It was exhausting! Luckily I met an incredible woman and eventually remarried. Though she made sure to not act like a substitute mother, she was and is an incredible support and is now called “Mom” by one and all.

After navigating divorce, single parenting and the adjustments of a new family, I thought I would never have another child, birth or adopted, but once again we were called or I should say “asked”, if we would “take in” another child. We said yes, having no idea what we were in for. That’s when our foster daughter moved in to our home. She was fourteen years old at the time. If I’d thought it was difficult learning how to parent the younger children as they grew, it was nothing compared to the needs and circumstances of an abused teenager. But, with the help and support of friends and family and the county foster care programs social worker, we all made it through with, as they say, “flying colors”.

Because every human being is different, children offer a unique insight into human nature and how we come to be who we are. There are some that need and want more limits, structure and guidance and others that need physical and/or emotional care and attention. Some are shy and withdrawn, while others won’t stay put and talk up a storm! Sometimes you need to be with them every minute and at other times you need to let them go and explore the world on their own terms. What they (and we) all have in common, is a need for unconditional love, presence and safety.

If you cannot or have not, physically had a child and/or you already had a birth child or two, I strongly encourage you to consider adoption. The challenges of bonding, dealing with previous losses, conditioning and fears are sometimes different then those of birth children and sometimes the same, but the attachment and love you feel for them (whether they physically come through you or someone else) is just as powerful, awesome and fulfilling.

The new add campaign says, “Parenting. It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure!”

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