Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bathroom Re-vamp

Of course, as it would for anyone, the move did not come without its share of ridiculously hard work and epic chaos (and messiness!). I had to renovate a bathroom. I'd wanted to do it forever, but kept having to procrastinate. However, taking on a housemate made it imperative that it get done immediately, so I was thrilled to have a deadline. I painted, I cleaned, I did mosaics, we hung a curtain rod, I shopped for curtains, I safety-and-border-taped, I removed paint from where it shouldn't be, I spray painted, I stenciled, I attached knobs... the list goes on and on. But even though I worked SO hard on it, it's still not done. But the fixes are minor and the bathroom is totally functional, and dare I say, kinda pretty!

I don't have a collection of complete before shots. I don't even think I took a photo of the original bathroom. But basically it had layers and layers of old wallpaper which had been painted over in an unfortunate shade of pinky-mauve. So I removed all those layers and discovered some pretty old and interesting black polka-dot wallpaper underneath. I would guess that it's from the 1930s or something. All of this demolition work was done before the accident. There's no way I could have done it now, at this state in my healing, so it was good that that part was out of the way. Anyway, I wanted to somehow use these old polka-dots in my new design, so when I hired the plaster guy I told him "Don't do the whole thing -- just these parts." In retrospect I probably should have had him do the entire ceiling. I ended up painting it all black anyway, but these are things that you run into as you go, so I won't be too hard on myself. Besides, I can always have that part skim coated at some point in the future if the black painted paper up there begins to fail. For now, I think it looks fine.

This project and fixing up and packing in general took EVERY ounce of energy I had.

Here are some before pictures (after the skim coat plaster work had been completed).

And here is the almost-finished result! I still have to varnish the back of the door, and grout the mosaic, and fix the soap dish -- but these are things I'll look forward to doing when I go to Philly the next time!

Ahhh, Memories...

I had already decided to move back to Austin even before the accident, but the accident made it all the more urgent. But I loved my little house in Philly. I fixed it from top to bottom over the years that I lived there. I still have some things to do, but they'll have to wait. Because, as of now, I'm staying in Austin for a while! :) Meanwhile, I'm happy to be sharing my Philly place with a housemate, who in many ways shares and can appreciate my decorative flair!

Here are a few videos of my little spot before I began packing:





Thursday, July 21, 2016


"I love all the colors in the world."
"I love all the persons in the world."
"I am unusual. I am not like other people on earth. I know everything."
These are three (unrelated) things that my 4-year old nephew has said over the past six months or so. Even taken out of context, they are good examples of his open, loving, optimistic, and a little bit otherworldly nature. He has always reminded me of a cloud or a balloon. He is SO free and happy almost all of the time -- he shines with joy, and shakes off troubles.
When I was in the hospital after my accident, he also had to have surgery on his hand. Still, he came by to visit me, and made sure to cheer me up. He took my bandaged hand in his, and gleefully shouted: "Surgery Power!"

Yup, he drops wisdom like that all the time.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Thing of Love and Beauty

I posted on Facebook about the birthday spoils that I recently received on April 23rd. But I also received something else that I decided to write about here instead. There's some pertinent background info that is needed:

I had a birthday several years ago, as seems to be the custom on this planet. But being chronologically challenged as I am, I can't remember exactly when it was. I'm pretty sure that my nephew was only about two years old at the time and we were celebrating my birthday at his home. He gave me a present that he was so excited about -- he could barely contain himself as I unwrapped the tissue that held the gift. He was so excited that he even almost told me what it was before I opened it. His little belly sticking out and his arms and hands fluttering and his whole body quivering and wriggling with joy as he helped me with the wrapping -- "It's a pink stone shaped like a heart!" he practically shouted just as I finally removed the paper to reveal the treasure inside. Yes, he could speak in full sentences even though he was so little, and yes, that's what it was -- a beautiful, sweet, perfect heart made of rose quartz. He had carefully chosen it especially for me from a basket full of stone hearts at a store they had gone to. My sister told me that it was completely his idea to buy it for me for my birthday -- no one had pointed him in that direction; he had just known that it was the right gift for Auntie M. 

Well, I kept that little heart with me everywhere I went. It was in a little velvet pouch in my backpack for years. It came with me to my day job (The Mütter Museum), it came with me to the grocery store, it came with me on buses, the subway and on long walks, of course, since that was my primary mode of transportation. It even accompanied me on the many out-of-state trips that I made over the years to both Texas and California. Every time I got on a plane I held it in my hand for good luck. It was a well-traveled little pink heart of stone. But then one winter evening I discovered that the little pouch was gone, and so was the heart. It must've fallen out in the darkness, into the snow, without making a sound. Maybe it snagged on something as I pulled out a bus token or my keys or gloves. I looked everywhere for it, but it was nowhere to be found. I was so sad. I kept the loss a secret from my sister for the longest time because I hoped that it would turn up somewhere in my house. Maybe I had accidentally taken it out of my backpack when packing for a trip or something, right? Anyway, that's what I told myself, and that's what I hoped for many years. But the little heart never did show itself again. Hopefully, somewhere, someone found it and kept it in their backpack for good luck, or maybe they gave it to someone special in their life. That's what I hoped. All I knew was that I had lost one of my most precious possessions. And while I know that it was only a "thing," it was a thing given to me by someone I love more than I could ever express, and it was given to me because of his love for me, and because he knew I would appreciate it as much as he did. I often pictured how his little face looked when he gave it to me, lit-up and shining, and how his little body just couldn't stop wiggling around because he was so happy about what he had found for me. That's why I cared so much about this thing that was "only a thing."

Well, this year I also had a birthday, and this time my nephew had a more elaborate plan in mind. He is very into nature right now, and he had drawn and designed a tree, which my sister cut into a pattern and together they stuffed and sewed it. She is an expert seamstress, and he is learning, because, as he proudly showed me, he "stitched part of it himself." In addition to this tree, he said, I will eventually receive a tree that depicts each season. Summer, Spring, Fall, and Winter! I'll need to be patient, but someday I'll have the whole amazing set of four trees. But it gets even better, because inside the package with the tree was a little pouch. And inside the pouch? You guessed it: A little heart made of rose quartz! My sister had told him the sad story of the first heart, so he understood how much it meant to me that he chose a replacement. And trust me, he understands the complex nature of treasures and how they can bring happiness even though they're only things. So, it's "just" a "thing" but it isn't just a thing. It is a thing of love and beauty. And while I'm not the packrat I used to be, I love to look around me and see those kinds of things. Things that are beautiful, things that sparkle, things that I found unexpectedly or things that were given to me by someone I love. Those things are more than things, they are treasures. Here are my new ones:

The tree with the pouch and rose quartz heart.

A close-up of the heart.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

No Memory

Except for a few small but vivid shards of time that have come back to me, I don’t remember a thing. Not a thing.

I do remember people walking around me, bending over me, hovering and going in and out of view, and I remember saying as loudly as I could: “Be careful of his hands! He’s an artist!”  And: “Be careful of my hands! I play piano!” Then there was only darkness again.

I also remember something else so incredible and mysterious that it does not seem sane to discuss it here. Some might judge me, or dismiss this special thing as wishful thinking. I don’t usually spend too much time fretting about what other people think of me, but I’m also not looking to be kicked while I’m down, so I’m going to keep this to myself for now.

After an indeterminate amount of time being “under,” I began to surface for longer periods. I first woke up to a reality which, thankfully, would later prove to be completely false. In it, my whole family and I had been injured and/or killed in a horrendous accident. It was a persistent reality, and I slipped back and forth between this world and the other one many, many times. The ease with which I traveled between them makes me wonder how many other realities are out there with various versions of events and outcomes. Some might attribute all this wandering about to be a side effect of the huge amounts of medication that were in my system. Fair enough; I can respect that point of view. But it felt like much, much more to me. Between those nightmare flashes was my actual life. In glimmers and shadows it lurched forward to push that other, even more shattered world away. My mom and brother appeared over and over, and I reached out to grasp that reality. The one where they were alive.

Finally, no matter how fiercely my mind had tried to protect me, and no matter how bizarrely it had attempted to shield me in a haze of uncertainty and inaccuracy, I began to comprehend what had actually happened. My first real, solid, true memory is waking up in a darkened room with my sister beside me. I looked at her and said, “Of course it would be you…” It seems like a strange thing to say, but of all the people in the world who might be waiting for me to wake up, it seemed right that it would be her — my little sister who has always comforted and cared for me, despite my jealous rage at her ever being born. (Note: we have actually always been very close, but there is an infamous photo where I am caught in the act of biting her finger as she lay in her crib, totally innocent of her “crimes” against my three-year-old self, and in it my face shows all of the conflicting emotions that I was usually able to mask under normal circumstances.) The point is, I’ve never quite been able to reconcile my guilt at feeling all of that jealousy, and that’s why it felt so nice to have her there at the exact moment when I needed someone the most. It was yet another gift from the universe — first my life, and now this. She explained that the rest of my family was safe and completely alive, but on November 12, 2015, as dusk approached us after we had spent an idyllic day taking a drive down scenic Highway 1, my boyfriend and I had been involved in a head-on automobile collision.   

To make a very long story short, we both had multiple injuries which required many surgeries and we now have lots of titanium in our bodies. However, despite the severity of the accident, neither one of us had any injuries to our spinal cords, brains or other internal organs. So, even in my drugged-out, panic-stricken state, I understood how extremely lucky we were. I have been told that we will eventually heal, eventually walk again. I have also been told that it was a flat-out miracle that we survived at all. My boyfriend knows it was miraculous because, unlike me, he remembers everything.

I don’t remember any of the following, but records show that the accident occurred approximately 60 miles outside of San Luis Obispo, on Highway 46. (Which I later learned is known as “Blood Alley” because of the number of fatalities that have occurred along it. It’s also where James Dean fatally crashed in 1955. Had I known these things, I really don’t think we would have been on that stretch of road.) We were traveling along when a driver going in the opposite direction jumped the double-yellow line while attempting to pass an 18-wheeler. This put him directly in our path, going the wrong way in our lane. Dave swerved to the shoulder of the road to avoid a head-on collision. But the other driver also swerved to the shoulder, so the crash still occurred. After that, the other driver died instantly, and our lives were altered forever. He was uninsured, so there’s no insurance settlement to help pay our bills. My health insurance and Obamacare are being put to the test. There will be many medical bills in my future. We’ll see how it all shakes out in the end.

We were brought to the nearest trauma center, in San Luis Obispo, so I know that I must have been helped by first responders in that area. But soon thereafter I was flown to Stanford University Medical Center, which is where I received my treatment and surgeries. Dave’s trajectory was a little different from mine, but we eventually arrived at the same place. We’ve been in ERs, ICUs, trauma wards and assisted-nursing facilities. Now, nearly three months after the evening of the accident, we are recuperating in my childhood home and being looked after by my family.

We’ve made a lot of progress so far, but it’s still just the beginning. I am hurting in every possible way, and I am just starting the physical therapies which I hope will bring me closer to living my life again. Same goes for my co-survivor, of course. We’re in this together, damn it, and we are going to WIN.

Both feet were broken, but this one was the worst.

Two pins holding delicate bones in place, and a long row of self-dissolving stitches.

Happiness is a brand new splint. I picked the velcro colors. A member of my team approves.

Comforting one of my team.