Monday, January 31, 2011

Telling G'ma

The pod castle sent me flowers.  That was really backwards.  I usually treat them, to cookies or donuts or candies.  After all, they are looking after my mother and you never want to underpay or under-appreciate your babysitter, do you?  But there they were, sitting in the most visible-to-my-eye spot in my hospital room, the trendiest, raffia-wrapped bouquet in the place.  They made me smile.

They also reminded me that G'ma was un-visited.  My family was at my bedside and I wasn't in the mood to share.  Amster dropped off Hershey's kisses for her at the pod castle and let the staff know that I hadn't forgotten my maternal unit, but it just wasn't the same as being there myself.  I had been dropping in at random times of the day, both because that's how my life was organized and to keep them on their toes.  If they didn't know when I was coming, G'ma would have to be tended 24/7. 

And suddenly I was gone. I had a good reason, but still, I was gone.

I wasn't worried that G'ma would miss me.  Whenever I'd apologize for missing a few days, she's smile and chastise me for saying anything at all. "Why do you tell me that?  It's not like I remember that you haven't been here.  Why upset us both?"  I do so love my mother.

But this situation was taking on a life of its own, and I wasn't in any position to get there anytime soon.  Little Cuter and SIR went straight from my bedside to the airport and back to their lives; they had no time to visit G'ma.  TBG was torn between his media duties and his aching ailing wife; his down time was spent pretending to sleep.  Big Cuter stopped by to drop off more Hershey's and check on his G'ma, but I was still too frail to travel and visit.

And there was also the issue of the wheelchair.  Or the walker.  I wasn't going to be striding down the hallway to her room.  She wouldn't recognize the sound of my footsteps clomping on the tile.  I'd present myself as another disabled body shuffling around the pod castle.  And I'd have to explain why.

It was a quandary, for sure, and one for which I had no answer.  And then, sitting on the couch with my ankle higher than my knee which was higher than my hip the phone rang.  Caler ID said it was G'ma.  She had never called me in all the time she's lived in Tucson.  Listen in on the conversation:

G'ma:  Did I just see you on tv?  I caught the tail end of a report.  What were you doing?  Why were you on tv?

A/B:  Yes, it was I.  It's kind of a scary story, though I am all right now.  I want someone to be there with you when I tell you.  Hang up and I'll call you right back.

G'ma: Hang up?  Didn't we just start talking?  Okay... you'll call me soon?

At this point I realized that I could not return her call and the fact of seeing me on tv would quickly find its way to the compost heap that contains the rest of her short term memory, that sweet smelling, every growing, warm and nurturing pile of detritus which will be used to create something wonderful in the future but which is now just heating up and getting itself together.  But I respect her and I've never shied away from the truth with her and I had to admire the fact that this was the first phone call she'd initiated in the 2+ years she's been living here.  So, I called the pod castle and asked someone to sit with her while we talked.  30 seconds later, the phone rang again.

G'ma: Suz?  Were we just talking?  Why am I calling you?

A/B:  Yes, you called me. You saw me on tv.

G'ma: That's right, you wore a pretty turquoise blouse.  I don't remember why you were on tv, though.  Did you tell me and I forgot?

A/B:  No, that's why we're talking now. Do you remember the little girl who was with us at Thanksgiving?  (I talked through the pause, since of course she didn't remember Christina.... "do you remember" is a trope I can't get past) Well, 2 weeks ago I took her to Safeway to meet our Congresswoman who was having a meet-and-greet.  We were waiting in line and some fool decided to settle his grievances with her by spraying gunfire and I got shot in the ass.

G'ma: (Laughs.  A lot.) I'm sorry, sweetheart.  I don't mean to laugh.  But that's a funny place to get shot.

That, denizens, is my mother in a nutshell.  It was obvious that I was alive to tell the story, so she spent no time obsessing about the past.  She dealt with the situation as it was presented, and she laughed.  I couldn't help it; I laughed, too.

A/B:  Well, it's funny until you try to sit down, Mom.

G'ma:  Does it hurt?  Can you get around?  How are you?

A/B: I'm home and recuperating.  I actually was shot 3 times and my hip was shattered.  In the long-time tradition of our family, they were set to give me a hip replacement, but my bones were so healthy they could repair it with glue and baling wire instead of giving me a plastic body part.

Then followed an interesting-to-our-family-alone discussion of Daddoooo's family's great teeth and bones, of my Grandpa chewing on chicken bones with his own teeth in his 80's, and of how healthy I was in general.

G'ma:  I'm sorry, honey.  I'm sure you've told me, but how did you get hurt?

A/B:  (quiet sigh and internal smile) I was at a political event and some idiot began spraying bullets.  I was shot 3 times and the little girl I was with was killed.  It was awful, but I had great medical care and I'm home and healing now.  I can't come to see you because I am not allowed to walk or drive for 10 weeks.

G'ma: Ten weeks is a long time.  Won't you miss the gym?

A/B:  Yes, I will.  But I have exercises at home and lots of company.  In fact, Big Cuter came to visit you when he was in town checking up on me last weekend.  He brought you chocolate and told me you were fine.

G'ma:  Big Cuter came?  Did I recognize him?  (We laughed.)  He brought chocolate?  I see cookies and muffins but no Kisses.....

(I told her where they were hiding and she shared the information with the pod castle worker bee who said, loud enough for me to hear, that they had all been wondering where the Kisses were...)

G'ma:  Remind me again why you are hurt... you've probably told me a dozen times already but...

A/B:  No worries.  I was at an event and someone decided to solve his problems with weaponry.  I was in the hospital for a while, got great care, and now I'm home with MTF and TBG and lots of neighbors and friends tending to me.  I probably won't get to see you for a while, because moving around is hard for me.  But Brother is coming next weekend and he'll get us together for sure.

G'ma:  Brother is coming?  I thought he didn't like to fly.

A/B:  You are right.  He doesn't.  But he said "My sister got shot three times.  I think I can get on a plane."

G'ma:  I am sure I've asked you this a dozen times already, but would you remind me how you got shot?

A/B:  Y'know what, Mommy? No.  I'm tired of telling the story.....

G'ma: (interrupting me) And I probably won't remember it anyway.  You're okay, right?  That's enough for now.

Can you see why I am going to school on being an old old person from my mother?  No guilt.  No over-wrought screaming.  No anger.  Nothing but acceptance and love and laughter.  She doesn't dwell on what she's lost.  She enjoys what she has.  She's funny and interested and not furious at what is missing.  She exists in the here and now, and makes it a better place for those in her aura.  There is much to be learned from her, and I'm soaking it in like a sponge.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Smile From Ear to Ear

Remember those pancakes at IHop?  The ones I ate while finishing The Footprints of God?  The smile on my face as I chowed-down was due, in no small part, to something that happened as I entered the restaurant.  Read on, denizens, and see what filled my heart.  Just another reason I love Tucson!
It was late and dark and cold.  I was alone.  I wasn't anxious about my safety, but I consciously chose a parking space close to the entrance, under a light pole and near a family group who were just exiting their car. 

I took my time, not wanting to open my door into them.  I collected my wallet and my novel and closed the sunroof.  By the time I beep-locked The Schnozz my safety net people were approaching the door of the restaurant.

There were 4 of them - an abuela, a mom and a teenaged boy and girl.  The kids were just a little bit more dressed up than is usual for Tucson teens.  Not fancy stuff, but their outfits had obviously been chosen with care.  His jeans weren't sagging and his top hat sat at a jaunty angle on his carefully gelled hair.  She was fingering her pretty bracelet which matched the clip in her hair.

It could have been one of those awkward moments, when the young man's eyes met mine.  He was holding the door for the women to pass through.  Not begrudging the action, but doing it with grace and a smile.  But I was 20 feet away and his party was moving to the hostess station without him.  It could have been awkward.

It wasn't.  There was a huge smile on his face as he stood there, patiently waiting for me to cross the lot from my car to the doorway.  I was impressed.  Very very impressed.

The bright lights glinted off his orthodontia as he grinned in response to my kudos and compliments.  You are so well-behaved.  Thank you for reminding me that there are still mannerly children in the world.  I rattled on.  The Cuters, had they been there, would have been cringing.  Enough already, MomBut I didn't care.  He was wonderful and it needed to be said.  

Are these your grown-ups?  What a wonderful job you've done raising him...  and then I realized that I'd mis-judged the situation.  This was a chaperoned date.  He was out with his girlfriend and her mom and grandmother.  Some part of him was showing off and I was part of that story.  As I covered my tracks and centered the compliments on him rather than them, I watched the girl's eyes swell with pride.  As she glowed, he grew taller.  

The hostess arrived and escorted them to their booth.  We said our goodnight's as they walked away, ladies first, the young gentleman bringing up the rear, his hand gently encouraging his lady friend to go first.  And then, as they left the lobby area and entered the restaurant proper, he took off his hat.

He took off his hat.  Someone had taken the time to inform him that gentlemen do not cover their heads while dining and he'd heard it.  Loud and clear.  Good behavior had been internalized and there he was, in the exact situation where manners would earn him brownie points, and he had the tools to glean them.  

I couldn't resist.  You are really perfect, aren't you?  I called after him.  

He turned, and smiled.  Was it triumph?  Glee?  Self-satisfaction? Pride?  I'm not sure.  I do know that there was not a hint of embarrassment anywhere to be found. 

I smiled all the way through my all-you-can-eat-pancakes.  And I paid their dinner check.  Just added it to mine and walked out the door.  I didn't wait to see how they reacted; I did it more for me than for them. It seemed to be the least that I could do for the joy that he'd given me.

It was a real Tucson Moment.

Can you tell why I love my town? 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of The Union

(To FAMB and the rest of you who look for me at 9am each morning, I apologize.  Healing takes much more energy than I imagined, and I don't want to write something that won't be worth your time.  So, I will aim for a post every weekday, but I'm not going to hold myself to the timing.  You'll know I'm getting better when I'm back on schedule.  Til then, may I ask you to cut me some slack in the timeliness department?  Thanks, from your perforated friend.)
I wonder..... did the AP call any of you and ask to sit on your couch and watch the speech together?  Welcome to my weird and wonderful world.

I told the lovely woman on the other end of the phone that I was too tired by the end of the day to acquiesce to her most flattering invitation but that she could call back and ask me a question or two on the phone.  She did.  With the help of TBG and The Ballerina (who's come from Little Rock to tend to me) and some judicious repetition of questions aloud, I managed to put together a semi-coherent response.  Was I ever glad that I had been taking notes as he spoke. Just Google Suzi Hileman and AP and you can see what I said... or whatever the interweb has deemed most click-worthy at any rate.

What did I think? First and foremost, didn't my girl look great next to Mrs. Obama?  That's Roxanna, mother of Christina-Taylor, bereft parent and my really good friend who somehow managed to look graceful and stylish and classy in that beautiful suit, though I knew she was crying inside. I loved knowing people in the front row ..... I just don't like why they were there.

I don't like it at all.

I did like our president calling for a robust democracy where What do you think of that idea? and What do you want to be when you grow up? are real and vital questions for each and every American.  C-T won't get to live up to her enormous potential, but President Obama was there encouraging the rest of us to do it for her.  And for ourselves.  And for America, the first nation to be founded on an idea. 

When he and FLOTUS were in my hospital room, he answered my lack of understanding, my flummoxed, uncomfortable sense that there was so much violence in the world when we live in such a wonderful country by reminding me that this was not the act of America.  He spoke of the good that is the American people and the good that I was doing by taking C-T to Congress on Your Corner and the good in the people who ran out of the Safeway and into harms way because their fellow Tucsonans were injured.  He told me to concentrate on our better angels and I've been trying to do just that.

I loved that he touted the winners of science fairs and the creators of new technology and that he pointed us onward as we invest in the future.  That is the way that I am able to move forward every day.  I try to keep the door to the past firmly shut while aiming straight ahead, with purpose and a smile.  Christina wasn't about gun control or the federal deficit or partisan political wrangling.  She was about talking to someone in charge about her own issue.  She expected to be heard and taken seriously and respected as an individual because she was a part of the American Family.

No, I am not angry that gun control didn't come up in the speech.   No, I don't mind that he didn't make more of the Green's in the balcony.  He was here in Tucson last week and he helped my town to bind its wounds.  And, if you are wondering, we are doing just fine.  We are not focusing on the Law'n Order facts, on the judicial hearings and the pleadings and the horror.  We are concentrating on finding meaning and love and on growing closer to one another.

TBG saw it first and stepped out in front of the media which was looking to define the situation on a partisan, divisive, hurtful and hateful political basis.  He turned the conversation around to the loss of a beautiful 9 year old child, a respected and hard working judge, a husband, a fiancee, and two other women-of-a-certain-age who were out on a Saturday morning, hoping to exercise their right to assembly and free speech.  I've been lucky enough to follow in his (awfully big and deep) footsteps and I've been trying to do the same.

It's not easy.  There are tears and strains and lots and lots of anger inside.  But they are tears of loss and the strains of recuperating and regenerating muscles and the anger is not at He Who Should Be Slapped or his family or the system.  It is at the unfairness of it all.  It is at the loss of a future for a bride to be, the loss to the judicial system of a hardworking, faith-filled judge, of a husband who threw himself between his wife and a madman, of a quilter and a mother who were out on a sunny weekend morning to visit with their Congresswoman and take home a piece of history.

The history is defined a little awkwardly right now, and I'm not sure any of us has it in the place we need it to be.  But I have you here in The Burrow to help me think it through, and I have all of Tucson rooting for something good to come out of this horror.  I'm going to do my part.  And I wonder, as did Mr. Obama last night, what you as citizens and parents are willing to do.

If you don't mind, why not take a few minutes and give it some thought.  Feel free to let me know in the comments if you want to make a public commitment to something.  I know that it helps me to stay focused if I say it aloud.

America is not going to get better unless we are all in it together again.  Our President is asking us to join hands and take part.  I'm throwing in my two cents, too........ let's do something..... Christina will never be able to fulfill her incredible potential..... it's on us now to do it for her.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cover to Cover

New to The Burrow and looking for my take on the events of  January 8th?  Read the previous few posts and you'll see where I am and how I'm feeling.
For now, though, I need a break from the drama.
Here is the post I planned to publish on January 10th 
I started that Greg Iles book yesterday.  You know, the one that's been lurking on my sidebar since before Christmas, the one that I knew I wouldn't be able to put down once I opened it.  I hadn't read the blurb on the inside cover; I knew I would love it no matter where he set the story or what the characters were doing.  And I did. 

I brought it with me to the talk I led at the suburban library on Tasks in the Garden for January.  Arriving early, as usual, I thought I'd pass the time by teasing myself with a few opening pages.  But there was a patron, a listener, an audience member and he was standing in the doorway wondering if this was the right place.  Once he determined that he wasn't lost, all hope for a quiet 20-some minutes of joining Mr. Iles in his vaguely paranoiac wonderland had vanished.  As long as I'm here, may I ask you...took us through fertilizers and soil structure and the dangers of amending the dirt in the hole when you plant a tree*

Once the auditorium had filled and emptied, once the information had been imparted and questions had been answered (no, I know nothing about roses or turf, those gorgeous but inappropriate for this environment difficult to maintain endeavors) I drove home and opened the book.

TBG came and went.  It made no difference to me.  Dinner time passed.  I wasn't hungry.  There were half-finished bottles of water on the table beside me, and it seems that I drank them as I was reading, but I really couldn't tell you when that happened.  I was in DC and White Sands, NM and Jerusalem with David and his girlfriend and I was worrying about the machine that was going to take over the world; food and drink here in reality were less important than whether or not the characters would live to see the morning.  There were assassins and scientists and thoughts of God keeping me glued to my seat, turning page after page.  It got dark.  I read on. I turned on more lights and ate a container of yogurt and kept reading.  My eyes began to blur, so I added my glasses to my face but I couldn't stop.  I was treating myself to finishing this book in one sitting and I was loving every minute of it.

By 10pm I was spent.  Broken.  Bleary eyed.  Starving.  TBG was in his jammies and in no mood to venture out into the cold so I took myself to I-Hop with the last 40 pages.  I needed someplace with comfort food and good lighting and a safe parking lot.  Turns out that there's an all you can eat pancake special going on in your neighborhood International House of Pancakes and they are very very proud of it.  The stack arrived, 5 high with 2 scoops of butter, and I poured syrup and forked batter and kept on reading.  I was truly torn. The story was winding down.... would they live..... would the Eastern Seaboard of the USofA survive..... did she love him.... but the pancakes were warm and fluffy and each bite was better than the next.  I sat and ate and read for as long as I could, but when the check came I still had 15 pages left. 

The answers to my questions were in those 15 pages and the traffic gods must have felt my urgency because I made all the lights coming across Cortaro Farms Road which turns into Magee Road without so much as by your leave (I've always wanted to type that sentence.... thanks for reading it!) and made it back to my comfy space in no time at all.  Refreshed by the cold night air and replenished by the carbs, I made short shrift of the last few chapters. 

I'd spent the day without electronic enhancements.  Ira Flatow couldn't entice me to listen to SciFri on the radio.  I felt no need for a musical background.  I was totally into that book.  It was as much a physical experience as an intellectual exercise.  The characters were present in my personal space and, because Iles tells his stories in a minute-by-minute fashion, it seemed as though we were all going through it together.

It's not often that such an opportunity presents itself.  Life has a habit of interfering with more sedentary pursuits.  But if you ever have the chance, if you have a day without anything on the calendar, if you can carve out a space for yourself and have an author who won't disappoint, I am here to tell you that spending a day with one book from cover to cover will put a smile on your face.

It did for me.
*Quick note to gardeners in the desert southwest - if you feed the roots of the newly planted tree with delightfully delicious amended soil they will never want to spread out and explore the territory surrounding the trunk.  The tree will become root bound and is likely to topple over in the first strong wind.  If they are going to survive in our environment they have to get used to the dirt when they are young.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No One is Interested in What You Had For Lunch

That's the title of a book which lives in my nightstand.  A handy little tract, it was given to me as I started blogging.  It's full of good prompts and suggestions and the title has kept me humble, has forced me to dig just a little bit deeper, to, as Billy Collins says
...wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.*
But I am not so sure that this applies to me right now.  I have, by virtue of participating in the political process with an adorable 9 year old, been thrust from a comfortable anonymity into the glare of the public spotlight.  Nance, my Blog Friend Forever, heard the news of a shooting at a Congress on Your Corner event in Tucson and just knew that I was there.  She just knew.  She and her friend Susan U used their computers to triangulate the Safeway and the hospital and the address from the brownies I had sent her at Xmas and it became apparent to them that it was my neighborhood.  She left a message on my home phone, begging for information.  She was distraught.

Little Cuter recognized the need to know which existed in the blogosphere and in the real world and wrote Tough.  It's one of my favorite posts.  She informed and reassured and she did it with style.  I am so very very proud.  I haven't asked her if she thought about the issue of privacy and I don't really care one way or the other.  It was inevitable that my protective shield would be pierced.  It was just a matter of time.

My family and friends have always said that I should write a book.  In the 20th century that's what you told people who were facile with the written word.  The digital age gave those of us with the inclination to opine the blogosphere in which to stretch our wings, and I took advantage of the situation.  I love it.  Or, I did once I figured out how to get started.  My real self was unable to scratch out a paragraph worth sharing.  Little Cuter wondered if Ashleigh Burroughs (my tall, willowy, blonde alter-ego who's been in my pocket since high school) might be able to do it.  Ten minutes after she made the suggestion,  Ashleigh  was merrily typing away.

As Ashleigh Burroughs I could write about gun control and Tea Partiers and nasty high school girls.  There were no personal consequences to the real me.  Those who knew my real name kept the secret; we were a cabal of friends and family who could be trusted. If a post wasn't just quite perfect, I didn't have to worry that  Ms. Eiler, my 12th grade English teacher, was cringing  as she read it, her red pen scurrying over my ellipses and verbal contortions.  Ashleigh existed in her own personal space, and no one could touch her.  I kept her safe.

I was a little blogger, with no real chance of being anything more.  I had my loyal readers and my dedicated commenters (love you Nance and JES and Tepary and Ca88andra and Meg) most of whom were personal friends or other bloggers.  Within my sphere, I had a certain amount of notoriety, but mostly I was a little fish in a very very very big pond.  I was not Dooce.  I was not Ronni Bennett or Rain with her multiple blogs. I was Ashleigh  Burroughs, happily typing away in The Burrow.  Life was good.

Then I got shot.  Suddenly, my story was a national one.  TBG recognized that he had to get out in front of the vultures and turn the story from gore and guilt and madness to friendship and love and the wonderfulness that is America. He was everywhere, answering questions and directing the conversation.  The media will fill a void with the most sensational, dramatic, disturbing visuals they can find.  The story will be anger and hatred and hostility because that gets the ratings.

But that was not my story, and it certainly was not Christina's story.  We were a couple of girls on a Saturday morning outing, without evil intention.  Without any intention, really.  We were hanging out.  It was important that the story be told from the correct point of view.  From our point of view.

Anyone who has ever spent 15 minutes with TBG knows that he is the most private of private persons.  Sharing his story in public (read public as anyone other than immediate family, and even then.....) is antithetical to who he is.  When the hospital spokesperson asked for a volunteer from the families to speak to the press, no one moved. Reluctantly, he raised his hand.  The hospital was being so good to us, it seemed almost rude not to help them out.  He anticipated a small conference room with 5 reporters holding notepads.  Instead. he found himself in front of a phalanx of cameras and screaming questioners and rude producers sticking their cards in his pockets.  In his pockets, denizens.  Strangers were touching my guy.  It took a cordon of hospital personnel to get him out of the room.

From that moment, it was game on. TBG versus the forces of evil.  My guy defending me against the world.  Have you seen him on tv?  Except for the fact that he needs 3 weeks of sleep (don't we all!) he's been unbelievable.  With no training in media relations, with no preparation by anyone other than himself, he has calmly and intelligently and cogently asked Americans to look at the mentoring and the public service and the friendship and he has deftly avoided the negative.  He told America who I was, and I love the picture he's painted.

But Ashleigh Burroughs has been outed.  My little refuge here in The Burrow is now a public space.  I've gone from 11 followers to 74 ....oh ....77.... and people are using my real name to communicate.  I am overwhelmed (and just a little saddened) by the change. Given what's been going on, though, it's a small blip in the larger issue.

So, allow me to introduce myself.  Blogosphere, this is Suzi Hileman.  Suzi Hileman, this is the blogosphere.  Welcome to the conversation.

*from Advice to Writers by Billy Collins, published in The Apple That Astonished Paris

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome to My World

JES and Nance and I have been talking on line for a while about how we could generate more visitors to our tiny but wonderful blogs.  Obviously, we've been creative and insightful and thoughtful as we email one another with suggestions and encouragements and I love your last post's.

"And then, damn girl, you go and get yourself shot."

Let me say that there has got to be a less painful way to push your numbers into the 5-figures.  I'm not sure that there is an easier one, though. I'm sharing Sunday night's Dateline episode with Michael Douglas.  You know, the one married to Katherine Zeta-Jones, the one whose father played Vincent Van Gogh.

This little girl has gone big-time.

National news outlets are on TBG's speed dial..... or would be if he used speed dial.  They are certainly in his cell phone.  I have had lovely conversations with editors-in-chief who answer their own phones and who say of course when I ask if I might use the Star for the publication of a thank you note to my fellow Tucsonans.  A reporter from The New York Times spent an hour in my living room.  Bob Woodruff is coming to walk around my yard with me as I wait for Big Cuter to arrive from the airport for a great big mommy hug.

I've told famous national political figures that they could not use me for photo ops and I've been hugged by President and Mrs. Barack Obama.

Let that sink in for a while, denizens.

I got a hug from POTUS.  And I was in my 'jammies (oh, all right, for accuracy's sake it was a hospital gown but you know it wasn't an outfit I'd planned and considered for months).  Amster and I and the most powerful man in the world were in a room together. Hugging.  I was being thanked for encouraging a young girl to participate in the political process by the man who owns the political process.  Michelle and I talked about Kitchen Gardens and broccoli.

Director of Homeland Security and (oh why did you leave us?) former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano said good-bye to Little Cuter by her family nickname after she and SIR were shown holding hands in front of millions of people on television from the first row of the McKale Center as President Obama spoke to the nation on Wednesday night.

And Christina is still dead.

A young friend and I went to the grocery store to meet our elected representative on a sunny Saturday morning and I couldn't bring her home to her parents.  My body is perforated and glued and pinned and plated and my friends don't have their little girl any more.

The publicity, the accolades, the exposure...they are all very exciting.

I'd trade them in a heartbeat for the chance to let Christina beat me at pick-up-sticks.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dear Tucson,

I love our town.  Don't you?

My husband and my friends and some of my favorite nurses and I walked through the vigil garden outside UMC last night.  You might have seen me and my bright yellow socks on CNN, who were filming respectfully from a distance.  There are candles and flowers and butterflies and daisy chains and streamers and sculptures.  There are hand made drawings from little girls and grown men.  There are potted plants and bouquets wrapped in papers from California and Oklahoma and Yuma. 

A violinist stands alone in the center of the field, playing to himself and sometimes leading others in song.  The mariachis asked permission to serenade us.....asked permission! if anyone could refuse a love song.  The young man's voice rose high and sweet as the sun set and the guitarist strummed and the trumpeter blew 12 long low lovely notes that went straight from his muted instrument to my soul.  It was a physical connection, and the maestro's wink at the end was an acknowledgment that we were attached on a visceral level.  The song was about antigua, which was explained to me as being the old kind of love.  Old or new, it was palpable.

I moved through the path of offerings, being overwhelmed.  I had thought that I would be anonymous, but I was not.  TBG's face has been all over the news and perhaps it was his presence that made us recognizable.  Or, perhaps, it was the two Tucson Police Department officers who were accompanying us.  Whatever the reason, I was noticed. Looked at.  Marveled at.  Watched.  Approached.

The first woman who asked if she could pray for me placed her hand on one of my wounds and directed Jesus to bring me strength.  I'm not much of a believer, but there was a warmth running through me as she exhorted him to get it together and make be better.  Rationally, I know there was nothing.  Really, it was there.

We turned the corner and Rhiannon and her little sister were watching their mom install their artwork.  Two little angels, delicate, sweet, confused and proud were standing right before me.  I asked if I could see the pictures.  I had to laugh at the balloon which was attached to the picture of my eyeball.  Do I look like I could have a string attached to me?  Rhiannon studied hard on the issue; the little one said it was next and not on and pointed out the space I had apparently missed.  I asked for a hug, but they'd been well trained about stranger-danger and they solemnly shook their heads no.  Mom was distraught and fell all over herself apologizing, but there was no need.  She was right and I was intruding.  This was their moment, not mine.

The  path twists and turns and follows nothing but an unplanned pattern of love.  It's not quite a labyrinth, not quite a maze, not quite random.  It's love.

Seeing Christina's name and photograph was almost more than I could bear.  She would have loved the attention, the publicity, the notice.  I just wanted her to be there with me so that we could enjoy it all together.

We moved on, and suddenly there was my name shouting itself back up in my face.  For the very first time I had a sense of the enormity of the situation, of the fact that I was not my own-personal-hiding-behind-my-blogonym self.  I'm a part of the saga, whether or not I chose to be.  I am out there   

But I am not alone.  You are out there with me, Tucsonans.  You with your teary eyes and your outstretched arms and your healing grace.  We are in this together.  A madman tried to turn our desert town into a slaughterhouse and we just won't let it happen.  No way.

This is our melting pot, our cultural stew, our place to be ourselves under the warmest sun and atop the driest earth.  We have the Catalinas and the Santa Ritas and the Pusch Ridge and we have each other.  As Dr. King and President Obama and many of the signs we read last night, we must choose hope over fear, civility over anger.  Sharing the evening with you, exchanging hugs and smiles and tentative outpourings of emotion I knew, once again, that TBG and I have chosen absolutely the right place to be just now.

I love you, Tucson, just as much as you love me.

Suzi Hileman

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What I Know

I know that short Jewish girls from New York do get shot.

I know that time does stand still.

I know that my grandmother was right to remind me to wear nice underwear in case it had to be cut off me on the concrete in front of Safeway on a sunny Saturday morning.

I know that total strangers will put themselves in danger to save the lives of others.

I know that being a passenger in a med-evac helicopter is a very cool experience, and that I was right to turn my head and see my town spread out below me.

I know that I am loved.

I know that Gabby Giffords and I are married to very handsome very passionate very wonderful men.

I know that pilates and yoga and strength training and aerobic exercise provide you with "remarkable bones" which can hold a host of pins and plates and other paraphernalia and I know that without my time in the gym my experience right now would be very different.

I know that The Bride and Seret and MTF and Little Cuter and SIR will drop whatever they are doing and get on a plane and hold my head and my foot and my heart for as long as I need them, no matter how tired or busy or impoverished they are feeling.

I know that I am loved.

I know that words typed on the screen and sent across the ether to an injured soul in the desert southwest do have remarkable healing powers; I've spent the last hour medicating myself with your healing vibes and heartfelt good wishes. 

I know that it is possible to watch the light go out of another person's eyes.  I do not know if it is possible to live with that knowledge.  I do know that I will try.

I do not know why. 

I do not understand. 

I find no rhyme or reason in the whole situation, but I do know I am grateful, so very very very grateful, to all of you.

I'll be back tomorrow with more.  For now, know that I love you all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Hi there Burrow faithful,

Little Cuter here, with news on my amazing mom.

As most of you probably know by now, my mom attended the Congress on your Corner event yesterday at her local Safeway. Just as she reached the front of the line to shake Ms. Gifford's hand a gunman appeared and began shooting with an automatic weapon. My mom was shot three times.

 That's a sentence I never thought I'd have to type.

Right this very minute my mom is in the ICU with her leg in a traction. She suffered a wound to her left chest, one to her abdomen, and a third to her right hip. She is incredibly lucky that none of her organs were hit, even though one of the bullet's entry wounds was in her abdomen. She has been taken care of by some fantastic and proficient doctors and nurses, and a wonderful social work team.

My mom is the toughest broad I've ever met. She is awake and talking and cracking wise and we can all rest assured that the woman we love is still here, kicking major ass.

To all of you who have reached out already: I love you. Your thoughts have honestly been felt even if they were from many states away. The amount of love we are receiving is staggering, and we are incredibly thankful for all of you. Please continue to send out your best "healing vibes" (as we like to call them) and "special strength vibes" for the moments when we will be reaching in to our reserve tanks.

Little Cuter

UPDATE 1.11.11 5:08pm

To all of you who have reached out in the past few days, we are gob-smacked. The amount of love and prayers we have received are completely mind blowing, and we are so incredibly grateful.Thank you.

I have only positive news to report. Mom made it through her final surgery beautifully. Her surgery was long, it lasted about five hours, but the second she woke up the doctors were able to remove her breathing tube, she is moving oxygen perfectly, and everything looks good from here on out. We have a lot of physical and emotional work to do, but hopefully the hardest of all of this is behind us.

I would like to extend thanks from my family to all of the amazing doctors, nurses, social workers, US Attorney's Representatives, and FBI representatives that we have encountered in the last few days. We have had one exceptional experience after another and feel completely taken care of from all angles, even ones we wouldn't have thought of without their help.

I hope everyone who reads this knows how grateful we are to you as well. Each one of you individually has provided a moment of peace and joy to our family through your outreach, and we could not be more appreciative.

When her strength returns, I know my mom has a lot to share with you all. Even through her haze she has been asking me to take notes for her posts so that she doesn't miss any of the details. This community is so important to her, and the outreach we have experienced from you all has just solidified that my mom is part of a generous, thoughtful, caring, international family here. It is truly a beautiful thing.

Now please, go hug those you love extra tight.

Little Cuter

Friday, January 7, 2011

Really? Chicago in January?

Sometimes I'm glad that it's hard to fly directly to anywhere from Tucson.  The fact is that the least expensive and shortest-time-in-transit way to get from here to Washington, DC involves a change of planes at Midway airport.  Now, honestly, denizens, how could I change planes in their city and not say Hi to Little Cuter and SIR?  It would be impossible. 

So I'm adding two days on to the front of my trip and I'll be in Chicago at the end of January.

I have to pause a moment when I read that.  Most normal humans would leave Chicago and flee to Tucson at the end of January.  I lived in Chicago for 19 January's and I can tell you that it is not a pretty site.  Oh, sure, there is the occasional sunny day when the entire city is on the lakefront or in the zoo or playing dog frisbee in one of the gazillion parks.  But the reality is far starker.  Chicago in late winter is most often dark and dank and the snow is no longer white and fluffy but has turned to grey slush creeping up your UGGS.  It's nigh on impossible to look stylish in January in Chicago.  It's enough to survive.

And yet, I am going to be there and that thought does nothing but bring a smile to my face and love to my heart.  My grand-dog will nuzzle me and the kids will feed me and together we will see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Steppenwolf Theater Company.  I got the last 4 tickets for a Wednesday night performance that Terry Teachout called "a show you mustn't miss"

Little Cuter and I have been wondering if we're going to read the play before we see it.  It's a quandry.  Do you think that Edward Albee would tell us what to do if I wrote him a note and asked his advice?  After all, it's not every day that you get to experience a classic for the first time. I am surprised to say that neither of us has ever seen or read it.  She's an English major.  I read constantly.  How has this happened?  We want to get this right.

Is it going to be something like Shakespeare?  Will it be so dense that knowing the basic outlines of the plot before we listen to the actors will help us fill in the blanks when the words become arcane?  Or should we let it flow over us and see where it takes us?  We can always read it on Thursday.  I think Mr. Albee would have written it as prose if he'd wanted it read instead of seen.  But that's one woman's opinion.  As said, we're wondering.

There's another reason to be joyful about traveling to the Midwest in January.  FAMB (who really should be FAMBB and I don't know why she is not) will be there too.  We've been very good friends since we met in 7th grade home room.  We haven't seen one another in 41 years but I promise you that we are very good friends.  She's about to become a grandmother and is currently stockpiling airline tickets in anticipation of an ever-in-the-future-but-not-today birth date.  Thanks to her grandchild's desire to remain in utero for just a little longer, now it is inevitable that our paths will cross in Chicago. I'll drop off a baby gift and admire the sweet little fingers and toes and then I'll spirit my friend away for a quick cup of something and a very long hug.

Sometimes life just works out perfectly.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Electric Car

I have visions of extension cords wrapped around light poles, dragging behind trunks, cluttering up storage space and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  Instead of smelling gas fumes for 2 minutes I see hundreds of people lined up, waiting to plug in and then waiting to charge.  Will Starbucks migrate to the Valero station?  After all, if it takes an hour or two to power up for the trip home, someone has to make money in that time frame.  It's the American Way.

Automobile Magazine's Car of the Year is the Chevy Volt.  Yes, an American car.  Yes, a Chevrolet.  From the design staff and the engineering staff and the secretarial staff who drove and commented and submitted their ideas, the editorial staff decided that
(I)t is genuinely an all-new car, in the most simplistic sense as well as in the greater notion that the Volt is unlike any vehicle we have ever driven. 
Because it is sui generis, because it is taking the concept of the green vehicle off the drawing board and onto our roadways, because it is new, it is now the Car of the Year. 

In 2007 and again in 2010 the Volkswagon GTI was awarded that honor. The Schnozz is a 2007 GTI, and it is a pure driving delight.  It is mechanically sound and pretty to look at and has the sweetest little shift action.  It is a car, not an experiment.  The Volt feels like an experiment.

I'm not sure how I feel about a car that can't get me across the Grapevine and into Bakersfield without a fully charged battery pack.  It's one thing to run out of gas; gas stations exist.  But what happens when you are driving across Utah, or Nebraska, or Wyoming or Nevada?  The roads are long and straight and lightly traveled; there are no gas stations let alone electric lines that run along the highways.  People there live off the grid, without sewers, with wells, with lone wires running from a pole to the house.  I don't see charging stations as a natural enhancement to the environment.  Or a practical plan.

Now, to be fair, the Volt has a gas/electric hybrid system powering itself.  You begin by using the electric charge and, when that runs out, after 25-50 miles according to GM, the vehicle switches itself to using good old fossil fuel. Premium fossil fuel at that.   I suppose that's how I'd get across Utah. 

The magazine found fault with the design, the interior appointments and the inaccessible back seat.  It's plastic and not user-friendly and it costs $41,000.  Somehow, though, it still became Car of the Year.

And so I wonder: is this our show-up-get-a-trophy world run amok?  Do something different and people will rush to make sure you know how wonderful you are?  Congratulations on making a ticky-tacky vehicle?  The Volt might well be "an automotive pioneer" but calling it "the most important vehicle on the road today" feels a tad over-reaching. So does calling it the Automobile of the Year. 

I'm sorry, but creating a vehicle that costs too much and delivers too little doesn't seem to deserve a prize.
Thanks to Big Cuter for this prompt.  Apparently I did have some thoughts on the electric car :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


It's a puzzlement, really, sometimes.

Everything is going along smoothly and then BAM! you're gob-smacked and reeling and you don't know what to do.  You're pulled one way, and you make your peace with it.  You see the reality for what it is and take a deep breath and move on.  Wake up in the morning and go on about your business and POW! there it is again, rearing its ugly head and snarling at you.

What's a person to do?

It's not only in the realm of personal relationships that this occurs.  We all have our own versions of the story and I'll let you fill in your own blanks today.  It's also true in the world of sports.

I've been thinking about Nance's comment on yesterday's post, reprinted here for those of you un-inclined to click back and find it:
The real stories in sports are the interpersonal stories based on the usual human depravities...on steroids. Games, optional. 
She has a  point there.  For most of us, the casual fan, the occasional wearer of team colors, who the players are is at least as important as what they do.  But for the die-hard follower, every call, every play, every in-bounds pass is fraught with meaning.  The glow of sweat on the coach's brow is analyzed and compared to other damp moments in similar situations.  Nothing is left to chance.  The team needs his undivided attention and he is more than willing to make the donation.

When they are winning, everything is roses.  Playing ranked teams on the road and winning puts a smile on the face of the unsuspecting fan and then BAM! there's a conference opponent who mops the floor with your sorry performance and suddenly he's exploring the caverns in the depths of despair.  A few wins later the fan begins to regain confidence in his boys, those talented teens who POW! break his heart with such regularity.

And yet he continues to cheer, to care, to dream of greater things ahead.  He doesn't make excuses, he doesn't try to downplay their flaws, because they are his, warts and all.

His football season was a study in misery, of lost opportunities and dashed expectations.  Loved him as a player, hate him as a coach was his mantra, and by the middle of the year he viewed every win as an attempt to spoil their chance at a #1 draft pick...... something you get by losing a lot, it seems.  He'd spent the pre-season in a generally optimistic frame of mind and wore his team jersey with pride and the POW! the regular season started and he was depressed.  It didn't help that his friends preyed on his misery, either. 

What is it about us as humans that lets us rise up again in the face of adversity, that tells us that we will be okay, that the boys will get it together, that the foolishness will stop?  Not everyone is blessed with the resilience to endure, it's true.  But you will not find a real sports fan who does not epitomize the trait. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sports Shorts

We haven't talked sports for a while here in The Burrow.  I've taken the last month away from the worldly cares of politics and the economy and natural disasters while I've focused on the season.  I've baked and wrapped and written and decorated and, behind it all, there was usually a game on the tube.  To those of you who depend upon The Burrow for your sports news and information,  I apologize.  There have been many developments on the sports front, and I have been remiss in my duties.  That is about to change.  Read on for my personal sports highlights.  Those of you who don't care, come back tomorrow for something new and exciting.  
Professional football was a major snore this season.  Last year we watched the New Orleans Saints win their way to the Super Bowl and revive the spirits of a damaged city.  This year has been dominated by a 40something damaged quarterback who hasn't played all that much or all that well but whose text messaging skills have been the subject of much debate.... as has the size of his penis.  The poor girl who outed him seems to have had one too many cocktails while flirting with a Deadspin blogger and revealed more than she'd intended.  Or maybe not.  She sued and got nowhere and now two more women are suing and really, who cares.  Certainly not I.  The fact that Brett Favre was discussed on every single football related show - whether he played or not - began to make me crazy back in September and it didn't get any better as the season went on.  Need a water cooler comment?  "Please, I cannot hear another word about him.  Stick a fork in him.  He's done."
Rehabilitation and redemption been discussed but I'm having a hard time getting past the fact of the murdered dogs.  Michael Vick is gorgeous and talented and has apparently developed a work ethic.  He served his time - in Leavenworth, not a minimum security Michael Milkin prison - and forfeited his wealth and Tony Dungy vouches for him and yet I can't get past the dogs.  I'm not sure that I want to get past it, either.  Here it is: "He's a hell of an athlete but....."
Thanks to
There is no playoff system for college football.  The NCAA decides which teams appear in the most prestigious games.  I'm a big fan of Boise State and their blue turf and their coach and their style of play.  But the powers that be don't seem to think as highly of them and used a couple of missed field goals in the final game of the season as cover to shunt the Broncos off to a lesser Bowl Game.  It's more than a matter of ego or a title.  Boise State would have earned $13 million.
The NFL playoffs begin next weekend.  Pete Carroll left USC just as the Reggie Bush mess hit the fan  and now, for the first time in recorded history a team with a losing record (Carroll's 7-9 Seahawks) has secured a post-season berth.  One Manning brother is out and the other is playing in the first round and except for the Bears kinda sorta I really don't care. 
And then there's the whole matter of LeBron James.  He left Cleveland in the lurch in an unfortunate scenario which led to viral videos my favorite of which is this one

He moved to Miami and his season started off slow and there was a lot of blame and sarcasm but now he is winning and I wonder if he, like Michael Vick, has become a teflon player.  Nothing sticks for very long .... as long as they are winners.
Finally, let me weigh in on NFL RedZone.  This is a premium sports channel which toggles between touchdowns all over the league. It's the only time the remote lies dormant on the couch.  The producers are doing all the work.... and, apparently, they are doing it very well.  However,  for a woman who sits in the room but watches only when there is cheering it is an absolute nightmare.  Every time I look up at the screen someone is going across a goal line... there is no story line .... there are only the lines in my forehead as, perplexed, I wonder how my Jets have been replaced by the Bears or the Colts.  It's a puzzlement.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Parties on New Year's Day

January is an odd month for a party.  It's cold and miserable or wet and slippery or sunny for the first time in ages ... you either don't want to go out to get there or you don't want to go inside to visit.  There's an awful lot of cleaning up to do before a party, and December being December, with its endless tchotchke possibilities, with visitors and packages and wrapping and baking and comings and goings, well, December is just a messy memory by the time January rolls around.  Hosting a party requires removing the flotsam and jetsam to less obvious locales and then repairing the damage to floors and windows and countertops.  It's all a bit overwhelming to me even without the knowledge that hungry hordes will be descending on my home.  I don't host parties in January.

But I have some friends who have made a tradition of New Year's Day events.  One is celebrating his birthday with home made chili and every friend he's ever had.  When children were born, the party took on less of an alcoholic continuation of the Eve before and became more of a food and football soiree.  The beer shared ice bucket space with juice boxes.

Their's is a big old rambling many storied house on a wooded street in a university town.  The driveway is long and slippery and the porch is wide and wrap-around and as welcoming as her smile when she'd see us traipsing up the broad stairs.  We carried diaper bags and holiday gifts and wine and our coats and boots and hats and shoes and mittens and scarves and oh dear lord how did I ever deal with it all?  We found the bedroom-cum-coat-rack and dumped our stuff in a corner, all wrapped up in Dad's humongous parka.  The kids made a bee-line for the once-was-a-ball room-and-now-is-a-playroom on the top floor and the grownups headed for the kitchen or the living room or one of the many many televisions on which football and basketball were the only fare.  TBG had a certain chair in front of a certain tv and after a few years the other guests became accustomed to stepping over his legs on their way to the couch.  It was that kind of party - comfortable as an old shoe. 

There were play group moms and lawyers and nurses and doctors and neighbors and relatives and no one was boring.  It's true.  There was always a fascinating conversation and something delicious to eat and something unusual to drink and it was the only party we ever attended where none of us wanted to go home early.   Leaving Chicago for Marin was really really hard; being out of town for Jack's birthday party made me cry.

And now I'm in Tucson and The Hikers host a pot-luck gathering of similarly minded individuals and whatever stray family members or out of town guests they happen to have lying around. The same relatives show up year after year and they, too, become part of the extended family that The Hikers have created around themselves.  It's a self-selected group of hale and hearty grown ups, most of whom had fascinating lives someplace else.  Many of us lived in Chicago or California so there's lots of common ground.  I haven't been able to talk about Michael Bilandic in a long long time, and there are enough gardeners in the crowd to keep me occupied for hours.  

But, just like my mid-western friends, The Hikers are pretty special in and of themselves. He once snapped me out of a major funk by correctly depicting the person who was making me crazy as completely f***ed up.  Then he blew his nose and continued on down the path.  I stood there, laughing and agreeing with him, as the rest of our troupe passed me by.  There's not a lot of artifice there, just good common sense.  She's the one who plans and cares and arranges and considers and is much more thoughtful than she needs to be.  The fact that she went to high school with Billy Crystal is only one of the interesting things on her resume.  Her ability to dispense exactly the right amount of concern is matched only by her inability to accept a compliment.  And people try to give her compliments.  Often.  She's just that good.

G'ma's on the guest list and she gets just as many holiday hugs as I do.  These are people of a certain age, most of whom have experience with aging parents.  G'ma's good cheer and complete acceptance of the fact that she can't remember anything brings joy and laughter to those who come to pay court.  More than one person remarked that she was totally there (where did they think she was?) and I knew just what they meant.  She is still a whiz at superficial social conversation.  She's got a snarky remark and a twinkle in her eye for every occasion, and while she might not remember how the conversation started, at any given moment she's right there, following along.  Just don't ask her what the topic is, or the name of her interlocutor.  It doesn't really matter.  She's always been a good listener and The Hikers invite a lot of talkers.  It was a guest list made in heaven. 

There was a table for 4 and we sat opposite one another, gorging on casseroles and salads and sweet treats that weren't all chocolate.  They tell me that those were good, too.  I can vouch for the lemon tart thingies and the gooey yellow cake with amazing crumble topping.  We talked about independent living and assistance when all you need is help remembering "though having your laundry done and the cooking and cleaning taken care of is pretty good, too."  Our friend's mother and brother were conspiring to make her feel guilty and G'ma did a great job of quashing that notion.  "Let them take care of it, then" she instructed my girlfriend as her husband applauded.  There was a smile and a nod of the head and the message was received.  

I told you: in the moment she's my real mother, the one with good advice and a kind smile.  I basked for a while and then it was time to take G'ma home for the pod-castle's New Year's Dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and it's a good thing that she has no short term memory because there wasn't more than 30 minutes between leaving The Hikers' and sitting down with her lady friends.  "Oh, they're eating dinner!" she said with a smile.  

I hope your new year started off as nicely as mine did.  

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Kung Fu for Coral Health

I've known Joey Ellis from the day he was born.
He's an upstate New York kid living and working as an artist in China.
He learned the language and found an apartment and was the first international student to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. 
His parents are very proud.
Now he is trying to save the coral reefs.
Using art and video games and integrating local culture to save the world..... what an idea.
No wonder he's also a TEDGlobal Fellow.

I do know some very interesting people.

Nance, over at Mature Landscaping, is wondering how we are going to reset our lives to have an impact on the world around us.
Perhaps you'd like to get started by giving this project a try?
It needs more funding within the next 4 days in order to be KickStart-ed.