Rita is Back

My Soldier, Our Hero

Posted in Odd Stuff by ritaisback on December 1, 2010

Once again I go back in time and try to come full circle.  It all starts with fashion:  the great fashions of our day, most of which have gone out of style, were the mood ring, the Huck-a-Poo Shirts, the puzzle ring and the Bracelet.  Most of the girls I knew had the Bracelet and wore it daily.  It was made of silver and if you didn’t put clear nail polish on the inside weekly, it turned your arm black.  Fine silver it was not.

For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, I am referring to the POW Bracelets that we wore with pride.  Being young and foolish, it was like adopting a Soldier.  Of course, my POW Bracelet came with a defect:  it had a hole in it.  I wanted to get another one, but my mom thought it was ridiculous to spend another $3.00 for such a minor glitch in my Bracelet.  Once again, I found myself having something different from my peers.  Their Bracelets were whole, not WITH a hole.

It took 2 weeks of wearing my Bracelet to discover that there was not a defect in it; the hole meant that “my soldier” was NOT a POW.  He was an MIA.  When my mom discovered this fact, she was now ready to pay for another bracelet.  She had been told that MIA’s were far less likely to come home than POW’s.  She didn’t want me to presume that my soldier had little chance of being found.  By then, however, I had adopted Major Paul.  He was my soldier and I swore, as only the young can, that I would wear that Bracelet forever in his memory.  Ten-year-olds had no concept of what “forever” even meant.  Major Paul was mine and would be for life.

We grew up watching “The Viet Nam Show” on our televisions.  It was a gruesome series, but not a day went by when an episode did not convey new information or show the daily coffins arriving for burial.  When the 6:00 News came on, we watched our serial drama, understanding little yet searing visual horrors in our minds.  After the 6:00 News, we ate dinner (no TV at the dinner table).  We were reminded to eat everything on our plates because there were children starving in Biafra.  I didn’t really know what a Biafra was, but I cleaned my plate to the last drop, lest a child die if I left a green bean still on my plate.  These were the first years when I was developing a social conscience.  As the months went by I began to ask questions and wouldn’t be satisfied until I had an answer that made sense.

As the war that was really a “conflict” started to come to a close, many of us had already removed our POW Bracelets.  I didn’t.  I had adopted a soldier and would tend to his memory forever – until the day that the Bracelet snapped in two.  Though not terribly superstitious, I knew that my Major Paul was forever gone.  He was never coming home.  I cried for days, believing that if I hadn’t broken the Bracelet, Major Paul still had a chance.  I had brought doom upon him.  Would I ever forgive myself?

It didn’t matter.  The conflict ended, our soldiers were coming home and many POW’s were being released.  It was a time for jubilation.  The (mostly) boys who went to fight had been brought home as much by the Suburban Moms as by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  As time went on, many soldiers were ridiculed, taken to task for unseemly conduct, addicted and horribly underappreciated.  The farther we got our minds away from these baby-killers and napalm throwers, the better off we were.  No more Viet Nam and no more Bracelets.  Still, I never forgot Major Paul.  As the years went on, I thought of him less and less, yet I had never fully let my adopted soldier’s name to escape my memory.

When my older daughter graduated from college in 2009, she was recruited by the NIH to work on a two-year study of schizophrenics.  After she settled into her D.C. apartment, I told her that I wanted to visit.  When we made our plans, I told her that we could do very little due to my health; I was going through a very rough patch and was  having trouble walking.  There was, however, one thing I wanted to do.  I wanted to visit the Viet Nam Memorial, which I had never seen.  After all these years, I wanted to find my Major Paul and say “thank you.”

Veronica set me up at the hotel closest to her hovel – the place eerily known as the “Hinckley Hilton” as that was where Ronald Regan, James Brady and others had been shot in the assassination plot.  As soon as my taxi pulled into the turn-around, I recognized it.  My trip was turning odder and odder as past melded with present.  We ate dinner and made plans to meet the next morning and go to the Viet Nam memorial.

As the day arrived, I made certain that I had a pencil and piece of paper in my bag so that I could take a rubbing of my Major Paul’s date of death.  We approached the Monument and my knees were buckling.  This was a beautiful tribute to death, with its sleek black stone and the highs and lows of years when we lost more or less soldiers.  Over 58,000 names were carved into this black behemoth.  I was awed.  I was speechless.  I was crying.  I was going to lay Major Paul to rest.

The weather was cold and rainy and there were few people at the Monument that day.  Veronica went to the book and looked for Major Paul.  As I unsteadily walked the length of the Wall, Veronica told me that my Major Paul wasn’t there.  Of course she had made an error – MIA’s didn’t come home.  “Look again,” I said.  I was ready to reach in to my bag to grab the pencil and paper once she returned and told me what panel he was on.  She came back and told me “Mom.  He’s not there.  Your soldier made it.”

I was in shock.  Major Paul survived the war?  I had mentally buried him over 35 years ago!  The rain was pounding and we got a cab back to the “Hinckley Hilton.”  My emotions were jumbled:  I was elated, I was confused.  So where was my soldier?  How could I find out if he was even still alive?  Veronica advanced a notion.  “Mom, why don’t you google him?”  Hundreds of thousands of soldiers had served in Viet Nam.  What was the chance that my Major would appear in a google search?

When I got back home, I booted the computer and immediately went to google.  My Major Paul immediately popped up.  He had been shot down and taken captive for 3 years.  He underwent torture that was unimaginable. Yet, as a Major, he was credited with keeping up the spirits of the men who suffered with him.  He was awarded so many medals.  And he was alive and  well.  Additionally, I was astounded by all of the sites that one could access to find their own soldiers.

It took me many months to write a letter to Major Paul.  I told him who I was and why I was looking for him.  I thanked him for his service to our country.  He was a career military man, not a draftee.  Though long retired, he was no longer a Major.  He had advanced in rank.  I wanted to keep the letter brief, but brevity of words is clearly not my long suit.  I gave him my contact information.  I mailed the letter and did not hear back from him.

Until last month.  The phone rang and I saw the name on my caller ID and almost fainted.  The voice on the other end was still strong, given his age.  He was kind and pleasant and wanted to know about MY life.  We talked for about 20 minutes, with Major Paul avoiding all talk of Viet Nam and the heroism he had displayed.  He didn’t see himself as a hero.  He had a job to do and he did it.  I was humbled by his attitude.  He wanted to hear about the little girl – and the grown woman – named Rita, who had never forgotten him.  When I asked if I could tell our story, he said “sure, but please don’t use my last name.”  I assumed that he wanted his privacy.  Instead, he told me that by just using his first name and Rank, that perhaps others would believe that he was THEIR Major Paul as well.  “I’m certain that most of your friends have forgotten the names on their Bracelets.  Please let me stand in for those brave soldiers and give thanks to your friends for keeping their hopes alive.”

THAT’S a hero.

Do you remember your soldier’s name?  Did you follow up on what became of him?  Do you still have your Bracelet?  I’d love to hear from anyone who still remembers that information.  Please tell me your stories in the “Comments” section.  What a wonderful tribute that would be for the war that never happened.

To the 1977 Class of Benjamin Cardozo HS – Hiding in Plain Site

Posted in Good Days by ritaisback on November 6, 2010

November 9, 1960 was a huge day politically.  As our friend and classmate Carl could tell you, 1960 was one of those unique years when Election Day fell on the 8th of November, given that the first Tuesday in November was the 1st day of the month – a time when Elections can’t occur.  If you look at any media from November 9, 1960, you will see the following headline:  ” John F. Kennedy Elected President.”  Of far less Political importance, November 9, 1960 was also the day that I was born.  That event wasn’t covered by the media.

This coming November 9, I will be turning 50 – the last of the class of Cardozo’s ’77 Graduating Class to hit that milestone.  I entered Cardozo at the tender age of 12.  No, there was no  brilliance involved:  it was a matter of  combining 2-year SP with a November birthday.  Everybody else had already turned at least 13 (I think that Joanie’s July birthday was the closest to mine, yet she was still 13 when she entered Cardozo’s Freshman Class).  When I’ve asked people about High School, I usually hear that it was either the best of times or the worst of times.  For me, it was one of the most unique of times.

I look back at our graduating class and see that we were not a typical New York City High School whose “cool” kids were the gangs, dopers, athletes or most popular.  My view of our class was that the “cool” kids were the smart kids, maybe a group of 100 or so (out of 1,400 graduates) who melded into subgroups of friendships.  It’s about time that I thank my friends for helping me to hide in plain site.

Thanks to all of you who forewent R-Rated movies and clubs because I couldn’t get in.  Thanks to all of my friends who gave me rides when everybody was starting to drive; I had to come back during my Sophomore year of College to get my license.  Thanks to all of the guys on the AV Squad who let me hang with them because I was the one girl who couldn’t dance.  I remember hours sitting in the AV Booth, hidden away and having a great time as “one of the guys” every time there was a dance recital or practice.  Thanks to Dave, who always gave me an album on my birthday of an artist I had never heard.  I didn’t have a “Sweet 16” because I was a Senior and it would have looked too odd.  Yet my friends threw me a Surprise Party in my own basement – and even drove to Dobbs Ferry to bring my boyfriend there for the occasion.  Dave’s gift to me that year was yet another perplexing album from a guy whom I had never heard.  The artist’s name was Billy Joel and the album was “Turnstiles.”

Thanks to JoAnn, who accepted me as a friend despite a 2 year gap.  She was – and is still – a woman whose perspective on the world was so advanced that I could hardly keep up.  Thanks to Paul, who gave me my first real kiss and dumped me at the age of 14.  I learned a lot from that experience, 2 years earlier than most of my classmates, giving me an edge on how to mend a broken heart.  Special thanks to Susan who truly WAS (and still is) 2 years older than me, for all of the great times, not to mention all of the rides to West End 2.  While most of my classmates were getting their working papers for summer jobs at camps, I was still young enough after Freshman Year to still be a camper.  Thanks to all of you for not mentioning that.

Major thanks to everybody who participated in Sing.  I could hide behind a lack of stage talent by script- and song- writing.  Though it didn’t change my life, I was elated when, in Sophomore Year, we won Sing ahead of the Juniors.  I had written much of the play and songs and could still hide in plain site.  The on-stage actors, costume designer, choreographers, band and lighting crew were all so damn great and they got the kudos that they deserved.  I saw Sing as the great equalizer:  everybody could participate in a way that demonstrated their own unique talent.

It was the last day of Senior Sing that my mom was mugged and beaten on the way home from Springfield Boulevard, yet she wore a scarf, sat in the back and cheered.  The following day, my life was to change dramatically again:  my parents were selling our house in Bayside and were co-op shopping in Great Neck.  We moved that summer, dashing my dreams of going to Queens College with all of my friends:  I no longer had any way to get there.  So, it was off to Smith at the age of 16 and a world that was foreign to me.

Many of my Cardozo classmates, upon learning that my mom had died at the age of 57, were there for me.  Even to this day, many of you remember my mom.  She was the “class mom” and a lady of grace.  She could be trusted with everybody’s secrets.  I still hear “your mother seemed over-protective.”  She was.  I was her younger child, hanging out with friends one or two years older than I.  When you were all 16, I was 14.  That’s a huge age gap then.  Not so now.  Those 2 years no longer make a difference.  We are all adults.  I am married to a man 8 years my Senior.  He clearly remembers the 60’s.  I remember the 70’s.  We might both be “Baby Boomers” but we lived in different generations.  While he and his classmates at MIT were watching draft numbers – and burying their friends – we were outside playing SPUD until the lampposts went dark.

Stolen Regents, the Summer of Son of Sam, leaving graduation early to see a movie opening by a new guy  (the guy:  George Lucas.  The movie:  Star Wars), the horrific death from cancer of a lovely classmate, avoiding the lunch room at all costs, lock-downs due to outside knife-fights, trying to figure out who was a “narc” from the Police Department…those were all unique events from our High School years.  Try, if you will, to turn your personal clocks back two years while all of this was going on, and try process these things.  Not as an adult, but as a High Schooler.

 I lost two years of my childhood yet wouldn’t change a thing because of my classmates.  You all helped to make it easier for me and I thank you.  You were incredibly accepting, warm and bright.  You still are.

The Dentist, The Mugger, The Bank Robbery

Posted in Odd Stuff by ritaisback on January 7, 2010

I  have to thank Dave at www.bloggerdad.com for inspiring the telling of the odd experience I had recently.  I urge you to read his riotous post, “People are Animals.”

Over the long Thanksgiving break I cracked a tooth.  I was having too much fun with my family to even notice it at the time, yet after the long weekend I realized that I should phone my dentist to have the tooth fixed before it became a painful bother.  This was not an easy decision for one reason:  I loathe going to the dentist.  Years of childhood experiences with poor dentistry put a fear in me that has lasted for years.  Nonetheless, the Monday after the long weekend I called my dentist of over 20 years and made an appointment for the following Friday.

I was a nervous wreck all week.  Though I like my dentist personally, I assiduously try to avoid him at all costs.  As the day of the appointment finally arrived, I drove myself to the large office complex where the dentist is located, which happens to be in one of the worst parts of one of the most disgusting cities in all of America.  Good fortune must have smiled upon me, as I got a parking spot right next to the window of my dentist’s first-floor exam room.  As I was locking my car, another car stopped.  The car was filthy.  Inside the car were two very large, menacing lugs of young men.  My New York City mentality immediately kicked in:  extricate myself from what could be a potentially harmful experience as politely as I could without showing the terror which was now controlling my mind.

The driver of the car had his window rolled down.  He addressed me with “Hey lady, you got any cash?”  

“Um, ah, not very much”

I walked on.  The men in the car followed me.  “Hey lady.  I’m here with my friend who has to have some stuff done.  Your front bumper is hanging off and I’ll fix your bumper for $200 cash.  I have nothing to do but wait for the next hour.  Whaddya say?”  I knew that this was a $600 job, as I had already checked with my mechanic and ridiculously decided that I didn’t want to spend that amount on a bumper that was an eye-sore but could wait until I had an extra $600 to get it repaired.

I turned to the rather large and somewhat intimidating man. “Sorry.  I don’t have $200 in cash.  Thanks for the offer, but I have to get into the dentist.”  He persisted.  “How much cash do you have?”  It quickly became clear to me that I was going to be robbed.  Rather than risk bodily harm, I opened my wallet.  “Look, I have 4-$20 bills.  That’s it.”  “Well, there’s an ATM right over there so you can get the other $120 for me right now.”  Great.  Now I was being mugged by a guy with math skills.  “Sorry, I don’t have my ATM card with me.  Thanks for the offer but I have to get into the dentist’s.”  “No problem.  Give me $40 up-front.  Tell me your dentist’s name and when I’m done I’ll come in for the other 40 bucks.”  I breathed a sigh of relief.  This escalating situation was going to cost me $40 to be rid of these guys.  I handed him the two twenties, grateful that my wallet had not been demanded and that my life was going to be spared for 40 bucks.   Shaken, I walked into my dentist’s office, was immediately called in and took my seat in the chair of agony.

Of course, there is a back story.  How had my bumper gotten to be this way in the first place?  I admit that the only thing that I fear more than the dentist is the bank.  I know.  It sounds odd, but I am terrified to enter a bank.  I will use the drive-thru unless it is imperative that I have to do more sophisticated banking (which I try to leave for my husband to handle).  When I worked in Manhattan in the early ’80’s I was involved in a bank robbery where three men came out of nowhere, opened fire and shot the bank guard.  We were ordered to lie on the ground and not make a sound.  As I lay there, munching carpet while the robbers did their thing, constantly threatening us with death if we moved, all I could think of was “Please God.  DON’T let the cops show up.”  One might think that under the circumstances the average person would be praying for the police.  One would be wrong.  While trembling with a mouthful of fibers, one does NOT want to be taken hostage.  During an armed bank robbery the ONLY thing that one wants is for it to end:  fast and without more bloodshed. 

What did this have to do with my bumper?  I will try to connect the dots.  Last Spring I had to make a bank deposit.  I went to the drive-thru and miscalculated the room that my car had between the concrete pillars.  Instead of easing my car through the small opening I accidentally hit one of those concrete pillars with the front of my car.  The pillar emerged victorious, taking my front bumper with it.  I emerged furious with myself yet unharmed.  I re-adjusted my car, went to the drive-thru the proper way, made my deposit and took off, thoroughly embarrassed.  This led to months of people asking me the obvious:  “Did you know that your bumper is hanging off.”   Sarcasm aside, my answer would be a simple “yes” as opposed to “gee, no.  I’m a total idiot and had no idea.  Thanks for letting me know, you asshole.”

Back to the dentist’s and my altercation with the mugger.  As I sat in the dentist’s chair, telling him what had just happened, we both agreed that I was lucky to escape unscathed for $40.  My hands tightened on the arms of the chair, knuckles whitened, as the drill of agony started to whirr.  The Nitrous Oxide was doing its job.   “Marathon Man” was  firmly rooted in my subconscious, mixed with the little fishie mobile on the ceiling and the distraction of this nasty looking man outside the dentist’s window, now trying to steal my car. 

Tooth fixed, gas mask off, I stood up just as the menacing man entered the dentist’s office, hand in pocket.  Certain that we were all going to be shot, the mugger approached the reception area.  There stood the dentist, his receptionist and me, all a-tremble.   As this huge lug pulled his hand out of his pocket, the three of us were now in a pants-wetting situation.  Out came the hand.  Our eyes were agape as he pulled out his business card, complete with his name and the words “Licensed Auto Mechanic.”  He said “Forget about the other 40 bucks.  I don’t want you to have to walk around without any cash in your wallet.  Please tell your friends about me if they ever need a mechanic and have a great holiday and a Happy New Year.”

I had pre-judged.   Here I was, a teacher who had taught so many classes on ethics, prejudice, racism, bigotry and hatred, now standing with the back of the crow hanging out of my mouth.  Not all people behave like animals.  I was humbled and ashamed at myself by the experience.  The proverbial “Good Samaritan” did still exist. 

Please let me know if you need a good auto mechanic.  Rather, please let me know if you want the name of a gentleman. 

Does anybody have a “Good Samaritan” story that they’d like to share?  If so, I’d be delighted to hear about it.  (BONUS POINTS if you word-meisters can figure out the actual time of my dental appointment!)

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How to Teach Your Dog to Come

Posted in Wordplay by ritaisback on December 20, 2009


I have a very special friend, to whom I will refer as “SM”  who inspired this post.  SM is lovable in so many ways, but what I most enjoy about him is his elegant sense of wordplay.  With his self-deprecating sense of humor, he has no trouble going into a health food store and asking where the “apples, fresh corn and orgasmic carrots” are kept.  Then there is his trip to clothing stores, where he will ask, straight-faced where the “socks, shirts and spermal underwear are.”  I think you get the point.

This is my recount of a story he told me, embellished with my “fly on the wall” take of events at a function to which I was not an attendee.

When SM and his then-fiancée took jobs at a very well-known and high-tech company, they had to go through two weeks of training with all of the new hires.  The culmination of the training sessions was that everybody had to stand up and give a speech to the other new hires to ensure that everybody was comfortable with public speaking.  As a teacher, I have never had a problem with getting up in front of a group of students and taking command of the room.  That is my job.  However, many people have trouble with the concept of public speaking.  It is not natural to them and to some it is anathema.

After SM and his lady gave their speeches (successfully, I would presume), a very non-assuming woman stood up to give her presentation which she had entitled “How to Teach Your Dog to Come.”  Once the title of the speech was announced, SM totally lost it.  Here he was in a room of technical gurus (read:  nerds) and all he needed was to hear the name of the speech before he was unable to burst out in uncontrollable laughter.  Few things tickle SM or myself more than the good old French term of the “double entendre.”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the term, or need a refresher course, http://www.dictionary.com defines it as -noun, plural

1. a double meaning.
2. a word or expression used in a given context so that it can be understood in two ways, esp. when one meaning is risqué.

The key word here, of course, is “risqué.”  SM can not hold himself back when a risqué term is suddenly uttered, particularly when meant in a different context.

Back to the story.  We now have a roomful of people who are desperately trying to encourage the speaker to continue her speech.  SM would have none of that.  He could not stop laughing.  As his lady kicked him, he tried to get a hold of himself.  Yet every time the speaker continued, his bursts of glee had the effect of taking the attention off of the speaker and onto himself.  There was a job at stake.  There was a marriage at stake.  Yet SM could not gain control of his emotions.  He thought that this was a hilarious situation and was not in a position to make any bones about it.

Public speaking is a lost art.  With the internet, we can now hide behind our identities and use any words we choose, safe in the knowledge that if we choose a wrong word, nobody will call us on it.  As a teacher, I have to stand up in front of a group of students and try to convey information that will be useful and meaningful to them in their academic careers.  One wrong slip and my job is at stake.  There is no margin for error in a classroom, where students look upon the teacher as “the final word.”  If a teacher tells a student something, the student will take it as fact and assimilate it into their breadth of knowledge.  Have I ever made a mistake in speaking to a class or student?  Of course.  I am human.  What has saved me on those occasions?  Careful planning.  If you walk into a classroom without a carefully crafted lesson plan you are doomed to err.  That is not acceptable.

Most people will eventually find themselves in a position to address a group of people for whatever reason.  Without careful planning one is doomed to lose their audience, or worse, embarrass themselves (or somebody else).  Lose your audience  and you’ve lost your point.  Engage your audience and they will listen with rapt attention.  That is the goal of public speaking in any capacity:  to be not only heard, but to be listened to. 

I am happy to report that SM did marry his fiancée and they both got the jobs, despite SM’s uncontrollable outbursts of laughter.  What became of the speaker, I do not know.  She made a critical error from the get-go:   she used a word in the title of her speech that was a double-edged sword.  Had she gone with “sit,” “give a paw” or “roll over” she would have had a more effective speech that captured her audience with no mistake for misunderstanding.

What was your most embarrassing moment in addressing an audience?  What word or phrase did you choose that mortified you because your point was lost from the beginning? 

Ode to Bianca

Posted in Bad Days by ritaisback on December 12, 2009

I was at my sickest.  Barely able to move from the excruciating pain of RSD, I was getting out of a taxicab at my house, unable to drive from my local doctor’s appointment.  As I entered the house, she came out of nowhere and walked right in.  She was the scrawniest little kitten and I might not have even noticed her had it not been from the loud squeals of “meow” uttering from her mouth.  As I looked down, barely 100 pounds myself on that August day in 1994, my first thought was “Great.  Just what I need now.”  I already had a cat – and two young children to whom I could barely tend at that time.  Yet she was insistent.  This was going to be her home.

In agony, I scooped her up, fearful for what Patches, our hunter-gatherer might do to her.  Immediately I brought her upstairs and put her in my master bathroom and closed the door.  All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, but the incessant “meows” told me I had no choice.  I went into the kitchen and found a jar of baby food – turkey.  It was old, but I knew it would do the trick.  I grabbed it and went back to the bathroom, by now under guard by Patches on the other side.  She was desperate to get in, putting her paws and sharp claws under the door.  I scooted Patches away and entered the bathroom with the baby food and a shallow bowl of water.  Instantly, this tiny orange tabby ravenously licked the baby food off of my fingers as if it were the first food she had ever eaten.  As I sat on the floor feeding her, I just kept thinking “Great.  Just what I need right now.”  That’s when I named her Bianca.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps it was the first name that popped into my head, or maybe I knew that by naming her, she was now a permanent member of the family.  I got a low box, put a bit of cat litter into it and went back to the bathroom, carefully keeping Patches away and put the kitten in it.  Bianca was home.

As I crawled into bed to finally get some much-needed sleep, all I could hear was this loud voice from beyond the bathroom door.  This was coupled with Patches’ howling on the other side.  I fell asleep nonetheless.

When I awoke, I called my husband at work and told him the tale of Bianca’s appearance.  The first thing he said was “Great.  Just what we need right now.”  Knowing that there was no way Bianca was leaving, I gave him a short shopping list for her and asked him to make an appointment with the vet the next day.  He knew that it was going to be his responsibility to get her there, have her checked out and have her get her necessary shots and blood work.  One more responsibility was shouldered by a man whose shoulders were already overburdened at that time:  a sick wife, two young children, a job and all of his other roles that he assumed without complaint.

The girls arrived home and I immediately told them that we had a new member of the family.  As I made sure that Patches stayed away, the three of us crowded into the bathroom with Bianca.  Their excitement was not tempered by my explanation that Bianca had to be checked out by the vet to ensure that she posed no health risk to Patches.  They didn’t hear a word I said.  They had a new kitten and a bond was formed.  Bianca was here to stay.  Though I barely had enough strength that day, I tended to the children, Bianca and Patches as best I could, all the time thinking “Great, this is just what we need right now.”

Over the coming days, Bianca was finally introduced to Patches.  Patches took one look at her after four days of trying to break down that bathroom door.  We knew it had to be a slow introduction, so as I held Bianca in my lap, my husband opened the bathroom door.  Patches went over, sniffed the new baby and turned on her padded heels.  Her curiosity satisfied, it was time to let Bianca roam the house.  She was officially home.  Other than a barely detected heart murmur, she was healthy and took her place as second fiddle to the older Patches, who wanted nothing to do with her.

As kittens do, Bianca grew into a cat; a scrawny cat, yet one who meowed with the voice of someone twice her size.  As she explored the great outdoors, we could always tell when Bianca wanted to come in.  She told us so.  Each time she came in, she went immediately to her food bowl as if she hadn’t eaten in days.  Bianca had known hunger and had never forgotten it.

The following year, another new member joined our house:  a runt of a Bichon.  When the dog first came in, he looked like a little cotton ball.  Snowy white and also tiny, I wanted to name him Cujo.  My husband nixed that idea.  His name was going to be Theodore Oliver, or Teddy for short.  Teddy and Bianca became fast friends.  They had a common enemy, Patches, the queen of the domicile.  As Teddy grew, he and Bianca would groom each other on our bed each night.  First Bianca would put her paw over Teddy and lick him down as a mother cat would do for her baby.  When Bianca was done grooming Teddy, Teddy would throw his paw over Bianca and lick her clean.  We called these odd sessions “lick-fests.”  I now had the only dog around who would cough-up hairballs.

As the years went on and we all grew older, Bianca was always a sweetheart.  Her voice told us everything:  when she wanted to go out, come in, be fed or be stroked.  Her only demand was to be loved.  That was an easy demand to fulfill.  Life went on.

Only five weeks ago, my husband was so proud that he was able to catch BOTH cats for their annual check-ups.   He had out-witted them both for the first time and got them into their carriers.  He was so proud at how clever he was.  For once, it was easy.  Patches and Bianca were both checked by the vet.  The call that came next was not terribly unexpected, but I was told that Bianca’s heart murmer had worsened and that her white blood cells weren’t right.  Bianca was ill.  We were advised to have her gain 2 pounds, and to give her fresh turkey each day.  We cleverly disguised her medication in a ball of turkey.  Oh, how proud we were of ourselves.  Bianca was going to be fine if she took her medication, and we were going to make her better.

This past Thursday when I took the dog out and gave him his little piece of turkey, Bianca was not interested in turkey.  Usually, when Teddy went out, Bianca knew that was a call for fresh turkey and would meow until she got her share.  But not this past Thursday.  Something was different.  Bianca came for her share and when I handed it to her, she wouldn’t eat it.  Alarmed, I called my husband at work.  He was busy.  He didn’t have time to talk.  I knew it then.  As I got dressed to go to teach, Bianca was lying downstairs in her own waste.  I quickly cleaned it up, stroked her and told her I’d be back soon.  At work, I couldn’t focus.  My lesson plans went out the window.  My wonderful students got little from me, as my mind was on getting home to Bianca.  As I drove home, I was afraid to enter the house.  What would I find?  But there was Bianca.  Sleeping peacefully. 

When my husband got home from work, his mood was off.  He didn’t want to hear about the cat that we never needed in the first place.  We barely spoke.  Something was wrong in the home and we both knew it.  We side-stepped each other all evening and I finally gave in and went to bed.  When I awoke on Friday morning, there was Bianca, lying at the foot of our bed.  I went to stroke her.  And got no response.  Our beautiful, lovely Bianca was gone.  As I moaned and wept, my husband came into the room and took Bianca.  He gently placed her in her carrier for the last time.  He then got down on his knees to clean the spot where Bianca had chosen to breathe her last breath.  As I watched him cleaning the carpet, my wonderful, strong husband burst into tears.  We held each other and wept like babies.  Our elegant Bianca was gone.  What hurt us the most is that we realized, upon her death, Bianca was just what we had needed.  We had needed her all along.

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Tools ‹ Rita is Back — WordPress

Posted in Bad Days by ritaisback on December 12, 2009


Posted in Coping by ritaisback on December 5, 2009

When I find myself feeling down, I tend to shut out the world for as long as I need until I get back in the groove of things.  Those who know me well know that I will be back as soon as I am ready.  This can go on for a day, a week, a month or sometimes longer.  It is my way of healing myself without any outside interferences.  I will emerge when I am damn ready to do so, and not a moment sooner.  I call this process “turtling.”  I fold up into my shell and stay there.

For some reason, I don’t come out in full force.  I do it slowly.  First I will poke my head out and see how that feels.  If it doesn’t feel right, I go back into my shell.  Eventually the day will come when I poke my head out and know that I am beginning the process of healing.   Very slowly, I let an arm out to see if that feels good.  If not, the arm goes back inside the shell.  Once again, I know when the proper time will arrive when I am ready to let the arm re-emerge.   It always happens so I wait, folded up into my shell.

Slowly, at my own pace, each part of me will repeat the process.  I want to be at my best when it is once again time to go public.  When I finally feel better and am ready to halt the “turtling,”  I cast off my shell and am once again ready to face the world. 

Almost everybody has times when they are down for the count.  As many reasons as there are for that feeling, so are there are as many coping mechanisms that people use to get themselves back to feeling better.  Some are natural-born optimists.  Unfortunately, I am not one of them.  I like to call myself a realist.  Reality tells me that I don’t care to share my problems with the world.  Working through my own issues seems to suit me best,  so that is what I do to regain my strength.

I am thrilled to report that I haven’t needed to turtle in quite a long time.  Life has been good as of late.

What coping mechanisms do you use to get through the tough times?  Do you manage to throw yourself into your work and keep yourself extra busy?  Do you beat yourself up and go on to fight the pain?  Do you find a good friend and cry to him or her?  Do you crawl into bed, pull up the covers and await better days?  Am I the only “turtler” around?

What suits YOU best?

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When Einstein and Robin Hood Collided – A Fable.

Posted in Parenting by ritaisback on November 29, 2009

Once upon a time there was a child.  She was born with a brain that could not shut down.  Always thinking, pondering and pontificating.  As the child grew to the age of 11 months, she was able to speak in full sentences yet lacked the ability to even motate. The child would say “pick me up and put me over there, please.”  A well-mannered infant, but one who did nothing but speak.  She didn’t move, crawl or walk. 

Her parents fretted.  “What shall we do with this child?  She speaks so well, yet is not moving.  Perhaps we should take her to the local chemist to find a solution.”   The chemist told the parents that all children grow at their own rate, and that the child would grow when she was ready. 

The chemist had been correct.  Over time, the child began to move on her own, albeit with faulty small motor skills.  As the child grew to the age of 2, the parents decided to try to socialize the child with others of her kind.  Other children would come over to the child and take things from her, as children of that age normally do.  The child would say “take this, my friend and I will find something else to play with.”  The other children took and took yet the child had no problems in giving.  And the parents continued to fret.  And the parents thought “she’s been robbed.”

When the time came to school the child, the parents did what the local laws required and enrolled her in the neighborhood schoolhouse.  After a short while, the calls began.  “Please come in to see the headmistress as the child is bored.”  The parents went to see the headmistress and were advised that the child should undergo testing to see what should be done.  When all of the tests were completed at the tender age of 5, the parents were called in and told “Your child has scored too high on my tests.  There is no number available on these tests that is high enough with which to evaluate this child.”   As the parents continued to fret, they inquired as to what to do to raise such a child.  No easy answers followed.  The parents were told to skip the child’s grade level and occupy her mind as much as possible, as this was a brain that would not stop working to its magnanimous proportions.  And the parents felt “she’s been robbed.”

As the child grew, she took much abuse from her peers.  She wanted to solve all issues with her words while the schoolmates used their fists.  The child gave everything she could to the others, but that was not enough.  She was scorned for her intelligence and lack of athletic abilities.  The parents enrolled her in every possible activity to exercise her mind as the child grew and made requests.  Her piano teacher told the parents that the child had perfect pitch and after only 2 years of lessons, abandoned the child saying “there is nothing more that I can teach her.”  Her computer teacher abandoned the child and used her to help the other students.  All of her other teachers continued to call the child’s parents and say “we have nothing to offer this child that she does not already have.”  The parents continued to fret.  They began to wonder if their child would ever be happy.  She had so much to offer yet there were no takers.  And the parents cried “she’s been robbed.”

The years passed quickly in the same fashion.  The child quickly outgrew all mental activities and was constantly unhappy.  When her Senior Year at the local schoolhouse was upon her, the ever-growing child decided to take five AP courses rather than be bored.  She worked her brain and scored the highest scores on the tests.  But still she was not happy.  Every College and University to which the child applied accepted her with open arms.  After careful consideration, the child chose a most challenging school and embarked on her journey to higher education.  She excelled in her classes,  helped the other students, went to more classes with a blind student to help that student take notes and began to blossom in an environment more conducive to her own element.  Still, the parents fretted.  Would their beloved daughter be happy?  There were still no such signs.  And the parents screamed “she’s been robbed!”

One day a stranger approached.  She rode in on a beautiful black stallion.  She took the child and ensured that nobody would ever again rob from the child.  Maid Marion took the child and opened her heart and challenged all comers to try to steal from the child.  Nobody dared to accept the challenge.   And the child was happy.  And the parents were filled with such gratitude.  Here was a woman who loved their daughter, who was able to accept the child as she was, who could exercise their daughter’s brilliant  mind with such aptitude as nobody before had ever done.  The child was now loved,  respected and honored.  The mutuality of expressions of  brilliance, warmth and tenderness so touched the parents that the parents believed and knew in their hearts that a new daughter had entered the family with grace.  What was 4 became 5.  And they lived happily ever after.

Parenting is the toughest job in the world.  We all want our children to have health, happiness and prosperity.  Does it matter what color those things are packaged with?  Does it matter what sexual leanings develop?  I think not.  You may agree, disagree or not give it a thought.  To me, having a happy, healthy child is everything.  I do not care in what form or shape it occurs.  My eldest is happy. She will never be robbed of that again.  We all know who to thank for that.



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That Awful Four-Letter Word That I Won’t Use

Posted in Wordplay by ritaisback on November 23, 2009

I love the English language.  I love to read.  I love to write.  Words are things.  I have touched upon this in the long-ago:  in the Hebrew language, the word “devarim” means either “words” or “things.”  There is such richness in the words we use.  We can use them to flatter, insult, tell a truth, tell a lie, spread a rumor, write a love poem, write somebody off.  Yet there is one word in the English language that I will NOT utter.  To me, it is the most vulgar of words.  It should be removed from the lexicon forever, as it is useless.  Of course, it is also a four-letter word.  And if you know anything about me, you know that this is the one word that I have never uttered.  

You all know the word.  It starts with a “c” and ends with an “n” and a “t.”  Are you with me now?  Yes, I knew you would be.  Why would anybody in their right mind ever use such a word?  It is totally inglorious.  It conveys filth.  When this word is used, it is, to me, the ultimate of ugly.  It is the only word that I can think of that makes the utterrer even worse than it’s intended victim. 

Here we are in a world of things flying by at wharp speed.  If  it happens, you will see it.  In the blink of an eye, words and images scatter around the internet.   We worry over our finances, argue about politics and religion, hope for our future and on and on it goes.  We go to other blogs, write comments, hope that perhaps somebody will be interested in what we are saying.  All of those fancy, frilly, lovely pages designed by males with multiple writing tools or women with worthiness.  Still, it is the words that matter.  I do not care if I have a beautiful blog.  I care only that the words are chosen carefully.  Is that too little to ask?  Too much?  I don’t care what my ratings are or if anybody wants to advertise with me.  These are my words.  I love my words.  I try so hard to choose them carefully, albeit not always successfully.  (Oh, we all know that, don’t we?)  And each few days when I care to craft a story, raise a rant, offer to opine, it would be delightful if you would visit my words and let me know what you think of them.  You can agree, disagree or say nothing.  These are my words.

Please, people:  don’t ever use that horrible, awful four-letter word here.  And if I slip even once,  please be gracious and understand that underlying my words is a humble human being.  A human being who will never, ever utter that one four-letter word that reeks of obscenity and inability.  That curse on the English language; the scourge of the soul.  I beseech you.  Please do not ever let me utter that word and do not utter it on my site. 

Rita is back.  This time I think I shall stick around a bit.  This time, I have no “editor,” nor a “partner.”  It is merely me.  I want to wish you all a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving (for those who celebrate it).   For those of you who have never read my words, I will give you a gift.  One time.  I will write the word that should be blasted to oblivion for all time:  CAN’T.

Did you think I meant something else?


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Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized by ritaisback on November 23, 2009

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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