Dear Governor,

You didn’t know Jorge. He was just one of thousands of mentally ill patients living in one of your state mental health hospitals.

I wonder sometimes how his sister, his only surviving relative, is doing. I wonder if she knows the truth about how and why he died.

Jorge didn’t die from his heart disease, COPD, diabetes or long term dialysis treatments due to kidney failure. That’s how we all expected him to die. Fifty-five years old, in and out of hospitals much of his life, he was sure to die earlier than a healthy person his age.

Then he landed in one of your state mental hospitals. A few years after being admitted, his paranoia, his delusions and his lack of impulse control were somewhat improved. All we did to help him was of no help on his last day on earth. His last transport out of the hospital was in a body bag.

We told the patients, his peers on the ward, a couple of days later. Some already knew about it and some didn’t care. Some said “good riddance.” At the time of Jorge’s death, employees felt their own PTSD flare up again with increased respiratory rate, heart palpitations, and tears sneaking out during the unit de-briefing or later, in break room conversations.

Jorge’s dead because another patient killed him in the middle of the night when the unit was understaffed. He’s dead because your hospital refused to hire staff at appropriate patient levels based on the violent tendencies of many of our patients.

We know that the patient who killed Jorge will not be held responsible because of his own mental illness. Both men were mentally ill, both hospitalized for care and treatment. The hospital administration, and you—where the buck stops—is accountable for Jorge’s death. My colleagues know that. The doctors, the nurses, the janitorial staff all know it.

Yes, Jorge had a mean and nasty mouth on him, I’ll give him that. He could rile the calmest person in the room. That was his M.O. He was stingy. He was funny, flirty, kind at times, and very sad. He also played a wicked game of chess.

And now he’s dead.

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Sunday Morning

I’m sleeping. Sort of. I was tossing and turning all night. Stresses of the day added to a damn head cold.

DING. Cell phone message alert. I think about rolling over to check it. It takes me a minute.

Mom, could you come stay with Micah? He’s still sleeping and the rest of us are leaving to go get Rachel.

I think about saying something smart-ass about the fact that I was still sleeping. But it doesn’t really matter.

Yes. Be right there. I mess around a bit, making the bed, getting dressed until I hear their car rumbling awake.

I walk the 20 steps over to their place, say goodbye to the wide-awake-gang, grab some coffee and sit down for SNL – smiles and laughter, good. I read through the local paper: American Canyon (Inc. city in Napa County) researches becoming a sanctuary city. Great. I was actually wondering about Napa City/sanctuary sometime during my sleepless laying awake bothered and bewildered hours.

Micah’s up now. He’s 4, walking around looking for the family. He lays on the couch, plays with my phone a brief few minutes. He looks a little funky to me, more laid back than the real Micah. “When will they be home?” he asks. “When will Nana be here?”

“In a while, I’m not sure.”

“Wha what..’s…Daddy’s er, Daddy’s daddy’s name?” he asks, the words stumbling from his lips.

“You mean Lowell? Pop Pop? The guy in the picture there? With the beard?”

“Yeah… he …not coming today?”

“No honey. I’m sorry. He’s not, he died. He’s gone now.”

“No, he not!”

“I know it’s sad. He’s in our hearts now, where he’ll always be.”

“NO! HE! NOT!” He rolls away from me, looking up at the picture of his Pop Pop.

This is our first Thanksgiving without Lowell. We are so happy to have Rachel here with us this week. We all need all the love we can get. We miss him so very much.

Micah watches some TV, and asks for a bowl of cereal. “I want it mixed. Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Honey Oat Crunch.”

Okay.

I go take a shower and go sit down with Micah again, checking my email and Facebook.

“When they be here?” he asks, his little fingers twirling my hair.

“In just a few minutes, they’re right around the corner.”

Mollie just texted me to say so.

Everyone arrives, excitement in the air. The two grandmas hug and check in with each other. She’s had a long day already, having left Arizona to arrive in Oakland at 8 a.m.

I love Sundays. Mollie brought me a donut.

 

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…and the Cubs Win!

I was over at my daughter and son-in-law’s house this morning, keeping an ear out for my 4-year-old grandson playing in the next room. My fingers paused on the laptop keys as I waited for the creative juices to kick in. Please kick in. I wanted something fresh and funny for the upcoming open mic.

Problem was, I wasn’t feeling fresh and funny. I was feeling worn, torn, and battle fatigued with the overwhelming election coverage this year. The Cubs’ World Series win brought me much needed relief and excitement — even if it was drawn out over and over again. That high didn’t last near long enough. I was missing that consummate Cubs fan who killed himself ten years ago. The big win was just one more in a string of life events he’s missed out on.

An hour later, I was still looking at a white screen without one string of words to be seen.

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You know why?

Well. My friend had some studying to do, so I suggested she bring her 4-year-old daughter
over to play. The more, the merrier is my motto. She dropped off her daughter along with the best of offerings — doughnuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. Woo Hoo!

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Twenty minutes later, it was time to wash and dry those cute little hands and faces. Time
to chase the dog back out after she knocked one of them onto the floor. Time to put that laundry in the dryer. I checked my email. Ah hah! A personal note from the Clinton campaign. Please, would you donate just one dollar? Sure, here’s 5. Would you like to double that? Sure, make it ten. Get out the credit card and load up the webpage with all the necessary information. Thanks – want to give more? No. Not today.

Then I checked Facebook. I peeked at a bit of online campaign news. I clicked around youtube and listened to a couple of tunes. First there was Bob Dylan, then John Lennon. I felt better. Kids were playing nicely. They were chattering away and giggling in their own little world.

So, anyway, I got back to business. It was a sunny day outside and I glanced into the living room. My eyes landed on Mollie’s memorial corner. Three framed portraits hang over the aging upright piano.

Lowell: strong and courageous father of three sons, dressed in his lifelong beard and glasses. Mollie’s husband’s father, he died just last year, after a tough battle with aggressive metastatic melanoma. He was such a wonderful man, full of love and passion… a man who would do anything for his family.

Katie, my beautiful grand-daughter, gone from us much too soon. I look at her smiling, in her pensive way; I wonder what she was thinking when that picture was taken. Our hearts broke the day she died, leaving behind her baby boy Jack. Her laughter had filled our world. We miss her so much.

And Matt, my former husband, father of three, baseball fan extraordinaire, former Stratamatic player and political junkie, a voracious reader who died before Mollie even knew she’d be marrying Matt, her new boyfriend.

Each of them gone now from this world for widely different reasons, each one of them leaving a big hole in my heart. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t imagine Katie or Matt or Lowell standing with us in the sunshine, laughing at a birthday party, playing with the kids, or repairing something or other.

Cheering the Cubs.

Damn. Pass me that doughnut.

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Help Wanted: Radicals

No experience necessary.
Must know in your heart
what is right and what
is not.
Must be courageous, honest
and peaceful on the treacherous
road to peace and freedom.
Must be willing to work with others.
Little or no pay.
Song writers and other writers will
do well in this position.
Possibility of going to jail and
alienating friends and family.
Everyone may apply.
 .
 .
 .
While driving around town this morning, I heard on the radio that Tom Hayden died.
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That news hit me big time – deep in my gut – in the depths of my soul. To me, Hayden was a courageous activist who never shied away from doing and saying what he knew was the right thing. He took on the fight for humanity. It wasn’t a selfish this-is-just-for-me thing to do.
I bow my head to you, Tom Hayden, a hero among us, though I’m sure you would never claim that title. Thank you, you counter culture radical, you lawmaker you, for everything you and your comrades spearheaded on behalf of peace and humankind. The work you did, what was accomplished, and what wasn’t, the times I remember, all the efforts we each made – it all brings me close to tears.
A few days ago, there was a picture  making the rounds on Facebook. An empty bench in a garden setting, if I remember correctly. It included a question in the form of a prompt asking the reader with whom we’d like to sit and talk for an hour.
Bob Dylan and Tom Hayden. Now that is a conversation in which I’d like to take part. Though I guess, really, I did, in one way or another.
A sad day, today, a day in which I’d also like to point out how many of my friends, family, peers and colleagues are just as determined and outspoken in what is right and wrong, what steps we ought to take on the path to freedom. I salute you all.
I think Tom does, too.

Jack’s Suit

Do you see him there? The little guy in the dark blue suit.

Carried into church by his Mama for his Auntie Karen’s wedding

Fall breezes quietly tickling his cheek

His bright speckled blue eyes missing nothing.

.

Katie’s got him right there in her lap of dreams

Her little boy, full of wonder, in church again

Sitting close, so sharp once again in that cute little suit

Here in the winter cold, at his Mama’s Grandma’s funeral mass.

.

A few months later, Katie’s gone too, much too soon

Gone with her smile that brought the sun up in the morning

Her laughter that rippled the waters

Her bright blue eyes that she shares with little Jack.

.

Little Jack is firmly in his Papa’s arms now

Sitting still and quiet on the dark and hard wooden pew

Wondering eyes topping his cleaned and pressed suit

Searching the sunbeams for his Mommy.

.

Katie’s off onto a new journey now

Taking with her the love of a million memories

Leaving behind a world of hurt full of love

Sprinkled with shattered pieces of hearts.

.

.

Written in loving memory of my wonderful grand-daughter, Katherine Patricia Green Broder. With gratitude, “Jack’s Suit” was recently published in the California Writers Club Literary Review, October 2015.

The Warmest Year

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The experts say our planet had the warmest year ever.

The warmest year since they’ve have been counting.

My eye catches the clouds soaring over our dying tomato vines,

Green and orange fruit still struggling to ripen.

Raindrops drizzling their softness on the baby blue pool cover.

And I wonder.

What will the experts say about my saddest year ever?

Just One More Look

 

It was in the last few days of 1945, when Mr. Frank Shea was found cold and shivering one morning outside City Hospital. Pastor Dayton noticed Frank, helped him to his feet, and with the help of a nurse on her way in, they carried Frank off the sidewalk and into the hospital. 60 years old, skinny as a rail, Frank had a thin smile baring his broken soul, a deep strong voice, deep dark circles masking his jaundiced yellow eyes, and stringy dark hair hung over his forehead.

Cirrhosis, a result of years in alcoholism, take a lot of men like Frank, living hard. He’d moved to San Francisco long ago, soon after the big Quake. Work was aplenty then and he bit off a piece of everything ‘til he hired on to the Railroad.

“Frank, are you awake?” asked his nurse, smiling, “here’s a sip of water.”

Frank was dying. Difficulty swallowing, not eating, fragile, shallow breathing. Nurse Ginny knew it wouldn’t be long. No family noted in his chart, he was all alone. His head turned toward Ginny.

“That you, Nurse? Did I doze off again? You’re a blessing, you are, sitting here with me. Why in hell don’t you marry me, Ginny?”

The nurse chuckled, “If you and I were going anywhere at all, Frank, I’d jump at the chance. Talk with me a bit. About Gertie, you were talking Gertie.”

Nurse Ginny was about the same age as her patient. Short hair, curious hazel eyes, pretty, a few wrinkles here and there. She sat on a cold metal chair, leaning over to catch Frank’s hushed words.

“Gertie came to me just the right time when I was tired, lonely and in the bottle. My sister Susan wrote, wanting to know if I could put up her girl. I remembered her girl Gertie, from before I moved on out here. She was a cute little sprout then, when she first come to Susan after Gertie’s own Mama died. When Susan wrote me, Gertie was 19, she’d won a Beauty Contest, got herself a train trip out here.

“She sure wasn’t the little girl I remembered. All grown up, little spitfire with a golden heart. Some ‘o that gold rubbed off on me, ‘n I quit drinkin’, we fell in love and we got hitched up. I had a few years on her, ‘didn’t seem to matter,” Frank said, blinking his eyes, “’til I ruined it all, couldn’t stay off the bottle,” he went on, his eyes tearing up.

“One day, though, I never forgot. We were out to Ocean Beach. Gertie all snuggled in fur, pretty green chapeau over her dark wavy hair, hair so soft I could run my fingers through it like a breeze. Her eyes were just like yours, yes they were,” he said, peering into Ginny’s eyes.

“That was the day she told me we were having a baby. Oh, if I could only get those days back. Just one more look at that picture.”

Ginny smiled, “So Frank, you’re a father. Well, well,” she sighed, “What picture?”

“A stranger on the beach snapped it, with Gertie’s fancy camera. It was a day. Gertie carried that picture in her handbag every day from then on. Every day. Our picture.”

Frank sniffled, turned his head and he just dozed off.

Ginny sat there a minute, thinking over what Frank had said, wondering about his family.

She walked up the hall to check on her other patients. Twenty five year old Charlie had been a prisoner of war, captured at Wake Island, she heard, back to the U.S. only a few weeks now. He’d come in dehydrated, skin and bones, shattered left arm, likely from the rickets. He had rusty brown hair, bright blue lonely, searching eyes, it seemed, after long being lost in the camps. His sadness slowly melted away, though, as the Red Cross girls came in every day to cheer the troops. Maggie, he was sure sweet on her.

Maggie was sitting on the edge of Charlie’s bed when the nurse walked in.

“Nurse Ginny! We have news for you!” Charlie quipped, trying to raise himself to sit, impossible with his casted arm hanging from a rope and a chain.

“We’re getting married, aren’t we, Honey?” he piped up, looking up at Maggie, his hand around her waist, “I knew it the first day she walked in here, ‘kept coming back every day. It’s a happy day, Nurse! Soon enough she’ll be Mrs. Thomas and she can toss that Shea moniker right out the window.”

“Well, that’s wonderful news, you two. Maggie Shea, that’s a nice Irish name. You sure you want to give it up?” the nurse asked, laughing.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll always be a Shea at heart, my grand parents all came here from Ireland.”

“Well, lucky for Charlie they did. Have your parents met this young man yet?” Ginny asked, looking at Maggie’s hazel eyes, her dark wavy hair, pretty face, wondering about her last name.

“She was here yesterday. Mother thinks Charlie’s wonderful. Father, I haven’t seen him in such a long time. He was a drinker when I was little, my mother worried so, we moved across the bay. I know he’d be happy for me, want to walk me down the aisle.”

Ginny replied, “Of course he would. I’m looking forward to meeting your mother when she’s here again, before you go home, Charlie. Maggie, what’s your mother’s name?”

Happiness on Ocean Beach

Happiness on Ocean Beach

“Gertie,” Maggie said, reaching into her handbag, “Here, I have a picture, would you like to see it? My mother gave it to me on my 18th birthday from her handbag to mine. She never stopped loving him, she told me she just couldn’t sit and watch him killing himself.”

Ginny held that picture in her hand, looking into Maggie’s eyes, like her own, seeing again her beautiful wavy dark hair. She could feel her heart racing.

“Maggie, this is Ocean Beach, isn’t it? This picture looks a tiny bit older than you are.”

She was fingering the photo, a lump in her throat.

“Maggie, come with me a minute. There’s someone you need to see. Just for a moment.”

Charlie stared at the nurse.

“What’s going on?”

“We’ll be right back,” Ginny replied.

Ginny took Maggie’s hand in hers, gripping the picture in the other. Walking quickly and quietly, she pulled a confused and silent Maggie down the hall.

Frank’s door was pulled shut when they got there.

“Just a minute,” Ginny whispered to Maggie.

The nurse walked quietly into Frank’s room. She realized it was too late for Maggie, and too late for Frank.

That ‘one last look’ wasn’t meant to be.