Fifth Session

Some days it's almost ok. Some days I manage to get up and get going. I finally went back to work after three months extended leave and it was good to get back except - except people kept acting like nothing happened. Like someone pulled them all into a room and told them to pick up where they left off. From before I got the news.

But you don't have to hear about that again. Me? I'd rather talk about the laundry.

You see I washed clothes yesterday - I've put off doing Jim's until about a month ago. And even then I would only wash a thing or two. I mean I'd do a bunch of clothes for the kids and me and maybe wash one of Jim's socks-just one. One Sock. Crazy huh? Well of course you wouldn't say I was - even if you thought so.

I've been keeping all his dirty clothes in the basket my Aunt Della gave us for our wedding. That rose garden is beautiful...when I first started coming here everything was covered with snow...did you plant it?

Oh yes the basket. She made it just for us. Has our names woven into it - a red heart with our names, also in red, woven right into it like it was bleeding. Jim said it was her subliminal way of pointing out her distaste for our liberal attitudes. Aunt Della is a card carrying, Bible toting, from the womb conservative Republican.

We thought that basket was so damned ugly that we used it to hold rolls of toilet paper and cleaning stuff in the downstairs bathroom! Whenever Aunt Della visited us, we pulled it out, put a bunch of magazines in it and put in the living room like we used it all the time. God we used to laugh about that. Oh boy, I think I'll take you up on that offer of another tissue now. Thanks.

I know - I know... Where was I?

Yes. Well yesterday when I did the clothes I realized that the basket was empty. Empty. I was frantic - why didn't I notice it was empty? I was so upset; I cried most of the day. The kids were with my mother so they didn't see me.

As long as Jim's clothes were in that basket, could smell him. I could feel where he'd been-even in his old smelly socks. Some nights I dumped the whole pile of clothes in bed with me and covered myself in them. Cover myself in Jim.

And now the last piece is gone. No ceremony, no notice on my part.

The fact that I hadn't noticed is worse than finishing the last of his clothes. All of him is gone; all of what he smells like, gone.

And I didn't even notice...


Story by Pamela Tyree Griffin
Photography by Inga Galkinaite

Nearest Living Relative

I am the Nearest Living Relative.

A nasal toned woman on the other end of the phone informs me of this. My uncle George, whom I never knew because he died before I was born, left behind a wife I can’t remember. Why the hell did I break my rule about not answering the phone once vacation starts?

This woman tells me that my “Aunt Gladys” was discovered by neighbors at four in the morning, as she paraded down her driveway buck naked and singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. When approached, she mooned them; a vision given that she is 72 years old.

Social Services has conducted a full investigation, whatever that means, and I have been found. At 35 years old, an unmarried, childless, professional, I have only recently found myself.

“When,” she demands, “will you get here?” It seems that Gladys has to go into a nursing home. I need to sign something which can't be simply faxed.

I try to diminish my involvement in this situation though nothing works. My parents and their parents are dead. Neither I, nor they, have any siblings of which I am aware. My only other relation, my Uncle Sal, is in a Wisconsin (or is it Idaho?) nursing home sustained by his own excellent financial preplanning. I haven’t seen him since dad’s funeral years ago. He was in a wheelchair then.

Later, I search the photo album I inherited after my dad died. In it, I finally find three black and white pictures glued to a musty page. At the bottom of the page is one word: “Gladys”. Then I remember.

Each picture shows a svelte, smiling woman with a hand on her hip. She wears an obscenely (mom's word not mine) short white dress emblazoned with sunflowers. Her blond hair is piled on the top of her head like spiked cotton candy with a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. In one she’s dancing in our kitchen with a mop.

The pictures were taken when I was about eight or maybe ten. Gladys came late, dressed in an obscenely (mom's word not mine) short white dress emblazoned with sunflowers.

She called me “kid” instead of Lisa. I guess calling, “Hey Kid!” was easier than remembering my name. “Hey Kid! What grade are you in?” or “Hey Kid! Like hamburgers?” or "Hey Kid! Come sit by me and let me tell you all about men!" Except for my mother calling her a pistol, nothing else shakes loose from my mind. This is the sum of what I know about Gladys. Such as it is, it brings an involuntary smile.

However reluctantly, I don the mantle of the Nearest Living Relative, cancel my singles cruise and drive the almost 300 miles south to Virginia.

I don't have a problem finding the hospital since it's on the main drag. Actually, there is not much else except the hospital. I slowly walk down its linoleum floors thinking I should be walking down a beach in Jamaica. A white haired and wobbly security guard tells me to follow the yellow stripe on the floor. It eventually leads me to the sunroom where the Alzheimer’s patients spend the day.

I open the door and immediately hear a raspy, “Hey Kid!” coming from a small lady in a wheelchair. Her hair, now white, looks much less styled by Albert Einstein than I remember it. She is composed. She is looking at me when she again says, “Hey Kid!” I can’t believe it. Could it be that Gladys remembers me?

I go across the room and sit by her, taking one of her liver spotted hands in mine. Her fingernails are painted a stunning red. She is the thin woman in the pictures. She has a lot of wrinkles now and the right side of her face is slack-maybe from a stroke, but it’s her.

I don’t know why but thoughts pour out as if from an overturned pitcher. I imagine that, since it’s clear that she remembers me, we might have a chance here. I project us to my small house for our own celebrations. Scenarios abound of us sitting on the front porch sipping tea or something stronger, going for walks and the like. I’m lost in this sort of revisionist future when the door opens and a nurse enters the room.

And that’s when Gladys yells, “Hey kid!” and I see that she is no longer even looking at me but is totally and absolutely focused on the nurse.

To every single person who enters (including her Nearest Living Relative a few moments before) she calls out the salutation that has carried her this far, this many years: “Hey Kid!”

I watch each recipient smile at the greeting, wondering what they think, and knowing what I know.


Written by Pamela Tyree Griffin
Photograph by Blake Campbell


"Hi My Name is Delia and I'm Twelve Years Old"

Nobody wants the big ones.
They say different but it's all a lie.
The younger, the better, is what their eyes say.
Eyes don't lie.
The cutoff point starts around five-
then your options decrease.
From the display, the little ones are chosen.
Carefully selected
and are more often than not
taken away
to live lives of
happiness presumed.
We big ones
are returned to wait
for the next time.
to hope
and hope
we'll be
the exception to the rule.
Poem by Pamela Tyree Griffin
Photograph by Charlie Balch

Sleeping Beauty

Today you brought me roses
and whispered in my ear,
just how much you love me
as you wiped away a tear.

Now in the dimming light of evening,
I look into your eyes;
lose myself in all your sweetness
which is your disguise.

If someone saw you sleeping
they would not believe
your capacity for cruelty;
your ability to deceive.

At work they think I'm clumsy.
My lies become an art.
I explain the bruises visible
And hide the ones that stain my heart.
Poem by Pamela Tyree Griffin
Graphic by Guenter M. Kirchweger
(October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Link-->Domestic Violence Awareness Month - National Coalition Against Domestic Violence I wrote this poem to honor those who have suffered abuse at the hands of a loved one or significant other...)