Tuesday, September 22, 2015



Sometime last spring, Jack brought home a half-dozen plants and showed me the bedraggled little things. "Portulaca grandiflora," he said. They looked like moss roses to me. They were so ugly, I wondered why he'd bought them.

He scooped up one from its container. "From Brazil. Or maybe Argentina." 

I had to laugh. Jack never bought sensible American plants. He preferred tropical plants like crotons, bromeliads, or elephant ears. Many of his exotics died on him, so I expected these floppy little plants would, too.

Jack touched my arm and spoke softly. "Where do you want me to put them?" 

I sighed. "How about your office? The living room's jam packed."

"No, outdoors." He grinned at my surprised look.

"Outdoors?" I shrugged. "Oh, anywhere you want except my rose garden." My rose garden. I'd managed not to kill my 18 inherited roses for a decade. Irish luck. My former husband called me The Black Thumb, and he was right. The only plants I can grow are things like Aloe vera. Jade. Rickrack. They're all succulents. Indifferent to this distracted gardener.

I followed Jack out, watched him select a dirt rectangle near the front porch. An unlikely spot. Nothing ever grew there but weeds.

"That'll be too dry for them, Jack." I thrust my chest forward. "That overhang blocks the rain."

"It should be okay," he mumbled, dirt flying as he dug holes. "Nice and sunny."

I went inside.

Jack became a mad man. He could barely kneel, but every day I'd see him kneeling beside those portulacas, fussing, weeding, doing the things he did to plants, things I had no patience for. When I stood watching him, he reached over to pat my leg. "I just want to make sure they root, honey." 

Then just before Jack moved to Crown Pointe, he took my hand and led me to the front porch. We stood and looked down on his portulacas, sprawling in the sun. A few bloomed. "Will you take care of them for me?" He squeezed me.

Bummer. Just one more bloody chore! I wanted to say, "Take care of your own damn portulacas. I don't even know how. " But I said,  "Sure." 

Once or twice over the summer, Jack asked me how the portulacas were doing. "Have the roots set?"

And I, who never looked at them, replied, "They're fine,  Jack, just fine."

Once I even stepped out on the porch and took a gander, to see if I were lying. The funny little plants with their limp stems had burst into bloom: dozens of flowers in all colors, red, yellow, orange, pink, purple and white. Astonishing!
When I returned for the last time from Hospice House to my home, I glanced over at Jack's portulaca garden, suddenly remembering my promise to take care of it. 

Weeds choked his blooms: two crabgrass plants, their tall skinny spikes twirling in the breeze, a huge many layered dandelion rosette that would take some uprooting to kill, and pig weed. I think that's what it's called, dozens of those plants, their long lazy fingers flat against the ground, surrounding and penetrating Jack's portulacas. 

I wasted no time. For several days I carefully pulled weeds, not wanting to accidentally rip out the flowers. When the garden was empty of everything but blooms, I mulched the empty spaces. 

And just for the heck of it, I looked up Portulaca grandiflora. Hmph! Moss rose, just as I thought. 

To my surprise, moss roses are something even a black thumb like me could grow: they're succulents.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I'm So Chicken


How shall I mourn Jack? Some outward sign of my inward grief, I thought.

Wearing black? But when I looked at Internet images, they mirrored another era: long flowing skirts, veils over faces, no one in lanky black pants.

Then I saw that a bereaved person could make jewelry from the hair of her beloved, but I couldn't do that; Jack's hair had disappeared with Jack into the crematorium.

I almost didn't notice the third option: shave your head.

However, once the idea hit, it refused to leave. VIsions of shaving my head whirred in my mind, some negative, some positive. I mentioned my thoughts to no one.

Finally I turned to my calendar, found the first possible date I could visit a beauty salon. Then I told myself, "Okay, Marilyn, on that date you either go get your hair shaved off or you shut up about it."

The morning of my free day I went to my local Great Clips.

"Want a hair cut?" the stylist asked.

I moved my hands all over my head. "Off. All off."

She nodded. That was a relief. For all I knew, Great Clips might refuse to shave my head, send me to a special barber for such a task.

"Will I need a shampoo?"

She looked quizzically at me.

"You know, to wash all the hair off."

"Nah." She wrote me in. "There's a 40-minute wait."

I waited.

Then, in the chair, I told Melissa what I wanted, and why, and watched my white locks fly to the floor. She ran a big clipper over my head, but I could still see a residue of hair. Then she picked up a small trimmer.

"Do you want your hair entirely off?" she asked. "I could leave about this much" she pinched her fingers almost together "with this trimmer."

I knew I should say, "entirely off." I was, after all, shaving my head. Down to the skull. That's how it was done. The nerve, for even asking.

"Use the trimmer," I said, mortified. How could I be so spineless, so faint-hearted, so weak-kneed, so Chicken Hearted.

Melissa trimmed away. "Oh, see how different you look. Your eyes! You can really see them. They're beautiful."

Her tip flew upward.

I looked at my face. I didn't look as ugly as I thought I would. Familiar, even. With my new beautiful eyes.

The stylist put down her trimmer and whipped off the black robe. "You'll be wearing a wig?"

A wig? That wouldn't be an outward sign of my inward grief, but I mollified her. "Hats!" I said. "I have lots of hats."

I ran my hands over the fuzz on my skull. I felt lightheaded. I felt happy. I even knew what Jack would say if he saw me like this. He'd say, as usual, "You're gorgeous." And I, as usual, wouldn't contradict him.

Life at Home

I live here in Omaha at home with Paco Keopanya and Snickerdoodle, my short-haired tiger-striped cat. Paco is my business manager, my housemate, and a kindred spirit who can make me laugh faster than anyone I know. He's a Laotian raised in Nebraska and 40 years younger than me.

My therapist told me that mourning my beloved Jack would be like walking along the edge of the ocean. Most of the time, memories would wash over my feet and disappear but every once in a while, the water would rise up and douse me.

Last night I went to bed in my big basement bedroom as usual, about 1 AM, and slept until 3 or so when a memory drenched me. I woke, got up, moved around, then realized I'd never get back to sleep without dropping a tiny white pill on my tongue. The pill disintegrated, I turned on some classical music, and crawled back in bed, breathing slowly and deeply.

Then I heard something. Paco, I thought. He typically gets up about 4 to go to the gym and work out. It was only 3:45, but what else could it be?

The noise got louder. It sounded as though he were dragging something across the floor. Jeez, I thought. It's not like him to make so much noise. What the hell's he doing? I waited for him to open the garage door and get in his truck, but he didn't leave the house.

All of a sudden I feared that something was terribly wrong. I leapt out of bed, wobbly from the pill, lifted the edges of my nightgown so I could run up the stairs, and blasted the lights on. I ran all around the first floor. Paco's door was closed and no light shown under it, so he must still be sleeping. I peered out the window at the still-black night but saw nothing. I turned off the lights and went back down stairs, deeply puzzled. I knew I'd heard something, but what?

I walked around downstairs and saw the trash can in my basement kitchen lying on its side on the floor. What? Then I noticed that the big box that once held kitty litter but now holds Snicker's dry food was missing. I found it around the corner on the floor.

Goodness! She must have been intent on raiding her food box. I looked at her dish. Half full, as usual. So she couldn't have been hungry. Of course, the food in her box is fresher than the food in her bowl. Or then, knowing Snicker, maybe she was just bored.

I picked up after her, went back to bed and slept this morning until 10.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Jack Loscutoff


I was born at an early age in San Francisco, California, of humble Russian peasant stock. If my grandparents had remained in the old country, I might be writing this in Russian instead of English. I prefer English because it's a much richer language than Russian. 

Though I have other personae (Greek for "masks") as we all do, I especially like  the creator mask. In me, it appears principally as wordsmith: poet, satirist, cartoonist, fool, teller of twelve-year-olds' bad jokes, minstrel, memoirist, essayist, comedian, playwright, short story writer, novelist, prophet, dreamer, teacher. But until my fifty-eighth birthday, I didn't create. Instead, I interpreted and evaluated the written words of others. 

San Francisco State College recognized my expertise as a literary critic by awarding me an MA in English and American literature. The most obvious employment for a person with that newly acquired skill was as a teacher of English composition, that is, essay writing at a community college. A semester of practice teaching at San Mateo Community College a few miles south of the big city convinced me it wasn't my cup of tea. The students (surprise, surprise) were no more prepared to write something interesting a month after graduating from high school than they were the month before.

Refusing to lower myself to teaching such dunderheads, I resolved to continue my own education and travel the road to a Ph. D. With that degree, I reasoned, I could work at a four-year college or university with serious, well-prepared students. By then, however, my G. I. benefits had run out. I applied for and obtained a student loan. But even with the loan, I needed to earn additional money. For, by then I had a wife and two small children. I thought that problem was solved when I was accepted as a graduate teaching assistant at Washington University in St. Louis. The graduate teaching assistantship was an arrangement by which a student could work toward the degree half-time and teach the other half in exchange for a small salary and free tuition. In practice it amounted to teaching three-fourths time and studying one-quarter time. I left Washington U. after two years. 

I found a job at South Dakota State University teaching the same kind of courses that I had sought to avoid at San Mateo Community College: English composition. The South Dakota students were no more prepared or serious than the California ones. They were certainly more culturally isolated. I got the axe after five years because the legislature ran out of money for teaching their young people how to write. Balancing the budget was more important.

Fifteen years later on my fifty-eighth birthday, I realized I'd always been a bridesmaid but never a bride. And so, instead of being paralyzed by my awe of gods like Shakespeare, Dante, Melville and Yeats, I made a decision. I would begin my climb up the Mount Olympus from which they looked down on me. So, starting in 1989 with help from books on the subject and attendance at writing critique groups, I've been teaching myself creative writing. I haven't reached the top of the mountain, but sometimes I see the gods smiling in approval. That's reward enough. 
jack loscutoff
sage in bloom
Semper Fidelis, a one-act play performed by Rough Magic Productions, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2006.
My Heart's in the Highlands, a one-act play, read on stage at the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Omaha, Nebraska, 2008.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sudden Surprise

My heart leaped when I saw my beloved Jack this morning. He looked so much better than last night, his face clear, his eyes bright. He wasn't even breathing oxygen. So when he told me that the doctor would be here in an hour or so to discuss what next, I assumed he meant what further steps the doctor would take to make Jack well. Whatever the doctor had done so far certainly seemed to work.

At the appointed time, four doctors piled in, big guys and tall. They filled the room. They spoke carefully about Jack's options, not at all what I thought. "Hospice care" seemed to be the key word; they used it over and over. I only dimly knew what they meant, but eventually I understood: a place where Jack could live until he died, up to six months or so, they thought. A place where medical people would work to make him comfortable, not well. His body could no longer "do" well.

I'm a person who rarely cries, and certainly not in public, but when I finally understood, I couldn't contain my well of tears nor could I cry inconspicuously.  My shoulders shook with sobs. 

The sudden silence in the room didn't last long. A doctor in a black suit handed me the red box of white tissues, and I took one. The discussion continued, and I calmed myself, but I still shook inside when I left to go home.

from: a JoLt of CoFFeY 
 An Intermittent Newsletter
by Marilyn June Coffey

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