LXXXVIII. The Seasons

September 28, 2012 — The colors of the leaves on the dogwood outside my window have turned from brick to burgundy to vermillion, while within their burnoose of intimate color, the red berries wait. Soon the speckled birds will come find them and eat them on their migration south. Close behind the dogwood stands the tall loblolly pine, its green, lush appendages heavy with cones carrying its seed. Just to the right of the pine the high leaves on the verdant maples are tinged with gold.

Where the sun rises in the east this morning the sky turns orange, while outside my window raindrops fall drooping the vermillion leaves, like scarves ready to drop to the green lawn below, and in the north and west the sky is gray.

The turn of a season awaits none. Today is the day. The plump berries reveal themselves as ripe. The birds have come, just now, in the rain, as I watch. Thrushes and finches, some are speckled, some are blackbirds and the proverbial sparrow, all vying for the best branch, the sweetest fruit.

The turn of the wheels of government grind slowly to pulp those who wait. It will take up to three months for the Medicaid grant to pay my Medicare Part B premium normally deducted from my Social Security benefit: “That’s the way the system works,” they tell me. “But I need the money now,” I say. That’s an extra $105 a month for me. “Oh, you’ll be reimbursed,” they reassure me. But in three months I may be a millionaire from the royalties of my best-selling book, Begins the Night Music.” My book’s not a best seller – yet. Were it not for food stamps, frankly, I would not be able to eat. Not that I wouldn’t benefit by losing a few pounds. I know people, women very close to me, who can’t seem to put on weight; they are as thin as waifs, on their way to becoming as emaciated as Emma before she died. I offer to give them some of my weight, just like I offer to package up and send our humidity to friends who live in states where they have a dry heat. But none accept.

Yes, I received my food stamps days after I applied; I also received free, for the most part, medical care. This is good. Had I not cared for Emma this past decade, when there was no other caregiver nor caregiver pay available, but rather deposited her in a nursing home, I would not be in this predicament now. Family and friends have graciously given me money and goods to cover the mortgage and immediate needs, yet I received the final available means to cover the mortgage payment and will have none for October or future months.

The books I read a year ago, as I have written about and published on this blog and in Begins the Night Music (“What Am I Reading?” and “What Am I Reading? II”) led me through my dark night of the soul. Nevertheless, I do not like leading the life of a mendicant. My purpose in writing my blog, my book Begins the Night Music and more books to come, and in speaking to groups on caregiving, is to help others, because I know others are or will endure a similar situation, experiences of which often will be shooting in the dark. Yes, here I am. It is what it is for now, while I continue to seek additional means, and teeter on the razor’s edge.

In the end, it was the Medicaid grant that paid me to care for Emma and paid Daphne, our extraordinary attendant who came faithfully and compassionately 30 hours a week. It was Medicaid that paid for Emma’s care over the years. As I have stated previously, Emma thought she was going to die like her mother at 72 of a stroke, so she spent all her money. Emma lived another quarter century. How we two would have survived without that Medicaid grant, I don’t know. I do know that a change in our American presidential administration this November would seek to eliminate that Medicaid grant, and then I’d have to buy private health insurance. With what? If I could afford that, I would have done it already.

I’m going to have to live at least another quarter century to pay off the expense of my recent $99 call to Alberta, Canada. I thought AT&T had made a mistake when I looked at my phone bill. The rep, named Johnny, who happened to be in India, told me international calls are $1.52 a minute because I do not have an international calling plan. “Just across the border into Canada?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “That’s unacceptable,” I replied. “Let me get you a supervisor,” he said.

The supervisor, Jason, who sounded like he was in the Philippines, said, “Well, now, as a one-time courtesy I can give you that call for fifty percent off if you sign up for our five-cent a minute international plan for five dollars a month.”

“Fine,” I said, “but why not simply re-price my Canadian call at five cents a minute when I agree to sign up for the International plan.”

“Oh, we can’t do that,” he said. He went on to tell me that should I quit AT&T within two months that half-priced call would revert to $99.

To reduce a long story by 50 percent, I will tell you I have signed up for a Comcast “triple play” package whereby in addition to my present Internet and TV cable service with them, I will get flat-rate, land-line phone service saving myself $20 a month and thus eliminate AT&T, my long-distance carrier, and Verizon, my local phone line carrier. When my phone line went dead recently due to a loose connection in the overhead wires and I used my emergency-only cell phone to call for repair, the woman customer care representative at Verizon replied to my complaint of being on hold for a half hour at 30 cents a minute, that I should not have used my cell phone but rather used a neighbor’s phone.

I went bike riding this morning.  I asked my friend R to find me a pre-owned 26-inch girls’ cruiser, the kind with the foot brakes and fat tires.  He did, for $20.  The bike is blue. He pumped up the tires and lowered the seat and I was off.  I didn’t go far; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk when I de-biked – my first ride in about eight years.  A good way to shed, not pounds maybe, but years: riding with the wind in one’s hair is exhilarating.  Had our mailman looked at me when I rode past him, I would have suggested he get a bike, too.  I felt like I was 10 again.  Now I can go father than on my walks, and ride over by the lake; that will be pleasant, especially in the autumn with all the leaves turning red and gold.

—Samantha Mozart