July 15, 2018

new glasses

I went to get new glasses on Friday, the first new ones in four years, so long due.  This time I was assisted promptly and discovered two pairs of frames, one regular and one for sunglasses, that simply weren't there last time and that I love and adore and have always wanted all my life.

I picked them up today.  The gentleman fitted the arms and cleaned them for me, and I left happily wearing my new shades.

Twenty minutes later, I returned and explained that the left lens seemed weird, and the man took them and examined them closely using several different instruments, and then spat, "Stupid idiots."  They didn't align the polarization orientation aspect properly, whatever that means, so he kept them and I have to go back a third time on Tuesday to retrieve version two.

For all that annoyance, they fit like a dream, and it was good to walk out of the store and look around and see tree leaves that I hadn't realized looked muddled and merged when I wore my old glasses.  Now there were distinct lines of green separating them, each leaf individually blown in the gentle breeze even as they swayed together as clumps on branches.  I could see more about what was there.  I could see keenly.

My new regular glasses are perfect, too, so no surprise I held them up to my current pair and saw that they were identical in shape and size, just blue instead of purple.  No wonder I selected them.  We get set in our ways.

Our ways.

I want one more pair of new glasses, though I don't know how they would possibly come to exist.  I want glasses that help me see myself more clearly.  Not the back of my hand or my face in a mirror.  I want glasses that would let my gaze pierce defenses and constructs and perceive my hypocrisies and shortcomings, opportunities and hidden gemstones. 

I think we all turn inside and see blurry clumps of tree leaves, and we tell ourselves that yes, those are trees, and it is enough to know that.  They look like trees have always looked.

I have spent the past several days looking inward and straining, squinting, trying to make out the shapes of my own prejudices, my areas of complacency.  I want to believe that I am kind, empathetic, a good person; that I am not racist, not sexist, not swayed by the socio-economic status of another; that I do enough good in the world to justify what I consume and take from it. 

I can't tell.  I see blurry clumps of leaves.  We try to see inside, but straining to see is uncomfortable and difficult, and our eyes cross, so we stop.  Yes, those are trees, we say, and it is enough to know that.  They look like trees have always looked.

We get set in our ways.


I do not wish to say this.  It is not enough.  I want to see crisp leaves.  I want new glasses.

July 14, 2018

cocoa and pajamas

On the weekends, I wash my hair in the mornings and let it mostly air dry before styling it.  It gets frizzy and falls just-so and I end up with my better hair days this way.  There isn't time on work mornings to do it.  I manage as well as I can with the hair dryer.

This morning I watched the sunrise and then washed my hair in the shower.  Lathering the shampoo made me wince and I suddenly recalled last night.  Shit.  How bad is it?

I felt my face with gentle fingers.  Eyes bad.  Jawline a little sore.  Head very sore.  Ice.  I iced it last night.  Ice pack.  The water stings.

I still don't remember what set it off.  I only know that it had been building as a low, rumbling pressure for two days, since finding out I had hurt two people I care about and quite possibly made an enemy of one of them.  The pressure bore down upon the tiny girl in me who knew she had done something wrong and was in trouble now and was going to be punished through some unseen terror sufficient to bring annihilatory impulse back into the picture.  A growing wave unstemmed by logical, rational consideration of the circumstances.  I remember finally breaking down into tears, succumbing to the pressure, being overwhelmed by it, and finding myself sprawled on the bed clutching the sheets, gasping for air after crying and repeatedly slapping myself so hard that I saw bursts of light, hitting my head, trying to tear out great clumps of hair.

The punishment must be administered.  No little girl can run away from it.  And if the judge, the inflictor, isn't there, the girl has to do it herself.  The punishment must be administered.

Afterward, I came out of the bedroom in my too-big nightgown and slowly walked over to P.J. like a small child, let her take me into her always-forgiving arms.  I comforted Rose because she was beaten, too, and does not understand when this happens.  P.J. made me a mug of hot cocoa and pressed it into my hand.  My breathing was smooth and even again.  She led me to bed.

I dried off after my morning shower and inspected myself in the mirror under brighter lighting, and let out a low sigh of relief.  Just some dot-prickle bruising beside each eye, worse on the right, and the swelling invisible unless you really try to see the differences between left and right.  The marks will be gone by Monday morning.

I put some gel in my hair so after I mussed it up into a wet mop parted on the left, it would stay messy and fall around my face, hiding the speckle-bruised skin around my eyes.  I made a mug of coffee and stood in my pajamas and watched the sky lighten, not so afraid of what will come.  I have paid.

July 13, 2018

toy breeds make the most interesting squeaky toys

THE STANDARD DOG-POST CAVEAT:  We.  Love.  Dogs.  All dogs.  Except maybe chihuahuas.  But we'd never in a million years wish misfortune of any kind on chihuahuas or the dogs mentioned in this post.  The following writing concerns a social observation that, through creative license, contains humorous references employing massive hyperbole and shit we don't actually mean.  Much.  If you get offended, we're going to end up feeling badly about that and having to donate to the Save-A-Benightedly-Wretched-Chihuahua Foundation in your honor.  Please don't make us do that because we really, really don't like them.  Take this post with a salt lick.  Thank you.

Even those stuffing-free flat squirrel dog toys at the store have a squeaker.  Dogs love squeakers.

Chester's modus operandi was to immediately go, not for the throat, but for the squeaker.  He would locate it and remove it with surgical precision, then chew the hell out of it until it stopped squeaking, and there would lie the toy with a hole in it and a gummed-up round bit of plastic beside it.  He was so proud.  "Look what I did!  I made it dead because now it stopped squeaking!"

Rose has followed in his footsteps and does the very same thing, though she's not quite as good at it.  So I guess the presence of squeakers makes a dog think this is a dying animal with just a few gasping breaths left in it, and if they shake it vigorously for a while and then remove its squeaker, they are triumphant over their prey and can then have their way with it, removing the animal's polyester-wad innards and leaving those white puffy entrails all over the house, after which they clog up the vacuum and result in our having to walk around picking them up by hand.  They pack an amazing amount of stuffing into those toys.  They're the clown car of Poly-Fill.


One night at dinner, P.J. and I were pondering the question of old men and their tiny dogs.  It occurred to us that a Pomeranian would make a fabulous squeaky toy for a larger dog.

Me:  "If Rose had a Pomeranian to play with, she'd have that squeaker out in, like, five minutes flat."

P.J.:  *laughing, unable to talk*

Me:  "Seriously, and then she'd try to get the stuffing out and find out it's made of meat.  I mean, hello?  Best squeaky toy ever!"

P.J.:  *still laughing*

Me:  "I mean, do those little dogs that old men walk around squeak when you step on them?  They have to be squeaky toys.  Why else would they exist?  They're hardly even real dogs."

P.J.:  *totally done, shaking with laughter, head down on table, unaware some of her hair just got dipped in rémoulade, doomed to have sore diaphragm the following morning*


Old men and their tiny dogs.  It might be a coincidence - but I don't think it is - that we keep encountering instances of old men walking or carrying - but mainly walking - tiny frou-frou dogs.  Maltese.  Yorkshire terrier.  Pomeranian.  Shih Tzu.  Miniature or teacup anything.  Any man at the town park and any man in our neighborhood, at home or at the Lodge, of an age ranging from recently-retired to elderly, has a toy dog.  And we are trying with all our might to understand this phenomenon.

The closest we can come is that post-retirement, having a dog is considered healthy because loneliness can become a towering part of life, even with a spouse and maybe kids who come to visit.  Having a pet can help alleviate this and introduces a second healthy aspect to life, which is the requirement to follow a regular routine.  The person is bound to the dog's needs and thus orders their life accordingly.  Benefits.

But why only men?  It should apply to women, too, but it's always men.  This is what we observe.  Why small dogs?  A Doberman would offer the same routine and companionship.

If we see a couple out walking a tiny dog, it's the man holding the leash, the man interacting with the dog.  You can tell it's his.

A Doberman doesn't require a man's protection, though, or afford an opportunity to display the tenderness once banned during the man's younger years, around a cohort that would question his masculinity.  Does all of that suddenly become acceptable?

We have questions.

And please don't worry, because when we decide to adopt again, the dog will not be a small dog.  We don't want to find out if Rose would think of it as a squeaky toy.

July 12, 2018

every wave that came

I decided that instead of waiting for years to listen to Kate's latest album, Damn Sure Blue, I would put it into my car CD player immediately and savor one song at a time.  Now I'm stuck on track seven, Sally Maxcy.  I'm gripped by the story, taken from "A history of the town of Union" by John Sibley.  Found treasure.

Sally Maxcy lost her mother and sisters in May of 1793 (less than two years after the death of her father) when their boat tipped over while sailing home from Union, Maine, where she had traveled to bury her best friend.  (Union was formed by settlers from Attleborough, Massachusetts.)

The boat filled with water and turned over repeatedly as she tried to grip it.  Once she sank, but the weight of her clothing was kept in check by the buoyancy of her skirts.  She was one of three survivors.  The other two grabbed the far side of the boat as she made one last attempt to gain purchase, and between them they stopped its spinning in the water.

Her story is told through a letter her son found, written to Sally's uncle shortly after the incident.  As she wrote, she was staring at her sister Lydia's corpse, washed up on the shore and recovered, laid out.  Lydia was a year younger than Sally.  I wonder if the candlelight made it seem as though Sally was staring at herself.

Kate arranges the letter into lyrics that masterfully capture the conflict between providential theology and survivor's guilt.  Sally closed her letter with two lines:

"Though distant graves divide our dust
Yet pray the lord our souls may meet among the just"

This sounds so much like the prayer my mother had me repeat every night while she stood in the door frame of my bedroom:

"Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take"

Sing-song words that a child could not see had origins of darker times, empty cradles, small graves.

Sally Maxcy lived to be eighty-eight.

July 8, 2018

please do not recommend gardening to me as a positive activity

Driving around in the mountains these days, I pass reminder after reminder that everyone up here can garden.  Everyone except me.

Cute flower beds and hostas flourish within landscape timbers.  Irises stand proud and tall around the mailboxes.  Rows of sunflowers turn their faces east beside tidy tomato plants and rows of sweet corn.

I have a lot of talents.  It wasn't easy for me to write that just now, because usually saying that makes me feel intense shame, because I'm mentally fucked up and programmed to hide them and feel guilty about them and pretend they're non-existent.  My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, is a hundred percent to blame for it all.

Therapist Gumby has brought me a fair distance in this regard.  So yes, I can sing pretty well, and maybe even write a little, and I can copy that water drop sound that the self-checkout computer at Home Depot makes, and also make cricket noises and purr like a cat so well that it makes cats come to me, when there are cats, which there usually aren't.  Talents.

Gardening is an anti-talent for me.  It's not the mere absence of a propensity for the activity.  That, they just call a brown thumb.  No, it's more a black hole of ability, a guarantee that any effort I make will have precisely the opposite effect, in terms of physics and practicum, of the one intended.

I fell in love with a dead tree in my front yard this past spring.  It's a mountain laurel, I think, but it's hard to be sure because it was throttled by some kind of vine-weed thing and completely bare and weighed down by blighted buds.  I concluded that because one of the branches closest to the trunk was still somewhat supple, I could have it thriving by summer.  There was life in it yet.  Its plight tapped into my compassion.

I went down with shears and a rake one chilly morning in March and clipped all of the buds and the more obvious bits of dead branch and twig, cleared the space at the ground so it wouldn't have competition, and declared that any day now, we'd see new growth.  It would work.  Just watch.

I asked the advice of a friend who is an avid gardener.  She said to give it TLC for a couple of months, and if it didn't respond, be ruthless.  She said this worked well for several ex-husbands and boyfriends.  So we named the doomed shrub The Ex-Husband and we've watched it.

It's July now, and it is really most sincerely dead.  But I can't bring myself to cut The Ex-Husband down.  He's a decaying brown eyesore in the yard, but being in love with a dead tree is right in keeping with my gardening abilities.  It's the only thing I can grow.

I once killed a pothos.

A pothos plant is the one they advertise as being completely impossible to kill, short of dousing it with kerosene and lighting it on fire.  It is the plant they tell people who are terrible with house plants to buy.  You can do anything to a pothos.  You can forget to water it for a month, or lovingly water it every day.  You can keep it in a damp, dark basement with weird chemical smells permeating the air.  You can put it in the oven at 350 for twenty minutes until the center is fully baked and a toothpick comes out clean.  You can let it stay up late on a school night and watch horror movies with you.  You can even hack off a piece of it and stick it in dirt and it becomes another pothos in three seconds flat.  A pothos can take anything.

It took two full years, but I persevered.  I killed it.  I killed it by trying to take good care of it.

Sometimes I wonder why the trees and grass by the road don't wither in my wake when I'm out walking.

This is why I love IKEA one of the four hundred and sixty thousand billion trillion reasons I love IKEA.  Their fake plants are top-drawer superior to all others.  Eight years ago, I was trying to grow an amaryllis in my office, and I have to say that it thrived, in that it grew a single beautiful, green leaf approximately six feet long.  I had to drape it over the top of a filing cabinet.  This was ... not normal.  So I bought an IKEA plant and placed it on my desk instead, and I can't tell you how many people commented on it, asked was species it was, poked their finger in the "soil" to see if it needed watering, caressed the leaves and looked very confused afterward.  "It's a real fake plant!"

(A fellow alto has a prosthetic left leg.  A garage door fell on it when she was six, and now she's in her early sixties, and not a single fuck is given.  She wears shorts in the summer and is forever having children come up to her shyly to ask, "Um, um, is that a real fake leg?")

To be fair, the croton is doing well, but this is only because it has other people in its life.  They appear to be capable of mitigating the impact of my interactions with it.  This is a plant with cause to believe in angels and The Devil with all its heart.

Maybe all this is why I don't trust trees to grow and pull what they need from the ground.  It's a phenomenon I can't decipher, much less foster.  And maybe it's why I appreciate that canopied road of elms so much.  As I walk in their cradle of shade, they stay green, and they're safe from me.

July 7, 2018

not my first poop rodeo

Pouch and sleeve folks alike are forced to come to terms with ... a more intimate and comprehensive ... relationship with their intestinal tracts.  We spend a lot of time thinking about them, analyzing them, listening to what they are telling us.  After all, someone sliced us open in the past and either removed some intestines or traumatized them by proxy, and then there was all of that gut flora repopulation and the massive systemic effects that we are still discovering with surprise and delight, like new mental health issues and the increased risk of colorectal cancer and the joys of constipation.

I've been having these episodes for the last few months (why they waited to begin after nearly two years is only a peripheral curiosity) wherein I suddenly become bloated.  I do not mean the kind of bloated where you ate a big meal and your tummy is a little uncomfortable and tight and unbuttoning your jeans helps.  I am referring to full-abdomen bloating with sudden onset that makes my stomach taut, like being instantly four months pregnant, and so painful that I can't fully stand up straight and have to walk slightly bent over, usually to the bathroom at work in order to remove the shapewear bodice I'm wearing.  I don't even care that this results in my going bra-less for the rest of the afternoon.

But sometimes it happens in the evening.  Sometimes it happens soon after I eat.  Sometimes it happens two hours later.  Sometimes it happens after I eat dairy.  Sometimes I eat dairy and nothing whatsoever happens.  Did I eat too fast?  Is it gluten?  Should I be taking probiotics?  There are so many directions to head.

My current working theory, conceived last night, is constipation.  I get dehydrated and then spend a couple days catching up on my liquid intake (which, grudgingly, sometimes contains substances other than coffee).  Meanwhile, I've become constipated from the dehydration, but there's all this liquid and not enough intestine "backstream" to absorb it, so my body goes all "what the fuck?" on me and panics and jettisons all the coffee and water and almond milk and probably blood and air (because there's gas involved, too) into my peritoneal cavity.  At least, that's what it feels like.  I know that would actually be fatal, but walk with me here.  It hurts.

Last night was such a night.  And I was thankful this morning when things finally worked themselves out - yeah, see what I did there? - and my theory had its first confirming data point.  It isn't any particular thing I'm eating.  It's constipation.

I never really respected constipation before my gastric bypass.  It was something that happened to older women in commercials, something they noticed in dim-lit bedrooms just before they went and took a nice laxative pill that "worked gently overnight" but that was actually dubbed "the white tornado" by real humans who weren't being paid to act in commercials.  The corner in the drug store with all of those products remained invisible to me, until a couple of years ago when I thought I was having my first experience with constipation and purchased a box of pink pills, which surely couldn't be as bad as the white ones.  It promised to work gently overnight.  I took one at bed time.

The next morning, nothing happened.  Huh.  Maybe I wasn't constipated after all.  Oh well, no harm done.  I continued through my day, shopped for groceries, went home and put them away.  I headed across town to my therapy session.  And I almost made it, except that as I turned left at the stop light less than a mile from her office, I began shaking and sweating and even though I'd had some sandwich turkey for lunch, I thought I was dumping something fierce.  Then the cramps hit, and the sensation of wanting to faint.  It wasn't safe for me to drive.  I managed to pull into a Wendy's parking lot and stumble blindly into the bathroom, only giving one-fifth of a shit that it was a two-staller.  I don't even know how I texted my therapist to tell her that I was dumping and very sick and stuck on a toilet two blocks away in the bathroom at Wendy's and probably dying but maybe not and I was going to be late one way or the other.  Then I set the phone down and gripped the metal bar in the stall with both hands and involuntarily went into Lamaze breathing.  No onset of flu had ever taken me so violently.  I've also had two colonoscopies and prepped for them with various poisonous potions of misery posing as Gatorade.  Yawn.

Tornadoes come in pink, I learned that day.  When I did make it to my therapist's couch, it wasn't to talk about my childhood; it was to lie in agony and finish experiencing weakness and semi-delirium and waves of pain that made me shut my eyes tightly until they passed.  In a way it was therapeutic in its own right, because I had never appeared so vulnerable on that couch before, or received such compassion.  She actually went and got me a cool cloth.

We had a ceremony when I threw away that box of pink pills.  It was a Thing.

I respect constipation now.

P.J. got up shortly after I did this morning, and I happily announced that I had pooped a lot and felt better and see? my theory is probably right and now I have a working hypothesis and objective and probably one of those tri-fold boards, and all I need now is to do some science and write a lame-ass report about it.

P.J. just said, "Do me a favor ... don't publish your work."

Me:  "Ooo, that's a great idea - I'm going to blog about it.  Like, right now."

P.J.:  "Oh god, what have I done?  Why did I even open my mouth?"

Me:  "Well?  I needed a topic for today."

P.J.:  "What am I worried about?  It's not like you haven't posted about poop before."

Me:  "There needs to be more poop awareness.  And yeah!  This isn't my first poop rodeo."

(exactly three seconds elapsed .... )

Me:  "I do not like the phrase 'first poop rodeo' and I don't think I want to say that again, like, ever."

I just had to say "poop rodeo" again right now and in the title and yet again right above this sentence, but that's it.

July 6, 2018

a room full of pizza boxes

I pulled up a chair beside Grandma's bed and spent an hour visiting.  She was in a nursing rehab facility after my daddy lovingly carried her inside our house for Christmas dinner and accidentally broke her hip in the process.  Her wounds were slow to heal and she had been there for two months, but her dementia was far along and no one can know if she realized how long she had been staring at that wallpaper and the fake posies on the window sill.

We talked in circles.  I answered the same questions, always as if it was the first time she had asked them, questions from a woman who must have, in the early stages, felt horror and grief that her mind was going before her body.  Now, there was no agitation or fear, just the calm repetition of conversation.

Then her eyes focused on mine, and she said, "I think you and I have always understood one another."  There was lucidity in her gaze.  I didn't know what to say, so I nodded, and within seconds she was gone again, the clouds denying us the dazzling sunlight.  And I gathered my purse and keys and had to go.  I had obligations at home.  I left her with the wallpaper and posies.

Sometimes I feel like Grandma's spitting image, a version of her born in more modern times.  But how could we understand one another?  I'm the only grandchild left, the one she helped rear, the one who spent Saturday nights on her couch, laughing at The Golden Girls and 227 and doing the logic puzzles in her Dell crossword magazines.  The granddaughter.  We don't tell our kids so much.  Who shares the sordid, drawn-out truths of adult life with the granddaughter?

I really don't understand her at all.

I don't understand what it was like for her when Granddaddy left her with four young children and a third-shift job as a nurse.  The stigma of divorce in 1961.  The need to rely on Rowena to watch over her brothers while Grandma was at work, while carrying the burden of unwelcome resentment - oh, how she prayed over that, prayed for decades - toward her own mother for putting her in the same position, the eldest of nine in a poor family living in a mill town.  I don't know how she held her head up during those days, how she didn't break.

I don't know what it was like, riding home in the back seat of a car from Atlanta with Jay's ashes in a box in her lap.  I wasn't there to see her meet his partner, though I know she would have handled it gracefully, even if her religious beliefs were screaming at the incongruity.

I don't know how she felt about the spare bedroom in her subsidized low-income apartment during the last years she was able to live alone.  We later found it contained towering stacks of boxes that once contained Domino's small cheese pizzas, used-up crossword magazines, a closet full of unused Tupperware from the early 1980s, at least fifty rolls of wrapping paper she bought because she didn't know if she had any at home, and every publication ever printed and distributed by the Southern Baptist Convention.  She apparently stopped cooking and lived on pizza and frozen concentrated orange juice for several years, and spent all of her time at church or at the dining table with her pens and tablets and writing ideas.  The spare bedroom was her hiding place for the growing storm clouds.  If she could still close the door, she could outrun their shadow.

It was at that time she stopped allowing me to come visit.  "It's just not a good time right now, not this time."  Was she ashamed?  Was she defensive?

I don't know how aware she was of how far she had slipped mentally when those days of living alone drew to an end, when the town police found her driving around downtown unable to remember how to get home along streets she had driven ten thousand times.  She didn't realize she had forgotten to pay her bills for six months, forgotten to tell anyone about both times she fell down the stairs.

We laughed together when I was a child, sometimes at things considered inappropriate.  She bought me small toys with money she couldn't spare and ice cream on Sundays after church.  My parents wished she wouldn't because I would be "spoiled".  Later, she silently accommodated my adolescent depression and all of the car rides when I stared out of the passenger side window and said little to nothing.  Sometimes, we were on our way to choir practice, and our folding chairs were side by side in the alto section.  I could sing when I couldn't speak.

I grew up and she lost my companionship.  Our family isn't one to get together except on holidays.  I moved away and she adjusted to solitude.

She understood me.  I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand her.  The two are the same.

July 4, 2018


"Hey, are you related to -- ?"

"Nope, absolutely no relation."


There's a famous person in this vicinity of North Carolina who shares my last name, but he's from another branch, the ones who didn't come from a dirt-poor county down East.  But everyone always asks.  Some day, I'm going to say he's my uncle, just to see what happens.

I'm the last grandchild, the end, the terminus of my daddy's line.

Grandma and Granddaddy had four children:  Rowena, my arsenic-wielding aunt; Gerry; Tommy, my daddy; and James, called Jay.

Granddaddy ran off when they were young and remarried, ostensibly to the woman he'd been seeing, but they had no biological children.  I'm guessing things were strained for a while between him and my daddy, but I remember going to visit him in Raleigh once a year and staying for a couple of days, so at some point they must have come to an understanding.  He always had shrimp in the chest freezer, just for me.

Once, we all took a fishing trip out to the coast, where Granddaddy was from, the marshy tidal flats surrounding Lake Mattamuskeet.  I was four years old and my daddy let me use the cane pole that he had used as a boy and kept all those years.  I wasn't afraid to squish my own worm onto the hook.  However, the first thing I caught was a heavy, rather large eel, which I thought was a huge snake, and I screamed and threw the eel - and the fishing pole - into the water and turned and ran and locked myself in the truck.  That cane pole rests at the bottom of the lake now.  Presumably, so does what remains of the eel.  Daddy just shook his head, but he didn't get angry about the pole.  I wonder if he fished with it in that exact spot as a little boy, and if he decided in that moment that it belonged there anyway.

Because I couldn't fish after that, I spent the remainder of the hot afternoon rolling up my pants and wading around in the edge of the lake water, because it never occurred to me that there might be more than one eel in a lake that takes up almost the whole damned county.  I did point out a paper cup floating in the water that turned out to be a crab.

Granddaddy had a brother and a sister.  The brother died young and the sister committed suicide in her early twenties.  Neither had children.

Granddaddy died from lung cancer when I was eight.  Like the rest of that side of the family, except for Grandma, he smoked copiously.  I cried a little for him, but I didn't know him well and only lost a man who made me shrimp and wore one of those really tall farmers' caps and took me places where I was surprise-attacked by vicious snakes taller than I was.  A man whose name is my own middle name.

Rowena had two sons, my cousins.  One died of leukemia in his early twenties.  His younger brother died a few years thereafter after a cocaine overdose.  They found him on Rowena's living room floor.  She was already crazy before that, what with the whole arsenic thing and speeding tickets and Elvis hang-up, but with both of her boys gone and medications only doing what little they can do, we give her a lot of leeway and permission to be as insane as she needs to be.  It's only fair.

Gerry never had children.  He lived inside his head and smoked a lot of weed, lifted weights, and eventually made his way out to Las Vegas.  The last I heard, he was living in a tent because he'd been kicked out of yet another rented room, and walked to work.  He's one of those guys who can shuffle cards like a magic trick and deals blackjack at casinos.

Jay was gay.  He and his "friend" ran a dance studio in Atlanta.  They said it was lung cancer again when he died in the early 1990s, but that doesn't explain why his name is on the AIDS quilt.

That leaves my daddy, and I'm his only child.  I still carry the family name, but because the kid has his father's surname, when I die, the line of that name four generations back dies with me.  Call me skeptical, but I have to allow that maybe that's a good thing, because as a family we appear to be cursed with tragedies.  In the darker times, I think about Rowena losing both sons and how slim those odds are, but it gives me chills anyway because if anything ever happens to my son ... well.  Yeah.

Family trees should be pyramid-shaped, branching out to show proliferation.  Mine is the right shape, but the pyramid is upside-down and balancing on its point.  Balancing on me.

July 3, 2018

it really was arsenic

So here’s the conversation that P.J. and I had while we were waiting to talk to Kate after the show on Saturday ....

(regarding her song "Tupelo's Too Far" and a mondegreen)

P.J.:  I’ve got an idea for ‘Two Pillows Too Far’.

Me: Yeah, and if she keeps saying that somebody should write it, she’s going to be covered up with versions that people send her.  Remember what you said happened to Terry Pratchett with ‘The Hedgehog Can’t Be Buggered’?

P.J.:  No, seriously, this one would work.

Me:  What would you make it about?  All I can think of is motel rooms and traveling and Elvis always being on tour and prevented from getting there.  Like, the two pillows on a motel bed. Which is dumb. And probably what that lady in Boston was thinking. Not saying she was dumb.

P.J.:  No, no, no.  It has to do with two words:  Aunt. Rowena.

Me:  Aunt Rowena didn’t use pillows on her ex-husband, she poisoned him with arsenic.

P.J.:  Yeah, but pillows could be symbolic, and maybe she made him sick with arsenic and he beat her again after that, and then she snapped, and he was drunk or something, and she smothered him with two pillows, and that was the ‘too far’ part, and she went to jail.

Me:  Why two pillows?  That would be slippery.  You couldn’t do it with two pillows. Only one.

P.J.:  Why not?  Maybe they were down pillows.

Me:  What the hell difference would that make?

P.J.:  They’re breathable.  You’d have to use two.

Me:  Yeah, if they’re paper-thin.

P.J.:  Well … maybe they were poor and theirs were thin.

Me:  They were poor, but poor people don’t buy down pillows.  They didn’t sell them in K-Mart and Zayre's back in the 70s. Did they?

P.J.:  .... Whatever. So it needs some work.

Me:  Maybe he’s the one who went too far, with the beatings.  I see where you’re going. But nah, two pillows wouldn’t work.  She’d have stabbed him. Seriously.

P.J.:  Fine.  Piss in my corn flakes.

July 1, 2018

the heart of a bird ii

Eighteen years ago, I asked because I was needy.  I needed specialness, and was drawn to her concerts over and over again because something as simple as a smile or a "hey" from her, or being given the peace sign so that others around me could see I knew her, acted as a strong, pure hit of the specialness drug.  I asked compulsively.

Twice she said yes, and a third time she was the one who asked me.  I've had few moments of joy in my life more intoxicating.  These stand out.  They were gusts of wind beneath sparrow wings.

There is something about our voices, you see.  The timbres meld.  In those moments, I know every nuance of what she is about to do with a word or line, a second before she does it, and I match.  It's making music.  Everything else in the room disappears.

Eighteen years ago, making music was a hit of a drug.  Others saw me and she allowed me and I drank in specialness, the comments from other audience members and the hug she always gave me afterward.  The needy one was the chosen one and her "yes" was one night of sweet relief from the longing.

I paid dearly afterward.  Always a crash the following day, a return to the ground.  Wings clipped.

Eighteen years later, at a cafe last night, I was able to ask precisely because I am less needy.  I felt something shift.  During her first set, I sang along to every word, but I didn't revert to that girl in her early twenties whose heart felt it would burst out of her chest.

The defenses had lived in my head for years ... the certainty that the times I had asked before annoyed her ... the excessive number of her concerts I had attended to get a hit, tantamount to public, permissible stalking ... belief that she tolerated my presence out of pity ... recalling how I couldn't seem to make my feet move me away from her and toward my car after shows ... fear that asking to sing one more time would earn me rejection and unbearable disapproval directly proportionate to the intense joy.  Defenses.

I felt something shift.

The pangs of jealousy when watching her talk to other people, sit with them at dinner and converse, have given way to gratitude that she has so many people in her life who love her and watch over her as she travels.

Movement toward clarity.  Gratitude unsullied by neediness.  She's human.  We are two separate people.  I can spread my sparrow wings now.  Those lies that protected me all those years fell away.  They were not real.

I almost died a year ago, but I'm not dead, and none of us is ever sure we'll get another chance.  I wanted to make music with her.

I asked Kate during intermission, and it hadn't occurred to her that I might want to, and she said "yes" and thought it was a great idea.

There is something about our voices, you see.  The timbres meld.  We shared a microphone and I sang harmony on a song I had wanted for two decades to sing with her.  We made music.  Everything else in the room disappeared.

Making music is not a hit of specialness.  It is the stuff of humans and singing birds, as real as the earth and the air and flight.  It is real.  It is real.

June 30, 2018

table salt

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
-François de La Rochefoucauld

I don't know why I keep buying them.  Maybe it's the convenience factor combined with how good they look in their ready-made "just toss in the oven for a while and dinner is done" bags.

Each time we stop by the grocery store on the way up to the Lodge, I run in and get something for dinner the next night, and I conveniently forget about how dry and tasteless and nearly inedible the meat always, always turns out, and how fond they are of putting a pound of black pepper into the seasoning no matter what flavor it purports to be, and I grab a bag of beef or pork or chicken mixed with vegetables.  "Just toss in the oven and dinner is done."

The pork is particularly dry.  It's as dry as my mother's pork chops.  We would sit and politely saw them into bites with butter knives and chew.  It was the only meal where everyone asked for a second glass of iced tea.  We chewed the tasteless meat in thoughtful, laborious silence.  Pepper was never an issue.  The issue was the fact that my mother didn't believe in salt.

My dinner table is not my mother's dinner table.  Oh, no.  No.

There is salt.  There is conversation.

Last night, we chewed dry pork and beef cooked in a bag, while my son looked at memes on his phone.  This is as natural to him as breathing.

Me:  "Okay, next time you have to make me swear to not buy these bags.  You have to remind me in the car before I go inside.  They just look so good in the moment."

The Kid:  "Mine's not that bad.  But I can see what you mean about the pepper."

P.J.:  "I wouldn't say the meat is horribly dry.  I'd put it firmly between only slightly dry and sand.  It's right in the middle.  Oh my god, I can't believe you just did that!"

Me:  "iiii uuuhhhh?"

P.J.:  "Put that whole piece of pork in your mouth!"

Me:  "iiii uuunn aaa iiiig!"

P.J.:  *laughing hysterically*  "See?"

Me:  "uuuuhd uuuuub!"

P.J.:  *laughs harder, puts down fork and holds head in hands*

The Kid:  "Hey guys, want to hear a shower thought from Reddit?  Oh.  Why's P.J. laughing?"

Me:  "See ings I ut ooo ush foo im my mouf."

P.J.:  *gasping for breath*

Me:  *chewing furiously to end the moment of humiliation*

The Kid:  "Shower thought:  'Without bats, we wouldn't have tequila.'"

Me:  *swallow*  Where the hell did that come from?

P.J.:  *calms down*  Yeah, that makes sense.  But they'd be fruit bats, wouldn't they?"

The Kid:  "Yeah, because they pollinate agave, and you get tequila from agave."

Me:  "Wait, that's the second time this evening that fruit bats have come up.  Don't you think that's weird?  When we were quoting Holy Grail while ago?"

P.J.:  "So?  Fruit bats are important."

The Kid:  "Yeah!  Super important.  There needs to be more fruit bat awareness."

Me:  "There needs to be more 'y'all are too fucking weird for words' awareness.  Ooo!  Puffin!"

*points to desktop background of computer on kitchen counter*

P.J.:  "Nuffin."

Me:  "No.  Puffin."

P.J.:  "Nuffin."

The Kid and me:  "PUFFIN."

P.J.:  "NUFFIN!"

Me:  "Why the fuck are you saying that?  Stahhhhhp!"

P.J.:  "It's just that Simon Drew cartoon.  Jesus."

Me::  "Whahh?"

The Kid:  "He's cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

Me:  "That's not a puffin, dumbass, that's a toucan."

The Kid:  "No, the toucan is Froot Loops.  The puffin is ... wait."

Me:  "Sorry, duh, it's a cuckoo bird.  The puffin is one of those weird-ass organic healthy cereals they put down by the Kashi twigs."

The Kid:  "Why does Kellogg's like to use birds so much?"

P.J.:  "They make good illustrations."

The Kid:  "They're grrrrrrrr --"


The Kid:  "I know that."


The Kid:  *infuriating grin of one who knows how to push my buttons*

My as-yet-uncurbed tendency to buy and serve those meat bags doesn't qualify as eating intelligently, but eating together as a family does.  Studies and statistics tell us so.  I think I get a bonus with the kid and P.J. and our eternally weird conversations.  I get table salt.

June 29, 2018

the heart of a bird

This morning I leashed Rose and we set off on a walk up that winding mountain road, the one that pushed me to the breaking point of exhaustion the first time I climbed it.  Today, it seemed shorter, the going easier.  I took that path because of the reward at the top, the vista of distant mountains that go on forever and the breeze that wasn't there a moment before.  I had in ear buds and played Kate Campbell's The K.O.A. Tapes from start to finish, her voice right inside my head.  I've owned the CD for several years but had never listened to it, typical of my bad habit of not letting things in.

As I walked, I was sorry that I had waited.  It's really good stuff.

A hawk passed overhead.  I rounded the final curve-hill and reached the place where I could stand and look out over the Appalachian Mountains.  The breeze ruffled my hair.  And this song, "Hope's Too Hard", began to play.

Thirty seconds later, standing on the side of a road in broad daylight, tears streamed and I was sobbing.  It reached straight into me and grabbed my heart and squeezed.  Her voice right inside my head.

I've been chattering all night lone
Like a crane or a swallow, on and on
I've lost my voice with all this crying
And my will to sing

Hope's too hard and I'm too weak
I don't know if I can keep
Holding on beyond my reach
Love, could you please sing for me?

If I could, I'd fly away
Off into the light of day
But I can't seem to find the strength
To even lift my wings

Hope's too hard and I'm too weak
I don't know if I can keep
Holding on beyond my reach
Love, could you please carry me?

And I wish I could see beyond
Far beyond the far horizon
My eyes are tired from looking up
And mourning like a dove

Hope's too hard and I'm too weak
I don't know if I can keep
Holding on beyond my reach
Love, please don't let go of me.

She wrote the song while thinking about the chatter and flight of birds.  A swallow is not so different from a sparrow.  She understands what the heart of a bird might be.

P.J. and the kid and I are going to go hear Kate tomorrow night at a small cafe in the mountains.  I can't recall if it's been four years or five since we last saw her, but she congratulated us on our marriage in 2015 and wished us many, many years of happiness.

Years of happiness.  I am happy now.  I am all right now.  She will not know about the suffering and suicide attempt and mental illness and all of the pain I have caused my family, but I will smile and she will only see years of happiness.  And the smile will not be a lie, because the deeper happiness, my P.J. who did not let go of me and never will, has been there all along.

Some things are immutable.  Tomorrow night, I will sit at a cafe table and listen to her and that soul-grabbing guitar she wields, with the same mesmerized half-grin that I always wear during her shows.  In spite of thinking I'm all grown up now and beyond such things, I'll revert to the girl in her early twenties who longs with all her heart to be beckoned up to the stage to sing harmony with her.  Sometimes that longing feels like my heart wanting to leave my chest.

All of the ways her music reaches my heart.

Kate, could you please sing for me?

June 28, 2018

my two-year surgiversary

I'm supposed to mark this as a milestone.  And usually, I dig things like anniversary dates.  So why does this day seem trivial?

Having a pouch is so normal to me now that I can't remember life before it.  I don't miss eating big meals because that's a foreign concept.  The candy in shiny wrappers that used to be a source of deep-seated comfort and enjoyment, that once held great power over me, are now random objects with little to no meaning. 

There are things to celebrate, though.  I'm comfortable in my own skin now and willing to do things to protect that.  I haven't inhaled any stomach acid for two years.  I'm not pre-diabetic.  I haven't had physical complications after those first rough few weeks, and I'm finally getting the psychological complications worked out.  I have good care providers.  Things to celebrate.

I don't feel deprived.  I don't feel regret.  My pouch and I, we're tight.

If you're considering or facing gastric bypass surgery, and you feel like a boulder is about to roll over you and smush everything you love and need, please know that it becomes normal after a while and what you feel now, the longing and loss and fear of failure and anger and resentment and regret and all those other things that come with, won't be there forever.  It gets easier.

June 27, 2018

how to import an aardvark

Last month, I set about trying to import an aardvark.

I've seen things.
It began as a harmless search for an image of a plush aardvark to use with this post.  Except that I became enamored of the aardvark in the picture and the jokes factual accounts about my Lunesta aardvarks made me desire this particular plushie with a terrible desire, so I dug in and began the work of acquiring one.

Not just an aardvark.  That aardvark.

Which is out of production and cannot be had anywhere at all.

The company, Dowman, is English, so after coming up empty-handed on Amazon and eBay here, I hopped the pond and searched toy stores all over the U.K.  Completely in vain; many had it listed but they were all "not in stock, click here to be notified when Hell freezes over because then maybe we'll have some more of them on the shelf."

I got excited when I finally found one on Amazon.uk from a third-party seller that claimed to have three of them.  I ordered; I paid.  I got an e-mail almost instantly refunding my money.

There ensued a conversation that went something like this:  I wrote asking what the fuck, and they replied you have messages turned off and we tried to let you know, and I replied whatever but why can't I have the aardvark, and they replied it turned out they had one aardvark left and it had proven defective, and I replied in what manner was it defective, and they replied a thread had come loose along one of the seams, and I replied would they sell it to me anyway because so what, and they replied they were not in the habit of dispatching defective merchandise.

And that's where it stopped, because I couldn't think of a retort that wasn't "fuck the spavined nag you rode in on, you know one of you wants it for himself, because otherwise what are you going to do with an unraveled special-needs aardvark, when I'm offering to buy it anyway and sew it back up, you assholes one and all?"

My annoyance at being toyed with only fueled my search.  And that's when I found one on eBay in France.  I don't speak French at all, at all, so watching me squint and mouth the words while trying to read the listing, which they do not offer to translate into other languages unless the part offering to translate it was also in French, would have been pretty comical.  But the aardvark was real, and existed, and I won the auction and paid them some money and got a shipping notice.

So began the trek of the international jet-setting Aardvark of Mystery.  There were global shipping centers and dispatchers and multiple arrivals and departures in various exotic locations that aren't between France and here.  This is a well-traveled, cosmopolitan, multilingual, imported aardvark*.  

[*Dear Andy: I just employed an Oxford comma, but this in no way, express or implied, represents a reversal of my position on the matter.  I maintain the Oxford comma is for people who cannot be trusted in matters of discerning context.  So just don't, okay?  Thanks.]

I didn't let Sunovion Pharmaceuticals know that I'm onto them about the Lunesta aardvarks and have taken matters into my own hands.  I did tell Walter he doesn't get to follow me around any more, but he just shrugged and walked off.  I think he's more upset than he's letting on.

Vinny arrived today.  He's posing in this pic with No-Name Dog.  No-Name Dog was a stuffie that I had as a toddler, and I honestly have no memory of what happened to his real ears, and suspect a neighbor's dog was involved there, but I felt sorry for him and came into the house carrying him with tears running down my face and said, "Puppy can't hear!"  My mother sewed him some new ears out of scrap cloth and attached them so I would calm down.  I was satisfied.  I think they're kind of groovy, those black flowery ears.  No-Name Dog is showing Vinny around the place.

My aardvark dreams tonight are going to be out of this world.

it gets into your head

This StepBet gig is making me walk.  Really walk.  With sneakers on.  The three-months-ago me would roll my eyes at me.

Yesterday, I wore this ankle-length flowery prairie dress to work, in firm keeping with the gay agenda of conforming to the stereotype of a raging dyke.  When lunch time came around, it occurred to me that the dress probably wouldn't comply with the "wear appropriate attire" sign appended to the treadmill upstairs.  The treadmill would grab the hem of the dress and suck me into one of the belts and something undesirably orthopedic would happen.

I decided to brave the threatening rain clouds and go outside, into nature and stuff.  There's a street near my building that I'd never walked nor driven, so I headed that direction for the sake of variety.  I passed a few generic brick office buildings and rounded a corner, and very nearly gasped in surprise.

I am enthralled by canopied roads.  I remember them from when I lived in Florida and drove under Spanish moss.  I remember them from Chapel Hill.  They form a safe tunnel of woods, wrap around and protect and shade and shield.

I wandered beneath the elm branches bent from gnarled trunks.  My steps were light.

I went that way again today, this time with my phone and ear buds and Spotify.  My steps fell in time perfectly with "Et in terra pax hominibus" from Vivaldi's Gloria.

That is when I realized why headphones and ear buds are appealing.  I had always imagined a person was trying to be courteous to others in the vicinity, or shut out external noise, or make up for a lack of speakers, and maybe some of these things are true, too, but there is more.

The music was in my head.  Not coming from over there, or over there, or even around me during a performance, although that experience comes close, with the orchestra mere feet away on the stage.  But the ear buds put it right inside my head, with left and right ears indistinguishable.  The violins and cellos and boy choir and low bass notes and oboe and harpsichord were sounding in the middle of my brain.

It turned my thoughts to music.  My steps were the beat and pulse of a union of body and mind.

June 26, 2018

the free air

'Now, lord,' said Gandalf, 'look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!' ....

... Suddenly through a rent in the clouds behind them a shaft of sun stabbed down. The falling showers gleamed like silver, and far away the river glittered like a shimmering glass.

'It is not so dark here,' said Théoden.

- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

I probe and prod.  It lived in the back, in a seedy neighborhood.  I search under rubble, in hovels and shacks with doors banging in the wind.  I check the back seat of the car.

It's gone.  The wind blows a tumbleweed down the abandoned sidewalk.  The wind brings a refreshing breath.

Even at the best of times, before the lithium, suicidal ideation maintained a tiny presence in my brain, in the back, where it quietly made its presence known through a small, persistent voice that whispered and couldn't be silenced.  It was like living with a mild itch, something easily but consciously ignored.

And sometimes, not so easily.

Sometimes, it roared.

It's gone.

June 25, 2018

p.j. always gets stuck holding the pissing baby raccoon

6:45 p.m.

I just shat in your planter.
P.J.:  "Why does this kind of shit always happen to us?  Why not the neighbors?  We have neighbors.  Why not them?"

Me:  "Because this is our lives.  Remember looking at puppies today?  Two cute puppies?  The Universe sent two baby raccoons instead.  It's that fucked-up sense of humor thing."

P.J.:  "Oh, yeah.  That.  Conservation of mass."

Me:  "The bacon turned out pretty good.  Crispy.  Want some more soup?"

5:58 p.m.

P.J.:  "HE FELL IN THE HOLE.  Oh my god, he fell in the fucking hole.  I moved them over there so they wouldn't fall in the hole.  Okay, so there's a smart one and a dumb one.  Darwin has spoken."

Me:  "It looks like an abandoned burrow.  Jesus, it's huge.  But he should be able to get out.  Hang on, let me look."

P.J.:  "Don't!  The ground is soft.  You're going to fall into the hole, too.  Stop!"

Me:  *carefully peering over the edge and feeling the ground start to slip under my Birks*  "Nah, part of it is slanted.  He can get out when he's ready.  If he could handle that bucket, he's fine."

P.J.:  "Would you get the fuck away from the hole?  There's a seriously pissed-off raccoon down in there that probably wants to eat your face now."

Me:  "Fine.  See?  I didn't fall in."  *omitting how close I came to falling in*

5:54 p.m.

Me:  "Holy shit, he's able to climb out of the bucket!  Even though it has slick sides.  Fuck, he got out."

The Kid:  "Here, use the cardboard!  The cardboard!"

Me:  "Get ... back ... in ... there ... got him!"

P.J.:  "This little guy is furious.  I've got a good hold on him.  Bring the bucket."

Other Baby Raccoon:  *hiss*  *chirp*  *growlllllllll*

P.J.:  "It's a really good thing he doesn't have teefers yet or I'd be in a world of pain.  Hurry up!"

Me:  *running with growling, hissing bucket*  "Did he eat the turkey?"

P.J.:  "A little, then I had to grab him so he wouldn't dart.  And he's pissing all over my gloves!"

Me:  "Okay, here, I'll move the cardboard ... put him in ... almost ... got him!"

The Kid:  "That is one bucket full of seriously pissed off raccoon.  'Two raccoons pissing in a bucket'.  It could be another Cards Against Humanity card."

Me:  "At least they've been finding water.  Obviously."

P.J.:  *mumbling*  "I don't see why I couldn't be the one holding the bucket."

5:51 p.m.

Me:  "Okay, I'll hold the bucket, and you put raccoons in it."

P.J.  "Wait, why do I have to be the one to put raccoons in the bucket?  Why can't I hold the bucket and you put raccoons in it?"

Me:  "Because you already have gloves on.  Duh."

5:44 p.m.

Me:  "Hey, kid, c'mere.  Shhhh, just be quiet.  Follow me."

The Kid:  "What the fuck?"

Me:  "Just come on.  It's worth it.  Nature moment.  Wait, grab a couple of slices of turkey first."

The Kid:  "No, really.  What the fuck?"

Me:  "And I need that really big orange bucket."

5:37 p.m.

P.J.:  *sets down hose she was using to rinse the soap off the car*  "They're small for raccoons, aren't they?  They're babies.  Older babies."

Me:  "Um, shouldn't they be running away?  Why aren't they scared of us?  Wait, is he ....?"

P.J.:  "Yep."

Me:  "Okay, he's taking a shit in our planter.  Fine.  Now he's coming over toward us instead.  Do you see them?  They look absolutely emaciated!"

P.J.:  "We can't feed them.  That's, like, Rule One with wild animals."

Me:  "Shit, what do we do?  Look at the other one, up on the porch railing.  He's actually trembling.  Jesus, he's terrified.  What should we do?"

P.J.:  "I guess we need to get them away from the house and into some woods.  They need to be able to forage.  I mean it, we can't give them food or we'll have two pet raccoons.  Hmm.  Woods across the street.  Let's put them in there."

Me:  "Yeah ... they look too old for wildlife rescue.  Wait, I'm going to get the kid.  He needs to see this."

5:32 p.m.

"Pssst!  Lille!  C'mere ... come outside, quick.  Two raccoons are up here by the house."

June 24, 2018

you don't want to go back again

You would fuck it up.
Trust me on this one.
Fantasy operates as a strange mechanism in me.  I heartily suck at traditional forms but have others that fit neatly into the cubby of mental illness.  People have fantasies, widely either sexual or about winning the lottery jackpot advertised on billboards.  I don't have the capacity for either.

Lottery fantasies quickly devolve into watching every lawyer and charity appear on the doorstep with Dysons to draw out the resources.  I try to revel in all the good I could do, all of the wonderful things I could buy and utilize and give to loved ones and to dogs, lots and lots of dogs, but after thirty seconds the lawyers show up.

My brain can't run with the good stuff for longer than that before the over-developed muscle-rippled corrective, logical bit walks in like a protein-powder commercial weightlifter and points out all of the flaws and couldn't-possiblies and makes-no-senses.  He keeps Lille safe, but that motherfucker could crash any party you care to name.

Lately, I've been taken with that universal fantasy wherein one gets sent back to childhood knowing what he or she knows in adulthood.  "Boy, I wish I could go back and do it all over again, knowing what I know now."  If you haven't heard that one, move out of your cave.  The damp isn't good for your lungs and the delusions aren't good for your psyche.

Also, that idea is unadulterated bullshit.

Edward Lorenz gave us the butterfly effect glimpse at chaos theory.  Something as simple as a butterfly flapping its wings could, if conditions were right, create a tornado a continent away.  Cause and effect.  Change one thing in history, like a conversation or buying a different mule or having to go back for your car keys, and the effects are widespread.  Different children are born.  Things don't get invented, or do get invented.  Minute effects, catastrophic effects.  Unpredictable as the weather.

In this fantasy, I return to age nine.  I'm Lille.  During those delicious first thirty seconds, I marvel at how limber and energetic I am and make plans to become a runner right away so that I won't grow up with a weight problem.  I can sleep on my stomach with my limbs spread.  I can sleep without medications, and without Cocoa, who hasn't come along yet.  I can unravel the mysteries of what it was like to teach back then, see my teachers as working adults, relate to them.  I'm not just smart; I'm prodigal.  I act like an adult and know things and speak differently from the rest of my peers, and everyone marvels.  I show up at a Messiah rehearsal at some large church and impress them so much that they let me sing with them.  I'm the star of the show.  I go far in life.  I go to college at fourteen.  My supply of need-meeting specialness is as seemingly infinite as the ocean.

I would see my Teacher in two years' time.  So long as I didn't flap my butterfly wings too vigorously, it would happen.  My heart would beat faster at the thought.  This time, I could do things right.

Muscle Man shows up and the nine-year-old hears the record-ripping sound.

It would actually play out like this:  I would instantly be ontologically and culturally shocked.  I wouldn't know how this happened and even if I survived the cognitive dissonance, I couldn't leave my bedroom because I wouldn't know how to act nine years old again and it would be super-obvious that I'd had some type of mental breakdown and needed help.  My mother would notice and fret; my teachers would notice that I didn't even remember where my seat was in the class and that my behavior was paranoid and markedly different from one day to the next.  My peers would notice, and while they were already used to me knowing things and speaking differently, instead of bullying or ostracizing me, they would simply stay away and stare when they didn't think I'd notice.

None of that would matter.  Because next, I would leverage the perception of a mental breakdown and somehow maneuver things, through using the phone book at the library and making a long-distance phone call and begging, such that my mother would drive me from my hometown to this city for evaluation.  I would get an appointment with Therapist Gumby because I know where he was working back then.  My former therapist was in the same building, so I'd walk in to my first session and convince him to go get her, and we'd meet together.  He would close the door and sit down, and I'd start in.

"Listen, we don't have much time and I have a lot to tell you, so this isn't a traditional session, okay?  It's critical that you listen.  I have to tell you something that you will not believe and then I have to somehow prove it so you will believe me, and that just has to happen.  It has to.  I know I'm nine, but I'm actually forty-one.  I've been sent back to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, and yeah, everybody says they wish they could do that, but they're stupid bastards and that's bullshit - yes, I know I'm not supposed to curse, but I'm forty-one and I happen to know that both of you aren't prudes, so accept it.  Keep listening.

"You.  Gumby.  I can't prove things to you nearly as easily as I can her.  You grew up in the Midwest and played baseball and you ran fast and you were the star outfielder.  You always caught the pop fly.  You had lots of sisters.  You're married and have two young children.  I know your middle name.  None of that is enough to go on."  I'd turn to my former therapist.  "You I can cinch.  Toward the end of your master's program, you stumbled across a book while writing your thesis and it completely revolutionized your outlook and understanding of why you were doing what you were doing.  Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations, and the Self by Harold Guntrip.  It was green with gold lettering.  We discussed it in depth and its model using the anti-libidinal ego was quite helpful at the time.  We called him Harry.

"Okay, now I have your attention.  Listen to me.  I don't know how this happened and I clearly remember that one of you is open to some mystical stuff and the other is a panentheist and not closed-minded.  I'm stuck here, have been for three months now, and I'm forty-one and I don't know if I'm going to get to go back to where I belong and I don't know if I'm going to get to see my wife and son again.  I've lost my family.  I'm grieving.  He was almost fifteen and what if they're still going and I won't get to see them again?  Am I still there, too?  Do they know?  Did I disappear?  Will I ever even meet her?  Will he be born?  Why is this happening?

"You can see how much I need to be able to talk to you both on a regular basis, to get to be myself to someone, and I'm already being selfish and changing the course of your futures by sitting here talking.  Please, please forgive me.  But I need you to go out there and convince that woman who is my mother, through whatever creative means you can come up with, to keep bringing me here.  She hates the drive, so it has to be really good."

Notice how much more elaborately the realistic bits have to get themselves sorted before the fantasy can continue.  And I have no idea why I'm having this particular line of thought, except maybe it's one of those middle-age things that starts happening, when you're the pivot of the see-saw.  Maybe it's the meds.  I like blaming the meds.  They don't argue.

Or maybe it's that continued need to feel special, even though my brain wrecks the fantasy without fail.  The fantasies that always succeeded were about sating that need.  A teacher or authority figure I was preoccupied with would watch me do my homework from outside my bedroom window, watch me get the answers right because I was smart.  Everywhere I went, I imagined they were watching.  I couldn't dance like no one was watching, so to speak, because someone was always watching.  Always watching, admiring, appreciating.  Always serving to anchor my worth as a person.

I wouldn't go back again for anything.  Not even to spend a year gazing upon my Teacher and be given an opportunity to prevent the fissure.  I am here, and now.  I love, and I am loved.  I am gratefully bound by the commitments of maternity and the tender, unyielding vows of marriage.  To go back and erase much of the negative in my life would be to forfeit treasure that would always elude me.  The butterfly wings would flap into the chaos and I would live in want.

I am fantasizing about something that I would never in a million years desire, because fantasy is safe.

I still need to learn to dance like no one is watching, to provide my own fountains, rivers, oceans when a craving for specialness emerges.  I have never mastered this trick.  I learned too well, too early, to take in the ersatz worth as my sustenance.  I do not know how to convince Lille to go hungry for a time while I tap into other waters.

June 23, 2018

list of allergies

I'm exhausted and about to indulge in a nap.  I already got my steps in today and I've been exercising.  Exercises in futility are still exercises. 

I bought modern, sleek brushed nickel light fixtures from Home Depot about a year ago to replace the 1985 brass boob-lights in the hallway.  New fixtures of any kind have to sit in a closet in the dark, under a pile of other good intentions, to properly age before being installed.  This is well-known.

Today, I decided that they were ripe and the step ladder was already upstairs for some other reason that happened weeks ago, so in the interest of continuing my efficiency streak, I rolled up my sleeves and broke out the screwdriver and boxes.  Most of my steps came from running up and down the stairs to the garage to test which breaker needed to be off.

I uninstalled the boob light by unscrewing the nipple, removing the brass areola, and carefully lowering the heavy glass tit and setting it aside.  I untangled wiring.  I got the new fixture out of its box and re-tangled the wiring, fit the screws, and attached the sexy-looking square light.  I ran downstairs and turned on the breaker, came upstairs, saw that I'd accidentally bought the ugly bright blue-light kind instead of the warm, ran back downstairs and turned off the breaker, and came back upstairs and switched the fixtures back.  So much for ceiling mastectomies.

Home Depot is a library.  I love them for this.  Everything is tidily back in its box and I'll go exchange them next week.

It was during this fruitless activity that I learned I'm allergic to whatever they put in popcorn ceiling nubbly-spray stuff, or at least what they put in it back in 1985.  It hit me in the face and arms and went down my shirt, and everywhere that it touched me, I had a red itchy spot for about thirty minutes.

So now, my medically documented list of allergies looks something like this:

Popcorn ceiling nubblies
Anti-inflammatory medications
Intrusive trauma-resolving therapy techniques

Four of these make me break out in either a rash or hives, and one is listed as an allergy so doctors will not give me NSAIDs.  They will give a post-Roux-en-Y body a stoma ulcer with a snap of your fingers.  

My son reacted to amoxicillin when he was seven.  I had to rush him to the emergency room when his toes started swelling and he broke out in welts.  He had refused the amoxicillin shot the day before in the pediatrician's office, in spite of my pleas, and insisted on taking the oral medicine three times a day for a week.  I'm glad he's as stubborn as I am.

He experienced cold urticaria for several years afterward.  I have this vivid memory of him pulling up his shirt on a morning that was far too cold for his soccer match and showing his coach a welt-covered stomach.  We were in a nice, warm car five minutes later.

I also appear to be allergic to reading instructions.  I see now that if I'd just read the side of the box, I would have seen that the light fixture was clearly described as bright instead of warm.  There's a slider arrow and everything announcing this.  

My pillows and blanket and Peter the Hedgehog and Monkey and Sealy await me.

June 22, 2018

excuse me, but you're out of paper towels

Statistics as a concept is toying with me today.

The day was slated for a marathon of doctors' appointments, to get absolutely everything medical done and dusted without having to take time off work.  I woke early, stretched, and brewed a fragrant cup of Brazilian coffee, in which a gnat promptly died of happiness.

It must have been happiness.  Many, many gnats seem to love doing this.  Word must get around.

Last summer, we had an outbreak of gnats that drove us to the edge of everything that has edges.  I littered the kitchen with traps made out of plastic bottles, banana chunks and soap.  They worked well, but the gnats thrived until, weeks later, we finally realized we needed to bleach some pipes to within an inch of their lives, and then suddenly the gnats packed up and disappeared.

During our stay in Gnatland, though, we observed something undeniable that we still cannot explain.  If P.J. made a cup of coffee, or had a cup she was drinking, or even left a cup of coffee sitting out for hours, forgotten, it was unmolested.  Any cup of coffee that I made, however, had a gnat in it within ten minutes of brewing.  Once, there were two gnats, though I had only turned my back to the cup for a moment.

We can posit things, things like "gnats love coffee" and "there are a lot of gnats and only so much surface area so it was bound to happen eventually", but this happened to me over and over, and it's starting again.  Never her coffee.  Always mine.  We use the same pods, the same sweetener and amount, and the same creamer and amount.  It's the same fucking coffee.

This morning, I just poured it out and made another cup.  In a travel mug with a lid on it.  That was closed.  Tightly.

I dropped Rose off at Angela's house for some social dog time.  Angela runs a doggie day care business out of her home.  Here, "out of her home" means the dogs come stay in her house, play in her back yard, and if they're staying overnight, sleep with her kids in their beds or anywhere in the house they feel like sleeping.  It's boarding combined with the world's best dog park.

The coffee had run its course by the time I reached the first doctor, the one who was going to weigh me post-Holy-Shit Diet.  This enabled me to capitalize on caffeine's diuretic effect and use the restroom there before I was called back for my appointment.  The lobby restroom there is decorated with homey items made of wicker that complement metal wall art.  I washed my hands.  They got points for having foaming soap, but the motion-sensing paper towel dispenser was empty.  I had to wipe my hands on my dress.  I hate when that happens.

I was six pounds down from my highest holy-shit weight.  Mission accomplished.  Unfortunately, my blood pressure was 90/60, so allowing caffeine in that home stretch left me unwisely dehydrated.  I did still seem to have a pulse.  And I did tell my doctor about the Holy-Shit Diet, which made her laugh, because at the end of it, I still lost six pounds, and that's all to the good.  She ordered a thyroid panel since I've started lithium and said, "See you in six months!"

The next stop was the gynecologist, everyone's favorite place to be.  I've honestly never cared much about what goes on, except for the excess of babies in the lobby.  After all these years, I still bristle a little because of my first son.  I used the lobby restroom because the coffee was continuing to squeeze all of the water from my body.  I washed my hands with the generic orange Dial soap.  They were out of paper towels.  I wiped my hands on my dress again.

My favorite GYN retired last year.  We spent four years in a row discussing his wife's Keurig machine during the examinations.  It was a running thing, picking up the conversation where we'd left off the previous year.  Before I nabbed him, I was stuck for years with a P.A. who is very conservative and anti-gay and asked me every visit if I still had the same female partner.  I finally snapped a few years ago and politely asked her if she questioned every other patient each visit as to whether she had the same husband.  Then I switched caregivers.

Today was a new guy, nice enough if a bit too talkative.  I didn't give a shit about the examination.  It's just a speculum and a cotton swab.  Meh.  What I gave a shit about was the art hanging in the exam room.  The time between donning the front-opening gown and inadequate sheet and the doctor's arrival always seems like a small eternity, so one is forced to look around at whatever informational posters and old magazines happen to be there.  But this print ... I couldn't tear my eyes away.  It seems generic and harmless until you really look at it.

They didn't have Photoshop when this was painted, but that straw hat is a fake.  It cannot possibly be touching the top of her head.  The painter plastered it there as an afterthought and did a terrible job.  All I could do was stare at the train wreck of that floating straw hat.  I'm asking for a different exam room next year.

I ate a protein bar on the way to my eye exam, full of myself for being a paragon of efficiency today.  I sat in the parking lot and made important, productive phone calls.  Then I had my eyeballs air-puffed, dilated, temporarily blinded, tested, analyzed, and declared to be almost the same eyeballs that I had last year.

The optometrist's office abuts a store that sells all manner of glasses, so I puttered in there a bit.  My prescription was only marginally different but they had a good sale going.  An employee offered to help me and I told him I wanted to pick out two pairs of frames and get glasses.  I found what I wanted in what constitutes record time for me (less than a full hour) and went over to the service table.  The employee said, "I'll be right with you, let me just take care of these folks first," and helped three people up at the main counter.  I stood and waited.  Then he scurried by and said, "Let me just help these folks real quick," and sat down at a service table with a man and his daughter who arrived after I did.  Fifteen minutes later, he was still "helping them real quick".

This kind of thing happens to me a lot.  I'm short, my hair is plain, I wear cute little dresses, and my posture and behavior cry out "don't worry about me, I won't make a fuss."  Today, I wasn't having it.  I set the frames down on his other table and walked right past him and out the door.  I didn't even need fucking glasses.

I spent that glasses-ordering time across the street at the mall instead, wearing sunglasses indoors because I still looked like Cartman with huge pupils.  Why were you at the mall, Lille?  You hate the mall, Lille.  Remember?  That would be because one of my new strappy sandals had broken during the course of the morning.  The same way that a new sandal broke in the same spot three weeks ago, while I was at work.  I want to know if this has happened to anyone else, because right now, I'm convinced Statistics is messing me around.

I bought the new pair of sneakers I needed.  They're black and silver with rainbow-colored soles and laces.  My son says they're totally gay.  I like them.  I sat on a bench in the mall outside of the shoe store and swapped my sandals out for these screaming-bright new shoes and walked proudly around the mall once, to get in steps.

I was just as proud of the shoes when I walked into my ex-monk's office.  I took a deep breath and did what I was obligated to do, which was to thank him for his gentle persistence, because the lithium is magical and I want more of it and he was right and I was wrong.  He smiled, but it wasn't smug.  It was a real smile.  I left holding a prescription bumping me up to 300 mg and stopped by the restroom.  I washed my hands.  They were out of paper towels.  My dress once again doubled as a hand towel.

Between the gnat in my coffee, the broken sandal, and what appears to be the receiving end of a national paper towel distributors' strike, I feel statistically harassed by the Universe.  We can throw in the spider web face thing, which is impossible but happens anyway.

Why are there patterns here?  That's not how Things work.  I should not be this thoroughly adept at distinguishing between a floating gnat and a floating coffee ground, and my oh-I-don't-mind little shift dress should not be damp.