Friday, November 2, 2012

If You Liked it Than you Shoulda' Put a Stamp On It: a letter to my future self.

 (This photo has been aged using the St Andrew Face Transformer, which is fun, and I recommend it.)

Dear future Old Me,

I'm writing to you from the past because I need you tell you a few things, and I think it's best if you hear them from someone you trust, Yourself. Time happens. It happens to all of us, and now it's happened to you. You're old. You're still mostly excellent, but you're crusty and maybe in denial about that. Shush, don't argue with me, Me. 

Me, I'm telling you, that lack of bladder control that began after you carried those huge babies, that shit isn't funny anymore. It's no longer cute and relate-able the way it was, crossing your legs when you giggle. Now you're just urinating on yourself. It's become a thing.  It's a smelly, awful thing that scares the grandchildren, makes your children unbearably miserable and causes everyone to take separate cars. People are applying scented lotion in your presence. Seriously, you smell like a cat box.

Listen, Me, no hankies. Not ever. You must blow your ever-growing, old person nose into a disposable tissue. Period. The environment has offered to take this one for the team. Hankies are good for gallantry, for blotting tears at a funeral, for poking jauntily out of suit pocket in old-timey photos. They are not for honking boogers into and folding back into your pocket. It's nasty. Don't do it.

Remember, Old Me, you need to spoil everyone. It's your job. Your retirement plan. Your legacy. Inevitably, your grand kids will love you way more than your own children, but you must remain even remotely in touch. Your own kids will find you irksome, but your grandchildren will find you miraculous and novel and of anthropological interest. But you have to find them equally so, or the whole system breaks down. If you don't take an interest, they will not take an interest in you, Me.

Babysit often. Bring gum.

Recognize, Old Self, that your grand-babies become grandchildren and then grand-people, and then just regular adults. Stay with them through these changes. It's OK to be slow, but do try to keep up.  Don't begrudge them their technology - it's not their parent's fault. Your kids are not over indulgent   assholes because their kids have cell phones or  iPods, or by the time you're reading this, rocket propelled skate boards and skull-implanted hologram projectors. It's the culture and it's their duty to take part in it. Don't reveal yourself to be an analog bummer. You can talk about that stuff, if you must, but don't sound superior and shake your head as they open their Christmas presents.

Assume always that you have bad breath and that your clothes smell bad. That's a solid baseline from which to operate. Even if it's not the case, assume that it is.  Overcompensate accordingly.

Bear in mind, antiquated Me, that presents are good almost any time, for any reason. Don't hold back. Remember how your own kids would wiggle with excitement when you came back from a trip? Apply that to your grandkids. You will win them with merchandise and you don't need to feel bad about its superficiality. Also, kids like to get mail. Provided we still have a postal system by the time you're reading this, and are not instead telepathically mind-melding, put a stamp on something, put it in the mail. There's nothing quite like it for a kid. Gaily colored envelopes are a bonus, but not mandatory.

Old Crotchety Me, you have to show up for all your kid's stuff, and then all that grandkid stuff, even if it's boring, embarrassing, endless, treacly or gives you heat rash because that gymnasium is heated to 97 degrees. Being there equals love. Not being there equals abandonment. Ask a lot of questions, then ask some more. One day, when they've emerged from their own magnificent assholes for a look around, they'll think to ask you some.  That will feel good, but don't get greedy, Old Me, be patient.

And, Senescent Me, it's probably best that you stop driving at some point. Let someone else handle that.  You were once an excellent driver, but no longer. Even with corrective lenses, you are probably a danger to others. Keep assessing those driving skills objectively. You could once do a cartwheel too, but that doesn't mean you should do one now.

Always have good things in your purse. These can include collapsible reading glasses that fit in a tube, Tic-Tacs, a tiny notebook and lip gloss.

Old Me, listen up. It's ok to groan a little bit when you get out of a chair, because those moves take some doing, but if your groan becomes in any way orgasmic or death knell, you have got to stop it immediately.

This is so important, Me. You must bath each and every day. You can no longer afford to skip a day, (if you ever could) and while you're at it, apply good smelling powders and tonics. Every day closer to the grave is a smellier day. Plus, you are no doubt dry as a corn flake, so lotion is just good management.  In general, on the subject of hygiene, don't be one of those denial old people who can't acknowledge the goiter, the comb-over, the pee stains, the lung disease, the too-long fingernails, the yellow toenails, the bad dye job or the body odor.  Your own kids will have your back on these things if you establish that communication early and without malice.

And Me, if any of your body parts become removable -and by the time you're reading this this might include interchangeability - never, and I mean, never, remove or replace them at the table. If you can't work with what you've got over the course of a meal, then plan ahead and take it out or off, before you get to the restaurant. Remember how you'd scold the kids for leaving their retainer on the tray? Same goes for you. 

Remember, Reminicing Old Me, that this era that I'm writing to you from, isn't really better than the era you are now in. It just seems that way from a distance. You were just younger and things made a big impression on you.  Some things might actually have been worse, even if some things were objectively better.

If, when you're reading this, the entire earth is smothered in plastic goo and everything has been renamed China, remember that you have only yourself to blame. When everything you touch breaks instantly, poisons you and cuts off your thumbs with it's crap manufacturing remember that you could have had less good shit, but you chose more cheap shit instead, and that's all your fault, Me.

Mostly, Me, I want to remind you that you are old and therefore, in my eyes, a rockstar. You've earned a right to be cherished, to be heard, to be cared for and appreciated. However, this earned right is not a God given right. Its more like a license that can be extended indefinitely but revoked at any time. You must keep your shit together. Don't become cranky, old you. Because, let's face it, you've been cranky for a long time. Maybe too long, already. So don't just become that. Remember to experience joy. Not to be rash with your future. Keep saving money. Make good choices. Assume the worst early on, and be grateful for all the good. This, right now, this moment, is the best it will ever be. Look around.  Doing so will keep your neck muscles limber and also provide a view.

Keep flossing.

I love you, Me, hang in there.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Good Form

"Your call is very important to us."

This is not a good approach to emergency psychiatric care.  In fact, this approach to anything, ever, is a loser.  I feel certain that if my call were important to anyone, I would be talking to the person to whom my call is so very important. 

Do not pat my hand. Love and care has never been convincingly transmitted via hand pat. Hand patting is a corporate training modality and I wont stand for it.  Not in my condition.

Oh, Medical treatment, what has happened to you? You were once so homey and ramshackle. So based in trust and knowledge.

I have a medical problem, I want to see my doctor. But my doctor doesn't want to see me, not for six to eight weeks. In six to eight weeks I will no longer have a medical problem. I will have self-healed, like a polymer cutting board, or I will have developed a morgue problem. 

"If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911."

It's an emergency of sorts, but not one that requires an ambulance ride. It requires the urgent answering of a telephone. I call again. I reach the on-call nurse. This is not an on-call nurse situation. And really is there an on-call nurse scenario that doesn't result in a visit to urgent care?  Because, though there seem to be no doctors available at this medical facility, I feel sure there is a twenty-four hour legal department who has made clear that nurses are not to give medical advice over the phone.  I ponder questions she might be able to answer. Her preference for light or dark meat, perhaps, or the name of a good hair stylist, locally.

I ask her simply, "Can you tell me if Doctor Yunis is working in the urgent care this morning?" This is a thing I've learned; that if I want to see my doctor, during this or the next lunar cycle, I can sometimes catch her doing her part with the unwashed masses in the clinic. I wait. 

"May I have your name and address?"

"My name is Jessica, but I just need to know if Doctor Yunis is working in the clinic today." 

"Your last name, Jessica? And your address."

"Look, I don't need a pen pal, I just need to know if Dr. Yunis is scheduled today in the clinic."

"I'm the nurse on call, is there something I can help you with?"

"Yes, definitely. You could help me so very much by telling me if Dr. Yunis is going to be in the clinic today."

My eyeballs are starting to click with rage and desperation. 

"I'm going to put you on hold."

She returns.

"No one is answering in the clinic right now..."

"Yes, right, because I dialed that number and I was connected to you. Is there no way to find the answer to this question? No printed schedule of who will be on-call in the Urgent Care facility? No screen we can tap with the on-call docs listed?"

"Let me put you on hold..."

She returns after I, and the Girl from Ipanema, have gone walking for a bit.

"Dr. Yunis is off today."

I am driving through a maze of flattened, baled cardboard and loading docks behind the supermarket. There is no doctor's office here. There is an uninspiring day spa and a pet groomer, but no one with a medical degree. If I need my toenails clipped or a spray tan, I know which building to park behind. My husband is not answering his phone, and he's the one who set this appointment up for me.  I leave escalating messages for him that I know will be played back for me, one day soon, when I've regained my sense of humor.

"It's not here, BABE, where the FUCK is this place?!" Click. "Really, this is the day you decide not to answer your phone?!!" Click. "JESUS FUCKING FUCK! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? WHERE THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKING FUCK ?  FUCK!!!!"

I call the Doctor himself. It goes straight to voice mail. I'm doing a three point turn, cell phone to ear, in the dead end that leads to the day care playground. Tears of homicidal frustration collect in the collar of my shirt. I feel sure that I'm committing an arrestable offense. This is what they mean by a danger to to yourself and others.

My iPhone is giving me two different addresses that are maddeningly close to one another. Which is it? Over here, or over there? I cannot get through to a person to save my life.

Having crookedly parked and found the relevant suite number, I finally push through the office door which is hydraulically cushioned to be intensely more heavy and cumbersome than the organic weight of the door.  It feels like the door is shushing me with its revolutionary and patented mechanism.  I don't want to be shushed. This moment calls for saloon doors.

I get to the reception desk,  my eyes are swollen nearly shut and I am belching sobs. I croak out something that sounds like this:

"Thirty minutes...find...voice mail...crazy...driveway...late..."

I am handed tissues as I paddle to the waiting room, afloat on my mucus raft, eyelids inflated floatation devices.

"I have a little paperwork I need you to fill out."

I am handed not a clipboard with a Pharma ballpoint pen but rather a digital tablet whose heft and girth is that of a Speak and Spell. It's a plastic briefcase with a stylus dangling from a plastic cord and a credit card reader slot so the doctor can relieve my bank account of its $225 burden,  before my tears have dried.

There are a lot of questions. They are to be answered on a scale of 1-4, based on intensity. Poke the bubbles with the stylus. Except the stylus is sadistically insensitive. Only one out of every four pokes registers.

Do you feel anxious 1-2 days a week, 3-4 days a week, 5-7 days a week. Poke. Nothing. Poke...poke. Still nothing. POKE. POKE! 3-4 days per week. But now I've added this, a 5th day.

On a scale from 1-4, rate the truth of this statement, "I feel sad and isolated." Poke. Poke. "I'm poking the three, but this thing is making me want to poke all the fours!" I sort of loud talk/yell to the receptionist.  I am stabbing the Speak and Spell to death.

As I'm sitting there, three patients have come in, met with the psychiatrist and left with their scripts. All white. All female. Assuming they are returning customers, at $125 a pop, this guy has made $500 in the fifteen minutes I've been here hosing down his upholstery with my grief. 

"Just one more form, if you can, hon." Sure sure, I'm a pleaser, I will do the form. This one is paper, attached to a clipboard, in a way I recognize. It's an ADHD survey. But ironically they've chosen to lay out the form in a way that actually induces Attention Deficit and hyperactivity. Front and back in maybe a 3 point font. It's like trying to read the ingredients on a Ho-Ho wrapper. Lining your answers up with the questions is a physical impossibility. Especially while your eyes are blurred with tears.

Zero. zero. Zero. I'm trying to line up the the relevant zeros. I don't have ADHD, I have clinical depression that requires medication. I don't feel unable to concentrate, I feel unable to experience joy. It's not that I can't stay in my seat, it's that I can't stay in my skin. No, I don't have trouble completing tasks, I have trouble not wanting to beat the shit out people who don't understand depression. I am having trouble not leaping over the desk and shoving the clipboard sideways into the kind receptionist's smiling mouth. I abort the ADHD form in an enlightened moment of self-preservation. I don't have to do this. I put the clip board down on her desk and say definitively, "This is NOT me. I'm not doing this."

Deep breaths. This is chemical. Treatable. Temporary. I say it again. Chemical. Treatable. Temporary. I am my own best friend. I have to look into the future. In a few hours I will be back on anti-depressants. In two weeks I will be feeling much better. My colon will be shot to shit, but my mood will improve. Nothing will be this hairball and scary.  When the meds finally grab the reins on the bucking colt in my noggin, I will trot along the path like a faithful steed, gait steady. I've been here before, and I will probably be here again, but there will be joy in between. Somewhere between the valleys, peaks rise. Voices call to me from future heights, yodeling down to me as I begin the trek back up to meet them. The sound is sweet and beckoning with calm, centered promises. Their call is very important to me. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Family of Man

This book.  The Family of Man.  One of many in my parents' library, this collection of photographs changed me as a kid.  I was drawn to its pages by its frank depiction of naked boobs, as so many children are to great photography and bare-chested cultures beyond their horizon, but I stayed for something far more lasting.  This book exhilarated me, tickled, puzzled and sickened me, made me uncomfortable, challenged me, made me...feel. And I felt those images everywhere - in my head, heart, crotch, and solar plexus, rippling across my skin as gooseflesh. They enlightened me to so much about the vastness of the world and the experiences of it that were well beyond those which I had access to, and yet also made those foreign people and places seem infinitely knowable. Reachable. This book took places far outside my realm and folded them into my consciousness, made them a part of me.

The book, as described in the prologue is of "People, flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams, among lovers, eaters, drinkers, workers, loafers, fighters, players, gamblers. Here are ironworkers, bridgemen, musicians, sandhogs, miners, builders of huts and sky-scrapers, jungle hunters, landlords and the landless, the loved and the unloved, the lonely and abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate - one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being."

I had never before seen the gaunt face of a person starving. Never seen a grown man weep. Never seen a black woman's breasts, or the glistening umbilicus of a newborn.  I wasn't yet aware that babies could die, that children worked in mines, or even that mothers could feel lonesome.

I was besotted by images of passionate love. The embraces of young lovers, their open mouths breathing in the otherness of souls or their eyes clenched in heated union, both made me squirm with undiagnosed desire.

I recognized the streets of my city from another eras, the order, the chaos of city life unchanged by time.

I pondered the adult world, the sweaty revelry of dance halls, the pain of labor - their grown-up promises of freedom and toil.

I put myself in every picture over and over again.  I imagined myself in every sphere of the globe, in every setting, eating at stifling public tables or playing in fields with round-faced children in tattered clothes. The simple unknown, like what it was to have a brother, to the confounding unknowable of the battlefield, became conceivable notions to me.

 There were impossible images that made my mind strain toward insight. Images that took me by the hand with things familiar; family, laughter, love, and held me in places exotic and alluring, where stories were told close, raucous and nude.

The Family of Man did exactly what it was intended to, it drew me into a sense of being, made me aware of my smallness in part of something larger. It made me aware of our oneness in its infinite variety and also of the revelation of art, the nature of its passport, stamped again and again along the journey to beauty and knowledge.

When I saw this book the other day, at our local library, perched enticingly on an end cap, a little sound came out of me that was somewhat less than librarian. I shoved it hungrily in my check-out stack. I've sat with it, like I did when I was eight, for days now. Nothing has changed for me. I am still gobsmacked by the story it tells.

My kids have both looked at it. Louis is mildly grossed-out, Lily intrigued. Both of them manifesting feelings I had about its content way back when. Nothing has changed, either in the Family of Man, or our place in it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

America's Got No Talent

Next year, when my kid says she wants to perform in the talent show, here's what's going to happen. I'm going to do a special hand signal, and you're going to send a medivac chopper to my house. I'll do some acting of my own and you'll winch down the stretcher. I'll climb on and you'll evacuate me on the day of the show. I'll feign head injury or Leukemia. I've suffered enough. No one should have to do that twice.

I admit I may have held some false hope. In this TV world, where talent shows are de rigeur, where editing, and splashy graphics shrink time and space, creating the illusion that there could be talent among us is easy to do. Like the dancers who show up in their black light suits and blow your mind, I thought surely there must be an equivalent kid in a basement around here who was dreaming up the ultimate mind-bender. I felt sure he was whittling marionettes out of cast-off furniture and string-acting scenes from Keeping up with the Kardashians.


Mostly, there are a lot of kids out there, who just because they enjoy a song on the radio, believe they can sing. And I want to be the first to tell them. They cannot.

There's a kind of bad singing that I think we can all relate to. The Happy Birthday song, enthusiastically sung in three wrong keys. The mumbling you might be willing to do on occasion, humming a few bars to remind your friend of a song, whatever it may be.

But there is also another kind of singing. One that happens to you. At you. On you. It's a terrible sound. One that starts from a place high in the constricted, untrained throat, that scrapes along the tissues of the gullet until it ricochets off some high tension orthodontia, like the early telephone --Watson, I need you -- but to the melody of a Bruno Mars tune, sung over a karaoke CD. The bad sounds issue forth, and are then amplified by mediocre middle school sound equipment, causing sound waves to come for your cerebral cortex in a torrent. Your brain rejects it.  Getting those sounds in there is like trying to bath a cat in a bucket of water; it's just a hissing, rigid 'X' of claws, electrified hair and bared teeth refusing to fit in your ear canal, but getting wet all the same.  When I say that not a single note was sung in tune, I'm not overstating it. Not...a...single...note.

So there's the auditory assault. And that's deeply uncomfortable. But it is no match for the emotional discomfort.

Something happened to me. I'm not the same person. There was me before the talent show, and there's me now. I have PTSD. Post Talent Show Disorder.

What happens to a body when it must suppress embarrassment for two hours? I believe there was an extreme compression that caused my empathy gland to secrete every last dribble of protective parenting hormone I possess. I believe if they could harness this chemical, the one that comes from a mother's last cell of embarrassment, secreting this final ounce of protective nectar - we'd have a cure for cancer.

And then there were the comedy acts. Mumbled inaudibly through masks. And the violin mini-recitals, where they choose to play popular movie themes so that we might better be able to  catch every mis-fingered squeal, every bow-scraping howl.

Twenty acts, three minutes each.

Vildy and his dad sat in the back row so they could leave the nano-second after Lily's performance, which was almost exactly the middle of the show.  I mention to them that it's a little gauche to exit like that, to not respect the other performers. They both tell me that I will not take them alive. They don't care how it's perceived; I will be taking this one for the team. In exchange they will buy me things. Cars. Countries. 

I must remain behind to give after show high-fives. It's in my contract.

But wait! Here comes the Jon Bennet Ramsey of the dance world. Sparkly leotard, dark nude hosiery, fake eyelashes. Tight, hairsprayed bun. And with her, the hope of relief. Because this girl has gone to regionals. She's been practicing this routine for eighteen weeks in some kind of Dancing with the Stars competitive dance atmosphere. She's a professional amateur. So at least I don't have to worry that she will freeze and run from the stage crying. In these times, this is a comfort. But heaven help me, it's excruciating in another way. Everything is performed with a toothy, possibly professionally-whitened smile. Its a combination of "dance", cheer-leading, gymnastics and early 90's aerobics moves. Every movement is preceded by a split kick, and concludes with a walk-over. There are so many jazz hands. It's cringey. I imagine the machine that has put this girl here, in this place in time. The many rides her parents have provided and the many hours they've spent waiting in dance class lobbies, scrolling social media on their smart phones, the late night glue-gunning of sequins. The "potential" they believe they have cultivated in this child. Potential for what, I wonder as I dig my fingernails into my thighs.

Later in the show something happened involving a girl in a chicken suit. While I'm writing it, it sounds like it might be good. I'm a sucker for a chicken suit. But it was not good. It was strange and I don't know what it meant.

So many more singing acts. All of them inspired by watching Glee, High School Musical, America's Got Talent and McGuff's Million Dollar Hand Job. I made that last one up. But you can see that the kids have been merchandised to effectively, they have no clue that talent is not an American rite. Just because someone hands you a microphone, doesn't mean you should sing into it. And parents. Yes, encourage your children to try things, but don't let them try them out on us. Try things out on siblings, possibly grandparents, but not the general public. It's not ok. You must stop them, as a public service.

You may wonder now, what about my kid? What happened with her dance action? Weeeellll, let's just say, it was fine. Nothing terrible happened. I knew it wasn't going to go off hitch-free when I realized that she'd rehearsed the whole thing entering stage right, and they made all the kids enter stage left. That turned her orientation to the audience on its head. There was no way she could re-jigger her compass points mentally. So, sections were forgotten, micro-expressions of confusion were registered by me, but I feel sure, by no one else. And the miracle was this: she had a great time! She didn't care at all. When she forgot, she improvised. When she was in the wrong place, she repeated until the music caught up with her. Her face was so focused and beautiful, and her sweet, long body twirled and twirled. I viewed the entire thing from a very disembodied, magic carpet ride of maternal love and anxiety, which had a delightfully anesthetizing effect. It was like a twilight sleep in which I dreamed that my daughter was was a person who could perform with joy in her heart, and when I woke up, I discovered it was not a dream at all. She did. Sure, she kinda blew it. But in the end, for her, it was a party.

Next year she wants to sing.

It's fine with me, because I wont be able to hear it over the chopper blades.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Chariots of Ire

I have two very strong mechanisms at play in my consciousness at all times. One is guilt. The other, guilt. I don't know where all this culpability comes from, why I feel responsible for every bad thing that could potentially happen in my orbit even before it takes place. Though, I venture it's a control issue. Because I control nothing, I want to control everything, to guide all encounters, relationships and events toward peaceful shores, and when so often I find I can do little to effect anything, I attempt to swallow the shipwreck whole.

But, like all forms of adorable mental illness, I don't leave it there. I can twist even this already constricting malady a bit tighter, make it a little more uncomfortable, like a corset made of steel wool and spiders, cinching it up with laces of regret; I feel guilty about feeling guilty.

One thing I feel guilty about is my own anatomy. I don't get enough exercise. I am strong, like bull, but neither flexible, nor lithe. My joints crack easily. My muscles are short and taut and occasionally they twang like banjo strings.

The first rising steps from my bed each morning are painful ones. It takes four or five limping staggers before my Achilles tendons are warm or supple enough to bear the weight of my journey to coffee. Granted, I was never one of those little girls who could wrap their own knees around their neck like a scarf, or do the splits as a form of greeting. I've always been more oak than willow. But life, with it's mounting pile of years, does funny things to person's perambulation.

Also, I spend half my life craned over pieces of furniture, wrenching things loose, squinting at, hefting, tugging, hoisting, hammering or in other ways, contending with, objects larger than me. I am like the rodeo cowboy of fine furnishings, and my gait reflects the many bulls, with hides of chintz, that I have ridden over the years.

...and the guilt. That too has a calcifying effect on the armature.

But hope is ever supple.

So, I decided I'd start running.  Mind you, they have not yet built the bra, nor for that matter, the blacktop that can withstand this impetuous impulse. But I know that I must begin the fight for my continued mobility, in directions other than down and wide. So, running. I like the idea of being able to get at the exercise without undue fanfare or cost. If I have to drive somewhere to make it happen, the battle is lost. If it involves relying on others, same.

I set myself an age-appropriate and physically realistic, if unglamorous, goal. Interval running and walking. Two minutes on, two minutes off, twenty minutes total. I hushed my mean-spirited inner critic, whose voice is that of a brutal middle-school girl, who hisses terrible things at me about what a pathetic, laughable human being I really am.  Instead I patted myself gently and whispered kindnesses to myself. I thought of myself as a person who needed me, who was asking for my help, and I tried to respond with the humble gratitude of someone chosen to be needed. I attempted to be someone I could trust.

And damn if I didn't make it that first day. Though it kinda hurt. And I was a little embarrassed by how hard it was. By the end I felt  pretty good, except that my feet hurt from my really blown out shoes. High arches, delicate ankles, I wont bore you.

But I bored the shit out of my nice husband.

So he took me to the store and he bought me a first-class pair of running shoes. Special, extra expensive insoles too. Light, fluffy sports cars for the feet. And the next chance I got, I went again. Saturday.

It was sort of cloudy, and maybe even a little rainy, but not right then, so I set out with my favorite podcast playing in my ear, my free interval App chiming in encouragingly.

Four minutes in, I see a car coming toward me. My road has no shoulder. On the sides it is ditch and high weeds. The pavement, literally, crumbles off in mid-air on either side. It's not ideal, but it's what I've got. So the car sees me, and indicates as much by going wide. I plod along a couple more steps and then, without reason, the car swerves towards me! I have one instant of registering that the driver is old, and holding a phone, before I leap into the void. I land with my left foot in a hole. My ankle goes sproing! and I go down to the ground. I'm sobbing before I hit the ground.

Hurts like a motherfucker. But that's not the worst of it. I'm so fucking angry and humiliated and short-changed and embarrassed and not to be outdone, guilty. Why am I guilty? Because of those unblemished shoes. Because, my middle-schooler, sneers, I am no runner.  It's a rookie move,  spending money on the equipment, before proofing the yeast of dreams --she smirks, she taunts. She told me so. Her ridicule makes me cry. What's more, I don't think I can walk home. Those, maybe, one hundred yards to my house? I might have been able to crawl them, but I certainly couldn't walk them. I call Vildy. He comes to get me in the car. It's the shortest run on record. I am defeated and so so so very sorry for myself.

I cry and cry. More than I should cry. I feel guilty about crying so much. My family, who are tender, friendly people, apply ice to the swollen areas outside and love, sweet love, to the puffy, purple areas inside. They nurture me, encourage me, tell me it's going to be OK. I don't have to take the shoes back to the store they tell me, the shoes will wait. They bring me drinks, and episodes of Breaking Bad to distract me. They prop me up on pillows, they prop me up with their gentle worry.

Lou brings me my computer. He sets it on my lap. I give him a questioning look. "Come on, mom, you know you want to write about it."

That shuts my nasty middle-schooler right up. Because maybe she can run, but she cannot fucking hide.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Another Kind of Mother's Day

I've been doing some hyper-mothering.

Lily decided she wanted to try out for the school talent show. I totally support her, of course. Get that girl on the super highway to self-expression. Totally down. Problem is, Lily doesn't have a particular talent. Except one. She's an amazing pole dancer.

Let me explain.

Our basement, when we bought the house, was unfinished. The divorced guy owner had strung a heavy bag and placed a sad metal desk in the corner, but it was dungeon-y. Now though, it's kind of cool. It's just a big carpeted space in which the laundry gets made and Lily and Lou dance around. The entire center weight of the house balances on a pole in the middle of the room.

When the kids were little, I wrapped the pole in Styrofoam pipe insulation and wrapped that in hot pink duct tape. I don't know what I was thinking. Only that pink duct tape was a vivid, visible color, and that I didn't want them to drive their ride-ons head first into the unyeilding steel. It was a good call. They did a lot of running into, and around, that pole.

The other thing my kids do in that basement, aside from bashing into the pole, is dancing. They dance a lot. It wasn't long before they both could do tricks off the pole. Lou could hang upside down by his legs, lily could run at it and swing around it, legs in the air.

Dear God.

I don't want to lead you astray. This post does not end with Lily pole dancing in the fourth grade talent show, which would be, in a way, awesome.

It does end up with me in the basement, digging into a very flabby grab bag of low-hanging-fruit modern dance moves and an Adele song. Some things are just destiny.

Lily got reeled into the talent show milieu by her classmate, who was going to choreograph a number for herself and five classmates, Lily being one.

But, in the first of the three mandatory talent show meetings, the other four kids hadn't shown up. We managed to get there ourselves only because Lily said the meeting was in half an hour, I said fuck, and we got in the car.

We were told in the mandatory meeting that there would be three meetings, this was the first, the next would be dress-rehearsal and the last would be the show itself. If you didn't do it by the letter, you'd be out. No offense, they said, but there was just too much to organize to have people coming and going. You were in for the minimum requirements, or you were out. A lot of people would audition, you might get chosen, you might not. They were trying to make a coherent show, try not to be heartbroken if you didn't get in, there might just be too many people. Fine. No offense taken.

So the two girls pow-wowed and decided to go ahead with a duet. Seemed the other girl had some pre-choreographed "routine" that she'd learned in dance class, or gymnastics, or some such. Okee fine.

We filled out the form with exact details of the performance, per the instructions.  Exact costumes. Exact music. I have no idea, but this other girl does, and Lily is taking her cues from her.

Well, it turns out this routine she knows is from hours spent in front of some Wii dance game where you mimic the moves of a silhouetted fly-girl type, to popular tunes.  So Lily diligently looks it up on YouTube and spends the afternoon trying to mimic a video game. It's all very low-rent and J Lo.
 J Low Rent.

The duet partner girl tells Lily, the day the forms are due, that she's going solo. Screws Lily right out of her first gig. Bummer. But Lily punts. She says, OK, you're going solo, so am I.

But I'm thinking, oh God NO, no. NO.

Lily has never taken a dance class. She once took a six-pack of gymnastics lessons. She's physical and lovely, but she's not totally graceful. Her instrument, shall we say, is untuned. What she does do is dance with great feeling, around our basement, to Adele songs and Katie Perry songs, while totally digging Taylor Swift.  She's ten, it's her duty.

But now she's out on the talent show iceberg. With very little experience. Completely unprotected.
It's a mother's nightmare. You can just hear the gears on that roller coaster car clanking and straining against gravity as it goes up, and you know that what's on the other side is just speed, terror and downward momentum. You pray to a God in whom you do not believe. Please God, let there also be a thrilling joy ride, a hair straight up, shriek of pure adrenaline to counter the fear. Because you are either a person who loves roller-coasters, or you're the person who throws up once and never rides again.

She wants this, she insists. She wants to go for it. And who am I to stop her? It is my job to release this beautiful person into the world and risk letting her soul be crushed by it. That is what parents must do. It's what we humans must do, and I don't know if I can take it.

So there's my girl who suddenly has to learn to perform this Wii game, the moves of which probably every girl in the world who has a Wii will recognize, but we don't, because we don't have a Wii. It's like some terrible nightmare.

So I offer the only solution I can think of, which is, let's bag this awful idea, and come up with our own dance, to a song she likes, that moves her, and hope she can bring it off with originality and earnest moxie.

We're going to leave it all out there, god save the queen.

Now is the moment in this piece where I must admit to having danced some in my youth. It's embarrassing to admit, because I was never a great dancer and there exists video with which I might one day be bribed, were it to fall into the wrong hands.  Be that as it may,  I fucking loved to dance. I danced a bit in high school, fruity liberal-arts dance, in bare feet. And I danced some more in college. More of same. Never exceptionally, but with vigor and some humor. I'm only telling you this so that you'll understand. When Vild makes horrible fun of me for this, you'll know what it's all about.

Lily chooses her song. It's Adele's, Turning Tables. After hearing this song in every store, every day, for eight months, I must now hear it 147 more times in my damp basement. But, so be it.

I teach Lily how to count in 8's. How to map out dance moves in sets. I give her the basic concepts of the body in space, advise her to use all of it, high and low, fast and slow. I yell things like, "dance it baby, it's not cheerleading" over the music. I say stage mom things like, "don't fuss with your hair while you're doing it, for heaven's sake".  I get my rickety, joint cracking, skeleton on the floor, like some old diva with a cane --five, six, seven, eight! It begins to take shape. I give her steps, many of which she uses, several of which she does not. We try things and they are terrible and we make fun of ourselves and laugh. I show her a shadow of a person she has never met. A younger person, who danced. She is more impressed than she aught to be, and I am grateful for it. We play the Adele song over and over and over again. We have two weeks to choreograph this bitch, for Lily to memorize the moves, to get the song on disc, to get a costume, for her to try out. But we lose a few days in there to life in it's larger form, so we are left with four nights, two hours each, in which to make it happen.

Finally, she's got what she's got, the audition is the next day, hell or high water.

Next day, I await her return. I listen for the bus. She comes in sobbing, rushes into my arms. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The worst has happened. She'd gotten nervous and forgotten big parts. I'd forgotten about the rule that insisted she wear socks, no bare feet. So she had to do the thing, not on the carpet of our basement but on the shiny gym floor in slippery feet. It's the worst. The humiliation is complete. She knows she did not get in, and worse, she's embarrassed.  The judges looked at her with anger and disappointment, she says. Are you sure? She's sure. I hold her close. She sobs.  I tell her stories of my own humiliation and disappointment. Rejected only last month by all five of the writer's residency programs to which I applied. And so many others. About the risks and rewards of being a person who puts herself out there, chest first. Reward in the big picture, maybe, though often preceded by a series of painful heartbreaks. She cries it all out, has a snack, then passes out on her bed with exhaustion.

By the time her dad gets home, she no longer wants to talk about it. She accepts a few more hugs and goes to bed for real.

Part of me is relieved. It pains me to admit it. She gave it a try, it didn't work out, no real harm done. Lessons were learned, fun was had.  She did not end up soaked in pigs blood, lighting the gym on fire with her rage and humiliation. That's a good ending, in my book.

Until today, when she bounds into the house with her talent show acceptance letter. Holy shit! She made the cut, slippery socks and all.

We jump for joy and hold each other tight and I can hear the faint sound of the roller coaster chain, hoisting us up together, high into the sky.    

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Truth Be Told

At a book club, some years ago, the discussion circled around the best short story ever written, Peed Onk, by Lorrie Moore (that's not the full title, but it'll get you there). If you've not read it, hurry up, because death by love can't come soon enough. If you have read it, well, let's all just read it again and meet back here. 

I'm not going to summarize it, because to do so will turn people off, the way summary so adeptly does. But, suffice it to say, it's about a woman experiencing things no one ever should. And the way she experiences them is so crystalline, profound and discerning that it will be hard for you to believe it's fiction. Because how could a person write so well, with an incandescence to cause a kind of literary snow-blindness, having not actually experienced such things?

I've read interviews with Lorrie Moore where she wearily tries to address this. Yes, she's had some experience with the subject matter. No, it isn't memoir. Things are the same, things are different. If you read the interview closely enough, you can hear her eyelids closing as she doses off.

My book club came to the conclusion, without my consent, that of course it was a true story disguised as fiction.

A true story, disguised as fiction.  I think I just came up with the title of my new book. (tm)

As a person who writes mostly in the first person, present tense, my writing is delivered in an envelope marked TRUTH. But it's a stamp put on there crookedly, in the mail room, by some exhausted pimply-faced intern who has only two stamps, Truth and Lies. On any given day, he could pick up the Lies stamp, and that would be fine too. Because writing is story telling. And story telling is about the area between truth and lies, where the heart resides.

What we writers, and by 'writers' I am including all of us, everyone, who has ever had an experience and synthesized it, so that it might be externalized - if you do that at a bar, or at a computer, on strings, woods or brass, by cell phone, status update or semaphore - I'm talking to you. What we writers do is live a life, and share it with others so that we might connect with the rest of humanity, our own, and others'.

Content is one thing.  I envy a lot of people's content for the stories it allows them to tell, even if it's awful, painful stuff, sometimes especially so. People do brave things, or even better, cowardly things. They poop on the family's towels, or hike the Pacific Coast Trail while they grieve, or survive the oncology ward with their child - content is the life lived, and we all have some. But the part that makes that content transcend the ward, or the potty, the decent to madness, or the purple toes, is the part of that content that is mashed through the sieve of the story-teller's perception. It's the stuff that has been boiled in the stew of its author's resentment and bile, their patience and grace, their hilarity, stupidity, depression, bigotry and love. The story told is the humble occupation of time and space filtered through a medium, which is then further distilled by the receiver. There are far too many layers of truth and lies through which one little story must trickle, on its journey from the dark into light. To label it one way or the other definitively, is to stop it short on a passage, to call it out, when it has not yet reached what is, largely, an unreachable destination, a final resting place of certainty. 

I believe in truth. I try to live in truth the best way I can. But I also believe in the punch line. The old chestnut: It's funny because it's true, is really a misstatement. It's funny because it could be true. Do I believe that kids have dogs lick peanut butter of their balls? Ok, that is true.  Let me think of something more truth-ish. 

Consider this statement: I, Jessica Schickel, live in the conservative, hick suburbs of Cleveland.  Compared to what? Parkman, twenty miles east of here, has a convenience store, a shooting range and a church. Compared to that, Chagrin is a confection of liberal urban delights. But the original statement is true when, like me,  you've lived in a city where the men have better make-up technique than you will ever know. When you come from cities where you can order Cuban food in the middle of the night and have it delivered with an eighth of pot.  You see, even there, just then. I don't know of any place where I could order Cuban and an eighth. But I have ordered by phone, and been delivered of, both Cuban food, and pot, though the events were separated by time and zip code.  Both things are true, but they were smashed though my literary potato ricer. I like imagining both things coming through the door at once (more than you know). And I'm gambling that you do too. You've read this far, so I'm making an assumption that you are riding happily alongside, that you're comfortable with my driving, and that you're game for the place I'm taking you to.

I'm not a journalist and I'm not pretending to be one. I am, however, a reporter. And my reportage is un-fact-checkable. That would, by the way, be the saddest job ever, fact-checking this blog. Good luck to those who would try. If you find my library card, let me know.

I'm reporting on truths that are fleeting, unreliable, squirmy things. The truth that is three people, combined into one. Truths that happened to other people, out of my view. Truths that I want to be true because they make me feel better about all the fucking lies with which I, and all of us, must daily cope. Truths that take shape in my telling of them, spinning them as I do, out of details which come to me from a memory that is riddled with mold, THC, anti-depressants, and the decay of age. Truths that morph and metastasize even as I tinge them with dye for closer examination.

Truth is often impermanent. There are moments when my truth might include the desire to punch an unknown second-grader in the teeth or  pee in the pool.  I am neither a pool-urinator nor child-puncher. But I could be. And that place of possibility, the one that lies just out of reach of fact, is where I live. You can find me there anytime, if you need, really need, to check the facts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dialing Up The Past

The summer I was indirectly struck by lightning, was the same summer I returned to the summer camp of my youth.

It was late May, my Junior year in high school.  I needed a job, or more accurately, a plan, for the summer. My parents needed the minimal assurances that I was going to be somewhere, doing something.  When the newsletter came from New Mexico, and in it the printed call for a Minor Maintenance person to do chores around the camp,  I made some fast calls and was hired over the phone. I was a known quantity, having spent four blissful summers there in the late 70's.

My summers there, high in the mountains above Santa Fe, freed from the heat of New York City, were things of beauty.  As opposed to my New York City pastimes, advanced courses in divorce, latch key and TV watching;  at The Ranch horseback riding was my thing, as were fencing, and, I shit you not even one tiny bit, water ballet. They taught synchronized swimming in their landlocked swimming pool, and to this day I can skull and do dolphins.

I packed my dorm room up into boxes, threw a summer's worth of t-shirts and sneakers into a duffel bag, and headed for the desert. I imagined a summer filled with hard work, maybe, sure, ok, but really, in the embrace of the camp that had loved me, and who had shown me such pleasure in my youth, how hard could it be? On paper it certainly beat a summer scooping ice cream in a mall in Watertown, Massachusetts. A summer in the fresh air, with people I loved, who would welcome me back into the fold - it would be a handmade quilt of a summer, a patchwork of nostalgia and friendship that I could wrap around me.  I'd have paid them for such a blanket. But they insisted on paying me. Fifty bucks a week. Cha-ching!

I was met at the airport by the same man on whom I'd had a puppy love crush years before. There wasn't a girl-child at The Ranch who had not loved him with the white hot brilliance of their pre-sexual desire.  He was a  combination in looks of a young Kevin Kline, with the best goofy parts of Robin Williams thrown fetchingly in . When I was nine, ten and eleven he was the most intriguingly delightful man I'd ever encountered. He was sexy before I knew what sexy meant and funny - I most definitely knew what that meant.  When I saw him again, after a few years at boarding school, and after my fields had been summarily ploughed and seeded by boys my own age, the tables shifted, uncomfortably I think for him.  For me, what was once a charming flush, became a sordid possibility. I used all the moxie that lovely teenage girls possess, which is to say I employed my complete idiocy, and ample young rack, to make him as uncomfortable as I possibly could.  I thought I knew everything. Which is to say, I knew nothing.

Anyway, he drove the passenger van that carried me and the four dudes who were to be the balance of the minor maintenance crew, up, up, up, the mountain. We laughed about old times. I put my feet up on the dash.  It was the first, and the only, good thing that happened that summer.

As Minor Maintenance we were in charge of some fairly major maintenance. Without so much as a word of training or introduction, we were thrown into a rigorous schedule of schlepping, scrubbing, lifting, cleaning, mucking, dish-washing, grass cutting, watering, picking, feeding, general scullery and barn work that took us from our beds at 5:30AM to feed horses, and kept us at it until well past
10 o'clock at night when we would stir up a fifty-gallon drum of hot chocolate and shuffle-step it down to the campers who were enjoying their moonlight swim.

The very first day, fresh off the van, after a day of travel, we were put into service transporting the campers' foot-lockers, sent ahead by parents, to their respective cabins.  Each weighed easily fifty pounds. We were not allowed, nor would we ever be allowed, to use the truck allocated to the Heavy Maintenance guys, or Heavys as they were called; they, who possessed actual tools and power. In fact there was a hazing of us Minors that involved making our jobs just a little cunting bit harder. Yes, I'm using cunt as an adverb. Walk with me, people.

They liked to give us the hardest jobs, make us perform them faster and at greater personal expense, using our own inexperience to humble and humiliate us. They'd encourage us to hustle fifteen-gallon coolers of water out to the tennis courts, half a mile away, never telling us there was a nearby spigot we could have used. They'd lean against the truck and smoke, watching as we sloshed our way out there, losing half the contents on the way.

The directors of the camp, a married couple, two of the most uptight white people in matching white polo shirts you'd ever want to meet, instructed me one morning to put down my cooler and within earshot of the sneering Heavys  asked if I might, "Slip on a bra, honey, wonchya?" I felt, in that moment, like it might be possible to sprout an embarrassment goiter from my neck. I will never forgive them for it.

One day, as I cleaned the tables of the staff dining room with hot bleach and a rag, a folding chair whistled past my head, smashing the window in the door that swung between me and the kitchen. It was Kevin Kline Williams creatively expressing his rage. My love for him deflated like a whoopee cushion of lost dreams.  Apparently, we loser Minors hadn't gotten the tennis water out to the courts early enough and one of the campers had gotten some degree of thirsty. In the retelling, the camper's thirst became dehydration, which became heat stroke, and our carelessness became life threatening. Shit had rolled downhill from Polo Shirt to Kevin Kline Williams and landed squarely above my head.

I shook shards of glass from my hair.  I was sixteen and very, very sad.

Minor Maintenance got one day off a week.  The third week in, I bummed a ride from one of the super kind lesbian cooks, into the little mountain town of Pecos, so that I could suds my duds in the laundromat. We shared a burger while my jeans spun, and went to the post office to mail postcards. 

Driving back up the "hill" to The Ranch required navigation of the perilous switchbacks and hairpin turns that mountain ascents in motor vehicles demand.  One drove this route with a seriousness of purpose, a tight clamp on one's sphincter, and a reverie for human life.

Which is why, when we saw the Volvo wagon, belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Polo Shirt, tearing around a turn towards us, narrowly missing us in a sideswipe, I knew that my summer was going to change irrevocably.

The Volvo screamed past us and Cook and I craned around to see what-the-fuck. The image I have of  my Minor Maintenance brothers waving good-bye to me in terror as they torpedoed toward sea level, was the most pathetic tableau of my young life. The still-image in my memory is of them wide-eyed, frantically signing their desperate farewell.

The young men, it seemed, had lingered too long by the cabin of the eldest camper girls, only two-years their junior. They'd flirted with them as the girls had swanned and preened from the cabin porch in their two-piece suits. The crew was summarily fired, and deposited at the airport by an enraged Polo Shirt, with more than half the summer remaining. This drama had unfolded in the three hours it had taken me to launder my panties.

The job that had been too hard for five people, now became my responsibility entirely. I was neither debriefed by a responsible adult as to what the balance of the summer held in store, nor comforted in my shock and despair.  I was simply instructed to "step up and shut up" by the Heavys, who now, truth told, felt a little sorry for me.

I labored for another week with fairly good humor. I could take a joke, and certainly the situation had the makings of one. One comfort, the lesbians had my back. They slipped me nourishing snacks when I was about to keel over and the Heavys, for the most part, backed off, even giving me a ride here and there in the sacred truck. It couldn't have been much fun for them to watch anymore. It was too pathetic, me in my sagging ponytail sprinting everywhere, dragging things that should have been lifted, lifting that which should have been left put.  I did the work of five people fairly badly. I skimmed my tasks, covering a lot of ground with a very thin coat of human energy. My days were longer than ever. My hands blistered, healed, tore open, scabbed, then calloused over. I was sleep deprived, limp with exhaustion and sore.

Polo Shirt took a menacing interest in my performance. He was everywhere, commenting with derision when I missed something or let a chore slide.  If something wasn't done to his liking, he was sure to point it out to me and anyone in earshot. He mocked me, he chided and patronized me. I quickly came to detest the smug prick. Polo Shirt was the one person who hated me, even as a child camper. He was loathsome back then, teasing me unkindly about my "east coast" parents and my "Hollywood" dad. When, at age eleven, I pointed out to him that it was intrinsically impossible for my dad to be both Hollywood and East Coast at the same time, he turned purple and walked away. He watched me as a child with what I would later recognize as repressed jealousy and possible sexual desire. As an "adult" and an employee, I was fair game. His antipathy/longing for me was rancid and he punished me with derision and rancor.

I was required to participate in the staff show, which was to occur in hour thirteen of my Friday work day.  I was to play a "punker", which to these cloistered mountain people meant I was to dye my hair blue with food coloring. I acquiesced and it was an unholy mess. Dye ran down my neck in blue, skin-tinting rivulets. It stained everything it touched, and I was asked to touch everything - every prop, every costume, every participant in the show.  I could not lean back, exhausted in my chair, without turning the wall into a blue crime scene.

During the show, which involved a weather report in which the "weather" was variously thrown on stage at Kevin Kline Williams in the form of say,  water misted from a squirt bottle for "light rain" and papers thrown from offstage for an oncoming tornedo - it was classic 1950's Poconos humor, but played to a south-western audience. The act was to culminate in a snow storm, flour blown from a counselor's palm into the blades of a portable fan, which would blow across Kevin's unsuspecting weatherman's face.  When prep for the show had run behind schedule, someone, possibly Polo Shirt, had handed the prop-master a handful of laundry soap, instead of the more benign semolina flour which they obliviously blew into our beloved weatherman's eyes, causing immediate and acute burning. He clawed his way off stage to the horror of the adults, while the kids tried to figure out if it was all just part of the act.

My love for Kevin Kline Williams bloomed anew in the moment I saw him in blinding pain. Staff flocked to him offstage, administering to him feebly. His eye sockets ballooned, inflammation  wrapping his eyeballs in a cocoon of pus and flesh, sealing them off to the perceived threat of more cheap comedy.  I stood helplessly off to the side weeping blue tears.

The hall cleared. Campers were ushered back to their cabins, Kevin K. Williams was taken away in an ambulance, and I made my way up the trail to my room above the kitchen to wash away the indigo of the evening. Steps from the sanctity of a hot shower, I was stopped, bodily, by Polo Shirt who insisted I return to the hall to sweep the 1500 square feet of parquet. I said, resignedly, "Sure, OK, let me just grab a quick rinse."

"You'll go now."

I laugh-snorted. I thought he was kidding. He was not.

"Well, I've got to get this blue out of my hair, Polo, then I'll go right down." It was 10:30.

"I repeat. You'll go now. You wont shirk any more of your duties."

I heard something growl in the deep woods of my subconscious, but I let his comment go. He's under duress, I thought, the prospect of one of his most loyal employees, blinded by the staff comedy show, must weigh heavily on his mind. I dragged ass back to the deserted hall, and channeled my best Zamboni, pushing the broom back and forth across the half acre of gleaming wood.

An hour later, I got my shower and went to the main house to relax with the cooks, the head of the girls' camp, and one of the Heavys, who were hanging out in the common staff area. I slid onto the couch between my friends, bones heavy.

We shucked and jived, the five of us, giving each other a little merry shit, teasing playfully, talking about the day, our worry for Kevin K. Williams, the week ahead.  Polo Shirt came in then,  reaking of a man looking for a fight. It's a vibe that's hard to describe, but easy to recognize. It's the vibe that makes the abused wife corral her children toward bed. It's the atmospheric shift of an unseen storm that makes the fish hide, the birds go quiet, and horses dance in their stall.

"I assume you're done with your work." He said to no one in particular.  Nods all around. "Because no one should be sitting in here who hasn't done their job."

I weakly replied, "I'm pretty sure we've all done our jobs here, it's 11:30, we're almost done with tomorrow's work, and the day after that too." I meant it as an acknowledgment of the weirdness of the night, how wrecked we all were, the late hour.

My friend's gave a muffled, collective Amen to that. But Polo turned to face me.  "You know, Jess, when people heard that I was paying you fifty dollars a week, they thought I was taking you for a ride. But when they saw the work you were doing, they realized you were taking me for a ride."

My mind raced. What? Was he talking to me? Did he have me confused with someone else? "Polo, I think we're treading on thin ice here."  This was my cautious reply.  To which he idiotic retort, 

"Let me show you how thin I can tread."

Again, I heard the growl from the dark woods, but this time I went in to find it.

"Nope. Er, I mean, No.  No! I don't think I will skate with you on this one, Polo. I've never been so tired in my life. I've never eaten so much shit, or smiled so hard while chewing. I think you owe me about seventeen thousand dollars in back pay, not to mention the return of this summer, which has been nothing but a steaming pile of puke."

A pile of puke? I don't think I was even talking out of my mouth at that point. I think my larynx was the only thing that wasn't broken by exhaustion, and it was simply vibrating out the chords of my desperation and fear. But it didn't stop. Once my voice was working, it couldn't be shushed by thought. "You're a bad man, Polo, a mean, small little shit.  Everyone knows it and what must be worse, I think you know it too."

"Pack your bags," he said, "I'll drive you down the hill in the morning."

"I've seen the way you drive, Polo, and if you think I'm getting in a car with you, you're out of your fucking mind."

And with that I turned and walked away from the main house. Polo shrieked after me into the dark night, "I WANT YOU OUT OF HERE YOU SLUT!" Counselors on cabin porches heard him screeching after me like an owl, "Whore! Whore!"

I can only think now that he called me those things because that was what he hoped, in the dark, under his cold sheet, with his stiff wife lying next to him, I was.

I walked quickly and quietly to the pay phone by the road. Lightening turned night to day in incremental blinding flashes. Crazily, the phone was ringing. Not beyond the realm; boyfriends called their girls back to reverse charges - whatever, the pay phone was ringing. I ran toward it. Somehow in the adrenaline rush of telling off my first adult, of getting fired, of being crazy tired  - in my daze I thought it was for me. My mom, my boyfriend back home, somehow I imagined they knew I'd just blown my summer wide open and they were calling me. I ran for it, wanting to catch it before the last ring.

I caught it alright. It was God calling and he left me a message: Don't answer a ringing pay phone in an electrical storm! I heard later that lightning had struck the phone line miles up the road and had set pay phones ringing up and down the mountain. I don't know if that's true, or even possible, but I do know that the call I answered slammed me, hard, onto my ass in the middle the road, which at that time of night was dead quiet, no cars anywhere.

I picked myself up and headed painfully back to my room. Mostly it was my bruised butt that hurt. And my left hand, that had touched the receiver. I was uninjured, but inexplicably flooded with embarrassment. Had someone seen me? Was it a prank? Was I being punished? Was I a whore? Was it my fault? I wanted to get away from there as quickly as possible. The phone, The Ranch, the past, I was running, running for my bed, running for safety, running for home.

Back in Massachusetts, with half a summer to go, I got that job at the Watertown Mall, the one that seemed like the worst of all options. I weighed out bulk candy at a place called Joanne's Nut House. All things considered, Joanne's house was a lot less nutty than the one I'd come from, and the desserts I doled out were far sweeter and more just.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Pee on You, Because I love you.

I am a cranky fucker.

I mean it. You're reading this, my beloveds, and you're thinking, no, that's so not true, she's a delight. And, sorry, but you're wrong. I am a holy terror. Irritation is my new default position.

I'm so highly strung these days, I will yell at a peanut butter sandwich. Peanut butter can go straight to hell.

My boots don't zip up easily and I'm likely to just freak out. I might toss them out the door into the snow and pee on them.

Every time I look at my answering machine I visualize smashing it to pieces with a giant sledge hammer. It wont let me delete messages until I've played them back. What kind of bullshit it this? I've already listened to the fuckity-fucks when they called in and I allowed the piece-of-shit machine to get it. Why do I have to play back the messages?

My disposal stops working if I put a soggy Cheerio in it. What the shit, fuck, cunting, asshole, mother-fucking douche-bag hell is up with that?!

I declared the other day that everyone in this house is old enough to do their own goddamn laundry. These people treat the laundry basket like it's the magic hole into which they can throw just about anything and VOILA! it appears folded in their drawer. Well, fuck all of you.

Vild, in wild agreement with my laundry rebellion, took all his shitty clothes from his closet floor and heaped them in front of the washing machine. This, to better 'do' his own laundry. I ended up washing an unopened package of socks, a belt, a bathing suit and a baseball cap in addition to a year's worth of too-small sweaters and torn boxers. This is NOT what I meant. Fuck him. I might pee on him too.

My poor kids. Those little assholes. I've bought them seven hats apiece this season and there are no hats in this house. Not a hat. Not a single fucking hat. And they don't like having cold heads when they wait for the bus. Makes them cry. I know what might warm them up - if I pee on their heads.

And ok, with the toilet already. Are they just waving their shlongs in the direction of the bowl? Its like they think, I know the toilet is in that corner of the room, so I'll just wave it over there while I brush my teeth and hope some of it splatters in there. She'll never know. Are they dropping their wet craps into the vessel from a hot air balloon? Are their turds stunt ponies jumping into a bucket from the high dive? Because forensic splatter tells the tale.

My van is just another room in the house for foul overspill. Don't leave a dry Starbucks cup in the drink holder of Vild's car, unless you want a courtesy attitude adjustment. But feel free to scrape the chicken feces off your boots on the van rug. Go right ahead. It's not like I use it for my fine upholstery business. Definitely throw your Go-Gurt tube anywhere you want. I'll explain to Mrs. Yiffniff about why her wing-back chair smells like an old vagina.

Definitely ask me what's for dinner. Because, you know what's for dinner? Whatever the fuck you're cooking for me. That's what. Because I've been told my grocery shopping is "too high on the pyramid" another way of saying too expensive. So now I go to the grocery store in a sprint, on my way to meeting the bus, and I am paralyzed. Tacos? Are taco shells too high on the pyramid? I may leap from this pyramid to my own exasperated death. You can all eat cereal for the rest of your life.

I am a very, very angry person. I weep. I rail. I swear. I am a shotgun of human emotion, spraying everyone I love with the buckshot of my rage. Then I fall asleep. Because peeing on everything is exhausting.

And before you all say it - I've had my hormones counted. All present and accounted for, thank you very much. I take my Zoloft, eat stool softeners, drink water, give to charity. I drink medicinally. No help. I get enough rest. I have meaningful work. I still want to break everything within reach.

I've had a hankering for puppy satay. Kitten mittens, made from actual kittens.

I'll punch a nun, I'll do it. If I see a kid's balloon fly from his wrist I'll just point and laugh, I will. I'm not holding the door for any more old people. They can fuck themselves too, with their wrinkles and frailty. I'm not laughing at any more knock-knock jokes, either. Just shut up.

That grill, rusting under the snow? You suck. I hate you.
Those rental properties? I've got a gas can and a match. Don't make me come over there.

Tonight I'm going to buy a rotisserie chicken and eat it in front of the chicken coop.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Woman on the Run

Here's something that's a lot less effective when you live in the country: dramatically storming out.

In the city, after you've slammed the door, you step into the dark unknown where the metropolis swallows you whole. It's possible, in these circumstances, to make the person with whom you're at odds sweat a little, for whatever pernicious act they've inflicted on your poor tormented soul.

It doesn't work nearly so well if you have to put on your hat, scarf and boots, walk to the car, scrape the snow and ice off the windshield, warm it a little and back carefully out the driveway. It's less impactful, from a cinematic standpoint, if the person who's pushed you well beyond your limit, sees you get your side mirror tangled in the bushes on the way out.

The other weekend I felt the need to leave the house with statement. This WILL NOT STAND!

I managed to get out and down the driveway with some vigor, but the moment my tires hit pavement I was no longer a woman scorned, but rather a sad sack on a country lane with the defrost fan running high, trying to make out the road ahead through a tiny portal of defogged window glass. Nowhere to go.

If you storm out in the big city you can walk the darkened streets listening to the soundtrack of your personal noir film, titled, "You Did This to Me", starring you as the under-appreciated heroine. In the country you can only fume in a Giant Eagle parking lot listening to an NPR fund drive.

I try not to be overly dramatic too often, but now and again I like to remind my people that they are free to go fuck themselves.

Living out here it's hard for your walk-out to differentiate itself from the five-year-old-boy version. Vild, at that tender age, ran away from home into the family backyard, where thirty minutes later his parents found him "living" in a leaf pile. I definitely did not want my rebel yell to be muffled by lawn clippings. My statement needed to be bigger than the compost heap.

The most drama I could muster was a timely showing of Mission Impossible-the sequel. That, and a large popcorn. I wasn't exactly turning to prostitution to support my habit, but this act of defiance would take me from the house and away from those terrible people I call my family. It would prove, irrefutably, that I am a woman with mystery wrapped around me like a chiffon scarf in a Hitchcock movie. I can pull on my protective snow gear, go to a mediocre movie at a convenient showtime - and I might NOT pick up milk for breakfast on my way home! If only a Ford Freestar could peel out without tossing the booster seat against the door.

At the theater, I continued to blow the cool air of intrigue - buying a single ticket, standing in the stupidly inefficient line, anticipating the consumption of a giant snack.

The three 'visor' employees, whose job it is to ply me with over sized vats and vessels wearing open hats and aprons, do so with astonishing sloth. There is no fervor to match my inner tempest. The menu of nine expensive things takes them seven to ten minutes per customer to serve. Surely another sequel to the film I'm trying to see will be made by the time I get my bucket and trough. Never mind that they are pulling the wind from my melodramatic sails with the dead calm of their incompetence.

Keeping this low-productivity machine grinding along, is that other employee. Suit-man.
He's that guy who comes from the back to fill cups when the line begins to groan audibly with inefficiency. He's the older young guy, who has, as part of his boss-man paraphernalia, an earpiece. His Associates Degree in Hotel Management has earned him this badge and you will not take it away from him. Like the secret service, this middle-manager needs to be in constant radio contact with his subordinates, the Visor employees, even as he stands next to them scooping kernels into pails, within speaking range. He might, without notice, have to guide in the butter chopper, as it lands in the parking lot next to the dollar store. There is time sensitive data he needs to relay to the girl with the sweeper in theater 8 of this, Hell's Octiplex.

Back in the day, when I needed space, I'd smoke half a pack of cigs on a foggy beach in San Francisco. I damned the heedless souls who'd befouled me with my devil-may-care promise of early-onset lung cancer and heart disease. Or once, drunk and foul in Cabo San Lucas, I staggered the streets muttering, then wrote illegible letters on cocktail napkins in a bar owned by Sammy Hagar. Later that day, as I lay with my face on the cool tile of the bathroom floor, my un-boyfriend wouldn't even bring me a coke from the vending machine when I begged him. My performance as a woman unfettered was electrifying.

I ask suit-man to hold the butter while I willfully ignore the message from my kid who wants to know if I'm still going to make dinner and if not, can he have three cookies. I ignore the next one as well, the one inquiring if I might, on my way home, be able to stop and get some colored folders.

It's as if they don't know that I've quit them. That I am an island. That I am no man's servant.

As Tom Cruise climbs the outside glass of a skyscraper I text them in the dark: Yes, I'll bring the folders.