We need to have a bigger conversation, right? RIGHT?

Or is it just “thoughts and prayers” today?

Last night, I was doing my usual routine of looking at my different social media hangouts, to see if there was anything interesting going on. I happened upon a livestream, and watched in horror as the events at Walmart on Battlefield, in Chesapeake, Virginia were unfolding. An employee, who had just narrowly escaped being one of the victims of the shooting rampage of his manager, was streaming the real-time reactions of his coworkers as they all tried to make sense of what had just happened. The video has since been picked up by dozens of news sources and shared globally.

I went to sleep with the name “Walmart on Battlefield” on my mind, while millions awoke to hear it for the first time. I’m sure that discovering that Colorado Springs had been overtaken in the news by Chesapeake within just 72 HOURS was horrific enough; watching the immediate aftermath from the quiet and dark safety of my bedroom was terrifying.

Everyone has been in a Walmart. They are mostly all the same, aside from some minor differences in structure depending on when they were built. The areas the public doesn’t see – the employees-only areas – are vastly different from store to store. While ours is pretty easy to navigate, because there’s essentially only one path to travel end-to-end, other stores can be labyrinths of corridors and cramped spaces.

When I was employed by Walmart, I attended management classes at a “teaching Walmart” called a Walmart Academy. That Walmart’s employee areas were both caverous and tiny spaces behind closed doors. Some of those areas are pretty restrictive once you’re in them, and it would be very easy to get caught in one of those areas by an assailant. I imagine that right now, Walmart is having war room meetings in Bentonville, Arkansas, addressing the problematic layouts of employee areas and the ease with which ANYONE with a gun can breach them – employee or not. It happened here, when I was employed there, and the individual went straight for the employees-only area.

Wait. WAIT.

Did I just write that? Did I just write about an armed assailant walking into the employees-only area of a Walmart where I was working, with the same ease that I would have used, had I related that “HR took a group of new associates on a tour of the back?”

Why, yes; yes, I did.

The idea of situational awareness and “knowing your exits” is CRUCIAL in every walk of life now. Whether at work, play, shopping, and especially when entering a building or area you’re unfamiliar with, it is essential that you scan for exits and obstructions to safety in the event of an active shooter scenario.

Most companies have utilized videos about “RUN FIGHT HIDE” for mandatory viewing by their staff, and will continue to do so. A larger discussion about FIGHT is being had now, in light of the courageous patron who tackled the assailant at Club Q in Colorado Springs; but that was a unique situation where a combat veteran was able to switch on his military experience and react. Not everyone can or will be able to become GI Joe/Jane and engage in hand-to-hand combat. Not everyone’s fight-or-flight reflex is fight. And for some, fight-or-flight doesn’t happen at all; they simply freeze.

I don’t have any answers for how to stop these tragedies from occuring. “Having a bigger conversation” is the ad-hoc phrase, right? We need to “have a bigger conversation,” just like we did in 1999, after Columbine, or


In DC, in 2002
in Meridian, in 2003
in Columbus, in 2004
in Red Lake, in 2005
In Lancaster County, in 2006
In Blacksburg, in 2007
In Knoxville, in 2008
In Binghamton, in 2009
In Huntsville, in 2010
In Grand Rapids, in 2011
In Aurora, in 2012
In DC, in 2013
In Fort Hood, in 2014
In Charleston, in 2015
In Orlando, in 2016
In Las Vegas, in Alexandria, in 2017
In Parkland, in Pittsburgh, in 2018
In Virginia Beach, in El Paso, in 2019
In Milwaukee, in Rochester, in 2020
In Atlanta, in Boulder, in 2021
In Buffalo, in May of this year

It makes me sick with sadness and rage to read that list. What’s worse is that this list barely scratches the surface of mass shootings that caused the pundits to say, with grave urgency, that “we need to have a bigger conversation” about gun laws, and mental health, and red flag systems.

Yeah, we do. We need to have a bigger conversation: about politicians who take money from gun lobbyists, and about the lack of education in this country about what the framers of the Constitution meant when they wrote the 2nd Amendment, and about how the world was a much different place when they put quill to parchment. We need to have a bigger conversation about caring for each other, as opposed to simply protecting what’s ours.

But for now, we need to have a bigger conversation about situational awareness, and staying safe when we go to work, school, worship, shopping, receive medical care, visit parks and recreational facilities, see a movie or play or musical act, commute or travel on public transit, relax in our homes, and yes, even dash into a convenience store for a lottery ticket or to pay for gas. The fact is, someone in your community is mentally unstable and has free or easy access to a firearm or firearms. Someone has an ax to grind, or revenge on their mind. Someone hates a group of people because they are different or don’t fit into that person’s belief system. Someone has reached the end of their rope. Someone has been sitting in their living room, being indoctrinated by Fox, OAN, InfoWars, Breitbart, or the My Pillow Guy. Someone is a mass murderer in the making RIGHT NOW.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Y’all stay safe while you enjoy your holidays, and may the odds be ever in your favor at all times.

One sack lunch

I saw my first homeless person in 1979, across the street from the White House.

A group of us were on a field trip to Washington, DC; every year, 6th grade crossing guards went on this trip with teachers as chaperones. We were in Lafayette Square, eating our brown bag lunches, when we became aware that there was a scruffy-looking man asleep on a bench. He had a bag filled with what we inferred were his worldly possessions, which he used as a pillow. Compassion flickered throughout our group of 12 year-olds; it felt unacceptable that we should sit there, eating our submarine sandwiches, bags of chips, and sodas, while this man without a place to live napped. At first, we thought we’d just gather donated parts of our lunches, but then, someone had a better idea. It was decided that we would ask one of the teachers for an extra bag lunch, and give it to the man.

“Absolutely not,” the teacher replied, when we asked her. “It is not our responsibility to feed that man.” We were outraged, and a loud cacophony of crusading 6th graders descended upon the next teacher we saw. His face registered something that I now understand was both concern and perplexity, and he gathered with the other chaperones to discuss the matter while we stood there, impatiently waiting. Overheard were arguments of “But this isn’t going to solve that man’s problem,” and “What if he’s dangerous?” In the end, kindness prevailed, when the teacher we had pled our case to said quietly, “It’s just a sack lunch.” He retrieved it, and a can of Coke, from the cooler, along with a brownie, and accompanied us as we took the food to the man. He didn’t open his eyes as one of our tribe spoke up and said, “Sir? We thought you would like this lunch.” She sat it down beside him, and we retreated to our area. A short while later, we saw him sitting up, cracking open the can of Coke, and taking a long drink. Then, he began to eat his lunch.

It was hard to dissect how I felt about this; it was a mixture of magnanimity, sadness, and pride. We were helping, but the words of the nay-saying teacher stuck with me: “It is not our responsibility.”

But if not us, then who?

These same thoughts reared up this week, as I read our local news, and the ensuing social media gossip regarding the subject. There was a local homeless camp – right in the middle of my town – that was recently shut down, after basically existing right in sight of every person who drove on the state highway, for MONTHS. It was located right along the edge of said highway, in between the Tunungwant Creek and the road; a football field in length. Officials say they contacted local agencies to help some of them (the homeless), and then asked the public to volunteer to help them clean it up. It is PennDOT’s land, and their jurisdiction, so they’re providing dumpsters, and local businesses, the cleanup materials.

Photo via The Bradford Era

While it is concerning and problematic to ask private citizens to assist in cleaning up garbage, human waste, drug paraphernalia (some has been removed by law enforcement, but remember the size and length of time they camped there, and ask yourself if there could be more that was overlooked) and makeshift shelters, it is also thought to show how a community “comes together.” Really, though, this is just lipstick on a pig. City officials and Law Enforcement had months to order those homeless individuals to move along, and enough people were aware of the situation to contact local programs and ask them to check on these people. There’s a strong state police presence in our little county, and they could have intervened.

No one did.

Police have said that some of these homeless individuals have been cited for various things, which is probably the worst fucking response; it’s definitely not a solution to our homeless crisis. I mean, they’re homeless, unemployed, and most are addicts. Where will they get the money to pay their fines? Answer: they won’t. Then, they’ll go to jail, and the same people who complain about their existence underneath a goddamn tarp in the weeds will complain about their tax dollars “supporting them in prison, where they eat better than us!” Newsflash- they don’t, but whatever, Becky.

The public outcry is embarassing, to be honest. It paints a very negative picture of this area; the loudest voices are intolerant, dismissive, and terribly inconvenienced by the whole situation. Why aren’t the police making the homeless people clean the area up? Shame on those nasty meth heads! Well, Becky, which do you prefer: a police force that can respond quickly to a call, or a police force attempting to locate the very individuals they ejected from the area, so they can pick up after themselves? You know – the homeless people with no address or inclination to let them know exactly what dumpster or which abandoned structure, or which patch of nearby woods they might now be inhabiting? Remember, they’re irresponsible, nasty meth heads; am I right?

Such concern. The first comment is typical of about 76% of this area. It was refreshing to read some dissension.

The most terrible thing about this situation is the cognitive dissonance. A large part of this community thinks this is just a recent problem, and one created by Joe Biden and Tom Wolfe, Pennsylvania’s current Governor. It’s easy to deny the existence of something if you don’t see it. Homeless camps are NOT a recent development here, and not everyone who has lived in one is a “drug-addicted scumbag.” Some of them have jobs that they go to every day; they just can’t afford rent and utilities. It isn’t the current administration’s fault, because this has been a symptom of a much larger problem for decades, and Bradford’s homeless situation didn’t just come into existence in 2021, when Joe Biden took office.

In 2016-17, I used to ride public transit to and from work. There was a man who often rode at the same time, and got on and off at the same stop. He worked at Walmart, and he was very kind. It turns out, he was homeless, and he lived in a camp that was up on the hill, above where my house was located. There were a LOT of people in that camp, but as I have said: out of sight, out of mind. You couldn’t see it from the road and it was a bit of a hike, but there was an overgrown access road. That was my first introduction to homeless camps in the area. Am I blaming Trump? I’m sure some of you think that I do, but no. This is a problem that really goes back to the beginnings of civilization – treating the most marginalized humans like crap – and we have not yet found a solution.

Homelessness happens because of poverty. I will say it again: poverty is the cause. Poverty puts children with family members who abuse them, or into a broken foster system, where they fight, every day, to survive. Poverty begets addiction, and addiction rips everything apart. Poverty keeps the mentally ill from receiving care, and then they, too, fall between the cracks.

It’s not a new problem, nor is it easily solved. So many, different avenues need to be traveled, and they are very long roads for these people. It’s not as simple as rehab, then getting a job. It’s not as simple as building homeless shelters for individuals to stay. It’s not as simple as taking classes to teach them life skills. It is all of these things, and so much more. It is mental health care, physical health care, childcare, and a strong support network to catch them before they fall.

Most of all, and crucially, it is the rebuilding of so many broken spirits, who have survived hellish lives of every kind of abuse and crime and tragedy. It is in no small part the rebuilding of trust; trusting others to help them instead of hurting them, incarcerating them, humiliating and shaming them. “The System” has failed them multiple times already, and expecting them to trust is a big ask.

We don’t have all the answers, but what we do have is empathy. For those who worship in one faith or another, there is the belief that their God loves all – not just the ones who live in houses and have jobs, cars, and a second freezer, filled with frozen food. There are people who have devoted their lives to helping the homeless, and the poor. Maybe the answer is billions of tiny kindnesses extended to those we see in need, instead of denigrating them, or spouting conspiracy theories, or shrugging and saying, “It’s not our responsibility.”

What I do know is that I don’t know, 43 years later, if that sack lunch made a difference in that man’s life. I hope so.

I really do.

There is a monster at the end of this blog.

I didn’t carve a pumpkin this year.

I didn’t buy any candy to give out to trick-or-treaters.

I really haven’t watched anything “Halloweenish.”

With my knee in such a terrible state, and surgery looming, we weren’t able to visit festivals and enjoy all that Autumn has to offer. And now, since I have had a meniscectomy and a clean-up of my knee joint, the last two weeks have centered around recovery. Knee surgery

Is

Not


Fun.


I have enjoyed the decorations that I put out this year, and lived vicariously through friends as they did all of the Halloween things, but this year, I just don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t rip my heart out when I remember. Memories of Halloweens past haunt me. Isn’t that ironic?

Watching scary (for him) movies in the weeks leading up to October 31st and pranking him, spooking him, and all-out petrifying him.

And then, on Halloween, homemade Stromboli or pizza. Warm, apple cider.

Sitting together at the door or outside, teasing each other by the light of candles and twinkle lights. Enjoying his obvious delight in putting candy in kids’ bags, and telling him he had to give out at least some of the Reese’s and Butterfingers, or else I wasn’t going to let him make up a treat bowl for himself out of the leftovers. Watching Rocky Horror and laughing until my stomach hurt at his dancing the Time Warp and then mimicking Sweet Transvestite.

How, at the stroke of midnight, his thoughts would turn to his Christmas list for Santa, but how he wouldn’t give it to me to “deliver” until after he’d had his fill of Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie.

The holidays are fucking painful, and my heart aches, thinking about them. My display of holiday cheer is a sham. I’m putting on a mask and doing my best to not seem to be going through the motions, even though I am very much doing just that.

Some things are fun; painting my grandson’s foam sword for his knight’s costume so that it matched his armor was cool, not to mention an honor, because he trusted me to make it look good. Listening to spooky, dark music has been soothing. Feeling that heightened sense that the veil is thin, and the signs that accompany it, are comforting.

Thanksgiving will be all about cooking, and laughing with my family. That will be okay. We set a place for him at the table last year, and I think we always will. I cannot bear that he would not feel like he is a part of things.

Christmas is hard. Thinking about it is excruciating. Last week, I was catching up on a season of a tv show I had missed last year; it was a Christmas-themed episode. The first few notes of I Believe in Father Christmas, by Greg Lake, sounded, and my heart clunked within my chest cavity; all that was left was a heavy, yet hollow feeling of such acute despondency that I thought that it was just going to stop beating. For a few moments, I didn’t know how I was going to bear it all. This will be the second Christmas without my brother, and no, things are not better. They fucking suck.

I want to try to be present for others, and to enjoy the people I love who are here, with me, in this world. In a way, right now, every day is haunted; there are memories everywhere I look, and with them, sorrow lurks around every corner. I need to laugh until I cry, and to just go on. That’s what he wants; I know it. The signals he sends to show me he’s near are so profound and so genuinely spooky, it is unnerving for those who aren’t convinced that such things are possible.

The death of a sibling is not talked about as much as the death of a parent or a spouse, or a child. It should be. There is a bond that transcends all others and is usually much more complicated. Siblings are the keepers of secrets, partners in crime, and usually, the only people who truly understand our pasts – because it was theirs, too. They went through it with us, and shared the good, the bad, and regrettably, the very bad. Sometimes, the age differences can be big, like that of my brother and I; the relationship becomes more about raising them than coexisting together. Siblings can be our oldest friends or our longest enemies, but no matter the relationship or differences, they shared that same, formative journey. Losing a sibling is like losing a vital part of a puzzle that makes up the picture of our lives. There will always be an empty spot, or spots, depending on how many pieces have been lost.

Today, I will put on something witchy and do my makeup. I will go to my post-op ortho appointment to have the stitches taken out of my knee. With any luck, I am healing on schedule, and I will get a good report. Tonight, if there is no rain, I will sit out on the terrace while the trick-or-treaters are about, and shiver faintly in the cool, fragrant, night air. Somewhere nearby, a jack-o-lantern will have a candle within, and the faint scent of singed pumpkin flesh will drift to my nose and mingle with the scents of wood smoke and dead leaves. I will drink a hot cup of coffee and play heavy music. My boys will sit at the screen door, and Goose will express his outrage that he cannot come out.

I will imagine that I am not alone out there, because I know that he will be nearby. This year, Halloween is more about healing than haunting, and quite literally so. My heart is trying to scar over, my knee is getting better, and my brain is coming back online. None of it is easy, but all of it is necessary. I know that there are better days ahead; days when I will laugh until my stomach aches and holidays that are less about grieving and more about fun. Not every holiday will be a day to mourn what was taken from me, and from millions of others who lost someone to Covid. They say this grief journey gets easier. I hope they are right.

And no, I did not forget what I promised:

Stupid is as stupid does

Sometimes, I skew political here. I can’t help it. I’m a political creature in my advancing years, I suppose. When I was young, and all of those activist callings would have appealed to me, I was too busy raising children and trying to keep my own political leanings secret, so that it would not spark drama in my staunchly Republican family.

Outwardly, I towed the party line. Inwardly, I thought Republicans were old, grouchy, snobby fucks who didn’t give an actual steaming turd about young people. I understood why my great-uncles and aunts were riding the Republican train; they were all Greatest Generation businessmen and women, who believed in government and duty to one’s country. They were capitalists, every, single one. Why my mother rode those coattails was a mystery to me; the Republican party hadn’t done shit for us.

My mother would clutch at her heart if she heard me say that Ronald Reagan was the AntiChrist who ushered in the dumpster fire government we have these days. She’d be furious to know that I blame the Gipper for the Grifter.

It’s true, though, and I’d like to think that I could persuade her to see the truth of my words. I convinced her that Barack Obama was the right man for the Presidency, after all. She thought Donald Trump was insufferable back in the days when his face dominated every weekly tabloid. I am, however, glad that she didn’t live to see the era of Faux news and abject stupidity that runs this country right now. My fear is that she may have fallen underneath the spell of Conservaturdism, and that it would have caused a lot of pain in our family, like it has for so many others. We have become a nation that not only accepts profound low-intelligence as mainstream, but celebrates it.

In 1992, then-Vice President Dan Quayle was eviscerated by the media and the American people for misspelling “potato.” Why he thought the singular spud should have an “e” tacked on to the end was one of life’s great mysteries, but in the end, a 12 year-old boy in a spelling bee exposed him for the cretin he was. At least, that’s how the media portrayed him, and how he was labeled, forevermore, by humans who, on their best days, have a fast and loose relationship with “you’re” and “your,” with “their” and “there,” and who couldn’t use a comma or period in a sentence if their lives depended on it.



From that moment in time, Quayle was the butt of so many jokes that questioned his intelligence, that the entire comedy genre owes him royalties. How could an elected official – to the second-highest office in the country – be so 𝘴𝘵𝘶𝘱𝘪𝘥? It was the lead story on every news show for days, and the subject of debate amongst scholared individuals and opposite party candidates; it sparked uproarious laughter amongst people who were polled (yes, this subject was of such grave importance that polls were conducted to see just how much that letter “e” had damaged the country), and even President Bush, Sr took flak for choosing such a dolt for a running mate in the first place.

This was such a controversy, that the former VP has never lived it down. Nowadays, if you mention his name, there are still people who shake their heads and call him an idiot. Was it that much of a spelling faux-pas that it has literally wiped out his credentials as the son of a newspaper publisher, lawyer, Representative, Senator, and Vice President of the United States? Apparently so, at least by the standards of 1992.

And yet, we have Marjorie Taylor Greene, an elected official who’d definitely fail a 4th grade spelling test; she with her “Marshall” law, “peach tree dish,” and “Commandar and Chief,” just to name a few. She thinks that a monument to Union soldiers is, in fact, a monument to Confederate soldiers – why? Because it’s in Georgia? – when all she’d have to do is simply read the plaque to educate herself with facts. The only thing this woman has managed to do with any regularity is to stick her foot into her mouth every time she opens it in order to spew some disparaging, hateful soundbite.



We have Lauren Boebert, an elected official who defines women as “the lesser vessel” who “need masculinity in our lives to balance that so-called weakness.” She has questionable math skills, if her tweet: “Two words: Let’s Go Brandon!'” are an indicator. She loves to pose hersrlf and her family with all the guns available in Colorado, and allegedly, she shot her neighbor’s dog for entering her property last week, and then lied about it.



Then there’s Texas’s Louie Gohmert – widely believed to be the “Dumbest Republican alive” – who has said and done so many halfwitted things that it defies explanation as to why he ever managed to get elected to anything except perhaps a judge at a hot dog eating contest for the county fair. Just this year, he asked a National Forest Service whether there was anything her agency or the Bureau of Land Management could do “to change the course of the moon’s orbit or the Earth’s orbit around the sun?” That, he said, “would have profound effects on our climate.

I know: but science and astrophysics, biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, physics – right? Space science – something nearly every little boy of his generation became momentarily fascinated by in childhood. Well, apparently not Mr. and Mrs. Gohmert’s boy, who makes most of Don Knotts’s movie and television characters resemble Neil deGrasse Tyson instead of the bug-eyed, Barney Fife of the day.

As the real-life version of Idiocracy plays out daily in this country, the GOP continues to shovel shit on top of shit, parading out some of the biggest nincompoops we have ever witnessed running for office. This isn’t city council, where teeny, tiny men and soccer moms get to make decisions about sewer lines and what grants to apply for and how late in the year they can start road work before the ground freezes. This isn’t even at the state level, where candidates eye the pork and dream of getting a piece of it for themselves and their constituency. This is FEDERAL stuff; the big time. Big lobby money, big publicity; it’s practically celebrity. Maybe that’s why celebrities and sports figures are attracted to the idea of running for office, even though many of them have no business getting near a public office unless it’s to research a character.

The Gipper was widely-believed to have been an excellent politician, even though he was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease throughout a lot of his presidency. The thing is, he was just playing a part in the GOP’s long game. The GOP has always played the long game, while Democrats rush from one outrage to another, wanting immediate responses to issues that are older than them in many cases.

Still, it’s incredibly hard to believe that the GOP’s long game was always supposed to result in the absolute shitshow that is the Republican Party today. Unfortunately, this is the result of mediocre men wanting to be rich, and the lengths to which they will go to in order to get those riches.

Enter Herschel Walker. It is somehow poetic, isn’t it? What began with outrage over “potatoe” has culminated in the GOP trying to elect a potato. I doubt he knows the correct spelling, but worse than that, he actually believes that he can be a US Senator. This is a guy who said the Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t help Americans because “a lot of money, it’s going to trees” and “we have enough trees.”

This is a guy who showed off a laminated “Special Deputy Sheriff Badge” to bolster his fake law enforcement ties, and who then stood dumbly beside the sheriff who gifted him with said badge, as if this made him a real, live deputy.

This US Senate candidate claims inflation affects women more than men because “they gotta buy groceries.”

I’m not even going to get into the really awful stuff this guy has said, or his record as Father of the Year; if you’re so inclined, you can read about it here. I’m just saying that the GOP bar can’t really get any lower than this guy. And I know; I’ve said we’ve hit bottom a few times already, and yet we keep descending into depths never visited before. I suppose that there could be worse candidates – like a former president who is also a traitor to his country – but why the persistence in finding out? Hasn’t “fuck around and find out” been proven to be a bad political strategy countless times before? Hello, 1930s Germany; I’m looking at you.

We desperately need to stop making stupid people famous.

Must carry on (easy for you to say)

NFL Sundays have been a matter-of-fact part of my life for as long as I can remember.

First, it was my mother, cheering on her Pittsburgh Steelers.

My childhood Autumn-Winters were peppered with phrases that described her team: Steel Curtain, Immaculate Reception, Three Rivers; and names like Bradshaw, Greene, Harris, Stallworth, Ham, Blount, and the quintessential Coach Noll. All of this became entrenched in my youngster’s brain, even though I preferred books and Barbies to watching the games that made her holler and sometimes, determined what time we were eating dinner.

There were Sunday afternoons, when my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Hank would come over for dinner, that I would sit next to my Aunt with my stomach rumbling unhappily while we listened to my mother and Uncle Hank yelling at the activity on the television and trading good-natured jabs (usually) about each other’s team. My Aunt would snicker and then loudly moan about how “Lori and I are just WASTING AWAY with HUNGER over here.”

Throughout the years, the “Stillers,” as Mom and a Pittsburgh born and raised friend referred to them, were woven into the fabric of our little family. You would have thought that my brother and I would have been de facto Steelers fans, but I decamped to my Uncle Jerry’s team – the Dallas Cowboys – and Charlie became fascinated by the Buffalo Bills. Neither one of us ever wavered, despite many frustrations and controversies and ribbing from people who didn’t care for our teams.

Let me just assert, right here, that there’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than becoming a bandwagon jumper when a team is having a glorious season. Abandon my team, who I’ve admired since I was 14, in order to join the field of black and gold or red and blue that becomes the battle gear of my community from late August to February? Nope – I’ll stick to the silver and blue. Love them or hate them; the Cowboys will always be my Boys.

When Charlie and I were growing up, this area of northwestern Pennsylvania had not yet become the “Bills Country” that it is now; the Steelers were still the undisputed champions of our rural area. Buffalo supplied our television network channels, so I suppose that it was inevitable that the Jim Kelly era would usher in the Bills fanaticism we see today.



All of this was music to my brother’s ears. He was a diehard fan through the winning seasons, the four, consecutive Super Bowl losses (two of them against my Cowboys), and the losing seasons. Sometimes, he’d get disgusted, pouting and shouting “I’m not a Bills fan no more,” but we knew better. Come Sunday, he’d be decked out in his Bills gear with his phone in hand, texting his friends who were Bills fans, and posting hilarious comments on Facebook. More than one person received score updates whether they were watching or not, whether they were fans or not, or whether they even liked football – or not. You always knew the score if Charlie had your cell number. Often, after a precarious or narrow victory, he would text friends, telling them that “I need to change my underwear” or “That game gave me the shits.”

When The Husband and Charlie met, football was the subject that brought them together. My brother was understandably hesitant about trusting a man in my life; my first husband had not been very nice to him. When I say that my children and I were victims of traumas perpetrated by that man, I have to include my brother. It took time and patience to prove to him that The Husband was not going to ever belittle, tease, bully, or hurt him, and that he actually wanted to know what Charlie thought about things. In so many ways, my brother was an eternal kid; but about statistics, sports, and especially football, he was a savant. One of the things that I love most about The Husband is the way he is genuinely interested in what people have to say. It may not be a subject he is familiar with, but if it means something to the person he’s talking to, then they get his full, animated attention. This was especially true of his relationship with Charlie. My brother didn’t regard him as an authoritarian, or elder; he was The Husband’s equal peer. He was his brother.

Football is excruciatingly painful for me still. I don’t know if I will ever be able to watch any game with the same zest and zeal as I used to. I miss the banter between us when our teams are on the screen, and the hilarity that would ensue between Charlie and his Bills friends after a win. I miss the intense discussions that he and The Husband would have, and how The Husband would often ask Charlie for stats. I miss his constant text updates from his bedroom 40 feet away, letting me know the score of the Dallas game, or the Steelers, or the Bills. Witnessing him watch a Bills game, though; it was both raucously funny and, well…a word I don’t have in my vocabulary. His love for his team, the fanaticism, and the vast stores of knowledge about the game of football and the NFL’s rich history transcended his (dis)abilities and gave me glimpses of the man he would have become, had he not been born with the challenges he had.

Don’t get me wrong; to me, he was perfect and I was always so proud of every, single accomplishment or thing he did. Nevertheless, my love for my baby brother IS such that I wished for the moon and the stars for him, if that’s what he wanted. It made me so sad when he would ask me why he couldn’t go to college, or why he couldn’t drive – things most people take for granted. Those moments when he was completely comfortable and in his element were so remarkable; they filled me with that indescribable something that has no name, but that I am positive that everyone has felt from time to time.

Charlie and I were such peas in a pod that just about everything either reminds me of him or sparks a memory: music, television, foods, places, even words (PORCUPINE), and of course, football. As I struggle to navigate the choppy waters of my grief, I have come to understand that the journey will never end. It’s just that sometimes, there will be storms that bring massive waves that threaten to topple my boat, and other times, the calmest seas with nary a breeze. It is during those tranquil and still moments that I can see him reflected in the water, and he looks back at me, his smile playful, his tempered, milk chocolate eyes filled with the tenderest love, just before his nose crinkles and he sticks his tongue out and wags it at me. I laugh out loud.

And then the clouds move in.

Conversations with Granny Smith, or why I would not win the Great British Baking Show

I’m reasonably certain that, if I did not have to peel apples, we would have many more tasty bakes in this house. It is the same with potatoes; I may be Irish and I may revere the tatey as the soul-satisfying, giver of life tuber that it is, but the task of peeling them falls just short of cleaning toilets at Walmart. Not that I would know; I would just assume that it’s highly unpleasant. I’ve seen things.

Anyway, I had ordered a big bag of Granny Smiths last week with the grocery order. There were vague ideas of making an apple cake, and an apple-walnut crostini; I even entertained the idea of apple dumplings. The new season of the Great British Baking Show was fully upon us, and I always find myself wanting to pretend that I’m in the tent, joking with Noel Fielding while I create some confection so astoundingly delectable and beautiful, I would get the coveted Paul Hollywood handshake.

Alas, those bright green orbs of deliciousness remained in the refrigerator from last Wednesday to today, silently mocking me.

“Fuck off,” I muttered to them, as I reached for the milk to make oatmeal.

“We’ll still be in here in January, and you will have murdered us with neglect. Just like you did with that gorgeous bag of McIntosh. They were glorious and they didn’t deserve to be ignored.”

“Not so,” I protested. “I’ll use you for something, and it will be delicious. The Macs, well – it was a different set of circumstances. I had a lot on my mind.”

“Yeah, right. A lot of procrastination, maybe. Plus, you don’t like skinning us. You foist that job off on Scott, and he caves and does it because -“

Shut the fuck up,” I shouted. “And since when does a dumb, lifeless piece of vegetation know what ‘foist’ means? You watched Curb Your Enthusiasm once, and now you’re foisting things.”

“Why do you think children gift us to their teachers? We’re eminently intelligent. Except for the Red Delicious. They’re just show-offs. All flash. No substance. Murderous on the teeth. Just like you, with bags of apples.”

“I should shove the lot of you into the blender.”

“Don’t threaten us with a good time. That would mean you were making a smoothie or something healthy, and you know the saying: An apple a day -“

“That’s it. Where’s the fucking peeler?”

Again, it cannot be understated: I detest peeling. It feels clumsy and I’m not great at doing it with a pairing knife, so the old-fashioned peeler comes out and I silently curse myself for having to be the kind of baker who does not make pies with canned pie filling, because that would be cheating, somehow. I have five cans of pie fillings in the cupboard, but they will never become pies. Danish, cheesecake toppings, and even fruit-filled cookies, certainly; just not a pie.

It’s also difficult to peel because I have to stand in order to do it; sitting feels awkward. My meniscus doesn’t allow me to stand for more than 5 minutes before it starts to clang and I fear that my leg is going to give up and collapse; so I shift all my weight onto my right leg and bend my left slightly, relieving the pressure. I resemble a dumpy flamingo, standing there, as I wince and silently beg my leg to behave, sweat rolling down my face. Until I’ve had surgery, this is how I do things.

Therefore, this was not an optimal situation, but those apples pissed me off with their smug presence, not to mention their sarcastic attitudes. The audacity, as if they were some sort of exotic delicacy. As Goose would say, How dare.

It took way longer than it should have, but I made those Granny Smiths my bitch, and made the goddamned pie. I cursed the fact that, despite all the times I have said to myself, “You need to get one of those silicone brushes to do egg washes and stuff,” I still have not purchased one, and I had to use one of my paint brushes. It took fucking forever.

This pie had had better be as good as it smells.

Oh, Taylor.

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather since mid-week. Nothing major – scratchy throat for a couple of days, and a general feeling of malaise. It didn’t stop me from the treadmill and all the running around that we always do on The Husband’s 2 days off; but yesterday, I really didn’t feel good.

When I’m feeling the sort of run-down that heightens every ache and pain – which shoots off a distress signal to my brain, where the real fuckery begins – I listen. This was not always the case. As women, we’ve taught ourselves to minimize our own well-being, lest we be perceived as being sOfT or too DeLiCaTe or, worse yet, SELFISH. We’re the caretakers, and that doesn’t mean for ourselves. I’ve got to wonder: who came up with that set of parameters? Was it a man? See, I don’t think so. I think it was a woman, and a shitty one, at that. To quote the late, great Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright:

“And just remember – there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

PASC, or Long Covid, has really changed how I address not feeling quite right. There’s still so little information about why it happens, and I don’t know when the science will catch up to it. What researchers do believe is that Covid basically lights up the immune system, putting it into overdrive. While you want your immune system to be strong, you don’t want it to attack healthy cells. With PASC, that’s what it appears to do. Multiple systems become inflamed, and that inflammation translates into multiple symptoms – all of which suck a dick.

I have been taking a daily protocol that seems to be providing some relief for many PASC patients, including me. It consists of an antihistamine – Claritin for me, since I already take it for uticaria – for allergic inflammation; Pepcid, for gut inflammation; Omega-3, for brain food; and melatonin, for serotonin stimulation. I started in mid-August of 2021, and, by October, I could exercise again, and I just felt generally better. Not 100%, but better. You take what improvements you can get with PASC.

The problem with feeling a lot better is that I tend to forget that I’m not entirely better. If I push it too far, I can relapse. And with the “return to normal,” or whatever the fuck this is, exposure to other viruses, bugs, and even Covid still, I have to be careful. Some of it is psychological: my brother and nearly 6 million other Americans are just gone, and so many millions of us have gotten sick in varying degrees. Nothing about this virus is standard, or garden variety, and we don’t yet know whether it hides in a dormant state in our bodies. That stark reality can really fuck with your head, and since I’m already a little bit bonkers, it’s just another special ingredient in my brain stew.

In October, at the beginning of exercise, and now. YUGE difference.

I basically slugged it on the couch and let my boys take care of me. Never underestimate the power of the feline. By last night, I was feeling so much better.

Then, the news of Taylor Hawkins’s death smacked me in the face about 3 minutes after it was tweeted, and everything just, well, it got dark.

I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know how we survive each blow as they come. Holy mother of fuck – why can’t we just breathe for a bit?

If any of you have been living underneath a rock for the past 25 years and don’t know who Taylor Hawkins was, he was the drummer for the Foo Fighters. He was fierce, and explosively talented, and sweet, and his star shone so, so bright. One cannot think of the Foos without pairing Dave Grohl with Taylor; they were fiercely close, and Taylor was the member of the band who was most likely to be by Dave’s side during interviews. When one says, “Foo Fighters,” Taylor would be the first thought that comes to mind nearly as much as Dave.

Taylor Hawkins was the only drummer who could sit behind that drum kit and make you forget that the greatest drummer was holding a guitar and singing in front of him, not playing the drums – and you were glad.

I have spent the entirety of this decade grieving, sick, struggling, and combating feelings of hopelessness, despair, futility, and dread. There have been scant moments of happiness, and they fit on the fingers of one hand:

A grandson born at the very beginning.

The absolute joy on my brother’s face when he heard that the Orange Menace had lost the election.

New music from my most beloved bands.

A ginger fur angel sent to me to love and to cherish.

A concert (The Foos) that checked off a box on a list of things that I wanted/needed to do.

Throughout this absolute hell of a first part of the decade, there’s been one, consistent element that has held me up, encouraged me, and dragged me through the worst of it. That element is music, and specifically, the Foo Fighters.  When I could not bear to listen to the music that had united my brother and I in a sort of raucous, secret society within enormous, worldwide fandoms, I found that the Foos provided a soothing balm that soaked into my pain and diluted it a bit. I still don’t know why I was able to immerse myself in their music; Charlie and I had together loved them every bit as much as KISS or Ghost. I should have been awash with sorrow every time I heard them. I have definite thoughts about why I wasn’t. 

On September 15, 2021, we traveled to Syracuse, New York, to St. Joseph’s Amphitheater, to attend a Foo Fighters concert. Our journey to Syracuse was quiet, but not uneventful. The forecast had warned of rain for days before, and rain is what we got nearly all the way northeast. Torrential, blinding, thunderous, hydroplane-inducing rain, with impossibly low-hanging, ominous clouds pregnant with moisture, promising more where that came from. Inwardly, I shuddered. I envisioned us being soaked and shivering in our lawn seats, going home with colds or worse. “So we get wet,” The Husband said, matter-of-factly. “It’s the Foo Fighters.” He is not the fan that I am; he appreciates them and thinks Dave is cool, but we were clearly going for me, not him.

The concert, itself, was amazing. That is, once it finally began. The weather we had traveled with had settled into New York City, where the band was making the short flight to Syracuse from. They waited on the tarmac for 4 hours before finally getting the okay to fly. Dave told a hilarious story about it, which I recorded:

We were very fortunate that they made it literally at the last minute, but I never had a doubt. That night, there was the most gorgeous sunset, and I could feel my brother’s presence, his face illuminated in deeply rose-colored fire. Even a musically-solid opening band, with a spastic lead singer having an existential crisis onstage, making it difficult to react in any way other than “What the fuck did he just say?” didn’t faze me; I knew that the plane would make it, much like the Foos’ song, Wheels.

When the wheels touch ground (when the wheels touch ground)
And you feel like it’s all over
There’s another round for you

No one entertains like Dave Grohl. No one engages with his audience like that motherfucker does. I use motherfucker with love, because he’s notorious for referring to his audiences as just that. Let me tell you: there isn’t anything more thrilling than being called a motherfucker by Dave Grohl – except probably meeting him. Since I very much doubt that I will ever have that opportunity, I’m content with being called a motherfucker.

I danced. I shouted. I laughed. I shrieked. I delighted in seeing Pat Smear’s joyous, bouncy guitar playing because he is truly an ICON and his face makes me happy. I delighted in Taylor Hawkins and his freight train, bombastic energy. That guy’s smile lit up the world. I did all those things. I was caught up in the music, in the magic of a late night outside, singing along with every song and knowing that the 17,000 other souls were right there in the zone with me.

And then, it happened. They performed These Days. It’s one of my favorites, and it is apparently a favorite of someone in Ghost, because it’s always a part of their pre-show, piped in music. Charlie noticed it, and was thrilled that, in his words, “Papa likes the Foo Fighters!” When I reminded him that Dave Grohl had actually produced and played on a Ghost album, he laughed out loud and said, “Yeah! Duh.”

I could feel the swelling of emotions rising from within as I sang along with the band. When it got to the chorus, sobs tore from my chest and my eyes made actual tears. I sang even as I brayed, gripping The Husband’s arm. It felt, for a moment, like it had the day I had lost Charlie, in that tiny room. That searing agony as the cries tore up through my chest and throat and clawed their way out of my mouth, like a cloud of bats. I released them into that crowd, feeling my heart straining against the confines of my body. I let the pain carry me as I sang. I saw The Husband break down for a moment, and then we embraced. We were united in a moment of such extreme grief, all the hopes for a future where we would dream up ways for Charlie to do all the things and make his dreams come true just gone. Gone.

Seeing Taylor perform Queen’s “Somebody to Love” was truly one of the most emotional parts of the concert. The guy just exuded vulnerability; I wanted to fold his wiry frame into a fierce hug and say, “I love you.” I wish that I could have. I didn’t know that it would be the first and last time that I would experience that performance in person.

It’s gut-wrenching to think about.

On the first anniversary of Charlie’s death, I was determined to make it a normal day. I got on the treadmill. I tuned into my fast-pace playlist. I was nearly an hour in when the song I was listening to just stopped. There was silence for a few seconds. Then, the stripped-down version of “Times Like These” began to play. A warm flush suffused my body, and I let the lyrics sink in:

I, I’m a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight
I am a little divided
Do I stay or run away
And leave it all behind?
Ah-ah-ahh

It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again

I sobbed. I picked up the pace. I knew that my brother was coming through, and that this was his message. When it was over, I stopped, and looked at the screen of my phone, at the playlist. It wasn’t my playlist. It was the Foo Fighters page on Spotify. Call it whatever you want, but I know that I wasn’t in charge of my phone that day, as it nestled in the side pocket of my shorts. It was divine.

I hope, that once the dust settles and the confusion and searing grief let up just a little, and all the immediate, painful sorrow has dripped from the eyes of everyone close to Taylor, that his loved ones – his family, both immediate and band family – and friends, will feel Taylor coming through to them with his own message of love and strength. I know my brother is looking for you in that Otherside, Taylor. He’ll find you, and you’ll hear him shout,

MOTHERFUCKER.”

And then, he’ll hoot with laughter.

How the breast was won

I know, I know: it’s been a while since I’ve been here, creating. To be honest, I may finish this, and I may lose interest. That’s my brain, one year post-Covid. If you’re reading this, though? I deserve a gold star. It’s the first thing I will have managed to actually create in many months. So, let’s not speak of absences; instead, let’s be glad that I’m trying.

I both love, and hate, Facebook Memories. Right now, they tend to hit me right in my tender, raw heart, but I will always be grateful for the reminders of good times. My brother was one funny motherfucker.

If you didn’t really know my brother, this photo is all you need in order to say that you do now. This was taken in October of 2019 – a time that will be heretofore referred to as The Before. This was during the Human Cheeto Days, but Before the fictional Upside Down World, from Netflix’s Stranger Things, became reality.

Behold, His Majesty, King Cock Schnozz, Righteous Leader of the Horse’s Ass movement and benevolent admirer of all things mammary.


Back when he was about 17 or 18, he had become obsessed with referring to his favorite part of the female anatomy as “hooters.” He found it hysterical, and would alternate between delightedly squealing it, or just uttering it in a sort of creepy, demented, euphoric way. He was an equal opportunity admirer who would comment, “Nice hooters,” in a conversational tone about any woman who attracted his attention. This included me…and our mother.

While she was more apt to shout at him, I realized that not only was he dealing with hormones and not understanding them, but he was completely unaware of social mores that decreed that a brother must not admire his sister’s breasts; at least, not in Pennsylvania. Once I sat him down and explained to him that any woman he was related to was explicitly off-limits where his hooter-ogling was concerned; and that furthermore, it was unacceptable to comment in such a way to ANY woman, he understood. All you really had to tell him was that something was bad, and he’d get the message. Rules were important to him, and this was a hard and fast one. Our mother lacked the patience with him to “have a conversation” about anything related to sex; once I could get him to stop giggling, I drove the point home and he incorporated these rules into his inner dialogue of Shit That Ain’t Funny (and could get you grounded, punched, or arrested).

He still enjoyed a nice pair, although we knew that he would never actually touch a boob, due to his extreme squeamishness and discomfort with his own person being touched. This was a guy who refused to touch his own peen, even to go to the bathroom. He perfected a way of standing that aimed things right into the toilet bowl; it was a harrowing sight if one stumbled into the bathroom when he was in there. He also never closed the door.


Still, he was a red-blooded young man who, despite his autistic super powers, deserved to be able to admire the objects of his affection in the privacy of his own room, so I set out to create an “outlet” for him. My sister-in-law had recently split up from her latest guy – a man she met in a bar and impulsively married a month later. The marriage had lasted a year, which was nothing short of a personal record for her; we never knew who her kids would be calling “Daddy” at the next family function. I knew this guy wasn’t going to stick; he had stopped all activity except sleeping in the marital bed less than a month after the honeymoon, much to my sister-in-law’s extremely vocal complaints. She begrudgingly accepted his explanation that he was just “stressed out and exhausted” from his job as a used car salesman.

That is, until she had been awakened one night by frenetic movement on their bed, only to find him having his way with himself, while a porno magazine provided inspiration. She kicked him out of bed, then out of the house. When she was clearing out his belongings from the bedroom, stuffing them into trash bags and throwing them out the second story window onto the front lawn, she discovered about 100 “dirty” magazines under the bed, pushed back into the shadowy darkness. She’d called me, furious. “You have got to come see this.”

I didn’t want to go see anything having to do with her, the soon-to-be ex-husband, the scene of the crime, or his nasty, little secret. Unfortunately, they lived across the street from us, and I lacked the ability/spine to say, “Fuck no, I don’t want to see shit.” Instead, I made my way across the street, dreading what I was about to encounter. I imagined some sort of secret, apocalyptic shrine to porn, with discarded tighty whiteys the size of a trash bag (they were a plus-sized couple), scrunched-up, used Kleenex, and jizz streaks all over the walls and floor. What? How was I supposed to know what had caused her so much shock that she needed a witness? I told you that I was young; my brain still couldn’t process the fact that he’d had the audacity and sheer depravity to wank himself right there beside her as she slept. Dude! Retire to the bathroom, or shower, or to your apocalyptic shrine to porn. Have a little respect for the woman whose tits you had motorboarded at the bar the night you met, shouting, “I gotta MARRY you, Baby!”

Instead, I walked in to their house, only to find her at the dining room table, a stack of magazines in front of her. And by a stack, I mean a mountain, a veritable mini-library of porn. There were so many of them. Wordless, I sat down, staring at the tower of smut and filth before me. “These were all under the bed. He hid them up by the headboard. They’re disgusting!” I didn’t want to touch them; I mean, he had used them, all of them; and there were so many of them. She must have read my mind, because she said, “They’re not, well, there’s no cum or anything.” Okay, I’ll take your word for it, but you voluntarily let that man’s peepee reside with you and in you.

As I looked through the titles, I was struck by the hilarity of them:

Beaver Hunt

Juggs

Gourmet Editions

Barely Legal

Big Butt

Panty Play

There were Hustlers, and Playboys, and Penthouse, but it was clear that this guy liked to have a wide variety at his disposal. Mostly, it was just gross, but we did have a laugh at some of the, uh, spreads. She said she was going to put them out in the trash. Why not just let him take them? I asked. “Fuck him,” she said. “He can go fuck himself.” Well, that’s why he needed the magazines, I thought.

Later, as Charlie sat in our living room, watching TV with my kids, I was suddenly struck with an idea. I excused myself and ran over to my sister-in-law’s house. “Can I have some magazines?” I asked. ” I have an idea.” I explained to her what I planned to do. She cackled, and waved her hand dismissively. “Take’em all!”

I took a stack home and hid them well, because five kids can smell the secrecy on you and will find the contraband that you are concealing, if you aren’t extremely wiley. Over the next couple of days, other materials needed in order to produce my great idea were procured. I had to work when the kids weren’t home or in bed, so it took a few days, but when I was finished, there was a LOT of giggling. When I showed it to my mother and explained what it was for, she giggled, too.

I waited until Charlie was out on one of his epic walks, and then Mom and I installed my work in his bedroom. When he returned, we casually said that he ought to hang out and play Nintendo in his room for a bit. He easily agreed, and we stealthily followed him. And waited.

“HOOTERS!”

As we walked into his room, he stood, staring at the wall where I had hung the largest collage of ta-tas that I think anyone had ever seen. I had painstakingly cropped hundreds of boobies from those magazines and glued them artfully to the poster board. Letters spelling out HOOTERS had been layered in there, too. Charlie turned to look at us, his face lit up like it was Christmas morning. At this time, he had been growing a mustache, and, in his parachute material track suit, he resembled a 70s porn star. You could almost hear the “Bow-chicka-wow-wow.” His smile was of pure delight. Then, he did a high-pitched, trademark Charlie “Geek!” squeal and started a little prancing move; just like that, he was my little brother who had just been given a new Star Wars figure or a game for his Nintendo. Except that he was becoming a man, and while these were “toys” he would likely never even glance his hand across accidentally, he could still look, in the privacy of his own bedroom.

Charlie kept that monument to breastage for many years, and even ate at a Hooters restaurant when he was on a trip with friends from his workshop to the Eastern Shore one summer. He never lost those liquid stars in his eyes when he would see a “foxy lady,” and Kamala Harris was his last crush.

“Wow. Beautiful,” he breathed, watching her on television. “Nice hooters.”

Cold day in the sun

Nine years ago today, I lost my mother.

It was getting much easier to remember her with love and gratitude. What had begun with an all-consuming pain had softened with the passage of time. She had lived a long life. She was no longer suffering from the awful, chronic illnesses that had robbed her of the last 10 years of her life.

I was pretty angry at her for a while. Her stubbornness – the refusal to write out advanced directives, to give me access to her insurance policies, and her unwillingness to tell me things about her relationship with my dad – forced me into situations and to make decisions I very much should not have had to make. No child should have to say, “Stop all lifesaving measures for my mother.” That weighs on a person. It weighed on me, and you know what? It fucked me up for a long time.

I had come to a sort of peace about that. Time is kind in that it allows for wounds to heal and scar over, if the spirit is willing. My therapist and I were about to start examining the traumas I endured as a child, and mapping out where it all went so wrong. I wanted to forgive – but not absolve – her.

And then came December 28, 2020, and that fragile stability inside me shattered completely. I haven’t been whole since, and I don’t believe that I ever will be. I spent those first few weeks battling the virus that stole from me, staying alive, and grieving in isolation. No touch, no embraces, no human contact. I had a loving, warm, amazingly supportive husband who gives the best hugs right there, 8-10 feet away at all times, and I could not crawl into his arms on the couch and sob until I fell asleep. Humans are not meant to grieve without physical contact. Let me tell you: that fucks you up, too. You’re so deeply entrenched in your sorrow, and you’re at the mercy of that same novel coronavirus that just killed your brother. No one can hug you and say, “You will be okay.” No one can hug you and say, “I’m here for you.” You’re on this infected island, and rescue is right off the reefs that surround it, unable to reach you.

One of my fears, these past 9 months, has been that my mom is angry with me for not keeping her precious boy – MY adored brother – safe. That she is on the other side of the veil, disappointed in me, like she was all my life. She envied our bond, which was that intense, fierce love that siblings have for each other, made even stronger because he was in need of my protection. Autism may have made him vulnerable, but it didn’t define him, and intellectual delays didn’t limit him, and it didn’t define our relationship. He was kind and hilarious and joyous and deeply, deeply weird. Covid robbed the world of his shining light. It robbed me of the one person in this world who had been there the longest and who loved me the most. I could never disappoint him; everything I did was astonishing and cool to him. He was the one person who looked at me and saw perfection. And now, he’s gone, like dust in the wind, and maybe he knows how flawed I am.

It did give him back to our mother. My fear is that she, in turn, told him “I told you so.” Do I believe that? I don’t want to, but she has been very quiet for a while now. She has always given me signs when I least expected, and most needed them. Dimes, her voice piercing that thin film between sleep and consciousness, or reminders of her in songs that play, or in the eerily familiar gait of a stranger in a store.

I could use one today, no matter how small. There has been a heaviness all week, and no, I am not okay. Today, I don’t think that I’m going to pretend that I am. It feels very lonely, this double-grief thing. It feels like being caught in a late-Autumn rain without an umbrella or raincoat. You trudge along under the dark gray skies, kicking sodden, dead leaves and soaking your shoes in puddles. You just want to get home, to the warmth, to a towel, to dry clothes, so you keep moving. When you get there, you dry off and change and then dive underneath a blanket, because a chill has set in, right into your marrow. It takes hours to really feel warm again. That’s what this sadness feels like; only I never quite lose that chill. It feels like an intrinsic part of me now.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got today.  Tomorrow will be better. I say that every day that dawns with the solitary, sorrowful bell tolling inside my head, announcing that this is another “first.” It keeps me going. Today, the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds and I can see blue skies.

But it’s raining, inside my head.

How many bandaids have you got?

I am broken. And I’m strangely at peace with it.

I was cracked before the events of December 28, 2020, when the ground disappeared underneath my feet. Just over a month prior, I’d checked myself into a psychiatric ward because I was absolutely positive that if I didn’t, I would commit suicide. Too many changes had occured in tandem with being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and OCD. My self-esteem was subterranean. I hurt. I felt that I hurt others just by existing. I wanted all the hurt to go away.

Looking back, I am absolutely certain that, had I not gone to the hospital and had instead somehow managed to avoid death that week, I would have died on December 28th, or soon after. I survived – made myself survive – because those 5 days in the hospital had armed me with coping skills that protected me when the stakes were as high as they could ever have been.

There was a moment, in that little waiting room where the ER staff had led the husband and I to when we arrived in tandem with the ambulance, where I am positive that I could have just dropped dead from the trauma. It was after the serious discussion we’d had with the doctor – whose name I don’t remember – about how to proceed. We had entered the eye of the hurricane at that point, and the room was quite still around me, but the back wall was quickly advancing toward us. I had to verbally tell him what I wanted him to do – or more correctly, not to do – and by that time, I was being tossed around by the force of the absolute storm of terror that was pummeling me.

I could barely get the words out. I cowered, my head between my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. I raised my head and looked into my husband’s eyes. “How,” I asked him, “how do I do this? What is happening? Why do I have to be the one to do this again?”

I was referring, of course, to a similar room in a different hospital, just over 8 years ago. In that room, we sat, in stunned silence, while my mother’s internist and a nurse explained to me that my mother was leaving us. It was a matter of time. And as she had no advanced directives or living will, how to proceed was going to be my decision. And that decision broke me, back then.

And here I was, at this terrible, horrific fork in the road again. Intellectually, I knew that the road might fork now, but that all roads led to one eventual destination. My head dropped again. I laced my fingers over my skull. The doctor asked me again. “Okay,” I choked out. “Okay, what?” he asked, urgency in his voice. “I’m so sorry, but I need to hear you say the words.”

I said them. Bleak desolation filled my entire being. I actually felt my soul trying to detach itself from my body. The pain was searing, like being electrocuted. I threw my head back and wailed. I ripped off my mask and threw it. I threw my phone. I threw my glasses.

I have never experienced a pain like that before.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with things that I knew would probably happen. Remembrances triggered by an image, a sound, a scene, a person. We all do this when we are grieving; this, at least, is a familiar phenomenon. I saw a man walking one day while we were out, and something in his gait and the way he wore his baseball hat was familiar. For a second, I forgot. I forgot, and nearly exclaimed, “There he is!” Realization washed over me and I couldn’t breathe. The pain that arrived with my sobs was excruciating. I felt absolutely terrible. How? How did I forget? I spent the rest of the day feeling lonely and wretched.

And then nearly shouted his name the next day, when I was laughing at something silly that Goose was doing. I wanted him to come see. Except, well, yeah.

What in the actual fuck is going on? My Covid-addled brain may be shorting out, but it’s not this bad. Again – intellectually, I know that these things happen. It’s just that it hurts. Good Christ, it hurts. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin to get away from it. We are nearing 6 months. Why is the grief AS painful as it was in the beginning? Why is it like a million little cuts all over my body? Why am I not bleeding? How the fuck am I not bleeding?

Grief has no timeline, I know. I don’t cry as much as I did, but it doesn’t take much for me to feel that gut-clenching, full-chested, searing feeling welling up from somewhere inside of me to erupt into a torrent of inconsolable sobs. Yes, inconsolable. Because no one has the right words. This is uncharted territory, Covid death grief, and only others experiencing it really understand how it feels. They have no consoling words, either, because there are none.

I guess we, the millions of people who have lost someone – or many someones – to this virus, who simply try to get through the days after our loved ones were brutally stolen from us, will need to come up with new words that can convey the desolate wastelands inside of us. We’ll come up with words, because although we know that it still cannot transfer the experience of pain that we are feeling to an unknowing person, that’s exactly the point. We don’t want anyone who hasn’t been thrown into this maelstrom of “It’s been (fill in the blank) days/months/a year; why am I still so sad? Why isn’t it feeling any better?” We are legion and we don’t desire any more members. The fact that the US alone is still logging 300 deaths a day, despite the vaccines, is excruciating to us.

I know that someday, I’ll laugh without that sinking feeling that immediately follows. I know that I won’t always feel guilty for taking pleasure in certain things; in the joys that life can bestow. I will be able to think of him without wanting to rip my heart out of my chest and offer it as tribute if I could only bring him back.

But right now? I can’t do any of that. The world is gray, despite all the colors. Telling me to look for the gifts, the signs, the blessings, and telling me that he will always be with me; those words are heartfelt and loving and I am sure that someday, I will be able to do all those things. I dearly love every, single person who has offered advice, or consoling words, or related their experience with the grief journey. It’s just that, at this moment, nothing truly helps, and it’s becoming difficult to put the mask that I wear to trick people into thinking that I am doing okay.

I’m doing my therapy. I’m taking my meds. I shower every day. I put on clean clothes. I brush my teeth. I rearrange furniture, plan projects. I hold my Goose, and dote on him. I think of little ways to show my husband that I care. I keep up appearances.

But – yep, there it is – I am not okay. I am afraid that this is all there is. And I am afraid that this body of mine, this fucked brain, the loss of words, the memory loss, all of the fuckery that Covid has wrought upon me? What if this is as good as it gets?

Don’t answer that.