Being a big sister is a lot like having Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Being a big sister is a lot like having Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

This is the face of a guy pretending to be happy as a clam, when in fact, I am sure he wishes I would drop dead right this second.

Get in line, fucker. 😂

Since returning from my glorious week in Colorado, I’ve caught a pretty nasty cold. I suppose it was gonna happen; two large airports and a 737 have to be extremely germy. The meds I have at home aren’t cutting it, so I knew I needed the big guns. I threw on clothes and a coat and made my way to the store, hoping that

A) the crisp air would do me some good and

B) they had Nyquil in stock.

I invited The Male Sibling Unit to accompany me, and off we traipsed. He was mostly good until checkout, when he said, “Get me some gum?” All while chewing away on a piece. Having just purchased sugar-free pudding, oatmeal, Manwich, and ingredients for a spiced apple cake per his “suggestions”, I was low on cash.

“Are you out?” I asked, eyeing the oyster crackers I’d picked up for some soup and thinking I didn’t need them. “No, I have some,” he replied as he made a movement to grab a pack. “Then no.” I answered. He stopped, looked at me and said, “Why NOT?” I took a deep breath, willing myself to not argue, and simply stated, “Because you still have some.”

The Male Sibling Unit’s compulsion to hoard gum goes back decades. When he moved in with me, he was carrying anywhere from five unopened packs and dozens of loose pieces in his pockets at any given time. I think he was just spitting it out the minute it lost taste. Despite having enough gum to provide a stick for every attendee of a jazz convention, he would still insist he needed to buy more. One pack is enough, and I’ll even submit to the necessity of having two, if you want some variety, but the entire gum shelf in a checkout aisle of a grocery store is excessive. Excessive and expensive, since .50 packs of gum have gone the way of dinosaurs and it isn’t odd to spend $2 on a single pack now. Fuck that! One pack at a time, Old Chap. One pack at a time.

The Male Sibling Unit was quiet for a while, as we began the trek home. But then, like a colon after a binge session at Taco Bell, he began to make noise.

“When, ” he asked, “am I done being grounded?” I rolled my eyes so hard I just have looked exactly like Marty Feldman. “This again?” I bleated, my voice hoarse from both my cold and my disbelief that we needed to have this conversation yet again, for the third time today.

Yes, The Male Sibling Unit is grounded. For a week and a day, exactly, for harassing and sending very mean texts to an individual after being warned not to. This is just the sort of drama he moans about others creating, and yet he creates much of it himself. I had simply had enough, so I confiscated his cell phone and logged him out of Facebook and changed his password. (This will be a bit of a problem when he gets back access, because I can’t remember what I changed it to.) He is restricted for a week with the understanding that he will get an extra day tacked on should he lie, heckle, or, quite simply, piss me off in any way.

Hence being at a week and a day. That’s right, jackass, I wasn’t kidding.

In the past, I would have caved by now. He’d be happily texting bullshit and posting his daily business on Facebook because, well…….he pushes my buttons and I just want a little peace. Not this time. Don’t ask me what’s different. Maybe I wanted to really test my heart medication; maybe there is not enough angst in my diet. Like fiber, it keeps the plumbing moving. Maybe I was overcome by the high altitudes and the lack of oxygen in the Rockies and I’ve truly lost my mind for good. It just seems to me that my making things easier for him, and not holding him completely accountable for his shitty behavior because he is disabled is a big cop-out on my part.

Very carefully, I tried being diplomatic instead of losing my temper yet again, because I’m convinced that a steady diet of me losing my shit has made me too predictable to The Male Sibling Unit, and he tends to feed off negativity.

“This will teach you,” I began, “that actions have consequences, and that you cannot fool me. In the end, I find out everything. People tell me when you fuck up. I have my spies.”

WHO?” The Male Sibling Unit demanded, outraged that his friends could have betrayed him. This made me laugh, evilly; which might have sounded like Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers under normal circumstances, but given my cold, came out sounding more like a half-strangled Yoko Ono song. “I’m not going to tell you who, dumbass! I want you to be good because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re afraid someone’s gonna rat you out!”

He was quiet for a moment, his brow knitted in serious contemplation. “Fine,” he responded haughtily. “I’m happy. I’m not gonna cause drama. I’m just fine.” Then he crouched and did a hop, stuck his tongue out at me, and pretended that his movements were perfectly normal when I stopped and asked him just “What the fuck was that?!?” Oh, he blew it off, replying, somewhat grittily, “Fosse! Fosse! Fosse! Madonna! Madonna!” but I knew and he knew. Oh, we knew. This was no lighthearted recap of The Birdcage. It was more like a dance of death, or of a guy who’s dancing on a grave. Mine, to be exact.

I am pretty sure the little fucker would be sticking pins into a voodoo doll of me if he had one. I am pretty sure that more than just my ears, nose, and throat would be aching if he had any clue of how to do magic. Yup. That’s the face of a pissed-off Unit.

Four more full days of grounding to go. If I never make another blog entry, it’s because I discovered that my heart meds do have limits, or they wouldn’t give me internet access in the institution.

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What happened in the 80s, or “this ain’t no Las Vegas, motherf**ker”

Maybe you’re tired of reading blog posts from people like me, who have so much to say about our government, our rights, and the travesties being inflicted upon the innocents. Maybe you don’t find the strong voices raisied in a symphony of solidarity and refusal to hide their pain quite beautiful to hear, like I do. I find it beautiful because I have joined in the song, and now that I have found my voice, it’s hard to stop singing.

If you’ve grown weary, take heart; we all have. We are weary of having to repeat painful stories in order to be heard by that one person who might be able to make a difference on behalf of the legion. We are weary of reliving the past in order to secure a safer, more promising, inclusive world for those who come after us: our kids, grandkids, and their kids and grandkids. If my telling my stories a thousand times means that my granddaughters will never be assaulted or harassed and my grandsons will treat all women with respect and equality, then I will rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, until my vocal cords are nonexistent. And if you’re tired of this movement, and if you hear our symphony and consider it noise, well, you can fuck off. Go live in your bubble, but be comforted in the knowledge that, even though you do nothing, others will still work to secure a safer world for your kids and your grandkids. You’re welcome.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me just say that, for me, the Kavanaugh “situation” has been more uncomfortable than the #metoo movement. Coming to terms with my sexual assault was something I had done a while ago, and telling my story was quite liberating. Looking back at other instances where I had been harassed or touched inappropriately was unsettling, rage-inducing, and offered inclusivity into a club we women never wanted to form. It did bring home the absolute horror of the realization that so many of us had been violated. The taking to task of these men and their horrible acts was long overdue. Getting at the root of it – the idea that men seemed to be genetically predisposed taking as if it was their right – was a particularly nasty can of worms to open. It had to be done, though, and it will ensure that we raise stronger girls who will never allow what we endured.

No, Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t make me angry at men all over again, because that has always simmered underneath the surface, like hot lava waiting for an earthquake to create a fissure in my earth’s surface so it can bubble up and over. His lies, or gross minimizations, about his high school and college years and the amount of drinking, the shenanigans, and the excess of the 80s are what ticked me off. I came of age at the same time, and while I was not of the privileged class who could have beach and pool parties, access to clubhouses and golf clubs, and spend shocking amounts of money on alcohol, I don’t think my experience was that much different. Where there was a will, there was a way, and parties might be held in the woods or in the home of a lucky classmate whose parents took a weekend trip, and money was always found for that alcohol and procurement was guaranteed as long as one could get to New York state or had a fake ID or an older sibling/friend/romantic interest.

His underplayment of those years was pure, unadulterated bullshit. His explanation of words used in his yearbook made him look like an idiot, but even more so, a lying liar pants. We used those code words; we knew what they meant. That he could sit there and lie about their meaning was breathtaking to behold; this was his job interview for the highest “sit in judgment” job in the land, and he was doing a spectacular job at instead providing an example of a really bad witness. Not credible, indeed.

Those words, though. “Ralph”. “Boof”. “Devil’s Triangle”. “‘Skis”. “FFFFF”. If you were an 80s teenager, one or all of them were familiar. They were commonly used. They were well-known. And he lied, plain and simple.

The 80s were well-documented, both in books, in film, and in music. John Hughes films laughingly, belovedly perpetuated the sex and drinking culture of the times. The hair, the clothes, the drugs, the booze, the parties. We thought we were so sophisticated, drinking our mixed drinks when we could get good alcohol, wearing the tightest clothes possible, teasing our hair up to the rafters, and worrying endlessly about “doing it”. What teenager isn’t hormonally challenged? These elements do not change, but the 80s were a time in which the social mores began to rapidly shift from “saving it until marriage” to “do what feels good”. The 80s were all about excess in every sense of the word. More. We wanted, needed, deserved more. And we found ourselves in situations. Lots of them.

I was victimized during the 80s. I also got myself into situations because I was taking full advantage of the expectations we had come to assume we should have access to. If you went to a keg party, you drank yourself sick. If you went to a college party, your responsibility was to drink all the drinks, as fast as you could, because this meant you were having fun. I was a typical teenager during this time, dressing up, caking on the makeup, shellacking my hair, and drinking all the drinks as fast as I could. Two weeks into my freshman year in college, I was boasting of being able to drink a whole bottle of Southern Comfort in an evening. I drank tequila shots like an old pro. Beer was not my first choice because it took too long to get the feeling I had come to love. You see, I was the daughter of an alcoholic and another parent who had, at the very least, a serious drinking problem. I was the granddaughter of an alcoholic. It all came very easily to me. Halfway through the school year, I was filling soda cans with alcohol and carrying it to lunch, dinner, to class. I was blacking out. I was loud and boisterous. I was agreeable. I was a drunk. All those years of drinking in high school were the minor leagues compared to college. I was going all-out, trying to win some elusive championship.

One weekend, a bunch of us gathered at another campus for a big party. One of our group was dating a guy who attended that school and he shared an apartment with a couple of other guys. They were all of legal age. None of us were. It was a big affair, with many dozens of attendees, probably closer to 100 as they came and went. It was hot, sweaty, and the drinks flowed freely. I smoked my first, second, and last cigarette ever at that party, thinking, “Why not?” We all took turns puking in the toilet, the tub, the kitchen sink – anywhere we could find. We held each other’s hair, sobbing slobbishly that we loved each other. At one point, a couple of the less-inebriated of my friends forced me to walk around the block in the bracing, early Spring night. “You need air or you’re gonna pass out,” I was told. It didn’t matter. I continued drinking. The next morning, I would vomit blood, my mouth tasting like an ashtray. I never smoked again, but drink? Oh yeah. I recovered for a day and then it was right back to it.

At some point at that party, I passed out, sitting up, on the couch. I don’t know how long I was out, but it was long enough for a dozen or so guys to pose with me, their arms around me, some with their hands on my breasts, while someone else took pictures. To be fair, when I came to, they told me what they had done and we all had a laugh. All of us – male and female. I didn’t feel violated, and I don’t now. It was “just the way it was back then”. That I could laugh it off made me in on the joke, you see? Not the butt of it. And then, when the photos were developed, I laughed even harder.

Except that I felt more than a little sick to my stomach, and red with embarrassment. I hadn’t had sex with anyone, but what if those guys weren’t as chivalrous (and I use that word loosely) as they were that night? I looked like a whore. Deep down, I felt a little bit like one, too.

But that was the 80s, you see. Looking back, meeting the wrong guy that following summer and almost immediately getting pregnant, thereby consigning myself to over a decade of diapers, formula, runny noses, and endless sleepless nights probably saved my life. Being poor saved me from the alcohol that would have made things not better, but more pleasant. Putting my children before my desire to float away on a cloud of inebriation saved me from inevitable blackouts and a sick liver – bastions of my family history.

When my kids got older and I got out of that bad marriage, I fell off the wagon for a time. It all returned so quickly and so easily; the euphoria, the self-confidence that came in a bottle. I was also in quite a bit of physical pain due to health concerns, so adding prescription narcotics was a natural progression.

I am fortunate that I came to my senses. I am fortunate that I realized that I was dangerously prone to addictive behaviors. I am fortunate that I learned to accept that having mental illness isn’t a death sentence, but alcoholism is.

What does any of this have to do with Brett Kavanaugh? Well, I recognize that guy. He’s any of a hundred different guys I encountered in the 80s. Lots of them went on to recognize the same things I did, and changed, and grew.

Some of them didn’t. And I don’t think Brett Kavanaugh has, either. I think that deep down, he’s still that insidious, puking, lying, frat boy who probably did some things he’s not proud of. He never took responsibility, though. And he’s trying to get everyone to think he doesn’t need to. And that, my friends, is why he’s dangerous.

And Dr. Ford is still a hero.

Why I Didn’t Report It

Right now, the nation is humming, yet again, about sexual assault. I don’t think we’re able to catch our breath between publicized stories. Most of alleged and admitted predators are men; very few women have been identified as attackers. While most would say that the fact that men have dominated women for so long is the primary reason for victims to suffer, sometimes for decades, in silence, I tend to think that the same, reverse reason is true for those who have suffered abuse from females. The fact is, a woman could be just as scary and cruel as any man. That there is less of a chance that a woman will offend may be down to physiology and psychological makeup. We have the babies; we are the caregivers. We possess empathy and maternal instincts. This isn’t to say that those traits can be missing, and often are.

The sad truth is, men overwhelmingly dominate the roster of sexual predators and offenders. It is a uniquely male malaise. Why don’t victims of sexual assault come forward? Because women have been conditioned, since the beginning of humankind, to submit to men. It is in our genetic makeup, and it will take many hundreds of years to be genetically wiped out. Think of subservience as the appendix of the human psyche. We don’t need it anymore, but, there it is.

I’ve shared my #metoo story here. It was a protracted period of time for me; a time when I was just becoming a young woman and not entirely aware of the fact that there were some really bad men out there. Like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I did not report my attacker. Well, I tried to, to the one person who should have taken one look at me and held me in her arms, promising that it would be okay, but perhaps it was the fact that subservience to men had been genetically stamped into her that my mother dismissed my account, unwilling to believe that such a “good” man would have defiled her daughter. I don’t blame her; she realized her error years later, when the horrible truth about the pedophile “ring” in our school district was exposed. She never apologized for not believing me, but I know she felt terrible.

What I never told her was that he wasn’t the first sick fuck man to cross my path. Disturbing things had happened to me not once, but twice before. They were one-time events, but I know now that I was a target for males who had that kind of psychological bent; I had no male figure to protect me in my life, and I was terribly trusting and naive. I was also quite starved for any kind of affection by the time I entered my teen years, and that carries a whole lot of reasons for why I think I reacted in certain ways to things.

When I was 4, a 17 year-old young man – my mother’s best friend’s son, referred to as a “cousin” because they had been like sisters since the single digits of their childhood – exposed himself to me. We were out back, in their garage, and I was looking at my uncle’s Edsel, which was stored there. My memory is not great when it comes to the details. He said some things to me, and then he opened his fly and took out his penis. I remember that he told me that I could touch it, and I remember an instinctive feeling of danger. It looked hideous and foreign to me, and I was both disgusted and afraid. I also knew that I had to play it very cool if I wanted to get out of there. I don’t remember what I said or did to assure him that I wasn’t going to tell, but I do remember trying to casually leave and then breaking into a run when I had gotten safely past him.

I never told anyone until three weeks ago, when I related the memory to the husband, who was immediately horrified and angry. I was terrified of that “cousin” afterward, and he was dismissive of me. I have wondered, as the decades have passed, if he is still alive and if he ever succumbed to whatever urges he had to get a child to touch him. He became a criminal and a drug addict, and my aunt and uncle stopped having contact with him before she died in the late 90s. Now, I wish I had told someone. That’s the guilt I carry: knowing that he probably did hurt another girl, and that I might have been able to stop it had I told. But as I say, I was one of those kids who must stand out to predators, because he may have been the first, but he wasn’t the last. What I relate now has never been told to anyone. Maybe it was because I was ashamed at being a fucking target for men who prey upon the innocent or who think they have a right simply because they are men, but the fact is, I’ve never felt the need to tell a soul this story. That is, until now.

Shortly before the teacher who abused me came along, The Male Sibling Unit received the gift of a large, three-wheeled bicycle from a local Veterans group. It had been built specially for him and paid for by them. It was well-known that he loved riding a tricycle and our mother could not afford to buy him a larger one. The man who built it was a member of the group, and he made a lot of trips to our apartment to take measurements, and we would occasionally stop at his shop to witness the progress. He was always very funny, and he and I would spar with jokes and sarcastic comments. I was 13, a wise-ass, and thought I was being very grown-up, talking with adults like that. I had no idea that he was thinking something else.

After the bike had been delivered, he would come by to check on it. One day, he was driving a classic car he had restored. It was really beautiful, and we all remarked about it. He “jokingly” asked me if I wanted to “go on a date” – a trip around the block in it. My mother told me to go ahead, and I jumped right in. By the time we had turned the corner, his hand was fumbling at my chest until he managed to cup my breast, and he was trying to pull me closer, because “That’s what you do on dates, and you wanted a date, so you’re gonna get one”. I squirmed, pushing him away, while he cackled. By the time we arrived back in front of the apartment building, I was as far away from him as I could get, up against the door. He nervously cracked jokes and laughed, telling me he was only playing. I jumped out of the car and walked right into the apartment and straight to my room. My mother didn’t notice my flushed face, crimson with humiliation, and he made a joke about “making me mad”. I shook for an hour afterward, wondering what it was that I must have done to encourage that. I felt, instinctively, that I was the one at fault.

Well, BULL FUCKING SHIT.

I know better now; I have known better for a long time. This story has never been told, not to the husband, or to trusted friends, or to a therapist. Nope, I didn’t report it. I buried it, like I did a lot of memories. But it happened, and while I cannot provide specific details – what color the car was, what I was wearing, or even the weather that day – the important shit, the shit that counts, is engraved indelibly in my memory. I no longer believe that I had somehow brought it on, or asked for it. A middle-aged man copped a feel of my 13 year-old breast, and I am certain he would have done more, had I acquiesced. That was on him, not me. The fact that it has been 38 years since it happened may blur the details, but not the act. 38 years may dull the humiliation and the fear, but not the fact of the act.

Dr. Ford is not lying because of some axe to grind or political bent; I know this as instinctively as I know that I love my children. My gut, the gut of a girl who was preyed upon three times, tells me that she’s telling the truth not to ruin a man’s life because she doesn’t agree with his point-of-view on political matters, but because he committed a careless, drunken, terrible act against her and he has never once atoned for it. He refuses to be truthful, or to submit to an investigation, and he believes that he is entitled to blanket belief because he says so and because of who he is. The fact that he believes he is entitled to blind trust makes him a danger to this country if he is confirmed into a job with no term limits. Her memories of specificities may have blurred, but the the act has not. It never does. All those circling the wagons to defend Brett Kavanaugh need to take an honest look at themselves and what they are defending. Every day, bit by bit, we are losing our humanity even as we continue to try and evolve into a better species. The ways of the past, of turning a blind eye to the sins of the fathers, must cease.

Dr. Ford is a goddamn hero.

Sunflowers and Sunsets

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this. I’ve been on the fence, sitting, like a lump of bird shit deposited by a careless pigeon, unable to budge. We’ve had a humid, hazy week with the remnants of Tropical Storm Florence soaking the ground at the beginning of the week and intermittent cloudbursts startling the haze and steaming the pavement in the days that have followed. The rains haven’t washed away my shitty mood; in truth, they only compound it. I love rain, but right now, the weather doesn’t matter. I will return to enjoying Indian Summer and all the things I love about Autumn after I get through the next few days. The sixth “anniversary” of my mother’s death is upon me, and it is the first time that the date actually falls on the day of the week that she died.

I was looking through some memories on Facebook last week and came across one, six years ago, when I was complaining about being sick with some kind of cold or sinus thing. It opened the door to remembering those days before she died and my dumb ass walked right through it. I spent a lot of time, back then, feeling guilty about having been sick and wondering if my germs had somehow made it down to her apartment and caused the sudden onset of pneumonia that hastened her passing. I had stayed away, but my daughter was down there every day and though she didn’t catch my cold, I still felt responsible. Mom had been really doing well; her health was better than it had been for a long time. I beat myself up about it afterward, and only came to realize that a lot of chronically ill people rally before they pass. That’s why, when they die, we are dumbfounded, and we say, “But he/she was doing so well.” I did this, in my grief, after she died.

When I saw that memory, I counted the days, and arrived at Monday, September 24. My heart sank. The same day. It has been there in my thoughts, like a persistent canker sore that you should leave alone but instead, you rub with your tongue, conjuring up the pain that stings. Every day this week, I have compulsively looked at my Facebook memories, reliving the past. It’s quite uncharacteristic for me, a person who has learned to eschew the past and who rarely, if ever, goes to that tab and clicks on it. The past proves too often painful, and I have worked very hard on myself to disconnect from painful memories. Thanks and fuck you very much, Zuckerberg, for providing so many ways for people to self-flagellate. It is not bad enough that our minds travel back in time, but now we have documented proof, right there for the perusal. I don’t have the self-discipline to stay away, because when I descend into the tar pit of sadness, I try to stay tethered to reality, and Facebook is such an omnipresent force of habit and reality check every day. It helps to bring forth a smile even in a world filled with anger and hurt and the ominous foreshadowing of humankind gone mad; in being all things to all people, it also goes too far. And so, I dwell on those days preceding Monday, September 24th, 2012, and again wish that I could somehow change them.

I miss her. I miss my mother. I miss all the good things, even though they were rare. I miss the comforting presence of a maternal figure, knowing she was there even if I didn’t think I needed her to be. There’s no sense wishing she had been more of what I wanted; I got what I got and it was what it was. Maybe we never completely lose that sense of urgency we had when we were little and something frightened us, and we sought out our mother’s presence and protection. Maybe just the idea of running to hide behind her legs, holding tightly to her when it got scary, is all we need when we grow up. It’s a comfort, a feeling that washes the fear away, even if we don’t actually seek it out. And when we lose that ability, it is devastating.

For a long time, I was like an astronaut in a sci-fi film who had floated out into space, away from the safety of an aircraft. My oxygen was going to run out and there I was, flailing about, resigned to certain death but screaming internally that it wasn’t time, that somehow, something had to save me. I suppose that, if something like this ever were to happen to an astronaut, thoughts would go to the comforting presence of a mother, and maybe it would help to calm the fear. It’s very hard to try and conjure up that feeling now; it is like a faint whiff of wood smoke carried along in the air on a misty, cool, Autumn morning. It is momentarily there, assauging the senses, and then Poof. It is gone.

I miss her, and I am still so angry at her for a lot of things. I am angry that she never told me stuff; how she met my dad, what made her love him; things like that. I am angry at her for making me choose to end her life by never wanting to discuss advance directives; even though she seemed to give me a sign, at the very end, that it was what she wanted, I will never get over the desolateness of having to say, “Please turn off the machines.”

I am angry at her for dying on September 24th because it is right at the beginning of Autumn and it was my most favorite time of year; usually the bearer of a sense of renewal and quiet contentment. It was a time not filled with depression, when I would be the equivalent of whatever serves as happiness for me and my fucked-up mental state. She died and she ruined it. Now, by the time I emerge from the sadness and renewed rawness of grief, it’s careening, out of control, into the dark chill of winter. I used to have those months to be topside. Now, they are interrupted and I get pushed back down below, into the dank belly of the ship, where the air is not perfumed with burning leaves and baking bread and the spiciness of cinnamon. It isn’t fair, and I hate her for it, until I remember that maybe she wouldn’t have gotten sick if I hadn’t gotten sick and then it’s just another pointless clusterfuck of guilt-ridden bullshit in my head.

Yeah, I said I hate her. It’s true; I do. It’s completely reasonable, given our relationship. I will never get over the fact that I was a bargaining chip in a game she was playing to win my dad. I think of my children and I am filled with sadness for her, that she never experienced the total immersion in love for one’s children, that sense of wonder and gratefulness at being chosen to love such remarkable creatures. I don’t think she ever experienced that, at least with me, and part of me still rails at the fact that I deserved to be cherished, goddammit. Yeah, I said it. I hate her.

And yet, the love I feel overshadows that hatred. I choose to dwell on the love now, because it sees me through. Maybe her love for me wasn’t the most, the best, or her best, but it was still real. It was still worth claiming. It taught me to lavish my love on my own kids, so they would never feel like I did; just outside the circle, never being asked within its boundaries. I never lose sight of how I was a much better mother because she was not all I should have had.

I’m going to try, very hard, not to go to those memories on Facebook this weekend, because they’re still very present in my consciousness, and reading them will not stop the flow of sadness. I’m going to try, very hard, to figure out a way to honor her, and to remember her at her best; not at the end, when her hand was slack and cold.

When I was about 3, we went to my great-aunt’s farm in the country for a day visit. The farmhouse was boring to a little girl, so I asked if I could go out in the yard. Imagine being 3 and being allowed to go outside without an adult, if you will. That was the beauty and freedom of being 3 in 1970. My mom and grandma were able to see me from their vantage point through a window, and so out I went. My Uncle Walt was outside somewhere, tending to the animals and the crops, and I drifted out toward the field of sunflowers he had growing. They were like giant, golden happy faces towering over me, and I began to sing to them. I sang, all shyness disappearing, to those beautiful flowers, and it wasn’t long before my mom, grandma, and Aunt Leatha came out to see where I had gotten to. I remember turning to look at them, still singing at the top of my lungs, and my grandma ran to grab the camera she had brought and snapped my picture. I don’t know what happened to that photo, but in it, I was smiling, singing “You Are My Sunshine” right into the lense, as the sunflowers danced behind me. I have been returning to the smile on my mother’s face that day; in those moments, she loved me as much as it was possible for her and the warmth of her smile washed over me like the golden glow of those glorious sunflowers. I will return to that memory a lot over the next few days.

If there is a sunset visible on Monday, the 24th, I will gaze upon it like I did in 2012, when my daughter looked out the window of the hospital room and said, “Look at the sunset, Mama. It’s so beautiful. Grammy is at peace.” We stood, quietly, marveling at the vivid pinks and reds and golds that glowed and reflected in the waters of Lake Erie. A sailboat drifted by in the distance. It was a fitting departure, a brilliant burst of sun as it descended below the horizon. It was my mother, saying goodbye, the glow of love shining out from her face, in her smile.

Sunsets and sunflowers are my mother’s love.

Sofa-king excited, or ode to couches I have known

Tomorrow, our new couch is being gt delivered. On a scale of 1 to 10 gauging my excitement, this is an 11. It’s a gorgeous, roomy, heavily-upholstered cream color with badass rivets decorating the edges. I am not usually a fan of lighter-colored furniture; I have always admired the effect but then I’d shake my head, thinking, “Kids.” Kids have factored into most decisions I have made about everything since I was 20 years old.

Not the exact couch, but similar, and oooooh I can’t wait to Netflix and chill.

“This carpet is pretty, but will it clean easily?”

“These plates are awesome; too bad they’re glass.”

“I really love this white, cable-knit sweater, but it’ll just get stained. Does it come in brown?”

“I know these tampons SAY super-absorbent, but are they, really? I don’t have time to run into the bathroom once an hour.”

“Nice car, but we’d need two just to transport everyone.”

For decades, our furniture has always been dark, or darkly patterned, and always Scotch Guarded to an almost toxic level. When my children were small, we were given sets of furniture that older family members gifted us because they were A) old and B) they didn’t have kids so they could afford new furniture every 3 years or so. It was the perfect trade-off for them: Uncle Joe wanted a new truck, so the deal was that Aunt Edna got new furniture. Then, they would gift barely-used furniture sets to their poor relatives, who didn’t care that there were scenes of country water mills or patterns of cabbage roses on them; they were in almost-new condition and they were free. Also, there were no puke stains that you couldn’t see but knew were there or chocolate stains or koolaid stains that had sunk into the foam, rendering it a sickly pink.

Let’s not forget the sets of furniture that were so popular in the late 80s and early 90s: heavy, wooden frames with removable cushions. Those bastards were heavy and dangerous if you had kids, because someone was always smacking their head against one of those arm rests that no one could possibly rest against, because they were shellacked instruments of torture. NO ONE was comfortable on these sadistic pieces of furniture, but every young couple had at least one set because they had older relatives who gave them away when Aunt Edna decided she needed to redecorate with a softer, less lethal, pastel theme.

Everyone of a certain age owned this set. Admit it.

One exception I made was the time I caved to impulse and bought red furniture. It was so pretty, so modern, and our living room looked like something out of a magazine.

For about a day.

With a 4 year-old in the house, I should have looked longingly at this set in the store and then moved on to the brown, tweed, stain-proofed set that I am positive everyone’s grandparents probably still own to this day. That red furniture was a massive error that ended up being replaced within two years. By brown, leather furniture. When THAT set needed to be replaced, we settled on brown tweed, because there was now a 7 year-old and a toddler.

It’s been about 5 years since I bought any new furniture. We have an old, brown, microsuede couch bought at the height of spill ages when our grandsons still resided with us, and a monstrous, dark red, leather couch that was purchased secondhand and which needed to be carried in by three grown men because it weighs more than a full-grown hippopotamus. It is a stainproof behemoth, impermeable to almost anything except for a black lab teenager’s paws. Our gregarious, 9 month-old Isla has a habit of doing her zoomies and including this couch in her mad dashes, and she has scored one cushion. I turned it over so no harm, no foul, but I know it’s there and my OCD cannot handle that. This couch is also extremely uncomfortable and slippery.

We’re going to “give” the red couch to the animals, moving it out into the large, empty dining area we have that is empty because we don’t need a dining room table. I am designing a kitchen nook area that will do for our needs just fine, and our meals are so jacked-up and random due to the husband’s work schedule that I’m not going to lie: who needs a table when you’ve got couches? Dinner tastes better with Netflix. Netflix and chill? How about Netflix and eat?

The brown couch will stay a little longer while I decide exactly what model of accent chair I want to go with my new, cream-colored couch. Decisions, decisions! Maybe I’ll get a set of two, or maybe it will be a recliner, or maybe I will get a papasan chair. I bought a new area rug that is still in the shipping box six months ago in anticipation of new furniture, but I just never seemed to find time to get inspired. Plus, Summer was too hot to think about moving furniture around. I much preferred laying on my old couch, prone, like an exhausted, overwrought dishrag.

The point is, there will still be Scotch Guard

and plush throws, and I will still have to vacuum the crap out of the new furniture and brush the cat hair off, and those corner guards for the backs will be attached in case someone gets the idea that they need to sharpen claws and I will be yelling and shooing them until they get a clue, but it will be, at last, something I could choose without a care in the world because the nest is empty. Now, my kids are making their furniture purchases based on color, durability, and “will this hide the koolaid stain?”

The nest is empty.

I can finally say that without tears in my eyes.

It’s Labor Day, or “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies”

I thought I’d take advantage of the Labor Day holiday to write a blog.

Wait.

I’m currently unemployed. Does it count for me? Am I permitted to take advantage of all of the “perks” of a federal holiday? The sales (that I can’t afford because I’m unemployed), the barbecues, the bingeing of Netflix (or “every day”, as I refer to it), the carefree imbibing of beer for three days instead of two? Or do I need to lock myself away, hidden from sight in my shame, from the employed who got the day off? Am I allowed to say, “Happy Labor Day!” to those I meet even though I, myself, do not get the day off from having, well, every day off?

See, there I go. I’ve done it now. I feel like such a fraud!

Except that I don’t, really. I do work full-time, at a great number of things. Anxiety is a full-time job, as is depression. Second-guessing every, fucking choice I’ve made throughout my life takes up at least the equivilent of a part-time job cleaning a bar after hours. It’s a good analogy to make, because both involve being awake after 2am, when everyone else has fallen into bed and they’re snoring away. Both involve regarding messes others have made that I must clean up, a few of my own due to clumsiness, and wide-awake moments of dismay: “Why am I where I am?”

Running a home in which The Male Sibling Unit lives is also a full-time job. Actually, anything involving The Male Sibling Unit is, indeed, a full-time job, whether it be as his caregiver, friend, or family. You know him? You’re working. This is a job you commit to 100% or else. It’s never effortless, but it is also not without great reward even when he’s doing his best to piss you off. Your take home pay is laughter and more than a few “WTF” moments, and the great thing about this job is that you get paid on demand, every day. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it does enrich your heart (when it’s not raising your blood pressure). It’s a gig well worth taking.

Anyway, it’s Labor Day, and I hope you’re enjoying it. This is one of the holidays that we share with Canada, even though Canadians seem to be much happier than us and as such, don’t necessarily need the first Monday of September off to become happier somehow. I’m sure they have annoying coworkers and I am positive that they have a rich history involving how Labor (or Labour) Day came to be, and I’ll bet it has nothing to do with having babies. Yeah, I used to think Labor Day was a day in which all babies were born. Granted, I was like, 4, but it seemed to make sense before I grasped that we all had unique birth dates. I can still remember sitting on the couch with a box of Cracker Jacks, watching the TV as some old dude shouted “Timpani!” and thinking the big total on the screen signified how many babies had been born so far.

Of course, the old dude was Ed McMahon and the total on the screen was actually money, because we were watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was a yearly custom in our house to watch it and, indeed, in many. My mom would switch it on at the start on Sunday night and, I shit you not, that TV would stay on throughout the night. It was as if, by turning it off, people would quit pledging and Jerry might fall asleep and wouldn’t raise more money than the year before. Mind you, we slept, but the TV (and I assumed Jerry) did not.

It was exciting to see celebrities on there, performing their hearts out, and then it would get boring and I would drift off to find something else to do. I especially hated when they would switch to the local station affiliates and their own versions of the telethon because who the fuck wanted to see news anchors we saw every day? Every year we’d do the nail bite and wonder, “Is Jerry gonna raise more money than last year?” and every year, my mom and grandma would shed tears of joy “for the kids” and I would jump up and down, clapping, exclaiming “HE DID IT!!!” because Jerry always surpassed the previous year’s totals. Always. You could bet on it and win.

After that, it was “make the final decision about what you’re wearing tomorrow and lay it out” because the first day of the school year was ALWAYS the next day. You can’t bet on that anymore because the school year now begins at least a week or two before. I don’t agree with that, really, because there are some traditions that just ought to be left alone. I know the Labor Day Telethon is no longer held, because Mr. Lewis, that saint of saints, is dead, and Ed McMahon has not been around to announce, “Timpani!” for ages. That rite of passage, though – knowing that, every year, summer was officially over after Labor Day and you’d better put your white shoes away – was a comforting regularity in an otherwise chaotic world. We could probably use that mainstay again.

Now, everyone wears their white shoes year-round and summer isn’t over until Climate Change decides it is. There are grandmas rolling over in their graves because of the white shoe thing, but as for the whole “seasons changing” thing, you’ve got to get your enjoyment out of each as quickly and however you can.

Like everything in life now, weather is extreme, and you can’t count on the leaves to begin to fall midway through October (they’ve actually been gathering on the ground for weeks now, despite the heat) and the snow to fly just before Thanksgiving. Regions that always got White Christmases can’t count on it. Spring doesn’t always “spring” when it should; I am pretty sure we went straight from winter to summer this year. One thing that is certain, though, is that it’s hotter longer, and that change doesn’t appear to be changing. The climate is changing in our region and in others; Montreal (sorry, you happy Canadians, for this decidedly unhappy discovery of the vile little tenticles of stench) now has stinkbugs. The heat is rising in politics, in human rights, and in general, every aspect of life; it is also rising on our maps, too.

So, on this Labor Day, crack a cold one and hold it against your forehead. You’ve earned it. Cook on the grill and enjoy your pools, your Netflix binges, and each other. Tomorrow, you can put on some white shoes and head off to work, where the heat is on and life will continue pretty much as it has been.

If you’re paying attention, though, you will be able to see that the light is a little different outside, and the air, while still pungently heavy with humidity, is different, too. Sightings of Basic Bitches will increase, with their pumpkin spice lattes and Autumnal colors and insistence upon wearing scarves and Uggs even though it’s still 90 fucking degrees out. I’ll be over in the corner, doing my full-time, unpaid gigs and my part-time, wish-I-could-quit gig. I’ll be the one in flip flops, cutoffs, and an old T-shirt, shucking corn because, when I asked The Male Sibling Unit if he’d like to shuck the corn for dinner, he shrugged and said, Idon’tthinkso” all in one word like he does when he is simply not having it. He’s retired, you know, but Labor Day is still a holiday and he has no intention of fighting with an ear of corn. I’ll raise my cup of black coffee to you in acknowledgement, because while I like pumpkin spice and Autumn is my jam, I am not basic. I am extra, and then some.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there be corn to shuck.

Reflections, blasphemies, and seriously, no f*cks to give.

As I neared my fifth decade, I began to read more accounts from people of a certain age, who were taking chances and living their best lives and grasping onto really profound thoughts. They were driven by a sense of urgency and pushing past boundaries. They were attempting to live authentically and with purpose. The idea that one has less time left to live than they already have lived is sobering as fuck. I shuddered, at times, thinking that it all sounded pretty scary and daunting and more than a little depressing; as if I needed more of that particular element in my psyche, right?

Before I entered my fifties, I went through a divorce and remarried, became a grandmother, finally allowed myself to admit that I wasn’t mentally stable, and then my mother died. That event added little nuances to everything, it seemed. Forget the fact that I still had one living, breathing parent – and I use that term in the loosest sense of the word – I still felt like an orphan. Thus began two years of the undoing of my brain, when I blindly pushed forward, trying to right wrongs, do things, prove her wrong. And yet, she has been able to reach out from the grave occasionally and remind me that I was an option, not a necessity, in her life.

She never had any expectations of me, you see. She was unable to cope with a smart child with a high IQ who looked her nose down at this town and everyone and everything in it. I had deep emotions – so many of them! – tied to music and art and the written word and nobody got me. My singing, art, and writing was not considered important. The awards I received for essays; all the solos I was given in musical programs; prizes and accolades in art class; all were dismissed in an offhand way. I struggled to understand what it was that I needed to do in order to gain her approval. I wish that she had told me, back then, what she did shortly before she died. I had made the observance that nothing I had ever done was good enough for her. Her response was quietly honest: “No, I suppose it wasn’t.”

Well.

At least there was that mystery solved. Had she waxed poetic and told me she was proud of me, I wouldn’t have believed her, anyway. There’s just some shit you can never fake, and my mother was nothing if not totally, unabashedly disappointed in me.

I think she truly loved The Male Sibling Unit in a way she never could me. I was that thing she did to get my dad. It failed. He was that thing she did that ended up looking just like our dad. In a way, she won, that time. When his developmental delays were discovered, I really think that something inside her rejoiced, because now, she would never lose him. She could care for him in a way my father rejected. I know; this sounds like a sick, Shakespearean play, but wasn’t Shakepeare’s writing simply observations of reality, fleshed out onto the stage? Life itself is Shakespeare. I, for one, don’t enjoy Shakespeare, but I guess that’s because it’s just a little to depressingly real. The prose is fucking irritating, too. “Methinks the lady doth protest” packs much less of a wallop than “Woman, all you do is fucking bitch!”

Lately, since entering this oh-so-giving of decades (giving of new aches and pains, giving not one single fuck about anything, giving of courage, and of realism) I have wondered what it might have been like, had she loved me the way she did him. His life was fraught with so many obstacles in the beginning that we sort of joined forces to make things good for him. Education, special outings and programs, toys, foods, you name it. He enjoyed the sort of childhood every parent wants to give their child, because it was crucial that he fit in as much as possible and that every opportunity be given to him. It was important to enrich life and to show him how valued and cherished he was. There was no obstacle he could not overcome.

In his own way, he has become exactly what one wants to be: uniquely and unquestioningly himself. He has enjoyed every opportunity and lived quite a full life for someone with his disabilities. He has been fortunate in that he knows he has disabilities, but they are in no way limitations. He lives his life brazenly, out there and with no regrets. He has love, and social enrichment, and everything he could ask for, materialistically. He has a good life; indeed, he expects it.

I envy that.

When I was in the 9th grade, my best friend talked me into trying out for flag corp. This was a division of the high school marching band, which was, back then, nationally-acclaimed. I was not a “joiner” in the literal sense of the word. I did things my way, listened to my own music, followed my own beat. I had friends, but I only let them in so far. My bestie and I were as close as two girls could be, even though her family was well-to-do and mine wasn’t. She never judged me, and I learned that it wasn’t always good times just because one had a mom and dad and a nice house and some money.

I coulda been a contendah.

We sweated and worked and practiced for four days, learning a routine to Styx’s “Rockin’ The Paradise”. I was never a dancer, or graceful, and it was quite a momentous thing for me to memorize a flag/dance routine and not look like a fumbling, stumbling idiot in the process. I was taking quite a chance, socially; I had yet to make my mark on my classmates as that dark-witted, sarcastic side-talker who ridiculed teachers under her breath , but managed to be an amazing writer, singer, and artist, got good grades, and lived in the Explore Room most of the time. I was yet to be the girl just a couple of votes shy of being voted “Funniest” in my Senior year.

When the team was chosen, I was on the list of two alternates, should anyone drop out. I knew I’d done my best, mostly for my friend, because she really wanted to be a part of marching band. Did I ever consider myself good enough? Not at all. I wasn’t “one of them” and had pretty much made my peace with that. I wasn’t going to be able to go on band trips and eat out at restaurants and come up with spending money for big city excursions. I had to save every penny I made babysitting to buy my own school clothes. This was a pipe dream my secret, tucked-away self harbored; not the solitary, resolute hardass who didn’t give a fuck persona I put out there to avoid the pain of rejection. And so, life went on.

Until a day, about a week later, when the flag corp advisor called and excitedly offered me a spot. Someone had declined. I was in! Inwardly, I rejoiced. Put-away girl opened the door a crack and looked out, hopefully. Was this finally going to be the key to being accepted by someone bigger – an important entity in the community – than myself?

Then, the list of requirements arrived. Uniform prices, out-of-pocket things like certain Nike sneakers, shirts, socks, costs, and the list went on. At the time, it was about $150 in stuff. Today, that’s not a large sum, but, back then, it might as well have been $150 million. I showed it to my mom, thinking she had to be proud of me for getting an opportunity to be in the band, who had marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and gone to Disney World. I was only marginally good enough, but still! I would work hard and get better and be good enough. She had to be so proud of me!

“I don’t know what you expect from me,” she said. I stammered, “Well, I’ll work hard, and I’ll babysit more, and get a job as soon as I’m allowed. I’ll pay you back.” She fairly seethed at me her answer.

“Your brother has school clothes he needs. He grew out of everything. And I don’t have the money to waste on this stupid idea you have. You’ll never be able to go on trips. We don’t have the money. Forget about this. You’re not privileged like those other kids are.”

“I hate you.” I managed, and retreated to my room, where I turned the metal up as loudly as I could to drown out my angry tears.

I composed myself and called the advisor back the next day. “I’m sorry, ” I said, distantly and with a coldness I didn’t feel, but hoped to convey with my voice, “but I have too much going on at home and I’m committed to babysit nights for someone. I can’t accept at this time.” I’m sure this wasn’t the first time some poor girl had to decline, so she probably saw right through me. No matter. With that one phone call, something in me turned to ice, and stayed that way, for a long time.

Had my mom congratulated me, assured me we would figure it out, and allowed me this one chance to blossom in a normal way, who knows what might have happened for me from there? Maybe the mistakes I ended up making after that – in spending my entire first year of college drunk, and dropping out to marry a monster who scarred both me and our children, and all the years of poverty and suffering and his control, squandering my gifts and letting both my mother and him convince me that I was, indeed, nothing special – maybe I would still have made them. Maybe I was irrevocably damaged even before that flag was placed in my hands and I learned to wave it around. There is no sense wondering what if, and I always insist that I regret nothing, but that shit is partially a lie. I do regret some things. I regret not using that dark, angry, pissed-off girl as a weapon to save my children and myself sooner than I did. She resurfaced with a vengeance when I finally left, but she grew out of control because she was out to prove she was bulletproof. And she was not.

I am not.

What advice can I offer to anyone with kids, or deciding to have kids, or finding themselves totally befuddled by the mystery that is their teenaged spawn?

Don’t fucking do any of that shit to your kid. Seriously. Don’t be an asshole, and then unleash another asshole on the world. That asshole will spend decades trying to figure out why he or she is an asshole and, in the end, you’ll get the credit you so shamefully deserve. Let’s hope that, if you’ve already begun to make a clusterfuck out of your child’s life, you STOP. I mean it. Stop.

Now, a year into my fifth decade, I want nothing more than to wipe all traces of a painful past from my consciousness and to focus only on the good stuff. I want to spend my time loving who I love and welcoming beauty and grace into my life. I want to continue to make sure The Male Sibling Unit continues with the charmed life he leads, but I would like a little charm to bleed into mine as well. I can’t cast out my living dead girl; she is me, as sure as my eyes are black. But I can let her laugh. And I can let her be brave.