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.

There are no stages of grief.

Five months.

It’s been five months since you went away. Were ripped from my grasp. That’s what it felt like, and it’s what I see in my mind’s eye, when I think about that day; that memory (Memory? How the fuck is it so quickly a memory? How can YOU be a memory when you were overflowing with joyous, exuberant life?) is something that I revisit far too often for it to be any good for me. It’s true, though. It’s as if I was holding onto you fiercely, for 45 years, the undeniable fact of a big sister’s love like a fortress around you. It protected and cradled you from the forces that might try to harm you: unkind people, dangerous situations, dark and scary paths. I was as sure of my superhuman ability to shield you and care for you as I was that I knew my name. Nothing could harm you as long as I was there; nothing could break through my love for you.

Until Covid.

Covid: a virus of truly unknown origin, despite the earliest claims that it originated from a bat eaten by a pangolin that was then sold in a Chinese wet market. That it came from a bat is still more than likely true; how that bat came to be in Wuhan, despite its kind only being found in a cave some 1500-2000 miles southwest of Wuhan, has yet to be explained. Whether or not the virus existed in its potentially deadly form within that bat – or if the stuff that could make a person dead were actually laboratory engineered – remains a mystery that might never be explained.

As I watched the pandemic unfold, it struck me, in the earliest days, how unpredictable this virus was. I didn’t worry very much until everything began to shut down. Even then, I reasoned with myself that this was just an overabundance of caution that would dissipate quickly.

When the worldwide death toll began climbing, and leaked photos and videos from Wuhan hit social media, I checked myself. This wasn’t just a cold or a flu, and it was a danger to you.

You know the rest – how we stayed home, stayed in, were socially distant when we absolutely had to go out, and how I made us masks way before the CDC advised it and the mandates went into effect.

No one could deny that we were extremely careful. No one could find fault with how diligent we were. Throughout everything that would happen from the day we began, we persisted in keeping each other – and you, most importantly – safe. When the vaccines were announced, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We were nearly there. The few weeks it would take to get those shots in arms were going to be a cake walk after what we’d endured so far. I did something very much out of character for me: I fell for that false sense of security. I gave myself a little pat on the back; I had protected you from an invisible threat because that’s what I did and no one could do it better. While I did not let my guard down, I felt we had turned a corner.

The problem was, there was a stillness. I didn’t recognize it at all, but it was there: the stillness that precedes a bad storm; in this case, a massive, mile-wide tornado. It was one of those monsters that forms in the middle of the night. If one peers out into the inky darkness on such a night, all they will see is the reassuring shapes and shadows of their surroundings as the the gravid, tumescent air surrounds and envelopes them in a wet sheen of sweat. The wind may begin blowing and the sirens will go off literally a minute before it roars through, destroying everything in its path.

The morning of December 28th, I was Dorothy, swirling violently in that tornado. All that which I loved swirled around me, and you were there, gripping my hands. We held on tightly, and I kept screaming to you, “It’s going to be okay! We’ll be fine! I’ve got you and I WILL NEVER LET GO.

But then, the twister whipped with deadly force and I looked into your wide, brown eyes that registered alarm and cold fear and you were ripped away from my grasp, swirling so quickly that I barely had time to realize that my hands were empty when I was slammed into the frozen earth, the wind knocked out of me, my lungs deflated. The tornado was gone as quickly as it came, escaping through a tear in my sanity. And there was no dead witch underneath my house, and there sure as fuck was no good witch to guide me, nor were there ruby slippers for me to click together, taking me back home to where you were there and everything was fine.

Sorrow. All I feel, with complete certainty, is sorrow. It descends down upon me like ash after an atomic bomb is detonated. Nothing can live through this nuclear winter. It extinguishes those moments of levity, of delight, and quiet joy. How dare I feel hope, when you can’t feel at all? What right do I have to those feelings, when the one thing that I was absolutely, 100% sure of – my ability to protect you from anything that blocked the way – was irretrievably broken by a pathogen, this microscopic, destructive, insidious, Russian Roulette of a virus?

Rage. Rage descends upon me with a ferocity that leaves me breathless with the desire to inflict pain upon someone, something, extinguishing that life force as definitively and with a finality in the same way that your death slammed into my soul.

Numb. I become numb, seeking to escape from those two states of being, desperate for some peace from the pain of my grief and the turbulence of my anger. I close my eyes and sink into a cold, anesthetized state of outward calm that acts as a mask that reassures those around me that I am accepting my loss, and coping with it, and inching along in tiny, incremental steps. “How are you?” they ask. “I’m okay,” I carefully lie.

It’s so odd to me, how the world keeps moving. How lives just simply go on. How those friends who, in the early days, frequently checked in and assured me of their love, have become mostly quiet. “We’re here for you,” they promised. Well, okay; your intentions were pure and I can’t fault that. Family, circling the wagons and just letting me be a sodden lump of raw agony. “We’ve got you,” they crooned, in those earliest days. Too soon, they’re now urging me to “not disappear, don’t fold into yourself, do the things you enjoy.”

I don’t know how. I try, but the result is nothing. No feeling of accomplishment, no pride, no payoff of confidence. I just shuffle through my days, doing things, hoping to throw them off the scent so that they won’t discover my treachery. Anything to avoid the inevitable waves of grief that turn me back into that sobbing mess that they aren’t sure how to deal with, or find it uncomfortable to have to see. Look, I really am trying, but there is no fucking roadmap, no book, no memorandum that details how to successfully recover, both mentally, emotionally, and physically, from a global pandemic that has killed millions – one of them being you, my little brother. I’ll figure out how to arrive at a kind of peace, but there are no stages to grief. That shit is a lie. They were developed for people with terminal illness to accept their fate, not for those grieving the loss of someone they loved. Somehow, it was appropriated, but not by me. Not for this.

Five months, though. Five months have passed by so very slowly for me, and everyone who was there with me in those earliest, darkest days is doing their best to move on. It’s what they have to do. Well, I can’t. I’m not ready to live in a world where you aren’t there. I’m not ready to move on. I’m watching everyone get on with the business of living, of rediscovering life without a mask and fear of a virus, of resuming the doing of all the things. I’m not envious, or resentful. Not of those who are treading carefully, but nevertheless relieved that the monster has been beaten back from their doorstep with the jab of a needle.

I reserve the resentment and yes, the rage, for those who politicized the pandemic; who denied the science; who refused – and still refuse – to be a part of the solution. I blame them for killing you. For your murder. That fury boils just underneath the surface of my skin, and when it is triggered, I feel as though anyone standing nearby must feel the heat radiating from me. The sorrow will extinguish it soon enough, a warm shower of salty tears. And then, the numbness will creep in, replacing everything with its icy calm.

“How are you?”

“I’m okay.”

The anger stage is, by far, the most enduring.

Sometimes, I follow popular trends. Taking selfies with bunny ears on Snapchat, seeing if the broom will stand on its own, guessing that the sneakers are pink and white and the dress is blue; I have taken part in all of these.

A current trend I will not take part in is putting a frame on my profile pic on Facebook, advertising that I’m vaccinated. I’m seeing it frequently now, but it just doesn’t seem like something I want to announce to the world.

I’m so happy that the gears are turning, and millions are getting shots in arms every day. I’m thrilled that the elderly are getting vaccinated, so that they can see their families again. I’m relieved for the frontline workers, healthcare personnel, and educators, because they’ve been our superheroes during this pandemic, and they are our heroes EVERY day. I’m grateful that our special needs and immunocompromised humans are getting protected from the Russian Roulette that is exposure to COVID-19. 

But, well…I’m not jumping up and down for joy.

113 days ago, my little brother sat before me, while I recorded him, and talked about how relieved he was that vaccines were rolling out. I’ve related before that he was absolutely terrified of needles. As a young child and into adulthood, he had to have frequent labs done, because of medications he was on; later, needles became a daily thing when he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Up until about 10 years ago, a visit to the hospital lab was reason enough for him to melt down. Individuals with the challenges he had tend to have extraordinary strength, and he exhibited Herculean reactions when he was panicked. Up to six healthcare personnel had to restrain him, throughout the years, whenever blood needed to be drawn or a shot needed to be administered. Even after learning to give himself insulin, he would be fraught with anxiety for weeks leading up his quarterly lab visits.

He was not, however, terrified by the prospect of having to get two vaccinations in order to be safe. He welcomed it. There was zero anxiety; only a fervent wish to just go get it done, already. As hard as the last 9 months had been for him, and the countless times we had found it necessary to explain to him why he needed to stay home, to wear a mask, to social distance, he understood that those two, little jabs to his arm would signal great protection – insulation from serious illness and possible death. He’d be able to work, to socialize, and to stop living in fear of an invisible enemy.

He LOVED his nieces and nephews and missed them so much.

I never told him what I thought about the “antis” out there: the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-government, anti-intelligent people waving their Trump signs, with MAGA hats on their heads, shouting about rights and freedoms, the flag, statues, pedophiles in pizza parlors, the Satanic powers of Hillary Clinton, Jesus’s love for the Orange Menace, the microchips in the vaccines that would allow Bill Gates to control their thoughts, and how it was unconstitutional to have to protect others from the possibility of exposure to “just a cold, or a flu” by wearing masks in public.

Go back and read that. Tell me these people aren’t completely, totally whackadoodie-batshit-fucking nuts. Come on. Try to convince me that all these “antis” weren’t his enemies. Assure me that those “antis” aren’t my enemy now.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

This is the core of the anger I experience every, single day. It began about an hour after the husband and I returned home from the hospital, after Charlie had been pronounced dead. As the husband stood near the french doors in our apartment that look out onto our balcony, I sat, in desolate silence, on the couch. I had seen him cry more that morning than at any other time in the 20 years that we had been together. He was trying to get it together now. I felt made of stone. At my core, white-hot fury was gathering itself into a mass of nuclear pressure. “Burn it all down,” I said, quietly. “I want to burn it all down.” The husband looked at me, and couldn’t think of anything to say other than “Yes.”

The entire time we had been at the hospital – 120 minutes – ER staff had sequestered us in a small, waiting room. It was a bad room; I’d been in them before, and nothing good ever came of sitting in those rooms. During those short, 120 minutes, I’d frantically, tearfully talked to family and friends, gripped the husband’s hand, and listened to him as he calmly talked to our kids, telling them what he knew. The room was still, quiet, sterile and falsely welcoming; but it was also like being in a tornado. Chaos, being whipped around, violently, by emotions and terror, grabbing onto anything I could to keep from being swept away; roaring, deafening noise in my head.

In the midst of that storm, horrible things happened. The nurse, who kept us informed, checking in frequently and asking questions, and then the doctor’s notification that this was Covid, and what did I want them to do?

To do? What did I want? With all due respect, Doc, I want you to be the short, little old lady psychic in Poltergeist and to tell me that we could save him. I want you to tell him to stay away from the light, and send me in; I’ll be JoBeth Williams and I’ll go into the danger and I’ll bring him back. That’s what I want.

But of course, this was not a scary movie. It was reality, and it was so much worse. No, they didn’t “send me in” to coax him back. Do I think I could have? What I think is that he was scared, in pain, and alone, save for ER staff swarming around him. I probably couldn’t have coaxed him back, but I could have been there with him, so he would not have been afraid. I could have fulfilled the promise I’d made, when he was a baby, to be his protector. And in this way, the way things ended, I could have held his hand as he was guided to the light. This would have been some closure. For me. I’m not being selfish, wishing for that. Neither are millions of other Americans who experienced their own tornadoes.

So, when I read the conjecture of others, stating that getting the vaccine signifies an “end to all this awful business” and that “finally, we get our lives back,” I want to puke on them. When I hear people say that it must be a relief, to have that protection, after surviving the virus, I want to gut-punch them. When I see jubilant selfies shining out at me from profile pictures framed in “I’m fully vaccinated” banners, the urge to comment, “Bully for you” or hit the 😡 reaction is strong.

I resist, though. I resist, because I know they are relieved. They trust the science. They want to avoid the game of Russian Roulette, and they want to ensure that others avoid it, too. And they were there for me, a lot of them, in my darkest hours, when the urge to blot out my own existence was the strongest it has ever been.

Yes, I am fully-vaccinated. Getting Covid again is less of a worry, but since I don’t yet know what permanent damage having had it in the first place could have caused, the worry for my own well-being is really negligible. I don’t want to give it to someone else, though.

I’m not celebrating it, though, because 113 days ago seems so recent. How did we go from there to here without him? And how do I go from here to, well, 200 days, 300, 500 – without him? That remains to be seen. But while the rest of you are salivating at the prospect of vacations and pool parties and fairs and amusement parks and crowded bars, try to remember those who will never again experience those things, and the people they left behind. We are not okay, no matter what we tell you. We’ve been through a war; our loved ones lost were casualties, we Covid survivors are the walking wounded, and we have all suffered a terrible trauma. We want to be seen, our losses acknowledged, and for everyone to do their part to make sure this never fucking happens again.

Do I still want to burn it all down? That’s complicated. Just know this: if you ever supported Donald Trump, or said, “It’s just a flu,” or thought that wearing a mask was against your Constitutional rights, or claimed that masks don’t work, or referred to it as the “China virus,” or believed that hospitals were putting Covid as cause of death for EVERYONE that has died, so far, in order to make more money, or believed the election was stolen, or blamed “the illegals” for bringing the virus into the US, or supported border walls, or claimed that the January 6 insurrectionists were “patriots,” or uttered the words “snowflake,” “libtard,” or “not my President” about Joe Biden?

I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.

What I do know is that I don’t know, at all.

Some days begin hopefully. I’ll think I have it all under control and be going along just fine. I’m coping, I will tell myself.

Take yesterday, for example. I had been dreading the first big holiday. I didn’t want to do anything, or plan anything. Traditionally, I detest Easter and can’t wait for it to be over. But he was like an innocent child, tickled by the idea of a rabbit delivering candy (sugar-free, of course) and a plushie to him while he slept. He would become giddy at the prospect of a big, baked ham and hardboiled eggs galore. And I loved him, and I enjoyed his delight, so I did it. Every year. For 45 years, I got to see him hum with excitement at holidays.

It was so nice to see the kids, after a year of photos and videos and furtive drive-bys. It was nice, actually, to not have to adhere to specific plans. I enjoyed a trifecta of pleasant surprises when the husband brought home our McDonald’s dinner: not only had they remembered the straw, but the fries were FRESH and HOT and they weren’t out of apple pies! Hallelujah and can I get an Amen?!?

But then my brain did its thing – the thing it does best. It delivered to me a bleak dose of reality. It said, “You’re awful for enjoying not cooking, and dyeing eggs, and hiding an Easter basket. You suck for not doing all the things. Oh, sure, you made and decorated cupcakes for the kids, but you should have made them baskets since you couldn’t make him one. You’re a terrible Nana.”

And then that crashing, nauseating, black cloak of sorrow fell over me – the one that says

“Can you BELIEVE that this fucking happened? ALL YOUR CAUTION.

All those times he wanted to see people, go somewhere, and you said no.

All the days where there was nothing to look forward to and he sat in his room or wandered through the house and you told him, “It won’t always be like this,” and you meant it, you felt it, and when the vaccines were announced, you patted yourself on the back and told yourself, “We did it! We kept him safe!” And you felt bad for all the millions who had lost loved ones, but you had done your job!

Yay, you and

You go, girl and

Kudos!

It was worth it, all of it; worth being sent DMs from people in your community who you didn’t know, calling you a cunt because you wanted to know where you could go and safely take him – where masks were mandatory, and social distancing was enforced.

It was worth having your face put on a poster adorned with swastikas by a local businessman and hung in his locales, declaring you ENEMY NUMBER ONE and “banning” you from entry.

It was worth the death threats, and the social media posts in local groups, wishing nothing but misery and failure and bad luck for you because of your heartless (non-existent) campaign to destroy the livelihoods of struggling businesses. It was worth the lies they made up about you and the slander and the hate. All of this outrageousness was perhaps disappointing to behold, because you desperately wanted to believe that people could be good, but it was also something you suspected would happen, because this place of your birth had been rejecting you since your mother brought you home from the hospital.

All of this outrageous, public outcry because you needed to keep him safe was worth it, even though you, and the thousands of other immunocompromised, elderly, and cautious humans in the community weren’t interested in public opinion or rhetoric. You all just wanted to know where you could avoid possible contact with an infected person. In a perfect world, everyone would see the mitigation efforts as a shared responsibility, a community effort, and yes, a patriotic gesture of solidarity.

This world was not perfect, however, because this country spawned a society that decided that an unqualified, bloviating, failed businessman with zero moral compass, a narcissistic core, and a greed like no other, was competent enough to lead our nation.

We’re In This Together, my ass.

You got sloppy. You patted yourself on the back a little too soon. You never once truly thought that he could be exposed, because you and everyone you permitted him to come into contact with were so careful. All the sacrifices had been worth it. You went into Christmas day with a feeling of quiet satisfaction and relief. You were gonna come out on the other side of this with shots in arms and a renewed sense of hope. Just a little while longer, you told him. And he believed you. You believed you.

Never in your wildest nightmares would you have predicted that your life would become a tragic, Shakespearian tale of woe and sadness. Never. You’d been through awful things throughout your life and weathered storms that had altered you chemically as a person, but this? This horror? This walking, talking, nightmare of consciousness? It felt as if the Universe was punking you, laughing and saying, “You didn’t actually think I was gonna let you get away with it, did you? Who told you that you could be happy? Who said that you were doing everything right? How DARE you be confident? Here – get in this big pool of black suck. Sink. Swim. Drift. I don’t give a shit.”

Easter. A day of hope, and renewal, and beginnings. A day where the world rejoices because a man died for them, but then he was resurrected.

A fucking fairy tale. People don’t die and then magically live again, three days later, because if they did, I wouldn’t be writing this. If they did, the best, purest, sweetest, most innocent soul would have come back to me. “The Son of God,” he wasn’t, but he was a gift to the world. My brother was my light and my way.

And just like that, my brain goes on repeat and my heart sinks, dipping down into my toes. I am so tired.

Can you BELIEVE that this fucking happened?

Yes. Now, I can.

Ashes

Long time, no blog. I know. Life has been having a locksocking, blanket party with me for the last 6-8 months. If I decide to stick around and write some more, I’ll fill you in. For now, only the subject of this essay matters.

We’ve reached a particularly dark anniversary in this country. You cannot escape it: it’s in the news, on social media, and the subject of lots of conversations. A year ago, the United States effectively shut down due to COVID-19. It was the right thing to do, the experts said. Having never experienced a pandemic – the last one of this magnitude was over 100 years ago – this was undiscovered territory for us all. Despite that fact, we tried to remain optimistic. We had top medical scientists who were on this, and our elected officials assured us that they would take care of us and that the virus would be brought under control. That proved to be our first mistake, but you don’t need a rehash of the rest. Over 520,000 deaths later, I think you’re aware.

The gravity of the pandemic situation was not lost on me from the very beginning, a year ago this week. I felt, right in my gut, that this country wasn’t prepared, based upon the federal government’s response early on. We “went to ground”: my husband, my brother, and me. It was crucially important: my brother was autistic and intellectually impaired, as I have noted in many blogs before, and he was seriously immunocompromised. He had an extraordinarily high tolerance to pain; a 10 for you might be a 2 for him. This was the guy who walked around and went about his business with a horrific case of Shingles once, taking only the occasional Tylenol. I worried that I would not know he was sick until it was critical.

It was pretty hard, right from the beginning; he had been so used to being a social creature, and I had to be quite firm with him to make him understand why he had to stay home. I may have chronicled his attempt to understand here; I’m too wiped out to look back. He took to using Facebook to hold live “Dance parties” to encourage and entertain his friends, because he desperately needed the human connection.

The months passed, and we would drive him to the bank when he needed money, and very occasionally, mask up with our pocket hand sanitizers, and get groceries. We were largely insulated in our rural, Pennsylvania county, until about October, when Covid began to spread from larger, metropolitan areas to our community. We mask-wearing, mandate-following people were also in a disproportionate minority, and we were harassed about it constantly. Super-spreader events, like Trump rallies and fundraisers at local VFWs and bars, did not help matters. There was nary a mask in sight at these gatherings, and as the case numbers rose and the deaths began happening, going out became both worrisome and an exercise in the most extreme measures of caution. We regretfully isolated my brother once again, during the most joyous, social time of the year. There would be no shopping or parties, no dancing, no family get-togethers. When the vaccines were released, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. My brother was terrified of needles, but on Christmas Eve, he went live on Facebook to talk about how excited he was to get his vaccine. It meant freedom for him, and not having to be afraid.

By 10:42am on December 28th, he was dead; his routine lab appointment on the 23rd is where we suspect he was exposed. He, in turn, exposed me, and I tested positive the day he died. My husband was negative, because he spent a large amount of time at work that weekend. My brother displayed barely a symptom: sniffles, some fatigue. That was it. That morning, he was basically unconscious; I roused him enough to test his blood sugar and he was able to respond to the paramedics. He coded enroute to the hospital, and his heart continued to stop every 5 minutes for 2 hours. His test was positive and his lungs were consumed. It was a horrific maelstrom of terror and confusion and sorrow. He did not have an advanced directive; I had to make the call. Who, at 45, has one? I felt my sanity bend and nearly snap. I have not been quite sane since. We did EVERYTHING right. And we were so close.

Everyone else has moved on. That is expected, after all. If it were me, responding to the death of a friend’s brother, I would have gone back to my routines and my life, too. The outpouring of love, kindness, and the hundreds of condolences bore me aloft, in those first bleak days, upon a soft cloud of compassion. I had a core group of friends around me for those first horrible weeks, but most of them have faded back into the woodwork of their lives, and I am pretty sure that many of them actively avoid me because I am such a downer. I don’t blame them at all; I cannot stand myself 95% of the time. That 5% that I can stand is who I am when Goose makes me laugh. Thankfully, he does that every day.

I spent the first few weeks bewildered, in shock, and sick. Now, the grief feels very fresh and yet, the lessons I have learned in therapy – to reach out, to trust that those who said they were here for me meant it – well, I’m failing those lessons because I don’t want to bother anyone.  And the brain fog, a lingering symptom that won’t abate, keeps me from talking much, because I sound like a stumbling idiot who forgets words and even whole phrases and who has to look up words to write sentences. It’s fucking embarassing for me, a writer who has always had the wonderful world of vocabulary at her fingertips.

I have to put a timer on to remind me that food is cooking, because dinner has burned one too many times; I completely forgot that I was cooking it. Laundry gets started, but then forgotten until 2 days later. I have things I want to tell people, but then, a week goes by, and I remember, and it’s no longer relevant. It’s terrifying and it also feels like a penance to be endured until all the wrongs in my life, ending with my brother’s death, are righted.

I received my second vaccination on Tuesday. It was a watershed moment. The trauma of the day Covid stole my brother from me lives on in my memory, refusing to dissipate. 2021 began, for me, with illness and a broken heart and a soul filled with rage. It began in isolation, with no comfort, or even a hug, for two weeks. Even now, I have had exactly one repeat visitor since December. I mean, I get it. I absolutely understand. I had the plague, and I am an open wound now. It’s best to avoid me. And I still don’t know how I feel about a total immersion back into daily life. I had no closure; my baby brother – who I swore an oath to protect when he was born when I was 8, and who loved and trusted me the most in the world, who I was rarely apart from – died alone, amongst strangers. I feel so hopelessly bereft when I think that he must have been so frightened, and that he must have wondered where his big sister was and why she had abandoned him to a reality of agony as he died, over and over. The thought of this haunts me nearly every moment of the day. I wasn’t allowed to hold his hand, or kiss his forehead.

Very few people really understand the bond between my brother and I. I was his sister, and I was also a maternal figure. We didn’t have much, growing up, but we had each other, and I can say, without any doubt, that I was the most important person in his life, and the one he loved the most. I felt the same way, that first, magical moment that I held him and counted his 5 day-old toes and wondered at the strength of his grip around my finger. It is almost like losing my own child. To a virus that could have, should have, been mitigated.

The very last contact I had with him that morning was to rub his arm, stroke his forehead, and say, “Charlie….buddy?…you’re gonna go for a ride in the ambulance, but everything’s gonna be okay.” This beautiful soul, the heart of my heart, went into the darkness not cradled by love and comfort, but by fear and violence and pain. There is no escape from this nightmare, except to join him. And yet, I know that’s my grief talking, and so I have my therapy appointments and I take my meds like an obedient child. I don’t want to join him. But I feel nothing. No joy. No hope. I feel gray. This is not depression, and it is not a symptom of my mental illness. It isn’t even a part of the PTSD that I have recently been diagnosed with; this is no shell shock. It is something deeper and darker than any sorrow that I have ever experienced. And I wonder if this is all there is. Because if it is, it is not acceptable or survivable; not for me. And it is unfair to the people who love me.

So, I don’t reach out, even when the sobs erupt from the black pit that is my center and I sink into a quiet despair, and wonder if anyone can tell that I’m dead inside. I hope not; I try to mask it. Who would want to have to deal with that kind of negativity? Not me. So I don’t bother with doing that to them. But, it is very lonely.

I am also very angry, and I would gladly see the world burn when my thoughts are blackest. I have survived COVID-19, but the unnecessary loss of my brother, who was absolutely the best of my mother’s two children, may be the thing that takes me down. I don’t want it to, but no one has come up with a plausible scenario where the sun shines and the wind blows through my hair and I think, life is beautiful – and I feel it. Everyone assures me that a day will come when I laugh more than I cry, that I will remember all the good without the horror of that day crashing through my consciousness. They promise me that there will be peace.

And so, I’m waiting.

With friends like that, it is no wonder that I prefer my cats

I have a friend who lives in the Pacific Northwest. I followed him on Facebook for a number of years; he’s a very good writer and he sorta sucked me in with his gift of painting vivid pictures with his words. After a couple of years of this following, I decided, “You know what? Fuck it. I want to be this dude’s friend.” I had no reason to think he would accept me, a stranger who was essentially stalking his words – and thank you, Facebook, for making stalking legitimate with your “Follow” feature – but I was delighted when he did. I think I said something dumb, like, “I just really love your writing” but for whatever reason, he decided I was worth taking a risk on.

Over the past few years, we’ve become authentic friends, even though we’ve yet to meet. When we began our friendship, he still lived in the same time zone as me, but life has a way of doing some twists and turns and he soon found himself the owner of an RV. After that, it seemed only natural that he would take the RV on a most excellent, mystical journey throughout the country. His co-pilot was also most excellent, she of the chocolate-colored hair and soulful, medium roast eyes and a warm nose.

Izzy.

He’s had so many adventures along the way, including picking up two more co-pilots, Radar and Sophie,

Radar and Sophie. Both very good girls.

badly breaking his leg, convening with nature as a summer park attendant at a breathtaking spot in Oregon, and embarking (see what I did there, wink-wink) on a lucrative career as a dog-walker/sitter in a bigger Pac NW city. He’s met tons of his social media friends and someday, we’ll be in the same hemisphere again and I’ll be able to give him a hug – when social distancing is no longer a “thing.”

Along the way, great things happened and everyday things happened, and we benefited from his observations and the antics of daily life as a troubadour of canines (and a few cats, too) by getting to read really wonderful, descriptive, essays about “a day in the life.” We, his many friends, cheer him on and encourage him to publish these essays in the form of a book someday. He is so good and honestly, those words should be shared. He takes the good with the bad, and there have been bad times – his beloved Izzy passed away, for one – and sometimes, he has to take a break. This is where I feel him the most, because no one fades to black with as much skill as I do. Through our private conversations, I know him well, and I can almost always predict when he’s going to need to go dark for a bit. With the current reality resembling a Stephen King Novel-Meets Idiocracy right now, diving into the depths is not only expected of those of us with that dark passenger, D, but it is also feared.

So, this friend started dating a new lady before Shit got real. He had been hurt in the past. Really hurt. We (his collective of friends) had worried about him a lot, but then celebrated his new relationship because this one seemed smart, sassy, and very well-balanced. They were very happy.

New lady friended me – not sure why, except that my congratulations came with a thinly-veiled threat (If you hurt this guy, I will find you and I have a particular set of skills….) and maybe I scared the fuck out of her. I dunno, but fine, it’s fine, you want to be friends with some of his friends (I don’t actually know how many others she friended) then cool! She was fun, she could spell and make coherent sentences with her goodly words, and she clearly adored said friend – who I clearly cherish.

Pandemic hits. Relationship may be tested – she had a lot of dramatic, personal posts, interspersed with really informative, caring ones – but they do fine. She’s got kids, she’s traversing a situation in close quarters, and they are nowhere near a “moving in together” aspect of a relationship, so he sees less of her than before the Covidpocalypse. I asked him how things are; things are all good. They’re making it work. They’re happy.

Until they aren’t.

I’d noticed less from them both on the social media fronts. He and I have always shared extremely funny (to us) and sometimes not appropriate (to many others) memes with each other. Whole days would pass by where our only communication was sending each other memes

and laughing. This is the best kind of friend to have.

I felt him go dark before he announced it. I waited. No one likes to be inundated with “What’s wrong?” messages when one is in Low-Down Funky Town. You’re sad, you’ve got reasons, you love that they care, but it’s exhausting. The last thing I wanted to do to him was that which I also don’t like. And the definite last thing I wanted to do to him was question The Relationship. After all, not every, single bout of depression is triggered by relationship problems, and we all have much more prescient reasons, right now, to be depressed, anxious, and stressed.

When he announced the breakup, I was sad for him, but I also knew, by his tone, that this wasn’t like another time, when that bitch ripped his heart out of his chest, stuck it on a sharpened stick, and whipped it through the air, where it landed, with a wet thwack. This wasn’t as dire. They both seemed okay. And yes, I reserved judgment about her because hell, relationships sometimes just don’t work out even when the two people are nice and a new relationship begun just before The Time of COVID-19 could definitely be put to the test.

Things were quietly normal for a day. Then, my friend count dropped by one, and my momentary thought was “Yay! A Trump Humper bites the dust FINALLY” to “Oh no she di’int!”

Oh yes, she did.

I’ve got to say, I am a little bit offended. I mean, damn, bitch: was I not an engaging-enough friend? We shared a lot of common interests. She was funny. Had they simply just not been able to make it work, I’d have been sad for the both of them, but I’m over here in Pennsyltucky and they’re in the Pac NW so we weren’t going to have any embarrassing run-ins while out for coffee or anything like that.

Her unceremonious unfriending of me made it clear that she was either

just collecting mutual friends of his

Or

scared of my protectiveness

Or

thinking I was interested in him.

Not a single one of these reasons shed a positive light on her. In pretty much every scenario, it seems like it was a “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” kind of thing. In any event, this isn’t junior high, I don’t want yo man, but I will beat the crap outta you if I see you in the restroom between classes because no one likes a two-face thot. Btw, I have a pretty fine husband of my own already, who totally gets my friendship with this other guy and, in fact, salutes it – because he reaps the rewards in scads of inappropriate memes.

When I informed my friend that I was down a friend, he wasn’t even slightly surprised and confessed that he wasn’t really all that upset. Apparently, she brought too much drama with her.

Dude. Same.

Bullies have small brains.

That title is true, by the way. Look it up. I’ve got one more story about Childhood: The Teen Years to tell.

I promise you, my life hasn’t been one sad situation after another. I haven’t been victimized from start to finish. There have been beautiful times of love and happiness and camaraderie and acceptance. There are, as a matter of fact. Every, single blessing that has come my way has been set upon my altar of gratitude and acknowledged. Some, I didn’t realize until they were long past, but the point is that I did celebrate and give thanks, after moving obstructions out of the way that made it impossible to see. I am fortunate to have what I have, to know what I know, and to be loved. Luck hasn’t anything to do with it.

So, onto this last story, which has been something I’ve wanted to write about, but has proven difficult. However, with the recent, worldwide furor and concern shown a young Australian boy, Quaden Bayles, who has been relentlessly bullied because he has a form of dwarfism – you can read his story HERE if for some reason you haven’t run across it – I want to share my bullying story in more graphic detail. Do I think it will help stop bullying? Not for a single minute. Am I going to trot out the hope that “if this story moves one person, one parent, to begin teaching their kids that kindness and acceptance is the right way to be, I will have done my job”?

No. Fuck no. I don’t want one person to get the memo. I want thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Everyone.

I wrote about my suicide attempt in the 7th grade in This Blog Post and gave the vaguest of details about the situation that drove me to it. Now, I’m going to elaborate, and change some names not to protect them, but to protect me in the extremely rare instance that those who know who they are and what they did want to call me a liar. It’s doubtful, but in this age of lawsuits and people crying “fake news,” it’s necessary. Okay.

*Deep breath*

7th grade was a nightmare, from beginning to end. Not only was I in a new school, with new structure, and being instructed that “this is how you learn to be responsible,” but my home life was a shitshow of magnificent proportions. My grandmother’s dementia was progressing, and coupling that with her rapier-sharp tongue, it was really ugly when she got going.

My mother was deep inside herself at this point, being dragged down by the daily skirmishes with Gram, as well as coming to terms with the fact that she now had a severely handicapped child, in the form of The Male Sibling Unit, who she must advocate for.

The late 70s were still unchartered waters where advocacy was concerned; children with mental and physical disabilities were relegated to group homes and institutions and sequestered in classrooms away from “normal” children. Mainstreaming was not yet a thing. Not only did she have to come to terms with the finality of this thing, but she was also mourning the breakup of her covert relationship with our father. She couldn’t blame The Male Sibling Unit for our father’s removal of his affection, so she picked me. At the age of 9, I was informed that I had ruined her life. It was a heavy burden to carry after assuming, until The Male Sibling Unit’s diagnosis, that I was loved and cherished. In any event, she needed a target for her anger, hurt, and fear, and I was the closest one available. I made it easy for her with my dogged attempts to change her mind. I remembered a mother who had once loved me. Maybe, if I tried hard enough to make her smile, she would be that mother again. It never worked. But I still had to try.

So, things were really ramping up at home, and our financial situation was, as always, perilous. We lived on Gram’s tiny pension, her Social Security, and public assistance programs: cash and food stamps. The Male Sibling Unit was not receiving SSI just yet; that would come soon. The summer before 7th grade, there was some sort of government crisis or strike, and no one in Pennsylvania was receiving their public assistance. When the checks were held up in August of that year, my mother told me there would be no new school clothes. She simply didn’t have the money for us both. The Male Sibling Unit was beginning a preschool program, so he came first. She did acquiesce one afternoon at a local retail store, and bought me a gauzy peasant blouse and a kelly green vest because they were on clearance and the total for both was only $4.50. I would at least have them for my first day. My jeans from 6th grade were still wearable, but they were unwashed Wranglers with slightly flared legs. The straight leg, designer jeans fashion movement was in full swing at this point; you wore them tight, and you rolled them up (pegged them) right at the ankles. My old jeans could not be rolled up and even if they could, I had grown taller that year. They were decidely high-waters now. There were no new shoes, either. I had a pair of clogs my Gram had bought me the year before at a discount store for $7.99 that still fit.

What a sight I was that first day, in my mauvy blouse and green vest, my high-waters, and my white socks in those cheap clogs. I don’t need to talk too much about how important it is to try and fit in when you begin at “the high school” – this was quasi-high, since we still had “junior high” and not the middle schools of today. This was the big audition for how it was going to go at the big school, when you became a sophomore. You’re with your little class from elementary school, the same 20-30 kids you’ve known since kindergarten, but now, you’re mixed in with a half-dozen other classes of kids your age who don’t know you. You’re not in one classroom, but a whole series of them, moving from room to room. You don’t get much one-on-one from teachers, who simply have too many kids to keep track of.

You’re on your own, and friendships are important. You need others to cling to in those first days and weeks, while you navigate semi-independence. A class system begins immediately, too, and you might find that you were a sort of big fish at your elementary school, but you’re plankton now. You’ll sink or swim, depending on a whole list of variables: how you look, sound, smell, act. Sight is the first thing 12 year-olds used to judge back then. Were there other kids in the same boat as me, or worse? I am certain there were. I can only relate my experience. And it was not great.

I made a few new friends in homeroom. There were some very nice kids who chose to look past my sorry state and to get to know the person I could let them know. My homeroom teacher was, at first sight, a beautiful lady who dressed elegantly, and emoted with a restrained grace. She was a cool cucumber. Her husband had been my art teacher the year before, and he was a lovely man, so funny and kind and talented. He let us listen to music on Fridays and even swore sometimes. I was eager to impart, to my homeroom teacher, that I had loved taking her husband’s art classes. She shut that down immediately with her initial appraisal of me. You know that way some people have of looking you up and down and finding you wanting? This is precisely what she did to me, and continued to do, the entire 3 years of junior high. I mean, I was no prize: dumpy, bad hair, awful skin, bad clothes, and likely reeking of my mom’s stale cigarette smoke and fried food from home. She would only speak to me when she wished to put me down. Other kids loved her, and she favored the kids of privilege. I was relieved to never actually have her for English, which is what she taught.

As an aside? When my daughter was in high school, she had this teacher for a class. She adored her. This teacher adored my daughter. They had dozens of positive interactions on Facebook and after my daughter graduated. My hope is that maybe she evolved and became a nicer person. I know she was young when I had her, and she went on to have her own kids and then go through a divorce from that cool art teacher. Maybe she learned some empathy. That didn’t stop me from wanting to post hateful, childish shit whenever she was praising my beautiful daughter, and showering her with compliments. “Remember me? You couldn’t stand me from 1979 to 1982. You treated me like garbage. You belittled and dismissed me and I almost died because of it. You were a contributing factor. As an educator, you failed me. Cunt.

I never spoke up, and now she’s retired, and only occasionally shows up in some local social media. I still dislike her. And so, I dismiss her from having any importance, the same way she did me. When a person shows you who they are the first time, believe them.

The details of the events leading to my suicide attempt in early May of 1980 are chronicled in the blog I directed you to. The relentless bullying, over months, not days, had taken their toll.

One classmate was especially cruel. I became his target early in the school year. He was a little guy who looked like a cherub until he opened his mouth, and then it was all loud joking and sarcasm and outrageous behavior. He had a compadre who was as diminutive and blonde as he was, and who had the same first name. They usually got into trouble together and we referred to them as “the two Toms” (name has been changed) and they did everything together – including harass me.

“EWWWW, you are so fucking ugly. Why are you so ugly?” Tom would say to me on occasions, like lunchtime, when I couldn’t escape and we ended up at the same assigned table. He would then detail and amplify the ways in which I was so physically abhorrent for the whole group. His wit was sharp and his words were vicious. The other Tom would agree and snicker. Sometimes, other girls would defend me and tell him to stop, but usually, they just giggled while I sat there, red-faced and ashamed. “Why is your face like that? If you were my kid, I’d have put you out of your misery.”

Shortly before things completely imploded and I went off the deep end, he leveled me. “I don’t know why you don’t just kill yourself. Please, just do it and make the world a better place.”

After committing the capital offense of making a joke at the expense of the most popular girl in 7th grade, life became an exercise in futility. Every day that I went to school that late Winter and early Spring, I was either ignored or taunted. If I asked a question, my classmates would say things like “Don’t fucking talk to me, you ugly loser” or tell me to go away. The couple of so-called friends I did have were embarassed to be seen with me because then they’d be taunted, too, and it was just so important to fit in and be accepted. When a ship is going down, you get as far away from it as you can. The teachers didn’t intervene; were they even aware that my life was being torn limb from limb? I doubt it. I never confided in any adult, not even the one teacher who was kind to me, Mrs. D. The adults at home, who were supposed to love and protect me, did not. Why would I think that strangers would extend that kindness? I was alone. And being alone was unbearably painful. I have never felt that exact pain with quite the same intensity since, although I have struggled with suicidal thoughts all my life.

I got through it, after that one, mammoth act that robbed me of so much. I wanted the hate to cease. I felt that I could not exist in a world where there was not a single person who saw any worth in me. All of the adults in my life utterly failed me; the first adult who saw me was that ER doctor who looked at my lab results and asked me, quietly but with a kind urgency, “Sweetheart, what did you take?” and who afterward told my mother that her little girl needed help, for whatever reason.

After I had recuperated physically, I began seeing a therapist who drew out all those broken pieces inside me and fit them all together, making a scarred, but whole person out of me again. This therapist taught me how to cope, and what to do, and how to avoid letting those kids get to me. She then met with my mother, and then my grandmother, along with an evaluating psychiatrist, who spoke some very harsh, difficult truths after he evaluated us all. I was released from any responsibility for the way things were, because I was an innocent. He told my mother to pull her personal shit together and to quit taking out the choices she had made, on her own, on everyone else: especially me. And he advised her to “get that crazy woman out of your house, for the good of everyone”- my grandmother. It took her a year, but she did.

A part of me did die that day. The part that cared about what those kids thought was laid to rest. The part of me that survived was filled with hatred for them all, and so that part of me was placed into a medically-induced coma for a time. It was the part of me that could believe that people were capable of being kind and good. I worked hard, quietly and diligently, to fit in, but under my own terms. Every penny I earned babysitting and through gifts was used for my appearance; clothes, shoes, toiletries and makeup, hair. My mother never bought me another article of clothing for school even when she could have. I “looked” the part at last, but inside, I was seething. The ones who hurt me the most? I built brick walls around them and they ceased to exist. That talent I have has served me well throughout life.

A couple of years ago, I ran into “Tom” at a restaurant. He had moved away after graduation and along the way, changed his name. He lived a tumultuous life in California, was an alcoholic and an addict, and had also come out as a gay man. Through a school acquaintance, I had learned that he had lived a nomadic lifestyle, burning bridges as he went along. I had rarely thought of him and, when I did, felt nothing. I was therefore not prepared to see him when he introduced himself to the husband and I as our server. His burned bridges had brought him back home. He recognized me immediately and began effusively gushing and fawning over me. I was polite and I think, kind, but the husband could feel an undercurrent of something as he left our table. I told him, tersely and calmy, feeling a bit numb. We ate, left him our customary 20% tip, and departed. Only then did I allow myself some anger.

One day, my son mentioned him, because he rode the same bus to work as my son did to campus. They struck up a conversation, because this guy is a chatterbox and as ebullient as anything. He had mentioned to my son that we had gone to school together. I told my son how that had gone. My son went from thinking it was a cool happenstance to wanting to pummel him into the pavement the next time he saw him. I told him it didn’t matter. I could see this guy was as much a trainwreck as I had been told he was before he came back home, and I knew he’d be burning his Bradford bridges eventually. It took him a couple of years, but he managed to alienate everyone who was kind to him and now he’s somewhere down South, stacking the blocks again so he can knock them down. I wish him, well……nothing. I wish him karma, and that he has the kind of life he deserves.

Bullying is just the worst, don’t you agree? Haven’t we all been bullied by someone in our lives? That my experience included many someones doesn’t make my story any more or less poignant than someone else’s. How do we stop this kind of unacceptable behavior that causes little boys, like Quaden Bayles, to want a knife to stab himself? That causes 13 year-old girls, like I was, to ingest a massive cocktail of pills? The answer is that I don’t know. What I do know is that we can’t stop trying to find that answer. And kindness, people. For fucking fuck’s sake……kindness.

For more information about bullying and what you can do, you can visit this website .

This was my bullying story. It feels good to see it in print. Now, it can fuck off. I give it wings to fly away. Bye bitch.

Where there is negative energy, you must include positive.

Since I promised that I’d be more upbeat the next time I blogged, I figured I’d show you what I was up to during my little hiatus from this place.

I have a very large family, and Christmas can be a disaster, both logistically and financially. We are inundated with the most ridiculous amounts of commercialism and insistent prodding from before Halloween to charge ourselves into tremendous debt or put a second mortgage on our homes to afford the gifts of iPhones, iPads, gaming systems, and cars (who the fuck can actually afford to buy a new car for their loved one for fucking Christmas?!? The alleged-Lord traveled by donkey, muh’effers.)

I wasn’t having it.

Well, I couldn’t do it, so that’s why I wasn’t having it. I have been experiencing a sort of renaissance of artistic endeavors for the last year, and so I decided to put that creativity to work. I’m still from that school of thought who truly believes a handmade gift is much more dear than any store-bought item. Yes, I buy gifts, but I would rather receive heartfelt, from one’s own hands gifts than some impersonal gift we’ve become conditioned to buy – because stores package them in festive but cheap holiday wrapping – and we have so little time and money with which to work with.

I had none of the money, but loads of the time. I warned everyone ahead of time, too. “Homespun Christmas, y’all,” I said, and hoped they would understand.

We had recently cut down some small trees on our property line. I could see the raw material for my art taking shape, and so the husband got out the table saw and cut me hundreds upon hundreds of soft maple, wooden discs. I had so many ideas!

And I got to work. Here are some of my creations: handpainted ornaments, crocheted gift sets, and cookies. Also, my new interest, amigurimi, will prove to be a great idea for next year. I hope you enjoy.

Snowflakes and trees!
Family sets of ornaments
More family ornaments
Both wooden and clay-sculpted ornaments
My Ghost-inspired Year Zero snowmen wooden paintings, as well as on small canvas
Crocheted gift sets, homemade Baby Yoda cutouts, Slovakian Maknovík, and kolachy
Wooden disc wreath

As you can see, I was busy. Now, check out these Amigurumi I have been making! I’m not a crochet expert, but I have discovered that I can learn much easier with a calmer life and heart. Every, single one is without a pattern; I thank Satan for Pinterest, which gives me visual ideas. I then modify what catches my interest and make it uniquely my own creation. I am eternally grateful for my artist’s “eye”, because if my brain can conjure it, and I can see it, I can do it. With each one I make, I get better, and with each creation, I fall more in love with the art.

Clockwise: donkey, Rodrigo and Rosita llamas, Baby Yoda, and Dash the cat

I also made a Baby Yoda set for my new grandson, who’s basically due any day now. His mama wants to do a photo shoot:

Finally, there’s Goose, my soul kitty. I have many kitties, each deserving of their own blog, but Goose is special. We’ve been in love with each other since he was about 3 weeks old and we locked eyes when I picked him up out of the nursery where his mama, Quinnie, was caring for him and his sister one day. We’ve been inseparable since. I think we function as service creatures to each other; I am his human, and he is my furbaby. He’s very small for his age, and has always been petite. His mother was the same, not reaching her full, average size until she was 2, and never coming into heat until she was 5 (hence Goose and Azriel).

He used to follow me around constantly, bawling his head off. I would hold him and he’d be fine, and sometimes, his anxiety would be so extreme that I would swaddle him just like a human baby. It calmed him, but I simply couldn’t walk around, holding him all day. One afternoon, the husband was observing me try to placate Goose, crooning and cuddling him, and suggested, “Maybe we need to buy him a sweater.” Hmmmm? I thought about how thundershirts calm skittish dogs when there are storms or fireworks. It was still very warm – balmy, actually – and the A/C was still on! Still, a lightbulb went off over my head. “Maybe,” I allowed, “he’s cold.”

The next time we went to Walmart, I looked at the dog sweaters. The smallest size – XXS – seemed about right. There were only 2 in this size. I picked out a maroon, argyle print, choosing it over one with a teddy bear on it – because Goosie might have been tiny, but he was all man – and we put it on him when we got home. He looked so funny, walking around in a sweater when it was still 85° outside, but it worked. He didn’t fight or try to take them off; he would very dociley lift his paws for me to guide into the leg holes. He’s turned into a more independent young man, and he knows they go on at dinnertime and come off at breakfast when it’s very cold. Winter has been uncharacteristically mild this year, so often, he sleeps in front of the wall heater, but on those single-digit nights, a sweater goes on. He’s still my constant companion, but a much happier one. He’s become very popular on social media, and has his own Instagram. You can find him at @goosejoseph!

Anyway, buying sweaters was fun, but costly. I began making him some. He now has 10 sweaters and even “modeled” the parts of Baby Yoda because friends begged me to do it. Here’s my guy, being fabulous:

Rrrrriiiccccoooo. Suave.

I adore his face. He has more followers than me!

I promise that I am working on this terribly bad attitude I’ve had lately. Until then, I’ll crochet, and hold my Goose, and let my mind wander into avenues of artistic ideas. It’s my therapy, and it works. We all have it within us to fight the demons. And if you’re feeling weak, reach out. I’m here.

Knowing your shit when you know you’re shit

I’ve been Xanax-free for nearly a year now. That little pill saved me from the reality of my severe anxiety disorder. “Disorder” is exactly what it is, because it throws your mind, and in turn, your life into a chaos that tumbles as you stumble, trying to find walls to steady you while the ground turns to uneven, jagged gravel that makes the walking as perilous as the lack of balance. There is no reasoning with it; it shows up at the times you’d expect, and then sets upon you when you’re just plodding along, thinking you’re okay.

In the past, I had that small, inconspicuous pill that I could simply swallow dry. I would then wait for the calm to slow my heartbeat as it galloped along those corridors of my entire being, its cries of “CODE RED! CODE RED!” clanging loudly in my brain as its echoes bounced dully against the inside of my skull; a metal pinball ricocheting from surface to surface. My limbs would feel it first: that chemical numbness adding itself, slowly mixing through the streams and creeks and small tributaries of my body’s venous map, stilling the tremors and winding down the elastic whir-hum of electricity coursing throughout me. Then, I would listen to the crowd in my head slowly recede as Anger, Excitement, Fright, Urgency, Bombast, and Peril ceased their cries, slowly backing into their abodes, shutting their doors. My heart would clip-clop back to its point of origin, putting away the megaphone and returning to safe mode. I would feel less like I was free-falling from a high mountain top into an abyss. The fatal crash onto and, indeed, into the ground below never came. It was like in cartoons: you’re falling, falling, waiting for everything to go black as your body liquefies at the point of impact, but some force stops you a foot from the ground. Silly image, but as truthful a description as anything I can come up with. That feeling of freefall was with me so much, it was a mood.

If this scenario happened only in times of severe stress or worry, it might have been, well – normal is the word that comes to mind. We all experience it. For me, however, it had become such a part of my life that I assumed its constant interference was normal. It was when my doctor formally diagnosed my depression that I became aware that the sludge of my sadness was constantly being cut through by these surges of fight-or-flight. I used to be able to do one or both, but now, the sludge of depression actively held me down and forced me to endure. I would be frozen, cowering in fear, wondering which was going to kill me first.

It is an inexplicable state of being, when you’re so frightened but you also don’t care because at least everything will cease and the silence would be so fucking welcome.

My doctor recognized the electric current of panic humming underneath my surface at an appointment (I think she could hear it) and asked me a series of questions. I was afraid even as I answered them and then realized when am I NOT afraid? I accepted the prescription for the little pill; it was a tiny dose and I figured it probably wouldn’t help, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

That it actually helped was a revelation. At first, I accepted its effective blanket of calm like person who has been lost in the wilderness for weeks accepts safety: quietly, graciously, emotionally. It was so comforting to know that help was on its way once I swallowed that pill, welcoming the slight bitterness on my tongue because it signaled relief. Now, with the combination of the daily pill and these “one every 8 hours as needed” pills, I felt strong enough to manage. It provided clarity, too. Problems were just obstacles to remove from my path, however difficult or heavy or burdensome. Before, I simply deployed countermeasures in the form of irrational and mostly wrong choices, and things that might temporarily suspend the problems, but never fix them; this would also invariably create new problems. You know that saying about the hole in your path and falling in, every time? You haven’t? Here:

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

This was me, constantly. Until Xanax. And then it wasn’t.

For a long, long time, I stuck to the directions on the pill bottle. I was mindful of addiction and how it is woven into my DNA. I can’t make any excuses, and I am done with lying about what a problem it has been. I simply love substances that make me feel floaty, satiated, good. I love them in plentitude, and I have no “Off” button. I love substances that remove inhibitions, uncertainty, my absolute belief that I am shit, and of course, pain that has plagued me all my life, in different forms. The booze, the painkillers.

And then, Xanax.

Eventually, that little pill became less effective, and I was afraid to ask my doctor for a higher dose. A higher dose meant that I wasn’t managing my life. I wasn’t in control. While I have never been one to refuse to admit when I am wrong, I am also not one to say that I am weak. Or that I need help. It began innocently enough; I’d take a pill-and-a-half. Then, it was 2. Then, it was 2, twice a day. Soon enough, it was 2, then 2, then 1. Sometimes 2 more, on bad nights when I was alone with only self-doubt and I am shit as companions. When I began running out before the month was over, I began to ration it. I’d manage whole days with only one, because the reward was a day of 5 and the sweet bliss of IDGAF. I told myself this was only temporary, because in all aspects of my life, I was attempting to Be Happy and someday, I would be, and when that day came, I could throw those pills away. Then I am shit would tap my shoulder, and I’d simply acquiesce and continue.

When my words left, and whole blocks of memory went with them, I was momentarily confused. What was happening? Was this just the effects of age? When I began to need to consult Google for “that word that means…” whatever, I began to be scared. I have this incredibly large bank of useless knowledge at my disposal, and always have. The perks of being an outcast – a wallflowerish oddball who is also pretty intelligent – are that you spend all that alone time reading a lot, and watching television a lot. You digest things. And as a creative, I get bored easily, and therefore, my interests are wide-ranging and varied. I like to know everything about something that fascinates me, and then I bank that knowledge when I move onto the next interest. (Currently, it’s the art of Amigurimi.) That I am a master of nothing except knowing that I am shit is not distressing to me.

So, not being able to use that large bank of useless crap was baffling. Not recalling large chunks of the past was terrifying. I began to research things, quietly, without voicing those fears to anyone, because fear is still a weakness and I still operate under the assumption that if I show weakness, everyone I love will retreat. It isn’t that I don’t trust them; it’s that I think they might be kidding themselves if they think that I am in any way adequate and deserving. Old habits die hard. And sometimes they don’t die at all.

There are always possible side effects that accompany taking medications. Sometimes, the side effects are worse than the ailment.

With Xanax, it’s memories, and words. Not whole speech, just words. Names. Stay on Xanax too long – or any benzodiazepine – and you risk losing those abilities forever. Sometimes, even relatively short-term use can permanently remove those abilities.

Permanent. That word was incredibly terrifying, horrifying, traumatic – in short, all the words for “OH MY FUCKING GOD, THIS IS SCARY.” I just didn’t have them right then. I am a wordsmith, a writer. I weave them in such a way as to enchant and delight, to shock and dismay, to describe and to move, and to elicit a response from those who read my work. To not have the tools with which to do the one thing I know that I am not shit at was enough for me to come to a sudden fork in my journey. I could choose to follow the fuzzy comfort of Xanax and the eventuality of permanent brain fog, with brief stops at Addiction and Abuse; or I could rip the bandaid off, expose my wound to the sun, and hope that Vitamin D would heal me, with the help of music and therapeutic art. If I chose that road, I might end up at the destination of having lost some of my words permanently – or not. That road was mysterious and fraught with inevitable worry. Since I am an Atheist, I could not “let go and let God,” so it would require believing in myself. I’m really not good at that.

Alas, I persisted. I titrated off the Xanax and eventually, there were no more.

I got my words back. I think. I am able to pull up a word when required without Google. That vague fog is gone. Some memories are what I lost. I call it “mid-term memory” because short-term is fine and I can still remember being a toddler. I’ve lost whole spans of time and if I were able to weep, I would.

The nightmares are back. The panic attacks at odd times are returned, but until lately, I was able to fight them. I spend incredibly long periods of time in solitude, both due to not wishing to be around or to inflict myself on people, and my eye issue/poor sight, which requires care. The less I interact with people in person, the harder it gets to tolerate them. I’m too much, usually, awkward and either too loud or too soft. I am the eternal dorknerd I always have been, but with a catch: I’m getting cranky with maturity. My fear is that someday, it will be just me, with a mess of white hair, no teeth, voluminous, baggy clothes, cradling my cats, and shouting “GET THE FUCK AWAY” at passersby. Everyone I love will be gone, driven away by my insufferable me-ness. Because remember: I am shit. Only then, I will be old shit, and no one has to tell me how quickly society discards the elderly. I’ve seen it.

I feel like I must somehow fix this, but my courage in pill form is gone, now. I recognize that this blog entry is morose as fuck and definitely not the first blog of 2020 that I wished to vault out into the webiverse, but there it is. In choosing to put it out there, I’m hoping that some real courage in the form of solutions will appear to me in a burst of clarity. You all know that I’m a walking shitshow, so in a few days, when I revisit this, maybe I’ll read it and declare “Fuck this shit” and plod a plan of attack.

Right now, though, I’m feeling like an impostor again. Because no, I do not have Zen, or clarity, or a sense of well-being. I’m one to insist, “Everything’s going to be ok.”

What if it’s not?

The sins of the mothers, and the daughters, and letting the past stay where it belongs.

Did you ever believe you were completely over a past hurt, only to have it slap you in the face again, out of the blue?

I thought I was truly over the hurt my mother could cause me. Throughout life, and then after her death, when I discovered how little she really cared about how she was leaving things when she died, she had the ability to really cut me with her words.

She was always extremely ignorant about all the things I had to do in order to keep her at home; from dealing with her bills, her house, her health, diet – everything. I could have taken the easy route when she told me she was afraid to live alone, and decided she needed to be in a nursing home. She was adamant that she could still be mostly independent, and that all she needed was to be in the apartment in our first floor. She felt safe with us nearby, so I readily agreed. I wanted her to be happy, and so we did this without a single hesitation.

It was hard; she had congestive heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure. She was in the beginning stages of macular degeneration. Mere months after moving into her apartment, she fell on the afternoon of Halloween and broke her hip. We spent the afternoon in the ER; I raced home at 5:30 to hand out candy with The Male Sibling Unit while my daughter took my grandson trick-or-treating, then went back to the ER to sit, until they finally admitted her. That Halloween was a horror in so many different ways; we made jokes about the cliché of her breaking a hip, but deep inside, I wondered if this signaled the beginning of some sort of end.

The end would not come for 5 more years, but those years were a blur; work, work, pay double bills; attempt to get her to go out and socialize and have a life beyond the walls of her apartment and her computer; try to keep her from eating food that could kill her; policing what others brought into the house for her because she could be so persuasive, telling unknowing friends and family members that I selfishly denied her and that she was “allowed” to have things like

An Arby’s Reuben

Beer

Candy bars

McDonald’s milkshakes

Whopper malt balls

You name it, she would wheedle it. I have never discovered who the male culprit was who brought her beer, which my daughter found hiding in her closet underneath a pile of clothes; I suspect it was my enabling, alcoholic, piece of shite father. She would only admit, sullenly, that “a friend” brought it to her. It was a constant battle; we could not keep The Male Sibling Unit’s Christmas or Easter candy in her apartment for her to gift him because she would unapologetically consume every bit of it, forcing me to spend more money on replacements at the last minute. I learned my lesson after the first couple of times and stopped letting her have any control over it.

Throughout those years, she would act like a child, demanding her own way, fighting against my efforts to see to it that she ate right; I would buy her sugar-free candy and remind her that she needed to eat only a few pieces a day. She would agree, then promptly binge it.

Do you know what happens when someone binges on two or three bags of sugar-free candy?

There is a shit storm. A literal shit storm. All over her bed, the floor, over to her commode we kept in her room so that accidents could be avoided. My daughter was her home health aide; she was paid, by the state, to care for her and was the only person my mother would agree to allow to care for her. On those mornings after a candy binge, my daughter’s lips would press into a thin, terse slash on her face and she would be short-tempered all day. Hell, I’d be a tsunami of black hate if I had to clean up pools of shit, too. 

(As an aside: I will never do that to my family. If my bowels become that loose and my ambulation so poor that 4 feet is too far to travel before I create a mudslide, put my damned old, wrinkly ass in a nursing home, please.  You have it in writing on the internet, and everyone knows that nothing ever truly goes away on the internet.)

I would look, constantly, for healthy, delicious alternatives, cook recipes, buy special foods she loved. None of this was cheap and her $57 a month in food stamps didn’t get us through 2 days, let alone a month. Diabetes assures that eating is not a cheap endeavor.

I navigated the strict parameters of her finances; in order to qualify for help in the home and other, assorted medical supplies, she was not permitted to keep savings or own anything considered income. Her house? Had to go. No one wanted to buy it, and so it went back to the bank. Her car? Had to go. If anyone can explain to me how a car is somehow considered “income”, I would be all ears. She basically needed to be destitute in order to qualify for home health care, oxygen, a commode, a wheelchair, walker, diapers, and cases of Ensure Glucerna. Don’t get me started on the bullshit hoops we must jump through in this dumpster fire of a healthcare system and the care of senior citizens because you just fucking know  that I will find a way to blame Donald Trump even though he was not the President in 2007; because if he can go off like a demented, batshit, modern-day King George every hour on Twitter then he deserves everything he gets. She  didn’t want to be in a nursing home; this was the price.

Some might ask, “Why not let her do as she wished? She was a grown woman.” Well, she may have been, but I was ever-conscious of her decline, both physically and mentally. When you become caretaker of your parent, it is a fucked-up, ass-backwards relationship in which you become the parent and the parent becomes the child. The petulant, stubborn, sometimes bratty child. She insisted she would behave; she wanted to. I would be transported back to the day we found her in her house, slowly turning blue, groaning and clammy and cold, and how it took the ambulance ages (2 minutes) to get there.

How I arrived behind the ambulance at the ER and made my way back to the room she was in, only to find her vascular surgeon, who was on call, slamming his fist into her chest, shouting, “Come ON, dammit!” while a cardiologist and nurses hooked her up to machines. I must have made a noise, because a nurse looked up and rushed out to walk me back to my husband in the waiting room.

How she lay, intubated, for a week in the ICU before she was stable enough to have a pacemaker implanted. She spent another week there, recovering from her ordeal.

I, on the other hand, didn’t have the privilege of recovering. What was seen could never be unseen, and for almost six years, I doggedly tried to keep that scenario from happening again.

Until it did, that day in September 2012, when I took one look at her face and her condition and knew, in my gut, that this was it. Oh, I denied it all weekend, but that knowledge in my gut was a hard, cold stone; I knew that as bad as the first time had been and how hard I tried to hold her life together while attempting to also live mine, this time was It.

It took a long time to forgive myself; I felt that I had failed her somehow. All of that sacrifice, all that hard work; it had all been for nothing. I couldn’t save her.

Learning to forgive myself and to let myself off the hook was a battle I almost lost. It has taken 4 years to get to this point of grace.

Tonight, I was looking for a couple of my old, porcelain dolls because I want to reinvent them into ghoulish, Annabelle-esque pieces of art. In a storage bin, where I was looking for a shoe that had come off one of the dolls, I found a stationary tablet.

In it was a letter my mother had been writing to a man she met online; she was notorious for her online romances and this guy had been in “our” lives for years. That he was my age was weird as shit; he lived in Scotland and came to visit once, right after she broke her hip. He apparently had never had a girlfriend and had anger issues; one of her friends related these things to me and said that he had lived with his mother until her death and that my mother represented a relationship similar to that, albeit all romantical and shit.

Creepy as fuck, huh? A true Eeeewwww factor. But, the heart wants what it wants and they seemed to make each other happy. She was happy.

Except when she wasn’t, and was telling him and anyone else who might listen that I controlled her life and that she would be much happier on her own. Reminding her that she had made the choice to move in with us and that her total of about $400 a month in Social Security and food stamps didn’t go very far with utilities, groceries, and various other expenses? It wasn’t worth the black scowl she would shoot at me before she turned her face toward her computer screen and was once again lost in the world of Yahoo Messenger. We bought most of her groceries, paid for her TV, internet, and even added a line on our cell phone plan for her. All she needed to do was profess a desire for something and I would do whatever it took to make it happen. Spend $100 on gifts for her Scottish boyfriend and then mail them to Edinburgh? No problemo.

So, in this tablet, I found the letter to her man, and, as usual, it contained criticisms of me and her musing that she could just “take her house back” and he could just “move here” and they could live together. This was about a year before she died. Now, her house was gone, and not “gettable” and living “on her own” was impossible without the loss of all the services that helped sustain her life. $400 a month wasn’t going to keep her afloat; let’s not even get into the near-impossibility of this man being able to get a visa to live in romantic harmony with a woman old enough to be his mother.

My head knows all of this.

Tell that to my heart; the muscle that contracted painfully when I saw her beloved handwriting tearing me to pieces in that efficient way she had. I read the handwriting I’ve known since birth and adored, because it was hers; it was so neat, graceful, and lovely. It was crafted by her hand, which was utterly soft and delicately feminine; the hand I held to my face after she forced me, by her own resistance to put her wishes in writing (oh, the irony), to decide to let her die. The hand I bathed with my tears that seemed to be wrung out from my heart. I felt drenched in guilt for telling them to turn off the machines. My skin fairly reeked of that sour cowardice; my clothes were dipped in its stench. Everything I had done all those years had come down to this final evening, in a hospital 100 miles away from home; away from her two cats, whose hearts were broken when she did not come home; and a Scottish boyfriend, who faded away after about two months of communication following her death. I wonder if he replaced her eventually; I wonder if his damaged heart is still broken. 

In her own hand, she denigrated me again, from the grave. That the handwriting deteriorated as I read the page was telling; toward the end, her eyesight was really faltering.I doubt she even realized that her beautiful handwriting was but chicken scratch toward the bottom of the page. 

 I should be able to take this with a grain of salt, because I know she was not well, and she did admit that she had been extremely critical of me in the months before her death.

I should be able to get over this. And I know that l will. But right now? It hurts. I don’t want to hurt right now, when I’m crawling out of the chasm that Depression throws me into. In my head, it’s just words on a piece of paper, phantom scrawls of a narcissistic woman not in her right mind at the end of her life. It cannot physically harm me, and that tablet can be thrown away, or burned, and forgotten.

Tell that to this daughter’s heart, though.