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.

Unfriend THIS

So I have kittens right now, who are learning to be independent, and teaching them is a never-ending source of amusement, anxiety, the fear of getting way too attached, and precious moments. Many hours are whiled away with a tiny fuzzball cuddling against my chest, or giggling while another fuzzball chews on the hair on the back of my head.

Kiko
Sully

I should be up, doing stuff, or out and about, but how do you put a precious baby down when they sigh and relax against you? Don’t get me started on how addictive their baby smells are. Bury your nose in a six-week-old kitten’s warm, fuzzy, vaguely pink tummy and inhale: there’s a very faint, almost indiscernible scent of pee, but then the warm fur/skin scent takes over, with a faint blush of cinnamon.

Intoxicating.

At least, until he or she latches onto your face with baby claws that barely know what their use is for.

Anyway, while I allow Sully or Kiko to use my dirtypillows as a soft bed, I scroll through Facebook and check out pages, or research ideas for home renovations, or read good articles (and blogs). Facebook is usually an exercise in self-control, because, as an old friend once said, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.

This is unfortunate, because invariably, one encounters dissenting opinions from that which one holds personally. However, when one delves into the black abyss of uneducated opinions, one risks becoming caught up in a fecund quagmire.

It often mystifies me that there are so many grown-ass adults who believe blatant bullshittery and refuse to educate themselves. Here are some recent statements I’ve read, just today:

“The coronavirus is just political B.S. and NOBODY is gonna make me get a vaccine.”

“Flu shots are LIVE VIRUSES they inject into you!”

“There are pieces of fetuses in vaccines.”

Okay. Unpack those. Yes, grown-ass adults made those claims. My first reaction was to say, “The fuck outta here with that” and unfriend, because honestly, it’s a friendship that has been peripheral, at best. We met at a job, this person left said job, and moved in with the first (of my association with them) of at least a dozen individuals they have been “truly in love with” over the past couple of years. I used to feel sorry for them – everyone deserves to be loved, right? – and so I hung in there, offering support and encouragement. At about #6 of their choice in life partner, I began to lose faith in their ability to pick a decent human being. You don’t know what to say to a person who obviously neither loves themself, nor has the ability to discern good from bad. You begin to see, as a casual observer, that this person’s life has been one trainwreck after another, mostly of their own making. You quiet your urge to shout, “Are you fucking serious???” when they introduce Mr or Ms (inserted here-because-while-I’m-certainly-an-asshole-I-am-not-that-asshole-who’s-going-to-out this-person-on-the-chance-that-they-may-read-this) Right (now). You continue to reply to their self-defeating posts with inspirational memes.

Seriously, the world does not give up enough gratitude for memes. They replace the need to come up with real words and often summarize how we’re feeling perfectly. Instead of replying with some lame comment we don’t feel, we can meme a bitch with fake affection.

Anyway, I really ought to unfriend. I guess I was looking for the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I guess I’ve found it, because 𝗪𝗛𝗔𝗧 𝗜𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗔𝗖𝗧𝗨𝗔𝗟 𝗙𝗨𝗖𝗞𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗙𝗨𝗖𝗞 is this shit about COVID-19 being “political bullshit?” Have I been wrong, all my life, in my voracious quest for knowledge about the history of the world and the scientific discoveries that have saved the human race from all things plague-like? I mean, is it all political bullshit: measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, whooping cough, chicken pox, et al?

Image courtesy of Never Stay Dead

I’m actually grinning as I write this because 𝗼𝗳 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀𝗲 𝗶𝘁 𝗳𝘂𝗰𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝘀𝗻’𝘁.

I could have gone onto that post and replied, asking them where they went to school and if there was a history class or are they Scientologists who believe in the magic underpants, or if they were awake during a single history class throughout their education, or if they’ve ever fact-checked a single thing that, well, if it sounds like fuckery, it likely is, indeed, fuckery? I could have cited facts and articles from reputable sources, because SCIENCE.

I could have done any number of things that would have satisfied my desire to educate, to dispel rumors and blatant fallacies, to provide a moderate voice of reason. I didn’t, though; I didn’t use SCIENCE and try to educate. Know why?

Because my efforts would not have come from a sincere desire to persuade, or teach. They would have come from my desire to be right. Don’t get me wrong – I am right – but why do I need to attempt to prove that to people I really don’t know intimately and who I would definitely avoid, were they to approach me? Because even if they are the sweetest person in the world at work, they are, in fact, a Trump-loving, Confederate flag waving, ignorant, narcissistic, middle-aged dirtbag who has fucked more people in two years than possibly the entire population of some blink-and-you-missed-it town in Texas. I no longer feel compassion, or a sort of camaraderie (we self-loathers recognize our kind) with this person.

No, with that statement: “Flu shots are LIVE VIRUSES they inject into you,” my brain just shrugged in defeat. I didn’t even post “Read a book, you dim-watt doofus” or react with an angry emoji. I came here, instead, to write, while Sully snoozed on my dirtypillows and Goose looked on in disgust.

Next, I need to go find my Unfriend button, now that I’ve exorcised this particular demon. It’s almost time to feed the kittens, anyway.

Science Fiction, American-Style

Have you ever pondered the possibility of time travel? Are the fantastically portrayed ideas of alternate realities and parallel timelines something you enjoy reading about or watching at movies and on TV? Is Dr. Who and his timey-wimey stuff something you could imagine happening? I dunno how it happens: you are given a tiny, little green pill to swallow, which will send you to a future not of your choosing, or HG Wells will have built a working time machine somewhere and you’ll get to take a ride; possibly there’s a real-life T.A R D.I S. with your name on it. Maybe there’s a rip in the time continuum and you fall through the hole. I am clearly just riffing, and completely unknowledgeable about time travel. That’s not the point, though. The how of getting to this future isn’t important. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s just say you were able to.

I did. It was altogether alarming, and I almost hesitated to write it, lest it become an actual possibility. Some might read it and think, “Oh, come on! This can never happen here!” I may be told, point-blank, that I’ve got one fucked-up imagination. (I do not deny this, by the way.) I would then invite them to have an honest look at the state of the union today. Take a good look, if you have, thus far, been able to fracture your world from that which is happening all around you and affecting people you know. As an aside, if you have been able to separate your life from the dumpster fire that is the United States throughout the last 3 or more years, please: tell us your secret. We beseech you.

Really examine just the events of the past six months, if the whole Trump presidency is too much for you to rehash. Then, tell me that this scenario I offer below doesn’t at least stand a very real chance of becoming true as things stand today.

This is not for the faint of heart. Continue……

I wake up. My bed is the same soft, cozy surface. The room is the same. Everything around me is normal, the house, the cats, and, I assume, the humans. Let’s say that I forego the morning routine of looking at social media and checking out the news. That’s not likely to happen, but since this is my little work of science fiction, let’s say it does. I suddenly have a craving for a breakfast burrito, and I walk down to a place where I would normally get a breakfast burrito. Names aren’t important here. Context, people. Use your imagination.

When I get to the entrance, I don my face mask. There’s a sort of big, red, symbol on the door that closely resembles an elephant. I pay it no mind; I’m hungry, and my stomach is growling like a fucking angry bear. I get to the counter, standing the usual 6 feet away; the associate’s eyes go up, and she gestures to my face. “We don’t do that here, and you don’t have to, either,” she says. I shake my head and say, “Better to be safe.”  Then I peer back into the kitchen area. There’s one guy back there, wearing gloves and a hairnet, but neither he nor this girl have a face mask on. Pick your battles, I say to myself. “I would appreciate you wearing a mask to make my food,” I say, and she rolls her eyes. She asks me if she can help me. I order what I usually do: a breakfast burrito with sausage, cheese, peppers, onions, and tomato, with salsa and sour cream on the side.  Oh, and a large, black coffee. We cannot forget that most important item. She places the order and begins ringing it up, after asking “For here or to go?”  Obviously to go, lady. Then, it gets strange.

“I need to see your card,” she says.

“Oh! I’m using cash. Besides, I could just use the swiper you have here,” I answer, not troubled by her assumption that I would be using a debit card. Most people do, these days. She purses her lips tightly and says, “No, not your debit card. Your card.” I look at her, not comprehending. My ID? My library card? Do people still have those? My {insert restaurant’s corporate name} points card? Seeing my confusion, she rolls her eyes again and calls back to her manager. “Hey Frank? Can you come here a minute? We might have a situation.”

A “situation”? What is the situation? Why am I a situation? Is there suddenly a ban on cash, or green peppers, or sour cream? I mean, I know coins are becoming scarce, but I want to give you cash, which will help with the national shortage, at least. Clearly, I should have checked the news this morning.

The guy who is all hair netted-up strips off his gloves and walks up to her. “Again?” he asks? She gives him a look and he regards me with a sort of bland, slightly disinterested gaze.

“Ma’am,” he begins pleasantly, “she has to see your card. With the mask on and all, it’s a red flag.  It’s necessary.” 

What? Just……what?

“You mean, since you can’t see my face, you need an ID for a burrito and coffee?” I sputter, completely exasperated. What he says next in reply sends my head spinning.

“No, not your photo ID. Your voter ID.” He seems perfectly serious about this. He does not seem batshit crazy. He seems to think that am batshit crazy, though. When he sees my eyes widen in a way that must make me resemble a Bratz doll, he elaborates in a sort of bored, I’ve-memorized-this-spiel-before monotone.

“This is a Republican-owned restaurant. We must see your United States Voter Identification and Party Affiliation Card in order to serve you. Come on…. you know that. Why do you people have to be so difficult, with your masks and your shields and your outrage? I mean, we have 331,000,000 Americans in this country and only 14 million have died of the ‘Rona so far. It’s a big, fake story.” The associate next to him nods like a bobble head as he says this to me. I remain standing there, incredulous, wondering just what the hell happened while I was sleeping or if maybe I am still sleeping, and this is all a jacked-up nightmare. I take a deep, shuddering breath. Easy, my inner voice warns. Don’t lose your shit.

The manager holds his hand up swiftly. “I need to warn you that I will call the authorities. The Federal Karen Act of 2021 makes it unlawful for you to express any so-called “outrage” about any and all regulations. So please, don’t make me have to call them. No card? No service. If you’re a Democrat or an Independent, go to their restaurants. You know who they are.”  He shakes his head, clearly exasperated with me. Bobble head just keeps bobbling. Turning to her, he asks, “You got this? I have to step out for about 15 minutes to run my mom to the doctor for her test. She’s had the ‘Rona 3 times now and they keep saying they don’t know why. I mean, my uncle only had it once before he got it that last time and died. I think there’s some secret stuff going on. That Dr. Fauci might really be the descendent of the Nazi doctors.” Bobble head replies. “I hear they’re giving you the test so they can inject a time-release capsule up in there, so you keep getting sick and the numbers stay high.” He shrugs, then nods his head nervously. “I mean, I don’t want my mom having the test again, but her insurance company is owned by  Democrats.” 

I back out of that restaurant slowly but steadily, not trusting them and not really trusting myself. Outside the restaurant, I pull my phone out of my pocket. The news is easily accessed; I search words on Google. I don’t even realize that I’ve sunk to the grass in front of the store until I look up from my haze. 

Somehow, I lost 2 years of my life and somehow, I woke up in an alternate reality where Donald Trump is still President, having declared martial law back in 2020 when Joe Biden won a decisive victory over him in the election.  Biden was assassinated on December 18th, 2020, before he could ever take the oath of office. The date was horrifying: it was the same day his wife and daughter had died in a car accident in 1972. The nation had become gripped in what was nearly a civil war, and Trump had declared that it “wasn’t safe” to have another election. The borders remained closed and we were at war with China now. The United States was being funded by Russia, with Vladimir Putin having his own office in the White House for his frequent visits to “advise”. Somehow, the US was trying to function in a way that allowed citizens their simple freedoms, but also allowed racism, prejudice, and bigotry to run free.  

I learned that my assigned “times” to be able to shop at Walmart and most big box, “bipartisan” stores were from 12pm-5pm. Republicans shopped from 6am – 11am.  Independents got 6pm-11pm. The store closed from 11am to 12pm, and again from 5pm to 6pm, to restock. Small, local businesses were permitted to choose how they wanted to do business. A red elephant symbol appeared on Republican-owned and operated stores, and a blue donkey symbol appeared on ones owned and operated by Democrats. The Independents had an eagle with an “I” symbol affixed at their locations. The government refused to address the needs of Libertarians, and there was a lot of civil unrest because of that. They were lumped in with the Independents, a fact that irked both parties.

There were federal troops in every large city now, dispatched to try and stifle protests. There had been one defining protest during a week in July of 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Some women who called themselves “The Wall of Mothers” had formed in response to Federal interference and occupation of that city.

They had appeared in front of a federal building, locked arms, and stood, chanting. Suddenly, strangely camouflaged soldiers had appeared out of nowhere and mowed them all down, using rubber bullets. One pregnant woman had been hit by three bullets and had gone into premature labor, losing her baby.

Another was shot in the face and lost an eye. One had been trampled in the ensuing chaos and died at the hospital later. The rest were loaded into vans and driven away. Three were still missing “in custody”, despite pleas from their families and demands for transparency by the Oregon Attorney General and many other officials. It was said that they had been taken “where the Mexicans go.” Tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets were the rule of thumb, but there were lots of class-action suits being brought against the companies who manufactured these things. Apparently scores of Americans had been gravely injured or died as a result of peacefully protesting and being shot or sprayed by these federal troops. Trump didn’t care how the suits went; he was a big supporter of “a person’s right to sue.”

As I read the absolute chaos the country has descended into, I begin to cry.

We had lost one Supreme Court Justice in 2021, and another conservative had been named. When calls for a fair and balanced Supreme Court were vociferously voiced by both Democrats and Independents, Trump had merely answered, in a two-word tweet:

”Make me.”

The ”Great Pandemic of 2020” was called, simply, that. Most news outlets had simple, stark tickers at the top or bottoms of their pages and channels that continued to keep track of the numbers of those infected with COVID-19 and those who had died: state by state and national totals. Apparently, there was a vaccine, but it was only 45-52% effective, and a full one-third of the country refused to get it, because Trump had stated, “It’s not for me, I don’t think.” He continued to refuse to wear a mask, and only went out to golf, having completely given up on rallies and appearances over a fear that “some Left Wing Nutjob” would target him, “and very unfairly.”  At his last appearance on Fox National Television, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, he had appeared to weigh an estimated 390 lbs. He drooled from one side of his mouth and slurred his words. It was said he could not walk unassisted. He refused to address his immobility, insisting, instead, that he never be seen attempting to walk. Sources at the White House refused to comment on his appearance or health, declaring Trump to be “as fit as a 30-year-old.”

I rise to my feet. I cannot read any more. I need to get home and to make sure everyone I love is okay. The incredible reality – that I was somehow caught up in an alternate universe – has settled deep within the pit of my stomach, where it pours black terror into my veins. The how and the why don’t matter right now.  I stumble up the hill as quickly as I can, aware that I am running on no caffeine or food. It doesn’t matter; I am functioning on pure adrenaline.

 As I near the front of my house, a white ATA van pulls in front of it. The driver smiles and waves to me as the door slides open. I hear the sound of a lift, and suddenly, a figure pushing a walker slowly makes his way off the lift and out onto the sidewalk.

It is The Male Sibling Unit.

He grins tiredly at me and shuffles slowly to the front door. The bus driver calls out to me.

“He had a really good day at work! He’ll be tired. He’s really getting around good with that walker now!” The look on my face must startle her, because she turns off the van. “Hey,” she says, compassionately, “Chin up! I know how hard it has to be to see him have to fight so hard every time he’s gotten the virus. You do all you can to keep him safe. No one could have known he’d have a stroke this last time. But look at him! He’s such a fighter! He never gets down! I’ll bet he could get it a fourth time, and a fifth. He’s a strong guy. I admire how he just says that life’s too short and you gotta live.” Winking at me, she turns the key in the ignition. “I’ll see you Wednesday! I have to go pick up a crew at the Elm Street group home for testing.” With a short beep of the horn, she pulls slowly away.

The next thing I remember, I am coming to on a gurney in an ambulance. A figure, clad head to toe in blue and with a full-face shield and mask works over me. A neighbor found me on the pavement. I had passed out. “Hey, no worries,” he says to me as I jump at the sight of him. ”Your husband gave us all your info. He’ll follow in your car. Just relax for now. We’ll be at D-UPMC Erie before you know it.”

“E-Erie? Am I that sick?” I stammer. “What’s the matter with Bradford Hospital?” He rubs my shoulder softly. “You really did hit your head, didn’t you, Dear? Remember, Bradford closed a year ago. Budget cuts on the federal level. Insurance costs skyrocketed. Everyone goes to Erie or Buffalo now, depending on their party affiliations. It’s okay – let me give you something to help you sleep. It’s just a little, green pill.”

No.

It is not okay.

*******************************

I know, I know. It can’t happen here. The thing is, we said that about a whole host of things that did, indeed, happen. Here’s a great article on how the Trump Administration is corrupting government. And here’s a Trump timeline of shame, in case you need one.

We have less than 4 months to neutralize the batshit crazy and inject some sanity into this country’s leadership. If we allow what is happening to continue unchecked, my fear is that my science fiction will become less the musings of a writer who drank too much caffeine and allowed some of her darkest thoughts to make it onto the page and more of a prediction and a premonition.

No, it’s not reality. Let’s keep it that way.

A white girl story

My first boyfriend was black. We were 5. I didn’t know he was my boyfriend until my friends in kindergarten told me he was. Apparently, he was pretty certain of the fact, because he couldn’t stop telling people all about it.

“I grabbed her and pulled her into Mr. Singer’s (the janitor) closet and kissed her and now, she’s my girlfriend.”

It was quite the grade school scandal. It was also categorically false, but I never lived that 5th Ward School tale down. It became legend.

I first met Eddie when we were 4 year-olds at Headstart. Headstart is a preschool program that helps economically disadvantaged children with early childhood education, health, and nutritional services. It was founded in 1965, so it was relatively new when I was enrolled in 1971. It is an angel network of helpers. You know who helpers are, right? Mister Rogers, my aforementioned Dad, coined that phrase and it’s the best way I can describe the legion of teachers, aides, parents, and assorted individuals who have championed this invaluable program and given it the wings with which to soar. My daughter is a Headstart teacher. I haven’t got the words to adequately express how proud I am of her.

Sometimes, helpers have horns and their husbands are wearing tutus.

Anyway, that’s where Eddie and I met. It seems hilarious to say, “We met when we were 4” because saying you met someone conjures up visions of mixers and parties and chance encounters in a coffee shop – at least, to me, it does. It was more like we were out on the dusty playground and we threw dirt at each other, and chased each other around the swings, and rode the merry-go-round together, with a bunch of other kids. I can’t say, with any real certainty, that I remember him from Headstart. I already had a best friend at that age, and her name was Iva, and we met at the Crippled Children preschool we both attended as toddlers. Me with my neck, and her with, well, I don’t know what was wrong with her to make her have to go to Crippled Children, but we were fast friends, and my mother would pick Iva up for school, and later, for Headstart, because Iva’s mommy didn’t have a car. The point is, when you’re 4, you have a pretty limited scope of reality. Having a bunch of friends doesn’t matter when you’re 4. You just want to play, and laugh, and it doesn’t much matter if you have one friend or ten to do that with.

I do remember that, when I entered kindergarten, I recognized Eddie when I saw him from across the classroom. Back in those days, there was a school in every neighborhood, and Eddie happened to live in mine. Kindergarten was only a half-day in 1972, and remained so until my own kids were in school, and then it switched to full school days.

Back in those days, we also could walk to school. Yes, at the tender age of 5 years and six months, I walked to school. On the first day, my Mom walked me to school, but she trusted me to make my way home after. It was only a street-long block and up a small hill to our house, so I was good. I wasn’t scared. Back then, you didn’t have to be scared. Those first few days were kind of a blur; new friendships were forged, if that’s what you could call them. I still remember the other Lori in our class, who vomited on the floor the first day. I remember being taught how to shelter underneath our tables, where we sat, four students at each one, in case of a mysteriously-coined “bomb threat.” The idea was that, if there was a bomb, we were to drop to the floor and get underneath the table.

When the teacher said “bomb,” this was what I thought she meant.

Being 5 year-olds, we knew absolutely nothing of nuclear weapons and the Cold War and any of that. Why anyone would want to go all Wile E. Coyote on us or our towering school was beyond our comprehension, but we practiced dropping to the floor and crawling underneath the table, where we giggled as the teacher commended us for our speed. The fact that our classroom was in the basement of a humongous, three-story brick edifice that, if bombed, would come tumbling down upon us, crushing and burying us, was something that escaped our childish wonder. We had a door to the outside in our classroom, but I guess that you don’t want to be outside when there’s a bomb, even if you won’t make it out from underneath your formica table alive.

My year of kindergarten is mostly a jumble of vague memories. Life had not begun to have its way with me yet. I remember that first day – and how I wet the bed. I recall having to go into the restroom so the teacher and the school nurse could examine my body for chickenpox when my mother sent me back after a feverish, itchy 10 days of what my mother and grandmother called “the worst case of chickenpox we have ever seen,” and my delight at being given my own clay (I can still remember that it was reddish, and slightly sticky, and how it felt and smelled) to put in the plastic container my mother had sent with me. That’s pretty much kindergarten for me. Oh, lots more happened; the teacher had a conference with my mother a month in to discuss placing me in First Grade because I was very advanced and “kindergarten bores her”. My mother politely demurred, not wanting to place me ahead of my own age group. Nowadays, we do this all the time. The name of the game is advance at all costs. I sometimes wonder what would have changed for me; I suspect not much. I made friends. I discovered art class, and music class. That was glorious.

Eddie and I would often walk to and from school together. He would always have a little gift for me when I would meet him at the bottom of my street; a little, plastic egg from a penny gumball machine with a ring in it. I would accept with a blush and wonder where he got them. When I asked, he said, nonchalantly, that there were machines in the offices where his daddy worked. “Why do you go to your daddy’s work?” I asked. His answer surprised and mystified me:

“My daddy runs the junkyard. I live in the junkyard.”

When I asked my mother about it, she explained: Eddie’s dad was in charge of the daily operations of the junkyard, which was across the street and then the creek and began as a vast expanse of trash and treasure a hundred yards or so from its banks. I could see the mountains of cars, metal, and assorted other discarded junk from our front door. The junkyard was called “Goodmans” and Eddie’s dad was the caretaker. He, his mom, dad, and little brother, Petey, lived in a little house right in the center. Not too long after we started school, Eddie’s mom left, taking Petey with her, and moved to New York City, where she was from. My mother told me to be kind to Eddie. “He’s going to be sad and have a hard time,” she advised.

Eddie and his brother had the nicest, warmest, milk chocolate-colored skin I had ever seen. Eddie’s mom was like me, which is to say she was white. Eddie’s dad, a congenial, gentle, towering giant of a man, was much, much darker than Eddie and Petey. I loved to wave to him when he drove by our house in his truck, “Sonny!” I’d holler, and he would slow down, grin, and wave at me. “That Sonny is such a nice guy,” my Gram would say, “but at night, you can’t see him in that truck until he smiles.” Please don’t judge my Gram, born in 1912. She didn’t have a racist bone in her body. Her father was the caretaker of the cemetery where their home sat just below on the hillside. Her earliest memories were of being terrified as she and her siblings watched from their bedroom windows as the KKK burned crosses among the graves behind them. My great-grandfather would fearlessly trudge up the hill and put them out after the band of cowards had dispersed. Yes, this was the north, but yes, racism existed even here. Especially here, where we ruefully call our region “Pennsyltucky” because the Rebel flags wave and we have rednecks and sometimes because of the attitudes, you honestly think we fought for the Confederacy. The founders of our town were rough men, oil men, hard-working and ambitious. That working-class ethic still remains, even if the jobs didn’t.

As we grew older, Eddie used to tell the story of how he “fell in love” with me. “When we were in Headstart, I first saw you, and I knew you were like me, ‘cuz I thought you was Chinese.” I have told the Story of how I was often mistaken as having Asian heritage because my hair is nearly black, my skin is olive-toned, my head is pretty round, and my black eyes possess just a bit of a tilt at the outer corners. I had to deny it more times than I could count. As I got older, it changed from Asian to Native American. Sorry, folks, but there is nary an amoebic-sized smidge of Asian or Native American DNA in me; my Ancestry test doesn’t lie. And, I might add, so fucking what if there was?

Senior picture. This was why I was asked if I was Native American. Really?

It has always stuck with me, though.

“I knew you were like me.”

What did Eddie mean by that?I mean, I’m a human. Of course I was like him. But, I suspect that it had more to do with just looks. Maybe we did both look “different” from all the uber-white complected kids in our school, but we were both bullied a lot, too. I suffered from kids teasing about my lack of a paternal unit and then the usual girl-centric fights that cliquish gaggles of girls have. He, on the other hand, was teased for being black. He was teased for living in the junkyard. Those kids who themselves went home to dads who were drunks or deadbeats or who beat their mothers or their kids – our neighborhood had pretty much 50-50 lower middle class to low-income – thought they were somehow better than this boy whose father worked very hard every day but who committed some sort of societal faux pas because he lived in a house in a junkyard. Me? I’d have given anything for a dad like Sonny. He was worth 100,000 of those loser dads. I understand it now, but I did not then.

Sometimes, Eddie would lash out at me, chasing me, knocking me down, calling me names. He would change. He would not be the Eddie I knew. I was a little afraid of him when that happened. Again, I understand now. Life was having its way with him, and racism was a part of that life. Still, on one of the happiest days I can remember from childhood – the day The Male Sibling Unit was born – I was with Eddie, playing at the park. My dog had just chased him across the field and he was laughing uproariously at how “Whiskers wants to rip my pants in the butt” when my cousin, who was staying with us, called for me from across the street. Eddie followed me back to the house, always cautious, because there were parents who would tell him to “GIT” and he had to be careful. I beckoned him to come along. “What’s the matter with you?” I asked. “My dog might bite, but my grandma has false teeth.”

When my Gram told me the news, I spontaneously grabbed Eddie and hugged him. “I have a little brother!” I squealed. He let me squeeze him for a moment and then pushed me away, slightly embarrassed. “C’mon, gee! Little brothers ain’t that great. You’ll see,” he said, knowingly.

This is one of the last times we were really close; less than two years later, Eddie would leave Bradford to live with his mother in New York. His father died. “Brain tumor” was what I heard. I was terribly sad for Eddie, but out of sight, out of mind. New York City sounded exciting, and big, and I was a bit envious.

Life went on. I grew up, became a teenager, then a Senior in high school with hopes and dreams. Racism was still not a part of my reality. I had Asian friends. Bradford was possibly one of the whitest communities ever, but we did have non-caucasian doctors and businessmen. I think, when I was 17, we had exactly one black family in town. One or 500 – it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I don’t want to say that I did not see color; I was book smart about the problems, educated about the challenges of racism, civil rights, and the horrors of slavery and the Civil War that came to signify intolerance for it. I knew it existed. It just didn’t in my tiny, little world.

I can’t remember who told me that Eddie was back in town. He and his mother and brother had come back here, and I don’t know why. I think she had family here. My mother said something about New York being tough, and Eddie and Petey getting into trouble, and their mother wanting a better life for them. I do remember thinking, “Why here? Why Bradford?” I was solely focused on getting the fuck out of Dodge as soon as I could, and to me, going to New York City, with its lights and tall buildings and all the people and opportunities galore seemed absolutely wonderful. The movie Fame had enamored me of all things Big Apple. That’s where real shit happened. Anywhere but here, I thought.

Looking back, I empathize with Eddie’s mom’s hopes. I still don’t think this was the right place, though. Knowing what I do now, that is. Knowing that this place isn’t kind to other races. Oh, we say we are, we think we are, but hate permeates everything here, and racism is but the tip of an iceberg of angst and apathy and wasted opportunities that many citizens in this community sit atop, angry armchair warriors all. I can say now that yes, I see color. Do I judge because of it? Again, I have to admit that yes, I do. Is that a form of racism? Yes, it is. It is not the kind of racism that hurts people though; not the kind that passes negative judgment on them. It’s more of a blanket feeling of sympathy for them:

Oh, you’ve moved here, have you? I’m sorry you did, because this town is awful to outsiders. This town is awful to insiders. This town. Is awful. Period. Please don’t judge us by the kind of welcome you receive, though. Some of us, who have lived here our entire lives, are outsiders, too.

That’s the way in which I have been guilty of racism. I hope not to be judged by that.

Eddie and I met on the street one day, when I was walking home from school. He was a big, powerfully-built young man with the same, creamy-chocolate skin and jet-black hair that I remembered. His eyes were a tawny color, warm and tender, as he gazed down at me. His regard for how I had grown up was evident in his effusive compliments. “You’re not the little girl I remember,” he said, admiringly. I blushed, feeling warm. “Well, you aren’t a little boy anymore, either.” I replied. I don’t know why he wasn’t enrolled in school; I do know that he and his mom and brother didn’t live here long when they returned, and they ended up in Olean, New York, about 25 miles away and with a more diverse, racial demographic than Bradford. We talked for a few minutes and he asked me if he could call me sometime. I said sure, my number’s in the book. We parted; I walked away, feeling flushed and sort of unsettled. I had a boyfriend at the time. What was this, exactly?

True to his word, Eddie called a couple of days later. He cut right to the chase.

“I want to take you out,” he said, “to a movie, or dinner, or whatever you want. I just want to go out with you.”

“Eddie, I can’t,” I said, quietly. “I have a boyfriend.”

He was quiet for a moment, and then was direct and blunt. “Oh. It’s not because I’m black, is it? I didn’t think you were like that. Is it because I’m black?”

I felt gut-punched. Fuck! I raged inside, at war with my feelings. I kind of wanted to go out with him. But there was Kevin. Kevin was sweet. I really liked Kevin a lot, and Kevin seemed to adore me. The fact that I was even slightly indecisive should have told me chapters of information about how things were going to go with Kevin, but at this point in my young, inexperienced life, all I knew was that if you had a boyfriend, you didn’t cheat on him.

“Eddie, no. I don’t care what color you are. I just have a boyfriend. If you’d have called me a month ago, I would have said yes.” All that mattered to me was that he not think that I gave a crap about his race.

He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “Okay. I just really like you is all. I always did.” After that, he became really cavalier, talking about gangs and fights in New York and how tough he had become. We spoke a little while longer, and then, I had to go.

When I got off the phone, my mother asked, “What was that all about?” When I told her, she smirked a little and said, “I knew he liked you 12 years ago. He said he was going to marry you.” When I exclaimed, “Uh…..WHAT????” she told me that Sonny had told her, when we were little kids, that Eddie would ask him to fish the little eggs with the rings in them out of the penny machine so he could give them to me because “Someday she’s gonna marry me.”

I lost touch with Eddie after that. Then, I married a man who pretended to be like me: accepting and loving of all humans. Hindsight is 20-20, but in any event, Eddie didn’t fare so well in this town. He would leave, then return. Each time, he was a little harder than rougher than he had been when he’d left. Life had its way with Eddie, and he got into a lot of legal trouble, and eventually died. I can’t remember what killed him, but I do know that we were only in our 30s when it happened.

I will always remember Eddie. He was one of my earliest, truest friends.

I’m not sure why I needed to write this, really. Well, yes, I am. It’s just a story from my life, but it’s also an offering, of sorts, to the universe. It is a tale of childhood, and a certain kind of color blindness. Maybe it illustrates ignorance, but I hope not in a bad way. When I had to explain the riots on the tv to The Male Sibling Unit last night, and George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, amongst others, Eddie popped into my memory. The Male Sibling Unit doesn’t understand racism. It isn’t even remotely a part of who he is. After I made my attempt to adequately explain the hate in this country to him, he was no longer innocent. I am sorry that I had to do that to him.

I am sorry for lots of things. I’m not so full of myself to think that going out with Eddie all those years ago might have changed the trajectory of his life, but I wonder now…..what if?

I would like to be able to talk to my friend again.

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.

Notes from the Darkside; where there are Oreos, but no TP

This pandemic, y’all.

Laugh all you want at the inexplicable prospect of finding a roll of tp to purchase in your town. I know I did, last Friday, when I saw nearly bare shelves. “Do all of these people think the virus comes out of their asses?” I mused. People cling to those comforting things that they buy when there’s a snowstorm coming, or hurricane. They buy the things that have been drummed into their heads: milk, bread, toilet paper. The herd mentality is always present in times of natural disasters looming on the horizon. Is this a natural disaster, though? None of us has ever lived through an actual pandemic in this country. The last worldwide killer that affected the US in large numbers was in 1918; my long-deceased Gram was 6.

The shuttering of nonessential businesses in my state does not really affect my day-to-day life. I don’t frequent bars or go out to eat a whole lot. We do take-out or delivery, if anything. When I joke that I’m a hermit in a hobbit hole, you laugh. Don’t, because I’m actually telling the truth.

The closure of nonessential, community-based centers DOES affect me in that now, The Male Sibling Unit has nowhere to go to 1) express himself socially, and 2) get out of my hair during the week.

He cannot close himself up in his man cave like his hermitish Elder Female Sibling Unit; as much as I might crave solitude, I also recognize his need to be around someone. That someone’s going to be me.

He also does not understand the words “social distance,” “quarantine,” or “flattening the curve.” In his world, these things do not exist.  You get a cold? You (very reluctantly) take some medication and sniff, sneeze, and cough your way through the day. The Male Sibling Unit has an extremely high tolerance for pain and discomfort; I have mentioned this before. He has had

a fractured ankle

a fractured wrist

Shingles all over his torso

Pneumonia ×2

Two testicular surgeries

along with a host of childhood viruses and disease; when he got chickenpox, he was so covered in pox, my mother bound his hands with mittens and tape. He was a walking model for full-body Calamine lotion – a pink nightmare.

Every time, he has taken, at best, Tylenol. Throughout all of these maladies, the only time I have ever known he was definitely sick, it has always been 5 seconds before he’s vomited all over the toilet. My cue to shout, “GET TO THE BATHROOM!!!” is when he stands, motionless, in the hallway, whimpering forlornly/urgently.

“Uh…uh…uh…no…I-don’t-want-to”

At this utterance, I feel my blood going cold in my veins.

The Male Sibling Unit finds it inexplicable that I am insisting that he tell me if he isn’t feeling well; even just a bit warm, and tired, or a runnier nose than normal, given his seasonal allergy situation. He finds it laughable that I am urging caution, and that something “like a cold” could be dangerous. I have to describe COVID-19 this way because he cannot comprehend the intricacies of the virus. He was young when he had pneumonia; he doesn’t remember what that felt like. He fails to understand contagion, and that this new coronavirus is much more contagious than the flu.

All he understands is that he doesn’t get to see his friends. He can’t go to work. We can’t lolligag at stores, looking at things. Going out to dinner anytime soon isn’t going to happen. That it could get exponentially worse is not even something his brain can make room for. The whole world may be grinding gears and halting, and we all might be experiencing varying levels of unease, fear, uncertainty, and stress, but for him, this means fuck-all. His WORLD has changed drastically. And he is not going peacefully.

I’ve spent the evening, once again – for what seems like the thousandth time – trying to explain things to him. The call from his rehabilitation center, where he works, was expected after the Governor announced stricter measures to flatten the curve. It didn’t lessen the blow; when I told him, his face just fell. He asked, in a little boy voice, “Why?”

He has asked at least a dozen times since. He has raged, talking to himself and saying, “FUCK the virus.” He’s made pointedly miffed Facebook posts, his displeasure on full display. He waited until the husband left for work to begin needling me; he knows that if he blows my cool and I erupt, his brother-in-law will be all up in his bidness.

“When will I go back?”

“Why did that Governor do this?”

‘When will I see my friends?”

“Why can’t I go out?”

“What do you mean, no Mexican next week?”

“But I’m not sick.”

“Fuck this.”

“I’m pissed off.”

“When will I go back?”

If this continues as long as experts are warning, I may not make it. I won’t be a COVID-19 victim; I will have a stroke.

I wonder when I should sit him down and explain exactly what it was like to watch our mother die, swiftly (for us) but agonizingly slowly (for her) of pneumonia. I wonder if I could then apply that scenario to his girlfriend, who is 63 and has advancing COPD. Would that be too traumatic?

Sometimes, shock and awe is all that works. It may be all that stands between my sanity and simply acquiescing to his maddening questions and incessant prodding.

By the way, watching someone die of pneumonia sucks. Being told their brain has died, along with their kidneys, their digestive system, and their respiratory system, is horrifying. Knowing that their heart is choking, gasping, and wheezing as it attempts to pump blood to organs that lay, deceased, on the open plain of their body’s hemispheres is actually heartbreaking to ponder. Having to make the decision to shut off the respirator and other machines is surreal.

Now, imagine having to do that all because someone decided this social distancing was hyped, people are overreacting, it’s “not as bad as it sounds”, it’s “just a cold,” or the worst: “a hoax.” They thought one, some, or all of these things and then in turn infected your loved one, who is elderly or immunodeficient. They did this because COVID-19 inconvenienced them.

I get that the future seems uncertain. I know that people are frightened. Will we be able to work? To pay our bills? Will someone we know get sick? Will we get sick? I know that we all cling to the things we know: familiarity and routine; routine being probably the most important thing. Right now, a virus has forced us to reconsider those routines, and nothing looks familiar. We’re watching our own lives unfold like an apolcalyptic thriller. This month was written by Stephen King.

If you’re refusing to see the danger of a virus that is, at the moment, defying assumptions, I think maybe I should sit down with you and describe what my mother’s death looked like, and how it broke me in small increments until I was in pieces. I’m still gluing them back together.

In the meantime, wash your fucking hands, order a pizza from a small business, and cue up Netflix. It’s going to be a looooong, hot summer.

Oh, and….Happy St. Paddy’s Day! Drink a pint or twelve. It won’t stop the virus from marching on, but at least you’ll be shitfaced for a day. My people have elevated suffering to an artform. ☘

We don’t need another hero. We need a woman.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t raised with the idea that I could be anything I wanted to be. One might be shocked at that, really; my family was stocked with really strong, opinionated women who were quite comfortable telling men to fuck right the fuck off. My great-grandmother ruled with a benevolent, iron fist that would pull you into her arms for a loving embrace even as she was ordering you to go outside and cut yourself a switch. She was truly the head of the family, and her children – 4 sons and 6 daughters – idolized and followed her every word and deed.

My grandmother was a much freer-minded spirit than her mother, but she proved, again and again, that men were a luxury to her – not a necessity. When my grandfather established the pattern of an Irish drunk who had numerous talents, but who could not hold a job long enough to provide a stable life for his wife and children, she took matters into her own hands. I mean this literally. She knocked the crap out of him, beating him about the head and shoulders with a stilleto heel while he lay, passed out. He awoke the next morning, hung over and bruised, thinking he’d had a fall.

She took jobs housekeeping, and when the final straw came – he went to the bars on a Friday after work and spent an entire paycheck on booze, staggering up the hill on Sunday afternoon with naught but lint in his pockets – she sent him away, chasing him down Hillside Avenue, a butcher knife in her hand. Had she caught him, who knows if I’d even be here today. She then moved in temporarily with that mother who gave her that strong countenance, and took a fulltime job. She divorced my grandfather. This led to a much higher-paying job, and when she took a chance and married another man who proved to not be up to the task of providing, and who committed the cardinal sin of disrespecting her children, all bets were off. She lived, happily single, for the rest of her life. Oh, she dated, a lot, and a couple of guys were fortunate enough to meet her exacting standards and were permitted to stick around for long periods of time. One, I even knew as “Grandpa Mick.” The point was, she never needed a man to fulfill her; they were simply an option.

My mother – her daughter – was as tough as her, but I think she craved a different kind of happy ending in the beginning. She had a father she adored, and visited, and I think she thought that having the husband, the kids, the house, and the picket fence was the ultimate win. She saw her friends doing it and dreamed of such a life, too. She also dreamed of travel, and independence. She wanted to be an airline stewardess, but lacked the willpower to lose weight. She was never quite able to disentangle herself from my grandmother’s apron strings, though, and so they were kind of a package deal.

My uncle noped it the fuck out of town as soon as he was 18, joining the military and going to college, but my mom never seemed to be able to envision a life without her mom in the picture. She also possessed a nasty temper, as fiery as Grandma’s, and a vicious, rapier-tongued attitude. She lost a lot of jobs because, when some man would tell her what to do, she’d be just as likely to tell him to shove it up his ass as she would be to follow directions. She liked to drink, too, and this led to bars, and an eventual meeting with a smooth-tongued asshole who she thought she could tame. That he was already married wasn’t important. She wanted what she wanted, and when she got the kids, but no husband, house, or picket fence, she was sufficiently put off men as necessities – for good.

No, I was not taught that I could be whatever the hell I wanted. I was taught that I didn’t need no man. Men were, at best, luxuries. At worst, they were a nuisance. A man would try to control you. A man would hold you back from the things you loved. A man would lie. A man thought only of himself. Men were optional in one’s life, and the minute they overstayed their welcome, there’d be the trouble of getting them to go, and who the hell needed that headache? It was better to just forget they existed.

I weighed this advice carefully, but with suspicion. My aunts – my mother’s closest friends who were not related by blood but who I referred to as aunts – had husbands. Their husbands, my uncles, were nice guys who provided well for their families. They were great daddies, as far as I knew. They were funny and kind and honorable. My great-uncles were, too, even if they were old guys. They had all made really wonderful, successful lives. All of my great-aunts had careers, too – in independent, small business; in farming; in office administration. These couples seemed to complement each other inasmuch as being partners in marriage.

While I never said it out loud, privately, I held onto the thought that my grandmother and my mother tried to instill the belief that all men were shit into my psyche because they hadn’t met the right men. I wasn’t going to be like that. I’d be smarter, meet a good guy, like my uncles, and he would respect me.

Uh, yeah.

Okay, it took a while, and my first choice was made hastily, out of a desire to escape being stuck, like my mother had been. It was made because no one had ever said they loved me with the fervent conviction that he did, and I needed that. (Girls, if he says he loves you 5 days in, please take it with a grain of salt until a lot of time has passed and you’ve fully vetted him. I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed him today.) That choice was certainly a Big Fucking Mistake, but I scored five huge prizes, so it wasn’t for nothing. I’ve made massive corrections in that thinking, and chose more wisely the second time. No, I don’t need no man, but the one I have, I truly want.

That was as far as my female predecessors got in teaching me women’s rights. I grew up knowing I wanted to “do” something; something that included writing. I did not believe that I wanted to shatter glass ceilings and charge at the head of a pack and to lead. I’ve learned, along the way, that I am a natural-born leader who prefers to go it alone if given the choice. I’ve broken a couple of plexiglass panels, I suppose; but I definitely have no desire to aim for the sky above.

I did not -for instance – dream of being President of the United States. I admire those who did, and who do. That kind of single-minded ascension does not appeal to me. I am good – great, actually- in a crisis. You want me there if you need triage or a quick assessment. I’m as apt to do as I am to issue quick orders, because I’m impatient and convinced that, while I think you could do a good job, I can do the thing the way it needs to be done. Nope, I would not be a good President, because politics is filled to the brim with acts of diplomacy and the delegating of tasks. I’m too much of a lone wolf, and I know that would be a recipe for disaster.

We are living in a reality TV shitshow. The entire planet is suffering an existential crisis of common sense, kindness, and community. Calmer heads are not prevailing, and the only credentials one seems to need in order to run a country is that they’re louder than the loudest person in the room. (And more orange, but I digress.) There’s a novel virus tearing ass through all of the countries, and glaciers are melting; kids are eating laundry soap pods and yeeting themselves out into traffic. We are arguing about how we all deserve a piece of the pie but that we don’t want to pay the wages to get it. People in this country are dying because yes, they have insurance and yes, they do work fulltime, but they’ve been diagnosed with MS and the copay for a series of shots as treament is over $100,000. Yes, you read that right – I have facts to back that up. Insulin is unaffordable. Life-sustaining drugs and healthcare are unaffordable in this country for most.

Going to college means taking on debt in your first semester and not being able to pay it off until it’s time for your kids to start college. You have to be situationally aware everywhere you go, because somewhere, there’s a mentally unstable person, off his meds and growing increasingly paranoid, who may decide that the day you chose to go get groceries was the day he was going to shoot up the store; that is, after he posted his manifesto on 4chan.

Your kids are being taught by teachers who qualify for food stamps, have to work second and third jobs, and who buy a lot of the school supplies your kids use themselves because the school district’s budget doesn’t include funding for pencils, erasers, and yes, even paper. And let’s not even get started on kids in cages and robbing Peter (The Pentagon) to pay Paul (The Wall).

Meanwhile, your President plays his 238,004th round of golf on your dime, tweets reflexively and compulsively, and undermines the authority of every organization on the planet. He’s a fucking imbecile, but he does this with aplomb.

These are just some of the problems our country faces, deals with, and wades into. We, the people, face these realities every day. “It all needs fixed,” we say, “but what do we do?”

Elizabeth Warren had a plan for it all.

Elizabeth thought through all of these problems and wrote down her thoughts. She methodically consulted with experts and asked constituents what they thought. She weighed pros and cons and ins and outs and ups and downs. Then, she came up with plans. No, they weren’t perfect, but they were smart, and allowed for a fostering of ideas and a coming together of like minds. It would be hard, and dirty, and decidedly not pretty, but she rolled up her sleeves and beckoned to us, “Let’s go DO THIS.”

We let her down. In refusing to get behind her and to make her our candidate to defeat the Orange McMenace, we essentially said, a-fucking-gain, “A woman cannot lead.We let so many down, from the first woman who said, “No, you may not disrespect me simply because I’m a woman” to the Suffragettes, to every woman who burned her bra or walked into a roomful of men and explained her ideas. We let down the female warriors of the past and present: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, Abigail Adams, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Gloria Steinam, Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sally Ride, Sacajawea, and Oprah. We let down Oprah, y’all.

We let down RBG; RBG, who famously said “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Mostly, in continuing to allow old, white men to advance in a world that is so 🅒🅞🅛🅞🅢🅢🅐🅛🅛🅨 🅕🅤🅑🅐🅡🅔🅓 that it doesn’t even resemble itself anymore, we let down ourselves.

This cocked-up mess desperately needs a woman to fix it. It needs her to inject new life into old attitudes and mores that have become stagnant. It needs her to find all the misplaced things the men can’t find – values, decency, empathy, patriotism, truth, and fundamental good – that are hiding in plain sight, like the car keys/his glasses/his phone. We’ve been doing that for millenia. We’re doing it now. We’re the “fixers”; the doers, the nurturers, and the no-nonsence pragmatists. We need COMPETENCE. And Elizabeth Warren is the epitomy of that. She is nothing if not credentialed to the max; she is unapologetically exemplary.

Yes, Elizabeth had a plan for it all, and yet here we are, facing a choice between Statler and Waldorf to overcome the old, demented, but eminently dangerous self-tanning nightmare currently inhabiting the Oval Office.

We deserve everything we get.

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?