Imperfectly Perfect in Every Way

I finally found my anger, and it is red hot. I’m not angry that my mother died, I’m not angry that her life was cut short… I’m not even angry that it was a freak accident with no one to blame. I’m angry that with very few exceptions, my mother woulanne_amied not allow herself to be photographed. She would go out of her way to avoid someone capturing her, and as a result, my memories of her during my childhood are quite limited. Actually, my memories of her are limited all the way around. Take this one, for instance. My mom and Forbes had come to visit Dana & me in Portland, and we took them to the winery, Anne Amie, where we had a membership. Every picture I took is just like this one, all landscape and no mother. As Dana and I sat outside with them, introducing Forbes to our favorite outdoor pours (my mom wasn’t a drinker, but she at least took a sip of Forbes’ without spitting it out), we tried asking for a photo, surreptitiously trying to take a selfie, awkwardly positioning ourselves so that they wouldn’t know they were being photographed, etc. Nothing worked. My mother was a hawk and caught us every time. What I wouldn’t give for the chance to go back to that day and say, “damn it, Mom. You’re going to die someday and if you don’t stop saying ‘I don’t look good’ for every single one my head is going to explode.” What person ever plans that far in advance? Why wouldn’t she always be around in 3D? What mother or father consciously thinks about the fact that even if they look like crap in the moment, every picture taken is going to be treasured by their children….. Every. Single. One. Because the thing is, the only person that really thinks they look like crap is them, because they look at it with their own critical eyes, picking out flaws no one else would notice.

I don’t remember what year the picture at Anne Amie was taken, but my mother did not change her stance on photographs one bit from that day. A few months after I moved to Silver Spring, she came to visit, and I don’t have asmithsonian_castleny pictures of her then, either. No selfies on the Metro, no cringe-and-laugh photos of us stuffing our faces at McDonald’s, no standing in front of The White House together. All of the pictures I got on that trip were the same content as the winery… just touristy scenery without her beautiful face. Now, the Smithsonian castle is great and all, but I just have to look in my mind’s eye to remember what she looked like when we were there, and over time, that memory will fade or get smothered into another one so that the pure essence of what it was like to have my mother visit will be lost to history. I am trying my best to record everything I can possibly remember in terms of words, but I won’t ever be able to take a fully-functioning memory, still or moving, and upload it here. Perhaps someone is working on the technology, but it won’t exist in my lifetime. Plus, as I get older, it’s harder and harder to remember what she looked like when I was a child, because there are a few that still exist, but not many. She always thought she was too fat, even when she was tiny…. or perhaps it wasn’t that she felt fat at all, it was just a good excuse to get people to leave her alone about taking pictures at all.

My mother didn’t even want to be in this photo, a beautiful mommy and me portrmommy_and_meait taken when I was three or four (hard to tell because I was small for my age, born a preemie). The reason she agreed to be in it was that I was terrified of men with mustaches, and the photographer wore one. I wouldn’t stop crying and agree to have the photo made unless my mother was in the picture with me. So, this total accident of a portrait is my absolute favorite, because I don’t have many others, for two reasons. The first is that even if it was my birthday or Christmas, my mother still hated having her photo taken. The second is that my house burned down when I was 11, so even if she’d posed for a ton of them, I wouldn’t have them, anyway. My grandparents tried to fill in the gaps, but of course, they didn’t have copies of everything, and the one box that actually “survived” the fire smelled like smoke and had weird color runs across them, some stuck together because of the heat. As an aside, one of the things they don’t tell you about a house fire is that even if something doesn’t burn, it will smell like a burning house for all eternity. We didn’t have a scanner when I was in sixth grade, then hideously expensive, so we basically chucked out most of our pictures because only digitizing them would have taken away the smell.

This is basically the last photo to which I remember my mother agreeing. I don’t know how my dad talked her into it, but it’s priceless. I am excited beyond belief because “I’m” about to have a baby. Because Lindsay was born in Jbefore_lindsayune and I turned six the next September, I was old enough to take care of her from day one. I changed diapers, I fed her bottles, I read her stories, I watched her while she was sleeping….. basically everything you’d want a big sister to do until Lindsay was old enough to be annoying. I know she won’t mind me saying so. I’m sure I was a royal pain in her ass, too. In that moment, all you can see is my utter joy, but I also remember feeling bittersweet… so excited about this new chapter in my life, and lamenting the fact that my minutes as an only child were numbered and falling fast. It wasn’t until we brought Lindsay home that I realized being an only child wasn’t really my cup of tea (which reminds me of a “Lindsayism…” that coffee is not my cup of tea… which is only funny because now her Starbucks budget is practically a car payment). There were lots of things I attended with my parents in which there were no other children… probably why I have a large vocabulary, but it was still boring. What child likes to sit in a nursery by themselves during a meeting? I could read by the time I was three and a half or four, so I always had the company of books. But having a sister to torture play with was so much better. She was, and still is, funnier than I am. Well, technically, we’re both funny, but I have a short fuse for silly. Lindsay has no such mechanism. While I am dry-witted and cynical, Lindsay has a rubber face. While my jokes might be clever and/or tar black, Lindsay will make tears run down your face as you struggle to breathe. So, pitying myself that I wasn’t my parents’ one and only lasted about as long as a Verizon commercial.

As much as you might think this entry is for me in terms of remembrance, it’s also for you…. a cautionary tale to never tell your children that you’re feeling fat, or too tired, or you haven’t brushed your teeth today, or whatever it is that is keeping you from taking a damn picture. It’s something I have taken in for myself, as well. I used to be very self-conscious about photos, too, and after my mother died, it didn’t matter what state I was in. Having the memory was more important to me than anything else. There are pictures of me with my eyebrows as bushy as a cartoon character, all my wrinkles showing, my hair a mess, and everything else in between (or all of the above, as the case may be). It was easy. I stopped asking to look at the pictures after they were taken and demanding another one, treating a digital camera like an analog with no do-overs, because I didn’t want to become obsessed with getting exactly the right shot before it was shown to others.

No one cares. They’re just glad to have a picture of you at all, especially when you are taken from them unexpectedly and those supposedly imperfect pictures are all they have left.

Feeling Alone vs. Being Alone

It didn’t really start to surface until my mother died, but I have developed agoraphobia. I don’t really want to write about it, but I have to, because I won’t know how I feel about it if I don’t. My sister being here has pulled me out of my comfort zone, because I know at the other end of that drive, there’s a person who genuinely has my best interests at heart and I want to see her more than anything. Spending time in Annapolis, especially watching the debates in the House and the Senate are just the things I need to activate my excitement button. We’re always allowed a little private time in the middle of Lindsay’s 12-hour working days, but believe me when I say that watching her work is one of the joys of my life, because I’ve seen the little girl I have known and loved since I brought her home from the hospital (with my mother’s arms around both of us) grow into a woman I am ridiculously proud to know.

Outside of this, I have become afraid to branch out of my little bubble unless the people at the end of those drives are close to me as well. It’s all about getting from safe place to safe place, because the fear of the unknown is eating my lunch. The reason it has so much to do with my mother dying is that I don’t want to explain why I’m so sad, don’t want to have those conversations with strangers, don’t want to cry in weird places, don’t want to engage for fear of absolutely coming undone in front of people I just met five minutes ago. In some ways, it’s really hard not having a girlfriend who can read me and tell whether I need to be pulled out of my solitude and whether I just need to be left alone to my own devices. I am not speaking of anyone in particular, just that role filled in my life, because they might be the one person I was willing to let read me.

Right now, though, my “wine and yoga pants” girlfriends are being the role in my life that marriage used to fill, which is great because I have several people checking on me instead of just one. However, it is quite different than having someone live with me…. except wait a minute. I do. Sam is always invaluable for a laugh, still calling me Mark after all these years. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but when the Coke bottles with people’s names came out, I got a bottle that said, “Share a Coke with Mark.” I joked that now I only needed Matthew, Luke, and John….. the nickname stuck, to the point that over the time I’ve lived here, I can count on maybe three fingers the time she’s called me by my actual name. It is a blessing that if I truly need something, she’s right downstairs. However, she is not the person I would be comfortable during a histrionic mess of grief.

It happens less and less as time goes on, but this level of grief never truly goes away, either. I just feel stuck, my feet glued to the floor with molasses. It hasn’t stopped me from applying for jobs over the internet, or reaching out to people with jobs and asking them how I could do what they do. I’ve been to a DC United game, so the team calls me every few weeks to see if I’m ready to buy season tickets yet. The last time, I spent half an hour on the phone with the recruiter, asking how I could be one of the people that gets others to buy tickets as well. I know enough about the team, having been a fan since the late ’90s to really be able to impart the importance of supporting the team at a time when we’re about to move into our own stadium in SE, near Nationals Park and the Navy Yards. I wear my DC United jersey with pride, although I am sort of pissed at myself for not buying my favorite one back in the day, because I can’t find a throwback anywhere. They used to be two-button Henley style, sharp AF. I used to go to Soccer-4-All and drool on a regular basis, which for the longest time I thought was called “Soccer Frall” by the way Meag pronounced it.

I’m not a soccer player by any means, but one of my favorite days when I lived in Portland was going to a soccer store in PDX that had goals set up in the back so you could try on cleats before you bought. I must have tried on six pairs of indoor, because I just wanted them as “kicks,” but I did make a few shots on goal that would have blown Meag away had she been there. It’s a lot easier without a goalie. 😛 I’m never going to be Div I material, but perhaps it’s time to join a beginner’s league to get my endorphins up. If I’m serious about it, I need to start jogging because I couldn’t run for 90 minutes if you paid me.

I am serious about it, if I can get myself to leave the house, because I have no fear of getting hurt since I have health insurance. It might raise my confidence enough that not leaving the house isn’t a thing anymore.

People whose parents die are treated differently out in the world, which is why I keep to myself and rarely let that information out. I’ve gotten everything from people asking if I’m okay way too much to those who say that since my mother died last October, I should be over it by now. At either end of the spectrum, it’s just weird all the way around. The people who ask me if I’m okay way too much have a certain look of pity on their faces, absolutely everything I do not want. The people who say I should be over it already are anger-inducing and I have to breathe deeply in order to remember they have no idea WTF they’re talking about…. because those “experts” on grief have either never lost a parent or have stuffed it down so far that they’re not dealing, just acting as if.

Taking to my room and spending time alone, letting grief run its course, is the only way I know how to proceed, so that I am dealing with it in the moment instead of letting it eat away at me over and over because I am stuffing those emotions in a box, compartmentalizing so that instead of working through my feelings, it keeps coming up over and over as I just can’t handle it and explode at odd intervals, because the box has opened and emotions come up like vomit.

Let me say for the record that my mother would be horrified, and take on all my emotions as her own. In this way, it is easier not to have her watch this process, because she never wanted for me to be mentally ill in the first place, and I hid as much of the crazy from her as I could, not because I was scared to tell her, but scared of her reaction. Every time I let her in, telling her the medications I was taking and how I was feeling, she’d cry, and if there’s anything I couldn’t abide, it was listening to my mother cry for me.

I felt like I was protecting her from myself, because I couldn’t handle pity and I definitely couldn’t handle the thought that I was making her sadness worse. It didn’t matter that the right medication was taking away the chemical imbalance. It was sadness I had to go through it at all.

I think she got to know me better after she started reading my blog, because there were so many times that I couldn’t emote in front of her that she could pick up while reading. She saw my strengths and weaknesses, and often wouldn’t contact me directly, but would talk to my sister about it. I don’t blame her in the slightest for wanting an outlet besides me, but I would have loved to hear her thoughts…. and at the same time, knowing that if I did, I would have wanted to take care of her more than myself. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do without worrying about her.

She wanted me to leave Diane in the past, because she could see that it was torturing me, and I told her that I couldn’t, because those issues were the only things I could see when I closed my eyes. Alternatively, she understood it because she was there…. one of the few people in my life that remembered exactly what happened and how I’d been tortured for most of my life by it…. how I turned into a completely different person, fearful and withdrawn as opposed to the happy-go-lucky perky personality I’d always been.

She wanted me to stop writing about Argo and Dana, because again, she thought it was torturing me more than it was helping, but again, as the ultimate overthinker I was consumed by it, sad and angry and lonely and ALL THE THINGS.

It has started to bother me less and less as I move away from that time in my life, as I knew it would, branching out to meet new people and never wanting to be again the person either one of them thought I was, because how they felt was integral to how I felt about myself… probably something that shouldn’t have happened, but did. When they laid out how they felt, I couldn’t help but take it in, because I respected both of their opinions way too much to think that my own thoughts were worth more than theirs.

Now, I feel like I can redeem their storylines because I actually called Dana (look at me, I made a phone call) when my mother died and there was none of the animosity that had rained down on my head previously.

I have a note from Argo that I keep in my Kindle case, and have for two years now, where she said that I’d do and be everything I’d dreamed, and she just knew it. Though the e-mail ultimately blessed & released me, she did it with so much love that I continue to believe those words of comfort, and take out the note every time I’m about to do something important.

I also have it on good authority that she still reads me, so how bad could it possibly be after months and months to listen to me process about her and not to her? It was a shock to learn, but it also brings me enormous comfort. Maybe, just maybe, I never stopped being that writer for her, and like my mother, doesn’t want to unpack with me but still wants to know what’s going on in my life. If that is all our friendship ever turns out to be, it is enough.

I wouldn’t want to be a histrionic mess in front of her, either, even though she’s one of the very few people in the world that I’d trust to hear it. Argo is not one of those people who listens lightly. She takes things in, thinks about them, asks amazing questions, and just generally makes the other person feel heard even when she doesn’t agree.

However, I have other people for that, as long as the fear of leaving my room doesn’t overtake me. It’s real and it’s deep, because there are so many situations in which I do not feel safe. Dear little baby Jesus am I afraid of being that woman whose mother just died. I cannot always “act as if.” It’s a protection mechanism, as most of my emotions are, even when they are unfounded. Nobody knows at the grocery store and the pharmacy. Nobody knows at the movie theater. Nobody knows at Waffle House.

Unless I’m willing to open up, nobody knows. But there’s always a chance it will come up, and I won’t take it.

pqrst

My world exploded when an old friend sent me a funny story because she thought I could use a laugh after I’ve been through so much pain on this verbal vomiting journal web site. She was right. We talked about everything from old inside jokes to the government’s surveillance program through the cunning use of microwave popcorn. If there’s anything I could use right now, it’s laughter.

Yesterday I found out that my stepmother is having heart problems, another thing to add to the pile that the universe seems to be dumping on my family. I don’t actually believe that the universe cares one way or another, but it seems to be the best explanation for all these random very bad things happening at once. I am one step away from “the little baby Jesus doesn’t love me anymore.” Which is, in fact, also a load of crap. Jesus doesn’t cause pain, he relieves the pain already inside you through the meditative nature of prayer…. the Responder and not the Actor. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, many things at once, in fact, and prayer is the only way I can seem to stay calm in the middle of the storm. Well, that and Klonopin…. better living through chemicals.

SinusRhythmLabels.svgThe scariest thing was that my stepmom needed a full cardiac workup, and couldn’t be admitted to the hospital because they didn’t have a bed free. She’s in good hands, though, because my dad has a handheld EKG monitor where he can read the pqrst strips at home. All of this is hard to sit and watch from my perch in DC, but we all keep each other well-informed. For now, that is enough. Someone will tell me when it’s time to worry, and perhaps take a road trip so I don’t have to rent a car once I’m on the ground. I’d rather have my own car than something unfamiliar, because I hate change during stressful situations. Most of my friends have moved away from Houston, because they think that they’re too young for their parents to have deep health issues until they’re old, and thus, need to move back in order to help take care of them. I have been in the same boat. My parents are only in their early to mid-60s because my mother had Lindsay and me when she was fairly young. The fear of being far away wasn’t supposed to pop up for what I viewed as years.

As Texas gets more and more oppressive toward the GLBT community, I can’t imagine moving back at this time. Getting out of the Bible Belt has been a blessing every single time. No one is stopping me from using any restroom I want, because even though I’m not trans, sometimes people look at me as if I could be. In my world, clothes have no gender, but not in theirs. Plus, I haven’t had my boobs removed in order to make my clothes hang right to actually look like a man, so you’d think that would be a tip-off…. reminding me of an old girlfriend who told me the first time we made love, ohhhhhhh…. you got the boobs I always wanted. In short, they’re hard to miss, and yet people do it all the time based on the way I dress.

Case in point, though I’ve mentioned this before…. walking around a theme park in Florida and getting weird looks as I went into the women’s room, because as the other women came out of the stalls, you could see the looks on their faces as they tried to decide whether to say something or not, if I’d obviously just walked into the wrong room.

One of these days, some asshat will come after a female soldier,  who will tell them that there are people who choose to die to protect their right to make their dumbass comments. If there is justice in the world, I’ll be there to witness it. The female soldiers and policewomen I know, whether gay or straight, choose to wear their hair close cropped as not to be grabbed by the hair in the heat of conflict because long hair makes an excellent dragging device….. a totally valid reason why even straight women should be afraid of the ridiculous backlash of bathroom bills being instituted across the nation. Unless said straight woman is wearing a dress, they’re just as vulnerable as I am, mislabeled in order to make a shortcut to acting punitive and vindictive.

In the South, the bullshit is piled so high that I feel nervous even going there, and even though Maryland is under the Mason-Dixon line, it doesn’t act like it. Virginia is a different story, because it is where the Deep South begins as you go further and further away from the DC area. It reminds me a lot of Oregon, where Portland and Eugene are fine, but outside of that crunchy granola area, you are dealing with the same redneck problems with which they seem to have great pride. In both Portland and NoVA, they tend to act as if the rest of the state doesn’t exist, which is probably a sanity necessity. I’m sure that in some ways, Maryland is the same out in the sticks, but it’s so small that the DC area overrides conservative voters all the time. In Oregon and Virginia, there are just too many people in conservative areas that override the rest of the state, which is why living in the DC area but having Richmond control the laws there makes it anger and outrage-inducing to live in places like Arlington and Alexandria.

I imagine it is the same living in Austin, as the extreme left watches their rights come apart at the seams a few miles from their houses. I am sure it is the same in The District, because even though it is incredibly blue, having the GOP in full power in their backyard, the Congressman that actually are supposed to look after them fail them mercilessly. Eleanor Holmes Norton is trying hard to push for DC statehood, but is not having an easy time of it. When she tried to hold a rally at the DNC, only 60 people showed up. At the RNC, there was a grand total of one.

The reason the GOP fails The District so hard is that they couldn’t care less about what the people want, because they have no true representation. It’s so difficult to get deep blue ideas across to a red Congress. The mayor, Muriel Bowser, has made some strides by implementing District laws rather than federal, but it is just not the same, and as it has been proven over and over, separate but equal isn’t.

As for me personally, living in Maryland was the right choice, but I live in an unincorporated city governed by the county…. neither bad nor good, it just is. Local politics are broadened to an enormous degree, inversely proportional to living in the city of Alexandria, the side that’s not governed by Fairfax County, which is where my last “DC” house was zoned. The one truly weird thing I remember instituted by the city was a 4% “meal tax” levied on top of sales tax…. a modern day Stamp Act, which has never led to rebellion, but stood out to me as a total pain in the ass.

Though DC has its problems, unless disaster strikes, Texas and I are never ever ever getting back together. I can’t believe I just quoted Taylor Swift. What is wrong with me today? I hope my microwave will forgive me….

As a lesbian, I feel there are so many people who don’t know and/or don’t care how hard it is to live in a state that would rather you not exist… or portray homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender dysphoria as mental illnesses that can be “cured.” Worse yet is thinking that it’s a phase one grows out of. I came out in middle school, so this is officially the longest phase ever, as I will be 40 in September.

Living outside of oppression allows my own pqrst waves to remain deep and even, because I don’t have to spend my days worrying about things that don’t matter. I live in a post-gay microcosm, where gays and straights live on the same street with equal rights and no one bats an eye because it’s not a thing and never should have been in the first place.

Homophobia and transphobia are all learned constructs, and for the oppressors, it’s not that they’re scared of us. It’s an excuse for violence, emotionally and physically, because we don’t fit into the strictly enforced gender roles that have been passed down from generation to generation. If people were actually scared, they’d just keep to themselves and go out of their way to avoid us, because that’s what fear embodies. It doesn’t perpetuate the idea that it’s okay to beat someone to death… That’s anger and aggression toward something they don’t understand and are unwilling to learn.

It’s a fight I became unwilling to have, because I could have stayed in Texas and tried to fight the system. Eventually, I realized that it was a losing battle and to just GTFO. It sounds entirely sheepish and selfish, but when so many of my friends are actually scared about the direction their lives may go, I decided not to be one of them.

It just happened to be terrible timing, but there’s no way I could have predicted everything that’s happened over the last few months. If I could’ve, I would have felt too guilty to pack up and leave and swallowed my pride. I love my friends and family there, but the lack of state protections for “my people” often makes me feel like a Texas exile. One of the main reasons Dana and I left Portland was so that Dana could get a teaching degree without having to go to grad school. One of the main reasons we were sad that we left Portland was that we flushed our state domestic partnership rights down the toilet. It was a terrible choice all the way around, because there were pros and cons to each.

Leaving Texas was an equally hard decision, but in the end, I decided that I needed to protect my own heart as easily as I gave myself away to protect others.’

One pqrst at a time.

Whose House?

My sister texted me that she would text me again when she was about an hour from finishing up for the day so we could go to dinner at tsunami, a restaurant we checked out a few weeks ago and wanted to go back. I replied that I was already in Annapolis, doing some sightseeing, and to take all the time she needed. She said to just give her a few minutes and we could go to dinner, but we’d have to go back to the house afterward. I forgot what she does for a living and seriously thought, whose house are we going to? She doesn’t know anyone here but me. Cut to two hours later, when we are sitting in the gallery of the Maryland State House, waiting on her bill to pass on third read, which means that next week, she’ll be back, and I’ll be with her in the gallery of the state Senate. She showed me a copy of the bill, and I asked her who wrote it, pointing to the names of the delegates at the top. She said, no, those are just the sponsors of the bill… I wrote most of it myself.

“My baby,” the one whose diapers I changed and older-sister-tortured all through our childhood wrote a bill that just passed the House? I remember when she thought Washington, DC and Washington were close together and wait,  New Mexico is a state?

Lindsay works for a company that has bills working in several state capitals, but right now, the focus is on Annapolis because session ends April 10th. It’s been great to have her close, and really hard when she leaves. As a writer, all I really want to do is follow her around, because she’s a mover and a shaker, though she would never say that about herself. The circles in which she runs are rarefied air, and the cause she works for is extremely worthy. Because she’s not a local, she has lobbyists in all her capitals that tell her the power players she needs to see to get what she wants, and her lobbyist in Maryland is a former state Senate Majority Leader. Internally, I had so many questions, and outwardly, I could barely do better than not tripping over my own feet.

We had to wait a while in the gallery before her bill came up, and the one currently being debated was whether to lift the sanctuary city title from Baltimore. It angered me to no end, because there was no Venn diagram between immigrants and criminals from the Republicans, as if those two terms were interchangeable. The most moving speech was from a liberal Christian (I’m guessing), who quoted the Bible with every passage about welcoming the stranger. It made me ridiculously happy, because as long as I’ve kept up with politics, the Republicans seem to commandeer the Bible, and he showed that the Religious Left is alive and well.

I needed those moments of happiness, because at dinner my sister pulled one of my mother’s scarves out of her enormous purse and said, it still smells like her closet. She handed it to me so I could smell it, too, and there I was, in the middle of one of the hippest restaurants in town, willing tears not to fall and failing miserably. I stopped myself before I went into full-on ugly cry, and felt lucky that I was wearing my glasses and the lights were low. I put my head close to my ramen bowl, a necessity for using chopsticks and hiding my face, the steam working on my sinuses so my face could go back to normal. It’s moments like these that make it so hard to watch her leave, because who else would be able to move me in such a way?

We both wear jewelry that has my mother’s fingerprint, ordered from the funeral home. Though I’ve had several people tell me it’s kind of creepy (because they focus on how said fingerprint was acquired), I wear an ichthus necklace, and she has her heart necklace wrapped around her wrist like a bracelet. We never take them off.

The icthus originated in the Roman Empire, where the Jews of the new church were persecuted and then prosecuted, often thrown in jail or swiftly executed. They had to have a symbol that meant nothing to the Romans and everything to them. One Jew would put a curve in the ground with their foot, and if the other person was a follower of Jesus, would answer with another curve crossing the first so that it came out looking like a fish (taken from Jesus’ words of fishing for men, I assume).

I prefer it over the cross, because I choose to focus on the way Jesus lived, as opposed to the way he died… the conservative idea of the sticky, sticky blood. As an aside, the worst theology I think I’ve ever heard is a hymn that begins there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins…. and later, sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Though I know it is a fundamental tenant of Catholicism, transubstantiation grosses me out.

So for me, the icthus is not only something I wear around my neck, but have tattooed on my back as well, with the Hebrew letters for YHWH on the inside. Two funny things about that. The first is that I didn’t consider that it was against Talmudic law to a) get a tattoo ii) especially with Hebrew letters. The second is that I always joke that if I ever lose my faith, I can always black out the letters and add feet.

I don’t see that happening, though. Because I live in two houses, God and state. One gives strength to the other. The former gives me the ability to affect change in the latter…. one phone call, one visit, one step forward at a time.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces
……………………………………………………….

If It’s Not One Thing…

It seems that my family has gotten the short end of the stick lately. My stepfather has gotten cancer again. I can’t remember what kind he had the first time he went through it, but this time it’s in his throat, which is a much scarier proposition. Good vibes are needed all around, because it’s a much tougher battle than last time.

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Me (Leslie), Forbes, and Lindsay after my mother’s funeral.

Outcomes could range from chemo and radiation and he’s fine… to completely having his voice box removed. For a singer who was once in Syracuse Opera, I can’t imagine what he must be going through right now. Being a singer myself, I don’t know what I would do if I was in the same situation. Given past bad situations, I imagine that I would be a puddle on the floor of anxiety, so a lot of my prayers go out to him on a daily basis.

Historically, we have not been close, but bonded over the look and feel we all wanted for my mother at her memorial service. For instance, she did not want an open casket funeral complete with “cakewalk,” so we buried her before the service began, with just Forbes, Lindsay and Mathew, James (best friend from high school as support person) and me, and a few family members and close friends. I’d never heard of burying someone before the funeral, and it’s stuck with me because it was so perfect… definitely something to ask the family when I do a funeral. It seemed to make everyone much calmer, because the sad part was “over” and we could just focus on the celebration of her life.

I miss my mother every day, slowly beginning to come out of my shell, but I have not been prepared for setbacks in grief. My grandmother dying has made things worse, but at the same time, due to her Alzheimer’s Disease, I highly doubt she would have recognized me had I gone to say goodbye before her funeral. The last time I was in NE Texas was five years ago, for my aunt Shawn’s wedding, and it was in Longview. I never made it to her house in Lone Star, which might have provided some context. Five years is long in Alzheimer’s time… yet another thing I wish I’d done differently, which is to make time for the trip north.

I’m planning on going with my dad to see my grandfather, which I almost perceive as being better than trying to get out of town in the snow, because just like my mother’s funeral, I was greatly intimidated by the prospect of a room full of people I didn’t know, or hadn’t seen in at least 10 or 15 years…. although still very much recognizable because I stopped growing in 7th grade. As a true introvert, the prospect of just spending time with my dad and grandfather on my own truly appeals to me…. going for “walkies” with Harry “Putter” and sitting in “the new room.” I also can’t wait to go back through all my grandfather has written, because my style is very much inherited.

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A Personal Century, Vol. I

His first book concentrated on their family in the early years, and it’s been fun to hear what my father and his siblings were like as children. Apparently, my father was quite the Boy Scout, which surprised Lindsay and me to no end, because when we were kids, we never camped once. Perhaps it was because as a child, he’d had all the camping he could take. We always joked as a family that our idea of “roughing it” was a hotel with no room service.

When my grandfather was younger, he was the Public Relations Manager at Lone Star Steel, making a career of writing and photography. He passed that love of writing to my dad in his sermons, and of course to my blog and my own sermons. I don’t know that I ever read anything my grandfather wrote during his career, but it is clear that writing is genetic, a need rather than a want.

I know for certain that I don’t know how I feel about something until I’ve had time to think about it in “longhand,” the hallmark of a writer. I wish I was better at fiction, because it would allow me so much more license in terms of getting out emotions without characters directly related to the people in my own life… they’d just have to guess rather than seeing their names or the loving terms of endearment I’ve given them over time.

The people in my life that are terms of endearment on this web site include Argo and The ___nator. Argo is a nod to the line I wrote about her years ago, that I sleep deeply in the belly of the ship, where I know my passage is safe. The ___nator comes from wanting to leave out her name, but she’s part Buddha, part tornado, a velvet hammer if ever I’ve met one. If I had to compare her to anything, it’s an M&M…. hard shell with sweetness in the middle.

They’re gone now, but I live for the memories they’ve left me when they run across my mind…………. a grief sometimes deeper than death, because we’ve all agreed to just move on, and they’re just out there with their hilariousness of which I’m not a part. In order to let go, I had to constantly stop thinking about what I could do to make things better, because nothing would. I had to start looking forward to the future, to the people I’d meet, to the places I’d go, and how my experiences of them inform who I am now and want to be.

It has taken an enormous amount of work, and I’m still not finished. But what I do know is that the end is the beginning is the end as I approach getting older and leaving behind things that were not meant for me, which was tending to react with rage because PTSD touches the parts of your brain that render you speechless in the right ways and activate all the wrong ones.

Getting my anxiety under control and taking to my room is what has helped the most, because Dana and I were partying and not pondering, the paralysis of analysis put away for yet another day. Because of this, I was angry with the wrong people, or as the old axiom says, I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was going to blame you. Taking responsibility for the fact that words sometimes do hurt more than sticks and stones has been the focus of my recovery, because not feeling the physical reactions to anxiety has allowed me to delve deeper into myself than I ever have, because I don’t get panicked as easily, don’t shoot off my mouth when I feel threatened, don’t feel cortisol racing through my body, taking away my ability to put things in perspective…. which would have been a Very Good Thing™ when I was married. In a lot of ways, I feel like I was an amazing wife, and in others, I failed miserably. The same goes for my friends. In some ways, I was awesome. In others, I was a right bastard, a judgmental dickhead that popped off faster than I could calculate consequences, which were immediate and dire. The PTSD excuse only goes so far, as well as being bipolar and anxiety-ridden…. because even though I am all those things, it doesn’t erase responsibility for the damage I caused…. and that responsibility weighs on me like a rock when I agree to pay attention to it. I have to, sometimes, because I have to know whether I’m progressing or not…. just backbreaking emotional work for someone who really needs to do it. It makes my mind tired, as if I’ve been trying to prune kudzu and blackberry vines, which seem to grow as you’re cutting.

In terms of grief, the best way I can wrap it in a box is if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. I cannot underestimate how much losing my mother has changed me, as if nothing can get worse, so it’s only onward and upward from here. Surely there has to be some merit in remaining calm and collected through it, without the rage of losing the possibly 20 years I could still have had left with her.

I am trying my best to live life without regret by not doing dumb shit I have to regret in the first place. I am also considering yoga, because a trauma specialist on On Being with Krista Tippet said that it’s often hard for PTSD sufferers to get back in their bodies, having cut off their feelings and hidden them so deep there aren’t words, just compounded pain in the muscles from years of fear, anxiety, anger, and the associated triggers. For me, it’s the scent of fall; the air tinged with burning leaves, seeing my old church, hearing music I’ve heard a thousand times in a different light. At Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, it was the handbell tables with their long curtains and hearing the ringing of them. I was so proud of Dana for finding a musical outlet, and suffering on the inside as I watched her play, because in a lot of ways, it was just too much.

Now I watch and wait, praying on the spaces…………….. that these triggers will become less powerful over time and space, trying to concentrate on the people who need me rather than taking to my bedroom in order to avoid coming undone.

And as I pray, I use the words I’ve used since I was 17; may God forgive me for all the things I’ve done, and all the things I’ve left undone. It’s a mantra of enormous proportions, simple words that go through my mind all the time rather than setting aside room for prayer. Instead of believing that there’s only power when I hold space for God, it’s that God flows through me like water, all the time, without thinking and therefore smoothing the jagged edges and eroding the hard places that live within me.

I can only hope that it shows on the outside, rather than just abiding in the thoughts no one can read.

Where the Devils Are Hidden

Kellyanne Conway says that there’s no sense of humor in Washington. Might I remind her of Jack Kennedy’s HILARIOUS take, that Washington is a city of Southern efficiancy and Northern charm…. or Harry Truman’s half-joke that The White House is the crown jewel of the federal penal system, or his other half-joke when FDR died, well, gentlemen, if you’ve ever had a bale of hay dropped on you, you know how I feel. Or perhaps Ronald Reagan, one of the funniest presidents on record, that when he and Helen Thomas did the opening of a Lebanese community center in The District and Thomas broke ground, that he could hear the ghosts of every former president yelling push her in. Or when Reagan heard that the Sandinistas were shooting at press helicopters, said, well, there’s a little good in everybody. Or, and I’m paraphrasing, that you should always run for public office, because if you win, you’ve won. If you embarrass yourself, you can always write a book. Or when Lynne Cheney said of Dick, I like it when they call you Darth Vader. It humanizes you.

What’s not funny is a theory Aaron calls Schrödinger’s Douchebag, which is that the joke is not deemed funny until the crowd reacts. It’s Conway’s permanent mode, trying to laugh off a gaffe, which, in the beginning she meant totally seriously… that our microwaves are capable of spying on us. So far, President Trump hasn’t said anything even remotely funny, except for the things that come out of his mouth that Twitter makes funny afterward. 45 doesn’t have time to work on serious problems, but he always has time for a Twitter war… which, in my mind, is the least presidential thing about him. It’s the thing with which I was most terrified, that we’d forsake a policy wonk that’s not afraid of diving into the details for someone who has no idea how Washington works and is rebelling against it by leaving as often as he can. His avoidance tactics are doing nothing but showing how ill-prepared he still is, despite briefings designed to educate him. He doesn’t seem to want to try to learn anything, and stupid is as stupid does.

I get wanting to reject the establishment. I really do, even though I don’t necessarily agree with it. If you want to reject the establishment for a Washington outsider, you at least have to pick someone who knows how a bill gets through Congress, how committee assignments work, limitations of Presidential power, etc. Even if you’ve never run for office before, you at least need to know which committees work on which problems and how to get a bill from the committee to the floor. You have to know the difference between the power players and the rank and file. You have to know something about the history of the country, and voters need to understand that intelligence is an asset and not a liability. Like it or not, there’s a system in place, and not being able to affect change from within gets you approximately nowhere…. as well as issuing executive orders in which you have no idea what kind of legal precedent they set. The Supreme Court is becoming more and more important, because at least there is a place where the “airing of the grievances” has some modicum of sanity…. at least for now.

The president is not the “national daddy,” nor is he your drinking buddy. By reducing him or her to such, you’ve alienated the people who are actually capable of doing the job. The skills needed to campaign and the skills needed to be president are vastly different, which is why I believe Hillary Clinton and Al Gore lost. Bill Clinton was the ultimate hybrid, telling people he could hear their pain while also being one of the smartest guys in the room, but he had so much help from both Hillary and Gore, because they were the people willing to drill down into the details with him. Trump doesn’t want to read thousand page bills and sum up what he thinks of them. He just wants to enjoy the title of President, because it plays to his celebrity ego. True government runs on details, where the devils are hidden. He doesn’t care that the pork barreling begins on pp. 500, because he’ll never get that far.

What he’s done with the Joint Chiefs of Staff is absolutely disturbing, because he’s dismantled the few people capable of educating him in favor of people who just agree with him…. people who don’t have a history of the chessboard and believing that you can checkmate by moving one pawn at a time… never thinking eight moves ahead.

Senior intelligence is an oxymoron, because he’s fired everyone who’s tried to plead their case that he’s wrong.

Michael Flynn…. gotta talk about it. When did he become the most insane guy in the room? Historically mild-mannered Democrat becomes Caligula. Why Hillary Clinton hasn’t sued him for libel and slander is beyond me.

The same with James Comey, who caused irreparable damage to her reputation a week before the election, after hammering her over and over before then with no tangible result. What was the point of re-opening the case against her? What is the point of not opening the investigation of private e-mail servers in this presidency if he was so damn concerned? Trump is using an unsecured Blackberry, for God’s sake. Does he not know that Blackberries are also computers, and if you can hack a network/desktop/laptop, you can also hack smartphones? Sounds unlikely for the head of the FBI.

James Comey should have been out of there before the Trump presidency ever began, and if there’s any justice in the world, he’ll be prosecuted one way or another.

It was also inappropriate for Hillary to be slammed with so many Benghazi investigations, because even though she was on the hook for it, she wasn’t the only one responsible. Republicans slashed funding for the amount of security actually needed, the CIA had a rescue mission in place but got delayed, shit went sideways, and therefore Benghazi did not happen because of one person’s actions but the twofold approach that it was a series of missteps by a lot of people AND sometimes ops just fail. PERIOD. Everyone, from the top down, is crushed when it happens, but there’s no room just to say it was an accident of enormous proportions, and therefore, no one person’s fault and everyone involved contributed to a horrible thing that could have been avoided but wasn’t. Voices that should have been heard couldn’t blow their covers, and therefore, could not have added to the discussion that might have made people realize what a clusterfuck the situation was beyond State’s power to do anything about it.

So, due to a number of factors, we’re stuck with someone who has great power, but seemingly no culpability for his actions, because there are too many Congressmen willing to excuse that kind of behavior, along with ignoring their constituents’ wishes. Where’s the outrage that 45 wasn’t even in the sit room when the latest failed op was national news? Would he have even bothered to read the sitrep?

My guess is no, because it would have taken someone willing to drill into the details, you know, where the devils are hidden.

This is Going to Sound Weird, But…

iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet are so comforting to me. The idea that zombies can be totally normal undead human beings if they eat brains gets me through the day in terms of grief… because who wouldn’t want to think that there’s a solution to death, even if it is totally, completely fictional and inane. SCD has a few more murders for fresh brains than iZ, because the main character in iZ gives up her surgical career to work in a morgue so that she doesn’t have to kill people to eat. The thing about that show is that by eating those brains, she gains the person’s memories, and becomes a badass detective by pretending to be clairvoyant because she can see either clues to what happened or the crime itself as it is happening. It is endlessly fascinating, because it is kind of like Bones rather than The Walking Dead.

Though there are a few zombies in iZ that resemble geeks, it’s because they’ve deteriorated because they didn’t get enough to eat when they first got the virus.

Why wouldn’t I want to believe that in a fictional world, my mother could come back? Perhaps one day I’ll write that book, because I miss her so much and know so much about her that I could create a submersive world in which she can live forever. It would be fun to have a book (even if only I read it) that has dialogue with her own NE Texas patois. Maybe I’ll make myself her brain procurer, because my mother would roll over in her grave if I made her even a fictional murderer. 😛

Or perhaps I’ll somehow tie it to CIA and State so she’s eating world leaders. I can think of two in particular with which I’d like to start…………………….

This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I am literally dying with laughter at these ideas that are just flowing forth. Maybe I will make her a fictional murderer only because it would be like making a sweet little old lady into Walter White. Have her totally play against type, because I can’t think of anyone who would more qualify for sainthood. Working with children ensures it. The children she taught with the most innocent names were always the worst kids…. like Godly, Christ, and Precious.

Yes, my mother had a student named Christ. I always kidded her that at least once, she ought to say, Christ would ya siddown? But no, she’d laugh about it with me privately and call him by his last name at school, because she wanted to avoid that scenario entirely.

There’s a really funny story from her teaching days that I’m going to tell on her, but first, you need to know the setup. Over the years, my mother had kids named Shampain, Vernon (but on his birth certificate, swear to God, his name was spelled VERMIN), the aforementioned Christ, Godly, and a whole host of other weirdnesses that she used to joke that one of these days, she was going to have a kid named “XYZ,” but his name would be pronounced “Bill.”

So, one day she gets a new kindergarten student who’s too shy to say anything, so she asks the other kids in the class what his name is. They say, “Wedgie.” So, after having all these kids with weird names, she doesn’t blink an eye… and it’s like, three or four weeks before she gets the new official roll and calls this kid “Wedgie” the whole time. On the official roll, she learns that his name is “Reggie,” and falls over with laughter and embarrassment.

My other favorite story is that she had a holy terror named Dexter, and every time she corrected him, he’d tell her he didn’t speak English. Now, my mom was smart enough not to buy it, and on one of my days off from classes, asked me to come in and watch him. Though I have never been fluent in Spanish, I know enough. So, I get there and Dexter is running around the room, and when my mom tells him in English to politely calm the fuck down, he throws up his arms and continues, not knowing that I’m there to be the “ringer.” He takes off toward the percussion instruments and I say with my best stern teacher voice, Dexter! Sientete, por favor! He froze, because he knew his days of bullshit were numbered. For the rest of the class, he was the perfect student, and I never had to come back.

For those who don’t speak Spanish, all I had to was look at him with the evil eye and say, sit down, please. My days of reading Clifford Va de Viaje (Clifford Goes Traveling) paid off.

While I had good Spanish teachers in school, I learned far more by immersion on mission trips, so every time I’ve gone to Mexico, I have willed myself not to speak English. Mexicans are GREAT about forgiving grammar errors, you talking AROUND what you need and figuring it out, etc. They’re just happy you’re willing to learn the language at all. I also will myself not to speak English at taquerias/panaderias in Houston, because it’s the only time I ever get to practice in order not to lose it. I’ve even used Spanish in Maryland, but only once. I asked a janitor where the bathroom was at the mall in English, and she just looked at me like I had three heads. So I flip into Spanish and her eyes get even wider, as if I’d grown another head in the process, and gave me directions. My guess at why she looked at me so strangely was that she didn’t meet gringos who spoke Spanish in MD all that often…….. and given the way I was dressed and my haircut that I was asking for the women’s room.

Maybe I should have started the conversation with this is going to sound weird, but……………