The No-Name Party

Lindsay and I went for sushi once she finally got a break, and while we were eating, her lobbyist told her to get to a bar called Red, Red Wine (the song is stuck in my head, too). We paid out and walked the few doors down. When we walked in, I realized that anyone who was anyone in Maryland was within 50 square feet. Because Lindsay walks in these circles all the time, she is always officially Not. Impressed….. while I debate over whether it’s tacky to ask for a photo. I always decide not to ask, because as much as I wanted a selfie with the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, the day was over and it was drinkin’ time. I know what it’s like to feel like I have to be “on,” and I didn’t want that for them.

So there we were, Republicans, Democrats, and lobbyists all stuffed together with not enough seats. Even though I don’t work in politics, there was never a time in which I felt ill-at-ease. At different times in my life, I’ve been a lead trumpet player, and hanging out with this crowd was literally no different than hanging out with a bunch of other trumpet players. When you’re the lead, you get your balls busted by your underlings telling you how much better they could have played it. As the lead, it is your right- no- your responsibility to respond with something devastatingly clever. And that’s how it went all night long. The Minority leader is female, and because you can look up who she is, I will not tell you how she impressed me, because I’m betting she’d say it was unprintable.

As an aside, I was so impressed with the diversity at the table. Though there weren’t many females, there were males of all colors. Maryland is a lot of things, but whitewashed government is not one of them. Yet another thing that makes me proud to live here.

I caught titles, but not names. Actually, that’s not true at all. Everyone introduced themselves to me and I forgot their names almost immediately. I can tell you what everyone was wearing and what they smelled like, though.

The guy sitting next to me was black and was wearing a light grey shirt and a pink tie. I leaned over to him and said “I’ve been admiring your tie.” He said, “and I like your frames.” We continued talking and he told me that he lived in Baltimore. I said, “I want to ask you a question, and you can tell me if I’m going too deep… but what was it like living in Baltimore when Freddie Gray was murdered?” He said that luckily, where his office was located was out of the range of looters and protesters, but that he was glued to the TV for days, because it was a bit scary.

He also said that he understood the violence, but didn’t agree with it, because it really wasn’t accomplishing anything to burn small businesses, etc. I told him that I struggle with violent vs. non-violent protest, because I personally am one of the quiet, mild-mannered protesters that walks silently or chats with friends. I’ll join in if people are chanting, but that’s as rowdy as I get. The problem I have is that sometimes violent protests work. Its not a pretty idea, but it is also true. Then we talked about the Revolutionary War and the Boston Tea Party and Shays’ Rebellion.

It was a long and involved “wondering as we wandered” through history, because I think we both had the same point of view in terms of understanding why people get that angry, but not wanting to be one of those people, either.

It was the classic Leslie Lanagan outing…. the life of the party for a few minutes, find someone I like, and talk with them until the rest of the party isn’t there anymore… just background noise to my own main event.

All the Rowboats

I’m sitting in an office on State St. in Annapolis with my sister and her lobbyist. Paintings of rowboats are all around me, so of course I can’t help but think of Regina Spektor. All the Rowboats is the first song I listen to with new headphones, because it’s how I know if they’re any good. If I can actually feel the bass in my chest, they are worthy of purchase.

I brought said headphones, but I’m enjoying the sound of typing all around me as we all work on our different things… all idea driven. We all write, but theirs is legislation and mine passes for creativity. My brain is a bit scrambled and I don’t have any pain meds on me. I generally carry Advil and Tylenol on my keychain, but I forgot to refill from the last time I had a headache…. so this entry may be nothing more than a whole bunch of complaining…. although I have no right. In my family, you’re not allowed to complain until you’ve taken something. The other old joke in my family goes like this:

Leslie: My head hurts.
Anyone in my family because they’ve heard it a billion times: What did you take for it?
Leslie: Nothing.
AIMF: Has it kicked in yet?

The Lanagan sense of humor tends to run thusly: If it’s funny once, it’s funny a thousand times -or- take a dumb joke and run it into the ground.

I finally gave up the ghost and asked Lindsay if she had any pain meds. She told me to dig through her purse, and all I found was what I affectionately call Lady Tylenol. So, my headache will go away, and the “bonus” is that I’ll be peeing out water weight for the next four hours…. so I got that goin’ for me. I can’t wait to get to the gallery of the Senate and have to find a bathroom every five minutes. If anyone says anything, I’ll just tell them I’m pregnant…. like when I fall down a lot, I tell people I’m drunk. It saves time.

I was born a preemie and got cerebral palsy as a result. It’s not that bad, but bad enough. If I am totally honest with myself, it’s the main reason I switched to male clothes and shoes. The clothes allow me a bit more freedom of movement and the shoes keep me steadier on my feet. For someone like me, heels are of the devil… even though I look hot in them…. just not while lying on the ground after busting my knee open and staring at the road rash on my hands.

It’s a look.

Since it’s after 5:00, I asked Lindsay’s lobbyist if I could have some of his whiskey. It’s called Sagamore Spirit Rye. I poured about an ounce and added some cold water, just a nip because I’m curious and I still want to be able to walk later. Eventually, we’ll be able to get some dinner and I don’t want Lindsay to have to carry me. I don’t keep alcohol in the house because I’d rather have diet soda and those sugar free mix-ins for the small water bottles. This means that my tolerance is about as low as one can get, a definite mark against me when hanging out with politicians and reporters…. Come on, just have one more with us….. ummmm, no. I can’t think or walk straight under the best of conditions. And there is no way in hell I’m letting any of Lindsay’s coworkers fireman carry me, because first of all, I might get dropped. Second of all, I would be mocked for all eternity for having to be carried after two drinks.

Most of the time, I want to be the stone-cold sober one in the group so I remember all the crazy shit you do and write about it later. If you’re sweet to me, I won’t use your name. ūüėõ

As I’ve become more and more serious about writing most days (if not every day), I hate that feeling of losing control. I don’t like it when I can’t think deeply and seriously. I’ve had enough of that “lost control” fun to last a lifetime, and as the old joke goes, I might as well run for office because it would help me piece together most of my 20s (30s?). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost the need for social lubricant because a) my anxiety medication works better 2) I don’t want to go out with you people, anyway.

That was mostly a joke.

This weekend Dan is hosting a Tarot card reading party at her place. I told her I’d come, but if I got the “death card,” it was totally her fault.

That was mostly a joke.

Also because it’s after 5:00 and I haven’t eaten today, I have managed to open nearly every snack box in this office. Animal crackers, Tastykakes, granola bars, a bite-size Reese’s peanut butter cup and Dove chocolate. Lindsay and her lobbyist had to run over to the Senate building, so I am passing the time by stuffing my face, even though I’d rather be at tsunami eating a pork bowl #yurionice

In the living room (the office is a converted house), there is a giant bowl of M&Ms, which is why I’m sitting in the back. I may be little, but I have a hollow leg where peanuts and chocolate are concerned. Though Mr. Goodbar is my favorite (not the King size- the ratio of chocolate to peanuts is off), peanut M&Ms really wouldn’t last much longer…. especially since there are giant pretzel sticks in the alcove next to me. Because at some point, I know there will be dinner involved, even if it’s at 11:00 PM, it’s taking all of my willpower not to stuff every damn piece of candy in this office right into my face.

I should have eaten some oatmeal for breakfast, because it keeps me so full I can’t move until dinner. However, the plan was originally to eat about an hour ago. No biggie. Plans change…. and if I was home, I’d be eating my weight in animal crackers, anyway.

But I wouldn’t be staring at pictures of rowboats while I ate them.

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. ūüėõ 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‚Äôs 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‚ĄĘ 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.