Get. Up.

The first time I tried Cafe Bustelo,™ I had a 16 oz mug and I thought I could smell numbers. It’s an espresso roast (which I didn’t know at the time), and left in the basket as long as coffee will not only put hair on your chest, but delusions of grandeur in your brain. You know, like, “I can DO ALL THE THINGS!”

I can, for short bursts. Grief, as Sheryl Sandberg points out, is a demanding companion, and it has settled into my muscles so that everything takes longer- even with the miracle of caffeine. My mission is how to move faster.

Logically, I know it’s time to move on. It may seem cruel to say, but I don’t mean forgetting that my mother died altogether. I mean truly internalizing that there’s no going back. There’s no relationship with which to move into the future, nothing I can do or say to get my mother to come visit. I have had little post-traumatic growth because logic and emotion are two different things.

The other day (because I have no sense of time passing) my sister and I went to get our nails done at a salon in DC, and the whole time, the music overhead was solo piano. After an hour of it, I was panicking internally. Shortness of breath, brain race, anger, the whole bit. I had so little Klonopin on board that I could have taken another one, but because my nails were wet, I couldn’t exactly get up and get one. I just had to breathe through it, not dissimilar to Lamaze.

Logic went out the window as the night my mother died played in my head, as if it was happening right the fuck now instead of last October. Hearing the panic in Lindsay’s voice as she told me over the phone. Knowing I could borrow some of her clothes or just buy new ones when I landed in Houston. Frantically packing up my backpack with just my iPad, iPhone (with just wireless), keyboard, wallet, and phone. I don’t know why I packed both my iPhone and my Android, but I didn’t know what I needed in that moment and electronics were the thing that made me feel comfortable. I also brought my Kindle because it had a note from Argo in it that I knew I’d need to survive the next few days. When I felt the most afraid of what was going to happen next, I’d read her words of assurance and for a moment, the storm would calm.

My iPhone came in handy later because I was at a gas station and tripped on the sidewalk, smashing my Android into a million pieces because it was in my pocket and I landed on it… coming absolutely unglued because it was just the shitty icing on the burnt cake stuck to the tin pan.

At the time, I was trying to stuff down every emotion I had so that I could function until the funeral was over. The Android was a birthday present from my dad, and it was less than a month later and I’d already ruined it. If I hadn’t been in public, I would have screamed loud enough to be heard for three blocks.

When I was less anxious, I went to AT&T and activated my iPhone so at least I’d have navigation. Houston is my hometown, and I still don’t know where anything is, even when in complete control of my faculties.

If there’s anything that defined those first few days for me, it was lack of control. There’s nothing I could have done that would have saved her, or even made any difference at all.

Which is what brings me back around to the futility of continuing to grieve in the same way. “Snap out of it” is always derogatory to a depressed/anxious person, but it’s definitely how I feel about myself at times. It is in those moments that I realize I’m being extraordinarily hard on myself, which I generally am, anyway….. but still. I remind myself of the scene in The Matrix where Trinity is running from agents and rolls hard to the bottom of a flight of stairs, momentarily frozen in place and says to herself, “get up, Trinity. GET. UP.”

Spoiler alert… she does, by sheer force of will.

Frozen at the bottom of a flight of stairs is an apt description of my mindset, because as hard as I’m trying to force myself to get up, spoiler alert….. I haven’t.

I do all the necessary things to keep myself going, but I am not making room for fun or laughter most days. In fact, because everything I need to do is tied to the Internet, I rarely leave my house. To be here is to be comforted in a safety net of my own choosing, and no one is kicking me out of my nest…. or even trying to pull. Right now my best friend is the cashier at Safeway… and not because we really know each other. Because she’s the one I talk to the most during any given week.

For some people, this would seem sad and depressing. For me, it is comforting and safe. I am always lost in several books at once, have podcasts going as I work, and when I have time, there’s a few TV shows I enjoy. In a lot of ways, my life hasn’t changed any since I was married, but people tend to think that you’re isolating when you do this on your own, and, in a word, not when you’re doing the exact same thing with someone else. The stigma is that cocooning with a spouse is right and natural. Cocooning with yourself means you probably need medication.

They say that everything happens for a reason, and if there has been anything that’s been good to come out of getting divorced, it has been that time to myself where I didn’t have to care about anyone else’s feelings, because I just wasn’t capable. I would have been a horrible wife because Dana would have no frame of reference as to what I was going through, and at first I couldn’t stand anyone around me whose parents were still alive. I would have been angry and jealous WITH HER, something she wouldn’t have deserved, but would have happened, anyway.

I only wanted friends who’d been through the same thing, because only someone who’s been through it can comprehend the ups and downs. They also don’t say EXTREMELY STUPID SHIT…. the main reason I avoided everyone for a while. I just couldn’t handle it. Cortisol and rage raced through my body as I would just get irrationally angry, because these people meant no harm. They just didn’t know what they didn’t know, and wouldn’t until it happened to them.

The people who showed up for me weren’t the people I expected. People I’d been extremely close to retreated and people I hadn’t heard from in years rushed in… along with people I only knew virtually. Facebook was excellent for this, because it allowed all my friends (in the cloud and on the ground) to know at once what was happening. This blog was also a great help, because I could express what was going through my mind the entire way through those first few days.

But now, my entries are starting to sound repetitive, even to me. Missing my mom, Dana, Argo, blah blah blah… have a Kleenex and get on with it, kid.

I’m hoping that now I recognize this, kicking the shit out of Option B will become a reality, rather than being mired in the past. Not only is it time to let go, it is time to “get up, Leslie. GET. UP.”

“Exitstentialism” (Fiction)

I used to write short stories all the time. In fact, I won an award from The Houston Chronicle for one of them. That memory reminded me to try again.


Everything has been figured out, except how to live.

-Jean-Paul Sartre

The thought that keeps running through my mind is that I have to get it done. There’s no way out, only through. I find a couch that’s seen better days, and sit down. The smell of burning crack fills the air, an aroma that unless you’ve experienced firsthand is hard to explain… close to putting baking soda under the broiler and just as loud.

There’s a black man sitting next to me who has also seen better days. He’s got missing teeth, white hair and beard, shirt off with ribs showing- the perfect picture of years and years of neglect. Within minutes, he hands over a pipe, small and industrial, already loaded and waiting for fire. He’s not beautiful, but at least he’s generous.

The flame comes at me, a symbolic inch of salvation, and I inhale deeply. I don’t feel anything, and take another deep drag. This time, I feel even less of nothing, and decide that is the point. I don’t want to feel anything, anyway. If I did, I wouldn’t have started the evening with two watermelon Four Lokos, the national system of doing dangerous shit faster. But what I’m doing isn’t dangerous. It’s necessary. Alcohol, caffeine, and crack are just tools.

As my heart beats faster and faster, I notice that I am the only white person in the room, which isn’t a big deal except that I know I’m being watched… not that I’m in danger. A curiosity, like a chicken playing chess. I close my eyes and lean back into the haze of smoke, my extremities glued in place.

The high is magnificent, because I’m not thinking about anything except how good I feel. I can’t and won’t do this again. It’s too powerful… better than love, better than family… it would take over my whole life if I let it, because who wouldn’t want to live in this? Who wouldn’t want the universe to open up and say you’ll never feel pain again?

And that’s when I realize I’ll never do it again, anyway.

When I open my eyes, there’s a rape in progress, so close I can feel it happening… that poor girl, whomever she is. I sit up straight, the hair on my arms standing at attention. How could I not know, not feel that what I saw was actually happening to me?

Everything fades to black as I realize I don’t care about anything, much less this. Just one more thing that’s gone wrong in my bottomless shithole of a life.

I feel a light slap on my face, a different man trying to wake me up. I was already awake, daydreaming with my eyes closed. He wasn’t there to help, just to make sure I wasn’t dead.

I wasn’t.

I just dissociate and close my eyes again. This literal clusterfuck will be over soon or it won’t. Nobody cares. As despicable as the experience will seem later, it’s still an orgasm before I die. I know I will. I can feel it. I’ve been locked into the warehouse while they decide what to do with me. Even in a dream state, I hear the doors close and the padlock click. If they’d had guns, I doubt there would be discussion at all.

I still don’t care.

I have to get it done.

It’s logical, really. I’ve stolen documents from a three letter agency. There’s nowhere in the world I’m off the grid. I’ll be chased my whole life, which won’t be too long if I’m lucky.

I am not. The doors are pushed open, I’m helped to my feet, and sent on my way. I hear a man say “she’s so high she’s not going to remember any of this.”

I get into the backseat of my car and my teeth start to clench. I’m coming down, and the withdrawal is so fierce I’d do anything for another hit… but I made a promise to myself. It was going to be a once in a lifetime thing, something to ensure my comfort on the way out.

What I didn’t count on was what would happen if the plan failed.

Last evening I had one problem… how to get off the grid. This morning, I have two. I wasn’t high enough to forget anything. The situation, for all its horror, has its amusing moments. As my teeth grit more and more tightly, I figure out why lollipops must be popular among this particular crowd.

As morning slowly becomes evening, the smell and the withdrawal abate… but not the regret. I have flashbacks to the old ratty couch, the feeling of my spirit flying high above my body, looking down at the woman I never thought I’d become.

Or perhaps the person I’ve always been… the one whose missions always fail.

I couldn’t even achieve death on my own terms.

The prison is cold, unforgiving… waiting for someone else to finish what I could not. I do not fear death. I fear even one more day behind the even tighter security of my mind. They could let me go, and it wouldn’t matter. I’d still never be free.

There’s no exit.

Every Topic of Which I Can Think

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not obsessed with becoming the person I want to be instead of the person I am. I think that’s a good obsession rather than a bad one, because it drives me forward in order to achieve my version of success. Of course I want to have financial success, but for an INFJ, money is never how success is defined. It’s becoming who they want to be in interpersonal relationships, often leading others to wholeness through “commanding from the back.” I’d like to think that it’s what defines this web site. I lay out all my flaws and failures first, and if others find comfort in knowing they’re not alone, I’ve done my job for that day.

For me, success is defined as looking at my regrets in order to make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones. This is because I can never strive for perfection, but excellence is an achievable goal. I have come a long way with this, because my pattern is to give up on something if I can’t do it perfectly. For me, there has never been such a thing as it’s good enough. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started blogging this time around that I began to change my focus away from everything being perfect, because I realized that if I wanted everything to be perfect, I’d never publish anything. I look at my old entries and see tense changes, typos (which drive me ntus), and any number of grammatical errors because formal writing in blogging is not the goal. If it was, I would have hired an editor long ago. I often read entries after I’ve hit “Publish” because I began to realize that over-focusing on tiny things made it where I didn’t have enough courage to put my writing out there.

I decided to just write like I talk, and that in and of itself was good enough………..

However, even that didn’t dawn on me until I looked at my stats over a year in 2014 and every country in the world was represented. Every. Country. In. The. World.

When I told my friends that, they said “prove it.” So, I used the WordPress app on my phone and showed them the breakdown. There wasn’t a single one of them that didn’t say something to the effect of “holy shit, Batman.” And this was after “you don’t have UAE… oh, there it is.” “You don’t have Angola… oh, there it is.” “You don’t have Liechtenstein…. oh, there it is.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

I am most popular in the US, because that’s where my friends live… but Australia and the UK are catching up fast.

That’s the part that makes me the happiest, because there is nothing better than putting out my words and having so many people read them that have no horse in the race. They can listen objectively because they don’t know anyone I’m talking about, and can’t even guess.

I also really like being a part of the WordPress community, because I read a lot of other writers that are much better than I am, upping my own game. Of course I still read Dooce and The Bloggess and all the other insanely popular blogs because they are insanely popular for a reason. Plus, she’s not exactly a blogger, but Anne Lamott has started writing really long Facebook statuses that sustain me- part humorist, part theologian- all grace.

I’ve actually met Anne- she did a reading at Powell’s Books in Portland and I was so sick I thought I might be dying…. but unless I was actually dead, there was no way I was going to miss it. I had a dumbass attack during the Q & A when I said, “my only question is ‘can I give you a hug?'” She said, “of course!” And afterwards, I thought, “oh my God. I hope I didn’t just kill her, metaphorically speaking.” If I remember right, it was tonsilitis.

So now you know my stories with both of my writing heroes, which are humorous and memorable because I am a master at tripping over my own feet in the presence of greatness…. and cuteness, apparently…. but what lesbian can avoid walking into a closed door in the presence of cuteness? I haven’t met one yet. ;P

Technically, I was opening the door and banged my own face on it. I can laugh about it now, but oh my fuck did it hurt. Dana never would have let me live it down had my nose started bleeding. I miss sharing girl-watching with her, because it was always understood that we could look at the menu, but we couldn’t order.

And we damn near always looked at the same menu. ;P

I don’t do girl-watching these days, because I’d rather put my energy into self-improvement…. with my writing, with my job-hunting, with my hopes and dreams for the future. But they’re funny memories nonetheless.

Although one woman did write to me recently based on my OkCupid profile that said, “your blog reads like the inside of my head.” Good Lord. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone…. same with a friend that said “I’ll live vicariously through you.” I’m sorry, I wouldn’t wish that on a dog I didn’t like…. I actually love dogs, it’s just a NE Texas saying that hasn’t gone away. You can take the girl out of Texas, etc.

My other favorite is, “she can’t help it that she’s ugly, but she could stay home.” Or from Molly Ivins…. “you wouldn’t say he was dumb, but you might want to stop by and water him three times a week, bless his heart.”

It is a trueism in Texas that you can say just about anything mean about anyone as long as you follow it up with “bless their hearts.” I suppose this is because it is meant to convey insincere compassion for their maladies.

It is especially prevalent in a small town where, in the words of the movie Doc Hollywood, “you cain’t take a shit in this town without everybody knowing what color it is.” Everybody knows everything because the grapevine is tall and strong.

It was both a relief and a hardship to get out of Texas all the times that I have, because of course I miss my family, and at the same time, I enjoy finding out who I am outside of who they are. Although part of moving so much is ingrained from being a preacher’s kid. We never stayed anywhere longer than five years, and it instilled wanderlust in me, as opposed to wanting to stay in the same place for once.

I did put down strong roots in Portland, where I’ve lived the longest (so far), but even then I still went back and forth. It’s a strange feeling when no place feels like home. Now that I’m back in DC, though, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The wanderlust is now internalized to exploring my own city, because I could see a new thing every day for the rest of my life and still not see everything DC has to offer. A few days ago, I downloaded a hiking app that has all the trails in the entire country mapped out and driving directions to the trailheads. There are several right in the city, and even more in Maryland and Virginia.

I need to get on it, because one of the things that’s truly important for people post-PTSD and/or grieving is getting back into your body, because pain settles into the muscles as easily as it settles into the brain.

I go to therapy for my mind, and I need to exercise, even if it’s just walking a beginner trail. It’s also about two miles from my house to the Metro, and that is just enough time to really think while mobile. I just need a bit better weather. Right now it is 63 and cloudy, with rain predicted for later, and I absolutely hate getting caught in the rain as I’m walking when it’s cold out…. or, cold for me, anyway. When it’s 80 or 90, getting caught in the rain is delicious, even when it’s not Portland spitting and Maryland downpour.

I really should rethink the whole umbrella thing, because the reason you don’t have to carry a bumbershoot in Portland is that it hardly EVER rains hard. Here, the skies open up without warning and you can get soaked to the skin in a matter of seconds. But here’s my take on umbrellas in that situation. I tend to get soaked to the skin, anyway, because the rain blows sideways. And in fact, the last time I actually owned an umbrella, it was raining so hard that my umbrella bent backwards and was rendered unusuable about five seconds into my fifteen minute wait for the bus.

Granted, the umbrella was kind of flimsy, but there’s no way in hell I would have been willing to carry a heavy golf umbrella in addition to my loaded down backpack. There were so many days that my back was ripped to shreds because I have a corkscrew scoliosis and my backpack rubbed the skin on top of those vertebrae raw and bleeding…. even with a bandage, because even then, there wasn’t enough padding.

I tried honey, I tried Neosporin, I tried carrying a different bag, and nothing worked. So I just had to grin and bear it, often gnashing my teeth in pain.

Getting a car solved all that, but it has also made me a bit complacent. Walking was good for me, especially home from therapy. I could have taken the bus, but I didn’t unless I got tired. I generally walked everywhere I went. I remember the exact moment I broke down. I was trying to get to SuperCuts out in East Jesus Nowhere because I couldn’t find one closer (didn’t know about local salons yet). When I got there, Google Maps was wrong and it wasn’t there. It was such a long trip with so much walking (about six miles all told) that I just sat down on the pavement and cried until I remembered I could create an Uber account. Just please, God, come and pick me up. Stick a fork in me, I’m friggin’ done.

And then there was the time that I found a SuperCuts on Wisconsin Ave., and the route home was through Rock Creek Park in the pitch black. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. Until I found a salon in Silver Spring, I wouldn’t drive there. I took the Metro every time, because I didn’t know how to get home without navigation, so there was no way to avoid having to creep along in the park, still blind even with headlights on because the trees are oppressive in those hours. Now I go to the mall in downtown Silver Spring, another place to which I can walk and often don’t.

But I should. Self-improvement comes easier when I am comfortable in my own skin, and walking alone, thinking and listening to music that lifts my mood, is the fastest way I know to get there.

I have a friend who says she doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in running. Now I know what she means. Perhaps my prayer should be that I start running, too… just not away from anything. There is no way out, only through.

Now that I’ve exhausted nearly every topic of which I can think, it’s time to get going. I have a few errands to “run,” but unfortunately, today’s just not the day to take it literally. Perhaps it will be sunny tomorrow. I am sure I can make up an excuse to walk to the Metro, even if I don’t actually get on the train. Sometimes the destination isn’t the important part, anyway.

Daughters

This morning I listened to one of my housemates on the phone with her mom, making all the universal daughter sounds. Classic highlights include yes, I remember from the first time you told me and maybe we should go ask dad. Now, if there is anything I remember at all from my parents being married to each other, it is that dad does not want to get in the middle between a mother and daughter. It is a losing battle, might as well raise the white flag now….

The conversation made me so sick for my own mother that I had to go upstairs and cry for a few minutes. I would say “homesick,” except that I lived away from my mother for far more years than I lived with her, so most of our conversations were on the phone, because she didn’t like to be on video, either. When I was married and settled, I thought my life was boring in a good way, so I wouldn’t talk all that much about myself. I would listen to her prattle on about her school programs and her classes, and I related to it inasmuch as I could.

I’d give anything to let her go on (and on, and on, and on) again. I could relate to the music, though. If she’d been a math teacher, I doubt I could have followed the conversation at all.

If I was at her house, we’d sing together because she needed someone to do the melody while she learned the accompaniment…. the one thing that we couldn’t do over the phone, and something that made our “face time” together all the more special because it didn’t happen all that often. Our relationship made more sense the older I got, because she never tried to tell me to do anything or say anything with which I wasn’t comfortable. It was as if she knew her parenting job was over, and her response to it was just to try and become my friend. It worked, because nothing ever came across as judgmental or harsh. I could, slowly but surely, be myself around her, warts and all.

So, when people tell me that my mother wouldn’t have wanted me to do or say something, I feel it is a moot point. My mother would have rolled with anything I had to say, and if she disagreed with me, it wasn’t coming across as a parent, but as a concerned friend with my best interests at heart, never pulling the I’m your mother and I know best card…. because truthfully, she didn’t know me all that well. She knew as much as I was comfortable telling her, but the schism that occurred during my teenage years convinced her that just being my friend was her best bet at staying close. And, of course, I didn’t tell her for many years just how much damage that chasm between us cost me. I kick myself for the time in which I couldn’t, wouldn’t open up…. tight-lipped and silent because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble and I didn’t want to admit that whether she liked it or not, I was choosing this emotionally turbulent relationship over the easy lightness of being we had together.

It took years to convince her that I was indeed gay, because I loved Ryan so much and had been somewhat boy-crazy from childhood to eighth grade. I can explain. That boy-crazy lasted until my young adult hormones kicked in. Before that, I was just like every girl in my class. I struggled with my sexuality the entire time I was with Ryan, because I loved him so much and I didn’t want to hurt him. As it turned out, I didn’t hurt him so much as he thought he hurt me. I was wrecked that he’d kissed another girl at summer camp, and when I got that letter, I cried for hours. But at the same time, it was also a relief, because I knew as time went on that I couldn’t give him what he needed, which was someone who knew they were attracted to men and could see keeping up the attraction for years on end.

I ended up dating a man as an adult, but not because I was in love with him. It was because he was the anti-Kathleen, a great escape from my divorce decimating me and wanting to get as far away from that pain as life would allow. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I loved him as much as I could, but I couldn’t see a future with him, either. I never thought I was doing anything wrong, because we both knew that there were problems in our relationship on each side of the equation. He told me that he wasn’t equipped to be a boyfriend, and I believed him. I also believed that a friend crush was turning into more, and I wanted to see where that went… not wanting to hurt him, but realizing our relationship had run its course. However, I will never forget that in the aftermath of divorce, he saved me from so much emotional damage. He was trained in reiki, and on the nights we were together, I’d curl up under his arm and he’d do his best to release all my negative energy before I fell asleep. It worked beautifully, and I went on to be successful in all the right ways. I also learned that you’re not supposed to make a lifetime commitment to everyone you date. Sometimes you try each other on, and it’s just not a good fit for always, but it is a good fit for that time in your life.

I identify as bisexual because even though the majority of my relationships have been with women, I never want to make the men in my life feel that they didn’t matter to me… that I was just using them when in reality, I needed and wanted them. I’ve just floated more and more toward a six on the Kinsey scale as I’ve gotten older (and wiser), because it is not a good idea for me to date people in which I cannot see a future, and I don’t like breaking up. It’s never fun, no matter what the reason, even if it’s outstandingly reasonable…. and in a less important, but no less valid reason for not dating men, I got a taste of heterosexual privilege and when I learned about it, it sucked and I cried. Because I knew it was there, but I’d never experienced it head on.

Knowing what I know, I could never fall for a man again. It’s unconscionable, even when the man knows you’re bisexual, because from day one it creates the insecurity of “you’re just going to leave me for a woman… eventually….” especially when that insecurity is completely valid.

I talked a big game about dating to get over Dana, but as it turns out, it was only that. Words that meant nothing to me as I took to my room and am only now beginning to think that I could love someone else. Two years is probably enough time to get over an almost eight-year relationship… or not. I still have my moments when I think, Dana was the love of my life and I’ll never find anyone that fulfills me that way so why even bother? I love my independence, but I also love interdependence, and those two ideas wrestle within me because the life plan I thought I had for myself is gone.

It’s just another Option B situation, in which I have to find new ideas and new people to engage me after all I’ve lost. I do know for sure, at this point, anyway, that I do not want to get married again. That may change, or it may not. I just don’t want to give up everything I’ve gained in becoming dependent on myself to make my own decisions and not have to worry about what anyone else thinks. Of course in a relationship, I can make allowances, but what I’ve learned is that when I am enmeshed, I tend to give up my power and think that my worth is tied up in what the other person thinks of me.

I can’t. I just can’t anymore. It’s too hard and it hurts too much, because once I’ve agreed to give up my power, I’ll never get it back…. and not because I can’t (in most cases). It’s because my personality won’t let me, yet another thing I need to discuss with my therapist because it’s no way to live.

I tend to go for these strong, ball-breaking women in whom I feel we can be giants together, and slowly get steamrolled as I refuse to stand up for myself. I am tired of begging, appeasement….. something I do not have in my single life and allows me to be my own person at all times. Perhaps it’s not so much getting over Dana as it is not wanting to create that dynamic again.

For better or for worse, I also had that dynamic with Argo, because I couldn’t face losing her. I have gotten on my knees and begged for that safe space again, but it hasn’t returned and probably won’t. I can’t predict what time will tell, can’t even begin to guess. But what I know for sure is that our dynamic is broken, and because so much of it was at my own hand, I can’t imagine wanting to be my friend…. and begging for her friendship just makes me seem desperate and needy, when that is the last thing on my mind. I just have a lot for which to atone, and that can’t happen in a vacuum. All I can do is say that I tried my best, and reach out to people who do want to show up.

It should make me feel lighter that there are people out there I can lean on, that do value me, that do want to be my friend…. and it does, most days. On others, I can’t stop crying because the weight of grief on me is now enormous. Between Dana, Argo, and my mother, it feels as if grief doesn’t lift. It just changes…. and never as fast as one would like.

They were all so beautiful, inside and out.

I am only now starting to believe that I am, too.

Our Mother’s Day Present

When Lindsay, Forbes, and Matt went to the cemetery on Mother’s Day, they found that my mother’s headstone had been placed, and it turned out beautifully. The music staff, for those that don’t read music and/or can’t see it clearly, is Amazing Grace. At first, I thought the opening interval was wrong, and I had to check it to make sure. You cannot imagine my relief that it’s right….. hey, it’s in a different key in the hymnal, and I couldn’t abide a pianist with a headstone that sort of played something. Besides, placing the staff was my idea in the first place, originally a James Avery™ ring that is now discontinued. I thought it was appropriate given that my mother wore a James Avery ring my entire life, just not that one. It had an eighth note charm that fell off a lot, so every few years she’d either get it put back on or have to buy a new one, depending on whether she could find said charm again.

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I wish I had been there in person, but eventually, I will be. I will sit under “Fred,” the tree I named after no one in particular, and by then it will be taller and more full than it was when we buried her. The grass will have grown back so perhaps I can lie on it and look up at the sky. Sorry if that seems morbid. I don’t have a fear of cemeteries. I find them soothing and peaceful- the perfect place for a picnic whether it is Dia de los Muertos or not.

It led me down the path of thinking about last year’s Mother’s Day, when Mom and Lindsay used FaceTime to call me. I hate video calls and rarely agree to them because I am shy about being on camera… well, video cameras, anyway. Pictures? No problem. Video? I’d almost rather have a root canal. I am so self conscious because of my cerebral palsy and my strabismus. If I’m not worried that I’m moving funny, I’m worried that my “lazy eye” is showing. At least now that my eyesight is so poor in my left eye, I at least know which one it is…. I enjoy wearing glasses because they hide so much. I mean, they correct the drift most of the time, but they also draw attention away from it altogether. #blessed

With my family, it’s mostly ok. Everyone else? Not so much. The only person I’ve ever offered to video call outside my family is Argo, because I wanted her to meet Dana and me in person. To my great relief, it did not happen. My goofy moves are so much more adorable in person…. I think. You tell me. I don’t get to watch me that often…. also, I hate that video does not pick up the bass in my voice, so that in 3D I sound like a normal person and on video I sound like SpongeBob…. I think. You tell me. Maybe the bass in my voice is only bone conduction in my head and I always sound like SpongeBob. Oh, dear God…. please, no.

Anyway, here is the last Mother’s Day picture I’ll ever have of my mother, about which I feel nothing but regret and yet, cannot forget that I didn’t know it was going to be the18403390_10154517709586596_4182279736950940564_n last one at the time…. Does that seriously look like a woman old enough to die? As I hit 40 in September, I am realizing more and more just how young 65 actually is. Today I heard The Moth’s Mother’s Day special, in which the host interviewed his own mother, nearly 90. When his mother dies, there’s not going to be a single person that says, “dear God, they took her too soon.” I feel like I am slowly coming back to life after just wanting to crawl into a hole and never come back out because nothing was the same, nothing made sense, nothing filled the deep hole of regret inside me that I didn’t walk in the light while I had it…. or at the very least, not as much as I would have wanted.

Grief being different for everyone keeps me sane. Knowing that there’s never a right or a wrong way to feel emotional pain is very freeing. I handle things as they come up, and try not to bottle anything, even though in some ways, compartmentalization might help. If I could just stuff down some of my emotions, maybe I wouldn’t be such a walking raw nerve.

I am doing my best to change my own mood. Yesterday, it was jamming out to Eminem and laughing hysterically at the lyrics to Love Game. Be forewarned, if you are offended easily, it is absolutely the dirtiest song I’ve ever heard in my entire life, bar none. And yet, by the time Kendrick Lamar gets to “have a blessed day,” I am shaking without sound and tears are running down my face trying to keep my housemates from thinking a cat is dying upstairs.

Life goes on… interestingly enough, the only song I absolutely hate in The Beatles catalogue.

But maybe my soulmate is Polythene Pam.

I’m not going to video call her to find out, though.

One

This is the first Mother’s Day without my actual mother available to take a call. I’m trying to change it to revolve around the friends I have who are mothers, because they are even more special to me now that my own mother is gone. Their mother love and mother wisdom sustains me, whether I am talking to them in person or watching their funny kid pictures scroll across my Facebook feed. More than one mother has told me that they’re making up that “mother wisdom” as they go along and hoping it actually turns out to be wisdom…. in some ways, I think that’s the best part. You have no idea what will stick with your kids and what won’t.

Here’s what’s stuck with me about my own mother:

  • She was so, so funny because she did not have either my dry-witted sense of humor or Lindsay’s ability for physical comedy, so when she was funny, it was often unintentional or uproarious because you couldn’t see it coming. She always got great big laughs because she was not the person you expected to say it.
  • She was more kind than me, something to which I aspire and often fall short.
  • She always gave away more than she took.
  • Having disagreements with me never overshadowed her overwhelming love for me, and in my later years, pride in my bravery and writing accomplishments.
  • I took out a loan from her and every time I paid some of it back, she wanted to make sure I knew that those payments were still available to me, that she was just going to keep them in her checking account for safekeeping in case I ever needed them back. She refused to charge me interest, but I paid it that way, anyway… The fact that she thought of being paid back as just a safety net for me says so much about her ability to give, and being somewhat embarrassed because she didn’t want to take my money at all…. and she died before I was finished paying it off, which horrifies me to this day, because being able to pay back her kindness was a sense of accomplishment for me. I was trying to get it done as quickly as possible, paying 10% of the loan every month, not because I didn’t owe more to my medical debt, but because she was the most important and deserved to be paid back first. I never wanted her to think that I’d forgotten the huge gift she gave me, her recognition that everyone needs help now and again. I just have to focus on the fact that I was able to pay as much as I could, as fast as I could, and for her, that was enough.
  • I am ashamed that I’ve lost out on all the mother wisdom she had to give me, because I didn’t show up. Even when I was in front of her, I was always lost in my own head.
  • My favorite memory of her is that she always assumed that if it plugged into the wall, as an IT person I knew how to fix it. She called me when her printer was broken, her cable box was on the fritz, she needed help setting the timer on her VCR, she needed her router locked down and help connecting to wi-fi, she needed help with her fancy new alarm clock. The reason this is uproariously funny is that she also thought I could do these things over the phone from 1835 miles away. The miracle is that most of the time, I could.
  • She always sent me clothes that looked ridiculous on me that I only wore in front of her. She got an A for effort, and as I got older, she picked out more and more things I actually liked, because she was listening.
  • She would regale me with stories of my childhood, and every year on my birthday she would call me at 9:59 AM and tell me the story of my birth. I knew it by heart, and we’d tell it together. The funniest part was her disdain at all the women who were screaming. She thought it was better to bite her pillow to grin and bear it, so that she did not become one of the women you could hear down the hallway.
  • It became a recurring theme, waging cold war with quiet charm. There was never a time in which she wasn’t Southern and polite, even when she was seething inside.
  • For instance, when she was mad at me for cutting up at church, she would pinch my hand until there were tears coming down my face and I stopped laughing butt-quick, because when something funny happened at church, because it was inappropriate and I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. I would just lose it and not be able to get it back together because again, if it was inappropriate to laugh, it made me laugh even harder.
  • There was never a time in my life that I wasn’t grateful I became a soprano and she was an alto, because once that happened, her pinches couldn’t reach me. That began a series of looks that could’ve killed. Her heart was in the right place, that all eyes were on me and I needed to act the part.
  • I was spanked as a child, and it was a victory when I got too big to spank, wriggling out of it to the tune of you just wait until your father gets home.
  • She never gave me a curfew when I was an older teenager, figuring that since all my friends had curfews, I’d just get bored and come home. She was never wrong.
  • She didn’t always agree with the gay thing, but that didn’t stop her from giving Kathleen and Dana as big of a present as she gave me…. with birthdays as well, especially considering that she shared a birthday with Dana and it was easy to remember.
  • She was messy for Lindsay’s and my entire childhood, and we thought it was hilarious the way that when people were coming over, it was a series of stuffing everything into closets and under the bed. I have kept up this tradition, for better or for worse. When she moved in with Forbes, there was never anything out of place, and one time Lindsay made me double over with laughter to the point I almost didn’t recover… we were on the phone and she said, “remember when mom was messy?” I literally thought I was going to die of laughter, because asphyxiation is no joke.
  • The only time I remember her losing it like that was when we went to see Beaches at the tiny theater in Daingerfield, TX. There was this woman who was crying so hard that she was literally honking into her Kleenex, and she couldn’t keep it together. The last thing she wanted to do was embarrass this poor lady, so again, it was a biting a pillow sort of situation. I, however, was shaking with tears and snot pouring down my face and shaking uncontrollably trying to keep sound from coming out. It did not work.
  • The most profound thing I learned from her was while we were working together. I’d get stage fright and skip a measure or something, and she’d skip it right with me, always giving me the feeling that no matter how bad things got, she’d be there to catch me.
  • My grandmother had a series of strokes that left her with dementia, and one of the things that her physical therapist recommended was music to get the different parts of her neurons to reconnect. She watched one of these sessions, and came to me with tears in her eyes, saying, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard my mother sing.
  • Mother’s Day was always loaded for her, too, because my grandfather died that weekend, and it got worse when her own mother died. I tried the best I could to be extraordinarily compassionate, but at the same time, had no frame of reference for her pain. This year, I am bathed in it.
  • I honestly thought I would be a mother by now, able to appreciate her sacrifices with my own frames of reference. If it ever happens, which I am slowly starting to doubt, but it’s not impossible, I’ll just have to take all I learned from her… and at the same time, having tiny moments of what’s the point in having children if she’s not there to see them? In my best moments, I think that having children is another one of those “kicking the shit out of Option B” moments that Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant said I’d get. I also learned from her that biology doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I am still very sorry that she didn’t get to see a grandchild that had her own features, parts of her personality…. perhaps the ability to get lost under any circumstances, even with a GPS.
  • There was never a time in my life that she wasn’t up for a manicure, because even when I am dressed in my favorite “cute boy” clothes, I still wanted strong, smooth nails with either outrageous colors or airbrush designs. For Mother’s Day one year, I got my nails painted black and had the white piano keys airbrushed over the top.
  • I was always her page turner, a job that made me feel very important… well, right up until I turned two pages at once and had to scramble to get her to the right place during the two measures she had memorized.
  • She didn’t like coffee until she was 45, and with that palate change came many trips to Starbucks…. and technically, she liked making coffee at home and buying enough mocha peppermint powdered creamer at Christmas to last her the whole year. She mostly went to Starbucks because it was one of my favorite places and not hers…. just another example of how she made me feel important.
  • She taught me how to find all the good stuff at Dollar Tree, and where it was important to splurge. I have never departed from this advice. For instance, it was where I bought all my Martini glasses, because I had a knack for knocking them over and exploding them into a thousand pieces. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I have spilled more Martinis than I’ve drunk.
  • Speaking of drinks, our thing was discussing sodas. She didn’t like alcohol that much, and not because of any moral obligation to be sober. She just didn’t like the taste of it. We were over the moon about Dr Pepper 10, because she was a fanatic about her diet. It was a sad day for me when she switched from Diet Coke to Coke Zero, because you cannot imagine how many Diet Cokes we’d shared together over the years. I believe it is the official drink of all musicians, particularly sopranos.
    • How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? Two- one to drink the Diet Coke and one to go get the accompanist to do it.
    • That joke works on so many levels because I’m a soprano and my mother WAS my accompanist. This link is to the concerto movement I played my ninth grade year for Solo & Ensemble. I don’t think I’ve ever been better than that…. I never made it to being able to play the whole thing. 🙂

I can only hope that the children that come after me have a better appreciation of how important it is to show up for their moms the way they show up for you. I could have been a much better daughter than I actually was, but the thing is that we were starting to become that mother/daughter team when her life was cut short. I can be grateful that we started the process and angry it wasn’t finished at the same time. Believe me that the possibility of losing your mother in an instant is real, the thing you never expect because there was still so much to live through together.

So, if I have any advice for which you did not ask, remember that tomorrow is never promised. You will not all get the time to prepare that you need. There are those of you that will grieve loss and possibility all at the same time…. picking up the pieces of the life you thought you’d have and trying to turn them into the life you will.

Option B, for all the miracles it holds, will at least for a time render you speechless, walking through the haze of not being able to remember even the simplest things. For me, at least right now, it shows itself in chores. Something will be incredibly dirty, and miraculously clean without having any idea where you were while it was happening. What seems like a moment lost in your own head could, in reality, be hours on end.

It also happens with driving. I use my GPS even in my own neighborhood, because if I get lost in thought, I will either end up in a familiar place with no idea how I got there, or forgetting where I was going altogether. “Recalculating” is a common theme of my life, in all areas…. but literally missing a turn and having to wind my way back around to where I need to go.

Figuratively, I think this is self-explanatory.

Dream Big (Originally Posted as a Facebook Note June 2012)

It was a bright, sunny Sunday morning the first time I realized I had feelings for women. I was about 12 or 13, and I’d made a friend who was older and also a lesbian (but I didn’t know it at the time… there were rumors). In my infinite wisdom at that age, I decided to call her on it. I told her that people had confronted me and told me that she was gay. She looked at me straight on, angrily, thoughtfully, and said, “how would you like it if people said that about you one day?”

In that moment, I knew they would.

I was too young to know what I was getting myself into. How hard it would be, how alienating it already was, because when I came out to myself, I didn’t have any peers. I just felt like a freak-of-nature seventh grader with no one to tell that was my own age. I had to walk this path by myself, and hope that it would work out. Maybe by the time I got to college, I’d be ok.

I didn’t want to tell my parents, but that was a lost cause, because they could see it. It’s not like I went to great lengths to hide it, because I couldn’t. It was the equivalent of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail… “How do you know she’s a lesbian?” “SHE LOOKS LIKE ONE!”

Interestingly enough, though, I went on to date boys just like all the other girls I knew. The other girls, though, didn’t have as cool a boyfriend as I did. As far as 7th and 8th grade boys go, he was the absolute cream of the crop. Tall, handsome, athletic, full of life and hilariously funny. I called his parents “mom” and “dad,” and he called mine that, too. If it hadn’t been for the whole lesbian thing, which I see as a flaw in a heterosexual relationship, I would have married that boy in fifteen minutes. It would have been a great story- meeting at 7th grade band camp and ending up together for the rest of our lives.

All this is to say that I didn’t get my love of women from my hatred of men, which was a common stereotype back in those days. I was also never molested as a child, another wildly inaccurate stereotype. However, I can’t really be mad about that. When I was growing up, not many people knew a whole lot about being gay. A LOT of people thought that if you said you were gay, that was admitting you were going to grow up to be a pedophile. Even more people thought that being gay was an illness. It has been a long time in the making that so few people in our society think that now.

(As an aside, I suppose it finally clicked for most people that you can’t catch the gay like a common cold.)

High school was a nightmare, all four years. For starters, I couldn’t pay attention worth a damn. I was lost in my own head, thinking about what it would take to make myself feel normal. I didn’t mean that I wanted to be straight. I meant that I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. Because I wasn’t, I was teased a lot.

There was a guy in orchestra that tormented me by standing behind the kettle drums and holding up Playboy centerfolds.

There was a girl who, when I told her I had a crush on her, threw up.

There was a group of kids who marched out to where I was sitting at lunch and screamed Bible verses at me.

Here’s the kicker. My first two years of high school were at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts. I know, right? You’d think that I would have gotten a little more tolerance. The flip side of the coin is that I’m not sure they were making fun of me because I was gay. I think they were making fun of me because I was a very easy target- I was so scared. If I’d had the guts, I probably could have stopped have stopped the bullying with a well-placed “yeah, I’m gay. What’s it to you? F@#$ off.” But I didn’t. I never stood up for myself, because again, I felt like it was all my fault. I was a freak-of-nature ninth grader now.

My luck changed when we moved to the ‘burbs. I know, I know. How is that even possible? I went back into a very large closet, and didn’t say anything to anyone. I had a friend named Gary who would pick me up for school in the morning and hang out at my house in the afternoon. People automatically thought he was my boyfriend, and I didn’t do anything to correct it.

Lying caught up to me at my junior Homecoming dance. Gary was coming to pick me up, would be there any second, and I was in my bedroom having a panic attack. And by panic attack, I am not kidding. I mean shortness of breath/Chevrolet on your chest panic attack.

When I recovered, we went to the dance, and I actually had a really good time. But there was this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this wasn’t the way I wanted the school dance to go down. That I would have rather stayed home than just lie. In the end, I decided that Gary was ok with just being friends, and that I’d overreacted.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. When I finally came out to him, HE had a panic attack and said that he had wanted to follow me to college and that one day, I’d want to get married. Now, keep in mind that while I’d never corrected others’ impressions of me, I’d never led Gary on, either. Not once did I ever try to be affectionate with him- the best I could do was an awkward hug. Not because I didn’t love him as a friend, but because I didn’t ever want to give him the impression that we were a thing.

And then there was David (name changed to protect identity). David was probably the closest thing to love that I found at my high school, because the first day we ever talked, he said, “why do you wear those rainbow rings around your neck?” He later told me that he thought I might be clueless, because he didn’t know how in the hell someone would get away with wearing Pride rings to high school. When school let out (and keep in mind, I’d just met this guy that morning), we jumped in the car and headed to the gay area of Houston… because back then, there was only one.

We sat in front of Crossroads bookstore and had coffee, which was pretty much our only option, being under 21. Then, we went shopping at Lobo. I mention that he was the closest thing to love I found at Clements, because he was the first person to look at me the right way. The first person that made me feel like I was normal and there was nothing crazy about going to a gay bookstore rather than a straight one.

It’s a great love that continues to this day, all because he wanted to talk to the girl who was brave enough to admit she was gay in some uptight, rich, conservative suburb.

A few days later, I met my first girlfriend. That was a relationship in which “she’s just not that into you” would have been great to hear at the beginning. I put up with a lot of bad behavior simply because I was so excited to have a girlfriend in the first place. She’s not really part of the story so much except to say that in the abyss that was my self-esteem, I really felt like I was getting sieged from all sides.

I was right about college. There, I could just be me. The weight of having to carry around a secret had lifted, and my life wasn’t any less normal than anyone else’s.

Things have come so far, so fast, that many of you will never have the same experiences I did, and that’s a good thing. The amazing thing about being 34 is getting to see younger people grow up without the stigma that I did. Because believe me, you are entirely, wonderfully normal.

For those of you who are getting bullied, and it seems like it will never stop, keep telling adults until you find one that will go to bat for you. If it’s not your parents, it might be your aunts and uncles. If it’s not your parents, it might be a close family friend. Just keep talking… and just keep believing that it gets better.

There’s so much to look forward to after high school. The world is wide open. If you had a really crappy high school experience, go to college out of state. There are plenty of GLBT scholarships available which will make your schooling free or low-cost for your parents.

If you have the means, take off for Europe (or anywhere else that will give you a sense of what the rest of the world is like). Get out of that small emotional space you lived in as a teenager, and broaden into the person you want to become. That person isn’t based on your high school self. That person is based on all your hopes and dreams.

Dream big. Don’t let the experience that was “growing up gay” color your view of the world, because it will… IF YOU LET IT. Believe that there are good things out there that you haven’t discovered yet, and don’t ever lose your sense of wonder. Life is too short to live and work where you feel unwelcome.

Here’s the story that changed my attitude about where I should live: one of my coworkers was talking about a baby, and when she finished, she looked over at me and said, “I guess you can talk to us about your cats like that.” What did that even mean? That I was barren? That she thought my cats were as important to me as children? Let’s be clear. I like cats, but I am not a cat lady.

So I packed up and moved to Oregon, where life has been extraordinarily hard at times. But here’s the thing. All of my problems became regular life issues, and I’ve never had to lose an ounce of sleep over coming out.

In short, I’m just normal.