The Last Little Bit

With all of the holiday craziness, it has been nearly impossible to find time to write. Now that I am back home in DC, I am getting in one last entry before the new year starts. It’s probably not going to be Hemingway, but good writing has never been the focal point of this site. It’s always nice when it happens, but the true nature is just to catalogue what has happened so I have a written record. You matter, but not as much as I do. I’m not even going to ask if that’s okay, because I can be codependent enough without asking “international television” their opinion (if you’re just joining us, that’s my nickname for all the “Fanagans-” it’s funny #crickets).

It has not been a good year, but it hasn’t been a bad one, either. I continue to learn more about myself every day, as well as escaping grief through copious amounts of reading. Through novels, I have traveled overseas, mostly to the Middle East. I read a ton on fictional intelligence (both govvie and non), because it is the one thing that will get me completely “out of my element, Donnie.” I don’t think as fast on my feet as Jane Whitefield, Atticus Kodiak, or Kathy Mallory… but thanks to them, I can at least rip them off verbatim should I ever get into a bit of a situation. For instance, I have learned that hair dye and different glasses (possibly a hat) are enough to fool nearly everyone in the world. 😛

For Christmas, I got a new novel called The Murderer’s Daughter, which I was told to read by the fire in my pajamas. I followed those directions explicitly, and enjoyed the hell out of myself after the hard-yet-amazing experience of decorating my mother’s grave for Christmas. My sister even found treble clef ornaments for “Fred,” my name for the tree that sits in front of her headstone.

Last year, when my mother had just died in October, I did not allow Christmas to happen. I did not wait for the baby, I did not count on new hope, I did not see magic in any form. I, in fact, went to sleep on Christmas Eve and did not wake up until Christmas Day was almost over. I didn’t get together with friends, and opened my presents alone in my room. In my devastation, I didn’t know what else to do, and nothing else felt right. I’d have ideas, and then think, “nah.” I didn’t sleep because I was tired. I slept because nothing else lifted me out of my pain. In retrospect, I should have gone to help the homeless or to Arlington National Cemetery, because if there is anything I have learned this year, a reminder that I’m not the only one who has ever experienced tragedy is powerful. But, again, I learned that this year. Last year, I was barely strong enough to go downstairs, much less leave the house… and by this year, I mean over Christmas at home, in the cemetery where my mother is buried, I found a set of three gravestones. They were all children who’d been burned up in a house fire.

Not only did it remind me not to be so egocentric, Lindsay reminded me that when our house caught fire, my mother could not find me, because I’d run to the neighbors’ house to call 911. Without even thinking about it, she sprinted into the burning house, because that’s what mothers do.

In our house fire, no one was hurt physically, but we all carry different sorts of psychological trauma from it. How could we not? It has faded mightily since December 20th, 1990, but there are certain things that stick with me, like my parents scrambling to buy new Christmas presents and thinking that all my birthday presents, my computer, and my clothes were gone. In fact, that last one knocked me out…. I didn’t have any clothes.

But like all tragedies, there were positive lessons, too. For instance, I do not give a rat’s ass about any of my property. My treasure lies in my relationships, which I often mess up for a whole host of reasons, but I keep trying to get them right, because I know a laptop won’t love me back.

2017 was all about learning to love again, after completely shutting down and refusing to emote unless I was writing. I could love as an idea, but I could not as a verb. Many people reached out to me which resulted in a lot of unanswered calls, texts, and e-mails. The only person I’d get back to immediately (or as immediately as I could) was my dad, because I felt so guilty that I’d shut out my mom in my depression that I absolutely could not alienate another parent. But everyone else just got the short end of the stick, because I didn’t have anything to give. Everything in my cup was the dregs from Pandora’s box.

Slowly, surely, things have changed… are changing.

This year, I got to wait for four babies, the eternal living Christ and three new characters to “Stories” as yet unnamed…. they’re still living in their first apartments, and won’t be evicted til Spring. I can’t name their parents because the news isn’t public, but I can tell you that two of them are sharing the same “bedroom.”

2018 is looking better and better every day, because there is no greater news than birth after dealing with death. I am now more and more excited to live my own life, rather than through the fictional pictures novels create.

It’s time.

#prayingonthespaces

Cheese!

Today was long and fruitful. About 13 years ago, I was so poor I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and didn’t want to ask anyone for help. I thought I had something stuck to my front tooth, and with no money for dentistry, tried to pop it off with a knife. In my infinite wisdom, I realized right after I’d done it that I’d actually knocked off a piece of plaque and most of the enamel. I’ve been walking around with the nerve exposed, worrying hysterically that it was going to fall out, every day since… until now.

My dad looked at my teeth and did some research, finding out that not only had my in-home surgery fucked up that one tooth, taking Lamictal this long was making my whole mouth worse, and it would continue to deteriorate, because I do not have the luxury to stop the medication that keeps me as sane as I can achieve.

He got on the phone and found a dentist that was open today, and she filled all my cavities, closed the open nerve on my front tooth, and rendered me into a puddle as I genuinely smiled for the first time in years without hatred of it. Her work is beautiful, and I feel almost glamorous. I say “almost” because I’m not sure that tomboys ever get all the way there. I suppose I am closer to dapper, what with my nerdy black Ira Glasses and black leather shoes, which I had shined at DCA.

I actually love to shine my own shoes, I was just running short on time. I asked the woman how much it would be, and she didn’t speak any English, so I flipped into Spanish. “Ocho,” she replied. The man in the chair next to me said, “how much did she say it would be?” Out loud, I said, “eight.” My inner monologue said, it’s been a long time since SOMEBODY’s watched Sesame Street. Additionally, this experience was my first in DC as a white person where a Spanish speaker didn’t look at me like I had three heads when they heard Spanish coming out of my mouth. It makes sense. In an airport, lots of people are going to be able to speak lots of languages. When I’ve been in shops that cater to the Hispanic community or, once, talking to a janitor in a mall, the surprise has been almost tangible. I get the feeling that Maryland, DC, and Virginia are more segregated that way. In Texas, it’s so much easier to get by if you at least know a few basics.

I took two years of Spanish in school, but that’s not really where I learned it. When my father was a pastor, there were people in the church who’d been organizing mission trips to Reynosa for years, and I went with them three times… two summers in a row and a winter break in between them. Nothing helped me more than immersion. After that, I began shopping in stores and eating in restaurants in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, because otherwise, I didn’t have anywhere to practice. Because of these mission trips, I’m one of the few people in my Houston crew that can order at a taqueria without using the number next to the picture. 😛

One of the funniest things that’s happened to me recently regarding speaking Spanish is that I was chatting online in a room that wouldn’t allow special characters….. so I told someone that I’d studied two anuses of Spanish in school and now had 40 anuses…. that’s because in Spanish, you don’t say “I’m 40 years old,” you say, “I have 40 years.” So, for future reference, grammar nazis, ano means “anus.” Año means year. The difference in pronunciation is “ano” and “anyo.” Tengo cuarenta años, pero tengo solamente uno ano…. luckily. No one has ever managed to literally rip me a new one.

Having a family that lives in Texas is a beautiful thing, because even though I don’t live here, I still get opportunities occasionally to flex my Spanish-speaking mind. I actually prefer it to English, it’s just that I’m not fluent in Spanish and have to resort to English. If you are wondering why I’d say something like “I prefer Spanish” as a native English speaker, it’s that it’s so much simpler. All verbs are conjugated the same way, so the conjugation of the verb also contains about whom you are speaking as well, whether it’s yourself or others. Everything is pronounced exactly like it’s spelled- there are no silent letters or any of the other oddities we put up with in a language that comes from everywhere else. For instance, Honore de Balzac said that “60 percent of English is French badly pronounced.” And even though I prefer Spanish, I thank God I was born an English speaker, because I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to figure it out later. I’d stare at a word like “knife” for hours before throwing up my hands and screaming.

It’s a life goal to become fluent in Spanish, because I’ve often thought about retiring with the 17,000 other gringos in Enseñada. But that was before I moved to DC, and haven’t thought about moving anywhere since. As a poli sci major, it means something to me to be in the same city as the original Supreme Court. In terms of the United States, I live where Eddie Izzard would say “the history comes from.” It means something to me to live inside the national news.

I do, however, enjoy Houston in small doses. Being a Texan is, for me, akin to having brown eyes or being gay. It defines part of who I am…. and not quite the same as just being Southern. Texas was once its own country, and we have never forgotten it. For instance, I doubt you ever really have to ask someone if they’re from Texas. It’ll come up in conversation quickly.

This trip, I haven’t done anything uniquely Texan except drink soda from H-E-B. Oh, I take that back. I did remember the Alamo yesterday.

Today, after my hours of dental work were done, I went with my dad, stepmom, and one of their friends to see The Last Jedi. I’m going to have to see it again, because I honestly have no idea how I feel about it. I was high on pain meds and distracted by all the activity around me because we were in one of those theaters that serve food, so there were literally waiters walking in front of me while I was trying to concentrate… and the couple next to me just WOULD NOT SHUT UP. They were just aggressively white, treating the theater like they were in their living room. People like this are the main reason I go to movies when no one else is going to be there and don’t take anyone with me. I like to watch movies in complete silence…. and just like my mother, I will grin and bear it in full theaters right up until I just cannot even, trying in vain to get people to stop talking with an authoritative stare. The reason I try The Look™ first is that sometimes actually saying to people that you wished they’d stop talking is more trouble than it’s worth. They’ll start talking louder just because they know it annoys you, they’ll get confrontational, etc. Very few people, in my experience, are humble about realizing they’ve inconvenienced someone else.

As I get older, I find more and more things that make me feel like I’m turning into my mother, which was mortifying while she was still alive and priceless now.

Speaking of my mother, my father is taking me to meet my sister at the cemetery tomorrow morning, both because I don’t have a rental car and because he’s never seen her grave site. Lindsay wants to decorate Fred (the tree next to her headstone) for Christmas, and then we’re going to go see a movie or something. Death and grief don’t seem so bad in the cemetery, because it really does make me feel closer to my mother to be there, and the place itself is soothing and serene.

Then, at some point, I need to wrap the presents I bought. Because there are so many kids in my family (four of us, all with spouses except me), we do secret Santa. I got Mathew, Lindsay’s husband, and he is hopefully going to flip his shit. I am so excited to give him his gift that it will take every bit of strength I have not to shove it at him as he walks through the door. Giving presents is my favorite thing in the whole world. I love it 20 times more than getting them. I enjoy the hunt, the thing that will make people say, “how did you know?” or “this is totally me.” Though I realize how useful Amazon Wish Lists can be, especially because you might get someone something they already have, I sometimes think it takes away from the moment someone else realizes that you actually do listen to them, know them, etc.

I also really enjoy giving books now, because e-books always arrive on time and you can buy them the day of. Plus, you don’t have to have a physical Kindle. Kindle is also an app for every mobile device.

Sometimes I give people books I haven’t read, but have read the synopsis and think it would be something they would like. Sometimes I give a copy of my favorite book of the moment, just to be able to share it with someone else.

Alternatively, Kindle is the most dangerous of all shopping experiences, because in a lot of cases, a book series starts with a free “dime bag” and when you’re in the moment of “OH MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!” a pop-up will appear saying that you can buy the next one for $4.99. There are two series I’ve binged that way this year- The Face on the Milk Carton and Fat Vampire. I am sure they won’t be the last in the coming years…. although right now I am really into documentaries and it’s taking away a lot of my time from reading. It goes in cycles. Sometimes I need the TV on for “company” and sometimes I crave complete silence. I just don’t want to watch junk TV. I want to learn something, because I like Knowing Stuff.™

It makes me smile, the kind where my beautiful teeth show.

Nothing

Today, I did nothing. Not the kind of nothing that means wrapped in the covers. The kind of nothing where my dad had to take care of a few things and I was just the running buddy who held stuff. I have a big backpack, and I have a lot of practice. My main job as a PK was to ride along with my dad and hold stuff. Maybe I should figure out a way to work it into my resume. Great at following people around and when they say, “will you hold this?,” will always say “yes.” I was almost to body man level when I forgot the most important thing. We were transferring everything from my dad’s rental car to his actual car because it was finally finished at the shop. His checkbook had fallen into a crevice, and it was the only thing I didn’t see. I did get the empty Fritos bag, though, so I got that goin’ for me.

Right now he’s at rehearsal for Christmas Eve services, but before he left, he let me play his brand new horn. I was amazed- I was playing better than I had in years, because the horn was designed to be able to do more with less air. Apparently, I am less full of hot air than I used to be, so the notes floated off effortlessly, even though I can’t remember the last time I even thought about my embouchure. I wasn’t trying for crazy high notes or anything. Those days are gone. But I remembered how to get that fat, lazy tone I had in high school, the kind you can fit inside if you close your eyes. My dad asked me if I wanted to come with him and play. I ultimately declined, but I thought about it. Playing on the brass line at Second Baptist is a lot of fun, because even if I have extreme theological differences with other brass players, they won’t come up. We’re too busy busting each other’s balls. That’s so universal it’s a light bulb joke.

How many trumpet players does it take to change a light bulb?

Five. One to actually change the bulb and four more to stand around and tell him/her how much better they could have done it.

I swear to Christ, trumpet players don’t mentally age past fifteen when their horns are in their hands.

I just knew that even if a few notes came out perfectly, that didn’t mean I had enough endurance to last a whole rehearsal, much less a performance, and the balance would be different if I was there for one and not the other. I didn’t even take a horn to DC, not having anywhere to practice and wanting to focus solely on singing, anyway. Now, I’m not even doing that. I should, though. I was doing some really good work back in the day, amazed at how my voice teacher was able to unlock me into a solo artist when before, I’d always felt like a trumpet player who faked it….. even though I started singing when I was three, and didn’t pick up trumpet until I was 11. Well, technically I was 12 or 13. My first year in band, I played the baritone/euphonium, because the mouthpiece was a lot bigger and therefore, did not press on my braces. Once the braces were off, I switched instruments- mostly because the euphonium was almost bigger than me.

I was an incredible trumpet player alone in a practice room, but I got stage fright so badly that it’s a miracle anyone ever asked me to play for anything. I’d also get so nervous that I’d get lost, and once, during a solo, I came in a measure early. The entire band caught me so that no one would notice, and the band director said he wished he could take them all out for a beer afterward. With singing, though, I am ten times more confident, and it shows. I’m not sure I can count any better, though. 😛

It feels weird not to be singing anywhere for Christmas, but I am glad to be free of the insane rehearsal schedule this year, just sitting back and watching. Advent and Christmas are all about watching, anyway. This year, I’m just taking it literally.

Doing nothing, but not the kind that means wrapped in the covers.

 

A40

A 38 and A 40 were my seat assignments- the first from National to Midway, the second from Midway to Hobby. I did not expect this in the slightest. Unbeknownst to me, my dad had added Early Bird check-in to my ticket. On the first flight, I sat in the bulkhead for the extra legroom. The guy next to me coughed on me twice. By the time we landed in Chicago, I was coughing, too. Apparently, germs are a thing.

I mean, of course I know they exist. I just didn’t know how fast they could spread. But then again, it might not have been that guy’s fault at all. It could have been anyone on the plane and all that recycled air.I could also be incorrect in that germs don’t spread that fast, and I was already getting sick before I boarded the plane, anyway, and I just noticed it when a big dude coughed down on my head. If that is the case, I indeed apologize to everyone on board.

On the second flight, I sat on the second row- less legroom, but I did not like having to stow my backpack in the overhead bin and the lack of a tray table. Luckily, that flight was short. In fact, in true Southwest fashion, the announcements were hilarious….. Chicago is our home city and we’re done for the day after this, so you’re officially on the fastest flight in the fleet.

My plane to Hobby was delayed by about an hour and a half, so I did what most people do when they have extra time in Chicago. I went looking for pizza. I did not find classic Chicago style, but it was delicious. I hadn’t had anything but three cups of coffee up to that point, and a simple margherita was the perfect antidote.

I would also like to say that even though I went to Chicago, I am still alive and mostly well (you’re welcome, five readers who get that joke).

I landed at Hobby about 9:30, but by the time I collected my bags, it was closer to 10:00 before my dad and I left for Sugar Land. He took me through downtown and showed me all the Christmas lights, the new additions to the hospital where Angela works, and the performing arts center that’s basically on our street. So much has changed since the last time I was here. When I came to Houston in October, I didn’t come to Sugar Land at all. It’s nice to see how much the city has grown and changed- I hardly recognized it.

When we got to the house, my dad showed me my room. It is painted 18% grey, the only color that’s completely neutral in photographs, because it’s Angela’s office/studio… or, at least, it used to be. I seem to remember a few years ago Angela saying that the dogs were jumping out the window in her studio, and I was very confused, hoping they weren’t injured. I didn’t know that since the studio had moved, the window she was talking about was a foot off the floor. I thought they were jumping out the second story.

The paint is very close to my favorite color, which is also grey, but a bit darker. I don’t know the percentage, but it’s #333333 for HTML purposes and you can Google it, because I’m typing on a tablet and it’s a pain in the ass to look it up for you. 😛

My dad was so sweet- he put a coffee machine and a refrigerator in my room, stocked with HEB Diet Wild Red, one of the things I actually miss about living here. If HEB existed in the DMV, I think the region would be closer to divinity than it already is. Technically, I just want a Central Market within walking distance of my house. That’s probably too much to ask, but a girl can dream.

In addition to having my favorite sodas cold, my dad made sure that I had a Roku that tapped into the cable so I have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and………. wait for it……… BBC AMERICA!!!!!! There’s a Doctor Who marathon running right now, which I have turned off and am sitting in the quiet. Otherwise, I will just watch it all night…. Just one more episode…. one more….. one more…. oh, look… now the sun’s up. I made sure that either my dad or Lindsay had BBCA because I cannot miss the Christmas special. They’re always good, but this year’s has a regeneration. I have a very good feeling that Jodie Whitaker isn’t going to pop onto the screen with Alex Kingston saying, “hello, sweetie,” but again, a girl can dream.

River Song is one of my favorite characters because I’ve had a celebrity crush on Alex Kingston since ER. I don’t know whether I’ll end up feeling the same way about Jodie or not- in Broadchurch, she was in grief the whole time, and though my heart bled watching her on screen, I tend to crush out on people who’ve got that humor thing down. There’s just not a whole lot of room for funny when your son dies in the first episode. She was, however, brilliant in the role, and because of that pain, I can totally see The Doctor’s history weighing on her already. I want to say for the record that I have high hopes for Jodie as The Doctor, not The First Female Doctor. That’s cool and all, but I don’t think it’s the radical change people think it’s going to be, because I’d be very surprised if The Doctor’s new gender, and, by extension, sexual orientation, is even made an issue. Doctor Who is about adventure, and hardly ever romance, anyway. It is more about deep and loyal friendships, and those happen with any combination of genders.

I would, however, like to see The Doctor as a wife. But that’s just my own personal taste. There may not be a way to bring River Song back, but with a time travel show, who knows? I just think it’s important to show that when you fall in love with a personality, outward appearance ceases to matter.

There are things that matter so much more, like a coffee machine in my room.

A38

Though Dana and I are divorced now, there are still hilarious stories that run through my mind all the time when I think of her. Today it was Southwest Airlines.

I am sure that you are all familiar with the Southwest cattle car boarding process. You have to check in 24 hours before your flight time, and the closer you are to that exact period, the closer to the front you are in line. Every. Single. Time. Dana and I flew anywhere, she would sit at the computer with her hand on the mouse watching the seconds tick down…. Travel was literally the only time I ever saw her become a Type A personality. By the time it was ten seconds til, she was practically borderline diarrhea trying to outmaneuver the other 200 or so passengers. She’d hit that button like she was playing Call of Duty….. and God help us if she forgot and we were in the C group. But I think in the entire 7 years and change we lived together, she forgot once. Or maybe I was in charge and I’m ALWAYS Type B, so it could have been ALL. MY. FAULT….. the more likely scenario.

I am laughing so hard that tears are coming to my eyes remembering every time I had to “walk” through an airport with Dana, because it was more like trying to keep up with a hurricane.

I just want to get there early enough to go through security, and outside of that, I don’t care. I don’t care who sits next to me, I don’t care what boarding group I’m in,  I don’t care if I end up in a middle seat, I don’t care how early I get to the gate, because boarding takes forfriggingever anyway……….. Especially after having worked in an airport (I was a prep/line cook in a pub at PDX), my objective is just to be the most laid back, friendly passenger ever.

The story that has stuck with me the most from that time is the woman that missed three flights in a row from being too drunk. Eventually, security came and got her, and probably sent her home. As far as I’m aware, there’s not a drunk tank in that airport, although there is good coffee. In my experience, however, coffee does not make one sober up. Coffee makes one make stupid decisions much faster. It’s very effective.

Dana and I actually both worked in the same pub, because it had two locations in different terminals. I think we worked together once or twice, but mostly it was comparing notes at the end of the day… and a competition on how many famous people we’d met, which Dana always won.

When Grimm was at the height of its popularity, the stars would come through a lot. Silas Weir Mitchell (Monroe) made an appearance in Dana’s terminal, and the conversation ran thusly:

Dana: My wife wanted me to tell you that she punches me every time she sees your car.
Silas: ……………
Silas: OH! BECAUSE IT’S A YELLOW BUG!!!!

Diane and Susan worked with Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini for years- Diane because of music, Susan because when Thomas was young, he worked with her at the ACLU. I begged Diane to introduce me, and she didn’t.

One day this guy walks into my pub and tries to buy two San Pellegrinos. I don’t have access to the cash register, so I tell him that the waitstaff will be right with him. While I’m standing there, the conversation runs thusly:

Leslie: Do people ever tell you that you look like Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini?
Random Dude: ………………
Leslie: Oh my God. You are Thomas Lauderdale, aren’t you?
Thomas: ::wink:: ::blush::

As he walked away, I realized that duh, of course it was Thomas just because of the way he was dressed, which is completely unique and sassy. I didn’t beat myself up too bad- I’ve felt dumber.

The other story I remember as if it were yesterday was actually a conversation between one of the waitresses and me. I didn’t cry in the moment, but I did in the debriefing. The setup is that in our restaurant, there’s a mother/daughter team who live together, work together, and are seriously glued at the hip….. The conversation runs thusly:

Waitress: So, my mother and I were driving home yesterday and she asked me if I’d heard about some sort of explosion overseas. I don’t remember what country. I looked at her like she had three heads. When did my mother get interested in current events? I asked her about it, and she said, “oh, Leslie listens to NPR in the back all day.”
Leslie: (laughing) It’s true. I do.
Waitress: (tears in her eyes) Leslie, thank you for educating my mother.

I didn’t even know what to say, I was so touched. I was just doing my own thing, being all me, all the time. Most of the time, I worked on weekends, and I preferred Wait, Wait to music while I was slicing five pounds of tomatoes (oh, GOD. The acid burns…..).

One of the other cooks made me laugh when she said, well, it beats the hell out of Tejano. My answer to that was to start singing No Te Vayas….. LOUDLY. Hey, you work in a kitchen long enough, you memorize these things, because just like English megastations, they play the hits 68 times a week. Of course, as a Texan who speaks only passable “Spanglish,” I only know about half of what it’s saying, but I get the gist. The only part I really understand is the refrain.

But no, do not go!
Do not leave me without your love!
I need to feel again
The fire of your passion.

But no, do not go!
Do not be cruel with my heart!
But no, do not go!
Do not leave me a sad goodbye!

I can just picture him running through an airport, trying to keep up with a hurricane.

Surprise!

Last night I went to Dan & Autumn’s White Elephant Holiday Party. It was great to be back on Leslie Ave., and don’t think I haven’t thought about stealing a street sign more than once. If I win the lottery (it would help if I played), I’m buying that house right from under them (watch your backs, dear hearts……). The only thing that would keep me from doing so, and this is big, is that I love Maryland so much. It’s a bit more liberal without Richmond to deal with…….. but Del Rey is just so damn cool.

25438828_10155716438840272_5761970691560350761_oNot only is it a funky neighborhood reminiscent of Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon, Dan, Autumn, and my cousins, Nathan and Emily, all live there. It’s nice to have so many people I adore at one Metro stop (Braddock, in case you’re wondering… one past National Airport on the Yellow Line…. as if I will ever get used to calling it “Reagan” instead). I took this picture at about 12:30 AM as I was on my way home, and the lights just spoke to me. I remembered my first day in DC, when Dana and I patched our relationship up just enough that I called her just to laugh about the fact that I’d gotten on the train going the wrong way and ended up at Braddock instead of Ft. Totten, where I generally transfer to the Red Line, even though it’s faster at other stops. This is because I am just lazy enough to want a longer trip on one line…. Don’t make me get up…. I’m playing Zen Koi here, man……. WMATA is changing things up a bit, though. You can’t transfer to the Red Line right now because it’s closed for maintenance from Rhode Island all the way to Silver Spring. You either have to take a shuttle bus, or Uber when you’re running short on time. The shuttle buses take twice to three times as long. By the time I got to Silver Spring station, the bus home had stopped running. I got an Uber, and then my phone died. My driver couldn’t find me, and canceled the trip. I ended up at Dave & Buster’s, where the bar has USB plugs, and after about ten minutes, tried for another ride home. This time, it worked. I didn’t get home until after 2:00, but it was completely worth it.

25438879_10155716165570272_5618868711594337185_oHere’s a picture of what I brought to the White Elephant party, which got a big response. I picked it out weeks ago, and the excitement was killing me. It was so hard not to just blab all over everywhere what I was taking, but I didn’t until after it was opened. I am generally not very good at keeping secrets. One of the funniest things that happened between Kathleen and me is that when we lived in Alexandria, for our third anniversary I booked us one of those cruises down the Potomac where you can look at all the monuments at night. I kept the secret for three months, and then, the day we were supposed to go, Kathleen asked me if there was anything she needed to bring, having no idea where we were going. I said, well, you might want to bring a jacket. It’s going to be cold on the boat. I clapped my hand over my mouth and we both fell out laughing. Since that particular dumbass attack, I have had to try a lot harder to hide my nefarious-yet-generous activities, because it just slipped out. I didn’t mean to spoil the surprise, I was just on the “think it, say it” plan, which often leads to very heavy face palms. Although I did spill to my dad and Lindsay, because there was no way it would make it back to DC. Friends and family that are so far away come in handy.

So, I open the present I picked, and tears came to my eyes. From the moment I opened it, I knew it was the perfect present for me. I valiantly tried to stay neutral because the reality was that it could have gotten stolen at any point. I did, however, hide the bag behind my back, hoping that everyone would forget it was there. I don’t know whether it was the tears that did it, or whether my plan worked, but after the gift exchange I told the people who brought the gift why it meant so much to me. Busboys & Poets is my favorite restaurant here, and one of the last meals I shared with my mother was at the Takoma Park location, where I am fairly sure the gift was bought because that’s where they live. In addition, the restaurant gets its name from one of the most famous writers in American history, Langston Hughes, who was the busboy poet.25398107_10155716200820272_144966618721340104_o

As you can see, not only is the gift a coffee mug with the logo, it came with a Langston Hughes finger puppet with a magnet in his hat so you can hang it on the refrigerator, or in my case, the mirror above my dresser. My stepsister, Caitlin, will be happy to know that it holds much less coffee than the Doctor Who tankard she gave me a couple of years ago. I told her that I loved that mug because it holds four cups of coffee at once, and she said, isn’t that a bit much? Well, probably, but between the depression and ADHD, coffee acts as the right amount of stimulant to get me out into the world and give me some modicum of concentration without having to resort to Ritalin, Adderall, Stratera, et al. If I accidentally drink too much, too late, I just take a Tylenol PM. However, I rarely have to resort to that, because in a person with ADHD, stimulants have the opposite effect. They actually make me calmer…. well, as long as it’s just plain cups of coffee and not a Starbucks monstrosity of shots. I don’t need those kinds of highs and lows…. I just have to keep the bus from going under 50 (wow, that reference just aged me). It does not, however, stop the stream-of-consciousness in my head where tangents lead to tangents which lead to tangents and possibly the loss of the original point… but I’ll get back there eventually.

With presents like this, it feels like the universe is telling me that my mother is still right here, with her own nefarious generosity. Who knew that a White Elephant gift would tap into my emotions so deeply? I went to the party expecting to surprise everyone else, but the real surprise was mine alone.

But one more surprise before I go. Dan’s birthday is coming up, and I asked for a minute alone with her to give her a present. When it happened, before I took out the gift, I said, because you travel a lot, I’m giving you jewelry appropriate for a friend. I figure that wherever you go, when you look at it, you’ll think about where you got it and smile… and for that moment, I’ll be with you on your journey. If that sounds too practiced to be off the cuff, it’s because I made the exact same speech to Argo years ago, because was also one of my “dames on a plane.” But just because it was the same speech, that doesn’t mean that the sentiment was any less heartfelt. I don’t know if Argo still wears hers because of our blowouts, but I’d like to think so. I won’t tell you what hers was, only because it might identify her in some way. But I will tell you that Dan’s is a beaded bracelet that looks too fancy for an old school “friendship bracelet,” but it’s the same idea. They’re Tibetan prayer beads, which, to me, represented prayers without wax…. and as I joked with her, “no homo.”

In Michelangelo’s day, sculptors who made mistakes often filled them with wax to cover the impurities. A complete sculpture without doing so were called “sin cera,” Latin for without wax. It is the origin of the word sincere. “Prayers without wax” is code for the deeply felt message of thanks for being that friend who understands me the most since we’ve both lost our mothers, which are different conversations than the ones I have with people who haven’t. It has been amazing to have someone who knows how to catch me when I pitch forward in the haze of loss.

It is just as miraculous to have a gift I will look at every day in order to smile through pain… a sign to me that God moments happen in the most unexpected places.

A surprise, as it were.

In Retrospect…

I’ve thought a lot about what I wrote yesterday, and having my mother die while I was trying to pull myself out of my own head was the best worst thing that could have happened. I got to see up close what it would have done to my family had I succeeded in my quest to get off the grid. I got to see the turmoil, the tears, & all of the absolute misery. I got to see how long it would have taken them to recover, if at all. Moreover, I wouldn’t wish anything I’ve felt on anyone else. It was learning everything I didn’t know I didn’t know.

There are some things that are impossible to experience until they happen. Thinking doesn’t prepare you for even a quarter of the ups and downs of grief. It doesn’t prepare you for either sleepless nights or, for better or for worse, dreaming. Sometimes I see my mother in her casket. At others, we are having the greatest time ever, in future fantasy or in past remembrance.

The first few days are just shock that strikes one dumb and deaf to the world around you… or perhaps it’s more dumb than deaf, because you can hear things, but you cannot comprehend or respond.

It is a delayed response. Everything you’ve heard builds up over time and you explode with the emotions seething under the anesthesia. Even people who are extraordinarily in touch with their emotions cannot possibly process all of it in the moment. And by “it,” I mean the most comforting things people around you have done, and the most stupid. But you can’t really get angry at people who say and do stupid things, because it’s never out of malice.

Very few people really know what to say, or worse, the people you thought would be there for you because you’re supposedly so close disappear, and the ones you never thought you’d hear from are johnny-on-the-spot. But you can’t get angry at that, either, because people tend to retreat out of fear. It takes bravery to confront the grieving…. to show up and say anything, even if it’s “wrong.”

In my own case, I didn’t really want anyone to say anything. I wanted silence and contact comfort. The behaviors I liked the most were friends simply saying, I’m sorry, and then just sitting there with me, an arm around my shoulder, and it being ok when companionable silence replaced conversation.

Everything about the situation was something I couldn’t explain, though through blogging, I tried. I did not have the capacity to reach out to people who would talk back. I only had the ability to write things out into the ether to try and capture how I felt so I could read it later. It didn’t matter to me if it made logical sense; I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Everything I felt about my mother’s death was my own story, and no one could tell it for me. I wrote even when I thought I couldn’t, because I believed in preserving that time in my life for posterity. I put in all of the crying jags, all of the private, angry, “fuck you” moments in my head because I couldn’t stand comments like “she’s in a better place.” Ummmm… I think her better place is with me. I had to bite my tongue through a shit ton of bad theology, and sometimes, still do. It’s also a horrible experience to handle pity. I feel sorry enough for myself without other people drawing attention to it.

I don’t feel sorry for anything in the past, because that’s useless. I feel sorry for everything I won’t get in the future. Actually, I take that back. The one thing I feel sorry about from my past is not being able to say goodbye…. like, what would I have said if I had known it would be our last conversation? Would I have said anything differently? I sort of doubt it. Black humor was never my mom’s thing, and it would have been my natural go-to. Although perhaps it would have become so, because what else can you do about knowing you’re dying but laugh? Sometimes the sadness is just too much. There has to be a release valve somewhere.

For me, that release valve was letting the Mento drop over the Diet Coke here, and for that, I am extremely grateful. Not only do I appreciate my own pensieve, I know this has gone far beyond me, reaching others who’ve lost their own parents. I know for certain that hearing how I navigated grief tapped into the way they did…. and nothing has ever been right or wrong…. just extraordinarily personal.

The one strange thing I’ve noticed in all my ruminations about what getting off the grid would have meant, I have never thought about what it would have been like to lose me. As an introverted writer, I am my own best friend, my own best company. Now I know that I would have lost someone close to me, too. I didn’t put that together until right this moment…. probably because I would have lost my best friend without even knowing it.

I wouldn’t even have thought to say goodbye.