Shelanagans, etc.

As predicted, I’m going to miss Walk-Up Wednesday at the African American Museum of History and Culture. Time, again, has gotten away from me. I even set reminders and they didn’t help. I woke up later than I usually do (0700 as opposed to 0500), and for some reason have the urgency to nest rather than to people. Had I not waited until the last minute, I would have been excited to see the museum, but there was always another Wednesday until now. Perhaps I will wait until someone in my family comes to visit so that we have something touristy to do together that I haven’t done already.

I have found that I am somewhat of an anomaly in D.C., because I’ve met few people around here that are willing to brave the crowds of tourists and would rather stay in their bubbles than constantly “staycation.” In fact, I’ve had roommates in the past that have never been to The Mall for the fireworks on Fourth of July even though they’ve lived here their whole lives. My excuse is that I just haven’t been here long enough to do everything, but it will happen.

One of the reasons I love D.C. so damn much is that it is a wonderland of free stuff to do… not that I’m opposed to paying for good entertainment, but why? The government has seen to it that I get a marvelous education in all sorts of subjects for the cost of a Metro ticket. The only museum that actually cost money that I’m desperate to see is the Newseum, which I saw in 2001 but has had a complete overhaul since. My greatest memory of the old building is standing in front of Helen Thomas’ press pass with tears in my eyes.

A few years before, I’d gotten to meet my hero when she came to University of Houston for a continuing legal education course at the law school, and I went as a reporter for our Information Technology newsletter. I asked her how being a reporter had changed in the age of the Internet, and she told me it was a great question and expounded on the 24-hour news cycle. My hero, badass reporter, told me I asked a great question. Touch me.

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My favorite story that she told involved a Halloween party at The White House, where a pilot tried to crash his plane intentionally on the grounds to kill President Clinton. Luckily, his plan failed miserably, but she said she’d never forget thinking that if he’d succeeded, Vice President Gore would have had to take the Oath of Office dressed as Frankenstein.

My second favorite story involved President Reagan. He invited Helen to take part in breaking ground for the Lebanese Culture Center (or something like it- can’t remember exactly). Then, after it was over, Reagan told her that as she dug the first hole, he could hear the ghosts of all the former presidents saying PUSH HER IN!!!

The first time I came to Washington (to visit), I was in second grade and eight years old. Though I loved The White House, I am infinitely grateful that I’ve come back as an adult so that I can better appreciate everything the city has to offer. For instance, I learned recently that Gore Vidal is buried here, so that’s my next cemetery trip. Perhaps writing advice will come to me by osmosis.

At this point, I’m willing to try anything.

It’s almost time to start writing the review for The 11:05 Murders, and I still owe Finn Bell an Amazon review for Dead Lemons (Finn, if you’re reading this, I haven’t forgotten). My morning coffee has turned into my afternoon coffee for this very reason. Trying to stay sharp despite the medication I’m taking is not effortless. I read somewhere that Lexapro has an effect on cognitive function and thought, great. Something else to make me dumber. I really don’t need help in that department. I also try to stay away from Klonopin unless I’m really distressed because it makes me sleepy. Perhaps that’s the point. It doesn’t solve anxiety so much as make you tired enough you don’t care you’re anxious.

Speaking of which, I need to read Dead Lemons again, and not because of the review. There’s a great therapist character in it with solid advice that I’d like to go back over. I’d tell you what it is, but I want you to buy the book.

Technically, I want you to buy all the books I mention, because then I’ll be able to discuss them with people who already know the end and I’m not responsible for spoiling the whole thing.

A great discussion about a book might make up for not going to the museum.

Right now, though, Brian O’Hare and Finn Bell are counting on me, so perhaps waiting is for the best. My sister and Pri Diddy are both coming to town soon, and who knows what “shelanagans” we’ll create. I would stay tuned if I were you.

I know I will.

Now That Some Time Has Passed…

I’m trying to take stock of the ways my life has changed since my mother died, because now that it’s been a little over two years, things look different than they did when it first happened. I have found a new version of normal, although I am emotionally bleeding out for my cousins because their father just died unexpectedly. Additionally, this is the second sibling my aunt and uncle have lost in a very short time (the uncle that died was the second of four children on my mother’s side). So, we are all trying to find a new version of normal, trying to wrap our brains around two people in our family that have died very young. My mother was only 65, and my uncle died the day before his 64th birthday.

This is crushing because as people in grief know, birthdays and anniversaries are the hardest to get through. I cannot imagine having those two days so close together, yet another thing that makes grief as individual as a fingerprint, because even though my cousins and I share the pain of losing a parent, no situation is the same. I would not presume that they’re feeling the same thing I am (or even did), particularly because I am further along in my process of finding Option B.

I do remember how terrible those first few days were, because I saw everything through a deep and penetrating fog. People would say things to me and I would forget one second later what they said, or not even reply because I would go deaf and dumb to the world around me. I completely fell apart. For months, I would forget where I was going, or even the way out of my own neighborhood. For even longer, I wouldn’t interact. For instance, one day I’d think getting together with friends or going to church would make me feel better, then not only regret that decision, but drop off the face of the earth and people would wonder where the hell I went. Ummm, I went home. And not only did I go home, I didn’t even take up space in the house. I confined myself to my room for far longer than anyone thought I could or should.

I would (and still do) bounce between zero and what seems like 50,000 calories in a day. Grief took away hunger and thirst until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It also occurred to me that drinking alcohol is often a trap when someone close to you dies, so being completely sober was a good and bad thing. There was no social lubricant for anxiety at being around people, and when I felt my feelings, I really, really felt them.

I am normally a little bit socially anxious, for which I take medication. But social anxiety is different in deep grief. People notice when you look like crap, and will tell you, not knowing the bomb you’re about to drop on them. See, the reason I look like a hot mess is that my mother just died…. and that’s when you can literally hear the whistle with Doppler effect. You desperately don’t want it to, but the conversation goes from zero to weird in 2.5 seconds and you regret you said anything. The hardest part about telling people someone close to you died is that the air in the room changes, and people start treating you differently.

Some people know exactly what to do, which is either say they’re sorry and leave it at that, or say nothing and just give you a hug. With others, it is a litany of I know just how you feel, and then tell a story that legit has nothing to do with what you’re going through.

30704001_1986837498021611_1417297838002122399_nThis is the Facebook meme I found today that made me laugh and cringe, because for the grieving, it describes our experience perfectly. I really don’t fucking care how sad you were when your cat died and how it relates to my grief that I’ll never see my mother again. I also don’t care how you’ll feel when your mother dies, because first of all, you have no idea how you’ll feel when your mother/father/spouse dies, because thinking about it ahead of time is so much different than when reality punches you in the face. Secondly, my smart ass response is always going to be, well, it’s a good thing I’m going through it instead of you. However, that part generally seethes inside me because I know no one is trying to elicit that response. They just have no idea what to say, so what they think they’re saying is good and what they’re really saying hurts.

The other thing that happens is that your mother/father/spouse’s death becomes a subject no one wants to touch, so they stop bringing up the person altogether, as if remembrance is the worst thing ever. Say her name. Tell me funny stories about what you remember, especially if you knew her at a time when I didn’t.

I learned this lesson initially through divorce, that people thought bringing up Dana was somehow verboten, when it would have meant the world to me to laugh about the funny things that happened to us…. and at first, it really hurt that Dana and my mom have the same birthday, but now it feeds me because I think about celebrating Dana instead of being mired in grief…. mostly the old joke about how since she’s two years older than me, she’s just that much closer to death than I am. ­čśŤ

Yes, divorces are terrible. Yes, deaths are terrible. But it doesn’t render my great memories invalid. Just because it’s over doesn’t mean I don’t want to remember.

Speaking of “over,” I don’t view my relationship with my mother as such. I have a long history of writing letters to people or entities who are unlikely to respond. It doesn’t seem weird to me at all that we still “talk.” Maybe other people have trouble bringing up the topic of my mom, but I don’t. During the day, I basically narrate to her in my head, and in my dreams, she responds.

She thinks Dan and Pri Diddy are good for me. We agree on so much.

My Dog

I am not a gamer. I have been playing one game since it came out, and any questions about any other games are where I tap out immediately. You’ll have to ask someone else. The aforementioned game is Fallout 3, which came out in 2008. I did not beat it until a few months ago, so you see, I am obviously a video gaming wizard.

The reason this is the only game I play is that even though I’ve beaten it (finally), every single time I start over it’s brand new. There’s more stuff to find, different characters to build, and you don’t even need the story. If you have an add-on called Broken Steel, it will allow you to continue the game after the main storyline is finished, which, for me, has included going to each and every building just trying to find stuff…. My house looks like Sanford & Son. In fact, “cantankerous junk dealer” sums up my character quite nicely….. and even ten years later, things happen that are brand new, as if I’ve never played before. One of the coolest places I’ve discovered is a Montgomery County water reservoir (the county where I live), complete with a crab painted on the building and filled in with the Maryland flag. Apparently, this is one of the few buildings in the game that’s real. The developers did a good job on the Metro system, though, because it actually does look the same, albeit, well, bombed.

The game captured my attention because it takes place in Washington, DC after nuclear war…. renamed The Capital Wasteland. This is because I am terrible at using navigation and it was handy to know which way to go on my own…. keeping in mind that it is not an exact replica, but close enough for government work. I can find Farragut West, and I don’t get lost on The Mall.

The main quest is to bring fresh water to the wasteland because people are sick and dying (or mutating) from not being able to get water without massive levels of radiation. There are also tons of side quests, with which I am not even closed to finishing. The game keeps drawing me back, though, because it is akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure.

dogmeatFor instance, this last time around, a dog started following me around that you could “adopt,” and will help find you food and ammunition. It is unusual because lots of people have reported said dog in the game, but I’d never seen him. His name is Dogmeat, and he is much smarter than I am. You can also heal him with stimpaks, the medication in the game, but if you don’t get to him quickly enough, he can die in battle.

And that is how I found myself sitting at my desk, completely squalling my eyeballs out, because I had inadvertently killed my own dog. It was worse than Old Yeller, worse than Where the Red Fern Grows, and it was much worse than losing any of my actual pets, because I’ve never lost any of them to death. It didn’t help that I’d recently read about the K-9 unit in the CIA that prepares bomb/drug sniffing dogs for The Agency and our local police departments, because I was all like, “I bet THEY never accidentally kill their own dogs…..” even if that can’t possibly be true.

I learned later on that there’s a perk in the game called Puppies! (you have to have Broken Steel, though), where if Dogmeat is killed, you can go and fetch one of his puppies from another location in the game. But that first time, when Dogmeat was really, truly gone, the floodgates opened and every grief-filled feeling I had just sprayed all over my shirt and pants. Because, as I quickly learned, it wasn’t about the dog. It was the surface thing that tapped into all the deep wounds. Sometimes, I have a hard time letting go enough to cry, and will begin crying at what I think is an unrelated thing, yet nothing ever is.

Staying Awake

I thought seriously about boycotting Starbucks until I realized that I still had money on my gift cards. I reasoned that my coffee had already been purchased, and if the boycott persisted beyond that, I wouldn’t spend my own money there.philadelphia_sbux Thanks to social media wisdom, though, I realized something important. There are thousands of black baristas, and this one shop in Philly was the problem, not Starbucks as a whole. If that sounds callous and racist, I am very sorry. But the truth is that I live in a neighborhood with lots of black people. Some are African-American. Others are immigrants, mostly from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Eritrea. Boycotting my local store might lead to cutting down on employees as they get less busy, and I am not about to contribute to it.

The plain truth is that this is not a Starbucks problem. It is the top-down system of oppression that has been in power for hundreds of years. For instance, why didn’t the police officers just laugh in the barista’s face? Why, after explaining the situation, were the men still cuffed?

There is blame to be had all the way around, and when the police were called, they had absolutely no reason to follow through. What about the barista’s story made any damn sense except the police being as racist as the barista? I don’t even have a jacket as nice as the one the man on the left is wearing, and I guarantee you I’ve looked worse in a hoodie and jeans stumbling into a coffee shop than the man on the right. This is not to say that every black person who walks into a Starbucks must be dressed a certain way. I am only making the observation that if the barista and the police were looking for people making trouble, these men weren’t it.

Memorize their faces. Memorize the man on the left looking down with his hands in his pockets. Memorize the man on the right making a pained face as if this is not the first time this bullshit has happened to him. I can’t think of any situation that makes me feel more helpless and angry…. but I have to think it through. I have to think about all the ways I, as a white woman, can use the platform I’ve been given, both here and out in the world. I am generally not assertive when things happen to me personally (like truly repulsive comments regarding watching lesbians by men, for instance), but it’s a whole other thing when my mother lion gets engaged.

I am one of those hopeful people who’s been crushed by the amount of racism in my area, because DC is overwhelmingly black (a little under 50% of the population). I mistakenly thought things like that couldn’t happen here, or at least, more rarely than they actually do. I’ve cut way down on the optimism lately, anxiety rising like bile in the back of my throat.

I am no expert on race relations in DC, but it seems as if racially mixed neighborhoods have existed forever, even before gentrification…. keeping in mind that this is not every neighborhood’s case, but more often than in, say, the rest of the South. Technically, DC and Maryland are still the South because they’re under the Mason-Dixon line, but God help you if you mention it. No one around here wants to be compared with Alabama. We’d like to think we’re more progressive than that. Racial makeup of the neighborhood ceases to matter when you’re just trying to find a place you can afford.

In some ways, we are that progressive. In others, we’re not any better; we’d like to think of ourselves as liberal and inclusive, sweeping the incidents where we’re not way, way, way under the rug. If it doesn’t fit with the image we have of ourselves, it didn’t happen, definitely not a two-way street. White people just can’t be afraid of black people in the same way. I will never be afraid that a black person is going to call the police on me for anything…. ever.

Moreover, people of color absolutely cannot be racist, because racism, again, is a top-down entrenched system of oppression. They can, however, be prejudiced, stereotyping white people because they have to. They don’t know ahead of time if a friend or foe is approaching. Prejudice exists for a reason, and for people of color, it is self-preservation…. a fear that, as white people, we are absolutely responsible for creating.

For the most part, though, when we’re all on the Metro together, the racism and prejudice is left at the station. For instance, once I was waiting for the Orange Line back to Metro Center from Landover, and one of the WMATA employees came up to me and asked me if he could give me a hug, because I had a Black Lives Matter button pinned to my jacket. We just stood there and held each other, healing energy running between both of us.

While I have trouble believing that racism will be solved in my lifetime, I definitely hope.┬á Interestingly enough, I think Marvel has taken it upon itself to help. Movies like Black Panther┬áand Captain America: Civil War, and television shows like Luke Cage are challenging the status quo, because they portray black people in a way that few pieces of media do. Marvel can’t be responsible for solving every racial issue, but movies and TV shows that are popular can’t hurt. For instance, nothing did more to help the queer community be seen as regular people than Will & Grace, with Six Feet Under a close second.┬áProgress is still slow, but it’s faster than it used to be with the help of visibility.

The difference is that I only have to be afraid for my life when I’m walking hand in hand with another woman. Alone, people can only guess that I’m a minority. There is no covering up every inch of your skin. However, I do empathize because I, too, look over my shoulder for unenlightened white people. We are definitely not in the same boat, but I often believe we’re in the same part of the ocean.

As I sip my coffee, I wonder if this entire essay is going to make me look like a basic bitch. I want my thoughts to go toward some good…. perhaps make some people think. I know it reaches me. I could spend an entire afternoon brainstorming about all the ways society needs to change and what I might be able to do in bringing it forward. The most concrete way I know for myself is challenging all the microaggressions I think I don’t have. Being white is just a series of privileges that run so far under your skin you don’t even realize you’re broadcasting it.

The one good thing I can say for myself right this moment is that I can say I have black friends without lip service. I have people to teach me when I’m being a jackass without any awareness. I am lucky that my friends are willing to attribute my flaws to idiocy and not malice, because I guarantee that in terms of staying woke, I need to pay more attention when I become “sleepy.” I am lucky to have friends that have no problem calling me out on the carpet about it, even when it’s hard…. because sometimes you want to fix the whole world, and are at a complete loss as to what would help.

Although I know that at least my infinitely small part of the world will change, as long as I’m paying attention.

Coffee helps in keeping my mind busy and my eyes open. However, I cannot stay awake forever. That’s where you come in, batting relief.

[_])

Refill?

Where the Weather Takes Us

The meetup with the pen pal went well. Let’s call her “Zoey,” because there’s a connection that goes beyond New Girl. Of course if she becomes a regular and doesn’t mind me using her real name, that’s fine. But I’m not going to “out” her on a first meeting. That’s just rude. She is just as cute and funny as me, so I think it will be a great thing to have another person to pal around with…. although perhaps not so much in the immediate future, because she’s vacationing to Peru (I think…. my memory is failing in my elder years). But I definitely see hiking in the hills and walking around town in our future. Talking makes walking so much easier, because I am not constantly enmeshed in thoughts like, “my feet hurt…. my legs are sore…. how much longer?” Talking shuts down the complaint department. Yesterday was just about spending some time together and seeing if we’d click on any level. We definitely did, starting out at Kramerbooks and when they were slammed, walking to Teaism, instead. I love tea at every moment of the day, but for Zoey, she was disappointed they didn’t have hot chocolate. So we toasted to new friends with cold water. My pot of Darjeeling went quickly, and then we walked to the Metro.

Two things about that.

I started talking about the weather with my seatmate, who said that it reminded her of Germany and Switzerland. In my head, I was thinking she must be military, because obviously Germany and Switzerland are known for their large black populations. My assumption was correct. So, I asked her what her job was in the military, and she said slyly, intel. She’d retired long ago, looking for all the world like a sweet grandmother, the type no one would look twice at while carrying sensitive documents. But perhaps she didn’t look like that, then. She was retired now, having scouted out secret documents during the Cold War. My mind was blown because this was an absolutely random encounter, exactly the kind of thing I live for in DC. I am certain that by now, there are tons of movies that talk frankly about the types of ops we pulled off during that time, most of them declassified by now. It was also very interesting that she wasn’t stapled to CIA, that smash-and-grabs for documents also happen with soldiers. I don’t know why I didn’t make that connection until last night, because I saw 12 Strong, and even though the soldiers had a CIA contact to lead them through Afghanistan to the warlord contact who was willing to team up with them to overthrow the Taliban, he left after that and the soldiers were on their own.

So, this woman and I are engrossed in conversation and before I even really had a chance to ask questions, it was her stop. I was so lost in thought that I got off at the “wrong one,” or perhaps the right one considering that I was only a couple of blocks from Busboys & Poets. I had a vegan salad and vegan mac-and-cheese, possibly the first time I’ve eaten actual nutrition that wasn’t all carbs this week. MMMM, bread.

I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I truly do not eat enough plants. I have to remind myself that veggies exist.

While I was eating, though, I had a truly surreal experience, because there was a mentally ill person at the bar trying to score free fries from the restaurant. Two patrons offered to have his fries added to their tab. Then, when he got them, he would neither leave nor get a table. In Takoma Park, there are literally two governments, because part of it lies in Montgomery County and part of it is in the city of DC. I had no idea where I was in terms of that line. But what I do know is that there’s no real way to call someone regarding the mentally ill except the police, which brought up such a dilemma that I’m still thinking about it. He was definitely harassing other customers, because they didn’t offer to pay for his snacks without him strong-arming them. And yet, he was black, which said to me, no one call the police under any circumstances. This is because there was little to be done except take him to jail, because there’s no way they would have taken him to a psych ward. It’s just not in their purview. So, what to do? No restaurant wants a loiterer asking for money and, oh my God, emitting such a smell that it cleared out half the bar.

It’s hard to be compassionate when you really don’t know how. He needed more help than he could get in the restaurant, and the police couldn’t give it to him, either. I think because everyone was so sensitive to racial bias, that made it even harder. We didn’t know whether the police that showed up would show compassion or wrestle him to the ground. It’s not even equal odds at this point. None of the people in the bar were worried about racial bias on our end, because it was never about the color of his skin. It was about mental illness, full stop. But we couldn’t count on the police having an equal amount of compassion.

What he needed, in my opinion, was a few days in a psych ward to get balanced again, and then a truly safe place to stay. Neither of those things would happen unless he went to the county intake facility in Rockville, now closed for the night. Having to sleep in a jail cell might have only exacerbated the problem, contributing to putting someone in the system that can’t get back out, because he has no concrete concept of acceptable behavior.

All I could do was pray that someone would stick with him long enough to get the help he needed, because nothing was going to happen in the moment. We were all just on pins and needles waiting for him to leave, and not because we weren’t trying to help in the moment. It’s that no one could stay in the restaurant overnight, and it was kind of a scary situation because we did not know the extent of his mood and behavior quirks. For instance, when the fries were brought out to him, paid for by the other customers, he threw them on the floor and insisted that new fries be brought to him that he paid for himself, completely oblivious to the fact that he had no money.

My superpower was an out-of-body experience, where I left the situation and went back to Teaism, thinking about new adventures Zoey and I would have in the coming months (years?). There is just so much to do and see around here that it doesn’t take much to find a glorious afternoon, and great conversations that begin with the weather.

Crazy on a Cracker

Tonight I am going to meet a new friend who I hope will one day become my old friend… a great pen pal becoming real. Religion major in college, writes, and reads more in a day than I do in a week… which is very hard.

Speaking of which, I am engrossed in a new novel for review called The 11:05 Murders, by Brian O’Hare. It’s another one I thought was deserving of more than a few words written about it, and again e-mailed it to my editor… and not even selfishly because reviews might be easier when she’s also read it. Just because the book was so great I wanted to share. It is a very, very cheap way to show someone you care- and are genuinely excited to be able to provide great entertainment through e-books even when the person lives thousands of miles away.

It’s also nice to get a book that I’m genuinely jazzed to review by a polished author. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m also glad that when I’m finished with this novel, there are two others.

It’s also a nice thing that when I shop at Amazon, a small percentage of my purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders, my charity through Smile. I try to donate to them personally when I have a chance, but it’s not always possible. It makes me feel good that I can get my needs met and contribute to theirs. So much is going on in the world today that’s negative… cheering on their efforts is just one way I hope to combat it.

Not only am I thinking globally about negativity, but personally. I am still messed up over the last four years, and in some ways, I think that loss will never get better. It will become a shallower well of injury, or something that hurts more and more sporadically, but nothing will ever be the same. This is because dealing with grief over the alive and well is different than grieving the dead. Each hurts in its own special way. I am struck by the fact that other people’s lives will go on without me, and brought to my knees that I will never see my mother again.

If in saying that Barbara Bush’s death wasn’t that sad, I didn’t mean to be callous. It’s just a whole other thing when someone dies naturally after living an incredible amount of time vs. the shock of losing someone in the blink of an eye when their lives were cut short by at least 15-20 years. Some days I actually forget time has passed and am just struck dumb with the immediacy of it all. A parent dying suddenly and younger than you thought is like being in a car accident repeatedly, with the same amount of haze-inducing shock. The worst part is that I didn’t agree to this (as if one would, but stay with me, Jimbo). It just happens unexpectedly, a truly unwanted side effect. I am just blindsided all the time. I go into a space where I can’t remember anything, I can’t move, I can’t think clearly. I am just walking through life trying to nail Jell-o to a tree.

What is truly heartbreaking is knowing that my mother would never have wanted this for me. She was always so self-sacrificing that she would have done anything not to die if she could help it, and not out of self-preservation. What keeps my heart from stitching is that for most of my adult life, I lived out of state… so there are days when I regret that fact and others where I completely forget she’s dead because I’m not used to talking to her every day, anyway. I’ll reach for the phone to call her and absolutely freak. Grief then becomes extremely loud and incredibly close. What helps is not thinking about my own situation, but the thousands of other people that have also had this experience and that even when I feel like it, I am never alone. Someone on earth has felt what I’m feeling at any given moment.

There’s also the two-sided coin of losing someone suddenly. It is the combined feeling of joy that they felt no pain and the anger that comes with not being able to say goodbye. Let me be clear, though. I am not angry at her. I am angry at the situation.

It is the same with divorce… more angry at the situation and myself than I ever will be at Dana. In fact, I would go so far as to say I’m not angry with Dana at all. Everything is forgiven on that end. It’s me that needs work. I got started praying for her health and happiness early and often. It gives me something to give to her, even when it’s just sending energy into the universe. Because we’re not in contact, the chord between us (as I’ve said before) becomes a loopback, feeding me. It gives me the feeling of peace and calm that I’m somehow contributing, I guess. At this point, guessing regarding the nature of karma and the universe is about as much control as I’m allowed to have. Surprisingly, it is more than enough.

I feel like I should get into that space quickly, the one of sending good thoughts into the universe, because I am more downcast today than usual. It’s grey and awful outside, which only contributes to the storm within. Everything is making me sad, and I just feel like a disappointing excuse for a human being. Now, logically I know this is not true. I just can’t seem to make it happen emotionally. I am sure that things will look different 30 minutes after I take my anxiety medication, for which I need to make a pharmacy run. I don’t want to show up to a first impression feeling like crazy on a cracker.

Because unfortunately, that’s what grief does. It causes anxiety about just damn everything, even the things you never thought about before said loved one died. There’s so many new depths to plumb. Even the fact that people die young is something you used to know and now smacks you in the face. It’s one thing to know it, quite another to feel.

As far as I know, besides Dan, I am the first of my friends to lose their mothers. It is a comfort you would not believe that although I am incredibly sad for her, I have a person who understands implicitly the hand that I’ve been dealt. I have someone who can tell with one look that I need a hug or an arm around my shoulder. Not only am I perpetually bereft in some respects, single people do not get nearly enough contact comfort. It is such a blessing to have someone in my life who gives really great hugs without a hint of romance, because it’s not about that and never will be. I just give friendship its full due, that chosen family is everything.

The reason I believe in chosen family so wholeheartedly is that I don’t think it’s fair to the person I would date to drag them into the sideshow that is my current life. I would much rather wait until things calm down, when I am much less angry at me for the way I treated Dana and much less overwhelmed at the state of my world. The one good thing I remember about being divorced is that not only did I behave badly then and am grateful I don’t now hurt her repeatedly, I never would have wanted to subject Dana to the person I’ve become in the aftermath of grief…. and not because I think she couldn’t have handled it. I just think that it’s a pain for which she would have no frame of reference, and therefore, would not have been impressed with my need to isolate, to the point that I would have isolated myself from her, too. I can’t imagine how short I would have become with her, snippy not because she did anything wrong but because her mother is still alive. It’s a helpless place when someone is mad at you for seemingly no reason, unable to take it in that you shouldn’t take it personally- that person is mad at the whole damn world. For me, it was a lucky thing to be on my own, so that when I was literally unable to function, no one had to deal with me. I’m so much better now, but it was a long row to hoe. My entire garden just died.

And though most of the plants are still dead, at least I see shoots of green.

The Leadership Breakfast

Barbara Bush died, which really isn’t that sad if you think about it. She lived to the ripe old age of 92. I think that’s about as much as anyone should expect in terms of time on earth, and her kids were lucky to have her that long. I mean, when someone dies it’s always sad for their families in terms of not being able to communicate anymore, but 92 is close to immortal in today’s terms of longevity. No one is going to say, “dear God, they took her too soon.” As a fellow Texan, I would like to be able to regale you with a story about how we met, but unfortunately, that never happened. We did go to the same church when I was in college, so I have met her husband. That will have to do.

So, it’s Easter Sunday in about 1999 or 2000 (I am really bad with dates). The men’s group was serving breakfast before service, and the president was going around with a pitcher of coffee for warm-ups. The Secret Service guys were stationed strategically around the room, constantly talking into their wrists.

The president comes over to me and fills my cup, and when I realized exactly who I was talking to, I began gulping down my coffee as fast as I could so he would have to come to my table multiple times, early and often. I am sure he knew my game, but didn’t seem to mind. We had very good, very short talks. I wish my memory was flawless, because I’d love to tell you what they were about. I do remember telling him that I was a political science student at University of Houston, and he told me he used to be a professor at Rice (like I didn’t know that. Didn’t tell him, though……).

I don’t think I’ve disagreed politically with many presidents besides him, although I definitely have a list. I was too young to care what was going on with Reagan, and I love Clinton & Obama. It was just exciting to meet anyone who’d been leader of the free world, as well as being Director of Central Intelligence the year I was born (1977), although he left in January and I wasn’t born until September. Close enough for government work. I don’t know how you get to be DCI if you don’t have any experience with espionage, so my guess is that he was OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the modern CIA) during World War II, and as a cook, I pretend that anyone who was OSS during that time was Julia Child’s best friend.

I was a spazzbasket of excitement, information, and caffeine. At this point, I have conservatively had, like, five cups of coffee trying to talk to him. I debate going over to talk to the Secret Service as well. However, they are designed to look absolutely unapproachable. They definitely pull it off.

What I hope I didn’t pull off was being desperately impressed, because no one that well-known wants to be “on” all the time. He was just there to be part of the men’s group, and I hope I respected that. But so many of my questions just swirled in my head. Did he like Helen Thomas? What’s it like being a wartime pilot? Was he ever under cover? Did he actually know Julia Child, or is that just wishful thinking?

There are so many things I would ask him now that I didn’t think of then, like what was it like for your wife and kids while you were president? It can’t have been easy to be in the public eye, whether there were things you liked about it or not. Also, what was it like to be president when the wall in Berlin fell? Was Ronald Reagan just as funny in private life as he was on television? At the time, all that was swirling in my head was about treating him like a regular human being.

….just like he is right now, dealing with the death of his wife.