The Rabbit and the Puppet

Today is one of those days where I really have no idea what to say. I am trying to drag words out of my mind and onto the page as if I have to wade through syrup. Paris is too close for perspective. Everything else is too far away. I can only hope that I am tapping the maple tree and the drops will lead to flow. At the very least, I am capable of using a metaphor.

Perhaps the next device should be synecdoche, starting with the smallest possible element.

Cheerios… one word for the fullness of motherhood.

The thing I lack from above and below. The “below” is of little consequence. The “above” has become the finality of losing a single puzzle piece behind drywall. It’s still in the house, but I’ll never find it. It is a desperate, histrionic and lifelong search. Even if I find a different manufacturer that manages to find something that fits, my spirit will always spot the fake, even if I step far enough away to look at the Impressionist painting promised on the box.

I am fortunate that the ultimate axiom in life is pain becoming beauty through reminiscence and introspection. There are moments I wonder (as I wander), can cat burglars steal love? Even if it was possible, I’d have to hire it done. Would I get relief from a middle man? Would I accept what was placed in my hands, or would I write it off as ersatz? Could I hug until the fur fell off? Could I wait until a fairy appeared to make it real? Just how long would my nose grow in the indeterminate meantime?

The interim is filled with REM induced dreams of a fictional character with his arms around me, stroking my hair and saying “fixed point in time. I’m so sorry.” My days are filled with Suzanne Vega running through my head like a mantra:

If your love were taken from me,
Every color would be black and white.
It would be as flat as the world before Columbus,
That’s the day that I lose half my sight.

If your life were taken from me,
All the trees would freeze in this cold ground.
It would be as cruel as the world before Columbus,
Sail to the edge and I’d be there looking down.

The truest comfort I think and feel is that she didn’t die feeling her exclusion from my inner landscape, which started when I was 12 and carried long into my 20s. It was never that I didn’t want her there. I was led by hopelessness, my emotions rather than logic. I wrote her off too quickly, attributing genuine concern regarding emotional abuse as homophobia… but to be honest, there was some of that as well. She cornered me, literally backing me into my closet, angrily whispering that I would not make my father lose his job. The message in the madness was, ironically, “straighten up and fly right.”

I was physically present, but my mind ran away, genuinely and severely frightened.

In my head, the relationship was toxic… and I ran straight into the snare of another one, yanking me upside down and backwards.

The disturbing downward spiral ended for good on my 36th birthday, the moment I began staring into the sky… salty, bitter tears and sunshine leading me into the resulting rainbow’s promise of gold.

I didn’t find it quickly or easily.

Another fixed point in time accelerated the process, but before that seminal moment, I was dragged… kicking and screaming with disbelief… willful ignorance… shame that held the trap in place for far longer than I thought was even possible.

Shame that I didn’t see light when it was right in front of me.

Relief from finally talking to others that I wasn’t unique or special in that regard… and still, it would only be mostly dead, that I would feel triggers for the rest of my life, some that were just noticeable and some that would wrestle me underground. I would still have to claw my fingernails into the dirt and find a foothold to propel me upward so that when I looked up, I would no longer see roots and mud.

In those moments, I have sometimes completed the process quickly, and at others, been too exhausted to try. This is because triggers happen in nanoseconds, and recoveries are variable. By the end of her life, my mother could reach my six feet under. I wish I could do the same.

Succor is by the grace I have met people with the same scars on their own skin, rubbing velvet ears bare.

An Actual Song to the Moon

I did something I’ve never done before, and I am really stepping off a ledge. At first, I thought, “how hard can it be? Lindsay did it.” And then I realized that auditioning for an opera chorus as an adult is probably different than auditioning as a child, and I freaked out so hard my stomach dropped to my knees. Things got better and I calmed down once I got a rough sketch of a plan together. That being said, Lindsay had to sing things like Happy Birthday (you would not believe how easy it is to hear the quality of someone’s voice with that song). My memory may be failing me, but I think her prepared piece was from Annie.

At the time, I was too old for the children’s chorus and too young for the adult one…. and besides, my voice didn’t truly come into itself until I was older, anyway. So, as I watched Lindsay on stage in productions like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Turandot and Carmen, it was a mix of powerful pride and brooding Salieri (character in the movie Amadeus). I finally realized that I was old enough to try out for the chorus and not care if I got rejected, which is the most important part of getting older, anyway. It wasn’t the singing that frightened me. It was getting the thin letter instead of the thick one.

I am still truly terrified, though, but this time, it’s not about rejection. It’s about the clock, which is running out. I e-mailed Washington National Opera to ask when the next round of open auditions were for the chorus, and as it just so happens, they’re in less than a month. I have to have one Italian aria and one aria in any language (even English) prepared by then. I may also be asked to sight read, which is actually more exhausting a thought than getting prepared.

I don’t even have a piano at my house. I am still working out where I am going to practice, because I have a BIG DAMN VOICE and lots of housemates. When I go “balls to the wall” fortissimo, you can hear it up and down my street. It’s always fun when I have a marking that loud and splat an excruciatingly bad note on the tops of other people’s roofs. But, if you’re going to make a mistake, do it right.

It also feels good that I’m confident enough to go through the process, because it’s not like it’s some sort of pipe dream. I’m not tone deaf. I’ve sung in many, many choruses and have done some of the great works in history…. just not opera. Oratorios, masses, and requiems are kind of my jam. It would be so much easier if I could walk in with something I’ve already sung and don’t have to start from absolute scratch.

My biggest concern is the Italian aria, and which register to choose. Most of the Italian mezzo arias I’ve listened to go practically into cigar and vodka range, but sometimes mezzo lines go up to a high B flat. I am most comfortable in the high register, called “head voice,” but I am also not Queen of the Night material. Surely there has to be a good resting place between mezzo and coloratura. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

It seriously bums me out right now that my mother is dead. It seems like those words are flip, but what I mean is that I am only devastated when I think of all the things we won’t get to do together. Needing something from her is different. It’s not as important. It’s just a bummer that she’s the only person I can think of who could truly help me pull this off, and my copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is probably still in her piano bench. Plus, you can either use the accompanist at the opera company, or you can bring your own. Not being able to bring an accompanist that has always known how to catch me in all the right ways actually does bring me to tears.

There is a world of difference between a mere pianist and an accompanist. A pianist knows how to play the piano. An accompanist knows how not to throw a soloist under the bus. If you sing or play an instrument, you are probably enthusiastically nodding your head in agreement, perhaps clapping, because you know what a truth bomb I’ve laid down.

I am also interested in the writing that will come out of this experience, whether I make it or not. It will either be a big victory or a funny story. To wit:

Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.

-Ronald Reagan

I’ve never sung it before, but the aria that I’m most familiar with is Song to the Moon from Rusalka. It’s in Czech, so I’ll have to do some diction training, but it does fit the requirements for range and breath control. As for Italian, the only aria I’m familiar with is Nessun Dorma.

You can file that under “not in this lifetime, Holmes.” While I probably could pull it off with several years of private lessons, in a month it would be a shadow of what it’s supposed to be, and the people listening to the auditions will have heard it a thousand times, anyway. For this reason, I’m looking for something very obscure…. I want to stand out….. just like everyone else.

Black on Black Grime

I wear Converse All-Stars just about everywhere when I’m not in my Bistro Crocs (chili peppers on one pair, the Swedish Chef on the other). Since I have both black with black trim and brown with tan, there is no outfit I can’t make them match. Most of the time, I wear the preppiest clothes imaginable, the All-Stars and a Mickey Mouse watch just for whimsy.

I took both pairs with me when I went to Houston last October for the anniversary of my mother’s death, and when I walked around her gravesite, Texas red clay stuck to the black rubber like, well, clay… which is probably why it’s still there. It would take a toothbrush to get it all out, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It is as if everywhere I wear them, a piece of my mother comes with me- well, the “dust to dust” part, anyway.

I’ve gotten over the crying every day, and into the stage where I want to be reminded of my mother. However, as strange as it may seem, only in small doses. Seeing her Christmas sweatshirt in my closet? Fine. Randomly running across a piano or hearing solo piano music? Instant meltdown. My neural pathways just can’t take it at this time. One memory leads to another, tangent upon tangent, until I want to curl into the fetal position and hope that makes it all go away.

It doesn’t.

I’m not that far out from the second anniversary of her death. It was October 2nd. Two years is barely enough time to learn to breathe again… at least, all the way down. Sometimes I have to actually remember to exhale. When my fight or flight is engaged, I just keep inhaling until it occurs to me that I might hyperventilate, and that really doesn’t do me any good. It’s uncomfortable at best and frightening at its worst.

I wear an ichthus necklace at all times with her fingerprint as the pattern in the middle. Sometimes, when I feel the most vulnerable, I use it as an “ET moment,” my finger touching hers.

When you have a loved one die, the funeral home will try and sell you all sorts of crap that’s marked up 5,000%. This one thing has been worth it. Of course the fingerprint is taken from the body post-mortem, and I won’t lie that it hurts deeply when I’ve told people that and they say, “that’s creepy.” Well, I’ve never seen any store that makes those necklaces for people who are alive, so as much as you may think it, say it out loud and I am likely to withdraw from you, because this necklace is basically the only thing I have left of her. She willed her piano to me, but in Maryland, I don’t have a place to store it. My aunt has it until I do, and that is equally comforting.

I was offered many, many of her things… especially clothes from her closet. They were not my style and several sizes too big. She kept a toy chest of all my childhood things, so I took those back. Everything else was lost on me. I don’t want her stuff. I want her.

It’s just stuff. My house fire convinced me of that. Just more I’d have to find a place for that in the end, wouldn’t bring me any closer to her than I am right now. We talk all the time, because I’m not waiting for an answer. There’s nothing within me that says letters deserve a reply…. anymore. I just send thoughts into the ether and hope someone’s listening in all cases, but especially hers.

I am sad and angry that One Mississippi on Amazon Prime was canceled, because especially the pilot got me through some really rough times. For those not in the know, it’s a fictional account of Tig Notaro losing her mother. When I couldn’t reach my own emotions, I’d turn on the show and let them bubble up. The best part is watching the fictional version of Tig experience post-traumatic growth, to know that it does get better over time… as long as “time” is Jeremy Bearimy. If you aren’t a fan of “The Good Place,” time in the show moves so oddly that to display it visually looks like the signature of a person named, you guessed it, “Jeremy Bearimy.” As a sidenote, if a unified theory of everything posited originally by Stephen Hawking is found, I’m pretty sure the writers on “The Good Place” will stumble across it accidentally while writing something else. Cambridge, you’re on notice.

The “Jeremy Bearimy” episode really got through to me because it is also the explanation of grief… how you think it goes in a linear fashion and in reality, it is like finding a nest of tangled necklaces in the back of that drawer you forgot to clean out in 1982… and the chains are so impossibly delicate that you’ll never be able to tease them back out. One minute you’re fine- full of joy, even. The next, you’re sobbing so hard you’re shaking. The best day and the worst day are the same.

I know for certain that I will never take off this necklace, and it is amazing how carefully I watch my shoes to see if the red clay starts to fall off. But even if the necklace breaks and I step in water, rendering my black shoes black again, all I have to do is look in the mirror, and my face will tell me her story…. from the ascender of the J to the descender of the Y…. but mostly, my eyebrows.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Computer

Today I have a bit of nerd advice, and a bit of what’s been going on the last few days.

Nerd Alert

When my iPad Mini got really, really old (as in, I could no longer download current version of apps or iOS), I took a chance on the cheapest Kindle Fire (7-inch, 7th generation). I thought that if it was terrible, I could either return or re-gift it. I have not been disappointed. It’s not the fastest tablet in the world, but it’s also not a $400 Facebook machine. I also have a 10 inch regular Android tablet that I got last Christmas, but I went to Houston and the gentle, careful hands of the TSA ripped that bitch to shreds. I contacted Amazon about it, and there was nothing they could do.

The whole reason I wanted a 10 inch tablet was to completely replace my laptop to make my backpack lighter, but I got over it. There’s just nothing close to the feel of a full-size keyboard, and the newest Synaptic touchpad driver has a feature I can’t live without. There’s a checkbox in the settings that says “turn off touchpad when mouse is detected.” I wish I could say you can do this in Linux, but I honestly don’t know. I tried installing Ubuntu Mate and the driver for my Realtek wi-fi card isn’t out yet, except for downloading it from GitHub, which is hard to do when you don’t have access to a wired connection. Besides, I like taking Microsoft Ultimate Word Games with me on the go. Addictive. Perhaps I’ll end up installing Ubuntu Mate alongside Windows so that I can check every once in a while to see if the driver has been added to the kernel. I know that to most of you, that won’t mean anything. They’re just geek words that come across as “blah, blah, blah, computer.” That’s OK. To the three readers to whom it does mean something, you’re welcome.

Having the option of my laptop or my small Kindle Fire with Bluetooth keyboard is invaluable, because what I love about it is, in fact, its size. I can fit it into any bag I carry, even the smallest purse (shut it- I always carry a purse or backpack so I don’t look like I have tumors in my legs) if I’m willing to type on the screen. The Amazon keyboard is better than any of the others I’ve tried.

Last night, though, my Kindle Fire became even more invaluable, because I discovered the hack online where you can add the Google Play store and get out of the Amazon universe, whose catalog of apps is limited and also sucks. Apps specifically written for Amazon OS are just a poor ripoff of actual Android apps, and they’re buggy AF. Also, I don’t think I’d purchase another 10 inch Android, and this is because most of the apps are coded for phones and thus, not designed to stretch to a large tablet, anyway. The Google suite is fine. Everything else is a crapshoot.

I’d rather have a smaller tablet than shell out the big bucks for an iPad. Again, way too expensive for my purposes, which is just mobile e-mail, Facebook, and WordPress. My phone is actually a shit ton faster than my tablet, because it has a quad-core processor and mind-blowing graphics… but it just doesn’t have enough screen real estate. I also noticed that my phone has more space than I thought it did, so I moved my 128 GB expansion card back to my Kindle Fire so that I could download the crap out of Amazon Prime video and music, plus Netflix and Stitcher. Even with all that, it will take me forever to fill it up, which is exactly the point. If my 32 GB phone fills up, I can always add a different expansion card for cheap. But mostly, I’d rather use my tablet and save the battery on my phone, unless I’m taking pictures. I haven’t really tried it out, but I think the camera on the Fire is only front-facing for video calls (which reminds me that I need to install Google Hangouts). I could have made the whole Amazon universe thing work if it wasn’t for one app. I use LastPass, which is a plug-in for all browsers on a desktop, but a full browser replacement on mobile devices, basically Chrome with LastPass already built in. Before that, I was using Silk (the Amazon web browser), and just logging into the LastPass web site every time I needed one of my passwords. When that started to drive me bonkers, that’s when I started looking up how to hack a Fire.

By the way, for those not in the know, hacking is not a bad thing. If you think it is, you’re thinking of cracking, which is hacking with malicious intent. Hacking makes things better. I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s so funny it bears repeating. When I interviewed at Alert Logic, one of the questions was, “what is the difference between hacking and cracking?” I said, “hacking is an attempt to make software better to suit your own needs. Cracking is generally software written by 13-year-old script kiddies to see how much damage they can do to a network in the shortest amount of time.” The interviewer said, “that was great. Can I use it?” Unsurprisingly, I got the job.

Life Update

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my mother’s death. Lindsay had some great ideas as to places I could visit that would mean a lot to her, but I just couldn’t even. I spent the day doing my usual, which is lying in bed with my laptop and watching movies and TV shows. I ended with the episode of The Newsroom where they report that UBL has been killed. I absolutely squalled my eyeballs out, which is generally how I cry. I put on something that I know will elicit tears and then just transfer into whatever it is I need to cry about for real. It’s a concrete way to make sure my emotions don’t stay bottled until the Mento drops over the Diet Coke.

Especially because I take medication for my mental health, sometimes I am not so good at being able to tap down far enough to show real emotion. It’s not that the emotion isn’t there, just harder to reach and bring to the surface. I’m not a walking zombie or anything. I still feel. It’s just that the highs and lows are more muted, which is invaluable most days. When I’m not taking my meds, I get angry and/or cry over damn near everything. But there are some days when all I need is a good cry. I finally wised up enough to let myself have one.

Today, I’m going to work at 1500, something also invaluable because it takes my mind off of everything else, and I do mean everything. I can’t work without total and complete focus, because the stakes are too high in terms of injury. Dan said she was worried about me- “just look at your arms!” I said, “would it help if I said it was worth it?” I do wear my Kevlar wrist guards that she gave me, but they honestly just can’t compete that well. Perhaps I need to buy a chef’s coat, but even those are only three quarter sleeves. I just have to wear the badges of my profession and realize that they are part of me. The only thing with which I see a true problem is that I have burned scars into the tattoo on my left forearm and my right wrist. It remains to be seen whether that will carry lasting damage, because it’s hard to tattoo over scar tissue. But the next one I’ve planned has been in the works for five years, and will be placed nowhere near anywhere I can get burned. However, it will be expensive artwork, which is why I haven’t done it already, and only two people in the world (and the artist, obvi) know what it is. Let’s keep it that way, at least for now.

In other news, I’ve finally gotten over my need to spill my guts over grief regarding the living. Separation just isn’t important anymore. I still think about Dana every day (how could I not, working in a kitchen?), but it’s only good things. I wish her well, and that is the sum total of my feelings about that. I made my peace (piece by piece by peace) regarding Argo, and that’s the end of that. I’ve finally reached a place where I just don’t think about it. It is what it is… though I also remember her often and wish her well, too. Both women still carry enormous weight in my heart, but it’s clean, pure, white light. In Argo’s case, I am comforted by the fact that we sleep under the same modicum of sky, and that is enough for me, because she once called me her goddess of the moon. I highly doubt I still am, but I’d like to think so in moments where I remember how badly I screwed things up. In both cases, I have forgiven them completely for what I perceive was done to me, but I still haven’t forgiven myself for what I perceive I did to them. It’s strange how that takes so much longer, considering I live with me.

But the plain truth is that there are no do-overs, only begin-agains. I’ve gotten used to it by now. There have been so many times in my life where I’ve just had to say, “OK, Mrs. Lanagan. What’s next?”

It’s kind of fun waiting to see.

As 41 Approaches…

My birthday has gotten started a bit early. My dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said, “a new phone.” So I picked one out on Amazon, and I am ridiculously happy with it. It’s a Samsung Galaxy, my go-to in terms of new phone purchases (I’ve had three in various versions). This is because I download a LOT, and iPhones fill up fast with no way to add extra space. My current phone is, I think, 32 GB, but I added a 128 GB expansion card. I haven’t added my music to it, but my library of podcasts is extensive. I download them all because most Metro stations are underground and reception is spotty at best. Pro Tip: buy a refurbished phone and pay outright so that you are not on the hook with your cell phone company in terms of paying it off. There are also different variations of the same phone… for instance, you cannot root into mine (nerd alert- no need to carry the nerdiness further by explaining why), but I didn’t want to, anyway. Not my bag, baby.

Back to the cool stuff about extra space. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime will let you download movies and TV shows, which can take up plenty of room, especially if you are downloading a whole season at once. Prime has a limit on the number of downloads in terms of things that are temporarily licensed to them, but you can download anything and everything they produce themselves… For instance, on my last phone I had every episode of One Mississippi and The Man in the High Castle. Invaluable waiting in the ER, the DMV, the Metro during outages, etc.

The only thing is that it is such a powerful computer that you must have a battery saving app to go with it. My former go-to was Juice Defender, but for some reason, the link to the professional version is still live, but it says you need the free version to get it to work, and when I clicked on the link to grab it, I got a 404 error. I got Google to refund my money and bought a subscription to Kaspersky Battery Life: Saver & Booster instead. So far, it’s been magnificent. I highly recommend buying the professional version, because even though the free one works, it is inundated with annoying ads, and it’s not that expensive.

I have only bought two apps in the entirety of my smart phone-owning life. The second is Alarm Clock for Me. It looks like an old school digital clock radio, but it has some amazing features when you unlock the professional version, like waking up to your own music, a gentle lead-in feature where the alarm starts out soft and gets louder over time, weather report in the top corner, and something new- perfect bedtime, which tells you what time to go to sleep in order to wake up refreshed for said alarm. If you hate waking up, might I suggest a military grade phone cover for when you feel like throwing it against the wall? 😛

You would think the birthday surprises would end there, but wait! There’s more!

I think I genuinely frightened Dan with all my burns. They do look pretty gross, to be honest. So, she pulls out a package from Amazon and says, “open it.” Inside are Kevlar cuffs that prevent burns and cuts. I was told specifically to take a picture in the kitchen with me wearing them.

Yes, ma’am.

I didn’t have time tonight, but I will before the week is out. They were actually Autumn’s idea, because she’s worked in a kitchen before. Apparently, they also come in gloves, but I definitely wouldn’t wear those. I would be mortified if my grip on pots and pans was even more loose than it is right now…………… I’m sure they’re helpful for both chopping and taking things out of the oven, but they picked well. They’re yellow, so I look like Wonder Woman.

I was half hoping that I would make a mistake cleaning the griddle tonight and accidentally slam my wrist down like I’ve done a thousand times before (the griddle brick has a mind of its own) just to see my cuffs in action. Alas, tonight went perfectly, so no dice. I am sure I will have other dumbass attacks in the future where they will save my bacon, though.

On Sunday, we had our end-of-summer company party, where the flyer said that significant others and children were welcome. I decided to ask Dan if she wanted to come, because we’re good friends, and therefore, she’s significant to me. No one gave me any grief about it, but if they had I was fully prepared to say that I’d just adopted her.

She got to meet my whole crew, who said some extraordinarily nice things about me, and not just because Dan was there. My lead line cook says every shift that he’s not going to turn me into the chef he wants me to be, but the chef I want me to be…. that inside of a month, I’d be ready to run this kitchen, and inside of two, I’d be ready to run my own. I am growing to accept this praise at my ability, because there were so many awkward and embarrassing moments in my past cooking jobs that I still see myself as a n00b, hanging desperately onto Dana’s coattails. Now it’s time to get on board with the fact that I don’t need to fill her shoes. I brought my own.

In fact, one of my managers brought his girlfriend to the party, and he introduced me as their most dependable employee, and that it was embarrassing how many times I’d bailed them out of a jam. Let me assure you that you don’t even have to be that great a cook for a compliment like that to carry you very, very far in this industry. You can be the best line cook in the entire world, but showing up is even more important. This is not an industry known for emotionally stable, responsible workers. Egos clash. Brown bottle flu happens, as does “I didn’t know I was working today.” But the team I’ve got now has none of those problems. We love working together, and it shows. I am being rewarded beyond my wildest imagination. People have started to call my lead line cook, me, and our most experienced expo “The A-Team.”

It really is amazing how even though I’ve been working on internal validation for years, I’ve grown exponentially with some external praise. It’s not required, but it is definitely changing the way I see myself. I am not sure that I ever want to be a chef, but that’s not the point. The point is that someone believes in me enough to say that I’m capable of it.

Quick aside for people not in the know….. I get called a chef all the time, because people who don’t work in kitchens tend to call all cooks “chef.” But chef literally means “boss,” and there can be only one. For most of us, it feels disrespectful to be called a chef when we haven’t earned it, but we also don’t expect everyone on earth to understand the inner workings of the culinary world. So, we might be a little internally irritated, but we won’t say anything. However, if I do earn the title, you’ll be able to hear me scream from coast to coast. Fair warning.

Because of jumping back into the kitchen, my 40th trip around the sun has been an incredible year of self-discovery, reaching heights I never thought possible. It has allowed me to become less self-deprecating, which you do when you believe in yourself. I mean, I still tell jokes at my own expense, but they aren’t deep jabs. They’re actually funny.

Which has been another hallmark of my 40th year…. giving myself permission to be funny again, after years of grief and loss. Though losing my mother has reworked my version of normal, I am glad to see that with the passage of time normal hasn’t been stolen from me altogether. The only time that I really feel punched in the stomach is when I can’t do things like call her up and say, “you won’t believe how amazing I’m doing at work. I’m even having trouble.” Through our long relationship, though, I know exactly what she would say…. “I certainly can believe it. You can do anything. Just remember to wear your Kevlar cuffs, because those burns look like they hurt.”

Yes, ma’am.

Talented

So far, I have four kitchen jobs under my belt. Though I’ve enjoyed every single one, something is different at this restaurant. I have a feeling it has come from age and experience, as well as taking a break from cooking and then jumping back in. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter where I worked, I’d be more dialed in to my body and my emotions than I have had the ability to be previously. To make a very long story short, my stomach used to be in knots all the time with “stuff” left over from being a kid, and now it’s not. So maybe that’s the biggest reason I’m at the top of my game now. I’m not constantly thinking of something else, allowing me to be more present…. a double entendre because it’s a gift to be able to show up for my own life.

The knot in my stomach was so severe that it’s been staggering to me how much brain power I’d been dedicating to it, and how big life is without it. Not necessarily to the point of being a totally different person, but not the same, either. More like carrying forward the pieces of me I liked, and saying goodbye to the ones I didn’t.

The biggest difference I notice now is reaction time. In the kitchen, it’s extraordinarily fast, because everyone already has my attention and they don’t have to work for it. I’m not constantly distracted. In my personal life, my reaction time is much slower, in terms of genuinely thinking deeply before I speak. I am no longer on the “think it, say it” plan. Hey, it worked really well right up until it (really, really, really) didn’t. But that was then and this is now.

I think the proof in the pudding is that my lead line cook says that I’m talented. I have thought I was talented at a lot of things, but I wouldn’t necessarily have put cooking on the list… and by that, I don’t mean flavor. I mean the absolute insanity that is a professional kitchen. I do have a laser focus that I didn’t have before, as well as better living through chemicals (Klonopin). Why is medication important? I have anxiety naturally without adding on cooking dinner for 2-300 people a night. It has physical side effects, such as shortness of breath and heart/brain race. While the medication doesn’t solve emotional issues, it does keep me from getting physically worked up, which is a lot of the battle with anxiety. I know I have trouble continuing to churn out food when I feel like I can’t breathe and I’m going to pass out…. wouldn’t you?

I have proven to myself time and again that it’s not the medication that’s making me a better cook. I don’t have to have it… as in, it’s not an emergency if I’m out or I’ve forgotten it that day (not true with my other drugs)…. that being said, I do feel that it’s very helpful on a Friday or Saturday when the sound of the ticket machine is interminable… like being put into a football game when the other team is already fifty points ahead and it’s only the first quarter…. or for the readers outside the US, like being put into a football game when the other team is nine goals ahead in minute 10.

Medication allows me to win by minute 90, because I am not intimidated.

I’m not intimidated by much anymore. Losing my mother is probably the worst thing that will ever happen to me, save losing anyone else in my family. Definitely the worst that has ever happened thus far. From that perspective, anything in the world that happens is probably better, so why be afraid? I lived through that grief, though I didn’t love it.

My friend Wendy coined that phrase for me years ago when she said, “Leslie, you just have to live it. You don’t have to love it.” I was in deep grief about something else, before I really knew what grief was. It was like hitting rock bottom and then finding out once I got there that it was false and there were still levels underneath.

The trick is using grief to propel you upward, which takes more time than you would think. Technically, if you’ve never lost someone close to you, but you think you know what it will be like and how long it will take you to recover, the reality will in all likelihood punch you in the face and you’ll lie on the ground dazed for twice as long as you thought you would…. wait, triple that… and then realize that you’ll never be the same person that you were, you’ll just have found a new normal.

Apparently, my new normal is being talented at cooking in a professional kitchen- something which I neither prepared for nor necessarily wanted. It just fell into my lap and I went with it. IT jobs weren’t forthcoming, and I knew I would have a blast, so why not? I expected to love it. I didn’t expect it to love me back… not to this degree, anyway.

Part of the love I have for cooking is knowing for sure that I facilitate happiness. There are very few get-togethers between friends that don’t involve food, and whether it’s friends gathered at my table or strangers getting together at my restaurant with their own loved ones, it makes no difference. The talent is the same.

 

What Am I Going to Be Weepy About Today?

One of the universal signs of Aunt Flo’s arrival is that I can start crying immediately for no reason at all… or I just make them up as I go along. Menstruation, depression and anxiety are such a lethal combination. It becomes heightened awareness of everything I actually have to cry about, although the impetus is generally nothing and expands into everything. I finally got tired of not knowing when this was going to happen, so I found a period tracker online and signed up. I also track my ovulation, because sometimes that causes cramps as well, when I am tricked into thinking “it’s time,” and it’s not. I used to have a premonition of the big arrival, and it has gone away through the use of so much Aleve and Tylenol.

Why I didn’t think of this before is obvious. Why track it when I don’t sleep with men? Why track it when I’ve been abstinent for over three years? Why track it when women’s sperm count is incredibly low? 😛 As I used to tease Dana, my then wife, “maybe boxers would help.” Of course, this was when we were thinking of trying to conceive, and after that, it was just an inside joke…. because in the Lanagan family, if it’s funny once, just run it into the ground.

I also hate changing my usual underwear. I generally go for boys’ boxer briefs because they double as knock-off Spanx. I find tampons incredibly uncomfortable, so there’s really no way around having to wear those sexy “Granny panties” we all buy at Target.

As I have said before, this blog is about my own journey, and you’re invited. I’m not trying to exclude men, but I think it’s important to reach out to other women with this entry. Women are the majority, so saying “most Americans get periods” is entirely accurate. And, in fact, I am not entirely excluding men. There are plenty of men that get periods until their transition to male is complete, an awareness that most people just don’t have, but should. For transgendered men, they also have the ability to get pregnant, so unless they’re actively trying to conceive, it’s important for them to track as well.

Transgendered men get pregnant for all sorts of reasons, the usual being that their wives aren’t capable, so they offer. It’s convenient in gay relationships as well, not having to use a surrogate.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I am overwhelmed when I’m on my period, because unless I’m in the kitchen, I tend to flood out emotionally. I’m not generally irritable, but weepy and need contact comfort, which currently is snuggling with my Postman Pat doll. You can’t get the one I have anymore- my parents bought it for me when I was eight and we were on a trip to London. It’s one of the few things we were able to rescue from our house fire when I was 12, and I am entirely grateful for “him” now. He’s big enough to be the little spoon when I feel like hiding under the covers. I kind of want to put him away for safe keeping because he’s so rare that I don’t want him to unravel. For this reason, I started a birthday (Sept. 10th) wish list on Amazon in which I added a large stuffed dog. It looks incredibly lifelike and not something that looks like I  have wished I was still a toddler. But no lie, the Gund Grover was appealing. I added it to the list and then took it back off, because I realized quickly that I would get embarrassed by it and give it away, like I did with my Alf and bigger-than-life SpongeBob dolls. I shouldn’t have given SpongeBob away, though, because I remember clearly being in the ER at Inova Alexandria in 2001, when Kathleen brought him to me and I wept into it for most of the day, when there weren’t enough beds and the doctors just pumped me up with morphine and set me in the hallway.

That is an interesting story in and of itself. When I finally “got seen,” I was having abdominal attacks that looked just like appendicitis, and I was minutes away from being prepped for surgery when the doctors realized that wasn’t it. I had a hole in my esophagus that had become infected. I was actually born with that gap, but since it had never become infected before, I’d never noticed. But, I was doubled over in pain, and since it wasn’t like there was room (or even appropriate) for Kathleen to climb into bed with me, SpongeBob was an excellent second choice.

Why yes, I know I’ve revealed I’ve been married and separated twice. Thanks for noticing. It’s not painful or anything (/eyeroll). The reason I’m not officially divorced from either of them is that one is a civil union in Vermont and one is a domestic partnership in Oregon. For the civil union in Vermont, it was 2001, when it wasn’t even recognized in other states, so the legal advice we got was to just let it lie, the idea of national marriage not even on anyone’s radar.

Dana has said that she’ll file in Oregon, and as long as I don’t contest it, it will just be over. That was long, long ago, and I am still waiting……………. I should really take matters into my own hands, but I haven’t for two reasons. The first is that I’m really hoping for some follow-through on Dana’s part. The second is that honestly, I just haven’t cared enough. Why that is, I just can’t say. I could spitball a number of reasons, but it would be just that; I’d only be guessing, not knowing for sure. The one thing I do know is that it’s taken me years to get over losing her, so with no one on the horizon, it just made sense to put it on the back burner and wait it out. I don’t feel like it’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m fully prepared to receive said dissolution. It’s more like waiting to close a really great chapter in my life and move on to the next one.

I don’t know if the rules have changed for dissolution in Vermont or not. In 2002, you had to live in Vermont for six months before you could file, and neither Kathleen nor I thought that was a good idea. “We’re not getting along, so of course we need to move to a place where most of the time it’s cold and dark.” For that reason, I am surprised I lasted in Oregon as long as I did.

But now that I have two failed relationships with legal complications under my belt, I am gunshy about ever getting married again. It is now my view that commitment and loyalty don’t need a piece of paper…. and as long as there are no health insurance or federal and state tax implications, I think that advice to myself is sound. If a wedding is important to my next partner, should I be so blessed, she’ll get one. But that doesn’t mean we have to file a marriage license. Being supported by our community is way more important to me than getting the government involved. I feel as if I’ve already been there, bought the t-shirt… and now it’s way too small…. and the tag itches. Besides, it’s already got stains on it. I don’t want to wear it anymore if I can help it.

One of the things that really bothers me when I am in the throes of being weepy is that I can’t believe I have two divorces under my belt when all I really wanted in the beginning is to marry my high school sweetheart and be together for fifty years…. Ten years after we broke up, having been friends the whole time, she accidentally gutted me in a Canadian Starbucks when she said that she regretted not being able to be partners as adults, because she thought it was something at which we would have been good. My inner 18-year-old cried big alligator tears that night. But during the conversation, I managed to hold it together, even though my insides were screaming. Most of the screaming was due to, “I treated you so badly when we were young that how dare I come back and ask for forgiveness.” My inner monologue was just wailing that she’d taken away my choice to forgive her or not.

However, the angst didn’t last long, because I think what was supposed to happen did. She used to be the friend that knew me best in the entire world, and then years later inexplicably unfriended me on Facebook and stopped answering my e-mails. It was truly painful being ghosted by someone who’d been an enormous part of my growth and development, with no explanation as to the whys and hows. I can’t think of anything I specifically did to offend her, so to this day I have questions.

She did reach out when I posted on a mutual friend’s page that my mother had died, but after that one conversation, she was gone again. I didn’t even know you could message people who weren’t your friends, so after that, I completely blocked her. It isn’t that I don’t love and value her. It’s that seeing her comments became too painful to ignore…. something that I have done with other friends as well. It’s not about my feelings for them, exactly. It’s that seeing their faces/comments on social media, especially when Aunt Flo is telling me to cry about everything, is just a painful reminder of things ending badly.

The last time I got really, really angry was when I specifically asked Dana to leave my family and me alone after insisting on no contact with me directly, then liking a picture of my sister and me on my sister’s Instagram account. But did I do anything about it? No. I pretended it didn’t matter and just ignored her. But pretending is the key word, because obviously it bothered me enough to write about it…. this was about 30 days ago, so you can guess why it got to me…………

Perhaps Dana thinks it’s been long enough that these things don’t matter… but there are parts of that relationship I’ve had a hard time forgiving, and I’ll never forget. The first is that a relationship that was so mutually beautiful still ended in a fistfight of enormous proportions, the result of keeping so much bottled that it got violent when the Mento eventually dropped into the Diet Coke. The second is that Dana’s parents live relatively close to me (within 40 miles or so), and when she came to visit them, she made a point of telling my sister through social media (they don’t actually talk, because when someone hurts me, my sister also burns the bridge). I got butt hurt that she didn’t reach out to me directly and then I realized that e-mail goes both ways. I sent her a short e-mail saying that if she wanted to see me, I was open to it, and if not, that was fine, too. What I got back was an e-mail from her sister that said not to contact Dana again through any means. The double standard is rage-inducing, so I literally took a chill pill and got on with my life. I figured if that was the kind of behavior I could expect from her, I didn’t need that temperature in my life, anyway. I think I was shocked more than anything else, considering that when I first moved to DC, we talked a few times and it went well.

But the last thing I truly have trouble forgetting (although forgiven) is that she didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I didn’t need her there as my emotional support person. I already had “my person” there for that (thanks, James). I also wasn’t using my mother’s death as an excuse to reconnect with her romantically, because not only would it have been wildly inappropriate, I didn’t want it (not then, not ever again).

We’d had a great conversation when I was waiting to go to the airport, a distraction I sorely needed because at first it was crying, and then it was laughter until I was crying again, the kind of laughter where you’re just shaking in silence while tears and snot run down your face.

I continue to feel it was about respect for both me and my mother, and it was surprising to me that she was willing to be my friend for a few minutes, but not enough of a friend to come to the funeral of her former mother-in-law of over seven years…. and that a friendship of over four years before we ever got involved was not enough of a reason to just be there…. and not even for me directly. Just to look out into the crowd and see her face as I was giving my eulogy would have been enough.

And, of course, being weepy makes me miss the contact comfort of my mother’s hugs even more intensely than usual, because there’s nothing like needing your mom when you’re in pain and she literally can’t be there…. won’t be ever again.

I count on my friends who are mothers to fill that void, because as I have said before, they love differently than everyone else. It is enormously comforting to be in the room when they’re with their kids and soak up the mother love radiating through the room…. and with the exception of infants, remembering when I was those children’s ages and how my mom was (and what she was to me) at that time in my life.

The last thing that truly dogs me during these few days of ALL THE FEELS at once are the mistakes I made when not being as careful with Argo’s heart as I should have been, because it invariably leads to what could have been…. and how most, if not all of the destruction of that friendship was at my own hand, and I just feel that shame over and over, even though I’ve talked about it with therapists and have coping mechanisms not to get stuck in those moments, reliving them and empathizing with the pain I must have caused. There’s plenty of context, but not excuses. I hope I’ve taken enough responsibility that something like it will never happen again. It was painful enough the first time around to stop that behavior cold. Losing such a beautiful woman, inside and out, with my own cortisol and sin was akin to cutting out part of my heart with a dirty knife. When I am truly depressed about it, I think of all the things I shouldn’t have said and all the things I wish I’d said instead. Maybe things worked out the way they were supposed to, but I don’t really believe that. What I do believe is that it is a regret I will continue to carry, never truly letting it go because the reminder that I am capable of causing pain to others when I am not careful with my words doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

It only becomes a bad thing when the feeling that I can’t forgive myself rises from the ash.

Not being able to forgive myself is so much harder than forgiving others for what I perceive has been done to me. I am so much more infinitely tolerant of other people’s words than I am of my own.

It has caused me to become extremely withdrawn, so that when I’m around others I am reminded to think deeply before I speak, or let the moment pass and not speak at all…. and when I’m alone, thinking that it’s better that way because I cannot possibly hurt anyone if I’m not talking at all….. limiting what one friend calls “crazy spatter.”

Which will be infinitely worse for the next four to seven days.