The One About the MRI

Months ago, I was in so much pain that I rushed myself to Urgent Care, crying and shaking because my shoulder hurt so bad. I was told to follow up with my doctor because I needed an MRI to see whether it was just a strain or something more serious- a tear, which requires surgical intervention. I didn’t, because I was prescribed a course of narcotics, and by the time I was finished with it and only needed Aleve sporadically, it seemed “unpossible” that it was bad enough for a follow-up. My range of motion was back to normal, and I went back to ignoring it, because I thought I could…. the pain went away on its own.

I should have been more vigilant, because I’ve dealt with this sort of pain for years, not realizing it was my rotator cuff and getting massages to “work out the knots.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is what happens when you’re a doctor’s kid. You make uneducated guesses because you think you’ve picked up actual medical knowledge by osmosis. I know exactly how it started. Working in a medical office is fast and furious at times, and every time I left a patient room, I was carrying the chart in my right hand and closing the door with my left. The way I exited, the door ended up being behind me, and it was an awkward reach, but faster than closing the door like a normal person. Later on, the pain came back, because I was cooking professionally all the time and reaching for heavy pots and pans that would invariably put pressure on the already sensitive areas.

Now I’m back in excruciating pain, and decided that seeing a real MD was better than my own less-than-perfect education.Ralph Wiggum I can’t just do occasional courses of narcotics forever, and it should have set off alarm bells that I needed Aleve and Tylenol so often. I have now come to believe that Ralph Wiggum would have made better decisions than me. As Ralph would say, “I’m bembarassed for you!”

Just because I worked in my stepmom’s office for a while doesn’t mean much. I learned a ton, but it’s just not the same. Duh, Leslie. The stupid, it burns…. I feel like the moral equivalent of this picture. Even Ralph went to the doctor, who told him he “wouldn’t have so many nosebleeds if he didn’t keep his finger up there.” Now that’s some sound medical advice.

I went to the doctor on Monday, and he wrote me a referral to imaging. The next available appointment wasn’t until today. Dr. Akoto said he wanted to see me back in a week, but I think I’m going to call him and reschedule for next Wednesday, because imaging told me that the radiology report probably wouldn’t be back by Monday since my appointment with them isn’t until 2:15.

If I’m honest, I’ve put this off because even though fixing a rotator cuff tear is quick and easy, the recovery is, in a word, not. I know the Nassers will be great about helping me. They’ve become my adopted family and we’d do anything for each other. But even though I know this logically, I have been at a loss emotionally. I feel alone, even though I am certainly not. I am in a very small place, whimpering for my mommy as consistently as I did when I was five.

I had to come to a place of peace regarding it, because it’s not a problem that will ever be fixed. Today has been about saying “get over it” to myself. Just because I can’t complain to my mother doesn’t mean I don’t need to put on the gangsta rap and get it handled. Longing for a dead person does me about as much good as sticking my head in the sand and hoping my problems will go away on their own.

I have, in effect, created my own multitude of problems, and am now digging myself out. There is, I suppose, something to be proud of in that. Self reliance can be a beautiful thing, although sometimes I feel like I rely on myself too much without letting other people in.

Luckily, I realized this and talked to Dan on the phone (look at me! I called someone!). She thanked me for being vulnerable and reaching out, which felt like a hug from Jesus. She’s not as physically close as the Nassers (she lives in Virginia), but her “just checking in” texts mean so much.

It also helps that I don’t drive, and that public transportation is excellent…. because nothing would be worse than being tempted to drive with one arm. Generally, one accident leads to another because even though you’re just doing normal things, you’re already off-balance.

And lastly, I can’t help but feel that my mental health has allowed my physical health to go by the wayside, because I am just not on the ball with following up. I’m not too depressed to do so, I’m so ADHD that keeping up with my to-do list is often overwhelming to an enormous degree.

Today, I’m on top of it. I will schlep myself over to imaging even though it’s snowing and I’m cold AF. I will schlep myself to the doctor next week because it’s an A-list priority. I used to be a Franklin Covey disciple, but that fell by the wayside when I stopped using pen and paper. I am sure there’s a ton of software to replace it, but I’ve settled for Google Tasks. It is very good in terms of remembering things, but there’s really no way to add priorities as well. The best I can do is add due dates, and I am way too good at the snooze button.

Speaking of the snooze button, now it’s really time to stop writing and get ready. I may be a little afraid of the results, but it’s better than not knowing. I wish I had realized this long ago, but “better nate than lever.”

Please send me as much good karma as you can muster. I could use the boost, because even if you don’t tell me you sent it, I can feel it in spades.

Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

Shared

…there’s a ghost in this house,
When he sings it sounds just like you,
When he falls it brings me down too.

Does it get easier to do?

-Robyn Dell’Unto

When I listen to this song, I can’t decide if the ghost is internal or external. Are the people I’ve loved and lost following me, or is it the feelings I have about them? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For instance, if I could go back in time and not move to DC, would I do it?

I have many regrets, and this is one of them, but not because it isn’t wonderful, and I wouldn’t even think about it if my mother hadn’t died so relatively shortly after I did.

Dana made it clear that she did not want to work on our relationship, and I could not live in the same city with her and not obsess over whether I could abide by that decision and how and when to leave her alone.

Moving was a way to give her space to figure out her own shit while I figured out mine, without the need to check in with her every damn minute to take an emotional temperature. I don’t know if it was ever in her plan, but I thought that with time and distance, things would look different, that we might ultimately find our paths back to each other after an enormous amount of therapy on our own, because what we had together was spectacular.

I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it just being over. I held on to that hope for about six months, and then I began to grieve in earnest. During that time, directly after I moved, we talked a few times, and then never again. And even in our discussions, it was never about how we were really doing, just catching up like ladies who lunch. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was an adjustment.

I remember thinking, “this is not the Dana that I know… and that’s the point.”

I think the feeling of the rubber meeting the road in six months is relatively quick. At the time it felt interminable, but it wasn’t. Just a small part of the process in taking her from my reality to my past. The ghost that lives in my house, because I don’t lock her away and don’t care that she’s here. In a lot of ways, it’s comforting, because the memories that come up for me are of laughter and not of strife. I choose to block the bad parts and focus on the good.

And does it matter that these are the feelings I have when I’m alone, closed off to being with anyone else, because I just don’t want it? I don’t see it? That I am incredibly happy with having friends and family who love me, and that being the extent of my support system?

I am not over the way I treated her, and though I have made progress, I am not forgiven. It feels like letting myself off the hook too quickly, because I don’t want a repeat of this pattern ever again.

Also, I’ve never lived my life without a ghost that played tapes in my head, and I have work to do where that is concerned, as well. I’ve never had a mind free of wandering off into the past, reliving conversations of happier times and wondering why things went wrong… and two of them weren’t even romantic relationships, unless you count the complete mindfuck that went along with them. Although the second is self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be complicated, and I made it so.

But there’s a new truth in my life that is here to stay. Dana and I shared some incredibly privileged information that I won’t be able to bring up with anyone else, and I mean this on the serious. No one can ever know, and not because it’s dirty or bad or wrong, it just is. So part of my willingness to work on our relationship, no matter how bad things got, was the reminder that if I lost her safe space, there was no replacement, and never would be.

In that one way, our lives are connected as permanently as our matching tattoos. When I left, I made a point of calling them our honing beacons, but I wouldn’t use it now. It’s just another thing that is.

We were smart enough to be aware of the fact that we could break up when we got them, so we choose something that was meaningful to both of us severally and jointly. It’s not like I have a huge back piece that says “I love Dana.”

But in my worst moments, sometimes it feels that way.

I’m also not stupid enough to believe that her friends won’t read this, so let me assure them that I have no intention of moving backwards, of reaching out, of doing anything to endanger the peaceful silence we have achieved. My stuff to work out is owned, and I have no need for closure.

It’s been too long, it hurts too much to envision those conversations, and the ponderings of my heart are not to be shared… and by that, I mean that I don’t care if she reads my blog. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. I’ll never know or care. What I mean is that it’s not her job to care about what I think or even affect her life in any way. My thoughts, again, aren’t meant to be shared.

They’re just brain droppings, and maybe not even healthy ones. They just are. It’s not my job to judge their merit, just to let them come and go, talking about them with myself and probably my therapist.

I’m not stupid enough to think that any of my ghosts aren’t secretly reading, and I can’t care about that, either, because then this space ceases to be my own and starts to be a reflection of what I think their opinions might be.

My thoughts aren’t meant to be shared, leading to common ground.

It’s my weight to carry, and they don’t deserve (in good ways or bad) to take off a few pounds.

I am a product of my own inner landscape, sharing common ground with strangers who have had similar experiences… perhaps learning about the ghosts that walk in their houses. Reaching out, but not to anyone in particular.

I remember explaining this phenomenon to Argo, when she wasn’t a ghost, but very, very present, talking about someone else. That when I found out a piece of my past was lurking, she thought I was writing to it on purpose. I told her that quite frankly, when I found out the blood drained from my face and I nearly threw up. She got it, and we didn’t have to discuss it again. Once was enough, and I love her for that. She believed me the first time, and I didn’t have to convince her. It just was. She let it be, and it was the right thing to do. I don’t think I would have been willing to continue our unusual kinship if it had become a thing.

I could easily have let Argo become a ghost, listening to our made up whispers in my dreams instead of grabbing onto reality. The truth is that she is very present in my life. But those conversations happen in daylight, steeped in what is really right in front of me and not pipe dreams.

Probably because we didn’t have as many connections as Dana and me. I never shook her hand, thought her hugs would be memorable but never experienced it firsthand. A virtual x had to do. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if virtual became real, but only from the standpoint that it would have changed operatic swells of emotion into daily normality, letting minutiae temper the page. On paper, it’s easy to run off into flights of fancy. When someone is right in front of you, it isn’t. Reading when I was making her eyes glaze over or her temper flare was different than seeing it. It would have changed my direction and my distraction.

But what I know for sure is that I achieved my own peace with it not happening, it not being likely to happen, and just smiling like an idiot that I got to meet a piece of her at all. That for a short time, we walked in each other’s inner landscapes and it adding galaxies to me that I didn’t know I needed.

Still need, but okay with it being a long time ago and far, far away.

If I could go back and change anything, I would. In a hot second. But that’s not how life works. I got on the “think it, say it” plan without realizing its consequences, which were devastating in their scope. Knowing it was all at my own hand is the worst part, and something that 25 years from now, I will still look upon with regret and shame. Not being in my right mind doesn’t erase or excuse any of it.

But because I’ve seen her picture, her face does cross my mind, choosing to ignore the raw parts and focusing on the joy she brings me now. Memories are powerful, as is happiness surrounding them.

The one that makes me laugh all the goddamn time is, “you like to rap to Eminem? Explain to me exactly how I’m not going to fall in love with you. USE BIG WORDS.” Because of course, I was kidding, but she took it seriously and said, “you might fall in love with honesty coming through our chord, but you won’t fall in love with me, as adorable as I might be.” And that makes me laugh just as much, because it is so undeniably true (both that she was right about misreading falling in love with honesty and falling in love with her as a person, AND that she is, in fact, adorable- she’s so much funnier than me, and the degree is annoying. As an aside, there was one joke between us in which I came in kings full over aces, and though I don’t remember which one it was, I do remember feeling like I’d checkmated the king using just a pawn and a knight, when every day previously had felt like grasshopper would never reach satori).

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people may forget your words, but they will never forget the way they felt. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t like the actual quote, which is that “people will never forget the way you made them feel.” No one can make you feel anything. Your response is your response, and not anyone else’s to own. What is yours to own is either the laughter or the fallout.

I feel like that is what I do on this blog to a tremendous degree. I deal with my own responses, and their consequences. I can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s. What I can do is learn from the fallout, and try to make new mistakes. To think that everything will one day go perfectly is its own delusion.

What I do reflect on is interconnectedness, how my every response creates consequence, and how I live with it.

Because my thoughts aren’t meant to be shared.

She’s Just Not That Into You

This is not a story about dating. This is a story about a blank page, and how she stares at me like a wanton goddess some days, and a “bitch, please” expression on others. It generally has to do with my depression cycle, because on the downside I lose the motivation to do most things, even when it’s something to which I’m dedicated.

Tony Mendez, co-author of Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, died recently after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s. As soon as I heard the news, I crumpled into myself.

Of course it wrecked me because I dreamed of meeting him from the moment I read the book and saw the movie. Washington is, for the most part, a small town.image It might have been possible had I gotten here when he was still doing public appearances. Just another instance in which I felt late. But the longer I cried, the more I realized that it wasn’t just about him. It was losing yet another person in my life permanently. We’d never met, I’d never shaken his hand, and yet in some small way I felt I knew him. I wish I’d gotten to tell him how much his words have meant to me over the years, how I cried big alligator tears when I didn’t get to the Spy Museum gift shop in time to get an autographed copy, and how my dad threw a hail Mary pass to get me one somewhere else.

As an aside, above left is his official portrait, which hangs in the CIA Art Gallery. The artist was the first female (and first Agency officer) displayed there.

I spent that first night mourning him by reading “Argo” again, taking time to stare at his autograph… making up the part where I’d gotten it at a signing in person. I don’t know whether he has a star on the wall at Langley or not- you’d think after all the CIA TV shows I’ve binge-watched since Alias, I would know whether you get one no matter how you die, or if you only get one if you are KIA. I hope it is the former, but I’ll probably never know for sure. Once, just for laughs, I looked up directions to Langley on Google Maps. Every road within at least five miles is marked “restricted access.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I am not their target demographic.

I wish I had gotten to tell him how much my step sister, Susan, adored him as well…. perhaps even more than me. Susan is also dead now, but when she was alive we had great conversations about how he was an inspiration to the Hispanic community (Susan was half Mexican and the chair of Mexican Studies at University of Texas, San Antonio)… and her rant and a half about how they cast BEN AFFLECK to play him, when in reality he looked way more like Cheech Marin. It would have been way better to have shared the grief, but she’s been gone a long time now…. just about the time Tony made the public announcement that he had Parkinson’s, actually.

And, of course, I have a different reaction to any kind of grief now that I’ve lost my mother. It seems to have affected me on a cellular level. My neurons fire differently now, and it has changed me in ways that I didn’t know were coming- some good, some bad. For instance, she retired from teaching in May and she was dead by October. 65 is by all accounts just too young, and at 41, I’ve become one of those people who grieve the loss of someone’s shortened life by truly taking it in and trying to make more count, because I know how quickly it could be taken away.

I signed up with a modeling agency, not because I think I’m graceful and gorgeous, but because they cast extras and Homeland is filmed here. It’s my goal to stand in the background somewhere, and it’s the last season, so I have to do it now. There are also a ton of TV shows and films about Washington, so it might not be a one-time gig. We’ll see.

I signed up to audition for Washington National Opera, and even though I got sick and had to cancel, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger and if I was going to do it, I have to do it now. Next January can’t come fast enough, and I’ll be taking vitamins and avoiding public places for all of December.

I said yes to traveling to Paris, even though it was out of my comfort zone. I had a wonderful time, but in general I do not like crowds, and the Yellow Vests made me equally uncomfortable because some of the protests had gotten violent, even while we were there. We were asked to stay inside the Musee d’Orsay until the commotion ended. If I was going to get locked in somewhere, it wasn’t a bad place to be, but still……..

20190105_100801Overall, I had a wonderful time, and it never would have happened without me being able to say, “when will I ever get this opportunity again?”

My souvenir was a warm woolen scarf, and when I put it on, it still smells like France. My mind immediately wanders to my favorite part of the trip, wandering around an old cemetery filled with famous writers, artists, musicians, composers, and rich people, because I learned that now to get a plot there, it’s over 10,000 euros. If I had it, I think I might pay it. It’s different than any cemetery I’ve visited. The grave sites are organized into what feels like “neighborhoods,” literally a city of the dead that must be glorious in the early fall. The weather in January was practically mood music. Walking the cobblestone streets was comforting, almost ethereal.

It often lessens my grief to walk around in cemeteries, because in those moments, I am not the only person who has lost someone and there is evidence of it all around me. I am not alone, even when I feel like it.

I am not the first person to lose a hero, a friend, a mother…. and I constantly remind myself because it’s so easy to forget.

Especially when I don’t write it down, on the blank page that always stares back.

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.