Folgers

Today has not been the best (so far, it’s only 11:30 AM). I generally get a cold at the beginning of spring, because my allergy medication just can’t keep up (gross out warning) and snot just runs continuously down the back of my throat until it’s raw and scratchy. I haven’t lost my voice, but when I woke up this morning, I did have that sexy Debra Winger rasp going on.

It’s gone now, after a really long, hot shower and something warm to drink- hence the title. I normally wouldn’t be caught dead drinking Folger’s Classic Roast,™ but I ran to 7-Eleven for essentials and it’s what they had. Seriously. That’s it. I’ve never been to a store in my life that only carried one type of coffee, and it just happened to be the Budweiser™ equivalent. However, desperation made me buy it, anyway. I haven’t had coffee in a couple of days, and like most of the population, I’m so addicted to it that withdrawal is a thing. Hey, it’s my only vice. At least give me this one.

To my surprise, when I made the coffee the way I like it (one level scoop per cup), it was more than drinkable. Probably the reason I thought I hated it was the way churches tend to make it……. not calling anyone out on the carpet, but I have had my fair share of shitty brown water that they called “coffee.” To be fair, it’s hard to know the ratio for a 40-50 cup urn.

IMG_0037As I am singing the praises of this blessed event (coffee is divinity), the playlist in my headphones is called Stranger Than Fiction on Spotify. It’s all the soundtracks from Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, all the Bourne movies, and The Kite Runner. It’s killer, if I do say so myself…. and it’s public if you want to check it out. Even though I put it on shuffle, I always start with The Bourne Identity‘s main theme. The English Horn solo just blows me away…. probably the only iconic English Horn solo on record for those who aren’t classical music nerds (like me). As for the Bourne series, my favorite is Supremacy, and the only thing I really liked about Jason Bourne was the soundtrack and the picture my dad took of me with the movie poster.

For instance, I was sitting in the theater doubled over in that silent laugh where you’re just shaking violently with snot and tears running down your face, because someone is hacking a computer for information on a black op, and transfers the files from a folder called Black Ops. Because of course all intel agencies hide the documents regarding black ops in a folder called BLACK OPS.

And of course, that led me to think about what I would have named that folder. Probably something like birthday_party_pictures or cat_photos. At the very least, something that someone wouldn’t click on immediately after logging into my computer. HELLO!

Of course, as a computer nerd, it’s probably something only I and my IT peeps would pick up, because it’s supposed to be exposition for the audience. That didn’t not make it hilarious.

It was especially fun to go to the International Spy Museum and to see Jason Bourne with my dad all in the same trip. I don’t know if it was a special exhibit or in their permanent collection, but there was a fantastic James Bond adventure.

Most of the intel agencies around here now have entertainment departments (CIA was the last to get on board), so recent movies like Salt and Atomic Blonde, as well as TV shows like Homeland and The Looming Tower have real-life advisers that make the shows fictional-yet-believable. According to a book I read on the subject, the lives of spies are blown way out of proportion, sometimes to make the movie better and sometimes to divert the public’s attention from the way The Agency really works. For instance, it’s not as interesting to watch a movie about espionage if all that happens is a huge amount of paperwork. Also, no intel agency is ever going to publish in any form the way they operate, because lives depend on it….. publishing it all for us is publishing it all for “them,” whomever they are.

…which invariably leads me to my white hot hatred of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Disagree with me all you want, but I’m not going to change my mind. Not only did they put American lives in danger, but all the friendlies we’d managed to turn in other countries as well. People seem to forget that they’re called “confidential informants” for a reason…. mostly because they could be executed by their own governments. I haven’t read every single document that was leaked, because first of all, I don’t want to. I’d prefer to stay frosty and let the professionals handle it. I couldn’t spy my way out of a paper bag. Second of all, I am sure that it wasn’t just American covers blown, but Mossad, MI-6, etc. and I don’t want to read about it because it will just feed the anger I already have. I have enough anger in my life. I don’t need to add anything on top of it.

That being said, the Julian Assange biopic, The Fifth Estate, is very good. Even the title is clever- moving us forward from newspapers to the Internet. I don’t know how much of it is real, but I liked it, anyway. The biopic about Edward Snowden (called Snowden, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role), however, kept me up for three days, because I would be frightened to learn that even a third of it is real. Don’t watch it at night. Hold someone’s hand. It will creep you the fuck out. I’m serious. Take my advice or don’t- at your own peril (safety not guaranteed, no refunds, you break it you buy it, etc.).

As you can tell, I’m a fan of intel movies, mostly because now it generally involves computers and hacking (BLACK OPS folder…… hahahahahahaha). I am not clever enough in that arena to figure it all out (and don’t want to), but fictionalized versions are awesome. In my daily life, I am just a regular geek who loves Linux, but would crap my pants if asked to write any sort of program. In terms of the logic behind the languages, I’m barely a step above “Hello, World.” It is not my calling to learn to hack, crack, or program…. but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good piece of media about it.

The only intel show that I have problems with is Homeland. I watch it anyway, because it’s a good story and I like all the actors (particularly Mandy Patinkin). But I just get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time Carrie Mathison goes to her “crazy place.” I realize that she’s Bipolar I and I’m Bipolar II, so basically nothing she does is something I would do. But there’s a part of me that knows her portrayal of that kind of crazy is dead on, and to me, it is not comforting in the slightest that I understand. I feel like I get her in only the way another bipolar person would, and in those moments, watching truly sucks. It’s like a train wreck- I can’t look away. I’m too invested in knowing what happens now.

Leaving out the part that nearly everything Carrie does would, in real life, have landed her in federal prison (or a dark site) long ago.

But it’s just a TV show. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

Am I crazy, or is this Folgers really working for me?

Yes.

The Goldfish

Easter is a hard day for me in terms of grieving my mother. Because here is what is supposed to happen today. We’re supposed to wake up early so that Lindsay and I get our Easter presents, even when I’m not living in Houston and open my presents with her while she’s on the phone. Usually, it’s money and a metric tonne of chocolate, including a hollow bunny for the annual drinking of the Dr Pepper. Then, my mom and I both go off to our volunteer jobs. For a lot of my life it was playing my horn, and for the rest, singing in the choir. The first year after my mom died, I went to Easter services and cried all the way through it. This year, I am not even thinking about leaving the house. We’re having a to-do with “the family,” and that is enough.

This morning, Hayat and I sat around drinking coffee and eating Milanos, but first, I talked to my dad as he was on his way to play his trumpet at Second Baptist.

It’s kind of cool that between TV and Facebook Live events, I can actually hear him play, and sometimes see him in the background. It makes me happy because he is just as good as he was in high school/college. I, however, am not. Some of my fondest memories are of being on the brass line, so it’s nice to live vicariously through him.

Before there were church jobs for me, though, there were trails of plastic eggs filled with candy and/or malted milk eggs to our Easter baskets filled with that fake grass that gets damn everywhere. Black_Moor_Goldfish1In third grade, I asked for a goldfish, and I got it. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a present, because it was a black moor, and he was so incredibly cute. I managed to keep him alive for probably two years, a miracle since at that time, I didn’t know that goldfish desperately need an aquarium to breathe properly. He just had the classic bowl setup. I’d sit in front of the bowl and just stare at his googly eyes, wondering if he was lonely and deciding that no, he was okay. He had me. This fish is absolutely the reason I’ve kept goldfish most of my life, and will continue to in memoriam…. both for that fish and the one who gave it to me. I wish I could remember what I named it…. I’m usually pretty good about these things. For instance, I remember that Dana and I had a whole tank that we gave eastern names- we had Samir, Saeed, and Zain. Saeed came from Lindsay’s high school boyfriend, Zain was his cousin, and Samir just fit with the theme. But third grade is so long ago…. I’ve slept since then. I want to say it was Malcolm. Don’t quote me on that.

I wish I could remember other presents I got, but I only remember the candy. This was the big highlight, so the one that sticks in my memory the best. I thought it was hilarious that my mother was so big on giving us chocolate for Easter, but never really ate any herself. However, I think she enjoyed my goldfish as much as I did. I often wonder what made her pick the black one, or how she knew they were my favorite. But my mother was sneaky like that. She had the memory of an elephant, so I could say that I liked something and it would magically appear up to three years later…. and I never found any indication that she wrote stuff like that down.

I would make wish lists on Amazon for Christmas, and she never bought anything from any of them, preferring to listen to me and surprise me with things I’d forgotten about long ago. But Easter hasn’t been about presents since I was little. It’s been about hard, hard work. Hours upon hours of rehearsal and laryngitis and my embouchure being plain worn out after several services in a row. The trumpet descants were always better than the soprano ones, so when I gave up trumpet, I would sing those descants as a soprano instead….. unless the organist surprised me by playing his/her own modulations and the descants didn’t fit into the chord structure anymore. I think that only happened once, though, so I pretty much got away with it every year.

As you can imagine, even entering a church is difficult for me now, because I just see my mother everywhere, and it is not as comforting as one might think. It is just a reminder of despair, because there is no better synecdoche for my mother than a piano… or an organ…. or a choir robe…. or a really great alto part….

It’s hard to swallow because I miss choir, but I don’t miss feeling like crap every Sunday because I cannot rise above grief (at this time).

Perhaps the answer is in thinking that my mom’s resurrection is within me, carrying her music into the future.

I’m just not there yet. I mean, I haven’t even bought a goldfish.

Argo F*ck Yourself

I’m not trying to be mean to anyone with that title. It’s a Spotify playlist I created with the Argo soundtrack. There are so many tracks that are amazing for writing; I highly recommend checking it out. My favorite is The Mission. I just hit “Write” in the WordPress editor and put the music on shuffle. It is background Middle Eastern music that is completely wordless, perfect for concentration. I use other playlists such as Deep Focus as well, but I’m so familiar with this album that I choose it the most frequently. This is because as a music person, I can’t write as well with something I haven’t heard before. My energy transfers to figuring out walking bass lines, lyrics, etc. Sometimes, like Matt Mullenweg, I will put one track on repeat so that music is playing, but it is just background noise and not a distraction (I learned he does this from a Tim Ferris podcast episode). My favorite for listening over and over again is Mausam & Escape from Slumdog Millionaire. It also makes excellent running music….. or it would, if I ran. I’ve been meaning to start for, oh, ten years or so?


Quick break for fact about Matt- we both went to HSPVA, but not at the same time. He is a bit younger than I am.


The last time I began running seriously was six weeks before I went skiing on Spring Break (senior year of high school) at Winter Park. There was a public pool 1.5 miles from my house at that time. I would run there and back every day. I thought I was getting in shape for downhill, but what actually happened is that I gave myself shin splints and nearly screamed in pain the first time I locked in my ski boots. Within two days, though, I was skiing blue runs, despite it being my first time on the slopes. To date, it is the only sport in which I don’t feel like a complete klutz. Just don’t ask me to do cross country. I like it when the mountain does all the work. Yes, cross country is a great workout. No, I do not care.

When I lived in Oregon, I also skied Mt. Hood, which has snow all year round. The Olympic ski team practices there because of it…. and although I do consider myself a good skier, nothing makes me more doubtful of my abilities than watching seven-year-olds do moguls and jumps.

Apparently, there are several ski resorts close to me, but since I don’t drive, it is prohibitively expensive to get there. Plus, this time of year, you’re pretty much skiing on ice, and that is extremely dangerous, because you can gather a large amount of speed extremely quickly, and then not enough powder to let your skis dig in to be able to slow down or stop…. unless you run into something. Even with enough powder to stop, I still had to take one for the team and “yard sale” all over the mountain (the term for when you fall and your poles, skis, goggles, etc. go every which way but near you). This is because there was a kid skiing horizontally across my path and I didn’t want to hit him. I wasn’t hurt, because I was taught how to fall, but there’s always that moment of fear before you know you need to do it. Please God, don’t let me run into a tree, etc. I believe my dad had the same experience with a snowboarder.

I’ve never wanted to learn how to snowboard, because I’m such a good skier that I don’t want to start at the beginning, and once Lindsay was teaching me how to skateboard and I broke my foot. I didn’t know it was broken, so I worked an entire shift at a restaurant (as if they would care if I broke my foot or not… just put some Windex™ on it….), and when I finished, my foot was the size of a small balloon and I went straight to the ER.

So, you can see how my aversion to snowboarding is real and it’s deep.

Speaking of restaurants and injuries, the only time I was rushed to the ER was when a dumbass put a broken mug back onto the rack and made an announcement to the team that he put it there while I was out delivering food. I came around the corner, and of course, it was the first thing I grabbed. It sliced my pinky to shreds, and they nicknamed me “Worker’s Comp” for the rest of the time I worked there. It never died down, even though it was clearly someone else’s mistake. Because there were other people out on the floor when the broken glass was announced, it could have been anyone. But I was the “lucky” one.

Oh, I take that back. I also had to go to Urgent care because I accidentally sliced off a piece of my thumb while cutting ham. All of my other injuries were treated with Superglue or burn cream and I just carried on, which is what generally happens when cooks get hurt. Work through the pain, no excuses. No one is sympathetic to injury, because the kitchen is down a man and one’s coworkers will take a lot longer to forget that….. even if fixing your injury only takes five or ten minutes.

The two worst injuries I ever worked through involved burns. The first was accidentally leaving a spoon with a plastic handle in an egg poaching pan, and it got so hot that the plastic fused to my hand. The second was wearing surgeon-type gloves while flipping burgers over an open flame, and instead of protecting customers from germs, it also fused to my hand from extreme heat….. and those are only my two worst examples. The lesser, yet incredibly painful ones I remember are accidentally touching the corner of a convection oven with my forearm, leaving a pink triangle in its wake, and burning the crippling fuck out of my wrist with a hot tortilla press.

The only good thing that came out of the convection oven burn was that Dana burned herself in the exact same place, so we both had pink triangles burned into our flesh. When it healed, it was awesome and appropriate for a lesbian couple. It has faded out over time, but mine was there for a good two years afterward.

The least painful but still memorable burn was taking out my index finger with a blowtorch making crème brulée…. and it wasn’t one of those little home jobs they sell at Sur la Table. It was big and industrial, so I’ll never forget.

Additionally, it wasn’t the worst cut I’ve ever had, but one that will stick with me forever. When I was 16, I was cutting a lime at home and sliced into my thumb. The reason I can recall the memory at will is that the nerves were completely severed and I don’t have feeling in that patch of skin anymore. Look at me, I’m a badass who learned how to cut limes so they look profes….. oh, FUCK!

Tip well. You never know when you’re helping pay our medical bills…. or the ski vacations we desperately need after giving everything we have to the people we serve, day in and day out….. some of whom are eternally grateful, and others who don’t care that we are human and treat us like garbage.

Because we’re only waiters and cooks…. what, like it’s hard?

I love the way the Argo soundtrack makes my memories spill onto the page. It’s as uplifting as Cleared Iranian Airspace.

Splitting Up (But Not Together)

Last night I watched Ellen Degeneres’ new show, Splitting Up Together. She’s not in it, she’s the producer. So, I expected a comedy about a family struggling to keep it together despite divorcing and trading off kid care. Every week, mom and dad switch places. One lives in the house, one lives in the garage. I laughed a lot, and I will definitely keep watching. What I didn’t count on, however, is crying so hard I wanted to curl up into the fetal position and eat an entire package of Oreos™ while mainlining Diet Coke.™ For the record, I did not. It was This is Us-level stabbing into emotional wounds, but perhaps it’s for the best. It does feel amazingly cathartic.

As most of you know, I am estranged from my wife, and have been for years now, but we still have a domestic partnership in Oregon that says we aren’t. The recording of our entire relationship plays in my head constantly, and not because I ever want to reconcile. That part of my life is over, and I am looking forward to the chapters that are coming and excited I got a fresh start in a new city. That part is solid, and I don’t feel like I’m still in love with her, or pining, or any of those things. But I do feel empathy for her and all that went wrong, all the things I should have taken responsibility for and didn’t, and all the things I thought at the time were her fault and absolutely weren’t. I can’t live in regret, and most of the time, I don’t. What is true for me is that I am absolutely split myself. I don’t regret the actions I took to completely get away from her, because I know myself. I would have kept trying to make things work whether they were wanted or not for years upon years. I’m an empath. I feel my own and others’ pain so deeply that it’s like walking around with an open wound. But at least it’s clean. So, therefore, the split comes from wishing things could have been different and being utterly amazed at how they really are. Both of those things are true, and I can live with cognitive dissonance for the rest of my life if the past is any indication.

I can’t speak for Dana, but what I believe happened is that both of us took our eyes off the ball, because we had been taking care of each other for so long that it never occurred to either of us that something could happen that would make us not. That fact does not make us special. I think it’s universal for half the population. The television show just reminded me of it by playing Ben Folds’ The Luckiest while the husband reexamined something he’d done to wound his wife, realizing that he’d lost her even though she was right there. I’ve had that feeling since, oh, about fifteen seconds after we broke up. I know for certain that I might find someone else, or I might stay ridiculously happy as a single person, because either way, life is what I make it. That being said, there will never be another relationship like Dana’s and mine. It will be quite different, hopefully for the better, because I won’t settle for less. I think it’s okay to realize how incredible something was and love it without wishing time would go backward. I think it’s okay to think, wow. I really messed things up without wishing to make the amends necessary to put a relationship right. Sometimes, you just have to let relationships rest in peace, but rumination is necessary to keep from making the same mistake twice. I also treasure just about every memory I have with Dana, but don’t wish to make new ones.

Originally, I really hoped that our separation would be so good for us because it would ultimately lead us back to each other. Now, I think that what was meant to happen did. After some time had passed, I realized that there were fundamental issues we’d never solve, especially if I continued to write, and absolutely no amount of threatening me would have ever (EVER, not in my five dollar life. Die mad about it.) made me give up the relationship with Argo. I could redirect a lot of energy, but my boundary was don’t make me stop talking to her altogether. I am still continually proud that I stood up for myself, not an easy task for someone so Type B I’m the poster child.

I hardly have hard lines at all, but that was one of them. Just an absolute deal breaker. I wouldn’t let her isolate me from a life line, because at that time in my life, she was. Especially because she wasn’t geographically close to me, she could listen more objectively than anyone else in my life. Two things about that…. the first is that I loved her because she had no horse in the race. The second is that she was my safe place, not ours, but I am absolutely certain that she would have been had Dana put in the effort. She either didn’t or wouldn’t, a mystery that I can’t and won’t solve. I am sure it is my fault in a lot of ways, but in others, it’s a choice she made and I had nothing to do with it.

For me, it was like Stedman saying to Oprah, I will lose my shit perpetually if you don’t stop talking to Gayle…. maybe not a fair comparison because it’s not like Argo and I had ever taken a road trip, or even shaken hands, but letters go a long way (literally and figuratively). It’s not exactly logical, but it’s how I felt and I take nothing away from it. Logic is not emotion and vice versa. Trying to make it so (see what I did there?) has never worked in the history of the world.

I needed them both in different ways, as is how it should be. I never should have had to think about giving up one for the other, but Dana lost. You don’t get to say truly shitty things to me and then not give me a place to vent about it to get perspective, perhaps even realizing that it wasn’t that shitty, just a piece of reality that I needed to check. Argo was no stranger to calling me out on my bullshit, which is exactly why you need THAT friend in the first place. Who else would I have let get away with calling me a judgmental dickhead and laugh my ass off about it rather than sulking in a corner?

I know me. We’ve met.

Of course there were other issues that led to our demise, but I don’t want to talk about them, because they were problems that stemmed from what I believe was on Dana, and that isn’t mine to dissect.

What is mine is what I own, what I did to make things fall apart.

I can’t heal the split between us, I can only heal the split in me. But that won’t ever mean forgetting how much I absolutely adore Dana’s spirit, because my love for every one of my relationships is written in marble, and my anger is written in sand.

It has done me well to remember that……………..

I don’t get many things right the first time,
In fact, I am told that a lot.

I was The Luckiest.

The Sook and the Book

I am starting this entry at 0613, and it is currently 28º (F) in the nation’s capital. Opinions are mixed as to whether we’ll get any snow this week. Being the snow lover that I am, here’s hoping. If we do get any, Capital Weather Gang is saying it will be the last little bit. Spring is coming early, and the Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled around St. Patrick’s Day.

As long as I’ve lived here (three years in Silver Spring, MD and, in 2001-2, 18 months in Alexandria, VA), I’ve never been. Perhaps I will brave the crowds this year just to take pictures. The Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial make an excellent backdrop for the flowers… so much so that there are plenty of photographers better than I am who’ll sell their images to the media for almost as much as an average IT paycheck. Maybe I’ll skip taking pictures and just “live in the now,” although my camera is an excellent way to be alone in the midst of a crowd.

Photography allows me to feel like I am floating above the fray, which is exactly the way I like it. I have a lot to do before I can think about pictures, though. As I’ve said, I’m now on my second book review. I’m not finished with the book yet, and I have to get a rough draft to my editor by Thursday. This book is also about a group of women, which I didn’t know when I offered to write about it. I was hoping for something completely different just based on the title. However, it is a little different in that the women are British and the slang doesn’t always translate well. Sometimes I can pick it up just from context clues, sometimes I feel dumber than usual. I also have no idea what any of the acronyms mean. I need to get in touch with an ABP,™ which in my own lexicon stands for “Authentic British Person.” That being said, I don’t have any friends in Manchester (I don’t think), and I don’t know how much of the language is regional. My go-to ABP is from Scotland, and I’m sure she’d help me out to the extent that she could, but I think I’ll actually finish the book and then think about reaching out.

I will say that the writing style is different and much more emotional. I got weepy yesterday, made worse by well, sometimes I get the menstrual cramps real hard… Quite frankly, this book makes my insides squish and I think about Argo intensely, because it’s about the kind of friendship we could have had if I’d not been so blind, fumbling around in the dark. I have others to fill the void quite nicely, but no one is her and it’s not like I can go to the Argo store and pick out a new one. The mold broke after she was made… and I’m betting she knows it. It’s pretty good odds. 😛

It also makes me think about Dana, but to a lesser degree. We did have that kind of friendship, but I have truly blessed & released her into the universe because we both broke each other’s hearts. In this case, we’ll never go home again. I am sure I have said this before, but because Dana and I had such a mutually assured destruction, I feel so much less guilt regarding her than I do about being such a loose cannon jackass to Argo. I “clicked off safe” and said things to her that I’d never say to anyone to their faces, so why I did it online weighs on my conscience heavily. It doesn’t work for everyone, but guilt, for me, was a powerful motivator to become a better person…. a constant reminder that I didn’t like that person and I never want to see her again, because she’s so mean……… often not even realizing it until the consequences arrive. Again, blind. Fumbling in the dark. Loose cannon jackass.

My actions remind me of the Billy Joel classic, Summer, Highland Falls……. they say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known, and I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own. I can’t tell you how many times I went to the Episcopal church in my neighborhood just so I could recite this specific excerpt from the prayer of confession and pardon:


Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone
.

Those are the words that every week would beat me into submission, because I realized that although God might forgive me for these things, I couldn’t…. at least, not then. I’m doing much better with absolution now. I realized that I couldn’t beat myself up forever, because it was stopping me from moving forward. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t make yourself put on boots in the first place.

But there are always going to be things that trigger me into the past, and I have to work hard not to stay there. I’ve always been this way. If someone sculpted me, they’d call it The Overthinker. Now, though, when rumination eats my lunch, I can find my way out… mostly through great music……

And books to review, because the rough draft is due on Thursday.

Forward (and Backward) Through the Ages

I’m starting to wonder when I decided I was old… not in words, but actions. I don’t look in the mirror very often, and my mind’s eye stopped adding years long ago. For instance, high school and early college don’t seem like they’re that far away, but 2016 was my 20 year high school reunion (I didn’t go, but I did note its passing). The past few years have slipped by quietly without fanfare, as I have become extremely introverted…. have always been, and yet compounds yearly. It takes more energy than I’ve got most days to get out and play. I prefer to read, write, and watch streaming video… in that order. No longer do I plan outings on a daily or even weekly basis. I plan outings around how lonely I feel, and solitude is addictive.

Alone, I do not wonder if I have said the wrong thing. Alone, I do not worry if I’m wearing the right outfit. Alone, I do not have to compromise. Alone, I do not have to share.

To paraphrase Hafiz, I don’t surrender my loneliness quickly, letting it cut more deeply to ferment and season me as few human or even divine ingredients can. It has been the only solution to overcoming emotional instability, and not because I don’t like people. Like most introverts, I’m hilarious at a party. I just need absolute quiet to recharge. What has been different over the last three or four years is that behaviors once acceptable to me aren’t, and I only truly enjoy being around people when I feel strong enough to uphold my own standards of excellence.

Wow. I just reread that and thought, so you’re curating your real life existence like a Facebook page? Shudder. And yet, it’s true. In no way am I ready to let anyone past the walls I’ve put up to avoid talking about all manners of grief. When I go out, I want to experience pleasure, which invariably means putting away all the things that have caused me to recede from interaction in the first place.

However, there is no barbed wire around my heart, no need to sting anyone if they try to jump the fence. If I feel like one of my boundaries is coming down, I question myself.

  • Do I want a deeper friendship with this person?
  • Does what I’m about to say improve on the silence?
  • How much do I care if this private thought becomes known to another person?
  • How much am I hurting myself if I don’t share my thoughts? No risk, no reward.
  • Is the idea I want to share appropriate for this friendship?

They are questions I can answer fairly quickly in my head before beginning to speak, and I believe that is the difference between the me of a few years ago and the me of now. I have always been intense; I have not always been the type to think deeply before I speak. The “think it, say it” plan wore itself out.

I am infinitely more measured than I used to be, because it took emotional disaster to make me realize that I could have avoided hurting friends and family alike by taking in everything they’re saying, and letting silence hang in the air until I have a chance to respond thoughtfully.

I don’t crave solitude because I’m afraid of getting hurt; I crave solitude because in it, I cannot hurt others. I feel I have done enough of that for a lifetime, and though of course conflict is unavoidable in life, there are certainly good and bad responses to it. It is my work to do to learn healthy coping mechanisms and implement them, lest I have a repeat of the end of vitally important relationships.

It’s getting to the point where people are starting to ask me why I don’t date, that it’s certainly been long enough since my divorce, etc. I don’t want to start dating just because it’s socially acceptable for me to do so. I want to start dating when I feel I’ve learned the lessons that the universe wanted me to learn before making any committment besides friendship. I find that I am learning plenty in how to be a responsible and responsive friend, and that is enough… mostly because in my struggle with grief, responsible is easy and responsive is hard.

If being responsive to friends is hard, I do not want to even think about romantic interests feeling ignored…. because, of course, nothing says I care about you like unanswered texts and cancelled plans. It is a morass in which I’m unwilling to engage.

This has much less to do with my divorce and much more to do with my deceased mother. While Dana is the greatest love of my life up to this point, I am and have been ready to leave the past there. I just can’t see inviting someone else into the deep grey haze my life has become. My friendships are helping it lift, but not enough. Not yet. My thinking is that you have to walk before you can run, and being a good friend is several steps in the right direction. A lot of people don’t give friendship its full due. I didn’t until relatively recently, and I will never make that mistake again. That warning is etched deeply into my bones.

My friendships are what remind me that I am indeed not as old as I feel, because laughter makes me lighter.

For instance, tonight I went with Dan & Co. to see Pitch Perfect 3. Fat Amy finds out that she has money, and wants to create more shows. I lost it at Fat Amy Grant…. oh, that’d be so good for Christmas. Now, most people would laugh at this joke. I howled so loud that I think everyone in the theatre heard me. For most people, they’ve heard of Amy Grant. Preachers’ kids of my age are STEEPED in her. I laughed for me and my mother alike. We would have run that line into the ground, and it would have provided us entertainment for years.

That moment felt like metaphorical communion….. a moment just for us, without letting anyone else in. I could feel her laughing inside me….. and for a few seconds, I felt….. young.

Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Free Beer!

Really?

No, not really. But I got you to click on the link, amiright?

In reality, today is just another day in the life of a writer. The sky is grey, the light is fading, and I need to go to the pharmacy and I just can’t bring myself to leave the house. Two reasons- the first is that everything takes longer when you’re sad. You move under the weight of the world. The second is that the weather does not lend itself to wanting to go anywhere.

I have an appointment for platelet donation tomorrow, so I figure I’ll just get to the Metro station early and walk across to the pharmacy and, of course, Starbucks. I took a Tylenol PM™ last night, which is code for “I slept longer than I wanted to today.” Therefore, I don’t actually need another Lexapro until about noon. I will arrive at the pharmacy no later than 9:30, because if I don’t take it before it’s due, bad things will happen.

It is a common experience with this medication that I watch for meticulously. Withdrawal makes my entire brain vibrate to a minor second, kind of like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. I also get chills & shake uncontrollably while sweating and crying. It is very attractive. I can fight it off with Klonopin, ibuprofen, and an amazing amount of coffee… but it is a stopgap measure and only helps so much. The bitch of it is that withdrawal is almost instantaneous. The clock starts ticking with every minute I don’t take it as soon as I need it.

The last time this happened, I was at work and had to fight through it until lunch, because thankfully, there was a CVS within two minutes of my office and I got my prescription transferred. I can honestly say that those four hours were among the worst of my life, because I had important projects in the air and all I wanted to do was crawl under my desk into the fetal position. I started carrying an entire day’s worth of medication on my key chain after that, but #dumbassattack, I left my keys in my car and they are lost to history. I should have bought a new pill carrier by now, but if you know me at all, I can procrastinate on just about anything if no one else is expecting it to be on deadline.

Additionally, you cannot take any NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium…. Non-steroidal anti-inflammation drugs) for two to three days depending on state law before you go for apheresis. [Editor’s Note: I prefer ibuprofen to naproxen sodium because you can take a fresh dose more often.] I also can’t drink too much coffee, either, because I don’t want to be dehydrated. It makes the process much slower.

So, basically, if I don’t get to the pharmacy tomorrow morning, I will be up shit creek without a paddle. #motivation

The crying comes because I’m in pain, and because withdrawal makes me incredibly weepy. Most of the time, if I can’t remember whether I’ve taken my psych meds that day, I’ll watch a sad/touching commercial and if I cannot hold it together, there’s my answer. For instance, the commercial in the link is basically everything I didn’t tell my mom enough.

Jesus’ message of walking in the light while you have it destroys me now. He’s basically telling the Disciples that they’re going to be on their own very soon, and they need to listen closely to his teachings because he’s not always going to be around to answer questions.

And, just like me, the Disciples took that message for granted and basically the Book of Acts is that end of the rope and it’s fraying and we’re barely holding it together prayer…. shit, God. They’re grieving and trying to remember every conversation, every parable, every direction.

They muddle through, walking with the weight of the world, for they were not the smartest guys in the room…. just the most dedicated.

I could say the same. Most days, my life is just one White Stripes’ song on repeat…. I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself. I didn’t walk with the light while I had it, and I greatly underestimated/took for granted the messages that were being imparted. Now I am just fumbling in the dark, big dreams- so big I can live in them, with no concrete staircase upward. I have always been a big picture person, able to synthesize ideas quickly and summarize. I am not so good in the weeds…. I have no idea how to get there from here, and the thought is overwhelming to an enormous degree. Other people have gone to college and grad school. It can’t be that hard. I mean, it is. I just mean the steps to get in before any course work has started.

I have run around in circles for almost 20 years. It started with promising my then-partner that I’d get her through her senior year of college, if, when we moved, she’d get me through mine. Two things happened after that. The first is that we could not afford to live on one income while I was a student. DC was just out of our price range for that. The second is that within a year and change of the move, she left me, and took her part of the bargain with her.

My parents paid for some of school, but once I was on my own, I was on my own. Therefore, it’s been a neverending tail-chase as I get a job to get money to pay for school and then either can’t save up enough to quit or can’t manage a full-time job and school. It seems lame to say that out loud, because people do it all the time. Being single, it might be more achievable because I have no family commitments and few social engagements/distractions. Being there for everyone else has cost me taking care of myself. But the last time I was in school and working, I was living in southwest Houston, working in Sugar Land, and going to school at the main campus at UH. School at UH only lasts until 9:00. There were two class times that “fit my schedule-” 5:30 to 7:00 and 7:30-9:00. My job ended at 5:00. With the commute, I rarely, if ever, made it to my 5:30 class- and not for lack of trying. I passed by the skin of my teeth by watching all the lectures online, but since I got a D, I don’t think those hours will transfer to another school. I could stay at UH via distance education, but there’s something about showing up to class. It may be a better option to stay at UH, anyway, because I might have to add extra classes to get the hours needed in residence to graduate. But all these thoughts are for naught right now, because I need a way to pay for tuition, first.

I really thought that my mother would leave Lindsay and me some money in her will, but she didn’t. This is not a slam against her in any way, because that’s how wills are  normally done- everything goes to the spouse. I thought the one good thing  that might come out of my mother dying was allowing myself to finish my education, but that is not to be. So it’s back to the drawing board, easy because I never counted on that money in the first place, because I never expected my mother to die so young. In short, I’ve got what I’ve always had- a conundrum.

The thing that’s different this time around is that I am a fiend about saving money. Even when I make a lot, I live on nothing. I saved up $4,000 in less than a year during 2016. I’ll do it again, so that worry is taken off my shoulders. It would be damned convenient to still have that money, but I was so destroyed by my mother’s death that I couldn’t think about going to work right away. My mind was never in the present, lost in the past. I would spend entire days doing tasks, seeing them done and having no memory of how they got that way.

My biggest mistake was underestimating how long it would take me to find a new job, because it takes longer to find those companies that will take 20 years of work experience over a newly minted degree. Plus, with no work experience and just a degree, employees are cheaper, and labor dollars matter.

I am also starting to believe that because my resume is full, employers have some idea of how old I am, and that isn’t attractive to them, either. I could be totally wrong about this, but 40 is just the age where not being 25 matters. What doesn’t is that I take care of myself, and in terms of energy, I still feel 25. When I dye my hair, I barely pass for 18/21, because I get carded ALL THE TIME, even when buying cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but my roommates used to, and when I was the one that would run into the convenience store to buy everything for everyone, I’d get so flattered. One clerk thought I had a fake ID. What doesn’t feel young about me are cultural references and my sometimes internal monologue of “they’re so young I’m not even sure how they manage to tie their shoes in the morning.” I also don’t want to do anything fun with young people after work, or at least, not often, because I can’t party like that anymore. Right now my average is two alcoholic drinks a month, which means my tolerance is through the floor. I can’t “hang” and make it to work in the morning.

It’s nice to have the built-in excuse of, “I’m sorry, I have to get to class,” or “I’m sorry, I have to go and write.” It seems that going for a run is also an acceptable excuse, but you wouldn’t catch me running unless there’s an ice cream truck involved…….

or free beer.

The Yahrtzeit

Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.

Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.

When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.

Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.

It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.

It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.

She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂

As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.

And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.

I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my Godyou are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.

Although this story may come close.

I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.

My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.

One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.

Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.

If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. 2017-09-30 00_53_56-Mourner's Kaddish _ ReformJudaism.orgI was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.

I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.

In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.

#prayingonthespaces

Meditation on the Tenth Doctor

I sometimes wish I had a TARDIS that would be willing to let me cross my own timeline. Every time I think about the loss of Dana, Argo, and my mother, I hear the Tenth Doctor say, “fixed point in time. I am SO sorry.” I have to believe that losing everything is what is meant to propel me into greatness, but so far, I have seen no evidence. Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant write in Option B about post-traumatic growth, and except for blogging every day and trying to put my emotions out into the universe (which I hope is helping someone), I have done nothing except fold into myself in fear.

Fear of crowds, fear of friends, fear of going to church after the one time I LOST it. You’d think I’d be willing to forego my fear of my friends, but sometimes it becomes so awkward it’s onomatopoetic. Sometimes it’s that they say things I don’t want to hear. Sometimes I’m just uncomfortable for no valid reason except it sometimes seems as if my mother has just died, and she didn’t. It’s been months, but I have flashbacks all the time that seem incredibly real. Fear of church is natural. My mother was a church musician her whole life, and every time I go in, no matter what church it is, I panic with an intensity I’ve never felt before. I can see her at the piano or organ bench. I can see her in the alto section. I can’t stop the pain and anxiety, so I avoid it altogether. My choir wants me back, and I can’t seem to explain well why it’s not a good idea. I thought that it would make me feel better to be a soprano in tribute to all the work my mother has done.

Well, not so much.

I have always been anxious around huge crowds, hiding behind Dana, and then my friends once we divorced. I went to a party last Friday, and I had a lot of fun. I had drinks for the first time in months, which served two purposes. The first is that it acted as social lubricant so I could actually be funny. The second is that it kept me from feeling guilty that I was having fun at all. Mourning people that close to me makes me feel like I am not deserving of fun.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I deserve.

I lost my mother through absolutely no fault of my own, but I can’t say the same for Argo and Dana. It is an uphill battle to forgive myself for all the sin and cortisol I felt coursing through my body, because now I can’t apologize enough, I can’t achieve enough, I can’t send enough gifts that make it all better. I thought that words didn’t matter without changed behavior, and as it turns out, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference either way.

I wish I could stop caring. It’s been three, almost four years with no relief… not that I haven’t tried, but in the meantime, those two years have been a shitshow of enormous proportions. I haven’t had time to really stop caring about anything, even if they “deserve it.” By that I mean that I am not angry, I am just sad, because it’s appropriate to let go of people you want to show up for that don’t want to show up for you.

Toward the end, every single time that Argo showed up for me, I felt like she wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt. She’d take one phrase out of an e-mail and blow it up into enormous proportions… the last communique re: we’ll never be normal and then cutting off all contact when it brought up some feelings of past shame for me and asking her why she thought that a phrase like that wouldn’t come across to me as “we’ll never move on.” I think she thought it was going to start another fight, when in reality I was breathing through those words like labor, exhaling anxiety and inhaling both peace and “now what do I do?” Part of it is that when I said that, she wouldn’t work it through like I’d hoped. Part of it was that I never meant to “poke the bear,” and even more shame rained down on my head.

And yet another part is that it would have been so damn easy to fuck off from e-mail and have a conversation in real time, so that we could actually see the other one “e-mote.” There’s such a difference between a) writing something into the ether and waiting with baited breath for a response and b) hearing what the other person says and being able to say in real time, “that’s not what I meant. I meant THIS.” I truly, honestly believe that if we’d ever taken the time to see each other’s responses, our whole deal with each other could have been cleared up in less than 15 minutes with some active listening.

But, despite how busy either one of us is, you make time in your lives for the people you want to see. For her, I am not one of those people. For me, I have nearly constant distress, brought on by a whole host of other factors, that words like “always” and “never” make it into the conversation. I am not “always” and “never” anything… and I am betting neither is she. We’re both complicated in our own ways, probably what made us attracted to each other in the first place. And I do not mean romance, I mean magnets that click together instead of repelling each other… that came much later.

Again, what I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time.

I’d like to tell her what’s going on in my life, I’d like her XOs of support, I’d like the normalcy that came with me thinking she hung the stars and being the moon for her. More than talking, I’d like to go back to the days of listening. If I had everything to do over, I’d listen more and talk less. I’d breathe through her anger at me rather than “clicking off safe” and returning it full force. I am a believer in grace, and I didn’t offer her much… and when I did, she couldn’t believe in it, anyway.

The reason this is hitting me so hard after all this time is that if I hadn’t been such a “judgmental dickhead,” I’d be able to express grief and joy in equal measure. I’d still be able to have a full range of emotions in front of her when I really need that safe space to be able to say everything I won’t publish here. There is something therapeutic about pen pals, especially those who have no bearing on your daily life and can look objectively at what you’re saying because they don’t have a horse in the race. It cannot be equated to attending therapy, because you’re not talking to a trained professional. But you do get that friend whose advice is not tainted with taking anyone else’s side, because they don’t know them….. and don’t care. They’re not there for them. They’re there for you.

Most of all, she never met my mother.

My contribution is that I’ve never met anyone in her life, either… and I’d step in front of a bus for her if it meant she was safe… the same way I’d react for anyone in my family… because before our blowout, I definitely considered her as such. When truth and honesty traveled our chord in both directions, there were deep and lasting feelings on both sides of the equation. The rub is that it seems to have been a lot easier for her to disengage than it will ever be for me, because hold on…. I have to overthink about it. I am not willing to say it WAS easier, only that it came across to me as such. Perhaps her grief is only in her private moments to which I am not involved, and shouldn’t be. I have to believe that there is grief on her end, because she doesn’t take anything lightly, not even me.

I wish that it WAS easy for me. It would open my life up and make room for other things, and it is happening slowly but surely. But when I feel bad about something, I am inconsolable. When I met Argo, it was winning the lottery, and ended with consolation prizes akin to a 1972 Amana side-by-side refrigerator freezer (bonus points if you get the movie reference).

Again, I believe that this entry is all about displaced grief, because Argo is alive and my mother isn’t. It’s easier to focus on my grief because with my mother, there is no chance in heaven or hell that she’ll respond. I feel, in some ways, the same way about Argo… with the exception of the smallest hope imaginable, like a candle that’s at the end of its wick and the flame is so small it is barely there. With my mother, the candle has already been snuffed with the bell end of the candle lighter I used to carry as an acolyte.

The trick is how to change all of this post-trauma into something with boundaries in which I can live. Right now, there are none. I can’t compartmentalize, because nothing keeps me busy enough to forget, even for a moment. But this is not a journey I can take with Argo, only about her. I would be mortified to learn that she was still reading, and relieved at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. My words are just the rambling I’m feeling at the moment, and not representative of all of me. I have more depth than this… no, really. But sometimes I’d like her to know that I remember her with such clarity… that even after all this time, I wish her nothing but the best in her pursuit of happiness… that I pray she is happy, healthy, and alive with possibility.

As I have said, her kindnesses are written in marble, and her anger is written in sand… the rain having already washed it away… or at the very least, pushed it out of reach. I feel the same about my own anger… that working through all of this has nothing to do with how I feel about her personally, but delving into the past to create a future that does not include all the mistakes I made…. to know them is to keep them from happening again.

Maybe that’s post-traumatic growth in and of itself, and I am selling myself short- with the exception of being able to write about Dana in a way that truly lets go. I forgive her, but I do not forget. She told me to my face that I’d never amount to anything AND that she thought I had the ability to lead millions. I cannot reconcile those things, and they are words I can compartmentalize, because the former reinforced my opinion of myself, and the latter was just a WTF? moment… one of these things is not like the other. I stuff my feelings about Dana down so deep that I can’t access them except in small bursts, because I can’t take more than that. The buttons on my clothes hold in my feelings where she is concerned, because she is the river deep inside me where I refuse to drown… because I could, easily. I could wreck my whole life based on her opinion, because she was the most important person in my life. When she took my own insecurities and beat me with them, it destroyed a piece of me I’ll never get back… it has torched my ability to trust the new people that come into my life… because if I am vulnerable with them, whose to say they won’t pick up on those same hot buttons and push them? Everyone is wonderful in the beginning.

It leaves me asking myself how I can trust Argo without trusting Dana, given that both fights were just as terrible emotionally? My answer for this is that Dana saw what was right in front of her, and Argo saw what could be. She believed in me as a writer, one of the first to do so… to recognize that writing WAS a real job… that staring out the window is hard work for someone like me, and though I look lazy on the outside, am running a marathon at the cellular level… backbreaking emotional work that does not quit, not ever.

Outside of Argo, my marriage began to unravel as I became a writer, especially as I got more and more popular. One of our last conversations (the one regarding me being able to lead millions) was just as much about jealousy as anything else. In retrospect, it must have felt good to her to knock me down a peg… but she’ll never know how badly she burned the whole board. In this way, and this way only, I felt as if I’d grown past her. When I wanted to do more and be more, she was out.

Argo already had the type job where she WAS doing more and being more, so I wasn’t a threat to her. She was excited for me, that I was embarking on something she thought only I could do…. or at the very least, was rarified air. As much as it terrified and saddened me, leaving Dana’s choice shitty phrases behind and grabbing on to Argo’s belief was what I needed at the time.

But here is the rub for all bloggers everywhere. Unless you are writing something impersonal, like a blog for a business, it starts off with new readers thinking you’re amazing… then they get to know you and think you can write all things accurately except where they’re concerned. It is an immediate, face-cracking fall from grace…. when in reality, I am only telling my part of the story and would love to hear the other one. There are three sides to every story- yours, mine, and the objective Truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.

With communication gaffes, it’s usually because people will not acknowledge Truth. We can both be wrong, and we can both be right. No one has a lock on what really happened, only our perceptions of it. People mistake perceptions for reality all the time… when Truth is the chasm between offended people.

Perhaps it is this displaced grief that is allowing me to think differently about everything in my life, because as much as I might wish for it, I can’t cross my own timeline.