War Stories

Pandemic fatigue is real. I have had no motivation in terms of writing, because nothing has really sparked my imagination…. well, technically, a million things do, but they tend to come out in short Facebook bursts. You know, those things you have to say that aren’t short enough for a Tweet? Today was different. I got together with my housemate, Maria, and she’s always good for a blog entry because she’s a cook at a local hospital who has also worked in restaurants…. therefore, we always end up talking about war stories. We all have them.

However, we weren’t just sitting there talking. I told her that I got both of us a present. I bought myself a new chef’s knife because my old one was getting dull, and buying a new knife was cheaper than getting it sharpened. Her present was that there’s now a real chef’s knife in our block, and there hasn’t been for all the years I’ve lived here. That is because I’ve always been deathly afraid that someone was going to put it in the dishwasher, so I hid it among the candy and snacks in my food junk drawer.

So now I have two new war stories, one from two years ago and one from today. When I bought my old knife, it did not come with a sheath. I wrapped it in rags every day before I put it away, except one day I forgot, and now there is a sizable cut in the back of the drawer. Today, when I told Maria that my chef’s knife had dulled to nothing, she comes downstairs with a full set of stones. I have never face-palmed harder. Why did I not think to ask A COOK if they had a real knife sharpener?

Side note: you can buy an electric knife sharpener, but caveat emptor. I have heard so many horror stories of them chewing up expensive knives that I’ve never used one.

But before we get to the war stories, (mine, of course, because hers aren’t my stories to tell), I have to tell you something I learned this week, and it ties back to a conversation Dan and I had. She said, “you have such a great blog- why don’t you put recipes on it?” I said, “that would be great, but I don’t have any. I understand the principles of cooking, so I just look in the pantry and throw things together.” A good example of this is “Lanagan’s Pub Chili.” At Biddy McGraw’s, the pub where I used to work in Portland, we used to make a soup of the day. I made a variation on a Texas Red, using beans to make the ground beef stretch. It was so popular that they decided to add it to the menu permanently….. probably because I have an Irish last name. I don’t think I would have been so lucky had my last name been “Smith.”

My boss asked me to write down the recipe so that all the cooks could make it the same way, and I swear to God, it took me at least a month to do it. That’s because when I was making it, I never made it exactly the same way twice. I changed up the beer, I changed up the ratios of the spices, and most importantly, I tasted as I went, because I can tell when a dish “needs something” and what that something might be.

Trying to encapsulate that into a half cup of cumin, etc. was murder on my brain. It doesn’t work that way. But, it had to be done because I wasn’t always going to be there when we ran out.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I put words to that story that need to be said: cooking is all about trust and confidence. Trust comes in just knowing when a piece of meat or a pancake needs to be turned. Confidence comes in when you’ve made a mistake, but you’re sure you know how to fix it. I make pancakes every weekend, so that’s how the idea popped into my head.

I know how to respect first contact, only flip once, and have it turn out perfectly. I never have to make a “tester pancake” because I’ve used my stove enough to know what temperature I need every time. I trust it. For instance, I know that the pans we have are all uneven and there’s only one hot spot in each of them, so I have to make the pancakes one at a time. I know I need lower heat for thick pancakes, higher for thin, because the thick ones take longer to rise and “bake through.” I know that I need a little more soy milk than the Bisquick package says, because if I do them that way, the pancakes will be miniature biscuits. I trust that I know what I’m doing, and I’m confident about it….. but not arrogant. I’ve crashed and burned in the kitchen before, but at home it’s not a big deal. I can either fix it or start over. In a professional setting, you can fix it or start over, and people will talk shit about “that one time” every day until it gets old and someone else does something dumb, but they also won’t forget to tell new people what you did after you’ve left.

My biggest war story comes from the same pub, the aforementioned Biddy McGraw’s…. or at least, it’s the one that hurt the worst. I’ve been taken to the ER twice, once as a waiter and once as a cook.

When I was a waiter, I was working at Chili’s, who used to serve their sodas and beers in these extraordinarily heavy glass mugs. One of the other waiters somehow broke the bottom off of one of them, and instead of removing it, just stuck it back down in the rack. The manager made an announcement about the broken mug, but none of the people who were out at their tables heard it. I come around the corner and the broken mug is the first thing I touch. It sliced the inside of my pinkie so badly that I needed stitches immediately.

When I was a cook, I took meat slicer to a whole new level when I didn’t see my thumb slip into it.

The reason the one from Biddy’s is so much worse is that both of the times I had to go to the ER, I was cut by something extraordinarily sharp. Clean cuts bleed, but they don’t generally cause pain.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my ex is a cook as well, or at least she used to be. We haven’t spoken in years, but back then we were coworkers during the weekend brunch shift. You’d think having a couple working in the kitchen would be bad juju, but I’ve never had a better coworker in my life. This is because couples can communicate with one look, and in restaurants, every nanosecond matters….. another reason why this was such a bad injury.

Every weekend, I would make bearnaise from scratch and put it in a double boiler on the front burner. On the back burner was a shallow pan for poaching eggs. I noticed that there was a metal spoon with a plastic handle in the egg pan and thought, “that shouldn’t be there.” What I didn’t know was that the plastic wasn’t heat resistant. Pain radiated from my hand up to my shoulder as the plastic fused to my skin. I literally had to rip off the spoon, and my exposed burn was legendary in size. We then threw away the spoon because there was too much Leslie on it.

Being the cook that I am, I went into dry storage and found the first aid kit. I put some silver sulfadiazine on the burn, covered it up with gloves, and went back to work. It hurt so bad I thought I was going to throw up. I think the cream was the only reason I didn’t have permanent scars. I’ve never been through childbirth, so I can safely say that it is the worst pain I’ve ever been in, bar none.

Now, my ex is Cordon Bleu certified. She could have run that kitchen blind whether I was there or not, but it did make her life easier if I stayed. So I did. Luckily, I was able to keep cooking, because if there had been lots of dishes to wash I might have walked out. This is because no matter how tight your gloves are, water seeps in, washing off the only thing keeping me upright.

And honestly, all the dumbass attacks just run together. Just an endless series of “I didn’t see that.” Literally. I have a different field of vision than most people, and it alternates because my eyes don’t track together. In many, many kitchens, that was taken as bullshit and people thought my IQ was too low to be a cook.

What’s actually true, and my last chef said this to me, is that I have the heart of a chef. What I’ve added to that is “but not the body.”

Knowing that has been one of the biggest pieces of grief in my life, but…………

I trust me.

To All the Girls….

I just finished watching “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.” I’ve been waiting for inspiration to write; I needed a memory far enough back in my past that the blowback from myself would be minimal. (I’ve often thought that other people’s opinions stop me from writing- most of the time it’s to keep myself from exploding.) The movie is about Laura and Peter’s senior year of high school, which inevitably made me think of my own. It was so messy and difficult- like many people’s, probably, with the uniqueness of coming out all over again.

I was out at HSPVA, but my mom didn’t want me to come out at Clements. I had the chance to start over, and she wanted that for both of us. Even at HSPVA, I constantly worried that coming out at school would lead to people finding out at church…. but I didn’t have to worry about that. Everyone in my life figured it out before I had the chance to tell them.

I remember fondly the night I came out to my friend Dianne Maurice, who said “if this conversation hadn’t happened, I would have sat you down and told you.” She didn’t have to worry. I’d thought and felt attraction to women my whole life, but didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling until I turned 13. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have my share of boyfriends as well, just that it was what I thought I was supposed to do, and dating Ryan was a mountaintop experience for someone so young. How many middle school couples make it to a year and two months? I’m guessing it had something to do with us as friends being two halves of the same person, and middle school romance is sweet and lingering without the constant peer pressure and internal drive to sleep together. As a result, that friendship has grown more tender over time, because we didn’t have a horrible break-up, either….. although it was strange. I came out to him by telling him all the attraction I was feeling to people that were not him, to which he had the best response ever, which was that I was free to think but not to act.

He eventually found someone else, which was wonderful and terrible all at once. Part of me was relieved for him to find someone whose heart wasn’t tearing them apart. The other parts of me felt his absence like a missing limb, and I didn’t date anyone else until the summer before I was a senior. It was a terrible decision, because six weeks later, I met someone I thought was THE ONE, and had to go through the heartbreak of breaking someone else’s heart, always harder than someone breaking yours. It wasn’t a cheating situation- THE ONE didn’t even know I was alive until Christmas.

But I was her friend from the first day of school, because once my dad left the church, I felt free to be whomever I was going to be that year…. which was wearing pride rings to advertise.

I will never in my entire life forget our first phone call. Dr. Steed, my senior English teacher, told us to get the phone number of someone in our class because the work was going to be difficult. I knocked over two desks to get to her and slipped her my number, because it was easier than asking for hers.

The moment I walked into the house after school, literally 30 seconds in, my phone rang. I said, “hello?” She said, “do you wear those pride rings because you’re gay, or because you’re an idiot?” I said “I’m gay. Do you have a problem with that?” She said, “no. I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.” It was not a euphemism.

She was dating a hockey player at another school named Mark, a beard she kept up a little too well because it was excruciating watching her basically make out with him on New Year’s Eve. By then, we were together on the down low, even to her closest friends….. because I was out, but she wasn’t. Who would have thought the goalie for the women’s soccer team at my high school was a lesbian? That just doesn’t make sense. 😛

Prom night was also a mess, because we’d sort of gone to Homecoming together- I went with one of her friends so we could be near each other. But by Prom, school was ending and she thought she was ready to be truly seen with me. I bought the perfect dress, and she backed out. She ended up coming over after she was finished at the dance, because I couldn’t just go and watch her. I thought that was crazy. People have asked me many times why I didn’t just break up with her and go out with someone who didn’t have a problem with being out. Listen, it’s not like the lesbian dating pool at my high school was huge. In terms of out lesbian, I was the entire club. It was scary walking in the parade all by myself.

But it wasn’t a lost cause. I made it safe for people in younger classes to come out. By the time my younger sister got to high school, people were putting rainbow flags on their backpacks, and Lindsay asked who started it. They said, “I think it was this kid named Leslie.”

For those who don’t know me in person, the school year was 1995-1996. In that time and place, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by most of the people around me. It wasn’t that they were hateful, just woefully uneducated. Back then, when I was out and about with my girlfriend, we watched our backs constantly, knowing where and when PDA was appropriate.

Thinking something was wrong with us included her parents. We didn’t tell them- they searched her room and found one of my love letters. We were forbidden to see each other, and like with all teenagers, it didn’t work. We were just even more secretive than we were before….. to the tune of making out in her car near some woods and being caught by the cops, who luckily didn’t do anything except tell us to move along.

In the end, she wasn’t THE ONE, a fact that I ignored for at least ten years. She decided to go back to Canada for college, but before she left, she wanted to get married. Why that didn’t set off alarm bells, I’ll never know…. because how did she think it would work? She couldn’t hide me forever. No way was I going to be her roommate at 30…. even 18 was stretching it. But “roommate” was how it was done in those days, so the fact that same-sex couples can get married and is now so accepted is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

Like most high school kids, I let the relationship go on too long because I didn’t know how to let go. We were long distance, and I looked into immigrating to Canada, but before I could really start the process, I learned something truly disturbing.

Since I was the internet guru, I looked up all the places gays and lesbians gathered in her city. Well, she went, and she met someone. That wasn’t the problem. If she’d come home that night and said she’d met someone else, it would have been all right. But she didn’t. She dated this person for months, to the point of moving in with her before she was forced to admit what she was doing. I didn’t even find out from her. I found out because her girlfriend e-mailed me, saying that my girlfriend had never told her she was seeing someone when she left Texas and that I should just back out because my girlfriend was hers now. I can still feel that pain as if it was yesterday- not that I live there, it’s just present when I think about that time in my life.

Despite that asshole move on both their parts, every trip my ex-girlfriend made to Texas was filled with fun and flirty dates where it felt like we were our old selves, and then a line would get crossed and we’d have an old fight over again or I would get torched with jealousy.

Eventually, she settled down, got married, and started having kids. It was only then, a decade later, that she said she was sorry we couldn’t have been partners as adults, because she thought we would have been good at it. Her words were sweet, and I knew that’s how she meant them. A compliment didn’t line up to the way I took it. I was burning with rage. She said something to the effect that she’d thought about getting back together, but she knew she’d treated me so badly that how dare she have the right to ask me to try again? I think all the anger I’d stuffed down so that she’d still want to be my friend surfaced in that moment- not only at the way she’d treated the end of our relationship, but that she took away my choice as to whether I’d have forgiven her or not.

As it was, I was so hurt that I didn’t date anyone from the fall of my freshman year of college until I was a junior. I had major trust issues, and it took me three years to work them out enough to be able to open my heart to someone else.

Apparently, it’s a pattern, because I haven’t dated anyone since I broke up with my most recent ex (five years ago, almost six). Probably it’s been twice as long because it hurt twice as much, especially since I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in addition to being hurt by her.

I think it might have been different if a couple of years later, my mom hadn’t died. Though I was screaming for a companion in those days, I didn’t want anyone but her- and not because I was stuck in the place of “she’s THE ONE and there shall be no one else.” It was that I didn’t know anyone as well as I knew her, and the thought of having no history with someone and dragging them into the shitshow of my grief was not appealing in the slightest. I got through by trusting friends, but it wasn’t the same as having someone to hold me at night while I cried.

As I started to come alive again, I realized that going through my grief on my own was a good thing, because I didn’t realize how jealous I was of other people my age who still had their parents. I don’t know how we would have managed that, but my guess is “good, most of the time, but the bad would have been egregious.”

I sometimes think it would have been nice to have a mother-in-law as backup, but she wasn’t completely on board with her daughter marrying a woman, either, so I waffle on that point. What I do know is that waiting so long has been helpful, because I feel much freer than I did three years ago. There’s no lingering emotion from that relationship that would help push a new person away. What I do know, though, is that my next relationship will be completely different, both in my approach and the fact that no one can compare to her- a new person would be in her own class, with her own unique gifts rather than trying to think “she’s better.”

The last piece of the puzzle is that I haven’t met anyone who has swept off my feet with awe and lust. Of course, that is not how all relationships begin, but in order to want to be romantic with someone, you have to feel something. I did have a conversation with someone about dating, but it was one of those things where my interest was piqued, but I didn’t make any declarations of love or anything. It was just “maybe dating each other would be fun and we should try it.” We didn’t, and life quickly moved on because I was never pining.

I really don’t have time for it. My attention is taken up with other things, other people with whom I am not romantic but are such good friends that intimacy happens regardless. A person does not have to be in love with you to see your soul if you make it visible to them. I am lucky to have friends that walk in my inner landscape, and it is surprising how much I value it over finding a partner. It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s that I’m perfectly happy to stand back and let them come to me. I don’t have a mad drive that says I’m going to die alone, no matter how many people say that to me because they’re worried. Trust me, that’s a them problem. I will never die alone because I have friends, constantly undervalued in our society because the fairy tale says I need to find one person that completes me and live happily ever after.

For me, the fairy tale is having friends that truly care what I think and feel, the best lesson I’ve learned in the years that have passed since my first high school romance. I don’t have one person that completes me, I have several who oversee different aspects. I don’t want to live in a world where that is seen as deficiency, but celebrated in its abundance. I know love as deep as an ocean because of them. Our shared history has provided ups and downs that stick in my mind, learning and growing every bit as much as I did when I was partnered- perhaps more as each of them show me who I am. They love me as fallible as I am, which is everything I could hope for in a romance, anyway.

To all the girls, all I can say is “thank you.” They are such small words, but the depth behind them is huge. Your love is #relationshipgoals enough for me, and I hope I am half the friend that you have been to me. It has certainly been and will continue to be my honor……

Always and forever.

The Princess and The Crown

The rest of the house was quiet. There was no one with whom to talk, or cry, except her. I think it worked. There was something about that tiny little body, with its heat concentrated and radiating, that made me feel so much safer than if I had been alone in the dark with the television blaring.

It was Saturday, 30 Aug., 1997, shortly before 6:00 PM Central. Princess Diana was rushed to Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpétrière. The news reported that she had been in an accident due to her driver trying to elude the paparazzi (while drunk and speeding). At this point, she had not died. Early reports said that Diana was suffering from a concussion, a broken arm, and a cut thigh. From that moment forward, I was glued to the TV. The tears didn’t fall immediately, but when they did, our family cat, the aptly named “Princess,” wandered into my room. I was lying on my bed, propped up with three pillows, and as per her normal, laid on my chest so that she was in a perfect position to knead my shoulder and slobber. Turnabout is fair play. My tears began to land on the top of her head, and when she heard me, she didn’t move for almost eight hours. There was something about her tiny little body with its heat concentrated and radiating outward, that made me feel so much safer than if I had been completely alone. By 11:53 PM, Diana was dead.

Because of the images coming from Britain and France, and keeping my own lights off, I had to look up what time it was in Houston. In my memory, these events were also in the middle of the night, because the times reported were midnight to 6:00 AM.

In doing research for this entry, I learned something else heartbreaking:

In 2019, Dr. Richard Shepherd, Britain’s top forensic pathologist, concluded that Diana died of a tiny, badly placed tear in the vein of her lung. ‘Her specific injury is so rare that in my entire career I don’t believe I’ve seen another,’ Shepherd wrote in his book, Unnatural Causes. Shepherd believes Diana’s death could have been prevented by one small change- a seatbelt. ‘Had she been restrained, she would probably have appeared in public two days later with a black eye, perhaps a bit breathless from the fractured ribs and with a broken arm in a sling,’ Shepherd wrote.

I am certain that the public will never know why Diana got into a car with a drunk driver, or why she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The questions, especially so long after the fact, are irrelevant. It smacks of victim blaming, when Diana was hounded by paparazzi from the moment she started dating Prince Charles, even speculation before it was announced led people to camp outside her house.

Though The Crown on Netflix did not make me weepy (much), it is a very different experience watching a story when you already know how it ends. I imagine countries full of people in their collective mourning, watching Diana come into herself, starting to live the life she wanted, rather than caught in a mouse trap, and why her tragedy looms so large.

And in a small way, this entry memorializes my Princess as well. She is long, long dead, and that is the memory I most associate with her- the quiet determination she showed in trying to make me feel better as the people’s princess slipped away.

During the funeral, I was away on a choir retreat with about 50 other people. It was in Galveston, surrounded by the warm beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. When the march of the casket toward Westminster started, we were all gathered together, watching on the world’s smallest TV. You could have heard a pin drop for hours.

And yet, as much as I enjoyed having 49 other people with whom to grieve, I knew exactly where I wanted to be….. lying on my bed, propped up with three pillows.

Tea and Sympathy

I only have Tums chewables today (usually have omeprazole), so I have forgone my midday caffeine blast in favor of a tame(r) Irish Black Tea with Splenda and soy milk.

I have gone back to my ridiculously strict vegan diet, because I am one of those people that gets involved in a project and forgets to eat. The connection is that I eat rarely enough that when I do, it needs to be superfood. I have cheated a lot in the past few months, but that didn’t bother me until I started noticing it wasn’t upping my game any.

I think a lot of ADHD people do the not eating thing- let me know if I’m wrong in the comments. It’s my opinion that truly focused “zones” only come around so often, and you have to take advantage of them when they arrive. I know that this introductory paragraph isn’t exactly spilling my guts, but we might get there. I’m in the zone. Stay tuned. We will interrupt this post as emotions develop.

I am also trying to be the type vegan that focuses on actual vegetables. I am not trying to get by on vegan protein shaped like meat…. with one exception. There would be two if I could find them. Gardein used to make incredible vegan crab cakes and fish filets, but I can’t find them anywhere. I should have known something was up besides the expiration date when they went on sale by so much that I bought four packages of each……. Now, I’ve found fish sticks that are so damn good they remind me of my childhood in northeast Texas…. the only difference being yellow cornmeal instead of white. Now that’s a debate I’m not even trying to hear. It gets vicious.

Last night I made macaroni and cheese out of a box- vegan, expensive, and worth it. The only thing I didn’t have was margarine for the roux, but I used olive oil and it turned out fine, especially after I added small dice Daiya provolone and stirred like mad until it resembled homemade. The thing that put it over the top is that I put dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta water while it was still cold. By the time the pasta was cooked, they were perfectly rehydrated. It was all I could do not to eat the whole box, but I decided to eat the whole box of fish sticks instead.

I hope all my readers know that I’m just talking about my life, and I have no need to convert others. In fact, I don’t even tell people I’m vegan when I eat at other people’s houses, because I hate the thought that they’d cater to me specifically and possibly hate what they were eating. Additionally, Tony Bourdain raised me right. He said that “food is hospitality, and if you reject someone’s food, you reject them.” When I go to someone else’s house, what we’re having is what we’re having. I would eat face bacon with a smile.

There’s not a one size fits all diet for everyone, vegan is just what works for me.

Being vegan is something I never would have discovered without getting divorced, because Dana worked in the meat department at a high-end grocery store in Portland for most of the years we were friends/married. She never would have agreed to an all-vegan diet, but she was okay with the occasional vegan meal, like going out for Mexican. And yes, I realize that I could have been vegan on my own, but either one of us cooking two different meals every night was not going to happen. But I did kid her about it. One time I cracked an egg into a bowl and there was blood in it. I asked Dana what it was and she said, “THAT is a chicken abortion.” I said, “if you say chicken abortion to me ever again I will make you a vegan for the rest of your life.” To her credit, she never did, except when telling this story.

Invariably, one story about Dana leads to another, because right now it has a very real hold on my life.

When Dana and I first started hanging out, I had just broken up with a woman that consumed my thoughts, the kind of woman that you can’t help but smile around and dream about. Though she was older than me by quite a bit, in that nebulous adult age where you experience transition over and over, we were in similar places emotionally.

Because of our age difference, every day I wondered if it was the day we’d confess we couldn’t do without each other, or the day we’d break up…. made more complicated by the fact that my friends thought she was really cool and her friends thought I was a girl toy/midlife crisis (in the worst of ways). Their fears were unrealized, but made for excellent gossip. In the three months that we were actually, solidly together, it was like every other relationship I’d ever had, intense and beautiful. I always like dating women who are smarter than me, and if I am the Chevy, she was the Rolls. In the traditional sense of the May-December fling, people think that the younger person is being led on. In this case, I was pretty good about standing up for myself. It was, up to that point, the relationship that, for me, had the most equality.

After over a decade to think about it, I believe that just because a relationship wasn’t meant to last doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful.

The biggest mistake I made was that when we agreed it was over, we were so drawn to each other that we dated in secret for another year. For her, I am positive that it was pure attraction, while I continued to hold out hope that she’d eventually change her mind. You could see it written all over my face.

The hammer absolutely dropped when she said something that really made me angry. I wish I could remember what it was, but I remember the way it made me feel. I said something to the effect of “you don’t get to say things like that and date me (euphemism) at the same time.”

And I left.

I was also tired of making excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that as I craved and loathed being someone’s “dirty little secret.”

Because our down-low relationship only prolonged the inevitable, I felt as if my heart had been handed to me after being put through a blender. I should have accepted being single and moved on with my life immediately.

It was in this terrible, painful emotional place I realized that I needed a friend, and most of the ones I had currently were mutual with said ex. I had no idea how to manage something like that. Introverts make friends when extroverts adopt them and drag them out of their houses.

Enter Dana, the loud, obnoxious blonde woman that I’d met a few times at church, but didn’t feel one way or the other about until we actually got to know each other.

Our first lunch date was with her then-partner and their friends for Easter lunch. She said later that the only reason I got an invitation was that I looked so incredibly sad.

I was actually miserable about quite a few things at the time, so it was not untrue……… and over time, I told her about all of them.

I even let her into my apartment after telling her that I was tired of living like “dumped girl.” When I think about her response, I still get tears in my eyes. She said, “well, we’ll go clean it up.” That “we’ll” was everything. Everything.

I decided that the best way to say thank you was to change my behavior, so I became absolutely OCD about keeping my apartment spotless. Most days, you could eat off the floor, and every day off the counters. It was organized to a fault.

To get back to the hold that this story has on my current life is that I’ve been living like “grief girl.” When my mother died, I went into such a state of apathy that absolutely nothing mattered, along with the fact that I didn’t want to remove anything she’d touched….. which slowly became not wanting to remove anything at all.

In the immediate aftermath, life wasn’t worth living. I don’t mean that I wanted to kill myself in turn. It was never that severe. It was more a case of “why should I even take care of myself…. do more than just survive, when my mother isn’t here to see it?”

It didn’t make sense. She was never here (at my house in DC), except for one visit. Mostly our relationship consisted of marathon phone calls. But grief doesn’t make sense.

After the initial thunderstorm, all of this emotion just drops out of you. You’ve invested so much in a relationship that’s not coming back, and there’s what I call “the in-between.” As you heal, you find other relationships to fill your huge emotional needs, and you slowly find stuff to do that replaces the swaths of time you spent together- in my case, 3-6 hours a week on the phone. “The in-between” is the first few months to a year after you lose someone important- a partner, a parent, a child- where there’s just nothing. There’s no time, there’s no reason, there’s no logic, there’s no structure. You’re just completely and totally empty, a shell of yourself.

My AA friends have often told me that when they first stopped using, there was a brain haze where most things were mindless and fuzzy. It took at least a year to clear out. A similar thing happened to me when my mother died. For a while, everything I did was completely mindless and fuzzy, even when I was being productive. I’d get to the end of a day and have absolutely no idea what I’d done or what I’d said. Because of this, I secluded myself all the time, save talking to people also in deep grief.

This is because I was afraid of people who didn’t have the same frame of reference as me- didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of trying to explain my point of view.

People can nod and smile and think they’ve been through something equally life-changing, but they haven’t. Losing a partner, parent, or child is something you don’t understand until you get there. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. It literally rewires you down to the neurons. Your mind makes connections it never did before, some of them good, some of them bad. It depends on the day.

In my own life, I found that people who said truly insensitive things or made dark jokes were the only times I felt anything, because it took that level of emotion to cut through the fog. I never got mad at dark humor, because it’s also part of my basic diet. But with people who said truly insensitive things, I’d obsess over them for days. The worst, and there were many, were the ones who said “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when my mother dies.” I’d take it and stuff it down, but want to scream. “IT’S A GOOD THING I’M GOING THROUGH IT AND NOT YOU!” Those remarks are things you have to stuff down, because no one ever means any harm, and if you pop off at them, you’re basically just getting grief-driven crazy spatter all over someone who really has no idea what they’re saying/implying.

Now that time has passed (not enough for me to say “it was a long time ago”), I am again ready to rejoin the people who are truly living. I’ve been surviving for a long time. I now have enough people to lean on who have filled the time and emotion I used to pour into my mother, as well as a clear mind. I don’t want to be one of those people that focuses on grief forever. It would wreck my mother to know that when she died, time just stopped for me, and I stayed there, in the “in-between.”

I’ve started with superfood, and a desire to start taking care of all areas of my life. Eventually, I’d like to be in another relationship, even if it still makes me sad that my mother won’t meet her.

Whether that person comes into my life is not up to me, but if I continue surviving and not really living, there’s no hope we’ll ever meet. I won’t have allowed the chance for it to happen.

And now, the zone is coming to completion, and I need to go eat the rest of my macaroni and cheese.

Cross Post from Facebook

I saw a meme that really made me think. Something about “do not use Facebook for news.” While I understand the sentiment, I disagree with the principle. There is no way I would have time to find all the articles that people find interesting on my own. That being said, I only click on the ones from reputable sources. I make it a point to know which ones they are. I also subscribe to The New York Times and The Washington Post so that I don’t hit a paywall when links are shared. Basically, my friends have the capability to aggregate articles that interest me, liberal or conservative. I read both views to understand the issue all the way around, or at least I used to, when there were two sides to the story.

For instance, there’s not two sides to the story when people insist that racist/homophobic/transphobic bigots AND protesters for civil rights are very fine people and we should get along despite our differences.

As I have read before, “still being a bigot in this day and age generally means you’ve lived through every iteration of the Civil Rights Movement and learned nothing.” Both sides of the story are for political ideas like how to spend government money, or how to implement a program so that it is run efficiently with the least waste of resources.

In the past, I’ve read a lot of William F. Buckley, George Will, and William Safire. It has been an interesting twist of fate that I have returned to George Will. Not only is he aware of the problems with the cult of Trump, he also writes eloquently about baseball, which puts him up on my list of writing heroes by a bigger margin than most. 😛

On the other end of the spectrum, I have read every single David Halberstam book ever written- well, technically, I am in the middle of reading the last one he wrote himself, “The Coldest Winter,” about the Korean War….. where he writes about the horror and still manages to infuse snarky, sometimes dark humor….. which I am all about.

Still deciding on reading truly the last thing he ever wrote, “The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever,” because he was never able to finish it. A horrific car accident killed him in 2007 when he went to meet with a source. I’m waffling because it was finished by Frank Gifford, and I don’t know how the change in style will affect me, as well as knowing it will be the last thing I ever read with his fingerprint.

All of these people have written for the Post, the Times, or both. When you are paying for news, you are paying for genius. It is not fair to complain about paying them. People seem to have problems with not everything on the Internet being free, when in the past, people would pore over their newspapers with breakfast. Would any of these writers, and I’m going to include Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, been able to do what they do effectively without money? Should they be forced to use their own when chasing down a story?

In terms of The Washington Post, there are writers now that are every bit as talented as the ones I’ve mentioned, such as Shane Harris and Greg Miller. I would pay my subscription fee directly to them if I could, and I am sure there are plenty more writers at both newspapers that deserve mentioning, but these two are the ones that came to mind immediately.

When it comes to reliable news, just pay. You did before the Internet was invented, you should do it now. To quote The Washington Post tagline, “democracy dies in darkness.” In 2020, how can you argue?

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

My Stuff

As a long time reader of Vanity Fair, the first thing I turn to is a section called “My Stuff,” where famous people tell you what they use daily….. everything from sheets to watches to toothpaste. It’s amazing to me how many people make millions in different industries, and yet still love Crest.

(Well, now it’s the first thing I turn to……….. Dominic Dunne and Christopher Hitchens are dead…………….)

I’ve never done such a writing exercise, so I thought it would be fun to do my own. I’ll divide everything up into categories for easy reading. If you have something better that I absolutely must try, leave it in the comments.

Health & Beauty

  • I have a huge morning allergy regimen, because inside or outside, I’ll find something that makes me sneeze.
    • Pills- Zyrtec (getting Allegra next week) and Sudafed (NOT PE)
    • Sprays- Fluticasone and Sinex
    • Eye drops- Bausch + Lomb Alaway
  • Soaps
    • Bioré Charcoal (face wash)
    • Suave Professionals Shampoo and Conditioner in Almond + Shea Butter
    • Axe Body Wash- Fresco in the summer (sage and mandarin), Dark Temptations in the winter (chocolate and vanilla)
    • Nivea for Men shaving cream
    • Neutrogena Make-up Removing Wipes (a must-have with a tubing mascara)
  • Fragrances
    • Winter
      • Axe Dark Temptations body spray
      • Axe Dark Temptations deodorant
    • Summer
      • JASON Tea Tree Deodorant Stick
      • Liz Claiborne for Men
  • Hair Products
    • Garnier Leave-in Conditioner
    • Viking Revolution pomade or Gorilla Snot (moco de gorila) Gel
    • Aussie Sprunch Spray
  • Makeup
    • Mascara and eyeliner in “Brynn” (a deep black) by Thrive Causemetics
    • Lipstick by Burt’s Bees in Plum
      • A quick note about makeup- this is all I own. Jeremy Renner was a makeup artist before he started acting and he says you only need to frame your face. I’m going to go with Hawkeye on this one….. foundation on a hot DC summer day is for dummies)
  • Dental Care
    • Colgate Essentials with Charcoal- toothpaste
    • Crest ProHealth Advanced Enamel Care- mouthwash
  • Sleep
    • 10mg melatonin
    • Weighted blanket (basically a human ThunderShirt)

Devices

  • AMD Desktop running Windows 10 with 32-in HDTV as monitor. Bluetooth remote control for Kodi Media Center.
  • Original Kindle 7-in (useful for reading long periods at a clip)
  • iPad
  • iPhone
  • Apple Watch
  • Logitech K480 Bluetooth Keyboard
    • I cannot recommend this product highly enough. It’s relatively full-size and comfortable, yet will fit in a messenger bag/medium to large purse. Plus, it has a switch on it so you can connect three different devices- I have my iPad, my iPhone, and my desktop hooked to it now.
  • Android tablet connected to a Bluetooth alarm clock- makes an AWESOME stereo
  • AMD laptop running Ubuntu 20.04 “Focal Fossa” and Cinnamon as the window manager
  • MPOW H7 Bluetooth headphones (80’s “can” style)
  • Sandisk Fuse+ MP3 Player running Rockbox
    • I listen to so much music/so many podcasts that having one of these saves hours of phone battery.

Applications

  • Mobile
    • Carrot Weather
    • Clue (period/ovulation tracker)
    • Just Press Record
    • Amazon Prime Music Unlimited
    • Spotify
    • Pocket Casts
    • LastPass
    • ProtonMail
    • Reddit
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • WordPress
    • Google Chrome
    • Washington Post & Post Select (Select has an Apple Watch app)
    • NY Times
    • Goodreads
    • Uber
    • Blood Donor (Red Cross)
    • Ambience
    • NordVPN
    • Mega
  • Desktop
    • Operating System Agnostic
      • NordVPN
      • Kodi
      • LibreOffice
      • Mozilla Firefox
      • Mozilla Thunderbird
      • GNU Image Manipulation Program/Glimpse
      • Google Chrome
      • Vivaldi Browser
      • VLC Media Player
    • Windows
      • Amazon Music Unlimited
      • Spotify
      • Netflix
      • Microsoft OneNote
      • Picasa 3
      • MusicBee
      • White Noise
      • iTunes
    • Linux
      • Nuvola (streams music and videos from all sources on Linux)
      • Variety (wallpaper changer)
      • Conky Manager (adds widgets to the desktop for looking at processes and internet speed)
      • ANoise (short for Ambient Noise- has everything from forests to beaches to oscillating fans)
      • LollyPop (music manager)

Podcasts

  • The Moth
  • Modern Love
  • Risk!
  • Unlocking Us
  • The Confessional with Nadia Bolz-Weber
  • On Being with Krista Tippett (I generally download the unedited version)
  • The Robcast
  • Pod Save America
  • The Rachel Maddow Show
  • The Daily Show: Ears Edition
  • Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
  • SpyCast
  • Death, Sex, & Money
  • Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4
  • The Infinite Monkey Cage
  • Wild Goose
  • and, like, a hundred more but these are the ones I anticipate

Books I Read Often

  • Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich
  • The Solace of Leaving Early and A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel
  • All of William Barclay’s books on the Gospels
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • One L, Scott Turow (pretty sure this was in my bathroom for three years in college)

Clothing Brands

  • Nautica
  • Tommy Hilfiger
  • Ralph Lauren
  • American Giant
  • Dockers
  • Levis
  • Dickies

My Bags

  • XINCADA Men’s Messenger Bag, L
    • Not a messenger bag in the classic sense. Looks way more like a travel purse, especially since the canvas is advertised as “Blue/Black,” but is actually purple. The only reason I went with the large is that I needed it to fit my 10-in tablet and keyboard. If you have a seven or eight inch tablet and a foldable keyboard, the small is perfect. I was amazed at the quality of the bag for the price. It will last me years on end.
  • Swiss Army Backpack
    • Perfect for my 15-in laptop and all its accessories while traveling. Not my daily driver because it’s too heavy….. I call it “Leviathan” (Veep joke)

So that’s my stuff. I’m not going to include movies and TV because those things change frequently. If there’s something I haven’t covered that you want to know, just ask. I’m not energetic enough to be cagey.

White Noise

I have no idea what this entry will entail. I think I’ll just jump around with life updates until I find something worthy. I’ve found that you can start out with one thing and delve deeper as you go. Writing is a muscle, and blogging, for me, is “working out.” It’s completely stream-of-conscience and changes topics on purpose. I remember one woman thinking that my blog was tied to my mental disorder (Bipolar II) because of it. She didn’t understand, and some people don’t. Tangents upon tangents are just the way I roll (most of the time, anyway). It’s not a sickness- it’s how blogging has been for many people since they premiered on the Internet.

Speaking of mental illness, though, I will say that the pandemic has reinforced my agoraphobia. Mask or not, I’m afraid…………. but that’s not a bad thing in this type of societal climate. Too many people are eager for “normal” when in the United States, we are clearly not ready for it. No state has gotten to zero and in many, cases are on the rise. This is because we do not have a safety net. There is no socialized medicine, unemployment insurance that gives you enough money to take care of one’s basic needs (especially in big cities, where rent and mortgages are high), and no leadership from the federal government. Other countries are doing so much better.

So, my response is to stay in my own home 99% of the time. I put off getting groceries and medicine, or I order them over the Internet. For instance, I need coffee creamer (my main basic food group), and I can’t even bring myself to go and get it.

I should be doing more writing than I have been, because I have more time to do it and I’m not taking advantage. I’m hoping that will change. 2020-07-17 14_37_43-WindowOne of the things that’s helping me today is a new app I found in the Windows store. It’s called “White Noise,” and it actually comes with lots of free sounds. Today I’m listening to brown noise, but the one they’re giving away for free is a thunderstorm on a loop. The app is a gift because there’s a great Linux app called “ANoise,” and before today I hadn’t found a Windows equivalent. I still have ANoise on my laptop, but for some reason, my desktop has problems with Linux, no matter what distribution I try. I can’t get the OS to boot from a USB key because it can’t find my hard drives and gets stuck. I’ve sped up my computer as far as it will go because I put in 16 GB of RAM (eight on each channel), and an SSD for Windows. I have a two TB mechanical hard drive for all my “stuff,” excluding my most frequently used applications. I have no idea why Windows will install and Linux won’t, and I have too little energy to figure it out. The thing about being good at technology and getting a job doing it is that you have very little patience for dealing with your own. The only thing I’ve done with my laptop is add an SSD to it, because even with a relatively slow processor, it screams with an SSD. If you don’t have one, they’re cheap and it’s worth it. I got a 256 GB because on my laptop, I hardly ever store things. I use Internet apps and streaming media.

I’m sorry if this is boring for non-IT people, but I’m basically putting on a commercial for SSDs. It’s the fastest and easiest way to speed up everything and took me less than a half hour to install. The longest part was unscrewing everything and putting it back together. If you’ve never done it before, there are YouTube videos for nearly every computer on the market, and so much cheaper than hiring someone else. If you do need to store a large amount of data, there are kits to take out your optical drive and put a mechanical hard drive in its place, because most people don’t need them anymore. Think about the last time you watched a physical DVD or ripped your music. It’s so 2001. If you have a lot of CDs and DVDs, there’s a lot of free software to copy them before you put them in the trash. I am all about the minimalist lifestyle. 😉

In terms of saving your data, just make sure you back it up so that you have a failsafe if and when your hard drive fails. Two copies of everything will save your ass someday. You’ll thank me when you don’t lose all your family pictures, the only thing that’s truly irreplaceable. If you want/need cloud storage for pictures, there are plenty of free services. Mega is the most generous– you get 70 GB free, and additional is cheap- about $6.00/mo.

Sometimes I think about how much I miss my family’s old pictures because our house burned down in 1990. If cloud storage had existed back then, they wouldn’t have burned. Even the ones that survived had streaks on them and smelled like a camp fire. My grandparents helped us piece them back together, but they only had so many…… and that’s why technology is so important to me. It’s not the technology itself, but the things that can be preserved. Memories are precious, and because of computers, phones, tablets, etc. none of it is clutter. If you’re anything like me, you have or have had giant stacks of pictures thrown in a box that you say you’re going to put in an album, and the day you say you’re going to scan them turns into into 25 years. I know me. We’ve met.

For instance, I am grateful for every picture I have of my mother and my grandparents, only one of which is still alive, and he turned 90 on July 13th. He loves movies, and I always ask him for recommendations when I call. The last one was “Mrs. Miniver,” and I immediately bought a copy. I enjoyed it so much, and so did other people. It was the Oscars’ Best Picture in 1942…… the entire reason I ask my grandfather for so many recommendations in the first place. I haven’t seen many of the great old movies out there, and he knows them all.

The only old movie that I haven’t finished is “Three Days of the Condor.” A bunch of innocent CIA case officers and analysts get shot in the first half. I had a visceral, nauseous reaction, and there’s a reason for it. I’ve met case officers, albeit retired, and in my mind those people were replaced by people I know and have pored over their books. It was horrifying.

In terms of horror, I am much more interested in fiction. I started “American Horror Story” two nights ago and it’s fabulous. I’m late to the party because I didn’t think I’d like it, but between the pilot and now I’ve loved several scary movies and TV shows……. most notably “It” and “Stranger Things.” Eleven completes me.

The other show I love right now is “American Soul” on BET. It’s the story of how Don Cornelius started “Soul Train,” and as you can imagine, the music is divine and lots of famous people are portrayed. My favorite has been Wayne Brady as Little Richard. The only horror in it is how blacks are treated, because we still haven’t solved the problem (I say “blacks” instead of African American because not all black people in the United States are from Africa).

I also watch a lot of YouTube, because I enjoy the hell out of seeing James Baldwin. He was so integral in my becoming a teenager. “Go Tell it on the Mountain” was assigned to me for summer reading before my sophomore year. I devoured it and went on to read all of Baldwin’s other works. Because he was black and queer, there were lots of similarities between the discrimination he faced and what was happening in my own life.

I was lucky in my freshman and sophomore years to have black English teachers, because I have found that most of my white teachers didn’t bother to include black authors (surprise). The one book by a black author I was assigned by a white English teacher was “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. I loved it as well, but it seems to be the only book written about black people that white teachers across the country assign (i.e. the only book white English teachers will let cross over into their generally white classrooms). With my black teachers, we read Alan Paton (white author, but wrote about race relations in South Africa), Richard Wright, and Toni Morrison as well.

The black authors I read were usually better at creating a lasting impression. I still remember lines from “Beloved,” “Native Son,” and “Black Boy.” I need to get digital copies of them as well, because they’re not books I ever want to lose. There are three reasons that, at least for me, digital trumps paper books. The first is they’re in the cloud, so they keep. The second is that I don’t have any books that I’ll lend to people and I still haven’t gotten them back years later. The third is that I’m always in the middle of at least three, and I don’t like it when my backpack weights 30 lbs.

I give digital books as gifts a lot, and they’re a big hit. For instance, I gave one friend a copy of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” and she said “that’s one of my favorite books, no idea where the hardback is.” I thought that might be the case, because her life is books and dogs, so it seemed like the kind of book she would have swallowed whole the moment it came out…….. but I sent it to her anyway because I couldn’t imagine a world in which she hadn’t read it and I had to make sure. 😉

She’s also Latina, so I sent her my favorite Latinx novel, which is “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya. It’s about a Catholic boy and the curandera who mentors him. The laugh lines I love the most in it is the scene when the young boy is going to his first communion, and worries that Jesus will get stuck to the roof of his mouth.

The last thing I’ll say about books is that I go through periods of reading, then writing, but not both simultaneously. It’s because I tend to pick up the style of the last author I read, and I’m not interested in filling their shoes.

I want to wear my own.

 

Adventures in Two Dimensions

I am fairly certain that I have mentioned before that I have monocular vision, but I don’t know if I’ve defined what it is. There’s probably a doctor that can technically explain it better than me, but I have the life experience.

People aren’t (generally) born with monocular vision. It is created (in my case, lack of oxygen in the delivery room), and there are two types. The first is injury resulting in loss of vision from one eye. I have the second kind. I can see out of both eyes, but they don’t track together. One eye fixates and the other drifts or turns inward. I have no control over what my non-dominant eye is doing, and cannot direct my brain regarding which eye to use.

My field of vision changes without my awareness when I’m wearing my glasses, so I put off getting them for the longest time. This is because when my left eye became much weaker than my right, I was right-eye dominant all the time. Here’s why it’s important: I only have a modicum of peripheral vision in the eye my brain has chosen, and absolutely none in the other. It leads to disaster when driving, and I lose things that were right in front of my face one second prior.

I used to drive all the time. I lived in the suburbs of Houston and I had no choice. It wasn’t until I moved to DC and was given the option of not driving that I considered stopping altogether. I was wondering if I could find data on how dangerous it was. According to a study I read comparing binocular and monocular vision in race car drivers (they all had binocular vision; monocular was simulated), monocular vision created accidents six percent of the time. That seems low until you realize just how much you drive, and you’re likely to have an accident six out of 100 times, all of them being your fault.

Monocular vision is noticeable, and I’ve had my fair share of teasing about it, even as an adult. I am very self-deprecating, and I make myself laugh all the time. It’s punching down when other people do it.

However, there is one aspect that I didn’t even think about until today. I like this game called “Feeding Frenzy 2.” It’s simple and ridiculous,feedingfrenzy2 but I have a hard time. The light bulb moment was when I realized I was playing on a widescreen monitor. I don’t see the fish on the edges of the screen unless I turn my head.

I am constantly turning my head…… all day, every day. The most common question I get is “which eye are you looking at me with?” I ignore that they ended the sentence with a preposition in order not to be Petty Level 3000, but apparently it is disarming to some people that one eye is either turned inward or outward. The absolute truth is that I don’t know, and maybe that’s why those words are one of my hot buttons.

In fact, about 15 years ago, I walked out on a job before it started because I was so mad at the recruiting company managing me (it was a temp). The recruiter met me a few minutes before the interview, so I was already nervous. He said, “I think it would make everyone more comfortable if you would announce the problem about your eye as you walk in.” I wish I’d called him out with an “absolutelyfuckingnot;” I felt about six inches tall, even though my future coworkers hired me on the spot. I was not interested in working with someone who punched down the second time I met him. I didn’t want there to be a third. I have enough problems beating myself up. I didn’t need anyone to “help.”

Between the way I see and the way I move, at work I am awkward enough. This is because you generally don’t get close enough to your coworkers that they feel comfortable asking questions. It’s easier for them to just write me off as weird and keep me at arm’s length.

The other huge problem is that people forget even after I’ve told them about my condition, and when I lose something or they want me to see what they do, they get perturbed. When I lose something, I’m considered flaky. Annoyance appears in people’s voices when I can’t see something….. “it’s right there. RIGHT THERE!” I have no idea what you’re pointing at- don’t even bother. I’ve gotten used to pretending I see a whole host of things, particularly birds and planes.

This is because in addition to my peripheral vision being absent, so is my depth perception.

I’m not very good at sports, although I can sort of fake it with soccer. It is easier to judge depth perception when the ball is on the ground. If I am catching a baseball or shooting a basketball, the difficulty is astronomical. Sometimes I make miraculous catches/baskets by accident.

I also politely decline and seethe inside when invited to a 3D movie, but only if it’s a friend I’ve told a hundred times that I can’t see them…. to me, the things that are supposed to jump out at you separate into two different colors and stay flat on the screen, turning to one side. It makes my head hurt and it costs more. I don’t like paying for migraines when I generally get them for free…. sometimes even a 2-for-1 special.

Speaking of seething inside, my movement and vision issues cause enormous self-esteem issues which present as rage, stuffed down because I use the buttons on my clothes to hold in my feelings. My self-esteem often keeps me from standing up for myself when I feel hurt by other people’s words….. I can’t even stand up to me.

Straight Fragility

The Black Lives Matter movement has changed me in ways I didn’t know I needed. I am beginning to stand up for myself, not afraid to make waves. I hope that I am a white ally in the best sense of the phrase, but I am not naïve enough to think I won’t stumble along the way. The thing I think I’m doing right is that I absolutely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not having the same experience they are, and unless they are a person of color who is also LGBTQ+, they aren’t having the same experience as me, either.

This knowledge has made me less afraid to claim what is mine- to look at what the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and drawing similarities as to what I can apply to my own life as a minority of a different stripe.

For instance, today it was a Facebook group that asked for a queer roll-call. I got a ton of notifications that said “I’m straight, but I’m an ally.” In what universe is being an ally and being queer equivalent? They may have fought for marriage equality, but they could get married while they were doing it. They’ve never felt the pain of rejection and the internalized homophobia it causes. They’ve never had someone claim that part of their identity is a mental illness. They’ve never had anyone stare in disgust if they gave their spouse a peck on the lips goodbye. They’ve never had to seek out safe space, because being gay in a non-safe space can range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

The main difference between the struggle regarding race and sexual orientation is that people can automatically see that I’m white. I haven’t dated anyone for five years and change, so I don’t wear any outward signs that I’m also a minority. Now, because I fit the stereotype of short hair and nails, boys’ clothes, etc. they might have their suspicions, but they can’t say so definitively unless I tell them. Until I was 36, I thought they could, and then I met a straight woman who dressed like me, with roughly the same haircut, and it was a light bulb moment. I wasn’t actually advertising anything. I now know this is true due to the sheer number of men who’ve asked me out on Facebook Dating (man, that algorithm is off).

I also think that straight people wearing the pride flag or associated accessories is problematic. I’m trying to get used to it because it’s popular, but I am, shall we say, old school. Enlightened straight people are over others mistaking them for queer, but for me it is also a matter of cultural appropriation………………. and because I know that my friends mean me no harm, and in fact are cheering me on, I try to let it roll. I know who’s an ally or not among my friend group, but if I meet someone who lights up my world and it turns out they’re straight, my throat tightens. It’s hard putting toothpaste back in the tube, capiche?

The double standard that’s my work to release is that I don’t care if men do it. I’m not interested in them. Whether a man is straight or gay is of no consequence. With women, depending on how much I like them, the effect varies in severity. If I can’t see myself dating them anyway, it’s a simple “nobody’s perfect.” If I can, there may or may not be waterworks I have to pass off as allergies….. because not only am I disappointed, pining for a straight woman is the oldest cliché in the book…. I mean, if Eve had a lesbian friend, I guarantee she was miserable. It makes me feel embarrassed and stupid, and that will last years longer than the actual attraction, because I tend to get stuck in my flaws and failures. If I was weird to you once in 1992, I’m still thinking about it.

The other thing that gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up is the community moving toward acceptance of straight people using the word “queer.” I realize that it’s shorthand for all the letters. I get it. The longer the acronym gets, the more comfortable I am with using it, too. At the same time, it feels like being called the f or the n word. I am much more easygoing about queer people reclaiming that word for themselves as opposed to giving straight people license to use it. Not everyone feels the same way I do, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, because people are increasingly of the “get over it” mindset and I’m just not there- and maybe not ever. Younger people do not have the same word association that I do.

It’s a conundrum, because I feel that the strides younger generations are making are positive. I also feel that if they knew what it was like before they were born, they’d have a different outlook. That’s the other difference that really shines, because unless you are actually the child of a queer person, you don’t inherit our institutionalized pain…. and even though Lindsay (my almost six-years-younger biological sister) didn’t inherit it, she lived through it with me, so we have roughly the same outlook. She uses those lessons every single day in her job (it honors me to no end that I’m part of the reason she took it). She works in government relations for a queer health care outfit in Texas, which in my mind is God’s work. I wouldn’t want to meet with Texas Republicans on issues like trans health care. I would vomit before work out of nerves every single day. She’s just far enough removed from those specific fears to be effective.

It is again why straight allies are so important. I am not interested in denying their contribution. I only get wigged when I feel they are trying to say “we’re in this together.” No the hell we are not. You can run your mouth all day long about gay rights, and other straight people will hear it better from you. But you’re not going to think before going into an unfamiliar situation that it’s possible everyone will hate you when they know. Moreover, that fear is tripled going into an unfamiliar church. The Religious Right is the source of most of the things that cause me pain, because their bile is still infecting millions. You are not in danger if a trans person uses the same bathroom as you. You are not in danger if I’m in the locker room with you.

I mean, I’m not even going to hit on you unless you’re wearing a pride flag.

Bottled

I’ve been shaken like a Diet Coke lately, for reasons that are shaking everyone else on top of everything else in my own life. Yesterday was my mother and Dana’s birthday. My mother is, well, my mother. My ex is someone I loved for about 15 years (Dana would remember down to the date and time…. I am not that good). Though we have no future, you can’t be friends with someone for that long and not have them cross your mind occasionally. So, yesterday brought up almost every feeling of grief I’ve ever had in my life.

I have one happy memory that kept me going, and that was the year the three of us went to the Governor Hotel for dinner to celebrate. I had called in advance to make a reservation, and when we got there, our menus read “Happy Birthday Dana & Carolyn.” It was wonderful, and no one sang to us in a paper hat……………………

The most painful and cathartic part was when I found a show on Apple Plus called “Dear …” Every episode is a different actor/famous person. I watched “Dear Oprah” and cried a little. Then, I watched “Dear Big Bird.” I should have known that would be a landmine. I remember so clearly when Mr. Hooper died, and public television deciding to deal with it age-appropriately on the air. I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe as a mom explained to “Big Bird” that she used that clip to explain her father’s death to her little girl. Believe me when I say I would have cried regardless- when I’m alone, I’ll cry over anything, even commercials. But this was different. This was near panic-attack territory. Most of the time, it’s just a few tears rolling down my cheeks, like remembering my mother and I watching Oprah every day at four from the time I was nine years old. Even when we were (rarely) at the gym, we didn’t miss it. We walked on treadmills and watched the show, anyway.

My friends and family kept in touch all day, because I’d sent them a heads up on the 10th. I just asked them to look out for me and check in if they hadn’t in a while. So basically, I got alerts on social media almost as often as if it were my own birthday…. some from people who had also lost parents, which helps enormously. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that losing a parent rewires you down to the neurons. New people I meet will never know the person I was before October of 2016. There’s also a slight difference between people whose parents lived to be the age they generally die naturally, and people whose parents die suddenly. In addition to grieving the past, they also grieve the years of which they’ve been robbed. In my own case, it delayed my grief for about a week and a half, because I was so physically and emotionally shocked. Nothing felt real until I got back to DC and settled into my new normal, which was not talking on the phone with my mother for several hours at a clip at least a few times a week. My mother was fairly conservative- and by that, I don’t mean politically. I mean behavior, clothing, etc. I grew up that way, but after I moved out on my own I was, shall we say, more adventurous. Therefore, I really didn’t have much to say in terms of my own life, so I know A LOT about what it takes to be an elementary school music teacher/choir director. In fact, one of the pieces of grief I continue to work through is that I “ran the game” on my mom all the time…. the one where you keep people talking about themselves so that they don’t want to/get a chance to know anything about you.

When I was literally suicidal and in the hospital, I was forced to open up. Though I couldn’t tell my mom exactly what I was going through, I could tell her enough, and she was more resilient than I ever thought. Not as breakable. I spent years covering up things I didn’t have to, mostly because I was convinced she wasn’t a safe space.

If there is any reason that if I win the lottery, I’m buying Argo and her husband (and her family, and their pets, and their grandkids’ college etc. etc. etc.) whatever they want, it’s because the conversations she and I shared effectively gave my mother back to me. If they don’t want anything because they have no idea what to think, I’ll just donate to a charity I am spot-on sure would be a big hit. Man, I’ve thought a lot about this for something that is unlikely to happen considering I don’t buy tickets……………………………..

I spent so many years frightened out of my mind that I would say something that would offend my mother, I was never truly real with her. Not once. I never lied about anything, but it took me three years to show her I had a tattoo, if that gives you any indication…… and I didn’t have a tattoo. I had five.

I wish I could have been more authentic. I’m much funnier when I am.

My mother was the type person that if she said something that everyone was thinking and didn’t say it, we would all fall out laughing much more than usual because she was the last person we’d think would spill it. I have no doubt that in some ways, she was just as bottled up as me, because underneath her exterior, it always seemed like there was way more than advertised.

It’s not surprising, though. As a preacher’s family, there is such pressure to be perfect people, and none of us ever are……………. but we all curate our personalities to some extent. It’s the level that changes (one of the many reasons I think preacher’s kids make good spies- all of us have the ability to take in shocking news while smiling and acting as if nothing has happened).

In fact, taking in the shocking news of my mother’s death, smiling and acting as if nothing had happened was how I got through my first few days. It was impossible to receive people without public armor. I knew four people at the visitation, had heard of maybe another 20, and there were more than 150-200 between it and the funeral. It was truly overwhelming to such a degree that those memories are burned in so hard that they’ve replaced my first thoughts when thinking of her. That’s what I mean by “rewired.” There is nothing in the world that compares to or prepares for losing your mother, even losing someone else, because she’s the only one who literally carried you. It’s a different feeling, like you’ve lost your first apartment, as it were. I felt all the time, and still feel a little bit unmoored. Because you’ve lost the only one who carried you into the world, it’s an awful feeling no matter what your relationship was while they were alive- and unlike other feelings of grief, it’s one of the only universal ones. Everything else is as individual as a fingerprint.

I remember having such unhinged anger in the beginning, because I was the first of my closest friends to lose a parent, and some of them are much older than me. I also had quite a bit of anxiety and closed myself off to everyone except Dan, because we didn’t know each other well, but had that one thing in common, and at the time it was consuming my entire life. The anxiety came from not wanting to lash out at my other friends, because their parents being alive didn’t mean anything was wrong with them. I didn’t want to get my crazy spatter on their clothes….. fights and gutter snipes based on something I couldn’t express in a way that would make sense to them, because there is no frame of reference. I could even say out loud that I was just railing against their parents still being alive, and that still wouldn’t make any sense because people think they know what it will be like, and they don’t. No matter what you think it’s like, that’s not it.

The reality is that everyone reacts differently, so not only do you not know what it’s going to be like objectively, you don’t know it subjectively, either. Your reaction will be based on what you know, not what I do.

That’s why there’s such a drive to keep a lid on it. I don’t want my grief to inconvenience our relationship, because one has nothing to do with the other in terms of how much I adore you. I’m just on a completely different road, traveling in a completely different direction, in a completely different outfit.

And in time, more and more of my friends will be traveling with me, and our relationship will change in an irreversible way….. just like the relationship with your mother. The permanence of the change is that when your mother dies, so does a piece of you. The individuality is that none of us have any idea what will go in its place. It’s not that you can replace your mother with something else; it’s that all of a sudden, a lot of your time and energy empties out of a relationship that can never be resurrected. The time gets filled up with other things, and you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll do with it.

It shakes you like a Diet Coke.