Putting the ow in wow

Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned my right knee made a sound like a chip bag being crumpled? Remember how I made it sound like it was a funny thing?

Even funnier is now I have a matched set. Two knees that sound like crumpling cellophane when I kneel or try to lunge or squat in exercise.

Maybe I can sell them on eBay.

Do I need new knees? I’ve saved for a good pair of running shoes. Oh, and one of those titanium sports bras. Now, it looks like knee braces are on the list. But not new knees, oh god, no.

Getting old — older — sucks just like I thought it would.

As you may be aware, I have all these goals for the summer and beyond. Goals that need a higher level of fitness. Call these things carrots or brass rings or whatever. I use them as motivators to get in the best shape of my life.

So, what happened on the sweaty road from fat to fit?

Failure is not an option is my mantra. Since October I’ve worked hard to reach a goal that seemed impossible.

Two weeks ago, the tiniest tip of my big toe lightly brushed against that goal. I was so wowed by this I lost all sense.

Suddenly I was Jaime Sommers, the bionic woman. As I ran I heard that ch-ch-ch-CH-CH sound in my head. At least until the first commercial break, then I fell down a flight of steps, bolts and screws flying in all directions, my toe miles from any goal. Back to the lab.

I pushed myself too fast, too soon. I attempted to work through the pain, like I thought you were supposed to do. Turns out there are subtle differences between a sore muscle and inflamed tissue. Turns out I do not have a degree in sports medicine or physical therapy. Turns out my journalism degree is good only if I employ the research aspect.

Sure, I downloaded training schedules, read articles on the process, talked to others.  But if the order for the day said run 2.5 miles, I said, fuck it, I’ll go for three.

Turns out that at a certain age that is not the best workout plan. Turns out my parts are not titanium like the sports bra I covet.

Now, instead of sweating and feeling the burn, I’m on the couch icing my legs and losing the battle of willpower with those boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the pantry.

What is the sound of patience? Better yet, can I buy it on eBay?

 

 

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Sorry …

Sorry, I'm a bit of a flake.

“Can’t you just e-mail me with this stuff?”

Words coated in ice, slippery with sleet, sliding down my sensitive little back. They don’t roll off and shatter at my feet. They stick at the small of my back.

My ex-husband — father of my Girl from the West, a beautiful young woman now who reached legal age this week — chose these words in response to my phone call on our daughter’s birthday. This is what he had to say when I summoned the courage to call him to say, Hey! Our baby is all grown up. Imagine that?

I was being maudlin, thinking of that winter-storm level snow day in 1994, tethered to that hospital bed, hooked up to countless monitors and a pitocin drip, waiting for this unknown quantity to blast into our lives. And now, here she is, fully grown and ready to take on the world.

Of course, I know better than to just dial up without a good reason. He is not a chatterbox type. I called to discuss what to do about her medical insurance, college loan applications, and the like. I thought I’d lead in with the obvious, to rise above the politics of our divorce.

Sorry …

I retold the story to my mother a few days later, as a way to illustrate how people can be so disappointing and how we have to move on. She harbors her own disappointment with me, apparently, and grabbed my words mid-air and lobbed them back at me. She does not and never will support most of my choices. She’ll always think I could have done better. It’s useless to complain to her about a messy bed when I am the one who tangled the sheets. She is of the school that you take your licks or you rewrite the story in your head until you believe it.

Sorry …

And here is where I have a small epiphany. Maybe the one who was the physical abuser was the least of the matter. Emotional/verbal abuse slithers around me almost continuously and I am color blind to its stripes. I’m rewriting my story, too.

Sorry …

Last fall I had a long phone conversation with my brother, who lives thousands of miles away from all this. He was telling me why he decided not to come home for the holidays. He felt the message he was getting was one of disappointment. That his choices, his lifestyle, were unacceptable to my mother and that he was tired of justifying his life to her.

“I think, sometimes, that she’s upset because she can’t brag about us at the knitting circle,” I said. It was a bonding/healing moment for us.

I’m sorry — sometimes — that I returned from the estrangement arrangement.

I am sorry I didn’t accept your gift of baptism. I’m sorry you can’t understand my need to question the existence of a god or for doubting so-called sacred texts.

I am sorry you don’t notice I have a brain and that I use it to question everything.

I am sorry that no amount of perfection will ever be perfectly perfect enough for your level of perfectness.

I am sorry that I often model this behavior with the ones I love.

I am sorry that I don’t take more of my advice.

I am sorry that it takes me so long to recognize abuse.

I am sorry that I allow others to decide what makes me a good person.

I’m sorry I’m not warmer, more huggy and kissy, and loving and giving.  (I want so badly to be that person.)

I am sorry I am born of such cold people.

I am trying to thaw.

Sorry it’s taking so long.

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade
I am hooked on Edlenland’s weekly Fresh Horses Brigade. That woman challenges me every week. Cheaper than therapy, I tell you.

Tuesday

For many years, Tuesday was a bad day. It was the day I relinquished custody of my oldest daughter. In the simple act of day care and school drop off, I set sail to a ship that often seemed like it would never return to port.  I felt like the widow standing at the end of the pier watching the smudged horizon for signs of movement.

Each Tuesday I dropped off that girl, hugged her desperately as I inhaled her shampoo-ketchup-sweaty goodness, felt the fabric of her sweater, studied the color and wave of her hair, and burned it into memory.

Until Saturday, when I’d see her again.

One of the biggest reasons I left my nice-paying but family-compromising job was I missed this girl. I missed so much of her life while I sat behind that computer 40-50 hours a week. I did things like read bedtime stories to her over the phone as editors drummed their fingernails on the desktop. I used vacation days to go on her field trips and volunteer in the classroom. I cobbled together a life with her based on the calendar, schedules, and the divorce decree.

Once I came home, the schedule flipped and I had more time. Even then it wasn’t enough. So much was lost already. Now, I had two girls in the house. What I lost in parenthood, they gained in sisterhood.

Their sisterhood has helped in the last six years.

Today that girl turned 18. Decrees and restrictions end. She can come and go as she pleases. Of course she’s been doing that for a year since she got her own car.

Tuesdays have grown softer with age.

A newish friend likes Tuesdays. At some point she added me to her Happy Tuesday club.

The first text message arrived just like that:

Happy Tuesday

I didn’t know what to think or how to respond. Tuesday? Happy? Only slightly better than Monday, really.

Here are some of my responses:

Dancing in my p.j.s

:)

Happy Tuesday to you!

Fat Tuesday!

Happy Ides of March Day 

Happy reunion 

The sun is shining 

I am in the wilds of Montana

Hot Tuesday

Quakey Tuesday

It’s my baby’s birthday!

Happy snowy day

Hang on to your hat Tuesday

Getting things done Tuesday

Happy love note Tuesday

Happy stuff your face with dough and jelly day 

Over the last year, this simple message has turned around my feelings on the second day of the week.

Classify this under “the little things in life.” One friend. One simple message.

Is there anything you might be doing that seems small but may have a huge impact on someone else’s life?

You never know.

 

 

 

Those secrets have to go somewhere, don’t they?

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.   

— Frank McCourt

lock3

“Why are you so secretive about everything?”

My husband asks me this question all the time.

He does it when someone asks  ”So, what’s new?”

He does it when I answer, “Oh, nothing …. ”

He wonders why I lock it all up and throw away the combination. Why I write anonymously. Why everything is in code.

My husband doesn’t wear a wedding band. He wears a decoder ring. For me.

So, why am I so secretive?

Conditioning. Culture. I’m Irish?

I wasn’t always so reserved with information. But a few blurt -and-regret incidents shut me up.

You learn through conditioned responses what’s acceptable to share with family and what needs to stay in the vault.

The way my husband and I react to new experiences in our lives tells the tale of our vastly different childhoods.

This past Sunday we tried something new.

Later that evening I heard my husband on the phone. He was giving his long-distance family a recap of the day.

This is so different from the way I operate.

Here is all anyone needs to know to understand my family dynamic: I had a grandmother who died before I was born. She died young. End of story.

Not until I was filling out adoption paperwork and had to complete several physical exams did I pry a bit to learn that my grandmother had colon cancer. That she was in her 40s. That she had been continuously pregnant for all of her fertile years. I don’t know if one thing has anything to do with the others. I don’t know if she could sing. I don’t know her favorite perfume. I don’t ask.

My father, who was the first-born of the brood, was just old enough to order a Tom Collins when this happened. I understood this was tragic. Not that he could legally drink. But that his mother was dead. My grandfather had a household full of children who needed a mother. This was not the era of  Mr. Mom. Apparently you picked yourself up and moved on. You did not dwell.

Dad never spoke of his mother’s illness or her last days. I once thought the information was withheld because I was young. Later I learned no one knew anything because it was understood that you did not ask. You waited to be told. If nothing was told, you accepted that. They were not told.

This approach has carried on for decades. Things happen in the family. Maybe you hear about them. Most likely you do not. People have married into and divorced out of the family without comment or announcement. People have life-threatening medical conditions and don’t tell their closest relatives. They die, allowing their survivors to uncover their deep secrets, begging questions that never will be answered.

Recently I learned someone in the family had a Facebook account. I asked this person to be my friend on Facebook.

“No, I’m not friending any family. I don’t want you to read what I put on Facebook.”

I’m not surprised.

___________________

* I wrote this post in May 2009. It’s still true. I’m reposting it today as part of Edenland’s Saturday writing prompt, Fresh Horses Brigade, which asks, why do I blog?

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Writing on the wall

Somewhere in Detroit

I walk past this wall at least once a week.

Most of the time I don’t understand the spray-painted messages on the concrete barrier. Are they gang tags? Bored kids? Street philosophers spreading the good word?

Most of the time I don’t bother looking at anything in this neighborhood, as the decay and neglect depress me.

Most of the time I’m focused on reaching my car before I’m knifed for the two bucks I have in my wallet.

This day is different. I don’t know what made me look but I did. I looked and I saw this message. Clearly, it needs to be in my head.

Do not tell your story in anger.

 

 

 

The D word

This is my contribution to Edenland‘s Fresh Horses Brigade. She asks: Are you terrified of death?  What is your funeral song?

I’m learning that the only truth is impermanence. The moment something unfurls, it begins to wither. Death, dying, spirit energy, that gauzy space between life and death, ghosts, haunting – these things fascinate and scare me.

I remember as a very young child going up to a body at a visitation and touching the face. It was as hard as the sidewalk. I remember being scolded right away for doing so. I’ve thought ever since that our culture has it all wrong about death. I like the cultures that throw raucous parties, that allow mourners to wail, that say the word dead instead of all the flowery euphemisms.

During my stint as news reporter, I was the paper’s obituary writer, which put me in constant contact with all the local funeral home workers. I got to know some of the men and women who handled arrangements. This was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the places between death and burial. I asked questions. I wanted to know details. When I felt comfortable, I expressed interest in viewing behind-the-scenes work. One of the guys, let’s call him Brian, was open to the idea and invited me to visit the inner chambers of the funeral home.

Oddly enough, around the time I was to visit,  my father died unexpectedly. When we met again, it was as my father’s casket was going  into the back of the hearse. Turns out we hired Brian’s company to do my dad’s funeral.

Brian leaned into the limousine behind the hearse, put his hand on my shoulder and offered his condolences, said he was sorry things didn’t go as planned.   No, having my father die at 58 was not part of the plan.

Yet, how could the plan be any different? We don’t have access to the mighty blueprint.

It took me a full year to collect the courage to call Brian. He pulled some strings so that I could be part of a tour of the newly renovated county morgue. On the tour, I watched three autopsies in progress and watched a slide show by a forensic pathologist.

That slide show was unlike any other I’ve watched. I cannot tell you of these things here because they are pale, eyeless things curled up in the darkest corners of hell. Horrible things done to babies, young women, street people, drug dealers, mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers. These pictures were evidence in criminal trials. You can complain all you want about violent images in movies, but nothing compares to real pictures of death. Nothing.

When my father died, I went into that room at the hospital where he lay prone and I looked death in the face. It changed me. From that day on I began hugging people and telling them I loved them.

After that slide show, I remember going home, calling off the rest of the work day, crawling into bed, pulling the comforter up to my chin, and just staring at the ceiling. I needed time to process.  I needed time to get the smell of meat out of my nostrils.

It’s all a great mystery. We won’t know until we’re there and then who can we tell? Only  those who already know. Do I fear death? Of course I do.  Do I fear old age more or less than I fear death? Do I fear the death of one of my children or my spouse more than my death? Do I fear outliving everyone I’ve ever known or loved? Do I fear dying before I’ve fully lived?

I fear impermanence and I suffer because of it.

So, if I were to die today, I’d ask that “Apparitions” by The Raveonettes be played at my funeral. How appropriately funeralesque is this song? In fact, the album has a mournful beauty to it.

 While searching YouTube for the song, I discovered they covered The Stone Roses’s “I Wanna Be Adored” which was my funeral song of the ’90s.

Somewhere in the program, you’d have to play The White Stripes’ cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Replace Jolene with “death” and my man with “my life” and the song makes perfect sense. After all, we can beg and we can plead with death, but in the end Jolene, with her flaming locks of auburn hair and eyes of emerald green, will always take your man.

Make today a good one.

 

 

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Cat in a cold metal freezer

In fourteen days, my first-born will turn 18. She will cast a ballot in her first presidential election this November. If all goes as planned — we are in the waiting and receiving answers stage of the college application process — she will be a college student somewhere this fall.  We have an uncertain road between there and here. Mainly we need to figure out how to fill those deep, dark potholes of want and need with tuition, books and housing money. Needless to say, I’ve been a little weepy and preoccupied with my soon- to-be half-empty nest.

Nests make me think of birds and birds make me think of cats. This recent post by Katherine asked “What animal parts are in your refrigerator?” and that made me think of our beloved cat, who died swiftly and unexpectedly three years ago in January. So, to answer her question and to sneak in an older post you may have missed the first time around, I present the following from April 17, 2009:

 

sleep

Our cat was alive, just sleeping, in this 2003 picture

As you may recall, one of our “twin terror” cats died in January. After the tears and an indoor “service” we placed one of the cat brothers on ice while the other brother looked at us with infinite confusion.

Oh, the humanity!

Oh, the humanity!

This is what our veterinarian suggested in January. When there was a foot of snow on the ground and we hadn’t seen grass or dirt since sometime in November. He said: “If you know anyone with a deep freezer, put him there … or we can take him here.”

There was a fee involved.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of writing a check to have my cat wrapped, sealed, and tossed in a cooler with other dead pets, seemed, oh, I don’t know, callous?

And the very idea of calling around to friends and family seemed queer also. I mean, how do you ask? Mass e-mail? Individual phone call?

“Do you have a deep freezer, Aunt May?”

“Yes, I do, dear. Did your husband get a deer this season? Did you buy a side of beef?”

“Oh, no, it’s for our cat.”

“I’m sure there are other disciplinary measures you can take before resorting to this, dear.”

“No. No. He’s dead. The cat is dead.”

CLICK.

We don’t store or prepare meat in our household, so we have no need for a big freezer. Ours is just a dinky little box filled to the brim with crystallized ice cream and freezer-burned stir fry mixes. I couldn’t imagine grabbing ol’ fluffy by the frozen tail and shifting him to the left so we can reach for the Garden Burgers.

God forbid if he tumbled to the floor, like so many other frozen items from our freezer do when the door is pulled open too quickly. That would go over well with the babysitter, I’m sure.

“You’re out of ice pops, but you have a dead cat in your freezer. By the way, I’m busy for the next year. Don’t call.”

Through word of mouth, we found a discreet volunteer, one who is used to such matters, who offered up space in a big freezer in her garage. We drove several hours to her place. Sweet dead kitty was swaddled in a flannel sheet, wrapped in a bag, surrounded with all his favorite toys, cat treats, and a few messages written on note paper. It was all very Egyptian. Or maybe more like the The Sopranos?

Time passed. The snow melted. The ground thawed.

Still, kitty remained frozen in limbo.

Then, as the buds unfurled on the trees and bushes,  a few inquiries blossomed in my e-mail inbox.

“About your cat ….I think it’s time.”

So, this weekend, without further delay, we are hauling out the old metal cooler, getting a block of ice from the local gas station, and hitting the road. We’re bringing the ol’ boy home for a burial.

You know what’s the most interesting thing about this? I ended my search for a new cat/kitten a while ago when none could be found. Just today I had an e-mail about a litter of kittens available immediately.

Timing. Interesting isn’t it?

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