Hand in hand

I am backing slowly down the steep incline of our driveway. It is 8:10 and I am a little later than usual…but just in time for the elementary kids to swarm towards the school, bumper height obstacles from my perch at the peak of our driveway. The car is beeping in protest but a careful check confirms it is just our poorly engineered concrete that is causing concern.

I pause at the point of full reverse feeling thankful that no children died at my hand this morning and allow my eyes to move through the windshield to the dirt pile. It arrived a few days ago heaped richly almost to the edges of the green tarp and I imagined a Sunday vegetable garden. Yet Sunday has come and gone and the dirt remains. Because of this the risk of kid death remains even as I pull forward forced by the dirt to angle to the middle of the street jockeying for position with other Sport Utilities with their doors swung wide to allow children with backpacks bigger than them to tumble out and make the mad dash to beat the bell.

In contrast to the families around them there is a calm as my neighbor and his daughter walk down their driveway. It’s slope is gentle, the curb cut reengineered to meet the new 3 car garage allowing them to stroll rather than slide as they head to school.  For their first few steps they are protected by the dirt pile but then they have reached the midpoint of the street. As he greets me with a friendly nod his daughter reaches up for his hand and they cross the road together. They were walking as individuals and now they are a unit hands the perfect height to meet each other exactly where they are.

Later that day I met Oliver in the middle school hallway after I volunteered with a particularly talented sixth grade writer. I was distracted when Oliver approached me. Despite my lack of sentence structure and grammar I had spent our session helping the boy extend the staccato of his written voice into something a school might recognize as a sentence. And somehow it felt like a sentence. My thoughts were not on my son as we started down the wide Western steps toward the field that stretched in front of our house.  He had laced his twelve year old fingers through mine. I became aware of him in step next to me and felt the spread of my fingers. He was no longer little. I used to be able to feel each of the 27 bones in his hand when I held it in mine. They felt like a baby bird’s wing and I was worried about crushing them before he could ever take flight. Now he is holding onto me and I feel muscles in his fingers made stronger through drawing and writing and shuffling cards. I am not thinking of his vulnerability but the slight discomfort of the way we are laced together.

OK. I might not shave my legs but that is obviously Steve. I figure the reason I don’t have pictures of Oliver and I holding hands is because my hand is too busy for a camera.

The path home grows a little narrow and he takes a step in front of me, leading me forward. He is laughing as at first he walks directly into a leafy branch and then corrects and hip checks me sending me off of the sidewalk onto the baseball field. He loves it. “I guess it is not the biggest problem in the world having trouble walking in a straight line” he tells me. “There are so many other troubles, ones that are risky or painful or sad. This is mostly funny.” I have tried to pull my hand away at this point. He is swinging them together as he talks and walks and it is clearly too much for him to do with grace. I am getting jerked around and have not yet found firm footing. As soon as I get free he grabs onto me again. We are crossing the street now. Blazing the exact same trail that the girl did with her father 7 hours earlier. He guides us right to the dirt and laughs again. “Really the only risk is when I start to drive.” We both pause at this. We are in the middle of the street. It is still quiet, not yet elementary school pick up time so his poor aim isn’t really causing a problem. In three years though I can imagine him behind the wheel the car scraping garbage cans and crossing over yellow lines without his knowledge.  He his leading me again. We are stepping over dirt, we are approaching the driveway at an angle. He narrowly misses the fence and then trips over the uneven edge. “I almost took you down.” He tells me without a trace of sorrow. “But you held me up.”

Now he is the one to pull away.

He has passed through the gate into the side yard and I hear him cooing at our cat. “I missed you all day. You are the sweetest thing. I love you so much.”

I stand on the uneven driveway I am wondering how much longer my hand will tingle from our joined walk. I will it to stay a little longer as I hear the slam of the side door. The parents are beginning to arrive to pick up their little ones, the cars gathering. I do not need to navigate.

The end of the world, 13 year old friendship

girl's friendshipI was looking down the long hallway when something hit me in the head. The brown paper bag bounced to the floor and I bent down to pick it up careful to keep my skirt pulled down and my legs together. Behind me my friends were laughing. I gave them a confused smile and unrolled the top of the brown paper bag. It was filled with scraps of paper.

This was middle school. Friendship was the only way to survive.

I walked to social studies, my only classroom without windows. My desk was in the front of the class, close enough to see the spittle congeal into a white paste at the corner of the teacher’s mouth. It was difficult to find a way to read the notes from my friends this close to her. So slowly that you couldn’t hear the crinkle of the lunch bag I plucked out the first note and smoothed it on my lap.

“Anna picks her nose.”

The heat rushed through my body.  I opened another one.

“You are uninvited to my birthday party.”

I was sure the whole class could hear my heartbeat.

“You are a know it all and everybody hates you.”

“You think you are funny but really we are laughing AT you.” This one was signed by every girl that I considered a friend.

There were at least 30 slips of paper.

Everything slowed. I could see the cycle of the fluorescent lights. I could feel the tilt of the earth as it spun on its axis. This was probably the end of the world.

I pushed my chair back and rushed out the door leaving behind my notebook but clutching the bag of notes in my sweaty hand.

Standing right outside the classroom the long hall that I had walked confidently just moments before seemed to go on into an unfathomable darkness. Through the small slice of window in the French room across from where I stood I met the eye of one of the six authors of the notes. Her blond hair shone, her blue eyes sparkled, and I noticed for the first time how many teeth she had when she smiled.

I kept the brown bag of notes in my desk drawer until I left home for college. I read through them every once in a while, slowly feeling the sharp pain dull as I moved on to new friends and new schools. When I finally recycled them it wasn’t because I had finished my exposure therapy. As I packed my t shirts and edgy black and white photos for my dorm room I imagined my mother missing me. I thought of her walking down our own long hallway past her books and my father’s sculpture and sitting on my mint green bedspread. I thought of her opening the desk drawer to find a bag marked Anna anna ANNA Anna ANna in 7 colors of markers and considering whether to open it. She would, not to intrude but because she missed me. She wanted a piece of Anna and here was a bagful. Then she would see the truth. That I was unlovable. That I was a know it all. That I would never have a friend again. And that I picked my nose.

So to spare her from this imaginary pain I got rid of the bag of notes leaving behind love letters and funny postcards and cartoons from people who became my friends. But not when I was thirteen. Not when I needed friends the most.

It was a lonely year of lunches in the bandroom and keeping my head down as I walked the hallway.

As it turns out it was not the end of the world, the earth still spins, hallways lead to possibilities rather than pain, and I am proud to say that I pick my nose.

——-

I was inspired to write this post by my friend Sheryl Glubock who is making a short film about 13 year old girls and their changing friendships.   In an industry that largely ignores the voice of girls Sheryl is carving out a place to tell a coming of age story that every woman can relate to. It is not just this project that is worthy of your support, it is also the new space that is being created in independent film. Joining the seed and spark community (which is free) allows filmmakers to break away from Hollywood and commercial driven screenplays. The seed and spark page for Lily and Rose is going live today. Would you please like this project and consider supporting this story.

 

 

Palm Springs, mid century architecture and Canadian speed bumps

Trigger alert: racism, agism, whining and anti-Canadianism follows.

What combines golf carts, snow capped mountains and Asian Hipster weddings?

Palm Springs of course.

My well cultivated stereotype cast Palm Springs as the place where aging jews and fabulous gays came together in Alexander houses for cocktails. They would toast with vintage glassware while floating beside reflection of mountains and palms in crystal clear pools. As it turns out that is only part of the picture.

Palm Springs has been one of my core Zillow searches for years, and I always imagined Steve and I would split our time between Palm Springs and Vermont once the boys had left the house. These communities are a natural pairing if there ever was one. As it turns out Palm Springs is still in California just as Austin is still in Texas. There are overly wide roads and unwalkable neighborhoods. Despite perfect weather and scenery it didn’t feel like a vacation spot. Or a vacation. This was partly our fault we brought the dog. I also shoehorned 17 houses viewings into 8 hours. More on that later.

We stayed at the Ace hotel. It has incredible French fries and easy to follow steps to shower. It has late night pool parties and a series of Asian hipster weddings.

Our room featured  a patio with a soaring canvas shelter and built in banquets large enough to use as kid mattresses (which we did.) In the corner sat a potted palm large enough for the dog to be placed in to pee. After I got over worrying about palm death I found it  pretty entertaining.

When we arrived the vintage vinyl was propped on the floor and our small dog was easily able to demonstrate his racism by barking his tiny head off at the lovely lady who was in the front of the pile. In case you were wondering the dog lost the staring contest.

The Ace features excellent fish tacos that you can eat in your room, on your patio, and in the pool. Not beside the pool. In the pool. If you bring your small shivering dog to sit by the hot tub a nice staff member will ply him with water and treats for him to ignore. The lifeguard will then invite the dog to join your boys in the pool. Even though that got him closer to the fish tacos the dog did not thing that  was an excellent idea. He ended up clawing his way to safety looking even more like a wet wingless bat than usual. Watching him struggle is possibly more entertaining than trapping the dog in the potted patio palm. Its close though.

While my family was alternatively enjoying and not enjoying the pool and unanimously enjoying french fries I was having my mind blown by midcentury architecture and furniture. It was so incredible that I actually stopped talking.

My house tour was led by Ty and Todd. They seemed inured to the spectacle of mid century architecture that surrounded them. In fact the two were unflappable. Incorrect entry codes, yapping dogs, and late listing agents left them as pristine as their perfectly pressed shirts. The only thing that made them mad? Canadians.

Zooming at 55 down 6 lane highways that connected tiny charming neighborhoods they complained loudly about ever having to tap on the brakes. Each time a car slowed one or the other of them would mutter “Damn Canadians.” In a land of retirees I wondered how they knew that the lead feet came from our northern neighbors but they seemed convinced. So I took their word for it.

That night the family (including dog) went “downtown” for dinner. The weather was of course perfect and we found an outdoor patio that accepted us and our pooch. Beloved by retirees and gay men alike small dogs abound in Palm Springs.  That is until we met Brutus, or Butch, or whatever his big name was.  No joke our dog was the size of his nose. Which twitched with the possibility of a snack as we held them close for a greeting.  In the photo you can sort of see Apollo sporting his faux burberry halter. We snagged that beauty at the local small dog shop. It was tough to find amongst the bling of the bedazzled collars and sweaters (the only beasts who wear sweaters in Palm Springs are dogs like ours who pretty much shiver in any climate and should not technically exist.) I’m pretty sure he hated it as much as the pool, but we wrestled it onto him nonetheless. After our big night of dinner, dog shopping, and dog sniffing we decided to look for some ice cream. Just as we crossed the street there was the blaring of horns and screeching of brakes.

Looking over at the near accident I muttered without thought: “damn Canadians.” We might not be destined to live in Palm Springs, but at least I learned how to talk like a local.

 

Love and Death. Another reason to loathe Valentine’s day

Roses are red, violets are blue. I hate Valentine’s day, how about you?

Some of us are alone as highlighted by Hallmark. Some of us are together and plasticize our partnership with cheap candy and forced flowers. Some of us recycle flimsy cards from our classmates.

And some of us celebrate our father’s death.

 

This weekend I went to a memorial celebration of a man who died way way before his time. He was a rebel and a Patriots lover. He was a polarizing figure and a phenomenal father. He made me think of my dad which is particularly difficult this time of year.

So I re-represent to you this post.

Seventeen years ago today my father died.

He has been gone for almost half of my life. Functionally it is more than that, as he has not met my husband or my children, seen where I lived, experienced things I have created and dismantled.

Thinking of him has gone from every painful minute to daily to weekly to monthly. I talk about his preference for a certain candy bar when shopping with the boys, but it is fact more than his essence. Like a memory triggered by a picture the story conforms to the the boundaries of the information in front of me, the story is about as alive and vital as the candy bar in its wrapper.

I wonder too, how much my memory of him is shaped by exactly that…memory. I revisit the same stories wearing a path in the sand. The other tales are somewhere over the next dune…hazy, inexact, blending in with the landscape.

Our relationship is like a first love perfectly preserved in the golden memory of youth. He died when I was 24, and he is not around to participate in the monotony of daily life. He was present for the transformative moments of coming of age from girl to young adult, and then gone to be romanticized.

It feels disloyal to have him fade in places and sharpen in others. Yet it is inevitable.  I look into the faces of my boys and seek him there. I see him it in a leg cross, and the crook of a finger. When Leo asks if we can build a rock garden in our back yard it is as if he is sitting at the table in front of me.

I seek the double helix in my children and remember how much my father loved spirals and fractals. Patterns of nature. His art was supposed to elicit questions of what is natural and what is manmade. I realize there is 50% of those same spirals in me. Nature and nurture both, just like his art.  I see him in the face looking up at me instead of the one I looked up to.

When I sit at the coffee shop going on too long about the disappearance of sweat pants  it turns into a performance rather than a conversation. This is how our family dinners went. He picked a topic and worked himself up to a frenzy. I feel his righteous wrath running through me. I see the slightly charmed/slightly alarmed faces of my friends me as I rant about pants and I feel like him. As the years go on I become more of a homebody…for the last 7 years of his life he didn’t leave our house.  Leaving some of the irritating details of life to Steve, like bills and cooking has echoes of his relationship with my mother. When I examine the surface of the bark of a tree, following the folds down to the root system instead of up to the leaves I have images of him, large calloused fingers outstretched to stroke the bark with characteristic gentleness. Relentless sports talk was his soundtrack, and is now mine. First to help keep him with me, now because he still teaches me in his death.

Mostly though he is alive in shadows and echoes instead of his huge brash technicolor self. A man who didn’t wear socks, who would trace my face with his sculptors fingers, understanding my features as planes of a whole instead of disparate parts to analyze in a mirror. Seated at the head of a table challenging everyone around him, eating white rice. Leaving to pee before every single dinner, although each second of the day outside of this one was his own to manage.  His time was too magical to interrupt.

Maybe he knew it would be short.

Happy Valentines day to my first Valentine.

And yours whomever and wherever they may be.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Roses are red, violets are blue. I hate Valentine’s day, how about you? @annawritesstuff[/Tweet]

 

 

 

 

What’s on your desk?

For several years I have been attempting to embrace what I know to be true. Having less stuff creates more room for living.

If you take a look at my desk you can see just how well my de-accession has gone. Not well. Still when push back my chair and take a look there are things I love and things I laugh at. There are actual and aspirational objects, and there is a map of my life.

What is on my desk

In addition to the metaphoric map there is a physical map. It is the artist block print of Denver neighborhoods in orange. Next to it, out of sight of my work area hangs Steve’s map of Denver. It is one of those gas station maps unfolded and pinned to the wall. It has streets and direction and all sorts of information for navigating. Like, you know, a map. My map is pretty, and it depicts what makes a city to me. Not roads and traffic patterns but neighborhoods and people.

Above the desk I have a shelf with tax information. You have to take my word for it because it has its back to me. Or more accurately I have my back to it. Then, because I am super generous and they have such symmetrical spines I house Steve’s beer advocate magazines. Next to them is 5280 and Modern in Denver. The issue that featured our kitchen. I felt proud at the time of the photo shoot but in the end it comes out as a mass of grey. In real life it is our stuff that that creates color and texture. For the photos we stripped it down. And stripped it of soul.

Next to the organizers are a Jonathan Adler vase with an almost dead succulent. Sometimes I remember to water it. Luckily it is pretty forgiving. The succulents are all over the house because I was thoroughly convinced by the Modern Bohemian book that I need succulents. I was less convinced about the macrame but I have to say as time goes on I consider it. There are two tarnished silver trophies from my Grandfather’s days as national bridge champion. Or maybe something less than that. I like to think he was national champion but I don’t really have proof. I know he was head of the world bridge association and played with Omar Shariff. But these trophies celebrate the 1960s National Men’s pairs champion (that sounds a lot like a national champion to me) and the North Line Championship. No date, no place. Sort of like the mirror behind them. I don’t remember its provenance (10 dollar word gained from being the child of an art collector) but I can tell you I have dragged it to 14 houses and never found a place that it looked it. Here it is fine and does the job of reflecting light from the sliding doors into our side yard. It also reflects my greasy hair as I take the picture of the desk for this post but lets not focus on that. There is a clock. It is silver. It is always 9:04. In my life that means AM because 9:04 PM finds me in bed.

Below that on the right hand side of the desk you can find my cool vintage flip calendar. It is only 14 days behind, so soon it will turn the corner and bring us closer to the correct date. It is totally manual so I can change it any time…but I haven’t so there it is. There is a modern clock that would theoretically work if I put in batteries but we are long on clocks in this room so I let it sit there timeless. The reason it stays is because I like the way it looks with the calendar which I legitimately love and the black and white photo. I always place things in threes. I don’t try to. It just happens. The photo is one of my favorites. I’m just sort of there but my family is their truest selves. Oliver is joyous, Leo is fierce without seeming scary (plus, stick) and Steve sees the humor in it all. We are sitting in front of Lake Champlain where we had fires and sunk boats for so many years. I’d say that I miss us but we are still just like that. Even without the lake in the background.

Then there are the books. For the most part they are aspirational. Someday I imagine I will sit down with tea and read about “Good Prose” instead of people renovating houses. There are two exceptions though. The Vivian Gornick book, The Situation and the Story is a touchstone for getting back to basics. I recommend it highly. My friend Ruth Franklin wrote an incredible biography of Shirley Jackson that blends writing and motherhood, mental health and drinking and Vermont. Its like someone made a cocktail of my interests and served it up in an intellectual but approachable way. The rest I will get to. They will wait here for me. In the meantime I will play with the Sånd. It is the absolute best meditative distraction. I squish it and fill that weird hole in my fist (sounds odd but I bet some of you know what I mean) I dab at it to collect the bits into a perfectly squishy ball. I think about how much it looks like brown sugar. I do not eat it. Its possible you might need Sånd. (Other books if you want to read and review for me. Stephen King on Writing, Anne Lamott bird by bird, Tracy Kidder Good Prose, Annie Dillard The Writing Life.)

My desk itself is Paul Mccobb. He is a mid century designer who specialized in pottery and furniture. We have a set of coffee cups. I sold my favorite piece of his back when I thought I would be a vintage small ware dealer. It is a plate with the words “The quiet woman” on it, and then there is a picture of a headless woman. Its both gross and politically incorrect. The desk is a heavy solid maple that someone bastardized and painted a bold blue. I love the blue. The chairs that came with it are at our house in Vermont. I love the split set. I bought the table at my favorite vintage shop. If you are ever in Vermont you need to go there. And go back because even more than TJMaxx it is NEVER the same place twice.

Beneath the table is a giant tray that my aunt made out of a vintage drawer. She lined it with what is actually one of my favorite patterns of paper. I have a notebook set in three colors with the same motif. It gets dragged out and loaded up with homework and paper and staplers until it gets too full to manage and then it is cleaned off and stored again. The cycle of life and all.

On the left I have the useless stuff. Or maybe more of the useless stuff. There is the orange rotary phone. This phone is like the mirror in that it has never found a home. So it sits on my desk making me feel good and bad. I like orange (obviously) and I love to remember standing squeezed between my mothers bed and bedside tables running through numbers as quickly as I can. Sometimes I dial my childhood phone number from Newton and marvel at my muscle memory. Yet it also represents the exact kind of item that can be a burden. It has flown in suitcases to and from Florida. I have had to use a Q tip to get rid of drywall dust. I have dropped it on my toe and heard it ring out as I yelped in protest. I’m not quite sure about the phone. I enjoy its typed phone number. The internet tells me it is a from the University of Wisconsin Eu Claire. If I talked on the phone I might call the number to see where things went. But not using that phone of course. It is plugged into nothing. In the threesome with the phone are two glass vase/pitcher things. They also are some vintage designer. I would like more of them but they are more expensive than they look. Then, of course, I have the miniature Panton chair. You too could have this chair for 13 dollars.  I got it in a set of five. The vitra models come in a sliding wood box which is very satisfying. I put the red white and black ones together in the living room and somehow ditched the blue one which doesn’t come match any of my color schemes. The yellow stays with me.

The mug in the picture is my absolute favorite. It is a deep purple (not the black that it looks in the picture) and has a large handle and matte finish. It is from Bennington Potters in Vermont and I drink tea from it every morning. At least at 9:04. You can buy it here but not my purple color. Now I am super paranoid about dropping it. I have the blue as well but this one is the one. I’m sure you know what I mean.

In fact I have a long history with these chairs. This is Leo modeling a pair of kids sized chairs. I imagine the model, the kids size and the full size together and I love it. Until I consider the utility of the threesome. Low.

Then last and possibly least I have my work. I have a computer. Apple. I have my phone which is named Anna’s big huge enormous iPhone 7. My iPad mini (which I have stopped using since I got the huge enormous 7) I also have my new, pricy and incomparable Bose noise canceling headphones. I didn’t know how much I needed them until I had them. So much. The best thing about them is their sound and lack of sound. Music seeps deep into my synapses. And ambient noise is softened and soothing. Steve says everytime I put them on I smile. I believe it. When I turn them on a voice that reminds my of my meditation guide says “now pairing with anna’s big huge enormous iPhone.” Somehow she has it slightly wrong (she might be related to Siri) So she says “Pairing with Anna’s big hug e enourmouse.” And stops there. I have not always been pro hug but as my ears are cushioned and my mind is soothed it does in fact feel that she is pairing me with a hug.

So that is my desk.

Sometimes I even work at it.

—-

Tell me about your stuff…

Have dog will travel

For reasons that are clear if you have met me I have never been drawn to a padded bra.

Sometimes when I am doing fantasy math about my weight I try to deduct the density of my breasts from the equation. Depending on my mood those suckers weigh between 10 and 100 pounds. Even on the lighter end of that spectrum they require a bit of work to get around.

Last month we went on a dual trip to Florida and NYC. The night before travel I always labor over my travel outfit. I am looking for something along the lines of a sleeping bag. But slimming. Needless to say I end up in front of my dresser empty handed. Eventually I always select the same thing. Jeans (the big ones) a grey T shirt, grey sweatshirt and a loop cotton scarf (mostly grey with a sassy orange stripe). The scarf is the slimming part. I guess. I pair this with slip on grey sneakers and pretend like I am not the middle aged woman that ate Mark Zuckerberg.

But it is the base layer that really delivers. My travel bra. I have written about it before. Back when it was still my every day bray. (And I mean EVERY day.) It is a soft grey cotton. Its straps are wide and comfortable. It hints at support without doing anything effective. AKA painful. Over time the shadow of usefulness has faded. It has begun to pill, collecting bits of friendly cotton from the laundry where I both wash and dry it…affording it the level of care it deserves. Low. Like the way my boobs are in its embrace.

So now it sits in the drawer waiting for the day of flight…its time to soar.

Just a week before our trip we made a detour home from Leo’s soccer game. I gave the boys the  choice between visiting an animal shelter and going to an open house. So it is totally their fault that we have a dog. I figured that since it was 20 minutes before closing time we would be saved from any rash decisions by the machinations of shelter shut down. It was not to be. Oliver gave it his best effort. He was unmoved by the four puppy dog eyes peering up at him. “There will still be dogs that need us in January.” He looked back and forth between his parents seeking support for his rational position. Going alone he continued bravely. “It won’t be easy for the dog or for us this month. We have three trips and house guests.” Nothing. “I’m not saying we CAN’T get a dog, I’m just saying that now may not be the best time.”

He was still shaking his head as he hauled the complimentary bag of dog food into the car. It weighed 1.8x the shivering dog.

Since the 11 year old is the only reasonable person in our family I found myself spending less time than usual selecting the same outfit I always did. The meerkat piglet needed stuff. He needed warm and cold weather gear. He needed leashes and treats and food and bowls and dog pee pads in case the NYC apartment was too much for him. He needed chew toys small enough for his jaw. He needed coats and booties. Pause on that one. Our dog is so thin furred and small boned as to require outer wear. When I went “shopping” for him  I found some rugged REI type booties. I had to inspect the package to make sure they were XXS and had no hidden sequins. This is one of the challenges of owning a small dog. Everyone thinks it should be bedazzled. He needed a carrier and a hard sided case. He needed about 50 extra pounds. Looking at his squirrel feet I knew that one was impossible.

We made it to Florida.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-35-30-am

While I busied around our condo feeling pretty damn good about the tile floor and the direct outdoor access Steve unpacked for us. We spent three “relaxing” days taking the dog in and out to use the bathroom 750 times a day. We also snuck him onto the beach to test the sand. Sand is scary.We had a golf cart to travel around the island and we took the dog with us. The golf cart is scary. We went to a restaurant on the pier that serves dogs as well as people and someone shook on the ground the entire time. That place was scary. We walked to the ice cream shop and someone sat on the bench with him. That bench….scary. Eventually I decided it was easier to stay home with the dog than do anything else. Oliver is not the type to say “I told you so” but I think I saw a flicker pass through his blue eyes as they headed to crash in the waves.

It took me two days to realize that the dog had everything he needed but I just had my travel bra. Next up on our trip was NYC with art shows and Thanksgiving dinner. I am not a woman of high style, but ideally I am one of high bust line. So it was time to take the car off island to solve my problem.

The whole family kept me company. It was a 30 minute car ride to Target and it was SO SCARY. “I thought dogs liked cars.” I mentioned to Steve. “Maybe if we had gotten a dog instead of a wingless baby bat it would like cars.” And sand. And golf carts. Just then the “dog” looked back at me with his translucent ears flapping up and his lazy eye showing the blood shot white surround. “I think he may be so ugly he is cute.” I told my family. The rest of them rolled their normal sized eyes at me.

In the store I started in on what was now my second least favorite task now that scrubbing dog poop was a daily activity. Bra shopping. I was mentally prepared for the fact that 40F sounded more like an apartment than a bra size. I was also used to the fact that I would be crawling crab like across the commercial carpet to try to see the bottom rack. What I was not prepared for was the padding. I would have liked it on my knees but I did not need it on my chest. Every. Every. Every bra was padded.

So I grabbed one and went.

Taking it out of the bag back at the beach I was astounded. The bra was huge. The dog looked at it, his eyes bulging from his head. He began to shake. That bra was scary. I scooped him up. “I agree” I told him. “It IS scary.”

Somehow we made it through New York. Cabs. Scary. Street noise. Scary. Neighbor dog. Scary. Farmers market. Scary. Vomit from family members’ stomach bug? Not at all scary. Actually sort of delicious.

Packing to go home I had a big choice to make. Travel bra or padded bra. Stuffing the salted caramels from the holiday market in Union Square the choice was clear. The big bra would never make it in. So it had to stay on. On the plane I listened to four families call their dogs service dogs while I waited to present proof that we had paid $115 a leg for our rat like thing. It was one of those times that I wanted to lie. The flight attendant asked if he was an emotional support animal. I assume he used the word animal because he couldn’t identify the species of the creature. I wanted to say yes. Because he required a lot of emotional support…but I looked at Oliver and realized I couldn’t fail him again. “No” I told the flight attendant. “Then he needs to stay in the bag.”

So I zipped that thing in and he shook and wept and scraped his nose against the mesh until it bled. It was upsetting for all of us. That bag is scary.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-31-24-amFinally we were home. No one was vomiting (or eating vomit.) I changed out of my travel out fit into the only thing more comfortable than a travel outfit. PJs. I flung off the giant bra and headed out for the first of 250 visits to try to keep the dog from using our house as a toilet. This time it worked and the two of us returned to the bedroom to relax. As I walked down the hall I saw what looked like an enormous butt sticking out of the bed. As I got closer I realized it was the new bra. The dog thing jumped on the bed and gave it a sniff. It was no long scary. He nosed at it with his scabby snout and lifted an edge. He climbed under one cup and curled up into a dog ball. The bra was way too big for him. But it was not scary.

 

Mind Blowing Sex can be anti-climactic

It was 4:30 on a Thursday and Steve and I were shut in the bathroom to avoid the two and four legged beasts in our house. It wasn’t supposed to be intimate or life-changing. This was the check in kind of sex. The type that says “I remember you.” A quick release and a promise of more to come.

Instead I ended on the floor unable to see or stand. My mind blown.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-9-25-15-amThe pain in my head went way beyond childbirth. There was no number on the scale for what I felt. The clutching at the back of my neck radiated up to the crown of my head where clearly someone was stabbing me with a butcher knife. It didn’t take long for Steve to realize that this was agony not ecstasy.

Within three minutes the pain was completely gone. No side effects remained…I went through the list with the nurse on the phone no dizziness, no visual problems. I was expecting her to release me. To head down the stairs to the frantic dog and the warmly lit kitchen. Instead she sent me to the ER.

“It might be a stroke.” She told me. And suddenly that sounded right.

Last year Cards Against Humanity released a deck of cards around Hanukkah. Each card had a joke about jews. I carried one around in my wallet for a few weeks. “A headache that is definitely cancer.” I was a living punchline.

As we called friends to watch the kids and told them to make their own tacos I reassured myself. Even if it was a stroke I was not dead. As I walked to the car I began to see spots in my right eye. I reassured myself that it wasn’t an even quadrant of my visual field. My vision was poor in the best of times. But the evidence was mounting. I had had a stroke. I squeezed my fist to measure the relative strength in my hands. The right one seemed weaker. They both seemed weak, but the right one was weak-ER.

Steve was silent as he drove down Sixth Ave. The canopy of trees had lost their leaves and the giant houses were displaying their humongous lit wreaths. Before I moved to Denver I didn’t know that lit wreaths came in 30 foot diameters. But they do. And evidently they come in sets of two.

As the sky darkened the lights came into sharper focus and I tested my eyes squeezing one shut then the other. Were they the same? No. Certainly not.

At the hospital we went through the endless check in procedure and I reassured myself that I was clearly not emergent. At least judging by the attitude of the staff. My blood pressure was 157 over 101. “Very high” the med tech told me matter of factly. I thanked her for the update and my sarcasm seemed to be broken as well because she told me I was very welcome.

Steve tried to distract me with the text string he was having with Oliver.

“We have arrived at the hospital and mama is feeling good.”

“OK”

“Sheryl will be there around 7.”

“OK”

“Remember to take the dog out.”

“OK”

“We are in a room expecting the doctor.”

wait for it….

“OK”

Leo on the other hand is filling my screen with stings of emojis and heart beats. Pledges of “I love you.” And inquiries into my health. I am reminded of their differences. I am thinking about how much, stoic or emotional, both boys need their Mama.

I am pledging to eat only lettuce. I am committing to walking 16 miles a day. I am wondering how much my weight is factoring into my fear and also my fate.

The doctor finally makes it into the room after we have made it through a nursing shift change.

He comes in and perches on the side of my bed. For the 7th time I describe the headache. Its intensity. Its short lived time frame. I explain my potentially psychosomatic vision problems.

“What were you doing when the headache started?”

I am sure it is in the notes. I have told this story to everyone, including the wrinkled raisin woman in the wheelchair who didn’t speak english.

“I was having sex.”

“Ah.” he says. “This is called coital cephalalgia.” “Sometimes it is nothing. Sometimes it causes a brain bleed with an increase in blood pressure.” “I don’t think I can let you leave here without a cat scan.”

Instead of staying in the moment I have leapt ahead. “What if it is a brain bleed?” “What then?” Somehow he is willing to travel to the future with me. As Steve tells me to take it one step at a time the MD is happy to engage me.

“We go in through your vascular system and just zap it.” I channel Oliver. “OK.”

He orders the cat scan, tells us it will be 90 minutes for the radiologist to read it and he will be back to confer afterwards.

Outside of our sliding door I hear someone ask him. “Is the stroke alert?”

“Yes.” He answers.

I squeeze my eyes and my hands one at a time, waiting for paralysis to set in on my right side.

I refuse the wheelchair when the transport team comes to walk me down the hall to the cat scan machine. It is a huge donut in a room mercifully free of florescent lights. My escort seems put off by the number of people in the room.

“Do you have time to squeeze in a quick head?” He asks them.

I want to ask if he likes being able to squeeze in a quick head but the humor doesn’t seem to reach my lips. Another sign of a stroke, clearly.

Five minutes later I am walking (maybe with a little lilt?) back to room ten.

For the first time I swing my legs onto the bed. I am giving in. I am no longer a mama and a wife and a woman who makes inappropriate sexual jokes to strangers. I am a patient. I am a stroke victim. I am someone whose brain is not healthy enough for sex.

We wait. We text the boys.

“OK” Oliver tells us about our updated ETA.

Things must be OK there. I tell Steve.

The third nurse of the day slides into the room between the scratchy curtain and the edge of the door.

“Cat scan looks good.” He tells us.

All set.

And there it is.

No doctor, no radiologist. No admonishments about my weight or advice about our sex life. I am no longer a patient. I am back to being me. I wonder why it is one or the other. But not for long…because as we walk out of the hospital hand in hand I say to Steve:

“That was anti-climactic.”

“In more ways than one.” He responds.

My hands feel strong. My eyes are equal and reactive. My walk is straight.

Most importantly my ability to laugh at poor sexual humor is intact.

 

 

 

 

Naked Cowboys and f***ing Oysters

Oysters have a reputation. They get around and they get you to get around. So you might have read the title of this post as a euphemism. But it is not. It is a lament.

When my mother called to tell me that she had a horrible stomach bug from oysters I didn’t really believe her. I thought of all of the times we discussed our lives of privilege  and wondered if complaining over oysters was perhaps the pinnacle of whining on the yacht. Then, as my kids say, I searched it up on the internet and found that the vibrio virus was real. At this stage in her illness my mother was more on the yacht’s lifeboat on choppy seas, so offered sympathy.
screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-11-39-25-amOne of the most fascinating parts of my mother’s Cape Cod community is the local fishing trade. With the addition of environmentally conscious fish farms the life of the fisherperson has not changed in hundreds of years. Except that there are fisherpeople…not just fishermen. In the summer I watch their barnacle covered boats leave the old wooden piers and appreciate this continuity. The century long connection to the sea and the effortless way local eating nourished the families on this spit of land well before it was on trend.

If there is ever a time that this workforce is celebrated beyond the sunrise cruise and the sunset cocktail it is during Oysterfest which was cancelled last weekend because, as my mother told me,  the oysters are tainted. “I didn’t know oysters had taints” said Steve and I remembered why I married him.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-8-07-48-amUnlike the usually 24 hour wretched and wretching food poisoning these “delicacies” are carrying a bacteriovirus. It isn’t this risk that keeps me from eating oysters. Even oysters pure as the saltwater they came from disgust me. How can I not like an erotic food that has names like “naked cowboy”? Easy. Eating oysters is like swallowing someone else’s skinned tongue. Which is less of an aphrodisiac than a tongue that still has its skin. The fact that you need to open your throat and shut down your gag reflex should speak to their lack of deliciousness. If they were good we wouldn’t be gulping with the speed of a Jagermeister shot. Even so I enjoy watching other people slurp them down with relish…or at least with mignonette.

Last summer Steve and I had a date night in Welfleet, home of the world famous oyster and fest. Wanting to leave the house before our dinner reservation we took a seat on an outdoor hilltop patio overlooking the small town. Steve was wearing my favorite shirt and we held hands across the pebbled glass table not saying much. He ordered some oysters and I took pictures of the moment that I thought represented vacation more than many others. Turns out those are not moments I choose to remember. After finishing our drinks we took a short walk and ended at our favorite restaurant where we finished the night having one of the worst fights we have ever had.

Years ago (almost 13) I would rant and he would listen in silence. I would spit and he would swallow. Yet for over a decade we have worked on this. I practice pausing and speaking rather than spilling out a rant. Steve has worked on responding in the moment so we can work things through together instead of holding things inside.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-8-14-52-amBut this dinner brought us back to our early days. What started as a conversation ended as a stalemate. He in stony silence, me spewing sentence after sentence trying to incite a response.

Months later I can barely remember the content of our argument. But I do remember the oysters beforehand and I would rather have a bad association with them than with his turquoise shirt.

To sum up. They make you sick. They bring on war as much as love. They are gross.

Three strikes oysters…three strikes.

But then again maybe I should just suck it up and suck one down…there should be no whining on the yacht.

 

 

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Love through the ages

In another tab not so far away I am down an enormous rabbit hole writing about honor. I have fallen so far as to read Freshman lectures, reseach Socrates and talk to the adorable couple at the table next to me. I call them adorable because that is what they call each other.

“You’re adorable.”

“No, you’re adorable.”

If they weren’t so adorable it would be a lot less adorable than it is. Or something.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-10-21-26-amThey are not a new couple…they have been at our shared coffee shop a lot. Just never close enough for me to eavesdrop. If you can call it eavesdropping when they are 18 inches away and speaking in full volume.

But that’s what love does. It turns the volume up.

One of my favorite stories of how much love can warp reality came at our Cape Cod dinner table. My mother’s new (at the time) partner sat at the head enjoying (I think) his zucchini soup. My mother was explaining his dedication to studying climate change. “R doesn’t have a carbon footprint” she declared. I couldn’t help but snort. “What?” she asked. “Everyone has a carbon footprint” I answered in the tones of a twelve year old. My boys agreed. It was the modern version of walking on water. To her he could.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-10-30-05-amRecently my fourth grader has developed a crush. It is the early version of the Bromance. He wants to play the sports that this boy plays. He brings up his name in conversation. He brags about this boy’s amazing skills. “When C bites into a popsicle his front teeth DON”T EVEN FEEL THE COLD.”

Imagine that. Leo’s face glows as he shares this tidbit. He has found someone magical and he can barely believe it.

Next to me the male half of the adorable couple is leaving the table for another coffee. He reaches out his hand and she bends to kiss it. “I love you.” He tells her. “You are so talented” she answers. So I look over. I want to know what he has been working on. His screen is open to an instructional page on paper airplanes. Her eyes are wide. This guy can fly.

Love. It never gets old.