rockstarscars

I'm a f**king rockstar and I've got the scars to prove it!

I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone

My divorce was finalized this past spring. We’d been separated for over a year at that point. There were no assets, no children, nothing to show for ourselves. We only needed the judge to witness us saying “I don’t.” My husband saw me in the parking lot. He waited for me outside the car as if we were friends. But we weren’t even that. I didn’t look at him for long. He was nervous and talkative, telling me I looked great and that he liked my hair. I responded as little as possible.

“This really sucks,” he said.
Maybe for you. You did this. It was not my choice for you to fuck some boring beak-nosed twat because you couldn’t deal with me having cancer. I made vows and I kept them. “This” was all your doing. But thank god that you did. Thank god.
I didn’t waste my breath. I had said it all before.

A metal detector greeted us in the front of the building. The court officer told me to take off my necklace before going in. My heart sank. I wear my father’s old handcuff key on a chain. Always. The man looked at my face and stammered over himself apologizing. He assured me that it wouldn’t leave his sight. It would be safe. I handed it over, wondering who was going to keep me safe. My neck was naked and exposed.

My husband sat next to me in court, stuffing words into the space between us. I looked straight ahead, sometimes at my feet. Here was this person that I had married. At one time, I thought that he was as perfect for me as another person could be. He had been my whole world. And he had leveled it. I didn’t feel angry or sad anymore. I didn’t feel anything. When I looked at him, he was a stranger. It wasn’t that he was different now, it was just that I had loved him too much to see who he was. Because I can sit here and say that he’s a worthless son of a bitch, (don’t get me wrong, he most certainly is,) but if I spent 6 1/2 years of my life with a complete asshole, then that makes me just as big of an asshole. Bigger, even. But the truth is, we had a lot of good times, a lot of fun. We laughed like the best of friends. I’d be lying if I said that I never missed it. But it’s not him that I miss. I miss the idea of him, the idea of us. I miss this dream that I used to have, the same way you miss things long since forgotten.

There were two things that I told him in the courtroom while we waited. He asked me about my legs, if they still hurt. I showed him the large bruises I had from being knocked onto the cement by the dogs. I showed him my scars and let him touch the places where you could feel metal. He guessed I was alone when I had fallen a couple of days before, and he was right. He laughed and said “So what did you do, just lay there?”
“For a minute I did. Then I got up and walked the dogs.”
He laughed again. I turned and looked at him directly.
“Getting up again is my forte.”
He turned away, finally giving me the gift of not listening to him try to make himself feel better. He sat with his head down. He wiped at his eyes. Later I realized it was the 3 year anniversary of my being diagnosed with cancer, so I told him that too. I thought about congratulating him on the 3 year anniversary he and his girlfriend would soon have. But I’d said enough.

The judge finally called us to the stand. A significant piece of my life was gone in less than five minutes, like it never happened.
“God bless you,” I told the judge.
My now ex husband latched onto me as I retrieved my necklace and secured it around my neck. Relief washed over me. I realized that this may very well be the last time I would see him. It kept me from saying every ugly and spiteful thing I had the right to say. It would have been too easy if he could remember me as a screaming lunatic. But that isn’t me. I wanted him to remember the person he threw away. My boyfriend once said about my husband “it’s like he wiped his ass with a million dollar bill and then flushed it down the toilet.”

He grabbed me in a hug before I could get into my car. I stood rigid and still. I gave him one last time to commit my body to memory. He has his whole life to remember how that felt and to know that he’ll never be so lucky again.

It never ends the way we had it planned

I dread this time of year. As much as I love spending time with family and people I love, shaking off the sadness is a constant battle. Tomorrow will mark the 2 year anniversary of my father’s death. On the best days, I can think about the good things. My father’s humor and the jokes he would tell that would catch you off guard. Moments that I can picture him with my nieces and my nephew, and how much he enjoyed those times. The sound of my father’s breathing and the way he used to hold my hand and press our fingers together when I was a little girl.

I don’t cry every day like I used to. But some days I am blind sided by grief that I never saw coming. One thing that plays over and over again in my head is how many times my dad talked about making peace with people and the past. I can picture him saying “you never know when your number’s going to be up.” It’s another example of the way my life has always prepared me for what was coming next. For example, I used to have Remicade infusions every other month for my Crohn’s disease. When I got cancer, I looked at chemo like it was just another infusion. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t scared at all, it just wasn’t the way that a person who hadn’t spent years being poked and prodded might be. I can go on about this- how when I look back at things, there was always a precursor, a beginner class for the harder lessons to come. I was lucky that way. None of it was fun, but it was manageable because of the time that came before it.

Losing my dad when I did and as suddenly as I did wasn’t something I was prepared for. I get a chill remembering how often he told me to say what needed to be said while I had the chance. There’s no way I could’ve known to see these lessons for what they were. I had lost people before. I almost lost myself a few times. I thought I had as much of an understanding of the fragility in life as anyone could have. But no death prepares you for the loss of a parent. Though I had lost relatives and friends before, it just wasn’t the same. Nothing had ever hit me so hard. It still hits me. Sometimes it’s a quiet pang; other times I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me. Like it’s just too painful to be real. It’s the one thing I feel bitter about. I’ve gotten the shit end of the stick on a lot of things but never understood the point of pining over unfairness. Life isn’t fair, I know that. It’s just that my dad’s death was so fucking wrong. How could the most healthy and energetic man I’ve ever met drop dead of a massive heart attack at 69? How could I lose him weeks after I started walking again? How could I keep having such awful shit happen to me in so little time? But the worst part was I felt like I had just gotten this dad. I spent so much time being angry at him. I held onto past hurts with an iron grip. If only I had listened to what he said all along, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted time wishing he was someone else.

But it didn’t work that way. I didn’t understand that my father had always been there until he was really the only one there. My support during my disaster of a life was enormous. But my father was there physically. He took me to chemo and he visited me in the ICU, in the hospital, and rehab nearly every day for 9 weeks. I told him all the time that he didn’t need to come every day and he pshawed at me like I was speaking nonsense. Maybe this was the preparation for my father dying- I was given two miserable years to understand him. Those two years were the luckiest time of my life. I wouldn’t trade them for a hundred lifetimes of perfect days. Just like all the days that came before, they were exactly what I needed.

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Was I wrong to trust anyone? #yesallwomen

I’m not a girl who scares easily. When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark and only the dark. I’ve always been fearless, often to a fault. Good or bad, it’s a trait I was born with. Not that I never feel nervous or intimidated, just that it takes a substantial event to rattle me. There was a night a couple of years ago when I feared for my life in a way that I never had before or have since.

There were 3 of us. My friends M and K were already at the restaurant where we agreed to meet. As usual, I was running late. I parked my car on the street and ran to meet them. It was early into both my separation from my husband and my recovery from cancer. I welcomed any occasion to wear my new boots and skirt. My outfit was sexy, but low key enough for a casual dinner and local bar. We went to 2 bars after dinner in order to have a good spot to sit and talk.

We drank wine and talked for hours. We were buzzed enough to make the conversation flow but not so much that we couldn’t get ourselves home. It was good fun. I succeeded in embarrassing both of them on our journey from the bar to M’s car. We said a hasty goodbye in the cold that none of us had dressed for. K insisted on walking me to my car, though I told her it wasn’t necessary. We scurried down the street, shivering along with every other bar patron trying to get home. After a few minutes, I realized that between the rushing around and the multiple locations, I had completely lost my bearings. I could picture where my car was, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. After a little more walking, I felt pretty confident that my car was a couple of blocks away. I assured K that I was fine from that point on and that she should go back to her hotel and rest before her flight home the next day.

We went our separate ways around 2:30 am. I continued on in the same direction, only to find that I was wrong. I didn’t end up in the place I had pictured. I was in an intersection I didn’t recognize on a street I’d never heard of. It was then that I realized I was very much alone. The sidewalks were empty. Few cars were on the road. I kept close to the streetlights with my keys in a death grip. I was lost. I was freezing. I was an easy target and I knew it. I didn’t know what to do.

A young guy on a bicycle was riding out of the hotel parking garage on my right. I stopped him and asked if he knew where the overpass was. We talked for a minute, but he was new to the city and couldn’t direct me. Not knowing what else to do, I asked him to walk with me. He paused and looked at me for a moment, assessing my situation.
“You’re scared, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I am.”
He escorted me for a couple of blocks, then told me he had to head home. I wasn’t any closer to knowing which way to go. He suggested I turn right because I was walking away from the Back Bay and into an iffy neighborhood. He apologized for leaving and wished me luck.

I was alone again, in a bad situation that was no one’s fault but my own. I thought about calling someone, but felt like I shouldn’t have any distractions from my surroundings. I didn’t know who to call anyway. It was one more reminder that I no longer had a husband to call on. I hated him for not being there and I hated myself for being so careless. I needed to fix this on my own, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could.

My reasoning at that point was that I wasn’t safe walking on the street. I felt sure that I’d be better off in the warmth of a car where I could see the city faster. A cab had pulled over ahead of me. I ducked my head down to the driver’s level and asked if he could take me around the block. He shook his head, telling me he couldn’t take me anywhere without an address. I was pleading my case when another cab pulled up behind him. The driver shooed me away and I leaned into the second cab.

“Hi,” I said. “I need to get to my car but I’m not sure what the name of the street is. It’s right next to the Pike and I know that I’ll know it if you can just drive me around the block.”

The small dark skinned man smiled and said “Okay.”

“Is it okay if I sit in the front so I can look for my car a little better? I don’t have my glasses.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Get in,” he spoke with a thick accent I didn’t recognize.

I opened the door and sat down, thanking him profusely. I let out a sigh of relief. I had fixed the problem. I was warm. Safe. He pulled away from the curb and eyed me up and down like a starving man served with a steak dinner.

“I like you,” he said. My heart dropped. Any buzz that I’d had the moment before was gone. What seemed like friendliness outside of the cab felt horribly sinister up close. I had nowhere to go. My mind ran through my options and the possible outcomes. One thought raced through my head, no matter how hard I tried to shake it. Do whatever you need to do to stay alive. Even as I thought it, it felt melodramatic. But the thought came on me as a sneeze would. My body was reacting to something in the air. There was nothing conscious about it.

I ignored his comment. “I’m parked next to one of the Berklee buildings. The music school.”

“Are you going home?” he asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“Where do you live?” His question made me think that he didn’t understand why I was there.

“I just need to get to my car. I don’t need a ride home. I can drive myself.” I asked where he was from in an effort to redirect the conversation. He was from Ethiopia, which I knew next to nothing about. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Why do you want to go home? Why don’t you stay in the city?”

“No, I have to go home.” I said again.

“But you should stay in the city.” I didn’t know what he was getting at. I only knew that he wasn’t listening to me.

“I need to go home. I’m not going to stay in a hotel or something. I only live 30 minutes away.”

“You could stay with me. You should come home with me.” He tilted his head to the side. “Do you want to come home with me?”

“I’m not paying you to talk, so shut the fuck up and drive” I screamed in my head. They were the first words that came to mind. Then I thought of the ways he might react to me telling him to fuck himself. Not one of them involved him taking it well.

“No, thank you.” My voice was tiny. I had been holding my breath. I knew I was choosing the safest and smartest route. At the same time, part of me felt gutless and disappointed in myself.

“Why not? I want you to come back to my house with me.”

“No, thank you. I can’t. I have to go home.” I said in a bigger voice, backed by the festering rage inside of me. He needed to drop it. How dare he try to take advantage of a person so vulnerable? I had asked for help. He was being paid to harass me. It killed me how much control he had and how much I lacked. I was angry at myself. I was stupid, naive, and afraid.

“But why? Why can’t you come home with me? You don’t want to come home with me?” He became loud and argumentative.

“No. I don’t. I don’t know you. I have to go home and take care of my dogs.” I closed my eyes, wanting to cry. This man was going to rape me, maybe kill me. After all the struggles, all the fights I had won, I was going to lose to this asshole cab driver?

I took a breath and opened my eyes to a beautiful site. I was no longer lost. I knew exactly where I was. I was not finished. I would not lose. I told him where to turn.

“My car is over there,” I pointed up the road and across the street.

“There?” His voice was doubtful and hesitant to stop.

“Yes, right there. Please pull over.”

Miraculously, he did. My door was open before the car stopped. I ran to my car and grabbed the rest of my money. I actually tipped and thanked that piece of shit. (To this day, I don’t understand why.) I got in my car, locked the doors, and shook uncontrollably. What felt like the most tortuous hour of my life, was over in less than 10 minutes. I called Wifey on her overnight shift. I needed to tell someone. She asked about obvious details that didn’t occur to me for a second when it would’ve mattered. I couldn’t remember the color of the cab, let alone the company that owned it. I spent the whole ride trying not to look at the driver.

As fucked up as the whole situation was, two things that happened afterwards bothered me the most. The first was a few weeks later, when I was out on a first date. I told him the story.
“Well, you did get in the front seat,” was his response.
“I wouldn’t have been able to see from the back. I told the driver that.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but still…”
Still, I don’t know how my sitting in the front seat would have justified or prompted that man’s behavior. Did my action suggest that I was interested in this man, despite the fact that I explained the reason for my seating choice? Was I “asking for it” by not sitting in the back? Was the backseat safer because it put more distance between the driver and me? (The man controlling the car and the locks on the doors had the upper hand no matter where I sat.) Or did I deserve this because I was wearing a skirt that wasn’t to my ankles with boots that weren’t plain and flat? How should I have carried myself, dressed myself, and said “no” over and over again, to make this man act appropriately? Clearly, it was my own doing.

The second baffling response came from the nurse prepping me for sedation before a scope. Wifey and I were chatting with her when the story came up. She asked the usual questions – did I see the cab company, the license, etc.? I explained that fight or flight mode had taken over. The only thing I could think about was how to get out. And in a voice suggesting that I had missed the best and most obvious solution, she said “You should’ve told him you were married.” Wifey and I responded in unison that it wouldn’t have made a difference. The man did not care what my reasons were or what I had to say about them. The nurse insisted that he would have left me alone if I had just said those magic words.

Disturbingly enough, she may have been right. Studies have shown that men are more likely to respect a woman being another man’s property above anything the woman herself wants. How fucked up is that? And no, it is not ALL men. It is by no means a no-fail defense maneuver. What it is, is a number much larger than you’d guess. It is more men than it should be.

I doubt that my marital status would have mattered that night. It shouldn’t matter. I said no repeatedly. That should have been enough. But my wishes weren’t acknowledged at all until he stopped the car. Thank god, he did. I often think about what I would have done if he kept driving. I wonder if I was a test run and the lack of consequences gave him courage to follow through with another girl. Maybe one who was less aware than I was. A girl who drank too much and thought all she needed was a taxi to get home safely.

I see it all sometimes

Lulu and Ollie watch the marathon

 

Boston’s finest

Last Monday was Marathon day here in Boston. I spent most of the day trying to get to Back Bay to meet up with my “wife” and a group of gay men. After 4 hours of driving to different parking garages and navigating the train, I got there. Laughter and bad behavior was abundant. We didn’t watch the marathon, though I did see it a few times in my travels. I have a memory of going to the marathon when I was a kid. I’m not sure if it’s a real memory or something I made up in my head. It’s one of those things where I remember talking about the event but not the event itself. For the last three years I dog/house sat along the marathon route. Being up close and personal for such an event seemed like a cool thing though I only poked my head out to watch occasionally. Having grown up with the marathon every year, I took it for granted. I honestly didn’t realize until a few years ago how famous the Boston Marathon is. I thought that marathons were marathons and anyone who was going to run for several hours had a few screws loose. I stand by my belief about marathon runners.

On September 11,2001, I was working as a manager in a group home. That morning was like any other, in that I never turned on the radio or TV, choosing to listen to a tape on my drive in. The clients and the staff were out when I arrived, so I went to my office and started some paperwork. Around 10am I called my father to ask about the animal abuse/domestic violence meeting we planned to attend that night. There were a few words exchanged, and then my dad asked if I knew what was going on in my country today. Those were his exact words. I replied in some smart ass way, thinking the old man was being goofy and rhetorical and that a Rush Limbaugh quote was coming next. He told me that two planes had crashed into the world trade center. I didn’t get it at first. I asked what happened and if it was on purpose. Then I asked which channel it was on. “All of them,” he said.

We got off the phone and I turned on the television. Like the rest of the country, I watched the footage play over and over again, trying to comprehend what I saw. In my state of panic, I was certain that Boston was next. I had visions of every major city being attacked. Luckily I was wrong. (After I’d digested the attack a bit, I realized how difficult that would be.) The hours and days and months and years passed with several horrible events. But they were not terrorist attacks and though nobody was the same, our fears began to fade with time.

I took for granted that my city was a safe place. I grew up around the Boston Police department and understood at some point that this was an exemplary force–one that has and continues to serve as a how-to guide for cities around the world. As much as I like to think that I am worldly in my thinking, I know that I’ve been spoiled by this place. I’m accustomed to excellent education and medical care, beautiful architecture and history everywhere. I know that being referred to as “scrappy” is one of the best compliments you can get and that there aren’t any insults that matter, because I’m not a goddamned pussy. I am third generation in both this country and in the best city in the world. Boston got the best of me. In my mind, we were untouchable.

A year ago, the dogs and I stood in the back yard watching runners and the many people lining the streets to cheer them on. Because of the street closing, I didn’t have the option to drive. That was the biggest difference between that day and every other day for me. I was on the phone with my wife, making stupid jokes that we’d made a million times, when she saw the news of an explosion at the finish line. It was still being called that for the moment and it didn’t occur to me to think that it could be anything else. I had just leashed up the dogs for a walk when all the sirens started. My mother called me from Arkansas to ask if I was okay. Right then, I was. As the dogs and I started down Commonwealth Ave, I saw a different scene than I had the last two years. People walked along and vendors pushed their carts as expected. Except the crowd seemed to have cleared out earlier this year. Runners draped with shiny blankets sat on the curb, arms around each other’s shoulders–something I hadn’t seen previously. At roughly the 20th mile, we were close to the finish line, but not that close.

The dogs and I turned onto a side street when my wife called to tell me the news of the bombing and how many people had been hurt. I thought of my father right away. He had worked the marathon detail for years. I felt that he would have taken the attack personally, just as I did. And for the length of that one breath, I felt relieved that he wasn’t there to see it.

We walked back towards the house. A police man was redirecting the pedestrians and foot traffic ahead, so we turned again to come back the way we had left. Less than 15 minutes had passed. We were almost home when a national guardsman approached me and told me that I couldn’t go any further. I explained that I was staying at the house on the corner, thinking they were just trying to clear the street. He told me then that there was a suspicious package and the bomb squad were on the way. Still unable to understand what was happening, I asked if I could get my car. He shook his head, pointing to a black bag in the middle of the street directly in front of the house. I nodded. This bag could blow up. I was so close. The dogs and I headed in the opposite direction towards some local friends. These people are my second family and their house is my second home. But I felt out of place. The adults were quiet, trying to act like nothing was wrong for the sake of their two children. We spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen. The man asked his wife if she was okay. No, she was not. I couldn’t put into words how I felt. I don’t know that I’m doing a good job of it now. I do know that I wasn’t okay. While part of me was glad that my father had not witnessed this, the rest of me wanted to hear him say that we would get there.

The next day was the lockdown. I stayed inside with the doors bolted and the blinds shut. For their brief bathroom breaks, I let the dogs in the yard while I stood watch on the porch. Though I was less than a foot from the door and largely sheltered, I felt vulnerable. I don’t know what I thought would happen or what I expected to see, only that I had never felt so scared.

As the day went on, nothing happened. I could only watch so much of the news channels speculating about the bombers and recounting the horrors of the day before. Just after dinner, I leashed up the dogs. We walked onto Commonwealth Ave, a street with year round joggers and the sounds of constant activity. It was rush hour. There was no noise, no movement. In the ten minutes we spent on the street, 5 cars passed. The one person I encountered was standing in his driveway with his dog. We said hello and tried to find the right words. But how could we talk about something that felt impossible even as we stood in the middle of it? How could so many people hold their breath for all those hours? Because we did, everyone did until it was over. As much as such a thing can be over.

Boston is a scrappy city. The police force proved it was a role model for good reason. The people proved that they were anything but a bunch of pussies. All that time I spent driving around and taking trains, I saw no fear. I saw people and places that were packed full of people who were not okay. They were fucking great.

Trapped in a state of imaginary grace (mostly written on 2/5/14)

Max's last week- catching snow balls

Max’s last week- catching snow balls

As much as I can preach the words of happiness being a choice, some days are harder than others. Last week sucked. I felt like shit physically and emotionally. It was one of those times when I felt on the verge of a minor melt down at any given moment. How does one explain those times when you can handle all the shit the world can throw at you with grace, when you have other times that feel like you are just waiting for an excuse to lock yourself in the closet in a tight fetal position?

I’m being hard on myself. I had plenty of reason. Last Monday I got word that my dear friend Max, a 10 year old Cockapoo, had passed on. His mom found out that he had cancer a few months back and had gone to great lengths to try to postpone the inevitable. I remember staying with Max one night, just after his mom had gotten the news. She knew that the cancer was very aggressive and even if the chemo worked, it would be temporary. Granted, any and all fixes are temporary. Every dog will die. His people will die too. And no matter how much time you have, or how much you see it coming, it’s never really long enough. There’s always something else you wanted to do or say. But I thought that maybe I could just enjoy the time I had with Max. And I did. But I wanted to cry my eyes out when I said goodbye to him, not sure how long he’d be around. Not sure if this would be the last time. I controlled myself for the most part because I didn’t want to upset him.

Luckily, I saw Max many more times. I took him to the park that he loved, marveling at how well he was doing. I stopped wanting to break down every time I said goodbye to him. We had more time. More walks, playdates, and luxurious butt scratchings. I loved them all. Max was a great boy, “a good man,” as I liked to tell him. He was always so damned happy to go for a walk (as most dogs are, but especially him.) Max was very polite and so well mannered, he was such a pleasure to spend time with. So much so that I couldn’t really hold it against him when we went to the park and he went straight for the muddy water, followed by an enthusiastic roll in the leaves. He’d make a mess of himself, which meant more work for me, but it always made me laugh.

As hard as it was, I am so grateful that I got to spend some time with Max in his last few days. We weren’t sure when it was coming, but he had slowed down. His mom was understandably reluctant to leave him alone for very long, so I filled in the gaps as much as I could. Most of the time, I didn’t cry. But the second to last time I saw him, I told him that I wanted him to send my love to Mona. And of course, Mona was part of the reason why losing Max hit me so hard. That’s my problem with so much these days. I end up being reminded of things that I’ve been trying desperately to stuff into a box to deal with later. My problem is, later shows up too soon.

I had been putting off seeing my oncologist for a long time. I saw every other doctor and had all the appropriate exams. I just couldn’t face the idea of going back to the 9th floor. But I had to do it eventually, so I went on Thursday. The timing was bad. I was really heart broken about Max. My already shoddy sleep was worse than usual. I was sad and exhausted as I watched the numbers climb on the elevator. All I had to do was stand in that hallway and I was overwhelmed. My first visit to oncology with my husband and my stepmother- he and I making jokes the whole time in an attempt to not think about what we were doing there. I walked down the hall and looked at the floor to ceiling windows on my left. A memory of my dad standing there leveled me. I had to stop and catch my breath before I went in to oncology.

Thankfully, it was late in the day. Most of the people that had come for chemo were already in the back getting their treatments. I made the mistake of asking the receptionist if my chemo nurse was working that day. She smiled and told me that Nurse Jackie had retired at the beginning of the month. My face gave me away. Again, I was so close to losing it. The girl told me I could go wait in the vitals room and someone would be with me soon. I did lose it a little bit while I was there. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to see Jackie so badly, though I knew that she would ask about my dad, and that I would cry like a baby-just as I had when I went in for a treatment after my husband had left. I wanted Jackie to hold my hand and soothe my heart.

I pulled it together long enough to have my vitals taken and be called back to my doctor. She was so happy to see me. This was the woman who had cried when I showed up for my last appointment in a wheelchair. “Why do these things keep happening to you?” She had said. But back then, I was okay. I was in a wheelchair, but I didn’t feel broken. This time was different. This time everything was hitting me. This time I felt more broken than I had in a long time. And in the safety of her office, I lost my shit. It wasn’t for more than a minute, but I was relieved to get it out. We talked for a long time about everything. My exam went well and she promised to send a message to Nurse Jackie for me.

Going home, I felt so much lighter. Anticipation is so often my worst enemy. As a person who prides herself on being fearless, I’m a coward when it comes to facing heavy things. It seems so much easier to do anything else. I gave Max’s mom as much support as I knew how, but at the end, I ran out as soon as I could. I didn’t have it in me to smile, just imagining how much her heart was breaking. I couldn’t talk about losing Max and losing Mona and have any kind of decorum. I couldn’t talk about how empty the window seat would look without Max, watching me come to the door, then running to great me in the hallway, his heart bursting with joy. Just because I had shown up to see him. I couldn’t stand to say it. I couldn’t even think about it.

The thing about dogs is that they don’t hold back. We don’t expect them to. Maybe that’s how a dog manages to burrow its way into our deepest, most protected parts. That kind of honesty is hard to resist. The day before he died, Max greeted me with his typical unbridled enthusiasm. We walked around the block and I carried his now tender feet through the snow banks. We played fetch in the living room and sat on the window seat for a long scratch. I’m certain that he knew his time was up, but there was no fear. I looked into his eyes and only saw Max. A beautiful and honest creature that chased every ball that was thrown for him, knowing better than to waste an opportunity. Dogs are smart that way. They live every moment to its fullest potential, understanding that death is just another part of life.

Till all these shivers subside

The thing about writing really emotional shit is that I feel beat to hell while I’m doing it. I hate doing it. I will do the dreadful PT exercises to prolong that inevitable sit down and pound it out at the computer. Spilling my guts into words feels a lot like a good roll in the hay, where you end up sweaty and exhausted and everything hurts. And as you lay there with various parts wincing and knowing that more will hurt tomorrow, you feel so completely right. So at peace, so…well, satisfied. The big difference is that one of them is easy to get motivated for and a lot more fun while it’s happening. Sadly, it leaves you with nothing to show for your acts of showmanship. We all need other things, don’t we? And so, here I am.

I started writing a post of the extremely emotional variety back in January. My sweet, beloved friend Max had just passed away. It seems like it just happened, but I’m in his house again minding a friend’s dog, and I realize the clock is always ticking. Such an unsettling thing, when you lose a loved one and you feel like everything should stop. Everything. When it feels like all life, every breath, every beating heart should stop because how could the world keep going without this beautiful life in it? And crawling out of bed to put some goddamned clothes on feels like the most harrowing experience you could imagine. I’ve gone out into the world with that sadness. I’ve watched people smiling, going about their every day, and thought “for the love of all that is good and holy, what the fuck is wrong with you?” It just doesn’t seem right that the rest of the world keeps going.

But it does. It always does. Unimaginable things can and will be survived. You can sit there feeling like everything has gone to shit, but life will continue to happen. I can keep doing everything in the world but writing out the heartache in the hopes that it will go away. Tick, tick, tick…and yes, the pain goes from all encompassing to a dull ache. But in pretending I’m okay all the time, I miss the mark. As much as I have pulled, pushed, and prodded myself into shape over the last few years, I had to first be laid out flat.

Getting up again is only impressive if you’ve spent time with your face in the mud. I’ve been in that spot more than once and while my life has improved in so many ways, the aches are still there, the hits never stop. They don’t get easier. The weight accumulates in the background until it explodes at the worst times and in the worst places. I can either worry about making someone else a little uncomfortable for a moment by admitting to that emotion, or I can push it down and push it down until I become completely quiet. This kind of silence is anything but golden, especially when it’s coming from me.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to hold it in. There are times when it is necessary and I can carry through them. Most of the time, it just makes me crazy. It makes me not me. Because when I lay my head down, I want to know that I held nothing back. Even if it spent every muscle in my body to get there, I want my performance to be remembered.

Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long

My Uncle Ronnie died this morning. He was one of the eldest children in my father’s family, and one of the last to go. Out of a family of ten children, there are 3 left. With every loss I feel like more of a dying breed. I always relied on my father to keep me updated on my uncles, aunts, and the dozens of children that came from them. When my father died, my world was suddenly this tiny fishbowl that I didn’t recognize. I thought that I would be able to somehow keep up with at least some of these people the way that he did. Surely, I could pick and choose at least some extended family to hold on to. And I’ve done what I could. I’ve tried. I really have. But all of the thoughts I have about reaching out to others, writing letters, making calls, being helpful to those in need…these good intentions are by and large all that I’ve managed. It’s something I am not sure if I should keep trying to fix (unsuccessfully) or that I should accept as not being my piece of the greater puzzle. Even now, this digression is a perfect example of how easily I will start something before becoming lost in something else.

In between the day of my wedding (June 2010) and my return from my honeymoon, Uncle Ronnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While I have learned considerably more about cancer since then, I did understand at the time that pancreatic cancer was vicious and quick. Hearing about Ronnie’s illness was a blow. Everything I had heard taught me that my uncle had very little time, maybe a few months.  How very brutal and unkind for a man who had lost his long time wife, the mother of his children, several years before and had brought his new partner to my wedding. He seemed happy. Content.

The things I knew of pancreatic cancer weren’t wrong. But we aren’t people who take defeat easily. He kept going and going and going. When I was diagnosed with cancer, he asked about me often. My father said that he was upset by it, in a way that I understand much more now, having gone through it. Cancer creates this reluctant but unavoidable bond between people. You gain quick membership into an elite club that everyone wishes didn’t exist in the first place. But that’s what happens. A person who is a superficial acquaintance changes into a trusted confidant when survival or maybe just coping becomes a new skill.

So my uncle and I would always ask about the other. We exchanged a few emails and cards. A few months before my father died, he told me that Ronnie had decided to stop chemotherapy. Nobody could blame him. He had lived much longer than any doctors expected. The chemo wasn’t going to save him. He had suffered through it over and over again to gain a few months here and there. He fought with everything that he possibly could, but he was tired.

When I heard that Ronnie would be attending my father’s services, I expected the worst. I had seen what cancer had done to a vital 30 year old. I expected my uncle to be unrecognizable, he had to be by now. Yet, the 2 1/2 years of chemo and all the ravaging it does to one’s body seemed to have very little effect on Uncle Ronnie. He looked amazing. He was the same uncle I knew all of my life. He told me that he felt really good that day. It was one of the few bright moments from that horrible night. I found myself hopeful. That maybe he was going to be that miracle patient that walked away from terminal cancer. Even as I thought it, I knew that luck runs out eventually.

Ronnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2010. Medical knowledge said he didn’t have long. I think it was 6 months, but I’m not sure. I am sure that Ronnie outlived my bout with cancer, my marriage, my recovery from critical condition and the 12 broken bones that got me there. He outlived more than half of his siblings, including my father. He outlived, just in the last year, a large handful of my loved ones. He didn’t just survive, he lived. And he lived with grace. I thank him for that.

you can be sure I will never stop believing

Saying this has been a hard month or even a hard year feels redundant. I’ll say it anyway. The days from November 24th, 2012 until the same date in 2013 have been the worst I have seen or hope to see again. If you’re following along at home, you know that that isn’t an easy task. No matter. The important thing is that it has been a year. It has been over 365 days since I learned what happens when you think that things could not possibly get worse. Things can always get worse. I’m hesitant to even call the past year the worst one, like I’m just daring life to fuck me in a whole new way that I never thought of. But I’m daring to think ahead. I’m daring to feel positive.

Because.

Because things can always get worse, but they can also get better. Because there is room for improvement in even the most amazing life. Because it’s what I believe. I believe it for my sanity. I believe it because it’s true.

Happiness is a choice. You can choose to look at your wreckage of a life and focus on the bits and pieces that didn’t fall apart. The music nobody thought to turn off while the house was burning down. That one moment you kept in the back of your mind to fight the days when it hurt too much to breathe. The people, places, and things that gave your senses a sweet sample of what you love most. The memories that tie it all together and leave you with a taste for how you want things to be. Those things are always there if you should choose to seek them out.

My former life, my self, and what I thought I knew about the two of them were lost abruptly, with ease. I will never manage to explain that sensation, though I felt it again and again, each time from a different angle. But no matter how many times, I never expected to feel it again. Not once did I see it coming.

And that feeling that told me that I could breathe now, that the worst was over. The notion that I could have just as many happy and fantastic things on the way. That never left either. I hope it never does.

Happiness is a choice. You can focus on loss or you can see all that you still have. You can try to make the best choices, to do everything in a way that is right and good with the universe and still manage to fuck things up or have it fucked up for you. You can’t always control your circumstances. You can only decide how to react to them. Sadness and anger have a place- if you’re smart, that place is behind you, beneath you, anything but front and center. I wish I could say that it’s easy to shrug it off and that I don’t have days where pain all but consumes me. But I cant stop those feelings from showing up, i can only choose not to feed them.

What I’m saying may be overly simple, but maybe not. All I know is that in the days that led up to November 24th, I had worked myself into a tightly wound ball of dread. I feared reliving those days so badly that I couldn’t take a breath of the present. When I finally got there. When all of the horrible things I knew were coming had gone, I had my first taste of fresh air in a year. I let out a sigh so heavy my feet could hardly touch the earth. My heart was floating, bursting, grateful…And just like that, life went on. The only catch is that you have to let go of all the pain, regret, anger and hopelessness you’ve squeezed so tightly into your fists. Leave your palms open, honest, and empty to reach for and scoop up every beautiful handful of this wonderful life you are running into, stuffing tiny pockets with wonder and joy at all the beauty you can find if you just look for it.

An Impossible Dream

ImageThis time, one year ago, I was sitting at my father’s house in shock. It was two days after Thanksgiving, and I had just sat with my father’s body- something no one expected to do for many years. Even saying this now, it feels just as impossible. The pain and the sickness I felt has not changed much at all. Flashes from that Saturday are just as brutal. I have never lost the sensation that some time soon, my dad will call. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how or why my father died what seemed like just a moment after we had reached an understanding of each other for the first time in my life. 

We visited my dad’s grave today for the first time since his funeral. The bare hills of the veteran’s cemetery took in every bit of the cold, each gust of wind. We walked around with our heads down, hands buried in pockets, searching the endless flat stones for the right name. I was looking by date and it wasn’t until I came to the end of all of the graves that I realized that my father had died in 2012. A year had passed. So many things had happened. My dad wasn’t alive to see the news of the marathon bombings. He missed some really horrible things. I was thankful for that, knowing that he would carry such events heavily in his heart. But there were joys, small victories, good stories that I should have been able to share. I think so often how much my father would like my boyfriend and how pissed off I am that they never met. That my boyfriend met me at the very worst time of my life, that he has stood by me, and how happy that would’ve made my dad. That here I am, so often thinking of what my father would say about the world, my life, everything. And that in the end, I’m just making my best guess.

This could go on endlessly-me talking to myself in circles, trying to make sense of my dad’s death. I’m far from done. But right now I’m worn out and I just want to, for a little while, pretend that this whole miserable year never happened (except for the good parts.) I’ve been wanting to share my dad’s eulogy, which really isn’t all that well written now that I give it another look. I sure as hell don’t agree with my desperate attempts to make sense of it at the time, but here it is…

 

One of the last conversations I had with my father, as he was driving me to one of many many doctor’s appointments that he escorted me to, we were talking about the string of unfortunate events  that had made up my life for the last couple of years.

 “Would you say that you have a bad life?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” I told him.  “I think that the support that I’ve gotten from the people around me has been amazing.”

“That’s good” he said, pausing for a moment.  “Would you say that you’ve had some bad luck?”

“Yes,” I said.

He nodded.  “I think that’s a fair assessment.”

This was something I always knew from my father- that life could be hard, inexplicably so, but we all have to do our best, to keep moving and not feel sorry for ourselves. What my father and I did not know, is that all of this had a purpose, like the old adage says “everything happens for a reason.”  People would tell me this all the time and I would nod politely, wishing they’d keep their wisdom to themselves.  What I know now, is that every sorrow I encountered was just another way for my father and I to become closer, for us to understand each other in a better way, and for me to know unequivocally how much my father loved me.

 

Paul Arthur was born in Boston on May 15, 1943, the 7th child of Esther and Ralph J.  Two younger brothers and one younger sister followed him to make a full house of ten children.  While life was not always easy with so many children, my father would recount his childhood in Boston with more positive memories than anything else.  To listen to his stories, you’d think that his boyhood was one great adventure after another.  He talked about sneaking out of the house with his brothers and not being able to get back in, the story of how one of his brothers was stuck overnight in a cemetery crypt on an adventure gone wrong, and how he and his siblings would muddy their winter jackets as soon as they were bought home from the store.  And while he spoke of times that were hard, his overwhelming message was the importance of family and looking out for the people you loved.

 

Paul also believed in doing for others.  He started by serving his country in the United States Army fresh out of high school.  He spoke fondly about the time spent in Germany as a solider and seeing President Kennedy speak to the troops.  He felt that this time taught him about honor and discipline as a young man.  He returned home to the United States, narrowly escaping duty in the Vietnam War, to begin his life as a young husband and father.  He also began another kind of service, as an officer for the Boston Police Department.  He served all over the city of Boston, in various departments, for over 30 years, retiring in 2004.  Though he spent time on the SWAT team and in ballistics, to name a few, perhaps his most valuable time was spent as a community service officer in Dorchester.   Again, he believed strongly in the importance of looking out for the people around you.  He believed in individual responsibility and hard work.  He was popular in the community for his every day involvement as well as his weekly input into the local newspaper, The Dorchester Reporter.  Always eager to see the fun in things, he would search through arrest sheets from the week to find stories of interesting, outlandish, and downright imbecile crimes.  He would then craft a few simple arrest descriptions into colorful tales full of dark humor, valuable lessons and bad puns.  Occasionally, something would strike a chord with him, leading him to compose a serious piece about an issue he found important.  And this was very much how my father was as a man, goofy and playful until something hit him in a way that made him feel the need to speak with only the parts of him that were eloquent and wise.

 

When he wasn’t policing and writing, Paul was working on his house, his neighbor’s house, the friend of a friend’s uncle’s house, and so on.  My father never gave a second thought to helping people he hardly knew and some he didn’t know at all.  He looked at the world and tried to fix it in whatever way he could, and a lot of times, that meant fixing a hole in a wall.  He told me once that he solved problems  in his mind doing the most slow repetitive tasks.  But he didn’t just work on his own worries, he was a man who gave calm and sensible advice to many.  He was a man who could talk to anyone and usually win them over, though he was often a man of few words.  Paul believed that at the end of the day, words meant very little- actions were everything.  There are few people that he cared for who didn’t benefit from this philosophy.  My father didn’t freely give out affection and praise, but was abundantly generous with his time and himself.  He didn’t understand the notion of shoddy workmanship or half hearted effort.  When he committed himself to something, he committed himself 100%, no matter how difficult and painful that something may be.

 

My father lived simply as often as possible.  He devoted his time first and foremost to family and friends.  He took great pleasure in bringing people out on his boat, where he would immediately show you how to drive and put you in charge so that he could entertain everyone else with stories and terrible terrible jokes.  He always loved musicals and raised 5 children on the songs and did his best to pass it on to the next generation of the family.  My father had a special way of making children feel important and getting them to use their imaginations whenever possible.  He taught us to think for ourselves but to respect our elders.  He taught us to love animals and getting our hands dirty.  He taught us to to always be kind and to always try our hardest.  Nobody has ever believed in me the way my father has, and I know that I am far from alone.  He believed that everyone is essentially redeemable, that no one is beyond hope.  His heart never ran out of room to love one more person or to forgive people who had wronged him.  He taught me and so many others that there are few things in this world that can’t be overcome with time, hard work, and a strong and ready spirit.

 

In the end, my father touched more people than he ever really understood.  He knew he was charming, but never knew just how much or just how memorable he was.  When my nieces were very small he told me that they would remember the silly things we did, the playfulness, and many adventures together.  My father was all of these things to his grandchildren, he had these abilities in droves.  And so I know that as a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a friend, and a man, my father will always be remembered.

You’re the best friend that I’ve ever had

Image

 

Today is the one month mark since I said good bye to Mona. She was 14 years old, twice as stubborn as me until the day that she died. She had been diagnosed with early stage renal failure over the summer, but was in excellent shape. We switched her to a prescription diet and she continued to pick fights with other dogs and bark her fool head off as much as she could get away with. Because of her age, I knew the time was coming. Slowly, then rapidly, it did. I felt like she started to slow down around the tail end of the summer and when it was time to go, she declined over the course of 4 days. She died on a Tuesday. I carried her to bed Monday night and lay her in between my boyfriend and I. We covered her in blankets, the way that she liked, and pet her and talked to her for hours. Finally, I turned my back to her and folded my legs around her- the reverse spoon that we made all of our lives together. I didn’t expect her to make it through the night and I thought that this was a good death. To be surrounded with love and the comforts of home. But my beardog always was an ornery creature, and she woke the next morning. She walked outside on her own but lay in my neighbor’s grass quickly from her back legs being too weak. It was sunny. I rubbed her belly and helped her to stand again. She drank a little chicken broth and returned to my bed with me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that it was time to do it. I would not be that person who drags out an unpleasant life for an animal because I wasn’t ready to deal with it. The truth was, I was never going to be ready to deal with it. 

These are some of the things that took over my brain those last few days… I remembered the first time I saw her, in an outdoor kennel at the pound, howling incessantly with her beautiful shiny coat in the sun. She hated the car and threw up in the ten minutes it took to get her home. I had grown up with dogs my whole life and thought that I knew just what to do, the same way I knew about everything else when I was 25. That crazy beast tested every bit of my patience and had me running in and out of traffic, strangers’ back yards, strangers’ houses (once), through woods, meadows, and ghettos. She loved to run, she was awfully fast, and she never let you catch her the same way twice. When we did have a fenced in place for her to run, she was pure joy. Her lean build galloped effortlessly while her ridiculous ears and jowls flapped in the wind. When she wasn’t impossible, Mona was just love. She was always gentle with children, occasionally with very young kittens- she carried my cat Jaques in her mouth when my roommate brought him home prematurely. Mona didn’t meet any people that she didn’t like, and once she met you, she never wanted you to leave. If you were sleeping in the guest room, she would make her best efforts to make you feel at home with her patented reverse spoon. As my young friend Sam said of my two dogs, “Harriet is fun to play with, but Mona is better for petting.”

She was my constant support, there with me for most every major event I had in my life. On 9/11, I remember going home and wanting nothing more than to lay under the covers with my beardog. When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and on medical leave for a few weeks, she curled up quietly at my side, letting out the occasional sigh and groan. We took gentle walks those days, it was one of the few times she didn’t fight with me for control. We moved many times, had many roommates, other animals that lived with us and through every change, I came home to her. She’d bark and run around in circles, stop and look at me, bark some more, run some more. She just couldn’t believe that I had come back and that I still loved her. I was her 3rd owner and I refused to give up. The payback for tolerating her bad manners was the most wonderful and comforting love. I remember being diagnosed with cancer and walking in my front door, Mona stood there barking and wagging her tail. And that was when I dropped to the ground, held on to her and really cried. She was there, and she didn’t leave. She was there through the sickest days of chemotherapy, the days when I was so sick at the loss of my husband that I couldn’t eat or sleep. Mona was always there, always nearby. Her heavy sighs and smacking of her lips as she readjusted herself into perfect comfort. And she was there when I came home from 9 weeks in the hospital and rehab. Always by my side until it was time to greet people at the door. She loved my dad to pieces and he had a special place for her too. I couldn’t explain to her that my dad had died, but she was there, and that was always what I needed.

I tried to give Mona the best life that I could, adventures, friends, good food and abundant love. But I didn’t know what to do in the end, when she didn’t die in her sleep as I had thought she would. I didn’t want to take her to the vet because she didn’t like going there (though she did get over her fear of driving in cars many years ago.) After many calls with no good results, the clock was making the decision for me. I didn’t want her to suffer. I packed her bed and blankets into the back of my car and climbed into the back with her. My boyfriend drove us to the vet, Mona refusing to lay down, but too weak to stand. She sat and looked out the window. I laid next to her holding her steady and watching her look out the window at the sunny day going by. We both got into the back of the car with her and the vet come to us. She gave Mona a shot of sedative first, which she explained would sting, and sure enough that firecracker snapped at them. I climbed back in and curled around her. She was sitting up and she looked around for a moment, sniffed the air, then looked down at me with a yawn-as if this was the perfect time for some rest. She lay next to me and with my arms around her, stroking her long velvety ears, I sang to her one of the many many songs I made up about her over the years. She slept peacefully as we said everything that needed getting out. The vet came back and put her to rest. She was surrounded by love.

But then the strangest things happened. The sun turned to rain as we drove home. When we got home to the barely audible woofs of Harriet and Monster, my boyfriend took them for a walk and I returned to bed. A few minutes later, he sent me a text- there, behind the church where we walked every day, was a rainbow. It’d be the sappiest thing in the world if it didn’t really happen. But it did. And like that day I foolishly brought home a 1 1/2 year old coonhound and all the days that followed, I’m so glad that they did.

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