What I lack in skills I make up for with my charm

The gravel in your gut and the spit in your eye

Do you ever have days or weeks when all the crap you’ve worked hard to repress comes
to the surface like stomach acid after drinking wine? The last week or so has felt just like
that. Some of it came out of good things. I had a great time visiting my brother and his
family for the weekend but felt sad that the last time I did was when my ex husband
and I were dating. Bitterness aside, it was a sweet weekend. Lots of eating, boating and story telling. My brother and I talked about our dad when he still drank and what
that was like. We talked about the siblings we are estranged from. It felt good to talk
with someone who was there and is still there. Someone who ties me to my family and my past. The things I miss, the things I would rather forget, and the things that make me who I am.

My conversations with my brother are just one example of the sort of moments that bit me in the ass when I wasn’t looking. They’ve been coming at me all week. What
surprised me the most was when I realized that the damage my ex did shaped who I will always be, no matter how much time has passed. Those scars are just as real as the ones on my legs. My accident ensured that I will never know another day without pain. My husband ensured that I will never wholly trust anyone again. I don’t know that I will ever not worry about being abandoned or being lied to. I may never listen to a man tell me that he loves me and not think “I’ve heard all of this before.” This may seem obvious, but I
hadn’t thought of it in a long time. I thought I’d dealt with it. And in many ways I have.
I don’t think of him very much, yet he’s still there. Still a part of me, whether I like it or

Growing up in an unpredictable alcoholic/addict home is a no brainer. Of course this is a
huge part of who I am, good and bad. I like a certain amount of routine and a feeling
of safety and stability. I like to make peace whenever it’s possible, sometimes to a fault. I
hyper-analyze my alcohol intake along with everyone else’s. (Yes, yours too.) Thankfully a lot of this has calmed down. But I still see alcoholics and addicts in a certain way. I feel bad for their families. And most of the time, I have hope that they can overcome it the way that my father did. Except for Tuesday night when I found out that someone I once tried to help had overdosed on heroin.

I called him Ponyboy because he was from the wrong side of the tracks. His name was Paul- like my boyfriend, my father, and one of my closest friends. I met him just before my accident 4 years ago. We started talking online and decided to meet for a game of mini golf. He told me he didn’t drink, but he left out the why. His pictures didn’t do him justice. He was a good looking guy with a killer smile. And best of all, he didn’t seem to realize it. His shyness and the stutter that went with it made him endearing. I had just had my chemo port removed and my upper chest had a large wound. There was no point in me holding back about what it was. We traded secrets and tragedies. At the second hole he lifted up his shirt to show me the “serenity” tattoo on his side. He read me some of his bad
poetry, awkward and self conscious. He had been clean for long enough that I didn’t
consider the fact that he might not stay that way. He had a young daughter named Emily
and she was his world. I liked him. He was chock full of red flags, but sweet and
vulnerable in a way that was disarming. We went out a few times but we were rather
different and it didn’t work out. I talked to him occasionally while I was recovering from
my accident, then not at all for a long time. I thought I’d never hear from him again.

It was a big surprise a year or so later when he called me at 2am, so drunk that I
couldn’t understand what he was saying. I told him that he had the wrong number and
he said “you went out with me and you don’t know who the fuck I am?” That was the
magic moment when I understood who it was and that he was using again. I got him off
the phone but texted him a day or so later asking if he was okay. He shrugged it off and
said he was just hungover. I asked him again if he was okay and this time Ponyboy told
me he was clean. I knew it was bullshit, but I wasn’t going to pursue it. I thought he was
a nice person, but it wasn’t my problem. Until a few months later when he reached out
to me. Most of his family had died and his drug use meant that his friends were either
fellow addicts or were no longer friends. I thought of my father and the many people he had been a friend to during such times, So I decided I would be a friend, but not an enabler.

He looked like death when I went to see him. The bone structure that was lovely a few
years before was on display in a way that made him hard to look at. I could tell he was
still using because his stutter was gone. We watched a movie and talked about everything that had happened in our lives. He was so proud of the apartment he had and the room he had for Emily. He showed me everything he had scored at thrift stores and yard sales. I couldn’t deny that he had a big, if misguided heart. But I wasn’t going to go along with the charade. The next time we talked, I laid into him about not really being clean and how some day he was going to leave his daughter without a dad. We talked a lot then. Ponyboy wanted to be clean. When he was sick with withdrawals I brought him soup, crackers, and toilet paper.

That was the last time I saw him. He was laying on his couch, wrapped in a blanket. He
thanked me and smiled. We talked a few more times. He invited me to go to the zoo
with him and his daughter once. His stutter was back. He seemed hopeful. The few
times I talked to him after that, he told me he was doing well. I really wanted that to be

Tuesday night, his name popped up on Facebook because some one had written
“rest in peace” on his page. I had to read it a few times. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was
possible or even probable, still, it punched me in the gut. All of those little moments that I’d been trying desperately to keep control of all week shot out of me in body shaking sobs. He was an addict and chose to do drugs in the first place, so I shouldn’t feel that bad, right? But I do. I feel bad for the daughter who will barely remember him. I feel bad for selfish reasons, too. I was a lot happier thinking that maybe I had helped him. That maybe I was wrong when I yelled at him about the damage he’d do to his daughter. About how it would shape who she was. I had realized I was wrong about so much in my life and felt defeated by the times I was right. Still, I stand by my original assessment. I think that he had a good heart and that he really wanted to stop. It’s stupid and sad that he didn’t. But I don’t regret a minute of the time I spent trying to help him. I wasted nothing. It is part of who I am.


My instincts kept me up at night

There’s an old adage which describes  insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the results to change. Is anyone really sane by this definition? Do any of us learn our lessons? Does anyone else learn from their mistakes? Is my stupidity something I’ll outgrow eventually? God, I hope so. As someone who was hit by a car in the actual middle of the road, you’d think I’d be better at recognizing doom when it starts to inch its way up the back of my neck. I’m 40 years old. I should know to listen to my gut. Not just every now and then when the fancy strikes me, but all of the time. It’s always right. There are moments in my life which I’ll say I never saw coming- but if I’m being 100% honest, there was always something. I had to pay attention to things I didn’t want to see. Or maybe I should’ve stopped believing what I only wished were true. 

I’m being vague because I wouldn’t even know which example to start with. Some of them were as simple as me not being all that jazzed about a person I’ve just met, but for one reason or another, I give that person the benefit of the doubt. Every single time this bites me in the ass. Still, I do it. Not a lot, but enough. 

Other times I watch myself going along with a bad decision because I don’t want to make decisions based on fear. I’ve seen people who spend their entire lives being victims of fear, and I won’t be that person. I’ve had my share of crippling self doubt, sure. But I don’t turn tail out of fear; only self preservation. Chalk this up to 3 brothers and a bruiser of a sister, being a cop’s kid, being a Masshole, or maybe spending too much time with dogs- I don’t know. For better or worse, backing down isn’t acceptable where I come from. I was taught that you don’t back down and you don’t give up until there are no more options. If you can’t say that, then you haven’t tried hard enough. 

Putting so much effort into lost causes isn’t helping me sleep at night. I should’ve stuck with burying road kill like I did as a kid. It was less mess, more dignified and surely left a better taste in my mouth. But for now, for this single disastrous moment, I’m going to search for those things I’ve excelled at ignoring. Maybe, Just this once, I’ll be pleasantly mistaken. 
My current super catchy anthem (who’s words were brazenly ripped off throughout this post):
What’s the point of being right?

Don’t think I’ve forgotten all that you gave

  Thanksgiving is an odd holiday. There’s no set date, just a seemingly random day somebody picked for the rest of us to celebrate. In 2015, Thanksgiving will be on November 26th, but 3 years ago, Thanksgiving had come and gone by the 24th. Three years ago, November 24th was a Saturday and at 9am, life was looking pretty good. I was walking (albeit painfully) without crutches. I was hanging out with my dog friend Harper Lee, regretting my promise to watch her every time I had to walk around the block. But I was getting better. I knew the hurt wouldn’t always be there. I was thankful for my legs. I was thankful for my body’s resiliency. I’d just had a lovely Thanksgiving with my family and I was thankful for that.

We were never a praying family. My father would say a few words at the beginning of a holiday meal; something about being thankful that everyone had come and that we were all able to be together. He would ask if anyone else wanted to speak or sometimes he wanted everyone to say something he/she was thankful for. This tradition was a nice idea, but turned into some sort of silliness in a family that wasn’t big on endearments. I don’t remember what was said that year. But clear as day, I can see my dad wearing his red and black plaid flannel shirt tucked into his jeans, held up by suspenders and finished off with his glaring white sneakers. I teased him about his sartorial choices as he raised an eye brow at my hair color of the moment, likely asking “what the hell happened to your hair? How long did the doctor say it’d stay that way?”

In my family, merciless teasing was the highest form of affection. Hugs were quick and awkward. “I love you” wasn’t something that we said. Cards were signed “Love, Dad” but that was about it. The one exception was when I called my father with my cancer diagnosis. I was fairly calm, but couldn’t seem to get out the words “I have cancer” without tears. In his most gruff, authoritative voice, my father said “calm down, everything is going to be fine.” As we were getting off the phone, he said “I love you.” It wasn’t tender. He said it the same way he’d suddenly say “goodbye” in the middle of a phone conversation.

My father died on this day, 3 years ago. In the months following his death, I thought a lot about who he was, how he showed affection and how I knew that he loved me. He wasn’t big on sentiments, but a man of action. After his clumsy hug, my father would say “Be careful” or “Drive carefully.” One day it occurred to me that in his way, this was my dad saying “I love you,” “I care about you,” “I want you to come back.” I always sort of laughed it off, though it snuck it’s way into my lexicon and become my goodbye of choice. Because goodbyes are never easy. We so rarely see them coming. If we did, we would never say such words. We would say “I love you. I care about you. I want you to come back.” But we have so little control over any of this life, it’s much easier to say “Be careful” and hope for the best.


I think my spaceship knows which way to go

I’ve been working on another post or two, but in the meantime I have something I need to get off my chest: I am The Luckiest Bastard on the planet. Overwhelmingly, almost sickeningly so. For as much loss and pain as I have dealt with, I have had twice that in good fortune. Obviously, I’m here. I’m alive, relatively intact – that alone is no small miracle. But more importantly, for every shitheel that’s tripped me in my path, I’ve had more than my fair share of powerful hands to help me back up.

I don’t spend a lot of time busting into happy tears (my Irish Catholic heritage frowns upon emotion aside from drunken anger.) Perhaps my impending middle age is making me soft. Whatever the case, I have been fighting off a nearly constant urge to succumb to sappy displays of gratitude that I’m embarrassed to even think about. I’d name names if I could think of where to start or ever hope to finish.

Instead I will say this: my friends and loved ones continue to leave me in awe of their strength, kindness, intelligence, generosity, and love. I feel like I should have fulfilled my quota of these things by now. Yet, these people keep showing up and dishing it out. I don’t know what I’ve done to warrant being surrounded with such a top notch representation of the human race, but I am humbled by all of you. I am eternally optimistic because life just won’t give me any other option. I am incredibly grateful for every one of you. Jesus, I’m even grateful to the shitheels for showing me how not to be.

So, if you are part of my life I am telling you now, I think you are a goddamned beautiful person. You are the reason why even on the darkest of days, I have hope. As I remember the marathon bombings today, I know that there are still plenty of awful things in this world. But what I remember most was the people who were running to donate blood. I remember all the people that were there to help. Maybe I’m naive or foolish, but I can’t help but feel like everything will be okay. It’s not always the okay you were hoping for, but in my experience, it’s always the one you need.

the girl you love is dead

When I think about my siblings, they are gone. I still have two brothers, but my oldest brother and my sister are not part of my life in any way. People don’t get it when you tell them that you don’t talk to two of your siblings. They think it means we don’t talk much. But no. I haven’t talked to my brother in at least 5 years. It’s been about 15 for my sister, with the exception of a few brief conversations, most of them arguments. I try not to think of them very much. But every now and then it strikes me how unnatural it is.

I won’t go into a play by play with either of them. The short version is that they are toxic. They burn every bridge, stab every back, and abuse every blessing unfortunate enough to get in the way. They stumble over themselves in an effort to hurt other people. And they are my brother and sister. They are my blood.

My existence is the only proof that my parents were married. They each brought 2 children into the family. My father’s sons are the brothers I don’t talk to nearly enough. But I can say that for most of my friends too. We get older and have less time in the present than we do time to regret it later. My old man always told me to keep peace with my family and friends because you never know how long you’ll have eachother. He had had a rift with his oldest sister over something he described as trivial. He always thought he would have time to make it right. She died too young at the hospital following a routine operation. It weighed on my father until the day that he died. The irony of my dad spending the last 10 years of his life warning me about our fragile grasp on existence, only to be robbed of a single goodbye himself is not lost on me.

For the most part, I am happy with the relationships in my life. I’d like to spend more time with my family and friends, but I don’t have any outstanding apologies to make. Not any that really matter. I’ve done shitty things to a few people over the years, but I don’t make it a habit. I don’t like carrying emotional debt. I try to apologize and move on. I say what needs to be said. It’s much easier to choose not to act like a dick in the first place. I’m not always successful in this endeavor, but I rarely intend to be an asshole. I don’t go out of my way to start problems. This is the main reason why I cut off contact with my sister – she seems to seek out drama. If she doesn’t find it, she creates it. I don’t think my brother tries to cause problems, he just does so without regret.

If my siblings were just fuck ups who were basically good people, I would feel differently. But that’s not the case. They are nasty and mean and have been for as long as I can remember. It was only in the last 15 years that I realized that not all siblings were abusive the way mine were. I thought that every brother and sister beat the shit out of you as often as possible. I remember telling stories about torturous sibling behavior, only to have people respond with shock. I always thought the antics were funny, in retrospect. But while saying that your siblings used to put you in a duffle bag and throw you down the wooden stairs is pretty hilarious, it’s only because I wasn’t killed. The disturbing thing? They were a good deal older than me. I’m not sure exactly how much anymore, at least 6 years. If they were doing this when I was 4 or 5, then they were both at the age of reason.

I always shrugged off my siblings’ abuse as “kids will be kids;” but even if that were true, the problem is that it never stopped. They grew out of physical violence and name calling, moving on to higher methods of humiliation and pain. I overlooked more things than I could mention. I don’t know if there was one final straw with either of them so much as systematic viciousness that one day became too much. It certainly wasn’t a rash decision. I tried. I did. It wasn’t easy saying “this person who I share DNA and an upbringing with is not redeemable.” There has been too much betrayal to allow them any trust, and too much mishandling to allow them any closer.

Still, sometimes I think of it. I find a picture of us as children and wonder if I have made the right call. We share so many memories. They were once my brother and sister. For a few years, my sister and I were very close, my brother and I seemed to have an understanding. I don’t know if they changed for a time, became better at hiding it, or if I just chose not to see it because I hoped so much that finally, we could get along. We could love eachother and be there the way brothers and sisters should. I wanted that so much. But in the end, when I weighed it all out, there was more bad than good. They’ve always been this way and though people grow and change, I think that we all have a permanent core. If there’s a way to fix that, I’d love to see it.

There is a part of me that longs for that sibling bond. There will always be an emptiness when I’m around a close family. I’ll be envious and then doubtful about the decisions I have made. Removing my siblings from my life was an act of self preservation. Yet I ask myself if it was the right thing to do because it doesn’t feel that way. People don’t understand the estrangement because they can’t imagine knowing that their brother or sister is out there in a world that doesn’t include them. Imagine your left arm has become gangrenous and removing it from your body is the only way to survive. So you cut it off, but your arm isn’t dead. It goes out into the world and has a job and children that you never meet. And here it was, this part of you, all of your life. But maybe it’s best to leave it be. That thing nearly killed you the first time.

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. I mourn the life I was supposed to live.

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.


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.

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