How A Book, A New Friend, and a Dream Saved My Election Week

Prologue:

I rarely write about politics. It’s corrupt, self-serving, and either bores the shit out of me or fills me with impotent rage. But Lord … what a year this week has been.

Prologue II:

In 2016, I brilliantly decided to go to the Dominican Republic during Election Week. (After I sent in my absentee ballot … I may be cavalier, but I’m not a reprobate.) I highly recommend absconding to paradise during election weeks. Four years ago this week, I was on the beach drinking out of a freshly macheted coconut (no, it didn’t have rum in it — DAMN).

I was drinking Dominican coffee with fried plantains for breakfast, lazing under massive palm trees, and snorkeling in crystal-clear water, then coming back to my 5-star resort and finding my concierge had drawn me a bubble bath dotted with rose petals, accompanied by champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. (I can’t afford this every year, OBVS. There’s a reason I haven’t been back since then. Well … plus the fact that it’ll probably be quite some time before anywhere lets Americans in again.) My roommate marveled that I even returned to the land of my birth after finding out Donald Trump was elected, while I drowsed in glory on the Punta Cana beach. Admittedly, I was tempted to enroll in Spanish classes and find a job right away, but I had a mortgage … not to mention a husband … and it seemed irresponsible to abandon both.

Yes. This was where I stayed.

Prologue III:

I should’ve abandoned. Lord, I should’ve. But a hurricane probably would’ve taken me out.

Monday:

I start the week in good spirits. My absentee ballot was sent in and, according to the nifty tracking mechanism, received and counted several weeks prior. Completion of civic duty assured, I wake up and thank God for my blessings: safety, income/work, good company (in the form of my roommate and her two cats), health, a fridge full of food, a home gym, good books to read. I go to work (i.e. my living room) and don’t fuck anything up. It is a good day. I go to bed and brace for riots tomorrow.

Tuesday:

The day begins. It is extraordinarily, colossally bad. Ten emails begin my day. I frantically search for something I have no idea what a colleague is talking about. Another colleague attempts to school me on a draconian and needlessly uber-detailed flowchart, which has at least 3,000 steps I need to know, dates that contradict themselves, and obfuscating entries that render me to actually stop talking to her so I can try to collect my breath as tears form in my throat. I call my husband and have a panic attack. I have not had a panic attack in a very, very long time (thank you, antidepressants). I get dizzy, I hyperventilate, I can’t breathe, I sob. I weep my heart out as I tell him I can’t do this, I’m stupid, I will never get all these details, they’re going to fire me and I’m going to have to crawl home to Missouri from D.C. and work at a grocery store for the rest of my life. He is, as he has been for the last 19 years, a voice of reason. He tells me over and over to breathe, and I listen, and breathe, and eventually my head stops spinning. He tells me that I am incredibly smart, that I have started from the ground up at previous jobs and always learned everything (even though once I spent 45 minutes crying in my car in the parking garage after work from the stress until I could calm down enough to turn the car on and drive home), that he believes in me, that he knows I can do it. “You survived a fucking stroke,” he concludes. “You can certainly handle some fucking paperwork.” Despite myself, I laugh. He is right. I think back to the Lord God Almighty holding my hand as my brain was lasered through while I was awake. I can certainly learn a damn flowchart (albeit a huuuuuuuuge one). I scowl, stiffen my spine, and go back to work. I have cake for dinner, but, what the fuck. Sometimes that is self-care. I go to bed and prepare for riots tomorrow.

Wednesday:

Unsurprisingly (I am 45 years old, this is not my first election rodeo), the votes are still being counted. I go back to work. I fix a problem in the first 30 minutes and am irrepressibly perked up. I text my husband this and he woohoo’s. Then he asks me if I have seen that Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish (of “Outlander” fame — my favorite books/TV series in the entire world — the books I’ve been reading for over a decade, over ten times each, so much so that the paperbacks are falling apart and the author, Diana Gabaldon, has pretty much ruined me for all other authors; not to mention I have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at home that is my Outlander Shrine, filled with not only the books — in hardcover, with signed bookplates by Herself, AND paperbacks — but also every magazine, laminated Jamie and Claire figures, and Scotland flag I could get my hands on) have written a new book called “Clanlands.” I laugh at him via text. “Have I HEARD of it?? I have an autographed copy coming from Waterstone’s in the UK that should be on my doorstep later today.” Of course, he muses. He forgot who he was talking to. But, he interjected, did I also see there was an audio version READ BY THE AUTHORS. I perk up exponentially, as only I perk up upon talk of an audition for a really good role, or when it’s time to start booking flights for a vacation, or a friend calls and says we’re going to the botanical gardens/shopping/out for lattes, or when I’m out walking and a stranger’s dog descends upon me for pets and kisses, and their owner lets them. “Nooooooo,” I purr, my eyes gleaming with what can only be described as lust. (I’m sort of glad my husband can’t see it.) “Is that on Amazon?’ I navigate to Audible and, after some confusion (as I am a die-hard PAPER BOOK FAN and this IS my first rodeo here), I download Sam and Graham’s audiobook, excitement rising in my chest like a tide. I press “play” …

Oh. My. God. It. Is. Fucking. Hilarious.

Sam and Graham have a jovial/grumpster relationship, in which Sam is likened to a nine-year-old grinning ginger idiot who loves tormenting the older Graham, who is taunted as “Lady McTavish” for his constant need for lattes, naps, a rest, and snacks. (On Outlander, Graham in fact plays Sam’s plotting uncle.) Graham skewers Sam for being a perfectly coiffed and made-up Adonis who will hawk anything (Sam has been a spokesperson for Barbour and Audi — Graham jokes, “The boy will push anything. He probably has an Audi hidden in his bathroom.”), as well as DO anything, including driving a camper van (the “Fiat Fiasco”) stick-shift without actually knowing how to drive a stick shift. Graham narrating Sam trying to start the van and drive out of the car park without killing them had me in stitches, all before half the chapter ended. Throughout, the melliflulous Scottish voices of Graham and Sam (my future husband, if anything happens to my current one) make my eyes slide closed with delight, and I snicker as they needle each other (“That is a calculated falsehood, Graham” or “That’s an understatement, boy”).

This book is joyous, informative, HIGH-larious, and as addicting as a box of shortbread. It is, in short, one of the highlights of my year. And I got it at just the right time.

Thursday:

Hmm. Still no president. Well … the pandemic necessitated MILLIONS of mail-in ballots; surely that’s what’s holding up the process. I have been watching Roots all week at night … my husband gave me the blu-ray for Christmas at my request. I love the classic miniseries — North and South, The Thorn Birds — but had never seen this one, except for a couple episodes I caught on cable once. Even being made in the 1970s, some of the scenes break my heart, particularly the hold of the slave ship. As Kunta Kinte’s daughter, Kizzy, is being betrayed by her white bitch ex-best friend, my Bible study leader, Lucy, calls to catch up. We talk for an astonishing 90 minutes. The conversation just rambles and goes anywhere … from our moms, to work, to healthcare, to the pandemic and the lack of hope in this country right now. I confide in her how, as I’ve grown, matured and gotten a look at the real world and situations that people have to deal with, that I’ve gotten quite a bit more liberal than the rigid girl who used to simply vote for the anti-abortion candidate no matter what, because it was drummed into me from childhood that life began at conception and abortion is BLOODY MURRRRDERRRRR. That’s a long topic for another time (this post is already long enough … if you’re still reading, kudos on your attention span and my gratitude to you for spending this much time with me). As we hang up, I almost say “I love you” to Lucy. I am a big proponent of friends telling friends they love each other. I end almost all calls to my girlfriends and sisters with “I love you.” Then I rear back … after all, I have barely known Lucy for two months. She might think it a bit weird. Well, hell … we were just talking about abortion and our moms’ cancer. She listened to me tear up. I texted her, “Thanks so much for the talk. Love ya.” She texted back that she loved me too. Just like that, I have a new friend in Virginia firmly in my corner. (It only took A BLOODY YEAR.)

Friday:

Oh my God, how do we NOT have a president yet??? It’s been THREE DAYS. JESUS was resurrected by now!!

Saturday:

I regretfully open my eyes. I was just having the most incredible dream. (I usually have anxiety nightmares, so this was a welcome change!) I dreamed I had inherited a mansion. I was walking around the ground floor. A massive staircase descended to huge white double front doors. To the side was a gorgeous sitting room with gleaming wood floors covered in a beautiful Persian carpet. Above a fireplace with a crackling fire, a huge Christmas swag had been hung, sparkling with ornaments, satin bows and glittering pinecones. A brocade wingback chair sat by the fire, graced by a huge teddy bear with a Christmas hat, and wrapped gifts spilling around him to the Christmas tree that someone had already put up and decorated. I marveled at the swag above the fireplace. This was the kind of house I had always wanted, but will certainly never afford in this life. “I can’t believe this belongs to me!!” I exclaimed, then ran to look out the windows flanking the front door. Alas, the mansion did not sit overlooking a beach, but a massive green lawn, flowing so far into the distance that I couldn’t even see a street. I was just filled with completion and delight. There was no pandemic, such a thing had never even been dreamed of, and I couldn’t wait to have everyone I knew over for Christmas. Then I slowly opened my eyes … and Pinterest. I foolishly thought, maybe I can stumble across a similar picture to post for you all …. a picture being worth a thousand words, after all. I searched for about 30 minutes (that’s about the limit of my attention span when I have other things to do), but of course I couldn’t find something similar. How do you find permanent proof of a dream?

This was kinda close.

They say you can’t dream of people or places you haven’t seen, so how could my brain conjure up this vision? As I woke up fully and became coherent, I thought … Oh my God. Maybe that was my Heavenly mansion. “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14: 2-3)

I’m not a huge proponent of dreams being messages. While being a woman of faith, I also put staunch faith in science (yes, those of us do really exist). Probably because my mom was a nurse and my dad is a pharmacist. I’ve read that dreams are merely bits of your life that your subconscious scrambles around, sometimes making sense, sometimes not. But … just a few times … I truly believe I’ve dreamed something prophetic. When I was in college, I dreamed that my sister was living in squalor in a shack with a naked light bulb hanging on a string from the ceiling, and roaches running everywhere. I relayed this dream to her with glee (we sort of hated each other then; I was mainly telling her to be mean and needle her) … but it had the unexpected result of her knuckling down to her studies. She passed her CPA exam and is now an executive at a Fortune 500 company. She probably has no memory of this dream and might think I am claiming some credit for her success, like an oracle … I’m certainly not, she did it all herself and she’s a bloody amazing woman. But that dream … it was over 20 years ago and I’ve not forgotten it.

Another one, and by far the best one, I had eight months after my mom passed away. I hadn’t had any dreams of her, and was quite sad, since I longed to see her again. I dreamed I was at a church service in my childhood school. Service ended and I was talking to some friends. Then I glanced around … and there was my mom, sitting in a pew wearing the exact same black and white outfit she’d worn at my college graduation. Her face lit up and she grinned a big, rigid, exaggerated, goofy grin, and waved her hand back and forth con brio. I felt punched in the gut. It was one of those dreams that was so real, I honest to God thought she’d come back to life. I hurriedly tried to make my way over to her; she grinned exorbitantly and waved again, like she’d been hiding this secret for months like a Christmas present, and was overjoyed to finally be springing it on me. I was enveloped in a mass of people, and by the time I got to her pew, she was gone. But the look on her face … the joy, the peace, the happiness … I woke up knowing she was in Heaven, that she was so much better than fine, that she was young and vibrant and waiting to see me again; that there were gifts in store she couldn’t wait to show me.

So, this Saturday morning, after dreaming of (I hope) my Heavenly mansion, I got up, made coffee, and was finishing “Clanlands” on audio when our new president was declared. I got down on my knees (figuratively, since I’m old) and thanked God. Four years of immaturity, narcissism, defiance of common decency, and racism had just been expunged by the American people. My roommate and I got tears in our eyes watching Van Jones on CNN. It was 75 and perfect outside. I decided to go for a walk. The first song that came up on my shuffled playlist was “Hope in Front of Me.” I grinned, walked into a big patch of sunshine, and passed a lamp post that had a paper taped to it reading, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” There were signs everywhere. I had survived the week, sprinkled with blessings in the midst of panic and sadness. A book, a new friend, and a glorious dream.

But in 2024 … I’m thinking Punta Cana again.

Featured

Top 10 Thoughts I’ve Had During the Pandemic (More or Less in Order) – Current Status, 8 Months

  1. This is never going to end.
  2. You mean our ability to shorten this Hell depends on other people’s common sense and goodwill? Ok, we’re fucked.
  3. Time for banana bread again.
  4. Thank God I can work from home.
  5. THANK CHRIST I don’t have kids.
  6. How long have I actually been in these clothes/when was the last time I took a shower? (Actually stop, look at self, calculate … ) Oh dear, three days. Ok, this needs some action. (This has only happened twice — DON’T JUDGE.)
  7. I want to move to a non-extraditable country with beaches and good health care (opens savings account to further goal — because SERIOUSLY, AMERICA. WTF.)
  8. Maybe if we groveled really hard, England would take us back.
  9. I’m never wearing makeup/bra/proper pants again. This rocks.
  10. This is never going to end.

Flavors of Fall, or, The Bread Wars

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Perfection

My mother, God rest her soul, was not a great cook. It wasn’t her fault. My grandmother, a good-sized German woman, wasn’t a great cook either. You gotta either live through the Depression and/or be a die-hard German to eat braunschweiger on a regular basis. (It’s so gross. Stop it. Just — BLERRRGH.)

Thus, it is less than surprising that I reached the age of 44 without learning how to cook. I can USE the oven, the stovetop, the microwave (and, back in the 80s, a toaster oven), but actually having an understanding about the art and science of cookery has always been beyond me. The first thing my mother taught me to make was scrambled eggs. God bless scrambled eggs. Any meathead can make those. You break the eggs and shove them about in the pan until done. If you feel fancy, you can sprinkle in some shredded cheese or cut vegetables. Then she taught me to make brownies from a box. For decades, I brought triple-chocolate brownies to family functions, because they were the one thing I didn’t fuck up.

One of the main reasons I married my husband was so I wouldn’t starve to death. He has a decent palate, as well as a good sense of what flavors work together. I once saw him pull out a dozen spice jars, indiscriminately sprinkle them over a piece of salmon as long as his arm, and throw it in the oven without timing it. It came out perfect. I was like, Shit, if I could do that, I’d open a restaurant.

The need for culinary prowess could no longer be ignored once I moved to Virginia to take a job, leaving my chef husband temporarily behind. Sure, my roommate usually cooks a mess of something on weekends, and we eat on it all week, but not for all three meals. You don’t want to be eating Mexican chicken for breakfast (at least, not if you have to get up at 5 a.m., with an hour-long commute on the train ahead of you). Wifey — or, my roommate, so named because we were Work Wives back in the Midwest for years, before I trotted to the East Coast to follow her around for the rest of my life, because it’s becoming apparent that it’s not a bad plan — is very good at proteins. Conversely, I am a pretty damn good baker. I like baking because it’s more of a science than an art (unless you are making some Cake Boss-style cakes). You measure things exactly, you bake them at this temperature exactly, for exactly this long, and you know when the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done. None of this “broil until evenly browned” nonsense. (I still don’t know how to use a broiler. I’m pretty sure I’d set the apartment on fire.)

I was horrified when I got here. She didn’t even have baking powder in her kitchen. Or bread pans. OR A HAND MIXER. I set about correcting this situation, especially exuberant when I got my Kitchen Aid hand mixer. We will not talk about the time I nearly broke it by inserting a small hand whisk (which looks EXACTLY like the flimsy little beaters) into it by mistake. I bought a zester (and have used it once in the last year).

I found a recipe for pan-sauteed chicken, and was all excited, because, having mastered fish, chicken was the next big protein to knock down in the quest for healthy eating. (I’m still not good with beef. I mean, I can brown it in a pan, like any idiot, but I can’t make a roast or steaks. Hell, I can barely fry hamburgers, unless I use Wifey’s George Foreman grill. That thing is excellent!!) The chicken recipe called for the chicken to be “pounded 1/2″ thin.” “Dang,” I thought, “what is the name of that thing that you pound the chicken with?” Somehow all I could come up with was “chicken pounder,” which I was fairly sure wasn’t right. Anyhow, I bought one (I believe “mallet” is its proper name). The first time I made it, I was quite impressed with the heft and unbridled power of the chicken pounder, which made Wifey request from the living room that I “kindly cut out that maniacal cackling; you’re starting to make me worry and you’re scaring the cat,” as the chicken pounder lived vividly up to its name. (It’s not my fault. My mom did the same thing. Y’all remember that Pampered Chef gizmo where you’d pour fruit into a cup with a lid and plunger, and you smacked the plunger repeatedly and blades on the bottom chopped up the fruit? My mom had one of those, and when she was done using it, her palm was as red as a lobster, but she loved whacking that fruit. I myself am content with a nice sharp Rachel Ray knife.)

https://cafedelites.com/quick-easy-creamy-herb-chicken/?fbclid=IwAR2L5dpyZ2TNp_S-5rXCrXbApe9MKiIHKM7QxINC2kBAFVwVffzd-FSCiJk

When Wifey realized I was a good baker, sometimes she found stuff on Pinterest and turned her phone to me while we were watching tv, and said, “This needs to happen.” Whereupon I would note the recipe and promise it for the future. I made wildly successful strawberry cookies dipped in chocolate. (Did you KNOW you could make a strawberry cookie?? ME EITHER!!)

https://pin.it/5nk6tyw

I made my mom’s Hershey’s cocoa chocolate cake.

https://pin.it/1TuQxQ6

But the most successful of all, by far, was the Food Network banana bread recipe.

https://pin.it/7eQcx49

I swear this recipe is a key to my ongoing weight-loss success. It’s filling, satisfies your sweet tooth (especially if you add milk chocolate chips to it, like I do — in the batter PLUS on top), and it’s only 150 calories and 160 mg of sodium per slice. It tastes like friggin CAKE. Sometimes I eat it for lunch! Since quarantine, then work-at-home, I have made it so often that I can knock it out without looking at the ingredients, and it comes out perfect every time. I have never made anything so consistently delicious in my life. I swelled with pride. I now have a “signature dish” … and not one that comes from a Betty Crocker box. I actually mash my own bananas for this (once again, the “chicken pounder” came in unbelievably handy, since I don’t have one of those potato masher things).

Wifey agreed that it was good, but with the onset of fall, she requested pumpkin bread. I found a low-sodium recipe and set about trying it.

https://pin.it/jGPVwzb

It made two loaves, which was great, since we could freeze one for later. She pronounced it even better than the banana bread. “What??!!” I exclaimed, oddly insulted at her preference for uber-cliched fall pumpkin over my slightly-crispy-outside-yet-perfectly-fluffy-inside, Food Network-perfect chocolate chip banana bread. “Are you serious??”

“I’m a pumpkin whore,” she admitted. Well. That explained it. I’m probably the only white girl in America who isn’t enamored of pumpkin spice lattes, or pumpkin pie … or pumpkin bread, for that matter. Whatever. If it doesn’t have chocolate in it, why would you eat it. Really.

So … which camp are YOU in? Banana bread or pumpkin bread? Or, even weirder, zucchini bread? (I won’t even go there. Just no. Not even with chocolate chips.)

A British Woman’s Hilarious Quarantine Day

Credit: UK blog Sweary Me plus 3 and the big one.

*****This is very British (so some of the phrasing will be odd to Americans) and riddled with spelling errors but too funny not to share. Read to to the end as the very last line says it all. Also full of glorious cursing. *****

“So it’s day 9 of this social distancing thing, I think it’s day 9, I’m not entirely sure, it could be fucking Thursday the 30th of fucking never for all I know

What I do know is I didn’t put the clock in the lounge forward an hour so I’ve been living in the past all fucking day. On the flip side of that it was an hour less I had to endure with every fucking bastard in this house.

At the start of this semi lock down him indoors occupied himself with jobs around the house he’d been threatening to do since we moved in 15 months ago so I didn’t see much of him, now he’s ran out of masonry paint and enthusiasm he’s wondering around pissing me off.

He’s 46, 47 in July, we’re meant to be going to amsterdam. The way things are going we’ll be lucky to go out in the back garden.

He calls me this morning, I ignore him. I’ve been shut down with him for over a week and the sound of his fucking voice gives me a forest Whitaker eye.

I ignore him for as long as I can, which isn’t very long considering we’re confined to these four fucking walls

Me: WHAT FOR FUCK SAKE??!!!!

Him: I saw on Facebook how to make a face mask from things laying around the house. Look

Me: groans and turns around he’s fucking stood there with a pair of his green boxers turned into a balaclava like an obese raphael.

Me:

Him: I can wear this when I go out

Me: go out? You’ve not been further than the shed for 9 fucking days, I’m the one that risks my life going to get the bread. Bone idle fuck

Him: do you want it then?

I ignore the prick and walk back into the kitchen for something else to fucking eat. I need to try social distancing from the fucking cupboards, I swear to god I heard the cupboard say ” what the fuck do you want now you massive fat twat” when I stuck my head in looking for another time out wafer. Probably a good thing that I can’t go anywhere because fuck all fits me and I can’t bend over without nearly passing out. I’m going to have to walk sideways through my doors if this carries on

Him indoors suggested a weight bench and may be jogging, I suggested he best fuck off as I’m sent out for a fucking French stick to fill with sausages and bacon for him in the fucking dark and I swear I heard the purge alarm.

I come back with a French stick another 4 pints of fucking milk and 6 eggs, eggs are more expensive than gold and my local shop sold me 6 loose ones and didn’t give me a bag, I had to put them on the passenger seat and drive slowly as I could all the way home.

I get back and go and tell him indoors I need him to come and get the French stick.

He rolled his eyes

He rolled his fucking eyes at me

There was an exchange of foul language and me telling him exactly what he can do with this French fucking stick

The was another barrage of foul language and I smashed him over the head with the French stick

It snapped in half

He picked up the other end and hit me with it

BASTARD

We’re out in the dark like an overweight punch and Judy, jousting with bread

I still wasn’t speaking to him this morning

I’m just sat on the sofa minding my own business whilst he’s in the bath, he’s not in there long enough and I can hear him coming back down

I put back on my resting bitch face

He comes bursting onto the lounge

Naked

A piece of what looks like one of my towels tied around his head and starts river dancing on the rug like stavros flatley

I’m glaring at him whilst he’s doing the truffle shuffle

He steps on the cat!!

It’s fucking chaos

He’s still on the cat

I heard the air leave it like a deflating balloon

He’s stepped back onto a paw patrol pick up truck and a spider man a little

He’s falling

He’s 22 stone

It’s like a felled tree

The cats wrapped around his ankle

Hissing with what breath it has left

Fuck me

Fuck!! The cat

He’s hit the fucking deck

The fucking whole house shook

It would have measure 6.9 on the Richter scale

I’ve scooped the cat up and checked it over

He’s laid on the rug like a wounded goliath

Him: my arm!! My fucking elbow!! You’re gonna have to help me up!!

Me: help you up? Are you mad? I’ll have to keep you warm til the fire brigade get here. Just get up you wanker. Heave yourself up with your good arm.

Him: I think I’ve broken my arm

Me: wrap ya pants around your head and go to minor injuries then.

He didn’t bother going. Probably come out with something worse than a sprained elbow anyway.

Like a little beacon of hope Gillian messages me to say she’s made some cup cakes using a new recipe, chocolate sponge injected with caramel.

My fat chubby mouth is watering at the thought so I tell her I’ll be five minutes and to leave them in the porch

I pick up the tray and walk back. I actually take a bite out of one because I’m greedy as fuck

I walk up my drive

The wind blows and blows each on onto the fucking stones

They’re covered in stones, ash and debris

I’m on my knees trying to save them, save one at least

I’m devastated

The fucking crows are circling like they know a fat fuck has dropped cake

I think about shooing them but remember when my daughter told me about crows that remember when people have been mean to them.

Apparently an experiment was carried out once when a man was mean to a crow and when ever he went out the crowd would chase him to try and peck him and got their mates to join in, one day he wore a mask, they didn’t recognise him so left him alone. The day he took his mask off, there they were ready to pounce.

She clearly had too much time on her hands

Fuck it. I’m locked down for how ever long and the last thing I want are crows shitting all over my clean drying sheets or packing out my fucking eyes they can have the fucking cake.

I go back into the prison, I mean my house to be greeted by the strongest smell of shit and utter carnage

Me: what the fuck?!

Them: the toddler told us he needed to poop and because you weren’t here for 30 seconds he wouldn’t let us put him on the toilet

Me: so what’s happened?

Them: points at toddler

His jogging bottoms are like bloomers and every time he walks a turd falls out.

This is my first week of quarantine

I’m a fat fucking wreck

Never give birth to anything.”

Steel Magnolias

They’re not going to lick me!

“Scarlett O’Hara had a lot of flaws,” I pondered as I watched Gone With the Wind for the sixth time this weekend. She was greedy, envious, selfish, and loved money above all else. But one trait I can’t help but admire, that I wish I could cultivate for myself, is her core of steel. Even when coming home to Tara to find it ransacked and blighted, her mother dead and her father “turned idiot,” she grieved and despaired … but only for moments. She pushed the hopelessness aside and set about doing what she could to improve their fortunes … even if that meant planting cotton and harvesting it herself. She stiffened her spine with absolute resolve and refused — angrily, patently refused — to give up.

I had a bad week last week. Surviving a stroke has impacted every area of my present life, from what I eat to desperately trying to control my stress. Not easy when you have been switched jobs at work against your will, haven’t gotten a raise in nearly seven years, are suffering physical pain, and there’s almost nothing in the house to eat. I plodded through the week until Friday … and then, I just didn’t have any more resolve.

One of the most embarrassing things for a woman in a business setting is to burst into tears at her workplace. At least, I think most women feel this way. I sure do. It undermines your capability and reinforces the awful, stereotypical “emotional female.” Especially if your workplace is 98% strapping men who go about risking their lives, and you don’t feel up to scratch in their presence anyway. The least you can do is be the capable “girl at the desk,” ready to assist in whatever way they need.

The pressures of the week mounted up so much that I twice had to retreat to the bathroom to cry unobserved. The main flaw in this plan is that you emerge red-eyed and clearly Not Okay. I have cried many, many times in bathrooms over the years. I once held in tears for eight hours doing front desk duty. I always lie and tell people it’s allergies. Usually I get away with it. Not this time.

My supervisor asked if I had a minute and to come to his office. I don’t know about you, but no matter how old I get, going into the supervisor’s office always makes me feel like a bad kid going to the principal’s office. (Or what I imagine that’s like — I was a perfect kid and therefore never got sent to the principal’s office).

“I just want to know if you’re okay, and if you need anything.”

God bless him.

There are a lot of things I think I need. There are a lot of things I think I deserve. Life seems to be a tightrope between “reach for your dreams” and “bloom where you’re planted.” When do you stop striving and be content, if you still feel you can better yourself? But, that is complicated — at least in my life — as I get older, by wondering if I have the strength and focus to keep starting over, to adjust to new challenges, to confront my mortality as people die and pieces of my body break.

Nobody told me adulting would be so damn hard.

Friday night I went to bed and slept for about 14 hours. When I opened my eyes the next morning, my first thought was, “As God as my witness, they’re not going to lick me!” I tightened my lips, got out of bed, went to the gym, and did my personal best on the elliptical.

If fighting depression all my life has taught me one thing, it’s that there is a little core of steel inside me. It’s certainly not as pronounced as Scarlett’s, but it is unequivocally there. I know because I have not given up completely. Some days I give up for the day. But I have not given up on hope for the rest of my life. God did not save me from a gruesome death for me to live a miserable life. There are so many factors in life to wear you down and mess up your thinking and focus. Depression — literally — makes you not think straight sometimes. That is a very frightening thing, to not think straight.

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That is now the first thing I say to myself every morning.

One good thing about getting older is that the more I go through and survive, the steel increases. I want to be someone everyone in my circles can count on. I don’t want to be dissolved. I wish I could be a tower of strength, but if that never happens, I am happy to have a filament of steel.

Continue reading “Steel Magnolias”

A Stroke of Luck – Part Three

Even Wonder Women need their teddy bears.

Now came recovery. I was wheeled out of OR, giggling like an ass because I could speak again, into the ICU. They take things very seriously in the ICU. They tether your butt to the bed and don’t let you move much, because it’s their Life Mission to Keep An Eye On You. See all the things stuck into me in the picture? There was an IV in each hand, and one in my right elbow. What in the world was getting intravenously pushed into me? I forget. Beneficial fluids, no doubt. Maybe some antibiotics since I had a hole in my groin. I also had monitoring leads stuck all over my chest. So I couldn’t sleep on my side as per usual, because when I turned over, the wires would crimp and set the monitors off. Guuuuuhhhh. I think I got 30 minutes of sleep the first night.

There was also no bathroom, so I became a quick expert at using a bedpan. I’m pleased to say I didn’t piss myself or the bed once. This got real old real fast, however. After one day of it, I was gagging to get onto a regular floor, where I could pee whenever I wanted, alone.

I spent two days in the ICU. My incredibly awesome nurses were Melanie, Ashley and Jenny. I wrote Mercy a letter telling them how fantastic they were, and that they should all get raises. I still got very little sleep, because someone was coming in every 15-30 minutes … taking temperature, taking blood, the automatic blood pressure cuff affixed to my right arm going off automatically (why do those things have to be SO TIGHT), giving information, asking questions. By the evening, my husband had been by my side for nearly 24 hours. I insisted he go home and get some sleep.

Alone in the ICU at 1:00 in the morning, you have a lot of time with just you and your thoughts. I was still stunned that this had happened. The movement in my right side had come back that day, so for all intents and purposes, I was already fine, one day later. I was hungry, I had no problems speaking or seeing, I could even stand up (yeah, I snuck out of bed; what the nurses didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them). It seemed like the trauma of the night before was only a blip on the otherwise straight and smooth path of lifelong good health.

But it couldn’t have been “just a blip.” It was a huge, huge thing. It was a stroke, for God’s sake. What would this mean for the rest of my life? Could I ever get up onstage again? Or would I flashback to that horrible, paralyzing moment of my last time onstage — where I suddenly couldn’t speak, and the essence of who I was had deserted me? Could I still get on a plane and go on vacations? What if this happened again?

At that moment, my nurse Jenny came in to do a check. After peeing with an audience yet again, I had a little breakdown. I started to cry. Ever since my mom had leukemia, I super hated hospitals, and I especially hated being in one while something so life-altering was happening to me. Jenny sat down and held my hand. I sobbed that I was scared.

“You don’t have anything to be scared about,” Jenny soothed. “You are doing SO GREAT. Seriously. Nobody here has ever seen anyone recover as fast as you, with no lasting deficiencies. You did everything right. You got here in time, and we got that clot out, and you’re young enough to bounce back.”

I choked and cried harder. I did not feel young. I felt very old and very tired. I had already been fighting depression my entire life … the fact that I had survived this far, and went on desperately fighting it every day, every minute of my life, was fight enough. Then I had to grieve my mother, which took years to return to some kind of normalcy, even if it was a subpar New Normal. I didn’t know if I had what it took to fight this, too.

“You can still do everything right,” Jenny continued. “You seem the type to me that’s going to take your medicines every day, right?”

“Yeah,” I sniffed. “I do everything by the book.”

She smiled and squeezed my hand. “Take your medicines, follow your new diet, get your exercise every week, and you will be just fine. I promise. And you really are doing amazing. We had a woman in her forties come in a few months ago with a stroke, and she didn’t recover as well as you. Then I had a guy in his eighties come in here, and he walked out of here on his own, with no cane and a smile. You can do it. I believe in you. You are a very amazing person. You are very, VERY strong.”

Being told I was strong and amazing by a 25-year-old kid who was already an ICU nurse gave me a wry smile, but I appreciated it. I wiped my eyes and sighed tiredly. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep?” Jenny said. I replied that I couldn’t sleep with all this crap hooked up to me, and basically hadn’t slept for two days. “How about I get you a melatonin?” she asked. Yeah, sure, whatever, that’s really gonna hel –

Zzzzzzzzzz. Well. That was a nice four hours of sleep!

In order to get sprung from the ICU, I had to pass speech, physical and occupational therapy. I had to pull my socks on, feed myself, write my name. After not being able to write on Stroke Night (see handwriting image, Part One), it was a gut-wrenching relief to print my name as I always had (followed by a “Yay!!!” and a smiley face). I don’t think I’d experienced that level of chirographic zeal since I’d learned to print my name in the first grade. There was also a fun test where I had to list as many words as I could think of in 60 seconds that started with the letter F. (Do you know how hard I had to restrain myself? Haha.) I think I got about 30.

They also took me on a walk around the halls. It was sobering glancing into the other ICU rooms. I saw people unconscious, their entire heads bandaged, with wires going into every orifice, loved ones sitting by their beds as they did not wake up. I had the weird feeling, again, that my situation couldn’t be as serious as these. I got better too fast. Had it really been so bad?

I got released from ICU and spent a final day on the Neurology floor. I slept for almost 10 hours and got discharged that afternoon. Only three days, and I was going home, where life was bizarrely normal.

I sat on the couch for days, trying to process things. This was too perfect. No one was going to believe I had a stroke, except the people who saw it. “Surrrrre, you just buggered off work for two weeks, didn’t ya?” Ummm, no, really, I have the discharge papers to prove it.

I thought back to Stroke Night and all the factors that went frighteningly right. I wasn’t alone, or driving a car, or sleeping. (Someone had told me about a friend or relative who had had a stroke while sleeping. By the time they woke up, it was too late to escape permanent, irrevocable damage. Holy shit.) I was surrounded by friends who cared about me. There was a nurse in the audience who realized we needed to call 911, because none of us were thinking of that. I was ten minutes away from one of the best hospitals in the city. I had health insurance. I had a next-of-kin to authorize surgery. I had Jesus holding me in the palm of His hand. Good God. How could everything go so stunningly right?

My best friend Lisa had come to visit me on the Neuro floor, and I had asked her to read me some Bible verses. Just anything nice. She was flowing through Isaiah 40 and suddenly I said, “Wait. Back up and read that again.” The chapter covers almost two pages; she said, which part? “The part about my way being hidden,” I answered.

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

My way was not hidden from Him. He not only knew it would happen; He was with me the whole time. And did He renew my strength. In fact … my way has never been hidden from Him, even though I felt mostly alone, always.

I don’t know about you, but even though I’ve been a believer since I was eight years old — most of my life, I felt like my prayers kind of bounced off the ceiling. I never had the close, interpersonal kind of prayers where I felt any direction, or really heard anything. Whenever I asked for something, it was kind of tinged with doubt, like I was asking Santa Claus. Even though the Bible says we can boldly approach the throne of grace, and that we do not have because we do not ask, and that the Father loves to give good things to His children … for some reason, I felt alone. Just one more speck in a sea of seven billion people. Fond of, but ultimately rather insignificant. Maybe that was the depression talking. It does that. That bitch sits on your shoulder and loves to lie to you.

There was one time, just one, that God definitely did speak to me. It was a year ago, at 3:30 in the morning. I had been frustrated because I’ve worked my whole life without accomplishing much by the world’s terms, I was 43 … and I KNEW something bad was going to happen, and soon. My grandmother got bone cancer in her early 80’s. My mom got leukemia in her early 60’s. I was in my early 40’s. I realize now that’s a rather irrational way of thinking, making a pattern of your ages … but it seemed to make a twisted sense to me at the time. It hung over my head like a sword of doom.

I was pissed, and scared, and I was telling God about it. And I heard, as clearly as I ever heard my mother say she loved me:

“You think that you are running out of time. Why do you think that? I never said that you don’t have time. I never said that you don’t have time. That is something you concocted when your mother died in your arms, because you were afraid. You are seeing patterns where there are none. Truly, I tell you, the third act of your life is just beginning. [God knows I think my life has four acts: childhood, young adult, middle age, old age.] You have so much left to do. And you will be strong. Besides your husband and sisters and best friends, your heart is softening for another generation — your nephews, your niece, your grandchild. You have a heart for love as big as the sky. Instead of the easy chair you want, strive for the strength and vigor that Joshua and Caleb had when they were 85. My beloved daughter, I delight in you, I rejoice over you with singing. You have so much left to do. The third act of your life is just beginning.”

I got out of bed and knelt, put my forehead to the floor, covered my head with my hands. It was one of the few times I have wept with pure joy.

My way is not unknown to Him. Nor is yours. It is so planned, so cherished, your days and your times destined for God’s dance with you. He catches all our tears and burns our names on His heart. If there was ever an experience that drove home that I am furiously wanted, that my life has high purpose, how many hundreds of people love me, what an absolute pillar of joy I am in God’s heart … this was it. And it was terrifying, shocking, filled with fear and pleading for my life. It was the worst moment of my life, but its aftermath has brought me joy and clarity … and an unbelievable, hardly-dared-to-pray-for-it release of the black clouds of despair that have hung over me my entire life. How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ!! (Ephesians 3:18) How new are His mercies every morning! How can He love us so much?? I am almost afraid to be loved that way. I almost want to push it away. It is so foreign to us. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

My way is not unknown to Him. Nor is yours.

Nor is yours.

May you have a life filled with joy.
I catch all your tears, burn your name on my heart.

A Stroke of Luck – Part Two

Three IV’s later, I’d been injected with some clot-busting drug and was wheeled out of the ER … but I didn’t know it hadn’t worked. I thought perhaps I was going somewhere for more tests, or perhaps even a room …

Hu hu hu. Noooooooope.

Lying prone on the gurney, I saw bright white operating room lights float into my field of vision. There were nurses, an anethesiologist, and a surgeon, all dressed in OR surgical gear. Still, I didn’t quite get what was going on until they started pulling off my clothes and wielding a razor to shave my nether regions. This was extra confusing because I was fairly damn sure the problem was in my head.

“Something is odd here. Eerrrrmmmm …”

My husband, as next of kin, had authorized a thrombectomy, since the clot-busting drug didn’t work. This would have been quite a helpful piece of information to know. In his defense, he said there wasn’t time to explain it to me and he wanted me in surgery as fast as possible. (The window for stroke treatment is a mere three to four hours after the occurrence.) Well … knowing probably would’ve freaked me out more. I just wanted someone to fix me at this point. If they HAD drilled a hole my head, I probably would’ve been ok with it.

As it was, they were shaving my nether regions because they were going in through a groin vein to snake up and remove the clot. Said clot was 3/4 of an inch long. Get out a measuring tape and see how big that is. That is a fucking big chunk of obstruction to be clogging your delicate bloody pathways. I still didn’t know this. All I knew was they were trying to fix me. The nurse stroked my hair. “Don’t you worry, honey. We’re going to take good care of you.”

My eyes slid around. To my left were a field of huge monitors. I saw images of my brain. I saw the dye lighting up my veins; I saw the clot that was trying to kill me.

I had not stopped crying since the stroke happened. I was no longer sobbing, but tears leaked out steadily. I cannot, absolutely cannot, adequately describe the level of fear I was feeling. Now that I knew they were doing something to my brain, I was lying there, ordered to be still, wondering if I was going to come out of this intact. I was absolutely petrified of being brain damaged. What if I had to stop working, go on disability, be a burden on my husband who’d have to take care of me?

I am a woman of great faith. Even when my mother died of leukemia at 62, and I was angry and confused, I never stopped knowing that God was a good God. That is a fact, no matter what you go through. But lying stiff and terrified on that table, I did not know what to pray. I fought against talons of horror that were sinking, piercing, deep into my heart, clutching viciously all my senses. I began to say the Lord’s Prayer over and over. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done …” Then I choked back a truly terrorizing, smothering choke of panic.

“Lord … if I am going to be brain damaged, you just bring me home right now. I cannot live like that. Save me. Save me completely or take me home to be with my momma right now. I’m not going to live here useless.”

I was awake for the entire procedure. They like to be able to evaluate you quickly when they’ve been messing about with your brain. They had given me a local in my groin, so I didn’t feel the probe go in. Then it hit my brain.

Holy shit, did I feel that.

It was like a wrenching ache; a knife stab. A probing, stinging pressure. I moaned in pain and fear, and was ordered again to keep still. God gave me the strength to not move, but I couldn’t keep quiet. Fresh tears poured down my face. But I kept still. It seemed to go on forever. I felt them attacking the clot at least three times. It was the closest I would probably come to being immobilized and tortured. I felt like I was in Hell.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Then, dimly, through the haze of this crushing experience, I heard the surgeon say something like, “Boo-ya, got that sucker!”

That was the first time I felt hope.

“What’s your name, young lady?” the surgeon asked.

“Laura Singleton,” I replied, my mouth not having to work quite so hard to say it. And smiled.

Then my gaze returned to those huge monitors, those images of my brain; the most awesome and intricate creation of a benevolent God who, He had just proved, fiercely loved and cared for me and never left my side. Always with me, never leaving or forsaking me, with me even in the depths, as He promised. I stared at the veins, the brain tissue, the pathways, the neurons that I couldn’t see. I thought about how God formed me in His image and made every organ in the human body and connection in the spirit that makes us what we are; all the wonderful, confusing, glorious things that make humanity. Then I saw a photo they had taken of the clot.

“That’s fucked up,” I said.

They all burst into laughter. “Get here out of here,” they chuckled. “She’s fine.”

Oh, dear God. I was so much more than fine.

Trying to get some sleep while tethered to IVs and monitors in the ICU.

A Stroke of Luck – Part One

I’ve known actors who have cut themselves on the scenery while performing, but kept going until they could get stitches after the show. I’ve known actors who have forgotten their lines, missed an entrance, fallen off the furniture in a passionate embrace, fallen down the back steps and broken a wrist mid-performance, and fallen OFF THE STAGE into the orchestra pit. I had a stroke.

I win.

It was a normal Saturday night. I had on my sparkly blue shoes and detective badge, ready to lead the audience through a fun-filled dinner/murder mystery. I never saw it coming. And it came fast.

I felt PERFECTLY NORMAL. Let’s get that right. Nothing was amiss at all. I was a 43-year-old white female with no family history of strokes who happens to be 30-40 pounds overweight. (Or, I’m just too short for my weight.) I try to eat healthy, do crosswords, and read about 50 books a year.

We were three lines away from the end of the first act. I had been speaking, pacing, bantering with my co-star. It was my turn to speak.

And I couldn’t.

I opened my mouth, and a small grunt came out. The only sensation in my head was an extraordinary dizziness and confusion. You know that feeling when you stand up too fast? Multiply that by about 50. It was fast — lasted maybe 10 or 15 seconds. That was the only time I could not think. Then it cleared, and I could think again. I knew I was supposed to ask the audience a question. I sort of walked slowly/stumbled, tried to say my line again. Only a small sound came out.

ohmyGodohmyGodwhatthefuckishappeningIcan’tspeakIcan’tspeakholyshittrytryagainopenyourmouthTALKwhatiswrongwhatishappeningohmyGodohmyGod

My co-star, bless him, thought I’d merely bitten my tongue and couldn’t speak (good thing he didn’t go into the medical field, HAHAHAHAHAHA). He finished the rest of the lines, and I walked back to the greenroom. I could still walk. I could think perfectly clearly. But I couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t move my right arm. I sat down, and my lovely brain, my gorgeous brain that had gotten me through college with a magna cum laude and watched hours of ER and read hundreds of books and was given life by a pharmacist father and an RN mother told me:

This is a stroke.

I’M TOO YOUNG FOR THAT, I frantically thought back.

By now the inability to speak had me completely terrified. All I could do was drawl. I was weeping. But when you can barely open your mouth, the sobs take on a sub-human quality. I sounded, at least to myself, like the keening of some lunatic chained to the wall of an asylum in the 18th century. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to write “stroke” on a nearby pad of paper for my two friends who were trying to calm me down and figure out what was wrong. The writing didn’t look like anything human. Scratches down a tree. Bird tracks in the sand. I wasn’t human. I couldn’t communicate. My humanity was being stolen, second by precious second.

Trying desperately to communicate.

I have never been so scared in my entire damn life.

My co-star fetched a nurse from the audience.

thankGodthankGodsomebodywhoknowswhatshappeninghelpmehelpmewhatdoIdohelpmepleasetellmewhattodomakeitstoppleasemakeitbetterhelpmesavemeJesusChristpleasemakeitstop

I grabbed onto his arm like the literal life preserver he was at that moment. He shined a little flashlight in my eyes and had me try to squeeze his hands. I was still making the most unnerving sounds, panting with distress, wanting to scream hysterically but trying to be calm. He told my friend Christy to call 911. It might’ve been — I don’t even know — how long before one of us had thought to do that. He helped save my life. I will thank God for him every time he crosses my mind.

The EMTs showed up in minutes, strapped me to a gurney, and rolled me into the ambulance. I’d never been in an ambulance before. Now I was alone with these people trying to help me, still playing this farcical game of them asking me questions as simple as my name, and me being unable to respond. All I could get out was “Aaaaauuuaa.”

You can’t imagine the frustration and fear and powerlessness and hopelessness of not even being able to say your own name. I did have the presence of mind to play charades with the EMT. I made the telephone sign by my ear and pointed to my ring finger. “Call … your husband?” the EMT guessed. I nodded frantically. “Ok, don’t worry, ma’am, we’ll get him.”

I arrived at the hospital within minutes and was rolled into the ER. I was still wearing my costume, including my blue sparkly shoes. They stared up at me mockingly from the end of the gurney. My fake handcuffs were still stuffed in my pants pocket. (I can’t imagine what the nurses thought.) I suddenly felt quite stupid. Blood pressure, blood draws, questions asked, tears still rolling down my face.

Then my husband was there.

myhusbandmyhusbandohthankGodthankGodI’msosorryI’msosorryIdidn’tmeanforthistohappenI’msoscaredI’msoscaredohbabythankGodyou’reherewhat’shappening

I liked when the neurologist asked me yes-or-no questions, because I could answer with a nod or a shake of the head. They did a whole bunch of things, while my friend Christy, who had also materialized, put her arm around my shoulders, prayed with me, talked to me … as I clung to her, desperate for anyone to assure me that I was not slowly dying. (She’s moving to the Czech Republic to be a missionary. I’d say she’s damn qualified.)

This is where — if possible — shit got even more real.

What It’s Like Being Married to a Giant Geek

[A helpful primer for non-geek friends, as well as gleeful self-identification for all our friends, who are 90% geek. Please feel free to leave your own qualifiers in the comments.]

You know what the MCE is, how many movies are in it, and what their chronological order is. Ditto a “multiverse.”

Christmas and birthdays are a snap because they have a 15-page Amazon wishlist, even helpfully prioritized from highest to lowest, mostly made up of books/movies/collectible figurines. “Ahh, yes … the Doctor Who pocket watch will be the big gift, followed by three Batman books.” Click, click, click, DONE.

You have to maintain separate Hulu/Netflix/Amazon Prime queues because HIS NERD SHIT IS NOT GETTING MIXED UP WITH MY NERD SHIT.

You have separate bookshelves for the same reason.

You are dragged to every theatrical release of a comic book and/or action movie, but God forbid he’d take you to see a period piece or drama.

You have suffered countless hours of listening to the analysis of characters and/or the actors who play them. Examples include: Trying to rank the greatest Catwomans (Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Newmar, Lee Meriweather … Halle Berry is always dead last. She is referred to as Hollywood’s Hell.) Whether or not it’s a tragedy that the first movie in a series was re-done/had a reboot/was re-cast (see Ang Lee’s “Hulk” and my husband’s comment: “Oh, the Norton version will be much better; Ang’s had way too much of an inner life.”) OH GOD, KILL ME NOW. I have lost track of how many times Spider-Man has been restarted, or how many Spider-Mans there have actually been and who they are, or which ones I liked. My lack of an Excel-spreadsheet brain in such matters means I’m always pleasantly surprised when I’m channel-surfing and come across one. “Oh yeah, Tom Holland, I like him.”

Your gift for foreign languages is totally unappreciated, except when needed to translate a non-subtitled foreign bit in some piece of geek media. Example: “Why are you oblivious to me whispering in your ear in French that I want your strong arms around me right now, and that your face is my heart, but you poke my ribs like a cattle prod to translate what Black Widow just said??! PRIORITIES.”

You have at least one mannequin in your basement and it has a fandom costume on it, most likely homemade.

Grounds for divorce include: not even LIKING the original Star Wars, because they’re boring, and patently refusing to see any new ones, even after he has asked literally 7 times (yes, I counted); being less than thrilled that friends are coming over for a 14-hour marathon of extended-cut Lord of the Rings blu-rays (yes, this happened, but it was redeemed by the fact that we had first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, and I fell asleep on the floor for about two hours); bending the spines of his books too much, if he even lets you touch them at all (see British editions, first editions, or signed editions he keeps IN PAPER BAGS on the shelves so they don’t even see the light of day — call me crazy, but I like to SEE my books and show them off); not understanding what connection Vanilla Ice has to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

You constantly argue over surface space. The acquisition of a Batman cookie jar can send an otherwise well-adjusted woman (me) over the edge. “WE DON’T HAVE ROOM FOR THIS SHIT.”

On the other hand, you have a proper t-shirt for any occasion.

The cognitive dissonance of admiring all the kids’ stuff he has, because ALL of our era kids’ stuff was cool (except the Lego Millennium Falcon, because really, who gives a shit) … while simultaneously mocking his “classic” TV collections on blu-ray because neither he nor anyone else (certainly not me) will ever watch them again because they’re so esoteric (see: The Prisoner, HR Pufnstuf, the Six Million Dollar Man.) “BUT I’M A COLLECTOR.” Uh huh. Why don’t you sell that dust-collecting crap and collect us a Mexican beach vacation. Much more useful than some giant orange ball chasing a dude, in my humble opinion.

On the other hand … sometimes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along, and he spends hundreds of dollars to take you, and you get to breathe the air of one of your heroes, and look right in his eyes … and it’s like a tiny piece of heaven — that grand, exciting, make-believe life that other people on this planet live — has landed in your lap for one minute. Your heart actually stops. The Tenth Doctor smiles into your eyes like you’re an old friend.

You know what, geek husband? We’re good.

Oh, yes. We’re good.

The Day Everything Died

I lost my mom four years ago today. She died in my arms at about 4 p.m., on this couch we’re sitting on.

Worn out from fighting leukemia, barely able to move, she said her head hurt. The hospice nurse asked if she wanted some morphine. I thank God for that nurse every time I think of her. I don’t even know her name, but she held us up through the worst moment of our lives. I wish her eternal blessings and all the crowns in Heaven. (And also a raise.)

Mom just went quiet and still. I wrapped my arms around her and her head was resting on my shoulder.

She was so quiet and still.

I squeezed her hand. It was the only time, ever, that I squeezed her and she didn’t squeeze back.

Lord, could that woman hug.

The nurse calmly and respectfully kept checking her pulse, and heartbeat. Finally, she told us quietly, “She’s gone.”

That was the moment everything died.

I was glad she was out of her miserable pain … but my momma was gone.

How do you live without your momma?

She was already flying to meet Jesus, and I was cradling her body on that couch. I rested my head on her poor little bald one, covered with a cap. My tears poured, one by one, on her head, but she didn’t feel them. I hugged her and hugged her. No one would ever love me like that again.

I wanted to summon some beautiful way to say goodbye. “It’s okay, Mumsy,” I whispered. “You go. We’ll be okay.” Then, because my voice was choked with grief, I played a wistful song I know she liked.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=KtR6o65IzuE

I can’t listen to it any more, because it takes me back to that couch.

I didn’t realize how noisy it would get. My poor stepfather called several family members to say Mom had left us. The (EMT? Coroner? Funeral home? I still don’t know) showed up to collect her. And this — THIS — I will always remember.

“You should all go into a back hallway,” some man said, as they prepared to load Mom’s shell onto a gurney to take away. “You don’t want to see this.”

We obeyed, like stunned sheep. We congregated, our heads together and silent, while we heard the slight rustlings and squeaking of the gurney trundling out the door. And she would never be in that house again.

Thinking about that phrase today, though, I get so mad. “You don’t want to see this”? You know what, buddy? I didn’t want to see ANY of it. I didn’t want to see ports in her neck and tubes invading her body. I didn’t want to see her so weak that my stepfather had to lift her body off the couch. I didn’t want to see her, heartbroken and weary, drop her head to the table while she and my sister tried to talk to insurance companies on the phone, even as she knew she was dying.

But I did. I saw it all, and I lived through it. And whichever of my friends loses their mom next, I will know exactly what they’re feeling, and they can scream their lungs out while I just sit there and cry with them, because that is the only good that comes from a tragedy. You can help someone else through it, if it doesn’t break you.

Four days later, at my mom’s visitation, the doors were open from 3-8 p.m. The sea of people weaving through did not stop once in five hours. Not ONCE. There was never a break in the line of people who loved her, or us. My lieutenant and his wife came. Friends who only slightly knew me, and didn’t even believe in God, came. My Work Wife brought me a huge cookie with “Cancer Sucks!” written in lurid pink icing.

That was the kind of send-off she deserved. I was pleased. Even though, during the private family hour, I looked at her in the coffin once, and recoiled so violently that I stayed away the rest of the time. She looked terrible, in my opinion. I won’t lie about that.

It is the same reason I’ve only been to her grave a handful of times in four years. The graveyard is too sad. My imagination is too vivid. I can’t sit by that incised marble and not envision the coffin, six feet down, with her skeleton inside, until Jesus raises her up on the last day.

Instead, I visit her in my everyday life. I go to the beach every year and sit right by the waves, and I swear to God she sits by my side. Sometimes I laugh just like her, and I hear her in myself. I love-squeeze my sister’s arm like my mom used to. I try to model her boundless heart and generosity. If I think it’s something Mom would do, I do it. I can’t wait to get to Heaven and see her again. I know that, upon meeting Jesus, she received that “Well done, good and faithful servant,” that I long for.

When I’m tempted toward anger that she was taken so soon, I remember to be thankful every day that I got her for my mother. She told me every day that she loved me. She was so generous and loving and sweet. She was THE Mom. If you didn’t know her, I feel kinda sorry for you.

I know she’s on a beach in Heaven, eating chocolate, probably with 12 dogs. She said she’d save a spot for all of us. So you keep my beach chair free, Mumsy.

I love you so much. Thank you for being my mother. God, you did a great job.

I’ll see you soon.