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.

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.”

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.

The Day The Doctors Gave Up

She couldn’t lift her hand to hug me anymore, but she still smiled …

Today was the day the doctors gave up. February 1, 2015. I didn’t know it, but she had another week to live.

As I walked into the hospital, having answered my sister’s tearful phone call, I still couldn’t believe my mother was going to die. Two rounds of chemo failed. The bone marrow transplant failed. It had only been six months. I stood there, numb, shocked. This really couldn’t be happening. She was only 62. She didn’t even get to retire. She was my MOM. She had been there, every day, morning till night. Your mom is eternal, like the sun rising every morning, or the seasons changing. You never think you will have to live without your mom.

I walked quietly into her room, where she sat, morbidly tired, with tubes puncturing her arms. I knelt by her chair. She gave me that weak little smile. She still wanted to smile for me.

“I know it’s ridiculous,” I murmured, “but part of me wants to throw myself on you and beg you not to go.”

Then, unexpectedly, I did just that.

My head fell to her arm, and I started weeping. “Oh, mom. Don’t go. Please don’t go. What will I do without you?”

“Oh, honey. I don’t want to go. But you’ll go on and be just fine. I want you to take nice vacations and eat crab legs and think of me. Don’t you cry too much, now. God wants us to enjoy our lives here.”

You don’t understand, I wanted to say. I get my strength from you. No one loves me like you do. Not my best girlfriends, not my husband, not my sisters. You’re my MOM!! You used to constantly tell me that the day I was born was the happiest day of your life. That you wanted a little girl so much, and since they didn’t have ultrasounds then, you were thrilled when I popped out, a baby girl. You loved me when no one else did. You were proud of me. You thought I was awesome. Every time my phone rang with your ringtone, I’d get excited because Mom was calling, and that usually meant something fun was about to happen. You were my go-to shopping buddy. You were the first person I wanted to tell when something awesome happened. We liked so many of the same things. How am I supposed to do this without you? I can’t do this without you. I CAN’T do life without you.

But somehow … I think she knew. Maybe since she did it with her own mom. She knew it would be indescribably hard; that my heart and brain would be ripped out for years; that you look for something to fill the void, and of course you never find it, because there’s no one like your mom. The first few years are awful. You want to die, too. The memories, the photos, even being around the family is just too painful. The grief washes over you like a rogue ocean wave, out of nowhere. It slaps you, it reduces you to a tiny heap. But every time I went to a beach, looking for her, she was there. She knew I could go on. She knew the aching emptiness never goes away … but the ragged, gaping hole of her loss gets soft around the edges, and other things, other people, move quietly to the forefront of life to make you miss her less.

All I could feel at that moment, on my knees by her chair in the hospital, knowing she was going to leave me, too soon … all I could feel was agony. But she was tired of fighting.

Oh, Laura. I love you. More than you know. It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. I’ll see you again.”

Our favorite place … by the water. Enjoy that heavenly beach, Mumsy. I’ll see you soon.

That Time There Was an Ice Storm and I Lost a Body Part

Exactly seven years ago today, I was feeling poorly. Actually, that’s a dramatic understatement. I had some intense lower-right-quadrant stomach pain going on, and I’d lived in my body long enough to know it wasn’t menstrual cramps. It felt even worse than an ovarian cyst (I’d had that before, too.)
However, I was determined NOT to be a hypochondriac. I’d had a life history of jumping to the worst possible conclusions over slight ailments. I got a lump in my earlobe as a pre-teen, and thought I had cancer. I had slightly weird-looking areolae as a teenager, and thought I had cancer. I had crushing chest pain as a young adult, that my mom actually took me to the ER for. (They thought it was cartilage inflammation. Turns out it was plain old heartburn. I spent nine hours waiting to be seen and got misdiagnosed for that. Excuse me but WTF. This was why I had vowed to stay out of hospitals for the rest of my life unless I was, in fact, about to die. Granted, it was a pretty shitty north county hospital. Perhaps I’d have gotten better service at another one. Come to think of it, I could hardly have gotten WORSE service …)
Also, my mother, God rest her soul, had been a NICU registered nurse, and my father was a pharmacist. I fancied myself more educated than the average citizen about health and physiology. My mom had told us several times about colleagues of hers that had gone to the ER, convinced they were having heart attacks, strokes or aneurysms, only to be told they were having attacks of gas or migraines. I had been known to have some gas on occasion.
Granted, this was pretty damn bad. I picked my husband up at work, then had him drive home because I was doubled over in the passenger seat, begging him to hurry. At home, I chomped down about eight Xtra Strength Gas-X, screamed in pain as I gingerly eased into bed, and proceeded to pass out for the next eight hours. In hindsight, the fact that I slept like the dead all night, not even waking up, is fairly mind-boggling. I suppose my body was shoring up for the adventure ahead.
In the morning, not a thing had changed. My husband wanted to take me to the Urgent Care, but I sent him to work with our only car and waited to feel better. I then did what any semi-educated, freaked-out, former hypochondriac would do: got on WebMD to diagnose myself and effect a cure.
Fun fact: if you put in “stomach pain” on WebMD, you will get a bewildering variety of ailments that you will immediately be convinced that you have contracted. It’s one of those symptoms that can be anything from the aforementioned simple gas to bubonic plague. I made a list of my possible ailments:

— diverticulitis
— intestinal blockage
— bleeding ulcer
— appendicitis
— dysentery
— irritable bowel syndrome
— kidney stone
— cholera
— ectopic pregnancy (unlikely — I had not missed a pill in a decade)
— cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, stomach, or gall bladder)
— hernia
— pelvic inflammatory disease (which I recognized from watching ER as “the ol’ PID shuffle”)
— endometriosis/uterine fibroids

I added the highly unlikely possibilities of dengue fever, yellow fever, parasitic worm and alien infestation. I was fuddled because it seemed appendicitis was the most likely culprit, but I was missing most of the symptoms. I had no fever, nausea, vomiting, painful urination or coughing. Discouraged, I logged off and tried to rest on the couch.
By noon, I had been off my head with this pain for 24 hours. I called my husband and told him to come home and take me to the Urgent Care. I should’ve listened to him in the first place. They didn’t have the facilities to make a more definitive diagnosis, but going simply on the classic lower-right-quadrant pain, they advised I get my ass to the ER posthaste.
Ten minutes later (bless living close to a hospital!!), we were at the admitting desk, proving I was who I said I was and that I would not leach off the taxpayers for my medical treatment. I then writhed in extreme discomfort on a gurney-bed for about an hour while they ran tests, and my poor helpless husband sat by my side. One of the nurses came in to try to relieve some pain.
“I’m going to give you a shot of morphine to try to take the edge off,” she explained.
“Oh,” I murmured. “I thought that was only for amputees and gunshot victims.”
She smiled and said, “I’m only going to give you a low dose, because you’re such a tiny little thing.” (At this point in time, I had just finished a 7-month quest of going on Weight Watchers and, in fact, had lost 31 pounds and looked damn good. I remarked to my husband that “She called me tiny!”, causing a wry smile. I should have asked for a whopping great dose, because it did precisely NOTHING.)
While all this had been going on, there had been snow and ice outside for the previous two days. There was about a quarter-inch of ice on the roads at this point, and the people in my city, famously, cannot drive in any kind of weather. Despite the fact that we are Midwesterners and deal with this LITERALLY EVERY WINTER, they continue to drive maniacally and/or distractedly, convinced in their own superiority over the elements, simply because they have four-wheel drive or a big truck cab. Ugh. My mother lived about thirty minutes away down the highway, and I did NOT want her out in the elements. “Tell mom to STAY PUT,” I ordered my husband. “We’ll tell her something else when the test results come back.”
Sure enough, it was appendicitis. When the nurse told me this, I burst into tears. I was well aware that this was probably the most routine surgery in America, as she (no doubt alarmed by a 37-year-old, grown-ass woman bursting into tears over such a simple thing) tried to explain to me, but at that point I’d just had too much. Two full days of excruciating pain; a place I loathed being in (see moronic hospital mis-diagnosis, when I had trusted in the medical system, above); and my mom not being there, had just broken the camel’s back. I was done, at emotional max gross load, and tired of trying to find the answer and be strong. I just wanted someone to take care of me and get this over with. In addition, I was scared. I’d never even been in the hospital before. I had never had a baby, never broken a bone, never even needed stitches for anything. I led a fairly boring life, and liked it that way.
They put me in a room by myself. But no matter how exhausted you are, you cannot sleep when you’re off your head with pain, scared, worried, and people come in every hour to poke, turn or measure you. A nurse came and sat with me at 3:00 in the morning and talked with me for a while. She was very nice. I wrote the hospital a glowing review about her. I hope she got a raise. Or at least a closer parking space for a month.
At about 4:00 a.m., I got notice the surgeon was on his way in. I dimly wondered if he’d gotten enough sleep to be fresh by operating time, as I was well aware (again, from watching ER and various news stories of medical mishaps) that physician fatigue was definitely A Thing … but as they wheeled me down to pre-op, circles darkening my eyes from abject misery and lack of rest, I figured at that point that if Dr. Surgery-At-Dawn simply wanted to bathe my abdomen in whisky, cut me open with a steak knife, yank that infected little fucker out, and cauterize my insides with a fireplace poker, that actually would be really fucking fine with me. I’m sure at this point, I no longer even cared if I died.
They parked me in a small room … and suddenly my mom was there. The darn woman had driven miles over a quarter-inch of ice to be with me. As relieved as I was to see her, I was annoyed she’d exposed herself to danger on the roads. She hugged and kissed me, then sat down and opened her Bible.
“Would you like me to read you something?” she suggested.
“For God’s sake, mother, I am not dying,” I snapped. (I NEVER called her “mother.” She was mom or Mumsy. Another component of being off my head with agony.)
“Well … it’s not just for dying,” she said gently. I told her fine, to read me a Psalm. I blacked out as she was reading. A doctor must have come in and anesthetized me. Rather sneaky of him. Something very drug-dealer, first-hit’s-free about the whole thing.
I woke up midday as they were wheeling me back to my room. Having never been under anesthesia or the knife before, I learned some more fun facts.
First, it can take a while to come out of. I mean, they have literally drugged you into a near-death state … it takes some time to shake that shit off. I couldn’t move my arms or speak. But I realized my chest hurt terribly, both feeling squeezed and like something heavy was sitting on me. Why did my chest hurt?? Had a medical mishap occured?? Did I have paralysis??!! I tried with all my might to lift my arm and massage my aching collarbone. Finally I managed to choke out, “Chest. Hurts.”
“Oh, yes, that’s probably the result of the gas we blew into you,” someone said.
UM EXCUSE ME WHAT. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WITH GAS.
“We blow you up a little to have extra room to maneuver, to lessen the chances of nicking anything,” the someone repeated. “It will dissipate on its own as you move.”
Well. They certainly never covered that on ER.
Second, they usually don’t need to “cut you open” anymore. I had a laparoscopic thingamajig that left me with only the tiniest scar along my belly button ridge. Pfffff. As if I cared. Some surgery patients must be very vain. I was extremely lucky. Even after 48 hours of bone-grinding pain, my appendix had not burst and I had no peritonitis. In hindsight again, it’s amazing to me that thing didn’t burst. It certainly had enough time. I can only fall back on the amusing adage I once heard, that “God takes care of fools and babies … and I know I ain’t no baby.”
Third, all that messing about with your various organs is a shock to the system. It might take several days for things to be All Systems Go again. I had to pee right away. So I was relieved that was in working order. But it would be four days before I successfully pooped. By the third day, I was beginning to think I might never poop again, and envisioned horrific scenarios of going to dialysis, or simply exploding from the belly in some sort of impacted shit-shower. But thankfully, on the fourth evening, things moved along fine and I sent my mom a text with the little shit emoji, in all caps. A joyful “I POOPED!!!!!!!” Being a nurse, she shared my joy.
As annoyed as I was with her for braving an ice-covered interstate at four in the morning, I was nonetheless overjoyed that she was with me. Even lying in a hospital in agony is not so scary if your mom is there to take care of you … at any age. When I was back in my room, I asked her to sit on the bed with me and hold my hand. She glanced at my husband, busily texting our friends and family to keep them updating, and said, “I feel like I’m usurping your husband’s place.” But she came and sat on the bed and held my hand. (My husband was — and is — magnificent: he stayed with me for nearly 24 hours with no sleep and little food to make sure I was taken care of. But he was busy at the moment and I wanted mom comfort.)
I’m glad she “usurped” my husband’s place and sat for a few minutes at my hospital bed. She died three years later, and I’ll never have that chance again.
Of course, I am also planning to NEVER EVER go into the hospital again. Do you hear that, gall bladder? And any other unassuming, nonessential organs that may be fomenting revolt? Just cut that shit out right now. The one time I was NOT a hypochondriac, I NEARLY FRIGGIN’ DIED. So I’m gonna be super vigilant from now on. I’m on to you, body.
farts
Ahhhhh. All Systems Go.

Diary of a Snow Day

[I wrote this essay several years back, but it still resonates today.]

1983. Age: 9.
Wake up languidly around 8:30 a.m. Instantly and simultaneously realize two things: Mom has not woken me up for school, and that means it’s a snow day. Mom watches news religiously and weatherman was predicting at least six inches of snow, so went to bed knowing this was entirely possible. Huge smile spreads over face. Stretch once, then hop joyfully out of bed and put on robe and Garfield slippers. Mom is already in kitchen making breakfast. Have scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice after running to window to check depth of snow. Marvel at how pretty everything looks with no cars going by on street and huge drifts of snow blanketing bushes, driveway, trees. Hope snowplows cannot get out.
After breakfast, defer playing outside and acquiesce to younger sister’s request to play Connect Four. Whup her ass because I have two years on her and thus strategic part of brain is more developed. Snow time further delayed due to mandatory viewing of “The Price Is Right,” which is special weekday treat viewed only on summers and vacation days. Rejoice when favorite game, Plinko, is on. Moan with contestant and audience that not once does Plinko chip slide into $10,000 slot. Vaguely wonder if Plinko game is rigged.
Finally suit up for snow play. Entails outrageously high knee socks, long pants, snow pants over those, shirt and sweatshirt, heavy winter coat, knit cap with bimple-bomple on top, scarf wound around face approximately five times, thick padded gloves clipped to coat sleeves, and moon boots with squishy insides like foam mattress. Dash outside with sister and proceed to defile virgin snow by breaking paths through knee-high drifts. Complete requisite construction of several snowballs and pelt each other with them (not near face to avoid wrath of mom). Snap icicle off tree and eat it. Follow mom’s dictate not to eat yellow snow. Brush snow off swings, slide and trapeze on swing set, as this is “being helpful” to mom. Lie down and make snow angels, giggling madly. Begin construction on traditional snowman. Younger sister makes head; we both make middle and bottom. Find rocks to use for eyes and mouth. Snap spindly branches off tree for cool-looking snowman arms. Knock on back door and request carrot for nose and extra scarf for snowman. Know better than to drag snowy boots through house to get them ourselves. Mom obliges. Snowman complete. Return inside and de-suit, leaving outerwear in heap by door, for lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Much to our delight, mom has made fresh chocolate chip cookies. Gorge.
Fortified and sugar-buzzing, re-suit for afternoon play. Foot had slipped out of moon boot during morning and boot interior became cold and soggy. Mom insists on boots for outside. Improvises by having me put on regular shoes and shoving two Wonderbread plastic bags over shoes, securing them on calves with giant rubber bands, rendering shoes waterproof. Hurrah! Snow has resumed falling. Spot neighbor children, good friends Adam and Susan Biggs, clattering out their back door. Invite them to hop chain-link fence and join us. They oblige. (Even padded with clothing like a tick about to burst, hopping chain-link fence is not difficult.) Decide snow fort would be industrious and productive use of time. Discover difficulty of constructing adequate walls with absence of tools other than hands. Stand in snow and think hard. Struck by heavenly inspiration, knock on back door and request Tupperware containers from mom. Receive rectangle-shaped containers and proceed to construct large, perfect snow bricks. Skip He-Man and Voltron cartoons in favor of seeing how much of snow fort can get done. Spend afternoon happily piling snow bricks into fort, leaving space for door. Thrilled with architectural prowess as can actually walk in and have room to sit down. Succeed in building snow fort almost head-high. Make snowballs to pile inside for arsenal. Sun has set and streetlights have come on, illuminating still-falling snow and bathing snow fort in Hollywood-esque light. Decide finishing touch is needed. Borrow extra yardstick from mom and tie yellow plastic Post-Dispatch wrapper to stick, crowning snow fort with homemade flag, which looks more like windsock. Cold but far from tired, retire inside, delighted to find favorite dinner of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries with ketchup. Compliment mom on her “cooking.” Puzzled when she responds by rolling eyes.
Still snowing. Probability of second snow day discussed. Sister and I snuggle on couch wrapped in sheep- and duck-printed wool blankets. Mom puts in “Sound of Music” videotape, taped off network television. Settle in for three hours of singing and dancing, with bowls of popcorn and a glass of Pepsi each. Wonder what Liesel ever saw in Rolf. Unanimous agreement of the von Trapps’ bravery for singing at the festival before fleeing the Nazis.
Finally retire for night. Snuggle with Heart-to-Heart Bear (teddy bear with heartbeat). Mom tucks in and kisses forehead. Say prayers. Fall asleep immediately with utter sense of contentment, safety, happiness and peace.

2009. Age: 33.
Bolt awake at 2 a.m. Panic. Quietly raise window blinds of bedroom. Fully aware of previous night’s forecast of six to eight inches of snow, peer outside to check road condition. Swear inwardly as view street blanketed with snow and drifts on lawn nearly burying flower garden. Sinking suspicion that eight inches has already been reached. Swear further at absence of snowplows. Pray that highways are being cleared. Attempt to stockpile more sleep.
Don’t so much “awaken” as swim blearily toward consciousness at 6:30 a.m. Sigh into electric blanket. Grab robe, nearly trip over inquisitive cat, check school closings online. Am employed by seminary which closes only in cases of massive ice storms or citywide power outage. Doubt that eight inches of snow will dissuade them from educating future pastors. Suspicions confirmed. Seminary opening only 30 minutes later than usual. Vividly and colorfully swearing inside head, put on work uniform and top with heavy overcoat, scarf wound around head five times, leather gloves and 14-year-old Timberland waterproof boots.
Retrieve snow shovel from garage. Begin laborious and highly distasteful task of shoveling eight inches off driveway. Sweat profusely and become short of breath. Upon reaching end of driveway, invent new curse words when realize city plowing has created hard-packed ridge of snow to be cleared. Remark to self on incredulity of snow being so heavy.
Husband sticks head out door and begins to criticize shoveling technique. Respond that if he knows what’s good for him he’ll see if there’s a second snow shovel in garage and lend assistance at once. Husband shuts door in pissy manner to suit up. Lean on snow shovel despondently at end of driveway, dreaming of hot breakfast and coffee. Realize driveway only one-quarter cleared. Dream of fast-forwarding 30 years to retirement. Think dismally how much 30 years resembles life sentence. Resume shoveling despite growing ache in lower back. Husband appears and searches for second snow shovel. Husband asks with amazement and contempt in voice why I am shoveling from edge instead of starting in middle of driveway. Not at best at 7:30 a.m. with no food or coffee, not to mention freezing and tired with dread of two-hour commute ahead, exchange heated words and insults with husband. Upon completion of my side of driveway, fling snow shovel to ground in dramatic display of temper and frustration.
Stalk inside. Realize have sweated so much in work uniform as to require shower. Strip and enjoy hot shower. Phone rings. With foresight, have brought both landline and cell phone into bathroom in case of boss phoning. Congratulate self on advance planning. Boss notifies me of office’s late opening. One leg in shower and one out, hold phone at distance from ear to adequately hear, yet avoid getting shampoo in phone. Ask boss, since work has been slow, of any possibility of taking day off. Boss thinks for several seconds and grants request. Elated, hang up and wipe water off phone. As finish shower, bless boss for her kindness and praise God for amassed hours of paid time off. Ask God’s forgiveness for swearing and childish behavior while shoveling. Instead of feeling better, feel worse for snapping at husband. Grumpily mutter to self about shoveling being man’s work anyway. Mean side of brain mutters back that husband has done laundry and cooking for past seven years. Snap at brain to shut up.
Change into sweats and thick winter socks. Make fried egg sandwich for breakfast. Read paper rescued from snowdrift. Cat jumps into lap and gets kiss on head. Husband’s earliest clients have cancelled because of snow, pushing his work start time to 2 p.m. Answer emails from friends. Call mother-in-law in boonies to assure she has power. Debate possibilities of reading novel, sewing, doing scrapbook page or cleaning bathroom. Worn out after start of day, chuck all options and lie on couch. Curl up with sheep-print wool blanket still in possession from childhood. Do not watch “The Price is Right” since Bob Barker retired. Watch “Little House on the Prairie” marathon. Marvel at how stupid Italian immigrant is who went to Deadwood with Ingalls to pan for gold, running down street of Deadwood hollering of good fortune. Correctly predict Italian immigrant will be shot and robbed within 20 minutes. Eat two pieces of cheese for lunch.
Husband leaves for work. Channel surf and watch show on beaches on Travel Channel. Wistfully remember honeymoon in Mexico. Try to remember what 80 degrees feels like. Would like to get mail, but on principle will not step foot outside again. Make huge mug of Ghirardelli hot chocolate and mourn absence of mini marshmallows. Make popcorn. Watch part of “Casino Royale” for twentieth time. Appreciate Daniel Craig’s beauty. Snuggle lower on couch. Cat jumps on couch, curls up on gut and goes to sleep. Self follows suit, dozing off for full hour.
Wake to setting sun. Make plain spaghetti for dinner. Am in possession of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries but am too tired for all that trouble. Wish was at mom’s house eating meatloaf and homemade mashed potatoes and playing with dog. Return to couch and watch classic Disney movie from 1960s. Experience happiest moment of day when one cat lies on lap and another lies on chest and both go to sleep.
Get ready for bed. Check street conditions outside. Slushy yet passable. Curl into electric blanket and read favorite author.
Fall asleep slowly and with great difficulty while worrying about friend’s marital problems, state of economy, personal finances, what’s on docket at work tomorrow. Think how long it’s been since felt happy, peaceful and safe all at once. Remember how nice it was when mom tucked us in and kissed foreheads. Realize that last vestiges of childhood fall away when one acquires mortgage and curses snow.
Contemplate moving to Gulf Coast in 30 years to enjoy white sand beaches and pretty blue-green surf.
Remember hurricanes.
Count blessings.

“You’ll miss the changing seasons if you lived at the beach all year,” my mom used to say. Yeahhhhhh, no.

Why I am Evil and Must Be Destroyed

[Theological Aside: I am fully aware that I am both inherently wicked and perfectly sinless under Christ’s grace … if you don’t get that dichotomy, ask a Lutheran. They love dichotomies. Can you tell I like the word dichotomy? It’s so erudite. Anyway …]

We all have that side we don’t show the world. The shameful little character flaws we try so hard not to reveal. You know what? I bet people have more in common with these skeleton-closet personality traits than we let on. Here are some of mine. Hang on.

  1. Every once in a while, a baby will appear on my Facebook feed and before I can stop myself, I think, “Holy shit, that is a really ugly baby.” (I’ve even done it to friends’ babies. I told you I’m evil.)
  2. I would totally laugh if I saw any person trip. Even, dare I admit it, a blind person. I would hope to catch myself in time and clap a hand over my mouth to muffle it, but that horrible original impulse remains. OF COURSE, I would then get control of my diabolical self and step in to help them up.
  3. On the subject of tripping — once when I worked in retail, I fully tripped a kid who was running unsupervised and demonic around my store. On purpose. OH SHUT UP — he was like six or seven, it’s not like he was fragile. Besides, he was being a holy terror — screeching, knocking merchandise over, throwing food on the floor … if you’ve never worked retail , you will never, ever understand this. (Cue “He Had It Coming” from Chicago. Trust me. He did. And oh God, it was glorious. The crowning factor was that the little bastard didn’t even realize I did it. He just looked around, silent and befuddled, like, “What’d I trip over?” HAHAHAHAHAHA.) #StealthTrip
  4. I like animals better than people. Because let’s face it, people suck. I fully smile and say hello to dogs on walks and totally ignore their owners.
  5. Twice a day, in rush hour, I pray for a pandemic.
  6. I tell my nephews things that are patently untrue, but usually well-meant, because what are kids for but to screw with? Examples:
    a.) The real name for otters is “water sausages.”
    b.) Of course I’ll catch you if you jump off the deep end of the pool.
    c.) Your mom knows everything. (That one backfired. I said it to my 5-year-old nephew in a moment of admiration, because my younger sister is so smart and sweet and accomplished. She told me the next day that my nephew had asked who the smartest person in their family was. Confused at this apparently apropos-of-nothing query, she replied that everyone in their family was smart in different ways and all good at different things. Processing this for a few seconds, my nephew then replied, “But Aunt Laura said you knew EVERYTHING!” Haha. Oops.)
  7. I do, however, tell them that when they are grown-ups, they can eat ice cream for dinner if they want, and stay in their pajamas all day, and drive their cars anywhere they want. I left out the unfortunate qualifiers of working 40-60 hours a week, paying for everything else they need first, the unfairness of income and property taxes, and the ever-present crippling companion of adulthood that is existential angst. They can find that out on their own.
  8. Sometimes when I’m hanging out at my sister’s, my 9-year-old nephew will make rounds and ask if we want anything to drink. Usually he has a little notepad to write it down. Oh my God, it’s so cute. The first time he did that, we were sitting in the hot tub and he brought me a soda. I was so overwhelmed at this display of benevolence that I gave him a $2 tip from my wallet. Now the little comedian does it all the time, and raises his eyebrows, like he knows a tip’s coming. You know what? I usually give him a dollar or so. Do you realize how cool it is to have drink orders taken at family gatherings??! Damn right I’m subsidizing that shit.
  9. Of all the teens and kids in my family and belonging to my friends, I totally admit I have favorites. I suspect they know this, but I don’t care. If you suck up to Auntie, she’ll suck up to you. That’s how the world works. LOLOL
  10. Every time my husband gets on the roof to clean the gutters or check the satellite, I think, “I’m just one accident away from an insurance payout that could change my life.” (And I LOVE him. No, really.)
  11. I am particularly susceptible to flattery that is not an outright lie. It comes from being ugly the first 20 years of life, I suppose. That small spark of desire for admiration never fades. I’d truly like to get to the point where I give no shits what anyone thinks of me. The odds of this happening are distressingly low.
  12. Since I cannot cook, I am very food-motivated and will likely do almost anything if you feed me.
  13. I used to intensely dislike children. It was kind of legendary among my family and friends. I just couldn’t relate to them. They’re SO. FRIGGIN. LOUD. They smell. They’re inexplicably sticky. They, like horses, can smell fear and will exploit this. Watching them eat is like a horror show of disgust. Have you seen the shitshow when they sneeze, and a huge bubble of alien snot blooms out of their nose? And, even worse, JUST HANGS THERE??! Excuse me while I barf in my mouth. Then, little by little, creeping up almost undetected, like rust eventually taking over the underbelly of a car … something happened. My infant nephew peed on me while I was holding him, all wrapped up in a cozy, snuggly blanket, and he was so adorable that I didn’t even care. My nephews grew up a little and got personalities. The older one made me a placemat for a family dinner that said “Ant Lora.” I loved it so much I took it to work and stuck it over my desk. They sit in my lap and lean back against me and murmur, “I love you, Aunt Laura.” My best friend’s little girl will reach her arms out in the “hold me” gesture as her eyes light up when she recognizes me. Then my stepdaughter told me I was going to be a meemaw. I have no earthly idea how to be a “proper” meemaw. I am only 43, for God’s sake. I make raunchy jokes and drink just slightly more than is good for me. I will probably teach the kid to play blackjack as soon as he can count. I have no compunctions about playing for his allowance to teach him that life isn’t fair. I am 100% sure that I will accidentally cuss repeatedly in front of him. Then he will probably call another kid in his daycare a rat bastard and then I’ll REALLY be in trouble. But … you know what? I will always let him lick the batter. I will always slip him pocket money and whisper, “Don’t tell your mom and dad!” I will read him books on my lap for five hours straight if he wants. With accents and sound effects. We will build Lego houses and play demolition derby, really loudly, with his Matchbox cars. I will buy him a zoo membership every year, learn what his favorite animal is, and we’ll sit there for an hour or two and I’ll tell him a fake name for his favorite animal. (“That manta ray is really called an Ocean Flap Flap.”) If he plays sports, I’ll buy one of those stupid shirts that says Team Name Here Grandma. And I will sing to him when he’s two days old, and wonder what he will grow up to be passionate about, and watch with an odd mix of longing and confusion, because I never had my own child, so it will sort of be like he’s mine, but twice removed. And he can always ask me anything, or tell me anything, ever. And while I might tell him a harmless, patent untruth from time to time … he will always know that I adored him before he even drew a breath. And that I would do anything to make him happy.

You know what? Maybe I’m not so evil after all.