Saturday, November 22, 2014

Amelia and dreaming of a goat

I am a vivid dreamer. Always have been. I have bright colored, prolific, sometimes prophetic dreams.  And most of them are absurd. Make no sense even to me, supposedly a specialist at disarming dreams. Actually, I can take apart other people's dreams with ease. My own? Not so much.

I remember my dreams so often that even Bing gets weary of hearing, "I had the oddest dream last night." This morning, she was hurriedly dressing to make a quick run to school to check all the computers in her room while she had no students to bother her. So when I told her that I had this crazy dream, she asked me in only a perfunctory way to tell her about it. I started:

There was this goat and....

I had to stop as my throat closed and I felt tears starting. I quickly blinked.

"Oh, never mind," I said, "I'm too tired. I'll tell you when you get home while we drive to the Husker game."

She tried hard not to look relieved and quickly kissed me goodbye, saying she'd be back in an hour and to please make sure that Liv was out of bed and READY to go.

Living with a teenager is an adventure.

I wasn't ready to talk about that dream then, but later on in this post, I hope that I can.

Last night, Liv, Bing and I were all watching The Amazing Race  after pigging out on pancakes at IHOP. This is our usual Friday tradition, sometimes sans Liv, sometimes with her. Last night we were lucky to have her with us. Mid show, my cell phone rang. I glanced down and sighed.

My Sister, Patrice. I let it go to voice mail.

On a commercial, I listened to her message.

"Um, Maria? Can you call me when you get a sec? Thanks. Love you."

Something about her voice bothered me. I stood up, headed for the parlor to talk. Bing frowned. "Can't this wait til after the show?" she asked.

I shook my head. Dialed Patrice's number.

She answered on the first ring.

Maria: Hi, you.

Patrice: Hi, you.

Silence. And then I heard her take a long shaky breath.

Patrice: Can you talk for a while? What are you doing?

Maria: We're watching The Amazing Race , but hey...it's no big deal. What's the matter?

Amelia was the matter. Those of you who are long readers of my blog know Amelia. For the rest of you, allow me to introduce you.

Amelia is Patrice's 40 year old daughter, my niece. Amelia is mentally handicapped. She tests out at about 12 or 13 years old. And she is the sunshine of my life. Amelia is my perpetually blue sky. She never has a mean word to say about anyone. She loves Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Wrestling, Bleu cheese dressing on everything and her boyfriend of eight years, Charles. Every time she sees me, she shows me wedding dresses that she has picked out and downloaded to her phone. For when she and Charles get married. Someday. She wants two children; one boy and one girl. The girl will be called Taylor. The boy? She isn't sure yet. She is a rabid Survivor watcher and she and I compare notes every time we see each other, even though I am a lazy watcher and miss a lot of the shows. She catches me up. Every single time she sees me, she runs to me and hugs me as if she hasn't seen me in ten years, as if I have been in Syria on a dangerous mission. When we say goodbye, she kisses and hugs me, never, EVER fails to say that she loves me. For my birthday every year, she buys me a Starbucks gift card for 20 dollars because she knows I have a terrible weakness for chai tea lattes. For her birthday, I get her a gift card for 50 dollars to Red Robin because she and Charles love to eat there. I always write on the inside..."Take your fella out for some supper!" She loves this.

She can't drive. She works at a grocery store. As a sacker.

Or...she used to.

Patrice called to tell me that Amelia had been fired. Apparently, she had been warned several times that she was being too chatty with the customers. A few had complained that she held them up in the parking lot when they were trying to leave as she carried their groceries out, talking about her boyfriend, local politics (Amelia is an Independent and proud of it) and the weather. Or a song she heard on the radio. She has been known to sing that song to people. She's just that kind of person. Most people are kind and loving and tolerant of Amelia. They see the sweet soul behind the gabby girl. But, yes...this is a business and yes, she had been warned. Three times. Was told that if there was another complaint, she would be fired.

And there was a complaint. And she was fired.

Patrice said that Amelia couldn't stop crying. And to make matters worse, when she called her boyfriend, Charles to use his shoulder to cry on (Charles is also mentally handicapped and tests out at 15, lives with his parents), he told his Mother that Amelia got fired and she told him that he needed to break up with her because people who get fired from their jobs are bad people. So, he broke up with her.

Now, Amelia really couldn't stop crying. I asked Patrice if she wanted me to come over and take Amelia out for a sundae. Amelia loves sundaes and me very much.  No, she said, let's just leave her be. But...Maria...HOW will she ever get another job? A job that she likes?

There are a few opportunities for the mentally handicapped in our city. They are repetitious jobs. Amelia would die in a job where she couldn't be around people. She is a very very peopley person. She just needs the right fit.

And what to do about Charles? They've been together for 8 years. All those wedding dresses. Not that they would have ever gotten married. Charles' mother already nixxed that as did my Sister. I disagreed at first, thought WHY NOT? Let them marry and live in an assisted living situation. But, Amelia had refused to even consider having her tubes tied. And no....she nor Charles could care for an infant. I guess best not to marry after all.

So, there is my Amelia. My sunshine. My sweet faced, happy hippo dancing. Because yes, Amelia is quite stout. And okay, I'll just put it out there: sometimes she smells.

Once, she was furious with me. Her parents were on vacation and while she is safe staying home alone, someone needs to check in with her twice a day. Her brother checked in around 10 in the morning, before he headed off to his police job. I checked in after work. On one particular night, I told her to be ready, that she would be going to Liv's softball game with us. Well, she stepped out of the door and within six feet of being out the door, all I could smell was poop.

I told her that she smelled like a butt and needed to go take a shower. But, but, but (no pun intended) we'd be late! she wailed. I told her that Bing had taken Liv early to the game and so, we'd be a little late. She was NOT getting into my car smelling like that.

She began jumping from one foot to the other. She had taken a shower that morning. She HAD. She HAD, AUNT MARIA! Too bad, I said. Now, she smelled like a butt. Back in the house, missy. We went back in, me mouth breathing, she red faced with fury. I was mean. I was a mean Aunt. Too bad, I told her. Get in that shower and clean. Clean with a soapy hot washcloth between her legs and butt cheeks. Soap up! And none of this in and out in less than a minute. I would TELL her when she could get out.

I heard the water go on, heard the shower door slam. Waited a full five minutes and then told her she could get out.

She came sulking back into the living room, smelling like Ivory soap. I smiled at her.

"There's my niece! I was wondering what happened to her," I said. A reluctant smile came out on her clean pink face. "Now, let's get to that game and I'll buy us a hot dog," I said.

Amelia needs guidance. But, she is pretty high functioning. And she didn't stop loving me because I told her she smelled like a butt. All was forgotten the next hour when we got to the game and only had missed the first two innings.

Amelia remembers the important things, though. She remembers that I occasionally wear Chanel #5 and that I am a Democrat and that I sometimes need a cane and when I do need that cane, I sometimes need help navigating curbs. And she rushes to be the one to hold out her arm.

I love Amelia with the kind of the love that you reserve for underdogs and the tender, fragile violets that Liv used to pick for me on Summer days that I would place in small vases and their slender stems would be wilting by dinnertime. I love Amelia because she is the realest person that I know. There is no artifice about her, no disingenuity. She was maid of honor at our wedding. She stood next to me, holding her bouquet of flowers and smiling proudly out at the crowd. Afterwards, she came up to me and asked me if my feet hurt. She had seen me wincing as I slid my hammer toes into those high heeled boots. I laughed and told her that as soon as we got to the diner for our after wedding breakfast, I was going barefoot. Even in December!

I thought of all the dinners I sat through while Amelia would try to talk, to participate in the conversation, only to be shushed by her Father, her brothers. Told to stop acting like a fuckin' retard. I thought of Bing's face, her chair pushed back. Her looking at Amelia, saying NO, go on, she wanted to hear what she thought. About Liv, patiently listening to her sing every word of the song All Of Me and then clapping when it was over. 

And now, she was hurting. She had talked too much at work and been fired and then dumped by the only boy that had ever asked her to be his girlfriend.

Patrice and I talked it over. We both agreed that Charles' Mother was a fuck head. That Amelia's boss should have included Patrice in those warnings to Amelia and that maybe we could have circumvented this from happening.

Patrice sighed. "But, I don't know," she said. "You know how Amelia is. She would talk the ear off a hub cap. But, it kills me to see her so down.  And she LOVED her job. And she loved Charles, that little turd. But, how is he going to go against his Mother, ya know?"

I offered again to come see Amelia. No. Not a good idea. Maybe I could take her to dinner on Monday? Yes, I said. I could do that. And hey, we'd find something for Amelia. Somewhere. There HAD to be a place that needed a hard worker who liked to break into song for no reason or talk your ear off. Tomorrow was another day.

"I know you don't believe in God or prayer, Maria," she said. "But would you think some good thoughts for us?"

I would. And Liv would go light a candle at St. John's.  She was all up in that shit these days, I told her.

By the time I got back to The Amazing Race, it was almost over. I briefly told Liv and Bing what had happened. Liv asked if we could stop at St. John's tomorrow before the game to light a candle for Amelia. I smiled. Yes. We could. Bing said she'd ask the special ed teacher at her school if she had any ideas.

We went to bed with heavy hearts.

I dreamed that I was at some sort of pumpkin patch setting. A barn. Lots of kids running around. And, in a pen, by itself, was this goat with beautiful white fur. It was unusually large, as big as a cow. People were gawking at it, some laughing. Saying how ugly it was. But...it wasn't. Ugly. It wasn't. It was lovely. Someone said that she heard that it would bite if you got too close, but I didn't think so. And then, in the crazy way of dreams, I was right next to the goat. Petting it's soft fur. It laid it's big head on my shoulder and nuzzled at me. I stroked gently. And then, yes...in the continued craziness of dreams, I was suddenly across the field from it. I knew that it was going to be herded into a big truck with all the other animals. I could see it balking, not wanting to go. Someone got a red rope around it's neck and began pulling it. A large bull was being pulled next to the goat and it had enormous horns. I could see the horns gaging into the goat's neck and head, drawing blood. The goat kept trying to get away, bleating. I kept trying to scream at the animal wrangler to stop it RIGHT NOW! But, no sound would come out. I tried to run to the goat but kept running into fences coated with barbed wire, or nails, something sharp. I would get over one fence only to be caught in a rush of people and then another fence rail. The entire time, I saw the goat being mauled by those horns. I finally got to the poor thing and by then it's head hung low and when it raised up, I saw that one of it's eyes had been gauged out and it's mouth was cut. I was crying hard, cradling it's head, telling it I was so sorry that I hadn't been able to save it.

And then I'd woken up, tears wet on my cheeks. And gotten up to get a drink and go check on Liv, laying sprawled on her stomach, Socks cuddled at her feet.

I'm crying as I write this because I am able to unscramble this dream. And because someone I love is hurting and I can't do anything.

Can't protect that goat from getting hurt by those horns.

'So, we will do what we can. I'll take Amelia out for dinner and we'll talk. I'll tell her that she MUST learn to keep her words in her mouth sometimes and that not everyone wants to hear Taylor Swift's new song. And that sometimes boys don't want to be your boyfriend anymore and that's okay because it just means that other boys will now be around and there will be more time to spend on Ollie Webb activities and maybe she could join a basketball team. That there is a job out there with her name on it and we will find it.

And that I love her very much.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Seduced by Still Return and Schrodinger's cat

Just another soft Sunday.

But different.

It snowed last night. Our first real one of the year. And far too early for my taste. The oak tree in the back yard was just beginning to go all red and golden last week when suddenly the temperatures plummeted to the single digits and it was just too cold for November.

And now snow. Enough for Bing and Liv to go out this morning and Bing to break out the snow plow and Liv to do her job: shovel the front and back steps. I stayed in and re-heated the ham and cheese quiche from dinner Friday night and toasted English muffins in the oven and then, as Bing and Liv came in stamping feet and all pink cheeked, I drizzled those muffins with butter and organic honey, a gift from my sister, Jessie, who presented it to us when we drove to see her daughter's team win the Class D volleyball tourney.

We needed some balm after watching our Huskers look like an 8th grade football team when they took on Wisconsin yesterday.

Then, later...we all settled into quietness. Bing had papers to grade. Liv, a book to read for English and me, a medical article to write whose deadline had been Friday.

Bing turned the television to Pandora music and we all got busy, Bing at the dining room table, Liv sprawled on the sofa and me in the soft leather recliner. The music swelled and swirled around us as we all worked silently. Still Return by Harold Budd and Brian Eno on The Pearl. The good smells of chicken breasts in the crock pot smothered with tomato sauce and green peppers from our garden invaded our noses. Idaho potatoes in their shiny foil jackets baked in the oven. In an hour or so, Bing would get up to roll out some biscuits and there would be Jessie's honey and our homemade apple butter. Leftover chocolate cake from a co-worker's birthday party on Friday that no one wanted to take home, so I did.

We worked silently. I finished up my article and picked up the book I had started: a gift from one of my nieces who shares a love of John Green with me: Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

And then, I dunno....the music and Green's words became part of my blood. I shut the book against my chest, closed my eyes and let my mind wander.

I saw my Da, deep dimples in his cheeks, looking down at me as I swung on his arm. Picking me up, holding me close to his heart and whispering, "A leanbh" (uh-Lan-uv) or "A bhuanchara" (uh-WOON-khar-uh).

The horrid days, months after his death when I was still so young, when I stopped talking, couldn't talk, could think of nothing to say that meant anything without my Da in the world. My Mother, at first consulting the parish priest and finally a doctor, who told her that I was the most stubborn child he had ever laid eyes on, that even when pinched, I didn't utter a sound. Her final decision to tell me that if I continued not talking, she would have to keep taking me to doctors and since they were so expensive, how could we afford milk for my baby sister, Jessie? Smart woman. That got my tongue moving. Sister guilt.

High school days of being a roller skating car hop. Yes. And I was good. Can still feel that powerful roughling feel of pavement against wheels as I glided smoothly from car to order window and back again, deftly balancing a tray full of burgers and malteds.

Driving with Bing and friends to see Aerosmith play in Kansas the middle of my sophomore year in college. Getting picked by roadies to meet the band afterwards along with a friend and how we clung to each other in joyful terror as we were lead backstage afterwards. Seeing Steven Tyler back then was like seeing a sweaty, prancing panther who could either kill you or let you stroke him, you could never be sure. How he looked us over with his curlique smile and then said, "Well, look at the two little milkmaids! Come here, kitty, kitties!" How Joe Perry, almost as terrifyingly gorgeous but with a kinder spirit, circumvented us and gently led us back through the doors. "Time to go back home, beautiful angels," he said. "Stevie boy is in a mood to drink blood tonight and you are both far too innocent and gorgeous to survive...." And the somehow relief I felt as he kissed my cheek before he closed the door and hearing Steven Tyler's screeching laugh come through and then seeing him bend to sniff the white from a mirror.....

Casually eating an Arby's regular roast beef (or beast as we used to call them....) as I leaned over a cadaver with my body buddy, Vince, and watched as he carefully removed a lung. Considering that the first time I had to cut into a cadaver, I had yes...fainted....this was progress.

Being at my first medical seminar in New York City and meeting Ron, who was from Long Island, and have him take me club hopping. Dancing to Michael Jackson's Human Nature with a woman who was in full male get up and she and I laughing as she gallantly escorted me all the way back to my hotel in Manhattan on the subway and kissed me chastely on the lips to say goodbye and then headed back to her apartment in Brooklyn. 

Sitting with my group of HIV boys as we sat in a circle and they let it all out. Listening. Knowing that they would all probably be dead within the year. Befriending more than one of them even though I was supposed to keep my professional distance. Painting their nails. Making appletinis in my office for us because WHY shouldn't they have what they wanted NOW?

Carrying Liv in her carrier into an elevator for her first medical check up and having four women lean in and coo and ahhh over her and tell me how gorgeous she was. Getting off the elevator, lugging that heavy carrier over my arm and smiling, thinking, "She's here. She's here. And she's mine. How did I get the Gods to smile on me like this?"

Pulling the old red wagon with Liv sitting in it, clutching her blue teddy bear as I walked to the library. Pointing out pumpkins on the way. Her delight at the perfect golden red leaf that I plucked up for her. Her golden hair flying around her drooly face. That little red plaid jacket that she loved so much.

And then...abruptly...hearing Bing's chair push back as she decided to go check on dinner.

Opening my eyes, noting that the music had long ago changed to something else. Pulling my book back up to read a bit about Schrodinger's cat and think that John Green just gets it right all the time.

Pausing to let my mind take a chunk of reasoning regarding Schrodinger's cat and wonder at it. Looking over at Liv and seeing her brazenly reading the sparknotes for The Iliad. Almost telling her what a cop out that is and that she's MISSING THE BEST PART OF THE BOOK: THE LANGUAGE. Deciding not to say a word because she so obviously wants me to do so. She's making a decision that she knows I will not agree with and is ready to fight, if I push it. I won't. I'm learning to pick my battles.

 A pity, though. A pity. But...maybe books aren't her love like they are mine. She is on a different path from mine and I have to adjust and accept.

Liv suddenly looks up at me and smiles sweetly before she remembers that she's still kind of mad at me from yesterday.

And there it is: her maternal grandfather's dimple. Just one of them, in her right cheek, but it's there. He's in there. So am I. And Tinton. And all kinds of us.

But, mostly just her. Just like I am mostly just me and Bing is mostly just Bing.

I smile back before she turns away. And wink.

Because one day she and I will talk of Schrodinger's cat or John Green (one of her favorites, too) or Aerosmith or Michael Jackson or roller skating car hops or how my soul died for a long time after her grandfather left me.

There's chicken to be eaten. Snow to gaze at (and for her to learn to drive in.....ugh....), and The Iliad to rehash. Soon, it will be Thanksgiving and Sven will be here.

It's a snowy day on the prairie.  And I have been seduced by Still Return and Schrodinger's cat....










Friday, November 14, 2014

Had a fight with my daughter....

....she flew off in a rage...says Bonnie Raitt.

God, I have finally joined the ranks of those parents who get it.

When Liv was younger, my friends who had teenaged daughters used to warn me that the day would come when Liv wouldn't think I was the smartest, most fun person in the world. On those days when I couldn't pee by myself without her little fingers waggling at me under the bathroom door and I would have to sing twinkle, twinkle, little star...with her to keep her from getting too anxious.
To this day, I associate that song with peeing. And more than once, I peed (or yes, shat) with her in my lap.

I was her favorite person in the world. Hands down. Sometimes, I wanted to hand her off to someone just for twenty minutes SO BADLY. But, there she would be in someone else's arms, stretched out over their back, trying to get back to me. So, I would just take her back. Cuddle her against me, let her inhale my scent, feeling her body relax on mine.

Even when she grew older, her tween years, she STILL loved me best. We would go for mother-daughter lunches, I'd sign her out of school on random days and we'd take an afternoon, just us two to have lunch at Dario's and then head out to a matinee.

If I wanted to do that now, she would be incredulous.

"But, I have a math test!"

"My friends and I like to eat lunch together!"

I've adjusted. I am low on her pecking order. But, we still usually get along. And there are still days when she crawls in with us in the mornings just to have a swift cuddle before school. Or nights when I am laying in bed reading and she will lug her biology book in with her and do her homework next to me in the bed. We are silent, but next to each other. By choice. Sometimes, we lay on the sofa together and talk about boys (mostly about how incredibly stupid they are), the future, colleges, the best pie (blueberry...warm with vanilla ice cream) or this song by a group called Every Avenue that she wants me to listen to. One ear bud for me, one for her.

We aren't estranged by any means. Just not as close as we were. There is plenty that she chooses not to share with me and I am good with that. I understand. And approve. Time for her to take those first tentative steps out on her own.

But, sometimes we knock heads.

This time it was over a freaking thank you note.

She received a very ugly sweater from her Aunt, who saw it in a store and "I just thought it said YOU!"

How a baby pink sweater with a kitten wearing pearls on it reminded her of Liv kind of befuddles me, but hey....it was NICE.

I told Liv two weeks ago to be sure and send out what my Mother used to call bread and butter notes. A thank you note.

Liv nodded. I reminded her where the thank you notes were stashed in my home office. She nodded again.

A week went by. I asked her if she sent that note yet. No. She would get to it this week. Promise.

Then I met my Sister for dinner. She asked me if Liv liked the sweater.

"Of course," I lied, sweetly. "And it was so nice of you to send that! Didn't you get your bread and butter note yet?"

No, she said. She had not. But, hey...no biggie.

Except it is. A biggie.

When someone sends you a gift, it is good manners to thank them.

I came back home and cornered Liv, a thank you note with the return envelope already STAMPED. Told her to write this tonight and put it on the kitchen table and I would mail it on my way to work tomorrow.

Liv rolled her eyes.

"I said that I would get to it, MOTHER!"

Did I mention that I HATE it when she calls me MOTHER? It was what I called my Mother and I would rather be called Mom or even Mommy, but NEVER Mother. Liv usually calls me Mama. Or Mother. Which I detest. And she knows it. So she tends to use it strategically.

"You need to "get to it" yesterday, Liv. Are we clear?"

No answer.

"Are we clear, Liv?"

She nods. Sullen. Then just as I am about to turn on my heel, I hear it. Under her breath.

"Nag."

I swirl around so fast that I am almost dizzy.

"WHAT did you just call me?"

"Nothing."

"You called me a nag."

No answer. No eye contact.

"Look at me."

She does, her brown eyes resentful.

"You have something to say to me, say it to my FACE. Or go write it in your diary or tell your friends, but don't you mutter it under your breath at me. Do you understand?"

She nods. ROLLS her eyes.

God, I want to shake her. Instead, I tell her again. "I want that bread and butter note on the kitchen table by morning. If it isn't there. I will come to school and take you out of class to write it in the hall. Do you understand?"

She says yes, her voice carefully neutral.

And then she says in a very small voice. "It's called a thank you note. Not a bread and butter note."

I am still angry.

"If I want to call it a pickle and pie note, that is what I will call it. Just write the damn thing. Now!"

This time it is silent as I walk away.

She and I barely speak all night. When I go in to her bedroom to say goodnight, Liv is at her desk, ear buds in, working on the computer, typing fast. The bread and butter note sits next to her, still undone. I don't comment. I just pull out one of her ear buds and whisper goodnight and that I love her and kiss her cheek. I leave the room.

The next morning, when I get downstairs, aching for my first cup of coffee, there is the note on the table, neatly done but unsealed.

Dear Aunt Patrice,
Thank you so much for the lovely sweater! It will keep me warm on these cold prairie nights! I love it that you thought of me and I love you!

Your loving niece,
Liv

I take a deep breath and seal it. Tuck it in my purse. Go up to get ready for the day.

As I'm sitting on the toilet taking a leisurely morning pee, I look at the door. And suddenly I am aching to see those little fingers under it, waggling at me.

twinkle, twinkle, little star......




Saturday, November 08, 2014

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble....

One more thing you don't know about me. I'm a witch.

Ok...just messin' with ya.

Well, kinda. Sorta.

I am a believer in herbs. I have a special part of my garden devoted solely to herbs. And in the Autumn, I harvest my herbs and hang them in bundles upside down in my basement to dry out. For this reason alone, my basement smells wonderful year round.

Friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members know that each year for Christmas, they will receive sachets of lavender and lemon verbena and bottles of sage, basil, chives rosemary. I rarely have to buy spices as I always have my own home grown on hand.

Bing and I both use lots of herbal remedies over western medicine whenever possible. We both use plenty of fennel and sage in our cooking to help with menopause. Bing recently had a terrible cold and she swears that my oxeye daisy works better than any cough syrup. I take vervain for pain and sarsaparilla root and sassafras for a tonic. Savory for indigestion. I also grow amaranth and even harvest it under a full moon to get its full effect. (If you have a hard conversation coming or need to deal with a toxic person, stick some sprigs of amaranth in your bra and sister, you are good to go.)

Liv's paternal grandmother (called her kunsi) is a huge believer in tea. She sends us bags and bags of it. We have wild cherry bark for coughs, milkweed for constipation, dogwood root for stress (Liv drinks this on the morning of tests...) I call Liv's grandmother Ina and she lovingly sends me red cedar and willow bark tea for my RA and once when I kept coming up low in potassium in all of my medical tests, she sent me some persimmon tea and it was soon fixed.

Friends from Japan are also big tea sharers. They sent me horsetail tea for my diabetes and mugwort tea to Bing for her restless leg syndrome.

So, I am knowledgeable about herbs and a big believer in their medicinal uses. But, I am also a believer in their other uses. I make what we jokingly call BANISH BAD at our house. It is a combination of herbs that Liv and I sprinkle around the outside perimeters of our home every Spring and Autumn. I grow many different herbs for this: basil, angelica, chives, cacao, comfrey leaf, mullein, sage and scotch broom. Well...I have had only minimal luck with the scotch broom shrubs since it isn't compatible with my climate, so I sometimes cheat and order it from a wonderful herb store online. And then, I harvest the herbs, dry them in bundles upside down and then shred them into muslin bags and we are ready to go. Liv and I even have a chant that we say as we sprinkle the herbs.

None be harmed and all be free. This is my will so mote it be.

Ok, so now you are thinking that I am a lot freakier than you'd like and/or maybe child protection needs to be called. Save it. I'm probably more pragmatic than you on my most frivolous day. But, I am also the daughter of full blooded Irish parents who were deep believers in magic. My Mother was a devout Catholic, but she was also extremely superstitious. And frankly, I can't think of a religion more conducive to superstition than Catholicism.

She believed that if your child was sick and you took the hand of a corpse and put it on his/her head, they would be instantly cured. Thank GOD she never tried this with any of us kids.

She believed that if you fell down in a graveyard, someone in your family would die in the next year. Also, if you turned off a light during supper.

If you met someone new at a funeral, you needed to turn back and walk four steps with mourners or else you would end up with that person as your sworn enemy before the year was out.

Girls who whistle bring bad luck to a home. (I can't whistle and I believe this is because she never allowed me to even try!)

Killing a robin brings a life full of sickness and bad luck.

Never ask a man who is on his way to fish where he is going or you will have bad luck for a year.

If a child is sick, they are to be laid north to south or they won't heal properly.

Boiled carrot juice must be sipped once a year to purify the blood.

Yeah, Mother was sure fun....

But, my Da was the same. Maybe even more so.

He was a true believer (as I am, so THERE) in faery folk. He had numerous tales of leprechauns, pookas, selkies and merrows, but he was very, very afraid of hearing a Banshee.

He had strange beliefs that involved burying potatoes. I can't remember what they were for now...

He believed that red haired women brought bad luck to boats of any kind. My Mother had red hair and she was never allowed to step on the boat when we vacationed in Minnesota. Oh, well. Maybe SHE put that into his head because she seemed to much prefer sitting on a lawn chair and smoking a Marlboro with her sister, Tootsie than going fishing with us. Smart women, that one.

My Da believed in all kinds of bad omens: if a bird flew into your house, someone would die soon. Same thing if a chair fell over when you stood up. He also believed that almost anything could be salvaged, though, by either throwing salt over your left shoulder or sprinkling holy water on it. Until the day he died, he always carried a small bottle of holy water in his pocket with a shaker top and if there was discord, a bad feeling, or stress of any kind, he was quick to yank that shaker out. Many times as I sat studying or working on homework, he would walk by me and I would feel the quick coolness of wet flying down on my head. Holy water to help me.

So, while I have a realist mind, my soul belongs to the magic in the world.

And, yes, I am raising my daughter to see that too. I have no idea if she believes in the same ways that I do. She has been protecting our home from harm with me since she was two and toddled behind me, holding out her hand to sprinkle herbs around our house too. I know that she goes to a Catholic Girl's Academy and she is a fervent believer now in the power of prayer even though she knows that her Mother is a troubled agnostic.

We have had the many discussions about God to prove it. She believes that he/she is out there and will help her if needed. I believe in? What? I don't know. The power of the force, I suppose. The power of the good souls in the world and beyond. Those of us who hold hands and stand together to keep the bad out. Some of us are Catholics, some Muslims, some Atheists, some Jews, Some Mormons. I think that maybe there might even be a few Republicans in there too....

What I know now is that Liv and I have our muslim bags ready and on December 6th, the night of the next full moon, we will be sprinkling our BANISH BAD.

Bless our Irish-Lakota hearts.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The post where Maria refused to hire the woman who laughed like a donkey

Maybe I'm a bigot. Or not.

All I know is that I do not enjoy doing hiring interviews. We lost our office manager, Betsy, in August. Since then, we've been limping along, taking turns doing the books and payroll every month. I did it in September. And I will have to do it again in December if we don't hire an office manager soon.

The three of us sat down last week and narrowed the list down to 5 candidates. We agreed that since Jin has two sick toddlers that she would only have to interview one this week. Bambi (actually that is not her real name...but her real name is actually the name of a baby deer, so close....) and I agreed to each interview two.

I got Paula and let's call her Rosie. Because she looked like Rosie O'Donnell if she had shorter hair and was taller and thinner.

I interviewed Paula first. She scared the bloody hell out of me. She came in wearing full hijab dress. This did not scare me. I have no problem with Muslims. And as hijabs go, hers was almost festive looking, all pink and orangey. No. It was her personality that scared the shit out of me.

She also had a deep voice that made me understand that under no circumstance was I to think that she had a sense of humor.

I held out my hand and instead she sort of bowed at me. Okay. I can adapt. I smiled and motioned her to sit. She did.

I told her that I thought she had impressive educational references. She did. She not only had a degree in business, but also a master's degree. With a great grade point average. And I DID check.

Her job history was less impressive. Four jobs within a two year period, two with banks, another with a cable company and her last one with an insurance company. I asked her why she only stayed a few months at each job.

She exploded with barely held back anger.

"They wanted to stifle me! They would not give me my rights as a wife and Mother!"

Startled, I just stared at her for a moment. Then, she gave me a sudden shy smile and I began to wonder if she had a personality disorder.

Her voice softened. "I needed to take extra time away to care for my husband and they did not see things my way."

I nodded encouragingly. I had checked her references and been told that in all four jobs she had a time issue. That she often arrived late and expected to leave early if her husband wanted her home for any reason. She took days off over and beyond her sick leave and vacation days. So, I did what I always do when I want to keep someone talking. I just sat silently. Waited.

It worked. It always does. Try it sometime. Most people hate a void. Especially if they feel angry.

Paula went on to explain that her marriage always came first. That her husband was her king, her master. And if he wanted her home for any reason, she obeyed.

"I am a hard worker, but my marriage comes first," she said. "If my husband requires my presence at home because he is tired of staying with the children or because he wants some cuddle time, I am at his command."

Well, now. She surely had my full attention. Cuddle time? She didn't look like the cuddly type and I wondered if cuddle time was code for fuck my brains out time. I did not like the images that came with that thought, so I swept them off of my brain plate.

I explained to Paula that this job was a part time job, requiring her to come in 20 hours per week. That she could take those twenty hours whenever she wished, but that she had to be here for 20 hours. Did she think she could commit to those hours?

She said that she would try.

We went on to discuss what her job duties would be should she be hired, but frankly I had already dismissed her in my head.

I can try not to be judgmental regarding her obvious subservient marriage. But, I didn't doubt for a moment that if her husband wanted her home for some um....cuddling and the payroll wasn't finished, well...that would just be too damn bad for us. We just would not get our paychecks on time.

And so I ended the interview as quickly as I could without being rude. As she was leaving, she let me know that she caught my bluff.

"You won't be hiring me. You're just like the others," she muttered as she left.

Well, she needed a course in social manners too, I decided. If she had a shred of a hope before that moment, she lost all credibility with me right then,

Dissing your future boss is a no no.

I moved on to Rosie. At first glance, she seemed okay. A tall, slender woman with short dark hair in a plain black pant suit. I was relieved that she had dressed for the interview. I can't tell you how many people show up in jeans at interviews. Are you kidding me?? JEANS? Yes, sirree bob. Jeans.

We shook hands and I told her that I saw that she had a business degree from the community college.

"Is that a strike against me? " she asked, nervously.

Of course not, I told her. I happened to think that our city's metro community college was excellent. She smiled. I smiled.

Hmmmm. This was looking good so far. She also had nice references, had worked for a local lawyer  for the last 20 years but when he retired, she was out of luck and in need of a job.

"I'm only 54," she said. "Still a spring chick!"

And then, she scared the fucking hell out of me. In the exact opposite of the way that Paula had.

She laughed. And it was not a regular person laugh. It was the loudest most staccato rat-a-tat laugh that I have ever heard. I am not joking. I nearly fell out of my chair. A client was walking by my office with a baby and I SWEAR TO BABY HEY ZEUS that the kid burst into tears.

It was a terrifyingly donkey laugh, but so loud and raucous that it almost had an echo.

One of the secretaries carefully came to my office and reached in and gently shut my door.

I looked carefully at Rosie. Did she know what she had done? Was she aware of that laugh? She seemed completely oblivious.

I'd like to say that it stopped there, but folks...it didn't. Because Rosie was a frustrated comedienne who loved to say funny lines and after each and every funny sentence, she followed it up with that loud, braying donkey laugh. It was so loud that I felt my skin begin to tighten up, fearful of when the next funny line would come out of her mouth.

I wanted to put my hands over my ears and tell her to stop.

Instead, I tried to ask as many serious questions as I could. But, it was hard because Rosie was an incredibly merry soul. She had LOVED her last job, ADORED the lawyer that she had worked for. Yes, she and Bill had some fun times, they sure did.

I wondered if Bill was deaf.

Rosie said that she thought our office looked like a fun place to work. This troubled me. If we were fun, she would laugh. If she laughed like that all day long, our ears would begin to bleed and we would not be a fun office anymore.

I could see that Rosie was probably a good office manager. A hard worker. Her references from Bill were glowing. She was the salt of the earth, he said, a heart of gold and a mind like a steel trap.

Wow.

But, no. That laugh, and her lack of awareness of it, was just not going to work here.

I politely shook her hand and told her that we had several more candidates to interview but that we'd be getting back to her.

I lied.

Neither she nor Paula would be hired if I could help it. And oddly, of the two of them, I actually preferred Paula.

I ran into Jin on the way out of the office. She was glowing.

"I think I found our new office manager!" she said.

"Is she a laugher? Like a loud, obnoxious laugher?" I asked.

"Um, no," she answered, looking confused.

"Does she need a lot of cuddle time with her husband?"

Jin stared at me.

"No, Maria," she finally said. "Well, I don't think so anyway. I didn't ask because like that would be.....I don't know.... ILLEGAL!"

I just smiled. "Good," I said. "Let's talk tomorrow with Bambi."

Maybe I was being unfair to a truly warm and fun loving woman and to a devoted wife. What do you think? What would YOU have done?

Curious. 




Sunday, November 02, 2014

Finding Cheryl

She was my best friend from kindergarten through 2nd grade. Cheryl Tyson. We met on the first day of kindergarten. The Catholic school in my town did not have a kindergarten, so I went to the public school one and then transitioned to first grade at the Catholic school.

Cheryl and I hit it off like gang busters because she and I were both enamored of the little play kitchen set up in the room, complete with a full pan set, dishes, a little table with place mats, napkins and best of all, a broom set with a little dustpan that was just our size. Yes, I am THAT old. This was back in the days when kindergartens were all about playtime.

Cheryl was a cherubic little girl with fat, pink cheeks, dimpled knees and the most beautiful copper colored, curly mop of long hair. Her mother tried to braid it every day and by 10 a.m., it would be falling loose. She and I adored that playhouse kitchen and spent many happy times pretending to be the Jones sisters who lived there without husbands. No boy was ever able to penetrate our happy spinsterhood existence in that house. We each had our own baby doll, but no husband.

Cheryl was a town kid and I was a farm kid and although the two rarely mixed, we could have cared less. Whenever my Mother gave permission (actually I usually asked my Da instead of my Mother since he was almost always likely to say yes and she, only occasionally....she was not crazy about me wasting my time on a non-Catholic friend, but given the fact that I had shown absolutely no interest in any other friends, she would acquiesce..), I would walk the block home from school on many afternoons with Cheryl and spend the rest of the day playing at her house, which was an apartment on top of a diner. Her house always smelled deliciously of food from that diner and also from her Mother's cooking, which was incredible. Homemade fudge and brownies, chocolate chip cookies, loaded heavily on the chips and our favorite: Campbells cream of chicken soup made with table cream instead of mere milk or the way MY Mother made it: half water/half milk. Chery's Mother always had oyster crackers on hand, something so rare in my home, that once I requested them as a birthday gift! We'd eat our soup, put in plastic white bowls with yellow rims and each have a cup of chocolate milk on the side and then whatever delicious dessert her Mother had made.

I ADORED Cheryl's Mother and would have traded her in for my own in a sheer second. I can't remember what her name was, probably because we were never to call an adult by their first name back then. She was Mrs. Tyson to me. She was a tall, willowy woman with chin length black hair and dark brown eyes and sparkly pink cat eyed glasses. She had a softly modulated voice and hands that were gentle and stroking. She often had bruises on the side of her face or on her hands or arms and once, a black eye so severe that it went from black to mottled purple to an ugly brown egged color and at last, a sickly yellowish splash all around her left eye. She never hid the bruises but joked that she was the clumsiest Mother in the world. I was 6. What did I know? I believed her. I rarely saw Cheryl's Father, Mr. Tyson. He was a bandy legged,short, burly man who sported a bright red crew cut. He was almost a full foot shorter than Mrs. Tyson and was the town mover. If you had something that needed moving, whether it was a washer and dryer set or a whole house, he was the one you called. He and his three hired men would move anything anywhere in a five town radius. He often was out of town for days at a time, working at nearby towns. When he was in town, he read photography magazines and walked around snapping pictures. The dining room in their apartment was closed off and turned into a darkroom for him and black and white photos of Cheryl and her older sister, Anna, lined the apartment walls.

Mrs. Tyson did not drive, she told me that Cheryl's Dad didn't believe in women driving places on their own, so my Mother or Da would drive to pick me up at their home after an afternoon of play. I would regale everyone at the dinner table of how wonderful their apartment was. Cheryl shared a room with her sister and their apartment was tiny, but Cheryl's Mother seemed to have nothing better to do than keep us entertained. They lived right across the street from the town drugstore and Mrs. Tyson kept Cheryl's crayon boxes stocked with sharp edged crayons, not the eight pack crayons that I had at home but the 64 pack with colors like burnt sienna and cadet blue and lemon yellow. And instead of coloring books, she supplied us with reams of moving paper that her husband bought in huge stock, so Cheryl and I would lay on the living room floor on our stomachs, coloring away, creating whole cities and whole families on white stock paper. This was after a hearty bowl of cream of chicken soup and a generous blonde brownie to nibble on as we worked.

Cheryl's family also had a lot of records. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, as well as Elvis Presley and The Beatles. We would listen to that music as we drew and sometimes Mrs. Tyson would come in and declare that it was dance time! and we would stand up and and shake ourselves wildly to Hound Dog or Don't Be Cruel and then waltz around holding arms to Love Me Tender. Mrs. Tyson was a gifted dancer and taught us how to do all the latest dances: the stroll, the twist, the mashed potato.

Sometimes, Cheryl would come to my house after school. She enjoyed this far more than I did. She thought that feeding the chickens was fun, that gathering eggs from the hen house was an adventure and that even slopping the pigs was enjoyable. Those were CHORES for me and while I didn't mind showing Cheryl how to do them, they weren't what I thought of as fun. More fun, was wandering in the woods, pretending to be pioneer girls who had been kidnapped by rogue bands of bad guys who wanted to sell us to older people to use as kitchen chore girls. We were 6 year old Iowegians. Naive. We'd wander the woods with sticks in hand, scaring wild turkeys and sometimes almost getting into real danger when we'd encounter a wild fox or once, on a cold Spring day, a whirling swarmball of snakes who suddenly broke apart and slithered all around us before we ran screaming away. Back in the early 1960's, it was common to let children play by themselves in the woods. I often went fishing or swimming by myself in the creek from the time I was in kindergarten until I graduated from high school. I think of that now and sort of shake my head. I simply cannot even imagine allowing Liv to wander around the woods by herself even as a 15 year old!

Our friendship didn't lose steam (as I am certain my Mother prayed it would) when I went to first grade at the Catholic school and Cheryl remained at the public school. Our get-to-gethers were mostly spent on Saturdays now and holidays, but even though we had our school friends, we were still each others first choice. I'm not sure why that was. Our personalities were not all that well suited. I was quiet and yes, even back then, a little aloof and standoffish and Cheryl was gregarious and a little noisy and according to my Mother, lacked the art of ladylike gentleness. Cheryl loved my family as much as I loved hers. She loved my Da, the way that he would read to us or sometimes recite poetry to us, tell us stories about the Edmund Fitzgerald and it's doomed crew and sing Irish ballads. I think that she found my Mother to be unnerving, with her tendency to put us to work cleaning barn stalls or weeding gardens and her sheer lack of good baking. Lunch at our house was a cheese sandwich more often than anything else and my Mother's attempts at baking produced cookies that were blackish on the bottoms. More than anything, I think Cheryl loved that my parents got along and seldom fought. But, back then, she didn't verbalize it and I wouldn't have understood the importance of that if she had. I thought that ALL parents were like mine and since I rarely saw her Father, I had nothing to compare her parents against.

In second grade, our friendship abruptly ended. Cheryl and I got it into our heads that we wanted to attend church with each other. We decided to start with the Catholic church. I asked my parents if Cheryl could spend a Saturday night with us and go to mass with us the next day and they readily agreed. Cheryl's parents thought it was fine, so that is what we did. I remember feeling so proud to show her my church and school her in all the kneeling and standing required. The next weekend, her Mother called mine to ask if they could return the favor, inviting me to spend the night at their home on a Saturday night and go to their Lutheran church the following Sunday. My Mother laughed sharply into the phone and said that absolutely not. That she would NEVER permit her child to attend a service at another church, that we were Catholic and missing a mass was a venial sin unless I was ill. Mrs. Tyson conveyed the message to Cheryl who called me promptly on the phone and told me that she didn't want to be friends anymore with someone who treated her church with disrespect. I stumbled around, trying to make it right, with no idea how to do so and ended up whispering that I was sorry, and that I would take this to my Da. Cheryl agreed, reluctantly. I did so. And found that he agreed with my Mother, that no...I was not to attend services at the Lutheran church. I called Cheryl back to apologize and she hung up on me. I burst into tears at the dinner table that night with the news that Cheryl no longer was my friend. My Mother, I know now, was immensely relieved. She had been contemplating on how to end that friendship for years and here it was finally accomplished. She told me, as she was prone to, to buck up and quit my bawling and make some new friends in my own good Catholic classroom with worthy children. This all seems remarkably odd to me now. I pride myself on having friends of diverse cultures and religions as does my daughter. But, back then, in that small town, the Catholics stayed with their own kind.

Cheryl and I didn't speak again for nearly a decade. Even though we lived in a small town, this was not all that difficult. I had very little contact with anyone who wasn't a part of the Catholic community in my town. But, I never really made another friend like Cheryl. I was a very quiet, hermitted child. I discovered books at a very early age and found that I greatly preferred them to play mates or friends. My lack of interest in having friends served to be a catalyst to make others want to BE my friend, though, as a child's desperate want of friends will sometimes have the opposite effect. I didn't seek friends out, so I was always sought out. I attended many birthday parties and play dates, but this was mainly arranged by the Mothers and while I had some fun times, I never really deeply connected to anyone, even in high school. I had a small circle of friends and was liked by nearly everyone. I always had a boy who wanted to go out with me. But, it would not be until I was in my 40's and met Harriet, that I would find another best friend. And this is not counting Bing, who was my faithful sidekick all through college and beyond. She is still my best friend, but being that she is my wife now, she is in a whole other league.

My Da died when I was not quite ten years old. I don't remember much from those awful days that followed his death, but one memory sticks out. Walking down the aisle behind his casket at his funeral, I saw Cheryl and her Mother sitting in the back of the church, close together. Cheryl was crying silently and looking at me as her Mother gently cradled her and then Mrs. Tyson looked over at me with such warm gentle sympathy that it nearly brought me to my knees. My own Mother was incredibly strong and stoic and not one tear was shed in front of me. She kept her mouth in a thin tight line, but had never cuddled me or comforted me, pulling me into her lap. As she had braided my hair the morning of Da's funeral, she told me to be sure and sit up straight in the pew today, to let everyone know that Da's girls were good and well mannered. I had nodded, unable to speak. Now that my Da was gone, I knew that a lot of the tenderness that I had known in my life was gone too. I felt like Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. I knew that my tendency to hold my feelings deep inside me would now be my way of surviving. But, I longed for a Mother's arms. I longed for someone to lift me up and carry me away like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Seeing Mrs. Tyson's soft brown eyes, filled with kindness, nearly did me in.

The years went by. And then I was 17 and coming out of the town library after a Saturday afternoon of researching a paper.

"Maria? Is that you, honey?"

I looked up and there was Mrs. Tyson, coming towards the library, her arms full of books. I stopped and stiffly allowed her to shift her books to one arm and hug me with the other.

"I was just returning these books for Cheryl and then I have to stop at the drugstore to pick a few things up for her. Why don't you come home with me and say hello to her? Are you in a hurry?"

Their apartment was just a couple of blocks away and no, I was not in a hurry, but I really felt awkward. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know Cheryl at ALL. Even at the parties that I went to, there were seldom non-Catholics. I only knew a few kids who went to the public school. At my Catholic school, even dating non-Catholics was such a big no-no, that for them to come to our dances, both sets of parents had to sign a paper saying that it was alright with them. I only knew one girl in my class who dated a public school boy. But, I couldn't think of an excuse fast enough, so I said okay. I waited while Mrs. Tyson dropped the books in the outside box and then she and I walked to the drugstore, her arm tucked into mine. She talked sweetly, asking after my Mother and Sisters. She told me that I might be surprised to know that they now had a little dog, a mutt called Sparky. By the time reached their apartment, I was feeling less awkward.

Until we walked in their outside door, now painted green instead of the red that I remembered and now instead of being on top of a cafe, they lived on top of a pizza place. Mrs. Tyson called up the stairs to Cheryl as we ventured up. Cheryl emerged from her bedroom in a long tee shirt that was serving as her pajamas. It was 3 in the afternoon.

"I brought you your cigarettes!" Mrs. Tyson trilled, sweetly. (We had stopped at the drugstore, but I had not seen what she had purchased, instead looked at 16 magazine until she said she was ready to go..)

"Yeah, whatever. Thanks," Cheryl said in a desultory manner and then stopped dead when she saw me.

"What the fuck?" she said.

I was mortified. If I had said that sentence in front of my Mother, I would have been dead. But, Mrs. Tyson just looked nervous.

"Cheryl, you remember your old friend, Maria!" she said.

Cheryl caught herself and shrugged. "Yeah, yeah, I guess so," she said. "So, what are you doing here?"

"Um..." I started. Mrs. Tyson stepped in. "I talked her into coming over to say hello. It must be ages since you two have seen each other! I'll run and get you a soda. Cheryl wants diet coke, I know that! Maria? What can I get you?"

I told her nothing, that I really couldn't stay. That it was nice to see Cheryl again, though. I leaned down to pet Sparky and then stood back up and began to slowly back up, saying that I had better get on my way. Mrs. Tyson looked like she wanted to say something, but held back and Cheryl looked bored. As I turned on my heel, Cheryl said, "I'm really sorry about your Dad, Maria. He was a good guy. I always liked him. Um...hey...sit down and have a quick coke. Ma? Get us diet cokes?"

Mrs. Tyson beamed and turned. I sat down gingerly on a chair and Cheryl and I briefly talked. She asked the questions, in a voice that suggested that she really didn't care what my answers were. Was I still dating that Ben kid? The one who played basketball? I said yes. Asked her if she was dating anyone. Yeah, she said, she was. Her old man was an older boy named Matt, he worked in a mechanic shop. He was 20 and they were going to move in together next month.

"But, um...aren't you still in school?" I asked, feeling very wholesome sitting there in my jeans and peter pan shirt while she sat sprawled in her long tee shirt, with her wild copper hair all around her, looking like Janis Joplin to my Marcia Brady.

She laughed, waved her hand. "I'm done with school," she said. "Who needs it?"

"Well, you do!" her Mother said, arriving with the cokes. "Your Dad is very upset, dear."

Cheryl lit a cigarette and snorted. "Yeah, I'm so torn up about that..... " She looked over at me. "That's why I'm moving out next month. He's kicking my ass out because I quit school."

I nodded, took a few sips. We had little to say to each other after that. My trips to look at colleges didn't seem to be anything that would interest her.

She did ask me in a sardonic voice what I planned to major in, because OF COURSE, I was going to college, wasn't I?

I told her that I was undecided. Maybe English. Maybe teaching. Maybe medicine. Journalism. Probably undeclared for now. She finished her cigarette and abruptly stood up, offering to walk me to the door. Relieved, I jumped to my feet, calling a goodbye to Mrs. Tyson. We thumped down the steps to the front door and awkwardly said our goodbyes.

"Have a good life," she said to me. That was it.

I didn't see Cheryl again for another 15 years. This time, I had moved to the state next door to my birthplace and was working at a plush psychiatric firm that specialized in working with wealthy women who were dealing with philandering husbands or how to deal with their exes new trophy wives. I was in the last year of my relationship with a woman named Cory, who had tried to kill herself when I broke up with her, so I had promised to stay together for one more year to see if we could "salvage" our relationship. I was many things. I was making money hand over fist. I was depressed. I was long ostracized from my family. I lived in a swanky town home. All of my dreams had supposedly come true. I had a partner who loved me, a beautiful home and lots of money. But,I was so sad inside.  I was drinking a lot. Taking a lot of drugs.I was on the wrong course and I knew it.

And as I walked into work one day, there she was: Cheryl. She was sitting in one of the many receptionist chairs. She and I saw each other at the exact some moment and we both stared. Cheryl looked great. Still had long beautiful coppery hair and although she and I were both beginning our thirties, she had come into her own beauty. She was also 7 months pregnant.

"Well, well, well!" she smirked, giving my white coat the once over. "My, my, my. DR. Lastname. I had heard that you had gone and made good..."

I just nodded, swallowing. We spoke briefly. I found out something startling. She had married a boy from the Catholic school. A shy, quiet boy named Johnny Johnson whom I remembered as loving to draw. A very nice, sweet guy. Yes, she said, she'd finally gotten her GED and stopped being an idiot. Married Johnny three years ago. He worked as a graphic designer at the cable company. They had a two year old daughter and another on the way. Then, she looked a little slyly at me and said, "So, are the town rumors true? Did you get disinherited by your Mom and are you living with a woman?"

I said yes.

She smiled and shook her head. "Freeeaaaakkkkyyy. And um...ick. Wow. And look at you all swanked up in a Chanel suit and high heels. I always pictured you working on some Democrat campaign. And here you're a shrink to rich ladies. Oh well. See ya around..."

And that was it. No. We didn't connect. I was taken aback again by what I thought of as her churlishness and from then on ducked my head and ignored her as I walked by. A couple of months later, she was gone. Maternity leave, I thought, but then she never came back. When I worked up the courage to ask one of the receptionists what happened to that copper haired woman, Mrs. Johnson? She told me that she heard that she had moved to a better paying job at the Methodist Hospital.

I was glad not to have to run into her anymore.

And then, well....you know the rest. My life changed  a LOT. Cory and I split for good. I went on to stop my binge drinking and taking of drugs. I had Liv. Bought our old Victorian. Became a stay-at-home Mom for five years, finally found my head and heart and fell madly in love with Bing. And reclaimed the life that I was meant to have.

And then...well...whaddya know. This morning, I went grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Bing is still sick with a cold and Liv was still sleeping, so I was alone. I was stopped at the oranges, feeling them up and accepting a sample of orange juice when I heard a voice behind me say, "Maria? Maria Lastname?"

I turned around and there was Cheryl. Still looking good, thin as a toothpick, though. Her hair was still coppery colored, but cut close to her head now in a shower of curls. It looked a little dyed. Well, good for her. I thought of my sweat suit and Chucks. My hair up in a scrunchee. No makeup. Decided What the FUCK. This is me now. I must look kind of the same for her to recognize me.

But, something about her was different. Well.....it had been 25 more years. Her face, like mine, had crow's feet and a few wrinkles around her mouth. And we both looked like a blurrier painting of the selves we had been when we last saw each other. Softer around the edges.

There was not a hint of slyness in her smile this time. It was genuine. So was mine. Age brings such wisdom. It really does.

"You look the same, but different," she said.

"So do you," I answered.

She pointed out our empty carts. "Hey, looks like we're both just getting started. Want to have a coffee first?"

Strangely, I did.

So, we bought our coffees and met at a table. And talked.

She told me that Johnny had died two years ago. Of cancer. I swallowed. Told her that I'd always liked him.

"He saved me from myself and my bad habits," she said.

I smiled. Told her that I had married someone who had done the same for me.

"A woman?" she asked.

"A woman," I answered. "We got married in Iowa about a year ago. Some of my family was there and hers,but mostly our friends."

She gave me a long look. "Good for you," she said. "I'm glad that you have someone to love."

I crooked my head at her. Smiled.

"I've grown up out of my bigotry," she said. "It happens to the best of us. Plus, my granddaughter thinks she's gay. Time to catch up to the world."

I smiled again.

I learned that Cheryl had her realtor's license now and that she was the top earner for her company. That after Johnny died, she laid around fallow for a few months and then her kids told her to stop this, that Dad would be so upset to see her like this and to get up. So, she'd done that. And now, she was earning a lot more money than he ever did and boy, that would have stuck in his craw.

I told her that I had a 15 year old daughter who just went on her first car date to a Halloween party and that I was scared to death but decided to trust her judgment. That I now co-owned my own clinic for children and that I was happily married to a high school teacher. That we lived in an old Victorian house in mid town and that while yes, I had RA and walked with a cane, I was still pretty mobile. Mobile enough to see those Huskers beat Purdue yesterday.

We talked about how her Dad used to beat her Mother and it was this big family secret. That her Mother had stayed with him until she got cancer and that then all of a sudden, he suddenly seemed to realize that he had been married to a saint for all those years and that he was about to lose her and he suddenly became the husband that she had deserved.

"He died a few months before Johnny did, about five years after my Mom died and my sister and I had both forgiven him by then. Believe it or not, he was a fantastic grandfather to my kids. Weird, huh? When we were friends in that tiny Iowa town, I wanted YOUR Dad to be MY Dad," she said.

"And I wanted YOUR Mother to be MINE," I told her.

We both drained our coffees. It was time to go. We didn't exchange phone numbers. But we did hug goodbye.

"I still love your hair," I told her as we hugged and I breathed in her scent of something....? Lavender?

"It's dyed now," she said back. "And I still feel just a little intimidated by you. I always knew that you'd be a professor or something. My Mother used to say that you were so smart."

We agreed that age is a great leveler.

And then Cheryl took her cart and I took mine and we waved as we parted. I didn't run into her as I did my grocery shopping or see her as I checked out.

No matter. Our paths are meant to cross. I fully expect to see her in another decade.

I wonder what life will be like then......




Friday, October 31, 2014

Thank you, David Sedaris

Thank you, David Sedaris, for last night. For the fun time that my Sister and I had in our really bad seats. I was so crabby about that. When I had called to make the purchase of the tickets to your show, I had told the person on the other end of the phone that I needed to have a seat on the aisle. She said sure.

And when we arrived at the Holland Center for your show, we were promptly lead to a non-aisle seat. When I protested that this was NOT what I had stipulated, I was told that since it was a sell out concert, there was nothing to be done. We sat. I pouted. My back immediately began to hurt and I couldn't stretch out my legs and I was MAD.

And then you came on and made me laugh so hard that I forgot about my back.

I swear to GOD  that if I were not already married, I would beg for your hand. I suppose you aren't that droll and witty every second of the day, but...just maybe you really are.



This morning, I am limping like a motherfucker. But, I still love you and I'm still chuckling. I probably had great dreams last night because of you.