More From The Abbey: The Critters

Saturday morning, I spotted animal poop outside the kitchen door and near the top of the hill that leads to the church. Sister Nettie, who’s only been at the Abbey just over two years (from the Abbey of Our Lady of the Mississippi in Iowa!), told me about the time a rattlesnake slithered and coiled in front of her on the path to the hummingbird feeders. And then about the time a mountain lion killed a deer and “consumed” it for two days in the wash below the retreat house. “But they’re nocturnal, you know.”

Yes, I understand that there are mountain lions and coyotes and open-grazing cattle and angry sheep and lizards and scorpions and killer ants (think fire ants with a lot of added Tucsonian drama) and mice and, yes, even gila monsters. I know to be careful bringing food or drink in the room and disposing of trash. I know to watch where I step. I know to listen for strange noises in tall grass. I know to carry a big stick to make anything think twice. Lucky for me, I can’t be outside for long anyway, what with my lily white skin made of all that is pure and holy. So yes, thank you, I know.

Dad's Last Stand

Dad's Last Stand

I’ve also seen jackrabbits and baby squirrels and roadrunners (try to see one of those and not hear the beep-beep in your head) and dragonflies and butterflies.

Dejected Dad

Dejected Dad

And this morning, my last morning at the Abbey for the weekend, I heard two birds having somewhat of a heated discussion outside. Upon investigation, the bird with the fancy red hairdo was in a tree just up ahead squawking at the bird with no fancy hairdo on the ground just in front of my doors. If I’m not mistaken, the fancy hairdos on birds are reserved for the males. Assuming that’s correct, apparently, he was telling her to do something, and she wasn’t having it. Slowly, so she wouldn’t notice as much, he flew to the ground and started walking haphazardly towards her. Then and only then did she start walking towards him. And I was able to see that she had two babies following close behind her. She didn’t walk straight to him; she and her babies meandered. They stopped to smell some flowers, they stopped in the taller grasses to window shop for things (I imagine back-to-school supplies), and they stopped to dig in this dirt and that dirt, most likely for snacks. And mom and dad stopped squawking at each other. YES, she was coming! And so they toddled off, he ten birds or so ahead, stopping regularly to make sure she was still relatively behind him. He stopped at the next tree, looked back for her, and waited a little more. She chirped at him to come look at something, probably new shoes for the oldest, so he hung his head and trudged back to her*, reminding me of all the dads at the mall.

*Come to find out, these were Arizona quail. I suppose they’re named Arizona quail because they’re in Arizona? As opposed to Nevada quail or New Mexico quail? All under the watchful eye of the Border Bird Patrol!  

I have an abnormally large...

Patio.

It didn’t start out this way. When I moved in to my apartment on April 1st, the patio was much more normal in size. It was long, but not wide. Fit for a chaise and table and a few plants, but not much else. But now?! I think I could host volleyball playoffs. Do they have volleyball playoffs? I played volleyball in high school for a minute before I switched teams to tennis and was asked to quit. After that, I pretty much stuck to babysitting. I was good at that.

Anyway, my adobe (apartment) (almost) at the end of my dirt road dream has come to fruition, I realize. I don’t have as much, if any, neighbor fodder this year. I could talk about the wackadoodle that was my last landlord in Indianapolis, but I honestly don’t want to think about him. I have an office now at work, so I don’t even have a cubicle neighbor to whine about. In a writing way, it’s all very disappointing, but in a contentment way, it’s overwhelming. Gratitude makes me cry. And for this opportunity to experience the desert, and for this room to breathe like I have never known, I am both grateful and weepy.

I write this from the Santa Rita Abbey in Gardner Canyon, at the edge of the Coronado Forest of the Santa Rita Mountains. Silence is the rule, there is no Internet nor phone service (I’ve already played eight games of backgammon and three of solitaire), I am the only retreater, and the thunder from a quick-passing monsoon rain is rolling through my screen doors that give me a view of the summer green mountains. When I arrived at the office to get my key from Sister Pam, two happy and orange dragonflies welcomed me. I don’t know if you know this, but I am obsessed with dragonflies, to the point of an appointment for a new wrist tattoo before month’s end. They need to be near water just like this Cancer, they enjoy a good reed (get it? I also enjoy a good read!), they are wise and strong enough to go with the flow and fly in any direction, and they follow their dreams. I made up that last one. I don’t know that dragonflies have dreams, but I think they do.

Anyway, again. Not that long ago, the apartment management company expanding my patio to five times its original size would have irked me. It’s absurd. Plus, they gave us no notice, and workers begin their days at 5am to avoid the midday sun and heat. And it’s just screaming for outside activity, which, around me, usually leads to bad behavior, as you know if you know me. But when I came home to the beginnings of the new brick wall in the distance, I was just in disbelief. Then, I was confused. And when the last brick was in its place, it was just so ridiculous looking, I had to laugh. It’s funny, my abnormally large patio. But, it’s not as funny as the new tree.

Cordelia By Day

Cordelia By Day

I sent a picture to Spawn who said, “That’ll be really nice in about 20 years.” I sent a picture to my friend, Pamela, who said, “Oh my God, it’s the Charlie Brown tree”. We pictured it with tiny Christmas presents around it. Tiny lights and tiny tinsel. Tiny candy canes and a tiny star on top. I recently bought a ring that came in the cutest and smallest box ever, and I can’t wait to put it underneath. I think I can make a decent tree skirt with a couple of Kleenexes.

Cordelia's Shadow

Cordelia's Shadow

Then, the sun moved, and my little tree cast a little shadow onto my abnormally large patio. But, looking at the picture, I’m sure you get the same feeling I do. She’s proud. She’s trying so hard to be big. She. She needed a name. So I pulled a Goddess card, asking the powers-that-be to help me name her.

Cordelia. Of course, Cordelia!

Cordelia, with her message to go outside, her nudge to get some fresh air, her independence, her fierceness, her shade, her holiday magic, her strength in these storms of late, and her ability to make me laugh until I cried. I couldn’t love her more.

IMG_1166.JPG

The sun has set on the Abbey while I've been writing this. I stopped between paragraphs to take some pictures and a video of the view from my porch. It may take me the rest of my life to figure out how to upload the video to this, but below are some of the pictures. That's newfangled enough for now. Not having seen much of one for 14 years in Indiana, I wasn’t sure at first, but I think that’s the moon in one or two of them! 

Tomorrow, I am fasting and writing. I am releasing, as they say we should, on this special lunar eclipse full moon. I still check his Facebook page almost every day from an anonymous account. I check hers too, hoping to witness the inevitable and dramatic end that must come when we chosen ones must walk away from the mental illness. I can’t see much, and yet, I check.* So, just like I did with my post-single motherhood angst, I would like to get this out of me. The gal who writes the Elephant Journal says, “When you tell your story, you heal your story”. I hope so. I could use the space in my head for all these new desert blessings.

*Disclaimer: It is from a place of curiosity, not pitifulness. Really.

Anyway, for the last time. Come to find out, my abnormally large patio is just the right size for me and lil’ Cordelia. I don’t expect that I’ll live much beyond her teenage years, and I’m sure I will move in the next year or two, but I am happy to be a part of her life. For now, I like to think of us as in this together. I throw more shade, but she is a strong and giant breath of fresh air.

Cordelia In the Evening

Cordelia In the Evening

Subject: Diane Keaton is Coming on Saturday

As of today, I have been in Tucson, Arizona, for three weeks. It's my second attempt at a great escape, but this time there is no penis involved. Well, Spawn is here and he is the primary reason for my compass pointed in this direction (seems a lot of us old-timers are doing this to our kids), and he has a penis, I’m sure, but last I thought about that was some 22 or 23 years ago when it was a “winkie” and before I started forking over extra rent money for separate bathrooms. So, there’s a penis, but not one I’ve thought about until typing this just now. I’m also here to work on my Native American Studies project for school and to find out if that might lead me down a new, more useful path someday. And to look at stuff, of course.

I’m “airbnbing” (the whole world’s a verb!) in one of a series of nine adobe townhomes originally built in the 1880s and refurbished in the early 2000s. It is on South Convent Avenue. My first week, I had a next door neighbor named Olga. These were, of course, the most comforting signs the Universe could offer me: a Convent and an Olga.

Originally, I was to be here for a couple of weeks, but the owner has the complex up for sale and made me an offer to stay through the first week of April that I couldn’t refuse, as they say. This is also a comfort, because I get to give the town a fighting chance to hire me.

When I first arrived, the owner took me on a tour of all the adobes, each unique and with a story to tell. He was very proud to tell me that, a few months ago, Diane Keaton had made an offer that he turned down, because he had too much money (and, I suspect, heart) invested in the project. Then, today, three weeks later, I opened my email to a message from him that said:

Subject: Diane Keaton is coming on Saturday

Apparently, Ms. Keaton is coming back for a second look-see. And, in particular, she wants to tour my little adobe. One of her requirements is that the owner and his agent be nowhere nearby. For some reason, he assumes this rule applies to me too, so he has very politely asked me to skedaddle. But Ms. Keaton made absolutely no mention of not wanting to meet me. Soooo………………

I’m going to tidy it up a little and hide my unmentionables, but I think, when she arrives, I’ll either be reading on the couch and pretending that I completely forgot Diane Keaton was coming on Saturday, or I’ll sit in my car and watch from the street, but leave something (I haven’t decided what) that might catch her eye, so I can always think Diane Keaton took notice of it. Perhaps, a resume. She’ll look at it and hire me on the spot to be her Tucson personal assistant or Adobe Manager. I can end my days fetching wine and ice and hats and irons and movie scripts.

One of my favorite movies that I think I’ve watched one time less than I’ve watched Pride and Prejudice is Something’s Gotta Give. Big fan, I am. The thought of her near my stuff is a lot. If I weren’t set on cremation, I would want “Diane Keaton is coming on Saturday” on my tombstone. Well, that’s not a good outcome for her, so I take that back. Cremation is still best.

I have a few more weeks here before I give up and return to what, I don’t know. The weather has been incredible. The people have been warm and welcoming and refreshingly lacking any sense of real urgency. The sunsets are, of course, transcendental. There are no words for the full moon rising between the mountains, the spring desert flowers, the saguaro, the Texas Mountain Laurels that smell like grape soda, the Mesquite trees full of hummingbirds, the Mission, the Reservations, the parks, the University, and all the new things to learn. But most of all, there are no words for the room to breathe.

Now, I know if I get to stay, there is a heat to come. I’m asked, “Have you been here in the summer?” I say, “No, but I’ve heard it’s a dry heat.” And people laugh. So I know it’s not messing around. Arizona doesn’t change the clocks for Daylight Saving Time because, and I quote, “It’s too damn hot for any more daylight.” But the way I see it, I’d rather be inside with sun streaming through the windows for a few months a year, than inside fighting for happiness with the Indiana Grays or the Georgia Humidity.

I’ve been quiet about this escape attempt, because I was loud about the one in 2014 and we all know how well that turned out. Speaking of, I thought the trip here would rid me of the haunting thoughts, but it hasn’t. My life is still divided into two parts: The Before and The After, and I now think it might always be. I’m determined more than ever to find my funny, though. I’ve noticed that in interviews here, I’ve been much lighter, less draining, and maybe a little more fun, for lack of a better word. It has helped too, especially when I’ve been across a conference room table from three interviewers whose combined age is about 8 years older than mine, asking about my 5-year plan and the reasons I think they should hire me. I really don’t know how to take millennials with this kind of power over me seriously. Typically, we just look at each other until I smile a little and give the Mom look of “Seriously? You’re not going to use a coaster?” And they smile and move on to the next question or thank me for coming in today.

No matter what happens, it has felt right to be here. Spawn checks on me almost every day, he has texted twice for unplanned dinners, he still laughs at my jokes and I still laugh at his, and I now know he still likes me, whether he likes it or not. So, even though I’m in an Airbnb waiting on a job and Diane Keaton, I feel like I’ve been at home. It may be temporary, but I hope not.

Because Diane Keaton is coming on Saturday, and something’s still seriously gotta give.

I Told Y'all My Throat Chakra Was Busy

I don’t usually write a farewell letter to a year, although I have, for the past five years, done Susannah Conway’s Unraveling the Year and Find Your Word workbooks during the holidays. But 2016 contributed so to my already sunny disposition that I felt the need to give it a final kick in the ass on its way out my door.

I really don’t know where to begin. There is the obvious: the country’s political division, which we’ve turned into a contest of morals and ethics, as if those things even belong in the same conversation. It astonishes me that people think so black and white in this area. One side is so good. One side is so bad. I don’t understand it. I see gray in deciding what I’m going to wear to work every day.

Then, there are all the deaths of folks I grew up watching, listening to, and reading. And a person can’t forget the steady stream of new stories about the scams, the thefts, the new ways people have thought of to screw each other over. The violence in cops killing people, people killing cops, men killing women, women killing men, mothers killing their children. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

But, 2016 got personal.

In March, I had to let go of the majority of my possessions. I thought I was doing pretty well at this, until that time of the night when you lay your head on the pillow to sleep. It was at that moment each night that the inventory checklist in my head started at the beginning, as though it hadn’t been gone through the night before. The furniture I had loved, my grandmother’s chair, an autographed book, just the right lamp. And the pictures! I had the forethought to get important papers and anything related to Spawn when I escaped in January of 2015, but I had left the rest so it wouldn’t be noticeable to him. Near as I can tell, there are now three pieces of evidence that I existed before age 27.

The plan all along was that I would get everything in 2016. But when the time came:

Him: What do you plan to get?
Me: Well, X and Y and Z.
Him: Those aren’t here anymore.
Me: Where are they?
Him: Donated. Given away. Sold. Thrown out.
Me: WHAT? What about the stuff in my mother's cedar chest? The photo albums, the…
Him: That stuff has all been gone for months.
Me: Where did it go? You told me everything was there.
Him: You need to get your story straight. I told you time and time again that I got rid of this stuff long time ago. I got tired of looking at it.
Me: You got tired of looking at stuff INSIDE a cedar chest?
Him: Yup.
Me: What am I going to tell Spawn? I wanted him to have some of that when I die.
Him: Tell him his mother didn’t care enough about him to get it.

I could write a book.

Come to find out, he had thrown everything out a year before during a rage when I caught him in his 3,987th lie. (He raged to punish me for his behavior. It’s too much to write in this note to 2016, but it’s a mental illness that I’ve forgiven him for. I’m still working on forgiving myself.) But I never had a chance to get my things. And he lied for all of 2015 that I did. I cut my losses on anything that remained just to avoid any further contact. I couldn’t get a straight story about what was left, and I was convinced that had I arranged storage and gone there with a truck, he would’ve called the police claiming that I was stealing his stuff just to fuck with me. (In this situation, he would’ve won because he’s a firefighter and unless a person knows him as anything else, he is considered to be among the pillars of Pennsylvania.)

I had to choose my own peace. It was the right decision. I only second guess myself when I lay my head on the pillow every other night now. And I have come to think of my life as before and after. It’s weird how this seemingly tiny blip in time had such an effect on me. I’ve seen stories, of course, of people who have lost everything in fires or floods, and I feel that. Though, I also feel like I participated. Though, I also know I never stood a chance. Though.... When I think of it in my mind now, I think of it as “the big fire”. Before and after “the big fire”. It helps. Some nights. Tylenol PM helps on the others.

Soon after, the friendships started to dissolve.

A person I considered to be a pretty good local friend seemed to find a lot of humor in this situation and liked to bring it up for discussion every time we saw each other, to a point of berating me in front of others. I even got a birthday card about it.

In August, came the Kessler Boulevard storm that knocked out power to my little house for five days. The coolest day that week was 97 degrees.

I lost two friends, and my landlord lost his mind.

First, the more casual friend. We used to watch The Bachelor together each week over the text lines. The storm came through on Thursday, I believe. That Monday night:

Her: You watching tonight?
Me: No, the storms wiped me out. I still don’t have power.
Her: Oh, no! I drove through there on Friday. It looked bad.

<crickets>

The following Monday:
Her: You watching tonight?

What is up with the people I know?

Next, the better friend. We spent time together. We liked each other. We supported each other. We knew things about each other. You know, friends. In a Facebook message:

Her: How are you doing?
Me: Not so good. I’ve been without power since Thursday.
Her: Oh no! Is your landlord helping you?  
Me: No. What could he do? He has no power either. It got all of Kessler.
Her: Oh, no! I haven’t watched the news. I didn’t know.
Me: Yea, it’s pretty bad and no word about when power will even be restored.

<crickets>

The next NIGHT (32 hours later):

Her: Shoot. I went into a movie and forgot to message you back yesterday.

I didn’t reply and unfriended her to prevent further messages. So, she blocked me. I’m sure she thinks I was mad that she didn't watch the news.

With friends like these, as they say…..

And then, the landlord. It took all of September for him to replace my refrigerator. It was declared dead by the insurance company at the first of the month, but I can only assume he was waiting on a check before he spent the money. He had a lot of things to take care of as a result of the storm, and I am his first experience with renting part of his property. This house came in the perfect timing for me and I am grateful, but he has no idea how lucky he is to have me here. I am da renting bomb.

In October, the contractors came. Part of my little house damage included the power lines being ripped off. The roof needed to be repaired and the lines more firmly secured. The landlord notified me via text on a Tuesday evening that the workers would come the next morning and need to turn off power for the next couple of days while they worked. I, of course, mentioned the lack of notice and that I worked from home and had no time to make any arrangements for a place to go. I asked for consideration and time. His response, in a text:

Him: Nope. It’s happening in the morning.

Nope? Seriously, NOPE. Exact word. (This repair took 3 days. 3 more days with no power.)

And he’s been mad ever since. For the remainder of the year, this 66-year-old man has been in retaliation mode. I can’t quite figure it out, but I think it’s because he thinks of me as an employee and himself as my boss, and I dared to question his authority? But since October, unless it’s cold or rainy, he is outside of my little house most weekends. Scraping this, hammering that, painting the other. Not only is there no advance notice, there’s no notice at all. If I were a gun-totin’ gal, he’d be dead, because I’ve been especially jittery this year, and it’s a scary thing to see a man’s unexpected shadow or hear him puttering about your periphery.

Also, this year, they tore down Memphis’ Poplar Avenue Sears, the site of the best memories of my mother and brother. Money.

And they closed the retreat center at my beloved convent in Oldenburg. Money.

On a positive note, I suppose, I worked all year. Money.

During my Unraveling ceremony last week, I was hard pressed to answer one of the questions. It asked, “Write about your favorite day in 2016”. I racked my brain for hours and couldn’t come up with one. Not one.

Until, this….

I took a weekend farewell trip to the convent. It was sad, and I was sad. Sister Olga was sad, too, but had the same thing to say about it to everyone who mentioned it: “It won’t be the same, and that’s okay”. She led a class that Saturday called Transitions that focused on liminality, Jung's word for the stuck feeling in those between times when you know change is inevitable but can’t quite cross the threshold. The room was filled with women in their fifties, as one would expect. But sitting next to me was a girl in her thirties, obviously wise beyond her years. I actually initiated a conversation and we were fast friends all day.

At some point, a woman across the room shared a story about not knowing what to do since her mother passed away. It had been a year, but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything with her things. There was an entire house full of stuff. Should she save the dishes for her own daughter? Should she donate her clothes? What should she keep? What was okay to give away? She was stuck in indecision. She had been her mother’s caretaker for her final few years and had looked forward, relatively speaking, to the day when she could do things she wanted again. But she just didn't know what to do.

Sister Olga told her a story about her own aunt who had dealt with a similar situation years ago. Her aunt was ruminating about a turkey platter in a box she’d held onto for years. She was saving it for her daughter, but her daughter didn’t want it. And Olga couldn’t understand it. As a nun living in a small, communal space, part of the life is to not live in a world of possessions. Olga made it funny, of course. Shook her head at the absurdity. “She was saving it for her daughter who didn’t even know what a turkey platter was. She didn’t want that thing. It meant nothing to her. Why not give the turkey platter to someone who wants it and who might even take it out of the box!”

I chimed in (and in front of the whole group):

“I’ve had a recent loss of a lot of my things. My grandmother’s this and my mother’s that. And I feel grief, like she said. These are things I’ve carried around from house to house since I was 18 years old, when my mother died and I was the only one to take them. And now they’re gone and there’s grief, but there’s also guilt. I feel such guilt.” To which Olga immediately responded:

“Oh, but the freedom!!”

throat_chakra.jpg

2016 has led me to a more spiritual, more metaphysical way of life. I’m learning new things, and I’ve enjoyed that a lot. In fact, as I'm typing this, I realize there was another good day in 2016. The day I took a leap of faith into the world of Reiki. The guilt and shame caused constant tears, and I needed help. I needed an energy release. I need a lifting of the curse. I cried and cried during that first session. And I was told that my throat chakra was busy. Thus, the title of this note. My new Reiki master said that I had so much to say, but that I wasn't expressing it. So my throat chakra was spinning and blocked. I needed to express it. Free it. To dissolve the clogged drain in my throat, I needed to reconnect with my creative outlet: writing. (I haven't done that much, though, because it feels a little like reliving things and being whiny, but I may try. It may be the only way out. Speak it to heal it, so they say.)

I'm calmer now. I don't get riled like I used to. I pick my battles for my own advantage. I walk away faster. I have a feeling of knowing that I don’t think I’ve had as strongly before. I am my own security, my own soft place to land. God and I have worked things out. He fucks with me and I yell and yell and He laughs and laughs and says, "Yes! There ya go. More of that." I do the right thing, and if I don’t, I know how to apologize. If you don’t make me feel better about myself, then you don’t belong here. In the always exquisite words of poet Warsan Shire, “My alone feels so good. I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude”. I like me. I dig me. In fact, I love me. I am good. I am well. I have limbs and working organs and flesh and bones and ears and eyes. And I have a heart and a peace of mind, and I'm not afraid to use 'em.

So, I call, 2016. I see your bullshit, and I call. I have no choice but to play the rest of this game with your hand in it, but as long as somebody keeps fillin' up the pretzel bowl, I'm still in.

A Vagabond August

To recap: August 2014. A vagabond wandering around Louisville, Colorado.

My original plan upon arrival in Denver was to spend a few days getting acclimated and hunting the usual online places for potential projects before the Man came for a week-long visit. Then, we would be happy-go-lucky tourists in Colorado for a spell, while I waited for the job callbacks to come pouring in. He would then fly back to Atlanta, gather his belongings, and move to Pittsburgh to close on his house on August 26th. I would spend more time in Denver, job-hunting and whatnot, and then I would go to Moab, Utah, to visit with Spawn for a few days. After that, I would think about October and beyond.

But after this happened, I had to come up with a new plan. And, unfortunately, my mind was cluttered with panic. $100 a day for a hotel wasn’t something I had factored into this adventure at all. $300 a week for an extended-stay hotel amongst a rainbow of ne’er do wells would kill me. So what to do, what to do?

“Just wait until I get there. We’ll figure it out.”

“I can’t afford to pay for a hotel for two months while I look for a job.”

“I know.”

“I can’t afford to pay for a hotel for two months while I look for a job.”

“I know.”

Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.

Almost immediately, something wasn’t quite right. He couldn’t seem to focus and he moved a little – I don’t know - aimlessly. If I had to explain it to someone in the airport parking lot, I’d say that in the few minutes since landing, he just seemed like a fish out of water.

I drove him around a little. First through downtown Denver and then, after a quick stop by the home (Quality Inn), to Boulder. We parked to walk around downtown a bit and stopped at a kiosk full of various tourist maps and pamphlets. He found one that said BOULDER in big block orange letters and handed me his phone.

“Take a picture of me?”

“If you move a few feet to the left, I could take a picture of you with the actual city in the background.”

“I want a picture with this.”

(That would be the only picture he would want in all of Colorado. And he’s a picture guy!)

Of all the places we could have gone to for dinner on Pearl Street, he chose The Cheesecake Factory. He got the shrimp with angel hair because “that’s what I always get at home” and barely ate.

“Do you want a box to take it home?”

“No, thank you.”

“Do you want to split a piece of cheesecake?”

“No, I’m full. Get a piece if you want one, though.”

It just felt like another disappointment. First, the neighbors, then Iowa and the apartment, and now this. And I couldn’t make sense of it. Just before he boarded the plane, he had been so excited to come.

Maybe he was just tired? Maybe it was the altitude?

“Did something weird happen on the plane?”

“No, why would you ask that?”

“No reason.”

After dinner, I tried to get him to walk along Pearl Street with me.

“Let’s go in the bookstore.”

“I’ve been to bookstores.”

“After dark, we can watch the hippies.”

“I’ve seen hippies.”

“What do you want to do?

“Just go back to the hotel.”

(And it would turn out not to be for the obvious reason.)

It was almost dusk when we drove from Boulder to Louisville. It was just beautiful to see the sun setting behind the mountains along the way.

“Look at that. Isn’t it gorgeous?”

“What? What am I supposed to be looking at?”

I tried over the next day or two to find something that he wanted to do. No, to the Rocky Mountain National Park. No, to a hike in Chautauqua Park. No, to the Denver Botanic Gardens. No, to Estes Park. No, even to a simple walk along Boulder Creek. I’d suggest, like a good, albeit accidental and MIND YOU HOMELESS, hostess, and he’d reject and change the subject.

“Well, what do you want to do?"

“Just be with you.”

Made no sense at all.

But trying to figure out what was wrong with him took my mind off my own troubles. I had no room in my brain to regroup for my new and improved Denver plan.**

So, we headed to Moab, Utah, to see Spawn. I changed plans with my son at the last minute, because visiting him was priority, second only to my job search, and I needed to make sure that got done. Unfortunately, Spawn knew nothing about the Man, because he was supposed to fly home before my originally scheduled visit. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to discuss any love-life nonsense with Spawn. We don’t do that.

It was a really nice drive. We stopped in Dillon, Colorado, where the pizza and haze of pot smoke over the pretty little town were just what the doctor ordered for both of us. Even working things out with a Toyota Corolla at Vail’s elevation wasn’t enough to worry us. We spent the drive playing old-fashioned car games and passing love notes when we were stopped in traffic, which was a lot of the time.

Our only mistake was driving from Denver to Moab on a Friday afternoon. There are a few electronic signs along I-70 that basically tell you, “Yes, your drive sucks today, and it will suck again on Sunday when all you crazy weekenders return to the city.” Lesson learned. Beautiful drive, though, until I realized that what should have been a six-hour drive turned out to be a Friday eleven.

Well, there was the added mistake of my choice of footwear in the desert. Don’t wear flip-flops around cacti. I got stabbed by an evil that gave me something akin to poison oak with a 102-degree fever for days.

It came as a shock that I wasn’t alone on the trip, but Spawn understood my predicament after some explanation.

“I thought I’d show you Canyonlands, Arches, my work, and a cool restaurant in town. On the way back to Denver, you should take Highway 128, because it runs along the Colorado River, and it's really pretty.”

The visit was a little awkward but a lot of fun. The Man and Spawn had mad respect for each other in an arm’s distance sort of way, and oddly enough, I think the Man just wanted to make the visit easy on all of us. We took lots of pictures, had nice meals, and learned a lot about the area.

Then, on the last morning...

“My mother died.”

“Huh?”

“My sister just sent a message on Facebook.”

“Do we need to get you to Pittsburgh?”

“No.”

I knew of her advanced cancer stage and that she had rejected suggestions of any surgeries that might prolong her inevitable. I also knew of her desire to die quietly and uneventfully. She wanted no fanfare, not even an announcement. And I knew that she and the Man had not been in touch for a while. Having my own parental communication issues, that was a familiar situation, and I didn’t question it.

The drive back to Denver was a lot shorter but no less unusual. We were driving back to a hotel where neither of us knew what to do next. I tried my best to ignore reality for a little while longer.

“We’re supposed to take 128, the scenic route, remember? The turn should be right along here somewhere.”

He started talking about something else, and I didn’t see the sign.

“We must have missed it. Can we turn back?”

“We’ve gone too far now." 

Next, more what the hell have I done, but east of the Mississippi.

 

**(in hindsight) Well played, my friend. Well played.

Sorry, Folks. Iowa's Closed.

In National Lampoon’s Vacation, the Griswolds arrive at Walley World to find the parking lot empty. Clark, the father, assumes their bad travel luck has finally changed, that the gods are pleased again, that they had caught the early-bird amusement park worm and were the first ones to arrive. He leads the family on a happy, jumpy, slow-motion race to the entrance only to be stopped by security guard, Russ Laskey.

“Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”

This exact same thing happened to me in Iowa. Well, not exactly exact, but close.

Read More

Since This Has to Start Somewhere

Some folks know how my adventure began, but only a precious few to whom I am still apologizing know the gruesome details. And by gruesome, I refer, as I usually do, to my next-door neighbors (Have I ever told you about my neighbors?) in Butler-Tarkington who had moved in during the summer of 2013 to give me a glimpse into what Hell will be like.

As much as I (still) hate(d) these people, they served two great purposes: 1) They forced me to escape regularly to the convent to write my little book about post-single motherhood that had called my name for three years, and 2) they made me even more desperate to leave Indiana.

I wasn’t even supposed to be here after my son graduated from college and moved away in 2012. I don’t belong anywhere in particular, but I knew I didn’t belong here. For years, I had imagined myself living out my days in Maine. I guess I was overwhelmed with how to make that happen, because the result was a sort of paralysis. I prayed, prayed, and PRAYED for signs from the Universe about the when and where of getting the hell out. The when became more urgent and the where less important each passing day next door to the devil people. As odd as it may sound, they were my primary catalyst for change.

Read More

God said no.

What the hell, April?

I have a specific goal in mind for 2014, and I am trying to do five things each day targeted at this one goal. A lot of it involves money. So, when a part-time evening job fell from the sky, I took it as a sign (as I tend to do about things) and signed up. It only took 7 days to get fired. I was assigned to score standardized tests for 4th grade math students. Apparently, there were wizards in other rooms monitoring activity and scoring the scorers, because every night we had to check our “report cards” on the work we did the night before. Three nights below a 90% accuracy rate and you were ousted. So, on my third fail, something had to be done about me.

Read More

Everything I Thought I Wanted

Ever since I moved to Indianapolis in 2002, I’ve wanted to eventually move to Maine. There, I thought I’d walk the Marginal Way each morning, listen and write to the ocean waves in the afternoons, and have lobster rolls and moxie with my Maine man by night.

Eleven years later, I’m pretty sure I want none of it. Except the lobster roll. I definitely still want the lobster roll. Just from Arnold’s in Eastham, Mass, not from Maine. Along with a side order of their onion rings built for a family of four. Oh, and a brownie to rouse me from the coma. Yes, just that. That’s all I want. Delivered and in the off-season to avoid the lines, of course. But just that. 

What has become of me? I think I got old is what. There’s a lot of aging between 40 and 50. People like to say 50 is middle-aged, but shoot me now if I have to be in this world at 100. God only knows what will be on TV by then. I always wondered why older people stayed home so much and now I know: I need a drink or a nap just from a trip to the store lately. It’s all work

Read More

Say It Ain't So

It’s been nine months since I’ve posted here?? How is that possible? I’d take the time to talk about how fast time is just flying by, but apparently I don’t have time.

Spring must be unthawing my frozen bits, because I updated some links and posted last Fall’s Lake Tahoe/San Francisco trip pictures, and, well, I’m also writing this sentence on this little patch of my online real estate.

The last year or so of loss apparently stalled me. Too many friendships ended, too many friends passed, my 17-year-old dog died, and my son left this side of the Mississippi and is no longer a dependent. I’m nobody’s head of household. I’m just me with not much left to deduct.

This all means I’m currently seeing myself as pretty screwed. But hey, on the bright side, I’ll turn 50 in a few months. Wait. Let me restate that in a play pretend way before I hurl. I’ll turn 50 in a few months!! WooT WooT!! So exciting, says Oprah.

I do have the perfect gift to myself in mind, though. You may remember something about my post-single mom plans. If not, just know there were plans. Anyway, by my July birthday, I will have its book in not so shitty draft form.

That’s my gift to me. Closure. Clearance to advance to the other side. Just in time for the night sweats and hot flashes. And then the Social Security and hip replacements. And then hospice sponge baths and death.

It’s also my gift back to the Universe for gifting me with motherhood and some love and support through its slow, painful demise. So, I hope you’ll hang in there with me, readers, friends, stoppers by, because I do have other stories to tell. Between 50 and death. If there’s time.

(April 2nd: Pages 93 – 60% too shitty to be considered shitty)

On Cape, Like a Native

Be warned, this post could be over the top with positivity and as such, extremely annoying. Plus, there are pictures. Vacation pictures. Everybody loves those, right? Aunt Flo’s slides of the road trip to Phoenix? Come on!

I left Indy Friday morning and drove to Binghamton, New York. I dreaded this drive so, because I had planned to take I-70 through Pennsylvania, it being the shortest route between Point A and B. I hate highways. The trucks, the mini-vans, the people in the left lane who should be in a parking lot or an institution – highways are where idiots go to collaborate and travel in impassable packs. And this highway, this I-70 in particular, is from the devil. If the Universe wants to punish me, he or she could just sentence me to an afterlife driving an endless loop of I-70. But luckily, a conversation about I-86, the Southern tier expressway across New York state, was had at the last minute Thursday at work and given the stamp of perfect solution. A few more miles but a road less traveled, reminiscent of Highway 36 out to Colorado last year.

This trek is the extent of my experience with the actual state part of New York, but I highly recommend it. Just beautiful. Low clouds hang on the mountains and valleys of lush farmland (though I never could tell what exactly was being farmed). I can’t find any information online about what this area is called, but I sure hope it’s called something. It deserves to be official!

Read More

Fred Solo

You know how God or the Universe or whatever you may call it puts things in your path repeatedly, most likely for no other purpose than his or her own amusement? I'm convinced God gifts me with putterers and finds it hilarious. Yes, I know, it could be a whole lot worse. And it's hard to believe, but I'm not really complaining either, because this one is pretty darn entertaining. I've named him Fred Solo, because he looks a lot like a younger Fred Sanford of '70s sitcom fame, and he is never without a red solo cup in his hand.

Fred is at least in his mid-fifties and lives across the street in his mother's house. He was born and will die in that house. He doesn't work but is very busy. He makes a slew of trips to places nearby all day long. Never gone for more than a few minutes at a time, I never worry, because if his truck isn't in the driveway, it soon will be.  He does have a boat, but if he leaves with it in the morning, he's always home by 5pm. He works tirelessly in his yard, on the boat, and on his truck, and everything looks shiny and new all the time. 

But Fred is a horrible time manager. Let's say he needs Windex and a paper towel to clean a truck window. Fred makes one trip in the house for the Windex, another for the paper towel (I might be exaggerating but it feels like one trip for each square), and because washing a truck window is thirsty work, a few trips are required for solo cup fill-ups. All in all, this one job could very well eat up the better part of an hour and make Fred a tad slower and wonkier than when he started.

You're right, I can close my curtains and my door any time, I am well aware. But like it was for Gladys Kravitz, things are a little slow right now, and, for some odd and probably new reason, I'm not only not bothered by him, I'm apparently a little mesmerized by him. I mean, of course I want to make him a list and find him a job and see what's in the cup, but I also wouldn't mind an explanation for him. 

One thing that does cause me some concern, though, is my dying in this house. See, a few weeks back, an ambulance and fire truck were called to a house about three doors down. I did what anyone would do - watched from my kitchen window to see what was going on. Solo? He, cup in hand, walked down there and stood at the ambulance's back door. At the BACK door. He was going to strike up a conversation with the EMTs as they hoisted the victim inside. The thought of this gives me heart palpitations. If my last breath is taken from a gurney looking up into ol' Solo's bloodshot eyes, breathing in his solo cup breath, listening to him quiz an inevitably adorable EMT about what's wrong with me.......dear Lord, just take me now.

Okay, there IS just one other thing that concerns me. When I moved in six months ago, he, his mother, a woman, and three kids lived there. My landlord and I tried to figure the family situation out, but I'm not sure how accurate we were. The woman, we were thinking, was his girlfriend and the kids belonged to her? But she moved out in the dead of night about a month later (I'm not on watch 24/7, but, luckily, Sabrina woke me up to go outside), and the kids stayed. I thought then that the kids belonged to a Solo sibling who lived elsewhere but wanted the kids to live with Grandma for whatever reason. Now, though, a different woman lives there with Solo and there is no sign of Grandma or the kids. It's all so confusing. Oh, but back to what concerns me.....

One day last month, I turned the corner and saw Grandma sitting in my driveway in her seen-better-days red truck. I honked and startled her into action and she backed out. We rolled down our windows to talk, and she said that she had started her truck in her driveway, ran back into the house for something, and came out to it rolling slowly towards my house. She, well into her 70s or 80s, was somehow able to stop it, but it left her flustered, to say the least. We were both just glad it didn't hurt her or hit the house! The truck must have been taken to the home or the cemetery, because it's not there anymore. But what worried me is that Grandma seemed to have gone with it. Then, on Friday, I saw her leaving her house on foot and with her purse! She had been dropped off by two ladies in a maroon car just a few minutes earlier. Both Solo and his woman were home as usual, yet there went Grandma, hobbling down the street in orthopedic shoes, carrying her purse. With all the places Solo has to go, couldn't he have given her a ride? What the heck is going on over there? Could it be that Solo and this new gal forced her out of her own house and now she has no car and is staying somewhere within walking distance? Please, God, don't tell me she was walking to the bus stop - that's a mile away!

I don't know how I find the time, but I was perusing a magazine this week and learned a couple of things westward where it seems wide open spaces still exist. Carrizizo, New Mexico, is having a huge sale on land and Wyoming has the lowest tax burden in the country. Knowing God like I do though, I'd probably just end up within eyeshot of a 4-legged dysfunctional putterer.

A Big Event and A Little Conversation

Well, it seems that nothing much is going on lately. While I think this is probably a good thing for my personal growth, it doesn't give me much material to work with. And I do so love material.

So, I'll post this little exchange here to show just how uninteresting my life is right now. My 21-year-old son recently moved to Lake Tahoe for a year-long project and had to shop for the basics to equip his new apartment. (I have to tell you that just the other day I was driving along the highway, looking around, and spotted a Red Roof Inn that I would think of as being in the middle of nowhere if I didn't know what was just beyond the exit ramps and thought about how this kid road-tripped across the country alone with a GPS and no hotel reservations. He was stressed the week before he left, and I could tell he was nervous when he got to town before he found his apartment. But he did it. He saw the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, FLagstaff, Las Vegas on a Saturday night, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, and some others I know I'm forgetting. (I was texted all of two pictures along the way.) He did it a lot excited but a little afraid. What a lesson he taught me. At 21, I couldn't have written a check. So as much as I diss on the Spawn - and will continue to do so because it's a lot of how we express love - I couldn't be more happy about him. My life's joy, I tell ya, my life's joy. But you probably knew that.)

Anyway, back to the exchange. Boyz. Ugh.

“I bought all kinds of stuff for the bathroom. Shower curtain....”

“Ooo, what color?”

“Shower curtain color.”

“Seriously?”

“I think it’s a tan color.”

“K, what else?”

“A trash can.”

“Ooo, what color?”

“Trash can color.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s white.”

“K, what else?”

“A bath mat.”

“Ooo, what color?”

“I don’t really remember.”

“Does it match the shower curtain? Complement it?”

“Uhhh.”

“How could you not remember what color it is? You just bought it 4 hours ago.”

“Uhhh.”

“Well, what’s your theme in there?”

“My theme is BATHROOM."

“Fine, I guess we should change the subject now?”

“Good idea.”

“What about the kitchen?”

“I’ll just save us some time here. The theme in there is KITCHEN.”

A Post-Single Mom Trifecta

If you know me at all, you know I have organized a little community around Post-Single Motherhood. I defined it in 2009 and had some wonderful support creating and publishing it. Both watching it grow and connecting with women going through the same struggles and triumphs have been invaluable for my (any day now) recovery. The website is here. The Facebook page is here. The local chapter is here. I blog on that site as well, but this week's post is a crossover into the heartstrings of my personal life, so I'm posting it here as well. Ridin' redundant this month.

I've always said that PSMing is a grieving process, and while I absolutely do not mean to minimize the actual unbearable loss of a child, I stand by my belief that being a post-single mom can, at times, be a distant second.

I had picked a really good theme for January: intuition. We'll get to it, because it is so important. We single moms transition from factual, methodical, list-making machines to thinking of ourselves as unproductive and useless. We slowly begin to think from our hearts, not from our heads, and learn how to listen to this new place, this intuition. Ah, change. Is there no end? But, I need to put that aside for a minute because I've been blindsided with a PSM trifecta and feel the need to expose myself a little related to the depths of pain we PSMers can experience. This has been one helluva quarter.

In November, a friendship of 11 years ended with a long series of nasty, name-calling, and, I need to say because I never responded in kind, incoming texts. So, my ruminating began (and has yet to end). Is the quality of my friendships so low that they can end so quickly and with such meanness and no second thought? Am I that unworthy? Am I that bad at being and recognizing a true friend? I admit I didn't have a lot of experience at any kind of adult relationship while raising my son. I was so driven, so financially focused. And, after all, and I know other single moms and post-single moms understand this: I had a best friend. My Spawn. (Poor kid.)

In December, I lost a dear friend and fellow PSMer to alcoholism. 2012 was her 5th year of recovery from Stage 3 breast cancer. She had a 17-year-old daughter who was just looking into colleges and a 20-year-old son who had recently transferred to a school 90 minutes away. She was alone over the Christmas holidays, as was I, but we didn't check in with each other in time. We were supposed to go to the movies the Thursday night before Christmas, but she couldn't go because she said the kids were coming over. Patricia was the coolest gal pal I ever had. Just cool. And inspiring and positive and supportive and so fun and funny. We clicked. I knew she was fighting a battle but really thought it was something we could overcome once she got through that initial blast of aloneness. I was wrong. I value the fact that we met through the local PSM group here in Indianapolis and that I think we were a huge help to each other her last two years here. We got tattoos together in October and had such a fun time that day. She taught me so much about empathy and patience and kindness and openness and peace and acceptance. I loved her and told her so and for that I am truly grateful. And so sad.

This brings us to January. In less than two weeks, Spawn, recently college graduated (a year early if you're thinking you lost time somewhere), is road tripping to Nevada for a year-long job as a botanist for the Bureau of Land Management in Lake Tahoe. Yes, I know, the lucky bastard. LOL. I'm ecstatic for him. And proud. Yes. Yes, I am. Yes. Definitely. But it's damn near the west coast. I'm in the midwest. I'm from the south. This is no place I've ever been before, so I feel even more distant not knowing anything about what he's going to experience. What if he gets lost? What if a cowboy wants to fight him? (He's not a fast draw.) What if he runs out of Burger King coupons? What if he gets nibbled on by a bear? For the first time, I can't get to him in a day. Of course, I can by plane. Of course. But it still feels a world away.  Mostly, though, he's just gone....again. When does all this leaving stop?

I usually like to pinpoint a Stage so I can identify it, get to know it, and work through it, but I can't even pick one. Though, I know I'm not irritated or anxious, because I haven't resorted to watching Brady Bunch episodes yet. Jane Austen movies, yes, but not the Brady Bunch. I suppose that's healing and hopeful. Rehab. And talking to you has helped. :)

Ma'am, I am Tonight.

Memphis makes me cry. I try my damndest not to let it, but it always gets me. Grabs me by the nostalgic heartstrings and doesn't let go until I cave. I always drive the same route - I start at the river and work my way east. The river reminds me of its endless history and struggle. The rest reminds me of my childhood before it all went so horribly wrong.

karen+and+pat.jpg

See, my mother was happy until 1968. I mean, how could you not be happy? Get a load of those curtains! But 1968 was the year our little family moved to Atlanta for my father's new job.

It wasn't that she didn't like Atlanta, she just didn’t want to. No city could compare to her Memphis, where she had spent her entire and fairly charmed life, and to which she would always feel an unwavering loyalty. (Apparently, that whole racial upheaval going on in the 1960s didn't affect her outlook. But it must have my father's, because he thought it was time to go. And she would never quite forgive him for it.)

She was homecoming queen of her high school and a sorority queen in college. She was president of this club and that and knew just everybody there was to be known. She was, more often than not, the belle of the ball. In Atlanta, there would be no ball. Just us kids growing older. But before I turned five years old in 1968, I was the happiest daughter in the history of daughters, because I had the happiest mother in the history of the whole Universe.

Sterling Drive - Our First House

Sterling Drive - Our First House

The summer before we moved, I was four and my brother was eight. He was out of school, and every day was like a birthday party. My mother and I would wet sponge-stick S&H green stamps into these books that plumped and ruffled as they dried, and we’d shop in the catalogs for all the things we would buy. Sometimes, we would sit on the porch and paint our toenails and brush and fix each other's hair with a million different multi-colored thick yarn bows and shiny ribbons and plastic ball ponytail holders, while my brother played with his friends in the yard. On particularly good days, we would dress up and pretend to be in beauty pageants. As I grew up, I came to hate all these things (which put another crack in her already broken heart), but back then, all I knew was that my mother was smiling.

Feel the love...

Feel the love...

Every so often, we would go places. We would have lunch with people, we would take her mother, who didn't drive, to appointments, or, on really special days, we would go shopping at Sears. The Sears on Poplar Avenue was something to behold (the picture doesn't do it justice). It was gigantic (I swear!) and white and all brick and had a huge, long walkway leading up to it like it was a castle. The walkway was covered to protect shoppers coming and going from the parking lot. It was lined with little Bradford Pear trees and ran the whole length of the parking lot, which, back then, felt like miles.

On our way in to the store and before getting in our car to go home, my mother would sit on a bench and watch us run up and down that walkway over and over and over and over. She'd apologize to the poor passersby trying to use the path for its intended purpose. But she would smile and smile. And laugh. When my mother laughed, everything else in the world disappeared. She was always ashamed and would cover her mouth, but she was never more beautiful than when she laughed.

As if the walkway weren’t enough, right inside the store’s front door was a candy counter. Someone would inevitably open the door for my mother, and we'd follow her inside hoping for the best. The smells of nuts and candies and chocolates and gums were so strong that you could taste the air. The whole area was decorated in red and white checks and there were a million glass displays of all kinds of goodies. My mother would always pretend that we were in a hurry and didn’t have time to stop. And we’d beg and plead and pull on her arms and her purse and her dress and anything we could grab a hold of until she let us pick out one thing each. She loved watching us try to choose. We'd press our noses to the display cases and run our dirty little kid hands up and down each and every one. We'd pick one thing and change our minds and start all over again. And she'd laugh some more. Then, the man with the paper triangle candy-man hat would scoop and weigh and pour our gold into little paper bags and hand them to us to take home. Outside, we’d thank her profusely, and she would hold our little bags while we took one last spin around the walkway.

Central and Greer

Central and Greer

But 1968 clipped her wings and she was never the same. I grew older and she grew more lost and lonely every year. She tried so hard in the next twelve years before her death, but she was never happy like that again. And neither was I. 

Holmes Circle - My Grandmother's House

Holmes Circle - My Grandmother's House

I took pictures this time, but I'm not sure I should have. My memories are better, bigger, newer, and sunnier. Although, this house on the corner of Central and Greer has always been my favorite. And it's where I turn to go to my grandmother's house (which was red brick when they lived there), where we spent every summer until I was twelve and she came to live with us in Atlanta (her husband died in 1970, just two years after our fatal move). I didn't understand their overwhelming sadness about that day at the time, but now I think I do. Neither of them had a home anymore. I'm not familiar with this sense of belonging, but apparently, it's something I long for and that I feel nowhere else.  So, Memphis, I'll see you in a couple of years, and I'll take my little drive, have my little cry, and think about the time I felt part of something really good.

Not Quite a Homicide, Yet

A week after I returned from my summer vacation in July, my dog's breath, already at a tangible 15-year-old level, suddenly got worse. Every six weeks, she gets bathed, combed, clipped, and has as many teeth brushed as she'll allow. Two years ago, the Vet and I discussed knocking her out for a deluxe cleaning, but we opted not to, because of her age. No problem. We’ll work it out.

So, as I was saying, you could smell her breath when you opened the door. It permeated the entire house (all 900 square feet of it), like death. I imagine. So, I grabbed my little plastic finger and the breath spray she likes and attempted to get near her to rub her teeth and gums a bit. She hates it, but likes it, but hates it, but likes it, so I can usually get a few swipes in there before we both get cranky. But not this time. There was a big pink blob of something jutting out from the front of her mouth. I knew I had to investigate, even though I was foaming at the mouth from the stench. She wouldn’t let me near her mouth long enough to know exactly what was going on in there, but from the outside, it looked like the beginnings of one of those tumors on the TLC people who have to be cut out of their homes. We hightailed it to the vet where they ordered emergency-ish (this was Friday and surgery could wait until blood work and Monday rolled around) dental surgery to remove it and do a professional cleaning.

She did fine. She lost 16 teeth in the process (I know, I know, this is where you have my permission to beat me up for being a bad dog owner, but I refer you to the above mention of a prior discussion about surgery in which I was told not to do it) and now gums canned food, but all is ($900 worth of) well.

Well, until last week. (This post is not really about her teeth – it’s all just PETA court evidence that I do at least try to take care of the dog on most days.) It’s no secret that Sabrina and I have issues. Think two old ladies sharing a semi-private room at the home. When things get ugly, they really get ugly. And the middle of the night is when we tussle the most. Sunday night, she started this fake throwing up business. (You know the kind where they swallow incessantly and do a little dry heaving.) This dog is not out chasing vermin or digging up worms anymore. She’s on a 30-foot tie out that gives her access to the same little patch of condo land that she’s on every.other.freeking.day.of.her.life. In other words, what she could get into was beyond me and frankly just ticking me off.

She went under the bed to do her swallowing/gagging routine, and I couldn’t take it. I decided toot sweet to put her in the bathroom for the night. I sat down on the floor beside the bed and went for her collar and, as usual, she tried to bite me. So, I grabbed my slipper, conveniently sitting on the floor next to me. In theory, I would hurl it at her ass like a simultaneous spank and shove towards me so I could grab her. In actuality, the old gal turned her head to bite it and she got hit in the left eyeball. Yes, the edge of the rubber sole smack in the eyeball. She yelped once, but that was it. She did move toward me, so I grabbed her collar and put her in the bathroom to dry heave all she wanted. And I went to sleep.

The next morning, she looked like death warmed over. I don't think she slept all night. And her eye? It was either going to sink into her head and come out the other end the next day or shrivel up and pop out and land on the floor for me to slip on later. It looked horrible. Thing is, though, that she wasn't rubbing it or shaking her head or crying or anything. And she was eating fine (that runs in the family). My son, who was there that afternoon, said that he'd give it another day. By that night, though, it was red and hazy and altogether not right, and I swore she had internal injuries. As one who goes to the dark side, I started googling doggie head trauma.

At bedtime, I held her and petted her and cried like a baby and prayed to The Baby Jesus. For me, really, more than for the poor dog. "Dear Baby Jesus. Please don't let me have killed this dog with a slipper. How can I possibly explain that? I'm a good person. Please don't let her die from my killing her. And, really? I just spent $900 at the vet. Oh, and that stupid $50 memory foam bed for her hip. Oh, and the new little treats that she can gum. I spent like $10 on those. Seriously. Please, please, please don't let her die."

Sabrina looked up at me all pitifully, yet somehow smugly like she was enjoying the show, and kissed my hand. Then, we went to sleep and the next morning, I was prepared to take her to the doctor first thing. But, she was a whole new dog, none the worse for wear and wanting to play. So, thank goodness and The Baby Jesus, now I can tell the slipper story from the comfort of home and as a near-death close call instead of from an undisclosed location and as a homicide. I’m not cut out to be on the lam, really.

Now that she’s back in the atmosphere with drops of shit-upon in her hair

(Ignore the title if you don't recognize - it's a Train thang.)

Waaa. They say that all good things must end. They must be from Indiana. And they probably said this upon return from a glorious road trip to a better and more civilized world.

I want to tell you all about my trip. It was heaven. But last things first, I'm thinking you might need a good laugh in this heat, and I have the antitode: the story of my first two days back.

Pull up a chair for some background...

I have more than a few neighbors at the condo. They are nutty. Entertainingly so. (Really would be a good HBO pilot. I need to get on that.) Except for Nightmare Neighbor Charlotte. She's just nutty without the entertainment. Plus, we hate each other. She asks me every chance she gets when my lease is up. And I always tell her that I'm thinking of never leaving. You may or may not know about the banging of pots and pans, the slamming of anything slammable, and the dragging of dead bodies that goes on in her condo next door. You also may or may not know about her four (no more, no less, come rain, come shine) daily strolls around the parking lot which put her outside wandering in circles a lot of the day. I'm grateful for the walks, though. Less dead body movement. You may or may not know that she is the "condo street representative" and kills even more time typing up notes for people about things she doesn't care for. She passes these notes out on her strolls, putting them in our tubes (little mailbox cylinders under our business-that-matters mailboxes). Some of us have had full tubes about things she doesn't like. Keep in mind for later that ivy is near, if not at, the top of her list. Charlotte and slips of paper. All day, every day. Well, when she's not banging and dragging things.

Two or three months ago, she started entering my gate (I do leave it open, my bad, but funny, most people do the same, including ol' Char and who cares) and walking in my patio and looking at my foliage. Just staring. Perusing. Like one would do at a botanical garden, maybe. Admiring the flowers. Er, weeds. (I'm a renter, not a planter.) Right before I left for my trip, my godsend of a dogsitter was in my living room, and we were exchanging instructions and niceties. Char came up to the screen door like she wanted to join the conversation. "Someone's at your door." "Oh, Lord. That's my neighbor." I asked Char what she was doing, and she skeedaddled. Well, skeedaddled is the wrong word. She's 4 feet tall, 80 pounds, older than dirt, and sports Mr. Magoo eyeglasses, a cane, some kick-ass special shoes, and a hunchback (childhood polio). After she had finally gone, "Do you have issues with her?" "Oh, honey. I can't tell you about it all, because I have to leave in 4 days."

So, a day or two after cleaning Charlotte's nose print off my screen door, I was putting my trash out and she popped out from around the gate.

Char: I need you to keep your gate closed. Your weeds are embarrassing for my visitors.

Me: What visitors? You don't have any visitors.

Char: Well, that's your reality.

Me: I'm not closing my gate, because I let my dog out on the tie-out and need it open. For God's sake, FIND SOMETHING TO DO!!!!

Char: I have plenty to do, but there is thistle in your ivy!

There's what in my say what? I blew up. Blew the fuck up. I had had all I could stand. Let it all go. Stopped short of calling her a cripple. 'Cause I'm claiming Christian like that.

After it was over, I was clear that there were three things she needed: 1) a closed gate, 2) thistle out of the ivy, and 3) me not to let my screen door slam because she could hear it when she was in the kitchen or outside (which is 23 out of 24 hours a day, remember). There was just one thing that I needed: 1) For Char to DIE.

So, I happily prepared to leave for my trip that June 19th Sunday morning and guess what? Char's car was missing. For the first time in over a year. Did I mention that she never goes anywhere? Come to find out, the bitch had the audacity to go out of town the same day!!! Can you believe that? What a Universe. I could have enjoyed the break. (However, my dogsitter informed me that there were workers - and odd, questionable looking ones at that, one with a missing eye, or maybe it was a lazy eye, I can't remember now - at her house replacing her kitchen counters. That wouldn't have gone well for me either.) I told my Spawn about this and he said, "Oh, didn't you hear? Rumor has it that she's going to Boulder for some creativity event thing." Seriously, nobody loves me.

Oh, right, the reentry. The minute I crossed the Missouri River, the humidity was paralyzing. Windows up and AC on. The east. When I reached the Indiana border, I turned on the radio. Will never do that again. Menards commercials. Meijer sales. Broad Ripple. Ugh. Who cares. Picture sinking shoulders.

Then, at the complex, I wheeled my suitcase to my condo corner and saw it. My gate was closed. When I pushed it open, I saw that my ivy had been killed, pulled up, trimmed, you name it. Just a flurry of ivy activity. Some thistle was brown and dead and some was missing. And I was saving it!!! A piece of my little table right next to the perpetrated ivy area had been broken off and placed in a matching chair. The piece was mysteriously in the shape of a hand. A small, old, bitch of a hand. Then, I opened my screen door and noticed something shiny and new. A new spring-y thing. Installed and everything. And adjusted so the door can't close completely. She had work done!!!

But do I say anything? Nope. I let it go. For almost a whole day.

The next morning, workers had returned to her condo. I didn't expect less. I mean, you hire a man with one good eye to do some counter work, there are bound to be mishaps. So I headed to the store. Screaming kids, big huge fat Indiana families shopping in herds and huvarounds. Then. I made the mistake of a lifetime. I hope you're still reading, because this is the memory that I'll have on my deathbed and I'll need someone to pat my hand, virtually if necessary. I went to Qdoba for a chicken taco salad. I love Qdoba's chicken taco salad. I thought it might relax me. Make me feel better about apparently being roommates with the Indiana world again.

I pulled up into my parking space at the strip mall. Had my right hand still on my keys pulling them out of the ignition and had just started to open my door with my left hand. Two men, probably my age so knowing better, pulled up pretty quickly into the spot to the left of me. Pretty close, too. But before the driver came to a good stop, the passenger opened his door to get out. He turned his head in shock to see me (like what? there are other freeking people in the world?) and my door that he had just hit. I took the keys in my right hand, threw them up in the air a bit (as one does when they're at their limit), closed my door, and tested the Heavens (in the privacy of my own front seat) about what the hell else I could see today. The passenger man got out, stood at my closed window, and yelled, "You know, Midol might really help your attitude." To which I replied, "GO. Just GO. Please, just GO." But he wouldn't move. "I would've apologized to you. There's no damage. But seriously, Midol." Again, "GO. JUST GO."

Then, came his partner. Passenger man was a joy compared to this guy. Driver man came around the car, headed straight towards me holding his key like one would a pen they were getting ready to write with and said, "You are a fucking C*NT. How would you like it if I took this key and just ran it all up and down your face right now?" (There really is no answer to that question.)

The passenger man had moved to the right front side of my car near the strip mall sidewalk to go to Qdoba. I looked at him and said, "Nice choice in this one." And I said, to the c*nt man, "It must be hell to be you." (I know, genius, right?)

So, he said it all again. C*nt. Key. "Upside" my face. Then, he told his partner to get my tag number (what exactly did I do again?). I called him a moron - okay for the blog court records, a fucking moron - and that was the first time I thought he might really key "upside" my face. I looked for my phone to call 911, in case. His friend finally got him to leave. And as I drove away, I noticed a slew of people on Qdoba's patio. Families. Women. And several children. I'm sure the parents will never forget their kids asking them what a c*nt is.

That experience made me decide that I really needed to just start giving back to the world. And not in a good way. So, I wrote a scathing email (as a good passive-agressive does) to the homeowner from whom I rent and copied ol' Char. I told her that this was the final straw and that if the old bat didn't leave me alone and leave my stuff alone, I would call 911. The homeowner was livid, I was glad to know, because after all, I've been money in the bank. She called Char who denied all of it and said that she would be taking this issue to the condo Board to discuss. (I'd like to attend that meeting. "I've been staring at my neighbor and trespassing and messing with and breaking her stuff and she complained to her landlord. We need a letter....I'll put it in her tube.")

Then, I went to the Dollar Store (more punishment from the Indiana public, but it had to be done) and purchased the ugliest patio decorations I could find. God bless America patriotic stuff. And a lovely arrangement of fake red carnations in a plastic cemetery marker cup. Put it all around the gate. This now serves two purposes: 1) it keeps her grubby hands off my gate, and 2) it strokes her out that only she (and her imaginary visitors) can see it and that she can't NOT see it.

I think it's clear who won this battle. Right? I mean, if you ignore the fact that I've thought of little else since I've been back and spent a few countless hours recapping it here and to anyone who will listen to me, it's so clear that I won.

The third day, I spent rental house hunting online. I visited a top contender the next night and, after seeing the hot tub on the neighbor's deck about 20 feet away and hearing the thump-thump bass of a house two doors down, the conversation ended like this: "Will you clean and patch holes and make it rent-ready when you move?" "Uh, yea, I guess, if you want."

And that, my friends, is a reentry. Some might say this is karma biting me in the ass. Perhaps I deserve it for making fun of poor Charlotte. But, trust me, she is the devil, and I've been told she's been given to me as a gift of material. That's how I've chosen to look at her for my own sanity. And sometimes, people think I just make stuff up. Seriously? Nobody is that creative. I'll get a picture of her soon as Exhibit A for the blog court. 

The next post will be a happier one about the exodus and the stay on the moon. And it could be even longer!! :)

Don't Say Ruminate to an Overthinker

ru·mi·nate

Pronunciation: /'r{uuml}-m?-?nat/ 

-nat·ed ; , -nat·ing ; 1:  to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed :  chew the cud2:  to engage in contemplation

I'm about to leave for a three-week trip to Boulder, Colorado!! Ask me when my last three-week trip was. Go ahead. Ask. The answer is NEVER. One week at a time, maybe, what with work and the single mom bank account. The trip originally started as just a weekend to attend the eagerly anticipated Original Impulses: Creative Boulder, but then an extended house sitting opportunity generously presented itself. It's been a bit of a struggle getting to the point of acceptance that I can indeed do this, but I'm here now and actually excited.

In recent weeks, I've turned it over and over in my head how I shouldn't, I appreciate it but I couldn't possibly, go. I've hesitantly brought it up in friendly conversations only to be told how wonderful and divinely timed the whole thing is since my last project, thankfully, ended June 3rd. No contract would dig anyone being gone that long anyway. Friends say spend time writing, spend time on your projects, spend time on YOU. Say whaaaa?? Mostly, people act like it's no big deal. It's an extended vacation. So what? People do it all the time. Get over yourself. Just do it. (Freekin' Nike.)

I have been referred to as an "overthinker" a time or two. I think it's the single mom in me. Or it could be that I was raised by two overthinkers. As someone who plans and worries and then plans and worries some more, I want to make sure I consider all the consequences of every little action. But it's been paralyzing, too. Recently, a friend emailed and said, "Stop ruminating!! Everything's fine." Fine?? Well, if I knew what ruminating meant, maybe. So, on top of all my other worries, I had to find ruminate in the dictionary. Then, I had to think about the origins of the word and how it's used in a sentence. Thanks, friend. At least that took my mind off vacation for a few minutes.

Vacation. I have it all mapped out. Well, sort of. I'm driving and will stop in Hannibal, MO, to visit Mark Twain's boyhood home and museum first. Then, I'm going to Red Cloud, NE, to visit Willa Cather's hometown. Then, Boulder. Colorado. Forests. Mountains. Creeks. Wildlife. Walks. Outdoorsy people. Creative types. Hippies?!?! I bet they don't ruminate much there. Well, not in a worrisome way, anyway, and not without pot. Wonder how much a nickel bag goes for nowadays. And if drug dealers take Discover. See? If it's not one rumination, it's another.

Post-Trip Note and Pictures: I had the best time (and even added Taos to the list) and can't even put it into words. But here are some pics. Because, no words.

New Things, God Help Me

Recently, I asked the Universe for a few things. I read somewhere that it's a good practice to list five things you want from the world and look at the list for a full minute each day. Visualization. I believe in it, and as a result, May has been a case of be careful what you ask for. Two things, in particular.....

One of the things on my list involved socialization. Of me. Being a contract and freelance writer (and mostly technical) can be a lonely life, and I've been jonezin' for more local interaction in my daily routine. So, I landed a new project that I thought might be the answer to this wish list item. The gals I met with to discuss the job were lovely and friendly and funny and nice. At first. It's been a week and now, they're all up in my business. And frankly, I just don't trust them. There's entirely too much conversation and way too many personal questions. And then there are low cubicles - the lowest I've ever seen (from afar, becuase I have never had to sit in a low cubicle before). Picture the bobbing heads and conversations ALL DAY LONG. People popping up and down constantly to stretch, to run to and fro. Every time involves a conversation and, if you're lucky, an impromptu meeting. I've never been more exposed. (Speaking of exposed, the big corporate office-y talk is around watching and waiting for other people to leave their desks with their computer screens open. See, you MUST hit Windows-L or suffer some consequences. Those being this: if someone sees your empty cubicle and open screen (which dear god, they do, because this is what people do there - mind everyone's business), they, and I am not exaggerating, jump up and down and point and giggle at you, and you must then immediately send out an email to the department telling everyone that you will bring donuts the next day. If this happens a certain number of times - I'm not sure how many - you have to bring pizza. Oh, can it get any more fun!??! I think not. They just laugh and laugh and laugh and have more and more discussions about how fun this is for the rest of the day.)

Did I say I've never been more exposed? Well, I take that back, because secondly, this weekend one of my new sweet friends, Lisa Zawodny, has a photography business and offered me a photo shoot. I am trying to get through this life with as little evidence of my face as possible. BUT, the issue was forced, and everyone knows me to be a caver. You might notice some new photos here on the About page, if you peruse. But just don't. Really.

I will share this particular picture here. It's obviously my WTF expression. Remember that part about the folks jumping up and down at the exposed computer screens? This is how I look while that's going on. In fact, I'm pretty sure I walk around most of each day with this look. Unfortunately, it's probably the best look in my repetoire. I know it's my most comfortable. But this is really a statement about Lisa's talent. How she captured this at the exact moment I was mouthing, "You want me to do what?" is beyond me. If you're local to Indianapolis, check out her work here at MLZ Photography and here at Pawsitive Pets Portraits. Fantabulous!!

Here are a couple more that I'm not comfortable with either. So there. I might as well be naked. I'm still waiting on the answers to the other four things on the list. God help me (and thus, you!) in June!!

Snow Stinkin' White

The condo I rent is in the woods. It’s still in the city, just in the woods. I have a very picturesque view of a small and lively forest through my back windows. If that’s all you know about the place, it's lovely. But there's more. Built in 1974, the only thing that has been updated is the kitchen, which was rehabbed in 2009 to reflect the style of a blind family in the early 1990s. The people who live in the complex defy rational explanation and are perfect for an HBO dark comedy. As just one quick example, Next Door Nightmare Charlotte is about 4 feet tall and 90 pounds, I’m guessing around 300 years old, and wanders the parking lots through rain, snow, sleet, hail, famine, and locusts with her walking cane, special shoes, and mysterious pieces of paper. She’s always carrying one piece of paper. Always. But most of her time is spent wandering around inside and banging on things - cabinets, pots, pans, god knows what. While her not being able to sit is but one of this condo life’s little mysteries, what has occupied more of my time lately has been the onslaught of critters.

First, there was the raccoon. Or squirrel. Or groundhog. Or gopher. Or, and this one makes me squirm the most, big honkin’ army boot wearin' rat. I’ve no idea what it is, really. All I know is that it was loud and fast and mad and scared and couldn’t get out of the crawl space no matter how many things it crawled over, clawed through, or scratched on until the wee hours of one Saturday night. He's returned twice just to torment me.

Then, there was the cat. Also in the crawl space. I’m not a cat person. Translation: I hate freeking cats. I equate having one in the house to being in an abusive relationship. I didn’t feel bad not one bit about it howling. (Besides, I wasn’t totally convinced it was a cat. I really thought it was a Sasquatch type creature that wanted to eat me alive.) I did, however, worry about the smell, if it died. But, my friend, Pamela, damn near started crying when I told her about it on the phone one afternoon, so I walked AALLLLLL the way around the buildings and pried open the door to the crawl space to let it out. I stood there for 30 full minutes. I swear. Once, I even called him, “Come on you stupid freeking idiot cat!!” Nothing. I closed the door (the memory of the ratsquirrelcoon was still fresh) and went back inside. As soon as I put a movie in the machine to watch, the damn thing started howling again. So, I, a 47-year-old civilized woman, leaned out the back window, popped out the screen and worked on the door with a broom until it finally opened and idiot cat came moseyin' out. I guess because then it felt like it. It stopped for a minute to look up and give me the evil cat stink eye like he would get me back for what I had done to him. I saw said cat on top of a fence outside just the other day, and he stared me down as if to warn me to watch my back. I reminded it that I had saved its ugly stupid life. But it just kept staring.

Now there's a bird. It keeps hurling itself into my office window. Every day from sun-up to sundown. I read online that it could be seeing a reflection of the trees and such and thinking it’s going to hurl into some cool new vegetation, so I taped plastic garbage bags to the panes but it's obviously insane and doesn't understand. If only I could train it to hurl itself at Nightmare Neighbor Charlotte, I could enjoy some peace again.

The only positive is that I did get a moment's kick out of a mental picture of me as Snow Stinkin' White. I have a few years on her, of course, but the sentiment in the picture is the same. The dwarfs aren’t pictured, but that’s because they’re actually all rolled up into the one Dopey, Noisy, Gimpy, Loony, Wacko Next Door Nightmare Charlotte who I'm pretty sure can't be captured on film. (Just so's you know, I’m a pretty nice person. People even talk about it, they do. But this woman is the devil. So, if you don’t hear from me anymore, Charlotte turned out not to be the dwarfs but the wicked queen.)

Update: Mr. 5am Hooty Owl is back again this year and perched in his favorite tree. Guess where? Oh, and the woodpecker is drilling on the chimney box as I post this. Pamela tells me that's a symbol for opportunity, but she can't be trusted. Cat lover and all.