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.

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

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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)

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.

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!!

The Thanksgiving Gift That Keeps on Giving

This time of year takes me back to the trip north to Indiana. I'm pretty sure it always will.

On Thursday, October 17th, 2002, I received a telephone call about a job in Indianapolis, Indiana, working as a contractor for Eli Lilly. Eleven days later, I moved and started my new job. I left my son with his nonworking father, who had ever so graciously agreed to temporarily move into my house and “baby-sit” his son so he could finish the Fall semester at school. I felt better leaving him there until I had organized our new life into some semblance of a routine. It took almost two months to just recompose myself, so this turned out to be a smart plan.

Nothing seemed the same to me: the streets, the stores, the businesses, the weather (I needed a coat AND GLOVES in October!), the nicely kempt midwestern people with absolutely no accent (how do they do that?). I participate in this craziness now, but when people in these parts give directions, they actually use east and west and north and south, rather than right and left, as in “Go south on Meridian, then west on Fall Creek”. Imagine! It really requires a lot of unnecessary thought as far as this Southerner is concerned.

But it turned out that driving confusion would be the least of my worries. The movers arrived in Indiana at 1:30AM. Yes, A.M.  Then, I ended up moving twice because my first apartment was a nightmare. Sign-on monies and paychecks wouldn't come until the end of December. When you're from out of town, new bank accounts require a 10-day deposit hold, and little things like rent checks require in-state checking accounts. Indiana has something called "hard water", and it's just nastiness. Did I mention cold? The 2002-2003 Winter season resulted in the highest snowfall record for the city this century. I could go on and on.

I was sleeping almost an hour each night and, by that weekend, I had developed a newfound attachment to crying. I’m typically not one to express too much emotion or admit defeat, but I told a bestest friend, Sheila, who was back in Memphis about my problem. I told her that I had no idea if it was due to the haze of overwhelming change, the feeling of loss from my son not being with me, or just plain worry about me, about him, about whether or not this decision would go down in the books as right or wrong for us.

She asked me what we were doing for Thanksgiving. There really was no logical way to spend the holiday with my son. Driving to Mississippi and back twice to bring my son to Indianapolis was too much for the four-day break. I couldn’t stay with my ex-husband in my house, and he certainly had no plans of meeting me halfway. She asked about flying my son from Memphis to Indy. She even offered to take him and pick him up at the airport. He had flown before, so his “unaccompanied minor” status wasn’t an unfamiliar concern. I was touched by her generosity, but I couldn’t do it. I was so close to broke by this time and still had to pay for my second move.

The next day, I received an e-mail from American Airlines notifying me that I had been given a gift certificate from Sheila and three other friends she had recruited to donate to my cause. My son and I spent Thanksgiving together, and he was actually excited about the new digs. By spending those four days together, it eased his mind and mine, and helped us both begin to think of this change as a fun adventure. And I finally stopped crying.

What's funny is that I recently had to refresh Sheila's memory about this kindness, while I think about it often and with gratitude just as intense today as it was then. For me, she was God showing up when I least expected Him and so much prettier, too!!

You've Come A Long Way, Sandra Heath

I received my adoption records in the mail Saturday. I knew there were 82 pages, because I had to pay the copying costs, but I imagined lots of legal crap and little substance. Instead, over half is ridiculously personal information about my birth mother and my parents.

My father would just die if he ever found out I was reading things about him in any kind of interview, much less a series of public welfare ones during an adoption process. That alone is worth the $200 I paid for this kind of scoop!!

It all starts in 1959 when, deciding against a private adoption agency for privacy reasons (that worked well for 46 years), they put their names on the Memphis, Tennessee, public welfare department’s list to adopt. They ended up with my brother, Pat, in 1960. They had no idea, poor things. It’s a good thing they got me next, because my motto was then and remains, “You’ll barely know I’m here”. I’m referred to as a “good, sweet baby” on at least 35 pages. My parents are referred to as “attractive” on just as many. That would make them both as happy to know as the good, sweet part about me made me.

A few things were news to me. For example, my mother told me that she was the one who couldn’t have children, but according to these pages, she wasn’t the one lacking in reproductive abilities. And, I was told that everything was lickety-split, like my parents were practically there as I popped into the world. Not exactly the case, because, apparently, I had a little stint at a Coston Boarding Home and was known as Sandra Heath (legally until 1965!).

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Middle Age is Being Mean to Me Again

My son stayed with me for a few days in December and I asked him to notice how hot it got upstairs at night. I mean, boiling hot. Not only did he not notice it he said that he got a little chilly. After several discussions, he asked me if this could be some symptom of menopause. I’m here to tell you that the shock of that never occurring to me in the first place was something, but to have it brought up by your fully-grown son, was quite another.

After some pains reminiscent of childbirth, I ordered a $28 Internal Cleanse program from Amazon. Two days after it arrived in the mail, I got the stomach flu. Now, I’m on the BRAT system. Bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. My stomach’s quieted down a lot, so we’re going to stick with this for a while. Start thinking like nursing home cafeteria menu makers.

I can’t keep enough lotion and hair conditioner in the house. I’m like the Sahara. There’s just never enough moisture.

Which brings me to peeing in cups. I recently had to do this and couldn’t perform. Come to my house in the middle of the night and we’ll have no issues, but during the day, that much productivity ain’t happenin’. Whose cruel joke was it to move the minimum requirement line anyway?

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Five weeks, four - teebajillion lists, three moves, two deaths, but only one meltdown in a pear tr......er, cubicle

I love a good list. I love making it, I love organizing it by time of day or priority, and I especially love crossing things off it. So, you can imagine how happy I’ve been the last five weeks. Moving me. moving my son and moving half the house to the Homeless Veterans Foundation has required lists to keep up with lists that keep up with other lists. Two households since July 15th. Dependencies that require spreadsheets. Too many phone calls with Customer Service. Too much cleaning. Documentation. And sweating. Yes, some sweating has occurred. But the lists! The silver lining in it all.

Everything ended last Tuesday with my driving away from Bloomington to my new tiny home with no television. I should be grieving now, but I’m not. Last year involved two weeks of unexpected crying jags. This year, nothing. Just relief. Relief at nothing to do, nothing to think about, nothing to worry about. Not even dinner or finagling around someone else’s nighttime work schedule or what silly reality TV show is gonna tick me off for being on the air in the first place.

Until today. Some song played that I don’t know the name of but remember being popular during a particularly emotional time of my life. And there it was taking its sweet time: the meltdown. It’s natural, I know, and there could be more to come.

But, the spawn is happy. Instead of a shrug and a “whatever”, I hear about him handling his new life with a spring in his step. It’s fun for me to think about. It’s the one thing I’ve really hoped for. So, that has minimized the sadness of it all.

Although, if I continue to connect the dots of grief, I have resorted to watching a few DVDs of Season One of the Brady Bunch. The ones when the kids were young and just starting their new family and Mike and Carol couldn’t keep their hands off each other, especially when they were answering the front door together.

Yea, I’d say there could be more meltdowns to come. When I start watching Mary Tyler Moore again with my usual glee at her life, I’ll know I’ve weathered the storm and made it, after all.

My How The Years Have Flown

Dammit, it seems that I’ve become attached to my son again and just in time for his August repeat departure. I swore this wouldn’t happen. In fact, how did it happen? It shouldn’t have, because we had some severe growing pains and a few not-so-clean fights this summer. I never thought in May that I’d feel this way by July. But, here he goes. Again.

boy-walking-to-school.jpg

I wonder now, while it is still July, how my separation period will compare to last year's. Then, I was better in a week or two. Now, it could take longer, because this is a real move (for the both of us). It involves purging and separating our stuff and purchasing new grown-up stuff and putting rent payments and utilities in his name. And for two full years. And, likely, for good.

Plus, I’m going to the south-side of things – where’s the attraction in that? At least this year I had the north on my side. He’d come home for a few days just to be within crawling distance of his friends. I do still have the dog, but she wasn’t much of a draw last year no matter how hard I tried (I’d send pictures, I’d even put her on the phone and give play-by-plays when I made him say HEY to her, but nothing ever was enough to come home very often). The bed and the quiet were the only real sellers, and he’s taking those with him.

Although, he will have his truck with him this year…..and a house with five other college boys. Maybe my stock will go up in time for the holidays. In the meantime, I'll watch you go and wish you oodles of happiness. Be a good boy and make lots of friends and be nice to the girls and have lots of fun and learn lots of biological stuff. And call me and the dog on Sunday afternoons.

What'cha Doin'?

I guess with age comes the loss of things. Most notably friends. Lives change, people change, goals change, heck, even our personalities change. I’ve lost eight friends in the 21st century and, even though I’m sure it’s natural and the way God intended, every ending has stung a bit.

Last night, I woke up from a sound sleep at 3:18 AM thinking of one former friend in particular. Now, of course, I will worry about her for days and never know why.

There were signs that year that things were going to end. She was busy, and I think I became more of an obligation. We had less in common and were growing apart. I think we both knew it was time. We didn’t exactly lose touch, as they say, we just stopped all forms of communication. There was no talk about it, no warning about it, it just happened. Our last conversation was Thanksgiving Day 2006.

At the time, I thought it was especially bad timing, because she had recently won somewhat of a genetic lotto. Her father sold his business, and each of his three kids received millions of dollars. To this day, I’m afraid she may think the friendship ended because of money. Ironically, we had a lengthy conversation not too long before about how she’d soon find out who her real friends were.

Looking back on it, though, God knew what he was doing and ended this relationship at the perfect time. There’s no way we could have lasted. I’m a single mom, working multiple jobs, saving, paying for college. In a nutshell, she’s not. I would not have reacted well in any conversation about grand vacations and surgeries and jewelry and days, weeks, months, years with little to no responsibilities. I was happy for her, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate the details. I’m probably wrong and small for that, but maybe I get points for honesty. Plus, I'm awfully glad I didn't have the opportunity to embarrass myself.  

She was so important to me during the divorce from my father. She made jokes at all the right times. We came up with elaborate and hilarious schemes for his (and his wife’s) demise (yes, two middle-aged women sitting in a parking lot planning all sorts of Fargo-type things) . She just sat there in silent and supportive agreement when I busted out in uncontrollable crying in the middle of one conversation I’ll never forget. She made the hurt of it all more bearable, and she made me feel validated and like I mattered when I knew I didn’t. Heck, even her mother got on board, and she was sure to let me know that at least one parent on the planet wuv’d me! I like to think I was a good friend during her nasty separation and divorce from her ex-husband and oodles of recurring family drama.

She was funny, sharp as a tack, and the most effortlessly kind-hearted person I know. I hope she’s well and happy and enjoying her life, her son, her new house and her family. I miss her. And I know it’s the way it’s meant to be.

But I do wonder what she might have been up to at 3:18 AM.

Lucky Charms

This morning, while stopped in an intersection waiting for an extended family of Canadian geese to cross the road, I started thinking about life in my potential new condo.

While I’m not thrilled about it, I am thrilled about it. There’s a pros and cons list, as with anything, but I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. 

  • It has a little spot for Sabrina to sit in the sun and take care of first thing in the morning and last thing at night business. 
  • It has huge closets for stuff. 
  • It has a good-sized enclosed porch area out front (with a front door an acceptable distance from anyone else's front door) and a deck out back. 
  • It has fantastic new windows. 
  • No kids. No basketball hoops. 
  • It has a really 1970s kitchen which will probably limit my time in there (a very good thing). 
  • It’s about half the monthly expense I’m used to. 
  • I can still call someone when something breaks or gets a hangnail. 
  • It’s closer to the highway and the airport for easier escape. 
  • It’s a nudge out of Indy (no complaints, lovely place, but in the wise, wise words of Supertramp, "I really have enjoyed my stay, but I must be moving on"). 
  • There are five people in this block of condos: The single elderly man on the end has recently been put on oxygen (so you know he barely moves and certainly won’t be sawing or hammering things). His single lady neighbor is a retired professor and walks dogs for folks. 
  • Then, and this is the weightiest of all: the people who would be on either side of me. I know the neighbor on one side - a cool, single, retired lady who spends lots of her time traveling and working on research projects. The neighbor on the other side is a single male - a prosecuting attorney with grown and gone children who, rumor has it, hates noise! I love him already.

With all of this written, the cons hardly deserve a mention. Austin won’t be thrilled because it’s not a hop, skip and a jump to Broad Ripple, but hey and like he says, my decisions aren’t about him anymore.

So now I’m off to buy the most special-est of notebooks, because I have my first of six summer coaching sessions Monday, and I can’t wait to write down all I learn about creating my new life.

Do-Over

Thanks to ingenious Web designer, Melody Watson, you’ll notice a new look here, and, hopefully, love it as much as I do.

I’m focusing more on my freelance business this year and wanted my site to reflect that. I also wanted it to be more reflective of me. I think she hit the nail on the head - even though she called the site ‘elegant’ once and well….while ever so close, it's not my exact aura :). For me, it has a northeastern, coastal, clean, crisp, beach-y, writer vibe and that’s me…in my dreams, anyway.

Anyway, I hope you’ll look around a while, come back often, and remember my name and this swanky new site whenever you have an itch for something wonderful to be written.

Excuse The Mess...

...during my re-construction. Big to-dos going on. Ch-ch-ch-changes, one might say have said in 1972.

I hope you don't stop by and think, "Who the heck is this Karen Rutherford and why is she so color and font and alignment blind?"

Newfangled site coming soon. Soon = as soon as Karen Rutherford holds up her end of the bargain.

So, please grab a' hold of your favorite safety partner and do be careful as you step over the clashing shades of red and fonts running amuck and such.

Thanks, The Management

Is Al Pacino on the Facebook?

I feel like I shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t understand the facebook. I mean, I understand the term social networking, but isn’t that what telephones and email and blackberries and bluetooths and skypes and websites and blogs and ims and texts are for?

I guess this facebook is especially confusing to me, because there are games and walls and drinking and snowball fights and kidnappings and wars. It all sounds socially violent and very irresponsible to me.

But everything’s imaginary, right? So, let’s say I accepted four or five drinking requests and said yes to a snowball fight. I wouldn’t actually have to drive to the snow and the person who wants to throw a honkin’ ball of snow at me, right? Not only is that socially dangerous and illegal, it would also be very bad for my joints. (I don’t even want to know what’s involved in a mob war unless a young Al Pacino’s part of it.)

There are also constant questions about what I’m doing. Who wants to know? And why? This and the twits thing just feel awkward and creepy to me. I assume I type something in the little box, but where does it go and what's the point? I could never, ever do this. And you’re welcome.

I did, however, answer a quiz that had to be written by pre-teens about what I’m god of, even though I don’t really understand the question. I mean what could I possibly? I have no idea how it got on my page/wall/thingamajig. But anyway, I’m god of air, because it deemed me independent after it asked me if I would, with guns a'blazin', charge into a school where students were being held hostage by terrorists and I said no. Yea, explain it to me and then we’ll both understand.

So, feeling pretty confident that I’ll never belong, I’m forced to continue letting all these imaginary requests from the facebook pass me by. I don’t like being rude, but I really should watch out for my health now that I’m middle-aged and so unaware.

A Preferred Customer

For Miss Hazel Simmons, August 21, 1929 - January 3, 2009

From Oct 2006: Miss Hazel will be 76 this year. She has lived in or within 15 miles of Brownsville, Tennessee, all her life. When she turned 40 in 1969, she bought a brand new ranch-style house on a corner lot of a tiny subdivision on the outskirts of town. And she’s lived there ever since.

She commuted between Memphis and Brownsville several times in her life, but most importantly when she completed her Master’s degree in Education at age 45. She taught in the City of Brownsville and Shelby County schools the rest of her working life.

Even though the town of Brownsville is relatively small, with a population of around 10,000 people, it sure feels smaller to Miss Hazel. She either knows everyone or knows of everyone. And everyone knows her. I think it’s because of all those years teaching. She knew kids who grew into parents whose kids grew into parents.

For all those years of service to her community, Miss Hazel gets a few welcome perks. For example, since grocery shopping can add up to a long walk for someone in their seventies, management suggested that she park in the handicapped parking space at the E.W. James Supermarket until somebody in town had an unfortunate accident last winter and actually needed the space. But not long after, the store employees put up a big sign in front of the space next to it saying, “Preferred Customer Parking”, and designated it as Miss Hazel’s new spot.

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The Big Impact

In a writing class last year, we were asked to write about the moment that had the biggest impact on our lives. This is what I wrote:

“Don’t you want to hold him?”

If he asked me that one more time, I swore I was going to kick him. Even with the compromising and restrained position, I was pretty sure I could have mustered up enough strength to kick him in the head.

The nurse had offered him to his father pretty quickly when she saw my reaction to her heading in my direction. And the man was holding him like he would a tray of food, sort of in half-outstretched arms. Not close to him at all, but away from his chest, as if to make sure he wasn’t fully committing to the responsibility. Sign of things to come.

He was obviously uncomfortable, though. He had never held a baby at all. He had cousins and a sister with kids, but he had never actually picked any of them up. So, he didn’t want to hold him either, really. I was the mother after all. I should want him. Of course, I would want him. But I didn’t.

I didn’t want to see him, much less touch him or hold him. I just forced a slow “nooooo”, and shot him a warning glare. He didn’t move. Frozen in fear, I guess, from me and from the baby.

I was given the aftermath treatment while the nurse put a little baby blue knit hat on him and wrapped him in fresh blankets. She set him down beside me next to my hip. He sat there, like a tiny doll of a person. Eyes closed, two slits between red, flaky, wrinkled fleshy cheeks, making not one move except for his nose flaring with each breath. It seemed barely alive.

This was it? All that pain, all those months, for this? For a little lump of blanket and hat to just sit there? I felt nothing.

We were wheeled back to our room and forced into a whir of activity, with nurses from every direction bringing me baby this after baby that, each with instructions.

“Okay, here we go!! His first bottle. You ready?”

Raised eyebrows and wide-open eyes to question her sanity, but I didn’t reply. I swore she snickered. Then, she forced us together anyway and left. “Awwww, you’ll be fine. Have fun!!”

And we were alone. His father had gone to make phone calls or something, I think. Who knows. We were alone. Sign of the life to come. And still nothing. He drank the whole bottle, never moving or opening his eyes.

A few minutes or hours (I’m convinced) passed, and they came to get him to officially register him with the human race. He’s leaving!! I could breathe. Normalcy. My life was back. I wanted to go home. Alone.

But not long enough after I got comfortable with myself, they wheeled him back in his little acrylic cart still wrapped like a big sausage.

“Back so soon?”

The nurse ignored me, but he tilted his head toward me, opened his eyes, smiled, and then laughed. Probably a gas thing, but I swore he got the sarcasm. And that he understood.

He let me know that he wasn’t having any more fun than I was. He was just as uncomfortable and just as scared of me. He wasn’t thrilled about being with me either. Probably thinking, her again? Is she it? She’s what I get? Forget it. Put me back now.

And in that tiny moment of apparent connection, he became mine -all mine and just mine. He became the love of my life. And I became his mom.

Living Alone and Fairly Consciously

All things considered, I think I’ve done pretty well. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of food shopping for one, but I’m sure I’ll get there. It feels a lot like that scene in the intro to the Mary Tyler Moore show when she unenthusiastically throws what I think is a piece of chicken into her basket. I think about calling, but then stop myself. A lot. Local friends have been great at timely invitations. I’ve had extra chores and work as well. And my plan. And Sabrina, the dog.

I got to thinking about the last time I lived by myself. It was over twenty years ago in Vinings, Georgia, and only for a period of about two years. I didn’t do it very well back then. I seem to be better at it now. Plus, he was an unintentional master at preparing me. I appreciate his independence.

I’ve been driving his truck to work, because it has air conditioning and I opted not to fix mine. He’s not happy about that and tries to convince me it’s no good by telling me I look like a lesbian, but, frankly, that's a risk I’m willing to take. (And, it has cooled down in the last day or two, so my heterosexuality will be restored soon.)

I saw a lady walking to the bus stop in her work clothes the other morning. The sprinklers at the apartment complex she was in front of suddenly went on. She started, and then held out her hands and raised her head to catch the water for a moment before continuing her walk. I thought I wanted to be just like her.

I hate that www.dictionary.com has been bought by Ask.com. Amongst all the advertisements are a few definitions.

The man who lives behind me who cuts his grass after dark watered his deck last week. His sprinkler was intentionally set facing his house and in just the one position to water the deck and only the deck. Not the windows or the doors, nor are there any plants or flowers on the deck. I actually like things like this - I can wonder for weeks.

Aren't there a finite number of musical notes? Doesn't this mean that we'll eventually run out of new music? Does anyone know when?

Miss Hazel told me to keep my doors locked, and that felt nice.

I think I would like it to be fall all year long.

A Short Lifetime Spent Trying to be a Good Boy

My brother and I were adopted at birth from different mothers. I’m sure we both had opportunities being raised by our adoptive parents that we never would have had with our biological ones, although neither of us would ever know anything other than what we were told about our birth parents to be sure.

Our parents were decent, moral, upstanding people. But they were obsessed with appearances, which made my brother a bigger problem for them than he might have been for other parents. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t be what they expected. This would result in life-altering disappointment for both sides.

I distinctly remember my mother telling me I was adopted around age 6, but I don’t remember when Pat was told. I really didn’t see him enough to have conversations like that. Initially, he was always so busy. He was a hyperactive child, put on Ritalin before he ever made it to first grade. I’m sure it was intended to calm him down for public appearances, but it never worked. Eventually, we just grew up in different places.

My first and faintest memory of my brother is of him pedaling a little yellow and blue plastic scooter down the long hall of our first house in Memphis, Tennessee. Almost daily, he would wait for me to toddle innocently out of my room at one end, and as soon as he saw me, start pedaling from the other end, picking up considerable momentum (it was a long hall and I wasn’t that fast) before hitting me and knocking me down - HARD. As soon as I started to cry, he started to laugh. I also remember my mother reacting when she came to assess the damage:

“Why, Pat, why? Why can’t you be a good boy?”

I can’t count how many times I would hear this over the coming years. I don’t know if I ever learned to look first, but, more than likely, he quickly got bored and moved on to something else before I had time to figure out a workable solution. My mother, already tired at this point, decided to just wait and pick up the inevitable pieces rather than try to predict her son’s behavior.

Pat’s first grade teacher at Sea Isle Elementary School showed real concern for his ability to control himself. At first, she felt sorry for him because he was such a sweet, thoughtful boy. She thought he just needed special attention, but when that ended up with him craving even more and more attention from her, anything good about him soon faded in comparison to his unforgivable behavior. He refused to stay in his seat, wreaking havoc on the classroom and the other kids. He would throw crayons, pencils, books, erasers, anything he could get his hands on. He would use markers to draw on the windows. Lunch and recess were constant struggles. He’d be banished to the outskirts or the teacher’s table or the bench or the sidelines for this reason or that, and even under watchful eyes, he would still seem to slip just out of reach and misbehave.

She also often asked him, “Can’t you just be a good boy and behave like the other children?” But he never had an answer. Nobody knew yet that he didn’t understand the question.