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Monday, July 17, 2017

When God Hates You


“Grandma dropped her cigarette to the flagstone floor and ground out the butt with her scuffed cowboy boot.  She turned her back to mom and grabbed up the Cuervo bottle.  A full fifth.  Grandma unscrewed the lid and took another big swig, holding the bottle with both hands.  She lowered it and set it aside, not even bothering to put the lid back on.  She coughed with a bleary smile.
“Damn.  Now that’s refreshing,” she said and reached for another cigarette.”
---Grandma Climbed On Board, Elisa Romero
***
I’m just kidding, of course.  I don’t really think God hates me.

In fact, just typing that causes an amused chuckle to flicker around my edges.  I find the whole idea of people blaming God for all the bad things that frustrate them, a little bit on the narcissistic side.

Yet here I am, saying to myself, what the fuck?  And why?  And who did I piss off?

Generally, to muse over these sorts of questions, I’d be like the Grandma from my novella--I’d just reach over and grab the whole tequila bottle with both hands and take big swig and say, “Damn.  Now that’s refreshing.”

But I can’t.  Why not, you ask?  Because this thing I have loved my whole life, this one single thing I had to keep the world at arms-length, has been taken from me.  In the last month, I have developed an allergy to all alcohol.  Yup.  All of it.

Goodbye to my only vice--whiskey.  Well.  I guess I still have coffee.  Coffee is not a good way to take the edge off of my day, though.

I put that quote at the beginning of this blog, to show that even years and years ago, my ideal image of myself in my old age was her—this ballsy-grandma, still sitting in her garden and creating art, enjoying her vices—which for that character were cigarettes and tequila.

And cussing.

Well fuck.  At least I still have the last one.

So, I want to talk about this.  What happens when the universe shifts so rough to the side, knocks you off your feet and throws you down a rabbit hole—that when you get to your feet, again, your whole idea of not just who you are but who you will be and want to be—has to change?

It’s a sort of death.  It’s grief.  It’s confusion and shock.  It is loss.

In all of us, we have this ideal vision of ourselves, right?  We picture ourselves as we wish we were.  For some of us, it’s taller, skinnier, braver, more-clever or maybe surrounded by admirers.  What we want to be is often what we feel like we don’t have, what we are not, and especially what we think would make us happy.

But damn it!  I already had that.  I was well on my way.  People who know and love me would say I already was that grandma and I liked her.  I grew up to be what I wanted--sassy and tough, ready to stand up for others, if the need arose, and when it was all said and done, fine with tossing back a shot of whiskey and letting the day drift away in a smile.

No girly-drink for me.  I’m a real woman.  I drink that shit straight.  I drive a stick-shift.  I lift weights!  I don’t need anyone or anything.  If you look up bad-ass-bitch in the dictionary, there’s my picture!

That woman is ghosting on me, now.  She is turning into an echo.

I stand here, stone-cold sober with no cigarettes, staring at my future with wide, terrified eyes.  As an extreme introvert, I hate the world when I’m this sober because there’s no filter.

Without wrapping myself in a mental cotton ball, the world is too raw, too sharp and people rub me the wrong way and I’m starting to understand that maybe I was so happy with who I was, I never learned how to interact with people in any other way.

I am starting to see that recently, even on dates with my current guy, he comes over and the first thing I do is throw back a shot and hand him a beer, and suddenly I’m easy-going-Elisa, fun Elisa, sexy-no-worries-Elisa.

Holy fuck.  It’s stupid that I don’t know the answer to this question, at my age, but suddenly I wonder?  Can I even feel romantic and in the mood--without the soft blur of the alcohol?  Panic makes my heart thump inside my chest.  Looking back, I see that maybe every romantic date I have ever had has always involved a drink first, and why is that?

Did it calm my nerves?  Give me confidence?  Hide reality?  Not knowing the answer is a lot like a hurricane swirling around my head, spinning me up into the air, feet losing touch with the ground.  I thought I knew myself and now maybe—I don’t know myself, at all.

I feel a lot like someone just punched me in my face.

I feel like I don’t know myself, at all.

I’ve always boasted about having no fears and suddenly, I’m so scared I feel frozen.  I never imagined in a million years that this is where I would stand, someday, at fifty-one, redefining who I am from the ground up.

I never believed I would have to be any other way than how I wanted to be.  Now here I am.

From what I’ve read, this new allergy is likely a complication of the Lupus that I have.  Lupus attacks your major organs and one of the biggest organs of all—is your skin.

The denial ran deep as I started to make this connection.  I spent the first two weeks nearly killing myself, testing every possible alcohol that I like to drink and the reactions are the same, every time—within an hour to two hours, I break out in hives all over my body, everywhere, like being swarmed in itchy-fire.  The only relief comes if I run and pray to the Benadryl Gods and they kindly answer my prayers and put me right to sleep, a sleep so overwhelming, that I can’t even function but at least I can’t scratch.

The sick thing?  I even thought—well if it’s just the itch, I’ll pay that price.  I’ll fucking itch.  I kept pushing it.  Denial is hilarious.

Drink bourbon.  Two hours later--hives.  Grab the benadryl.

Drink irish whiskey.  Bushmills red—got about three or four hours before the hives showed up.  Bushmills black gave me an hour before the hives.

 Drink white wine.  Half a glass gave me a few here and there.  Half a bottle of white gave me about five hours before I woke up dying in the middle of the night, head to toe agony.

Red wine—half an hour, holy crap.  Just as bad as the bourbon.

But I was in denial.  I kept trying these things, over and over.

So my body said—bitch, I don’t think you’re listening!

And for about eight hours after the hives went away, no matter what I drank, my chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it and breathing was, oh, a little bit of a challenge.  My throat constricted.  Talking was a little like, oh you know, choking.

Can we say anaphylactic shock, anyone?  (I can say it, I just can’t spell it.  I had to look it up.)

So now my body says this:  Go for it.  Keep pushing this.  I’ll show you who’s boss.  Do you LIKE oxygen?  Oh, breathing is nice, is it?

Stunned silence washes over my brain like a tidal wave.  I am defeated by this.  I am not who I was.

Or am I?

I used to smoke, for about six years.  I gave that up when I was done, quit cold turkey, and it never bothered me.  It wasn’t who I was.  It wasn’t part of what I saw as my core self.

But whiskey.  Oh, sweet whiskey.

I have had to ask myself why this was true, how did I make whiskey a core part of who I was?

I have had to sit in stone-cold sobriety, sitting alone, sipping on a glass of water or lemonade and I have had to ask myself, over and over, why was I so attached to the image of myself as a bad-ass, whiskey-sipping woman?

I felt stronger with it.

Is that a real thing, then?  Am I not strong, just as me, without it?  Am I not beautiful?  Am I not tough?

A new image begins to form in the wreckage of the old me.  I begin to see an image of the new Elisa.  She is different from the one I saw, before, and I saw her so clearly, just the other day.

Her face is clear and calm, there is no puffiness or fatigue there, because she hasn’t had any alcohol in her system, for years.  She is standing in a meditation pose with her eyes closed, smiling, finishing up another Pilate’s mat class.

That Elisa is lean and fit and toned.  She is smiling because there is no drama around her and no confusion and no fear.  Everything she needs is already inside her soul.

She is still there for others, only now she’s really present and her eyes are bright and attentive to all people and all things.  She is trustworthy and the universe only brings her what she needs and that is a good place to be.

I have found a new Elisa to admire.  I am excited to become her, even if it’s scary as hell.

I will miss whiskey, my old friend, the warm filter I used to muffle the scary parts of life.

But maybe now I’m seeing a new kind of strong, one where I am brave enough not to need to shut anything out, or muffle it, or fear it, in any way.

So, okay.  God doesn’t hate me.
I guess I don’t hate God, either.


***

Monday, October 31, 2016

But You Look Fine


I think one of the best things I’ve found out about life is that as writer, sometimes you write less about your life, when you are so busy just living and enjoying it, that you have less time to reflect on it all.  Reflection is for the fall, when things slow down, when the leaves tumble and get crunchy and all the green goes into a faded gold.


With that fading comes the thoughtful musing in the chilly air.  I do this over hot chocolate or a shot of whiskey.  Now is the time of reckoning, part of me examining my own reflection created by the last six months, all while staring at the blank digital paper on my computer screen.  It waits for what I will put there, what I will share with you.

This is harder than I expected.  I’ve mulled over sharing this for six months, thinking over the pros, the cons and the whys.  In the end, there is no real reason to talk about what happened to me this summer, except that I have always been honest about my trials and tribulations, and now I find myself in the quagmire of something new.

What I finally came to is this:  I tend to write things that I feel others can relate to, with the end goal being that no one ever feel alone in their struggles.  The problem was that what I am dealing with is rare and not many people can relate to it, so why even bring it up? 

Yet, here I am, six months into it and as the months have passed and I’ve done more research into this crap, I have found that I was wrong.  What I’m dealing with is something rare but super universal and it is something that many people deal with, every single day, and the battle is vicious and allies are a must.

The battle is this:  the invisible illness.

It’s where you look perfectly fine on the outside, but on the inside, you’re breaking into little pieces and people look at you like you’re crazy if you say that you can’t do something because for fuck’s sake—you look fine.

Suddenly, they look at you like you’re a faker or a hypochondriac.  Because you look fine.

I think this is maybe what has pushed me to finally lay it all out on the table, because the ridiculous amount of reactions that I’ve had to deal with have run from okay to completely absurd.  And that’s just from telling a mere handful of people.  There have been days where I’ve had to just shake my head and go back to bed and to sleep, because I get so frustrated that being awake makes me want to set shit on fire.


At first, I thought I was just getting old.  Yes, you can laugh.  I find it kind of funny that I was more convinced that I was just aging quickly, as opposed to paying attention to the fact that I should not be walking around like I was ninety, while still in my forties.


Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can look back and see that the earliest symptoms started showing up about ten years ago.  I was still waiting tables but after a day of work, I would come home unable to walk.  My feet felt like someone had smashed all the bones in them with a sledgehammer and so I’d go right to the couch, understanding that once I sat down, I would not be able to get up again for hours.


But you know, that happens in your forties, right?  Getting old.  I told myself that I was just getting old and weak.  It seems kinda gross to me, now, that I was so quick to just put all the blame on myself for being “weaker” than the average person, than understanding that something else might be up.  I guess I’ve always been my own harshest critic.

What confused me was that most of the time, I felt fine.  Once I recuperated, I felt normal and went about my life.  The crushed feet thing happened only if I had to be on my feet for hours, running around.  This aching, broken-bone feeling would sometimes spread to my hands and wrists and sometimes my legs.  I took Advil and ignored it.

As the years passed, many things occurred to obscure these moments—new jobs, a job sitting down for four years, moving houses and states.  Other problems—kidney issues, gal bladder removal, and a couple more surgeries showed up in those years to just make me feel miserable all the time--so things like tired feet seemed like just complaining, instead of an actual something I should pay attention to.

Then I was out of work for an entire year so I was not running around doing anything.  All these big life events happened that sort of pushed all health stuff aside—a divorce, pressure to find a new job and on and on.  It was easy to not pay attention to how many times I had to go to bed, exhausted and in pain.

When I started to notice the symptoms, again, was when I found a great job and got much, much healthier.  I was working out every week and my job was a physically active one that was not over the top hard and just enough running up and down staircases to keep me from being sedentary.

Yet instead of feeling better, I started feeling worse.  This was where I began to connect the dots a bit, started to suspect that getting healthier and more fit should not make me feel worse.  I’d work a shift and go home feeling like I’d been run over by a garbage truck.  The only thing that made me feel a little better and not so stiff in my joints was swimming or something mild like a yoga class.

In fact, the moment I would get home from an eight-hour shift at work, I would fall asleep and sleep for two to three hours, unable to keep my eyes open, even though I had slept about seven or eight hours the night before.  I just blamed it on being a night owl and staying up late.


At work, I had to sit down for five or ten minute breaks about once an hour or I’d start that old-lady crippled walk where I was chugging Advil and hanging onto the stairway railing to get up or down the stairs.

The bone pain got worse.  Now, when I slept, I’d wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning feeling like a steam roller had rolled over me in the night, breaking all my bones or I’d feel like I’d been sleeping on a cement slab and feel bruised and achy.  Sometimes it felt like my thigh bones were on fire, deep inside the bones and the pain would wake me up in the middle of the night.  No position I could get in would make the pain go away.  Then my chest started hurting, all the time, in waves, sometimes achy, sometimes sharp—for three years.

I’m not stupid.  Yes.  The chest pain concerned me.  My nurse-sister was also freaked out by it.  She made me start taking baby aspirin all the time.  I had EKG’s done, and a heart stress test and watched for all the signs of a female heart attack—but every single time, the heart tests said my heart was strong and doing great.

The final sign was that people would sometimes tell me how red my face was.  That was the most baffling symptom of all.  I thought…maybe I am just getting overheated because my blood pressure has been high?  Maybe drinking a shot of whiskey makes my face more red than most people, just because I’m…you know…GETTING OLD.


When I moved to Taos for the summer, when all the demands on my time shrank down to nothing, I decided it was time to put a name to whatever it was that was dragging me down, to find a way to maybe treat it, because it was pissing me off.  I had started to understand that nobody, no matter how old they are, wakes up with their hip and thigh bones on fire unless there is something fucking wrong.  Nobody has chest pain every single day unless something is fucking wrong.  It was like slapping my own face.  I had to yell at myself to stop being in denial and just figure it the fuck out and deal with it.  Putting my head in the sand was stupid.


Because at that point, like most people with weird symptoms, I had been googling the crap out of my symptoms and of course, like most people, the results of my symptoms were always either just nothing--or I was dying of something gruesome.  It’s so pointless to look that crap up.

Well except for one thing.  The red face thing.  One night, while stumbling through the online list of possible horrors I could be dealing with, I found a picture.  It was a drawing of a symptom of people who have a disease called Lupus.  The woman in the drawing had a red rash going across the bridge of her nose, over to both cheeks, like butterfly wings.  It could almost pass for just rosy cheeks.


I ran to the bathroom and turned on the bright lights and looked at my face, free of makeup and suddenly I saw it, like a red ghost.  It was more subtle than the picture on the website, but sure as hell, I had a red butterfly glow on my cheeks, one that crossed over the bridge of my nose—something not easily seen with make up on.  Something easily lost in sunshine as just a rosy glow or something not easy to see in low light.

Stunned, I went back to re-look at all the Lupus symptoms.  Unexplained chest pain.  Check.  Pain and swelling in joints and bones.  Check.  Butterfly rash.  Check.  Fatigue.  Can we say three hour naps, anyone?  Check.  I went to the doctor but I guess I already knew.  I could check off at least three or four more symptoms on that Lupus list, in addition to the ones I just mentioned, that had been bugging me over the last three years.  Check and mother-fucking check.

Most of the tests, when testing for Lupus, are tests to prove what it’s not—not arthritis, not ten other kinds of syndromes, not issues related to thyroid or cancer, etc.  It took an entire month to get through it all.  There were blood tests and urine tests and xrays.  Then more blood tests.  Eye tests for medicine related issues.  Sleep tests for the high blood pressure.  I got really sick of seeing my doctor, even though he’s wonderful and the best doctor in the world.


And once it was all said and done, back in June, my very smart, very nice doctor looked sad and he said that he was sorry to have to give me bad news, but that yes, I had tested in the medium-high positive range for Lupus.

Well, fuck.  Sometimes it’s good to have a name for random symptoms you’ve been dealing with for three or more years, you know?  On the other hand, there’s this whole new level of grappling with what can be done, what needs to be done and what kind of self-care I need to start paying attention to.

I won’t even go into how I’m supposed to see a specialist called a Rheumatologist and all the ones in New Mexico are booked up for a solid year and won’t even put me on a cancellation list.  Or how the medicine they want to treat my Lupus with can cause people to go blind if you’re on it for too long.

It’s some fucked-up shit.  I tend not to rant about these things, but I do allow my language to get a bit more colorful because fucking-fuck.

The reactions of a few friends and family to the news about me having Lupus have been hilarious--things like, a couple of people telling me to just pray it away.  I get where they are coming from, them and faith and the crossover of visualization and all, but I sometimes wonder if Christians don’t wonder why the omniscient God they pray to may have given them the disease in the first place?

Wouldn’t it be a sort of spiritual treason to just wish away what God throws at them?  I refer them to the old bible story of Job, when I get that line of thought.  I tell them what if God and Satan took out a bet on my life?  Who am I to tap out and spoil their game?

Anyway.  I don’t have that sort of relationship with any God or Devil, Christian or otherwise.  I think my job in this life is to take what I’m given and turn it into lemonade.  Or feel sorry for myself and do nothing.  In the end, I don’t think it matters what I do with it.  It’s my life.  I just tend to be one of those people that doesn’t get dramatic about very many things.  “Oh look, now it’s time to deal with Lupus.  How interesting.”

Then, of course, there’s the ever popular, but you look fine!  Those are the people I’d like to slug repeatedly in the chest with cement-filled gloves, and then make them work an eight-hour shift in that state, just to see how they handle it.  But that’s just me being bitchy.  I’ve been a bitch for a long time, now.


Suggestions to cure Lupus have been everything from acupuncture to just eat a different diet and you’ll fix yourself.  I’m not ashamed to say that mostly, I just smile sweetly and say nothing to these sorts of suggestions.  In fact, I’ve discovered that amazon.com has an entire Lupus link devoted to things they want to sell me to show how much they support Lupus people.  I could buy trendy bracelets and necklaces that announce how sick, but still strong, I am.  I can buy dozens of books on the subject that range from Lupus encyclopedias to some woman telling me how she dieted her Lupus away.  Seems I have to give her thirty bucks to find out what she ate.

That’s all great, except everything I’ve read says Lupus is mercurial and that sometimes, this shit actually does just go away on its own.  And sometimes it lasts forever, no matter what you do. Sometimes it even kills people.  There are three different kinds, one being a variation that shows up due to certain high blood pressure medications.  I found it hilarious that they said if you go off the meds, you can maybe cure yourself IF it’s that type.  On the other hand, if you go off your blood pressure meds, you’re probably going to stroke-out and die.  Oops.

One of the funniest reactions I get, that a lot of people jumped immediately onto, was the whole idea that --“Omg, dude, you qualify for a medical marijuana card, now!  Doooo eeeeeet!”

And it’s true.  Lupus is sometimes treated with pot, due to the joint inflammation and pain.  I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed the occasional bowl in my time, but while my doctor and I were busy treating the symptoms I’m dealing with, my blood pressure medicine level had to go way up to bring my blood pressure back to acceptable levels, which means that now if I have one hit off a pipe, or more than two alcoholic drinks, my head hits the floor and I can’t get back up.

That’s not to say I’m not exploring all my non-big-pharma options, but being unconscious doesn’t really help me have a life.  I have to sleep enough, now, as it is.

A lot of people say they once heard of someone or knew someone, a long time ago, who had Lupus but they don’t know anything about it.  Which is fair.  I had no idea what it was, either.


Reading up on it helped a lot.  It sounds scary, at first, but it’s not that scary.  It’s sort of a magical disease, like something you only get in a dark fairy tale.  For instance, I can’t go out in the sun without million-level sunscreen on because evidently, it’s a lot like being under a curse where I am now a creature of the night.

Oh wait.  I always have been.  Maybe that’s lucky for me because according to most sites, the sun can now destroy my skin, the largest organ I have, so it’s good to become Snow White if I don’t want to risk looking like a leprosy victim.  I read that the singer Seal has Lupus and the scars on his face were caused by his disease.

And do yourself a favor, never google-image Lupus.  You won’t sleep with the gross and terrifying things you’ll see that sun can do to skin.  The first time I saw that stuff, I never wanted to leave my house again.  I don’t want to have to walk around with a black veil over my face, someday, just so I don’t scare little children because I thought getting a tan would be a good idea.

People used to die of Lupus, and I guess they sometimes still do, but generally only from complications due to Lupus.  It’s like a lot of diseases these days—you can live a long and happy life with Lupus.  Right now, there’s no known cure but the medicine to treat symptoms and prevent organ failure has gotten a lot better.  It’s classified as an autoimmune disease, but where HIV is an underactive immune system, Lupus is an overactive immune system, attacking itself.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about Lupus but I’ll just include some links here if you want to know more about it.




My sister and I have renamed my Lupus to—fruit loops—as in, I tell her my fruit loops are acting up this week and we both laugh.  Laughing feels good.  It’s healing.  And I’m grateful that I now have a chance to learn about the world of the magical, invisible illnesses, a chance to become a defender of those who share my ensorcelled condition, who fight the brave fight every single day, while being told that they look just fine.


Well we do look fine, thank you--we even look damn good a lot of the time…even if we need more naps than most people and have an intimate relationship with our television for those days when we need to go back to bed.

In fact, I think I’m going to stop calling the glow on my face a butterfly rash and change it to the mark of a dragon.  Now it’s a dragon spreading its wings across my face, marking me as one of their own, in a beautiful, red glow--to warn those around me that my roar is fierce, and I will not hesitate to use my claws and my teeth to defend my invisibly-challenged friends.



***

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Wild and The Lucky


I’ve come home for the summer and by home, I mean back to the city I grew up in, literally back into my father’s house that I grew up in, back into the old apartment I lived in for 20 years before I moved away.  I think I imagined that since I had grown up here, had loved living here for so long, that being back here once more would be as easy as breathing—might feel like I’d never left.

And now I’ve found that I’ve never felt so not at home in my life.  It’s sort of shocking.

I could say, in all honesty, that the issue is not my home, but me.  I’m the one that has changed.  It feels a lot like old lovers meeting for the first time in a decade: the outside might seem familiar but what is inside of me has shifted.  My perspective has changed.  I am not who I used to be.

I still love my home, but now I see it like an old woman might, with patience and love and a huge heap of humor and absolutely no patience to take any of it seriously, anymore.

This city that I grew up in is still a wild place.  Nothing is tame.  The blood of the old West has seeped into the ground, here, and nothing runs as it does in the rest of the world.  This can be exciting and also a little terrifying.

Being here feels like standing on the edge of a hurricane, right before it hits, with the winds tearing at your face and the dark clouds rolling above your head and the sting of the first few icy drops tickling your skin.

It feels like that moment right after you trip over the edge of a cliff, that still moment just before gravity yanks you down, when for two seconds you can hover in open air and see the vast view and understand how beautiful it all is--all in the same heartbeat that you grasp that you are about to fall to your death.

It’s like that still moment, just before a first kiss, where you suck in your breath in both hope and caution, moving towards the warm lips of someone you don’t know that well, but hope to know much better, even knowing that it’s all probably going to end up one big messy disaster, anyway. 

This is my home town, to me.  All bets are off, but who cares?  It’s fun.  It’s exhausting.  It is what it is.

Of course, the best part about being home is sharing a house with my dad.

A couple of days ago, he asked if I wanted to go to the dump with him.  I’m chuckling because I’m sure this wouldn’t sound like much of a fun date to most people.  It sounds more like father-daughter bonding time, from hell.

The truth is, this offer to go to the dump with him brought back sudden memories, long forgotten.  I remembered days of hot summer where as a kid, my dad and my little brother and I would take truck-loads of trash out to the giant mountains of garbage on the edge of town.  There was no such thing as curbside garbage pickup back in those days so when our trash got full, it was our job to drive it out to where it belonged.

Back then, going to the dump was like a trip to Disney Land.  On one of our last trips, my younger brother, who was about nine or ten, at the time, dug around till he found a bunch of old bicycle parts.  Then he took them home and built himself a bike, I’m not even joking, a real, working bike.

Sure, it was like a Frankenstein monster kind of bike, with odd parts from wrong bikes, put together by sheer creativity and will. We couldn’t afford to buy a bike, but now my brother had an amazing bike.  And because he had so many different bike parts, he could just change it up every month or so—put a giant wheel on the back and then later move it to the front, or change the handle bars.  He was the envy of all the other poor kids on our street.

Going to the dump, for us, was like going shopping--only all the stuff you could pick out was totally free.  They all seemed like perfectly good items that someone else had thrown away.  They just needed a little fixing.  At the time, it all seemed really awesome.

Now, as a grown up, I grimace thinking about that.  You know your family is poor when a fun shopping trip is going to the local dump and picking out diseased, filthy, broken-crap out of a fly infested pit the size of a football field, so you can rebuild it into something else.  As a grown up, that’s an A plus for creativity lessons for your child and about an F minus on sanitary practices and a great way to give your children incurable plagues.

I told dad I’d love to go to the dump with him, even knowing it’s not something I would normally jump at the chance of doing.  So dad loaded up his truck with trash.

My dad’s truck is affectionately called ‘the wheel barrel” because that’s sort of what it looks like.  It’s an old Toyota left over from maybe 1950 or something and its color used to be blue, maybe, but now it just looks like it’s made out of rust with faded blue patches on it, and it’s about as big as something you’d push around your yard.

At some point, Dad welded his own bars on the back bed of the truck to make a sort of wall to hold stuff in.  The tires on this truck look like old balloons in the shape of tires.  When dad starts it up, it sounds like something choking and sputtering to death…but it still starts up, every time. 

The more I ride in it, the more convinced I am that the truck runs on the power of my dad’s genuine soul, more than gasoline or oil.  His years of adopting the unlovable of the world, feeding the hungry and sheltering the sick, have formed a sort of impenetrable golden shield of light around him.

Over and over, things that shouldn’t run, run for my dad.  Things that break down on him, magically fix themselves.  If he runs out of money, which happens often as he is a pastor of a church and a handyman on the side, someone or something always shows up to deliver him grocery money or gas money or the new appliance that he needs.

These kind of miracles happen to my dad every day and so often that he doesn’t even see how impossible it is.  He just takes it in like it’s perfectly normal that when he needs something, the universe just gives it to him, and I’m not talking about the occasional twenty bucks in the offering plate.  I mean that when he needs a new truck, someone just shows up and gives him a truck.  Or a camper.  Or a computer and a big screen TV.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if my dad has ever officially paid for any given thing in his life?  His money is usually spent, literally, on feeding other people or trips to the different churches around the state that he likes to visit, as he is inspired by that sort of thing, much like professional sports players are happiest going to a game or down on the field.

So the windows of his wheel barrel truck were rolled down and the hot June winds were blowing in over the broken dashboard.  Dad and I were on our way to the dump and we had to shout over the rumble and roar of his little truck, burdened down with trash from a construction site he had been working on.  Gravel and dust blew over us.

I reminded dad about our magical shopping trips to the dump when we were kids and Dad smiled and told me that they don’t let people pick things out of the dump trash anymore to take home.  It’s illegal, now.

And I laughed because I thought that’s probably a good thing.

Dad and I had no idea where we were going, driving around in the wheel barrel surrounded by steep mountains of dirt that rose high above the sagebrush plains in all directions around us.  Eventually we came to a spot where other large, fancy trucks were backed up to a mound of garbage.  I could smell it the moment we came up the hill, like hot corpses baking in the sun and the sickly-sweet gas of rotting food mixed in.

I threw on my gloves and rolled up the truck windows.  Dad and I got busy yanking and pulling the broken pieces of walls and cement and wire out of his truck, tugging and pushing and tossing it onto the ground.  The sun beat down and winds blew dirt across my skin and I winced and spit it out and kept working to clear the truck that had stuff stacked high above the cab.

Dad might be 73 but he kicked my ass, making hauling flat slabs of cement out of the bed of his truck, look easy, and I felt like a useless butterfly fluttering around him, pulling out a few tiny pieces here and there, while he hauled big pieces of a broken wall out and shoved them away.

I turned around, surveying the mounds of trash, and looked at the huge tractor with metal wheels that had blocky metal spikes sticking out as it roared and rolled over the top of the garbage pile.  It tilted at scary angles as it crushed couches and tables and bags of garbage exploded into the dirt under it.

I thought about how a human skull would crush like graham cracker crumbs under that thing, because that’s how I am, always thinking of the most morbid possible thing.  Then I marveled at the rumble of the city dump trucks arriving and tilting their beds high into the air to tumble trash onto the pile, before they rolled away.

For a moment I felt sort of lucky.  I thought, you know, so many people who live in bigger cities—me being one of them—hear these monster trucks rolling through our neighborhoods early in the morning to pick up our trash at the curb.  But most never really see where it goes, where it ends up, how it stacks up hourly into mountains.  We forget about it the moment it disappears and yet here I was, watching where trash goes to die, marveling at how much came in, just in the short time that dad and I were there.

When we were done, dad and I got back into the wheel barrel truck and we were happy to drive away from the stench--but I looked back at the fading dirt mountain with a sort of melancholy.

The sheer beauty of my surroundings gave me a chill.  The magic of getting to spend time with my dad, that I still affectionately call daddy, just driving along in a dirty little truck, was something that filled my chest with pride, with love and pure contentment.

I may live here again, just for the summer, just hovering on the hurricane’s edge, but the truth is, these moments are where my real life happens, where I feel the incredible pressure of beauty and wonder mingled together and the feeling it leaves behind in me, brings happy tears to my eyes.


And I know, like all of us know, who live with older parents—that our days with them are numbered and dwindling and counting down to the inevitable zero, something too painful and too horrible to even dare to imagine.

And I ask myself, with tears heating tracks down my checks, and wiping at my blurry eyes--how the fuck did I get so lucky?

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Things Underneath

An old friend of mine recently exploded on social media.  It was just a paragraph long.  The words were a lot like a crime scene, full of rage and frustration and the gory remnants of her heart.  She basically said that all men suck, that even if you’re in a happy relationship now, JUST WAIT because it’s going to end, you’re going to end up betrayed and hurt and it’s inevitable.

Whew.

I read it with a strange mixture of feelings.  Part of me understood where she was coming from in the sense that I would be the first to admit that romantic-love has been my greatest and most eternal disappointment in this life.  I have had my days where I put up my white flags, too.  I said Uncle.  I said fuck this shit and hugged my whiskey bottle, instead.

Another part of me flinched.  I think when a woman (or man) has been disappointed so many times in their quest for love, it can be super easy to just throw all the blame on the other people, to send out a blanket indictment of all penises and vaginas in the universe.

I think the truth is both more beautiful and more frustrating than that.  Of course it is.  If you still live in a world that you think is all black and white, you might still be in your twenties.

However, there is a difference that I’ve noticed, me--now long past my twenties--that I think not a lot of people have realized in this great search for fixing the puzzle of loves lived and lost.

There are these lonely moments in the night, nights when you stare at your ceiling and the silence is a roar.  It is easy to think that the silent void left by the object of your affection conveys a sort of indifference to your existence.  It is easy to think that not hearing the words you want to hear is a confirmation of a lack of feelings in the person that you desire.

To be honest, I kind of blame the movies.  About ten years ago, my sister and I were watching yet another romantic comedy when we connected the dots and realized that we were watching the same movie over and over and over, just with different titles and different characters but the plot was always the same.  The plot has become this romantic archetype for women, one that feeds into very real confusion and real life disappointment.

It goes like this:  the man everyone wants is “uncatchable”.  He’s attractive, mysterious and aloof.  Well, except when it comes to the heroine of the story.  The uncatchable-man sees how amazing she is.  He understands that no one else compares to her.  He recognizes that she alone is his equal.  In this archetype story, they fall in love without speaking it, then they have a falling out and yet in spite of this, in every single story, the hero realizes his error and he comes running back to declare his love to the woman, forever and ever.

Isn’t it so romantic?  So brave?  So swept-up?  So miraculous?

Go ahead and think about it.  From Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, to modern rom-coms where someone is going to go get on a plane—they break up and then the man realizes his mistake and he comes running after her.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Sometimes, it's the woman who comes running back, but she's usually the aloof, business woman who never had love till she met him.  Same story.  Again.  I'm looking at you, Sandra Bullock.

The problem with this story, in my experience, is that once a person has been wounded deeply, he or she never comes running back.  Running back to pain is actually pretty illogical.  Seriously.

In real life, when wounded, most of us will be smart enough to run away and slap first aid on it all and decide that we’ve learned our lesson and now we know better than to try THAT again!

But we always try it, again.  Why?  Because we want to believe.

Women, who were girls, who nursed on the tit of this idea that he can be wounded by her and somehow still realize his failure and come running back to beg for her to wound him some more—well.  You see where I’m going with this.

When the uncatchable man doesn’t come running back to apologize and declare his love, for the woman, the anger comes in, the rage and the feeling of betrayal.  This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.  The only logical conclusion that she can come to, then, is that he never really loved her.  The space he occupied is now empty.  He was not a true love.  He was an asshole and a coward.

Because if he REALLY loved you, then he would have come running back through your door, making grand gestures and desperate declarations of his love, layered with groveling apologies and tearing at his hair and his clothing, begging to be forgiven because the only thing he can’t live without is YOU.  You fall into each other’s arms and passionately kiss.

*roll credits while sappy love song plays*

I’ve loved men for a very long time.  I’ve felt those same frustrations with the maze they have around their hearts.  I think I’ve made the mistake of thinking that if I can just find my way through the maze, they will let me in and I will win their forever.

In reality, men are not a puzzle to be solved.  I think a better comparison would be to compare them to a mountain lake.

There are things underneath that sparkling, wide body of water that most people sail across the surface of.  There is an entire, forgotten city drowned in its depths.  There are rooms grown over with moss, the water cold and quiet and fish nibbling on those old, drowned-houses full of lost furniture and watery windows and doors and a thousand secrets that they’ll never tell.

The underneath-city looks abandoned and unlivable but the nibbling of those fish feels like little bites under their skin and in their dreams and at the back of their throats where the words don’t come out.

Except when they talk in their sleep, maybe.  Except when they stay up too late, listening to their saddest collection of songs and thinking about a pretty face from their past, while another pretty face sleeps in the next room.

Men love as deep and as true as that lake and there are layers that go far down deep, where they hide things in the houses they once tried to build with other women in other lives.  And sometimes, the love they still feel for you is the oldest house, the deepest house, the house they could never stand to tear down.

Men are not confused about who they love and who they don’t.  They know and they know for how long they’ve loved them.  And part of that love is hiding it so that they don’t hurt other people the same way that they once hurt you.  It doesn’t mean that the love went away or that it was never there.

The real maze in this situation lies between a man’s heart and his mouth.  He is the one who has to walk it, to sort it out and through.  And risking that walk of words means a potential for pain as wide and deep as that lake in his heart.  And who wants to risk that?

I think the saddest thing I know is that men really do love so deep and so true that it haunts them forever.  It gets stuck inside that lake where the fishies in their minds nibble on the drowned things.  Where the words they want to speak get eaten.

Women are so quick to use words to solve our problems.  We are actually the ones who would run to an airport, hearts pounding, to tell the man that we changed our minds, that we love them and that we want forever with them.  That’s why we love those stories.  That’s why we believe them.  It’s because that’s what we would do.

We are the ones who scream our hate and our love out loud and rant about it to our friends.  And our friends rant back.  And the words mingle together and give us comfort.

Words don’t seem to comfort men.  It’s the words from their past that have brought them this pain, to begin with.  Lots and lots of pain.

Words drowned their cities and made everything quiet.

Maybe it’s enough that I know their love is still there and still just as real for them as the first time they found that they loved me.  I know that they miss me.  I know that they want me, even when they only contact me once every six months or so to just talk about the weather.  Even when I never hear from them at all.

Now I hear what you are saying--"Yeah, orrrrr, you could just be insane."

I won't argue with that, at all.  My point is that believing this story, instead of the other story, makes it easy, makes it possible, to let go of the anger and to stay their friend, to be compassionate and to understand them.  It makes the past the past.  It keeps the future unknown and curious.  It brings peace to my present hour.  This is how I sleep content and safe on those darkest nights.

Sure, they may not say it and they may never say it--but I don't have to hear it, anymore.  I just feel it.  The rest is up to them.  I have a beautiful life with or without them and I'm comforted by their presence in my life.  Not haunted.

I’ve stopped waiting for their words.  I dive down under the water and close my eyes and drift in their depths.  I find comfort in the truth that will probably never be spoken.

It’s okay, I whisper to them.  I can still feel your heart, down here in the quiet, down where there are no words—deep in the underneath.

I listen to the songs they tell me to listen to, the shows they tell me to watch and the books they tell me to read.  But I don’t read the words, I read between the lines.

And I smile because there is always the hope that someday, some words will find their way through the maze in his throat and he will finally find the courage to speak.

What will he say, I wonder?  And will I be dead from holding my breath?


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