Missing

Grief is a peculiar beast. There are some days the grief monster is at my heels, clinging to my back like a parasitic twin-a ride or die lover. Other days, the grief beast keeps its distance. It’s there in the corners of my eyes but it hangs back and paces me instead of turning me into this black hole of grief.

It’s been a year since my mother died. Sometimes it seems like she died dozens of years ago and sometimes it seems like she died last night. I’ve written about her death before, not as a way to get over her death because there is no way to get over her death. I write about her because I live her each day. A year later the grief is still excruciatingly sharp. She’s the first person I think about when I wake up and the last person going through my mind when I try to fall asleep. She even pops up in my dreams 3-4 times a week and the dreams are so unsettling I’ve had to tell her to leave me alone while I sleep because in my dreams, over and over, she begins to get sick or somehow comes back from the dead and a loop begins where she becomes sick and dies. I don’t want to say life has gotten easier or that the grief has eased up. It’s still there like a pop song I can’t get out of my head but I don’t feel I’m rooted in one place. I’m not consumed by my grief as I was even 6 months ago, holding onto her death like some talisman, running that sadness through my fingers and designating time as Before Mom’s Death And After Mom’s Death. The grief is an every day thing but I can manage it-most of the time. But pockets of sadness burst at the strangest of times where I’ll find myself struggling not to sob at something that reminds me of her. I did my taxes last week and nearly started crying because mom had left us money, to look after us and the tax woman was so kind that I felt my throat lock up and my eyes burned with tears. I can’t go to TJ Maxx or walk though Sears because she loved to shop there. And sometimes on the edge of falling asleep I’ll think of her saying something to me to give my confidence a boost. She told me to walk into a room like I owned the fucking place. This was when I skipped school and had to go back and be harassed by teachers for missing so much school. She taught me to also say to those asshole teachers “I thought I’d grace you with my appearance.”

When she was alive I wondered who I was without her, if I was even my own person. Now that she’s gone I’m beginning to find out who I am on my own. I’m no longer tangled up in someone else’s life or trying to live my life a certain way for someone else. At the same time I’m struggling with losing the only person I knew for sure loved me unconditionally.

Spoiler alert: if you’ve lost your mom beware of going to see Dumbo. Not even ten minutes into the movie and I was sobbing and melting my make up.

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Tammy

I’m not deathly afraid of spiders and I try not to kill them when I find them in my house because I figure it’s not like they’re specifically out to get me and it would be like punting a toddler across the room just for existing. With that said, I have screeched like a little bitch seeing one of those big butt spiders, you know, the ones with giant bodies who look like they’d cram a pillow over your face and suffocate you while you sleep. Generally, I try to save them and put them back outside where I swear I can hear them yelling “You asshole! It took me three days to get inside and you put me right back where I started!”

I’ve had this spider in my bathroom for about two months. One of those Daddy Long legs. The super model of spiders. He kept to himself, mostly hanging out on the ceiling above the shower where he could get free spa treatments every time I took a boiling hot shower. I named him something exotic, Zaldamo Rodriguez. I thought about setting him free and worried he was a she and I’d be putting a mother and her thousands of babies out on the street (this is how my mind works.) I decided we could coexist in harmony as long as he didn’t make his way to the floor (or my face while showering).

Last week I was watching Zaldamo sway in the breeze from the bathroom fan and the name Tammy flitted through my mind. Zaldamo’s new name would be Tammy. A couple days ago Tammy was nowhere to be seen and oh Jesus Christ, I really need a life.

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I Get a Little Bit Nervous

I missed the opportunity to drink, experiment with drugs, and sleep around when I was in my 20’s. Now that I’ve tripped into my 40’s I find myself making up for lost time.

Picture it: it’s 1992. I just lost my virginity on the floor of my childhood bedroom. I’ve never liked that term, losing one’s virginity. It makes me sound like a spacey scientist with crazy hair and a proclivity for laying down papers and tea mugs and forgetting where I put them.

Whatever it was between the boy who I willingly gave my virginity to and I was nothing, not a real relationship. It lasted maybe 3 months and then it was over. I didn’t have sex again for almost 20 years because I spent a lot of time avoiding the normal things human seem to do easily like sleeping around or falling in love.

Men make me nervous. Not in a “All men want to rape women” kind of nervousness but more of a “I haven’t done much with my life and have never been in a relationship so there’s nothing I can offer you and you probably want a woman woman, the kind that wear dresses, shaves their legs, and go away on holiday” kind of nervous. I think it’s the fact that I haven’t lived or experienced romantic love that makes me nervous around men. It’s like they pick up on my uncertain scent and have sniffed out there’s something wrong with me. I’m not the kind of girl who gets noticed.

My brother is also my roommate (and best friend). He reconnected with an old friend and they’ve been hanging out together. This friend-let’s call him Sam-has kind of adopted me as his friend although I’m pretty sure I got lumped in there because I’m the little sister. I think Sam is adorable but I don’t have a crush on him. I kind of shut those feelings down when a certain Dutchman stomped on my heart. But I realized I don’t have to have a crush to get nervous around a man.

I friended Sam on Facebook a few months ago. Last week after eating a couple edibles and 4 shots of vodka I decided to message Sam. Not the smartest thing to do but then again, you do stupid stuff when you’re drunk, high, and broken hearted. For some reason

(see above paragraph about being stupid high and drunk)

I told him an abbreviated version about being in love with someone who didn’t return the feeling. Sam was kind enough to say we’d vent together when he came over to watch Bohemian Rhapsody with me and my brother. I actually looked at my messages to him the next day and groaned. I’d called him a cutie. He is a cute guy but it was cringe-worthy of me to write. When he came over on Saturday night to watch a movie, I had already pre-gamed it pretty hard before he got there although in my head I was maintaining and figured he wouldn’t notice how drunk I was. I drank a few extra shots because I was nervous about a cute guy coming around. I think I’m just wired that way: someone remotely attractive in my orbit and I become drunkenly tongue-tied. At one point in the night during the movie I was on the floor leaning against a foot stool. My brother told me later on that I repeated myself several times, proclaiming how much I hated the Dutch because they were all heartbreakers. As I flirted-poorly and embarrassingly-all I could think of was trying to get over the Dutchman and how Sam wasn’t him.

Needless to say, I stayed in bed the next day, hungover. Sam had noticed that I was “happy” (completely drunk) and said to my brother that at least I was drunk and safe with them. I messaged him the next day, ashamed of myself for kind of being a failure as a woman because I can’t flirt successfully to save my life. I even sent him a picture of a cake that said “Sorry I blacked out, tried to kill you, and almost got us arrested.” He laughed. I felt mildly better even if in the back of my head I was punishing myself for acting so dumb.

Oh God, you know I’m probably going to do this several more times in my life.

Thank God The Dutchman is used to heartfelt drunken texts from me although I have the feeling he and I are coming to a crossroads in our friendship, a road that will split us apart in this lifetime.

Maybe I should stick to writing in my journal when I get drunk. Or telling my dog all about my life.

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Don’t Bother Famous People While They’re Drinking

While my mom was in hospice, dying from cancer, my brother and I had a favorite bar we used to frequent after visiting her. I apologize-kinda-but a lot of my blogs end up having my dead mom pop up in them. A side effect of losing her in such a vicious way: she’ll constantly be in everything I do from going back to school to picking out a new sweater.

So we would go to this restaurant called The Buzz Inn. We always made a beeline for the bar. The bar was nice enough. The place wasn’t a dive but it was kinda dark except for the giant screened TVs blaring sports. I ordered what I usually order: a Bloody Mary, salted. My brother had his go to drink of a shot of Patron and a cider. This is where we sometimes talked about what would happen when mom was gone or didn’t talk at all. When the pain of losing her was new and fresh we would talk about taking down the gynecologist who mocked our mom when she asked her “Could it be ovarian cancer?” and then didn’t bother ordering any tests for mom.

On the day we picked up her death certificate and were into our first week of bereavement leave we headed to the bar. It was a typically nasty day in the Pacific Northwest, pouring down, skies the grey of the bottom of a puke bucket, grey as I felt on the inside. It would have been a real insult had the weather been beautiful that week. A dead mother is honored by storms and darkness and torment.

My brother and I sat at the bar and ordered our drinks. We pretended we were millennials and played on our phones while the televisions blared whatever sport play during March. I’m a big reader, voracious and hungry in my love of books but all through my mom’s illness I couldn’t read. I couldn’t focus enough to read. Part of me was always listening for her cries of need, tuned to her wavelengths of pain. My eyes could not follow the flow of words. But I had no problem watching movies or series on Netflix or Hulu or Prime. I didn’t sleep a lot (unless I raided my stash of Xanax to get a full night’s sleep) so I spent a lot of time watching movies and TV shows. One of the shows I binged was Supernatural. I mostly watched it because I love all things supernatural and paranormal but I also watched it because the two main characters are brothers and closer than close. My brotherMichael and I are closer than close and I imagined us as siblings fighting against a great evil together and somehow getting through it. And no one would understand what we’d been through but us.

So I’m playing on my phone and half watching the people who come in. It’s a Tuesday afternoon so it’s not really busy. A man walks in and sits at the bar a seat away from my brother. I looked at him and my heart starts to pound the way it would if I patted my pockets down and couldn’t find my phone. I immediately look back down at my phone because I’m pretty sure my eyes recognize the guy who just sat down but I don’t want to be one of those people who just stares like an idiot. I start texting my brother whose elbow is touching mine.

Me: The guy sitting next to you is the angel in Supernatural.

My brother:?

I google a picture of Castiel played by Misha Collins and show him a picture.

Me: I’m really kind of freaking out.

I sneak a few more looks at the dude who plays the angel in Supernatural. He orders a beer and is looking at the TV. I always imagined that if I met a celebrity I would be totally cool, quietly tell them how much I enjoyed their work and then go on with my life. I’m trying to accept I might be one of those people who stands in front of a celebrity and shrieks “Do you know who you are?!?!?” and then vomit on their shoes.

I just stared at the guy who played the angel in Supernatural (when I thought I could get away with it) and sucked down my Bloody Mary. I sent my feelers out, the ones I gather data with when I want to know about someone without interacting with them. He seemed tired, like he had a lot on his mind and a lot to do before he could rest. So I stayed where I was and let him enjoy his drink because I wouldn’t want to be an actor in a bar where one crazy (and slightly sweaty) chick recognized me and not be able to enjoy myself out of worry she was about to spring off the stool and onto me. He left about 15 minutes after he got there. I watched him walk out of the restaurant to a black car parked out front and drive off. I spent the next 45 minutes decompressing and babbling to my brother and showing him YouTube clips of the star who had been one seat away from him.

That was one bizarre week, people.

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Cig-regrets (I’ve had a few)

So I did a dumb thing. I did a REALLY stupid thing. I started smoking on and off last February right before my mom died. I’m the child of two smokers and somehow escaped becoming a smoker for 40 years.

But one day I was driving away from the hospice after visiting my mom (the countdown had really begun) and I was beyond sad and excruciatingly angry. I don’t know how to explain it. I wanted to do something really self-destructive that wasn’t driving 95 mph into a concrete pylon. I have no idea why I didn’t just get a bottle of rum and get hammered. Coming from a family of alcoholics, that would make the most sense. Get hammered and forget for awhile, swear never to do it again and then do it again.

There was this little convenience store I used to drive by on the way to and from the hospice and one day I pulled over to the curb, went inside, and asked for the only pack of cigarettes I knew: Marlboro lights 100, the gold. Those are what my mother had smoked until she quit 15 years ago. Smoke what you know. I scurried back to my car like I’d just bought an ounce of heroin (is an ounce a lot? I’ve never done or bought heroin, mostly because I’m too lazy to find out where to get it) and started the car. I popped the virginal cigarette lighter in and waited for it to pop back out. For you younger readers, cars come with lighters (do they still come with lighters or did that end with my 2009 Hyundai Accent?) and that’s how you light cigarettes and gain the judgmental frowns of the enlightened around you in traffic, you know the ones, listen to rainforest sounds so traffic won’t cloud their hipster chakra carbon footprint shit and think everyone should wear one item of hemp. I smoked all the way home and kind of hid it from my brother, also my roommate, who had quit 18 years before. He caught me on the back porch with them and made me hand them over. Only so he could take one and light up. We smoked cigarettes for a bit and then mom died and then came the mad dash of our lease being up and minus one person (mom) we couldn’t afford to renew the lease. All the credit goes to my brother. He boxed that entire house up, including her room because he knew I just couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t deal with boxing up her things, everything with her mom scent still on it. I hadn’t smoked for about a month but it was our last day at the old house and a junk truck was coming for all the stuff from the garage. I lit up a cigarette as my brother pulled into the driveway, yelled “You whore!” at me (because that’s our schtick) And immediately demanded one from me. We’d decided to hire maids so we’d get most of our deposit back and one came out of the house and my brother jerked his hand behind his back and said like a rattled 8th grader caught doing something “I don’t smoke.” That was funny because my brother is one of the most IDGAF people I know. He’s who I aspire to be.

So, I was a smoker, for awhile. Weird year last year. My mom (my entire world) died, I started smoking, I fell in love and got my heart crushed to pulp, and started my life over. I quit for a week after my 41st birthday and then hit a rough emotional patch. Who am I kidding? It’s always a rough emotional patch with me. I went out for a pack of cigarettes and promised my brother my new quit date was January 1st. He smoked along with me but wasn’t obsessed with it like me. I never smoked at work. The last thing I wanted to do was give my co-workers something to talk about. So after 8 hours at work I’d be in the car with a death grip on the steering wheel. Anybody who didn’t move out of my way fast enough was saved by the fact that if I mowed them down I’d get arrested and not be able to smoke for hours.

I’d get home, throw on some old clothes that I didn’t care about and go sit out on the porch and smoke for hours. I’d read too. Smoking and reading go hand in hand.

On December 31st the plan was to stay up until midnight smoking the last of my cigarettes. Unfortunately, I decided to ring in the New Year with vodka shots and beer. I never made it to midnight. I think I stumbled into my room at 7 and passed out. I woke up at 1. I cursed at myself for a bit, mad at myself for missing out on my last few hours to smoke. I could have crawled back up the stairs to the back porch and smoked but even still a little drunk, I’d made a promise to my brother that I would quit. And I did. He had thrown away the rest of our cigarettes but I had an old fashioned cigarette case in my coat pocket that had cigarettes in it. I could have been sneaky and waited for him to go to work and enjoyed a few. Instead, I brought them upstairs, tore them up, and threw them in the garbage.

That was 3 weeks ago. I’ve been chewing the nicotine gum but stopped last week when a nasty cold landed me in bed. Now comes the point of relearning how to deal with stress and anxiety and depression without a cigarette. Now I can’t have a cigarette when I think about my mom or how the Dutchman stomped my heart like…well, like a cigarette butt thrown on the sidewalk.

I think about having a cigarette sometimes during the day, especially when I’m at work and I’m having an off day. The thought and feel of a cigarette held in my fingers, my lips clamped on the filter, blowing smoke out of my nostrils like a cave dragon.

Now I can’t wait to become one of those uppity former smokers who smell cigarette smoke and have to say out loud “Gah, I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke” but of course I say it like “Did someone just shit themselves?”

But if I make it to age 70, I plan on taking it up again. Some old ladies get into gardening or water aerobics.I’m going to smoke and judge people who walk by.

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How to Talk to an Orphan

Am I still an orphan even though I’m 41? My Father died a long time ago, no big loss. But I’ll tell you what: my mom died 9 months ago and it destroyed me. It’s still destroying me. She and I were rarely apart in 40 years. I lived at home. And why not? She was my best friend and I’m pretty sure the only person who loved me unconditionally. But things weren’t perfect between us. I know that. I haven’t put her up on a pedestal. I know she was disappointed in me that I wasn’t doing much with my life, working in a dead end job for 20 years that had no future. I remember catching her looking at me one day and asking me “Do you ever get lonely? Don’t you want a relationship?” I didn’t know how to answer that. I wasn’t (and still am not) a lonely person. I’m not nuts about people and tend to be a loner even though I can be an extrovert around the right people. I’ve not found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I barely want to spend the rest of my life with myself, if you catch my drift. I fell in love last year (and I’m still mired in the shitty feelings) but it’s not something that’s going to happen.

About a year and a half ago my mom started getting sick. She went to her doctor who told her she was constipated. He sent her to a specialist who said she had pelvic floor dysfunction, something that often happens to women who have had children.

Sorry, this blog is going to be long but I need to write it down.

She continued feeling sick and was sent to a physical therapist who specialized in pelvic floor dysfunction. Mom had had a hysterectomy years ago but her pelvic floor tightened up and gave her pain. And then the pain became unbearable. She began throwing up. Her stomach became so bloated she looked 9 months pregnant. It’s funny-funny strange, not funny ha ha- how you can live with someone, see them every single day, and not really see them. Not really see what’s happening to them. She was out of energy and run down. Listen, this was a very active woman, always on the go and exercising. She’d been reduced to laying on the couch. A second trip to a specialist who emphatically stated my mother had a pelvic floor dysfunction.

-But I don’t have any energy, my mom told the doctor.

-None of us have the energy of a 16 year old, the doctor replied.

If you ask me, that was an asshole statement to make.

In between these appointments mom went to a gynecologist who I would love, LOVE, to meet with face to face. My mom asked her “Could it be ovarian cancer?” And in a “I’m the doctor here” condescending way she spat at my mother “Why would you think it’s ovarian cancer?” And that doctor didn’t order any further tests. She did nothing.

There was one afternoon when mom was on the couch and I was in the kitchen. She said to me “I don’t think it’s ovarian cancer.”

I stopped in my tracks, my eyes closing, and said “Oh no. It’s not ovarian cancer.” Even though I had been doing research. Standing in the kitchen with my eyes squeezed shut one clear thought like a shotgun blast ricocheted in my head: it was ovarian cancer.

My oldest brother Michael, my mom, and I were roommates at this time. I told my mother she needed to get a second opinion because something wasn’t right. Michael and I compared notes and wanted her to get an MRI because something more than a wonky pelvic floor was going on. There was one night in particular that my brother was the one home to see how bad it was, the vomiting, the pain. He gave her a pillow to scream into. One morning while getting ready for work I heard this faint yell of “Help me!” On two different occasions we had to call an ambulance because the pain was more unbearable than anything she could handle. One time in particular haunts me nearly every day. One night before we called the ambulance for the second time she kept whimpering “The pain is different. This feels different.”

And then the day after Christmas 2017 we took her to the ER where they admitted her and did a few tests. There was a mass on her ovaries. Shocking news, yes. But masses could be taken care of, right? You open someone up, grapple with the unsightly mass, and yank it on out to make sure the human it was attached to leads a good and long life. Yes? That’s what I thought. She was admitted to the hospital that night for the bloating that distended her stomach and made her beyond uncomfortable. They drained so much fluid from her belly it looked like some hipster was coming in to pick up an order of green health juice for everyone back at the office. Ascites, which is a build up of fluid in the stomach cavity and usually doesn’t mean anything good. It was almost midnight when a doctor came into her hospital room. I was the only one with mom. When a doctor comes in, starts talking, and then sits down on the edge of the hospital bed you know it’s not a good sign. I remember sitting in a visitor’s chair, gripping the armrests and hearing a high pitch whine like a mutant mosquito was caught in a holding pattern. What he basically said was finding the mass on her ovaries wasn’t good. No shit, Sherlock. He was gentle and kind or as gentle and kind as somebody can be who has to enter a stranger’s room and deliver devastatingly life changing news. That was the night that everything really began. It wasn’t called cancer, not quite yet. I remember one appointment with a gynecological oncologist who rather off handedly called it Stage 4 ovarian cancer. I think I shook my head a little like a dog who had just run into a table leg. I asked how they could tell it was already at stage 4 when no real testing had been done. The doctor calmly explained to me every symptom my mom had pointed to stage 4. Well, help her point the fuck the other way, thank you.

The blur of plans began: chemotherapy, a biopsy, a chemotherapy port inserted into her chest. My brother and I both filled out FMLA paperwork so we could take turns looking after her. At one point, I was going to take a month off of work and care for her. I didn’t have the money to do that. She was going to take money out of retirement and pay me. I would have done it for nothing.

Things were getting squared away, appointments set up. The idea was that with chemo, we’d have her for a few more years. Chemo, ironically enough, would allow us to have her a bit longer. She went into an outpatient appointment for the biopsy and came home. Her first chemo appointment was in a couple weeks. She was so weak and underweight. Two weeks after the biopsy, she went in to have a chemo port put in. I was at work. My brother Michael had taken her. Mom sent me a photo post surgery showing me her eating toast. Not ten minutes after that I get a call from Michael saying mom had stopped breathing, her lung collapsed. Bless the people I work with. I tell you, I had so many offers to get a ride to the hospital. I thought that was it. I thought my mom had died. I got to the hospital, met up with my brother and talked to a doctor. Tearfully-and more like a 12 year old girl than a 40 year old woman-I asked the doctor if my mom was going to die. She made sure to pat my hand and said no, my mom was being very well looked after. My brother Michael said it was like a scene from that ER show: a code was called and all of these doctors and nurses descended on my mom’s room. My other brother, Ryan, showed up and we all sat with mom and watched her do this bizarre crab claw thing with the hospital blanket. She’d pick at it, make nonsensical statements, ask for ice cream, fall asleep. And why not? I think anyone who stops breathing deserves a nice drug fueled nap. She never left the hospital. She spent a week and a half trying to get a collapsed lung back into working order. The theory is she was so thin and frail that when they put the chemo port into her chest it poked a hole in her lung. My days were filled with going to work, obsessively worrying about her, and going to the hospital after work. She seemed to be in good spirits much of the time but that was my mom. We called her Pollyanna because of her incessantly positive outlook on life. I have a picture of me holding her hand and sometimes I’ll look at it and that time will come flooding back. I know I tried to tell her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me. I know I got out a snot filled “You’re my whole world,” but none of it really did any good. We knew the score. She held my hand one day and said “The biopsy came back. It’s ovarian cancer.” I believe my words were “No fucking shit, mom.” Chemo kept getting pushed back because she was too frail to withstand it. It had still been an option floating around; she’d have chemo like the fighter we all knew her to be. Until one day a couple doctors came into her room and said chemo would be a bad idea. She was too weak to withstand it. And she agreed. The woman who used to see me terrified to go to high school and tell me “You walk in there like you own the fucking place” was done. She nodded along with the doctors, the idea of enduring chemo unbearable to her. Then came the talk of hospice. I think I may have mentally checked out for a bit during this part, no doubt planning my own demise since a life without my mother was incomprehensible to me.

My mom had given up. You have to understand something. My mom never gave up on anything in her life. I watched her in that hospital bed accepting the news she’d be going into hospice. She didn’t even seem to care about her dog who was basically her fourth child and favorite baby. She didn’t want to come home to die and I’m ashamed at the relief I felt at that. I imagined her final days on the couch and me trying to administer enough pain meds to ease her through. A palliative doctor from hospice came and talked with her. I sat on the edge of her hospital bed and tried to act like it was totally normal to hear about how comfortable she would be in her remaining time. Mom asked about death with dignity (assisted suicide) and the palliative doctor said they would make sure she would feel absolutely no pain. And she made good on her promise. I’d never seen anyone in hospice before. I passed my middle brother on my way into her room and he warned me she was really out of it. I thought “Okay. I can handle that.”

I couldn’t handle it. I walked into her hospice room and she was this tiny shape in the bed. She could barely talk and what she said made no sense. It was terrifying to see my bright and funny mother reduced to a zombie. She looked into my eyes but it wasn’t her looking at me. It was the cancer, that gloating, triumphant cancer looking at me. I burst into tears and left. I cried all the way home.

This was at the beginning of February 2018. I’ll spare you the long drawn out month (how ironic that the shortest month of the year turned out to be the longest for my brother’s and I) but after the zombie drugs wore off she was almost her old self. She was sitting up in bed and asking for cookies even though she couldn’t eat. I went after work every day to sit with her. One day I was sitting on the edge of the bed. We were watching the news. Before getting sick mom had become obsessed with Trump and not in a good way. She was too kind to say it so I said it for her: we hoped to be watching his bloated face making some idiotic statement on TV one day and watch him have a massive stroke. Mom was always kinder than me. She’d say “Not a stroke that would kill him, honey, but one where he couldn’t be president anymore.” A commercial came on and she took my hand. I thought it was going to be a sweet moment, maybe one of our last, where she told me how much she loved me and wanted me to go on to live a beautiful life. Instead, she squeezed my hand and said “He wants a military parade because the French president had one.”

I started cackling and I’m sure I sounded insane.

Those first few days in hospice I’d look at my mom and pretend she was okay, that she wasn’t actively dying. Because that’s the thing about hospice: behind each door is a room where someone’s going on their final trip, a journey no one else can follow. My mom was in great spirits-most of that I attribute to the pain meds. We hung out and talked, if she got a craving for Lays potato chips I’d find the vending machine that had them. She couldn’t eat much. The cancer was pressing against her stomach and she’d often throw up. She was so thin and fragile before going into hospice that the doctors said she wouldn’t survive the procedure to put a feeding tube in.

I know it’s a cliche to call nurses angels but the ones in hospice really were. Think of it: their job is basically to make the dying as comfortable as possible as they guide them to whatever’s beyond. And the nurses adored my mother and told us how much she made them laugh and how positive she was even while dying.

Those good days in the hospice didn’t last as I knew they wouldn’t. Her pain meds became heavier doses and she started sleeping a lot. Like an idiot I was sitting with her one day looking at the pain meds IV and wondering why she didn’t have another IV to hydrate her. Duh, Jennifer. There’s no point.

The countdown began the last week of February. She was holding on, surprising even the nurses. I was sitting at my desk at work listening to music when John Lennon’s “Mother” came through my earbuds. I threw on my coat, raced past my boss and said “I have to go. Something is telling me I need to go to the hospital. NOW.” It wasn’t a scene from a movie. I didn’t get there in time to hold her hand as she died. My brother Michael was already there and he had warned me that at times she stopped breathing only to start again. I sat on the other side of the bed and held her hand, the same hand that used to hold mine, the same hand that held mine even as an adult and she would squeeze it 3 times in code: I love you. I squeezed her hand several times. She wasn’t talking anymore, didn’t wake up. I started crying and excused myself to the bathroom. She chose that moment to open her eyes, turn her head to my brother and ask “Am I dying?” He said “Yes.” She asked “How much longer?” Not much longer,” he replied. The last thing she said was “Oh” and went back to sleep.

Two nights later I was watching a movie when a wave of nausea hit me. Ten minutes later my brother called to say she had passed. He came to get me and we went to her hospice room to sit with her for a bit. My other brother and his fiancé were there too. The nurses had left some new age tinkling bell music playing so we switched it to the Beatles. We took turns kissing her temple and telling her things, weeping and telling funny mom stories. She was so thin she looked like a concentration camp prisoner. I sat there and couldn’t reconcile the fact that this was the same woman who could tell if I rolled my eyes while talking on the phone to her, the same woman who would still come into my room in the middle of the night to make sure I was breathing.

And then we left which felt wrong in itself. I know that was just her shell and whatever made her her was long gone but it felt wrong to walk away. My brother and I went home and had a few shots of tequila. I took an unhealthy dose of Xanax and passed out. I would now always see everything as Before and After. I used to joke that if anything happened to my mom they’d have to peel me off the ceiling. She was my best friend, my biggest cheerleader. Our relationship wasn’t perfect and there are things I wish we had worked out before it was too late. But at the age of 41 I feel like an orphan. Most days I feel beyond lost without her. Sometimes at work I’ll start crying at my desk. I know my co-workers would be understanding but I don’t want to be that person so I go hide in the bathroom until it passes. Many people have been fantastic. Others have treated me like it’s something I should be over by now. The truth is I’ll never get over it. It’ll be something that will shadow me for the rest of my life.

I’m not going to say something trite like tell your loved ones how much they mean to you because you never know how much time is left. But I will say this: call your mother. She worries about you.

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Love is a Chemical Reaction (it’s also a battlefield)

I’m sitting in a tattoo parlor on a Saturday night, glaring at a happy couple across from me draped over one another. The man, young and soft bellied, looks a little nervous like he’s getting his first tattoo. His wife (or maybe his mistress; I don’t know what’s going on) is a pretty Asian woman with burgundy lipstick and long black hair she sweeps over his arm and lap.

I hate them.

I hate love.

I hate myself because I fell in love a year ago with someone who doesn’t feel the same even though like every woman in love, I know we’d be perfect for one another. We kind of randomly met on the internet, on a site I signed up for to meet other writers. It ended up being a meat market and I had given upon making a normal friend when he messaged me and wanted to chat. We started talking and found this ridiculous connection that just deepened with time. He lives on the other side of the world so there’s no real chance of us meeting. He’ll record his voice for me and stupidly, I’ll listen to it over and over. I knew I was in trouble last November when I realized I was feeling something more than friendship towards him. He was constantly there for me during my mother dying from cancer. I thought his feelings for me were growing too. But I’m one of those people who can’t read anyone’s feelings when it comes to themselves. I had so many doubts and started to sound like a fifth grader in my head: does he like me or does he like like me? In May, I told him what I was feeling, hoping he might be relieved and say he was feeling the same. All signs pointed to him seeing me more than just a friend. When he told me he wasn’t ready to get into a relationship that gave me a little hope that he liked me but wasn’t ready. Turns out he doesn’t have feelings for me. Unfortunately, I think it’s because I’m not pretty enough for him, something he said leading me to believe that. I confessed to him early in our friendship that I have problems with severe depression. I never really felt judged by him because he has problems with anxiety so we understand one another’s struggle. But now I see that confiding in him may have been a mistake. He said he doesn’t want someone with mental problems because he needs someone who can help him with his anxiety, someone opposite of him to encourage him and get him out of his anxiety. Well fuck. So you won’t date me because we both can’t be depressed and anxious at the same time? Bullshit. I told him it was bullshit. We didn’t talk for a week. He thought I was in a rage and stopped talking to him. And he was right. I was in a rage against him and against myself. We talk now but nothing’s changed. Everything’s changed. He’s my best friend and I happen to be in love with him. I’m not so interested in being in a relationship as just wanting to know someone can be in love with me and I want that someone to be him. I have a hard time talking about it with anyone but I’ve confided in my brother and his advice is to dump the guy, stop talking to him, and move on. I don’t know if my brother understands it. He’s been in love and has been loved in return. I have not in my 41 years. I have yet to experience real love. Kinda pathetic, isn’t it? All these years of walking and talking and doing the mundane thing called living and no one’s ever been in love with me. So of course, my mental state that it is, that little voice inside me has declared I am unbearably unlovable and that there isn’t a man out there who will look at me and say “Yes. I choose you.”

I haven’t been chosen. I’ve chosen the one I want. He doesn’t want me. Oldest story in the world. I’m not the only one going through this. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.

But there’s still that dumb hope, that dumb chemical reaction called love stinking up my brainwaves, clogging my vision, that hangs on thinking he might fall in love with me, even a little bit. I’m not pretty, I’m barely cute. My mind is more fucked up than a dozen foxes breaking into a chicken coop but I thought he might end up choosing me. I really did.

Stupid chemical reaction.


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Max Goes to the Vet

 

Max the dog is a mutant. I mean that in the best way possible. His sisters are mutants too. All three of them have health problems, legs that go out. Pixie, the smallest, has cataracts and looks like a crazed gremlin. Max didn’t have any health problems the first year we got him and then one day while we were walking him he cried out, crumpled a little on one leg and we thought he’d been stung by a bee. He wasn’t better so we took him to a vet (one of those “in store” vets who never makes eye contact) who said “Oh, he probably did get stung or has something lodged in his paw.” Well, fucking unlodge it.
Max is a little pudgy. I don’t think he’s fat.Or maybe I’m just in denial. We try to keep him leaner, knowing that the more weight he has on him, the more his legs are going to hurt. On another trip to a different vet we were told Max has floating kneecaps and would have to have surgery and it was no guarantee he’d be back to normal. Normal for Max.
So we decided to take Max to a holistic vet and by we, I mean my mom (who shares a terrifyingly strong bond with the dog. He actually sees me as a threat and is very protective of his “mom.” I think the last time I was able to give her a hug was Christmas of 2014).
Max pretty much knows something’s up as soon as he gets in the car. He struggles with the car. He wants to go for a ride but he also wants to scream and throw up the entire time. We pull up to the holistic vets and the door is wide open. A cat is sauntering back and forth, just watching the world. I’m praying Max doesn’t see it but he’s too busy barking “Oh God, where the hell are we! It smells! I have to poop!”

We go in and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  The vet had an emergency earlier and he was running late. I wasn’t annoyed for me but for Max.  He wasn’t exactly freaking out but he was in the waiting room pacing around and giving me the dog equivalent of a fist bump: booping his nose into my hand.

Finally the vet comes in. Max locks eyes with me.

Max: I thought there’d be sage.

Me: What?

Max: Holistic vet. I thought he’d come in here and smudge the negative spirits with lit sage.

Me: Yeah, he looks like he might start in a minute.

Max: Want treat.

Me: Me too.

The vet starts looking over Max’s medical records. Max growls at him because he’s a man. Max is smart.

Max looks at me again and rolls his eyes.

Max: Ugh. This guy.

Me: I know.

Max: That scraggly grey ponytail.

Me: Jesus Christ. Right?

Max: Earrings. He’s wearing an emerald earring and a diamond earring.

Me: What does that say about the guy?

Max: He’s a douchebag pirate wannabe.

Me: Check out the new hiking boots.  Bet he dragged them on the ground so they’d look beat up, like he spends each weekend hiking with a pack of dogs.

Max: The picture of him on his website has to be at least 25 years old. I bet he has a garage band and a mini fridge full of IPA beer.

But the vet, abrupt and almost downright rude, is making a damn thorough investigation into what might be wrong with Max and that makes me respect him.

Max growls at him again. The vet says “Oh, he’s a nipper?”

Max: I’ll tear your fucking face off.

Me: He’ll tear your fucking face off.

Short story long, Max will need surgery. We need to get him down to a  healthier weight which means no more French fries or saucers of iced coffee.  It’ s hard not to give him anything, especially when he gives me nose boops and wants to deconstruct this week’s RuPaul Drag Race.deal with it

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Cookie Shaming

Special thanks to Gloria for coming up with the term cookie shaming.

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Sometimes the only reason to go to work is the thought that someone might bring cookies or donuts.  Last week it was maple bars layered with bits of bacon.  This week it was a couple boxes of Girl Scout cookies.  Those things are crack.  And I swear to all that is holy they’re making those cookies smaller so you have to take more.  Or I’m just a greedy cookie pig.  I got shamed by the person who brought the cookies.  I got cookie shamed.

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Tag A Longs (or s I keep calling them Tagalogs but I think that one is a language) and those powdery lemon cookies.  I did a couple of cookie walk bys and grabbed two.  Of course I was in clear line of sight of the person who brought them and I could feel her watching me.  I pretended to take the entire tray of cookies back to my desk (I’m a damn lady and was raised to know how to share. I’d never take an entire box of cookies meant for everyone….okay maybe when I’m in the comfort of my own home I’ll take a box into my closet and eat the entre thing while sitting underneath all the clothes that don’t fit me any more, weeping and hiccupping and wondering where I went wrong in life) and the cookie bringer began to make snide comments.  Just little things about taking too many cookies.  My co-workers swooped by and took several handfuls and yet she singled me out.  What surprised me most was how ashamed I felt, how reprimanded, even if it was under the guise of “I’m just kidding.” A co-worker noticed the cookie shaming and asked me about it the next morning  “Motherfucker,” she breathed in exasperation and handed me a couple Oreos.  I felt loved.

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The Fiendish Sex Lives of Coworkers

Okay, I don’t really know anything about my coworkers’ sex lives. Thank the Baby Jesus or I’d spend every day trying to put my own eyes out with my pinky.  I just thought it was an eye-catching title.  Besides, none of my coworkers seem to be the type to be fiends in bed.  Then again, I work in a library and you got to watch out for those library people because they are surprisingly freaky.

You ever have one of those dreams about one of your coworkers?  Yeah.  You know what I’m talking about.beeker  Good old sex dreams that lead to damn awkward encounters the next day and the inability to make eye contact.  I had one last week about a coworker and it was decidedly disappointing because it wasn’t about sex.  I’m not getting any in real life and evidently in my dreams I’m being denied as well.  In my dream, my coworker texted me (Jesus, technology has invaded my dreams….I used to have dreams about talking on a real phone to boys….then again, they were those kinds of dreams where my fingers wouldn’t cooperate and I could never push the right numbers) and said that I basically didn’t have any better options in life so I might as well start dating him.  The sad thing was that even in my dream, I cocked my head to the side and thought “You know what?  He’s right.  I don’t have any better options.  I might as well be his girlfriend.”  And then, before I could text him back and say “Yeah, okay, I’ll be your girlfriend” the zombie apocalypse happened and I had to hide with a bunch of survivors in a fortified bunker that Cloris Leachman owned.  My coworker may or may not have been lost out there in the zombie apocalypse.  Fucker never texted me to make sure I was okay.

I saw him at work the next day.coworker

I didn’t get all blushy and mumbly.  We didn’t do anything in  my dream.  He basically saw that I would probably end up as that 88 year old stink in the apartment at the end of the hallway with 72 cats eating my body and took pity on me and decided he should be a gentleman and tell me he was my last hope. I had to sit behind him in a meeting.  He’s not bad looking, kind of cute if you like that hipster techno-savvy  geek kind of thing.  I don’t. I studied the beginning of his bald spot, his orange skinny jeans, his ironic water bottle (I don’ know why it’s ironic but since he’s a hipster it’s probably somehow ironic therefore inexplicable to me) and tiny notebook he took indecipherable notes in.  He’s probably a nice enough guy for somebody to spend the rest of her life with, someone who doesn’t mind him being insufferably condescending when he sees her enter www before a web address.

I’d rather let my 72 cats eat my face off.

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