May 22, 2019

really disgusting things

Since I bared my soul yesterday, I may as well continue down that trail. 

On the fifteenth day of walking, I listened to the Verdi Requiem mass and learned several rules for avoiding Really Disgusting Things.



Rule One

Typically, Rule One is supposed to be the most important of all rules.  I'm not sure this qualifies, but it's worth stating first: 

When the Universe has taught you that gnats can fly up your nose, do not walk along the road with your mouth open, pretending to be the soprano in "Libera Me".

Rule Two

"Tuba Mirum" can be a persuasive defense against blaring brass music.

Our organization is about to switch telephone systems.  This means all new phones everywhere, everyone's phone number changing, and new music that people on hold must endure.  For years, we've had saxophone-y elevator music and people are sick of it.

My boss happens to be in charge of selecting the new stuff.  He chose something he really likes.  And when I called in to test the new phone system and heard it for the first time, it very nearly blew out the ear drum of my soul.  It sounds like the jaunty jazz-swing tune played by the local brass quartet at your town's Fourth of July celebration, except you're too close to the stage and it's so loud you can taste it.

There followed a conversation in which he refused to budge on this and I pulled out all the stops.  I begged.  I pointed out that the loud trumpets are like taking an irate caller and sticking them in an orange room.  I pleaded.  I threatened his family.  I told him his taste is objectively terrible.  I offered to wash his car.  I offered to wash his feet with my hair.

That music qualifies as a Really Disgusting Thing.  I even had a nightmare about it last night.

What I failed to do was to play "Tuba Mirum" for him and say, "Hey, you know what they're symbolizing with all those trumpets?"  And he would have said, "What?" and I would have said, "THE FUCKING WRATH OF GOD, MAN.  The Wrath of God."

Rule Three:  I was wrong and there really is a purpose for thong underwear, because everything seems to want to go there anyway when you walk a meaningful distance.  Even boyshorts.

Rule Four:  Cameras should be set up in the break room any time an as-yet-unidentified co-worker manifests a habit of reheating fish for lunch.  Appropriate measures* should be taken.

Rule Five:  Never, ever, ever look inside your ear buds.

Rule Six:  There is no Rule Six.


*Redacted due to federal legal precedent regarding self-incrimination.  Even the press will not want to publish the photos.

May 21, 2019

for all the years

On the fourteenth day of walking, I wrote this in my head.  Also, a gnat flew up my right nasal passage.  It was a low-carb gnat, so this wasn't a problem, because I was engrossed in the writing and in musing over the parting words after the concert Saturday night, when Kate looked me in the eye and said, "Seriously, for all the years, thanks.  Thanks for being there."


*************

… you wake up one day and suddenly, everybody in the world wants to meet you.  But you soon find out they don’t want to meet you; they want you to meet them.”  -- Fannie Flagg, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl


1999
“Hey Amy … drive carefully.  Be careful.”

I heard Kate Campbell perform the songs from Rosaryville before I had my hands on the album.  She sang on a stage in the corner of the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, while handmade tamales were being served at the bar in the back.  I ignored the tamales because I was a fan.  I was a fan in a room full of fans, all of us sitting uncomfortably in our gray-green folding chairs, transfixed by the superhuman woman wielding a Gibson guitar.  She was singing “In My Mother’s House”, a song that felt to us like a glimpse into her life.  We got to imagine her going to homecoming in high school.  We got to see her parents’ dining room, a turkey on the table.

Being a fan sure did feel an awful lot like love.

Then the third verse … “Everyone sees what they want to see / But I’m just a girl who used to sing in my mother’s house.”

In that moment, I was certain those words had been written just for me.  They punched me under the ribs and took my breath.  She was telling me to back off.  She was resigning from office, climbing down from the pedestal, pushing me away with two strong arms.  Not letting me see what I wanted to see.

I wanted to see someone who loved me back.

What was it like to be the sort of fan who appreciates an artist’s work and comes to hear it time and time again because she knows she will be enriched and uplifted?  The one who could think about borborygmi and the tamales while Kate was in the room?  I envied that fan.  I was too intense, ascribing significance to every word and glance and nuance.

Later, I would play the CD in the car and sing along perfectly with the lush harmony of the bridge, then fast-forward through the third verse, let go of the button, and resume singing, hearing what I wanted to hear.

A fan is a stalker who builds a good, sturdy fence and keeps the gate locked from the outside.  I have attended thirty-two performances to hear Kate sing.  By now, this amounts to publicly permissible stalking.

But no, that’s not quite it.

A fan is a hungry heart holding out her hands for alms.  I used to sit and wait for Kate to look my way, and when she did, the house lights were turned down low and she couldn’t see my pleading eyes, willing her to somehow know me, lift me from her pedestal on high and make me important and valuable.  I wasn’t the only one.  I could spot them around me in a room.  We fans were the radiant ones with our hearts in our eyes.  We watched Kate but did not see her.  We saw what we wanted to see.

But no, that’s not quite it, either.

Acts of kindness.  Acts of understanding, even unwitting mercy.  Going out of the way to come have breakfast, and her husband Ira paying for it.  A private cassette tape I have protected for two decades.  A funeral plant and hand-written letters.  Driving me to my car in a dark parking lot, for safety.  A smile and the peace sign.  A quiet conversation with friends after my divorce, asking if we were all right.  Infinite patience in the numerous times when I could not make my feet walk away from her presence and carry me home.  Because no fan is composed entirely of need.

Acts of kindness.  Acts of caring.  A basket of Oreos nestled in a bandanna.  The last Biscuitville t-shirt left at the corporate office that was too small and had to serve as wall-hung memorabilia.  Miles driven around town to put up posters advertising a concert.  Wide-armed hugs given.  They were not a sacrifice to a goddess.  They were hand-picked clover flowers clutched into a bunch by a child’s hand and held out proudly, purely.  Because no artist is devoid of need.

Creation needs a beholder and the creator needs the care of hearts and hands along the way.  The luck in the finding is mutual.

I cannot know what I have given her back beyond cookies and a t-shirt, but I know that Kate’s influence has shaped me, to an extent that only a pleading-eyed fan could be shaped.  Her stories are likely responsible for the day last year when I rebuked and reported a white co-worker for using the worst of racial slurs and a black co-worker, wounded by the incident, grasped my hands in hers and thanked me for standing up.  But for Kate, I would not have visited the Civil Rights Museum and stood, weeping and overwhelmed, on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel.  But for Kate’s art, I might choose to sit inert and useless against this dark time.  I would not be a fan who opened her heart wide for all the years and let in the riches she poured out for alms, words and ideas that leave no room for hate.

For all the years.

Being a fan sure does feel an awful lot like love.

2019
“Hey, Kate … drive carefully.  Be careful.”

May 16, 2019

fingerprints

One.

I sat in the wooden auditorium chair, waiting for the dances to start, watching people stand up while other people scooted past them to fill empty seats.  I cleaned the fingerprints off my glasses with the hem of my dress and put them back on my face.

For someone who professes general disinterest in, if not disdain for, the creative arts, I'm intensely emotional during performances.  It's similar to the way I cry at the weddings of people I don't know, even ones in movies.

I had nine dances worth of The Feels behind me when The Kid, who is verbally open with us but also carries his dad's impassive, poker-faced presentation, started dancing to "Words Fail" from Dear Evan Hansen and showing passion on his face while he danced, and there was nothing but my already-tattered Kleenex to catch the streaming tears.  Then I stopped trying to catch them because there were too many.  Some tears were pride and some were more pride and some were watching and knowing his dance teacher can draw something out of him that I cannot.

Two.

I put my hand on his teacher's arm and stopped her in the hall, during intermission, even though I knew she had four thousand other things to rush off and do.  "He's not doing the moves right," I blurted out.  She wasn't sure what to say and looked at me, waiting.  "He's not doing the moves right any more.  He's dancing now," I said.

Three.

The dance program at the school is almost exclusively female.  There are four boys this semester; there were five last winter.  I watch the girls dance.  Some are heavy and most are confident and the cast is well-integrated racially.  They dance and I involuntarily begin counting the things I am good at, or want to believe I am good at, and I notice this and decide I'm doing it because I am no longer young and because I can't dance.

The girls are in costumes, every one the same.  They're dressed in same-ness.  I know that each is different, each is a waking fingerprint life, but I see them through a fly's eye.  I am not the hundreds of single myth-lie teenage girl I see in front of me, dancing.  I never became her.  I was too busy proving that I didn't have to.  I was too busy looking away.

Four.

I grumbled to myself as I walked about the contents of the mall shopping bag ... two dress shirts, a pair of pants, yet another belt for the dance performance ... he keeps growing ... right up the point where I stopped short because I couldn't walk through Sears.  I stood before the monolith of lowered gating and plywood boards and 'STORE CLOSED' signs, and I stared.  I walked closer and saw that teenagers had come by and traced words in the dust between the metal bars.  Some of them were too foul for even me.  I poked my index finger through and made a single fingerprint of regard in the dust, and turned and went downstairs.

I didn't take the escalator because it was making strange clicking sounds.  It's in disrepair.

At the bottom of the stairs, I was jarred again.  The play area where The Kid once crawled and climbed and laughed was empty.  It wasn't closed for business, but the same shiny plastic bed-and-pillow and over-sized banana slices and bunch-of-grapes slide now have patches of dirty black duct tape where holes were mended.  It was a Tuesday during lunch and the place should have been teeming with parents and strollers.  There were no little Velcro-strap shoes or inside-out socks in the cubbies.



Standing there and looking at taped-up fake fruit, it was the first time I've allowed myself to feel grief for his lost childhood.  If you ask me, I'll tell you that I don't miss those days in the least, that I finally get to sleep at night, sleep in on Saturdays, reason with the child.  Now I know that if you keep asking me, if you press me, if you break me, you'll hear all the stories from that play area at the mall.  They'll come gushing out.

That night, I told him the one about the dementors and the plastic sword from when he was two.  It was the moment I knew he was meant to be a lawyer.  And he remembered.

Time has moved on and I have seen the cruelty Time can visit upon a son.  That is why my heart catches in my chest when I see that Time has left The Kid dancing.

May 13, 2019

stretching

I am not a spider.
On the seventh day of walking, the weather was gorgeous.  We had to cancel much-anticipated weekend plans because of shitty weather with lightning and fog and things flying through the air, so today, just to mock us, it was all blue-sky-with-puffy-clouds and verdant-everything and dragonflies landing on sturdy, bobbing blades of Johnson grass.

It was what StepBet calls a "stretch day", where you have to walk fifteen-zillion steps above your already aerial goal in order to not lose your money and get a curt e-mail informing you you're a loser.

I walked all over town and ended up back at the park, making laps to nudge up the number on the Archbracelet.

It was breezy, and children were playing, and I remembered a line from a poem written by a fellow student in poetry class in college:

" ... I say a quick child will chase all this chatter away."

I only remember two things from that poetry class.  One is that line, written by Renee or Rachel or something, and the other is that the men's bathroom across the hall was renowned for its ostensible bounty of glory holes.

I rounded the corner of the sidewalk and breeziness became a strong wind.  It blew my hair back and felt glorious under the deep blue sky, so I held my arms out and spread my fingers and lifted my chin, and felt the might of the wind, and then realized a couple at the park was staring at me with quizzical looks, so I pretended I was stretching instead and kept walking.

The wind thing happened again later, but this time, no one was watching.

Please don't get the wrong idea.  I hate the outdoors.  I despise the outdoors.  It has spiders.

May 11, 2019

thinking in the rain

I'm not the only person who has ever gone for a walk in the rain.  I might be, however, the only person in a given radius, measured in leagues, who has gone for a walk in the rain because she wanted to walk along the main roads over in town and the rain would mean that all of the other walkers and joggers who normally infest those pathways like ants wouldn't be there and she wouldn't have to cope with the social situations introduced by their presence.

What do you do if you're walking faster than someone and you come up behind them?  Do you speak before you pass them?  What's the correct berth?  What if someone's jogging past at the same time?  Do you make eye contact with that person?  What if they're wearing sunglasses?  If there are ear buds, do you wave or nod or ignore?  Are you allowed to make the sign of the cross if they're wearing a fanny pack, or is that rude?

I care about all of these things far more than I cared what anyone who noticed me thought this morning as I set out, up my drowsy street, in the downpour.

On the sixth day of walking, I learned things, most of which were nose-oriented.

I learned that a person who goes walking in the rain needs to accept that her nose is going to be wet and slippery and her sunglasses (worn to render her incognito, ostrich-style) will either slide to the tip of her nose or will have to be pushed so far up its bridge that they will promptly fog up.

I learned that wet blue t-shirts are as see-through as white ones.

I learned that I was right about no one else being crazy enough to walk in town this morning.

I learned that when a truck pulling a trailer full of lawn equipment drives by you, the smell of gasoline it leaves behind is strong.

I learned that someone must have fixed the little clock tower sitting in the corner of the park because now the bells chime in tune on the hour.

I learned that a used baby diaper tossed into the woods can be smelled for one hundred and thirty-seven steps.

I learned that I hate Wet Sock just as much now as I ever did, even more than people who throw used baby diapers into the woods when no one is looking.

I learned that rain can feel refreshing.

I learned that when I feel an artificial brava of "yeah, so what?" when I'm walking, I don't clench my thumbs in my fists.

I learned what it feels like to be a bicyclist on the side of the stretch of road that doesn't have a sidewalk, knowing how the people driving their cars past you feel about your presence there, but that empathy doesn't budge how I feel about the hordes of bicyclists who gather in our town square several times a week and ride on our streets, taking up more than half of the road and breaking every traffic law imaginable, all while maintaining a smug attitude (there are local online forums full of Smug) and looking like insects in their tight clothes and helmets and weird eyewear and taking up every parking space even remotely near the park so parents can't bring their children to play there.

Every year, Town Hall sends out a survey asking what we residents would like to see happen.  They receive five thousand surveys back that grumble about how yard waste pick-up in the spring would be rather nice and then go on to scream in large block letters about ridding the town of the Bicycle Menace that plagues it.  Nothing is ever done because there isn't money for bike trails and no law enforcement gets involved when the bicycles are so thick that they block the main road and traffic backs up for half a mile.

This only fuels our anger when we are motorists.  Middle fingers are extended and profane insults are hurled out of car windows.  Everyone is in the right.  It plays out like a miniature Israeli-Palestinian conflict, simmering wishes for injury and misfortune to come to the other, but without actual bombs.

As I walked in the rain this morning, I was passed by a lone cyclist, and without meaning to I raised my hand in greeting, because he was another crazy person out in the rain.  I arrived home a triumphant, soggy traitor and lay out my clothes in the laundry room to dry.

May 10, 2019

the soldier's walk

lovely, dark and deep
On this day, the fifth day of walking, I clenched my thumbs in both hands.  I walked like a soldier, long strides, too fast.  I marched.  And tears welled.

On this day, three days after I cleaned up the garbage, I retraced my steps and found it all.

Twenty-one new pieces of trash along both sides of my beloved elm-canopied side road.

I'm counting the plastic McDonald's tea cup and the lid-with-straw-still-inside as two things because they were five meters apart.

I am powerless.  I can't protect the trees.  I can't preserve the whisper-green beauty hovering over me.  There are people who will only cast their gazes and garbage onto the ground, and will never look up and see it.

May 8, 2019

sentient spiders and snake oil

On the third day of walking, I looked over at the wooden bridge spanning the creek, the bridge that I normally avoid because spiders, and saw two women coming down the steps, having crossed it.  They sat down on the steps to talk.  I viewed this as an opportunity to be seized.


I walked up to them and said, "Excuse me, may I cross?"  They said things like, "Sure, yeah, of course," and stood up to let me by.  And because I'm currently hypomanic, I blurted out, "Usually I don't go on this bridge because I'm afraid of imaginary spider webs, but you just broke them all for me," and they didn't say anything else, so I kept walking, right through the single long spinneret that was waiting for me, freshly minted by a sentient spider who knew I was coming.

I'm kind of miffed that the two women didn't acknowledge my yelp, but now that I consider it, I probably would have ignored me, too.

I am so tired of orphaned raccoons and ginormous snakes and psychic spiders being in my life.

What ginormous snake?  Just the five-foot-long rat snake in the basement Monday afternoon.

I came home from work and The Kid and I set about cleaning up the basement (I may or may not have threatened to pour motor oil on his laptop keyboard to motivate this behavior).  I reached down to pick up an empty water bottle lying on the floor beside the TV stand, and saw a head retract in surprise.

The Kid had his dad on speakerphone at that moment, who heard the sudden onset of "FUCKFUCKFUCK THERE'SASNAKE THERE'SAFUCKINGSNAKEBACKTHERE ASNAKE FUCK ASNAKE SHITSHIT A SN *sound of running up flight of stairs* AKE P.J. THERE'SASNAKE AFUCKINGSNAKEINTHEBASEMENT BEHINDTHETVSTAND SNAKE AFUCKINGSNAKE SHITFUCK SNAKE SNAKE ...."

His dad was laughing.  We'll settle up on that later.  Oh, yes.

P.J. is the person you want beside you in a crisis.  She's amazing.  She's made of steel and keeps calm and rational.  While I was gibbering, she was planning, and once again, we ended up with tongs, because of course we did.  "Kid, find me a box," she said.  Then with more urgency:  "Box.  Box.  Box!  BOX!  BOX!"  And then there was a strange dance where I was trying to catch the head of a very, very pissed-off snake in some tongs while P.J. was frantically blocking its access to the space behind the bookcases, which would have led to someone keeping vigil and me seriously losing face to a friend who's really into guns by asking to borrow at least three.

The snake started to go back there, and that's when P.J. grabbed it by the tail and held on tight.  It wrapped around her hand but kept trying to flee.  I never realized how strong snakes are.  I was trying to pull it out with tongs but making little progress, and I must have made it even angrier because then it oozed something sticky or snake-oily out of its tail, all over P.J.'s hands.

This is how it goes.  Whatever-it-is always pisses on her.

So now the snake was slippery and I had to get serious with the tongs, and we managed to pull it out, but I wasn't very close to the head and it could have bitten me, so we hurriedly threw it into the box The Kid had produced and slammed the lid onto it, and a second later realized that he had brought us a banker's box and there were two huge oval holes in the sides for handles and the snake was about to slither out of one of them.

Please know The Kid really is incredibly intelligent.  I blame the chaos of the moment.

We grabbed the tongs and a nearby folder and somehow hoisted the box with the lid held down with our thumbs and the tongs and folder pressed against the holes, and carried it down the driveway and across the street.  We dumped the snake out in the same spot as the raccoons, and by "dumped the snake out" I mean "Lille threw everything in her hands up in the air and it landed all over the ground and she ran away and turned and watched".

P.J. had to kick the box a bit.  Then she used a stick to try to get the snake to slither into the woods and I was screaming "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?" and she stopped because the snake was coiled up like a garden hose at Home Depot before you've used it and gotten it all dirty and kinked up, and it clearly wasn't going anywhere.

We walked home.

The spider today, on the bridge, was the Universe bending near and whispering in my ear, "I can get you.  I can get you any time I want."

May 7, 2019

please don't let anybody see me

I would have titled this post "what the fuck is wrong with people?" but that's unoriginal because the question has been asked - justifiably - many, many times by other bloggers.

I wasn't just hiding my right thumb today.  I was wincing each time a car passed by on my canopied road, fervently hoping that it wasn't a co-worker who would notice me and report me to our press guy and then I'd be in the newsletter with a surreptitious picture the co-worker took with their phone and there would be heaps of praise and, worse, attention.

I wanted to be the invisible person from our bathroom.

I did what I never followed through on last fall.  I only cleaned up the part in the shade, where the trees begin in earnest and where there's less traffic.  My beloved, beautiful stretch of road.  And it's a good thing, because I filled up the trash bag with things that made me very glad I was wearing my new cheap-ass gardening gloves.

The worst part was walking outside by the windows of my department's offices when I was finished.  Scurrying is more like it.  Just past that bit is where the dumpster is located.

If someone kicked off a really random scavenger hunt that looked something like this ....

- A full length of unraveled cassette tape
- A rear wheel from an old wheelchair
- A plastic hotel room key card with MARSHALL written on the back in Sharpie
- Four used hot sauce packets lying in perfectly-measured equal intervals
- One of those foam things you use to separate your toes when painting your nails
- The hand-turn wheel piece from a Sit 'n' Spin

... I would win that summabitch.

Yes, really!  A Sit 'n' Spin.  Most of this was like the 1980s threw up all over the street, except for the hot sauce packets, which looked to be of recent vintage. 

The wheelchair wheel wouldn't fit in the bag.

May 6, 2019

the happening place to be

I've returned, canopy of elm branches.  I walk beneath you, gladly.

I've returned after ignoring you all winter, never drawn by bleakness, barrenness, absence.  I missed the icy wind tunnel and your crows, but I prefer this, today.  The spring birds are a cacophony.

My knees are older now.  They notice the difference between the cambers of the curb and the pavement.

Some of your branches bend so low that I feel embraced.  I have a photograph of a hug with a hand clasped around the side of my shoulder, and today I feel the way that photograph makes me feel when I see the I-belong-I-am-loved and take it in.

The smell of honeysuckle is strong, but I cannot see the vines.

Walking is an impatient thing, until I reach the line of your shade.  I was told I walk like a soldier, long stride, too fast.

Walking is a tense thing.  Out of habit, I clench my thumb into my right hand, not to slug someone in self-defense, but to hide, to bear the pressure of being see-able.  I am exposed.  I always walk with my thumb tucked in.

In the shady honeysuckle hug, I consciously relax my hand and open it.  I straighten my middle-aged back to stand taller and I slow my pace.

I am not running away.  I walk beneath you, slowly.


May 5, 2019

pannicular aesthetics and apes

There's a direct ratio of how seldom I write about my gastric bypass to how much I ignore its presence in my life.  I recently thought about fixing the blog header up there to account for this, but I wouldn't know what to put in its place.  My life isn't really "about" anything most days other than mental illness and writing, and my day job, which does not appear in this film.  I could put "parenting" but that would make this a mom blog and I would rather chew shiny gum wrappers.

In North Carolina, we have Grandfather Mountain, which looks from a distance like the side profile of an old man's face.  Most of the mountain is a State park, which means the brochures are decent instead of pandering to corporate interest, and that it's cheap to enter the park and either drive or hike to the top.  For half-virtuous people like my family and me, there's a parking lot near the top and a tiny hike you can take so you can feel full-virtuous.

What you hike to at the pinnacle is something called the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.  It's all three.  You go all that way and step on a lot of rocks and tree roots to get there, and your calves are sore and you're out of breath, but eventually, you're standing there with a line of impatient, sweaty people behind you, trying to make yourself take the first step onto the bridge.  But the wind is blowing the bridge and it's swinging left and right and everything in your ape brain is screaming that this is a stupid thing to do, and everything in your more developed and rational brain is saying you hate conflict and you're about to have conflict in roughly three seconds with the lady behind you, who is pointing out loudly that she's on vacation, and you need to put your foot on the first plank and then put your other foot on the next plank, and keep going.  You need to get your ass onto that bridge.

That's where I'm standing right now on my "health journey".

I had the bypass and that fixed the acid problem, and I also lost a lot of weight and bought clothes that I love and I started to like my appearance for the first time in my life.  It was damn near to taking on a new identity.

Three years in, I've now reached the point where the weight is creeping back up again and I've regained just enough to put me here at this step forward I need to take, the one where I start exercising and taking better care of myself and lose what I've gained so that I can keep my health and not say goodbye to that wee era of not habitually looking down to see if my shirt shows my fat roll, to see if the shapewear is working.  I'm looking down more and more, and the shirts I wear are getting looser and looser to compensate.

It's not a huge amount of weight to lose, but if the number goes up even a few more pounds, it's going to tip my perception from "I can probably do this" to "I've fucked myself over".

I know this.  I am aware of it.  These days, I am perpetually aware of it.

But my inner ape is winning.  My inner ape doesn't give a rip-shit about what my stomach looks like or about crossing a chasm of despair on this unstable bridge before me.  My inner ape just thinks that those new banana-chocolate Belvita protein cookies make her happy, especially when I put heavy cream in the coffee I use to wash them down.  My inner ape keeps finding reasons to not go back to low-carb just yet, not this week, maybe next week, and those reasons are crackers and bagels and pesto tortellini.  She only knows that shoving food into my gob when I'm not even hungry is the key to real but temporary happiness, and she doesn't care what comes next.  Every, every moment.

It's called food addiction.  I'm not in recovery right now.

I've been meaning to put my sneakers on at the beginning of my lunch hour and go walking.  I've been meaning to do this for five weeks.  Twenty-five days.  Twenty-five chances and twenty-five excuses.  I haven't done it yet.

I will reiterate that there's a gym in my work building, one flight up, and last I heard, it doesn't rain in the gym, and it isn't too hot or too cold in the gym, and there aren't spider webs in the gym.  Mostly.

Fish or cut bait.  Piss or get off the pot.  Who are you going to be, Lille?  Are you going to turn back now before it's too late, or give up?  Are you going to have a loud lady in a fanny pack beat you verbally for the rest of your days, or are you going to explain to your ape that you can't deal with having to turn away from the mirror again every morning to keep from seeing your three-dimensional stomach, nor with the guilt of having taken such drastic measures and done the work and then sabotaged yourself, and step onto the scary, lonely, comfortless bridge and cross to safety?

p.s.  P.J. says it's more of a lizard brain.  I countered that lizards don't have panniculi and that someone in the room, not saying who, is probably the life of every party she goes to, and she said that the continued degradation of regard for scientific accuracy is dangerous, and I said we didn't come from lizards, and then we decided to have meatballs for dinner.

May 3, 2019

how to buy a bag of copacetic dirt

Somebody else's maple.
With branches and stuff.
Eleven o'clock came and I took my keys out of my purse and put on sunglasses.  I walked past the offices of co-workers.

"Hey, Karen, need anything from Home Depot?" I asked.

"Hunh?"

"Hey, John, need anything from Home Depot?"

".... Noooooooo?"

"Hey, Sheila, need anything from Home Depot?"

"Who the hell even says that?"

I was just trying to be helpful.  Somehow it's different when I say Target, but I don't know why because Home Depot has everything anyone could ever want.  Then again, it's the kind of place where you can wander around for three hours and go from feeling fine to feeling completely inadequate and five years behind some sort of due date, so far behind that you should just slink away home to your grungy, outdated cardboard box.

It was a simple mission today:  I wanted to buy some dirt.

When we bought The Lodge, the seller, who is a rather odd little man whom I suspect is a positive person but otherwise seems okay, planted a baby Japanese maple for us, right in front of the house, beside the sidewalk.  That was a sweet gesture.  Japanese maples are delicate things and must be nurtured and guarded and tended in order to make it through those first few fragile and precarious years.  We had a geas laid upon us to grow this tree.

Then our dogs happened to it.

I won't tout our efforts to block it off because they were feeble at best and the dogs ripped them all down and what happened to the tree is one hundred percent our fault.  Molly did gnaw the north-facing half of its branches off and dig until reaching the root ball and exposing it to the dead of winter, but most of the damage has been done because the dogs have kept getting their leads wrapped around the tree and then pulling like a truck winch trying to get free of the entanglement.  This has happened well over a hundred times.

The leaf blight last summer wasn't their fault.  I think the tree was just trying to commit suicide to beat the rush.  But the dogs clearly finished it off this past winter.

And yet ....

Last week we arrived at The Lodge and saw miraculous little dark purple leaves all over the remaining branches of the tree.  It's alive.  It sat there, being alive, and pathetic, and shabby.  It was listing to one side.  We decided it deserves better of us.  So today, I was at Home Depot, ready to buy some dirt so we can fill the hole back in and feed it and help it along.

Oh, don't worry about the dogs.  If they start digging again, we'll just shoot them.

This was my first time in a gardening department during spring.  I don't plant.  So I wasn't prepared for what I found there.

There beneath the heady, metallic chemical cloud, they have dirt.  Lots of dirt.  They have dirt for orchids and dirt that helps grass seed grow.  They have dirt that prevents weeds and dirt that only prevents some kinds of weeds and not others and costs less.  They have dirt for morning and dirt for evening.  They have dirt that resists fungus and dirt that makes you grow way more peppers than you can eat in a summer so you have to put the extra ones in brown paper bags and bring them to church with you.  They have dirt with mulch in it and dirt for flowers and dirt with nitrogen and dirt with moisture-wicking properties, like a sports garment.

I couldn't find any bags that just said DIRT.

I went up to a register to ask for help.  The two ladies were talking about bunions and finished their conversation before turning to me, because my question was not possibly as interesting as a bunion.  And they must have been psychic because that was true.  "I'm looking for dirt," I began.  "Just, like, some dirt.  In a bag.  Dirt."

God only knows what they're saying behind my back now that I'm gone, but I left with a bag of some kind of magic-laden substance that looks exactly like dirt but is supposed to infuse the soil around our Japanese maple with swirling cosmic energy and the essence of life.  And some poles and wire to block it off so that there will actually be a tree living there to absorb all that psychedelic goodness.

And some Round-Up for everything else.  I don't want the grass getting any ideas about peace and joy and rampant procreation.


Update:  It might not be pretty, but it works!

May 2, 2019

it was probably human but maybe not

How?  HOW?  WHY?
I need you.  Please help me.  Help.

I just went to the ladies' restroom on our floor.  It has one of those motion-sensor light systems and the lights are very rarely off, given the constant traffic and the half-hour timer on it.  It keeps the light from staying on all night.

I opened the door and walked in, and saw that it was dark.  A second later, the light detected me and turned on.

Oh, good, I thought.  I've got the place to myself.  Rare treat.

Except that I wasn't alone.  I heard a shuffling sound, clothes rustling, from one of the stalls.

What.  The.  Torrid.  Fuck.

In such a situation, the brain starts churning, desperately searching every neuron, every cell, for a logical explanation.

We have someone among us who is capable of not being seen by a sensor.

Right.

That means they're invisible.

Well, we might have an invisible person.  We'd never know, would we?  Not if they were careful.  They'd have to be the least productive person in the organization.

But why would they hang around here?  Think of all the other things they could be doing.

No.

I tried to disprove my theory by going into a stall and sitting down, then peering underneath to check for feet.

There weren't any feet.

But there aren't any invisible people.  Human nature, I reasoned, would cause them to out themselves in the world somehow.  They'd need contact.  They'd need interaction.  We'd know, if there were invisible people.

So something was making noise in the stall, and it wasn't an invisible person.  It had to be a real person who was capable of not making the light turn on and whose feet could not be seen.

It was probably a person.  Maybe it was an animal.  An animal using one of our toilets as a soaking tub.

No.  The animal wouldn't be invisible, either.  Or wear clothes.

Why didn't the clothes that I heard rustle set off the light?  Invisible people don't have invisible clothes.  That's only in the movies.

The only thing I was left with, sitting in my stall, tense as a high wire, was that a mentally disturbed person was in the stall, had been there for over half an hour after the person before me had departed, which was already implausible, and was squatting on top of the toilet so no one could see her legs.

I was really, really uncomfortable.

And I don't know who it was.  Or what.  What it was.

This bathroom thing is getting to me.  It's no longer a safe place.

If you have any alternative explanation, something that can restore my sense of safety, please please tell me what it is.

May 1, 2019

like it's 1999

The staple nourishment
of impoverished youth.
She threw a map and a tube of lipstick
in an old Winn-Dixie sack
She pulled her Firebird out of the driveway
without ever looking back
By the time she got to Georgia
it was nearly half past eight
She bought a ninety-nine cent breakfast
at the Stuckey's by the interstate ....
--Kate Campbell, See Rock City


I think about a couple in their sixties, a man and a woman reclined side by side in sun chairs on a beach in Mallorca, wearing sunglasses and straw hats and sunscreen smeared on their noses.  Their arms are on the armrests of the chairs.  They listen to the ocean and they don't speak.  They do this for hours.  They're on vacation together.  They come here every September.

P.J. and I don't vacation together.  Her idea of vacationing is quiet and peace in a beautiful setting.  My idea of vacationing is people.  Each of us would slit her wrists if trapped in the other's idea for more than a day.  I'd die of boredom and she'd die of exposure.

(Am I allowed to make wrist-slitting jokes?  I mean, it's my blog ....)

I'm itching for a road trip or two.  There are people I want to meet and I'm feeling inaccurately romantic about all my memories of interstate driving and changing scenery and subsisting off of Little Debbie snack cakes obtained at gas stations because that's the financial league you're in when you're in your early twenties.

My ex and I drove everywhere, because we could.  I did a lot of screaming.  I screamed when I sat up from a nap and we were driving west on I-10, right under the Mississippi River, into a deep, dark tunnel.  There was a ship directly over our heads.  I screamed when I sat up from a nap and we were driving west on I-70 through western Kansas and a huge tumbleweed hit the windshield.  I'd never seen a tumbleweed before and didn't know it would go "poof" when we hit it.  So I screamed.

Things like Manhattan and the arch in St. Louis didn't make much of an impression.  I saw the lushness of western Wisconsin and elk in the field across from the world's largest gas station in Wyoming.  I felt the thrill of being all alone in downtown Ann Arbor and the wrenching heartbreak of Gary along I-80, the decayed factories and rust.  I remember waving fields of brown grass in Oklahoma and the architecture of churches in upstate New York.  I drove across a time zone line on New Year's Eve 1998 and got to hear Prince on the radio twice.

I lived through how long it takes to get to the Rockies once you can see them.  I picked up a fake twenty-dollar bill that was really a gospel tract on Beale Street in Memphis.  I got my hair cut in Paris, Texas by a very confused stylist, and I had my car turned around by frozen mist just west of Kansas City.  I learned about eternity while driving through Illinois.  I found an exit in Kentucky where you come off the ramp and end up at an intersection that has four dead-end signs all around.

Yeah, frozen mist really is a Thing.

My mind has glossed over the part where you know exactly what it feels like when you have one hundred miles, then seventy miles, then forty-five more miles until the next marker or your final destination.  It's completely ignoring how gripping the steering wheel now causes some pain in my bum shoulder, and how my low back isn't twenty any more.  It dismisses how much coffee I'll need and how frequently I'll have to take bathroom breaks.  It's drumming up enthusiasm for staying in a shitty motel room because I can't drive sixteen hours straight any more.  Clearly the road is calling me.  There are people I need to see, in their places.

April 27, 2019

what to do with an extra elbow

This hasn't been the sort of week for writing.  Nothing noteworthy has happened, except for my having a birthday and a potential major breakthrough in therapy and some good writing discussions, but those are trifles.

Instead, my attention has been commandeered by a series of (mostly) minor physical ailments, small bits of resignation, and a newfound addiction to online jigsaw puzzles.

I can stop any time I want.  And might do, too, if I can't find the last piece of this stupid bridge, where the light only hits part of it and there's that little brown bit that's darker than the other ones.

The ailments are vexing as well.  I took the first bite of dinner a few nights ago and was suddenly stabbed straight through the intestines by an invisible katana, then spent a good number of hours writhing and rocking back and forth and making whimpering noises and saying "please stop" in a tiny voice.  I called in sick at three in the morning, as I was savoring a piece of dry toast and deciding that I don't spend nearly enough time being actively grateful, every single day of my life, that I'm not having some random and excruciatingly painful intestinal event.

I still don't know what that was about.

I also need to start walking again.  I've been more or less consistently wearing the dictatorial plastic bracelet of accountability lately.  In the midst of all of the mental noise, the alarm about weight gain, the noticing that I dump more, the quiet despair creeping up, it got through silver-bell-clear when I noticed that walking between the bathroom and my bed and lying down found me slightly out of breath again, the way it used to do.  It's a level of being out of shape that I never thought would hunt me down and find me again, but it's here, and my feelings about it are not tied up in the emotional dried spaghetti wad of the rest of my choices and failings.  I do not want this.  Fatigue and inertia and low energy are in my present.  There is walking in my future.  

Today, I seem to be experiencing an allergic reaction to oak pollen, which is impossible because I'm one of the twelve people in North Carolina who does not suffer from allergies in the spring.  If I'm sneezing, there are mice around.  I had to sit through Endgame with a head full of snot, but that worked out because everyone in there had Kleenex and it was normal to sniff continuously.  To make things worse, I sneezed and it blew out my left jaw joint, so now it's throbbing and I can't bite down on that side and can't eat much of anything, and this leaves me with allergies and a simultaneous terror of sneezing again.

Also, there's a sore spot on my right elbow, right at the tip, and I don't remember hitting it on anything and there isn't a visible bruise, so it's probably sprouting bone and I'm going to grow an extra elbow soon. 

I just asked P.J., "What would you do with an extra elbow?"

She replied, rather reasonably, "The fuck?"

"Like if you just sprouted an extra elbow off one of yours, on the same arm," I persevered.

She looked at her arm.  "Well, I guess it would depend on which direction it pointed.  Doesn't seem like it would do much good if it didn't go the other way."

"What if it had a hand on the end?" I asked.

"Well, that would make things a lot more interesting, wouldn't it?  Then I could say 'on the third hand, she wore a glove' and it would have meaning," she said.

"Okay, that's nice.  That's all I need."  I was already typing this.

P.J. just stared at me.  I think she had questions.

I'm not sure our marriage is all it could be, honestly, because that wasn't a very good answer to the question and I still have no idea what to do with this imminent extra right elbow, whether it's going to have a hand or whether I'm going to have to get one made for it, and whether it will portend a career change.  Will I have to learn to write with the new hand if I'm technically still right-handed?  

In anticipation of this development, I need to state firmly for the record that the circus can't have me, because clowns.

April 21, 2019

letter to sarah

Glitter is carcinogenic.
Dear Sarah,

How hokey is this?  I thought you'd appreciate it.

I guess I feel that I need to apologize specifically to you because of all the writing insights, encouragement, and opportunities to get more creative with profanity that you've sent my way these past months.  Well, maybe not apologize, but somewhere between apologize and explain.

See, what happened is, a co-worker I know only well enough to have friended on Facebook, because we had seventeen mutual friends and it kept suggesting her in the upper right corner of the screen and I had to make it go away, commented on one of my posts there with a simple, "You should write books."

This is the seventh or eighth time I've been told this, but this one stood out because, apart from "my computer is borked," the co-worker has said one exactly one thing to me and it was that.  "You should write books."

I related the Facebook comment to P.J., who smiled quietly to herself and said nothing.

"But I'm starting to wonder if I can write books.  The fiction just isn't coming," I continued.

P.J. said, "Did she say, 'You should write fiction books'?"

"No."

"Well, all right, then."

And in that moment, I decided that I'm not required to work on this project, and that I can write a different way, and a weight that I hadn't realized was there lifted off of me and floated away.

It's somewhere up there in the stratosphere now.  I imagine the jet stream is playing merry hell with it.

It feels like taking off some really awful shapewear that I bought a size too small.  I can breathe now.  My voice was being squeezed into something altogether more shapely and conforming than it is in reality.  My voice has curves and fat rolls and wears an elastic waistband.

I am going to write Something, but not this current Thing.  Not right now.  Not first, not this year and maybe not this decade.

The Thing wasn't in vain, either.  I got two vignettes and a pretty good short story out of it all.  I'm going to finish Neil Gaiman's Masterclass without prejudice or an eye toward making something work that ... well, isn't working.  I'm going to make room for Something Else.

Your advice still rings true, because you told me about your own writing process, so I know what I started will wait for me.  But for now, I'm going to breathe.

Thank you for being a sage sounding board and don't go away because I will need that and you're amazingly awesome and so is your writing (I don't always comment) and so are your sketches.  And your cats.  They're awesome, too.  Even if one of them is a dog trapped in a cat's body.  I don't judge.

[I just agonized for five whole minutes over what to put as a closing word or phrase, because "Love, Lille" is presumptuous and "Hugs, Lille" is trite and "Your friend, Lille" is unflavored-oatmeal bland ... "Stay awesome, Lille" sounds like signing a yearbook ... so I'll go with something like "Peace and death to purple gel pens, Lille" ... that's assuming you don't like purple gel pens, and if you do, I apologize for that statement, too, but I've always felt they force a person's hand to go put little hearts for dots over all the instances of the letter 'i' ... yeah, maybe that one doesn't work either ... see? this is why I don't write letters ... fuck it, come up with your own closing, because the Internet is weird and gives us things and I'm glad it gave me a writing buddy,]

Lille


p.s. It has come to my attention that a good number of readers have strong positive feelings regarding purple gel pens and have taken umbrage at my assertion that they would ever, in any circumstance, put hearts over any characters in handwritten material.  I'm not going to retract my statement because I've seen things, but I will admit that it's possible - maybe - that I've just had a string of uncountered bad experiences regarding the existence and use of purple gel pens.  Perhaps many do not realize the danger they are in; perhaps they are strong in character and have subconsciously resisted lo these many years.  Beware, my friends.  Beware the purple gel pen.

April 20, 2019

how to fry catfish

P.J.:  "That's a different kettle of fish."

(long pause)

Me:  "How can you have a different kettle of fish?  Different from what?"

P.J.:  "Hmm.  I guess you'd have to have at least two kettles of fish."

Me:  "Who has two kettles of fish?  Why would anyone have even one kettle of fish?  What kind of fish would even fit in a kettle?"

P.J.:  "Catfish."

Me:  "You can't fit catfish in a kettle.  They're big."

P.J.:  "Yes, you can."

Me:  "No, you can't."

P.J.:  "Yes, you can."

Me:  "No, you can't!  Okay, you could chop one up, but why would you do that?"

P.J.:  "To fry it."

Me:  "You can't fry things in a kettle."

P.J.:  "Wait, what kind of kettle are you thinking of?  Like, a kettle you boil water in?"

Me:  "Yeah?  That's what a kettle is.  It's sure as hell not for frying anything.  Weirdo."

P.J.:  "There are frying kettles.  Big ones.  Like for kettle-cooked chips.  Great, big kettles.  Like in this picture."

(shows picture)

(long pause)

Me:  "Oh.  .......... Shut up.  And my kettle would be different."

April 15, 2019

massage therapy

When The Kid was seven or eight, we got a Wii for the family, complete with a Wii Fit board and the sports games to use with it.  He used the Wii for Mario Everything and I used it for learning three yoga poses and finishing four whole minutes of kickboxing, after which I was told by a sadistic animated cash register on wheels that I was obese.  From this, I learned that cash registers do not give a shit about your self-esteem.

I also tried the meditation game a few times.  This involved sitting on the Wii Fit board in a yoga pose and staring at the flame of a single candle on the screen before me, while trying to be completely still for three full minutes.  If I had more than two slight movements or twitches during the three minutes, a stern-looking hachidan Mii would suddenly pop up and yell at me angrily in a language I couldn't understand, and the candle would be snuffed.  This did wonders for my startle reflex.

I didn't exactly bond with the game, but that candle flame came back to me today as I lay face-down on the massage table, trying to get comfortable before the therapist came in to start the session. 

I go for a massage once a year - sometimes skipping a year - for my birthday.  It's almost unbearably decadent.  Normally, my mind goes all muzzy and trance-like pretty quickly, and I'm able to fully relax.

Today was new:  I had to relax my body and make my jerky, whizzy hypomanic brain shut the fuck up for an hour.  (Spoiler alert:  I totally failed at this.)

The therapist focused on my croggled right shoulder and spent the rest of the time on Swedish massage.  This is a transcript of my brain during the part of the massage.

Picture that candle flame.  Remember that time you tried to learn to meditate from that woman at church?  She said you could shut out thoughts and try to empty your mind, and you would catch yourself thinking, and you could just tell yourself, "Thinking," and then push it away and go empty again.  I have to stare at the candle flame and not think about anything else.

Am I relaxed?  Yes.  Good.

Candle flame.  

I remember that Wii.  Why did it stop working?  Did I ever clean it with that disc cleaning stuff in the basket?

Thinking.  Candle flame.

Is she supposed to grind muscles against somebody's shoulder blade like that?  Stop, she knows what she's doing.

Thinking.  Candle flame.  Breathing.

My nose is stuffy.  How do people keep from drooling and dripping snot when they're in this thing?  Did I ever do that before?  What if I did and I didn't realize it?  I'll bet they have people who clean the carpets and always have to pay attention to "the drool spot" under where people put their face in this padded thing.

Thinking.  Cand--

Oh, that is so funny!  Last night we were laughing at Molly because she had her head draped over my leg and then she added her paw, but she fell asleep and the paw started to slip off my leg.  Then she put it back but dug her claws in to keep it from slipping.  I just did the exact same thing because my arm was sliding off the bed and I put it back and hooked my thumb on the sheet without realizing I was do--

Thinking.  Candle.

Is she going over an hour?  It's supposed to be an hour.  Should I offer to pay more if she does?  What if she just wants to make extra sure I get good work on my shoulder but it's going to take a lot of time to do the rest of it?  There's no way she's going to make it.

Candle, god damn it.  Candle.

She's pushing on my shoulders in an alternating pattern and she's doing it to the music and doesn't even realize it.  See?  It's perfectly in time.  Left, right, l-- Wait.  No.  Now she's deviating.  That is just like fucking windshield wipers not matching the radio!  Gahhhh!

Thinking.  Yeah, I'm thinking.  I can't shut up.  Candle.  Candlecandlecandle.

It has definitely been at least an hour and fifteen minutes now.  She hasn't even gotten to my feet.  She'll have to let some stuff go.  I won't complain.  I'm one of those people who doesn't complain.

Did I bring the tip money?  Phweww.  I put it in my keys.  It's over there.

Candle?

I hope she doesn't spray lavender everywhere like they did when I tried that yoga class.  I put on the sheet that I'm allergic to lavender.  What if she didn't look at the sheet?

Am I anxious?  Is that why I thought that?  Thinking.  Why can't I shut up?  Where is that candle?

She finished and left so I could get dressed.  I opened my eyes.

11:55?  Oh.  I was worried for nothing.  

I stretched and everything was fine, until I looked in the mirror and saw my hair, massed in a hopeless configuration.  Then I realized that I was about to be put through that awkward part where they ask if you liked it and you say yes and then they try to talk you into signing up for regular massages and you have to say no but do it politely and then extract yourself and leave.

I'm home now, so I did escape, and my shoulder hurts, but only because I asked her to beat the shit out of it on a therapeutic level.  I'm also supposed to be "flushing my body with water to rid it of toxins that were released".  You know what?  Coffee's a liquid, too.

April 14, 2019

the really bad thing

Once, I did a Really Bad Thing.

I can't say out loud what it was.  It was that bad.  Some might disagree, but I think it was worse than attempting suicide, and it was worse than some things I haven't done, like setting fire to someone's shed and watching the ember sparks spread the flames to their house, or fleeing the scene of a wreck, or driving my family into bankruptcy and destitution.  Ruining lives that are not my own.

There are things I cannot even contemplate someone doing, like intentionally running over a dog.  It wasn't as bad as that.  But it was a Really Bad Thing.

When I think about the Really Bad Thing, which isn't often, a door bangs shut in my mind.  The Really Bad Thing lives in a closet of trauma behind the door.  When I open the door to look, I find a skeleton and dead flies at the bottom.  I am not afraid of skeletons, but I slam the door and run anyway, because I remember when it was alive and had flesh.

The Really Bad Thing was not the kind of bad thing one does as a child.  Children pit primitive human nature against the fear of punishment.  The equation is simple and the bad things are simple.  I stole chewing gum inside a store when I was four and tried to hide from Grandma under a clothes rack while I chewed, because I knew on some level that I was doing something wrong.  I climbed a tree with a neighbor friend and the stolen soft porn magazine from her brother's room, and we spent the afternoon looking at forbidden things, just because they were forbidden.  Later, there were the nights when I would sneak out and put shaving cream in ceramic bears' mouths.

This time, I was not a child.  The Really Bad Thing was chosen in the fullness of adulthood, knowingly, guiltily, and intentionally, by me.  I hurt people I love on purpose.  I put them in danger of disaster.

Afterward, excuses were made for why I did the Really Bad Thing.  I did not make them.  The people that made them brought armfuls of excuses and wheelbarrows full of Good Things to fill the other side of the scales, to make it heavier than the Really Bad Thing and tip the scales in my favor.  I have been urged to forgive myself, as I have been forgiven.  I have agreed to do this, but only because it will help the people I hurt, and I know that it will take the rest of my life.

April 12, 2019

shoes

The fifty-something woman with short, fake-auburn hair stood outside of the drug store, bent over with fatigue and leaning against the newspaper machine, tapping out a message on her phone, using the same two fingers that held her cigarette between them.  I passed her on the sidewalk.  She noticed my copper toenail polish and I noticed her shoes.  They were a kind of shoe that told me she stands a lot during her work shifts.  But I didn't mark the early wrinkles in her coppery skin from tanning beds, and she didn't note the way I look down when I walk by people, a thing that makes me unqualified to wear copper toenail polish, a thing that makes me pay attention to shoes.

April 10, 2019

kids these days

I waited too long to take him to the doctor ... I didn't believe him when he said his throat was so raw that he didn't want to swallow sips of water ... he always plays up his symptoms, so much drama, and I'm the one who gets the texts from school, always, the one who has to be Bad Cop and tell him to stay, see it through, fight it out, make it through the day.  And sometimes it's depression, not a runny nose.  See it through.  Make it through.

Will he make it through?

I signed up for this.

Sort of.

My generation does a shit job of rearing children.  Our kids don't know how to solve the simplest of problems.  They aren't chomping at the bit to get their driver's licenses at sixteen, move out at eighteen and never look back.  They don't care about independence.  The shame of living at home until age thirty has been eroded by our economy and our parenting.

We've protected them unwisely and too well.  The milk cartons turned into curfews.  The curfews turned into omnipresence.  The omnipresence turned into safety standards and rubber mulch, knee pads and hand sanitizer, play dates and books that can tell you if your child is developing as quickly and as well as other children.

I remember when I was seventeen and my car broke down.  It never occurred to me to call my parents.

Is it because cell phones are in our hands now?  Have the means forged the expectation that we be in contact, reachable, always?

I don't think so.  Instead of flipping through the grotty Yellow Pages of the phone book dangling from the pay phone by a steel cord, I would have searched the Internet for a towing company nearby.  I would not have considered calling my mother or father.  What good could they do?  I was out in the middle of rural North Carolina, just northeast of nowhere.  Why bother them?  It was my problem.

I signed up for this.  All this driving to school, sitting and waiting during rehearsals, making his life my own life.  This is what we do now.

My mother picked me up after the softball games.  She didn't ask me who won.

If his dad and I had dropped The Kid off at soccer practice instead of bringing camping chairs, it would have triggered a call to Protective Services.  He was only ten.

I walked the mile to school when I was ten, because I wanted to.  I had to cross a busy street.

We know we're doing it all wrong.  We know we're not serving their best interest.  But the boulder rolls and we're carried along with it, unable to slow it down, let alone stop it, let alone push it back up the hill.

Have I involved him in enough activities?  His dad and I wanted him to have a free childhood, not scheduled, not overbooked, not focused on molding an attractive college application from the time he hit preschool ... now it's time to apply for college, and he's a gaming addict, and he knows it, and he wishes he could quit, but he can't.  His entire social life is on the Internet.  That's not true.  He was in the play.  He went to the party because he had made friends.  It was the first time he wasn't avoidant of a social situation.  And he got sick there.  They catered dinner and everyone handled the serving utensils.  He got strep throat.

The Kid is home sick today.  The doctor looked at his throat yesterday and winced.

I shouldn't have waited so long to take him to the doctor.  He suffered longer because of me.  

I am a product of my generation.  We don't let our kids suffer.  We don't let them learn to suffer.  We take the suffering on ourselves because we love them.  We love them so much, we hug them so hard, that we squeeze the very life right out of them.