Category: straight outta memoir

Hey, I’m a Zebra: Part One

zebrahorses

Don’t worry. The title will make sense by the end of this, if you make it that far. (My darlings are survivors–no apologies.)

October 9, 2019, I woke before sunrise at my usual 5:30 AM, leaned up on an elbow in bed, and took a Synthroid pill stored on the bookshelf behind me. I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis requiring daily fake thyroid hormones to replace the ones my dumb jerk body no longer makes.

This was a movement I made every morning around the same time – nothing unusual. Slight upper back twist, plus I was going to the gym to treadmill and strength train multiple times weekly, as well as doing regular yoga. It should have been fine.

It was not fine.

I felt a sudden twinge of pain between my shoulder blades that grew rapidly stronger. Ouch. Not “I pulled a muscle!” ouch, but instead “Fuck, did someone just knife me in the back?” ouch. I froze, immediately flipped onto my back to assess, but it kept getting worse. I moved to the left side. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I got onto the right side. Zinging, radiating, pain. I couldn’t determine which muscle or bone was to blame. Lying very still didn’t help at all. Holy mother of cats, it hurt so much. I froze in place, trying to think logically about what to do.

***

Background: I first assumed back injury because 9 years earlier, I was hit by a distracted driver while waiting for a red light to turn green. He was doing 50 MPH and didn’t brake at all. He totaled his Ford Taurus and my Toyota 4Runner, violently slamming me into the car in front of mine. I spent 2 weeks in bed on painkillers, speaking in a hoarse whisper because the whiplash was so severe my neck and vocal cords were swollen, only getting up to roll sideways out of bed for crawl-walks to the restroom. This was followed by 2 months living/sleeping with my damaged right foot tendon (injured instinctively jammed down on the brake) in an Aircast® boot, and then 2 more months of physical therapy to get my foot working again after the boot was removed.

Short version: I assumed I’d tweaked my neck. Also, please don’t drive while distracted.

***

The pain was growing stronger by the minute, and emanating from what seemed to be the middle of my upper back into my neck, head, and jaw area. I began to sweat from the intensity. It was hot, sharp, moving upward, and my extremities had begun to tingle, arms and legs growing peripherally numb. I sat up in bed, stood, and almost passed out.

***

More background: I’ve had a C-section abdominal surgery (7 inch scar, stitches) after a 35 hour labor with my gigantic son, 24 hours of it active and without pain control of any kind, and a few years later, a hysterectomy/left oophorectomy abdominal surgery (5 inch scar, staples). I’ve had shingles on my face, forehead, and scalp for weeks (undiagnosed anxiety disorder). I’ve been been violently punched and beaten by two different men (broken finger, broken front tooth, damaged optic nerves, C-PTSD/panic disorder).

With that in mind, this pain was worse than anything, ever. I am known for my high pain tolerance (natural redhead – we’re weird about pain). An Urgent Care physician once commented, “Why aren’t you crying? If I had a break like yours, I’d be crying, for sure!” The bone had been broken for over 4 hours.

I share this “window into my tolerance for pain” not to sound tough, but to explain how incredibly explosive and horrific this moment was… I’ve literally never felt anything like it.

***

I ran to the bathroom with sweat trickling down my ribs, to empty my bowels in the way only pure adrenaline can. I mention this because 1) I have IBS-C, and the “C” stands for constipation, so this was not in any way normal for me, and because, 2) This complete elimination would be helpful later. (Please enjoy my fecal foreshadowing. You’re welcome.)

I began to involuntarily shake, which I would soon learn in the hospital, is my natural reaction to pain at 10+ on the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale. (Oooh… the hospital is coming. More foreshadowing. So exciting.)

I ran for the ibuprofen (<—this blood thinner was a bad idea… will the foreshadowing ever end?) in full primal panic, took 3 gel-caps, grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer, and placed it on my neck. The pain was making it hard to breathe–far worse than the peak of a labor contraction–and I finally accepted more was going on than a pulled neck muscle. My entire upper back/thoracic region was now on fire, and it was becoming harder to walk because of the tingling and numbness in my legs.

In searing pain, now teeth-chattering,  barely able to speak, I sat down alone on the living room couch in the dark, leaning back onto the ice pack because my arms were too weak to hold it up, and tried to once again assess the situation. I began to wonder if I was having a heart attack because of the jaw involvement and nausea/diarrhea. I’ve read that heart attacks can present in these ways for women. This medical show junkie was completely flummoxed, and in too much pain to think clearly. But I had to stay clear. Panic helps nothing. Assess, stay calm, assess, stay calm, panic will make it worse, stay calm, deep breathing, stay calm, assess. What is my next move? Do. Not. Panic. But the pain was making it so fucking hard to stay calm.

***

Oh, crap. She’s giving us more background: I am diagnosed with C-PTSD, which often helps me stay cool under pressure, and able to lose my shit later when I’m in a safe place. I believe this evolved as a coping mechanism to keep myself alive in violent and threatening situations. I can compartmentalize and dissociate like a rock star if needed – but the panic attack will have its way with me eventually. The body keeps the score, and all that. So I was now sitting quietly in the dark, wondering what I should do next. Sweat now literally running down my sides, stomach mercifully cleared of all contents, thinking about my son sleeping on the other side of the wall growing up without his mother. Good times, good times.

***

I should probably mention at this point that my husband, who is normally one of those people I envy who can sleep much later than 6 AM, happened to be awake while I ran frantically around the house groaning, because he’d had hernia surgery for 2 lower abdominal hernias 2 days earlier. He was in the early phase of his week off work for healing where the convalescent eats soup, takes pain meds, and sleeps odd hours. I had spent the day before taking care of him, made a trip to the grocery store to buy foods he could eat, and he was in no shape for a crisis. Poor bastard.

He called blearily from the bedroom, “What’s going on?”

I replied, “I don’t know yet… maybe a spine issue? Pulled muscle?”

Bent over in abdominal pain, he lurched out to the living room where I was leaning limply against the couch. We were quite a pair. (Watch the middle-aged people moaning in agony around the room, kids! Enjoy a glimpse into your future!) I could no longer lift my arms or legs–not even a finger or toe twitch–and they felt heavy, like they were metal and the floor was magnetic. I was for all intents and purposes quadriplegic, and I wondered how much longer I’d be able to breathe on my own or stay conscious if the paralysis moved further up my body. I knew if I succumbed to the panic attack, it would make everything worse, so I left my body a bit. I tried to stay calm by watching the situation from the outside, but the pain kept pulling me back into my body. Stupid pain.

He asked if he should call 9-1-1 and I said yep, I think paralysis of my arms and legs combined with the worst pain I’ve ever felt probably warrants that call. Fucking surreal moment. Also, as he was on pain meds, post-surgery, and not cleared to drive, there’s no way he could have gotten my newly-immobile human meat sack to the hospital. We needed help.

The 9-1-1 operator had him try to check my wrist pulse, which I can never feel, so I told him find my Adam’s apple and move up and to the side like I’ve learned in CPR classes, but then I think he and the 9-1-1 operator decided if I could help him find my pulse I probably had one and they stopped that part. She gave him the excellent advice to lock up any pets (2 indoor-only cats) and to turn on the porch light for the ambulance. He was then tasked with waking up our 13-year-old son, which is the part that makes my eyes water as I type this, because I’m a parent, and we want to protect our kids, not scare them.

I had been answering my husband’s questions in short bursts through my pain-clenched jaw, and now that my son was awake, I had to put on the strong mom mask. It has never been harder. I remember saying things like, “It’s probably just a slipped disc in my back, buddy. It hurts a lot, but I’m okay, don’t worry, the ambulance is on the way and they’re gonna fix me up,” and a bunch of other happy horseshit I didn’t believe. I honestly wondered if I’d ever see my child again.

We heard sirens and I was so relieved. The sirens stopped once they got into our neighborhood, which I later learned they do to avoid waking everybody up, which makes sense. At the time, however, I worried they’d driven past our neighborhood entrance.

We had our son grab my stuff, and open the door to wave down the ambulance. I will never forget the look on his young face as he stood by the front door, holding my purse to his chest while the EMTs rushed in, followed by the firefighters. He looked pale, and so, so scared. I hate that my stupid, weak body gave him that awful memory. I couldn’t protect him. I’m supposed to protect him. Damn it.

After asking the appropriate questions, the EMTs confirmed I needed to go to the hospital.

“Can you walk to the gurney?” they asked.

I tried to move my legs, and was horrified to find they were still completely paralyzed. I couldn’t even wiggle my toes. I then tried my arms. I couldn’t lift them or move my fingers. I tried so hard to do these simple things I’ve taken for granted my entire life, and no matter how hard I focused my brain, nothing moved. Lift an arm or leg as you read this. Go ahead, do it. Now imagine willing those limbs to move and nothing happening. No, not like when your arm falls asleep and you can flop it around tingling until the feeling comes back–I mean no movement at all, no matter how hard you try, you’re trapped inside your body. Like being held down by an invisible force, and completely helpless. That nightmare you have where the monster’s coming for you but you can’t move at all. That feeling.

(My biggest fear in life is being helpless, by the way. I was so far beyond horrified I can’t even describe it adequately with words. Just know that sometimes, still, at the end of a day when my back hurts badly in the affected area, I get scared enough that it’s happening again to shake and cry. I don’t want to go back to that helpless place ever again.)

I told them I couldn’t move, and the firefighters came in to help the EMTs lift all 5’9″-ish-and-not-underweight of me onto the wheeled stretcher. Yeah, not my best look. I was in a flimsy nightgown, too, with no underwear, which is just awesome. They came towards me with a small towel to support my neck. Terrified the tiny blanket would wiggle and make whatever was going on worse, I said, “Shouldn’t we put on a collar to support my spine?” The firefighter gave me an annoyed look, said, “Yeah, I guess,” and got a cervical collar. They put it on, and I was then 1-2-3 lifted onto the gurney like the dead weight I was, bless those strong men and women.

So here’s the thing about that collar, in case you’re ever in a similar situation. What we’d later learn was that what happened to me was so rare (without trauma) that there’s no way they could have known I definitely needed it, but the neurosurgeon with whom I’d soon become acquainted told me if I hadn’t gotten that C collar, I might have been permanently paralyzed. So trust your gut, kids. (And any awesome first responders reading this, please don’t dismiss annoying medical show fans, because we learn things sometimes while we watch TV and wish we’d pursued a nursing degree instead of a double major in English and psychology. Ahem.)

On the way out the door, I told my son I loved him more than everything, and not to worry. I still can’t think about his face in that moment. Stricken is the only word that comes to mind. Some combination of mortified, horrified, and bewildered that defies language. I never want to see that look on his face again. My husband called our next door neighbor, who happens to be a lifelong friend of his, because he couldn’t drive himself behind the ambulance (recent hernia surgery… again, poor bastard). Our friend drove them both to the hospital where they languished in the waiting room. My husband had his parents come pick up our son and he took the day off school because he was understandably freaked out. They took such good care of him, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I’ll never forget the bumpy, shitty roads of our state on the ambulance ride to the hospital because the pain blossomed like redneck fireworks as we hit every one of them. The sweet EMT woman put in an IV, attached electrodes, did something (I had my eyes squeezed shut because the ambulance lights were so bright) and said, “Well the good news is that you’re not having a heart attack!” and I felt a bit of relief. She noticed my eyes and asked if I’d like the lights off. I told her I’d love that and thank you (bright lights give me migraines). Eyes now open, I looked out the back ambulance windows at the city lights in the dark, moaning in pain with every bump, praying we’d get to the hospital quickly, because I’ve learned from 2 previous major abdominal surgeries hospitals have wonderful stuff that makes pain bearable.

When we got there, they loaded me into a dark bay where I could see a well-lit hospital hallway and people walking by casually, talking and laughing in scrubs. Concrete floors and barren white walls surrounded me. That’s it. No lights, no machines, no clock, no people–just me alone in the blank, shadowy loading area. It felt like a storage room in the back, like the bright hallway with the people were a doorway-shaped television set I could watch, but not access. The nice EMT lady wished me luck and left after giving my details to someone.

The intake nurse in the bay told me all the Acute Care rooms were full because there’d been a sudden weather change (it was Wednesday… not usually a busy day, she said) from warm to cold overnight. I knew this phenomenon always deflated my car’s tires, but didn’t know it was a thing that so dramatically affected people, too, before that morning.

Then she left me. For a long time. I tried to be patient (pun alert!) but I had been in the worst pain of my life for going on 2 hours at this point, and the lifting, jostling, and bumpy ride hadn’t helped. I. Wanted. Fucking. Pain control. And I wanted it NOW. It was growing harder and harder to choke down the panic attack. I felt vulnerable and helpless. I felt scared. I felt forgotten. I still couldn’t move my arms or legs. I thought I was going to die. Alone. In the dark.

Soaked with sweat and terrified, I started to shiver so violently (in the chest/torso area) I looked like I was convulsing, and a nurse checked in on me. Nurses know the signs of a person in severe pain, and she deemed me worthy of Percocet, the only pain medication my body will tolerate in pill form. It dulled everything down to maybe a 7 or 8, but I was bewildered by the lack of care. Nobody seemed concerned about me. I still wonder if I’d had the panic attack I was desperately holding in and started hyperventilating and wailing like I usually do in the master closet of our home, if they might have bumped me up the priority wheel. Screaming wheel gets the grease, right?

I later talked to my husband because I assumed it was one of those “felt like forever but was really only a few minutes” kind of things, but he assures me I was lying alone in the dark, empty bay-room, wondering if I was ever going to walk again because there was no sense of urgency–and why nobody was concerned that I was PARALYZED–for around 45 minutes. I’m completely serious when I say I could have coded and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

***

Sad background: I remember in that moment I wanted my daddy, like a little kid. Except I didn’t get a loving biological dad, so I wanted the father I never had. I wanted a daddy, like a little kid, I guess. I wanted a guardian. I felt helpless and vulnerable and I wanted protection. I thought about how when my husband herniated a neck disc, his father drove him to the hospital and fought them to give him pain control–he angrily made them take care of him, the way a parent is supposed to advocate for their child. I remember wanting my husband’s father there because I knew he would make them come help me–he would angrily demand someone help me like he did for my husband, his son. I get frustrated with my father-in-law sometimes for needing to manage and control situations that maybe aren’t his jurisdiction–but when you’re in the shit and you need help, he’s exactly the kind of person you want on your side. I suddenly appreciated him so much more. I still do.

So yeah. I wanted that. I always feel alone. I’ve always been alone. But I’ve never felt more alone than in that moment. If I die here, I’ll die alone, I remember thinking, and my people won’t even know that these people ignored me instead of helping.

***

Meanwhile, my husband had been in the waiting room harassing the guard every 10 minutes to check and see if I was in Acute Care yet, asking could he please go be with me, feeling as confused as I was by the lack of urgency. It was really weird. I think, once again, the rarity of what was happening inside my body factored into the nonchalance of the medical professionals.  They had no idea that time was of the essence, and that I am freakishly lucky to not be paralyzed to this day, according to my neurologist and every study I’ve read. I think they thought I’d pulled a muscle and was overreacting, having a panic attack. Mostly, I think if I’d been a man, they might have taken me seriously. And that’s why I’m sharing this publicly. Because I’m hoping the next person who has a non-trauma-based, rare spinal injury like mine will be taken seriously from the start, regardless of gender.

(Yes, I went there. I’m playing the sexism card. Bam! It’s on the table, bitches. If you’ve never been given what I call The Little Lady Treatment by a condescending doctor with a God complex, as in, “Now, now… don’t worry your pretty head, little lady. No need to get hysterical. I know your body better than you do, and there’s nothing to worry about,” only to find out later from a doctor who listens that there sure as hell WAS something to worry about… you’re either lucky or male. Women are strong as hell. If we say we’re in pain, fucking BELIEVE US. We can silently, quietly take a lot of that shit. End rant.)

Possibly because my husband was harassing the front desk about me so much, they rolled my bed from the dark room out into the bright hallway to wait for an Acute Care room to open up, and finally let him come stand next to my wheeled stretcher. My husband tells me we then waited at least 30 more minutes for a room to open up. The Percocet had dulled the pain a little, but my husband remembers that I was still shivering. The medication that had seen me through two major abdominal surgeries, a broken bone, and shingles wasn’t touching this pain.

A room finally cleared and they wheeled me into a room with glass doors that slid open and shut, with a privacy curtain if needed. There was a brushed nickel toilet in the corner that made me think of prison. They hooked up hydrating solution to the IV the ambulance EMT had placed in the crook of my right arm. (Yay! Breakfast!) The pain had dulled somewhat, but was still in the 8+ range, and the incredible Acute Care nurse, Delores, believed me and added morphine to my pain control, which helped so much. It calmed me down and pulled me out of the panicked animal phase of whatever was going on so I could stop shaking and answer questions.

My arms and legs had regained a little bit of feeling, but whenever a nurse or doctor did the “squeeze my fingers with your hands, now push my hands with your feet” test, I could barely lift my arms a few inches and they said I was extremely weak. I was in shock, thinking about how I’d been pushing 180 pounds on the leg press machine at my gym a few days before, and now I could barely make my feet move forward into the open hands of medical professionals. I’d been treadmilling a few miles and lifting weights 4-5 days a week for years… and now I couldn’t walk. It was unfathomable.

I saw multiple doctors and had to re-tell the above story of my morning events to them all. They were busy and kept apologizing for how long it was taking to diagnose me, but said they had more pressing patients and kept leaving. Delores was an angel and kept my pain under control, and was so kind. I started to need to pee, but found that I couldn’t, either in a bed pan or when helped to weakly walk over to the prison toilet in the corner by Delores and her nurse trainee holding me up. This was both my and my husband’s first clue that something very, very wrong was going on with my spine, because if there’s one thing this girl can always do, it’s pee. I can pee, and then 5 minutes later, before we leave to go somewhere, I can pee again. My son rolls his eyes when we get to doctor appointments because mom always has to use the restroom before we go in. It’s a whole thing, how wimpy my bladder is, and now I couldn’t pee, even though my stomach and kidneys hurt. I now understand this is a symptom of spinal cord compression-related paralysis blocking the muscles needed to release the bladder, but I didn’t know that yet. It really scared us, because I’m normally the Pee Champion and all that.

Finally a doctor ordered 4 MRIs with and without contrast, of my thoracic and cervical spine/neck regions. Delores did a bladder sonogram, determined my bladder was indeed full, and put a pee pad under me in case I lost control during the MRI. Someone came and wheeled me off to the MRI while my poor exhausted husband waited in my Acute Care room, off the pain meds he needed for his hernia surgery, hurting and not resting like he should have been. My stupid injury set back his healing process dramatically, and I still feel guilty, even though I obviously didn’t mean to do this. But I’m not alive if I’m not feeling guilty, so, you know. It’s fun in here.

The MRIs took what felt like forever (do… not… like… clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube time… at all) and I was having a muscle spasm during the first one, for which the frustrated disembodied female voice inside my tube kept chastising me, as in, “You need to stop moving your neck. I don’t know why you keep wiggling your neck.” I told her I was having an involuntary muscle spasm starting between my shoulder blades on the left side, shooting up into my neck, I was sorry, and that I was trying to hold my breath to see if that would help. She never spoke to me or answered and it was making me panic, feeling like I was ruining the MRI, making it last forever. Would I ever escape the loud tube of doom?

Then, a kinder disembodied male voice inside my tube spoke up and said, “I’ll be taking over your MRI now,” and proceeded to guide me through it, telling me what to expect and for how long. It was like night and day, the difference between the two MRI techs, and I kept thanking him for telling me what was going on, and that it was helping me so much to know what to expect. My muscle even stopped twitching.

(Any MRI technicians reading this: I was anxious because fear of the unknown is scary for some people, especially those of us with trauma in our backgrounds and major trust issues. As soon as the nice guy started talking me through the MRI, my stress levels decreased dramatically. Please don’t shove us in the clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube, criticize us, and leave us alone with our thoughts because some of us catastrophize and need reassurance. Trauma Informed Care is the future of medicine. Learn it, please. Thank you. Love you.)

I got out of the MRI tube and the nice tech and a nurse helped me weakly wobble back into my rolling bed, which we later learned I shouldn’t have done. But there’s a saying in medicine: “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”. We still thought my pain was a horse, because usually the hoofbeats are coming from a common bay mare. Unfortunately for me, we would soon learn from the MRIs we were dealing with a zebra. And it was a rainbow striped zebra, like the Fruit Stripe gum zebra, except my ordeal would not be anywhere near as fleeting as that ancient gum’s flavor.

I was wheeled back to the Acute Care room where my husband sat mired in post-surgical abdominal pain, and we waited for the results. A doctor came in to talk with us about them, sitting next to me, typing information into a computer. I did the hand-squeezy/foot-pushy tests for the umpteenth time that day, and he informed me there was bleeding inside of my spine, anterior (front of spine, not back) left, from the C/2 or C/3 neck (cervical) area and extending all the way down past the T/5 (thoracic) region. It seemed to be coming from what might be a tumor, lesion, or abscess around the T2 vertebrae, which could be cancer, and infection, or something else. No. Please no. My husband asked if this meant medication and physical therapy or what, and the doctor scared the daylights out of us both by grimly snapping, “Oh, no. Make no mistake… this is very serious. She’s going to need emergency surgery today.” Oh no. No, no, no. He told us the neurosurgeon would be in to talk to us soon, and left. OH MY GOD, NO. My husband asked, “Are you scared?” and I quietly replied “Yes,” but I was scream-thinking, “YES! Shitless! I am scared shitless!” I didn’t want to scare him further, so I kept that reply to myself.

What had happened is officially called a Spontaneous Spinal Epidural Hematoma, or SSEH. They’re so rare (0.1 in 100,000 per year) that I couldn’t find much research on them, which is why I’m writing this. I’m hoping that by telling my story, I might help anyone (medical professional or patient) recognize what’s going on more quickly if they recognize similar symptoms, because according to everything I’ve read, I shouldn’t be able to walk or use my legs today (i.e. acute neurological deficits), as my spine was compressed for just over 12 hours. The bleeding was towards the left, causing greater weakness on the left side, so if my issue had been mistaken for a stroke, and anticoagulants given, for example, it would have possibly caused more blood to enter my spine.

The extent of neurological recovery has been shown to be related to the interval between the onset of symptoms and surgery and also the degree of neurological deficit. It took the hospital, from loading me into the ambulance bay at 6 am-ish until emergency surgery at 5:30 pm-ish to diagnose this, which means I’m incredibly lucky to be able to type this right now. Or walk. Or pee on my own again. 50% of patients do not recover.

Above, I’m hyperlinking some of the fun information my husband found on the internet while I was having spine surgery and he was wondering if he’d be raising our son alone, or perhaps also taking care of his quadriplegic or paraplegic wife, what kinds of ramps/door-widening we’d need in the house for my wheelchair–if I got lucky and survived. All while in pain from not taking that day’s post-hernia surgery meds or lying down to rest. (Ugh. Guilt guilt guilt.)

My husband later told me he was paranoid the whole time they diagnosed my injury because as mentioned above, it happens literally once in a million without trauma, he’s 6’5″, and they always blame the husband. It didn’t even occur to me the whole time, but I had no signs of outer trauma on my back at all, so I don’t think this was never really in question. We both wonder if that was possibly why the doctor was so abrupt and snappy with him. He had an angry glare on his face while he told us I’d need surgery. Maybe it was just the end of his shift and he was tired or something, but he scared the fuck out of us both.

Delores, the best nurse ever in the history of nurses, had been by my side all day, and was about to give me a temporary in-n-out catheter to empty my bladder because her portable sonogram said it was really full (of IV fluids… I’d had nothing to eat or drink all day and it was now late afternoon). She told me we didn’t want my bladder to burst because that was very bad. But as soon as she heard I was going to need surgery, she told me she’d stay late so she could be the one to put in my Foley catheter (the kind that stays in, not the intermittent catheter). She told me less catheters means less chance of a UTI, so we might as well just place the Foley now. She was at the end of a 12 hour shift, AND she’d picked up an extra day that week, yet she still offered to stay late to put in my Foley catheter. I love her so much. If anyone reading this knows Delores at St. Francis, tell her she is an angel straight from heaven and I will be sending her positive energy and goodness for the rest of my life. Seriously. Somebody make me a millionaire so I can buy her a car or something, please.

The neurosurgeon and his assistant came into the room next, right as Delores was getting ready to cath me, and that queen stepped aside to wait, again, proving that nurses are amazing humans. She stood aside while the nice neurosurgeon with kind eyes and a calm manner talked to me about how he was going to have to open my spine and suck the blood out to decompress it, a laminectomy. He said they’d check the evacuated blood for cancer cells and infection while I was on the table, and go from there. His assistant was also kind, and I felt in very good hands. Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten anything since 5 pm the night before, so that wasn’t a conflict.

They left and a phlebotomist came in to put an IV in the crook of my other arm. I have tiny veins and the EMT already placed an IV into my right arm (the one good vein), but Blake must be the phlebotomist they call for tough cases, because he got a smaller needle into my left arm vein. (The Blood Whisperer, I call them. Every office has one, and they usually call them out to help after lesser phlebotomists have poked my hand veins to the point of massive walnut-sized swellings.)

Delores finally had the chance to put in the Foley catheter, and I immediately filled the bag. My stomach and kidneys stopped hurting. Oh, the relief… the bizarre relief of not being able to release your pee muscles until someone inserts a tube up your urethra, into your bladder, and then opens a balloon to hold it in place. It sounds awful, right? Except hold your pee all day long even though you’ve tried repeatedly to release it, until your lower abdomen hurts, and you’ll welcome that catheter tube, I promise you. Heaven.

***

Anxiety disorder background/Trauma Informed Care rant: In addition to my morning thyroid replacement pill for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I take an anti-anxiety med 3 times daily to prevent Complex PTSD/anxiety disorder-related panic attacks. This is on record, and I’ve been on this prescription for years, under the treatment of a very good psychiatrist. I’ve tried to wean off this medication, for which my doctor has yelled at me because it can cause seizures to suddenly stop taking it, and because he says my brain chemistry is what it is–the neural pathways were formed as such–and I will need this medication for the rest of my life. (I don’t like taking medications. I’m sorry, doctor. I won’t do it again.) When I foolishly tried to wean off the meds, I noticed my hands and feet were tingling all day, looked it up, and sure enough, this was a symptom of weaning off my anti-anxiety meds. I took one and it stopped. Oh. Duh.

With this in mind, because most medical people don’t seem to understand Complex PTSD, generalized anxiety and panic disorder, which are two of my official diagnoses, the doctors typing my medical history into the computer kept recording my anti-anxiety medication as “1 daily, for sleep” rather than “taken 3 times a day” LIKE I REPEATEDLY TOLD THEM. Maybe because “for sleep” is a more typical dose? I don’t know, but I got all-caps shouty back there because this was immediately a source of frustration because I shouldn’t have to relive my multiple lifelong traumas explaining why I need doctor-prescribed meds to complete strangers because it’s triggering and none of their fucking business – and in this instance would continue to be really irritating for my entire week-long stay at the hospital.

I write “immediately a source of frustration,” because when various people coming in and out of an Acute Care room keep having you squeeze their fingers and push their hands with your feet, they also ask if you have any tingling and run pens along your toes and poke them and such. And I kept saying, “Yes, my hands and feet are numb and tingling, but I normally would have taken 2 anti-anxiety pills by now and when I go off them suddenly, my hands and feet get numb and tingle, so it could be that.” My logic being, let me take the damned anti-anxiety pills because 1) I can’t tell you exactly why my extremities are tingly if I don’t take my usually scheduled pills, and, 2) I’M FUCKING ANXIOUS AS FUCK BECAUSE I’M SUDDENLY PARALYZED AND IN PAIN AND I REALLY FUCKING NEED THEM. It was taking everything inside me not to have a panic attack for almost 12 hours straight, and nobody would give me the pills I’ve taken for years to stop the panic attacks. Before the meds, I had worked up to 2-4 panic attacks weekly and become agoraphobic because they’re humiliating. The anti-anxiety meds literally gave me back my life. I need them. (Sorry Big Pharma conspiracists. Rubbing coconut oil and turmeric on my asshole while sniffing essential oils wasn’t going to fix me. Western medicine and science for the win. Deal with it.)

So there was that. I had my anti-anxiety meds on me, but I was worried about surgical/anesthesia contraindications, so I didn’t take one all day. It didn’t help. I’ve had positive reactions to morphine after my other 2 major surgeries (good pain control, no itching), so I think that drug filled in a bit of the anxiety control for my missing daily pills. But still. The cause of the tingling was inconclusive.

Once the 2 inner arm IVs and Foley catheter were in, I figured we’d be waiting all night to be worked into the neurosurgeon’s schedule, but I think once he realized how long I’d been sitting in the hospital with a compressed spine, with my chances of not having neurological/motor deficits waning by the minute, he bumped me to the front of his surgeries because suddenly the orderlies were there to wheel me away. My husband and I were shocked by how fast everything started moving after the neurosurgeon spoke with us. I guess that’s why they call it emergency surgery.

It’s really important for me to be an organ donor–I’ve felt strongly about it since high school–and for the rest of me to be donated for medical research/students for learning purposes. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, I would have reminded my husband of these things, in addition to telling him I love him, but that’s all we had time to say and then they rolled me off to the giant white operating room.

We were met by 2 anesthesiologists who were super nice, and I told them how I grew up with bright red hair, even though it’s fading, and before I could mention how redheads handle anesthesia differently (I’ve woken up during surgery – we’re hard to keep down), the blonde one said, “So you need extra anesthesia,” and I was relieved she obviously knew her stuff.

She took off my nightgown so they wouldn’t have to cut it, which meant she had to lift each of my paralyzed arms for me, and this was such a touching moment for me, even though I felt like a weak child. I asked the anesthesiologists if they wanted me to count and they laughed, saying they didn’t make people count, and to just breathe. The mask went over my face. I stared at the bright lights, wondering if I was seeing my last glimpse of this world. I told myself to be brave, and I breathed.

Then darkness.

***

(To be continued, next blog, with pictures…)

How Planned Parenthood Helped Me Plan Parenthood

 

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Note: The below words were partly written because I am told to “move to Canada” or sent images of aborted fetuses if I show support for PP on Twitter. This shows a lack of understanding (at best), and I often wonder if shared personal stories might bridge the black and white walls often placed by pro-choice and pro-birth reasoning.

My comment sections are always closed because I write for myself, and if I want trolls, I’ll post publicly on social media. So if you appreciate my words, please follow my blog. 

***

I was 11 and at a Kansas City Royals game when I got my first period. My first baseball game and the realization that I was physically able to become pregnant happened on the same day.

If you know any 11-year-old children, male or female, please pause for a moment and picture them taking care of a baby.

You can’t, right? I can’t either. My son is presently 11, and he can’t even remember to brush his teeth. At the same age, had there been a rapist/molester/older boy in my life, I might have been able to carry a baby… 10 years before I could legally drink alcohol.

My periods were heavy, difficult to manage at school, and the cramping was intense, so I got on birth control pills at age 16, thanks to Planned Parenthood. What previously stopped everything in my life for a few days a month was now mild and predictable. Manageable. Many women take birth control pills for this reason.

I also decided to get on birth control pills because I became sexually active as a teenager, and realized I could never get an abortion because of my psychological makeup. However, I refuse to infantilize humans, and believe whether or not to procreate is a decision every woman must make for herself.

Every person and situation is different, and I am in no position to judge anyone else. This is the main reason I have always been, and remain, strongly pro-choice.

I was one of the youngest in my class, plus I graduated early from high school, so I am 16 in my college ID picture. I started college, and moved into an apartment, working multiple food service jobs to pay for tuition, rent, and bills at 17. I couldn’t afford health insurance. I couldn’t even afford a car.

I remained among the working poor until my early 30s, when I got my first job with healthcare. I never needed government assistance, although I definitely qualified financially during many years, but I had no children to feed, so my pride kept me from seeking help.

There were times I couldn’t afford to buy food, and yes—to stay on topic—tampons. I remember rolling up toilet paper in my underwear to create a poor person pad during that time of the month, praying it would stay in place. You do what you have to do.

I also remained on birth control pills the entire time. The reasonably priced well-woman care offered by Planned Parenthood allowed me to not become pregnant with a child I wasn’t emotionally prepared to raise.

Planned Parenthood enabled me to not need government assistance (i.e. taxpayer money) to support a child I couldn’t afford.

Planned Parenthood gave me the pills that kept my naturally-heavy periods predictable and light enough that I was able to consistently stay in the workforce—what might be labeled a productive member of society—rather than needing to call in sick every month.

When I met my husband at age 33, we decided to get married and have a child, and for the first time in my sexually active life, I stopped taking birth control pills. I became pregnant with my son almost instantly.

While my husband likes to brag that this faster-than-anticipated pregnancy was the result of his supernaturally strong sperm, I believe birth control pills are what kept me from becoming a mother before I was ready.

This was confirmed when my son was older, and after my husband’s vasectomy, I was able to get off the pill once again. My ovaries became covered with cysts—the left completely engulfed by one—and I had the most brutal period of my entire life. I had been bleeding harder than ever before, nauseated and unable to eat, for 90 days when my doctor performed the abdominal surgery to remove my left ovary, uterus, and cervix.

I had lost 30 pounds in 6 months and was subsisting on bits of saltine crackers and ginger ale before the surgery. I could only perform my motherly duties in short bursts, stopping between tasks to sit on the couch in a cold sweat as I tried not to vomit. It felt like having a stomach flu for nearly a year, and all symptoms ceased immediately post-surgery. I was given my life back.

I once again started to feel the symptoms after a year, and a sonogram revealed my remaining ovary was covered with 6 cysts, which sometimes happen when a women ovulates, but the ovary doesn’t release the egg. I was put on birth control pills to shut it down, and the cysts disappeared, saving my remaining ovary.

Even though I didn’t realize it, birth control pills had been necessary to prevent cysts my entire life. For many women, they perform this same function.

Sometimes birth control pills allow women like me to shut down their ovaries so that rather than having them removed, they can one day use them to have a child. Or they can continue to function and work. Especially for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis, birth control pills are a medicine.

Birth control pills should be covered by health insurance.

Birth control pills are not “abortion pills,” and work by eliminating the need to ovulate. They prevent the female piece of the pregnancy puzzle from entering the picture. If you are male and consider not ovulating to be the same thing as killing a potential baby, I certainly hope you don’t masturbate. (All of those potential lives lost… you monster!)

For women like myself, Planned Parenthood has been the only affordable way to have a yearly screening for cancer, STDs, and receive birth control in whatever form to prevent pregnancy. I have never once been offered an abortion, or had it discussed in my presence at Planned Parenthood, and I visited them in 4 different cities over the span of 16 years.

I recently found out the Kansas City Royals are in a partnership with the anti-choice Vitae Foundation, and I couldn’t be more disappointed with the first baseball team I ever saw. The fact that I had my first glimpse of fertility at a Royals game struck me, considering that they are partnered with a group that would have expected me to have a baby, had I become pregnant at age 11.

If you would like to sign the petition asking the Kansas City Royals to cut ties with an organization that demeans Planned Parenthood, an invaluable resource for affordable women’s health and family planning—please sign the petition here.

In summation; Planned Parenthood gave me affordable well woman check-ups and birth control when I couldn’t afford healthcare. I will forever be grateful to and support their organization for this reason. Thank you for listening.

The Outcome Was Not Hilarious

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There‘s a Facebook “ask your child these questions and post the results” quiz going around, and on a whim, I decided to ask my son for his answers. I thought it would be funny. A lark.

He was crying by the second question.

I really feel like I’m cocking up this parenting thing 98% of the time. Am I the only one who feels this way? I always feel like I’m failing at parenting, no matter how hard I try.

 

My son is diagnosed with ADHD. I am also. I’m his genetic link. This feels great, by the way—passing on a brain type to one’s child that makes life harder. No guilt associated with this at all. Nope. Nada. (Also, I’m sarcastic. Did I mention that sarcasm is my favorite defense mechanism?) So basically, I failed my son from the second he was conceived. I failed him in utero. Off to a great start.

Today, I started the meant-to-be-funny test verbally to see what my son would say. Here’s how it went.

 

WITHOUT prompting, ask your child these questions and write EXACTLY what they say. The outcome will be hilarious. 😂

Interviewed: M, 10.

 

Me: What is something I say a lot?

Him: I love you.

 

(Okay, we seem to be off to a good start. I am such a loving mother. Yay, me!)

 

Me: What makes me happy?

Him: When I do the right thing.

 

I looked at him sadly. His answer broke my heart.

My son then started crying. Tears rolling down his face. Because this is what it feels like to be a kid with ADHD.

This is also what it feels like to be an adult with ADHD.

You feel like your inability to control impulsive behavior, your easy distractibility, and your problem finishing things (on which you aren’t hyperfocusing) all make you a bad person.

Because your behavior is corrected constantly, you also feel like you’re failing all of the time. At everything.

 

Eventually, if you’re like me, you may become chronically anxious, overthinking and hesitating before every decision, because you’re so used to making the wrong choices.

You may often freeze from indecision and fear, lest you fail the people counting on you to do the right thing, one more lousy time.

You may worry they will stop loving you, or leave you, because you can never seem to make people happy, no matter what you do.

You may grow up feeling alone in the world, and unable to trust anyone, because nobody ever stays. You will then blame, berate, and emotionally beat yourself up for not being able to maintain a healthy relationship with another human.

 

It really sucks.

 

We try so hard to choose our battles and be gentle with our son, but the reality is that when someone is constantly impulsive—to the point of being a danger to themselves, or an annoyance to others—you have to say something.

Present parents teach their children how to behave appropriately. If these teachable moments are happening all… day… long… the emotionally immature recipient of your “life lessons,” no matter how gently you present them, starts to feel like a failure. Quantity trumps quality eventually.

And being human, you’re sometimes not as kind or patient as you should have been—especially when you’re correcting the same poor choice for the 100th time, and that behavior is something your child should have mastered years earlier.

Sisyphus has nothing on the parents of an ADHD-brained kid. We wish we were only rolling a damned rock up a hill all day. At least then we’d have the luxury of not worrying about how we’re making the rock feel as we roll it over and over again, and what kind of a rock it’s going to grow up into because of our ineptitude.

Having a child with a developmental delay is like having a toddler for 3 times longer than you should, and you will want to punch yourself in the face. Often. Sometimes a pillow in a bedroom behind a locked door will have to do, because we need faces to see, eat, communicate, and other important crap like that.

 

When I’m handling it well, I feel like there is nobody as patient as me in the whole wide world. I am the Queen of Patience. I am an angel in the form of a middle-aged woman, sent down to guide this child to adulthood with love and light and also a lot of laundry.

When I’m not handling it well, and I lose my temper, I feel like the shittiest human who ever walked the planet. I am the Queen of Shit. I am Satan in the form of a middle-aged woman, sent down to ruin the life of an innocent boy with snappish remarks and nagging and also a lot of laundry.

I know he’s just a kid, without the life experience or perspective I have, and of course he’s not going to inherently understand everything. He deserves the same chance to make mistakes and learn from them the rest of us received. So unfortunately, when I am not at my best, “Queen of Shit” is written on the sash I wear to complement my gown made from the tattered fabric of parental shame. I don’t deserve a tiara.

 

It’s a frustrating cycle, and it kills me because I was the same kid; misunderstood and angry all of the time. I still lack self-esteem. I still have a chip on my shoulder that flares up if I feel I’m being treated like I’m stupid—a bitchy, defensive chip that my husband “enjoys” dealing with on the reg. I still feel like I’m failing all of the time. And I so desperately want life to be better for my son.

God, I don’t want him to feel like I do. I don’t want anybody to feel like I do.

 

I asked why he was crying, and he said, “I’m crying because I don’t know what makes you happy.”

 

Oh, my heart. Ouch. And then I started crying. I opened my arms and he came over to the couch and jumped into my lap like we do at the start of every day.

I hugged him for a long time. I told him that he makes me happy because he exists, and not only when he’s doing the right thing. That I am trying to teach him how to be a good person when I correct his behavior, and making mistakes is normal because that’s how we all learn to do the right thing.

I told him I will always love him, and that even when he’s doing something that doesn’t make me happy, I love him just as much then. I told him I’m only trying to help him learn to make good choices, and that I will never love him any less, no matter what he does.

I told him he makes me happy just by being here.

 

I’m trying. I’m trying to make sure my son doesn’t feel like a failure. I feel like I’m failing at parenting while I try to make sure my child doesn’t feel like he’s failing at being a human.

I recognize the duplicity of the above process, but I don’t have a better solution.

 

Failing. Failing, failing, failing.

 

*****

 

After I dried his tears and told him the test was supposed to be fun, we continued. I wanted to salvage this moment. I wanted to lighten it.

 

Me: How tall am I? 

Him: 5’9″

 

(Correct!)

 

Me: What’s my favorite color? 

Him: I don’t know? Blue or purple or something? 

 

(Close. Blue-green.)

 

Me: What is my favorite thing to do?

Him: Write on the computer?

 

(Correct!)

 

Me: What makes you proud of me? 

Him: That you do everything for me. You’ve kept me alive for the last 10 years!

 

(Jesus. It’s nice to be appreciated, but keeping you alive is my job, kid. I feel kind of bad about his answer. I am officially promising Future Me will never guilt trip my son. Do you hear that Future Me? He appreciates you. Like, biologically. No guilt trips.)

 

Me: What is my favorite food?

Him: Burritos?

 

(Correct! Well, actually, my favorite food is artichokes, but they’re expensive, so bean burritos with cheese and green sauce are my number one comfort food. They have been since I was a kid in Phoenix.)

 

Me: Do you think you could live without me?

Him: No! I couldn’t!

 

(I smiled and kept it light, but seriously. What kind of a needy, Disney-movie-moms-must-die kind of question is this? My son freaked out recently, when, at almost-11, he saw the REAL beginning to “Finding Nemo” on TV. It was his first favorite movie, and I skipped past the “mom dies” beginning every time. Because damn, Disney. That’s some heavy shit to drop on toddlers. Stop it.)

 

Me: If I could go anywhere, where would it be?

Him: I don’t know? An island?

 

(Wrong, unless the island was never sunny and not surrounded by water, which would make it not an island. The vast endlessness of the ocean freaks me out, and I am extremely photosensitive. He got the solitude part right, though, if that’s what he meant.  I’d love a cloudy, cool climate and a house alone in the forest.)

 

Me: What is my favorite show?

Him: Your medical shows.

 

(Correct! I love all medical shows. If I could go back in time and change my college major, I would choose nursing instead.)

 

*****

 

This was the end of the test.

My son is a volatile, high-strung, emotional and extremely empathetic human, just like me. We feel everything in the world. It’s exhausting. The ADHD brain type doesn’t help.

So I should probably mention that I’ve also made him cry over his pancakes by jokingly making the Mrs. Butterworth’s maple syrup bottle exclaim, “No! Don’t drink my lifeblood, little boy!”

He’s run crying over to me after a group of shitty kids stomped a cool bug he was watching.

He cries over sad shows on television. He’s a sensitive soul. But still. Today was a reminder to be as gentle as possible with my son, as often as I can muster it.

 

What a hilarious outcome. Thanks, stupid Facebook quiz.

 

 

 

 

Accidents and Angels

 

(Writing from July 22, 2010.)

The day or so before the car accident, around 2 weeks ago, I felt the hand of my guardian angel on my back. A soothing weight, like the hand of a parent on the back of a child.

I turned around to look, because I thought it was my husband.

Nothing there.

I fell asleep, mildly unnerved.

This has only happened to me once before, when I was a little girl.

I was lying in bed, on my stomach, one knee up, one arm under the pillow, like I still sleep.

I felt the hand on my back and peace washed over me. I felt safe.

When I turned around to see what I assumed would be my mom resting her hand on my back, there was nobody there.

I didn’t feel scared. Which seems odd. But I didn’t.

I always remembered the experience. It stayed with me.

I don’t know if I believe in life after death, God, ghosts or any other such spiritual things, simply because I don’t think anyone can really know the truth, but I don’t not believe, for the exact same reason.

And deciding that one’s particular completely unprovable existential theory is the correct one seems arrogant and delusional to me, at best.

So I have never bothered with pondering our human existence, because trying to answer unanswerable questions just seems like an exercise in pointless frustration.*

Just not my cup of tea. My brain drives me crazy enough with constant questions I might actually be able to eventually answer. I don’t need to clog the valves with sticky futility. The engine might explode.

But I love the idea of a guardian angel watching out for me. I really do.

There is a classic old painting of a guardian angel watching over two kids that always brings tears to my eyes when I see it.

I once wrote a song containing the line, “Sometimes I see the angels protecting me in the corner of my eye.”

After I felt the angel hand on my back recently, I put that line in the Facebook “Say something about yourself” box, below my profile picture. A nod to my angel(s).

I was scared to tell my husband about it, because firstly, I don’t want him to think I’m even more crazy than he already does, and secondly, because I was scared it meant I was going to die soon, which really just proves my first concern a little bit, now, doesn’t it?

A few days later, I was sitting at a red light long enough to be staring forward, waiting for it to turn green, when a guy suddenly plowed into my car from behind, doing at least 50 MPH, without braking, according to a witness who saw the whole thing.

I’m still hurting 11 days later, but I’m walking. I’m here. I’m lucky.

So thank you, my guardian angels, if you’re reading this. I just wanted to put it out there in writing.

Because I’m crazy.

Crazy, with good intentions though, damn it.

My mom called me the morning of the accident, around the time of the accident. She was suddenly worried about me, all the way from the Western part of the country.

I told her she must have felt the “I want my mommy” vibes I was shooting her way when I was in shock for 15 minutes after the violent impact.

I never got the first message she left, but she called again 2 hours later because she was worried.

My mom calls me once a week, and we weren’t really due for our weekly call, she just had a feeling.

Isn’t that cool?

*One exception: The Ancient Aliens TV series on The History Channel. LOVE. IT.

Alaskan Cruise, June 2010

During the first week of June, David and I had an amazing vacation on an Alaskan cruise. It was our first vacation together ever, and since we never had a proper honeymoon, we decided the cruise counted as such.

The ship started in Vancouver, and first traveled to Icy Strait Point, a charming little town that many describe for cruise patrons as a taste of “real” Alaska, as opposed to the more touristy cities of Juneau and Ketchikan. Having visited all three cities, I believe this is an accurate description.

Icy Strait Point has a population of around 800 residents, and we were informed that our ship was bringing over double the number of people to this lovely town. They allow only one ship per day to visit, and I really hope they keep this rule firmly in place, because it would be a true shame to turn such a genuine, ruggedly natural place into a slick, tacky tourist trap.

Cruise ships are not allowed to dock directly, so a smaller boat took people off the cruise ship to shore 25 or so at a time. From this little boat, we saw a bald eagle casually sitting on a post that reached out of the water near shore. Wow.

When we got off the little boat and walked onto the pier toward land, I was absolutely elated by what I saw. It was such an adventure, being able to explore a beautiful new place like this one. I haven’t had a lot of adventures lately that don’t involve childcare, or more specifically poop, so I was understandably in heaven.

I dreamed of seeing whales on this trip, as I have wanted this most of my adult life, and David and I immediately checked out the excursions counter. We were told that all of the whale sighting trips were full.

As much as I wanted to see whales, David and I both loathe the idea of structured, busy vacations full of places to be and appointments, so despite the warnings of many that the excursions fill up quickly, we refused to pre-book activities for this vacation. Upon realizing that I might miss my potentially once-in-a-lifetime chance to see real live whales, however, I started to doubt my “keep the relaxation in a vacation” philosophy.

We still had Juneau and Ketchikan ahead of us, however, so I brushed aside my crestfallen whale-missing thoughts, as we decided to take a walk.

Walking along the shore a few minutes later, we noticed people excitedly pointing out across the bay at something moving.

Whales! There were two whale spouts blowing water into the sky and two humpbacks skimming the top of the water! I couldn’t believe we were just standing on the edge of the ocean, watching whales swim by. It was surreal.

This happened multiple times as we walked along the shore. Whales were popping up all over, no excursion needed. I don’t know if it is always like this at Icy Strait Point, or if we just accidentally had perfect timing, but it was absolutely magical. I can’t believe people actually get to live in a beautiful wild place where they see whales every day. Incredible.

As the edge of the shore turned into forest, David and I found a nearly deserted nature trail that we wanted to hike, so off we went. The idea of stretching our legs after a first day spent mincing about a crowded ship was irresistible.

The trees and plants were big and tall, and the dark forest made us feel like we were on another planet, or a vampire-filled tween movie set. Everything was shady and cool because the trees formed a canopy overhead that blocked out the sun. Green, mossy fallen logs and enormously twisted tree roots mixed with prehistorically-proportioned ferns to give everything a lush, exotic feeling. The forest felt like a secret.

The path was covered with gravel, edges delineated by weathered railroad ties. It was very rustic and not even a bit touristy. I think everybody else must have been out on excursions because we only saw 4 people along the entire trail. If you ever go to Icy Strait Point, skip the World’s Longest Zip Line and head straight for the nature trail. I think I stored up a reserve of inner peace while walking along that trail that will last me for years.

After our hike, we decided to have lunch at one of the two restaurants, going for the one advertising fresh fish and local beer. We had fish and chips in mind, and fish and chips we got. The food tasted so much better than usual because the fish was fresh. A brazen crow begged among the wooden picnic tables for scraps as we ate outside on the patio, watching people walking along the pier, and whales swimming past our anchored cruise ship in the harbor.

Icy Strait Point remains a happy snapshot frozen forever in my mind. Of all the places we visited, it was far and above my favorite place.

We spent the rest of the cruise drinking in the cruise ship martini bar, dancing in the club with friends, watching movies in our room every day simply because we never have time to watch a movie uninterrupted at home, watching Dall’s porpoises looking like like miniature orcas as they swam in groups along with the ship, eating like little piggies at the assorted free buffets and restaurants, and just relaxing.

There were two formal dinners, so we got to play dress up in cocktail dresses and suits (I wore the cocktail dresses). The food in the formal dining room was okay, but the highlight of my dining experience, and possibly the entire cruise, happened one night while I was sitting at our table, facing the back window of the ship.

Our nightly seating arrangement placed our group (i.e. all of the lovely people from David’s work) at the back of the ship, near a floor-to-ceiling window. This meant that as we dined every night, we could look out over the water and watch the sun setting. I don’t know if David’s company paid extra for this seating, or if it was just a happy accident, but I sure did appreciate it. Best seat in the house.

At some point during a meal, I was seated facing the window, looking out over the wake of the ship at the scenery going by. The person across from me was talking, so I was paying attention, my head focused up in that direction, rather than down on my plate. I saw an entire humpback whale leap out of the water, about 200 feet away! I shouted, “Whale!” and pointed excitedly behind the ship.

Everyone at our table turned in time to see the gigantic splash and the tail of the whale going under. Then we all saw the spout blowing water into the air. So they believed me. But nobody nearby except for me saw the dark blue silhouette of the bumpy, gnarly humpback framed against the dusky-orange evening sky.

Because of this, David and I decided that whale was intended just for me. A little gift from the universe, because seeing a whale was the only thing I truly wanted from this vacation, and I definitely put my request out there. Add that moment to my collection of forever mental snapshots, and thank you for listening!

In Juneau, David’s company bought an excursion for our group that involved riding behind sled dogs through the forest, in a golf cart converted to a land sled for the occasion. It was a blast–what a wild ride–and the puppies were adorable.

The cities of Juneau and Ketchikan are both very tourist-oriented, with shops and restaurants dominating the scenery. I am not much of a shopper, so these didn’t really do it for me. I am pretty sure that people who actually live in these cities probably avoid the tourist area and roll their eyes when they talk about trying to drive through there. I felt like part of an annoying group as I walked along the crowded streets lined with jewelry shops, but despite this, I still really wanted a ring to commemorate the trip. We’ve been married for five years, and I thought it would be nice to get a honeymoon ring as a souvenir.

We found the perfect ring in Ketchikan. It’s silver, and the gemstone is called ammolite, made from a gorgeous multi-colored, iridescent fossil (ammonite) found predominantly in Canada and Alaska, so it seemed appropriate. It reminds me of a primary-colored version of my birthstone, the opal. Plus, you know how I love my happy rainbows. I adore my new ring and it hasn’t left my hand since our vacation. You can read about it here if you’d like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammolite

The Hubbard Glacier was gorgeous and we got a very rare warm day, according to the ship’s captain. I couldn’t believe how aqua and teal-colored some of the ice looked. There were chunks of glacier ice floating all around the ship, and everybody was up on deck for hours while the ship anchored as close to the glacier as we could safely get. It was breathtaking.

The only bummer of the vacation was that David got sick a few days in with a nasty respiratory virus. I managed to catch the bug toward the end of the week, which blossomed for me into something vicious and unshakeable, as is the usual modus operandi of my lungs. I was sick for 3 weeks upon our return home, and it took two sets of x-rays and rounds of different antibiotics to shake it. Stupid lungs.

I don’t know what we would have done without David’s parents, who happily watched our hyperactive, lovable-but-exhausting little boy for a week straight so we could have the first extended break from parenting since his birth four and a half years ago. We are so lucky and blessed to have them in our lives and Miles is so lucky and blessed to have such wonderful grandparents.

I was also relieved that Miles didn’t seem to have too much trouble dealing with our week away. When I talked to him on the phone, I was expecting it to be psychologically brutal, to the point that I wanted to avoid doing it because I knew that if he was crying and begging me to come home on the phone I’d be an emotional wreck the rest of the trip. But when he got on the phone, the first thing he said to me was, “Hi Mommy! Are you having fun?” Whew.

We talked a little, and I made sure to remind him that we were bringing him presents to keep him in a positive place. At the end of the call, we said “I love you! Bye!” in cheerful voices like it was no big deal. See you soon. Nice chatting with you. I had a lot of trouble agreeing to go on this vacation and leaving him for an entire week, so his handling it well was a huge relief for me.

All in all, a great vacation, and I picked out a few pictures for you, below.

Vancouver was the first thing we saw, riding the bus en route to the ship:

Professional shot taken as we boarded the ship, and our first picture on the balcony of our cabin:

Icy Strait Point:

Having goofy fun in the cruise ship dance club:

Juneau dog sledding time:

Gussied up for the first formal dining date:

The Hubbard Glacier, as seen from the top deck of the cruise ship:

Ketchikan, and our ship docked at Ketchikan:

We spent one evening having Dave and Tawni time at the ship’s martini bar, which was creatively named “Martini Bar.” This is where I found my alcoholic holy grail, the drink to end all drinks; the Fresca Martini. It involved vodka, fresh watermelon juice and crushed fresh mint, and if you are ever on a Celebrity cruise and don’t try this drink, you are a damned fool. A fool, I say! Also, what is not to love about a martini glass that stores an extra half martini in the base? Yum:

I will end with a picture that helped us find our room many nights after a few drinks. We deemed this unknown person “Russian Lady Corey Feldman,” and as our cabin was a few doors to the right of this picture, we would say to the other, “Just look for Russian Lady Corey Feldman,” to find our room (Corey Feldman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corey_Feldman).

I became quite fond of our navigational guiding star, Russian Lady Corey Feldman, and could occasionally be seen kissing my hand and using it to place a gentle kiss lovingly on the forehead of Russian Lady Corey Feldman, much to my husband’s amusement:

She’s a Little Runaway

I laid low for a little while, on my best behavior, after the social worker came by the house. The thought of being sent back to the small town Missouri high school of 400 after attending the exciting Arizona high school of 4000 terrified me. I had a new set of friends that I wanted to keep, even if I only got to see them at school.

I was no longer grounded, not that it mattered much, since I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere anyhow.

There had been no mending of the relationship between my father and me. As my bruised face healed, my pain was forgotten by the adults in charge. After a trip to the dentist to fill in the chipped portion of my front tooth with composite resin, all returned to outer normalcy (if you didn’t count what my father had deemed my “whorish” blond hair). Minus the physical reminders of the fight during which he punched me in the face repeatedly, we moved forward without discussing the incident, as if it had never happened.

There would be no family therapy sessions, no psychological counseling, like in the After School Special television shows. In our family, when abuse happened, we did the sociological equivalent of a cartoon character emitting a “just minding my own business” whistle and sidestepping uneasily out of the room. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

I had my gym bag packed with clothes and all of the money I had ferreted away to date; around forty dollars. The plan was to ask to spend the night at a good friend’s house. If I was denied, I was running away. Because I was never allowed to go anywhere, I was pretty sure I would be running away.

I’d had it. I was angry about being beaten up. I was angry that nobody cared. I was angry that I didn’t get to have a social life and was expected to spend my teenage years friendless, in the middle of nowhere. I was just plain angry, and I wanted to do something bad to the people who were making me feel this way. It really was that simple.

A therapist would probably call it a cry for help, but a more accurate assessment would be that it was a middle finger. Fuck you. Fuck you, you awful, kid-punching people who never let me be a teenager or have any fun. Fuck you, I’m leaving. Oh, and also: fuck you. Did I mention that?

That morning, I asked my father if I could spend the night at my best girlfriend’s house. He said no, as expected. I left the house with a goodbye yelled down the hallway, so that my gym bag would not cause suspicion. I walked the usual route down the dusty gravel road to the bus stop and rode it to school, just to get out of nowhere-land and into the city.

When I got to school, I walked off campus. The girl who had been in accelerated classes and the gifted program her entire life was now resigned to not graduating from high school. I didn’t even care. I was so unhappy with my life; I couldn’t stand it in my desert prison with the guy who’d beaten me up, even one more day.

I wandered around the city, getting further away from the school as the day progressed. I worried my father would send the police to the area, looking for me. What I didn’t realize in my naivety was that he had as much reason as I to avoid the police. The police would ask his teenage runaway daughter questions with ugly answers that painted him in an unflattering light. He never called the police.

Foolishly thinking I would need a disguise, I bought a hair dye in a grocery store to change my white blond hair to a burgundy red. I grabbed a bag of on-sale bread rolls while I was there. I ate a few and gave the rest of them away to a homeless person in a Phoenix alley.

I found a bathroom and changed my hair. The violent incident that led to my eventual running away from home was set into motion by the bleaching of my hair, and the irony of now putting it back to a more father-friendly color to evade the police was lost on me.

After school hours were over, I found a pay phone and called my best friend. She told me about a party that night and we arranged a meeting place where she would come get me. Nothing else to do, I headed that way.

The party was in a cheap motel room. It was being thrown by three older military guys with a penchant for high school girls. The bathtub was full of ice and free booze, and the dimly lit room was packed with illegal deeds. A boom box sat on a bedside table, blasting the latest rock. It was sweaty, crowded, and overpowering. The smell of teenage pheromones was louder than everything.

The party tapered off into the late hours, and as high school curfews slowly eliminated the crowd, I found myself wondering where I was going to sleep.

One of the older guys throwing the party had latched on to me. We were drinking and talking, sitting on the edge of a bed, which would have seemed like a dangerous idea if the same bed hadn’t been used as a crowded couch for the last few hours. It seemed benign enough to an ignorant young girl who had no idea what he really wanted.

He pounced fast, kissing me roughly. I didn’t want to kiss him, not at all. I looked around wildly for help as he pinned me to the dirty motel bed, but the room had cleared. There was nobody left but the two of us. He had been waiting patiently for this opportunity, placating the stupid drunk teenager with small talk and alcohol.

Outside the room, I could hear talking in the parking lot as people said their goodbyes. I could hear cars starting, engines revving, and help leaving.

While he was sucking on my neck, giving me the kind of red marks I would despise the rest of my life, I was trying with all of my strength to push him off. I had moved from not attracted into completely repulsed by him, but I couldn’t make it stop.

He was a big guy, and muscular from the military training. He wouldn’t budge. I started to get genuinely scared, as I let myself think the frantic, horrified thought I’m sure many victims have had: “Oh my god, I’m about to get raped.”

This was how it happened. This was how girls got raped. I was saying, “No. Get off of me,” and he wasn’t listening. At all. But I didn’t want to get raped. I needed a new approach.

My whole life I have had a really calm mind in moments of extreme pressure, and this was one of them. I quickly assessed the situation and decided to psychologically outwit this bastard, if I could.

I stopped struggling and saying no, and acted like I was into what was happening. I kissed back. I used my hands. I convinced him that I wanted it as much as he did. I just needed to earn his trust and get him to lower his guard for one second, because there was no way I was getting out of the situation otherwise. He was just too strong.

Once I’d sold my desire enough, I told him in my best husky, oversexed voice that I thought we should both take off our shirts. He temporarily shifted his weight off of me while he sat up to pull his T-shirt over his head. I made bedroom eyes and pretended to start taking my shirt off too.

This was the chance I’d been hoping for, probably the only one I was going to get. I shoved myself out from underneath him while he was off-balance, and ran for the door to the motel room. I knew that if I could just get outside to yell for help, I’d escape.

I made it outside, with my potential rapist running thirty feet behind me. He was shirtless and angry. I spotted my best friend across the parking lot, exchanging phone numbers with a guy she’d been talking to all night. They were in front of his car, getting ready to leave. I ran as fast as I could in their direction.

When I got there, I said in a low, whispering voice, “Help me, please,” right before the guy I’d left in the motel room bed caught up. I said overly loudly to them, “I just realized I’m late for my curfew! Can you give me a ride home?”

My friend and the guy she was talking to both understood immediately what was happening and hustled me into the car, amid protests from my pursuer. We kept it really chipper and friendly, exclaiming things like, “Hey, thanks for the party!” as we drove away. We left him dejected and annoyed, standing in the parking lot.

My Trashy Neighbors Part 1598

(Writing from September 12, 2010. The neighbor I wrote about giving the kids marshmallows as an after-school snack would later encourage her daughter, who was overweight, much taller, and a grade older than my son to bully him for being neurologically atypical. Try to act surprised.)

***

My weakest subject in the school of parenting is socialization. I’m shy, and this simply does not work when you have a very outgoing little boy.

My 4-year-old son is in kindergarten with other kids 8:30-2:30, five days a week, and still wants to play with someone when he gets home. I was a loner kid, and don’t understand this at all.

I am home alone during his schooling, and often feel I could use more alone time. I have almost always lived alone, since I moved out at 17, and in relationships, often stayed at my own place for space. I require a lot of silence, yoga, and long, centering walks, so as you can imagine, motherhood has turned me into a nervous, twitchy mess. It’s a living.

So here’s my neighborhood dynamic: we have a few nice moms with a 2-3 kids each on my street. We tried group play dates for awhile, but that petered out after a few months when one mom decided that we were close enough friends to start coming over to my house unannounced, which I find nervewracking and rude. Call me southern, but my mama taught me better than that.

I finally started completely avoiding her after she came by unannounced to leave her baby with me because her husband accidentally took the carseat to work with him, and she needed to shop for a birthday present for her mother. I’m not even kidding.

First of all, babies scare me. I know that now that I’ve had one, I’m supposed to be over my fear and grab any squirming infant that I stumble across, cooing with confident glee, but it didn’t happen. I have no baby experience other than my son, and was relieved when he came out of me weighing 9.5 pounds because it made him seem so much less fragile than other newborns. I’m not a baby person. I’ve accepted this.

Secondly, this particular baby was hugely attached to his mother and cried nonstop when anyone else tried to hold him – even his own father. And she knew this, because she’s the one who told me.

Thirdly, who does that? I don’t think she even knew my last name at this point. Who just leaves their kid with someone they don’t really know? Here, lady across the street with whom I’m on a first name basis, please unexpectedly take my child who will cry nonstop while I am gone and watch him for a few hours. Enjoy!

When I told my husband about it, he said, “Why couldn’t her husband just drive the car seat home during his lunch break? That’s what I would have done.”

Right?

Anyhow, that was the end for me. Plus, with my 1 kid to their 2-3 each, I was really never going to win at the trading babysitting services game, was I?

So I stopped answering the door when she would knock, and excused myself out of the playdates.

The part that makes me feel like a motherhood failure, though, is worrying that my son suffers because of my social weirdness. I don’t want to play nice with the neighborhood mommies, but these are the people with children, so he is deprived of playmates. All because I don’t want high-maintenance friendships with women that will eat into my precious alone time. And because I don’t want to watch other people’s screaming infants, with no notice, for free.

Can you blame me?

So with this in mind, a few evenings ago, when my son was begging me to play with the neighborhood kids across the street as they raced down the sidewalk on their bikes, I let him. I put on his helmet, helped him cross the street with his bike, and away he went.

I dragged a fold-up canvas sports chair into the front yard, stuck a beer in the cup holder (my husband was home – I don’t drink on the job otherwise), waved at the moms a few houses down across the street to whom the gaggle of children belonged, and tried to relax.

Within seconds, I noticed my son had stopped biking with the other kids. I stood up to see that he was hovering near the mothers, drinking something. Sighing, I walked down the street and crossed the road to see what he was holding.*

It was a Capri Sun. Which I never give him because it is high fructose corn syrup and water with a tiny splash of juice thrown in so they can very largely plaster WITH NATURAL JUICES on the front (http://www.cspinet.org/new/200701081.html). I was annoyed, but realized they were just trying to be nice, since the other kids had the drinks, so I thanked them. (Yes, I’m a non-confrontational pussy. I think we already covered this.)

I allow occasional treats, and don’t want him to grow up with a later-in-life addiction to sugar because he was deprived as a kid, but there is so much high fructose corn syrup in everything that I make a point of reading all labels and buying the versions of foods that don’t use it (HFCS-free peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, and juices, for example).

I don’t think they should have given my child something unhealthy without asking me. I would always make someone else’s child run and ask their mother. But then I was the socially-challenged weirdo sitting in my own yard rather than hanging out with them, so I wasn’t really there to be asked. Fair enough.

I told my son that I would keep the drink for him and he could come over to our house if he wanted to drink more so he could go back to playing. Because I am a very polite liar. I walked back to my house and threw the rest of the Capri Sun away. We were going to have dinner in a while and I didn’t want him to be full of corn syrup water.

I sat back down to observe. Within minutes, my son was missing from the bike gang again. I stood up and noticed he was holding a bag of something and eating from it. I figured it was potato chips or something. Again, not a food I keep around or give my kid, because at his age, they don’t eat much. When he does eat, I want it to be good quality food so his growing body gets the nutrition it needs.

(This seems blatantly obvious to me, by the way, and I am constantly shocked by the junk food I see people feeding young children. Gee, I wonder why health problems related to poor diet and obesity are such a growing problem in our country?)

I let it go on a few minutes, thinking he’d get bored and put the bag down any minute, but I soon realized he was just going to town on that bag of whatever. He was going to completely ruin his appetite for dinner, so I once again got up and ambled down the street to investigate.

It was a bag of marshmallows. Motherfucking marshmallows. My son was shoving mini-marshmallows into his mouth as fast as he could. When he saw me coming, he knew the jig was up and started cramming them in faster, until he could no longer talk without spitting marshmallows.

Best part: the woman who apparently gives her children marshmallows as a snack was just telling me a few minutes before about how her husband is having heart trouble and diabetes-related issues. This woman has a college degree, so I was blown away that she couldn’t see the connection between her horrifyingly unhealthy snack selection and poor familial health.

So my son had high fructose corn syrup water and marshmallows for dinner that night because he wasn’t hungry anymore when we got home. Gross.

And I decided that, mommy guilt be damned, that is the last time I’m going to let him hang out with the neighbor kids.

Yes, because I am flawed and psychologically uncomfortable hanging out with people I don’t know simply because we have procreation in common.

But also because I love my son, and I want him to grow up knowing how to eat healthfully and take good care of his body so he won’t have weight issues, heart problems and type 2 diabetes.

It has finally sunk into my thick skull that no socialization is better than negative socialization. I’m not failing at motherhood, as I feared. Not at all. Because every decision I make is based on what’s best for my kid.

And also, these are not my people. These are my trashy neighbors, and I don’t have to hang out with them simply because we bought homes near each other. I can choose my friends based on who they are, not their location.
Eat yer vegetables, kids.

xoxo.

 

24 Crayons

I had finally moved up to the bigger box. The coveted 24 pack of Crayola Crayons. I had colored my 5-year-old way through the 8 pack and the 16, and had graduated to 24. I was so excited to have so many more options, so many more of the bright, happy colors I adored. My coloring books would never be the same.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and it was 1976, so coloring was one of my favorite forms of entertainment. Things were slower back then, and without television networks devoted to endless cartoons, video games and the internet to entertain us, we had to find things to do on our own. Free from the psychological constraints having an incredibly talented sister would later place on me, I still fancied myself quite the artist.

I’d gotten in trouble before for leaving my crayons on the floor of the living room, and had been instructed, as usual, to go get my father’s belt for a beating. I was a precocious, stubborn, strong-willed little girl, but I lived in fear of the belt. When the belt entered the picture, my red curls snapped to attention, and my blue eyes widened in fear. I had the task of picking up my crayons permanently seared into my memory with every lash of leather on my young skin. From that point on, I always picked up my crayons when I was done coloring. Always.

My sister was a few years younger than me, and I never wanted to play with her. She was a great kid, but I was an odd child, and preferred to play alone. She followed me around and wanted to do everything I did, to my annoyance, and I was required to share my things with her, which is a nice lesson. But she was younger than me and didn’t quite have the house rules committed to memory. I should have seen it coming.

When I let my little sister borrow the glorious 24 pack of crayons, I was probably relieved that she’d found something to do besides emulate me. I had been busy playing with toys in my orange shag-carpeted bedroom, probably listening to the Mickey Mouse record player I loved so much, when my dad got home from work.

My dad really liked to take out his bad days on his wife and two daughters when he got home, and because he was an unhappy person in an unhappy marriage working a job he didn’t like, most of his days were bad. Much of my early childhood was spent avoiding the man, because being within his physical or mental reach never yielded anything particularly pleasant. He had proven himself easily capable of hitting my mom and me, so I kept my distance from the junkyard dog of his psyche.

He yelled my name, and I froze in terror. He sounded mad, and that never meant anything good. But I knew that hiding would only make the punishment worse when he found me. And he always found me. Full of dread, I walked down the hallway from my room, toward the living room where he stood.

Where he stood over my crayons.

My sister had left them out. She was younger. She didn’t know. She didn’t realize the enormity of what she’d done. And I would love to say that I was a brave girl and took the fall for her, but instead I ratted her out immediately. It wasn’t noble of me, but I knew she wouldn’t be punished as harshly. I thought that maybe if he knew I hadn’t done it, that I’d respected the rules written on my bare ass by the stinging belt, he might calm down and understand this time. Just this time, maybe it could be different.

I apologized again and again, repeated that I’d lent my crayons to my little sister, that I never would have left them out. When he didn’t send me to go get the belt, I thought that maybe my begging had worked.

He bent down and started to gather up the crayons into his hands. I was confused. Surely he wasn’t picking them up for me? Shouldn’t he be making my sister pick them up, the way I’d had to pick them up before, limping from the spanking, with snot and tears crusting my face, gathering them into my shaking toddler hands?

He walked into the kitchen with my 24 crayons. My mom was cooking dinner and turned around to watch as he started snapping them in half, slowly, individually, while he laughed at my growing hysterics. He dropped the broken pieces into the open garbage can while I sobbed in horror.

I was screaming for my mom to stop him, that my sister had left them out, not me, while she screamed at him to stop. But no matter how hard I cried and apologized for what I hadn’t even done, no matter how my mom pleaded, he just kept snapping them.

Red, snap! Dandelion, snap! Violet, snap! Orange, snap! Green-yellow, snap! Yellow-orange, snap! Violet-red, snap! Yellow-green, snap! Yellow, snap! Blue-green, snap! Scarlet, snap! Cerulean, snap! Apricot, snap! Red-violet, snap! Indigo, snap! White, snap! Brown, snap! Black, snap! Carnation pink, snap! Red-orange, snap! Green, snap! Blue, snap! Blue-violet, snap! And gray, snap! So much gray.

Until all of my beautiful colors were ruined.

He grabbed a beer and left the kitchen to sit in his chair in front of the television until my mom finished cooking dinner.

I think the worst part of all was how my father destroyed my brand new crayons with a smile on his face. This was no “it hurts me more than it hurts you” parental lesson, he clearly relished the pain he was causing me; I have no doubt. I am not one of those people with an amazing brain that can recall many clear moments from childhood, but the traumatizing ones have always stayed with me. This was one of my first lessons about the great cruelty of which humans are capable, and I’ll never forget it.

The Universe Is Making Me Feel Not So Fresh

(Writing from November 19, 2010.)

My husband just called from the store where he is picking out seat covers for our new used car. In the name of protecting our investment and all that happy horseshit.

He listed the options over the phone. My seat cover print choices were: Hello Kitty, Ed Hardy, cherries, or skulls.

I told him they should just make seat covers with pictures of actual douchebags all over them, and be done with it. Just ‘Summer’s Eve’ bottles with nozzles, floating happily around. I would totally buy those seat covers.

I tried to talk him into skulls, if only to freak out the other mothers at my son’s preschool, but then we decided my skull-fancy probably means I am a douchbag. Darn.

We went with the boring solid gray.

***

So I found a guy I’ve been looking for on Facebook. I’ve been looking for him for a long time. He was my biggest grade school crush. I loooooooooooved him with all of the love and lust and passion my innocent little girl heart could muster. We talked on the phone a lot as kids. We were both Scorpios, so like proper astrology nerds, we bonded over our shared water sign compatibility. I sat next to him in class. He probably couldn’t have cared less. I was a friend, like any other guy buddy.

This theme would carry on into my adult dating world, by the way. When you are the first one to make a “That’s what she said!” joke, they don’t usually consider you marriage material. You’re one of the guys… forever. My tomboy leanings served me well when playing in bands with boys, but oh, how they sucked in the dating world, where they made me the eternal Mary Stuart Masterson to every some kind of wonderful Eric Stoltz I fancied.

I eventually moved away to another state, but kept in touch with my very best girlfriend who still lived there there, via pen pal letters and occasional visits. She later told me (in high school) that she slept with him. I was ridiculously jealous. I say ridiculously, because I hadn’t seen him since we were, like, ten, so how could I be jealous. She told me he that he was good in bed, that he “did amazing things with his mouth,” and I was like, “I knew it!” My instincts had been right on.

So I found him on Facebook recently via other grade school pals; my grade school boy crush. He’s a man now, of course. And I decided to peruse his photos, just to see how he grew up. Because I’m curious like a cat. (That’s why my friends call me “Whiskers”.)

I started to look at his pictures, and became very uncomfortable inside. There didn’t seem to be many pictures of him, just pictures of clowns. Creepy clowns. Like not children’s party clowns, but performance art clowns. Pennywise clowns. I suddenly realized that all of those clowns were… him. I was horrified as it very slowly dawned on me… my childhood crush had grown up to be a clown. He teaches a clown school. He runs a clown camp every summer. A fucking clown camp. I’m not making this shit up.

You have to know me to understand how hilariously, awfully perfect this is.

So of course, I immediately told my husband. He had a huge laugh with me at my expense. Of course my childhood crush became a clown. Of course. The girl who freezes in panic at anything in a mascot costume finds out her childhood crush became a clown. Awesome.

My mom even used a clown theme for one of my birthdays because I’ve always been so afraid of them.

Look:

The candles are burning clown heads. Burn, clowns, burn!

I once received a package from her in the mail that had a little piece of cardboard folded in half inside. When I opened it up like a small book, inside I discovered she had taped a tiny plastic clown with the words, “I’m watching you!”

My mom is hilarious. Seriously. I hope I remember to do things like that with my own child.

So, yeah. My childhood crush grew up to be a clown. Literally. My life is like a bad sitcom.

***

There was a Facebook meme going around for a while, apparently in honor of breast cancer awareness, during which the supporter was expected to post as their status a suggestive-sounding description of where they like to keep their purse.

For example: “I like it on the kitchen table.”

Then we all snicker and fan our faces in genteel lady laughter because tee-hee-hee, oh my goodness, isn’t that hilarious, how it sounds raunchy but is actually quite innocent.

Blah. I hate this kind of shit. And because I hate it, I had so much trouble resisting the urge to be a brat. I very badly wanted to make my Facebook status: “I like it in my vagina with my husband’s penis going in and out.” But I didn’t do it. I was a good girl.

But I really, really wanted to.

Conversation stopping moments have always worked for me. I love random weirdness, odd things done for no reason, and I love inappropriate. I could never sit through church properly for this reason. I spent every service stifling laughter and making fart jokes, trying to get my little sister to join me. (She’s the good girl in the family. And I love a challenge.)

Last year, the Facebook breast cancer awareness and support meme asked us to post the color of our underwear as our Facebook status. I have no idea how this helps breast cancer research, but went ahead and posted “invisible” as I was freeballing that day. Or whatever I’m supposed to call a chick not wearing underwear. (I am a closet hippie. First thing I do when I get home is get comfortable, which means underwear and bra OFF. I don’t like restrictive clothes. Also: I am a lifelong Naked Sleeper. Don’t tell.)

A friend of mine pointed out how very little the stupid “funny” statuses help find a cure for breast cancer, and I realized she was absolutely right. I’m not joining in again.

Unless I get to shock people by talking about my husband’s penis, I mean.

***

Today in the car, my son made a sudden, loud noise. Like he yelled, “Watch out!” for no reason. I snapped at him not to do that when I’m driving because I’m really jumpy, and that makes it dangerous.

“Don’t shout like that. I’m jumpy. I’ll crash this car,” I whined.

“You shouldn’t be so jumpy,” he said.

I said, “I know, son. I don’t like being jumpy; I just am. I’d rather not be jumpy.”

He said, “Do you want me to give you some calm power?”

Except he said it like there was a capital letter in front of those words… Calm Power.

I laughed. He is such the perfect kid for me. When I was pregnant, my mom told me, “God gives you what you’re supposed to have,” and those words have rung true from the second I met my son. I was made to be the momma of a little boy. And this outgoing, funny little light I’ve birthed is so perfect for his introverted mom. He often pulls me out of a dark funk before I even realize I’m sinking.

Now smiling, I replied, “Yes, please. Give me some of your Calm Power,” and he waved his hands in my direction, magically applying the Calm Power to my soul.

It worked.

Hope you’re having a calm week, friends.

Happy Happy Joy Joy

 

(Writing from December 1, 2010.)

I don’t have much to say, but need to write something.

I can no longer stand having that whiny, pansy-ass Grumplestiltskin rant up as my last post here.

It makes me guilty when I spread negativity. Anyone else do that?

I feel like the world has enough of that crap without me adding my ever-so-important faux-dramas to the melting pot.

Yes, I would like a wahhhmburger and some French cries with my shake made of tears. Boo-hoo-hoo. Poor me. Sarcasm font.

SO… moving on. Shaking it off. I will be the duck and let the bad stuff roll down my back like so much brackish, filthy water. I will be the duck! The DUCK!

(Be the duck.)

***

I spent last week in and around Sedona, Arizona. I got to spend Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in years, like since I lived in Los Angeles and could drive there.

My husband, my 4-year-old son, and I flew from Tulsa to Phoenix, and drove to Sedona with my parents. Despite one night spent sleeping on the floor of an open recreation room in the Scorpion-filled desert with my husband and child, it was good times.

They have the machines that you stand inside while they whirl around you at the Tulsa airport. You have to put your hands on your head and stand very still. I don’t know if it’s an x-ray or not, just that it makes me feel self-conscious about my potential pit sweat.

I went through the swirly box, and was instructed by a woman wearing latex gloves on the other side to put my feet in the feet spots on the floor. (Yes, “swirly box” and “feet spots” are technical terms.)

She asked me if I wanted to go to a private room. I stuck a twenty dollar bill in her bra and asked for a happy ending.

Okay, not really. I said, “No, that’s alright. You’re just doing your job,” because really, I wasn’t nervous. She rubbed my legs, and I was like, “That’s it? I want my twenty back!”

Okay, not really. Actually she told me my son was cute, because he stood next to me for my pat-down. Then she showed me a picture of her son, who was adorable, and we cooed like mommies do over their offspring. Because that’s how I do. I make friends with people who gently frisk me in public. Don’t judge.

It wasn’t a big deal at all. All of the recent news hype had me worried. But I decided that after being in labor for 35 hours at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, and having no less than 10 medical strangers stick their hands into my vagina to check my cervical dilation, an airport pat-down was like a polite handshake.

(My doctor chose the weekend my water broke to leave town. My son was eventually C-sectioned into the world by her replacement, Dr. Lisa Masterson from that television show, The Doctors. I shit you not. It was in 2006, before her TV stint. L.A. is freaky, you guys.)

After my uneventful, painless TSA pat-down, I had to wonder if all of the fuss is coming from men. Men don’t have to get on a table once a year and spread their legs while someone tells them to scoot closer to the edge so they can insert a cold metal speculum into their junk. Airport pat-down, airport schmat-down, say the women. At least we get to keep our pants on for this examination.

***

I was detained at the DMV on Monday. My driver’s license was expiring in 2 days, so I needed to renew. Airport security pointed this out, or I wouldn’t have noticed.

I didn’t know why I was detained. I waited in line for 30 minutes and my number was called. I went to the open window. The woman took my license and put my information into the computer.

She then asked me if I’ve ever had a last name I’ve never had, and I replied that no, I was born Tawni Leighanne P-word (nunya biznass). My last name is different now because I’m married, but I’d never had the name she told me.

She cryptically said, “I need to go look something up on the computer in back,” and walked away holding my driver’s license.

Oooooooo-kaaaaaay?

I stood there staring at her empty seat for 20 minutes. I watched 3 different sets of people come up to the window next to me and be helped, complete with photos taken. I took pictures of things with my phone. I even got my phone angled and ready to take a furtive picture of the agent when she finally got back to her seat because I wanted to be able to show it to a supervisor when I complained.

This is what I stared at FOREVER.

After her 3rd customer departed, I asked the agent next to mine, “Can you tell me what she is researching about me in the back? She asked if I had a name I’ve never had and walked away. Has my identity been stolen? I’m kind of freaking out.”

She said, “Oh dear, I hope not!” and walked to get the woman.

My agent came back out looking flustered, and sat down in front of me.

I secretly snapped her picture with my phone.

Gotcha! I’m like a spy and shit.

She said, “Okay, I think I figured it out,” without explaining what the fuck “it” was, so I looked down at the paper she’d set down. I don’t think I was supposed to see it, but I’m a fast reader.

Printed on the paper was the name “Tammy Lynn P-word” and I read it out loud.

I said, “I’m not Tammy Lynn, I’m Tawni Leighanne.”

She said, “I know, but there is a Tammy Lynn P-word in Oklahoma, and she has your exact same birthdate.”

Color me blown away.

And things suddenly made sense.

The last time I dealt with the Oklahoma DMV, I was moving here from California and had to get an Oklahoma driver’s license. They acted weird and treated me like I was trying to pull something over on them, but nobody explained why. I felt hassled and discriminated against, to the point that I finally called a manager to complain about my treatment. He had me come to his DMV and got me in a driver’s license that day.

But he also asked me if I’d ever had a different last name… apparently the one, Tammy Lynn P-word had at some point. Fortunately, he was able to recognize that “Tammy Lynn” and “Tawni Leighanne” share the same initials, but are still completely different names, unlike all the other ignorant witch (she was really suspicious and mean to me) I’d encountered before calling him.

So now I know from where the suspicion was coming.

Isn’t that bizarre?

I kind of want to meet Tammy Lynn P-word, if only so we can always go together to the DMV renew our licenses at the same time to avert confusion.

I also wonder what she looks like. I couldn’t find her on Facebook, but the Internet searches claim she lives in this city. I’m sure the DMV lady looked at our pictures on her computer in the back to make sure we were different people. I wish I’d asked her what my birthday and almost-name twin looks like.

DMV Lady was so flustered she sent me to the tag agency for my driver’s license without taking a photo, so I waited in line there, was told this and sent back, got the photo taken, went back to the tag agency to wait in line again to finally get my license. The simple process only took 2 hours. But hey, they had disgusting coffee and old popcorn at the 2nd (and then 4th) DMV I visited in 2 hours, so yee-haw! And also, gross.

(I can’t even do buffets. My inner germaphobe twitches at the thought of all the hands that have rummaged in and/or breathed on the food before me. I am not ashamed–nor do I judge those who aren’t ooged out by this type of thing. Enjoy your stranger-touched food and probably-super-to-mine immune system. I know I’m silly.)

Well, that’s my latest. Back to shitting rainbows now.

Hope you’re having a happy week, friends.

 

xoxo.