To the Moon and Back

One of my favorite songs from Savage Garden is one I always thought had to be written about me, at some point.  I’m sure I’m not the only woman to think that, either.  But it strikes the heart when it feels like someone is talking about you and they’ve never met you, doesn’t it?


She’s taking time making up the reasons
To justify all the hurt inside
Guess she knows from the smiles and the look in their eyes
Everyone’s got a theory about the bitter one.

I’m not really going to go into what prompted today’s downward spiral, let’s just say it was a combination of things – health issues, personal issues at work, and a little too much introspection on my part (generally always classified as a FAIL) and going down memory lane, looking at old emails from old boyfriends.  I often envision my world around me to be like this glass bubble that I blow, day by day, that protects me and shields me.  Sometimes the bubble is tough and (nearly) shatterproof, like the Gorilla Glass on an iPad or cell phone.  Others, it is as fragile as a soap bubble and just as easily burst, leaving me defenseless, naked, shattered on the ground in a hundred pieces.  And dear God, when it happens, I might as well have had my skin flayed off with a thousand lashes – to the heart, it hurts that badly.  The dam breaks and every pent up insecurity bursts forth.  Suddenly I am reminded that I’ve never been “The One” to anyone I’ve ever been with.  At least not that I’m aware of.  Maybe I was to my ex-husband, I don’t know.  He didn’t really act like his life was somehow incomplete without me, and I feel like I badgered him into proposing to me – we’d hit the two year dating mark and were living together, and I told him I wanted a ring or I was walking.  So he did the right thing and we got married, but looking back I wonder if his heart was really in it or if he just figured it was something he was supposed to do.  Sort of like I figured you were supposed to get married before you were 30, or good heavens, you’d end up an old maid forever, some scary spinster living in a spooky old house that all the neighborhood kids throw rocks at.

Prior to that, I dated a number of guys in college, or rather, slept with a lot of them and dated a few of those.  The occasional one who did decide he was devoted to me usually didn’t decide to tell me so until after we’d split up and he’d gone home for the summer or the winter break and found God or had a lobotomy, and then came back and was a possessive psycho who wouldn’t let me out of his sight.  Yeah.  Just the Prince Charming I always wanted, a fucking stalker.  After my divorce, I met and dated more than anyone’s share of men who had no problem telling me they were still looking on the other side of the fence for that greener grass, even though professing to me that I was the best lover they’d ever had.  In some cases, they were even still living with that other lawn and mowing it on occasion, too – but oh no, they loved me also, and I was just being insecure and jealous by thinking there was anything wrong with that.

They’re saying, “Mama never loved her much
And daddy never keeps in touch
That’s why she shies away from human affection
But somewhere in a private place
She packs her bags for outer space
And now she’s waiting for the right kind of pilot to come”
And she’ll say to him
She’s sayin’

Realistically, I find myself asking again today, as I stand amid the shattered fragments of my heart’s bubble, trying to pull myself together once more, is that really what I want?  To be “The One”, someone that got put on a pedestal, loved, worshipped, adored?  In my efforts to attain that level of devotion, I have learned to mold myself to be just about any woman a guy would want, like human Play-Doh.  I’m so flexible that I’ve forgotten what shape I started out as – even though I think that’s the shape I want others to love.  But in all honesty, even when my brother (whom I love very much) tries to do too much for me, I find his attentions annoying, like a bee buzzing around me, and just want to slap him away and remind him that I’m a grown woman now and am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you very much.  Who’s to say I wouldn’t react the same to a man wanting to take care of me, as a man who really treated me like a cherished object would be wont to do?

“I would fly to the moon and back if you’ll be
If you’ll be my baby
I’ve got a ticket for a world where we belong
So would you be my baby?”

She can’t remember a time
When she felt needed
If love was red then she was color blind
All her friends
Well they’ve been tried for treason
And crimes that were never defined

Yet no matter how often logic stares me in the face, or damn near pinches my neck like Mr.  Spock with his Vulcan grip, it doesn’t sink in.  Somewhere inside me, that little girl who used to always draw crayon pictures of herself wearing a crown or a princess hat with the trailing veil, still reaches out, thinking every guy who finds her attractive or just wants to shag her is Prince Charming.  Surely this is him.  This is the one that I can give myself to and he will appreciate me for all that I am, he’ll realize what a prize I really am.  I’m continually striving for something I don’t think I really want, but it’s the only behavior I know. The people that have known me for years have probably given up trying to understand why I can’t see in the mirror what is so visible to all of them – that I am a strong-willed, stubborn, independent cuss who would just as soon be hoisted on a pedestal as I would want a colonoscopy (oh yeah, I have one of those coming up too, as if life didn’t suck enough already).

“Guys don’t like women who are too smart.”
“You’re too independent, it’s a turn off.”
“Try being a little more helpless once in awhile.”

I’ve been told all of those.  And more.  And wonder why I still won’t let go of that protective shell.  Yet somewhere deep inside I believe that if that bubble isn’t there to protect me, that I might not exist at all.  I imagine myself to be this wisp of a soul, easily blown away in a strong breeze, dissipated like smoke, the particles never to recombine.  That protective bubble holds me together.  And keeps others out.  Maybe those same others who would see me in that golden, glowing light of a woman worthy of perpetual worship.  The very same worship I don’t want.  It’s a small wonder at the end of a day that my head doesn’t explode when I actually think about this.  Even worse when I run out of Ketel One.  I was thinking recently that I really should write more for my kids, sort of an advice column from Mom, on all the stuff that our parents forgot to pass on to us.  That’s another full blog (or a whole series of them) in itself.  However, I don’t think my first one will start off with “You know kids, if I’d taken up drinking vodka years ago, I might still be married to your Dad.”  Yeah, nice sound advice there.  Let’s just book me my reserved space in the trailer park now, shall we?

Not to minimize the point behind the Ketel One comment, though.  I think a lot of people do drugs to escape their reality or expand their imaginations out to somewhere they can’t go.  I’m no expert by any means.  But I will admit to knowing that alcohol is a depressant.  I take antidepressants.  You’d think if I just quit the one, I could stop the other, right?  Except I was taking the medication long before the vodka, so I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.  The latter serves the purpose now of telling my mind to STFU.  The former?  Keeps me from throwing myself off a bridge.  So in that sense, I guess it’s an upper.

I used to argue with myself (and lose) over the notion of taking prescription medication for, potentially, the rest of my life.  I started taking antidepressants in 1999, after my first son was born, due to what was diagnosed as severe postpartum depression.  I can admit now that the diagnosis was accurate, and my therapist told me she was pretty close to just hospitalizing me, but I guess I responded pretty well to the three drugs she put me on at the time.  It’s now 13 years later and I’ve been on the same one, one that I can say finally actually worked (the previous ones were adequate, but I wouldn’t say they gave me the rose-tinted glasses everyone envisions) since 2004.  I wouldn’t call them rose-tinted, either.  Maybe just glasses without as jaundiced of a view.  The same year I split up with my husband and we filed for divorce, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  I think that was the year I finally tried to stop compromising, at least with regard to what I expected a committed relationship to be.  And I think I’ve been looking and trying to figure it out ever since.  For better or worse, I was going to have it my way.

Then I struggle with wondering what the hell I’m looking for.  Take my current boyfriend.  He is a delightful, funny, smart, sexy man.  He is also still married, albeit separated for the last four years.  He spoils me, at least in my definition of the term.  I suspect he would probably gladly support all my needs if I asked him to, and I never will, because even the thought of him helping me out with my exorbitant medical bills is abhorrent to me.  I hate the thought of feeling beholden to anyone.  My former therapist Dr. Tam, whom I’ve seen since 1999, recently got back into practice again, so I started seeing her again, gratefully so, because my interim therapist, whom I really only saw for prescription refills, had that kind of Marty Feldman wall-eyed stare that always bugged the crap out of me … anyway, Dr. Tam knows me pretty well from way back when.  When I told her my issues with having my BF offering to pay the occasional bill for me, she asked me, “Well, how would you feel if the situation were reversed, and you could easily afford to pay his bills, and offered to?”

Damn the hell out of people for throwing logic at me.  Of course I would do that, and would expect it to be accepted and would expect nothing in return, all of which he does.  But crickey, I’m still struggling with the fact that I used to make $90,000 a year and now I make $60,000 a year and my expenses have only gone up and my spousal/child support has gone down (the spousal support stopped last year), although thankfully Chase Mortgage did refinance my house as part of the whole whatever-it-was Act.  Now you can actually say you know someone that benefited from it.  Probably the only person you know. But hey, I’m grateful for it, it made a huge difference, even if it took forever.  It allowed me to keep my house, which, I have to admit, is part of that bubble.

I can finally admit after several months of experiencing this, that it totally blows that my boyfriend doesn’t spend the night at my house anymore because of his dogs.  Or his son’s dogs.  Or his son’s dog and his dog.  Call it however you want, but they sure as hell aren’t cats and they aren’t as self-sufficient as cats, either.  I have five felines (yes, that is too many), but yet I can make sure I leave them enough dry food and I can be gone overnight and they won’t shit or pee all over the place and the world won’t end.  Dogs aren’t quite the same.  Anyway, I digress.  The point here, if there was one, is that my home is my fortress of solitude, my strength.  Just call me Kal-El.  Being alone, even for an evening, serves to remind me of who I am.  I think.  (We’re assuming, for the moment, that I actually know who that is.)  Being at home with someone else there is a close second in terms of fortifying me – hence the gripe about my BF not spending the night there.  I’m not about to pass up the chances I get to spend the night at his place as I don’t see enough of him anyway … but maybe I need to rethink that on occasion and have a “me” night once in awhile.  One that I don’t spend sitting around moping, that is.  Right now I have a roommate, her lease is up at the end of March – she has been a part-time nanny for my kids since my separation from my ex back in 2004 – so that doesn’t help my desire to be alone.  She’s a great roommate, but to be honest, I could have a mannequin for a roommate and it would still drive me crazy to know I don’t have the house entirely to myself.  It’s not like I’m prancing around in all of the bedrooms at night wearing a tutu and clown shoes, either.  But I might want to, you never know.  And for that reason, it bugs me to have someone else there.

I love my house.  I remodeled it in 2005, at a cost that was more than I could afford, after my divorce was final.  It’s the same house that my ex and I bought in 1992 as our first house, and while it looks mostly the same on the outside, it is (at least in the upstairs area) scarcely the same house it was back then.  Flooring, windows, entryway, back patio, yard, kitchen, master bed and bath have all been redone and replaced to my specifications. My contractor told me he’d never dealt with someone who knew so exactly what they wanted as I did.  Why is it, though, that I can pick out tile and flooring and light fixtures but apparently not seem to settle on what it is that I want in a relationship?

Let’s go back to my boyfriend for a moment (he’ll hate this; he generally hates to be focused on) … I understand his reasons for still being married to his wife and accept them.  And I ask myself if what I really want at the end of the day is to be married to him myself?   Hmmm.  Well, no, not really. I mean, yeah, I look good in a wedding dress and of course I love diamond jewelry and a good party … but that’s about the end of it. I love the romantic notion of marriage, at any rate, but I’m not the same woman I was 20 years ago who was deathly afraid of ending up alone.  Twenty years from now, I may be singing a different tune.

Do I want to live with him?  I love spending time with him and always feel comfortable around him, a real rarity for me.  You’d think someone who has posed naked for amateur photographers and for Playboy would be always be self-assured in her own skin, but I’m about the most modest person you’ll find when I’m with someone I love.  He’s probably the first person I’ve been with that I don’t continually find myself trying to cover up my stomach or other saggy parts when he’s in the room.  But living together full-time?  Aside from my tutu and clown shoes issue from earlier, well, it isn’t really practical at the end of the day.  I can’t and won’t move my kids out of their current school district and I only have 50% custody of them, so I need to stay in San Diego’s East County.  We live about 25 miles apart, so it is pretty impractical from a get-the-kids-to-school-every-morning standpoint, too.  And I don’t think his two dogs (large and semi-unruly Labradors, albeit cute and adorable) would do too well with my five cats, so scratch that theory.  Which leaves us kind of in the situation we are now, namely, I see him and spend the night most of the time when I don’t have my kids for the week, and he comes over usually once a week to hang out with me and my kids when I do have them.

Which leaves me stuck with this restlessness of the soul, this journey I don’t have a map for.  Why can’t I just be happy?

The Reality of My Glass Bubble

She’s saying, “Love is like a barren place
And reaching out for human faith is …
It’s like a journey I just don’t have a map for.”

So baby’s gonna take a dive and

Push the shift to overdrive
Send a signal that she’s hanging all her hopes on the stars
What a pleasant dream …

What scares me the most is that I know I need to be honest with myself.  I do everything I can to avoid it, because I don’t want to go there.  Going there is exposing that wispy smoke of my soul to a category 5 hurricane.  I’m not even sure I would know where to start – which is probably one of many reasons that I write this blog, because thinking out loud like this gives me clues.  I know I spend a lot of time and energy on making myself look good to the outside world, because I always want people to find me appealing.  Like a bad movie with a really good trailer – it’s rare that I ever let anyone see the whole film.  Including myself.

I’m reminded of a lovely scene at at the climax of “A Room With a View”, when Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham Carter) finally admits her feelings for George Emerson (Julian Sands).  George’s father (the delightful late Denholm Elliott) confronts her and says to Lucy, “You love George.  You love the boy, body and soul, as he loves you.”

Lucy:  “But of course I do.  What did you all think?”
Mr. Emerson: “Then …”
Lucy:  “No.  Mother’s calling.  I’ve got to go.  They trust me.”
Mr. Emerson:  “Why should they?  When you deceived everyone … including yourself.”

Posted in I Hate The Living | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What Women Really Think …

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In case you ever wondered what a single gal thinks (well, me, anyway – I’m no longer single, but I’ve looked at a lot of these in my time and hope to never again) when she looks at online personal ads … (click and view full size to read captions easier)

Posted in Just for Sh*ts and Grins | Leave a comment

Four Four and Nineteen Years Ago

April 4, 2011

On this day, back in 1992, on a Saturday, I got married.  Today would have been my 19th anniversary.  May 5th of this year will mark the 6th year since my divorce became final.  These past few years I’ve always found it kind of ironic, the dates thing.  My first date with my ex was on 6/6, my wedding was 4/4, my divorce was 5/5.  Fortunately I think that’s about it for the numeric coincidences. 

Me on my big day, 19 years ago

I don’t think about this day that much except when it rolls around.  Like today.  Next year would be my 20th anniversary.  That’s kind of a big one, or it would have been.  And every year when this date rolls around, I feel a sense of remorse.  Oddly enough, I’ve felt that way for at least the last decade.  Yep.  I think you can do that math.  Means I felt like that while I was still married, too.  Different reasons, same emotion.  I’m the first to admit, if anyone asks me, that I’m the guilty party in my divorce.  I’m the one with the figurative scarlet letter “A” on my chest.  I’m not the least bit proud of what happened or how my divorce came about, and I’m still ashamed of how much my husband was hurt by my actions.  It didn’t have to be that way and I never wanted to hurt him.  What I did was stupid, careless, unthinking.  All that being said, though, it always takes two to make a relationship work.  It also takes two to make it fall apart. ‘Nuff said on that for the time being.

Looking back, I’m hardly the same woman now that I was 19 years ago, or 22 years ago, when my ex and I first met.  I had just moved back to San Diego after 8 years up in Berkeley (4 for college, 4 for work) and at the ripe old age of 25 I finally got around to getting my driver’s license and my first car.  I was convinced that all of my friends were getting married (they weren’t) and starting to have children (ditto) and that I was going to end up an old maid, unmarried at age 30.  Horrors.  Well, back in 1989, it sounded a lot worse than it does now.  After all, my Mom was married when she was 19, for heaven’s sake.  Granted, that was in 1957, and the world was a little different then.  I had split up with a previous boyfriend after two years together up in the Bay Area, dated another guy for awhile who then went off to  South America somewhere to either find himself or join some band of revolutionaries, dated some other dude who decided that after I broke it off that he couldn’t live without me and then was going to hitchhike and bus his way to Africa (not sure how that works across an ocean), and ultimately I came to the conclusion that there were very few normal men to be had in Berkeley.  As if I could actually be considered “normal” myself.  Ha.

Coincidentally enough, when I started to write this post, I started wondering about that one boyfriend who went off to South America and whatever became of him.  Strangely enough, I briefly dated a guy when I moved back to San Diego, who had once dated that guy’s sister – because they lived in the same neighborhood up in the SF Bay Area.  Small world.  So I thought I’d look him up online, see if he was out there somewhere.  No luck on Facebook.  So I went to Pipl.  I had no idea where he was.  Last I had heard of him (from the San Diego guy), he was in Europe with some girlfriend.  That was probably 15 years or more ago.  If you haven’t tried it, www.pipl.com is an amazing search site. It only looks for people.  Took me a bit to remember the guy’s name – I knew it was Eric, because that was one of my top choices for a name for one of my sons.  Last name was … uhhh … shit.  Something Scandinavian sounding.  Or Jewish.  Yeah, that helps.  Started with a J.  After mulling it over for a bit, Eric Johannson finally sprang to mind.  And darned if there wasn’t a match on some total stranger’s blog about a professor at a school in the Netherlands from UC Berkeley, named Eric Johannson.  I met Eric when I was working at the UC Berkeley School of Education.  He wasn’t as tall as I would have liked and he drove a crappy car with ripped seats that always snagged my nylons, but he liked to play basketball and had damn nice shoulders, looked good in tank tops, and gave credence to the saying about guys with big feet and their … ahem … other endowments. 

Which brings me back, sort of, to the subject of this post.  Me, 19 years ago, getting married.  I was a virgin until I got to college.  I was a dorky, dweeby looking kid in high school until I hit puberty sometime in my junior year.  Talk about your late bloomers.  I started high school at 4’11″ and weighed 75 lbs.  I finished at 5’6″, 110 lbs and a C-cup bra size.  By the time I finished college, I was one of Playboy’s Girls of the PAC-10 from UC Berkeley.  And yes, I do miss the figure I had then (insert anguished sob here).  I went from Escondido High School to UC Berkeley with absolutely no clue what to expect.  Compared to my high school peers, I was a genius.  To my college peers, I was just average in intelligence.  My parents (divorced since I was 5) were of no help, neither of them had been to college, nor did either of them care that I was going to one of the toughest schools in the country on a full scholarship, as an aerospace engineering major.  It was like it didn’t register on their personal Richter scales or something.  I don’t think it registered on mine how important it was in terms of an accomplishment.  To me, it was just a place that was far enough away from my Mom that didn’t have snow in the winter. 

I look at how much time and effort parents put into their kids’ college choices these days, helping them out, moving them in, the whole bit, and wonder how I even made it back then.  My Mom put me on a PSA flight to Oakland with a couple of suitcases, and I had to then find my way from the airport to my dorm room, courtesy of a BART train and a taxicab, because I guess the drive up from San Diego was too much effort for her.  I was so anxious and tense the first few days there that my shoulders were as stiff as a board and I couldn’t even sleep because I was in so much pain.  Being a complete novice as to medications as well, the best I could think of was to get some baby aspirin and down a dozen or so of those.  This was back in the days before they discovered Reye’s Syndrome and took baby aspirin off the market.  I never learned to swallow pills as  a kid, because I had such large tonsils that I often choked on them, and on food I was eating, pretty routinely.  I didn’t realize how big the tonsils were until after they got infected for the 4th time in my freshman year and a doctor advised me to have them removed that summer when I was well again.  Amazingly, I was able to swallow pills after that.  And I stopped snoring like a freight train at night, too.  Wish someone had looked into that issue a little sooner, like, I dunno, maybe my Mom?  Anyway, let’s move on, shall we?

A few weeks into my freshman year, I discovered that guys noticed me all of a sudden.  And talked to me.  I had no idea why.  I’ve always found my deep voice rather off-putting, and certainly my well-honed sarcastic, self-deprecating wit wasn’t exactly what you’d call the America’s Sweetheart level of feminine charm.  I really don’t know.  I should try and track down one of those freshman-year boyfriends and ask them what the appeal was. 

This was the point in writing this blog where I got sidetracked and decided to try and do just that and search for some of them online.  Surprisingly, I found four of them.  There’s a few more whose last names I don’t remember, shamefully, and another one who tragically died around age 30.  John Johnson (yes, that really was his name) came up to me at a winter formal dance in my sophomore year at Berkeley and made some Monty Python joke and told me how bored I looked.  I was there with a previous-ex and soon-to-be-ex again boyfriend, having a miserable time and wondering why the hell I’d been talked into going to this stupid thing, and this charming, funny guy who was also from my hometown of San Diego literally swept me off my feet.  I miss him probably the most of all, since I know I’ll never see him again.  I would have loved to have seen him with kids, he would have been a terrific father.  He met the love of his life somewhere over in Asia or Africa when they were both either working in the Peace Corps or studying abroad, I don’t even remember.  She was from Germany.  They’d barely been married a year when he died in a hiking accident.  I don’t know the details and I never found out – I just remembered getting a Christmas card from his widow, it turns out, the same day I was sending mine out, I hadn’t heard from him since the previous Christmas.  I was shocked.  John was always upbeat and cheerful, even though his life had more than its share of ups and downs.  I think he was allergic to nuts, and shellfish, and tomatoes, and a list of about a hundred other things.  He limped when he was tired, I can’t remember why now, but he might have been born with a clubfoot or something that had been corrected, but wasn’t quite 100%.  He wasn’t the tallest guy I dated, or the best looking, either. 

Yet John was like an Energizer Bunny of enthusiasm.  The guy ccould have made friends with a terrorist and the next thing they would have been hoisting a couple of beers and talking like old buddies. I saw him a couple of times in my senior year of college, by then I was living with a guy out in Concord (East Bay), and I remember John and I always ended up goofing off and having the best time doing something that always looked suspicious yet was actually pretty innocent.  He insisted on giving me a foot massage one night at his place in Berkeley after dinner, complete with a foot bath first – which he managed to upend all over both of us and on his bed.  I had to take the BART train and a bus home, and he escorted me all the way there because he didn’t want me getting home and having my boyfriend at the time wonder why I was soaked through on a non-rainy evening without him explaining what happened.  I got home well before my boyfriend did, fortunately, so no explanation needed.  But that’s just the kind of guy John was.  A gentleman.  Who gave great massages and was incredibly ticklish after sex and did a great rendition of the Knights of Ni.  The kind of guy I seemed to push away in my quest for some unattainable douchebag who would end up ignoring me, dumping me, or both.  Because I didn’t think I was good enough for someone like that, that I was somehow damaged goods because of my perpetual cynicism that I could never shake.  If you’ve read my earlier entries on this blog, you know my upbringing was hardly anything for the pages of a Parents magazine.  Unless they have a “Don’t” section with black X’s over everything like Glamour does for photos of women with pantylines. 

What I Looked Like Under my Dress ...

Recently I found and scanned in some photos I had from a glamour photography shoot I posed for back in the late 80′s.  I had curly, permed, 80′s hair, big earrings, big blue eyes, a winning smile, and a figure that, well, was worthy of Playboy.  And I still hated myself. I was convinced that my thighs were getting lumpy, my stomach was poochy, and my breasts were the wrong shape and size.  I don’t remember John ever finding any flaws in me.  Maybe that was why I always pushed him away, he liked me too much.  How could anyone not see how flawed I really was?  And I don’t mean just in the sense of my physical appearance … mainly, I still find the biggest flaws are within my character.  But I didn’t recognize them back then, or maybe I did and thought I could overcome my “demons”.  Case in point, we have a happy photo of the newly married couple here at the reception, right before the garter toss:

And now, a page from John Madden's playbook ...

Looks nice, right, other than the privacy-protecting pseudo whipped cream over the faces of my ex-husband and ex-brother-in-law?  Except now when I look back at this picture, I realize of the men in the photo, how many of them I either A) wanted to have sex with; B) had already had sex with; C) dated; D) would have sex with in the future – all options circled in red.  The only one I forgot to circle is the category of E) “My Mom thinks I had sex with him”, which would have included my brother – the guy in the tux with the beard, standing up behind me.  John is actually the third guy in from the right, in the light-colored slacks and black jacket.  This was the last time I saw him.  :(

One saving grace is that there aren’t more people in this photo, because in a photo of the entire reception, there would have been at least three other guys circled who fell into category A) or B).  And three more who didn’t make it.  Now I don’t know about you or the guests at your wedding, but the fact that I had intimate knowledge of at least 15% of the male guests in the room strikes me as a bit high, not to mention, uh, a bit out of the ordinary?

Which brings me around to why I started this post to begin with.  Wondering whatever made me think I could stay faithful to one guy for, as it turned out, over 15 years?  Certainly at the time I married him, it wasn’t in my nature.  Or maybe he just wasn’t the right guy.  My ex was, and is, a nice guy.  Not as charismatic as a guy like John, but a decent guy.  I don’t think he ever made me feel swept off my feet nor was he big on giving foot massages.  I didn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough for him – which is maybe why I married him.  I shouldn’t have, in retrospect.  Hindsight is always 20/20, of course.  I liked him as a friend and I think at the time that was all I was looking for.  It should have been enough, but we eventually became the kind of friends who hang out at lunch once in awhile at work and say hello in the hallways … not the kind of friends who stay married.  And as former President Carter so famously put it, I still had lust in my heart for any number of guys over the years since 1992, including the guy who’d introduced me to my ex.  (He was one of ones who would have been circled in that same photo, if he’d been there).  I never acted on it until 2004.  My mom died that year, on my son Sean’s 5th birthday in February.  I remember getting a phone call that night, after everyone was in bed, from my mom’s boyfriend in Las Vegas, she’d had a serious heart attack (after a couple of massive strokes the previous year) and the ER docs were trying to get her heart going again. 

I told her boyfriend Bob to call me back as soon as he knew anything.  He was in tears, the poor guy.  I called my brother and gave him the news, and told him I’d call him back again as soon as Bob called me.  Then I went back in the bedroom; the ringing phone had woken my husband up.  I told him my Mom was in ER with a heart attack.  He said “oh,” and turned over and went back to sleep.  Admittedly, my husband knew that my relationship with my mom was far from close or loving … but she was also the only parent I had left, my father having passed away three years earlier.  I left the bedroom, checked on the kids, and went back out in the living room with the cordless phone in my hands, waiting for Bob to call back.  In the intervening minutes, I can remember praying, one of the few times in my life I really have prayed, for my Mom not to make it.  Bob called back about 45 minutes later – she was gone. 

A lot of things died in me that evening.  My husband never got up to check on me as I sat out in the living room and broke down in tears.  My long-ago vow to myself, that my marriage would be better than that of my parents and would last far longer than their record of 11 years, shattered.  I had spent most of my conscience life trying to prove to my mother that I was not only good enough, but that I could do better than she did – I had a more successful job, a nice house, a decent husband, and a stable home life that wasn’t filled with shouting, screaming, and senseless accusations – all because I wanted her to NOTICE.  Yeah.  The same mom who couldn’t be bothered to drive me up to college and who didn’t visit me once in 4 years there, until I graduated.  And then couldn’t leave fast enough to get back to a non-existent life.  The one whose daughter nearly dropped out with a 1.6 GPA her freshman year, but ended up graduating with two bachelor’s degrees three years later and a 3.7 GPA, but she never noticed.  The mom whose only “birds and the bees” advice to me was to give me a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex to read … when I was 8 years old, thus giving me a lifelong mental image of homosexual men ending up in the emergency room with shot glasses or other weird objects up their asses.

That was February.  In April that year, my 12th anniversary came around and I belatedly realized that I had surpassed my mom’s 11-year mark for being married.  I didn’t give a shit anymore.  All the grand scenes of reconciliation I used to imagine with her that I played out in my mind over the years, where she would apologize for being such a bitch and for hitting me and slapping me and warping my mind the way she did, where she would tell me how proud she was of me and show me she was actually interested in my life and in her own grandchildren … it would never happen.  I don’t know what made me think it would happen.  But it took that long for it to actually sink in.  The cracks that had begun to open in my marriage even before February started to spread and deepen, turning into deep fissures that old hurts bubbled up through.  The same hurts I used to squelch and bury and ignore over the years, wanting to present the perfect facade to the outside world, and mostly, to my oblivious and uncaring Mom.  My marriage died right along with her because it just didn’t matter anymore.

Since then, my life’s playbook has been looking like the John Madden one above with regard to men.  (Notice the nice subtle way I go about saying I have a tendency to be a slut?  Yeah, I thought that was well played.)  At least until the last couple of years.  The notches on the bedpost routine gets old, although certainly never dull.  I would say I’m too old for swing clubs, but having been to those places, I know that isn’t the case!  ;)  So what happens now, you may wonder?  I wonder too.  It’s hard to know where the behavioral me ends and the real me begins.  I know deep down that my promiscuous tendencies stem from low self-esteem, a need for acceptance in whatever form I can get it, even if that is in the form of being told you could suck the chrome off a bumper.  Yadda yadda.  Throw me a few more psychology books and I’ll have a master’s degree in still trying to figure out how I tick.  The parentheses of my life at either end of my marriage of my actions tell me that being faithful that long didn’t change that part of me one iota. 

Oooh! Pretty!

But I’m happy now, in the relationship I’m in.  That relationship is hardly without its flaws or complications and is far from perfect.  I’m the first to admit that the fantasy aspect of being married – the elaborate dress, the rings, the ceremony, the whole bit – still appeals to me.  I’m a girl, after all.  I love dressing up and I love jewelry.  Duh.  Hint, if anyone’s reading this, I love rings by Verragio and Ritani, and I think this is a really nice dress …

Will I ever end up married again?  Do I need to be married again?  I thought being married meant love and security, a feeling of being cherished.  I never had that even with a ring on my finger before, but I do now, in probably the most unlikely relationship I could ever end up in (like, OMG, he voted Republican, for one thing).  What I’m trying to figure out now is if the difference in my current relationship, a relationship where I actually feel loved and accepted just the way I am, is due to my boyfriend, or to me?  I like to think it’s a little of both.

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In the Event of a Zombie Apocalypse …

October 12, 2010

I have randomly weird, worrisome thoughts about how I would manage in the event of such life-altering things as a zombie apocalypse, being kidnapped and held by terrorists for several years, or ending up in some Turkish prison, falsely accused of drug smuggling.  Or, particularly relevant to today’s news, trapped half a mile underground in a Chilean mine without company or hope of near-term discovery (although there is no way in hell you’d get me down there to begin with, unless it was by way of a giant sinkhole that then closed up again).  Or surviving in a post-nuclear world, doing my best to evade the Mad Max-style creepies out there, roaming the empty highways.  I suppose dwelling on these things keeps me from thinking about the bigger-picture issues, which in general are too horrifying to really discuss.  So I focus on the trivial.  How about you?

To wit, my Top Five Fears:

1.  No fresh contact lenses or saline solution.

Just goin' for a stroll, anyone seen the optometrist's office?

If I don’t have my glasses when the zombies invade, I’m screwed. 

1a.  Glasses and sunglasses.

And even then, what do I do for sunglasses?  I don’t have a prescription pair, and I can’t even go outside on a cloudy day without squinting like Dirty Harry.  I think I may be part vampire. 

Yeah, punk? You seen my sunglasses anywhere?

I guess if I at least ended up with a pair of glasses I could see out of (we’re talking -8.0 diopters here, with a bifocal correction of +2.0), maybe I could score a stash of those funky huge wraparound shades you always see old people wearing home after cataract surgery.  I could hang with that. 

2.  Haircolor.

I don’t have Heloise’s stain removal advice or Emmylou Harris’ singing talents.  I have no desire to have my hair end up looking like either of them, or worse yet, some half-gray, half faded blonde (or deep auburn, depending on what month this is) Chernobyl-inspired disaster.

3.  Tweezers.

If I’m ever kidnapped by terrorists and held hostage for an extended period of time, my eyebrows will start to look like Andy Rooney and my chin will be reminiscent of the three little piggies. 

Come near me with that eyebrow wax and I'll rip your lungs out.

4.  Zits.

If I don’t wash my hair pretty much every day, my skin starts to break out everywhere my hair touches – around the forehead, chin, jaw, neck, etc.  I’m 47.  Why do I have to still deal with pimples?

5.  A razor.

Right up there with the chin.  I don’t need to have my underarms looking straight out of Paris, France and my lower legs like Sasquatch.

One Day After the Apocalypse

In short, whenever I am rescued and brought back to civilization or what passes for it and before I have to face the light of the press, the public, or of day, I want a trip to the local spa.  With no mirrors anywhere in sight.

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One Collar to Rule Them All

May 31 – October 6, 2010

A lot of folks have pointed out that my pet cats seem to reflect different parts of my personality.  I used to think that was a little strange, but now I think I’ve come to accept it.  I think people, things, or even pets do have a tendency to come into our lives for a reason, whether we ever recognize it or not.  Up until recently, I had four cats.  

*Later in this post – I have four cats again, stay tuned.* 

Those of you who have read my previous post will know that I recently lost my beloved Purrthos, whom I had the pleasure of knowing for these past 15 years.  Admittedly, I am not the best at recognizing the facets of my own personality by any means, but this is my best interpretation of what my cats are/were to me. 

Purrthos:  Jesus, after a bong hit.  Calm, content, always happy, willing to please, purred no matter what the occasion or event.  He was like being around a smiling, laughing Buddha.  Just being with him made you feel better, no matter what was going on with you.  Loved rides in the car, loved to be carried over the shoulder by me or by anyone at the vet’s office, patience of a saint and beyond.  There are parts of me that are like this.  Not the patience of a saint part by any means – if anything, perhaps Purrthos was in my life to teach me this or at least maybe he hoped that it would rub off on me.  But I strive to be like him in many respects.  Sometimes I succeed.  

The other day I picked up my two boys early from summer daycare so I could take the older one to pick up his replacement retainer (yes, the previous one was lost, ouch to the wallet).  I needed gas, so we stopped at the 7-11 and I asked them if either of them needed the bathroom or wanted a snack or soda. All three, as it turned out. So we hit the loo, picked up a couple of Cokes, bought Starbursts and a peanut butter Twix for Mom, not that she or her thighs need it.  As I’m perusing the candy bar aisle, my older son Sean comes up to me and hugs me out of the blue and says, “thanks, Mom”.  I look at him and ask, “what for?”.  After all, to me, gas for the car and fuel for the people in it is just the norm.  “You always make everything better,” he answers.  

Oh, jeez.  A whole world opens up inside me with those five simple words.  Am I somehow not the crappiest mom in the world that I think I am?  What am I doing different that their Dad doesn’t do?  Hmmm.  Well, I can think for one thing, he probably isn’t big on creature comforts like beverages, snacks, air conditioning, and such.  Certainly he never was with me.  I remember being nine months pregnant, we’re on our way to a nice dinner party and I don’t want to get my hair messed up and I’m sweltering in the heat (it was August), so I ask him to turn on the air conditioning, and he tells me to put down the window.  When it’s 98 degrees outside.  Yeah, thanks.  God forbid he lose a mile or two of fuel economy efficiency in lieu of keeping his pregnant wife comfortable.  Which is why she is now an ex-wife.  One of a thousand reasons. 

But maybe over the years of marriage and child-bearing there was somehow forged in me at least the beginnings of patience and of doing for others before doing for myself.  The Purrthos trait.  I don’t know that Purrthos was that self-sacrificing, but he certainly never complained.  This was a cat that got some 4700 injections over the course of his latter years and never once growled, hissed, or even stopped purring.  I should be half as tolerant. 

d’Artagnan:  Sir Lancelot.  Brave, bold, intelligent, although not the best at personal hygiene, mostly he just can’t be bothered.  There are more important things to think about than bathing.  Not sure how that aspect of him reflects me … I kinda hope that’s one of the exceptions.  Always a gentleman.  No matter how much either of his younger female siblings torments him, he has yet to ever take a swipe to either one of them, despite being twice their size.  Occasional problems with flatulence (okay, I will cop to the same issue, regrettably).  

Yeah, she's cute when she's sleeping, d'Artagnan thinks ...

How do I resemble d’Artagnan?  I suppose in the first three qualities, though I will rarely admit them.  I like to think of myself as brave compared to most of my age and gender.  I kill my own spiders, deal with my own weird noises in the middle of the night, and spend a lot of time in my house by myself with no worries at all. I had to grow up a lot faster than most kids did (see my previous post about my Mom for that one), and as a result, I’m a bit lacking in the feminine graces of shyness and demurity (is that a word?  Anyway, the aspect of being demure).  I like to think I have some brains, although to me I rarely use what I’ve been given.  I do bathe regularly, unlike d’Artagnan.  I am the first to point out to my kids to only pick on someone their own size, and to never hit a girl, unless she deserves it.  I differ from d’Artagnan on this point.  Frankly, Minnie, our youngest female, could do with a good feline whack upside the head, she’s way too uppity.  And I think there are some women who DO deserve to be hit back.  Very few, but they exist.  Moreso in the cat world. 

d’Artagnan is also a dude’s dude.  Whenever I have male company in the house, be it my boyfriend, my brother, or other guests, he gravitates to them immediately.  Not so much to women, other than me.  But if my boyfriend sits on the sofa with me to watch a movie, d’Artagnan is up there next to him immediately, wanting his head scratched.  Yes, I love having my head scratched, my ears stroked, and my hair played with, too.  (I do manage to refrain from what I call the “kitty G-spot” reaction of bringing my back leg up and shaking it like a dog’s when someone does this, fortunately.)  I am a dude’s girl; I’ve always gotten along better with men than with women.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of my female friends.  I think it’s that over the years I’ve always felt like there was some secret society I was never invited to join because I didn’t know the magic password.  I grew up with a brother and, as you might guess from my earlier posts mentioning my Mom, not the most sterling of role models.  My Mom didn’t hang out with the other moms and have coffee or have playdates with them and their kids, back in the 60′s before they were even called “playdates”.  I honestly don’t remember what my Mom did with me when I was a toddler and when my brother was in school during the day, when my parents were still married.  I think I was left to my own devices a lot, so I had a pretty imaginative time with my toys – usually cars, Legos, Lincoln Logs, marbles.  I hardly ever got to watch TV in those early years, although I do remember preferring The Electric Company over Sesame Street, but I think that was in the early 70′s.  No electronics to speak of back then, no computers, no Xbox, no Nintendo DS – I think my kids would be well-served if they had the same environment today, to be honest.  When you have to find your own entertainment, the imagination flourishes.  

But back to the point – my Mom was never what you’d consider a conventional “mom” for her era.  I don’t know if she was comfortable around other women, either – I don’t think so.  But in her case, the discomfort most likely stemmed from perpetual jealousy.  I don’t know how or when that got a foothold in my Mom’s upbringing, but she was jealous of every woman out there.  Including me, once I started to look more like a girl and less like a blonde monkey.  She grew up with one younger brother, so she didn’t have sisters or stepsisters to contend with, and she was a pretty girl.  But this is my self-reflection, not hers … at any rate, she never seemed to know how to behave around women.  I guess it rubbed off on me.  My mom had lots of male visitors over the years, but very rarely did she have a female friend.  I can’t honestly think of a close girlfriend of hers that she stayed in touch with for more than a year or two. 

As I grew up, it was hard to make friends given how often we moved.  The house on Aster Street, then the house on Deodar Road.  The apartment on G Street in Chula Vista, Hamilton Street in North Park, the duplex in Chula Vista on Dorothy Street (twice, a couple years apart), the apartment on Gwyneth Drive in Tustin, the rented house on 10th Avenue in Escondido.  A dozen schools in a dozen years.  Growing up with mostly my brother for companionship, I didn’t get the world of dolls and tea parties with stuffed teddy bears.  I played with green plastic army men and a BB rifle, and liked to set ant trails on fire with a magnifying glass.  I could take the head off a plastic armyman with a BB at 20 paces, more importantly, I could do it before he melted in the tree branch I’d stuck in the ground and set fire to at the base.  I let my brother play with my first Barbie doll (a Skipper), and she ended up stuck on a roof for months.  She was a bit worse for wear when a rainstorm finally washed her off.  Eventually I ended up with a Francie doll to accompany my now Zombie Skipper. I never had a Ken doll but somehow felt my dolls needed male companionship, so I let them have sex with my Breyer plastic stallion, when I wasn’t playing down by the mailboxes in the mud with them.  I suppose if a child psychologist had gotten a look at me then, they might have had an inkling that there was something wrong with my home life. I didn’t.  I assumed everyone’s Mom accused their 9-year-old daughter of having sex with their (Mom’s) boyfriends.  Didn’t yours?   

I never learned how to braid hair and nobody ever braided mine – my Mom usually kept my hair chopped short because she didn’t want to be bothered with it. I never had slumber parties and never got a birthday party after age 5. I learned makeup application through trial and error, and probably started wearing it earlier than I needed to, because I was always convinced I was ugly.  In my mom’s eyes, my hair was too straight, or too blonde (she was a curly redhead), and once I hit puberty, she started telling me I was too fat, at 5’6″ and 110 lbs.  Only now do I recognize that last critique was her way of expressing disdain over my bra cup size ultimately being larger than hers.  Even before I knew what puberty was, I had already gone from being a daughter to an enemy, the competition for whatever boyfriend of the week happened to be in her life.  

As I got older, I didn’t know what other girls talked about, and my one or two close female friends in high school (no offense to them intended here) tended to be as socially awkward as I was, for varying reasons.  I never had that je ne sais quoi that other girls had, at least in my eyes, that allowed them to be so at ease with their own gender.  In my futile efforts to find something to bond with my father over, I developed a knowledge of baseball and football, and a fondness for sports cars, so guys always liked talking to me – they just didn’t want to date me.  I remember one period in my senior year when I developed an odd friendship with one of the star football players at school, but only via the phone.  I don’t recall exactly how it started, I think he needed a missed homework assignment and called me at home.  We started chatting, and kept chatting.  For a few weeks I felt like the belle of the ball with a secret, my football player was going to call me in the evening and we would talk for twenty minutes, forty-five minutes, more than an hour sometimes, and he told me how much he liked talking to me vs. talking to other girls.  Yet during the daytime at school, it was as though we barely knew each other.  Eventually, after counseling him over his breakup with his previous girlfriend, my football player started dating someone else, and that was the end of the phone chats.  It was fun while it lasted, though. 

When I first adopted d’Artagnan he was incredibly skittish and shy, and spent his first three weeks with us hiding under the master bed.  He had been rescued from somewhere and was at the Helen Woodward shelter when I found him.  To this day, nearly 15 years later, he still flinches sometimes when you go to pet him, as if he is expecting to be hit.  I don’t know what happened to him in the first 9 months of his life before I took him into my home, but I suspect it was traumatic.  I think he came into my life as a reminder that I need to let my past go, and be trusting and open, in order to be loved.  I think he also missed some of his early cat training in basic fundamentals, such as how to wash himself, or the fact that it’s preferable to pee outside (d’Artagnan will come in from the outdoors, where there is plenty of dirt, to use the litterbox) – much as I missed some of my fundamental “how to be a girl” training, it seems like.  We’re both misfits in our own ways.  And it’s good to have a dude’s dude around – even in cat form.  d’Artagnan and I can always hang out on the sofa together and watch TV like old buds.  

Sabine:  The Princess.  Say no more, really.  Okay, make that the eccentric Vampire Princess who hates going out in the daytime because the light hurts her eyes, apparently.  Gets annoyed at wind because it ruffles her fur.  Will spend hours grooming herself but then go outside and roll around in the dirt.  Refuses to use the litterbox when it doesn’t meet her exacting standards and will just pee on the staircase (wood) instead, thank you very much.  Doesn’t so much meow as she does squeak.  Squeaks often when dismayed or when you are messing with her.  Refuses to eat dinner with other cats and must always watch her girlish figure.  Will spend night outdoors if given the opportunity, come back inside with a coat and tail full of foxtails and will be most upset at having them picked out of her fur.  Her alternate title is the Dumb Blonde (she is a buff-colored cat), which does fit her – and fits me, too, at times.  Ditto the vampire aspects.  I can’t go outside even on a cloudy day without sunglasses.  And okay, I am not a fan of dirty bathrooms – but who is, really? 

The Princess surveys her domain

As much as I make fun of Sabine for her Princess aspects, I would like to be her.  Or rather, I would like to have someone like me around to accept me and love me anyway, despite being high-maintenance.  She is the epitome of the girl I never got to be.  If she were in human form, Sabine would probably be Paris Hilton sans the sex tapes.  And the money.  One of those girls who had a cute new boyfriend every month and you always wondered what guys saw in her because she seemed like such a ditz on the surface.  But underneath she is smart enough to land a decent guy, or at least a well-to-do one, and ends up living a pretty cushy life that involves weekly manicures, a luxury SUV, owning a Bichon Frise named Snowball or Fluffy, and does not involve having to work a 9-to-5 job.  That would be Sabine.  I’ve dated guys who have ex’s (or even current) wives or girlfriends who are those kind of women, and I guess it is part of the mystique that goes along with learning how to braid hair:  I don’t know how to be like that.  I have been accused of being too independent, too self-reliant, too stubborn – perhaps these are the things I need to let go of in order to be a Sabine-like woman?  I don’t think I would know how to stay home and be a well-kept wife, spending my days raising the children, being a soccer mom and PTA volunteer, hosting charity dinners and lunching with the girls.  I would have too much guilt over feeling as though I wasn’t earning a living of my own and too much fear of it all going sour and me being left unable to fend for myself or pay my own way.  

There were girls in high school who were planning to get married right after graduation, or maybe after going to community college for a couple years – basically they wanted to be wives and mothers, and knew that from early on, apparently.  I’m almost 47, have two school-age boys, and I’m still not sure I want to be a mother.  I don’t know if I want to be a wife again, either.  I don’t think I know how to do it right.  But a part of me admires those woman and wants to know how to be one, how to trust that a man will take care of my needs and provide for me, and that what I do as a wife and mother is more than enough of a career, and I’m doing a great job of it as well.  When I am around these women, I feel awkward and ashamed, like an unwanted party guest, the shoe that doesn’t quite fit right.  They are at ease hosting dinner gatherings and chatting with other women; I’m the one who skulks around the sidelines and never knows when the appropriate time is to ask if I can help with things in the kitchen.  Sabine, of course, would have no such problems.  Were she in human form, other women would feel naturally at ease with her, as would men fall all over themselves for her attention.  

When I adopted Sabine, she was a sad, miserable little 7-month-old kitten who had been dumped in the night repository at the San Diego Animal Shelter for “house soiling”.  Turned out she was sick with some kind of bacterial infection that was giving her digestive tract a (pun intended) run for its money, although as far as #1 went, it did take awhile and a number of whacks on the butt to get her to stop peeing on every piece of furniture I owned.  Her hallmark effort was one morning when I was lazing in bed with a (now) ex-boyfriend and the two of us started kissing and making out, and Sabine crawled up in between us, all cute and purring and cuddly … and let loose with a flood of cat pee that soaked through to the mattress.  I could have killed her.  In retrospect, I think it was her commentary on my relationship.  I should have paid more attention, I could have saved myself several more months of dealing with someone else’s emotional baggage. 

Minnie:  Cold-blooded assassin.  Most likely a former KGB agent in a previous life.  Was adopted at 1 year old and had already had a litter of kittens despite being no larger than a kitten herself.  Has since eaten her way up to a much larger size, at least in girth.  Afraid of absolutely nothing, including vacuum cleaners.  Constantly looking to kill gophers, birds, lizards, mice, etc.  Torments d’Artagnan.  Oddly enough, always left Purrthos alone.  Chases her sister Sabine given any opportunity.  Even though they are both girls, Minnie is probably the polar opposite of Sabine.  She is more of a dude than d’Artagnan is at times, certainly more of a dude than me.  But she embodies more of my personality than Sabine does.  While Sabine is pretty much afraid of everything and as dainty as a white doily under fine china, Minnie is that hard-fired stoneware coffee mug you’ve dropped half a dozen times and it scarcely suffers a scratch.  She is about as far from being a girly chick as the Earth is from Jupiter.  While I don’t consider myself that far gone, I do recognize that I am a bit too masculine at times myself.  My stubborn and independent streak is often a setback in terms of my dating life.   Guys apparently like their chicks to need someone else to kill spiders, fix toilets, and do other manly things.  I’m not one of those chicks unless it’s a matter of sheer muscle power that I’m lacking.  And even then I’d rather hire someone than ask, I hate to admit weakness.  

Blofeld's Next Cat

Minnie kills all her own spiders.  Surprisingly, Sabine does too, and usually eats them.  Probably one of the few things they actually have in common.  Under the tough exterior, though, Minnie does actually have a softer side.  Trouble is, you usually don’t see it until she’s asleep!  But when she is sleeping, or just waking up, she is adorable.  Soft as a dark gray little bunny and purring contentedly.  Not surprisingly, I’ve been told the same thing about myself – that I’m cute when I sleep, I look like a little girl.  I suspect that Minnie had a tough life her first year, living on the streets, giving birth to a litter of kittens that no one knows what happened to.  At a year old, she was barely over 5 pounds when I adopted her, but was a tough, scrappy little thing already.  She grew up a little too fast, I think, much like I did.  I don’t remember much about my childhood that was child-like.  But when we both sleep, the outward mask falls away and the innate vulnerability emerges.  Minnie is probably the most like me, which is probably why I was compelled to adopt her.  I wasn’t looking for another cat when we got her, and if anything, I’ve always wanted a calico kitten or maybe a black and silver tabby.  Minnie is a rather indistinct gray with faint stripes and a lighter underside, not a cat I would have really picked for looks, and given the number of times she has ripped open my skin with her claws, I didn’t adopt her for her sweet personality, either.  But as much as the other three, she represents a part of me, a creature that I feel needs me in her life, and her in mine.  

May 31: I got Purrthos’ ashes back from the vet late last week.  The cremation service did a nice job, he came back in this little cedar box with his name engraved on the top, complete with a lock and key on the outside.  It’s a lovely box, too nice to put in the ground, really, that would seem like a waste.  I picked up the ashes on Thursday afternoon, along with getting an injection of Synvisc One and cortisone in both knees and going to my kids’ Open House at school that evening, then packing for a weekend trip (leaving Friday immediately after work) via the train up to Santa Barbara.  Needless to say, it was kind of a hectic afternoon and evening, and I really didn’t have much chance to think about the ashes or what they represent aside from bringing the box into the house and setting it on the kitchen counter. 

Once I got back from Santa Barbara and had the day to clean up the house, do laundry, pay bills, do chores, etc., my mind finally has a chance to slow down as well.  And I realize that all day I’d been hostile, short-tempered, easily angered, frustrated … almost as if an easy-going, perpetually happy part of my nature had somehow been removed from me without warning. 

I want to ignore this, think that it’s just me over-reacting, that maybe I didn’t get enough sleep, I’m just grumpy about other things.  Okay, yes, I am grumpy about other things.  I interviewed for a job early last week that I would have jumped at the chance for … and didn’t get it.  Thought I had a really good shot at it, too.  And didn’t get it.  So yeah, I’m upset about that.  I was counting on it to the point where I was ready to give one days’ notice (or less) at my current job and just walk out the door with my things packed.  Am I that unhappy there?  Lately, yeah, I am.  This job would have been a much better opportunity for me, better pay, more interesting work, and most importantly, the feeling that I was actually using my brain rather than just being some mindless drone who is only appreciated for the fact that I sit at a desk and work a computer for 8 hours a day, and heaven forbid if I’m 10 minutes late on starting that 8-hour shift.  I don’t need a whole lot to make me happy at work.  But I’m not getting it now in any case. 

So that’s one thing.  Part two, okay, yeah, I’m not so thrilled about my whole knee pain issue.  I had my second injection of cortisone in both knees about two weeks ago, and it was already starting to wear off this past week.  Thankfully, my medical insurance approved the Synvisc injections, which one can think of as “synthetic viscosity” or a man-made version of the lube between our joints, derived from the coxcombs of roosters, of all things.  I hope it works and makes a difference.  I have osteoarthritis of both knees and have basically no cartilage left in them, at age 46.  Yeah, that makes me mad.  But I also know full well there are a lot of folks in far worse shape than I’m in.  I should be grateful I can still walk, period.  And that my brain still works (more or less) and my eyes still work, and my ears, and all those other parts.  Normally I am and I don’t even think about it, and I’m one of those stupidly happy people that you wonder why the hell they’re so happy.  

It’s like my ignorant bliss seems to be missing lately.  Like I’m missing … Purrthos.  The Purrthos part of me, anyway.

July 16:  It has taken me awhile to write this post.  Probably because delving within is never easy.  And since I started it, I ended up adopting a new cat.  I’m not entirely sure why, I was kind of enjoying the ease of just having the three fairly low maintenance cats around (although I have since found out that Sabine has a heart murmur, and a noticeable one at that, so stay tuned).  But perhaps my subconscious felt otherwise, or just fate does have a way, once again, of bringing these fuzzy little creatures into my life for a reason.  I recently took d’Artagnan into the vet for a long-overdue blood test to follow up on his hyperthyroid condition from last year, for which he ended up spending a week at a specialty vet and having a radioactive iodine injection.  While I’m there, the staff all told me again how sorry they were about Purrthos’ loss and how much they missed him, as do I.  Then Dr. Alexander told me about a little kitten they’d recently gotten in from one of the feral cat groups – they trap cats and bring them in to be neutered, tag them by clipping an ear, and release them back where they were found, in the hopes of allowing them to live naturally but curtailing their numbers at the same time by sterilizing them.  They had brought in a brother and sister, trapped together.  The sister was ill and didn’t survive, but the brother did.  Dr. Alexander thought he was young enough that he could be adopted into a good home, and she allowed me to meet him while d’Artagnan was taken back to another office to get his blood drawn.

Yeah, okay, I'm a sucker for a cute face. With long whiskers.

She brought in this skinny little orange and white tabby, with legs that went on forever and a tail like a garter snake on a starvation diet.  She’d been spending the last few days carrying him around with her in a towel or a canvas bag, keeping him close and petting him, getting him used to be around humans.  She said he was extremely curious about other cats and kept wanting to be near them, same as dogs that were coming through their offices.  She let me hold him for a bit and I noticed his neck was thinner around than my wrist (and I have thin wrists), and he had these huge ears on a small head, with big eyes, giving him something of a Yoda-like appearance.  His fur is shorter than that of my two short-haired cats at home (d’Artagnan and Minnie), just slightly beyond the length of peach fuzz, and I think it’s going to stay that way.  As I petted him, I was rewarded in a few minutes with a low, rumbling purr.

And thus my household became four (cats) again.  My boys and I settled on the name Yoshi for our new arrival – they liked it because Yoshi is a name in Super Mario Brothers; I liked it because it sounds Japanese and he looks like an exotic, kind of foreign cat.  His fur is very short and his head reminds me of an Egyptian cat.  His tail is almost as long as his body.  He’s now six months old and with the exception of Minnie stalking him on a regular basis (which is why Minnie is the only cat in the house who wears a bell on her collar, so you get advance warning that she’s coming), he seems to be fitting in pretty well.  He gets hyper and loves to chase toys or his own tail, or shred Kleenex and generally bounce off the walls to the point where he is panting for breath, always a funny thing to see in a cat. I still miss Purrthos, though.  The house was more harmonious with him in it, and with his loss, it’s like there has been a dischordant note in an ongoing symphony that I can’t seem to get rid of.  It will take time.  Certainly it has taken my whole life thus far to get the parts of myself in order; why should I expect anything less from my cats?

Posted in I Hate The Living, In Memoriam | 2 Comments

Elegy for a Musketeer

May 17, 2010

I had to put my cat Purrthos to sleep this morning.  Purrthos was a tortie flame-point Birman that I adopted back in early 1996 from the El Cajon animal shelter when he was about 6 months old.  I think I guesstimated his birthday as being sometime around October of 1995, which would have made him 15 years old in a few more months.  When I first got him, he was this little kitten with a purr as loud as a jet engine who wanted to sleep right next to my head on the pillow every night.  Eventually he succeeded, and he grew bigger.  And grew.  And GREW.  In his prime, Purrthos was well over 18 pounds and he was a fluffy cat, striking and beautiful with his cream colored fur, light orange points on his face, the faintest of stripes on his lower legs, and the prettiest pale blue eyes.  His purr grew right along with him.  You could be in another room of the house and easily know where Purrthos was just by sound, because the only time he ever stopped purring was when he was in a deep sleep.  Until today, that is.  Today he finally stopped purring for good. 

When we got Purrthos, I think the Disney remake of The Three Musketeers movie was out (with Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and Chris O’Donnell) and I loved the characters.  Originally we thought of calling our new kitten some Spanish word for “fleabag” given that he was covered with fleas from the shelter, but a good bath, flea dip, and bug-bombing of the house took care of that.  Oh yeah, and we had him fixed at the same time.  Talk about a welcome home – right off the bat he gets his nuts whacked off.  Poor kitty.  Although knowing Purrthos, he probably purred until the anesthesia kicked in.  He was going to be named Porthos (choices were that, or Athos or Aramis – the latter two sounded rather silly if I stood out in my backyard calling them out loud), but it became pretty evident what his true nature was soon after we got him, and nothing but Purrthos would do.  Over the years, people would comment on how much they liked his name, occasionally they’d pick out that it was a Three Musketeers name when they heard he had a brother named d’Artagnan (and later, a sister named Sabine), although the best remark I got was someone asking me if “Purrthos” was the name for the Greek God of Cats.  I liked that the best.  

Mr. Purrthos

In addition to being the world’s friendliest cat, Purrthos was also a beautiful animal.  I never knew how a cat like him had ended up in an animal shelter.  I researched cat books when he was a kitten, trying to figure out what kind of kitty I’d adopted.  The closest breed he matched was a Birman.  Occasionally I liked to re-read the stories you can find online about the Sacred Cats of Birma:

The unusual coloring of the Birman is the subject of a charming legend. Centuries ago, the Khmer people of Asia built the Temple of Lao-Tsun in which to worship a golden goddess with sapphire-blue eyes, Tsun-Kyan-Kse. Mun-Ha, a much-loved priest, often knelt in meditation before the goddess with Sinh, a beautiful white temple cat, beside him gazing at the golden figure. One night raiders attacked the temple and Mun-Ha was killed. As Mun-Ha died, Sinh placed his feet upon his fallen master and faced the golden goddess. As he did so, the hairs of his white body turned golden, and his yellow eyes to sapphire-blue, like hers; his four white legs turned earthy brown – but where his paws rested gently on his dead master, they remained white as a symbol of purity. Next morning, the hundred white cats of the temple were as golden as Sinh, who did not leave the sacred throne until, seven days later, he died, and carried his master’s soul into paradise. Since that time, whenever a sacred cat died in the Temple of Lao-Tsun, the soul of a priest was said to accompany it on its journey to the hereafter.  (Courtesy of www.birman.org). 

Interestingly enough, when I first adopted Purrthos, I remembered looking at his face with his beautiful blue eyes (his are actually more of a light, sky blue than dark blue – perhaps the reason he ended up in a shelter is that he didn’t meet the breed standard), and in a more melancholy moment, thinking, “my cat has the face of Jesus”.  He did.  Purrthos had a pure, innocent face, sort of what I’d always envisioned the son of God would look like (well, if He were a cat, anyway).  I’m not a religious person by any means.  My religious upbringing is a smattering of being dragged to Christian Science services on random Sundays by my Mom, even though she professed to not care for the practice, and me telling her that I thought the assistant minister was a child molester.  I was all of maybe 10 years old and I already thought about things like this.  Sad, indeed, the loss of innocence.  

A Younger Version of Purrthos

It always used to amaze me that Purrthos really lived up to his name. He truly purred for every occasion.  Eating, sleeping, drinking, using the litterbox, eating grass, and so forth.  Take him to the vet and he’d purr when he got his temperature taken (I always did wonder about that one).  He loved getting baths and would purr at the groomer when he got blow-dried.  Once a year in the summer, I would have his fur shaved down, because I live in East San Diego county and it gets over 100 degrees pretty often in August and September.  When I started to see Purrthos lying on his side on the tile floor in the kitchen as often as he could, that was usually a sign that it was time for his summer trim.  Which he also loved.  The ladies at the pet groomer place loved to see him and were amazed that a cat was so mellow and easygoing, and actually purred even while he was getting his fur shaved off.  He liked to sit on my lap in the car when I took him to the vet, purring all the while, trying to schmooze his face into the steering wheel or up against my chin.  Although he wasn’t the world’s smartest cat, Purrthos did know in the winter that sleeping on my pillow with his belly pressed up against the top of my head, was a good way to stay warm.  And I adapted to having him sleep there, both the physical size of him hogging up my pillow as well as the noise factor of his purring.  I got to the point where I would wake up in the morning and he’d be there, stretched out across the top half of my pillow, sound asleep, and I hadn’t even noticed him all night. 

About six months after we got Purrthos, we got another kitten to keep him company, another male, in late 1996.  Originally named “Bootsie” by the animal shelter, I decided that moniker simply wouldn’t do, and he was re-christened as d’Artagnan.  d’Artagnan is a black and white tabby with white “boots” on his legs, so yeah, the original name fit … but let’s get real.  Bootsie?  No.  Just not a dudely enough name, if you ask me.  He was a little older (9 months) when we adopted him, and had already been fixed, but for some reason that didn’t stop him from occasionally trying to hump Purrthos.  He was a shy, skittish cat who spent most of his first month with us hiding under the bed, and during the rare times he did come out, his flatulence could clear a room.  I almost took him back to the shelter, it was that bad.  Thankfully his digestive system, along with the rest of him, adapted to his new home, and the toxic gas clouds became less frequent.  Amazingly, d’Artagnan eventually grew to be nearly as big as Purrthos, and in the last year, bigger, since Purrthos lost weight over these past several months.  But he will never match the size of Purrthos’ heart. 

My cat family grew again when I adopted Sabine in 2006, after my frustration with various cat adoption agencies around San Diego (“you can’t let your cat outside, it might get eaten by a coyote” … even though I have never willingly left my cats outside at night in over a decade and they seem fine and still love to go out …) drove me to the San Diego County animal shelter, where I found this sad-looking but beautiful buff-colored Somali kitten of 7 months old, with the softest fur I’ve ever felt on a cat and a face like a blonde Capuchin monkey, who had been dumped off at the night depository at the shelter for the crime of “house soiling”.  It did turn out that this little kitty was sick, and some antibiotics took care of the issue of the soiling, but, it turned out, not the peeing part.  I fell in love with her and brought her home, and she proceeded to pee on just about everything.  She has since learned the error of her ways, and now she only thinks out of the box when the litterbox needs cleaning and she feels the need to let me know as much … so she will pee on the hardwood flooring on the stairs, just to remind me to do my job.  Sabine’s original name (given by the shelter) was “Sweetie”, but being the first girl to be introduced to my two old boys (Purrthos and d’Artagnan were then at least a decade old each), she needed something a little classier.  The Countess DeWinter’s name from The Three Musketeers was Sabine.  So the new cat became Sabine.  Her various nicknames are all forms of “Princess” or “Her Highness”, but she is also known as the Dumb Blonde or the Vampiress.  

Our 4th Musketeer, as it were, is Minnie.  No, there is no Musketeer named “Minnie” that I know of.  Minnie is a bit of an entity all to herself.  She was a spur of the moment adoption from Petco in Santee in 2008, a tiny little gray kitty, a year old, who had already had a litter of kittens and yet weighed just over 5 pounds.  My kids and I couldn’t imagine such a small cat actually having kittens.  Minnie looks most like a British Shorthair, with a slightly flat face and a solid gray body.  To me she looks more like a sowbug, also known as a roly-poly or a potato bug, depending on what part of the country you live in.  She must have had a sparsely fed existence as a feral cat, because as my housecat, she is making up for lost time and calories, and has managed to put on a good three or more pounds since we adopted her.  She is still just as small as she was before – now she’s just wider.  I can see how Minnie probably fared quite well for herself in the wild – of my four cats, she is the most persistent hunter.  My boyfriend dubbed her the KGB Assassin, and it fits.  She will hunt down and kill just about anything, and if hungry enough, eat it as well.  She reminds me of a refrigerator magnet that The Onion website sells online that reads, “Kitten thinks of nothing but murder all day.”  That’s Minnie.  I adore her, but I know at any given moment she is probably trying to figure out some elaborate scheme that involves smashing my head in with a large, weighted object. 

Minnie came with her name, that was the title bestowed on her by the adoption agency that put her at Petco.  It suits her.  I thought about giving her a Musketeers name, such as Constance, who was one of the maids in waiting, but that really doesn’t fit her at all.  What does fit her is something along the lines of Minnie Mouse … she resembles a mouse with her short, dark gray fur and furtive, scurrilous nature … and well, what do you know?  Weren’t the members of the Mickey Mouse club called the “Mouseketeers”?  Close enough to Musketeers for my sake. 

Sometime last year, my kids decided that all of our cats should represent either religious deities or characters from Star Wars.  Minnie was the easy one, she is the Devil, Satan, Darth Vader, or that creepy-looking red dude with the dual lightsaber (Darth Maul).  Sabine is some lovely golden-haired angel or Princess Leia.  d’Artagnan seems to be tagged as either an Archangel or Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Purrthos?  From Star Wars, he is Luke Skywalker or Yoda.  On the religious side, my kids came up with the same observation I’d had about him years earlier.  “He has the face of Jesus,” Trevor said once, with all the innocent wisdom of an 8-year-old.  

Back in October of 2003, Purrthos was diagnosed with diabetes.  Type I, the variety that needs regular insulin injections.  My then-husband and I noticed that he’d started drinking a lot of water and peeing a lot, usually not in the litterbox, and was losing weight.  Our 18-pound cat dropped to below 13 pounds.  I was pretty dismayed at the news.  Diabetic?  Shots?  TWICE A DAY?  Our two boys were 4 and 2 at the time and were more than enough responsibility for us.  But we adjusted, or more accurately, I adjusted, and became Purrthos’ primary medical caregiver.  It was up to me to make sure we had enough insulin and needles on hand, and to take the time off from work to take him in for glucose checks.  Back then he got Humulin-L, manufactured by Lilly.  Eventually Lilly pulled Humulin-L off the market, and I scoured various pharmacies to stock up on what little I could find, because it was relatively affordable, being a human insulin.  Somewhere during all of this, I separated from my husband, moved out into an apartment, remodeled our first home, which had been a rental for the past 8 years, divorced, moved back into the old house, with 50/50 custody of my kids and full custody of d’Artagnan and Purrthos, who were around 9-10 years old at the time.  I offered to share custody of the cats with my ex but he told me to take them.  Most likely he probably didn’t want to be bothered with the time and expense involved in Purrthos’ care.  After Humulin-L went off the market and my stash dried up, I had to switch to Glargine insulin (also known as Lantus), which is about five or six times the cost of Humulin-L, and only available from my vet’s office.  I used to be able to get Humulin-L at Target, which was a lot more convenient, especially if I ran out on a weekend when the vet’s office was closed!  

As Purrthos got older, other things started to go wrong with him, as you might expect with an animal with a chronic medical condition.  He developed a heart murmur, and then hypertension.  I never understood how an animal who slept 22 hours a day could have high blood pressure, it certainly wasn’t from stress.  :)  He developed arthritis and started limping, fortunately the medication he was put on for that helped a lot.  And, this past year, bladder and kidney stones, to the point where he needed abdominal surgery to remove them.  His bladder stones were of the variety that are hard to get rid of, so I needed to be aware of a reoccurrence of them.  After he recovered from his surgery, he developed an enlarged liver, but his blood tests didn’t show any cause.  Throughout all of this, I have had more than one person comment to me that they would never go to such lengths for a cat, and couldn’t understand why I would. 

I thought about this a lot in terms of what Purrthos’ care cost me since 2003, in time and money, and it boiled down to this: 

  • 4750 injections, given twice a day, 12 hours apart
  • Humulin-L and Glargine insulin: ~ $8000
  • Insulin Needles, approximately 4750 syringes: ~ $1500
  • Vet appointments for glucose monitoring, blood tests: ~ $7200
  • High blood pressure monitoring tests and daily medication, from 2008-onward: $1000
  • Arthritis medication (shots, one every three weeks): $200
  • Medication, tests, vet visits, and eventually abdominal surgery to remove bladder stones: $2000
  • Additional costs of special dietary food:  $2000
  • Cost for petsitters to come by and administer injections whenever I was out of town or away from the house for the evening: $1000
  • Time off from work for veterinary appointments, usually averaging 1 every 3 weeks:  Not calculated
  • Cost for additional laundry (washing soiled rugs, blankets, etc.) and gas to and from vet appointments:  Not calculated

In short, over the course of the years, I could have probably paid off my car with what I’ve been shelling out with the care of this one particular cat.  Suddenly this morning I went to feed my three other cats and it struck me.  I don’t have to go looking for Purrthos to make sure he comes out and eats, so I can give him his shot.  I don’t have to go looking for where he might have pooped lately (hopefully on a  washable throw rug and not the carpeting), and I don’t have to gather up the kitchen, entryway and hallway bathroom throw rugs every day or two anymore to wash them because Purrthos has peed on them.  I don’t need to remember to make sure I have enough glargine insulin in the fridge to get through the weekend, or enough needles on hand.  I don’t need to figure out when I can take Purrthos in for his next glucose check, which always had to be done 6 hours after his morning injection, so the timing usually involved me having to take at least a half day off work to go home and get him and make sure I got him to the vet at the right time.  

The song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” does remind me of one more bullet point for my list from above: 

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?  How about love?  How about love?  Measure in love.
 

  • 7,884,000 minutes of unconditional, purring love:  Priceless

It’s Wednesday morning now and I’m getting ready for work.  All I had to do was pour food into three bowls, add some kitty treats, and I was done.  If I stay out late or spend the night with my boyfriend tonight, I don’t have to worry about making sure someone gets to my house to give Purrthos an injection in the evening and in the following morning.  I don’t have to warn anyone else to watch out for cat poop on the bathroom rug or pee on the kitchen rug.  I have three cats now that are, well, the reason people prefer cats – because you can leave them alone for hours or even a day or two at a time with just food, water, and a clean litterbox, and come back and they’ll be just fine.  It’s hard to believe that it has been almost seven years since I’ve had that level of freedom with my pet ownership. 

All that being said, I would love to see the face of Jesus just one more time.  

I miss you, Purrthos.

A P.S. to this – I have to give my utmost gratitude to the caring and wonderful staff at Balboa Vet Hospital (www.balboavet.com) – Dr. Alexander, Dr. Lee, Juan Pablo, Jessica, Michaela, Rachel, Tamsin, and all the rest of the staff, plus their office kitties, Harrison and O’Malley – thank you for taking such good care of my baby all these years.  I know you loved him as much as I did.

Posted in In Memoriam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

She’s the Moon

  

Moon Goddess Artwork by Josephine Wall

May 1, 2010 

There is a new Peter Gabriel song (actually a remake of a song by Bon Iver) called “Flume” out now – I highly recommend both versions.   

Only love is all maroon
Gluey feathers on a flume
Sky is womb and she’s the moon  

Flume Clip (on Amazon)  

I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means.  But the more I listen to the song, particularly the Peter Gabriel version (he repeats “she’s the moon” a few times at the very end), it makes me think of my mother.  Or a mother, anyway.  Not necessarily mine.  Which brings me to the subject of my post … mothers.  

To say my Mom was dysfunctional is like saying Hitler was kind of a bad guy.  Were there weirder Moms than mine out there?  Oh yes.  Were there kids who were more abused than I was?  By far.  I’m not writing this as some kind of “pity me” epitaph.  More of a realization of what I wish I’d had for a Mom back then, and now.  

The moon from my backyard.

In a lot of ways a Mom would be like the moon to me.  Distant, but yet always there – even on the nights you couldn’t see her, you knew she was there.  I have never found the night to be as scary or intimidating as literature and folklore make it out to be, and to me the sight of the moon is always reassuring, welcoming, somehow warm and soothing despite knowing how cold it can be on the dark side of it.  In my world, a Mom was like the moon.  You  could look up at her and know that she would never go away, she was always there.  She may have sometimes seemed cold or distant, but you never doubted her love, her presence.   

I suppose the reason I don’t really fear nighttime or the dark as much as some people do is that at least once my Mom went to bed, my house was relatively peaceful.  As long as my Mom didn’t decide to sleep with me, that is.  Which she did, on occasion.  At some point when I was around age 9 or 10, the roles in our household started to shift.  My mother gradually became the child, and my older brother and I were the parents.  My brother was left to the responsibility of making sure my Mom got home alive and intact when she was out drinking too much at a bar, even if it meant having to go out on his bicycle (after a slurred phone call from her in which he usually had to guess where she might be – woe be it to him if he couldn’t figure it out) to wherever she was and drive her home.  Mind you, for most of this time he was underage and didn’t have a driver’s license yet.  But I guess he was technically a sober driver, just not a legal one.  I shudder at the thought of this now that my oldest son is 11 already, and can’t imagine there being a day where I would ever put him in the position to drive me home when I was intoxicated, let alone ride a bicycle across town, through nighttime traffic, to find me.   

As for me, I started to take on the role of the mom, the one who helped manage the household budget and was, in a backward way, the mother to my own mom.  She would have a fight with her boyfriend and couldn’t sleep that night, so she’d want to sleep in my bed.  Me, the 10-year-old, and she, the 36-year-old.  I’d have to be the one to console her when she cried.  And then she’d get grouchy and yell at me for keeping her awake because I was wiggling around too much in bed.  In  MY OWN bed, which was a twin, while her queen-sized one sat empty just across the hall.  The ludicrousness of it baffles me in retrospect.  I hated those nights.  The only other living thing I wanted in my bed as a child was our cat, Parkie. I rarely let my own kids sleep with me unless they’re really sick or have had some awful nightmare, but even then, with the latter scenario, I try to coax them back into their own bed later in the night, once they’re happy again and have forgotten the bad dream.     

I learned how to mix martinis when I was around 9 years old, for my Mom, it was Tanqueray gin and a touch of dry vermouth in a glass over ice.  She had one favorite glass, it was a deep blue highball with white flowers in the glass, that surprisingly never ended up being used as a projectile to throw at my brother or myself.  Amazing, given that everything else ended up that way.  Coasters, wooden figurines, those vague candy dish/ashtrays you made in grade school out of a leaf print or your hand and some orangey-red clay, your name and the year scratched in the back with a toothpick before it was fired and presented as a Mother’s Day gift … they all ended up being thrown at us and with varying levels of damage.  Not surprisingly, the clay mementos never made it to my adulthood.  The coasters survived, and this set of three carved wooden cats (sort of a Balinese style, tall and sleek) had dents and dings and ears that were glued back on again.  Silly little things, but I still own them, only because there is so little left otherwise.    

And now, as an adult, I am surprised at the things I wish for that are Mom-like.  Someone to talk to about my kids, about their behaviors.  Someone to brag to about what my boys do, or complain about the times when I get the pouty face or the Stink Eye from one of them, who isn’t an ex-spouse, a friend, a sibling, or a boyfriend.    

That's My Boy!

My older son got an award at school today.  The California public schools administer a test every spring called the CST or STAR test, basically they are standardized tests in English/Language Arts and Math, and as the years progress, other topics get added.  The 5th graders get tested on Science for the first time this year.  I took a quick look at a sample of the CST questions in English for 11th graders, just for the heck of it, and to be honest, I’m not sure how well I’d do, given that my experience of reading and interpreting literature and even most documents is colored by years of life experiences, opinion, and correcting other people’s documents for a living.  Anyway, back to my son.  The school decided to give out medals to the kids who actually scored a perfect 600 score on the Math portion of the STAR test in the last two years.  (I guess nobody got a perfect score in English, which actually sort of makes me sad).  They had cute Olympic-type medals on red, white, and blue ribbons made up for the kids and gave them out in a post-lunchtime ceremony that the parents of those particular kids, and all of the children in grades 2-5, were invited to.  It was probably the first time that I scored a seat in the auditorium for any of the school events I’ve been to in the last six years, given that there were only 23 kids awarded medals, so only those parents were present.     

A lot of times now when I attend things for my children, I find myself thinking of my Mom and my own childhood at these same ages.  My sons are 8 and 11, in grades 3 and 5.  I don’t remember a lot of elementary school – unfortunately huge chunks of it are big blanks.  But I think I remember more of school than I do of my home life, which probably tells you something.  I remember moving almost once a year, usually based on some whim of my Mom’s or because of some boyfriend she was then dating or had just broken up with and felt she had to “get away from”.  In third grade, I went to three different schools.  Two were due to moves, the other was due to a district change mid-year.  In retrospect, my sense of self-deprecating humor was probably born out of a need to find a way to fit in, having always been “the new kid” in class every year.  I had very few close friends growing up, other than my older brother, because he was the one who was always there.  Everyone else, I got to know them for a few months, maybe a year, and then we moved away again.  Small wonder that I tend to make friends with men more readily than I do women.  Girls take longer to get to know … by the time someone got to know me, I’d moved on.     

I can remember parts of 5th grade, though.  That year isn’t quite as hazy as others.  Part of the reason was that I had a great teacher that year, and, coincidentally, my first male teacher, Mr. Carl Strickland.  Mr. Strickland passed away a few years ago – it was just a random thing that I happened to see his obituary in the newspaper, and I don’t subscribe and rarely read the paper as it is.  A slightly burly man with salt and pepper hair and matching beard, he had no hesitation in taking disruptive students outside and slamming them up against the wall.  Ahhh, those were the good old days.  And in many ways, yes, I mean that.  No, I’m not advocating child abuse in the schools, but if a teacher needs to control his or her classroom and is stuck with a consistently misbehaving student AND the parents seem to do nothing to intervene, then at that point, I think it is the teacher’s discretion to figure out how to deal with the kid.  Mr. Strickland was cool, he let us decide if we wanted to be known by nicknames, and we could think it over and let him know.  My brother dared me to have him call me “Fred” (my brother’s nickname for me, I think he got it from a comic strip), and so, not wanting to look like a sissy to my big brother, I did it.  My report card for that year even said, “Fred is a great kid!” on it.  At least I knew that Mr. Strickland was proud of me.     

Fred was a great kid.  Despite being so nervous on the first day of school every year that I usually threw up (always being the newbie didn’t help any), I liked school.  It was my refuge from home and from my mother, a place where I could receive praise for what I did, honest feedback that didn’t always have to turn into some discussion about my mother’s issues or a fight over some perceived reaction I must have had to what she said.  I was consistently a straight-A student, always flying under the radar, with a quick, dry wit that became honed over the years.  I liked it when I made people laugh.  It proved to me that at least, for the span of a few minutes, I was capable of making people happy.  I could never do that at home.  I loved our big, dumb cat, Parkie, too, for the same reasons.  I could make her happy by simply petting her, feeding her, paying attention to her.     

Parkie the Cat - kind of dumb, loved to roll in the dirt, and always lovable.

Parkie made the list my brother and I kept stashed in his dresser drawer of “Things Mom Starts Fights Over”, too.  Right up there with “no ice cream”, “Your Father”, and “the dishwasher”.  Mom was perpetually on a diet even though she was 5’5″ and weighed maybe 110 pounds, so even though she rarely ate ice cream if we had it in the house, there was hell to pay if my brother and I had eaten it all.  Yes, I realize there is no logic whatsoever in that thinking.  My Mom was not a logical person.  She would have made Mr. Spock’s head explode if they’d ever had an argument.  But when you’re a child and your parent is the center of your universe, you don’t stop to question such things – because you don’t know that you even should question them.  For us, it was survival, trying to figure out how to shift tactics to keep Mom happy so she wouldn’t blow up at one of us.  You don’t question the logic of the enemy suddenly throwing a book at you when yesterday she only threw ashtrays … you just learn to find new ways to duck and cover.     

Even the solutions never worked in our house.  My brother would offer to ride his bike out to the store (at night) to get more ice cream, but if he did, she would bitch about him taking too long, the flavor he brought home (always whatever one she’d asked for, but she would have changed her mind by the time he returned) or the fact that she no longer wanted it.  It was a pity we didn’t have cell phones then, I could have called my brother to abort his errand half the time because my Mom had passed out in bed, thus rendering the ice cream a moot point.  It didn’t matter what you did, it was always a lose-lose situation.    

I remember one time when I was goofing around with the cat in our kitchen when I was around 14, and I had put the cat up on top of the refrigerator.  Parkie jumped down eventually, but not before managing to knock off a bone china teacup from a small collection my mother kept up there.  Why they were on top of the fridge collecting dust and where no one could see them, I never knew.  My Mom was furious with me over the broken cup and saucer – after all, they’d belonged to her mother (who had been dead for some years now and whom my mother never claimed to like anyway, but to my brother and I was one of the sweetest women we ever knew), how could I have been so thoughtless?    

After she slapped me and stormed off, I swept up every single piece of that cup and saucer I could find and put them into a paper bag.  Over the next few days, I painstakingly glued the pieces back together, some of them as small as the size of a fingernail clipping, probably over 50 pieces in all.  There was one tiny piece I never found, I suspect it had ended up in that dark, dusty crevasse under the refrigerator, so the cup ended up with a missing sliver on one side of it.  It could never be used to drink tea out of again, but my Mom didn’t use those cups anyway, nor did she drink tea.  I kept the whole mess hidden in my room, on a corner of my desk, under a t-shirt, so she wouldn’t see what I was up to if she came in my room.  After I finished, I went over the whole cup and saucer with nail polish remover to remove any lingering traces of Superglue stickiness, and I have to admit, it was a pretty good reconstruction job.  From the outside, save for that little sliver, the cup looked perfectly right again, white with a dainty floral print and a gold-rimmed edge.  Look inside, and the white interior was a fine spiderweb of healed cracks. I actually thought it looked more interesting than it had before, it gave the cup a lot more character.     

I presented the cup back to my mother the next weekend morning while she was drinking her coffee and smoking a cigarette. I shyly brought it out and set it on our kitchen table next to her and proudly said, “Look, I fixed it.”  The tentative offering of another apology, the broken made whole again, the child looking for the mother’s forgiveness to close the wound.     

My mother picked up the cup and immediately her eyes zeroed in on the missing sliver and the web of cracks on the interior.  “It’s still not as good as it was,” she muttered.  With that, she hefted the cup and saucer tossed them together down on the linoleum floor, destroying it once again.    

I left the kitchen.  I didn’t want her to see how much it hurt.    

I hate that particular memory, but I keep it fresh in my mind because now, when my kids accidentally break something in the house that might have once been precious to me, I remind myself that they are only things.  Children are much harder to put back together.     

Back to school and my son’s award.  I am ridiculously proud of him for getting a silly little medal on a ribbon, took photos of him during the ceremony and afterward, which I will post on Facebook and send off to friends in emails, hugged him probably a dozen times and told him how smart he is and how proud I am of him.  None of the things my Mom ever did.  Despite being a stellar student, Fred never got told that her Mom was proud of her.  Looking at the API rankings of most of the schools I went to (13 schools between kindergarten and twelfth grade), a lot of them were in poorer areas of town with more diverse racial mixtures and, now, more problems, and their API scores reflect it.  My son is fortunate enough to go to a public elementary school with an API score this year of 926, the highest in the district and one of the top 100 in the entire state of California.  The API scores of the schools now that I attended as a child range somewhere around the 500-600 mark, some lower, some higher.  Thirty years ago they may have been higher, but I doubt they were ever in the top 100 for the state.  So maintaining straight A’s at sub par schools maybe isn’t such a big deal; I used to rationalize that as one of the reasons my Mom never seemed proud of me.  Not that my Mom would have cared about API scores or rankings.  The only time my school entered into her thoughts was when I wasn’t there because I was home sick and thus inconveniencing her.     

When I graduated high school, I was on my way to UC Berkeley on a full scholarship for their aerospace engineering program.  (Not what I finished in, obviously, or I would probably be successful enough and busy enough to not have time to write a blog).  Despite years of being educated at crappy schools, I managed to score in the 1400′s on my SAT scores.  Back in my freshman year at Escondido High School, I remember telling my Mom that the Chicano girls I shared my locker with (there weren’t enough to go around, so you were assigned to share lockers) were stealing from my lunch, usually always my dessert.  She then launched into a pop psychology diatribe on the fight or flight scenario, and how I should confront these girls or spend my life living in fear.  Wisely, I chose to ignore her, thus saving myself from getting my ass beaten up in the parking lot after school by a bunch of gang chicks, and made it all the way through to graduation.  I also ignored my own initial ideas of injecting my Ding-Dong filling with strychnine just to see what would happen to the unwary snack thieves.  Instead I took to carrying my lunch around with me in a tote bag, until the point where I had become close enough friends with another girl that I could switch to sharing her locker instead.  Now, as a parent, I try to recall this little incident when my kids have problems with other children in school and think about what I would have preferred that my Mom have said or done about my purloined lunches.  I may not have always come up with the best solution as a child (nor will I as an adult), but I did what I needed to do to cope.    

My Other Ray of Sunshine

The biggest thing lacking in my upbringing was a sense that my brother or I ever brought any joy to our parents’ lives. It took me years of therapy to pinpoint that one.  Think about all the reasons that people have children in the first place, admittedly, not all of them are healthy or sensible.  But ideally, people have children, or adopt children, because they want them.  Having that child in their lives brings more joy into a life that, hopefully, is already happy.  I will be the first to tell you that my two boys can be a pain in the ass.  But I will also be the first one to tell you (and tell them) how happy I am that they are with me, that they exist, that they are a part of my life.  I hope that as they grow to adulthood, even if they don’t remember my words, that they will always remember a feeling of being loved, being wanted, being cherished just because they exist.  Their father and I split up over five years ago, when our boys were just 3 and 5 years old, and the guilt from that still tears at me at times.  I never want them thinking that they were a reason for the divorce, because they weren’t.  And I’m very glad that their father shares custody of them, so they have not just one, but two loving homes to go to.   

My father saw us every other Sunday afternoon, for maybe 3 hours or so.  He never pressed for or wanted more custody, and somehow got away with only paying $75 a month per kid for child support for my brother’s and my entire childhood existence – it never increased, he never offered more.  My Dad was a nice guy, but he wasn’t a father.  Whether or not he would have manned up and been one if something drastic had happened to my Mom (sometimes wishful thinking on my part when my Mom pulled one of her many suicide attempts), I don’t know.  I can’t really imagine him doing much more than providing food and shelter and telling me to stand up straight.  I can’t fault him that much, he was born in a time (1926) when men really didn’t have to be parents, they just had to be providers, and if you had a son, you had to teach him how to throw a baseball and how to drive a car.  My Dad did neither of those with my brother – being only 5’4″, my Dad wasn’t particularly athletically inclined (although he might have been a good jockey), and my Mom got stuck with the task of teaching my brother how to drive.  Or rather, my brother got stuck with my Mom.  I can still remember a time in Tustin, when he stalled our VW Scirocco (one of the few times it wasn’t in the shop) during an unprotected left turn on Red Hill Avenue, one of the busiest streets in the city back in 1975.  Great place to take your son out for a practice drive.  My Mom started screaming at him about being a failure and embarrassing her, all while the car was still stuck in the middle of oncoming traffic, with me in the back seat.  I would have (as a Mom) hustled my kid out of the driver’s seat and switched places, got the car moving again to get my family safely out of traffic, and pulled over to let everyone calm down afterward.  Instead, my Mom got out of the car and announced she was walking home, leaving an unlicensed driver with only a learner’s permit to finally get the car started again and drive himself and his little sister home.    

You see, with my Mom, it was never about her kids, it was only about her.  Not that one’s life should be entirely devoted to their children, I think that’s a little too self-sacrificing.  But it is a good thing if the happiness of your children, or at least their safety and comfort, sometimes enter into your thought process.  My Mom never owned a four-door car or thought to buy one, so I was always stuck dealing with her ire when I had to climb in and out of the back seat (I never did it fast enough).  My grandfather passed away in 1976 and I remember my brother and I were both in need of new school clothes and shoes (I grew up thinking high-water pants were the norm, at least for me).  The small inheritance my mother received was quickly spent on new clothes for herself, booze, cigarettes, drugs, and an ill-advised loan to a flaky boyfriend so he could buy a vintage Porsche, most of which was never repaid.  My brother graduated high school the following year and there was nothing set aside for him to go to college, not even a community college.  He went into the Navy and made his escape, leaving me to put up with her solo for four more long years.  It wasn’t until I was 16 that I got tired of her hitting me and finally slapped her back – surprisingly, that finally stopped her, at least on that level.   

When I was in junior high, my history teacher figured out that I probably needed to get an eye test after seeing me squinting at the chalkboard on one too many occasions.  My Mom never noticed.  But she did finally take me in for an eye exam.  My first prescription at age 13 was 20/200, or roughly -2.5 diopters.  The first time I walked out of the optometrist’s office, I wonder how the hell I’d been able to function prior to then.  I could finally SEE!  Over the next few years, my eyesight continued to deteriorate, to where I was up to -6 diopters (and wearing contacts) by my senior year of high school.  I had nightmares throughout high school that I was going to slowly go blind.  Nobody else in the family had crappy eyesight, what was the matter with me?  Did I confide any of my fears in my Mom, like most kids would have?  Nope, not a word.  I may be a slow learner, but I was finally learning my lesson with her.  Bringing up the subject would have gotten me a lecture about the time I’d broken my glasses three years ago and how much that cost her.  Or her traumatic experience of having measles as a child and how selfish I was by apparently accusing her of being a lousy mother because my eyesight getting bad. It was amazing the way she could twist any topic around to have all the arrows pointed in her direction.    

My older son was born with a heart arrthymia – I believe the term for it is “sinus brachycardia with premature atrial contractions”.  My OB/GYN actually picked it up in my 34th week of pregnancy on the Doppler, and it scared the crap out of me to have that reassuring thumping sound suddenly sounding anything but reassuring.  During the delivery, his heat rate kept dropping precipitously until I turned onto my left side … and then had to stay in that position for the next two hours during contractions.  Since then, he has had to periodically be hooked up to a portable Holter monitor to record a 24-hour EKG of his heart.  He does okay with it, sometimes he thinks he’s like Doc Ock from the Spiderman comics, with all this stuff hooked up to his chest and a little machine with a digital readout hooked to his waistband.  But I’ve also taken the time to explain exactly what is going on with his heart to him.  The arrthymia seems to be resolving itself as he gets older and his cardiologist thinks he may just outgrow it, I hope he does.   Basically it means that one chamber of his heart has an extra electrical node that fires off and overrides the regular one, causing him to have extra heartbeats.  I tell him it’s like having an extra battery, or an extra lightswitch that flicks on when it’s not supposed to, and that over time, that extra lightswitch will probably stop working.  I think he gets it and seems comforted by my explanations. 

When I was 11, the age Sean is now, I had to have surgery on my little toes.  I had hammerhead toes, a condition where my little toe went up over the top of the neighbor toe next to it.  Caused discomfort in shoes until the toe worked a hole in the top of the shoe, or with Mary Jane styles, it would stick out of the top of the opening while the other four stayed inside.  It was kind of cool to go down the beach and leave four-toed footprints, not that we ever went to the beach very much because my Mom had such fair skin and hated the beach.  When it came time to explain the surgery to me, my mother, ever the mistress of tact, told me I was going to be put to sleep and the doctor was either going to  cut all the muscles to my little toes or he might have to just cut them off.  Then she got annoyed at me for getting dizzy and blacking out after listening to her.  Fortunately, I still have my little toes, and they lay there nicely obedient, down with the other four.  I had to wear those dorky post-surgery shoes, sort of a wraparound style that would allow for room for my bandages, for a few weeks afterward.  My uncle came to visit that summer and offered to take my brother and I to what was then the Del Mar Fair (should still be called that, frankly – “San Diego County Fair” is a stupid name).  My Mom wouldn’t let me go because of my shoes and bandages, she didn’t want them getting dirty, even though I pleaded with her that we could change the bandages later, they were due to be changed anyway.  No dice.  I had to stay home while my brother had a blast.  When my Mom finally did get around to changing my bandages, she hadn’t bothered to actually buy any gauze and such, she just decided to use Handi-Wipes from the kitchen.  I think they were pink and white striped ones.  So as if my blue wraparound shoes didn’t look bad enough, now I had to complement them with pink Handi-Wipes.  Even though we lived in San Diego for 16 out of my 18 childhood years, that was the only opportunity I ever got to go to the Fair as a kid, because … well, you already guessed it.  My Mom didn’t like the Fair.  

The Best Mom I Ever Had - My Grandma

After my older son was born, I ended up with severe postpartum depression.  It wasn’t pretty, but that’s a subject for another post, if I ever feel like writing about it.  My shrink told me later she was pretty close to hospitalizing me. Over the course of many, many therapy sessions, my upbringing came up and my therapist was continually amazed that I hadn’t ended up in therapy or had a nervous breakdown years earlier.  Who, moi?  Just stubborn, I guess.  At some point she asked me if I had any baby photos of myself around that I liked, and I brought in one of myself with my Grandma, it must have been from Easter of 1964, I would have been about 9 months old then.  The photo was actually on a slide, and I got a print made from it.  It’s my Grandma holding me and this silly inflatable Easter bunny.  According to my Mom’s cousin, my grandparents adored my brother and I, and it crushed them when my Mom would play stupid mind games and not allow them to visit us.  My therapist told me to put the picture somewhere in a frame where I would see it frequently, like on my nightstand, and every time I looked at it, she wanted me to ask myself if that little girl in the photo deserved love?  Did she deserve to be cared for and raised by parents who were proud of her and supported her?  Where she knew that she brought joy into their lives? 

Of course she does, I answered.  Every child does.  

Her prescription from that point on, was simple. With my own children, whenever I doubted myself as a mother, I was to think of that little girl and think about what she should have had, how her mother should have behaved.  And do that with my children.  In essence, she called it “re-parenting” myself through the process of raising my own kids.  It hasn’t been easy.  There are times when the temper flares I remember from my mother rise up in me like some uncontrollable, boiling volcano.  But I control it – most of the time.  And the few times I don’t, I apologize to my children, and I explain.  And I learn, and grow, and try to get better at it.  I don’t know that I’ll ever have the parenting thing figured out.  But maybe that’s part of what makes a good parent – never being sure that you have all the answers.  

The other thing my therapist told me that stuck with me years later was this odd little biological footnote.  Since every woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, at some point in time, before my mother was born, the egg inside her that eventually became me was actually inside my grandmother also, when my mom was still in her womb.  So back in 1937, some cells that became me 26 years later were nestled in my Grandma’s womb.  My same Grandma who loved me unconditionally, the only mother who ever made me feel like I brought joy into her life.  That makes me feel loved. 

Sky is womb and she’s the moon.

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