Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Life in Color

Sometimes forward steps seem so small. It’s imperative to remember that any step forward is still a step forward. It doesn’t matter if that one tiny step has taken you years to make.

Forward is forward.

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Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done in many years. Longer than that, actually. Something I haven’t done since I was about fifteen or sixteen. And I’m a long way past that now – forty-two.

It seems like a tiny thing. A normal thing. Something I imagine most humans do on a regular basis. Let me back up a minute.

When I was a young teen, my sister went to cosmetology school. I went in often to let her practice on my hair and nails. Eventually, she graduated, and after that, anything that was done to my hair took place either in her kitchen or mine. I haven’t been to a salon since then. Not once. Those times when she was cutting or coloring my hair were catch-up moments for us. What’s been going on, what the kids are up to, who she was dating.

Now, my hair isn’t something I spend a whole of time on. I wash it, blow dry it, and just leave the Medusa curls as they are. It’s thick, heavy, and generally uncooperative, and it just takes too long to do anything else with it. I’m also not good with keeping up on coloring it, so by the time I get around to it, I’ve got a couple inches of roots grown out. By the time my sister started having pain in her shoulder, it had been months since I’d cut or colored it. Then she wasn’t able to move her arm well enough to hold her scissors. And very shortly after that, we knew it was stage 4 cancer.

After she died, the thought of anyone else touching my hair was so repulsive I couldn’t stand it. For a long time, I did nothing with it. By the year after her death, my hair was such a mess, even I couldn’t stand it any more. The ends were dead and splitting inches up from the bottom, and it was making the curls look more like I’d just stuck my car key in a light socket.

I looked up how to cut my hair in layers on YouTube, and found a tutorial for doing it by putting my hair up in a ponytail and cutting. I did it myself in my bathroom, and when my hair hit the floor I cried because she wasn’t the one cutting it. That first time was rough, but once I figured out how to do it, it wasn’t so bad. Two, maybe three times a year, I’d just pull my wet hair up in a ponytail and lop off a couple of inches. It took me four years before I could let anyone else touch my hair, and even then, it was my daughter.

She’s a cosmetology student at the local community college. Last summer, I sat in my kitchen chair and let her even up the mess I’d made of my hair and then color it. It was funny how similar her hands felt to my sister’s. Quick and confident.

About a month ago, I woke up one morning and decided to cut myself bangs. They turned out all right. I just used regular household scissors. But after that, I felt like I needed a big change. I decided to color my hair purple.

So my daughter made me an appointment, and yesterday I drove to her cosmetology school and spent six hours getting the red out of my hair and the purple and brown put in. It was crowded and noisy, and at times, that was difficult for me to handle. Since my brother’s death, I haven’t been out in public much. Crowds trigger my anxiety attacks. But I made myself sit through it. Even though my daughter is the one who did my hair, it seemed so strange to be in a salon. The experience took me right back to when I was fifteen, sitting in a twirly black chair at my sister’s school.

When it was finally all done, I left the school and drove straight to my church. A friend of ours had passed away and I went to his memorial service. After I parked my car, I checked myself in the rearview and realized I had purple dye smeared on my cheek.

I went in anyway.

Funerals have gotten hard for me. I know most people don’t actually like funerals, but for me, having lost so many family members in a short span of time, it’s difficult for me to fight through flashbacks, and sometimes I have trouble catching my breath. This was the second funeral for me this week. The church was crammed full of people, so for the second time yesterday, I had to force myself to handle being in a crowd without having a panic attack. I made it through the entire service but didn’t stay for the dinner because my personal limits had been reached. Sometimes I just have to say no and either people will understand or they won’t. I can’t control their reactions.

It seems like a small thing – going to get my hair done. But for me, it was a huge, huge step forward. Yesterday was the longest consecutive amount of time I think I’ve spent in a crowd since my brain went to shit about six months ago.

That tells me two things:

  1. This combination of medication is working for me.
  2. Hope is out there. Somewhere.

Grief and its aftermath are such hard things to live through. But I’m doing it.

I’ve said before that intense grief is like suddenly having an enormous hole in your leg. At first, it seems like your life is over – how can you function with a gaping hole in your leg? You can’t walk. You can’t do anything. It’s awful. You need help with everything and it’s unimaginable that you will ever have any semblance of a normal life again.  At some point, though, you realize you can do some of the things you used to do, you just need to do them in a different way. And later, you don’t need as much help. You can go on with your life, though you might need a cane and you’ll always have a limp.

My purple hair is me walking with a limp.

But at least I’m walking.

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Bits and Whatnots, Grief

A Different Sort of Love

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s day, and in the spirit of celebration, I’m going to share a love story with you.

Not that kind of love story.

This one is about the love of a community.

My brother’s wishes were to be cremated. As a family, we decided to use some of his ashes to have jewelry made for each of us as a keepsake. Most of them came in back before Christmas, but my two daughters had ordered blown glass pendants, which took longer to create. They were ordered in early November, and just came in February 3rd. I drove out to the funeral home in our old hometown to pick them up. It was a Friday, and my daughters were ecstatic that they had finally come in.

Last Tuesday, February 6th, I was at work when my cell phone rang. It was my youngest daughter’s number. When I answered the phone, she was wailing, a terrible, strangled cry that broke my heart.

She had lost her necklace. She had come home from school, changed, picked up her pendant – which was still in the box it came in from Crescent Memorial – put it in her pocket and stopped at a local store on her way to her boyfriend’s house to show it off. During the drive, she realized the box was no longer in her pocket, and immediately retraced her steps. She searched the store and the lot, to no avail.

The beautiful blown glass pendant – ordered in blue and green, because my brother loved nature – the last link she had to her beloved uncle, was gone. Her heart was shattered.

I made a public post on my Facebook page with a picture of the pendant and a plea to help us find it. We live in a very small town, and I hoped local friends might have spotted it. My husband went to the store and looked again, and the employees felt so bad for my daughter, they got out dust mops and checked under all the shelving units, just in case it had somehow fallen beneath them.

By the time I came home from work that night, my post had been shared over 500 times. Considering I only have about 370 Facebook friends, that was pretty good. The next morning, it had been shared over 1,000 times, and I had glass blowers messaging me with offers to make my daughter a new pendant, free of charge, if we had more ashes. Around ten a.m., a local news station saw the story and asked to interview us. Neither of us were excited to do that, but we hoped it might get the attention of more locals. After all, the pendant had to be somewhere, right? Someone had to have seen it. So we went and we did it. The story aired on the 6 o’clock news, and my Facebook post continued to be shared, with comments by complete strangers who said they were looking, or were sharing in local buy/sell groups. I received notifications from people who had shared in Kentucky. Oregon. Florida. Literally across the United States. And it hadn’t even been 24 hours since the necklace had been lost.

Thursday, a local radio station reached out to my daughter for permission to share the story on their Facebook page. She agreed, and soon that story was being shared as well. So many people left kind comments, stating they were praying for us, that they understood our grief and what this necklace represented to my daughter. A glass blower in Oregon messaged me and offered to make my daughter a new bead, if we sent some ashes to her. She said she’d do it even if we found the necklace. This sort of generous spirit amazed us. So many strangers reaching out with love, with hope. It made a difference.

In the beginning, we offered a $50 reward for the safe return of the necklace, no questions asked. On Friday, I edited my post to raise the reward to $100. Later that day, my daughter received a call from a number she didn’t recognize.

“Are you Savannah, the one who lost the necklace?”

She barely dared to hope. “Yes, I am.”

“I saw the story on the radio station page and on the news and recognized it. I can bring it to you right now.”

They met in a grocery store parking lot. My daughter offered her the reward money, and the woman refused. She wished to remain anonymous.

We have this cherished necklace back, and there are hardly words to describe what that means to us.

The news  station ran a follow up story about it, and the comments from people who said they had been praying for us all week, that we had been on their minds, were simply amazing. I updated my Facebook post to thank everyone and let them know the necklace had come home, and total strangers contacted us to share their joy that we had it back.

That is love in action. That is community. That is family.

It’s a different sort of love story, but no less important.

 

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Four Weeks, Nine Days

Time is weird when you’re grieving. Untitled design

It seems at once too slow and too fast, and feels like it’s moving through water.

Churning.

It’s been two days shy of three  months since my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

It’s been four weeks and nine days since he died.

I count time like this now. Each minute, each day, each week, I remind myself I’ve made it through another one, and am strong enough to get through the next.

“Stay busy,” everyone tells me. “Keep your mind occupied.” So I do. I haven’t missed a day of work since I went back after the funeral. I’ve put out a new book, a collection of horror shorts. I’ve made five gigantic shawls and one miniature one. Most I’ve given away. It helps my anxiety to have something to do with my hands, so I haul my bag o’ yarn with me everywhere. I make dinner. I shuttle my kids around. I text friends. I try to read, but the truth is, I’m having trouble focusing. My mind drifts, and sitting still is such an uncomfortable sensation, I can barely tolerate it. I hosted Thanksgiving at my house this year. It was different and sort of quiet but we made it through. I miss watching the TV shows I used to enjoy, but I can’t seem to follow the plots enough to grasp what is happening, so I stopped watching.

My therapist says I need to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to understand how to put that into practice. I have forgotten how to let my mind be quiet. If I don’t keep it constantly filled with projects and sounds and plans, grief hits me so hard and so fast I can’t catch my breath.

At first, I feared I’d lost my words. I tried to write, but nothing came. But about  a week ago, I worked on When Knowing Comes, and I thought if I could just write one good paragraph, that would be great. It took me a while. First I typed a few words, and then a few more. Rearranged them. Deleted. Rewrote. Then all at once I had two paragraphs worth keeping. Then a solid thousand words.

I released Consumption with zero fanfare in November. I didn’t have the strength at the time to contact reviewers & bloggers. Last weekend I spent a Saturday working backwards, contacting bloggers to see if they’d be willing to review the book I surprise-released a month ago. Some were really nice about it. Most remained silent. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault I dropped the ball. They don’t know what’s going on in my life. As far as they’re aware, I’m just another author with no regard for their time. I’m really grateful to the ones who responded, though. It means a lot.

For the most part, I’m learning to cope with the anxiety attacks. If it comes on slow, I can use the breathing exercises I’ve been taught to stave off the worst of it. Sometimes, though, they hit when I’m in the middle of a store, or driving to work. I’ll have a cart full of groceries and out of nowhere I think, “There are too many people in this store. There’s not enough air for everyone.” Even though I realize it’s illogical, the thought won’t leave. And before I know it, I’ve broken out in a sweat, my heart is hammering, my hands are shaking, and I’m stuck there in the produce aisle, hoping my ice cream doesn’t melt before I can pay and get out of the store. The week before last, my son texted me at work “lol my school is on fire.” I was so instantly panicked! I was able to reach him by phone and the kids were out in the parking lot, the fire was just in a bathroom (some kid dropped a cigarette in a trash can full of paper), and everything was under control in minutes. But I couldn’t calm back down all day. It’s days like those I realize how  much more amplified the anxiety has become. When I realize it’s in control of me instead of the other way around.

Sleep is a crapshoot. I fall asleep most nights but wake back up at two a.m. for no apparent reason at all and remain that way. Grief is a kind of exhaustion all its own, but sleeping less than three hours a night just makes it worse. I stare at nothing in the darkness and try counting backward from one hundred in an effort to trick my mind back into sleep. It never works, but I keep counting.

Counting backward. Counting days. Counting through anxiety attacks.

Marking time.

I’m still here. I keep getting up. Keep showing up. Keep working. Keep writing.

It’s been four weeks and nine days.

I’m still counting.

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Bits and Whatnots

The Vacation that Wasn’t.

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Let me tell you a story about how I’ve been living in a hotel for two weeks.

I’m not currently homeless, so don’t worry about that. I have a home, I just can’t go there.

A few weeks ago in the process of moving a file cabinet in our bedroom, we found mold. We called our insurance, who sent out a guy, who sent out a different guy, and then we heard nothing at all for several days. And then one Friday about three in the afternoon, they called and said we had to go, they had People coming out to Do Mold Removal Things.

While it’s probably typically not a hard thing to find a hotel room to stay in, our adjuster had a bit of a problem because our family is larger than what is allowed by law to stay in one room because of fire code hazards, so they had to find a place with two adjoining rooms.

And we needed a place that allowed dogs, because I’ve got two of them.

After much back and forth, the insurance found us a couple rooms at a Holiday Inn Express about a half an hour away from our home. It’s a nice enough place, don’t get me wrong, but the glamour of living in a hotel rubs off pretty quick when you’ve got six people and two dogs in an enclosed space for a long length of time. It’s not that my kids don’t love each other.

It’s that having to share beds and breathe air in the same room together for so many days in a row is turning them into zombies who crave the brains of their siblings.

The additional drive time whenever someone needs to go to school or work is draining our gas money in an insanely fast manner, and while at first it was kind of fun to eat dinner out every night, after two weeks I think we are all craving some of my own spectacular home cooked Burnt Food, or maybe just some cheap spaghetti that I make way too much of and cook way too long.

As a writer and human being who spends probably an unhealthy amount of time in my house and alone, it’s painful to be trapped in a hotel with strangers who want to start random conversations with me. I take my dogs to go out for a pee, someone strikes up some small talk. I sit in a dark corner alone in the morning for breakfast, people bring their conversations over to me and try to pull me in. It’s really a ridiculous amount of talking, to be honest. Like, in the hallways at 7:30 a.m. people smile at me and yell GOOD MORNING like they are some particularly horrible kind of monsters. One early morning as I was sitting alone, eating a biscuit and reading a Stephen King novel, some strange man in Very Ironed Clothes suddenly stuck his face in mine and yelled HAVE A NICE DAY! for no good reason at all. How am I supposed to respond to that kind of nonsense?

It’s a very clean hotel and housekeeping must come in every couple of days to make sure we haven’t trashed the place like the drunken rock stars we are, so every time I get things settled into some semblance of comfortable chaos, they come and straighten and fiddle and scrub until everything is back in order again. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty awful. I cannot create while trapped in this stark, overly organized space. And can we talk about how horrifying it is when housekeeping actually comes in to clean? The night before, my husband and I take out the trash and pick up and try to make like we are halfway decent human beings. Then when the lady does come in to clean, I sit or stand here awkwardly because it feels bizarre to have someone else cleaning up my mess but if I offer to help or give her, I don’t know, a pudding cup or a muffin or something she looks at me weird.  Today when I answered the door, the housekeeper lady asked me if I was going to let my dogs bite her.

Yesterday, the toilet backed up. I waited nearly an hour before I amped up the courage to call the front desk (because hello, it’s more talking to strangers) and then the maintenance guy came and I had to talk more to someone else I don’t know and apologize for making him do this Terrible Thing.

Not one to dwell on doom and gloom, I will admit there are perks:

There is a swimming pool.

The complimentary breakfast is delightful. I’m not certain the eggs are really eggs, but the biscuits taste like they were stolen from the kitchen at KFC, which is not an entirely impossible notion, as there’s a KFC across the parking lot here.

I haven’t had to wash dishes in two weeks.

But I find the idea that I don’t know when I can go home makes me feel really stressed. People keep telling me to treat this like a vacation, but I think those people have likely never been abruptly stuffed into a hotel room with six people and two dogs for an extended period of time.

Last week, my son got really sick and had to spend some time in the ER. He’s doing better now, but I felt I had to ask the universe what bad thing was coming next, because I think we all know that Bad Things come in threes and I like to be prepared.

That was right about when we found out my daughter’s cosmetology school closed, three weeks into her first semester, with no warning. Just a post on the school’s Facebook page stating they were very sorry, don’t come to class tomorrow, they were closing down all 79 campuses. Of course, she’s distraught and we are left trying to find her a new school and deal with her loans and in general, it’s an entirely unpleasant experience.

BUT THEN

It got worse.

When my husband went to pick up dinner last night, we found out that Little Caesar’s is discontinuing their cream cheese dip.

I know. I KNOW. It’s okay, I cried a little bit, too.

I have been working, though. In addition to my regular freelance writing, I’ve gotten a few thousand more words on my current novel, and the other day fiddled around a little bit with a New Shiny Idea, which seasoned writers advise we shouldn’t do when we are writing a novel already, but I don’t understand how to get the voices out of my head if I don’t get them out on the page.

We had a meeting with the contractor a couple of days ago, who cheerfully announced it would likely be another two weeks before we can go home, and that’s barring any problems.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins. This little adventure has been nice and all, but I really just want to go home where I have all my books and my yarn and mountains of dirty dishes in the sink.

By the way, does anybody have a pair of ruby slippers I could borrow?

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s…

See what this nightmare has done to me? I’m already mixing up fictional characters. I’ll be utterly daft by the time I get to go home.

Probably not the worst things that could happen. I hear all the best writers have lost their minds.

 

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

Kiss of Pavement

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Last year, you might recall we took the kids camping for a few weeks and ended up living through our own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. There was a terrible sunburn for me, weeks of miserable hives (also for me), and among other things, a myriad of parts that broke on our trailer. We also found a leak that invited bugs under the floor in one area, and had to cut that piece of linoleum out. Given that, it may seem bizarre we’ve decided to do it again, but we are.

I may be mildly (okay, horrifically) bad luck prone, and my sense of coordination has never been the sort that made athletics a smart idea, but still, we were excited to pack up and travel that ten minutes from home to the campground. Campfire pizza pies and s’mores called to us. Thoughts of swimming, kayaking, and family picnics drew us in. Ever optimistic, I took precautions so I wouldn’t burn and break out in full body hives like the freak of nature that I am. SPF 70 is surprisingly difficult to find, but I hunted until we located a couple bottles of it. I have a thin, silky jacket to help protect me from the sun. Picked up a couple large and ridiculously gaudy sun hats. Two different types of antihistamines.

We brought only our oldest son with us to help set up, since we were close enough to home to run back once we were finished. Found a nice site with nothing but woods behind us, which is more peaceful than when your rig is surround by others, and what we prefer when camping. Lady Luck, it appeared, was on our side. I knew this trip was going to be great. I even had a new swimsuit I was looking forward to trying out. After we set up the trailer, we went home to finish getting the kids’ things together, and as they were all complaining about their imminent death by starvation, we ordered a couple of pizzas, ate at the house, then left the kids and dogs home while we ran up to buy some groceries.

We’d gotten a rather late start that first day, so we didn’t make it to the grocery store until around 10 p.m., but we were full of adrenaline and happily making plans for cooking out over the weekend. Everything was working out perfectly for us. Even the weather forecast was on our side.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Right?

We were back to our house by 11, and it was pitch dark outside. We had purchased some extra food to leave at the house, and our plan was to just drop that off, pick up the kids and the dogs, and get back to the trailer. I hopped out of the car, thought my husband was likely getting exhausted from his long day of work, then setting up the campsite, then grocery shopping, so I decided I’d help him carry in the few groceries to the house.

That’s where it all went wrong.

I turned, rounded the driver’s side of the Yukon, felt a horrendous hot pain going from my right big toe and straight up my leg.

Next thing I knew, I was airborne.

I had forgotten about that part of our driveway that’s got an uneven spot, where some of the concrete has settled down lower than the rest. In the darkness, I didn’t see it.

I struck that part with my right foot, and felt something crack. My first thought was that I had broken my big toe. I felt some kind of crack in the center of it.

My second thought was that I was about to land face first on the pavement.

There was nothing for me to grab on to so I could break my fall. I was too far away from the Yukon to catch hold of anything. My daughter had her back to me and was walking toward the house. My husband was behind the vehicle. No help from any direction.

I landed with a thud on the concrete. I felt the skin rip off my knee and the palm of my left hand.

A single inelegant and rather grunty-sounding word escaped my lips. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

My husband hurriedly came around the corner of the vehicle. He stared at me for a moment, then asked, “What are you doing?

(Kissing the pavement, it looked lonely) “Um, I fell.”

“You fell? Over what?”

I begin laughing like a hyena with a dime bag who has just gotten busted by the cops. “Um… think I broke my toe.”

He helped me up and into the house. Once we were in the light, I caught a visual of my mangled right big toe and immediately wished I hadn’t. I plunked down into the part of the couch that has the recliner in it, and put the leg rest up. Ow, ow, ow, ow. The kids crowded around me, worried.

My left hand and knee were scraped up pretty good and my knee was good and bloody. Those were things that hurt, but not terribly. My toe, however, was in an awful lot of pain. I was thinking back to times I have broken other toes, attempting to remember the exact feeling or what the signs and symptoms of a broken toe might be. I closed my eyes, trying to think, but doing so was difficult because, A: jolts of hot pain were biting up the nerves in my legs, causing me to shake, and 2: three of my kids were crowded around me, shouting at me things I guess I have said or maybe yelled at them over the years in the aftermath of an injury.

Kid 1: “I think we need to take her to the urgent care clinic.”

Kid 4: (patting my shoulder frantically) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay! It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, everything’s okay!”

Kid 3: (plunks his hand down on my thigh, affects a deep and manly voice) “Here, Mom, squeeze my hand. Put your pain into it. I can take it. Squeeze as hard as you can.”

Kid 1: “Get a wash cloth! Somebody get a wash cloth! We need to clean her up!”

Kid 4: “Does anybody know what kind of music she likes? Let’s put on Pandora! Mom, what Pandora do you like?”

Kid 3: “That’s stupid. Shut up. She doesn’t need music right now!”

Kid 4: “MUSIC IS VERY CALMING, I READ ABOUT IT! I’M NOT STUPID!”

Kid 1: “I don’t like the way she’s shaking. I think she’s going into shock.”

Husband: “Just go run her foot under some water, then dump peroxide on it. Kills the germs.”

Kid 1: “She can’t walk! We need to take her to a clinic!”

Me: “Clinics are closed, and I’m not going to ER for this. Just give me a minute here.”

Kid 4: “Parts of her toe are hanging off. Does she know that?”

Kid 3: “Squeeze my hand, Mom. Somebody get her some water! We need water over here!”

Kid 1: “She’s still shaking. I’m worried. Mom? Mom, can you hear me? We need to take her somewhere.”

Husband: “I don’t know. You wanna go somewhere? Your toe is pretty messed up. Needs to be cleaned… and uh, I can’t do that. Um, I think you ripped the nail off.”

Kid 4: (frantically patting my shoulder, my head, my leg) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Kid 3: “Here, Mom. I got you some water. Can you sip it? That’s good, that’s good. I got her to take some water!”

Kid 1: “Could she be having a seizure? Did she hit her head?”

Me: “I’m not having a seizure. I just need a minute to calm back down.”

Kid 1: “Okay, I’m going to help you clean up your knee. There’s a lot of blood, but I’ll be very gentle, okay?”

Kid 3: “It’s gonna hurt, Mom. Go ahead, squeeze my hand hard, I can take it.”

Kid 1: “Somebody get a bowl of water to put her foot in. There could be dirt up under that nail.”

Husband: (brings enormous salad bowl full of water)

Me: (gingerly dips foot into water while trying not to look)

*phone rings*

*husband answers*

Apparently kid 2 and her boyfriend are sitting in the dark at the campground getting hassled by security because we thought we would be right over there, but we evidently aren’t, so they are sitting there at midnight with no key to the trailer and no membership card to prove they are actually supposed to be there.

Husband: “Just tell them to call my cell phone then! Oh my God! Why can’t anything ever just go right!”

Kid 4: “Cool. Look at all the blood in the bowl!”

Kid 3: “Shut UP! Don’t tell her there’s blood. It’s okay Mom. There’s hardly no blood. It’s fine, it’s fine.”

Husband: “What bowl do we need for the party tomorrow? For you to take that dessert in?”

Me: “Uh, the blue one. With the lid.”

Kid 1: “Mom can’t talk about making dessert right now! She’s INJURED!”

Kid 4: “Can I play Pokemon Go at the campground?”

Kid 3: “Step back, let me take care of this. I was a Boy Scout. I have first aid training!”

Someone has brought Band-aids and some gauze, so we dry off the mangled toe and hurriedly cover the mess. Once I don’t have to look at it, the pain begins to diminish. The shaking settles down. I’m running through a list in my mind of what medication I have on hand that might help. All I can think of is Motrin and some of the heavy-duty antihistamines, both back at the trailer.

We have three vehicles to get back to the campground, so I know I have to drive. After I get myself composed and my husband has gotten the rest of the stuff we need packed up, I hobble back out to my vehicle. We form a little caravan as we drive through the night. It takes me a little longer to get to the campground than usual, but finally we make it.

Eventually I sleep. I dream of meeting new people and all of them are missing a hand or a foot.

The next day was busy. We had a party to get to, and some shopping that still needed done. I clutched the cart through Wally World, thinking gratefully of the evening, when I could sit in my lawn chair with my throbbing foot up and work on a blanket I’m crocheting. My husband says, “Let’s go look at the bikes.”

Bikes. Sure.

Over the winter, we had been talking about buying new bikes for us. The last time we bought new bikes for ourselves, our 20-year-old daughter was 3 months old.

Sure, I said. Let’s go. I was thinking we could look quick before we left. What could it hurt? I was watching the time, though. I had promised the party host I would come back and help clean up.

Leaning against the cart, I shuffled around the corner to the bike aisle.

And that’s when I saw it.

The most glorious bike that ever happened.

Turquoise and bright yellow, with a matching basket on the front (obviousy to put my yorkie in), it said, “Margaritaville” down the middle bar, and had a small parrot on the handle that squeaked when pushed.

The seat was flowered.

“This one,” I said. “I want it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, wary. “Are you gonna fall off it and get hurt again?”

“No, no. I’m fine. Get this one. It’s beautiful.”

And it is.

I love it.

But I have to admit, with my history of poor luck and general clumsiness, I was a little worried when I took it for my first ride.

So far, so good.

And I don’t even need that big toe to balance on my bike.

I hope the rest of this trip is entirely uneventful.

Is there some sort of “Uneventful, boring trip” dance we could do, you know, like a rain dance, to keep things smooth and chill for a while? I mean, obviously I can’t do the dance, I’ve got a mangled big toe. But surely someone could be willing. My youngest son seems to suddenly have more energy than he knows what to do with.

If I withheld Pokemon  Go from him for a while, I could probably bribe him to do it.

If my luck suddenly turns around, you’ll know I’ve got an adolescent I’m forcing to dance for me like a little marionette, taunting him with promises of catching a Snorlax if he just dances for me one more time.

Birth Stories, Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

Sixteen Tomorrow

I decided a while back to write a birth story for each of my four kids. I wrote one for each of my girls within the last couple of years and since tomorrow is my oldest son’s sixteenth birthday, today I’m writing his.

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My due date was April 2nd, 2000 and I was already four days past that. My two little girls were two and a half and almost four and my husband worked third shift a couple of towns away from where we lived. We had planned to drop our daughters off at my sister’s house when I went into labor, but it felt like it had been so many years since I had passed my due date that we had sort of given up thinking that might ever happen. Clearly, I was just going to stay pregnant forever. And ever.

On April sixth, my husband left around ten p.m. for work and I waddled to bed to try and sleep. I couldn’t get comfortable, and just about quarter after eleven realized I was having some contractions. For some idiotic reason I can’t even explain other than I read it somewhere in some magazine, I got up and decided to take a shower. This was a poor choice on my part, because this labor started out really fast and strong and within just a few minutes I was in so much pain I could no longer stand up. I was stuck in the shower and had nobody home to help me other than my little girls, who were sound asleep.

Eventually, I was able to crawl out of the tub and to the kitchen to the phone (remember, this was back before we all had a cell phone attached to us every second of every day). I called the factory where my husband worked at the time and gave a breathless message to the person in the office. Several minutes later, he called me back, listened to me shrieking for a minute or two, and headed home. It never crossed my mind to call my doctor. Again, I have no way to reason that out. It was dumb but I was tired and in a lot of pain. I very seriously thought I might have the baby on the living room floor, before my husband ever made it home.

Finally, he arrived and called our family doctor. She asked him to time my contractions, then listened to me screaming for a few minutes and told him they were WAY too close together for me to still be at home. Get going, she said. Go fast.

During a brief break between pains, I woke up my daughters and packed them a bag. Clearly out of my head with agony and excitement, I packed them a bunch of licorice. Can’t tell you why, only that in the moment, it seemed absolutely imperative. Then we called my sister, because that was our plan.

Problem was, she never picked up the phone. We called over and over again. No answer.

Instead, we drove the (very sleepy and confused and tightly gripping their licorice) girls to my husband’s parents’ house. At that point, I really, really thought I was not going to make it to the hospital in time.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was get some pain relief. I had had an emergency C-section with my first child, and my morphine line had a hole in it so I was in a lot of pain for a lot of hours after I woke up. With my second child, I requested an epidural, but it failed. This time, I was determined to get some wonderful pain meds, the kind I’d heard friends describe as “heaven”, which would reduce the hip-shattering agony I was currently experiencing to something along the lines of mild cramps. I thought about this all the way to the hospital.

When I shuffled in to the labor and delivery triage area at the hospital, I was breathless and barely able to talk. There was nobody at the desk, and I was certain that if I sat down in one of the chairs I would never get back up, so I just leaned forward on the desk, propping myself up with my elbows, and stood there. Shaking. After what seemed an eternity, a nurse found me and got me into a room.

“Tell me what’s going on,” she said.

“I want pain meds this time,” I replied.

She laughed. I didn’t.

After a quick check that told her I was already well past eight, she told me I was too far gone for any sort of substantial relief. Sorry, kid. That baby is coming too fast.

Things went pretty fast after that. I was moved down to a regular room, my doctor arrived, and so did my mom and siblings. My sister, as it turned out, had taken a few Tylenol PMs before bed and didn’t hear the phone ring when I called.

My first son was born at 2:52 a.m. on April 7th after just about three and a half hours of labor. He shares a birthday with my sister’s daughter, just fifteen years apart.

He was a big boy. Eight pounds, thirteen point two ounces.

My doctor looked up at me and said, “All right, Val, I need you to push again, get that placenta out.”

I looked back at her and replied, “I’m done. If you want anything else, you can go in and get it yourself.”

I wasn’t kidding. Fast labors are kind of cool but the thing about them is, you end up feeling a lot like you’ve been run over by a semi truck once everything is said and done.

We had considered naming him Andrew, but couldn’t decide on a middle name. My husband went out to the nurse’s station and borrowed a baby name book. He came across the name Donovan and asked what I thought of it.

Andrew Donovan.

We thought about that for a few minutes, and then turned it around.

Donovan Andrew.

It fit him perfectly.

And tomorrow he turns sixteen.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

The Thing I Hate about April Fool’s Day

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Seven years ago on this date, my youngest son Bean was up early, telling me he had jokes planned for his friends at school, laughing already because he knew it was going to be so much fun.

He was six.

I took the other three kids in to school (Bean was in afternoon kindergarten) and while I was gone, my mom called and told my husband my dad had collapsed while brushing his teeth in the bathroom and had fallen against the door, preventing her from being able to get in. She called 911 and then us. We hurried little Bean into the car and took off.

All the way there I kept thinking but he’s not sick and maybe he needs CPR, I can do that and Mom must be so scared but never in my mind did I think he was dead.

He was, though. When we arrived at the house, the ambulance was there and I ran in the door to see my dad on the floor in the hallway and my mom was screaming, “He’s not breathing! He’s not breathing!” I stumbled back out the door, fell on the cold garage floor and cried for my daddy. My brother and sister came just then, my sister with a half drunk bottle of orange pop in her hand, and she promptly bent over the grass of the front yard and threw up.

The EMTs loaded my dad on a stretcher and put him in the back of the ambulance. I could see the vehicle bouncing up and down in time to the CPR compressions, could count out the amount of time while they stopped to give breaths and the ambulance held still. Then compressions would begin again and the ambulance would bounce along.

As we drove to the hospital, I felt hysterical inside but outwardly I kept whispering It’s okay, It’s okay and I wished with all I had within me that I had signed Bean up for morning kindergarten, if I could have gone back in time I would have done just that, because he was far too little to have to be in the speeding car with frantic me, far too little to have to lose his only Papa. Far too little to have to witness our raw grief.

When we pulled into the hospital lot, the song that was playing on the radio was one called, “Dead and Gone.”

And I knew.

When the doctor came and told us that despite their best efforts, my dad was gone, my bones shook within me like they were going to explode and I felt so lost, so inadequate for the task set before me.

I had to start calling people.

My voice shook and seemed to echo in that terrible, stark room they had us in at the hospital. I hated that room so much. And the tissues provided were terrible, thin and scratchy and did not help much at all to sop up my tears.

I ran through the list of contacts in my mom’s cell phone and called my aunts first, then on down the list of people who needed to know.

One of those people asked me, as I spoke through muffled sobs, if this was an April Fool’s joke. Was I trying to be funny?

I’m not sure anyone would use death as a way to be funny, but no, I said, this is real.

Oh God, was it ever real.

It’s been seven years, now. Seven years without my dad.

I still kind of hate April Fool’s day.

 

 

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

Waiting on Eggs.

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Some women wait for roses.

Some wait for jewelry or expensive date nights.

Me? I wait for eggs.

Our first date was in January of 1993, and I can’t recall exactly when Easter fell that year, but I know I must have said something about Cadbury eggs. Or else he saw me hoarding and devouring them, which is a distinct possibility. Either way, he remembered.

By the time the next Easter had rolled around, we were already married (yes, it was quick), and I thought it was sweet that he thought to bring me a couple of Cadbury eggs when they first came out in stores that spring. I expected he was looking to impress me a bit; after all, our relationship was still fairly new. “Give it a couple of years,” I thought. “He’ll forget.”

But he hasn’t. Every year when spring rolls around, he’ll come home from work one day and slip me a couple of Cadbury eggs. I put them in the freezer because I’m weird like that and nibble on them when I’ve got an hour to kill and a good book to read.

The last several months have been touched heavily by sickness and death and the aftermath of each, and the fact that we are still together after so many years and so much struggle seems almost impossible, yet here we are. I haven’t been expecting much lately because I think we have both been on autopilot for a while, pushing ourselves through day to day routines as we recover from dual family funerals just before Christmas. Actually, I hadn’t even realized Easter was so close until last week when someone asked me when my kids’ spring break was going to happen. It struck me then that for the first time in more than two decades, I hadn’t gotten any Cadbury eggs.

I didn’t say anything about it. There’s been so much going on, life is busy, and we are still trying to get everything taken care of since his mother’s death. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of it all.

Twenty-one straight years of getting eggs was a pretty good run, I thought. Besides, I’m working at eating healthier and though I’m not certain what actually is there in the center of those delicious chocolate eggs, I’m certain it’s not broccoli or carrots.

Last Saturday night we had a family game night. I made tacos, my teenage daughter had her boyfriend over, and my husband picked up one of his brothers to come hang out with us and play a few rousing renditions of Old Maid. (Look, I know the game says for ages 4 to 9 but we are all immature and plus that game is just plain fun. Don’t judge.) I was busy cooking when my husband arrived home with his brother, and he caught hold of my hand and asked me to follow him out into the hallway.

“What’s up?” I asked, thinking whatever it was had better be quick before the taco meat started to burn. I mean, it’s not like my family isn’t used to me burning meals, but I was making special effort not to do it that night.

He grinned. “Got something for you,” he said. “But you’ve got to find it first.”

I waggled my eyebrows. I know how this game goes. We’ve played it a time or two over the span of a twenty-three year relationship. I detected a waft of singed beef coming from the kitchen.

Rolling his eyes, he stuck my hands in the front pocket of his hoodie, and I found two oval-shaped goodies for me there.

Eggs. They were my Cadbury eggs.

“I’ve been looking all over for these!” he said. “The dollar store only had two left when I stopped there tonight, so I grabbed them both.”

I squealed, thanked him, and stuck them in the freezer.

I ate the first one Monday night, while I was reading a great indie book, Forbidden, by Lisa Clark O’Neill. (I’m name dropping this here as a subtle hint for you to buy her books. They are great. Support indie artists!)

Twenty-two years straight of Cadbury eggs.

Who needs roses, anyway?

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

When Spring is Just a Memory

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I’ve lived all my life in the middle of Michigan. Forty winters.

Unlike many people who have opinions, I actually enjoy winter. Perhaps because as a child, my family was big on outdoor activities. We did a lot of sledding – not the typical oh-here’s-a-little-neighborhood hill type sledding. I mean the sort of enormous hills generally found in the area known as “Up North” Michigan. The kind so big your legs start to wobble as you drag your sled up to the top. The kind you start to regret sledding down as soon as you take off from the top, because you realize you’ll probably die by the time you get to the bottom. And while we were trying to murder ourselves sledding down enormous hills, my folks would hang a couple lines on trees, toss a tarp over them, and start a fire. We ate whatever Dad could fit in the snowmobile saddle bags, and generally that was a couple packs of Koegel’s hot dogs.

Snowmobiling was another thing we were big on. Most Fridays after school and work, we’d head Up North to the cabin and spend the winter weekend out on what my dad affectionately referred to as “the sleds.” I learned to handle my own snowmobile when I was ten, and huge groups of us would take off early on a Saturday morning and remain gone the entire day. Regardless which trails we took, eventually we always ended up at a place called Timbers, where everyone ate with their snow pants on and we needed an extra table to set our helmets at.

Even though I have so many fond memories of winter, there’s a point every year right about the end of February and beginning of March when I start to feel a little panicked. It seems there is always a long, drawn-out blizzard right around that time that leaves me staring out at the bleak, snow covered world and thinking it will never end. Never ever ever ever. We’ll be trapped in the house, the kids will never go back to school, the snow will cave in the roof and we’ll suffocate in a mountain of fluffy white death.

Two weeks ago, my kids had a four day weekend for their mid-winter break. Went back to school for two days, we got blasted by a few feet of snow and they ended up with Thursday and Friday off. Went back to school on Monday this week, and then we were inundated with another blizzard. Snow days for yesterday and today. Even all the government offices have declared a state of emergency and closed down. My dogs had an appointment at the groomer today but it had to be rescheduled because none of the employees could get down their roads and in to work.

It feels a bit apocalyptic to look out the window and see no activity out there. Few vehicles are braving the roads. When I take my dogs outside, there is no noise. The snow has silenced our neighborhood.

It seems as if spring will never come again. Logically, of course, I know it will. It always has. In a month or so, we’ll be running errands without having to wear heavy coats. A month after that, we’ll be hauling out our flip flops. But right this second, it feels like winter is here to stay, a never ending nightmare of unfit roads, school closings, and sniffly-nosed, coughing children.

We’ve all heard that saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” and I know it’s true. I haven’t survived forty winters without learning a few life lessons.

Whatever your winter is, whatever you are struggling with today, remember, spring is coming.

It always has. It always will.

We just have to wait out the winter.

Bits and Whatnots, Writing

Failing NaNo in 5 Easy Steps

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I decided earlier in the fall to try and do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I had been a bit afraid to try it in the past, largely because the idea of setting such a short deadline on writing seemed like a great way to set off my anxiety.

Death by panic attack looked like a reasonable outcome, so I never tried it, though I watched with a little envy as my friends started their novels and posted their NaNo updates. I wanted to do it, but I was chicken, and that’s the pure truth.

So I had this idea for a new book and had a little bit of it going. I titled it “Maternal Consumption” and it was to be about this woman,  Samaria, who had a past filled with blank spots that she couldn’t remember, a dead mother, and grumbly tummy. As she begins to eat her mother, she consumes her mother’s memories, thereby filling in those missing pieces of her life. I got about five thousand something and something words in and that’s about it. I hit an absolute wall. Nothing was flowing, but sometimes that happens, right? I planned to just force some words out, but what ended up happening was just…plain nothing.

I thought of another idea, a new story. Sometimes if I’m stuck, writing something else gets the words and ideas going. So I started the new story, hoping it would unfreeze the ideas for Maternal Consumption.

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Here we are, at the end of NaNoWriMo, and I have successfully failed on my first try. If you’d like to fail as I have, let me give you some advice. It can be daunting, I know, but if you really want to fail, you can do it. I believe in you!

How to Fail At NaNoWriMo in Five Easy Steps:

  1. Is someone in your family terminally ill? This is a great time for their health to take a horrific downturn. Spending 5-12 hours a day at the hospital sucks the creativity right out of you. As an added bonus, ask your loved one’s physician to call you several times throughout the week and tell you to get to the hospital right away, the end is nigh. Of course, when you get there, nothing will happen. However, you will be afraid to leave again, just in case. If the doctor can spend some time talking to you about calling in Hospice, so much the better. This will feed your anxiety and send your stress level through the roof. Now you can utilize the time you would have spent writing to rearrange your parent’s (or other loved one’s) house to make space for the hospital bed. Things can get a little twisty at this point, but it helps if you get a call from out-of-state to let you know another family member is expected to die at any moment. The added worry of how to make it to that funeral while still remaining at your dying parent’s bedside will successfully stop you from ever sleeping, which of course, only solidifies your inability to write anything.
  2. See if you can’t start planning a funeral for your loved one ahead of time. Your laptop battery will likely die (the nature of the environment) once you get there, and anyway, you’ll feel conspicuous typing while you’re supposed to be picking out a casket. This is also a great time to be reminded of legal paperwork you need but have no idea where to find, and the panic of finding out even the most no-frills service you can plan will still cost upward  of six thousand dollars will make your mind completely blank. Bonus move: hunt beneath  couches and dog crates for any spare change. Count it up, and mentally calculate how much funeral money you still need once you subtract your newly acquired $3.26.
  3. If you haven’t already, start a new job. Make sure it is a job you love and can’t believe your luck in getting and that you really want to impress your new boss with your skills. Now make sure you are late for deadlines because of time spent at the hospital, and if you can pull off a couple of sixteen hour workdays to make up what you’ve been lacking, well friend, that’s just gravy. You can’t be blamed for not NaNo’ing when you are frantically trying to keep up with work. I mean, you’ve got to pay your mortgage and feed your kids, right?
  4. Get some teenagers. If you don’t own any personally, borrow some. These are helpful for a variety of reasons. Slamming doors, screaming, and refusing to help with chores when you’ve been at the hospital all day and then working half the night are just some of the bonus features of keeping teens in the house. If you can get at least one of them to develop a mysterious medical condition, such as passing out and having a possible seizure while at a music concert hours away, necessitating multiple doctor visits and extra medical tests, you’ve really got it made. Your mind will be so blank with worry and medical jargon you won’t even be able to remember what that story was going to be about, anyway. For additional anxiety power, see if the kid who is struggling can also have a complicated medical history, such as a rare chronic illness. This helps baffle both your mind and the physician’s. Writing? What writing? You won’t even be able to spell at this point, let alone attempt to think creatively.
  5. Stop doing any housework. Overflowing trash cans, stacks of dirty dishes, and mountains of laundry will only cement your status as a failure on every level. If you can manage to get every single glass dirty and then forget to pick up dish soap, you won’t even be able to pour yourself a cup of caffeine. Obviously, no caffeine, no writing, so there you go. Pro tip: Throw your back out. This makes everything you attempt to do nine thousand times more difficult, from taking a shower to treks through the hospital. You won’t be able to sit to write, as the pressure from back pain will make your legs numb.

 

And there you have it, kids. How to fail at NaNoWriMo in five easy steps. Of course, what worked for me may not work for you, and that’s just the nature of the creative beast. Sometimes you really have to play at life to see how best to mess up your own plans. If you truly take my advice to heart, you can get a jumpstart on how to fail at next year’s NaNo. Of course, there’s always the possibility that you may try to fail and still succeed, but keep that chin up, cupcake. If you really, really want to fail, you can do it. I believe in you!

P.S. If you like the way I write and want to dump some cash into the sorely lacking funeral services fund, please consider buying my books. I don’t do crowd funding, but we could really use some extra money right now. As my mother in law continues to fade away, the worry over how we will manage to pay for her final arrangements only gets more real. For those of you who continue to be supportive of my writing, thank you. You mean so much.