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I’m still here. Only with lower standards.

Don’t expect much. I’m only sitting here typing because I made a deal with myself. I would write something, anything, and if I did then I could have a spoonful of peanut butter. Of course, who am I kidding, I’ve already had three already today. But I’m using this contrived bargaining chip, and low and behold, results! I have completed four and a half lines so far.

It has been so long since I have even attempted to write that my mind has lost the feel for it. My thoughts are slow to form and my fingers are equally lethargic. I took both a voluntary and involuntary break this past January.  Involuntary because my husband was in the process of switching offices and while he waited for his new offices to be finished, he commandeered my work space. Voluntary because I had just completed a new fiction novel. One that I was – I mean am – pretty excited about. Jam packed with sex, murder and little league baseball politics, it’s a total homerun. (My apologies for the lame humor. The brain isn’t quite sharpened yet.) Anyway, after finishing it, I was spent, and didn’t mind the brief reprieve, until days turned into weeks which turned into months. Soon my office had multiple screens up, projecting law documents and memorandum. His files overtook my random papers of creative thought and soon I couldn’t find a bit of myself in the corporate takeover of my writing space.

At about the same time, my father took a dip in the deep end of the depression pool, and while this is far from uncommon, sometimes when my guard is lowered, my resistance down and my hormones up, it weighs on me as heavily as the ice cream I wind up eating too much of. Each trip to the pool is unique and this time he wasn’t flailing around as usual, grasping at anyone (me) to save him. No, this time he sank slowly, barely making a wave. I stopped reading, and it being winter, confined myself to hibernation, keeping busy with all the uber-important details that a mom of three growing boys must tend to, mainly doing the laundry for them to kick across their floors, schlepping them to and from school and fields while they ignore me on their phones, and preparing meals for their lackluster review. With the husband busier than ever and no mental stimulation to distract, the water seemed to rise around me as well.

But that was then. Now, I’ve spent the last few weeks diligently nudging myself toward a better frame of mind. I’ve embraced the sun (when it shines) and use it to lure me from my shell. I have started reading again. First a book called, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, a truly lovely romantic fable with so much sweetness that it gave my dark brain an attack of the eye rolls. But then a friend handed me, I Am Pilgrim, a detective thriller that has me electrified and turning pages at lightning speed. It has been a gift, offering both escape and inspiration.

I now occasionally catch myself contemplating what to do with my new manuscript, while mulling over potential freelance essays on the new dynamic of parenting my first born teenaged son, the recent birthday of my mother (No she’s not 70!) or how the girl next to me in my gym class achieved such an amazing ass. I mean really people, it’s essay worthy.

I even remembered that I have a blog. So you see, I’m slowly wading over to a safer place. But I don’t want to overexert myself. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. I sat here, rubbed the sleep from my brain and rambled on a bit. It’s a start. I think I earned my reward.


Okay, so I took two spoons. But it’s kind of like therapy. Protein is good for the brain, right?! I actually think I’m going to need another one to hit publish. I forgot how stressful this was! Okay, here goes… 

Burnt pans, burst bubbles and a visit to the dark side

I am hunched over the sink, applying heavy pressure on my dishwashing brush to rub the burnt remains from the skillet; yet no matter how much or hard I scrub the dark coal like coating refuses to budge. 

Frustrated, I search impatiently under the sink for scouring pads, hoping the extra abrasion will do the trick. All the while, I’m cursing myself for forgetting about the chicken stir fry on the burner when I ran to bring my middle son a cup of milk, and got distracted by the toy explosion on the carpet when my bare foot met the wrath of Lego Luke Skywalker.

My middle and oldest sons staring blankly at the television screen don’t even bat an eye in my direction as I yelp like a cat whose tail just got stepped on and hop carefully to the couch, avoiding the Lego Storm Troopers strategically scattered for optimal injury. As I plop down and clutch my foot tenderly, I hear my youngest cry accusingly, “You stepped on Luke!”

I’m raising such compassionate children.

Hobbling back toward the kitchen, my crushed tail between my legs, I heard my oldest son yell “Hungry” and smelled before I saw the dinner that would never be. And so I scrub, my hair falling in my face which I brush away unconsciously with hands I forget are wet.

Sighing heavily to myself, I push on, attacking the char with a vengeance while contemplating whether I should just give up and order a pizza or make it a breakfast for dinner night.

Of course I decide to make eggs; not allowing myself the comfort of easily solving a problem with a phone call.  That would be weak and doesn’t work with the martyred status I have going on in my own head.

A thought bubbles to the surface as it does sometimes when I’m folding endless laundry, or negotiating with my children to do their homework, or scrubbing a pan, and I wonder, is this really me?

How did I get to be 40 something? Where did these children come from? Wait, I’m married? It wasn’t so long ago that I fluttered through my days carefree and open. There was youthful insecurity of course, and uncertainty, but my face glowed with freshness and my eyes twinkled with possibility.

I didn’t know exactly who I was back then, but I knew I could be somebody. Somebody smart, successful, important…something.

Yet, here I am.

I realize I’ve tainted the picture with my negative tone; that if I just cast a rainbow filter on the scene, I could make it look comical or at the very least just an average mom day. The right lighting shows off the best side of things. With good lighting you don’t see all the wrinkles.

It would help if one of my boys came in right now to give me a hug, just because. It happens sometimes.

But not today.

So it seems that besides the scrubbing, I’ve also got some ironing to do.

I will not go to the dark side.

Talk to the Spoon

At this moment, I am spooning giant scoops of ice cream from a tub of Edy’s slow churned Rocky Road from my freezer, drowning it in sprinkles and eating it compulsively, my head cradling the phone as I eat.

I am listening to him, but it’s all just words; the same old tortured words of a tortured existence.

Today’s problem of the day has gotten itself pregnant and is now two problems. He has no protection from himself, so there is always the risk of multiplication.

During conversations like these, I am unable to keep the spoon out of my mouth. Luckily his diatribes need no response. He can talk on and on about his suffering with almost no interruption, leaving me free to torture myself.

I see his form, even though he is over the bridge and I am through a tunnel, sitting awkwardly on his bed; his face drooped as low as his body. The cigarette held carelessly in his hands. Smoke floating up past his glazed over eyes; the ashes falling on jeans riddled with the cigarette holes of frustrated days gone by. He might fall asleep like this if he stopped talking. He might fall asleep even if he doesn’t.

My spoon scrapes bottom. My stomach is extended, my heart divided. I reach for the tub again. It calms something out of control inside of me which threatens to explode in these conversations, but with every bite I grow angrier with him and with myself, so instead of being soothed, I boil.

“I want to stop talking,” I hear him say, his voice a cloud over my head.  I want you to as well, I don’t reply. “I know I’m talking too much.” He repeats.

The recognition is brief. It is hard for him to focus on about anything but himself and his pain for anything more than an acknowledgement. Yet, he pauses to ask how I am; which should be considered some kind of progress, even though it’s fleeting and not quite genuine, because I know it is difficult for him.

I could interrupt and fill the space with my noise, but my tongue is numb and I can’t muster the effort to even pretend to be normal tonight. So, on he goes, moving without transition from one problem to another, one pain to the next.

I have heard enough to last ten lifetimes.

Still, he can’t stop talking. I can’t stop spooning. And we both can’t stop hating who we are at this moment.

ice cream spoon

Hurt so good

Just a bad day

I’m cold.

I know it’s officially Spring, but the air is still crisp, and with the up and down temperatures this winter, my body has never adapted. I feel almost naked, and I hunker down in my coat as the wind whips my face. I have a ‘thing’ at the school that I’m in no mood for.  Just getting to the car leaves me chilled to the bone. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m going to have to do the Florida migration in a couple of years. My body really hates the cold.

I left the house annoyed and unhappy. I had a bad day and it leaked into my night. It was a repeat of the night before and possibly the one before that. It comes like that, in waves, and sometimes I just can’t shake it; my dark mood wrapped as tightly around my neck as my grey wool scarf. I don’t know why the things that I usually casually brush off won’t budge, like my shovel in wet, heavy snow. I don’t know why I let it all settle, deep in my gut. How can I feel so heavy, yet so empty?

It could have been the boys, just being boys, fighting, teasing, playing too rough. And me, being overwhelmed.

Or, it could have been the never-ending laundry, pile of dishes and errands. And me, being overwhelmed.

Or it could have been my depressed, dysfunctional, disabled father throwing his burden on my back, needing more and more of my energy and assistance. And me, being overwhelmed.

It could just be my nature. I’m prone to deep thinking, and it is not always my friend. There’s so much to appreciate and yet, life is death. It’s a cold slap of reality that I never fully realized till my mid to late thirties. And now, I’ve never felt so keenly aware of how vapor thin life is. How delicate. How a strong gust of wind can push someone over the edge, just like that.

I arrive at the school and watch the people walking past. Some walk purposefully, others stroll arm in arm with a spouses or friends. I close my eyes and rest my head back against the seat. The radio is talking news, talking weather, talking sports. It’s as soothing as a sound machine set to waterfall. I don’t want to get out of the safety of the car. I don’t want to put on a happy face.

But I know I will. I always do.

I shiver and pull my coat tightly around me. It’s really not even that bad out. They’re predicting milder temperatures tomorrow. I hope so. I really can’t wait to feel the sun.


If I had a therapist…apparently I’d babble and suck up

Recently, my friend started seeing a therapist. Gushing, she told me how wonderful it was to speak her mind, even vent a little. I was jealous. I love to speak my mind. I love to vent. It got me thinking, if I had a therapist, what would I say? How it would go? I decided to find out with my new, very well-respected, pretend therapist. So fluff up the couch pillows, I’m coming in…

Hey Doc, let me just say, right off the bat, that I know you’re not real, so please don’t put in my file that I talk to imaginary people. I just wanted to see what it felt like to open my heart to someone whose job it is to listen. Or hopefully, listen. My father, well versed in therapists, reminds me often of the one who fell asleep during his session. I always want to say to him, first, that I can totally understand this, as it takes my father a good 2 years to get to a point, and then you’re not even sure what the point was. Second, that he has, on more than a few occasions, fallen asleep mid-sentence while speaking with me. I guess because of the drugs, uh, medications, it’s not a fair comparison. Besides, that therapist was being paid money. I just pay with my life blood.

Yeah, yeah, so I’m being dramatic. Shoot me. Wait, no! I take that back. Don’t write that down. I am not suicidal. It’s just a figure of speech. I forget I have to be careful with my words around people like you.

Can I not say people like you? Is that an obnoxious stereotype? Are you offended? Do you not like me anymore? I so like being liked. Definitely to a fault. So, am I doing okay, here? I know, I know, there are no right things to say, but come on, tell me, am I doing well? Are you thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe this girl has never had therapy? She can totally communicate.” Or are you thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe this girl has never had therapy.”

I feel like I’m talking too much. Oh, right. Duh. That’s the point. I’m supposed to talk and you’re supposed to listen, but for me, that is a weird concept. I’m kind of used to being ignored. My kids practice selective hearing, which generally includes hearing only the TV and whispering about each other from another room. My husband practices distraction hearing, which allows me to filter in, in between work emails and all things sports related.

Most frustrating is my father. He has no distractions and just talks and talks and talks. I am mute, shoved against my will on his crazy, emotional ride of chronic pain and depression. It is the scariest roller coaster in existence. In fact, it’s not even a roller coaster, it’s more like a free fall. One minute we’re going up up up with all of his plansandneedsandhopesanddreams. And then when he realizes the futility, usually only minutes and 10,000 words later, it’s down down down to the depths of misery and pain.

I’ve been on this ride thousands of times over the years. I barely blink, but for him, each time is like the first. How?? How does he not get his reality? How? It’s…baffling, frustrating, heart-breaking, exhausting, irritating, overwhelming. It’s Just Too Much. Day in, day out. I…I… Well look at me. Now I’m a bit of mess. Damn. Sorry. It’s just so… endless. I need a tissue.

I guess this happens a lot, huh? Oh, I’m over my word count? Already? Well, good, I’m pooped. Did I do okay? I know, I know. Ha. I can’t help it. Next week? I’ll be there, if you will. Don’t stand me up. Ha ha. You’re definitely the best imaginary therapist around. And I’m not just saying that.

She works for Peanuts, just like my therapist.

She works for Peanuts, just like my therapist.

Laugh Till You Cry

Almost in tears. Hate my father – scratch that – hate who my father is – better. He’s got one foot off a cliff and wants me to pull him down to safety, as usual. And as usual, I probably pushed the other one off instead, with my words, which were as frustrated as he is. “Get help!” But that’s why he’s calling me.

Breathe deeply. Think about mountains in Tibet, waterfalls, rainbows, ice cream. Need to call him back. His cell phone rang in the middle of our heated conversation. He was on an edge, his voice high with emotion. I won’t say from the drugs he is on.  “No-one cares. I’m worthless. It’s all wrong.”

“Is there something I can do?” There’s nothing I can do. “Maybe we should call Dr. R.”  Dr. R is his psychiatrist. There’s nothing he can do.

He snaps like Hyde awaked from his long sleep. “I wasn’t asking for advice!”

Uh oh. I automatically open the freezer. “I wasn’t really offering any. I was just trying to help.”

Him, yelling, “You can stop trying to help! I wasn’t asking for help! Why do you always think I’m asking for help?!”

My heart beating with anxiety. -“Ooookay.” I wish there was someone else he could call.

That’s when his cell rang, which he tried to pick up, but somehow picked me up again instead. I know, two different phones, don’t expect things to make sense. Final words, “I can’t believe I screwed up again!” Sad, pitiful, and the phone goes dead.  Tibet. Rainbows. Ice cream.

For me, It’s been over 20 years of pain. Over 20 years being the daughter of a man in pain. A sad man in pain. A suffering man in pain. The pain is in his body. The pain is in his head. The pain is in his heart.

We speak often. Too often for me, not often enough for him, and the calls are all desperation and need, cries for help and cries for attention.

Earlier today, he was grappling with his dwindling legacy. His fear of being considered a drug addict. Of what would be on his tombstone. For decades, he reinforced to me that he wanted his tombstone to say, “He rode the white horse.” He has quite the image of himself, romantic and dramatic, quite like him. Of course, for me at this point, the white horse is muddied, and after slumping over for a while, its rider fell off and not with a quick thump. He fell off howling, with his foot stuck in the stirrup and is still being dragged behind.

He casually mentions that if they found him at the base of a building that he wouldn’t have jumped, that it would have been an accident. You would think this mingling of tombstones and vague suicide talk would have me calling 911, but red flags barely get notice anymore. Those flags need to be shooting rocket fire to gather any real attention.

“So you now want your tombstone to say, “He didn’t jump?” I joked and he did something of a laugh. With a father like mine you look for levity wherever you can, even in suicide talk. “Yeah,” he says, the mood automatically lighter. “That works.”

In that one second, it all changed. It was better. “He didn’t jump off the white horse” He adds, “He was pushed!” And then, he’s laughing.

Where there is humor, there is hope. I’ll call him back now. We both need to laugh.

Ride of my Life

It’s dark. My shirt shines an unnatural fluorescent purple under the neon glare and I can see 1,000 little pills of fabric that don’t show up in every day light. People are sweaty, music blasts and a woman wearing a lot of lycra, screams  “Are we ready!?”  way too energetically in my ear. We haven’t even begun and I just want to go home and shower. Welcome to my Tuesday spin class.

Class starts and we’re just warming up to “I got a feeling” from the Black Eyed Peas, stretching out our arms, loosening our joints and getting our legs ready for the ride. I ease into my pace and mentally tune out. What do I need to do when this is over? I go thru my check list. Supermarket – milk, OJ, detergent, remember pancakes for Michael. Call Dad. Shower. Pick up crickets for Smiles, our bearded dragon. Baseball practice later. Get Gatorade.

I return to my father. He’s having a rough week, extra miserable and depressed. His doctors aren’t getting back to him and for a reason that is correlated with his misery and depression, he will never just pick up the phone and call them again. Instead he just sits, waits and bemoans his sorry state. Our last conversation was an hour of me shushing my children away, trying to help him find a reason to live, while he explained the intricacies of how to take enough pills to get committed in a psych ward but not enough to kill himself. Good times. Good times.

Call Dad’s psychiatrist, I add to my list before hunkering down, turning up my gear and preparing for the first hill. “It’s coming!” Judy, the instructor, calls out like a voice from beyond. “You’re almost there. Turn it up!”

“Staying Alive” from the Bee Gees pumps motivation, and my legs slow down as the harder gear makes it, well, harder. One. Two. One. Two. What am I going to eat when this is over? I wonder. Should I have frozen yogurt for lunch? Or food? One. Two.  Maybe I’ll drive to the yogurt store. One. That’s bad. I should eat something healthy. Two. I did have cottage cheese, Fiber One and blueberries for breakfast, I remind myself, that’s healthy. Frozen yogurt for lunch!

“Put on another gear!” Judy yells. “And take it up!” I grunt and stand. Katy Perry’s, “Fireworks” is sparking us into action. I’m nearing the top of the hill and I’ve turned up the gear yet again. My legs feel leaden, like concrete slowly hardening. I pedal on. Almost there!  Al mo st there. Even my thoughts are taking heavy breaths. I c a n d o i t !

“Hungry like the Wolf” kicks in to help us make it to the top. Wolves have always reminded me of my father. They used to call him Grey wolf for his sharp, bright green eyes and, yes, hair that was almost fully grey by his early thirties. And he was clever, with a joke or a line. The ladies loved him, but why am I still thinking about him?  “Love Shack” is pumping through my ears straight down to my legs and I’m racing down this hill like my love is at the bottom and I haven’t had sex in years! “It’s Love Shack Baby! Everybody’s moving, everybody’s grooving, around and around and around and arouuuuund.” I’m singing in my head and between breaths it sometimes comes out my mouth. I can’t help it. I’m flying. Judy has challenged me to beat out the other spinners in my line and I’m going to kick their asses!

I’m sure I won the race to the bottom, but now there are sprints and jumps. I hate sprint and jumps. And even though I love “It’s my life” by Bon Jovi, I don’t know if it’ll be enough to get me through those up and downs. At least I have no energy to think. I’m a tight focused ball of keep on keeping on.

We finally finish the drills, and I’m hunched over in third position just riding my pace for the next few minutes of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The final hill approaches.  “I want you to want me,” by Cheap Trick is playing and I’m in the moment until somehow it leads me to my husband and I begin to mull over how our relationship has changed since we’ve had the kids. It makes me sad sometimes that it’s no longer about us. At times I feel like the fourth in line – fifth if you count baseball – for his attention when I used to be solidly first. It’s embarrassing to admit being jealous of your husband’s amazing focus on the children, but it’s true. Then I think how I am now the selfless parent (although maybe not so much considering my last statement) and not the selfish young thing, and both thoughts make me want to have a tantrum.

“This is your hour!” Judy screams. “Make every minute count!” Nothing is about me any longer. Nothing. Judy is right, this will be my only real hour and it is torture! I’m feeling a little choked up and am in danger of having a What Alice Forgot moment. I do not want to fall off my bike. A tear mingles with the sweat running down my face. I need to get it together. Breathe. I can’t breathe!

“It’s your final hill!” Judy encourages. “It’s here! Take it. Take it straight to the finish line. Don’t waste a second. Give me everything you got!” “People are People” by Depeche Mode is guiding us along and I’m back trying to climb a mountain. I really need to remember to call my father’s doctor. Not that it’s going to do any good. Like he says, his pain is like an onion, deal with the top layer and there’s another problem right underneath, all fresh and shiny, and just waiting to make him cry. He is my never-ending onion. A mountain with no peak. My brain is on replay, “People are people…” That’s right, and my father is never going to change, and I am never going to desert him and leave him alone, like I probably should, but I’m not, because “people are frickin people!” I’m crying now, my breath ragged, my huffing and puffing closer to hyperventilation. I’m close to losing it as we finally mount the hill, turn down our gear and sprint to “Free Falling” by John Mayer. Breathe. Get it together. Sing. Don’t think. I calm. I ride. I remember I need to pick up dry cleaning. And stop at the post office. And Michael’s pancakes.

Christina Aguliera belts out “I am beautiful” and I am caught in her chords. I’m steady and on pace. The finish line is in sight. “You’re almost there!” Judy screams. “One more minute and we’re racing to the finish! No one gets left behind! We go thru it together! Now GO!”  I pedal furiously. The end is in sight. I’m almost there. I see nothing. I think nothing. I am a machine! I am beautiful! I am across! I made it! The music changes to “Time of my life” and I lower my gear so that I’m back on flat, easy road. My legs move automatically on the light gear and I guzzle down half my water. I am emotionally and physically spent and I am feeling… good.

After we stretch and clap for ourselves and Judy, I wipe off my face and then my bike and ready myself to leave. The spin shoes I shelled out $100 for go back in the bag. For now, the ride is over, but my head is still spinning.