writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

This happened once

The first fall of my adulthood, late September, all Columbus blue skies and crisp nighttime dog walks around our Victorian-strewn neighborhood, we bought mums the color of blood and rust. Spotlit by the sun, they sat on a credenza in our bedroom, an earth-bound cloud of color, before I finally moved them to the coolness of our shady doorstep. I was 24 and having mums of my own was novel, as was playing house and learning my way around the two burner stovetop (with grill!) installed in the island separating our kitchen from the living room. It was the first apartment I lived in that wasn’t teetering on the edge of being a dump, the first time I cohabitated with a boyfriend, the first year of cat and dog ownership.

I wouldn’t go back – so much of my emotional life at that time was a mess – but I do miss that optimism and freshness, when I could feel thrilled about an overflowing plastic pot of flowers, my feelings so strong I can remember the excitement even now, over 20 years later, without a mum to my name.

Other places, other Octobers, other times are on my mind, stories of Halloweens of the past (the year there was no Halloween, the ill-advised Edgar Allen Poe story night, the last hurrah during freshman year of high school, me and KB going out trick-or-treating after a game in our cheerleading uniforms – yes, cheerleading uniforms).

There is the way I miss a good, chilly Mid-Atlantic autumn with its color and the promise of darkness to come. In my West Coast present, winter darkness awaits, days (hopefully) tinted by rain, but there is no real fall color. Leaves turn from green to brown, if they turn at all, and the crispness in the air is intermittent, October fog-mist mornings morphing into June afternoons.

There are the friendships I miss, too, which make me reflect upon the continued smallness of my life, often welcome in its containment, sometimes lonely in the light of midday. There are the existential questions that come out of solitude. At the moment, those questions focus on my avoidance of entanglements, my awkward angular path in the world. I can’t escape myself, but too much of a good thing disintegrates the resolve.

All these are the fleeting thoughts of mid-fall, each not worth a separate post, but definitely worth a mention, to provide a snapshot of where I am right now, which is in an awkward position on a soft chair, leaned way over to the left in order to let the cat on my lap rest unmolested. My mouth tastes of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and KitKats, a preview of the Halloween to come. I’m thirsty. And I’m thinking of you. And you. And you. I knew you once and you knew me, but we are strangers now.

I hold our past delicately, afraid it might disintegrate if I handle it too much. I keep it stored up for the both of us: this happened once.

Photo of mums from the
Edmonton Journal.

Keep track of your goblins

In contemporary parlance, as written in the language of the Now, in the syntax of the Facebook status and the internet meme: So this happened.

The medication that I take 2 mg of daily was accidentally upped by the pharmacist to a 20 mg dose, which is 5 - 10 mg over the recommended amount for people with a
severe mental illness that in no way resembles depression. Thank goodness I realized something was off when I felt the rounded heft of the pill in my hand. Bright side? I was refunded and then comped for the accurate refill, all courtesy of the “STARS event.”

My brother-in-law visited and witnessed the sprinting joys of Halloween Fun Night at the boy’s school, the boy a blur in his skeleton mask and dark cloak, traveling in a cloud of silent mystery, pursued by the Invisible Man and his minions.

The champagne we opened on Saturday night had a happy face cork, while the cork of the zinfandel I opened later was imprinted with a skull and crossbones (as befits a wine named Poizin).

The lessons? Make sure the pills match the script. Keep track of your goblins. And too much of anything hurts. Or, in the case of my medication, can cause belching, puffed cheeks, and worm-like movements of the tongue. Among other things.


While still above ground

I used to post about the boy more frequently, but it turns out he’s a pretty private person. So I talk around him. Blog posts become more general, the images more disguised. Facebook shares are limited to the occasional photograph. There are more pictures of kittens than the kid on my accounts these days -- pets have no right to privacy, after all.

This means the specifics of our conversations are often off the record, which is a shame because those talks can be wonderful, and I know the days of openness are fleeting. Adolescence will someday blanket our attempts at interaction with silence, the conversational flow dammed by hormones and the development of independence. But maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe It will help that we listen to him, that we’re not authoritarian but authoritative in our parenting style. We don’t dismiss, we discuss (when appropriate). Knowing we are not making decisions out of the blue and that we take his thoughts and feelings into consideration, the boy tends to not only listen to us, but to talk. Mostly.

Our household is not a dictatorship. There’s a lot of negotiation in this space.

We’re not all loosey-goosey, however. Although we are flexible and definitely not punitive in the face of undesirable behavior, there are consequences if something doesn’t happen in the way it should. We have limits. But just as I believe everyone deserves a voice, I don’t believe in shaming or hurting someone as a way of encouraging positive or discouraging negative behavior. I never want the boy to think
he is bad. Really, I don’t like to think in terms of “good” and “bad” in general (with some big exceptions). Kids (and adults) do things for reasons, even if those reasons are questionable or indirect -- why not find out what is going on inside before cracking down?

In my family growing up, “discussion” consisted of screaming and mutual nastiness. No argument was ever settled and the punishment, meted out by someone who was stressed and unsupported, often did not fit the crime. I am grateful to be breaking that pattern. It helps that my husband and I are in a different place in life than my mother was. It helps that the boy is mellow and not prone to acting out. It helps to have enough money. It helps to not be depressed or totally isolated.

Circumstances, luck, and having enough time to think and heal from the past can give freedom from it. And even in those days of no-holds-barred fighting and impossible sanctions, my mother and I talked. Maybe the boy won’t go underground, or if he does, he will return to the surface eventually. All I can do is hope, enjoy what we have now, and resist the urge to write too many posts about him. After all, it’s his life, too.

Image: The boy in his Halloween disguise.

desperately seeking rachel

Found on a bulletin board outside a Berkeley tot lot. Part of me wants to gently poke fun at it -- the wide net kyle casts, his freeform, punctuation-lite approach to writing, the fine line he travels between romantic and creepy, depending on your viewpoint. Another part of me feels for the guy. kyle is clearly desperate to track down rachel. Then I wonder if something serious is going on -- why is it “very important” that he find her?

Berkeleyans -- be on the lookout.
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