Rabbit Run

I don’t understand why people run marathons. I have runner friends competing in everything from 5ks up through the real thing. (Bloggers, too.) I always tell them “Great job” when they share successes. I understand that this is a difficult goal they have set for themselves. I recognize that physical achievement is lauded in our society and that some people get an endorphin high from cardiovascular exercise.

But I’m really thinking, “Wait. The original marathon runner delivered his news and dropped dead.” Why do we want to repeat this? Why is doing so a feat of excellence?

I have walked in a couple of 5ks in pursuit of physical fitness. I consider them hot, miserable affairs that leave me dehydrated and sore. Weight loss is the only possible benefit. And I have to do cardio work to get ready for even those. I do not get an endorphin high off of exercise at all. For the most part, exercise actually makes me more angry, and I’m apt to snark Scott’s head off for an hour or more after a supposedly good workout. I force myself to do it, since I do believe I can increase my lifespan by improving my health. But running? Really? I have tried to run a couple of times in recent history, and the results were nausea from my hot feet, along with sore knees from jouncing along on my own weight. I hate running more than walking, because I wind up gasping for air sooner and it makes all my floppy bits jiggle extra flappily.

And all of this is relevant because The Bitch wants us to run a 5k. Not walk it. Run it. Why? My body doesn’t need dancer’s curves. I haven’t got a secret desire to stand on a podium holding up a medal. (And it’s a good thing, because even The Bitch admits we’d be starting near the back of the pack and finishing dead last.) There is no logic at all to this impulse, but she’s been yammering about it for weeks now.

The only purpose I can see to running a 5k is to demonstrate your physical prowess while building yourself up to suffer more. (Or possibly to skitter, in Updikean fashion, away from a problem.) But the bitch wants a piece of the action, and sooner or later, she’s going to get demanding. I hope she lets me wait until the first of next year to start training.

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Red Writing HoodThis post was composed in response to the Write on Edge Red Writing Hood:Athleticism prompt. Please post comments and discouragement below. If you must encourage her, I probably need to know about good shoes, knee braces, and plus sized sports bras (G cup).

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Dare to Share at The Lightning Bug

Thanks to the readers who found me on The Lightning Bug's weekend linkup

If you’re getting here from The Lightning Bug’s Dare to Share weekend, here’s a note. While this is my most-commented-on post to date, I feel like that’s really because I’ve just figured out the art of blog sharing, and this is one of the first ones I’ve written in response to a prompt and shared with the blogging (and blog-hopping) community. Before this, my most commented on post was this one: Dawn. I wasn’t sure which one to link to. And I never feel like I’m following any given set of instructions quite right. So this is my way of linking to both. Cheers, and thanks for stopping by.

In Dreams

I’m naked again, and somehow I just now noticed in the middle of the hall. I duck around the corner and run outside, where I try to crawl under a bench. Nobody else seems to notice or mind my total exposure, and it’s ironic that this is the only time I seem to be completely invisible.

I walk into 8th grade Algebra and – bang! – it’s exam day. I haven’t studied, my eyes keep blurring out the questions, and this is the big test. The one that determines whether or not I go to high school. In fact, if I fail this one, they’re going to put me back in 6th grade and make me redo that, 7th, and 8th all three. I’m probably naked again, but I don’t stop to check, because I’m too busy frantically scribbling down answers in fuzzy pencil.

I’m thirty years old teaching college, and a letter comes. We regret to inform you that the program under which you avoided high school has been cancelled, you chickenshit. If you do not suck it up, return to Western Brown, and complete your eleventh and twelfth grade years, your undergraduate and graduate degrees will be nullified.

Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream.

I used to go to bed chanting that, because if I could keep up the patter, it would carry over into my sleep, and I could be certain that whatever was going on was just in my head. But I often lost my rhythm drifting off, and on those nights, everything seemed real. Pinching myself didn’t work, because I experience physical sensations in my dreams, and so I felt the pain. But I had other tests. I would try to remember a string of events that led me to reaching whatever point I had just gotten to. No memory of how I got to be standing nude in the middle of gym class? Then it probably wasn’t really happening.  My mind plays nasty tricks, though, and I could conjure memories of events I’d never experienced to fool myself into believing the horror.

So I would try to fly, and if I achieved liftoff,  then things were OK.  And if that didn’t work, I’d jump in a large body of water (I always seemed to have one handy) and try to breathe without surfacing. Of course, these things always worked when I remembered them, because it is rarely outside of a dream that I actually question reality in more than an abstract way.

When I was very young, my nightmares involved monsters chasing, but those stopped as soon as my accidentally wise father introduced me to horror films. Somehow, knowing about Poltergeist gave my subconscious a dividing line between dream and reality, and after that my nights were almost never filled with imaginary terrors. (Though I did go through a bad period when Freddy Krueger scared the hell out of me. Especially since there was a “Jesse” in the first Nightmare on Elm Street.) But mostly, the horror soothed, and I still I avidly read and watch it for the way it comforts me, limits my sleepless nights.

But it doesn’t stop me from dreaming. Instead, I dream about real things. Or possible realities. The schoolmares, where nakedness substituted for exposure, and my knowledge that everyone was talking about me behind my back (which was better than when they threw rocks) replaced the demon-monsters. And I think I would have traded back for the falsities given half a choice.

Still would. Because the monsters go away when I wake up. But the things that might be real, they linger. It’s actually been over two years since I had those particular nightmares, and it’s the first time since second grade that I’ve been free of them. But they still haunt my waking life, because getting bullied isn’t something that just goes away when you escape it.

My parents were bullied, too. So they were sympathetic to my plight. And Mom was in there advocating for me, ensuring that when I could take something to a teacher, the teacher was open to me. But how the hell do you prove the Jessie-hahas? How do you convince a teacher that the people behind you are whispering your name, then laughing about it, and, even if the teacher believes you, what can that teacher really do? The culprits have but to deny the action.

And even my parents were scared of making it worse for me. Mom feared that removing
me from one school would just leave me in another one to be bullied by different people. (And how would I have gotten to school with no bus?)  I was in 9th grade before I brought her around to supporting the homeschooling bid.  I  escaped for one blessed year. After that, things were better, because I became eligible to attend college. I could get high school and college credit simultaneously without ever darkening the high school’s doorstep.

In fact, by the time I was thirty, I had been collectively out of elementary and high school for far more years than I had ever been in them, and yet those were the experiences that brought me up-sitting awake from a dead sleep until comparatively recently. (And yet some people who know me, know me well, still fail to understand why I say my children will never attend public school. Can private schools have these problems? Oh yes. And I’m terrified for Sam already, with such a rocky start. But I have far more control over my children’s experiences right now than my parents ever had over mine, or than I could hope to have if they were in public school classrooms.)

And it wasn’t anything predictable that made the nightmares stop. Time and maturity brought no perspective. The medications I took typically included nightmares as side effects. (The phrase “Prozac nightmares” has social meaning.) And I have always been a vivid dreamer, even when the thoughts aren’t scary ones.

It was Facebook. I reconnected with an old friend, and everything changed in my sleeping mind. I had three long-term friends in elementary and high school, though only two of them actually went to my school. And those three friends have been my stalwarts. I never lost track of Jenny, Genie, or Rachel, or not really, and I can still sit down with any one of them and pick up a conversation as if we’d never stopped.

But I went through a period in seventh and eighth grade where I actually connected with a wider group of girls. One of them even rode my school bus. (And the bus ride was so much worse than actual school, because it was long and the other kids had nothing
better to do than torment.) However, we had started to drift by the time we got to ninth grade, and by the end of the year, we barely knew each other anymore.

The loss of that protective group affected me more profoundly than I realized at the time, and it was one of these women that I reached out to on Facebook. The one who rode the bus with me. I’ll tell you the truth. I was terrified. It is one of those moments like asking Scott out that I still relive with a reddening face and quaky hands. But where I know why I was afraid of speaking to Scott before I knew he might agree to a date, I cannot put a rational finger on why the memory of sending a friend request and message to Heather-who-rode-my-bus makes my heart constrict. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been much impacted if she had ignored me or my little note.

Perhaps it is precisely because she did not ignore me that I’ve had to stop typing twice now and remind myself to breathe. Heather reached back. Suddenly I found that she missed me, and that was when I realized how badly I had missed her. She welcomed my request so warmly that it healed a wound she had not created. I stopped having schoolmares almost entirely. So I reached out to the one other person who had been part of our group who is also on Facebook, and Carmen was glad to hear from me, too.

Their online friendship doesn’t undo a decade of being bullied for being a smart, outspoken girl who also happened not to be Christian. But it puts that decade more firmly in my past than in my present, and forces me to have nightmares about other things. Things that don’t linger as painfully after I open my eyes in the morning.

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a flicker of inspiration at Lightning Bug

Thanks to those who find me by following the link on the Lightning Bug flicker of inspiration linkup.

This post (which, to be clear, is nonfiction) was composed in response to The Lightning Bug’s flicker of inspiration Halloween linkup (#21). The actual prompt asked us to describe (show) rather than simply naming a horror. I went about it sideways (I always do) and incorporated the next prompt (#22), asking for nightmares.  I don’t say the word “bullied” until the halfway point, so I think I’ve met the original requirement here. And the school nightmares are worse than anything Stephen King can put on paper. Um. Not that I’m trying to challenge him or anything.

Property Theft

I lose my phone a lot. Like twice, sometimes three times a day. So when it went missing this weekend, I didn’t think much about it. But Scott and I tore up the house and car looking for it, and I started to consider it gone for good. I called the zoo, where I’d had it last, to make sure nobody had turned it in. No.

So I called T-mobile to see if I would lose my phone number if I replaced it. The woman explaining that I could keep my phone number, even if I had to have a new SIM card, also mentioned, “You have $7.95 worth of internet usage on it at this time.”. And that’s when I knew.

Right up until that moment, I’d never even considered the possibility. The phone is a couple of years old, its shell is cracked and peeling, and it’s just not a “keeper” device. We didn’t have a data plan on it. And if we didn’t have a data plan and it had eight bucks of internet use, then Baby, it was stolen.  However, the thief probably got sick of figuring out how to configure Facebook and threw it out the car window, which is why only eight bucks of damage occurred.

But at some point, someone took a picture.

And unknowingly posted it to my T-mobile account.

See, that particular phone has this annoying feature. Every time you snap a pic, it asks “Do you want to upload to ‘my album’”? And you click “yes” or “no”. And then, about half the time, whichever one you pick, it asks again “Do you want to upload to my album?” Sooner or later, even an intelligent person is going to screw up and click ‘yes’ when meaning ‘no’.

So, I’m not going to accuse this person ….

See? This person may be a ghost. It's October, I lost the camera at zoo boo, and he is surrounded by a bright white light.

The guy in front.

Note the white light. Maybe a halo.

Him.

Just look at his serious face. How humble the expression. I'm serious people. Ghost or angel.

Of being kind of dumb. After all, it’s a mistake I’ve made
myself.

Nor am I going to accuse him of stealing my phone. After all, he could have just accidentally picked it up after somebody else stole it, then navigated the three screens to the camera and snapped a self portrait.

In fact, I’m going to assume that’s exactly what he did. And from that assumption, I can only reach one logical conclusion. The worst. I think this man may be in trouble. This picture is a message to me. A cry for help. Here is a soul suffering, and only I can save him. But you’ve got to help me out. Since, after all, he and I are only connected through the slender thread of this picture uploaded through my phone, the only way I can possibly find him is by circulating his image on the web.  Please, help me find this man, and maybe, together, he and I can restore my phone to its rightful place. My hand.

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This is an oldie but a goodie. He really did me a favor and forced me into the world of the Smartphone, but still. It was annoying and a huge hassle. I’m linking up with Finding the funny! It’s several months later, and I’d still like to mentor him. Right into a jail cell.

Happy Anniversary Part II (Now That You’ve Met the Bride and Groom)

Yesterday, I introduced you to Scott as I first met him. Today, we’ll get married. Fast huh?

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Scott and I got married twice, though we only filed one certificate.

After we’d been living together about a year, we progressed to formal engagement in September of 2000. My grandmother informed me in no uncertain terms that she hated long engagements. She said, “I’ll die first”. Mind you, we were planning to have the ceremony roughly 13 months later, so I didn’t think it was a particularly long time to wait myself. Especially since we were both in grad school in Lexington, while we wanted to get married in Cincinnati.

By this point, Scott was heavily into his dissertation research and still teaching classes. I was just starting my library science degree, having survived an English MA with only moderate damage to everyone around me. I had a loathsome real world job (it only lasted six months). And Mummum was doggedly determined that a year away was too long.

She was right.

Purely aside from the fact that October 13, 2001 wound up being one month and 2 days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which she couldn’t have known, Mummum had a massive heart attack in December of 2000, and I’m pretty sure she did have a good idea that was coming. I was at work when Mom called with the news. It was my birthday. Mom and Poppa were with Mummum in the hospital, and the prognosis was very bad. I told Scott, “We have to get married now. She can’t be dead before our wedding.”

When I talked to Mom again that night, things were getting worse. The doctors couldn’t get enough oxygen to Mummum’s heart, and Mom had run into some young idiot resident or intern who didn’t seem to realize my grandfather was also still a licensed physician who maintained hospital privileges at his institution. This particular young buck told Mom and Poppa, as if he was explaining something obvious, “Well, she is seventy nine years old.”

Mom can sometimes get to the point of a conversation in just a few short words. She told the doctor, and even repeating it to me later, she snarled it, “She’s my mother.” And that is what should have been obvious.

I said, “Tell Mummum she has to wait for us. She has to get better because we’re  getting married in her hospital room.”

The next day, Scott and I went and got our license, and we bought some rings at Steinmart. On the phone that night, Mom said, “About the same time we told her you were coming, they got the oxygen flowing. She may pull through.” And I thought It worked. It’s working. Because when I told Scott “We have to get married right now,” I was really thinking, Maybe we can do magic. Maybe we can save her.  But I knew we had to follow through to make sure.

Since she was improving, Mummum had to have some kind of procedure on the following day, a Saturday. So it was Sunday, December 17, before we could finally go get married at the hospital. We stood by my grandmother’s bed and exchanged vows and rings with help from a nice Baptist minister who also signed the certificate that we didn’t file. We knew Scott’s family would feel cheated if we actually got married-married in Kentucky almost a year ahead of our planned wedding in Ohio.

We also didn’t file because Mummum lived. If she had gotten worse or died, we would have gotten that certificate finalized. Because it meant that much to both of us. My grandmother had to be there. But the ceremony was enough. Her health turned around, operating became possible, and she came home a couple of days before Christmas. She soldiered on for five more years after that.

We all resumed our lives and went back to planning for October. In this, my mother-in-law was a godsend. My Mom has never enjoyed ceremonies or formal functions, and she felt elopement would be wisest. So Scott and I needed his Mom’s assistance very badly. We were in a totally different city, and neither one of us had the first clue about weddings.

Betty was the ultimate wedding planner. Even though she was a scientist working five days a week herself, she would go scout out four or five options in any one category, then show them to us when we came up north for a weekend. She worried that she was stepping on my Mom’s toes and wasn’t quite sure that Mom was really as anti-wedding as we insisted. Believe me, my mother will never be an ‘event’ person.

Betty had a knack for figuring out things that would appeal to us, too. She wasn’t just giving us ideas she enjoyed. She drove us to potential reception locales until we chose the perfect spot. She found for us (at our request) the little bakery that had done Scott’s sister Judy’s cake. And that baker agreed to do a stack of books with titles written on the spines in icing. (Romance 101, Encyclopedia M-P, and on the top layer, True Love.) For our topper, we supplied a pair of ducks, because those were symbolic to our engagement, when we were surrounded by a whole flock at a lake near our apartment.

Yes, that is icing on my arm. No, I don't remember how it got there.

Betty got in touch with our photographer.  He had retired since doing Scott’s sister Holly’s wedding pictures, but he came out for us and actually gave us the photographs and negatives as a gift. Betty navigated the church reservation. And she even helped me pick out my dress.

That dress has become something of a running joke in the family. Along with my plans never to get married, I was never going to wear a horrible white gown. I didn’t, and still don’t, much like white clothing. It’s bland, and it exposes everything about your body by being so invisible on its own. But Scott wanted a white wedding, and I didn’t fight it. Everyone tried to tell me “you can pick ivory or cream” and didn’t seem to realize I wasn’t buying the distinction. To me, a white dress was a white dress was a white dress. Eggshell, ivory, cream, they all meant the same thing to me: I was going to have to take an interest in my appearance. If I wanted to look like anything but a fool in a wedding gown, I had to lose at least fifty pounds.

Sixty would have been better, but I was a realist. At two hundred pounds, with a thirteen month lead, fifty pounds was probably all I could get off before I had to actually wear the thing. Anyway, since I was wearing the dress for Scott, I wanted him to like it, and I wanted him to come pick it out. Unfortunately, bridal shops still exist in a Twilight Zone,
where you step through the doors and walk back eighty years. Men just don’t go there. I terrorized a couple of them with my husband-to-be before I just went to David’s Bridal, which was at least a little more modern. They still warned the whole building that there was a man in the dressing room, but they at least let him accompany me. I still don’t see the problem. The women are behind closed doors surrounded by a bevy of employees and flighty friends and relatives. My lone male posed no threat to them whatsoever. My God – he’d have been mobbed before he even got close to seeing a bare leg, let alone someone in panties.

By the time we got to David’s we were running late for premarital counseling with our pastor. So I had time to try on exactly one dress. Everybody but me was planning on multiple shopping trips.  We were a little more than a month away from the wedding, and I only had about five more pounds to lose. I was as ready to look decent in white as I ever would be, and I did not intend to dwell on the choice. I checked sizes on the rack and put on the first one that would fit me.

“Do you like it?” I asked Scott. He did.

“Do you like it?” I asked Betty. She did.

I said “Great. It should be perfect in five pounds, here’s a credit card.” And I left my stunned mother-in-law to pay for the purchase.

It was very hard to convince people that I didn’t consider a wedding an excuse to look like a princess. The dress was gorgeous, but then anything would have been. They don’t exactly make wedding dresses to look bad, and I wasn’t going to be entirely comfortable wearing white no matter how nice it looked. I didn’t wear a veil, I picked some high heels out of a catalog, and I paid for my bridesmaids’ gowns, because Good Christ if they were going to be stuffed into random lavender on my account when we were all broke, the least I could do was finance their suffering. (We all had the same abysmal shoes, by the way, which we nicknamed the cardboard high heels. In those I could have done much better.)

Except for the ceremony, the shoes spent almost no time on my actual feet

And I asked Poppa to walk with me down the aisle, because that was a little less like ‘giving the bride away’, and because seriously, if there was a reason I could jump within a date into knowing that I wanted to have kids with a man, then it was because I had been paying more attention to my grandparents than I realized for my whole life.

When the pastor saw that we had four little kids in the wedding, he said, "you DO want a circus, don't you".

Just about the only vendor choices we made entirely on our own were the florist (who I think had done the beautiful bouquets for Scott’s stepbrother’s wedding) , and the DJ. Of those two, the florist was by far the better selection. Swann’s gave us everything we needed and then some, and at reasonable prices. The DJ, not so much.

I didn’t really want a DJ anyway, because I know that the job requires a lot of ego investment. DJs tend to think of themselves as the party masters, who control everything from the room’s tone to its noise level. And I had no use for someone else being in charge of our reception. But everybody acted like you just had to have a DJ, so I hired a guy. Take note world, I’m not just stuck up when it comes to music. I am a downright music snob. I explained this to our DJ and asked him point blank if he had a problem with it. He said he didn’t, and I gave him exact instructions and a two hundred song playlist. We sat down together to go over my list, and I supplied the songs he was lacking, most especially the version of “Rainbow Connection”, as sung by Kermit the Frog, that Scott and I were going to dance to at the reception. (Though “dance” is probably too strong a word for what we planned to do. We intended to engage in some heavy swaying.)

While we waited for the lost members of the wedding party, the photographer got some gorgeous pictures of Scott and I alone together.

After the ceremony, which was peaceful and perfect, the whole wedding party rode to the reception in the limo. But then one bridesmaid and all three groomsmen needed to return immediately to the church to get their cars. The rest of us waited a little while for them to get back, but we eventually had to start eating without them.  It was 2001, and almost none of us owned cell phones. (Dennis probably did, but, as there was nobody he could call, it wasn’t much use.) They were lost, we knew it, and there wasn’t a thing we could do to help out. As I went through our buffet line, I realized that the DJ
was playing some random mood crap that wasn’t on my list. It was lyric-free muzak garbage. Not at all what I was paying the man for. I went over and said, “Um, do you think you could start playing some real music?” He mumbled something and changed discs.

For instance, there was this wall outside the reception hall. We climbed it (shoes and all) and the photographer snapped us.

About that time, the rest of the wedding party arrived, and the DJ got a gleam in his eyes. “Oh no you don’t.” I told him.

“What? I’m just getting ready to announce the bride and groom.”

“For heaven’s sake we’ve already been here an hour and a half. Why would we want that?”

“Haven’t you been looking forward to walking into the room and hearing me say “Presenting Mr. And Mrs. Scott Merriman”?

“My first name isn’t Scott, my last name isn’t Merriman, and no.” Yet another person invested in the bloody princess thing.

But I did borrow his mike for the toasts.

Later, while we were eating, I realized he was still playing trash. I went over and said, “I gave you a playlist and loaned you CDs. Why are we still hearing this crap?”

“I’m saving that for the dancing.”

How long did he think we were planning to dance? That was our reception music.

I said “You are envisioning yourself announcing songs. You are imagining the acceptance of requests. You hear your own voice in your head saying ‘Here’s a little number for all the single ladies’. You’re thinking I have a piece in there so I can dance with my Dad, and you can’t wait for the electric slide, which isn’t on my list. I told you what music we would be playing tonight, and I told you every single title I wanted.”

He argued, “You might as well just have a CD player and a stack of discs!”

“That was what I wanted in the first place. I gave you a list. Play it now, or else leave.”

He left.

Walking past Scott on my way out back to grab the checkbook, I said, “I just fired the DJ.”

Scott said, “Ohhkay” and let it go. He knew perfectly well that it wasn’t a case of what would now be called Bridezilla. I had pretty much turned all the other professionals loose to do their jobs. I fired the DJ because he lied to me when he told me up front that he would play my list, and I am, as I said, a total music snob.

To his credit, the jerk refused payment. All he took was the hundred dollar deposit I’d given him in the first place. Pretty cheap for wedding music. Pretty expensive for muzak.

Anyway, that was the craziest moment of the whole day. My sister, usually a source for quite a lot of drama, showed up before the ceremony, stayed put for exactly one photograph, then left before we could actually get married. Dad played a song in the ceremony. We lied and told the pastor it was esoterically religious in nature, and that could have led to upset, but it didn’t. It also wasn’t a problem that Dad opted out on the reception. My Mom and grandparents were still present, along with all of Scott’s family, and somewhere around fifty good friends. It was perfect.

Oh, and my grandparents? The photographer caught them in this moment. It is their last good picture together, and it takes at least 20 years off their faces, especially my grandmother’s. Mummum was always camera shy, so getting her to look comfortable on film, even before glaucoma practically blinded her, was always difficult.

Here, Poppa clearly didn’t tell her a photograph being taken, and I’m honestly not sure he noticed. So she didn’t look up, and he didn’t look over. You can see Poppa in profile, showing Mummum the cake’s bottom layer. The top of her head and her good side are visible. Her ruined eye is turned away and down, and they are standing together, holding on to each other, the very image of how I want to look with Scott if we both make it to eighty.

Mummum and Poppa. Aren't they beautiful?

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If you found me from StoryDam, hi there! I figured this is one of the better sense-of-Jessie posts you'll find.

Dare to Share at The Lightning Bug

Thanks to the readers who found me on The Lightning Bug's weekend linkup

Happy Anniversary (Introducing Scott)

Scott and I celebrate our tenth anniversary this year. Today, actually. October 13th. And we’d like to do a dozen things that parents of young kids just don’t have time for. So we will not be going on a cruise. Or taking a thoughtful hike for miles and days down the Appalachian trail. Or even trying out skydiving together. (I’m not sure Scott would have acquiesced to that one anyhow.)  Thanks to my friend Linda and her husband Robert, we did catch Garrison Keillor in Tuscaloosa last month, and that was something anyway. Other than that, we will be staying in this year. So, in lieu of a party where we invite all our friends and get rowdy with some toilet paper and the neighborhood trees, I’m writing a blog entry.

No, wait. That didn’t sound like I wanted.

What I really meant to say was that back in April when I started blogging, I presented a lot of people, the characters in my life, but not Scott. He is an extremely private man, and I don’t want to expose him in a way that makes him terribly uncomfortable. However, I don’t like mentioning him only tangentially here. I mean, we’ve been married for ten years and dating for a dozen. Nothing will go into this entry that he hasn’t vetted first (since I do want to stay married to him), but I want to tell you our story. For those of you who have come with me this far, I want to introduce you to my husband.

Scott

Scott and I met just before spring break my first year of grad school. I was twenty two and going numb from the program. I had figured out that graduate study was a lot more hoop-jumping than I was typically capable of, and I was reeling from fighting the urge to drop out.  My bipolar had not been formally diagnosed or treated, but I knew it was there, and oh how it made every little thing worse for me.

And then he walked in.

Yeah. It really happened like that.

As soon as we started dating, I found myself fighting everything I believed about my future. Let me backpedal a minute to explain to anybody who doesn’t know it already exactly how much of a nonromantic I was. I watched my parents fight for my whole childhood. Not physically abusive, but verbally so, and I thought, “Jesus, I’m not going to put myself through that. No way. None of it.” So I was not getting married, and I was certainly never having children. One of my Dad’s short-lived careers before I was born had involved going to seminary, and we were nominally Presbyterian. So, I felt that
if I did for some damned fool reason fall for a guy, he was not going to be Presbyterian. Preferably, he wouldn’t be Christian at all, since my experiences with them had been pretty universally negative. Anyway, that caveat mattered only if I got dumb enough to fall because, remember, I was not getting married and having babies.

Which was not to say I wasn’t interested in guys. I’d had several passionate crushes during my undergrad years. But I was two years younger than most of my near-aged
classmates, and terminally clueless about the mechanics of attraction. So I had
a lot of relationships-in-my-head that never made it into real life. (And I tanked one awesome friendship when I felt humiliated because I realized exactly how “in my head” the relationship was and how not interested the guy was.) The guys I was into, well, they weren’t into me. Or maybe one or two of them were, but I rather doubt it, and
we will never know, because I had no more idea how to ask a guy on a date than
I would have known how to shoot skeet.

I need one of these, right?

Anyway, that’s my back story. Scott’s is much less drama laden. He had dated in the past, but was focused on finishing his last PhD classes when we met. He was so deep in his program that he only actually went to one party in two years of coursework. Graduate students at the University of Kentucky won health insurance benefits from the college. It was nose bleed coverage to be sure, but a lot of people fought hard for it, and they had a big bash when success finally came. And Scott went to the party.

I didn’t.

I was twenty two. Even twelve years ago, a full time student at that age was still resting comfortably on her parents’ policy. So I was happy for the big win, but not in a very personal way. My officemate Michelle, on the other hand, needed no excuse whatsoever for a party. She went and danced all night.

With Scott.

It is a testament to the amount of beer consumed by both parties that he was hustling his moves on the floor and that she thought he was great. Scott and I have not shared one public dance in the whole time we’ve known each other, and he assures me I’m not missing a thing. He doesn’t dance, and so I know he’d had quite a lot to drink if he got out there with Michelle for most of an evening.

Anyway, his office was four floors above ours, and a few days after the party, he dropped by to yak. I was there, and so I joined in. He left to go teach, and I thought, “Shit. Here I go again with the relationship in my head.” Because I didn’t know if he was single, straight, or interested, and I already had a horrible crush on him after one conversation.

He came back the next day to talk some more. On that occasion, Michelle, who had just settled in for a long grade, suddenly picked up everything she had laid out on the desk, from the freshman essays, to the red ink pens, to the grade book, to her calculator, stuffed it all in her book bag and left. I’m not sure whether she thought Scott was hitting on her (she was married; he knew that; and he wasn’t), whether she thought the whole conversation would have been a distraction from her grading, or whether the nausea of having swallowed her toothpaste that morning spiked suddenly, but she went away and did not come back.

I tried my hand at relationship initiation. “I’m going down to the mezzanine to buy lunch pretty soon,” I said.

“Oh,” said Scott. “I should go so you can eat.” I didn’t have enough nerve to say “Do you want to come with me?” And if I had, I think he would have said something like, “Oh, that’s OK. I brought my lunch”. And he wouldn’t have been turning me down exactly, anymore than he was turning me down when he said he’d leave so I could go eat. Because he had no idea I was dropping hints. I was lobbing relationship softballs right over his head, and they were all missing him. Which is funny because I’m about as subtle as a brick.

Anyway, my other officemate, Amelia, came in right about then and saved us. She and I were planning to go to a movie that weekend, and we all talked about it together. Scott left, and Amelia asked, “You like him?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Here’s what you do. Go up and say ‘I’m so sorry, we were talking about this movie right in front of you, and it was so rude of me not to ask if you wanted to go’”.

My heartbeat still accelerates when I think of the ride up to seventeen, during which I imagined myself wandering the history floor of Patterson Office Tower going in and out of offices trying to find the man without humiliating myself.  And then, in reality, when I did find him almost as soon as I stepped out of the elevator, he was in conversation with a colleague. I thought With my luck, she’s his girlfriend, and I’m about to ask him out in front of her. Just typing that makes me sweat all over again. Proofreading it makes my skin prickle. It’s almost like I fear that thinking about it will reverse time and change the actual moment.

After all, he had been ignoring my lunch hints.

But I used Amelia’s awesome line, and he said yes.

And here’s how awesome a friend Amelia was. I had never been on a date before. I had  no idea what to do, and I was terrified. She agreed to come with us. If things were going well, she planned to ‘receive a phone call from her mother in Mexico’ that would ‘require her to go home and wait for a callback’. Things went well. She took the imaginary call and left. It was March 13th, 1999.

What a true friend. And I’ve completely lost touch with her. Oh well. We’ll catch up someday. Friendships like that don’t just evaporate.

Scott and I became a couple so quickly that I think we both felt suffocated. We maintained the fiction of separate apartments until he finished his coursework, passed his comprehensive exams, and proceeded to the dissertation stage of his program. But we went from barely knowing each other to being completely in love outrageously fast. He told me, and I completely agreed, “If I could have chosen a time to fall in love, it wouldn’t have been this one!”

For my part, I had all these emotional walls erected that I just didn’t let people past. I still don’t have many close friends, just because I’m very slow to trust. It’s easy enough to meet me, but a bit harder to get through that shell. I am used to emotional limbo, still, even though I’ve been living with Scott’s stability for more than a dozen years now.

With Scott, it was like the walls never existed in the first place. I’m pretty sure it was his smile I first fell in love with, but it could also have been his infectious giggle. I was hooked from the beginning. I trusted him at once, which terrified me. And I knew before we’d been on a second date that I would want to have kids with him. It didn’t matter about my hating all but a very few children. Or about his being Presbyterian. Or anything else I had believed a scant week before. I fell in love at first sight, and it was true love. We meshed as soon as we met, and neither one of us pulled away from it, even though I’m sure it gobsmacked him as hard as it did me.

I still love him as passionately as I did in those first months, and I hope I’ll feel the same way a hundred anniversaries down the road. I love you, Scott. Happy anniversary.

Happy old married farts

Let’s Go Fly A Kite

Fishing for a Star Wars, and evidently you caught one young man.

Caroline: Oh I’m fish, fish, fishing for a fish.

Sam: Oh I’m fish fish fishing for a Star Wars.

Guess who had which kite?

They were birthday presents from last week, when Caroline turned 8. I do get my kids gifts on the each other’s birthdays. They’re too young to combine intellectually understanding “It’s not my birthday” with “I didn’t get any presents at all today”. In any case, I got the kites back in May, intending to give them out for Sam’s birthday. But they sat forgotten for so long that it wound up being more sensible to hand them over in September.

We lucked into a windy day this weekend and went out to fly them just before lunch on Saturday. But as soon as we admonished the kids not to poke each other, they realized kites were, after all, long, thin, and quite pointy when rolled up. They didn’t start jabbing, but they did turn them into fishing poles in the back seat.

This was something of a first for us. The last time we tried to take Caroline kite flying, I was pregnant, and we lived in Lexington. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the sight of her beloved Dora kite lifting into the cloudy sky provoked screams of terror. But at the time, I was sure that once she saw that it couldn’t get away, the fear would subside. I kept launching it, then reeling it in as she squealed. This was a kid who couldn’t allow her own body to fly into the air on a swing without fearing for death. No wonder the flimsy kite string failed to reassure her about Dora’s fate.

We may have done something kite-ish with Scott’s family one summer after that. But I can’t remember Caroline in that scene at all. Maybe we switched out spending time with her in another part of the park that day. Because I’m sure she wouldn’t have handled the flying lessons well.

After her brother's kite crashed for the first of many timesSo Saturday was the first time since the doomed Flight of the Explorer that we even attempted kites with her. With two exceptions, she loved it. The first problem came not long after takeoff. Although the kite was only maybe five feet over her head, she suddenly wanted me to hold it, because she couldn’t escape anxiety about its flying away. I said, “Honey, worst case scenario, it’s going to crash to the ground.”  She believed me largely because her brother’s took a spectacular nosedive at that precise moment, landing so it pointed straight up.

After that, she abruptly calmed and let me reel out thirty, forty, fifty feet of line and pass her the handle. “Look at my kite!” she shrieked happily.  But then the second problem cropped up, “Oh, no! A plane! I can’t let my kite hit that plane!” She was quite skeptical that the plane was some thousands of feet over her head.

Hey It didn't fly off after all!

See the speck that is Caroline's kite?

It’s an illustration of perhaps the most identifiable element of the sensory disorder that goes hand in hand with her Asperger’s Syndrome. She has a very hard time processing visual data accurately. She needs information from her other senses to integrate images appropriately. When she was younger, this was compounded by problems with proprioceptive dysfunction. She didn’t understand where her own body was in relationship to itself, to the ground, or anything else. If you asked her to close her eyes and touch her fingers, it was possible that she wouldn’t even move her hands towards each other.

As occupational therapy has helped her gain a stronger sense of proprioception, and  gross motor proficiency has increased, she’s started on her fine motor skills. Her
understanding of visual data has increased a thousand fold. But visual-motor integration is still a huge issue for her, as illustrated by the dot-to-dot imitations she can’t quite finish at school (the teacher gives her a piece of paper with a pattern drawn by connecting dots in a 3×3 square, and she is supposed to match it in a square right beside the original). And also that complete certainty that her fifty foot high kite was in danger from the plane. The best approximation I can think of to this feeling would be driving into a low parking garage and ducking your own head as if that could keep the car roof from scraping the ceiling.

The plane passed over before it could result in a panic attack, and she was able to enjoy the rest of kite flying with Sam. And for Sam, who has never suffered from her particular brand of gross motor dyspraxia, the kite flying was glorious, just as soon as
we got him to quit using his kite to catch Star Wars in the car.

Doesn't he just epitomize carefree youth here?And I just love the look of certainty on his face in this one.

Satellite Radio Part II

My kids have more variety in their Easter Egg colors than do the music programmers of Satellite Radio

The other day, I told you what I like about my new satellite radio. Today, let’s talk about the things I don’t enjoy. And I’ve got some serious gripes here. Satellite radio is responsible for a crisis I’m having these days. It’s hard to put my finger on it. Maybe I need to get better acquainted with modern pop before my kids leave me in the dust in a few years. But if I do, I’ve got to find a way to do it that doesn’t make my ears bleed.  I would have no idea who Taylor Swift was if Kanye West (who I also wouldn’t know about) hadn’t dissed her at an awards ceremony awhile back.  I still haven’t heard a word she’s sung. Or him. (And, yeah, something says I’m not missing anything.) (Update: One Taylor Swift song later, and I was happier having never heard her.)

At first, I thought I’d just started turning into a straightforward old fogey, one of those people who thinks music stopped being good just past age 16 or so. But a quick call to friends on Facebook (the increasingly annoying social network)  produced a list of things I enjoy, most of them released in the last five years or so. SO I realized that the real question is whether or not I do now or have ever listened to enough pop.

My parents were not straightforward radio listeners, and they influenced me heavily. Nor were my friends, who influenced me even more.  I had a ‘pop’ phase in the middle there that has dwindled to a “Beyonce and Lady Gaga phase” here lately. So the pop I listen to on satellite is from the era when I liked the genre. That is to say, the 80’s, with dips into the 70’s and 60’s.  And I fear I’m going to have to surrender and start listening to a couple of hours of the modern pop station to get a sense for what’s big out there before Caroline starts dragging it in from school.

But maybe not. She informed me out of nowhere in the car, “I hate Justin Bieber.”

I asked, “Why?”

She said, “Because Katie said he made this video where a girl gets killed.”

How to respond. I think Katie was misinformed. Or possibly, You misunderstood her. Purely aside from the fact that neither of the Katies in Caroline’s life seem like the types who would even say the word “killed”, let alone associate it with a teen icon, Bieber would have been splashed all over the news for that.  I said, “Justin Bieber is known for being too nice in his videos.”

“Well, I hate him.”

Okay then. I just defended Justin Bieber.

Not that I want Bieber fever in my house, but I Youtubed me up some of the young Canadaian to figure this one out. I Think I got it. There’s a nasty little homophobic parody video called “What What” that starts with a scene from one of the CSI shows where Bieber made a guest appearance. In the scene, Bieber himself gets rather graphically shot.  By the time the scene got from tube, to Youtube to Katie, to Caroline, Bieber was ‘some girl’, the video was created by him, and the whole thing made him loathe-worthy.  Oh well. His songs sucked as much as I figured, and I’m not defending further the honor of someone whose music I cannot endure.

Nor am I going to explain the term ‘teenybopper’ to a kid who just turned eight.

In all reality, though I think that my lack of interaction with pop isn’t the problem here. Caroline loves music. She’ll drag songs to her friends, not the other way around, if I can just expose her  to enough variety. She’s already prone to outbursts of Beatles and Stones. I just need to grab some of the good new music, mix it in with healthy doses of the excellent not-so-old, and make it available to her. (Update: The Black Keys and Mumford and Sons are excellent choices to help with this project.). She needs the best of the new stuff (and can I confess to loving Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite”?) along with the musicians that gave it wings.

And here’s the problem. Satellite radio is missing an entire era of music. Yeah, the Sex Pistols crop up here and there. But besides the absence of the new things I actually enjoy on my XM radio (Update: I found “Spectrum”. In a much better position on that score), there is not, say, a single daft punk channel in over a hundred possibilities (and no, an hour long program does not count, not when I can listen to big band whenever I want, which is actually rather often). And punk, of course, is where the roots of much of my favorite music lie.

In the 1990s, my friend Rachel introduced me to alt rock. And I don’t mean Pearl Jam here.  They were positively mainstream compared to the stuff Rachel enjoyed. From her, I developed my affection for The Stone Roses, The Violent Femmes, Barenaked Ladies, and James. And those are just the ones anybody would have heard of.  She’d been aware of these groups for longer than I had, so I had a whole back catalog to learn about, and I’m sure that I am yet a dabbler compared to her and compared to our mutual friend Jessica.  Rachel taught me about ska (trumpet laden rock) and her knowledge went far deeper than the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

I don’t know how she knew this stuff. We were living in the rural Midwest, in the era before the internet, and they certainly didn’t play it on the radio in our area. It was circulated through ‘zines, word of mouth, and college in those days. Though I went off to college at sixteen, I chose a rural school which offered no real access to new music of any kind. And Rachel was always ahead of my musical curve (still is),even though she stuck around and finished high school before she contemplated anything like post-secondary ed. She didn’t just know groups and songs, either. She knew histories and genres, and which band was most like another.  Rachel could tell me, for instance, that Love Spit Love used to be the Psychedelic Furs, who, she also knew, had so much more to offer the world than “Pretty in Pink”. And besides her deeply embedded knowledge of alternative rock history, she knew the Cincy rock scene from the Psychodots to the Ass Ponys . (We were about an hour out of Cincinnati.) And you just won’t find much of that shit on satellite people.

I was always surprised Rachel didn’t go on to some kind of musical career. The talent was there, no question. She may just enjoy knowing this stuff and being kind of magic. I can dig that. But it’s too bad she isn’t sitting in a Sirius XM chair, because I’d listen if she were putting out programs.

I have other gurus who could outdo XM’s current lineup, though I mean that as an insult to the station masters more than the DJs they own. When I moved to Lexington, I met Jennifer and her husband Steve. They added to my playlist rockers from the 60s and 70s who never stopped touring, many of whom I’d never heard of.  Jennifer and Steve taught me about Richard Thompson and got me out to a couple of his shows.  Jennifer also introduced me to more alt rock and the pop stuff I missed as a kid. Thanks to them, I know who Todd Rundgren is beyond “Bang On the Drum All Day”, a real feat considering that I grew up listening to Sam and Dave with my mother and AC/DC with my father.

Jennifer and Steve played me new stuff, too. One tune from the Finn Brothers’ second album Everyone Is Here, and I was hooked not just on them, but also on Crowded House and the long since defunct Split Enz, all of which were variants of the Finn scene. In fact, Jennifer and Steve opened up the entire field of Aussie/New Zealand rock to me, and at least satellite plays some of that.  Like Rachel, and possibly
even more so, Jennifer and Steve are fountains of rock knowledge that most of the satellite radio DJs can really only dream of becoming.

And their daughter, Kerry, along with several of her friends, hosts an entire podcast full of awesome modern things, including music. (You can find it here: Beaucoup Pop). When my friends can pull rock history out of thin air, the constant stream of minor trivia and song repetition that satellite offers don’t seem so awesome by comparison.

Quite simply, satellite radio doesn’t carry a lot of the music I’ve been listening to for the last twenty years or so.  The three alternative stations kind of miss the mark. (Update: Spectrum does a better job.)  One is an indie pop station, more of an introduction to alt pop that primarily covers the genre’s early big hits. (Yes,I recognize that statement for the oxymoron it is.)  Another is pretty much current college indie. The third is more like extended grunge. There are some of the more obscure groups on here, but not many. Not enough.

And all of the satellite stations,from the popular to the alternative down to the classical, focus on a limited number of artists, playing their extended catalogs, including a few pieces that never became hits, but going through those same groups of songs in a roughly four hour cycle. I’m as sick of Ozzie’s “Iron Man” as ever, thanks to the metal station, and I’m wishing that the indie pop station played a little  KMFDM * to go with “Enjoy the Silence” from time to time.

I LIKE what satellite plays. I like it a lot more than the commercial-filled, censored, sped-up garbage that FM carries. And ten thousand times better than Pandora’s fucked up algorithm. (Which Facebook is trying to imitate with my news feed.) But I can see so much more that these music stations could do. I mean, all my bitching about the quality of their DJs aside, some of these people could rock if given half a chance. Sirius XM has some of the original MTV VJs hosting their programs. Surely those people could at least hold their own against my friends if given half a corporate chance. Instead of relegating Martha Quinn to the 80s on 8 and assuming her knowledge of music begins and ends with the stuff she presented thirty years ago, why not let her showcase and educate listeners about a much wider scope of music. Instead of having DJs repeat the same tidbits daily or just read liner notes, why not turn them loose to find things unexpected? Why not let them really play us some music?

I learn from my satellite radio, and I like that. And the DJs don’t interrupt my listening too often (though “at all” is “too often” when you have only banalities to exchange with me).  But it’s mostly stuff I’m an idiot for not knowing in the first place, and I’d really rather learn about new groups who I’d never have thought about twice on my own.

We’ll be keeping satellite when our trial is up. I like a sufficient number of stations, and I can dance around between enough of them that the repetition isn’t a huge factor in my enjoyment level. Plus, that ‘nationwide’ feature is really nice for us right now with all the travel we’ve been doing. But I was envisioning something that would keep me awake and surprised as I rocked down the road, and I can already see that the reality is much less exciting than that. And I just want to know why it is that, with millions of songs to choose from, a radio company with over a hundred stations can’t seem to give me enough variety to make me feel fulfilled?

_____________

* Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode. Their commercial hit was Juke Joint Jezebel. Back up

Satellite Radio Part I

I’ve learned a lot from my new radio. It’s given me a much stronger grounding in top forty basics, and it’s about a thousand percent better than Pandora. Not to mention, it’s available in my car nearly all the time (except under concrete).

I’ve always been rather notorious for mishearing and misinterpreting lyrics. Scott had a great time convincing me that Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” was not actually “Red Hot Love” when we first started dating. Also that it was by a group called Golden Earring, whose name had passed me by. (And did you know that Golden Earring also did “When the Bullet His the Bone”?  Only it’s called “Twilight Zone”. Huh.) As I’m the music aficionado in our duo, this is rather awkward. I mean, I ought to be the one correcting him. But with extremely rare exceptions he’s right about this stuff. (Thank God I knew it was Jackson Browne and not Elton John who sang “The Load Out/Stay”, or he’d have a perfect record. Though neither one of us knew the first part of the title until satellite came into our lives.)

I did already know (or had figured out on my own) some of the worst musical misunderstandings. I didn’t believe for an instant that Jimi Hendrix needed a moment to kiss that guy; however I don’t listen to much Zeppelin. I never thought there was a bathroom on the right. But then, I first heard “Bad Moon Rising” in the context of some werewolf movie I saw with my Dad. (Heard “Werewolves of London” around the same time, in case it matters).  And I never thought it was Snoopy being told to hang on, because we tooted out “Hang on Sloopy” in sixth grade band and Ms. Pam Grider explained to us in painful detail how people used to misunderstand the title.

Others were sorted out for me in childhood. My Dad just about lost his mind trying to convince my friend Jenny and I that Falco was singing “Rock me Amadeus” not “Rock me Hot Potatoes” the year I was five or so. And I heard “Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma, camellia” until my friend Elizabeth (who was also four years old to my five at the time) explained that it was “karma chameleon”. I forgot what she said for years, because I sang it wrong for ages after that. It took seeing it on a music video to remember what she told me.  So when Sam got into a tremendous fight the other day with Caroline because he thinks Eddie Money’s “Midnight Blue” is “Goodnight Blue”, my heart hearkened back to my youth.

These days, it’s more that I’m often close to right, just close enough to be completely wrong. I listen to a lot of songs without knowing the precise title or who sings it. A lot of the time, this means that I’ll just mistake a portion of the chorus for the title. If you’d asked me, I’d have said Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill was “I’ve Come To Take You Home”, or that the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Pop” was “Oi, Oh, Let’s Go”.  I always thought Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” was called “I Was Struck By Lightning” or possibly “Leave Your Body at the Door”.  And I had no idea it was an Oingo Boingo tune. In fact, I wondered vaguely what they’d ever done anyway until I got my fancy satellite stations and realized I know some of their songs quite well.  Prior to the advent of satellite, ZZ Top’s  “My Head’s in Mississippi” was surely called  “That Night in Memphis” or maybe “Invisible Seven Eleven”. Because seriously, if you had the chance to name a song after a drug trip, wouldn’t you?  I like my title better for that one, but I doubt the Gentlemen Topp would share my opinion.

Every time I turn on the radio in our new car, it’s an education. That display has cleared up so much for me. Before, if I had been stupid enough to open my mouth, I’d have gotten all kinds of hell for attributing to David Bowie songs that are actually by The Cars or things sung by Erasure to Depeche mode. And vice versa.  I couldn’t have guessed that The Go Gos were responsible for “Our Lips Are Sealed”, and I wouldn’t have known where to start a search, because I thought it was sung in incomprehensible French with a few English words thrown in here and there, with a title something like “Ah-min so ciel”. Something about the sky then. I had a basis for thinking this. It was released in the era of Falco and “99 Red Balloons”.  Falco sang “Rock Me Amadeus” largely in German. And half the time the red balloons were “Luft-ballons” and there
weren’t  “Ninety nine” of them but “neunundneunzig” or so.  (And yes, I did have to look up the German pronunciation and spelling of 99.) Speaking of which, thanks to satellite radio, I heard the German language version of “Der Kommissar” for the first time and realized it’s not by Falco or The Clash. Oops.  A last example and I’ll move on, I swear. I had never heard of Billy Squier before I read his name on the radio display.
I don’t know who I thought sang “The Stroke”, or “My Kind of Lover”, but I’m pretty sure I attributed “Lonely Is The Night” to Jackson Browne because I got it mixed up with “Tender is The Night”, even though the two songs sound nothing alike whatsoever. It’s just that the Jackson Browne is what sticks with me and ‘lonely’ and ‘tender’ both have two syllables.

Speaking of rhythm, when I’m not guess-titling from the chorus, I’ll just move syllables, maybe mess up a word or two, and never make the leap to put them together right, like the French sky the Go Gos never sang about up there. I “Mairzy Doats” things in reverse.  My stubbornly phonetic ear sometimes gets right what others miss. I think most Queen fans would agree that Freddie Mercury actually says “Fried Chicken” at the very end of “One Vision”, even though the liner notes claim he repeats the title. (Or the cassette tape liner notes did, anyway. That one is so well known that the printer may have caved to popular pressure and put in fried chicken by now.) More often, though, I find myself singing my own strange bastardizations of well known songs. When it first came out, I was singing not “Love in an Elevator” but “La vie na nela vayda” to the then new Aerosmith hit. That one sorted itself out before anybody had to gently correct me. I understood most of the rest of the words, and eventually put together “Goooing Dowwn” with the bit about faxing in the mailroom and got the light to turn on about the chorus. Also, I may have heard the title as spoken by a DJ.

But it took a l-o-n-g time.

Thanks to satellite, lyrics I mishear that also appear in the song titles now get instant correction, bonus!  Like that girl in “867-5309”? Yeah, her name’s Jenny, not Janet like I always thought. Also, it’s by somebody called Tommy Tutone who I’d never heard of. I’m sure I thought it was by Chicago or something.  If the mistaken lyric is somewhere else in the song, I’m liable to just keep on singing it my own way until somebody else notices, (you should hear what I do to “La Macarena”) but satellite is saving me from at least some humiliation.

It’s one of my favorite new toys in a long time, and I won’t be giving it up any time soon. It’s not perfect, and I’ve got a rather lengthy critique to offer. (How often do I not?) But I’ll save that for tomorrow. Because tomorrow is another play. Or something like that.

While We’re On The Subject

Speaking of bipolar, as we were in the last post, let me tell you another couple of stories. My sister was bipolar. She’s off limits here, but  I will say that she took Depakote, a seizure medication, to moderate it. Every time she stopped taking the Depakote, she went into seizures.  Because that’s what happens when you suddenly stop taking seizure medications, since your body has stopped making the chemicals that naturally prevent the condition the medication was designed to treat.  And she stopped taking it a lot to use other cures, not all of them prescribed by any physician. Because that’s the hell of it. A lot of bipolar people get so fed up by the medicine game, of stopping one thing and starting another, only to find out that a third thing is what might work out, that they start self-medicating using illegal means.

When we lived in Lexington, I had a bipolar neighbor. I never told her I was bipolar, too. We had a little too much in common to make me comfortable. Possibly this was because our similarities were visible when she was taking enough Depakote to flatten a five hundred pound man while I was taking my little hundred mg of Zoloft . We were both talkers with an innate ability to accidentally dominate a conversation and the subtlety of a pair of bricks. But where I’m a friendly person, somewhat short tempered, but open to most people, my neighbor was a lonely woman who couldn’t read social cues to save herself. She was a nice lady, but she dropped by without invitation, overstayed any reasonable perception of welcome, and talked to us the whole time she was present. She encouraged us to just tell her to ‘go away’, but I could never quite do that. If our positions had been reversed, I wouldn’t have minded being told point blank to leave when I’d stayed somewhere too long.  Especially if it was a choice between that and being without social outlets. But I would have picked up on the cues asking me to leave long before the person doing the asking had jumped up in the car and started reversing down the driveway.  And my lips never could form the words “I think it’s time for you to go now.”

Let me emphasize: I liked this woman. We got along. But I was never as comfortable with her bipolar disorder as I pretended to be, and I felt like a total hypocrite for never telling her that we had this trait in common. Her son was later diagnosed with possible mild Asperger’s as well as probable bipolar, and I can’t help but wonder if she also suffered from Asperger’s.  I never mentioned that  Caroline had Asperger’s, too because, again, my neighbor and I were too much alike and yet so drastically different that I didn’t want the topic to enter into our conversations.  I was absolutely certain of Caroline’s ultimate diagnosis, but we had only just started getting her occupational
therapy.  We had nothing formal stating Asperger’s yet, and I didn’t want to have to talk about it with someone around whom I could not stop talking anyway .

I think the neighbor made me uncomfortable much in the same way I make other people uncomfortable. Only much more so, because it’s hard to make me uncomfortable. Easy to annoy me. Really hard to make me uncomfortable.

And I think I actually disturb others in a slightly different way.  I felt awkward with the neighbor because I never knew when she might turn up or how to keep her moving along when our visit had reached a natural end. But I think people feel strange about me because I’m more intense than they expect. Most people initially perceive me as unremittingly happy. Back when I worked at Dave’s Grocery, my nickname was Perky Powell, because that job was just so damned much fun. Seriously. Every day that I came into work, there was a whole cast of characters there to play with me, and Dave and Sandy never imposed bizarre mandates on the staff.  The “safe” was a box of  lettuce where we stashed the money bag, without any irony or pun that I ever detected. If I could have worked there forever, it would have been a no-brainer.

But I did scare people.

The drunks and addicts didn’t faze me, even the ones capable of violence, and I’d confront them oath for oath, to the distress of my coworkers.  And my tendency to answer the phone “Dave’s Highly Esteemed, Unimpeachable, and Simply Magnificent Grocery” alarmed the shit out of the local postmistress. She thought business protocols
should be observed and didn’t accept logic like, “The plywood-next-to-concrete floors suggest there  won’t be many business meetings in this neck of the woods.” And that willingness to get right up in the faces of tipsy (and sober) belligerents sincerely frightened folks who cared about my safety.

And then, too once a person gets to know me, they find out that I’m not unremittingly happy. Not even close. Rather, I am, like I said before, intense. If I am having a good time, it will seem like I’m having a damned party over in my corner of the world. But if I’m not. Oh, if I’m not. My bad days affect others like so much gunfire. They seem to come without warning (unless you happen to be one of the denizens of my brain, who always know what’s going down), and they can linger for  ages. Especially if I’m not on my meds.  When I’m only moderately dismayed about something, it sounds like I’m deadly serious. If I’m deadly serious, then I sound like I’m rallying the masses as I froth at the mouth. And if I want to rally the masses, then it sounds like I want them to come out shooting.

I’ve seen descriptions of bipolar that suggest people don’t seek treatment because they actually enjoy those intense highs and don’t want to give them up, no matter how bad the lows feel. I personally think that’s bullshit. At the very least, I don’t have that kind of bipolar. I guess some must.  Maybe. But I hate the highs as badly as I hate the lows. They’re anxious highs, more like an adrenaline rush of terror. The way I keep my bipolar in check is by pairing it with my natural tendency to be a control freak. The bursts of excitement and anger are paired, but not inextricably so. If I can feel an approaching high, which is really more like an energy train, and just stomp on it, I can often save myself and my family from a total crash. I have less time if I start heading downward, but I can still sometimes catch the spiral and distract myself out of it. It’s mostly for the downs that I need the drugs. Because the downs are all about that anger.

Some of the anger is just a personality quirk. I have short patience and a tendency towards sarcasm. I used to suffer fools pretty well, but I’ve had a couple of life and job experiences to completely eradicate my willingness to put up with them. Some of it is frustration. Work, kids, not enough time to write, and a job that doesn’t offer me enough academic freedom each adds its own particular weight. But a lot of the anger comes from the bipolar, and once I realized what I was fighting against, I at least understood that, past a certain point, I can’t control the anger, and it’s better to direct the fury at
deserving targets before it goes off.

And bipolar is often genetic.

I don’t think Caroline has it. She probably has mild Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), though she’s never been diagnosed with that because she is, by and large, a pleaser. For that matter, I’ve never been formally diagnosed with ODD.  But Sam, my sweet little boy, has a vicious mean streak that more closely resembles my sister than it does anything about me.  (Yeah. You knew once I said she was off limits we would get back to her.) Sam almost certainly has some kind of bipolar. He’s got socialization problems that suggest Asperger’s. He has no idea what to do with a group of kids his own age, but does reasonably well one on one. And he can hold a solid, thoughtful conversation with nearly any adult, familiar or stranger, as long as the adult is willing to
make a few strange logical leaps when abstract questions are presented. (“Sam,
why did you put that down?” “Because I wub (love) you.”)  Asperger’s can also be pretty genetic, too, and there’s a new study that says people with an older sibling with Asperger’s are more likely to have the syndrome themselves. So given Caroline’s diagnosis, we aren’t too surprised to see the traits in Sam.

But, while I had hoped my kids wouldn’t be bipolar, Sam almost certainly is. His symptoms resemble my sister’s at the same age, though it was years before hers got a name attached to it. He’s got forerunners of bipolar that probably stopped being “fore” and started being “runners” about a year ago. (If his school situation hadn’t fallen apart for reasons not related to him last year, perhaps the problems would have emerged more clearly then. But that’s another post.) And we’re just lucky that there is treatment now for kids his age. Medical treatment. Oh, we’ll be engaging in behavior therapy with him to be sure, but my son needs medication as badly as I do, if not worse.

For one thing, there’s the ODD. When he’s in the wrong mood, you can’t even  compliment the kid without making him oppositional.  And I remember that feeling from my own childhood. I still get it sometimes, though not nearly so ferociously.  I would be arguing with my mother, finally give in and do whatever maternal thing she wanted, and feel completely insulted when she thanked me. My thought process went something like “It’s bad enough that I went and did it, do you have to throw it up in my face now, too?” I didn’t have the need to escalate a bad behavior just to see what else I could do to piss somebody off, though.

In contrast, Sam, the other day, wanted to get his teacher’s attention during snack, so he threw his crackers on the floor.  The teacher said, “Looks like you have a mess to clean up.” So he waited until he had eye contact with her, stomped on the crackers and ground them in with his heel. (She was so cool. She said, “Looks like you really have a mess to clean up,” like he’d just accidentally spilled the milk or something. I like this woman, and we’re lucky to have her for a year. Assuming Sam doesn’t hurt someone so badly that he has to leave.)

When he’s frustrated with his peers, Sam hurts them, pushing, hitting, kicking, and even biting them from time to time. (I’m glad to say we seem to have the biting under control for now. He hasn’t bitten once at the new school. (Yet. Knock wood.*) Partially, it’s that he has no idea how to interact with them.  Above that, he has an auditory processing disorder that we’ve recently gotten diagnosed. He can’t hear competing sounds very well, making loud rooms extremely difficult for him to function in. And most of all, he has zero impulse control, striking out at others before he even has a chance to decide about the possible consequences of his actions.

He’s facing multiple diagnoses, and I can’t wait for him to start medication. (Soon, I think.**) I hope fervently that we’re beginning the process soon enough to give the kid a life. Ninety percent of the time, he’s this sweet little boy with a loud mouth and a love for pleasing. It’s the other ten percent that scares me.  And it’s that other ten percent that could very well kill him if we can’t get it under control. Because if you know about my sister, then you know how her story ended. And I won’t say anything more about that ending here, but I don’t know what I would do if it came for my son.

__________

*Now he has. Pretty much the same day I posted this, he bit somebody. Back to where I was above

**We started Tenex recently. Click here or here if you want to  read more about how much that’s improved his life here. Back to where I was above

Under the Weather

I’m a southern storm. I come on hot and angry, then I brood, and linger, and eventually lose my temper again. It’s not good.  In fact, it’s horrible. And it’s not something that I have any control over myself. My temper is an outside force that everyone, me included, has to just ride out when it blows up.

I’m about to tell you the big reason I’ve been so stressed out lately, but I should first say that I’ve found a topic that even I’m uncomfortable blogging about.  I really debated  this post. I’m not the sort who keeps herself to herself. Scott’s more the private one in our family, and I tend to be all out there. If I wake up in a bad mood, it goes out on Facebook. If one of the kids does something crazy, I’m online about it in a heartbeat. While I totally agree that my situation is far better than say, that of the people dying of dehydration in water-starved Africa right now, I don’t buy that this denies me the right to bitch. And my problems are totally 21st century modern American problems.

I’m frustrated professionally because I don’t have the time I need to write. We are, of necessity, a two income family. If I had the time to write, I could make the writing my contribution to that income. But I don’t. And we don’t have the kind of buffer for me to be able to build up my income sources. Yet. It’s coming. But my patience is thin. And anyway, that’s not the big problem.

I’m frustrated as a parent. Caroline has Asperger’s, and we just got on the diagnosis train with Sam.  And Sam, at 4, has just had to change preschools. Again. This is the first time it’s because of his increasing volatility, but it’s the fourth preschool he’s been to in the roughly three and a half years we’ve lived here. Although the other three changes had nothing to do with him personally, his constantly shifting educational environment has been very rough on all of us. Then, because this move does have to do with his behaviors, it was difficult to find someplace that would take him. When we tried to place him at a new school,  he was turned away by some people who should have known better. They lied to us about the formality level of one of the interviews. And one of the people, indeed, the person in charge of telling us he couldn’t attend that school, has a child with special needs of his own. So the hypocrisy factor is great, especially since this person had the gall to say we should just send him to public school and get him an aide. Good that this person talked to Scott and not me. Scott was caustic and sarcastic. I would have been much, much worse. (And if you follow me on Facebook, you know where I vented the bulk of my anger.)

The school we turned to next seems geared up to help Sam, and is, in fact, willing to negotiate getting him a public school aide in their private school classroom from the Board of Education. And my problems with public school all start at the Board of Ed level, so it’s good this school will work with them as needed with Scott doing whatever little bit has to be done on our end. Because I can’t. I hate those school board fuckers. I don’t enjoy explaining that this belief has nothing to do with the teachers and principals who fight on the front lines against a tide of bad things and everything to do with an abysmal system that cannot help most students. (And every now and then a sadistic
teacher or local-level admin.) But that’s not the big problem, either.

The big problem I’m having is extremely personal, and possibly not something appropriate for a blog. But  I’m a writer. And I’m not the sort of writer who can compose without an audience. I have to imagine a reader out there interacting with my words. I kept a maternity diary back when I was pregnant with Caroline, and I had to create a hypothetical adult from an as-yet nonexistent person to get anything like enthusiastic for the project. Fortunately, I’m possessed of enough delusions of grandeur that my audience exists even if nobody else knows about them. Even when I was ten years old working on an old Remington Rand manual typewriter, I envisioned an audience. So I created an imaginary kid (who didn’t even have a name – we were calling her Sprout in the womb) and wrote to her.  And then, of course, I got cramped fingers because I couldn’t have short little entries like “Baby bump showing”. No, I had pages-long rambling monologues that I probably can’t ever let the real Caroline read. Turns out, those entries were for my in-head audience after all. Hell, I’ve always been famous in my own mind.

So on the one hand, I could not write this just for myself.  The people in my head don’t get their own essays;  they couldn’t even trick me into a second maternity diary. But on the other hand, it’s a topic that I think is off limits for most.  Which means I would normally be all about writing it up. But I’m heading into taboo ground at a number of levels,  and I’m not sure if it’s wise to project this part of myself onto the internet for everyone to see. Not that questions of wisdom have ever stopped me from doing anything. I’m quite stubborn once I’ve made my mind up to do something. (You never would have guessed that, right?) And I’m pretty determined to do this.

Here’s what’s going on.

I’m bipolar.

My life has been so stressful for the last couple of months because, in addition to everything else that’s happening, I just changed medications. In fact,  I’m now at the part where I have the new drug in my system and things are going to be fine. But they got very bad for awhile there. One of the reasons I’ve been absent is that writing is very hard when the bipolar gets very bad. When I’m that angry and there is absolutely no reason for it (not even a superficial one), all I do is shout at people and brood.

And to change medications, you have to wean off of the old before you can start the new, and you have to be completely off of the old one for a long damned time before you can start the next one. I started the new one last month, and now I’m about two weeks past the month –long stabilization period, which felt like it lasted seventy five years. I deliberately take extremely low dosages, because I have a healthy paranoia about addiction. But I take enough to get the absolute fury under control.  And I have slowly started writing again. I didn’t lose the writing until right at the end of the drug-free period, but when it went out, I couldn’t force it back. I’ve been able to do things sporadically, but nothing that lasted for more than a few pages at a time.

I don’t get all sad-depressed. When my meds aren’t buffering me from the world,  my manic gets angry.  And angry can’t stay seated long enough to type. I’m kind of bitchy all the time anyway. But when I’m not medicated, the anger sits on my chest like a physical weight, and in trying to get it off, I lash out at everyone.  There’s a reason this monster used to be called manic depressive disorder, and personally, I  find that description to be more accurate. The last time I was drug free, I was  pregnant with Sam, and I was just this side of a psychopath before I gave birth. Seriously. Nine months without drugs is very bad. I am lucky, too,  because I can still treat this with low level antidepressants like Zoloft and Wellbutrin. I may have to up the ante soon and ask for something strong to help with the anxiety that is the other side of the anger, but for now, it is enough that I have Bupropion (that’s generic Wellbutrin) built up in my blood stream. I can write again, and that’s my barometer.

Even when I am medicated, it’s a very bad idea to cross me, because I have a temper like a wild animal, and that’s something I don’t presume will ever go away, no matter what drugs I take. I don’t apologize for it, and I don’t feel much guilt towards the non-innocents who get in my way and get
bitten. (Like those asses at the school that rejected Sam.) The fury doesn’t come along and terrify my husband and children when there is medicine involved, and they’re the ones I care about.

Thanks to all the chaos with poor Sam right now,  the low pressure zone around our house won’t be lifting anytime soon, but at least I’m not as much of a factor in that stormy tension as I was this summer. But that’s not to say I won’t be again. Even with medication, bipolar comes in cycles. And it’s not a condition that gets ‘cured’. It’s a chemical imbalance and dare I say it, a mental illness that has to be monitored constantly. There’s a certain amount of stress involved in that process, but not nearly so much as when I’m smelling the ozone, constantly waiting for my lightning to strike.