Footsteps that you hear down the hall

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” –Anne Lamott

“If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” –Mo Willems

1.

I had just come out of my new psychiatrist’s office with a prescription for Lexapro. I was tired of battling down anxiety constantly, for forever. What used to make me function, write, tick, clean like a motherfucker, and overachieve was now making me exhausted and dulled my edges. Anxiety would also make me explode or collapse, turning on myself. I felt new and clean after describing how it felt to her, like I had the chance to step out of a trap. Side effects, which I had always feared given my health, seemed worth risking. I told her briefly I had a pretty crappy childhood, and not much family or support.

As I walked to my car, I thought about having Strudel, being in labor for a long time, and then being given an opiate when I was at the hospital and physically at my weakest. It’s nearly impossible to see anything a few feet beyond your face when you’re in heavy labor. The pain lifted and I looked out the window. The moon was a tiny little sliver in the darkening sky and it was beautiful. I told my midwife an embarrassing story about the time I had accidentally smoked opium in high school and it felt like this. Then it was time to push and I forgot about the moon.

Maybe if I tried an antidepressant, I reasoned, I would see things that were a few feet beyond my face. I could turn down the hypervigilant klaxons that were usually going off, whether it was dangerous or not.

She told me it sounded like I had PTSD. As we were wrapping up, she said, “Is there anything else I should know about?”

“No,” I lied.

2.

A few weeks earlier I had met with a different therapist in hopes of being prescribed medication. I called the front office and asked for someone who could diagnose and prescribe. They told me there was an opening with someone with a man’s name. I never wanted to see any male providers for anything. I have a cyst on my nose and I am waiting months until a woman dermatologist is available.

I told myself it didn’t matter, since I knew the check up visits would be short. Plus my anxiety was on sabbatical, since depression was taking up too much room. I didn’t really care who I saw. I would have said, “Am sad, give pill now” to a moderately friendly tapir at that point.

I talked to him for an hour and I really clicked with him, and felt a little bummed that we would only have short appointments. I’m going to call him Ted. Ted had the same kind of ping-ping crazy word association ADD brain that I have when I’m feeling more normal. I was so deep in depressive brain sludge I didn’t really try to keep up with him, but I felt more comfortable with him than the therapist I’d seen for a year and a half until quitting recently.

At the end he told me he’d like to see me for therapy and I said “but pills now?” We looked at each other in a moment of silent confusion. He told me he was just a talk therapist and couldn’t prescribe. I figured out the wires had gotten crossed at the front desk.

“Can I come back anyway?” I asked. We made another appointment, and gave me the name of the psychiatrist I ended up seeing. Ted said he used to work with her and thought we would get along.

I didn’t get what I’d come for, but it didn’t panic me. I felt better just talking about the deep situational depression I’d been in since something sad happened in May. Like many people with depression, I’m a great actor and can fake my way through my workday, or through other stuff. I’m genuinely on when I’m talking with Strudel, because I’m interested in her and care about her. I wanted to be more resilient for her. When I was at home alone I felt hollow and powered down. Battery low.

The next day I woke up feeling un-depressed. I started thinking about my day. Tick tick tick, anxiety immediately came back. There it was. It looked tanned and rested.

3.

The third time I was driving to Ted’s office, I was having the normal “my-brain-is-trying-to-murder-me” internal chatter that I was trying to block out with a podcast. Suddenly my brain got even louder than usual. MAYBE YOU CAN TELL TED ABOUT THE THING, it said. HE SEEMS NICE.

–Ha ha, no one wants to talk about that. Let’s start slowly, like with my fear of voicemails and Crocs.

In response, I felt pain rip through my head–one of those flashing, searing headaches that I get when I’m having insomnia or am under a lot of stress. It’s like a little lightning strike on one side of my head, and sometimes I even feel nerve twitches that make my skin or eyelid jump.

It passed and I looked in the rearview mirror. I saw my kindergarten teacher in the backseat. She was beautiful, though her makeup was a little too early-1980s frosty to just be a fun retro take. She was wearing beads and a brown tweed skirt. I had forgotten she had nice freckles.

“Oh hey…this is awkward. I don’t actually remember your name.”

“Really? Who doesn’t remember their kindergarten teacher’s name?” she said. She looked cross for a minute and then the calm expression of a person who voluntarily herds five-year-olds for a living returned.

“You know I have memory problems,” I said.

“Who do you think I look like?” I looked at her hair, which was feathered in a way that would be out of date on the coasts at this point, but not in 1982 rural Michigan. She was so young! I thought she was so pretty. I bet she’s retired now.

“You’re definitely a Carol. Why are you here?”

I parked and turned around to face her. Carol played with a screwdriver that I’d forgotten was in the backseat.

“This is the last time you were happy,” she said, gesturing at herself.

“This is really bad writing,” I said. “Even for me.”

3.5

I left Carol in the car and went to talk to Ted about 2019. I’m his last appointment and he said he tends to go a little long if he knows no one is waiting afterwards. We were coming up on the end of the hour.

DO IT. DO IT NOW.

–Shut UP!

“Do you think it’s possible to forget sexual abuse for periods of time?” I asked.

Ted blinked, clocking the complete conversational one-eighty I’d just taken.

“Yes,” he said. He told me he believed the brain can suppress events to protect us.

“Hmm, that’s interesting. Wow, where does the time go, see you in a week!”

I left his office so fast I probably left little poofs of heel smoke like a cartoon character.

3.75?

When I was 11 I stole a rowboat with a friend and ran away from home. The cop who drove me home asked me why I would do such a stupid thing.

“My parents are abusive,” I said.

“What!” she said. “A kid like you, out here in the suburbs? You don’t know what abuse is.”

4.


Conversion on the Way to Damascus, Caravaggio, 1601

I was in a lift at work, 20 feet in the air, hanging six-foot long ceiling fan blades when I started having flashbacks. Carol was working with me, wiring a cord into a box overhead that was aimed at the wall of the gym I was working in. She had a safety vest over the blouse she was wearing, which had Lurex threads interspersed into the plaid pattern. She smelled like a fresh perm.

“We’re not sparkies,” I reminded her.

“Yes, I know that!” she snapped, rolling her eyes a little. “You’re not licensed to wire this projector.” She flipped a switch and it started.

“Oh,” I said. “The picture is very clear.” That was me, with my inane nattering to always change the subject.

“What do you see?”

I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the feeling of the wrench I was using to tighten the screws. It was hard to stay in 2019–my head felt like it was going to float off somewhere, or disappear. The wrench clicked like the old-fashioned projectors they would bring into our classes in grade school. I remembered the way the music or narration would occasionally distort if the filmstrip sped up or slowed down.

I saw my sheets from when I was nine. I had completely forgotten I had Garfield sheets. It literally made me gasp. I saw my bedframe–the color of the wood stain and the shape of it. I began to sweat profusely in the lift. I remembered the wall next to my bed–the paint had sand mixed into it and the walls were sharp and gritty and I was always scraping myself when I was in bed. I had a memory of being ground into the wall by something, someone. My hand started shaking and I dropped my wrench into the bottom of my lift.

“SJ!” My boss, who had been teasing me for dropping things all day.

“What?”

“Lunch!”

Carol had already gone off to lunch. I didn’t know what company hired irritating, reality hell-demons, so I wasn’t sure which trailer she was in.

5.

A few days later I was working by myself in a smaller lift, in a classroom with 9-foot ceilings. No one was around and it was extremely quiet, except for an earth compactor outside that was causing such strong vibrations it was making my lift rumble and sway. It was making me a little peaky but I ignored it. Then the sparkies started testing the fire and lockdown alarms. Lights were flashing and sirens were going off and a recording was saying there was an emergency in the building. I wanted to scream and run down the street. My shaking hand reached up to adjust a ceiling grille.

Carol walked in.

“Oh god,” I said, when I spotted her.

“Well, that’s just rude,” she said. Her heels clicked as she walked across the freshly linoleumed floor that was just waiting for an army of children to come and scuff it up. There would be teachers like her in this building soon, but probably with less aggressive rouge. “We need to talk.” The emergency lights strobed around her, shining on her moussed hair.

“Yes, we do,” I said. “Every time I’ve remembered this before, a door slams shut in my brain and I stop thinking about it. What is happening to me? It’s not going away.”

I had to raise my voice to be heard over the sounds of the alarm: “LOCKDOWN. LOCKDOWN. THERE IS A LOCKDOWN IN PLACE.”

I’ve stopped thinking about it for months or years at a time. It resurfaces as dreams or as a memory. I tell myself I’m being dramatic, that there is something wrong with me, that I am a crazy person, that I am a liar. These are things I was told repeatedly when I was a child. I’ve literally told myself I don’t have time to think about it. I started having vivid flashbacks a few years ago when I got very sick and stopped eating gluten. I don’t know if it was the trauma of being very sick and in a lot of pain, losing control, and being bedridden, or reducing inflammation by changing my diet, but there they were. Carol was there then, and I had neatly forgotten about her once more.

She handed me an envelope. Actually, it was shaped like a cootie catcher and looked like it had been riding around in someone’s pocket or purse for a long time.

“What’s this?” I said.

“I wrote down what’s wrong with you.”

I was starting to suspect that I knew what was wrong with me, but I hadn’t seen it played back on the projector yet, thank fuck. Here it was on a piece of paper. I could just read it and have the answer? Where was this paper when I was 19 and afraid to answer my door or phone? Where was it ten years ago? I felt myself shaking my head again, knocking images out of it. If this kept up I would probably concuss myself.

“I don’t know if I can open this. Can you give me a hint about what it says?”

Carol sighed. She was tired of my bullshit. That makes two of us, Carol! She pulled out a compact from somewhere and started looking at her teeth. She reapplied her mauve lipstick. She was making a real meal out of bothering me.

“I’ll tell you two things,” she said. “This paper will tell you exactly what’s wrong with you, but it’s going to make you feel much worse. The second thing is kind of a riddle. Ready?” I nodded. “You’ve been afraid of ropes and hoses your whole life, but what you’re actually afraid of is–” She trailed off and I couldn’t hear what she said.

“What?” I whispered.

“This is like a METAPHOR,” she explained, shouting. “You can’t remember what you’re actually afraid of so you couldn’t hear me!”

The lift rumbled under me and now a woman’s recorded voice was saying, “There is a fire or other emergency in the building. Please proceed calmly to the exit.” The lights were flickering on and off. I clung to the lift’s rails and looked down into Carol’s face.

“WHAT?”

“It’s snakes! You’re afraid of snakes!” she screamed.

The alarm tests stopped abruptly, though the rumbling continued. The lights came back on. She was right, I’d completely forgotten snakes existed. I took a deep breath and began to open the layers of the cootie catcher.

5.5

A “fun fact” about me is that I first started noticing that my uterus was prolapsing when I was in my late teens, before I had children. Uterine prolapse does not run in my family.

6.

I’m spending a lot of time in closets lately. I spent a ton of time in my closet growing up. It had a light, so I could read secretly and never, ever sleep. I wrote a suicide note on the wall of my closet when I was ten, in black crayon. Boy, I was sure looking to get attention, wasn’t I? That was so crazy! So dramatic! What on earth was wrong with me that I went to that extreme?

“You know what’s fun?” Carol said. “Lying on the floor in the fetal position.”

“That’s not…oh.” I feel my knees buckle and I go down, curled up on the rug in my 2019 closet. My breathing starts to change and I hear a whistle coming from something, a wheezing. From far away. “This isn’t over. We’re not done talking, Carol.”

“We are for now,” she said. She loomed over me, running her nails down my arm as I shook. I pulled my knee up to protect my ribs. I didn’t know I could still make myself so small.

A man’s familiar face appeared over mine. He was dressed in a heavy, wet, reflective coat and pulled his face shield up to look at Carol. He was dripping on the carpet but I wasn’t worried. I was relieved and knew this would end soon.

“Hello, Walter,” Carol said. He nodded curtly.

He smelled like Chinese restaurants and furniture polish. I could see the lines around his eyes, from squinting against heat and fire and the horrors and sadness they bring. Walter’s collar dripped onto my face: alcohol, not water.

“Hey kid,” he said, kindly. I sniffled and put my head into his lap. He stroked my hair with his gloves on. “We’re going to get up, and we’re going to pour gin on Carol until she shuts the fuck up, ok?”

My shaking hand took his and he helped me off the floor.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said, flipping through my tee shirts.

“I know,” I whispered.

7.

I was up in the big lift again, this time with my kind, sweet, funny boss. There was no room for Carol. Regardless, my brain was zapping back and forth between timelines. I heard my parents fighting. I saw myself standing over my newborn sister’s bassinet and I remember saying: I’m going to protect you.

As an adult, I always thought that memory was so strange. Who sees their newborn sibling and makes a weird nigh-feudal vow to protect them?

If I stayed in 1987 for too long I would start shaking my head, as if it was an Etch-a-Sketch I could erase. Today my brain was telling me: I think my mother knew about THE THING, and did nothing. She had never been responsive any time I asked her for help or protection. I asked to go to therapy in high school (I was disassociating and cutting myself) and her response was to ground me.

Why is this happening now? I thought.

Look around you, Carol whispered. I looked down. There were a few women on the site, but as usual it was 98% men. They were everywhere. I was surrounded by them. Why did I go into construction to surround myself with one of things I was most afraid of? Then I realized: I wasn’t afraid of them anymore. They didn’t make me jump or startle. Most of them were nice, or at least inoffensive. I could deal with the few jerks with some snappy putdowns. I felt differently out in public, too–I wasn’t constantly monitoring my environment anymore. I didn’t make stupid choices like wandering down dark alleys now, but I could be comfortable and even relaxed. I had desensitized myself.

I could take just a little bit more now. It was opening the doors to the past in my mind.

8.

There’s something else, too, and I need to talk about this really carefully. Someone encouraged me to see my attacker last summer. When we had the conversation about how it would be good for me, and that things were different now, I cried in public in the bar we were in. That’s a little extreme, I thought. I went to the bathroom to pull myself together.

I looked at myself in the mirror–is that really what I looked like? I felt like I was dreaming. I had no memories, only emotions. I splashed water on my face and cleaned up my trashed makeup and returned to my seat.

“You’re having a really hard time getting over your childhood,” they said.

“Yeah,” I heard myself say. That was mean, I thought. Walter poured me another glass of wine.

When I saw my attacker a month later, I immediately snapped outside of my body. Everything I said felt unreal, like I was dreaming and hearing my voice on a bad speaker from far away. I was getting the sparklies you get when you faint.

–Focus!

I breathed and the world came back, though I was still outside of my body. I held onto a nearby counter for support. The shell that was my body kept talking and smiling, and pretended to be happy. It made jokes. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of that day. I went home and went to bed. It was obvious a bunch of mast cells had exploded and all I could do was sleep.

We all spent more time together. The person who had instigated this meetup was pleased, and I tried really hard for them.

At the end of the day my attacker hugged me and kissed my cheek and it felt super super wrong and bad. I stiffened mentally but I think I made myself act normal.

This was the last piece of the puzzle that would blast the door off the hinges forever, but it would take almost another year.

9.

I started taking Lexapro, and slept very fitfully. Sleep is my respite and has not usually been a problem for the past couple of years. I shit you not, within 48 hours I had no anxiety. Placebo effect? WHO CARES. I didn’t feel great, but it was weird to experience the absence of both anxiety and depression. I was drenched in sweat at work, and sweated all night long. That was not great. Also, Carol evaporated. I stopped having flashbacks.

Wow, solved, right? Happy ending tied up in a bow? No. What site do you think you’re reading, anyway?

I stopped Lexapro. I wasn’t ready to let go of Carol and her hateful projector. I read the truth that was on the piece of paper and it almost ripped me in half. I don’t want to tell you what I saw. I won’t. But I needed to see it. Every time I tried to stuff the abuse back behind the donkey door, I would see some innocuous detail of my room or remember a conversation and I completely knew my brain was finally showing me the truth.

I feel very weirdly calm now, deep down in my center someplace. I almost feel happy about it? I’ve found THE splinter and I’m not going to stop until I pull it out. I’m not going to stop until I put it back in 1987 where it belongs. I’m going to be one piece. A very chipped and wobbly piece, but one piece.

Decline and Fall

Two days after Christmas I showed up to my job site, a shitty job they call “commercidential” (residential with commercial on the street level). The roof hadn’t been sealed on time and it frequently rained indoors. These future $5K per month apartments were full of studs that were lousy with sinister black mold. My foreman was very surprised to see me that morning, which was confusing, because he’s a really sharp guy. I attempted to chitchat with him about how his Christmas was, and tried to jog his memory a little that I’d been in school the week before.

“I think you better call the Superintendent,” he said, finally.

I made the call and got sent home for the rest of the week for absenteeism. My Superintendent forgot I had school the week before Christmas and decided I had gone derelict. I repacked my tools and left, privately fuming since I would never go disappear quietly or in a half-assed fashion.

I tried not to be too upset, because the standards were so low and contradictory at this company that hoofbeats mean zebras and not horses, because they’re almost all zebras. Drunken, disorganized, half-assed zebras, sneaking a butt in the sanicans. As I loaded my tools back into my trunk, I internally huffed that WHEN I’M THE BOSS, I’d at least take the time to make a phone call to see what’s happening, if previously the apprentice had always arrived upright and sober. I went home and applied for unemployment for the week, since I was indeed available for work.

After New Year’s I was assigned to a new site, with a new foreman who had been with the company for a few months. I was told that this new boss was AWOL during New Year’s weekend so they weren’t sure if he was going to show up. I was out of the doghouse with my Super at this point since it quickly became too crowded with others to keep any one person in it for long.

There was another apprentice, Matt, who had loads of experience and was being illegally used as a foreman on various jobs, and a traveler journeyman who had some interesting ideas about how Hitler’s death was faked and how he was hidden in the aftermath of the war. He was really incensed they were wasting his Hitler Time on Discovery with programs about mermaids. MERMAIDS! What a ludicrous idea.

I was feeling burned out on the merry-go-round of moving from site to site, waiting for deliveries of parts and supplies that would never come. I had that apathetic January feeling. January, the longest, darkest month without holidays to alleviate it. Inevitably my work pants are tighter in January until I start racing up and down stairs again. I was tired of working with drunks and weirdos, and the constant, incorrect gossip that was being circulated about me at this company.

As a result I had made a resigned New Year’s resolution: stay out of it, whatever IT is. Finish the rotation and never return here again. We don’t need to talk about Hitler, what the Super told three people about me but did not address with me directly, the disastrous country-western song that is many journeymen’s lives, what does this rash look like to you, and so forth. I had lost some of my optimistic buoyancy, my tendency to joke to change the subject, even my ability to hear what was being said if it didn’t pertain directly to work. My headspace vacillated between fuzzy and pissed off.

The three of us (me, apprentice foreman Matt, and cuckoo Hitler guy) had ever been to the site before and shot the shit for ten minutes to see if the new AWOL boss, Seamus, would show. The job was another commercidential, but one that did not rain indoors. It was in a neighborhood that was doing that slow Seattle flip towards more reasonable density levels. We did that shuffle to decide who was going to call the shots for the day. I was leaning towards Matt since he was one of the only people I’d encountered at this company who had the 3 Ss: sane, sensible, and skilled.

Much to my relief a plan was forming, and I was looking for what seemed to be the most complete set of blueprints when someone clomped down the parking garage ramp towards us.

“Whoa,” he said, by way of greeting, dropping his tool bags on the ground. “I haven’t been here since before Thanksgiving.”

“Are you Seamus?” Matt asked.

He was. Our new boss smelled like a distillery and swayed slightly. This didn’t bother me. I generally give people a pass on Mondays or after holidays, because everyone has a crazy night sometimes. He was unshaven and his clothes looked more like a pile of rags than most journeymen’s. He looked like The Dude and a Hobbit had been Brundleflied together, and then used to clean the undercarriage of a farm pickup. His eyes were bloodshot to the point where they might have been burst blood vessels rather than just irritation, but they still had a little sparkle in them.

After a little flailing and consultation of some notes that looked like they were written in hobo code, he made a shocking announcement: “You guys, I can’t lie. I’m super hungover.” We shrugged and said some variation of, “It happens.”

“I had the craziest fucking weekend,” he went on, scratching his scruffy face with dirty fingernails. “I’d been on the wagon for months and then I fell off this weekend. I met this girl on Tinder, and we got a cabin up the in the mountains. She’s younger than my daughter. But then she just split on Monday! It was like REALLY crazy, like…well, I probably shouldn’t say any more than that because…” he trailed off, looking at me. I had been standing back and off a ways, since no one was really speaking to me anyway. The other two men swiveled their necks to look at me.

“It’s ok, I’m a grownup and have children. I know what sex is,” I said. They laughed. Matt gave me a little “oh jeez” cringe since he’s not an asshole.

Working with Seamus was challenging. He was determined to do everything the hardest or most disorganized way. Non-industrial sites are kind of shitshow in that the hallways are basically big enough for residents to walk through and carry a couch through and that’s about it. Every corridor is a a tangle of painter’s hoses and paint pumps, plastic or other protection that is ripping or otherwise becoming a hazard, spiderboxes, power cords, garbage, and so many fucking electricians that you can imagine if you turned on a bright enough light they would scurry like roaches.

“Let’s get my cart and bring it in,” Seamus said. Seriously? I thought. Due to all the obstacles, I imagined carrying the cart everywhere we went in the building instead of rolling it, completely defeating its purpose. Not even the electricians brought their carts in, and those motherfuckers always have about seventy carts.

“We’ll pull my van around,” he said. I took a deep breath and saw the dice roll in my head. On one hand, Seamus was still clearly drunk if he smelled that strong and was still slurring a little. On the other, we were probably going around the block, tops, and traffic hadn’t picked up yet. I snapped my seatbelt and tried to crack the window as the wave of liquor and tobacco fumes made me a little queasy.

We got to a street loading area and opened the back of his company-issued work van, which looked like a giant had reached down, turned it over, and shaken it before setting it upright again. I’ve seen many work vans that have hasty stacks or the unfortunate situation where a soggy box of bolts has given up and ruptured. This was less mess and more an indiscriminate hoarder’s drift of everything you could imagine: Caulk tubes, fasteners, random pieces of angle, various invoices and delivery receipts. Vintage, half-eaten sandwiches. Pieces of hi-vis clothing. Safety glasses. Beverage bottles and cans. Tangles of rope. Sheet metal screws of various functions, lengths and diameters. Jimmy Hoffa’s toe tag.

But there was a cart, and we retrieved it, along with some other tools. Of course we carried it everywhere we went, up the stairs and down the hallway like a palanquin.

“See how useful this cart is,” he insisted. I do not, I thought, but kept quiet.

I soon got a taste of his so-close-but-no-cigar style of work. A few days later he taught me how to make an escutcheon to act as a firestop when duct travels between floors. This is basically a frame that helps seal the hole that’s cut in wooden floors that can slow flames and smoke from jumping up or down a storey. I knew it should have been sealed with fire caulk, but he sealed it with something flammable instead since we didn’t have any. I’d be willing to bet he did have fire caulk somewhere, but wasn’t willing to risk hepatitis or getting lost diving through his van for it. When I did offer to really go looking for the correct part or material, or to clean something up, he invariably told me we didn’t have time for that.

As we worked, Seamus told me he was afraid to work with me.

“WHY!” I said, expecting to hear something stupid I usually hear, like “YUR A GURL.”

“I heard you got Pickles fired,” he said.

Pickles was a guy I heard accurately described as a “17-year-old in a 50-year-old’s body” by a foreman, Tom, who had watched him videoing women’s butts at a university job blatantly and mere feet from them. Pickles had the ~Aloha spirit~ and put hibiscuses on everything he decided belonged to him, which looked like shamrocks, especially as he used a green pen to make his Zorro mark. I was told he would work a few months until he got laid off for general uselessness, and then would go park his bare nutsack on Hawaiian nude beaches.

I had worked with Pickles in an attic for a couple days in September. It was one of those stupid jobs where you have to take two days to move an installed unit up two feet and over two feet because of some change in the drawings.

Tom (who later told me about the butt-videoing), was not our boss that day, but stuck his head up in the attic to say hello and see what we were doing. He eyeballed me and Pickles attempting to work together, with me hustling and Pickles mostly sitting and staring into space, trying to figure out how to reconnect something he had just disconnected about an hour ago. Tom and I said our “nice to meetchus” and as he descended the ladder I heard him loudly ask my boss, “Are you TRYING to get Pickles fired for sexual harassment?”

I had gotten Pickles’s number early. I would just push back hard and treat him like the little bitch he was. I had spent so much time verbally abusing Pickles that by the end of the job he was a huge fan of me, thought I was hilarious, and had nicknamed me “Five Star.” He had gotten increasingly disgusting as the job went on, in spite of the fact that I usually keep things PG-13 with guys (other than liberal use of the word “motherfucker”) so I don’t open the door to any sexual talk.

“I did not get Pickles fired,” I matter-of-factly told Seamus as we wrestled the cart down another clusterfucked hallway. “He told me I should suck his dick and it got back to the VP, and the VP fired him.”

Seamus looked surprised by this revelation and got thoughtful for a moment. Honestly I was more irritated by the fact that Pickles told me I should start going to the gym as he sat in the attic staring into space and changing the music while I made most of the reconnections after the unit was in place. Our boss told him he should spend less time “getting swole” since he obviously had no energy to work.

Thankfully, Seamus changed the subject after that. He told me a lot about his life. He enjoyed crabbing. He was in the middle of a divorce and his wife was in another state. His grown daughter lived in Oregon and was trying to set up therapy for him, since he was so wracked with anxiety he could barely function. I couldn’t think of much I wanted to tell him about my life, and deflected a lot of his questions. I was still in my New Year’s resolution coping mode. He tried to add me on facebook but I wasn’t there.

I felt like I was a ghost who existed only to hang spiral and mark off days on the calendar until I could leave.

A few days later Seamus arrived to work and said, “Seven days.”

“Sorry, what?”

“I haven’t had a drink for seven days.”

It was January 8th. I was a little surprised since his appearance, focus, and alertness had improved a little, but he still seemed to have new burst blood vessels in his eyes and I thought I still smelled alcohol on him most mornings, but shrugged it off. You get what you get with this company.

“How do you feel?” I asked.

“It’s nice to wake up without a headache.”

“Hang on to that feeling,” I said. Play the tape forward, I thought.

Another guy who had the 3 Ss as a worker, Jason, showed up on the site that morning to make electrical connections to the fans we’d installed. He was one of those calm, warm, together guys who I was always reassured to see and I wished I worked for him, but he was on the electrical side of things, not HVAC. He was tall and had a goatee and liked to tell stories about his little daughter.

Seamus and I were waiting for a delivery and were blocked with nothing to do until it arrived. Seamus barked at me to do some menial things in front of Jason, which seemed out of character, and I took the hint and beat it. I cottoned to the fact that Seamus didn’t want it to look like he wasn’t working his apprentice in front of a reliable old timer with the company who had the Super’s ear.

I went to the basement and dicked the dog for a while. Moved trash. Organized duct. A while later I circled back to the room where Seamus and Jason were. I walked in on that thick wave that said a serious conversation had been taking place that had nothing to do with work. They turned to look at me.

“Delivery’s here,” I said, feigning ignorance.

After Jason left, Seamus and I were on ten-foot ladders making connections in the entryway with the duct transitions that had finally been delivered.

“Sorry I made you do dumb stuff earlier,” he said from the other side of the duct. “I just wanted to look busy in front of Jason.”

“Ok.”

“You want to hear something funny?” he asked me.

“Go for it,” I said, bracing myself for anything.

“I was at an AA meeting a few months ago by my house, and you know who was in charge of it? Jason! He’s been sober for like 15 years.”

“Oh no, Seamus, you can’t tell me that!”

“I can’t?”

“It’s anonymous!” I said.

“Oh no,” he said, coloring. “Oh no.” He dropped his wrench, which thankfully didn’t hit anyone below.

Later that day he showed me a text from a new Tinder prospect. He had moved on from New Year’s girl.

“Do you think I fucked this up?” he asked, waiting for me to read their light, getting-to-know-you conversation. She seemed sweet and I said so.

“I think it looks fine,” I said, truthfully.

He scratched his scruffy face with fingers that had lines so deep they looked more like cracks, with dirt ground into them and under his nails that he had brought to work with him. I tried to imagine him cleaned up and on a date. What would he talk about with a woman? When our crew joked around Seamus didn’t notice or catch it. He usually seemed to be in a hazy dreamstate.

We spent the next couple of weeks moving from site to site, wherever the fire was and wherever the general contractor was most pissed at our company that day. We had to decipher any notes that were left from other guys, find parts, get an earful of how and where we were holding up parts of the project. We had to figure out what we had on site and what was missing and needed to be ordered from the shop. This usually took most of the first day. By the time we were ready to receive an order and work on hanging duct we would move again.

The first day we were in Maple Leaf there was an electrician there kicking 80s music all day.

“That sounded like Oingo Boingo,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “My wife…my ex…dated Danny Elfman a long time ago. She’s from California.”

“Huh.” I had not expected that.

On our second day in Maple Leaf, Seamus gave me a run of spiral to hang, then holed up in an upstairs unit. I knew he was supposed to be drawing parts we needed but I figured he wasn’t. At some point I had to track him down and found him with a thick stack of bank statements and other financial papers. Like everything else in his possession, they looked wrinkled, ripped, like they’d been kept somewhere damp.

“I’m sorry, I just have to deal with this financial stuff…the divorce. Can you keep busy?”

“I get it,” I said. I watched his hands shake he pawed through the stacks, trying to put things in order.

He kept disappearing out to his company van, saying he needed to get some odd or end or paperwork. When he came back, he smelled more strongly of alcohol than he did in the mornings. I watched his mood change, too, and become steadier. He was less coherent by the afternoons but seemed calmer. His hands shook less.

On Friday we were moved again, back to the other site on our rotation to work on the sheet metal-lined shaft that pulled the exhaust out of the garage. I had been working on the shaft with an older journeyman who was relaxed, funny, decent, and appreciated my efforts. To finish we were supposed to line and waterproof the top of an exhaust shaft.

Tom, the foreman who told me about Pickles’s butt-videoing antics, greeted us on the site and let us know that Seamus had attempted to call in sick that morning, and said he had the flu. The superintendent had threatened him, basically saying get out there and get it done, or turn in your work van.

Seamus arrived about 45 minutes late and was in bad shape that morning. He seemed to have had a tiring and stressful week with all the pressure to finish these little projects that had a thousand loose ends and, as a bonus, me, a sullen third-year who was mostly in malicious compliance mode at this point. He looked drawn and was a weird color, and gave off the faint odor of alcohol as usual after his week of sobriety. He looked like it hurt to blink.

Open book that he was, Seamus immediately told us the Super had threatened him with being fired. I did my best attempt at receiving this news as if it was new information. He had wanted to take cold medication but only had “the sleepy kind” at home. Tom attempted to banter with him a little, and getting nothing back, took off to do his work. I had the feeling Tom was there to report back to the Super about how Seamus was looking and when he showed up.

Seamus’s plan that morning was to climb up to the icy roof immediately and get cracking.

The roof shaft, once uncovered, was an open hole, three by four feet with an 18” curb surrounding it, like a chimney with no terminal chimney stack. Eventually it would have a large fan set near it to suck fumes out of the garage. The shaft ran straight down seven storeys, to the parking garage. Naturally, with my company’s dedication to safety, there was only one harness and rope between the three of us.

“What if we wait until the sun comes up?” I asked. I imagined Seamus’s typical lack of coordination, scattershot attention, the darkness, and the ice all working against us.

“No,” he said. “The inspector’s supposed to be here Monday and we need to finish this pronto.” In addition to dealing with a man who was disorganized, forgetful, incoherent, and stumbling, he was now panicked about losing his job.

I carried my tools and other items up to the roof: fasteners, a rotohammer, the one harness that I knew I’d give to the funny journeyman who had to work inside the shaft and needed it more than I did.

Although the thing about a harness and rope is that either you need it or you don’t. You can’t predict the day you’re going to fall.

I put the tools and supplies I thought I’d need within reach so I could minimize walking around on the roof. Seamus got very serious for a moment.

“SJ?”

“What?” I was putting handfuls of hit pins in one of my pouches, trying not to seem annoyed.

“SJ!” I stopped and looked up. “I’m going to need you to do something today.”

“Ok.”

“I need you to NOT fall down this hole.”

I laughed a little. I couldn’t help it.

“I’m serious!” Seamus said. “I need you to NOT. FALL. DOWN. THIS. HOLE.” He looked like he was having trouble focusing his eyes.

“Ok, Seamus,” I said. I think he was trying be serious and give me a little safety peptalk, but it just sounded silly, like when someone tells you not to die. Great, why didn’t I think of that? I could see the small rectangle of light that was the garage floor at the bottom of the seven storeys.

Seamus was focused in for about 90 minutes, and then started losing it as the sun was coming up, sparkling on the sheets of ice that would be annoying puddles by the afternoon. I could tell he wanted to smoke. He began throwing tools, not at me, but in an uncoordinated manner in my general direction. I was leaning over part of the shaft hole when an extension bit hit me in the thigh.

“Ouch,” I said, more surprised than hurt. I mostly wanted him to know he was throwing things.

“Oh…sorry.”

The typical trips to his van that had begun on the Maple Leaf site resumed. Tom called me from the other side of the roof and narrated. He told me he watched Seamus walk to his van, dig through the back, walk halfway back to the site, dig through the mess in the front, drink something, walk halfway back again, and resume digging.

“It’s been like this,” I said. “He doesn’t seem safe working around a hole.”

My phone rang and it was the Super. He wanted to know what I had been observing with Seamus and scolded me for not telling him sooner. I mentally shrugged this off since the standards of this company were arbitrarily enforced and people with more authority than me had seen Seamus in action.

“Do you think I should drug test him?” he asked me. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable making that kind of call; I could only tell him what I’d seen.

The Super told me they had a joke about Seamus at the office. One day Super had called Seamus and asked him what site he was currently on, and Seamus said he didn’t know and had to figure it out. The Super and the Owner would call to each other at the office: “What room are you in?” “I don’t know.” I didn’t think this was very funny and wondered out loud if something medical was going on with him.

Super enlisted Tom to come watch Seamus for a bit and get him away from the open hole. Tom was one of those guys who’d been working in his dad’s shop since he was about twelve, so whipped up some flashing quickly while sending Seamus to do something else.

“This shaft has been done all wrong,” Tom said, matter-of-factly. He had more conversations with the Super about Seamus and confirmed what I said: Seamus was acting confused, was uncoordinated, kept disappearing to his van and was drinking something.

In the afternoon, Super came out to deliver the drug testing paperwork. The idea is that the day you are handed paperwork, you go give a urine sample at a clinic on your way home. If there’s an accident or other immediate concern, you leave work and go get tested immediately.

It was Friday and I was glad a long, stressful week had ended. I was in the bathroom bleaching my hair when my phone started being pounded by texts. It was Seamus.

anyway don’t know everything yet but [Superintendent] rifled through my van looking for alcohol none there and said I needed to get a blood alcohol check. So I did and 0.0 is the results….I was sick today.

It’s 5:35 pm and finally made it home

They kept coming in. My hands were in gloves, covered with chemicals, and I was annoyed that he was texting me on a Friday night, so I ignored them. I needed to stay out of things for my own mental health. I figured I would see him Monday or not. Not my problem.

Seamus’s flu seemed to get worse the next week. He was exhausted and pissed off that he had been tested. I don’t think he understood how erratic he seemed. On Monday he still smelled like alcohol, which I found completely perplexing.

On Tuesday Seamus had an alarmingly different look. His face was swollen as if he was on steroids and his skin had taken on a yellowish cast. His eyes were still bloodshot. He was exhausted and made us break early so he could take a nap in one of the units. At the end of break, the other journeyman and I left the room quietly, leaving Seamus snoring slightly. Later that day he found me working alone. He looked upset.

“I gotta go…turn my van in,” he said. “The results came back and I guess they found weed from New Year’s. I’ve been clean since then.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Well, see ya around.” He limped out the door.

“Get some rest,” I said.

I was relieved that some action had finally been taken and hoped that Seamus would finally be able to sleep off whatever was going on with him.

Then it was just me and the other journeyman, and thankfully the job was wrapping up. The rest of the week was no drama, pretty boring. On Friday the Super came out to see how we were doing and said we were doing a good job. We chatted briefly about how surprising it was that Seamus had tested clean for alcohol when multiple people had smelled fumes on him.

I got sent to some low-income housing in south Seattle, and worked intermittently since it was still snowing on and off, shutting sites down for a day or two. I worked with another foreman who was the opposite of Seamus in many ways: manic, hyperfocused, super talkative. He took a shine to me immediately because I speak fluent weirdo, and he could install me somewhere and I would work continuously until the task was done and then look for more work. He had been having trouble with apprentices and even some journeymen at this company. As the snow melted I felt a tentative sense of hope that I might get 40 hour paychecks again and even learn something.

In late January I went back to school again for a week, and made sure that I reminded my Super multiple times that I was going, even though he had stopped replying to my emails and texts. One thing I really enjoy about Union work is that at my level there are very few grey areas, so communication tends to be really open. This was just another little piece of uncertainty with this company.

I was working in the school’s shop midweek when a text came in from Tom, the other foreman who was observing Seamus on the day we were finishing the shaft work.

SJ just thought you should know Seamus was found dead in his kitchen today

Later I found out Seamus went home after being fired and took a lot of pills and washed it down with a pint of something. The autopsy showed he was also very ill with an enlarged heart, which he didn’t seem to know about. I tried to find out where his memorial service was going to be, but my Super was still ignoring communications from me. I missed it.

I was really sad for a couple of weeks after that. I had a lot of regrets about being so frozen, and not being my usual busybody self and telling him to go see a doctor, about trying not to listen to the chatter and drama of his life, and not sharing anything about my own life. About assuming that he was just another lost drunk.

I blamed myself for a while. I cried secretly in the mornings before the sun came up while I made my coffee, and it thawed me out a little. I thought about how lonely I was. I thought I needed to get back into the land of the living, to engage with my life even if it sucked right then and I disliked or distrusted most of the people around me. I had been having a run of men saying disgusting things to me, of telling me I was incompetent, of being jerked around. I even worked for a guy who literally just yelled if I tried to talk to him until I would stop.

A couple of weeks later I found a piece of cardboard in my tool bag with some of his chicken scratch on it, an address from one of the many places he’d been sent to and some other notes. He’d probably handed it to me knowing I wouldn’t lose it. I stared at it, thinking about crumpling it up and letting go of it forever. I’m very good at forgetting, about burning letters unopened as a self-preservation technique. This letter arrived open; I could not look away. I put the cardboard in a small, zippered pocket of my tool bag I never use. Keep going, I thought. Wake up. Keep trying. Keep living.

AUB: Always Up Betimes

The only way to start again is to just start, right?

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you. It’s hard for me to write about my life with granularity right now like I used to. I’m just either shoving aside the mundane things that happen or barfing them out on twitter and then moving on.

I spent a long time being depressed after Franny moved out a year ago, and then what followed was dealing with CPS which sucked hairy ballsacks. The case is over now and it’s behind us but I still feel like I’m in a holding pattern of not knowing what to do regarding her. Do I reach out to her and contact her? I’ll be really honest with you and tell you there’s this really bad part of me that thinks that she’s just going through a thing where she’s becoming or has become like her dad. I kept touching that thought like a sore tooth and then backing away again, but every day I think about it less and the tooth hurts less. My relationship with her is becoming part of The Past, like a death, but unlike with her dad I am not closed off to the future.


Getty, October

Sometimes when I’m thinking about SeaFed and his genetic contribution, I think about one of the worst arguments Franny and I ever had, where I really think I hurt her. When she was 16 she went through a phase where she seemed completely convinced ghosts were real, and was obsessed with seeing them everywhere and watching videos or movies about them. She was talking about them constantly. She did this with fairies too, but she was six then. Our entire house lost patience for ghosts after a while, but I also wondered what was at the root of it. What need did it fulfill in her to believe in the supernatural? Or was she just finding a button and trolling all of us?

It did push a button in me. It reminded me of all the idiotic, illogical beliefs that SeaFed had and how it affected his world view. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how they interface with the world similarly and I have to wonder if it’s in part because they have similar barriers. They both struggle with dyslexia and dyscalculia, which is a pretty concrete barrier to knowledge, beyond any other fantastic ideas.

There’s a famous story about younger, 90s-flavor SeaFed that his friends would tell when we were first dating. He smoked American Spirits because he read the front of the package as “non-addictive” rather than “no additives.” I cannot understand what it’s like to live in a world where you personally have found the one brand of non-addictive cigarettes. Talk about beating the system.

I could see this kind of naiveté in Franny as well and it scared me. She got really pissed at me when I stopped humoring her ghost nonsense and asked her not to bring it up anymore. In the end there were a lot of topics like this that were outside of what I consider to be reality. I’ll be honest, when I first got together with SeaFed I found his weird system of beliefs quirky and charming, but over time I saw the obstacles and punishments he encountered because he was not really in step with the rest of the world. It made things hard on both of us.

One more: when he first learned to drive he spent time in Portland and amassed hundreds of dollars of parking tickets, because he didn’t really believe in paying for parking. I saw this behavior when we were dating, too. His solution to deal with the tickets was to shove them in his glove box and simply never set foot in Portland again. Seven years later, after we were already married, Oregon found him, and there were massive fines and credit dings to go along with the original fees.

Eventually I responded to these behaviors by trying to work around him. I always drove and/or paid for parking. I attempted to avert these “penny wise, pound foolish” disasters and was pretty successful until he became a cabbie and started doing things like driving on sidewalks.

SeaFed’s attempts at cheating systems and getting dinged did not really teach him the life lesson I was hoping for, which was hey, ACK RIGHT. It’s easier. He still lived in his fantasy world but got quieter about it over time.

I think his sister le Jaguar also tried to snap him out of this back in high school when he was stealing car stereos and hood ornaments. She tried to bust him to her parents by pulling all of his loot out and leaving it on his bed. It was unsuccessful as he came home first. It was striking to me that he was still pissed about the betrayal as he told me the story years later as an adult. I’m sure part of her was just being a bitchy older sister, but she did get the responsibility gene so what she saw probably worried her, too.

I wanted to cut this fantasyland behavior in Franny and encourage her to face reality when necessary. I sat her down at the beginning of her senior year last fall and drew a flow chart of what her life was going to look like in the next two years. What it boiled down to was, graduate somehow. Diploma or GED, either way. If not, get a job and pay some rent here. Go to school, your grandpa is paying. I asked her to think about it and what she wanted to do. I told her I would help her every step of the way as long as she was making some progress and real efforts. She did not like any of this.

She is repeating her senior year this year. There is a very harsh, cynical part of me that believes the CPS invocation was a hail Mary to get her over the graduation line last year. Why are you struggling in school? My mother is abusing me by telling me I’m sick and overmedicating me. I suspect stories about my parenting were first put out to garner sympathy and claim hardship, but they escalated to the point where the school was compelled to report it.

Anyway. I struggle with the lack of responsibility and escape into fantasy. It’s bizarre to me that a very specific set of behaviors seem to be a family trait, at least back to her shiftless great-grandfather. Her grandmother was lost in this world too (eventually permanently with her early descent into dementia and death), but she found someone in college to take care of her like she was a child: Franny’s grandfather. And he continues to care for SeaFed and now Franny.

As a VERY close second of what gives me pause about Franny, I think about what Strudel went through with the CPS thing. I don’t want to overstate this or make it more dramatic than it was, because while it was stressful, it didn’t seem like a huge threat to her from my eyes, on a practical level. I did not believe Strudel would be taken out of our home. As I’ve said before she had friends who have dealt with CPS and she knows what the possible outcomes are, so she worried and was pissed. That’s a level of betrayal for her from her sister that was hard to get over. And I think she’s still not over it.


Huntington, October

******************

In June I tumbled into a work situation that was kind of out of the frying pan into the spilled milk. I was moved out of a good shop I was in where I was getting maybe 25 hours a week, which sucked, to a small company that would work me 40.

Putting it simply, the department I worked in consisted of one person who did not like people who are not like them. For the first time in my life I really felt the effects of nasty, condescending sexual discrimination on a daily basis. I didn’t really know what it was like before. I’ve dealt with a lot of assholes. I’ve dealt with a lot of one-off comments that were either disgusting or depressing. I’ve dealt with ongoing sexual harassment situations, but this was different.

This was my first experience with somebody who, on a daily basis, was trying to just grind me down into little bits. He was convinced I was incompetent in almost every way, in spite of the fact I was producing work and showing up on time ready to rumble every day. I felt like he was trying to run me off the trade, or at the very least, the jobsite. The only bright side to it (which is not a real bright side at all) was the fact that this boss was pretty equally awful to another apprentice who had come from Mexico originally. He mocked the other apprentice’s accent to his face. The boss told me I was going to have to be the one to issue orders to him, since he didn’t understand him, which is inappropriate. I found the apprentice to be easily intelligible and very fluent. He used American slang, metaphors, and cracked jokes.

In the end the situation disintegrated to the point where I literally couldn’t even speak to my boss. Any time I would try to talk to him let him know why I was doing something or ask him a question he would talk loudly at me and over me until I would be quiet. He told the other apprentices not to talk to me or ask me any questions.

There’s a lot more to this story and what I experienced (“So…are you going to quit sheet metal when you get pregnant?”) but not being able to even participate in two-way communication was the last straw for me. I did everything I could to get out of there, which is really my last resort in any situation while I’m an apprentice. There is a very real risk in any situation that you will be labeled as a complainer, as someone who cries wolf, or as a woman who is not fit to work in the trade. So I considered very carefully what I was doing before I did it and it took me about 3 months to arrive at the decision and get to the point where I couldn’t take anymore.

On my way out the owner of the company told me I was not used to the culture and working with men, since I had only been in the trades for three years. I told him I came from tech and mostly worked with men then, and that it wasn’t a men problem, it was an asshole problem.

It was taking a toll on me physically as well. When I’m unhappy I don’t have much of an appetite so I was definitely losing weight, including muscle mass since the shop work was easier overall than what I’d been doing in the field. I couldn’t sleep well, and I was losing more hair than my typical shedding, which I notice when I’m stressed out. I just felt very alone because I didn’t want to come home and tell stories about what was happening to me every night. The kid would politely ask me how work went and I would usually just be honest with her and say it was terrible again but it’s over and then we would move on quickly and talk about something else. Now I am back to telling her stories about a dumb thing I saw or did myself, or good things that happened.


Luke’s Diner and some rando tourists, October

So I had a crack in all of this gloominess and crap in July when I went out of town for the Twin Peaks festival. It was good as always to be surrounded by some like-minded friends who understand me and to be able to take a little mini vacation. When you’re in the middle of situational depression it’s nice to have a reminder what life feels like again. It’s like diving into a icy cold lake but maybe one that you can breathe in….or maybe it’s like getting out of a big ball of goo for the first time and having fresh air. I don’t know.

I’m thankful when things go right in these shit work situations. People above me in the union investigated was going on in my workplace. Eventually the boss I had was sentenced to 8 hours of sensitivity training. Eight hours for my four months of crap, but I think it’s a good thing. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately in the wake of the #metoo movement–this kind of general discussion and culture that’s bubbling up where white men (especially older ones) feel like they sort of don’t know what to do or how to act anymore. I appreciate the ones that are questioning their actions or having conversations with people and not just waving their hands and saying the world’s gone crazy.

When I was younger I think what I wanted was everyone to do the right thing for the right reasons but now that I’m older I just think if this bad boss gets this slap on the wrist, a mark on his record with the union, and sensitivity training and what he gets out of it is that he needs to just SHUT HIS FUCKING MOUTH AND DO HIS JOB I’m okay with that being the outcome.

So as I look back on 2018 it’s been another hard year emotionally. I feel like I’m more resilient now, though. I went through a lot of shit this year dealing with Franny’s absence and what that means for me and what it means for Strudel who still misses her sister even though they got along terribly most of the time.

Every year I keep thinking as I’m on the eve of a new year that it’s going to be MY YEAR, meaning it’s going to be a really good year and a lot of good things are going to happen. Like an idiot I keep trying to kick the football because what else can we do? I think I’ve been approaching life with some kind of weird lottery mentality that eventually I’m going to hit some kind of jackpot and have just an amazing year.

I know the rest of this year is just going to blink by and suddenly it’ll be 2019. I guess I’m making kind of a pre-resolution to say that I do want to write more next year. I miss recording the mundane details of my life. I miss recording the weird encounters that I have with other people. When I look back at them later I do they do trigger a memory for me, which is sometimes enjoyable, but I also feel like I learn something eventually. I can see patterns from a distance like flying over farm fields.

What I need to do is remember that every year that I work on some of my goals, that I’m nice to myself and keep my mother’s voice out of my head, that I surround myself with positive people who are in the struggle with me, I am making it my year, my life. And there’s going to be speedbumps constantly. Am I happier than I was before I got sick? Yes. Happier than I was a year ago? Certainly. Really bad things can happen and eventually you start living again.


No excuses cheeseball tourist selfie, October

Schrodinger’s Asshole

In May I got some unwelcome parental news, to say the least. It was pretty darn high up on the list of unwelcome parental news, and threw me into a state of shock, then panic, then depression. Depression’s been my good pal for most of the summer.

Let me make a disclaimer first: I am not in possession of all of the facts. I don’t know what the other major players in the story actually did, or said, or thought. Or are thinking now.

So: I had a week of school in May. I was nervous, and felt really unprepared. I had made a dog’s breakfast out of my final project during the previous week of school (about 3 weeks out from surgery, SO TIRED) and had been given a D grade. I knew that would be the first project we did when we returned. I meant to go back to the school shop and practice fabricating it, but life and continuing to recover from surgery took priority.

“Oh, well, I’ll do my best,” I said, and meant it. My grades are good overall and I’m in good standing as an apprentice. As it turned out, the day was not terrible. I did better on my project this time, and didn’t miss any questions on my written exam. Maybe this week wouldn’t be so bad. 2:30 and the end of school came quickly. I said goodbye to my classmates and then headed to my car.

I checked my phone and there was a message from Pete: Child Protective Services had been by the house to see us, and would be returning around 4 p.m. when we were all home together. I felt that familiar panic whoosh: my muscles went slack and my vision got a little sparkly. Take deep breaths, I told myself. Respond, don’t react. Then the next thought: gather information.

I called my sister to see if she’d heard anything or had seen anything odd since she has inroads in social media that I do not. “No!” she said. “NO! I don’t know anything! WHAT. THE. FUCK.” She was as baffled as I was. “Keep me posted!”

We regrouped at home. Strudel didn’t know anything. Pete said the CPS agent told him a complaint had been registered via Franny’s high school. I had noticed a couple of days before Franny had accessed a health record I’d kept for her on a cloud drive. I’d pull it up if I couldn’t remember something when we were at appointments. I’d recorded dates for her nasal ablation to slow her massive nosebleeds, as well as things she had told me about having heart palpitations and chest pain, dates she’d had joint dislocations (and which joints), other appointments we’d had, and a general list of her many symptoms.

I was a little puzzled that this was happening now, because she’d moved out months ago. However, I have heard law enforcement say that abuse victims often don’t report until they’re somewhere they feel safe, so a delayed report isn’t uncommon. I knew in the infrequent and brief communications Franny and Strudel had since November, Franny had expressed a desire to get her sister out of the apparent shitshow that is our house and parenting.

Then we waited for the agent to return to meet with us. I looked around the house as if to find incriminating things, things that I knew weren’t there. Our opium den corner? The slavering wolf hybrids we keep in the bathroom? Our collection of rusty switchblades? Nothing. The house was fairly tidy but the rug was a little furry. Like many dog owners, my living room rug serves as animal napkin, bath towel, brush, bed, race track, you name it. It was deliberately affordable.

“Should we vacuum? Should we NOT vacuum?” I asked. Do you set out snacks for the person who is going to help decide the disposition of your younger child? Coffee?

While we waited, I did something that was really tough, and probably mental, but I was feeling like it was absolutely the right thing to do. I knew I had to say one of the hardest things I’d ever said to Strudel. I touched her shoulder to make sure I had her focus and looked into her eyes. I felt tears coming.

“If you feel like we’re abusing you–” she shook her head. “You should tell someone, and they can get you someplace safe, ok? We can work on this.”

“I’m fine!” she said. This wasn’t out of the blue for her since Franny had spent some time in the past few months telling her sister she was being abused and how she should get away from us. Strudel had spoken to us about this since it upset and annoyed her.

“You tell him the truth, and whatever you need to tell him about, ok?”

The doorbell rang.

The agent seemed nice, and a little nervous, which was kind of a relief to see that he was just a human. He gave us his card and he explained he was with an offshoot program of CPS that does “pre-investigations” before they open an official case. He said their aim was to keep families together and provide in-home counseling or other services as needed. We nodded, dumbly. This didn’t sound too bad so far.

He explained the claims that had been made. This is the part where it gets a little telephone and I’m not sure who actually said what, but here’s what I got out of it: Franny had told teachers that I had been overmedicating her and there wasn’t really anything wrong with her health. She allegedly said I was doing the same for Strudel and would punish them if they didn’t take giant handfuls of pills multiple times a day. She said Strudel was made to practice her violin for up to four hours in one day if she missed a practice day. The school’s nurse declared that I had munchausen by proxy and that physical illness and reactions due to fragrance sensitivity wasn’t a real thing. I can’t remember exactly what the agent said regarding the house, but Franny said something like our house was always cluttered and dirty like a hoarder house.

I flashed back to the day last year that the school had called me to tell me Franny had collapsed due to breathing problems, and should they send her to Children’s in the ambulance that had come? Yes, I said. Had I gaslit and confused her to the point that she was having an attack at school? Had I caused all of it somehow? I’m not blaming SeaFed for any of this, but I thought about her years of frustration and anger when he wouldn’t listen to her about her health problems, couldn’t remember them, or take them seriously. I always took them seriously. This was quite a turnabout.

I remember her saying she started having dislocations at his house in the summer when she was about 12 and how painful they were and how he basically told her to “walk them off” but she would have to remain on the couch resting for a few days. I didn’t understand what was happening at first…I couldn’t fathom that she was having dislocations at all. She talked about the pain and described the sensations, and I thought she was having sprains or strains from bouncing around being a kid. I didn’t become aware of Ehlers-Danlos for another 2-3 years after that. I was unsurprised about her dad’s reactions to her problems because I knew he had a history of ignoring stuff that didn’t have to do with him and wasn’t in his face like a gushing wound or compound fracture. I thought of his “parenting style” as whatever the opposite of hypochondria is.

I gave the CPS agent a brief rundown of what Ehlers-Danlos and Mast Cell Disorder is, and that medical providers and I had seen obvious signs of it in her. She was always open to talking about what was bothering her physically and would tell me when she had incidents at school or at a bus stop. He asked to call our GP and I gave him that number, and the number of the specialist in Corvallis who had diagnosed Strudel and me with MCD and prescribed asthma meds and said to keep doing what we’re doing, AND the number of the naturopath. The agent asked for two people we knew who knew Strudel, so I gave them my sister and a good and long-time family friend, a librarian I met in tech world. He said he would follow up with everyone and this would be outstanding for 45 days, at which point they move forward with an actual CPS case and work it, or close it.

Finally we stepped out in the backyard and left Strudel alone at the table with the agent so they could speak privately. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, nor did I want to. I wanted her to be able to speak with him freely. I was in the first stages of having my parenting scrutinized by the county but all I could think was, “This is a strange man, don’t let them out of your sight completely.” The contradiction chafed.

This has given me a lot of time to think. I HAVE BEEN DOING A LOT OF THINKING. I have been feeling oceans of shame over this. I was scared this would disrupt Strudel’s life, a life that she seems ok with and to even enjoy most of the time. I was upset by the allegations, since they weren’t true, but they weren’t out of nowhere either.

Last year, under the guidance of a naturopath, the girls and I were on a lot of supplements to see what worked and could improve our overall health. The plan was to bump up the stores of some vitamins we were deficient in, try to use some vitamins as levers to knock out histamine, and more. Then we would taper down to whatever seemed to work as a daily regimen. Strudel was shockingly low on vitamin D, for example, which is not uncommon in the PNW or with mast cell people.

Strudel and I have gotten down to that taper point of what we can live with and what we want to take every day. Her list is a lot shorter than mine–mostly just a multivitamin and sometimes magnesium. She complains about having breathing problems or other issues, and sometimes I remind her that she could be taking her prescribed asthma medication daily, or other things, and sometimes I don’t remind her. She doesn’t seem to be in that category of masties who have life-threatening airway closures, so I don’t chew at it much. On the other hand, I like to feel as good as I possibly can, so I’m staying up on antihistamines and whatnot.

The good news is that we’re feeling pretty good most of the time. I think this intense concentration on our health has paid off. We don’t think about it like we used to. We’re carefully eating in Asian restaurants again (we had stopped all together over a year ago because Franny felt it was not worth the chance of getting sick, and we didn’t want to leave her home alone while we gobbled pho). When we have a reaction we bounce back much faster than we used to. Life just feels kind of normal most of the time.

Point being, we were taking a lot of pills for a little while, then we stopped (the girls stopped earlier than I did, which was a bummer because I was hoping to stick with it for the short trial period the naturopath recommended). I liked that the naturopath was sensitive to the amount of pills and would check in with the girls to see if they were feeling burned out of if they wanted to keep trialing for a while.

As another example, if Strudel missed a day of violin practice (30 minutes), I usually would have her make it up the next day, with a break in between. Doubling the time the next day would be an incentive not to blow off practice regularly. But there would never be four hours or practice in a day.

I could go through everything point by point, but let me say there are differences in how I saw things and what Franny told her school and CPS.

What it comes down to is that Franny didn’t like what was happening here in our house. I did not understand the extent of how unhappy she was. Strudel told me recently that some days when she was home ill with something and Franny was here skipping school, she was sometimes crying all day in her room.

This broke my heart to hear and made me wish I’d done everything more, or less, or different. I made a lot of mistakes. I could hear that some of them were mistakes as they left my mouth. One thing I tried to always do was apologize for doing bad parenting, or being rude, or losing my temper, which is something I wish I’d had when adults around me fucked up. I want my girls to know that adults should admit when they fuck up and that they are both worthy of respect and consideration.

Franny didn’t want me standing over her while she took her meds, which was understandable at 16, but then I would discover she hadn’t taken her antidepressants for several days and was roller coastering moodwise, likely because of that. I was worried, and in hindsight I was probably too worried, but I didn’t know what else to do. What do you do when you have a kid who has health problems, executive functioning issues, and definitely some garden variety teen angst issues?

I just kept plugging away. Trying to spend time with her. Asking her to eat dinner with us. Reminding her that I’d appreciate it if she went to school, finished her coursework, consider taking the SATs and finishing her driver training course, and would try to be consistent with taking care of her health.

Lately I’ve been taking a really hard look at myself. My default mode is to try to hear people, and believe them and their experiences. I have had many experiences in my life where I’ve tried to talk to people who are close to me about how I feel, and have been dismissed or argued with. They thought I was being unreasonable, dramatic, incorrect, confused, or just wrong. I knew how I felt, and what had happened, and I knew their response felt bad.

I thought about separating myself from my own mother, and what a hard decision that was. It took me three tries to make it really stick, and I am still deeply in recovery over being raised by someone who has borderline personality disorder. It’s not an easy decision to cut a close relative out of your life, and I don’t think children do it frivolously. I also know from experience that once you make that decision, you don’t want that person badgering you to make up, to forget, to convince you that you’re just being dramatic and that your abuser meant the best for you.

I’ve concluded what I need to do right now to keep my eyes peeled open the hardest and to take accountability for myself is to accept that I was abusive to Franny. Getting CPS involved in her sister’s life is a very loud cry. No matter what my intentions were, she interpreted my actions and behavior as abusive and I need to accept that.

No one in my life who I’m close to wants to hear this from me. I want to retreat into the comfort of the assurances of my sweet, well-meaning friends and relatives. Also in admitting that I was abusive, I am telling them they are friends with or related to a BAD PARENT and no one wants to hear that. People want to blame other factors, other people, other circumstances. What I keep coming back to is that she’s very upset with me. I may be an idiot parent, but I cannot be one of those particular idiot parents who just throws up their hands and says, “I did everything right and they turned on me anyway.”

I don’t think my friends or family are stupid, and that they don’t know what really happened. Strudel finds Franny’s behavior confusing and mysterious as well, and I don’t think she’s stupid either. But right now I need to keep my focus on my blind spots, what I did that didn’t work for her, and how I can be a better person. And how I can be better for Strudel, even though she’s a very different person, who seems to be experiencing a different childhood–both experiences are valid.

I made sure Strudel understood what CPS is after the agent left. She did know, unfortunately, because she had some school friends who had temporary relocations and other forms of interventions visited upon them. She was ANGRY.

“I’m so FUCKING ANGRY RIGHT NOW,” she said. I told her I was glad she was able to say how she was feeling, and that I thought that was a very valid emotion for this situation. “It’s not very nice, but I sent her a middle finger emoji,” she said.

The CPS agent closed the case a few days ago. He called my sister and my friend, as well as the medical people on the list. He told my friend there was no cause to move forward and none of the allegations seemed to be true.

But something happened regardless. So I’ve been doing The Work. Identifying the blind spots, seeing where they come from. Trying to break patterns. Letting myself just cry. Trying to question and smash my fleas. Walking up to my own Schrodinger’s box over and over again and asking myself the same question: “Was I abusive? Was I not abusive?” There is no answer. There are 12 answers.

The box has no lid and no writing. It doesn’t speak. So I have to assume the answer, without all the garbage justifications and qualification above, is “yes I was.”

“Shee, you guys are so unhip it’s a wonder your bums don’t fall off.”

1.

School happened again a couple of weeks ago, as it does five times a year. Three weeks post-surgery, but I knew there was no way I could make it up. It was the second part of the architectural unit, and now we’re done with that. I was super dreading it because the first part of architecture week was pretty hard, and also it’s miserable being indoors with a bunch of guys who smell like flowers and cigarette smoke.

We usually start with a classroom test, but this time we started in the shop, a refresher on what we’d done for the first part of architecture. I made another piece of coping (the cap that protects the top of a parapet) and it was frankly terrible. For my coping final last time, I got a D on it. This time I got a C. I can do better, but I didn’t. I knew the measurements were off, but the big machines that we use to cut and bend metal were kicking my ass. I showed my teacher my light duty/surgery letter, and he said, “You’re on your own with that one.”

Morale was feeling extra poop-scented, because one of our classmates left at the beginning of the week for a job at Boeing with a major pay cut. We attend classes with the same people every time. We have each other’s phone numbers. I’ve started a homework group at my house that involves, “let’s get this done together and then have some damn dinner and yak.”

I’m smart; those who can’t, network. I think I’ll have a new high of 4-5 people over next month. I like these people so much. Our teachers marvel at how well we all get along and help each other. I hear about their jobs, their babies, their dying relatives. I catch them up on my life. When we get stressed out in the shop we yell lines from Silence of the Lambs at each other. I play Clarice.

“CATHERINE MARTIN? FBI. YOU’RE SAFE!”

This is the time when people start getting weeded out who can’t make it through the apprenticeship for whatever reason. I heard a teacher make a comment that they don’t even tell us the “secrets” of the union and our trade until next year, the third year, for this reason. Please please don’t let there be Xenu at the end of this tunnel. I can’t take it.

Making coping was a new low for me. I was worried about how the week would go because I knew our next task was to take what little we knew about mitering and cover a small house in metal so it would, in theory, shed and repel water. We split up into groups and I jumped into flashing. We made the supports that held other people’s parts, as well as the finishing touches that would cover roof seams and corners. I did the math for our group since we had to calculate measurements and square feet of material used, as well as turn in sketches for the drafting test on Friday.

I lobbied for an all black house with a death star theme, but some people wanted silver. Adding silver turned out to be a great idea. In my head I was thinking about Disaster Area’s all-black ship from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, but I figured no one would know what that was. Developing burnout motifs to decorate the house with kept the teacher busy, so he was happy (he encouraged us to make use of the burn table).

We almost ran out of time on Friday, but finished it with about five minutes to spare. The teacher bumped our grade because we all rallied around the guy who did an extremely elaborate dormer and helped him finish. It was like the British Bake-off but probably more swearing and screws flying everywhere. Less ice cream cake chucked in the trash.

The week followed a sharp uphill trajectory after Monday. I aced a quiz, and then got near-perfect scores on my Friday math (missed one) and 100 on my drafting. I have been averaging Bs, respectable, but barely limping through, miserable with being cooped up indoors and struggling to remember basic math stuff.

What changed? Repetition with the math certainly helps. We’re at that phase now where we’re building on what we’re learning. First year was triangle basics–critical, but pretty easy. Now we’re expected to apply triangles to things like the house project and more complicated math.

The other piece that’s helping is pain reduction and medication. I’m already doing so much better with daily pain levels post-hysterectomy and leg vein procedure. Strudel and I went to see a mast cell specialist in Oregon in late March and he prescribed some asthma medication and a rescue inhaler for me. It’s helping at work and school. Moringa and other flavinoids seem to be helping a lot as well–I have fewer hives now.

The one thing that’s still hard and exhausting is work. They threw me on harder stuff last week and I hit the wall and left before lunch on Friday. I thought I could handle it but it was too fast paced and heavy, and I started feeling pain in my lower abdomen, and making a lot of dumb mistakes. My body’s been dumping the fluid I accumulated post-surgery as well (I gained ten pounds almost instantly after surgery and my body’s been “puffy,” not just in my stomach area). I woke up a couple of days last week with my face visibly swollen, which was weird, and now have been peeing a lot. I’ve been sleeping A LOT. But overall I’m glad to be back to work. I’m going to push to be back on true light duty next week.

2.

Around New Year’s I get reflective about what I’m doing and what I want to be doing. I’ve been thinking about starting a podcast for a long time, so I finally did. My friend Debbie and I are recapping the old TV show Roseanne. It’s called Queen for a Damn Day.

Kind of like when I was running the Victorian blog, it’s giving me a way to fuel one of my hobbies, as well as a closer collaboration with an old friend. I like that I’m more up on what she’s doing and thinking, rather than just peering through social media and talking too infrequently. She’s a very creative person who likes to develop ideas like I do. Our viewpoints are similar, but not identical, so while we are enjoying talking about feminism, class issues, sitcom history, the show, 80s fashions, and our dogs, we’re coming at things from different angles.

We’re mostly keeping politics out of it, even though I KNOW I KNOW there’s a LOT of issues with Roseanne Barr and politics. Debbie and I get a big heaping helping of that elsewhere so we’re trying to provide a respite from that for others to some extent.

It’s conversational and evolving over time. We’re discussing season 1 and season 10 concurrently, and will just keep going with it until we don’t want to anymore. Her husband pointed out that 10+ seasons could mean 4 years if we did them weekly, but right now we’re aiming for putting out three a week, which will go faster.

This is probably a small selection of the Venn diagram of people who still read this blog (hi!), like Roseanne still, and like podcasts, but I thought I’d let you know what I’m up to and that I’m not dead fro the neck up. There’s no ads (as usual I am a completely apathetic about monetizing myself outside of my, you know, actual job) and it’s available off our site to stream or DL or at almost any podcast spigot. We’re on twitter: @QFADDpod. I like to warn people that we are over-enthusiastic amateurs, so hopefully the production values will improve over time as we learn more.

I also like to tell people we’re the best Roseanne podcast out there. No matter that we are the only one out there. Happy spring.

Swedish finally found my food

I got a call from the hospital yesterday evening saying they finally found my food, and do I want these bowls or what. They didn’t say where they called FROM specifically so I just called the switchboard. I guess I wouldn’t want to identify myself if I worked for them either.

I got bounced to security after getting looped back to the switchboard four times because there was a “code grey.” I had to look this up: Combative Person. I’m guessing it was a patient, and I feel you, girl.

Security did not know where my bowls are. “Did you try registration? Try registration.” Click. Ok.

I was just thinking about The Olde Thymes when you would have to call a large institution using a list of numbers in a book, which you would keep open in front of you, because you knew your first few tries would be unsuccessful. Sometimes a nice person would give you a secret number that was not in the book. Now people just ring off because you can just incorrectly guess the next number yourself using the internet.

I tried registration. “Not here…what room were you in?”

“I have no idea, but it was the 11th floor.”

“Ok, I’ll transfer you.”

Well, there they were, sitting in a sink I guess. It was nice of them not to find my soup and then to pour it out.

“It did not look so fresh,” the lady said. I imagine not. So now I come get my bowls or they will get rid of them, like tomorrow.

My sister has gone back to work and I’m rolling solo today. Yesterday we went to see the cherry blossoms at UW, which I haven’t done in eons because I’ve been so wrapped up in working my way through my apprenticeship. She said she gets really rocked a few days after the drive ends and she was really feeling it. We’ve been hanging out watching movies and eating our weight in mochi and muscats, but I just wanted to lay in bed after walking around campus and so did she. So I sent her home at noon.

PEAK BLOSSOM. Citizens are advised to freak the fuck out.

A post shared by Taibas Jones (@asstagramme) on

I wanted to do a cute picture of the dogs among the trees but I couldn’t summon the energy to bend down, since they are short and the trees are tall. You’ll have to believe me that they were there. We met a couple of cute two-year-olds and one could say “Cavalier” as clear as day because she has one in her life named Simon. It was pretty impressive. Lots of people were pointing at the dogs and talking to us, as people in public do.

“I don’t think I could have a dog!” my sister said. “Too much attention!”

“You get used to it,” I said. “It’s mostly when they’re puppies.”

I worry about my sister, sometimes, because she reminds me of myself ten years ago. When she’s on, she’s social, and when she’s not working, she’s not interested. I thought it was a family trait because I got increasingly unsocial to the point of somewhat phobic as time went on. My grandmother was isolated because of her health and attitude about the world, and had no friends for years at a time. My mother seemed to be an extrovert, liked people and was attracted to them, but had some truly antisocial behaviors. She had severe misophonia, which would trigger behavior like mocking people in public, which was excruciating. Especially if you were trapped in a restaurant booth with her and the people she was mocking were across the way. And there were no other diners!

I’ve got a long way to go in general, both mentally and physically. I know I’m severely kneecapped in some areas of my life, and doing ok in others. I know I’ve said this so many times, but the thing that has helped about a billion percent is nutrition. All those little tics, the impatience, the anxiety, are almost down to nothing. Insomnia is over unless I truly do something stupid like take a massive nap or drink too much wine for restful sleep. I’m more mentally resilient–less of a hair-trigger temper (which usually didn’t come out, so the rage was just inside me bouncing around), less likely to take offense at anything anyone says offhandedly or not. I can tell myself that people mean well, and if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t realize that muting all the little microaggressions that were mostly self-inflicted would positively impact my relationships.

I know when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, but I wish I could time travel and find my grandparents in the 40s and say, “Hey, you know this better living through science shit? It’s not for us. Have some veggies and a multivitamin.” Ha ha, if only.

Today I hung my mason bee house on the back porch, facing the morning sun. It is very small and light. It felt great to swing a hammer! Sometimes I have a little disconnect between my actual skills now and what I can do at home. I looked at the nail and the porch post, and said, “Ok, self, don’t fuck this up.” I used to hammer nails in crookedly in all damn time.

I used to hit my thumb: OW OW OW fifteen minute break followed by a snack and a nap! Now I still hit myself, and give myself blood blisters, but I just tell myself it doesn’t bother me and I move on, because I realized it doesn’t actually hurt that bad if you think about pain in a certain way, as just a sensation or feedback from your body. If the feeling doesn’t come back in fifteen minutes or I feel blood pooling I will take my glove off and look. It turns out I was born to be an oaf, but you knew that already, didn’t you?

I took the cocoons out of my fridge where they’ve been residing for the past few weeks.


Bee cocoons come in a little box and look kind of like bees that have been wrapped up by a spider. You put them on top of the inside of the bee house in their box.


The kit also came with clay that you turn into mud and leave nearby so they can seal their tubes after laying eggs. I’m leaving it out now in case some native bees show up and want to get in on this hotel action. Now I just have to wait 2-4 weeks for the cocoons to open. THAT’S FOREVER.

I’ll post more pictures when they’re flying and when they make more cocoons midsummer. I read that ten mason bees can pollinate one fruit tree, and they like hazelnuts, which we have three of. Yeah!

A little health update: everything is feeling better daily. I’m six days out and sleeping on both of my sides. A weird thing is waking up with Death Flavor in my mouth, which I’m told is anesthesia working its way out, still. How about it works its way out of my elbows or something instead of my mouth? It is also making me want to eat what I want to eat, and not reasonable homecooked meals. So there’s a lot of juice and cheese happening, because nothing else tastes good.

Peeing is a magical experience now. I go, and then I have the sensation of not having to go anymore. I had the feeling of constantly low-grade (or high-grade) having to go for years. What is kind of odd now is how my bladder feels. I was at the blossoms yesterday and just sort of felt vaguely uncomfortable and off, and then I was like…you know what…I better see if I have to pee. I did. What? I don’t know either.

I took a shower yesterday and had another new feeling: a normal vulva instead of one with a uterus that was trying to later days out of it. Have you had a baby come out of your business? Do you remember that feeling of pressure? Every time I stood up I was basically crowning, ahaHAHAHAHAHA *uncontrollable sobbing*. There is so much less pressure on my pelvic floor I just feel light now. Next time someone takes me out, I’m going to get thank you cards and write my surgeons. I knew this would be life-changing, but I didn’t know it would be like, 96 pt font flashing LIFE-CHANGING.

I’m a little achy around where my uterus was (kind of like negative space menstrual cramps) and definitely super tired. Also sad that my medical glue is coming off my incisions already because it’s kind of this gross blue which is neat because I’m glued together! and I figure it’s good to have them covered. I had a dream that tea was coming out of my incision holes like I was a cartoon. My brain also keeps reminding me, “There’s nothing but a vagina now, ISN’T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD?” Go be amazed somewhere else, brain.

How to be an Asshole during your hysterectomy

On Wednesday morning I got up, double checked my hospital packing list and bags, and hung out with the kid for a while before she went to school. I had a cup of tea and tried to distract myself with reading. I think Horace picked up on my nerves and really didn’t like the looks of the suitcase since I had just gone to SF a couple of weeks ago.

I gave myself a pep talk. I was all set set! Everyone was on board with my health issues! This was going to be great. Okay, so I knew it wasn’t going to be great, but I felt ready and I thought they were ready for me.

I didn’t take any speed because I’d been on a liquid diet for two days at that point and it seemed unnecessarily harsh. I took my normal morning antihistamines and one kind of mast cell stabilizer (quercetin). I taxied to the hospital, checked in, and immediately got hit by the wave of hospital and people smells and got sleepy. I shut down and fell asleep the first time while I was waiting for them to call me for preop–just like the old pre-speed days!

I pulled one of my gowns out of my bag that I knew I wouldn’t react to/get hives from and that was immediately a fight–they wanted me to wear something that was some kind of paper. I brought stew I’d made the night before asked them to please get my food into the fridge. I know that time=rising histamine levels for warming food.

It made me feel better to cook a huge stew the night before, even though I couldn’t eat it. I was doing something normal that I was ok at. It had chicken, onions, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, potatoes, and chickpeas. I kitchen-sinked it because I was hoping there would be some when I got home, too. The nurse looked confused as I handed the bowls of stew to her. She said they would put it somewhere “if they could” and write down where it was.

I told both of the nurses that my surgeons had approved me to wear my own gowns. There was a lot of conferring at the nurses station that I couldn’t hear all of. I had a wild thought and made a pact with myself that if they were just assholes about everything I could bail on surgery all together. It was ok to change my mind on something this major even at the last minute. Finally, my gowns were allowed, but my sheets were not.

I wasn’t upset, really. I walk into a big institution like this and expect to have to try tell people what my deal is repeatedly and accept things quickly that won’t budge.

I got asked the same questions over and over as they do for everyone, I’m sure. The admissions nurse wanted to know what happens when I’m exposed to triggers. I told her the anaphylaxis symptoms I get as well as passing out. “That’s not anaphylaxis,” she said.

“Well, ok, that’s a thing that happens a lot, though, if I don’t take Adderall.”

We had spent about an hour talking about corn at that point. IV bags appeared and I asked her to make sure the bags were saline only and the line flush didn’t have dextrose in them and she said, “Oh are you allergic to that, too? What does that do to you?”

My eyes started dumping like I was crying, which is another thing that often happens, sometimes even if I smell popcorn. It has nothing to do with what mood I’m in. The admit nurse tried to be reassuring, “Oh this is a lot, isn’t it?” I tried to tell her it was just another side effect. My throat was getting phlegmy and my voice was getting hoarse. My head floated and it was hard to think of words.

I had a chat with the surgeons. My gyno surgeon asked if they could do anything for me now. They were trying to start an IV line on me and that nurse was completely failing, which is weird because usually my veins are really easy to find. I asked if maybe they could start the IV Benadryl now? She said they could and said the anesthesiologist was going to stop by in a few minutes.

“Is it a dude? They are always dudes.” I don’t know what made me say this. Filter drop.

“Actually, you’ll have a woman today, she’s great. There’s a lot of women here.”

“I know, that’s why I’m here!” I said. She and my urology surgeon laughed.

The anesthesiologist popped up, took over, and got my IV in so fast I barely noticed. She started the Benadryl right after that. It kicked in extremely quickly and I went from feeling congested, scratchy, crappy, weepy eyes to clearing up in a matter of minutes. Much better. I felt like I could think again, but I also felt kind of drunk.

I handed her my hand-written list of what I take every day (long, crazy-looking). She scanned over it. “Oh good. I saw your chart and was surprised you weren’t taking quercetin. Here it is.”

“Every time I say that to a nurse it gets entered as turmeric,” I said.

I’m taking three things right now that are supposed to have mast cell stabilizing effects: quercetin, luteolin, and moringa. I’ve noticed that since starting moringa I’m getting fewer hives on certain places in my body. I don’t get them on my stomach anymore but I still get them behind my ears and on my face. It seems like flavonoids inhibit mast cells really well.

Like my surgeons, she had read a ton about mast cell so it was nice to talk with her. She had figured out which painkillers and antibiotics did not have dextrose in them. I knew I would degranulate when they made incisions and whatnot, much like with my vein procedure the week before. After we were done she gave me the big shot and I was relieved–all that waiting and then I could go to sleep.

I remember being wheeled into the OR. There was some big fucking thingamaworks at the end of the room that my feet pointed at that made me think of Robocop.

“Is that the vagina robot?” I said.

“Yes,” a nurse said. Good night.


FUCK YOU, PROLAPSE!

I had a little worry that nagged at me all week, because I remember the first time waking up after childbirth when the endorphins were all gone. My vulva felt like roadkill and I was pretty sure my bones were scraping together. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I was ready for that feeling again.


IV attempt #2: Unsuccessful!

I didn’t have it though–I woke up three hours later confused, shaking violently, weeping. I sort of remember the recovery room but I was so in my body I don’t remember what anyone said to me. I think they did give me more IV pain meds. A nurse tried to hand me some extra-strength Tylenol and water and I said, “I can’t take these, I have a corn allergy.” My voice sounded like it was coming from far away.

I did not feel like I’d been hit by a truck. Surgery is funny in that you just lie there, whereas childbirth was a whole marathon that I was not ready for the first time since I was so out-of-shape.

They assigned me a room on the fly. I figured out really quickly that it wasn’t private, which I’d asked for and the pre-op nurse on the phone a few days before said would be no problem. “I don’t know why they’re still telling patients that, we remodeled two years ago,” a nurse said. “We only have like, two private rooms for people who actually need them.”

A couple of nurses who came in and out said, “Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t get your PRIVATE ROOM.” The way they said it sounded like it meant, not, “private room” but “YOU’RE THE REASON I HATE MY JOB.” Yikes. I had immediately made myself the most unpopular person on the floor, so it was a pretty typical experience compared to everywhere else I go. I had better get out of here, I thought.

I’d had a similar experience at Group Health with Strudel. I came in after laboring for 47 hours or whatever and no baby. I remember one of the nurses got way in my face, which is probably a good idea since your awareness “bubble” gets really small and people do need to get in close. She said: “I’M SORRY YOU CAN’T HAVE THE HOMEBIRTH YOU PLANNED.” I get the feeling through training and practice they have a script they follow but after saying it hundreds (millions?) of times it can sound kind of rote and hostile. I was thinking to myself, “I don’t care, I just want this baby out.” Home would have been easiest, but if the kid won’t come out, call a fucking plumber.


IV attempt #3: Success!

They hung up my signs that said “keep door closed” etc. but people were coming in and out of the room so much they were being ignored. They were still trying to push Tylenol on me, which was easy to refuse, of course, but it made me wish I had a sign on my forehead (besides the one that obviously said “crazy diva”). I asked someone where my food was and they said they didn’t know. I had brought some shelf-stable snacks with me and inhaled them. I knew as soon as my Benadryl wore off I would be sick again and would wake up at 2 a.m. all scratchy and swollen with my heart racing.

There was a lady in the bed next to me who was in so much pain post-op she was just laying there moaning, poor thing. She said, “I’m not contagious,” which was kind of a three-word essay on how women are socialized to be accommodating at all times. “It’s ok, it’s not you, sorry,” I said. “I have a cellular disorder.” As if that explained anything.

I got super cranky and started unleashing the f-bombs as I normally do, not AT anyone, but just as my usual cavalcade of ignorant and vulgar adjectives. “I need to get out of this fucking place.” They said they would try to reach one of my surgeons to get permission for me to be discharged. I felt bad because it was the dinner hour but I knew my clock was ticking and my pain meds AND antihistamines were going to wear off. I had to use the push they were going to give me to get out of there.

The conditions came back–I had to wear/take my catheter home, and I had to prove that I could walk. “Ok!” I said. I had been assigned some other flavor of patient relations nurse because I’m sure my overworked floor nurse immediately threw her hands up like “this bitch.”

Special Nurse got me up and running with the IV pole/cool catheter combo and threw a robe on me as I ambled out of the room. I walked down the hall and watched the floor and walls spin up at me.

“How’re you doing, dear?”

“GREAT! I feel fine really.”

“Pain?”

“It’s at a one. Or a zero. Let’s say ‘zero.”

“Do you want to go further?” she asked.

“Oh, no, I’m good. I can turn around any time.” We had made it about halfway down the first hallway, or maybe an eighth of the way around the whole loop. I was amazed to see how not-far I’d come. It was like when you’re super, super baked and three minutes feels like three hours. I saw nurses and whatnot at their stations looking at me. I hoped it was “normal” looking. I hoped I was normal-looking.

I began the laborious process of dressing myself and getting out of my gown.

“Can I have some privacy while I get dressed?” I asked the nurse, pointing to the curtain on the other side. The moaning lady’s husband was over there and I was sure if I started to change he would suddenly pop his head around, because life always has to be as awkward as possible. She kicked him out!

“Thanks, sorry, I really just wanted my curtain closed, sorry,” I said as everyone left. Then it was just me and moaning lady on the other side. I struggled to get my gown untied and to get a shirt on.

“Sorry you had to put up with my shit,” moaning lady said. I loved her for swearing. I assumed I was offending her and her lovely adult children the whole time.

“Oh no no no no, sorry you had to put up with MY shit. I’ll be out of here soon. I really hope you feel much better tomorrow.”

“Me too,” she said.

Regular Nurse taped my catheter tube to my leg really tightly and helped me get my pants on. They brought a wheelchair and I told them I couldn’t leave until I had my stuff. I knew they would miss a bag if I let them out of my sight. They brought a utility cart for my bags. I still didn’t know where my food was and I didn’t mention it.

“Sorry I’m being a dick,” I said. I thought I was? But I was so doped up and am reflexively British/overapologetic so I couldn’t read the room.

“Did you walk?” Regular Nurse asked.

“Oh yes.”

“The WHOLE loop?”

“Oh yes, absolutely, it was great,” I oversold. “Thanks for everything!”

Then I was wheeled downstairs.

“Is your ride here?” the aide asked me.

“Yes…no…she will be soon.”

They conferred among themselves over my head about how they couldn’t wait here with me.

“I can just sit in a chair,” I said, pointing to the lobby. I wanted to be quit of them as much as they wanted to be through with me I guess.

“Can you leave the cart?” I asked.

“No.” They dropped my stuff next to me. “What is she going to do?” one asked the other.

“Ok I guess that’s my problem,” I said, but their backs were already to me.

“We wish you well in your recovery,” the chair pusher called over her shoulder, sounding like she was talking in her sleep.

Upstairs, right before I left, I noticed it was 7 o’clock, which I knew was important because my sister’s gig was ending then and she said she could pick me up. I had no idea where she was in the city or how long it would take her to get there. I just knew she would come. I texted her with my update. As it turned out, she was two blocks away! Whew.


Here is a text message from a desperate woman.

Then while I waited it was just me, sans the dinner and breakfast I arrived with, and my sidekick, a catheter.

Going home was the right decision. I was able to relax into my own bed without all the monitoring and beeping and fucking allergy-type triggers around. I slept intermittently and woke up at 1:30 and took some more safe Tylenol.

The last few days have been really good. I’ve felt and looked at my five small incisions. One surprise is that they are uneven on my torso; I thought they’d be arranged symmetrically, kind of like pips on a die. I have no idea why I assumed that. Two days after the hysto I went for my leg vein follow up, to make sure they’d killed the varicose vein good and dead and that everything looked all right. The nurse said, “Wow, look at your bruise! I’ve never seen so little bruising! This all looks great.”

I told my sister about this and she said, “Boom! Vitamins!”

Now I think I’m having kind of the dream hysto recovery. I don’t have pain unless I jab myself. I’m not bending over, lifting shit, stretching up high, cleaning, cooking. I’m doing a lot of resting, but I’m doing walking, too. I have had a couple of naps, but mostly because I had trouble sleeping the first night. I’m not even taking Tylenol continuously anymore. My sister just finished her fund drive at work so she’s vegetating with me and we’re watching Drunk History and Hitchhiker’s. She’s been fixing meals. We did a short walk with the dogs today also.

I was still a little on the fence my first day after, wondering if things were about to get much worse, and I hadn’t taken my catheter out yet, so that still hurt. A lovely twitter friend, @kang72, sent me this awesome article. Perfect timing.

The anesthesiologist explained that during surgery and recovery I would be given strong painkillers, but once I got home the pain would not require narcotics. To paraphrase him, he said: “Pain is a part of life. We cannot eliminate it nor do we want to. The pain will guide you. You will know when to rest more; you will know when you are healing. If I give you Vicodin, you will no longer feel the pain, yes, but you will no longer know what your body is telling you. You might overexert yourself because you are no longer feeling the pain signals. All you need is rest. And please be careful with ibuprofen. It’s not good for your kidneys. Only take it if you must. Your body will heal itself with rest.”

With my surgeon’s nurse’s over-the-phone instructions, I snipped the catheter line that would deflate the balloon and let it come out. Removal wasn’t too bad. Pulling the gauze packing out of my vagina was no picnic and resulted in some fresh blood that’s slowing down now. However–a miracle has occurred. I no longer feel the constant heaviness of my shit trying to fall out. I don’t have the feeling of having to pee constantly. It’s wonderful.

I’m resting! And I stand by my conviction that hospitals are for fleeing from.

You just popped in the Kanye West get right for summer workout tape

A. Nobody Wants a Little Tight Ass

WARNING: There’s going to be pictures of my sad leg down this post. Trigger warning for white, Northern hemisphere, middle-aged lady leg, and to a lesser degree surgical incisions and bruising.

I just had minor varicose vein surgery in my left leg on Thursday. It’s kind of unfortunate timing, because I’m set to have my uterus out on Pi Day (March 14th). My veins started blowing out in my legs a couple of years before I got really sick, which doesn’t surprise me. Everything got pretty flimsy and inflamed and messed up then, and I felt like I wanted to put out all the fires but more kept popping up.

There is a PROCESS you go through to get a vein stripped. When I walked in to the clinic a few months ago, both of my legs hurt at the end of the day and sometimes all day, but I can’t see through my skin (YET!) so I didn’t know exactly what was happening. It turns out my right leg has a baby varicose vein going on but the left leg had a whole turnpike situation. Also it was leaking blood into my leg continuously (as they are wont to do) and so it hurt a lot and always looked like some gorilla had squeezed my calves for a minute or ten.

So, as we all know, the insurance companies do not want to pay for an actual existing condition that won’t get better. They want to say, “Here, bite this stick for three months, and in time you will be adjusted to biting the stick and you will love the stick so much you’ll forget you wanted us to pay for something in the system you pay for access to.”

The num-num stick was: support hose. I was supposed to undergo a trial of wearing them and hopefully at the end of three months I would forget all about my pain. That did not happen. In fact, most days the support hose on my left side felt worse, and I still had a lot of deep throbbing pain at the end of the day, even if I hadn’t worked a whole day. So when the nurse called me and asked if I was still having pain and did I want to proceed with the left leg I said YES.

To be fair, my right leg is improved. It doesn’t have pain at the end of the day. The bruising has greatly reduced. I will keep wearing a compression sleeve on that side.

Of course the only day my leg surgeon was available this month was six days before the hysterectomy. I thought about it for a bit because on one hand, I knew it would be hard to have two procedures done in one month, but on the other, I can only take so much time off work and they both involve some resting, so I might as well go for it.

Stripping is what it sounds like. They yank the vein out. For whatever reason they didn’t send me prescriptions for Xanax, an antibiotic, and numbing cream beforehand like they were supposed to, but I never let that hold me back from having a good time. The doctor had me check the ingredients in Versed and then dosed me up with a little of that. It was nice because I was nervous when I came in, and then in about five minutes I didn’t care about the tugging sensations and snapping noises I heard below my knee.

My heart rate went up really high for a few minutes (histamine dump?). I felt myself getting sleepy in the chair as they were working on me. My Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses were kicking in. I had to walk for 20 minutes post-procedure and then I was yawning and barely awake all the way home. I came home and shut the fuck down. My body went NOPE and I went to that really swift mast cell narcolepsy place where I’m asleep in 30 seconds. Minor trauma buys me a 20 minute trip to BuhByeport, but this had me out for an hour and a half. I did not get corned! No hives! Good job leg clinic! It was just regular old trauma that caused me to degranulate and knock out, ha ha.


Hole up and camp? Y

I have eight small incisions in my leg now. I had to wear bandages and thigh-high compression hose for 24 hours, and then I was allowed to take a shower last night. My nurse told me watery blood coming through the bandages was okay, because that was leakage from the saline solution they pump around the vein, but bright, original recipe blood was not. I did have some real deal breakthrough bleeding on one incision that came all the way through the gauze wrap, but it looked like it stopped pretty early. I’m guessing it happened the first afternoon/night when animals were jumping on me before I could stop them.

I’m already making it around okay, but I don’t want to overdo it. Just sitting here, or walking around the house, I’m not in any pain currently. I took the dogs for a short walk yesterday with my sister and it was fine. The nurse told me to “stay on top of pain” by taking pain killers 3x a day, because supposedly the pain peaks today or tomorrow. I am able to take Goody’s powders since they don’t seem to contain corn. Tonight is Strudel’s birthday dinner and I probably won’t be making sushi this year, but I’ll help with the menu.

This morning as I was waddling around like Danny Devito’s Penguin, I kept wondering why my left leg was messed up but not my right. What happened in there? Was it congenital? Did I stand and walk unevenly? Probably. It doesn’t matter. I go back in a week for a check in, then 60 days, then on 90 days they do laser cleanup with any bruising that’s still visible. So not only should I have way less pain, but it will also look like the gorilla stopped squeezing me.


After I took off the compression stocking and Coban. Ruh roh, blood.


Top of leg (duh)


Black line is a sharpie road map for the surgeon.

Don’t fight over me, boys and girls, there’s plenty to go around.

B. Give head, stop breathe, get up, check your weave

Surgery #2 rundown: it’s on like Donkey Kong. The plan is sutures, sutures, sutures instead of mesh, which is forever. They are dissolvable and probably made of corn, but it’s unavoidable I guess. So it could be a rocky 3-6 months. Or not. I have no idea! Basically my vagina and bladder are getting Croydon facelifts. They will make about five incisions and fish all the uterine and fallopian tube chunks out through those like a claw machine and the Operation game had a GD baby. My ovaries are staying put.

An amazing thing happened. They are going ahead with the mast cell surgical protocol, which involves Benadryl and Prednisone in the IV. I think we’ve found IV antibiotics without dextrose as well. They want to keep me overnight to observe my reactions to things. I’m bringing my own sheets, gowns, and food. I’m also bringing signs to remind people not to put dextrose in my IV. This is largely thanks to work Corn Allergy Girl has done.

I had my last pre-op call with a nurse and I asked her if I could have a private room to avoid other people’s fragrances, food, and whatnot. She said she would put a request in, but that most of the rooms were private. This of course triggered a nightmare that night where I was in a giant ward with 12 people, including a naked guy who was beating off in his bed when I came to. His dick was nightmarishly large, like an eggplant. WHAT. I tried to get back to sleep, but I realized my bed was covered in glittery powder that looked and smelled like LUSH bath bomb dust. The nurse was mean. Horace was there, but he was trying to stamp on my incisions. HELLO ANXIETY. I SEE YOU.

C. Cover your mouth up like you got SARS

Last weekend I went to California. I had a talk with myself and made a mini-bucket list before surgery. What do Asshole want to do?

1. Rice for dinner three nights in a row
2. Visit Shannon and see Jen if she’s not busy. I also saw Michael and we went to the Columbarium (as you do) and the Legion of Honor.

Tiny Bucket List Achieved!

Shan’s husband was giving Jen a ride home after dinner and I was riding along. She asked me why I showed up just then since I hadn’t visited anyone in, like, four years, and it’s hard (but not impossible) for me to stay with people.

“Uhh…you know, in case I die or something in surgery. It’s unlikely! But I wanted to see Shan.”

“So this is your End of the World Tour?”

“Yes!”

“Oh that’s so nice. I want to be someone’s End of the World Tour.”

“Well, you were on my list too,” I said.

California is my place I’m always happy even if I’m a wreck. Which I wasn’t. The plane and airport gave me hives coming and going, but I had a great time at her house.

So if you see me tweeting/gramming on or after March 15th you’ll know I made it. I will also try to blog again soon as I am recovering. I have to recover, because Krumpy and I are planning to do a podcast together (first record tomorrow I hope!) and I HAVE to see that through.

Being 40 is going pretty well so far and I am doing a lot of maintenance and rehab on my broken parts that diet and prayers to Our Dark Lord cannot fix. Dig it: 1. ancient filling replaced with tooth crown finally ; 2. uterus OUT; 3. Painful legs OUT; 4. I’ve been getting my painful face flushy veins zapped, which I don’t think I mentioned, so my face doesn’t hurt 5x a day; 5. therapy ongoing and necessary; 6. Flying to Corvallis to see mast cell specialist later this month.

I’m not going down without a fight.

When I Am Old I Shall Wear Safety Orange; OR Cancel Christmas

A. Deconstruction

I’ve got the day off today, involuntarily. It’s slow at the shop still. I got very few hours this fall, and then I realized I was about to lose my health insurance in January regardless of how much I worked in December, so I decided to take the week of Xmas off. My vacation started on the 21st since the shop was closed that Thursday and Friday anyway.

This was the longest vacation I’ve had since I was indentured. Just an observation, not a complaint: my butt literally hurt from sitting on it (I am a pretty terrible sitter now). I have enough hours banked that I still got my regular, scheduled apprentice raise on the first, which is pretty awesome. It’s taken three years and some change since I quit my full-time, salaried tech job, but I am up to that 2014 money again. And now I can party like it’s 2014? *

I could have done this faster if I’d taken the admission test for my trade immediately, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I’m glad I took some time to figure it out along with a couple of detours, many of them paying ones.

There’s been mad layoffs at the shop, which is what happens when work is slow. Some days we were running out of work and getting cut at 9:30 in the morning, driving home in normal rush hour. My boss gathered us in the breakroom yesterday and said there would be no more layoffs unless journeymen wanted them. She said we are the “A Team,” which is nice. This way you know there will be no more layoffs…unless there are. I worked last winter consistently, but I’m with a company that has less work right now. As an apprentice I am not allowed to quit a job but I’m sure we could get voluntarily laid off for lack of work too.

I am weirdly (and probably somehow wrong to be, do @ me) proud to be the lowest-level apprentice left there. Some of the higher-year apprentices who prefer field work opted to be sent out “on field assignment” so they can get more hours.

One of my drinking comrades, a drummer who reminds me of a long-lost Van Halen brother, said to me: “Attitude and attendance.” Notice he did not say “skill and ability.” I am very privileged to be able to stay in a situation right now where I am learning a shit-ton but not making normal paychecks, since they want to keep me and I have a two-paycheck household to lean on.

Some of the ladies I work with who have made a career out of the shop are pretty down on working in the field. Mostly they hate other trades, who are not nearly as nice and ungross as most sheet metal workers. I get it. I also kind of don’t care when I’m out there. It’s a coin toss for me. I’m much healthier in the field because the air quality is way better and my guns look sick because I’m not all histamine-puffy. I love building shit! Yeah! But in the shop I’m not tripping over 7,000 cords in poor/no lighting, freezing cold or boiling hot, and using portajohns that have been sawed in half and reassembled to get them up the lift. I have gotten to know people better because I’m not in Machismo Zone. In the field they warned me there can be high school drama in the shop, but guess what, there are human beings everywhere, and a crew of roughy toughy guys can be just as gossipy and backbiting as anyone.

B. Get up on his lap/ don’t let him touch you

I don’t know how to write this section so let’s have an interview and I’ll be glib until I can be real and then I’ll probably delete all of this.

Q: What is it like when your kid splits abruptly and then it’s the first Christmas without her?

A: Well Skip, it’s challenging. As you know, I’m very, very blessed to be surrounded by so many talented family. It’s been a real gift to me and my craft as a human being. There’s been a lot of personal growth this year. But hard times too. Overall I gave it 112% and at the end of the day sometimes that isn’t enough.

There is no way for me to say this without sounding like a complete asshole. Just get ready to slam the internet shut and throw it across the room. How was Xmas: it was a relief to not have her here. A real, profound relief. ~MY THERAPIST~ (who earns every cent listening to the ramblings of an insane person) is reminding me that a thing (some) teenagers do is push you away and reject you and go off and form their own identities and all that healthy stuff that can look like a slow-motion trainwreck at the time. Intellectually I understand that, but it’s still very hard.

Living with someone for the past couple of years who said “NO!” to almost any kind of family activity or just one-on-one time unless it involved buying her something was exhausting. Living with someone who thinks you’re a stupid hypocrite is exhausting. Being lied to often is exhausting. Taking care of someone whose rebellion is, in part, harming her own health, is exhausting and heartbreaking.

I am wracked with guilt over this relief, of course, because I’m not just the president of being Wracked with Guilt, I’m also a client. I did not text her on xmas because I remember when she’d get any kind of text from her dad like “Happy birthday” in the past couple of years her blood would boil and she wouldn’t reply. I felt bad about that, but I also feel like she needs some space right now.

Aside: I remember being in the car with my mother after she’d moved to back to Seattle with us and her saying, “Are you ever not feeling guilty about something? You’re like a closet Catholic!” (I think she was dating a recovering Catholic at the time.) In hindsight I don’t think she recognized what having a conscience looked like.

Anyway, I’m not trying to vilify Franny in any way now that she’s living with her dad. We weren’t any kind of victims, just a family with a teenager. She is being held hostage to her own need to grow up and figure out what the hell is going on. I tried my hardest and will try again in time. I’m not trying to flip the script and say good riddance. It’s just gotten easier around here and less serious. Strudel seems to be feeling better and her aunt and a family friend have commented that she seems to have more of a sense of ease. I didn’t realize how strained her relationship with her sister was as well, but Strudel opens up about it now.

We need to be careful with her now, too, I know. Now the laser beams are TARGET: STRUDEL, ONLY CHILD so I need to balance supporting her where it’s appropriate and letting her live her life and try things. Check back in three years when I’ve messed that up.

Positive: I have a lot more energy now. This sounds terrible. “My house is so clean now, and all I had to do was kill and eat my entire family!” But I do. My memory is better. Grief and worry gnawing at you can take its toll. I can both love and care with my whole self and still say, yes, and that shit is really hard sometimes.

The whole house is kind of in recovery now and we’re playing house shuffle. Strudel eagerly moved into Franny’s larger room, and I’m going to turn her old room into an office. We moved the bed into the basement finally and our old upstairs room will be a guest room. Right now it’s gutted and looks terrible because it contains nothing but our clothes and some odds and ends. This mess is waiting for the walk-in closet downstairs (getting bids this month). There is half of a bedframe in my kitchen right now. Oh god. I have this long term fantasy/goal that everything in my house will someday have a place and then I can just lay down and die.

So things are getting better. I’m going to stop picking at this Franny scab for now unless something really shifts. Now I’m at that point where each day moving forward isn’t acutely painful and full of regret. To quote Spike (yes I did), “It’s just living.” We’re doing ok.

C. Mantra: A Lack of Planning on Your Part Never Constitutes an Emergency on My Part

In related news, I had a funny little SeaFed hiccup that I’m probably going to get a call about today. Apparently he tried to schedule an appointment with our allergist and told them we have shared custody (no comment. Wait: “LOL.”). This threw the brakes on things when a person they’d never heard of before called to take a minor patient in and he was all “NEW DAD, WHO DIS?”

The allergist’s office sent me a letter saying that since they have discovered we have “shared custody” (“LOL”) both parents must be present at any subsequent appointments. It was crickets after this. No one called me and asked me to come with or for help. Sooo. *whistles*

This is pretty typical half-assed SeaFedry. I am not even trying to be mean. He’s just never been able to manage his time or have the executive functioning to navigate through systems like this. I predict: he did not get the letter, because he did not provide his address when he called; OR, he did not read the letter; OR, he read the letter and forgot about it, and so will show up at the appointment today and call me once he’s there and they turn him away; OR, they will ghost on the appointment.

This is making me think of when she was small and I took her to the dentist and sent him a copy of the bill and asked for half and he sent me a check for $14 (I think) because he “calculated” what the copay would have been if either of us had insurance at the time, which we didn’t. Insane.

D. Subject Change

So we had some fun times on vacation together. On NYE we went to the Ballard house where they’ve done everything Diagon Alley in their driveway. It was for Halloween, but they’ve kept it up through this month and are raising money for charity.

Strudel and I went to the mall and got some makeup at MAC, and I had her choose some clothes as pre-xmas fun. She’s just teetering on that age where I can’t reliably choose clothes for her anymore. This holiday was smaller than the usual ones because she’s not really into toys anymore, is not outgrowing things like mad, and because my work hours/paychecks have been so limited.

I took menu suggestions for xmas on the chalkboard and they basically looked like this: fried squid, pho, ham, satay, pickled Korean beef, sandwiches, spaghetti. What do you do with this? I split it up.

On xmas eve we had Asian food: satay, pickled beef, sesame chicken.

Pete went out and grilled satay in the snow and he and I were both impressed with him.

If the food photography on this blog ever improves, call the police because I’ve been killed. *blinks SOS slowly*

Then we did jolabokaflod, which was fun as fuck.

Strudel said, “I don’t have any money!” I asked if she’d be open to going to the library, and she was. She got me an Isabel Allende. I have never read her, because I am not super into sad, serious literature, this is a thing I know about myself. “I am expanding my horizons,” I said. By chapter two there had been meditations on loneliness, the displacement of being alone in a foreign land, dismay over the physical aging process, a cat drinking antifreeze and growing staggeringly, foamingly ill, and I knew someone was about to get hit by a car (book flap). I quietly put it down. Whoa.

Pete played it very safe and got me Salt. I am a sucker for food plus history obviously. I got him The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole age 13 and 3/4 which is one of my favorite books of all time and he read the first page, laughed really loudly and put it down (?). Pete got Strudel some really compelling YA vs A Short Sharp Shock by Kim Stanley Robinson (mine) so he won that round too. Next year I will pander!

On xmas we voted for a cheese day had Monte Cristos for breakfast and pizza for dinner. I got kind of poofy and a little joint pain but it was actually worth it. Gluten and corn never tempt me (recovery is too horrendo and unpredictable), but twice a year or so we have cheese.

Two days after xmas we saw the new Nutcracker. It is VERY interesting now with the new set pieces and costume designs. Usually I think ballet is a little boring unless some shit is coming out of Natalie Portman’s arm.



E. Meditations on Fruity Crap

A couple of summers ago, there was a stack of books on my buffet and a ZZ plant innocently thriving on the floor next to the buffet. Of course, along came a fat Mère the cat (motto: “I don’t understand physics!”) and knocked the books down, crushing the ZZ plant in the process. I let it limp along for a while and hoped it would recover. It pretty much stopped growing, like “WTF fuck you people. I was doing good work here.” I downsized the root ball into a smaller pot, hoping it would force growth, and saved the few remaining green leaves. I set it in my dark bathroom window, since it’s a low-light plant.

Finally, there was only one leaf. I kept watering it and then pulled it down on New Year’s day.

This is how we get emotionally attached to plucky plants. Thank you, plant. Happy new year to you!!

* 2014: Go out to dinner, get ill, blame self for eating too much. Go out in public, breathe air, get ill, call self “melodramatic and probably anti-social.” Have drinks, get ill…eh, you get the picture. |back|

Thank you

Hi, a quick post to say THANK YOU to everyone who has commented, emailed me, texted me, twitter messaged me or said anything irl about what I’m going through griefwise. Someone I met ten (?) years ago at BlogHer texted me yesterday, when I was in a velvet painting-filled bar in Tukwilla with sheet metal ruffians and I almost started crying at the table. I am really sorry that some of you have said that you understand because this has happened to you as well.

I think I’ve chosen a weird and somewhat stupid life for myself by writing online for 16 years. I don’t know why I’ve chosen to record my life in this way. I started it in late summer 2001 when I lost a close friend and was feeling lonely, depressed, nostalgic. Realizing that my life had a hollow core of loneliness, and then finding people online who I liked to read and who thought I was funny back was probably the first step towards me having anything resembling self-esteem and having fun writing. I don’t think I’d be the person I am now without this site.

Some of you probably know this story, but in the infancy of this website I tried to get involved with the early blog organizations and webrings (kids ask your parents), and was usually rejected because I was filed in so many directories as pornography. That made me mad, of course, and I rejected them right back. Then personal blogging became very popular and normal, and it didn’t really matter anymore that there was a swear word in my url. I don’t know why I didn’t sell out ten years ago and make this my vocation (again with the theme of blind stubbornness), but I think not doing that has saved my life and sanity. It’s wonderful that people read about my life, and I know some of you have for most of this blog’s life. I appreciate you.

I don’t think I will stop now. You’re stuck with watching your own boring Samuel Pepys grow old and die if you want it. Again, thanks.