I’m No Longer Watching Her

My sister was driving me to IKEA on a day that we both had off. Work’s been really slow and I often get cut just in time to get stuck in normal rush hour, before the northbound express lanes open. But not this day–it was a small field trip mostly to gawk at the store’s remodel and an excuse to hang out.

The freeway was lit with that strange Seattle late fall light that looks yellow and cuts through the clouds at an angle so you feel like someone’s holding a giant filtered spotlight on part of the city. There was a good blow on too so on stretches of the freeway the leaves were tumbling along with us at 60 mph before destroying themselves on retaining walls and under truck wheels.

Morgan looked beautiful in silhouette, in the sepia light. I could see the fine lines that are forming on her delicate skin that are making a record of her life. I imagined her drawing on a cigarette, as I had seen many times before. I imagined her eating. I imagined her crying. I imagined her mouth wrapped around a child’s pacifier as I had seen many times.

She turned her head toward me briefly and I saw the vertical scar on her upper lip perfectly illuminated for a second. I forget about it for months and years at a time until it pops out. I see it even less now that she quit smoking three years ago.

Morgan was small when it happened, just beginning to pull up. I remember her creeping around our living room one day and my mother hissing at me where I sat on our massive sectional, reading the TV Guide cover-to-cover as I did every week: “Watch her!” My mother was on the phone, wandering around the dining room and out of sight. I got sucked back in to reading about what Tony Danza was up to in his spare time.

I saw Morgan fall out of the corner of my eye, followed by the blunt smack of flesh meeting a hard surface and then a wail. My mother swore, put the phone down, and came back into the room. I rushed over to pull Morgan up and there was blood all over her mouth. She had cracked her face on the sharp wooden corner of our giant television. I wondered if she would go to the hospital like I did when the dart machine fell on me and split my head open.

By this time my mother was off the phone. “I TOLD YOU TO WATCH HER!” This was my fault. Every time I saw the bandage and then the angry red scar for the next few years, I felt a twinge of guilt. I should have been watching her.

In grad school Franny was small and I was burning the candle. Now was the time to make a big push, I reckoned. I was still so young so it was okay to work and take too many classes and spend time with Franny whenever I could. I had a night class and I would come home and work on papers or reading and then I had the day off home to continue the unending slog through books and papers. In the morning SeaFed was gone, pretending to drive his taxi but becoming increasingly disinterested in working again.

I remember always getting sleepy around ten o’clock, just in time for Sesame Street. I would twiddle the bunny ears on our 19″ teevee to make PBS as clear as possible. I poured a cup of Cheerios for Franny and would lie down on the couch, bending my knees and locking her in behind them. I would doze but would snap awake if she tried to move out of her little fort. If I was lucky I could steal a 15 minute nap in this way.

It always made me think of Morgan, too. She liked being trapped behind my legs like this. We would play “prisoner” over and over when I was 12. My legs would swing shut, locking her onto the couch and say, “You’re my prisoner!” She would scream “PRITNER!” and laugh. Or she would pretend she was driving a car and my legs were the door and then the dashboard.

The phone rang, snapping me out of my short nap. It was red and a cord attached it to the wall, and no one could get through if I had the dial up internet on. Franny was where I’d put her, in a trance, watching Elmo, methodically eating one Cheerio after another. It was my mother. I’m sure I sounded groggy when I answered.

“I’m just hanging out with the kid,” I said. She sounded a little odd, but I was disinterested in unpacking her mood. I don’t remember what she wanted.

Later my sister, who was 15 then, told me that my mother rang off and immediately said, “I think she was asleep!”

“And?” my sister said, or some variation on that. Due to a combination of Stockholm Syndrome and decent experiences, my sister trusted my parenting.

“She should be watching her!”

A few months later, my sister was spending most of her spare time at my house, even though we were in the middle of unending reno hell and there was only a couch for her to sleep on. SeaFed didn’t really notice or care; at times his obliviousness was advantageous. I think I needed my sister around as much as she needed me then.

She’s been a great source of support for me lately, which still surprises me. Now she’s watching over me. She reads between the lines on my texts: “Everything ok?”

No, not really. This is hard to say and I’ve been trying to say it for almost a month: Franny moved out before Thanksgiving and in with her dad.

I have to pull away from this sentence before my melt onto my dining room floor and ugly cry until I die of dehydration. So.

I’ve been experiencing waves of anger over the last few weeks that I think are kind of protecting me and keeping me functional so I’m not just a big wound constantly, and I can do things like go to work and buy groceries. The things that feel so stupid and pointless but are kind of reassuring because you know that life is going to go on.

I also don’t like this feeling, though. It’s like a death in that every meal you make that the missing person liked but is not eating with you, or every little change you make to your house, or every passing day is a brick in the path that takes you away from that person you miss, leaving them in the blurry past.

I am crying again, I need to pull away from this again, so I will be shitty and angry: SeaFed, who has relinquished himself to his father’s care, has been gifted some kind of large property on his island with multiple mother-in-law cottages. It sounds like their previous house was kind of melting due to age, neglect, and poor DIY repair work. His father used to attempt to set him up in business, either at an office or working for himself. Now I think he’s just resigned himself to being his carer. I think there will probably be a trust set up after his father dies.

It’s like the movie The Truman Show. I think everyone around him is invested in the appearance of SeaFed being a functional adult, and this is how it works for them. I was not ever good at participating in this charade, although I realize I could be a lady of leisure on an island in my own compound if I could have played along.

I had another realization recently that SeaFed is a high-functioning autistic. I think his mother was autistic, and it sounds like his grandfather was too. (Leslie you know it’s true and it’s too late now. Get you-know-who tested.)

I spoke with Franny about these thoughts a few months ago and she seemed somewhat reassured that there could be a reason that her father wasn’t very engaged with her life nor did he remember what her health conditions were, so couldn’t accommodate her. What I was saying made sense to her. At the same time, I feel like this possibility made her angry. I think it was hard for her to reframe the narrative of her situation with her father and see him as someone who had a reason for being limited beyond just thoughtlessness. I remember her being ten or so and saying out of the blue, “I think there’s something wrong with my dad.” She was right that he’s not typical.

In the first couple of years we were married, I remember SeaFed’s father expressed relief a couple of times that I’d come into his life and seemed to be steering the ship. They had reached their wit’s end with him as a teenager when he really dialed into his dual talents of wasting someone else’s hard-earned money and his penchant for petty criminality. Here was someone who could take them off his hands. Maybe he would get his act together now.

My increase in responsibility happened bit by bit. When I met SeaFed, I had no idea how to adult beyond knowing that I had to have a job and write a rent check every month. He would take me out places and not pay parking. I didn’t have a car and I came from a village where you could pretty much park on a cow or a corn or in the middle of the road if you felt like it, but I was fairly certain the signs reading “PAY HERE” hanging in the lots with numbered spots had an implied “This means you, buddy” ring to them.

“Don’t you need to pay to park?” I asked. What a rube I was then.

He would shrug. “Nah it’s fine.”

After we were married he got a collections notice for hundreds of dollars of unpaid parking tickets in Oregon from when he was 18, plus fees, plus bonus threats of credit ruination. He was spending a lot of time in Portland and parking willy-nilly as he did in Seattle.

“Why didn’t you pay these?” I asked.

Same shrug. “It’s a different state so I just thought I wouldn’t go back there so whatever.” He didn’t care, since he was all-cash druglord lifestyle at the time.

I think I married an idiot, I thought. I started paying the bills and doing the taxes. Later I thought I’d married a sociopath, due to his lack of interest in me and cavalier care of Franny. You know how that came out.

So Franny left in the middle of the night (11 is the middle of the night when you wake up before 4 a.m.). We had been fighting that night and the tension had been increasing between us for the past few months. Franny hits walls when she doesn’t want to do something. She may tell you she’ll do it, or that she’s doing it to get you off her back, but in the end, she does what she wants.

A friend used to watch her for me while I was at school. Franny was about to turn three. If Franny didn’t like something, she would stop short, not move, and stare you down impassively. My friend, who had extremely verbal children who could tell you off six ways from Sunday, and were no strangers to the well-timed tantrum, was amazed by this Ghandi act. They nicknamed her The Mountain.

I’d been getting Mountains of bullshit from Franny for the past year.

Are you going to start going to class again?
-Yes of course

Are you going to take the SAT this time?
-I would have but the bus had an accident

How about this time?
-Well this time the bus didn’t come

What about that make up work that you need to do before June?
-I’ll do it

You didn’t do your make up work. How are you going to graduate?
-I can make it up my senior year

What’s your senior project going to be?

Are you going to apply for the library again like you said you would?

Finally, near the end, some honesty. She told me she didn’t want to take the SAT. She didn’t want to go to university, which her grandfather would pay for. She didn’t want to get a job. She wanted to attend community college and live at home. I remembered her father going to community college several times in fits and starts and always flunking out after the withdrawal period was over. I knew she would dwindle down to one class and just kind of turn into a directionless fungus on the wifi all day.

Oh no, I thought. You are becoming your father and it is like the cold knife of the past is going through me. Did I want to take the role of SeaFed’s father, his carer forever, regardless of wives, children, the appearance of productivity and normalcy? This was hard.

A reliable witness saw her smoking and told me. Now the knife was twisting. Her, with the breathing problems and doctor visits and asthma inhalers and lung pain. When this sort of thing happens, every cell in a parent’s body screams out: I TOLD YOU NOT TO MAKE THE SAME STUPID MISTAKES I DID! That was kind of the last straw.

“You cannot live with me if you’re going to do nothing,” I told her. “I can help you move in with your dad and you can do nothing at his house.” I may have said that louder and with more fuck-bombs than I’ve represented here. Then I went downstairs to my bathroom and cried on the bathmat for about three hours and went to bed. Then she packed a bag and left. I know I am a terrible person (see title).

She is living in one of the mother-in-laws in SeaFed’s Retirement Villa and Jazz Ranch.

(Pete said, “I want to do nothing and get a house!” Amen brother.)

I was getting text and email updates from SeaFed that were cheery in tone, like a Christmas newsletter from your neighbor that leaves a sour taste in your mouth because you know how many times the cops came out. SJ, everything is under control. It’s handled. I’ve got this parenting thing in the bag. Girl you crazy and now it’s SeaFed’s time to shine.

He was telling me how great everything was, and how he was in communication with Franny’s advisor and she only has a little bit of makeup work, and she’s feeling great and doesn’t even seem sick! She’s super on track to graduation! She’s making her own meals! This sounded familiar. “Of course we are in the honeymoon period,” he conceded.

SeaFed has this paradoxical tendency to try to scam people (passing off lemon cars, stealing from past employers, etc) while imputing the best motives in other people, like Franny who has turned up on his doorstep after not speaking to him for over a year and now is being the perfect angel baby. It’s probably good he claims to have quit doing crime, because I had never known a more credulous criminal.

I face-palmed after realizing that I’d chased her off to a situation where she had been rewarded with her own apartment, instead of living with a family who she’d be accountable to. On the other hand, me being straight with her about SeaFed has probably made her realize she cannot really rely on anything but her father’s access to money.

I finally replied to him and included her on the email as well, since she’s almost an adult and I wanted her to hear what I had to say. I told him I was in the same position a year ago. That she only had a little makeup work to do and she was reassuring me she would finish everything, but didn’t. Now she’s behind from junior year and her absences this year. I told him that she has up periods where she seems fine and then has a huge energy crash and misses school, and that she’s probably going to need to learn to balance her disabilities and self-care herself, since my advice and interventions didn’t seem to help.

I put her on blast and said that I had been contacting her about arranging to pick up her stuff and she was ignoring me, and that I was hoping she would get it out of here before xmas. SeaFed immediately made arrangements to pick up her boxes.

He said “thanks for the input” about the school and lying stuff and was probably too tired from patting himself on the back for his gold star parenting to say more. He asked me for her medical records (she needs to request them herself at her age anyway), and I told him this was the last time I was going to deal with him as her go-between, and that she knows how to get in touch with me if she needs anything, and muted the email.

She’s blocked me on Instagram and told Strudel we are Nazis and that we’re reading their texts (false, I’m just good at guessing the obvious). Also that she is never going to speak to me again.

Somewhere my terrible mother sat bolt upright in bed next to her 14th fiance and said, “AHA VENGEANCE IS MINE!”

In Other News

Let’s have something cheerier, like an update on my impending hysterectomy. I had to have something called a urodynamics test. This is to see what’s what with your bladder and how much urine you’re leaking if everything is normal (meaning uterus UP!), if any.

You come into a room with a fake toilet in it and you have to pee in the middle of a room into this fake toilet, which gives you a weird unhousebroken feeling.

Then they weigh that and see if there’s any pee left in your bladder via ultrasound. Then, Lidocane goes in your urethra, so you know something bad’s going to happen to that guy: camera catheter!

I saw the inside of my bladder.

“Oh god, gross,” I said. The nurse laughed.

“It’s not gross!” my doctor said. “It’s a great bladder. We’re going to turn to the left and see that hole?” Oh no ugh please stop “That’s where the pee comes in from your kidneys.” The hole opened and sphinctered itself shut again. “See, some pee just came in.”

Then we drove upwards (north??) and I saw the bulge of where my uterus was just chilling on my bladder, making a big-ass dent in it. It was like, enough already, lady. No wonder I never feel like I’m quite finished peeing.

Then I got a pessary jammed up to hold up my uterus to see how my bladder would function under normal conditions. This involved more catheters and a bunch of sensors. My bladder was filled slowly with mystery liquid that I forgot to ask about and was probably corny. I had to cough at points.

“Let me know when you first feel your bladder filling up. Ok, can you relax a little and not hold yourself up on the edge like that?”

“Sorry, I am trying not to run away,” I said. Her nurse thought I was hilarious at this point.

“Now I want you to tell me two more things: when you first feel like you have to go, and then, when you have to go SO BAD that if there were bears outside your tent you would still run out and pee.”


There was more coughing. “Are you leaking?” I wasn’t. Everything seems to behave when my bladder isn’t involved. She was trying to distract me by asking about Ehlers-Danlos in my family and who had a normal uterus and who had other problems.

“Um I think I’m at bears,” I interrupted.

“You’re at a gas station and it’s all dark and no one’s around! Do you get out of the car?”


WAS MY BLADDER GOING TO POP? I felt like she was Willy Wonka and we were on that hellboat. “There’s no earthly way of knowing/when I’m going to rupture one of your major organs…”

Finally she stopped, there was more coughing, and then she wanted me to pee to see how much would come out. I could not make myself pee into the catheter, so she took it out, and I went again, in the middle of a room as if that’s normal.

“Oh good, more volume than what I put it. It’s all working great.”

As I dressed I stared at this painting.

I went home and degranulated and felt very ill for the rest of the night. I’m guessing there was dextrose in the saline? I managed to look up the antibiotic she gave me and saw that it’s corny so I declined to take it.

She left the pessary in because it was a great relief to have my uterus in place for the first time in years, but it started dislodging at work the next day (of course). I was using a welding machine when I felt like I was going into labor. So much fucking pain. I pulled it out in the loo, wrapped it up, and threw it away since it obviously doesn’t fit right. It was a nice twelve-hour break.

Next I get to research which pain meds and antibiotics I can use if any. They won’t operate on me without preventive antibiotics, of course. Luckily I have Corn Allergy Girl’s great guides. They are willing to operate without installing meshes, which is good.

Today’s fun fact is that iodized salt contains dextrose

Thetans! Thetans errwhur!!

Weird week. I had really vivid nightmares all week, and night sweats, and just generally woke up a lot. I realized partway through the week, once cool lesions started opening up on my scalp and my lymph nodes started raising again, that I had gotten corn from somewhere. The list of symptoms is long, and it’s unmistakable now.

I’m discovering more and more that things I buy are often cut with or cross contaminated by something, even if there’s no listing. I’ve been reading about the adulteration of honey, and olive oil, and the practice of adding (corn-based) glycerin or HFCS to some red wines. This made me think about why, even if I was making every sauce and meal from ingredients that read “contains 100% whatever this is called,” I was still having adverse affects sometimes.

So this week it was tamarind paste–I happened to be at a Whole Foods, which carries a different brand than my home store. It said 100% tamarind paste so I bought it and added it to a chutney, which was nothing else but fresh herbs, a little safe seasoning, and whole dates. I made it to go with some onion pakoras that were a terrible fail in the fryer (not enough batter). I salvaged them by mounding them like drop biscuits and baking them on a high temp. Strudel and I ate the chutney for a couple of days with leftovers and she got sick too.

“How are you feeling?” I asked her when she came home. I had gotten a call from the nurse earlier that day, who said she had fallen, knocked her loose tooth out, and swallowed it.

“Well, pretty bad. And dizzy. Which is why I fell down. Also my throat is sore from swallowing my tooth.”

I poured out the leftover chutney.

At this point, I think my best bet is to compile a list of brands with the reactions they cause (and more importantly, brands that do NOT cause reactions) and make it accessible by phone for shopping (I’m about to pull the trigger on a new smart phone so it should do more than just make calls and send texts that my janky old grey mare has been reduced to).

I woke up this morning feeling super hungover (no booze for the past two days) and in theory I am supposed to be running in a 5K on Sunday. I felt marvelous last weekend when I had a houseguest and was wrangling bees. Now I have not been running enough and have been falling into bed exhausted. P. keeps asking me about the race and I am so demoralized right now I don’t even want to think about it. It felt completely attainable last week. Maybe things will turn around by Sunday.

Franny was hanging onto corn for the past few months. She told me she wanted to see how she did, to see if maybe just cutting out wheat and most dairy would do it. She had a pretty serious crash over spring break on a day when she treated herself to a giant Arizona Iced Tea “juice” (HFCS). She came home and tried to do the crossword puzzle in People, of all things, which could really be worked out by a moderately clever grey squirrel, and got frustrated and was going all dyslexic in the letter spaces. Then she wandered around the house for a while, and cried for what she admitted was “no reason.” She was in bed by 8 p.m. that night.

I used to get these odd narcoleptic crashes after lunchtime sometimes where if I was sitting my body would shut down as if I’d been drugged for about ten minutes. Things would literally start to shut in on me and go kind of black–aggressive unconsciousness. If we were on a road trip I could stop midsentence and then come back to life about ten minutes later, snapping awake as if I’d never been asleep, and finish my thought. I used to sleep on the commuter bus from Microsoft daily a few years ago.

So it was all kind of familiar. I talked to her about it the next day after she’d slept it off. “Sooo, I noticed you had a large corn drink earlier that day, and your crying for no reason and brainfog and tiredness seemed familiar….” Later that day she said she was going to try to deliberately cut out corn.

“I have no idea what I’m going to eat at my dad’s house now,” she lamented. “He already gives me a hard time. ‘Don’t you get tired of no variety?’ he says. My choice is to feel like crap or eat nothing sometimes!” She eats a lot of rice there.

This is…kind of frustrating, but kind of just silly. We have a ton of variety here, in the world of spices and flavorings, and every kind of seasonal veggie, and loads of gluten-free grains. As I’ve written about, we make gluten free breads or cookies sometimes. From what she describes, there’s not much chance for “variety” over there because ingredients that don’t work for her are in most meals. I don’t like that she’s being treated like she’s making a strictly moral dietary choice or is being a picky teenager for no reason. She feels her stepmother still has no understanding of what she’s dealing with. (“What is Celiac anyway?”)

P. and I put our heads together and asked if it would help to have some kind of grocery list. Her dad takes her to the store every Friday that he picks her up, which is nice, but expecting a 14-year-old to meal plan on the spot, not knowing what is in his pantry, is challenging. I didn’t really get good at weekly meal planning until I was in my late 20s (and finally had a fixed, consistent cashflow and budget that was barely above the poverty level I’d been living at for years, that was key).

So I sat down with her and made a short list of staples that she could prepare as sides with little fuss or cost, like baked potatoes, or putting fried eggs on rice. I winged a really simple beans and rice recipe for her. I told her to take Kind bars out of our pantry as backup. We tried to think of things her little sisters wouldn’t want to raid–not to be stingy, but so Franny’s “special” stuff would not get eaten, leaving her with things she could not eat.

Okay, okay, so I admit that I am often overzealous about hacking my kids’ lives so they will run better and smoother. It’s definitely an overreaction to having zero help with things when I was a child. Sometimes my brain goes, “Hey, you came out of it fine”…except those times that I was unsafe, or underfed, or hiding the fact that I needed medical attention because asking for a lift to the doctor was a bad idea. I am trying not to do everything for them. I know they will go out into the world and step on 28 rakes on the first day, but I want them to have a shot at realizing that there’s more than one way to solve a problem. And that it is okay to ask for help with things.

Anyway, I am happy that most of the time I can go for a run, especially in light of the fact that I was laying in bed most of the time a year ago, and that most of the time my scalp is not covered in lesions. (HA. There’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write. wtf) I’m happy that Strudel is kicking ass and taking names most of the time now as well.

P. and I “worked” the bees midweek to see what was happening in there and to see if the queens were out loose from their cages. We took the tops off the hives and straightened comb out as much as we could. I didn’t see any eggs yet, but if things are going well we should see larva tomorrow. I will bring my camera for that. I wouldn’t say we were in a rush on Tuesday, but the sun was setting and it was rather cold and miserable. It has been thrilling to see foragers bringing in their fat pollen legs on the nicer days this week. P. says he can feel his brain crinkling because there is so much to think about.

And, for posterity, here is Shan and I on Sunday in my yard after she spent the night. HER phone will deign to take pics. Unfortunately for her she was swamped with monitoring posts for her site/various social media on Saturday night, so I said HEY LET’S BE VEGETABLES. I turned on a few episodes of Flight of the Conchords and we just kind of giggled and had a glass of wine and didn’t talk exhaustively to 1 a.m. or anything. It is nice having the type of old friend who you cannot see for a year and a half and then just sit with them. I am very grateful to her. If she hadn’t gotten in my face on my blog in 2003 or so, I never would have gotten to know her. I get my head pretty far up my obtuse, increasingly introverted ass sometimes, so I am happy that some people have decided to B&E into my life.

Poop Diamond and a Tiny Open P.S.

An old friend of mine said something to me a few months ago that really resonated with me. Hard. She’s good about that sort of thing. She can see truths right through to their heart. I don’t think she would be friends with me if I was constantly delusional about everything, but once in a while she can give me a really good, loving shove that I need.

Sometimes I feel sorry for my friend (in a weird way), because I think 99% of the time she sees the truth of her own life so fricking clearly. Harsh-light-of-day clearly. I’ve never seen her let a bad relationship go on, or carry on lying to herself. She is her own Cassandra. Ok, maybe that’s a bad analogy, because she listens to herself. It’s better to have self-insight, I know, than the alternative.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to tell you what she said, but I had to shove that piece of coal up my ass for a while and see what came out. I was telling her about an unpleasant run-in I’d had with someone I used to know (I didn’t write about it–too much going on really). I was lamenting that I had let myself get into relationships in my twenties with a lot of people who were not so good for me, which, if I am being honest with myself, was a nice way of saying, “Were huge assholes who didn’t really respect or understand me.” I knew this was a pattern, and I’d had a nagging feeling there was a code I was not quite cracking there.

Some of the people I was attracted to were just not nice–one-sided relationships all the way. They would make me happy for a while. “Wow,” I’d tell myself. “They certainly have an interesting take on the world. Maybe I can learn how to be more assertive (or decisive, or less worried about what other people thought about me, or whatever) from them.” Oh, Narcissus, I could watch you watch yourself for hours! You really are the grooviest. I’d take in what they’d say and feel the little pings of red flags pop up. Then things would not go so well. That strong trait or traits they exhibited that I thought I could learn from would be turned on me once. Ouch. And then several more times. Well, we’re going to have to call it a day, then.

It made me nervous because I had seen my mother run through people like mad over the years–husbands, fiances, friends. Umm…her children. I thought maybe I didn’t really know how to be friends with people. Something was certainly wrong with me. Hadn’t I been told that over and over again growing up? And then again for years by my husband? I was “not funny.” I was “weird.” When I got up the courage to actually show my ex my writing it “did not make sense.” (Okay, that is certainly true sometimes.) Lucky for me I made some friends with people who were nice and not broken. These were also people I decided to pattern my grown-up self on as I moved through my twenties and beyond. And wow, I am still friends with most of them, in a pretty normal, mutually-accepting way.

So to get back to my friend and what she said–I was kind of lamenting the fact that this creep ex-friend had made a little pecking intrusion back into my life via an email, and why was I always so bad at relationships (present company I was moaning to excepted). Then she said it. “You know, SJ, I don’t want to pathologize you, but you really didn’t have the best examples for normal relationships growing up.”

Saying that this was a light bulb moment would be greatly oversimplifying things, but it rung, like a clear little bell, and then kept ringing and resonating. I’ve heard similar from other people, and I’ve told myself that, but that sentence was exactly what I needed to hear from that friend on that day. I kept getting into relationships with people who were like my mother: self-involved, mean, unaccepting. I tried to pull away from her multiple times in my teens and twenties only to have my ex really disapprove of that choice, because he was a mirror of her.

Reader, I married my mother.

For a long time I thought my ex was a sociopath, because of the lack of empathy and some of his interesting life and moral choices, but lately, after following one disjointed thought and coincidence and conversation scrap after another–you know that feeling where you are kind of chaining along to some kind of conclusion? Just me? I hope not. Anyway, I’ve been reading about narcissists and I think I may have a bingo there. Or the closest I’l get to a bingo, anyway. I could tell you dozens of anecdotes and how they relate to each symptom, and at some point I might, for my own entertainment.

Anyway, I tell you this because I like to say when I have realized things, even if I think I might reevaluate things later. But these feels pretty right; it feels like some information I was missing, or at least a label on things. The good news is that on my own over the years I’ve developed coping techniques that are pretty similar to what’s recommended for dealing with a narcissist. Keeping things very brief, like our last exchange before school let out, when he had to scold me one more time and I basically gave him no reaction.

His wife is now opening calling him a lazy asshole in front of the children. Girl, I am breaking the fourth wall, okay? If you can read this a) you are driving too close and b) you should probably read this. All of it. Good fuck’n luck comrade.

I do wonder how Franny’s doing over there for her month! P. sent her a care package and I’ve texted but it is silent. I’m hoping she’s tired and happy.

In Other News

“If you come in to this room without knocking I will make meatballs out of you.”

This is how we do it

Typical biweekly Friday night email from me…

From: SJ
To: SeaFed
6/1/12 7:46 p.m.
Subject: Franny is on the 8:05 [eom]

From: SeaFed
To: SJ
6/1/12 9:30 p.m.
Re: Franny is on the 8:05 [eom]

I don’t use a smart phone. You’ll have to text or call me regarding drop off.

From: SJ
To: SeaFed
6/2/12 8:00 a.m.
Re: Re: Franny is on the 8:05 [eom]

Can you send me your number? I switched carriers. Thanks. Sorry, I must have been mistaken about you using a smartphone in the middle of the day for non-business purposes.


This is when we were emailing about Franny being sick recently. I knew I wasn’t crazy (about this). These are from the same thread.

Now I’m just imagining him grabbing people’s smartphones throughout the day at random.

Hey how’s your life now that prohibition’s been lifted? Oh wait, we’ve always had liquor. But you would not think so due to the frantic hurricane-levels of preparation and looting at my QFC last night. I got wine and 99 cent shampoo, because no matter what I get, Strudel pours three-fourths of it down the drain on her first go.

“If it isn’t Captain Clip-On.”


Recently I asked Strudel what her favorite part of Christmas is. I almost Pocahonta’d my pants when she said “FEAST.” Franny did the same, asked me what I was making before she went off to her dad’s for her first leg of the Xmas Cycle. (I get her back on the 26th.) I was thinking of not cooking at all since it’s been such a disaster lately.

I don’t think I even wrote about Thanksgiving and how it went–I wrote about it right before things went all LEGAL DOCUMENT and OMG A CAMEO STARRING MY MOTHER etc.

I was thinking about bunking on cooking because I was the first one with the stomach bug that was going around, and I was still kind of weak on Thanksgiving. The girls INSISTED I cook, and I already had the ingredients, plus I invited my sister, so I figured I should go for it. Sadly, I had to cancel on her last minute because P. was vomiting ON Thanksgiving Day, and I did not want to bring her into to a den of germs.

So we rallied and started cooking while P. was laid up moaning.

The girls helped, which was awesome.

Just as we were sitting down to dinner, Franny left and started barfing. Later on Strudel pretended to be barfing. “Yes mother, I made it to the toilet, vomited neatly, then flushed,” which had much the same effect in that I ended up coddling her and made a little bed for her on my floor. About a week later Strudel caught the bug for real.

2011 can bite a nutsack really. I am stabbing this year in its back on the way out.

I decided to just do a breast this year, which is still a sizable chunk of turkey. Of course I brined it and it came out very well. I took a picture and was going to post it, but it was a little…hmmm.


Ah yes, that’s what legless turkey makes me think of.

There was also some sweeee potato casserole, something I have come to very late in life. Dunno why.

And I made a pumpkin cream pie, which was mostly eaten by the person who was well enough to eat it, me.

I redid Thanksgiving a few days later using leftover stuffing and turkey and fresh cranberries and potatoes and there was much rejoicing.

Back to Christmas, which I started with waaay up there. Now through all my ambulations you can maybe understand why I am hesitant to cook a “FEAST” for Christmas. But if I do, it will be duck.


A few days ago Strudel asked me about Christmas Steve. I had been telling the girls that I thought they were well-behaved enough this year that he might not even show up.

“I think YOU are Christmas Steve,” Strudel said.

“Mmmm,” I said noncommittally from the cheese log where I was perched.

“I think YOU do all the things.”

“Do you really think I would eat part of your gingerbread house and give your sister a trophy that says #1 SUCKY on it in Sharpie?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“I see.”

“Are you Christmas Steve?”

“Yes, I am,” I said. She cried a little then, but now she thinks it is very funny.

“It was YOU ALL ALONG,” she says.


Franny asked for guinea pigs for her birthday, and has been asking for them for months. I felt bad because as her birthday approached in October, her dad was serving me with paperwork to get back to 50/50. I did not want to be a dick about it, but I also did not want to be solely caring for her pets half of the time. I have lovely cats and chickens and other things that deserve my attention. My attitude is, guinea pigs are not my thing, but I will help and supervise to make sure they are getting proper care and nutrition.

So, after things had been settled court-wise, we took the plunge for Christmas.

This is Cloud and Misty. I am relieved a hundred times over that she did not name them Hammy and Porky as she originally threatened to. Misty, interestingly enough, is the name of one of my lawyers. Franny heard it and loved it. And now we have Legal Pigs. They are darling. I really wish I would have kept them as a child instead of hamsters, but they would not have done well with my mother’s laissez-faire attitude toward pets.

Speaking of fuzzballs.

Gertie hogs my cheez log. The girls have been with me for about a year now and they are doing really well. The kittens turned a year old in September but they still have a little of that adolescent thing hanging on. One thing that I did not really expect is how separate they all are. There will be no more than two cats on my bed at any given time. Gertie is like Nietzsche in that she will follow us around and see what we are up to. Matilda will sleep on my shoulder at night. Mere is still kind of her flaky temperamental self, but does well as long as I don’t pet her below the shoulders. She’s got that cat-sensitivity thing.

Someone stole the ladder, so we decorated the pear tree this year. Tres Charlie Brown, no?

What is happening in legal doings? I will tell you. Last time we spoke, I had just emerged from a courtroom, where I felt like I had been put on that life-draining rack Wesley ended up on in The Princess Bride. Since our next orders were to mediate, I thought things would be kind of calm since then. NOPE.

SeaFed’s lawyer sent an email saying that he had been “forced to withdraw” from SeaFed’s case. There is some speculation that it is less money-related, and more personality-related. I did not blog about this, but as we were standing in the hallway post court hammering out details of the parenting plan, his lawyer said to mine, “Your client is being VERY cooperative in this.” SeaFed would not move on anything.

At first I read this as a condescending head-pat, but now I wonder. Of course I said nothing and kind of forgot about it, since there were bigger fish to fry, and we were busy frying them.

I also discovered that SeaFed had been spraying my lawyer with emails, which she was ignoring, since he has counsel who should be contacting us for anything crucial. Then the withdrawing-attorney thing came out. Then last Wednesday SeaFed started hammering my lawyer and cc’ing me. He was threatening legal action over some confusing language in the temporary plan. He is absolutely a cornered animal right now.

I know I shouldn’t be at this point, but I was pretty shocked how nasty his tone was and how pointless and inappropriate his questions were. My lawyer advised me that this is a common tack to run up the other party’s bill. I implored her to shut him down and begin ignoring him. I think he is going to be a nightmare on a pro se basis as this continues.

And there was one other thing I did not tell you, because I did not realize it until a day after court when I got all my paperwork and read it. SeaFed was suing me for attorney’s fees in the motion to modify the parenting plan. As if I was just opening that frivolously!!

So, I have a couple of theories…behold the crinkling of my tin foil hat. SeaFed retained his lawyer to fight child support, and his lawyer suggested the best way to smash child support was to make a motion go back to 50/50 time. At the same time, of course, I was moving to modify the parenting plan, so I assume his lawyer hung on for that. Perhaps SeaFed did not see that as my next logical step. Attorney withdrew because of lack of funds, because SeaFed gambled everything on me losing the motion to modify. Or, he withdrew because of jackassery. It will remain a mystery.

This is the worst cat-and-mouse game ever. I am invisible and the cat has bells glued all over it.

The next move is to mediate. Our deadline is by the end of January, and the mediator is not even available until after the end of this month. She has requested that we mediate separately, and she is a guardian ad litem with training in child psychology so she wants to speak with Franny separately as well. This seems hopeful.

I have a bad feeling SeaFed will dig his heels in and not move on anything here, which will push us to trial next year. What’s he got to lose if he is going pro se? Or perhaps they will mortgage his house or he will beg his father for money.

The next thing also is I have a trial date on January 13 that I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT in all this–child support hearing. I was sent the paperwork alerting me that the trial is approaching and the prosecuting attorney’s office wanted me to sign all the motions and child support worksheets. If we both sign, it’s just settled.

Since he has not submitted one jot of requested financial information, I assume he is not going to sign the paperwork either. They have all his financial information from their research. I submitted up-to-date paystubs and bank statements and signed it all and sent it back. I reckon what will happen is that I will be made to show up on January 13th and it will go through automatically, really. The prosecuting attorney’s office had already decided there was justification to modify the child support order from $0, and now they have appended the recent court actions granting the right to change the parenting plan. I am hoping this will be the most in and out, non-teary court experience I have had.

The potential amount I am being awarded monthly is $340. I want to tell you I think all of this is over $340 a month. I cannot help but wonder what his wife thinks in all this. How would you feel if your spouse/partner had a child who someone else took care of most of the time and took care of 90% of the financial stuff, and not due to an agreed arrangement?

Anyway, that amount should cover her food, really, which will be a great boon. No complaints. It gets bumped again next year when she turns 12, and that should be it until she’s 19. We should “break even” on court costs and legal fees about two years into child support, but the knowledge that there will be official paperwork in place keeping everything straight is priceless.

Whatcha Gonna Do When You Get Out Jail

On Thursday I talked to SeaFed, Franny’s father. This is the closest I will come to doing any kind of intervention, and it’s for my kid and not really having anything to do with the person who has a problem. I laid out what I knew, which added up to me not feeling comfortable with Franny being unsupervised over at my mother’s house.

It’s always awful talking to him. I always feel like I have ten seconds to make my pitch before he rings the gong. Of course we would rather chew our respective legs off than have a conversation anyway, so there is the knowledge that if one of us calls the other for A Talk it is some serious motherfucking shit.

“Okay,” he said. “I won’t tell your mom you said anything, I will just be delicate when I bring it up.”

“Don’t be DELICATE,” I said. “You didn’t hear this on craigslist, you heard it from ME. Shout it from the rooftops! Something is wrong right now! I don’t want to see Franny in a car crash or left alone. That is all I care about.”

“Alright, fine, no unsupervised visits for now. I’ll speak to your sister Friday.”

I have no idea if he did or did not. I heard from my sister a bit via text today, but she was so anxious over the last few days about making waves with my mom I don’t want to get up her butt.

One thing that got to me a bit was that SeaFed was so apologetic about my mother, and it wasn’t even that, exactly. I just wanted to say, I don’t know her anymore, even. All I care about is Franny. Which I pretty much did say, I think.

How much does it suck to get a person who basically hates you on your side? I wonder if he thinks about when we were divorcing and he asked her for an analysis of his habits with alcohol for the court and she wrote that she thought he was an out-of-control alcoholic. He did not see that coming, did he? BACKFIRE.

I have this fantasy that my sister being pissed at my mother and my ex not letting Franny go over there will be a wake up call. I would like to see complete rehab happen. Who knows what will happen, though.

This is weird, I wish it wasn’t happening. Just like a lot of life.




Sup bangstoast. I played Munchkin most of the afternoon with this one.

Conquering Fear and Stealing From My Own Dang Store

Like any professional melodramist, I like to take my periods of oppression in one-month chunks. October was oppressing me. BOO! October is over! Yay! Between three birthdays that month and volunteering for the LGBT Film Festival here, and making too many plans…I was just tired.

I know November is the direst month for a lot of people since we are sliding choadfirst into the holidays, but I like it. I am making a giant Victorian Thanksgiving, a holiday that, of course, did not actually exist, so if I don’t tear space and time I will be sorely disappointed. And I am making goose, so it will be extra broken (but crazy delicious).

Since dispatches from this blog are often on an (extreme) time delay, I will tell you I have been thinking about being dumped. I realized that I never had been as an adult. Lice at 31, dumped at 32. What kind of late bloomer am I?

It finally, in my usual extremely-slow grind toward self-awareness of any kind way, made me remember getting dumped in high school. My freshman year a really nice and cute boy saw me in a play and decided I was the bomb-ass rip. I have fallen in love with people on stage, it happens. He asked me out and we hung out during the cast party. I was in a daze, coming down from that weird situation with the tres sophistique older man and happy to have a new distraction.

He was a football player. It was not okay for the cute sophomore football player to be dating the weird goth girl. Some other girls I knew as popular began smiling and saying hello in the hallway, which lasted for about a week until he called me up and broke up with me for telling people we were having sex (we were not, nor was I telling people that). Recently I thought about that feeling of being misunderstood and rejected so many years ago. It feels the same! I feel like laughing when I type that. I think I had experienced the entire range of emotions by the time I was 13. I am slightly more sophisticated now, perhaps. Sometimes.

But you know what? I would rather be repeatedly heartbroken rather than married like I was before. Cold comfort, I suppose.

In other news, I have eight weeks of cooking left, then I should have some kind of crap pile that can be formed into a cook book. I’ll be done right around Christmas. I think since I am in the home stretch with it I can allow myself to feel slightly more confident. I have experienced months of worry about failure, but I look at my cooking schedule and what I’ve done so far, and it is not that grueling for someone like me.

I’ll tell you what, though, after so many months of sieving and mincing, and cooking every single component from scratch, I have become even more of a terrifically insufferable snot. Which I will try to keep to myself, except to say, I picked up a book on the library which is all about meat, an unapologetic carnivore’s screed, if you will, and was very disappointed to see it is not indexed AT ALL, but particularly the types of “odd” meats consumed.

I dismissed it outright when the author’s recipe for rabbit called for “getting the rabbit pre-butchered in convenient little chunks.” Of course you are extolling the virtues of rabbit, and why-does-it-not-supplant-chicken-all-together-ing if you have not parted one out yourself. It’s not rocket science, but that silver membrane that adheres to the saddle…tricky. Chickens are like the Fisher-Price of butchering.

Also today I am feeling grateful that I have been watching the fallout of crazy just a few clicks away from me for a few months now. It led to one of those banal realizations. I used to accept that SeaFed was going to present me as crazy to others, as a tool of putting me in a box (all ex-wives are crazy, AMIRITE) and bringing people over to his side (“he had to move away, have you heard about his crazy ex-wife?”). C’est la vie, all that matters is how I am actually living my life, yes?

But after seeing someone else act crazy, really breaking down down their motives and behavior, and strenuously avoiding interacting with it in almost every capacity, I realized that the lie or perception becomes power, in a perverse way. This is why I get texts that say things like “I’m picking her up and this his how it is, SEE?” Missives from a person who lacks control and understanding–a desperate attempt to keep the raft stable for five minutes, to bark like you are a bigger dog.

I have not heard anything lately about his desire to move Franny to where he lives (in spite of her objections). I am hoping other people who think I am crazy talked some sense into him so he would drop the pissing match. So, sadly, my hope is that I am too crazy to mess with.

What Don’t You Fucking Understand?

I don’t usually feel I need to justify anything I write here, but I need to say something. I feel like I have to follow up. I have some more pieces to the puzzle that was this weekend. I have to write this down. When I went to court years ago, the fact that I wrote about the few good things, the fact that I used humor and put a positive spin on my situation was used against me. Writing about the bad times means that people see the ugly underbelly, which I was not totally ready for. It was too close–I was living it.

It also begs the question of why a person tolerates the terrible things they are writing about. Reader, I was not ready for that judgment, and I was not ready for the changes I needed to make. Not until 2003, but you know that story already.

Now I am letting it out, for good or for bad. I need to tell you. I know there is a sea of people out there who are going through this too. I need someone to hear what divorce with kids can be like, what this pointless bullshit tug of war is like. I hope you do better than I did, but I think I am doing well now. Time is healing.

So Franny walked into my house last night, having been dropped off at the appointed hour after missing a day of camp for really no good reason. This is about as corny as I get around here, but I will tell you that she walked in BEAMING, like glowing, and I saw she was so happy to be home, and it seemed like all the kermitflailing from this weekend was pretty fricking moot. She made a beeline towards me and we all squeezed her and Strudel immediately started gabbling at her.

I was so relieved when I saw she was okay and not really upset. During his long harangue on the phone Sunday night I discovered that Franny is “very unhappy at my house” and because I did not reply to his first email saying that he wanted me to pick her up in West Seattle at a party she “thought that I was injured or sick” and that he was “thinking really hard about child support and changing her living situation.” Perhaps I will think really hard about my student loans and see if they get paid off.

I will confess to you that it really, really hurt me to think that Franny was secretly unhappy here, or that she was worried about me in any way this weekend.

“Franny,” I said, tentatively, “were you worried about me when I did not reply to the email from your dad about changing your drop off time?”

“No,” she said. “I know if something was wrong, P. would call us.”

Knife turned against me. I could hear the unspoken, “You are a bad mother” in his words. I told him I heard him use that manipulative tone on dozens of people over the years, and it was not possible for him to guilt me into agreeing to anything.

Later I took her to see the new house and we had a serious talk on the way there. I felt like a shitheel asking her if she was unhappy, and would she like to talk or change anything? I felt very “I just thought you should know” and I despise being that person, but what to do? How to get to the bottom of these things? No one else will.

Franny began crying and screaming furiously in the backseat. She really flipped her Pop-Tarts for a second. Nothing makes her madder than having words put into her mouth. “When he lies about what I say, I feel so used,” she said.

Now he proposes that she move to where he lives for middle school. He is even being kind enough to not charge me child support. He is trying to backroom negotiate with me, in spite of the fact that he has already completely broken the parenting plan.

He was kind of slurring and not tracking the conversation well on Sunday (“What are you talking about? What does that mean?” he kept saying) and I assumed he was taking her to some kind of family barbecue/party thing, but I found out he was screaming at me from a grown up bash, and he probably was drunk. I kind of wish I would have recorded it and set it to music so he could have his own Bale Out moment. I had a feeling his wife was not around since he is not allowed to swear at home.

Anyway, as usual I am ha ha deflect everything with humor, but I am concerned. I am not scared, but concerned. I am afraid that since he has seen his sister recently that she has given him some of her infamous advice, but I could be very wrong. I would be shocked if his wife wanted him to throw thousands at dragging me back into court to call me a whore, dogfucker, satanist, whatever. I think this is much ado about nothing and I can forgive the drunken blowup. As P. said, “It must be hard not to have a reverse gear.”

I am sad I am going to miss the Capitol Hill Block Party due to packing, especially my BFF Atmosphere. This seems appropriate today.

News I Have News Pay Attention OK

I started a new group blog over at The Queen’s Scullery. Check it out, Victorian nerdery ahoy. You are invited, if you want to be.

Life without wheat is going okay. We made a run at this a year ago, and sort of backslid on it. In theory, Franny’s father is taking this more seriously now after the hospital thing. In reality, there are cracks in the system, of course. Franny saw pics of my English pudding that I made for Christmas, and she said she had some at her dad’s house, but said it did not look as nice as mine.

“Really? Pudding?” I said. “Did you get a stomach ache?”

“No,” she said.

“That’s good.”

“Oh, there’s something else though, Mom. The other day he was trying to talk me into eating this granola bar thing. He said, ‘Come on, a little won’t hurt.”

“Well,” P. said. “Every time anyone tries to talk you into eating wheat, offer to kick them in the nuts first, so they can be in pain with you.”

“If it is a lady, offer an eye poke,” I said.

Franny spends a fair amount of time now mourning her departure from gluten. She sighs over things she cannot eat, and we are finding the balance between making substitutes, like gluten-free scones (bleah) and just eating other things. She was bonkers over some shrimp and spaghetti squash I made, because it was “just like noodles” as if we do not have soba and rice noodles on the regular.

I am very excited to get back into our regular non-holiday routine tomorrow, which includes me being done working my second job. Yeah!

Death and Technical Writing

Yesterday was pretty weird. Imagine me saying that like Larry David: “Pretty preeetty weird.” It started off normally enough, considering that I had just scheduled yesterday’s job interview at 5 p.m. the night before. I was hustling to fill out an application, gather writing samples, and defuzzing my favorite interview shirt. I was mentally girding myself to speak with five people in a three-hour gantlet, finishing with the recruiter, which kind of made it six. It was exhausting, but I feel like I made a connection with all five of the people, including the person I would be a direct report to. They may feel differently. And HO SNAPPLE I have another interview tomorrow, which also involves writing. I am not ready to tell you about my retail training yet, but I will soon.

As I was walking out and daydreaming about a nice glass of wine as I dematerialized into a puddle on the floor, I noticed I had a message. Franny’s grandpa called, and I figured he wanted to snag her for the weekend. It was not what I expected: Franny’s grandmother died yesterday morning.

I have never written about her. She was my mother-in-law for eight years. When Franny was one or so, they announced that she had early-onset Alzheimer’s. She was still in her 50s. I did not know the woman who became confused, and then later frequently violent, as she was described to me. I knew only a woman who was quiet and gentle. They say at the end she was refusing food and water, and ripping out her IV. On some level she was done.

I returned the call and got Franny’s dad instead of who I expected. “Want me to bring Franny?” I said. “I’ll be nice.”

I brought a big bottle of scotch and the kid. We talked about politics and drank and talked about old times. We tried to remember where we got the clawfoot tub that lived in our backyard for so many years. It was pretty weird having the new wife there, though in reality I am the odd one out now. Probably in the end she will have more years with them than I did. SeaFed always seems subdued now, older, diminished in his power.

It was nice somehow, though. It felt like an old family gathering. Any annoyance I felt at SeaFed was always put on hold at those times, because I always enjoyed talking to his parents. Franny’s grandfather mentioned that Auntie Jaguar is coming up to see him and that we should all get together. I hugged him before I left and he said, “You can’t get away, you can’t choose your family.” That and his mention of having a big reunion made me realize that the past, when we were all together was some of the best times in a way. I always clicked with him in a really perfect way and I felt like I was his third child, not the feckless one or the bossy do-gooder, but the prickly, funny one.

SeaFed had a couple of moments where he actually said some nice things to me, about how I was with his mom. About how I was the first to cry when they announced she was sick and the first to get up and hug her, and how that meant a lot to her. Stupid starchy WASPs. Of course that’s what you do. You cry and cry until you’re all empty, and then you start over. I think his new wife fits in better than I did–she seems nice and calm. Franny’s other sister sidled over to Franny gently and stroked her hair and face, whereas Strudel jumps on Franny and says “DO YOU WANT TO PLAY FUCK YEAH CAPS LOCK!” Probably Auntie Jaguar likes having complete bossy-control over his family now. Franny tells me stories about being disciplined by Auntie Jaguar that makes her jaw clench as she tells them.

Sometimes I feel a lot of regret in leaving that family, but still not SeaFed. I think about if I would have stuck around so I could have reaped the benefits of all that time and love and history. It was being loved, even at times I was terribly uncooperative and contrary. But having SeaFed around…it’s like living with a donkey in your house so you can hear the bells on its harness tinkle sometimes.

Franny in mourning
stays away from school today
autumn leaves swirl down