writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

Hold the pose

It’s a rainy Halloween here in Northern California, my legs still slightly damp from the walks to and from my biweekly therapy appointment, my lap occupied by Liam the cat, my arm reaching across the chair to tap this out. Liam settled in almost immediately upon my return, this after a morning of lap occupation interrupted by said appointment, that after a night of nestling next to me. I am the chosen one. Or maybe I am just particularly warm. I am definitely in slight pain from the awkward position necessary to both type and allow a cat to lounge on my legs.

My week has consisted of cat naps on laps, power yoga, and research for projects that have at least a month until fruition. I have experimented with observing my reactions to myself and others without judgment, an illuminating process. I have held myself in various permutations of the warrior pose, legs trembling. I have eaten tortillas with cheese and guacamole while leaning over the kitchen counter, not wanting this same lap cat to forage for people food, as he is wont to do. In other words, I haven’t done a whole lot but maintain my existence and provide a place for cats to sleep. That and cook a few meals.

Tonight the boy will head for the streets with his dad, though he also wants to be home to watch the reactions of those who brave the walk from our fence to the front porch. He’s set up various scary scenes out front, the most frightening of which is a motion-sensitive skeleton that pops up, growls, and says, “Welcome to our graveyard” against a background of spooky noises. I know it would make me jump.

Maybe I need something to shake me up, something less jarring than a growling pop-up skeleton, something more pleasant than almost getting hit by a pickup truck (as happened earlier this morning as I was crossing Dwight). Maybe I need to stir the pot. Maybe I need you. Or you. Or you, there in the back. Yes --


I’m fine on my own for now. Besides, I’m not really alone. I’ve got my husband, the boy, and a houseful of animals to keep me warm. And for all of that, I feel very lucky.

mage of Liam on my lap by me.
Image of our jack-o-lantern by my husband.

This happened once

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of mums from the
Edmonton Journal.

Keep track of your goblins

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

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

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

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

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


While still above ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The boy in his Halloween disguise.
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