Mental Health

Let’s talk about something a little dark and frustrating, today; something that usually goes along with chronic illness, but is its own chronic thing too, not to be outdone: mental illness. Because, don’t get me wrong, you can be drug down, without accompanying physical pain, by mental illness alone. You can be knocked right the fuck down, right where you stand, and thrown to the carpet, never to get up again…well, at least for several days, weeks, or even months. Oh, and mental illness can be physically painful too. Exhaustion, aches, pains and the whole nine yards, of course.

 

 When I’m depressed, I take my perch on the corner of the couch. I usually don’t move much, so I tend to get a lot of super cute pics of my cats…like this one.

When I’m depressed, I take my perch on the corner of the couch. I usually don’t move much, so I tend to get a lot of super cute pics of my cats…like this one.

I have a picture-perfect life. It’s the same thing we say to celebrities who claim mental illness, exhaustion, or other mental health issues. How can they feel bad, when they have it so good, right? That’s the point. It doesn’t matter how good you have it. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what you have around you; it’s what’s going on inside you, that matters.

 

This is hard for me to confess, or talk about, and it’s hard for most people with mental health issues to talk about. But, it’s important for people to talk about! It’s time to be aware of these things, instead of pretending that it’s not a “thing,” or that I just get a little down sometimes. Yeah, I do; but it’s a lot more than that. Let’s get real with what it really is.

 

Here’s what I didn’t know: I’m sick in the head, too. I’ve been sick in the head for longer than I’ve been sick in the body. I thought that being sick in the head was a thing that I’d acquired from being sick in the body, that my swings into depression, and my anxiety, were caused by my failing body, and the frustrations that it brought me. Sure, those things help bring on a cloud of depression. Sometimes, the heavy weighted blanket that it throws onto my body make it impossible to get up off the couch, even when I have to pee so badly that it feels like I may die if I don’t move.

 

But, I’ve learned that I have had these issues all along. I’ve stifled every real emotion that I’ve ever had, except for anger. I’ve refused to feel hurt. I’ve refused to feel love. I’ve refused to feel anything. I got really good at keeping feelings locked away, and pretending they don’t exist. I’m a good robot. So now, I fall into fits of depression and anxiety, almost at random, rather than to deal with feelings. It’s unbearable. It’s deeply painful, and it’s frustrating for me. I can never predict these sojourns into darkness, and I feel like a terrible burden to those I love.

 

For those who’ve never experienced depression, for me it’s as if the world stops, but just for you. There’s literally no reason to do anything. Nothing makes you want to move from the spot you are in. It’s as if you are almost paralyzed by immobility. I could be dying of thirst, but not go to the kitchen to get a beverage. It feels as if I’ve atrophied all my useful muscles. It’s as if my mind works, but my body won’t do what it’s supposed to do, and I don’t care about that problem, not enough to solve it. Worse, I can look around and see things I would like to do, like dust, vacuum, or otherwise take on tasks, but can’t be bothered to do them. Thus, I begin to feel guilty for leaving them to others. The same is true for tasks I should do for myself, like getting dressed, exercising, or even brushing my hair. The guilt compounds the depression, which makes the whole situation worse, and the cycle compounds. It’s a terrible cyclical situation. It’s as if the Puritans are there with the stones, slowly crushing you to death, but you are doing it to yourself.

 

As if that’s not enough though, you throw anxiety into the mix, which jumps in at random times. For anxiety, you just feel like you are dying. Suddenly, there isn’t enough air in the room, then in the world, for you to breathe. Sometimes, I get dizzy first, or my legs start shaking uncontrollably, but that’s just “mild” anxiety. I don’t take medication for my anxiety because it doesn’t mix well with my pain medication. It can cause side effects like death, so it’s generally not considered a good idea. So, I get to suffer through anxiety attacks by just waiting for them to pass. I can try to talk myself through them by gently reminding myself that there is enough air, and I’m having an anxiety attack. This usually doesn’t help. A person having an anxiety attack knows they are having an anxiety attack, and intellectually knows there is enough air. It doesn’t help them feel like they are breathing it. Alas, I just have to wait until it’s over and I can breathe normally, again, leaving me exhausted and numb.

 

My last visit to the land of darkness has been the worst that I’ve ever experienced. I can always feel it coming on, and I do everything I can to keep it at bay. I try to bury myself in routine, exercise more, take on a project, pretend that I can’t hear the little voice in my head that says, “why bother, everything is useless.” Nothing helps.

 

This time, the darkness overtook me to the point that I imagined what it would be like to forget suffering through it any longer. I’ve always seen through to the other side. I’ve always kept my son in my sights, even when the voice in my head says, “you don’t matter to him, to anything, to anyone.” I’ve always said to myself that my loss would destroy him. This time, I was able to rationalize that I didn’t care because I’d be gone. It was a horrible time. The moment I realized that I’d put my son aside, I knew that I had to tell Bryon that this wasn’t just a typical dark patch.

 

Around the same time, I had a panic attack, in my bed, at random, in the middle of the night. I haven’t been able to sleep in my bed, since. I can barely go near my bed. I’ve been sleeping on the couch. That is mental illness. My husband, tucking me in at night, kissing my forehead, and asking me what he can do to help me feel comfortable, and helping me think of strategies to get me back to bed, is awareness that we don’t have to be in this alone.

 

 Not a super flattering picture of me, but Bryon took it. He said he just missed the moment when all three cats were sleeping on me. Told you, I don’t move much when I am on my depression-spot!

Not a super flattering picture of me, but Bryon took it. He said he just missed the moment when all three cats were sleeping on me. Told you, I don’t move much when I am on my depression-spot!

But, more importantly, we need to be aware of just how hard it is to find appropriate help. Finding a new therapist out here has been an uphill battle. I’ve been white-knuckling my depression and anxiety since we got here, which was a terrible idea, obviously. So, I promised to find a new doctor, especially since this last bad patch has been so rough.

 

I had only one requirement: I wanted a woman. I had a preference for a close drive. Anyone with severe depression, which I’d recently sunken into, knows that sometimes, even brushing your teeth can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Alas, I couldn’t picture getting myself motivated to make a 30-minute trek. Five minutes seemed more reasonable. But, I’d compromise if I had to.

 

Eight phone calls later, I’d realized that I’d have to make a concession to accept any doctor with a pulse. That’s right, there are NO female therapists within a 30-minute drive who were accepting new patients. None. Zero. How is that possible? Let alone therapists that take my insurance. With local hourly rates at up to $200, how are we still shouting at people to “get help,” when they feel helpless, or to “reach out?” Where? To who?

 

I’m lucky to have a support system at home to help feed me, and make sure I’m meeting basic life-sustaining needs when I’m in the throes of a rough patch. I’m also lucky to have someone to talk to about nonsense when I just feel like babbling. I’m lucky that when I confessed to feeling like I was afraid of myself, my support system held my hand and guided me over the hump. Even more, I’m lucky that, even without insurance support, we can shoulder the burden of the bill for mental health care. But, I’m frustrated at how difficult it is to find.  

 

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has their demons. There’s a little crazy in all of us. All of us has a tale to tell, and a little weird to let out. We’re all messed up in our own way, and we all manage our weirdness. We all have coping techniques, and they all work for us; mine were working just great, until one day, they just didn’t, anymore. I was a driven, successful woman, with an education, career, spouse and a child. Then, I got sick. My life slowed down, and I lost control. Everything fell apart. Everything came unraveled and my marble sack spilled. I haven’t been able to put it all back together, ever since. It was always in there. I just need new coping strategies and some more therapy.

 

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, or to confess your crazy. It’s always okay. Pulling yourself together, no matter how much, is a victory. Being aware of one another and being kind is how we heal wounds. Go out there, be aware, and be nice!

Oh…and PS: No matter how dark it gets, KEEP LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT AT THE OTHER SIDE! Don’t give up fighting!

How to Humiliate Yourself at a Tattoo Shop

I did this thing, on Saturday.

 My new clover - because Crimson and Clover is my jam

My new clover - because Crimson and Clover is my jam

I’d been meaning to do it for a while. I’ve put it off more than once because it’s kind of a big step to get your first visible tattoo. I guess you can often see my back tattoo peeking out of my clothes, but I can’t see it. I can see my peacock one coming out of my dresses, but it’s barely. This was different.

 

It wouldn’t have been a story without it being embarrassing or weird in some way though, right?

 

My artist was super cool, chill and relaxed, which was awesome. And, I loved the shop I went to. So far, I have had an artist I really loved, a shop I really liked (mostly), and now both. Perfect. This place didn’t play super loud music, which was so nice. I know that makes me sound like a stick in the mud; but tattoo shops tend to have the music so loud that it’s almost painful. When you are sitting there for hours on end, and you can’t even have a conversation with the dude who is stabbing you in the body, it’s both awkward and physically uncomfortable. Plus, this place had private spaces, with doors! Doors to hide body parts! Once you’ve had your entire side exposed to third street in Redondo Beach, you’ll appreciate the small pleasure this affords the forty-year old woman who may not have anything to hide…but wants to.

 

I may have mentioned in the past, that I have a chronic illness, no? Haha, right? And, that when this illness flares, I still occasionally need to take opiate pain relievers? This is relatively rare, but when I do need to take them, it really messes with my digestive system, thanks to bile salt diarrhea, a side-effect from gall bladder surgery years ago. I have to take special medicine for that too, so that I don’t immediately expel everything I eat, within instants of eating it, directly through the back entrance. It’s such a joy. But, being overly blocked from opiates, and double-blocked from those meds is a recipe for disaster. Obviously, this is a delicate balance.

 

About two weeks ago, I had a headache. I don’t even remember how many, enough that I felt better over the course of the few days it lasted. It wasn’t a ton, but it wasn’t one or two. It always takes 2-3 days of a steady dose. All it takes is looking at them though, and I am backed up! Thankfully, my system was back on track without the assistance of any laxatives or intervention. UN-thankfully, it got back on track the day before my tattoo appointment, and it announced its reintroduction to the world with lots and lots of gas.

 

So. Much. Gas.

 

If there were appropriate words to describe this smell to you, I would. But, let’s just be accurate, and maybe that will be description enough. A person’s bowel hasn’t moved for two weeks. Nothing. Not a peep has been heard. Not even a little guy has sneaked past the gate. So, it’s two-week’s-worth of old food, and old stool that got caught up behind the guard; all of it has just been sitting there festering. That’s what it smells like. It’s not an eau du toilette.

 

I had to be there at 2 pm. By 2 pm, I’d lost about 8 lbs. and gone down a full pants size. No kidding. Does everyone’s belly stretch this much? I was hoping that I was “done,” by the time I got to the shop, and had done everything I could to assure it to be so, without “stopping” the whole process back up again. Balance, people. Balance! Soooo delicate!

 

I’d stopped eating by 10 am. I was barely drinking. By the way, this is excellent advice for getting a tattoo. Go in starving and dehydrated. You definitely won’t pass out. Totally ignore me. If this were my first tattoo, I would be a total idiot. Even for my fifth, I was a total idiot.

 

Anyway, I was doing fine. I was nearly finished, when we started chatting about what the rest of his day looked like. Apparently, they’d had a Halloween special, wherein he’d been doing black cats for $40. His whole day was little black cats. I thought it was cute. We’d had such a chill and cool session, he said he’d do one really quick, if I wanted.

 

Sure. Why not?

 

“Because, you are a ticking time bomb, woman!” says my belly.

 

So, my arm’s all done, and while he’s setting up for the cutest black cat ever, I swing by the bathroom to pee. I’m still feeling totally fine, but as soon as I made room for the gas to move down by emptying my bladder, apparently, all bets were off. I farted myself out of the bathroom, and hoped no one would go in after me. Yep, I stunk up the bathroom at the tattoo shop. How classy of me.

 

In my infinite wisdom, I’d chosen my thigh for my cat, and worn overalls to the shop. In my defense, I didn’t know I’d have to take them off, but I also could’ve chosen somewhere else for the cat. Still, the minute, and I do mean the instant I pulled them down and my artist got near my thigh, the world’s tiniest but stinkiest fart escaped. Don’t think I wasn’t trying so hard to hold it in that I was visibly sweating. To his credit, he pretended nothing happened, and I died on the floor.

 

If there’s a God, he decided that wasn’t enough torture for me. He felt that this was an amusing little play he’d created, and wanted to see it play out a little longer. So, while my ass was stuck in this dude’s face for the next half an hour, he forced my stomach to cramp, over and over again. My poor but cheeks worked harder than they’ve ever worked before. I felt horrible.

 

Literally. I was afraid I would die of holding it in. If ever there were a possibility of that happening, it was that day. And, I kept picturing the moment that I couldn’t hold it any longer, when it just burst out. The artist would be startled by the sonic boom, the lines would go crazy on my tattoo. He’d pass out and die from the stench. I’d die the thousand deaths of humiliation. We’d be found by housekeeping days later, the smell still lingering. The horror.

 

Then, it occurred to me: this dude’s face is so close to my ass right now that he can visibly see when I’m clenching, and when I’m relaxed. Please, oh please, let him think I’m clenching because he’s hurting me. Oh, the humiliation of that moment.

 

When it came time to pay, I texted Bryon about the tip he thought I should leave. I ended up tipping him almost 40%. I justified it because he was cool, did a good job, and I want to have a good artist to back to…and, because I farted in his face. Anyone’s face who I fart in, deserves a good tip. I think I’ll probably still go back to him next time. I figure the amazing tip will overshadow the fart memory, right?

 

Halloween!

WARNING: RAMBLING and NON-PROOFREAD POST AHEAD! DONE OVER THE COURSE OF A VERY BUSY DAY J

 

Collin still loves Halloween. He loves dressing up, and he loves the candy (of course). I think he likes getting home and sorting it into piles, more than anything else. I’m not sure if that’s an autism thing, or just a Collin thing. The other day, he broke my heart, when he said, “Next year, I’m probably a little too old to go, so this is it, huh?”

 

Oh, my baby, you can go out trick or treating until you are the kid at the door that the grown-up judgey-lady passing out candy rolls her eyes at you. In other words, until you are forty. Then, you can dress up with your kids. You are never too old for Halloween.

 

We were all set to have a great Halloween, and because he loves it so much, I went all out decorating the porch. Years ago, I went to a social event on General’s row at Fort McArthur. It was in a Colonel’s house, but nonetheless, I was very impressed with how “decorated,” it was for the season. Literally, every space had some kind of seasonal décor. She had a seasonal cozy for the toaster, for cripes’ sake! Don’t get me wrong, that much effort is decidedly not me. And, when I asked her how she had the time and effort to go this far and do this much to beautify her home, she said she considered it her job to be a wife, everything from getting up before her “hubby” to make his morning coffee, to making his house a home. Gag.

 It’s sickening how adorable this is, right? If it makes it less adorable, I forgot to get the appropriate bulbs for the pumpkins (they were burned out), so they skeletons were just hugging empty plastic shells all season.

It’s sickening how adorable this is, right? If it makes it less adorable, I forgot to get the appropriate bulbs for the pumpkins (they were burned out), so they skeletons were just hugging empty plastic shells all season.

 

I’ve sat on that thought for a lot of years. It’s ruminated. It’s percolated. It’s morphed. I’m home now, and I’ve discovered that I like making my house a home. Part of that is the seasonal stuff. I like making my boy’s face light up with the Halloween decorations. I like doing it for Bryon, so he doesn’t have to do it himself. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also insist on his help for the things that are too hard for me to do myself, of course. But, if I don’t have a job anymore, isn’t that my “job” for my family, and not in a Donna Reed sort of way; but in a way that I want to do? No one would care if I didn’t put up Halloween decorations, but I would. I would be less happy if they weren’t happy. So, up they go. That means I’m fighting you for the last 70% off decorations at Michael’s, woman-with-too-many ravens in her basket! What are you decorating? A burned-out orphanage?

 This is a “progress” shot. There were more floral arrangements wired to this bad boy. The take-away message here is that I like birds. BIRDS! I had to go to two stores to get enough birds. Stupid Michael’s was sold out of decent birds. I had to get birds with hats and collars from Target. Oh well, I’ve decided that they work for fall too. Don’t tell me if you don’t agree.

This is a “progress” shot. There were more floral arrangements wired to this bad boy. The take-away message here is that I like birds. BIRDS! I had to go to two stores to get enough birds. Stupid Michael’s was sold out of decent birds. I had to get birds with hats and collars from Target. Oh well, I’ve decided that they work for fall too. Don’t tell me if you don’t agree.

 

But, someone shoot me if I put a cozy on my toaster. Please. Or, if I feel the need to get up at 4 am, to greet my husband’s day with coffee and toast. In fact, as I recall, she made him a full breakfast. Far be it from me to judge what another woman does to keep her household running smoothly, but we all have our balance, our line in the sand. That’s mine. He can make his own damn coffee, and “greet his own day,” as she called it. I’ll put up décor and run the Swiffer. We’ll see what grows from there.

 Aside from some ribbon on the creepy cats, and a few skeleton animals on the back side of the bench, along the brick, this was my “haunted village.” I’ve built this over the years by buying up cheap ceramics from Goodwill, and spray painting them black. Then, I buy the really, really cheap skeletons from the craft stores, at the end of the season, and sprinkle them in. Spider web, and viola. Village. Normally, it goes inside, but this bench was a good spot for it, this year.

Aside from some ribbon on the creepy cats, and a few skeleton animals on the back side of the bench, along the brick, this was my “haunted village.” I’ve built this over the years by buying up cheap ceramics from Goodwill, and spray painting them black. Then, I buy the really, really cheap skeletons from the craft stores, at the end of the season, and sprinkle them in. Spider web, and viola. Village. Normally, it goes inside, but this bench was a good spot for it, this year.

 

P.S. I switched from Halloween to fall today (and he helped put it all up). Oh, and I’m a cheapskate. So, I ONLY buy what’s on sale the week(s) after the holiday. So, all my décor is accumulated from years of shopping post-holiday(s). Maybe more pics of fall next time!

 

Anyway, Collin’s school wouldn’t let the sixth graders wear costumes to class, which was a bit of a relief, because let’s face it, some kids would feel like they were too old. This means half the class would be too cool for the other half of the class, leaving half the class feeling dorky. So, there was a moratorium put down on costumes. Less fun, sure; but, also less chance for embarrassment. He mentioned, repeatedly a girl that he clearly feels is “cool,” that was staying home this year, to help with her family’s haunted house.

 

However, my son found his own special way to wreck the day for himself, anyway. Cops and Robbers is the playground game of choice here in Virginia. I joke that these are the two career goals here. I have said that they should be more specific: cop and meth addict. I know, super mean. Still, this is basically the only thing the kids play, when they are outdoors. Plus, it’s an opportunity to be cruel to one another, as kids, without being overt: assign the kids you don’t like to be the “robber,” chase them mercilessly, then “arrest” them, tell them they committed a horrendous crime, and “punish” them. All innocent fun! Hooray!

 

Collin was running, top speed, of course; this is the only speed he knows. He claims that he thinks he was jumping over some steps, when he fell. He doesn’t know how he fell, what angle at which he fell, or anything useful about his injury. This, this my friends, is what it’s like to have a kid with autism, when you want a useful detail. He can, however, tell you all the details you want about the playground stairs, near which he fell. They are wooden, there are eight of them, they have splinters on some of them, and they are somewhat steep. They have dust on them. The doctor felt this information was also useless. Did I mention these stairs were near where he fell, not stairs upon which he fell?

 

A pause here to tell you my biggest fear in life: that I will be at work, or otherwise engaged, and the school will call with my sick or injured child, and I will miss it. On the first day of class, I always tell my students that I leave my phone on, and that I leave it out, just for this purpose. All it takes is me picturing my sad-faced little boy, sitting in the office with an ice pack, or rushing to the hospital in an ambulance, all without his mother, and I’d strap the phone to my face.

 

With all of that fear ingrained in my soul, I missed the injury call when it came! Don’t get me wrong, I saw the call, but it didn’t say the name of his school, and the city displayed incorrectly. So, I didn’t pick up! I’ve been getting nonstop solicitor calls for the past thirty days or so, so I just hit, “ignore.” Oh, the humanity!

 

When I was headed home, Bryon told me he was also driving home, only he was with our injured boy. I about lost my lunch. I had so many questions! I cried so much that Collin was crying less than me. I felt like the worst mother in the world, for real. Bryon did his best to calm me down, because he’s the best, and he felt like it was the perfect moment to show me up with his calm, cool demeanor, and his constant praise. Screw him.

 

He told me that even if the school had reached me, I’d have had to call him anyway, because I was an hour away (Ugh! Ugh!), and he was home. He was right (I’m the worst!). Still, an injured boy needs his mama. Just re-telling this makes the mom guilt so heavy that I think I’ll be weighed down all day.

 

I gleaned from the phone chat that the kid had a broken wrist. He was relatively calm and collected, but in pain. Collin thought it was a great treat to be injured, because he got to watch cartoons in the middle of the day, before doing homework. We left for the ER as soon as I got there (at least it wasn’t for me, this time – yay!). No matter how much he practices, he can’t get that little lip of his to quiver and pout when he’s faking. He could get me to buy him a car if he could.

 Collin, playing the flute…I could’ve put this picture down below, where I tell you he’s currently having trouble with this activity, which is where I meant to put it. But, it’s been a long day, and I’m tired.

Collin, playing the flute…I could’ve put this picture down below, where I tell you he’s currently having trouble with this activity, which is where I meant to put it. But, it’s been a long day, and I’m tired.

 

They took us in right away, and I was right: broken. Wait…fractured. Bryon keeps correcting me. Apparently, that distinction is wildly important. All that matters to me is that a bone in my child’s wrist is no longer structurally the same as it was when I sent him off to school, that morning. He has to wear a brace until he sees the orthopedic doctor, where he might get a cast. Poor kiddo. He’s pretty miserable. He doesn’t like the brace, and it definitely hurts.

 World’s cutest kid at the Emergency Room. I mean, look at that face. Isn’t it adorable?

World’s cutest kid at the Emergency Room. I mean, look at that face. Isn’t it adorable?

 

He managed to get home in time to trick or treat at a couple of dozen houses, but he was only out for about a half an hour. It’s his right hand, so he’s pretty limited at school with writing, and with playing the flute. He’s basically a mess.

 He’s some character from the Netflix show, Troll Hunters. I don’t watch the show. I let it be a Daddy/Collin bonding thing. I refuse to watch it with them, so they have a lingo all their own. It’s kind of cute.

He’s some character from the Netflix show, Troll Hunters. I don’t watch the show. I let it be a Daddy/Collin bonding thing. I refuse to watch it with them, so they have a lingo all their own. It’s kind of cute.

 

For him, the worst part is that I have to help him wash his hair. For a kid approaching puberty, there’s nothing worse than the shame of mommy helping in the shower. He insists on wearing his underwear for this procedure. At first, he insisted he didn’t need the help at all. However, the minute he tried to do anything himself, including opening the shampoo, he cried, and I heard that sound all mothers secretly long to hear, the whimpering sound of “Mommy!” He still needs me! Huzzah!

 Collin’s happy face that the splint fits him, and he doesn’t get a cast at the ER

Collin’s happy face that the splint fits him, and he doesn’t get a cast at the ER

 

Still, one of the highlights, which is definitely the wrong word, of the evening was one of the worst days of someone else’s life, I’m sure. We were seen relatively quickly, and were right on track to be sent home, when a worksite accident was brought in. It was obviously fatal. All the medical staff was rushed off to one area, except for a PA, and a single nurse, who were left covering the rest of the patients. It was clearly a terrible accident.

 

 Bryon had my phone,  and was apparently taking photos of me while I was in the universe entitled, “OMG MY BABY!!” This photo is called, “Rachel, you are wearing an unflattering shirt. Throw it away.”

Bryon had my phone, and was apparently taking photos of me while I was in the universe entitled, “OMG MY BABY!!” This photo is called, “Rachel, you are wearing an unflattering shirt. Throw it away.”

When the person’s loved one arrived, the anguish in her cry was something you had to feel; it was indescribable. Collin, right at that moment, was asking what was taking so long to be discharged. He paused when he heard her wail, and we explained that she just lost someone she loved very much, so no matter how badly you think your day is going, there’s always someone who’s day is worse, who has lost something more important than what you think you’ve lost, and her voice helped us remember that. He was very quiet for a while and then said, “I didn’t mean to be selfish about trick or treating.”

 

I don’t mean to imply that I’m glad for someone to have died for my son to display empathy, far from it. But, those moments are huge for a kid like Collin. He was very sad for that woman, for the victim, and even for the nurse who provided comfort to the woman, as she was so kind to him, only moments earlier. He even kept repeating, “someone always has it worse,” throughout the evening. I think it really hit home with him.

 

I’ve thought about that woman, and the victim of that accident a lot since then. I know that, for her, Halloween will never again be about opening the door to adorable children dressed as dinosaurs and princesses. But, I wish that she knew that, in some way, before she was even able to finish being notified of her loss, it was already doing someone else some good in the world. Life, and people are certainly a circle. All of us sharing the same experiences.

 

Sure, the next day, it was back to Collin’s world as usual, but some part of me has to believe that the nugget of the lesson is back there. He’s a kid that sits on those big lessons for a long time. Just when you least expect it, they come out in big, big ways.

 

 Another gem from Bryon that says, “Rachel, you are going more grey than you think you are.” Also, why does my child seem skeptical of my smothering love?

Another gem from Bryon that says, “Rachel, you are going more grey than you think you are.” Also, why does my child seem skeptical of my smothering love?

So, that was our super-eventful Halloween. From the ER, we went trick or treating. I handed out candy dressed in Wonder Woman pajamas because I was too exhausted to put on my usual corset! I was wildly disappointed with the kids in our neighborhood because almost none of them said thank you, and many of them just grabbed into the bowl and took handfuls of candy, rather than waiting their turns. It was a weird night. I try to be patient with the way kids trick or treat, because kids are all battling different issues, but it seemed more like rudeness and bad manners than anything else, and I love Halloween. I love talking to the kids about their costumes, and telling them how cute they are. Overall, it was an off night, and I hope for smoother sailing next year, when Collin is decidedly NOT too old!

 The cats: every time the doorbell rang and there were kids begging for candy out there. Loki felt it was unreasonable.

The cats: every time the doorbell rang and there were kids begging for candy out there. Loki felt it was unreasonable.

 

 

Every End is a New Beginning: Goodbye to Teaching

Despite having my head drilled into a couple of times, and my neck muscles pulled apart like the living room drapes, I’ve been very lucky, as far as Chiari goes. I don’t have a syrinx, which hasn’t limited my mobility. My spinal damage is limited to what amounts to pretty significant arthritis, which will certainly get worse as I get older; but, I’m not going to count those horrifying mutant chickens before they are hatched. Overall, it could be much worse, and I’m grateful that it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to make some serious life-changes to accommodate where Chiari fits; and that I continue to have to do so.

 

When we moved back to Virginia, Bryon, with his pesky belief in me, was excited because he was convinced that I would be strong enough to get back in the classroom to teach, instead of just working online. So, I agreed to take on two in-person classes, one of which was a class that met only on Saturdays. It was a hybrid class, in which the bulk of the work was delivered online, but we met for almost three hours, once a week to deliver in-person instruction. Oy, that’s a long class to be “on” for. Oh, and instead of it being a standard fourteen-week class, it’s compressed into eight weeks. (My other class is a standard semester, twice-a-week class).

 

I’m not sure what I was thinking in agreeing to this one, except that it’s good money, and it got me in the classroom to get me my sea legs back. I was so nervous the first day, that I made Bryon drive me. Because it’s nearly an hour from the house, he and Collin had iHop while I taught, and then they went exploring at a local park. This became their Saturday morning ritual. They became buddies with a waitress who never ceased to be amazed that my small child could eat a breakfast burger, a full order of mozzarella sticks, a short stack of pancakes and drink a milk shake. Perhaps he could pack all of this away because his mother wasn’t there to stop this glutinous atrocity, because she was too busy trying to convince a room full of freshmen the difference between too and to.  

 

Still, this meant that I was teaching three days a week. It’s funny how three days a week now sounds like a lot, when two years ago, it would be nothing. It didn’t take long for my semi-broken body to voice concerns. Within the first month, I had a headache that lasted over a week and had to cancel several classes. I’m not sure the students minded, but I did. I felt irresponsible and guilty. I’m not a class-canceller. Trust me, cancelling class is a disaster for students who can barely follow the syllabus as it is. When you change a due date, you might as well ask them to find Narnia.  Before my surgeries, I never cancelled. I used to come to class, practically straight from the ER. I’d be black-and-blue from IV’s, and I’d still show up, looking like a junkie.

 

Then..the mistakes. I ordered the wrong textbook for my entire set of classes, as an oversight. And, then for the admin side of my class, I wasn’t making mistakes, but I was almost making them, which for a perfectionist teacher like me, was enough to bring me to tears of shame. I had to have Bryon start double-checking everything I put on Blackboard, the online administrative side of classes. I used to be able to whip up a class, the syllabus, the assignments, and do the grading without even thinking. I could do that with one hand, and cook dinner with the other. Now, even with full concentration, I was having trouble keeping straight what year it was, what month assignments went into, and what week I should make a due date. I was incapable of managing. Blackboard is not designed for user error. One mistake and you have assignments due in July of 1967. I couldn’t cope anymore. My short-term memory, and my detailed memory were simply not working.

 

Finally, lecturing was an issue too. When I first started getting sick, one of the things that pushed me to really push to my doctor, was that I wasn’t functioning correctly neurologically. I was having trouble spelling, where I’d not had trouble before. Suddenly, I was spelling everything phonetically. Or, I’d be writing on the board, and forget what I was writing, mid-word. Sure, that happens to everyone occasionally; but, it happens to me, constantly. This issue only got worse, after surgeries. It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in your professor when she is standing at the board misspelling, or literally forgetting she’s talking about. Also, it’s humiliating. Nothing says, “your professor is an idiot,” like stumbling over basic words.

 



 

I love my job. I love teaching. I love my students. I truly and deeply value their success. This meant that it was time to give up teaching, at least in person. I had to, not because I didn’t want to do it anymore, but because it wasn’t right for me to continue to do it if I couldn’t do it to the best of my ability. I was certainly doing an “adequate” job. I was making it to work, and I was getting their assignments graded in a timely manner. I was loading quality, engaging assignments to Blackboard, and I was lecturing pretty well. My students are used to my quirks of spelling, I suppose! In fact, I get all good reviews, and most of them want to take me for the next course.  

 

But, I wasn’t doing the kind of work that I felt was acceptable to my standards. I feel more comfortable online when I can spell-check. I feel more comfortable when I can have much more time to double, triple, and quadruple-check my assignments before I post them. I just can’t put myself in a position where I’m in the classroom anymore. It’s too overwhelming to my brain. Every day, several students come up to me, before or after class, and they all want to change something, add something, or modify something, and I can’t remember everything they say. It’s not fair to them. They aren’t getting what they deserve from an instructor.

 

So, this will be my last semester in the classroom. I know it’s the right decision because as the weeks tick down toward the last week, I get lighter and lighter, and I feel less and less burdened, despite knowing I still have new classes starting in the Spring. Those classes are online. It’s a relief knowing I can handle those so much more easily. My wheelhouse has changed, which is a bit sad, but also a relief, to know where I fit. I will miss student interaction, but I also love being home. I’ve noticed that as Collin gets older, he seems to need me more, not less. I think I’m right where I belong.

 

I have to accept that Chiari has taken away something that I love. It’s taken my career. Except, that it’s not taken it fully away. It has modified it. I still get to teach at home. I have learned to accept a lot of changes with my new life, and this one is easy to accept because it means I still get to do what I love, I just get to do it spending more time with my family. And, I get to keep doing it, no matter where we live. I’m okay with all of that. I can mourn the loss, but I can also look at the brightness of the future. It’s like all things Chiari: you have to choose to see the bright side, or you get stuck in the swamp of sadness.

 


We Rescued an Owl!

I’m not sure if you remember or not, but when we lived in California, we had a neighborhood owl. I was determined to find it before we moved out of our house. At night, it would hoot up a storm, and I would jab Bryon in the ribs and beg him to go outside and try to find it with me. He would invariably refuse, I would pout, and we wouldn’t go looking for the owl. Rarely does Bryon refuse me anything, but this was one of those times. I suppose getting out of bed to look for a nocturnal bird, notorious for blending into its surroundings, under the cover of night is a reasonable thing to refuse one’s spouse. Don’t tell him I agreed with him. Ever.

 

Still, that damn owl awakened in me a need to find, before I die, as many species of owl, in the wild, as humanly possible. I love birds. I love all birds. I love hearing them sing in the morning. I Iove watching them at the feeder. I even the stupid woodpecker pointlessly banging his little beak on our aluminum siding. I adore birds. I like when my family looks at me as if I’m a savant when I say things like, “Look! A cedar waxwing!” And, they reply, “Oh, you mean that bird?”

 

Yes, I have my Audubon guide, and my binoculars. I have birdfeeders, seed and suet. I have all those things that a friendly neighborhood, casual birdwatcher might have. But, that isn’t going to help me find, or see any owls. I don’t count seeing owls at zoos (gag), or in habitats. I want to naturally come across an owl. I realize how unlikely this is. Still, I want it to happen. I’ve told Bryon I want to plan random trips to far flung places where certain species live. He just says, “Yes, dear.” Such a good little soldier he is.

 

On Saturday, Collin comes tearing down the stairs yelling, “There’s an owl in the front yard! He’s just sitting in the grass!” Of course, I don’t believe him. Mostly because, why would there be an owl in the front yard? Kids are dumb, right? Plus, logic is on my side. It’s too late in the morning, and owls don’t sit in the grass.

 Sure enough, an owl, sitting in the grass. Excuse the poor quality of photo. It was taken through the glass front door. I have an 11 year-old child who washes his hands like an 11 year-old child, and then touches everything, including the glass door.

Sure enough, an owl, sitting in the grass. Excuse the poor quality of photo. It was taken through the glass front door. I have an 11 year-old child who washes his hands like an 11 year-old child, and then touches everything, including the glass door.

 

But, sure enough, there was a barred owl, literally sitting on the grass, in the front yard. It was about ten a.m., so it was far too late in the morning for an owl to be sitting in the lawn, not in a tree, which was concerning behavior for an owl. After I took a few pictures through the front door, as not to scare him off, I approached my new best friend.

 

He didn’t move, or even attempt to move, so I knew something was wrong. I grabbed a towel from the basement, and he easily let me pick him up and move him to a nearby bush, where I thought he would appreciate the shelter, at the very least. It was raining a bit. He was very light, far lighter than I expected a bird of his size to be. He weighed less than the cats.

 

 Me petting an owl, in pajamas and bed-head. Pretty, huh?

Me petting an owl, in pajamas and bed-head. Pretty, huh?

He was very easy to move and didn’t object at all. He seemed almost grateful to be moved. I’ve heard that wild animals, even dangerous animals, will recognize when humans are trying to help, and become docile for those moments. He even leaned his little head forward and let me touch his head for a few strokes. It was pretty precious. I didn’t press my luck, not because it seemed to bother him, but because he’s a wild animal, and it’s not my business to pet him.

 

So, now I’ve not only seen a barred owl outside, I’ve picked one up, moved it, and pet its head. What a day. Except, this little guy is definitely not doing so hot. I tell Bryon that we need to get him something to eat. I tell him we are going to have to go to the pet store and get some feeder mice, because he’s obviously not capable of hunting; but, as Bryon points out, he’s not capable of killing the mouse himself either, and no one in this house is going to kill a mouse. Alas, we have a problem. Cat food it is. Did you know that owls don’t like cat food? They don’t. At least this owl didn’t. Or, he wasn’t hungry. Who knows? We gave him a big ol’ plate of wet cat food and the owl turned up his little (actually pretty big) beak at it as if we offered him gruel.

 

But, I knew I had to call the department of fish and game, anyway. A sick or dying bird of prey in your yard is potentially sign of danger, as they are the top of the food chain for birds. They can signify larger problems. So, I made approximately forty thousand phone calls before being routed to the correct number, which turned out to be the police, who came almost immediately to pick up my new best friend. By the way, when the police come to your house, you know it’s the police. They don’t knock, they KNOCK.

 

The cops that came were awesome. They told us that our new friend was a hatchling this year, so just a baby. He wasn’t showing any signs of West Nile virus, but they’d test for that at the lab. However, he did show signs of having been hit by a car. He had a minor skull injury, and an injury to his chest. He looked like his injuries were all minor and that he could be patched up and re-released. His daughter worked at the vet’s office that took in the birds for rehabilitation and release.

 

What was really awesome was how cool the cop was with Collin. He encouraged Collin to take a pic with the owl and he explained all of the info about the bird to Collin directly. He showed him all of the parts of the bird, described all kinds of facts, and pointed out some really neat stuff about his talons, and eyes. It was really cool that he took the time out of his day to do that. It was really special to have that moment. Although, I was probably more interested in the owl that Collin was!

 My son with an owl “on” his shoulder. Yep, that’s how long his hair is. Most of it is in a ponytail. Nope he won’t cut it. Don’t even ask. We’ve given up trying. Pretty cool looking owl though, right?

My son with an owl “on” his shoulder. Yep, that’s how long his hair is. Most of it is in a ponytail. Nope he won’t cut it. Don’t even ask. We’ve given up trying. Pretty cool looking owl though, right?

 

Considering my track record with “rescuing” birds, I think this might be our best bird rescue to date. I generally do okay with rescuing other animals, but I’ve had some disastrous bird rescues (RIP to my other bird friends). All I can say about the whole situation is barred owl is checked off my list, I had an awesome day, and that we rescued an owl. How do you beat that!?

Worst Move in History

This is SUPER long, but this is the story of our move from L.A. to D.C. this summer. I swear, I feel like I’m still recovering. But, we are settled now, and hopefully here for a while; although, officially, at this very second, it’s only for a year. We shall see. I’m not sure I can take another move only a year from now, after all this nonsense. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I want to stay longer!

 

If you don’t count our initial move away from home, I think we’ve moved, probably, a dozen times, but honestly, I can’t remember. I have lost count. It truly doesn’t matter anymore. Bad things have happened on all of those moves. Things have broken. We’ve lost things. We’ve ended up in crummy houses, and in neighborhoods that we’ve not have chosen, had we had more knowledge. Once, I literally lived in the ghetto and didn’t even know it. Six months after I moved out, someone was shot on my block!

 

But, good things have happened too. We picked, randomly, great schools. We’ve met friends that we’ve hung onto for decades. We’ve grabbed onto traditions that we cling to like life rafts. We’ve made memories out of ridiculous events, like our toddler son playing with tumbleweeds in the barren desert of mid-Texas. Things happen when you move, crisscrossing the country, like gypsy nomads, that don’t happen to everyone else, good things that you can hang your hat on as wondrous and different.

 Memory from this trip? I found the tilework at the rest stops in Texas to be stunning. So, I stopped and took a picture. I thought I was alone. I was not. I was…embarrassed. Oh well.

Memory from this trip? I found the tilework at the rest stops in Texas to be stunning. So, I stopped and took a picture. I thought I was alone. I was not. I was…embarrassed. Oh well.

 

This move though, this move from Los Angeles, back to DC was the worst move we’ve ever had. Military spouses learn not to complain, at least not loudly, about the idea of moving. There’s no point. Although, I make it pretty clear that I hate leaving L.A. It’s my home now.

 Collin waving to the border of California, as we cross the state line. No one was too happy to leave.

Collin waving to the border of California, as we cross the state line. No one was too happy to leave.

So, I was already primed to be miserable. I had to leave my ocean view, the hydrangeas that I’d planted, that were about to bloom. I had to leave my perfect house, and my art room. I had to leave my son’s perfect school, and the neighborhood I knew. And, I had to leave my doctor. I was basically ready to kill Bryon with dirty looks alone. Every time he came into a room, he started conversations with, “I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry. I love you. What should we have for dinner?” Poor Bryon.

 

Then, this move went down in history as the worst move in history; but not just because we left L.A. and landed in D.C. Even Bryon agrees, and he’s basically neutral on ever topic in history.

 

 On the road with Collin. Only days prior, he was nearly killed by this same U-haul. We stopped for candy, and he decided to jump over the trailer. Bryon was still driving! We had to have a talk about what the driver can and cannot see, and where it’s safe to move, when a car is moving with a trailer. I almost had a heart attack.

On the road with Collin. Only days prior, he was nearly killed by this same U-haul. We stopped for candy, and he decided to jump over the trailer. Bryon was still driving! We had to have a talk about what the driver can and cannot see, and where it’s safe to move, when a car is moving with a trailer. I almost had a heart attack.

Delivery

When you surrender your family’s possessions, the very things that make up your home, to the driver of the moving truck, you sign a novel’s worth of documents, including the loading manifest, and roughly twenty other pages worth of nonsense that includes insurance and other important information. One of those pages, a page that we’ve singed for every move, apparently, means that we give the driver permission to store our goods, if they beat us to the destination. Really, this, in bold, should say that they have the right to take your goods hostage for an indefinite amount of time, and damage them as they see fit, because they are pirates.

 

Obviously, truck drivers, fueled by Red Bull and Funyuns, drive faster than a family caravan loaded down with two cats and a hamster; so, they will generally get to the destination before you. However, since we were in a hurry to get to the home we already had lined up, the driver beat us by ONE day. ONE. Can I stress that he beat us by a single day? Either he is a slow trucker, or we are a fast family. We were fueled, primarily by falafel and pretzel rods, by the way.

 

We had specifically asked the driver not to store our goods. However, we’d done it verbally, and being the equivalent of a trained monkey: me drive truck, me put truck in this slot, me go home; he didn’t take other commands into account, apparently. And, we called the moving company several times to schedule delivery ahead of our arrival. Bryon had taken the month off, ready to unload and unpack, because I had just had shoulder surgery. So, when he was given papers to sign, he assumed that none of them were authorizing storage. You know, because we’d mentioned it to everyone, in advance, a million times.

 

He was told, repeatedly, “we’ll worry about delivery dates when you get here.” When he asked the driver about scheduling, the driver stared at him blankly, and basically told him “uhhhh.”

 

No one would give him a date. No one would schedule. No one would help. But, he signed the page that said storage was okay, without being told what it was, and my silly husband didn’t read it carefully enough. I don’t blame him, because you have to sign every page of the manifest, which is dozens of pages. If you’ve ever moved, they list every box, every lamp, everything. So, your manifest might be upwards of 100000000 pages. It’s easy to sign something you didn’t read carefully. Why yes, certainly, I shall sign for that pony. I expect to see it delivered in D.C. Its name is buttercup, and it eats only cupcakes. Keep her safe. Don’t give her Funyuns, no matter how much she asks. In a dozen or so moves, we’ve never had a problem getting delivery of our goods; so, it didn’t even occur to us.

 

It took over a month, after we got here, to get our stuff. A month. We spent part of it living in a hotel, and part of it living in an empty house (because they stopped paying for the hotel), sleeping on an air mattress. There’s no way to stress how uncomfortable that is.

 Living in an empty house, playing with whatever you can find. In this case, the cardboard that came with whatever random thing we just bought.

Living in an empty house, playing with whatever you can find. In this case, the cardboard that came with whatever random thing we just bought.


The worst part of that is that when the stuff did come, we only had about three days to unpack our house before Bryon had to go back to work. He’d taken off an entire month to help me unpack. Instead, he got three days.

 

Pause to give my amazing husband credit for unpacking a five-bedroom house in three days. I think he’s still tired.

 

The best part of waiting this month for our things was calling the moving company every day and begging, then yelling, then going back to begging, for our things to get delivered. When they finally gave us a delivery date, they called the MORNING of the delivery and said they had to cancel.

 

“Mrs. McClain, it turns out we might not have the men to do the job today---”

 

“Hold up. Did you just say ‘might’ after making us wait a month for our goods? Because I think you just said might? I don’t care if YOU have to personally get in your fucking car and do it your damn self. My truck will be unloaded today because you promised. I expect you here at 1 pm, or I expect the name of your boss, and his boss and I expect your fucking job. This is ridiculous.”

 

“Ma’am, now that you’ve cursed at me---”

 

“Oh no. We’re not going to pretend cursing is the problem in this conversation. If you want to, you can talk to my husband, who will tell you the same thing without hurting your delicate ears. Or, I can repeat the same request in a delicate tone. But, listen Mr. XXX, I’m sorry to tell you that a lady, even in the south, can say whatever she God Damn well pleases. Now, tell me the names of who will show up here in exactly three hours, or get off the fucking phone.”

 

Frodo

We travelled with two cats and a hamster in a single vehicle. Why we traveled in one car is a long story, best left untold. However, two cats and a hamster in one car was a challenge in itself. We expected it to be worse than it was, and it actually worked out pretty well, cat-wise. The cats barely noticed him, until we checked into the hotel every night. Loki spent the first ten minutes sniffing him, and then the rest of the night buried under the comforter. P.S. the car didn’t stink!

 Loki, NOT eating Frodo. What a good boy.

Loki, NOT eating Frodo. What a good boy.

 

We bought a little travel carrier, meant for small animals and Frodo didn’t mind being zipped into it. I suppose, if he did mind, we wouldn’t know. It’s not like he crafted a little protest sign that said, “I mind this!” We tucked his little carrier into small corners, away from where cats liked to snuggle, and Frodo just went to sleep. He was happy and content.

 

That is, until we got to Tuscon (BTW, they had the best falafel of the road – this is what vegans eat when they travel through the south). When we checked into the hotel, and unloaded all the bags, Bryon nudged me as he unpacked Frodo, and told me that he thought he was dead.

 

 Traveling men. Not bothering Frodo one bit.

Traveling men. Not bothering Frodo one bit.

Sure enough, he was sleeping a little too soundly, and a little too stiffly. We have no idea where or when he died, because no one looked at him while we traveled. Why would we? Frodo was a victim of the road. He was an old hamster, and he definitely outlived his normal lifespan, so he could’ve died of old age, and that’s what we are going with; but Bryon can’t shake the feeling that his carrier was in a spot that was a little too warm. It’s heartbreaking to think he might’ve died of heatstroke.

 Loki may have been adorable and photogenic traveler. I can’t say.

Loki may have been adorable and photogenic traveler. I can’t say.

 

We keep telling Collin that Frodo tried really hard to be with him to D.C. and he was really trying to be brave for him. Breaking death to a kid with autism was tough, especially his pet, now that he’s older. When Eddie, our dog, died, years ago, Collin felt nothing. Bryon and I were sobbing on the way home from the vet. Collin, who was about five, at the time, said, “Why are you guys sad? Let’s just get another dog on the way home.” Empathy is tough for autistic kids.

 No pictures were taken of Frodo’s funeral, because that’s weird. But, enjoy another of Loki being adorable.

No pictures were taken of Frodo’s funeral, because that’s weird. But, enjoy another of Loki being adorable.

 

Frodo was buried behind a gross La Quinta that abutted an apartment complex that looked like the projects. He was mourned briefly by his family, and his grave his marked by several “special” rocks that were found by Collin, as he foraged for suitable treasures (the best ones he kept, of course).

 

I know it’s terrible, but so much of me is glad that Frodo is dead. I’m NOT happy an animal is gone; but, I’m happy to see my son have a human emotion. I happy not to deal with the fight about cleaning up the damn thing, and not to have the hamster smell in my house anymore. I’m happy to not have hamster vs. cat death matches anymore. And mostly, I’m happy to see Collin have empathetic reasoning come from this. It happened at the right age. Plus, Frodo was old. I’m not a monster. It’s not like I fed it to the cat, or something.

 

The Mold

While the moving company was refusing to deliver our things, they were claiming that there was simply not enough manpower in the area to make deliveries, move loads from docks and unload trucks. Their claim was that the government had changed regulations about illegal workers, and that their contract with them hamstrung their ability to hire enough minimum wage people to do menial labor. Yes, someone at the company told me this. Damn those illegals taking American jobs. FYI: jobs out there for you Americans looking for work, there’s good, hard labor available in the moving industry. Trust me, it’s fucking hard work.  

 

We offered to hire our own moving company to go to the storage facility to pick up our load, bring it to our house, and unload it. We were told that this was impossible, because it was at the back of their warehouse, and that they didn’t have the crew to move the rest of the loads out of the way for another crew to come in and get our load. Ummmm, okay? So, we had to “wait our turn,” to get our load out of storage, in order. Frustrating.

 

I smelled bullshit. I should’ve smelled mold.

 

As our unloading team started to pull stuff out of the truck, they started to refuse to put things into our house for health and safety reasons. This was because our furniture was coated in mold. Mold, because the load was NOT stored in a warehouse. The load was left in the truck it was shipped in, parked in the elements for the entire time, and the truck was not road-worthy. It leaked like a sieve. It was full of standing water and places where it was rusted through, both on the roof and the ground.

 

This is our meth cabinet, for example.

 

 The best part about the mold issue is that we have to save all of our damaged goods until the claim is processed, but we can’t bring it inside because, obviously. So, we have to leave all of our moldy, gross stuff, in our driveway. Our house looks like Sanford and Son. It’s humiliating.

The best part about the mold issue is that we have to save all of our damaged goods until the claim is processed, but we can’t bring it inside because, obviously. So, we have to leave all of our moldy, gross stuff, in our driveway. Our house looks like Sanford and Son. It’s humiliating.

 My favorite part of the mold is the multi-colored mold. I love watching it morph. Mighty-morphin mold!

My favorite part of the mold is the multi-colored mold. I love watching it morph. Mighty-morphin mold!

We have vintage vinyl kitchen chairs. The moisture seeped THROUGH the vinyl and into the foam. The mold is so strong that you can see it growing under the foam.

 I grant you that this is a small spot. But, consider that I clean my chairs every time we eat. So, it’s not dirt, or a stain. It’s mold. Imagine how wet the foam underneath must have gotten for mold to show THROUGH the vinyl. That is wildly disgusting. And, it’s growing, constantly. It’s on every chair, to some degree. Would you want that in your house? And, you can’t get rid of it.

I grant you that this is a small spot. But, consider that I clean my chairs every time we eat. So, it’s not dirt, or a stain. It’s mold. Imagine how wet the foam underneath must have gotten for mold to show THROUGH the vinyl. That is wildly disgusting. And, it’s growing, constantly. It’s on every chair, to some degree. Would you want that in your house? And, you can’t get rid of it.

 But the worst part is that they destroyed a box of our holiday ornaments. One of our treasured holiday traditions is we make ornaments every year. We’ve made so many, that now we have to make a holiday “craft” because our tree is so full. They are now covered with mold. Some of them are so destroyed that they are unrecognizable and have to be thrown away.

 

ORNAMENTS

 

Ornaments my son made in preschool. Ornaments we bought to commemorate or trip to Europe. Ornaments that my husband and I bought in Vegas when we got married: destroyed. Gone. How do you make a damage claim on that?

 

 Most of that is unidentifiable.

Most of that is unidentifiable.

 

I’m so angry at the moving company for their negligence. How dare they use substandard equipment to move families’ lives across the country, and then to flippantly store it just anywhere, like it doesn’t matter, like it’s just a pile of things. We went tearing through the rest of our unopened, look at later boxes, last night. Were our wedding albums okay? Were our baby pictures okay? How dare they treat someone’s things like they are just things. These are the lives of other people.

IMG_2166.JPG

 

If you have substandard equipment, replace it. If you don’t have enough storage room, get more. If you can’t afford it, then your company isn’t operating properly and you need to subcontract, or you need to give up the contract with the government. You aren’t honoring its terms. Profit over people is unacceptable when you are destroying the very thing that you are proclaiming to honor, which is moving peoples’ lives.

 

Military families have very little to hold onto when they move from place to place, and one of those things is their traditions and their memories; when you treat them with such blatant disrespect and disregard for feeling and care, you don’t deserve the government contract. In all the moves, in all the broken knick-knacks, lamps and pieces of furniture, I’ve never been so heartbroken.

Did I mention that the way your packers packed my grandmother’s red desk, in order to prevent it from being destroyed, my unpackers had to take it apart and rebuild it, and reinforce it (something they didn’t have to do); but they saw my tears and couldn’t bear to see it destroyed. One of them is a furniture builder and made sure nothing would ever happen to it again.

 It’s not built to come apart like this. When they took the top off, I couldn’t even look. I cried. But, the guy who fixed it spent about an hour just on this project alone. That sucker will never budge again. He was so careful with it. The way the packers packed it, it was about to crack all the way up the sides and back. There was no reinforcement or protection. They were so careful with it. I can’t thank them enough. ONE part of this moving team was on the ball.

It’s not built to come apart like this. When they took the top off, I couldn’t even look. I cried. But, the guy who fixed it spent about an hour just on this project alone. That sucker will never budge again. He was so careful with it. The way the packers packed it, it was about to crack all the way up the sides and back. There was no reinforcement or protection. They were so careful with it. I can’t thank them enough. ONE part of this moving team was on the ball.


No matter how much claim money you hand me, you’ll never be able to replace the ornament my son made for me when he was three. You’ll never be able to replace the glee on his face when he found that knight ornament in the gift shop at Napoleon’s tomb. He was so into knights at the time, and it was the only one there. You’ll never be able to replicate those things.

 

I don’t care that you wrecked my meth cabinet. I don’t care that you wrecked my chairs. I can replace those. It’s annoying that I have to, but I don’t really care. It’s negligent and ridiculous that you did it. But, I do care that you did it in a way that says you don’t care about your job and your responsibility to do it well. How dare you treat anyone’s belongings with such irresponsibility? Our unpacking men, who knew they were breaking the rules to do so, invited us into the truck to show us what was causing the damage to our things. There were puddles in the truck so deep that you could slosh around in them.  

** I will say that the men who unloaded my truck were amazing. They wanted it clear that the damage was unacceptable, and they were wonderful. We did have a dyslexic unpacker, who kept mixing up box numbers, but I even forgive that guy.

 

The House

Plus, when we arrived, we were supposed to pull up in our driveway, meet our property manager with the keys, and slip right into our house. This did not happen, not exactly. She gave us the keys, and said we could come and go as we please, but we couldn’t live in the house yet. See, as she was having workers prep the house for last minute items, the sewer pipe in the basement burst, so we had no water. She said it should only take a day or two. It took a week. We visited a few times. When she said there’d be no floor in the basement, she was not kidding. Yikes. Don’t worry, there’s a floor now.

 Hotel living - going stir-crazy as a family all in a single room, for weeks on end. There was a lot of fighting over the television. Collin won’t admit it, but he likes watching “Four Weddings,” now.

Hotel living - going stir-crazy as a family all in a single room, for weeks on end. There was a lot of fighting over the television. Collin won’t admit it, but he likes watching “Four Weddings,” now.

 

Then, she forgot to put the washer and dryer in which was in the lease. She made a mistake because she didn’t mean to offer it to us; she’d meant to offer it to a previous person she’d offered the house to, and only left it in our offer by mistake. Oh well, her loss, our gain. So, we had to wait another week for the washer and dryer. At least we could move in like that. Still, without our things, and only what we’d travelled with, that meant a trip to the laundromat.

 Forgive the backyard mess; we weren’t finished unpacking/arranging. But, this was taken in my yard. But yes, I can handle living here. Look at that! Awesome, right? Except, my neighborhood just authorized arrow-hunting of them right up to near our property line, because apparently, there are too many of them.

Forgive the backyard mess; we weren’t finished unpacking/arranging. But, this was taken in my yard. But yes, I can handle living here. Look at that! Awesome, right? Except, my neighborhood just authorized arrow-hunting of them right up to near our property line, because apparently, there are too many of them.

 

Then, when we did move in, we discovered that the owner had been using the fifth bedroom as a kitty bathroom. This would be no big deal, except that he had built a large table for them to use as a litter box. It was roughly the size of a kitchen table. He filled it with litter and just let them use it as a potty and, apparently scooped it, meh, never? The cats hopped up there and, well, went. There was sprayed poop on the walls, urine, everything. It was “cleaned” up, but there was evidence of “cat,” everywhere. Those of you who have been in my house know that I do not have evidence of “cat,” despite having them. There’s no hair. There’s no smell. It was super gross. That room took hours to disinfect. Cat shit walls=ew, no matter how you slice it.

 

 These two say that they appreciate the lack of stink in their home. They also say that they work hard at making stink, on a regular basis.

These two say that they appreciate the lack of stink in their home. They also say that they work hard at making stink, on a regular basis.

Happy Ending?

This house is amazing (after cleaning the cat shit). I will have to show it off next time. I have even told Bryon that despite it being Virginia, I will tolerate it, with happiness, if he follows on here. I like my neighborhood. I like my doctors. Collin found a good school. Everything is great. Now that we are all settled in, I can happily stay here for a few years. Of course, if he comes out on the Colonel’s list, we’ll probably have no choices in our lives anymore and get yanked around the universe. We’ll probably get assigned to Mars, and I’ll have to find a doctor who takes Tricare and also has tentacles.

 

 

Husband Chores

Whelp…I had a post yesterday. I wrote one. I even thought I posted it. Guess what I did? I did NOT post it. And, then…I lost it. So, you get another post that isn’t what I wrote about yesterday, and is totally off topic. I’ll revisit yesterday, tomorrow. It’ll be like we are in a time-warp.

 Loki, demonstrating what I’ve been doing for the past six months: hiding out from this blog. He says that we are both back now. He doens’t plan to do a lot of writing though because when he gets on the keyboard it comes out like this, “xlahgpeay vneoah; vjaphvy po;vno;pyeia;n.” No one understands that gibberish.

Loki, demonstrating what I’ve been doing for the past six months: hiding out from this blog. He says that we are both back now. He doens’t plan to do a lot of writing though because when he gets on the keyboard it comes out like this, “xlahgpeay vneoah; vjaphvy po;vno;pyeia;n.” No one understands that gibberish.

My darling husband is out getting gas in my car for me, at this moment. This wouldn’t be all that fascinating, except that I passed a gas station, on the way home, which was easily accessible, and I didn’t even consider stopping. Okay, I lie. I did think of it. Briefly, as I drove briskly by. I loathe getting gas.

 

It isn’t the smell. It isn’t the irritating beeps and boops at the pumps. It isn’t that I hate standing in the heat, or the cold, or the wind, or the rain. It isn’t even that I’m annoyed about gas prices. I just hate doing it.

 

We all have chores that just, for no other reason than that they exist, annoy us to no end. For me, that chore is getting gas. I wish that we could just will our tanks full as we drove by the stations, like a genie twinkling our noses, or blinking our eyes. Alas, no. I have the next best thing, a willing husband. I think that I’ve lucked out, in that regard. For all the chores that I hate, I’ve got someone who is willing to simply do them for me.

 

This brings me to the idea of all the other things he does for me that I don’t want to do. When I sit down and think of it, truly I’m quite spoiled. That’s not to say that I don’t do equally as many things for him. The thing is that the things I do for him aren’t because he doesn’t want to do them, they are because he simply doesn’t do them.

 

Call it what you will; perhaps it’s been poor husband-training, over the years; or perhaps it’s because I just haven’t bothered to tell him that these things bother me. Whatever it is, I do things for him that he doesn’t do, or doesn’t want to do. These are things like never drying the counter after washing dishes, picking up his socks, or buying himself new clothes. Okay, that last one he hates doing, and if I didn’t do it, he’d still be wearing the same outfit (including socks and underwear) that he wore on our first date.

 

Anyway, I don’t ever have to do the following, and for that, I’m eternally grateful to pick up his gross socks.

 

Clean up Vomit

I’m relegated to rubbing Collin’s back when he’s sick, and pretending that I’m not freaking out that he just vomited, while also simultaneously pretending that the smell is not bothering me, at all. Meanwhile, because Collin has taken a penchant to vomiting over the side of his loft bed, poor Bryon is stuck cleaning an entire room, including crevasses and crannies one could only imagine in nightmares.

 

Grocery Shop

Sure, I make the occasional run to Whole Foods, which is fun and games; but, I don’t have to do the weekly or bi-weekly shopping. I used to the menu, but now I only “help,” with that, and even that is in earnest. Bryon braves the commissary crowd for his family. Any time I have gone with him, I need a nap afterwards because he can get in and out of a bi-weekly shopping trip in under a half an hour. It’s like a sprint workout on cocaine. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t want to know. All I know is that it’s exhausting. One time, I went to the bathroom on the way in, and by the time I was finished, he was done. Not really, but close.

 

Kitty Litter

This one is surprising, because the cats are really, mostly, mine. I used to do it; but then my shoulder decided that it no longer wants to be part of this family. Surprisingly, shoveling shit and urine, lightly encased in gravel is surprisingly difficult to do with your non-dominant hand, as I discovered when trying to do it with my left hand. I kept flicking the stupid gravel all over the room, and then having to vacuum it up, which is also bad for a bad shoulder. Alas, hubby took over litter-duty, which is a twice-a-day job now, with three cats. He loves this chore, which is the only thing I can assume based on his constant grumbling about it. Whenever I bring up the idea a fourth cat, he is so exuberant in his exultations, I can only assume that he enjoys shoveling shit, anyway.

 Three cats = Three times the amount of poop and three times the amount of pee…every.single.day. You’d think they could take a day off, but they don’t. Every day.

Three cats = Three times the amount of poop and three times the amount of pee…every.single.day. You’d think they could take a day off, but they don’t. Every day.


Marriage is about compromise, right? I don’t grocery shop, and he doesn’t put the pillows back on the bed, at least not correctly. I don’t clean up vomit, and he doesn’t always remember to close cabinet doors. We all have our “things.” What I do know is that he’ll be right by my side through random illness, and countless trips to countless hospitals. And, that he’ll fill up the gas tank.

Scatter-Brained

I have so much to talk about! I can’t even decide what to say, or what to say first. I could write a zillion individual posts, in detail, but it’s too much. It’s why there’s not been one in a few days; because, I keep writing them, and they are too long and boring. So, here’s a paragraph on random things, not connected, that are all going on at once, right now!

Cats

 Soap + Box = Soap Box Alert

Soap + Box = Soap Box Alert

Mittens had to go back to her “owners,” who it turns out, live in our neighborhood. I was so devastated that I cried for a full day, not entirely because I missed her (I do, of course); but, because I feel like I failed her. Cat owners who insist on allowing their cats to roam, under the misguided idea that they are allowing them to follow their natural instincts, are doing them a disservice. A domesticated cat’s natural habitat is the domestic living space. They don’t deserve to follow their “instincts” to prey on diseased pigeons and rats, and to fall to predators like angry gardeners with antifreeze, cars, teenagers with pellet guns, or even “natural” predators like hawks or coyotes. Cats that live, exclusively, indoors live up to twice as long as cats who are allowed to roam, and they have fewer health problems, or injuries from predators or other cats. So, I cried for Mittens.

P.S. Mittens cried too. For days. Outside my kitchen window, begging to be let back in.

 My cats are happy indoors :) See. This is them greeting me when I came home from dropping Collin off at school.

My cats are happy indoors :) See. This is them greeting me when I came home from dropping Collin off at school.

Best Friend’s (Temporary) Return

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My return to myself has been, and will be, forever slow. I’ve learned that half of the reason that I don’t go forward, is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid of pain. I’m afraid that the next thing I do will be the thing that tears the plate from my skull, and ruins everything. I’m afraid that the next thing I try will be the thing that I can’t achieve, and it will be the thing that I learn is my limit. I’m afraid to push. I do it anyway. Slowly, steadily. Inch by inch. I am climbing my way back. And, sometimes that inch feels like it’s only a centimeter of progress because my body reminds me that even though I’m trying, I have to respect its new barriers.

Alas, I’ve had to wear my c-collar again, lately. There’s nothing more defeating to progress than Velcro-ing those straps. Nothing feels worse than the relief of that collar. I hate how much better it feels when it’s on. I hate that I need it. I hate that I want to wear it, right now. I know that I will be able to throw it back in the closet again….soon. Why? Because I didn’t need it randomly. I needed it because I strained my neck by working out a little too hard. I strained t by pushing. Pushing. Not being afraid. I strained it by becoming me again. God damn, I’m going to come back. 

IMG_3118.JPG

The Shoulder

I’ve mentioned on FB that I am having shoulder surgery. It’s tomorrow. Holy crap, right? Literally, I keep forgetting about it. That’s how, off-the-radar, surgery has become to me. I have had a shitty shoulder, for years. It’s not terrible. I could probably live with it forever, if I didn’t want to lift heavy weights again. I can’t even carry the backpack at Disneyland, or my purse on that shoulder, anymore, as it is now. So, I want to lift, and I want to do it with good form. I’m done being broken.

Turns out, I randomly picked some awesome doc at USC. He’s a sports med guy who has worked with some really awesome teams; and he is a shoulder specialist. He’s also Benjamin Button, or something because he looks 19, but has a resume that makes him sound like he’s 140. His resident, I shit you not, looks like a GQ model, and also 19. USC puts something in their water, I think. I’m excited to try their IV’s.The best part about this whole thing, is that Tricare, covers everything, except the sling. I have to go out tonight and buy a damn shoulder sling.

Tricare: Here’s $20K (or however much shoulder surgery costs) for the surgery but $19.99 for a sling is a bridge too far! The patient should pay for that!

Crop Tops Over 40

Bryon, bless his little heart, is not great at picking gifts for me, on his own. It’s not his fault, I buy so much shit, that by the time a gift-giving occasion comes up, I just point at whatever I’ve most recently bought, and say, “that can count as my birthday/anniversary/Mother’s Day present,” and it does. No shopping required. But, last year, for my birthday, Bryon tried to pick out a present for me. He started at my favorite store (Anthropologie), got my size right, got my general sense of style. He was on track. But, somehow, he missed. He bought me a…crop top. I was a bell-sleeved, loose-fitting, bohemian-looking crop top, with a lace up front. Don’t get me wrong, if I were twenty, and going to Coachella, maybe? It is “me,” but young “me,” maybe.

I didn’t have the heart to take it back. Plus, I didn’t hate it. So, it sat in my closet, unopened, until we started cleaning out the closets this weekend to get ready to move. Thus, the debate: can a woman, over 40, wear a crop top? I said, “if she wants to,” but I’m not going to, unless I’m at the beach. He said that I pulled it off. But, his opinion is not to be trusted, based on times his spontaneous compliments are uttered (when I’m brushing my teeth, for example). I am on the fence. Ignore the no makeup and horrid hair. It was a house-cleaning day; thus, you can excuse the pants pairing too. Not sure it “goes.” Hmmm.

 Hideous picture! Also, I'm really looking forward to getting out of this "master" bathroom. What a joke for a bathroom! I look like a gypsy.

Hideous picture! Also, I'm really looking forward to getting out of this "master" bathroom. What a joke for a bathroom! I look like a gypsy.

Moving Scatter

My brain is doing this right now: we don’t know where we are going to live and we are leaving in about a month; I forgot to take my Comic Con costumes to the dry cleaner; what about my plants when we move; I have to wash my curtains before we pack them; I’m a horrible person, but, I wish that damn hamster would die before we move; if the movers break my WW kiss statue, I’m going to lose my shit; I forgot to call USAA to up my jewelry rider; I have to go to the post office; should we fly to San Diego or LA when we come back in July?; I need a car wash; what if Collin can’t handle public school?; I hate June gloom in LA; why do the stupid movers have to be here on my birthday?; I’ve been eating so many pickles that when I work out, I smell like pickles; I can’t believe I have to wait another whole year for more Riverdale; why do all my FB ads target me for Dia & Co, when I’ve just busted my ass to give up soda and chips?;what if the movers break the glass in our antique furniture?; what if the movers tear our giant painting?; what about the dollhouse?; dry cleaning; alterations; whoops; I forgot to send my summer contract. Oh. And WHERE ARE WE GOING TO LIVE????

Anyone want to live in my brain right now?

This is why I can’t focus up and write anything decent or stay on topic. I am losing my mind, at the moment. And, tomorrow, I won’t be able to type very well. I will only have a left hand! Agh! And, I have a great idea for a painting. Maybe, I will learn to paint with my feet, or my mouth, and become a you-tube sensation. See where my mind is at right now! I need a drink, or something.

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Everyone knows how much of a bleeding heart I am when it comes to animals. To be honest, I’m a bleeding heart when it comes to anything, frankly. I cup most spiders in my hand, to release them outside. It still counts as kindness, even if you shriek in terror the whole way. And, lest you believe I prize the animal kingdom over mankind, I got quite irate today, over our current sense of nationalism and arbitrary borders, when discussing the nearly 1,500 children missing from ICE detention centers after family separations, based new immigration policy. When will we realize that humanity is equal across borders, despite nationalism?

Anyway, back to animals? Right?

There is an adorably sweet black and white cat that lives in our neighborhood. She tends to chill at the back side of our block, for the most part. Whenever we go for a walk, she spots me, a sucker, saunters over and follows me home, because she knows I will stop every two feet, when she mews for attention, and pet her for ten minutes.

Apparently, she marked my address in her little kitty brain, because about three weeks ago, she started showing up at my window, meowing for both food and attention. She sleeps on my soft patio chairs, waiting all day for me to visit her. Half the time, she doesn’t even want food, she just wants someone to come pet her. It’s the sweetest thing you can imagine, if you are a cat lover, like I am. Plus, because I am home alone all day, and I spend a large portion of my time carrying on intense conversations with my feline friends, I find it adorable to add another one to the mix, especially this rag-tag rapscallion who just wants to be loved.

 I'm sure you knew where this was going. Obviously, she came inside!

I'm sure you knew where this was going. Obviously, she came inside!

This means I’ve been begging Bryon to figure out a way to take her with us when we move. This is, of course, a totally unreasonable plan. His reasons are logical, and are, as follows:

  • She’s not ours, as indicated by the fact that she wears a collar (but no tags)
  • Homer will hate a new cat
  • She’s an outdoor cat and may not adapt to being indoors
  • We have two cats
  • Homer will hate a new cat
  • Moving a new cat, across the country, is insane
  • Homer will hate a new cat
  • What will Loki think of a new cat?
  • Homer will hate a new cat

So many variables!

Still, as you know, my husband is a wonderful man, and he tends to support me, no matter how crazy I am. Although, today he might have had a moment of weakness brought on by the tears I shed at lunch, when I asked him to consider just how much it breaks my heart to imagine her sitting out there, pining for us, after we left. The image of that lil’ girl, meowing into an empty house, made me sick to my stomach. I wasn’t doing a Little Match Girl routine, it actually does nauseate me. Bleeding heart here. Bleeding. Dripping.

So, we brought her in. So far, so good. She goes to the vet on Tuesday to get cleared. We’ve posted to the neighborhood to see if she actually does belong to anyone, but so far no one. Bryon says I have to leave the ad up all weekend. I think twenty minutes is sufficient. Marriages have differences of opinion.

 It's so hard to take pics of black cats! But, this is Mittens getting to know my gmail. Clearly, I have a problem with deleting unread messages.

It's so hard to take pics of black cats! But, this is Mittens getting to know my gmail. Clearly, I have a problem with deleting unread messages.

She’s been inside all day, and if someone claims her, I think I’ll be devastated. I’ll also be angry that they take such shit care of their cat. I mean, c’mon cat owner! Half of me didn’t want to post it the ad at all, because if she does belong to someone, they don’t deserve her. But Bryon says we cat be cat-nappers. Ugh, doing the “right” thing is the worst, sometimes! 

My theory, though, is that she did belong to someone long ago, but when they moved, they just opened the door and let her out. Nice military folks tend to do that, just abandon their pets. That’s how I got my first dog, who was the greatest dog I have ever known. Gotta love folks like that. Apparently, pets are disposable, like garbage, and immigrant children (according to the U.S. Government). 

Bryon has already started coming around on her though. I can tell because he wanted to name her. If anyone remembers the movie, Bolt, there was an abandoned black and white cat named, Mittens, that travelled cross-country, on a road-trip with Bolt. She’d been left by her family, to fend for herself, too. I think the name suits her. Plus, it gives her lower status than our Gods and legends: Homer and Loki. We can’t go letting her believe she’s higher up in the pecking order, right? Good name: Mittens.

For anyone keeping count, that’s three cats, now. Two of which Bryon vehemently objected to. Oh, and we’ll also be moving a hamster that has grossly outlived his lifespan yet refuses to die. He’s vibrantly healthy, despite my son’s consistent mistreatment and lack of attention to his pet, via “forgetting” to feed him for days on end, and “forgetting” to give him fresh water.

 Awwww........

Awwww........

How that hamster has survived boggles my mind. Nay, if that hamster is indicative of all hamsters, how hamsters have not taken over the world, as a source of constant awe to me. Again, this is coming from the most bleeding of animal-loving hearts, a person who though she wishes the hamster would go into the light, snuggles him, makes sure he gets attention (that the boy is negligent of giving), and ensures he does, indeed get fed.

 Homer has one rule: Rachel's lap, and anything lap-adjacent are his. There was a growling episode. Homer, clawless wonder that he is, won, and Mittens fled. Loki has been here over a year now, and Homer is only just NOW STARTING to tolerate lap sharing. Mittens, you have. a long road to hoe before you can sit near me if Homer is anywhere near.

Homer has one rule: Rachel's lap, and anything lap-adjacent are his. There was a growling episode. Homer, clawless wonder that he is, won, and Mittens fled. Loki has been here over a year now, and Homer is only just NOW STARTING to tolerate lap sharing. Mittens, you have. a long road to hoe before you can sit near me if Homer is anywhere near.

So, it looks (hopefully), like we are heading out into the great icky yonder (yes, VA is icky to this California girl) with three cats and a hamster. Wish us luck that we get to keep sweet little Mittens! And, wish us luck that another kitty doesn’t catch my eye before we leave. I have no self-control.

Another Ding for Patient Dignity

I learned a long time ago that it is difficult to hang onto your dignity when you spend a lot of time mingling with the medical world. They try to protect your sense of autonomous humanity by averting their gaze when you change into the “gown” (which on a small person like me, is more like a tarp). Or, they do you the service of asking you to leave your precious urine on the shelf in the bathroom, instead of carting it aimlessly around, until someone takes it from you.

If you’ve ever been to a medical establishment without the “shelf,” “door cubbie,” or even just the “leave it on the sink” situation, and you are asked to bring it back with you to your bed, nothing reminds you of your sense of “patient” instead of “person,” like a jar of your own waste sitting next to you for forty-five minutes while you wait for a tech to come collect it.

Dignity took a new hit yesterday, though; it was one, I’d not experienced or expected, thus far in my medical journey. As the gals in the audience can attest, you can’t walk by a nurse without her asking when your last menstrual period was. If you are having a procedure, of any kind, done, every person you come into contact with, will ask you. I’m not sure why the orderly re-stocking the linens needs to know, but I’m happy to provide the info when he asks, too.

Alas, my monthly frenemy visited just in time for my tilt table test, yesterday. Nothing screams fun like crippling abdominal cramps, blood clots, and being strapped to a table to be tilted back and forth to see how long it takes to pass out. Sign me up! Wait, UCLA Cardiology already did: 3pm in Santa Monica.

 Santa Monica is "close." But SM takes us about an hour to get to, with "good" traffic, and about 2-3 hours to get back from, at peak traffic time. Because of my appointment time, Collin got to miss half a day of school, otherwise we'd never make it back to pick him up when it was over. But, I never get over how much he loves monkey. I hope we get a little longer with this, even though he's growing up so fast right now.

Santa Monica is "close." But SM takes us about an hour to get to, with "good" traffic, and about 2-3 hours to get back from, at peak traffic time. Because of my appointment time, Collin got to miss half a day of school, otherwise we'd never make it back to pick him up when it was over. But, I never get over how much he loves monkey. I hope we get a little longer with this, even though he's growing up so fast right now.

I told the check-in nurse who demanded to know when my last menstrual period was. No big deal. I told the IV nurse when it was, no big deal. Of course, the check-in nurse couldn’t do my IV, because among my many health issues is that, inexplicably, despite having such fair, white skin that I am borderline clear, my veins are virtually invisible to the naked eye, and they are so tiny, that they generally have to resort to using the pediatric needles. I’ve blown so many veins it’s ridiculous. Generally, whenever I need an IV for something, I come home looking like a heroin addict who has finally gone clean: deeply bruised, everywhere. I’ve had nurses tell me that it’s lucky I chose not to become an IV drug user, otherwise I’d have to have used my neck veins, or the veins between my toes. Yes, that’s the reason I chose to avoid heroin. Exactly that. Lucky me.

Do you ever think of things like that…like if I decided to wake up tomorrow and start heroin, what does that entail? Where does one go? The heroin store? Not to belittle a serious issue, but that life is so far from my imagination, it is a mystery. I feel genuine empathy, sympathy, and heartbreak for those affected by drug abuse, I just have no idea how that begins, literally.

Back to the menstrual indignity. The procedural nurse was a handsome, buff, vaguely Asian man named Bradford. A pause here to discuss his name. Parents, if you can’t pick between two first names, don’t pick them both and force people to call your kid two names. Either chose Brad, or Ford, not Bradford. It’s weird. You wouldn’t name a kid Chrisnick, or Jasonkevin, so draw a line. Obviously, we accept Jim-Bob, and names of the like, but we know what we’re expecting from a person with a name like that; a name like Bradford confuses us.

Bradford was a quintessential Californian: super chill, conversational, and relaxed about everything. He asked me what I feel like when I pass out, because he wanted to compare it to his experience of passing out. He said, “because I get choked out.” The strange thing about this statement was that he just left that hanging there, with no explanation, and a long silence. Choked out? My stupid mind went right to S&M. It probably shouldn’t have. But, there you have it. Turns out, he’s really into jiu-jitsu, and that’s what he meant. I guess my, “I’m weirded out by what you just said” face forced his explanation.

Of course, my handsome Bradford needed to know about my last menstrual period, too. He had a nice discussion with me about how rough it must be to have to do this procedure with cramps. He was feeling it, with me. Cool dude…not cool enough to realize I was half serious about doping me up with pain meds though. Damn cramps.

Just before we got started, I realized I had to pee, a feeling which was only compounded by being forced to lay flat on my back. Whelp, that wasn’t going to work. So, I had to ask to use the bathroom. Alas, I’d left my purse with Bryon. Ladies, you know what’s in your purse when you are on your “last” menstrual period. And, you know what you need when you’ve been cramping for the past two hours, and you’re about to visit the restroom.

Bradford had to walk me to the waiting room, where I had to walk out, in my gown, with Bradford, to ask Bryon for the zippie pouch, in my purse, because I needed my feminine hygiene products. Yep, I had to tell Bradford that I needed my tampons, then I had to take my handsome jiu-jitsu nurse with me to retrieve them from my husband, while wearing a ties-in-the-back hospital gown. 

Dignity: Gone. At least for that day.

 Getting ready to take a shower today, I discovered that I did, indeed, miss removing one of the leads. Whoops. Always a souvenier.

Getting ready to take a shower today, I discovered that I did, indeed, miss removing one of the leads. Whoops. Always a souvenier.

Not to fear, I didn’t pass out on the table, so that’s good. But, the table also barely worked, so that’s not good. The test is likely invalid. And, because that equipment is so old, apparently, they rarely use it, and don’t have adequate changing facilities for when the test is done. Poor Bradford didn’t know what to do with me except turn the other way, while I changed.  All in all, it was quite the awkward day. Except for the tampon part, I felt worse for Bradford than for me.

I’ve long ago stopped caring about changing in front of doctors, nurses, or even random patients passing in the halls. It takes too much time for them to excuse themselves and come back. If you’ve got medical personnel in front of you, keep them there. Don’t let them go because you don’t want to take your top off. They’ve seen breasts. They’ve seen bras. Yours’s ain’t anything special. Be as discrete as possible, but don’t worry about it! You are just a patient, not a person, perhaps a menstruating one. Act like it.


In totally unrelated news, today we made a Target run.

 Get it: Target. Run.  Apparently, Bryon got a decent shot. But, in my shot, he'd seen pizza slippers, and I lost my moment. He's quick when ADHD strikes.

Get it: Target. Run.

Apparently, Bryon got a decent shot. But, in my shot, he'd seen pizza slippers, and I lost my moment. He's quick when ADHD strikes.

I was there ahead of Bryon and Collin because I met them there from a doctor’s appointment (is it clear yet what my life entails?). As I was waiting for them, in the dollar section, I looked up to see a massively tall man approaching from the main part of the store. He was at least two hundred feet back, and I estimate that he was 6’ 5” minimum.

Here are my first thoughts as I saw him: good for you for getting off the drugs; is this your first outing after detox, because you still look a little sweaty; where’s your sponsor; oh my god, you look terrifying as you get closer; why does every man in Pedro wear a white t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off; nice tattoos, though.

Then, the man, I shit you not, threw a rainbow-colored basketball from two-hundred feet away, INTO the dollar section. Apparently, his woman/life-mate/wife/whatever, had a cart that he was aiming at, and she was standing to my left. He did not have good aim. It came sailing about six inches from the right of my head, before hitting the racks.

“Whoops! Sorry!” he said after he strode to the ball’s location in about five more giant-sized steps, scooping up the ball in his massive hands. He didn’t put it in her cart though, he just shoved it into some random dollar rack. So, he grabbed a basketball from somewhere in the store, with the intention of throwing it at her. Whatta guy.

Um. Okay. Then, his person pointed out rainbow-colored football’s, suggesting them for “him,” to which ball-throwing-giant was repulsed. Apparently, this “him” who they would be buying such rainbow-colored playthings is not suited to footballs.

Man, I’m going to miss Pedro. 


p.s. It should be noted that I fell asleep while spell-checking this post. Yep. Zonked. Didn’t even realize it till the husband told me dinner was ready. We had vegan ramen. It was delicious. I was utterly shocked that I was sound asleep. What the fuck? Why do I keep falling asleep at random times? At least I was home!

Sleepy Rachel: Hypothroidism and Carpool

So, every time I sit down to write something, especially after a long break, my first thought is always that whatever topic I choose, is that it’s not interesting enough to share. I’ve decided that I’m just going to write from now on. That’s the whole point, right? To share what it’s like to be sick, to be well, to be healing, to be moving forward. I’m always all of these things. When I wait for something “worthy” to talk about, I forget that life is lived in the spaces in-between.

1

Among my many, many, many health issues, I’ve got hypothyroidism. If, when I was originally diagnosed with number 673 on my list of “issues.” BTW, pronounce that with a “sh” sound in the middle; so, say it “ishues,” because it’s weightier and more annoying. This is similar to hypothyroidism, which is mostly just annoying, and makes you weightier. See how I brought that around?

If I’d had better insurance when I was originally diagnosed, I’d have pushed for a more thorough blood workup and insisted on a bit more analysis, like figuring out if it’s Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, which is likely, and if there are any other autoimmune disorders I should be looking for, like Sjogren’s Syndrome, which I have a lot of markers for, hangs out with hypothyroidism, and could explain the ridiculous number of UTIs I’ve had in the last few years, and the equal number of false alarms I’ve had. Ah, the joys of a bad bladder.

Alas, I had an HMO, not a PPO, and so I took my Synthroid prescription, or actually, my generic, like a good girl, and moved on with life. Once, I let it lapse, and figured, “meh, what’s this really doing for me?” Turns out, it was doing a lot. Within a few months of forgetting to renew my prescription, my hair was falling out in clumps, I could hardly stay awake for a full “Game of Thrones.” Wait, that wasn’t the Synthroid’s fault. “Game of Thrones” is super boring (I know that’s an unpopular opinion). Not the least severe symptom was that I was having an increasingly difficult time swallowing.

As I still had the HMO, of course I couldn’t just go to the endocrinologist; I had to go to my PCM first, to ask him pretty please if I could go to the man who knows about hormones. Thankfully, the PCM noticed the golf-ball-sized goiter hanging out of my neck. The odd thing is that I’d never noticed it. Even odder was that Bryon never noticed it. I guess when things like that grow slowly, you don’t notice them? Or, Bryon never looks at me.

He told me not to worry, that it is probably not cancer. Oh, okay! No big deal, after an ultrasound, and pissing my pants, it wasn’t. It was just the result of lapsing on my “Synthroid” (fake Synthroid). Lesson learned. So, I don’t lapse anymore. And, I get my blood drawn once a year.

2

Turns out, I think I need to get it drawn right now. Here’s why:

I have been falling asleep, a lot, in lots of not embarrassing places; but also, at carpool pick up. Not just once in a while, either. This isn’t early in the morning, or after a busy day, or a rough night. This is every day. At 3:45 in the afternoon, after lots of caffeine, because, yeah, I know it’s coming.

Today, I fell so hardcore asleep, in a matter of minutes, that I was full-on dreaming. Let me paint you a picture before I go on. I was wearing my painting clothes, as I’d planned to paint today. In other words, destroyed leggings, and my Alabama sweatshirt, both covered in old paint stains. Hair is better left undescribed, as it was uncombed, and in a wide, fabric and flowered headband. I looked like hobo-mom. At least I was wearing nice boots, which sitting in a car, are invisible. Last shower: best left unsaid.

In my defense, Bryon is both TDY, and locked down. I got the ring, no need to do a thing. In case you’ve not seen the new acquisition, I’ve clearly got no need to dress to impress, right? Kidding! I’ve got nice things, and I wear them. But, not to paint!

 In the most un-Bryon thing he's ever done, Bryon bought me a ring that I've been asking for, for longer than I can remember. It wasn't cheap, and I think he almost vomited, when they scanned his credit card. But, I have vowed never to ask for another thing...for months. But...so sparkly. So many diamonds. So pretty!

In the most un-Bryon thing he's ever done, Bryon bought me a ring that I've been asking for, for longer than I can remember. It wasn't cheap, and I think he almost vomited, when they scanned his credit card. But, I have vowed never to ask for another thing...for months. But...so sparkly. So many diamonds. So pretty!

Anyway, I heard a car door open, within my vicinity, and assumed it was my child, and my car. While I was sleeping, my mom-nag brain wasn’t turned all the way off, apparently; so, I rolled my window down, and began peppering my assumed-child with questions about whether he’d had a talk with his teacher about his missing assignments. (Side note: how does the queen of A+ assignments and never having missed a single one, raise a child whose folder explodes with missing work? How?! It’s maddening).

My eyes hadn’t woken up yet, however. So, when my assumed child kept asking “what?” I wasn’t thinking that I had the wrong kid. Nope. Instead, I was suspicious about why he was getting in the wrong door, and being frustrating about, assumedly on-purpose, misunderstanding my question, repeatedly, because I had to keep repeating it.

Finally, my eyes decided to cooperate, and open all the way, just in time to notice that I was quizzing one of my son’s friends, and his little brother, as they loaded into their mini-van with their mother. Rather than addressing, or acknowledge me, she spoke rapid

Oh God.

So, that happened.

The best part, I was still asleep enough that I just lolled my head to the other side like I was mid-meth overdose, and conked back out. Yep. Zonked.

So, rather than blame myself for a lack of self-control, I’m going to blame the hypothyroidism. Perhaps, I won’t get it checked. I’ll just keep going with this perfect excuse for slovenliness until the end of time.

3

In other news, I am super terrified. I have to have the scariest test of my life, tomorrow. They are strapping me to table, then flipping it up and down to see how long it takes for me to either barf or pass out, whichever happens first. It’s not a medical thing, just some guy in a garage, who says he’s going to give me $50.

Obviously, not. It’s at UCLA cardiology. Based on the fact that I have to steady myself, count to 20, and then wait for the black spots to dissipate, if I stand directly up from a lying down position; oh, and the doctor, upon taking my blood pressure from lying to standing, gripped my arm with the vice-grip of death, and then asked me to lie back down, I’m giving it about 90 seconds max. We’ll see. Any over under bets?

I’m not excited. Not one bit. It’s all to confirm a diagnosis they already know that I have, but it’s more a diagnosis of elimination, and thanks to medicine being an imperfect science, I have to be tortured, so that I can have a complete medical history for appropriate treatment. Hooray! It’s awesome to be a complex case.

Oh, and thanks to all this, I’ve had so much blood work taken in the past three months, I’ve discovered that I have early liver disease, which no one can figure out, despite tracing all my medications, my diet, and my history. I basically have the liver of a lifelong alcoholic, and I’ve only ever been buzzed maybe three times in my life. Apparently, I was to live to regret those glasses of champagne, and that half a Heineken. And, I also have massively high cholesterol. So, thanks genetics!

Come to think of it, genetics gave me hypothyroidism, too. Dammit. I can blame that for humiliating me in the car, today. Apparently, I should be glad that we are moving next month, and I don’t have to face any of those mommies any more. Phew.

International Women's Day: Mustache March

Bryon and I are usually simpatico on nearly everything – well, except when it comes to budgeting. For example, my neighbor, who is PCS’ing (for those non-military types, that means moving); came in today and asked me, “do you throw out your plungers when you move?” This seems like a ridiculous question, as most people move ten miles down the road; and therefore, throw their plungers in a baggie in the backseat of their Hyundai. But, us military types, we pack ‘em up, gross germies included, and unpack ‘em months later, when the crates arrive, and then plunk ‘em back down next to a new toilet, in a new state. Can you imagine how many germs have multiplied in that time, in those dark, dank, moist, hot moving crates?

Her argument was simple: the minor cost of replacing a plunger is worth the waste of throwing a way a perfectly good plunger every few years. Given thought, I realized that in the twelve years of marriage to my dear husband, I think we’ve celebrated all of those anniversaries with the same plunger. Not literally; I mean, we haven’t sat across a candle-lit table with one another and our plunger. However, we’ve never replaced a plunger.

That means that, yes, we move our plunger. Alas, we disagree, fundamentally on budgeting, and on how, and when to spend money. This is not news. I buy boots. I buy clothes. I buy home goods. I buy anything shiny that catches my eye. I’m like a crow, or a toddler. And damn it, if given the choice, I’d buy a new plunger every time we moved. Hell, I’d buy a new one every time we used it, if I could rationalize it to Bryon; or, if living with Bryon didn’t necessitate its constant use! I’d just never considered it as a life issue. From now on, I will.

Why the preamble? Because I’m not capable of talking without babbling. But also, because he’s a commander, now. This means that he has the responsibility to uphold all the tenants of leadership that the Air Force shovels so far down your throat that your feet turn AF blue. The jargon about mentorship, teamwork and service can’t just be jargon anymore, not to him. I’ve seen him, on weekends, creating Power Points about these very topics, the sorts of things that would’ve made Lieutenant-me, and Captain-him (who we were when we met), roll our collective eyes at commanders’ calls. Poor Bryon. He knows it’s Kool-Aid; but not only does he have to drink it, he’s got stained spoons from making and serving it. At least it’s tasty.

But, this whole leadership thing has led to the first major rift in our marriage: Mustache March.

If you are in the military, or a spouse, you know what I am talking about. It means the men, join together, and grow facial hair, like a bunch of idiots. Its origins are murky and the stuff of legend, like the chupucabra. Some will make vague references to it having to do with March Madness. Those with a misplaced sense of dignity will claim that it’s done to raise awareness for men’s’ health issues, such as the oft ignored, or easily missed, symptoms of prostate cancer. If you google it, apparently, Wikipedia claims it is pays homage to some renegade pilot who grew a mustache to flout facial hair regulations, by growing a handlebar mustache: Robin Olds.

In reality, Mustache March is an excuse to remind everyone, including a man’s caveman brain, that he has enough testosterone to grow facial hair. It’s also a chance to bond, in a chest pounding way, with your fellow cavemen, about who looks like the bigger asshole with said facial hair. Who was able to pull off the closest Selleck mustache? And, who looks like they grew the kind of mustache that makes him look like he has to stay 500 yards away from a school?

Har. Har. Isn’t this fun?

Wait. Remember those gals with the vaginas and breasts that can’t grow mustaches? You love those parts when you get to play with them, but you whine about them when we use them to point out how they interfere with your fun. Isn’t that a pain in the ass? It’s also easy to play the, “ugh, there’s always something to complain about,” card; or, the “why mess with tradition?” card. Well, perhaps it’s important to raise our voices when there’s something wrong, even if it makes you uncomfortable, and even if it means it challenges the way that something has always been done. Just because something is tradition, doesn’t make it right.

It’s so convenient to say that they claimed that they wanted the unit to participate in Mustache March this year, that it would be fun! That it would even be such a team bonding experience. Of course, they say that. Who wants to be the spoil-sport? But, here’s the problem with that: if the entire team can’t play, it’s not a team building event, is it? It’s like playing Marco Polo with a deaf guy. Plus, women in the military have been conditioned to play nice with the boys, not to rock the boat. We’ve been conditioned that we are supposed to like the boys’ games, and that we play too, or we won’t be allowed to play at all. It’s why we do things like laugh at the non-stop sexual innuendo jokes from pilots, pretending that they are not the humor of twelve-year-olds. We play so we can be allowed to be in the professional circle.

Sure, she may like seeing you guys looking like assholes with your ridiculously ugly mustaches; because face it, less than 1% of the population pulls one off successfully. However, it doesn’t bond you as a team. In fact, it’s directly exclusionary on premise alone. If the only way she’s included is to be amused from the outside, how is it inclusionary? Plus, even if the goal is lofty, men’s’ health awareness, where is the equivalent team-building event for women. Or, if it’s to pay homage to a rule against facial hair, it’s even more exclusionary. Unless we include particularly hairy women who wax, intentionally, of course; but, that’s another ball of wax.

Which brings us back to why my husband and I are at odds, this month. He’s doing Mustache March with his unit. It infuriates me. We’ve had conversations about Mustache March for years. Every year we’ve been in the Air Force, in fact. I saw it on active duty. I’ve seen it as a spouse. I have always said it’s ridiculous, exclusionary, and an example of trickle-down sexism that should be shunned from the top and made an example of as institutionalized sexism. He’s agreed. I’ve said that, if I were Chief of Staff of the Air Force, I’d ban it. It’s that important to me to make women feel included as part of the Air Force.

Now that he’s in a leadership position, he’s got a mustache, and he’s playing. I’m disappointed. He says the women wanted to play. I know he’s torn, because I know his principles, and his gut says that it’s wrong; but I know he wants to make his team happy. Or, he wants to do what he thinks makes his team happy. But, institutionalized sexism comes from the top down; without the Chief of Staff making the call, it’s incumbent on lower level leadership to do the right thing. Small changes make big changes.

In conversations, he admitted he didn’t even know what the history of Mustache March was. I knew more than he did. Ugh. Annoyed. Why is he doing this, again? Principles, man! Principles! Stand up. Even when it’s hard. I feel like what’s right is right, regardless of situation; but I’m a hard-ass loudmouth, who, thank god, got out of the military before it kicked me out for being insubordinate.

I told him that it was International Women’s Day, this week; and I asked him what he did to remind his unit, or to celebrate, with his ridiculous mustache that infuriates me every time I look at it. He said he didn’t do anything. So, I told him I still don’t like his mustache, and that I had the perfect way to celebrate. He said to post away.

I think that by the time this Mustache March is over with, he will be tired of hearing my lectures about how equality is not the same as fair, and that his position afforded him the ability to affect change, and he missed it. He will also get tired of wearing the Wonder Woman Band-Aids that I ordered for him to wear while at home. It’s not just that it’s ugly, it’s ugly on the inside. I can’t stand looking at the damn thing for the rest of the month. Thank goodness he’s TDY a lot this month…something I don’t generally say!

So, happy International Women’s Day.

IMG_2525.JPG

Owl Have Bird Watching For...Ever?

Okay, that was a terrible title. Cut me some slack. I couldn't think of anything!

Nearly every night, just as we are falling asleep….well, I’m falling asleep, Bryon has been asleep for hours; I know this, because I’ve been poking him while we watch T.V. and saying, “did you see that?” and invariably, he has not seen that…anyway, we hear an owl. This owl is decidedly not off in the distance, providing a sort of sound-machine soothing, off-to-dreamland, light whoo-whoo for us. He is WHOO-WHOOOING, as it sounds, directly outside our window.

As you may remember, we live at the apex of a crazy ocean current, which makes sounds whisk around like we are in a Kitchen Aid on bread-dough day. Still, it sound sounds like it’s, no kidding, coming from either our roof, or the tree, right outside our window, the tree the tree man said would fall on our house on day. In other words, it sounds, positively, like if were closer, the bird would be on our headboard, leaving pellets in such a vast supply, I could sell them to third grade science teachers to dissect. So, this conversation has, definitely happened, perhaps more than once:

R: Bryon! The owl!
B: Mmmmph.
R: (now with the poking) The owl! The owl! Do you hear it!?
B: (taking off his ear plugs and face mask, as if I’m loud!) Mmmph
R: The owl! Let’s go find it! He’s back!
B: No.
R: C’mon! It’ll be fun! I want to find him!
B: We’re not dressed.
R: So, what! I go outside in my PJ’s all the time! Besides, it’s night.
B: No. You’ll never find it.
R: Not with that attitude.
 Collin, farting around in Daddy's mask. He's a goofball!

Collin, farting around in Daddy's mask. He's a goofball!

Alas, we’ve never found the owl. Yet. Mostly, because I want us to find the owl. I’m very persuasive, so I think we will find the owl; or, at the very least, go a-lookin’. I’m very convinced that the owl lives in our tree, or in the eaves of our roof. The cats are obsessed with our bedroom window, and the top corner of our roof. Of course, it could be pigeons, the flying rats of the world, which I still adore watching.

Our pigeons make the weirdest sound I’ve ever heard. And, I learned they aren’t pigeons, exactly, anyway, when I rescued a baby one, and called the bird sanctuary to take it. They refused it, and said it was some fancy name that I forgot; but basically, it’s an invasive species. I could save it if I want; but, essentially, it’s their policy to let “nature take its course.” GAH! I was holding a baby tweeting bird!

She told me the protocol to save it myself though, and gave me very precise directions. It lived. Phew. Also, it smelled really, really bad. Like, it stunk up my bathroom so badly, that we couldn’t get the smell out for weeks, no matter what we did, even though it had only lived there two days. Powerful little guy!

I count that save as wiping my slate clean after saving the last baby bird I found, that my dog and cat ate, after either Bryon or I accidentally left the bathroom door open before we went to work. The carnage. I joke now, but I cried for days. I nursed that little hatchling from a featherless ball of ick to a full-grown bird that was just learning to fly. He’d be ready to release in a matter of days. I suppose that, at least, they got a good meal. A feather, in my stupid dog’s bed, was all that was left.

Anyway, maybe that’s why those “pigeons” make a weird sound…they aren’t pigeons at all! I wish I remember what they were. My mother-in-law, the first time she stayed here, woke up insanely early the first morning, looking for what was making that weird racket. I intercepted her, because I heard her wandering my home, looking a bit confused. She’d woken, “with the birds,” shall we say. I hope she wasn’t hoping to get a worm. Ba-dum-ch! I had to explain it’s the “pigeons,” and that they sound like that hear. They sound like a machine motor running and whirring. She thought we’d left something on and was trying to figure out what it was. Nope. Birds.

 

*

I can thank my dad for my love of birds. He didn’t tell me to love them. He didn’t specifically sit me down and talk to me about them. He just off-handedly would remark, “Oh there’s a chickadee,” or, “look closely, there’s a goldfinch in that bush!” When we went camping, he’d get very quiet and crouch down, and I knew we were about to see something special, and making me know that I should mimic him, and sure enough, he’d whisper, “there,” and spread some branch for me. I learned bird songs in this way, and in remarks that weren’t meant to teach, just conversation.

When my family and I are, say on the freeway to Ikea, and I point out the dozen or so hawks on phone poles, they are used to it. But, they have also grown used to me saying, “oh look a wren!” when we are sitting at a picnic table, or, “that’s not a crow, it’s a raven, look at its beak.” And, they are no longer surprised that I can point out all the song birds. At first, when I was first married, my husband used to say, “where does all this knowledge come from?” I’d say, honestly, “I don’t know? Doesn’t everyone just know this stuff?” I didn’t realize that every home didn’t have the Audubon field guide by the window with binoculars. Ours did, and does. For that, I can truly thank my father; because, I truly adore birds.

Still, they've not yet got to hear me say, "look, there's my owl."

Speaking of the idea that people didn’t realize that every family doesn’t do something; did everyone read about the poor soul who didn’t realize that every family does not, indeed have a communal poop knife hanging in the laundry room. Oh my god. The horror.

 

*

 

Back to my original reason for writing, I just got off the phone with my husband, who I spoke with nearly his entire drive from El Segundo, to pick up our son, in which I read him descriptions, and nesting habits of owls that live in Southern California. Folks, in traffic, this was about 45 min; spend a minute honoring the heroics of my husband. This is who I am, and who he is. He tolerates my weird obsession with birds, and he pretends he cares.

He insists that when we retire, we can go for hikes with binoculars and a bird journal, and that we can find a Burrowing Owl, because they are the cutest lil’ things I can imagine. Look, but don’t touch, Rachel!

 Thanks  Audubon Society.  Go to there. Give them money. They are good people.

Thanks Audubon Society. Go to there. Give them money. They are good people.

 

 And, hopefully, we’ll see a Great Grey Owl in Yosemite, before they all disappear, because I think if I put my eyes upon one, the secret of life will reveal itself to me, that’s how majestic and powerful they appear.

 Thanks again,  Audubon Society ! Go to there. Give them your first born child. They do good things!

Thanks again, Audubon Society! Go to there. Give them your first born child. They do good things!

 

I think I will settle, for now, for finding the owl outside our window. We have a little less than seven months left in California before (damn military orders, making me leave my state!) we can find that owl. Do you think we can find it, and I can get, at least a blurry night-time shot, in which you can make out nothing of substance, of my mysterious nighttime visitor? When I call him, or her, that, it sounds so swarthy.

P.S. I deeply hope it’s not a screeching owl. Apparently, they are so protective of their nesting area, they will attack humans. Terrifying. I don’t want to die of death-by-owl.

Speaking of intelligent birds. Did you know that crows can remember human faces? In scientific experiments involving cruelty to crows, such as stealing their eggs, the scientists who took the crows eggs, had to cover their faces on the way to their cars at night, with burlap sacks because the crows would form teams and attack those specific scientists. The scientists, prior to this experiment, did not know this about crows, and learned it, early on in the study. It was a major breakthrough in recognizing how intelligent they are. Seriously don’t get me started on birds…wait, I started it! Anyway, I don’t want to die by death-by-crow either!

*

Wait! Re-reading this post for typos (which I always miss anyways), I just realized something: first of all, I'm weird (which I don't particularly care about). But, now I'm officially super-weird; and I'm an old bird lady. SEND HELP!

My Bookman

I check out a lot of books. It shouldn't be a surprise that I would do something like that. I'm home a lot. I have a lot more "free" time than I used to. And, I like to read. I always have a book on me, and I read in every spare moment. Every year, my goal is 100 books. Last year, I got really close. I'm the kind of person you catch reading in line at a supermarket. But now, now I'm afraid to go the library.

 When I don't have something to read, say at a doctor's office, this is what happens. I deface their educational materials regarding the male prostate. But, look how happy this bladder looks in my urologist's office looks!! Personally, I think that they shouldn't leave the marker RIGHT THERE, if they don't want patients to draw on the bladder. Isn't the goal to have a happy bladder?

When I don't have something to read, say at a doctor's office, this is what happens. I deface their educational materials regarding the male prostate. But, look how happy this bladder looks in my urologist's office looks!! Personally, I think that they shouldn't leave the marker RIGHT THERE, if they don't want patients to draw on the bladder. Isn't the goal to have a happy bladder?

Actually, I’m afraid to go back to my library. It all started when we went to Michigan this past spring and I accidentally ruined a book with toilet water from the RV, forgot that I did that, and returned said ruined book, on time, to the book drop outside. I feel that, since I did, indeed ruin the book, it’s important to emphasize that I turned it in on time. It was dried out when I turned it in, just a little crinkly from the damp, but now dried, water.

 Bryon's reaction to my "happy bladder." You can't tell, but he's laughing on the inside.

Bryon's reaction to my "happy bladder." You can't tell, but he's laughing on the inside.

They tried to charge me for the book the next time I went to check out books, and I indignantly refused to pay for it, having forgotten my husband’s erratic driving style, as he thinks all roads are serpentine, and all stops require skid marks. They acquiesced because I’m a good library customer, with no fines, and regular check-outs, and why would I ruin a book? We came to an agreement and I paid half the fee.

Well, now I’ve lost a book.

It’s gone. Forever. Seriously. I’ve looked everywhere. The last place I remember seeing it was at a Rite Aid. I feigned trying to concentrate on reading it, as I waited for yet another antibiotic prescription, for yet another UTI, before I gave up, and started browsing through the selection of sundries near the pharmacy section. They sell baby clothes! At a Rite Aid! I was this close to buying my friend’s baby a onesie that said “Someone in Pedro Loves me” but I was afraid I’d have to stop at the pawn shop to also buy him a tiny matching gold chain.

I even looked there -- at the Rite Aid, not the pawn shop. It’s just, gone. Poof. It’s not even a good book. It’s just a mystery that I selected at random, which is how I pick all my mysteries, blindly grabbing by what color I feel like that day. It was a yellow one. I lost a yellow mystery. I feel terrible about it. I wish it were blue. Then I could feel blue, and it would be appropriate. Instead, I think it ran away, afraid of something. Get it? Yellow. Now, I have to be yellow about going to the library, instead of sad. Damn. It’s appropriate.

I waited until it was overdue, and I faced my yellow-bellied fear, and went to the library, to tell the librarian, who for some reason always knows who I am, that I lost the book. He’s always a little too nice to me, and he said that he’d renew it an extra time, to give me more time to look for it, and waive the overdue fees while he was at it. Ummm, okay. But, it took me six weeks to face you this time! “Just let me pay for the damn book,” I was secretly screaming in my head. But, he seemed so proud of being nice, that I couldn’t say it aloud, and I thanked him, instead.

Now, the stupid book is overdue again, and I have a pile of others to return. I’ve still not found the missing yellow book, of course. I have to go face the nice man and tell him that I have to pay for it. It’s karma for the book that I realized I had ruined, only after I got halfway home from the library, after refusing to pay for it. “Oh yeah,” I said to Bryon, “that was that one book I was reading in the bathroom of the RV. Whoops!” 

Somehow, the library always gets their money, I suppose. I guess the idea of letting people take anything they want, on the honor system, small late fees attached, isn’t such a poor business model after all.

This whole thing reminds me of the Seinfeld episode with the library cop, Bookman, though. So, I’ll pay for the stupid book, as I fear he’ll find me, regardless of where I’ll move. Even if he doesn’t, I’ll know I didn’t pay and the metaphorical Bookman will leave a yellow-book mark on my conscience. Stupid book.

I promise to pay for my book, Mr Bookman!

Willow Bean

Our local animal shelter is precariously placed between our nearest Target and the car wash. Because I like my car clean, and because there’s always a reason to go to Target, I have learned that I must take alternate routes to get to both places to avoid the shelter. If I don’t, we would end up with a menagerie. I’ve seen a chickens and goats there! I’ve told myself that I just want to go in and pet the cats and dogs, but I can’t keep that promise to myself.

This September, I randomly stopped in, on a day I’d lied to myself about petting cats. They had so many kittens that, frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t fill the whole car. Instead, I adopted Willow, a cat that they’d not bothered naming, and that the entire staff came out to thank me personally for taking. I’m pretty sure that it was his last day, and they were grateful someone saved him. Not only was his adoption fee free, when I tried to make a donation (which I always do when I adopt a “free” animal), I felt like they wanted to refuse it.

 At the right angle, he is pretty cute, isn't he? Even though he's ancient, he looks like a kitten because he's so itty bitty. Who'd know he's the equivalent of an 88-year old man? With this photo, I argue that many would have adopted him as well - so long as they couldn't smell him.

At the right angle, he is pretty cute, isn't he? Even though he's ancient, he looks like a kitten because he's so itty bitty. Who'd know he's the equivalent of an 88-year old man? With this photo, I argue that many would have adopted him as well - so long as they couldn't smell him.

He wasn’t in a cage; he was a free-roamer, with about fifteen other cats, who are considered social enough to be allowed to wander the cat room. Willow decided he was going home with me the minute I entered the cat room. He followed me from cage to cage, meowing until I picked him up, and then promptly fell asleep in my arms, purring. If I put him down, he cried at my ankles and started the whole process all over again.

 Good gawd he could be cute.

Good gawd he could be cute.

I’m certain he was trying to explain that despite his offensive odor, and hideous appearance, he would make a great friend, and to please take him home. He was far too thin, to the point that you couldn’t just feel his bones, you could feel every bone, and I’m pretty sure his organs. His long fur was matted and dirty. And, you could smell his cheesy, leaky ears from the parking lot.

 From the moment he came home, he only left my lap when either he, or I, had to use the bathroom, or he had to eat. I got used to the smell. I guess, at the shelter, he was trying to clue me in to his plan after all.

From the moment he came home, he only left my lap when either he, or I, had to use the bathroom, or he had to eat. I got used to the smell. I guess, at the shelter, he was trying to clue me in to his plan after all.

At least his presence in my personal bubble kept the lonely women away. Did you know that the cat room at your local shelter is a beacon for single women? I guess this should’ve been a no-brainer, but I didn’t realize just how common it is for women to just swing by and pet cats. Say, on the way home from the gym, on their lunch break, or just because they were sad. Very, very sad. I can’t criticize too much, because that’s exactly what I did that day; but there was a twinge of something “else” about everyone else there, especially since they all came and went without a cat, which made it weird.

Anyway, note to single men looking for a gal: cat room.

As we all know, there’s no such thing as a free cat (or dog!). Willow went to the vet, in his short time with us, more times than Homer has needed to go, in the past five years. He got extra food, special litter, and prescription medication that had to be applied daily. He was brushed, combed, and even got a special haircut. He was adored beyond measure.

By me.

 Hideous headache picture, but adorable scarf-cat picture. He really liked to be carried around and worn like this, for some reason. I've never seen such a thing! By the way, Chiari sure can make you ugly on pain days, can't it!? Look at that facial swelling! Yikes!

Hideous headache picture, but adorable scarf-cat picture. He really liked to be carried around and worn like this, for some reason. I've never seen such a thing! By the way, Chiari sure can make you ugly on pain days, can't it!? Look at that facial swelling! Yikes!

Only me.

The other cats were displeased with Willow’s alley cat ways, and his strange ability to convince them that they should be relegated to only the back bedrooms. They were as confused as the rest of us about his powers of persuasion, considering he was a Lilliputian. Collin was Collin about him, and found him less interesting than the Wii, but more interesting than the carpeting.

 Willow took a keen interest in Collin's new favorite food, Cambell's instant cup-o-soup. When we pointed out that they smell a lot like cat food, Collin wasn't amused.

Willow took a keen interest in Collin's new favorite food, Cambell's instant cup-o-soup. When we pointed out that they smell a lot like cat food, Collin wasn't amused.

 

Bryon, of course, was indifferent to the fact that another animal joined the menagerie, despite his protestations that we didn’t need another cat.

 Bryon was building Lego sets. Willow wanted to be a scarf. You'd think a cat wouldn't like to be held this way. You would be wrong.

Bryon was building Lego sets. Willow wanted to be a scarf. You'd think a cat wouldn't like to be held this way. You would be wrong.

Willow refused to give up on Bryon though. Like all adorable and pathetic creatures, he used this lack of power to weaken Bryon, who was eventually defenseless against fuzziness. Bryon grew to admit, at least, an affection for the little scamp, too.

 Willow was napping atop the couch while Bryon was working. In his snoring state, he literally fell off, and into this position, where he stayed, snuggled between the couch and Bryon's back, purring away, because he was next to a warm body. That cat was so weird.

Willow was napping atop the couch while Bryon was working. In his snoring state, he literally fell off, and into this position, where he stayed, snuggled between the couch and Bryon's back, purring away, because he was next to a warm body. That cat was so weird.

Like all animals, we are charmed by what they do that’s frustrating, as much as what they do that is adorable. Willow, perhaps because he weighed only what his fur and bones weighed, was always seeking warmth. He slept not on your lap, but on your face, or wrapped around your neck, like a scarf. He sought to sleep, at night, curled against your face, or curled under your chin, sucking up the warmth from your breath.

As adorable as that sounds, remember that smell I mentioned? Turns out that his ears were filled with benign, inoperable tumors. They stank, and continued to stink. They collected all manner of airborne bacteria. No matter how clean we kept them, and no matter how good we were with the medication, he was still stinky. Really, stinky.

 Willow and I "enjoying" a nap.

Willow and I "enjoying" a nap.

So, his refusal to be moved, his digging is claws into the pillow or into my hair was truly a lesson in love. He taught us, and especially me, that loving something challenging reaps rewards we aren’t expecting. Willow stank, and I held him close anyway. I knew he was old, and probably wouldn’t last long, and no matter how much I tried to keep myself from falling all the way in love with him, he wound his way deep into my heart, anyway.

 How I woke up most mornings when Willow lived with us.

How I woke up most mornings when Willow lived with us.

At every visit to the vet, we’d ask, “is he uncomfortable,” and “is he in pain.” And, every time, the vet would assure us that he wasn’t. I know what it’s like to be in so much pain that I’d wish for death. I know what it’s like to be sick. I watched that silly cat be old, but not sick. I watched him be close to the end and not particularly healthy, but not particularly unwell either. It was a strange little relationship we had.

 He looks pretty comfortable to me, frankly.

He looks pretty comfortable to me, frankly.

Within his short time with us, he had a few slips into illness that we thought were his end. We’d take him to the vet, and we braced for the worst. But, that silly cat would just have had a flare up of his ear infections, get some antibiotics and some fluids and come home a Skeletor version of a kitten. He was strong, and suddenly frisky. For Willow, that meant harassing the other cats, briefly. Homer and Loki always seemed especially displeased to see the cat carrier return from the vet, occupied.

 Poor kitty.

Poor kitty.

A few days after Christmas, Willow looked sick again. This time though, he didn’t look sick like he looked sick before. He was hiding under the Christmas tree; but, when he was coming out, his back end was dragging, or falling beneath him. He had a bad bowel movement, and dragged his back end through it, and then didn’t clean himself. The poor kitty needed a bath. If you’ve ever bathed a cat, you know they object; he didn’t. Nor did he object when I blow dried him to stop his little skeleton body from shivering. I held him for hours afterward, wrapped in a blanket, while he randomly quaked in what I can only assume was pain.

 Sick kitty after getting a bath and a blow dry.

Sick kitty after getting a bath and a blow dry.

I knew it was time, but instead of being braced, as I was all the other times he’d gotten sick, this time, when I called the vet, I held out hope. By the time we got to the vet the next day, he couldn’t stand when the vet unwrapped him from the blanket he was wrapped in. His back end was completely unstable. My heart broke.

Three months, and Smelly Cat broke my heart.

They let me hold him in his Wonder Woman blanket while they did it. He was so sick, with such dead weight, that his little body didn’t even get heavier when he went. I held him for a long time, and just kept petting him, crying. We all did. When we left, we made sure to put him in a nice position, curled in a nice, napping position, instead looking like a cat corpse. I asked Bryon if he thought the techs noticed things like that, and he assured me that they probably did. I was afraid that, because of how awful he looked, health-wise, they’d think he was unloved; I wanted them to know he was.

I can’t believe how much I miss that silly little cat. Even more, Bryon misses him too.

 Homer "tolerated" Willow, but they got along near the end, even being willing to snuggle together. Loki, on the other hand, refused to have any part of it.

Homer "tolerated" Willow, but they got along near the end, even being willing to snuggle together. Loki, on the other hand, refused to have any part of it.

Of course, Loki and Homer have had a freedom party. They have ganged up, since he’s been gone, and formed the BFF-Team. Formerly, they were the epitome of sibling rivalry. There’s been endless snuggling, and other such cat adorableness. Purring in abundance has made me feel guilty about how miserable they were with Willow’s existence. It’s weird to be sad for him to be gone, and happy that he’s gone, at the same time. Well, I’m at least happy for the other cats.

 The "usual" relationship between the three cats,  if  they managed to be in the same room.

The "usual" relationship between the three cats, if they managed to be in the same room.

I know this whole post makes me sound like a wacko cat lady; and frankly, that’s what I am. I’m not so sure that I care, really. A big part of my life, is spent at my house now that I’m home, so my animals are important to me. Taking care of an old sickly one, resonated with me for obvious reasons. I’m so grateful for having known him, and for being the one who got to be the strong one, instead of the weakly one, in our relationship. He taught me a lot about unconditional love, just by being his stinky, snuggly self. 

 Now, we have snuggles all over the place. Happy kitties. I swear that Loki is purring and happy. It's impossible to take a picture of a black cat. They always look shocked or angry.

Now, we have snuggles all over the place. Happy kitties. I swear that Loki is purring and happy. It's impossible to take a picture of a black cat. They always look shocked or angry.

Homer seems especially pleased. I can't seem to get that cat off my lap. Homer is my best friend, which may seem weird. But, he's been with me since 2003, and is just as old as Willow was. I worry every day about that boy, but I think he'll live forever, just because I can't make it without him.

 Seriously.

Seriously.

Lipo!

I know I said that I was probably going to keep quiet about what procedure I had done. But, it’s not in my nature to keep quiet about anything. And, it’s hypocritical to say that we shouldn’t have to feel shame about something like this, and then feel too embarrassed to tell anyone about it, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I feel embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed because I got it done. I’m not embarrassed that I’d wanted it longer than I can remember. I’m not embarrassed about any of that. I’m not embarrassed to tell that slice of the population that would say to my face, “more power to you,” and then behind my back, “I’d never do that,” to fuck off. I’m embarrassed that in 40 years, I couldn’t tell my own self-critical voice to quiet down enough not to need this.

Back to those naysayers, I say, “Let’s sit down and do an audit of your personal expenses, until I can find something that I find frivolous, that I’d never do.” I once knew a woman who spent thousands, and thousands of dollars on strollers. Strollers! I could’ve paid for what I had done twice over in what she, in my mind (at the time), “wasted” on a status symbol that can cart around kids just as well as a Graco. Vanity is vanity.

As per usual, I digress.

I had…liposuction.

You may be asking yourself, where a woman who weighs 115 lbs manages to find enough girth to lipo away. I’m not a big woman. I was even lucky enough to still have abs post-delivery of my son. Hold onto your tomatoes and other rotten fruit for a minute (no throwing), because, like every woman, I have flaws that become demons, that become obsessions that I’ve torn my hair out over, every time I look in the mirror. I truly envy the woman who can see her own flaws, and just let them go; or, who can, if not let them go, not fixate on them.

I have (had? Remains too soon to say) one spot that my surgeon called the “divot of doom” that plagued me so much, that in dark moments, I debated cutting myself so it would heal as an obvious scar, which I’d rather have had than that damn dimple! It was so deep that, I swear, a village of elves could live in there; I’m convinced that now that it’s gone, Keebler manufacturing will suffer because they’ll have to find a new headquarters for their tree.

 Can you believe that Ernie and the elves have been living in my right thigh, all this time? Perhaps that's why it was all dimply. All those cookies. It's not like I was eating them, they were just being pumped right INTO the source!

Can you believe that Ernie and the elves have been living in my right thigh, all this time? Perhaps that's why it was all dimply. All those cookies. It's not like I was eating them, they were just being pumped right INTO the source!

I eat right, I have exercised to the point of insanity, even (in my pre-surgery days) running into the triple digit miles a week. But, nothing ever touched that jiggly spot. At my thinnest, my thighs would shrink a minuscule amount, but nothing ever touched the fact that they were made of cheese. Nothing. Not any cream, not any special food, not any special detox, nothing. I’m convinced that I have ancestry that links me to the moon, as it’s made of cheese.

The whole movement of “love your curves,” skipped over me, and in fact, made me feel like society had subscribed to some sort of collective insanity. Couldn’t people see that my curves weren’t lovable? And, truly, it wasn’t so much that I hated the size of my legs; it was that I hated the cheese. And, if I’m deeply honest with myself, it was always only one leg that truly bothered me; but, since you can’t really lipo only one leg, unless you want to look like a freak, I had to do both.

Anyone who saw them claimed that they couldn’t see anything, that I was crazy. Of course, I was crazy! I was obsessed! Still, I couldn’t trust their opinions because they all valued my feelings too much (and they were afraid of me!). Damn them, and their concern for my heart!

Even Bryon, always said that he had no idea what I was talking about. Once, I got him to admit that he maybe could, maybe, barely, see something. Still, that was after torturing him to give me a straight answer. It was like one of those scenes from old spy movies where I shined a light over his face until he admitted it. Poor Bryon. It’s like the ultimate version of: “do I look fat in this?” He couldn’t win.

Of course, I realize that years of hyper-focusing on this problem had created a picture in my mind that was entirely inaccurate; but that didn’t stop me from believing my own delusions. The plastic surgeon even showed me my before pics, which are taken in terribly unflattering light (and paper underwear), and tried to show me how the problem is much larger in my mind, than it is in reality. I remained unconvinced.

Over the years, I’d stopped wearing shorts. I’d stopped wearing bathing suits. In general, I hated that bit of me so much that it certainly was interfering with my ability to be happy with myself. And that, my friends, is what plastic surgery is for. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Plastic surgery is, ultimately, for ourselves.

My wonderful doctor was especially good at explaining what could and what could not be accomplished by surgery, especially since I was so small to start with. At my age (or any age), it’s generally a risk that the skin won’t re-tighten over the part where fat is removed, leaving the skin more dimpled than before. Yikes! There is a post-operative procedure that can be performed, under local anesthesia, that can help with that, if that happens, so we’ll see. She wasn’t especially worried about it though, because I have good, tight skin. I got a nice pat on the back for taking such good care of it, especially for being so fair. I guess years of wearing pants instead of shorts pays off in the end; or, it pays off in this very specific situation.

And, did you know it can take months (!!!)  for everything to settle into its new position after the procedure. It may even take a full year. So, no matter how many times you peek at the results, especially in early days, it’ll look like crap. In fact, it’ll look worse than what you went in there with. This was something I am very glad she prepared me for, because holy crap does it look much, much, much worse.

The day of the operation was easy. It’s just like any other surgery, except because you are paying them, instead of insurance paying them, it’s a little more like a cross between a trip to the spa and the hospital. Your wish is their command, really. Everyone was super nice, and right there when you needed them. No buzzers for nurses, and no waiting for anything. It was lovely. I had a headache that day, from skipping meals and water, and I even got extra meds just to make me more comfortable. Who can beat that service?

I could’ve lived without the marker. The doctor came in and drew on my legs with marker. She drew large circles over my “worst” parts. It’s where she planned to do the most work, but it feels like you are being initiated into the world’s meanest sorority. My doctor, being the lovely person she is, made light jokes about how cruel this seems, and made it more comfortable; but, nothing changes the fact that you are standing there in a black paper string bikini, with another woman circling your shame. In case you missed that part buried in the previous sentence: BLACK PAPER STRING BIKINI. At least my doctor was wearing chunky UGG boots, and I could see her face-lift scar because her surgical cap pulled her hair away from her forehead. There's a barrier broken down there between women, in that environment.

The next morning, and still now, it’s far more painful than I expected. They kept saying that it would feel a little like I had a very hard work out. That’s, perhaps, an accurate description, if my workout was eighteen hours long; and then, to cool down, I stepped into the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world, but he was only allowed to hit beneath the waist. I make unusual noises, every time I stand up, and every time, I sit down (especially on the brutally hard surface of the toilet). To be honest, if I knew how painful it was going to be, I may have hesitated a bit more. Part of the selling point was that it wasn't going to hurt that bad. But, I may be a wuss. We're starting to think that nerve damage may have messed up my ability to process pain properly.

They give you pain meds, but it barely touches it. Mostly, to combat the pain, I just don’t move. I sit mostly still, and do my best impression of a root vegetable. I’m used to this from years of practice as a pain patient and a brain surgery survivor. My boys swirl around me and wait on me, hand and foot. Because it hurts to move, at all, they even get things for me that are only slightly out of reach. Bryon even installed a bell ringer on my phone, to call them when they are out of the room!

 Nurses. They actually do a relatively terrible job because they like to walk around on my legs and knead them repetitively before they get comfortable. My cries of pain do not deter them. Since Willow (the white cat) died, they have suddenly become best friends, and begun cuddling with me nonstop...together, which is weird, but good.

Nurses. They actually do a relatively terrible job because they like to walk around on my legs and knead them repetitively before they get comfortable. My cries of pain do not deter them. Since Willow (the white cat) died, they have suddenly become best friends, and begun cuddling with me nonstop...together, which is weird, but good.

Other than the pain, the worst part of this whole process is the compression garment. I have to wear it, 24-7 for the next six weeks. Imagine Spanx (that are ten times tighter) that go down to your knees, and up to your breasts, and attach over your shoulders with elastic overall straps. On the first day, my legs were so swollen, they looked like over-stuffed sausages spilling out of their casings, out the bottom of the damn things. They are crotch-less, so you don’t have to get out of them to use the bathroom, which is as lovely as it sounds. I call them my weird lederhosen. They do have a tiny bow in the center, so I can feel pretty, of course.

And yes, I already snapped the straps right into my boobs. I think Bryon is totally over the cost of this whole thing, because I made that grievous error in his presence, and in all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him laugh so hard.

Please don’t get me wrong on the bizarre undergarment; the few times I took it off, it felt terrible. Because the procedure uses heat to melt the fat underneath, before it’s sucked out; and the healing process involves your anatomy shifting around until it re-settles, the garment basically holds it all in a comfortable (and correct) place. When you take it off, it feels like, every and anything beneath your skin, is moving around. This feeling is…well…unsettling. So, as uncomfortable as the garment is, it’s more comfortable with it on. And, because of the heat, the quality of the pain is two-fold: you get the pain from ramming the probe under your skin, and the quality of burning and aching. Plus, the incisions, no matter how small, don’t like to be left out of the action. They hurt too. And there are lots of them.

So, what did she do? She removed the dreaded saddle bag sides, and sucked out a fair bit from the inner thigh area. That area is still really swollen, so it remains to be seen how much. She re-arranged what was left, to de-dimple. She also moved around a bit on the back, but didn’t specifically suck anything out of the rear of my legs, or out of my behind. She flatly said that she has women coming in, asking specifically for an ass like mine, especially since it does a little pop, so to change it would be a crime. It’s always nice to be complimented by a plastic surgeon, right? She removed very little, overall. It isn’t like I lost ten pounds. It was more of a sculpting than anything else.

And now, we wait. We wait for the healing to finish, and to see if my skin needs to be pulled tighter over those pesky bands that create cellulite. We wait to see how it all settles. We wait to see the finished product. We wait to see if my body decides to start depositing fat elsewhere, now. We just wait. At the moment, the only waiting I actually care about is waiting not to scream every time I pee because the toilet seat is just so damn hard!

Even more than debating whether or not to tell what I had done, I debated sharing these photos. It’s not that it shows anything intimate; but, it’s intimate adjacent.

 PLUS, my legs look about ten thousand times worse than they've ever looked. They are swollen and bumpy, lumpy and gross. I'm sooooooo glad the doctor warned me a thousand times about it, otherwise I'd freak out. They are so swollen that they are like sausages bursting out of their little freaky lederhosen casings. In fact, even though she took fat OUT, I've gained over ten pounds of fluid!

PLUS, my legs look about ten thousand times worse than they've ever looked. They are swollen and bumpy, lumpy and gross. I'm sooooooo glad the doctor warned me a thousand times about it, otherwise I'd freak out. They are so swollen that they are like sausages bursting out of their little freaky lederhosen casings. In fact, even though she took fat OUT, I've gained over ten pounds of fluid!

I blacked out anything that a typical bathing suit wouldn’t show, but it’s still…well, you get the gist. I thought I’d show you what 48 hours post-lipo looks like. There are plenty more bruises where those came from, but I can’t show them without showing more. My entire pelvis, is bruised, and my entire rear is bruised, for example. And yes, it hurts as much as it looks like it does, maybe worse.

 These bruises are at five days, on the back of my legs only. So, they are looking "better." There are two incisions in this picture too. So, yeah, you might be able to see why going to the bathroom is my least favorite activity at the moment. I have showered, but you can see the marker still. I wasn't exactly up for scrubbing the area with much vigor! Still really, really swollen.

These bruises are at five days, on the back of my legs only. So, they are looking "better." There are two incisions in this picture too. So, yeah, you might be able to see why going to the bathroom is my least favorite activity at the moment. I have showered, but you can see the marker still. I wasn't exactly up for scrubbing the area with much vigor! Still really, really swollen.

Anyway, that's the big story. I have striven to be pretty honest here, and it felt crummy to not be honest about this. Roll your eyes at me if you will. But, that means I get to roll my eyes at something stupid you do. We've all got our "thing;" even if it's not a physical one. I feel better about mine now. Well...I will feel better about mine, when I can walk, move, and pee without crying.

I hope.

Voluntary Surgery: A New Frontier

I have been sitting on a fence lately. It’s a nice fence, because I’ve come to the realization that while it straps us to afford it, we have the luxury of being able afford my whining about sitting there, debating about telling the world about it. Cryptic, huh? I know.

It’s like getting on Facebook and asking everyone to keep me in their thoughts and prayers, but then never saying anything else about it. Or worse, it’s like following it up by saying something like, “if you know me, you know what this is about.” Super annoying. Mystery only begets insane theories involving you, the mailman, an incurable disease, perhaps a black-market organ donation scheme, a potentially lethal arrangement with a drug cartel; and obviously, a sex ring involving all your neighbors. 

Rest assured, none of the above are true about my fence-sitting decision to talk or tell. My thing is much more mundane.

I am getting plastic surgery.

Phew.

There it is.

In black and white.

For the world to see.

Oy.

It’s easy for people to say, in generalities, about the concept, that, if there’s something about oneself that they truly hate, and if they can afford it, that they should just go ahead and fix it. It’s also perfectly fine to say, that on concept, it’s not something you’d judge someone for. But, when you take the plunge and decide to do it for real, the concept of how truly vain it is, is no longer intellectual curiosity or conversation. It’s a reality, and you feel, instead of proud of taking care of something that has brought you misery your entire life, a great sense of shame. It’s a conundrum.

So, let’s talk about it a little. Mostly, let’s talk about the whole thing. It’s been an overwhelming process. It’s been more than I bargained for. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into!

 

How should I Look?

Firstly, what do I wear to my consultation(s)? How much effort do I put into my hair and makeup? It’s no secret that people who go into cosmetic surgery for vanity’s sake, not for, say, fixing cleft palates in third world countries, are likely interested in “look.” What if I show up in the “wrong” thing? Will they judge me? Ugh. It’s a lot of pressure! It’s like the first day at Mean Girls High, only I’m Josie Grossie. And, everyone knows you can’t mix universes. It’s like Wonder Woman showing up at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine would be like, “what’cha doin’ here girl?” And, WW would be all, “did you just call me ‘girl?” Then, she’d kick his adamandium ass.

 

What if They Think I Need More “Work?”

What if I show up and tell them that I hate my nose; and, they are like, “no kidding,” but secretly are assessing the rest of me, and wondering why I’m not also asking to get my eyes/boobs/ass/legs/and entire face done? They are the “experts,” after all. However, it’s no secret that they get hooked on their own supply.

For example, my doctor is awesome, but I had to stifle a gasp, and an urge to shout, “ACK! Monster!” when she walked in. She’s amazing, think, “doctor that hugs,” but she also looks like post-Friends Courtney Cox, only even more botched surgeries. She was…terrifying, when I first met her.

 Photo Credit: Radar Online  To be fair, I read somewhere that some friends basically sat her down and told her that she was starting to look a little...well, grotesque, and she stopped with all the fillers, and she's looking much better now. Phew for that.

Photo Credit: Radar Online

To be fair, I read somewhere that some friends basically sat her down and told her that she was starting to look a little...well, grotesque, and she stopped with all the fillers, and she's looking much better now. Phew for that.

One might wonder if you could trust a doctor who has such a clearly skewed version of beauty to handle your image. And one would be right. But, they all look like that! Trust me. You are stuck relying on testimonials, reviews, your gut, and how the surgeon made you feel when they explained things. No wonder so many people shy away, once they start the process.

The $$

Dude. This is not cheap. Like, at all. I went into my consultation, that I had to pay for, of course, with an astronomical number in mind, so I’d be prepared for that little room, they shuffle you off into, to talk numbers. In some ways, it’s like buying a car, what with that little room. It was twice the number I had in mind. TWICE! Of course, they do financing, but it feels weird to have committed to paying for my vanity for the next two years. A few hundred dollars a month to not hate myself when I look in the mirror.

I have the luxury of saying that I have been given a rough shake; so, maybe I “deserve” something special, and something that I really, really want. But, that excuse only holds water for so long, especially when it takes money away from my family. I’ve managed to rationalize purchasing myself several things that way, whenever I feel especially low after a bad pain flair. My Anthropolgie cart gets a workout, or I bargain shop for stuff, claiming I saved us money by buying things at rock bottom prices through eBay or resale shops. But, I’d save a lot more by not shopping at all!

Rachel: Bryon, I saved $200 on these boots!
Bryon: How much were they originally?
Rachel: That’s not important.
Bryon: Ummm.
Rachel: (in tiny voice): $600. BUT! These have NEVER been marked down! You don’t understand! How could I pass them up!? I’d have been insane!
Bryon: I understand perfectly.

And, he does, actually. I argue that I put up with his faults too. He never wipes the stove properly; and, he leaves the counter by the sink sopping wet when he does the dishes. Insufferable, if you ask me. Truly.

Is it worth it? I guess I’ll have to let you know.

Body Dysmorphia

I sneaked a peak at the doctor’s notes about me at my pre-op, and aside from the technical terms about my procedure, which are not flattering. Trust me, when your body part’s flaws are broken down into the most technical of terms, there’s nothing complimentary about any of it. Think about rhinoplasty, for example. If you are getting, say, a nose-job, “Excess cartilage: rhinoplasty” sounds grotesque; but, even in non-technical terms: “massive honker shave-down” is, still, less than flattering. “Shrink the Streisand,” maybe?

Then, I got to thinking a bit more, and it occurred to me that it is only (most) men that don’t have at least a smidge of body dysmorphia. Bryon can look in the mirror, and truly not see a thing that he hates about himself. He’s losing his hair, has gained weight since we’ve been married, and doesn’t own a single anti-aging facial product. In fact, he only puts body lotion, or any lotion, on when his skin is so cracked it’s about to bleed. He’s cool with whatever version of himself greets him in the mirror every day. He’s your standard American middle-aged, married male.

Can you imagine how lovely and carefree this existence would be? It would definitely be cheaper, I realize, as I very seriously priced La Mer today. 

Meanwhile, (almost all) women, if asked honestly, will tell you at least five things that they’d change about their appearance. And, if being brutally honest, they’d tell you how much time they’ve spent in the mirror examining which angles hide those imperfections, which Spanx work the best, which makeup tricks work the best; and maybe, imagining what lifts, tucks and snips would give them what nature didn’t.

There are the few men who hate themselves as much as we do, or at least hate parts of themselves. These men are the ones you see at the gym, who are miraculously hairless, and who gaze in the mirror in the weight area a little too long. These are the men who have as many “products,” as you do, and who understand your unwillingness to miss a workout, because they won’t miss one either. Bryon doesn’t understand this logic. He is always saying things like, “you are already thin, it’s okay not to run today.” Silly Bryon.

I digress. As always.

Also, can you tell I love Scrubs? And, I can come up with a scene or quote for basically any situation? I had a few perfect ones that I couldn't find a video or a Gif for; and believe me, I looked. Jordan, in my view, the best character on the show, tells Perry she's going to have her doc "fire up the fat vac," when she finds out she's going to be wearing a bikini;" and, she also thanks her doctor for "these," as she points to her breasts. She's fantastic. No shame in her game. Alas, no glory in finding those clips.

Anyhow! I noticed that one of my notes said: “borderline body dysmorphic female. Risks and benefits were clearly discussed w/PT.” At first, it caught me off guard, but then it occurred to me: yep. That’s about right.

I know we all look in the mirror and hate our nose, eyes, forehead, legs, butt, feet and fingernails. But, I truly HATE certain body parts. Like, I HATE with a passion that burns hotter than the sun. Tears have been shed, including tears in this doctor’s office, which is probably where she got that diagnostic note. I think I was a little overwhelmed with the potential of a magic wand solution, and the ability to finally let that hate out, to a doctor that has it.

Goals

Which brings me to what I hope to accomplish from this surgery. A good surgeon will caution you about what can and cannot be accomplished with plastic surgery. Apparently, the ones who promise that they can fix “anything,” are the bad ones. In my wildest fantasies about life, I can have skinny thighs, a better chin and nose, and bigger boobs, and I also have a massive house that looks at the ocean, we have horses, a carousel, some monkeys…wait, that’s Neverland Ranch. Scratch the last bit.

The idea of the goals of surgery are important, nonetheless. As I was so woefully lectured, I will never be a supermodel. In fact, those were the exact words my doctor said, except she added, “you’ll never be Cindy Crawford,” which I felt was a little bit of salt in the wound and perhaps unnecessary. I get that ship has sailed on my life, thanks. In no way, do I hope to attain beauty that rivals one of the most perfect genetic specimens in the world. Thanks.

So, what do I hope to accomplish. Apparently, I’m supposed to be aware of tempered expectations, before I go to my consultation, and definitely before I go under the knife, fat vac, heat laser, or whatever tool they choose to use on my secret procedure. Maybe, I’ll tell you what I am having done at a later date. Or, I will let you keep guessing. Every time you see me, you can assess me, and think, “finally, she got that chin taken care of,” then, “nope that hideous nose is a bit smaller,” or, “phew, she looks thinner!” You may never figure it out.

Could be a ton of Botox?

 

Could be the Fat Vac?

Suffice it to say, it’s very subtle, and it’s just for me. You’d think the subtlety and minuscule nature would affect the price, but it does not. Like, I feel like if I want only a millimeter shaved off my nose, or an ounce of fat removed, or something like that, the price should be commiserate with services rendered. This is not, however, how the pricing scale works.

 This was the FIRST picture in my entire photo stream, on my phone, that even resembled a full body shot. I present you a "before." If I just gave you a "face," you'd think, for sure, I was doing something face. If I gave you a pic of my ass, well...you get the picture.

This was the FIRST picture in my entire photo stream, on my phone, that even resembled a full body shot. I present you a "before." If I just gave you a "face," you'd think, for sure, I was doing something face. If I gave you a pic of my ass, well...you get the picture.

 

How do I Ask the Right Questions?

When you have brain surgery, the list of questions for your surgeon are automatic, mostly because you know that if they mess up, you’ll die, become paralyzed, or become a drooling buffoon. You can automatically come up with dozens, then dozens more that you should’ve asked on the way home. The only question you can think of, while you are in the plastic surgeon’s office, even if you write something down ahead of time, is “what are the risks of me looking like a freak?”

Obviously, my recovery, pain control, infection risks, and financing questions have been clearly explained. In fact, they were so informative, that I barely had room to come up with a reasonable question, to be honest. The only question I’d come up with, that I’d written down was about a money back guarantee, which felt stupid, and made me feel like a Wal-Mart shopper who’d won the lottery and wandered into Cartier for the first time, Nascar t-shirt and all, ready to make their first real purchase. Still, it felt like a reasonable question. You know, like what if it’s really, really messed up? Do they stand behind their work and fix it? They do.

Well, the bottom line is that in about two weeks, I’m going to be a true LA gal, because I’m having plastic surgery. It’s official, I’m a Californian. 

Also, I can't let this post go by without the mention that my precious baby child went with me to my pre-op appointment (not the initial appointment(s). But, he was bewildered at what "those" were. When I explained that they were breasts, he was sufficiently grossed out. He was even more grossed out when I told him he could touch them.

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His assessment is that the second breast from the top felt, "weird." The funny thing was that the office assistant, when she brought us to the "pay room," where the huge implants are stacked, said that kids LOVE touching and playing with those. Apparently, my son's curiosity is not alone.

Thanksgiving

I could wax poetic about how thankful I was this Thanksgiving for things like my health, and for the ability to enjoy my family. Or, I could tell you about the hilarity that ensued in preparing the meal. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the entire process of preparing said meal, if I wasn’t exponentially healthier than I was last year. Last year, I was still so sick that, the following day, despite pretending I was totally cool with washing every dish, and with chatting and laughing, I had to sleep all day long. Literally. For two days. My poor recovering brain just couldn’t handle it.

Anyway, this year, I prepared two pies, two cheesecakes (more on that, shortly), Strop Koekjes, and the potatoes. I was a girl on fire – in my nether regions. I would’ve made the cranberries too; but, ironically, I had to stop, mid-prep, for a surprise trip to urgent care for yet another UTI. Cranberries clearly don’t prevent UTIs, folks.

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I have yet another mysterious chronic condition in which my tropical island (a girl I knew once called her vagina this, and I like it), has taken a liking to developing UTIs, basically all the time. No sooner do I wrap up the antibiotics for one, but another develops. I even got to enjoy a ninety-day course of antibiotics, but lo and behold, the minute I threw out the empty bottle, a fun new visitor bivouacked on my beach. My island likes visitors. It must be the tropical climate.

 Totally stolen image. But, have I ruined tropical vacations for you yet?

Totally stolen image. But, have I ruined tropical vacations for you yet?

Yes, I know how to wipe. Yes, I know how to wash. Yes, I know all the S-E-X rules. I follow them religiously. It’s like a decontamination shower every time I use the bathroom, or heaven forbid, any “foreign visitors” travel to my island. It’s gotten ridiculous. There’s surgical prep soap in my shower, for cripe’s sake!

 

The doctor is baffled. We’ve tried less washing. More washing. This antibiotic. That antibiotic. This test. That test. This uncomfortable procedure. That one. And everything in between. Did you know that my bladder itself can hold a massive amount of urine? It’s remarkable, actually. I found this out when they put electrodes in there and filled my bladder with saline and made me hold it as long as possible, before emptying it, in front of a nurse and a med tech, in a toilet chair. It was super fun. I recommend this procedure to anyone who has a free morning and no pride or sense of dignity.

So, that’s what interrupted my cranberry prep, and why I didn’t make them. Collin made them. Collin! My child. My itty-bitty, infant, made part of our Thanksgiving dinner, with a food processor. I am as shocked as anyone. I am shocked both because he is old enough to participate in this part of the ritual preparations of a traditional meal, and because he was willing to tear himself away from the Legend of Zelda long enough to press the pulse button on the Cuisinart. Not to fear, he’s apparently not old enough to wash the Cuisinart. He left that part to the real grown-ups.

 Yeah, it's a picture of a picture! But, I got a new laptop and it's not synced to the full photo album for some reason. I couldn't let this post go by without remembering how my infant tiny baby looks, in my mind, when he helps cook.

Yeah, it's a picture of a picture! But, I got a new laptop and it's not synced to the full photo album for some reason. I couldn't let this post go by without remembering how my infant tiny baby looks, in my mind, when he helps cook.

More hilarity ensued that night, when my hypochondriac, anxiety-prone son came out of his room to report that his stomach felt “weird.” I did what I like to call, “gently ignored him.” Because of his sensory issues, he has a difficult time determining what, in his body, is a big deal, versus what is nothing. And, because of his genuine anxiety, he gets nervous over the slightest issue. This means that he complains about everything.

We’ve started calling him Cameron. He doesn’t like it. Nor does he get it, since he’s never seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but it suits him.

 "I fell like complete shit, Ferris. I can't go anywhere."  Take out the "shit," and it's Collin. He says, "bleep" instead of swearing. I don't know whose child he fucking is, sometimes.

"I fell like complete shit, Ferris. I can't go anywhere."

Take out the "shit," and it's Collin. He says, "bleep" instead of swearing. I don't know whose child he fucking is, sometimes.

In other words, he’s always feeling “weird.”  He’s always showing me something that he thinks looks off, or complaining about something distressing. I’ve had him show me his chest rising and falling and ask me, “why does it look like that?” The response, “because you are breathing,” only causes more questions, such as, “but, if I do this, it does that. Why?” So, I’ve learned that the best approach is to assume he’s fine, and just hope for the best unless my mommy radar goes “ping.”

It didn’t; so, I told him if he felt sick, to go to the bathroom. Of course, he sat in front of the toilet for ten minutes, looking like a pitiful puppy that’s been locked in the laundry room after peeing on the rug. I patted his little head when I walked by to grab something out of the bedroom, but he still looked fine. After all, we’d heretofore (always impressive when you can use that word, right?) won the vomit lottery. My child may have autism, and he may have ADHD, and he may be endlessly frustrating and perfect, but he has only had the stomach flu ONE TIME!

Surely, you know where this is going.

He sleeps in a loft bed.

After ten minutes in the bathroom, he went back to bed.

To his loft bed.

He didn’t make it to the bathroom.

I’ve lived in fear of this day since we put that loft bed into his room.

But…

He had a bucket in his bed with him, just in case, because he’d had a cough all week. He’d been gagging, occasionally. That bucket should be bronzed as a lifesaver. The mayor should give it a commendation.

Spaghetti with red sauce and milk. Thank god for that bucket.

After the puke, he was fine. Totally fine. Like kids are. But, he was fine in a way that I cannot describe. He was fine like, “what did he eat?”

Oh my God, was it the milk? The milk that I just used in the cheesecake? See! Veganism is the best! At least I won’t vomit! But, the guests! Shit. Shit. Shit. I’m finally healthy and strong enough to be Suzy Homemaker and I am going to poison everyone. The fucking thing was perfect too! It didn’t even crack when it cooled.

I scrambled to the recycle bin to check the expiration date, which was the middle of December.  My not-so-helpful vomit-breath son could only say, “I guess that I think it tasted a little weird; but, that was only towards the end of dinner, after it sat out for a while.” I wanted to shake him; but, I thought would be a little heartless, after ignoring him. But still, it either tasted weird, or it didn’t. Gah!

Since I think milk tastes, and smells like Satan’s asshole, I’m no help in determining its freshness, especially from the dregs of an empty carton, pulled from the recycle bin. I’ve had a strong aversion to milk since I was a kid, even before being vegan. My mom used to try to trick me into drinking it, you know, because it’s good for you, by putting it in a covered cup, and mixing it with Vernor's. Blech! It’s one of the things she did that I think was from a good place, but it’s gross. Milk mixed with Ginger Ale? I could gag just thinking about it.

Anyway, do I have to make an entirely new cheesecake because of the vomiting? Why do children vomit at the worst times? Or, is there a good time for them to vomit?

The only way to know was to potentially poison my guests, or to make someone eat some before they did. Bryon took one for the team; but, I made another one, anyway, while he was on vomit watch. Since he figured he was in for a penny, in for a pound, he kept right on eating it, regularly, until “real” serve-up time. He didn’t barf, so we ended up with two black cherry, cookie crumb and fudge swirl cheesecakes.

I guess that’s not so bad of an outcome. The mystery of what made my child vomit may never be solved, but it wasn’t the cheesecake. I choose to blame an early visit from Krampus. He’d better shape up! Since he only vomited once, I chose not to believe that he was going to be passing the stomach flu to me, Bryon, our neighbors, their mother-in-law, two other children, and an infant.

images.jpg

 

But, the best part of our Thanksgiving preparations was probably karma’s punishment (or warning, depending on how you want to see it) for Bryon, when he tried to prep the barbecue for smoking the turkeys. I flatly refuse to touch or have anything to do with meat, in our house, even on holidays. I won’t even touch the dishes. It makes my stomach turn. Because Bryon sees days like Thanksgiving as, essentially, a meat party, he’s happy to tolerate my idiosyncrasy in this matter.

However, when he went to prepare the barbecue, the universe of the animals had prepared a revolt for him, in the shape of a rat. We prepare so little meat in our house, especially on the barbecue, these days, that a rat had taken up residence in the base of the barbecue, and made a nice little nest in the smoker. Seeing this nest, I learned two things: a rat can make a nest out of just about anything (ash!?), and that they poop a lot, and don’t mind sleeping in it (ew).

He was quite displeased at being disrupted by Bryon opening the barbecue, and felt a little concerned at the thought of it being lit on fire. Mr. Rat scurried about, back and forth between the smoker and the barbecue, rushing around, trying to figure out a way to not be evicted, while Bryon tried to figure out a way to evict him, without lighting the barbecue, and cooking him out. It was quite a sight to see, and hear, as Mr. Rat scampered quite loudly. Plus, he had me, ever-so-gently (of course) insisting that Mr. Rat be gently coaxed from his home.

Poor Bryon has to put up with such a crazy lady for a wife. He asks for so little. Turkey on Thanksgiving! Is that too much to ask? He gets rat in the barbecue, and a wife who insists that the rat takes precedence over the dead meat. That man is a saint.

rat+meme.jpg

I was concocting alternate turkey preparation plans, in my head, as I was not about to let him hurt the rat, despite it being disgusting, if it came to a showdown. And, Bryon was quite perplexed at how to remove a rat, and his nest, without harming him, and without infecting our guests with the hanta virus or the bubonic plague.

It turned out that banging on the barbecue for a while, and leaving the lid wide open for several hours encouraged Mr. Rat to relocate. He packed his little rat bags, and found a new residence pretty quickly. I’m hoping he moved to a new neighborhood entirely, and didn’t settle close-by. Bryon spent hours scrubbing the barbecue and disinfecting it, as to not kill anyone with plague.

The meal turned out quite lovely and we had a full turkey leftover. I told you that Bryon gets a little excited when we actually cook meat. No one vomited from cheesecake, or anything else. And, no one contracted the hanta virus, or the plague. There were no pestilence visitors. My antibiotic worked…so far. I was able to cook, and clean up. And, the next day, I was strong enough to help put up Christmas decorations all day, after a quick run, and some weight lifting.

Lots to be thankful for.

A Sh*tty Post

Confession: This story is almost a month old…it took me that long to get my shit together and finish this! Sorry!


But….

I’m ready to talk about something totally, absolutely, and ridiculously, humiliating. Are you ready?

No, really?

Are you ready?

Because, it’s about to get all kinds of gross, and personal, in here.

I know that I share here. It’s a nice outlet. My sister has called my “outlet” self-indulgent, which, at the time, I tried very hard to take as the insult it was intended to be. It was hard though, because it occurs to me that almost all communication, except for true listening is self-indulgent. We all want to be heard. So, we talk, write, shout, and send smoke signals.

I know that I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been…processing…shall we say? I get to do that. I mean, I’m a little fucked up. In the past 36 months, I’ve had my head shaved twice, my skull cracked open, and titanium rammed mere fractions of a millimeter from my brain.

As a quick addendum to that titanium; I’ve recently learned that, at any given moment, my body may decide that the titanium plate and screws, are no longer welcome. It may begin rejecting them, by propelling out the screws at rocket-ship speeds.

Okay, they will propel at slow, glacial speeds. However, any speed at which a screw propels itself from my skull, and through my scalp, feels too fast. The first sign of this will be that I’ll feel the fucking screw…in…my…scalp! Well, I’ll feel it coming through my scalp, like a This Old House episode gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Just, imagine me, brushing my hair that I haven’t cut in two years, because it’s now my security blanket (we’ll get back to that, and why I look like a filthy bag lady – not Rapunzel) and, wham! Screw poking through my skin!

Now, imagine how often that I check my scalp for suspicious lumps. I’m like a pubescent boy who feigns concern for his girlfriend’s breast health. A number with exponents per times per week, I ask Bryon, “was this lump here before?” I ask him so often, in fact, that he always says, “yes,” without even checking. How dare he not take my irrational concern seriously?

Aside from the whole surgery and imminent screw loose (yeah, I get it) thing, I’ve also lost my family. Lost is a weird word choice. I shed them like an extreme form of molting, but the feeling of loss is still there. I can’t exactly eat my family, the way a lizard eats its skin when he’s done shedding and growing. That’d be gross. And, criminal. And, I don’t want to. I’m a vegan.

My therapist suggested that I consider myself adopted. Not to diminish the experience of true adoptees, of course. Still, lots of parents either give up, or are forced to give up their children because they are unable to either physically, or emotionally, provide for them. I’m not much different in that regard, except that I’m an adult. So, now I’m adrift in the world.

Parentless.

That’s a lot of shit to deal with in a relatively short amount of time.

I’ve gotten side-tracked.

For a long time.

Sorry!

I promised you a gross confession.

Physically, I’m doing the best I’ve been doing since I got sick. Brace yourselves: I’m running. No shit. I’m capable of running! R-U-N-N-I-N-G again! Not a lot. And, not fast. And, not every day. But, every step I take that is faster than a walk, is like the greatest step I’ve ever taken. It’s how I imagine it must’ve felt to walk on the moon.

 I'm not saying that I high-five my WW poster after treadmill runs, but I high-five my WW poster after treadmill runs.

I'm not saying that I high-five my WW poster after treadmill runs, but I high-five my WW poster after treadmill runs.

I’m on the least amount of drugs I’ve been on in at least three years. In fact, It’s the first time that I’ve not been on a daily opiate regiment. But, when it’s bad, it’s still really bad. I still have an opiate prescription for when I get a massive headache that can’t be controlled by other means, especially because my headaches, when I get them, last for days, because they can be caused by my wack-a-doodle intracranial pressure, and that pain can’t be controlled by a Tylenol.

But, there’s a not-so-well-kept secret about opiates: they back up your poop system. For most people, with normal colons, this is no big deal. When they are done taking them, they eat a couple of prunes, and they are good to go. This is also no big deal, because most people who take opiates don’t need to take them for very long, or very often.

I wish I had a regular colon. Sometimes, just seeing the Oxy bottle in the drawer is enough to block me up for a month. My colon has a mind of its own, and it is susceptible to the power of suggestion. I think it might be a bit of a hypochondriac, frankly. If it even hears of a negative condition, it catches it. Yeah, that’s right, my colon can hear. Can’t yours?

A Pepto commercial for traveler’s diarrhea comes on, and my colon becomes convinced that the mailbox equates to a trek through India, stopping to drink from a well that pulls ground water from a stagnant creek that the locals use to rise the diapers of children infected with cholera. Strangely, I can see hundreds of commercials of Jamie Lee Curtis and her lady-yogurt, and I never find myself being regular.

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This would be no big deal, except that I have (confession time) yet another rare and, this time, humiliating, medical condition: bile salt diarrhea. Bile salt diarrhea can be caused by a number of things, but it’s a relatively rare side effect of removing the gallbladder. Guess who has two thumbs and has had her gall bladder removed?

It’s hard to take a picture of yourself with two thumbs! Ha! This is from me grading the other day, anyway.

 My god, my thumb looks HUGE!

My god, my thumb looks HUGE!

 

One of the functions of the gallbladder is that it regulates how much bile the stomach uses, and then gets dumped into your intestines to continue digesting your food in the next stage of digestion. Without it, in some people, the stomach has no idea what to do when food hits it; so, it dumps bile straight into the intestines. Because the intestines are not equipped to digest huge amounts of bile, it rushes, straight through your intestines, along with the undigested food. The stomach has a difficult time turning off the bile dump, and you will continue to pass this bile, rapidly, until it turns off. Of course, you’ve smartly stopped eating by now, because you’re already in the bathroom. Plus, it’ll keep dumping bile through so long as you are eating, and your stomach is sending the signal that there is more food to digest.  

As this problem became more prominent, I sometimes ate, practically, on the toilet, as that’s how quickly my food passed. I never held anything in longer than 15-20 minutes. We are a family with no shame (okay—gross, sometimes); so, we would (and still do), occasionally, play the corn race. When we eat corn, we see who “sees” the corn again first. I always won. By days. Because I always saw it again within minutes, I continue to be the reigning corn race champ! Undefeated!

I have to take my victories where I can get them. I’m not exactly going to win any Olympic gold medals in my lifetime.

As you can imagine, this is a relatively difficult problem to diagnose. You go through the following stages:

Did I seriously not make it to the bathroom last night? That was totally embarrassing. Hope that doesn’t happen again.

  • OMG. Again?
  • Again?
  • Wait. This is ridiculous.
  • I’m too embarrassed to tell the doctor that I shit myself…regularly.
  • Okay, I should tell him, because I saw an entire undigested piece of pizza last night. Am I getting any food?
  • Hang on…if I’m shitting everything I eat, why are my thighs still so big?
  • Nah, I’ve got this under control! I can drive the kid to school, without a towel under me, so long as I don’t eat before noon, and not after 9 pm.
  • Wait…that’s not normal.
  • Okay, sucked it up, and the doctor said to add bulk fiber and take Immodium. He didn’t seem phased that I have to take 20 to make it stop. 20! Hmmm. Can you OD on Immodium? Stupid military medicine.
  • Whelp, it’s been six months, and now, I’m wearing Depends to a job interview. Is this a reasonable solution? What if I get the job? Is this the long-term plan? I can’t work two hours away, and wear Depends!
  • Do Depends show through these pants? The students will totally be able to tell.
  • I’m so fucking hungry. I can’t go on not eating through a full day of teaching and driving, just so I don’t have to wear Depends under my clothes!
  • Back to the doctor. Fucking military medicine.
  • Ugh. Gastroenterology. Of course, I have to do a lower GI thing with the poop scope.
  • Phew. This is fixed with a simple med. Why couldn’t this have been easier?

So, yeah. It’s easily controlled. One simple med, and I’ve never had another problem. It slows down the digestive process, and I’m totally fine. But, if I take the digestive slowing med, and I have a headache that week, where I have to take opiates, I’d never go to the bathroom again. I think my colon would rupture. I say that jokingly, but in reality, it’s a possibility. If I had to take opiates, for say, weeks on end, and I took my slowing med, I could actually die, eventually. I have to be super careful to monitor the ol’ pooper.

Stool softeners: not just for post partum mommies.

After a headache that requires opiates, it takes anywhere from a week, to a month (not even kidding) to go again, “naturally.” We call the ensuing gut swelling my poop babies. And, they hurt. I can’t bend, twist, or move, because they get pretty fucking big.

I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to get some control over it, pretty early, before I look three months pregnant with Collin’s poop baby sibling. Ex-Lax has become my friend. Barring that, Ducolax suppositories. Please pray for me, that it doesn’t come to the second solution very often. They suck. If you’ve ever needed one, you know why. Dear Hera, the fire.

But, Ex-Lax can take more than one dose, and it’s a delicate balance. A very delicate balance.

Take a dose. Wait twelve hours. Nothing.

Take another dose. Wait twelve hours. Still nothing. Ponder whether you want to live or die.

Take another dose. Wait twelve hours, and know you are moving towards the Ducolax in the morning. Also know that the third dose (or the previous two) can open the gates of hell at any moment, and if it does, it will be horrible because it took so long.

Wake up at two a.m. and hate your very existence.

This is what happened to me over the weekend.

From the hours of two a.m. until nine, I pooped. I pooped everything I’ve ever eaten, in my life. I pooped everything everyone has ever eaten in their entire lives. Only it wasn’t like this:

 

At least not at first. It’s like passing softballs through a straw, until you get to the end; when all of the sudden, it’s like Jeff Bridges on the toilet, and you wish you were dead. It’s difficult to determine which is worse: softballs or Jeff Bridges. Softballs come with cramps that and blood; Jeff Bridges comes with, well, Mississippi Mud.

Then, you fall asleep on the couch, cold and sweaty, and you can start all over with the digestive slowing meds. For the next week or so, you get to deal with blood and the dreaded “fissures.” Seriously, how much do you know about me, right now?

 

I switched my insurance to Tricare Standard, instead of Prime, which gave me a new primary care provider. She pointed out that my digestive slowing med came in a different format, which has changed my life once again, and made it even more effective, and made it work even better, if that was possible, so I’m gloriously happy. We’ll see what happens the next time I have to take an opiate.

 

But, I’ve got a system to manage my co-“conditions.” It may not always be a comfortable one, but it works. It may sometimes require Ex-Lax and me laying on the bathroom floor, and praying that if there’s a God, I can have a serious talk with him about why he made me out of spare parts. It also may make me eternally grateful for steroid cream – did I mention that crapping straight bile is equivalent to vomiting bile out of a hole it’s not designed for, so it causes surface burns to your skin? Yet another time I find myself eternally grateful for Big Pharma and western medicine.

 

So, there’s my gross confession story. As I was lying on the couch this weekend, cold and clammy, I thought to myself: someone would love to know about this glamorous part of being sick that has previously gone unreported. Am I right?