50 Things

I smoked for 25 years before I quit this year.  My sister is to blame.  For the smoking, not the quitting.

I lived in the South for 13 years before coming back home to Illinois at the end of 2014.  I should’ve come back MUCH SOONER.

I believe the biggest lie ever told by any human ever is “people are nicer in the South.”  No, people just don’t tell you to your face in the South.  You can bet your ass Continue reading “50 Things”

Organized insanity

I’m really not as bad as I used to be.

In 2011, I read a few TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) books and occasionally watched (with a smile on my face) the crazy people on Doomsday Preppers.  I was also going through a bit of a nesting period in my relationship; it was on the rocks (to say the least), and planning for the future there (even if it was apocalyptic) let me delude myself into believing there was a future.   Continue reading “Organized insanity”

Scenes from a summer well summered

I’m spent today, y’all.  So without further ado and for your viewing pleasure, I here present a shit-ton of images I captured this summer on my beloved iPhone.  Most are from the Myrtle Beach trip in July, but there are some others from Hubby and I’s trip to Minnesota (to see A Prairie Home Companion) from around the house (kitties!), and from the gorgeous Midwestern sky out here on the prairie.  Much affection to you and yours during this back-to-school week, but I have GOT to get back to this pointless book.  ❤ Continue reading “Scenes from a summer well summered”

I’ll just be over here hiding under my blanket, reading.

I’ve said it before:  in the past seven months, it’s been impossible for me to watch the news.  I have about a 60 second window before my limit is reached, and then I just start screaming profanity at the television.  (Doubtless, this makes me even more of a delight to live with than usual.) Because I can’t handle any mention of Trump (or of the institutionalized racism, misogyny, and overwhelming Continue reading “I’ll just be over here hiding under my blanket, reading.”

Kindle catastrophes

A year or so ago, after Amazon had already come out with both the Voyage and the Oasis, I bought a Paperwhite.  I already had one, but Hubby needed one that had some miles on it to take to work.  I hopped online and bought a new one for myself, in white this time.  She’s very pretty and she seems to play a little nicer with Calibre, a program I use to manage the hundreds of ebooks and converted fanfiction files I’ve amassed Continue reading “Kindle catastrophes”

Inheritance

In my first semester at my out-of-state university, I had an English Literature teacher who was probably five or six years younger than I.  I wasn’t particularly bothered by this.  At the university level,  it’s a fair bet that whoever is teaching the class has had enough education to choke a horse; the woman was more educated than I ever had any intention of being.  I liked her quite a lot, Continue reading “Inheritance”

It’s the four-time-supplier-of-genetic-material’s birthday tomorrow.

Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday, and I’ll tell you the truth:  sometimes, it really pisses me off that I’m the kind of person who can’t refrain from remembering shit like that.  Not that I hate the man, because really, I don’t.  There’s just sort of a void in the place where he should be.  Like…you know how people are always talking about the father-daughter bond?  Well, if it weren’t for my husband’s relationship with his Continue reading “It’s the four-time-supplier-of-genetic-material’s birthday tomorrow.”

The spice of life

My grandma used to say “variety is the spice of life.” She said it often and with a twinkle in her eye, but I can’t for the life of me remember the context. She and I were never particularly daring as a duo, though we liked people to think we were. Maybe the words were just her trying to amuse her 50-years-younger grandkid on a Friday night. Probably. But I love the memory of the smile that accompanied them, regardless.

I think, in general, that my grandma had a fairly unhappy life. When she told me stories, they were often traumatic or sad or both. She was once hungry enough to literally eat dirt. She was kidnapped. She was shot. She had cancer. She had bad relationships with her father and her second husband, and her feelings about both of them remained unresolved even years after their deaths.

When she said “variety is the spice of life,” I’m fairly certain that the traumas she experienced and the awful things she felt (and said) were not what she was referencing.  In fact, I actually have no idea what she meant.  I remember loving everything she cooked, but there was never anything surprising or spicy there — not until her first husband moved in (after fifty-some years during which she thought he was dead) and started doing his own cooking, and I was long grown by then.  She never went anywhere except to visit her oldest daughter in Pennsylvania and maybe her sister in Florida once or twice.  Her music was always the same; she never even got rid of the solid oak console television in the living room, because she needed it to listen to her Andy Williams records.  She went to the same church for as long as I can remember.  She parked in the same place, sat on the same side, and said hello to the same two or three people every week for 30 years. She drank a fair bit, but it was always the same thing:  7 & 7.  When the first ex moved back in, she switched to wine.  Aside from one brother, one sister, and a friend she’d had since grade school (but only occasionally liked), she had no friends and no standing social engagements.  She had her hair done once a week by the same stylist from the time I was born til she moved away in her 80s.  Aside from some flower and vegetable gardening in the summer, I have no idea what she did with her time; she hadn’t had a job outside of the house since her kids were little. In retrospect, she always seemed to know more about cleaning and stain removal than anyone should.

Where was the variety?  Where was the spice?

I think sometimes that she must’ve had a very active fantasy life.  In her youth, she was movie star beautiful, and people commented on how stunning she was well into her old age.  Maybe in her dreams all that beauty took her somewhere.  Certainly, she had the material on which to base her imaginings. She had learned to read early, and she often told stories of walking to the library in all kinds of weather.  Her living room bookshelves were the inspiration for my own, and I spent many hours of my childhood inspecting each and every title they held.  I know she read, but I don’t really know when or what.  In later years, I saw her do it only occasionally and never more than 30 minutes at a stretch.  She spent more time with our small town’s morning paper than with any book.  She painted a few things.  She meditated nearly every morning, from the time I was a kid until she moved away.  What did she fantasize about?  I never saw her do anything daring, and I don’t think I ever saw her truly having a good time (though I’ve seen pictures and old videos that make me think there must’ve been some happy times before and soon after my birth).  The only family lore on the subject says that back in the day (the 1960s and 1970s), the brothers and sisters could throw down with the best of them.  At the time, my grandma would’ve been in her 40s and 50s, the oldest of all her siblings.  They sat around in one another’s backyards and basements, drinking and smoking, laughing into the wee hours of morning.

I wonder if she felt like her life was on a downhill slope once she hit 60, if it even took that long. She never seemed particularly happy to be married to the man I called “grandpa,” though they’d known one another for many, many years and even my mom considered him family.  She quit smoking after forty years though it always seemed to be something that brought her joy.  (I wonder if she still measures her life in seven minute segments.)  She didn’t go out.  She played solitaire for hours.  When the first husband came back, she switched to gin rummy.

Where was the variety and spice in her life?  I can only think that it was gone before I ever arrived, although I think we loved one another an awful lot for most of my existence.

I worry, occasionally, about my own life, about what I’ll do with it when I reach whatever age seems deadly and past hope to me.  Maybe — hopefully — I’ll never land where (I think) she is, but people used to always comment on how similar we were.  I worry.   I wonder if I’ll think I did all that I was supposed to do, or if I’ll spend my remaining time daydreaming, wondering like I did when I was 10 if my life had been somehow switched with someone else’s, someone more fortunate or valuable.

But I like to think that for all the books I read, for all the time I spend writing or watching television or playing old computer games….I like to think that my life is spicy and various enough.  I like to think that there are people in my life who make it bigger than just me, people who I love and who love me in return who will remember with me all the ridiculous and wonderful things we did back when we could still hold our liquor.  I like to think I won’t ever be sorry for any of it, and that no one will ever look at me in my old age and think that’s all there is or ever was.  I like to think they’ll know — without a doubt — that I was happy in my life.  There was singing and silliness and joy and love…and all the spice I could’ve ever wanted.

And no matter how boring or unhappy it might have looked to anyone else, I’d like to believe that Gran’s life was happy enough, too. I wish I could go back twenty years, sit with her at her kitchen table, and ask her, nonchalantly, over coffee.
I’d like to imagine that she’d clear her throat, close her hands around the mug, look me in the eye, and be honest.

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Spicy

Partners

Mama used to say that if only she would’ve had someone to help her pull her wagon, things would’ve been a lot easier for all of us.  She meant another adult, of course, but what she got was a couple of kids.  We weren’t very good pullers, my oldest brother and I, but our hearts were in the right place.  We tried.

Since I starting “dating” my sweet husband in 2015, I’ve thought a lot about that “pulling the wagon” image of Mama’s.  It’s apt, actually.  Those little red wagons aren’t at all easy to pull, particularly if the terrain is rough or if you get it too heavily loaded.  When we were growing up, there were very few patches of smooth ground.  And there were four of us, so the wagon’s burden was never light.  Some of us fell out sometimes.  We got hurt or lost or both.

When Hubby and I got together, his wagon had been stuck in the mud for so long that he’d given up trying to move it.  The kids had taken it over and made a useless mess of it; it was no longer fit to move anything anywhere or to keep anyone out of harm’s way. Indeed, they all had cuts and scrapes from the wagon’s rusty edges, and we worried (and still worry) about infections that never fully go away, that could be life-threatening.

My husband is a hard worker and he brings home a decent paycheck.  He is also a wonderful man with a huge heart, and for several years before I arrived on the scene, he was dad, mom, and sole breadwinner for his three children.  Unfortunately, it was just him trying to do all those things (aside from occasional help from his visiting mom).  Like Mama, he needed serious, permanent help to pull his wagon, and the oldest boy (no matter how good his intentions) wasn’t getting the job done.

When I talk to Hubby about that time, he says there was no opportunity for anything except triage, trying desperately to prioritize on the fly and decide who most needed help.  I can’t imagine how horrific it must’ve been for him to see all his babies in trouble and to only be able to offer temporary help to the one who was bleeding out the fastest. I’m sure his persistent worrying (over a situation he had no power to fix) is to blame for most of his current wrinkles and health problems.

I knew my husband for 25 years before we ever got together, and I think every day about how much different both of our lives would’ve been if it hadn’t taken so long, if we both hadn’t taken so much damage beforehand.  I came in to our relationship with a feeling of worthlessness that was directly tied to how much money I was making.  He came in with the persistent and nagging feeling that he was solely responsible for getting these three little people he’d made into adulthood alive.

I’ve said it before, but I think I was born to be a mother.  As soon as I walked through the door, I started trying to make a safe home for these kids that I really didn’t know at all except through occasional pictures and stories my sister (in-law) told.  At the beginning, hubby gave me $400 a week to buy groceries and the stuff the kids needed.  They had to come to me with their requests instead of to their dad.  I cleaned, went grocery shopping, cooked actual food, and enforced a go-home time for the oldest’s friends.  (Hubby was working midnights, and five days a week, I had to make sure nobody ended up injured, traumatized or dead.)  I bought clothes and school supplies, toiletries and tampons.  I discouraged Hamburger Helper and fast food wherever possible because none of them needed to continue to live that way now that I was there.  Hubby seemed to drop 50 pounds overnight.

My very presence was enough to ensure that within a few months, the kids had new beds and we lived in a nicer house in a better neighborhood.  There was also a new school for the youngest two (the oldest moved away when he hit 18) and car insurance for my husband, who hadn’t been able to round up the extra money to start it while he was busy putting out fires.  This fall he’s going back to school to pursue a dream and to work toward getting the hell out of the factory.

The point of all this is, the experience of marrying my sweet husband and becoming step-mom to these awesome (if occasionally irksome) kids has shown me once and for all what it truly means to be and to have a partner, how it feels to help someone pull their wagon and to know that they are there to help you pull yours, and how sometimes you can help without bringing a single dime of your own to the table.  I would never have guessed.  Seriously.  That was not at all the lesson I’d spent the preceding years of my adulthood learning.

Even more than a year later, it still blows me away when my husband (or my mom or my sister) points out all the ways that the lives of these three people have changed and improved in the time I’ve known them.  I say “I didn’t do anything.  I just showed up.”

My husband says “Baby.  I love you.  You’re so silly.”

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Partner.

Escape from the Land of Fog

Once upon a time (not so long ago), I lived in a beautiful — and frequently foggy — state. Many times, I woke in the morning to fog laying on the ground like a 40-foot tall endless wall of clouds; it obscured all but the closest branches of the lovely, lightning-split water oak at the center of our circle drive.  Fog also led to my belief that I lived in a state full of idiots; I watched nearly everyone on my morning commute pass on two-lane roads with zero visibility.  They didn’t care about what they couldn’t see.  I always did, and I patted myself on the back for having enough sense to be afraid.  But regardless of the fear, I considered myself an expert on the subject of fog.  I saw it so frequently that I could predict within fifteen minutes the time until it would burn off.    I was proud of this.  It — along with other things — was proof of my Southern-ness, proof that I had begun to fit in.  Actually, it was hubris.  It was silliness.  It was me lying to myself about something little that meant nothing, and transposing that lie onto the whole of my life.

During the 13 years that I was “expertly” navigating the actual fog, I was unfortunately ignoring the figurative fog that had enveloped me.  I was trying to survive in a place where I had no family of my own and no friends to speak of, and in order to do that, I had turned a blind eye to both the day-to-day and long-term truths about my life and the people in it.  I had learned to “stuff” anything that I couldn’t deal with.  I ignored slights and insults and outright meanness.  I pretended not to notice my partner’s unwillingness to defend either me or herself.

In the South, you can get by with damned near anything as long as you don’t advertise. You can be a drug addict or a drunk or a psychopath.  Hell, you can even be a lesbian…as long as you’re willing to never (ever, as long as you live) pat your partner’s ass in front of company or refer to your relationship as anything other than a friendship.  Initially, this was hard for me to accept, but soon enough I let all of it go.  I couldn’t fix it or control it or face it, so it lived somewhere outside of my consciousness and awareness.  I let it stay there (biding its time for a future explosion) while I dealt only with the immediate: the people and situations that were right in front of my face at any given time.

For a while, that behavior — that coping mechanism — enabled me to survive pretty much unscathed.  I formed what I thought were good relationships with a few decent family members.  I loved on my partner’s nieces and nephews as though they were my own (which, of course, they weren’t).  I made a few “mistakes” over the years, but I avoided any major issues until I realized one day that I’d taken altogether too much shit from one particular family member, and it was high time I gave a little back.

But it turns out that — at least in the small-town parts of the South — I really wasn’t supposed to speak the truth on any subject.  For example, even after she tried to turn the entire family against me, I was not supposed to call my (pretty much) sister-in-law a manipulative, hateful, lying, pretend-Christian bitch.  I mean, seriously…who knew?  Also unacceptable: suggesting (very nicely and entirely on the down-low) that maybe the other sister-in-law could take her sexually inappropriate, high, and drunk ass out of the public areas of the beach house we were all sharing while there were pre-teens around.  I know it seems counter-intuitive to the rest of the thinking world, but rather than address any one of those issues, the rest of the Southerners in the house (including my partner) patted the addict on the back while she fake cried, and for days afterward, looked at me like I killed Jesus.  (For the record, neither I nor my people were to blame.)  And of course, they weren’t done making me pay for my transgressive use of the truth.

The point of all this is, I thank the universe and whatever higher power there may be every single day for putting me into an environment that forced me to address all those things head on.  In the course of trying to include and protect my mom, my sister, and my niece and nephew as they mixed with my partner’s family, I saw a lot of things that I’d been willing myself to ignore for years.  The way I had allowed myself to be treated (and used and looked down upon) all that time was unbelievable to me, and I saw it all in a flash — instantly — as my family and I carried our belongings to the car three days before the planned end of our trip.

[All of us had to step over the addict sister-in-law every time we went out the front door.  She wasn’t sleeping or passed out.  She was just laying there because she was a bitch and she wanted to demonstrate that she’d won.  I’ll be painfully honest:  at the time, I really felt like she had.  But I only felt that way because neither my mother nor I (during any of our multiple trips down the steps) used her head as a football.  Moreover, we didn’t say a word, which is totally out of character for both of us.  In retrospect, we should’ve said whatever we had to say.  We’re both good on the fly, and I have no doubt that either of us could’ve made the bitch cry.  Unfortunately, even if we had, we still would’ve been 1-3 on the day.]

It was September when we returned to the land of fog.  I was in the middle of my last semester of grad school, so I couldn’t go back home to Illinois with my mom, no matter how much I wanted to.  I had to stay in that beautiful, foggy, mountain-y, backwoods, hillbilly, awful, repressive place for an additional two months with a partner who — every day — I was breaking up with.  But I’ll tell you what:  it was the easiest end to any relationship I’ve ever experienced in terms of its emotional impact on me.  I couldn’t — I wouldn’t — go back to living in the fog.  I had finally seen what was true and real, and I knew for certain that I’d never choose to turn a blind eye to my own best interests (or my family’s) ever again.

2174089494_859a2a2dcc_bWhen my cat and I drove away from that place (and that warped ass family) two months later, there was no fog at all.  It was days before Christmas — clear as could be with a light dusting of frost on the ground.  I was singing carols with the radio as I turned out of the driveway for the last time.  Mama was behind me driving an SUV full of my stuff, her small, feisty, and brilliant dog on the seat next to her, settled in for a long ride.

My former partner was standing on the porch, but I didn’t look back; I knew there was nothing left there for me.  I think I also knew what was coming, sort of. I knew that ahead of me was Joy and better days, and I couldn’t wait to get there.

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Foggy