Well, I know I said I was going to take a break from blogging for a couple of weeks, and maybe I still will…starting now. But as always, I have a lot of thoughts in my purty little head, and dang it, I just want to share them. It’s New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2013. The last day of a pretty mind bending, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, crazy, fucked up year. And that was just January! (Drumroll! Thanks Folks, I’ll be here all week).
I was trying to remember if it was the worst year I have ever had, considering job stress, job loss, imminent doom and poverty, ruptured appendix, deforming skin cancer, I mean, deforming shark attack…and more. And it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for some of my nearest and dearest either, but I’ll leave them to tell their own tales. Somehow, even with all that, I feel as if there have been worse years. I can’t remember when, exactly, but I’m pretty sure there have been. But being the eternal optimist, I’m pretty sure that even in those bad years, like this one, the good still trumps the bad, and kicks its badass back to Badlington. Because at the end of the day, or at the end of the year, I am still very much in it to win it, smile on my face, fire in my heart, let’s move forward and take the next one.
At lunch yesterday, a dear friend complimented me on how well I have navigated this year, saying that she would have been bitter towards all of the disappointments and challenges I have faced. I was really touched by her comment, and accepted it gratefully, but the truth is, bitterness is not something I want to spend time with. As I explained to her, this period has been difficult enough without letting such a negative and powerful emotion creep into my mind and actions. That is not to say I am a saint, by any means. I have definitely struggled with stress, depression, anxiety and fear. And there have been bad days, but I have tried not to let them develop into bad weeks. At some point, I have to flex my other muscles: courage, humor, tenacity. I have had to take a look outside of my own human condition, and realize on my worst day, I am so unbelievably lucky and blessed. I know that’s been a theme in many of my posts, but without practicing gratitude, I don’t think I would have made it through this year.
For the past few months, I have been taking my old Louie dog out for one final visit to the backyard before bedtime. There, in the cold, late night sky, I have begun focusing on the brightest star I can find at night and sending up a little prayer. Nothing as flagrant as “Star, get me a job!” but more along the lines of asking for wisdom and strength to find my way, and for some grace for those on this earth who are truly suffering. I’m not sure if I am asking God, Star Light, or just the unknown powers that be, but it feels right and good to put it out there.
For all of us, I wish the happiest of New Year’s to come. Let those who are hungry find food, those who are homeless find a safe haven, those who are ill find health. Let there be peace on Earth, please. I’m sure 2014 will be an adventure, in one way or another, and I for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.
The end, for now
Christmas 2013 is almost here. Truth told, I’ve been struggling trying to get into the holiday spirit. In spite of watching almost a month’s worth of smarmy Lifetime movies, that all have happy endings, I’m not so sure about my own happy ending. Being unemployed, with constant worries about how I’m going to make ends meet in the coming months, it’s hard to feel confident that I will get my own happily ever after.
I found out that a job I had interviewed for, one that I considered “the” dream job and wanted with all of my heart, was not going to be mine. It’s the first time in all of these months that I have cried over not getting a job, but this one hurt. I’m sad, and I’m scared and I’m broke. And Christmas is almost here.
But here’s the thing about me. I fall down, and I get back up. I have a couple of days to pull it all together, to work with what I have, and to find, if not a happy ending, at least a happy interval. There’s no guarantee or your money back that it will all work out in the end. But it’s my mantra and what keeps me moving forwards, that belief that everything is going to be okay.
I tried to picture myself as one of the heroines of those cheesy movies I have been watching. Sassy former manager, two wee little ones to feed (okay, named Daisy and Louie, work with me). Wolf at the door, no money for Christmas. What will happen? What will our sassy girl do? If this were a Lifetime movie, I would hit my head and wake up in a parallel universe, where I would learn an important lesson about why the choices I made were the right or wrong ones, depending on the movie.
If I were Georgia Bailey, I might meet an angel who would show me how, even though times are hard, I’ve made a positive impact on this world, and some of the people in it. Except, and I really don’t mean to self-deprecate, I think this world would be pretty much the same if I hadn’t been born, and maybe that’s something for me to think about in the coming year, how I might leave a better footprint, for the world, and its citizens.
So far, this reflection isn’t really cheering me up. And I’m sorry, it’s almost Christmas, and I don’t want to be a downer. But here’s the real deal. Life is hard, and life is good. Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you have to wait for it, and work for it, and believe in it. And sometimes what you get isn’t what you thought you wanted, but as the song says, what you need. Everything will be okay in the end, and if it isn’t okay, it isn’t the end.
Life isn’t a Lifetime movie, but I’ve learned some important lessons this year, all the same. I learned that the thing I thought was so all important, my job, actually wasn’t important at all. I’ve been reminded about the value of family and friends, and how the good ones circle the wagons around you when times are hard. I‘ve remembered, and I had forgotten a bit, that I am incredibly resilient, and braver than I thought, and blessed. So, Christmas is coming. I have so much to be grateful for. There may be no presents under the tree this year, or even a tree at all, but there’s good food on the table, and a solid roof over my head. Family to visit with and friends with whom to raise a glass of cheer. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Peace, good will and good fortune in the coming year.
The End, for now
Tomorrow is my best friend’s birthday. Out of respect for her privacy, we will refer to her as Mary. Mary Charleson, that’s it. Anyway, Mary and I have been friends for almost 40 years. We met in high school, in Performing Arts. She was sitting on the lap of a boy I thought was cute. She’s a little bit older than me, and seemed very worldly and sophisticated. She was the first friend of mine to drive a car. I recently told my Dad that Mary was the first person I knew who had had sex. He said that was unlikely. So, I corrected it to say, she was the first person I knew who had had sex that actually talked to me about it!
So, you can see why I was drawn to this alluring siren from the start. Add to that, she had a beautiful singing voice. We ended up auditioning for the school play together, Damn Yankees, and both got cast. The start of a beautiful friendship. And over 40 years, we were housemates for 8 fun years, lived next door to each other for several more (the best!), traveled together many times, mourned parents together, shared thousands of meals together, and conservatively speaking, shared millions of laughs together.
Mary is a fascinating person. For one thing, she used to cook for nuns, while in Catholic school. I honestly could never tire of asking her about this. And she knows the weirdest things. Last night we were driving to dinner, and I said I was concerned about my night vision. She then explained that when day turns to night, there’s a dusky period where our vision switches from cones to rods. Or vice versa, something like that, but who knows stuff like that?
She can also name every bird. I don’t even especially like birds, but take a road trip with Mary and you hear things like this along the way: Look at the Egret! What the heck? She seems to have a special fondness for turkey vultures. She also rescues little lost dogs, and has a talent for identifying minor characters in movies (didn’t the 3rd servant also play one of the kids in Harry Potter? I think a Gryffindor?). Oh, and she can make really awesome space ship sounds!
We’ve definitely had some crazy adventures together, almost always including being lost at some point along the way. We have circled more addresses than I care to count, bickering about the location and giggling like fools. We have a bit of a Lucy/Ethel vibe to us, but the cool thing is, we switch roles regularly, depending on place and purpose.
In 40 years, we have had one serious argument, and that was about 38 years ago. We frequently have vigorous and lively debates and enjoy them a great deal. Mary and I are not in competition to be right, so we learn from each other, laugh with each other, and are each made better and stronger through our bond.
I could go on and on. I really love this woman! But I’ll end with this. When I got laid off, the first thing she said to me was, “what happens to you happens to me.” It truly was the nicest, most generous and comforting thing anyone has ever said to me. And it goes in both directions, what happens to my sweet Mary happens to me. She truly is, my best friend, forever.
The end, for now
Do you have a scar or two? I imagine most of us do, but I think I may possibly have more than the average bear. For some reason I was cataloguing my scars last night, sort of like counting the rings on a tree. Each one has its own story, and while pain was certainly part of the package, I think more of the healing and growth that they have brought me.
My first scar is a teeny one, on my forehead, and usually concealed by my curly bangs. I got this scar when I was about 2 or 3 years old. According to family legend, I walked into a door, and cracked my “head open.” That was the term that was always used, so in addition to setting a precedent for a lifetime of extreme clumsiness, it also resulted in my belief for years that my skull was as thin as Humpty Dumpty’s.
My next scar was also the result of my stellar clumsiness. It is on my right knee. It was originally created by a fall at the Renaissance Faire. This was after my Drench a Wench days; I was just a visitor, and happily tripping through the fair in a sweet white sundress. Until I actually tripped and my sundress suddenly became decorated with a brilliant splash of crimson. That accident earned me a trip to the first aid tent where I was lovingly tended to by a very cute medic. Suddenly, it just didn’t hurt that bad.
Unfortunately, the knee scar was reopened several years later, in one of my most embarrassing incidents. I was at a party, a reunion of sorts, of old friends. I was walking through the living room, glass of red wine in my hand, and I smacked, hard and fast, against a low lying coffee table, flew over it, sweeping the contents of the table with me, and landing in a pile of nuts, broken glass, chocolate, blood and utter humiliation. On a white carpet. I can still remember seeing the horrified looks on my friends’ faces as I sailed across the room. Horror mixed with amazement at the height and breadth of my flight. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then. Not at all. This may be why I only drink white wine.
My abdomen is like a galaxy of small scars, the visible souvenir of multiple laparoscopies over the course of about a decade. I won’t go into the cause and effect of all of those procedures, except to say if I hadn’t gone through all of that, what could have been a very serious health issue was almost serendipitously discovered and removed. I thank my lucky stars for my little tummy constellations, and consider the most recent additions, from my appendix rupture this summer, yet another reminder of my good fortune.
My deepest scar is invisible. It’s where a piece of my heart was broken, 5 years ago this coming Christmas. That’s when one of the people I loved and trusted the most, decided it was time to tell me what a failure I was, and listed, in great detail, my every flaw and fault. He then walked out of my life, after 35 years of friendship. There was enough truth in there to hurt deeply, and it took me a long time to, not get over it, I don’t think I ever will, but rather move past it. Of course I am flawed. I am human. But true love loves in spite of flaws. Thankfully, I am old enough now, and confident enough to know that a person who could do this, so heartlessly, battles their own demons. I love myself, and whoever else comes along on that ride, is a beautiful and wonderfully blessed bonus
My latest, and by far most impressive scar, is on my left leg. It is so spectacular, it is actually laughing at my right knee scar and calling it “Girlie Man.” A few weeks ago, I went in to have a very small growth removed. I didn’t realize that this would involve cutting out an inch in each direction to make sure the margins were all healthy. It hurt like the dickens, and I came home with 12 stitches, and not delicate ones. When they were removed, I was left with an angry red scar about 3.5 inches long, that actually indents. The few people I have shown it to, who were perhaps thinking I was exaggerating for dramatic effect, have all had the exact same response: Whoa! I was a little dismayed by this scar, since it is below the shorts line, but I have since decided to wear it proudly. And claim it was caused by a shark attack, in an unfortunate surfing incident. Soul Surfer style, lucky I made it out alive.
It’s an imposing list, right? And I didn’t even mention the nice long scar from my new bionic foot, or some other scars that are a bit too delicate to mention, save for saying that my back hurts much less, and it sure is easier to shop for bathing suits. But each scar is proof that I survived the battle, and while some of them were much harder fought than others, I’ll wear them all as medals of honor, a mark of survival and overcoming challenges. Except for the one on my leg, that was just a hungry shark.
The end, for now
Note: I wrote this piece many years ago, when my mom was still alive, but it’s still one of my favorite things I have ever written. It’s longer than my usual weekly post, but I wanted to add it to my collection.
What part of where we came from makes us who we grow to be? How much do the actions and attitudes of our parents, and the experiences of our childhood define the person we will become?
My dad is a smart man, with a sharp wit and a need to control. My mom is a charmer with the soul of an artist, but the weakness of a dreamer. I’m smart, I charm, I control, and I am weak. How does it all get sorted out and who decides? I would have liked to inherit my mom’s eye for beauty; instead I got her love for overspending. It would have been nice to get my father’s ability to do complex math equations, as opposed to a passion for punctuality.
My childhood was fairly idyllic, at least in the haze of retrospect. Loving parents, siblings that were an agreeable mix of companions and sparring partners. We were spoiled, but with discipline, if that’s possible. Manners and education were priorities. My maternal grandparents lived with us, providing a constant source of childcare and comfort—I didn’t need or own a key to my house until I was in my teens. It was all very Brady, very safe, very happy. Except for the family car trips.
With their passion for adventure and learning, my parents regularly took us on long and short driving trips, to the museum, to the beach, or during summer, to the river or the mountains. By preference or budget, we never flew, although mom and dad would escape us once a year for European jaunts. It was during these car trips that the dents in the family armor would begin to show.
My dad would suddenly assume the role of Captain Queeg, or whatever that mean guy from Mutiny on the Bounty was called. My mom would begin to drawl, in her very special Brooklyn/Southern accent, endless stories, with no real purpose or point, driving her captive audience into a restless frenzy. My brothers, 3 bumps in the middle row, would each start their own particular brand of evil, be it whining, pinching, poking or slapping. Sister Wendy and I in the “wayback” were torture geniuses. Although we were the best of friends outside of vehicles, we spent way too many years stuck in that teeny crawl space. Our special brand of pain involved two childhood classics, the ever-popular Indian burn, and our favorite, Monkey Paw. If you don’t know what that is, maybe it’s better for you.
So we would troll and roll down the highways, sometimes agreeably singing songs together from the radio, but more frequently bashing each other, squabbling, each of us fighting for our own little moment. I was kind of a weenie, the “white worm” as Wendy would call me, and I was usually one of the first to start sniveling. “Stop that crying” my dad would yell indignantly. “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something.” This always empty threat was usually enough to send me into a full sob. Another of my dad’s classics would come into play when my brothers’ slings and arrows would actually result in a physical wound. “Are you bleeding back there? Don’t you dare bleed on those seats.” Good times!
The car trip of horror that set the bar for all other car trips before and aft, was the “Ensenada Incident.” It took years before we were really able to talk about it, especially in front of dad, but give anything a few decades and the impact has to lessen.
We had loaded up my generation’s version of the minivan (they called it the “stay-shun-wag-on”). 2 parents, 5 kids, about 20 suitcases strapped onto the rooftop rack, the usual. Before we had even reached the freeway, we had all settled into our respective roles as tyrants, pirates, and damsels in distress (me, of course). As we headed down the 405, there was suddenly a sound loud enough to be heard over our collective din, a noise that sounded as if something had just been ripped off our roof. We all watched in amazement as one of the suitcases on the roof somehow slipped from its tether and tumbled off the top of the car and into the middle lane of the freeway. My dad pulled to the side of the road and jumped out of the car, as if he planned to leap into the middle of oncoming traffic to retrieve the wayward luggage. As my mom screamed for him to come back to the car, the choice was removed. A huge truck smacked into the suitcase. I can remember the sight to this day, my brothers’ Hang Ten tees and tidy whites blowing themselves across the road and latching on to windshields and antennas without discretion. Chaos reigned for some time, but eventually we drove off again, a little lighter in load, yet heavier in heart.
We detoured long enough to find a Zody’s (the Target of the time) to replenish essentials. Wendy and I, brats that we were, preened a bit with the knowledge that our little princess wardrobes would not have been quite so easy to replace. What with our delays, it was a few hours later than we expected when we pulled into the hotel parking lot in Ensenada. My dad went in to register us as we all waited each of us quietly grateful that this long day was coming to a close. A moment later, my stone faced dad returned to the car. Without a word, he started the motor and began to pull out of the parking lot. It seemed our delay had cost us our reservation. No rooms to be had at the inn, no indeed.
If you are thinking that maybe Pops just found us a new hotel, think again. My father at this point was so tired, so fed up, so really, truly pissed off at the world that I think he did the only thing he could think to do. He turned the car homeward. It took the rest of us a while to figure it out. After all, we were dazed, we were hungry, and we had just spent about 7 hours in that car. Surely he couldn’t be taking us home? We were at the start of a week’s vacation. My mom tried reasoning with him to find another hotel, or at least stop for food and rest. No answer from the driver, although his cheek was working itself with a grim energy that couldn’t fail to escape our notice. Finally my mom begged him, “honey, please, the kids are exhausted; they need to stretch, at least let’s get them some water so they don’t dehydrate.” We all waited in silence to see if the prisoners would be granted this one last wish. At last my father spoke. “If they are thirsty,” he growled, “tell ‘em to spit backwards.”
Flash forwards several years. In line with that great trend of the seventies, my parents divorced. A combination of factors diminished our household residence to just my mom, sister and I in a matter of a few months. Suddenly I needed a key and the world as I had always known it was forever altered. Neither parent behaved entirely without fault, but while it was a sad event, it wasn’t tragic. Things changed, to be sure, but we had been given a strong enough base to work with that each of us was able to begin our own adventures towards fun and fulfillment.
My mom remains a charmer, who can still tell the world’s most boring stories. But she’s my number one cheerleader, my greatest fan, and her belief that I, or any of her children, can meet any challenge we face is a great gift. I may not have her flair for fashion and art, but I have quietly decorated my own home in a manner that completely satisfies me, and I owe this ability, combined with the confidence she gave me to believe in my own tastes, to my mom.
My dad, very happily remarried for many years, has mellowed. Captain Queeg morphed into Grandpa Bobby, and he is now a disgustingly doting Poppa to a whole pack of adoring grandkids. His hot temper seems to have receded with his hairline. He’s still a control freak, but a much kinder, gentler one.
And I? Who did I become? In spite of a charmed life, I have had to face hardships on the path, episodes that called for perseverance and courage. Robberies and illnesses, fires and floods, earthquakes and even just aching loneliness. And during these trials, the old white worm has longed to surface and begin its mighty wail. But I remember what I was taught by my father, “deal with it,” “get over it” and of course “don’t bleed on the seats.” And so, I spit backwards and move on.
I have taken the metro in Paris, the subway in New York, and BART in Northern California. But until recently, I’m not sure I even really knew L.A. had a working subway system, and I certainly had never ridden it.
But, tomorrow I have an important(!) appointment in the heart of downtown, smack dab at the tail of rush hour. I had driven to the same location a week ago, and in the middle of the afternoon, it had taken me about 35 minutes to get there. However, driving home during rush hour, I was on the road for about an hour and a half. Welcome to the glories of living in beautiful Southern California! We have arguably the greatest weather in the country, and I love living here, but our traffic totally sucks. And because I don’t dare arrive at this appointment late, and really don’t want to get there an hour early, as I did last week, I decided to consider using our local rapid transit system.
Because I am a newbie at this, and wanted to eliminate at least this source of anxiety about my meeting, I contemplated making a trial run. So, I jumped at the offer from my parents to make it an outing over Thanksgiving weekend. We joked that it was like them teaching their special needs daughter how to walk to school on the first day. But I didn’t decline when my dad mapped out our route, and handed me a pass with $3 loaded on it.
Yesterday, we traveled from my house in the Valley to North Hollywood station. My dad announced that he was serving only as a backup safety net, in case we were to make a wrong move, but that my stepmother and I were in charge of getting us to our destination, and he appointed Marge as the leader. We descended into the station, and I was surprised to note that it was very crowded, and looked much like the NY subway I was familiar with. We quickly found our train, and within a minute or two, we jumped on, and were on our way.
We traveled from North Hollywood on the red line to the 7th Street Metro station, about a 24 minute ride. The train was very noisy and crowded, and went underground the whole route, which surprised Marge, who had looked forward to watching the scenery as we rode. During the ride, I studied the map and declared myself leader, noting the stations as we passed them. We exited at 7th Street, loaded up our passes with more money, and transferred to the blue line for one stop, exiting at Pico.
There we were, in the heart of downtown L.A. The sights and smells were unfamiliar to me. Even as a native Angelino, I have spent very little time downtown. It’s like a completely different city from my suburban life, but there is definitely something exciting and lively about it. The walk from the train station was about 2 blocks, and we all marveled at how the scenery seemed to switch from gritty urban to newly gentrified back to gritty urban, all within a couple of blocks.
After we found the target location for the appointment, we decided to bypass the transfer station and walk back to 7th Street. Again, we passed new and upscale loft buildings, and then condemned and boarded up businesses that had seen better days. As a young woman I had fantasized about living in New York City, and for a few minutes I wondered what it would be like to live in downtown L.A. But I realized after a few minutes that I would always want outdoor space, not just for me but for my pups, and at this stage in my life, I wouldn’t want to give up the comforts of easy parking and a patch of yard.
But it could be exciting to spend more time downtown in my own city. Whether this appointment leads me to that or not, I think I will make it a point to do more exploring downtown, and will definitely use the convenience of our local transit to get me there. For tomorrow’s meeting, I’m even going to ride the Orange Line, two minutes from my house, to the train station. And, I’ll be doing this trip solo, so wish me luck!
The end, for now