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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Caged Bird


Charlie had a brother named Rob.  He was quiet, but really big.  Not as massive as Chuck, but intimidating, nonetheless.  He was unfriendly, but there was a gentle side to him.  I couldn't prove it, but there were glimpses here and there - with little kids and old ladies, baby cats.  Buried beneath all the mean parts, there was goodness.  Charlie was wired similarly, but he wasn't nearly as nice.

Rob kept everyone at arms' length.  He took me aside one Christmas and asked, "Is he still hitting you?"  He gestured toward Charlie who had his back to us, washing his face at the kitchen sink.  "Don't lie."
"It's not so bad," I answered.
"If he lays his hands on you again, you need to tell your father.  So he can put two bullets in his chest."
"I can't do that," I told him.
"You're an idiot," he shook his head.
"I love you, Rob."  I tried to hug him, but he took a step back with his hand up.
"Stop," he said. "I don't need this."

Rob did two and a half years on a robbery charge in the early 90's.  He'd spent enough time in jail to get off the needle.  After his release, he stayed clean for the whole time I knew him.  The boys smoked crack in the house so he moved into a small Budweiser trailer that was jacked up on cinder blocks in the front yard.

Rob's aluminum home had a door, and he cut a hole on the opposite side to make a window. Winters right on the water always seemed colder than everywhere else, especially in a little metal box.  Rob ran a long extension cord across the steps when the temperature dropped so he could power a space heater and not freeze to death in his sleep.  Come June, he rigged up a box fan.

I was never inside the trailer.  Rob was very private.   I also knew he brought prostitutes in there, so I kept my distance.  Females called to him all day and night.

"Rob, you in there?  Got a cigarette for me?"
"Go 'way, bitch.  I'm sleeping," he'd answer.
"C'mon, Rob.  Just one."
"You need to wash yourself," he scolded.
"I know, but I need a cigarette."

The girls all along Clason Point scared me.  Crack had roughed them up pretty badly.  They wandered up and down the road by the jetty, waiting for someone to come along and trade.  I'd convinced myself I wasn't like them.  I had clothes for work, a place to live and a little money.  No one had money in Harding Park, but they all had dope. Every kind you like.  That's why I was there.

*******

Mabel was Charlie's mom.  She was a tough old lady.  The boys broke her leg one night during a fight.  They fell on top of her when she was trying to separate them.  Mabel owned the house they lived in, and she paid the bills.  Her children gave her money here and there, with which she bought groceries and cooked for them all.  Stray people and animals, everybody got a meal.

She fed some of the dogs in the kitchen.  The ones that fought over food ate on the porch.  One night when Mabel was scraping leftovers into their bowls outside, she saw something picking through food in the trash barrel.  She called to Rob who grabbed an afghan off the couch.

"What is it?" she whispered.
"I don't know, Ma.  Let's catch him first."

When you throw a quilt over a large exotic bird, it sounds just like a lady being murdered.  "Get in here before the cops come!" Mabel hissed.

Rob unwrapped the blanket in the bathroom.  A blue and yellow macaw flapped its huge wings and crashed into the ceiling several times in efforts to escape its captors.  Having shat itself nearly unconscious, the poor thing perched on the shower rod, pink-faced and panting.  "Raw!  Raw!"  It sobbed all night long.

Come morning, Rob went to see a guy he knew who kept cockatiels in the back of his store.  He asked some questions but didn't let on what he had found in the yard.  You never tell people what you have.  They might snatch all your shit when you're not looking.  Instead, he bought two packs of Marlboros, glanced around and figured out on his own how to keep the parrot alive.

Mackey couldn't stay in the trailer.  It was either too hot or too cold for a tropical creature.  Instead, Rob built a five foot pen and chained it to an exposed cross beam in the living room ceiling.  He also put a padlock on the door of the cage. There were two keys.  He had one, and Mabel wore the other around her neck. Anyway you looked at it, nobody was gonna take that bird.  Mackey was a nasty motherfucker.  If you got too close, she'd growl menacingly.  She hated everyone except Rob. "Rawb!  Rawb!  When she saw him, she screeched with delight like a lovesick groupie.

Rob fed Mackey what we ate - sweet potatoes, macaroni and rice.  He cut up fresh fruits and vegetables.  He made treats from strips of rawhide rolled in peanut butter, some covered with bird seed and others with crushed nuts.

*******

Charlie's cousin, Pete lived in a tent on his deceased mother's property.  Her house had burned to the ground the year before.  He pushed a shopping cart around the neighborhood, stealing what he could and trying to sell people's garbage.  Pete wasn't long for this world.  Crack was digging his grave.

One afternoon, Pete came by to see Rob.  He'd been talking to his friend.  This friend told Pete that he'd heard some junkies broke into the bird sanctuary at the Bronx Zoo and stole seven or eight parrots.  He mentioned that folks suspected that's where Rob got Mackey.

"Pete, you're fucked up.  I ain't got no bird," Rob told him.
"Yo, cuz.  I'm just saying.  That's what they told me.  You know me, I ain't said nothing."
"You don't make no sense," Rob shook his head.
"Rawb!"  Mackey beckoned through the window when she heard his voice.
"You hear that?" Rob asked as he took one last drag off his cigarette and flicked it toward Pete's shoes.  "You tell your friend I got his mother up in my house."
Rob went inside, held the bird down and cut the ID band off her leg.  She cried the whole time.

*******

Sometimes, we'd get real high and sit on the couch all day.  I'd watch Mackey chew on her feet with her dark black beak.  She'd scratch her own face with those giant claws, hurting herself for reasons I couldn't understand and picking at something she'd never find.  She'd ring her little bell and climb the rope, calling out for a man to save her.  You just knew it wouldn't end well.

Over the years, I've often thought about that strange bird in her homemade cage, loved and kept by an angry man.  Raised one way, then suddenly living another and wondering where it all went wrong.  I was sad when I found out that Rob had died last year.  I don't know how it happened, and it wasn't my place to ask.  I had left that world behind and all the people in it.

Everyone in this story is dead, except me.   I think about that sometimes, too.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Subterfuge



"I'm calling Santa."  That tactic used to work wonders when the boys were toddlers.  Blotchy and apologetic, they'd beg for just one more chance to straighten up.  Dave and I rode that magical wave for several seasons, wildly unselfconscious.  We rang the North Pole regularly.  I'd complain to anybody who'd answer the phone up in the workshop - Mrs. Claus, harried elves, talking reindeer.  It didn't matter who I spoke to, as long as they were sympathetic toward adults and could relay a message that would directly impact my children's Christmas windfall.

Two winters ago, my husband threatened to call Santa Claus on his cell phone. Rory panicked briefly while Desmond, on the other hand, barely flinched.  I remember when the lame warning left David's lips that last time.  It was a sad moment in our marriage.  We both realized this holiday micropower was fleeting. I've never looked at him quite the same way.

Since then, the Killian Brothers are becoming aware that their parents are behind the Santa Claus shell game.  Still, both sons composed missives to St. Nick after Thanksgiving.  The letters themselves were more clinical and straightforward than in previous years.  Less chatty, no artwork.  Perfunctory grocery lists of comic books, video games and Nerf weapons.  Nothing too extravagant, which is always a relief.  Hardly any toys this year, with the exception of a few more challenging Lego Kits, those geared toward teenage boys who aren't dating yet.  I guess these guys are really growing up.

Desmond may have been a little embarrassed about the writing exercise, but he tried not to let on.  I could tell, though.  He is, after all, a man of science.  Rory saw the Cupcakes with Santa sign as we drove into the neighborhood last week.  I asked him if he wanted to go.  He loves treats.  "I'll get back to you, Mom," he said.  He never mentioned it again, and I didn't press the issue.

We still hide their gifts in the closet and wrap them when they've gone to sleep. In a few nights, I'll stage a break-in and arrange the presents under the tree. We'll stuff the stockings with gift cards and novelty items that will undoubtedly drive me crazy three days later, when I start finding them in the dryer and under their beds.

At this point, it seems they're just being cordial with regard to the ambiguous Christmas details.  I get the impression that they play along with our charade to protect my feelings.  They don't want me to know that they know what I know. They still have no idea what it is that I know, and I've been telling them that I know nothing for as long as I can remember.  I try to behave myself, and I suggest they do the same.  We're not supposed to overthink these things.

This year, I've been as good as it gets.  I'm hoping for that 'make your own' soda machine.  I deserve the modern miracle of in-home carbonation.  I do what I'm told and leave the cookies on the dish. Besides, why would I wanna fuck with Santa Claus?  That's for crazy people who have nothing to lose.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cookie Jar Contest!

Loyal readers deserve cookies!
I have always said this, but it's never made any sense.  Until now!

I'll say it again.
Loyal readers deserve cookies!

When you follow the Adventures of High Wire Girl, you take big risks.  Emotional risks. Sure, it's fun but it's still risky.  Nobody appreciates that more than I do.  This time my friend, you run the risk of winning something awesome and adorable.

Enter the drawing for a chance to scoop up one of these ridiculously cute Ugly Doll cookie jars.  I just ordered them this evening and squealed with delight throughout the entire on-line purchase.  When these sweet babies arrive, I will fill them with delicious treats and send them directly to the winners' homes for endless cookie enjoyment.

Not ONE but TWO chances to win!
Under the Networked Blog section to the right of this post, click the blue Follow This Blog button to be in my cool gang.  It's that simple.

If you're already a follower, you know how cool you are!  Your name is in both drawings. Share the blog with friends so they have an opportunity to win.  Share the blog with no one if you want to improve your chances, but that's not very nice.

Stay posted for nail-biting sweepstakes updates.  I just changed it from a contest to a sweepstakes because it sounds much more exciting, and I can do what I want.

As always, thanks for supporting High Wire Girl. ooxo

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nuts to Butts!

When you like somebody, it's a smart idea to find out as much as you can about that person.  This way, you can identify mutual interests that can help grow and sustain a healthy relationship.  It's also a nice way to let the object of your affection think you're paying attention to what she has to say, even if your mind is on cartoons.

Maybe your love interest is really shy, or perhaps she thinks you are stupid. Don't be discouraged!  There are lots of ways that you can hopefully change her mind so she can get to liking you as soon as possible.

Ask anyone who's been together for a very long time.  It's almost a necessity that you have the same favorite color.  If you like green and she's into pink, things are probably not gonna work out.  If you both dig yellow, start planning the wedding immediately.

Girls love crafts!  Talk about Rainbow Loom.  Make her a bracelet.  Make bracelets for all of her friends.  Do not let your jewelry-making get in the way of your homework.  Your mom may take away your rubber bands and crochet needle until you get your priorities straight.  Without those bracelets, you'll have nothing to talk about and you may never get married.

Discussions with regard to the passing of gas are off limits.  It's that simple. No matter how hilarious, wisecracking about body parts is in poor taste.  If that mother of yours finds out that you've initiated this brand of blue humor, she'll be cross and very disappointed.  Your TV privileges will undoubtedly be jeopardized, and it's just not worth the risk.  Save the fart jokes for your guy friends.

Find out if your future wife has any food allergies before you slip a fun size Snicker's Bar into her Christmas treat bag.  This bold tactic won't garner the attention you're hoping for, especially if she's allergic to peanuts.  It will, however, guarantee you a visit to the Assistant Principal's office for a lengthy discussion about potential health hazards and other good intentions gone terribly awry.

My Free Tutorial


Last night, I dreamt that I wrote a tutorial.  From what I could gather, my tutorial was a pretty big deal.  It's unclear what the tutorial was about.  It's not important. Here's what I do know.  Everybody in the dream was impressed with my ability. Even though I was asleep, I experienced instant dream world popularity, and it felt very real.

A big party was thrown in my honor to celebrate me and my informative tutorial.  Food was served; fancy treats like Ritz crackers with squeeze cheese, olives and a chocolate fountain.  When conscious, I love all of these things.  Guests were approaching me left and right.  They thanked and congratulated me.  Apparently, my tutorial had changed their lives.

I recognized no one at this high profile media event.  Still, I was confident and self-assured. Most folks were friendly, and I guess that's what counts.  Some of the men at the party wore beards.  I didn't let any of those guys hug me.  Yuck.

When I woke up this morning, I realized several things.  First of all, I sleep with my mouth open and because I do, my pillow is always wet.  Next, I don't own the backless gown that I wore to the dream reception.  If I did, I'd definitely wear it all the time - even to the grocery store.  I looked sensational.  Most importantly, I wasn't even quite certain what a tutorial is.  So I did a little research.

Wow!  Tutorials are everywhere.  I'm almost pretty sure I could definitely write one.  I would make my tutorial FREE so that all people would be able to enjoy it, at no cost to them.  Now, it's just a matter of deciding what to write about.  Some people write tutorials about computers, but I'm not gonna do that because I don't really like computers all that much.

I'm more interested in other things, so I think I'll start there.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Found Jesus

When my mother got sick, she pretty much decided right away that she was gonna check out.  Esophageal cancer is a doozy, and she just didn't have much fight left in her.  Over the years, I think her hypervigilance with regard to Dad's condition really kicked her ass, as well.  Such a shame because she'd always been a savage survivor.

If life is a highway, then timing is everything, I suppose.  When the rubber finally met the road, Big Mare's gears were completely stripped.  Her illness presented her with a dead end.  She shut the engine off and handed over the keys.

I gathered Mom up and brought her to our home.  My father transitioned into Assisted Living, and thankfully, he acclimated well.  I started cleaning out Big Mare's apartment several months before she passed away, and I was glad to have constructive things to focus on.

Every day after I dropped the kids off at school, I'd head over to their place and load up laundry baskets filled with her belongings - stuffed animals, tchotchkes and framed photographs of the boys.  Big Mare's design flourishes consisted of kitchen magnets, souvenirs from places other people had been and crap she couldn't bring herself to throw away.  I carted all of her things up to the bedroom at the top of the stairs.  And together, we revisited her worn out memories.

It wasn't a happy time by any stretch of the imagination, but it was strangely beautiful to address the end of my mother's life so systematically and with such decorum.  Her existence had been one of non-stop crazy, punctuated by episodes of mayhem and hysteria.  Although sad, things felt incredibly peaceful.  Big Mare relinquished control of her out-of-control life.  She and I discussed the future without her.  She worried about my Dad.  We took turns admiring my ability to address the issues at hand. She really could depend on me, and it was a wonderful feeling.

By the time we got to the Christmas stuff, she'd become gravely ill.  I left everything in cardboard boxes and had David put them in the attic.

*******

Big Mare loved the holidays.  They were loud, garish and dizzying, just like us. She owned tons and tons of decorations, and she was a sucker for Nativity scenes.  No matter the circumstances, my mother couldn't refuse a pregnant knick knack. Consequently, we now have in our possession several vastly different versions of the Christ child's big debut.

I had very little trouble parting with Mom's ornaments.  Most of them were old, chipped and in varying stages of flat-out busted.  Ancient glass balls in moth-eaten packages, dusty garland and strands of giant incandescent lights - they all went in the garbage.  I guess I'm just not that sentimental.  I did, however, struggle with the disposition of the holy statues.

Of course, I realize that no household needs this many Nativity sets.  We have dedicated birthing areas established throughout our home.  Old school ceramic Blessed Mothers, the ever guileless Raggedy Ann, promiscuous Betty Boop, wide-eyed snow ladies and cautious teddy bear women - they're all expecting Saviors at this time of year.  On Christmas Eve, this place turns into a bustling maternity ward, and Rory is their midwife.  He gingerly extracts all the newborns from their bubble wrap and puts them in a pile.

Now, I have a collection of Baby Jesuses in my underwear drawer.  There's gotta be at least eight of them in there.   Every time I look for a pair of bloomers, I hear them clinking together.  Last year, we had lots of different hiding places, and Brother couldn't remember where he'd stashed all the infants on Christmas morning.  I found Teddy Bear Jesus in a box of dryer sheets in February.
When I was a little girl and first learned about the Coming of our Lord, the story blew my mind.  But the details made no sense.  The Holy Family presented an unconventional dynamic and one with which I assumed we moderns had very little in common.  The unfortunate circumstances these biblical characters faced was downright inspirational.  All they wanted was a reasonably clean place to lay down. And they kept on going until they found it.

I asked Big Mare a hundred questions, none of which she could answer with any measure of clarity.  She did her best, though.  It seems the Christ child's mother was the real star of the Nativity show.  She was a good woman who just happened to get wrapped up with the first guy who came along.  Granted, St. Joseph was a decent fella, but he was quiet and had no balls.  Their relationship was less than ideal. Such was life back then in Nazareth.  You got married, and you hung in there. They did have that precious baby, though, who ended up changing the world.  And her name was Little Mary.

Oh my God.  I can't believe I just wrote Little Mary.  I meant Jesus.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Myriad Harbor



My sister and I stepped off the train together in Central Islip.  As we walked across the platform, she fished through her bag for the car keys.  "Look, Mary.  David seems like a very nice guy.  But he's gonna want children, and you can't have any more kids.  You can barely take care of the one that you've got," she reminded me.

My son was living with his father.  I'd already been divorced twice.  The second guy was in jail, and I had put him there.  I was 33 years old, sleeping on a twin bed in Judy's basement.

"Your sister's a bitch," my addiction would mutter under his breath.
I wanted to agree with him, but she was right.

*******

Since we met, Dave was eager to share his life with me.  And I tried to make room in my addiction for him.  It was a laborious task.  Once we were married, our union struggled under the weight of my pre-existing relationship.  I truly wanted to be with my husband, to experience all the wonderful things couples enjoy.  But drinking and getting high is an all consuming career path.  It requires hours and hours of research and study. It's like being a doctor.  You have to take it seriously.

Still, we managed to do many wonderful things together.  We bought a car and a dog. We purchased our first home.  I successfully filed for joint custody of my son, and Kirin started high school in our town.  Dog #2 to keep the first dog company.  It felt deceptively like progress.

Every once in awhile, I'd take a moment to consider the possibility of starting a family. We'd see a baby in a shopping cart at the grocery store or sitting in someone's lap on the bus.  I'd find myself staring a little too long.  David would turn to me and say, "Admit it.  You want one of those."
"No, I don't," I'd reply.  I wasn't thinking straight.

My addiction and I had many confusing discussions about this matter.  He never liked David to begin with, and he was vehemently against the possibility of introducing a new child into the equation.

"Look, what's the rush?" he'd ask whenever I brought up the subject.  "You have lots of time."
"Not really.  I'm already 37.  If I'm gonna do this, I should probably start soon," I replied.
"That's not necessary.  You've never had trouble getting pregnant before," he trailed off, sarcastically.
I couldn't dispute what he said, so we just stopped talking about it for awhile.

But the notion continued to present itself, even though my dependency was quite severe.  I knew in my heart that I couldn't carry a baby to full term without using.  I couldn't even stay straight one day.  That harsh reality continued to hit me in waves over and over again, knocking my legs out from under me.  It saddened me to admit that I was out of control.  I didn't want to believe it, but I was drowning.

"Well, what do you think?" I'd inquire of my addiction in an inebriated moment.
"I still hate the baby idea," he'd tell me.  "Don't you remember what your sister said?  'You can barely take care of the kid you have.'"
"But that's not true," I protested.  "Life is so much better than it was."
"Yeah, but Judy had a valid point," my addiction insisted.
"Wait a minute," I reminded him.  "You called her a bitch."
"I know, but I meant it in a good way," he shot back.

Sometimes, my habit just wanted to fight.
"That husband of yours, Daniel?" he asked.
"David," I corrected him.
"Whatever.  He's very controlling.  You're so stupid, you don't even realize it."
"He's supportive and encouraging.  I've never been treated so nicely," I attempted weakly.
"Ha!  He never wants you to have fun," he laughed, for emphasis.
"You know what?" I held my throbbing head in my hands.  "You need to back off.  I can't even remember the last time any of this was fun!"
With considerable softness this time, he offered, "Look, you're just upset.  Take these."  He held out a handful of pills.  "Let me get you something to drink.  You'll feel better."
"Okay," I agreed.  Like always.  There is no arguing with addiction.

*******

I'd love to propose that a strong desire to have a baby was the catalyst for my getting sober, but it wasn't.   I got sober because I just couldn't get high anymore.  I don't know how else to explain what occurred.  I kept hitting it, but something just wasn't working.  I was doing my thing for so long, I truly believed that if I stopped, I might die. And when I considered what life would be like without getting loaded, I couldn't even begin to imagine.  I saw nothing.  It didn't seem like there was anything worth seeing.

*******

During the first year of sobriety, it is strongly suggested that newly recovering addicts not make any big changes.  I found this recommendation endlessly confusing because everything I knew had already changed.  My life was dumped on its ass and nothing looked familiar.  But I did what I was told.  I ate food and slept.  I went to meetings.  I got a sponsor.  I saw a therapist.  Ate.  Slept.  Meetings.  Therapy.  It was difficult and monotonous.  But I didn't pick up a drink or a drug, and my marriage survived.

The second year I was clean, I continued doing the simple things I'd done the year before.  Life on life's terms became easier to manage.  Additionally, David and I planned to have our baby.

That baby is Desmond Henry.  And today, he is eleven years old.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Timing is Everything

Monday through Friday at 7:30 am, the children in our home are served a simple yet nutritious breakfast.  This meal consists of your choice of waffles or cereal with milk, a glass of juice and a Flintstone vitamin.  Food offered during this particular time slot has worked very well for quite a few years.  At this point, everyone who lives here is well aware that if you are late for any reason, you will experience some difficulty securing these satisfying menu items.

At 7:40 am, you will be served an untoasted pop-tart and some milk.
At 7:50 am, a granola bar and a small bottle of water.
Any later than that, it is strongly suggested that you brush your teeth and look forward to your lunch.  Your bus arrives at 8:05 am, and you will be on it.

In this house, we have certain rules in place for a variety of reasons.  The 7:30 am breakfast rule exists because lots of things have to occur in a very concentrated bracket of time.  The first hour of the day is rough on everyone.  We all live together, and we share the amenities and privileges of being in this family.  As your mother, part of my job is to make sure things proceed as smoothly as possible.

If you get hung up for any reason at 7:30 am, it's usually because you are making a choice.  If you choose to read a comic book in your underwear or make a rubber band bracelet after you get dressed and before you come down to eat, you must live with your decision.  This is your prerogative, my dear.

I like to give you boys plenty of options, so you can make lots of great decisions.  You can go to bed at a reasonable hour so you can wake up with enough time to get all of your tasks accomplished.  You can sleep a little later and hustle to get out the door on time.  Or you can read The Justice League of America, Santuary and miss out on everything else.

Hey, it's fine if that's what you decide to do.  What's not fine is when you behave like a fink, once you realize your breakfast has been compromised.  Your choice doesn't give you the right to gripe about the accommodations as if you are a hotel guest and your room service order has been bungled.  In addition, if you suggest to your brother that you plan to pursue free school breakfast in efforts to counteract the unfair treatment you receive in our care, you are definitely getting my attention.  But I guarantee that it's not the kind you were hoping for.

Quite frankly, I find your negative attitude most challenging to my generally pleasant demeanor.  Arguing first thing in the morning is a drag.  And it really harshes my joyful coffee mellow.

Desmond honey, you are a terrific young man.  Your Dad and I love you.  But we are your parents, not your employees.  I assure you that taking responsibility for your actions is ultimately the easier, softer way.  I'm optimistic that you'll appreciate this crucial lesson sooner rather than later.  Hopefully, tomorrow will start with a step in the right direction.  At 7:30 am.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Poor, Poor Pitiful Me



"I'll never be like him," I swore to my eight year old self.  "He ruins everything," I thought.  I sat at the top of the stairs, reading the TV Guide and willing myself to see his shadow at the front door.  It was dark outside, and Gene Dall was late again.  He should have been home hours ago.  Big Mare stood by the kitchen window, smoking and worrying.  "Why can't he just have a few beers and come home?" I asked my sister, like she'd know.

"I'll never drink," Judy would say.  "I hate everything about it."
"Not me," I'd reply.  "I'm just not gonna act all stupid when I do."

Over and over, I watched booze transform my father from this quiet, preoccupied guy into something unrecognizable.  Why is he like this?  How could he forget what time it is or how to get home?  What can I do to make things better?  I wondered why he couldn't hold his liquor, like other men.  I barely even knew what that meant, but it made him seem like a weakling.  I hated feeling that way about him.  I wanted to love my Dad.  I knew I was supposed to, but I resented him when he drank.  I tried not to consider that he didn't give a shit about any of us, but that's what it looked like. And when she was angry, that's what my mother told us.

My father was never a social guy, and he engaged in conversation only when necessary.  Gene Dall was a machine of efficiency.  So when he tied a load on, it was difficult to detect at first.  Until he got off his stool and hit the wall or fell down a flight of stairs.  Every time my father drank, he seemed determined to kill himself, one way or another.

When he was hungover, the situation became even more stressful.  With all that worry out of the way, Big Mare turned full-time furious.  And very often, her rage made her thirsty.  I wished I could side with my mother because I understood how upset she was. But she treated my Dad so cruelly, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Unfortunately for me, he had no use for sympathy.  He wanted to be left alone.  I felt lost and ineffectual.

*******

When Judy and I were little girls, our house was Party Central.  There was never anything fancy planned, but Big Mare was a gracious hostess and everybody loved her. My aunts and uncles would come over on the weekends and holidays, and they all partied their brains out.

My cousins were so much fun, but man, they were wild.  I couldn't believe how exciting life was when they were around.  Unfortunately, I was a douche and a tattletale, so the kids would tire of me quickly.  I'd come downstairs, crying and climb into somebody's lap who wasn't sitting near an ashtray.  I pulled out my crayons and drew pictures of horses and dogs, living together.  I'd eat potato chips with onion dip, fetch beers and light matches.

I didn't mind hanging out with the grown-ups.  Uncle Mike, Aunt Joan and Big Mare were as thick as thieves. They turned the stereo on and blasted their favorite music really loud - Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt.  They sang at the top of their lungs and lovingly teased one another.  They told stories I'd heard many times before and finished each other's sentences.  How wonderful - the conviviality and friendship that seemed to come with sharing a few beers.

I savored those moments when everything felt so intimate and comfortable.  I fell in love with drinking right there at Big Mare's kitchen table.  I didn't care that this night would end like all the rest, with someone falling, crying or having to be carried to the car.  None of those details mattered.  I knew I just wanted that feeling.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Whatsa Matta... Chicken?


No matter how hungry I am, I can't bring myself to buy the rotisserie chicken at Walmart. Even when it's marked down to an unbelievable out-the-door price of $2.50! After three hours under the glaring lights of an institutional hot plate, anything could be incubating inside that faceless cadaver.

Now, I will admit - I like Walmart.  They sell many things I've convinced myself that we can't possibly live without:  giant boxes of Hot Pockets, gummy vitamins and those little Gatorades that the boys love.  I even score my Dad's diabetic socks there.  And sure, I'm a girl who's been known to take chances.  Occasionally, I stay up late on a school night.  I leave my house without an umbrella.  I color my own hair.  But a rotisserie chicken - priced to move - seems more than just a little risky.  I've seen the Faces of Death botulism episode.  It's no way to die.

Imagine, if you will, this scenario.  It's mid-winter and like most obsessive compulsives, I've found myself in the attic, looking for things to itemize and sort.  While I'm up there, perched on a small rocking chair suitable for an American Girl doll is a rotisserie chicken, completely intact and warm to the touch.  Yes, it's eery.  But the kids are hungry.  Do I start boiling water for egg noodles?  It seems unlikely.

Here's another take on things.  Suppose I'm a free-spirited hippie from the hitchhiker generation, wandering across the country with a well-behaved Border Collie.  I'm young, unwashed and determined to find myself through travel and casual encounters.  In the parking lot of a health food store outside of San Francisco, I stumble across a rotisserie chicken, completely intact and free of road dust.  It's the Summer of Love, and dogs love chicken...  I can't do it, Boo.  You can have my granola bar.

Okay, I'm an ichthyologist from the Oceanographic Institute.  Upon slicing open the belly of a Great White suspected of several attacks off the coast of Amity, amid the license plates and bicycle parts, my team and I discover a rotisserie chicken, completely intact and bearing no signs of foul play.  Do we wash up and call everyone in from the dissection lab?  Of course not.  Let's just work through lunch and head to Applebee's at quitting time.

Best leave well enough alone, while we're all still well enough.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Scanner Darkly


My memories are perishable.  The older ones are always being replaced by new information.  Inside my conscience, there are layers of thoughtful detail.  This is where I go to reassemble my historical self.  But I can't remember everything.  I only wish I could!

This much I think is true.  The moments I recall vividly are generally those that have provoked more complex emotions.  I piece together images and match them with words that help explain these glimpses of the past.  As both reporter and participant, I try to present myself as palatable without compromising the truth.  The camera always adds ten pounds, and I am a monster of vanity.

Memories exist in the cracks of our minds and between the people with which we share them.  My version of a certain experience will always be different from someone else's because it belongs to me.  My account is neither right nor wrong.  It's merely an understanding of the facts from my point of view.

Not everyone sees things the way that I do.  So I have to be cool, everyday and all year long.  But the holidays are tricky.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are potential powder kegs of unmet expectations.  It's those shared memories that fuck everything up.

I remind myself that for years, I was the empty chair at the table.  That's right. I'm no superhero.  I'm still learning how to live.

I just keep asking myself one question...
What would Robert Downey, Jr. do?