Friday, February 27, 2015

A Message To You, Mary

I think I might be getting better at drinking.  Like maybe I'm learning how to pace myself or something.  I hope so.  I hate when I get too loaded.  I spend all this time looking forward to going somewhere and having fun.  Then I end up with my head in some dirty toilet or laid out on a bed, covered in coats.  It's such a waste of everything.  Money, liquor, time and effort.

I bought some little pills in the back of Cosmopolitan magazine.  They're supposed to help you lose weight and have more energy.  I don't own a scale, but I bet I've lost about fifteen pounds so far.  Most of my clothes are starting to get loose, and everybody tells me how skinny I look.

I wonder what's in these pills.  I take them all the time now.  I'm never hungry, and I don't get nearly as drunk as I used to.  I wish I could afford cocaine more often.  I'd much rather do that instead.  But it's expensive, and I have to pay rent every month.  I'm trying to save enough money so I can have the phone connected. My friends get in touch with me at my job, but the receptionist doesn't like when she has to switch over too many personal calls.

Jason left for San Antonio, Texas three weeks ago, and I miss him.  I've written three times so far, and I got a letter back, just yesterday.  He says Basic Training is really hard.  You have to wake up at dawn and exercise like crazy.  You need to straighten your bed a certain way or you'll get into trouble.  They make sure you keep all of your toiletries super clean, right down to the cap on your toothpaste. The whole thing sounds terrible.

It sucks having a boyfriend who's not around.  I haven't seen any of Jason's friends since he went away either.  They're so nice.  I suppose they're my friends too, but I don't drive and they're all in Queens.  So much for that, I guess.  I get invited to tons of parties here in the neighborhood, though.  Coke is everywhere all of a sudden, and it's absolutely nuts.  The whole weekend, I'm running around like a maniac.  But come Monday, I'm always broke, depressed and starving.  I could eat your arm.

That's one of the reasons I like these pills so much.  I can pop a few in the morning and get right to whatever I need to do.  By lunchtime, I'm not even hungry or tired anymore.  I take a couple more, and I'm ready for drinks after work.  I can just keep going.  It's awesome.

Plus something weird happened recently.  I went to a barbecue and maybe got a little too drunk, too soon.  By the time we all chipped in for blow, I was already pretty sloppy.  I managed to do a few lines but couldn't seem to right myself.  I really needed to leave.  This guy I met said he'd walk me home.  He's somebody's brother or cousin.  I can't remember.

I guess we started making out.  I kind of recall getting sick in the street along the way.  The next thing I knew, we were back in my apartment.  And he was banging into me from behind while I threw up in a garbage can.  That's never happened to me before, where I've lost time and can't fill in the gaps.  When I woke up again, he was gone.  And I haven't seen him since.

I'm glad.  I don't think I wanted to be with him, but he definitely didn't force me. Like I said, it was weird.  I feel strange and uneasy about the whole thing.  I wish Jason was home.  It's not like I'm gonna tell him or anything, but I definitely prefer the security of being with someone.  I get a little nervous when I'm out by myself.  I just want to concentrate on the fun.

That's why I think the pills are really helping.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fantastic Day!

All week, I've been wanting to write about Jason.  I put a few sentences together, but I hated what I'd written.  The details read like insipid tidbits from a brochure on emotional immaturity, written by a ridiculously self-absorbed young girl.

We were introduced at a party.  We both had just shaved our heads.  His to emphasize his recent enlistment in the military.  Mine, I did for the shock value.  It was 1984.  We started dating right away.  We listened to the same music.  Jason had a car and a job.  Lots of great friends who made me feel clever and part of a fun-loving group.  Plus, it seemed as though he really liked me, and that was very important.

I cringe when I think back to being twenty one years old.  Grown-up style decisions were being made all around me.  People I knew were getting engaged, left and right.  My sister had gotten married and instantly turned into an adult.  I guess I'd always seen myself as being pretty smart, but I didn't have any solid plans for the future.  I barely knew how to get to work on time.

These terrifying thoughts bounced around in my otherwise empty mind.  My mother was right.  I wouldn't know a good idea if it bit me in the ass.  She was right about a lot of things, but man, was she mean.  I wasn't about to let that woman tell me how to live my life.  Or call me a whore one more time.  That's why I moved out.

Jason was a reasonable guy.  In ways, I wish I could have discouraged him from getting involved with the likes of me.  I totally misrepresented myself.  I wanted to be ready for responsible love, but I wasn't.

I suppose I was already drinking alcoholically by the time we met, but it felt like I was just getting started.  Especially because I wasn't sneaking in and out of the house anymore.  I didn't have to reel myself in as much.  A few beers always gave me the courage I lacked.  A couple more, and I felt pretty damn confident.  I could smoke my weed and do all kinds of new and exciting drugs.  Getting fucked up helped me climb up over my fears and free fall into each perfectly reckless synthetic moment.

My getting together with Jason had very little to do with him at all.

I don't love my first husband anymore.  But he deserved a better companion.  I was unfaithful and negligent in our relationship.  Then I lied about it.  And I held onto that lie like it was the truth.  For years.  I know I didn't ruin his life, but I made him sad for a very long time.  We had a child, and I bailed on that responsibility, as well.  I'm embarrassed by all the foolish things I did.  I wish I could go back and change the past.  But since I can't, at least it feels good to be honest.

In a far corner of my mind, I wonder if Jason might read what I've written someday.  I want to be careful and fair with what I say about him.  I picture him reprimanding me again.  Many years have passed since something like that has happened but unfortunately, it was the nature of our relationship.  It's difficult to envision much of anything else.

I'm 51 years old, and I'm still afraid somebody's gonna yell at me.


"Please don't leave," I begged.

We'd had such a fantastic day.  Driving around and getting to know one another.  I didn't want it to end.  I sat on the edge of the mattress in that shithole I was renting.  I'd moved out of my parents' house so I could be free, but I still felt trapped in every way.

Jason slipped back into his shoes and gathered up his keys.

"I have to go," he said.  "I told my mother I'd be home tonight.  Besides, we've both got work tomorrow."

"Please stay."

I tried to insist, but he was already zipping his coat.

"Just go to sleep," he suggested.  "When you wake up, it'll be morning.  This isn't the end of the world, you know."

He made it sound so easy.  Like being alone was something people actually enjoyed.

Jason had much more discipline than I did.  It's one of the things I admired about him.  He was sturdy and goal oriented.  He arrived on the scene with no obvious emotional issues.  I kept mine well-hidden.  I didn't want to scare him off.

I laid there in the darkness for a few minutes.  I hated being by myself.  I missed my mother and couldn't figure out why.  I knew she was furious and disappointed with me.  I never should have left home.  But I did, and I couldn't go back.

I switched on the lamp and got out of bed.  I went to the refrigerator and retrieved two cans of beer.  I stood at the kitchen sink and drank them both, real fast.  I decided to bake a cake and bring it to work the next day.  That'd be a nice thing to do.

I turned on a few records and played them over and over.  I laid down in front of the stereo and disappeared into the music.  I sang along with each tune, glad for the lyrics printed on the corresponding jacket covers.

I drank three more beers and then another.  At some point, I got up to check on the cake.  Both pans of batter were black and burnt beyond recognition.  The whole apartment was filled with smoke.  I stumbled into the bathroom and threw up all over the floor.

I crawled into bed, falling asleep with the lights and the oven still on.

Monday, February 16, 2015

You Otter Be Kiddin' Me...

Winning a High Wire Girl Contest may be one of the most excellent things that ever happens to you.  The prizes are adorable, the treats are delicious and there's no ulterior motive.  It's actually the ideal experience!

This time, I couldn't help but focus on river otters, for no specific purpose other than the fact that they are hilarious, playful creatures.  Otters are terrific swimmers, and they can hold their breath underwater for something like eight minutes.  They also use tools as a means of obtaining food, which is positively brilliant!

Here are the simple requirements for winning Flopsie, the plush North American River Otter.  Plus lots of other exciting little goodies.

1.  Under the Spring Contest section on the website, look for Networked Blogs (Like on Facebook).
2.  Click the BLUE Follow This Blog button.
3.  When the next screen pops up, click Follow to add yourself to the directory.

This is the only way you can be in the drawing.  But once you do that, you have two opportunities to win because I've already secured two Flopsies.  Two chances are always better than one.

I am delighted for so many wonderful High Wire Girl readers.  I feel so fortunate to share my stories with such supportive friends.  And it's fun to give back, especially when the prizes are such fun and make very little sense.

Please double check that you're following.  I'd hate for you to miss out.
I promise - you'll be so happy to get a package in the mail. ox

Love always,


P.S.  There's also socks with little river otters on them.  Just saying.  Oh, and candy.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em...

"Remember to find out what your teacher smokes, so Daddy can get what we need."

My mother zipped the top of my coat and tightened the scarf around my neck, covering most of my face.  My nose leaked into the wool, making the skin on my cheeks warm and wet.

"I don't think she smokes, Mom."

"Just go."  She turned me around by the shoulders, and I toddled across the schoolyard toward the other fifth graders.

"What did you get Mrs. Flanagan for Christmas?" I asked a few of the girls as we huddled together for warmth in the shadow of the building.

"I got her some perfume.  Jean Nate," one of them said.

"I bought this little statue.  It says 'Best Teacher Ever.'"

"My mother's gonna take me to Macy's this weekend."

Shit, I thought to myself.  These presents sounded wonderful and very extravagant.

My sister, Judy and I gave our teachers the same thing every year.  An appreciative carton of cigarettes.  This practical gift was generally well-received by faculty members across the board at St. Raymond's.  But still, it would have been nice to go to Korvettes and look at the necklaces.  Maybe pick out some gloves.

The bell rang, and we filed through the double doors and up the stairs.

I waited until the end of the day to approach my teacher.  Mrs. Flanagan was a sweet, middle-aged woman with piercing blue eyes and a compact, roly poly body. She was gentle and soft-spoken.  She raised her voice at me only once.  I felt terribly self-conscious when it happened, even though it had been a bunch of us screaming in the cafeteria.  Not just me.

"Yes, Mary dear.  What can I do for you?"

"Uhm.  My mom wants to know what kind of cigarettes you like."

She stared at me for a good minute or two.  I thought perhaps she was trying to decide on her favorite.

"Tell your mother 'thank you,' but I don't smoke."

Shit, I thought to myself.

I went home and shared with my mother the details of our brief conversation.  She leaned over the kitchen table, wrapping rectangular packages of nicotine like a machine.  Stopping only to flick the ashes from the end of her own equipment and tape bows to everything that wasn't nailed down.

"What do you mean, 'She doesn't smoke?'"

She looked at me like I had four heads.

"'I don't smoke.'  That's what she told me."

Shit, my mother said.

"What are we gonna do now?"

"Go pick something from over there."

Mom gestured toward an array of boxed liquors, loosely reserved for our pediatrician and dentist, as well as select members of the clergy.

"I like this one," I said, holding up a sparkly white box with a red ribbon painted onto the cardboard.  "What's this?"

"It doesn't matter.  They're all the same shit," she said.

The following morning, I stood at the front of the line with a gift-wrapped bottle of Seagram's V.O. in a small brown shopping bag.

"Is that for Mrs. Flanagan?" one of my classmates asked.


"What did you get her?"

"Whiskey," I answered proudly.

I couldn't wait to see the look on my teacher's face when she opened it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Room For Improvement

I never thought Assisted Living could hold the likes of Gene Dall.  Before he fell and dented his head, my father was not to be contained.  Occasionally, I wonder what things might have been like had he not gone down that morning.  I tend to think he'd probably have killed somebody behind the wheel.  Between the drinking and the diabetes, he was a menace on the road.  And most other places, really.  Not outwardly malicious.  He just wanted to do his own thing.

Of course, I'm not happy he suffered traumatic brain injury, but it always seemed like something big had to happen in order to slow him down and reel him in. When God steps in, He doesn't joke around.

Dad will be 86 next month.  I didn't think he'd last long after Mom died.  Theirs was such a co-dependent package deal.  They loved each other/hated each other/needed each other.  She's gone almost five years, and he's still hanging in there.  It's unbelievable.

I enjoy spending time in my dad's room.  It's like a little apartment, except there's no kitchen stuff or bathtub.  Which is really for his own safety, and it's absolutely fine with him.  He's pleased with the meals he receives and would be perfectly happy if he never had to take another shower, ever again.

When he first moved into senior housing, I struggled with how to personalize the space for a guy who couldn't care less about decorations.  My reflex was to fill the room with my mother's knick knacks and stuffed animals, but the sight of them made me sad.  Plus, he doesn't really give a shit, and that made me even sadder.

Although he's not particular about where he lays down, I bought my father a bed. In his lifetime, he has slept everywhere.  On benches, in chairs, at church, on the train, while driving, in the grass, on the sidewalk.  I was afraid he'd roll off a twin mattress and hurt himself, so I got him a full.  Gene Dall's a big dude.

Dad's got a closet for his clothing.  It's not as neat as the way Mom kept his things, but I do what I can.  I come by every few days and put clean outfits together on hangers.  Pants, a shirt, underwear and socks.  It's always the same set-up.  I switch out the laundry and leave an empty basket for him to fill with his spent clothes.  I place clean pajamas on his pillow for that evening.  He drapes the dirty ones back on a hanger when he's done sleeping in them.

Gene wears the same shoes every day.  When this pair gets beat up, we'll replace them with new ones.  Until then, these will suffice.  Every once in a while when I stop by, he'll still be padding around the common areas in his slippers.  It freaks me out.  I don't like him in his slippers during the day.  It makes me think he's one step closer to wearing boxer shorts on his head.

"Where are your shoes?" I ask.

"I thought these were my shoes."

"Those are your slippers."

"Oh," he says.  "Then, where are my shoes?"

We have lots of conversations like this.

I labeled the drawers of my dad's bureau so he knows where stuff is located, but he doesn't care about these details.  If whatever it is that he thinks he needs isn't right in front of him when he thinks he needs it, he doesn't need it.  He's that gentle now.  It's mind-blowing.

Dad seems to have no problem locating his spectacles in the morning.  I'm pretty sure he removes them before he goes to sleep.  He used to snap the arms off his glasses all the time when he was younger.  He'd get drunk and pass out with them on his face.  Or fall and bust them that way.  Then fasten them together with safety pins and paper clips.

My father wears his watch all the time and a crucifix around his neck.  In the beginning, he worried about his wallet and police shield whenever he misplaced them.  Most of the time, I'd find these items in the pockets of his trousers and set them aside.  He'd call the house, agitated.

"I can't find my potsy."

"I have it," I'd tell him.

"Oh, good.  Bring it next time you come."


He stopped asking about either of these things about six months ago.  Finally, I just put them in my underwear drawer, tucked into a corner next to the little ziploc bag filled with Desmond and Rory's baby teeth.

Dad's room has a nightstand next to the bed, on which there's a lamp, his alarm clock and a pencil sharpener.  I always check inside the bottom drawer for contraband - sugar packets and little bags of popcorn, maybe a stale brownie wrapped in a napkin.  Sometimes, I'll find his diabetic socks, stuffed behind the Scrabble game.  They're difficult to put on, so he hides them.  I return the sweeteners to the young lady at the front desk and toss the snacks into the trash.

"Don't throw those away," he tells me.  "Bring them home for the boys."

"We have cookies at the house."

"I'll eat them, then."

"Do me a favor, Dad.  Leave them where they are."

I wanted Gene to have a phone, just in case he ever needs to reach me.  I bought an older model on the internet.   One he could just pick up and use easily, without having to press any extra buttons.  I wrote my number down on a big index card because he doesn't remember much.  I love when the phone rings at my house and it's him.  Our conversations are brief.  The longest one has maybe lasted eight minutes.  I do most of the talking.  I take great comfort in knowing where he is and that he is safe.  It is a new world luxury.

"Good evening, Patrolman Dall," I answer.

My machine displays the caller's name.  He's always impressed that I know he's on the other end.

"This piece of paper said I should call."

"I'm glad you did.  Have you finished your supper?"

"I guess so."

"What did you have?"

"I don't know.  Meat, I think.  It was good."

He's telling the truth.  It doesn't matter what's on the menu, as long as it's food. Although pancakes are his favorite.

"All right, then.  See you tomorrow.  I'm gonna come by in the morning, if that's okay."

"I'll be around.  You know where to find me, right?"

"Yeah.  I love you, Gene."

"Thank you," he responds.

My father's got a table and two chairs near the window.  The chairs are from the kitchen set my folks bought in 1972.  They're dark walnut-stained captain's chairs, very heavy.  The table is from an unpainted furniture store.  It's sturdy enough that if he leans on it to stand up, it won't collapse.  Dad sits at the table and does word search puzzles until the points are dull on every pencil he uses.  I sharpen the pencils when I'm there.  He also likes to play cards.  He used to read the newspaper every day when I was a kid, starting from the back with the sports.  His mind isn't interested in current events anymore.

Along the shelf over his bed, there's a photo of Mom and Dad at my wedding and some pictures of the kids.  Also a plaque that reads, "The Police Officer's Prayer." It looks like an award.  I guess in a way, it is.  He's still alive.  Big winner.

From time to time, he asks, "What ever happened to that girl?"  He's referring to my mother.

Mostly, I just remind him matter-of-factly that she passed away.

"She had cancer, Dad."

"Oh.  I didn't know.  That's too bad."

Occasionally, I suggest that he broke her balls so much, she just collapsed and died.  He thinks this is hilarious.  It is kinda funny.

I like to sit on the back of the commode while my father shaves.  He sings and whistles as he lathers his skin.  He still knows a bunch of songs.  He likes "Take It Easy" by the Eagles and Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom."  Bits and pieces of the oldies.  We sing together.  I clean his glasses and put them back on so he can see what he's doing.

His toiletries are right on the sink top for his convenience.  But he won't use any of them unless he's provoked.  And I have to watch that he doesn't put deodorant on his face.  He gets confused.

"I'm a good-looking guy," he mentions to his reflection in the mirror.

I can't help but agree.

I used to watch Dad shave when I was a little kid.  I wanted to be close to him, but I didn't know how.  I always felt like he didn't think I was very interesting, but that wasn't the case.  He's just not the kind of guy who gives much emotionally.  I understand this now, but it took a long time to figure it out.

When my mother was dying, she and I had many conversations about my dad's care and his future without her.

"You know, Mary.  Your father's always been a filthy animal," she'd say.  "He was dirty since the first day I met him."

"That's disgusting.  Why did you ever marry him?"

"I felt sorry for the bastard."

I've always loved this story.  From very early on, it made me long for the promise of romance.

"I wish I could take him with me," she suggested one night when she didn't have much longer with us.

"I know.  I wish you didn't have to go," I said, hoping not to cry.

"You do realize he'd drive me bonkers, though.  Even in Heaven."

"Good point.  Better leave him here."

"Promise me, honey.  You won't let him look like a bum."

"Yes, Mom.  I promise."

Dad likes to walk me back outside after we've gotten together at his place.  He carries the laundry basket and puts it in the rear of my car.  He tries to close the door by hand.

"No, don't," I tell him.  "I've got it."

I press the key fob, lowering the hatch automatically.  He stands there for a minute, trying to figure out what just happened, and my heart breaks a little bit. Then we turn around and go inside the building again.  I kiss him goodbye and give his arm a squeeze.

"I'll call you when I get home."

"You do that," he says.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Le Bete Noir

I am awake.

Eyes open.  And close.  Twice.

I have several concerns.  Eyes open again.

Get information.

It is light out.  Lighter than it should be if I woke up on time.

Eyes close.

Look over at the clock.  Just to see.

I will do that.  I will.

Time is important right now.  Time holds the key to what happens next.

Find out the time.

I need to move.  A few parts of my body.  My head and neck, a shoulder.

Find out the time.

Yes, I know.

Okay.  Go.  Lift.

The time is 9:10.

Eyes shut.


Fuck.  Fuck.


I cannot go to work today.  It is impossible.

There.  Decision.

Things just got easier.  I can feel better now.

I don't.  But I am awake.

And all things hurt.

Head, mostly.  Tender.

Mouth, specifically.

On the right side.  Fuck.

I can barely separate my lips.

I do not understand this pain.  It is incredible.

The tongue can help.  Send it.  To find out what's going on.

Okay.  Give me a minute.

My tongue is dry and uncooperative.

I can almost hear it rip free from its location, beside my woolly teeth.  It darts to the area and tries to lay flat against what feels like a large cut, with soft, wet bumps around the opening.  I'm guessing they are blisters.  What else could they be?

To my tongue, this tool that exaggerates all situations, the wound seems so big, my head could fall inside the hole.

My hand responds to this fear, and fingers assess the damage.

Yes, there is a slit.  I remember it now.

I stared at the narrow gash in the mirror last night, before I tried to be asleep.  I was impressed by how it bled, seeping slowly when I squeezed it.  Then I did some crying.

I will lay here for just a bit.  Try to make some of my mind right.

Get up.  Get up off the mattress.



And there's the headache...

In the bathroom, I rinse my mouth at the sink.

Ignoring my reflection, I steal a quick glance at the slit.  It is bad.  A lesion, really. With a crown of bubbles filled with fluid.  There is dried blood on my cheek and neck.

My face.  My fucking face.  Everything throbs.

Sit down.  Just pee.


I empty my bladder, and my hangover roars into position.

I gotta knock this shit off.  All of it.

It is a Tuesday morning.  In an otherwise ordinary week.  Except that I'm not going to work.  Which means I can have something to drink.  And smoke my drugs.

As soon as I get off this toilet.

There.  Decision.