WHY?

I don’t know why it didn’t work. I’m devastated, it was my last chance and I blew it. Maybe I am stupid and worthless, I can’t get anything right. Maybe he knows me better than I know myself. He always calls me “stupid” and “stupid cow” and when he whips me he calls me “stupid whore”. Today I believe him. I am a stupid cow.

It was the only opportunity I’ve had since he took me. Bodyguards watch my every movement. My multi-lingual assistant goes into the bathroom with me when I’m away from home. No piece of paper or pen or knife, for that matter, is ever permitted to be in my rooms. So I can’t even write HELP in my own blood. My phone is hooked to his, I don’t know how that works but it is. Everything I send out is translated and examined. I’m permitted ten minutes of telephone time to my family every Sunday. My assistant listens to every word and signs them to a video hookup.

I’m so afraid of him, he is unspeakably cruel. I won’t go into detail as I don’t want those words and images to be forever linked to my name. He lives to torture me. My ass is branded and scarred, bikini bottoms hide it. My perfect body, used by him however he wants. Images of me in skimpy clothing is staged by him and sent out to make other men want me. Only he can have me. I am his like his jet is his, like his hotels are his, like his persona is his.

I was told I had to speak in front of the convention, in front of the cameras, the thousands of people. I was terrified. Terrified to do something wrong, to do something stupid, to be so exposed. I was given a speech, written by his employees. A white dress was made for me. White because it symbolized the wedding dress he had made me wear those years ago. And made for me to pretend to hide my body and make it seem demure while showcasing my ass for those he wanted to have see it. He is so smart and so diabolical. He knows it hurts me to be paraded like that, it gives him pleasure to hurt me.

I took the only opportunity I’ve had in years. I asked for tapes of former First Ladies in their convention speeches for their husbands’ Presidential runs. I watched Nancy Reagan, Barbara and Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter, and Michelle Obama. I asked for the latter two by saying I wanted to watch the other side to avoid what they had done. Because he thinks the other side is totally stupid and inept. It made him happy that I was thinking that way. He petted me and spanked me only with his hand.

I watched the tapes over and over, my assistant grew tired of watching me watch tapes. She finally slept. I watched Michelle over and over and over and I memorized her words. I stayed up all the night learning them. I then put Nancy Reagan’s tape in the machine so that it would be the one found.

I spoke at the convention. I read the words from the teleprompter and did my best to enunciate, to stand up straight, to speak of my husband in honeyed tones. I had the crowd right with me. I looked beautiful, poised, confident; everything that had been beaten out of me came back in those few moments. And when it came time I went off script, Michelle’s words in my mouth, hope in my heart. It was the only thing I could think of to let anyone know something was terribly wrong, for his wife to speak the words of his second greatest enemy. I knew I would be saved, someone would figure out what I had done. I would be rescued, saved. I would be freed, my parents would be freed. We could live again. But I was stupid.

(These are the words spoken to the officers who freed her in April 2017 after her husband’s arrest.)

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Oh Susie Q (and the rest of the gang)

A couple of months ago, in my eating healthy mode, I suddenly experienced the overwhelming feeling of needing to shovel fattening food into my mouth at an alarming rate. Not this again, shit! Or, not this shit again! I had been doing so well for a week or three. I had lost what I had gained from my last feeding frenzy and I was almost at a good number. Not good number as in my goal weight, oh no, but good number in that I was down from the shame zone.

So, my mind was racing as to what was in the house. We had nuts, cheese, milk, chocolate, pasta, avocados, and honey. We didn’t have pan dulces from the Mexican market; not the ones stuffed with cheese and jalapenos, or the sweet ones with cream and a chocolate glaze. I’m starting to make myself hungry now so I’ll get on with it.

I had the flash of insight to ask this aspect of my self who it was. Immediately the answer came back ‘Susie’. That shocked me, I didn’t expect any answer at all. It really was a rhetorical question. How old are you? and the answer came back ‘6’. I said you can’t be 6, I think you must be more like 2. Oops how rude of me, telling my little inner self how old it was. I asked another question and got this answer. ‘I am not gonna talk to anybody who doesn’t love me.’ And I knew she meant love her totally, completely, freely.

I wanted to lure her back, it was such an unexpectedly beautiful connection with my inner self that I wanted more. I felt that she was shy and didn’t trust me. I needed to make a space where we could communicate safely so I imagined a dense forest with a clearing by a stream. I lay down on the grass in the clearing and relaxed, watching the clouds go by. I hoped that Susie would come to the edge of the forest and talk with me. But she didn’t. I thought of that peaceful place often over the next few days but there was no sign of her.

One day I went to the market for tomatoes and mushrooms. As I got back into my car I thought of a former friend who lived a few doors from the market and worried that he would come out of his house and see me. I wondered what I would say to him, would I be polite but closed or ignore him altogether? I had the thought what would you do, Susie? Immediately she ran out from behind a tree, all fists, and elbows, and fury. She ran right up to him and kicked him really hard in the shin and then ran straight back into the forest and disappeared. It all happened in a second. I was so surprised I sat in my car and howled with laughter until tears were coming out of my eyes. I fell in love with her completely in that moment.

I told my friend about her. My friend had also named her inner child but with a beautiful name, Leah Mariposa. Leah was her Hebrew name and Mariposa (butterfly) was her childhood street. I wanted Susie to have a better name but my childhood street was LeMoyne and I didn’t have a Hebrew name. So she became Susie Q. When I told my friend her name she said that was what she used to call me all those 50 years ago, Susie Q. So I went on youtube and listened to different versions of the old song ‘Oh Susie Q’. My favorite of them was by Jose Feliciano and was a little too sexy but otherwise perfect. So I sang his version of ‘Oh Susie Q’ in my head every day for awhile.

Since I fell in love with her I haven’t felt the urge to binge eat. There have been a couple of stirrings but nothing like the tide-going-out almost impossible to resist feeling it was before. Once in awhile I have a craving for an ice cream and I have one, lingering over the sensuality of every bite and thoroughly enjoying it. And then having a healthy dinner later instead of continuing a binge. This is huge for me, something I have never been able to do. I would binge or be strictly healthy, black or white, a very bi-polar way of eating. One bite of a salted cashew had been enough to send me into a full out binge that could last one day or two weeks. Now it’s very different and much more peaceful. Thank you Susie Q. I haven’t lost many pounds but I figure that will all take care of itself over time. I have started taking walks in the morning hoping to hurry it up just a teensy bit.

Of course I’ve told my therapist all of this, she encourages me to do all of this and asks for more. She wants the name of the rational part of myself who makes the wise decisions and I told her Socrates. She got me thinking about all the aspects of me and who is in charge of what. That’s what this bit of writing is about today, to riff on that theme for a bit.

Okay, so the one in charge of me is Susan. I’m the one who owns a lot of the brain space and the one who is typing right now. I’m like the Chairman of the Board with lots of different departments weighing in or just silently and stealthily influencing my decisions and my world. I’ll attempt to call a meeting and see who shows up. Wish me luck.

The first committee to arrive is The Republican Party, which is made up of The Church Lady AKA Prudence Ursula Claxton. She holds the line on the rules and makes sure they aren’t broken. She bases all of her decisions on the Holy Word which would be fine but the version she has was interpreted from the original dead language by Roseanne Rosannadanna and her religious aunt Hosanna Rosannadanna. (These were characters on SNL created by Gilda Radner, look it up, it’s brilliant.) (Roseanne and Hosanna also interpreted the Holy Koran but instead of it being 72 raisins, they got confused and said it was 72 virgins. Oh well.)

The Committee on Spiritual Matters is made up of Mr. Rogers (1), Anne Lamott (2), Marianne Williamson (3), and Moms Mabley (4). They are the arch enemies of The Republic Party. The CSM represents the voice of love and reason and high ideals and it’s also in charge of the tears that wash Susan clean and keep me going. This committee is also called The Atticus Finch (5) Brigade.

Next is the Department of Internal Affairs which is headed by Susie Q, a 6 year old, freckle faced, wild haired, little poppet. She is the leader of Troop 55 of the Brownies. They live together in the woods without grown-ups. They sleep under the stars the forest canopy and cook over open campfires. They make their furniture out of old newspapers and bottles, things they find in the forest. They are impulsive, willful, and the keepers of the deepest secrets.

The Department of Interpersonal Relations is made up of Gladys Kravitz, neighbor of Bewitched’s Samantha, who looks out from behind the curtains of her living room to spy on all the goings on of the neighbors. She judges everyone according to the rules of The Republican Party. Gladys cannot sit near the Committee on Spiritual Matters or she will melt. She is joined by Granny Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies who sits with a shotgun on her knees in an old rocking chair and protects the boundaries between Susan and the rest of the world. Also in the DIR is Dr. Frankenstein, who writes plays from the info Gladys gleans and tries to make them believable and powerful but they are really mirages. He is best friends with Roseanne R.

Search and Rescue is made up of Hannibal of the Alps, who will lead elephants over the snow topped slopes to get supplies in and rescue the troops. Florence Nightingale is his closest ally, she is the one who sounds the alarm when he is needed. Might Mouse is always there to save the day in case the elephants can’t get through.

And finally The Monkees, which has three members. Ivan the Gorilla is the embodiment of panic, agoraphobia, and anxiety. He lives in a cage but we all live in fear that he will escape again. His sister is Koko the Gorilla who has been taught sign language so that she can communicate between apes and humans. She is as gentle as Ivan is dangerous and she keeps kittens as pets in her enclosure. She lives next door to Hannibal’s elephants and their amazing swimming pool. And also Bubbles the Chimp whose main job is to feed random obsessive thoughts and memories into the brain machine and think the same thing over and over.

These are the committees who have made themselves known so far. As soon as more reveal themselves I’ll swear them in and then send out an updated report.

(1) Mr. Rogers who was the kindest person who ever lived. Also his mother told him when there is a tragedy to always look for the helpers.
(2) Anne Lamott, author and wise woman who inspires me greatly.
(3) Marianne Williamson, author, who can make the most difficult spiritual thought easily understandable by almost anyone, even me.
(4) Moms Mabley, comedienne, toothless, old, and may be the one who first said If you always do what you always done, you’ll always get what you already got.
I can’t put “” around that cause I’m paraphrasing.
(5) Atticus Finch is the main character in To Kill A Mockingbird. He is wise and kind and just. He will not be moved from his morals and principles.

The Neighbors’ Pool

We snuck into the neighbors’ pool last night and I was the first one in. We waited until after dark and should have gone in full commando regalia but the heat made us sloppy. We had already distracted the during-the-week caretakers by loaning them the two videos we had already watched during the worst heat of the day. I believe I heard bits of “True Lies” wafting through their upstairs window. But the rule of silence was still enforced. “No talking and no splashing!” It was so very hard to obey and the training just took over at that point. I wanted to shout with delight for just the coolness of it and splash them as they sighed with the relief.

I walked up the steps and got out. I said time to go and the youngest one said no almost out loud. His training wasn’t deep enough yet to override the screaming NOOOOOOOOO! of every cell of his body. When my whispered pleas didn’t work, I slithered back into the water and put my mouth up near his ear. “Look, if we don’t get caught we can come back every night but if they catch us tonight this will be the last time,” I told him. “But I want to swim” he said and he showed me just how much by pushing off the side and floating out into deeper water. I knew he meant it because he still has fear of the water and doesn’t easily let go of the side. The older one came to my aid and cajoled the younger to please come. I got out again and stood above him, delicious water running down my body. How wonderful to feel cool.

Just then the water snake cleaning automatic thing came toward him and it was as if it was a live guardian out of the depths of the pool. The boy hoisted himself up and out of the cool wetness and we gathered our things. The older one wanted to sit in the deck chairs and relax, wrapped in his towel. Perhaps he had a cruise ship fantasy playing in his head. But the younger was still so water dazed I knew it was too dangerous.

We went out the gate and I replaced the stick I had used to pull the loop through the small opening that allowed our entry in the first place. And suddenly I guess it hit us. We had done what we had fantasized for so long and the most rule bound among us had organized it. We started to giggle and had to make a mad dash for it before we collapsed into hysterical laughter at the wonder of our daring and the delight of our cool bodies. We went to three shadows and undressed into towels. I was already planing the next diversion for the caretakers and wondered what other movies they hadn’t seen yet.

Three weeks later…
We went yesterday. The owners and the weekday caretakers were at a celebration of the passing of an old one and we knew we were relatively safe. We called on the telephone to see if they were truly gone and then, for good measure, I did reconnaissance to see the presence or absence of vehicles. We also called those living nearest the pool and swore them to secrecy. They said go for it and would have joined us but for plans they had already made.

The younger one was not with us this time as he was celebrating the aging process of a friend. We knew he would be upset and feel left out but we were not willing to limit our own pleasure to please him. The older one and I had fun getting ready and putting on costumes designed for the water. I put outer garments on over this costume so as to not arouse suspicion as I checked out the autos. I let the older one in through the gate as he couldn’t wait for me to finish the last minute checks. I was confident enough that we were in the clear that I allowed this breach of the rules.

It was lovely in the pool even though the weather was not uncomfortably hot. We talked out loud and even splashed a little. I dove under the water and breathed some in. Even now I can call up the taste of the chemicals used in the pool to kill off small life forms. At one point I had us out and ready to leave and did the delicious thing of initiating us back into the pool for another round of swimming. There was even more pleasure the second time.

The older one was having a rush of male hormones and wanted to share them with me so we wrapped ourselves in inadequate towers and let ourselves out. We went home and shared the results of our reactions to hormonal changes and decided that this would be the way we will live after the younger one has left to make his own home.

Hospital Rides

My heart goes out this morning to the owner of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida whose name is Barbara Poma. She opened Pulse in honor of her brother who died of AIDS in 1991. I’m heartbroken thinking of her. My brother died of AIDS in 1993. I can relate to her pain when she lost her brother, and her pain now. She wanted, in her brother’s memory, to open a place where people could gather and have fun and make connections and be happy. It was a beautiful way to pay tribute to her brother. And now…. I can’t say it, no words suffice. I was moved to add this essay that I wrote in 1994 in honor of my brother. I guess to use it as some cosmic transmitter to send love to her and all the victims and survivors of this terrible event.

HOSPITAL RIDES

I remember another night like this, very much like this, years ago. Randy driving and me riding shotgun, wishing I had the wheel in my hands, anything to distract me. Tonight we have brought with us the little television that plugs into the cigarette lighter. The reception is very poor. I wonder if people in other cars can see that telltale blue glow coming from our car window and what they think about it. We have the news on, Channel 4. The newscaster’s face and voice come in strong for a moment and then the snow falls behind the screen.

Then and now rain pours down, making it hard to see out of the windows. A few miles ago we were only about a minute behind an accident. The police weren’t there yet and the people in the two cars hadn’t even gotten out. But we couldn’t stop. We don’t know how much time we’ll have with him. Randy drives, again too fast. I tell him to slow down, it won’t do us any good to have an accident ourselves. He does slow down for a few minutes and then he speeds up again but I don’t think he’s aware of it at all. At night, when we hold hands as well fall asleep, his grip slowly tightens until my hand feels like it’s in a vise grip. When I pull it out of his grip and he awakens, he has no memory of increasing the pressure.

When we made that drive years ago I had towels clutched between my legs. I didn’t know it would be like a river of wet. I had thought it would have been just a little moisture. It was raining outside and I was raining inside the car. I didn’t have any pains yet and it would be many hours before I’d feel any. But in the car I was glad that it would be over soon and at the same time scared of what was to come. How bad could the pain get, would I be a chicken, how really could I stretch enough for a baby to come out? It was all so mysterious.

This time I’m not glad it’s almost over, I can’t comprehend that it could almost be over. How can he be dying already? I talked to him 3 days ago on my birthday and I knew he sounded weak and was a little cranky but dying? And how do they know that someone only had a couple of hours left and to come now if you want to see him one more time. I’m scared of what’s ahead, it’s all unknown. We’re over the bridge now and into the bright lights of the city.

We join our friends and my sister around the bed where he lays breathing through a mask and holding hands with Javier. He is almost gone as the cassette plays Handel’s Messiah and we talk about his life. I remember his childhood nicknames, Cocoa Bill and the Blue Eyed Chicken. We tell our stories about the times we had with him. His eyes are rolled back and I wonder where he is and what he knows in his morphine fog. Does he hurt? Does he hear us? Is his hand gripping tighter on Javier’s as he falls not asleep but adeath?

Again as it was last time, there is a knowing that this is one of the most important moments of my life, that I must remember all that happens so I can carry it with me down through the years. One of my most vivid memories of the last time was of seeing in the mirror Reed’s shoulder and arm coming out of my body, his arm kind of flopping away from his side. I can see it still after all these years. What will I remember so vividly years from now about tonight? Will it be the rain, the mask, the music, the hand united with his lover? The last breath in, out, in, and no more?

This time as we drive home we pass only one car on the Golden Gate bridge and I wonder is it some kind of a record. This time there is no baby strapped into a brand new car seat. This time I wrap my hurting heart up in a blanket with my brother and carry my emptiness home.

Pumpkins on the Front Steps

It’s 3 days after Easter and your pumpkins are still on the front steps.  Out there for all the world to see; the early morning walkers like me, kids on their way to school, the mailman on his daily rounds, the handyman mowing the lawn next door.  Do you even notice them as you race off to work, buttoning your sweater as you skip down the stairs to your car? Or in the evening when you come home, tired from a long frustrating day, dragging yourself up to the comfort of cabernet?

Do you know they are rotting there, unobserved by you?  Each day something in them sags a little more, softens slightly.  Once they stood proud and firm, just waiting to be made into pie or carved into a scary face.  But no, that never happened.  There was no flour in the house for pie crust and anyway that day you were dieting.  You couldn’t find your sharp knife and you didn’t know what to cut out anyway.  Maybe tomorrow.  They are melting now, a tiny bit more each day. They were full of possibilities.  Now they are accusations.

So what can be done about them now?  Well you could pick them up with gloves on in case they are mushy and carry them out to the yard waste can in the alley.  But they might fall apart and then you’d have a real mess and you can’t seem to find those garbage bags you bought last month.  You could give them to the neighbor to put into her compost pile.  Maybe they would sprout and cover the pile in broad leaves by the middle of summer.  But you don’t really know her and you don’t want to impose.  Hell, you could throw them at that annoying motorcyclist who likes to go for rides at 1 in the morning and return at 3, revving his engine the whole time and waking everyone up.  But no, you might get arrested and ruin your perfect record.

So here they sit, monuments to your indecision, your procrastination, your fear of never doing the right thing.  You can just do nothing, let them melt under the summer sun to come.  Until, maybe months from now they decompose to the point of you turning on the hose full force and blasting their remains under the nearby bushes.  Of course the stain will last, never to be scrubbed clean even with bleach.  But you can always put pots on the stains and plant flowers in them that will wither and die due to lack of attention.  And next year you can start again with fresh pumpkins and good intentions.

So, what’s it going to be?

 

 

Oprah and Me

It’s so funny that something so momentous in my life at one time, is now a memory gradually growing fuzzier around the edges and something I haven’t thought about in a very long time.

I was an avid watcher of the Oprah Winfrey show back in the day.  Her first show was broadcast when my son was about 3 years of age and I was a stay-at-home mom.  Come to think of it, I gave new meaning to that term. I tuned in every afternoon at 4 o’clock before I cleaned up the kitchen from the chaos of the day and started to think about dinner. We had a small tv in the kitchen on top of the refrigerator in our huge and uninsulated apartment in an old Victorian mansion.

At one point several years into her show, Oprah was doing a big weight loss campaign and viewers were sending in their stories about their efforts to diet and exercise.  She was asking viewers to write a letter with their successes and tactics and she was going to share some of them on the air.

For some reason I decided I would write to her.  I used my most treasured stationery that reminded me of my brother who had died of AIDS and who I had loved with all my heart.  The paper and matching envelope showed a lone swimmer poised in the air diving into water.  It was in muted pastels and so gorgeous.  The image expressed something very deep to me.  Also I figured it would stand out amongst the pain white envelopes and the occasional pink or green one.

Coming home from work a couple of weeks later, I listened to phone messages and almost fell over when a voice said, “Hi Susan, it’s Candy from the Oprah Winfrey Show.  We got your letter and we’d like to fly you to Chicago to tape an episode on the show.  Give me a call and we can set up a date”.  I saved that message tape and still have it somewhere but of course no way to play it, technology moving right along away from the Dark Ages of message machines with their little silly tapes.

I called Candy back and told her I would love to be on the show but that flying to Chicago was so far out of my possibilities that I would have to decline.  I wondered if she personally had read my letter where I talked about using my daily walk for exercise to also expand my boundaries on how far away from home I could be without tipping into a panic attack.  I had talked about how each day I went a little further, today to the neighbor’s mail box, tomorrow to the driveway past that, before turning back to the safety of home.  But I didn’t want to sound rude so I didn’t mention any of that.  Candy said they would send a film crew to me. A date was set, and that was that.

Well that was all fine and dandy but until then I hadn’t told anyone outside of my immediate family about my anxiety and how limiting it was to my life.  I couldn’t have friends learn about it on tv so I had to make some very difficult phone calls in advance.  Until that time I had just made up excuses, also known as lies, as to why I couldn’t go to that restaurant or even to their house and I would only meet them at a nearby coffee shop or at my house. It was my grand coming out, with all the nerves and terror you might imagine.  I had so much shame about being so limited that I could barely summon the breath to make the grand announcement.  It was really hard to do.  My heart goes out to every LGBTQ person having to make that phone call or gather the family after dinner.  My friends were wonderful and supportive and asked lots of questions and were really there for me.  I wish that same response to everyone having to make a difficult exposing declaration to the people that they want to still love them.

The day came and a producer and camera person arrived at my home and it was decided that I would walk around the block while they filmed it.  Walking around the block had been impossible before then, I would get half way around and have to turn back towards home.  But that’s what they wanted and I was determined to do it.  First they set up screens to direct the sunlight and I was miked and interviewed on camera.  Then they took shots of me behind my screen door looking wistfully out at the world.  And then began the walk itself.

I live in a very mixed neighborhood.  There are old Victorian mansions, some of which in the ’60s had been cut up into small apartments but since had converted back to single family dwellings.  And modest homes were sprinkled in amongst them, mine included.  There are lots of old trees and some lovely flower gardens in the front yards.  The cameraman knew he could get some great shots.

I was very anxious as you might imagine.  I worried that I would have a panic attack on camera.  I went to do a nervous pee and when I came out of my bathroom the producer told me the mike had picked up the sound of my tinkle and if I needed to use the bathroom again I could ask them to take it off.  Well that little tidbit of information made me focus on something even more embarrassing than panicking so off we went, me sighing horrified sighs into my mike.

My husband owned a purple convertible at the time and he drove it around the block with the top down while I was walking and being filmed.  A friend lived around the block and she came to her window to cheer me on when we passed her house.  It was a parade!  I lived through it and they took off my mike, packed up their reflector screens, and left.  I was told approximately when the segment would air.

We had a viewing party the day it came on and also set the VCR to tape it.  It was so weird to see myself on tv.  I didn’t sound like me and it’s true that the camera makes you look fatter than you are, at least I hope I don’t look like that in person.  It was a very emotional few minutes, to see myself talking about something so personal and shame ridden, and knowing that millions of people might be watching at that moment.  It was very freeing to go through that whole experience.  It didn’t bring with it a cure and I wasn’t magically transformed into a globe trotting confident marathon runner.  But it did change me.

Somewhere that tape leans dusty into the tapes of our now almost 34 year old son when he was a little boy.  We don’t have any way to play it anymore.  I think my husband may have had a DVD made of it for some long ago Christmas present but I can’t imagine where that might be.

A few weeks after it aired, I got a package in the mail with an autographed picture of Oprah.  I framed it and for a long time it was on our bedroom wall.  I just went to look for it in the closet and couldn’t find it.  But it has to be somewhere in the house, I wouldn’t get rid of it.

I walk every morning now, well at least 5 days a week.  I still struggle with my panic disorder and my shame.  It’s still hard to tell new friends but I do.  Most of the time I can walk around the block but there still are mornings when it’s beyond me.

That image of me looking out my screen door at the world going by…………. will always haunt me.

 

 

 

 

My New Friend

I’ve been feeling a little lonely lately.  Yes I have my wonderful husband, and my son and daughter in law live next door.  She’s pregnant, due in March.  A grandchild! A granddaughter! We have  been collecting baby things by reading Craigslist ads and going to the thrift shop and yard sales. The upstairs bedroom in our house is now the baby center and is filled with strollers, johnny-jump-ups, and play centers.  We have also been collecting baby clothes. We’ve collected several grocery bags full of baby clothes from Newborn to 12 months old.  At the thrift shop someone had donated vintage baby dresses, darling little hand embroidered, sheer fabric, gum drops of dresses, so cute.  My sister in law and I are hosting a baby shower at the end of next month.  We’ll hang a rope between the two chandeliers in the living room and clothespin the dresses to this makeshift clothesline as decoration at the shower.

But I’ve digressed.  I’ve felt lonely and have been aware that there is space in my life for more friends.  Three of my major friendships have ended in the last couple of years and it has not been easy to deal with the holes they have left.  They died natural deaths due to us growing in different directions (biting my tongue so as not to say one of us growing and the other not.)  Because how the hell do I really know?  I’ve just got to keep my eyes on my own paper.  There is enough stuff to sift through in my own self to spare the time to try sifting through someone else’s story.

I have put myself out there more than I usually would have. I’ve become close to one woman who I see every Thursday for tea and conversation.  We have much in common and I’m really grateful for her friendship.  She’s a new friend and it’s fun getting to know someone new.  Like opening a gift wrapped present.

I’ve been practicing staying healthy and clear after writing about it a couple of weeks ago.  Practicing smiling and engaging with people when the opportunity arises, practicing being in the moment and looking for opportunities to connect. And I’m happy to report that it really does work.  So many little interactions, I feel more connected to the world through lots of these little encounters.  The part about keeping my eyes on my own paper and not saying mean things about other people really has shifted something within me.

So I’ve been seeing a woman and her dog often on my walks.  I’ll catch sight of them a block away or down the street.  Sometimes I’d be in the alley when they were there.  Her dog is young and full of energy and he would want to jump up on me as we passed.  I asked if I could pet him and bring him cookies to help train him not to jump and P. said yes so I did.  Every time he would sit he’d get a cookie.  Then we’d be off on our way, ships that passed in the night.  I found myself looking forward to seeing them and feeling a little sad on mornings when I didn’t.

P. and I started talking a little.  Right in front of her I brazenly hugged my oak tree, both arms around it, cheek pressed to the giant trunk.  I surprised myself and liked it.  We talked a little more.  One day we walked together, she changing her direction to walk my route.

Walking is the hardest thing on me, anxiety-wise.  I feel very vulnerable on a walk.  In a car, if I have a panic attack I can pull over and I have a fantasy about lying down in the back seat so nobody can see me, because hiding my anxious self feels very important.  But walking?  No place to hide, my fantasy moves toward crawling under a bush and calling my husband to come get me.  I walk the same route every morning, 3,000 steps, 1 1/2 mile, but I’m never more than 2 blocks away from home.  It took me weeks to inch up to this route.  Each day I’d walk a little farther in each direction and mark my progress by a driveway or a mailbox and then try to beat it a little the next day.

So one morning while walking with P. I started to have a panic attack.  I abruptly turned back towards home, and when she asked what was up I lied and said my chest felt congested.  It was the only thing I could come up with at the time.  I did not, in that moment, feel capable of telling the truth.  It would have left me with no skin whatsoever and I could not stand that.  P. and I had talked about having coffee together when her vacation from work gave her some free time, I had been waiting until then to have THE TALK.  So I went home and suffered.  I felt so bad about myself, reverting to behavior that I’d done for years.  I felt like her again, the me that was so shut down, so afraid someone would find out, so ashamed.  I had trouble going anywhere, anxiety was my constant companion. I slept little and when asleep I dreamed of being anxious and I lived it in my waking hours.

P. finally came over for coffee, a week or so after that day.  During our conversation in the living room I had the thought that talking to her about my panic disorder wouldn’t really fit into the mood.  Thinking this thought prompted me to just blurt out that I had lied to her and why.  She took in the information, asked a couple of questions, and said she was happy I had shared that with her.  Whew!  And with that my anxiety went back to normal (for now) levels.  I am learning, I’m a slow learner, but I’m still learning how to manage my big oaf of an awkward self.  Sometimes I’m like a gorilla driving a Volkswagon and other times I’m a butterfly trying to tie shoes.  I’m the gorilla and the butterfly all rolled into one. Deal with it.

So I invited P. for Christmas breakfast with the family, her family had already been to visit before Christmas and she would have been on her own that day.  I felt pretty confident that everyone would be warm and welcoming and that they would like her as much as I did and I was right. We sat at the table eating waffles and laughing a lot and P. fit right in as if she’d known us all for years.  Conversation turned to my daughter-in-law, about the baby to come, how the kids (always call them that even though they are grown) were so resourceful in finding baby items on Craigslist, etc. and how they had all the big stuff they needed.

My husband mentioned that as soon as we knew it was a girl, we had gone to the thrift shop and had bought bags of clothing for little Vada Grace.  P. said it was too bad she hadn’t known me before she gave away all the little special baby clothes that she and her sister had worn many years ago.  I asked who she had given it to and she mentioned a store downtown.  I thought she meant the antiques store but no, finally it was determined that it was the thrift shop where I had bought all the adorable dresses.  My son went into my bedroom to get all the vintage dresses I had bought and amazingly! all but one of the baby dresses I had bought used to be worn by my new friend and her sister.  Our jaws all fell into our waffles.

Full circle. All of life right now is full circle.  We are all connected by strings and guts and Kleenex.  We just forget and think we’re all here on our lonesome own.  Finding our way through the dark is so much easier when we can borrow each others’ flashlights.  I hope to remember this more often, please remind me.