Thursday, April 2, 2015

Shift and Return

My daughter left. My daughter left me. My daughter left us. And within the leaving was a whole year of complicated efforts to delay the inevitable, and the terrible grasp of the inevitable, and the preparation for the leaving, and then the leaving itself.

My last post was made the month my family began talking about the inevitable. Efforts to write creatively since then have resulted in the closing of my personal computer before I could even start, and then leaving it closed all together. There are some things that shouldn't be said at the time of great events. In fact, there are times that events are so great that nothing can be said, or written, about anything.

And so I have been quiet here as I grieved the effects of my daughter's choosing to attend high school three states away with her father. She is the elephant in my unwritten blogs. Her voice, absent from my home, lives as a ghost skirting the shadows in my thoughts across the day. I have grown fatigued of how this dusk plagues me.

So it is time to begin again and break into the light with both word and action. It's time for a shift of sorts.

Last evening, my husband and I discussed the concept of the shift key and the carriage return lever on typewriters-- back for those of us who once clacked away on those. Using a shift key, one would cause to raise an arc of type hammers so that the secondary characters could be punched onto paper-- the cleverly squiggled ampersand, or an exclamation point perhaps. Return physically moved the writer to the next line by rolling the page-- something done after a decision of whether or not to break a word with a hyphen so the remaining syllables would stack neatly against a new margin below. Now of course, a computer does all of that automatically, and somewhat akin to that, I have fallen into the lazy habit of living with grief for events that would have rolled out anyway.

Having recently come across another writer's nostalgic mention of typewriters, with a similar discussion (and when I find the article again I will link it here), I began to think how shift and return applied to what I must do-- make an active choice to reach for essential elements and continue to a new line. My husband pointed out that shift and enter, hit simultaneously in Word-- on a modern keyboard-- brings one to a new page entirely.

This comes just in time for my teenage daughter to return home for a warm visit, to remind me that words are waiting to be written, that my motherhood hasn't ended as much as endured a rather astounding shift in it.

Shift and return together is the best choice here, isn't it? A new page in a book still unfolding.

Welcome back, Catiche.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fear of Flying: Isn't There a Pill for This?

I don't travel as well as I appear to. Really. Terrorists. Turbulence. The entire duration of flight, my head is filled with death or near-death scenarios, and while I try to explain practical measures to myself or recite safety statistics, fear wins, like it did Sunday when the nose of the plane I was traveling in suddenly pitched downward 45 degrees and to the right-- when it wasn't supposed to. I was completely unprepared. Tea flew out the little hole in the safety lid of my styrofoam cup so that even though I hadn't actually urinated in my pants, I looked like I did. I found myself clutching the big, meaty arm of the fellow on my left, who had braced himself against the seat in front of him. Laughing, I let go and said, "I think I need to re-examine my relationship with Jesus."

"Well, I just called on him," said the lady on my right. I think Jesus had a whole line of us to address that night. I kept hoping I was toward the front of it and he was feeling kindly.

Later toward the end of the flight-- a flight that had started poorly due to a pre-take-off roach who had been trying desperately to hide in my purse only to run away and then return to dance across my feet-- I turned to the guy on the left and patted his arm.

"It's almost over. Hopefully the landing is better."
"I have never experienced anything like that," he said referring to the turbulence, "Never."
"At least you didn't scream like a girl."
"But I wanted to. I really wanted to scream like a girl."
I turned to the woman on my right; she was doubled over in laughter. "Took your mind off the roach, didn't it?" I said.

My fear of flying is usually handled with a nice bourbon and coke pre-flight or on the flight, but knowing that the rule one in the air equals two on the ground applies doubly to me, I don't partake of alcohol if I know that I might have to drive myself post-flight. And so this time, I tried soberly and desperately to shove aside my tendency to profile for terrorists and pray for no thunderstorms.  Earlier, I had changed seats with a gentleman so he could sit with his wife in the exit row. I turned to him and said, "I expect a superior performance from you in case of emergency." He thought I was kidding. I kind of wasn't. I had already read my emergency pamphlet and was deliberating, in case of crash landing, whether or not I should lay the 40-50 pound door across the bench row seating or toss it out the plane. And then I thought that everyone would be in the way of laying the door across the seats anyway, and why was that an option. And then I wondered if maneuvering the door would be like picking up my son, as he is about 43 pounds and getting a little tough for me to wrangle. I thought I had escaped the exit row dilemma altogether when I noticed that, having traded seats with the other passenger, I had only moved up one row and was still technically in the exit row. The people beside me-- were they fit enough to handle this? Would they like a bourbon to take the edge off too? Isn't it a bad idea to have a bourbon if you are expected to remove a 40-50 pound piece of equipment and potentially fling it out the doorframe so you can save 100 plus passengers? At one point, I turned to the lady on my right and said I should probably get a prescription for anxiety pills just for flights. I know they exist. I used to take them. Damnitol or whatever.

I sat shaking and shuddering in the airplane that shook and shuddered across air pockets and thermals, and thought that one day my kids would really know how much I loved them to fly two roundtrips in two weeks to spend time with them during their full-summer visit with their dad. The wet pants would have to be proof, pee or no pee. So would the therapy bill incurred from dealing with flight anxiety.

But I did survive. We had a decent landing. My pants were dry by the time I got off the plane. The next day, a co-worker recommended that I book morning flights, as they are usually smoother. I wondered about trains briefly, but they take at least twice as long as driving and then there was the whole Spain thing.

I'm doomed. Just doomed. I should get used to the wet pants.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Year of the Dog

When I divorced my children's father, I took the kids, the barest of furnishings, and my dog. I left much behind, including assets. It's the kind of decision most people never understand having to make until they themselves must do it. I was criticized by people close to me for leaving the house, the 401K, the wedding china. I was even asked by the movers if I was sure what I was taking was all I was taking as they loaded up about half the space of a small truck. I was okay, I said. I had my kids and my dog, I said. Friends moved us into my sister's rental home, and we settled in for a new life, my kids and my dog, and we were as okay as we could be, but Buster missed Dakota, as he had spent about a decade with her in our former life.

I culled through the belongings I had and sold many of them on Craigslist or at a garage sale to help pay bills.  I watched shards of that former life go away and pondered both the grief and adventure of it all. I put my daughter in therapy to coach her through shock and change, and braced myself for the rebellion of my youngest, who was too young for therapy. I did not miss the big house nor the man in it. I did not miss the many belongings (except for a pasta bowl set, which I had really liked). And it was ok, because I had my kids... and my dog-- yet he was growing more and more depressed.

Worried Buster would not survive without his mate, I eventually returned him to my children's father. I had volunteered to take Dakota too and care for them both, but it was an all or nothing choice when he refused to let go of her, a choice I could understand. My dog was so suddenly like the baby brought to the court of King Solomon. You know the story-- the mother, out of love and the desire to preserve life, would rather give her child to another than divide and therefore kill. My dog, whom I had adored for all his quirks--who had an obsession for peeing on my ex's belongings, would sleep perched on the pitch of a dog house roof, wore an extremely comedic expression on his wrinkled face, killed a beaver in our backyard and bore the scars, hated snow, and loved to steal my daughter's rag doll-- was no longer mine. Yet unlike the baby that was eventually restored with his birth mother in that old tale, Buster would never be able to come home with me. And I was fine, I said, because I had my kids and I did the right thing for the dog. It gave me comfort to know he was happy with his mate. But two or three years later, Dakota having grown older and passed, Buster died too, and I grieved as though he had been with me all along. By then I had remarried, was caring for my husband's old husky, and had relocated hundreds of miles away. I had never regretted returning Buster to his former home, but his absence loomed larger than ever. While I would swear to my husband that we weren't getting another dog when our husky would pass (her hair, her random shitting about the house), I found myself shopping online in my spare time. I would visit the adoption center on Saturdays. And this Christmas, I found a litter of puppies up for adoption, told the kids I would think about it, and then a month later, after wringing my hands over the impracticality of bringing home a new dog to train, I learned a puppy in that precious litter was still available, and adopted him. It was a hard decision. It was also the right one.

Toby is my dog, a dog that lies in resigned hopelessness when I leave for work in the morning. He functions as a therapy dog for my son, company for my daughter after school, and a sentry to my home. He has been easy to train, sweet, forgiving, and devoted. And he has been excellent company on mornings like this one, when my husband is occupied elsewhere, my kids are gone with their dad for the summer, and I am feeling the absence of my husband's husky, Sydni.

Nearly two weeks ago, we called a mobile veterinarian to help Syd pass from suffering and old age into the great beyond. My husband wrote his ex-wife and his daughters with the news of his decision. In veritable prose, he described Sydni as going to a place where she could again climb fences, chase rabbits, and snatch salmon from wild streams. Like saying goodbye to Buster that first time, I knew then and still know this was the right decision, one that provided relief. But this morning, I thought about her stable, fuzzy presence, the charm of her contented smile when she napped, and her ceaseless giving of her "fur babies," which my kids and I would roll between our fingers when we plucked loose her shedding coat. When I was struggling to adjust to life in a new city in a new family arrangement, I would stroke her and tell her everything I wasn't telling others, and she would silently take it all in, letting me tickle her ears and play with her tail. I can say now though, that I am ok-- that our old husky lived to make sure we would all be okay, and having seen that, and the entry of a new puppy to our home, she was ready to go.

I am a practical person, one for whom there is always, as a college girlfriend once said to me, a means to my madness. I do nothing without a solid reason for doing so. I make careful, well-deliberated decisions. But I am a fool for dogs.

I love dogs. Loved them before I was even allowed or able to have one. I love the furry bodies, wagging tails, and insistent noses. I love that dogs have facial expressions with eyebrows that raise, furrow, relax. I love that dogs are so forgiving and so friendly. I love ears that perk and flop and puppy cankles and toe feathers and drippy jowls. Much to be said for dogs. My husband and I are both aware of the power of a dog, especially dogs that survive the end of your previous relationship, sit with you when you are sick, and  help you in your tasks (chewing on your socks while you are trying to put them on).  We love the heavy sigh the puppy gives when he settles down to sleep, the manner in which he drops his rope toy into our laps for play, or the way he obligingly lets us put his gentle leader on his nose for walks. Oh, much to be said for dogs.

It has been the year of the dog for us, seeing one die peacefully at home, her fuzzy head cradled by my husband, my hand feeling her side rise and fall for that final breath; and for bringing home one mellow, sprawling puppy who thinks playtime is 3:40 in the morning, and who, as he rests at my feet even now, provides a restful, comforting presence, and one of hope. We are going to be okay. We are okay.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Laundry is a Love Language

My manager recently said to me, in a gesture of reassurance, that she understood I might think my job is thankless. "No," I said suddenly, "Laundry is thankless." I have a tedious job, one that can be isolating, and sometimes the recommendations I make are stetted, the editorial term for disregarding a suggested change, but I never feel unappreciated or unimportant. I see projects roll from copies of text and art into final, polished digital displays or printed work. I see the means to an end, every day. Laundry, however...

As mothers know, laundry is ceaseless. Washed and folded today, soiled and crumpled tomorrow. The young people sheath themselves with sanitized, dried, and pressed cotton in the morning, and by evening, the clothes are dingy, crusty, stained, reek of body odor, smack of yard dirt, and need rewashing, which we do-- again and again. I thought about this and my manager's conversation with me about the importance of my work as I packed my children's clothes the other night for summer with their father. I had grouched at my daughter for folding recklessly and inconsistently, and I came after her with scolding, instructions on re-folding, and  assistance. When the children went to the porch to look for July 4th fireworks, I stayed behind, folding, stacking, and smoothing, suddenly graced with the realization that this is the one time my laundering is not an act to be taken for granted.

When my children unpack their clothes at their father's, they will see my handiwork in the neat stacks of t-shirts and shorts, undies and jammies. The clothes I blessed one last time with purposeful, nurturing hands-- hands that cradled Tiny and Chicken Little as newborns, cleaned drains and changed dressings post-surgeries, sewed Halloween costumes, and stirred pots of gumbo, polenta, and sauce. They will see how tidy and tucked into their luggage are all the essentials they themselves might have forgotten. I will be there in clothes that smell like the detergent I use and folded in the manner in which they are familiar. The children won't think about it as keenly as I might, but I can rest in the assurance that I have provided one last gesture that goes noticed at their father's house long after my good-bye hugs and kisses have evaporated from their skin.

Thankless? Not this time.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


My son was devastated to have lost another critical Lego piece to our nine-month-old border collie.
"That's what happens when you leave your stuff lying around," I said. Tiny objected.
"But I thought he was well-trained," he cried.
"You're well-trained, and you do crazy stuff all the time."

We have pondered the curious sight of my son's smurf-blue poop (a certain someone sucked down a blue sharpie, no kidding), his bizarre tendency to flush household items down the toilet as a protest against visiting his father (couldn't he just draw a picture full of angst like other kids?), and his occasional exhibitionist behavior (for no reason whatsoever). In fact, my son isn't at all a far stretch from the aforementioned puppy, whom we have taught to respond appropriately to a myriad of commands, including "Toby, don't lick your wiener." He needed only a little time to figure out the ban on wiener-licking in my presence. My son needed a greater deal of training, however, for his wiener-issue last year, but he now responds well to "Tiny, quit flashing your wiener." Licking and flashing aside, both critters, despite receiving plenty of affection, structure, and nurturing to coach them into being socially acceptable, occasionally indulge in random miscreant behavior. Because it's fun. Because they can. Wieners aside, they share a common bond.

They are both brilliant thieves. The pup gleefully steals Legos, socks, underwear, Kleenex, and blankies. This year, my son's booty included a Kindle, a watch, miscellaneous Lego guys, and ten dollars. Each time, we stepped up Tiny's training.  And just when I thought he was untrainable, the cycle broke, and Tiny restored himself with a sense of respect for other people's things... most of the time. Toby recently skulked into the living room with a stolen peanut butter and jelly sandwich, flashed it before me, and then lay down in complete shame and resignation. Of the two beasts, he is by far the easier one to train.

Despite the struggle to thwart thievery, Tiny is a leader in the manner in which he returns items (most of the time). We hope his approach inspires his four-legged friend to do the same. Normally, stolen items are returned pretty much in the manner in which they were snatched-- whole, unbroken, unsoiled. Right now, our fuzzy fella gladly returns the Legos he steals, but 24 hours later processed in a pile of poop in the backyard.

We take our training one day at a time chez Catiche. Wish us luck.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Don't Waste the Pretty

It's what a beautician told me some years ago as she bent over my nails when I was half-crazed with the decision I had just made-- to leave my philandering then-husband and begin anew. Honestly, I didn't know what she meant.

"Don't waste the pretty?" I asked.
"Don't waste the pretty," she said again and proceeded to describe a man she was in a relationship with, the sex they were having (I believe up against the wall was mentioned), and the frustration with her pending divorce. I was still hung up on pretty. What I didn't really realize was, at 35 years old with two kids, no solid career, and a mountain of worry, that I was pretty. And that pretty could matter at that age and at that time-- to me. To someone else who could take that pretty and make me feel... dynamic. Apparently, I was pretty enough for this girl to see it.

A simple thing, a tiny gift, a piece of newness long after the years of trailing a wedding train down a church aisle of ribbons and blooms, promises and potential. I had forgotten what pretty was, and pretty isn't something a woman feels when she learns her husband has been banging someone else for two years. Pretty isn't something I thought about after tending babies and being an accessory to my then-husband's career-- helpful, but invisible, and ultimately, unappreciated. He had, at one time, bragged to his co-workers that he had married me for my smarts but that he didn't find me beautiful. It was a back-handed comment, particularly when at home he would insinuate that I wasn't smart enough to succeed in the world of business. I didn't just feel unattractive, I felt incompetent and abandoned. It was a terrible time. Who knew that pretty could be a defining moment?

But "don't waste the pretty" was the right and unconventional advice I was given at a time when my life was more questions than answers and more fear than foundation.

And I didn't waste the pretty, but I was choosy about it. My pretty blossomed in the attentions of the man I ended up marrying later, not that all stories should end that way. But "don't waste the pretty" gave me permission to break rules and convention and to be, for a little while, a girl again-- that unfettered girl awaiting a date on a porch trimmed in azaleas and twinkle lights, a girl smiling secretly with the knowledge that someone thought she was the poetic drug of love embodied in flame and flesh. A girl, a pretty girl, who could not just be loved, but be... craved.

Pretty is empowering.

A few months ago, I sat in my hairdresser's chair and asked that question that people usually only give the most untruthful answer to: "How are you?" In a conversation that resulted from our mutual discovery that things were for both of us very hard, very bleak, very overwhelming, I was able to turn to her and tell her as she described the end of her relationship and the circumstances surrounding it, the magic words she says she still finds herself repeating: Don't waste the pretty.

This young woman, a mother herself, is a sort of muse in the modern, alternative sense. At not even 30 years old, she is petite and lean with tattoos emblazoning her shoulders, chest, and the backs of her thighs. Ropes of dark hair trimmed with crimson spiral about a most delicate face. There is usually something artfully torn or fitted and leathery across her body. There are piercings. Somehow, running throughout her Suicide Girl image, she is soft-spoken, deliberate, hesitant, sweet, and innocent. I keep waiting for wings to break forth and lift her.  I just want to protect this girl. I tell her, as she asks questions about the things she is thinking about, that everything will be ok, that there is time, and that time is the answer. And I tell her again, don't waste the pretty.

Could a girl who has striven for her indie-punk appeal still be affected by pretty? When I see her, I see so much pretty and fragility. And while I know what century this is and that women aren't supposed to hang expectations for ourselves on armored men astride white horses, that there are those of us who just want, for five seconds, to put everything else aside and be pretty to someone, as she most certainly does. And as I most certainly do.

Those years ago, in what I refer to as my previous life, I sat in a church praying to God that I not waste away and grow old before my time-- unrecognized, unloved, and unappreciated. I felt my sexuality dissolving under the weight of laundry baskets, dirty dishes, needful children, and neglect. I was second to someone else's high-powered career, with his golf dates, expense accounts, slick sales talk, and business plans. I would later pack up my art studio and shelve those aspirations thinking that my goals were detracting from the family I was trying to hold together. I thought I deserved the hand I was taking-- the hand of someone who would rather indulge in Internet fantasy, office trysts, and dishonest business practices. Pretty was a luxury then. I was just trying to survive.

I thank the beautician who first brought back pretty to me, and to the young lady who is taking the turn I once took for reminding me again about pretty. To her, I pass the advice on. Don't waste it. Don't waste the pretty.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Much Ado About Sobriety, or How Not to See Shakespeare

I should be embarrassed to write this about myself, but I see from The Bloggess that putting it all out there may bring me an empathetic sisterhood of sorts (not that I discount male readers). If humiliating myself joins me with the world, so be it. Jenny Lawson, this post is for you. Because wine. (She knows what I'm talking about.)

This week for date night, my husband and I went to have a quick bite at a restaurant before heading to the movies.  The last calorie of the cheese and crackers I had consumed two hours prior had long worn off, but due to time, we had to cancel our appetizer order and plan to eat post-film. Long story short, I saw Much Ado About Nothing-- kind of, sort of, really under the influence of a single ten-dollar glass of Malbec that I drank in a rush so as not to waste money or the beverage itself. Let's say I couldn't quite pull off this wine-consumption very gracefully. Really, this is all my mother's fault since she was a child of very lean times and has long told many stories of going without. "Waste not, want not," she would say. Were it not for her, I would have said, "Damn you, Malbec," and walked away globe-half-full, and I would be able to fully tell you about Much Ado with all the conscious, canny, pithy tell-all know-how of a regular movie-goer and reader of the classics.

I remember slinking into our seats feeling a little warm and goofy, then suddenly being engaged by the full impact of the Malbec, a Malbec designed to take no prisoners. All I could think was, "Holy God. There is two of everyone in this film." My husband would nudge me periodically in his suddenly remarkable ability to single out not just characters, but a plot: "Do you understand what's going on here? Isn't this great? Isn't this funny? So do you know who that guy is and what he's doing?" Really, I wanted to say, I'm not incoherent, I'm just... incoherent. I could hear smatterings of laughter from all the fully-functioning movie-goers around us, smug little Shakespeare-savant giggles and remarks. An elite club of enthusiasts. Alas, I was an outsider-- "An ass!" to quote the constable in Much Ado (the one quotable line I can really recall) because apparently Shakespeare requires some sobriety, and I was, somewhat accidentally, noncompliant in that regard.

Between those excited pokes from my spouse, my internal monologue for most of the film ran like this:
Why is this film full of white people? Isn't this the 21st century? Why is everyone in a suit? I really wish my husband's shoulder was softer because I could totally sleep in here. What do these people do for a living? Lords and ladies aside, someone has to be working here.Why are these rich people consorting with the maids? Whose house is that? Nice house. Doesn't really look like any of those people really live there though... is that judgy? I am being judgy. Isn't this a big deal about virginity that may or may not be intact anyway? Hero could be pulling one over on all of us. And why would anyone sabotage someone else's love life? What kind of person does that? I should have this matter investigated... oh look, a constable.These people have too much time on their hands. Doesn't someone have a job? Besides the constable? Do men really stand around and pontificate about the virtues of love? No, no they don't. I question Shakespeare's sexual orientation... return to judginess.

When it ended, my husband was all high marks and raving commentary, but I was thinking, "There were body doubles in most of that movie and I didn't see them in the credits"...  because wine.  Earlier today, my father called and I mentioned the film. "I'm sorry I can't tell you much about it," I said. I didn't tell him I blamed my mother for why though. :)