The celebratory and the reflective

My neighbor and the pet mama of my favorite little dog, Sobaka, had a birthday yesterday and her 700th Peleton ride. Another friend had a birthday Thursday and by happenstance I had that podiatrist appointment in her town and stopped to see her. She insisted I had to have done it on purpose, but I am terrible with birthdays. I know they are coming. I make plans days in advance but somehow, they slip by without me recognizing them.

The Teenager decided to take the bull by the horns and go shopping for our neighbor’s birthday and collected all of her favorites: Diet Coke in 20 ounce bottles, Cheez-Its and various flavors and sizes of M&M chocolates. It’s something the teenager learned from the maternal side of our family, because when my mother runs out of ideas for what to buy someone she either finds something completely ridiculous (like the whole chicken in a can that she bought my husband for Christmas one year) or stocks up on their everyday favorites. (The chicken in a can stemmed from my husband’s love of chocolate pudding in a can. Things escalated from there.) It’s like a care package, but more festive.

Now Sobaka turned eight this week so The Teenager also bought a corresponding gift bag for the dog. With extra tissue paper as Baki loves tissue paper, some treats and some little stuffed toys Baki will probably ignore because she’s too hoity toity to play.

My family has lived in this neighborhood for 20 years. Some of my neighbors have lived here their whole lives, like Little Dog’s Birthday Girl Mom and my neighbor to the right who cuts my lawn every time he cuts his. Most of my neighbors have been here as long as I have, and so we have adopted an informal mascot of the Flamingo and have the occasional girls night.

The Teenager is very excited to be old enough to attend. Last night was the Flamingo Birthday party. I was very very much looking forward to it, and very excited to share the slow progression of my service dog application with my neighbors. Very excited also to see what cocktails would be served as this particular host does not disappoint. (I ended up with a Jack Daniels canned cocktail of lemonade and honey whiskey, delicious.)

I suspected this was a recipe for disaster, but was so looking forward to relaxing with neighbors and laughing after a hard week. I had been up since 3 a.m., worked almost a full day with odd results on my metrics, went to the gym at 5 p.m. and inadvertently skipped dinner. The party started at 7, but I opted to wait for The Teenager to get home from work at 7:30 pm.

I’m skipping around chronology here, but my brain was doing this same jumps for much of the day, fatigue leaving me not quite here nor there. When I left for the gym at 4:40 — it’s about a 10 minute walk — I discovered a package from my stepmother’s business.

How honest should I be? This package struck fear into my heart. I didn’t want to open it. But I had to open it. I haven’t heard from anyone in my family for months and it seems like some people in it are getting harder to get a hold of, but I know rationally it’s a busy time of year and we’re all still recovering from the loss of our patriarch and trying to figure out how to fill that void. So of course I open the large but light box.

There is a beautiful card inside with a thoughtful inscription from my stepmother. She had a quilt made for me of my dad’s things. I cried. Because this week has been hard for me and I’ve been trying to hide just how hard and wishing I had my dad to listen and make me laugh. And not many people other than my mother and I would care, but Tuesday was my parents’ wedding anniversary.

I almost carried the bulky blanket with me to the gym because I didn’t want to put it down. Luckily, the Teenager got home in the knick of time to take it away from me.

We did a fantastic upper body workout at the gym, with some core exercises that used the legs which I very much needed. I had skipped Wednesday’s workout not knowing the source of the nerve pain. The workout pushed my arms and stretched out my extended person, who was very stiff.

Once I made it to the party, I sat by the fire pit in the yard (wearing the Teenager’s Stitch Fix mock leather jacket because I didn’t want to fight the kittens in my room to get my very stylish jean jacket) sipping my cocktail. I had rejected my first seat because the Adirondack chair made my back and hip very uncomfortable. All day my right lower back muscle had been straining oddly, and I thought maybe the cortisone shot in my foot had caused me to move my body differently.

We moved into the house for ring bologna, cheese, pretzels and chocolate-on-chocolate cake. If you are looking for me in the photo, I am second from the left with the Teenager beside me. My exhaustion kicked in high gear. The Teenager had to leave for work at 8:45 p.m., another overnight dog-owning client, so I thought it best to follow her home. Which, for the record, is across the street.

Now, I attend these parties barefoot as long as the weather allows. The Teenager and I leave the house, descend the front stairs, and reach the sidewalk. I think I took two steps on the old sidewalk and I lost my balance. Badly. Tried to regain my footing and couldn’t. I fell onto the Teenager who allowed me to ricochet off her without budging. Like a mighty tree.

And then she looked down and said, “You okay? You getting up or are you dead?”

If you don’t live with someone clumsy or someone with a condition like cerebral palsy prone to these kind of incidents, you might find that cold and cruel. It’s not. It’s practical and allows me to retain some dignity as I collect myself. My daughter knows I don’t need fuss, that I’ll let you know when it’s time to panic. It might be a little later than it should be, but eventually I’ll let you know. We might stop at the Chinese Buffet with a broken ankle, but eventually I’ll end up at Urgent Care when I need it.

I knew I stubbed my toes and my palms and my elbow was screaming, but I was praising whatever entity was watching over me that I had the heavy jacket to protect my arms. My glasses were still on my face. My face never hit the cement. We were good. I just hoped the jacket had survived.

“It will make it look cooler,” the Teenager said.

I crossed the street and took inventory. My elbow was bleeding and was very tender to the touch. My other scrapes were inconsequential. I checked my phone for clues as to what might be happening.

Holy shit.

Let me just start my saying that even with the explanations offered by Apple and Google, I don’t understand exactly how to analyze double support time, walking steadiness and walking asymmetry as recorded by my phone. I look for patterns. I know my phone does not consider me a fall risk, so I rule that algorithm-based tool out as useless for me.

I know, in general, that when my asymmetry reaches 10% or more I tend to fall. This shows two spikes, one at 53% on the walk to the gym, and another at 58% on the way to my neighbor’s house. As best I understand, this means one foot is walking faster than the other. Did the cortisone shot make it so I can’t feel my foot enough to use it? Is this foot unable to keep up with the other? This idea terrifies me.

I cleaned up as best I could and collapsed in bed struggling to get comfortable with my elbow bothering me and my back hurting worse. My brain was calculating and worrying and fighting the downward spiral.

That’s where I’m at. Except I’m cuddled on the couch in my dad blanket.

3/4 of the year: The August medical update and ‘the feels’

Yesterday Nancy (my blind friend, poetry editor and my sassy mentor/ partner in crime) and I were in her bank. The other local branch of this big name bank had had some sort of building emergency. That office was temporarily closed, so the customers were lining up with us. The bank was understaffed (the man in charge had a lovely amiable personality and told us all if we wanted a job he needed two tellers immediately. I turned to Nan and asked if she wanted to apply. She laughed).

We were fourth in line, with a small brown man with an accent in front of us. He overheard me tell Nan something indirectly about my weight (the fact that I had worn jewelry made me jingle and I had on heels so I was unusually tall). And I said something about finally having the mindset to make an effort even if I hadn’t lost any of my stress-induced pandemic weight.

The man in front of us softly said, “you look great” (and when we left I got cat-called so it had to be true, I suppose). A few minutes later the man mentioned that seeing Nancy reminded him of the story of Jesus healing the blind man.

Now, before I continue this story, picture us in the chaos of an old-fashioned bank building, the arched ceilings and the old mega vault. Picture the long line, socially-distanced. Picture awkwardly-gaited me and the little old lady with the white cane on my arm.

I have heard the stories of disabled people dealing with religious folks who want to pray for them or with them. And this man muttered something about blindness being a blessing. And Nan mentioned something about disability teaching lessons to those around us and reminding us to have patience.

“It’s a blessing,” the man said.

Easy for him to say. It reminded me of something I heard on a podcast interview with a martial artist who has cerebral palsy. “I can do anything anyone else can do,” he said.

I mean, it’s the crap we always hear. And we can do anything anyone else can. But we also can’t. There’a footnote to that statement no one ever told me: you can’t expect to do it the same way they do it. You won’t look like them or necessarily achieve the same things in the same order. The able-bodied will never understand how different simple tasks that come easily for others can feel impossible to us. I spent my whole life trying to do what everyone else did, they way I saw them do it. But I didn’t understand that the physics of my body is very different from anyone else’s.

My legs and arms are often covered with brushes and scratches from bumping into things. I stumble and fall. But, I haven’t had a serious fall since August 3. That’s exciting. My average since the mallet finger has been every two weeks. I’ve now made it almost three. Today, I have my follow-up with my doctor, and I had called his office when I started the application process for a mobility dog through Susquehanna Service Dogs.

I’ve blogged about this most recently here. I connected some of my earlier posts about the process and decision here.

I asked his staff if he could fill out the medical form, because if he didn’t think he was the right person I could call my neurology physiatrist. She was/is amazing but I only met her once, two months ago. I have been with my primary care physician for 14 years.

His staff checked with him and they assured me that he not only fill out the form but that he would do it at my already scheduled appointment today. I normally see my doctor twice a year, in winter for my physical and in summer to review bloodwork and health issues that may pop up during the year.

When I ruptured my tendon in April, I visited him because my entire system was thrown off balance with the injury and although the specialist had allowed me to return to work (rightfully so), my hip was in pain and I was falling all the time. He signed me out of work for a short recovery leave of about three weeks, so I could work with Andrew, my strength and fitness coach at Apex Training, my occupational therapists at The Institute for Hand and Upper Extremity Rehab, and my talented chiropractor and physical therapy guru Nicole Jensen of Back in Line Chiropractic and Wellness Center.

I have documented this journey and have started writing my cerebral palsy memoir, Gravity is a Harsh Mistress with clever title by my estranged but still strange husband. Blog posts with connections to cerebral palsy are listed here.

My primary care doctor followed up with me after my specialist visit and allowed me to return to work at the end of May, even though my finger was still in a cast. We made this decision because the effort I gave Andrew had paid off and my hip was no longer bothering me. In addition, I had my first meeting with my physiatrist a few days later and I wanted to see how I felt after a week back-to-work to relay that information to her.

Anyway, point is, I haven’t seen my primary care doctor since May. He hasn’t seen my healed finger. He hasn’t heard about some of my rather dramatically majestic recent falls.

My weight today was 155, which is more than five pounds less than what it was at the gynecologist’s office last week.

I arrived early. I was in my exam room before my appointment time. My friend Gayle was bringing me her laptop so I could work on the cat book edits. I told her to put it in my car as I didn’t have time to run to her house and didn’t know how long my appointment would be. She ended up at the wrong medical practice. There are two similar St. Luke’s affiliated family practices in neighboring buildings.

I was texting her and making notes waiting for the doctor. I noticed my phone buzz again. My mom had sent a photo via text. That’s odd, I thought to myself. Mom hasn’t said much to me since the Teenager and I surprised her companion on Father’s Day. She didn’t even text me when she went to Florida to visit family. So, what was this?

I opened it.

I shouldn’t have. It was my father’s tombstone. My mother, despite having divorced more than 30 years ago, visits my father’s grave regularly. She’s grieving him, as many people are, and she is also grieving two of her brothers who died in the weeks before my father.

I couldn’t hold back tears. I have not visited my father’s grave since the funeral, and even then I did not get out of the car. I don’t see the point. The funeral had alienated me, and I didn’t feel like I “belonged,” and that’s not due to my family. But my father wasn’t there anymore. It was a corpse. And I had no need to see it formally placed in dirt. He was gone. And no ceremony will change that. Even now, I’m crying again.

Several times I regain my composure and several times I lose it, until eventually the doctor knocks on the door. So, I had to explain.

I mean, I suppose I didn’t have to, but it seemed only fair.

That meant we spent the first ten minutes of my appointment talking about boundaries, grief, and therapy. I’ve been with my psychologist even longer than I’ve been a patient of my doctor and the two of them know each other and speak so sweetly and kindly about each other.

We moved on then I think first to my recovered mallet finger. We reviewed my bloodwork. I told him I had to go get more iron, as my previous bottle had run out and I was using a different iron that didn’t seem to be working as I told Nan yesterday that I “almost bought a pair of potato chips.” Now, when you’ve had a history of iron issues and anemia, word confusion is a symptom. And I have been using wrong words in speech for at least a week. So either the iron is dipping or I should be screened for early onset dementia.

I almost bought a pair of potato chips.

I used this opportunities to ask if there were any other adjustments he wanted to make to my vitamin regimen. He suggested sticking with the 2000 ius of Vitamin D3 (which I take with calcium).

Next, we tackled the form for the service dog. Much to my relief, he thought the dog would be extremely helpful for me. And he also commended me for the work I do to take care of myself. In the evaluation for the service dog process, I was telling stories from the gym and mentioned how my ankle finally popped for my chiropractor Wednesday night, and how after my last fall I asked the Teenager to evaluate my walk, then she told Andrew this info at the gym, and he monitored my movement, until the next day I went to the chiropractor and she had to maneuver my hip back where it belonged.

She said I needed to do more single leg muscle stability work, which I then told Andrew, and I relayed to the doctor the horrible exercises Andrew made me do. And my doctor chuckled.

He once told me that he doesn’t worry about me because he knows if he tells me to do something I will do it. And I think Andrew and Chiropractor Nicole see the same commitment in me. My doctor today said this is why I am in better shape than many of his patients, despite my issues.

He handed me the completed form, which is the type of thing the office signs decry “requires 7-10 days” and payment of form fees. I am so grateful for my team, their respect and their guidance.

Meanwhile, while I am setting up my annual physical for February 2023, I see a text from Gayle. Remember Gayle? Apparently, she forgot my current car was a Volkswagen and was wandering in the parking lot looking for a silver Nissan. (My last car was a red Altima.) I didn’t have my Stitch Fix parking permit on my mirror. The car was clean because The Teenager has her own vehicle now. And there were four silver cars– none of the Nissans– in the parking lot.

She meandered around so long that a staff member came out and asked if she was sick or needed help. When I left the building, Gayle was next to my car. I had been with the doctor for an hour.

“You’re still here?” I said.

“I’ve been out here 45 minutes,” she said. “So when you replied to my text I figured I might as well stay and say ‘hi.’ What’s five more?”

Only you, Gayle. Only you.

Untitled: a post about lingering grief

They say with time it gets easier, and I suppose I have to trust.

But this week has been damn hard.

My first big injury without my father and my first bit of car trouble without my father.

Both times when I used to turn to my father.

I tried to reach out to my mother, but there’s just something about that relationship that always goes sideways. And I whatever I try to do to fix it fails.

I shared a poem I wrote about grief to Nancy, my blind friend, when I saw her today. And I think she’s anxious to see where I can go with it.

And first thing this morning— I saw this post from a very clean and well curated antique shop in downtown Easton, advertising its fresh wares.

Now I am not an antiques person, but V. Murray Mercantile puts a lot of effort into curating and presenting their merchandise. And this post featured a vintage Schmidt’s Beer lamp, which was my father’s preferred beer.

And I just wanted it. I wanted the beer lamp. I wanted it so I could think of my dad and the light he gave my life. And he could still give that light. And at the same time, it could poke a little fun at his struggles with alcoholism, because he knew his flaws.

Stroh’s Brewing produced Schmidt’s and closed in 1999, selling its business to Pabst, according to some quick, unverified internet research. That was the same year I got married. Apparently, they revived a beer called Schmidt’s in 2019, which ironically was the year my husband and I amicably separated.

I discovered this website which appears to be from the beer’s 100th anniversary merch shop, and feels like the internet version of a ghost sign: Schmidt’s Of Philly, but has a 2019 copyright and seems to be legit even though the history stops fifty years ago.

I signed up for the mailing list.

So the teenager and I went downtown at 1 p.m., fighting construction.

The store is only open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the lamp sold first thing.

I am crushed, but I know realistically it is my grief I am feeling and has nothing to do with a vintage lamp.

It’s about the little girl, who used to run from the house to her dad’s workshop with little brown bottles of beer whenever her dad asked for a cold one. He was usually tinkering with his Harley. Sometimes the lawn mower.

Either way, he usually had a Schmidt’s.

A day in the life— medical update, meal plans, sunshine, animals and publishing

I make a lot of lists.

Sometimes my journals are nothing but to do lists and shopping lists. But I like lists— even if I never refer to them again, the act of making a list allows me to stop thinking about things.

If I want to refer to it later, I know where to look, but I no longer have to worry about forgetting as if I want to remember or revisit items from an earlier day I can but I am not staring at a list focusing on what needs to be addressed versus what I actually did.

Many people make lists to receive the satisfaction of checking off the things that are done. I don’t do that. Sometimes I do, but now it’s more like I am acknowledging the list versus trying to conquer it.

I used to finish my list every day or stress over the things I didn’t get to, and on top of that— the list never made me feel better or more in control.

It just exhausted me.

Trapped and the Cover for the Anthology Arrive

Parisian Phoenix’s first contemporary romance has arrived and it looks great. Read more about that here.

But I also received the cover for Not An Able-Bodied White Man with Money, which I will be blogging about on the Parisian Phoenix site this weekend.

And I have a 4 p.m. meeting today with another author who I have been hoping would join our family.

Now if only I could finalize some of our business documents to really move the projects forward.

Yesterday (Voluntary Time Off) and evaluating my health

Life at Stitch Fix’s Bizzy Hizzy has been odd lately. We’re shipping something like 8,000 fixes a day and having the opportunity for voluntary time off.

Last week, I performed at pretty damn close to 100% without pain or significant mobility issues. This week, issues started mildly during my Sunday shift and deteriorated Monday & Tuesday, leaving me at 80% and crying myself to sleep. I talked about this here.

I’m very much wondering if my menstrual cycle has something to do with it, as the Mirena IUD has done miracles for my pain and issues in that department but has made my cycle irregular. I think my body is trying to menstruate later than usual.

I was taking inventory of my recent balance, mobility and functioning issues as today I had my annual “wellness visit” that the office rescheduled from last week.

I took VTO yesterday to allow myself some rest and some time as life (and grief from my father’s death two months ago) has gotten chaotic and overwhelming.

And I made the teenager and I grilled cheese as I had promised to do, and the child acted like I had prepared filet mignon for her.

I have a feeling I will be repeating that after school today.

We also watched Miranda Sings Live on Netflix. The teenager went through a time when she watched the show, so that was weird. It always amazes me how much talent it takes to perform badly.

The doctor today

I have spent more than a decade assembling a talented and caring medical team, so now I can confidently say any issues with my medical treatment stem from the system and not from my doctors.

The doctor and his resident agreed with my assessment that it’s time for me to get into the physiatrist and that their office will advocate for me on that as well, and that my instincts and approaches are correct.

I learned that women more so than men tend to favor one side when they move or stand. As women age, this tendency can create problems. That means this is a problem normal people have and not just a result of cerebral palsy.

And most interestingly… I learned that women more so than men tend to favor one side when they move or stand. As women age, this tendency to let’s say ‘lean’ can create problems, just like what I am experiencing now with my right hip and right leg/foot. That means this is a problem normal people have and not just a result of cerebral palsy.

I reiterated to them that I do know I need to lose 20 pounds, but that we have some issues to address before that.

The psychology of emotional and physical pain

When I was turning 40, I embarked on a journey to lose five pounds and gain muscle. I inadvertently lost 30 lbs and ended up a skeleton and regained some weight to look like this:

That was about 30 pounds ago. I have no need to be that lean again, but I’d really like to see 135 lbs again— which means I need to lose 20 lbs.

I told my doctor and his resident— I know I can’t eat an entire bag of cheese puffs or Wawa bowl of mac and cheese and brisket after dinner. But I’m struggling with depression from my body pain and my father’s unexpected death.

I’m grateful I haven’t turned to alcohol like many in my family, but I have “given in” to food as a psychological crutch.

I pay almost $300 a month for a personal trainer, but I can’t work as hard as I want to because I hurt and I feel like I need answers as to how to move my body so it doesn’t hurt. Because if I could exercise more and move more, I wouldn’t sabotage myself by eating garbage (or if I did, I would be active enough to balance it).

But right now, when I come home from a ten-hour shift with my body twisted and aching badly, and wishing I could call my dad so he could make me laugh and tell me how much it sucks to get old, I grab junk food because it’s the last pleasure I have.

I can’t move without pain so if I’m going to be forced to get fat and lazy I might as well enjoy the process.

These are ugly thoughts and I know that, but I’m being honest.

The fun stuff: errands with Nan

After leaving my primary care doctor, I called Nan as we were scheduled to do some errands together. We stopped at Wawa for some hot caffeinated beverages (cafe con leche for me and vanilla chai for Nan).

Among other stops we visited Park Avenue Market and Deli, one of our favorite haunts known for its deli, salads and meats.

Although I am once again contemplating more of a vegan diet, which will make the teenaged carnivore wince, I am not ready to commit until I feel better. We must achieve discipline before we enact change.

I never got around to meal planning yesterday so I didn’t have a list. I ended up spending $36.89 and I think the results will work.

I purchased: two packs of beef jerky, one small box of minute rice for the teen, three or four teeny tiny bags of Wise snacks from popcorn to potato chips, meatballs, the biggest damn carrot I’ve ever seen, frozen vegetable medley with potatoes and garlic herb sauce, sweet potato crinkle cut fries, pork roll, Lebanon bologna, liverwurst, turkey, olive salad, a store-baked pig ear for the dog and something called “hot pepper shooters”— round hot peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone.

Rough meal plan

My rough meal plan for the next week or so is:

  • Sandwiches
  • Meatballs and green peppers, either as a sandwich or in pasta
  • vegetable lasagna still in the freezer from last week
  • Burgers and fries, using ground beef from the freezer and the sweet potato fries
  • Cold tortellini salad with roasted carrot, olive salad and seasoned broccoli (broccoli is in the freezer)
  • Pork roll and egg sandwiches
  • Chicken and the frozen vegetables and rice or other grain

PS— we also welcomed a new foster into the house. Her name is Babs. Meet her in this video. I need to make her a page.

Processing childhood trauma

Trigger warning— I’m not sure exactly where this post will go but it will discuss sexual misconduct between an adult and a child and it will touch on alcoholism.

I know some people in my family may be uncomfortable with what I am about to write — because what happens in our private lives should remain private. And I agree with that, and I prefer not to air private matters in a public forum. As a writer, I want my public space to reflect a more professional persona.

But I also know I “check a lot of boxes” for struggles and realities that may not be apparent and that other people share. And together we have strength. Commonality.

So here goes.

But please, as I’ve said in other posts that mention times in the past that include other people and the actions of other people, remember that this is my story, my experience and my feelings.

Whatever I write in this space, because I’m not even sure where it will go, I am merely trying to offer a glimpse into my grief and how that is triggering— and I hate that word ‘triggering’ — my past trauma.

And especially when people are trying to do nice things for you, it feels extra garbage-y to have your mind implode.

Gene Kelly prompted me to write this blog entry. Spotify provided me with a jazz mix that included “Singing in the Rain.” And “Singing in the Rain” left me analyzing the issues that have plagued me since childhood that overcame me this weekend.

“Singing in the Rain.” You know… “Singing in the Rain.”

I learned to whistle in the bar. There was a man, I’m not sure who it was, who used to try and get me to whistle “Singing in the Rain.” I’m not sure which bar, maybe The Red Geranium, which is also where my mom served as the afternoon bartender for a while and where the owner’s grandson almost drowned me one summer day.

I don’t even remember who taught me to whistle.

I went to the bar with my mother because my father usually stopped at a bar after work. And he often didn’t come home until he spent all his money or the bar closed. So, my mom and I would go looking for him.

Each bar had a highlight. One of my school friends hung out at Delaware House waiting for her mom. But Delaware House burned down in 1986— I think my Dad might have been there that night— and all I remember is purple-hued lighting and one time someone vomited on the sidewalk right outside the door while I was standing there.

In my memory, the fire took out my grandfather’s favorite clothing store (not true according to newspaper records)— Effross’s— though thinking harder I don’t known if that recollection is correct. Apparently, Mr. Effross died in November. My grandfather bought all his Levi’s from Mr. Effross.

My grandfather chewed Jucyfruit, enjoyed the occasional trip to Kmart, smoked Parliaments and listened to Jim Reeves. He would hand me an empty coffee can and tell me he’d pay me a penny for every cigarette butt I could find in our yard.

At one point, I spent all the time I could with him. My parents said we had moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to him and my grandmother, moving into the trailer right besides my grandparents in the trailer park.

My mother befriended an elderly man named James Wicks who lived in a trailer on the other side of us. He had no family, so my mother cared for him until his death. And we inherited his tan Chevy Citation.

On some days, while my mom went to see Wicky, I would go see my Aunt Sharon and my grandpa. I spent a lot of time with them as they served as my babysitter when my mom and dad would go for motorcycle rides or when my parents planned to go drinking.

They had cable. We did not. So if I was lucky, I might get to watch The Addams Family. My grandfather liked Highway to Heaven and Knight Rider.

At one point, my uncle had moved to another state. I seem to think I was 10, because I tend to think everything bad that happened to me happened around that time. My aunt had gone to stay with them. She and my grandpa had plans to move up there.

If I can trust my memory, I was wearing a pastel striped romper, with shorts. [Trigger warning] He asked me to come sit on his lap, so I did. He started rubbing my inner thighs. I remember his hands, and I remember how close they were getting to my romper.

There were a few other times where he touched me inappropriately in similar fashion, so I stopped sitting in his lap.

And eventually I avoided going to his house when no one else was home.

I told no one.

But then, a while later, and I don’t know if Aunt Sharon was home or not, I think she was… We ordered a pizza. My grandfather asked if I wanted to go with him to pick it up. I said yes, probably because I wanted a “jungle juice” and to play the Pac Man arcade game.

The pizza place was probably less than two miles away.

But he didn’t go to the pizza place.

He turned down a side road. And then to a dirt road. The night was dark. We had no street lights. I knew where we were, but I also knew it was the middle of nowhere.

He patted the seat beside him. It was a big old vinyl bench seat. He told me to come over and kiss him. So, as a granddaughter would, I kissed his cheek.

He told me no. That’s not how you kiss. And then his tongue was in my mouth. Deep in my mouth. Invading my mouth.

I was terrified.

I don’t remember what I did to get away. But we did go get the pizza.

I didn’t tell my mom until high school. I just avoided my grandfather. But my mom was going to ask him to drive me home from play rehearsal. And I knew I couldn’t be alone with him.

I didn’t tell my dad until I was in college. My grandfather and I had a tumultuous relationship because I called him a “selfish old bastard.” Yeah, no one knew the real reason why I said that. But my grandfather never spoke to me again.

And that hurt my dad.

One day he got drunk and asked me point blank, “what did you grandfather ever do to you, molest you or something?”

“Yeah, Dad,” I said. “Actually he did.”

And I will remember the shock on his face forever.

My father’s recent death has forced me to spend more time in memories like these than I usually allow.

I tell this story because I know others have similar stories. I tell this story because in the wake of my father’s death, I think of my grandfather more. I tell this story because yesterday morning I wept while driving to work at 5:45 a.m. because I use a country road that, in that moment, reminded me of that country road.

These stories are invisible. People don’t tell these stories. Skeletons belong in closets.

But I’m tired of these stories haunting me, circling my own head, so I’m going to leave this here.

I spent a good deal of my youth afraid of what my grandfather might do. To me.

My first kiss came from my grandfather. I didn’t even know the difference between boys and girls.

I still freak out if I have to kiss a man.

I’m grateful I had the wisdom to avoid my grandfather.

My grandfather is dead.

My father is dead. His brother is dead.

Aunt Sharon is still with us, but she has an intellectual disability that renders her an eternal child.

So this story can’t hurt any of them.

But maybe it can free me.

Because those memories still ignite fear in me.

Rebuilding

My blog entry Monday focused heavily on the decline of my mental and physical health— and how I attributed that decline to the death of my father on December 15 (three weeks ago today) and the stress that has put upon me, my family, and my routine. I also think I may have had a bout with Omicron pre-Christmas which may be part of why my body cannot seem to get appropriate physical rest.

I shared these things because these tribulations are key for the story arc; success and overcoming mean nothing without context.

And if you are someone fighting with similar discombobulation, you might find comfort in my words.

That post is here.

The last few days the pain in my spine has been increasing and my control over my legs is lessening. To walk requires more concentration and effort than I am used to. According to my iPhone, my walking symmetry was a mess yesterday morning. And now today, as temperatures plummet, my right knee has shooting pain.

I am guessing— and purely guessing— that my stress level is exacerbating the spasticity in my lower limbs making legs that can’t relax even more tense.

I haven’t been eating right, and with the lack of good food, I don’t take my vitamins. And when I do eat enough to take my vitamins… Well, I may have eaten half a Hawaiian Luau deep dish pizza from Little Caesar’s.

I cried with my psychologist yesterday in a long-awaited therapy session where he had to recount to me all my strengths while simultaneously making me laugh.

But this gave me the courage to call out sick from work today, sleep in and start the day with my Yoga cobra pose physical therapy sessions (and then take a much needed shower).

In waking up slowly, I had the opportunity to gently force my lower limbs into motion. Walking feels a little more natural.

I had a chiropractor appointment scheduled for Friday and they literally just called today to see if I’d rather come in today. They say it is due to the threat of inclement weather but I think they read my mind.

My last chiropractor appointment was at least two weeks ago, because of the holidays, and I wonder if something might be pressing on a nerve since my right quad is burning again.

And still no work from the physiatrist about securing an appointment or the neurologist about whether my insurance will allow my CT scan.

In other news, Hungryroot gave me a $96 credit for the box that arrived late, less than cold and covered with chemical goo. I didn’t anticipate an issue with them and I had already gone ahead and ordered a new box which arrives tomorrow.

My timid tripod foster cat Louise still insists on cuddling me whenever I am in or on my bed. This upsets foster cat Khloe who likes to believe she is my favorite.

And the dog, F. Bean Barker, ate some more of my furniture.

And I’m starting to think my cat fostering peer might be the only one keeping up with my Fashion and Fiends series as she posted a review on Amazon recently.

The teenager submitted a photo of her and her grandfather for the high school yearbook baby photos. This photo was taken at the West End Fair where my dad was participating in a tractor pull. It was the first major outing I undertook with the baby by myself.

Nan will be coming over soon so we can do some more work on Not an Able Bodied White Man with Money. Which we will do over turkey bacon and omelets.

Let’s hope the next few days bring my body and my mind some relief.

When Grief Manifests as Panic

It hasn’t even been a month since my employer eliminated second shift in favor of a seven-day-a-week operating schedule.

It has been about six weeks since my doctor ordered tests to try and pinpoint the cause of my spine, hip and leg pain. And about five weeks since the x-rays revealed a spine, that as my doctor said, wouldn’t be a problem if I were 70 or 80.

My dad died almost three weeks ago.

It has been several weeks since Omicron has soared across the world— and I discovered today, today, that Omicron grows best in nostrils and doesn’t take so well in lungs.

Did I have Omicron before Christmas? When I had stopped taking my allergy meds because of the funeral and had a congested head?

We had ten new cases of Covid at work today. This is the highest count ever. Most of the people who attended my father’s funeral have it. Curly, my college roommate, went home from my house to discover her teenage son had it.

My psychologist tested positive. My trainer did, too. My neighbor did. My other neighbor’s employer did.

It’s been almost two weeks since my neurologist appointment.

It’s been five days since my Hungryroot order shipped.

It’s been four days since my head CT was canceled.

It’s been four days since foster cat Danu went to Pet Supplies Plus.

Danu, gentlest cat ever

My grief has heightened my anxiety and has me lost in feelings that I am surrounded by love but I lack enough support. My feelings swirl in my chest and manifest as panic, panic I am too often stuffing away or channeling into tears.

My Hungryroot order came around noon today, after being shipped on Thursday. And the cooling gel pack exploded. Coating all the food. The food arrived bathed in some sticky chemical and warm. I contacted customer service but they warn they are busy and may take 48 hours to get back to me.

And in the meantime, I don’t know if it’s safe to eat the food. At least, the food in packaging. My guess is no. I hope they refund my money. But I ate everything in the pantry over the weekend and now I am out $100 and have no food.

And as I threw items away, I noticed the chicken they shipped me was dated, use by 12/21/21 and they sent it 12/28/21.

Sigh.

Then I got a text from my cat foster godmother: Danu was missing her rabies shot so she had to come home.

Normally I can handle this. But my numbers at work were around 65%, my body pain felt like my bones were burning, and then another member of the cat group sent a long message about how monitoring the medical records of the cats is important.

The vet was supposed to give Danu and all of her kittens the rabies vaccine when they were spayed and neutered. The vet didn’t. I didn’t notice. I screwed up.

Between the medical issues, the family drama, the grieving process and the shift change, I can’t get it life under control.

The second I empty the dishwasher, reload it and run it again, the sink is full. The toilets are dirty. The cats eat the dry food in the gravity feeder as soon as I fill it. The dog keeps eating things.

I’m not sleeping well.

And I have no time left to do anything I enjoy.

So my business plan for Parisian Phoenix is lagging behind.

I pick myself up and look at the positives every day, and every night I fall into bed defeated.

But this too shall pass.

I had a good day

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good day. Sunday was okay, but then Monday was hard. I had to ask the question—

How can one day be so much harder than the day prior? Shouldn’t grief get incrementally easier?

I had either a mild cold or intense backlash from not taking my allergy medicine which really fatigued me. Combine that with my father’s death, no real Christmas to speak of and a formerly good friend reappearing Sunday night to gaslight me, again, hopefully for the last time.

I have been short-tempered, moody and a little meaner than usual. We all understand the reasons why, right? In addition to this very emotional stuff, I am still dealing with what is essentially premature aging in my spine and a new extended work day and a daily schedule that involves flipping my previous life upside down. I used to go to be at 2 a.m. and now my alarm wakes me at 5 a.m. That is, when cats don’t request a cuddle at 4:30 a.m.

The former friend in question here wished me a happy and safe holiday after ignoring me for the last three weeks— which unbeknownst to me was on purpose because I wouldn’t provide this person informative on a quasi-sorta date I went on. This person felt slighted and like they were not valued as a friend because I did not share something I felt was personal and none of their business (I told none of my friends) AND something that didn’t go anywhere worth reporting.

Apparently, this friend— who has a history of gaslighting— stopped looking at my social media, my blog, etc. Not once did this friend say anything to me.

This friend said nothing when my dad passed.

So, being at the end of my rope in every category, I lashed out.

I said mean things. The same mean things I have said to this person before and this person has responded not by addressing those issues but with points on how nasty I can be.

I’m wondering if I need to block this person. I don’t want to, because once upon a time this person was a good friend. But circumstances outside my control have changed my relationship with this person.

And I don’t have the emotional energy to placate people any more.

And in those same terms— I am so grateful for those friends who keep checking on me. You know, the ones that actually pay attention to what is happening in my life.

But anyway… my good day…

I am realizing more and more that stress makes my aches and pains flare. And I wonder if that contributes to the burning sensation in my quads and my instability.

At work, it quickly became apparent that I was hitting my metrics! I texted the teenager and asked if she wanted to have breakfast on my 15 minute break. She made a Dunkin run and brought the dog to see me.

I think I maintained 95% in QC all day.

Lunch was delicious — leftover chicken with vodka sauce and fresh broccoli, kale, and spinach.

And I got to style card, which I also got to do yesterday. It feels good to do something different and work in positions not everyone in the warehouse knows.

It just felt like a normal day, and I felt like me, and not a foggy me.

The UnChristmas

For the first time since December 15, I felt like myself. I’m still grieving. I’m still hurting, but by the time end of today (12/26/2021), the overwhelming hurricane of different emotions had pushed me into its eye. And I felt like me.

Yesterday was a hard one. My mother called early in the morning, wishing me a Merry Christmas. Really, my brain couldn’t even fathom why she would wish me a Merry Christmas when I was home alone and my dad is newly dead.

The holidays are always hard on me. They start with hope and usually end with disappointment. I had often said I wish I could ignore them all together. Just skip. And go to Paris.

There were no presents to open Christmas morning. I let the teenager open hers early when we needed some joy in the midst of funeral stuff. No decorations. I never got the Christmas tree up. I never listened to Christmas music this year— and I love Christmas music.

The world stopped when my father died.

The teenager has multiple pet sitting responsibilities. Something like eight visits a day. And her father just got his new car on the 23rd, so I had expected to have a car to visit family without her.

My nephew came down with Covid so there would be no gathering with that side of the family.

So my little funeral tantrum that led me to spend most of the service in my car apparently prevented my exposure to Covid.

I did have a bit of a something— a cold? A sinus issue? Backlash from not taking my allergy medicine for a week?

And I had hoped maybe I could go have some of Mom’s lasagne.

But by the end of her phone call, I think she hung up on me. I don’t know if she realizes it, but her last words were, “well, excuse me for being alive.”

That stung.

I thought she would understand how much I was hurting. She lost her dad when she was 21.

I spent the day alphabetizing and organizing some cards I’ve been saving. It tools about six hours, while watching reruns of ER and drinking coconut rum and pina colada lemonade.

The teenager brought home sandwiches from Sheetz. Other than that my meals were Christmas cookies and potato chips.

I went to bed around 8:30 pm and woke at 4:15 a.m. I did my physical therapy cobra poses and went downstairs to have my coffee.

When I arrived at work, my body struggled with anxious feelings, trouble breathing, difficulty regulating body temperature. I was no longer sick, though the post nasal drip is still very real.

When we got to Freestyle— our assignment for the day— there was no work for us. So a bunch of us had to transfer to Freestyle Pick and go out into the warehouse to pick our own work. And although the Freestyle carts are 80 items instead of 40 like ordinary fixes, I had a great time. I always liked picking. I arrived back in Freestyle not first but not last.

And I got to see the warming sunrise through the warehouse windows.

My guess is that I performed at about 90% in Freestyle QC/ship.

And then, at the end of the day they asked me to go pick again! And despite my back hurting a bit on the right side, once again I had a great time. The Freestyle/Direct Buy cart took me 45 minutes. I imagine the goal is 40 minutes.

That motion drove the feeling of panic away.

And before I left, I grabbed some hard-boiled eggs to share with the dog. I had asked the teenager to grab some jarred vodka sauce at the grocery store when she was between clients and she one-upped me.

She went to George’s Pizzeria and bought their homemade vodka sauce. My favorite.

And our cat foster godmother, now the teenager’s client and the teenager’s boss at Apricity Pet Care, left her a bottle of wine to bring home to me.

While the teenager finished her afternoon shifts, I made spaghetti. I sautéed a chicken breast and heaps of fresh broccoli, kale and spinach. I mixed it all up with George’s vodka sauce.

We ate like queens.

And then as I cleaned up the leftovers and packed my remaining work lunches for this week (Mr. Accordion stopped by and brought me his scrumptious halupkis that I finished today), the dog grabbed my favorite cat by the scruff of his neck and starting running around the kitchen with him in her mouth.

The cat was fine. The dog just wanted to carry him.

I poured some wine and grabbed some cookies.

And that is my unChristmas update.

Perhaps it’s time for a recap

Perhaps the dog says it best…

It’s been a week since my dad died. And I’m exhausted. We’re all exhausted. I haven’t taken my allergy medicine in a week (finally did tonight) and my head feels congested. I hope I’m not sick.

In news not related to grief, I returned to work yesterday. In retrospect, this was both good and bad. I needed rest after all of this craziness and I didn’t get it.

The checks for the incorporation paperwork and fictitious name registration for Parisian Phoenix Publishing Company have been cashed.

Darrell Parry’s poetry manuscript, Twists: Gathered Ephemera, opened to presales yesterday. And Gayle has been hard at work with cover designs for Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money. And Joan and the residents of Plastiqueville have been hard at work with the illustrations for Trapped.

Khloe and Louise

Currently I am in bed, under the heat blanket with multiple cats on my lap.

My week has included some beautiful text messages, like one from the administrative assistant at ProJeCt, and heartfelt cards and so many flowers. Phone calls. And sympathy food! Offers of halupkis and coffee cake and delivery of alcoholic egg nog and rum cake.

I have gained back the weight I lost.

My work performance today was almost normal, but my emotional state was… what’s the word? Unstable?

I called my traveling companion and told him all my tales from the funeral— and he told me it sounded beautiful and that he thinks he would have liked my dad and wishes he could have met him.

And a couple times today I folded this sweater, the same style and color I was folding when I got the call.

My days are full of loss and laughter.

I built a little shrine. A place for my dad to have coffee. Because I anticipate that sometime soon I will feel his presence here.

My mother gave me the photo at the funeral. It was from 1975. The year I was born. Probably around the time they got married.