Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another installment: This one is brutal, so you know

Some of you lived through this night and the following days with me. I've written a lot around it, just not these particular details. And I'm OK - not falling in a hole or dwelling. I'm just writing, working on the writing.

April 19, 2007

By the time I get within a block of the motel I can see the flashing lights of the police cars, the fire trucks, the ambulance. The motel parking lot is a circus of red and white. I get out of my car and almost immediately bump into a police officer who tells me that I need to stay back.

“But it’s my dad!” I say, lip quivering. I wave in the direction of the motel. “It’s my dad! Is he still alive?”

The officer asks me if I have ID with me and I realize I’ve forgotten my purse. Crap. It’s illegal to drive without a license, isn’t it? Fuck. I am a first-born rule follower.

“I forgot my purse!” I wail. “I was hurrying! Am I going to get in trouble?”

No, he assures me, I am not going to get in trouble. He very gently takes me across the parking lot and up a set of outdoor stairs. It’s the kind of motel that is like a strip mall – all the buildings in a line, and you have to go outside to get to any of the rooms. There are an extraordinary number of police and emergency medical personnel. There are probably a lot of onlookers as well, but I do not notice them.

We get to the second floor and the officer says to a couple other policemen who are standing at the end of the hall, “She’s the daughter.”

“Is he alive?” I ask the nearest one. I hold my breath. I’m so scared the answer will be no.

One of them turns to face me and says, “Yes. We can talk in a minute. They’re about to bring him out. You don’t want to watch.”

I watch. I always watch. I cover my eyes at violence and gore in movies, and I hate life-or-death moments in stories, but I always watch when it’s my dad. He’s my dad, you know? What if I look away and miss something important?

They wheel him down the hall, and the officer says, “He wasn’t breathing when we got here. But the EMTs resuscitated him pretty quickly.”

“So he’s OK?” I want someone to tell me he’s OK. That everything will be OK.

“We don’t know how long he was without oxygen. They put in a trach tube. They’re taking him to INOVA Fairfax, if you want to follow the ambulance.”

“I have to get my mom,” I say. I feel like a small child. I need my mom. I need my dad, but, well, you know.

Both officers pull out their cards and give them to me. The one I've been speaking with points out the number of the station, which I can always call. They are very kind.

I start to shiver, even though it’s not particularly cold, even though I’m wearing that periwinkle fleece. I always get cold when I get upset, even if it’s the middle of summer. I read once that when your body is in crisis, all your blood goes to your organs. I imagine the heart needs it most, so it doesn’t break apart in a million pieces. I pull my arms in tight, trying to stop shaking.

I don’t want to ask, but I have to. “What did he…How did…Where was he when you found him?”

He hesitates. I look directly into his eyes.


“He hung himself.”

I nod. I keep nodding. I can't seem to stop nodding.

I will not think about the grammar until much later, when I am saying it aloud. He hanged himself. Hanged, not hung. But in this moment, I do not think grammar. I think about my dad.

My throat is thick, and I struggle for breath. I whisper, “OK. OK, thank you. Thank you for saving my dad.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em...

When I was little, I thought I might like to be a spy when I grew up.

The Mata Hari kind, with mystery and intrigue and cigarette holders and fabulous outfits, of course. Maybe a pillbox hat with a small veil. Not the actual kind that wears unremarkable clothing and has a lot of paperwork and what-have-you.

This didn't happen, as you know, although I still think about it occasionally. Because one, I am small and rather innocuous, and two, nobody ever suspects me of anything.

I once had a tangerine in my bag when I arrived in Miami from South America. I'd meant to eat it on the plane and had forgotten, and when they asked if I had anything on their list of stuff you weren't supposed to have, I said no, and they were all, OK, welcome to the U.S.

And then as I was walking away I realized I had this tangerine and I turned around and said, "Oh! But I do! I have a piece of fruit!"

I handed it to the woman and she glared at me and said with the tone that your parents use when you've let them down, "And you look so innocent!"

So then I was thinking, hell, I should've smuggled some heroin in my anus, you know?

Except that I'm never going use, much less sell, drugs and I'm not inclined to put anything in my anus. Plus, I don't know about you, but that movie Midnight Express made quite an impression on me as a child.

So there's all that.

But back to the spy business.

Everyone once in a while I get a reminder that I would totally and completely super suck at anything requiring duplicity. Because I have no poker face.

Last weekend I was at my friend Rachel's son's birthday party. There was a well-known children's entertainer there, one I've seen perform at her children's prior birthday parties.

So at some point during his performance, while the kids were howling with laughter, I was standing with Rachel and a woman I didn't know. We were talking about the guy's act, and how much the kids were enjoying it.

Rachel said, "He's not charging me for this show. He's doing it as a favor. So I'm trying to figure out what I should give him as a thank you. What do you think?"

I almost blurted out, "How about a nice blow job?"

Almost! But somehow, uncharacteristically, I didn't!

I said nothing. I just stood there quietly, as if considering the question. Inside, however, the words "blow" and "job" were flapping about, dying to escape.

And Rachel, she knew. She raised her eyebrows and pointed at me, smiling. "I see what you are thinking, and I acknowledge it. And I commend you for not saying it out loud in a room full of children. I was thinking more along the lines of cash."

The other mother said, "Fifty bucks?"

Rachel said, "That's probably about right."

Monday, September 15, 2014

What do you think about this?

This is a tale I've told before, but I'm approaching it differently.

October 1987

I’ve now spent just over a month at Carolina, and I am struggling. I will not learn for a couple more weeks, when I catch a ride home and see my mom, that my dad attempted suicide in September. He's in an institution in another state. He'll be home in a month. I'll certainly see him at Thanksgiving.

Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to affect me that much.

I know now it is because I am already in a depression and hurtling toward the bottom of a pit, so focused on my own pain. Let's be honest, however; the news is not helpful.

When not attending classes, I can chiefly be found drinking before or at frat parties or sitting on the floor of my dorm room eating chocolate covered peanuts and crying. My friend Ann, who lives down the hall and also has one good and one insane roommate, works at Student Stores and introduces me to bulk candy. To this day I've never had better chocolate covered peanuts. Never. A friend of hers rings them up for me cheaply. I buy pounds and pounds at a time and eat them all.

By mid-October I am well into the 40 pounds I will gain before spring. None of my clothes fit anymore. I cannot stop crying, and I cannot stop eating. I once eat an entire jar of my roommate's peanut butter with a spoon in one afternoon.

Somehow, despite this, my roommate Lesley (of the peanut butter) and I form a friendship that  endures to this day. We live in a ridiculously tiny triple room with no air conditioning and two closets. Lesley is an interesting, French-speaking, well-traveled deadhead from Charlotte. When we meet and she learns I went to high school in India, she thinks it is cool. She doesn't ask me if I meant Indiana, or if I lived in a mud hut. She turns out to be unusual in this regard.

Eventually, I will get so tired of being sincere about India, about how we lived, about how modern it is, that I begin saying "yes" to every question. Yes, we rode elephants to school. Yes, we had tigers as pets. Yes, we lived in a mud hut. Yes, yes and more yes.

This was before the Internet. I imagine it's different now.

Our other roommate is Laura, a cheerleader from Goldsboro, who hates Lesley on sight because of her tie-dyed T-shirt and Birkenstocks. She does not know where India is, and feigns interest when I show her on a map.

She mistakes me for normal, that first day, and so it takes her a good week or two to begin hating me as well.

We are both afraid of her, although we outnumber her. Laura, she has a look. Plus, she can eat three M&Ms and then leave the bag. Who does this? She claims an entire closet for herself, leaving us to share the other, and we do not contest it. She is small but she is mean; she punches the wall really hard after a fight with her boyfriend.

Because she doesn't talk to either of us, we only suspect how much she hates us until we begin reading the journal she is required to keep for an English class. Lesley opens it one day, and all is confirmed; she loathes us utterly and completely in poorly written, unimaginative prose. Fortunately, for the six to eight weeks she lives with us before moving out without notice, Lori spends the bulk of her time out in the hall with our shared phone talking to her serious boyfriend. When she's around, however, we drop crumbs of things she's written into our conversation. She knows and she purses her lips tighter.

Laura begins hiding her journal under her bed. With the good snacks. Does she think she can treat us that badly and still expect us to respect her privacy? Or snacks?

We know the precise date she is moving out because we read it in her journal. We count down gleefully. We make sure to spend the entire day elsewhere, and when we return to our pantry of a room, it is entirely, gloriously ours.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Revenge is a dish best 98.6 F?

Have you ever had a dog that punished you for going away? Or maybe for doing something else they didn't like? Maybe other pets do this as well?

I have no idea. Dogs for sure.

On Saturday India was particularly incensed that I was putting her down for a nap. Violently opposed. Enraged.

She made it clear that she was in no way interested in napping. Nope, no thank you. No. Back arch. NO! NONONONONO NAP! NOT TIRED! DON'T YOU DARE TAKE ME UPSTAIRS! I'LL CUT A BITCH! JUST TRY ME! NOOOOOO I DON'T WANT TO NAP!

Although he no longer naps, Jordan and I have this agreement that I tell them both that it's nap time, and he goes up very agreeably, ostensibly to sleep, and India is supposed to follow suit.

In the beginning he didn't know how to play it, so he would whisper across the room, "BUT I'M NOT REALLY NAPPING, RIGHT?"

And then she would hear it and so I would have to say, "Everybody is napping!"

Which would cause him to wail, because he'd feel tricked. They'd both be having fits. But now he knows.

So off he went. "C'mon, India! Let's go nap!"

He headed for the stairs and I said, "Oh, thank you Jordan! Look at Jordan. I'm so impressed with him for going up to nap!"

And she was like, "See ya, suckah! I'm staying right here! Hey, Ma, pass me a beer and the remote, wouldja?"

So I said, "I know I know like to play and you're having fun, but it's time to nap. You can play again after you nap."

I read that this kind of wording is how to couch it instead of being all hell if you think you're not napping.

The nap,  it's really not negotiable. She needs her nap. She falls asleep and sleeps solidly for 2-3 hours. She wakes friendly and happy.

My darling girl skips her nap and she's evil. And so am I. So I scooped her up, asked her if she wanted a diaper, which she rarely uses for naps anymore, and put her in her bed. Here you go, here's your bed, I love you, see you later.

She raged for a bit, as she often does, and then she got quiet, and I thought she'd gone to sleep.

About 10 minutes later I heard the door open. She walked down the hall and said, "I pooped, Mama."

She looked very pleased with herself.

Now, sometimes she will ask for help, and sometimes she will just head off and use the toilet, which is commendable, but she doesn't know how to wipe and quite frankly it's a disaster when she slides off, pulls up her pants, and goes on her merry way.

So I said, "That's terrific! Let me look at your bottom!"

I took her over to her changing table and then I realized...that she'd pooped in her underwear. It was everywhere. And it was vile.

Rage Poop.

She smiled a smug little smile.

She'd taken a rage poop, just like my dog Gloria used to. She'd punish you for going away by pooping in random rooms.

This wasn't an I-was-stuck-and-suddenly-had-to-poop poop. No. This was revenge.

On the one hand, I was practically retching, trying to get her clothes off. I won't get into particulars, but let me pose a question asked by a dear friend of mine in response to my situation: does anyone digest corn?

And on the other hand, I was impressed.

I don't like to think of myself as vengeful, but if I'm being completely honest, I am, at least in my mind. I don't often act on it, but I did consider peeing in the corner of our wedding venue.

I told Nick about it and said, "She's a smarty pants. It's gotta be satisfying revenge. Don't you wish you could do something like that?

And he was all, "What, so you're always going have a little poop saved for later, in case you need it?"

This is why he's considered the practical one.

Actually, I've long wished I could vomit on demand. Sometimes you're in a situation with another person that you kind of loathe. Perhaps a work meeting. Or maybe you bump into someone you worked for years ago, who you genuinely believe to be an agent of the devil. Or what if you were being assaulted?

Wouldn't it be awesome if you could puke on them at will?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When I walk in the dark

When I was 22, I used to walk and run at night in the dark, my awesome chunky yellow Sports Walkman in hand, headphones on.

Usually during the week I'd go to the gym after work, then walk from M Street up to our apartment in Mt. Pleasant, back when it was a marginal neighborhood. I'd do this in the winter at 8 or 9 at night, and not think anything of it. Alone, music on, pitch dark.

I walked everywhere, not thinking about time or...actually, let's just say not thinking.

Once Maude, Lyrae, and I were mincing home at 2 am on a Saturday, and a policeman pulled over and asked where we were going. And then he gave us a ride home.

So I got home around 9:30 last night.

I was working as an extra on a TV show being filmed way up in Maryland (yes, my life is glam when I'm not wiping up food or poop, and I'll totally let you know if a single ear or elbow or strand of hair of mine makes it in a single scene). I knew beforehand that we'd be parking in a big, open lot that we'd be shuttled to, and that we likely wouldn't leave before nightfall.

As it turned out, I was in a group that was let go earlier, so left just before 7 pm, in the light. Nick said 95 traffic would still be horrible, and so I used the opportunity for a little guilt-free browsing at a suburban Target.

So last night, right before Nick was going to take over circling for parking for me, I found a spot pretty close to our house. He called and I told him I'd just parked and would be home in a few minutes.

I was near a shortcut between buildings that leads into our alley. I could've gone through it, down the alley, and into our back door, which would've been a lot shorter. In the daytime I do this. But I walked around.

Our alley is dark, and my friend Becky, whose parking space used to be on the adjoining alley, was mugged there several years ago. At 8 pm, in the late summer light. He took her wallet and her phone and told her get into his car but she convinced him to let her keep her head down and walk away.

She was so smart. "Take the phone, take the money, and I will turn around and walk away right now."

And he let her, thank God.

The alley has been repaved and is less sketchy now, and we all happily note that we no longer see human feces in it, but it's still an alley. In DC.

I got home and Nick was waiting for me, and as we were chatting, he asked why I thought I wasn't chosen to stay for the second scene. I should totally have worn the shirt he'd suggested. I shrugged. And then he noticed I didn't have my wedding ring on. Huh. Why didn't I wear my rings?

And this is what I said: As a man, and a large one who is unlikely to ever be a target, he and I live very different lives.

I didn't want to stay on set. Yes, it would be cool to be in another scene, but I was glad to be let go. Because the parking lot was big, and I was relieved to get there in the light. There were a lot of us, and I didn't expect that they would take us each to our respective cars.

Yes, I could maybe ask someone to walk me to my car, but I didn't know any of the other extras beforehand, and getting walked to one's car is not a certainty.

I deliberately didn't wear my rings because I was anticipating walking through a parking lot in the dark way the hell out somewhere I do not know, and I didn't want to be wearing something sparkly. I suppose I could've worn the wedding ring, but I wear them together.

And in our neighborhood, which I feel comfortable in, even though I was carrying a bunch of heavy bags and it would've been much more expedient to take a shortcut through buildings and the alley, I walked around several blocks. If I'd been farther away, or on a darker street, I'd have stayed in the car and called him to come get me.

"You," I said, "you never have to think about these things. Never."

I was mugged once, years ago.

I was with two guy friends at pitch-dark 4:00 am, in the not-great bus station part of Quito. Our bus came in way earlier than it was supposed to, because the highway from the coast that had been closed had been cleared of a mudslide.  So we were unexpectedly hours early, in the dark. Inky, dimly-lit if lit at all, extremely poor, bad part of town dark.

We started walking to catch a local bus into town. We rounded a dark corner and headed down an even darker street, and suddenly and quietly a big group of guys surrounded us. I think only one of them had a knife, but we were so outnumbered, and had cumbersome backpacks. They threw the three of us to the ground. They grabbed our bags.

I will tell you that from the moment that we realized we were surrounded and that one of them had a knife, I started to scream. And I couldn't stop.

You know how you sometimes dream that something terrible is happening and you can't make a sound? And you never actually know if you can until you're in a situation that calls for it? Turns out I can holler. Holy hell do I have lungs.

They asked me to stop. They told me to stop. They tried to shush me.

I could not. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I was hysterical, and I was loud.They pulled up my shirt, and I screamed some more. The rapist that attacked Maude in our apartment the year prior was fresh in my mind.

They were only looking for a money belt, which I was wearing, and which they took, and then let go of me. I was so relieved.

A taxi pulled up out of nowhere and they ran towards it. My friends got up and chased them, me holding up the rear, shrieking like a banshee. The driver was going to take the guys, he later told us, and then he looked down the road, and saw one white person, a women alone, yelling her head off.

The attackers jumped out and ran. They somehow left my backpack in the back seat.

My forearms and knees wound up massively skinned, which I didn't realize for hours. They healed in weeks, although I think I might still have faint scars on a knee. For years, however, my heart would pound if I had to walk alone at dusk or later. The sound of a footstep nearby made me start.

And ever since then I am careful, oh so careful, when I walk in the dark.