Monday, February 19, 2007

Life's scars

"We're running late, Mouth." My mother's voice crackled, indicating the car she was calling from was closer to her home in the country than mine in the city. Towers, after all, can only cast clear signals so far.

"How late?" I asked, eyes darting to the clock on top of my refrigerator.

"We'll be there in an hour and fifteen minutes."

"Are you in the car?"




"You'll be here in 35 minutes."

"Alright. Well, we're on our way."

I hung up the phone, sighing. I remember a voice in my head, a year ago.

"Don't be dramatic, Mo. It'll pass. You don't really want to give up your family." L had said that to me, sipping a drink he'd fallen back into after 10 years of sobriety, sitting across a table we'd come to argue over like a judge's bench a few weeks later.

Months later, by another more settled voice rang clearly:

"I can't believe you tolerate it."

-I can't, either- my heart cried.

They picked me up from home, all bluster and noise, disturbing the quiet peace in my apartment.

"Let's go!" mother cried, flipping her sunglasses off. "Are you ready?"

"I've been ready for hours." I sat in a wing chair in my living room, my book in my lap, my packed suitcase at my feet.

"Oh." Mother looked deflated. "Well, get loaded up, then. Where's the cat?"

"In the bedroom." I knew what was coming.

"Well, go get him."

"Mother, it's six degrees outside. I'm going to be in the hospital for hours. You cant leave him in the car."

"You don't think he'd be okay with a blanket?" I raised my eyebrows. We'd gone through this same dance earlier in the week. "Oh, alright. We'll come back for him."

On the way to the hospital, both Jenny and mom complained about how hungry they were. "It's lunchtime," mother announced. Neither one of them seemed to remember that they'd had a full breakfast only hours ago, and that I hadn't eaten since dinner the evening before. "Oh, I can't wait. I'm getting sick to my stomach!" Mother tore into a pre-packed BLT in the backseat.

After I got to the hospital and got checked in, the nurse asked if I wanted my family to join me in the pre-op room. "Honestly?" I chuckled, then shook my head. "It's alright. Send them in."

-They need to see you- I told myself. -Nevermind the noise.-

Mother immediately began fussing with the blankets, asking over and over if I was warm enough, bumping my IV and snagging the tubes on the pressure monitors. Jenny sat in a chair, visibly stirring some internal pot. Finally, mother sat down. It took only a moment for Jenny to pounce.

"I've been going to group. I've been going to group twice a week. We all had to write letters to our families." She began fishing in her bag. "I wrote one for mommy, and one for daddy, and I wrote one for you."

"Jen, do we have to do this right now?"

My mother looked up from her magazine long enough to chastise me. "Oh, Mouth, stop. It's a nice letter. The least you can do is read it."

Jenny stuffed the letter in my hand. I worked my way down the page, deciphering child-like handwriting saying how much she admired me, and how much she is inspired by me. The last sentence hung like grease dropping from the bottom of the page:

"You love me and never gave up on me."


Guilt wielded like a weapon. Guilt that was used to pin down, to hold, to restrain. Guilt that shackled me to a life I didn't want, and refused to accept. I smiled at Jenny. "Thank you," I said. -Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for letting me see, one more time, that you'll never change, because you don't want to.-

I heard his voice in my head. "I don't accept guilt I didn't earn." I'd read that same line in the book he gave me, which was resting on my chest like a plate of armor.

"You know, Mo, I need your support now more than ever. I know you don't believe me that I didn't mean any of it, the cancer and all that. I'm sick, you know. The voices. I know you don't agree with the medication, and I know you don't believe I'm really sick, but I am."

"I don't want to talk about it, Jenny. I'm not going to say anything you want to hear."

"But I need to know you're going to be there for me! I need to know you're going to be there even if I have to go back to the hospital. I need to know you'll be there no matter what."

"I won't."

"What do you mean you won't? You weren't there the last time because we were fighting, but we're not fighting now! Why wouldn't you come?"

"Because I refuse to support your self-destruction."

"It's not self-destruction! It's part of the healing process!"

I eyed her arms, and her jean-clad legs. "Taking a razor blade to yourself is part of your healing process?"

"I make mistakes. I'm not perfect like you," she snapped. "If I can only stay out of the hospital for six months..." she trailed off.

"You can, but I'm not sure that you will, and I'm no more likely to visit you the next time than I was the last time."

"Why are you so terribly mean?"

"Because I'm laying in a hospital bed connected to machines, hoping to God and anything that will listen that when I wake up, the doctor will tell me everything's okay. Because I refuse to accept steps backwards as progress. Because I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear, just because it makes you more comfortable. I've told you I have nothing nice to say on the subject. Now, we can talk about this later if you'd like, but I would really appreciate it if you'd leave it alone for now. You'll have me trapped at mom's house as a captive audience all weekend. Surely it can wait until then."

"Now girls, let's not fight," mother jumped in, after the argument was obviously over to all parties involved.

Just before Jenny's mouth twisted open to lob another missile, the anesthesiologist peaked around the corner. "All ready to go, Miss Mouth?" I could see in his eyes that he'd heard it. I smiled weakly, both in embarrassment and in thanks.

"Yeah. I'm ready." He and three male nurses each took a corner of my bed, and wheeled me away from Jenny's steely glare.

"Wanna take a nap?" he laughed down at me.

"More than you can imagine," I sighed, watching him compress the plunger into my IV line.

I awoke to a militeresque post-op nurse barking orders for painkillers, telling me to sit up but not too far, take deep breaths but not move my abdomen, and try not to vomit. The doctor came by after I was awake enough to string two sentences together.

"That mass in your ovary? It was scar tissue. I removed it, but any idea where it came from?"

"Life," I snorted.

After an hour of recovery, they released my shaky, still-groggy body to my mother and sister, who whisked me into the car and headed back to my apartment. I vaguely remember laughing in half-sleep at my mothers report that my 'stupid cat' had peed on her when she tried to take him to the car.

I came to full consciousness somewhere between the glittering towers of the city and the rolling hills around my parents' farm. "There you are. What do you want for dinner?"

"I don't know, mother. I don't care. What's convenient?"

"Anything you want!" My mother beamed.

"Okay. What's thawed out?"

She thought for a moment. "Well... nothing."

"So there's nothing thawed out, but I can have anything I want?" Mother's mouth twisted in a humorless snarl.

"I didn't mean it like that. Look, we're about to drive through a town. There's food places there. Pick one."

I sighed and requested a tasteless glob of soyburger in a styrofoam box from any of the chains along the side of the highway. I remembered my dad asking me three weeks prior what I wanted, so they could grocery shop and have it ready when I got there. I'd listed two or three meals that were favorites of mine, and that the rest of the family enjoyed. Cardboard-packed fast food wasn't on the list.

We ate in silence, Jenny using her knees in an attempt to keep the car between the lines, cussing and making obscene gestures at the other cars who honked at her when she crossed the yellow center mark. I realized I was holding my breath as we crossed a narrow bridge that spanned a busy train-track.

"Doug's there," she said to me.

"Okay..." I wasn't sure where she was going with it.

"So we've got the couch all made up," she spat through her burger-stuffed mouth, "for you."

For... me?

Months ago, I'd sent my bedroom suite to my mother's house at her request, because she'd volunteered her home for entertaining family over Thanksgiving, but realized after the fact that she didn't have beds for all the bodies that were attending. Mr. M had come up over that weekend, as well. We'd slept on two twin mattresses pushed together in my bedroom floor.

She said she'd wanted to keep the bedroom set, "for when you visit, Mouth." My visits out to the farm were becoming less and less frequent. The twin mattresses are now stacked on one another in a corner in my room. I'm still sleeping on them.

"Is your friend coming out this weekend?"

"Pea? Yes." I didn't ask where he would sleep. I knew they didn't know.

Three nights, I slept on the sofa. Two of those nights, Pea slept by my side, curled in fetal position on a love seat. Sunday morning, I awoke to my family standing in the kitchen yelling at one another about whether or not they were going to church. Embarrassed, I turned my face away. Pea was woken up by the commotion, too. He was watching me.

I looked into his dark eyes, and saw an emotion I detest - Pity.

I stood up and started shoving clothing into my suitcase. Pea readily followed suit.

"What are you doing?" my mother asked.

"Packing," I answered.

"Where are you going?" asked my father.

"Home," I answered.

"I thought you were staying all weekend?" My sister demanded.

"I'm going home to sleep in my own bed, in my own home, with my own food and my own clothes, where it's quiet and I can rest."

My family blinked at me. Suddenly, as if called to action, they began bustling around, going through the motions of helping me pack and get ready to go. In reality, they were moving things from place to place, with no progression towards the car.

They each hugged me in turn, admonishing me to take it easy, to rest, to call if I needed anything. The unspoken, already-broken promise hung silently in the air - call if you need anything, but don't expect us to answer.

And so I'm home, and healing - in more ways than one. I told Pea I wanted to change my name, move, and start over. I don't know that I'll do it. I only know that I don't want to go back.

The fear associted with the past months has been like an alarm clock screaming in my soul. "Wake up!" it's saying. "Wake up and live!"

And that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Moolah & Smooches

The flowers and candy passed around this time of year are nice, but I'm still not buying into the V-day hype. Why should some obscure day in the middle of February be touted as the most romantic day of the year? Why , today, are men and women alike willing to drop a couple hundred bucks doing something special for their other half, when any other day of the year they'd sniff that it's too expensive, or takes too much time.

Why, for so many people, is a "good" Valentine's day associated with the price tag attached to it?

I remember last year's elaborate plans gone awry. I remember how mortified L was that things didn't work out, and how concentrated he was on doing something nice for me, because I'd had such a rough time the months before that. I also look back at the plastic poppy on the chipped laminate table, the hot, steaming buffet line stuffed full of chinese food, and remember it as the best Valentine's day I'd ever had.

The Waiter, from commented on the vicious weather we're having in this part of the country:

"The horrible weather the Northeast and Midwest experienced today meant many couples stayed home and had candlelight dinners– and that’s because they’re snowbound and without power! I’m sure nine months from now the maternity wards will be hopping."

Gets me thinkin about how many sideline markets could jump on the Free Love bandwagon. Why should florists, chocolatiers, French restaurants and Hallmark get all the dough? Think of it:

Pet stores: They could start selling fish to empty-headed up-and-coming yuppies trying to Woo that girl from accounting into a white picket fence. How sweet! And after the wedding, as the husband flushed the bloated, floating fish body down the john, nobody would mention that the fish survived longer than their love did.

Cel phones: little pink and red mini-phones that only work for a 24 hour period. Instead of ringing, they would erupt with annoying little pull-cord voices asking, "Will you be mine?" and proclaiming "I love you!" Usage would run $14 per minute. The cost of the phone? $140. How romantic.

Credit Cards: The Valentine Visa! It would come with cute little haulographic hearts all over the front of it, which you could special order in 14 different designs (additional fees apply, of course).

Now if I can just figure out how to market a Valentine's Day car....

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


"I'd like to cook you dinner on Valentine's day," he said.

"Um, Pea? You don't cook." I smiled. He cringed.

"All the same, I'd like to make you dinner."

"We'll see." That was three days ago.

Last night, I stayed up late baking a beautiful four-layer chocolate/strawberry cake with pink frosting. This week, two of the gals at work had birthdays, and somehow I've been nominated as the official birthday-cake maker. The idea was to swirl white frosting around the base and stick little conversation hearts in it. Gravity, apparently, had other plans.

Did you know that if you forgot to frost the cake to the stand, then tip it at a 45 degree angle to frost the side, the cake will slip off the stand and onto the countertop? Did you know that said cake will also bounce, breaking in half, and that the spongier half will careen to the floor and land on your foot, decorating it in lovely black and pink cakey crumbles? Did you know that cats like pink vanilla frosting?

These are the things I discovered.

I got over it, of course. Eating nearly the entire portion that could be salvaged from the countertop helped.

Fast forward to the following morning, after I finally came down from the sugar high and got to bed. I got a call from the downstairs security desk. "Ma'am, you have a delivery down here."

No one had mentioned sending me flowers, but my dad had called that morning to wish me a happy Valentine's day, so I thought maybe they were from him. He does that sometimes.

Instead, Pea was standing in the lobby in full winter garb, carrying a sack of books and puzzles, and a fistfull of daisies. The books, of course, were naughty, and the flowers were gorgeous.

Despite the sudden joy of my special delivery, I spent the remainder of the afternoon periodically hugging the toilet in the ladies' room. Nerves, I'm sure, but it certainly didn't make the experience any more pleasant.

Tonight, Pea and I took it easy. We decided to forgo the fancy restaurants or an elaborate dinner at home, and opted instead for fast food burgers and fries in bed, watching a DVD on my laptop. Nothing fancy, but it was exactly what I wanted.

The calm of today helped alleviate some of the trepidation associated with tomorrow. Wish me luck?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

30 minutes - 30 lies

It was 6 degrees when I walked in to work this morning. Six degrees.

As in six degrees above zero.


Yeah. Cold.

Typically, the sun would be up and the birds would be out chirping. Icicles would sparkle like glass ornaments on leaf-bare trees. I'd pass the other city people I see every day, walking the opposite way into work. I'd walk under the wind chime, three stories up, hanging outside some one's window. I walk under that wind chime every day. It's just the perfect pitch - that happy, light, melodic tinkle that brings a smile to your lips and adds a spring to your step.

This morning, the chimes were frozen together. The birds were nowhere to be heard or seen. The city people all had their faces covered, trying to protect their eyes and ears from the blistering wind.

This morning, I felt like I was making a death march into Hell frozen over.

It isn't that I don't like my job - the job is fine. I make enough money to pay my bills, I work in an office at a desk and I don't have to clean somebody else's bathroom or say, "Do you want fries with that?" to put food in my mouth. It's somewhat dead-end, and I certainly don't intend to spend the next decade of my life holding down that desk, but it's doing a fine job of getting things settled before I dive back into school.

The problem, of course, as with any low-end cubicle job, is the people. People hired in off the streets (yeah, just like me) without a college education (yeah, just like me) who can't form a proper sentence without saying "ain't" or forcing a double-negative (not-so-much like me). People who don't bathe every morning. People who are missing their teeth. People who's idea of "business casual" is stretching the 1970's polo they wore in high school over their protruding beer belly. "People" people.

I've been asking my boss for months now about getting some extra training. I have an idea what I'd like to do and where I'd like to go, and although I don't intend to stay with the company forever, I intend to stick with it for a few more years - certainly long enough for them to utilize whatever new-found skills I may acquire in the near to immediate future.

"After tax season" she keeps telling me. She's been telling me this since November. Finally, one of the big-wigs in an office across town decides our whole division needs a bout of training. Finally, my pleas of, "I've got to learn something new or I'm going to go insane," were heard (or at least executed, albeit without registration). Finally!

So the boss comes up with the training schedule. Everybody is supposed to be set up for two separate days of training, one month apart, so as not to leave the entire department without bodies to do the work. The training I'm scheduled for, unfortunately, are things I already know how to do. I mention this to her, and remind her of the things I've been asking to learn for going on three months now.

"Yeah, that's not really what we had in mind. After tax season. Guess that means I can cancel your training days, huh?"

And I can't post out until March 28th.

I thought we abolished slavery like, a century or so ago. What do I know?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Fresh Air

Pea and I are laying in bed, quietly enjoying listening to the conversation of two drunken revelers outside my windows. Suddenly, I get that tell-tale rumbling in my gut. That bubbling, unmistakable pressure in the lower abdomen. I'm gonna rip one, and there's no holding it back.

I shift and turn, trying to adjust, trying to pinch tight enough to keep a seal. It's no use - the dams break. The tiniest hint of a toot leaks out, and I'm absolutely mortified. I hold my breath and wait for the laughter.

Pea doesn't utter a sound. Seconds stretch into minutes - minutes stretch into eternity. Finally, Pea makes a sound - he snores. He was asleep the whole time.

The problem, of course, is that the miniature release offered no relief to my overall problem. Now I'm faced with a much larger issue: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding through my intestines, and I've got a boy nestled into my shoulder, sleeping soundly. I can't conceivably sneak out of bed without disturbing him, and there'll be no release if I don't do something. Time is of the essence, of course - eventually, the sea will fold in on itself and swallow the Pharaoh's army.

I wiggle just a little. Pea grunts. I wiggle a little more. He sniffles a little and rolls half-way off me. Success!

Sort of.

I try to carefully slide my arm out from under his head, but he whimpers and digs his fingertips into the covers, holding on tighter. The horsemen's hooves beat steadily towards the light of day, and I hear imaginary alarms going off in my head. Time's up.

My gentle nudging becomes an abrupt drop. Pea rolls over and starts snoring again. I'm free. I shoot into the bathroom, grasp the countertop for support, and let 'er rip.
Thing is, I don't think men actually feel this way. I mean, sure, on a first or second date they might avoid horking and snotting and the release of toxic fumes, but somewhere around the one-month mark, they seem to let go of all pretense. Suddenly, you come home to a man laying nearly naked on your sofa in two-day-dirty BVD's with one finger in his belly button and one finger in his nose.

Women, on the other hand, are expected to be pretty and feminine and all rosey-smelling delicacy. God forbid we should get ahold of a bowl of Tex's Killer Chili for lunch.

We do, though. Oh boy do we! I guess we'll let that be another one of our dirty little secrets, though. We'll describe the ins and outs of our mensus, go into an in-depth discussion on acne, but the functions of our back-side junction are strictly off-limits.

So much for equal rights. Ah, well...