The Uphill Slide

There is always something.


February 16

February 16 is a date to remember. An unfinished story began on that day as did lots of others. A story with reappearing characters in a whole series.

We’re mother and daughter who built a new life as roommates. A woman said we had an opportunity. The same opportunity I had with my son a few years ago. To know each other in a very different context. I think of our conventional Alhambra space as a kinda’ commune in five rooms. I considered offering space to other people. The boyfriend that thankfully I did not since he became a bit of a stalker after the breakup. I hope he figures that shit out before it takes him darker lost places. And then another who lost her habitat. But we are working  on just our own little commune before branching out.

We’re a commune of inequity. There is no utopia that is not just a bit lopsided. I have more concreta to share. Shoes. She took them right off my feet as we dressed for Thanksgiving dinner. Big gold and silver hoops that contradict her usual style. She’s working on an updated style to go with a new job that doesn’t have a uniform.

We’re a work in progress, in constant flux.  Yesterday was Cary’s 28th birthday. I gave her art. The same thing for Christmas and this birthday. A mermaid tattoo on the under forearm and a snake on the calf.

Happy Birthday.


Links In The Chain

It’s a thing now. Checking obituaries on the digital edition of my local newspaper. They only let the casual reader see the first couple of lines without buying a subscription so I switch to the funeral home website for all the details.

Have I become ghoulish or macabre searching for the suddenly dead? No, it’s become my task to look since all those who used to pass on the news to me have become obituaries. I don’t want to be the person asking a friend about a loved one who passed weeks or months ago. I’ve been on both sides of that question. A man asked, “How’s your dad?” weeks after he died. Bluntly I said, “He’s dead.”

Once we didn’t need the obituary to know someone had died. People called. Neighbors took collections for flowers. They took food to the family. I have two keen memories about my Grandmother Claypoole’s three long funeral days. The Swedish meatballs from a neighbor and crying in the church basement before the service. Crying and wanting to stop because public crying was and is not my thing. In the last months of my dad’s surrender to Parkinson’s, a school friend died. Dad said, “We don’t need to talk about that.” He meant death. I went to the funeral a day or two after Christmas. Alone in the back I cried. And wanted to stop. I hadn’t seen her for years.

I looked at the list of the dead yesterday. No one local. On the sidebar were “notable deaths”. Reg E. Cathay with a distinctive voice. Daryle Singletary with songs apropos for me and others. Musical deaths send me to iTunes to listen to their art. Let Her Lie and Too Much Fun. As I wrote I listened to I’d Love to Lay You Down. That sent me to an earlier version by Conway Twitty. Then I was listening to his Tight Fittin Jeans. A favorite song of a friend I haven’t seen for years. I heard her husband was ill. Remembering her brought the memory of her and me and another friend and a kid on a road trip out West. Four females on the road alone. That’s where obituaries take me. To condolences and memory road.


The Story in Photos

I have tens of thousands measured not in numbers now but in gigabytes.

My task is done, for now. Digital photos uploaded to a cloud to safeguard my past if the drive crashes.  Who really will want them though? Who will set up a slide show and remember when I’m gone?

I came up with an indicator of someone’s tangible interest in getting to know you. Do they want to look at old photos and listen to stories from your past? I came up with this after Jacob’s divorce. “Did your ex-wife ever look at all the photos I gave you from your childhood?” I asked.


A couple of years ago on Thanksgiving I was in the home of Jacob’s future wife and later ex-wife looking at photos from her family’s past. The story was not just in the old photos but about how we came to see them that day. They were rescued by chance from the garbage. A family member who was driving by a house where they had once lived saw boxes on the curb. So she stopped. There she found pieces of their family’s history. I was interested in the old pictures because this was the family Jacob would join.

Many years earlier I sat with my second family in a dark kitchen clicking through slides of their earlier years. The years before me. I remember the awkward laugh or maybe it was a laden silence when my husband’s first wife slid onto the screen. It was their wedding. Small like ours. It was part of the family story. And I wanted to know it.

After death I was the curator of my two families’ history in pictures. I sorted and scanned to digital. Then I watched them burn. Except for the oldest and a few sentimental favorites. Later I had regrets for not scanning some slides from my parents’ 1965 People to People tour of Europe. A few photos at Checkpoint Charlie and fat women in skimpy bikinis on the beach at the Black Sea. Moscow and Red Square. Bicycles in Copenhagen. I clearly lacked the insight to know what I would want in the future. And I believed that someday we would go to those places and take our own pictures. Except never at Checkpoint Charlie. C’est la vie!

My recent work was not just uploading. It was cropping. Deleting, even old favorites. What was a memory to keep a year ago had become one to let go. My fiction. Time to put out the garbage.


Just Floating

We took Jacob’s car. His nose hated the acrid smell of cigarettes woven into the fabric. The odor assaults me too and then dissipates from my senses until the next drive.

It was dinner for three. I suggested calling it the birthday dinner a week early. Cary could choose the restaurant, though her choosing has been routine for years. No, this was just family dinner. There will be another celebration though not on the birth day. She’s already planned her special day.

Jacob and Cary were discussing and arguing politics and culture and arrogant customers in the service sector. They are smart and knowledgeable and make me feel less so. They are the generation with their damaged lives, the weight of which could strengthen or destroy.

I heard and didn’t listen. The Trump Show has become alarmingly passé and lost the ability to shock. I’ve hardened against each new outrageous act or tweet or lie or video from a man who craves and creates and cherishes enemies as much or even more than friends. Enemies are fuel. The culture they spoke about was novel to me. Rude customers? They should be cautioned that they are not always right, and they do not have the right to disrespect. It seems that I might have heard and listened but not engaged.

On the drive home, Cary and I spoke of something from the past. When Jacob was in jail. No, he was out then because she had lived with him during outpatient rehab. I had this feeling of dissociation from my life. My words seemed to come from another mouth. They were not the words of the small-town girl who lived a pastoral life. Yet, this was my life, and the words were mine.


Grabbing Hold and Letting Go

Is Facebook an addiction? A troubling feeling that the application is unhealthy for the psyche flows over me. I’m not anti-social or so introverted I don’t want to share a bit of myself. But the heads bowed to the screen? I think I might not like the total if I were to keep count of the number of times I check my account. I don’t like the twinge of the unpopular kid in school whose posts no one likes either.

“How was the movie?” I texted a friend. Her review was on Facebook to reach greater numbers. I didn’t see it. I logged out and removed the app from my phone. Signing in now means opening on my browser and entering a password each time.

Columns of the pro and cons of Facebook have no tipping point. All-in, moderation or cold turkey? My gut growls cold turkey and my brain believes it can control anything. It’s so hard to quit things that are both loved and hated.

What do other people say? I skimmed Jim Carrey’s recommendation to delete our Facebook accounts in protest of Facebook making money from Russian interference in an election. Oh, and sell your stock in the company too. But a writer says we need each other to share our work on this platform and give and receive feedback. My opinions lean more to the emotional.

Should I stay or should I go?


Sex Sells

Or alluding to it. The headline planted a huge protruding penis in my mind positioned on the body of a porn star. Can you see it?

The condom stretched for a super-sized penis was instead stuffed with $7800 street value of heroin. Maybe that penis was actually junior-size because surely super-size would be worth more than that! Was this roll like a burrito? Or more like a hot dog or sausage or cucumber or eggplant? But the journalist chose a burrito to draw you to the border crossing between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora.

Speaking of sex, I started listening to Ladies, We Need To Talk. Cutting edge honesty about things women seldom talk about openly to anyone. We are isolated by our embarrassment. Thinking or fearing we are different from the rest of our gender.

Speaking of sex, a woman sat down next to me at the gym. I had my headphones in but that didn’t stop her from asking for help to adjust her bike. I resigned myself to conversation about Hollywood. Meryl Streep in The Post (haven’t seen it yet). She’s wonderful. Robert Wagner who is again a person of interest in his wife’s death. How romantic I thought their story of second chances. Steven Spielberg. He worked for Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone (I did not know that.) And without an inkling of how we switched, Masters and Johnson. They had sex for science. They were both married. Well, what better reason than sex in the name of research? I speculated they were pioneers but we haven’t come very far in the intervening years. In a lurid and titillating way but not so much in the scientific and open honest way.


Grammy’s Toys

Gray winter weekends suck. But still I prayed like everyone else for Fridays to put an end to school and work even though neither was that bad. And for years Fridays didn’t end my work week, and I complained about that. Then weekends brought the things you lived for.

I’ve changed and the world has. Saturday and Sunday? The world doesn’t stop in unison for rest and play. The day of the week doesn’t change my late-into-the-night bedtime. I do as little on Wednesday as I do on Saturday. The days roll one into another distinguished only by appointments and obligations. It’s just that weekends we are sometimes together all day. Too much togetherness.

I’m not anti-social or a recluse. It’s just an ache to have more than a room of my own. It’s an ache to have the space of a house and a feeling of solitude. A somewhat vague need that was finagled away and maybe that intensifies the ache. But I’m not grandma lying in a bed in  a nursing home pleading “I just want to go home” until I couldn’t stand to hear it one more time. I left my mother to listen.  Nearing her age has brought understanding and fear of helplessness in losing self-determination. She’s not me yet. On the sweet side, grandma went home to die in her dark green house at 138 North Ninth Street in Indiana. Even then I appreciated her ending surrounded by the familiar of her life.

Caleb was an absolute pain in the ass on Sunday. Though he began the day joyous and playful, he became demanding and contrary and obstinate. He sat on the floor screaming as he slid on his butt towards the hall and his mother when I told him to pick up his toys. His mother complained, “You’re a monster today.” He refused to dress to go out with us to a new restaurant in East Liberty. He whined, “I no wanna’ eat.” She got him dressed over protests and squirming and rolling. And his laughing as if this were a game. She put on his shoes. He took them off. We are fighting for control trying to reach compromises and harmony. His mother gave up. Gave in and told me to just go. I did. Not to the restaurant. I took a Sunday drive. The Sunday drive of childhood. The drive that might take our family to Monty’s in West Kittanning—home to a ham barbecue never equaled to memory. My Sunday drive took me to Arby’s. When I got back to the apartment, Caleb was an absolute angel. He was sleeping. Worn by conflict.

While still angelic, his mother left for a meeting. He awoke angry as he looked for her. I had the answer to sooth the monster. My cardboard box of toys. Magical. These small toys stay in my room lest they become ordinary. There’s a big yellow marble and a fidget spinner and large tie-dyed plastic jacks and a wooden Jacob’s ladder. Plastic squishy balls stick to the wall and then slide. Colorful connected blocks twist and turn into shapes. A shrill bone whistle from Serpent Mound and plastic lips that whirled and whirred like fans. Silly putty pulled into thin brittle pieces that stuck to his socks. He entertained himself until her return. He asked for and gave a hug. He showed her the robot he made from twisting blocks. He became a monster again. Refused pajamas. Cried screaming “I no wanna’ go to bed.” I shut my door and his screams soon stopped.


From the Beginning

My grandson was screaming 1•2•3 cannonball. His voice coming through my headphones rousted me from my bedroom. As I walked down the long hallway, he stood with his back to the mantle shouting as he ran and jumped into a mound of pillows and a fat fluffy bedspread in the middle of the living room. The television was playing Dino Dan. I sat down and he came at me. His arms held high in the air with his hands clawed like a big scary monster dinosaur. Roar he screamed at me.

Our voices were at odds trying to top each other. He screamed and talked louder. I spoke and waited to speak between screams. He often interrupts our conversations. Always his turn. This may be the only-child-syndrome or the center-of-attention-syndrome. Or maybe just normal pushing to be heard.

This time I’m relating The Tide Is High. The story made me mad. Texans flooded by the waters of Hurricane Harvey. Not simply  nature. Devastation created by man. So many wrongs traced to man’s inexplicable decisions. Homeowners who didn’t know or understand the import of living on reservoir land that would be opened to the waters of Hurricane Harvey. Homeowners without flood insurance because they didn’t live in a flood plain.

The story unravels to lies of omission and callous disregard and greed trickling to too much trust. Or was it just lack of foresight and oversight? Officials knew and developers knew the threat. Blame was even passed to homeowners who were reportedly warned and didn’t believe. But who could believe that the government would allow developers to build on a reservoir?

The United States government built these dams in the 1940’s but did not buy the entire parcel of land that might be inundated. Why not? No decision-maker alive to answer that. And when developers bought the rest of that reservoir land, why didn’t the government stop that sale? Why did developers ignore the warning on maps? Why didn’t realtors warn homeowners and renters to buy flood insurance? This will be a pass-the-buck fight for homeowners flooded by Hurricane Harvey.

A United States Army Corps of Engineers employee told a reporter before Hurricane Harvey that people complained about water on a soccer field on the privately owned reservoir land. He claims to have told the complainants they lived in a reservoir. They lived in the path of water. Some got the meaning. Some didn’t. But none were Chicken Little translating water on the soccer field as a sign of impending disaster. Then the sky fell.




Feeling Bad?

Writing’s action. Isn’t it?

I’m depressed. I don’t remember how or when it started this time. If I could just find that moment, the reasons, I’d have an action plan. I must do something. Except I can’t. Like a child, I want to run away as the answer but feel trapped. Just saying. Though to say it sounds like complaining and blaming.

Depression is selfish, focusing on self too much. Right? Negativity embraced. Tell me the stories of people who are suffering great pain and losses to give me perspective. I tried that. Doesn’t work.

My son called me on negativity. He had his car stuck sideways in the driveway the other day, stuck so much worse than mine ever was. I wanted to answer in a capital letter text, “Call your father!” But I didn’t. I couldn’t see how it would become unstuck and said so. Jacob said, “Thanks Mom (drawing that name out like he does). You’re so negative.” Was I?

The kid in the tow truck already had it chained up when we went out in the dark cold. He jacked it up a little and pulled. His girlfriend watched from the cab window. They were cute. I could sense their enjoyment of each other riding on calls. He jerked the car free. An expert of the tow. The type of man, person, who could always see a way out.

Take a pill! I do. It doesn’t seem to help. Feeling good once, I wanted to stop. Go drug-free. My doctor, the 6-month confidante, told me to keep taking it until it’s all over. Not life. The divorce I thought would be over by now. I trusted in an even division of our 35 years of coupling. I can’t think of the right word to describe us anymore. I think that’s part of it. Not having words to describe the sudden clarity of my life. And still believing in attributes I shouldn’t.

My doctor knows my stories. I broke down in the office that first time though I didn’t want to. I’m known for stoicism. I’m sure he’s used to people like me, but how uncomfortable to watch patients cry! Sure, it’s all part of the profession; but it must still be unsettling to be or pretend understanding. Even a downer to deal with it regularly. I don’t think his was pretense. He knows divorce won’t be the end for me anyway. He’s met the addict in my life. He’s listened to the story of my son. He offered his own appreciated thoughts on that. I keep going to him though it’s not convenient anymore. Keep the people in your life who get you. Who even try to get you. You’re lucky to have them. Unless you really don’t want someone to get you.

I’m thinking of Gina, the therapist, again. I was done with her. Maybe a booster is needed.

Or just snap out of it.


It Matters

Cary sent me a link. Drug shipments. It was shocking, yet not surprising. We are inundated with stories of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia (and the nation). But can we explain how legitimate business is palpably linked to illegitimate business? How many of the 20 million pills to Williamson WV can be bought on the street? Big money. Roughly $1/milligram I was told. How many milligrams in 20 million pills? Get the calculator!

Have you watched Heroin(e)? How about Heroin Cape Cod? Oxyana? It’s devastating when you’re convinced the addict is winning the battle only to learn that the ending is death. The person is still alive on the screen with a life worth living. And for the ones who are still alive at the end, there is yet hope for celebrations of sobriety. And negativity because addiction always has a grip. Addiction—hanging out, hoping to be welcomed back.

This is a personal story. There are anniversary celebrations. I’m happy as the days pass and hold back shadowy fears. But the taunting voice is never muted. It reminds me not to get too secure. I made such a mistake once and don’t want to be caught off guard again. But I will be. I inevitably let my guard down as time passes.

Do the distributors of this overdose of 20 million pills to one town know the last stop? Ask questions? Follow the chain? Well, lobbyists were hired to castrate the DEA’s efforts to stem that magnitude of flow from distributors. They know.

Following Cary’s text came Too Many Pills on Reveal. Same subject. How Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act advocated by Representative Tom Marino from my state of Pennsylvania performed the work of those lobbyists. He didn’t do us proud; he proved a poor neighbor to West Virginians. And for the podcast, he refused comment. Was it because he couldn’t defend the bill he sponsored? The one that performed the castration? What was offered for the need of such a bill? That the DEA was withholding pain meds from legal sufferers. Sounds good. Sounds valid. People needed their pain pills. And it also sounds a little manipulative and guilt-inducing. Do I want people to suffer in pain?

No, I don’t want them to suffer. But I’ve also listened to a ton of stories of people who became addicts beginning with those pills. So caution and alternatives. But that’s OK because when we tell their stories, we’re sure to start with how it all began innocently with a pain pill. It wasn’t the foolish start of those who just wanted to escape other life pain or the cheap party thrill. Except it doesn’t really matter how it starts, because it ends the same.

Shutting down the flow doesn’t stop addiction. It’s just a step in the labyrinth. Let’s not pretend we buy into reasoning the this bill was in support of people in pain or that all those pills are being filled with legitimate prescriptions.