20 years

I am drunk. Well, I have had 1 and 1/2  bottles of wine, and I am tipsy. And perhaps the best thing that can be said for me in this state is that mostly I just apologize for being human and express my gratitude for having someone like William in my life. I would be in bed with him right now (he has to get up early, and midnight is late for him), but I am sitting in the back yard, in the dark, hoping to catch some of the Perseid light show promised tonight. A couple of shooting stars so far, but not much else. I’m in the city. *shrugs*

We sat together and talked a bit about the past and the future. The past is a done deal, and we don’t regret any of it. The future could be alright. The present is hardly worth discussing, except to the extent that we apologize to each other and hope/promise to be better. We do our best to be kind to one another.

I wear my Nana’s wedding ring on my left ring finger, and though I am larger than her in every conceivable (physical) way, the ring slides up and down my bony finger like nothing. I don’t know what it means to have committed to something this long. I am restless and aggravated.  William watches me, wondering why I stay when I feel this way. And I stay, knowing that this will pass. That I made the right decision 20 years ago. Some stars will shoot across the sky, and others will flicker and stay.

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I am sitting on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by tiny things that have needed my attention since we moved in here a year ago, crying. The last time I felt this way (fourteen years ago), I was in the depths of (retroactively recognized) postpartum depression. and now, like then, all I want to do is hold onto myself tight and rock until this passes. It doesn’t feel like there is anything I can do, and I don’t want to talk to anybody I’m not already talking to about it. And I am so, so tired of performing, but I also don’t know what it would look like or what it would mean to step out of the performance. And I guess I am writing about it now because I don’t know what else to do except wait. This passes the time, a little. That’s all I’ve got, strategy-wise, for now.

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I find the bodies

IMG_1183Our hedgehog Arthur died this week. We buried him yesterday in a shady spot on the side of the house. There’s a stone ring around the tiny mound of earth that he’s displaced. I’ll go today to get some kind of shade-loving flowering plant and a pinwheel. What I admired most about him was his commitment to running on that wheel and to stopping immediately if we caught him at it.

He was never going to live very long. We knew that when we got him. African Pygmy hedgehogs only live 3-5 years (Arthur was two-and-a-half.), and, honestly, the first thing I did every morning and the last thing I did every evening was look into his cage on my way up or down the stairs and make sure that he was still alive. He was such a tiny, determined little thing, and I was always astonished (and relieved) that his body was still working.

Only, Wednesday, it wasn’t.

When I looked into his cage on my way up the stairs, I thought he was laying down funny. You wouldn’t think something like that would be obvious or set off alarm bells, but when you’ve watched someone sleep every day for two-and-a-half years, I guess you develop expectations for how the activity should look. When I pulled the covers off of him, I saw that he was covered in poop and blood. I put on some rubber gloves and gave him a bath. There weren’t any surface injuries, but his belly was covered in red splotches that were a dark purple around his armpits, and when he stretched out in my hands to try (weakly) to turn over, I saw a lump under his left jaw. There was no way to notice it in any other position.

Apparently 90% of hedgehogs who live past 2 years develop cancer of some sort. Lymphoma can speed quickly through a hedgehog’s tiny body. By the time you see the lump, the disease has already taken over.

When Merlin and I went to say goodbye to him at the vet, he perked up a little to see her. He tried to burrow into the crook of her elbow, and I thought, maybe…  but when we set him down, his front paws couldn’t support him, and as he tried to push himself forward, they folded underneath him.

Throughout the day, I agonized over the timing of things, as if there were a better or worse time to tell Merlin, a better or worse time to say goodbye. I guess in a situation like this, it’s normal to want to try to control some part of it. And I think about how surprised and unhappy I am, even though I suspected every day that I would eventually be the one to find his body not working, just like Haggis, and Whisky, and innumerable pet fish. It’s considerably easier to bury an 8oz hedgehog than a 100 pound dog. Only not really.

In response to my small tragedy, a friend said that she and her husband were just talking the other day about all the things that having a pet teaches us. I knew what she meant, but I’m not quite ready to see it this way. There’s something about the surprise and fragility of life – the weirdness and wonder that it works at all – that fills me with the strangest emotion. I don’t know if I can ever learn it.

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April Snow

a picture of a leafless bush covered in April snowIt’s hard to describe the SoulDread that snow on the ground in April provokes in me. I went to bed watching the silent drifting flakes, so it’s not like it was a surprise to wake up this morning to the icy white blanket covering the lawn, the car, the crocuses.

I get a little burst of energy – not the kind you get when you’re excited about Christmas morning snow (magical) or the kind you get when you wake up to school is cancelled snow (joy) – but a kind of frenzied, last stand, scattered energy. The kind I imagine one gets in the moments between making an unfortunate decision and realizing that it is probably going to end you. All the molecules are busy, but uncoordinated. It doesn’t matter where you put your energy, your focus, it’s always already gone horribly wrong.

This doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a sense-making kind of feeling.

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This is how it works

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 11.55.40 AMMerlin had a bad day this week, and I had a bad day as a result. It’s a weird feeling, that vicarious angst. It reminds me how grateful I am to be 40 and not 15. It reminds me that I can’t solve other people’s problems. It reminds me that I’m connected to people in ways that I can’t fully control. It reminds me that I have a presence that evokes itself when I’m not there – and so does she. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that, sometimes, but I’m always grateful and surprised by evidence of it.

Epic poetry assures us that grief shared is grief lessened. It’s a koan. The division is meant to make the burden lighter, but it also spreads it. Does division make more or less? Or is there something else at work?

Everything in a teen’s life is worthy of epic poetry. This drama necessitated a series of texts and an emergency meeting between classes, a short counseling session, a bit of discourse analysis, and a plan of action for a variety of anticipated events the next day. Did I counsel wisely? poorly? Did my presence even matter in this situation, which I was no part of? This is the stuff of Shakespeare. And systems theory.

Did you know that heart muscle cells will continue to beat in time with the heart they are removed from? I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve harvested and transplanted my heart in several places. I wonder how they’re doing – so far from me. I wonder how I’m doing – so far from them. Evidence suggests that I can’t really help the people right here with me. We all fight our own battles. But I want you to know that I evoke your presence in your absence, that even in my distraction, my heart beats in time with you.

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I want to post!

IMG_1276I want to post, I want to post, I want to post!

I have so much going on right now. I’m also utterly exhausted.

Gavin had outpatient surgery to repair a hernia yesterday. He’s doing well.

I had my wisdom teeth out three weeks ago. Dry sockets and nerve damage. Pretty annoying. Apparently, I “put up with it a lot longer than most people.”

I’ve had natural childbirth – twice. Kidney stones, flesh-eating bacteria, and now wisdom tooth extraction with dry sockets and nerve damage. In every instance, I stayed away from hospitals as long as possible, and then the pain relievers (including straight-up morphine, which I apparently have an atypical reaction to) that they tried to give me have done little good. I don’t think I understand pain scales.

I’ve forgotten the pain of childbirth. The pressure, the sounds, the joy, surprise, and terror – they are all still there, but the memory of the pain is completely gone.

Morphine was useless against the pain of kidney stones, but the duration was short.

I was ready to let them cut off my arm with the flesh-eating bacteria, the pain was that intense, and morphine was of limited use – it made me feel like I was choking, and it distracted me only to the extent that I actively cooperated. I had to lay down and think about sleeping to make it work. Otherwise, the pain buzzed in my arm, a smiling menace waiting for me to lose focus.

So here I am. Swelling around my teeth,  a week or so of denial, thinking the pain was just what I deserved for being alive and happy and insured. Then the news that I should have been complaining days before, should not have been drinking myself into oblivion, should not be taking three pills every three hours to attempt to function.


They are taking the last set of dressings out (I sincerely hope) on Friday. The swelling is (mostly) gone. The pain is – who knows? – tolerable. The nerve damage is – maybe? – permanent.

I don’t even know what to think anymore.

What I do know is that unless someone decides to kidnap and torture me for my superior knowledge, I have experienced several of the most painful events that a person can *naturally* encounter, and I am here to tell you: wisdom teeth are the worst.

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The weird thing about snow is how quiet it can be. I’ve been watching the forecasts with interest all week because we are supposed to have some of the coldest temperatures on record  - apparently it’s the result of a polar vortex. So they’ve been telling us all week that it is going to be bad, but when I got up this morning, everything seemed okay. The snow didn’t howl or beat at the windows demanding to be let in. It drifts. And drifts. And drifts. It accumulates, blankets, insulates, smothers.

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We drove through the aftermath of some pretty serious storming today. We passed eight cars in ditches and two semi trucks that had jack-knifed before sliding off the highway. Our eight hour trip took closer to thirteen, but the highways were mostly clear, and it only snowed on us through Kentucky. It was odd driving through the swirling white; the winds were so strong that it felt like we were driving through a shaken snow globe. Now we are home, and I am compulsively taking down Christmas and cleaning, getting ready for the new semester.

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Leaving is always strange. This trip, we left mealworms, an inhaler, a flash drive, part of a phone charger, a  mystery toy (got a text that we left one, have no idea what it is), and presents that arrived in San Antonio on the day we left Austin. Leaving things behind is supposed to mean that you want to return. It’s always such a blur. Now we are headed home, which we left 13 days ago, and though I would love more time with more people and more time with the Texas sun and sky, I’ll be glad to be home and back to the people and things I left there.

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