Author of Breasts Don't Lie

What Mom Taught Me About Love

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No one can say that us kids had an easy time of it when my parents were married. They were bitter enemies sniping at each other across trenches filled with their children. Daily we were hit with shrapnel. But we tried to love each other – each in our own way – distorted, ugly, and always with a bitter wariness.

One of the days that I felt the most loving towards Mom was an Autumn afternoon in Mobile. My parents had been divorced for three years, and we were living in a rental complex of townhomes. The townhomes were okay – close to most of what we needed, Mom had the only car. A Ford Pinto station wagon that surprisingly never exploded. The three of us kids rode the bus to school and hitched rides to what we needed. In a pinch, we could call a cab. Mom had set that up for emergencies.

That warm afternoon, I walked back from high school. The front yards in the complex were green, and some of the renters had planted pansies around their doors. The splotches of color drew my gaze until the put-putting sound of the pinto came into earshot.

I looked up to see my mother in the car with her boyfriend, a man from New Orleans that I had not liked, not been especially kind about, or really paid any attention to apart from the brushed-off idea that maybe, yuck, my mother was having sex with him. I was seventeen, and the thought of my 43-year-old mother doing it was disgusting.

Through the windshield, I saw them. He was driving, but his other hand was draped across her shoulders. His hand brushed her hair. She smiled at him and took a bite from the orangey paper of a MacDonald’s hamburger in her hand. The car ambled at a sedate pace down the road. I watched them, starting to dredge up the dislike I had for the man. But I couldn’t do it. Something in me grew up, Mom hadn’t smiled in a long time. She was smiling up at him, and he was smiling back. They were happy.

Something clicked for me that day. I wanted Mom to be in love and happy like that as much as possible. She had been miserable most of her life. There was enough adult in me that I could wish her love’s happiness.

I wish I could say that I was graceful and good-natured about the relationship after that incident. No. I was still a narcissistically and empathically challenged teenager who wanted things her way, but gradually something loosened. My younger siblings did not see things my way, and she ended the relationship. A year before she died, she told me that he was the love of her life.

Now when I see people smiling, happy, in love, I want to clap. Hoorah. You did it. Great job.

This Valentine’s day, let’s celebrate each other’s relationships.

Share your heart.

(Image by http://www.morguefile.com)

What We Learn

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My mother taught me to put a baseball bat by the bed, every night.

“Security,” she said.

I developed a good swing and love the sound of wood connecting.

“Safe.”

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Around each new year, I think about something I want to continue into the next twelve months. 2018 was a year of pain and transition – some of it graceful but mostly serious and strained. In 2019, I want to return to the goofy, crazy woman I was in graduate school. Renew my belief in myself. And the easiest way to do that is with the backing of friends.

This is what I mean:

In the middle of graduate school, my then-husband ran off with a younger woman. Not such an unusual event except I was barely twenty-seven and she was barely legal. For six months, I lived on my friend’s couch in a dorm at NCSU. The couch unfolded into a horrible bed with two bars placed in the exact intervals to cause me the most pain. Also, the mattress sagged to such a degree that if I didn’t wedge my feet against a bar, I slid down the middle of the mattress and onto the floor. Which happened a few times until I got the wedging perfect. But it didn’t matter.

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My friend and I had a blast rampaging through the dorms that summer. All the residents had taken off. Slime coated the building’s walls – that didn’t stop us. We moved the furniture into the middle of the room. We took turns going to 8 am classes. The other person slept in. When we had the money, we ate chicken wings at eleven o’clock at night – the joint across the street delivered. We grilled on a hibachi on the front steps of a century-old building.  I sported an Annie Lennox flat-top, and people kept asking about my sexual orientation, including one professor – yick. My friend tried for the wild child award – she got close.

We had each other’s back. We brought out the strength in each other. Like the time we heard a noise late at night. Really late on a July night when the university had closed up for the summer. The whole Quad was dark. Trees and buildings blended in the inky dark. Not another person within yelling distance. All 97 pounds of my friend took up the only weapon, a bat, gave it a good swing, and handed me a tennis racket with broken strings. She told me to lob the intruder down the hall and she’d bash the person into submission. This was pre-cell phone days, and we had forgotten to pay the BellSouth bill. We checked each room, always stalking into the hall to check on each other. We never found where the noise came from, but we checked it out – bat and racket in hand. Two brave and slightly foolish young women cracking jokes in the dark. After the adrenaline wore off, we ordered some chicken wings. It was a stellar night.

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I want that woman back. She’s still in me somewhere. I want the chutzpah, the adventurous life that’s messy but feeds my heart and soul. That’s my goal for 2019.

To every woman in 2019, may you unearth the glorious and slightly dangerous woman inside you! For everyone else, be friends with the creative, foolish, brave, and messy women in your life. They’ll have your back. You’ll laugh together.

Time for chicken wings.

(Images by pexels.com and morguefile.com)

 

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  • Don’t cry. No one wants to see you cry again. You cried enough – a river, an ocean. Nowadays, the hostess seats you behind plants and screens in most of the restaurants in town. They remember. The relationship lasted only six months and although you thought he was your soul mate, he married someone else. With fake boobs. Real hair. Don’t judge him by judging her, or at least, not where anyone else can hear. DO NOT CALL EVERY FRIEND, GOING OVER EVERY LITTLE DETAIL UNTIL THEY STOP TALKING TO YOU FOR A YEAR LIKE BACK THEN.
  • Don’t drink your coffee. Using both hands, put your coffee on another table. I know you met in this coffee shop but it’s for the best. If you try to drink your coffee, your hands will shake, spilling it down yourself. If you put it on your table, you’re sure to knock it over. Big embarrassment, big mistake. Save yourself the grief. There was grief enough in the relationship with all its messiness and financial consequences. YOU’VE JUST STOPPED JUMPING EVERY TIME THE DOOR OPENS, THINKING YOU’LL POSSIBLY GET A GLIMPSE OF HIM WITH ANY OF HIS GIRLFRIENDS OR HIS WIFE – ALL BLONDE, EXCEPT YOU, AND THIN, EXCEPT YOU. NO, YOU DON’T NEED TO SEE A CARDIOLOGIST.
  • Don’t ignore him. That never worked when you were together. It won’t work now. Be civil and say hello. Everyone in the coffee shop is watching and this is your moment to shine (and possibly shake his and most people’s perception of you as a crazy psycho bitch). YOU ACTED BATSHIT CRAZY FOR SOME TIME – THE LAURA-ASHLEY-GIRLY PHASE FOLLOWED BY THE I’M-NOT-BATHING SHINDIG CULMINATING IN THE BURYING-A-SHOE RITUAL.
  • Don’t flirt. He knows all your moves. YOU EVEN TURNED UP AT HIS ‘EST-IN-THE-21ST-CENTURY’ CULT GRADUATION, ELBOWING A YOUNG WOMAN OUT OF THE WAY SO THE FIRST THING HE SAW UPON ENLIGHTENMENT WAS YOU, MORE NAKED THAN DRESSED HOLDING A WILTED DAISY. He’s moved on. You haven’t but that’s not his problem. And now you look like a cry-baby skank. You may not be able to avoid him but you can avoid the label of incompetent homewrecker!
  • Don’t ask him if he’s ill or lost weight or heaven forbid, both. Embrace your delusions and chalk it up to him missing your burnt cheese toast. A staple of your time together. He’s just grown older. Like you. Don’t look in the mirror behind the barista. So not the time to do the fearless, personal inventory or book a facelift. DO NOT LOOK TOO CLOSELY AT HIS FACE – HE COULD ALWAYS GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING, TALK YOU INTO BELIEVING ANYTHING – WHEN YOU LOOKED AT HIS FACE.
  • Don’t, please don’t, tell him about the shrine you dedicated to him, complete with a pair of his unwashed boxers and a crusty plate. Or how you haven’t cleaned his footprint off the wall since the crazy sex haze one Sunday afternoon fifteen summers ago. THE SUNDAY AFTERNOON WHEN IT FELT LIKE EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO WORK OUT. THEN THE SUCKER PUNCH A WEEK LATER WHEN THE WAITRESS TOLD YOU ABOUT THE LATE-NIGHT CANOODLING WITH THE BLONDE. He’ll think you haven’t had good sex since he left you, and hopefully, that’s not true. Remember, you sold that house and the footprint is someone else’s problem.
  • Don’t touch your hair. Too late now to do anything with it and it will look like you’re flirting (see #4). He’s seen you through good and bad hair days. He didn’t break up with you because of your hair. He broke up with you because he wanted to sleep with someone else. And he did as soon as you were out of the picture. You know this because you snuck over to his house one night after the break-up, hid in the hydrangeas, and eavesdropped for three hours. THEN DIDN’T LEAVE YOUR HOUSE FOR A MONTH. Don’t make an appointment with your hairdresser. Now is not the time to experiment with that asymmetrical cut that will be hell to grow out.
  • Don’t engage him in any personal conversation. Especially do not tell him about reading the book, ‘Women who love too much’ or its companion, ‘Men who can’t love.’ Do not tell him about the decade of therapy and how you’re only now able to see men with black labs without needing medication. Do not show him your medication. CHECK THE EXPIRATION DATE AND IF IT’S STILL VALID, TAKE A XANAX. Ask about his dog who has most likely died by now. Really dig deep, commiserate so he feels as shitty as you do. Hide your glee.
  • Don’t tell him that you need closure. That’s what all the therapy was for – if either of you HAD BEEN THE LEAST BIT ADULT, you wouldn’t be on a payment plan with your therapist AND YOU WOULD HAVE AVOIDED WEEKS OF SCREAMING, RESULTING IN THAT PAINFUL SURGERY FOR LARYNGEAL POLYPS. Do make an appointment with your new therapist. Tell her you’re driving to her office right now and will sit in her waiting room until she can see you.
  • Don’t rush out for alcohol. No one likes a sloppy drunk and you’ve worn out your friends with this particular coping skill. Anyway, it’s 8:15 on a Tuesday morning. Update your Uber app and wait until 5 pm. Then go somewhere dark where you can cry into your chardonnay. Buy a good first glass then switch to the house wine. Do not drink and text. Do not peruse his Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn accounts. STALKING IS FROWNED UPON – THE NICE POLICEMAN TOLD YOU SO.

YOU LOVED HIM. HE MOVED ON. YOU WERE DEVASTATED. GET ON WITH IT. Read ‘Relationships for Dummies.’ Get fitted for a new diaphragm. Get a professional wax job. Start fresh or fresher down there. Stock up on condoms. Put clean sheets on the bed and towels in the bathroom. Put on your big girl panties and sign up for a dating app. GO TO A DIFFERENT GODDAMN COFFEE SHOP.

 

I clot you not!

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Today the coffee machine got the better of me. It’s a Keurig and I’ve been able to avoid the creation for a while – I’m a French press kind of gal. But needing some respite from stairs, I’m living at my partner’s sister’s house for the first little bit after leaving the hospital. I cried – for many things.

I had my right hip replaced. Let me tell you what that entails – they strap you onto a table. Never been high on my list of things to do – sounds too much like a bad BDSM novel. Luckily I was out because I was probably naked when this happened. Back to the BDSM novel – “50 Shades of Titanium.” And surrounded by doctors, nurses, aides, electricians, plumbers, and probably an IT person or three. Geez, now I’m blushing.

The doctor makes an incision, supposed to be 2-3 inches long around the front of my thigh. I have big “ugly veins” there so my incision is along my hip and runs closer to six inches. This means everything rubs against it, chafes it, irritates it, and I cry a lot about the deep purple bruise running from my knee to my groin.

The doctor, from Mike’s Mufflers and Hips, whacked off the top of my leg bone, tore out the knob from my pelvic joint capsule and hammered a deep spike into my leg bone with the new joint. Hopefully my bone will grow around it. He sewed it back together, and I have a lovely Bride of Frankenstein scar in time for Halloween.

I must have been on lots and lots of painkillers because the next day, I could walk around my hospital room. Then things started to knit together which is good and hurts like shit. But I didn’t feel it in the hospital. When the social worker discharged me on Thursday, I had to buy a walker, my insurance would not cover it, and come up with another blood thinning regimen, again my insurance would not cover it. Never buy or support Molina – the armpit of insurance companies. I guess they haven’t figured out that I’m a mean little clotter and will sue the ever-living shit out of them if I throw a clot (and survive). Molina Insurance, be afraid, be very afraid.

The staff gave me lots of drugs in the hospital, the painkiller kind, along with Colace and MiraLAX. They should have given me more, Colace and MiraLAX that is. There is no worse feeling than going five days without pooping. I will never take my GI track for granted again.

I guess until things are further along in the healing process, then the little things will continue to throw me for a loop. I hope my new hip doesn’t come with as many directions as the coffee maker. I thought I had things under control but if a coffee maker can reduce me to tears, I guess not …

(image used by permission – morguefile.com)

Bullies in Office

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For thirty years, I have been a therapist helping people heal from horrific experiences. Then things, people, events, happen to reactivate traumas. The current political environment has opened old wounds, wounds that we thought had healed. Wounds like mine.

When I was a teenager, my family didn’t have much money. Mom was a single parent to three expensive kids. As a teenager, I wasn’t very forgiving nor understanding of my mother’s struggles to keep me in clothes, clothes that my friends were wearing, and clothes for special events. So, when I had an opportunity to go to a winter formal fraternity party, I wanted a new dress. I had applied to this university; in my mind, it was important to make a good impression. So I pestered Mom.

She bought a dress for me. It was soft gray with a slight Japanese flavored print of a bird on a limb floating across the long skirt. The top was gathered into a modest vee-neck. I felt beautiful in the dress. I have a vague memory of standing before Mom, twirling around with my hands spread. Both of us were smiling. The dress got packed, and I tootled off with friends to the university. The car ride moved along highways flanked with bare twigs for trees, but nothing dampened my excitement.

Saturday night, I put on the dress and went with my assigned escort to the winter formal. My long hair was pulled up to show off another gift from my mother, a pair of dangling pearl earrings from my namesake aunt Trudi. The night was chilly, and I draped a swirl of ruffled material around my shoulders.

This is where the memories become strobe-like. I remember drinking with my escort. He seemed nice and quite gentlemanly. We danced – I loved to dance, and he was willing to have fun. We laughed at nothing in particular. When the dance was finishing, he said he would take me back to the dorm where I was staying with my friends, but first, he asked if I wanted to stop by an after-party?

Sure.

We walked into his frat house. The room was silent but filled with a group of men from eighteen to their early twenties. I watched my date look at a man who was sitting in a chair, the oldest male in the room. I had an urge to throw up. I remember feeling so small in my long party dress. My escort turned to me, reached to touch my breast, and I punched him. He went down and stayed down.

The summer before my senior year, a friend taught me how to lift weights and throw a punch. I will always thank him for those lessons. I wonder if he knew they would be useful.

Trying not to wretch, I looked at each young man in turn. “Anyone else want to try this?” I asked. The man in the chair got up and left. The others followed him. To this day, I have no idea how I had the nerve to do this.

Suddenly woozy – drunk on alcohol and high on adrenaline, I ran back to my dorm. My beautiful dress and my aunt’s earrings stuck to my body with sweat, I banged on the doors to have someone let me in. I can’t remember who let me in or what happened next. I can’t recall the date but I’ll never forget some details – the smell of beer in the room, the picture of the fraternity house on the wall, the perfect nails of my escort. Trauma memories are laid down in the brain differently, piecemeal, from our pleasant memories, which can unroll like a movie.

Before getting in the car for the drive home on that Sunday, I told a friend what had happened. He said, “Are you sure? He seems like such a nice guy.” I didn’t say another word for the six-hour drive home. Grabbing my bag, I burst into my home, dropped my bag by the stairs, and looked for my Mom. I was proud of myself, terrified of what I had escaped, and confused by my friend’s response. I have a distinct memory of saying, “Mom, I punched a guy. Knocked him out.”

Mom looked at me with her mouth open as I demonstrated my fighting stance. “What are you doing?”

With that question, I picked up my bag and stumbled up the stairs to my room. Unpacking, I threw the dress in the corner.

At school on Monday, I kept my mouth shut afraid if I opened it that I would start screaming or throw up. After the last school bell, I walked very carefully, placing one foot after another, fighting the bile rising in my mouth and trying to remember the way home. In the solitude of my bedroom, I took a pair of scissors to the dress. I took apart every seam. I cut every bird to pieces. I ripped it into pieces so small that no one would be able to tell what it had been. It took hours. The room was dark when I finished.

A couple of years later, the disbelieving friend asked me out. The memory of that dress flooded me, and I stood him up. I’m not proud of my behavior. I wish I had told him why I couldn’t go out with him. I wish he had believed me.

After watching the Kavanaugh hearings and seeing the president ridicule a rape victim, I feel as scared and vulnerable as I was that weekend. (I refuse to capitalize the office when inhabited by trump.) We have elected a bully, without respect for women, who is filling the highest offices of the country with his morally deficient cronies and family.

Whether or not you believe Dr. Ford, know now, women and men received a powerful message. Assaults on women will be tolerated, even rewarded. Victims will be mocked, and their stories will be used against them. The strong can hurt you without repercussions. Funnily, we don’t tolerate this behavior in kindergarten, but the group in power thinks they are above kindergarten rules.

 

Times, They are a Changing

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Usually, after Yom Kippur, which finished at sundown last night, I feel encouraged to go out in the world and do good deeds, fight the good fight, and so on.

This year, I want to go back to bed, eat chocolate, binge on Netflix and cry. I’m in a shitty transition time – it’s not fun, and I’m not fun to be around … I’ve become a bit of a grump.

I don’t think it’s age. I think this is just a shitty time – waiting for a hip replacement, knowing it knocks out long-held dreams and dreading the months of recovery.

So last night, I cooked. I broke all the Jewish dietary laws in one swoop. I made pasta with bacon, onions, peppers, and shrimp, covered in cheese. It was good, even great. Exactly what I needed. I had two helpings and waited for divine retribution. Nothing happened, not even indigestion.

This unholy culinary twitch was triggered by a supposedly innocuous statement by a dental assistant. After balancing a series of pointy sticks on my chest, she asked about the hip replacement. I was trying hard not to cry. Then she started with “God never gives you more than you can handle,” and continued with the equally moronic statement, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

What a crock of shit.

Tell that to the people whose homes have been flooded.

To a couple who lost a baby.

To a person who has been mugged, assaulted, beaten.

Yeah, go ahead and try smothering them with platitudes. See what happens.

These well-wishers dismiss the pain, the existential despair, and suffering of being human and thoughtful. Being a person is difficult – thinking, empathy, feeling, navigating your world and the world of others takes energy and kindness.

So for the new year, I am going to work on kindness – giving more into the world by acknowledging when people, myself included, are in shitty places. I’m not going to deny people their pain. Maybe I’ll make them some pasta.

 

 

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