Friday, December 05, 2014

enduring, enduring

Ever since the horrible week in which my mother and one of the Sober Husband's brothers both unexpectedly passed away on the very same day, I've been in a deep, dark depression.  My forms of self-medication have involved sitting on the couch sipping prosecco (a day drink, thankyouverymuch) and eating home-made Chex mix, something I associate with my mother.  The last time I was in the hospital, my mother sent me a batch of homemade Chex Mix; we made it a lot when I was growing up, and we developed our own recipe.

The other people in the house have been left to forage for themselves, as I haven't felt up to cooking.  Frozen foods and Chex mix are the order of the day.  I did rally for Thanksgiving, when we had an epic feast with eleven different dishes.  Then I plunged back into my depression when our hot water heater broke the day after Thanksgiving, leaving us with a few days of no showers and no dishwasher and  a nice $1,300 bill.  It felt like something terrible was happening to us every day.  My dentist told me to have expensive oral surgery, a recommendation I am ignoring, the day after the water heater trauma.

A few people suggested to me that we replace the hot water heater ourselves, but tellingly none of them live in San Francisco.  Our house is on a very steep hill, so our hot water heater has to be lifted up over five feet to its inconvenient location and also it has to be made earthquake-safe.  Also we don't own any vehicle that could possibly contain a hot water heater.  I felt ashamed, but in the end, we had to admit we wouldn't have done such a good job.  The professional owned a truck and had the right equipment to braze the gas lines and to drill into the exposed bedrock under our storage space.

In the background the Ferguson and New York grand juries failed miserably to see what was obvious to anyone else, which is that walking in a street or selling loose cigarettes are not capital offenses.  Some people very dear to me had horrible things happen to them as well, things I won't write about as they are not my traumas to tell.

We're walking on tiptoes here, afraid of what each day holds.

Friday, November 14, 2014

how I didn't even manage to go to my dead mother's funeral

I was not looking forward to going to my mother's funeral.  Obviously, emotions would be raw, and my family is not close at the best of times.  Additionally my parents retired to a remote area of Texas which is far away and not easy to reach.  There is an airport two hours from their house, but there are no direct flights there from any of the three major airports in my area.  So getting there always involves plenty of time and money.  But I felt that clearly I needed to be there, to pay my respects and to see how my father was coping.  Neither of the children wanted to go; both are very diligent students and feared missing several days of school.  The Sober Husband is still fresh in his shiny new job but was game to accompany me.

The night before the funeral the Sober Husband checked the weather forecast.  "The high is going to be below freezing," he informed me cheerily.  Expletives escaped my dainty lips.  Although I'm from Maine originally, I have lived in California for over twenty years.  I don't have any winter clothes.  Usually Texas is in the seventies, but a freakish storm was advancing.  "It's going to be colder than Alaska," I noted after doing some searches online.

The day came to leave.  I got better flights from San Jose than I could find from San Francisco, so I planned to pick up the Sober Husband at his Silicon Valley office on the way to the airport.  (Almost every flight combination had a travel time of over 11 hours, but I managed to find one clocking in at only 5 hours by flying out of San Jose).  I kissed the children goodbye in the morning and ran about like a decapitated chicken during the day running last minute errands.   Then I set out to meet the Sober Husband.

As I drove down to Mountain View in heavy traffic, the Sober Husband called to tell me our flight had been delayed an hour.  I kept driving.  He called again to say it had been delayed two hours, meaning we would miss our connecting flight.  We agreed that we'd go to the airport and try to figure something out with the customer service people, and I kept driving.  He called a third time to say that our second flight, the one to where my parents live, had been cancelled entirely.  "Let me think, "I said, and I hung up.  I called him back and asked him to call some other airlines and see what they could do.

When I reached the Sober Husband's office complex, I felt like trying out the fancy new valet parking which had recently been instated.  I pulled up by the valet parking booth.  The valet was talking to a man with a clipboard, and they both rather ostentatiously turned their backs on me, as if to say, "Not for the likes of you."  "Fuck it, " I thought.   "I'll roll old school and park myself."  Was the problem my gender?  My lack of techie geek cred -- is it that obvious?  Surely it wasn't my car, as a youngish, undented Mini Cooper should be welcome anywhere.  I found a parking space for my beloved Baby and hiked back to the lobby, where I found the uncustomarily dour Sober Husband scouring Expedia.
We both worked our cellphones and took turns with his laptop.  But the answer was clear:  there was no way we could get to El Paso the next day before the funeral.  The best case scenario would be arriving several hours afterward, and that didn't feel worth it for me, as we needed to return the very next day for a variety of reasons.  We called my father and told him we couldn't come.

Due to this large and unseasonably early winter storm, over one hundred flights from Denver, where we were due to change flights, were canceled.  Ours was one of them.   I was so glad we hadn't gotten on our first, severely delayed flight, as I could only imagine what it would be like at Denver, with all the people from all those over a hundred flights stuck there.

We texted our neighbors, who were hosting Iris and Lola for a few nights, and the friend who was having Lola over after school to say that it was all a false alarm and we'd be returning home.

Back at home I felt discombobulated.  I was supposed to be having a painful, cathartic, awkward family moment, not feeding the pets and driving Lola to school as usual.   On the bright side, with this extra time the Sober Husband was able to arrange to go to his brother's wake in Chicago.  So at least one of us will get some sort of a catharsis or meaningful moment.

Monday, November 10, 2014

a husk, experiencing the strange stresses

In the few days after my mother's death, I've taken up a regime of day-drinking ("Champagne, which is a breakfast drink", I informed the Sober Husband) and day-eating on the couch.  This was interrupted yesterday by a phone call informing the Sober Husband that one of his brothers had died.  Bizarrely it turns out that the brother in question had passed away around the same time as my mother, but had not been discovered for a few days as he was living alone after his divorce.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

the stress

In July the Sober Husband was suddenly fired from a wonderful job he loved and was very good at.  Overnight we had no income.  Later in July he had surgery he is still recovering from, and he is not one of the world's better patients.  Since then we had two huge disputes about cash:  first, over the tiny travel trailer I bought before he lost his job and secondly over my dear cat Frowst's dental surgery, which cost $3,700.  There has also been some other marital stress which I would rather not discuss.  I also had a falling out with a friend which was very traumatic.

And now, we received word yesterday that my mother had unexpectedly died in the night.

Also, I'm turning 50 in two weeks, which I'm dreading.

This is really a four month stretch from hell.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

the Sober Husband describes the cats

The Sober Husband met a friend and the friend's new girlfriend for coffee.  The girlfriend has cats and asked about our cats.  As the Sober Husband described it, "I told her we had two types of cats."

"What?" interjected Iris, Lola and I all at once.  "What are the two types?"  Republicans and Democrats?  Extroverts and introverts?  Scientologists and agnostics?

"Let him tell the story," said one child reprovingly, after our derisive laughter had gone on long enough.

"So I said we had four adult cats," the Sober Husband continued gamely.

"WRONG!  We have five cats," I pounced.


"Count them on your fingers by name," I said.

"Frowsty, Henry, Emo, and Nert," he said.

"You left out Zorro."

The Sober Husband appeared disgusted at this point that we had somehow acquired five cats without his realizing it.  After some time, he was able to resume his narrative.  "So I said we have kittens, and every year there is some kitten we can't resist, so we are constantly accumulating cats."

the further adventures of tiny, amazing Lola

Recently we ran across some art Lola did when she was younger.  She turned her name into an acrostic:

Legally a minor

Iris and I were slayed by the first L and fell about laughing.  "Really, Lola? That's what you thought was the most important thing about yourself?"  Luckily Lola had a sense of humor about her younger self as well and didn't take offense.

On Friday Lola had no school, and I took my tiny, amazing, legal-minor to a corn maze.  I felt ashamed of never having had this American experience.  It must be a midwestern and western thing, as we had lots of corn in New England growing up, but no corn mazes. My Puritan ancestors would have been horrified at the idea of wasting good corn on fools traipsing about idly.

At the corn maze, Lola and I got lost quickly.  We attempted to use our powers of memory and reasoning.  These powers were evidently too weak.   Lola asked with trepidation, "What if we don't find our way out?"

I reassured Lola.  "If worst comes to worst, we can make our way between the corn and get out.  We will do our best to gently bend the corn and not trample any.  And we have water."  We soldiered on.

At some point we came upon one of the two viewing platforms, where you could climb out a flight of stairs and look across the maze.  We decided to skip it, because we thought it would be cheating, and we regretted that as we wandered on in the maze.  Later we talked sorrowfully about that platform as we trudged on.  "I thought we were going to see it again," I said.  "I can't believe we didn't circle back to it."

Still later we came upon a viewing platform, and we were excited.  We climbed up and learned that using the viewing platforms was not cheating.  The corn maze paths were so narrow that all you saw from up in the air was a solid field of corn.  We did figure out, however, that we were on the very same viewing platform we'd scorned earlier and had been wandering around in the beginning of the maze for a whole hour.  Online we had read that the typical person spent about forty-five minutes in the corn maze, but we were not typical, and we were atypical in a bad way.  We decided it was time to adopt a basic strategy and turn the same direction at every single intersection.

After a while, we found ourselves back at the very beginning of the maze.  This was disheartening.  We were out of the maze, but we knew we'd only experienced the first third of it.  The lady who sells tickets to the maze also felt sorry for us.  "Did you try always turning left?"

"We started always turning right."

The woman shook her head sorrowfully.  "You could try again."

Lolz and I looked at each other.

"If you're going back in, you might want to do it before these kids start," advised the woman.  A huge group of tiny preschoolers was advancing upon the maze.

I grabbed Lola's hand and we ran in.  We methodically turned left at every crossing, which felt efficient but when we reached the first viewing platform (our third visit) we found the preschoolers.  They had beaten us there.  Disheartened we trudged on.  "We are people of the corn," we said.  We tried to sing a song the Sober Husband is fond of about a chicken in the corn, but we didn't know enough of the lyrics.  "Chicken... corn... la la la la," we chanted.

Eventually we came to another viewing platform, and we clambered up. "It's the same one," said Lola pessimistically.  "No, Lola, look! We're closer to the trees.  But where's the other one?"

"They took it down!" said Lola wildly.  "They took it down while we were in here!"

 We scanned the field.  Then a man came into view, climbing up on the other platform.  "Oh, there it is," said Lola deflatedly.

We climbed down and finished the maze.  We could see from how pristine the paths were that most people didn't reach this part of the maze.   When we left, the ticket lady congratulated us.  The woman selling pumpkins said, "You wouldn't catch me going in there.  How long did it take?"

"An hour and forty-five minutes," we said shamefacedly.

"They'd have to get me out the next day," said the pumpkin lady consolingly.

Monday, October 13, 2014

tiny, amazing Lola and the make-up mystery

When Iris uber Alles graduated from middle school, her little sister Lola and I had some trouble finding our assigned seats.  As we wandered throughout the auditorium, reading the labels on the folding chairs and failing to find our name, we ran into one of Iris's teachers, one she greatly admires ("C. is so badass!").  I took this opportunity to share with this teacher how highly Iris spoke of her.   In reply, the teacher, C., fixed me with a very stern eye and said intently, "Iris shouldn't be allowed to wear makeup!  She's too hot!"  There was an awkward pause.

Eventually Lola and I moved on and found our seats.  "That was weird," I said.  "I know," said Lola.  "Was that some kind of criticism of my parenting?" I mulled.

Much later (after each and every student had given not one but two speeches, some other people had given speeches, and the students had had lots of pictures taken and consumed lots of h'ors d'oeuvres), I started to tell Iris about this chance encounter.  Lola decided that she, not me, should tell it.

"So!  C. was fascinated by tiny, amazing Lola," began Lola.  "Mommy was telling C. about how Iris thought she was a badass, so C. sadly had to tear her attention away from tiny, amazing Lola."

At this point Lola was interrupted by her audience, who wished to know what exactly was so amazing about Lola.  Lola eventually got back into the groove of her story:  "So then C. said to Mommy, 'Iris shouldn't be allowed to wear makeup!'  Then she turned her attention back to tiny, amazing Lola.  And Mommy was all surprised by what C. said.  And Mommy asked tiny, amazing Lola, 'What did she mean by that?'"

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

and yet life meanders on

Life has not been the most fabulous lately, and I realize there is no one to blame but myself.  I am healthy once again, after resetting my own immune system successfully, and my husband is employed once again.  I'm back to my gym rat days, obnoxiously enough, and was taunting Iris uber Alles today.  "Poke me here" (forcing the poor thing to prod me in the upper six-pack zone).  "See!  You could bounce a coin off there. "  Then I poked her similarly.  "Look!  It's like a marshmallow!"  Later, I noted, "Feel free to prod me in the abs whenever you want.  Perhaps you are afraid you might harm your finger."  Iris rolled her eyes.

I tend to be a glass-half-empty (probably drained by a rich sociopath when my back was turned) kind of gal on the whole.  Funnily enough, given how dark my outlook has been of late, that I'm bizarrely able to take with equanimity the one thing which drives most women my age insane:  hot flashes.  I've been 'pausing hard lately, and for the most part, I'm fine with it.  I lived in the tropics for a couple of years and liked it; for a while I led a fruitless campaign to get our family to move to a warmer climate.  So I'm viewing this all as my having moved to my own private tropics.

But yet, it is a dark time.  Warm, but dark.  My psychiatrist retired, the slacker, and I feel abandoned.  The Sober Husband and I are in marriage counseling, and it's been what Jane Austen might refer to as "a right old clusterfuck."  For example, yesterday our counselor suggested that since I am irked by the Sober Husband's ubiquitous complaining, I should try doing everything just the way he likes so that he will never need to complain.  I used about fifty swear words in my explanation of why that is never going to fucking happen.

I'm of a mind to call it a day and not return to pay for more of these gems of counseling, feeling I could get more from a vintage copy of "The Total Woman" (which I read in sneaky bursts while babysitting as a tween), but the Sober Husband is in strong disagreement.

After Robin Williams died, people thought for awhile about depression.  I saw so many Facebook statuses urging, "If you ever feel like that, call me!!!"  I rolled my eyes at each and every one of these.  The sad truth is that at this point, honestly I am not going to call anyone on a bad day.  Everyone is fucking sick of hearing about how I am depressed.  There is nothing more dreary than hearing about someone's depression, and anyone whose phone number I have has undoubtedly long ago had their share of hearing about mine.  Additionally, the last thing I want to hear is unsolicited advice from someone who has never attempted suicide and who is not a psychiatrist.  "Just look on the bright side" and "Why don't you just shake out of it?" and the like are not helpful in the least.  And, finally, if you really feel that bad, you don't feel up to talking on the phone.  You feel more like curling up in bed in silence.

In times like this, honestly it is literature that keeps me going.  If I were to die, there are so many books I wouldn't have read.  Lately, there have been some amazing books, gorgeous jewels of books that made me gasp and feel that it was worth it, dragging through life, if you at least get to now and then put up your feet, take off your shirt if you're 'pausing hard, and get drunk in words.

Recent books you should read, particularly if you have my flavor of depression:

California by Edan Lepucki:  A dark dystopic tale about life after our society collapses due to economic and environmental disasters.  Beautifully written, it raises so many questions about political activism, what life is like living off the grid, how to build a society, the use of a liberal arts education.  Absolutely brilliant.  When I finished it, I started it over from the beginning, just not wanting it to be done.

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel:  Another novel set in the near-future after society's collapse, this time due to a pandemic.  Mandel's book is so beautifully written, such luscious language and such an intricately linked plot, that I kept exclaiming out loud as I read it.  "This book is like a necklace," I informed the uninterested Lola.  "It's just so gorgeous, and it all ties together."

The Bend of The World by Jacob Bacharach:  Bacharach's protagonist is a rather aimless man with a meaningless job and a shallow relationship whose gay, drunken best friend is obsessed with arcane theories and conspiracies.   Extraordinarily witty and chock-full of silliness, but yet extremely moving and beautifully written, with an breathtakingly spare use of language at times.  I literally laughed out loud at one point and teared up at another, and there is not another book I can think of which has drawn both of these reactions from my black, shriveled soul.

Your Face In Mine by Jess Row:  A man sees someone he thinks he knows on the street, but this can't be his old friend.  This oddly familiar person is the wrong race.  A weirdly gripping intellectual exploration of the implications of racial reassignment surgery, pairing beautiful writing with original ideas.  I was so engaged by this book that I paid no attention to my surroundings and ended up with a rather wretched sunburn on my left thigh.  It seems appropriate that part of my skin changed color while I was reading this book, a little unintended homage to the power of Row's writing.