Red

tree mom

 

When someone you love is living with a looming deadline for how much time they have left on earth, due to age or medical condition, each holiday or birthday begs the same question: Is this the last one?

Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, her birthday and my own that came and went, I thanked God for another one with my mom. She was in her nineties and had dementia. Borrowed time was where her feet were firmly planted.

My mom wasn’t able to drive for the last several years. (Well, according to everyone but her. She fussed at us endlessly when told a mostly deaf woman with dementia probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel.) Since she was no longer able to go out and shop for my presents like she used to, I started buying a few things for myself, giving them to her to wrap, and we pretended they were from her to me.

Those last years, when we sat together on Christmas Eve night to open presents, only one of us was surprised by what was in each festively wrapped package we traded. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting. No matter how many decades you bank as an adult, you still want your parents to give you a present that makes your eyes wide with delighted anticipation as you tear into it, not knowing what it could be.

Last year, during one of her clearer moments when she realized Christmas was coming, she insisted she wanted to buy me some presents. I realized this was likely the final chance for her to shop and for me to enjoy the fruits of her labor, so I handed her a wad of cash and asked the wonderful lady who helped me take care of her to take her out for a shopping trip. My mother asked what I wanted. I replied, “Whatever you think I’d like, Mom. Who knows me better than you?” When pressed for at least an idea, I suggested an ornament, and recommended they visit Hallmark and Pier One.

A few hours later, there were three presents wrapped and set by the tiny artificial tree I bought at Walgreens. Christmas had become too different and often sad to bother with the giant artificial tree for years, so the little one sufficed.

Christmas was delayed a few days because I was ill, but the night finally came where I called mom into the living room for our gift exchange. Mom sat on the couch with a blank look on her face while I explained that it was Christmas and handed her a present.  While appreciative of the decorative box I filled with her favorite miniature Hershey’s chocolates and kisses, she took a few and handed the box back to me. Despite my repeated assurances the box of candy was hers to keep, she couldn’t quite grasp that it was a gift to her or why I was giving it. I didn’t see the point of continuing and asked if she’d like to go back to bed. She did.

I managed to wait until she left the room before bursting into tears. Moments like that will rip a hole in your soul you aren’t prepared for, even if you know they are eventually going to arrive like a burglar at your bedroom window at two in the morning. I accepted that Christmas 2017 was either going to be the last one for which my mother was at least semi-coherent, or the last one at all.

After a couple of very dark emotional days, I opened two of my presents and was delighted with what my mother had chosen for me. Even in her dementia, she still knew my taste. One package was a collection of three miniature boxes, each covered in a glossy wicker type material with a featured bright jewel tone. Pier One always could catch my eye with merchandise like that. To be honest, I cannot remember what the second present was, but I know I liked it.

The third present remained. Encased in glittery red wrapping paper, I left it unopened, not entirely sure why. As the days passed and a new year began, I realized I was saving this present. Saving it for when my mother was gone and there would be no more shopping excursions for her or packages under the tree she had selected for me.

It sat on the built-in shelves in the living room for weeks. Every day I would see the present. I didn’t know if I would be overcome with a need to unwrap it that might hit me in five minutes, or if I would just feel the time was right to unveil it on some unspecified day weeks or months later. Certain I would know when the time was right, I moved the present to my bedroom closet shelf.

My mom died this past July. Last year turned out to be her last Christmas, her last Thanksgiving and the last birthday of mine she would witness.

I moved shortly before her death, after she had been safely ensconced in a nursing home, and the last several months have been about grieving, crying, sorting through earthly possessions and wondering just when in the hell does it get easier?

I decided to put up my Christmas tree this year. Part of me was quite excited. I love the pageantry of hanging the lights and garland, but my favorite part is going thru the ornaments.

If you are at my house when I’m unpacking them, fix yourself a large drink and sit down, because I will tell you the story of every ornament I own. You’ll learn which ones are childhood favorites, which ones were a gift from someone special, which ones were homemade and which ones I bought myself. If you are bored by this recitation, I won’t notice because I’ll be too busy grinning like a goofball as I pull out the next ornament and search for the right place for it on the tree.

My six foot artificial tree looks amazing. The tears I feared would flow from sorrow that my mother wasn’t here to help me decorate it didn’t occur. Instead, I got a little misty-eyed because I get to have a tree again.

In fact, I have two trees. The small LED-lighted tree sits on my kitchen bar, surrounded by a few of my decorations. In the center of the decorations is The Final Present. The Red One.

The last gift my mother will ever give me.

I was correct that I would know when it was time. I’m going to open it on Christmas Eve night. I know it’s an ornament, because mom slipped up and told me that, but I don’t know what kind.

I know I’m going to cry. I may end up going into the ugly cry; the kind where you want to do it alone because no one should witness the howling that comes from the loss of someone you love so much.

I’m hopeful I will also experience joy. To be honest, I’m a little intimidated by what emotional process I may strap myself into and ride like a roller coaster. But I am ready. Strike that. I am as ready as I will ever be.

Come tomorrow night, I will sit down, pour a glass of the red wine my mother loved, and I will open the last present she will ever give me. I will open Red, and if the universe works the way I like to think it does, my beautiful mother will witness it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Soul Mates

Opportunity Missed and Taken Green Road Sign and Clouds

 

Ellen had just begun her second day in the marketing department of a dying chain of mid-sized department stores when Jon introduced himself into her life. He had walked past her office cubicle, stopped, then walked backwards and stopped again. Ellen turned to see who was invading her uncomfortably small cube space, and found herself staring into the cobalt blue eyes of a man dressed in an off-white dress shirt and casual brown pants. His dark blonde hair brushed up against the collar of his shirt.

A one-man welcoming committee, Jon charmed Ellen with his easy going nature and wit. He treated her to mediocre coffee from the office building’s basement cafeteria, and a friendship was born.

The two co-workers quickly became tight, initially bonding over their similar senses of humor and a shared love of cheesy sci-fi films. They discovered their commonalities included having fathers who were lawyers, being raised in the mid-West, and both hovering just shy of their fortieth birthdays. Within a few months, Jon and Ellen became best office pals, often sitting next to each other during conference room meetings, and seeking each other out for restaurant lunches once or twice a week.

Ellen had to admit to herself that she found Jon attractive. It wasn’t that he had stop-you-in-your-tracks good looks, but he was definitely easy on her eyes. His personality had a hold on her heart more than anything. He fit neatly into her figurative file cabinet under ‘J’, for Just My Type. However, she had spied Jon’s wedding ring on day one, and ruled out any role for him in her life other than co-worker and friend. He was married, perhaps happily (although he tended to speak of his wife only in factual terms, rather than glowing, infatuated ones), and she did not cross that line.

At a ritzy New Year’s Eve party held at Jon’s house, Ellen met his wife for the first and only time. Jon said, “This is my wife, Cecelia,” and Ellen made the mistake of attempting humorous familiarity too early, replying, “Hi, I’m Jon’s work wife!” The icy look from Cecelia could’ve frozen the pot of piping hot fondue centered on the antique dining room table. Ellen meant no harm. Her entire department referred to the duo as each other’s ‘work spouse’, but the charm of that apparently ended at the office doors.

After several cups of party punch laden with a top shelf vodka, Ellen plopped down on the family room sofa and swiveled her slightly hazy gaze around the room. She stifled a giggle at the juxtaposition taking place on the wall with the fireplace. What was obviously Cecelia’s collection of Hummel figurines on one bookcase was dwarfed by free floating shelves sporting a range of toy store purchases celebrating characters from the various Star Trek films and television series. Ellen recognized some of them as duplicates from the array of Jon’s desk toys back at the office. It struck her as a perfect illustration of the difference between this husband and wife.

The couple’s three young children made a brief appearance at the party before being ushered back to their bedrooms by a sixty-something woman, who could have been a relative or a nanny. Ellen noticed how the blonde boy who toddled in circles in his Spiderman jammies was the spitting image of his father. The older girls both sported the elongated chin Ellen noticed on their mother.

Ellen said her goodbyes just after midnight, and endured another cold look from Cecelia as she exited the party. Jon walked her to her car, and offered her a lingering kiss on the cheek. “Happy New Year, work wife,” he said, as she slipped behind the wheel of her car.

“See ya, work hubby,” she said, laughing and feeling rebellious, although she wasn’t exactly sure why.

Right after the turn of the new year, Jon sent a text to Ellen. Contact outside of work hours was not common for them, and Ellen noticed and then pretended to ignore the schoolgirl skipping of a heartbeat she felt when she saw the text was not work related. It was the opening to a knock-knock joke, and she took the bait. Thus began a series of bad jokes they would send each other at all hours, as well as conversations that were about their personal lives. While no inappropriate verbiage was exchanged, Ellen sensed that these textual interactions were not likely something to which Cecelia was privy.

They had become close friends in their time working together. Nothing more. Not in a physical sense. Yet the longing had been there, ebbing and flowing, for a very long time. Ellen often found herself resenting not Cecelia herself, but the concept of a Cecelia. If Ellen had gotten to Jon first, might they be together instead?

One night found the two of them working in the office until almost midnight, desperately trying to put out the social media fires that resulted from the news that their store had sold a line of toasters that were known to cause electrical shocks, including one that seriously injured a toddler in Vermont.

Sitting at her desk, Ellen tossed her empty Orange Crush bottle into the trash can under her desk and ignored her inner voice advising her to keep her musings to herself.  She didn’t go full monty about her feelings for Jon, instead floating the idea that if he were single, she wouldn’t be surprised if they would have coupled up by now.

After a brief pause, Jon leaned forward in his chair, put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “Yes, Ellen. I can see that, too.”

“Really? You don’t think it’s wrong of me to say that?” she asked.

“Not at all, kiddo,” he said. “I mean, we do have so much in common, and we certainly have a lot of fun together. You’re very …” He paused and looked to the ceiling tiles for a way to finish his sentence. Ellen held her breath while he contemplated. He finally looked her dead in the eyes, stroked her cheek with his fingers and said, “You’re easy to be with, honey.” With that, Jon stood to leave her cubicle, then turned and looked at her for several beats. Sitting somewhat askew in her chair after a draining day of damage control, Ellen could feel something of portent about to fall from his lips.

“Sometimes soul mates don’t marry,” he said.

With that haunting line, he headed for the elevator. Ellen spent the weekend pondering those five words. By the time her alarm clock sounded on Monday morning, she knew he was correct. Soul mates aren’t just the people with whom you walk down an aisle. They can be a best friend. A family member. Even an unrequited love of sorts. This redefinition of their relationship soothed Ellen. He could be happily married and still have a non-sexual, close friendship with someone he also considered a soul mate.

That new knowledge paved over acres of occasionally unsettling times in which Ellen pondered her feelings for Jon, and if he had them for her. But the concrete cracked soon after when she risked complicating things one morning by firing a question at Jon as they drove together to a breakfast meeting with a client.

“Is Cecelia your soul mate?” Ellen blurted out.

“What?” he asked, clearly taken by surprise at the inquiry.

“I mean, she is, right? I was just thinking about how we have different soul mates, and what you said about how sometimes they don’t marry.”

“Oh, right,” he said. Jon fiddled with the navigation system, double checking the location of a place he’d already visited many times.

Ellen pressed the issue. “So is she?”

“Sometimes. But we’re very different people,” Jon responded, clearly uncomfortable with the topic.

“Oh, okay,” Ellen said, having no idea what he meant. After a couple of city blocks of silence, Jon changed the subject to something neutral. Ellen withheld all follow-up questions.

Just over a year down the road, Ellen was near tears on Jon’s last day at work. He had accepted a position at another company that brought both an increase in salary and prestige. They stood huddled together in the break room. Ellen clutched a festive paper plate from a party store that held a piece of store-bought chocolate cake in which she had no interest. Co-workers milled around them, offering their well wishes to Jon while seeing if they could scam a second piece of cake without notice.

Jon pulled Ellen into the hallway and rubbed her upper arms with his warm hands in an attempt to comfort both of them. “I’ll be five miles away, not five planets. We’ll still be friends, Ellen,” he said.

“I know, but…” she said, her voice trailing off. She tried to finish the sentence with her eyes.

“I know,” he said. Message received. He embraced her for several seconds.

Just as Ellen took a seat in her master bathroom for her morning pee, the phone rang. She stretched to grab it off the far end of the vanity, almost falling off the toilet in the process. Caller I.D. volunteered only that the call was from ‘out of area’. “Hello?” she said tentatively, certain it would be nothing more than the annoyance of a sales call.

“Hey, fruit stripes. Still asleep?” The tenor voice hit Ellen between the eyes. It was Jon. Their attempts at keeping in touch had lessened over time, which initially saddened her greatly. She could not remember the last time she heard his voice. Familiarity and joy washed over her.

“Holy cow. Jon?” she said.

“Yes’m,” he replied. “How in the world are you?”

“I’m great! You?”

“I’m in hell, Ellen. More specifically, Los Angeles.” Jon said.

Ellen struggled to silently pull up her panties and left the toilet unflushed. She gathered her unbrushed hair into a red scrunchie and headed for her kitchen table as he began his story.

Jon explained how he had received a last minute invitation to an old college buddy’s wedding to be held on Malibu Beach. After consulting with Cecelia, who gave her blessing for him to take a much needed long weekend off from a currently hectic life, he booked a non-refundable ticket, and was in the skies before dinner the previous day.

Sadly, before he could take custody of his rental car, the best man texted him with news that the wedding was off. The proposal had been determined to be a huge mistake, and the hastily thrown together ceremony was not to be. Jon was holed up in a three-star motel, pissy that his airline wanted almost a thousand dollars to change his return ticket date, and full of self-pity.

“So here I am, stuck in So Cal for three more nights, and I don’t know a soul. This was a destination wedding, and the groom-not-to-be has already fled town to nurse his wounds,” Jon said.

“You poor sap,” Ellen sympathized.

“Save me, Ellen. Come out here. Come to California.”

Ellen nearly dropped the phone.

“What do you mean? Are you serious?” she asked.

“Heck yes, I’m serious. You, me, Hollywood, Disneyland. It’ll be a riot,” he replied.

“You go to Disneyland with your kids, you weirdo,” she laughed.

“They’re in school. Besides, I won’t have to buy you hundreds of dollars worth of Mickey Mouse shit,” he said.

“The hell you won’t!” she said, surprising herself.

“So you’ll come? Yes!” Jon said with pure delight in his voice.

“Don’t be silly,” Ellen said.

Jon fake pouted for a couple of minutes, trying his best to paint a picture of a weekend full of laughs and mindless adventure. He informed her that the motel parking lot was half-filled, which surely meant there were plenty of rooms available, although she was welcome to stay in his room. “I’ve got a dynamite view of the dumpsters behind an IHOP!” he said with mock enthusiasm. Ellen said she just couldn’t go, and they moved on to  catching up on work gossip and trading personal life updates. Jon thanked Ellen for cheering him up with the phone call. She wished him a speedy long weekend, and they hung up.

Ellen’s morning at work passed quickly, but truth be told, her mind kept returning to the idea of actually dropping everything and flying to L.A. She knew it wasn’t a good idea, nor was it even a possible one. She had a presentation in front of the vice president of the company tomorrow. She had tickets to her nephew’s high school production of “Rent” on Saturday night. She was in charge of picking up her neighbor’s mail for another several days. All valid reasons she couldn’t just pick up and fly a thousand miles for an impromptu vacation with a friend.

Most of all, she had the good sense to know better. She didn’t have to ask Jon if his wife would be told he had invited a companion to help him pass the time. She knew the answer to that could only be no. She didn’t have to ask herself if his assurance that there were two beds in his hotel room meant he neither expected nor would consent to any hanky panky. To agree to go to him was to agree that the outcome was open-ended.

There was a second call from Jon that afternoon, which Ellen took after running down to the lobby of her office building, so as to avoid any co-workers who might catch on to whom she was speaking. He had asked one more time, quite firmly, if she would please come to Los Angeles. An offer to buy tickets for both the plane and the tourist attraction of her choice was extended.

Ellen stood near the revolving door of her office building, eyes squinting not from the sunlight pouring in through the glass atrium, but from anger and frustration with her dilemma. She wanted to say yes like a child wants to tear into a present before the dawn has cracked on Christmas morning. Ultimately, she knew the call she had to make; the one that would not include seeing the inside of LAX.

With a hitch in her voice, Ellen declined the invitation. Jon sighed deeply and accepted her decision. His final words before he hung up played on a loop in her head the rest of the day. “Alright, kiddo. It would’ve been a beautiful time, and something we both sorely needed. See ya around, soul mate.”

Over the next few days, Ellen kept herself busy. But time and time again, her mind floated off. While shuffling through the slides of her presentation to the V.P., she could see Jon in her mind’s eye. He was pulling his old routine of standing at the back of the room making faces only she could see, trying in earnest to crack her up while she powered through another boring staff meeting.

While pulling her neighbor’s bills and circulars from her mailbox, she thought of Jon’s assurance that her trip to visit him would be more fun than human beings should be allowed to have.

While surrounded by parents in a high school auditorium giving a standing ovation to the attempt by their teenagers to achieve Broadway realism, she imagined the two of them propped up against pillows on the hotel bed, binge watching a favorite comedy show while sharing a boxed pizza.

Most of all, Ellen asked herself if she had made a mistake by staying home. She could have gotten her own hotel room, kept a virtual chastity belt on, and walked away with goofy, happy memories that would last a lifetime. She could have sated her long festering need to spend time with her close friend and former husband-of-sorts  without it turning into a sordid scene from a bad nighttime soap opera.

No one congratulated her for her demonstration of willpower, because she never told anyone about it. Ellen wanted to share her dilemma with a close friend, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. It would mean opening up Jon to derision. A married man asking his female friend to join him on an out-of-town trip to which his wife was oblivious? What a cad! It wasn’t logical, but she couldn’t bear the thought of someone seeing the man she cared for so deeply in an unkind light. She also didn’t fancy the idea of casting herself in the role of someone who might have happily gone on the adventure to California under questionable conditions. She preferred to showcase her integrity in a more positive spotlight as well.

Ellen also wondered if she had made a mistake by denying herself this unique opportunity for different reasons. That meant admitting there was a part of her, buried deep in the dark, that knew she was willing to leave one of the beds in Jon’s motel room unused, the other one rumpled and smeared with the evidence of their long unrequited passions finally having  been birthed.

Ellen tried giving  herself credit for taking the moral high ground, but it all fell apart when, after three strong rum and sodas pounded in a short amount of time late Sunday evening, she realized she regretted saying no and staying home.

“Sometimes soul mates don’t marry. I get it,” she muttered in her empty living room, as she stumbled a bit while she walked to the front door to check that the alarm system was engaged. “But to hell with you, fate, that they can’t even play house together for a weekend.”

 

Read more from Eve Allen at: https://twitter.com/River_Writer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zippy the Wonder Dog

One fine summer day almost eleven years ago, I was driving home from purchasing a frame for a new piece of artwork I had acquired. The route was a straight shot down a major thoroughfare, but I had an inexplicable impulse to cut through another neighborhood.

“Why did I do this?” I asked myself, as I realized I was adding unnecessary time to my journey home by going through the quiet, middle-class neighborhood.  Then the answer shot out in front of my car.

Literally.

A scraggly little dog came out of nowhere, streaking across the street, and I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting her. I spent the next half hour driving up and down streets after her, then giving chase on foot through the yards of strangers.

The wily dog finally acquiesced and allowed me to scoop her up without objection. I set her on the passenger seat of my car, and got a good look at my rescue. Her coat was bedraggled, and she clearly had missed a few meals. Some sort of black terrier mix, she looked a bit like Toto if he’d been born on the wrong side of the Kansas tracks.

As I pulled back into traffic, this sweet little orphan plopped down in exhaustion. She slid closer to me and put her head on my thigh. She glanced up at me several times as I drove home, and I was touched at the amount of trust it took for her to do that.

My plan was just to foster care her until I could get her into a shelter. I didn’t want a dog (even if I did, I would’ve been overruled by my trio of felines). I asked my mom to house her for a few days. Having witnessed many instances of her daughter finding the dregs of animal society and trying to save them,  my mother was hesitant at first. A bit hostile, even. I assured her this ugly little thing would be gone soon.

And God help me, this dog was an uggo. Giant donkey ears, wild fur going every which way, and overgrown feet. I have never taken to what I call ‘yap dogs’; the variety that yaps at any and everything, and wealthy heiresses tend to tote around in oversized designer bags.

I took the dog to my vet, and was surprised to find out she was still a puppy. His guestimate was six months old, and likely mainly terrier with a healthy dose of chihuahua in her. (Man,  do I hate chihuahuas. The yappiest of all the yap dogs.) She spent a day at the vet’s office being treated for fleas, dehydration, and anemia. They bathed her, and I looked forward to picking up a much more comely pooch. Sadly, the result was a still goofy looking yap dog with slightly cleaner, creepy, wiry fur.

After ascertaining there were no notices seeking this lost puppy, the Humane Society helped me nab a spot at the upcoming weekend’s Adoption Day at a nearby Petsmart.  Being both a small breed and a puppy practically guaranteed she’d find a home fast, I was told. I informed my mom that Le Uggo would be out of our lives in a few days.

Then mom surprised me.

“How do we know she’ll go to a good home? She’s such a sweet little thing. I don’t know about this Petsmart deal, Eve.” My jaw hit the proverbial floor when I saw her eyes were watering.

“Mom, have you fallen in love with that goofy ass dog?!”

Next thing you know, I’m calling Petsmart to cancel the whole deal. My mom was now the proud owner of five pounds of awkward.

I took the liberty of naming the dog. I had just seen the musical “Wicked” while on vacation in Dallas, and was knee deep in the book.  In this amazing fictional twist on the whole “The Wizard of Oz” story, the Wicked Witch of the West is actually a brilliant, misunderstood woman, shunned by society due to her looks. Elphaba was her formal name, but those close to her called her Elphie. It seemed appropriate, so I named the dog after the character.

You could say young Elphie soon became quite comfortable in her new abode.

She adopted the cats as beloved siblings, often horning in on their playtime and snoozing next to them. After awhile, I’m pretty sure she was unaware that she was a different species than the kitties.

While Elphie was primarily my mother’s pet, she saw me as what I called “Mom #2”. When I’d go over to my mom’s house, she would explode with the joy usually reserved for a long lost vet coming home from the war. As soon as I pulled up in the driveway, she’d run out the door as fast as her little terrier legs could carry her, dance and turn circles, then zip back inside to retrieve one of her toys. She would run it back outside to share with me, inviting me to play.

Whenever Elphie was let out in her back yard, she would celebrate by tearing around as fast as she could, running in figure eights over and over. She experienced joy on a level I had never seen in a pet before. Zippy the Wonder Dog, I called her.

When my mother’s dementia began to compromise her ability to live alone, I moved into her home. Elphie couldn’t have been happier. Over time, I blew a fair amount of money on a varied collection of her beloved squeaky plush toys. She established a hierarchy with them. Pinky the Flamingo was king of her world. The next favorite was Phil the Pheasant, then Woodstock the yellow bird, and so on. I remember the night Pinky went missing, and I spent almost two hours online, frantic in my pursuit to find an exact replacement.

Elphie transformed in my eyes. She became beautiful to me.  Lovely enough to dress up! Still, at least I never turned into one of those creepy dames that buys their tiny dogs an outfit to wear.

Wait, I can explain this. Elphie got cold when she went outside in the winter. It was Christmas. I was weak. You have to admit green is a good color on her. In my defense, it’s the only doggie outfit I got her. Except for the blue Snuggie. You read that right: I discovered on a trip to CVS that the adult blanket-as-sleepwear had been adapted to fit a snoozy pooch. I got her a blue one to lounge around the house in. In Elphie’s defense, she refused to wear it. Years later, in a moment of regret and sanity, I donated the Snuggie to an animal shelter, where I’m sure several more dogs refused to be dressed in it, too.

The years have flown by with Elphie always being a constant in my life. Quick to bark the second she senses trouble or an unexplained sound, her barking racket offered us a great sense of security. The only ones unimpressed were the wild deer that are often in the yard. When she went outside, instead of running off in great fear at the tiny canine predator, the deer would just stand there, chewing their cud with a thought bubble over their heads saying, “Call me when you’re a real dog”.

Sadly, the passing years also brought about poor health of late. Hip issues that are common in smaller dogs, and about which the vet hard warned us would happen, began to affect Elphie’s ability to walk. Any measures taken would only be stop gap, and as one often has to do when contemplating the life of an aging pet, I had to consider if multiple trips to the vet – which would no doubt leave her trembling and hysterical, as they always did – and any accompanying procedures and meds would be extending her quality of life, or just making her last days more difficult than they needed to be.

I had to make a decision. As painful as it was, I chose a sooner journey to the Rainbow Bridge, rather than a latter one. A tender mercy, as my friend so eloquently put it.

As the final day approached, I plied her with both her favored Pupperoni sticks and the cat treats she stole from the cats when they weren’t swift enough to gobble them down first.

I even convinced her someone was at the door, then recorded a minute of her barking fit on my phone. I know that long after she’s gone, anytime there is a stranger at my front door or I hear a questionable noise at night, I can play the recording, making it appear my tiny but loyal protector is on the job. There’s something incredibly bittersweet about knowing Elphie will still protect her Mom #2 long after she’s gone.

It took me over a month to get from the moment I chose to put her to sleep until the day I mustered the ability to make an appointment with the vet. When the day arrived, I became so despondent ten minutes before the appointment, I changed it to the next day. Ultimately, I had to go through with it. To make it even more brutally unfair, I had to hide what happened from my mother. Aren’t moms supposed to be the ones to comfort their child when they lose a family pet? Not anymore, not in my family.

I let Elphie go today.

Everyone says their dog is the best, but in my case I suspect it was true. And if anyone wants to say their dog is equally as awesome, I can understand that. Just hold that thought for a week or a year or a lifetime. Right now, I just need to let everyone know that once there was an awesome little not so ugly yap dog that ruled my neck of the woods, and today I released her.

Thank you, Elphie, my canine love. Mom #2 will see you on the other side.

An Understanding

drown1

“I understand.”

Two words that had become Karen’s motto. It was her robo-response to each new version of another “You’re on your own” shiv stuck in her side that she had collected over the past, increasingly desperate months of her life.

She hung up the phone and drained the last tepid swallow from the cup of coffee she used as a paper weight to corral the stack of bills on her desk. While she normally paid them online, what she owed whom and how overdue it was had become so confusing that Karen had printed out the whole sordid mess in order to make handwritten notes on the paperwork.

She had spent the morning on her bare bones plan cell phone, dialing each company to whom she was in debt, explaining to a host of service representatives why she couldn’t pay them yet again.

Underemployed for six months, followed by unemployed for another four, Karen’s previously steady financial picture had crumbled to pieces. The few family members still in her life were loath to offer a financial hand, and the even fewer number of people Karen could comfortably call friends were either unsympathetic or knee-deep in their own swamp of debt.

A calendar full of late and partial payments to her landlord, utility companies, phone services, credit cards and student loans kept Karen awake during the small hours many nights. The cable company had cut her off in the spring. Her landline was dead in the water, the number already reassigned to a new customer.  Master Card had closed both of her accounts and assigned them to a collection agency the week of her 40th birthday, which meant the end of cash advances she immediately turned into rent payments.

Karen had grudgingly learned to live with all of that, but now that the electric company was playing hard ball, the dire nature of her financial future slapped her dead in the face. Pay six hundred seventy-nine dollars in full by the end of the week, or lights and air conditioning go bye-bye. Holding up the check-out line in order to count nickels and dimes to buy a bag of store-brand spaghetti, as she had last night, was a pretty good harbinger of the chances of any bill collectors receiving their due.

“We know times are tough, and we have worked with your late payments for months now, Ms. Anderson,” said the electric company employee in a jarring Boston accent. “But we have now run out of options. We don’t enjoy turning off a customer’s electricity, but you’ve reached the end of the line with your account.”

“I understand,” Karen replied, mustering a politeness in her voice, despite the anger flashing on her face.


A month earlier, Jeff had held Karen’s hand firmly between his own, giving her an earnest look that both touched and disturbed her. “I just can’t see wasting any more time,” he said.

Karen had put the better part of three years into her relationship with Jeff. She had pulled down the wall around her heart, brick by painful brick, in order to let him in. But apparently it hadn’t been enough to keep his full attention. Sounding like the local sportscaster giving a play-by-play recap, he detailed the affair he had begun a few months ago with the new sales manager in his office.

Karen did love the tall, brown-eyed loan officer with whom she had shared her life, her heart and her bed during the longest relationship of her life. Over their time together, Jeff could draw Karen close to him and coo words that made her feel as safe as a child in her father’s arms, yet in equal parts he could display a chilly side that left her feeling isolated and lonely even when he was sitting right beside her.

As the walls closed in on Karen in other areas of her life, she had a nagging feeling that a real future with Jeff had called a cab and left. Still, his break-up announcement, coming just twenty minutes after somewhat lackluster sex on her sofa, came as a shock.

“I’m a man, babe. What can I say? You’re always in that pretty little head of yours, and Virginia is more about getting out, having fun, being kind of wild. Maybe it’s because she’s so much younger than you, I don’t know. Anyway, I just couldn’t take lying to you anymore.” Jeff said, letting her hand drop in her lap with an audible thud. “So we’re, you know, done here.”

“I understand,” Karen said dutifully, and walked him to the front door.


A couple of months before that, Karen leaned over the cold metal exam table, pulling the shivering bundle of fur close to her body. “I know, I know, sweetie. We’ll be going home very quickly. You’re such a brave boy.”

Henry was a French bulldog Karen had plucked from the middle of a busy parkway seven years ago on her way home from getting a haircut that was so atrocious, she had wept in the car before she could pull out of the parking lot. Despite calls to area vets and a handful of “Found” signs posted around the neighborhood, no one came forward to claim the lost puppy. Karen acquiesced to Henry’s bug-eyed pleadings for a forever home, and placed a green collar around his neck, claiming him as her surrogate son.

Despite being denied the experience of a pet throughout her childhood, Karen quickly settled into her role of ‘fur mom’, falling head over heels for the mischievous canine who never failed to develop a severe case of wiggle butt whenever she returned home from a day or evening out. She trained Henry to retrieve his own leash for their forays in nature with a simple command of “Walk!” He slept on an expensive fleece blanket at the foot of her king-sized bed, and seemed to forget all about whatever bad luck or ill treatment had brought him to be lost in the streets in the first place.

When a few days of lethargy turned into a refusal to eat anything, including a hand-cooked burger patty, Karen booked an appointment with Henry’s vet. Two office visits, an invasive exam and multiple blood tests later, Dr. Murphy broke the bad news. A tumor had developed in Henry’s abdomen, and the prognosis was bleak at best. Karen took home printouts of treatment plans and a price list the vet had provided her, but what blacked out virtually all hope she had was his warning that these options were pretty much a Hail Mary pass. It was just a matter of the clock running out.

At the last appointment in the stucco building by the highway off-ramp, Dr. Murphy put his clipboard down and gave Karen a solemn stare. “Look, I can continue to offer medications that will ease his pain, but he’s slipping away. It’s up to you to decide how much of this you want him to bear before the inevitable happens.”

“What do you recommend?” Karen asked, lifting Henry into her arms, her tears dropping onto his now dull, camel-colored coat.

“If it were me, I would put him down. I can go ahead and perform the service for you right now, if you like. Letting one of our pets go is never easy, but sometimes it’s the kindest option.”

Karen kissed her sweet puppy on the head a few times, and said quietly, “I understand.”


“Gosh, Karen, I’m sure sorry to hear how tough things are for you, but as I told you before, the waiting list for sliding scale therapy is five months long. You can try asking your doctor for an anti-depressant to help tide you over.” The effeminate-looking man at the downtown county clinic seemed genuine in his wish to help, but also exhausted by likely having delivered some version of this speech on a daily basis to the sorrowful city dwellers who sought low (or no) cost psychiatric help.

“Here’s the thing, Kevin, ” Karen said, reading the receptionist’s name off the plastic tag on his dress shirt. “I don’t have insurance. Paying for the doctor visit is already a problem, and then the hundred bucks a pop for a prescription on top of that? I just don’t have it. I know someone who went here and was able to get free samples from her therapist, so I was kind of hoping to do that.”

“Yes, the free meds and therapy deal is quite popular, as you might imagine, but it’s limited. You can always hope for the best when we eventually call you to come in. Sorry I can’t offer you more.” Karen opened her mouth to respond, but no words came to mind. “I’ll pray for you,” Kevin added, already scanning the sign-in sheet for the next name to call out in his high-pitched voice.

“I understand,” Karen said in a stoic voice, pushing the strap on her purse firmly up on her shoulder and turning for the door.


Singer commits suicide in hotel room in Hawaii

The headline leapt off the home page of the news outlet Karen favored. Mitch Lowe was the singer for a pop rock band that peaked two decades ago, but continued to record music that Karen faithfully purchased. She had followed Lowe’s career through two modestly successful solo albums, and caught him in concert just a few years ago at a theater while on vacation. His tenor delivery of his own lyrical prowess still moved her, as it had in her high school days.

Despite fame and fortune, or whatever was left of it, Lowe had apparently reached the end of his personal rope. Over the next few days, multiple news organizations and ghoulish gossip websites verified that the aging heartthrob had downed half a bottle of a popular prescription drug and most of a bottle of top shelf tequila, then leapt from the balcony of his room at a high-rise hotel on Waikiki Beach. He left no note, but loved ones told stories of a depression that had closed in on him, and a notice of bankruptcy recently filed in court.

The internet filled up with tributes to the lost soul. Predictably, comments sections and social network postings spilled over with the pithy, unsympathetic rants of how Mitch was a coward and a loser, and deserved no sympathy. Funny how those who have never walked in a valley of emotional darkness easily appoint themselves as experts on how one must handle that very situation. Karen had offered half-hearted rebuttals on a few websites, daring to offer up her own depression and how it manifested itself in mournful thoughts, but she was shot down every time.

Even those who claimed to have been through their own moments of desperation had no sympathy for Karen, Mitch or anyone else. They all maintained that when you reach the end of your rope, you don’t swing from it, you tie a knot and hang on! Karen pictured the old chestnut inspirational poster of the kitten hanging from a tree branch by his front paws, beneath the directive “HANG IN THERE!”

A final interview given to a freelance journalist who happened to be a seatmate on Lowe’s flight to Honolulu surfaced a couple of weeks after his death. After a few mile high cocktails, Lowe had opened up to her about his darkest moments; an act of foreshadowing  in hindsight.

“I probably shouldn’t talk about this, but I’ve actually made plans before. I wrote notes to send to a few people, trying to appease them after the fact, you know? But I never went through with it. I do what I can. I do what the experts tell me to do. I have a shrink, I take my bloody meds. But some days the darkness is like an eclipse. No matter how much I try to open my eyes and see something new, everything remains pitch black. It’s painful just to breathe. Where’s the hope in that, I ask you? F***ing pundits tell me there’s always hope but I don’t know. And it gets harder and harder to care.”

“I understand,” said Karen, pulling out a box of stationery from her desk drawer.

Charlie & the Girls

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The boogeyman just died.

Charles Manson, to most, but throughout my childhood, I thought of him as the boogeyman. I had just turned three when several members of the Manson family snuck into the warm California night, slaughtered five people and became ghoulish celebrities that dominated the news for months to come via a trial that was the O.J. Simpson case of its time.

I was in elementary school when I used my meager allowance to buy a used copy of Helter Skelter. I knew better than to tell my parents of my purchase, as it would’ve been confiscated and dropped in the trash immediately. I devoured that paperback book. It was hard for my childish mind to take it all in, but I couldn’t get enough of the details. To me, it could have stood alone as a fictional novel, but it had an impact that was tenfold greater because it was true life.

I shared my book with a couple of trusted friends, who were equally shocked by the painstaking details now imbedded in our tender young minds. We poured over the pictures time and again, shocked by the audacity of the bloodlettings unleashed in the Tate and LaBianca households, as well as the other killings attributed to the Manson Family.

We thought of Charles Manson as the boogeyman because we were afraid he would escape prison, come straight to Texas, and murder us. If not him, he might order one of his followers to come after a gaggle of school girls, and write on our front doors with our blood.

When the television movie based on the Vincent Bugliosi book aired, I was forbidden to watch it. Determined not to have my mom ruin my need to indulge in my obsession with the Manson Family, I took my portable, 13 inch black and white television into the bathroom and watched it there. My mother had gone to bed early, and my defiance escaped her notice. My only temptation to confess was when I awoke from a subsequent nightmare brought on by the viewing.

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As I struggled to understand what happened on those two fateful August nights, I tried to picture the peace of the home rented by actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant on the day of her death. Her husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of town at the time. Sharon’s friends, hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and her boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski, were with Tate in the home. House caretaker Steven Parent was alone in the guest house.

I loved the idea of this beautiful actress with honey-colored hair feeling free enough amongst friends to lounge around them in her bra and panties, her clothing now too restricting for a woman so close to giving birth. I responded more to the idea of an earth mother archetype like that than the typical princesses manufactured by Disney.

I would then picture what it must have felt like when the horror began. When several strangers who, on the surface, might look like they would be your peace and love allies, broke into the home and committed carnage that spread from room to room and out on the lawn.

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I also ached for the fear and shock experienced by Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, when the Family assaulted and extinguished them the following night.

My best friend and I were fascinated not just by the crimes, but by the family itself. We girls were born during the height of the Hippie Era, and were already entranced by the young people embracing free love, alternative living and invigorating rock music.

While most girls were play acting marriage ceremonies between Ken and Barbie, Susan and I were putting on little skits in her play room in which we imagined our lives when we had become the freedom loving, long haired women of the 1970’s we were eager to become. We outlined ideas of living in a commune, the men we’d fall in love with and how adult we would feel, then act them out as our own entertainment. Theatre for two adolescent girls.

We even incorporated our old school flat top tape recorders, pressing the red ‘record’ button to capture our latest dramatic renderings. We played our grownup selves, as well as our lovers, and two or three fellow commune residents we had cast in our roleplay of life when we were eighteen and free to do as we pleased.

I’ve remained consumed by any new information about the Manson Family throughout my entire life. I read and reread “Helter Skelter” so many times that the pictures became faded, and I bought a new copy several years ago. I have added a good half a dozen other books about the crimes to my collection, and I will watch any new movie or tv show about the subject, although most of them end up disappointing me for one reason or another.

Several years ago, I bought a little known book by Karlene Faith called The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten. Van Houten was one of the women convicted in the trial for her participation in the murder of Rosemary LaBianca (she was not present at the Tate killings). She was found guilty of stabbing Mrs. LaBianca, although it is arguable whether or not the wounds were delivered post-mortem.

The author of the book does not attempt to defend the crimes themselves, but rather explore why a ‘good girl’ like Leslie ended up in a hippie commune turned killer cult, and brainwashed to follow the rantings of a diminutive madman (most people are surprised to learn that Manson was only 5’2″).

To be perfectly clear, I recognize that these crimes were brutal, sick and deserved imprisonment. The initial punishment was death row for Manson (despite his not having actually participated in the Tate/LaBianca murders), Charles “Tex” Watson, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan “Sadie” Atkins. When California overturned the death penalty, their sentences were commuted to life in prison.

As a person with a lifelong interest in the psychology of why people do what they do, this book gave me information to ponder, as well as some outright answers as to why an impressionable young woman might transition from her previous life to that of a devotee resident of the Spahn ranch. It really isn’t just the crimes themselves that have interested me all this time, but the psychology of how the members of the cult – the women who went on trial in particular – renounced sanity and peace in order to carry out orders by a sick, violent man.

As well, I wanted to understand how the most famous Family members came to think of their actions and their leader in hindsight. Who did they become when they went out of circulation? What were their truest thoughts and emotions when they sat alone in their prison cells some five years after the crimes? Ten years, twenty years? Now just shy of fifty years?

Author Karlene Faith used her thirty-year friendship with Van Houten, whom she met while teaching in prison, to help paint a full picture of who the Manson Girl became once she was out of the cult. Van Houten renounced Manson very quickly after entering prison life, and became a model prisoner. By all accounts of the penal definition of ‘remorseful’ and ‘rehabilitated’, she has been qualified for parole for a good twenty years plus.

I’ll stop you right here to say I understand most knee-jerk reactions to the idea of paroling any Manson Family member is ‘Oh, hell no!’. Lock ’em up, keys out the window, etc. And I do get that. But what Faith’s book and subsequent happenings since it was published show is that it’s not necessarily a failure on Van Houten’s part to prove she is ready for release and no longer a threat to the general public, but rather a potential political grandstanding that keeps her behind bars.

Parole board members have admitted, even if off the record, that despite evidence given them, no one wants to be the guy or gal who voted to let one of those infamous killer hippies go free. A review of stats gathered for similar crimes in California show many examples of inmates who committed crimes with a higher body count than Van Houten, and who were less than model prisoners, yet served greatly reduced prison terms in comparison.

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Being a student of the whole clan, I have my own opinions on this. I do believe the case for Van Houten’s release is clear.

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Having said that, I concur with the decision to keep Manson in jail for life. He himself said many times he had no interest in leaving, even if he had been paroled.

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I believe Tex Watson to be a liar when he touts his jailhouse conversion to Christianity as proof he’s no longer the man he was. Based on what I know of him, I’m quite happy he’s still a prisoner.

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I have had doubts about Krenwinkel, but in researching interviews and her own prison record in terms of remorse and rehabilitation, I believe she may indeed qualify for parole, too.

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Sadie Atkins died from cancer in prison in 2009, and I am relieved she was never released. She wrote a rambling book detailing how she married while in prison,  became born again, and started a ministry to help others. I believe Atkins to have been a danger to even the proverbial fly on the wall, all the way to her death. To me, she was mentally wired to be drawn to the extremity of being in a sect of zealous believers, and she merely traded in the Cult of Charlie for the Cult of Christ. That is in no way a denigration of Christians, but rather my conviction that she merely switched her fevered, singularly focused obsession on one group and its leader to a different one.

Atkins was the first of the main players in the Family to die. When I read online that Manson was hospitalized near death, I wondered what I might think and feel upon his demise. I’m still not sure what it is yet.

It’s certainly not sadness. He fostered a lot of horrible ideas and acts of violence in the world, and was incredibly sexist, despite the bevy of women who were once so loyal to him. For the past almost half a century, Manson offered nothing to the world other than occasional bat shit crazy quotes picked up by the media.

Other than a few mentally ill groupies that inevitably attach themselves to a serial killer, no one will want to share kind thoughts or sweet memories of him at his funeral, if he receives anything beyond a legally required pauper’s send-off.

The nearest I can compare my reaction to is it’s like seeing a character killed off a television show you’ve been watching forever. I won’t miss the little fucker, but I recognize the star of the drama I’ve followed since I was old enough to even grasp the concept of current events has now departed this world.

At some point, the entire cast and audience will be gone. The grieving relatives of the deceased. The legal teams present at the trial. The media members that covered it.  The rest of the imprisoned.  The girls who shaved their heads and carved an X in their foreheads to demonstrate support for Manson outside the courthouse. The followers who fled the Family and we never hear about. All the spectators who were alive the summer the Manson Family became infamous.

The era of Helter Skelter will officially close. And I still say what a fascinating piece of American history to be witnessed by this Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/River_Writer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dating Websites, Tractors & Me

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I signed up for a dating website.

Not voluntarily, mind you. The plan was just to test the waters and see what was out there, but every site I checked out required that I cough up an email address and some basic info in order to see a list of potential Mr. Rights. I tentatively selected one that promised me I wouldn’t have to post a live profile; I could just let it sit quietly, unseen by others until I wanted to make it public.

Even knowing that, I thought I was going to throw up from nerves as I progressed through the mandatory questions. I went through the basic checklist the site gives timid newbies like me, and ticked off the preferred parameters, such as age range, proximity to me and if I will tolerate smokers (spoiler: I won’t).

I filled out the basics of who I am, such as age, religious affiliation, and career. I put that I’m child-free (by choice), but I’m fine with a single dad. Past a certain age, you limit yourself severely if you only take men who haven’t spawned.

Then I went to bed, doing my best to forget this experiment. I woke up in the middle of the night, and moved laser-like to my laptop, mindful of how I might just be a click away from The Great Love of My Life. Sure enough, I had an email from the site with a list of potential life mates with whom they had painstakingly matched me.

Score, right? Why hadn’t I tried this years ago?!

Sure, I’ve heard horror stories from friends who used dating sites before, but I was going to Pollyanna my way through this. I couldn’t contact any of the men until I bought a membership, so this was just window shopping. No need to stress. Just seeing what’s for sale, so to speak.

Overwhelmed by the volume of choices selected for me, I decided to start by just clicking on the profiles of men who were cute, or at least semi-attractive. Not because I will accept only gorgeous men, nor do I offer up the body of Venus with the wrinkle-free face of a co-ed. It just seemed easier to start sorting through the ones to whom I at least felt a flash of initial attraction. When/if I actually pay for a membership, I can do a more thorough search.

The initial ‘cuties only’ plan was rather short-lived, so I began looking at most of the matches.

Within minutes, the hopeful smile I was sporting slid straight off my face, and I asked myself if it was too early to begin heavy drinking so soon after the bars had already closed. This is not to say there were no men at all that made me think ‘strong possibility’, but those numbered in the lower single digits. Many of the others just did nothing for me.

Then, there were the ones that made me marvel at what a person will post as a profile on a dating site, thinking it’s showcasing their best side. Some ads were just downright mind-boggling.

An encapsulation of my journey through the list of contestants for my soul mate:

<CLICK> Hmmm. He’s not bad. We have a couple of things in common. He’s a maybe, I suppose.

<CLICK> No, not feeling it. (repeat several times)

<CLICK> No. (repeat this one, too)

<CLICK> Oh, hell no. (see note above about repeating)

<CLICK> FFS, is there not a literacy test for these ads? Could I make a fortune starting a dating website that has as Step One a basic English test in order to register? If you fail that, you’re rejected. I know I’m extra picky because I’m a writer, but seriously, folks. I’m scarred from some of the abuse of language and punctuation I witnessed.

<CLICK> This guy says he treats a lady like a queen. This includes an offer for what I’m guessing is oral sex for the lucky gal he chooses, unless he meant something else by a promise to “PLEASER DOWEN UNDER, JUST CALL ME A FLOWER SNIFER”. A flower snifer. Laugh or cry, not sure which one to do here…

<CLICK> This guy spent two entire paragraphs detailing his love of tractors, including why the green one is his favorite. He laments the fact that his tractor time is limited.

<CLICK> This one put ’69’ in his user name. Yeah, that’s all I need to know about his maturity level.

<CLICK> “Don’t pay any attention to the wedding ring in my pictures, ladies! I promise you I’m divorced now.” So is this guy married but unaware of how to crop a photo in order to hide that fact? Is he actually divorced and too stupid to understand he can take new pictures sans the ring? Is the picture old and he is hiding how different he looks now?

<CLICK> A woman?! I know I specified men only. I’m going to try not to take this as a subtle sign from their webmaster that I should just give up and play for the other team.

<CLICK> Another tractor lover? I don’t recall checking the ‘must love farm equipment’ preference box.

<CLICK> Oh, sweet Moses. Who uses a bathroom selfie that prominently features a Bandaid he has over one eyebrow as his profile picture? Not just one of those tiny bandages nobody ever uses, but a full-size one that starts up on his forehead, cuts through the middle of his brow, and lands just north of his eyelid? What kind of injury does he have? Who takes a look at their eyebrow-Bandaid-having-ass in the mirror that day, and goes, “Bam! Sexy! This is totes gonna be my dating site picture!”?

To add insult to his literal injury, he stated that he’s got a high sex drive, and any women he dates better be up for lots of new stuff in the sack. Yeah, a big pass on this guy.

<CLICK> This man says he holds the Guinness World Record for building the biggest delta kite in the history of all delta kitehood. I don’t know what a delta kite is, but this story is easily verified. I mean, what kind of moron would fib about something I could so easily check? Lemme just google that.

Hmmm, there are way more kite records than I realized. For that matter, way more grown-ass men who are into kites than I knew existed. Okay, here’s the kite record dealie.

AHA! He lied! That’s just sad.

Ya know what else is sad? It’s 4:00 am and I just spent 30 minutes googling kite records to test the honesty of some bozo I don’t know on a dating site, and wouldn’t go out with even if he was Honest Abe of the Delta Kite community. Even worse, I’m thinking about paying the membership fee just so I can contact him and tell him his pants are on fire.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this dating website thing. I’m gonna sleep on it for a night or two. Or several hundred. Certainly, at least as long as it takes to bone up on tractor information, so I’ll have something to talk about with my new husband.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/River_Writer

Harvey Weinstein & Addiction

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I see that disgraced movie exec Harvey Weinstein, who in the past week has been accused by scores of women of sexual harassment and assault, is seeking treatment for his ‘sex addiction’.

Yeah, I’m not buying it.

First of all, that condition is not widely accepted as being legit. One can engage in compulsive sexual behaviors, and seek treatment for that, but calling it an addiction is a bridge too far for me, as well as many others familiar with the field of behavioral and addictive issues.

Furthermore, Mr. Weinstein did not spend decades in bars and clubs, trying to pick up willing women who were on an even playing field with him. He is a sexual predator who has used his position of immense power, in an industry many are desperate to break into, in order to get what he wants. He threatened women with loss of work if they refused his advances.  He settled scores of lawsuits in order to try to hide his predatory behavior, so that he could not only get away with past transgressions but continue to indulge in future ones.

If Weinstein wants to seek therapeutic help to discover his motivations for his abusive behavior, to learn to take authentic responsibility for how he has chosen to act, and to prevent doing so in the future, I fully support that.

However, he is not taking any true responsibility if he decides that he is merely an addict who had no control. Framing two plus known decades of allegedly preying on women as young as seventeen in order to get what he wants, knowing full well they might give into his requests and desires solely out of fear of professional reprisal or physical harm, as “Oops, I couldn’t help myself! I’m an addict, you know” doesn’t fly. It doesn’t even get past airport security.

Then there are the rape accusations. If those are true, and he is brought to trial, does he plan to sit on the witness stand in his expensive suit, shrug his shoulders, and say, “Couldn’t help myself, your honor”?

Again, not buying it.

When you take something that does not belong to you in a nefarious criminal act, you are a criminal. There is no excuse; neither one that is one nor twelve steps long. One cannot have legitimate thoughts and acts of contrition if one does not recognize their own choices to act in ways they know are morally wrong and potentially criminal.

I took a look at some of the inpatient treatment programs available for ‘sex addiction’. It is a subject with which I am not unfamiliar, having worked for a company for many years that offered that very option as part of an umbrella of treatment for many other issues. I was curious what options Mr. Weinstein has, now that he has announced he is seeking treatment.

I found a place that offers help not only for sex addiction, but also ‘love addiction’. Let’s let that settle for a second, shall we? I picture a ward full of lookalike model clones from the infamous Robert Palmer video, all of them claiming to be Addicted To Love. One facility described love addiction on their website as loving someone “with an obsessive intensity that is not in the best interest of either party”. It states that the field of candidates a love addict might focus on includes “movie stars they have not met”.

In other words, you’re not a stalker, you’re a love addict. At least, that’s the story you can tell yourself, your victims and your lawyer in an attempt to absolve yourself of true responsibility for your behavior. If you’re sued by your ex-girlfriend or neighbor or a celebrity for constant, unwanted and threatening attention, don’t panic. You can attend rehab and walk away with a diploma that basically sells itself as a literal get-out-of-jail-free card.

I’m not a stalker! I am an addict. My drug of choice? Love. That reads like a Hallmark card, not what it actually is: habitual, illegal and threatening acts against an individual.

If you’re not familiar with the cost of rehab, it runs an average of $1,000 a day plus, and most programs want you to stay thirty days or more. In order to purchase your certificate (suitable for framing?) stating you are a sex or love addict, you will either need an enormous private pay source or a willing insurance program (many do not cover these particular maladies).

Again, I commend someone who seeks an intensive therapy program in order to learn to take responsibility, and stop acting in a way detrimental to themselves and others.

What is pure hogwash to me is when the Weinsteins of the world pretend to do that, but are really just rolling out an excuse-ridden faux apology drafted by their attorney, with a buzz phrase like “sex addiction” that nullifies any actual regret or taking of responsibility.

Since this bombshell story of Weinstein’s history of alleged sexual harassment and assault came to light, he has since been fired by his company, shunned by family, and left by his wife. One might argue that it takes serious repercussions like that before a person will admit they have a problem. Perhaps, but how much more genuine it would all seem if Harvey had seen the error of his ways, gotten tired of his life of intimidation and fear-mongering, and taken actual responsibility before he was forced to do so.

How refreshing if he and men like him didn’t wait until they were cornered, then hide behind legalese and psychiatric jargon, but instead said something like, “I’m a dick. One who enjoys coercing people with my actual dick. And I finally got sick of my own shit and am seeking help.”

I guess I won’t hold my breath on that one.

 


                              Twitter: https://twitter.com/River_Writer

Permanent Waves

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One of the many sequels to the original “Jaws” film featured a promotional tag line that came to mind as Hurricane Harvey came ashore here in Texas:

This time it’s personal.

As I write this, devastation abounds across the coastal area of my state, with Houston and other areas receiving an insane amount of flooding. A nation has watched in horror as both the water levels and the death toll rise. The number of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed has yet to be counted, with many residents stranded in shelters and other sanctuaries, awaiting word on if there is even a home to which they can return.

Is this all personal to me because it’s Texas, my home state? Sure. But there’s more to it than that. The eye of the hurricane cut a path straight through a small coastal town called Rockport. Bordering Aransas Bay, which is separated by a small strip of island from the Gulf of Mexico, the town is known for its excellent fishing opportunities. Rockport’s tiny population of 10,000 people cultivates a welcoming feel to the many tourists who flock there in the summer. In the winter, there are multiple options for snowbirds to rent property or park their RVs.

Growing up, there was turmoil in my family that cast some huge shadows. But one thing that always brought me great joy was our many trips to Rockport, about one hundred fifty miles from San Antonio. I have a head full of happy memories of the town, with most of them centering around the motel at which we always unloaded our car and set up camp.

Technically, the motel was just over the city line in Fulton, a tinier town next to Rockport, but I didn’t even realize there were twin cities until I was an adult. When I think of that whole area, I think of it as Rockport.

Rockport keeps their small town vibe alive by offering few options in terms of chain hotels, instead mostly featuring independently owned motels of varying quality. They are from the era of roadside motels that are often painted with bright colors, even if the paint might be faded and you know you are going to get what you pay for.

sand dollar inn courtyard deer 1

My family’s motel of choice was the Sandollar Resort, located across the street from Aransas Bay. It offered modestly priced, efficient rooms that felt like a 5-star resort to me. Guests of the approximately forty rooms had access to two swimming pools and a restaurant.

Most of my fondest memories of these vacations to Rockport center on this motel. Swimming in the pools, pancake breakfasts in the restaurant, and running barefoot through the grassy courtyard that featured statues of a family of deer. My family would often sit on the little concrete porch in front of our room, watching the sun come up over the Bay.

I returned for a trip there as an adult, and found the magic still flowed through my veins when I checked in. I stayed in one of the cabin type rooms, which offered extras like a kitchenette and sofa, and I relived the feeling of being ensconced that had filled my childhood memories.

I have remained so infatuated with this establishment, that I wrote a novel that is set in Rockport in a slightly fictionalized version of this motel. My goal has been to return there for another visit, but the trip has been postponed for varying reasons. I soothed myself with the knowledge that the Sandollar Resort will always be there.

It is for those reasons that I gripped the edge of my desk tightly when I saw online that as Hurricane Harvey made landfall, it was taking full aim at Rockport. I stayed up until the wee hours, frantically searching for information on how the town was holding up. While my own city of San Antonio was under flash flood warnings, and I had fears of what might become of my area, we were fortunate not to have any loss of power or real damage in my neighborhood.

As dawn broke the next day, I was up combing the internet for information, desperate to find out if what I think of as ‘my’ town survived. I found videos posted by storm chasers and first responders, but the town was too fresh from the lashing from Mother Nature to allow much to be revealed. The most informative source quickly became the Rockport Volunteer Fire Departmentwhich helped clarify the state of emergency with both words and images.

A letter from the town mayor announced that “approximately 30-40% of the houses and businesses in Rockport are completely destroyed. Another 30% are substandard and cannot be rebuilt.”

When I read those words, I wept. And the usual questions that occur in times like this sprung to mind: Why does this sort of thing happen?! How can life be so unbelievably cruel? How are people supposed to pick up and move on?

Those of us on Facebook following the dramatic events looked for ways to offer some sort of assistance that was personal to the area, rather than a generic donation to the usual disaster-related charities. Unfortunately, the damage was so fresh and the town so inaccessible, there wasn’t much one could do.

Rockport and Fulton were without electricity, water, or telephone. Many of the streets were blocked by fallen trees and other debris, and no one was allowed into the area unless they could prove they lived there. A curfew was in place, and some looting was reported (I believe there’s a special room in hell for those folks).

In addition, estimates for residents who chose to defy the evacuation warning and ride out the storm numbered anywhere from 30-50% of the population, making for a long list of homes the first responders had to check on. The pitiful pleas filled Facebook posts:

– Please check on my parents, they stayed!
– I can’t find my son, go to this address and look for him!
– Someone please go to my house and save my dogs!

Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe the desperation revealed by those begging for physical assistance and peace of mind about the fate of their loved ones. Even sadder, the pleas initially went unanswered. A house-to-house search and rescue simply wasn’t possible yet.

I kept an eye on other affected areas, and checked in with friends who were in danger of the Houston area flooding. I continued a frenzied search for my motel. I tried to prep myself that it was likely gone, and I would never set foot there again. Juxtaposed against those who lost family members, pets and their homes, my loss would be small potatoes. But still, my sentimental self knew if I found confirmation that the Sandollar Resort was gone or irretrievably damaged, it was going to hurt like hell.

I finally struck Information Pay Dirt on Tuesday, thanks to a woman named Jennifer Henderson, who works for the Aransas County Public Safety Center. She went out during a couple of the precious few off-duty hours she had in the midst of this crisis, and filmed major portions of the town. I watched every minute of her videos, pleading quietly for her to go north on Fulton Beach Road and let me know if cheers or tears were in order.

Finally, she did just that. As the car inched closer and closer to my old home base, I held my breath. Jennifer turned her camera to the right, and revealed the restaurant across the street from the motel was heavily damaged.

“Oh, God,” I said.

Then she swung her camera to the left.

And there she stood! The Sandollar Resort! This time, my tears were joyful.

Sandollar Inn Hurricane Aug '17 2
The old gal was not without damage, for sure. One entire room was eerily ripped from a second floor, while the one next to it remained. I suspect this might have been the handiwork of one of the many tornadoes that Harvey spawned. There was obvious roof damage to other parts of the complex, but there were also buildings still standing. At least at first glance, a total tear down may not be required.

With the grace of fate and good insurance, I fervently hope that the damage is limited enough that the owners of this beloved motel will be able to repair and reopen.

As of this writing, the water is back on in Rockport and Fulton, although boiling it is required. The plan is to have electricity back up within 2-3 weeks. Garbage pick-up begins this week, with the daunting task of removing not just the usual kitchen trash from homes, but massive amounts of hurricane debris and brush from innumerable trees.

“We will rebuild!” is the battle cry. And I know they will. My little seaside home-away-from-home will rise again. God willing and the Gulf don’t rise, I’ll see it again from the porch of a room at the Sandollar Resort one more time.

Last of all, here is your intrepid blog writer in the pool at the Sandollar Resort in the 1970’s, in what was likely my last time sporting a bikini.

Me Rockport Sanddollar 1

For those who are moved to help the Rockport & Fulton area by making a donation, two fundraising efforts have been established:

Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund for Rockport-Fulton
Aransas County Volunteer Firefighter Relief

Twitter: https://twitter.com/River_Writer

 

The Boy Who Cried Aloof

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I’ve wanted to write about the goings-on in the White House for quite awhile now, but so many have done it so well, that I wasn’t particularly moved to add my two cents. That is, until a young woman asked me to help assuage her fears about what Trump is doing to this country, citing me as the only person to whom she could bring these concerns.

This flattered me greatly. I banged out a response on Facebook, where she had approached me, thinking that would be enough. But then I began to think about her question and my response.

What do we do, those of us who find Trump and his wonks to be abhorrent to the future of this country? Where do we start? How do I give this frightened young woman – and the frightened middle-aged woman writing this – some semblance of putting the situation in perspective, as well as offering a plan?

The idea of that task made me want to sit in a dark closet for a week, armed only with a bottle of mood stabilizers and a half dozen gallons of Blue Bell ice cream.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about it for days now. And I have a better grasp on things, and more importantly, a better sense of hope. Which is much needed, considering the emotional number done on the heads of so many of us by the events in Charlottesville.

To be fair, the rally itself, and the murder of an innocent woman, were bad enough. But the reaction from our leader and his sycophantic defenders? Jesus wept. (He was a Jew, so I’m guessing he would see the difference between those carrying torches, citing Nazi slogans and murdering someone versus those who came in peace to counter that ideology.)

I’m reminded of a lyric from John Cougar Mellencamp’s pensive 1985 song “Rain on the Scarecrow“. He wrote of the decimation of so many farms, and the impact on the people who worked the land. Our land. The lyrics tell of a bank foreclosing on a farmer whose crops failed yet again. The auctioneer showed up, offering a bashful excuse to Cougar:

He said, “John, it’s just my job, and I hope you understand”
Hey, calling it your job, old hoss, sure don’t make it right
But if you want me to, I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight

The reason that bit of musical poetry came to mind is because I believe that the jury is in on Trump. He’s unfit for the presidency. Hell, he’s unfit to sit on a condo board in one of his own buildings. He is bereft of intellect, devoid of morals, and unable or unwilling (take your pick) to see the world from any perspective other than what is most comfortable and familiar to an aged, white, heterosexual, Christian (in name only), power mad, money grubbing media whore.

I picture the inside of Trump’s brain as some sort of Roald Dahl type landscape. Jagged, dead end lines of faux reasoning in jarring colors. Electrons misfiring at regular intervals. Tumbleweeds rolling from ear to ear whenever something challenging comes up, like complicated questions of moral leadership or, perhaps, long division.

He is a lost cause. Efforts to try to get him to open up his mind are wasted. There is no reaching or changing him. He is The Boy Who Cried Aloof.

So what do I tell this woman when she asks me, “What now?” My friend who is 22 years old, fresh from college graduation, the granddaughter of a Greek immigrant, and only remembers Obama in office. A woman wondering what to make of the psychotic blatherings emitting from a tired old man incapable of empathy who has grown frustrated and bored with his job, but we are forced to deal with because his job is leader of our country and the free world.

I tell her this: We go to war.

Not literal war. Not violent reactions. We go to war in the way they went to war in the 60’s.

We organize. We continue protests such as the Women’s March this past January and the moving gathering at the Charlottesville campus at which  people sang songs of peace and showed what most Americans actually look and sound like. They proved that candlelight is more popular and more powerful than the light from tiki torches.

We remind ourselves and each other that how this president conducts himself is not normal.

We put pressure on those inside the White House and all other politicians who excuse a reality show host out of a heartless alliance with his racist, sexist, homophobic and religious intolerant views. These people need to be held accountable for bolstering the lunatic fringe.

We apply the same pressure to those in leadership roles who sit quietly on the sidelines, hoping to avoid any damage to their careers and reputations by trying to appear neutral. There is no ‘it’s just my job, hoss’. Figure out which side of history you want to be on, and act like it. Put country above political party and your own ass.

I do believe that we can remove Trump from office, through impeachment or through making him so thoroughly fed up and uncomfortable that he shrieks, “Screw it, I’m out of this dump!”, and fires off some monosyllabic resignation letter, likely with 140 characters or less.

I do believe one of those two outcomes – impeachment or shameful resignation – is more likely than him lasting a full term.

But we cannot assume it. We have to work for it.

And it will likely be a long and arduous battle (hell, it’s already been one up to this point).

This tyrant continues to repeat lie after lie. We have to repeat truth after truth. We must remind ourselves and each other that he is a snake oil salesman. We must counter his falsehoods with reality. We must take to the streets in peaceful demonstration, like the Suffragettes from the turn of last century and the tie-dyed protestors with Beatles lyrics on their lips. We must sign petitions, work with community groups, and stay informed.

We must educate ourselves, and refuse to accept the actual ‘fake news’ that is disseminated through social media, word of mouth and the usual hosts, such as Fox News.

We must pace ourselves. Part of achieving that is to make sure we take breaks, when needed. It’s perfectly fine to check out of social media and news reports for a day or several days, when it becomes overwhelming. Remember, Trump does something nutball crazy three times before breakfast. If you miss one tweet or action, there will be plenty to catch up on when you come back up for air.

So there, my friend, who is like a daughter to me. That’s what I believe we do. We commit to the long haul of refusing to accept a full term – or God forbid, two – of Batshit Crazy Cheeto Theatre.

Wear comfortable shoes. This may take a while.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/River_Writer

 

 

 

 

Malls of America

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Reading this article gave me a sad. If you’re not inclined to read the link (you should read it), it tells how over the next five years, 20-25% of all enclosed malls in the U.S. will close. Add those to the high number of shopping corpses already on the pile, and the body count is high.

I can’t go on a diatribe about how people need to get out of their homes, get in their cars or on public transport and commit more acts of commerce in person, as I haven’t actually set foot inside an enclosed mall in years. I heartily enjoy online shopping, which makes me part of the reason hundreds of malls have already closed or soon will shutter their doors. I cannot rage against this particular economic machine.

What I can do, however, is wax nostalgic. It seems to be a theme in my latest writings, and I ain’t gonna fight it.

Like most folks born and raised before the genesis of the internet era, I have plenty of mall related memories. As a kid, malls seemed like magical places. Almost like an amusement park, but with stores instead of rides. Sometimes it was a boring ride, like when mom dragged me into Thom McAn to buy shoes, or I had to endure her need for new housewares at Sears or sewing notions in the five-and-dime anchor store. Luckily, these were the exceptions, rather than the rules.

There were holiday events, like waiting not so patiently in line to have my photo taken with the Mall Santa. I still vividly recall the thrill of being a second grade kiddo riding the miniature Christmas train around the mall with my friend Robbie and her many siblings.

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Above all else, nothing beat a trip to the toy store. The Toy Box was a favorite mall tenant of mine. I feel sorry for children raised in a time when individual toy stores are rare, and many of their shopping sprees are confined to a couple of aisles at a big box retailer or Amazon type websites. There was nothing better than an entire store dedicated to toys and the kids who loved them. Grownups were invited to visit, and certainly to pony up at the checkout counter, but we kids knew to whom the store belonged.

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Another thing permanently entangled in my mall memories is the excitement of a trip to the resident record store. Those visits started in middle school, when my interest in top 40 radio began to morph into rock music. The first few visits to record stores felt a bit like a freshman getting used to her new high school. I began collecting KISS albums in the sixth grade, and places like The Record Hole helped educate me to the epic (and still pretty new) band’s library. Just looking at certain band photographs and album covers had the power to excite, startle and even intimidate me. To this day, this album art still manages to unnerve me a bit, as it did the first time I laid eyes on it.

Starting in high school, when I lived in the Dallas area, every trip to the mall began with a visit to the record store. In Plano, my home base, that meant Camelot Records in Collin Creek Mall. My friends and I moved in almost OCD-like fashion through the sections of each band we liked or were curious about, flipping through the vinyl goodies. We poured much of our allowances and meager paychecks from various fast food and babysitting jobs into the cash registers of various record stores. We would make our way to the counter with our newest acquisition, bursting with excitement to get our new baby home, tear its shrink wrap off, and slap it down on the turntable.

wonder theatre

I also have specific mall movie memories. Multiplexes with a dozen choices hadn’t happened yet, so many a film was experienced at a mall theater. I can recall standing in line for tickets outside the Wonderland Mall theater on family trips to see “The Towering Inferno” and “Airport”.

Arriving at North Star Mall as part of my friend Barbara’s gaggle of giggling sixth grade friends who formed a posse to go see the summer’s big hit “Grease”.

My best friend and I shrinking in our seats and screaming during the chest popping scene in “Alien” in the Ingram Park Mall cinema.

The time in 8th grade when my dad dropped off the same friend and I to see the Bette Midler film “The Rose” at Central Park Mall, only to be told by the box office clerk that we were too young to see it without an adult. My dad had already expressed to me that he thought the movie looked trashy, but when told of our dilemma, he respected our desire to see a ‘hippie movie’, and bought tickets for all three of us. He sat through about ten minutes of it, leaned over and whispered, “I’ll be back to pick you up when it’s over”, and slipped out the side door.

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I can conjure up thoughts of several other favorite mall stops, like Spencer’s Gifts (home of naughty gag gifts and an impressive flip-through poster selection), Hallmark, any store I bought yet another pair of Levi’s jeans in, and book stores (B. Dalton & Waldenbooks, how I adored thee!).

When I was growing up, food courts hadn’t become a study in quick-serve elegant cuisine with dozens of options. You might find a cafeteria chain restaurant, but the younger set was happy sitting on hard plastic seats with greasy pizza slices, a hot dog that might have been spinning in its display case since the Eisenhower administration, or fresh baked cookies. The point was to snarf down something mom frowned upon as junk food, then get back to shopping and socializing.

For people of all ages, when our legs tired out, just sitting near the fountain or other architectural centerpiece in a mall provided the joy of relaxing and people watching. Enclosed malls provided enrichment and social interaction for so many, and there’s a part of me that is quite maudlin to know how many have passed on or are on life support.

If you’re nostalgic for Retail Days of Yore, leave a mall memory in the comments section. And have faith: we know we are not alone in this sentiment when sites like Dead Malls exist.