The Return of Mr. Hyde

This is a hard post for me to write. It’s been two days, and I’m still feeling the aftershocks. For those who know me personally, it may be hard to read. I’ve already respectfully asked those closest to me, not to read it. But I have to write it. I have to. And afterward, I’m calling a counselor.

I’m not going to rehash the history. If you’re unfamiliar with it,  this post will provide you the background. There are other posts under the Toxic Marriage/ Divorce tab.The ex and I have had a ceasefire since I moved over an hour away, almost 3 years ago. We haven’t really had any words in as long. Our communications have been mostly amicable, and businesslike. And for that, I’m grateful. But, as I mentioned before, there’s always a second shoe waiting to drop.

I spent most of the early part of Sunday recovering from a particularly difficult night at work. As the kids were with their dad, I planned to head up early so I could do some shopping before the stores closed. About 3 p.m. I received his text. We had agreed to some changes in his financial support and the text addressed the bills I sent him that weren’t properly prepared. He requires copies of the receipts I have for insurance copays, which I’d forgotten to give. Ultimately, he would be “a fool” to write checks based on a total amount without supporting receipts.

His confrontational nature left me feeling more than weary. I told him this wasn’t a good day for discussion. He started calling me, multiple times, and I refused to answer. I meant what I said. Finally, not entirely unintentionally, I poured the gasoline on his fire when I suggested that going through domestic relations to clarify everything in black and white might be better for both of us and make this all less stressful. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. He immediately saw this as a threat, and berated me for ignoring his calls. The texts grew more tense.

I suspected a confrontation was coming when I picked the kids up, and proactively attempted to get someone, anyone, on the phone before I pulled into the driveway. Well, anyone but Todd, who I knew would lose his shit if my ex got nasty with me. Which is the absolute last thing either one of us needed with him at home an hour away.

Unfortunately, not one person was answering their damn phone. I cursed the gods and pulled into the driveway and, like déjà vu, I see him stalking out the back door toward my car. I kept my window up. He tapped on the glass and made the “roll down” motion with his hand. I said – through the glass – I told you, I am not having this conversation today. I’m not doing it. Why I ever rolled down the window, I’ll never know. I guess I thought if he had his say then the kids could come out and we could leave. (He told the kids to stay inside until he came and got them.)

He started in immediately, making accusations about I-don’t-know-what and he crossed a line with me fairly quickly. I put the car in gear and started to pull away. He jumped onto my car, holding onto the open window with both arms as I was drifting – essentially allowing himself to be dragged. I panicked and stopped, my pulse racing ahead of my brain which was telling me this was going to end with the police again.

He was yelling and screaming at me, all the while holding onto my door to prevent me from leaving. I couldn’t get a word in. I imagined everyone within a half mile could hear. At some point my fight reflex kicked in, and I started yelling back. There’s no trust between us, and there never will be. He changed jobs and never told me. He moved his girlfriend in eight months ago, whose last name I don’t even know, and never informed me. And now, they’re engaged. He never told me that either. I shouted all of this to support my lack of trust in him, and all he could come up with was – what does any of that matter?! It’s none of your business! I said it IS my business because it affects the children, and the custody order dictates that major changes are cause to notify the other parent. He denied that she moved in. He really thinks I’m stupid, I guess.

I kept telling him that I didn’t want to do this right now and repeated step away from my car several times. I felt the tears burning up through me. He reached out to touch my arm on the steering wheel and I snatched it away before he could, hissing don’t touch me!  At some point he was crying, over money troubles and job stress, and missing the kids all the time… it’s always all about him. I promised him we wouldn’t go back to court and now I’m threatening to go to domestic relations. But he’s wrong. I never threatened to go back to court. But he did, in one of his many breathless diatribes that afternoon, that if I go to domestic relations for more money he’ll have no choice but to go for custody again so he doesn’t have to pay more money. I know how ridiculous this all sounds now. But at that moment, I told him he can have them, if that’s what he thinks is best for them. Because it was one small victory in my heart – that I’m no longer afraid he will take them away. It would crush them. And he can’t be that selfish. Or can he?

It was horrible. I don’t even think I can articulate what it was like – other than in an instant I was catapulted back to being married to him again – where he’s controlling me and I can’t get away and he’s screaming at me and making accusations. So many times in arguments we’d had, I’d try to walk away – or even outside – and he would stand between me and that exit, physically barring me from leaving, his face inches from mine, crowding me. And he did it all while belittling me and trying to tear me down. All of my senses were tingling on high alert again, a feeling I haven’t felt in 4 years. A crushing, desperate need to run.

I’m broken. I’ve been broken for a very long time. If healing from a toxic relationship is based on the half-life theory, we were married for nearly 13 years – and so it’ll take me six and a half to fully extricate the subconscious mind from it. To say he is despicable isn’t enough to heal me. To say he was hateful and wrong and unapologetic is easy, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. I still hear his critical voice in the back of my head every now and then, because it’s like a wound that is still bleeding – not a big gaping wound, but more like a papercut. It stings.

I rarely have cause to cry these days, but this day it started and I couldn’t shut it off. When he was satisfied with the results of this interaction, he was suddenly calm and said he would go get the kids. Left me sitting in my car, the tears streaming down my face. Just like déjà vu. And I couldn’t shut it off long enough to drive my children home. I cried intermittently, with Opac zoning out on his iPod and Veruca curled up in the front seat, sick from some stomach pain. She never mentioned Sunday, but he did. He worries over these fights. He admitted to watching from the window, and admitted that he was wrong to do so. But he was worried. We talked about it a little yesterday, but I am guarded. I don’t know what to say and what not to say. The only answers I have for him, is that it wasn’t about him, or Veruca.

Right now I’m feeling fragile. I don’t want to talk. I’m stronger than all of this, but I’m going to need some help. Help I should’ve gotten long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Destination Pittsburgh – Day 2

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Photo Copyright TMA & The Tara Chronicles, 2106

Bowling alley #2 was only twenty minutes from our hotel and we didn’t have to leave as early as the day before. I heard Todd in the shower a little after 7 and I snuggled down in the sheets, still wrapped up in the warmth of sleep. At 7:30 he burst out of the bathroom with an urgency reserved only for oversleeping and told me Dick just texted him. Apparently, all four of us were under the impression that the tournament started at 9 like yesterday – and Jane just re-read the paper and it said 8:30. Under the best circumstances, we should arrive 30 minutes early to register and blah, blah, blah (whatever the bowlers do).

Let me just tell you how amazing I am. I leapt out of bed like the room was on fire and jumped in the shower. Twenty minutes later I was showered, dressed, made-up, hair dried….and packed up to leave. Todd kept telling me to slow down and relax, but I have this nervous energy that gets going like a freight train and there’s no stopping it. We collected an armful of breakfast from the hotel lobby, and that same young man appeared beside me at just the right time holding an open bag. I poured two cups of coffee in to-go cups and off we went.

Bowling alley #2 was in a town called New Versailles, a place you’d need an acid trip to experience anything close to the extravagance its name implies. The 20-minute drive took us through what looked like a town even the devil forgot, full of decrepit old buildings and homes with weeds climbing over fences and creeping up cracked sidewalks and broken windows. There was nothing fearful about it, only a sense of empty sadness and hopelessness. Did anybody actually live here?

And of course this is where the bowling alley would be. Well, not quite. The abandoned, graffiti-ed, and boarded up buildings gave way to … a pawn shop. I TOLD you so. The bowling alley was at the top of the hill from this, and just beyond was the light of McDonalds and the promise of real businesses with real people in them. I begged Todd to go toward the light, but he turned off in a crumbled parking lot filled incongruously with shiny, newer model cars.

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I TOLD you so.

This bowling alley was a stark contrast from yesterday’s and, knowing what to expect in any case, I was hardly surprised. The lanes our team started on had a breakdown just as they got started, but officials got it fixed. The water fountain was broken, one toilet in the ladies room was out of order, another stall was out of toilet paper (at 8:30 in the morning!), and there was no decaf. The bathrooms smelled like old people’s poop, and the scent infiltrating the entire bowling alley (I kid you not) was a very unwelcome assault on the nostrils so soon after waking. The snack bar was between the table where I was sitting and the restrooms, and I wondered what would make someone want to order anything with the noxious fumes of a sewer so close by. To add insult to injury? The sign on the front doors forbidding outside food and drink. Not many were deterred, especially me with my big Holiday Inn Express bag of goodies. I don’t know if the smell ever abated. I imagine I became immune to it, much like farmers do to manure.

It didn’t rain on day 2 – the sun was shining, although it was 39 degrees. We stopped for gas in an adjacent town my dad told me was a nice place to have breakfast or lunch, though I have serious doubts he wasn’t pulling my leg. The gas stations out there are called Get-Go. I bravely ordered a turkey sub (because we’re not in Philly anymore and you can’t get a hoagie in Pittsburgh*) and gave no thought to ordering a fourteen-inch. Todd and I shared HALF of it. But it was delicious. Three points for Get-Go. Channeling my youth, I chased it with a Dr. Pepper and spent the next two hours belching onions and hot peppers while Todd and I sang our hearts out to old 80s tunes and one-hit wonders. (Sirius rocks.)

We were pumped about the sunshine and clear road conditions on the drive home, that is, until a warning came up on the GPS that the road was closed ahead. A last minute choice kept us on the turnpike, and we paid for it when traffic came to a complete stop for thirty minutes. There’d been an accident in one of the tunnels. We saw some wicked tire marks running like a clothes-line across the two lanes when we finally passed through.

We sat at mile marker 114 and talked to Dick and Jane, who were 11 miles ahead of us, and Ted – who was about 2 miles behind us. I joked about jogging back to him and then back to Todd – at least I’d get my run in that day. It started snowing – little snowflakes blowing on the sunny wind – snow, in mid-May! But at least it wasn’t raining.

When the road reopened we were cruising again at a cool 80 m.p.h., and more than made up for the time lost. We picked up the kids a full hour and a half earlier than I’d predicted, and they were surprisingly upbeat and grateful to be going home. My favorite thing.

 

Destination Pittsburgh – Day 1 Continued

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Photo Copyright The Tara Chronicles, 2016

After the bowling tournament, we drove through fairly steady rainfall back to the city. A weekend away together, alone, was a luxury we weren’t going to ignore and so planned to explore a bit and get some food. Dick and Jane decided to join us. The drive to the bowling alley was exciting because we literally skirted around the city and there were bridges crossing the three rivers and many parts of the borough. Now I know why they call it the City of Bridges. There are 446 bridges in and around Pittsburgh, the most bridges anywhere – eclipsed only by Venice. Think about that for a moment. And they were everywhere. I’m really glad I’m not one of those people who freaks out over bridges. Obviously those people don’t live in Pittsburgh.

I had googled places to eat while in Pittsburgh and had my mind settled on a pub called the Gandy Dancer Saloon, which is located in Station Square. It is attached to the Grand Concourse, a breathtakingly beautiful fine-dining restaurant in what was once the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station. It has a vaulted cathedral stained glass ceiling (pictured above), and a grand staircase that would rival any red-carpet entrance. I considered it for dinner, but thought we’d enjoy the Gandy Dancer more for its variety of appetizers and (what I thought would be) small plates. As it was lunchtime and the four of us were starving, I suggested we go there now instead of at dinner. And it’s a really good thing I made this call, because the entire establishment was to be closed for a wedding reception that evening.

Station Square, across the river from the city proper, is a cute little niche for shopping and restaurants (and a Sheraton hotel – which I would’ve chosen, had I done more research, for its proximity to the city). It was here that I took the photo that appeared in the previous post. I imagine it would be bustling like bees in a hive, were it not for the torrential rainfall we were experiencing. We hustled ourselves through the cold rain to the restaurant and seated ourselves at a large round wooden table surrounded by bar stools and next to what appeared to be an old safe.

Our waiter, a dapper young man with impeccable manners, approached our table warmly and welcomed us. He called me Miss. I looked at Todd. Did you hear that? He called me MISS. I was sure it was genuine, though I teased him for ass-kissing. (NO I did NOT use those words.)

Todd ordered a scotch and I decided to try Pittsburgh’s East End IPA on draft (yummy). We were delivered a basket of hot rolls with butter and a smoked salmon spread. We ate way too much bread. I ordered the Portobello fries with honey jalapeño mayo – it was an enormous appetizer and our waiter apologized because the “fries” were huge. I love mushrooms and these were delicious. There were so many choices on the menu it was really tough to decide. I went with the rather tame Chicken Caprese on focaccia with mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette (don’t judge) – it was mouthwatering. Todd chose the IPA beer-battered Fish and Chips, which were also good. I would have liked to try the Yucatan Fish Tacos too, but we were already stuffed halfway through our main course. Dick and Jane ordered different foods, so we were able to taste.

The rain abated long enough for us to walk to the river and snap some more photos, and get a really good look at the Duquesne Incline. Regrettably, we didn’t go up, but we should have, even if it was raining. It’s a steep incline – 800 feet long, 400 feet high, at a 30-degree angle – that affords a view of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle. Wikipedia said it was finished in 1877 as a means to move cargo up and down Mt. Washington (now completely refurbished and moves only people), and – for all you old-timers – it was featured in Flashdance.

So the drizzle began anew and we decided to visit the casino (there’s certainly no shortage of casinos around bowling tournaments) – which was huge and pretty and crowded… and smoky. We had forgotten that smoking is permitted in designated areas in PA’s casinos. And no matter where you are, it follows you. I lost $30 in the slot machines, visited the bar for an aperitif, and made a pit stop in the restroom where I was blown away by the sharps disposal container on the wall. This really touched me – that a large public venue had made accommodations for diabetics who use needles. I wondered how many people made use of this.

Todd loves casinos, so it’s often a stop for us when time and economics allow. I have my favorite machines, and remain superstitious about them. He, on the other hand, has uncanny luck and usually wins consistently – though he plays for fun, not money, and he’s happy to break even by the time we leave. Dick and Jane, like me, don’t get the desire to essentially throw hard-earned cash into what is really just a fancy toilet with bells and whistles and flashing lights (though I hear these things do exist, I think, in Japan. Which also has bidets, which I really don’t get. I mean, I can’t not envision a cartoon character riding a geyser. It’s just weird.) (But maybe someday…)

Anyway, the casino is across the street from Heinz stadium – so I texted a few unexciting photos of it to my son, who I’ve been told I should be ashamed of for being such a huge Steelers fan. I fantasized briefly about running into Antonio Brown in the casino and how I would ask for a pic and how effing awesome that would be to text to Opac. He would SHIT HIS PANTS. But alas, another pipe dream.

We old folks then decided it was high time for a nap, and drove back to the hotel for some R & R and agreed on drinks later at the Applebee’s around the corner. Now, I have nothing against chain restaurants – and we do frequent a few of them from time to time – but when traveling I prefer the novelty and character of home-grown restaurants. It was an innocuous decision – we just wanted some drinks after 8, close to the hotel. It was great fun – and the bartender, who was our age, was friendly and easy to joke with. All in all, everyone we had so far encountered in the Steel City was warm and welcoming. And, despite the rain, our first day was lovely. What would day 2 bring?

 

 

Destination Pittsburgh

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Photo copyright The Tara Chronicles, 2016

Our road trip last weekend took us to Pittsburgh, PA for the state bowling tournament. Born and raised in southeastern Pennsylvania, I’ve only ever been to western PA once before and that was to Erie for the state tournament two years ago. When my family vacationed, we got the heck out of dodge. Way out.

Driving west is really kind of boring, particularly when you’re pressed for time and practicality wins out, and you’re left counting mile markers on the turnpike while gobbling up Middleswarth BBQ chips. I snapped a few photos before the sun disappeared, but they’re all mostly gradations of green landscape, some blurry trees, the occasional farm and some cows. Napping wasn’t an option. I feel guilty for snoozing while he drives since I accidently do it all the time late at night after a few drinks. (If there was a dislike button for this, Todd would have broken it by now.)

Friends who’d left ahead of us texted about the windy roads that twist around hills and mountains, and the overall landscape of the area we were staying in, sharing a pic of a Walmart perched so high on a hill you could only see the rooftop.

We stopped at a rest stop to refuel and to forestall a urinary emergency, and encountered a double-decker bus filled with teenagers. The ladies room was so loud I felt like my ears were bleeding. The toilet didn’t flush.

I drove the last two hours or so thanks to Todd’s back pain. Some much of the turnpike out west wraps around mountains and has more curves than Kim Kardashian. I gradually grew irritated with a car from West Virginia that seemed determined to catch up and pass me, only to slow down and allow me to pass them. There were several tunnels.

We arrived at 11:25, after an exiting mishap whereby Todd told me to get off and it wasn’t actually where we were supposed to get off…and suddenly I was driving through an area I’m quite certain we were not supposed to be in late at night. Couples who have been driving together for hours and are also sleep deprived can be a little touchy with each other, particularly over directions and driving through neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of boarded dwellings.

A few minutes later, the gentleman at the hotel’s front desk cheerfully checked our weary selves in and said he was there till 7:30 a.m. if we needed anything. Todd asked if he could get us a bottle of scotch. It’s amazing how he can pull humor out of the air with bloodshot eyes. I was all like, cut the shit and get me to the room.

Great hotel – newly renovated and very clean….brand-new white fluffy towels that put ours to shame and a big comfortable king-size bed. I was in it in 10 minutes flat, naked and ready to…. sleep. Sorry to disappoint, folks, but we’re old. Though – there is something to be said about sex away from home and children. But I’m not saying it. Move along…nothing to see here.

Exactly 5 ½ hours later we were up and showered and went down to join our friends. We were the only four in there. That is, until someone who appeared to work there was chatting quite loudly with our front desk man and I swear to God I heard him drop the f-bomb. I glanced up at my compatriots and no one else seemed to notice, so I figured maybe I was hallucinating.

So I had this yellow stuff they said was scrambled eggs but had the texture of tapioca, but I’m not complaining because the turkey sausage was good and there was plenty of Chobani and milk and fresh fruit and a pancake-making station and cinnamon rolls. I’m not a big fan of carbs, or sugar, but that cinnamon roll. I grabbed an extra for the road and the young man who was attending to the buffet brought me a box to put it in.

The first day of the tournament was an hour away from our hotel, on the other side of the city. The location was surprisingly nice, given that the majority of bowling alleys I’ve been to always seem to be tucked away in some dark forgotten corner of town and next to pawn shops and hookers. I mentioned this to Todd, who wondered whether those pawn shops were a graveyard of bowling balls and broken dreams. (Okay – I’ve never really seen any hookers, but there could be.)

We arrived at 8:30 to a bustling alley, smell of coffee in the air, and announcements for the bar’s bloody mary’s. The team table next to ours was already lined up with empty beer bottles and four buckets of new ones, at 8:30 a.m. They were a group of (mostly) bald men uniformed in camo shorts and matching orange t-shirts – with their nicknames: Mic, Keff, Shooter, and…. Urinator. I can’t make this shit up. I put down my Prince edition of People Magazine. Something worthy of blog fodder has gotta happen. I tried unsuccessfully to discretely get a pic of all them together, from the back, during the Star-Spangled Banner when I was supposed to be reverent. Here’s the one I got later (sorry it’s blurry), before we rolled out:  (pun intended)20160514_120822-2-1

Unfortunately for me, and this blog, this group of aging frat boys were remarkably tame. Several times I found myself trying desperately to stay awake – a task that shouldn’t be that hard in a place louder than a 747 at takeoff. I contemplated joining the crowd and grabbing a basket of French fries and a beer, because, well – bowling. I thought about that beer during most of game 3, but knew that Todd would never speak to me again if I got drunk and stupid that early in the day. After all, we had a whole new city to explore.

 

Fun facts:

Middleswarth potato chips began in a 2-room building off the side of Bob Middleswarth’s Beavertown, PA home in 1942. I discovered the unique flavor of their BBQ potato chips during a two-year college stint in central PA and they’re the best I’ve ever had, and I am not being paid to promote this though I’d welcome weekly shipments as a thanks. Though currently only distributed to 11 locations in Pennsylvania, they can be ordered online and shipped anywhere.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike was designed in the 1930s and opened on October 1, 1940. It was the first long-distance, limited-access highway in the United States. It utilized seven tunnels originally built for the railroad in the 1880s, four of which cut through the Appalachian mountains. 

Each day’s tournament is roughly three hours long, but it will feel like six when you’re only a spectator. Outside food and beverage is discouraged by the bowling alleys; but in many cases I highly recommend ignoring this rule, especially when using the bathrooms as a gauge for the quality of the establishment.

 

 

 

Road Trip – Survival of the Fittest

It’s that time of year again – state bowling tournament and a road trip for Todd and me. I love road trips. I’ve had this idea of driving cross-country for over twenty years. I imagined driving across the southern states to California and then back east across the northern states. I guess you could say this is on the bucket list I have yet to write up. My dad has done the drive to Texas several times for my brother who attended university there and I’ve lived vicariously through their stories of the best steakhouse shack they ever stumbled across, the flat tire about 14 hours into the drive, and their multiple stops in New Orleans. I so wish I could’ve gone along at least once. (Maybe not for the flat tire trip.)

My dad told me that he once went on a road trip with a girl he was dating (obviously this was a century ago), and how by the time they got to their destination they wanted to kill each other. It ultimately ended the relationship before they even made it back. Now, I could’ve told him – had I not been 4 years old – that one should start with a short road trip, you know, to test the waters. Somehow being 18 hours away from home with a once-adored someone whose neck would look better with your hands around it, seems like a recipe for homicide – or, at the very least – a very bad case of constipation.

Todd and I are two peas in a pod. To say we travel well together is an understatement. We are an old married couple of newlyweds with a white-hot sex life. (C’mon – I had to throw that in there before ya’ll started yawning.) So – I am very excited to be on the next road trip with him. The bowling tournament, not so much.

Bowling is like sports’ lazy-eyed cousin. The sports world wants them hidden away … the alleys are almost always in seedy, run-down parts of town where no one would go after dark without an escort. It’s never been a sport where someone asks what you play and then says, “awesome!”

He went to a different tournament last weekend and I was grateful I had to work. This is because he went to Scranton (an old coal-mining town in northeastern PA) and every time I’m driving through desolate areas in parts of Pennsylvania I get angina. It’s difficult to explain – just consider it an old wound that’s healing about as fast as an ulcer. The only saving grace on that trip last year, and the state tournament to Erie two years ago – was Xanax Todd. (Really, I don’t even have Xanax.) (Though I’m beginning to think I should.) He kept me off the ledge.

Road trips are a true test of marriage and friendship, not to mention parenting – but for the sake of this conversation, there are no children on this road trip. (This is another whole post, for which I will need Xanax just to recount.) Being in a tight and enclosed space with that other person for hours on end …. The flow of conversation, the mutual enjoyment of silence or musical choices, compassion for bathroom breaks, and agreement on food and beverage options … is critical for maintaining serenity and suppressing the desire to jump out of a moving car. That and not getting drunk and being the one passed out in the passenger seat (true story). Or, sharing the driving duties – assuming your driving doesn’t make your passenger carsick (sadly, another true story).

The liberal use of brakes is forbidden, as is the waving of certain fingers and raising one’s voice at other drivers. Reckless driving is also frowned upon, though that’s more difficult on the open highway in east-Bumblefuck PA. (This is a real place. Look it up.) Swearing at the GPS is acceptable, as long as one finds his sense of humor soon after. Handholding is cool, but not so long that one of you loses sensation in that hand. Hanky panky is just plain dangerous when the car is in motion, but suggestion is a powerful aphrodisiac that may propel the car faster to its destination – and, if you have tinted windows, an impromptu truck stop detour may be reasonable so long as bathrooms are available and you don’t park near any other vehicles.

Departure is t-minus 6 hours. I can’t wait.

 

 

My Life is Shit – Episode 2

Just when you think the universe can’t deliver any more shit your way – surprise!!!

Our 15-year-old dog, Pi, was sick last week. Sick – as in stopped eating, vomited a handful of times, wouldn’t get up from her bed, and generally ignored all offers of food (even the highly coveted Pupperoni). I prepared myself for the worst and called the vet. They took her in Saturday, drew some blood and the vet said she was thinks it’s possibly kidney failure and she’s “not optimistic.” After the longest 25 minutes of my life, where I told Pi I was not ready for this today and silently cursed Todd for having to be somewhere else, the vet called me back inside and….with incredulous eyes informed me that Pi’s kidney function was normal. Her liver function was normal. Her chem screen was normal.

Now Pi – who walks slowly toward the white light while simultaneously cheating death, and often with the stealth of a drunk after twelve shots of tequila – is an old dog. She often forgets where she’s going as she enters the kitchen, which – come to think of it – I do almost every day. She’s decided she’s too good for dog food and we’ve entered what my friend Beth calls the “grocery” age – where the dog is so old you just feed her anything she’ll eat so she doesn’t die of starvation. She has lost her footing twice in the last week and fell into the water bowl, ass first. Usually she’ll just walk through the water bowl on her way to, uh, wherever.

So Dr. Vet said, I’d like to get an x-ray of her chest to make sure there are no tumors. Pi had a large blood-supplied lump removed from her side a few months ago and we opted not to have it biopsied because she’s old. I spend every single day with her and I know her. That’s how I know when something’s wrong. Or not. After the x-ray Dr. Vet brought me back to look at it.

There’s Pi, lying comfortably on the x-ray table looking at me like, what? Her chest x-ray – is clear. Not a thing on it, anywhere. Her heart, kidneys, liver, and spleen all look normal. Her stomach – empty – is full of air. While she’s explaining all this to me, her assistant fed Pi two spoonfuls of baby food from a jar and girlfriend lapped that shit up like melted chocolate. And then she looked up at me, from her comfortable recline on the x-ray table and smiled. I know she smiled because her eyes were bright and she did that everything-little-things-gonna-be-alright doggie-pant with her mouth open and her tongue hanging out. If I didn’t know how much she loved me, I’d swear she was laughing at me for spending $400 to give her a ride in the car and a day at the spa.

It’s been a week, and she’s like a cat with nine lives. She’s eating again – though BFD since it’s all home-cooked chicken and ground turkey and hide-the-pill-in-the-peanutbutter snacks. I have to carry her down the stairs of our deck so she doesn’t fall down them, and I help her get up when she slips on the hardwood floors, or – yesterday – lift her out of the water bowl. But as she eats, her strength returns and she can pick herself up when she slips.

Until Wednesday, I’d been waiting for her intestinal tract to catch up to her digestive tract. And that’s the day all shit broke loose. Or, as it were, all shit didn’t break loose. Instead, it stuck to her fur and there was no way it was coming off without detonating a bomb. I tried, I really did. But I ended up carrying her down to the grooming tub (yes, we have one, and – noneya) and tried desperately to hose off her behind while holding her tail up – which I would guess most dogs don’t like but this one was putting up one hell of a fight for a dog who seemed to be at death’s door a week ago. She literally tried to climb out of the tub with both paws, a feat not seen in – oh – like never.

And not to be too graphic but hell – you’re here and I’m an open book – the water falling down was not unlike the Willy Wonka waterfall and Pi tried unsuccessfully to reclaim her tail. Instead she FELL DOWN. In the water. Which DID NOT smell like chocolate. And there were no Oompa-Loompas to rescue me. (Which, I will confide, always gave me the creeps and I would probably scream bloody murder if one turned up in my laundry room.)

But the good news is – she is alive, and well, and extra clean. And those pills the vet gave her that help push the food through to the intestines (apparently yes, there is) is working wonders and I may actually relax now that I haven’t had to bathe her again.

A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men. ~ Willy Wonka

If you want to view paradise, just simply look around and view it. ~ Willy Wonka

“I want an Oompa Loompa!” screamed Veruca. ~ Roald Dahl, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

 

And a Comedy For Those Who Think

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Copyright Rob Radikal

Melancholy has gotten the best of me over the last few days. I knew, like a good fart, it would pass at just the right time.

Yesterday Todd called me on his way to work. Lately when the phone rings, it hasn’t been exactly the best phone call in the world. So, after my mom called me early that morning upset that she had to take her dog to the vet because he’d stopped eating and drinking and couldn’t support himself with his hind legs, I was justifiably weary when the phone rang again.

But it was Todd, and he’d only just left a short time ago – what could possibly be wrong? Apparently when he was getting dressed earlier, he noticed a shirt on top of the laundry basket that he didn’t recognize… so, he called me.

He asked, who was here that left an XL shirt behind?

When I was cleaning out my walk-in closet, I found a bag… are you ready for this?……… a bag with dry cleaning in it from when we moved from our old house. Three years ago. This shirt was in there. Naturally I’m like, why is this even in here? Why not wash it and iron it so he can wear it?? Which is what I did. Except that now he doesn’t recognize it (it has been over 3 years, after all). I told him all of this. (Well, except for pointing out the fact that he didn’t recognize his own shirt.)

And he said – are you ready for THIS? He said, oh – I was just wondering if I had to start worrying about you and the pool boy…

—–Wait up, hold up.

There are a couple of things wrong with this picture. First off – we don’t have a pool boy. Hell – we don’t even have a pool. Second – why in fuck would the pool boy be wearing a SHIRT???

Okay seriously. So I said, oh my God. Don’t be ridiculous. I would never cheat on you with the pool boy. (Because let’s face it – who can afford a pool boy?) (Okay seriously now… pool boys are too young and we forty-something ladies need someone with experience.  With the pool chemicals – DUH!)

And then I said, besides – you know the only man I would EVER CONSIDER having sex with besides you…

And he’s DEAD!

And then I laughed my mother-f***ing ass off. (Quote borrowed from Eddie Murphy)

And my Toddy laughed too. A) Because I’m funny. And B) Because he knows I’m right.

(I’m going to leave out the part where he said matter-of-factly, yeah, but you wouldn’t really do that. And I agreed that I wouldn’t really do that.)

(Even though I might have a really, really tough time saying no to Prince in-the-flesh singing Do Me Baby to me in-the-flesh. Who in their right mind says no to THAT?)

(Well, I guess it’s a good thing I’ll never have to be put in that predicament…)

The good news is – I actually cracked a joke about Him. Things are looking up.

7 Hours and 15 Days

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Photo Copyright TMA & The Tara Chronicles

I haven’t been much for writing these days. Not terribly inspired. It sounds crazy, and maybe hard to believe, but I’ve been mourning. I really have been experiencing the typical stages of grief, from shock and disbelief to moments of extreme sadness (with tension-releasing tears), back to denial and refusal to acknowledge it in any way, to quiet acceptance, to anger over media speculation. I’ve been listening to his music, losing myself in the sound of his voice – rich and deep and sexy, soft and crooning, his emotionally-charged falsetto – the range of his music intoxicating, arousing, and dreamlike.

I’ve tried to stay away from news outlets, as I typically do, simply because I just don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear about the battle for his estate, the value of his fortune, what caused his untimely death – I don’t even want to hear about the vault, or others’ memories of him. I don’t want to hear other people talk about him, or his music. I don’t care what their favorite song was. I don’t want to hear some other artist singing or playing his music “in tribute.” I don’t see it as a tribute, but rather as their selfish way to make themselves relevant again, if just for a moment. I want to keep my feelings about him, and the associated memories, to myself. I’ve been listening to Sirius channel 50 a little less every day, turning instead to my personal collection of his music. I prefer to listen to full albums, from start to finish, rather than jump around the decades with attention only to the hits.

One afternoon last week while I was making an apple pie for the restaurant, I put on the 20/20 special about him that aired the day after he died. I just had to. I don’t even remember what was said in that hour, but I remember that the last song he played in his last concert was Purple Rain. How poignant it would turn out to be. Hearing that song, and seeing him seated at his piano, brought fresh tears to my eyes and that sinking feeling in my heart. I turned it off and tried to brush off this inconceivable grief for a man I never knew. Not happening. I haven’t cried, really cried, in ages. And here I was, crying like I’d lost my best friend. And then Todd came home, and wrapped his arms around me, and I fell into his shoulder and cried like I used to during that horrid custody battle.

It finally occurred to me that my grief has less to do with the tragedy of his passing, that I will never see him in concert again (which I had planned to do), that my unrealistic hope that one day I’d meet him – is gone. The grief is layered. I’m not even sure I can articulate it, yet it occurred to me that my sadness is somehow attached to Todd and that magical time when we were two teenagers falling in love. That first night alone in my room, lying on the floor listening to Controversy, For You, Dirty Mind, and Purple Rain, the music enveloping us as we dreamed away our young lives and connected to each other in a way neither one of us would ever forget. HE made that happen. Silly as it sounds, it almost feels like he took a piece of us with him when he died. Perhaps I’m grieving for the time lost. I don’t know. The physical sensation I have is one of an empty pit, that stirring dull nausea in my gut that I suddenly remembered as one I’d felt before…from breakups and lost love.

All I know right now is that it’s difficult for me to hear anything about him. I don’t want to know about some love child who just may be the sole heir to an empire we can’t even begin to imagine. Todd is more the realist – he believes it’s entirely possible. How many women do you think he actually slept with? Silly me. I’d never in a million years ever considered that he was first and foremost a rock star – a Gemini male who not only oozed pheromones, he WAS a pheromone. And today – I really don’t want to know. I am content to live inside my bubble where he was everything and perfection – unattainable and untouchable. Beyond human.

So there it is. The heartbreak, because…He was human.

A Tragedy For Those Who Feel

20160505_093829-1Copyright Rob Radikal

I’m a terribly optimistic person. I try to find the silver lining. And, sometimes, I make inappropriate jokes when things get serious. Case in point – a family friend of ours lost her husband last year. When I saw her and asked how she was doing, she seemed a little melancholy, but she was experiencing the anger part of the process. It seemed that he had spent a shit-ton of money in the months before cancer took his life, unbeknownst to her, and she was left to clean up the mess. She was angry. She told me how his ashes were sitting there in that box, and she was so mad at him if she had a baseball ball bat she’d beat the shit out of that box. And then I said it. It just slipped out. I said, good thing you weren’t wielding a vacuum cleaner. (Yes – I DID.) She blinked at me and I said – OMG, I’m sorry. That was SO WRONG. And then she burst into laughter, hugged me, and thanked me for making her laugh. Phew. Dodged a bullet there.

Anyway, back to the silver lining. I’m usually pretty good about it. I don’t let depression take me down, and God knows I’ve many good reasons why it should have. I have learned the hard way, however, not to say things that would sound dismissive when a friend is going through a tough time. To say I’ve had to train myself to think before I speak in those situations is an understatement. You know those kinds of statements – like when your kid has diabetes and someone says, well at least she doesn’t have cancer. On the surface, yeah – at least she’s not fighting an enemy with [potentially] no cure. Oh yeah – she kind of is. But I’m not here to whine about diabetes today.

If you are any kind of sensitive person and you watch the news or spend any time on social media, sooner or later the monster is going to get you. Enough of the terrorist attacks and children being shot in the street, or military personnel killed in duty, or animals being abused/abandoned, or children dying of undiagnosed T1 diabetes, music legends passing away, earthquakes and tsunamis in third world countries, contaminated water in Detroit, healthcare and pharmaceutical debacles, our presidential choices …. Need I go on?

It’s getting to me. I’m feeling sad and tearful. My kids fighting with each other, the screaming over one of them standing in the other’s doorway, the nasty tone of Veruca’s voice when she’s acting like an indignant teenager – and my overdue recognition that she was running high or having a low on some of those occasions. But it’s not about diabetes today. The other day when I picked Opac up from weight-training, he got in the car and – like any 15-year-old boy – started being obnoxious. Veruca, in turn, got indignant.

Opac said, you know what Veruca is good at?

Before I could shut it down (knowing it wasn’t going to end well), Veruca spit back, I don’t care what you think, OPAC.  This is how the majority of conversations between these two go lately.

At this point I interjected, I know what she’s REALLY good at, preparing to launch my snarky humor into the conversation. She’s really good at a bad attitude. But Opac was two steps ahead of me, like always, and interrupted my groove with – getting bad grades.

Oh Jesus Mary and Joseph. I was driving, and I wanted to reach around and grab him by the neck. I know the top two things you don’t tease Veruca about – her grades, and her weight. (For the record, she’s a skinny little peanut built just like her mother, and falling below the 5oth percentile across the board.)

Veruca does not get bad grades, Opac.

Yes I do. Except for stupid math. Now she’s agreeing with him, except in math where she’s currently doing well. I don’t remember what he said next, or what I might have said to diffuse the nuclear bomb inside the car, but Veruca turned around and said,

Not everyone can get straight A’s like YOU, Opac!!  But now her face was red and the tears welled up in her eyes. She was so hurt. And I wanted to kill him. Because he, too, is like his mother and hasn’t matured enough nor mastered the skill of knowing when to shut the hell up. He started arguing with her that he doesn’t have straight A’s this quarter because he has a B in his Engineering class. Yeah – that’s helpful.

Right now these arguments really get to me. I’ve had the conversation too many times with him about how girls are extremely sensitive about their bodies and self-image (just like boys can be) and it’s never funny or okay to joke about or use the word “fat.” He acknowledges this, but his obnoxious boy side has diarrhea of the mouth sometimes. Anyway – I yelled at him about his insensitivity and the commentary about grades – and the car fell silent. Back at home, in private, I calmly told him about her academic struggles and he said he didn’t know, he assumed her grades were really good too. Well, they’re not. The whole thing left me feeling drained and emotional, which only added to my overall melancholy of late.

I’ve been trying really hard not to worry over my mom being sick with pneumonia for the last 10 days, or focus on my frustration over this generation of Millennials and their blatant disregard for integrity (another story for another post). The latter makes me feel old. I’m trying not to worry about Pi, our 15-year-old dog, whose general condition is fading rapidly away.

Yesterday Todd woke me from a dream I was having about being sick to kiss me goodbye. When I sat up with my heavy head, I actually was sick. I do not have time for this shit. I tried to rest most of the day in preparation for the drive north for the kids to see their dad. I got a text from restaurant friends that they were coming in last night with their Golden – who I’ve been dying to meet. I was excited.

This little dog – little because she’s not even as big as my Golden was at 6 months – has prosthetics on her hind legs. She was rescued from a kennel when she was a puppy – where her back feet were frozen to the ground. The first time I heard this story I was simultaneously sad and certifiably homicidal.

Needless to say, there she was, this soft bundle of raucous energy and love, jumping around, her prosthetics tapping on the floor. There was so much JOY in Purdy – so named after the double-amputee Olympic snowboarder, Amy Purdy. She sat on my feet and leaned against my legs and I just felt the most incredible surge of love and hope. She didn’t walk with grace, but rather with a joyful hop as her back legs carried her through the dining room. Purdy doesn’t know she’s handicapped, she’s just so damn happy to be alive and loved.

Confessions of an Accidental Gardener

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Photo copyright The Tara Chronicles, 2016

I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever owned. Well, almost every one.

Once, back in my 20s, I bought a hanging fern for my apartment. My “first plant.”  Its leaves gradually turned brown and dropped off, until it was a mere shadow of the glorious fullness it was when it came home with me. I had a violet plant once too – back in college – that was a gift from my big sister. That died before the semester was even half over.

I have, in the past, attempted to grow various seeds – which fell into a variety of science-project type categories. The infant basil and cilantro made it about 3 inches out of the soil and then keeled over and died. I grew this pot of edible grasses for the cat, who gnawed at it for a week until it was all gone and I don’t care what they say about healthy digestion, he yakked up at least one serving of the stuff. The notorious bean growing experiment from home school was a complete disaster. I am not a gardener.

When I was married (round one), my mom gave us this tree-plant. By some miracle this thing survived for nearly 13 years, growing taller than me, until Oliver decided to use it as a toilet. My ex promptly tossed him out along with the tree. By this time we were divorced but still negotiating property, and I was not only locked out of my home, but locked out of some very basic decision-making. In this case, then, I proclaim my innocence on the death of the tree – which is surely fertilizing a landfill somewhere.

When we bought the house, we inherited an extensive and lush garden that covered more than half the backyard. The garden beds surrounding the house were carefully planted and colorfully full. I didn’t have to do anything. Except weed. I LOVE to weed. There’s something so satisfying about ripping something undesirable out by the roots. It became a therapeutic means for coping with the unhappiness that lived inside. He planted some things here and there, and his mother – an avid and talented gardener – arranged some large pots of flowering plants on the deck. I never watered a damn thing. I left it for him to do, and I guess he did it because nothing ever died. Except for a dogwood tree he planted near the fish pond.

I had one plant inside – what turned out to be a very hardy rosemary plant, another gift from my mom – that grew full and beautiful on the kitchen windowsill. I think I watered this one. I don’t remember. But it lived a good long time. I don’t know what happened to it – I think my ex got custody of it.

When Todd and I moved here, the tenants had 50% of our driveway covered in potted plants – and don’t think this looked pretty. Nearly all of them were in various stages of death. While I was angry and disgusted by the curb-appeal appearance, I was secretly overjoyed that there was actually someone in the world who was worse at gardening than me.

The front of our home is no Longwood Gardens. I think our friend’s exact words, when he was over, were – at least you don’t have to worry about Martha Stewart stopping by. I hung a couple of plants on our back deck, which the sun scorched to ash like little vampires caught at sunrise. Todd bought me some tulips that first spring we were here, which I kept inside and watered a few times until he mentioned something about planting them so then I put them outside on the deck and promptly forgot about them. Out of sight, for me, is apparently out of mind. (The pot is actually still where I left it.)

Last summer was the first year we actually made an attempt to make the front pretty. Hard as this may be to believe, an artist and a writer have zero knowledge and creativity when it comes to planning and planting a garden. We know what we like, we know what we’d like to see, but we can’t put it all together. We went to a garden center one weekend when I bought the hanging plants and we might as well have been in a foreign country, where everything in every direction was brand new and we didn’t speak the language. We talked about what we liked there, but were too overwhelmed to pick anything out. We’re lucky we had the hanging planters. They were easy though – already arranged and selected from the “full sun” greenhouse. I’m proud to say that I knew not to pick out any from the “part shade” greenhouse for our full-sun back deck.

We ended up buying bags of mulch and a handful of plants to plant out front. We ran out of mulch and the gardens looked bare, except where the stray cats remodeled the little bit of mulch. I was disheartened by my lack of gardening skills, and held out hope that mom would come down and help. Well, that never happened but my neighbor took pity on me, or it was a desperate attempt to spruce up our eyesore, and leant me a landscaping book.

The pressure is on this year, as we prepare for my in-laws 50th anniversary at our home in just over a month. I started weeding. I dug out the edges of our sidewalk, creating clean lines – one of my favorite things to do. I cleaned out the beds around the front of the house. Veruca and I went shopping for plants and filled a shopping cart with $100 worth of flowers and bushes that made our gardens look pretty and simple. We had a pile of black mulch delivered and the four of us went out after dinner one night and spread it through the gardens. It looks so clean and neat now and I’m so excited that it has rained every day this week and I haven’t had to remember to water it at all.

I’m really good with cut flowers. Just don’t ask me to water them.