Not Always How It Looks

I’ve had a plethora of thoughts about my next post, one of which was planned last week on a topic that has long bothered me about the business I’ve grown up in. I didn’t get it written before the weekend, and damn if it didn’t happen again and it not only pissed me off that it happened again, but that if I wrote about it NOW, someone would assume it was because of THEM. So, I’m putting that post off for a few days while I process some other stuff. Yes, I’m cryptic sometimes. Deal with it.

I went to bed last night exhausted, but my brain wouldn’t shut off and I was turning over some thoughts about Life. Profound thoughts, some with sadness, some with gratitude, and some with just more questions. I fell asleep then and, as always happens, those great thoughts got sucked into the black hole of my dreams and it may take me a few days to conjure them up again. Am I being cryptic again? Okay – I’ll be direct – just this once.

Exhausted – because one of my BFFs came for two days and we didn’t get much sleep. Profound thoughts – because a friend from high school just lost his battle with cancer two days ago.

But before all of that, I was putzing around this closed group I joined under the probably somewhat misguided notion that we were all there because we were fans of a certain blog. Which is mostly true, but many of the posts mentioned troubled lives, inability to get out of bed and/or leave the house, insecurities, and so on. One girl posted how her life was so messed up while everyone else on Facebook is living the dream and have families and kids and great jobs… you know the story.

We all know the story. Who hasn’t been on Facebook and seen how great some people’s lives are? And maybe felt like, wow – I wish my life was like that/better.

Well, here’s a newsflash: NOBODY’s life is perfect. And I told her so. I also told her that social media is a place where one can be whoever they want the world to see. People do it every day.

A friend gushes on and on about how smart her kids are, how they made distinguished honors again, and what great athletes they are. Another calls her husband the best husband ever because he did something nice for her – maybe he brought flowers home, or made dinner and took care of the kids one night. Another travels all the time to wonderful places.

About seven years ago I reconnected with a friend who – in a nutshell – was living her dream. Great job, great husband, beautiful house, beautiful kids, lots of great friends. I felt a pang of jealousy, mingled with joy for her at having those things that she so deserved after years of struggle. It was another card stacked against the deck I was living in back then. I couldn’t ignore the feeling of, why can’t I have all of that too?

Appearances are deceiving. Some people gush to cover up their own shortcomings, insecurities, or fears that they don’t measure up to “the dream.” Some of those people will experience divorce, illness, job loss, money and stability, loss of a parent or loved one, or – heaven forbid – the loss of a child. The mother who gushes over her children? She has lived the last 18 years without her mother. The friend who has money and is always traveling? Lives a lonely single life and is struggling to find love.

I write a lot about my own life. People who know me personally, know who I really am. I write tough sometimes. Sometimes funny. Sometimes I write about my weaknesses. I try to be honest. I live in a nice home, drive a nice car, have beautiful kids, wonderful friends and neighbors, and the love of my life. Gushing?

No. I count my blessings. Because 7 years ago my life looked very VERY different… and I was the one wishing it could look more like hers, or his. And I am not so naïve to believe that anything can change in an instant. And that – my friends – is a truth I will share today. Inside myself lives a terrible fear of losing those who are most precious to me. I don’t focus on it, and I push it down, but it is the demon who occasionally whispers my darkest fears.

I have this God-awful anxiety that I cannot explain, that came to roost in the cobwebs of my sanity and steals my inner peace with wordless whispers. Not every minute of every day. But it’s there. My life is far from perfect. It may look like it is, to outsiders. I struggle with bills, I don’t work enough or earn enough of my own money. I have debt. A lot of it. It’s not Todd’s burden, but mine.

I don’t get enough quality time with my kids. I don’t get enough quality time with Todd. I wish I could travel more. I wish I had money saved for college. I wish I hadn’t given away 13 years of my life to abuse and unhappiness. I wish I didn’t still hear his critical voice in my head. I wish I didn’t have to work weekends. I wish my knees didn’t hurt, and that I could run again. I wish I was more this, and less of that. I wish, I wish, I wish.

And all any of that does, to repurpose a meme – is steal today’s joy. Which is my long-winded way of saying:

  1. The grass is NOT always greener on the other side and
  2. Don’t believe everything you hear/read.
  3. Don’t kick yourself for what you haven’t done. Do what you wish you could.
  4. Nobody’s life is “perfect.” The only world that’s perfect is heaven.
  5. Count the blessings you DO have. (In religion-speak, that means you praise God for what He has done for you. You reap what you sow.)

 

I’ll just leave this here…

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

~ Walden, Henry David Thoreau

How I Spent the First Day of School

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I’m deleting an email from Pep Boys. How the f*ck did I get on their email list? I don’t even go there. I don’t “do” cars. I drive them, but I leave the repairs to my motorhead husband. When he starts talking about anything beyond horsepower (which also means nothing to me, but don’t tell him), like intake manifold and camshaft bearing, I can seriously feel my eyes glaze over and the corners of my mouth slacken. I can tell you that we have a V-6, but only because I tried really hard to remember what he kept calling our 2012 Mustang. Which, by the way, I DO know isn’t the fastest engine we can buy.

I’m in the foulest mood I’ve been in, in years. First day of school is over, and it was all going so well. The middle school couldn’t accommodate a pre-first day 504 meeting last Friday (which, by the way, was – at the time –the only day they were available before the first day of school), but no matter – a phone call with the guidance counselor set everything straight and this morning I drove Veruca’s box of diabetes supplies to the nurse. The front office still looked a bit “frantic” just 20 minutes after the first bell, and I wished them all well as I said farewell, gloating only a little bit that I was going home to an empty house where all was peaceful. (Hey, they were all smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary on the last day of school. Paybacks are a bitch, ya’ll.)

Meanwhile, back on the cul de sac… After Veruca got on the bus, I returned home to an unlocked house and went straight to the bathroom. Where I realized I’ve been listening to too much Forensic Files on Sirius XM. For some reason I thought, shouldn’t I take my phone with me? What if someone got in the house while I was at the bus stop? And then I heard a loud noise and suddenly, the fear was real. I yanked up my pants and prepared to bolt out of the house when I saw Sabra just outside my door. (She literally drops to the floor like something straight out of a cartoon – throws all 4 legs in the air simultaneously and lands on her belly with a thundering bang. I kid you not.)

I went back to my grant research when a few minutes later, the doorbell rang. Who the f*ck is this now? (Because swearing is my go-to emotional outlet presently. Don’t worry, this will pass.) There was a beat up pickup truck in my driveway, and some middle-aged guy who was more middle-aged than me, was standing on my front porch. Again, John Walsh’s voice in my head, I debated on whether or not to open the door. In the end, I did, and this dude wanted to know if Ted’s truck was for sale, because he “just happened” to be driving though – a cul de sac, ya’ll – and noticed the truck just sitting there. I pondered the possibility that he was a) full of shit, because who just drives through a cul de sac, b) he was a serial killer, or c) really was just driving through because he has no job/life/wife and routinely turns onto deadend streets because Who the F*ck does that, really?

Meanwhile Sabra, who used to bark every time the front door opened, has stopped barking. For once I was wishing she’d do that vicious bellowing – that sounds dangerous until she rounds the corner and you see that she’s just a silly, fluffy poodle. She is seriously depressed, or seriously lost, without Pi. She rarely comes out of our bedroom unless she’s called, or some special food is offered (cause, ya know, dogfood is so “old school”), and I’m trying not to worry about it. Too much. I realized today that the “Grass is Always Greener” cliché is real. Her lack of interest in psycho-dude is rattling, for sure. Girlfriend is my last line of defense when a psycho killer-rapist come knocking.

So, the end of the day came quick and Veruca exited her bus like a champ. And climbed into my waiting vehicle like a bitch from hell. She demanded to know why she couldn’t walk home from the bus, and why I had to pick her up, etc., etc. I stopped talking to her, since my counselor told me that times like these, don’t join the party. (Side note: very effective long term – but really difficult to do when it’s happening.)

I was tempted to post something on FB about whiplash, but never got the chance before Todd came home too. Veruca had a serious low (aka, below-50 blood sugar) about an hour after coming home, so I now feel like a complete failure.

Meanwhile, back in Opac-land, football practice ended early today due to the heat, and he came straight home and crashed. He slept through “dinner,” which is currently some shadow of the real thing as V leaves for practice at 5:30 just as O is getting picked up, and it’s anybody’s guess if I-95 will allow Todd to get home before 7. We are eating in shifts.

Opac didn’t want to take out the trash, but moreover – he said if this schedule continues, he “won’t have time” to take out the trash and recycling like he used to. Yeah. He seriously said that to me with a straight face. I suggested that such a strident schedule might indicate that football was no longer necessary, if it interfered with homework and so on… and then I flipped out.

I am so NOT supposed to be winging it. But winging it, I don’t know how the next few weeks are gonna go, and all I can think about is how I don’t want to kill anybody. And it’s only the first day.

P.S. As if all this isn’t enough, the WordPress gods have supremely pissed me off. I checked my page here one day remotely, and was appalled to see an ad for Donald Trump at the bottom of one of my posts. SO, as if I don’t also have enough to do – let this be my first public political statement:

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.

Revelations – the Detox Story Continues

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My journey toward writing my New York stories – whether by book or by blog – took me to this particular page where I was surprised to read what I had written over 25 years ago. I’m inspired to share the chronicles of New York and NYU, in my usual style of humor and a bit of sarcasm, but this page – this page – was anything but funny. The most shocking bit of it, was the only part I have no memory of.

I recently wrote about discontinuing Paxil, and how difficult it has been. It’s been 17 days, and all that appears to be left is waking nausea – not unlike morning sickness – and the emotional hurricane inside my whole being. To the former – many of my withdrawal symptoms look like pregnancy. However, I can assure you, I am not. To the latter – anything, and everything, has the potential to release the floodgates on my usually composed emotions.

I was sitting at a table in the water park on Tuesday, and our song came over the sound system and I just tensed up with stupid pent up tears. It was ridiculous. I fully expected to cry on my two high school friends the previous night, you know, because we haven’t seen each other in sooo long and how many years has it been and we’re getting older and… for the love of GOD. Thankfully, I didn’t. But that’s the crap part of this – you never know when it’s gonna hit. Well, except when we’re watching movies and then I can be sure it will come – and what the hell was I thinking watching Ghost under these circumstances?

According to what I’ve read, this crying thing is part of the withdrawal. And it sucks BIG TIME. This medication, just like anti-depressants, “takes the edge off” so much that I was actually numb. I even asked my alarmed, and slightly annoyed kids – when is the last time you saw me cry like this? And they can’t remember. Because, it’s like – never.

Yesterday Todd and I went to the bike shop to have my bike repaired after he accidentally rolled over it in the garage in the Mustang (SO glad I didn’t do that). He’s in the market for a road bike, so he and “Mel” were chatting while I sort of wandered about the store, touching at the jerseys and bike shorts in a disinterested way. And then I saw a yellow jersey that struck me instantly with a memory of my uncle, an avid cyclist, who lost his battle with cancer twelve years ago. Lance Armstrong sent him a LiveStrong jersey, post- mortem. It was hung over his bike at the memorial service, where I cried an uncontrollable torrent of tears. In public. And later, all I could think of was, is this what life will become? Everyone I love will eventually pass on and I get to stand here and watch it happen, over and over again? It was a heartbreaking revelation and it took me a very long time to recover. And now – in that bike shop – all those emotions came flooding back to me and I found myself fighting back tears.

Okay so back to the point. So, ultimately, I don’t want to be on medication. I don’t think I need it. Yet, after re-reading what I wrote at age 20 – I wonder that I always felt so conflicted, so fragmented, so emotional, so angry at things I couldn’t even articulate. That the semester I took a course in Women’s Literature I started to really consciously recognize these feelings. I read A Room of One’s Own. I read The Golden Notebook. I plunged into my writing classes. It all started to click. And now, in retrospect, besides knowing there’s a significant genetic link to this – I was always this way – Born this Way – and now I’ve got wisdom on my side. The wisdom to know what works for me, and what doesn’t. The wisdom to know the difference between just surviving, and thriving.

This is Not About PMS

Blogged while finishing off the coffee Todd made. (Sorry babe.)

At the risk of scaring away any male readers, PMS sucks. It was not in my plan to make this an opener today. I had other plans for this post. But today’s post isn’t going to be about the original plan, and it’s not going to be about PMS either. However, PMS has driven the direction of my thoughts today, and so there you have it.

I just want to preface this by stating that being in my 40s has given me a sort of Superwoman ability to recognize when PMS is coming. Okay, so maybe it’s really just a side effect of maturity… but still…this, my friends, is a –UGE milestone. Where in my  20s I’d hit that week where everyone and everything pissed me off and I barreled through all of it like a freight train bent on destruction, I can now see myself getting stabby and am able to sort of reel it in before everyone in my orbit feels like they’ve been tased. There are far fewer victims in my wake now.

Todd can talk me down off the wall, but I still have to make him understand why I feel this way and he has to acknowledge it before I can let it go. Like yesterday in the garage. I was putting stuff away from the community yard sale and sweating my balls off, and complaining wildly about it. The sweating, not the putting away of stuff. And before someone tells me I don’t have balls I will tell you I have plenty, and I’m not afraid to use them, but I was sweating so hard [sweating my balls off] that I sweat them right off! So in which case, you’re right – I have no balls now.

And, while we’re on the subject of balls, a few weeks ago my mom was over and we were all standing out on the deck enjoying a relaxing Sunday when she suddenly looked at Opac and said, don’t scratch your balls in front of your Nannie. Veruca’s face registered an amusing struggle to simultaneously control shock and hysteria. Opac stopped scratching/adjusting/ whatever-you-boys-do and fired back matter-of-factly – why were you looking there?

Anyway, back to not talking about PMS. It makes me stabby, and occasionally weepy. But we’re not going to talk about that. Except for the fact that I am almost never feeling that way, except for that one week every month, and even then it’s almost always never weepy. Except for this time.

I’m trying not to feel weepy about Pi, who’s 15 and falling down a little more often every day and sometimes when she does she loses her bladder. I have a post started along the My Life Is Shit series, meant to be funny, but today it’s anything but funny.

Todd and I were simultaneously cleaning up kitchen surfaces this morning – him, the pile of papers on the island and me, the pile of stuff on the kitchen table. I bought these “Calming” chews for Sabra and I held up the bag to show him and he wondered aloud if someone makes something all-natural like this for humans, which surely someone does, and I said as much while remembering some Chinese herbs someone had “prescribed” me years ago for my anxiety. So of course he asked, who? Someone I dated on and off over a 6-year period, who moved to California to study Chinese medicine and acupuncture. He said, why don’t you call him and find out what it was? I would never, because he would never speak to me – I’d walked away from him three times. I’m not so callous to think he has even thought of me in the last 18 years, but if he did, it was with hate.

Todd’s on this plane right now that is equally matter-of-fact and at times quite harsh. His response to this? That guy had no business being with me. You were never his, he said. That may be true, but for the record – I was never about breaking hearts.

The conversation segued into how series of events lead us to the places we end up in… like for me, had I never gone to a small college in PA I would never have met a guy who introduced me to my big sister (sorority), and with whom we would not have visited a fraternity brother in a hospital in North Jersey, and ended up spending a whirlwind day in New York City whereby I discovered a certain University whose purple flags hung all over the village and intrigued me to the point I would never forget them.

Todd pointed out that had we not broken up, he would not have left town for Baltimore. Or, that I might have moved down there with him, and gone to college there. He mentioned that night I came to his work to return some things of his, and how difficult it was for him. Tears filled my eyes as he told me how he flipped out on someone and walked out. I can still remember that night like it was yesterday, or at least the emotions I felt. Erikah drove me over there. I remember the anxiety, and the awkwardness between us. And how I cried as we drove away.

I swiped at the tears while we talked this morning. I don’t remember what I was returning to him that night – because we’d had another day when he’d come to my house and I gave him his jacket and his ring, and we’d ended up on the floor, loving each other like it would never be over.

If he saw the tears rimming my eyes as we talked, it didn’t stop his train of thought as he pointed out how, when something is that difficult to let go of, you’re not supposed to let go of it. And – our breakup was very, very hard to do. It wasn’t a breakup where one of us said to the other – I don’t want you. I just want and/or need something else too.

It was me. The child, the Gemini in me, had something more she wanted to do, something more she wanted to know, experience, live…  He said this morning, he would never have broken up with me. Maybe not, but we will never know. We took a different path. He chose not to fight me. He didn’t want to hold me back – a display of love and maturity that defied his 17 years. I stood before him conflicted and heartbroken, and cried a thousand times over him as I moved on. It’s amazing how easy it is to remember and feel them in the same way, in all of my extremities and my heart and the pit of my stomach.

I’m so glad he took me back. I’m so glad he loved me. I’m so blessed to share the rest of our lives together, as it was written long ago.

And equally blessed because this man who knows me better than I know myself, just walked quietly past me and dropped a handful of M&Ms on my desk.

 

 

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Happily ever after…

Copyright The Tara Chronicles.

To Practice What I Already Know

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Blogged while trying to avoid yard sale preparations.

I have “unspecified” anxiety – which I’m fairly certain just means, “I get nervous frequently and for no apparent reason.” My grandmother had anxiety, and I’m just going to assume it’s genetically inherited since I have no real reason to have it otherwise. Well, okay – I have a good reason, but I seriously don’t worry over Veruca’s diabetes. I just DO IT.

Anyway, counseling. I went to counseling. But not for anxiety. However, I was anxious about it. I’ve been to counseling before, and it wasn’t really for me. I went in my 20s because I thought I should, and the therapist was great, but I really wasn’t into sitting on a couch dissecting my childhood and my character. For the record, I’m still not.

I went again about 3 or 4 years ago, after the custody crap was over, in an attempt to heal myself from the trauma of that fight I didn’t start. I went once. I ran. Far, far away. This therapist was a little “too close” to the situation I was trying to heal from. She asked too many questions about the technical parts of the custody battle, like who was the judge, who was my attorney, who was his attorney, etc. And here’s where this healing foray for me ended – she knew everyone involved. Well, everyone but my attorney. My anxiety took liftoff to space and it was over. My trust ended before it even began.

Anyway, back to the present. Long story short, after the debacle in my ex’s driveway I called for an appointment. I had a long wait. You know when you have plenty of time to ruminate over something, and you start coming up with reasons not to do it? Yeah.

I have been having issues with Veruca for a while now. Mostly parenting issues. I have realized that she causes me anxiety. She is demanding, and spoiled, and challenging, and takes no prisoners. She will ask me something a hundred times, and no matter how many times I say no – she’ll ask just one more time. That expression, “when momma aint happy, aint nobody happy”? This is Veruca. Now, I’m fully aware that she is not the problem. I am.

The counseling I was seeking was two-fold. One, was empowering me to become a better parent and take control. The other was about working through old baggage that I carry from an abusive marriage. Baggage I had under control, until that day it wasn’t.

“Jane” listened intently, repeated back to me what she heard, and made suggestions. Followed by orders to put my crown back on and stop taking shit from Veruca. Essentially, shut down the learned behaviors by NOT reacting emotionally to them. Being matter-of-fact. Sounds easy, right? I had been taking the “choose your battles” to new levels by pulling out of the war altogether. Or, I continued to engage with her when I should have been saying it once and meaning it. I knew that this was a huge part of what was usurping my joy. I am the one who has the power to be happy, and the power to stop a little terrorist from taking it away. Sometimes ya gotta fight the battle to win the war. It’s a process.

So far it’s been a week, and I’m feeling much better. So far, Veruca hasn’t really tried to engage me in anything. I practice deep breaths and matter-of-fact statements and, though inside my heart is racing and I’m tense, I focus on a calm face and voice. It seems to be working. However, having lived twelve years where you never knew what was coming around the next corner, I’m not so naïve to believe that everything is hunky dory.

As for the second part of my counseling needs, I was reminded that I was married to a “big bully” who liked to control everything, and everyone. The acknowledgement of abuse. And, while it seems silly, I needed to hear a professional tell me that what happened in the driveway was assault. It was assault. And I could have called the police.

And in one quick statement, that’s all over with. And, aren’t you glad you’re not married to that anymore? Yes it is, and yes I am.

 

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.