“My Vagina’s Falling Out”

Copyright: chajamp

It’s not mine, actually. It’s a friend of mine; the title is a direct quote from the text she sent me. And I don’t mean “friend.” If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I’d tell you if it were my vagina that was falling out. I once typed out several frank paragraphs about the time I lost a tampon in my hoohah for months and the ensuing odor. I almost wish it were my vagina falling out, just for the material.

No, no, not really, vagina gods. I am making light of an uncomfortable medical condition for the sake of art. Please do not visit that karma upon me. In all actuality, I would like my vagina to stay right where it is, in that boring yet comfortable place, tucked inside my body where I can’t feel it nor do I feel compelled to write about it. But things do not stay put as we age, so read on for a few common, distressing and distressingly common female reproductive issues.


FUN FACT: "Vagina" refers to the inside part you can't see that leads to the cervix and then the uterus. The outside parts we tend to call the vagina in everyday conversation are actually the vulva and labia. Helpful definitions and diagram here.

Jen’s Wayward Vagina

Jen woke up one morning, and while getting ready for work, she noticed a familiar yet uncomfortable feeling — like her tampon had slipped down and was poking out. Only she wasn’t wearing a tampon. Upon exploration, she was horrified to discover what she felt was not a wandering sanitary supply but her actual self — tissue from inside was trying to be outside. Jen has some medical experience, so she knew what she felt was a prolapsed vagina, which is just doctorspeak for, “Your vagina’s falling out of your body but we’d like to make it sound a little less terrible.”

After five or two hundred deep breaths, Jen calmed down enough to do some research. She was shocked to discover that 40 PERCENT of women have vaginal prolapse at some point in their lives. Why then, we wondered together, did we not know about this? Vaginal prolapse can come with a smorgasbord of fun symptoms that range from that feeling of “tissue protrusion” Jen felt to constipation and general sexual concerns about having a loose vagina.

We all know about erectile dysfunction and vasectomy reversal; pharmaceutical companies are falling all over themselves to develop treatments and yelling it out to the world as they do it. If 40 percent of women have vaginal prolapse, why had I not heard so much as a peep about it until Jen freaked out and shared it with me? Might she have freaked out less if she’d seen 80 thousand commercials for how to treat it? I’ll leave that to rattle around in your brain while I move on to another friend of mine. More info on vaginal prolapse here.

Rachel’s Pain-in-the-Pelvis Bladder

Rachel and I were supposed to meet up to walk, but she texted me that morning to say she didn’t feel well enough, but could I come over and talk? As I walked to her house, I wondered what was up. Maybe she’s worried about one of her kids. Maybe she’s leaving her husband. Maybe she has cancer. All three of these, I’m finding, are common at our age. It was none of them.

Rachel has a chronic urge to pee, though not much comes out. She doesn’t have a urinary tract infection. A urologist gave her a vaginal suppository to treat it, but she had a bad reaction to it. It burned her insides. Her doctor “had never heard of this happening before.” Now, she can’t exercise because she’s in too much pain. She has trouble sleeping because of the pain. And she’s generally unhappy because, again, pain. Our shared gynecologist suggested melatonin and general disregard for the impact this pain was having on her life.

She’s since done some internet research, diagnosed herself with interstitial cystitis (IC) and altered her diet, which has helped some. IC affects somewhere between 3 and 8 million women and has no cure. Thanks, medical people. Let that one marinate along with vaginal prolapse.

Sarah’s Disappearing Clitoris

That’s right; that little motherfucker who brings you so much pleasure can disappear, and she is not going to go quietly either. She’s going to go kicking, screaming, itching and scarring all the way. It’s called lichen sclerosis. I would never have heard of it if Sarah hadn’t told me she had it and has to keep Clobetasol cream on her person at all times for the rest of her life. Obviously, it messes up your ability to enjoy sex. Four percent of women who have it wind up with vulvar cancer. It’s a lifelong, incurable thing that affects one in 80 women, mostly those peri- or post-menopausal. Betcha never heard of that one either. Ever see a commercial for itchy, scarring clit pills? No? More info on lichen sclerosis here.

The Really Disturbing Thing

It’s scary that these conditions exist, but what’s worse is that no one talks about them. That makes them even more terrifying. Men can make jokes about not being able to get it up because everyone knows about that thanks to Viagra and their never-ending ad campaign. No one jokes about itchy clits or vaginas gone rogue. Or undefinable, vague pelvic pain that maybe wouldn’t be so undefinable if there were more research dollars poured into women’s reproductive issues.

I don’t want much. I’m not asking for science to make me fertile at fifty. Believe me, I don’t want that. I’m just asking for a little transparency — that women not be blind-sided by these conditions. That we not feel horrified and alone about something that affects 40 percent of people with vaginas. And maybe some money and research put into what medicines, procedures or therapies would help us be more comfortable as we age.

License to Drive

“Fucker,” I mutter under my breath at the tan, dented Cadillac crossover immediately in front of me. It’s traveling ten miles under the speed limit, and I’m impatiently tooling along behind it, but that’s not the source of my ire. There has been a hideous traffic violation.

Seven seconds earlier, the same nefarious boat of a car and I had been idling at a red light, side by side, in the left-hand turn lanes, me in the outermost one. The green, protected-turn arrow blinked on, and we veered off, southbound. In the process, the Cadillac casually drifted into my lane as if it had every right to do so, and I was forced to apply my breaks and let it in.

“Hey!” I gesticulated with indignation. I tried to honk the horn but missed the center of the steering wheel in this vehicle I wasn’t accustomed to driving yet. And so I settled for a few choice expletives that only I could hear while I glared at the back of the car that had just cut me off. I no longer flip people off or yell out the window; somewhere in there, I got old enough to realize I was neither immortal nor always right.

As soon as I had room, I swerved into the left lane and zoomed around the Cadillac but not so fast I didn’t have time to turn my head and get a good look at the offender. She was around 80 years old with hair dyed the dark brown of her youth and giant sunglasses covering the top half of her face. I turned forward to keep my eyes on the road ahead again, was quiet for a second and then burst out laughing.

She was me. Or rather, I will be her in thirty or so years. I have never been the best driver, and at 45, I can already feel my night vision failing. It stands to reason that I will eventually progress from occasionally cutting someone off, realizing it and gesticulating an apology, to obliviously drifting into the lane next door without noticing. Her hair was dyed brown, my hair was dyed purple. I had on giant sunglasses too. And yes, the vehicle I am getting used to driving is, hypocritically, a Cadillac crossover handed down from my late father-in-law.

I put that last part in there so you would know I didn’t choose this vehicle; I’m just driving it out of convenience and circumstance. I am not so bourgeois that I would purchase something as pretentious as a Cadillac. But secretly, I love that car. I could’ve driven my 2013 Toyota minivan with bald front tires and Goldfish crackers permanently ground into the floor mats this morning, but I chose the Caddy because damn, it is comfy. I smile with pleasure when I sit down on its plush seat and close the door to its calm and silent interior. It corners beautifully; it has a great sound system and a big color backup screen which is something my spacially unaware ass sorely needs.

Coincidentally, the dueling Caddies incident happened when I was driving home from getting my license renewed at the DPS office where I’d had to prove I could read the bottom line of an eye chart. Lucky for my left eye, it had to read the same six-letter sequence my right eye had just called out, so it knew that what looked like a blurry “O” was actually a “C.” I’m going to be Muriel (that’s what I named my future Cadillac-driving doppelganger) before I know it. The way she’d been straining forward to see over the steering wheel…I feel myself in the same pose, every time I’m driving home in the dark.

When I was young, immortal and always right, I was a shitty driver but for different reasons. I could see just fine, but I was an impatient asshole who would sooner slam on the breaks to make a turn and risk getting rear-ended than pass it up, turn around and arrive thirty seconds later than planned. I cut people off on purpose. I almost wrecked my parents’ van on the way to a Eurasure concert in Fort Worth, because I was unsure which way to go when the highway divided. As my friends frantically flipped through the Mapsco from page 45 to 102 to find our next turn, it was only when someone shouted, “Left, left, go LEFT!” at the last possible second that I swerved to avoid the concrete barrier in the middle. I didn’t want to go the wrong way and be late; missing the opening acts would’ve been the worst — far worse than slamming into cement, killing all my friends and bleeding out on the side of the highway.

Fortunately, by some miracle of the traffic gods, I made it through my impulsive teenage years with only a couple of minor fender benders. I got speeding tickets aplenty for doing 90 in my grandmother’s Chrysler while flying through the ranchlands between Austin and Dallas, but I never hit anyone going faster than a roll. And now, despite my presbyopic vision, I haven’t even dinged anyone’s bumper in at least a decade. According to me. A certain person I live with alleges he’s gotten his car back from me with new dents, but that’s just hearsay. And there was that one time I backed out of our driveway and hit our neighbor’s Jeep, but I only hit her tire. There was no damage, so it doesn’t count. Plus, I was distracted, bitching at the kids for bickering instead of looking over my shoulder, so it’s their fault anyway. This is why I need the Cadillac that beeps when I’m about to hit something. Well, shit. I’m Muriel already.

Taken Back

I was going through jewelry, getting rid of some things, when I came upon a pair of silver peace signs, small and dangly with black backgrounds. I smiled inwardly and remembered:

It was the early 90s; my friends and I were at Lollapalooza at Starplex Amphitheater in Dallas. All our favorite bands were there, but I was most excited about Alice in Chains. Between shows, we wove our way through the vendor’s booths of hand-woven bags, scarves and homemade jewelry. Russell had asked me to carry his wallet for him. I was wearing my favorite, low-slung jean shorts and would have carried his anvil if that boy had asked me to. And so, I perused the jewelry, oversized 90s guy-wallet sticking out of my back pocket.

I came across the peace earrings, smiled and fingered them. I said, within Russell’s earshot, “I really like these.” I moved onto the next table of wares, confident he’d heard me but not at all certain he would choose to take the bait. That boy was full of mysterious processes I could never figure out. He had an ulterior motive for stashing his wallet with me, I’m sure; but to this day, I’ll be damned if I know what it was. I liked being in charge of his things, though — having a sense of propriety of him. My heart blossomed with delight when he reached over to pluck his wallet from my back pocket to purchase the earrings for me.

He cares; he wants to make me happy.

The woman behind the table chastised him for using his girl’s cash to buy her a present, but strangely he didn’t correct her. Perhaps he’d given me his wallet to set up precisely this situation for whatever convoluted motivations lurked in his grey matter. Or perhaps I’m giving him too much credit.

That same day, ensconced in the shade of the main pavilion between acts, we sat side-by-side waiting in amiable silence. We were early; there were a few people scattered here and there throughout the bolted-down folding seats. To pass the time, I watched them. A dude came galloping through the empty chairs, leaping over rows and eventually tripping. He fell but recovered himself quickly. He had a wild and unfocused look about him. I casually thought, he’s drunk.

Russell turned to me. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” I answered, as I turned toward him, my eyebrows raised questioningly.

“No, you said something about that guy being drunk.”

My mouth fell open. This is an ability my husband has now — something that drew me in when Jason and I first got together — that uncanny habit of voicing what I almost opened my mouth to say.

Those earrings transported me to a snapshot of the past when I felt confident and connected to the person I was with. It was a day of fun and good music — one when, for once, I didn’t secretly long to go home before everyone else I rode with was ready.

That relationship, mine and Russell’s, was, for the most part, a fucking mess. It was on-again-off-again and rife with infidelity, manipulation and mind games. When I look back at the four years I spent wringing my hands and crying over him, I shake my head at my younger self. How could I not have gotten disentangled from that doomed liaison sooner? The earrings, and moments like that day at Lollapalooza, remind me, though, that there were good times, there were reasons (maybe not solid ones) I kept hanging around.

Our relationship wasn’t so much banging my head against a wall as it was sitting at a slot machine — one that, as time went on, payed off less and less, but I still kept playing, hoping for another break. Rats will learn to push a button, when they’re hungry, to receive food pellets. They’ll push it obsessively, even after they’ve eaten their fill, if they only receive food pellets ever so often. Russell was my Vegas, my gambling habit, the one everyone in my life could see was dragging me down but me. I did, at long last, break it off for good. It has been a good 20 years since I even laid eyes on him.

It started when I was 16 and had been legally driving less than a year. Four years later, when I called it quits over the phone and knew this time it would stick, I was 20 and what passes for an adult. I was closing in on a degree and had modest career aspirations. Those are some formative fucking years. During that time, I fashioned a life in a new city, learned how to make friends and grew into a person independent of her parents’ house and finances. Russell was in my life through all of that, often on the periphery, throwing a wrench into my works by showing up when I least expected or by his conspicuous absence when I needed him most.

My relationship with him was by far the most volatile of my entire life. I still harken back to it because I learned so much, so painfully — that some people will take advantage of my openhearted nature, not because they consciously intend to, but because it’s the only way they know how to be. That I, despite the apparent ability to leave, had a tendency to become complicit in my own misery. I also now realize that, in retrospect, he may have been an asshole, but he wasn’t the only asshole in that relationship. My connection to Russell burned blisters into my soul, then formed callouses. Callouses that protected me from future harm. And from future connection. Much much later, I slowly began to file off those callouses, began to trust that the people in my life would be gentle with the soft tissue underneath.

It was dramatic and hard to ignore, even in the present.

I can look at those earrings, smile and recall the parts of my life that held some joy at the time. I can even remember the rocks I dashed myself upon too many times to count. And I can be grateful I learned those lessons then and have them to better navigate my life now.

Second-Hand Bricks

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

I am hunched on the edge of the concrete slab, summer sun scorching my neck and shoulders unrelentingly. I am chiseling, with hammer and file, the mortar off of salvaged bricks. I curse each time a brick breaks under my chisel; that’ll be a dock in pay. It’s August in Texas; I’m fifteen years old.

It sounds like a scene from a post-apocalyptic, dystopian teen novel, but I’d chosen this brutal prisoner’s labor. The concrete slab was our front porch, and the bricks had been reclaimed from the demolition of the front wall of our house. Dad was paying us a quarter a brick to clean off the old mortar so he could reuse them in the addition he was building, but you only got a nickel if the brick cracked in half. Our younger cousin, JulieAnn, had already been fired from brick cleaning for breaking too many.

The addition was designed to give our family extra space now that my sister and I were teenage-sized, with gaggles of teenage-sized friends we brought home to take over our one living room. My parents were tired of being banished to their bedroom. Dad completed the project, with the last coat of peach-colored paint on the walls, in May of 1994 after I’d been off at college for two semesters and my sister, Bonnie, would be out of the house in a few short years — just in time for my parents to rattle around in a place that was now too big.

Dad honestly didn’t care how many bricks we cleaned; he offered the monetary incentive and left us to our own devices. He didn’t micromanage us or yell when one of us broke a brick (to our surprise), and he rationally “let JulieAnn go” for her clumsy cleaning, without a note of reproach in his voice. As I remember, Bonnie cleaned more than I did. I was fifteen and eager for the money, but I also had a boyfriend with a car — places to go, things to…well, places to hang out, anyway.

I didn’t think too much about the legacy or metaphor of brick cleaning at the time. My dad put us to the task to save money and also because it would have been difficult to find new bricks to match the original ones. Mostly though, my father hates to waste things. Throwing something out when you can clean it, fix it, reuse it, offends his very nature. In our house, there were flip flops repaired with twine, a washing machine with a weird metal knob replacing the plastic one we kids broke, and a manual-transmission vehicle that started without the clutch engaged. By the time my sister and I were budding teenagers, we took things like chiseling mortar for the sake of frugality as a matter of course. It was weird to our friends but not to us.

Just today, however, I was reading a chapter of Walden, “House Warming,” and came across an account of building a chimney with used bricks, and I was excited. Granted, I had to go back hundreds of years to find camaraderie in brick cleaning, but still. Let me use this opportunity to quote Thoreau and seem much more cultured and literary than I am:

My bricks being second-hand ones required to be cleaned. The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still growing harder; but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not. Such sayings themselves grow harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it would take many blows with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them.

Henry David Thoreau

I started reading Walden because a novel I was reading — blasting through fervently, actually, and ignoring everyone in my house – frequently referenced it. I’m not blasting through Walden but reading it more like you would poetry or philosophy – a few pages here, a chapter there, accompanied by a lot of pondering. I have been delighted to discover Thoreau and I are philosophically similar in a lot (but not all) ways. I’m surprised I have that much in common with a nineteenth-century man who never had children and died when he was younger than I am now. But like me, he reveled in nature and simplicity, he was a writer, and apparently, he cleaned bricks.

Thoreau took a much loftier approach to his mortar chiseling than I did, sweating over the quarter per in-tact brick I would get. He would have pitied my working for coins when I could’ve been toiling to my own ends. In a way, I was, as it was the roof I lived under that my dad was expanding. I, of course, didn’t see it that way. I was fifteen. I wasn’t helping improve our homestead; I was after money for movies and snacks.

Now, 30 years later, I can more easily see Thoreau’s and my dad’s view of things — brick cleaning and otherwise. Because while I was occasionally motivated by the almighty dollar in my youth, the older I get, the less excitement I’m able to muster about a couple of bucks, which is unfortunate because you know, capitalism. Now I prefer to do a lot of things myself instead of hiring someone, who admittedly, might do it better and faster. It’s money-saving, but the real reason I cut my own hair is that it’s simpler. I don’t have to make an appointment or drive anywhere or torture myself and a relative stranger with soul-killing small talk.

This is why I clean my own house (a.k.a, why my house is so fucking dirty); why there’s a hole in my bathroom showcasing visible bathtub plumbing that has been there so long I don’t see it anymore; why we have inside doorknobs on outside doors replacing the ones the kids broke. There is satisfaction in repairing things ourselves. The downside is, there is always shit waiting to be fixed in our house; the backlog is like, eons. We’ll probably fix that gaping hole full of PVC plumbing in the bathroom when we decide to sell the house in ten years. Probably. Because, unlike Thoreau, we can’t spend lazy days fishing at the pond and tending a fire for hours to cook our catch. We have kids to take to soccer, a geriatric dog to drag around the block and Everests of laundry to wash and never fold or put away.

But even if, like Thoreau, I could build my own little cabin with second-hand brick chimney upon the idyllic land owned by my financially independent good buddy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, I wouldn’t. Thoreau himself said his two-year stint by the pond, second-hand bricks included, wasn’t about making a map by which all people should live. He only sought to prove (primarily to himself, I suspect) that it was possible — if you lived simply — to work for yourself, to work very little and to be contented for it.

I’m not gonna go live off the grid. I like cell phones, Netflix and having neighbors. But I do seek to make things simpler by cleaning my own metaphorical bricks when I can. When the work is for my own house or my neighbor’s and not meaningless labor to make widgets or advertise said widgets for a corporation who will then pay me so I can turn around and pay someone else to fix my toilet, even when it’s hard, tedious or maddening, it feels good. So I don’t want to buy anything, sell anything or process anything, but maybe I am okay with cleaning bricks, as long as they’re metaphorical…me, Lloyd Dobler, my dad and Thoreau. Good company.

My Mom, The Fixer

Throughout my childhood, my mom was The Fixer. You had a problem, yo, she solved it faster than Vanilla Ice, no revolving DJ necessary. The vacuum would start emanating that burned-motor smell, and she would spend the next half-hour sitting on the kitchen floor, vacuum cleaner upside down, with a screwdriver in her hand. She’d take it apart, clean off the gobs of hair wrapped around the rotor, retrieve whatever plastic hair tie had clogged it, reassemble it and finish cleaning the floor. “A clean machine is a happy machine,” she would say.

Put a package on it!

My sister and I liked to draw at the kitchen counter when we were little. Mom would be in the same room, cooking or doing science experiments in the sink or whatever moms do in the background when you’re six years old and self-involved. Ma, the meatloaf! I never know what she’s doing in there.

We’d invariably make a mistake — the cat’s tail was too fat or we left an “r” out of “Merry Christmas.” We always went straight for the markers, never learning from experience to write it in pencil first. We’d wail that our life was over because of this egregious error; now, we would have to start all over, and we just didn’t have it in us to face the blank canvas (manila construction paper)again. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Mom would swoop in with a fix: “Put a present over it!” Thus, our artwork was littered with random, brightly wrapped packages with red bows, smack in the middle of words, trees and cat’s hindquarters to unsubtly cover our mistakes — kind of like a kindergarten version of Japanese Kintsugi.

Mom applied the same technique to our clothing. When holes appeared in the knees of my jeans way before I’d outgrown them, she covered them with the assorted patches she kept in her sewing stuff — rainbows, hearts, flowers (presents). Until that is, I reached sixth grade and patched knees became too horrifyingly uncool for school. She sewed up the holes my sister accidentally cut in the collars of her shirts while trying to rid them of every millimeter of itchy tag full of size designations and washing instructions with a pair of safety scissors. Once, my sister cut a hole in a nightgown my grandmother had made, viciously forcing it to part ways with the detestable bow on its front. Mom fixed that, too.

Put it in a box.

Mom was also a pretty good fixer for teenage hearts that had been shattered into a million-billion pieces causing much weeping to sappy Richard Marx songs. When I broke up with my first serious boyfriend and was wringing my hands over what to do with all of the memorabilia of our relationship that had adorned my room for the entire nine months of our coupling, Mom knew what to do. I didn’t want to look at that shit, but I couldn’t bear to throw it away, so she brought me a box. We put all the precious things — dried flowers, saccharine love notes, mason jar full of deflated balloons (a story for another time) — inside and stashed it in the back of my closet where I would find it several years later and toss it without a second thought.

Break out the lug wrench.

Mom is in her best form when annoying and unpredicted problems arise. She’s good with a flat tire. One year, she changed no less than six of them, each time on her way home from work. My dad accused her of running over nails on purpose, which made perfect sense. I’m sure she was just itching to wrench off lug nuts on the side of the highway in the dark after working ten hours at the hospital where she’d, incidentally, been fixing things all day.

In a crisis, Mom is cool as a little Fonzie. She’s the one you want first on the scene of a car accident and first in line to fix a ruined bridesmaid’s dress an hour before the ceremony. When my sister’s best friend’s mom exited stage left to go live in New Hampshire with her boyfriend, leaving two kids and a hapless ex-husband behind, my mom helped pick up the pieces. She shuttled those kids to and from school, dance classes and soccer. She fed them when necessary. She sprinted down to their house to shut off the malfunctioning burglar alarm all. the. time. Because no one was home and they didn’t want to have to pay the security company for yet another false alarm. “Stay calm now, fall apart later,” was her motto.

Pass down the skills.

My mother is the reason I calmly handled a tire blowout while driving a child-molester-sized van full of day camp kids 65 miles an hour down I35. She is the reason I fix the holes in my adult jeans, though now they show up, relentlessly, in the butt along the back pocket seam where my trunk junk can’t be contained by mere denim. She is why, when my toddler fell and hit his head on the tile so hard he started passing out and throwing up, I didn’t explode in a volcano of dysfunctional hysteria while trying to keep him awake on the way to the ER and instead pressed that rising panic down so I could function for my son.

Luckily, he was okay. Fortunately, I didn’t have to find time to fall apart later because I was so relieved my kiddo wasn’t permanently brain-damaged (though it was a little hard for the doctor to assess since he’d just started walking and moved around like a drunken college student already). It’s a good thing, too, because that kid is ten now, and he’d look pretty funny with a red and green-bowed Christmas package on his head.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. And thanks for always keeping our shit together.

Roses are Resting Bitch Face

Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_evgeniy3030′>Evgeniy Medvedev</a>

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

You don’t know me,

But I know you.

I was coordinating the university blood drive, sitting at a table helping people fill out forms when a boy arrived in front of me with this bastardized clichéd poem. He gazed down at me with his big brown eyes, grinning at his own cleverness and manufactured mystery. In fact, I did know who he was. We hadn’t met, but his name was Diego.

I thought about using a pseudonym just now, but with a suave name like Diego, I just couldn’t do it. He was a friend of a friend and a nice-looking guy — cute, maybe even sexy. But I was not amused. I glared back up at him, tapping my pen impatiently.

Are you going to donate blood?

No, I just wanted to meet you. (flirtatious smile)

Then move out of the way. I’m busy.

I was not playing hard-to-get. When I am intensely focused on something I can be a dick to anyone who interrupts me. It’s a well-known fact in my family. But there was more to it than my annoyance. Diego was not just a gnat buzzing in my ear that I absently swatted away. He represented a larger conflict.

I was a nice kid. When people came up to talk to me, I smiled, listened and made eye contact, even when I was in a hurry or they were interrupting my intense navel-gazing. As I went through puberty, though, this started to backfire. What I considered polite and friendly was taken as flirtation and a promise of something more. Then, I’d get ambushed with some guy’s tongue on my face and he’d act like I’d stolen his lunch money when I pushed him away. Or worse, I’d think I’d made a friend only to discover he didn’t want to hang out with me if friends were all we were going to be.

So I quit being nice. I stopped smiling at people on the shuttle bus, quit making eye contact when a male person asked me an innocent question like, “Does the Pleasant Valley bus stop here?” I had resting bitch face down so pat (before it was even called that) that my ex-husband — who intimidated most people right out of the gate — was afraid to talk to me when he first laid eyes on me. The only time I did let some boy past the barrier was when I was entertaining the idea of making out with him; I had sunken to their expectations.

It became a habit. I didn’t just shut out potentially lecherous guys; I barred the door to everyone. And I did it long after the days of my getting hit on in public spaces were over. I eventually put resting bitch face to rest and became more outwardly friendly again. Still, I had lost the ability to open up, to be myself, to put myself in the position where I could potentially be shoved aside and rebuffed because I wasn’t offering what was wanted.

Luckily, I’m 45 years old and still here, so I have time. I can work on it. I AM working on it, and I’ve already gotten so much better at being vulnerable and making real friends. I’m not sorry I didn’t give Diego more attention 25 years ago, but maybe if I ever run into him again, we can be friends…metaphorically, anyway.

The Lorax, Guinea Pigs and Charles Lindbergh

Stonehenge Brain Beasties
(Stonehenge:
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_coffe72′>coffe72</a&gt;; walrus:
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_alexlaz’>Alexandra Vasilenko</a>; Guinea pigs:
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_ayutaka’>ayutaka</a&gt;)

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I see Stonehenge, the massive horizontal stones looking deceptively precarious atop their supports. The circles of rocks are surrounded by a lush, green, rolling landscape. The monument is bathed in late afternoon light as are the inhabitants atop it. Calmly perched on one of the horizontal monoliths is a cartoon walrus who resembles the Lorax. He’s pink, anyway. Keeping him company are several, normal-colored guinea pigs – the kind who look like their hair is one big cowlick. They are brown and white and frolicking around on top of the stones, making those cute squeaky noises. There is also the name, Charles Lindell. Not printed anywhere, and certainly not a person in the flesh, but just the idea of a name. In the air, maybe. An aura?

Stonehenge, pink Lorax walrus, cheerful guinea pigs and the idea of a name? It’s not an acid trip; it is what is going on in my brain as I lie in bed between waking and sleeping, in a perfectly ordinary bedroom, no drugs involved.

I am crazy. Or I am some sort of oracle.

I watched a documentary on Stonehenge right before going to bed last night. I also saw a cartoon walrus who made me giggle in a Facebook meme yesterday. An old friend sent me a message recently and mentioned his kids had lots of pets, which prompted me to wonder if they were the regular dog-and-cat variety or something more exotic like birds, lizards or guinea pigs.

The documentary mentioned that the horizontal cross stone on the tops of the supports are called lintels. I remembered that’s also what you call the crosspiece over a doorway, and noted that lintel is a general-crosspiece word, not one specific to stone monuments. It was interesting (to my writer brain, anyway.) Lintel sounds like the last name, Lindell. Which reminded me of Charles Lindbergh, who did something cool with planes or aviation or something, so the name “Charles” got attached to Lindell.

The Stonehenge documentary got me to thinking about how we, as people, tend to have a less intimate relationship with nature and the celestial cycles for which Stonehenge seems to have been created. Thus, the Lorax element. I didn’t realize I was doing any of this. I just saw the trippy Stonehenge panorama, complete with cavorting beasties. But when I traced each element, I realized its origin.

So that is what my brain sometimes does when it is supposed to be sleeping. It’s pretty entertaining. It makes me wish I could draw better, too. I’m not crazy or clairvoyant, just a little weird maybe. And super adept at free association. What does your brain do in the twilight world between wakefulness and sleep?

Best Laid Plans (podcast)

When Sharon Hudson hired me to edit her e-book, I was thrilled. I’d always gotten good vibes from her, and we have a serendipitous friend in common. I met Hannah, who Sharon interviewed for Episode 9, in a prenatal yoga class; we ended up giving birth across the hall from each other on the same day. That kind of connection, even once removed, seems significant. Still, I figured I’d scroll through the rough draft of the book, make some developmental suggestions, dot some i’s, cross out some split infinitives and that would be that.

But in addition to the standard editorial fare, I could not resist typing rambling personal commentary in response to her content. The book, Authentically Me, (coming soon) addresses how society’s values and teachings can interfere with our finding out who we really are and what we want. Even in the editorial process, it caused me to reflect on my expectations for myself and why I’ve struggled with a narrow vision of success. My takeaway?

Man, Sharon is really smart and introspective! I want to spend more time with her.

I am terrible at following up on thoughts like that, so when Sharon asked to interview me for her podcast, Soul Quest, I was excited. And then I was nervous. I was going to talk about myself for 45 minutes, and not like, which are my favorite yoga pants, but about my divorce, my miscarriages and how my whole initial plan for adult life fell in the toilet. I took many, many deep breaths, tried not to ramble and put it out there.

The podcast is “conversations with inspiring people about their quest towards living their authentic life.” You may come away from Episode 15 inspired by what NOT to do as a functional adult, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Huge thanks to Sharon for allowing me to spill my guts on some of the messier moments that have bludgeoned me into who I am today.

Oblivious

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For someone who is pretty attentive to all the shit that goes on in her head and whatever the latest science/space/blackhole news is, I can be oblivious to the walking, talking, irl stuff. Early concrete example: my dad built me a Barbie house for Christmas when I was eight. While it was a work-in-progress, he threw an old paint-stained olive green bedspread over it in the garage. I walked past its five-by-five Snuffalupagus-like bulk every day for months to access my bike and roller skates. I didn’t notice it.

My mother said, when I was young, sometimes kids would make fun of me in that subtle, it-sounds-like-a-compliment-but-any-sentient-adult-can-tell-it’s-not kind of way. It hurt her heart, but upon realizing I had no idea anything was going on beneath the surface of “I like your hair,” she decided perhaps ignorance was bliss and kept it to herself.

I am still like this. Although, at forty-five, I may get an inkling that your “that sweatshirt looks so comfortable” comment may be your way of passive-aggressively saying, “You look like a slob, and now I feel better than you,” I am still too exhausted to try to figure that shit out. Whatever. You are dismissed.

I was just reading an advice column in which a person asked, “When a guest brings a bottle of wine to my house for dinner, do I have to serve it with the meal?” Figuring out what social custom dictates you do in situations like this is so incredibly tiresome. If you bring me a bottle of wine, please, for the love of god, tell me what to do with it. “I thought it would go nicely with the chips and queso” or “Save this for yourself for later” are welcome directions. Better yet, take liberty, get comfy in my house, and open that shit yourself or shove it in my wine fridge, which is probably empty because stocking up on wine is not something I’m capable of.

Whatever you do, don’t give me a choice and expect me to say the “right” thing. If you say, “Whatever. Open it if you want.” I will circumvent trying to read your true desires in your face like tea leaves and do exactly what I want. I’ll ask, “Are you sure?” That’s your one out. If you don’t take it, you’ve no one but yourself to blame.

Look, I will pick up on your mood. I am annoyingly empathetic. If you are having a shitty day, I will know that you are sad, tired, pissed off, depressed, whathaveyou. But if you are trying to send me subtle social cues to tuck my bra strap under my sleeve, I will absolutely not notice. Then, you will make fun of me to your “friends” later, which will feel delicious at first but leave you with that horrible hollow feeling after the fact, and I will go home none the wiser.

I used to think this lack of social awareness was a failing of mine, but every time I have gotten a clue that I didn’t use the right fork or someone was smirking at my shoes, it hasn’t done anything for me except make me feel bad (when I was younger) or annoy me (when I was older). Plus, Jason says he loves this about me, and with all the other shit he has to put up with, I oughta throw him a bone. So…oblivious. Yeah, I think I’ll keep it.

Cutting Loose ~ A Sotol Story

Big Bend National Park at sunset, Copyright: Leong Kok Weng 

“I thought y’all were in a cult,” she said.

She’d wandered up to us in the middle of Big Bend National Park under a scorching midday sun. Despite her misgivings, thirst drove her to take the risk. “Hey! Y’all have any water?” Her name was Sarah.

We were in our early twenties and made friends with Sarah over the course of the next several sentences. We stood there in the semi-desert, sun bleaching out the curves and valleys of the Chisos Mountains in the background, chatting. Sarah said she and her friend, Clay, were crossing the border to Boquillas later that evening. “Have you ever heard of sotol?” she asked.

Surprisingly, as well-versed in cheap liquor as we were, we hadn’t.

“You should totally meet us over there and try it!” she said before waving goodbye and continuing her hike, empty Camelbak slung over one arm.

It didn’t take much convincing for Javier, Trey and me to go to a bar, even if it was across a stagnant section of the Rio Grande and nestled in a dusty cluster of buildings with no electricity. Later that day, we happily paid a few bucks to be rowed 50 feet across the still, mud-brown water and just as happily declined their offers to sell us coke on the opposite shore. It was the late ’90s. There were no border patrol agents, no gates, no checking of identification at that deserted bend in the river, just a handful of locals running a rowboat service.

We found the bar, indistinguishable from the rest of the modest buildings, except that it had a counter inside with a guy selling liquor behind it. We started to order a shot of sotol each, but when we found out a bottle was ONLY SEVEN DOLLARS, we pooled our money. Curiously, the sotol came in an old tequila bottle.

We were several shots in when Sarah walked through the door. “Hey, y’all!”

“Sarah!” She was our newly long-lost Norm in a perky, blond package.

We were already well on our way to being drunk, so Javier offered Sarah a shot.

“Oh, I don’t drink,” she replied.

One of us said something like, “But you said….sotol…”

It turned out Sarah was a recovering alcoholic, and she had only heard of sotol, not sampled it herself. What we had taken as a personal recommendation had only been an uninformed, whimsical suggestion, one we would pay for later. 

We were there long enough for me to need to use the outhouse. The back jutted out over a cliff, so everything you deposited in the hole went spilling down into the canyon, which was a handy way to avoid having to clean it. At some point, Sarah left, we finished the bottle, and it was time to go back.

It was dusk. We stumbled back toward the river, through rocks, dust, prickly pear, and mesquite trees. Halfway there, I stopped to pee again and fell into a cactus, impaling my butt cheek with spines. At the moment, thoroughly numbed, I thought it was hilarious.

When we came to the river, we saw a boat moored on our side and a pair of sad mules tethered to a hitching post, but no rowers. They’d promised they’d be there, but since we were communicating in both broken English (them) and broken Spanish (us), we could have been mistaken. Instead of considering this, though, we were drunkenly outraged.

The boat had a slow leak in it, so we decided David, Javier’s younger brother and the lightest person in our group, should row us across one at a time to prevent sinking. As our one-brother ferry made its way back and forth, Trey began to get more and more irate.

When he and Javier were the only ones left on the Mexico side, Trey managed to get Javier’s blood up as well. It wasn’t hard; the two of them together and under the influence almost guaranteed madness, which is part of why I loved them. They made me laugh and sometimes pissed me off, but they were loyal as hell — to each other, to me, and as it turns out, to two sad, strange mules.

It’s unclear whether the source of their irritation was the absence of promised rowers or the ill-treatment of the emaciated-looking animals tied to the post, but it culminated in this (loosely remembered) inebriated exchange of words:

“You know what, man. We should cut their mules loose.”

“Yeah! Yeah, we should! Serves them right.”

“Yeah, they should be free. Look at them. They’re starving!”

And then the two of them untethered the two beleaguered animals, at which point Trey slapped one on the ass and yelled, “Yah, mule! You’re free!” Like some sort of vigilante Yosemite Sam.

Said mules glanced curiously at the loud, stumbling gringos behind them but made no move whatsoever to “yah!” When David returned to retrieve Javier and Trey, they gave up trying to cajole the mules to freedom and got in the boat.

Finally, with all ten of our feet planted firmly back on U.S. soil, we surveyed the quiet, mud-colored river, the sedentary mules, and the leaky boat in the moonlight. Then, someone suggested, “We should push the boat down the river!”

And someone else said, “Yeah, serves them right!” (Middle-aged me is SMH in embarrassment at that group of naive, ineffective, self-centered white kids.)

So we pushed the boat down the river, and it went scarcely farther than the mules. I say “we” a lot in this story, but aside from falling in the cactus, I can’t take credit for most of these shenanigans. Not because I’m above such drunken ridiculousness (I once picked a bar fight over a stolen novelty condom), but more because the impulsive behavior quota was already filled, and there just wasn’t space for one more bad decision.

After the anticlimactic boat launch, we heard two people approaching from the Mexico side — our rowers, pushing through the brush. We panicked. Someone whisper-yelled, “Let’s GO!” and we all hopped in David’s waiting Jeep and sped off, gravel spitting out from the churning tires, just like the hardcore hooligans we weren’t.

Young, entitled assholes, maybe. Hardcore? Definitely not.

The rest of the evening was par for the course. We made dinner around a fire, talked and laughed. Javier and Trey got in an argument, and then I got mad at Javier and stomped off into the desert darkness. But only a little way off, because I was scared of getting lost. I was probably crying because that’s what I do. Aside from the fact that we were in Big Bend, it was a typical Saturday night. Javier and I were dating at the time, but it often felt more like the three of us were buddies. We acted more like family — there was closeness and trust, but fairly often, we annoyed the hell out of each other.

We all made up in the early dark hours of morning when the moonshine sotol hit our intestines. We were forced to stumble out of the tent, dig quick holes and pass around the toilet paper in the dark. Nothing brings people together like a shared case of the runs. The next day, we woke up late and hungover and went hiking because that’s what you do when you’re young and invincible. 

Twenty-some-odd years later, I’m married with two kids and living in the suburbs. Trey lives in San Francisco with his husband; I keep up with him on Facebook. David got married, had a kid, then got divorced. Sarah had a kid, too. I lost track of her after that. Javier died about a year ago after a battle with prostate cancer, survived by his wife and two young sons.

I look back on that time in Big Bend, and it makes me smile as much as shudder. Unfortunately, I never could take anyone else’s word for it; I had to discover first-hand that it sucks to wake up hungover in the desert, that turning a good friend into a boyfriend into a husband is sometimes a bad idea. Some of those mistakes were fun to make, others more painful, more lasting.

At a time when I was emotionally volatile (she says, as if she’s not now), Trey and Javier reflected my sometimes violent feelings with their intensity, their humor, their arguments. Around them, I didn’t feel like such a mental misfit. But it wasn’t just that. I loved both of them. Still do. And after writing that, I can hear Trey’s theatrically nervous laughter followed by, “awk-ward!”