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.

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.

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

https://www.123rf.com/profile_imagesource

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!”

Novel Coronavirus Transmission: Keeping Our Cooties to Ourselves

Disease Spread
Copyright: lightwise

“I feel like crap,” I said matter-of-factly. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with Jason, who was lying in it. We were discussing logistics. He had just gotten off the phone with his parents and was planning an impromptu trip to Houston. His father was having surgery.

It was Tuesday, February 18th, and we had just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York the day before — stayed with my sister, saw a Lumineers concert at Barclay Center, went to The Met, saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway in a tightly-packed theater. Flew in and out of JFK. Opened a lot of doors, touched a lot of stuff.

Jason traveled to Houston, where he stayed with his sister and her husband and daughter. He went to MD Anderson for his father’s surgery, walked the halls, was there to support his mom. I stayed in Austin and drove the soccer carpool with our oldest and four of his buddies. The youngest and I ate pasta at an Italian restaurant while we waited for practice to be over. Wednesday morning, Jason texted me and asked how I felt.

“Not great,” I said. A full-blooming oak season in Central Texas was upon us, and I had worse congestion than most years.

“I don’t feel good, either,” he texted. I’m coming home.”

He didn’t go to the hospital that morning, because he was starting to feel really sick. He didn’t want to expose anyone at MD Anderson to his illness. He sped back to Austin down the highway, through Katy, La Grange, and Bastrop. He may have stopped at a gas station or two. He got home before he started feeling really terrible.

“It’s so weird,” he said. “My body aches all over.”

“You have the flu,” I said. He’d never had the flu.

“If you go to the doctor now,” I said, “You can get Tamiflu, and it might help.”

He glared at me and did not go. Our insurance isn’t great, and it would have cost a small fortune.

Over the next ten days, he ran a fever. He stayed in bed. He developed a bad cough. At the end, his ears were stopped up and painful, and we thought they might be infected.

During that time, I went to a PTA board meeting and took notes. I attended a school STEAM night, noting conversationally how bad my allergies were to the principal who commiserated with me. At the event, I helped my youngest kid create circuits, handing him the plastic and metal pieces that were configured and reconfigured all evening by many sets of hands, big and small. A day or two later, I sat in a coffee shop with friends and noticed my back hurt in a weird way that suggested something other than muscular issues. I hugged both of them before we parted ways.

I began to suspect it was not allergies. I developed a cough that kept me awake at night, one that could only be quelled by falling asleep with a cough drop in my mouth. I suspect I had a mild fever. I felt weepy. I wrote and edited things from my couch, alternating between working and napping. I was so very tired.

It seemed to take forever, for two people who are rarely sick, for Jason and me to feel better — not days but weeks. My energy slowly came back, but the sleep-disrupting cough lingered. Jason became hard to live with when he was well enough to be irritable about not feeling well. His ears still haven’t completely recovered.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I keep thinking I feel better, then it hits me all over again, and I have to go lie down.”

The kids didn’t get sick. We were grateful.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic. And as I read people’s accounts of their symptoms — those confirmed cases who had recovered — I began to suspect. Our symptoms were eerily similar. Other facts:

  • A woman I met with for work on Wednesday, February 26, said she had been sick and was having ear problems identical to Jason’s. She was concerned it would be problematic on her impending flight to Colorado.
  • One of the friends I had coffee with subsequently got sick, mistaking her symptoms at first, as I did, for allergies.
  • Two days ago, our youngest child said he didn’t feel well. His eyes were red and irritated, so I gave him some allergy medicine. Then, his right eye got really goopy. I thought, pink-eye. But when I took his temperature because he was lying on the couch listlessly and felt hot, the kid who never has a fever was running 100.3. I wondered where he could’ve gotten whatever he had since we’ve hardly been around anyone but each other for the past two weeks. Now, his fever his gone, but he’s got a snotty nose, a cough and a sore throat. And he says everything tastes weird.

I’ve been on the internet a lot lately, and here’s what I have learned:

  1. Several reports indicate that conjunctivitis (pink-eye) is a Covid-19 symptom in some people.
  2. Symptoms can appear up to 14 days after exposure to the virus, most commonly, though, around 5 days.
  3. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms.
  4. There are reports of people experiencing loss of taste or smell who later tested positive for coronavirus.
  5. Coronavirus can survive on a hard surface for up to three days.
  6. Children’s symptoms tend to be mild and cold-like — fever, runny nose, cough — with some reports of diarrhea and vomiting.

I’m not an infectious disease specialist, but even if I were, I couldn’t tell you without a test, for sure, whether or not all these sick family and friends had Covid-19. Whether the mild virus that swept through some of my sons’ friends the week before spring break was novel coronavirus before we thought it was here or something else. But it’s not at all far-fetched to think that it could have been. I’d even venture a “probably” in some instances.

This virus has likely been insidiously working its way through our communities for longer than we’ve been aware, with people mistaking milder cases for colds, allergies, flu. People who, like me, went about their daily lives, traveling, going to the store, attending social events, before Covid-19 was on anybody’s radar in the United States.

I’m betting MANY more people are currently infected or recovered from it than our official reported “confirmed cases” numbers. Don’t assume you don’t have it just because you are asymptomatic or because you haven’t been around anyone “confirmed” to have had it. Preventing the spread of the disease to protect our vulnerable populations and keep our medical facilities from being overwhelmed is not just the responsibility of healthcare workers or those who are elderly or immune-compromised. It is ALL of our jobs to do what we can, and for most of us, that simply means staying home. No matter who you are or where you have or haven’t been lately, this is the time to keep your cooties to yourself.

It’s National Barbie Day!

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Copyright: alepenny on Unsplash

When I was a kid, much to my feminist mother’s chagrin, I adored Barbies. I spent my allowance money on Day-to-Night Barbie, Pretty-in-Pink Barbie, and Barbie and the Rockers. One entire corner of my room was drenched in Barbie pink. The Barbies’ house, built by my father, contained everything from a refrigerator with fake food, to tiny pink coat hangers, to a goddamned Barbie toilet.

Thirty years later, that same Barbie house, with a paired-down menagerie of accessories, still adorned a wall of my adult house. When my friend, Kelly, came to visit, her daughter rebranded Barbie in a more sophisticated light, referring to the dolls as “the Barbaras.” Since Barb’s over 60 years old now, I think she deserves the extra respect.

National Barbie Day, which was actually yesterday (I know, you’re pissed you missed your chance to celebrate), conjures mixed feelings for me. I’m nostalgic for the time my best childhood friend, Kim, and I spent weaving storylines inspired by our favorite soap opera, Santa Barbara. (It just now occurred to me how appropriate that title is for Barbie play.) I’m also inclined to snort at how ridiculous Barbie’s tiny waist and permanently high-heeled feet are and to ponder the effect that has on young people’s body image.

It turns out, though, that Barbie, despite her nefarious image by the 1970s, began as sort of a feminist icon. And, maybe it’s time for her to take it a step further.

The Syndrome Mag was gracious enough to publish my article, It’s National Barbie Day. Check it out and discover some little-known history about Little Miss All-Things-Pink.

For Javier ~ Goodbye Old Friend

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Javier completing the MS150, 2005

Javier died last Sunday night. He passed from this world after a long battle with prostate cancer. We used to be close friends, and we were married once upon a time. I’d seen him only once in the past 13 years. This post is for him, to honor the part of him that I knew, best I can.

When we were in our early 20s, Javier was fond of saying cheerfully, upon introducing himself, “Most people don’t like me when they first meet me.” My late grandmother, Sue, found this delightful and hilarious. She told people about it all the time. It may have been true, but first impressions aside, he made a friend out of most people. His boisterousness and enthusiasm for spontaneous adventure was infectious.

I owe many of my wilder stories and youthful adventures to Javier. He was behind more than one last-minute midnight trip to Mardi Gras. He is the reason I took up mountain biking and scuba diving, two things I still enjoy. He talked me into quitting my job so I could backpack the western United States with him for two months. And as improbable as the stories from those adventures were in actuality, he always felt the need to embellish — to make the tale just a little funnier, a little crazier. I, the factual curmudgeon, was fond of raining on his hyperbolic parade: “That’s NOT how it happened!” It was a schtick we repeated because it got a laugh.

He could be a perfectionist. When we tiled the floor in our house, he dry-laid tiles for days in all directions to make sure the seams would hit the walls just right and was frustrated to discover that no wall is totally square to the floor or anything else. Several months (and fights) later, we finished the floor just in time for Christmas. We went to Home Depot on Christmas Eve, and everything was five dollars. We got a tree and a kick-ass stand for ten bucks and were thrilled at our fortunate procrastination.

Once, we went rock climbing with friends — the first time for us both. I was tentative, but Javier, like always, went for it with gusto. When he slipped and fell, the second before the belay rope caught him, I saw a look of terror on his face like I’d never seen before. I’ve not rock climbed since, but I’d be surprised if he hasn’t.

He was REALLY allergic to poison ivy. He once got a case so bad, I could smell the infection coming off of him. At the doctor’s office, his itchy, red skin impressed even the nurse, who said it was the worst case she’d ever seen. A cortisone shot took care of it, but he was more careful where he biked after that.

One night, when Javier had been downtown drinking with friends, one of them got arrested. He was desperate to get him out of jail, but several failed attempts to see him and a handful of phone conversations later, I drove to pick him up. It was around 3am, and I had a test the next morning. When we got home, he asked me to help him reinstall the seat in his truck so he could go pick up our friend the next day. I completely lost it and yelled at him for being inconsiderate of my need for sleep. The next day, I brought the two of them breakfast tacos after my test, tossed them onto the table and said, “Here you go, riff-raff.” Javier chuckled. In the retelling of it (embellishments included), he could laugh at himself.

He was into all sorts of things: biking (road and mountain), hiking, photography, camping, building things, softball, soccer, snowboarding, scuba diving, nursing. He’d discover a new activity, dive headlong into it, and inevitably love it, taking friends along for the ride. He was always planning the next vacation.

I know, 13 years later, he was different — changed, evolved from the person he was then. I glimpsed it in the few hours our families spent together a couple of years ago. To this day, I am sad we were unable to remain friends after I left, not that I expected to. I would like to have known more of the Javier he became.

Javier was smart and passionate, and he treated friends like family. He was honest, sometimes to a fault. He had a wonderful, belly-deep laugh. As I’ve been reminiscing, I realize there is much I have forgotten about life back then. I wish I could remember more.

Despite not having spent time with him for many years, I am going to miss him. His absence from this earth is palpable. I am so sad for the family he leaves behind; it seems really fucking unfair his kiddos should have to grow up without him, and it feels impossible that someone so enthusiastic about life should leave it so soon. But life is not about “fair.”

If I could tell Javier one last thing, it would be this: “Thanks for being in my life. We weren’t good at being married to each other, but I am better for having known you. I’m glad you found happiness.”

I only wish for him, his family, the people who know him now, that the universe had let him hold onto that happiness for longer.

Staying Friends: The Magic of Growing Closer Apart

“If you don’t want to watch me fuck it up, then DON’T WATCH ME!” my best friend shouted at me as I hovered over her shoulder micromanaging her filling out an application for a Blockbuster card. This was 20 years ago, which you probably guessed by the video store reference.

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Kelly and Me, circa 1996, having just dyed our hair

Back in the college days I’d rather put a fork in my eye than admit I was wrong, but I walked away without another word. It’s hard to defend yourself when you’re trying to tell your super-intelligent friend which line to write her name on like she’s a kindergartener. (Maybe that’s why I majored in child development…hmmm.)

Kelly and I occasionally bickered, but we mostly got along. We’d been close friends since mid-high school, and by the time we parted ways in our mid-twenties, we’d lived together for almost five years. And we still liked each other. We were prone to long strings of free association that sent us into hysterics but baffled the rest of our friends who thought our fascination with Beavis and Butthead was juvenile and beneath them.

We were weird, we were sometimes (often) obnoxious, and we were even depressed together that first year living in Jester Dorm together. Who wouldn’t be? It was designed by a prison architect and looked like something out of the Eastern Bloc in the ’80s. We who lived there had a specific odor even outside the building. It was a uniquely horrific combination of industrial Lysol and urine.

Throwing Books

Kelly and I had a complex yet solid relationship. She once threw books at the inside of our dorm room door because I was sitting outside, talking loudly with a bunch of people from our floor while she was trying to sleep. While she passive-aggressively hurled literature instead of coming out to ask us to pipe down, I inconsiderately and passive-aggressively ignored the thunks on the other side of the door instead of taking the hint and moving somewhere else.

Constructive Criticism

She once confronted me (which took a lot of guts back then since I was never wrong) about the fact that I couldn’t take any criticism whatsoever and it made me hard to live with at times. She did it in the gentlest way. I was embarrassed, but I knew even then it took a lot of guts and a true friend to say something like that. And she was 100 percent right.

Best Worst Movie Choice Ever

We once went to see a movie together because we were both bored and a little depressed. We went to see Seven, because you know, Brad Pitt. Bad fucking choice. So then we were even more depressed together, which is a lot better than being depressed by yourself.

More Misplaced Literature

Once, bored again, we gathered up all the unread newspapers we had accumulated whilst paving our road to hell with the good intention of being more well-informed and dumped them on our former roommate’s doorstep, ding-dong ditched him and drove off giggling. We thought it was hilarious and promptly forgot all about it until we ran into him several months later. ‘Turns out we had really freaked out his new roommate.

Call Out the Cavalry

One time I ran off to San Antonio on a whim one Thursday afternoon with a boy and forgot to tell her where I was going. Running off with boys was a habit of mine, but it was usually just around the corner at a party, not two hours away. By the time I got back that evening, she had half the dorm looking for me. I had no idea she’d be so worried. I felt warm and fuzzy and also guilty.

Another Great Use For Fortune Cookies

When her boyfriend broke up with her, I drove her around while she cried. We went back to my house and stuck fortune cookies up our noses with my sister and took pictures until Kelly laughed. When that same boyfriend got back together with her and then broke up with her again, I almost killed him, even though I did actually like him, just not for her.

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Me and Kelly waiting for the bats to come out from the Congress Bridge this past Tuesday

Growing Closer Apart

Kelly and her family came for a visit last weekend. It had been four years since I’d laid eyes on her, but we’ve become even closer. We told our old jokes and made a few new ones, but we also reflected on who we were back then and who we’ve become. Somehow, we have grown together, despite being states apart. Somehow, we’ve both evolved into writers, feminists, people who are real about the not-so-shiny side of mental health and motherhood.

I do not know why this happened — why she and I are so alike and yet different and fit together so well on a primal level, why we are able to stay friends across the country, why I am always able to learn something from her — but it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.