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.
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.
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!”
Horror has always fascinated me — the freaky, the spooky, the macabre, the swimming pool dug in the old burial ground causing the long-dead to haunt the unwitting inhabitants of the new neighborhood. In sixth grade, I memorized The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. The Telltale Heart kept me rapt in English class, and when required school reading took a more mundane turn, I ignored it for Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and Christine. They gave me nightmares, but I couldn’t stop; I’d read deep into the night, gripping the book with white knuckles. I’d watch every frightful moment of the film through the grill of my fingers.
My teachers looked down their literary noses at the so-called trash I read, but at 45 years old, I’ll stand by what I thought when I was twelve: It takes a true master to craft a story so suspenseful, so chilling, you can’t look away, even though you’re terrified. I don’t mean Texas Chainsaw Massacre slasher stuff that grapples for your attention with new heights in blood, guts and torture. I’m talking artful weavings of spooky, uneasy suspense and stories of baser human urges or warped dimensions of time, space and humanity no one likes to talk about. The kind of thing you might glimpse in the gutter at dusk or lurking in the corner of your dark bedroom at night and think what if…
I’ve never written horror. Maybe my early reverence of its masters intimidated me. But when my friends down the street, Liana and Brian, asked over beers in the pool one day, “Could you help us flesh out the backstory for our haunt?” I rubbed my hands together with murderous glee.
Starting around the first part of November every year, you’ll find Brian and Liana in their garage, already building for next year’s haunt. Brian crafts enchanted wells, and Liana creates gruesomely detailed monsters out of plaster and latex. They recruit live actors for certain parts. It’s not just a collection of peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains. Every haunt has a story, a theme that ties it together and carries you from one trepidacious room to the next. They employ much more than the element of surprise; last year, we traveled through the house over and over and were creeped out and delighted every time. It’s not just horror; it’s art. It’s spooky and subtle and freaky and in-your-face all at once. Come the season, the Robinsons’ average suburban house becomes unrecognizable. It transforms into the haunt, into Mortis Manor.
Liana already had some insight into what had happened at the manor. I teased out the details, pulling the story from my own muses, who were familiar with the Mortis family and their…circumstances. A few back-and-forth exchanges later, and we had unearthed the mysterious and chilling history of Mortis Manor. What we found, the truth behind the notorious estate, made our skin crawl. Mortis Manor seems abandoned, but it’s not dead.
I saw the body cam footage from the Rayshard Brooks incident.
Upon viewing it, I became certain about something I already suspected.
The video shows an officer approach Brooks’ car, where he’d fallen asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through line. The officer directs him to park the car, which Brooks does. When another officer arrives, they administer a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer; they determine he is indeed drunk.
Throughout the 20-minute interaction, Brooks is cooperative and friendly toward the officers, cordially submitting to the tests. He admits he’s been drinking. He’s in town to visit his mother’s grave, he says, in the course of the conversation. He offers to leave his car where it is and walk to the house where he is staying.
The officers ask him to put his hands behind his back, and that’s when Brooks begins to resist. He wrestles a taser from one of the officers and runs away. The cop who chases him points a taser at him, and Brooks points his stolen one back at the officer. It is at this point, one of the police officers shoots Brooks in the back two times. He died later of his injuries.
This was not just one man’s life.It was his family’s life as well. He had a father, siblings, a spouse and three kids. The day he was killed, his daughter had had her eighth birthday party. According to his family, he was a “loving husband and caring brother.” He adored his children. His niece said, “He was silly, had the biggest smile and the brightest heart,” and yet he was “shot and killed like trash for falling asleep at a drive-through.”
I have another story to tell you. There is no video footage or press coverage of it.
Two women in their mid-twenties stand on the street in downtown Austin next to a parked car. It’s around 2am. They are talking loudly and animatedly with one another when a police officer approaches them and asks if there’s a problem. They explain to the officer that they are both too drunk to drive their car home, but it’s in a space that will be tow-away come morning. They’ve secured a ride home from a sober friend. They are trying to decide which, if either of them, has the capacity to safely move the car to a nearby space where it will be legally parked.
The cop does not administer a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer. He does not ask them any questions. He would be well within the law to arrest them for public intoxication, but he doesn’t. He volunteers to move the car for them. He reparks the car, returns their keys, and they ride home with their friend and sleep safely in their own beds. Their parents, spouses and friends have the benefit of their presence to this day.
The police did not punish or even chastise the women for behaving somewhat irresponsibly; the police, in fact, facilitated their safe return home. Oh, did I mention? The women were both white. They were my sister and me.
It didn’t have to be this way.
What I suspected when I first heard about Rayshard Brooks’s murder was that it didn’t have to end in tragedy; it could have gone much the same way the incident with my sister and me did. What if, instead of trying to arrest him, they’d taken him up on his offer to walk home? What if they’d followed him in their car, or even driven him, to ensure he arrived safely and without incident? Without wasting taxpayer dollars on a purposeless arrest. What if that cop, even after Rayshard ran off with his taser, realized killing him would be a far worse outcome than the possibility he might escape?
But no, instead, Rayshard Brooks is dead, and his children will grow up without him. His penalty for a lapse in judgment, which we all have from time to time, was death.
Police aren’t trained to be helpful.
Sure, it happens sometimes, like with the officer that moved my sister’s car for us; there are cops who are reasonable and have a sense they are serving, not policing, the community, at least when it comes to white people. But how often are black people given that kind of understanding? How often, in the face of the police, is a black person allowed to make a mistake without dire, unjustifiable consequences?
If you take the militaristic methods by which police are trained and combine it with inherent bias and racism, you get the dangerously dysfunctional kind of policing we have now. You shouldn’t take my word for it, though; I’ve never been trained as a cop, but this guy has, and what he says about the toxic, racist, warlike atmosphere of police training is scary as hell.
Police officers are trained to expect conflict, to approach every person as if they are a mortally-dangerous enemy. The folks who get the worst of that mentality are marginalized groups like black people and people who are homeless or severely mentally ill.
The point here is this: We white people need to realize that our rights are respected way more often than those of black people. And nothing is going to change by making officers attend a handful of “diversity education” classes. When you hear shouts of “defund the police” what people are really saying is “dismantle the police departments and reconstruct something better.”
I scrolled through my Facebook feed today, and god, it made me so damned sad. Coronavirus stats, cops killing people, riots, looting, journalists assaulted by police and protesters alike. With the Trump administration as the backdrop for all of this, it’s starting to feel like end of days, end of times, end of…something.
Harkening Back to a Previous Era of Violence
But this is not new. George Floyd’s murder called to mind another time police officers committed violence against an unarmed black man already in custody. In 1991, police officers beat Rodney King, leaving the man with skull fractures, multiple broken bones, and permanent brain damage. Those cops were acquitted in the spring of 1992, despite what most thought was damning video evidence. A matter of hours after the verdict, rioting broke out in Los Angeles. The rioting and looting were so pervasive and violent, the National Guard was called in. Mail delivery stopped, stores closed, and people could not go to work or school.
The indignation and anger were not only for the cops who went free; it was the boiling point for tensions that had been simmering in what was then called South Central LA for years. Unemployment, gang activity and a drug epidemic were rampant, and occupants of the area were not only unprotected by police but targeted and harassed.
I was going on seventeen years old, and I was shocked the perpetrating officers were acquitted. I saw the video, and the acquittal made no sense. My surprise was part of the problem. I could not fathom someone’s rights being so egregiously trodden upon by people of authority as were Rodney King’s and with no consequence. But the people of South Central LA knew. It was happening long before, by chance, someone caught those four cops on video.
Just a White Kid from the ‘Burbs
I was a white kid living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood. I grew up in a place and with a face that meant people gave me the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t notice my privilege because I viewed that benefit, the assumption that I had a benign reason for walking down the street at night, as part of my natural right as a human being.
When I was in high school, two friends and I would sneak out of our houses at night. Sometimes we’d walk up to the all-night gas station and buy candy. Once, as we were walking down an alley behind the store, eagerly gobbling up melty Reese’s cups, a police car pulled up, lights and siren blaring. We were petrified. One cop got out, shined his flashlight at us and asked who we were. We gave our names and told him where we’d been. He said they were looking for someone who’d shoplifted at that same gas station. He told us to be careful and left. We were two white girls and an Indian girl.
In my twenties, I once got into an actual bar fight. These guys were being aggressively douchy, and I had just enough liquor in me to feel invincible. I got in the ring leader’s face and yelled I was going to kick his ass. A bouncer broke it up. The guys were kicked out, and my group left voluntarily, even getting our cover charge back for our trouble. The cops weren’t called; no one was arrested. We were a group of white girls, and the boys were white, too.
I remember college parties where cops arrived to find rampant underage drinking and possibly drugging, and no one even got arrested. “Keep the noise down,” was all they’d say. The party attendees were always, mostly, in appearance at least, white.
These are examples (and I can think of more) in which my white privilege — being given the benefit of the doubt even when I was acting less than admirably — showed. At the time, I didn’t notice.
I can’t tell you that the specific people in these stories — the cops, the bouncer – would have behaved differently if we’d been black. But I do know that black people routinely have a very different experience with authority than I did in these instances.
Same Oppression, Different Day
Today, here we are in a similar boat as we were in 1992; it’s leaking, it’s on fire and the crew are fighting each other. People are rioting and looting; people are violent. We don’t have to condone it, but we do need to understand it. The black people of our country have been talking, shouting, working for change for generations, and the same thing is still happening: black people are dying at the hands of the authorities who are supposed to protect them. If you are not heard, if your fundamental rights get trod upon in both large and small ways every day, is it really so shocking that one day you grab that authority by the face and make them listen?
Trevor Noah says society is a social contract — rules we all agree to abide by for the common good. When police and people in power break that contract by killing unarmed black people, when that kind of grotesque display of hypocrisy is repeated again and again, why should anyone else abide by that contract? It’s not new: violence begets violence.
Our Privilege is Showing
As white people, we need to try to understand that the advantages we enjoy, the ones we are so accustomed to we don’t even notice them, are not available to everyone. Sarah Grimke, an early feminist activist, once said and was quoted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “I ask no favor…All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Your white privilege isn’t so much privilege as it is your unassailable right not to be held down — socially, economically, even literally, as we all saw as that police officer held his knee to a handcuffed and docile George Floyd’s neck until he was dead.
Jody David Armour, a USC professor and author of a book on the civil unrest of LA in the early 90s, refers to it as “the 1992 uprising.” While the word “riot” focuses on the criminal elements, he says, an uprising is defined as “the perceived failure of the criminal justice system to fairly serve all people.” We decry protesters’ violence while ignoring the systemic violence that spurred it. When American colonists, citizens of Brittain, willfully destroyed valuable private property during the nationally-revered Boston Tea Party, we called it a protest of unfair taxation, a rebellion against a tyrannical government. It also fits the definition of a riot.
A Sign of the Times
You don’t have to decide rioting, looting, participating in an uprising is bad or good. But no matter what we choose to call it, it is a sign that something is very wrong with our country and has been for a long time. In 2017, three years before George Floyd would have the knee of a police officer crush the life out of him, Armour said, “Ain’t nothing changed but the year it is.” And now, sadly, it would seem he is still right.
But maybe this is, at long last, the catalyst we need. Perhaps, with corporate giants like Twitter, Facebook and Nike taking a stand, and the greater public finally taking notice, we can cut out the core of racism in our country and fill that void with egalitarian systems that serve and protect ALL citizens. IF that is, those companies put their money and efforts where their mouths are, and IF we don’t forget George Floyd as soon as the next news cycle starts. Maybe we can finally begin to remedy our past transgressions as a nation. Maybe it is end of times. End of racist times. We can not only hope, we can help make it happen.
My ninth-grade English teacher was obsessed with Charles Dickens. She made all of her classes read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. She was a member of the Dickens Society and attended Dickens-themed soireés where all the guests donned 19th-century garb and spoke in 87-word, obtusely-structured sentences. I assume.
We had to memorize the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, which didn’t seem like a big deal until I realized it takes up the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF THE BOOK. I still fail to understand how it can be “good writing” when you have to go back and re-read the first part of the sentence because, by the end, you’ve forgotten what the subject and verb were.
I remember parts of that sentence. My brain cannot recall where I put my phone or what time a soccer game is, but it holds onto useless detritus like my childhood phone number, the lyrics to an old Velveeta cheese commercial and, yes, the beginnings of famous novels I don’t even like.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is how it begins. It then trails on for another sixteen lines with a series of very similar (and unnecessary) oxymorons. “Epoch of belief, age of incredulity…blah, blah, blah, noisiest authorities…blah, blah, blah…superlative degree of comparison only.” WTF, brain?
I hate it when he’s right.
BUT. Despite his mellifluous method of stating it, I’ve grudgingly decided Dickens had a point. That sentence applies to just about every era on the timeline of significant history. The heroics of the American Revolution alongside the appropriation and slaughter of indigenous peoples. The discovery of radiation’s miraculous cancer-killing properties and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the form of a bomb. A new awakening for feminist activism but spurred by the election of a presidential misogynist.
My own, private heaven/hell/Idaho
It even works on a personal level. My twenties were filled with fun, friends, partying and carefree selfishness without guilt. I had a job and nothing to pay for except myself. And I cried a lot, lost four pregnancies and was in an unhealthy relationship.
My 30’s were an incredible time of self-discovery. I felt confident in myself as a person. Jason’s and my relationship grew deeper and wider. I had kids and discovered a love like I’d never known. I also worried a lot about fucking up and struggled with breastfeeding to the point of tears. I mourned the loss of time to myself. It was great and terrible, just like Oz.
The best of times weren’t that good.
I read somewhere that we recreate good times as better than they actually were. We look back on an overall fun vacation and remember playing in the ocean, relaxing on the sand, snuggling in bed with a mate. We forget the one rainy day we were bored, the lost luggage or the fight we had on the plane on the way home.
It’s helpful when thinking about now. With all the challenges — worry about kids, working on relationships, concern over finances and all the stuff I am constantly forgetting (with the exception of outdated commercial jingles) — I know I will look back on these years and smile wistfully to myself. I’ll remember the kids young and not yet jaded by adult experience. I’ll recall learning to be a writer, the freedom to work from home, and the security of the built-in social network that comes with school-age children. Overall, this is a good time.
There have been some true, worst of times, where the “best of” part was indistinguishable: the immediate aftermath of my miscarriages, the throes of divorce, intense struggles with depression and loneliness. In comparison with those, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Why didn’t you just say so?
So, what I took 618 words (Dickens would be proud) and 15 minutes of your life that you can’t get back to say is this: PERSPECTIVE.
“The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”
(I never get to use the partial Shakespearean quotes that float around my brain, so now I’m just showing off. This is where you nod, virtually pat me on the head and roll your eyes. Go ahead. I totally deserve it.)
So many people have asked me, “But what happened to the crickets?? Did they survive?!” that I decided to do an update. And I have the ulterior motive of showing off the original story at its new home, The Syndrome Mag. Thank you to the editors there for thinking it was funny and helping me make it even better.
I also have to give props to Maggie Dove, who writes RomCom Dojo. It was her piece in the same publication that gave me the idea The Syndrome Mag might like a story about dead crickets. Also, she is super sarcastic and funny, and I rub my hands together like a small child in a candy store every time one of her posts hits my inbox.
Anyway, yes, some of the crickets came back from being cryogenically frozen like Han Solo. They didn’t stumble around blind like he did, though. Or maybe they did; with crickets, it’s hard to tell. The other 950 insects stayed very much dead, and I had to extract the survivors from the piles of their compatriots’ carcasses, which they were surprisingly intent on burying themselves in.
I blame the post office. Our mail carrier is aggressively grumpy, and we all give him a wide birth. The crickets were left in a package locker overnight, and I wasn’t notified via text until the next day they were there. It got down below 30 degrees that night. Grumpy mail dude probably doesn’t give a shit about keeping crickets alive (which makes him remarkably like most people).
The company, Josh’s Frogs, from whence the crickets came, however, gave superb customer service and shipped me replacement crickets, all of which arrived alive. I think they threw in some extras for my trouble because there seem to be WAY more of them than usual.
Our beardie, Splynter, is now reveling in her abundance of deliciousness, or she would be if she were still eating crickets. Apparently, she’s fasting now. Figures.
That’s what I’m looking at right now — 1,000 belly-up insects in a rectangular receptacle. I paid 30 dollars for them.
If that sounds like the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, to be fair to me, they were supposed to be alive. I bet most of you would give 30 dollars to get rid of a thousand crickets and wouldn’t dream of paying a third party, through Amazon, to carefully pack and send you (supposed to be) live crickets, but let me back up.
We have a bearded dragon. My youngest child has been obsessed with lizards since he was a toddler, so we gave in and got him one for Christmas last year. We did all the research on lights, substrates, tank size, and food. Bearded dragons, especially growing ones, like to eat crickets. No problem. Go by the local pet store every now and then and pick some up.
It turns out our beardie likes to eat LOTS of crickets — like 20 or 30 each feeding sometimes, even though she’s supposed to be about done growing. I don’t know where she puts them; she’s a very svelte-looking dragon. And she’s about the laziest being I’ve ever encountered.
The trips to the pet store and the money spent on a la carte crickets were starting to add up, so I began ordering them in bulk from (of course) Amazon. Here’s the thing: when you’re housing crickets a thousand at a time, even though they’re only going to get eaten, you have to supply accommodations of a certain quality.
Your pet is only as healthy as the crickets she eats, so you want to feed those buggers some quality food — potatoes, carrots, or the slimy, orange cubes you can also get (like everything else) on Amazon. Crickets need water, too, but you can’t give them too much at a time, or they drown in it because they have brains the size of cricket heads. So not only have you taken on the care and feeding of a reptile, but you also have to feed and care for their food. Fine. Whatever.
So this afternoon, when I opened a box of one hundred percent dead crickets, I was vexed, irritated, irate, annoyed, indignant, and I wrote a strongly-worded email to the company (through Amazon) asking for a refund. In a huff, I sent Jason a text, told him what happened, and asked him to pick up the high-priced crickets at the pet store on his way home.
I was just lying down for a nap to calm my nerves after the disconcerting experience of opening the mass grave that had arrived at my home via mail when my phone rang.
Jason: Hey, the pet store lady says they’re probably not dead. They just went dormant because of the cold weather. You didn’t throw them away, did you?
Me: No, of course not. Why would I throw away a perfectly good box of dead crickets? (In truth, I did still have them — you know, for proof so I could get my 30 dollars back.)
Jason: She says just to wait a few hours and see if they come to. Maybe put them by the space heater in your office.
So that’s what I did. Now I am sitting here typing next to a box of one thousand maybe-not-all-dead crickets incubating next to a space heater. Just call me Miracle Max. They’ve got their favorite egg carton pieces in there and a bunch of premium, orange, slimy food cubes in case they’re hungry when they wake up.
I AM NURSING A HOARD OF FUCKING CRICKETS BACK TO HEALTH.
This is one of those things no one tells you about parenting: that you will find yourself doing the most ridiculous of things in the name of your children’s interests. My office is now a cricket infirmary because my kid likes lizards. How the hell did we get here?
It’s absurd, yes, but secretly, I love it. Let me explain, lest you get the wrong idea that a box of passed-out insects would make an excellent Christmas present for me. I love that my kids take me with them into exploring things I’d never have delved into otherwise. After all, if I hadn’t been playing cricket nursemaid this afternoon, I’d probably have been working, so it’s a good tradeoff. (Sorry, I would’ve had that to you by five o’clock, but our pet’s dinner had a medical emergency.) Also, if this kind of ridiculous shit didn’t happen from time to time, what would I have so much fun complaining about? But really, please don’t send me a box of dead crickets.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.