Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Things I’d Tell You Over a Beer

Dear Mom,

One of the things you always used to say to me was that I had to learn to appreciate “being ordinary in an extraordinary world.” It has taken me a long time to get that down. Hell, I’m not sure I actually DO have it down.

Sometimes the “ordinary world” in these parts is pretty scary. I can’t walk in a convenience store around here without having to listen to some guy with his buttcrack climbing out of his low-riding shorts cussing at his baby momma on the phone while he buys his Slim Jims and cigs.  Our “ordinary” in this neighborhood feels like a Jerry Springer casting call sometimes.

But here is where I am, and since it isn’t really feasible for me to go anywhere else anytime soon, I am really trying to find the beauty and the happiness in each and every day.  In the past, I’d share all those things with you. If you weren’t experiencing them with me, I’d be texting you or talking about them with you on our “beer nights.”

There’s no reason I can’t still tell you about them, though.  So here’s our happy hour conversation. It is morning, so I’m having coffee instead of a beer. The funny thing about that is we NEVER talked over coffee. Your rule was that no one should talk to you until you’d had your java. If I spent the night or we were on a trip, we’d have our coffee together in the morning, each staring off into space and collecting our thoughts before starting the day.  Even though we’re both grumpy morning people, it was a companionable silence.

You don’t need your java to get the gears turning anymore, so I get to break the rules and chatter to you in a letter. So here’s what’s been going on that doesn’t suck:

1. I have watermelons growing in my garden! All our gardening successes make me think of you. We’ve had two eggplants, a ton of tomatoes and a few peppers so far, too. But the watermelon is a new thing. Lee threw some random seeds in our “leftover” garden space to see what took. I hope they stay healthy. Last year was our Great Pumpkin Experiment. I got so excited when the pumpkin vines started flowering, but they stubbornly refused to turn into Jack-O-Lantern material. I sure had fun trying, though, and talking about them with you.

2. Coors Light Summer Brew.  I only discovered it because Lee and I stopped at Deb’s over her birthday weekend and I had one poolside.  It tastes like the perfect summer day – warm sunshine and blue skies without our usual scratchy wool blanket of humidity. It has become my thing when I want poolside drinks, and I’m pretty sure you would have loved it too.

3. I got to see Sherry and her family last weekend. I have a tiny handful of friends who have been part of my life so long we had to sneak into bars together, and she is one of them. She’s a year older than me, and I laugh when I think about how we had to sneak me into the Fell’s Point pubs on her 21st birthday because she didn’t want to celebrate without me.

I remember the minute rice, too. Do you? Dad still does. When I told him I was seeing Sherry he brought it up. She came over after school one day when she was a senior and I was a junior. We were hungry, and rummaged in our cupboards and found the minute rice. Dad wandered into the kitchen a while later, to find us standing side-by-side at the stove reading and re-reading the directions and staring at our pot of water like two novice witches casting their first spell. He was flabbergasted that two college-bound girls who spent their days in the “smart kid” classes at school could be so confused over the directions on a box.

Me and Sherry then

Me and Sherry then

As you know, I never became domestic. I’d probably still stare at a box of minute rice with a “duh” look on my face. In my forties now, I have a small handful of things I whip up in the kitchen, and reserve the rest of my creativity for words. If I lived alone, I’d probably subsist on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pickles. But Sherry is a different story. She’s a wife and the mother of two beautiful children. I spent the day with her family at the harbor, having brunch and reminiscing about old times.

Me and Sherry now

Me and Sherry now

Sherry and I can go years without talking much or seeing one another, but our friendship just clicks into place like we never missed a beat. There are a handful of people in your life that are there forever, even if your fates take you down very different roads. Like you, I was never much of a phone person and always “mean to” call but don’t. Facebook saved my introverted ass in terms of keeping up with friends because I can do it all in one fell swoop. But those who are meant to be among your besties for life just are, even if they move to Florida and become mommas while you stay in Maryland and continue to live the life of a grown woman who seems to get herself confused with a twenty-something bachelor when it comes to the whole grown-up thing.

4. This coming weekend, I’m taking a little road trip to Aunt Dorothy’s with Shannon and Deb. Chrissy is heading down too, and so are Aunt Cin and Laura and Katie.

I have to admit this one is going to be bittersweet. When Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Larry retired at the beach, visiting them became “our thing.” I would have no more thought about going to their house without you than I’d consider going to work naked. You and Aunt Dorothy aren’t just sisters, but true best friends. Her house was your escape from reality. Sometimes we’d go down with the intentions of hitting the beach and the shops and going out to restaurants, and once we got there spend most of our time just hanging out on her porch drinking wine and talking . That porch was one of your happy places, and sitting there with you and Aunt Dorothy and listening to your childhood stories became my happy place too.

I see so much of you in Aunt Dorothy, like I see you in Jamie and Jordyn and myself. We all reflect different aspects of you. When she and I were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, a hummingbird came to her feeder, and we figured it was you saying hello.

It will be strange being there without you. But I think it will also be healing to be surrounded by so many people who loved you –  your sisters and nieces and brother-in-law and dear friends, in one of your favorite places. I will bring along some wine and we’ll toast to you.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.










Redefining Hope

I love blogging. I truly do. But I wonder now and then about the point of it. Not about the actual writing part – the fact that I need to write letters to Mom is obvious to me. But where she is,  she doesn’t need them to be on the internet in order to get them. I like to think she sees them as they’re pouring out of my head, that she knows my words like old friends and that maybe it is  her quiet advice that makes me go back and re-write a sentence that sounds like it was written by an 8-year-old in the throes of a sugar rush.

So, why not just keep these letters between us? Why throw them out here? Is it because, since my book is stalled, I am desperately seeking validation that I am a writer? Am I turning these letters into word-selfies?

“Look at me!! I can write stuffs!”

Ick. That assessment is probably somewhat spot on. Writers like to be read. We’re smart enough, good enough, and gosh darn it, we want people to like us.

But because of Mom’s cancer, I also know there is much more to it than that.

I remember the October day we got her diagnosis like it was yesterday. Doc G, her oncologist, is so tall. He spoke slowly, like each word was a heavy weight he had to lift. His face was solemn and unsmiling. Over the next several months, I would learn that Dr. G always looked and sounded that way. There would even be times when I appreciated his measured honesty and understood that he could be no other way and still continue to do the job he does. But in that moment, as he loomed over us in one of those white doc coats that always made my heart race with anxiety even before Mom got cancer, he looked to me like a harbinger of doom.

Mom had gone into the hospital with pneumonia. Scary, sure. But not nearly as terrifying as the cause that had been rooted out. Pneumonia is a spider that can be squashed. Stage IV lung cancer? It is every monster that ever hid under any of our beds, and some new ones we could never have imagined.

Dad and Jay and Jordyn and I were out in the hallway with Dr. K, her pulmonologist, shortly after we got the news. We’d get to know Doc K well in the coming months too. In some ways he’s as serious and solemn as Doc G, but there’s also a soft-spoken warmth to him. Months later, Mom and I would be sitting in the emergency room because of fluid-build up in her chest. They would be talking about admitting her, and Doc K would come to the rescue and do the thoracentesis procedure that she needed to remove the fluid. It was evening and it was an act of kindness on his part to do it then and there rather than have them check her in and schedule it for the morning.

But Mom was exhausted and in pain, and cranky. So when he arrived, she wasn’t thinking about that fact that he’d come to us in the emergency room after finishing up his long day at the office – that he put off going home to his own family so that OURS could go home too. She was just annoyed that it had taken him so long to get there.

“Bet you’d have come faster if I had big boobs,” she told him. I never thought I’d have a doctor look to me, lost for words and seeking help to find them. But he did. I just shrugged and said “That’s my Momma. She gives us lots of shit too. I think it means she likes you.”

That night in the hallway, our little family didn’t know any of that was to come. Doc K was just the shorter, quieter member of the Doom Squad. But we needed something – anything. They were throwing around words like “palliative treatment.” I didn’t know what the fuck that was, just that it sure as hell didn’t sound as good as “cure.” Dad looked at Doc K, and I have never heard more of a raw plea in his voice than when he asked “do we have any hope?”

And Doc K looked at an exhausted man who had just basically been told his wife had been given a death sentence.  He took a deep breath and his eyes were sad as he replied “You will all have to learn to redefine ‘hope.'”

I went home that night utterly confused. Hope was fucking hope. How did you redefine it? All those jokes Mom and I had made about what a mess we’d be when I was her age and she was in her 80’s, and the two of us were still sitting at the pub tying one on and bickering or laughing? That shit wasn’t happening, according to the White-Coated Doom Squad K and G.

So much new information was roiling around in my brain. Lung cancer. Stage 4. Chemotherapy. I desperately wanted more information. But I wanted it in the way that I know how to process it. Even in college, I was never good at absorbing knowledge that was coming at me from a talking head. I left lectures with clusters of disconnected data bouncing around in my pea brain. It was only when I sat down and read the accompanying textbooks that I could connect the dots. I learn best by reading. And now, I had to read about cancer.

I looked at my laptop like it was a fanged thing that would bite me. Because even though we had just been hit by this bus and I knew nothing, I was smart enough to realize that when I pulled up my BFF Google and started my quest for knowledge, the bus was going to back up and run over me again. And again. And again. Stage 4 lung cancer statistics are the stuff of nightmares. I had been sheltered from such monsters thus far in my life, but I hadn’t lived under a rock. I knew enough to know that when I started searching, what I would find would be crushing.

I weighed my options. Dive in and get squashed. Shut down the laptop and rummage up a shot, since sleep would not be coming that night or in many to follow. Finally, I typed “Stage 4 lung cancer survivor stories” or something along those lines into the search box.

And I found Craig Blower.

I found his blog, and I read and read and read. And at some point later that night, I found a few hours of the sleep I thought might never come again.

Craig is about Mom’s age. He also has Stage IV lung cancer. In one of first posts I read, he talked about his own first ventures into what the search engines would tell him about his diagnosis, and how his reaction to the gloomy statistics was a determination to live and live and live. To beat the odds as long as they could be beaten. One day at a time.

And that is exactly what he is doing. It is the journey he shares in his blog. I read his story that night with tears rolling down my face, and a total stranger became a lifeline.

At the hospital the next day, Mom was more alert and reflective. She gathered us around her and asked us how we felt about her having cancer. Instead of answering directly just yet, I talked about Craig.

“He has been fighting this for a while now, and he’s winning. And he isn’t just living in doctor’s offices or laying in bed. He does all kind of stuff. He works. He’s remodeling his kitchen. He plays golf. He does all sorts of things with his wife and family. He’s …living.”

So much of those hospital conversations are blurry now. But I do remember Dad looking up at me and seeing a glimmer of hope in his eyes too – the same glimmer that must have come over mine as I read Craig’s story at 3 in the morning.

Now for the cold hard truth part. We all know Mom’s story did not turn out that way. I would learn in the days, weeks and months to come that while there are common threads to every story, individual experiences with Stage IV lung cancer are unique. Mom would rally for a little while, but not to the point that we would ever know “normal” again. Discovering the blog of a Stage IV lung cancer patient who was surviving and thriving did not mean my mother would do the same.

But it taught me to do what Dr. K said I would have to … it taught me to redefine hope. With or without that blog, I would have been by my mother’s side through the grueling ordeals to come. But in some inexplicable way, it gave me what I needed to not just show up and be supportive, but to carry that new kind of hope with me.

It kept me going. If Craig could go to work with his own cancer, then I could go to work with Mom’s. If Craig could fight his battle and write about it in a way that sometimes even made me laugh, I could try to be a humorous weapon in Mom’s battle. I wasn’t always successful. But the blog of a stranger gave me what I needed to at least try.

That is part of the reason why I am blogging again now. It is my attempt to pay it forward. Someday someone dealing with grief over the loss of a parent may stumble upon this blog and take comfort … or even hope …from the shared experience. Someone may smile because a memory I shared triggers one of their own. Someone may feel a little less alone. Or not. But at least I know that by sharing, I tried.

I still subscribe to Craig’s blog and read every update as soon as I get the email. I am one of many strangers in his corner, cheering him on and sending all the hope I can muster his way. He has recently embarked on a new clinical trial, and I’d appreciate anyone who reads this and wants to join me in sending that hope.

As he says, one day at a time.








Whoopie Cushions in Heaven

Dear Mom,

So, I have a burning question. How long after you got there did you sit on your first whoopie cushion in heaven?

I can see you now, rolling your eyes and thinking “She’ll never be right in the head. Nothing I can do about it – I couldn’t fix it even when I was there. Watching too much South Park broke her.”  Once, you found me and the ex-hubs sitting in your living room cackling over Cartman and the boys meeting Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. You joined us for a minute, then got up and escaped with your book because you said watching us laugh over a turd in a Santa hat was making your IQ drop.

But you can’t blame my whoopie cushion question on South Park. It was inspired by Ned Hickson. Ned is a blogger I discovered recently. I wish I’d found his blog while you were still here – I think you might have enjoyed it too.  At any rate, he wrote recently about his ongoing fake poo prank battle with his son. I got a good laugh reading the post, and it made me think of Aunt Fuzzy.

Aunt Fuzzy was actually my great-aunt. Her real name was Alma, but I don’t think I knew that until I was 10 or so.  She and Grandmom also had four brothers, and they also all went by their childhood nicknames. The oldest brother, Uncle Darrell, died before I was born. But I knew the others as Uncle Weach (Wade), Bunny (Hugh) and Hop (Frank).

They all lived in West Virginia. As a kid, I visited for weeks at a time each summer, bouncing from house to house, escaping Baltimore and tasting country girl life. Staying with Weach meant rowboat rides on the Cheat River, fishing in his backyard pond, and roller-skating at the old building he’d turned into a community rink. Staying with Bunny meant milking cows and weeding vegetable gardens as big as our entire neighborhood back home and horseback riding with his daughters Cindy and Mindy.

Staying with Aunt Fuzzy meant fart jokes. Her personality was a perfect match for her red hair and sparkling eyes. She was short, but larger than life. She lived to laugh, and nothing made her laugh more than farts.


Me and Aunt Fuzzy

Mommom told us stories about growing up with such a prankster for a sister. Their father, Great Grandad Ruggles, was gone before I came along. But Mommom portrayed him as a good man who liked his booze and got  cranky after a few drinks. When Aunt Fuzzy started dating Uncle Don, she didn’t ease him into getting to know her cantankerous father. Instead, she invited Don in and hid a whoopie cushion on the couch so he would sit on it. Great Grandad looked up from his drink with a scowl and asked his future son-in-law what the hell was wrong with his insides.

Uncle Don knew that marrying Aunt Fuzzy would mean a lifetime as the brunt of fart pranks, but he did it anyway. Like most women, Aunt Fuzzy’s purse held her wallet, keys and lipstick. But hers also contained an arsenal of items capable of producing fart sounds.

When I was 8 or so, I went with Aunt Fuzz, Uncle Don, Mommom and Grandad to Ponderosa or some similar buffet-style restaurant. While we were at the salad bar surrounded by strangers making their own dinner plates, Fuzz reached into her purse and squeezed something that produced a noise like a rectal emission. She made a wide-eyed shock face and cried “Don!” in a mortified voice.

Me and Uncle Don

Me and Uncle Don

He should have been used to it by then, but Uncle Don turned red as the beets on that salad bar anyway.

She didn’t limit her fart torture to Uncle Don. Everyone was fair game. She got me too. Once, we visited her and Uncle Don after they had relocated to Williamsburg. We all went to the Pottery Factory. I was a self-conscious preteen who wanted to fade into the background. But there was no blending into the scenery when Aunt Fuzzy tooted one of her horns and called you out as a fart machine right in the middle of a bunch of old ladies while they oohed and aahed over hand-crafted bowls and jars.

My most vivid Aunt Fuzz memory is one that I think actually pissed Mommom off a little. Aunt Fuzz and Uncle Don had come to Baltimore, and we were all sitting around in the living room. The local weatherman, Marty Bass, was on the news. Mommom excitedly mentioned some event (at her work, I think) where she was going to meet him and get his autograph.

Fuzzy wasn’t impressed. She looked at the weatherman and started crooning “Marty Bass has gas in his ass.” That sure put a damper on Mommom’s brush with local fame.

Marty is still around, and I hear Aunt Fuzz sing-songing that line in my head every time he pops up on TV.

She passed away when I was in my early 20s, but her love of laughter lived on in all of us. And in some of us – like me – so did her potty humor.

I knew you wouldn’t mind me asking you to share a space on “your blog” with Aunt Fuzzy, Mom. We talked about her so much over the years, laughing at her antics over drinks at the pub or a cabin campfire. It makes me smile to think of you two chatting again now.

But that brings me back to my opening question – have you sat on a whoopie cushion in heaven yet? Because if you can reconnect with loved ones in the afterlife, I know damn well that Aunt Fuzz has one waiting for all of us, and that it didn’t take her long to give you yours.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.


Rain and Rainbows

Dear Mom,

I’m fighting to write through the fog of a summer cold. Nothing serious. Just enough of
that blah big-head feeling to make me a little dumber than usual. Then again, that’s pretty scary.

We had a bang-up thunderstorm last week. Lee was still out working. I was home after my own long workday, trying to cuss myself into exercising. It wasn’t working. The TV was off and I wasn’t online – I was enjoying a few moments of blessed silence. One of the million things I miss about you is how you understood that need. Some people don’t.

So I was sucking up the solitude, having the kind of happy hour that doesn’t give me a hangover. Then things started whipping and whooshing around outside. The trees in my backyard were doing sidebends, and I’m pretty sure I saw Dorothy’s house swirl on by as it made the trek to Oz.

I usually know when a storm like that is coming. I get this keyed-up, can’t sit still nervous energy that would be awesome if I could harness it into writing or even scrubbing the toilet. But it is energy with a mind of its own, intent on being jittery and pointless until the storms pass. After a thunderstorm, I always feel like I  ran a marathon.

I didn’t get that over-caffeinated-Beavis-or-Butthead feeling this time, and since I was off the grid, I had no warning it was coming.

Then the rain started pounding the roof like a thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses banging on the door to save my soul, or maybe just a butt-ton of door-to-door salesmen intent on disturbing my peace. I turned on the TV and they were talking about the severity of the storm, saying if at all possible people should plunk their asses down in sturdy buildings and stay away from windows.

You know my house. It is just a room or two away from qualifying to be featured on one of those “tiny home” shows. I was minimalist long before it was what the cool kids were doing. The downside is that means the only way I can truly “move away from windows” is to hang out in the bathroom.

I didn’t feel like doing that. I was suddenly too keyed up to be still, and there’s not much room to move around between my toilet and my tub. The thing is, I wasn’t really scared for me at all. I was worried about Lee, out driving in the storm somewhere. I wanted more than anything to text or call him  and say “hey, you OK?” but I didn’t because even a scaredy-cat dumbass knows the worst thing to do to someone driving in bad conditions is distract them by making their phone go off.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Lee made it home safe and sound. We’ve been together long enough that he knows I react weirdly to storms, so he wasn’t surprised to get the kind of hug a man might get if he’d just escaped a burning building or survived a plane crash.

Talk about “like a dog.” Your biggest dogs always wanted to hide under the bed or the table during storms. One of my favorite memories of our Great Dane Bruce is him doing his best to cower under furniture that was smaller than him when the thunderboomers came. He’d practically raise a table off the floor trying to use it for shelter. Bruce and I made perfect cuddle buddies in bad weather.

So Lee made it home safely, and was greeted by me in much the same way your dogs react when any of us come through the door – minus the full-body tail wagging. This chick doesn’t twerk.

For the rest of the evening, life went on as normal, except that the sky was a strange tint of yellow-orange for a long time. When he went out to unload the truck, the first thing Lee noticed was a  double rainbow shining over our neighborhood. He called me outside.

003I smiled when I saw it, and attempted to take a picture.  It just isn’t quite possible to capture a rainbow’s ephemeral beauty in a lasting image. It felt like I was trying to photograph a ghost.

I gave up and just tried to brand the image in my memory instead. As I watched the rainbow fade, I felt that familiar after-a-storm exhaustion coming on. This time, it wasn’t the pre-storm jitters that had zapped my energy. It was the worry I’d had about Lee making it home safely. The whole thing only lasted a few minutes, but while it was happening it felt like days. Like days in a hospital room grasping for one more real smile to make its way through your pain.

Is that what a flashback feels like?

Perhaps after losing you, I know in a way you never understand until you just do that you really and truly CAN lose those dearest to you. I am not immortal, and neither is anyone I love. Our lives are like rainbows, bright and beautiful but ever so transient and brief.

And we shine with our truest radiance after a storm.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.



Book Review: Mr. Mercedes

004I can’t write a truly unbiased review of anything by Stephen King. We see our heroes with rose-colored glasse, and he is one of mine.

As a child, it was Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott  who gave me the idea that I wanted to be a writer. But it wasn’t until I found my mother’s paperback copy of Salem’s Lot stashed in my grandmother’s closet that I knew what it was like to not be able to put down a book.

Over the years, King has taken me to all sorts of places I would never have found without him.  More than any college professor with a red pen, he showed me what you could do if you  loved to write and were blessed enough to be good at it.

He was also one of the patches in the quilt that was my relationship with my mother. We lived in mutual terror of Pennywise, and shared shivers when Pet Cemetary’s Gage said “I want to play with you, Daddy.” Mom said she was pretty sure me and my friends went to Boo-Ya Moon when we had one too many drinks.  In her last months, Dr. Sleep gave us moments where we forgot to be afraid of the monster in Mom’s chest.

King doesn’t know me, but he is still an old friend.

When I heard that his latest creation, Mr. Mercedes, was hitting the shelves, I got that kid-on-Christmas-morning feeling. But when I had my copy in my hands, I looked down at the book and realized it was the first  Stephen King journey I’d be taking without Mom. We wouldn’t be texting about this one as we stayed up all night reading it, her in her bed with her dogs sprawled around her and me on my couch with my fat cat head-butting my book at the good parts.

The thought of a solo Stephen King journey burned a little, deep down in my gut. But I opened the book and began reading anyway, because doing so felt like a needed rite of passage into this new landscape of life without Mom.

And bless him, he did exactly what I needed him to do. He took me away and let me live for a while among new friends having strange adventures that had nothing to do with my life.

When you are a Stephen King fan, you become accustomed to stories with supernatural, fantastical and sometimes downright bizarre elements. You suspend disbelief to enjoy them, and King’s sucks you in so easily that you don’t even realize that’s what you’ve done.

Mr. Mercedes is not that kind of ride. There are no creepy clowns popping out of sewers, no Redrum-inducing spirits, no vampires, no Boo-ya Moons – only human beings with broken souls.

Mr. Mercedes is the story of Hodges, a retired, suicidally depressed detective who is taunted by the guy who got away. Brady Hartsfield is a demented young man who turned a woman’s stolen car into a murder weapon and starts a game of cat and mouse with Hodges for no other reason than that doing so quells the crazy in his head.

We’ve all seen Brady Hartsfields on the news, even if we’ve been fortunate enough not to know one personally. No need to suspend disbelief this time. King shows that he can write the horrors of the real world as  well as the imaginary ones in his head. He does so with his signature quirky charm and grace.

Mr. Mercedes has a cast of imperfect characters that I couldn’t help but love. Detective Hodges is overweight, disconnected from his family, and depressed. He spends his opening scene watching a Jerry Springeresque talk show. His closest friend is a brilliant young high school student named Jerome.  His other sidekick is an anxiety-ridden, disturbed middle-aged woman named Holly, who lives with an overbearing mother and the ghosts of her tormented youth.

Of the three, only Jerome has youth and promise on his side. Holly and Hodges are broken, and not in that typical “handsome tough guy” or “pretty woman who went to the school of hard knocks” kind of main character way. They are the kind of people we pity. King shows us the cracks in their spirits and then makes them shine anyway.

Mr. Mercedes is filled with what I have come to expect from Stephen King. It is a book you don’t want to put down, with endearingly quirky characters and a dark and twisted enemy. But it is also King outside of his box. This joyride takes place in the world we step out into each day, with no otherworldly influences turning it on its head.

What a ride it was. Well done, Mr. King. I hope Mom was able to read over my shoulder. I think she’d enjoy this side of you.



The First Summer

Dear Mom,

I feel like I need to talk directly to you in order to write today, so you’re getting a letter. I’m kind of having a rough time of it. Before you tell me to suck it up and join the club, don’t worry. I already am. All of us you had to leave behind are. We’re living and working and sometimes we smile, and we’re doing our things. But it hurts. It isn’t just me. I see it in Dad’s eyes and my sister’s eyes and my niece’s eyes too. It is like our smiles are wobbling on a balance beam, and at any moment they could topple over and land in a puddle of tears.

One of our mutual dear friends reminded me to “take all the time I need” right after you passed away. And so many others who have lost parents or other close loved ones warned me about how strange all the “firsts” would be.

Our first “first” was your birthday, barely a week after your passing. I knew that would hurt, and I’m prepared for other birthdays and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter to feel a bit like kicks in the balls I don’t have.

But Fourth of July?

I wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t one of the big deal holidays in our family. We all did our own thing to celebrate. We might get together for a cookout or pool time or a drink at the pub, but we didn’t do fireworks or parades together. Even when I was little, those were something I did with Mommom and Grandad. Grandad knew the perfect place to park just outside of the commotion at the Inner Harbor so we could have all the sparkles in the sky without the traffic and crowds.

So I’m not sure why this weekend felt like such a kick in the gut. I have “moments” every day … but the last few days the gut-kicks often felt like the kicker was wearing steel-toed boots.

Maybe it was because Dad finally was able to get the pool open. I wasn’t even sure he’d open it this year, and was so excited to go over and take that first dip. You know that feeling – the water is so cold you gasp when you get in, and you have to work up the nerve to “dunk” the first time because your boobs are going to freeze! I’m not much of a summer girl, but that is one of the rituals I have always loved about the hot season.

I loved it Saturday too, but loving it hurt, because you weren’t there sitting on the pool steps with your dogs surrounding you, or stretched out in your reclining  lawn chair with a book or your Kindle, soaking up the sun. You loved your sun. We joked that you were like a lizard on a rock, in your glory on a steamy day.

I didn’t go out at all on the 4th.  I gave myself permission to not be around people and party atmospheres. I enjoyed my yard and caught bits and pieces of a Walking Dead marathon. That was a kick too, though. Walking Dead was a thing for us all.  Remember when Carl got shot, and Lori wondered if it would be a kinder outcome for him to die than to live on in the zombie apocolypse? Rick couldn’t find the words to convince her otherwise until Carl woke up and the first thing he did was tell Lori about getting so close to the deer.

“He talked about the deer, Lori. He talked about the deer.” The fact that the first thing Carl recalled was a moment of beauty rather than one of horror was the answer Rick had been seeking. We loved that episode. I knew that scene was coming and I turned your picture around to face the TV for a moment, telling Lee “Mom would want to see it.” Yeah, I’m a goofy-ass weirdo. Your fault Momma – a lot of that part of me comes from you.

I knew it was time to let you go when your pain was so consuming that you no longer felt like talking about the deer in our lives.  When it happened, I was as close to ready as I would ever be. In that moment, letting you go did not hurt any more than watching you suffer as you did in the last days and not being able to do a fucking thing about it.

It is in this aftermath – this first summertime without you – that the hole where you should be sometimes feels so big we could fall in.

Steamed crabs are still delicious, but you should be eating them beside us. Lee and I had to borrow Dad’s pickup because ours is in the shop … again. When I ride in it I feel the ghosts of those warm summer nights you, Dad and I piled in to ride home from the pub, and even the shade of the time we rode that way from Baltimore to West Virginia to go to Uncle Weach’s funeral.

And so I write and write and write these words. They are my way. My sister’s way is so much more like yours. Have you seen the way she is keeping your yard and all your flowers alive and thriving? It looks like you never left. She pours the same amount of love and care into your sanctuary that you did.

It is summer, with flowers and pools and that sense that no afternoon should go by without a nap. It is your season, your time.

The first summer without you. There are moments when its beauty just hurts to see, and in those moments I know you are there. poolday

Love you Mom.Like a dog.



Game Of Thrones: All in the Balls

002Warning. I’m spoiling stuff here about who has balls and needs balls and wants balls in GOT. No, not Varys. Everybody knows Varys got cut, even my co-workers who have never heard of George R. R. Martin and don’t watch HBO. If you are behind in the books or the TV series and don’t want me to ruin anything for you – and not just about characters’ testicular issues – come back later

A subset of my readers – the ones who are my friends in that world out there that isn’t just on a screen – are rolling their eyes right now and thinking “damn, woman, can’t you talk about anything” without bringing up balls? I like to think I am a witty creature, but the truth is sometimes my humor is much like that of a mischievous 8-year old boy. Balls make me laugh, so I talk about them a lot.

But hear me out anyway.

It is no secret that eunuchs run rampant in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy world. There’s a whole army of them across the Narrow Sea, hanging out with The Mother of Dragons.  Back in King’s Landing, Varys slithers about trying to gain everyone’s trust by sharing his “day I lost my balls” story in excruciating detail.

But in the books, the dudes without do-dads really don’t get much in the way of relationship storylines. Someone involved in the HBO series must have felt bad for them, because in the TV series, these guys are coming as close to getting some action as they possibly can.

First, we’ve got Grey Worm, Head Eunuch of The Unsullied. I like him well enough in the books. He’s focused and strong. He’s loyal. He’s tough. He’s never tempted to stray from his duties by the chance of getting laid.

On the show, Grey Worm develops a sort-of-something-maybe-more-than-friends relationship with Missandei. In the books, Missandei is a child, but HBO aged her up to adulthood. Until this whole plot twist, I thought they just wanted more females showing boobage. But it seems they are actually building a storyline for her and Grey Worm, making them more human, interesting characters in the process.

I wasn’t buying the storyline at first. It began with Grey Worm catching a glimpse of Missandei standing naked in the river. She senses his gaze and anxiously covers herself. Puh-leeze. You can’t hang out naked in a river and not have some guy checking out your stuff. Not every dude on this side of the sea is a eunuch.

But in their subsequent scenes, the affection between Missandei and Grey Worm started to grow on me.  I felt for her when she wondered aloud about whether his pillar was gone or just his stones. What a thing to have to worry about in a potential new relationship. In our world, we just have to hope our dates aren’t crackheads, porn addicts or serial killers.

I’m curious to see where HBO takes these two next season. Will Grey Worm have a pillar? Will it matter without stones? Either way, I’m more interested in these two characters than I was in the books, although I liked them both in print too.

Another character who grows an unexpected set of balls in the TV series is Sam Tarly.  Sam is not a literal eunuch, of course. But he’s seriously lacking in testicular fortitude. In both the books and the series, he falls for Craster’s daughter-wife Gilly. But in print he comes nowhere near as close to acting on his impulses as he does on the show. In both, his feelings for her help him find a latent bravery buried deep inside his layers of Sam-ness. But his growing courage is much more evident on the show. During the battle with the Wildings, he actually inspires courage in others. Not only that, but he puckers up and gets himself a kiss from Gilly. I know that’s not much action in a show where Oberyn is boinking everything, Cersei is doing her brother and her cousin, and Littlefinger is giving out whores like candy. But this is Sam we’re talking about.

Like Missandei and Grey Worm, I’m curious to see what HBO does with Sam and Gilly next season. A set of phantom balls and a bit of testicular fortitude have added some spice to these characters for me.

And here I thought balls were only good for making me laugh.