Tag Archives: love

the center of the storm

Today I ran around like a maniac grading papers and taking the kids school shopping and buying groceries, like usual. I’m always going a thousand miles per hour, and any day or moment everything could collapse. In fact, it’s guaranteed it will. Life is brutal and we walk around in denial because it would be impossible to look at it directly all of the time. That’s not bad; it’s an important social skill, and in fact it’s kind of comforting. It connects us. Here’s one message from Patton Oswalt, currently in the center of that storm we all agree to mostly ignore in order to avoid fits of rage and despair when, say, waiting in line at the bank, or standing inside of an elevator. It just makes me want to hold the people I love more closely before they are taken away:

Thanks, grief.

Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you.

But grief? Grief is Jason Statham holding that 4th grade bully’s head in a toilet and then fucking the teacher you’ve got a crush on in front of the class. Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a dick.

If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back. 

But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.

And…

You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are. And, if you’re a parent? You’ll wish you were your kid’s age, because the way they embrace despair and joy are at a purer level that you’re going to have to reconnect with, to reach backwards through years of calcified cynicism and ironic detachment. 

Lose your cool, and you’re saved. 

Michelle McNamara got yanked off the planet and out of life 102 days ago. She left behind an amazing unfinished book, about a horrific series of murders that everyone — including the retired homicide detectives she worked with — was sure she’d solve. The Golden State Killer. She gave him that name, in an article for Los Angeles Magazine. She was going to figure out the real name behind it. 

She left Alice, her 7 year-old daughter. But not before putting the best parts of her into Alice, like beautiful music burned onto a CD and sent out into the void on a spaceship.

And she left me. 102 days into this. 

I was face-down and frozen for weeks. It’s 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I’m crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement. Maybe 102 days later I’ll be walking.

Any spare energy I’ve managed to summon since April 21st I’ve put toward finishing Michelle’s book. With a lot of help from some very amazing people. It will come out. I will let you know. It’s all her. We’re just taking what’s there and letting it tell us how to shape it. It’s amazing.

And I’m going to start telling jokes again soon. And writing. And acting in stuff and making things I like and working with friends on projects and do all the stuff I was always so privileged to get to do before the air caught fire around me and the sun died. It’s all I knew how to do before I met Michelle. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do now without her.

And not because, “It’s what Michelle would have wanted me to do.” For me to even presume to know what Michelle would have wanted me to do is the height of arrogance on my part. That was one of the many reasons I so looked forward to growing old with her. Because she was always surprising me. Because I never knew what she’d think or what direction she’d go. 

Okay, I’ll start being funny again soon. What other choice do I have? Reality is in a death spiral and we seem to be living in a cackling, looming nightmare-swamp. We’re all being dragged into a shadow-realm of doom by hateful lunatics who are determined to send our planet careening into oblivion.

Hey, there’s that smile I was missing!

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high / low

woman-bipolar-disorder-290x300I cried once during our family vacation to Austin last week. Elliott and I were locked in the “family” bathroom stall of a movie theater. He was screaming at me, threatening to throw his chew necklace onto the bathroom floor. We had been watching Monsters U in 3D. (Side note: I hate 3D for the headache it causes me and the extra expense, but it was all that was playing at that time.) During the climax of the film, Elliott accidentally bit his finger. He roared in response. I threw everything in my lap onto the floor and whisked him up into my arms, as the whole theater seemed to turn and stare at us. He was angry that he had bitten himself. He was angry that I was rushing him down the dimly lit stairs and away from the movie. We were in the last row, and it seemed to take hours. I wasn’t worried about him. I know the difference between his screams of rage and his screams of real pain. I was mortified. I was frustrated. I was exhausted. It had been a difficult day.

We burst out of the theater door, and the ushers stared at this screaming, kicking child and his mother who had forgotten she was still wearing the goddamned 3D glasses. They seemed to find us mildly amusing. In the bathroom, I put Elliott down and caught a glimpse of my ridiculous self in the mirror. “I WANT TO WATCH THE MOVIE I WANT MY GLASSES I HAVE BOOGERS EXCUSE ME I HAVE BOOGERS I WANT TO WATCH THE MOVIE NO THANK YOU NO THANK YOU,” he screeched. As calmly as I could, I told him he needed to stop screaming or we would not be going back. He screamed for several more minutes. I considered my haggard, pathetic face in the mirror. I wondered if the people in the hallway could hear us, the horrible things they must be thinking about my parenting abilities. I felt tears well up but I pushed them away.

He finally stopped screaming. We watched the last two minutes of the movie, which no longer made any sense. He wore my 3D glasses because I couldn’t find his, so the final scenes were blurred for me. As the credits scrolled, he said, “Did you like this movie, Mommy?” as if nothing had happened. I had to put my face against the filthy, cold theater floor to reach far enough under my seat to collect all of the items I had dropped.

We stepped out into the blinding light and overwhelming heat and humidity. He demanded his sunglasses, which I produced from my purse. We walked to the car, the boys happily chatting about the movie. Meanwhile, horrible thoughts ran through my brain. I wondered if he loves me, if he has a conscience, if he will be like this, or worse, when he gets older, when puberty hits, when he is bigger than I am. Will he still kick me and scream at me? Will he hurt me? I thought about the woman I know whose autistic son nearly drowned her. He was 22 and had a tantrum in the pool. She had bruises all over her body.

My thoughts were very bleak, and I was feeling very sorry for myself, and I am not proud. As we walked to the car, my face twisted up and tears started pouring. Ben saw me and got upset. Unlike Elliott, Ben has a surplus of empathy. One kid couldn’t care less, and the other cares too much. I know I shouldn’t have cried in front of him, but I couldn’t stop.

Most of the time, I don’t feel like this. Most of the time, being Elliott’s parent is pretty incredible. Every year, every week, every day he is doing something new, and every accomplishment feels like an occasion to celebrate. Most parents are happy when their kids are potty trained, but when Elliott finally pissed in a potty chair, we jumped around the house, giddy with excitement. I felt like shutting down the streets and throwing a parade. It had taken him nearly 3 years.

This morning, I had to wake Elliott up very early to go to an occupational therapy appointment we had been anticipating for months. Elliott has been doing this for years. The appointments are generally several hours long, and the assessors are sometimes patient and kind, and sometimes not. Elliott is asked to perform task after task, often with no breaks. Balance on one foot, skip, do this puzzle, spin, close one eye, do this with your tongue, wear this cap, go into this tube, say this, etc. During the long, traffic-filled drive, Elliott and I played word games, listened to music, looked for sight words in the billboards. I marveled at him. Most kids don’t have to do the crap he has to do, and he is generally so amazing about it. During the assessment, he listened well and tried his hardest. It was over after 2 hours, and he was allowed to play for a few minutes while the therapist discussed the results with me. As he laughed in the other room, she told me everything that is wrong with him, and there were a lot of things. My face grew warm and it became difficult to swallow, but I pushed it away.

I cried as quietly as possible in the car as Elliott sang along to the Hairspray soundtrack. Somewhere inside, I already knew the things she told me, but it didn’t make it less difficult to hear. I took him out to lunch, and as we waited for our food, we played Rock, Paper, Scissors, and he cheated, like always. Then, he grew serious and said, “I love you, Mommy.” He almost never says this unprompted. He was immediately silly again, doing crazy dances to the music playing over the restaurant speakers. I watched him and wondered if he knew that I had been sad, if he was trying to make me feel better in his own way. Who knows.

My highs are a little too high and my lows are a little too low, and that’s how I’ve always been. Maybe it has something to do with my mother’s bipolar disorder. Or maybe that’s just what it’s like being a parent of a kid with special needs. Maybe it’s a little of both. In any case, after some time alone, during which I chainsawed some vines outside and bought a cute new dress, I felt so much better.

My friend Lashawn reminded me of Elliott’s epic tantrums last summer. He would scream and rip away his shoes and clothing, throwing each item in our direction, his face angry and red and tearful. Once naked, he’d throw his body around, slap his own cheeks, writhe against the rough carpet. This would go on for 20 or 30 minutes. This was his response to our first family vacation, to Portland and San Francisco. This went on for weeks, nearly the entire summer. I had actually forgotten about it, maybe because I wanted to. This year, he whined a little and had one major tantrum (fully clothed!), and now he is back to normal. He threatened to throw the necklace, but he ultimately put it back on.

Things still need to get better, but I need to remember how things keep getting better.

Photo credit: http://www.basicspine.com/blog/bipolar-disorder-treatment/

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the big a

“By the way,” my father said on the phone this morning, “Diegolina died a few days ago.” He dropped it in casually, after detailing his weekend. He’d gone snowshoeing for the first time, with his girlfriend. He and my stepmother have been divorced for several years now, and Diegolina was my stepmother’s mother. I had been taught to call her Abuela. My father called her The Big A, made her a joke. She never thought that was funny.

Abuela had a hard life. She dropped out in elementary school, sold tamales wrapped in banana leaves on the street. Her home was a collection of tar paper and tin shacks. She cooked food over a fire in the dirt. She had seven children. Her husband was a drunk who beat her constantly and, once, tried to force her to drink poison as my stepmother watched. He hit her in the face with a belt buckle, and, as a result, she was nearly blind in one eye. Abuela lived with us for weeks here and there throughout my childhood. Ay dios mio, she used to say, all of the time, stereotypically. She watched telenovelas endlessly, the loud music and dramatic exclamations bouncing through the house. She cooked a red soup with chunks of shark meat floating in it, homemade corn tortillas. She cried for hours and hours. She told me I was fat. She told me my stepmother betrayed her country when she became a citizen. “Angie, Angie,” she called me. I bent to embrace her tiny frame, as I was required to do, and she’d cup my face and kiss my cheek with feathery lips. Her brown skin felt cool, and smooth, like wax. She smelled like flowers, and something else, something bad. I was expected to love this virtual stranger, whom I first met when I was 8, and whom I saw in short, sporadic bursts.

I did not make an effort to know her. I am ashamed to say that mostly, she annoyed me. I was a selfish teenager, and she sighed and criticized constantly. She took up a bedroom, and I had to share a bed with my sister. She spent what seemed like hours in the bathroom. My stepmother was even meaner than she usually was with Abuela around. I didn’t have the patience for it. My junior year of high school, she got sick, and I had to take over her job for no pay at the Wishy Washy Laundromat. Abuela was sick a lot–she had diabetes and gall bladder problems and severe depression. I was in high school at the time, and for weeks, I stayed up into the early morning hours, scraping hair and gum from the wheels of the laundry carts, sopping up strangers’ scum.

When I wasn’t annoyed with her, I made fun of her. I have a photograph of her wearing a black t-shirt featuring a huge, fluorescent green marijuana leaf. It says, “This bud’s for you.” She had no idea what she was wearing. She poses for the photograph, stony-faced, somewhere in San Bernardino. None of my stepmother’s Mexican family smiled in photographs. It was only after she lived here for several years that my stepmom began to smile. When you think about it, the constant smiling is goofy, for people who don’t know true suffering, who expect everything to work out. For Americans.

It was cruel of me to make her into a joke. I make jokes all of the time, about everything, even when I shouldn’t. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of knowing about her life and the lives of all of her family back in Mexico. Were they my family too? Who was she to me? Who were they? My stepmother didn’t seem to care, then, or now. Abuela was sick in a hospital in Mexico for awhile, and my stepmother didn’t visit. Her family will call her for money, and she will send it, like she always does, and she will do so begrudgingly. She will not go there to face all of those hungry and angry faces, all of the chaos that will surely result from this death.

Once, when I was maybe sixteen years old, Abuela sang a birthday song to me in Spanish, in front of my family and a few of my friends. She had tears in her eyes. I know it took a lot of courage. I didn’t love her, but sometimes I think she loved me.

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best-case scenarios

My friend Lisa shared this today on Facebook: “You’ll meet the perfect person, who you love infinitely, and you even argue well, and you grow together, and then you get old together, and then she’s going to die. That’s the best-case scenario.” –Louis C.K.

Last night, Ryan and I were talking about time. I had read this Angelica Huston interview and she says that no one can tell you how quickly time passes. I know this is true. I also know it is cliche. But when I think about it too hard, it is still terrifying. It is just like no one can tell you how fucking tired you will be when you are caring for a newborn. They try to warn you and you think, yes, I know what tired is. I’m in graduate school and I work 3 jobs. But this kind of tired is in your bones, your skin. It permeates everything. I remember that I felt that way, but I can’t actually feel it anymore. And I can’t explain it to people who haven’t experienced it, either. I just know that when a person without children tells me he or she is tired, he or she does not know what they are talking about. Unless they are, like, a P.O.W. That kind of tired isn’t real to me now anymore, so I don’t know what I’m talking about either.

Anyway, we got to talking about how you have kids and you love them so fiercely it almost hurts and then as they get older, they move away from you physically and emotionally. They become independent; they are supposed to. You work their whole lives for them to become relatively happy, functioning, independent humans. That’s your job, and theirs. But it’s like someone scraping your heart out of your chest slowly, over time. I have done the math. In approximately 1 year, Ben won’t sit on my lap or let me carry him. In another year, no hand-holding in public. In another, no kissing and hug resistance. That’s what he should be doing. Again, that’s the best-case scenario. He could become a drug addict or get cancer or punch me in the face and then my heart would break more. He will be 8 on Friday. He will be 18 in 10 years. And 10 years isn’t anything at all.

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having too much fun

My friends and Ryan and I shared two pitchers of sangria tonight, so I am in no mood to write a thoughtful post. But I’m committed to posting weekly. I was going to post about how we had a house cleaner and I felt very guilty about it and about so-called “white guilt” and how I think it should be reclassified as “socioeconomically advantaged guilt” and all of the complications. But I’m tipsy and pizza is on the way. So I will save that idea. Enjoy your weekend. I love you, but it’s just the alcohol talking.

 

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