The heart is a leaping, sinking, flying, slapping thing

When we stepped into the Children’s Museum this morning, I immediately scanned the room for a familiar face, and breathing a sigh of relief, spotted the birthday girl. A tall girl with straight brown hair,  kind and with a constant serene expression, she stepped forward as my son approached her.

“Hi, Rowan!” she said cheerfully, and took the hot-pink giftbag he held out to her.

“Happy birthday, Maddie,” he said, and she replied, sincerely, “thank you!”

My heart leapt.

I noted the girl next to her. I knew her name; knew most of them now by sight. She was in Rowan’s class too.  Pale, with long, white-blonde hair.

“Say hi to her, too,” I prompted him.

“Hi,” he said, waving at her. No response; she didn’t make eye contact, even though he was right in front of her.

My heart sank.

“I don’t think she heard you,” I said. “Get closer.”

“You might have to say her name,” said my husband, knowing full well that Rowan is even worse with names than he is. Again, I knew the girl’s name, but held my tongue.

“HI,” Rowan said, again, louder, waving his hand inches from her face.

The girl looked past him, then grabbed Maddie by the hand, spinning her around to run to another room, talking a mile a minute, giggling with delight.

Again, I know her name, and will probably never forget it now. She is the arch-nemesis. Like the girls in my school when I was his age or older—the shiny blondes whose moms let them grow their hair down to their butt. The ones who willfully ignored me.

What a thing to pin on a 6-year old! But there it is. Every time someone shuts my child down, the child I’m so desperately trying to encourage to talk to people, to say hi, to ask, “do you want to play,” it shuts down a part of my heart. I’m that kind of mom. I take it personally, for him. I don’t think I would if it wasn’t so painful to watch him “interact” at a function like this.

Other kids run. Pound up and down the slanted halls, from room to room, pouncing on each piece of play equipment as comfortably as they would any possession at home. They scream and shriek. The girls giggle in gaggles and the boys bellow. But Rowan, my tall and gangly tip-toe-walking baby, lags behind. He stays on the outer edge, quiet, observing. He can’t keep up, doesn’t know how to join in, let loose, or blend in. His tallness and his glasses that magnify his already large eyes, and hair longer than any boy in his class make him stand out. He bounces when he walks, has huge hands and feet and is skinny as a rail. He often wags his right hand or pointer finger in the air when he’s excited. He has never barreled, never careened, never bolted or flung himself into or onto anything, except maybe his bed when he was mad at us.

So when Maddie was warm to him, it mattered so much. As it did when, soon after, a short, precocious girl named Adaleh found him. She’s built like a fireplug. Those kinds of kids are always so confident, it seems, maybe because they’re thicker and closer to the ground.

“Rowan’s here!” she exclaimed and grabbed him by the hand. We stepped away, let them play together but looked around corners from time to time to see what they were up to.

First Adaleh got into a little car at a play gas-pump, and asked Rowan to fill up the tank. He struggled to get the heavy, old-fashioned handle off the pump, so I helped him, then he couldn’t quite get the nozzle into tank’s hole, so Carl helped him with that. Then it was his turn to get gassed up. Adaleh helped him pull his long legs into the car, then buckled his seat-belt for him. Tiny Adaleh had no problem doing any of those things herself. When it was time to get out, he struggled again.

She then led him by the hand to the “salon,” where she helped him into a spinning chair, pulled a vinyl cape around his shoulders, and proceeded to “wash” his hair with the sink extension. Then she shouted, “my turn,” and put the cape on herself. Rowan stood there with his hands clasped, then slowly and hesitantly grabbed the shower head and touched her head lightly with it. I wanted him to be freer, more confident with his movements, but I pulled back, still warmhearted.  Carl and I beamed at each other; it was enough just to know Adaleh wanted to play with him.

We walked around on our own then for a bit, checking in on occasionally. Sometimes he was on his own, sometimes with others. He gravitated toward an older kid with a crewcut and glasses, and sat down next to him in the airplane cockpit, an exhibit he remembered and liked from a previous visit.

I climbed in behind them to listen.

“Where to?” the kid asked. “Jupiter, Saturn, or Mars?” He was maybe ten or eleven. He reminded me of one of those kids we would have called nerdy in school, not really comfortable in his own skin among the “cool kids,” but, when left to his own devices, very vocal and incredibly confident. I was grateful for him.

“Saturn!” Rowan replied, excited for a trip to his favorite planet.

“Hang on,” the kid said, then gripped the steering wheel and began shaking the cockpit violently, rocketing his pudgy body in all directions.

Rowan beamed, and my heart flew.

“That’s some turbulence!” I said from the back of the plane.

When it was time for cake and presents, Carl and I hung back once again. We were the only parents, besides those of the birthday girl, who had stuck around for the duration of the party. I imagined everyone else dropped their kids off, knew they’d be fine, and came back two hours later. But neither of us were comfortable knowing that at any given moment, Rowan could be alone, wandering around the expansive museum and its maze of rooms, not talking to anyone or feeling like he could join any particular group of kids. For the most part, I was happy not knowing where he was, but also knew that he didn’t want to “lose” us, as he said as much at one point, sticking his head though a little window in a makeshift theatre, where Carl and I sat in tiny chairs, watching a group of girls clomp around in open-backed princess dressed pulled over their play clothes, bowing and re-bowing on the stage. We clapped for them, and I hope that someday, it’d be my son we were clapping for, fearless in performing, even if just make-believe, in front of strangers.

Less than a week ago, Carl and I had sat in equally tiny chairs, across from Rowan’s teacher at conference time. She told us that he’d shown so much progress and was doing great in terms of language and vocabulary, but she wished he’d have more confidence. How do you do that? How do you build confidence in a child who is so stubborn and resistant?  We’ve been trying, and it’s been hard, but we continue the only way we know how—encouraging him, telling him how proud we are, and just showing him as much love and patience and acceptance as possible, while often gritting our teeth and spinning our gears.

We’d met with her and a team of special educators a few days prior to that, a group who’d been observing and working one-on-one with him for a few weeks.  I’d listened while they’d confirmed that he did not qualify for special education, nor did they think he had a disability, nor was he on “the spectrum.” He was just underconfident, under-developed, and maybe a little uninterested in just about everything. They had some “concern” about every little thing he did, from the way he held his pencil to the way he caught a ball, or walked or jumped or sat on a swing or put his snowpants on. And I did my best to listen and understand and accept, but as they spoke I began to cry. Because I love him so much and just want him to be happy, and worried that he wasn’t, and that he felt inadequate or lonely. I thought, “he’s only five years old, why must they demand so much of him? And I also cried because I remembered what it was like for me.

I didn’t struggle academically—quite the opposite. But I struggled emotionally, and socially. But I also remember not really caring that I didn’t have a lot of friends; in fact, I preferred being alone. And I was woefully uncoordinated. I tripped over my feet and felt self-concious about every single movement my body made. Even now, even when I’m comfortable with my physicality at home, I get frustrated at myself for stupid little things I do awkwardly, or wrong. And I know he feels me putting myself down, even if I don’t say anything. I think I sigh a lot.

He often says to me, “It’s okay, Mom, don’t you don’t have to struggle.” And that’s what makes me heart ache so deeply for him. He’s so affectionate and funny and open and observant with us at home. And I don’t think his teachers see that, nor do the other kids. He frequently puts his arms around me and says, “You’re so cute,” or “I love you with all my heart.” At home, we see who he really is, and that’s why it’s so hard for me to hear that he’s struggling in anyway at school, because there’s no one around to fully appreciate his warmth, his tender-heartedness, his zest for silliness.

Back at home after the party, we opened up a little pink goody-bag from the birthday girl’s parents.  Inside, amongst a mess of candy and stickers, was one of those slap-on bracelets that teachers were in the process of banning when I was in junior high, because kids were so distracted with them. Apparently  the world has forgotten about that.

I held it out flat. “It’s a bracelet,” I said. “You slap it on your wrist, like this.” I demonstrated, then straightened it out again and handed it to him.

He held it gently in his right hand, wrong side up and sort of sideways, and tapped at his opposite wrist with it.

“You have to be fast, and forceful,” I said. “Like this.”

I slapped it onto his wrist. He struggled to pull it off, then struggled again to straighten it.

“Listen for the click,” I said, feeling my patience wane. He continued to struggle, then got frustrated. I straightened it for him, then watched him once again attempt to slap the thing onto his wrist, while holding it too gently and at the wrong angle and slapping away fruitlessly at his arm until he gave up. I felt my chest clench at the thought that if my kid couldn’t operate a slap-on bracelet, then buttons and buckles were solar systems away.

There’s no good way to wrap this up—I have no ending thought or answer that makes any of this easier or more bearable. What I do have is the sweetest little boy in the world, for whom I want boundless love, patience and acceptance from the entire world, in every aspect of his life, as ridiculous as that sounds. I realize he has to experience rejection and criticism both in order to grow and as a matter of course—not everyone is going to love or even like him, not everyone is going to have patience for his loping strides and his tendency to take forever to explain something—usually something to do with Spiderman or video games. Just because I think he’s wonderful doesn’t mean he is—he’s just a kid and so are they all and they all have issues and strengths and weaknesses, but when you’re MOM, and your kid is the one that matters most, everything that comes with them feels so much bigger. I don’t know that I’ve explained myself or my child or my feelings very well with this post. There are multiple stressors in our life right now and I have a tendency to let them all sit on my shoulders until I feel like collapsing under their weight. Then, if I just take a minute to pick each one up individually, I realize they’re not really that heavy. I guess that’s what anxiety is.

Hi, My name is Molly and I’m the anxious parent of a child with anxiety.

And we’re working through it one birthday party at a time.

After I wrote this, Rowan told me, out of nowhere, that he loved the party today and would like to go back and “ride the rocketship” again. And we will. 

Cockpit

 

 

Tip-toe through the stinky yellow flowers

It happened today in Tadych’s Econo Foods: a woman, somewhere in her mid-to-late 30s, one check-out line up from us, turned around and waved at our son.
“Hi Rowan!” she said. “I’m Maddie’s mom.”

We already knew—we had seen and spoken to her a few times while dropping him off or picking him up at Superior Hills elementary. Maddie is in his Kindergarten class, a tall girl, with straight brown hair, a carbon copy of her mom.
This hallmarked the era I knew was coming from the moment I saw two lines on the pregnancy test, but always imagined was light-years away. The era of school—when our child, our baby, would no longer be solely under our care but “out in the world.” Where things happen, where you start to take shape as an educated being. Part of the system. Another brick in the wall.

From 9am until 3:45 pm, every Monday through Friday, my baby leads a different life. One away from Mama and Papa, where he operates as part of a larger structure and is not the center of the world—not even the class. I don’t know what he says, what he does, or what he thinks while he’s there, apart from the vague answers he gives me when I bombard him with questions after school each day, and the digital points and snapshots posted by his teacher online. Any parent might understand how unsettling, how happy-giddy and odd at the same time this transition is. You want them to be independent but feel loss when they walk away from you. You want them to be enveloped in the excitement of other children, to feel part of the group, yet dread how that group might treat them; what they might say or do, and you’re nowhere nearby to put their words and action into context—to explain or defend or comfort. You dress them in their cutest, cleanest clothes, hoping they’ll never be teased or ridiculed for what they do or don’t wear. Everything about them was created and cultivated by you. This is your kid, and ultimately, at least at this age, you’re responsible for how they act and react in the world, and it’s terrifying.

He’s my one-and-only, but out there, he’s just one-of-the-many.

My son is a highly sensitive and incredibly perceptive boy. He prefers the company of adults to children. He tells me the kids in his class are too loud. He doesn’t like the sound of flushing toilets, so he has Miss Waara flush for him after he’s left the bathroom. He’s terrified of anything that hums or chirps or whirrs—vacuum cleaners, car alarms, blenders, hairdryers, the whistling noise my TracFone makes when I’m getting an incoming message, and for some reason, is almost paralyzed with fear by the “stinky yellow flowers” (Tansy and Goldenrod) that line the roads and driveways around here.
Yeah, I don’t get that last one either.

But he’s also a lot like any other 5-year old. He finds poop and farts exceptionally funny. He loves superheroes and robots and pirates and astronauts and puppies and Star Wars and Pixar movies and candy and ice cream and pizza.
He can remember things he heard a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, once. He draws parallels between things we would never think to and points out nuances we are too busy to notice. He thinks the moon and sun follow in the sky to cast light just for us. He is sweet and gentle. He takes a “pet” wherever he goes, and they all sleep with him at night. Bika, Sleepy, Lula, Weenie, Cocoa, Butterscotch, Snowball, Kelly, Uni-Puff, and Jilly.

But he cannot operate a pair of scissors to save his life. He can’t write his name or any letters or numbers or draw a person or anything that even slightly resembles something in the world. His drawings are all of “tornadoes” (scribbles). He struggles with opening Rubbermaid containers, Ziploc bags. He didn’t eat his sandwiches at lunch-time for days because of this, and I had to write his teacher a note because he was too timid to ask for help . For a while, before he got glasses, he went down one flight of stairs, clutching the rail for dear life, in the time it takes most children to barrel down three or four. He stood on curbs, screaming at me to take his hand and help him down. He once got stranded on the last step of a jungle gym, only an inch off the ground. and bawled as I began walking away. It took almost ten minutes for him to gather the courage to step down. He doesn’t “go to bed,” but falls asleep either in my bed or on the sofa, and we carry him to his room. Almost every single night of his life. And he is HEAVY.

He walks everywhere on tiptoes.

 

I didn’t put the Tiny Tim version there for a reason.

He has been recommended for both Vision and Occupational Therapies. He can’t poop without me holding him like we’re passing through a hurricane.

He is our angel. A round-faced, big, blue-grey-eyed, thick-haired, tall and long-torso-ed clumsy noodle of a child with enormous hands and feet and a tendency to speak in a low register when meeting someone for the first time. He introduces himself alternately as “Rowan Jasper Anderson” and “Mister Man.” He thinks our friend Al’s name is “Owl” and that Cal’s party store across the street is called “Cows.” He says things are “bruined” (ruined) and often refers to a passage of time as “A long time-im-ago.”
He is five. He has time.

When people say, “we’re going to have a baby,” it sounds and seems like a baby will arrive and stay a baby and this baby will always be the thing that they have. But children, who are people, stay babies for such a short time in the grand scheme of things. You don’t hear people say, “let’s have a preschooler,” or “please welcome our future teenager to the world,” or “I’m pregnant with twin retirees.” But they will be. They’re already in there, waiting. It’s so easy to pick out a layette and colors for a nursery. That stuff lasts a nano-second. Breast-feeding, weaning, potty-training—these seem like the biggest challenges in the world but last only a year or three. I remember getting gifts at my baby-shower that my child wouldn’t use for a handful of years and thinking people may as well be gifting me a rocket to the moon for as much relevance they had at the time. Now, those things are in the past and I long for them.

So, I’m moving into a new era, clumsily, like I do everything. Somedays I just want my son to curl up in my lap and I wish I could nurse and rock him to sleep. Other times, I wish he would just squeeze the damn toothpaste on the brush himself.

This afternoon, as we were walking to the beach, and he observed that the stinky yellow flowers were turning brown and therefore he wasn’t afraid of them, I paid extra attention to the feel of his little-big hand in mine, painfully aware that I only had a short time left to hold it. My co-worker has a beautiful story of seeing the Colosseum in Rome with her young teenage son, who had silently slipped his hand hers, many years after giving up that comfort, and how she kept quiet, telling herself not to ruin the moment, but was bursting inside. I think of that when my kindergartner holds my hand, and when he needs me to walk him to the bathroom at night, and when I carry his 50-pound bulk up to bed and tuck him in. The other night, I kissed his sweaty neck and said, “I love you.” He stirred, and I knew he was still awake. For a moment I cringed at having woke him and figured I’d have to bring him back down again. But he simply said, “I love you too,” pulled his sheet tightly around him, and rolled back into sleep.

We’re getting there. We’ll get there together, even if the baby-steps are just mine.

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And sometimes you get used to the smell of cat piss.

Last night, I watched my son’s first fireworks show reflected in his glasses. This afternoon, my husband lost his job.

When he called me, my finger was poised to click-order a $200 area rug in a terra-cotta Moroccan trellis-print. After I hung up, I removed it from the cart.

We knew the Valle’s were struggling—it was hard to keep two eponymous family-owned businesses afloat in a town like Marquette. Still, they were good to us. Letting us borrow the company pick-up for moving, handing out holiday bonuses and gift cards, even bringing me pretty souvenirs from yearly trips to the Philippines. We knew the stores were for sale, but thought we’d have time. We weren’t worried; we bought a house and had even been trying to expand our little family. We weren’t worried.

The house—formerly known as the blue house with the yellow door—now a blue house with a white door. No closets, only one bathroom (on the main floor, facing the dining room so you can gaze at the toilet through the open door while you eat). Not much of a yard, but close to the beach and local businesses. The last owner had a dog—we’d seen the silver food dish in the photos—big deal. We weren’t worried.

The smell—so well-disguised by Renuzit fresheners and candles, loomed large after we closed. We’d already decided to rip out the main floor carpet, having lived on laminate hardwood and preferring brooms over vacuums. But we hadn’t planned on having to do it immediately. While we were painting the walls, we realized the place reeked like a litterbox. We hadn’t seen or smelt evidence of a cat; but our new neighbor confirmed it. Dogs, plural, and cats.

We’ll fix it, we figured. The carpet came out, the floors were treated with an enzyme cleaner and sealed over with an odor-trapping shellac. I still burn candles and incense and run an essential oils diffuser daily. I only notice it when we’ve left for a while and come back.

The bamboo vinyl planks came in today. Carl dutifully picked them up at Lowe’s and laid the boxes in the kitchen—a big kitchen—a selling point that eclipsed other lackings in the house. We toyed with the idea of installing it ourselves. After the phone call today, we knew. We’d bought a mallet a few weeks earlier just in case. Now we need a T-square too.

My son wants a Spiderman ice-cream, so I take him across the street. I’ve been in my pajamas all day, sun-sick from hours at the beach yesterday. Now, sick over everything—how much this has cost us, how much it will continue to, and now the uncertainty. As we walk out the front door, I see that the Vista Red salvia we planted in the flower boxes last week has lost most its petals. I’m pretty sure I planted them too close together—but at the time, I wasn’t worried.

“It looks like all our flowers died, buddy,” I say.

He agrees, and as I help him down the crumbling front walk, he says, “sometimes flowers die, and sometimes they don’t.”

I know that his childish simplification is just an echo of what I’ve told him in the past. For instance, he’s in love with the moon, and searches it out every evening. On nights of a new moon, when it’s not visible, I say, “sometimes the moon is there, and sometimes it isn’t.” Of course, it’s always there, but it’s easier to explain that way. I say, “Sometimes the moon and the sun are in the sky at the same time.” This one kind of blows his mind, and really, mine too. Again, I know he’s parroting my own words back to me, but if you were in a shitty mind frame, looking for some, any little shred of optimism after what feels like a roller-coaster you never wanted to ride in the first place, you might take what he says to be a metaphor.

Sometimes flowers die, and sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes you have a job, and sometimes you don’t.

Sometimes your weight plateaus for a good ten years, and sometimes you balloon up twenty pounds in a month because you’re so stressed out you could hide in a closet and eat jalapeno Cheetos and wine for every meal and then nothing fits but v-neck t-shirts and yoga pants.

Sometimes, you have a big, beautiful, two-bathroom house with a yard and clothesline and a pillared front porch where you can sit and hear the frogs and crickets at night, and sometimes you sacrifice all of that to pay almost twice as much to live on the loudest fucking street in the city, so you don’t have to spend two hours on the road every day and never see each other and never go anywhere.

Sometimes you still don’t see much of each other.

And sometimes somebody loses their job, so suddenly you do again.

Sometimes you are the best mom ever, speaking softly to your child, who is terrified of the thought of fireworks, only to watch in proud amazement as he fearlessly sits rapt through every bang, flash and fizzle, never once having to put your hands over his little ears.

And sometimes you let him play video games all day just so you can wallow in your own misery. Sunburned, anxious and scared, much like he was last night before the first rocket went up.

I ask my son, reclining on the couch, if he’s happy.

“I am,” he says. “I am happy. I am. Now watch me play my game, Mama. I can be the robot. That robot can fly.”

Jiminy Crickets,  I wish I could be the robot.

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The snow. The pain. The poop.

“I think I’m not really good at this,” my son says. He’s two months away from five years old, and this is one of his signature phrases. He usually uses it when he’s trying to get out of something.

“Not really good at what?” I ask, thinking it’s either the light-up game that’s on his lap as he sits on toilet, or—

“Pooping,” he says.

“Keep trying,” I say.

“After I’m done pooping,” he says, hopefully, “We can walk down to the little store and get me a Zebra Cake.” That’s his favorite Little Debbie Snack.

“Oh no, not today, buddy,” I reply. There’s a wicked snowstorm piling up foot-high drifts out there. All of the U.P. is banking on a snow-day tomorrow, although we all lack the usual joy that comes with a day off, because it’s the middle of freaking April.

“I think I’m done,” my son says. “I’ll try again later.”

And just like that, for probably the tenth time in four days, I sigh as he gets re-dressed and we go back to the routine of laxative, raisins, and fruit juice.

I administer four fingers of apple juice in a Glen Moray tumbler. When my son sets it down on the coffee table, it legitimately looks like he’s drinking scotch, neat. There are no clean cups, and in the kitchen, the dishwasher hums and gurgles through its cycles, scaring the bejesus out of my kid.

 

I’ve yet to meet a dishwasher that I understand how to load. Are all those mountainous grooves for plates? Then where do the glasses go? On the slightly smaller peaks? Then why do they immediately fall over on their sides? Do I have to consult a YouTube video to understand how my bowls should fit? If all my bowls were no deeper than saucers and my cups all child-sized, I’d be all set. I can barely figure out how to turn it on, and it has buttons that you can’t push, so I don’t know what they’re there for. One of them says “options,” so maybe the options on this machine were optional and they opted out, but someone still left the buttons there just to give people false hope.

This is the one thing today I know I can’t blame on the medication. Seriously, this dishwasher sucks. But taking half an hour to fold a basket of laundry, not understanding how the TV works, staring into space with a finger pulling down one corner of my mouth—that’s the Gabapentin, or as I’ve taken to calling it, “Yo-Gabba-Pentin” (anyone with kids born in the last 15 years might understand). The generic form of Neurontin, it’s an anti-seizure and nerve disease drug. It’s what they’d have given me when I had shingles this Christmas, if I’d let them. But I don’t like medications and I felt the pain was tolerable. This time around, it was so bad that I couldn’t wait for my doctor’s appointment scheduled two days away; I went and saw another doctor who could get me in sooner, because I was in agony.  And it’s not shingles this time, it’s an as-yet undiagnosed thing that seems to originate in my neck and travel down the right side of my arm, igniting excruciating aches that pool in my shoulder and elbow, and creates a hive of intensely buzzing pins and needles from the hand up, whenever I so much as lay a finger on my mouse at work or try to do something useful at home like fold laundry or wrap my arms around my son as he sits on the toilet, fruitlessly trying to poop, because he’s scared his narrow butt will fall in, which it will.

This isn’t the first debilitating, undiagnosed thing that I’ve had to learn to live with. Three years ago, I began having intense stomach pain and cramps. I sat in clinic after clinic, found myself in the emergency room, went through every blood, urine and poop test imaginable. I had a colonoscopy. All of it yielded nothing. However, to this day, I can keep it under control so long as I don’t eat wheat. That sounds like a gluten intolerance, doesn’t it? Doctors insist there is no such thing, unless one suffers from Celiac Disease, which I have tested negative for, twice. So, in essence I have a condition that doesn’t exist.

Same thing with my neck-shoulder thing. Does it originate in my neck? Or my arm? Two doctors have assumed I had a whiplash-like injury, which I didn’t. Some doctors gave me muscle relaxers, but it’s not my muscles. My x-rays yielded nothing. One doc sent me to physical therapy when the pain first emerged almost a year ago. I went for two months, and the symptoms stopped completely. I “graduated” and got a T-shirt. Now, after the pain re-emerged after a move from our house to an apartment, I’ m wearing that T-shirt to my physical therapy appointments. I’m apparently working on my Master’s degree there.

I felt I was making progress again this time, until my regular therapist went out of town for the Easter holiday, and left me in the care of a young woman who took a very different approach to my condition; wrenching my neck far further than I felt it should go in any direction, and finding a “knot” in my shoulder and ruthlessly attacking it over and over, rolling it over a bone or tendon, I don’t know which, causing a sickening “bomp” each time that was probably just a sensation but felt like it had an audible sound to go with it. I know I should express how I’m feeling while all this is going on, yet I’m also thinking, “I’m the patient, she’s the one with the certificate, I should let her do whatever.” When I left the clinic that day, my vision was blurred. I was nauseated. And I’ve been in agony since. That was two weeks ago.

Let this be a warning to physical therapists: Never go on vacation. Your clients will die. 

In the last few days, I saw two doctors, both with kindly, round eyes. The first, Dr. Bidle, prescribed me the Gabapentin and ordered me a referral to PM&R (physical rehabilitation) for an EMG (electromyography) test that will involve electrodes and small needles, to determine the source of the nerve damage. The second, Dr. Kirkpatrick, who originally referred me to P.T. last year, agreed with this course and gave me his blessing. I am not to return to physical therapy in the meantime.

Luckily, it looks like my insurance considers cervical radiculopathy, (I call it ridicule-apathy) which is the going term for the weirdness I’m experiencing, a condition for which an EMG is medically necessary, and therefore, covered. Thank goodness for good insurance—I wish everyone had it.  Now, I’m hoping that the subsequent MRI that may be necessary after the results are in will be similarly covered.

I am so sick of doctors and pharmacists. Like I said, I had shingles at Christmastime, as well as another dermatological condition that is best not talked about in detail. Add in occasional sinus infections, vertigo, and anemia, and you’ve got a white-haired lady at ShopKo that really hates looking out into the queue and seeing, once again, my face.

But I’m healthy! I swear!

At this moment, my son is playing a video game that he’s insanely good at, and singing the theme song from Despicable Me. But his version goes, “I’m having a bad bad poop. It’s about time that I had my poop. Steamrolling whatever I poop. Huh, Despicable Poop.”

tenor

Outside the snow is still piling up.

Now he’s on the floor, wrapped in a blanket and reciting lines from the last episode of Yo-Gabba-Gabba he watched.

“Chicken and fruit. Ding! Chicken and fruit. Ding!”

For whatever reason, he needs to be wrapped in a blanket when he has to poop. He’s always done that. I know he’s not cold–we live right above a boiler room in a complex full of old folks who like it like a sauna.

This kid helps me through everything. This morning, just before my husband’s alarm went off, our son came into our room making odd gestures with his hands and farting noises with his mouth. He proceeded to crawl into our bed with his three tiny stuffed puppies, making little barking noises. He’s been telling me lately that the moon cuddles with the sun. He’s told me he wants to ask Santa for the sun and the moon for Christmas. I would give him both if I could.

I know that doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds nice.

His favorite thing to play with me is “Super Heroes from Gabba-land,” in which his Marvel Superheroes, along with a giant robot he named “Steebotch,” combine forces with the Yo-Gabba-Gabba gang to essentially have birthday parties all day long. It’s the same every time. It’s somebody’s birthday. Somebody makes the cake. They sing. They open presents. Repeat. Only yesterday, Sandman came along and ate all the cake before anyone could get to it. Sandman is a real jerk.

He’s asking me to play now. He says, predictably, that today the Gabba friends and Superheroes are having a birthday party. It’s Muno’s birthday, and he’s six years old.

I can’t tell you how much I hate playing that game. Sitting on the floor and hunching forward to make little dolls hop around sends pain screaming up my shoulder. I want to go outside, but it looks like Siberia out there. My son doesn’t care about the snow. For all he knows, winter will last another seven months.

He says, “I love you. Shut down your computer.”

And I do.

Here’s a photo we took behind our apartment building, before the storm hit.

DSCN1804

 

Update: The party didn’t go as expected. The Incredible Hulk was late because he was in jail, and then he ate all the presents.

My son still hasn’t pooped. 

The correct choice is, “I am a human adult.”

It’s been a rough week. We moved from our house of five years into an apartment, the injury that took months of pain management and physical therapy to treat has returned, my son is nearing school-age and I’m wondering what to do with a litany of behaviors that I feel need to be corrected before he gets there in five months, and to top it off, The Walking Dead has been especially distressing lately.

So, I’ve had a glass of wine and now I’m going to tell you about all the ways in which aspects of my life correlate to Garfield the Cat.

  1. We both hate a specific day of the week.

Much like the Boomtown Rats, Garfield notoriously dislikes Mondays. For me, Mondays are great days for a couple reasons: Work is busy and goes by quickly after the weekend, and when I get home, I get to spend the whole evening, along with the two following evenings, with my family.

It’s Sundays that I loathe.

My husband works double shifts every Sunday, beginning at 10am and ending at one in the morning. That leaves me alone with my 4 ½ year-old son, which isn’t in itself a bad thing, because I obviously love him and he’s mostly a delight. But, I’m a dangerous person to leave alone. I get wrapped up in my head. I spend too much time thinking about what I should be doing, what I’ve done wrong, how I could improve myself, and what I’m missing by being cooped up without transportation the whole day. Of course, since we’ve moved, I can easily walk just about anywhere since we’re basically in the middle of the city now, but it’s still the dead of winter in the Upper Peninsula and ice-covered sidewalks and thirty-two-degree highs aren’t exactly my idea of walking weather.

Sundays are one long anxiety-fest. I spend the whole day feeding my son. He literally never stops eating. If you had to put his face on a t-shirt with his catchphrase, it would be, “I’m hungry.” He says it the moment he stops chewing. That’s normal for a growing boy, I guess. Especially one whose parents are veritable giants.  Which brings me to my next point.

 

  1. We both love to eat.

Garfield’s first love is lasagna. I do love a good veggie lasagna, and my husband makes a great couple pans full every Christmas. But I love to eat anything. I once thought about deep-fried tofu for two days straight. Like, I couldn’t stop. When I’m happy, I want to celebrate with food. When I’m depressed, which is pretty much default, I want to medicate with food. If there is free pizza at work, I may eat a slice or two out of polite normalcy, but if there is any leftover in the fridge later, I’m the first to attack it when no one’s looking. I get jalapeno Cheetos out of the vending machine at least once a week. My day revolves around what I’m going to eat and when. We had an ice-cream party at work recently, and I can honestly say I believe I’m the only person who went back to the freezer every day for leftovers until the ready-whip and sprinkles were gone. I frequently dream about cake and ice cream. I did last night.

 

Problem is, I get violently stomach-sick from gluten. This issue reared its crampy head about three years ago, and I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with food ever since. I occasionally cheat, because I love bread and figure the consequences are worth it for a good slice of garlic bread. Then someone will be talking to me and a sudden pallor will fall over my face and I count the seconds until the stop speaking so I can find the nearest, most secluded rest room.  I tested negative for Celiac twice so at this point the only real damage being done is that to my comfort and dignity. I try to be good but honestly, GF replacements taste disgusting. And my rebellious nature coupled with an unhealthy dose of self-destructive behavior means I often resort to “fuck this shit, I’m gonna eat this shit.”

 

Can you imagine if Garfield developed a gluten intolerance? Maybe he has. I haven’t read that comic in years. Is it still going?

 

  1. When I was a kid, Garfield was everywhere.

Remember when he was all the rage and people had him stuck to their car-windows with suction cups? I had a Garfield mug. A stuffed Garfield (who became best friends and possibly gay roommates with Leo the Lion). My favorite pajamas were a purple nightshirt with Garfield on them, displaying my zodiac sign, Taurus. It said something about Taureans being bull-headed. I don’t buy too much into astrology, in that I don’t read my star signs or anything, but I still find them to be mostly true. I recently found out that one of my favorite singers is married to a psychic astrologist, who legit draws up complicated zodiac charts for everyone in the Trump family and watches and predicts their shitty lives in accordance with these charts. I just wanted to say so because I find it supremely weird.

Moving on.

I had a Garfield birthday cake one year. My brother drew a picture of Garfield which I photocopied and distributed among my elementary school classmates to color. I’m sure Garfield manifested in other places which I can no longer remember. The original Garfield the Cat cartoon character was voiced by Lorenzo Music, a name I never forgot because it is so…musical. In an interview with Mr. Music from the 80s, he says, “Garfield appeals to the fat, lazy slob in all of us.”

 

  1. I am a fat, lazy slob,

Seriously, I am always tired. I’ve never been athletic. I like nothing more than to lie down. Sleeping if possible, but not required. I do keep myself and my surroundings clean, but I am not what one would call, “high maintenance.” I enjoy getting into pajama bottoms and a tank top the moment I get home from work, assuming I don’t have to go anywhere or see anyone. Most of my mascara ends up on my cheeks by 3pm.

I have eaten potato chips in bed. Is there a higher level of slovenliness?

I didn’t think so.

 

My son just came into my room and said, “Mama, I’m hungry.”

Here is a list of everything he’s eaten today:

-Kix (1 plate full)

-Cheerios (1 plate full)

-Half a banana

-fruit snacks

-Grapes (2 bowls full)

-A chocolate graham cracker

-2 veggie hot dogs

-a few bites of a pear that he spit out

-More grapes

-goldfish crackers

-a popsicle

-more goldfish

-more fruit snacks

 

And it’s only 6 o’clock. Which means suppertime. Which means he’s hungry again since I began that list and has told me as much. He is now in the other room making Sleestack noises and awaiting some ravioli.

 

  1. Carl died on The Walking Dead. Rick Grimes has nothing left but Judith and Michonne and the will to defeat Negan. Jadis is finally speaking in full sentences which makes her much more likeable.

 

Shit, that’s not about Garfield. And, it contains spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the last couple of episodes. Sorry about that.  Like I said, it’s been a rough week. And one glass of wine turned into two.

6. My new residence is on Garfield Avenue.

Which isn’t surprising, seeing as most of the streets in this neighborhood are named for presidents. Lincoln, Jefferson, Cleveland, Washington.

I asked my husband last night if he would buy the house of of his dreams if he found it on Trump Street.  I don’t think he had a clear answer but I know if it were me, I would feel compelled to write “(sorry)” after my address every time I had to list it.

Well, that about wraps it up. I always intend to write something pity about parenting, but it ends up being about myself and my perceived faults and how in the long run I have to accept them. Maybe that is a big part of parenting; accepting and embracing those things about one’s self that could get in the way of successful child rearing. When we have kids, we really push ourselves out the window to make room for the tiny thing that is in essence our ultimate representative. In my case, because my kid’s never spent any time in daycare or preschool or really with other kids to much of an extent, I feel like everything he is and does is an extension of me; who he is and what he puts out is a reflection of his parents and everything he’s absorbed in his short life. I know there are lots of other parents out there who consider themselves kind of a mess and who haven’t really figured out who/what they want to be when they grow up. I know that’s pretty normal and am grateful there are other parents out there blogging “what the hell am I doing?”

 

But I digress; this was supposed to be about Garfield.

For some further inspiration, I googled “Garfield,” and clicked a link to the offical Garfield and Friends website. The first thing you see is this pop-up:

Before you can go
to my website,
I have to make sure
you’re not a dog.

(Select only one. If you’re a dog, access is denied.)

  • I am a dog
  • I am a human KID
  • I am a human ADULT

Figuring they wouldn’t discriminate for real, I selected, “I am a dog.” And my access was denied! Seriously…I mean, I am a human adult, but what if I was a dog? I side with dogs on most things. I’m not a cat person, per se. So maybe my affinity for and affiliation with Garfield was mistaken. Either way, I clearly can’t be trusted to make good choices.

Afterall, I am probably more like Odie. A drooling idiot who frequently gets pushed off tables and deserves to be boxed up and sent to Abu Dhabi.

Or maybe that was Nermal.

Well, whatever.

I’m just along for the ride.

garfield-2

 

Out of House and Home

Walls absorb feelings. Beams, floorboards, layers of paint, all of it soaking up joy, grief, love, desperation—all the things felt by those living within. When these physical structures are disrupted, fractured, broken apart to discard and replace, those emotions disperse into the air like pulverized drywall and sawdust. You’ll feel them on your skin; breathe them in. It might be pain, or elation—feelings running the gamut from benign to severe, floating around in your home like displaced ghosts, until the place settles once again. Your life painting over another in modern hue. New fixtures to pour light and water energy, mixing with the energy left behind.  All of this woven into a kinetic tapestry that is place. That is home.

I’ve always felt that what greets me when I enter my home, wherever it is, is more than just the feeling of being safe and sequestered from the trials of the outside world. It’s more than a comfortable chair and low lights and a favorite TV show. It’s more than the color I’ve painted my walls or the fabric I’ve chosen for the sofa. It’s us. The house is thick with us, the way your friends’ and families’ homes smell like them—their detergent and food and perfumes. It hits you the moment you step into their space, but your own smell—you don’t notice, and you can’t describe it until you’re gone from home for a long time.

I lived in the same house from the day I left the hospital, until the day I left home as an adult. A white house on a corner lot on the outskirts—the city population sign at the edge of our yard.  The roof was red when I was small, later grey. One bedroom on the bottom floor, three up top. One bathroom right off the eat-in kitchen. An enclosed front porch that was too cold in in the winter; a side porch where we left our snowy boots, where the dog slept on frigid nights. An unfinished basement where the rock walls crumbled fine, sparkly dust. Wooden shelves stocked with ice-cream pails full of agates we collected from gravel pits in summer.

Up the stairwell to our bedrooms, the walls are painted the same lemon-yellow shade left by the college kids who moved out when my parents bought the house in the early 1970s, with a ten-dollar down payment. The paint flakes off in big chunks, revealing a Pepto-pink job underneath. The bannister is painted a dark brown and is made of something that feels like petrified wood, or cold metal. The spindles are unevenly spaced, so you can stick your small head through the opening between these two, but if you move one space over, your ears will catch and prevent you from pulling back out.

My room is first, then my brother’s, then the spare with green carpet and yellow walls. A closet in there holds Dad’s military suit and hat. Mom’s fringed suede jacket. A liquor box full of used but carefully folded wrapping paper, tags and bows. Dad’s signed photograph of Johnny and June Carter Cash on a USO tour. A box full of upholstery samples that make great Barbie Dream House rugs. Dad’s blaze orange hunting gear. A locked cabinet full of rifles and bows.

In this room, and my brother’s next to it, there are square holes in the floor, two feet wide and half a foot deep. Vents in the living room ceiling. We remove the heavy slatted covers that open and close with a sliding latch, and lower things down into the room below at the end of a length of kite string.

Outside stands an old white garage. The rafters drip with barn spiders. Too small for a car; the inside holds  workbenches full of tools. Rusted coffee cans full of nails, screws, and bolts. A push mower, and Dad’s Italian Harley with the American flag sticker on the saddlebag. On a wall hangs his helmet—white with stripes down the center, and the one I wear—sparkling, electric, metallic blue. I ride in front of him, clutching the gas-cap. When we go around corners, we lean so much I can almost reach out and touch the ground.

My brother and I play H-O-R-S-E and around the world at the basketball hoop on the front of the garage. Later, it’s torn down and we find newspapers from the nineteen-teens stuffed inside cinder-blocks that make up the foundation. Mom and Dad and a team of men build a new garage at the end of the driveway, which is now paved. It holds our car. Our snow-blower, sleds, basketballs, bats and badminton net. My brother’s drum set. All summer long, we sit on plastic lawn-chairs in the open doorway with a radio on, holding cold cans of Pepsi.

As time goes on, the creaky little landing down to the basement will be rebuilt into a long, clean hall, with new carpet and doors. Furniture and wallpaper will move in and out. Televisions in cabinets will be replaced with larger tube versions with remote controls. Deep shag carpets will give way to shorter, cleaner weaves. The curtains in the kitchen move from pale yellow, trimmed with lace, to white with crawling green ivy. Out in the yard, old farm equipment is cleared away.  The chicken coop is torn down. Rabbit hutches sit on the old foundation, then disappear too. Trees are cut down, new ones are planted. One patio made of alternating pink and grey bricks gives way to another of smooth cement. A Mexican chimney shows up. A wrought iron fence goes up and comes back down. A doghouse in the side yard, flanked by haybales in winter, moves away. The dog is buried in the garden, alongside many rabbits. The landscape changes. The hilly edges of the yard, once hemmed with white cross-beam fenceposts and barbed wire, where we dug up countless, dirt-crusted treasures, including a carved red Chinese snuff bottle, something we thought exotic but probably available at any dime store, are now smooth and borderless.

I move away, and return only a few times before the house is sold. It’s always been a busy corner, but traffic has become bothersome since the new school was built down the road. My parents buy a house in the country, among corn and soybean fields. The sounds I grew up with—cars and motorcycles in the night, snowmobiles across the lower-lot, are now replaced with frogs, and silence.

I’ve gone back two or three times—just to drive by, or once, sit parked in the empty driveway. It all looked so small. The tall oaks standing sentinel on either side of the driveway are long gone, as is the once giant white lilac bush out front. The trees Dad planted on the side of the house, once spindly and held upright with strings and pegs, have grown massive. The side porch has been completely removed. And the white horizontal siding has been replaced with vertical red, the greenish shutters giving the whole thing a gingerbread look. Zillow lists it for $158,000, though it’s not currently on the market. It was built in 1903, five years after the one I’m living in now. My whole childhood is there on that page, in that photo. The interior is unrecognizable. My throat gets tight and my eyes well with tears as I scan the pictures, and stare at that red house that should be white, with trees in front, and a black and yellow dog in the yard, and an old wooden garage off to the side and two kids hanging out the window, dangling a green plastic army guy attached to a parachute made of Dad’s red bandana. There should be a big tree in back with a tire swing and a birdhouse on a pole and a dirt driveway, the ruts full of mud and matchbox cars. The skeleton of an antique tractor should be rusting on the edge of the backyard.

This should be my house.

2125 Oak Grove Road Southwest, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, 56301.

But it’s not.

I don’t know what it is. Just a building. A structure. It’s just a photograph of a house that had families in it before us, and families after.

It was the home of the Spodens, who owned the local grocery store. It was the home of Felix and Sophie Klaverkamp, who haunted me on and off throughout my time there.

Someone by the name of Jennifer lived there shortly after my folks, but didn’t stay long. I have no idea who lives there now. Maybe there’s been other kids, other childhoods. It stopped being the Bonovsky fifteen years ago. That house was never just mine.

But if I could just go inside—

If I could touch the walls, I might feel us. With my palms against the Z-Bricked chimney in the living room, I might faintly hear the rumble of the furnace and smell the heat coming in through the vent under the coffee table where the record and 8-track players sat.  With my ear against the bumpy cool wall of my bedroom, I might be able to still hear the train clacking on the tracks miles away.

I might feel twenty some years of my life, my brother’s life, my mother and father’s lives, pulsing inside like a live being. The seventies, eighties and nineties rushing through the rooms. I might see us scraping paint, peeling off wallpaper, stapling down shingles. I might see us lugging the big box of Christmas stuff down from the attic, laying down sleeping bags on the living room floor to sleep on hot nights with lightning streaking through the sky. I might see Legos and Lincoln Logs and Barbie Clothes strewn across the porch, smell Dad’s Chow-Mein cooking in the kitchen. I might see us bounding around the living room,  whapping sofa pillows at each other while Johnny Cash played on the turntable. I might hear Crosby Stills and Nash harmonize Suite: Judy Blue Eyes while I soared on the wooden swing under the clothesline poles.

I might feel us—the us I knew before the us I know now. My family before my family now.

The house I live in now is up for sale. We’ve lived here five years. This is the house I brought my first and only baby home to. The only house he’s known.

When we move, will he remember the sage-green color of his bedroom walls? Will he remember having a whole room just for his toys alone? Running in circles from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen? Will he long for the sound of the thermostat clicking just before the furnace rumbles and kicks in? Will he miss the white wooden beams across the ceiling, the slight slope of the floors in the hall, the blue bathtub, the brass knocker on the front door, the pillared porch and the school-house roof? Will he remember anything?

He most likely won’t, or if he does, it won’t be with the sense of loss that I feel over my childhood home. Children adapt quick, and can move around with little trouble, especially before they start school.  My husband moved something like nine times before he was eight years old, and since we’ve been together, we’ve lived in ten different places by my count.

I guess it’s good that we leave now. If we stayed too long, It would be even harder. As I walk around my house lately, getting it ready for showings and trying to see it through prospective buyer’s eyes, I touch the walls and feel our lives as a family steeped within. This was our first house, the only place my son has ever lived, and it’s become so saturated with us in five short years. I know when we leave here, I will drive by it and cry. The same way we drive past our old apartment on Champion Street, where we lived for six years—the place I called home for the first seven months of my pregnancy. Every place we’ve lived holds memories, and has a bit of nostalgia attached. The thought of leaving this home now, this house, triggers the largest and deepest blow my sentimental heart ever took—that of leaving my childhood home.

When I drive by houses at night, I look at their lighted windows. If they’re big enough, and I can see inside, I get a quick taste of that feeling—of home. Anyone’s home. It gives me comfort to think that someone else is wrapped in that feeling. I’ve become rather obsessed with houses, and dream about them frequently. Of the one in St. Cloud, the one here, and others I don’t know, or haven’t lived in yet. They are like people who have passed on but still visit me.

I wish I had gone back one more time. I wish I’d been there when they left—when they were tearing our old life out and plunking it down somewhere else. How much of my former life disintegrated in the process? How much was lost, and how much was left behind? I just want to stand in that house one more time. I know it’s changed. It’s not the same house, they’ve said. But if I could just touch the walls. Feel us, the us that came before, one more time.

I know it’s still there.

 

Below are images of the strongest memories I have attached to my house.

An antique tractor, the red snuff bottle, white lilacs, and the house itself.

 

How the Wu-Tang Clan got me through a rough month in Tucson

I remember sitting in a Denny’s in Tucumcari, New Mexico, eating onion rings and a milkshake. I’m sure that Carl and I, at some point, had re-enacted the scene from Smoke Signals where Thomas tells Victor about the time Victor’s dad took Thomas to Denny’s for the Grand-Slam Breakfast. I remember sending a post-card, though I don’t know whom it went to, with a photograph of a site where dinosaur remains were found. I recall looking at my little red Geo Prism, into which we had shoved our entire life, parked in this desert outside the restaurant, feeling like a lone dinosaur myself, utterly lost and hesitant about my future out here among the cacti.

For years afterward, I imagined that “A Denny’s in Tucumcari” was the ideal setting for a short story, though I’ve never written it. I can’t separate it from my own story—one that’s felt so hard to tell because at the time, it felt like the epitome of a failure. We wanted so much for it to work, and it didn’t, and we came back wondering what our lives might have looked like if we had stuck it out there in the Southwest. I’ll never know, but I do know that a less than 40-day blip on the radar of my life still shapes who I am, thirteen years later.

In the summer of 2004, I applied to, and was accepted by two universities that couldn’t be farther from my home in Upper Michigan, or from each other. At this point, I’d been on a 6-year hiatus from school. Both my forays into higher education were a bust, but the overseas teaching-exchange programs Carl and I wanted to be part of required a 4-year degree. So, we figured, we’re sick of the snow and the cold, and we’ve got nothing holding us down, so why not go somewhere warm?

I gathered my credentials and ambitions and sent them off to one wet-hot climate (University of Florida, Gainesville), and one dry (University of Arizona, in Tucson).  When I got “yes” letters back from both, I toyed briefly with the idea of becoming a Gator, but ultimately sided with Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat, and enrolled in the Asian Studies program for the fall of ’04.

You’ll never know how much stuff you can do without, how trivial the belongings you’ve collected, until you have to pare them down to fit in a tiny hatchback. I rode for two thousand miles with a two-foot bronze Buddha and a houseplant between my knees. As we moved through Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri, the air warmed. In Kansas, we were met by toll roads, giant white crosses and road signs about redemption. In Oklahoma, we ate authentic Mexican and watched a beautiful sunset. The panhandle of Texas was a brightly-lit blur in the night. Las Cruces and Albuquerque were mazes of orange construction cones. Our waiter told us the origins of the city’s name at a Pizza Hut in Truth or Consequences.

Our apartment complex in Tucson was called Catalina Mission. It sat across from Davis-Monthan Airforce Base. Upon our arrival, the management through whom I’d set up the rental had vacated and been replaced with another, headed by Yesenia, a thick and pretty young Mexican woman with long curly hair and huge hoop earrings. She was sympathetic to us befuddled Northerners and let us use her office phone while we waited to get ours set up.

One of my more serene memories is walking under some kind of willow trees to the laundry room in the courtyard with a basket on my hip. The floor had a big crack running through it and the room, at least to me, always smelled of eggs and bacon. I hang onto this memory, as well as one of walking around the complex with my headphones on, hearing a radio DJ announce the new Foo Fighters song. I don’t have a lot of great memories of our month in Tucson. Everything that could have gone wrong did.

Months before, while still in Michigan, my boss and I had set up a transfer to another Blockbuster Video store. When I arrived at the Tucson location, they nonchalantly told me that a mistake had been made and that they didn’t need or want me at that store. Instead I was to head to another store, way out in the mountains. As we made our way there by car, I wondered how in the hell I was supposed to get out here every day, as the original location was within walking distance from our new neighborhood.

At the mountain location, I was met by the Store Manager, who, instead of welcoming me as the transfer I was, treated me to an interview in his office that felt more like an assault. “Why do you want to work for Blockbuster Inc? What will you bring to our team? Why should we hire you?”

Nevermind that I had already been working for the company for 6 years at that point and had been an assistant store manager in Marquette. I left the store and got back into the car where Carl was waiting for me, and burst into tears.

In the meantime, Carl had found work at a Subway location and was headed for his second pee-test. Two pee-tests to work in a sandwich shop? He had set up the interviews and appointments with a calling card and a payphone in the courtyard while we waited for Cox to set up our apartment phone. Cox had said they were finished, but we had no dial-tone. They said we needed to call the grounds electricians. They came and went and said the job was done, but we still had to dial-tone. They said to call Cox as the problem was with them. We called Cox, who said the problem was with the grounds electricians. The whole month we were in Tucson, we had no telephone.

While our respective start-days drew nearer, we drove around Tuscon, gazing at strip mall after strip mall, cactus after cactus. There were some cool looking places to eat and drink, but we had no money to spend there and our savings were dwindling. We had no cable hook-up, just fuzzy local channels. As Christmas drew near, the news reported a Toys for Tots drive and an older woman who’d gone missing from a local mall. People began to put luminescent plastic snowmen on their front lawns (“lawns” in Tucson are made of light-colored rocks) and string lights in their yucca trees. We spent most of our time playing Champions of Norath II on our Playstation, or watching old DVDs of Mystery Science Theater 3000 while playing games of Upwords and eating homemade curry. At night we slept on a futon mattress on the floor and propped it against the wall when we woke.

Our neighbor to the right was young woman with a puppy that would cry for hours on end every morning after she left for work. To our left, a group on young guys who blasted-bass heavy music all day long. In the courtyard, a guy with a leaf-blower woke us up every day, blowing what must have been every leaf in creation for half an hour each.

In the midst of all of this, the UofA registar let me know that I owned them a metric fuck-ton of money. Somewhere along the line, having no prior experience in these matters, I had screwed up my paperwork, and basically had received no financial aid. I couldn’t pay tuition. I didn’t register for classes, and my stint at the university was over before it began.

Back at the apartment, our neighbors continued to shake our walls with their music. I complained first to Yesenia, who said she’d talk to them. After that had no effect, I called the cops. They came by and I heard them speak to the men next door. After they left, the noise continued. We drowned our sorrows at a local bar that showed four or five football games at once on Sundays. We ate baskets of fries and wore our Lions jerseys while cheering along with people wearing jerseys from all over the country. We walked home in the bright sunlight, high on beer and the small comfort of something we loved. We came home and put our speakers up to the wall, and blasted the most bass-heavy CD we had, which happened be “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” and laughed silently till we cried.

 

One day while Carl was out looking for prospective new jobs, I sat inside the bathroom of our small apartment, sobbing. Between screwing up my school stuff, still not having a phone after fruitless arguments with one party or another, relocating to a remote job location where they regarded me as a an untrustworthy stranger, and being sandwiched between two loud and inconsiderate sets of neighbors, I had never felt so lost in my life. It was then that someone knocked on my door. I didn’t answer. They must have heard me crying though the thin walls. When I collected myself enough to go out and open the door, they’d left a bright yellow flyer on the knob. “Need help? Don’t know where to turn? We’re there for you.” Below was the number of a local Christian Church.

I threw it in the garbage.

Sometime later, Carl and I sat in our car. I remember only removing my seat-belt and saying, “I want to go home.” He trusted my judgment.

I recall going to the payphone in the courtyard with the last minutes on my calling card, phoning my boss and asking for my job back. She gave it to me without a second thought.

Yesenia let us break our lease. We sold anything we had bought in the month we lived at Catalina mission and again packed our Prism to the hilt, Buddha and the houseplant included.

On our last night in Tucson, we ate at an Indian restaurant. The meal was bittersweet, because our plan had fallen through and we didn’t know exactly what we were going home to. I remember low lights, blue and white patterned dishes and saag paneer. Two mornings later, a freak snowstorm hit New Mexico and I had to buy magic-mini mittens at a gas station. We tried to set out in the storm but backtracked when we saw a semi jackknifed on its side on the side of the highway. We found ourselves once again at that Denny’s in Tucumcari, waiting it out, feeling like the snow back home was reaching out across the country to remind us what we were going back to.

We spent Christmas Eve in a haunted Howard Johnson’s in Emporia Kansas. I ate peanuts from the vending machine and watched some show I had no interest in on the Cartoon Network.

Rather than head directly back to Michigan, we detoured to Minnesota and stayed with my parents long enough to set up another apartment, sight unseen, in Marquette. After a few days and an argument with my folks about money, we left early one morning without saying goodbye. We drove on frighteningly snowy roads to stay a few days with our best friend in Brainerd, then headed on to Michigan.

We arrived back in the U.P. in early January. Two feet of snow covered the ground. I didn’t have enough money to buy tampons. My co-workers at Blockbuster video gave us a hundred-dollar gift card to EconoFoods—between that and a cannister of Quaker Oats given to Carl by a co-worker at Subway—who had also taken him back, we were able to eat that month. We traded rocks for snow, cactus for fir, desert for Great Lake. No disrespect to AZ, but I prefer the latters.

The following autumn, I enrolled at NMU. I majored in Philosophy, double-minored in English and Art History. I began writing. I graduated Magna Cum Laude in the spring of 2009. I started grad school and began working for the University when Blockbuster closed its doors. A writing professor encouraged me to begin submitting my work to literary journals. In my grad workshops, I wrote and submitted story after story, each accepted in time by different publications. Each story took place in Michigan or Minnesota. We were home.

It’s hard to look at the photos from this time, not just because I look awful in them; road-weary, unwashed and pudgy, but because I don’t know how to regard this period of my life without a tinge of regret. I feel it most when the car is stuck in the driveway because the plow has deposited a wall of snow two feet tall at the end of it. Or when our Halloweens are snowed out or I’m driving to work at 30 mph in zero visibility and negative temps.  I think about how we could have stayed and lived in diverse area close to concert venues and cultural events and maybe even moved overseas. I used to picture myself scouring outdoor markets in Tokyo with a bilingual baby on my hip.

But we didn’t do any of that. We came back to the U.P., settled in, and started a family. Would my beautiful blue-eyed son have been part of our Arizona life? Who knows. There’s only now; what is, and the what might-have-been lies forever frozen in those photos. We had to go to know. Carl recounted a Tom Waits’ lyric: “I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west.” It was like that for us. But who’s to say if we’ll stay here, or move on again someday to another completely unfamiliar landscape? I guess it’s just good to know that if it doesn’t work out, you can always go home again

And home ain’t nuthin’ ta f’wit.

 

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