I Never Will Be Far Away

ice cream

I had a big agenda planned today, a day trip out of town and going to this event and another attraction nearby, and go go go. I bagged it all. The kid doesn’t need complicated. He wouldn’t probably love most of what I had planned anyway. And one of the things he would have loved, canoeing, is an impossibility as my shoulder is still fucked and rowing is just out of the question. When I stopped and thought about the plans for today, late last night while I was cooking, I realized none of this needed to happen, or should.

Instead, we got up a little late, I made us a simple breakfast of bacon, hash browns and fruit salad, extra on the coffee for me. His questions begin immediately upon wakening and are incessant. I don’t have answers for most of them. Who would win in animal vs. animal fights, who the better of two sports figures are, how to list cities, states, countries in descending order of population or size. He demands to know. Everything. It’s both wonderful and exhausting.

It was slightly overcast today, so I knew it would be a good day for the rec center pool because it can get super crowded there when it’s very hot and sunny. I packed a cooler with whatever we had on hand – some trail bologna, olives, I cubed up some cheese, sliced up a cucumber, grabbed the half bag of chips in the pantry and we were off. We made a run to Goodwill after breakfast, dropping stuff off and then going in and me buying a few things I need (I have great luck there). He clowns incessantly in stores. Crawling in the racks, of course, but inside the fitting room is a Lon Chaney man-of-a-thousand-faces scene of mugging, acrobatics and silliness that’s almost too much to be believed, while I squeeze into clothes and mutter about being fat and my son tells me I’m not fat. We hit the gas station for drinks and ice and then the pool, which was gloriously devoid of throngs of people. Just enough to have fun.

We played and played in the water, throwing foam water balls into the buckets that continuously fill and then trying to catch the ball as the bucket tipped over and spilled out the contents. Finally some other boys around his age came, and I made like I had to go to the bathroom so he could play with some peers instead of his old ma. We had our informal picnic at the side of the pool area where you’re allowed to have food. He picked at it, wasn’t that hungry, and it wasn’t much of a lunch anyway so I didn’t blame him.

He was in and out and in and out of the pool and pestered me about getting back in. I was terrible with the sunscreen after the initial application and the partly sunny day was deceiving and so he got a little red in the cheeks and shoulders. We came home and he begged for a snack and I gave him a substantial one, even though it was too late to do that. He read a book and I took a 20 minute cat nap (parenting a little kid solo at 48 is no easy feat) and then started prepping for dinner. Even though it took an hour, he didn’t eat much, because I gave him too much snack, but it was good anyway. The fresh tomatoes from a friend’s garden were like heaven, and the ribs I made for 6 hours last night didn’t disappoint.

We talked about going to the movies, but we didn’t go. He wanted to go to the playground, has been looking for his one friend there, but his friend hasn’t been there the past couple of weeks and nobody knows where he is. I cleaned up from dinner and packed a bag of stuff to do (for me, and for him) and we went over to the playground. His friend wasn’t there, and neither was the woman I made friends with the other night when we were there, so he listlessly played with a couple other kids that were there, while I wrote longhand in the notebook I brought. The kids got into an argument about the freshly patched holes in the road that runs next to the playground, one kid insisting it was coal and D telling them it was tar, and the next thing I knew he came over and his hands were all sticky with the stuff, which wouldn’t come off. He was upset and couldn’t clean them with water or by wiping on the grass. He wanted to play ball with the others, but his hands! I told him he could go home by himself and wash them and come right back.

Home is a long way from the playground. It isn’t like he doesn’t know the way, but it’s around the corner of a carport and then probably 500 feet at least to where our apartment is, so completely out of sight, and all in a busy parking lot with cars coming and going frequently. I let him walk that length alone last year (ONCE) but I followed him without him knowing I was doing it just to make sure he knew the way. But man, I am so paranoid. Not just about the cars, that pay no attention to the myriad kids in the lot, but just that thing that if something DID happen, then boom, done, bye bye custody. So I let him walk away and I tried to sit and wait but after a couple of minutes, I couldn’t wait any longer and I went after him.

I found him in the bathroom at home, unable to get the sticky stuff off his hands. I reminded him that sometimes sticky needs oil to let loose, and we went and got the olive oil container from next to the stove. That and some light scrubbing with the nail brush did the trick, and we went back to the playground.

Then he got hit in the eye with the ball (a baseball) by accident, his eyes already red and taxed from all the time at the pool. He cried a little and let me hug him and then we just sat there a few minutes. I was looking at his profile. His lips are getting a little fuller – he gets that from his Dad. Everyone says he looks like me, but he’s not done growing and changing yet. I could see a little tiny bit of Adam’s apple for the first time, and I thought, my god, he is changing before my eyes from a little boy to a young man, and I am just not ready. It almost panicked me. It’s going too fast.

He was tired, and bored, and irritated with the other kids, and I asked if he just wanted to go home and finish watching some of the Looney Tunes DVDs I got out of the library and he said yeah. On the way back, I asked if he wanted to divert to the gas station before we settled at home, to get an ice cream bar, and that was met with a resounding yes. So we went on down there, and I observed how pretty the wildflowers were on the hill we cross over to get to the road. He picked one and gave it to me. He so rarely has these tender, sweet expressions, and I was tickled to death.

We finished our ice cream bars before we even got home, then zoned out with some cartoons for a bit before I could see he was completely out of gas. I read a little bit to him, and promised I’d come get him later so he could come to my bed with me.

He was out almost before I hit the door.

Sometimes I Don’t Let Go

spaz

A large number of people I know are at the U2 concert tonight here in Cleveland. I’m sure they paid upwards of $100, $150, or even more for their tickets, and good for them and their good fortune in affording and obtaining those tickets.

I for one am quite glad to not be there.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like U2, though I’m one of those annoying purists who prefers their early work, pre-Joshua Tree. Some of the stuff after was really good, but the albums for me weren’t wholly listenable works of art, put together for solid blocks of time to devote to the production they’d created, while poring over the sleeve and talking about Bono’s real name or whether Edge really had any hair or not. I saw U2 for free in 1983 I guess it was, maybe 84? The Unforgettable Fire tour, at the Cleveland Music Hall. I had gone to see my sister in college while I was still in high school, and a few groups of her friends and I piled into cars and we all went to the show together. I was dating Nick at the time, and I was sick as a dog with a bad fever and flu, but was determined to go as I thought this might be my only chance to see them (it was). I spent part of the concert in the bathroom where the linoleum and toilets were so nice and cold, and the rest in my seat in both misery and wonder, delirious from dehydration and fever, loving the music, and feeling bewildered because everyone was dancing in the aisles and moving to different sections and I was just kind of barely able to make it back to my seat each time I left it. But I went. Nick spent most of the concert elsewhere, absorbed in the music, and I just kind of existed, but I got the t-shirt and all. Long gone now. Some bitch I went to school with stole my U2 cassette too, so I didn’t even have that afterwards, either.

Instead, today we did entirely too much of everything, and lived to excess, and it was exhausting and wonderful. I woke up very early, as I have not been sleeping well while I await an official interpretation of my chest x-ray results, and was up at 6. I finally gave up and got up, and headed out for a run. I was supposed to run a 5K this morning, but one of the beneficiaries of the registration fees is an organization I don’t support, so I decided to keep my money and just go run my own 5K. I ran a little bit more than that, though I had to stop and walk a couple of times. Even though it was early, it was so damned HEAVY out and really hot already, it was like inhaling cream soup. I don’t sweat a lot, even when I run, but this morning when  I came back inside it was like my whole body was streaming sweat out of every pore, and I took an ice cold shower and it was amazing. Almost better than sex, that running high, the extreme heat and then the extreme cold. Alive.

I picked up the kid and we went straight to a play date at an inflatables place with his best friend, a date more than two months in the planning. I actually had a really good talk with the mom, and we were able to just sit and talk while the kids spazzed and spazzed and used every bit of their energy running this way and that, jumping, racing, shooting baskets and laughing. They were both red-faced and starting to get cross after 90 minutes so we called for an end and went to lunch at a chain restaurant. I had a coupon the mom could use and a gift card for me, and sometimes, that takes precedence over local. She had a groupon for the inflatables place, so it was only fair. We like bargains. So the whole thing cost both of us almost nothing and we made plans to get them together again “soon,” which in busy mom language is, “we’ll be lucky if we see you again before school starts, but it was fun.”

Then I took the kid to Goodwill as I’ve been looking for some drinking glasses since mine have all broken, and I spied a much-needed blender while there. I plugged it in and it worked so hopefully it’s not a leaky son of a bitch like the one I have now, which is unusable and yet I still keep it for some reason. Like each time I use it, I think if I can just get the parts together just right and be brief enough in my use, it won’t leak. But it was used when I got it and has never behaved well, and now it’s just an asshole. So, I got the glasses, and a blender, and a CLOCK RADIO, which you apparently cannot buy in stores anywhere anymore, and mine at home is not working anymore, you can’t use the buttons to change anything so it’s fairly worthless. And a couple of nice glass mixing bowls, which I really need as my only mixing bowls recently broke. Yes, I am clumsy and I break things a lot. It was a good score at the Goodwill.

I came home and washed everything and then we watched some Looney Tunes videos and then I said I had to start cooking dinner. In addition to dinner, I made a GIANT thing of pasta salad for a picnic we’re having on Tuesday, and it took a lot of work but was so worth it. I made us steak and rice and broccoli. Well, the kid ate that. I ate his leftover steak and a few bites of rice out of the pan but that was it. This stress thing is really awesome for losing weight, by the way, I’ve lost five pounds in the past week!

I did make us root beer floats for dessert – I said there would be ice cream, didn’t I? He’s never had one, and I love them but rarely to never indulge in something so sweet and caloric. I had bought these huge ass plastic tumblers at Goodwill as well as drinking glasses, and they were perfect for our floats, and I found a couple of straws lying around too. He took one sip and said, “Oh. Mom. How have we not had these before?” Damn I love my epicure kid, he gets just as excited about food and drink as I do. I made him laugh so hard when we were drinking them that he fell on the floor laughing, and was rolling around, literally ROTFL. We both left just about 20% of root beer in our glass, because we didn’t need to finish the whole thing. Hara hachi bu.

A friend came over and helped me right my frustrating electronics setup, with umpteen devices and cabling out the wazoo that had gotten me to the point I was frustrated and done trying. I just want to watch the goddamned movies I get out of the library for free, you know? And now I can, once again.

After I FINALLY got the kitchen all cleaned up, which was no easy feat, son insisted on cashing in on the promise I made that we would go to the pool today, even if it was late. So, against my better judgment and personal desire, we schlepped up there at 8 o’clock, which is supposed to be his bedtime. But it’s summer.

I finally got him out of there at 8:45. The old, crochety asshole who was working at the pool today was stupid rude to us, drunk with the tiny bit of power he has, like he is working at the fucking Mint or something. As we were leaving, I pointed out that the man was much older than us, appeared to not be in the best of health, and probably was bitter because he maybe didn’t have anyone at home and all he had was this job to throw his weight around and feel important, but it was too bad he had to be mean to little kids for no good reason. “Yeah,” my son said. “Maybe I hope he drops dead soon.” I stopped immediately and talked to him about karma. I said we mustn’t wish for these things actively, it is just bad luck and mean and while we might think bad things, to actively wish for them is tempting fate in a bad way. “How?” he said, climbing up on a giant rock in the tree lawn. “Well,” I said, “The things you wish could come back and happen to you, perhaps even in a bigger way than you imagined. It’s just not good to think these things. You can say to yourself, well, if I were to come back to the pool tomorrow and learn he was no longer here, for whatever reason, I would not be sad, but to actively wish for it, just don’t do that.” “Humph!” he snorted, “I don’t believe in karma!”

Then he fell off the rock.

So that was that lesson. He’s fine, but he was pretty spooked. I just smiled.

He spazzed all the way home. I don’t know where it all comes from, the endless well of energy that springs forth from him from the moment he wakes to the moment he finally gives up and gives in and lets sleep take over. I love watching him move. I’m sure I had it when I was his age, but like old concerts, the memories are just fuzzy from those days.

I’m just glad to be here with this kid. Every day I get with him is a gift, even when it’s hard. My shoulder is aching. My leg muscles are sore. And per his request, soon I will go and gather his sleepy bones and wake him to bring him to bed with me, so we can dream together. He will not always want that, and so while he does, he shall have it.

Stealing Down A Wrong Way Street

uphill

I am having a glass of bourbon and crying, both from my good fortune and ill fortune, all wrapped up in one terrible day, part of a very bad week that I look forward to putting behind me. If that is somehow possible.

It’s been a hard week. Kind of a hard few weeks. I’ve had some close friendships and relationships come to an end in the last few weeks, and things have been very hectic and difficult at my day job. My shoulder injury, which drove me to the hospital in March as I thought it might actually be something wrong with my heart, has not gotten better and so I recently started physical therapy for it, and for my ankle, which continues to be weak and loose, with the super-stretched ligament that may never return to normal. So I am trying to get stronger, everywhere, but particularly in the ankle and this shoulder. But the shoulder has not been cooperating, and last week was so bad I couldn’t do my PT stuff. I went for a steriod injection this week, and the doc said we should really have an x-ray to make sure nothing is super fucked up (well, he didn’t say that exactly, but something like that). He squeezed me in, even though I didn’t have an appointment, because he loves me.

In the course of getting the shoulder x-ray, completely incidentally, they imaged part of my left lung.

There is much that remains unknown, but what was seen wasn’t normal and since I didn’t spend my childhood working on a maritime vessel filled with asbestos, we will have to get more films and some tests to learn more. At this time, not much is known. It could be “bad, but not doing anything,” “bad, and at some point in the probably not-so-distant-future, likely much, much worse” or “really, really bad.” Until I know more, I don’t know more, and so here I sit prior to a long holiday weekend, when getting appointments anywhere is probably really unlikely, and I will just have to try to be patient (HA) and keep busy (well, maybe), and distract myself (BOURBON!) in the interim.

I went outside in the insanely intense pop-up summer shower we had a bit ago, and sat in the rain and let it wash all over me on my lounge chair, while I drank my cold bourbon with one ice cube, rain dripping into my glass. What’s a little acid rain when you could be on your way to lung cancer, right? Or not. I guess we’ll find out.

The rain soon stopped and I came in and changed my clothes. I have been happily inundated with support since I told my friends about this whatever, even without a lot of details. Damn if people don’t love my fucked up ass, and I have no idea why. I had offers to come stay overnight at people’s houses, offers of people who said they’d come by right away for a visit (I am a serious wreck and I smell because I went for a lunchtime run – now overexamining why and how it was so hard to run and always is), promises of drinks soon, plans made to meet, and a couple of really good fucking soldiers who have even offered to come with me during whatever tests I yet need to have done.

I have nobody to come to tests with me. So this means a lot.

I’m a testing, surgery, and hospital veteran, but this is a part of the body that doesn’t usually give me issues so the offers are appreciated and those tickets will be punched. It’s both sad and wonderful to think of people taking time away from their own families or jobs to come be with me when I need someone. I am so fortunate, so lucky. And yet wish I didn’t need them. But I do, and they will not let me slip under the riptide.

And then I just have to deal with whatever, because that’s what you do.

It will be a busy, long holiday weekend and my son doesn’t need to know of my concerns. He was indeed found to have some diminished hearing on one side at his annual checkup today, so it isn’t just that he wasn’t listening, and I knew it, since I have hearing problems myself and could tell, by how he was saying what he thought I said and how angry he was that he doesn’t hear me sometimes. I don’t understand and can’t fathom what or why this is, but I will find out and then me and his Dad will figure out how to deal with it. My poor kid.

And so I cry. For my good fortune, and ill fortune. For my wonderful, wonderful friends and support system, and for how unfair life is, and how fucked up. For the loss of my friends who are gone and the support of my friends who remain, and who lift me up.

I ran just shy of four miles at lunch today. It was incredibly hot out and it was a really difficult run and I had to walk a bit. I keep using this fucking body, even though it is deficient and broken and problematic. It is to be used. It is not to sit idle, until it is forced to do so.

But there is no time for tears right now. We have cookouts and picnics to attend this weekend, and there are day trips and festivals, and probably the pool, and certainly lots of ice cream, as it will be very hot.

That’s when ice cream tastes the best.

.

 

I’m A-goin’ Back Out ‘Fore The Rain Starts A-fallin’

My son was afflicted last night. “Sick” wouldn’t quite be the proper term. He read a book before bed that somehow got turned around in his little head into something sinister and scary and he couldn’t shake it. He came out twice after I put him to bed, the second time, crying, and I thought maybe he was really getting sick-sick, it’s so unusual for him. He slept like the worst kind of shit when he was an infant and toddler but since he’s become an older boy, his sleep has always been amazing, so this was unusual.

His tears are so rare now. “They were coming and everything was wrong!” he said, in his half-asleep, monsters-under-the-bed voice. “The book was scary!” I hugged and kissed him and told him I too had experienced many disturbed sleep nights because of a book, that it’s the mark of a good reader, and that I am here, your things are here, everything is fine and normal and safe and all is well.

He insisted on sleeping in my bed, and I got him set up in there. Then he called out again and again every 10 minutes or so, half-asleep, until I came in.

It was a fitful and horrible night. He muttered in his sleep. He was so hot I actually turned on the A/C, which I rarely do. Sweaty little bones, taking up 75% of the bed and leaving me with just a sliver on the left-hand side. He talked in his sleep, muttering and shaking. I took his temperature. It was normal.

It was just a really fucking bad night. And who hasn’t had those?

I called off work and called him out of camp, and we spent the day together, low-key. There was breakfast of bacon and fruit and cereal and toast, a MARATHON first game of adult Monopoly, complete with crying, crumpling of money, excessive gloating and insane strategy. There was laughter and dancing and lunch outside on the patio, where an ant got into my mac and cheese and the squirrel came up to see if anything extra was around. There was lounging and reading and light napping. I did some work for my day job that couldn’t wait, and hoped it was ok.

This evening, we went to the playground, his reward for winning the Monopoly game (kid has a future in banking or real estate, for sure). But no kids were there. Nobody. He couldn’t understand where all the kids were. A couple of girls, eventually, but no one else, and he won’t play with girls. Our complex is 99% Indian and I suggested to him that perhaps it was because Ramadan isn’t over yet, and everyone was staying inside until they could eat, and that took precedence over playground time. He was angry and didn’t understand and we tried to talk about it a little, but I am not a religious scholar and I don’t even know if that’s why.  We played catch for a long time. We did some balance contests. I pushed him on the swing, then threw the ball to him while he was swinging as an added challenge. We laughed a lot and didn’t think about bills or how our clothes fit or whether or not the president is a lunatic, leading us into war.

I heard the rain bird and we talked about it. “MOM. IT’S SUNNY AND BEAUTIFUL AND HOT AND NICE AND I DON’T SEE THE BACKS OF THE LEAVES. I DON’T SMELL ANY RAIN AND THAT’S WRONG. IT’S NOT GOING TO RAIN.”

By the time we came home, he went out on the patio to clean his shoes, which were full of dirt and boy garbage, and he came back in and said, “Mom, it’s going to rain.” We challenged each other as to who is more crazy. He ripped off his shirt, I ripped off mine. He made to go outside, I made like I would follow him. He took off his shorts, I took off mine. He put a foot on the patio, and I acquiesced. He won. Just like earlier. The kid is better than me. This is how it’s supposed to be.

We checked the lottery numbers. We talked about what we would buy. A cat was one of the top things. A new car was another. Then there was a real house.

I brushed his teeth, read three chapters of a new book to him, and tucked him in. He will sleep well tonight.

And it did, just now. I went outside when I heard it and raised my arms up and let it wash all over me. It smelled so fucking good.

 

Not Stoned, But Beautiful

A couple of weeks ago, around the Tony awards broadcast, lots of people started changing their Facebook profiles to have a frame around them that said, “Theatre inspires.” I did not change my profile. I don’t watch the Tony’s, and I don’t follow the world of Broadway all that closely – I’ve never actually seen a play on Broadway in my life, though I have seen some touring productions of select shows.

I got my degree in theater. All I could think that I wanted to be when it was demanded that I choose a profession in high school, when I didn’t even know who I was, was an actor. I never wanted a career in live theater. I’d been reading about the stage and screen since I was a little girl, and my mom was a frustrated chorus girl who never got beyond high school musicals because she never had any money or any opportunity to pursue her dreams, so she gave me the education she had to pass on, showing me all the great black and white movies. Cagney. Brando. Bogart. Boyer. I’m quite certain I saw Manchurian Candidate and A Face in the Crowd, both newly popular again due to their relevance in our time, before pretty much all of my friends. But theater was the path to a film acting career so I knew I had to start down the road that way.

There were no acting opportunities in my small town. There was a tiny community theater, but my experiences with it were not good. There was one play a year in high school, but you had to be a senior to be in it. And so I was, when I was a senior, and in the female lead role.

After I got my degree from Kent State, I moved to Cleveland to flesh out my resume with non-college roles before departing for New York or LA, where I’d try to break into film. I did some local films, but a lot more theater than film.

Cleveland has a way of sticking to you, getting under your skin and into your heart. When I left, it was for a relationship, not for acting, and when I was in LA, I was shocked at how my actor friends lived and worked. Many scraped by in terrible apartments in dangerous neighborhoods with multiple roommates. There had been a shooting on the floor of one friend’s apartment the day I met her, and someone had jumped a balcony naked and died across the street the week before. All the “acting” they were doing consisted of taking endless classes and expensive workshops, getting new headshots and waiting by their pagers in hopes of a callback for a nonspeaking role in an orange juice commercial, or to be able to walk through the background of a yogurt commercial. Nobody was really doing any acting. I did much more acting the years I was in Cleveland – big, meaty, wonderful roles I could sink my teeth and heart into. When I came home, it was not only to flee from a bad relationship but from a place that looked pretty but for me, housed a lot of fakery and broken dreams that made it tragic and sad more so than a place where dreams are made.

I got older and had a child and that pretty much ended acting for me, which is fine. My son is my priority and my stage fright is worse than it used to be anyway. I don’t know if my crooked back could take the long hours spent rehearsing and performing in a full-length show anymore. I keep my hand in with benefit performances, the occasional workshop, and other one-offs, but my days as a performer are likely largely behind me, and that’s ok. I’m fortunate to be in a city where I get to see other people doing such wonderful work – writing wonderful plays, directing amazing productions, and the acting is as good as any you’ll find elsewhere in a lot of cases.

Last night was such a night, as I went to see a production at Dobama that an old friend wrote and another old friend is starring in. These days, most people in theater in Cleveland are old friends of mine, and that feels good. It was a one-man show and it was immediately clear how my old friend maintains memberships in both Equity and SAG-AFTRA, as he could play just about any role. That he chose to play the pants off the role in the show I saw last night, “How To Be A Respectable Junkie,” is a gift to every person in attendance, as it was a tour de force. I left the theater in tears, shaken by what I had seen, and happily so.

Theater does inspire. It made me want to write more for the theater than I have done recently. But it also transforms. I checked out of life and completely in to that black box stage for 90 minutes. My problems and worries were put aside as I invested in the show in front of me. When I left, I was so affected by what I had seen, I rolled down the windows of my car and drove home in silence, the only noise being the wind whipping through the car. It roared and I took it all in, as I crested Cedar Hill and saw the last rosy bits of sunset playing in the distance over Key Tower, the clouds billowing up behind the cityscape like indigo-colored mountains coming out of a fire. I was so grateful to be where I was, to have the chance to see things like what I had just seen, so aware of the gifts I had in my life. The hearing aids I wore to enable me to hear the show, a collective gift from friends via crowdfunding. My glasses, that enabled me to see the show clearly, the benefit of having good insurance that made them affordable. The job I have, which enabled me to purchase the car I drove in, problematic though it may be. The life I have lived here, which led me to instantly connect with recognized friends who I sat with to enjoy the show experience. My mental faculties, which enabled me to attend a theater production. So much luck, so many gifts.

It was an incredible evening and the drive home was the perfect nightcap. How lucky I am to live in such a great city with such incredible people.

The Same In The Rain or Sun

My one and only sister’s birthday is today. In a few hours, technically. She lives in another state, so, like most birthdays, hers and mine, we cannot celebrate together. We celebrated every birthday together growing up. But as adults, we’ve crossed more year milestones apart than together now, which is honestly very tough. She’s four years older than me.

The advent of the internet and electronic communications has been helpful. We sent a lot of letters early on, when she moved to Cleveland and I was still in college at Kent. Then I moved to Cleveland and she left for Chicago with her then-spouse, whose research took him to specific labs in specific places that were not Cleveland. We’d drive the 6 hours to meet each other occasionally, but the separation grew because of the distance. Then they had to move to Wisconsin, where she’s lived for a long time now. The marriage ended some time ago, their kid is grown and in college. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s where she is. Now, we have email, text messages, emojis. It’s instant and good. It’s not as good as us being together, but it’s better than nothing.

My mom and her sister, our aunt were always so close, and still are. They never lived more than 15 or 20 minutes apart in the small towns around where we grew up. My aunt was our closest relative, her kids – our cousins, were our tightest, closest bunch. We went to my aunt’s when our utilities got shut off because mom couldn’t pay the bills from time to time. I remember once in winter when the water got shut off because my dad, who had recently moved out, had agreed to pay for an expensive pipe fix in our yard and then didn’t pay. The contractors left the yard all dug up and frozen in the middle of winter, refusing to continue work without payment. Mom was a short order cook at the L&K at that time, making about $7,000 a year and trying to support both of us. She couldn’t pay them. So off we went.

My sister was always my closest confidante. She taught me everything. She showed me how to slow dance with a boy, in advance of the select overnight dances at summer camp, where she knew I would be asked to dance. She made fun of me endlessly to make me shape up and behave and act like a real person and not a jungle animal. She teased me about everything, as an impetus to making me a better person. A lot of people don’t understand that kind of tough love, but it’s greatly motivating and she only did it because she cared and didn’t want me to look like a moron.

As much as she teased, however, she was the only one allowed to do so. When we were both in the same elementary school, I waited for her on the playground after school as I had been taught, with my cloth book bag with the little gingham embroidered kitties on it that my mom had made at home on her sewing machine; waited for her to come and collect me so we could take the path back home together, the way which I didn’t know. She was older and knew the way. Kids arrived on the playground and were picking on me, making fun of me and pulling at my bag. I was crying and didn’t know what to do. Then, like a superhero movie, my sister was there in a flash, with her giant, plastic book bag with the colored flowers on it, swinging it like Ben in the Graduate with the cross, beating them away from me. “Get away from my SISTER!” she said, and they did, terrified at her outburst. She calmly collected me and we went on home.

She did this again when we were at camp and my cabin got attacked by a hornet’s nest one of the girls stepped on. We were helped up the big hill by other campers and counselors so we could be taken to the local hospital. I remember I had 13 stingers in one foot alone, and being lowered gently into the front seat of someone’s car (it was the 70s, there were no car seats). I was 8 or 9, about the age my son is now. She pushed by people, shoving and yelling so she could get up where I was in the seat. She gave me a kiss and a hug and told me everything would be ok and she would see me in a bit, and she was right, everything was.

When we went on vacation every year to Leamington, Ontario, my sister and I would wake up early, sneak out of the motel room and sit in front of the door, propping it open with a shoe. We’d play jacks or cards or read books, the sun beaming down and us waiting for the sounds of our parents finally stirring. She always looked after me.

She told me about boys, about shaving my legs. She always made fun of my long, “stringy” hair, but I often heard her telling other people how pretty I was, how proud of me she was.

When she went to college and I was still in high school, she’d mail me magazines. We used to always look at the fashion mags – Glamour, Vogue, Cosmo, and we’d mark them up with little mustaches or write signs on them with conversation balloons about what we thought the models should be saying. She’d point out horrible fashion spreads and write notes in the margins about how dumb everyone looked. We used to do this together, and she kept it up by sending these to me when she was away.

When I was in the school play as a senior and had the lead role, some mean girls came to the show and were shaking their candy boxes whenever I had a line to try to make me unable to be heard. People were like that to me, a lot. My mom, dad and sister were all sitting together in the audience and it was quickly clear what the girls were doing. My mom turned around and suggested she would break their arms if they continued rattling the candy boxes whenever I talked. Then they were whispering. “Did you hear what she said? OMG.” etc, which was also disruptive. My sister finally turned around and snapped at the talker, “Put a lid on it, leather cunt.” They were shocked into silence for the rest of the show.

She came all the way from Wisconsin to see me in the one and only musical I did, back in 2000. It was a big show and sold out, and she yelled as loud as anyone during curtain call. She told me I was too thin afterwards. Always looking out for me. Man, I wish that was a problem I still had.

She has always been my biggest champion, my biggest defender, and my harshest critic. There is nobody up there to make her a cake, and we can’t gather around and sing Happy Birthday while she blows out the candles, and then go roller skating in the basement. We can’t go out to Lake Erie and play on the big logs with a boy we don’t know who we named “Sir” when he wouldn’t tell us his name, me in my red bathing suit with the white piping and her in the blue with white piping. She is far away, but she is always with me.

I will always be lucky she is my sister. Because there is none more perfect for me and my fucked up self than she is.

Cheers.

While I Breathe, I Hope

boy on beach

I made good on my promise to my son last week, and we vacationed in Myrtle Beach. Getting back into the normal life and work routine here, it’s almost surreal to think that I was even there, and yet still so close in my memories that all I have to do is close my eyes and I can taste the salty ocean water and feel the hot sand under my feet.

Most of all, I feel accomplished. I am not the world’s most frequent traveler, so when I successfully go some place and return relatively unscathed, it’s an accomplishment. And, generally speaking, we were relatively unscathed. A little sunburned, certainly fatigued from sleeping in unfamiliar places, but we went, we saw, and we conquered. My car made it, nobody got majorly hurt or sick, the rental unit was as described, and my credit card worked everywhere – win.

My son has always loved the beach but those visits have been limited to creeks, ponds, and both sides of Lake Erie’s shores, both here in Ohio and in Canada. The ocean is just a completely different ballgame and to say he loved it would be an understatement. He would have been happy if all we did was eat and go to the beach, and then go to the pool at the condo complex at night. For as much as he hates swimming lessons, which he has been in literally for years and still cannot swim, this boy loves the water. But we did do other things. There was miniature golf, there were touristy shops, some overpriced but fun tourist attractions, and a shitload of candy, way more than I ever let him consume at home.

Yes, he ate his Froot Loops every day. He demanded them as soon as he opened his eyes.

It’s raining here in Cleveland, and unseasonably cold today, in the mid-50s. It’s a rough re-entry. The kid is at his dad’s and reportedly has a cold, no big surprise.

I was so glad to get home, though. Dorothy’s lesson is always learned whenever I travel. I cozied up to my pizza and Game of Thrones last night and enjoyed the silence.

It’s back to the grind. There are bills to pay, trash to take out, doctor’s appointments to schedule. I went back to physical therapy today and am considering mainlining my coffee as it doesn’t seem to be working.

But I miss the ocean, and the chunky feel of my extremely wavy hair when it’s beach-dried and sandy and not flat-ironed smooth. I even wore a bikini top, my first time ever because I’ve always been so self-conscious about my body’s scars that I’ve never owned one. It didn’t look that bad, even though my middle aged fatness is not ideal. I may go for the bottoms later this summer if I can find anything that doesn’t look atrocious.

The beach is a great equalizer. There were people of all sizes, shapes and colors there, every perceived socio-economic class. You can have expensive, fancy beach chairs and pricey sunglasses, or come with nothing but a dog-eared towel and flip flops.

Everyone looks for sea shells.