Thursday, October 12, 2017

Now I am 48. Also, I have a plan.

48 in my boots!
Usually I write a post on my birthday. I consider the events of the year leading up to it, and I treat it as my own personal New Year's Day.

This year, in August, I turned 48. I find it hard to believe, honestly, although I don't know why. Seriously.

When I'm with my high school friends, I forget we are no longer 16 or 17. Really. Here we are, some of us with kids in college, or "collegers" as my kids call them. And still, we're all teens to me. In the best possible way.

And this is how much we laugh. I don't laugh like this in my normal life. I end the weekends exhausted and fragile and wanting more, just a little more. I have never tried cocaine but maybe this is what it's like?
When you laugh so hard you fall off your chair
(I love this photo, desperately leaning against my dear friend Wendy's leg for support.)

I'm a better parent than I would've been in my 20s and 30s. I'm happier than I was at those ages.

But left to my own devices, sometimes I totally forget that I've lived this long.

I mean, when I was a kid in Bangladesh, we'd have to schedule a call on our enormous, chunky black dial telephone to my grandmother in North Dakota. We'd get a call back from the operator without warning. It could be 3:00AM.

My parents would rush to wake me up so I could shout over the terrible, crackly international line, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH GRAMMA LILLIAN! THANK YOU FOR THE BABY DOLL AND THE MARSHMALLOWS!

The first time she visited us in Dhaka, I had worms. You don't get worms in Minot, North Dakota. She rolled with all of it.
In a bicycle rickshaw
My grandmother regularly sent us packages, and she used to pad all them with marshmallows instead of Styrofoam. We had an endless and magical supply of marshmallows.

For a long time I thought everyone packed with marshmallows.

But can you even imagine using a heavy black plastic rotary phone now? Scheduling a call? Relying on the operator?

What I'm saying is: I've lived a while.

How I feel at this age is not upsetting. Here's what's throwing me for a loop: the OH MY HELL I'M ALMOST 50!

I'm firmly a middle aged woman.

Though I feel fine, though I have smart, beautiful, cool, similarly-midddle-aged friends, and friends who are older that I love and admire, I feel like aging is rough for women in today's society. The term "middle aged woman" does not conjure up positive images.

I believe it's easier to be an aging man. Let me fix that sentence. I believe it's easier to be an aging man.

I also think I wouldn't be in this crisis if the world didn't feel so calamitous. My baseline anxiety and agitation is very high. Add a dollop of anything, and I am easily pushed over the top.

So.

On my birthday, I didn't take my "today I am this old" picture. The picture above is my "I am 48" picture.

I had Nick capture me in this outfit because I love everything about it. It was the first time I ever wore cowgirl boots with a dress. I love the look!

I'd been waiting until it was cold to wear my boots with jeans, but no longer! If I do this, I can wear them way more often! I'm trying to come up with other outfits for my boots. If I lived in Texas I'd have so many pairs.

I strongly suspect that a second pair of cowgirl boots would improve my life immeasurably.

Anyway, I didn't write a post, not because I was freaking out, but because we were just so busy. So I'm doing it now.

This year, I fell down on Jordan's, Betty's, and my birthday posts. I may write them and post in the coming month, for posterity.

On my birthday, I'd just driven the kids and my mom to and from Toronto in one week (yes, I did! I have an upcoming post and pictures, because it was amazing). We did many things, but sleep was not so much among them. I returned exhausted and with a sinus infection.

And the day before my birthday, we went to a memorial service for Australian Builder, our friend Kim, who passed away August 1. (You know him. He's in so many of my house construction stories over the last eight years.)

Kim's memorial service, which was really a big party at an American Legion hall, was where my children learned the drinking song they stayed up at night singing in this post.

When you went to the bar to order, the bartender said, "The first one is on Kim." I cried and drank a lot of beer. This didn't help my sinuses.

The following week, Betty went into the hospital for blood transfusions. The next day, on Jordan's birthday, Nick drove the kids up to camp while I tried to figure out care for Betty so I could join them.

Betty was back in the hospital for the third time. She got out on her birthday.

What I'm saying is, we had a hell of an August and September.

But now it's October, and I have something I want to put out in the universe.

I've been walloped by the number 48 and its proximity to 50, and my reaction is pissing me off.

I mean, at 25 I had a quarter-life freakout. And after 35 I was fretting about whether or not I'd ever get married and start a family. But a lot of that was driven by internet dating, and men whose age cutoffs were 35. There were men who mentioned that I would walk to get serious fast because, basically, I was running out of time. There was the guy who flat out asked me what was wrong with me.

Internet dating for me at ages 37 and 38 was fraught with little traumas. And then I met Nick, who just plain felt lucky that I was single.

So I wasn't so much upset about my age as my situation.

This fret is the number. And the fact that I'm bugged really annoys me. Am I that shallow? (Maybe.)

I feel like, oh, stop it! Celebrate the age you are, because you're lucky to alive and surrounded by loved ones. Appreciate what you have.

So this is what I've decided, and I'm putting it out into the universe for help making it happen.

In two years, I will turn 50, god willing. I am going to celebrate that birthday big.

I'm going back to India, to New Delhi, where I was born, half a century prior.

I started saving for the trip last month, when I decided, because it's a huge endeavor. Planning, which I am admittedly mediocre at, will come later.

My habit has always been read the guidebook on the plane, or maybe when I'm there, wherever there is. Or just look things up as I go. But in this case, traveling alone and with limited time, I will plan ahead. I have two years, after all.

If my family can manage without me for two weeks, that's how long I'll go for. It's such an expensive and long journey, and you have such jet lag when you arrive, that less than two weeks seems pointless.

Now that I have this plan, which at this point is no more detailed than what I've told you, I'm excited! It's something huge to look forward to.

I haven't been back in 22 years. I know Delhi has completely changed. There are fancy malls and a metro! Palika Bazaar, which used to be this claustrophobic underground warren of cigarette-smoke filled shops now looks all swank!

I was born in New Delhi, in Holy Family Hospital. After that we lived in Bangladesh, then Egypt, then Virginia for four years, and then Delhi again for my high school. All of those places were home, and none of them were.

My parents' house in Virginia was the longest stretch of home I ever had. But it wasn't where I was from, and it was only home in the sense that my parents lived there. I have zero emotional connection to it.

Third culture kids, I believe, can relate.

When we left Delhi, I lost touch with most of my friends. I was a terrible correspondent back in the mail-a-letter days. In college, I wanted to go back to Delhi, to go "home"--but by then, my parents had moved to Virginia.

Now I've put down roots in DC. We have this terrific house that we've poured all of our everything into. I love our house, and even more, I love that our kids have a fixed place they know is home.

And still, I could walk away tomorrow if we had to.

After high school, Delhi was never home again. But in a small piece of my heart, it will always be.

As the country of my birth, and a country in which I spent some of the best, most important years of my life, India is both foreign to and such a part of me.
Our house in Defense Colony
When I was small, and people asked me where I was from, I'd say, "India." And they'd say, "You don't look Indian."

 This was always true, no matter how much coconut oil I put in my jute-colored hair.

I learned Hindi and English at the same time, and to my ayah's voiced horror and dismay, my mom let me play with the street kids on the maidan, so I had a filthy mouth at age three. I wasn't allowed to go barefoot because, hookworm! But I could run around saying mother f***er in Hindi like nobody's business.

I will be an absolutely tourist. I barely remember any Hindi. In fact, there's a lot I don't remember.

But sometimes I step outside and catch a particular scent, and it is Delhi, or Kashmir. The smell of jet fuel brings pangs of longing for childhood.

I may have weird Proustian triggers, but I know I'm not alone.

And for my 50th, I'm going home.

Monday, October 09, 2017

A virtual stop on the metaphysical train

Last week I had a remote energy healing session with my friend Alexa.

I wrote about her in this post, which I worried would be too woo woo, and maybe it was for some, but not for everyone. At that point, Alexa hadn't yet officially opened her practice, and was mainly treating friends, family, and friends of friends.

But now I'm naming and linking her because she sees clients in a space in Friendship Heights, as well as in her home. But she also treats people remotely.

Meaning, you don't have to leave your house. Ha!

This is what we did: She called and asked what I wanted her to work on. I said I'd like help with my mood. Because since the election, I walk around so angry. My anger comes up to my throat on too many days.

And lately, with our government's response to Puerto Rico, with Las Vegas and no gun control, I feel enraged. Powerless. And sad. I have this huge, heavy sadness.

These were the things, I said, that I would like help with.

Alexa briefly walked me through what she was going to do. She said, "Honestly, you can be doing anything. If you want to focus on how you're feeling, I suggest taking a couple deep breaths and sitting calmly. But you could be asleep. It doesn't matter. It still works."

Now, that day we were supposed to get our lead pipes replaced. Because as it turns out, the pipes from the main in the middle of the street all the way into our house are made of lead.

Starting at 7:00 am, there were whole lot of construction guys outside. As Alexa and I spoke, I was waiting for the contractor to ring the bell so I could let him into the basement.

Alexa said, "If you can, just relax. Now, while you're doing that, what I do, is I go into a mental laboratory. And I talk to you about what's going on."

I remembered the construction. So I said, "OK, but what if one those people outside rings the bell and wants to come in?"

There was a pause.

She said, very gently, "Which...people outside, Lisa?"

Right.

When Alexa explained how she works, I pictured Eleven in Stranger Things, if you've seen it. (If not, oh my gosh, watch it!) When she's supposed to spy on the Russians, she's virtually in this dark empty space with a white floor, watching and hearing them speak.

So I figure Alexa was with me, and interacting with me, but on a different plane.

Oh, and did I tell you that I wore a tinfoil hat during the session? (I AM KIDDING, PEOPLE.)

So I sat relatively still for about half an hour, relaxing and drinking my coffee and my smoothie. I had my feet up, and when they started to tingle, I put them down. Buzzing, really, is a better word for it. They kept buzzing. Then the back of my ankles and calves got warm.

This was as much of the physical as I was aware of.

At some point I went to the bathroom, and then I was all, "Is Alexa going to know?" I then reminded myself this wasn't like a spy camera.

Afterwards, she called me to tell me what she'd seen. (And no, she had no idea I'd been in the bathroom.)

First she told me about the card she'd chosen for me. She chooses a card from a deck before the session, to set intentions. Last time, in person, she'd put my card aside to show me after. The deck is similar to Tarot.

My card was El Morya, with text,"As a sensitive person, you have absorbed some harsh and toxic energy from other people. This card asks you to stop and call on El Morya and Archangel Michael to clear yourself..."

I do this! I know I do this. I am an energy sponge. I take on your anger, your anguish, your agitation. Sometimes I wind up exhausted by all of it.

Alexa gave me a lot of personal information in her explanation of the session.

One of the most interesting things was that she asked if my dad had been in the CIA. I said no. For a while we wondered, but ultimately determined that he wasn't a spy.

And she said that she saw him with dark cloud over him. She got the sense that he'd done some things he considered unforgivable, things he could never move past.

I know this to be true.

My Dad was in Vietnam during the war, setting up hospitals with USAID. He never recovered from whatever happened there. I don't know what happened, but I know he lost friends, and that he lived with an immense and haunting weight.

I now suspect he had undiagnosed and untreated PTSD.

After the session, I told my mom what Alexa said, and asked if she knew what happened with Dad. She looked crushed, and said she knew some of it, and couldn't tell me. It's too terrible, she said, to pass on.

So.

Alexa said, "You took in some of that darkness to help him, to make him happier. But it's weighed you down." She got me to release this burden. The visual she gave was me vomiting up a whole bunch of twisty, viscous darkness.

This was one example.

She kept telling me things that resonated. Things I know, but don't talk about. Not because I'm trying to hide them, but because I don't think about them.

She told me what she observed, and how she guided me to (virtually) physically let go.

I look at it kind of like talk therapy, where your therapist identifies problems and asks you the right questions or talks you through issues, and you start to see things in a different way.

Except in this case, I see it as Alexa doing the work, or getting me to do the work, but without hours of therapy.

I've been trying to figure out how I feel different, and the best way I can describe it is lighter. When I saw her the first time, I was sick, and my head congestion cleared. That's an easy, tangible result.

This really is more like therapy, where eventually whatever was hurting hurts less and less. Something within you shifts, and you heal. Anyway, that's what I think.

When Nick asked what I was doing that morning, I said I was having a remote healing session with Alexa.

He said, "Oh."

And when he called afterward and I told him a bit about it, I could hear him rolling his eyes. So I said, "I hear you rolling your eyes." He admitted he was. "So," I said, "my next post is probably not for you."

You can believe or not believe, and I'm OK with that.

Me, I believe.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

To Dad, on your birthday

Dear Dad,

Today is your birthday. You've been gone almost eight and a half years.

When I forget how long it's been, I think of Jordan's age, and add three months. I initially wrote subtract, but I think I mean add. Because you left three months before he was born.

He turned eight in August.

He's amazing. He has to read in Spanish every night, and do math in Spanish. I know you'd happily do both with him. You'd love it. You'd love him so much.

And India, my India. She's charming and fabulous and enraging. She'd captivate you.

One day we were driving, and in a hurry. I was complaining about the car ahead of us. From the back seat she said, "I hope that guy in front of us keeps driving really slow."

I said, "What?"

And she said, "Like when we're on your bike and you say, 'Oh, I'm so GLAD that car is parked in the bike lane in front of us,' and you don't mean glad."

Oooh. She's five! Imagine.

We sometimes talk about ghosts, and I hope you are here with us.

Time is both straightforward and confusing and time is weird and time is an artificial construct but time is helpful. Eight years hurts less than five or six or seven.

But it still hurt. It still hurts.

You know this year I joined a team for my Overnight walk. I'm in the  discussion group on Facebook. Facebook wasn't much of a thing when you were still alive.

Anyway. People ask for support on birthdays, and on anniversaries.

One can have time and distance and understanding, and these dates still knock the wind out of a person. It's not just me.

I've learned that you have to respect that these days are significant, and they will be hard, and give yourself permission to grieve.

Mama turned 80 in September.

She was in the hospital three times this summer. I wanted to say "thrice" but I always get teased for the word. I don't remember if you teased me about it. You were more focused on my grammar. And my use of profanity.

Anyway, she kept losing blood and getting extremely anemic, to the point that she was having transfusions. This happened right before her birthday.

Sarah was in the US, and came to stay with us for a few days, and she came to Sibley with me. We asked the doctor if he couldn't just keep pumping Betty full of blood, like you fill up a gas tank.

Apparently it doesn't work like that. They haven't solved the problem but she's doing better now.

Leading up to her birthday, I asked her if she'd like to have a big party, to celebrate this milestone of 80. And she looked so sad.

She said, "Most of my people are gone."

I knew it, because I know who we've lost. I just hadn't thought about it this way.

When you add everyone up, it could be a grand ghost party. You'd be playing piano, like you did throughout my childhood, no matter the country.

You know all of this. Maybe you're all even hanging out. I hope you are.

I'm just saying it out loud because it makes me feel better.

So we planned a little dinner. And Shannon gifted Phil a bushel of crabs for his birthday, so we had a double party and he brought them. Do you know how huge a bushel of crabs is?

I didn't, but now I do. Boy, were the kids impressed with the crabs.

Meg and her family came over to celebrate. You don't know them, but you'd love them. You'd all  swap Peace Corps stories.

Jack is still going strong, and so is Donna. Sometimes Donna sends me snippets of memories. I love it. 

Connie told me Grandpa John had a sauna in the basement. I don't remember that. I do know I got my sauna pronunciation from them.

One of these days I'll go back to Duluth. I want to see my cousins. I want to see that bridge that lifts up, the one we used to stand under, and I was afraid it would come down on our heads.

And I want to see if I can find some of Aunt Jo's art.

The world feels very dark and scary right now. I don't trust that our government is working to keep us safe.

My kids have lock down drills at school, in case there's a shooter. This idea makes me so sad and angry and powerless all at the same time.

So many bad things have happened since you died.

You were already gone, but there was a terrible tsunami and earthquake in Japan, and thousands of people died. It was heartbreaking.

The year before, a man in that community had bought a phone booth and set it out in his garden, so that he could talk to his cousin, who had died. He called it the Wind Phone.

So people go there to talk to their lost loved ones.

I suppose I use these letters like a wind phone.

Japan is rather far. I wish there were one nearby. I'd drive a long distance for it. I thought about getting one, but it's not like we have a large, rambling, beautiful garden.

Nick would never go for a phone booth in our 3x5 outdoor patch of rose bushes.

Plus, it's DC. We might wind up with someone living in it. I wouldn't begrudge a homeless person a wind phone conversation, but I can't have one living in my rose bushes.

You'd happily talk to them, though. I know you would. You talked to everyone.

I love you and I miss you. I always will.

Happy birthday.

Love,

Lisa

Monday, October 02, 2017

And now I'm not sure what to think about this

We have this pillow thing.

OK, not we. I. I have a pillow thing.

It turns out that I'm particular about pillows. Maybe it's congenital. My dad used to take his pillow when he traveled, and he traveled a lot.

He packed his pillow on one side of his brown hard-side Sampsonite. It was very flat, so didn't take up much room. I didn't really understand why you'd even take it, because it was almost like not having a pillow at all.

Now, thought I don't travel with mine, I get it.

We have king size pillows on our bed because Nick is enormous, although apparently just average in Texas, and we have a king size bed. So he bought us king size pillows.

And I'm a pillow smoosher. And this is impossible with such long pillows. So I also have a regular size pillow, soft, just the right softness, without being too flat.

If I were a dog, I would be one who inexplicably turns around like 500 times in the same spot just to get comfortable.

OK, so now let me be honest: I have three pillows. Two big ones because we had them, and then my regular sized one. I don't need three, but I do like two. Because I need to prop my small pillow up against a larger pillow so that it sits just right. The headboard is too slippery, and then it moves. It has to be a pillow.

I'm telling you. I used to be able to sleep soundly anywhere. On an overnight bus through the Andes. Piled into a single bed with friends. In a sleeping bag on wood slats with mice in the thatch overhead.

High maintenance annoys me, and yet I'm a picky sleeper. And sleep is one of my top priorities. This didn't used to be the case either.

Reality being such, inconvenient as it may be, these things are all true.

So.

Nick, who has his own two pillows, insists he doesn't need three. But when he reads in bed, he takes my perfect pillow to prop himself up. And then by the time I'm ready to use it, it's all warm from his head.

Part of the pleasure of a pillow is the cool against your cheek. Who, I ask, wants a pre-warmed pillow? We've exchanged words about this a variety of times. He's agreed to use one of my big pillows, which I offer happily.

Last night while arranging my pillow menagerie, I accidentally elbowed Nick in the head.

He said, "OW!"

Followed with, "You whacked me right where my horn would be if I were a unicorn."

I was all, "I am so sorry!" And then, "But actually, your horn would be further down towards your forehead."

He rubbed the top of his head and said, "No. This is exactly where my horn would be."

We spent some time debating that, both certain we were correct.

And then we kissed and said goodnight.

It wasn't until I was almost asleep that I thought, "If I were a unicorn?"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My gift is my song. And this one's for you.

Dear Nick,

Today, nine years ago, we stood up and said simple vows in front of loving friends and family.

Growing up, I always thought I'd get married and then I'd be happy. Then again, as a kid who cried over having pale skin and jute-colored hair, surrounded by people with dark skin, dark eyes, and gleaming black hair, I also assumed I'd grow up to look like Barbie.

Or at least Teen Skipper, whose boobs grew when you twisted her arm.

You could say I lacked realistic expectations.

By the time we met, I'd had enough therapy to understand that if I wasn't happy, it was my own doing. No boyfriend or husband was going to magically make me happy.

My therapist came to the ceremony, wearing the scarf I'd given her as a thank-you gift. It felt perfect having her there.

So many friends came to support us, to offer us their love. My only regret from our wedding is that we didn't record it. Not us. I'm not interested in watching us get married.

It's the other people I want. What I'd most like to have is the part where people stood up and spoke as they felt moved to.
Many of those loved ones are no longer with us. My dad. Your dad. Your grandpa Irv. Lou. Pat. John Cool. Bill, our sham internet minister, and his wife Gouri.

Sometimes I feel like photos and memories are not enough. I long for voices. Why didn't I save even one voicemail from my dad? I save yours, just in case. Perhaps this is morbid and weird.

But our wedding. The people who stood and spoke, and shared what was in their hearts.

My friend Ann was the first to tell you she hoped you knew how lucky you were. I was shocked. This hadn't occurred to me, honestly. I felt lucky.

But you felt it. One friend told me later that when I said my vows, you flushed, and it was so clear how much you loved me, and how lucky you felt.

My friend Jane, California Jane, who scandalized Maude's mom with her choice of skimpy bridesmaid dress, stood up and said, "I told her! Marry the man with the boat!"
Marry the man with the boat!
As you know, your sailboat was not an enticement. Really, I was always a sucker for a man who looks conservative but is anything but, and for kindness, generosity, intelligence and a terrific sense of humor.

The picture up top is one of my favorites. One of the big reasons I chose you is because we laugh so much together.

I was grateful for the friends who stood up there with me, and glad that they wore whatever they felt comfortable in. As I recall, it was Philadelphia Jane who took on the duty of keeping California Jane's boobs appropriately covered by her dress as the night progressed.

I was so delighted to have people I love meet other people I love.

We exchanged rings, yours an engraved gold band, and mine my grandmother's wedding ring, the pattern faint after six decades of loving wear.

I wore my mom's wedding dress. You wore a tuxedo, and then changed into the gold paisley jacket your dad had passed on to you. You wanted to wear the gold jacket, and I was horrified by the idea. Now, it seems so silly caring so much.

It's just a day.

It's just a day, but it's a lucky day where you amass your loved ones. People say this only happens for weddings and funerals, and I have been reminded too many times of the truth of this.

Weddings are a far preferable place for this to happen.

You know, I wanted to wear my mom's wedding dress, because she and my grandmother had made it, and growing up, my Grandma Lillian was my favorite person on the planet. I believed she loved me more than anyone else ever did. It felt amazing to be that loved.

It feels amazing to be this loved. I hope you feel it, too.

Happy anniversary, Nick. I love you more than sunshine.

Love,

Lisa