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

Monday, September 18, 2017

So now let us speak of something awkward

You know how I wind up writing about stuff that most people don't talk about in polite company because I really need to talk about it?

Now I need to talk about perimenopause. I do

I hate it.

There are going to be words like boobs and period and such.

And now you've been warned.

Perimenopause, which I guess is also called premenopause, for those who don't know, and until recently I didn't, is the period (heh) of time leading up to menopause during which your reproductive hormones begin to decline. This can be a short number of years or a decade, as I understand it.

Hormones are tricksy, and everything affects everything, and you might have very few symptoms or your experience might be extreme. You just don't know until you're in it.

And even when you're in it, month to month you don't necessarily know. Which, for me, makes it not unlike depression.

Several months ago, I thought my antidepressant wasn't working, or that maybe the dosage needed tweaking. Because I couldn't stand anyone in my family.

Nick would walk toward me and I'd think, "Come closer. SO I CAN KICK YOU."

The kids and my mom would do things that my kids and my mom do. Like eat breakfast. And I would think, "OH MY GOD THEY'RE SO ANNOYING."

I snapped and snarled at all of them. I had no patience.

This continued for some days and I was about to reach out to my shrink and ask him for help. And then I got my period. Immediately, much like Dorothy landing in Oz, the world became bright and happy again.

In retrospect, I have always reacted extremely to hormones. What can I say? I'm a delicate flower.

I was raised believing condoms were the answer to most of the world's problems. Not everyone is in agreement, and I had several stints on hormonal birth control. I turned into a raging lunatic. Crying easily, angry, completely irrational. All the time.

Basically when I think about it, it combined all the difficult parts of being me, but taken to extremes.

Like pregnancy. I was a crazypants during pregnancy.

Now it's moot. (Snip snip!)

For years, coasting on my own hormones, I've had a pretty even cycle. Sometimes I'd have PMS and my boobs would get very sore, and I would get mad at them. But still, it didn't last. But it was generally brief, as were my periods.

And on a related note, India calls it my pyramid. "Do you have your pyramid, Mama?"

She also learned about period undies when one day she said, "Don't put those on! They're dirty!" I know, I know, this is a horrifying topic. I told you.

I do have some fear that she's taken this information to school, but what are you doing to do? Her mama has pyramid undies. At least it's true. (Unlike the time she told her class that for time out we put her in the bathroom after Nick poops.)

But now. Now I have PMS on steroids. My boobs are so sore. I extra hate everyone. I eat so much sugar and junk food.

After the kids went to bed last night, this is what I had for dinner. Gelato and Cheez-Its.

Horror. I know.
And I know it doesn't help. In fact, I know it does the opposite of helping. I KNOW.

What I don't know is when this annoying ride it will end. It's not consistent month to month.

It's kind of like being in one of those horrible carnival mirror houses where this one makes you short and wide and this one makes you taller and this one makes you upside down and this one makes three of you but there's only actually half of each of you so I guess one-point-five and where the fuck is the exit?

And this misery could end in a minute, or tomorrow, or next Friday. Your guess is as good as mine.

This morning Nick called and I guess I snapped at him because he said, "I really wish your period would start."

And I snarled, "Just imagine BEING ME right now."

Also, hand me those Cheez-Its and come over here so I can kick you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Thoughts on "commit"

As Suicide Prevention Week draws to a close, I'm asking friends to consider saying "died by/of/from suicide" rather than "committed suicide."

Personally, I tend to say, "died by" when talking about suicide. And as you know, I talk about suicide a lot.

This may be something you say without thinking. It's certainly what I used to say. I am sure there are instances of it on my blog. It was common parlance.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't carry negative connotations. I believe it does, and I personally favor the shift away from it.

It doesn't offend me. A friend recently said about me that I'm not quick to take offense, and this is true. I'm also surprisingly hard to shock, by the way. But the use of "committed suicide" does now bother me, and some people find it very hurtful.

Lots of people have written about the negativity of using "commit," and I think what it comes down to is that we typically use "commit" for crimes. It's the only way of dying that people do not use "died of" when talking about. People die of liver failure caused by alcoholism, but we don't say "committed alcoholism."

I don't typically tell people what to say or how to say it. I do sometimes judge, that's true, but more often I'm interested in how language is used. Deviations are interesting. I'm a descriptive rather than prescriptive linguist. I love the flexibility of languages and how they evolve.

On a tangent, I will admit that the way incentive has been turned into a verb with "incentivize" annoys the tar out of me, but I don't rail against it. You can verbize anything in English (see what I did there?). One of my language acquisition professors at Georgetown liked to point out that "party" was not a verb in his time.

One could argue that commit is neutral because we also say, "commit to doing something" or "commit to memory" and that is true. But we don't "commit joy" or "commit success." One could maybe argue for the continued use of "commit" as historical. There may be other reasons I haven't thought of.

I haven't had this conversation with anyone outside of the mental health community before. I don't correct people's use of language, ever. That's part of my personal "don't be a jerk" code of conduct.

So I put this out there as a suggestion to consider.

It may be that you have lost someone to suicide, and the use of "commit" doesn't bother you. That's OK. We all have things that bother us and things that don't.

I would just ask that you give this some thought, because language is powerful.

Monday, September 11, 2017

You see I've been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain.

Yikes, our whiteboard is filthy!
Nick hates the band America.

We were on hour 10 of our drive back from Maine and Sister Golden Hair came on, and Nick didn't change the station. I said, "Thank you."

If we've had a fight or he's annoyed at me, or if he's just not thinking about it, he'll change the station when the Eagles, or Heart, or America come on. These are among the bands he hates but will leave for me if I ask, or if he feels like I need some cheering up.

If we've just had a fight, the station absolutely gets changed.

I do not know how anyone could pass up Desperado, but there you have it.

In any case, after that, I decided I'd just quietly slip some America lyrics on his Facebook page. Every day, I'd put song lyrics on, and wait and see if he noticed.

Day two, he called and said, "What's with the poetry or whatever on my page?"

I fessed up.

Yah, so you remember how thieves came through our skylights and stole our laptops and Nick's watches? After that we got locking bars on the skylights. There's a key for the screws, just like for locking lug nuts that you can put on so that people don't steal your car tires.

We recently had some roof work done, and the roofers needed to take off the skylights.

The key is small, and doesn't really look like a key, and it is easy to misplace, and a replacement costs $10 plus an hour drive round trip. I know this firsthand.

So when the roofers returned the key to me, I wanted to put it somewhere safe. But then I wrote a note on the whiteboard (which is more of a greyboard at this point) so I wouldn't forget to give it to Nick.

He came home and was all, "More poetry?"

No, reality.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Bedtime is the longest distance between two places

Do you have kids who have recently gone back to school?

If so, are they complete, rampaging, raging lunatics at night?

I know it's impolitic to disparage your own children, but boy howdy have my kids been big jerks lately.

I try to be all, oh, it's hard going back to school, and they have to hold it together all day and I'm a safe person to let it out with. They are feeling big feelings. I do try.

Sometimes I manage.

But sometimes, like after the 54th time I've asked them to brush their teeth, even held the toothbrush with toothpaste up to their mouths, and tried to actually do it for them, I lose my everloving mind.

Typically they're in bed by the time Nick gets home. This is nice for him.

But lately after dinner, or sometimes starting midway through, they've been hanging from the chandeliers, galloping back and forth down the hallway, giggling like fiends and basically ignoring every entreaty/threat to put on PJs, or get in the bath, or brush teeth, or get into bed.

Every single step of the process is an ordeal. And then when they're finally ready for bed, the actual getting into and staying in bed takes another hour.

I'm all, don't they understand that I just want them to go to sleep so Nick and I can sit in silence and watch a video?

Oh! Which reminds me: what are you watching? We have a year for more Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things doesn't come out until Halloween. We just watched the only season of Wolf Hall. What's piquing your interest lately?

So.

Nick has been coming home to the detritus of the evening and two little barbarians in frenzied motion.

The other night I was done, just done with my small humans. Nick walked into the bathroom and I left him to deal with them. I went and sat in our closet. I didn't come out until the noise had stopped.

Another night he came home to them in the bath, and he overheard India saying, "I'm going to kick you! Do you want me to kick you in the neck or the penis?"

Both tempting options, to be sure.

Last night we stayed on the playground until dinnertime. For dinner I chucked a frozen pizza and tiny hot dogs in the oven and cut up a cucumber. I let them keep drawing while they ate, since it was just the three of us.

They were lovely, sweet, and relatively subdued while eating.

I did airplane with India after dinner, and snuggled and giggled with her. I gave her special, one-on-one time while Jordan read a novel in the bathroom.

I thought, surely with all the playing and attention, surely tonight will be better.

And then it came time for PJs and teeth brushing and my cherubs morphed into creatures that I longed to menace back into the Hellmouth with a pitchfork.

Nighttime is never easy. I am tired, they are tired, and none of us are at our best. But lately it's just been brutal.

One night I snarled, "You're driving me insane!"

And India said, "Why did you have kids?"

This gave me pause. The first answers that flashed through my head were snarky, nothing I wanted to voice.

So I made a funny face and say, "WHY? Why did I have kids?"

And she smiled and said, "Because you wanted more family?"

I said, "Yes! Because I wanted my own family. Because I wanted little people to love so much. And I do, I love you both more than anything."

She beamed and gave me a big hug. I thought, "Oh! This is one of those rare parenting moments I've done right!"

I said, "Shall we brush our teeth now?"

A parenting article might end with her brushing her teeth and me tucking her into bed and giving her a cuddle and her falling asleep hugging her teddy bear.

Ha.

Reality is, she clenched her teeth, giggled maniacally, and bolted from the bathroom.

And I was all, I know, I know, the days are long and the years are short. I am sometimes shocked when I step back and see how big they've gotten. I know I'm blessed. I believe children are gifts and I treasure mine.

But right now where is my space pod and gin slushy machine?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Family Camp

Dinning hall: center of camp, location of endless hot chocolate
OK, so I have approximately a million things to tell you. But first, first I have to tell you about camp!

The last week of August, also the first week of school in DC, Nick, the kids, and I spent the week at Family Camp at Winona Camps in Maine.

Yes, I know, nobody hears "camp" and thinks "Lisa!" I know this.

I wasn't raised by campers. In 4th grade, I was surely the worst Girl Scout in Cairo. Betty earned all my badges. In high school my dad said my idea of camping was staying at the Hilton. I was insulted, but if I thought about it, I generally preferred the Sheraton.

But listen. Camp was incredible. I want all my friends to join us next year. Really and truly.

Now, you know that when I like something, I get very enthusiastic. But I am also candid, which is a thing people appreciate, so I will start by telling you that sleeping in a tent is no underwear dance party.
Tent 12 ready for action!
We did it for a week, and I didn't get one solid night of sleep.

Every night there was something.

In the beginning, the kids were too excited to sleep, despite being exhausted. Instead, they sang a drinking song they'd learned at a friend's memorial service. "Some are here and some have fallen! Bottoms up! The whiskey is calling!"

Seriously.

Another night I felt a tiny bump on my leg. Which was surely a Lyme-infested tick. A tick! Nature is full of dangers large and small!

I could leave it till morning, but the longer you leave it, the more likely you are to get sick. I could pull it out, but then I'd have to keep it, just in case. Where would I put it?

So with one finger on the bump, I felt around for my flashlight. If it was a tick, I'd wake Nick. Together we could remove it and find a plastic bag to keep it in.

It was a scab.

The next night there was a big storm and lots of wind, and Jordan woke up and whispered, "There's a bat on the floor!"

Nick said it was just the tent flap rustling. "Don't worry about it."

Don't. Worry. About. It?

Silently I was all, a bat? Is not a bird! It's a mammal! A bat can have the RABIES! Bats can bite you in your sleep and you don't even know it. Now we're all going to go home dead.

Nick refused to check what he insisted was a non-bat tent flap.

I didn't want to get Jordan worried about his potential impending death, so I stoically fretted in silence, willing myself to breathe. It was like this: Breathe, Lisa. It's a tent flap, that's all. WHAT IF IT'S A RABIES? Breathe, that's right, keep breathing. BUT RABIES! Breathe...

Until Jordan screamed. "DADDY! Daddy! A chipmunk just walked on me!"

So we found our flashlights and calmed him down and pulled his bed into the middle and tied down the tent flaps and then! No more animals in the night.

For example.

Nick was shocked, shocked! that I loved camp. He was delighted and relieved. But astounded at my flexibility. Apparently he was prepared for me to hate it and hole up with a book.

Instead, look at all the campery things I did! All the people I made friends with! All the fun I was having!

In all candor, his surprise has caused me to examine who I think I am, and contrast it with how others see me. Is who I think I am the person I used to be? I don't know.

When I was 24, I trekked for a month in Nepal. We slept in tea houses, sometimes with our sleeping bags side by side on wood platforms. Mice scurried overhead. For a week at highest altitude, it was so cold that the only thing I removed at night were my boots. I slept in my hat.

I wound up going last minute, with new friends and no preparation. I borrowed warm clothes and rented a sleeping bag and bought boots, which fell apart in week two, and which we fixed with duct tape for the rest of the trip.

I was the least fit, and I was always last, every single day. But I got off the bus where the road ended, trekked two weeks in and two weeks out, and at the end of the month got back on that bus.

Aside from sustaining a marriage and raising kids, the Everest trek is the hardest, best thing I've ever done.

And I still think of myself as that person. But the truth is, it's been a long, long time.

So who am I now? I don't entirely know.

It's true that I was worried about being cold, and what to wear, and which shoes to bring, and I voiced anxiety about lack of electricity and whether or not to bring my hair dryer. But that's more because I like to bathe at night and hate sleeping with wet hair.

I solved this issue by barely bathing. We were in the lake every day. Now I know.

Anyway.

Last year, when Nick said he wanted to go to Family Camp, the camp he went to as a kid, and where he was a counselor, and where in his wildest dreams he would live forever, I said, "Sure!"

I never went to camp growing up. I went to my grandmother's house in North Dakota.

When Nick first told me about Winona, which was not long after we met, I thought it was weird that grown men longed to be back at camp, and returned at any opportunity.

And then, four years ago, we flew up for the memorial service of Winona's former camp owner and director, Uncle Al. People flew in from across the world to honor him. The stories told by former Winona campers, boys grown into men whose lives he'd touched and changed, were incredibly moving.

We spent the weekend with Nick's Winona friends. I felt their connection to each other and to the place.

I decided camp was to Nick what my high school was to me.

Since we moved regularly, people to me were more the place than the place, if that makes any sense. When I'm with my Delhi friends, I'm my sparkliest self, and that self is wrapped up in all the memories and delights of who we were as teenagers, with beauty all around us and giant possibilities ahead of us. We laugh and reminisce and revel in the joy of being together.

I don't know if this is how it feels for Nick, and I cannot picture him voicing it in this way, but this is what I imagine.

If it feels anything like that, of course he longs for camp.

So we went to Family Camp. Nick waited all year for it, counting down the days.

When I tell you we loved our week at camp, I mean, even with the tent shenanigans, it was incredible. I, least outdoorsy of us all, adored it. We've already paid for next year.

For starters, Winona is on the banks of Moose Pond, which is spectacularly beautiful. You're outside, surrounded by tall pines. The air is clean. The water is cold and fresh.
Sunset and serenity
The sky is so clear and dark at night, and you can lie on the dock and see all the stars.

I think I took the same photos over and over. Every day. Because it was always that beautiful. And I kept saying, "It's just so beautiful!"

And people just nodded. Because it is true, over and over.
Whee!
Three times a day, you go to the dining hall for meals. You line up and serve yourself. My children lined up and served themselves. Without my help. Without complaining about what was or wasn't for dinner.

Then, because they'd been running around doing all kinds of activities, they sat down and ate. They were hungry, they got food, they got more food if they needed it, and they ate without whining.

Magical.
Just like Robin Hood
Jordan did archery! He shot a rifle! (I shot a rifle!) He tried the climbing wall. Me, I love to climb, and never do. So I climbed. I decided my goal was to get to the top of the overhang by the end of the week.

I watched kids dance up the wall. Get to the overhang and pull themselves up. For me, the overhang was a big struggle. I tried and I tried.

And on Friday, our last day, I did it. The counselor belaying me kept the rope super taught, and I know he boosted me on the overhang.
This is me! On the overhang!
But still. I did it. I reached the top. I felt proud.

One afternoon, we all took turns jumping off Eagle Rock. The kids were scared. They hesitated. But eventually, they leapt. And they were so proud.
Flying!
And one morning there was an across-the-lake swim. They do this every year. It is eight-tenths of a mile. Nick is a great swimmer. I was going to go in a boat and watch.

And then I thought, when do I ever have the chance to do this? I should try. Because it scares me, because it's something outside my normal life, I should try.
You swim from there to here.
When I said this, Nick said I must. There were boats accompanying us, that would pick up anyone who needed help. One new friend took a life jacket for me in her kayak, in case.

I'm not a great swimmer, and the only stroke I know is breaststroke. I only have a bikini, not a serious swim suit. But I'm strong, and very stubborn.

(I don't know if you have certain things you believe about yourself, but I go through life believing that I can always run six miles if I have to.)

So, I was scared (fear of sharks in open water, also on fear list), I was slow, and I was last, save the two good swimmers who chose to stay behind, to make sure everyone was OK.

But I finished. And I felt proud.

At the start of the week, my kids were upset, because they didn't know where anything was. I didn't know where anything was. I wandered in the woods for 20 minutes trying to find riflery because Nick impatiently said, "Just walk up the hill."

This is why we get into screaming, profane fights when we try to help each other park the car.

There are lots of things up the hill. Including many paths and many trees.

I could hear the gunshots. But I could not, could not find this one specific up-the-hill spot. My phone was charging in the dining hall. The Winona map depicts lots of brown squares and open green spaces doesn't label any of them.

It's like a Nick map: here are buildings and here is a lot of nature and there is a hill that you go up. That way is North.

But! By mid-week we all knew mostly where things were. And the kids had made friends. They'd gained confidence.

Jordan started going to activities by himself. He signed himself up, and took himself to where he needed to be.

We live in DC. We lock our doors as soon as we walk into the house. There is never a time where we open the front door, let the kids out, and say, "See you later!"

At Winona, they were free to roam, and we knew they were safe. They ran around with their new friends. They hung out with their cousins. At one point, we hadn't seen India for an hour. We knew she wouldn't go in the water by herself, so we weren't worried.

Nick went to check the tent, and there she was, calmly hanging out, looking at her book. She said she couldn't find us, so she went back to the tent.

Now I think I get it, and I love camp.
My heart
Part of camp is about making new friends and having fun, which we all definitely did. It's about being outside and getting comfortable in the woods and in water, which is a big shift for people like us who are mostly inside.

But now I see that it is also about making you step outside of your comfort zone, and helping you conquer new things, because in the  process you begin to feel more capable, clever, and strong.

You're scared, and you leap, and you immediately want to do it again, because it was so much fun. And then you want to try the next, harder thing.

You forget you were afraid in the first place.

I don't know about Nick, because it was all familiar for him, but the rest of us grew tremendously.

I'm so excited for us to go back next summer.

Monday, July 03, 2017

For Richard stands

So you know how every so often I get this wild hair/hare and decide to drive us somewhere?

You may recall that a couple summers ago I was all, hey, I think I'll drive my mom and the kids to Texas! And Nick was all, "That is a VERY TERRIBLE idea."

Which was true and right and we never drove to Texas. Maybe someday.

Then last summer I suggested driving instead of flying to Denver. And when Nick was skeptical, I was all, "What? It's not like I'm driving to Texas!"

Fortunately, Nick does not die in shame at having married someone who has no grip on geography and does things like insist Denver is 1. closer than Texas; and 2. right in the middle of the country. Because, seriously, doesn't it seem like it should be? Instead of way over where it actually is?

I'm looking at a map right now, and it seems to me that Colorado should be where Missouri actually is. And you know, I'm always surprised at Nebraska. In my mind, it's wedged between Nevada and Idaho.

But back to reality geography.

Instead of perishing in horror, Nick goes ahead and points out the geography of the place on a map or globe.

The place being the country we live in. In which we live. I know, I know.

On a side bar, when Nick learned the pledge of allegiance, Nixon was president, and he thought it was, "...and to the Republic for Richard stands, one nation under God..."

And then when Nixon was no longer president he couldn't figure out why they still said for Richard stands. He never asked.

I don't actually know when he figured out it was "for which it stands".

Anyway. What this is really about is this.

I've decided to drive us to Canada! 

Toronto, more precisely. Because I understand that Canada is vast. Even larger than the United States, even though some people aren't happy about the fact.

Canada is firmly north of us. There's no ambiguity with that. And Toronto isn't even that far north in the scheme of things.

So!

Betty and the kids and I are going to Toronto in August! I was thinking we'd go the beginning of August, but as it turns out, the first Monday in August is a holiday. Just because it's the first Monday in August. 

So rethinking dates. Or maybe not. Basically, so far, we're driving to Canada in August.

We are going to bring our passports and ask for asylum visit my dear high school friend Sophie and her lovely family. It sounds like we'll also get to see my friend Rob. You know Rob--the one who walked all night with me in NYC.

We are, in fact, going to bring our passports just to get in. Because we do understand that it's a whole nother country.

Now, listen to this. According to Google Maps, driving time is about eight and a half or nine hours. And we are not on a tight schedule.

So we can stop on the way there and on the way back. Maybe we stop in Pittsburgh, which I've never been to.  Although that seems like it's a little out of the way.

Although not as far out of the way as, oh, Texas, for example.

I'm trying to figure out a good mid-way point, or two good third-of-the-way points. 

Perhaps you are from or familiar with Pennsylvania or New York and have some thoughts on this? Or perhaps you yourself have driven from DC to Toronto?

If you have ideas, I'd be delighted to hear.

We have begun discussing the most important part of the trip, according to my children. And that is MUSIC.

Despacito turns out to be a must. Also Little Black Egg by the Nightcrawlers, if you've ever heard of that. I hadn't until Nick played it for Jordan and it immediately became one of his favorite songs. Also Nemesis by Shriekback, which fortunately I love. Cruel Summer by the Bangles (India's choice), also love.

Truthfully, I would have the 1980s on constant repeat, but it is not always up to me.

This is as far as we've gotten.

Oh, and snacks. We're definitely bringing snacks. Maybe music comes in second.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The club you don't want anyone to join

The finish line!
Shortly before dawn last Sunday morning, I finished my fourth Out of the Darkness Overnight walk.

Some of you have loved and supported me through nearly losing my dad in 2007, and his death in 2009. You've been with me through my first, second, and third Overnight walks.

The back of the shirt says, "I'll be up all night for" and then you fill in the space below.

Before last weekend, of course I was acutely aware of who I'd lost, and the importance, in my mind, of keeping this from happening to others. But I wasn't focused on the simplicity and gravity of walking dusk to dawn in memory of someone.

It is hard both emotionally and physically. I always cry at the opening ceremony, where people share experiences and talk about who they are honoring with their walk.

Second Lieutenant USAF, Travis Michael Jordan
This spring I asked my cousin Mike and his wife if I could dedicate my walk to their first-born son, Travis, who passed away on May 5, 2016. I felt so humble asking, because it struck me what a tremendous privilege that it is to walk in someone's honor.

My father was mine, as was my uncle, who left no one but us behind. I tell you that my uncle believed he was alone in the world, and his funeral was standing room only.

But I never had to ask anyone about them. And I didn't contemplate the gravity of it.

This year, I also offered for people to give me a name to put on my shirt. If you wanted to add a loved one--or, in some cases, more--I would be honored to carry them with me all through the night, on my shirt and in my heart.

(In previous years, I wrote names on pieces of beautiful paper. I don't know why I didn't think to open up my shirt. Which sounds like I was flashing people. Which I most certainly was not.)

This year, on my shirt, I had an awful lot of names. Mothers, fathers, teenage boyfriends, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends...

People gave me what felt best. Initials, first names, full names. One friend gave me initials but emailed me the full names, so I would know them in my heart. This felt right to her.

One long, long-time friend, who supported us through very hard times with my dad, and was very private about her dad, gave me his full name for the shirt. The import of this struck me hard, and upon reading, I burst into tears.

It still crushes me now, all the names, all those we love and miss.

This year, I raised a shocking (to me) $8,425 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I felt proud to do this in my cousin's name.

When, at the walk, they talked about the millions raised for research, I felt hopeful. My kids are half me, after all, and depression and suicide are on both sides of my family.
Team SOLOS!
This year, I also joined Team SOLOS. I will walk with them again next year, and the year after. I will always be grateful.

Many SOLOS teammates have been walking together for years. They've formed friendships through walks and volunteer efforts. Our teammate Connie walked the halls of the Capitol doing advocacy work the week of the walk.

The long-time teammates know each other really well. These walks are a reunion, and odd as it may sound, something to look forward to annually.

They're kind and loving and supportive. They welcomed those, like me, new to the team. They were immensely supportive of first-time walkers.

They hug. They're funny. They bake for the walk. One of them made these muesli chocolate balls. They are dense, heavy balls. There was some worry of them becoming moist in all the humidity. Stacie's balls became a running joke.

This year, with this team, I really felt connected to the walk, in a way that I hadn't before.

In April I told my acupuncturist that I cry a lot while fundraising for the walk, because it keeps the topic of suicide and loss at the forefront of my mind.

She asked why I do it. And she didn't buy my answer of raising money for research and outreach. She said, "You have some reason you do this for yourself. This is hard and upsetting. You need to figure out why."

In April, I didn't have an answer.

Now, after last weekend with this team, I do.

Because the walk is healing. Because I need to feel like I am doing something positive. Because I want to honor my loved ones. Because I like being with others who understand the crushing terribleness of losing someone you love to suicide.

Because it is a relief to talk about some terrible details and know you are not describing the unimaginable, because we've all, in one way or another, lived through the unimaginable.

Because it makes me feel less alone.

My lovely friend Laurie, who I met when we both performed in This Is My Brave in 2015, joined the team as well. This was her first walk, and I was so glad to walk together.

Laurie and I met up with our friend Jenn, the founder of TIMB, who volunteered at the walk.
Mini Brave reunion
I don't know about the aftermath of other types of loss, but for me, my dad's death by suicide felt very isolating. I wanted to talk about it all the time, but didn't feel like I could.

I wrote about it. Weird as it sounds in this public space, that felt safe. But I didn't discuss it with most people. Some people I knew for a fact knew about didn't ask or offer condolences.

I knew why. I wasn't mad, but I knew it was different.

After some time the hurt became manageable, so I wasn't just a giant walking wound. But with time you just have to wait, and wait, and wait.

It turns out that time really is the longest distance between two places.

(It also turns out that if you wear a flashing safety bracelet in a port-a-potty, it's like being in a tiny disco in hell.)

Three years ago, Nick asked me very gently if I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, or if I needed some extra help. Because my dad's death was still a near-daily topic for me, and it had been five years. He worried that I was unusually upset.

He didn't say this unkindly. But the implication was that five years was long enough. I should be done.

Five, as it turns out, was the year that I finally realized that I couldn't save my dad. That I hadn't failed him. That helped more than anything.

It was also the year I also understood that there is no "long enough" for your grief. There is no particular point where you should be "over it" and moving on.

When I was small, five was the biggest number I could imagine. I would say to my mom, "I love you five!" Because there was nothing more vast.

Five was big for me. Eight, where I am now, is an even better place to be. A man I met, who'd lost his 26-year-old son, told me he's in a much better place now that it's been 12 years.

Grief is not linear. It loops and doubles back, and just when you think you're fine, it punches you in the stomach.

Birthdays hurt. Death days hurt. Every single year.

It doesn't matter how many years go by. It hurts to lose your dad, your twin brother, your baby sister, your husband, your son...It hurts and hurts and hurts.

Other people, even close friends and family members, get tired of your grief. One woman voiced this. Another shared her similar experience. And another.

I hadn't heard this from others before. It resonated.

The walk itself was physically hard, my hardest one yet. I think mainly because the humidity was at approximately 100 million percent.

And I am a person who embraces heat and humidity.
So tired, so sweaty, so ready to stop walking
By mile 16, which turned out to be close to the end, I was desperate to stop walking. My legs were tired. My feet were sore. I was exhausted.

Our team all started out together, then we lost each other for three or four miles, and then grouped back together.

One of the members was in his military camouflage. This made him easy to spot in the sea of blue, although, even with his boots and 50 pound pack, he was generally way ahead of us.

My dear friend Amanda dropped in to walk for a couple hours, just as she'd done on my first walk. And then, when we were on Capitol Hill, Kris and Megan texted to say they'd seen some walkers at a rest stop, and where was I?
Lovely friends! And gelato!
Turned out I was just down the block.

Kris treated me to Pitango gelato. I got the cardamom flavor and it was basically a cup of magic.

You walk through the night, and arrive in the dark before dawn. Your path, and in this case the steps of the Lincoln memorial, is lit with luminaria, which are paper bags that participants decorate to honor their loved ones.

While you walk, volunteers fill them with tiny lights, so they glow from within.
Luminaria
I made two: one for Travis and one for my dad. Laurie made one for her son, Nathanial, who had just turned 24 when he passed away. When we got back, Laurie and I looked and looked. But we couldn't find Travis's or Nathanial's.

The bottoms of some of the bags had disintegrated in the humidity, and they'd blown away in the breeze. We wondered if ours had.

After about half an hour searching, we sat down, exhausted and disappointed. And then Laurie said, "I hope the two of them floated off together and are having a great time."

That comforted us both.

On Friday night, the man I mentioned who had lost his son said, "This is a great group of people. But it's not a club you want anyone to join."

This will forever be true.

If you have lost someone to suicide, the walk, and being immersed in a group that really understands, is immensely healing.

I never want you to join my club. I really, really don't.

But if it happens that you do, we will embrace you with arms and heart wide open.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Winds of change

Some of you are in-person friends of mine, and the truth is, I've been instructed not to point this out. I risk letting you in on a little secret.

But I've decided it's a risk I'm willing to take. Because I love you all so much, and this just needs to be out in the world.

So.

You know that game where you each get a number and you get to pick a present out of a pile, and then you steal from each other, and the person with the highest number gets the best choice?

That game stressed me out until I realized that honestly, there's nothing I need. If you put something hilarious or nice it with the thought that you're giving it away, and you're interested to see where it goes, but you're not overly invested in getting something, the game is way more fun. For me, anyway.

Nick's office plays this game every year at their holiday party. It's where he got the fuzzy blue bodysuit.

We used to spend Christmas Eve at Pat and Phil's house, and we always played this game.

One year, this tissue dispenser was the most hotly contested item. It was stolen and restolen. My dad coveted it. I coveted it. Everyone but Betty wanted it.

Our friend Byron wound up with it.


I thought of it off and on over the years. I googled it a couple times, to no avail.

But life goes on. You cannot stay hung up on a tissue holder forever.

A few weeks ago, we attended Pat's memorial service.

I have to tell you one woo woo thing that happened, because Pat was my woo woo person. Nick and I drove separately, and after I parked my car, I checked my phone for the time.

Facebook was open. And the message on my page was one of those friendship reminders with a whole bunch of photos. It said that Pat and I had been friends for 8 years.

Naturally, this meant I cried all the way down the block and into the church. One of the ushers asked if I was OK.

I like to think I could be a spy but man, I can't even play poker.

The service was beautiful and funny and sad. The music was gorgeous. The speeches were intensely personal.

I cried a lot. I wore a dress with pockets that turned out to be perfect.

Why don't all dresses have pockets?

And then afterwards, Byron approached me. We hugged, and he handed me a bag and a note. The bag contained the coveted object, which he was giving to me.

He wrote that he remembered that my dad had coveted it, and he was now ready to pass it on to the daughter of the original coveter. It was a double, even triple gift, in this way.

He suggested putting it in a bathroom used by guests. The reward, he says, will be a loud laugh.

"If there is no response,  you might want to question the sense of humor of your guests. You might also want to question their continued presence in your life."

It's not yet been put on full display, in that I have to figure out how to mount it on the wall. It's currently on the counter, and too subtle. I need Nick to help me with this.

I'm not saying it's a perfect test. I'm also not saying I'll be loitering outside the bathroom door.

It is allergy season, however.

So come on over.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Eight year anniversary

Eight years ago today, May 15, my mom called at noon and said Dad was gone.

Most of me knew that we would never see him alive again. He was not likely to survive a seventh suicide attempt, when the prior attempts nearly killed him, and the last one diminished him greatly.

His body was frail. His spark was gone. His smile was forced, barely a pull-back of his lips. His eyes were flat.

But a tiny piece of me held out hope. We'd saved him so many times. He was excited about my first baby; surely he wouldn't leave us with just three months to go.

I needed him to meet my baby. I needed him.

Surely he wouldn't go when I needed him so much.

---

We got Dad's goodbye letters out of the blue, a year after his death.

They'd been sitting in some file in the 3rd District Precinct.

A kiss with a fist.

---

It took me five years to stop obsessing about my dad's suicide.

I'd wanted to secretly microchip him, you know, so I could always know where he was. You're not allowed to do that.

It took me five years to understand that not only could I not save him, but it wasn't my responsibility. None of us can save anyone else, not long term. No matter how hard we try.

The instant I understood this, I felt absolved.

---

Eight years later, I still cry sometimes. I get sucked into the ugly "what-ifs" even though intellectually, I know they are pointless.

---

I still wonder if Dad died on the 15th or the 16th. His death certificate says the 16th, but I learned recently that the time of death is determined by when the DC official sees the body and records the death.

Did he walk around DC one final time? Did he have any hesitation? Both days were spectacular, drenched in sun, luxuriating in azaleas.

I remember after my mom called, looking at the riotous blue of the sky, the kiss of the sunshine. And I thought, Dad couldn't choose today. It's too beautiful a day to die.

So was the next day.

---

For a long time, I was angry. How could he abandon us? How could he do this to me? Didn't he love me enough? Didn't he want to know my baby?

And I felt so guilty about my anger.

Now I tell people to allow themselves feel whatever they feel. All your feelings are valid. No shame.

---

If you can forgive, you will feel better.

You might need to forgive yourself. If you do, start there. 

---

I've decided that if you are someone who can see the bridge, sometimes it looks so easy to just step off. Coming back from that point and living is what's painful and hard.

I have heard the mermaids sing, each to each.

Living every day on a semi-even keel, when you're not a semi-even keel person, can be exhausting.

---

Laughter and hysterical sobbing are not so far apart.

It's shockingly easy to swerve back and forth in grief.

Always run with laughter, no matter how inappropriate it might feel.

---

I know that Nick doesn't understand why my dad's death is still a big topic for me. He's not outwardly critical--to the contrary, he's supportive--but I know he genuinely does not understand.

I'm not vying for the worst loss award. But suicide is different.

---

It's a relief for me to be with others who have lost loved ones to suicide.When I do the Overnight walk, it's a crowd I'm at ease in, no matter how few people I know.

---

The other day Betty said, "Maybe you can finally stop writing about death."

I said, "I don't think so."

---

Some days are better than others. Most days are better than others.

Some girls' mothers are bigger than other girls' mothers.

What?

---

I have a dear friend who annually sends *hugs* on this day. It is perfect.

He is one of my heart people.

I would never have met him if I hadn't started writing about depression and suicide.

---

All loss hurts.

I selfishly want those I love to live forever. Or at least longer than me.

Whatever I feel is valid. I should allow myself to feel it, be honest, and let it go.

---

After years of lying when saying, "I'm fine!" I am honestly, actually fine.

---

Anniversaries are hard.

And that's OK.