Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Caribbean Holiday for a Longsuffering Frog

I have a lot to tell you but not a lot of coherence left to do it with. See, Mike and Nick are both sick and I've been up with Nick at night to keep an eye on his breathing. I don't do the recliner thing as well as I used to. It was after 2:30 am when Nick finally dozed off after struggling to sleep for five and a half hours and then I snuggled into the recliner only to have the cat weigh down my knees and meow to wake me up just in time for school, which Nick wasn't attending anyway. Last night, while I struggled to stay awake, I cleaned the kitchen, deleted enough photos on my iPhone that I could download the latest iOS update, and tried to use the self-cleaning apparatus on my frog's new tank. It's not really self-cleaning. About that time, Mike went to bed and Nick settled in to watch slightly boring movies on TV. So, I think I got about four hours of sleep, but I can't count that high right now.

Don't you hate when you're exhausted but still can't sleep?

I want to tell you about my frogs. They're African dwarf frogs. On one hand, I'm sad because my frogs finally got a divorce. She was eating him slowly after five years of marriage. That's how marriages work sometimes. It takes five years to realize he needed a new life.

In my defense, they were together when I bought them and the sales lady said they needed to stay together. Then, the Internet, the reliable Internet, said that they'd probably die if I separated them. But I worried about him. He lost a hand and another Internet search said that either he had a fungus and would die in a week or so or she was eating him. He didn't die in a week or so and I watched as he lost first one paw and then another. Then, he lost an elbow and then two toes on one of his back feet.

He always worked so hard to climb under a rock, we named him 'Hider' when they were babies. I can't actually remember how long we've had these guys, more than five years. She was 'Jumper.' Hey, I let Nick name them. He was about ten.

So, I was at Petco getting Teddy a new collar. His old leather collar started to smell like rotting meat.

"The dog stinks," Mike would say. I'd take off his collar and suddenly he wouldn't stink any more. Then, it got pathetic. The leather of his collar started to be kind of sticky, like something was growing in it. I kind of expected mushrooms to start growing. I meant to get him a new one for Christmas, but I've been busy. And sick. So sue me.

While I was at Petco, I decided to get a new plant for the frogs so the double-amputee could get to the surface easier. He was pathetic when he worked to get to the surface and I worried about him. I worried so much about him that the poor sap at Petco heard the whole story about the cannibal wife and the poor guy who just wanted to hide under a rock to get away from her constant nagging and nipping. She even stood on his head sometimes. Who does that in a marriage?

"She won't care if he's in there with her or not," he said casually as he handed me the baggie with the aquatic plant in it.

The new collar I bought was too big. You'd have thought I was buying a collar for a Neolithic wolf. A few days later, I brought it in to exchange it, this time with the dog himself. My indulgent Petco employee was there again and I asked him again if the frogs would survive if I separated them.

"You're really worried about this guy aren't you? They're amphibians. Alone or together, they won't care."

This guy was good, succinct, non-judgemental, encouraging. I picked out a small tank so Hider wouldn't have to swim very hard to get to the surface. I'd let him die in peace in his small apartment. I bought another aquatic plant and collected a pocket full of pebbles and small stones at the dog park. When I got home, I bleached them in case any dogs had peed on them and set up the water and the plant in the new tank. When I netted Hider, he was flaccid. Oh man, it might be worth having this new tank for just a few days of peace for him. I just hoped the move didn't kill him.

It's been a week. 

I've been watching him in his new apartment a lot. He looks at her through the glass but never when she's watching him. He hasn't been hiding at all. He's been working his way to the surface of the water, taking a gulp of air, and floating like a man in bay of the Caribbean on a pool mattress. Sometimes, he rocks back and forth slowly as if there are slow waves. Sometimes he lies on a leaf and sometimes on top of a rock. He never hides. He never tries to crawl under the rocks.

He's been liberated. I can see he's happy even if he is an amphibian. Can frogs grin? We changed his name to Phoenix. He lives a new life, free of fear. Sometimes divorce is a relief.

She, on the other hand, looks a little lonely. She hasn't been jumping around as much as before. There's no one to dominate, no one to cannibalize. We changed her name too. Nick renamed her Helga. Helga is going to have to figure out how to live life without a husband to boss around, to chase under a rock, to bite when she's bored with herself. She can't even yell loudly enough for him to hear her through the two layers of glass. No, neither of them have ever made a sound, but I'm talking in a metaphorical sense.

I hope the rest of Phoenix's life is a metaphorical Caribbean holiday.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Answer is 'Uhhh'

The other day, I bought Teddy a new toy, a little stuffed hedgehog wearing overalls that grunts instead of squeaking. You might know the kind of toys I mean. I've been buying stuffed hedgehogs for various dogs since 1996. My dogs loved their hedgies and I loved the replacement of the squeaker inside with the breathy grunt. Uhhh. It was a happy sound, even when the toy itself was being eviscerated, fluff flying and entrails, the squeaker mechanism, strewn half out of its poor hedgie body. I still love that sound.

Does anyone know if real hedgehogs make sounds? I knew someone once who had an actual pet hedgehog and it didn't make any noise the one time I saw it. I remember wondering if this new acquaintance, the woman, not the hedgehog, was rather strange and whether I could judge her personality based on her choice of pets. Why would anyone want to have a pet that you had to be careful petting to keep from being skewered? I've never trusted a snake man and I've never even bothered with anyone who would have a spider. I could barely trust the rat man though I tried and it eventually poisoned any chance of my hanging out with him. The rat circus at the renaissance faire helped me regarding rats, but there is still part of me that judged that pretty girl based on her choice of rats as trainees. Yes, I'll admit that I'm a pet bigot. If the pet is exotic, or in my terms, strange, the person hosting them might reflect that. I'm a dog person. And I like cats, mostly.

I'm very sorry if there are warm and friendly people out there who have pet snakes. I try not to be a pet bigot, but it's a failing of mine. Steve Irwin went a long way toward making me think snake people could be okay, but he went and got himself killed by a stingray and he kind of undid some good work.

I still miss Steven Irwin. Nick was a big fan and when he was a baby, the Steve Irwin toy went into the bathtub multiple times and still said, "Have a look at this little beauty," so I kind of equate Steve Irwin with a little miracle that happened over and over in our household every night at bath time. Somehow, I always figured Steve Irwin was an exception to the strange-pet rule, mostly though I never met Steve Irwin in person to judge.

Toy hedgehogs? Right, sorry. I drifted off there for a minute.

So, I was standing in the living room, stepping repeatedly on Teddy's current hedgie and trying to get Teddy to play when I casually asked Nick a question, "How was school today?" He had settled onto the couch and gotten involved with his video game.

From his spot? Silence.

I rocked mindlessly back and forth on the hedgie. "Uhhh," it said. Teddy didn't move from his spot under the coffee table.

I tried again. "Do you have any homework tonight?" I asked. Nick said nothing, just made brief yet friendly eye contact before continuing with his game.

I leaned forward and pressed on the hedgie again. "Huh," it said.

By now, I was on a roll. I have learned to entertain myself in the face of video-game loneliness.

"Do you have any plans to see friends this weekend?" Just then, Mike walked into the room and heard at least one of my questions.

I immediately pressed on the hedgie's neck. "Mmmm," it said.

I walked over to Mike and leaned in for a kiss. "Did you have a good day at work?" I asked.

"Uhhh," he said, perfectly mimicking the hedgie, with a grin on his face.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, March 21, 2016

Wishing for Toilet Fairies

I haven't written to you in a very long time. I have to admit that I haven't been able to keep up with things lately. Vacuuming, laundry, dishes, spring cleaning the screens, donating unused items so we can put other stuff away. It's overwhelming. I groan when people tell me they've begun to mow the lawn. It's exhausting and deadening, cleaning. No, I'm not a Merry Poppins kind of clean-up girl. Not. Don't even start whistling 'a spoon full of sugar.' Just don't.

For example, there's laundry. I'm okay doing the wash, even emptying the contents of the dryer onto an unused bed, but I have to admit that I'm terrible about getting around to folding the pile of clothes. Are you appalled? Bathrooms? Can we say Exxon station? I look at my kitchen counter tops sometimes and am appalled. I try to keep them clean but I come along an hour after I've wiped them clean and there are crumbs or a smeared hunk of mashed potatoes or a splash of Louisiana hot sauce on it. Sometimes I give up for a while. I'm just very careful about not letting prepared food touch my counters. Forget the floors. Tonight, I stepped on a lump of mashed potatoes that someone, SOMEONE, dropped and didn't clean up.

At least I'm cooking. Mike has been sending me emails and text messages with recipes he'd like me to try. I told him it's worse if he says, "I don't care." Tell a woman who has cooked her family approximately 8800 meals that you don't care what she cooks for dinner tomorrow and you might inadvertently get a spit package deal with your next meal. See, it's exhausting trying to figure out what to make day in and day out. It's great when they ask for something easy and you have all the ingredients. It kind of makes you feel like they enjoy your meals and it's not so much of a drudgery then. Sometimes you might even sing in the kitchen though it embarrasses your teenaged boy as if someone, anyone might overhear you. God forbid you dance in your kitchen too.

It's also not too bad when your husband sends you recipes he might like, but the problem there is the combination of an untested recipe together with the uneven job of buying groceries to match. Which Louisiana hot sauce is better? I'm telling you that the one I used tonight almost peeled my tongue but Mike and Nick both loved it. I'm more of a mild spice kind of person. So, they're going to have to deal with the one I used last time. Now the recipe is nearly tested and I'll probably end up buying both kinds and use some of each to compromise somewhere between scalding my sinuses and engaging their tastebuds. Or I could just buy what I like and they have to deal with it all since I'm the damned cook and my stomach lining matters to me. Theirs is just a preference, right?

So, I'm cooking new things and it's kind of making me happy though my kitchen counters need more attention than ever when I cook. I think I've needed to be cooking. Along with seeing art, cooking makes me happy.

Now, I just wish someone would sweep through without judgement and clean my house from windows to toilet seats. Maybe they could mow the lawn too. I wouldn't mind that at all.

There are no laundry fairies, I'm afraid, and definitely no toilet fairies. Damn. What a world it would be if there were toilet fairies in it.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 11, 2016


If I'm going to write about forgiveness, you're probably going to hear some stuff I need to be forgiven for.

I'm not good at listening.
I sometimes yell at Nick to get him moving.
According to my mother, my unforgivable sin is that I moved away from home. I'm here to tell you that, even if I did it to save my own life, it's hard for me to forgive myself for this.
And one time, I nearly punched a twelve year old girl in the jaw.

I'm not all that interesting, really. I haven't had any affairs. I never hit anyone though I came very close once. My ex-best friends in seventh grade kept yelling, "brain does not compute, beep-beep" in my face. Over and over, these two would line up in front of me and scream it. The year before, they'd loved that I was smart. They'd been nice to me. We'd giggled about boys, talked about our clothes, and worried over grades. Then, a summer passed, just six weeks, and we went to a different school together, junior high.

Suddenly these two were an exclusive gang and I wasn't in it. They told secrets that I wasn't supposed to hear. They turned their backs on me when I joined them by our lockers. It was hard not to join them because I shared a locker with Yvette and Toni's locker was the next one over.

I was miserable. What had happened to my friends? I was the same girl I'd been the spring before, I thought. In retrospect, I probably was quite different. My dad had been diagnosed with cancer and I imagine I was more serious than I'd ever been though no one at school ever knew any of our family's troubles. I probably looked a little rough around the edges too since my mother no longer had time to choose clothes for me or do my hair. So, I probably looked and acted differently, but at the time, I didn't realize that and I just wanted to know why my best friends were suddenly enemies.

Being shunned was painful.

Worse than that was the taunting. In grade school, it had been mostly okay to be a smart girl, but somehow in junior high, it wasn't any more. Toni and Yvette began to yell at me instead of ignoring me and excluding me from their conversations.

"Brain does not compute, beep-beep, brain does not compute, beep-beep" they yelled. The words weren't actually all that mean, but their faces said it all. I burned with shame whenever they approached me. I could even tell when they were about to begin, their beautiful faces would transform and the ugly words would come out and assault me.

Sometimes, I tried to run away, but they ran with me, chanting as they ran. I tried not to be noticed but it was as if they had radar for my presence. I couldn't get through the lunch line and outside to eat my tenderloin sandwich and French fries in peace without them at my heels.

"Brain does not compute, beep-beep. Brain does not compute, beep-beep."

What could I do? I couldn't bother my mother. She was always at the hospital with my dad, either before or after a surgery. At night, after I'd walked to the hospital and waited for all of them until visiting hours were over, my mother was exhausted and could only talk about my dad, if that.

She peppered her conversations with words like, "If we have enough faith, your father will be okay." It was almost a mantra to get her through each day. She couldn't even think things all the way through the possibilities. How could I possibly bother her with my trivial concerns?

So, during the day, I experienced Toni and Yvette's assaulting words, "brain does not compute, beep-beep." And at night, all I knew to do was get my homework done and stay out of the way so my mother could concentrate on "having enough faith so Daddy will survive."

One day, I'd finished my lunch and was sitting on the edge of the old stage at school reading a book when I saw that Toni and Yvette were stalking me. I could try to leave, but I knew that would be futile. I had to do something different.

"Brain does not compute, beep-beep, brain does not compute, beep-beep," they screamed. Toni came so close, I could have l put my hand over her mouth.

Something was different in me. No one was going to help me. Nobody cared. I had to solve this problem on my own and I could feel my power rising. It was as if lava came up into my throat and arms and was going to blow out the top of my head and out through my fingertips. My elbows went back and my right fist closed tight of its own accord.

Toni saw me shift and leaned in closer, spittle landing on my face.

"Brain does not compute, beep-beep! Brain does not compute, beep-beep! Brain does not compute, beep-beep!" she chanted. Seeing that something was different, Yvette stepped back behind Toni and her voice dropped down. Toni's was commanding enough. All of the kids stopped eating and watched us at the stage. Sitting on the edge of the stage, I had a height advantage over the two of them. Everyone else was rooted in place. No one stood up to help me. I was completely on my own in this life.

Suddenly, the lock holding my elbow sprung and I let out a right hook toward Toni's jaw. I knew this was going to hurt and hurt a lot. I was not a little girl. I could feel everything in slow motion, a globule of Toni's spit hanging in midair, the full power of my fist moving toward her jaw, the look on her face shifting from fury to fear. Inches from her face, I brought my fist around her chin and followed through without ever touching her. She knew I'd pulled the punch. I glared into her shocked face. Her chant died away and Yvette grabbed her arm and dragged her away.

Truthfully, my memory of these two, except that they continued to be together all of the time, faded away. I ignored them when I got books out of my locker. I ignored them in the halls and in classes. They never looked in my direction again. After a week or so, it got more and more natural to ignore them. Eventually, they meant no more to me than the day I learned how to shut someone down without actually hitting them.

I was raised that it was wrong to get angry with people. It doesn't make sense now, but back then, standing up for myself was the worst course of action I could take. So, I felt bad that I had nearly slugged a girl who had once been my best friend. I never felt bad enough to apologize, but I felt bad showing Toni and Yvette how mean I might get.

For years, I felt that I should feel bad about the whole thing. After I graduated from college, I immediately moved to New Jersey before I lost my nerve to move out. Once there, I had to learn to stick my elbows out and put a 'don't mess with me' look on my face. I learned that it was okay to channel my inner grizzly bear. And I stopped feeling bad about that look on Toni's face just before I almost hit her.

Okay, this isn't truly about forgiving myself. I haven't had an affair, killed anyone, or even injured anyone. I'm a terrible listener. I sometimes yell at Nick to get him going. And sometimes I blurt out the most insensitive thing I could possibly say to someone.

So why do I wake up at three in the morning sometimes feeling so incredibly bad?

I talk to God, but I don't trust the answers that I hear are divine, are anything but my own voice. I don't seem to be able to let some things go. Forgiveness isn't too hard with other people. I don't doubt that Toni and Yvette are decent people with their own problems now, and they don't honestly figure much into my consciousness.

So why can't I forgive myself for running away from home when I left for good reasons? Why can't I let it go? Why do I have to work so hard, and repeatedly fail, to forgive myself for things that I know have saved my life, have made me a happier person, and have not been done in an attempt to injure someone else?

Why are these my sins? The other things, talking too much and yelling at Nick sometimes, are easy in comparison. I will admit to you that forgiving myself is a concept that I just don't know how to resolve.

Thank you for listening, jb