Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Telling It Like It Is

You would not believe what I just did.

On my way home from tutoring at school, I had dinner with a friend who is a teacher. I like to think she's rubbing off on me. She tells it like it is.

Afterward, I needed to pick up some milk at the Farmhouse market. It's a nice little market full of pretty produce, good quality meat, and almost everything else I might need for dinner. I love the market. I'm not the only one. It gets busy when people are on their way home from work. The parking lot was mostly full.

One guy in a sparkling blue truck had parked at an angle, taking up two spaces. What an ass. I tried to park my car as close to his bumper as I could, but unfortunately, I drive a very short car and he wasn't going to have a bit of trouble backing out of his double-spot. Who the hell did he think he was?

I fumed. I backed up a bit. My car was still too short to block him in. I hate people. There's no place in our society for people who act like they're entitled. The arrogance. I got out of the car and glared at the pretty blue truck.

Then, a middle-aged man stepped out from the front of his truck. He'd been smoking a cigarette. He ground out the butt with his toe. Then he stepped up into his truck and backed out of his double-spot while I gave him a dirty look.

I turned to stalk into the store, but, dammit, I had something to say. This was my chance to say it. I spun around, marched back, and knocked on his passenger-side window.

I had no idea what I was going to tell him but it had to be good.

The man rolled down his window.

"Excuse me," I said. No, no, no, this was not what I wanted to say to this man. "This parking lot just isn't all that big and there is no room for people to take up two spots the way you parked. There just isn't enough room. So, just don't. Okay?"

I stopped talking.

Just don't?

Just don't be an ass. Hell, I didn't say that. I didn't say anything that I meant to say. Not one word about how everybody hates people who act all entitled, how everybody wants to key the length of a truck parked diagonally in two spots but most of us won't because it's not right, how everybody would like to punch the lights out of a truck that takes up two parking places. I didn't say any of it.

Excuse me.

I blew it. I took a deep breath in and tried to maintain my glare. Maybe I could start over.

"Yes, ma'am," he said and he nodded.

I turned and shuffled into the grocery store. Maybe I still had something to learn about telling it like it is from my teacher friend.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I'm Not on Drugs

I strained my elbow. Did you miss me?

It's tennis elbow and I don't even play tennis any more. I never was very good at it anyway, but I loved the idea of tennis. Mike and I played a little when we dated. It was one of those things I just went along with whenever he brought it up. Tennis anyone?

Sure why not? Now, it makes me nostalgic. 

The real story is that I've been hanging out in the kitchen listening to The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. He's one of those writers who writes beautifully even for speeches and introductions and rants.

I talk back to him when he pauses on the audiobook. Blitz hangs out in the kitchen with me, usually in front of the sink where I'm working, on his back with his fluffy dots and stripes showing. Maybe he thinks I'm talking to him. Maybe I am talking to him. I don't know.

Neil says things like: it's necessary to make mistakes; write what you love; read the damned comics before you put them into that clear plastic sleeve; and listen to these attributes of his favorite authors.

I love when people talk about their favorite authors. Some I had read and some I hadn't.

Isn't it amazing how two people who read totally different books can still be avid readers? There are that many books in the world, enough for a bunch of us to be able to share completely new old books whenever the subject comes up. I love that. I also love that my stacks of books teeter in piles around my house. I have books on the back of my bed. I have books stacked in the window of my bathroom. I have an audiobook in my car and one in my kitchen. Books clutter the table on my side of the couch and lie double-stacked in bookshelves throughout the house. I currently have a book under my pillow. It's true, Dog Songs by Mary Oliver. I love being surrounded by books. I'm sure I won't live long enough to read them all but I can try.

Neil Gaiman made me cry too. I wanted to hug him and say, 'yes, yes, I know what you mean about those authors you love.'

At that point, I'd finished loading the dishwasher, had wiped down the counters, cleaned the litter box, did the last load of laundry, rearranged the silverware drawer, and then I just sat on the footstool in the laundry room and listened. Blitz was certain I was sitting there by the litter box for him. He loves lying on the rug, the one covered in scattered cat litter. At least he isn't rolling in the cat litter any more, not that I've seen anyway.

I kiss that kitten. Don't blame me for wishing he weren't such a dirtbucket.

So, as I sat on my footstool listening to Neil Gaiman read, Blitz rolled back and forth on his filthy rug.

Rub my belly.

Rub my belly.

Wait, don't rub my belly.

And I realized I was crying because of the joy of Neil's words and also because I struggle with my own words. Actually, writing is easy. Editing is hard. Editing is critical, turns the words from grape juice to wine. But editing, sitting down at the screen full of words and getting the shape of them just the way I want them - that is hard.

I have trouble with the glut of words and what I should do with all of them.

I hate when people come up to me and they tell me I just have to write this crazy story that happened to them last week because I must be looking for a subject to write about.

No! I have an abundance of subjects. Write your own damned book! I have my own passions that burn through my bones. I can't write your story.

So, I sat on the footstool and rubbed Blitz's back and patted his paws, crying, mourning my age and the fact that death could come and I might not finish writing. Neil's words made me ache and then brought a brand new story to mind.

No! Not a new story. And I felt compelled, when so many other stories await, to write out the bones of it. Moss and a crater and taking over the world. Then I went back to the footstool and listened so more to Neil speak about meeting his favorite authors. Stephen King's tribute was amazing. And funny. It made me feel less alone to hear that some souls just feel better when they write. And Neil spoke about Ray Bradbury. Ray fucking Bradbury. Dandelion Wine.

Yeah, that.

Does Neil Gaiman know he's that author for so many of us? I've given is book The Ocean at the End of the Lane to about four people now, describing it as 'ethereal.' Mike keeps telling me that I don't have to buy books for my friends when it's not their birthday. I will buy more by the end of June. Don't tell Mike. And I'm so relieved I haven't read everything Neil has written yet. There are still new stories for me to anticipate.

Eventually, I got tired of squatting on the footstool. My elbow ached for ice. I turned the sound up, moved to the couch, iced my aggravated elbow with Blitz sitting on my ankles, and Neil read me a story. When Blitz looked up at the ceiling, my eyes followed his. Nothing was there, just textured white ceiling and sky through the skylights. Blitz looked up again. I couldn't keep from checking.

Haha. Made you look.


Did Blitz know more about people reading and what happens to them than I did? Was Neil up there, a speck of dust, haunting me with his words? Was I too blind to see? Only a cat can see a reader.

I swear, I am not on drugs. I'm not.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 25, 2017


I woke up with Blitz's shoulder pressed into the palm of my hand. I hadn't fallen asleep that way. He was further from me when I fell asleep. He had shifted, while I was unconscious, to having as much of his body as possible touching my hand.

Everyone needs to be touched.

Yesterday, I had stopped in at Petco to get a couple of cans of kitten food. Blitz won't eat the stuff I bought. I bought a case of it and he'd happily chowed down a third of it. Then one day, I put a heaping spoonful into a tiny blue and white bowl I'd bought from Uwajimaya. Yes. This kitten eats from lovely bowls. I hadn't planned on it, but I'm a woman who has interesting rocks I found in a crystal bowl my mother gave me. She would be appalled if she knew.

And that one day, Blitz would no longer eat the kitten food that was so yummy the day before. Note to self - never buy the same kitten food twice. Never ever buy a case.

Happily, Teddy snuck into the kitchen later on and wolfed down the awful stuff.

I'm still stuck with two-thirds of a case of kitten food that the kitten will no longer eat. So, I headed to Petco to try something else.

At Petco, I always stop in to see what cats need to be adopted. If there are no attendants, I talk to them and stick my finger into the tiny holes if they want to be petted. Sometimes they want that and sometimes they are too frightened. I get that. People are scary. You can't just trust a person because he comes up to you and talks quietly into your ear. People are more complicated than that.

Yesterday, when I went to look in on the cats, an attendant had a cat out of her kennel. She was gorgeous. I knew her. At least I knew her in a previous incarnation. She was my angel.

"Can I come in?" I asked. The sign said they weren't open for visitors for another hour.

"Sure. This is a rest period for the cats, but come in anyway." Was I a prospective adopter? She wouldn't want to lose someone ready to bring home a cat.

And the cat came over to be petted. And petted. And petted.

I held back tears.

During my freshman year in college, my roommate announced one day that she was going to the Humane Society to adopt a cat.

"But animals aren't allowed in the dorm rooms," I said.

"I know. So, you won't tell anyone."

She was adamant and so I was not surprised that afternoon when she came home with a gorgeous cat. The cat had long luxurious fur. She had a white bib and feet and gray and tan calico. She had sharp green eyes like my roommate. They were perfect for each other, two of the beautiful people. My roommate named her Angel.

Within a week, Angel had peed on my pillow twice and broken the perfect clay pitcher my sister had made for me. You should never bring anything really nice to a dorm. Roommates and their cats were certain to ruin them for you.

Angel, my roommate told me, had come from an abusive home. She only peed on my pillow because she was afraid.

But I'd been asleep at the time. What the hell did she have to be afraid of while I was asleep? So that night, when my roommate was asleep and Angel snuck over to my bed to presumably squat on my pillow, I grabbed hold of her. I growled a little and whispered, "If you have any intention of staying in this room, you will stop peeing on my pillow. Forever." She stared back at me.

Then, I petted her long fur and told her she would be okay here. If she stopped the peeing.

And you know what? She never peed on anything except into a potted plant that I liked ever again.

She still broke things though, a small mirror my sister had made, a replacement pitcher, a vase. If I was studying too much and not paying sufficient attention to her, she'd push something breakable. I'd look up. She'd stop. I'd look back at my work and she'd push it again, closer to the edge of the desk. I'd look up, glaring at her. The edge of my vase was hanging off the desk.

"You wouldn't dare."

"I would." And she'd push it a little more.

Angel was interested in gravity. And the center of gravity. When she pushed it one more bit and the center of gravity hung too far over open space, it toppled off the desk and crashed in such a lovely way, pieces scattering across the floor.

That got my attention. Then, as I cleaned, Angel would thread through my feet and hands to get all of the touching that she needed.

She was a needy child. Regular touching wasn't enough for her. You had to put both hands into the job. You needed to stare at her with love and adoration while you petted Angel. Angel had to be the center of your universe at least four or five times a day. After about six months of staring into her eyes this way, I became Angel's person. It was inevitable. My roommate loved her and needed her, but Angel belonged to me. Or, more clearly, I belonged to Angel, at her service until death do us part.

There was a marriage of sorts. It feels good to be bonded to another creature in this lonely world. To her, I was beautiful no matter how hard my roommate worked to make me feel fat and stupid. Angel knew better. Angel snuggled into my sweater drawer and seldom crossed the room.

And she hadn't changed a bit in her newest incarnation. She still demanded two hands and a deep hypnotizing gaze. She stayed interested in being petted long after another cat would swat your hand and walk away. She still loved me even though death had taken her away from me and I couldn't care for her properly while she was gone.

I looked up at the attendant.

"I can't take her home. I really can't. We're full. We have two cats and a dog already." Angel was trying to hypnotize me. I could feel it.

"She doesn't like dogs."

I didn't correct the woman. All cats love my Teddy. All cats are the boss of my sweet Teddy and they know he is absolutely no threat to them.

But our house is truly full. Mike would not let me bring home another cat. He didn't really want the last one, the one who snuggles up against the palm of my hand while I sleep. If I brought home another cat, Mike would start calling me the crazy cat lady. I would hate that.

I would hate it because it's true.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Afraid of the Dark

I am afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of tight spaces, and I am terrified of being held under water. These days, I usually swim alone or sometimes with Mike or Nick, people I trust, though I had a couple of moments there when Nick was learning to swim and clutched at me for buoyancy. Mostly I taught him to swim in chest-high water but once or twice he caught me off my feet and I had to work to keep from thrashing about in the pool and hitting him.

As for spaces, I don’t do much caving these days and only have a bit of trouble in an MRI machine or on the aisle seat on a plane when the flight attendants park the drink cart to block me in. For both of these occasions, I’ve discovered that closing my eyes and imagining that I float near the beach in an ocean bay can keep me sane for the few minutes it takes for things to open up again.

As for the dark, I still struggle. The movie, I Am Legend, didn’t help. Mike tells me it wasn’t that scary, but that movie cornered me for years.

I could tell you the origin of every single one of these phobias, being held under water until my lungs felt like they were going to explode, being coerced to crawl through a hollow log in exchange for a stick of gum, and being forced to practice piano in the dark.

I blame my brother.

When I was about seven, I was required to practice piano for a half an hour each night on the old upright grand in our basement. It was a cold, dark basement with casement windows and that concrete smell that always associates itself with dank memories. If I tried to look out the windows, I saw leaves and a scrim of dirt.

The worst part was that the light switch for the room hung at the landing of the concrete stairs just outside the door of the basement. I had yet to discover the courage to go into the hall to my father’s den and turn on the other light there.

This layout gave my brother free reign to capture and torture me while I played. He’d wait until he was sure I wasn’t standing by the door, until I was in the middle of a scale then switch the light off and then on again. Then, he’d switch it off and walk up three steps to the heating duct and practically press his lips to the dusty vent.

“Frankenstein,” he would whisper. “Frankenstein,” he would say with drama, holding the last syllable out with a tremor. The word shivered and reverberated through the ducts until it came alive in my imagination, wolves and wild cyborgs both with red eyes, worms and snakes slithered down the hall behind me until they waited just behind my piano stool.

If I stopped playing, my mother would yell through the floor for me to keep practicing until my half hour was up. Those were the longest half-hours of my life.

I learned to memorize very quickly and played as best as I could while half-turned on the swivel stool so that my poor eyes could discern any light that drifted from the casement windows. It was always dim in that basement, but at night passing cars or lightning played tricks on my eyes.

I tried to remember the positions of each item in the room, chairs, tables, toys, and I prayed they hadn’t shifted when the next streak of light illuminated the room. Tiny reflections became eyes. Invariably, I thought I saw minuscule differences in the flashed scenes. That chair with the black shadow behind it had shifted toward me. Some tinker toys had been removed from the path.

In those moments, in that dark or dim room, I lived an Alfred Hitchcock life, altered reality, even after my brother gave up whispering into the duct and left me paralyzed in the dark, waiting for someone to come down to watch TV.

I blame my mother too.

She requested that anyone wanting to watch TV wait until I was done practicing. One half hour of practicing daily. I never had the courage to walk across the room in the dark to find the light switch on the landing or in the hall. If I moved, the predators could see me clearly. If I stopped playing the keys, they would be able to locate my breathing.

By the time anyone came, I sat at the piano, still playing for the company, but with tears in my eyes. I always dashed them away because my brother had called me a baby too many times for me to show my fear.

I still imagine creatures, usually rabid people, coming around a dark corner like the one to that hallway. I still don’t like that place in my mother’s house, all that terror built up in one place, making the veil between reality and imagination very thin. Anything can make its way through dimensions where terror resides.

But now, I have some sort of angels that accompany me. At night, when I walk through my dark hallways, avoiding the desire to run back and forth turning lights on ahead before turning lights off behind me, I turn the flash of my iPhone on so I won’t trip over anything. That light is no help against night’s creatures. None. It only reminds me of the man with the pen light who tried to break into my car one night.

I always check to make sure the front door is locked and the reflection of that light in the window takes my breath, as does the possibility in the eerie light that the doorknob will slowly turn as if someone on the other side was teasing me, about to shift inside.

No. That light is no help.

What reassures me is the way Blitz’s furry feet patter down the stairs. He is excited to get a midnight snack, some kitten kibbles with tuna flakes on top. And Teddy, pounds down the stairs knowing he’s about to get one of his hypoallergenic cookies before snuggling into his bed next to my bed. Those clicking toenails need to be clipped, but not until tomorrow when I am more awake.

I am not alone in this darkness. The predators on the other side of the veil can’t find me here in the light of the good company I keep.

Thank you for listening, jb

The Inattentive Mom

As I made my smoothie this morning, a fresh ice cube fell, bounced, then skittered across the floor. I'm not a morning person. I'm just not. My hands don't function before 6:00 am. My mind... Well, my mind doesn't work a lot of the time.

 I stood and stared dumbly at it lying there. Blitz came running into the kitchen.

"New cat toys?"

I wondered briefly at him batting around an ice cube, nodded my okay, and went back to trying to get the blender lid screwed onto the top of my cup.

"Don't do it." Seth's cat voice seemed to come from the other room.

I looked up, as if through the wall to the living room and went back to my smoothie. That thing never threads. Wrong twice, then lefty-loosey, lefty-loosey, lefty-loosey until both sides seated and finally righty-tighty. And blend ...

"Just don't." Seth's voice seemed like it was louder than usual. He sauntered into the kitchen.

It's my imagination. Rampant, especially in the morning.

Blitz batted the ice cube experimentally. Then he chased it while Seth sat on his haunches and watched. Fun! It slid to the refrigerator. Then, he batted it under the stove. He dug it out, now fuzzy with fur. He paused. I looked casually at him, wondering what he was thinking.

Then, he licked it.

"No!" I yelled, only managing to startle him further.

And he spun around once and ran from the room with the ice cube hanging from his tongue.

It fell off before he made it to the cat tree in the living room. I stood on my tiptoes, trying to pet him in the top spot. Seth walked casually into the room to watch.

"I told you not to." Do cats laugh?

Blitz leaned away from my hand and glared.

"You hurt me!"

Not my imagination.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Am Not My Son

I've settled into a groove with you haven't I?

My life appears to be all kitten, all the time.

It's not. I assure you. But it's so easy too look at Blitzen with his little belly roll, the way he tilts his tiny head, the way he sits with his front paws apart. He looks like a boy studying a gully. Is it too far to leap, will I fall into the mud, or can I make it?

Blitz doesn't leap well. He's gotten into the habit of asking Nick or Mike or me to lift him onto the washing machine where we keep the dry cat food away from Teddy. Teddy loves dry cat food, but he's allergic so if he eats some, he goes outside and pukes later on. It's always a flurry toward the door when he makes that gulping sound. Everyone with hands leaps from the couch or the computer or the food preparation in the kitchen to go unlatch that door and let him out. We only put the wet kitten food on the floor because it doesn't seem to bother anybody very much.

Did I tell you that everyone eats each other's food? Blitz eats diet cat food and dog food, turning his nose up at the kitten food I patiently put into a little bowl for him on the floor every morning. He asks for it, so I give it to him. Then he sniffs it and goes over to what I've given the dog and eats a little of that instead. I've tried different flavors, every flavor there is. He doesn't think, because I give it to him, that it could possibly be as good as what I give the dog and the old fat cat.

Didn't I tell you this already?

Didn't I tell you that when Teddy eats, Blitz likes to go and nip at his ankles and tail because he doesn't want the dog eating the food that is surely better than his own? And Teddy tolerates that, sometimes stepping back from the bowl and sometimes wolfing down what he can before he's kicked out entirely. Blitz never bothers to nip at Teddy's ankles when he sneaks over to eat from the kitten bowl. Why is that? And why do I never hear Teddy sneaking?

How does a dog keep his nails from clicking on a vinyl floor when he's headed for wet kitten food?

The sound of a dog tiptoeing.

I have to tell you that I'm in a groove. Nick drives himself to all of his own events. Evenings are quiet. Mike and I eat dinner together in front of the TV. We take walks together with Teddy. Even when Nick is home, he's behind a closed door, either playing video games, watching Netflix, or occasionally doing homework.

Yesterday, a friend of mine said, "I am not my daughter. If her life falls apart, that's not me."

It was like a coat I wanted to try on. I wanted it to fit. I wanted it to look good on me too.

Nick's life is not my own.

He's not an adult yet, but he's ready, with his closed-door message, to be let go of. A little. He can make his own plans. He can be late. He can, God forgive me, decide to watch television and play video games all weekend and never see a single friend.

I'm telling you that if Mike hadn't been in this household, that would not be the truth. There would have been limits starting at age four. I told Mike that I blamed him for the amount of time Nick spends in front of a screen.  I don't usually play the blame game, but with this, I did. He nodded his head and looked away. It wasn't the nicest move I've made during an argument, but it felt like the truth. I worry about the screen time. Nick's less social than he used to be. His reading and writing scores are lower than I know he's capable of achieving. He needs more exercise than he gets. The worst thing I can do is take away television or video games. It's as if I've actually injured him when it happens.

I worry. You can see that I worry, can't you?

So, Nick and I are at an uneasy truce with regard to his habit. He knows I don't approve. I've explained why I think it's too much. I've nagged. I've yelled. That time is past. I'm telling you that if it were drugs or alcohol, Mike would be onboard with any necessary treatment. He sees the damage that I see. He just thinks Nick will come out of it on his own. I'm not so sure.

So, I press my lips together or ineffectually nag once in a while. Nick ignores me and keeps watching. And I try not to stew about it.

I am not my son.

But with the funny kitten, the dog and his lovely walks, and the fat old cat who demands that I sit down so he can be petted, I have pulled myself away from living Nick's life. I am not Nick.

Instead, I occasionally tie a long string to Teddy's collar and get him to run around the house so that Blitz can chase it. The look on Teddy's face when he finally understood the game?


Thank you for listening, jb