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I’m Still Here

How many times have I said that? (I know, I know)

I’m not a Stephen  Sondheim fan (I recognize his genius, but his music doesn’t resonate with me).

It’s been 364 days since my last blog post. That was about how I felt since the death of my friend 15 years ago. I have sisters (more on them in a bit) but that was the loss of a soul sister. Given the number of blunders I’ve made in that time, I think I relied too heavily on her superior common sense and smarts for guidance and didn’t really work to develop my own.

2003 was a suck-ass year.

Followed by 2005.

So was 2008.

And 2015.

2018, too.

I self-diagnose as having situation depression. It manifests as a form of emotional paralysis: I don’t want to do anything. Everything is overwhelming. I just want to hibernate until things are better. I don’t want to be medicated because that won’t resolve the issues (and that goes for drugs and alcohol. They don’t solve the problem, so why bother?).  I can’t afford to go to a psychiatric hospital because I don’t have insurance or the means to pay for it (or a regular prescription. That shit’s expensive). And I don’t want to be on meds anyway. (Sort of a middle finger to Big Pharma)

I looked for an image for this post of a woman wrapped in chains to illustrate the point. However, the ones I found (including strait-jacket photos) were all a bit too BDSM to use. Yeah, no.

Lost a good-paying job in March. Managed to scramble, financially through most of the year, but found another job in September that pays 63% less. No, that was not a typo. Call center. White collar work, but not a living wage. I have never been so over-managed in the 34 years I’ve been a working adult. At any given time, at least 4 people can be monitoring a phone call located in Florida, New York, or Mumbai. The task does not play to my strengths: problem-solving. And my co-workers tell me it’s obvious to them that the manager does not like me. At all. However, I did win a 43″ Sharp smart TV at the Christmas party, so there’s that.

The way out…

In the time in between jobs, I SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED a course in Web Design and Program Development. Me. I learned HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, JavaScript, JQuery, some graphics work, PHP, and MySQL. The JavaScript and the PHP  haven’t stuck too well, but the coding community is extremely supportive, in terms of fora (plural of forum), chat rooms, and websites to learn/practice coding.  I made what I think is a kick-ass website for my final project (no, I’m not providing the link right now. It’s supposed to be uploaded to here somewhere, but we’ll see if I was successful). Starting wages for web development are still about half of what I was making in mortgage due diligence, but more than what I’m making now.  And I can create tools for folks to complete better, more accurate mortgage reviews.

I am standing in my own way in terms of lacking self-confidence. Potential employers will give you puzzles to code and I am too chickenshit to complete them. Practicing code on a website in order to refresh memory and boost confidence.

And, once again, I need to find a home. (And save my stuff in storage. Seriously. If anyone reading this has a spare $150,000, that’ll pay off all my debts and purchase a nice little condo for me with enough to move CA storage stuff to FL, furnish home, acquire two kitties).

I’ve been ready to throw in the towel for eternity for months. I’m serious.

This week, an old wound that I’ve been trying to heal by ignoring it has reopened. This is where my sisters come in. One of them posted an old photo of the two of them wearing hats from my grandmother. I remember when the picture was taken. In the posted photo, I was cropped out. I’m being erased from my family. And that broke my heart.

I imagine they would say this is all my fault due to issues I had with my mother, but 20 some years ago, I could see that the unity and bonding that my dad wanted so much for us wasn’t going to outlast him. I thought I had worked towards healing old wounds and rebuilding relationships, but I was wrong. Back in 2000, at my sister’s wedding, her co-workers challenged me when I said I was her sister. They pointed at my other sister and said, “No, that’s her sister over there!”

How nice. Of course, she has family pictures all over her houses, but I never saw myself in any of them. Granted, we had a bad relationship as kids. After I moved out, I discovered that she had broken some of my collection of horse statues (including Breyer collectibles which appreciate in value. Dumb fucking move). I don’t think it was accidental. Nor was cutting up my prom dress to make an 8th grade graduation dress without asking me (Thanks, Mom. You knew better). Her boyfriend/husband was not very friendly and the first time I saw her kids beyond being little babies, they thought it was great fun to hit me with duck decoys while their parents stood by and laughed. I should have known.

Of course, the usual comment that follows is “Well, you hold a grudge.” Actions speak louder than words. My words, your actions.

The cropped picture brought it all home. If you bitches wanted to hurt me, you fucking did it. Congratulations. I hope you’re happy with yourselves. You tried to trap me into moving home and being a caretaker for someone who disliked me only slightly less than you did.

Why was it decided that my life and happiness mattered less than yours?

Whatever. You can block me on Facebook, refuse to acknowledge my existence, not communicate with me unless you want something (which has been the case since we were teens. I only exist if I’m useful to you. The sad smile and tears with “We really should be closer” only comes out when the wine flows. I’m willing to be closer, just not on your terms). However, like science, whether you like it or not, I’m still your sister. Those were my parents. I don’t even know what you did with the bodies. NONE of you had the maturity, courage, or grace to reach to tell me my mother was dying, was dead, the date/time of the memorial, or even offer me the pictures of myself from the hall. I didn’t want money (this was a discussion I’d had with Mom several times. And Dad. Because he and I were both ATTORNEYS who had studied wealth transmission, we knew the best estate planning was to spend it all (including transfers) during your lifetime). All I wanted were the cross-stitch pictures I’d made for them, the photos of me as a baby and little girl, me with Ralph, my graduation pictures, the Fidelity publicity photo of me wearing a headset. That’s it. My stuff. Given the treatment years prior of my collectibles, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tossed the first day of cleaning out the Rutland house. And I’m pretty sure I was lied to about them.

Anger is like  drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person. I have to forgive you for myself. I can also forgive you because you have to live with yourselves. I don’t.

I have been working on some short stories. I will finish those sumbitches if it kills me. Which is ironic because they’re supposed to be funny erotica, not Swedish death metal (shout-out to a friend). And not under my name. Someone I respect told me I need to focus and commit to something, then success will follow. Also commented that the comerotica (comedy + erotica. Portmanteau word. May catch on. May not) would be successful. I can do that.

And that’s the state of me right now.

Still here. The Iron Rose will bloom again.

 

 

Since You Left

February 1, 2003 was the worst day of my life, but I think you know that. I’d like to think, if the situation was reversed, it would have been equally as devastating to you.

You left.

I don’t kick myself because I had turned off my phone and didn’t get the call when Ellen made it. This wasn’t Dad or Gram with some warning that they were about to leave. You and I had a great conversation the day before. Truth? I was surprised as hell that you picked up the phone. That almost never happened. You know how, after someone has suddenly left, the stories come out? “Just out of the blue, Jeremiah called/dropped by/sent an email/text/Facebook comment and the next day, he was gone.” That phone call the day before was one of those stories. I don’t remember what the hell we talked about, except I was light-headed after giving blood, and you ragged on me for being an airhead blonde because of it. And I said, “Fuck you.” You said, “Fuck you.” . And a bunch of other shit. Our usual shit. I think I forgot to say, “Talk to you later.” That was odd. I always sign off a phone call that way. Maybe that was another sign that, no, I wouldn’t talk to you later. Or ever again.

It’s been almost fifteen years. I lost you, I lost Toulouse, I lost my housing (through my own folly). That was the last time I had a home of my own. 2003 was a real festering turd of a year. And I am not recovered from it. Your departure is still a raw, oozing wound. It doesn’t heal. It won’t heal. I don’t want it to heal. I don’t want to get over losing my soul sister.

Yeah, sister. You have one of your own. I have two. I think it’s fair to say, we were closer to each other than to them. I couldn’t and cannot talk to Kathy and Laura like I could talk to you. I was like the alien in the midst of the Thatcher family. We kept each other’s confidences. We talked about stuff that would get me puzzled and dismissive “You’re weird” looks from K&L. You and me, though, we got each other.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I needed you more than you needed me. You had my back. Maybe I took it for granted. Yeah, I did. I have no idea what it was I did for you. Made you laugh? Got you into some Lucy & Ethel type capers? I think maybe part of my ongoing, decade-and-a-half-long grief is guilt. Guilt for taking, for not giving back enough, for being selfish. I took your presence in my life for granted, and I also took it for granted that we would be on the Earth together for decades. 1979-2003, not even a quarter-century. it’s not fair.

You’ve missed a lot. You missed me coming in third on Jeopardy. You missed me on “Reba.” (and Ms. McIntyre was kind and gracious when I almost burst out crying all over her because you would have loved that I was on her show).  I needed to talk to you about what I saw of Dad with dementia and how scary that shit was. You weren’t here to consult over the issues that drove the final breaking wedge between the rest of the Thatchers and me. If ever I needed a soul sister, that was then.

You should have been here to torment me on my fiftieth birthday. I should have been able to mock you on YOUR fiftieth birthday. Coward. You skipped Earth before that milestone. Forty years was enough, I guess.

By the way, I’m the one who put the yellow rose in the bouquet that was the center of your memorial service. Ellen went along with it. And I’m sure you dumped the picture into that bouquet. Our final “Fuck you” to each other?

You’re the one who kept my feet to the fire writing. I should have been able to consult you about publishing. By all rights, the first copy should have gone to you, not just the dedication.

I still have trouble referring to those closest to me as “best friend.” That’s your job, and fuck you, Bitch, you quit on me. What happens if I call someone else “Best Friend”? Is she going to quit on me, too?

I’m angry, still. How dare you leave? And should I feel guilty over being angry? Doesn’t change the fact that I’m angry, bereft, abandoned. Yeah, you were over a year younger than me, but you had more big sister energy. I feel like I’ve been  cut loose since then, tumbling from a plane without a parachute in a high wind. It’s not your fault, but I wonder if I’d have been blown around so much or made so many bad decisions if you were still here. Or maybe you would have ended the friendship because I’m too much of a pain in the ass.

I don’t know. You had a lot of nerve to be able to get tanked, barf,  and not have a hangover the next day. Such a bitch for being smarter, better self-disciplined,  and more responsible than me. How dare you have your shit together.

Whatever.

I miss you. Every day. I just thought you should know.

 

 

 

Imaginary Conversation, Part I

She sat down across the table from me. It was a nice day and Dunkin Donuts had a bunch of empty tables outside. Her face was stony, like she was about to be interrogated by a cop after getting caught speeding. Ashley took her privilege seriously and I was not among those allowed to to violate it.

“Ashley,” I said.

“Lou,” she grunted.

“So how have you been?” I asked. “Haven’t hear from you in ages.”

She sneered. “You’re just saying that because I blocked you on Facebook.”

“Yeah, you did, ” I said. “Right sisterly of you. Remember that the next time you and Dina are telling your friends how important family is to you.” She looked uncomfortable. She deserved to.

“What do you want, Lou?”

“Must I necessarily have an ulterior motive? Maybe I was in the area and thought it would be nice to talk to my own sister.” She snorted. “That’s right, Ash. I forgot. That’s your M.O. Yours and Dina’s. Only time I ever heard from either one of you, there was something you wanted.” She looked uncomfortable again. “Funny how Mom and Dad thought we were all so tight. Or should have been.”

“Fuck you,” she said. She sipped her coffee. I continued. “Well, I do have an ulterior motive this time. I want my pictures.”

“Your what?”

“My pictures from Mom and Dad’s. The ones of me. They were in the hall. That’s what I want. My memories.”

I don’t care much for pictures of myself, but they were ones I liked: my baby picture, graduations, a publicity still from my work, Dudley the cat in my arms. I was out of touch with my mother when she passed, partly due to Ashley. The Facebook block took place a long time ago.

She shrugged. “I don’t know where they are.” She didn’t look me in the eye.  That was a lie. When you’ve known someone her entire life, you know her body language. Ashley never looked anyone in the eye when she was lying. If she was trying hard to sell it, she’d touch the person she was talking to. It always amazed me how quickly her demeanor would change from talking to our parents or people she liked to talking to those she didn’t. The smile, the flirtatious air would melt away and be replaced by a scowl and curt tone. I let the lie go for the moment.

“Well, that’s unfortunate.,” I said. “I really wanted those pictures. I like so few.”

“Try not eating so much. That might help.” She smirked.

I resisted the urge to punch her in the face. There it was. The old game. Bored fiyr year old goes out of her way to provoke the ten year old until the ten year old reacts. Then four year runs to Mom complaining that the ten year was being mean. Then five years old, six, seven, until I left home for college.

I smiled a tight smile.

“You can’t run to Mom anymore, Ash Hole,” I said. “So you can stop.”

She glared at me. I wasn’t playing her game. “Okay, so if there’s nothing else,” she started to rise.

“Oh, there’s plenty,” I said. “Sit your ass down.” She did.

“I’m not the asshole,” she said. “You were never nice to me. You’re lucky I’m so forgiving.”

I laughed. “Keep telling yourself that. You know, when someone says ‘I am forgiving or kind or able to laugh at myself,’ that’s the biggest clue that they aren’t. You’re so ‘forgiving’,” I emphasized the word, “that there were people at your wedding who didn’t know  you had a sister besides Dina.”

She looked startled. “Yeah,’ I said. “I know. You want the names?”

Ashley’s face flushed. She opened her mouth and closed it again. “I know,” I said. ‘There’s not a damned thing you can say about that.”

“While we’re on the subject of invitations and events, I noticed when I wasn’t invited to your thirtieth birthday party…”

“You were studying,” she said. “I didn’t want to interrupt you.” She wasn’t making eye contact. A lie, but I’d known for years it was a lie.

“That’s bullshit and we both know it,” I answered. I looked her straight in the eye. “Were you really good at hiding your hatred from Mom and Dad or they just didn’t care? Seems like they were always willing to go on vacation with you and Dina. Me, not so much.”

She shrugged. “I can’t help it if they liked me better.”

“Right,” I said, “despite Mom saying over and over again how she loved her children all the same, somehow you’ve come to the conclusion that she liked you better than any of us for no reason. Had nothing to do with you bullying us and then running to tell.” She glared at me. “Nah. Making us look bad and you the perpetual victim. No wonder you vote Republican. ”

I leaned towards her. “You know why I eat?” She shook her head. “Because I don’t do drugs and there are enough alcoholics in the family. Dina may not have as much weight, but boy, does she like her wine. Think the fact that two of you have been competing for ‘Best Daughter’ for over forty years has something to do with it? How’s that going now that Mom and Dad are dead?”

“Fuck you,” she said again. “You’re just jealous and bitter.”

“Jealous of what?’ I asked.

“Me. Everything. You’re fat. I’m not. You’re single and alone. I’m marred with kids. You’re a failure. I’m not. You’re just jealous.” She was looking me straight in the face.

I leaned back. “Actually, I’ve done a bunch of stuff with my life that would count as ‘bucket list’ if I had one. I’m not married because I’ve been surrounded by a bunch of examples of people who fought each other for control, who turned their self-loathing into ways to torment others, who found new and different ways to use the people around them in the name of family and make a big show of it  and were MIA when called upon, unless Dad was watching. Or could be told. As for no kids, you are the reason I don’t like children.”

“What?”

“You were petted and praised for bratty behavior. You had a potty mouth almost as soon as you could speak and Mom encouraged it by laughing and repeating it as ‘isn’t she cute?’ Dina and Joe would laugh when you said rude things, especially when you said them to me. If I fought back,  I ‘didn’t have a sense of humor’ or ‘don’t react. You’re older than she is. Act like it’ or ‘don’t ignore your sister. You two should be friends.’ I was forced into babysitting you, bathing with you, giving up my room because you wanted it, doing the household chores you didn’t want to to do, and you wonder why I don’t care for you very much.”

“Well you weren’t very nice to me, either.” Ashley was defiant. “You told me to go fuck myself.”

“You never gave me a moment’s peace,” I said. “I get a flood of bad memories when I smell baby powder. Or vanilla,  because you’d throw a tantrum if you didn’t get vanilla ice cream.”

“Poor you,” she said, “You suffered because you had to help care for your baby sister. So you weren’t the baby anymore. Boo fucking hoo.”

I took a breath. “You weren’t my child. I missed Drama Club rehearsals and parties because I had to watch you. You weren’t my child, but I had to give up my personal space, my time because of you. And as for being the baby, given the level of self-absorption you have, maybe I dodged a bullet.”

 

to be continued…

 

 

 

 

Maybe It’s Time

I’m not a cryer. I did plenty of it growing up; falls off bikes and monkey bars, losing pets, angry tears, getting reamed out by my father (my mother believed in “Wait til your father comes home.”), getting hit by my father, losing grandparents.

That was…forty years ago. The last time I really cried was about 10 years ago. It was when I took my cats samba, Cookie, and George to the Ventura County Animal Shelter to surrender them because I had no job, was losing my home, had no food for them, no money to buy them their food or medicine. They knew something was up because they all cried on the way over. Even Cookie, my Blue Point Himalayan who was a trooper.

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The black and white cat in the picture is Toulouse who had died two years earlier.

For the past ten years, I have experienced an unstable life. In that time, I have not had a home in my name; no lease, no mortgage. I have lived in hotels, corporate housing, camped, been in a homeless shelter for a couple of months, rented a room (and got booted from it about a year ago) , and for the past year, been couch surfing (going from one friend’s house until the welcome wears out, then on to another home. This is what you do when you don’t have the money or credit to rent an apartment or get a room even in a fleabag hotel).

I haven’t cried.

In addition, i haven’t had enough of a job to support myself since November 2013. I worked at a lousy job test-driving cars. It was lousy because the cars were “modified” to allow the engineers to install their testing gear and they disconnected a lot of safety gear. The drivers would report issues that didn’t get fixed. The hours were irregular; only one pay period was for two solid weeks, and the pay, though above minimum wage, was t enough to support myself even if I had worked a full 40 hours per week. Right now, I’m unemployed. No; I am not drawing unemployment. The why is none of your Damned business.

I still haven’t cried.

What isn’t in my car is in a storage unit and I am struggling to keep up the payments. This includes things like my bed (which the crazy ex-roommate wanted to keep in lieu of rent that was not 30 days overdue when she told me to get out by the 16th. When I said she couldn’t have it, her response was “Fick you.” Long fake fingernails and accurate typing on an iPhone are mutually exclusive). I’ve been living out of a suitcase.

I still haven’t cried.

Both of my parents have died since 2011; my father to Alzheimer’s (it scared the shit out of me to see him in the early to mid stages) and my mother to liver cancer. I didn’t get to say goodbye to either. I couldn’t afford the airfare for Dad’s and none of my siblings told me about Mom. Her wish? Theirs? I don’t know.

0 tears shed. I don’t have the time or the space necessary to indulge.

My books, though they do sell and do get good reviews (the only bad one I’ve seen was from someone who mistook it “These Foolish Things” for a book of the same title by Deborah Moggach (Ms, Moggach? I got the copyright back in 2001). However, they have not yet found their audience. The next two stories I have “bookend” the two published stories, but my laptop dies, so it’s been composition books and a ballpoint pen. As you know, I didn’t get to the Deep In the Heart author event.

Still haven’t cried.

I don’t cry like this:

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It’s more like this:

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Or this:

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Complete with snot bubbles. I sob and scare every animal within 5 miles. Humans can’t handle it (if I cried in front of my old man, he’d get even angrier, tell me to “knock it off” because they were “crocodile tears” because if I was really that upset, I wouldn’t have done whatever in the first place)

Maybe it’s time. I need another place to live, I need income. I need them quickly.

imageThis is Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith. If you’ve seen “The Secret,” you recognize him, his church is the Agape Center in Los Angeles and part of their ministry is. Prayer Ministry. You can reach them at 310-348-1270, I called them. We talked about my predicament, the fact that I feel like I’ve had it, my fears. All of it. I told her of trying to make sense of my situation in terms of a task to complete or a lesson to learn. I mentioned that I don’t cry. She said, “Maybe it’s time.”

Maybe that’s the lesson, the task. Right now, while I have a safe space, cry. Bury my face in a blanket and sob.

It’s time to release the toxic emotions and memories I’ve been keeping inside.

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Later.