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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.

Let Me Do This My Way

My mother died on September 8, 2013. Even if you know the whole story, let me give you the three crucial words: My. Mother. Died.

There are some out in the world who are going to be tempted to jump on me because the relationship has been fractured for the past few years (and if you don’t already know why, you don’t get to hear the story. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is) and they want to censor/silence me.  To them: Fuck you. She was my mother. I get to mourn and express myself in my own way. If you don’t like it, go see a therapist. And if you don’t like that answer: fuck yourself, you sniveling narcissist who probably needs a therapist AND medication.

My mother was Priscilla Tillson Thatcher. She was an Aries, a Mayflower descendant, Red Sox fan (who held a grudge against her husband for ‘disappearing” a Ted Williams autograph she got at Edaville Railroad as a child), Massachusetts native, married for 55 years to Clifford R. Thatcher, Jr., mother of 4 children (And her favorite expressions were “Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.” and “I wish the Pill was retroactive”) grandmother of 5 (she liked them better. She didn’t have to raise them), an artist, a fan of cashews, the combination of chocolate and raspberry, cashews, macadamias, pecan (pe-CAHNS), NO black olives, apples and cheddar cheese as a snack, carousel horses, black licorice, cashews , and one of Robert Redford’s biggest fans, and loved garbanzo beans, orange cats, “The King and I”, “The Way We Were,” the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra (I heard “September Song” until I was damned near suicidal when I was 6. I later gave her the CD with the stipulation, “Do not EVER play this in my presence”). When making spaghetti sauce, the two of us would hover over the garlic press and inhale like a couple of cokeheads getting a fix. She hated winter (it’s where I learned it) and once the kids were out of the house, would flee to warmer climates from November until it was safe to come back (after Mother’s Day).

Mom and Me, 1988

This is the 2 of us in 1988. I’m on the left.

If you’ve read These Foolish Things, she is not Delia. NO. Delia was a helluva lot colder towards her only child. I was one of four.

Understand: when I was little (we’re talking pre-school), she was my best friend. I remember holding our cat, Ralph (who objected because I clocked him with a hairbrush when I was 18 months old. I do not remember this incident) and having her sketch a picture. I vaguely remember seeing the sketch years ago but not since. She may have destroyed it.

For her love of carousel horses, I made this for Christmas one year:

Carousel crosstitch

That’s about 4 months worth of work and includes cat fur from Vicki, my Seal Point Himalayan, who insisted on being on my shoulder while I stitched.

Vicki Pillow Princess

Vicki. She liked Vicki.

shell crosstitch by SPT

That’s my Dad, Clifford R. Thatcher, Jr. I’m like  him. It was something she noted when I exasperated her. “You’re just like your father!”( And that’s a bad thing? BTW, I GOT Dwight Evans’ autograph for her – had to help him spell “Priscilla”- instead of making a Ted Williams disappear. Take that, DAD!)

When the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for those who don’t recognize the initials) had a special exhibition of Winslow Homer, I made her talk to me about those pictures. She studied him and John Singer Sargent as an art student at the Massachusetts School of Art. I do not remember her replies, but while the other members of the party drifted off, I got a guided tour from someone who knew the work intimately.

I have been to two games between the Red Sox and the Yankees (both at Fenway). At one of them (1985-1986), she was yelling at Dave Winfield so loudly, he heard her. We are Red Sox.

I do not have pictures available for this post of our miniature Schnauzers. There is a picture of Mom, 7 months pregnant, with Lily, the puppy my dad had to have, in her lap.  The expression on her face is “Yup. Gonna have to kill him.” Lily’s son, Max, was Mom’s biggest fan.

bobbyandrex

I’m happy to think this is happening with Max. It’s been 29 years.

She used to look at him and say, “You are my favorite baby. You are the best child I ever raised.” Meanwhile, his actual mother would be sitting in an armchair that she’d conned me out of with a “WTF? That was ME giving birth to him and 6 siblings in the kitchen, not you.”

She had a remarkable sense of humor that would manifest itself in memorable ways. A Christmas gift of a back saver shovel (funky design that shifted the effort) was disguised as a reindeer with wrapping paper tubes for legs. One year,  I gave my brother-in-law, Mike (now ex-brother-in-law) a Costco bottle of pepperoncini one year. With a pink pillow case, she helped me turn it into a pig. One Christmas, my father was given a Christmas gift and a card with instructions to “Open first.” The card read something like, “The answer is: In here.” Dad opened the present (a shoebox) and found it filled with inexpensive flashlights. In the bottom of the shoebox, she’d written, “Jesus Christ, Priscilla! Where in hell are all the goddamn flashlights?”

From her, I learned about Charlotte’s Web, A Girl of the Limberlost, John Singer Sargent, an appreciation of birds (especially wading birds like herons and egrets), and John Michener.

I also learned about loyalty and its potential costs (Again, if you don’t already know the story, tough). You know how kryptonite is toxic to Superman? Little itty bitty piece of his home planet can kill him? Same deal here. The distance was necessary or else I’d be 400 lbs. and/or dead by my own hand. Those with great potential expect it to be realized in others.

Parents and sister

Both parents and one sister in better times.

When my dad retired from the bank to devote his energy to law, she taught herself how to use a computer (this was a woman who had had us call to make dentist appointments and do “professional/business” kinds of phone calls as we grew up). She got to be good enough to work as a legal secretary for Dad.

She is out of her distress and reunited with her husband, her brother and parents, various dogs and cats that loved her throughout her life. After a lengthy drought, she got to see the Red Sox win two World Series championships. She painted pictures not only of children, but grandchildren, Vermont, doorways, sunsets, boats, whatever caught her eye. Her work was sold in art galleries and one painting of fishing boats in North Carolina was made into a lithograph.

Priscilla Thatcher was an artist, a Red Sox fan, a Parrothead, a conservative, a daughter, a sister, a mother, (and you can add “in-law” to all of those).

And now she’s gone.