The Story of Steve and Swift

Don’t Read Alone

This story was written in the voice and style of Keith Morrison/Dateline. Read as such.

Temple Terrace, Florida–home of discarded couches and hookah lounges–and to a rather unusual cat, Steve Bennett. Steve was not a pure bred cat. Somewhere in his blood line, there was some dog in him. He seldom arched his back in arrogance, angry that his house rules had not been followed. Instead, he greeted his family–even strangers–at the door with a meow and a rub against any calf that would let him in range. Steve was needy. Steve was looking for friends. On the outside, he seemed perfectly friendly. But a friendly cat is an oxymoron. Things are not always what they seem. Steve was harboring a loneliness that seemed innocent enough. Until it wasn’t. Steve’s search for love led him to the brink of desperation.

In simpler times, August 2014 to be exact, Steve was in the prime of his life. He was at the top of his game. His owners, the Bennetts, had come to accept that he, in fact, owned them. They played along and everything went exactly as it should. Steve had a good life there on Main Street. But one thing had been withheld from him.
One friend.
A beta fish, set high on a table top and protected by a $12 plastic topped container, swam in circles that Steve was not allowed to enter. The fish was named Swift. Ironic, because in the end, speed could not save him.

Steve knew that cats and fish were not friends. He knew, because he knew things. It was against house rules set by the humans. But all Steve wanted was companionship. So when the family left the house, for non-cat activities, Steve would hop up to the table and commune with Swift. Swift did not know as many things as Steve knew. That’s how it is for fish and cats. But Swift, for all he didn’t know, knew that Steve was not his friend. Steve was to be feared. For awhile, Swift managed to circle his bowl at just the perfect speed and trajectory to make Steve a tad sleepy. During this honeymoon period, they appeared to be friends. Steve would sit bowlside, peacefully thinking about ways to further cement this relationship. He tried everything. Long gazes under the glow of the moonbeams spilling through the blinds. Reading the news to Swift. Pucker faces.

It was, at best, an unrequited friendship. Swift was cold to Steve. He didn’t like the news. He was creeped out by the moonlight. He blew his bubbles the other direction. He turned his fins on Steve. For a few weeks, Steve focused his affections on the children in the house. On his litter box. On his warm spot between the window and the blinds where he watched discarded couches go by.

In December 2014, everything changed.

Steve’s family went out of town. They had plans to frolic in the snows of Indiana. No one invited Steve. He was given enough food to get by, a clean litter box, and a neighbor to watch him on occasion. He searched his soul and found his circumstances to be unacceptable.

It was time.

Steve was taking control.

What happened in the next few days is anybody’s guess. There were only two witnesses and one of them was no longer witnessing. Steve’s family came home to a blood bath. Swift had been murdered and left to die in several pieces on the wood floors, far from the comfort of his tap water–the only home he’d ever known. Steve was off behind the laundry basket doing his thing. He wasn’t talking.

The family wanted to believe that this was somehow a grisly accident. That Steve had nothing to do with it. But a few days following Swift’s funeral, Steve’s human mama, Pippy, came around the corner to find Steve with his paw actually in the bowl that was once home to the family fish. It was as red-handed a moment as they were going to get.

Steve could see the devastation in their eyes. He knew he’d been found out, because Steve knows things. The family pulled together and together took the baby steps forward through the stages of grief, each stage lasting less than a minute. Steve slunk around with his tail down for a day or two, waiting to see if the humane society would be called in. He hung onto a strand of hope that they would get him another fish. Neither happened and life continued after Swift’s violent demise the same as it had before.

Steve wondered about that a little. Humans are funny folks. But in the end, he realized again that it was his house, his rules. And according to his rules, fish was always on the menu.

Circle of life.

Four fish with no lives and one fish with four lives

It’s 8:35 p.m. and it feels like midnight. That is neither here nor there. Unless here is my mouth and there is a Diet Mountain Dew.

Sigh.

The Snapps have a rather checkered past with pets, but more specifically pet-store-quality goldfish. Unfortunately for Andrew, Brady came out of the womb sneezing. He is allergic to everything not found in a womb. So having a fluffy pet was always out of the question. And because we are super great parents and wanted our children to grow up well-rounded and compassionate, we bought them fish. If you can’t have a dog, get a fish. Obviously. But what’s better than 1 fish in a bowl? TWO FISH IN A BOWL. Nothing was too good for our firstborn, so we brought home 2 Walmart goldfish that cost us a total of $12 if you add in the bowl and the food.

Within 7 hours, the first fish was dead and the other one was circling him with a life insurance policy. We hadn’t even named them yet. The next day, the other fish was dead. I know there’s a tenuous life expectancy with Walmart goldfish, but losing 2 fish within 24 hours seemed extreme even to me. Andrew was distraught, so that next day after naptime, we went back to Walmart to talk fish with the guy. He suggested that perhaps two cheap fish sharing one unfiltered bowl of tap water was not the best idea. He thought we should try our hands at keeping one alive first. We agreed. By then, Andrew had named the first two fish Dennis. Both of them.

We bought another. Andrew named him Dennis.

Dennis died, but not quite so quickly.

I wasn’t sure Andrew could continue tolerating this pattern of fish death, so I snuck back to Walmart while he was at preschool and bought one that looked just like it. He’s didn’t notice. I named him Dennis. Because.

Dennis died. Again.

This time, time #4, Andrew was home. There was no opportunity to skulk around, privately flush, memorialize, and secretly replace the dead fish. So I sat him down and we discussed our options. Maybe this time he wouldn’t want to replace Dennis the 4th. Maybe he would be ready to move on.

“So, Buddy,” I said, patting his knee, “What do you want to do?”

“Get another fish,” he said resolutely.

“Oh, really?” This was not what I wanted to hear. “When?” I asked.

“Today.” He smiled. That big goofy smile with a dimple for dessert. I dropped my head in defeat.

“Ok, but we’re not naming this one Dennis.”

We went back to the store and got a new fish. With this one, we went with a different look. We went splashy white with a flare of orange on the tail. The others had all been orange.

I threw out so many creative names. Andrew shot them all down and dubbed him Flipper.

At least it wasn’t Dennis.

Flipper was from heartier stock. Flipper lived. And lived. And lived. For 5 years. I wish I had a birth certificate for Flipper, so I could prove that he was the oldest goldfish ever in the history of the world. But I can’t prove anything so I’ve let go of that being my path to being independently wealthy.

At the five year mark, Flipper began to swim a little slower. He spent more and more time inside his castle and less and less time darting around it. And then one afternoon, 5 months later, he turned over and gave it up. I was reaching for the net to fish him out when he flipped back over and swam away. He was alive. For now.

A week later, he died again. And lived again. Four times he false alarmed us.

But no fish lasts forever. And here is my journal entry from that final, FINAL day:

—————–

No joke. 5 1/2 years later, our fish is finally done. He fought a great fight. We discovered his demise while I was trying to order pizza tonight. Imagine that little scene. First we couldn’t find the fish. Then we located him under his castle (no idea how he managed that). And following our locating of him, the tears began to flow from Andrew and Lucy. Brady does not care one whit. He has a bit of his father in him. Jenna walked away like nothing had happened. And Andrew and Lucy are planning the funeral, which will take place this evening. 

Following a poignant service and a 12-nerf-gun salute, we will flush him to join his brothers, Dennis 1,2,3, and 4. 

Rest in peace, little walmart goldfish. Rest in peace.

———————-

There are other fish stories, perhaps for other days. Because who doesn’t love a good fish story?

Laying Track

At some point over the weekend, I said to myself, “I’ve got to get back on track.” Maybe it was the open sleeve of Trefoils in my hand that I was double fisting into my mouth. Maybe it was the complete lack of energy I had for anything I needed to be doing. But that voice in my head said, “Get back on track.” And then another voice corrected that first voice.

“You can’t get back on track if you were never on track in the first place.”
Touché.

You have to lay track to be on the track.
The bad news is, I never laid the track. The good news is that I usually realize this in February and quit until the following year. This year, in February, I’m just going to lay some track and go on my merry way.

I was talking about it later with Todd. Brady, Lucy, and Jenna were all in room participating in the conversation. I was talking to Todd about my goals and why I believe I’ve failed at them for, oh, a decade. Within the last 2 years, he got healthy and has stayed healthy. I didn’t jump on his track while he was laying it. I just watched from the banks with a trail of Smarties wrappers at my feet and cheered him on. Good job, babe. Way to go.

Shoot.

During our conversation yesterday, he started talking about the voice in his own head and how he used it to meet his goals.

“You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, Brady?” He asked at one point. In ways, they are the same person. Brady laughed and said,

“I know what you’re talking about.”

Todd’s inner voice helps him meet goals.
Brady’s makes internal snarky remarks. About everything.
Mine waits for the other people to leave the house and tells me to go grab the box of Trefoils.

Lucy raised her eyebrows at all of this and said,

“I don’t have voices in my head.”

She probably doesn’t.

At any rate, I talked a big game about Discipline being the word of the year and then didn’t have enough of it to make the actual plan. I emphasized controlled and habitual and then didn’t control a thing or form a single habit.

It’s amazing how much sugar I’ve had since I dropped sugar.

I have been writing more. I set a Monday-Friday goal and have met that consistently with a few misses when sickness or holidays jammed their thumbs in my business.

So now what? What’s my plan? How do I lay the track?

For one thing, I have to have accountability. Real accountability. Having some person in cyberspace to text about my diet doesn’t work. Telling the kids to keep me accountable hasn’t worked yet. Because they are all out of the house for 7 hours every day. Girl, I can do some damage in that 7 hours. Dropping sugar doesn’t work if I don’t replace it with something better.

The habitual part has suffered greatly, so yesterday I started laying the track.

  • Track 1– Make a meal plan for the week, complete with ingredients and shopping list. I made the entire week’s meal plan yesterday. There are probably people reading this who can’t believe a week’s meal plan would be a challenge for someone. It is for me. It’s the BIGGEST problem. I don’t think that way. I hate grocery stores. But planning on Sunday for the next two weeks is what is needed. So I’m holding myself to it. So far, so good.
  • Track 2 – Drop Diet Mountain Dew. It makes me want sweets and it keeps me from drinking water. I’m using my new Adidas water bottle to encourage the better habit. I’m likely to be quite grumpy for awhile. Maybe my posts will take on an angry tone. Or be about starvation.
  • Track 3 – Buy a bike. I love biking more than any other exercise.
  • Track 4 – Get a personal trainer. The only one I can really afford is unemployed, doesn’t have a resume, and is only 11. I don’t know if she’s any good. I’m her first client. But she’s already got a notebook she’s writing in about me and she made me promise to walk or run with her today, after 3 p.m. Not before. After. I kinda think I’ll like her. She’s perky.
  • Track 5 – Supplies. The fridge is full of yogurt, fruit, and healthier options. The girl scout cookies are hidden in Andrew’s room. He’s very pleased with this new turn of events.
  • Track 6 – Mindfulness. No more fistfuls of anything when I’m not really hungry. Log everything. Make it count.
  • Track 7 – Daily Lists. I love lists. At worst, they give me a false sense of accomplishment. At best, they help produce actual accomplishment.
  • Track 8 – Do the first things first. That includes the hateables. Don’t sit down and spend 90 minutes writing if dinner isn’t planned or prepped and it still looks like a bomb went off from breakfast. Make the daily deposits on exercise, housework, goals, and laundry. Then write. Smarties are not a reward. Diet Mountain Dew is still off the table.
  • Track 9 – Accept agony. This one is Todd’s. For ten years, I’ve been trying to find the easy way to do this. Somehow if I tweak enough things, I will make it fun. Easy. It’s going to be hard for at least a little bit. I accept this. I hope.
  • Track 10 – Lay new tracks as you see them. Readjust when necessary. Never quit.

Well, that’s 10 tracks. That ought to propel my train about 20 feet forward and get me safely to March 10.

The good news is now I have track laid. The bad news is I have a caffeine headache bigger than my to do list.

My trainer, with her unicorn.




The Chair that Wasn’t

Clearly I don’t have a problem embarrassing myself. I’ve spent a long lifetime becoming familiar, even comfortable, with a vibe of humiliation. I’ve worn my Dork like a badge of honor.

But I like to control how it goes down.

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The Styrofoam Cooler

It all started with five pats of butter; my awareness that we were not like everybody else.
I liked toast. I had simple tastes. But I wasn’t a robot. I liked butter on my toast. My mother would help me make the toast when I was younger, beginning with the toaster that burned our kitchen down. When the toast was done and sitting expectantly on a plate, Mom would reach for the butter from the fridge. With an actual butter knife, she placed five pats of butter on that dry piece of bread. One pat in each corner and a tiny one in the middle. I don’t know when it dawned on me to question this ritual. But one random day as I was watching those five tiny butter blobs melt into only a 6th of my toast, I wished for more. I wished for a slather. I wished my toast could take a bath in that butter. Jump into the deep end. Put it on like a down jacket.

I think I even asked about it. The answer was no. We are five-pat-butter-people. We don’t slather. That stick of butter would take us all the way to high school graduation.

Other clues in the puzzle came in the form of 4 inches of bath water. We filled our tubs with 4 inches. Not an inch more. When you sat your naked self down in the water, you displaced 2 or 3 more, giving the illusion of maybe 7 inches of warm water. I think I was a married adult before I realized that some people fill the tub UP with hot water. All the way up to that second little drain that I didn’t know existed. I thought that thing was cosmetic until I was 25.

Then there was the cardboard box sled. We all know how that went. I mean.
Disposable silverware that wasn’t ever disposed of. Always washed, stored in a gallon size ziplock, and reused.
Styrofoam ice chests with pimento cheese sandwiches and rest area picnics on long road trips.
Putting $2 worth of gas in our tank, only to drive a few miles down the road to fill up where the gas was cheaper.
Guess Jeans? Please. Jordache? If you don’t get six pats of butter, you aren’t getting Jordache.

My parents were frugal. And I get it. They were children of the depression. Well, not exactly. Maybe a little. According to my mom, my dad wasn’t raised that way. We can’t even trace his back to anything.

I grew up on a nice street in Tallahassee, FL. There were two doctors and a lawyer within a child’s stone throw of my own yard. It was a nice street. I’m told it was a stretch when we bought it, but a stretch my parents gladly made without regret. What we suffered in mortgage payments, we saved on butter blobs and air conditioning. In the summertime, daytime temperatures were in the 90s, depending on whatever front was passing through. At night, it was a humid 78. We ran our AC. In the daytime. We did not run our AC at night. Almost never. Most summer nights, after darkness settled in hues of navy and gray, my mom would walk through our bedrooms and open the windows. I would watch that process like the buttering of the toast and sigh in my soul as the window unstuck itself with a groan and opened to the stale night air under duress. There was never a discussion about this. We didn’t pay the electric bills. We didn’t make electric bill decisions. But two or three times a summer, on rare occasions of extreme heat, Mom would walk through again and lower the window. And my eyes would brighten as I heard the AC kick on for the night. This was going to be a sleep to remember. I was going to get to wear clothes. And use sheets. I don’t know if there was a set of parameters or a temperature chart in place that prompted those few closed-window nights. I just knew it made me happy. And cool.

The week of Christmas, 2008, the Snapp in me collided with the White in them on a joint vacation to Gatlinburg. I knew what I was getting into with that trip. It’s not like I didn’t know. And yet, somehow I didn’t know. Somehow I entered surprising new territory. Or saw the same old territory with fresh eyes. That old white Styrofoam ice chest was a key player in the trip that week. When it wasn’t squeaking, it was somehow dictating our meals, our leftovers, or our next 30 minutes. Don’t ask me how an ice chest can have that kind of power. I don’t have a real answer to that question. Except that my mother gave it that power.

After 6 days of crowds, events, activities, and mishaps that I could write entire chapters about, that week came down to an early morning mad dash to pack up and go home. Besides packing our own bags and having them sitting by the front door, we each had a couple of community tasks to get the house ready to leave. Oddly enough, Todd and I were assigned Cooler Duty. And no one was supervising our methods or our progress. The whole thing was laced with irony. I crouched down in the tiny dim-lit kitchen and looked up at my mother, who delivered the instructions without fanfare or room for interpretation. She opened the refrigerator and waved her arm over the contents.

“This is the stuff we are taking home,” she said. “Make it fit.”

She walked away before my eyes took their fullest shape of shock. She didn’t see me questioning. She also didn’t see Todd and I look at each other. There was a manifesto in that one glance. But she didn’t read it, so we got to work. For about 36 seconds, we tried to make some Tetris magic and find creative ways to stuff that refrigerator into that cooler. We were still thinking about this when I heard my mom call out from the hall bathroom, “Make sure you get the hot dogs.” I looked at Todd again. Oh, the hot dogs. I had a mostly empty jug of milk in my left hand and a gallon sized baggie of browning iceberg lettuce in my right. I could have killed a homeless man with what I held in my hands that moment. The hot dogs were still sitting in a bag on a refrigerator shelf.

Nothing was fitting.
My mom had gotten caught up in another task.
The trash can was  a duck waddle away. Todd and I had the same thought at the same moment. I grabbed the trash can and before either of us could say “leftover hot dogs” we were chucking food into the trash with wild abandon. We had to be careful and place the food we were trashing under dirty paper towels or discarded paper plates. We had to be covert. No one could know. If our methods were discovered before we were firmly down the mountain, we’d lose our jobs and those hot dogs would be buckled into an air conditioned bucket seat of somebody’s van.

When it was all over, there was enough spare room inside that cooler to host a small dinner party. I think we even got praised for that. It really was our finest hour.

But 12 hours later, we pulled into our driveway with my parents in tow. And because we had some things in the cooler, too, that cooler came out of the back of the van with the rest of our luggage. My dad plopped it onto our kitchen counter and my mom opened it up for the first time since Todd’s and my little heist that morning. My mom put the lid aside and peered into the contents of the cooler. Her eyes darkened with confusion. Then she began moving things around. Finally, she looked over at me.

“So, where are the hot dogs?”

I made a little face that brought out all the bones in my neck and replied,

“Um, did you check under the butter?”

Indeed.

a day is as it is lived

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So they say.
I’ve seen some babies that I had to wonder about. We’ve all seen me from the 3rd grade on. Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And sometimes beauty just is. Or isn’t.

But the eye of the beholder is awfully important.

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Fridays are for Foto Fiascos

My mother, bless her heart, was a terrible photographer. The worst. I could prove this in front of a jury in a court of law. I have albums full of evidence. On Fridays, for at least a few weeks, I’ll be posting the worst of the worst from Mom’s albums.

Our first Foto Fiasco comes straight from a 1980 album page. It is a typical scene. There are many just like it. It is my brother and I posing atop someone’s final resting place. We didn’t do this by choice. We were directed. Sit there. Back to back. Smile. Look alive.

So irreverent.

In this particular photo, the real star of the show is Mom’s index finger. Our heads are not there. The words on the gravestone/monument are not legible. This is a picture of stone and knee caps.

In 1980, nothing was digital, obviously. You took pictures blindly on a tiny little point and shoot loaded with 110 film. Then, when your roll was complete, you dropped the film off to Eckerd Drugs and went back a couple of days later. Most people, upon seeing the picture of finger and knee caps, would have found the nearest trash can and tossed it in before walking out of the store. Not my mom. She put it in a prominent place in the album and proudly displayed it for 37 years.

Happy Friday.