Youthful Nevermore

Last night, I found a poem I wrote in my 20s for someone’s 50th birthday. I had so much time on my hands. I wrote it to the style and meter of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. It’s funny to me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I am almost 50 myself. What I used as old age benchmarks are a bit antiquated now that I’m almost there. It’s also quirky because of my references to pop culture at the time.

And because we’ve established that I didn’t have much to say, I’ll post it. If you know anyone turning 50, feel free to cheer them up with this in a greeting card.

Youthful Nevermore

Once upon a midnight dreay
Muscles cramped and vision bleary
Lawrence Welk upon the tube
I used to think he was a bore.
Dentures soaking in the restroom
sending forth a sterile crest fume,
Having reached the end of Welk,
I took the “flipper” from the drawer.
Flipping with a steady hand,
60 shows at my command.
To sleep is all that I have planned,
Because I’m youthful, nevermore.

Is this some occult illusion?
Some maniacal intrusion?
MTV and VH1?
This trash was never here before.
Carefully I weighed my choices,
Thinking I might hear some voices.
Could it be just “old age” noises,
Beating down my bedroom door?

I tried to think what I could do
To bring my youth back into view.
But as of yet I have no clue.
I’ve never been this old before.
I racked my brain in desperation,
thinking up wild combinations
Extinction and annihilation –
words that haunt me to the core.

There I sat, distraught, exhausted,
by my own insight accosted
I raised myself up off the bed
And paced across my bedroom’s floor.
Memories of my prime are nifty.
Days when birthdays never miffed me.
Now, alas, I’m turning FIFTY!
Oh, what with this year have in store?
I leaned against the bed to rest,
a hanky to my forehead pressed,
Still feeling overwhelmed and stressed…
I’ll see my childhood nevermore.

“Oh well, I’ll soon be fifty five.
The discounts will keep me alive.
I think seniors aren’t so bad
And I still think I know the score.
And when this milestone day is done,
I’ll push ahead to Fifty-One,
With every rise and set of sun,
My youth is with me evermore.

Tuesday Boos and Coos

This is my version of Cheers and Jeers. I don’t have much to say, but there were a few notable things, especially in the Coos category.

Boos

  • April 1. Boo. Every year my kids try to pull things on me. They stink at it but I’m still on edge all day. They love April 1. I am not a fan. BOO.
  • Stuffing 800 flyers into PTA teacher boxes. I don’t like counting. I especially don’t like dividing 800 into little groups of 22. BOO.
  • Spreadsheets. Enough said. BOO.
  • Trying to write a blog on a Monday and having nothing to say. If I am bored by it, I stop writing. If I don’t like the paragraph, why would anyone else? I started the year with the goal of writing Monday-Friday, taking the weekends off. That’s a good goal and I like that goal. The problem is, my typical style of post is essay or story-esque. I don’t know that I can keep up a standard pace of 5 of those a week. Well, clearly I can’t, because I haven’t. Little things like 104-page elementary school yearbooks and 5th grade banquets get in the way. So, boo to slacking. But coos to trying.
  • Pretending that it’s normal to say boos and coos. Boo to that.

Coos

  • Really cool doorways that I stumble upon while biking and then risk arrest or death as I creep close enough to get a decent picture. I suppose if I’d been shot while taking the picture, this might go in the Boo category. But as it stands, it was just a really cool doorway.
  • Heres a big one. I’m 48 and just learned to use a bike pump effectively. I’ve never had any luck pumping up bike tires before right now. I even had to purchase a small compressor that I plugged into the cigarette lighter of my car that would pump the tires automatically. I did have to look up a YouTube video to pump the tires of my road bike because it had a Presta valve, which is smaller and trickier. After that, nothing could stop me. I carry the sucker like a 38 magnum now. Is that a real gun?
  • Yesterday something amazing happened. More amazing that learning to use a bike pump and actually using it. Yesterday I witnessed harmony at the Temple Terrace roundabout by the country club. I’ve never seen anything like it. Prior to this, all I ever saw was people stopping like a 4-way stop. People hedging. Hesitating. People with a look of abject terror in their eyes. But not yesterday. Yesterday, on TWO DIFFERENT OCCASIONS, I saw people jumping in when they saw an opening, waiting their turn and merging into traffic, and then exiting like an Olympic dismount. It was beautiful. It created this whirly swirl of car colors and body styles, spinning around an island of flowers and grass. It was like people from all nations and cultures were holding hands and singing a remix mashup of Kumbaya and We are the World. It’s possible this was just an April Fool’s joke played by the universe. But it’s also possible people in this community are finally learning the ways of the mysterious, mythical roundabout.

Have a great April 2. Here’s hoping you have excellent experiences on the roundabout of life and that you don’t suffer trauma from anything that occurred on April 1.

When Adults Laugh

To be a kid who grew up around water, I was a little slow to the pool party. And when I arrived to the pool party, I was always looking for a floatation device. My little friends all had inflatable floaties on their arms. That was like having their own personal swim instructor attached to them in tandem. They would move through the water fluidly and without fear, albeit vertically, while I was trying to wedge myself into a half-deflated donut on the shoreline.

Oh, I wish I had me some floaties.

The summer I was 4, prior to taking any formal swim lessons, we found ourselves spending a lot of time at St. Teresa in the old cottage. In the storage room between the scary outhouse showers was a black tire float made of hard plastic. It was not inflatable. It was hard, hollow, lightweight plastic. My mother handed that to me as a method of staying alive in the Gulf of Mexico. I gave it a squint, checked it for parasites, and then propped it against the screen door while I ran in to put on my suit.

When I returned to my tire float, no one else was ready to swim yet. Adults could be so slow sometimes. I had a few minutes to myself so I sat down on the edge of the stairs that led through the sea oats and bramble to the gulf. My short blonde scruff blew in the sea breeze like a dandelion that wouldn’t let go of its stem. The air was a gift. The concrete was warm under my bare toes and I looked down at them to avoid squinting in the afternoon glare.

I was almost asleep against my own knees when I heard the screen door slap behind me. My mother and grandmother were standing behind me, smiling and dressed to swim. I grabbed my plastic tire and took off, skipping steps as I went. I was the first one in the water. I don’t know why that mattered growing up. It was important to be the first one in. Somehow I felt it made me the guardian of the sea. The guardian in the plastic tire.

My memories of swimming are scant because there wasn’t much to it. It usually consisted of dragging my toes along in the sand to find sand dollars and star fish. Sometimes I would plop down on the wet sand at the shoreline as the waves lolled leisurely in and make drip castles. I liked the drip castle because the lack of precision was what made them so beautiful. I could never master a sand castle with corners and lines. But usually these little sessions in the water were just like any other. There was water. There were people. It was pleasant.

This particular day was not like the others.
Not to me.
We got out over my head, which was easy to do because I was 4. It wasn’t deep. But it was deeper than I was tall. My mom and my Mama were comfortably lounging in water that was chest deep to them. The tire was working pretty well until it didn’t. I don’t know how I got moving fast or erratically enough to flip the tire over, but I did. I flipped that sucker on its head. And on my head. And in those moments I was upside down, still holding onto the tire, with my feet flopping like a wind sock outside a Ford dealership.

It wasn’t a great situation to be in, but I was only marginally panicked at first. They would see my flopping legs and flip me back over. Right away. In truth, that’s probably what they did. This life and death situation probably lasted all of 30 seconds. But I was seeing the tunnel with the light at the end. I had time in my mind to write my own obituary and bequeath my Curious George to my brother before anyone grabbed my feet to flip me back upright.

Someone finally did and that tire rotated like a Marriott waffle iron, tossing me back into some air I could breathe. I was soaked and upset, crying in spite of myself. The Guardian of the Sea should not cry, but I had to make the occasional exception. I spit as much salt water from my mouth as I could, wiped my eyes, and then managed to sputter, “Did I drowned?”

And the adults laughed.
Hard.

I must have looked so cute there using my bad grammar with my almost dead self draped over that malfunctioning flotation device.

And you know what they said in response?

“No, Missy,” ha ha ha. “You didn’t almost drowned.”

They quoted me back to myself.
I didn’t like their tone.
So I kicked my feet back to the drip castle zone and marched myself right out of that water. They would have to do without me for now.

None of that would have happened if I’d had me a pair of floaties. I never did get a pair. What I did get was a mean swim teacher named Rose at the Tallahassee Y. She made me put my face in the water. She didn’t accept tire-shaped floats. I learned to swim.

I never drowned again.

Lost and Found

Today began the last 9 weeks of the school year for my kids. The spring season of every school year seems to bring with it a mix of ill-fitting pants, stomachaches, and nightmares. It’s stressful. And because I didn’t live my life right to this point, I’m in at least 2 different grades right now. I won’t tell you which grades or how it’s going. You already know.

I’m losing sleep.

Two nights ago, I fell into a nightmare that I could not shake out of.  I was in a museum, though it looked an awful lot like an aquarium combined with Wakulla Springs. There were boardwalks in some places, plexiglass in others. The glass had never been cleaned. The whole place was a disease just looking for a dirty community in 1818. My entire family was moving through the exhibits at different paces. My parents and Jenna were just up ahead of me and I was supposedly bringing up the rear. I don’t know what happened, but I lost Jenna. She vanished around a corner and was gone. I ran forward, running through room after room, but no Jenna. I ran backward, hoping to pass her along the way. Still no Jenna. I was completely panicked at this point. For some reason, my last hope of finding her was in the final room following a series of connected rooms. It was a long, narrow stretch with orange shag carpet and dirty windows. I zipped from one person to another, hoping to lay eyes on the kid who belonged to me. I was ready to give up in despair when my mom wandered up. She was walking on her own and carrying herself with confidence. It was the mom of Before. Not After. And though she didn’t know where Jenna was and hadn’t seen her, I felt instantly and infinitely better just having her stand there with me.

I hadn’t seen her in so long.

At this point in the dream, I was tied up in a knot thick enough to stow a tall ship. I wanted out of the dream. I was becoming aware that I was indeed dreaming and that if I would only wake up, Jenna would be asleep in her bed down the hall. Everything would be okay again.

Everything except one.

Waking up meant I had to stop talking to my mother. To get Jenna back, I had to let my mother go. I can’t tell you how hard this decision was. It is the first dream I’ve had of her where I could hear her voice. The first dream she was on her feet, advising me. Interacting with me. The first dream where she was really her.

She didn’t realize how torn I was or that she herself had been missing for such a long time. She was only interested in helping me find Jenna. Where had I looked already? When had I last seen her? What was she wearing? Did she have her ipod and did this place have wifi?

“You go forward and look that direction,” she offered. “I’ll backtrack and see if I can find her back there.”

OK. We made a plan. It was a workable plan. I turned to run in the direction my mother had laid out, but stopped and looked at her one last time.

“I have to go, Mom,” I said. I knew something she didn’t. “Thank you for helping.”

She nodded and retreated and I watched her go. In that instant, just as I found my daughter, I lost my mom again. And I woke up with that feeling burned into me like a scar that comes from grabbing something hot because you want it badly enough to take the risk.

All these months I have hoped I would eventually forget the mother that disease stripped away and twisted up and handed back to me as a person I didn’t recognize. I have hoped to see her again as she was. And though it wasn’t the stuff of a Ron Howard movie, it was something.

It was something.

Next time I hope to see her in a lush garden or on the banks of the Hillsborough. Or better yet, smack in the middle of Manhattan. And I hope there are no lost children or windows of germy plexiglass. But I’ll be honest—I’ll take her however she comes.

It was good to see her again.

For now, I gotta go. I have 2 homework assignments and an elementary school yearbook to finish.

P.S. Just kidding.
P.P.S. (mostly.)

BDFF

Dear Buttercup,

Today is March 24.
It is not a birthday.
It is not an official anniversary of a marriage or a death.
But it is a special day to me. And to you, too, I hope.
Two years ago today, the allergic husband said yes to adding you to our family. He said yes to bringing you indoors and we embarked on an adventure for which we were grotesquely under prepared.
I said I would never share my home with a beast. I said those words just that way. And I meant them 100%.
When we brought you home, I tried to block off the stairs with a twin mattress we were getting rid of. I figured you’d be a downstairs dog only. I tried to get you sleeping in a kennel in the guest room. When that didn’t work, I tried to attach you to Andrew, who has a bedroom downstairs.
But things evolved, as things often do. And now, not only do I share my home with a beast, I have on occasion shared my bed with the beast and don’t view you as beastly at all. You attached yourself to me. You are my bdff. Best dog friend forever.

I’m that person now.

When I showed up at the front door of your former owner and you bolted out the door and down the sidewalk going 55 miles an hour, I wore an expression of shock. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Were you a naughty dog? Were you a runner? What I know now is that you love to be outside. You love your walks. When you get your outside time, you don’t bolt. You weren’t getting any time outside before you came to live with us.

I’ve wondered 1000 times why 2 different owners gave you away. What did they know that I didn’t? What about you was hard that would cause someone to willingly place you somewhere else? I still don’t know the answer to this one. The only answer I have is that you were born to be with us and we just weren’t ready to embrace that fact until that day 2 years ago.

You are the perfect dog. Perfectly housebroken. Perfect happy. Perfectly snuggly. You do become a demon when a golf cart goes by. And golf carts do go by a lot. But I have to give you a pass on a few things.

They call dogs like you rescues. And in a sense, I do think we rescued you from a situation that wasn’t ideal. But the real truth of the situation is that you rescued us. The whole family came together to adore you in a unity we were really craving. We took walks together with you on the golf course. Together we bathed you about 15 times the first month because we thought we had to for allergies. We came to find out that we were cleaning you to death, so we stopped that business.  

There have been a few accidents along the way. A few times we gave you a little too much freedom and almost condemned you to the mouth of a Belgian sheep dog. A few times we didn’t interrupt your need to roll around in another dog’s fresh waste. A few times we backed into you in the kitchen and almost killed the both of us. That one time we tried to teach you to swim. But mostly, we’ve gotten it right. We adore you. You are a hairy 5th child that doesn’t require a lot and rarely talks back. You are the best of all of us.

I don’t know what was wrong with your two previous owners, but I can tell you one thing for certain. We are your family.. We will always be your family. You are home now.

So let me hoist you up onto your dad’s side of the bed and tell you all about what happens when a guy travels to New York City without his wife. This is a good story. You’ll like it. It starts with New York City and it ends like this:

You are my bdff and I am your mama.

Happy Dogiversary, Buttercup Snapp.

Dear Birthday Boy,

It is the 15th anniversary of the day I first laid eyes on you. I had seen some sonograms. I had spent some time trying to roll with you when you woke up jamming at 4 a.m. But this day was my first meeting in real time, full color. Turns out, as hard as we tried to check you out in advance, test your lungs, and plan every last detail ahead, you still weren’t ready to make your entrance. You’ve never liked getting up or out early. You like your sleep.

You were born on a Tuesday afternoon and placed immediately up against me for a first hold in this world. After about a minute of a strained cry, the doctor determined you weren’t quite all right, so they plucked you from my cradled grip and ushered you away from me for the next 8 hours. That was an exhausting 8 hours, swollen with anxiety about what was actually happening in the NICU. As it turned out, it was fairly standard stuff. But it isn’t standard to not have your arms around the baby you’ve loved for 9 months and who has only been in the world for a few hours. There is nothing that feels standard about that. When they finally let me see you again, it was about 8 p.m. I was shot all to c-section pieces, but still so happy to be headed down that corridor in a wheelchair. You were hungry. And screaming. Really. Really. Screaming. You still make shocking amounts of noise 15 years later. I scrubbed my hands, rolled around by your bassinet, and the nurse handed your pink, wrinkly disgruntled self. I hugged you to me and said quietly,

“Hey, boy. It’s mama.”

And in that exact instant, you stopped crying. Not a peep. And then I started up. Because I couldn’t believe that you were here and you were mine. And that the sound of my words could be a salve to your caterwauling soul. It was a moment I will remember until I don’t remember how to string two words together anymore.

That was the day you became my mama’s boy.

Even today, it is my privilege to be the one to cart you to a trampoline arena with 3 of your buddies and then on to eat our favorite, MEXICAN FOOD. You don’t need me for as much now. You don’t hug me quite as often. You outgrew your rather extreme lisp and don’t look over your shoulder anymore to see where I am in relation to where you are. But you’re still you and I love you exponentially more than I did that day when I suddenly got woozy and handed you back to a nurse right before throwing up in a cup someone handed me.

Hey, it can’t all be swaddles and lullabies.

You are rap music (clean version only), and marching quads, and jokes pushed too far, and extreme sports, and expensive shoes, and so many pairs of shoes, and fluffy hair, and oversleeping, and sidestepping the siblings who take swipes at you when you have poked the bear one time too many. You are kind when you need to be, funny to a fault, and really bad at drawing trees. Your words, not mine.

You will always be my mama’s boy.
But we can just keep that between us.

Happy Birthday, boy,

Mom

Where am I and where are you?

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in August 2015, I felt the ground shift underneath me. No one in my family had ever had any form of dementia. We had no experience or wisdom to draw from. There was a period of shock and denial as we watched the disease pulling her along. I stayed in that state longer than I wish I had. I wish I had been able to digest it quicker, accept it sooner, and embrace it for what it was. Embrace her for what she was becoming.

I did get there. Eventually. I had an aha moment in February about who my mother still was. Her essence. And I was ready to dive in and just take from her whatever she could still offer. On her terms. In her time. But the funny thing about that disease is that it changed the rules constantly and I didn’t always catch up in time. It seemed that the very moment I got comfortable in a spot, my base changed. We were always navigating new terrain.

With that in my head, I sat down and wrote.

Where am I and where are you?

At the corner of grace and comfort
I am standing
On the line between sand and water,
gold and blue,
what I’ve always known and what I’ve dreamed would be
The air is 78 degrees and I am wearing the salty breeze as a cloak
The sand is warm and fleecy under my bare feet
where I am standing.
But where am I?
And where are you?
I look down at the place I am standing.
If I even am.
There is no sand now. Only water.
I am on the line between up and down
swimming and sinking
blue and black
what I am seeing and what I clench my eyes in fear against.
My salt cloak is sticky and heavy around my shoulders and I want to throw it off.
I haven’t moved but nothing is familiar.
The dark waters wrap my ankles like an icy tentacle
where I am standing – if I even am.
But where am I?
And where are you?
I look down again and my base has shifted. Again.
At the corner of life and mercy
I am standing
On the line between sea and sky
ache and acquittal
what I want for me and what I now hope for you.
The sun sags into a paling horizon , taking with it the day,
but leaving behind 1000 streaks of orange so that I can see.
And I know
Where you are
And where I am.

Dedicated to my mom, who suffered patiently. She lost this battle, but most definitely won the war.