Saturday, July 30, 2011

Letting Go

My mom is now under the ground.  Well, her body is, anyway.  I wasn't at the funeral.  Such a strange feeling, to not be there.  I didn't want to go but most likely would have if I'd be able.  It was actually sort of arranged but fell apart at the last minute.  The funeral was in Illinois and I'm here in New York.  I was fine during the day; beautifully distracted by loving friends who strategically kept my mind occupied.  The night was a different story.

You have to understand about my freakazoid emotions.  I usually have them under control.  I'm pretty strong that way and keep a tight rein on things.  But my emotions are those of a super duper sensitive nut ball artist and sometimes they just go crazy.  Then my whole body has to pay the price.  I remember when I was in second grade and saw the movie "Spartacus" for the first time.  I ran a fever.  That was the first time my temperature skyrocketed over a heart wrenching film but certainly wasn't the last.  I threw up at my one and only college football game.  It was between the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin's team.  The stadium was packed and the emotions were sweltering.  I threw up my entire picnic lunch in the smelly stadium bathroom.  All that rage and hatred just flipped my belly inside out.   I also faint rather easily.  After my brother Ian died when I was eight,  I fainted so often, it was a shoulder shrugging event.  Nobody thought twice about it, including me.  I fainted several times during my marriage to Peter.  I fainted a year and a half ago on Mother's Day, thinking of my son Leland.  Unfortunately, I was at work and panicked the entire staff, who called the paramedics.  It was a mess.  And I fainted last week, two days before Mom died.  Don't know why; just felt really, really bad about how sick she was and toppled.  This is simply something I do. 

Mom's funeral was last Thursday, two days ago.  As I wrote, the day wasn't bad at all.  Quite nice, really; my friend D and I did artwork together.  I had a strange yearning for meatloaf and was starving for the first time in a week.  D treated me to a meatloaf dinner at a local restaurant.  I ate the entire plateful.  She laughed and commented that she'd never seen me eat like that, ever.  I told her that meatloaf had been a favorite of my mom's and Charlie's.  Then she dropped me off at home, where my roomie and I hung out until it was time to go to bed. 

That was when I opened up my email on the computer and saw the photos my cousin and friend had sent me from the funeral.  It was kindly meant; they knew I couldn't be there so sent the photos as the next best thing.  But they hit me hard.  Close-ups of Mom in her coffin, various shots of her grave, freshly dug and right beside Ian's.  Then I thought about my sister's text from earlier that day, stating that Mom's insurance didn't cover even the cheapest funeral and there was no money left for a tombstone.  That's when the trembling started.

For the next twelve hours, I was sick as a dog.  My boyfriend said something wise; he told me it was purging the last six months, maybe even the last four years, and to let my body get rid of everything.  To not fight it.  Not that I had much of a choice while doing my Linda Blair imitation.  Still certain I could go to work, that it would stop at any minute, I lolled about in denial while I sprawled across the bathroom floor.  Finally, I had to face reality and call in sick.  Hate to do that.  Hate it.

But T, my boyfriend, was right.  So were a large number of my friends who nagged me to take time off and rest, let myself absorb this whole thing and give myself time to do it.  One of the things an insecurity addict likes to do is "not be a bother."  Not a bother to anybody.  We hate that or we crave it.  When we hate it, we can be spraying blood like a fire hose and still insist it only needs a Band aid.  When we crave it, we become needy and greedy and slightly repulsive to others, and thus extremely so to ourselves.  I'm a "hate to be a bother."  Whipping my poor battered psyche and exhausted body finally became too much.  They both rebelled and let me know in no uncertain terms how pissed off they were.  Therefore, the great and unfortunate love affair with the toilet bowl.

Deads" as she used to call all the loved ones who'd passed.  I'm sure she's happy.  All I have to do now, is work toward getting that way myself.  And it'll happen.  All I have to do is give myself time.

And never eat meatloaf again.

Love, R

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crazy Week

This has been a crazy week.  My mom died, a battered wife was sideswiped on the highway by her maniac husband (who kept screaming he was going to set her on fire and kill her and the kids), another friend's good pal was murdered, and a young woman with severe mental problems, herself a victim of incest and violence, is having her child taken away for sexual and emotional abuse.  A similar case is just about at the same juncture.  Rough week.

I always try to glean the good from any cesspool situation.  Sure, that's a filthy pile of steaming shit, but what good is in that mess?  Irritating to even try to look when things are so overwhelming.  Isn't it weird how simply attempting to see something good, pisses you off?  But I do it anyway.  A sort of "let's roll the sleeves up and get out the shovel" type of mentality. I go.

I wanted my mother to die.  I didn't want to be without her but how friggin' selfish is it to want her to stay when her suffering is so horrific?  Get OUT of that body.  Be free.  Now she is.  The only thing I have to deal with now is, my mom is dead.  But that's my suffering.  Hers is over.  That is a beautiful, bittersweet thing.

The battered wife has at long last left her husband.  Since CPS (Child Protection Service) took the children away for analysis, the kids are staying with a wonderful and loving relative, in a place unknown to the father.  The battered wife is in a safe house somewhere too, whereabouts unknown.  The kids are safe and the battered wife has been ordered to undergo therapy.  The loving relative is also tough as nails and no wishy washy sweetie whom the messed up kids can bully.  She's a firm, loving hand.  That is very good news.

The tormented child and his heartbreakingly screwed up mom are the far more difficult story to deal with because it's just happened.  This is the second such case I've heard this week; the other one is still ongoing but, I'm very glad to say, CPS has again been called.  So there's the good.  The boy is safe, the girl is about to be.

Bad shit is overwhelming.  That's a simple fact.  One hears or experiences such terrible things, that the brain fires like a night sky on the fourth of July; flames and explosions and noise.  Our mind just strobes out, runs like its tail's on fire.  Forgets how to be quiet, is offended when one tries to calm it.  CALM? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, CALM!?! LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENING!  It's fight or flight mode at its most primal.

But calm is the path to strive for.  If you've ever been on an airplane and seen the stewards go through the required safety instructions, zombie-like in their boredom and mostly ignored by the passengers, there's one tip I think of now.  That's how to put on the oxygen mask.  Sure, we all know when the cup drops down, put it over your nose and mouth, pull the elastic tabs, whatever.  But if you're with a child, you are not to put the mask on the kid first.  Even if your kid passes out from lack of air while you're fumbling with the damn thing, you are to put yours on first.  Why? Because you're the adult.  You can help that innocent a lot better if you're conscious and calm, as a big honking draught of pure oxygen will make you.  What's little Johnny going to do when he's breathing easy and you're turning blue in front of him with your eyes rolled up in your head?   It's a strange feeling to help yourself before instinctively helping a child, but it's the right thing to do.  The logical thing.

We've got two halves to our brains and they are diametrically opposed critters.  Like Jane Austen's Marianne and Eleanor in Sense and Sensibility, one is all feeling and emotions and the other's all analysis and logic.  But they're perfectly suited when they work together.  Getting them to work together is the key.  My ex once told me that the right hemisphere of my brain had enveloped and devoured the left hemisphere.  The left hemisphere is just gone.  That is a hilariously apt description of my super sensitive artist's brain.  I suck at numbers, have no sense of direction whatsoever, but I can feel some body's pain like radar and draw and paint rather well.  I also faint dead away when my emotions overwhelm me.  Very Edna St. Vincent Milay.  It's just how I am.  Despite that, I'm strangely calm in chaos.  My sister said that's because it's my natural state.  Chaos.  Looking back on my crazy life, I realize that the thing I'm best at is helping people.  All my experiences, all my trials, tribulations and tragedies have given me the gift of empathy.  I try to use it for good.  So I will never grow tired of the stories, the crises and pain of others.  I might retreat for a bit but I'll always come back to it.  Because I'm good at helping people.  I believe it's what I'm supposed to do.  There's something about it that helps me, makes my past a tool for good instead of a sword to pierce me.  We all have misery, we all witness tragedies.  But if you scrape the shit off your vision, if you work to see the good as well as the bad, even amidst the din of Bad's caterwauling, you'll have that tiny bit of quiet inside.  "Peace brings gifts of beauty," Leetah from Elfquest once said.  I know how hard life can be, my dear friends.  I know exactly how it feels to be face down on the floor and too dejected to even want to get up.  So lay there a while to regain your strength.  It's okay to be down.  But spare a moment to watch how cool your breath looks as it pants a ring of mist on the floor.  Magic.  Even there, face down and fucked up, there's magic just for your eyes and mind, heart and soul.  Let it comfort you.

Love, R

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Letter to My Ma

As many of you know, my mom died two days ago after a long battle with illness.  Her death was a relief.  I'm glad she's out of that blistered and hemorrhaging body.  But she's still my mother.  I still grieve, even as I breathe a long sigh of gratitude that her ordeal is finally over.

Yesterday was her birthday.  I was supposed to work; even thought maybe I could pull it off.  In the end, though, I just couldn't do it.  I called in, got teary-eyed at the manager's kindness and condolences, and decided to go for a walk in the morning.  I went to the grocery store and bought that silly cupcake, which I plan on eating tonight.  I toasted Ma with a glass of green tea and spent the rest of the day hiding in my room, curled up in fetal position or staring at my computer screen.  My choices of DVDs to have playing in the background were strange: Let Me In, the eerie little film about a future serial killer and a depressed female vampire trapped forever at the age of twelve.  Odd.  Then an old BBC mini series of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.  After that, William Powell and Irene Dunne in Life With Father.  I tried to figure out the correlation between these films and the only thing I could come up with, was all three main characters were weirdly loyal oddballs.  Not unlike myself.  I'm very loyal and I'm definitely an oddball.

Today I worked a lunch shift, shaking in my shoes and trying not to think about the fact that my mom is dead.  Did pretty well until about six hours in; then I began to fray around the edges and get weepy.  Another kind manager let me leave early.  I wanted to bolt out of there but was so dizzy and emotionally shook up, I realized I'd better eat something.  So I sat in the break room and choked down broiled flounder, my paper napkin saturated with mascara and tears, surreptitiously snuck out to catch them just before they rolled down my cheek.  The food was repulsive but necessary.  Then I walked home, breathing in air as hot as a sauna, just slowly sauntering until my key hit the front door.

Now, showered and comfy, I've been thinking about what I'd say to Mom if she was in the room right now, a grinning little sprite of a spirit revelling in her new found fleshless freedom.  So here it is, a letter to my ma.  Who knows?  Maybe she's peeking over my shoulder as I type.

Dear Ma,

First off, I'm so glad you don't have to go through any more nightmare with your poor old body.  Between you and Dad and your nigh-impossible to kill tendencies, you've genetically made me immortal.  Remember how you used to laugh at that?  You sure gave the good fight for a long, long time, Mama.  Brave and stubborn, like the little Scottish Highlander stock you are.  I'm sorry I wasn't there when you passed.  You'd have gone at least three weeks earlier if I had been, because I would have put a pillow over your face just to get you out of that agonizingly painful shell you were trapped in.  I really believe I might have been tempted to do that.  I really believe I might have actually done it.  I called the nursing home almost every day to find out how you were.  Kat says you wouldn't talk to her or me for these last three weeks because you were mad at us for not being there.  I think you just wanted to die and didn't want anybody to talk you out of it.  Remember when you said my voice called you back when you almost died a few years ago?  And how talking to your kids always gave you strength?  I think you didn't want to come back.  I think you didn't want to be rescued or convinced life was still worth living.  I understand and I'm grateful all that pain is over now.  I kept praying every night for you to die.  I imagined what it felt like to have your own skin dying, to have blood clots erupting all over you, inside and out, and to have the Alzheimer's, so advanced by that time, pulling you back to the worst memories of your truly horrific past.  The nurses told me you were delusional: one day you'd yell for them to save that boy drowning in the pond.  An hour later, you'd be screaming at how cold the brains were that you picked up with your bare hands.  That night, you screamed about all the blood on your son's dead face, or you were kicking and fighting to take a knife away from a girl who was trying to kill you with it.  You cried over how much it hurt to be raped, and will they please, please save that baby boy?  He's fallen, he's fallen on his head because you were wearing high heels.  All night, every night, then all day and all night, you screamed these things, but the nurses were wrong.  They weren't delusions.  They were all memories.  They all happened.  You were trapped not only in that rotting, shrieking shell, you were trapped in memories no one should have ever had to endure.  The happy memories were gone.  The only thing left in those awful last weeks was pain.

But you know what?  It's over now, my poor beloved little nut of a mama.  You did some terrible things.  Yes you did.  But you paid for them.  You can let go of that guilt.  It's over.  I remember how you told me that your beloved sister, who died so long ago, had made a pact with you.  Whoever went first would be waiting when the other one passed over.  She died almost forty years ago now.  She's an old hand at this.  And your son, my beloved brother Ian; you don't have to remember his gory corpse anymore.  You don't have to remember "that awful surprise on his dead face."  Because he's there too.  And Charlie.  Charles the Man.  You told me, years ago, right after Charlie died, that you kept having this dream about him and how you both loved to dance so much.  You said you knew he was just going to sneak up, grab you around the waist, yell "GOTCHA!" and swing you into a two-step.  So put your dancing shoes on, little tiny mama.  Hell, you probably already have.

And I bet they're red.

I love you, Mama.  Always will.  Thank you for being my far from perfect, often hilarious, often infuriating, fatally flawed but practically perfect mother.  I adore you.  Rest in peace.

Love, R

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Four Hours

My mom died tonight.  At the moment, it's 12:48am on Friday morning, her eightieth birthday.  She died a little over four hours ago.  For a year, she's been telling me that she's not going to be eighty.  She was right.  Like Mark Twain, who came in with Haley's Comet and insisted he was going out with Haley's Comet...and did...Mom was right.  She had just about as horrific a prolonged death as possible but now she's free.  I wonder, with my red eyeballs glancing around, if she's watching me now.  I think my brother Ian and Charles the Man, my step dad, are at this moment showing her the ropes.  There's a huge comfort to me that she's not alone, that they're there for her.  When the nurse called me, I asked if she was alone when she died.  The nurse was with her.  Thank God.  Her nursing home is in Illinois, I'm in New York, my sister's in Florida and my brother's in Texas.  Poverty kept me here and maybe it was a good thing because I'm afraid I would have tried to kill her if I'd seen the shape she was in.  A sort of assisted suicide.  I called every day and the nurses told me that Mom was asking them to kill her for a week.  "I know you know how to do it.  Just give me a shot.  I know you can do it."  That's what she kept saying.  Her death reminded me of the old Edgar Allen Poe story...I think it's called The Strange Case of Mr. Valdemar...where a soul is trapped inside a rotting corpse.  People in the house could hear the soul wailing and screaming.  Mom was like that, trapped inside a rotting shell as her blood turned to "pudding" in her veins.  That's another quote from staff.  So now she's free.  My writing at the moment has little grace or lyrical feel to it, not that it does as a rule anyway.  I'm usually as subtle as a sledge hammer.  But I thank my mom for being my mom, ham-handed though she was at times.  She was still my mother and I'll always love her.

Take care.

Love, R

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Ten Commandments of the Insecurity Addict

I read a review of FREAK on Amazon yesterday that really amazed me.  The reviewer was a man who had not been abused but had a friend who had been.  He wrote that FREAK helped him understand her nutty mindset a lot better.  That made me think that I should spell out exactly how a dumb ass insecurity addict thinks.  So here it is, the Ten Commandments of the Insecurity Addict.  Hold onto your horses.


When you grow up with scumballs who abuse you, you instinctively seek out scumballs in your relationships.  They're familiar territory, like pulling on a comfy old glove that isn't really comfy because it's full of nails and broken glass dipped in shit.  But it's comfy to us.


This is the nurturer in the insecurity addict coming out.  We know and recognize scumball behavior in others and we think we can smooth it all out.  Our parents or whoever abused us as kids were scumballs and we loved them because they raised us.  It's a sort of Stockholm Syndrome; we grew to love our abusers because in return for letting them abuse us, we had food and shelter.  Plus, the poor, poor things were so unhappy, we pitied them subconsciously.  So, scumballs we choose as adults are just like who we grew up with, or they're sad cases who never had a chance to grow because they were abused.  Poor, poor Sufferer, as he beats his kids and wife unconscious.  Only a person who's truly unhappy could possibly do such a thing.  Thus the aggressor becomes the victim in our eyes.  If torturing us is the only thing that gives them relief, it's a small price to pay.  We can handle it because we handled it before.  They need it.  They need us.  Good or bad, it feels wonderful to be needed.


Insecurity addicts are closet ego maniacs.  That's the long and the short of it.  We become convinced, usually by our torturer, that we are absolutely necessary to their happiness; even to their ability to keep living.  If we left, they'd die.  If we left, they'd kill us.  That's how unbelievably important we are.  Holy shit, I'm a life saver.  It's an abusive sack of shit scumball I'm saving, at the expense of me and often our children, but this is a heavy responsibility and I'm not going to let it go.  I can't.  Scumball will die if I leave.  I'll die if I leave.  Our kids'll die if I leave.  I'm the only one who can prevent this catastrophe from happening.  The only person on earth.  That's an amazing feeling.  So I'll stay.  I'm terrified of this scumball, but I feel pity for him/her.  Nobody was there for Scumball as a kid, everybody left them.  I'm not going to be one of the crowd.  I'm not going to leave them.  I can't.  My loyalty is the only thing of worth I have.  Doesn't matter that I'm loyal to the wrong person and I know it.  It's all I have.


Since we insecurity addicts are usually in some ghastly relationship, be it love or friendship or both, we can't succeed at any dream we have because subconsciously, we know success would only come at the expense of our ghastly relationship.  Whether we're wealthy, poor, whatever; it doesn't matter.  An insecurity addict can be at the top of their field in business, entertainment, politics, what have you, but if they lose their sycophantic base or abusive relationships, there's nothing worse.  Our egos are so fragile and damaged, we can't fill the hole ourselves.  We need to look outside to find someone to feed us because we're always emotionally starving and have little to no idea how to feed ourselves.  The true dream is to be at the top of our field AND have a loving, fulfilling relationship.  But we'll often sacrifice all of that to keep the abusive relationship or ass-kissing emptiness, just so we're not alone with our terrible, terrible selves.


This is a biggie.  Fear plays a major role in pretty much all of our thought processes.  If I do this, they'll leave me.  If I do that, they'll fire me, beat me, kick me, abuse me.  If I open my mouth, it'll be worse.  If I do anything at all, it'll be ten times worse.  Fear paralyzes us.  When coming from an abused background, as so many insecurity addicts do, that fear kept us safe as children.  A little kid can't punch an adult parent back.  We take the beating, we take the abuse, or we don't have a home.  That's the reality.  We bring that fear with us into adulthood and we guard it with our lives, even as it eats us alive.


An insecurity addict is loyal to usually one person, like a dog wagging its tail at the master.  We recognize the loyalty is misguided but we stick to it like glue anyway.  That's how we are, and that helps feed our self-loathing.  But it makes us super sensitive to any outsiders' humor or good intentions.  I GET ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT AT HOME DON'T LAUGH AT ME!!!  Arr.  Teasing is like lemon juice and paper cuts to us.  We also despise any attempt at good advice from others.  We feed off the concern for our well-being but sneer at the thought of actually taking the advice.  They don't know what we're going through.  They don't understand our abuser.  Only we do.  So shut up.  That's how we think.


Kids are sponges.  They notice and absorb everything.  Every time we accept a blow, or a sneer, or any kind of abuse from our scumballs, the kids are watching.  Mammalian imprinting guarantees that, as adults, they will repeat our patterns.  Every excuse we give them for why Daddy did this, or Mommy said that, to explain away scumball behavior, is absorbed for future use.  We so often desperately want our kids to have a better life, a better relationship than we had, because our kids aren't us.  We don't hate them.  We want what's best for them, all the while teaching them the worst.  Statistics show this.  Boys who grow up with wife beater daddys grow up to become wife beaters.  Daughters who see their moms become hollow shells become hollowed out themselves.


Insecurity addicts are always questioning themselves.  Since the bitch in the mirror is public enemy number one, we hold in contempt any good idea, thought or deed we ever do.  So we don't do them.  That makes us even more contemtible and leaves us with very limited choices: either become an abuser or an abused.  Door Number One or Door Number Two.  Both are full of sewage.  That's why thoughts of suicide become so seductive.


We're a weird mixed bag about hygiene; we either obsessively groom or obsessively desist from it.  Abused kids often stink to high heaven to keep people away.  Maybe he won't want to stick it in me if my scent is gag-inducing.  The only thing gnarly stink keeps away is potential friends.  Scumballs don't care if you stink.  They often like it keeps potential friends away.  What they're doing needs to be secret.  On the flip side, we become obsessed with being super clean.  Abuse is a mess we can't control.  My perfect hair, clothes, weight and scent can be controlled.  Aha.  I'm in control.  In the midst of this firestorm of hell, I'm in control.  Take that, World.


We're weird about this too.  Insecurity addicts are very often work-a-holics.  When it comes to the outside world, we go at it full force, be it home life, business or physical shape.  But we do little to nothing about working on self-love.  Insecurity is an imp that sits on our shoulders and roots its tail into our spine.  That's how it controls us.  Every whisper of pride in anything we do is attacked from within.  Yeah, I saved that drowning kid but if I'd been quicker, they wouldn't have gone through that stress at all.  It was my slow ass reaction that made them go through it in the first place.  Thanks for thinking I'm pretty but look at my ass.  I could firm it up a little better; it looks like a dried up ball of cottage cheese.  Humor is an excellent way of torturing ourselves.  People laugh at our self depreciation and we feed off that positive reinforcement.  And keep torturing ourselves to get a giggle.

So, those are the ten commandments I lived by religiously for over thirty years.  They're tough, they're ingrained, they're very, very clever at keeping us down.  But they're not insurmountable.  It takes a lot of work, every day, to combat them, because they go for my throat every day.  Sometimes they're successful, sometimes they're not.  I've been doing this self-love thing for almost eight years now and the good news is, the little fuckers are nowhere near as noisy as they were.  I've got a lot of lovely quiet in my mind now; a cool soft place to retreat and heal.  Good luck in spinning your own straw into gold, my dear fucked up friends, and good luck to all you non-basketcases and your infinite patience with us all. 

Love, R

Friday, July 15, 2011


I went with my friend B to see Harry Potter tonight.  It was the last film in the series.  Watching the climactic ending of a cultural phenomenon made me think back to the first Harry Potter film.  Both my kids were young and wanted to see it, so off we went to Hogwarts.

I had no idea what to expect.  I'd seen all the hooplah in the news about Christian protests and boycotting evil witches, etcetera, but having been an outsider all my life and never being particularly evil, I ignored the rants and took the kids.  Movie fanatic that I am, I cringed a bit at the unseasoned young actors but was enchanted by the story.  I kept glancing at my son and daughter in the theater, their blue-glow profiles en rapt upon the screen, and grinned with maternal pleasure.  After the movie was over, we enthusiastically went to a store that sold Harry Potter candy.  I spit out a foul-tasting green polka dot one.  My children were thrilled.  I even bought them chocolate frogs.  We ate them before they could jump away.

As the years passed, I began to go to the movies alone or with friends.  After the first three were done (my favorite being The Prisoner of Azhkaban), both kids had moved out, traveling to different states, but I kept up with Harry.  I watched as the actors grew and improved, I watched the story get darker and more heart rending, I worried about the outcome.  I'd made a vow a decade ago to not read the books until all the movies were done.  That was a tough vow to keep; four years ago, at a town wide garage sale in Briggsville, the local library was selling all the hardback copies for a dollar each.  I nabbed four of them.  Since the town is mostly composed of bible thumping river dunking individuals, the books were in pristine condition.  I doubt most kids would have dared to check one out and bring it home. 

I'm looking at the books now as I type this.  I'm grinning.

The basic story of Harry Potter is good versus evil.  I always like those stories in all their myriad forms.  From comic books to classical literature, good versus evil is a popular and poignant theme.  I love what Gandhi said: that in the end, good always triumphs over evil.  Think of it.  Always.  History has proven that true, even though good sometimes takes one hell of a long time to triumph.  But triumph it does.  Look at me.  Miserable, broken, depressed, abused, suicidal.  Name your poison, I drank it.  I ate sorrow and swilled melancholy.  Self loathing was a popular entree.  I even devoured myself, sneering at any attempt to overcome my own sadness.  But I triumphed.  I told evil to go fuck itself as I began the long road toward coming to the rescue of poor old Becky O'Donnell. 

It's not unlike Harry versus You Know Who.  Insecurity is the dark wizard inside.  We ourselves are the only ones who know how to find all the lingering vestibules that lurk in our screwed up psyches.  But if you don't give up, if you keep on trying to find all those dark corners and clean them out, you'll discover unexpected and unbelievable magic inside yourself.  We're all creatures of light and dark.  The dark's noisier but the light is more powerful.  So good luck against the forces of evil, my friends.  Insecurity, self-loathing, cruelty, broken will.  Flat-nosed and bald, sinister and compelling, seemingly invincible, it'll all turn to dust with the power of your own magic.  So don't give up.  Fight for yourself.  Fight for what's good, even when you can't feel it, even when you're incapable of seeing it.  It's there, waiting to be saved.

And then what a creature of light and magic you'll be!

Take care.

Love, R

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Miraculous Trash Cans and Flying Paperbacks

Promotion of a book is a strange thing.  I went on a photo shoot last week, where the very talented Anre Fuentes of Urbanized Foot Photography took a zillion pics while I ran around doing strange things in a park.  My favorite shots are of me and a trash can we found.  It was one of those old fashioned steel drum things, upside down and empty, with the words "Throw Away All Hate" spray painted on it.  I immediately adored it.  Anre suggested I stand near the can and I asked, "You want me to get in?"  He got that "unexpected surprise gift" look on his face; a slow flush, kid-at-Christmas grin and the words, "If you want to" barely masking his delight.  I turned the thing right side up and climbed in, my long grasshopper legs barely fitting.  It smelled like old butt and wobbled like crazy, all of which cracked me up.  We took a bunch of pictures there, then spent the rest of the shoot wandering the park for cool things to pose with.  There was a wooden pole with words for world peace carved in it in various languages, a gorgeous gate I swung back and forth on, and a astro turf soccer field where I pretended to run away from my memoir, which I kept tossing in the air and fleeing from.

It was hot as hell and we were both soaked with sweat by the time it was done.  I went home, jumped in the shower, scrubbed the trash can butt stink off my skin, then went upstairs to work on some writing.

The next day I recorded myself reading the first chapter of FREAK, but the sound quality is sub-par so we're going to re shoot it with better equipment.  A new website is being built that will be more easily accessible, but I mourn my old site, which I think is beautiful.  We're going to use a lot from it in the new one, so I'm grudgingly happy.  I'm nothing if not loyal.  I've sent copies of the book out for review and had a new set of flyers printed up.  This last spring and early summer were very quiet in regards to book promotion, considering the fact that I got so damn sick, but now I'm well again and champing at the bit.  I've had many people contact me about how FREAK affected them, even helped them, and I want that to continue.  That's the purpose of the publication of my crazy life to begin with.  I want my experiences to help people.  So, wish me luck in the promotion of this very personal story.  And to all my brothers and sisters of circumstance out there, remember the words on that smelly garbage can: THROW AWAY ALL HATE.  That'll clean up a lot of emotional butt stink right there.  Take care.

Love, R

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Mom

As many of you know, my seventy-nine year old mom has advanced Alzheimer's.  She's in a nursing home.  Last month, she went into the hospital with aspiration pneumonia.  She's forgotten how to swallow and even though they'd liquefied her food, it often sat in her mouth.  She breathed it in and got pneumonia.  It was touch and go for quite a while; she had congestive heart failure and a cornucopia of other physical problems.  A priest even came in and gave her last rites.  We all thought this was it.  Then she came out of it, weak but fairly coherent, and they sent her back to the nursing home.  She's been going downhill ever since.  My sister and I decided that we weren't going to let her go through that again.  My maternal grandmother died a horrifically prolonged death, and Mom looks like she might be going down the same route, gasping out her life with breathless screams of "help me help me help me," panicked and terrified.  The doctors told us there was a way of simply making Mom as comfortable as possible but just letting Nature take its course.  That's what we're going to do.  But it is AWFUL. 

I haven't been able to talk to Mom directly for over a week.  She's in Illinois, I'm in New York.  She did something to her phone and it ended up in the laundry, destroyed.  When I was her caregiver for four years, she used to inexplicably hide things in her bedding, usually after pulling a Vera Donovan/Dolores Claiborne with them.  One time I found a small flashlight inside her pillow.  She's cut the ticking open with a fork and stuffed it in there. 

I call the nursing home and they try to convince her to let them take her down to the office to the phone there (anything to get her up and about) and even bring the phone to her, but she refuses to talk to anybody.  So I communicate with the staff and the nurses and the occasional email from family letting me know Mom's condition. 

Today was the worst day yet.  She's started screaming all the time, which is what she did right before we put her in the nursing home.  She used to scream if I went outside to fill the birdbath and screamed all night, every night, for hours at a time, unless I was in the room with her.  It became too much for me, and I told my sister I couldn't do it anymore.  Mom had to have professional help.  The nurse talked to me today and told me that Mom kept trying to get out of bed, even though she can't walk, stand or sit up anymore, insisting there was a little boy drowning in a pond and she needed to save him.  Mom lost a childhood friend that way, so I assume she's reliving it.  When there aren't horrible memories plaguing her, she hallucinates that spiders are crawling all over her and/or demons are coming through cracks in the walls and ceiling to drag her to hell.  Her right leg has been covered with some sort of awful blood blisters, as big as my palm, something she got a lot when I was in Illinois but hadn't had for a while.  Now they're back.  All of them burst today and the bed became saturated with blood.  They doped her up and she's lying quietly now.  I have no idea how much longer she'll hold on in that nightmare of a body, but as I've written several times: we're impossible to kill.  I pray, every night, for her to die now.  I just want her to go to sleep and not wake up, quiet and calm, not terrified all the time.  As far as I'm concerned, my mother is already gone.  Alzheimer's ate her alive.  All that's left is a screaming, wretched shell.  I want her suffering to end.  I want her out of that body.  Now.

So if you've read FREAK, my memoir, you know a lot about my mom.  She wasn't the greatest mother by any standards but she was still my mom.  There's no getting around that fact.  I wanted to share some of the happy stories between Ma and me, here, in the twilight of her life. 

When I was a tiny kid, Mom helped me take a bath.  I remember this distinctly.  I don't know exactly how old I was, but I was small enough for the porcelain side of the tub to hit me in the crotch when I stepped over it.  Very little.  Mom would sit on the toilet, directly beside the tub, and lay a clean towel on the floor for me to step onto after I was done.  She held another one in her hands.  I stepped over the side, up on tiptoe because the porcelain was cold, and shook water droplets off my foot so the towel wouldn't get too wet.  Mom said, "What a good idea!  What a nice, smart girl you are."  I recognized the fact that she was doing that specifically to make me proud of my genius, and I was grateful for it.  I must have shaken the other foot for a full minute.

She played tennis with me as a kid.  Nobody else ever wanted to play tennis, none of my friends were interested in it but I loved it.  She sucked but I didn't care.  She played tennis with me.  Even drunk as hell, she'd swing that racket.  I stopped wanting her to when I was around fourteen, having joined the tennis team.  She retired gratefully.  Still, I never forgot that kindness.

She was an AWESOME grandma.  All her grand kids adored her and with good reason.  She was sweet, attentive, very funny and laid back.  Charlie was with her by the time my kids came around and we'd go home every summer for a month or two to hang out with her.  Mom and I bonded then, more than we ever had when I was growing up.  By the time my kids were adolescents, she'd given up the booze.  I saw a wonderful person peeking out from behind the addict.  When I was twenty-six, she apologized for everything she'd done as a drunk, and there were some pretty terrible things in there.  She didn't remember half of them.  I decided not to describe them and simply accepted the apology.  I never thought I'd ever get one.  It was incredible.

She introduced me to movies.  Mom was a film fan since her own childhood, and used to bribe tiny me into going to whopper epics like Gone With the Wind and Doctor Zhivago with her, usually double features.  I bartered for Sugar Babies and popcorn, Milk Duds and huge sodas I could swim in, and I got them.  The truth was, I adored going.  After she got off her nutball Southern Baptist kick, where movies and Kmart were evil, she embraced a surprisingly eclectic selection of movies.  We'd share Saturday and Sunday matinees on television, where she'd bake a Johns cheese pizza and we'd watch Sinbad, The Haunting, Gidget films, Elvis Presley flicks, monster movies, comedies, dramas and romance.  We watched Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus together.  It was the first movie I ran a fever at.  When the whole "I'm Spartacus!" scene begins, the tears started flowing and didn't stop for two hours.  Mom threatened to never let me watch a movie again if I didn't stop.  That's the only thing that dried me up.  Movies are now one of my greatest loves.  Up until I moved back to New York, she and I would watch movies.  As the Alzheimer's progressed, our fare turned from spooky or violent to children's movies and old black and whites, but we still watched one pretty much every day.  Up until a month ago, I sent her a DVD every week.  I have a stack of movies ready to mail she'll never see, which I was saving for her birthday.  Even if she pulls out of this, her mind is gone. 

She taught me forgiveness.  When my brother Ian was killed on his motorcycle by a stupid hotrodding teenager, she went to the boy at the inquest and told him she didn't blame him.  She knew he didn't do it on purpose.  If he wanted to know what he could do for her, she wanted him to be a good boy like her son.  To live a happy life.  He collapsed in the courtroom and had to be carried out.  She meant it, too.  She actually meant it.  I never forgot that, even as the crazy, fractured creature I was at nine years old.  I remembered that forgiveness and decided to aspire to it.  I'm still working on that particular virtue.

My birthday is right around Christmas.  For the first twelve years of my life, every year I got a birthday present wrapped in Christmas paper.  I made a joke about it the fall before my thirteenth birthday.  That year, I got a gift encased in bright yellow paper with birdies and butterflies all over it.  Mom had bought me real, non-Santa wrapping paper.  I don't even remember the gift but I remember that paper.

There are a lot more little precious memories like that, silly little things that add up to a lot, but I'll end it there.  Sure, Mom did awful things as a mother, let her kids be destroyed in a hellhole of a family life, but there were those little moments I can look back on now with affection.  Many of them, like stars.  There's so much bitterness in us, we insecurity addicts, we damaged and broken human beings, and sometimes it eats us alive.  But there's always a bit of gnawed bone that remembers something good, and from that, we can regenerate.  I spent so many years, the majority of my life, incorrectly trying to right all the wrongs from my past, begin again, turn my back on my many terrible memories.  That's impossible and, being impossible, leaves one with a lot of frustration and even more self-rage that we just can't DO it already.  GET OVER IT, YOU CHICKENSHIT WIMP!!!  That's the internal self-hate dialogue of a fractured person trying to glue themselves back together with soggy tape. But I find, for me, the better road to to bring it with me.  It is my past, and part of what makes me who I am today.  I just pulled its teeth so it'd stop biting me all the time.  The Bumble Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Still big and scary but without its choppers.  All I get now is the occasional nip.  Good luck with your own dentistry, my dear brothers and sisters of circumstance.  May you have big honking pliers.  Take care.

Love, R

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I'm going to an artist's party this Saturday.  I've never been to an artist's party.  I'm usually the only artist at any party I go to.  Now I'm going to be one of the crowd.  I think I'll divide my time between working on a zombie comic and painting on the big wall they'll have papered from floor to ceiling.  Drop cloths are a must.

It's a very strange thing to accept party invitations when you've spent most of your life skulking about as an insecurity addict.  I always enjoyed people but was rarely allowed to mingle, even by myself.  As a kid, I was told I was too weird, loud or disobedient.  As an adult, I was told I was too stupid, loud and embarrassing.  That's the common descriptions self-loathing individuals are spoon fed.  Like the recipe for gruel in the book Oliver Twist, we're fed something that keeps us forever on the edge of starvation.  Makes us easier to control when we're too hungry to form an opinion.

This party is an epiphany for me.  A moment of clarity.  Not for enjoyment's sake, although I'm sure I'll enjoy it, but because I actually want to go.  When I was married, parties were rare.  When I went, it was usually with my husband.  The one time I rebelled and went alone, I was felt up by a drunk co-worker and called a whore went I went home.  I became so insecure after that, I never even considered going alone again.  Not this dumb loud whore who deserved her trouble.  No way.

When I got divorced, I was too busy dealing with the mess of my kid in rehab to go to many parties.  After Leland went to live with his dad, I was too busy caring for my invalid mom.  After I moved back to New York, it took a year before I could even think of going out anywhere. 

My roommate helped a lot.  She encouraged me to get up and dance, to hang out, to laugh and socialize with strangers.  I still don't care for parties much, but I love to dance.  I never realized that before last year.  I really love to dance.  That too, was an epiphany about myself.

So I'm going to this thing and I'm looking forward to it.  Life has taken such a strange and wondrous twist since I began to care for myself.  Living has become so much fun.  So keep at the self love exercises, my sad and weary friends.  I was suicidal, miserable, angry and sick of breathing.  Now I'm going to slop paint on a wall with a bunch of strangers and laugh as I do it.  A surreal and magnificent banquet after a lifetime of gruel.  Take care.

Love, R

Monday, July 4, 2011

Beloved Pie in the Face

I saw something extraordinary today.  One of my favorite human beings on earth, a young man I met when I first came back to New York almost two years ago, had his last day at work today.  He's been on a waiting list for the NYPD for three years and last night, he got the call.  He starts in three days. 

Employees come and go constantly at a restaurant.  It's a tough job; many new staff members quit after a few months.  M has been a waiter there for five years.  He's a funny guy with a true heart of gold.  I don't think he realized how important he had become to us all.  He was here at work when he got the call.  I didn't know about it until this morning when I came in to open the restaurant.  A co-worker noticed that M's schedule had all been crossed out and I felt my gut hit the floor.  M is the kindred spirit I've written about several times and we're very close.  I don't want him to go into the police force but I understand his reasons for doing it.  I love him deeply.  We all do and today, he got a rare gift.  He was shown how much he's loved.

He and I were both working lunch shifts.  I saw him walk in at noon and immediately felt my eyes tear up.  He gave me a wave and a warning look.  All afternoon, co-workers came up to him, one after the other.  Somebody brought in an ice cream cake and we all gave hugs and back slaps to cover the mixed bag of pride and dismay we were all feeling.  The night shift began drifting in and with them, two more gigantic cakes, balloons and a set of cards for all of us to sign.  I stood witness as a sea of people gathered round and watched as he got a whipped cream pie in the face.  He laughed, several servers slipped in the whipped cream on the floor, and every hand came up with a camera phone, recording the whole thing.  I grabbed mine out of my pocket and snapped a few shots. 

A couple of us went out after our lunch shift, treating M to a steak dinner and cracking jokes that began to sound a bit tinny.  The stress of losing him at work began to sink in.  We talked and ate and smiled but there was a bittersweet sadness to it.  M couldn't finish his meal and apologized to us.  We didn't care.  He could have sat and not touched any of it and we wouldn't have cared.  We just wanted to prolong the moment.  We just wanted to be with him.

They drove me home first.  I sat in the back and listened to the banter between guys, my arms and legs holding down the mountain of helium balloons so they could see out the windows, and I thought, "What a beautiful thing I'm seeing.  What an incredible feeling this is."

I took my shower and went upstairs to my room, where I immediately took out my phone to look at the photos.  And I saw it again, the unseen thing that sat with us in the steak house.  It was on every face in the photo, every grin, every soft and glistening eye in the background.  Love.  M was surrounded by people and every single one of them loved him.  It wasn't the adoration of fans, or the camaraderie of funny acquaintances: it was love. 

I sat on my bed and grinned, tears slipping down my cheeks as I stared and stared.  To see something so incredible, to actually witness it and get photographic proof of it, overwhelmed me.  Whenever my emotional coffers get empty, when I begin to feel jaded and weary with all the wickedness in the world, Fate throws me a bone.  A kid helping an old man across the street, somebody holding a door open for a baby stroller, a teenager whispering "I love you" to his girl across the appetizers at work.  Her getting up to sit beside him, squashed in a too-small booth but happy.  This day, I was given an enormous gift.  Proof of love.  Even among the sarcastic and often dissatisfied wait staff, love.  So good luck, my beloved friend.  I'm so happy for you and so scared at the same time.  But it feels good.  And all that love made me feel...safer.  The world is full of this kind of thing if you open your eyes and look.  If M can have it, anybody can.  Believe in love, my friends.  It's there, even for us wretched insecurity addict goofballs.  Believe in yourself.  Love yourself.  That's the beginning.

Love, R