Times Change

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It was the jiggle that caught my attention. Not the perfectly executed front snap kick, nor the full force back fist, no, no, it was the punch-jiggle, kick-jiggle, and after a resounding KIAI, the mortifying chin-jiggle that grabbed my attention like a leak in a rain boot does. Ugh. It was a long hour.

It has been a long Spring too. Perfect for gardening. Ideal for cherry pie picnics on green lawns. A Spring that keeps giving us one more rainy day to curl up with a good book. Spending time in karate class punching air and doing FORWARD ROLLS! seems misguided, possibly detrimental.

My sister and I were talking about our father’s mother, our grandmother, Isabelle. My sister pointed out that Isabelle never once in her life had the thought: I should go to the gym. She would have been more likely to chide herself for baking one pie instead of two or carrying groceries to the car when she could get the bag-boy to do it.

My grandmother was more practical than I am and as soft as a pillow. She took care of her jiggle by wearing a girdle (at least on Sundays) and used her flabby arms for hugging her twenty grandchildren. She always seemed happy with herself.

But in 2016 a woman in her sixties must address her jiggle with displeasure and a membership to the gym, or the yoga studio, or Pilates, or swimming laps, or hill hiking, rock climbing, bicycling, or…go to the dojo and make a total fool of herself.

Couldn’t I just garden? Like a lady. Like a lady gardener in white gloves and a ribboned hat; the same as Isabelle wore when she pruned her prize winning roses. No. Instead, I’m wearing a less than flattering gi (karate uniform) with a white belt tied around the circumference of my nonexistent waist doing FORWARD ROLL-JIGGLES! Think about it; when was the last time you did a summersault?

My grandmother would be appalled. My aphid covered roses look like hell. I’ll throw-up if I do more than three forward rolls in a row. My jiggle is here to stay. Oddly: I’m happy with myself. Literally head over heels giggly with the pleasure of surprising myself each time I show up to Friday noon class. So much so I’ve added Pilates, bicycling, and hiking into my week. I’m going for giddy!

And you dear reader? How are you getting your giddy? Dancing? Fencing? Eating cherry pie at the finish of a 10k run? Now that sitting is the new smoking–sixties’ are the new no-sitting-zone. You could just stand there in your white gloves and ribboned hat pruning roses, or…join me at the dojo to punch some air. (jiggle optional)

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Direct Impact

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I enjoy experimenting with writing. As part of spring-cleaning my computer files, you know: e-mails, photos, word documents from years back, I came upon a piece I wrote in the spring of 2014. It feels awkward to post this “non blog” sort of writing. It feels risky, too intimate, for a blog. Still, I’m doing it. Tossing it out, so to speak.

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Some time ago, once, once I heard or read or was told, exactly when I don’t recall, I may have been a child or I may have been a maiden, though it’s possible and likely I was married and a mother, no matter, at one time it was put into my mind or I absorbed somehow that; if you find out or it becomes that you know your husband is dead, take the sheets off your bed right away. Take the sheets off the bed and fold them, place them in a plastic bag, tuck them away for later. Later you will want the smell of the two of you, the smell of your bodies together. You will need it

Standing beside the bed     it’s a glorious day! standing, ready to change the sheets, as I do every Wednesday, and it came to me, it came in the body first, not a chill or anything familiar, more a wavering, a woozy swirl with prickle skin, and the thought; why am I thinking this thought? don’t change the sheets. something is wrong, a shift in the senses, a difference, don’t change the sheets. oh don’t be dramatic, it’s a glorious day.

he said, “I’ll be home in a flash.  just up the hill and back,   give me a kiss, it’s a glorious day.”

sheets   don’t   something is wrong   don’t be ridiculous, oh, what to do? don’t change the sheets, watch out the window    I’ll see him,
see him coming, he’s    something is wrong  who knows what? I, I   feel wrong.

be okay   look out the window, open the door, go to the street, look around, can I call him? heart calling      I can call him on his cell phone, of course, voicemail: I’m worried! where are you?    keep calling Answer the phone! text: I’m worried. heart searching      Don’t be silly, I can’t call the police out of the blue, out of a horrible feeling something is wrong. It’s getting weird, slipping, this has to stop, call the police hello I think something is wrong he’s not back I’m worried.

looking out the window. I demand to see him! coming up to the gate, a glorious day…he should be back, maybe something happened.  this can’t be happening    wait, am I making this up? Is this really happening?   Wait?      yes I’ll   wait
while you check. brain-hmmm  body  light    edge
edge of the abyss hold hold on wait

Yes, yes I’m by myself, why? what’s wrong? an accident NO NO NO my god what are you saying? my god please NO   an accident   oh please please no I’m begging. help. help.
take a breath, right I need to breathe   breathe   I should control myself   where should I go? yes yes I know that place. be there in seconds, oh no, stop. I can’t just appear there, my body has rules,     it must get off the floor. White dishtowel in my face,   I’m sobbing,  can’t help it    get off the floor   stand up   get in the car
it’s Arlene’s car           in Arlene’s car and she is driving.
White dishtowel in my face   can’t help crying,  an accident no no no, let’s just get there,  let’s find parking.           and get there and know.   KNOW WHAT?   I must get a grip,          I must say my name, his name. where? where is he? What should I do? sit, sit in the special room and wait wait wait and someone will come… White dishtowel in my face please   anyone    stop this         wait

Listen, listen and see the two people, official people, talking. What? What are you saying? If you are going to say something horrible say it right now! say it immediately!
He is alive. almost-dead-alive,  it’s very serious, very serious, he is alive. White dishtowel in my face. words words words ventilator cardiac event broken broken broken lung spine very serious, critical. Live?

oh, I must leave our we-body.

expect to survive. concussion not breathing. be brave. be strong. Breathe. White dishtowel in my face. Where is he?    see him now

time, in the abyss, far deep very dark, searching, something’s wrong, where is he? White dishtowel in my face    I’m hiding. I can’t face this. What’s going to happen? he’s so hurt , very hurt and not breathing and not moving. dusky. Ventilator hissing hiss beep beep hiss beep beep hiss he’s not moving he’s not breathing the machine is keeping him alive  Hiss beep beep hiss ALARM ALARM hiss beep HELP.
a coma! you made him in a coma? an induced coma. his heart his lungs his head his body.      what happened ? how did this happen!? Nothing is certain   he will survive?   nothing ever certain.
Call our son? Are you saying our son should come immediately. he’s seven thousand miles away. he has to fly here. there are rules.  hours needed. White dishtowel in my face. WHAT? how could this happen why isn’t he breathing?
He’s alone. I’m here I’m here. he’s frightened alone in a coma                 love him. help him.

fluorescent lights, machines, people, words, body hurt. critical.   Where is he?     I can’t feel him. This can’t be real. let us out!  calm down  breathe  he’s not breathing he’s all tubes and machines. he’s in a coma, broken. this is horrific, must stop, stop now!
White dishtowel in my face, I’m floating      as are you. we are floating. mere specks in the swirling cosmos.

This Year’s Resolution.

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Well, whack-of-wonders…decades later I’m heading back to the Dojo. What in the world am I thinking!?

Age has added a blur to more than my vision but I’m pretty sure I began training in Coung Nhu Karate twenty six years ago, when my son was eight. He had watched The Karate Kid on VHS and began practicing chops that very night. In the morning he started a relentless campaign for official training. Averse to the whole martial arts scene as I was, it took him no longer than a week to win me over.

A month into watching my little boy happily learn ways to develop into his super-hero self, I was invited to join a small group of adventurous “moms” in a class of our own.

I took class, sometimes as often as three a week, until my karate-kid was a freshman in high school and I had achieved the somewhat respectable level of brown belt. I did warm-ups, sit-ups, push-ups. I could kick, punch, tumble and throw. I knew a lot of katas. I sparred!…with weapons!! and perfected my KIAI (power-yell) all the while learning the lessons of challenge and achievement, principles, concentration, confidence and basically how to kick butt.

But as Sensei John would say, “If you’re not training, your skills are waning.”

So, right now I’m a bit panicked. But sort of excited too. Definitely surprised by my audacity, yet determined to show up tomorrow for noon class.

I have this fantasy that I’ll get strong again. I used to be able to break boards with my fist, my foot and, remarkably, with my hip. Lately, I barely have the strength to lift my carry-on up into the overhead bin. On a recent trip to Buffalo I had to resort to asking for help from the annoyed businessman whose head was grazed when my best attempt fell short. I sulked most of the flight, embarrassed, nursing a pulled muscle in my shoulder.

My two weeks in Buffalo were spent helping Mother as she began to accept the death of her husband. We talked, cried, looked at pictures, walked amid spectacular autumn foliage. She lives in a complex that features spacious apartments as well as huge common areas for dinning and social activities; including morning exercise that starts promptly at eleven o’clock in the Amber Room.

I cajoled Mother into checking it out. We joined several others in a video-led hour of chair calisthenics. I was chagrin by the effort. The ninety year olds seemed to have no problem keeping up, but me, at the young age of sixty-one was like; dang, I’m sweating.

Obviously, it was time for me to join millions of other Americans in making the 2016 resolution to get in shape.

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As if by thaumaturgy I’m out of my kitchen and in the dojo, a bit stunned; oblivious to everything except this disturbing thought that something unpleasant is about to happen. The only other student is a woman my age wearing a second degree black belt. Yikes. The Sensei bows to us, we bow to her (all karate classes start with this show of respect) and then like a snap-kick to my head I instantly realize: twenty years is a lot of wane.

Karate class isn’t just about the martial moves, it’s about doing them fast, powerfully, accurately and worst of all, doing them non-stop for a solid hour. It takes resolute dignity to persevere in the face of this absurd situation. I’m completely confronted. Not by the phantom opponents I’m pretending to punch but by my sabotaging, backstabbing, judgmental, whining mind! Will this hour ever end? Will I survive it? Could I be more uncoordinated?  I feel like an idiot.

The hour ends with a bow. I laugh all the way home.

Exhausted, I sleep for the next three hours, waking to find my face in a pool of drool, unable to move. The next day I don’t get out of my bathrobe until just before dinner.

And now I have five classes under my nonexistent belt. Each one has given me a tremendous challenge. I struggle just getting into my sports bra let alone making a front roundhouse kick followed by a punch, low block, back-fist, KIAI. (I do love that power-yell!)

I’m far from being able to effortlessly hoist my carry-on as I could twenty years ago. So what. I haven’t laughed this hard in decades. It’s my new super power.

In the Course of Human Events.

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Finally, July.
Blueberry pie and before that
stubby cobs of bi-colored corn.
You wear seersucker shorts, gobs
of lotion, lake-water skin.

Fireflies tickle ankles
Blue tongues come out laughing

Every year I mean to put up
peaches, fly the flag, let the screen
door bang behind me
as I rush to meet you.
Lj/2013

I remember being held high by my father, the back of my head resting on his shoulder, secure in his strength. He was pointing at something special in the sky. Fireworks!
I remember sitting in the warm sand of Cradle Beach, hearing the fizzy sound of bottle rocks zipping over the lake, a spritzing sparkler held tight with the tips of my fingers. Fireworks!
There was my first summer in Berkeley when I felt the boom, boom, BOOM! in my chest as flashes of color lit up the fog. Foggy fireworks seemed odd.

And that time setting off one hundred dollars worth of Crazy Aces, Whistle Whirls, Hopping Tadpoles, and American Dazzlers Smuggled home from Pennsylvania! It was a pathetic pyrotechnic display of patriotism, yet thrilling for my ten year old son. A bunch of neighbors came out and watched from curbside. When the show was over and the smoke settled the street was littered in tiny flecks of red, white, and blue. Fireworks!

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Then a couple years back, standing in a parking lot of the Oakland Airport, I was impressed forever by the extravagant chandeliers of  light bursting over the coliseum. It was one of those rare summer nights, warm and clear — immediately nostalgic. I couldn’t help but belt out an off key version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

I’ve had sixty! July 4th’s and can’t remember even half of them. Anyway, I’m celebrating this one with a toast to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Once again, it’s time to excavate the flag from the back of the closet, make a pie, dose the dog with Valium and LOOK UP!

Sixty and One/Half

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Sweet sugar-daddy! I read some good news this morning: sugar reduces cortisol levels in the blood stream. No surprise. Sweet things have always made me feel good. Birdsong is sweet. Talking to children is sweet. The gaze of a newborn is super sweet.  My dog, digging a hole in my carpet…not at all sweet.  But, my new lipstick (Maple, by Laura Mercier) is kissy-sweet.

I’ve been listening to Songs From The Fog, a compilation of nine Bay Area singer-songwriters, one of whom is Deborah Crooks; a friend of mine. Her songs, Bittersweet Valentine and Grandma Mission Blues, are like sugared lemon-cakes to this writer’s ears.

There! I’ve written it. I’m claiming writer as a personal adjective because, OMG ! MY DENTIST ASKED ME IF I AM THE WRITER!? who wrote an essay he read in The Monthly.* Was that mine, he wondered? He enjoyed reading it.

TALK ABOUT SWEET!

I was tipped back in his chair, heart pounding as it always does when I open my mouth for a dentist; getting a slight blood rush to my head, the way I always do when I’m tipped back like that in the dentist’s chair and could choke or breathe bad breath on him or feel pain or the despair of a bad tooth or worse! and what he says is: “nice writing,”  with a flash of  his perfectly toothed smile as he sits to my right, me, his WRITER patient.

Honest to goodness I levitated.   Floated like a mist.      Opened my mouth.      Wide.                                Be still my heart.

Have I mentioned that, by chance, my dentist shares a waiting-room with my gynecologist? It’s an odd fact that amuses me with its inarticulate innuendo and I include it here for your amusement as well. It’s something to ponder and theorize about, as I do, tipped back as I am. How come my ENT isn’t in this same building? Or for that matter, my proctologist?

The news about sugar being a stress reducer means  real dollars for my dentist. He told me sugar eats my teeth like they’re candy. ouch ouch ouch. I don’t want to hear that.

I want to chomp Double Bubble–zingy-sweet–like I did in those days of my girlhood; riding in Mom’s old Chrysler, jammed in with the sibs, blowing giant pink pillows from our tiny young mouths until our jaws ached.

“Close.”

I want hard candies wrapped in crispy cellophane, slipped to me by the white-gloved hand of my Grandmother; a sweet kindness to help me cope with the long, boring, near-ta-scary! sermons of her church’s Pastor. I’d suck them into slivers of sweetness so sharp they would slice my tongue.

“Rinse and spit.”

Sweeten my day by baking rhubarb pie? hell yes.
Have my eyebrows sugared? (whatever that is) okay!
Decide my dog, who growls like a monster when I touch him with two hands, is sweet?

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umm, I’ll try.

I’m going to pour honeysuckle-sappy-sweetness over everything: root canals, atrophic vaginitis, epistaxis, colon polyps. At sixty and one/half  I need all the stress reduction I can get.

*thank you everyone who supported my first publication in The Monthly: http://www.themonthly.com/feature141201.html

Affaires de Coeur

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I have a fascination for true stories of love-gone-wrong. The more gruesomely gone wrong, the more horrid and appalling, the more likely I am to latch onto the tale and try to understand it. What happened? What caused love, that primordial flutter, to flit from joy to anguish?

The  saga of Enrique Zambrano is one of my all time favorites. Mr.Z was a regular guy. He had a devoted wife. He had two bright kids attending a pricey, private elementary school. He was a self-employed contractor making big bucks remodeling homes in the Berkeley hills and he was an upstanding citizen, albeit notoriously short tempered, serving on the Berkeley Waterfront Commission.

One day while building a deck for some neighbors Mr.Z got it into his head that these folks were the ones who had told his wife about an extramarital affair he was having. So he did what any regular guy would do–took a meat-tenderizer from their kitchen drawer and bludgeoned them to within an inch of their lives.

Mr.Z went on about his life with no one the wiser  until the day he gave a boasting confession to his friend, Luis Reyna. Luis also served on the Berkeley Waterfront Commission. (Oddly enough, so did my husband.) It was a well-known secret that Luis had a romantic crush on Mr.Z, one might even call it an obsession. Mr.Z’s avowal of violence apparently frightened and repulsed Luis but also made a special intimacy between them. It took awhile before Luis told the police. The police arrested Mr.Z.

Obviously, Mr.Z doesn’t take well to blabbermouths. And it’s impossible to know what Luis was thinking when, on the very night Mr.Z. made bail, Luis agreed to meet with  him at the Berkeley waterfront.  How Luis got shot remains murky. What is known is that it was with his own gun.

Remarkably, Mr.Z. loads Luis into the bed of his pick-up truck and drives quickly to the nearest hospital…then, in a moment of panic, decides it would be better to take Luis out to the Lafayette reservoir, sever his head and hands, scatter them around a field, and then try and get some rest before morning when he was due to pick up his kids and drop them off at summer school.

This is where I play my small role.

I was one of those mommies who volunteered  to help get the school’s children -safely- from car to class. That morning, as I did most mornings, I opened Mr.Z’s truck passenger door and guided  his kids to the curb. “Have a nice day,” I chirped before pushing the heavy door closed.

From there Mr.Z drove a few blocks over to the Whole Earth Access where he picked up some camping supplies and his lover, Linda “Celebration” Oberman. They headed south. Years later they were featured on America’s Most Wanted. A viewer recognized Mr.Z to be his pool cleaner and called the show. On September 8, 1993 Enrique Zambrono was sentenced to death and sent to San Quentin State Prison.

Love went wrong for many in this story and from what I can tell  it started when Enrique Zambrano stepped out on his adoring wife. Why? Why didn’t he just keep his dick in his pants? It went wrong for Celebration too. Imagine her plight. She may have been shocked to discover her lover was a married man. Plus, she was convicted for aiding and abetting a fugitive.
But love went seriously wrong for poor Luis, whose heart wouldn’t let him believe the man he loved would kill him.

This year on Valentine’s Day I happened upon a love-gone-wrong artifact. At the entrance of the north Berkeley BART station lay three red roses. Seeing them there, apparently dashed to the cement by heartbreak or disappointment, evoked a sigh from my friend and I. We wondered aloud about the story behind these roses.

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Maybe “He” had surprised “Her” with roses and a public marriage proposal … to which she said, “No.” Either one of them could have tossed the roses.

Or, perhaps a teen-aged girl had bought them to give to a boy she had been dating for three months; the boy she planned to give her virginity along with the roses and just before she bought a ticket for their rendezvous in Daly City she got a text from him: [its over][don’t come].

Possibly, these roses were accidentally dropped by a woman in haste to catch the train to El Cerrito del Norte from where she would catch the #42 bus that makes a once-a-day trip to San Quentin, where after all these years and all the pain of a heartbreak she once thought she wouldn’t survive; the love of her life, father of her children, mate to her soul, was waiting.

this little piggy

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I’m of two feet when it comes to the whole pedicure-thing. Improbably, I’d never had a pedicure until a few weeks back when I let the Shaman talk me into it. “You’re sixty,” she said, “It’s time.

On the one foot: I have always been uncomfortable with people touching my feet. This aversion probably started at birth when Nurse Callous grabbed them, inked them, pressed them hard onto a paper to create an imprint of my newborn soles and a life-long distrust of strangers in white caps.

My two older sisters, tickling my chubby little baby feet “’till I kicked and cried,” reinforced the lesson that keeping my feet out of the hands of others was sagacious. Ticklish! The word alone holds an agony/bliss sensation. And too, every childhood includes more than a couple stubbed toes, slivers, and various injuries. Some quite painful. Once, a well meaning doctor took a hot device, (which, BTW, looked exactly like the tool that came in the wood-burning kit I’d gotten for my 8th birthday,) and applied it to a plantar wart he’d discover on the bottom of my foot. Enough said?

On the other foot; feet hold remarkable capacity for pleasure. The first time my love kissed each toe, licking deep into the tender valleys between, well…wow, that changed me. That and the slurpy tongue spiral over my sole punctuated with a sharp nip on the heel. Good lord!

Cold feet sandwiched between warm thighs. River water rushing over hot, sore toes. Bare feet walking in warm sand. Certain shoes. An unexpected foot pleasure occurred during menopausal hot flashes when I would fan my toes wide allowing the air to send a blissful cooling through my entire body. Yum.

So, there I was perched on a throne-like chair with my feet immersed in swirling blue fluid partaking in a ritual (and a personal right-of-passage)  overseen by the Shaman who sat, glad and easy, to my left. I’d chosen my color: pink. The Shaman choose purple for herself. A young woman pulled up a stool and began scrubbing my feet.

The aspect of social injustice, the struggle to know if this whole pedicure-thing is supporting or oppressing the lives of  women, especially immigrant women, nagged at my conscience. Plus, any feminist knows we should at least consider why it is some of us think naked nails aren’t as sexy as polished. I sat there feeling tense and angsty over the whole situation.

It took an hour. All the while a roller moved up and down my spine urging me to lean back and relax. I tried. I had to resist a cornucopia of paranoid thoughts: nasty infections, nicks, pokes, jabs, toxic fumes. Wrong color! I fretted about regulations and oversight. I worried that my husband would find my new foot-look garish and off putting. I had to will myself to stay seated.  The Shaman talked sometimes and smiled a lot. It felt special and a bit weird. Precarious and luxurious. The end result: surprisingly delightful.

The Shaman’s medicine –a pink, love/trust-tincture dabbed onto the tips of my toes — because it was time,  highlights the fact that I’ve landed with two feet into the great and magical year of 2015. It feels like a miracle. The whole pedicure-thing? Well, this little piggy went giggling all the way home.

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A Very Sixty Christmas.

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Last week I decided to get a Christmas tree. I walked over  to the pop-up tree-lot  a couple blocks from my house and bought a small one fresh off the truck. I suppose this is the urban equivalent of going into the woods and chopping it yourself. I carried the scraggly  fir home and set it up smack in the middle of my living room. It looks okay and smells pretty good. Out of some wistful effort to keep it natural  I made the mistake of omitting  lights. My husband typically  never notices this sort of thing. He noticed.

“It seems a bit glum,” he commiserated.

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I made a batch of gluten-free Christmas cookies. They look okay and are holding together just fine but they taste awful! I should compost them. Indeed I  would, except I’m too Scottish to let all that butter, sugar, and effort go anywhere except my waist.

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I play Christmas music as much as possible. So much so, I wake to lyric memes from Eartha Kitt’s coy and seductive ~Santa Baby~ “So hurry down the chimney tonight…so hurry down…hurry down…hurry.” and wonder; do I need less coffee and more sex or less sex and more coffee?

And, I’ve been watching Holiday movies on Netflix streaming. Go ahead and snicker – this genre deserves it. Sexy Santa? Unbelievable.  Bad Santa Billy Bob Thorton–good grief. True, I’m a sap for Chevy Chase and his Christmas Vacation, though it was Switchblade Sisters  I stayed up late for last night. It has nothing to do with the season. Watch it anyway. You’ll love it. If it doesn’t fill you with joy nothing will.

Even with all this, I wonder: am I feeling my sixtieth season deeply enough?

Am I dazzled (enough) by my neighbor’s display of LED lights. Lights so bright and surreal  I feel like I’m living inside my iPad? Am I experiencing (enough) rocking-good-times with the  revel-makers; enjoying latkes,  chocolates, smoked WillieBirds, and friends raising up the wassail cup?  Did I stand in line (long enough) at the North Berkeley post-office three different times in the same week mailing off packages destined for as faraway as the Swiss Alps — grooving on the scene?

The answer is YES!

Yes! to nostalgia, yes! to the deck covered in holly, yes, yes, yes! to hope and cheer and charitable giving. I’m dreaming of a soggy Christmas. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. I’m weeping in adoration over everything from yuletide carolers to fake snowballs and silent holy nights. Even my dog growling at the giant, blow-up reindeer down the road had me dabbing my eyes. That vinyl monster with a glowing red nose scared the wits out of Phat-boy. How adorable is that?

And too, I’m laughing all the way. Listening for sleigh bells. Being naughty and nice. Rushing home with treasures. I’m going to wrap up my gifts with gobs of ribbons and bows, hang mistletoe over the bed and leave some of these nasty gluten-free, cutout cookies out for Santa — or whomever.

I’m going to be blogging jolly…fa la la. Why not? I’m sixty, for Saint Nick’s sake!

So hark my words, Harold Angel and dear Reader. “Have yourself whatever kind of holiday you want.  Allow all the tinsel dripping sentiments of the season to be yours. Think inside the box.”

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What could be in there?

Just because I said, “I do,” doesn’t necessarily mean “I will.”

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What seems like suddenly: I’m half of an old married couple. Random people, and even those who know us, make all kinds of assumptions about our many, many years of marriage. Some are convinced we’ve been miserable from day one. Others, influenced by fairytales or drugs, fantasize decade after decade…after decade of bliss.

Once, a college kid sitting behind us on BART interrupted our bickering, (something about how my husband wears shulb-shoes knowing full well it’s a turn off for me) to tell us how special it was for her to see such a doting, old couple. “It’s so rare these days,” she declared with full authority. She hoped she would “feel so loving” toward her husband when she is as old as we are.

Yes, she really did say old twice.

We were so taken aback we said a simultaneous, “thanks,” before we broke into a conspiratorial laugh. Anyone who has been married for more than a month understands that love is a wild beast and leashing it with marriage is unlikely to tame it into an adorable pet.

Not long ago, a bicycle accident landed my husband in a medically induced coma and I was left to fend for him; you know, that spousal responsibility of plug-pulling or whatever. Cautiously, the nursing staff in the ICU asked me if  I thought he would be glad to see me when he woke up. I worried about it for nine days.

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What if he came to and all he could remember about me and our life together were the hell times? There have been plenty of them. Times, that in hindsight, I should be very embarrassed about. I’ve been mean, rude, callous, crude, disregarding, hostile, petty, and other things I know better than to put in writing.

Would the first thing flashing in my beloved’s mind when he finally opened his eyes and saw me be the time I left him (“that’s right, Mister! I’m sooo outta here!”) barefooted in the desert with only a bicycle and bottle of water? His spandex clad image shimmered like a mirage in the rear view mirror as I sped away cursing. I put thirty miles between us before having a second thought.

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Or what if he remembered that time when in a fit of house-wifing self pity pettiness; because let’s admit it, there is limited satisfaction in doing someone else’s laundry, I told him the only reason I allowed him in my life was because I needed his money.

Why should the nurses assume I am a trustworthy wife?

The two hundred and nineteen hours I  waited for reckoning held plenty of time to remember the good stuff too. But there was no reassurance in doing that. Things were far too serious for me to go patting myself on the back for having put up with his snoring for forty plus years. Thinking about the sentimental toast we made at our son’s wedding dinner just made me cry.

When the medical team* coordinated removing the ventilator and bringing him conscious– with  all the skill, tension, and drama of an Apollo launch, and the anticipated look of recognition passed between my love and I, it felt, well, it felt like we were really glad to see each other.

*Endless gratitude to everyone at the Highland Hospital ER & ICU.

Beneath My Clothes.

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I woke feeling fine, normal, glad for the day. Glad to have the BART ride and bus ride, scenic  walk and eventual arrival on Mars for a meet-up with my pen pals in front of me. Yes, I woke on the verge of fulfillment; a feeling similar to opening an envelope when you know it contains a check with your name on it.

I didn’t realize “it”  was happening until my second change of shoes.  I kicked off that first pair (even though they are my comfy favorites) because they aren’t great for distance walking. Pulling every alternative pair from the closet, I try on and reject several pairs before deciding to wear the comfy favorites after all.  I’m dressed,  ready to go. Happily, remarkably, on time.

A quick mirror-check and…suddenly, I’m in the wrong pants. Definitely the wrong pants! Even though Eva said these snake-skin print leggings make my legs look great and I trust Eva and I want to have great looking legs: I just can’t wear them.  This morning they feel tight, irritating–I’m not in the cold-blooded mood it takes to rock the reptilian look. Off come the leggings.

I consult  the clock. Today minutes matter. I have a train to catch. I put on some linen slacks, notice the wrinkles, pull them off. I must stop this, this “it” that shows up like a condemning editor of a glossy fashion magazine, or a mean girl from seventh grade.

Relax. Try again with the snake-skin leggings, maybe with a different top. Maybe the beige cardigan  and this funky, chunky necklace.  No. Try the black flood-pants. That sweater with the black flood-pants. No way. Nothing orange. Clothes are coming on and off me as fast as candy  disappears from the secret stash in my underwear drawer.

I dig deeper into dismay — try a work outfit.  The memory of teaching class after class to  all those fit, beauty-beaming Millennials; scrutinized and cringing in this damn silk blouse slams me. I can’t get it off fast enough. Maybe a different bra under a different top with the red skirt and high boots.

Inane panic grabs my thoughts. I begin to decide not to go. Why, why, why does this happen?  Now I’m a wreck, standing naked and numb, staring into a room that has been ransacked by a crazy woman who can’t decide what to wear.  Please, don’t let me  be this dysfunctional.

 Any thing, I beg myself, just put on anything.

image

I’m two steps out the front door fighting the urge to go back and change my earrings. I’m late. I’m dressed head to toe in black, shrouded in a brown pashmina scarf, blinking tears behind my darkest sunglasses.

No kidding, my next door neighbor emerges from her house wearing the exact same orange shirt I ripped off my body not seven minutes ago.

“You look great,” she says.                                                                                                                           I’m speechless.

On BART with all the other clothed people (how do they do it?) I think about the gold chain around my neck. And yours. I think about what I’ve been sold. What I’ve bought into. And how to get free from the trap of image-based self acceptance. I’m galled these are my concerns. At this age! In these times!

I arrive on Mars, a lovely street in San Francisco, feeling somewhat bruised but relieved to have made it.   “You look great!”, my pals greet me.                                                                                                      After some writing, we talk about how much it costs a woman to simply get dressed and show up. We agree it’s too expensive…at any age. Time to change.