Tentative, Stressful Vaca

The Goodnights are going on vacation! Woohoo, us! If you have been around awhile you might know we are travelers. Nothing soothes our wandering souls like a good road trip out West, or a quick flight to NYC to get some pizza and see a show. But this Covid-19 has put a real damper on traveling plans. As it sits we have five airline flights to anywhere in the US, but we are a little too risk-averse to fly right now, and well, all the places we love to visit are/were hotbeds for the Coronavirus, all except one: Table Rock Lake.

We lived on Table Rock Lake for five years in our early twenties. It was the place I first learned to swim (I was terrified most of my life to swim), it was the place we got married, got pregnant with Jackson. It’s a big lake, surrounded by small towns on the Arkansas/Missouri line, and it just so happens that my MIL owns a place right on the water. We try to get down there every summer, and for awhile it looked like we wouldn’t be able to pull it off this year, then well, we decided to try. So, I guess what I mean to say is the Goodnights are tentatively going on vacation! We are planning, but we won’t know for sure until we hit the road the day we are slated to leave. Wish us luck that things don’t change too drastically as of June 30th.

In preparation we invited the regular crew down to hang with us, including my best friend Rachel and her daughter Madi. Rachel and Madi and the rest of their family have been quarantining like us for the last 80 days or so, and are happy to continue to do so until they meet us at the lake. But because we are coming from DeKalb County, Georgia (a hotbed for the virus) and going to Southern Missouri, with family from Kansas (both places with low incidence rates of the virus) we are preparing by getting tested before we leave. The idea of even possibly putting anyone is danger horrifies us.

Because of the high-rates in our county and state (about 3,500 cases/45,000 cases) and the fact that we are not trending down (wait, what?! You guys opened like a month ago and the ‘Rona didn’t disappear?) Le sigh. Where was I? Because of high rates in our county and state, drive-thru testing is open to all residents. You don’t have to be showing symptoms, or have been exposed to anyone. All I had to do was call DeKalb County. They gave me a website to pre-register. I did it. Picked a date and time, June 5th, and boom, we are registered. We were sent a confirmation email with a QR code for each of us to bring with us to our appointment, which is actually just a ride through a church parking lot on the other side of town and boom, we are done.

We picked June 5th because we plan on leaving at the end of the month. That gives us a weekend before the test to stock up on food and essentials so we don’t have to leave the house until we head for Missouri. We have scoured the CDC and WHO websites, and we think this a “low-risk vacation,” but a little extra caution never hurt anyone. Honestly the scariest parts for me are the drive (it’s a ten-hour drive, so at least two stops for gas), the risk that we will be exposed by a family member or friend who stops by unannounced (don’t be surprised if we just wave and walk away, we love ya, but we didn’t quarantine for 80 days for you to roll up and hug us without a mask on), and/or exposing the people back home to something we picked up along the way. So this isn’t really a stress-free vacation, but it’s the best we can muster at this point.

So there you have it. Our tentative, stressful, summer vacation! I’m excited, and nervous, and prepping like mad, but I think it will be totally worth it to see our people.

Stay safe and sane, y’all!

M.

Ménage à Cheese

“You wanna do like a cheese-on-cheese situation?” I asked my husband the other day while I was standing with the refrigerator door opened, looking frantically from one plastic bin to another. I thought it was a rather straightforward question, but he looked at me with a mix of disgust and sadness, so I offered in a loud tone, “DO YOU WANT TO DOUBLE DOWN ON SOME CHEESE WIT ME?” Nothing. Silence. This MFer needs clarification on this? I proceeded to pull out three different types of cheese, slice them, stack them on top of each other, and eat the stack. Directly in front of him. As my lunch. Then I walked away.

I don’t know about you guys but I am not made for this type of living. I am not made for thinking up what to feed two adults, a child, two dogs, and the large family of nuisance ants that have taken up residence in my house (even though the exterminator has been here TWO TIMES.) I can’t do this. I can’t have all these beings relying on me to feed them all day and night.

Under normal conditions my husband fends for himself for both breakfast and lunch, having an eight-to-five-ish-type office job. My son would normally be eating whatever the hell I pulled together last minute at 7:15 am while he followed me around and said, We have to leave or I’ll be late for band practice. And if I forget, no problem, school would feed him. That just left me and up until two months ago, Sir Duke Barkington, my standard poodle, to nibble on this or that throughout the day. But now we have two dogs, one of which is a 16-week-old puppy who is OBSESSED with food, so she overeats her damn puppy chow then vomits, and then eats the vomit. And since March 15th, I’ve had my son and husband looking at me like, Hey Gir, what’s for lunch? Yeah, they call me Gir.

Early on my husband got the hint, and he just started cooking breakfast late, around 10:30, for all of us. That was our brunch. Everyday. The same thing. Everyday. Eggs. Wrapped in a carb-conscious tortilla. Everyday. I finally had to say, I can’t do this. I can’t live this way. I appreciate you trying to feed us, but I can’t eat another egg. That was almost a month ago and I had my first egg yesterday and it was, I mean, it was okay.

That was also the day I sort of just, umm, opted out of being part of my family’s cooking and eating life. Yes. I’m a horrible partner and mother. I just walked out of the kitchen and didn’t look back. Now my son comes to greet me in my office in the mornings with string cheese hanging out of his mouth, or a frozen waffle cause he’s too lazy to toast it in the oven, or maybe some cereal with no milk because, Mommy the milk shocked me a little, like when you stick a battery on your tongue.

That’s how I got to the ménage à cheese situation the other day. That’s how my husband and I came to a three week take-out bender. We are better now. Detoxed. Ordered HelloFresh.

That’s how things are going in my life. Hope yours is better.

M.

Growing Old is a Trap?

There is this meme that is circulating that says, Growing Old is a Trap! and I laugh every time I see it. It’s funny, absolutely. And I get the sentiment, especially when my 75-year-old friends share it. It’s just that as I age, as I approach (gasp!) 40 years on this planet, I don’t feel that way at all. I don’t feel old. I don’t feel like I’ve been told I will feel my whole life. My whole life I’ve watched my mother, my sisters, my cousins, and friends reach 40, and most of them dread it. Like, absolutely dread 40. They dread it for a multitude of reasons. They say your body starts to break down. You can’t lose weight anymore, your energy level plummets, your hair suddenly turns grey, your family turns on you, wrinkles crawl across your face. I mean, they make it sound horrific, crypt keeper shit, y’all, and at 38.5 years of age I just gotta say, I don’t feel it.

I mean, I guess I have one-and-a-half years for the shit storm that is 40 to get here, but if I’m being honest I already deal with half that list. I already have greying hair. My husband, also 38-and-a-half, is full on salt and pepper now. I have friends in their 30s who have been dying their hair for years to cover grey. I already have creases and wrinkles around my eyes. Laugh lines, reddening skin. It’s been the hardest ever for me to lose weight since my hysterectomy. It used to be that I could workout a little, cut some carbs and bam! I’d lose 20 pounds. Not anymore. My energy level has always been dependent on my mental health, it ebbs and flows. Why should I be scared of turning 40?

Society, I guess. Women who are 40 have been programmed to think they are dead. Their life is over. Omigod, you’re 40! But you look so young! Yeah, bitch, cause she is young. Or, Omigod, you’re 40! Do you knit now? No bitch, I have ass-slapping sex with my husband every night, so I don’t have time for knitting.

Truth be told I am just beginning to feel like myself again after all the shit my 20s and early 30s did to me. I feel like I’m just starting to blossom. I was always a late-bloomer, so this doesn’t’ bother me much, but I absolutely look forward to my next 38-and-a-half years because I honestly feel like my life is just beginning again. I’m in regular therapy, which has been a game changer. I have a firm-ass grip on reality, something that eluded me most of my life. I’ve lived through just enough grief to know how it works, but I haven’t let it make me jaded. Not yet, anyway. Will my hair go grey? You bet. I might not even dye it, don’t know yet, haven’t decided. Will my wrinkles set in? Will my hands start to bend? I hope so, shows character. Will I wear grandma sweaters? Shit yeah I will, I know I will because I already do. They are warm. And have pockets. Who doesn’t love a fucking sweater with pockets? And what is that, is that a peppermint in the pocket?! Oh shit, just what I needed to settle my stomach after my third cup of dark roast!

Look, I love you 20-somethings, you’re adorable. You’ll also really dumb, but that’s how it is supposed to be! You have A LOT of living and learning to do. A lot of it. And no one wants to take that from you, lest not me. Live, girl! And keep living, and being dumb, even well into your thirties. Then, grow up. Cause it’s honestly not that bad. It’s not a trap at all. You might even learn a thing or two, about the world, about yourselves. After all, you live, you learn, then you get Luv’s (but not really, you only get Pampers cause all the others leak loose stool out yo’ baby’s ass all over the backseat of your new car.) See that? I taught you something. If you let us teach you, we will. But for real, I love you. You make me happy to see, to watch you do your beer pong and your whatsy-daisy, it’s just that one day, when the avocado toast is gone, and the wrinkles have set in, and your 40 and you still don’t have any idea what you want to be when you grow up, I want you to know that it won’t be as scary as it sounds. Trust me, I know.

So let’s stop this 40 is death thing, and embrace who we are. And while I’m at it, 50 isn’t death either! Neither is 60! OMIGOD, stop it Missy, is 70 death?! No! You know what death is, death. You dead. So stop living like you already are and do some shit to wake up. It doesn’t matter how old you are, today is your day.

M.

Update after talking to my husband. I was telling him I was frustrated with how people think growing and learning and evolving is bad and while he agrees with me, he politely reminded me that you only grow, learn, and evolve if you allow yourself to. Not everyone will. Or wants to. He reminded me that you have to, “know better to be better.” Man, he’s so spot on. All the stuff above only works if you allow yourself to not be burdened by structural pressures. If you educate yourself. If you love yourself enough to show yourself some grace. Please do that, y’all. ❤️

Reliving the Truth

I’ve always been warned, since the first time I took a creative nonfiction class, that people will not remember the things you remember, the exact way you remember them. People will not have the same memories, they will not reframe times, or situations, or people the same way. Even Jerimiah and I, who have spent the last 18 years together, sometimes look at each other when we are retelling a story, an important story, like the death of our daughter, we will look at each other like, “Dude, that’s not how it happened!” And we both think we remember it the “right” way, when in reality the truth lies somewhere between us.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days. I share a lot about my life, about my childhood. I share from vivid, vivid memories I have. Sometimes they are corroborated by my family members, sometimes my family members have no idea what I am talking about. I’ll say to my mom, for instance, remember that time our car broke down and that guy we didn’t know gave us a ride to Ruthie’s house? And she will be like, “That never happened, I would never take a ride from a stranger.” Meanwhile, I remember the way the stick shift of his truck brushed up against my leg. I remember my mom nervously fumbling the door handle. I remember we weren’t going far, and she thought we’d be safe. We were safe. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t remember, because it ended up not being a big deal. We made it to her friend’s house, who took us back to Food-4-Less with a gallon of tap water to put into her overheated 1972 Dodge. I guess the ride with a stranger turned out to be not that big of a deal. Or he wasn’t really a stranger to her, just to me? So why remember it? Why do I? Why does she not? Does it matter at all?

I’m thinking about this today for a number of reasons. One of them is that I have finally started to write a little bit, and the stories that are coming out of me are stories that are stemming from fear and anxiety. They are stories from my childhood, stories that take me back to dark times. Times when I would lie awake alone at night and hope that my mom was okay, cause she was all I had. She was it. I didn’t have a dad around. My siblings were grown and out of the house. It was just my mom and me, and if something happened to her I would be all alone. So I’d lie awake at night, even if my mom was sleeping peacefully in the next room, and I would worry about the next bad thing that was going to happen.

I’ve started writing about it, because I’ve started doing it again. Only this time it isn’t my mom that I’m worried about, it’s my son. My husband. They hopped into the car the other day to grab some take-out food and I immediately thought, there goes my whole world in that car, what if something happens? What if they are in a car accident? Maybe it won’t be bad, but if they are taken to the hospital right now, then what? My people are not here with me. I can’t be with them. What happens if they get sick? What happens if I can’t make it all better? What happens if I lose my whole world?

I’ve started thinking of all these times because my anxiety is high right now and when my anxiety is high writing helps me. And my writing comes when I spend the time thinking about my life, my childhood, my past. And up until this point in my life I’ve had these oppressive thoughts about whether what I write will upset my family, my friends, my siblings, my mom. I’ve said to more than one professor, “Oh I can’t write about that until so and so is dead…” But this week I turned a corner. I realized that I write for me. I write for others like me who can’t share their stories. I don’t write to make people upset or angry, and if they get upset or angry over my truth, or think that is the reason I am doing it, that is on them. That is probably because they do things to intentionally upset people, but I don’t. That’s not how I operate. I operate from truth. And maybe my truth isn’t in line with theirs, but that doesn’t matter. It is mine. When I write my name to a piece of creative nonfiction, it is, to the best of my recollection, true. All of it.

There’s a million quotes that I could share now to explain this, but this morning while talking with Jerimiah about my new-found courage to write about whatever the hell I want to write about, he reminded me of something I say a lot, “If you don’t want people to know you did it, don’t do it.” I’ve said this since I was 16 years old, and it pissed my family off then, and I’m sure it does now. But it’s, well, it’s the truth. For now I’ll be going about my business while I remind myself, “I’m responsible for telling the truth, not for how others respond to it…” after all, truth doesn’t come as easy to others, as it does to people like me.

Thanks for reading.

Now go write YOUR truth.

M.

Lagniappe

We met a man last summer in Coastal Louisiana who was raised on the bayou. He used to hunt for and collect alligator eggs as a child, then hatch them and raise them in his bathtub until they got too big, then he and his brothers would take them back out to the swamp and drop them near where they found them. He spoke Louisiana-French, a creole language spoken across ethnic and racial lines, by people who consider themselves to be Cajun or Louisiana Creole, as well as Chitimacha, Houma, Biloxi, Tunica, Choctaw, Acadian, and/or French. Creole is the type of language they speak, but Cajun is derived from that. There is always a dominate language with pidgin languages known as the superstrate language, while the lesser is the substrate. In the case of the Cajun there is English, then French, then African, Spanish, and Native American. When it all converges in one person, the result can be wonderful and confusing. He told us how to “pinch the tail and suck the head,” showed us places we had never seen before, and explained that Lagniappe just means getting a little something extra than you paid for.

He would speak to the alligators primarily in French, then speak to us in English, then speak to his friend in Creole. He would codeswitch from one being to another, never skipping a beat, never missing an opportunity to tell his story to whomever would listen. Always with an eye on the alligator.

The man was our tour guide on the Atchafalaya River Basin, a combination of wetlands and river delta where the Atchafalaya and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The basin contains 70% forest habitat, and 30% open water. As far as wetland river basins go, it’s almost stable. It’s the largest contiguous block of forested wetlands left in the lower Mississippi River Valley, and the largest block of floodplain forest in the United States, with 260,000 acres of cypress-tupelo. It’s iconic, and terrifying, and a little bit surreal.

Soaring over the Atchafalaya Swamp we watched a baby and momma Osprey spread their wings from the top of a hollowed cypress. We saw a 12-foot alligator lead his blind friend to food. We overheard the story of the Louisiana Black Bear, and the floods, and the inoperable South Farm, and the ATV-traffic that threatens many of the existence there. We saw beaver dams, and otter running for their lives. We felt the slap of an alligator tail against the oiled metal of the boat. For the first time in my five years in The South, I let it grip me. Take ahold of my head and my heart. It was something I didn’t expect to happen, but something I am glad did. Like when you get an extra donut in the box.

M.

DoD Directive 1348.1

There’s a homeless man that walks around our town with his dog. It’s a service dog and he’s very old, and very ill. They are very old, and very ill. There is a plight on the app NextDoor, to get this dog help. They are raising money to get the dog into a vet. They are trying to track the man and the dog. Someone will post one day, “Saw man and dog at McDonalds on La-High.” The next day they will say, “Saw man and dog at Northlake Dunkin.” One day it changed from “Man and dog” to “Vet and dog.” Someone found out he was a Veteran. A woman offered up a shiny, new, red Radio Flyer that her kids refuse to use. Maybe he can cart the dog around when the pavement is too hot for his feet?

I come from a military family. I married into a military family. Generations and generations of men, and several women, who served in the Army, Navy, Kansas National Guard, and Army Reserve for years. Jackson’s Grandma and PawPaw are both retired military. He has several uncles, great uncles, cousins, and family friends who are military service members. When I was in third grade both my sisters and their children moved home to Leavenworth to live with my mom and me, in our tiny two-bedroom apartment, while both their husbands were sent to fight in The Gulf War. It’s just something that has always been part of my life. We’ve hung a proverbial Blue Star Banner for as long as I can remember.

The Blue Star Service Banner is an 8.5-x-14-inch white field with one or more blue stars sewn onto a red banner. The blue star represents one family member serving, and a banner can have up to five stars. If the individual is killed or dies, a smaller golden star is placed over it. Gold stars are placed above the blue stars or to the top right of the flag, in the event a flag represents multiple service members. Stars are important in the Armed Forces. They signify honor, valor, sacrifice. They are shiny. They are different colors. Stars, stripes, accolades. Those things are important to our United States Military. In more recent times a white star has appeared. A white star signifies a solider lost to suicide.

The Service Banner can be hung in a window of your home if you have an immediate family member actively serving in the Armed Forces, during any period of war or hostilities in which the United States is engaged. So, pretty much all the time. Maybe you’ve seen those flags in windows, but you didn’t know. Maybe you’ve seen men and dogs at McDonalds, but you didn’t know. These flags were first used in World War I, with standardization and codification by the Department of Defense Directive 1348.1, by the end of World War II. They were quick to implement flags. Quick to show honor.

Our nephew Danny turns 23-years-old in July. This week he is headed into lockdown at Fort Bragg so he can prepare for his second tour. He is headed to yet another country that needs the help of the United States Military. This week the women who are gathering money for the Vet and his dog are trying to track him down to get him that wagon. They found him a number to the VA. They think he can really get some help. This week those women think that a phone call to the VA will make all his problems go away. Make the dogs problems go away. This week the women who are gathering money think they can make their streets less unseemly. I hope they are right.

I’m thinking of them today. Of my family members who have sacrificed for the good of our country. My family members who will one day sacrifice. The man and dog, sitting outside the McDonalds on La-High. Drinking coffee. I’ve never met him. Never shaken his hand. Pet his dog. Watched him walk down Lavista with everything he owns on his back. But still, I’m thinking of him, I’m thinking of them. Remembering better times, and wishing them all well. While they serve, and after. Because most of the dangers don’t come until many moons after.

Be safe. Be well.

M.

Sharpie Feet

You don’t really know how talented the world is, until you watch a man unroll three feet of paper, take his shoes off, stick Sharpies between his toes and draw a portrait of you and one of your best friends inside a Ruby Tuesday. Then, and only then, as you stand wide-eyed and wondering, do you realize you have witnessed the art of human nature. The art of imagination. The art of so many what-the-fucks that you have dreams, nay nightmares, for weeks about this particular man’s feet. And sweaty toes. And the courage, or is it madness, that some people possess inside their minds and bodies. Am I being a little over the top? Well, sure. But he could have warned me when he asked to borrow my Sharpies.

I worked in the restaurant business for years. Eventually I was in management, where I excelled at training people, making angry customers happy, and was the first line of defense in the interview process. We had this system at Ruby Tuesday. When someone would walk through the door with an application, an unsolicited one, a shift leader, or an assistant manager, or a trusted bartender, whomever was around, would be called to the front door to greet them. Then we’d do what we called a 60-second interview. Maybe it was 60 seconds. Maybe it was 90 seconds. I know there were people I spent less than 30 seconds with, people with sores around their mouths, itching their skin that appeared to be crawling with an unseen bug, while they asked about being paid in cash and whether or not we offered paid training.

Then there were people who caught my attention, who I invited to sit for a spell. I might even offer them a Coke or a Sweet Tea if they tickled my fancy. That’s what happened the day I met the man who would draw me with my own Sharpies. I was back in the kitchen, counting burger buns on the line, when the hostess caught my attention across the heat lamps. “You’re gonna wanna see this,” she said, then motioned to the front door. I gave her a quizzical look, and she mouthed, “I’m getting Erica too,” and headed to the manager’s office. I scrambled to take off my apron and beat them both up to the front. I always liked to get to crazy before Erica. Assess the situation, beat her to the punch, so that later when we laughed about the incident I could say I saw it first.

I jogged up through the restaurant like there was a salad bar emergency, which happened more than you’d feel comfortable knowing, while I smiled at customers who were shoving sliders and soup into their mouths. When I got to the front door there was a man at the hostess stand wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, holding a roll of white paper under his arms. An application was sitting on the hostess stand. I introduced myself, keenly aware that neither the hostess, nor Erica had made their way up to the front yet, which means they were sitting in the office watching me and this man on video to see what type of craziness was about to unfold.

I introduced myself. He handed me his application and asked me if I wanted to see something “cool as shit.” I looked up toward the camera and smiled. I did want to see something cool as shit, and I knew other people who did too. I escorted him to the larger dining room that was usually only opened for the dinner rush. It was quiet, empty, and a little dark since the lights were still turned down.

Erica and the hostess walked through the “Do Not Enter, Employees Only” door on the side of the dining room from the dry storage area. They were cautious, but smiling. We all knew something great was about to happen, but we had no idea what.

This man unrolled about three feet of paper from his roll, laid it flat on the ground. I moved some chairs out of his way so he would have more room. He stood up, looked at the three of us, and asked if someone had something to write with. I handed him the two Sharpies I had in my shirt pocket. Erica offered the pencil from her hair. He passed on the pencil, but took the Sharpies with appreciation. I hadn’t had a moment to look at his application since we walked over, so I took this opportunity to glance down at it. I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember his date of birth, his previous employer, I don’t even remember if he filled it out completely, all I remember is that while my eyes were looking down at the paper in my hand, Erica pushed her whole body into mine with such force I was inclined to say, “Ouch,” then I looked up at the man. He had suddenly taken his shoes off, stuck the Sharpies in between his toes, and started to work on the paper.

Twenty minutes later, as my best friend Erica (the General Manager of the restaurant) and I looked at caricatures of ourselves on this three foot wide piece of paper, drawn by this man’s feet (and my Sharpies) we didn’t know what to say. We wanted to ask when he could start work. We wanted to ask him to pick up his paper and leave. We were shocked and awed and I offered him a Sweet Tea. He accepted. Thirty minutes later we really just wanted him to pick up his paper and leave. Well, technically we wanted to keep the paper, it was a portrait of us after all, and have him put his shoes back on and leave. But it seemed like he was there for the long haul. He was asking about a burger.

Turns out the man had no experience in the restaurant business. He had no experience as a cook. He had a “slight” drug problem, that he was working on, and while he technically didn’t have an address, he was living in a tent by the lake, he planned on getting one soon enough. He had was a artist, which was plain to see. He was in Branson to be “discovered.” He wanted to be on America’s Got Talent. He wanted to be a Hollywood star, he wanted to know if we could foot him the money for a burger. Foot. Haha. We could not. We did not. He put his shoes back on. Called us assholes, I believe, grabbed his roll of paper, and walked out the front door. Erica shook her head, told me to bleach those Sharpies and went back to the office. This was not her first rodeo. But I was shook.

It would take a couple more years of meeting people like this, seeing people live like this, one job application to another. One choice of drug for another, before the plight of the human condition would start to sting my heart. A couple more interviews with people who said they were “working on getting a place to live,” a couple more transients who were addicted to meth, or crack, or just looking to steal from the bar. I always had a knack for picking the “good” people. I was trusted for my innate ability to read someone’s face, their actions. But the whole experience took a toll on me. Sure there were days where I saw a man draw my picture with his feet and I found it amusing, then frantic, then sad. But then there were really bad days. Days where a single mom, addicted to ice, would walk in with an application and her two-year-old daughter on her hip. And I desperately wanted to give her a chance, but there are just some things you can’t do. So you feed them. You notify child services. You go sit in you car and scream at the top of your lungs for a little while. Whatever it takes to make it all better.

I had a friend say to me one time, “Well you work in the restaurant business, you aren’t exactly working with the highest class of people.” I nodded, and moved on. I knew what he meant, but I didn’t have the energy to fight. To correct him. To explain to him that sometimes, in this midst of the shit, of the counting of burger buns, and of the standing for hours on your feet. In the midst of having ketchup spilled all over your white shirt, or having a man scream at you because there isn’t enough spinach in his spinach and artichoke dip, sometimes those “low-class” people teach you what it means to be human. You learn, then you grow. Or you don’t. Either way, we are all still there.

Miss you, Erica. And the fun that was scattered throughout.

M.