Today is my favorite holiday. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t give a fuck about our independence, or how wrong (or wronged) our founding fathers were. I don’t give a fuck about our founding fathers. I don’t even like the phrase “Founding Fathers,” it reminds me of that piece of shit “Birth of a Nation” notion and it gives me the heebie-jeebies. Eww. Gross. Stop it.
Today is my favorite holiday cause I like fireworks! Ahhh! They are so pretty. And yeah, maybe they represent the casting off of bombs, and the old ways of war and rebellion, but to me they mean something much more personal. To me they mean summer nights. And summer nights don’t conjure up images of war, or bombs, or even old, white fathers who were super racist and gross. Summer means popsicles, softball, street kickball under the lamppost before my mom whistled for me to come inside. Summer reminds me of cantaloupe and sweaty baseball caps with my hair pulled up tight underneath. It reminds me of backyard camping at a friend’s house, and learning to shoot hoops in the driveway, of catching lightening bugs, and talking on the telephone very late. Summertime reminds me of my childhood, the good parts, the times when I got to feel and act like I kid. The parts where I didn’t worry about things, or people, or how this whole thing would turn out. I just worried if we’d win the game, or I’d get to stay the weekend at Lee Anne’s house, or if someone would take me to a cool fireworks show on the 4th of July. Luckily for me, someone usually did.
So happy 4th of July today, y’all. May this day of freedom and independence conjure up the best of memories for you, and remind you that although this isn’t the way we thought we’d be spending our day today, it could always be worse. At least there’s such a thing as fireworks!
I woke up thinking about church today. Probably because it’s Sunday, certainly not because I’m a churchgoer. I’ve never been a churchgoers. I was never forced to go to church as a child, never had religion thrust upon me. My mom used to say she’d let her kids decide what to believe, though she herself was a Christian, it didn’t much matter back then what we believed in, as long as we were good, kind people. And we are. All of us. But we maybe didn’t go the path she expected.
I’m married to an atheist. The good kind. He doesn’t need a higher power to keep him in line. He likes to say that he does all the raping and pillaging he wants to, which is zero. He isn’t “acting” good in this life for fear of what the next will hold. He’s a good person because he’s a good person.
I’m in a “complicated” relationship with Jesus. God, well, I’m not a fan. But Jesus seemed cool, the man Jesus anyway. But even on my best days I can’t wrap my mind around church. Around organized religion. Too much hate, judgement, and evil takes places in many of those four walls, and I’ll pass. I’ll get my “church” the old-fashioned way, walking with Jesus alone, communing with nature, talking to y’all on this here blog.
My son has been raised with grandparents who don’t shy away from talking religion with him. My mom taught him to pray (she’s become very religious in her senior years and I’m sure regrets that whole “let my kids figure it out themselves” deal she did). So since Jackson was small she’s talked about her love for God to him, which is why I was pretty surprised the other day when he said, “Santa Claus is real, you know. He’s a real person, not like God who is just a belief.” Ouch. That’s some shit he made up in his own mind. Seems Santa, a jolly man who has magic and cares about all the children in the world, is easier to believe in than a God who makes people spew hate and judgment towards others. Of course my happy, kind, empathetic son believes in a man who has flying reindeer and brings smiles to children. And of course my smart, logical, realistic son can’t get behind a belief that spreads hate and has caused war and killing and disease. A belief people blindly stand behind. A belief that neglects some children based on how they came into this world, where they live, or how they practice their own faith. Of course.
So yeah, we aren’t headed to church today. But we are headed down to the lake for some fun, food, and fellowship. Is there anything else you can ask of a Sunday?
I have some new followers! I love new followers, but I hate that word “follower.” I prefer friends! I have some new friends! We shall all welcome them with open arms. Hello, friends! Welcome! Grab a White Claw, or a bottle of wine, or maybe some iced tea (we are in The South after all) and sit a spell while I tell you a bit about myself. My name is Missy. (Really it’s Melissa but when I was a born in the 80s my stone-washed jeans wearing sisters thought Missy sounded radical, so there you have it.) I go by Melissa when I am feeling “formal” or when I don’t know people very well, but I do prefer Missy. I’m not the type of person to offer that up when we first meet, nicknames sometimes scare people, so you’ll usually know me a little while when someone will call me Missy and you’ll be all, Wait, who is Missy? You mean Melissa? And they will be all, Who is Melissa? And that’s pretty much all you need to know about me. Just kidding.
I’m married to a lovely middle-aged, white man whom I often make fun of for being a middle-aged, white man but check this, he is faaaaar from the kinda guy you are thinking of. Sure, on the outside he looks the part, and a lot of old ladies grab his hand to tell them all about his church (like his atheist-ass cares), but he politely listens, nods along, and says, That sounds really nice! Occasionally other middle-aged, white men who do not know him very well will suggest having a beer, and they will end up saying some whacked-out racist shit, or something about how our current president is “fiscally responsible” or maybe throw in a homophobic joke, and my husband will be all, Oh, so you’re an asshole. Then he will pay his tab (but not theirs) and leave. He’s cool like that.
We have an 11-year-old son who is starting sixth grade in the fall. Middle school. I’m not going any further than that because I remember middle school, vividly, and I am terrified for him and for me. He’s supersonic smart though. He’s in the STEM program, robotics team, band, etc, etc. You’ll like him a lot and often remark how mature he is for his age, but that’s just because he doesn’t feel comfortable enough around you to make fart noises under his arm. Just yet. Otherwise he is honest, kind, considerate, and his three favorite television shows are: The Office, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The dogs, Jesus I forgot about the dogs. Okay listen, we had this amazing dog for nearly 14 years. Her name was Bentley and she was my actual ride-or-die (yeah, I say ride or die and I don’t know if it is hyphenated or not). She was a chocolate lab mix and also the best dog in the whole world. But in 2018 her health problems caught up with her and we had to put her down a couple months shy of her 14th birthday. Then I did what I always do, I had a breakdown and over-compensated by getting not one, but two dogs. Sir Duke Barkington of Charlotte came first. He is a standard poodle and he’s hella fancy and honestly I can’t with him sometimes. He wears bow ties, and prefers to be professionally groomed with a blow out. We just celebrated his second birthday with a surprise celebration on April 30th, because quarantine.
Then there is Lady Winifred Beesly of Atlanta. Winnie came to us at the beginning of quarantine because who didn’t think it was the perfect time to go on Craigslist and adopt a dog that someone had bought and realized they were allergic to and didn’t know what to do with?! She’s part standard poodle and part great pyranees and I know what you are thinking, what does that dog look like? Answer: A hot fucking mess. But we love her.
Okay, so I think that’s the gist of life around here. We live in Metro Atlanta. We are pro-choice (I’ll tell you about my daughter sometime), LGBTQIA+ allies, active members in the Black Lives Matter Movement, and we are Bernie supporters who will be voting for Biden in November because shiiiiiiit. My husband has his MBA and works in finance, I write and piddle around the house yelling about politics and who the hell shit on the floor?! It’s usually a dog.
This blog houses everything from my distorted, meandering thoughts to stories of my childhood, to actual lists of whatever I am thinking at any given moment. I talk a lot about mental health, family, and writing. I made a promise to myself to blog everyday this year, and with the exception of two weeks ago when I took a break to help #MuteTheWhiteNoise and #AmplifyBlackVoices I have written everyday this year. So, there’s a lot to read and digest here. I also have a page with my published writings if you are so inclined. Thanks for reading today and thanks for being on this crazy ride!
I’m a shower shaver. Always have been. I remember learning to shave my legs in a tub of luke-warm water, after years of being tormented about my long, black leg hair by my sister, while my mother refused to let me near a razor. I was in fifth grade when I eventually stole my mom’s razor, sat in a tub for much longer than I should have and contemplated it. Then I just did it. My mom got mad. My sister laughed. I was bleeding from knee to ankle, but I was proud, so proud of my smooth legs. Now I wish I had never picked up a razor.
Shaving my legs, tweezing my eyebrows, waxing my mustache, Jesus, I’m so over all of it. I wish I was so body positive that I could stand proudly and say, Fuck you, World! While I flip the world the bird, and my mustache blows in the wind like Tom Selleck’s. But alas, I succumb to societal beauty standards, well some of them, like waxing, shaving, plucking, and zapping unwanted hair. Bleh.
The day we signed the papers on our current home my vision was clouded by the master bathroom. It’s beautiful. Small, but mighty. There’s only one small vanity and a toilet, but there is this wonderful shower! It is all glass, with stone floors (the bathroom itself has heated floors), and artful tile work throughout. It is floor to ceiling and has all the fancy accouterments that a shower should have. And it’s huge! It easily fits Jerimiah and me. Or Duke and Jackson and me, when we are in swimsuits trying to scrub mud from Duke’s legs while he attempts to run through the small opening that we leave in the door to let the smell of wet dog escape. It’s perfect.
But the first time I took a shower in it I realized there was nowhere for this shower-shaver to stick her legs when I shaved. It needed a bench. So I did what anyone would do, I hopped out of the shower, threw clothes on, ran to Homegoods, and bought a bamboo shower bench. Perfect. Except, well, today was the first time since I owned the bamboo bench the I actually sat on it to shave my legs.
Listen, I’m a creature of habit. Years and years of awkwardly standing in the tub, with my leg perched on the edge has made me think this is the only way. So the first time I shaved my legs with my bamboo bench in place, I just stuck my leg up on the bench and shaved standing up like usual. Then I kept doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, I use the bench. I sit on it regularly while the hot water from my raindrop faucet drips onto my head and I think about the world. I cry on my bamboo bench. A lot. Y’all know I’m a shower cryer, I don’t have time to defend that. I cried on that bamboo shower bench the first week we lived here because I missed Charlotte and I didn’t want to live in Georgia. I cried that summer when my son was sad that we didn’t have any friends yet. I cried when my friend called with bad news about her parents. I sat on the bamboo bench and cried when that student opened fire on the UNC Charlotte campus. When they couldn’t find that little boy with autism for days. I cried on that bamboo bench when I thought we were going to be transferred to New Orleans. I cried when my son cried when a friend was being bullied at school and he realized he needed to stick up for her. I cried when the spring tornadoes sprang up the Midwest, when we had to cancel our trip home because Covid-19 was here. I cried for Ahmaud Arbery, for my state, for our country, for this world.
But today, for the first time in a year, I sat on that bamboo bench and I shaved my legs. I let the water fall on me. I didn’t cry. I just sat and shaved. I wondered about all the times I should have done this before. All the times I let my own stubbornness stop me from doing things. My own stubbornness, my own ignorance, my own self-doubt. I thought about shower-shavers. I thought about women who wish they had clean water. I thought about women who refuse to shave their legs and under arms. I thought about little girls with no mother to teach her how to do it. I thought about the good I have learned by others, but society, by my environment, and my world. And then I thought about the bad. But I didn’t cry, I just shaved my legs.
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.
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.
I’m wide awake at 5:00 am on a Saturday, staring at the crack in the curtain as moonlight, streetlight, and a small sliver of day stream in. I’m awake because I heard footsteps in the hallway. Our house is old. Creaky. Drafty, sometimes. The squeaks were from Jerimiah, who heard our puppy vomiting in the hallway and went to her rescue. He cleaned up the vomit, soothed her jittery nerves, and now they are both asleep again next to me. Why she vomited I can’t be sure. She had her last round of puppy shots. She maybe ate her dinner too fast. She maybe ate another random stick in the yard. Puppies vomit. Life carries on.
I can’t get back to sleep tonight. Today. This morning. I’m thinking about that time, 1998, maybe ‘99, when I was standing in line at the cell phone store. Remember the cell phone store? Not Verizon, or Best Buy. This was a smaller store, where you could buy prepaid flip phones, or pay your AT&T bill, still buy a pager? That store. They were usually in a failing mall, or shopping strip, next to an anchor store like JC Penny or Radio Shack. They had names like Clear Choice Cellular or Cellular One. You had a Motorola Star-tac, or maybe a Nokia with a small yellowed screen. You played a game with a long snake that would maze around in different directions, eating food, while it grew, and grew, and grew. The game was dumb. It was dumb and it was addictive and did it have a name? Maybe it was just called Snake. Just, Snake.
I’m thinking about this time I was standing inside this store and I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting to pay my cell phone bill. It was hot outside, I was in flip flops, it was hot inside the crowded, little store, across from ACE Hardware, next to the movie theater and the arcade that folded a couple years later. I was still in high school. Still learning how the world worked. I had a wad of cash in my hand. Maybe $70. Cell phone bills were expensive back then. But I had a job. I worked the “10 Items or Less” register at Food-4-Less. On the lucky days.
There were a couple women working two different counters. It was all very hectic in there. People were forming a line to pay their bills, people were forming a different line to purchase a phone, a process back then as complicated as buying a car. Long, arduous, taxing. There was another line to look at cases, another to pay their landline bill, buy phone cards to call their families in countries I’d never heard of, let alone visited. Not then. Not that day.
The line was moving. The woman in front of me was motioned to a desk. I was up next. I nervously moved my toes up and down in my flip flops. Someone was waiting in an idling car outside for me. My mom, or my sister, or my best friend. I was keenly aware that I was keeping someone from getting somewhere they needed to be. I was hot. I was sweating in my Walmart flip flops, I was next to be called.
The chime on the door jingled, and the line turned to look. A young man walked in, looked at the line exasperated, and walked inside the store. The line looked back toward the women at the desks. One of them tiredly said, “Come on, whoever’s next.” I started toward her when the man that had just walked in raced past me and got to her desk before I did. I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked around in disbelief. I looked back at the line behind me. They looked at me with searing eyes. Why did I let him cut in line? Why didn’t I say something? What could I have done? Anger. Pity. I stepped back to my spot in line and sank into myself a bit. He finished up his business, then turned to leave. He smiled at us as he walked by. Smirked really. He was no dummy. He wouldn’t wait in line. The woman at the counter motioned me over.
I sank into myself a bit that day and I never fully came back up. I don’t know why. And I don’t know how. I just did. And sometimes when I can’t sleep, when it’s 5:00 am on a Saturday, and my puppy has vomited, and the light from the moon and the sun streams into the cracks of my window I think about that day. About that man. About what nearly-40 Missy would like to say to him. To the line. To the women at the counters. To the little, dumb Missy who sank into herself. And I just can’t sleep.
A few sessions ago Patsy and I were discussing the way children of alcoholics turn out. There are three ways that children of alcoholics combat what they see. Let’s say there are three siblings. As they age one of them will become self-indulgent and most likely repeat the behavior they saw as children. So they themselves will become an addict of some kind. Find a way to numb the pain. Then there is the martyr. The one who feels like they have to take care of all the people and all the things and it is the way they deal with their childhood. Then there is the functioning adult. The one who escapes it all, seemingly unscathed (usually with plenty of mental illness) but who can see it all, and them all, for who they are. This lines up perfectly with my family. Guess which one Patsy says I am: The Functional Adult! I know, I know, I was just as shocked as you are. Here’s the thing though, that word “martyr” kept popping up in my brain. Because I don’t always feel like a functioning adult and when I don’t, I feel like a martyr. And I’m really fucking tired of feeling that way, but I think I’ve been programed to feel that way. I think all women have.
Before you ask, no I have not read Untamed by Glennon Doyle, per my last post, but I do want to and I know she talks about this because I have heard her talk about the book on her Insta stories and I’m ordering the book today and it’s now catapulted to the top of my reading list. But this word “martyr” and I go way back. Way, way back. Back to the day I chose to end my pregnancy in 2011 because my daughter was “incompatible with life.” Since I made that decision I have always felt part murderer, part martyr. But what I didn’t see, or realize until Patsy told me about this whole idea, is that that word and I actually go back even further than that. Way, way back.
When I was a little girl I would not tell my mom, for example, that my friend was having a birthday party because I knew I couldn’t afford to bring a present. So instead I would stay home, call my other friends after and ask all about it. I would feel this rage fill up inside of me, but I had nowhere for it to go. Or on Friday nights I would sit at home alone all night and wait for my mom to come back after the bars closed at 2am, just to make sure I unlocked the door for her (because she never could, she was too drunk), make sure she got into pajamas, had some bread and milk so she didn’t vomit, and then fall asleep. That’s a thing 10-year-old Missy did. And 10-year-old Missy was trained to do that. Not intentionally, but still, trained to do. The next day I wasn’t allowed to talk about it with others. I wasn’t allowed to ask questions, or laugh at my mom for falling down the steps, or bring it up at all to anyone else, because that isn’t what good girls do. And that’s when this whole thing with this word and I started. And I think it happens, nay, I know it happens, to all little girls in different ways.
Be quiet. Be sweet. Say thank you and hello. Hug your relatives. Offer your assistance. Always be helpful. Don’t tell your business to strangers (something my family still attempts to make me feel guilty about for doing).
These little girls grow up to become women who are partners, and mothers, and daughters, and friends, and members of the community. And they are active. Active to the point of having breakdowns because they do too much. Give too freely. Don’t talk openly about their problems. We actually want to be viewed as martyrs, because that’s how we are supposed to be. We want people to look at us and go, “Oh poor Missy, she has so much on her plate.” We think that means we are doing what we are supposed to do as women. Meanwhile, we are suffering. We start to take less care of ourselves. We start to skip doing things we want to do, we start to give more and more to people who now expect it. If we are lucky we have partners, like mine, who try to tell us to stop. Show us what we are doing. Tell us to take care of ourselves. But we don’t listen. We are programmed to know what is best for us. What is best for everyone.
We hide behind lies. We hide behind PTAs, room-parent responsibilities, we hide behind “hectic” jobs, behind “challenging” children, or ailing parents, or partners who don’t know how to do their own laundry. Guess what, they are adults, they can learn to do their own fucking laundry! We hide behind “projects.” We hide behind “my time management skills are not great.” You’re an adult. Learn better time management. We hide. It’s all just excuses, and we as women nod at each other and say we understand. Because we do, we are trained to. We hide and do all the things for all the people, then when there is a little bit of time for us we squander it by faking a headache to get alone time. Or crying in the shower (raising my hand here). Or, or, or…
I’m done with that shit, y’all. Done. And I’m done coddling family and friends who are okay playing the martyrs too. I love y’all, but if you can’t stand up to people, say things like, “No, I need this time for myself.” Or “Hey, cook your own dinner, clean your own laundry, let someone else worry about the thing” and take care of yourself first, I can’t help you.
I have yet, in my life, to meet a woman who does all the things for all the people, who keeps herself feeling well, and who keeps herself happy by doing what makes her happy with regularity and doesn’t drink a ton. Or doesn’t have to hide in her closet from time to time, or who is told she can’t share her truths with the masses, so she holds it all in until the first chance she gets to spew all the things to her best friend because she has no other way to let it all out. I haven’t met her. She doesn’t exist.
Listen, I know this is hard for some of you to read. It was hard for me to process. I kept thinking of people in my life who seem to have it all together and then I would be like, “Ope, wait, she hates her husband,” or “Hold on now, she has a secret gambling addiction,” or “She thinks she is a horrible mother” or “Now I remember, she’s the one who lost her shit at the PTA meeting.” We are all flawed, every single one of us. And most of the flaws come from deep, deep family shit from way, way back in our childhood. Our alcoholic parents. Our absent parents. Our abusive parents. And most of us are repeating that cycle, just in a different way. We are repeating the cycle of making ourselves feel less than. And our children are watching. Jesus, they are watching. That’s the biggest problem, children are always watching. We were watching as children, that’s how we got here. We were watching, and listening, and learning, and repeating. So ask yourself this, just this one thing today: When my children look at me what do they see? I hope what you think they see, and what you want them to see line up.
Stand up for yourselves, ladies. Reclaim your time. Take care of yourselves.
In a lot of the conversations I’m having with others these days, the word privilege seems to surface. Whether we’re discussing the plight of people all over the world, or in our own backyards. Whether we are discussing the global pandemic, or gun violence, or mental health, someone will mention privilege and the conversation will inevitably blur into a new one about how we can help, how the privileged classes can impact the lives of others, whether or not we should ever feel bad for ourselves.
My friends usually say something like, “I feel guilty because…” then insert the reason they feel guilty right now. Maybe they have great health insurance. Or maybe they are still working full-time, with full-time pay, just from the safety of their home. Or maybe they have healthy children, or partners they love to spend time with. The point is this here world is made up of a lot of different people, and some of us, just by being born who we are, or where we are, live a life of privilege.
Now would I consider the life I lived as a child a life of privilege. Let’s recap: I grew up in poverty, the last child of a single mom of four, we were welfare recipients, Section 8 people, I was a free lunch kid. I watched my mom struggle to make ends meet every month, play the whole Which-Bill-Is-Skipped-This-Month Game. We didn’t have the best healthcare, etc. etc. So did I live a privileged life? Yep, I did. Because while we didn’t have money, and I missed out on some things growing up, I learned a million life lessons. I’m also, as it happens, a white person, born in America. So even though my childhood was rough, even though I had family members in prison, and several addicted to alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or all three, I still led and continue to lead a life of privilege.
One of my professors once told me that she hasn’t figured out a way to write about guilt. It’s a tricky subject, a tough emotion. And I suspect as a member of a privileged class she doesn’t want to upset anyone. And honestly, since she told me that I’ve been trying and trying to figure it out too. But have come up short every time. Maybe it’s a dead end. Probably it is, but just talking about it in a space like this might be good enough. Because here’s the thing: Some of us do recognize that we live a life of privilege, and we do all we can to try to help others. To be compassionate, to lend a hand, or an ear. To make donations. To reach back and lift others up.
But it may, at times, seem like we are ungrateful. For example, I’ve stopped myself a thousand times in the last two months from complaining about one thing or another because honestly, it just isn’t right for me to be complaining right now, when there’s so much uncertainly in this world. But the truth is, I have had hard times. I still continue to, even with my privileges, and like all people it feels nice to discuss them sometimes, lest I invalidate my feelings. If I wouldn’t want to invalidate the feelings and emotions of a compete stranger who lives 3,000 miles from me (I’m just wired that way, it makes me sad to think I have unknowingly hurt someone), so why am I okay with invalidating my own struggles and feelings?
Yep. I can see now how this is a messy subject. Can you? I hope you can. And I hope maybe you’ll think more on it. If you come up with anything let me know. I’m drowning a bit here.
Listen, I recognize what I’m about to talk about is small potatoes compared to what people are dealing with right now. And I want to take a moment and say I wish I could help you all in some way. And I am VERY grateful that my husband has a steady job, with a great company, and he gets to work full-time from home and still get his full salary. The one that supports all of us, and allows me to sit here and write blog posts about what I’m about to write a blog post about. Like, you are all doing the real work here, not me, and neither is my damn dishwasher.
I am team dishwasher. I refuse (unless I absolutely have to) to do dishes by hand. It’s asinine. And ridiculous. And why would you want to waste your time, not get your dishes the most clean, possibly make your whole family sick, and did I mention waste your time, doing dishes by hand? It makes no sense. And I know, I know that there are people that disagree with me, that’s why I literally Googled: “Is wishing dishes by hand better than using a dishwasher.” Because I thought, maybe they are right?! No. I’m right. Dishwashers are better for the environment, better for your dishes, better for your back, and an all around better option for washing dishes. And here are the articles you can read if you don’t want to Google it (names of articles have been changed for comedic purposes).
I have been thinking a lot on this for the last two weeks because our dishwasher is BROKEN! That’s right. Shot. Motherboard fried. The dishwasher guy came out two weeks ago, said it was the motherboard, ordered a new one (it took a week), then when he came back to replace it, realized another wire had been fried, and then had to order that wire (still waiting on wire to come in). So there’s that. We gave the guy some grace though because, well, how could you not? Jerimiah was all, “Shit, I’d have done the same thing.” You open it up, see the broken motherboard and assume that’s the only problem. I get it, I get it. But I’m still pissed that I have dishpan hands.
To be fair Jerimiah has been doing most of the washing, and I have been doing all the complaining (and some of the drying). Jackson, well he was absolved of dishwashing duties the first time I saw him ask the dog to lick one of the plates clean for him. Jerimiah and I have even resorted to, “Hey, wanna have a little date night and wash dishes together?” Because it LITERALLY TAKES THAT LONG TO WASH DISHES BY HAND. Why do people waste their time on this? Seriously? Do you just hate your family that much, that you would rather spend all day at the sink? After dinner I want to sit and enjoy my family, not stand at the sink and watch them enjoy each other. I kid, I know you guys love your family. But also we’d rather you sit with us than stand at the sink and wash dishes, and to be fair NO ONE wants to stand at the sink and help you. But guilt prevails. (Looking at our mothers, sisters, and various family members here…)
I think it boils down to a generational thing. Most of the people I know who still do dishes by hand are a little suspect of “modern dishwashers,” and probably for good reason. I have seen pictures of those first dishwashers. They make me want to vomit just looking at them. But times have changed. Dishwashers really are badass now! And inexpensive. Not our dishwasher. Our dishwasher cost $1200. We have a $1200 dishwasher in our house. If I can’t trust a $1200 to do my dishes properly, to wash, rinse, sanitize, and dry, then what can I trust? But you don’t even need to spend a third of that on a good, solid, energy-efficient dishwasher to get your dishes better, more sanitized, and sparkling clean than you could ever do yourself. Here look:
These are all well within your stimulus check refunds, y’all! I know, I know, I won’t convince some of you. The “Machines are taking over!” My mother uses her dishwasher, to this day, as a drying rack. You know what I’ve been using as a drying rack? A towel on the counter. That’s not okay. It’s gross. But I refuse to spend any money on “washing dishes.” My dishwasher will come back to me soon. It will.
In the meantime, if you are still OBSESSED with washing dishes by hand (even though we have covered that it is very wrong, and should only be done when you absolutely need to) at least do this:
Use the hottest water you can stand (at least 110 degrees) and you have to keep it hot, when it starts to cool you have to add more water. See how impossible that is? You eventually run out of hot water… Consumer Reports recommends you use a small pot to do your dishes in, so you can keep the water hot, and the dishes from the gross bacteria that is ALWAYS in your sink.
For real, the kitchen is the grossest place in the house. Science says so. Not the bathroom, the kitchen.
NEVER leave the water just sitting there. Always use fresh, hot water whenever you do them. Water that has been sitting for about half an hour is too cold. Let alone water that sits all afternoon.
No sponges or old washcloths to wash dishes. You should have plastic or silicone brushes! Don’t use a sponge unless you know how to clean a sponge properly. Alert: You DO NOT know how to clean a sponge properly. Here, read this article from Time.
Wash the things that touch your mouth, and those that are the least soiled FIRST! That means (my husband will be upset to hear this) wash the silverware first, not last! Washing silverware last is how we get stomach “problems” among other things.
These are just a few tips. There are literally hundreds out there now. Basically the way we learned to wash dishes when we were kids is SUPER wrong and I think this falls under the “more you know” category. Or is it the “Know better, do better.” Yeah, one of those. A good place to start is the FDA requirements of commercial dishwashers and people who wash dishes in restaurants. I would hope you want your own dishes just as clean.
So there it is. Don’t be mad at me if you are “wash your own dishes” kinda person. We can still be friends. But listen, just know, that I probably won’t be helping you. I’ve already had my share of dishpan hands for the next few years…
I’ve had several people reach out to me over the last couple of weeks to ask questions about therapy, so many that I thought it warranted a blog post. I think there are people out there who are really suffering from anxiety and depression right now and they don’t know who to turn to. Some people want to ask questions about mental health, but never would because of the stigma associated with it. This stigma is generations old, y’all and familial. Which is to say that it runs rampant through entire families for years and years. Both the mental health issues and the stigma surrounding help. Parents, grandparents, many who would benefit themselves from therapy and medications, talking shit, if you will, on people who get mental health help, creating a horrendous environment for family members who actually wish they could seek help, but are afraid to because of what their family members will say. This stresses out the people who are already in need of help, thus creating a cycle. Parents saying to their grown children: “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, I did it when I was your age and look at me!” Yeah. Look. At. Them. I know so many people who are “secretly” in therapy that it’s pure craziness. We need to talk openly about this. People need to be informed. People want to be informed. So, let me inform you the best way I can, with a story.
The day I walked into Patsy’s office I was nervous and sweaty. I was immediately wondering if she would see that I was nervous and sweaty, which made me more nervous and sweaty. I’d already done my “intake” paperwork before I showed up at the office. They emailed it to me the week before, I printed it out at home, filled it out, scanned it, then emailed it back. “Intake” is just a scary word that means they have all your information. Name, address, phone number, medical history, health insurance info, emergency contact, etc. All the normal new doctor bullshit. The problem is when people hear “intake” in relation to mental health, they think they are about to get committed to some scary psych ward that they watched a documentary on, and ghosts are going to chase them around in the haunted hospital. Or more likely, they they think they must have something REALLY wrong with them if they are doing an “intake” form. Nope. In fact, I think some offices don’t even call it that anymore. It’s all just called “Evaluation” which is what my office calls it, but some old school places still call it “intake,” so that is something to be aware of. The word here literally means, “Process of taking something in.” This situation being your therapist’s office taking in information about you as a new patient. That’s it. That’s all. Calm your tits.
So I walked into this new office, which is already scary for someone like me, and I was met with a receptionist, which is normal. She spoke in a nice, calm tone (as I’m sure they are trained to do) and told me she had all my paperwork, and that I had a $30 co-pay per my insurance. She then took my card, processed the payment while I stood there awkwardly, and told me that I would be seeing the office’s therapist Patsy for my “evaluation.”
Remember, the first visit to ANY mental health office if going to start with an “evaluation” by a mental health professional. Chances are, if the office has a therapist and a psychiatrist, the therapist will do your evaluation to decide whether you can benefit with regular, old, run-of-the-mill therapy like she can provide, or if you need to see the psychiatrist. Keep in mind here that the psychiatrist is the M.D. The therapist usually just has an M.A. in therapy or something like that, which means she can’t prescribe you medication. But the psychiatrist can. But, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to see the psychiatrist. In my office there is also a mental health nurse practitioner who can prescribe medication under the direction of the psychiatrist. Stay with me.
I was seeing both Patsy my therapist, and Suzan my MHNP. BUT, and this is a big BUT, your primary care physician (your regular old MD doctor you go to when you have a cold) can also prescribe mental health medication. Which means your therapist can recommend medications or treatment plans that you can then take to your doctor and get filled, if your doctor is willing.
So can’t I just see my PCP for all this, Missy? Great question! Absolutely you can, BUT that’s all you’re gonna get from your PCP, medication (and sometimes more of that judgement we talked about earlier, because they just aren’t mental health professionals). You won’t get the therapy that is SO important. In fact, some PCPs won’t give you medication unless you are seeing a therapist, which is smart if you ask me. Trust, I did the PCP for mental health care for a decade, and then it occurred to me one day: When I have vagina issues I see a gynecologist. When I have stomach issues I see a gastroenterologist. If I’m having mental health problems why would I not see a mental health professional? Answer: That generational, familial stigma. You gotta get past that.
Truth Time! Patsy is the third therapist I have been to see. The third time I got up the nerve to talk to someone. But each time before I quit going within three months. Why, Missy? Because, and I can’t stress this enough, THERAPY IS HARD AS FUCK, Y’ALL. You think the first time you will feel better. Nah, you won’t. In fact, you feel even worse. You feel like shit and you start to wonder if the therapist is straight-up out to get you. Like they are a sick subgroup of people who just like to watch other people cry. That’s not the case. Well not usually. It’s just HARD AS FUCK the first few months. The most important thing I can say to you is to STICK WITH IT. Those first few months the therapist is trying to understand you. Trying to figure out what your main issues are. Diagnose you. And no, it isn’t all your Mom’s fault, though truth be told a lot of it is, so if you love your Mom and think she can’t do any wrong, it’s gonna be even harder to sit through this part. Because most of what we deal with as adults stems back to the environment we were raised in. And most of us had shit happen to us, that we can’t even relate to our life now, but trust, your therapist will pull it out of you and before you know it you will be all, “HOLY SHIT! That makes so much sense. This is why I react like that now.” Or “Ohhh, that’s why I hate the color purple.” Trust, you will get answers. But it will take time.
I told Patsy at my evaluation appointment, all about my other therapy experiences and what I did. At the end of the evaluation, which is just a long talk, she asked if I would be willing to work with her, and if so, would I be willing to stick with her for SIX MONTHS! Six months, you guys. I knew my track record. I knew how hard it was, but even so I said yes. And now it’s a year later and I actually fucking look forward to seeing her every few weeks. I smile when I see her (I secretly want to hug her, but I think that’s frowned up) and I already have a list of shit to talk to her about because I know she gets it and can help me. She always gets it. She always helps me. But it took awhile to get there.
The other thing I want to say is that the first therapist might not be your person. Same for the medications. We counted it up, and along with having been to three therapists, two PCPs, and a mental health nurse practitioner, I have been on 10 different medications. Not at the same time. I mean I’ve tried 10 different kinds over a decade and just now feel like I found a good fit. Some of them worked for years, don’t get me wrong, but then they’d stop working. Prozac. Wellbutrin. Zoloft. Yeah, been on them all. And they were all great, but got to the point with me that they weren’t doing their job. So it takes time. And patience. Lots of patience. (Side political note: It also takes money. Health insurance. So people who don’t have money and/or health insurance can’t do this. Is that what we want? A country where only people with money/health insurance can get help they need? Nah, I didn’t think so. Vote, assholes.) Sorry I called you assholes.
Whew. I’m tired writing this, and I’m sure you’re tired in reading it, so let’s stop here. But let me say this: If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to talk to someone about how to even start this process, I’m here for you. Yes, even my complete strangers who just Googled “Ligers” and got to this post. I’m making one of my tags “Ligers” for this reason. I will help you. You can comment on this post. We can get you into therapy. Into someone who can help you around your area. In fact, I’m going to share some links at the bottom of the page to help you if you need it.
Listen, I need you to take care of yourself, okay? It’s important. We need you. Yes you! Your family needs you. Your friends need you. Your community needs you. And if you let what you think is just “a bout of the blues” linger, I promise it won’t get better alone. Trust me. I know. I’ve been there. There are people who want to help you. No judgement. Let me help you find them.
There are currently online support groups for dealing with Covid-19 stress and trauma. Check out this place that are offering their services 70% off (I don’t know much about them, but I did go to their website and see their offer. So it might be worth checking out if you need to.) This is just one example. Google “Online mental health support groups.”
“I’ll tell you what…” What, Missy? That’s what my Mom says, she says, “I’ll tell you what…” usually followed by something Dr. Phil said on t.v. or how mad she is at Trump. (My Mom’s a secret Democrat, shh, don’t tell anyone. She voted for Hillary.) My Mom also says things like, “Shit! Ope! I didn’t mean to say that.” Cause she’s a Baptist. But when I was a kid she used to say things like, “Well fuck me runnin’,” and “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” I don’t know about that last one. What are you even talking about today, Missy? I don’t know. Listen, I don’t know you guys. I just got off the phone with my mom and she said “I’ll tell you what, Dr. Phil said mothers should be paid $100,000 a year salary, and if that ain’t the truth.” That’s another of Mom’s lines, “If that ain’t the truth…well then I don’t know what is.”
I think what you are seeing now is a small glimpse inside my brain and how it is functioning nowadays. It’s off kilter. To say the least. I think probably everyone’s is. My husband’s is. My son’s is. My Mom’s is. It’s mainly stress-induced, yeah? And we are all battling it. If you aren’t battling it right now, then you just aren’t paying attention. This is a trying time. A chaotic, miserable, traumatic time, and if you are getting up everyday, opening up the blinds, reaching out by telephone or text to someone, saying hello to a neighbor when you check the mail, actually walking to the end of the driveway or the end of the porch to check the mail, well then, you’re doing it! Look at you! You’re making it work. Because this sucks, y’all. There’s no way around it. And if that ain’t the truth…
Yesterday Jackson painted small birdhouses that I had bought eons ago and stashed away for a rainy-day art project. He painted them and rode his scooter around the neighborhood sticking them on front porches to brighten up our neighbors’ days. We hope it worked to put a smile on their faces, but what it really did was brighten up our day. Then I shared pictures of him doing it on Instagram to hopefully brighten up friends’ days. I hope that worked too. I’ll share them now with you guys too.
We also started painting rocks to hide for kids to find on our walks, because we have been walking everyday and everyday we see families out and about with small ones, burning off energy. Today we started another family art project. Because art seems to bring us back to center. I think it does a lot of people, if you let it.
Our governor finally did the right thing this week, and he announced a shelter-in-place order, and he announced that we won’t be going back to school this year. And I know, man I know, it’s tough for kids, espeically my kid. My kid, who’s been to three elementary schools and who really wanted to finish strong at this one, with the best teacher, and the coolest, smartest, kindest classmates anyone could ask for. But we are making it work, and we know it’s sad that they won’t have a fifth-grade graduation or a fifth-grade day ‘o’ fun, but it’s okay. It’s one more way we are learning about selfless acts, and helping the greater good. Fifth grade is turning out to be a massive learning experience.
So that’s the bright side, yeah? The one I’m looking at anyway. The learning, the loving, the community that is going on around us. I’ll tell you what, we are watching our world change, in real time, and it’s scary, and sad, and traumatizing on the bad days. But on the good days, it’s an exercise in patience, in kindness, and in love. Geez, if that ain’t the truth.
I was sad to see that the NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled, among other sporting events, and I’m sure people are bummed by this. I’m bummed by this, but I can’t imagine how the students feel. The players, and coaches, the fans. But mainly the kids. March Madness is the most fun because I love college ball. I’ve talked about my love sports of before. How I played softball for like a decade. How I was on basketball teams in elementary, middle, and high school. Volleyball? Check. Track and field? I was a Varsity thrower. Duh. I even gave tennis and soccer a go once or twice, never cared much for either, but I was an eager participant on most occasions. But if I’m being very honest with myself, softball is still my absolute favorite sport to play, and basketball is my absolute favorite sport to watch, because well, I’m just too slow to be any good anymore. Though I haven’t lost my jump shot. Seriously, play me fool!
And although I especially like college ball, I have been known to hang at an NBA game more than once, especially when we lived in Charlotte. We were big fans of watching the Hornets play, and while we are still Hornets fans, I’ll never forget that time my husband took me to see my all-time favorite team play, The Boston Celtics. Priceless. And of course, I would love to sit court-side at a Lakers game one day. Hey, a girl can dream!
The reason I like college ball better than the NBA is because I don’t like all the slam dunks and showmanship. I really like down and dirty street ball, but there isn’t a “Down and Dirty Street Ball” league* to keep up with, so college it is. I love the way the fans love their team, their school. Some of my best memories as a kid, were the few times I got to go to a KU game at Allen Field House. How and why? I have no idea. I know once I went with my sister and her boyfriend, but I remember going a few times and it was amazing. This was back, way back, when Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce (who went on to play for Boston), and Greg “Big O” Ostertag played. Jesus, why do I still remember those names?
I remember stepping into the front doors of Allen Field House in complete amazement. Here I was, probably fifth grade, totally in love with this school I dearly wanted to be part of (I eventually made it to KU as a student) and I wanted to chant ROCK CHALK! JAYHAWK! KU! on the top of Mt. Oread. And I did. Pure joy.
By middle school I was so in love with basketball, I could tell you all about the KU players, many of the Celtics players, and of course Michael Jordan, the best athlete in the whole world. That’s when I started asking my mom for a basketball hoop. The problem was two-fold. We were poor and we lived in a rental house on the “bad” part of town. If she had invested in a hoop, it would have to be one of those mobile hoops, which were just too expensive and the chances of someone walking off with it we too real. For sure, like they walked away with every bike I had while we lived there.
But one glorious day, I came home to, I shit you not, a piece of plywood painted blue, with a hoop attached to it, nailed into the damn tree in our side yard. Umm, not kidding. I have no idea where/how/what/who. My suspicion is my brother-in-law, or my mom’s friend Ruthie. But there it was, nailed to the damn dead tree in a pit of what amounted to mud, and a little Bir of run down grass, next to what I am pretty sure was a crackhouse. Yep. I played the shit out of that hoop. For years, y’all.
Listen, I don’t know how single moms do stuff, but they do it. Always. And this picture above is just a reminder that I was once the most important person in someone’s life. My mom wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But I’m beginning to see that she was doing the best she could with what she had. With what she knew. With what she was capable of. And I’m always reminded that it takes a village, y’all. And actual fucking village.
Anyway, we moved a few years later, though that was one of the houses we lived in the longest. Even though the neighborhood wasn’t ideal, the house was nice, clean, fairly new, and it was in walking distance to my middle school, and close to my mom’s work. It was just an old shotgun house, on the north side of town, with a wooden basketball hoop nailed to a tree. But it meant the world to me.
*I was flipping through Netflix the other day and found a show that follows prison basketball. I gasped. Jerimiah yelled, “Shit! No!” and I added it to my “Watch List.”
Every time I move and go a new eye doctor for the first time, I have a litany of shit to tell them. My mother’s macular degeneration comes up. Then there’s my light sensitivity on account of my incredibly light, blue eyes. Then at some point I have to tell them that I am not from the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. They look at my tests, back at me, and ask if I’m sure I’m not from anywhere near the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. I say yes, I’m sure. I’m from Kansas. But not chicken-farmer Kansas. I’ve never lived on a damn farm. Then they look confused and I say, “Listen, we had pet birds.”
I have an eye condition called Ocular Histoplasmosis. It’s from a fungus commonly found in the dust and soil of the Ohio and Mississippi River regions. You can contract the disease by inhaling dust with the fungal spores, usually carried and spread by chickens and other types of birds. If it is inhaled early in life, it can cause a usually symptom-free and self-limited infection throughout the body. But it may affect the eye by causing small areas of inflammation and scarring of the retina, which it has done to me.
There isn’t really a problem, not now anyway. But it’s something that the eye doctor has to continually check, to make sure it isn’t getting worse. Mine is not. Thankfully. And they are usually adament that pet birds won’t give it to you, but I have zero other explanations for it, except well, pet birds.
My mom likes pets that are self-contained. She’d probably be great with a pet turtle, if it weren’t for their sliminess. She likes caged animals. With minimal smell and hassle. Enter birds. Le sigh. Here is my mom with her first pair of birds from the early 1980s, just before I was born. These are the birds of my childhood, Fred and Barney, who in fact turned out to be Fred and Wilma, but we never changed their names.
Listen, I hated Fred and Barney. When I was really young they’d peck at my fingers when I tried to put their food bowl back, or fill their water. They LOVED my mom, hated me. Though they hated other people more than me, so I guess I was tolerable to them. They really didn’t like my sister, or any person who came into the house being loud. They didn’t like loud. I didn’t either, so it was good when my mom would yell at visitors, “Shhh, be quiet or the birds will start!” Cause trust, you didn’t want the birds to “start.”
Fred and Barney died one day. It was a sad-ass day. I remember being sad because of how sad my mom was, but I felt no real attachment to these birds, so I was like good riddance. Meanwhile, my mother grieved, as one does for a beloved pet. I gave her a hug, shrugged my shoulders, and went out to play. I thought that shit was finally over. I was wrong.
A few weeks later a friend said to my mom that she knew these two birds, they didn’t have names, just called Blue and Green, and did my mother want them. They were free. And came with their own, very nice cage. Did my mother want them? BRING THEM HERE NOW! she screeched. I think. I think she screeched that. It was like some backroom bird deal. She ran them over under the cover of darkness. I was half-asleep and very confused. I saw my mom’s face light up and I was like, “Shiiiiiiiit.”
The only thing I remember about these two, besides their constant squawking, fighting, and mildly displeasing nature, is that they could not be trusted when you opened their cage. They were escape artists, and more than once I found myself screaming down the hallway, running into my room and slamming the door, while my mom ran around with a towel screaming for me to help her “Catch the damn birds.” Jesus. “No,” I’d scream from under my blankets, “They’re your birds! Not mine!”
My mother was convinced her birds were always much smarter than we thought. She said she taught them tricks. Though to be fair, Fred and Barney knew how to “kiss.” My mom used to say to me every morning when I’d wake up since I was a toddler, “Kiss, kiss, Missy” in which I’d sleepy walk to her and give her a morning hug and kiss. She noticed one morning when she said it, the birds pecked each other. I thought she was nuts, but when she turned her attention to this, and really tried to work with them on it, they eventually got it. Yep, they knew “Kiss, kiss,” but they didn’t know “Shut up, you damn birds!” which would have been more helpful, if you ask me.
The birds were always a source of amusement for my friends who would come over. No one else had birds. My friends all had two-parent households, with two cars, and homes that they owned, and usually dogs and cats. You know, normal fucking pets. My friends were in awe of these birds. They’d sit and watch them, whistle at them, watch me feed them, that sort of shit. I despised it. All of it.
Then one day the second set of parakeets died. My mom cried, as she had the first time. And this time, so did I. I can’t be sure why, but I suspect somewhere around middle school I started to be comforted by these little assholes. When my mom was out at night, and I’d be nervously waiting for her to make it home safe, I’d sit in the living room with them and talk to them. They were good listeners. In fact, as long as you were paying them attention, you could talk to them all day. They’d just sit on their stoop and listen. Cock their head back and forth, occasionally interject a “SQWAAAA!” here or a peck on their bell there. Maybe they weren’t so bad.
I left Leavenworth not too long after the birds did. The next time I came home to visit my mom, she had a new bird. A friend had called. In the dead of the night. Saying that she knew someone, who knew someone, and did my mother want a Dove? Did my mother want a Dove?! You bet your ass she did! It was free, and it came with it’s own cage and everything. Her name was Baby, and she was the worst of the actual lot. But my son loved to visit with her, listen to her sing. pet her, yeah this bitch let you hold and pet her. She hated me though. Pecked at me every time I came near the cage. Eh, such is life.
Baby died last year. It was perhaps the roughest loss on my mother. No friend has called yet. Her house now sits silent. Lonesome. Maybe one day. Until then, RIP to the birds who have come before. They live a long time, in case you didn’t know, even “used” birds live longer than you’d expect. And they carry diseases. But that’s neither here nor there.