Lessons in driving and life

In case you were wondering, you can drive 2+ hours without a car key. I don’t recommend it, but it can be done. I watched a youtube video of a man throwing his key fob out the window of a moving car to demonstrate that nothing happens. The car didn’t sputter to a stop, nor did it beep to let him know access to the key signal had been lost. The car kept driving, business as usual. But I already knew it was possible when I watched the video, and was only bitter the man knew exactly where to retrieve his key.

Saturday morning I was tired. As I get older, I realize my brain can’t handle stress like it used to. If I don’t get enough sleep, I do things like drive off with a key fob on the hood of my car. It probably held on for a half mile or so or maybe it settled in the trench between the windshield and hood and flew off when I got on the highway. I may never know what happened. All I know is I got to my grandmother’s house, turned off my car and realized I did not have my key or way to get home. The No Key Detected message caused a cold panic to settle in my gut.

The good news is I was able to get home that evening to retrieve my spare key and drive back the next morning. The other good news is that I didn’t have to clean on Sunday as planned. Maybe there is no bad news. I am down to just the spare key fob. That is not exactly good news.

I’ve locked my keys in the car twice in my life. As a driver for 32 years (not continuously) that’s not too bad. But both times something precious was locked inside the car. First it was a box of t-shirts for volunteers to wear on the first morning of a camp for grieving children. The second time it was my baby daughter. Both times my husband quickly came to the rescue with a spare key.

This time I ubered to him, as he was luckily not far away, and borrowed his car to drive home and get my spare. The other good news is that I got to visit my grandmother twice in one weekend. I would not have seen that as good news ordinarily and she did not necessarily see it that way, as she seemed more upset at my lost key than I was. She kept saying Some birthday this is turning out to be.

It was not even technically her birthday and I had brought flowers and chocolates, plus a crockpot loaded with pot roast and vegetables. If I were to blame the lost key fob on anything, it would be the pot roast. As I was loading it into my car, I thought I’ll just set my key down here so it will be easy to find when I need it. Ha! The pot roast turned out tender, a delicious apology that wasn’t necessary because I know it really wasn’t Pot Roast’s fault, but I appreciated it just the same.

After my fourth trip back and forth and once I was finally settled on the couch at home, my grandmother called me. She was out of breath and excited. I found your key! she said. I really did not think this was possible since it probably never left the state of Pennsylvania. I asked her what it looked like and she said greenish with clear plastic on the sides and some kind of writing on the front, though she could not read what it said. She said it had a hole so you could hang it up, like you would a key, but that was the only part that checked out. Now there are two mysteries: where is my fugitive key fob and what the hell is greenish with clear sides that you can hang up for display/easy access. I may never know the answer to either but the more I think about it, I think she described a chip clip.

In a little bit I’m going to walk along the road to retrace my path after I pulled out of the driveway. With all the leaves on the ground, it will be like looking for a contact lens on the beach, which is a terrible example because the contact would not be usable even if you could find it. Which reminds me, it rained on and off for the past two days. In case you were wondering, I thoroughly checked the inside of my car in case it fell in between the seats or somewhere else. I don’t think it’s there and, anyway, the car has been pretty insistent that it does not detect its presence.

I learned a few things from just one bonehead move. To replace a lost key fob, you have to pay so much money you will consider just buying a new car. I can get a gps tile for my spare set which is no longer spare. You should never set a key fob down anywhere on the outside of a car. If you ignore this last part, it is possible to drive 2+ hours without a car key but, again, I don’t recommend it.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Evidently I come from a long line of matchmakers. I should not be surprised when my grandmother tries to pair my oldest daughter with an eligible Lithuanian bachelor. So what if he is several years younger, still in high school, and lives hours away? He is the son of the woman who comes to her house every couple of months to cut her hair. My grandmother slyly, or not, asked the stylist if her son has any girlfriends.

She tells me this after asking if my daughter has any boyfriends. The plural part confuses me. If she didn’t have a boyfriend when she asked the same question last week, why would she have more than one today?

The stylist told my grandmother no, her son doesn’t have any girlfriends. He is shy, she explained. When he went to school in Lithuania, his classmates called him Americano and teased him about his weight. When he moved to America, he grew tall and slim and decided he never wanted to go back. These are presented as selling points of suitability: his lean physique and steadfast commitment to not leaving the country.

I listen to the pitch without comment. A few years back she wanted to set my daughter up with another Lithuanian boy. It had something to do with prom and my daughter already had a date, but maybe the boy didn’t. I’m certain she would have asked his mother, setting the wheels in motion.

My grandmother moves on to my father’s success as a matchmaker as if describing the accomplishments of an apprentice. When he dated my mother in college, he introduced a couple of his American friends to my mother’s Lithuanian friends and soon they had an American-Lithuanian group date. They sat in my grandmother’s sunporch in stiff dresses and suits and drank ginger ale and listened to records. Gay times. My dad married my mother and one of his friends married a friend of hers. The two couples did everything together until the other husband died of a massive coronary when he was barely in his forties.

There are no guarantees from a matchmaker. The law of averages means they’ll have more wins than a novice meddler, but their crystal ball isn’t any clearer. In high school my grandmother tried to pair me with a Lithuanian boy who was a year or two behind me in school. I wasn’t interested in boys my own age, let alone someone younger. He was tan and tall with the comically smoldering air of certain handsome but awkward young men. I tried to make small talk as we walked along the beach at sunset. What kind of music and movies did he like? He spoke decent English but gave minimal responses. He then thoroughly picked apart my own American tastes. Fair enough, but at least wait until we’re a couple.

I hadn’t known about the set up or I would have found an excuse not to go. The feeling was mutual because I never heard his name again. My grandmother is a crafty and unrealistic matchmaker, but she seems to accept her failures. There is always next time.

My favorite matchmaking story is the one she tells about how her parents met. My great-grandmother was the youngest of six girls. Her parents were farmers in a small village in Lithuania near the Polish border. They called on a matchmaker to find a husband for one of their two oldest daughters.

My great-grandfather arrived one afternoon and was seated at the dining room table, where he was no doubt served a small feast in salted meats and cheeses. My great-grandmother kept sneaking in to fill his water glass and bat her eyelashes. What about this daughter? he asked the parents. Would he have settled for one of the older girls if the meats and cheeses had been less salty? Impossible to say or deny how precarious and random our own fates are.

The story continues and takes several dips and curves. They married, of course. He bought her a beautiful fur trimmed coat, which she wore in their wedding photo. She was 12 years younger than her groom and looks every bit of it. He stood next to her dressed like he’s ready to board a train for work. He sold her on promises of new clothes and a trip to America. The only problem was his passport had expired. He came up with another plan.

Newlyweds, early 1920s

They took a boat to Mexico and paid someone to help them cross the border. Something went wrong, according to my great-grandmother. There either was a double-cross or a feared one, and my great-grandparents took off on their own. They came to a figurative end of the road at a river too wide and deep to cross. My great-grandfather panicked at their lack of options in a foreign, hostile country and offered to shoot her and them himself with a gun he picked up for the trip. She cried and pleaded until he changed his mind and came up with yet another plan. They would try and cross the river anyway.

The next morning, my great-grandmother walked to the river’s edge to wash herself. Just then a giant animal breached the surface and opened its jaws wide enough to swallow her whole.

This is the part in the story where the needle screeches across the record. Wait, what kind of animal? I ask. The great big one that lays halfway in the water, my grandmother says, struggling to remember the right name. It’s gray, she offers helpfully.

You mean a hippo? I say. It’s the only water animal I can think of and I say it before realizing hippos in the Americas wouldn’t become a thing until Pablo Escobar gets shot in the early nineties and animals from his private zoo are left to fend for themselves.

A friend later suggested maybe she meant a Texas longhorn. I feel like my great-grandmother would have mentioned the horns, but it’s possible my grandmother doesn’t remember the details correctly. Our memories erode and emerge with murky new details to fill in the gaps.

My great-grandparents made it across the river safely, possibly on the back of a hippo, and went to a small store in town to buy food. Something about their travel weary, eastern european ways aroused suspicion and soon they were detained by police. They took my great-grandfather to jail and my great-grandmother went to a nunnery while they sorted out what to do with them. The nuns gave her a beautiful rosary she would one day be buried with.

My grandmother’s biggest regret seems to be that she buried her mother with that nunnery rosary. She wishes she’d kept it to pass on to me. I picture my great-grandmother buried in the salmon colored, sequined dress she wore to my brother’s wedding and later my own, her bony fingers wrapped around the coveted rosary. So many lost treasures in the ground we walk on every day.

In the end, authorities sent them on a train to stay with relatives in Baltimore. This was always the plan, it just took longer and gave them a better story to tell. That is how my grandmother came to be born in America. My great-grandparents hired an immigration lawyer who took their money and told them everything would work out and they would be allowed to stay in America. He lied. That is how my grandmother came to grow up in Lithuania and why she is probably one of the oldest Lithuanian-American matchmakers around today.

Ode to not standing in gasoline

The thing about regrets is you can only really have them once you already know how things turn out. You can decide to do something or not do something, but you don’t know yet if something terrible or wonderful will happen. Or, more likely, nothing drastic will happen, but other things will happen later that make you view your decision differently. It’s not really fair to connect a series of events that span across years, but who said regret was fair.

When I was about 6 months sober, college friends arranged to go to Atlantic City for the weekend. It started out including spouses but wound up just being three of my dearest friends. They all drink, none problematically to my knowledge, and I was worried I was going to feel tempted and/or awkward and miserable. I decided not to join them.

But what I didn’t know then is that one of those friends would lose a child tragically. She would recover as much as a mother can because she’s tough and probably the most well adjusted and grounded human being I know, and then she would move to a completely different part of the country. I found out the weekend she was planning to move and felt sad and wondered at that sadness. I will probably see her as often as I did before, which is to say not all that often. What I was feeling was regret that I didn’t make more time for her and for friendships in general. That’s a reasonable regret.

What is not reasonable is regretting that I didn’t go on that Atlantic City trip when I was newly sober and nervous about being around heavy drinking. This is what I wrote at the time.

Probably the number one reason I didn’t go, though, was because I don’t drink anymore. My friends still drink because they can. They know I don’t drink, so I don’t worry about that, but I did think of what my sponsor shared at a meeting the other night. At six months sober, she had met old friends at a bar and nursed cups of coffee all night long and proudly told her sponsor about it afterwards. Her sponsor said “You’re proud of yourself, huh? For standing in the gasoline all night?”

Lately I’ve felt a bit shaky in my sobriety. The other night I kind of lost it when I realized how badly I wanted beer and how angry I was at not being able to have one. I didn’t drink, but the memory feels so strange and even felt that way while it was happening. It shook me up. I don’t think this is a good time for me to sit around a table with friends I love dearly and laugh while they enjoy drinks the way I once did, never knowing it would end. Who wants to stand in gasoline?

Gasoline

The first thing that strikes me is the drama of the gasoline analogy. There is nothing subtle about recovery meetings and the wisdom shared within. But it’s easy enough not to stand in gasoline, right? One day, well into the future, there will be other puddles of gasoline we can stand in without worry. Well, you know what I mean.

I wouldn’t worry about such a trip now. This fall I’m planning to go with the same friend who experienced tragedy and moved far away, and we’re going to visit another dear friend. We’d planned to go last spring, but the pandemic put our destination state in lockdown. I can’t make up the Atlantic City weekend and we won’t be able to recreate whatever last year’s trip would have been like, but the decision and wait were the right ones to make at the time. Another opportunity will almost always come along, and we can be stronger and wiser for it.

Humility through yoga and sea lions

In January 2012, I was a little over 6 months sober. I was still attending AA meetings and also apparently yoga per this post called Nirvana, which is very misleading. They were Family Yoga classes at the Y where you could bring your kid and the format was loose and the room dark.

Almost ten years later, I feel like I should be saying, hey, I’m still doing yoga, however now it is Advanced Yoga. Which is probably not a thing. There is such a thing as YouTube Yoga because my husband and I did some in January of this year. It was very humbling. The cat watched judgmentally from the couch. I was secretly worried our youngest child would secretly video us and become YouTube famous. The best thing to come out of our YouTube yoga phase was that it ended. The second best thing was that it motivated me to take up running again and lose some weight. I’m down 13 pounds from January 2021 and up about 20 pounds from January 2012, but who’s counting.

Sea lion pose

In the yoga 2012 post, I talked about a trip to San Diego I’d taken with my husband before I got sober. I will never forget it, not because of all the fun we had and the beautiful scenery, but because of a soul-crushing hangover that lasted days. Free from parenting responsibilities, I drank more than usual, which was already too much. The hangover started the morning I’d booked a boat ride to gawk at sea lions. I woke up feeling nauseated and shaky. Mounting panic at the thought of being trapped on a boat with sunscreen-scented, non-hungover strangers made the hangover worse. I thought about canceling, but pride prevented me. I’m sure I looked very proud with my head down and eyes closed for most of the trip.

With my eyes mostly closed, I was unable to fully appreciate the sea lions slimy, slothful beauty. I did snap a couple pictures and made an emergency plan to vomit over the side of the boat while the other passengers were busy taking their own pictures. Looking at my pictures today, the sea lions look the way I remember feeling. For the rest of the boat ride I wished I was dead but did not go so far as deciding not to drink again, not even for that day.

Barely hanging on

You know what’s really nice about going on trips sober? Everything, but most of all not having hangovers that make you wish you were dead. Everything is so much more enjoyable without them. Boat rides, sightseeing, swimming or lounging by the pool, meeting people for the first time, enjoying good meals, walking, breathing. I wonder what that trip would have been like if I hadn’t been soused and suffering, but in a way it’s kind of perfect because it caused a big crack in the image I had of myself as this merrymaking person who had her shit together. It’s okay not to have your shit together. In fact, wonderful things have happened every time I’ve been beaten down enough to accept this.

I am still an alcholic but spell better now

This June I will be 10 years sober. Ten years without a drink, a drunk, or a hangover. I don’t know if I thought I’d last this long on the day I quit, but now it seems too long for what it felt like. It went by too fast, like times does, and felt too easy in retrospect. That got me curious about what it was like in the early days, which fortunately or unfortunately I can go back and read about because this blog is also 10 years old.

I also wanted to do something special to celebrate 10 years sober. In the first year, I went to AA meetings and took coins. I remember how good it felt to get the 1 month coin and then I remember the 3 month, 9 month, and 1 year coins, though there were others in between. I still have them.

But I stopped going to meetings, and what I remember is the disdain some long-timers had for people who just showed up on year anniversaries to take coins. One woman I respected felt it gave the impression you didn’t really need AA to get or stay sober. I happen to know that is true for some. And then there are people with 1 year or 10 or even 25+ years who go to meetings. They go because it helps them stay sober or because they are driven by a higher purpose.

It’s only because of those with sobriety that meetings work. Who would run meetings if everyone was a newcomer? Who would give newcomers hope that it works, that sobriety is better than drinking?

To celebrate 10 years, I thought it would be fun (for me) to go back to posts from the early days of sobriety. Do I remember feeling whatever way I was feeling? Do I still feel that way? Does anything surprise me, or do I know better now?

It’s the clip show of blogs. But I miss writing and the connections that came from it. For added fun, I will include old photos from the approximate time of each post because I’ve also had an instagram 10 years. I have shoes older than that, but I’ll leave them out of this.

This was a picture of an albino deer I used to see on walks around my neighborhood. I was the only one in my family who ever saw it, but luckily captured this grainy photo of a ghost deer as “proof”. I think that is the last time I saw it. I think it would make a nice painting.

I started this blog about two months into sobriety. My first post was titled Am I an alcholic? I always considered myself a careful speller, so it’s funny that it took me ten years to catch that typo. It’s like looking at old wedding photos and noticing your slip was showing or your fly was down.

The post itself is short and the jist is that other people might tell you that you drink too much, but it’s up to you to decide if you’re an alcholic/alcoholic. I was kind of hung on up the A word back then.

This was from my second blog post, which incidentally posted on the same day as the first. I had no readers at that point but a lot to say:

I know this has been done before: the diary of a drunk housewife/mom/functioning member of society.

So why am I so excited to blog about my recovery? I really don’t know. But I am.

I have just over 60 days of sobriety right now, which to veterans in the twelve-step world is little more than a drop in the bucket, though something to hold close and tightly and be incredibly proud of.

To people who are still drinking but want to stop, it’s a pretty significant chunk of time.

To those who are still drinking and don’t want to stop, it’s a ridiculous amount of time.

I’ve been all three of the above, so that seems like a good topic to blog about next…

Would I be a veteran now? I think so. Do I consider 60 days a drop in the bucket? That depends. If you’re talking about 60 regular days, as in two months on a calendar in any given year, then yes, that is a drop in the bucket. You sneeze and it’s gone and two more months are up at bat.

But 60 days of sober time is like a million years. Even though 10 years flew by, those first 60 days were slowed down frame by frame so that I remember more bits and pieces compared to any other two-month period of my life. Same applies to the first 30 days sober and the first two weeks and the first 24 hours. They are sharper and clearer, either from fear and discomfort or hope or just the miracle of not-drinking.

Up Next: Nirvana or lack thereof, two readers, and an unaddressed 3-month absence from blogging. I must have been getting busy getting sober.

Saved by a whisker

Tomorrow a children’s book I wrote will go up on Indiegogo. It’s illustrated by the talented Ken Haeser and based on a true story about a cat that got separated from his owners at a rest stop and his journey back to them.

I wrote the book from the cat’s perspective, which was quite a lot of fun as a cat lover. Before the pandemic, my youngest daughter and I used to volunteer at a local pet store adoption center. We would clean out cages and play with the cats and kittens awaiting adoption. Part of the proceeds from this children’s book will benefit another cat rescue, which I have found to be filled with selfless and endlessly generous volunteers.


To sign up for the Indiegogo campaign, which goes live tomorrow on National Cat Day, click here or below. I’m really excited to see a lifelong dream realized, especially knowing it will help cats.

Flip this bike

It all started with an old ten-speed someone had left by the curb. We were on our way to see a drive-in movie projected onto the wall of a taco place and the most excitement we’d had in months, so I guess we weren’t thinking clearly. Our oldest daughter really wanted a bike to take to college in a city where nice bikes get stolen. Even not-nice bikes get stolen, but if you get a bike for free and it gets stolen, it’s not like it really belonged to you anyway.


I think we had quarantine googles on when we saw this bike. At least me and my daughter did. My husband kept trying to tell us “it needs so much work” and “this is a terrible idea” but all my daughter and I could think was “let’s get this treasure in the back before Dad/Joe drives off.” Dad/Joe wasn’t wrong. The bike needed new tubes and tires and pedals, and we could have kept going. It was a fixer upper. It also turned out to be a men’s bike too tall for my daughter to climb on. Somehow we didn’t realize this until after we got the bike back from being repaired. To be fair, the tires were flat when we found it so the bike would have appeared shorter.

Suddenly we didn’t have a Free Bike anymore but an Albatross. Joe was not happy about being out the money for repairs on a bike no one could ride, and my daughter had lost her dream bike (her words). It became my mission to fix the issue so that the next time we slowed down to trash pick something, the bike couldn’t be used as a cautionary tale.

This is where the pandemic came in handy. It turns out bikes are a scarce commodity right now. I guess everyone rediscovered the outdoors and stores aren’t getting new ones like they used to. If you have a bike in your garage gathering dust, it’s worth more than usual. Don’t price it too high, but don’t give it away either.

I cleaned the bike with a little WD40 and took photos of it in our backyard during the magic hour. I got some close ups of the rust because this was an almost 45 year old bike and us 40-somethings show wear. I skipped eBay and listed it on facebook and craigslist because they’re free and better for bulky items like bikes. At first I only got borderline creepy replies on craigslist because, well, craiglist, but within a week had a serious buyer on facebook. The guy pulled into our driveway, took a look at the bike, said “it’s in great shape” in a surprised tone, and had the wheel off and bike mounted on the roof of his car within 5 minutes.

We walked away with $27 after what we spent on repairs. Okay, so flipping bikes won’t replace our day jobs.

The level of obsession and focus I then spent trying to procure a replacement dream bike for our daughter made me realize I am a broken person. I looked at so many bike ads, I lost the ability to distinguish between an adult bike and a child’s bike. Supposing I’d bought a 15″ paw patrol bicycle with flat tires, I was not as confident in our ability to flip it like a curbside vintage Schwinn.

The key was to be quick on the draw without being impulsive. I responded to two ads within minutes of posting only to be told they were already sold. I missed out on a delightful looking cruiser for $40 and a $25 mountain bike that still haunt me in my dreams. I almost bought a child’s bike that clearly stated it was a child’s bike. I considered buying bikes I probably wouldn’t trash pick. I woke up in the middle of the night and checked for new listings. As I said, broken.

Finally I went back to creepy craigslist, where not as many people sell bikes, so not as many people go looking to buy there either. I held my breath when I saw an ad for a woman’s mountain bike for only $44. From the photos, it looked worn but in good shape. It had all its parts, such as the chain and seat (you’d be surprised at what people try to sell). The ad even said “You can ride it home.” I drove 15 miles across narrow rolling country roads to see the bike, so it wasn’t feasible to test this out.

This was by no means a fancy bike, but it seemed right for my daughter’s needs. It was 1) manageably sized, 2) in working order with no needed repairs, 3) not worth stealing (also, see 4), and 4) hot pink. I figured if she hated it I could at least sell it to some sleep deprived person on facebook for $50 and make up the gas money it took to pick it up.

I was a little nervous going to meet a stranger from craigslist by myself. I could tell the guy was old school when he said to call instead of email and that his phone wasn’t one of those smart ones. This is how you should buy a used bike, in my opinion. Drive 30 minutes, wondering if you’ll get murdered once you arrive, and then 30 minutes back wondering if you made a mistake but relieved you weren’t murdered.

The guy was older, shirtless and in cutoff jeans, sweating heavily in 95 degree midday heat while he tinkered on something in his garage. He said he used to have a bike shop’s worth of inventory on his driveway, but that he and his wife were packing up and heading south to North Carolina. I told him why I wanted an old bike and he agreed crime was getting worse everywhere, gesturing to the rural lane he lived on where the worst crime I could imagine was a game of mailbox baseball.


I liked the guy. He wanted to talk about everything from crime to dental emergencies and it reminded me of when I used to work for hospice and drove out to pick up donations. People would call on the phone and say they had cases of Ensure or unopened catheters they didn’t need anymore and I’d write down their address and look it up on this big map book I kept in the car. I was technically supposed to try and find a volunteer to collect donations, but I liked getting out of the office and driving around. It was like a game to find the street name in the index, locate it on the master grid and then work out how to get there without getting lost. I almost always got lost, but it was still a fun game.

I’d pull up and ring the bell and usually an older person would answer the door and want to talk about how grateful they were that hospice had cared for their husband or wife at the end. Sometimes they’d talk about the illness that stole them away before handing over a box of meticulously organized gauze pads and bed chucks and mouth swabs. Even if I knew we would have to throw out certain items, I thanked them profusely for their donation and wished them well. I felt like the final ambassador to something heartbreaking but inevitable. Maybe they felt a little emptiness with the box out of the house, but maybe the next day they felt a little lighter.

The bike is great, by the way. I have no idea if it will last through fall, but it cost us $17 net and it’s the right size for my daughter to ride. She loves the color and calls it her barbie bike (barbie dream bike?). The guy I bought it from seemed a little sad when he loaded the bike into the back of my car. Clearly the bike had never been his, but it was also one of the few remaining ones in his driveway. His bike shop was going out of business. He was heading south to warmer weather and what he hoped would be less crime. I told him my husband and I were thinking of retiring to the Carolinas one day too. It’s true, even if we have no plan and a long time before our youngest is out of school. He said “I’ll look for you on the pink bike” and I laughed and drove off, scanning the curbside for discarded bikes on the way home.

The bike that started it all

9 in 9

In 9 days I will be 9 years sober. I could just wait until then to post, but I like the symmetry and also know myself and that I may lose heart and decide not to post at all.

I don’t remember June 21, 2011 too well anymore. I remember more about it than any other June 21 before or since. It was an unremarkable day except that I decided not to drink and managed not to, even though it was physically and mentally very hard.

It wasn’t all luck. It was work to commit every single day, some harder than others, not to drink anymore. Fear was an excellent motivator. Early on I heard that it doesn’t get any easier to quit the second or seventeenth time around. After losing and regaining the same 15 pounds for the last few years, I know that is true.

Doing something for nine years seems almost as natural as breathing. And yet I literally haven’t been able to break another bad habit for nine consecutive years. There is something about the simplicity of knowing I will not drink today that makes it the easiest hard thing I’ve ever done.

It definitely gets easier to maintain over the years. Temptation and self-pity around not drinking don’t beckon monthly or even quarterly like they used to. I did have one moment a few months back. We were about a month into quarantine and I’d spent an emotionally draining day with my grandmother. When I got home, I said to my husband you know, she makes me wish I still drank. It didn’t feel good to say. I felt like a petulant, pathetic kid who says you’re not my friend anymore to her best friend in the world. But after I said it out loud, I knew I didn’t mean it. These periodic urges to drink are a good thing because they bring me back.

So in nine days I will wake up and may not immediately remember the significance of the day because I am absent minded and it has become almost as natural as breathing. With a little luck I’ll be back in a year to celebrate a decade.

Virtual coin

more monkey food

I like it better when I have cute stories to tell about my grandmother. Like that time she mistook paintings of dogs in military uniforms for old family members. That was fun. Now the stories are confusing and muddled, sometimes mean, and somehow easier to keep to myself. But this is part of the story too.

When I take her to the bank, the teller doesn’t ask for identification because she knows who she is. I can tell by the cautious, expectant glances from behind the counter that they all do.

“See that boy over there?” my grandmother says to me. I turn to look and see a young man behind the counter. He is in his thirties with dark, curly hair. He sees us looking at him and smiles at my grandmother and she gives him a tight smile and a little wave. “I’ll tell you about him later,” she whispers.

We sit in overstuffed chairs in the waiting area. My grandmother tells me the boy with the curly hair tried to give her someone else’s money one time. She said to him, “whose money is this? It doesn’t belong to me,” and the boy just looked at her and pushed $120 through the slot in the window.

When she told this story to my father last week, the boy pushed $1,200 through the slot. In the story she told me, the boy got very upset and started shuffling papers until they sailed into the air. I don’t know if she included this in my dad’s story or if it’s a new detail. Neither one of us could tell when this story took place. She doesn’t drive anymore, so it couldn’t have happened recently.

My grandmother walks very slowly from the bank to the car. I would estimate she covers 1-2 yards per minute. Her legs hurt and she tires easily.  The last place on earth she or anyone should want to go on a Saturday afternoon is a Walmart Supercenter.

“I need vitamins for my eyes and bananas,” she says peevishly.

“We don’t have time to all go in,” I say, exasperated. How did I not see this coming, the last minute demand and her reaction when I tell her no.

“Why did Audrey have to come with you?” my grandmother hisses. Audrey is the reason we need to get back – for a sleepover – and she is inches away in the back seat.

“She should have stayed home,” my grandmother says. “This must be terrible for her.” Yes, I think, but not for the reason she thinks. She says many other things that aren’t nice or true and I say things back that I wish I could keep in my head but they spill out anyway, ugly and mean. When we go inside Walmart, I tell Audrey my grandmother doesn’t mean what she says and she says, I know and the way she says it, I think she really does.

A few weeks ago, I read an article explaining that people with dementia may seem child-like, but it’s different. Children act out because they haven’t learned to control their speech and behavior. Old people with dementia act out because they lost skills they gained as adults. Their brains degraded to the point where they can no longer keep thoughts, often delusional and cruel, to themselves. I don’t know how to explain my own behavior except that I feel like an animal sometimes.

We are all quiet on the ride back from Walmart. When she gets home, my grandmother takes the five new bananas and places them on top of four browning bananas already in the bowl, singing to herself, “more monkey food.”

I set up a small microwave on her counter because last week she told me she keeps burning pans when she turns on her stovetop and forgets and walks away.  Is this the smallest microwave they had? she asks (Yes.) Did they only have it in white? (no, but it’s the only color where you’d be able to read the buttons.) Why didn’t you get the kind where you only have to press one button? (I did.)

I put a red sticker on top of the express button for one minute. I fill a microwave safe mug halfway with water and put it on the glass turntable and close the door. I hit the red 1-minute button and the motor whirs for 60 seconds. “Now you try it,” I say. It is so simple, I know it has to work and I also know that somehow it will not.

She moves her face inches from the panel and squints in concentration. She grabs a magnifying glass from the counter and jabs her finger at the red button but nothing happens. I demonstrate again and she jabs again and, still, nothing. She says she is tired so I tell her to try again later and keep trying. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll take it back to the store and get more sauce pans for her to burn.

When we pull out of her driveway and start to drive away, Audrey reminds me to honk a few times. It’s something we always do and Audrey looks forward to it. Last year, my grandmother used to stand at the end of her driveway and wave at us until we disappeared from view. I’d watch as she got smaller in the rearview mirror and it always made me a little sad. Now she stays just inside her door and we honk and wave and then she is quickly gone from view. Now I don’t feel sad so much as a swoon of relief and guilt that stays with me through the night and is still there when I wake up.

The nest

Since our oldest daughter went off to college, the cat started doing his evening rounds in the afternoon. He walks around the house carrying a small stuffed mouse in his mouth and crying mournfully. It’s like he has a ventriloquist mouse that is very upset about something, like maybe being carried around in a cat’s mouth. I don’t know why the cat does this but it doesn’t seem aimed at us. If we look at him or call his name, he freezes until he’s sure we’re not watching anymore and then starts up again. He also leaves the stuffed mouse in various places around the house, like at the top of the stairs, next to the bed, or my personal favorite, on a couch cushion. I like to think this is his version of putting a jacket on the back of a chair, saving a seat for later.

I googled this behavior and found it is pretty common. I did not find a conclusive answer as to why cats do this. Some say mother cats do this to model behavior to their kittens. But our cat is a kittenless male. Others say a cat is offering gratitude by leaving gifts, which can include far worse things like dirty socks or headless real mice. My favorite explanation is that cats bring us mice and other gifts because they think we are terrible hunters.

I wasn’t expecting this cat to be affected by our daughter moving out because they have a tenuous relationship built on mild mutual torment. She has always been somewhat afraid of him and he knows this. When she goes to pet him, he might bite lazily at the air. She might then tap him on the nose, which he totally asked for but looks insulted anyway. Before she moved out, she instructed her little sister to bother him while she’s away. This has not really happened, as her little sister has an entirely different relationship with the cat. She doesn’t dress him up in doll clothes or anything, but he would probably let her.

I also hadn’t expected my husband to take it hard when our daughter moved out. I’d been so worried about how her little sister would take it, it never occurred to me he might cry a little on the drive to work after helping her move in two cart’s worth of stuff from home.

It was a little embarrassing how much we sent her with, at least until we saw other kids’ move-in piles. Comforters, mattress pads, body pillows, keurig machines, shower caddies, mini fridges, under the bed storage bins, bulk supplies of mac n cheese. It seemed like we equipped them with more comfort than they had at home, which was maybe the point.

Move-in day went so smoothly, it felt easy and even fun. Parking was plentiful and free. Staff smiled with seemingly endless patience. There were plenty of move-in carts. Elevators waited until after she had moved in to break down. There was a terrifyingly loud fire drill, but even that gave parents peace of mind knowing there is no way a student could sleep through one of those. Her little sister and I helped set up her room and then we had a leisurely lunch. When it was time to say goodbye, we hugged but none of us cried. Driving off, we honked and waved and then got to do it all again after I hit a traffic light and she caught up on foot.

I always have had a delayed reaction to difficult emotions. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when the depression hit a week and a half later. This was after she reported a successful first week and pushed back plans to come home for the holiday weekend by a day. One of the reasons I hadn’t felt sad about leaving her was because I knew she was only an hour train ride away and could come home whenever she wanted. Maybe I thought this would be every weekend. Maybe I hadn’t thought about it at all.

Having her home was almost harder than missing her. When I picked her up from the train station, she looked fresh faced and surprisingly well rested even though she assured me this was not the case. She napped on the couch for several hours that afternoon and it was like old times. I fought the urge to keep poking my husband and saying “Look who’s here!” The novelty of having her home was bittersweet because I knew it was only temporary. We would have to send her back. She said it was weird being home because she’d already gotten used to dorm life. Well, except for the communal bathrooms. Home will always be superior because you never need shower shoes.

The night before we drove her back to college, the cat did his mournful cry thing and jumped up on the back of the couch to drop his stuffed mouse. He left it mostly behind my head but it just as easily might have been for her. Maybe he couldn’t decide which of us needed it most. Maybe he was hoping she’d reach for it so he could snap at her hand. We all show our love and pain in mysterious but equally meaningful ways. 

Plotting his next move from an empty bin in her room

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