Swing

The last time we were at this park my youngest child lost her water ice at the bottom of the slide. I don’t remember the exact physics, only how cherry slush looked like blood in the mud and that there were tears and how I somewhat begrudgingly gave her my own water ice because this is what it means to be a parent. (Also: no sleep and dirty clothes and car interiors so basically disheveledness, but also bone deep contentedness and the feeling of falling in love, only better because it doesn’t go away.) 

For awhile, I’d had a mental block about this park. This is where the story gets dark, so you might want to look away (but you probably won’t).

 One morning in late winter, I got a disturbing text from my teenaged daughter. Her bus had gone its usual route by the park and the driver noticed too late that a body was hanging from the swings. It was barely dawn, that tricky time of light when your eyes can’t be sure what they’re seeing, so she might have thought at first it was someone’s idea of a sick joke. The driver told the kids on the bus not to look – she even said don’t look to the right, a clarity that impressed me when my daughter recounted this – but you tell a group of kids or anyone for that matter not to look somewhere, they will need to see for themselves what someone is warning them they will never be able to unsee.

 The hanged body was ruled a suicide, though rumors and general fear swirled for a day or two. I don’t care to speculate here, but it was an ugly, awful thing she witnessed and my heart broke a dozen times over for pretty much everyone involved, though my daughter bounced back quick enough. The bus ride the next morning was a little white knuckle, but with continued routine there was no time to develop a real phobia of the place, though she said to me last night when I dropped her off nearby for a school event that she still has no desire to go back to the park. It haunts her a little.

 I’d felt that way myself, but I still have a little kid that doesn’t know the ugliness of the world. At first I naively thought officials might take the swings down, but when I saw the massive steel arch last night, probably installed in the sixties, I got it. It’s as solid as the trees around it, one of which I kept staring up at after my youngest hopped up on one swing and I gave her a big push to get started. All the other trees nearby were already heavy with buds and blooms, but this one tree – and I have no idea what kind it was – didn’t appear to have any. Otherwise its trunk and branches looked healthy and ready to go, so eventually I stopped staring up and faced the swings.

 I heard them too, the terrible groaning, that shrieky metal on metal that seemed almost comically human, but then terribly so. My girl eventually grew bored and hopped off and we took a walk around the park, checking out a fountain under repair and the massive gazebo with its graffiti-carvings, plus all the dogs around the park. Little flitty dogs, one puffed up like a dandelion, another crouched down playfully as we walked past, and one freaking out at absolutely nothing. Once we’d made a satisfyingly leisurely lap, my daughter found a friend on the climbing structure and so leaving involved the usual bit of bargaining that makes me think all kids start out as potentially good lawyers.  

My youngest remembers coming to the park with camp last summer and how a boy shimmied up the arch of the swing to the center, an impressive and dangerous feat. My other daughter remembers something worse and I remember something in between. We all remember the fallen water ice because it was funny and sad and agreed we will come back soon with more water ice to see how the massive canopy of trees looks again in late spring. It will all be here long after we’re gone.
  

an old photo and come to think of it, might have been taken after the water ice incident

Gray hair don’t care

Gray hair is not actually gray but silver or white or pewter or salt. It only appears gray from a distance against a backdrop of pepper. Gray hair (that is not really gray) can be coarse and wiry but is also shiny and healthier than any dyed hair I’ve known. Some mornings I catch my reflection in the mirror and realize gray hair don’t care.

It has been 15 months since my last dye but only 11 months since highlights, which helped the transition or prolonged the inevitable. Either way those months are a blip in time. I finally got so sick of the demarcation line betwen new and old color that I had a big haircut. I got compliments and didn’t hate it. In typical fashion I thought well if short is good, shorter must be gooder and I got more cut off next time. I spent the next 6 weeks hating my short gray hair. In typical fashion I thought well if feeling bad about yourself is what you’re into you might as well gain 7 pounds too. It was around this time my husband put a family photo from  3 Christmases ago directly in my line of sight when I watch movies on the couch. We had a wall painted so I don’t think he did it to trigger my breakdown, but I not only had to stare longingly at people on the TV with normal hair but now a previous version of myself. Between you and me, I think my old color looked brassy, though maybe it was more Tawny.

tawny

Not really me. In case you were wondering.

And one night we were watching a movie and I saw someone who reminded me of, well, me in the mornings. If you don’t recognize the image below, sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion and if you still don’t know what the hell I’m on about, just know my husband and I are in an unspoken competition to use our most favorite-forgotten phrase because after two decades of living together, we forget things but still know how to party. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of us who feels like this.

grandma death

Not really me. But much closer.

I hadn’t counted on it taking this long to decide if I like gray hair on me. I don’t recall loving my brown or Tawny hair so maybe it’s just a case of me still being me. Gray definitely makes me feel older, especially in those moments when I’m already feeling insecure. I keep thinking to myself just wait til summer, I assume because my hair will be longer by then and because there will be ice cream and I’m easy to distract that way. Mostly this waiting thing reminds me a lot of sobriety and how long that took to feel natural and comfortable, and finally like Home.

I did not love being sober in my first year. I did it anyway and loved bits and pieces, but still drooled over everybody else’s ability to drink normally or abnormally but without all the pain and obsession. Sometimes I felt like a freak and a failure. But I kept doing it because I am not a quitter except when it comes to drinking.

And over the months and years, my not drinking became not only something I did quite well on the outside but inside as well. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and one day looked up and wondered when was the last time I missed drinking anyway. The next week I missed drinking because that’s how it works, but the pang left just as quickly as it came and stayed away even longer. Here I am today so full of love and zest for life that I have the mental energy to grow out my natural hair color and obsess over it.

I said something to my husband about the picture of me and my old Tawny hair and he joked “it’s like Dorian Gray in reverse” and I laughed but then said “hey wait, aren’t all portraits like that?” We’re supposed to get older and get gray hair and crows feet and laugh lines and other adorably named things that mean we’re dying. What I did was super-accelerate the ageing process and all the insecurities that come with it, especially for a woman.

What I did to soften the blow of getting old (not really) super fast is I started working out again and cancelled my last haircut. In order to celebrate my real hair color (which, how insane is it to feel the need to hide the natural color of our hair? think about that for a second), we picked new vinyl siding for our house and went with the color swatch named silver-gray. Just kidding – pebblestone-gray cost extra – but in the end it’s just siding and it’s just hair. Gray hair don’t care and hopefully I’ll get there myself some day.

 

 

 

Radiant (or how not to give a spider a bath)

  It’s Wednesday night, just me and my 7 year-old daughter, and I’m having a hard time settling into the play time I promised earlier when I wasn’t thinking about dinner or checking and signing off on homework, which will probably require a Notary by the time she is a parent. The thought of Candyland exhausts even her, so we browse an extensive movie library of mostly crap and stream Charlotte’s Web, which my daughter tells me they’re reading in class.

This is the live-action remake, not the funky 70s cartoon, which I think we can all agree had a jazzier take on Templeton’s fair binge, but it’s very hard to get kids to watch old stuff without being reminded how boring it is to new people. About an hour in, I realize my daughter has no idea how it ends. We’re heading to heartbreak at breakneck speed.

She innocently asks what radiant means and I offer a rushed definition that does not clarify how radiant could possibly apply to a pig because I’m not sure, and then I casually warn her the movie has a sad ending. Then I wind up spoiling the whole thing because I don’t want her to think the pig dies, which I think would be sadder. When the (spoiler alert!) deathbed scene happens and Wilbur pulls away in the back of a truck while Charlotte takes her last spider breaths, I realize I’m wrong.

In real life, a spider is a terrifying thing you might see in your washing machine after you already added water and the costume clothes you bought at Goodwill and left in a bag in the garage to quarantine for several days (because the only insect scarier than spiders are bedbugs) and you scream a scream even you don’t recognize as coming from yourself and slam down the lid, and later you will make your husband switch out the laundry but will not ask about the limp, spindly carcass the size of a small rodent he must have pulled out and had to bury in the backyard. You do not inform the children their hobo costumes are now haunted by a spider. This is all hypothetical, of course.

The movie version of a spider has fur that looks soft and inviting and pretty eyelashes and a voice like Julia Roberts’, and she has just died poignantly, heartbreakingly.

My daughter crumbles and tells me she needs a hug and I hold her while trying to hide my own tears. She says “I don’t want you to die” and breaks into fresh sobs and I tell her I don’t plan to anytime soon and make a weak joke about being compared to a spider but she forces me to stay with her grief. She says “At least we’ll get to see each other again in heaven” and I wonder when she came up with that because we only recently discussed heaven as one possibility. I like that she thought about it more and made it her own.

This makes me think of my own mother, who is presumably up in heaven waiting for her mother to join her and later, if all goes well, my brother and I. The mother I barely know is a collage of outfits and happy poses from photographs I’ve seen and stories my grandmother told over the years, and yet I’ve felt her love my whole life, especially in the last year, which is interesting but not surprising because I wasn’t looking as hard before.

I start to think about how it might work in heaven, like at what age are we preserved and how do family members find us, presumably not all at the same time since who wants tense family dinners in the afterlife. And what about the cats I’d love to see again, plus my aunt’s golden retriever that used to let us lie on her like a pillow. I don’t care how peaceful heaven is, my old cats won’t put up with other cats, much less a dog. Plus there are possibly spiders in heaven. 

I say to my daughter that when someone dies, their spirit lives on in our hearts and memories and they never leave us. I think to myself that her and I are making a memory right now because we are both 100% in the moment together and crying on the couch (me silently). It reminds me of how I used to hold her in this same spot and stare at her tiny perfect face in the weeks after she was born in an effort to make maternity leave feel as long as possible. Heartbreak is everywhere, but instead of waiting to possibly see someone in heaven again, we get to love the ones we have right now and create and savor new memories, each more delicious than the last.

The giant pencil

We get to the monument almost an hour before our ticketed time, figuring we’ll see if they can take us early or we can walk over to the WWII memorial. Hours earlier, the city was a ghost town. The sky was still gray and cool then, the streets and sidewalks near empty. Now the sun is out and kites litter the sky, with swarms of people on the ground below. Groups of young people take selfies, laughing at the impossible angle needed to include everyone (wouldn’t it be easier to ask a stranger “would you mind taking our picture?”), a very young girl steers a bicycle with training wheels through a thick crowd while her parents tag lackadaisically behind. The ding of her bell and, further ahead, the ding of two adults on bicycles, warning “here we come, out of the way tourists.”

Flags at half mast for Scalia, whose funeral is today – possibly happening at this very moment – though not affecting our trip in any way, thankfully. When my husband points out the very small ‘out of order’ sign near the entrance to the monument, I think it’s a mistake. Someone left it up or it’s not the correct entrance. A smiling government employee wearing, oddly, a hat with ear flaps in 60 degree weather, is explaining to a small crowd for probably the 150th time that the tickets they ordered online months ago are no good. The elevator is broken and the part won’t be in until Wednesday at the earliest. How long are you folks in town? He could recommend a million things more interesting than the view from the top of the monument and I wonder how that could possibly be.

monument

I feel like we’ve arrived at Magic Kingdom to find that our favorite ride that we’ve never ridden before is closed. My husband says to our girls that he’s lived on the east coast for 21 years and still hasn’t been up in the monument and I say I’ve lived here 42 years and haven’t either, though this feels more like an admission of guilt than any consolation. We ask the girls if they’d rather go see Jefferson or Lincoln and of course they both pick a different one, but one is a birthday girl and that seems the fairest way to settle it.

The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite because you have to walk along the tidal basin to get there. We pass some kind of diving bird, who disappears so long we’re sure he’s drowned but then pops up again somewhere completely unexpected, far away from the trail of bubbles he left behind. We spot a thin guy in spectacles and a red and white striped shirt, holding a similarly striped knit cap with red pom-pom. I take a picture of him from behind and again from a far distance as he sits on the monument steps, but before he puts his beanie on. I wonder if it’s a game he plays, going to crowded public places and then searching social media later for the tags #whereswaldo and #foundhim.

waldo

  Later we rest our aching bones in a brief cab ride to the White House and see the Monument taunting from the skyline and I think the windows look too small. We would all have been jockeying for a picture, fixated on the view through our phones instead of thinking “I’m inside a giant mother-fucking pencil right now.”

The next day we will see a baby panda napping in a tree, and we will see familiar animals we’ve never seen before, and that will seem like it should be the highlight of our trip. But instead the birthday daughter will say the walk along the tidal basin was her favorite part. The breeze and the way the sun was falling and the peace and calm at the memorial, in spite of all the people and Waldo and the wedding party that showed up to have their pictures taken. Who gets married in mid-February on the east coast expecting a beautiful spring day? May the couple know happiness but also a touch of disappointment and sadness so they appreciate it all that much more.

  

 

A mostly true Valentine’s story

She was signing all their names on a card with much love and flourish, when the cat, the usual one, got his head stuck in a bag and, backing up like a blind idiot, knocked over a full cup of what must have been scalding hot coffee on his precious pink paw pads.

The coffee spread like a muddy puddle, soaking all of the cards and one heart-shaped box of chocolates and then trickled down to the seat cushion, where it left a saucer-sized stain.

She yelled to the cat “you ruined thanksgiving!” because she was upset and not thinking clearly and he had knocked over a full cup of coffee and she’d only had one, maybe two, sips or perhaps it was a premonition, but he was already long gone, hiding under a chair or inside the curtains that rendered him invisible, surely thinking bags were the devil’s handiwork but only for about five minutes because cats, this one in particular, are not very bright though their hearts are expansive and forgiving.

She knew herself to blame since she was the one who asked the volunteer at the animal shelter for the silliest, softest cat they had. Give me one who will hide under rugs and trip us, she said, who will wake us up at 2 and 4 and spill my coffee. Give me one to test the limitless boundaries of my love, again and again.

  

  
  

Buttoned up

I shake the principal’s hand but clam up and don’t introduce myself, starstruck I guess, and then file in behind others to the auditorium and a seat comfortably in the back. A couple comes in at the very end and takes the two seats in front of me. He is waiting for her to sit down and she is waiting for him to read her mind and take the water bottle and papers from her hand so she can remove her jacket. My jacket is still on, buttoned up and everything. The first speaker has a gravelly, high pitched voice and the second speaker is smooth baritone, but peppered with uhs and ums. The third speaker is just right, but implies our children should be taking Advanced Placement Calculus and Physics. He must be talking to the raven-haired mom two rows ahead, who nods vigorously. I drift off and count gray heads in the crowd. Two gray ladies, just like me, one stylishly cut with cute glasses and the other with long straight hair and ruddy cheeks of a young girl that somehow makes me think ‘older woman’. I spot a man I remember from AA meetings a million years ago. His hair isn’t really gray and he wouldn’t remember me. I imagine plucking these three from their seats so we could meet afterwards and I would say what was all that nonsense about AP Calculus, hm?

This is something I wrote in the spirit of Homework for Life, which I mentioned late last year. It has failed to freeze time like it does in movies so that I can run around and tweak the noses of people I do not care for, but I am enjoying the practice. Every morning when I journal, I take something from the day before and turn it into a mini story or byte. We literally have stories all over the place and it helps me to stay present by looking for the details there. Like, in the above sequence, I not only remember the woman who couldn’t sit down because she was holding a water bottle and wearing a jacket, but I also remember how sheepish her husband looked when he finally did read her mind. I remember he was wearing a belt holster for his phone like it was 1999. He had a fuzzy haircut like a baby chick. I remember another woman three rows up who was chewing gum so distractingly I decided maybe I shouldn’t chew gum at all.

Right now my homework for life tends to be snarky, and this worries me a little. Snarkiness is fear-based, and maybe I should have chosen Fear as my word-of-the-year because I am able to poke at it with a stick through exercises like this. Time and Fear wait for no man, and so they are hard to slow down to get a really good look. I like being able to go back and get a closer look in these tiny, frozen snapshots.

 

 

Buzzkill: Paul’s Podcast and an interview!

My first recorded words were: My name is Kristen Deacon. I am a little girl. 

My brother had received a tape recorder for his 5th birthday and took it for a test spin. He played my profound words back and I asked who the little boy in the recording was and a lifelong hatred of the sound of my voice was born!

Unfortunately it never stopped me from talking. Bonus feature on tape: my great-grandmother saying “Happy Birthday to YOU, Jepprey.” That’s how she pronounced Jeffrey. She was totally adorable, a 4ft 2 inch angel in cork wedge heels who kept her own stash of chocolates by her bed because they “help me to sleep”. Here is photographic proof of her adorableness and possibly my favorite picture of us.

 

Fever heat from a nasty case of the Australian flu attracts little old ladies and cats like hummingbirds to nectar.

This is all a long-winded introduction to Paul’s podcast on recovery, which I was honored/humbled/thrilled to be on last night.

You may remember Paul from such classics as Message In a Bottle, his recovery blog, which I came to know early in recovery and loved for many years. And still do love because it’s still up for others to peruse and love while he is off taking the podcast world by storm.

His podcast is called Buzzkill and it’s part of the Since Right Now network.

Here is a direct link to last night’s podcast:

Episode 13: Interview with Kristen Rybandt

Or treat yourself to one of Paul’s earlier episodes, as I enjoyed hearing what he had to say about the mind-body connection, particularly with running:

 Episode 12: Runner’s High / Chasing the Mind Body Spirit Connection

Or you can start at the beginning (a very good place to start) and hear Paul’s story:

Episode 1: The Sound of Change™

There are 13 delicious, low-cal episodes to choose from, so why not try one of each?

I love that Paul tried something new and is thriving in this new medium. There is more than one way to get and stay sober, folks.