Friday, March 31, 2006

The Jamie and Jason Show: The One Where I Meet Buddha.

It's very early (currently 3:50am) on Friday morning as I write. Another fun-filled, action-packed 3-day weekend with Jamie and Jason is about to start.

1. Jason is currently in energy-conservation mode (ie, sleep). As it is 3:50am, I am not. I would never sleep at such a conventional hour. Yesterday at about 5am we went to the grocery store to buy some yeast. The cashier asked if we were enjoying summer. We said yes. We had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe he didn't say summer. Even after 6 months, we're still having a hard time understanding the heavy asian accents around these parts. I suspect that we agree to a lot of things we normally wouldn't. Which explains why some old lady showed up here yesterday looking for my first born. She kept waving an I.O.U in my face. I sent her away with a half-empty (or half-full, as I pointed out to her) can of silver spray paint, and 3 potatoes, which is as close as I could get to paying her back. I don't think she was much appeased, if the silver graffiti on our car is any indication.

2. The weather is looking favourable - showers and potential thunder today, and drizzle for tomorrow! Who'll be splashing through mud puddles? I will!!

3. Someone broke the bass in Jason's precious speaker system, by repeatedly watching it fall off the computer monitor and either smash into the wall, or dive straight for the floor. We don't know who it is. The culprit is still at large.

4. At work, Jason found a pair of jeans that he really liked. He had only 85 cents in his pocket, so he marked them on sale for $1.37 and then applied his discount to them. Something tells me he really likes being the boss. And the thing is, they're really terrific jeans. His ass looks heavenly in them. I'm sure that all the part-time high school students AND all the part-time mothers will agree. And try to cop a feel. I'll have to maybe take a leak on his jeans, to mark my territory.

5. I have experienced zen through the art of making eggrolls. Enlightenment, thy name is plum sauce.

6. Turns out, there is no good response to "Jamie, why are you listening to David Bowie in the dark?"

4 hours down, 68 more to go. Only one will be victorious (if you buy my theory that 3-day weekends are a lot like cage fights to the death). Who will it be? Tune in Sunday night to find out.

Friday, 5:13am: After allowing Jason an additional 3 hours of beauty sleep, I decide to hop in the shower, shave my legs and beautify myself so I can slither in naked beside him and wake him up nicely. I don't know why I bother. Every time I think I'll surprise him awake, I find him sleeping on his stomach, allowing me no access to anything good. It's as if he nightly expects his penis to be besieged. He's very protective. Some would say too protective. It's a hard life.

Friday, 1:15pm: Before heading out the door this morning, I confirm that Jason has had breakfast, because usually the moment we hit the road, Jason needs to stop for snacks. And then for sustenance half a kilometre later, refreshments 6 and a half minutes after that, a light meal when that's wore off, and then the cycle just continues. So to circumvent this nasty cycle, I tell him to carb-load before we leave the house. But still, I know he had breakfast at 6am and he was good not to complain up until this point, but the poor kid's got to be starving at this point. So on le train (which is what I call the subway when I'm in a bad mood), I ask him if we need to stop for lunch. He nods. "I only had 3 toasts," he tells me "and you know what that means." Indeed I do. Jason believes that if he can count the number of helpings he's had on one hand, then it's not enough. Three toasts is not enough. We stop for lunch.

Friday, 4:47pm: Had to stop at stupid-Walmart-garbage-face on the way home. It was raining so Jason dropped me off at the door. I thought Aw, and then I hated myself for thinking that. "Don't go further than the candie aisle, or else I won't be able to find you," he tells me. He knows me so well.

Saturday, 3:50am: Jason is sweetly snoring soundly in his bed, while I am up prowling around. His sleep is rudely disturbed when I break into the room yelling FIRE! FIRE! The kitchen's on fire! Jason looks at me with fuzzy eyes, and then springs up, bolting for the hallway, not sure whether he should bring the blanket to cover himself with. He is probably remembering the last kitchen fire that I (accidentally) set, and trying to remember where the baking soda's at. When he gets to the kitchen, he sees that there is no fire. Haha, I say, April Fool's! And as he squints at me in dismay, a small grin spreads across his face. He is my poisson d'avril and wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, 12:50pm: Jason had appointment with the Hakim-approved optometrist, who conducted a thorough medical checkup in all of 7 minutes, for which I paid $50, which is even more than I paid when I bought Jason a hooker on our honeymoon. The paper-thin walls of her "office" meant that I, and everyone else left out in the waiting room, heard the optometrist assure Jason that "Don't worry, it happens to a lot of guys," which really made wonder just which part of Jason's anatomy she was really examining back there.

Saturday, 5:30pm: We watched Singing in the Rain (100% All Talkie!) which was weird for me, because I cannot re-virginize myelf toward the "Good Morning" scene, which to my ears, sounded exactly like a Viagra commercial.

Saturday, 7:00pm: Although my natural bedtime is roughly 6pm, I am not sawing logs but being forced into a RUDE interruption by Jason's work. I make a point to sulk. We're there because the president of the company something something, causing much panic. Everyone in the room knows it's a joke except for one poor colleague, whom they're playing it on. It's actually pretty funny, but I gave up a date with Jorge for this shit, and I hardly think it worth it.

Sunday, 8:50am: In my lust to see the weather outside, I over-enthusiastically pull on the cord and the whole venetian blind comes hurtling toward my head, bits and pieces of it scattering to the wind. The window now completely exposed, I tell Jason that it's "nice" outside.

Sunday, 1:45pm: Holy freakin beautiful outside!

Sunday, 5:00pm: Jason returns from store with bouillon. Observes that I look pretty happy for someone who appears to have been crying. He's right. We're having french onion soup tonight!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Soundtrack of My Life

Putting together my soundtrack was surprising. Most of these songs would not appear on my 'favourites' list, and yet, in some way, they have become a part of me. Every song you hear is an experience - some will be swelling crescendos during the pinacle moments of your life, while others will be little more than background noise. But they're all threads in the tapestry of your life.

Track 1: I was 3 years old, my hair done in pigtails, and I was ecstatic to finally be wearing my robin's egg blue leotard and salmon pink tutu. I was on stage with my fellow dancers, my little blue eyes twinkling in the spotlight as I wondered where in the vast, dark audience sat my mummy and daddy. The music started, we snapped in unison, swaying from side to side. First we did the jitterbug, and then we put the boom-boom into the hearts of everyone who'd come to see us sparkle and shine. That's right - Miss Dixen had us little girls pointing our ballerina slipper-clad toes to the stylings of Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and as the number saw us drop to the floor to give a spin on our bums, I feel confident in saying that we did not leave our audience hanging on like a yo-yo.

Track 2: A few years later, I was riding the bus to school. As a shortie, I still rode relatively close to the front, although not as close as those babies from kindergarten, such as my younger sister. I wore Vuarnet t-shirts, cool beyond my 7 year old comprehension, a gift from an aunt with money to burn. The Vuarnet almost made up for the fact that I wore a bright yellow backpack featuring The California Raisins (remember them? they heard it through the grapevine, yo) with matching plastic lunchpail and thermos. I remember 8th graders actually checking the tags in my shirts, and then sighing over their authenticity. And all the while Billy Idol sang Mony Mony over and over. Every time the song would end the 8th graders would riot until the poor beleaguered bus driver could rewind the tape and let it play again.

Track 3: 4 little girls would be crammed into the backseat of my Mom's Chevette. We would plead for our favourite song to played in the tape deck, and we'd sing along to the lyrics: Bob bob bob, bob, bob, bob. Sometimes our father would even let us drive on the last stretch home. We'd sit on his lap, the window rolled all the way down, our tiny hands grasping the wheel, and all the while believing we had complete control of the car. My personal favourite was to signal. Left, right, it didn't matter, as long as it blinked that we were turning. Years later, all 4 of us would be surprised to learn that the lyrics were not in fact Bob, bob, bob, but rather, the Beach Boys' Barbara Ann and even still, I think we're all pretty loyal to our first interpretation.

Track 4: The Brownie talent show was looming, and I was without a talent. I was fairly proficient with a Skip-It and could do some neat tricks with a Cat's cradle string, but neither of these things felt sufficiently impressive. So my mother, god bless her soul, choreographed a lip-synch and dance routine for a friend and myself to perform. We wore matching slouchy tie-dyed socks and thought we were the epitome of cool as we strutted our stuff to Madonna's Material Girl. In fact, I believe we were pretty cool, even if we believed the lyrics to actually be Cheerio Girl.

Track 5: Like every 80s family, we crowded around the TV to watch Full House, and to my young eyes, Uncle Jesse and his sexy, wavy mullet were definitely the stuff of girls' dreams. Jesse was cool because he rode a motorcycle, wore a leather jacket, and sang in a band, and in my mind most notable was his rendition of Doo Wah Diddy. Variously done by Manfredd Man and Rick Springfield, but to me, if she looked good and looked fine, it must be Jesse and the Rippers.

Track 6: Uncle Jesse was the strangely appealing adult figure, but far more accessible was my very first boy-band crush, Joey McIntyre of the New Kids on the Block. I wrote to him secretly in my unicorn diary, which I kept locked up under my pillow. I had the posters, the sticker collection, I watched the cartoon faithfully (at least until my Mom joined Weight Watchers and her weekly meeting clashed with the airtime), and even had the Official Joey McIntyre barbie doll so he could be hangin' tough with Barbie and her pals (embarrassingly, I also had the MC Hammer doll...apparently my Barbies were all groupie whores). If I want to take a retch-worthy stroll down memory lane, all I have to do is play I Wanna Be Loved By You, where they actually take time out of the song to speak the following words: I'm Joe, and I'm a Capricorn. And if you can relate to that, then check this out. Oh, girl, I wanna be loved, loved by you baby. Keep in mind that if I was 8, he was maybe 15. Hot and heavy stuff. The good news is, I totally outgrew my crush. However, my mother did not. If you are passing by her house around December, you can still hear her playing my old tape, the Christmas album, featuring the scintillating single, Funky Funky Christmas.

Track 7: When I first got my walkman (well, it was really just a portable tape player...we were too poor for the Sony stuff), I realized it gave me enormous influence. There is a picture of me, wearing neon pink tights with conspicuous holes in the crotchal area, sitting on the kitchen floor beside my youngest sister, who was sitting naked on the pottie. I was apparently being a good big sister my rewarding her 'making' by letting her have a listen to my Big Girl music. We fit both our small heads in between one set of earphones, and together we listened to Sugar, Sugar by the Archies, and I taught her to sing along to the lyrics. Perhaps this is why she has such a shy bladder today, and rarely tinkles without some sort of background music.

Track 8: It seems to me that a great proportion of my childhood was spent doing dishes. We were a family of 6, and after every meal there would be a mountain of pots and pans, all of them charred because my mother didn't so much cook as burn. My oldest younger sister and I were permanently on dish detail. We would take turns washing and drying, and we would fight and draw blood over who had to wash, because apparently that sucked the most. On Monday nights my mother would leave the 2 of us alone to do these dishes, as she would take the 2 youngest sisters off to Williamstown for skating lessons. As soon as they were out the door, I would blast Duane Eddy's Rebel Rouser on the stereo, and believe me, it certainly would rouse me. We still bear scars today, and yet, these are not entirely bad memories, because when we weren't chasing each other around the house, we were busy being sisters: teasing each other about boys, negotiating clothing loans, and being close in a way we haven't been since.

Track 9: My mother and sister share a trashy taste in pop music. My childish ears were scarred by the likes of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. Pee-uke. However, once in a while she surprised us, and that was certainly the case with Chris DeBurgh's Patricia the Stripper. Imagine, if you will, a family of 5 women at this point, all of whom know by heart the following lyrics:

And with a swing of her hips
She started to strip
To tremendous applause
She took of her drawers

And with a lick of her lips
She undid all her clips
And threw it all in the air
And everybody stared

And as the last piece of clothing
Fell to the floor
The police were banging on the door
On a Saturday night
In 1924

And you know we had dance moves for this. Oh yes we fucking did.

Track 10: The first song I ever slow danced to with a boy was Jump Around, by House of Pain. If you're thinking that it's not exactly a ballad, you're right. But I walked into the romantic glow of the school gymnasium, wearing green jeans and a matching green suede vest, and Joel asked, so I said yes. And it was magic.

Tracks 11, 12: The first 2 CDs I owned are CDs my young ears maybe should not have been listening to, but this was in the days before parental advisories marred all the packaging. I remember sitting on the floor of my mother's room helping her to fold laundry, as we both sang along to I'll Make Love To You by Boys II Men. My ears still blush to remember this. This is probably as close as she and I ever came to having The Talk. Even more explicit were the lyrics to TLC's Red Light Special, but what can you expect from a trio who wore condoms on their clothing? Ah, the innocence of youth.

Track 13: The first song I ever downloaded from the computer was Nothing Much Happens, by Ben Lee. It took 7 hours, and at the time I felt it was totally worth it.

Track 14: Welcome to teenage angst. I was listening to a lot of mellon collie music, being very emo before emo was really invented, but at any rate sharing in the seething anger and teen spirit that pervaded the time. I remember listening in particular to Leave it Alone, by Moist, and writing some not very original poetry "inspired" by what I thought I heard. This song is like a tunnel through time for me, and it delivers me over and over again to the same spots - the carpet in Anna's room, my purple bedspread, the van in which I learned to drive.

Track 15: I had (and have) the privilege of seeing a lot of great music live. I first crowd-surfed to Finger Eleven, got involved in a violent mosh pit watching Green Day, was slathered in lotion by 2 very gay men who inexplicably sang to me "Jamie's Got a Gun" at a Hole concert, got severiously sun burned watching Foo Fighters, hosed down by security at silverchair, saw a friend through a contact lens emergency during a Watchmen set, had my rib cage compressed against the fence at Smashing Pumpkins, and most notably to me, made out in a port-a-pottie a Deftones concert, and had the left shoe torn off my foot somewhere between Catherine Wheel and A Perfect Circle....but most notably to me was an Our Lady Peace concert, where I used my elbows as primitive digging tools to secure myself a prime spot at the front of the mosh pit, where surely Raine Maida would admire my spiky hair and notice that I knew his lyrics better than he did himself. And he did. He got off the stage, took my hand, and had me sing a strain of Hope into his mic. I nearly died. Of course, just moments before my friends had deserted me, headed to the bathroom, and I knew that since no one had seen, no one would believe. But as Raine retook the stage and a hundred girls crushed me in order to get a look at my blessed hand, I saw that in fact my friend had seen, and everyone believed. The next year he would pen the lyrics I miss your purple hair, I miss the way you taste, and I would insist to everyone that these lyrics were meant for me, even after I received threatening letters from his wife.

Tracks 16, 17: We crossed the borders to where we still couldn't legally drink, but where our fake IDs might better be believed. We stood nearly naked in the cold Canadian winter air, not to save ourselves the $1 coat check, but because our barely-there outfits didn't have pockets for claims tickets. I had this tiny black tube top infused with silver thread that we dubbed my 'lucky' top because....well, because. You know. This was before SUVs took over the market, so my generation was still having sex in minivans and pickup trucks, if we were lucky. But we didn't go to have tequila shots bought for us, or to have lots of digits inked on our arms, we went so we could dance, and dance we did. Maybe it was a little whoreish of us, Kel, to gyrate on top of those speakers, but god we had fun. Remember "the contest"? Remember Whitney's It's Not Right But It's Okay, and Faith Evan's Love Like This (you gotta $50 bill, put your hand(s) up!)? Yeah, me too. Good times.

Track 18: Nothing says Cornwall, Ontario like making out in the parking lot of Tim Horton's. I think once we did a little more than that, didn't we, Jason? I know that you'll remember how Underworld was always playing when we had sex, but at the time I was too high to understand it was music we were listening to, so for me, it will always be Wheat's Don't I Hold You on the radio.

Track 19: Frosh week at the University of Ottawa, there was one song that owned the radio, and regrettably, it was Who Let The Dogs Out by Baha Men. That song followed me on pub crawls, booze cruises, and oddest of all, at a rave where the only thing I could really see were my silver platform Candies sneakers. But I could feel the music pulsing in the floor, and I could certainly feel the sweaty flesh of the fervid dancing of those around me. And then suddenly, so suddenly I thought it couldn't be real, the jungle house music switched to Who Let The Dogs Out? (who? who? who?), and I really wondered what the hell I was doing there for a split second before I joined the thirsty throngs.

Track 20: On our wedding day, 3 Dominican men sang to us "Oh Donna", but cleverly changed the lyrics to "Oh Jamie Lee", which made me laugh very unlady-likely in the middle of my vows. But our wedding song will always be the one we chose to dance to at our reception, and the fact that 3 out 3 grandmothers present cringed visibly made it all the sweeter. True, a song by Ed K. from Live and Neneh Cherry wouldn't qualify for just anyone as wedding material, but we like to take the road less-traveled. And every time I hear Walk Into This Room, I promise not to let them get to your spark.

Track 21: And now, as I work feverishly to put my soul to words, I find myself listening to a rather obvious choice, Everclear's Father of Mine. Art sings Father of mine, tell me what do you see when you look back at your wasted life and you don'’t see me? and sometimes, I find myself wondering the exact same thing. But while it helps me reflect on my past, it mostly reminds me of what I do have, what I love most in life, what I treasure, what I hold dear, and above all, of my ability to dance through it all.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I had a bad day.

You know those days that really suck? Well I just had one.

I woke Jason up at 2 am to tell him that I was having "a mild depression."

In his half-awake state, he took my hands, and told me that I was probably depressed because my hands were so cold, and then he fell back asleep.

So I went back to the living room where I took up my book and settled in for another long night of insomnia. Out Of Africa was having a hell of a time keeping my interest though, so I spent some time grooming my couch. Ever since buying this damned white couch, I spend an inordinate amount of time picking at my couch, like monkeys searching each other for nits.

When Jason stumbled out of the bedroom some time later, wearing a t-shirt but no pants, he asked if I had just woken him up. In fact, it had been more than 45 minutes since he had pronounced my fingers to be cold, but I let this pass. Once he learned of my melancholy, he wanted a more thorough explanation for it, and this is what I gave him: I spilled some honey...

Sometimes when you're exhausted, you make mountains out of molehills, or depressions out of spilled honey. Sometimes I don't even have to be tired to do this.

4 hours later, when Jason was desperately searching for his brown belt (the one that still needs breaking in) before it made him late for work, I sat in bed with an arm thrown dramatically over my eyes, trying to decide whether I should have him stay home from work to take care of me.

It's migraine season once again. But according to Jason, it's also apple pie season. So were he to stay home, he'd have to play his video games on mute and try to content himself with the carrot cake I made 2 days ago, which he'd nearly demolished already. And I would lie in bed, sensitive to light and noise, hoping for either death or sleep, and not caring much which one came as long as it came soon. So I opted to die (or sleep) alone.

But neither came quickly. I spent the morning retching in the bathroom so forcefully that I banged my elbow on the tub and bled and yet I was too weak to make the trek back to the relative comforts of bed once I was fairly sure that the bathroom had nothing left to offer me.

When I did make it back to bed an even greater tragedy befell me. I got "the sweats." My hands and feet remained ice cold, but the rest of me was roasting. For a while, it smelled like porkchops. That's how hot I was. I had to get up to change my sopping sheets, and while I was up, I got dizzy and had to "rush" back to the bathroom for another riveting game of dry heaves (and by rush, I mean limp along agonizingly slowly, using the wall as a crutch and cursing the floppy toe portion of my socks for threatening to trip me up). Back in bed the sweats had not deserted me yet, but this time I was prepared to lie in the pool of my own bodily fluids if it meant not getting up again. Finally (but not finally enough, if you know what I mean) I sank into merciful sleep.....

....only to be woken up 2 hours later by Jason, who came to announce to me that he was home, as if his 10 minutes of crashing around in the fridge hadn't already announced his arrival.

"What did you do today?" he asked me, with a straight face that I would have punched if only I hadn't still been so tired.

"I was sick!" I reminded him, angry that I had to.

"Did you paint?" he asked, clearly not understanding that I had been on the brink of death. The brink, I say!

"No, I didn't paint you damned buffoon!"

"Well there's paint all over the walls."

In fact, there was no paint on the walls. It was blood.

Apparently when I had used the wall as support to get myself back to the bedroom, my bloody elbow left behind a glowing red trail.

So I got out a pail and filled it with soapy hot water and washed away the smears. When I was nearly done, Jason asked "Oh, did you want me to help you with that?"

It's a good thing I don't own a rifle.

I plunked back down on the bed and beckoned Jason to take a look at my back.

"My hole's been sore" I tell him, unable to keep the whine out of my voice. "Tell me what it looks like."

FYI: No, not that hole, you perv. If you're not well-versed in the Jay and Jay saga, and for your sake I hope you aren't, some time ago I had surgery on my back that consisted of digging a large-ish hole right down to my coccyx. Over time, this hole has filled in not with flesh but with scar tissue, which can be a bitch. On good days, it feels soft like a blister, but on bad days it either feels like I have rocks under my skin, or else bobby pins. Both the rocks and the bobby pins are sharp enough to poke holes through my skin and it effin hurts.

"It looks....gross" he says, which is always a joy. "And you smell salty."

Well, I had been marinating in my own sweat for hours, hadn't I? At that rate, salty was probably the best I could hope for.

I was feeling a bit strengthened after a tall glass of water, and my migraine had subsided into a dull thud in the southeast corner of my brain, so I bravely readied myself for a shower.

I believed that hot suds and a fresh pair of pjs would work like magic on my disposition (and Jason, no doubt silently dubbing me Miss CrankyPants hoped so too) so I stripped in the bathroom and reached for my best friend, the hot water tap.

Just then, a plague on the house of Jamie descended...or more accurately, it descended on my back. Pain ripped through my lower torso, sucking the breath from me. I had not even the breath to complain. I just crumpled onto the floor, trying to suck in air and unkink my back at the same time. Jason found me there, rolling gently from side to side, bathed in new sweat and not at all happy.

As I writhed on the floor, I saw Jason's concerned face slowly transforming....into mirth. From my naked and vulnerable position on the floor, I saw very little that was funny, and was miffed that he did. But then he helped me to see:

"You look just like a turtle who's on his back and can't right himself. It's friggin hilarious."

And just then, I knew that he was right. It was funny. And so I laughed, relieved. Maybe I wasn't having such a bad day after all.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Red Hot, better make that, DILF action

You may have noticed that Jason and I drive each other crazy. Anyone eavesdropping on us might come to the conclusion that we detest each other. But if you take everything we say literally, sure it sounds bad, but I think it's more a reflection on your lack of imagination than our lack of love. I mean, isn't it conceivable that "fuck face" can be a term of endearment? Perhaps not many people would agree with that, or even understand it, but here's the deal: I am not a conventionally affectionate person. I hate cuddles. I tolerate hugs once a fortnight. I prefer to skip the kissing and "get to the good part". And I don't often say "I love you." I rarely say it. Sometimes I say "That'll do, pig" and in my mind, that's just as good. Fortunately, Jason has evolved during our years of marriage, to the point where he can now interpret Jamiespeak.

Jason says: Did you miss me today?
Jamie says: Nope.
Jason says: I missed you too.

Jamie says: Bring me water!
Jason brings water.
Jamie says: What, no ice?
Jason says: You're welcome.

See? We live in peace, honest! Disregard Jason's bruised kidneys. He totally deserved that. We often poke each other and wrestle around on the ground. We call it 'forplay.' We also enjoy seeing who can come up with the best insults. For a while, I reigned with the old "Haha, look at your receding hairline trick!" Classic stuff. But soon he barely cried at all when I said that, which means it was time to switch tacks.

Jamie says: Know who I have a crush on?
Jason says: No, dear, who?
Jamie says: Your dad.
Jason says: What?!?!
Jamie says: Your dad is totally hot. He's a dilf for sure.

You are probably familiar with the American Pie concept of the milf - Mom I'd Like to Fool around with (hah - as if I wouldn't say Fuck. I like to self-censure for no apparent reason). Apparently, I really struck a nerve when I called Jason's dad a dilf. Jason didn't like it, not one bit. In fact, I could see the vein in his receding hairline pulsing violently when I said it. I made sure to point that out to him.

And the greatest part is, I'm not even lying. Jason's dad is hot. I mean, he's no Jason, but he's not bad for a Jason-plus-23 years. Which is a relief. But not to Jason, who thinks this is the worst news since learning that bacon is not a food group.

Anyway, I'm sure I can't be the only one. Surely there must be cases of Moms (and dads) I'd Like to Fondle all over the world. I mean, even Jason has admitted that he finds my grandmother to be sexually attractive. Surely the hot granny phenomenon is at least as taboo as the milf-dilf thing. Granted, you haven't met my grandmother, so it's hard to judge. Just trust me on this one, mmkay?

But in the end, I wouldn't like to do any f-words with Jason's dad. Some of them I don't even want to do with Jason. I just like to keep him on his toes. Plus, if a woman like me went around professing my love for him, his ego would overinflate and his head would explode, and frankly, a headless husband has little use to me. There are things he does with his head that I quite enjoy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I fell apart in a Buick Century.

We went for gouda and grapes, parked perfectly between two faded yellow lines, and there I cracked open my case of insecurities, exposing them to the Mazda to my right, to the chocolate bar wrappers and coffee cups and old receipts swirling in the wind around us, and to my husband, still strapped into the driver's seat, still fondling the emergency parking brake.

I cried, quite accidentally, big fat tears in a grocery store parking lot. I stared ahead at the bulk store, where mounds of tumeric and mounds of jelly beans waited to be taken home in nondescript containers, and I saw none of it, not even my fellow shoppers pushing heavy carts who must have wondered what terrible tragedy unfolded in our parked car.

There was no tragedy. I simply cried for the reality that had taken to following me everywhere, even out for fruit. It talked to me in time: 3 years, it whispered. 3 years since you took your degree, and what have you done?

I've done nothing. I have nothing to show for these 3 years. I put aside that career, the practical life, the sure thing, the safety net, and I did this instead: I wrote. At first I wrote for pennies. I took what work there was, and I wrote words I did not believe, but gratefully. Then I wrote for dollars, writing bigger lies and feeling worse for it. And now I write for nothing, for no audience and for no pay. I write because I don't know how not to. I write because there's a story in me that wants out. I write because I believe it will make me happy, if it doesn't kill me first.

I don't want to work for pay; I want to be paid for my work. I have lofty dreams and no reason to expect that they will ever come true. Every year, thousands of us pursue an unattainable goal, overestimating our talent or appeal. Every year, thousands go hungry waiting for the big break that never comes. In the history of books, maybe 3 authors have made a living writing them. The rest of us will try, and fail.

I will spend the next 18 months putting my soul to paper, hoping it will come back to me as readers liberate it one word at a time, but more likely trapping it forever on the hard drive of my computer. Several years after that will be spent querying indifferent publishers, none of whom are ever thrilled to take a chance on an unproven name. Maybe hundreds of appeals will be made, and my heart will break one rejection letter at a time. Logic tells us that no book of mine will ever see the light of day.

I cried while still buckled into a stationary vehicle, not for the futility of my words, or the wasted years, or the frustration. I cried because this is the future I have chosen for myself. This is my life. And even knowing that failure is the only reasonable outcome, still I write, because I must.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Jamie and Jason Show

3 day weekends, they fucking kill me every time.

72 hours of uninterrupted Jason: Jamie, I'm cold. It's cold. Can't we close the windows? Where are my donkey slippers? Can we have pancakes for breakfast? With chocolate chips? What are we doing after breakfast? Will it be far? How far? How long will that take? Will we stop for snacks? Can't I take out the garbage later? Please? I promise I won't forget! Of course I remembered to lock the door. What do you take me for, some kind of idiot? Don't answer that. Ohhh, that door. Well, sorry. We can't all be perfect you know. Is it lunch yet? I'm hungry for buffet. Aren't you hungry for buffet? We do not have buffet too often. So what if I had to loosen my belt another 2 notches, I thought you said I look cute with a little chub? I am not being annoying. I'm just asking if we should stop and check if this store has a sale on Simpsons DVDs. It's okay if you say no, but please don't say no because I really really want them and I've been a good boy all week and I promise if you buy them for me I'll sit quietly at home and watch them without laughing too loud or invading your space for 2 whole hours. Deal? Great! Now what's for supper? I was thinking quesadillas would be good....

I mean, I love him.

I just love him more in small doses.

Things we actually did:

1. Ate supper on the floor. This makes sense because the table is covered with my canvases, the chairs are covered in tarps, and the couch is in a no-food zone, it being white and brand new, and totally impractical.

2. Found a great place for hiking but abandoned it because it didn't seem "mucky" or "slooshy" enough. I just got new red rubber boots and frankly, I was looking for some mud. I found it.

3. Listened to our upstairs neighbours sing kareoke until 3 in the morning. Indian kareoke. And then listened to them dance to it. A frame fell off the wall. Jason was just inspired enough to do his white-boy interpretation of Indian dancing. I found it all incredibly hilarious, of course.

4. Applied 5 coats of Cranberry Zing, plus one of bubble-gum pink primer. It still doesn't look right, but we're calling it "done" because we're "exhausted" and we no longer "give a shit."

5. Bought a new bookcase, which barely fit in the car. Heaved it into the house, assembled it, using all screws, and patted ourselves on the back. Next morning, realized that we'd hit a light in the car getting said bookcase out of car, and the battery had struggled all night long to keep this damn map light on, resulting in dead battery. Jason is too embarrassed to ask the neighbour for a jump again, since he'd already killed the battery earlier this winter in a similarly stupid move. Walked all the way to Canadian Tire in the cold. Complained about the cold a lot. Bought battery thingy for recharging batteries. Recharging thingy didn't work. Had to ask neighbours for jump anyway. Still unable to really laugh about it, and out $120.

6. Jason received 2 punches to the kidney (well, one in each) as punishment for above. Regarding the punches, he gasped "That hurt a surprising amount."

7. Won exactly no new cars and no flat screen TVs rolling up various rims.

8. Jason coined a new nickname for Jamie - " lil sammich". Jamie already hates it immensely.

9. Visited a bookstore aptly named Books! Books! Books! Bought 4 books in spite of name.

10. Went for drinks at a new bar that just opened within walking distance of our home. Declared it lame; visited it twice more in the next 30 hours.

11. Used stain remover on living room carpet at least 4 times that we can remember. See #1.

12. Had it "fall out" during the most climactic point of coitus.

13. Drove around the city wildly at 3 am, in search of a plunger. Not because of any toilet emergencies. I mean, if truth be told, I don't even poop. We just thought it might be fun to drive panic-stricken to various 24-hour locations, asking complete strangers questions that revealed flaws in our bowel-moving systems.

14. Bought 'Yoga for Couples' because Jason insisted he'd be willing to try it with me. Laughed about buying matching yoga outfits until Jason didn't think it was funny anymore. Never succeeded in prodding Jason into actually turning it on.

15. Lost my favourite button, the one that said JAMIES RULE! somewhere on Jane Street. Jane is a long street. Buttons are hard to come by these days, unless you count the ones with Hello Kitty on them, which I do not. I like the golden button days of yore, when people really strove to make buttons with witty, clever expressions (of 3 words or less). They were changing the world one button at a time. Jason tried to console me with a World's Cutest Leperchaun button. It didn't really work.

16. Started making plans we know we'll never follow for his next day off - now just 2 days away and looming large. One of these days we're going to get awfully tired of each other. Mark my words.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Can't Talk Now.

The couch is here! And only 4 hours after the 6 hour "window" of delivery time. Excellent!

At the furniture store, we'd meant to simply point to our sofa of choice and then write out directions to our home. But in the end, we were seized with doubt. We could either buy the couch we loved, or get a perfectly great other couch for much less money. We sat on both, imagining what we'd do with the extra money. I guess we figured we'd just blow it anyway, because we left with a scorching receipt for the expensive one.

Then we drove to other stores so I could buy non-matching (I hate matching!) but complimentary chairs. And then it didn't stop there. It never does, does it?

As I directed Jason around the room, having him push the immense sofa this way and that, straighten the chairs and then slant them again, try the coffee table horizontally, vertically, perpendicularly...and then finally remove it altogether, I came to the conclusion that this great expanse of white was slowly but surely killing me.

I left my exasperated husband to arrange a couch so big that it didn't really fit in our living room and so expensive that he wanted to cry now that I'd rejected it for its whiteness. When I returned, I saw no less than 3 empty Heinies by his dozing feet. My bicep hurt from the walk; I'd come home with a can of paint called Cranberry Zing.

So you'll have to excuse me from the blogging. I'm busy vomiting colour back into my living room, probably closing it up and making it look smaller than it is...but I'll like it, and as Jason knows, that's all that matters.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Dear Jason,

I'm sorry I woke you up at 6:30 this morning because "the wind is too howly". I'm not saying that I've learned my lesson, just that I'm sorry.

I fell asleep (finally) around 7, just moments before your alarm went off, as luck would have it. I think you mumbled something at me, and I may have punched you in the nose. I didn't meant to do that, but you know I'm not a morning person, and frankly, that's just a risk you keep on taking. Your fault, really.

I think I dreamed about beautiful blonde women knawing through chicken necks. It was as bloody as you'd think. But even with such alluring dreams to keep me in bed, I somehow dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 10:48am (if your math is sharp, you'll notice I did not get my full 11 hours of beauty rest, so if I look like a troll today, you have no one to blame but yourself). I hopped in the shower because I know how you like me to be mid-suds when you get home...and I stayed in there until my skin was pruny, but where were you? Not home, that's where!

I got dressed, and you know how I feel about putting clothes on. Even a bra, for goodness' sake! And I waited an hour for you before I noticed that the little red light was blinking on the phone, and sure enough, your wheedling voice Jamie, I'm sorry, but I'm stuck at work until 5.

Until 5?!?!? What kind of person works until 5? Inhuman!

I have been waiting over a month to get this stupid couch. My hips ache from sitting on the lop-sided old one. We both know the delivery cut-off time is 3. Three, goddamn you!

So when you come home tonight, be prepared to find me seething and most likely sucked in between the sofa cushions. And once you haul my ass outta there, watch out! Mama's in a bad mood.


p.s. I think I might have possibly splintered one of those wooden beads from the bracelets you bought me last week. But it doesn't mean I wasn't appreciative, I guess you could say I just had my hand where my hand had no business being.

p.p.s. But that doesn't mean I'm not mad! Cause I'm soooooooooo mad. Oh Jamie, you said, I'll be home by 11 no problem. I am so confident that I won't even call work to make prior arrangements. I'll just promise you this without making sure. And don't think that phone call I just got won you any bonus points. Oh Jamie, you said, I'll take the whole day off tomorrow to make it up to you. Just remember what I responded: Punch! Punch! Punch punch punch!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Leave A Comment Monday

In honour of my comment-addicted friend John, this Monday I am introducing a brand new fake-holiday henceforth to be called Leave A Comment Monday. Sounds catchy, no?

I've been reading Walt Whitman on the toilet lately. Sorry, Walt. I don't mean any disrespect, I just like the way poetry sounds when you read it out loud in the bathroom. It's all reverberaty and stuff. Shut up. That is too a word.

Potential Comment #1: Of what does your bathroom reading consist?

I have lately been overdosing on good Italian bread. I know bread has lately gone out of style due to carb-counting psychotics, but I love the stuff. Greatest stuff since sliced bread. Jason is always a little awed and a little afraid when I get my hands on any kind of dinner roll or crustini. Dinner rolls (or buns, as we called them) were a rare commodity during my childhood, and butter was even scarcer. We had no-name loaves and no-name margarine. When we went to dinner at my grandmother's, she'd have baked ham and meatballs, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, salad....but my sisters and I would fill up on bread and butter. REAL bread and REAL butter. Now I have the opportunity to buy and eat as much of the stuff as I want...which is exactly why I don't, or not often. My will power with bread is zilch. I fear that I could sit down and tear chunks off one after the other, and not stop until I hit the bottom of the bag. It's a sickness, I'm sure. A terrible but delicious sickness.

Potential Comment #2: Of what food(s) are you secretly over-fond?

The lovely Ms. Mac has further proved her need for glasses by suggesting I bear a passing resemblance to Brokeback's Michelle Williams. Of course, now that I have shaved my head, I probably more closely resemble her baby daddy, Heath Ledger, also of gay cowboy fame.

Years ago, a colleague told Jason he looked like Joaquin Phoenix which is a load of baloney. I told Jason that Joaquin had nothing on him, but it wasn't until a few years later, when Joaquin started to become famous that Jason said to me "That's Joaquin Phoenix? I thought he was some chubby hispanic dude!"

Potential comment #3: To which celebrity, erroneously or not, are you most often compared?

I was wondering the other day....does anyone ever do the Glamour Shots thing and not regret it? Do we really believe that having a picture of ourselves with teased hair and a feather boa around our necks will add glamour to our measly lives? I cannot believe that someone got rich on this beastly idea, and I have never seen a Glamour Shot that I didn't laugh at...hard.

Potential comment #4: Fess up - ever had a glamour shot taken? Lived to regret it, or still frame it proudly? Brave enough to post a link?

I was thinking the other day that I had better write my own obituary, because if Jason survives me, I am going to go down in history as the lady who made good cheesecake, warmed hands expertly on my little lovehandles, and was overly vigilant about the 'no-crumbies-in-bed' rule.

Potential comment #5: Write your own obit in 10 words or less.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Edge of Seventeen

I was in the last months of that glorious age called 17 when I landed my first and last job as a waitress. It wasn't so much a restaurant as a bar, and not so much a bar as a seedy little hole in the wall of a trailer park.

You can probably guess where I'm going with this.

The clientele was what you'd expect - lots of cheap bastards, oily drunks, and old folk. The proprietress was a crazy old woman never seen without a snifter of brandy in her hand. She sped around her trailer park in a pimped-out golf cart, and it was whispered about her that she'd run over her share of small dogs, and once, a not-so-small child. The nicest thing I can say about her was that she was the very definition of an Old Bat, with never a single nice word to say about anyone, though she flattered herself constantly, or at least she did in her more lucid moments.

The bar was open only seasonally, this being Canada, during the summer months when people could actually live in trailers without freezing to death. Sarah, a college student, supervised the bar during her summer break. She was an alumna of my high school, just old enough so that we'd never crossed paths there. The bar had one of the highest turnover rates possible: the Old Bat reduced employees to tears on a daily basis. Each day's schedule was cushioned in case of firing or quitting, both of which happened constantly. Those of who stayed, stayed for Sarah.

The work was awful. Old men would leer. Some would attempt to touch, and then as more beers were consumed, grope. Many of them considered themselves masters of sexual innuendo, each believing that he was the only one to dazzle me with such "wit". I did this work for $5.35 an hour; waitresses receive less than minimum wage because their income is supposedly supplemented by tips. The tips I received at the trailer park were often nickels and dimes, and more often than that, nothing at all. Trailer park drunks are not the most generous of souls, as it turns out.

Wednesday night was Wing Nite, wings at 10 cents apiece. The bar would be filled to the gills and chaotic as hell on Wednesdays, and all the very best that a trailer park had to offer would come worming out of the woodwork on those days. Customers would order 50 wings, and an empty glass. We would find people shamelessly filling their glasses at the bathroom sink.

Friday was Fajita Nite, and fajitas being much more expensive, the night was much less successful. As we carried the sizzling platters from the kitchen to the dining room, we were made to yell "Hot Fajitas!" for reasons unknown to the staff. To this day, my forearms still bear tiny pin-prick scars from the splattering of hot grease.

The wait staff was all-female. We wore little blue shorts and a golf shirt that we were forced to pay $45 for out our own pockets. After our first shifts, every one of us had permanent grease stains in the boob area of our shirts, providing convenient targets for the stellar and upstanding clients. The bar was unairconditioned. The kitchen was so airless that they often cooked with the door wide open, allowing all kinds of interesting insects to come right on in and make themselves at home. The Old Bat was so stingy that we waitresses had to take turns scrubbing toilets and prepping salads. This is illegal of course, since we were paid below minimum wage, but illegal was not a word in this woman's vocabulary. She thought Canada had too many "crazy" labour laws to begin with. "Back home..." she'd say, and we'd tune her out. This is how I first became acquainted with urine cakes.

Each waitress had a paper cup in which we collected our tips. We plunked in our nickels and dimes, sometimes even pennies, and at the end of the night, someone would cash them in for us, and we'd go home three whole dollars in our pockets, on a good night. The first time I actually made enough to go home with paper money in my pocket was the night my mom and her friend came for dinner, generously leaving a tip on my table, which embarrassed me and delighted me at the same time.

It sounds like the job from hell, and it was, but I did not have a bad summer. I was 17, and the world is made for 17 year old girls. I remember going to Edgefest or the Warped Tour, one of those big outdoor concerts, and getting lost in the moshpits and feeling the hands of strangers move me along as I crowd surfed to Finger Eleven for the first time. I remember being at work the next day, the golf shirt slicing into my sunburned back, the blisters oozing, but eager to finish my shift and start over again.

Somebody tried to set my mother up that summer, with a man 10 years her junior. He and a friend showed up at a bonfire we were having, and while they didn't hit it off with my mom, they did with me. Having friends a decade older meant that I didn't even need a fake ID to get into trouble. Trouble was ready-made. They had cars and boats, and the makings of all the summer fun a girl could want. The first time they came to see me at the bar, I had gone home early. The next day, a fellow waitress told me that my father and a friend had been looking for me. No, that's not my dad.

But they did keep me company on a lot of quiet shifts. They would sit at the bar, drinking beers and leaving me disproportionately large tips. Sometimes Sarah would suggest staff "constitutionals" after work, which meant crossing the border into Quebec and drinking lots of cheap beer. We would go to Riviere Beaudette, or else to Ste Eustache, which she pronounced La Moustache. I was underage no matter where we went, but surrounded by older friends, it never seemed to matter. I didn't lose touch with my school friends that summer, but it did mark the beginning of a distancing that seems inevitable at that age. When we all left for university, we all went down our separate paths. Nothing gold can stay.

That summer opened up a lot of possibility. I did things that I was not supposed to experience for a number of years yet. I was also propositioned by more dirty old men than I could shake a stick at, and believe me, I needed more than a stick to shake some of them off. In fact, on several occasions we had to call in the OPP when fights would break out, supposedly over the affections of an indifferent waitress, although when you're a lonely old drunk, you only need a superficial reason at best to swing your fists.

One hot July evening, I stayed in the family pool until just minutes before my shift. My mother drove me to work in the van, and I, still dripping and smelling slightly of chlorine, changed into my uniform in the backseat, and smudged on some eyeliner in a bumpy, moving vehicle. I knew it would be a long night at the bar, sweaty and gross in the stale air, and particularly so since that night was Elvis Nite. Oh yes, Elvis Nite.

Now, I wouldn't say that this particular impersonator looked much like Elvis. He was 50 if he was a day, short and squat, but he did have the rhinestone jumpsuit, and I guess that's what matters. The bar was packed. Standing room only, in fact. The Old Bat was in fine form, stumbling around in her gypsy dress, finally spilling brandy all over our interac machine, short-circuiting the thing on our busiest night of the summer. The bartender quit on the spot. Sarah sent me in as a replacement.

Yes, it was illegal to have an underage person preparing or even serving alcoholic drinks, but like I said, this wasn't exactly a lawful establishment. The crowd was hot and thirsty, and Sarah had no choice. That was the first time I ever shook up a martini. I made caesars and white russians (ew!), singapore slings, and many drinks that I essentially had to improvise, not having the faintest clue as to what went in them. But Elvis was there, so my paltry skills were hardly noticed. Elvis threw scarves at screaming blue-haired ladies. He sweated so much I feared he might have a heart attack. I sliced so many limes that night that the sight of them made me sick for several months afterward, but it was the sight of Sarah grinding with Elvis that got me through the night.

When last call was announced, we realized suddenly that we had actually survived, and the staff treated themselves to many celebratory drinks. We danced ourselves silly, long into the night, and at one point, sitting sloppily in my lap, Sarah said to me "You can never forget this night. This is it. 17. You won't ever be 17 again."

And she was right. I turned 18, went back to school for my last year there, and felt surely that I had changed. Sarah went back to college, got drunk one night, and fell into a deep sleep on the second floor of a loft. Sometime during the night, she fell to her death.

In the front yard of my high school, a tree is planted in her honour. A nice gesture I guess, but a tree seems like not enough to really represent a bubbly, happy light that burned out much too early. I remember being at the tree-planting ceremony. I remember it being October already, the air cooling around us, summer gone as surely as Sarah was. I don't remember the somber words that must have been spoken, but I remember feeling that it was my own mortality being planted there in the grass.

Sarah was right. You can never be 17 again.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Unhand Me.

He presses our hands together often, though the results are always the same. His hands are bigger than mine. This we know. He laughs about it every time.


I remember when I was small, my mother came home with a stack of papers in her brief case. All of her fellow educators had photocopied their hands, palm-down, and they had spent the week trying to guess each one's identity. My mother laid each black and white copy on the dining room table, making a tableau more beautiful than she could know; every hand similar and not similar at the same time, every hand the same basic shape and the same finger count, yet every hand made distinct by the whorls and lines that demark us as unique.

Each hand says this is me. With these hands, I live my life.

My young eyes quickly identified my mother's hand amid 20 or 30 others. There was no doubt: those were the hands that had fed me, bathed me, held me. I remembered those hands from when she coloured beside me at the kitchen table. Oh how I envied the beautiful way she stayed inside the lines, choosing the most sumptuous colours, richly shading in each of her drawings. I remember those hands from when she showed me how to bait your own hook, even while the worm still squirmed about. Those hands had cracked eggs for my pancakes, braided my hair until they were arthritic, warmed mine when they were cold. Those were my mother's hands.

I was right. First try. No doubt.

Each of my three sisters was just as successful.

My father, however, was not. He declared that the game was stupid, made 6 attempts and failed 6 times before stomping away in frustration. For 15 years those hands had worn the rings he'd given her, but he did not know them.


I am always astounded that moments after a tiny red blob of a human being comes hurtling out of a too-small canal, its little bald head still pointy from the adventure, the cooing adults around the bed are immediately able to pronounce that He looks just like his Daddy, or, He's got my eyes, or, She takes after her mother, thank god.

I have never seen it. I don't see it in other people, and I have never seen it in myself. Do I look like my parents? No one has ever told me that I do. In fact, I could never see that any of my sisters were actually related to our parents, or to each other. But as my youngest sister grew into a woman, I was taken aback at how often I felt I was looking at picture of my mother when she was first married. I began to search my mirror more earnestly for signs that I shared genes with the people who'd made me. I found none.

Well, that's not entirely true. I found one, no, two.

My thumbs.

My thumbs are my father's thumbs.

They're short, they're squat, they look deformed. They look less out of place on his hands, his hands being man hands. On my hands, they look quite absurd. (Go ahead, I know you're dying to scroll up to that picture again, so you can point and laugh at the freak on display.)

I could wish that my hands had taken after my mothers', the way she rubbed my back as I sat sick and hunched over the toilet, the way they turned jump ropes so expertly and packed lunches so lovingly. But what I have inherited instead are my father's ugly thumbs. Any time I sit and think of all the things my father has given me over the years, I come up with this:

1. An unsightly red tablecloth that he won at a company Christmas party and didn't want.

2. His thumbs.

The tablecloth is long gone; for a time, it lined the crate where my dog took her dumps.
Tablecloths are easy to dispose of, but genetics are a bitch. You can't return them, you can't regift them. They're gifts that keep on giving (at least until I have an unfortunate table saw accident). They are a souvenir from my father, and every time I play Grand Turismo and fail to make a turn, or play thumb wars and lose my lunch money, I curse him for this awful gift.


Palm to palm, our hands say I love you even when our lips do not. We hold hands while we sleep, together even in our dreams.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

For Us, There Is Only The Trying.

I remember walking up the crumbling steps to my grandparents' home, into the sloping porch where the horrendous gold-and-green vinyl-covered glider always sat, and finally into the familiar kitchen that always smelled of Grandma's cookies.

My grandfather was always seated near the door, at the head of the kitchen table. He'd take the cigarette out of his mouth with his tobacco-stained fingers, look up from his evening paper and say to me "Did your Daddy do your hair?"

I would giggle as I removed my shoes and tossed them into the corner. Sometimes I would be brave enough to shout "No!" in his general direction as I ran to the relative comfort and safety of the living room, where my sisters and I would play quietly on the floor and not get in the way until Grandma said it was time to open up the tin canisters and divvy up the cookies.

My grandfather believed that children should be seen and not heard...and seen very little, for that matter. He was a farmer transplanted from the old country. He believed himself to be the patriarch in a disappointing dynasty that had only produced one male grandchild to carry on the name. No matter how full his house would be, he only left his reigning seat in the kitchen to watch a hockey game with his oldest son. He spoke little. He rarely showed interest in anything but his crops or anyone other than the son who had inherited the farm, piece by piece. He did not show emotion or affection. I have no memory of ever touching or hugging my grandfather, or even of being in close proximity of him, save for his usual greeting - Did your daddy do your hair? This was partly my own fault - I was deathly afraid of the man, and I thought, with good reason. He was an imposing, impenetrable figure on his best day.

The only contact I ever had with my grandfather was indirect: usually too shy to respond to his greeting in any way, my sisters and I would nervously break for the living room, filled with dusty rose furniture and an old television set that lacked cable, and that we would hesitate to turn on anyway. My grandparents had 11 grandchildren, and only 2 toys to speak of - an ancient edition of the boardgame Payday, missing most of its original pieces, and a plastic horse that was too big for our Barbies to ride successfully. The bulk of our entertainment on these Sunday visits would therefore be left to the ritualistic raiding of the couch cushions. My grandfather, traditional to the core, unfailingly took a nap on the couch while my grandmother got his dinner ready. The coins from his trousers would roll from his pockets and get lost in the couch, hidden treasure for my sisters and I to unearth during our visits.

My sisters and I received no allowance, and the family had little money to spare. These dimes and nickels were precious to us; a rare quarter was something to be marveled at and discussed with passionate whispers. These coins that had fallen from a farmer's green overalls were as close to my grandfather as I would ever get.

I was 11 years old when he died suddenly, though not suddenly enough in the end. He had contracted a Strep A bacteria that would become known as flesh-eating disease. My proud grandfather was felled, eaten alive. He was betrayed by his own body, the body that had reaped, reared, planted and produced. His grown children saw his anguish and watched his deterioration while his grandchildren were denied entrance to the intensive care unit and denied the opportunity for goodbye.

Would I have said goodbye? I know the answer. The answer is no. I lacked the words. He was a stranger. There was no precedent in our relationship for any kind of intimacy at all. I doubt that it would have made a difference.

As my classmates cut heart shapes out of red construction paper, and decorated doilies with glitter, my family sat in the second hard-backed pew of a church that seemed to be as imposing as my grandfather had been. Strangers stood and talked of a man who, to me, was completely disconnected from the man I had known. A bagpipe blew us out of the church, into the cold air, and into an irrevocably changed life for my family, though we hardly knew it then. On the way back to the old farm house of sloping floor and outdated furniture, my mother suggested that it would be kind to give my grandmother a hug.

When I stepped into the kitchen and struggled out of my black patent leather Sunday shoes, my hair was indeed fancified, but no one asked who'd done it. My grandmother sat stoically in the seat where she'd always sat, whether writing on flowery stationary, trimming green beans, or pasting obituaries of people she'd known into a yellowed scrapbook. She sat there still, as if nothing had changed, but my grandfather's chair sat empty. Awfully empty. Conspicuously empty in a house crowded with relatives and not enough seating. It remained empty the whole day.

I did not hug my grandmother that day. I remember thinking about it, I remember trying to muster the courage, and I remember being defeated by bashfulness and my inability to remember having hugged her before. And I know that we did, when I was small. But also that we hadn't in any of my memories. I couldn't do it. I didn't know how to go up to this woman who must have been mourning but never showed it. I didn't know how to hug my own grandmother.

Years later, I would wonder if this non-hug had changed the course of our lives. If, perhaps, it had made it easier for her to reject me in deference to her son, my father, who no longer had a place in my life. If the non-hug had facilitated her descent into non-grandmotherhood.

After my grandfather's funeral, I began to include him in my nightly prayers. Soon, I was engaging him in full-blown conversations. During my prayers, I kept him abreast of family goings-on, told him all the trivial details of the life of an 11 year old catholic schoolgirl. I talked to him in death the way I never did in life. A year later, I felt extremely close to a man I had never really known on earth.

Somewhere along the way, I lost faith in religion. My prayers dropped off, and with them, the closeness I shared with my dead grandfather. But I had made my peace, and I had said goodbye.

When my grandmother died, I didn't belong to the family, and I was acutely aware of not belonging at the funeral. I didn't go. I chose not to go. While Jason and I toasted quietly to our first wedding anniversary, the rest of my family sat on the same hard-backed second pew.

This time, I ached for the easy rapprochement that prayer had offered, but I could never get it back, not in the innocent way of an 11 year old girl who simply believed. Goodbye has been a longer journey this time around. I'm still trying. We're all trying: the living, the dead, the yet unborn. We're trying, and we're getting closer, but we're not there yet.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Happiness is Not A Fish That You Can Catch

One of the last things my mother said to me was You're not as happy as you pretend to be.

It really made me think.

I remember when I was 3 years old, my mother had a weekly ritual called Craft Night. Half a dozen ladies (I call them ladies, though I realize in this moment that my mother would have been younger than I am at the time) would congregate at someone's house to do some needlework and gossip. Today this is called a stitch-n-bitch, but in the more prurient days of the early 80s, Craft Night it was. Every so often it would be my mother's turn to host. I remember she would buy fancy little cheeses, and serve chips and dip in a ceramic sombrero she had glazed herself.

Before the ladies started ringing the bell, I would be tucked into bed, supposedly fast asleep though I was not. In the summer months, nothing would excite me more than the sound of a chip truck's bell and our screen door slamming as someone chased down the street with money in hand. On those nights I would be lured down the stairs in my Rainbow Brite nightgown, where I sat in my tiny rocking chair and did cross-stitch (the plastic "needle" was the size of a crayon; the holes into which I would stitch my craft were big enough to fit my wrists).

I suppose it was inevitable that such a group of women could not stay friendly forever. One particular Craft Night, while one of the ladies was moaning about her impending divorce, she pointed the needle at my mother and wondered aloud why it was that she never "aired her dirty laundry."

Words were exchanged; my mother never talked to them again. The Craft Ladies broke up, allegiances were made and then broken, the rift never repaired.

And here we were 20 years later, and my mother was basically accusing me of the very same thing. I do not air my dirty laundry.

Well, at least not to my mother. My mother already tells me that I am "filled with hatred and negativity" which, perhaps I just watch too much Gilmore Girls, is not a very nice thing to say to your daughter. Especially your daughter who dances in her kitchen like it's a national sport, declares it a good day when seedless green grapes are on sale, and finds joy in the liner notes of her CD collection.

Filled with hatred and negativity? Does my mother even know me at all?

But I do know my mother. And I know that she is constantly looking for cracks in the foundation. Maybe because her foundation was smashed to smithereens, she has to find evidence of fissures in others' as well. So I admit that I was guarded with her. I didn't send her monthly bulletins of every fight I'd had with Jason. I didn't know they were necessary.

I don't think I pretend to have the perfect marriage. I don't even believe they exist.

Do Jason and I fight?



When my mother and father would fight, my father would be loud and violent, and my mother would shut down. Even when angry with her children, she would always use the silent treatment. I remember once when my father stormed out of the house, my mother locked herself in the bedroom. Time went by. I knocked and she didn't answer. I was maybe 7 at the time. The baby was crying. I worried about dinner - I wasn't even allowed to use the stove. I don't know if she was in there several hours or 20 minutes, but it felt like eternity. I felt abandoned. And when she did finally come out, I felt angry.

I have resolved to live my life at a louder decibel than she did. When I'm upset, people know it. I'm not afraid of my emotions. They get expressed, and sometimes quite loudly. In fact, if my mother really wanted to keep tabs on my fight record, all she'd have to do is keep her windows open. Jason gets yelled at, and is learning to yell back. And it feels good. It feels good to have everything out in the open. Generally, our fights get resolved in 5 minutes; 10 for the really tough issues. This is probably why people think we're so goddamned happy - we don't waste time being unhappy. Life is too short. Sure, we could grumble for 4 days, then hold grudges for another 10. But that's not the way I choose to live.

My mother disapproves, of course. Any time I voice my opinion I am "filled with hatred and negativity." It's exhausting to live in a fishbowl, knowing that your family is watching, and hoping that you'll fall.

Will I fall?

I don't know. But if happiness is a fish, I can tell you this:

Jason and I are in the stream, jeans rolled up to our knees, net stretched between us, and we're trying like hell to catch him.