Rock Solid

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Spousal Unit must have been a stonemason in another life. Or perhaps a bricklayer. Maybe he lived in a flood-prone area and had to put things above the water level. Or perhaps he is simply loyal to his West Virginia roots and despite having blue blood and a nice set of silver, must put it up on blocks.

By it, I mean everything. Slate is his friend. We inherited a buttload of slate from our previous home renovation and now slate is the filler of choice. My awesome handcrafted swing sits on four slabs of slate. The picnic tables? Slate. A bench near the driveway. Slate. The grill and smoker? Slate. Because I like that European cottage garden look, our patio is gravel. Because Spousal Unit has SIOS (stick it on slate syndrome), every piece of outdoor furniture sits crookedly on its own slabs of slate. That’s not exactly European cottage garden look, but I’m not sure what look it is.

Dr. Seuss? Tectonic shift?

It’s not as if the slate were placed within a crevice designed specifically for that piece of slate. It lies exposed upon the ground like a sacrificed virgin. He created a walkway from the driveway to the back entrance from fifty or so rather large slabs of slate. They tumble upon the earth like bones in an elephant sanctuary. Some have succumbed to gravity and erosion and have slid down the yard a little bit. Others have dug into their spot, like militia at a federal wildlife building. Ain’t nobody gonna move them nowhere. A less than sober person would meet his or her maker trying to walk this path.

It’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m glad that the waterproof bins holding our outdoor cushions and pillows are above earth. One never knows when another 500-year flood will hit Nashville and test the waterproofness of the waterproof bins. The chipmunks running from the golden retriever who hunts them are grateful for the five-inch escape hatch they can slide into, drifting sideways under the safety of the plastic bin like Keiichi Tsychiya in Tokyo Drift.

As much as he enjoys slate, Spousal Unit is not neglectful of other masonry products upon which things may rest. A salvaged industrial kitchen sink I use as a garden bench rests gingerly upon bricks, despite it having adjustable legs, which could make it as level – if not more – than it currently is. Part of the playhouse cum tool shed loiters upon round aggregate stepping stones, a nod to the former homeowners’ eighties landscaping.

Since Spousal Unit is an overall great guy who has decent health insurance and tolerates my penchant for weird crap, such as a 1959 camper, I have nothing about which to complain. Therefore, it is simply noting and not complaining that I just stubbed my toe (again) on the brick holding up the potting bench. I am also not complaining that when I tried to make cute arrangements in the junktique cabinet I bought from a friend, everything slides to the back and to the left because the slate beneath the cabinet is uneven. And heaven knows I would never lodge complaint about my efforts to sit on a bench that pours me from its lap because the slate in the back is higher than the front. It’s as if Santa stood up quickly just as I was about to tell what I wanted for Christmas.

No. I would never complain that St. Francis looks as if he took one too many communions as he lists to the left atop his altar of slate. Instead I shall celebrate. I shall gleefully note that at least Daisy isn’t up on blocks. She rests blissfully — if somewhat unevenly — upon a bed of railroad cross ties filled with gravel. I’m also happy to say that Man Child’s 1948 Packard has left home, so there isn’t a car on jacks in our carport. Only a Rorschach test of oil stains remain.

There are worse things than placing everything on blocks, rocks and aggregate pavers. To Spousal Unit, those worse things are dirt and water seeping into the outdoor furniture, or the bins that hold the cushions. To me, it would be worse to not have this particular Spousal Unit lifting up items to keep them safe, however crooked they may be.

 

Hell-icopter Mom

apache.2. I am crabby. Get out of my way before I kick you in the shins, rip off your head and spit in the hole kind of crabby. The snot-filled flu-like malaise of winter is being replaced with snot-filled allergy-based angry energy. After I sneeze six times in a row while clenching my legs together so I don’t pee, I’m gonna break bad. First, a quick trip to the bathroom.

I’m certain this end-of-winter-post-morose crabbiness is expected and generational. My ancestors undoubtedly used this burst of energy to spring clean their homes, pulling furniture out onto the front yard so they could beat the hell out of the cushions. I could use a rug, a clothesline and a tennis racquet right now.

This annual joie de grump is not uncommon amongst only my people, but those across the nation, nee the world. This is why Spring Break exists. For God’s sakes, go to the beach, have a cocktail and try not to stick a fork in anybody’s eye. Because I haven’t gone on a Spring Break trip since my junior year in college, decades of March Madness – and not the roundball kind – have compounded into a plasma ball of angst that can fuel American-made cars, take down sovereign nations and make Spousal Unit work longer hours. “I have to travel out of town next week,” he texts. The man knows. And he feels sorry for those who don’t.

I’ve learned to temper my temper by staying out of the public eye as much as I can. I still might get shot throwing gang signs at ridiculous drivers (actually the flying asshole sign, detailed in a blog from this time last year), but I try to stay out of crowded places, angry mobs and Kroger’s. Yes, stock boy, I DO want that product before which you are squatted as if praying to, and if you roll your eyes at me as I try to reach over you and get the five pound bag of flour without dropping it on your head, then I shall have to stick this rather large container of Tide pods up your….

To save the grocery chain workers of the world, Spousal Unit calls before leaving work and offers to run to the store. He proffers his daily offerings to me on the kitchen counter, paying homage in hopes that the volcano shall only rumble and not erupt. Like I said, the man knows.

It’s too bad that a certain department chair at a certain university doesn’t. She done gone and made me mad now. I’m not going to take it out on only her, though. I’m gonna rant and rave and spit and spew over a couple of decades of condescending professionals telling me I need to back off. This is for anybody who has ever called me a helicopter mom and I speak for the rest of those who have been pushed aside when we raise alarms over what’s going on with our offspring.

Let me make one thing clear. I don’t micro-manage my kids. Never have. Never will. I never hovered over their homework, which is why they often didn’t turn it in. That’s their job, not mine. They deserved those zeros because they worked hard to get them. Learning is more important than grades. My watching NCIS is more important than looking over their shoulders.

I’ve never been the parent on the sideline, screaming at my kid to just make the damn goal, or basket, or home run. We laughed when Girl Child stood on the soccer field braiding her friend’s hair and Man Child built trains out of t-ball stands.

I worry. What parent doesn’t? I pray a lot. But I don’t stop my kids from following their dreams, even if it means jumping ALL of the things on a 1500-pound force of muscle, bad attitude and a brain the size of a walnut, or even if it means (gulp) riding motorcycles and flying planes. I did mention that I pray a lot, right?

I also carry first aid kits and fire extinguishers.

Most of what I do is pay attention. That’s my job and it’s been my job since Man Child was conceived. Pay attention to my health during pregnancy, their health after. Pay attention to the poisons in the cabinets. Pay attention to the scary man at the park who ended up being at our driveway. Pay attention to the moods, the things unsaid, the signs we’re told to look for when they are wracked by hormones and confronted by the-world-is-not-my-oyster understanding. Pay attention to where they go and who they’re with and what are their dreams and where are their heads.

I’ve missed a few things, even while paying attention. One kid was being bullied in middle school for quite a while before I realized it. Once I knew, I started throwing up flares like the Titanic on a bad night in April. As with the Titanic, the flares weren’t seen in a timely manner and not everything could be saved from the depths. I regret not seeing the damn iceberg. I really regret my meekness when I was patted on the head and told it had all been fixed and that I didn’t need to hover. I let go, Jack. I let go.

In addition to paying attention, I usually have a philosophy to trust the professionals, whether it’s school personnel, health care folk or the amazing friend who does my hair. After all, they’re the ones who are trained in their fields, not I. For the most part – with the significant exception of home improvement professionals – that philosophy has worked. People are usually good at their jobs. When they’re good at their jobs, there is a lovely symbiotic relationship where you trust them and they trust you. Communication is had; faeries dance on unicorn horns and rainbows spew from our arses. Harp music plays in the background. Nobody calls me a helicopter mom.

When people are not good at their jobs and they know that they’re not good at their jobs, they project that onto their surroundings. I know this because I’ve gone to therapy and I watch a lot of Criminal Minds. They get more defensive than Donald Trump after a Saturday Night Live episode and they lash out. When their job is connected to my offspring, they accuse me of helicoptering and tell me — or aforementioned offspring – that I don’t need to get involved.

Excuse me? Have you met me? You are messing with my offspring, so I am already involved. Besides, I am paying his tuition, so instead of a helicopter mom, why don’t you consider me a customer. A Very. Unhappy. Customer. Who does not care for the product she is being sold.

Better yet, head of department, see me as a helicopter mom, if you will, but know that THIS chopper is an Apache, armed and ready to set her sites on your lousy-assed program with its shell game of requirements and uninspired curriculum that wastes bright students’ time and our money.

Oh. No. I’m sorry, I am NOT done yet. It’s March and I have allergies. I am in a mood. I’m tired of the grownups not acting like grownups, then telling me that grownups aren’t allowed in their little games with our semi-grownup kids. Spousal Unit and I taught our kids to respect authority, but we also taught them to question it. We taught them that we would have their backs and right now the hair on MY back is raised like a cat being introduced to a python. I tend to do that with snakes.

Perhaps it’s the time of year, or perhaps it’s my exhaustion with authority trying to marginalize everything I stand for, but I won’t be dismissed from the room that easily. I won’t let the insinuation that I’m a helicopter mom bully me into submission. I will own that title because helicopters don’t just hover. Helicopters come in to the rescue, provide EVAC and first aid, and sometimes they are armed. Helicopters are bad asses. Heck yeah, I’m a helicopter mom. I’m a helicopter wife. And a helicopter friend. I’m a helicopter daughter and the next time an arrogant doctor is rude to my mom, I’m gonna be a friggin’ Blackhawk raining down on his entitled ass.

This may be more than just end-of-winter grumpies and might continue past the Ides of March, when grocery store stock boys are once again safe from Tide pod enemas. This feels like a call-to-arms to helicopter parents everywhere, who have fallen prey to the condescending attitude of Those In Charge who try to make us feel badly about ourselves for questioning whether a pig drawn on the white board with our child’s name underneath is truly bullying. When we hover, dart, land briefly and rise from the earth once again, we aren’t only helicoptering for our loved ones. We helicopter for every one. When we’re in surveillance mode, we’re watching out for the world at large. We tell the parent we don’t know very well that we fear his child is taking risks. Or is suicidal. Then we retreat and allow that parent to helicopter.

So yeah, bish. I’m a helicopter mom. I am a HELL-icopter mom. Say it or insinuate it, I don’t care. I own it. Just be careful because this time of year, I’m a helicopter mom on the edge.

Funky February Funk

It’s cold. I have snot in my nose, my sinus cavities, and running down the back of my throat. Every time I sneeze, I pee a little. My skin is dry. My panty liner is wet. My house looks like Miss Havisham should be eating wedding cake in it. With paint flaking from her like my dry skin, DaisyTheTrailer should be in a junkyard guarded by German Shepherd/Rottweiler/Doberman mixes. Our backyard is a minefield of dog poop and mole runs. My car has salt and road filth left on it from the trip to West Virginia nearly two months ago. A door, purchased at the Habitat store for Daisy, rots in the carport. My MIL was SO right about me.

The dog is barking to be let in and Rachael Ray’s annoyingly chirpy voice is annoyingly chirpy background noise. I’m too tired/sick/lazy/grouchy to go to the other room and bitch slap Rachael by turning off the television or let in the dog. I might get up to grab some more coffee. And then again, I might not. Did I mention that it’s cold.

It’s February.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been bingeing on Criminal Minds. That show can be a little dark. But. Shemar Moore. It probably doesn’t help that back in 2015, I decided to move the home office into the breakfast room. It’s still in transition, so I have neither a working home office, nor do I have a working breakfast room. We are the Americans who eat on TV trays, the flicker of prime time reflected on our faces. Kumbaya.

It probably doesn’t help that people are picking fights on Facebook, even when there isn’t anything to fight about. The meme was funny. It wasn’t supposed to bring on discussion about the finer points of what do you tell your daughter. It was simply trying to bring levity to a dire situation. I give up explaining. Fine. I won’t be funny then. I will return to my cave, Gollum-like, blow a loogie into a wad of toilet paper and search for my preciousssssss. Shemar Moore.

My snot-filled mind wanders. I wonder if Homeland Security is monitoring my actions through the camera on my computer and if they gag at just HOW many times I pick my nose. Sorry, NSA, that stuff is GLUED up there. What I need is a crotchet hook. I’ve got one somewhere, probably hanging onto an unfinished scarf I was trying to crotchet. I suck at crotchet. I suck at finishing things. Perhaps it’s the unfinishedness (if our president can say bragadocious, I can say unfinishedness) of my life that has me in the doldrums.

There is a joke that says, “Happiness comes from finishing things you’ve started, so, I finished an open bottle of merlot, an open bottle of chardonnay, the box of Girl Scout cookies and the rest of the cake.” Even that kind of happiness evades me because I grew up in a family that never took the last of anything. It drove my neat-nik mother crazy. Boxes upon boxes of cereal with one serving left. Packages of Oreos with two broken, crème-filled souls tucked into a corner. Every meal, there would be one last piece of cornbread. One spoonful of green beans. One last pork chop. Spousal Unit grew up in an eat-it-til-it’s-gone family, with moves like SEAL team six. Insertion. Move fast. Take what you want and more than you need. Extract.

Bless his heart, after nearly three decades, Spousal Unit still has no idea of the looks he gets at my parents’ table. The looks that say, “Tina, I thought you married up. He just ate the last slice of cornbread.”

Mmmmmm. Cornbread sounds good right now. I could probably finish some cornbread. I just can’t seem to finish anything else. Last year, I took a quilting class with my friend Kathy to help with the winter blahs. This year, the unfinished quilt remains stretched on my grandmother’s quilt rack, consuming twenty square feet of basement real estate. Kathy’s quilt also remains unfinished. She is renovating a house and is grumpier than I am. I should tell her about Shemar, but first I should finish some things.

I need – nay want – to finish this blog. I want to finish the quilt and finish moving the home office into the breakfast room. I want to finish Daisy’s interior and repaint her flaking exterior. I want to finish the photo album from my dad’s 80th birthday party. I want to finish the third draft of my novel and finish hanging stuff on the walls from when we moved here ten years ago. Part of me wants to finish that fight on Facebook.

I’m motivated. Call me the Finisher. I’ll finish ALL the things. Move me to Finland because I am FINNISH. Hashtag Just Finish It. The February Funk is lifted because I am finishing. I am woman. Hear me finish. Watch out dog hair tumbleweeds, you are finished! Did you see the finish on that trailer? Booyah!

First things first. I need to finish Season Three of Criminal Minds.

Shemar Moore. Preciousssssss.

When Winter Comes to the Smokies

dsc_0039When I first got Daisy, we all know I had hallucinations. I imagined her snuggled against a flowing river as I sat on the bank and penned the Great American Novel. I pictured my driving her across the desert plains as scorpions crunched beneath her tires. I fantasized taking her to Bonnaroo where hippies of all ages walked past our awesome retro setup and mumbled, “Cool, man. Like wow. That camper is rad, dude.” Come to find out my hallucinations were greater than any Bonnaroo hippie’s.

Daisy did make it to Bonnaroo, but shan’t do it again. Just read those posts. I’m too old and cranky for Bonnaroo and pulling Daisy is bad for my blood pressure because Daisy bucks and kicks more than Girl Child’s horse when she’s let out to play with her herd. We have determined that Daisy is a stay-at-home kinda gal.

Still, I like to imagine that someday I’ll have a renovated Airstream that I will take on road trips and I continue to have imaginary itineraries for places such as the Grand Canyon, Florida Keys and Smoky Mountains. I’d love to take my imaginary Airstream to the Smoky Mountains.

I love mountains. I grew up in West Virginia. I love everything about mountains. When I first moved to Nashville, I felt exposed and vulnerable. There were no mountains to wrap themselves around me and keep me safe. Nashville felt flat to me until I started biking it and I learned that not having mountains doesn’t mean flat. Nor does riding a bicycle mean fit, but that’s another story. Despite Nashville’s hills, I could only get my mountain fix when I went back home, or to East Tennessee. I need mountains and mountain people.

There is an equestrian center in East Tennessee that hosts several horse shows a year. It’s in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, just outside Knoxville. We love going to River Glen; even the moody horse loves going to River Glen. My favorite part – besides watching my gifted daughter ride – is getting up early on Sunday morning to stand on a knoll overlooking a foggy field next to a river and listen to a bagpiper play. In full Highland Dress, she stands where thundering hooves will pound the earth scant minutes after her last note is played. She stands in the foggy valley and plays the instrument that has always reached across foggy valleys and tall mountains. The blessing of the battlefield, they call it, scattering notes as if they were whispers of prayers, asking that the brave athletes who run their horses over this field to jump all the things will be safe.

My history with the Smoky Mountains goes back a lot further than a few years’ of horse shows. As with almost everybody else growing up in Milton, West Virginia in the 70s, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were our go-to vacation spots. If times were good, it was an additional long weekend coupled with the annual trip to Myrtle Beach. If the plant was on strike, then the long weekend WAS vacation. We loved the kitsch and we love the natural beauty. My mother was obsessed with wading in creeks. My sister and I were obsessed with tacky souvenirs and outlet malls. My dad was obsessed with the pancake place. The Smoky Mountains contained them all.

After I grew up, got married and moved away – not necessarily in that order – I became a copywriter for the Bohan Agency and Pigeon Forge was our biggest client. Pigeon Forge was my FAVORITE client. The people were amazing and I loved the road trips to East Tennessee for “research.” My only caveat for these trips was that I did not ride roller coasters.

One of the highlights of my advertising career happened one autumn day when Spousal Unit was mowing the grass. He stopped the mower, mouth agape and came running to me. He put his Walkman headphones up to my ear. The radio was playing a spot I’d written for Pigeon Forge. It had the one and only Dolly Parton saying my words, “When winter comes to the Smokies, Pigeon Forge comes alive!”

The grand dame of Sevier County was speaking words I had written! In my world, that’s about as good as it gets. She’s mountain people’s mountain people.

I still love mountain people. I hate their politics and I believe that they shoot themselves in their Redwing-clad feet every time they vote, but I love mountain people. Mountain people have your back. Years after I left the ad agency, we took our young family to Kiawah Island for vacation. Hurricane Floyd decided to drop by, so we evacuated. We wanted to salvage what we could of our vacation, so I called one of my old contacts in Pigeon Forge. Thousands of other people had the same idea, so they were booked solid, but she finagled a cabin in the woods for us. And gave me a discount. Mountain people.

After 26 hours in the car for what should have been a five-hour trip, we landed in Pigeon Forge and unpacked our beach gear at a cabin in the woods. We had a blast. Boy Child was chosen to chase a chicken at the Dixie Stampede. He was four years old and the chicken got away. Girl Child rode a pony. She was thirteen months and has been riding ponies ever since. Vacation was salvaged; memories were made; love for Sevier County and mountain people held firm.

Sixteen years passed before I visited Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg again. We stayed with friends on a mountain high above the outlet malls last Christmas break. I would say we stayed in a cabin, but something that is as big as my high school should probably be given another name. Armory? Castle? Fort? Chalet? I was as shocked by the growth of Pigeon Forge as I was with the size of the “cabin.” The area has exploded with commerce and I barely knew my way around.

Once again, we had a blast and even though we didn’t chase chickens or ride a pony, I DID ride a roller coaster. I wondered about my old Pigeon Forge friends. I wondered if I kept their names listed somewhere. I wondered if I should renew the connections.

Nearly a year after our visit, a raging storm of flames, heat and burning wind rampaged over those mountains, turning Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg into front-page news. Many people lost everything they had. Some lost even more than that. My stomach drops each time a lost soul is identified and I selfishly hope it’s nobody I know, nobody with whom I haven’t renewed connection. I can’t get them out of my mind and I can’t quit being sad. Adding this tragedy to the overwhelming hopelessness I have after the election and I feel like I’m just dragging through life like a broken mop over a nasty floor. I don’t have what it takes to clean it all up.

I don’t, but I know that mountain people do. They’ll work to put it all together and once again the area will “come alive!” Dolly is giving one thousand dollars per family per month to those whose lives were affected by the wildfire that swept through her community. She’s doing it because she’s Dolly and that’s what mountain people do.

As these mountain people continue to work and struggle, I hope they hear the faint notes of a ghostly bagpiper, standing in a valley filled with embers and swirling smoke. I hope they hear mountain music whispering prayers that they, these mountain people, will jump all the things that are the obstacles before them and that they will be safe.

photo credit: Camilla Caldwell

 

I’m Sorry

IMG_3284Dear Millennials,

I am sorry. Truly, I am. I am sorry that I am one of the ones who kinda makes fun of you, with your nose stuck in your phone, sipping your lattes and getting foam in your bro beards. I roll my eyes at what you consider vintage as I pull out my I-wore-it-first sweaters. I laugh at your idea of artisanal and your farm to table. Artisanal, I scoff, hell, I’ve been making my own bread/vinegar/something-in-a-Ball-jar since before you were a sparkle in your daddy’s eye. Back in my day we didn’t call it artisanal. We just called it bread/vinegar/something-in-a-Ball-jar. Farm to table? My grandmother wrung a chicken’s neck, plucked that bird and fried it up by lunchtime just because she was having pregnancy cravings.

You guys and your anxiety attacks and your social media obsession. What do you know about human rights? We lived during the AIDS pandemic. What do you know about civil rights? We marched with MLK, or at least cheered him from the safety of our television sets. What do you know about women’s rights and the battles that women like Gloria Steinem faced? After all, we baby boomers were the ones who wore our pussy ties with our pinstriped dress suits in the 80s, believing that if we looked a little bit more like men, we might be treated a little bit more like men. You girls have it easy, we gripe. What do you know, we grumble. You’re still wet behind the ears.

I’m sorry. Dear Millennials, I’m sorry. The way I’ve treated you has shown disrespect. The way my baby boomer generation and the Gen X bunch behind me have treated you shows disregard. Like the old farts we are, we tut tutted and there thered and continued our path, believing with all of our hearts that our generation had brought about all the change that could possibly be needed. You sweet little dears just stay on the path we set for you and things will be just fine. I mean, look at us. Your nice black president is our generation. See? We’ve got this.

You wanted the old Jewish guy for president; we wanted the woman. We knew what was best, right? This woman is the best-qualified human being to ever run for office. NOBODY has her skill set or her experience. You millennials said, “But we want change!”

We patted you on the head and said, “Remember, we got a black president and he was change and now we’re going to have a woman president. What more change can you possibly want?”

What we didn’t see, we liberal baby boomer and gen exers, was that an entire segment of the country, a YUGE as our president-elect would say, section of the country also said they wanted change. The secret is that they DIDN’T. They wanted things to go back. None of us could figure out back to when. “Make America Great Again!” they clamored. We thought it was pretty great right now. After all love is love is love and hey, we got a black prez. But they called it change and you called for change, but even though the changes weren’t the same thing, the call for change became a deafening roar and we who had watched MLK march and MLK die, we who had worn our itchy pin-striped wool suits, we who had “coexist” stickers on our car, didn’t heed the call for change and we missed it.

Just like running up to the door of the bank, right as it closes, deposits in hand, begging the guard to open the door for just one minute; just like missing the bus as it pulls away from you; just like knowing people wanted change and believing what you were offering was the change they wanted, we missed it. Because we missed it, we’re leaving you in a mess. God, what a mess.

Climate change is real. You know that. In 2000, when Al Gore was running for president, he knew that. It’s irrefutable. Louisiana is losing a football field’s worth of land an hour. People chose to ignore Mr. Gore’s warnings and chose to vote for a warmonger instead. You know how that ended. Economy tanked. Climate screwed. Middle East an even bigger mess. Dick Cheney richer. Did I mention climate screwed?

So, we’re leaving you with a baking earth that will continue to devolve as the climate change deniers continue to play with this particular political football. You’re welcome.

We’re also leaving you with a country divided by hate. Racism exists. We knew it, but we kept telling ourselves, Hey, we voted in a black president and I mean wow, look at the power Oprah has. We thought that made racism go away. Black people were getting shot like fish in a barrel, but we convinced ourselves that was because they were probably doing something wrong. Our country is too evolved to be racist.

Your president-elect is endorsed by the KKK.

The divide of hatred isn’t only racist. The hate divide includes religions that aren’t evangelical, marriages that aren’t man and woman, Americans who aren’t American. We really owe you an apology for that one. Anybody who isn’t Native American is an immigrant. Yet immigrants are bad. Yet Native Americans are getting blown out of their land as we speak. It’s like an M.C. Escher drawing.

We’re leaving you with a world of sexism where a girl can be raped by a college swimmer and he won’t really be punished because he has quite the future ahead of him. We’re leaving you with a leader who believes – not only that he can SAY he grabs women by the pussy – but that he DOES grab them by the pussy. That he can call a woman Miss Piggy. Give her physical attributes a number. We’re leaving you a world where it is more important to have a president who hates women than it is to have a woman president.

I am so, so sorry.

Dear Milliennials, you are right to rage about us. You are right to stick your nose in your phone and snapchat your anger that the system has let you down. WE have let you down. In believing that we knew what we were doing, in trusting that truth would rise to the top as Aristotle had claimed, in believing in the basic good nature of human beings, we showed our weakness and our flaws. We were wrong.

Oh Lord, were we wrong. And now we’ve left you a mess. I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. We’ll help you clean it up, but who knows how big this mess will be. Who knows what four years of a demagogue with his right wing, climate-denying, LGBTQ-hating, bigoted, racist, sexist, gun-toting, war-mongering, narcissistic toadies will do.

I’m sorry. I’ll post a picture of my dog in hopes that it helps a little bit.

Rejection Dejection

IMG_3284I’m used to rejection. After all, I was runner up to homecoming queen. I’m still scarred by that almost-ran moment when the football coach turned toward me with a tiara in his outstretched hands, then quickly feinted to the right and placed it on another girl’s head. I have grown accustomed to life telling me, “Yeah. You. No. Never mind. Not you.”

My world begets rejection. I’m a writer. I’m blue in a red state. I’m a parent and would dare to say that most of us with teenagers understand that rejection is our raison d’etre. We provide the springboard from which our offspring push. It’s our job to allow them to reach for us, think, “meh” and turn the other way. We nurse our wounds, remember when our parents said, “You just wait,” and crack open a bottle of wine.

When I worked full time before working ALL of the time as a mom, I was an advertising copywriter. One agency head took my copy, read, it, proclaimed, “This is shit” and threw it against the wall. He then proceeded to floss his teeth with a fingernail he ripped off, so that particular moment lost its impact. Still, ask anybody who’s had the misfortune of writing in an agency environment if he or she has ever experienced rejection and they will spew their recently gulped fourth cup of coffee before 9 a.m. over your head.

Rejection usually doesn’t keep me from trying. I tried out for basketball in junior high and I tried out for majorette in college. I tried for a writer’s conference just this past summer. Of the three of those, I only really thought I’d get one, but apparently I really screwed up the routine in majorette tryouts.

I’ll try for the writer’s conference again next year. What I won’t try, after two distinct rejections that shocked me with their vehemence and Trump-like wall, is to get a dog from a rescue.

I’m not confidant on many fronts, but there is one aspect of my life upon which I know I excel and that is of dog owner. I am the best kind of dog owner. Dogs reincarnate themselves just to get back in my house. Humans are left to fend for themselves as the Caldwell dog lies on its back and gets its tummy rubbed. For hours. To the humans, I say fix your own damn dinner. Yes, you’re bleeding from the ears, but you know where the Band-Aids are. Go away, can’t you see I’m rubbing the dog’s belly? To the dog I say, oh honey, where does it itch? There? Mommy’s got it.

It’s my mother’s fault, as most things are. We always had a dog, whether it was Gidget, the cocker spaniel, Pepper, the Boston terrier mutt, Suza, the miniature schnauzer, or Lady, the beagle.

Lady was the offspring of my dad’s favorite hunting beagle. When she had pups, he was going to teach them how to be rabbit dogs and he was going to sell them, keep the mom and one pup and have himself the best huntin’ dog in Cabell County. Mama Beagle gave birth in the winter, in her dog house, down over the hill that is my parents’ back yard. Daddy told my mom, “Those pups are warm enough. You leave them alone,” and he went to work. Every day.

And every day, my mother would bring the pups up, one by one, and play with them and keep them warm and feed them yummy things. When it came time to sell them, they were the fattest, happiest, lovingest, most spoiled beagle pups you ever did see.

I think he ended up giving them away and selling the mom, the best rabbit dog Daddy ever had. I imagine there was a tear in his eye as he watched the pickup she was in go up the driveway and he turned around to face the beagle pup we kept. The littlest, most spoiled of the puppies. Lady.

For years, Lady had a good life. She managed the neighborhood that is the subdivision where my parents live. All of the other dogs had to run their ideas past Lady and she would pretty much approve anything. She helped my mother garden, barking at snakes and digging up recently planted things. She stole neighbors’ cooling peanut brittle during the holidays and she befriended her neighbor Ralph, the St. Bernard next to us. They watched television together at the neighbor’s house.

She never once chased a rabbit. Live and let live was Lady’s philosophy. Daddy still hasn’t recovered from the mortification. I imagine him at the Liar’s Table in the downtown diner, taking heat from the other retirees. “Hey, Bob. How about that rabbit dog you owned?” Guffaws. Thigh slaps. Daddy hangs his head in shame. He hasn’t been this embarrassed since his daughter didn’t get homecoming queen.

As much as Daddy would like to blame my mother, spoiling dogs runs down his side of the family, as well. I have twin aunts who make spoiling their fur babies look like an Olympic sport. Each time one of their dogs passes, they grieve deeply and swear they will never, ever, EVER put themselves through this again. Within months, a dog literally shows up on their doorstep, so these women and their husbands once again dive headfirst into the deep end of dog love. Dogs know.

But sometimes people don’t. It’s not their fault. After all, they’re people. They can’t sniff my butt and determine me worthy of their time. However, I would challenge some people to be more like dogs when they are thinking for dogs.

The first time I was rejected by a dog rescue was shortly after Diesel died. Somewhere in the cosmos, a practical joker thought it would be one hella good time if Tina’s dog, the golden retriever that raised her children, died the same summer her Boy Child went off to college. Grief mixed with fear mixed with loneliness mixed with not wanting to pick up food dropped on the floor because that’s the dog’s job and the next thing I know, I’m responding to a rescue’s ad for a bonded pair of Great Pyrenees.

I spoke on the phone with their representative and explained that my golden retriever had passed away months before and how much that golden retriever had meant to me. I didn’t want to replace Diesel, but I did want to fill the hole. A bonded pair of fluff balls who didn’t need me too much, but played with one another and provided background noise and mess sounded perfect.

“If you loved your golden retriever that much, then you don’t need a Great Pyrenees,” the rep responded.

“But. I mean. I know they aren’t the same. I don’t want the same,” I stuttered.

My plaintive cries were pointless. I had been rejected. I have no idea how many people are willing to take on two 120 pound dogs that shed like a three-month-old Christmas tree dropping needles, but apparently there are enough that she didn’t even want to hear my story.

I went to a breeder and I bought a golden retriever puppy and neither of us could be happier. He farts while I write and I fart while he plays. It’s symbiotic. Sometimes I wonder if he wants a playmate, though. He’s really energetic and I’m, well, I’m not.

So, I responded to an ad for a golden retriever rescue. A four-year-old female who looked like a lot of fun and would make a good sister for Thor. Her name is the same as Girl Child’s and I believed it was kismet. I dashed off an e-mail joking that if I could convince my Spousal Unit that Thor needs a playmate, I’d like to see if she would work in our home.

I received a terse reply announcing , “We would not place one of our dogs into a home where someone had to be ‘convinced’ to have a dog.” She advised me to wait until Spousal Unit “may be enthusiastically involved with adopting a new dog.” Has she met my husband? He isn’t enthusiastically involved with anything that doesn’t revolve around bourbon and a mandolin. If I waited until he was enthusiastically involved, we would still be living in an apartment, driving a 1986 Volvo, and childless.

The reason our marriage works so well is because Spousal Unit tempers his impulsive wife. If he didn’t balk, mutter and groan at everything, we’d have Daisy AND a 1970s Airstream, three more horses, five classic cars for Man Child, probably sitting on blocks in the driveway, a beach house and debt.

We make decisions based on his balk-o-meter. “Spousal Unit, I really like this house that’s on the market.”

“Oh I dunno. The one we’re in is working pretty well, even though we have to go downstairs to take a shower and Girl Child’s closet is so packed, when we open the door, it’s like clowns pouring out of a VW Beetle.”

The balk-o-meter needle swings to the right, then slowly flows back to the left with only a little resistance. We buy the house.

I tell Spousal Unit I want to buy back Girl Child’s first pony, because pony isn’t going to be treated well if she keeps getting sold. Balk-o-meter shoots to the right and stays there until pony gets off the trailer, blanket is removed and her ribs show. Balk-o-meter moves back toward center. We keep the pony. I tell him there is an Airstream trailer on eBay. Balk-o-meter needle swings around in circles. Somebody else gets to have that cool little gem.

Somebody else will also get the four-year-old golden retriever from South America. Not because Spousal Unit’s balk-o-meter went off, but because yet another rescue deemed me unfit. It’s almost as funny as the time I did not make that junior high basketball team. My best friend at the time and I looked at one another as the names were rattled off and ours wasn’t among them. We were the only ones sitting there who hadn’t been given some type of position, whether it was water girl, or team manager. We laughed. We had to.

I also have to laugh today as a certain big, hairy beast leans against me. He’s gone long enough without my attention and it’s time to play. NOW. He doesn’t need a playmate. He has me. He will never reject me, that’s for sure.

I know I will have many more rejections as I trudge through the overgrown path called life. I will write things that will be rejected; I will want things that will be rejected; I will do things that will be rejected. However, there are two givens for which I will never face rejection again. I will never be rejected by another basketball coach and I will never be rejected by another dog rescue network. ‘Cause I ain’t tryin’ out for neither one.

 

Brian’s Song

Tina.BrianI have deeply loved four men in my life. The man who helped create me. The man who married me. The gay man who was my spirit’s other half. And the man who was my brother. In all ways, but biologically, Brian Corwin Davis was my brother.

Brian’s was the first penis I ever saw. I didn’t know what it was, except that pee came out of it and that he stood facing the toilet instead of sitting on it. Confused, I asked my mom what THAT was all about. In a culture where nice ladies didn’t discuss this type of thing, she told me it’s what boys do when they have a stomachache. I looked down at my puffy, preschool tummy and my outie belly button that looked a little bit like what Brian had peed out of. Lesson learned. When your tummy hurts, pee out of your belly button and all is well. The next time I had a bellyache, I stood in front of our toilet, belly pushed out, trying to rid myself of tummy pain. It never worked.

We lived across the street from one another, two young families in the 1960s, living the American small town dream, with mid-century furniture and bouffant hair to prove it. We were a family of four, as were they. Jack-n-Annette-Brian-n-Shari. One word. My dad was a steelworker; Brian’s a salesman. We had a Boston terrier mix named Pepper. They had a collie named Snookie. We went to the same church. The same school. The same grocery store. Our moms took turns having tea at one another’s house while the kids played. Sometimes we’d play Barbies. Sometimes Brian would preach.

The boy had a calling from a young age and one he heeded whether he knew it or not. He might never have been ordained, but he was a preacher. He preached at his sister and me from his pulpit on our sidewalk. Shari and I sat on the front steps of the porch, swatted sweat bees and heeded his altar call. My baby sister Gina, hung out in her play pen, her Amen corner of sorts.

I remember a few of his sermons. He was big on equal rights and was a social justice warrior before being a social justice warrior was cool. Brian really did consider the ministry several times during his life. Some of us told him he should have been a priest, but we were wrong. Ordination would have limited him and Brian’s congregation was bigger than that. When he posted photographs of beautiful flowers every Sunday with the simple word, “Mass” on his Facebook page; when he reached out to the children he taught in school and ministered to their simplest needs; when he made sure his mother and her twin had the best kind of 80th birthday party; when he wrote prayers and essays that he shared; when he “gave to the least of these,” Brian was already the best kind of minister.

For every moment he was a saint, Brian could also be a sinner. There remains disagreement whether he was the bad influence, or ‘twas I, the morning we decided that while our mothers sipped tea, we should sip bleach with sunbeams streaming through the windows of our back porch and onto our heads. Maternal panic and chaos ensued. My mom grabbed me; Brian’s mom grabbed him; they called their respective pediatricians and all I really remember is a lot of milk and bread. And spanking. I believe I recall spanking.

I believe I recall a LOT of spankings when it came to Brian and me, especially fifth grade. Unable to handle the accelerated class she’d been given, our fifth grade teacher discovered that repeated readings of Old Yeller wasn’t a functioning disciplinary tool. Among other interesting teaching strategies, she would line us up after lunch and whack us with the paddle. Her actions rested on the philosophy that even if we hadn’t done anything yet, we certainly would. Because we were the accelerated class, we were smart enough to learn to earn the spanking.

We also learned to roll with the punches and Brian rolled better than most. With stuntman-like skill, he could tuck and roll after crashes that would leave most of us writhing on the ground. After each blow, he stood back up, dusted off his pants and moved forward, looking back only long enough to see if anybody else needed a hand up.

It was his drive to move forward, to only glance back and not dwell in the pain, that allowed him to rack up more degrees, positions and commendations than I have chins. I’ve known the man literally my entire life and when I read the vita that was his obituary, I was surprised by two-thirds of what he’d accomplished. The thing is, his obituary could only cover about one third of what he’d done in his life.

There isn’t room in an obituary to outline what Brian did with the time he had on earth. There isn’t room in a blog. There isn’t even room in my brain. I have forgotten most of what Brian has done for me in my life and he was doing for me from the days we drank bleach to the week before he died. I want to think I’m special, but I’m not. Brian did that for every life he touched.

Brian loved more than most people. He loved through his pain. He loved through rejection. He loved without boundaries and he loved fully with a heart bursting with forgiveness. He suffered when his loved ones suffered. He rejoiced when they rejoiced. To have Brian by my side during a painful moment was to have a surrogate soaking up my pain, so that I could function more freely.

A few years ago, Brian knitted Christmas gifts for our little gang of friends. We grew up together and we had stayed connected. Brian knitted hats, gloves, and scarves for Libby and Jamie and vest for Jennifer. We teased Carolyn about her forest green hand-knitted dickey, Brian knew that particular green brings out the color of her eyes. He knitted a beautiful baby blue hat for me, plus fingerless gloves because I had just been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. He wanted my hands to be warm and functional while I write. Literally soaking up my pain, so that I could function more freely.

As with everything else he did, Brian’s knitting was beautiful and flawless. As with everything else he did, Brian’s knitting was a ministry. He knitted booties and sweaters for newborns. He also painted beautifully, and drew. I have pieces of Brian art and cartoons that are decades old. I’m going to ask his sister if there is a recent piece I can have. He’d begun painting again. Brian was also a writer, a good one. The kind that makes me envious. He could find the word that described a situation so perfectly that his reader felt transported. His essay on 9/11 was life altering.

Yes, Brian was there on 9/11. Teaching in the Bronx, because that’s what the Brians of the world do. They earn post-graduate degrees and instead of taking a comfortable position at a private school, they move to the Bronx where their cars are stolen and stripped, and they teach children. When New York doesn’t feel right after a terrorist attack, they move to Florida and teach in a low-income district there.

The Brians of the world teach children from low-income homes. They buy school supplies from their limited personal funds, and they fight the good fight. The Brians of the world get up each morning and they get breakfast for their students who can’t afford breakfast and they decorate their first grade room so that each child is exposed to art and beauty and knowledge. They stand up to the system and fight for their kids to get a fair shake in an unfair world.

The Brians of the world know that it only takes one person to make a difference and they spend their entire lives making that difference. Because Brian knew what it felt like to be “outside the box,” he spent his days trying to help marginalized individuals feel worthy, needed and affirmed.

When my mother didn’t know how to answer my question about Brian’s mysterious urinating ability, it wasn’t the first time somebody didn’t know how to answer a question about him and it certainly wasn’t the last. The world never could answer our questions about Brian, or his questions about himself. He was too complicated, too layered, too dimensional. There was just too much Brian and you can’t compartmentalize a Renaissance man.

But you can love him. You can enjoy him. You can dance with him and you can watch him perform. You can laugh with him. You can cry with him. You can listen to his stories of joy and his stories of sorrow. You can learn from him. You can read The Hobbit in Junior High because that’s what Brian says you need to do. You can be in band with him. You can be in choir with him, unless you’re me and can’t carry a tune in a bucket. You can go to church with him or you can just let him be your church. You can hug him, the best hugger ever, or you can just let him squeeze you on the shoulder as you cuss out your wedding planner. You can let him fix your hair for your wedding and feel beautiful and you can let him cut your hair in a 90s asymmetrical doo and not feel so beautiful. You can read his writing and let him read yours. You can listen to his beautiful baritone voice over and over again. You can nag him about smoking and he can nag you about eating. You can beg him to move to Nashville because you know you’d make him feel loved and make healthy choices. You can accept that his life is in Florida. You can accept and embrace every ounce of Brian that there is because there is so much Brian to accept and embrace.

And that’s what makes the loss of Brian so huge. He is gone. My brother. My minister. My genius. My Renaissance man. My Gandalf. Our friend Jamie, who was probably closer to Brian than anyone, shared this quote from Brian’s favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien.

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores. And beyond…a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Go with God, dear Brian, to your green country under a swift sunrise. We will learn, somehow, to be without you. It hurts, but we will learn. I wish I could push my big belly out over the toilet right now and rid myself of the pain in it, the ache in my tummy, my chest, my throat. Just like when we were toddlers, though, it doesn’t work.