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.

Introvert Introspection

FullSizeRender[1]Girl Child is about to be a senior in high school and is college shopping. This is a tough time. I was a mess when Man Child graduated and went away three years ago; little did I know he’d yoyo back and still take up our garage, carport, most of the basement, a good part of the driveway, his room, the laundry room, and the good television. That was all okay as long as he was helping me renovate a camper. Now that he’s found more entertaining projects, I want to be able to reach the garage fridge.

I don’t think Girl Child will yoyo. I’ve been watching her backside heading away from me since she could walk. “Me do it!” is her mantra and she ain’t part of no stinking system. She’s looking at art schools. Spousal Unit and I look with her, gulp at the cost and wish we hadn’t encouraged creativity and freedom of thought.

Looking at colleges is a different activity than it was in my day. Back in my day, you took your ACT, imagined all those wonderful schools out there waiting for you, then attended Marshall University, which was a gnat’s ass down the road and free because your ACT was decent and your grades were good. You majored in public relations because somebody told you that you were a people person and that’s what you should major in. You ate your veggies, obeyed your parents and walked naked to school in six feet of snow. Uphill both ways. It was different then.

Nowadays, these whippersnappers know what’s out there and that it’s within reach. These punks also know themselves well enough to have a much better grasp of what they want. They have counselors who walk them through the process and give them insight to their personalities. “I’m an INFP,” announces Girl Child after her Meyers-Briggs test. “That’s introversion, intuition, feeling, perceiving.”

“Oh! I took that test when I worked for an ad agency,” I proclaim. “I think I’m an INFP also! I know everybody thinks I’m a people person, but I’m really an introvert.”

She looked at me as if I had recommended she wear my Walmart sweat pants to prom. In the months since, she has explained to me in various ways, why I couldn’t possibly be an introvert.

I don’t begrudge her these thoughts, mostly because there is nothing worse than realizing you have similar personality traits to your mother, especially when you’re in high school. I also don’t begrudge her because she’s not alone in this line of thinking. I have spent a lifetime telling the world that I just want some time to myself and that people get on my nerves. The world laughs, says, “You can’t POSSIBLY be an introvert” and proceeds to follow me to the bathroom.

Case in point: We have just returned from nearly two weeks of traveling, combining college shopping, visiting kinfolk in West Virginia, taking my niece to a journalism conference in DC and dragging my sister along for a week of enforced relaxation. She’s bad at it and we wanted to show her how the professionals goof off.

We rented a bungalow a stone’s throw away from the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis to be our home base and we set up camp. It was picturesque and I imagined my sister learning to chill out; my husband learning how to mix a vodka tonic; and me learning how to have time alone.

The first time I wandered off alone and sat on a bench overlooking the bay, people came and went. I nodded at them and they nodded at me, but that was it. Ahhhhh…introvert time. A gorgeous young woman walked into the park area with two lively Australian Shepherds. Girl Child’s trainer has an Australian Shepherd. Even if they’re not golden retrievers, they’re pretty cool dogs and since I really missed my dog, they would do. Petting one of the dogs led to conversation which led to more petting and more conversation and the next thing I knew, I was friends with a Swedish transplant who has two horses and events, just like Girl Child does and has RA, just like I do and is one of the coolest women I have met in a long time.

Another day, I had the opportunity to be alone, waiting at a Barnes and Noble while Girl Child and Spousal Unit went on an almost four hour school tour. My knees could only take one hour, so I begged off and slid into a comfy chair between the periodicals and the college t-shirts. I had been there for a while when a young man sat down in the other comfy chair and scooted it closer to mine.

After a while, he leaned toward me. “May I ask you a question?”

I refrained from the smart-mouthed response of, “You just did,” and instead said, “Sure.”

He pursed his lips then said, “Are women offended if you ask them about their weight?”

I thought for a minute. I was sitting in a bookstore on a college campus. I bet some schmuck of a college sociology professor was making his students do this very uncomfortable test to see how people would react. Or I was being punkt, but I didn’t see where any hidden cameras could be.

“Well,” I answered slowly. “Not all women are offended, but I have to admit, since I am overweight, it’s a pushbutton issue for me. I think it’s also a generational thing. I grew up in an era where anything bigger than a size ten was cause for shame. There was a lot of pressure on us to maintain a certain size and if we didn’t do it, then there was a lot of body shaming. I think girls in this generation have a healthier sense of self and there is a general acceptance of different body shapes and sizes.”

I went on to tell him that I wasn’t proud of my size, but that I realized my lifestyle choices had led me to this, along with an illness that doesn’t cooperate very well. His face dropped. “You’re sick?”

“Yeah. It’s not a big deal. It’s manageable, but it sucks. Are you doing this for a sociology project or something?”

He looked uncomfortable. No, he answered. He just wondered. He squirmed. I realized then that I was being tested. I don’t know how, or why, or to serve what purpose, but this was in the middle of a week of racial divide, violence, misunderstanding and uproar. This wasn’t a time for me to suffer righteous indignation at having my size pointed out to me and it wasn’t a time for me to walk away. I scooted closer to him and we talked.

I hope he gets his pharmacy tech degree and I hope that job allows him to go to college and get a degree in psychology. He has a curiosity about human nature that should be pursued. I plan on checking in with him occasionally to make sure he doesn’t give up his dreams. Maybe my encouraging him will encourage me to make healthier choices. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to continue to be the fat white lady students walk up to and ask impertinent questions.

The last day we were in Annapolis, my sister and niece, Spousal Unit and Girl Child left me on a bench at the city dock while they shopped Annapolis. Time alone at last! The people watching was excellent. So many sockless ankles in Topsiders! And who knew Laura Ashley was still a thing? Across the dock stood an older man, who looked as if life had dealt him a little more than most. His features were so interesting that I took a picture. He caught me and I pretended I was playing Pokemon Go.

He walked over my way and I panicked a little. It really is rude to take pictures of people without their permission and I felt as if I had stolen his soul. He walked past me and sat down at the next bench, pulled out a loaf of bread and started feeding ducks. I’m a jerk and I pretended to continue playing Pokemon Go and got better pictures. The ducks were eating right out of his hands.

He stood up and walked toward me again. I deserved whatever tongue lashing he was going to give me and prepared myself. Without saying a word, he handed me a slice of bread and returned to his bench. We fed ducks from our respective perches, like preschoolers in parallel play. I got ducks to eat from my hand.

When my first slice of bread was nearly gone, he wandered back over and pressed his hand to his throat. The machine in his neck helped him squawk, “Feed them all.” He handed me another slice. I fed ducks. And sparrows. And even the occasional robin. I was equitable in my distribution. I was the homeless lady in “Mary Poppins,” surrounded by cooing, pecking fowl. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.

After my family members returned from shopping, before we boarded the water taxi to our adorable rental bungalow, I walked over to my new bird-feeding friend, took his hand and thanked him. He smiled.

I returned to my beloveds, thinking that perhaps I’m not an INFP, so I must be an ENFP. I like people. People are good. People make me happy. People, who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Apparently, I don’t need alone time as much as I think I do. I smiled at my waiting family with peace and love in my heart.

Girl Child returned the gaze, curled her nose in disgust and pronounced, “You have bird crap in your hair.”

Oh just leave me alone. I can’t stand you people.


Heart Beats

IMG_3567There are two versions of this story.

The short one is this:

I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to the hospital in an ambulance. I stayed in the hospital for just under 24 hours. I had a lot of tests run. I didn’t have a heart attack.

The long one is this:

At one point this past Monday, with a Twilight Zone-like dissociative objectivity, I lay on a stretcher, looked down at my round belly covered with electrodes and wires and thought, “I look like a sticker-bombed VW Beetle.”

It wasn’t a normal day.

Normal days hold dirty laundry, Costco, coffee, salty Offspring, a slightly distracted spousal unit and a dog whose ONLY goal in life is to get me to play fetch. Slightly abnormal days include equine vet visits, a 1949 Packard named Bessie who breaks down whenever and wherever the hell she wants, picking paint colors for the interior of a vintage camper, too much coffee, super salty Offspring, a completely distracted spousal unit and a dog eating his own vomit.

This day held none of that. It didn’t even hold the dog and a tennis ball, although he had eaten his own vomit and the distracted spousal unit was present, distractedly trying to not freak out. This day held things called nuclear medicine, stress tests, echocardiogram, bloodletting, ultrasounds, did I mention radioactive nuclear stuff, RN, MD, NPO, EEG, EKG, IV, MI, ED, ISOS and WTF this feels like a BFD.

It was a seriously abnormal day.

Which followed a seriously abnormal night. Which came after a fairly normal day. It was Sunday. A good Sunday. Man Child and Spousal Unit moved a few of Man Child’s things from Sketchy College Apartment Complex while I stayed home and continued my unending and unsurprisingly inefficient effort to organize our home. Multi-tasker that I am, I also watched NCIS reruns. Girl Child was returning from a horse show where she had helped out friends since her beast remains “off” because of an abscess in her foot. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.

All. Quite. Normal. We sat down to dinner, like the good Americans we are, in front of the television. We were going to watch the movie, “The Family Fang.” The book’s author graduated from the same writing program I attended. However, he has been successful and Nicole Kidman liked the book so much she made a movie of it. Both book and movie are beyond reproach.

Unlike good Americans, we were enjoying a healthy dining experience. Spousal Unit provided expertly seared tuna and we made a Caprese salad, along with vinegar cucumbers and a side of rice. It was going to be topped off with Key Lime Pie. Before Baxter Fang could be shot in the head with a potato cannon, I was clutching my chest and lower neck and nodding to Girl Child that yes, indeed, calling 911 was probably a good idea.

I had been innocently chomping down on perfectly seared tuna when suddenly, my throat constricted. I started hiccupping. I tried to stay calm and breathe. I could cough, so I knew I wasn’t choking. I stood up. I sat down. “Something’s not right.”

Girl Child dialed the magic number and talked to the operator, “I think my mom is having a heart attack.” I felt a wave of guilt. Our job is to worry about our kids, not to make them worry about us. I could hear her answering questions and giving descriptions. The operator asked for her to take my pulse. She handed the phone to her brother and ran to grab my blood pressure cuff, which also takes a pulse. So does my Apple Watch, but I didn’t have it on. Note to self: keep Apple Watch on wrist even if it makes a weird tan line.

Man Child continued answering the operator’s questions, as he went down the list of signs of cardiac arrest for a female. The answers were all affirmative. Man Child remained calm, but I imagine there are more fun ways for a college kid to spend a Sunday evening. Spousal Unit ran upstairs and brought down the appropriate amount of baby aspirin. My family kicks ass in a crisis.

I texted my neighbor across the street. “Please don’t freak out, but an ambulance is on its way. I’m having chest pain.” Obviously I wasn’t thinking clearly in that we live in a close-knit neighborhood on a dead end street. Why did I think an ambulance and fire truck would only be seen by her?

A brigade of paramedics and firefighters paraded into the den. Oh hell, I have balsamic vinegar on my shirt. Double hell, I didn’t shower after working in the yard. Triple hell, I have no shoes on my scummy fungal-toenailed feet. They brought in more equipment than a pyrotechnics truck for the Rolling Stones and pulled out wires, plugs and tubes, attaching them to me. I became a middle-aged version of tentacle porn.

Everybody’s eyes were glued to the machine at the end of the wires. Damn. That is some high blood pressure. The brigade asked us what had happened. We took turns repeating what we told to the 9-1-1 operator. We would repeat those details so many times in the next 20 hours that the words lost meaning. Like awesome, literally, totally and farm-to-table. Those words mean so little these days.

I looked up from the readout and there was my neighbor, a top-o-the-line-runs-the-freaking-department cardiologist. He and his wife were hosting a party for cardiology residents. He should have been pouring wine at his gorgeous home while young doctors sucked up to him. Instead, he was standing behind the paramedics and beside Spousal Unit. He gave me that “It’s gonna be okay” look.

The chief paramedic, whom I sure has a better title than that, explained to me what they were doing and what they saw. These guys do this every day. They see everything. I asked them if they knew our favorite Nashville firefighter. “The cabinet guy?” he asked. “He makes cabinets or something?”

Yeah. Him. We love him. Every cabinet in this house was made by him. You should see the kitchen cabinets. They’re beautiful. These guys are attaching wires to me with their looks vacillating between resting bitch face and this dame is nuts face and I’m trying to give house tours? What I didn’t say was, “You guys are doing great, but I really wish Danny were here right now. He’s more than a cabinet guy. He’s kinda like a brother.”

What I did say probably didn’t make much sense. I tried to be funny, but failed miserably. Apparently, gallows humor isn’t funny when you’re the one standing on the scaffold with a noose around your neck. The wife of our cardiologist neighbor was funny though. She came in the room and made a joke about me crashing her party. Her husband shushed her. I mumbled, “I thought she was funny.” Obviously, she knows me and knew what I needed. I hope she knows she said the exact right thing at the exact right time. I hope she also knows I’m already planning on ways to crash her next party. This one’s gonna be hard to top.

The guys started packing up their gear and I realized we’d passed the point of no return. We had surpassed “Maybe it’s just gas” or “Take an antacid to see if it helps.” Girl Child packed my purse for me. She deserves a college scholarship for thinking on her feet. She grabbed my medicines and the list I keep of them. Later, at the hospital she brought me an overnight bag, sacrificing her favorite Kanken backback, and filling it with a clean shirt, underwear, my computer and chargers for it, my phone and watch. Next time she’ll remember a toothbrush.

I left the room, I left the house trying to make sure that everybody there knew I was going to be okay and that I love them. Meanwhile, neighbor cardiologist made sure I knew I was okay and his wife made sure I knew she loves me. We go back a long way. We will love one another until we die.

I walked out the front door to a gurney on the sidewalk, a fire engine and an ambulance on the street and a dozen or so neighbors hovering. I know a lot of people have great neighborhoods, but I challenge anybody to say they have better neighbors than I. Still, even with my best beauty queen wave as I climbed aboard the gurney, it was embarrassing. After all, I had balsamic vinegar on my shirt and I hadn’t had a shower. I did have on shoes, thanks to my Prince Charming shoving uncooperative canvas chuckies onto my feet. Who needs a glass slipper when they have Converse?

Paramedics lifted me into the ambulance and I recalled to them that my worst nightmare is becoming the patient who is the featured story at their Thanksgiving tables. My cousin (he of Flying Asshole fame) was a paramedic for two decades. Our extended family choked down our turkey dinners while being regaled with stories of patients who were so large that their underwear had to be cut out of the folds of flesh or doors had to be removed to get them through the house. As they heaved me into the ambulance, my guys assured me they’d seen worse.

The five minutes or so of waiting in the ambulance while everybody prepared was the worst of the entire experience. I felt a weird, sinking feeling, much like when my blood pressure plummeted after I was given too much juice in my c-section epidural. It felt as if I were being swallowed into the gurney. “I feel weird,” I said. They got a barf bag. I tried to explain it wasn’t nausea. I couldn’t find the words. My tongue felt thick. I felt stupid. Slow. Scared. I. Was. So. Damn. Scared.

A cloud burst overhead and rain poured down, so the paramedics closed the ambulance doors and continued procedures. Spousal Unit’s car pulled up behind the ambulance and sat waiting. I could see the wipers swinging across his windshield, but couldn’t see him. I knew he was scared also. I do all the important stuff, like make sure the Keurig machine makes it to horse shows and I pick up Man Child when Bessie breaks down. There is one more year of parent teacher conferences remaining. I should stick around just a bit longer. I knew he needed reassurance that I would be okay. Hell, I needed reassurance that I would be okay, so I gestured to him in a way that transcended time, space, closed ambulance doors and a rainstorm. I flipped him the bird.

We pulled out and up the street, past my amazing neighbors, a crashed party and the asphalt on which Man Child drove his go-cart made from a ruined futon up and down and up and down, followed by a motorized bike he built, followed by Bessie. Our neighbors are saints.

Ambulance rides aren’t as much fun as one would imagine. It’s quiet. Eerie. The drive from our house to St. Thomas is a short one and I knew each turn and curve. I could see Spousal Unit behind us. Sorry Sweetie. I really am a pain in the ass, aren’t I? First I make you buy horses for the Girl Child and antique cars for the Man Child and a beat up old camper for me, then I go and do this. Mea culpa, dude.

There is no waiting when one arrives at the hospital in an ambulance with the magic words called “chest pain.” The paperwork will come later. Let’s hook you up. Tell us what happened. Tell us again. And again. Who needs waterboarding when simply asking the same questions over and over again will get somebody to confess to anything. “What do you want me to say? Yes!!! We Googled symptoms for a woman having a heart attack. We did!” we scream and then whimper, “But it was the same list the 9-1-1 operator used. Honestly.”

One doc looked down at the paperwork and sideglanced us. “You went down the list of symptoms you saw after you Googled heart attack.” She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t trust Dr. Google,” she sang. With each subsequent telling, our story got shorter and shorter. After enough sleep deprivation and interrogation, I was monosyllabic. “Throat tight. BP high. Chest pain. Arm numb.”

The staff member would nod, take notes and answer, “And your family Googled heart attack symptoms, right?”

By the time I was discharged, I felt like a Kardashian. “Yes, TMZ, I posed for a photo session with my huge ass receiving the contents of a bottle of champagne, but I did NOT use cold duck. I don’t care what anybody says.” Even custodians were looking me up and down as they wiped the floor boards and I imagined them whispering to the x-ray techs, “You know her family Googled YouTube zit-popping videos when she started showing symptoms, right?”

I don’t remember how long we were in the Emergency Department. Long enough that Offspring sent us a picture of the dog eating his vomit. Long enough that Offspring came and went, bringing the overnight bag and telling us about the dog eating his vomit. Long enough that I had to pee a couple of times. One nurse allowed me to unhook from my tentacles and go; the next nurse pulled in a porta potty. I curled my nose like my Mother always did at gas station restrooms and pronounced as she would, “I’m not using that.” The young, male nurse looked at me. He would be easy to intimidate, so I gave him my best Pat Summit stare, God rest her soul. She lives on, but apparently not in me. He wasn’t swayed and stared back. “I can hold it,” I announced as if I had won the battle.

I’m not a super private person. I’ve written about my fungal toenails falling off in swim class and I’ll tell anybody about the time I mooned the Marshall football team. However, when I go potty, I go potty alone. Guess what doesn’t happen in the hospital when one is admitted for chest pain? Granted, the nurse allows some privacy, standing right outside the door whilst one is doing the pee pee thing, but because the nurse is standing right outside the door, the pee pee thing is hard to come by. I would lie in bed, my eyes watering and my bladder fuller than a tick on a dog’s ear. The nurse would come in and unhook me and follow me to the john. I’d slip the door closed and…well…drip. Dribble. Drip. I tried to think wet thoughts. Imagine waterfalls. The rain outside the ambulance doors. Drip.


That was a long night. I befriended the night nurse. We know about a million people together. Nashville is SUCH a small town. (Get outa here you hoards of carpet baggers! We LIKE it like just the way it is! Harrumph! Get off my metaphorical lawn!) That was one cool nurse and an even better human being. We’re Facebook friends now.

The night shift doc came in. He has an official name, nocturnalist? Hospitalist? Even though I hadn’t slept, couldn’t sleep, I was groggy and out of it enough that I thought I was in Middle Earth and Frodo had come to say hi when this round-faced fellow came in. Dr. Hobbit asked me what happened. I gave him the Cliff Notes version while I tried to peek over the side of the bed to see what his feet looked like. By this time, blood work had ruled out a heart attack and I was deliriously ready for a spa treatment.

I’m kind of an idiot that way. During my years in the trenches of room mom, horse show mom, he invented WHAT mom, you forgot WHAT mom, I have often dreamt of some sort of oasis, a break from the chaos and responsibility. So that I wouldn’t feel guilty in my fantasy, I imagined that oasis came in the form of a heart attack and hospital stay. I would HAVE to relax. I would HAVE to eat healthy. I would HAVE to lie back and take care of myself. And then the cardiac rehab department would fetch me and say, “Time for exercise dearie. Let’s go down to the gym.” It would be an all-expense Blue Cross Blue Shield paid trip to the health spa.

Go ahead and take a minute or twelve to laugh. Wipe the tears from your eyes and change your underwear. I know. It’s okay. I’m very aware. I have the bruised arms and continued sleep deprivation to prove that now I know better. Hospital stay is to health spa as Bonnaroo is to beach vacation.

Dr. Hobbit left and I actually slept, for about an hour. Then it was morning shift change and my new friend went home. Somebody brought by a personal care buffet that was carefully laid out on the bathroom sink that included deodorant and thank the good Lord above, a toothpaste and toothbrush. There were some snazzy looking red tube socks that had smiley -aced skid pads on either side. I had a new nurse I could ask to unhook me and stand by the door like a Secret Service agent while I peed. “Queen Tentacle is on the throne. I repeat, Queen Tentacle is on the throne.”

I put on my smiley-faced tube socks and looked down at my happy feet. I smiled back. Hello Happy Feet. Whatcha doin’? Day Doc came in. What a nice guy, I thought. Spousal Unit was back and sitting beside me. He’d gone home to be with Offspring during the night. Day Doc asked for the story. We gave a more coherent fleshed out version. We name-dropped the neighbor cardiologist who is humble, but really IS a big dang deal. Day Doc knew him, thought highly of him, glad neighbor cardiologist was there the night before, even if it did mean we crashed the party. Day Doc asked if I were active. “Well, I exercise sporadically, but I really never stop. My daughter rides horses and I’m always schlepping around at the barn and…”

“That’s how I know you!”

Come to find out, Day Doc is marrying one of our horse friends with whom we go to shows quite often. We’ve been at shows with Day Doc, but I never really knew his last name and the name he’s called isn’t the name that’s on the badge. I hadn’t recognized him. I was sleep deprived and expecting Frodo, plus people look different at horse shows than they do in real life. A little more unhinged, perhaps.

I squealed. Day Doc wouldn’t let me die on his watch. His fiancée would be stuck taking Girl Child to horse shows if I weren’t present in this life and that would make her grumpy and not fun to be around. She would do a good job, though. She’s pretty good about remembering to take a Kuerig, because there is no such thing as too much coffee at a horse show. Still, Day Doc’s life would be less pleasant if I were pushing up daisies.

Day Doc said my blood work showed no heart attack, but to be safe, there were going to be some tests. I’m pretty good at tests. This would be fun. I had on red tube socks with smiley faces.

As I lay next to a huge machine, trying to remain calm and not believe it looked hella like an MRI and I hate me some MRIs, with some sort of radioactive, nuclear goo pouring through my veins, I thought of all the ways I’d rather be spending a Monday. I’m lousy at tests. This wasn’t fun. Cleaning out a horse stall would be better than this. Dealing with a certain crazed consignment store owner would be more fun and relaxing. Searching for pieces of Bessie she dropped on the side of the road in the hot blazing sun is more fun. So many ways I would rather spend my time. But time is what this was all about. I really want more time. I will take the tests.

So, I got nuclearized, then photographed, then stress tested. An advantage to being middle-aged, fat and out of shape is that a stress test takes a woefully short amount of time. I was up to the required heart rate faster than it takes my Honda Pilot to go from 0 to 60. It was embarrassing, but what the hell, my boobs were plastered with oozy, sticky things and my breath smelled like the grease trap in a Mexican restaurant. Embarrassment had become de riguer. Even though I was on the treadmill a shamefully short time, the motion had slid my socks down so that the smiley faces were flaccid, hanging about five inches from my feet. They had gone from smileys to confused face emojis. I hear you pal.

I was photographed in the Big Machine That Is NOT An MRI one last time, before I was shuttled to a room for an echocardiogram, where country music was playingon the radio. I lay in the room by myself for a while, listening to the woeful stories of the unfortunate ones until the tech came in, a sweet cat lady kind of woman, and we chatted it up for the next 45 minutes while she watched my innards beat and carry on. It’s fun to watch your heart beat on a monitor. Not as much fun as watching your baby’s when you’re 20 weeks pregnant, but fun nonetheless. I left there with gratefulness in my heart that it was working and gratefulness that I could get through 45 minutes listening to country music and a sweet cat lady who thought the rainbow had been “ruint, if you know what I mean,” without my beating, functioning heart exploding.

After the echo, came an ultrasound. I was very efficiently moved from one place to another, my gurney wheeled around like a dessert cart in a four-star restaurant. I had my phone, but there was no reception. I couldn’t tell Spousal Unit that I was okay, that I really had to pee and that I was getting hungry. It was two in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since that fateful bite of seared tuna the night before. Wherever I got parked between tests always seemed to be in front of a television with the Food Network on.

Finally I was shuttled back to the room, where lunch awaited. It was 2:30. I was still NPO, which apparently means No Phreaking Ohmnomnoms and my dry, unsalted chicken breast served under glass/plastic waited, getting drier and less salty until I could be cleared for food. “I can warm this up for you,” offered the day nurse once I was allowed it and I kindly declined. Cold, dry and tasteless is better than warm, dry yet rubbery and tasteless from the microwave.

Day Doc Who Is Marrying Horse Friend came in. I was also cleared for take-off. All of the tests results were negative and my heart was okay. Ultra-sound showed liver, gall bladder and pancreas were okay as well. He surmised that I might have had an esophageal spasm. It apparently presents much like a heart attack and I would Google it to see, but am afraid to. I don’t want rumors to start. He advised me to check with my Primary Care Physician. Oh poor Gary. His lot in life is to be a close family friend as well as my PCP. I don’t envy the man.

I was shuttled one last time, this time in a wheelchair, to Spousal Unit’s car, with a tub of hospital goodies, red smiley-faced safety skid tube socks and Girl Child’s favorite backpack in my lap. I have a social worker friend whose job often requires her to supply women with housing and she always needs travel sized personal care items. I’ll give her those. I’ll keep the tub. Those are great for hand washables. I’ll keep my smiley-faced tube socks. We’re friends now. We’ve been through a stress test together. It looks like I’ll keep a few bloodletting bruises for a while, as well as spots of sticky goo dotted across my torso.

I will also keep a promise I made to myself as I lay in the ambulance and thoughts of not coming back home to my amazing family, my farting dog and my dilapidated unfinished trailer ran through my frightened brain. I will make as many healthy choices as I can for the rest of my life. I know I’ll screw up, but I will ensure that I screw up fewer times than I succeed. I have to.

After, all, I want as many normal and only slightly abnormal days as I can have.




Truck Stop

IMG_0002When I bought Daisy, my cute little canned ham camper, I assumed I would go places with her. The mobility is the appeal, right? Then we took Daisy to Bonnaroo and entrusted Man Child behind the wheel. Spousal Unit, Girl Child and I commanded the chase vehicle and gulped audibly as her cute little bum twerked each time a tractor-trailer rigged whizzed past.

I concluded that Daisy was a back roads day-tripper at best. Some day I will get a vintage Airstream, a Daisy sister, I thought. Daisy’s sibling will do the cross-country tours while Daisy keeps the home fires burning, I told myself.

I began truck shopping. I’d need something sturdy to pull Daisy’s sister and while I’m thinking of it, Girl Child has a 1500-pound monster of an equine who needs to get from Point A to Point B quite often. Rather than pay the trainer to haul the equine monster, I would do it myself.

I’m a badass, after all.

However, I am not a wealthy badass and after truck shopping for several months, I knew that never again would I look at a person behind the wheel of a truck with pity, thinking in true southern style, “Bless their hearts. They have to drive that truck because they can’t afford a car.” Instead, I will think, “Hey, can I borrow a twenty?”

In months of shopping, we found one truck in our price range. It was a 2012 Toyota Tundra that had gone through an aftermarket transition that included a six inch lift, rockstar rims, mud tires, a booger-welded exhaust, aftermarket subs and stereo and the coups de foudre, what Man Child fondly refers to as “zombie lights.” This pimped out redneckmobile spoke to my inner West Virginian. I could imagine flipping on the light bar so my daughter could ride after sunset. There was concern we’d get a stream of soccer moms crunching down the gravel drive, mistaking my friend’s farm for the nearby soccer complex. We’d just blast some hip-hop on the stereo and they’d get the message.

I have a lot of ideas. Most of the time, Spousal Unit gives me a look that says, “You’re one decision away from me calling in the men in white coats.” That tells me I should either pull out my old public relations skills and put on some spin, or I should let something lie – at least for a minute or two. Occasionally, he gives me a look with one hand holding his phone and the other holding a bourbon and branch. That tells me I need to just shut the heck up.

Tank the Redneck Tundra went to somebody else. Sometimes I imagine I see the glow of his light strip on the horizon, beckoning, as a lighthouse beckons the weary sailor. I grieve.

And so, truckless, we began the horse show season this past weekend. We hired Girl Child’s trainer, Laura, to trailer the pony, especially since the pony Girl Child was riding belonged to Laura. Girl Child’s own pony needed the weekend off, suffering from a little spot of thrush. She had to withstand the embarrassment of toenail fungus (I know the feels, girl) and stay home from the show. Girl Child would ride Laura’s beast, River Card.

Because this was a horse Girl Child hadn’t ridden in a while, she got up at the crack of dawn the day before the show so Girl Child, Laura the Trainer and River could have some together time. Read that jump big things on a hill in the morning dew. They rode beautifully and we were smug. My fancy Apple watch kept dinging to let me know a News5 Alert about a road incident blocking traffic on I-40 at the Hermitage exit. We would be heading that way after school, but it would be cleared up by then. We remained smug.

I took sweaty Girl Child to school a little late where she received an unexcused tardy note because as we all know equestrians are not athletes and riding is not a sport. When Man Child was in high school and his bowling team missed classes, it was an excused absence. Don’t get me started.

Frustrated from that, I looked down at my phone to see my friend Phyleen had called. She and her Girl Child were going to the same horse show in East Tennessee. I called her back. Her voice was calm, if a little high pitched. Initially, I thought it was her daughter, Claire.

“We’ve been in an accident and are trying to get a hold of Laura to see if she’ll come pick up the horses. We’re on Interstate 40 at the Hermitage exit.”

This is where I could get into too much detail about friends blocking an interstate, with two horses in a trailer that listed to one side because of blown tires and Phyleen’s new SUV most likely totaled. I could get into the heart-in-my-throat moment when I sat in stopped traffic on the interstate knowing that the reason this traffic was stopped was because my friends, MY FRIENDS, had experienced a catastrophic moment where time slowed so much that later each friend could recount with clarity their version of the trailer fishtailing and finally jackknifing.

I wove through the crawling traffic to get to the shoulder. I imagine each person I cut in front of thought, “Who does she think she is?” I know each person who saw me jump out of the car and hug my three friends then thought. “Oh.”

And this is where the story begins.

IMG_0008We all know by now that women are not “the weaker sex.” There is no weaker sex. There is only difference. Women are strong. Women are resilient. Women get things done. Women don’t stand at the side of the road and breathe into a paper bag; nor do they cry inconsolably that this is the first car that was their very own in two decades. They assess the situation. They wipe the air bag dust from their faces and they go check on the horses.

They politely let law enforcement and TDOT workers know that getting the horses OUT of the trailer before another trailer arrives is a bad idea. The horses are okay. The horses are contained. When you’re hanging out on the side of an interstate, it is commonly assumed that contained horses is a good thing.

Women call for backup. They call other women. They get Girl Child’s trainer to pick their horses up off the side of the road. Laura, the trainer, adjusts her schedule and is there within the hour. It wasn’t that long ago that she was on the side of a hill watching her horse and my daughter jump all the things.

I watched this young woman, who has changed my daughter’s life, deftly command her Chevy 3500 dually diesel (and what she calls pig-killin’ machine) and hugh jass gooseneck horse trailer to the side of the road. The men who had been standing by watching the women work (we’re sure that law enforcement and TDOT workers are not allowed to touch civilians’ belongings, so there is no judgment there) became slack jawed as this smallish, fit woman hopped out of her truck. Much like the Grinch, I imagine parts of their bodies shrunk three sizes that day. And I don’t mean their hearts.

My friends continued to transfer items from broken vehicles to the Rescue Vehicle Known as Laura’s Rig. Phyleen removed items from her battered SUV as the guys assessed the damage. “Looks like the frame’s bent.” “Yep.” “That’ll be totaled.” “Yep.” I know that helped Phyleen a lot.

Her daughter Claire, a picture of buoyancy, energy, clarity and hope lugged personal belongings and horse belongings the 75 feet or so between vehicles. Her usual high energy level was exacerbated by adrenaline. She dropped a flip flop. I forgot to tell her I picked it up. It’s in my car. Her trainer Dana, a tiny powerhouse of resolve, knowledge and candor told the police officer, “We need to provide a barrier between the horses and the road before we transfer, but first we need to medicate the horses so they won’t colic.”

Laura and I climbed into the trailer where the horses stood, miraculously unscathed. As I held each horse’s head, Laura smoothly inserted a syringe needle into its jugular, checking for blood to ensure she was in the vein, and then pressed the syringe, injecting medication. It took about five seconds for each horse.

Afterward, I stepped out of the broken trailer and said to the young cop, “If you’re not married, I highly recommend a horse girl. They’re independent and self sufficient as hell.”

He said, “I don’t like horses.”

I said, “You don’t have to like horses. You just have to like the girl who likes horses.”

He pointed out to Laura that one of the tires on the horse trailer was low. “Might wanna get that checked,” he advised. I wondered out loud if perhaps the TDOT emergency response vehicle had an air compressor. He shrugged. I wondered out loud if I should go ask the driver of the emergency response vehicle if he had an air compressor. I began walking toward the emergency response vehicle. “I’ll do that,” he mumbled as he walked away.

Dana reiterated that we needed a barricade between two horses and two gazillion rubbernecking, texting, why-thank-you-I-DO-own-the-road drivers whizzing by. Soaking wet, Dana probably doesn’t weigh as much as my left leg, but a couple of cops and several TDOT workers all said yes ma’am. Dana commands respect.

But then, those nice professional men stood looking at one another. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be one of those situations where women get men to say the idea so that the men think it was theirs, aka southern matriarch. Dana said, “We could put the police car there.”


I finally volunteered. “I’ll put my car there. I need a new car anyway.” When I started to walk toward my car, the police officer repeated what was becoming his mantra.

“I’ll do that.”


We lined up my car in the front, followed by the police car, followed by the emergency response vehicle, blocking traffic from the shoulder where everything that was important lay. Dana and Claire led the horses out of the broken trailer and into Laura’s. The women were calm; therefore the horses were calm. The women were strong; therefore the horses were strong. The horses were on a trailer going to the horse show; therefore the women climbed into the pig-killin’ Chevy to go to the horse show. Women don’t flutter their hands and change their minds. Women move on.

Phyleen stayed behind with her husband to arrange towing, insurance and the accouterment that accompanies modern day calamities. I climbed back into my trusty old Honda Pilot, knowing that I would pass this spot again later in the day, when Girl Child, Spousal Unit and I drove ourselves to the horse show. When I did pass it and saw pieces of my friend’s car on the side of the highway, the knowledge of what could have been hit me in the chest.

The knowledge of what IS lives in my chest, in my heart and every fiber of my being. From the time we are sharing Twizzlers on the playground to the time we hold a dying friend’s hand, women are there. Women are present. Women are accountable. Sure, we bicker and we act like we’re still in junior high sometimes, but when the rubber meets the road – and especially when it crashes off the road and into a concrete wall – it is our sisters who rise to the occasion.

It is our mothers who first clean our bums and our daughters who do the same as we age. I watched my sisters-in-law and my aunts as their mothers grew less capable of self-care. There is something noble in cleaning the woman who brought you into the world.

Two decades ago, I grabbed Spousal Unit’s hand as I endured hours of a Pitocin-induced labor, but it was my mother and my sister I turned to when the fear, confusion and pain were more than he could ever understand. Coffees, committees and lunches with other moms kept me sane when I was in the trenches of child rearing. There is something about knowing that she struggles also, whether she is a peer, relative or simply a Facebook friend you can’t wait to meet. Knowing she struggles makes your struggle more palatable.

We all ended up safely at the horse show. People rose to the occasion and provided for Claire and Dana what might be missing, whether that was food, beer, a snug place to sleep between two friends’ campers or safety equipment for the ride. Claire ended up getting second place in her division. I hope she doesn’t grow to believe that a car wreck is necessary for a good show.


We learned a lot this weekend. We learned about the strength of women who can crash into an interstate wall, shake it off and go on. We learned about women who form a barrier to protect their friends by grabbing them and their horses and going on. We learned that healthy competitors are women who hugged them, patted them on the shoulder and with heartfelt knowledge claimed, “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

My Girl Child learned to appreciate her own mess of a horse after Laura’s beast acted beastly during dressage. She also learned the importance of good sportsmanship. Then she learned that sometimes a horse who doesn’t enjoy dressage can soar through a cross country course and teach its rider how her own horse could do that particular thing a little better. She placed ninth out of ten participants and neither of us could be any prouder. She plans on framing her Worst Dressage Score Ever.

I learned more of what I’ve always known. Women are tough. Car wrecks are scary. Horses are unpredictable, as are teenage girls. Friendship is priceless. Life is fragile. Much to Spousal Unit’s delight, I’ve also learned that there is no way in hell I’m ever going to buy a truck to pull a horse trailer. I’m a bad ass but I ain’t as bad as my friends. Daisy is a LOVELY home office.


Patch Work


In the alternate universe where I often reside, not only do I wear size ten jeans, I look GOOD in size ten jeans. In that world, I am juggling book tours and giving Stephen King writing tips. My house is sparkling clean, my offspring make perfect grades and my spousal unit doesn’t fart in his sleep. My boobs are perky and Daisy is completely, beautifully, stunningly renovated.

This sparkly version of Daisy will have breathtaking décor, with upholstery stitched by yours truly and just the right amount of kitsch, shabby chic, and mid-century modern to make the “Flippin’ RVs” folk flip over my mad skills. They will ask me for my advice. They must wait until I’ve helped Stephen King work out some kinks with his omniscient point of view.

With these grand designs of Daisy in mind, I accepted an invitation to join my friend, Kathy, for a quilting class. “It’s only twenty bucks,” she said. I had some remnant material I’d bought for near nothing last summer to use as temporary Daisy window treatments for her stay at Bonnaroo. Wow. This would be easy AND it wouldn’t cost much. Why not?

Because Spousal Unit often lives in the same alternate universe, he – bless his heart – bought me a sewing machine shortly after I bought Daisy. We would make upholstery together! Sewing machine is fancy. Sewing machine confuses me. Sewing machine sat idly for more than a year. One day, Man Child discovered that it was more a piece of technology than it was a homemaker’s tool. He learned the embroidery function and now we have slices of material with inappropriately-worded embroidery on them. Graffiti: Junior League style.

I paid my twenty bucks, blew the dust off the machine and got it ready for class, bobbin and everything. I viewed the supply list the instructor had e-mailed and nodded my head knowingly. She recommended WalMart or JoAnn’s for supplies. I would do better and go to the cool sewing store on trendy 12South. I bought things. I bought so many things. I took the list the instructor gave us as mere suggestions and where she recommended an “EasySquare Jr. Ruler (6 ½ “ square), I bought a 10-inch square. Bigger is always better. Besides, the cool sewing store didn’t have 6 ½ inch squares, but it did have some awesome crane-shaped embroidery scissors for almost thirty bucks.

I also needed two yards of material to coordinate with the bargain-priced remnant stuff I had at home. I was being SO SMART. I spent a little more than I had planned, actually about $180 more than I had planned, but I was still using fabric that I had paid near nothing for! I gathered my purchases and dumped them in the car between Girl Child’s smelly horse stuff, her theatre stuff and my errand stuff. Two hundred dollars worth of sewing supplies and fabric melted into the effluvium that is the back seat of my poor, abused Honda Pilot. Bless its heart.

The first day of class was cancelled because of snow. God does hear prayers because I hadn’t done my homework, which was to wash and iron my fabric. Washing and ironing my fabric meant I had to find my iron, which I recall using when Man Child graduated from high school almost three years ago and my parents were in town. I sprung from the loins of a woman who still irons my dad’s boxer shorts. This is one apple that fell REALLY far away from the tree, then rolled down a hill and rotted. Not everything I do makes my mother proud.

The following week, the skies parted, the roads were cleared – even by southern standards – and class was held in one of Nashville’s old high schools. It’s a lovely old building and I love to romanticize about lovely old buildings and rue the evil empires (WalMart) that mow down lovely old buildings, rolling farmland and Native American burial grounds for altars to gross consumption.

It is easier to saunter up to the inner sanctum of the Pentagon than it is to reach the sewing classroom in that lovely old building. I’ve been through West Virginia corn mazes in knee-deep mud that were easier to complete. I was dragging my semi-fancy sewing machine, two hundred dollars worth of gizmos and four yards of washed and ironed fabric through an Amazing Race course. I passed the senior citizens crafting class and contemplated stopping right there to join them. Instead, I clomped down a ramp, sewing machine, cozy in its rolling case, pushing me impatiently. I turned right.

The lovely old building became American Horror Story: Asylum. Turning right was wrong. A metal door loomed. I turned left. Sweat dripped into my eyes. I wheezed. I was already late. I could turn around and go home and only my friend Kathy would be the wiser. I persevered, landing in a room where people gathered with sewing machines, scissors, and nametags. Kathy – that smart dame– had saved a spot for us in front of the fan. The room temperature was approximately 100 degrees. Centigrade. Senior citizens wrapped sweaters around chilled shoulders. Menopausal citizens stripped down to 18-hour bras and Spandex. Menopausal women can get ugly when there is unlimited heat and limited fans.

We are a little more than halfway through the class. I am a little less than halfway through my quilt. It’s not lack of trying. It’s lack of ability. And experience. I haven’t sewn since high school when I created a snazzy little summer top that made me the sexiest thing around. Since then, my grandmother’s sewing basket comes out only when somebody needs a safety pin. Safety pins make good hems. Spousal Unit and I used to joke that our sewing skills were such that when a button fell off a shirt, we would give it a eulogy. “What a nice shirt. Too bad it’s gone now.”

I’m determined to change all that. After all, I will wear size ten jeans and Daisy will be featured on “Flippin’ RVs” and the cover of “Vintage Camper Trailers” magazine. They will commission a photographer for the shoot. Said photographer will wisely shy away from Daisy’s blemishes, the unremovable dents from the tree that fell on her, the rust peeking through her paint job, and instead focus on her cute canned ham lines and her impeccably designed interior. There will be a hand-crafted quilt casually tossed on the bunk, where I, the famous writer, had been working. Curious, the photographer will reach over, click on the computer and find private messaging between Stephen King and me. “Steve,” the message will say. “I really think third person limited is better than third person omniscient in this instance. Just call me back if you have any more questions.”



Road Age

Tracy.FlyingAsshole.2jpeg My mentor, piano teacher and woman for whom my daughter is named gave up her keys when she was ninety-something. She did so voluntarily and about a decade later than prudent. She was legally blind and drove the same way she played piano: by touch. My offspring believe I never really lived a life of excitement, having never climbed Mount Everest, swum amongst sharks, or danced on a stripper pole. Those people never got in a car with Lavelle Jones.

After the past week of driving in Nashville, I am ready to give up my keys and hire a chauffeur for Daisy and me. I wonder if Uber will pull a 1959 canned ham camper, because this old girl’s blood pressure just can’t take it any more.

Our town is supposedly an “it city” now. That’s good, I suppose. People are employed. There are cool restaurants. We have our own TV show. However, this cantankerous broad is beginning to feel like the increase of traffic and constant road construction make what Nashville is only rhyme with “it city.” I feel like I’m in a Jason Bourne movie. Everywhere I turn, there is an obstacle and somebody out to get me.

Last week, I picked Girl Child up from school, driving home the usual route. I needed to turn left from a very busy street onto a semi-busy street. Traffic in the suicide turn lane, to turn left was backed up to Kentucky. I was in the suicide turn lane. I didn’t want to be backed up to Kentucky, so I checked my rear view and popped back into the mainstream traffic. Apparently, the Sweet Young Lady in the far right lane wanted to be where I was and I thwarted her plans. She honked her horn politely for about 20 seconds and waved delicately with an extended finger, as she zipped past.

“I’m gonna flip her off,” proclaimed Girl Child.

“No, honey, don’t,” I admonished. After all, we need to take the high road in these things and it’s up to me, the Mother, to set the example. When we arrived at the stop light, I purposely stayed several feet back so that there wouldn’t be ugly looks as we waited on the light. Ohm. Namaste. I got this.

Sweet Young Lady in the right lane took the opportunity and space I provided her, to cut sharply in front of me so that she was perpendicular to my car. Her sweet little face was right in front of mine and she glared. As I think back, I realize I probably mistook her intent and it wasn’t a glare, but an invitation to friendship. I bet she liked the color of Girl Child’s hair and wanted to get her stylist’s number. Or maybe she thought we should all get coffee. Maybe she saw the DaisytheTrailer bumper sticker and wanted to get one. We’ll never know her true intention, because I had a burst of middle-aged-from-West-Virginia-I-am-badder-than-Kathy-Bates-Towanda energy and I multi-tasked the HELL out of that moment. I laid on the horn, extended both middle fingers, would have extended middle toes if I could have gotten my feet above my stomach, made horrible faces and threw up gang signs.

Maybe not gang signs, but that’s what Girl Child thought and was duly impressed. It’s unusual for a mom to impress a teenage daughter and I hated to lose the moment, but honesty is usually the best policy. As Sweet Young Lady finished her creative driving by executing a U-turn, I confessed, “No, honey. Those weren’t gang signs. Those were flying assholes.”

Because not everyone knows what that is, I shall explain. In the Milton, West Virginia culture of the 1970s, one could extend a friendly greeting, by touching one’s forefinger to one’s thumb, creating a circle. Sometimes this is used to signal, “Okay.” However, if one turns one’s hand so that the wrist is facing inward instead of outward, one has created a “flying asshole.” I have a photo of my cousin sneaking one out at my 16th birthday party. A couple of years ago, I made t-shirts with the pictures and passed them out to family members. He was grateful; I’m sure of it. Just as he’ll be grateful for this story.

Still shaking with adrenaline and embarrassment that I used archaic mountain gestures and not hip urban ones, I looked in my rearview mirror. The driver behind me had her phone up, obviously videotaping my moment. I don’t blame her. I LOVE irony and the thought of some crazy woman gesturing wildly to another driver through the frame of stickers pasted all over the back window, espousing peace, love, coexist, and Margaret Meade philosophy is too good to pass up. I can’t WAIT until it goes viral. Please God, don’t let it go viral.

Yesterday, I picked Girl Child up from school and headed toward the hip, cool, trendy 12South area of town. I had an errand to complete and it seemed as if the odds were ever in my favor. I was hitting green lights, Girl Child and I were chattering like chickens and she was playing good tunes from her Spotify playlist. I stopped at a stop sign, happy that the coast was clear, then bolted across a busy one-way street that is part of music row.

“MOM!!! STOP!!!”

I saw a flash of gold and did more than slam on the brakes. I stood on them. I Fred Flintstone hung my feet through the floorboard stopped. I braked two tons of steel with every ounce of my being. Pollyanna, my poor 12-year-old-smells-like-horse-poop Honda Pilot squeezed her eyes closed, jammed up her ABS and hopscotched to a halt, leaving a skid mark like a frat boy’s underwear after Taco Tuesday. There was so much screaming and squealing that I couldn’t discern my voice from my daughter’s, from car brakes from dog.

I still can’t say for certain what happened, but I know with certainty that I will never be a good witness to a murder. I would be an even worse murderer, incriminating myself at every turn. I imagine myself on the witness stand. The prosecutor smells blood. “Mrs. Caldwell, what did you see?”

“A flash of gold. I think it was a dog. It could have been a cat. Or an antelope. Or a baby…OH GOD I HIT A BABY!!!!”

“What happened afterwards?”

“I don’t know. It was all so quick. The dog ran off. I left my teenage daughter in the car in the middle of the street while I ran after the dog and the guy holding a leash.”

The prosecutor will look me up and down, stopping at my rotund mid-section. “You RAN, Mrs. Caldwell?”

“Yes. Which is why I started wheezing and told the guy with the leash to keep looking on foot…to go on without me….”

“So, you LEFT the guy holding the leash? Knowing it was HIS dog who had been hit by YOUR car?”

“Yes, but I was going back to my car, to drive around and look for Simba.”

“The victim’s name was Simba?”

“Is. The victim, the dog’s name IS Simba. He’s still alive. He’s actually okay.”

The prosecutor will throw a knowing look at the jury. Rap his knuckles on the wooden rail in front of them. “So, you left the scene of the crime.”

“No! I drove around looking for Simba. My daughter walked the entire area, alerting The Contributor salesperson on the corner and everything.”

“Mrs. Caldwell, we have here a video of your act of road rage the week prior to your running over sweet Simba.”

“I didn’t run OVER him. I hit him. I think. But I found him! I’m the one who found him in the pre-school parking lot, with the…well, actually some preschooler’s dad found him, but I found the dad, with Simba. And I picked him up – Simba, not the dad — and I got blood on my coat and everything.”

Once again, the prosecutor will sideglance the jury. They all get the joke that is me. I shall rise to my own defense.

“I took the dog and the owner to the vet. Simba is okay. The owner and I are kinda friends now. He’s a really sweet guy and is going to help my daughter make contacts at art schools. They did x-rays. No internal damage. All they had to do was remove a toenail….”

The fainthearted of the jury will retch. The judge will swoon and the court reporter will pass out. Court will recess and when it reconvenes the prosecutor will continue his attack.

“Back to the road rage incident Mrs. Caldwell, in this video, are you throwing up gang signs?”

“No. That’s a flying asshole.”