So Many Wasted Days

2 Oct

Writing this now I would not have believed it a year ago, when I met her face online. Tough times throughout the time I got to know her, and we fought daily. Turns out, and it took me about 10 months to realize it, never having encountered such a personality type before, but I met, what psychology terms, a full-blown narcissist. And she had all the top ten signs too: lack of empathy, miserly in her spending, over-punctilious for being on time, creating lists for the smallest of tasks, her subtle insults and digs, her delusional nature, her constant need for appreciation, her endless antagonism.

She had me spending money, and then losing it nary a refund, sometimes all in the same week. I remember giving her an engagement ring in mid-March, right around her birthday, and the following week, she’d text to say she doesn’t understand my sense of humor, and maybe I’m not the one for her, and that she’s decided to return the engagement ring I bought her. This little episode came 7 days after spending $385 on a proposal dinner.

After that, the relationship became more and more of an emotional rollercoaster, relying on her sad, turmoiled life from childhood and dumping on me every chance she could, she would heap insult upon insult at me. At first I’d laugh it off because I’m good-natured, but then I began to see her behavior as weaponizing. Then came the lies. She took back the engagement ring given to me, but refused to admit it, and then blamed me for stealing it. That was a whopper. I should have kicked her ass to the curb then, but she persisted, always calling, texting, always crying, always coming up with a sob story. Then the “love bombs.” Psychologists have a known name for this, I never realized it myself, but the narcissist will “love bomb” to the point you can’t remember why you were mad at them in the first place.

“I love you! Love doesn’t end, I’m here because I love you, you’re the one for me, I know God brought us together! Oh, I love you so much!”

And then, within a matter of a few days, the repertoire of challenge would begin again.

“You’re a big girl, you have 75 lbs. on me, why don’t you see that? When we live together, you’re going to take off some poundage.

Why do you leave so much water in the sink? You should wipe the sink down.

Please wear socks in the kitchen. Your feet sweat and I don’t want marks on my floor. Please keep your hands off the wall.

Do not lay on the couch, you can sit on the couch but don’t lay down. I don’t want you laying down on the couch.”

These are the highlights, because the amount of horrible, unfathomable, disgusting, and other behavioral shit she put me through, would be hard for any normal person to imagine.

Her ‘Pull me closer-Push me away’ behavior went on like clockwork, and almost every Friday, when I was about to start the weekend, she would start a fight for no reason at all, or, in her mind, the reasons were significant. To me, it was something over my not calling at 6 p.m., or getting off the phone because I wanted to read, or call a friend. A fight would always ensue. It took me a while to see it because I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to believe in her, believe that I had a shred of hope in whatever relationship I was building with her, afterall, we were both 66 and both waiting to find love nearly twenty years.

We would have a few good days, but there weren’t many. Her friends didn’t help matters.

Having met me only briefly, her friends would criticize me to her, and, after a while, she would believe them. Whatever they said, it didn’t matter – she would think about the plausibility, the possibility. But the worst part was when she would ask me to justify my behavior to prove a point to her friends that I really did love and care about her. Still, I don’t think she ever believed me. Her friends, like the Wizard of Oz flying monkeys, went out searching to undo any ounce of happiness she may have felt for me.

And then one month right after New Years day, she called to ask me about some money she was missing. “I hate to ask you this, but I have to.”

She sounded upset, and I couldn’t imagine what the issue could be coming off the joy of the holidays. She would call me by my given name when the matter was serious.

“Theresa, I am missing money. It was in the cabinet.”

“Yeah? Well, how much?” I asked.

“It was $180 three times, so $540. It was Mannie’s money, the money she gives me to take care of her bills, I saved it and put it in the cabinet. You didn’t take it, did you?”

My eyes popped, my tongue went flaccid, and my heart dropped. “No, Leah, I wouldn’t steal your money. How could you think that of me?”

I had never known such manipulation, but it was thrust upon me.  Maybe that lack of oxygen was getting to her head.

The girl couldn’t breathe, think maybe I didn’t mention it, but it’s worth mentioning now. Yep. She had full-blown COPD, and on oxygen 24/7. You would think she would be more humble, sincere, engaging, maybe even a little kind. Nope. She wasn’t. Not at all.

We would go out to dinner, and there was her sense of entitlement for the whole world to see. Constantly bothering, badgering, and putting the waitstaff through the hoops.

“What is your name? Tyler? Well, Tyler, this is not what I ordered. I asked for medium and you brought me out well-done.” Or, another time, “Excuse me, excuse me!” now yelling through the other quiet tables, “Can you fill this up with ice? I like a lot of ice! What is your name? Okay, thank you, Miles.”

And recently, having an afternoon lunch, and being just seated only moments before, “I want the shade dropped; the sun is in my eyes!” I told her, “Please don’t do this” as she was standing to adjust the shade, “just wait until the waiter comes over, and ask him to roll down the shade.” But of course she didn’t.

“Excuse me, excuse me! Can you roll this shade down, it’s too bright, the sun is in my eyes!”

Oh God. There I was, once again, bowing my head, turning my face to the glass of the restaurant window in embarrassment.

A few days later, after her last visit, I went through a blue period, and tried telling her. “I’m just going through a minor depression, just a few blue days in a row, that’s all. It’ll pass.”

“Well, what do you mean,” she expressed petulance and indignation, like this was a helluva an inconvenience.

“It’s fine! I’ll be fine in a few days,” I told her, “just give me some time.”

“How often do you get like this? Theresa. I need to know. Does your cousin know? I’m worried about you; I’m worried about you! I will call the suicide hot-line! I’m worried about you; I don’t want to hear you talk like this! I will call your boss!”

Oh. My. God. I’m thinking, She has lost her fucking mind, and her response to my being blue is being so overblown, this is not normal fucking behavior! It’s like she’s fucking upset because I am taking time away from her, and her needs!

And so, it was.

I had to cheer up quickly, let me tell you, because she had zero empathy. Any other normal person would have responded, Ah, I get days like that, it’ll pass, don’t worry. Wanna’ talk about it?

But histrionics were the norm on so many days, so many crazy days with her, so many arguments, so much wasted time, that when I think back now, part of me is broken and scarred, another part of me has lost hope, and yet another part of me thinks she’ll have to find new dumping grounds for her unresolved childhood bullshit. I’m glad I escaped, but I didn’t leave unscathed.

Copyright Terry Rachel 2022

The Cocktail Party

27 Nov

I’ve been looking at friend photos of the Thanksgiving that just passed, and it reminded me of a dinner party my companion and I held while living in Albany, NY. We lived in a really cool rehab brownstone around the block from the governor’s mansion. It had all the cool – brick walls, original floorboard, galley kitchen, great outdoor space, and I did some artsy deco stuff around the faux fireplace that made the mantel stand out. Needless to say it was great for parties, and my companion and lover at the time, was a young, absolutely gorgeous, Julie Christie look-alike. We were young, fun, fabulous, and we both believed in an open door policy – where our generosity knew no boundaries, particularly around the holidays.

By six at night, the party was in full-swing. People were bringing gifts and placing them under the Christmas tree that was centered between two big, floor to ceiling windows. The tree looked perfect in the living room, nearly 8 feet tall, it filled the apartment with aromas of freshly cut pine. Both Edie and I greeted each guest, taking their jackets, and offering a first glass of wine or champagne.

I had invited Erin and Lisa, two friends who I had known from Brooklyn, and who had transplanted themselves, moving to Albany a few months earlier – over the summer, for a job with New York State. “Oh!” I said to Erin, “How are you?!” We kissed and hugged, introductions all around. And I remember Erin winking at me and whispering, “Wow, Ter, she’s beautiful.”

“She a lot of work, Erin” we smiled knowingly. “Does this have to be refrigerated?” as she passed the tray, so many people were in the kitchen, and it was Edie pulling me aside, “I’m putting the ice on the deck, there’s no more room in the refrigerator. What’s that?!” she said, pointing to what I was holding.

“It’s something from Erin and Lisa – “

Edie, always in a rush more than me, “We can’t fit it! I’ll put it under the tree!”

The next day the regular clean-up began, the expected dishes in the sink, the leftovers sitting on the counter looking half-dead, the open bottles of wine with their mismatched corks, and someone forgot their gloves. Where was the Advil?

I walked into the living room and the cats had taken over the tree, it was askew and one particular gift was ripped apart, and I could see tiny bits of food strewn across the wrap that surrounded the Christmas tree stand. I picked up whatever was left of the “gift” and read the tiny card that was still intact, “Terry and Edie, Merry Christmas! Love, Erin and Lisa”.

That was so sweet and kind and thoughtful of them to bring a gift, and the shrimp cocktail that never made it to the frig.

Texas Too Soon

30 Aug

By Terry Rachel as told by Terri Mason

Thoughts on Mitzi

Remember how we use to call it the She-Shed because I was always running out to get some tool, and you would always tell others when they called, She’s out in the shed. Well, this morning I sat in the she-shed and cried because, like always, I needed your help. Without you I am not that strong. If I could just hold off till you get back home it would all be better, but then I realized you’re not coming back, you’re never going to be here again to help me, to tell me there’s a better way. I choke up and cry when I talk about you. Even the funny stories are cut short by my heart thrusting into my throat, stopping the words in their tracks. I keep thinking I heard you call out, that I saw glimpses of you in misty forms moving quickly in front of me. I wondered if that dish that slid off the dish rack, after having been there all day with no movement, was you. I thought I felt your hand on my shoulder, on my cheek, and I convinced myself that your lips pressed against mine in one last kiss. I trudge on and get the work done, but I know it won’t look as pretty, but I hope that it will at least be level, because straight it will never be. Maybe later, we could go pick some clover and make jelly.

Chattanooga

Some couples survive in their relationships, we thrived. In our twenty years together, Mitzi and I had less than six fights where we raised our voices. During the Chattanooga years, we often spent weekends at the nearby lake. We enjoyed pebble games, where I’d toss pebbles her way when she wasn’t looking; she’d toss the pebble closest to a forgotten can, or in the divot of a piece of inland driftwood. While fishing, she would sometimes fall asleep, but always kept her hand on her fishing pole in case a cantankerous catfish or bass pulled the line. When she was asleep, I’d tease her, tugging her line to signal an ensuing battle. “Stand up, you got one!” I announced, shaking her out of her sleep, She’d jump up and pull hard on her line, sure that she had a big fish on the other end, “now reel it in… hard!” I don’t know how many trophy fish she thought tempted her line, but every time she battled one, I’d cheer her on. The stories we shared are too many to tell, but you couldn’t help but laugh along with her, as her laughter was contagious. We were truly each other’s best friend.

Every morning before sunrise, Mitzi would get up and feed the neighborhoods strays. We were running an unofficial rescue center. She’d trap the cats and take them to the shelter not too far away. We fed birds, Mourning Doves, squirrels, and other visiting critters. A bird she named Broken Wing came within a few feet of her – and that was a couple of feet more than the week before, to feed from her hand. She had a way with animals. She also gained the trust of a cat she named Blackie. The fact that Blackie, one of the many stray cats in her fold, actually let her touch him was not only a miracle, because Blackie was feral, but she gained his trust in only a few short weeks! Meanwhile, we had a running order from Amazon for cat food – for cats we didn’t even own.

Texas

We left Tennessee and moved to Texas because Mitzi wanted to move closer to her family. I agreed for Mitzi’s sake. I wanted to make her happy. I remember joking, you’re not going die on me once we get to Texas, are you? Like a lot of people, we bought a modest home with some land, but the house needed some work. For starters, we had to get rid of the godawful orange walls in the kitchen and the nasty linoleum floor. After hours of prepping we were both tired, so I suggested she take a nap, and I stayed up all night getting the kitchen floor ready for the new flooring.

It’s day eighteen, or twenty-one, depending on the actual or official date, I can’t remember. All I do know is the anguish and pain I am feeling, and I can’t can. She never woke up from that nap, I can’t do anything about it. Three months living in Texas and I go and lose my perfect person. It’s easy to tell the facts, they never change. They just are. What’s hard is talking about this hole in me, the emptiness and the loneliness I feel, especially at night. What’s impossible right now is not being able to release the image of her while I frantically pumped her chest and screamed her name.

I clean, but continually find another footprint or smear from the dirty feet of the ambulance team, and I am reminded again of how she was laying on the floor with her clothes cut down the center so they could place the nitroglycerin patches on her chest. And then I move the bed to clean up the cat hair that always finds its way underneath, and I find the mouthpiece they used to push air into her lungs.

And people say call me anytime, but you know they don’t want your burden added to theirs. That’s why they don’t call you. They never know what to say, they think you’re going to turn around and be the person you were before. But you can’t, because you don’t know how. You’ve never known this pain before. It feels like a charley horse in your chest and throat, and the tears won’t dry up. And you tell yourself that you’re thankful for the fur babies that keep you going, because they are your sole responsibility. Only you will be taking out the trash, and watering the garden, cleaning the litter box, and feeding the chickens, and mowing the lawn, and painting the rooms, and laying the floors, and going to the grocery, and paying the bills, and figuring out how you’re ever going to sleep in that room again.

Five Months Later

At one point, just over a month ago, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I felt empty, and in agony, every waking moment of the day. My world has been so screwed up, that I have not been able to think much beyond the immediate. I haven’t been able to entertain future options or possibilities much past a week. Making big decisions has been foreign to me recently, and even decisions involving regularity has come with major difficulties. However, on Friday, I thought that I had lost the one thing that held me to the bond of what we had for the previous 10 years. I lost my wedding ring. I looked in the dirty clothes, in the trash, in the refrigerator and dishwasher. I looked in the crevasses of the car, and in the parking lot at the vet’s office, and at work. I asked around, but no one found it. I wondered if this was a sign that I needed to start thinking about moving forward, about getting out of the rut I’ve been living in.

I began thinking of my next adventure, either with or without a new relationship, and I felt a lightness in my spirit – a freeing of some sort. The thought of going forward without a companion was sad to me, and I decided that I would not become a person who lived a life of solitude. I pulled the blankets back to get into bed, and there was the ring. It was like it had been placed there. I don’t recall taking it off, and my finger hasn’t shrunk enough to have it slip off. It is however, how it will stay. I laid the ring besides hers in the jewelry box.

Doctor, I’m Fine

18 Jul

by Terry Rachel

I can’t get this thing about growing old into my head. It’s just not working for me. I have to keep busy, I have to be part of something, I watch very little TV, and I’m not online a lot. Instead I think about nature, and being outside, walking two or three miles, and getting fresh air. And those projects: Furniture needs to be stripped and varnished, and those boxes. Utilize the boxes and place your tools in them. You should get some things to storage, so you can start empyting the closet. And, unlike a lot of people, I am not an online shopping addict, not a compulsive buyer. I think about what I need and then shop in a real store to find it. If it fits, and I need it, I buy it. If not, I don’t think about it again.

When it comes to eating, it’s now a matter of what is good for my body. Is my body going to be bored with it? Will it be too much? I can’t eat a lot now, and I can’t eat late at night. I used to love drinking wine and pairing it with cheese, nuts, and fruit, with cured meats such as pepperoni, and hard salami, always a favorite. But after a glass or two, I’m no longer a sparkling conversationalist (no pun intended), and the cheese and nuts are bound to be stuck somewhere in my digestive track. I have to be sensible. Maybe I’ll have some green tea before bed.

I try to keep western medicine at bay. I’m afraid of taking pills. I debate on whether or not to take 200 milligrams of Ibuprophen when someone else might pop 2 or 4 pills within hours. On a recent visit, my doctor said, “You know, your blood pressure is elevated. We can get that down. I’d like to prescribe 5 mg of…” I looked at her like a deer in headlights. “I’m just nervous right now,” I said, “I get that way whenever I go to the doctors.” I filled the prescription, and when I got it home I stared at the bottle. I didn’t want to be on a prescription drug. That was 6 months ago. Since then I increased my exercise by including bicycling two times a week and staying an extra 15 minutes at the gym for a total of 90 minutes five times a week. My body likes to be physical. Afterall, the doctor doesn’t know my body like I do.

Working still and working with a team. I know some people enjoy their retirement years. For them, getting up at a six o’clock alarm is no fun, and sleeping in is their preference, maybe even lounging in bed with a cup of coffee. I can’t do that. I like routine. I have’t lounged in bed in “I can’t remember when” no, not for me. I like working. I like producing. I like being part of a team, and I really love being a part of the ever-changing technology landscape. Technology is fascinating and I keep in the know about IT and tech.

My relationship with God has taken on a new level of faith. I got away from the church for nearly 30 years, but I returned in 2019, going to mass almost every Sunday. I went to confession on Ash Wednesday in 2020. There was a line that day, nearly 6 people ahead of me. I was nervous. I was looking around. “You should go,” I thought, “What are you going to say, anyway? No. This is wrong.” But I stayed, and I waited on line. I kept checking my watch. Thirty minutes! Wow, this priest must be popular. My confession went off without a hitch, but I have to admit, I stunned the priest when I told him it had been 50 years since my last confession.

My life is a very simple one. I live in a very simple world that I created. With the passing of friends and family, threads of communication, my once reliable byways, have shrunk in size. And maybe that’s why I keep running around, I keep chasing time. I keep wanting to make something happen. I keep getting up for that alarm. I can’t get it into my head that I have to slow down. It’s Sunday. If I buy varnish and stripper today, I can get that piece of furniture ready for October, when it’s not too humid.

Crown Her Lamb

7 Feb

by Terry Rachel

I tried to help them by giving my time and care, but in the end, my mother and father’s passing came within three years of each other leaving a chasm deep and wide, an indelible mark that moved through my veins like an iceberg, and the boundless phantom pain that came and went, would haunt me for years to come.

My mother was the first of her siblings to die, so her sisters and brother were in agony and disbelief. And when they stopped visiting and calling the house, that’s when I saw my family ties begin to unravel. Thankfully, my brothers were still around, and I would visit and get together with them as often as I could. I was their only sister, the only daughter left. I desperately hoped we would stick together now that mom and dad were gone.

I returned to school and finished my degree that I had postponed for so long. I now had time to study.  I established my residency on Long Island, and after graduating with an undergraduate degree in Electronic Technology, I landed a job as a test engineer working for a semiconductor lab in Hicksville, New York.  I often thought of my parents, and how they would have liked to see me married, starting a family. But that wasn’t my future. I still wasn’t out, and I was ashamed to tell them I was gay. But they knew, and I knew they knew. And knowing it nearly killed them. I wondered if they would be proud that I had finally finished school.

When my brothers died, one in 1992 of AIDS, and another, nine months later in 1993 of lung cancer, my mind was gone, I couldn’t believe that God would rob me of two of the most special people that made up the very fiber of my soul. My world was rocked. I fell into a deep depression, and became a heavy drinker and drug abuser. My last living brother catapulted into a dead zone, walking out on his wife and two children. I became reckless and restless, getting into car accidents, or leaving the scene, driving while intoxicated, I was physically hurting, and verbally abusing whoever crossed my path. The woman I was living with of four years left me, the company that had once put me on a career track fired me on a Monday morning and escorted me out the door. Whatever inheritance I had left went to drugs and alcohol. My world had collapsed.

For about 13 years, I rarely heard from my cousins, my nieces or my nephews. My mother’s siblings were dying or already dead. My father’s only brother had passed, as did my father’s mother, my beloved grandmother whom I adored.  Days turned into years; it seemed everyone was getting old. Even my nieces and nephews had started to raise families of their own. I moved through the world very slowly during this time, having gotten a DUI and doing an overnight stint in jail really did the trick. I realized that for more than ten years I had abandoned myself to drugs and drink, wallowing in pity, I thought, How can I expect those who I did not call to call on me now?  But it didn’t end there.

By the time my last brother died of diabetes in 2008, I had given up all hope in God. I was mad at everyone. I kept lying to myself by continuing drugs and drink, and continued to lose job after job for my insubordinate attitude. I found myself moving further away from friends and whatever hometown roots I use to know.  I learned to live with myself, alone for months at a time. Why was I still in mourning, grieving the loss of my mother and father, who I affectionately referred to as the king and queen, and my brothers, as the bishop, knight and pawn. The pain wouldn’t go away, it just subsided. You look at the calendar one day because somehow that day seems significant only to realize it’s his birthday or her death day.  I had a choice to make, continue to hold back the tears and carry on, or run away.

Most of the things that I either inherited or bought on my own were sold. Some items were given away to people I didn’t know, while other belongings either went to Goodwill or bagged and thrown into a parking lot clothing bin. All the books sold. My record collection sold. I relieved myself of anything material, and hit the road. Between 2009 and 2016, landing job after job, and renting rooms in other people’s homes, I moved to eight different states. 

In Vermont, I learned people were resourceful; they actually pick the best foliage and sell leaves to tourists for $5.00 a bag. In Washington, there was no diversity. I kept asking myself, Where are the black people? They were none, at least none that I saw. In the surrounding waterways of Maryland, I learned to crack blue crabs, and I volunteered my time at Hospice of the Chesapeake visiting terminally ill patients with my dog, who was featured in a local newspaper. North Carolina boasted a blue sky every day, but I didn’t like the politics there, as I was sometimes called a Yankee. I did all my hiking in Virginia, as the mountains and waters converge, it is truly an astonishing sight to take in, often leaving me in wonder by its natural beauty, but the people there were snobbish and uptight, at least they were in what is considered, “NOVA.” While in New Jersey, I feasted on pizza from DeLorenzo’s, and did a lot of bicycling on the paths that met the Delaware River.  In Georgia, I got robbed three times within two months, and would never go back there even on a midnight flyover. In Connecticut, I traveled to Rhode Island, visiting Bill, an old boyfriend. We laughed and reminisced about old times in a lobster house near the water where fishermen sold the lobster to the restaurant, and lobster traps could be seen from our window.

Since I couldn’t hold a job for long, I would have to learn things quickly, so I learned all kinds of computer skills. I could easily do this because I knew I had to. Packing was a cinch since I had only clothing with me and maybe a few accessories. I kept a superbly clean business wardrobe, always presenting myself professionally. Because I was renting rooms, I often didn’t have kitchen privileges, so I was eating sparingly. Inside I felt like a con artist, but I chose not to make any predictions about the future, as the past and present were endlessly hard and difficult, so any thought about the future was uninspiring, as I now had become an adult orphan.

Later and now in my late 50’s, whatever milestones I may have enjoyed such as getting my master’s degree, buying a new house, a new job promotion, my sixtieth birthday, pretty much went unnoticed. In 2016, I settled down. My dog was still with me, but we would spend many holidays alone.  On those holidays, I would always make sure to make a day of it, hiking trails for long hours, bringing water and food in a backpack. The goal was to make sure the dog and I were completely exhausted from the day as to not let the sadness of being alone on a major holiday creep through. Ensuring I was exhausted, I would come home, eat something quick, and fall asleep.

 I accepted my situation but I also knew I needed something more, more for me.  I knew I needed to find grace, humility, and strength to carry on.  I needed to find peace. I needed to return to my faith.  I decided I would become a faithful follower again, and regularly attend mass.

About a year ago, now at age 65, I lost my dog. It was another kicker. She was my true friend. I prayed for peace. I began the mindful journey of reaching out to my nieces and nephews, trying to stay connected, trying to get things going for all the time we lost. My dearest first cousin encouraged me saying You have family out there, call them. I didn’t know what I would say. I didn’t know them. I was scared. I was reluctant to call them. What if they hear my voice and say, Oh, crawl back under the rock you came from.  I thought of my brother, the one whose life was ravaged by diabetes, the one who would take great pleasure in his philosophical beliefs, the one who would offer me one wise, last lesson, Remember kid, in the end, all you have is family. Yes, brother, yes, I believe you’re right.

Life in the Laughing Lane

30 Sep

IMG_1138Americans are amazing, they’ll do anything they can to make a buck. This photo shows a broken down truck stuck in the mud. This guy’s trying to sell his corn. Thing is, even though the umbrellas are protecting his harvest, there’s no corn in the truck’s bed. But it sure is a good view. Nice try, too.

I work in an office with fluorescent lighting, sitting in a cubicle with beige/brown insulated-fabric dividers. I sit dressed in front of a computer. I write reports. I investigate and analyze data. Sometimes I meet with others. Other times, I’m writing. Writing is a solitary endeavor. Not for a minute do I feel that I’m not at work. I sit very close to others who cough, sneeze, and clear their throats. It’s a good day when I can finish lunch at my desk and not spill anything on my blouse. Today was one of those days.

I have a bus going out to Annapolis, so I’m mindful of the time. I have to catch the 5:06. Once on the bus, I squeeze next to someone who looks familiar, so I say hello. I’m considerate, having learned this well from my days in Catholic school, I hardly move or shift position for nearly ninety minutes. My traveling companion flips on the over head light and adjusts the air vents. I look out the window and try to remember home.

I think of my dogs waiting for me, and other ordinary things: clothes have to be washed. I could have the leftovers from Sunday. I gotta’ get new wipers. I owe Rick a phone call (I forgot to call him back last night). Oh, right, Debbi’s birthday is Friday. Finish the book in time for October’s book club night.

The bus arrives at the park and ride. I say excuse me to get into the aisle. I get to my car. It feels so good to breathe and have the room to stretch my legs. I open the windows and the sunroof. I love that my car starts right away. The drive east of 50 is fast tonight, still, I have to stop at Green Valley for one or two items. Here comes “Low-cut Connie,” that’s a song playing overhead by Rio. I pick up the mail and open the door; and because I have a large voice, I yell “Hello!” I take the dogs down to the bay, take them off collar and let them play. Tomorrow I ride at dawn.

Frank’s Revelation

18 Jul

When I left Albany, New York for a job in North Carolina my world changed in profound ways. The food stores I’d known, the pizza places and the bagel stores, the Italian and Kosher delis, the bakery, all left behind when I left New York. I missed my friends and longed for their familiar company. Adjusting to the southern pace took me a while. In some ways I never really got it, the south, that is, the south itself. The people spoke slow, with a drawl, and they played country songs about trucks, Jesus, whisky and family. I spoke fast, with every word measured. But everything changes, as change happens. I tried to keep in touch with my friends, calling them to say hello, or they’d call me, but it wasn’t the same. Yes, those first few months I moped around in a blue southern cloud longing for the overcast skies of New York. My whole life had slowed down and I felt like I was walking in molasses.

Living in Raleigh about a year, after a first mild winter, and with March nearly over, the phone rang early on that Sunday morning. It was Frank calling to tell me he was planning a visit and bringing Italian cold cuts and semolina bread. Having had no company for nearly a year, I was beside myself with excitement.

The morning of Frank’s visit I made sure the apartment was clean and there was plenty of rum and wine to drink and cheeses, olives and hard salami on hand to make a charcuterie board.

“Hi kitties,” Frank patted the cats hello first as he always had, and hugged me second.

“Frank,” I said, hugging him hard, “It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you.”

Frank wears his chestnut brown hair long, naturally parting it in the center, if his hair gets in his way while working on his car, or in his yard, he’ll lock his hair in a clip or pull it back in a ponytail. He’s still the same weight he was in high school and, at 50, he’s caught between listening to Enya and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. He’s good-natured, but a little goofy, and uses expressions like, “Gee whiz” and “You don’t say?” and “Young lady.” A girl he used to know left him with a sadness in his eyes that could tell a story of how it feels to have your heart broken.

“Jo, I like what you’ve done here,” he says talking about my apartment. “What do you pay here, if you don’t mind my asking?” I tell him and he says, “Not bad, not bad at all.”

“Yeah, it’s $150 bucks more than that shithole apartment I left in Schenectady. Get a load of this,” I say, as I open a door off the galley kitchen,

“Wow, no kidding?” he says, “a washer and a dryer? That’s great, Jo.”

We sit on my deck and it’s warm enough, particularly for Frank coming from Albany, where the temps were nearly twenty degrees colder than Raleigh. The cats stay with us on the deck and they’re friendly, meowing and brushing up against Frank’s leg and on the deck chair.

I open a bottle of wine and cut up the bread, laying a platter of fruits and cheeses and crackers and the cold cuts – turkey, pastrami and prosciutto, within reach of Frank’s arm. He smiles and appears relaxed after the 650-mile-long drive.

“You must be exhausted after the drive.”

“It’s the rain. I got caught in Washington. It took me out of the way.”

“You would have made it sooner.”

He takes a swing of run, a bite of cheese, breaking off a thumb-sized corner piece of bread.

I tease him, “Who’s feeding you now? Whose house you been eating at?”

“Well…Jo…I have to admit I liked going to your house for dinner. Yes. And then we’d watch a movie. Yes…it was very enjoyable.”

“Oh, admit you loved it! You miss my ass and you know it!”

“Yes, Jo,” he said seriously, “I do miss you.”

We shared another bottle of wine, a Pinot Grigio. The night was lazy, the crickets weren’t out yet, but it was warm, even for March. We were both sitting on the outside balcony staring up at the black, starry sky. As good friends we could be alone without the need for incessant speech, and the conversation took a comfortable lull. It was good, too, because it was a weeknight, Thursday, and Friday would kick off the weekend I would spend with Frank.

“Jo….”

I turned to Frank and could see he was shaking and on the verge of tears, his eyebrows were pressed together hard.

“Frank, what’s the matter? You okay? Are you crying?”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t say a word about this…please, Jo. I have to say…I’ve never said this to anyone.”

Oh, something was definitely off. I’ve never seen Frank behave this way, never seen him so upset, never seen him cry.

“Okay. Frank…talk to me. What is it?” What I was about to hear blew the doors off everything I thought I knew about Frank. I didn’t see it coming. I had no clue, nothing. It was never spoken about it. In fact, I really didn’t know how to answer him.

Looking off to the right of the balcony he says, “I have thought about wearing makeup.”

At first, I didn’t hear him, because he didn’t answer toward me, but to the wind. But then I was like, ‘No, Jo….he did just say “makeup.”’

After this admission, he turned to me, waiting for my face to reflect surprise. Yes, hell, yes. I could never play poker for that reason. I tried not to be surprised, because I’d like to think I am a friend who supports their friends, but I was in shock. I held my tongue. He waited for my answer, but seeing I wasn’t giving him one, he said,

“I have to say…I have thought about it. I know it’s crazy…but I have thought about it. I know I have effeminate qualities. Thing is, I’m not gay.”

After a while…“Okay,” I tell him.

“I want to be a woman.”

“Okay, I need some more wine. Frank, you?” I close the balcony door and head first for the bathroom. It’s amazing how much thinking one can do just by taking a toilet break.

Fully prepared to address Frank with a fresh perspective, “Hmmn.” I started, “How long have you been thinking about this?” I’m not an expert on psychology, but what better way to get around this than to ask another question.

“Since I was 9 or 10.”

I pour Frank more wine and down the shot of rum I poured myself. I looked at the cheese and fruits and cold cuts and they were getting mushy from the warm weather. I popped an olive in my mouth.

“I remember a dream I had several years ago. In the dream I was dressed in blue shorts and a red shirt and it was a blue sky, it was so blue…I was on my bicycle…bicycling down a road with the wind blowing through my hair…and believe it or not, I was wearing blue eyeshadow.”

“It sounds like a happy dream.”

“It really was. I still remember it.”

Frank revealed that for years he thought he was actually a lesbian and just wanted to be with another woman.

“Sweetheart, there’s all kinds of people out there like you. You’re not alone.”

“But how would I do this? What would work say? What would I tell mom, and what about my age? It would take months, years, to go through this transformation.”

“But you’ll have lived your life for others if you didn’t. At least explore it.”

“I don’t think about it too much, obviously. Because I’ve never told you – and I can see the look on your face – you’re surprised. But, the fact of the matter is, I’m too old now and I probably won’t ever go through it. It’s just that every once in a while it rears its ugly head. These…thoughts.”

“Hey, come on. You’re okay. I’m glad you told me.” Holding him close he began to sigh into my shoulder.

“Ah, Jo…now you know my crazy thoughts. So when you ask me if I’m seeing anybody, now you know why I’m not.”

The next day we woke early, agreeable to a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast before setting out to Umstead Park. The ground was muddier than it was a little green and the sky held off a fickle rain against a pallet of white clouds overhead. We welcomed the cool as we rode our bicycles, taking turns who would be the leader and who would follow behind. By two o’clock, the temperature had scaled into the 70s and we sweated getting up to the steeper terrain.

“Hey, let’s park here and take a break, why don’t we?” he says.

Ditching our bikes, we rested on a fallen tree close to a downy bank near a stream flowing clear, gurgling over jagged rocks and sand. A tortoise cautiously making its way from the water to the muddy trail, can sense our being there and pulls his head safely into its shell.

As the sun hid behind a cloud, the wind picked up and the bushes began to ruffle and the tree branches knocked together. I got goosebumps on my sweaty skin.

“What would you do if you saw a bear right now?”

“Well, I wouldn’t sit here and feed it… It’s just the wind.”

“What about a wolf?” I pressed on.

“There are no bears, there are no wolves,” said, Frank. “Just relax.”

I hydrated myself with the last bit of water from my water bottle as Frank munched on fruits and granola that he’d plastic wrapped into his backpack. He handed me an apple. “Red delicious, it’s good stuff,” he says. “You can eat the whole thing just about. I do, anyway.”

We sat in silence watching the trees shift left and right in synchronicity; the tortoise rests on pine needles and remains there shy and resolute, warming its shell in the sun. I ate the apple nearly to its core.

Frank says, “Tortoises live a really long time, fifty years or more. Maybe that one will outlive me.”

Frank rode ahead of me at a quick pace, I was short of breath even though I was hitting the gym regularly, he was clearly the more avid biker. Riding behind him, watching his hair blowing in the wind, I wondered if he was thinking about a blue sky and the colors that brought him happiness, colors of a dream that he had once hidden but felt comfortable now in admitting only the night before. When we finally reached the park’s highest plateau, where we had parked the car, I finally regained my breath.

***

With the weekend over I said goodbye to Frank on Monday morning with explicit directions for his ride to Albany. The rain had come from nowhere and hit his route back the entire way. From Washington he called crying because he’d gotten lost and took a bypass route through Pennsylvania to the western approach of Albany via Interstate 88.

When he called from Washington, I said,

“It’s okay, honey, it’s okay. The traffic’s a bear through Washington. Just take the bypass. You’ll be all right. How’s your truck holding up, okay?”

He had left at 7 a.m. and didn’t arrive home until 10:30 that night. He’d lost five hours to traffic. I felt so bad. I felt that he deserved better. I wanted to be the one driving his truck guiding him home.

“Yeah, everything’s okay,” he said.

“Are you sure? Frank?”

“Yeah…I’m okay, young lady. It’s just this damn rain.”

When I arrived home from work that Monday night I looked at my kitchen drain and saw the two plates and two cups in the sink from the toast and coffee we shared before Frank and I started our day in different directions. I held my head in my hands and began to cry.

 

© Terry Rachel

Take the Umbrella

9 Mar

The other day while sitting at the diner, eating some scrambled with little interest, three people sat behind me in a nearby booth. I imagined they were all friends, the male and female on one side, coupled, the other, the third, a woman sitting opposite. All were in their mid-40’s. 

The couple began, seemingly in agreement, telling the woman  she should file bankruptcy, that she would get out of debt quickly, and maybe even have all her student loans forgiven.

I took an uncustomary turn, and listened closely to what I overheard.

The couple seemed very convinced that filing bankruptcy would make their friend’s life easier and the pressure she was feeling would soon be relieved. The couple, having filed bankruptcy before, knew the burden taken off their shoulders, and they strongly advised the woman to consider it.

Are you one of those people who still give advice? If I tell you to stop doing it, you probably won’t stop. I use to give a lot of advice. No one ever took it. No one takes advice. Most of the time, people ask for your advice, but in the end, they’re going to do exactly the opposite of your advice. That’s why I’m not going to tell you to stop giving others advice. 

The woman said, “I can’t file bankruptcy. I got myself into this mess, and I’ll get myself out of it. Besides, it would adversely affect me for years. By that time, I’ll have paid all my bills.”

I asked the waitress to bring me a side of bacon.  The anticipation would be perfect, smelling the bacon coming in on a hot plate, eying the waitress’ extended arm as she brought it out, making room on the table. To my delight there were 5 pieces – generous! usually there’s only the customary three.

I picked up each piece of bacon and bit into it with wanton ferocity. The greasy blast completely changed the paradigm of the scrambled eggs, and it allowed me to tune out what it was, and, by all accounts, I did an admirable job.

When finished I got up, paid for my coffee, and when I caught the eye of the woman, I smiled at her as I passed by. 

I didn’t say, “Good for you, I think it’s admirable what you’re doing. To be accountable for your actions,” nothing like that. 

The hostess asked, “Was everything all right?”

“Yes,” I said, “very good. Loved the bacon.” 

It was raining hard, but it wasn’t when I arrived and entered the diner. This blasted winter. I was without a hat and had forgotten my umbrella in the car. With the wind, the umbrella would be useless. 

 “Are you going to be okay,” said the hostess, “it’s raining so hard. We have an umbrella for our patrons!”

 “But how am I going to get it back to you if I have it with me.” I told her. 

Without hesitation, “Don’t worry,” she said , “I’ll have one of the busboys meet you at your car, and he’ll have another umbrella.” 

 “Okay,” I said, “I’m going.”

I grabbed the umbrella and summoned its explosion in the diner lobby. It was wide, a golfing umbrella of some kind. It held up in the downpour. The busboy met me at my car with a dual umbrella, same kind, different colors.

I said to him, “How did you know it was me, my car?”

“We watched you run out.”

As I was about to pull away, I saw the three people who sat in the booth behind me, running, trying quickly to get to their cars. The guy held his companion about the waist as they made it down the row of parked cars; the diner was busy. The single woman ran out in front of me trying to get to her car and I bucked quickly to hold the break. It looked like she had taken a menu from the diner to shield her hair and face from the rain.         

Watch “The Beatles- If I Fell Live 1964 (HD)” on YouTube

18 Feb

The Beatles- If I Fell Live 1964 (HD): http://youtu.be/oYcZkk0rZro

Those Punches, Those Lines

14 Feb

Today I was listening to a Long Island radio station playing back-to-back love songs in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Ode to the lovers of the day, what a symbolic day to be a couple, to offer sweets to your sweet and perfumed red roses for the – hopefully – blazing passion you share with the object of your affection.

I can’t recall the last time I spent a Valentine’s Day with someone, but hey, I’m not without a romantic heart. And when in love – well, at least this is what I tell myself, I am pretty romantic. But this blog is about songs, well, lines from songs, meaningful lines that really leave a punch.

Remember “having a song,” one that you shared with your lover that was, “your song.” There was probably a song that came out when you started dating or a song that really seemed to amplify your experience as a couple in some way.

I’m listening to Sade’s, By Your Side remembering where I was when that song came out. I know it was winter. That February I had just broken up with a woman from Vermont (there’s a lot of breakups this time of the year. Seems like people hook up around October and then go through the holidays, and right after Valentine’s break up.)

Anyway, one of the line’s in By Your Side is, “Think I’d leave your side, baby, you know me better than that.” What a good line. How reassuring to tell someone to stop worrying, that I’m with you, that I’m loyal, that you’ll be there for them. We all once  said similar words.

If I can’t remember how a song starts, there’s always one line that sticks. Maybe that’s the idea. The “Hook.” I associate songs to events, or think of people who liked a particular song. My friend, Mike, always sings Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” at karaoke.

There’s the irony of love and the bittersweet. “I’ll Never Fall in Love” sung by Dionne Warwick, is still a kicker. Just kick someone’s heart to the curb. And, because of  its, “lies, and pain and sorrow,” she’s never falling in love again. I can’t blame her. But wait, and here’s the irony, she finishes with a defining inspiration, “So for at least until tomorrow I’ll never fall in love again.” Dionne may not have been lying about the hurt one feels when love fails, but she was definitely giving it one more try.

Remember “Crying” by Roy Orbison? I don’t remember how it starts, but I know the hook, “Cry I – I – I n –g…over you… Cry I – I – I n –g…over you.” It’s so sad a line. Given Orbison’s powerful voice and the complexity of his range, when he sings Crying, I simply melt. He IS crying in the song. I can’t imagine leaving someone so alone, so broken down, that they’re standing on a doorstep crying their eyes out. Who has the heart to do such a thing? Plenty of people, that’s who.

When Brook Benton’s song, “A Rainy Night in Georgia” came out in July of 1969, I was a teenager. I can still remember reeling from the pain and agony I heard in his voice as he sang the line, “I feel like it’s raining all over the world.” To be that distressed and troubled is no easy place to be. If you listen closely you can hear the rain.

By the same token, you can also hear the joy of cymbals and flutes in Oliver’s, “Good Morning Starshine,” such a happy, good-feeling song, with the unforgettable chorus, “The Earth Says Hello!” But I somehow feel like I should be sucking deeply on a bong somewhere in flowered pajamas when I hear it.

Off the top of my head I can’t recall how all songs start – who could – but the following one lines come to mind:

Roxanne! You don’t have to put out the red light

Welcome to the Hotel California!

A Whole Lotta Love

Sittin’ in the morning sun, I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes

Billie Jean’s not my lover

Rhiannon rings like a bell in the night and wouldn’t you love to love her

Little diddy about Jack and Diane…

Mrs. Jones….we got a thing…going on…..

You’re getting the idea right? I figured as much.

When Edie and I met, our song was, I’ve Had the Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. It was big and splashy and it exemplified the two of us in some meaningful way. I guess we were big and splashy. It went like this:

Now I’ve had the time of my life

No I never felt like this before

Yes I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you

‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life And I owe it all to you!

We were young, exciting, in love, and we owned the streets we walked. What a team – her, blonde-haired, green-eyed, leggy, smart. An Anglo-Saxon, All-American with a “pirate smile” as Elton John wrote and sang in Tiny Dancer. And her counterpart, a dark-eyed, mysterious, wild, a double-dare persona – me, bordering on crazy with a mane of unruly black hair.

Later she gave me the breakup song by Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Whenever I hear that song I still feel an ache somewhere in my heart. It’s true: I had the time of my life with Edie.

I know Justin Timberlake’s, “Mirror” saved this one lesbian couple who was on the verge of breaking up their marriage. That song brought them back together while the other woman – uh, that would be me, was left holding the proverbial “bag.”

Show me how to fight for now

And I’ll tell you baby,

it was easy Comin’ back into you once I figured it out

You were right here all along It’s like you’re my mirror

I’ve just thought of something. It’s a song by Don Henley of the Eagles where he talks about “Forgiveness.” It’s the “Heart of the Matter,” and it goes something like,

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter

but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter

but I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness even if, even if you don’t love me anymore.

Tonight on Valentine’s Day, there won’t be any chocolates or roses, no weekend getaway, no heart-shaped tub to jump into, and no special dinner planned.  There isn’t a lover, a date, or an Internet chat.

So why live now without love, when I once loved so deeply and so well? Why choose to be alone?

Oh, that’s easy, “Cause I couldn’t stand the pain, and I would be sad if our new love was in vain.”  

Come on, I know you know that line.