On Paper Tigers, Pink Dildoes, and Manholes

Ever since I was old enough to properly clutch a pack of Rolaids, I’ve been a nervous wreck. My fears have run the gamut. From some mild OCD about numbers, to full fright about being in the back of retail establishments, I’ve worked up a sweat about a lot of different shit.

I learned a lot during those times of my life. Biggest lesson of all? Don’t fail your fears, and your fears won’t fail you.

sumatran tiger - BMFTLIf you aren’t ready to handle the consequences that come with actively debunking your shit, if you aren’t prepared to stand tall and bitch-slap your paper tigers right in the face, you need to abide by their demands. Strictly, consistently, no mistakes. Stay home. Flip the light switch three times every time you walk by the fridge. Whisper, “I love God” whenever you feel evil. Don’t drink soda with a six on the can lot number. Do whatever it is you have to do. If you don’t, your anxieties, phobias, and compulsions will track you down. They will find you and exact a high price for your lack of dedication. They will fuck you up hardcore.

I started carrying the Rolaids everywhere when I was seven. I was terrified of getting sick. I didn’t want to puke and I didn’t want anyone else to puke. When I had them with me, I never threw up one time. Never saw anyone throw up either. Boom. Perfect. But after a few years, I got brash, overly confident, started running around without my Rolaids.  I thought I could get by without them, that I was just being a silly kid. That winter my brother and I both got the stomach flu.

I got it a day or two before him. By the time he yakked all over the kitchen table at dinnertime, I had been feeling better. That’s how the job of cleaning up Sal’s puke got delegated to me. I got the mop out, I got the bucket filled, I got to work on the big puddle of what looked like Tuna a la King. I never noticed the puke-chunk off to the side of that puddle, but it took me down. The heel of my shoe caught on it and I started to slide, losing one leg out from underneath me. I couldn’t grab onto anything fast enough to save myself and ended up doing the splits right into yak lake. I was wearing my sweet-ass cherry red school pants too. Tragedy. Should have had my Rolaids with me. I made it through though. Even the pants were recovered in the end. As awful as the experience was, I learned I could slip in my brother’s vomit and live. Important lesson.

In my twenties I decided I would travel alone. I was going to start small, a train trip. Figured it had to be a lot like driving, and I didn’t mind driving. I hopped on a train in California that made it to Nevada before the brakes failed. We got held up with repairs and three days later the porta-potty style toilets were starting to look full, I was still picking human hairs off my Amtrak issued blankets, and we still hadn’t made it to Chicago.

My uncle had given me a travel gift before I left. I didn’t open it until well in to the trip. I was savoring the anticipation. I thought it was sweet that he had given me something for my brave voyage. The box was a small and completely wrapped up in layers of duct tape. Nor surprising given his sophomoric sense of humor, but it was just months after 9/11 and no one had an issue with me bringing this suspicious looking package onto a train. When I did finally open it, inside one of the packed coach cars, I found a small can of Diamond brand roasted and salted almonds, a romance novel, and a neon pink dildo – batteries included. No amount of quick repacking of the box contents, or enthusiastic offers to share the almonds with those nearby, could spare me. People were taken aback. I was mortified. There aren’t a lot of places to hide an awful romance novel on a crowded train, but I made sure I kept it tucked away the rest of the trip.

The last meal served on that train was one that might have been fed to hostages. We were all assigned group numbers. Once your group was called, you were packed into the dining car and seated at the small tables bolted to the floor. Lukewarm plates of Dinty Moore beef stew were slid in front of each person, accompanied by a flimsy plastic spork.

By the time I got to Chicago, my connecting train to Boston was long gone. Amtrak put us all up in a hotel in the city for the night. Two men followed me from the lobby to my hotel room.  They wanted to know if I wanted to go down the street with them and have a drink. They knew a place. I declined and tried to settle into my room. There were broken tiles in the shower and a cracked mirror over the sink. The sliding glass door had a broken lock. I thought about the men that had a little trouble taking no for an answer earlier in the hallway. That night I slept for what felt like about four minutes, in the fetal position, clutching my purse under the lamplight from the nightstand and the glow of the television.

The next day I was so grateful to be given the last seat on a flight to Boston, I almost completely forgot that the train trip was partially borne out of a fear of flying. The plane didn’t crash. Claustrophobia didn’t stop my heart. I arrived safely and had a great visit. I also flew home.

manhole BMFTLNow we have Ms. Faal. She’s afraid to leave her house. For any reason. The article doesn’t really tell us why she did it anyway, but she did. And of course she promptly fell right down a goddamn manhole. We could speculate that it’s someone else’s fault for not properly capping the hole, she shouldn’t have been fucking around with pallets on the street, or that there was an equal chance that it could have happened to anyone else, but that’s bullshit. She broke the rules. She left the house. She paid.

If I could talk to Ms. Faal, or Faaaaaaaaaaaaal! as I like to refer to her, this is what I would tell her:

That’s the very kind of fuckery you’ve got to expect when you throw obsessive irrational levels of caution to the wind and tell the gods and goddesses of your fears to kiss your ass. Be ready. It’s not comfortable, it’s not always safe, at times it can lack dignity and involve flourescent colored dildos and falling into manholes, but you survived. You made it through. You can come out the other side of this stronger. You can take this in stride and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, be a more fearless, vibrant, take-no-shit version of yourself. You’ve got your potency and power back! Good for you!

You’ve got to hang on to as much of that as you can. Cling. Be vigilant. Make protecting it the new object of your obsessive compulsive desires. You will need all that power and courage to muster for the next time. There’s always a next time.

My Life With Rats

“I hate rats. I had a pet rat to try and overcome it. I even gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when he had a heart attack. But I couldn’t conquer it.
~ Sam Taylor-Wood

whiskersWhen I was about ten years old, my brother killed a rat in front of me. We were on the side of the house trying to fix a flat tire on my bike when he lumbered up the narrow concrete walkway. It was early in the day, rats being nocturnal, this one couldn’t have been well. His dark coarse hair and fleshy reptilian tail repulsed me. I was afraid he might try to leap at me or bite me. My brother had used a square-headed shovel to smash his head sideways against the ground. The life seemed to ease out of him in one motion as his body untensed. Dark red blood welled up from his ear. I felt regret and relief when I realized he was dead.

The following year Sal and I had another experience with a rat. This time it was a white rat with brown spots all over his chubby body. I thought he was very cute, but he made me nervous. I again feared being bitten, so I didn’t try to pick him up and hold him, but I did work up the courage to pet him on the back of his soft head a few times.

Our new friend was almost as unwelcome as the rat we had encountered outdoors. When it came to pets, my father only allowed us to have fish tanks in our rooms. There was no way we ever would be allowed to have an animal like this in the house. A lot could be accomplished while my dad was noisily distracted by his own piano playing. During one of these episodes, my brother was able to sneak his rat into his room and make a hidden place for him in his dresser. He took his clothes out of one drawer and set him up in there with food and water. Before we could spend much time settling him in, my dad was calling us for dinner. We rushed through eating and cleaning up the kitchen, eager to spend time with our new pet. But when we got back, the rat was gone. It took a lot of sneaking around the house, making excuses to our father for the odd behavior, before we found him. As a desperate last ditch effort, we had rolled back the door to my father’s closet and peered inside. There he was, sitting in one of my dad’s brown shoes. He looked back at us, twitching his small pink nose and long whiskers. My brother managed to keep track of him for the night, and the next day we rode our bikes to the pet store and returned him.

When I was sixteen I worked for the family business my mother’s father started. I was paid less than minimum wage to do clerical tasks in the office after my school day ended. A new employee, Sonny, had just been hired in bookkeeping. One afternoon he mentioned a special clearinghouse account that was set up specifically for my small paychecks. He explained that this account was fed from the small estate my mother left behind when she had passed away almost a decade before. A look of surprise and concern crossed Sonny’s face when I told him I had never heard about this account.

I confronted my uncle, my boss, with what I had been told. He became livid. I was amazed. I had never seen him lose his polished exterior before. He brought his face very close to mine when he began to yell at me. I could see his skin flushing, and the whiskers of his mustache vibrating with his anger. I thought he might actually strike me, and in a way, he did: He told me I was a perennial liar. Then he left the room, slamming the door behind him.  Stunned, I sat on the edge of the bed for a while before picking the dictionary up from the small bookcase and looking up the word “perennial.” I was surprised to discover the meaning, to find that he considered me to be the dishonest one.

After that, I found a file in the basement with instructions and account numbers for this payroll arrangement. It was all there, just as Sonny had outlined.

The office was housed in an older converted home, and despite many extermination efforts, the basement seemed to remain hospitable to rats. I always tried to rush through any task that had to be done down there for fear of hearing their movements and feeling their presence.

Weeks after the confrontation, I bolstered myself and went back down the narrow stairs to the basement. I intended to make copies of the contents of the file, prove that I wasn’t a perennial liar after all, but by then it was gone. The subject was never brought up again.

When I was twenty seven I bought a townhouse in a very small, picturesque complex. The home inspection I ordered during escrow referred to a mouse living in the exterior wall of the small kitchen. The advice was to set a trap and live happily ever after. The first night I spent in my new home was amidst too much wet paint to set up the bed. I slept on the couch. I woke up around midnight to a view of the back of my small scruffy terrier’s head cocking from side to side as she growled at something in the kitchen. Becoming more aware, I could hear it too. It sounded like someone was using a hacksaw to carve their way into the house. I got up and slowly made my way closer. The sound was coming from the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. I put my broomstick through the handles of the cabinet to secure it, and inwardly cursed the home inspector who labeled this obvious wombat as a mouse on his report.

The next day an exterminator came and said it was definitely a rat – or many – nested in the wall. He dumped a white powder in the holes this rat had made and said that would do the trick. Apparently the powder would get on the rat’s coat, and being the fastidious little self-groomers that they are, it would ingest this poison and soon be out of my wall.

The powder only served to bolster my varmint roommate. He seemed to thrive on the stuff!  Never missing a beat, but instead boring new holes in the drywall over the ones I had just plugged up. We jousted this way for weeks, and I felt like he was winning. He wasn’t just getting through the walls, this rat was breaking me down too. I couldn’t take it. I got so distressed by the idea of this animal being in my home indefinitely, that I welcomed the suggestion of putting out trays of poison.

One-and-a-half trays did it. Rat didn’t die at home. I have to assume that he went to the creek bed nearby to try and get water. That’s the thing with rat poison. The decoagulant makes one thirsty as hell while dying by way of internal hemorrhaging.

If you closed the windows, the noxious odors from the nest permeated every corner of my small place. The bottom half of the wall in my new kitchen had to be opened up so that the nest could be cleaned out. I was amazed at the industrious creativity of the little mammal I had killed.

The rat had stowed stale saltine crackers and perfectly cleaned chickens bones in one neat pile. Bolstered up by a two-by-four stud, he had a few pizza crusts and some shredded paper towel. In the dishwasher bay is where he kept his egg shells and mouse trap, a chunked-up yellow kitchen sponge was nearby. The unintended yet perfect touch of the mouse trap is what did me in. A remorseful discomfort came to me then. I realized I had oversimplified this rat’s existence.

Still, ten years later, I committed another crime against vermin. I aided and abetted another suspect in a series of strategery that took a small rat’s life. It seemed justifiable enough at the time. He was jumping up on the kitchen counters, dragging his hairy little rat balls and ass across classic American snack foods while we slept. He occasionally nested in parts of the stove, rendering it foul smelling, electrically shredded, and useless. He bored creepy little succubus holes into my just-ripe avocados. And the last straw, a perfectly tiny hole was chewed into the corner of the pink box of fresh doughnuts I had bought earlier in the day.

I wasn’t the one to put the hit out on this little guy, but I didn’t do anything to stop the hit either. The set up was a  small cylindrical trap that had a metallic, electrified base. Any animal that goes inside it would be electrocuted. Baited with tasty vittles, it sat for three nights before we got him. I was the first to discover his stiff body, laying on its side in the thing. His small feet were balled up into little pinkish fleshy fists, his thin scaly tail hung out of the trap, dangling off the counter edge. By the small size, I was guessing this to be a young rat. Regret washed over me as I forced myself to look at him in the trap. I felt like an asshole for not suggesting a catch-and-release option for this animal.

I was engaged to the guy who owned the house and set the trap. When it was over, I officially moved in and brought my brand new stove with me to replace the one that the rat had ruined. It was the nicest appliance I had ever bought. It had a convection oven and what the manufacturer billed as a Super Burner, or “Supah Burnah!” as I liked to call out loudly when I flamed it up to heat things particularly fast.

After months of degradation, the engagement ended during a phone call later that year. He was on his way to a tee time, so we cut the conversation short and I prepared to move back to my own home. He kept the stove. I didn’t have the courage to insist on its return. Whenever we discussed the stove being brought back to my house, he would get irritated about this or that detail of having it moved, so I finally let it go. Many months later we spoke on the phone and he mentioned how underwhelmed he was with my most favorite appliance. Other than the Super Burner, he didn’t really see much in the thing.

My life is mostly rat free these days. And while I wish to bring no more harm to ones I may encounter, I also hope to avoid the ones who may bring harm to me.

When I think back on my life with rats, it’s mostly with regret. Regret for my own ignorance. Regret for the hurt I caused. Regret for the hurt brought upon me. I wish I had been more forgiving. I wish I had been able to simply see rats as they are, instead of falling prey to my own trap of deciding whether or not I considered them to be villainous or virtuous.

I Know What’s Funny: Thoughts on Pedophilia

“Okay here’s the the thing: I have two children and the thing that scares me the most is that they disappear.  There is nothing that scares me more than them disappearing; that’s every parent’s worst fear.  Now why do kids disappear sometimes?  I think it’s because somebody took them and had sex with them.  And once you have sex with a kid you have to toss them because people hate folks who have sex with kids — more than pretty much anybody.  If you murder somebody, folks will find you a reason – ah, you were upset, you were dehydrated, whatever. So if you have sex with a kid you gotta chuck ’em out cause if the kid tells anybody, you’re screwed.  I can’t help thinking that if we could take down a few notches the hatred for people having sex with kids, at least you’d get the kid back.  So what I’m trying to say is that the guy could just call you, ‘Hey, I just fucked your kid. You want me to take them to soccer, or drop them at your house? Does he have any nut allergies because he just ate some cashew butter out of my ass.’ I know. Listen, listen, listen to me, listen to me, I know that’s hard to hear. I know that’s hard to hear, but it’s true.  It’s true that if we minded child molesting less, less kids would die; that’s true.  Now, I don’t know what to do with that information.  I don’t have a way to apply that to anything that’s helpful.”
— dialogue excerpt from the television show Louie, season 1, episode 10, FX channel

Last Friday I went against my little rule about debating on Facebook. I ended up in a bit of a back-and-forth on this photo in my newsfeed.

pedophile-animal testing
I broke down and commented because I’m losing my mind over all the rationalizations of violence I see these days. Ones like, “we-have-to-bomb-you-because-that’s-the-only-way-to-bring-peace-to-your-nation,” “anyone-who-rapes-should-be-raped,” or my personal favorite, “I-spank-my-child-to-teach-my-child-that-hitting-is-wrong.”

To me, the logic is so glaringly flawed. More of something begets more of itself, that’s it. Very simple. Yet I fear there will always be masses of asses to defend these broken way of solving issues. It doesn’t matter that starting more wars has never ended war, or that our spanked children still often times grow up and hit people. We as a society still largely insist that these are the solutions. The way to make it all better.

And then we have what I commented upon. This photo, hinting that it would be a right and good thing if inhumane testing normally reserved for animals were instead performed on humans incarcerated for crimes associated with pedophilia.

The thrust of this is of course that these people are so disgusting, so monstrous, that as punishment we should be able to do whatever we deem fit. They deserve no respect, they deserve no choice in what happens to their bodies, they in now way deserve any compassion. Basic recognition for the sacredness of life does not apply to them. Instead, they are worthy only of the pain and victimization we heap on non-humans through our shitty rationalizations of dominion over the animal kingdom.

I commented that all lives matter, and I didn’t see how victimizing someone who victimizes others was any decent solution. To be clear, I wasn’t – and am still not – trying to champion pedophiles in any way. Their actions are horrible, and they cause unspeakable pain. To overlook or diminish that in any way is to add more hurt to hurt.

The thread conversation rapidly devolved from there, hitting a nice low when a fellow Facebooker informed me that the real issue is my lack of ability to relax and understand tongue-in-cheek humor.


So this is supposed to be funny?! I just need to loosen up and let the humor sink in? I have my doubts. And I’m pissed that dispersions on the character of my funny bone have been cast.

I know a little bit about what’s funny. I can appreciate and participate in all sorts of humor. From mediocre dick jokes to Dame Edna and British comedies, I’m down with the giggles. I watch cartoons. I’ve read books written by comedians. I wrote my first good joke when I was eleven (and my second good joke when I was thirty seven). I have made people laugh. Not just therapists, real people. My aunt Patty has told me no less than once that I should consider stand-up comedy, and I don’t think that’s just because I haven’t had a real job in a long time. And if all that wasn’t enough, I have real proof. A dive bar drunk once side-ambled up to me and offered to buy me a drink, because I kinda looked like Sarah Silverman. So you see, I know funny. I am funny – and not just in a special needs way. Therefore I am particularly qualified to let you know: This shit ain’t funny.

Part of the reason there is no humor in abusing inmates is because it is in fact not a moot point, as asserted in the post commentary. Unfortunately, it is all too true. We have a long and gross history of doing monstrous things to those we’ve locked up for doing monstrous things.

No one should ever look to me, or this blog for a history lesson, but here’s a nice summary of the fuckery to which I am referring:

“Until the early 1970s most pharmaceutical research was conducted on prisoners—everything from studying chemical warfare agents to testing dandruff treatments.”

You can read more from this article here. A brief, but more complete look at our history of involuntary experimentation on our prison populations can be found here.

All lovely stuff. So you see, we’ve already been awful. Even supposed humor about more of the same doesn’t make for a civil society, but rather an asshole one.

These days there is mounting scientific data that points to brain abnormalities in people with pedophilia. Whether we should come to accept pedophilia as a true mental illness is probably up for near infinite amounts of debate. However, we do all seem to agree for the most part that acting on any impulses associated with pedophilia is horrendous – and wrong.

So does Louie have a valid point? If we could develop more compassionate ways of dealing with people with pedophilia, would we see less victimization of children? When it comes to more repulsive crimes, if we dimmed our burning torches a bit, could we help more people before they harm?

Like Louie, I don’t have a bunch of answers either. It just disheartens me that there is so much dickishness in the world. It makes me wonder what in the hell is wrong with us. Are we ever going to figure it out?

Later that day I went back to the thread. This time I clicked back to the very first poster of this image. It was a public Facebook page with many followers, thousands who had commented or hit “like” on the original post. This comment though, had the most “likes” of all. It was at the top, it bolstered my spirit, and was the only thing on this subject that gave me a real reason to smile.


The Coyote

Sunning Coyote by Richard Spencer

Sunning Coyote by Richard Spencer

For many of you, this will be the only thing you need to read to decide that I am a giant nutbag, so file this away: I sent a coyote good thoughts today. (The doggy-style kind of coyote, not the human trafficker kind. I’m not that crazy.)

That’s right. I paused on my back porch this afternoon as I watched a wild animal lope across the small ridge behind my house, and I briefly held it in my mind’s eye and sent it well wishes for its journey, wherever that may lead.

In my estimation, coyotes catch very few breaks from us in this life, and that bums me out. We have contests to kill them. We devalue their place in the eco-system. A lot of people have pretty much just decided they suck, and that’s one hell of a label to have to try and outrun. But I sure hope this one is able to do it. The world needs more underdog victories.

Maybe coyotes remind us too much of ourselves to escape our wrath. If there’s anything humans have proven, it’s that they plan to be the only clever opportunists to thrive on this planet.

So good luck, coyote friend. I wish you well. You’re gonna need it.

If you stripped a dog of its social eagerness,
gave it a loping indifference to human presence
and starved it, you’d have a coyote,
stalking like a shadow among the garbage cans
at the top of Pearl Street, near the Fine Arts Work Center.
We’re heading back to our car through a fine mist,
the streetlights haloing amid the black trees,
and we stop, watching him appear and disappear
gaunt as a Giacometti. He’s nothing
like a dog bounding into the street.
Does he care if this is a street?—or just a hard place
under his paws. Ever since childhood
I’ve tried to be alert to what people are up to,
but why not see the coyote’s point of view?—
how he prefers to ignore them,
following his own track through the darkness.

“The Coyote” by Alan Feldman from Immortality.

If you’d like to learn more about coyote friends, including tips and tricks on how to haze these poor bastards – check this out.

Fifty Shades of Green, Purple, and Yellow

My adventures in mammograms

I had a mammogram today. I didn’t feel anxious about it all, to be honest. Which is actually a bit odd, because I have always figured breast cancer is probably the way I will end up going down. My mother died at thirty seven of the disease.

There’s always been a subversive undercurrent of “your-mom-got-it-you’re-probably-going-to-get-it” in my life since then. Whether it was relatives warning me that my chances of getting sick were high, or western medicine picking and choosing what one should panic about, it’s just always been there.

I had my first mammogram twelve years ago. I don’t remember worrying about that one either, that is until they called me to tell me they found a pea-sized mass that was going to have to be removed. I laid flat on my back, with a small white towel over my right breast, while my left one was shot through with syringes of Novocain. A big hollow needle micro-osterized the mass, blending up the tissue while simultaneously suctioning it into a hollow tube to be sent to a lab. While I waited for the results, I watched my boob turn many different colors. Day one was a deep purple that gave way to something more lavender by the end of day two. At day four we were into the dull greenish-yellows as my body reabsorbed the blood left behind by the invasion.

Eleanor relishing the joys of motherhood while my brother squirms like an idiot and I pick my nose.

The results came back benign. I still have a small metal piece in my breast. It’s called a target. Surgeons like those so they can hit the spot when they open you up. No one opened me up and no one seemed to care that this little piece of shrapnel was going to be left inside me.

“Do you have children?” The tech’s voice brought me back.
“No,” I said.
“That’s okay,” she told me in a volume that trailed off.

Her response seemed so automatic, instinctive almost, like she was used to women like me being in this room, completely distraught that they weren’t already mothers.

“I’m blissfully barren,” I offered, laughing a little to ease the awkwardness.
She laughed too.

I was being honest. I had never wanted to be a mother.

And then a sudden wave of emotion washed through me. My throat started to throb, and my heart sank for my own mother. She had actually wanted children. She had hoped to raise her two kids. She wanted to live to see us grow. She got none of that.

And somehow, even though I know we aren’t the same person, I often feel like a replacement who is not doing a very good job. A flopsweat imposter. I’ve outlived her; what do I have to really show for it? I feel like there is something more I should have in place by now to prove I deserve the extra time that was taken from her.

I pretended to have something in my eye to try and mask the welling that had come up. I got through a few more questions and then it was time to take the images.

She didn’t ask me to whip out a boob, as I expected, she asked me to take out my left arm. Guess what that does in one of those flappy hospital gowns? That’s right, your boob pops out while you are trying to free up your arm. I love Western sensibilities. We hyper-sexualize almost everything, yet we are so awkward and fearful about real human sexuality. God forbid we just ask a woman to expose her breast during a breast exam.  No, no – be decent! Request she remove her arm.  So I got my boob arm out and we were off.

Most of my mammography took place to the score for Jurassic Park. It was playing on a small boombox off in the corner. It was the really powerful piece of music that played when they first rose over that grassy hill and saw dinosaurs everywhere, eating and enjoying their prehistoric lives. It worked well for me. Made me feel strong and maybe like I could outsmart my catastrophic history as well.

I got my right arm out next and you know what followed. The second round of images involved much more compression and I tried to break up my discomfort with humor.

“This gives a whole new meaning to fifty shades of gray.”
Crickets. Blank look.
“That was an x ray joke. You know, the grayscale of imaging?”
Polite laughter followed as she let me off the hook with, “Ohhh, right. I guess so.”

Apparently my breasts photograph well. One round of images, and I was free to go.

As I wrapped the gown back around myself for the trip across the hallway to the little dressing room where my clothes waited, the technician leaned forward with a concentrated focus on the screens in front of her. I could see my shrapnel in one image, casting solid and black at the top of my breast.

“That target, you’ll have that forever,” she said, glancing at me.
“I know,” I quietly returned as I walked out the door, wishing her a good day.


“Bloodletting [or blood-letting] is the withdrawal of blood from a patient to cure or prevent illness and disease. Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluid were regarded as “humors” that had to remain in proper balance to maintain health.” Wikipedia

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”J.K. Rowling

“Haven’t you ever heard that quote? We’re all everything, Sal – even the shit you’re uncomfortable being. For you, I would guess that’s being even a little bit gay.”

I heard a snort on the other end of the phone just before my brother shot back, “Shut up, daniella. I’m not gay.”

I dug in, “Yes you are; I can prove it. You have those grey cotton short shorts you love to wear despite the fact that they still don’t come in men’s sizes, and you have a pretty extensive Mariah Carey album collection.”

Silence drew out as I waited for the barrage of protest. “Daniella. This conversation is over.”

And it was. We went on to a brief exchange over some mundane bullshit, and then we both hung up and went about with the remains of our day.

I live for giving my brother shit, but what I had thrown out was proof of nothing. Technically, he was right. My answer didn’t shine a light on anything real about him that could be considered to be of a homosexual nature/origin. I didn’t have the courage for that conversation.

But what about me? I started to wonder how things would have gone if Sal had started poking around the dark recesses of parts of myself I’m uncomfortable with. What lives in me that I haven’t changed, can’t accept, and still feel shame about.


On the surface, it would be easy for me to make a dismissal of that term as a personal character trait. I’m a pretty socially liberal person, I have zero white robes and pointed hoods hanging in my closet, I don’t think people of different races are below me, and I consider diversity to be one of the great gifts in this world. So I’m not a racist, right?! (Yay!)

But wait a minute, there was last Friday.

Love your phlebotomist as you love yourself.

I had to have some blood drawn and had made an appointment at a diagnostics lab I have never been to before. I stepped in just before my appointment time and looked across the waiting room to the front desk. Three petite, brown skinned women in pastel hued scrubs moved about helping people. One of these women was speaking fairly loudly into the phone, and I realized I had trouble understanding what she was saying through the thickness of her accent. The other two were working at computers with paperwork, inputting patient information.

I signed in on the counter’s clipboard and took a seat. After a few minutes, one of the women who had been working at a computer called my name. I hesitated before answering. Had she actually called my name? A few minutes before, I had answered to the name called, thinking I had heard the tones and syllables of my own. I hadn’t. It was someone else who has been called, and I felt like a bit of a heel.

I still hadn’t said anything, and now she turned to look at me. I smiled and stood up to walk towards her. We politely exchanged the cursory dialogue required to get my information inputted into they lab’s system. As I leaned against the counter looking slightly down upon her where she sat, I was relieved I had understood enough to get through that. But even so, I couldn’t shake a feeling of unease I had picked up very soon after arriving.

I was instructed to go through the door to my right and wait in area one. I checked myself at that door. Why was I feeling so nervous and scared? Normally, I would chalk it up to my rabid hypochondria and fear of public humiliation, (You know, like when you jerk away from the needle and dislodge the vial, spurt blood everywhere, slip and fall in that puddle of blood trying to run out of the place, conk your head on the floor, fall into a coma, and die two weeks later. That sort of public humiliation.) but I could feel that wasn’t it. Just a few weeks before, I had had blood drawn, so I wasn’t nearly as worried about this appointment as I had been when I went to the earlier one.

It was something else entirely this time. I had been ratcheting up to higher and higher levels of discomfort as soon as these women became known to me as immigrants to this country. But I don’t have a problem with Asian people, and I don’t generally have an issue with immigration, so why would that bother me.

I’ll tell you why: deep down in some little shitty dark nougatty bit of my core, I was worried – I held an unexamined belief – that these women possibly weren’t trained to do their job well because they weren’t born in this country. My prejudice made me feel like I was in danger, and I was scared. Racism.

As I passed through that doorway, quickly fleshing this out in my mind, I felt like an asshole, but that was the truth of it.

And that was also the end of it. Bringing awareness to where my head was at wasn’t easy, but it had calmed me down, and helped me to realize how full of shit I was. I was also relieved that the bullshit of my fears was a much more real thing to contend with than the chances of the negative outcome I was so afraid of before.

The woman who had been working with me at the computer was also the woman who drew my blood. She had come in and sat down next to me just a few minutes after instructing me where to go. With hands cloaked in deep purple latex gloves, she adeptly found a vein in my right arm, inserted the needle, and filled the necessary vials. I don’t think the whole thing could have gone any better – or faster.

As I held the tiny gauze wad to the fold of my arm, she gently taped it in place and advised me to leave it on for at least thirty minutes and avoid lifting anything heavy for the rest of the day. We exchanged smiles, goodbyes, and good weekend wishes before I turned to leave. I hadn’t had any trouble understanding her at all. I left feeling like maybe I understood myself a little better too.

Velvet Elvis

Anne and D-asaurus
Anne and me just fourteen short years later, making soup.

Trigger warning: Bad shoes, an even worse jacket, and a velvety body bag.

It was almost 3:00 in the morning when I opened the door. Two men, both smiling at me under the porch light. “Hello, we’re here for John” was all they said in explanation. I got a better look at these guys as they stepped into my living room. They both were dressed in black, and the one with the ponytail had on a mint condition, Members Only jacket. The other guy had black sneakers that looked to be one size too big, the material buckling around the velcro straps from being pulled so tight. I motioned to the first door across the hall and they left the room.

Anne and I plopped down on the couch exhausted. We had been sitting with John all night. He slipped out of consciousness in the late afternoon. His hospice nurse had me doing check-in calls every two hours so she could adjust his medicines if needed. He had passed just before midnight. Cremation had been his request, and the Neptune Society was here to do that.

I caught sight of a pack of cigarettes in one of the front pockets on Members Only guy when he walked back through the room to the front door. “We need a few things from the vehicle” I nodded as he stepped out, and looked at Anne again. We were both numb – and tired. I felt like I had been crying for seven months, and I knew I was going to be back at it soon enough. For now, rest; helping someone die was a hell of a lot of work.

John had mumbled all afternoon, as if talking in his sleep. By early evening he was only breathing. We would sit and watch him as we held his hands. It was a deep heavy breathing that seemed to involve much more exhaling than inhaling. When his hands got cold, and his body began to sweat, we told him stories, let him know it was okay for him to go if he needed to. We were offering anything we thought might make his transition easier. I even told him I would be okay, which felt like a complete, but necessary lie. Just before midnight, even the breathing stopped and he was gone.

The room fell silent, and I was the one leaving, floating, traveling over all the memories John and I had made. How we met at the college, and the awkward start to our dating. I remembered driving around in his convertible that Spring, blasting Beethoven, completely thrilled with ourselves. I saw our garden and our pond, with the hand picked, ten-cent goldfish, now fat and swirling the top of the water, checking for food. I heard our ducks in the yard, rooting for bugs in the soft dirt around the sapling Camphor tree we planted.

And then it was just John. His smile, his laugh, his jokes about my cooking, his reminder before this moment, that nothing that happens after his death could change anything that we had before.

He was in our bedroom changing his clothes the first time he told me that. I could never get over how skeletal he had become with this cancer. He was always trying to eat, and it never seemed to help. As he changed his shirt that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think it still looked like it was on the hanger. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but he insisted, and I gave him my attention. “There is nothing that can change what we have. Even if you got a boyfriend the day after I died, it wouldn’t change anything. It would be nice if he wasn’t better looking than me though, just a thought.”

The last time we ate out, we had just been to see the oncologist. The doctor had just told us that the weekly blood work showed the cancer was no longer responding to the chemotherapy. We sat quietly in a booth at the restaurant down the street, dejected, waiting for food we were going to push around our plates. I was so angry that we weren’t going to have even just a little more time. It had only been a few months for Christ sake! We had been positive, we had done everything they told us we should do. Had all the tests, took all the medicines, sat together for every chemo session, doing Readers’ Digest word puzzles while the IV meted our time together, in it’s succession of drips. I was considering a grouping of pictures, as I stared at the wall over John’s right shoulder. Who did these people belong to? Where did they come from? How did they come to hang on this wall in the middle of a chain restaurant dining room? John’s voice snapped me back to our table. “I think taking care of someone who is dying, is harder than the actual dying. Thank you sweets.”

When Members Only came back in he had a surfer’s grip on a yellow backboard and was carrying a deep red, velvety body bag. I leaned in towards Anne as we watched him join his buddy back in the bedroom, whispering, “Dude, did you see that body bag? All velvety? It’s fit for Elvis!” We both stifled our chuckles.

Velcro Sneakers appeared and asked if we wanted to say anything else to John before they zipped him up. Saying goodbye to my husband in a body bag, even if it was a Velvet Elvis body bag, was a little more than I could do. I politely declined and they both returned a few moments later with John, ready to leave.

I opened the front door for them and then Anne and I stood there watching. They had a whole flight of stairs to navigate. There were three steps down to the landing, where the stairs made a 90 degree angle and went the rest of the way to the first floor of the duplex we owned. If they miscalculated the landing, John could slide of the end of the board and arc on to the front lawn below. Crumpling the majesty of the velvet Elvis bag.

That’s when Velcro Sneakers caught the edge of the step and John lurched towards Members Only. Velcro Sneakers quickly regained his balance, and they both nervously smiled up at us as if to say, No worries – we weren’t really going to drop him.

“Did you see that? Near Velvet Elvis disaster!” We both laughed, and it felt good.

Meditating in the Face of Death

I almost died outside today. I was sitting in a chair, with my eyes closed, when the dried leaves about five feet to my left started rustling. I was only about thirty seconds in to my fifteen minute commitment of sitting with my eyes closed when I realized I was in trouble.

Now normally these little sits are agonizing enough all on their own. I never get where I’m supposed to be. I don’t transcend, I never squelch the brain chatter, I hardly even manage to sit still. So you can see where I hardly need impending doom heaped on the pile.

But it was. If my eyes had been open, I’d mostly probably have been staring death right in the face.

I started to wonder what was going to kill me. Obviously it was a very large animal that was creeping towards me; using my lack of movement and eye contact as a green light to devour me, but what kind of large animal?

I narrowed down the possibilities to bear, mountain lion, and Sasquatch.

The leaves even closer to me rustled and I knew it was almost time. Soon my jugular would be gnawed out and I would bleed to death in my little plastic patio chair.

Life’s biggest questions raced through my mind. Had I lived a good life? Had I made a positive difference in the world during my forty years upon it? Did I have clean panties on? But there was no time. I had to settle up. Make peace.

My timer went off. I hastily completed the closing ceremonies on my meditation and flew open my eyes. I jerked my head to the side to meet my fate. I was ready. Please let it be swift.

And there it was, menacing, waiting for me.


I will never know why it didn’t finish me off when it had the chance, but I’m grateful. I will take my new lease on life out into the world and do better.






They were waiting for pizza when he told her she seemed miserable a lot. She had been using the side of her nail to scrape at the skin on her other hand. She heard him as she finally got the three tiny splinters out of the side of her ring finger. It felt satisfying to gouge away the small patch of calloused skin and liberate these tiny pieces, separate herself from them. They had been there for quite a while; it was time.

She registered his words with the usual wave of shock and warm ooze of shame. Then regret. She knew she shouldn’t have told him anything. No divulging fears, no admitting hopelessness, no sharing the stories of the dead people. Then he never would have known. She sure wouldn’t be paying for it now.

But it always did get to this point. She thinking she was happy enough, pleasant enough, even keeled enough, doing enough for others, and they – whoever – being overpowered by the darkness anyway.

The darkness had been there as long as she could remember, much longer than the splinters, but not unlike them. Both were unnatural additions at first, but then had settled in and become part of her. Painful at the moment of impact, but then the pain had dulled to something entirely tolerable. She hardly knew she was walking around with it all anymore, until someone experienced it and reminded her.

She did her best to look at him without giving away how small she was feeling. She tried to sound casual, “I don’t feel like eating here. They don’t look like they’re ready for customers.” He sat across the small table from her, quiet, watching. She didn’t care. All she wanted at that point was to get herself to a safe place. Home. Where she could be alone and awful and it would burden no one.

As a child she would wish to be gone from sight often. Anything to avoid the adults that seemed so put-out having her around. She was young and sad, they were old and all business. Not particularly interested in the care and feeding of their younger brother’s two little kids that had recently lost a mother. Sometimes it got better if she did things for them, like helped with laundry or yard work, but mostly it was easier if it was more like she didn’t exist.

His voice brought her back, “where do you want to eat then?” Fuck the pizza; she wanted to run. “Maybe I should just go home, so you can enjoy the rest of your day off. I didn’t realize you considered me to be so unhappy.” There was a pause and then he offered, “Well, that’s one option, but I don’t want you to go.”

He told her he didn’t need to be apart from her. He didn’t need her to stop sharing. He wasn’t asking for a different person. He wished for her to see her potential and the ways in which she limited herself. He wished for her to take better care of her heart. Then he took her hand and kissed the back of it. The tender gesture broke her tension and need to be gone from him.

Their order arrived. The top of the box was printed with a grayscale image of a European cobbled road curving alongside an old stone building. They took the pizza and snuck it into a pub down the street, tipping the bartender with a slice and a five dollar bill for looking the other way.

This time they sat side by side at the small wooden table. They took long pulls from their dark beers as they watched the sun set over the water. The pizza was delicious, warm and flavorful. Her finger hadn’t felt this good in quite a while.