18 December 2014

There Is Only One Path

About three years ago, I had an otherwise random dream on what I assumed at the time was a random night. Presumably this dream had a plot, inasmuch as dreams ever do (mine are very often Edward Gorey-esque affairs with roast chickens on velvet cushions, cartoon dogs piloting flying handlebar mustaches, or what-have-you) but what I remember from this dream was waking with a very clear image of a tattoo. I've had two tattoos since my mid-twenties. One means a lot to me spiritually and metaphorically; the other is a random lizard on the small of my left hip. I frequently forget I have that one since, you know, I'm so rarely standing behind myself while I'm naked. I remember thinking I wouldn't ever get another one. I didn't want it to become a habit, something that I just did the way I occasionally pierced my ear or my navel
--that last is something, by the way, I'd advise against doing within twenty-four months of cancer surgery and multiple doses of radiation. It helps to have an immune system if you're going to be poking bits of metal into the soft parts of your body. Just a lesson from someone who didn't think that through at the time. As Dooce says, be ye not so stupid.

Anyway, back to the dream-tattoo. It was just a simple word, in a simple font. In a basic American Typewriter-type font, in black, was the single word:


on the inside of my right wrist. In true annoying dream fashion, the "o" had been turned into a red heart. (Because, really? Apparently my dream-self is kitschy? Gag.)

When I woke up, I thought I had been having a dream about 9/11, which was the next day. Then, on making my morning rounds of teh interwebz, I learned it was World Suicide Prevention Day. Apparently this is a thing on 10 September every year, and I hadn't known it. And I found this out that September tenth via a tweet from the fine folks at To Write Love on Her Arms, otherwise known as TWLOHA. It's an organisation I've heard of but not really had a whole lot of interaction with, though I hold its founder, Jamie Tworkowski, in high esteem by reputation.

It's possible my subconscious knew the significance of the date, and it's certain that somewhere in the back of my mind I had the name of the organisation filed away--but that the dream happened when it did has stuck with me since.  I've known since putting the pieces together that I was in for one last tattoo. But I wanted to wait until I was certain that the design was what it was supposed to be (since, you know, this is a permanent thing I'm sticking on a much more visible part of my body than my butt or my ankle).

Over the years I toyed with some design elements, textual phrases, fonts. Nothing seemed right. I had just about decided on a design--a particular phrase written in a research notebook for me by a beloved friend while I wasn't looking, in his handwriting--when (as previously recorded) the, erm, excreta hit the overhead air circulation device with said beloved friend, not to mention said friend's unwitting embroilment in a certain, shall we say, "tattoo snafu" and, long story short, such a design became inadvisable.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me. What better way to write love on my own arms than to use the words and the hand of a man who loved me better than I loved myself in those darkest days? And what better place to mark this love than Nashville, a place that is struggling to teach me so much about love these days, in all its widest and most illogical forms, whenever I'll give in and let it?

Yesterday, the first night of Hanukkah, a night when I was always guaranteed to talk to Robin even though it was often only a text or email conversation, I scarred myself one final time, with his words in his own handwriting.

(the tattoo is straight; it's my arm that's crooked here)
Remarkably, without meaning to, the tattoo artist (a friend of my hosts') aligned the design perfectly with the, uh, existing real estate, so that the first downstroke of the "t" emerges directly out of one of the deepest and most traced over scars. Even more remarkably, I'm not ashamed to look down at my arm anymore. The scars from the cutting are still there. In fact, while the tattoo is healing they're even more visible, I think. Maybe they always will be. But for the first time, that's ok. Because for the first time, the love is visible too.

Maybe it's always been there. Maybe, as usual, I just needed him to point it out to me so that I could see it.

15 November 2014

Wherein the Levels of My Geekdom Are Finally Exposed

Though you may think you do, many of you do not fully understand the depths of my geekery. About 15 years ago, I bought a ten-buck Diplomat fountain pen that rapidly became my favourite writing instrument, replacing the four-buck Shaeffer.

About four or five years ago it began gumming up hopelessly. No amount of cleaning or injecting or laying on of hands could solve it. No amount of searching could replace it. And I wasn't about to send a ten-dollar pen to the Fountain Pen Hospital in NYC (though I have sent my Waterman there, with good results).

My writing has suffered. Landfills have suffered (I've been using disposable fountain pens).

I JUST FOUND A REPLACEMENT ONLINE. It's now a $25 fountain pen. I bought two.

Through actual, literal tears. That's the geek part.

01 November 2014

RR Marine Corps Marathon 2014, Code Name: Embrace the Suck

I've known since about mid-August that this race was going to suck. And the way I knew that was by looking at my training schedule. Of course, that would have involved having to actually look at my training schedule, which is something I more or less denied all existence of.

If you've been playing along at home, you know I've had a very rough year. The roughest. In some ways, it was more difficult than the year I got divorced--possibly because I was trying to do it on my own. Or maybe because I thought I was supposed to be invincible about it, or something. But anyway, this isn't that post. This is a post about how I know better than to ever, ever run a marathon when my training is spotty and my longest run to date has been eleven miles. And how I did it anyway, because I'm an idiot. A stubborn, stubborn idiot.

My reasons for doing this were manyfold, but mostly they involved pride. That, and a teeny tiny thing called that MCM Runner's Club. Five marathon finishes and you're guaranteed entry for life. With the institution last year of the lottery entry, this is sort of a huge deal to those of us who are preternaturally attached to this race.

So. Anyway. Back to The Suck.

Woke up late Friday morning, because, you know, my sleep schedule has been a complete clusterfuck for about the past eighteen months, thank you very much grief and anxiety, and still hadn't packed. And the reason I hadn't packed is because I didn't have any clean underwear. Or socks. I did, in fact, have clean race kit, which was unexpected; I'd thought that was down there in the bottom of the laundry basket, but it wasn't. Which just goes to show how long it had been since I'd run. So I did a load of only the laundry I'd need for the race, ignoring the rest of the mountain of jeans and towels and sheets, ran the dishwasher, cleaned the litter box, and generally made things bearable in the home aspect of life so there wouldn't be a mutiny while I was gone. By that time, it was almost 4:00. Ugh.

The drive down was mostly uneventful in the traditional sense, but I was pretty emotional, remembering the last time I drove down for this race. Things were very, very different then and I couldn't help but remember the rambling phone conversation that lasted all three and a half hours of my drive in 2012. By the time I hit the exit for BWI, I realised I was more completely and honestly in love than I had been in....well. A long time. So. By the time I got to the hotel, where the festivities--by which I mean beer--had started without me, I needed to detour to my room for a few minutes for a good stormy cry.

That taken care of, I went downstairs to hang with the running family: Gunz and Nita and Carl and Holly and Moo and the ever-elusive JW. Beer was had, and chips were had, and birthday cake was had (Carl's son turned 22, which I still can't figure out because wasn't he just like 16 last week?) and then ultimately bourbon was had because Nita. Gunz finally showed his punk ass around 11:00, which took the onus off me of being last bitch in (thanks for taking one for the team, dude).

Saturday we hit the expo first thing, though the line for security was already the snake that ate its own tail. Mostly we were there for packet pickup, though Nita needed a phone armband because she was waiting for a phone call from her daughter in basic (that never came, because of course, because Air Force) and I wanted to hit the Mizuno booth. Which.....wasn't there. Sadness. Lunch. Naps. Dinner was a hoot, as we were joined by Len, Jeremiah, and Flex--BIG FLEXY LOVE--and Flex is always a joy to be around. His enthusiasm and humour are infectious. Big. Flexy. Love. Seriously. That man. That smile. Those dance moves.

Sunday, turns out, I wasn't the only one who heard the alarm, rolled over, and thought, Do I really want to do this? I could totally stay in bed. We were all on the NTP this summer. Nobody was ready for this. Nita herself hadn't run long except Mega a month ago, and Gunz had taken a bad fall there and pulled himself off course at Mile 20, worried he'd broken his wrist and damaged both knees worse than the Marine Corps had. And Len's training had paralleled mine in distance and regularity, but at least he has the excuse of being my mother's age with a very ill wife and a bum hip. So I had company in The Suck.

First Len and I couldn't find each other at the start line, because we were staying in different hotels and I was herding cats with the group in the hotel lobby. We hooked up just in time to start with the....um, I think we were with the 4:30 pace group, which is sort of hilarious but also gave us a good cushion to beat the bridge. The first two or three miles were trying to get into a rhythm, visiting European trees, warming up, and talking about Len's underwear. What? We're runners. When you've just veered off into the shrubbery to pee next to each other, the next obvious topic of conversation is the advantages and disadvantages of your particular choice of skivvies in this operation. (The part where usually he's all, "It's a secret passage--to my penis!" and I'm trying not to blurt out, "Wait, you wear underwear?")

By about Mile 6 I was finally warmed up and feeling sort of ok. The fact that Mile 6 is entirely downhill totally helped. That was sadly short-lived, though. My back has been tight since about January, due to how much sitting on my ass writing a dissertation consists of. Mile 7 brought that tightness to new levels of Suck. Seriously, everything that wasn't my abs was cramping by the time we got down out of Rock Creek Park. Len wasn't doing much better.

At Mile 11 Len made the painful but ultimately wise choice to pull the rip cord. He promised to meet me again at the bridge. So there I was, on Hains Point, alone, devastated, discouraged, sore, tired, and oh great. Mile 12. The Blue Mile. The Blue Mile is lined with pictures of military members killed in action. Hundreds of them. And friends and family members holding full-sized American flags with black name stripes on them.

Mile 12 is where I lost my shit.
At Mile 14 I passed Groundpounder Matt Jaffe and his crew. He was starting to look pretty grim, but still encouraging. Promised him the next mile. Sadly, the next mile brought hamstring cramping badly enough that I was worried about a tear, so I stopped at medical and had them wrap it.

Off Hains Point I ran into Len! He toddled with me a little--I was doing mostly walking at that point--and said he'd see me at the bridge. More walking. Midway through Mile 16 I passed Matt Jaffe again. His team was trying to get him to sit down long enough to massage a trouble point. With the vehemence of a man who's run this marathon 38 years in a row, he barked out the strongest NO! I ever want to hear as I passed. (I found out the day after the race that the pace car had passed him on the bridge and forced him onto the bus. My heart absolutely breaks for him.)

Near the Capitol I ran into Amanda Sullivan, crutching her way to awesomeness. I've chatted with her online and her enthusiasm and joy astound me. She's the only person I've ever seen straighten up from puking after Mile 20 with a smile on her face and say, "Man, that bridge isn't playing. Phew!" and then keep on her rhythm with that same smile.

Quick chat with Len on the bridge (which basically consisted of me flopping against his ribcage and groaning, "I hurt like a motherfucker," and him handing me his squashed baby Snickers bars that he'd been saving for hard times such as this.)

More trudging. Six point two miles of it. The only bright spot was when a total stranger handed me an entire can of Coors Light heading into Crystal City. A cold Coors Light. Normally I wouldn't touch the stuff, but in the mood I was in, and the way my lower half felt, it was seriously the best thing I've ever tasted in my life. Glug.

And then I was at Mile 26 and I am good goddamned if I'm gonna hit that hill walking. When you've been on the course roughly seven hours, apparently this makes Marines very happy. I made about 30 new friends charging up that hill. Which is good because I very nearly needed them to peel me off the pavement after I crossed the finish line.

So I have a new official PW for any marathon I've ever completed. And I mostly don't care because I knew it was going to be The Suck. I was hoping it would stay in the six hour range but meh. Sometimes you just have to embrace The Suck.

I expect The Suck and I to announce our engagement any day now.

21 October 2014


I want you to hear me
I want you to find me

Over the years, I've talked pretty freely about my depression. But until now I've never talked about anxiety. Because until just a few weeks ago, I wasn't quite able to name it as a component of the way my life apparently functions. I know. You're shocked. Me? Anxious? The woman so high-strung she could solve the fossil fuel crisis if only you could find an extension cord long enough to plug her in? In some ways over the years it's gotten better, although people who know me now in my forties are probably appalled to learn that I've actually unwound a few good turns in the past twenty years.

So why now? Well, in some ways—possibly because my depression is so much better managed that it doesn't mask everything else I'm also already feeling—it's also gotten worse.

First. This is not a cry for help. I am not currently in crisis, nor am I in any way suicidal. I promise (you know who you are). Regardless. Several forces have recently converged, leading me to the decision to blog about this. And in true FireCat fashion, I fought it every step of the way. Some of it is my means of processing this. But the hard part of it is the understanding that removing the stigma of mental illness includes removing the judgement I have against myself for being this way. And that maybe, just maybe, it will come to include forgiving myself for being my own worst enemy when I needed love the most, especially my own.

Folks, I have to name it. So here goes. On and off over the years, in order to try to tame my unruly emotions, I have been a cutter. It's not a daily thing, or even a monthly thing. It's a crisis management thing. And it sucks, and I don't like it. Sometimes I go years without even thinking about it. At the worst of times, over a period of maybe a few weeks or so I will contemplate it as often as I suspect smokers think about their next butt, and spend most of my emotional, and physical, energy trying to talk myself either into or out of it, just to make the urge go away. And it's only recently that I've come to accept that at my very lowest points, I may always have that urge, just the way an addict does, and it's not the urge that defines me but what I do in response to it.

A few people—the five or six closest to me—already know this about me, because they have lived through it with me. Some of them get fairly banal text updates because they are on my first line of defense, because I love them and trust them enough that I've promised to tell them if I'm even thinking about it. These are also, by and large, the people who will respond to Yeah hi, sorry I couldn't talk, I was in line at the grocery store, I needed cat food, and oh yeah I've been feeling really triggered today. How did class go? with Kitties thank you. Class was boring. I know, because they really do know me well enough (and talk to me often enough) that they usually know that something has triggered me before I am able to name it. Some of them have called me in the middle of the night and stayed with me on speakerphone while I stood at my kitchen counter drinking increasingly tepid tea and cried my heart out with anxiety and self-loathing until I agreed to put away first the bigger knife, then the smaller one, and until finally I left the kitchen altogether.

And so we have learned. The same man who fifteen years ago screamed at me in anger that even then I knew masked fear before he called 911 and had me admitted was recently able to have a rational and helpful, if somewhat emotionally misspelled, text conversation about whether I'd taken my antidepressant and other potential coping strategies—without either of us losing our shit. It was one of the best conversations I can ever recall having, even though it was painful and frightening for us both.

The other reason, ironically, that I've realised for a few weeks now that I need to write publicly about this, is that I have finally started to understand—less than a month ago at that kitchen counter in the midst of that anguish I wouldn't wish on anybody, even myself—what lies behind that urge. And what lies behind that urge is silence. There is no way to hurt me more deeply than to tell me my voice does not matter and to try to prevent me from being heard. I've heard the psychology about wanting a physical pain that matches what a cutter is feeling emotionally, a pain that "makes sense." As I wrote several years ago now, that's why my response to getting divorced was to decide to train for a marathon. But it never entirely settled right, that reason for my most personal, most intimate desire for self-harm when the urges came. I didn't even make the connection the night eight years ago I wrote a letter to my husband in my journal and then dropped it into his lap while the blood ran down my arm.

Oh god. I'm really telling you all this.

But two and a half weeks ago before my phone rang, I realised that as I made three quick motions across my arm with the blade, I wasn't just crying with voiceless pain. I was speaking out loud. I love you. I am angry. You hurt me. These words were spoken aloud to someone who refused to hear them, someone who did everything he could to keep from hearing them. Who might never hear them. Who probably knows them deep down and feels as awful about them as I do, which is probably why he tried so hard to avoid hearing them from me. But I'm not saying them here to blame this person. I'm only saying them because there are words I need to learn to speak out loud. With my voice, not my body. Without using them as a weapon against my own sweet self.

Someday maybe I will learn that the truth doesn't have to cut to the bone.

18 August 2014

The Year That My Life Forgot

Still here, still making my way through grief. Longest. Year. Ever. As I write this it's almost four in the morning and Missouri is burning. Again. For more than a week now. Sometimes I wonder how much more we, collectively, can take. How much grief can a human heart hold before it bursts?

There's much I can't say. I am still keeping a secret for someone, one I have known for years I would carry to both our graves. It's the only form of love I have left to give. I know this is cryptic; I'm sorry. I'm not in danger, and I'm not in despair. I'm just exhausted and philosophical. Also, my feet are cold. It's August, and I've got both quilts on the bed and wool socks on. What gives?

And seriously, the Anne Sexton tweets are killing me. Ugh.

21 July 2014

Fly Away Home

I live in a neighbourhood of Doodlehem that is generally considered pretty safe--especially for something on this side of the river, since it's uphill, technically across the county line and its own municipality--but to get home from campus there's no avoiding the student ghetto (because, really, who doesn't love a college town slumlord?) and some very decidedly working-class residential neighbourhoods. I've been warned by my students, bless their hearts, not to walk down certain streets because "they're not safe"--which, in their insular little sometimes-unwittingly-racist minds, simply means "not white." As someone who's lived many years in and around New York City, their mindset makes me batshit crazy. The city residents I encounter daily on my walking commute to campus are friendlier than the average undergrad. Kids have come up to me and wished me happy mother's day even though I don't have kids, guys with dreadlocks have slowed down a half-block so they could share their umbrella with me, and the caretaker of the Latino church on the corner is always looking out for me to ply me with wilted flowers from the scraggly strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, as long as there's not too much dog shit there that day.

I really like my neighbourhood.

Today I came across a group of three kids on the sidewalk. Their one Razor scooter lay upturned on the concrete. The girl, who was maybe eleven, and the older boy huddled on their haunches around the younger boy--six at most--who was sitting with his palm upturned and tears threatening to brim over. The focus of all three kids was a small red bead of colour in the younger boy's hand. Thinking he had fallen and cut himself, I stopped short of the stop sign and rolled down my window to enquire if they needed help.

I had stumbled upon a ladybug funeral. They had found this tiny red dot of a bug earlier that morning and had decided to keep her as a pet, but in the sad ladybug way things sometimes go, she had not survived. These three--who were of a race and ethnicity I am continually warned against in this town--were reciting ladybug prayers before burying her under a leaf they'd plucked from a neighbour's tree.

They were kids. They aren't in anyone's gang. They aren't shooting rockets at each other across an arbitrary political border bitterly contested for sixty years. They aren't shooting missiles at passenger planes. On this particular day, they aren't even shooting water pistols at each other, though it might not be a bad day for that sort of thing.

Just kids, trying hard to understand why the world is the way it is, and loving something completely unlike them, so much that it hurts. 

08 May 2014

Climbing Out, or Learning to Swim

I am doing one or the other. Have patience. I am still here, re-learning how to live, discovering how to navigate since the north star fell from my sky.

Bear with me. I'll be back soon. It was a hell of a winter, but spring returns.

In the meantime, say hello to Pip the Cat, Who Lives Upstairs. Pip is doing a pretty good job of expressing non-verbally how it's been going the past couple of months here in Doodlehem.

11 January 2014

The Well of Grief

(c) Romano

Life is as hard and as easy as they say
Walking the steps we've chosen on this day

Some will be outrageous, some have rarely shown

Some will walk in couples, some will walk alone

As I think about the world I see
They stare and smile at me, at me

It happens every day at the crossing of the street
Walking out to see what's new and what is just the same
And the only word for love is everybody's name
And that will always stay
It happens every day
And every day will happen without you

I've noticed I keep resorting to other people's words. Lyrics. Favourite poems. Anyone who's had the misfortune to stumble across my twitter feed recently must think I'm an angsty teenager. But the truth of the matter is there is a deep dark well of loss where the words used to be. Someone I know recently posited that when we're at a loss for words, it's usually because we don't want to say the words we know are needed.

That, my friend, is a crock of shit.

In grief this deep, there is only silence.

This isn't going to be a very good blog post. Don't come here looking for language put together with care and beauty. Don't look for the uplift of hope at the end, the lilt of words that suggest I am finding my way out. You won't find it. Even if it's true, and experience and my gut says it is, right now I don't know that this is good for me, this sitting alone in the bottom of the well of grief, letting this all be true. Right now all I know is I am raging against any sort of grace that can exist in a world without him. 

Occasionally someone who doesn't know our history will ask who he was to me. And I'm genuinely at a loss for how to answer. Depending on who asks, or what kind of mood I'm in, I will probably say one of the following. He was a mentor to me. He was my best friend. He was my brother. At times, he was also, in ways too complicated and private to explain, my lover--but I probably won't tell you that. That was never anybody's business, and if you knew that about us, you already know more about our relationship than most people. Probably also including us pretty much most of the time.

But none of that explains our relationship. None of those descriptions do it justice. He was so much more than all of those things. It just gives you a box to put it in, to help you understand why I am so inexplicably sad sometimes lately. Why some days I don't get out of bed until mid-afternoon because I've stayed up beyond half the night before reading, staving off the darkness a little longer, when I'll have to close my eyes and face it again. That he's gone, and he's not coming back, no matter how many times I ask him to, no matter how many nights I dream of him. No matter how many times I have my phone in my hand, halfway to texting him something that I realise he probably already knows, and that whoever picks up his phone wherever it is these days isn't going to care, isn't going to say anything back to me that can make it any better. And none of it is going to make me open my front door someday, or walk into a room in a distant city somewhere, and come face to face with him, his hair doing one of the countless ridiculous things it was known to do--for in truth, his hair was never known to do anything but ridiculous things--his face squinched up in mirth and cracked just about in half with a grin just at seeing me, no matter how hard he may have wanted to throttle me five minutes ago (which was probably also true at least half the time, let's face it, and oh baby that feeling was so mutual it made me see plaid sometimes), that this face is never going to peer at me over the lip of this well of grief and ask me point-blank, "Hey dumbass. What are you doing down there? I'm not really gone."

Because he is.