We’d been tasked, The Guy (at the time) On My Couch and I with wrangling the children outdoors because the window guy was indoors, ripping out our old drafty windows and installing brand-spankin’ new ones. The house was an investment, and we couldn’t WAIT to have windows that properly opened and shut so that we could do things like, “feel the warm breeze” without the cats jumping out the windows in a desperate effort to save themselves from our formerly white (WHITE!) carpet.
(Pointless aside: who the fuck installs white carpeting? Answer: not I)
We’d spent the day gardening with el kids (a couple of neighborhood kids thrown in for good measure), laying down grass seed and puttering around doing old people shit. Dave, on the other hand, was indoors working on something very important – perhaps a game of Civ 5, I can’t be sure – I’m no gamer, so they all look the same to me (read: equally baffling).
Finally, we sat in the garage, sweating our nards off and talking to the window guy who was done with the install for the day. He explained that he was waiting for his partner to come and pick him up, but that he’d be back tomorrow to install some whoo-dillys and whacha-ma-callits. I just nodded, happy to be out of the blistering sun and away from the bugs, if only for a moment.
Soon enough, a child-napping van pulled up into our driveway – perfect for both kidnappers and tradespeople alike – and his “partner” popped out. When I’d envisioned “partner,” I assumed he meant an older, more grizzled version of himself, someone who likely wheezed upon any exertion – like getting out of the child-napping van. But no, his partner was a woman.
She practically ran into the garage, begging to use my bathroom.
“Sure,” I said, sympathetically. My parents had performed a procedure when I was quite small in which they replaced my own bladder with a squirrels, which means I have to pee approximately every four seconds, while somewhere, skulking around Illinois, is a squirrel who hasn’t peed in over seven years.
“It’s right behind this wall,” I gestured. She dashed inside as we continued talking shop – a euphemism for listening to someone who knows a lot about whoo-dillys talking wildly about Mr. Gadget shit while I sat there, nodding and trying not to drip sweat into my eyes – with the Window Guy.
The minutes crept past us as we jabbered on, The Guy On The Couch and The Window Guy, while I began counting the mosquito bites that had formed a particularly awesome pattern on my legs. Soon, my mind drifted and I began to look for patterns in the bites. Just as I thought I saw Jesus composed entirely of mosquito bites, imagining the lines of people who may line up to see my legs and pray over them for upwards of two days – or until the bites subsided – she flew back out of the house. She’d been gone so long I’d assumed she’d found Dave and had begun to talk to him about video games or sealing wax, or other fancy stuffs.
“Thanks again,” she said to me, as I nodded sympathetically. “I’ve been holding that a REALLY long time.”
“No problem,” I said to her, “happens to me all the time.”
“Yep,” The Guy (then) On My Couch affirmed. “Her bladder is the size of a Fruit Loop.”
The Window Guy and his partner made their way back to their child-napping van, where I hoped they would go home WITHOUT kidnapping innocent children, and I turned to The Guy (then) On My Couch, “Holy fucks, I gotta pee, motherfucker.”
He looked at me, deadpan, “This is my surprised face.”
I flicked him off on the way into the cool house, the sweat on my face practically freezing as I walked indoors and into the bathroom, ready to evacuate 2.5 ounces from my bladder.
It hit me like a freight train as I flicked on the bathroom light: the incredible, unmistakable stench of shit. I googled a bit, eyes watering, before closing the door and turning the fan on. Didn’t need that getting out into the general circulation.
After I made my way to the upstairs bathroom and back to the garage to watch The Littles, I pulled The Guy (then) On My Couch aside, “Holy balls, Ben,” I said, “She dropped a HUGE deuce in there.”
He laughed, “Really?”
“Yup,” I replied, my eyes wide as dinner plates. “I’m kinda shocked.”
“Me too!” He agreed with me. “Who goes and takes a monster dump at a complete stranger’s house? Isn’t that what gas station bathrooms are for?”
“Yes,” I said, eyes still open so wide they nearly fell out of my head. “That and weird creepy gas station bathroom sex.”
I thought for a minute.
“It’s always my fucking luck,” I confessed. “Or maybe it’s everyone’s thing – I can’t seem to find a bathroom to use that someone before me hasn’t taken a warm, steaming dump. I’m always fucking afraid that stench is going to get in my hair. I can’t TELL you all the times I’ve walked into to a bathroom to take a pee and I’m stuck gagging at the remnants someone’s dinner from the night before.”
“You do pee a LOT,” he replied flippantly.
Not really acknowledging what is, apparently, common knowledge, I continued. “But do you know what’s the worst?” I didn’t wait for a reply, “It’s when they’ve used that canned air freshener shit and I’m sitting in peach-scented poo. That shit never works like it’s supposed to – rather than mask the odor, it just ADDS to it. Fucking gross.” I shuddered as I dry-heaved a little. “Blech.”
He just nodded, laughing too hard to reply.
A lifetime later, a company sent me yet another bizarre item, which I promptly put into my box of items that were to be moved to my new home. As I was taking very little from our house, save for one set of the couches and a few odds and ends, I’d happily accepted anything anyone wanted to send me. You never DO know what you’re going to need.
The PR rep would occasionally email me to ask me about the item, which was called “ReJuvenescence,” and I promptly ignored her emails – my life was in boxes, and no, I hadn’t had a chance to try their new product, which sounded, each time I got the email, like something you’d use on your vagina.
Finally, once I was settled in my new place, I unpacked the box and stared into it – a little shocked. The wee box was filled with toilet paper plastic thingies (sadly no toilet paper). The instructions informed me that I was to peel some stickers off, pop a roll of TP on them, then relax and enjoy. Or something like that, I don’t really read instructions.
I wrangled the thing onto my toilet paper holder, curious as to what the nuts it would do. I hoped that it would:
A) Sing to me
2) Clap and/or cheer
73.7) Return my bladder to normal, human size.
It did none of those.
What it did do, however, was make my bathroom (and subsequently) my toilet paper smell kinda… nice. Not like that bullshit pine tree air freshener “nice” (which only serves to remind me of my days as a teenage delinquent), but sorta… good.
But let’s be honest with each other, Pranksters, I’d be more impressed if it sang Christmas Carols or various versions of the Pina Colada song.
“Hey,” Dave asked me on Thursday of last week, “I want to take the kids to the pumpkin patch on Sunday.” Our annual pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch was always something I’d looked forward to, but I’d assumed that he meant he wanted to take the kids with someone else. Fair play, I shrugged, and agreed. Can’t have it all ways, right?
When Saturday turned out to be a bust – the kids were happily ensconced on my couch playing with their new capes and jumping around like a couple of monkeys, Dave suggested Sunday as the day we’d go to the pumpkin patch. Still certain he didn’t mean, “how ’bout we BOTH take them to the pumpkin patch,” I agreed. The kids were going back to his house; what he chose to do with them and with whom wasn’t something I really had any say in – and frankly, it wasn’t exactly something I was upset about. Next year, I comforted myself, I’d be able to take them to the pumpkin patch.
“Well,” I said, “why don’t you come over and have breakfast with us before you go? The kids made cinnamon rolls and will be happy to see you.”
“Oh,” he said, confused. “I thought we were going to the pumpkin patch…”
“Wait,” I said. “You want ME to go, too? Okay!” I happily agreed. I love the pumpkin patch NEARLY as much as I love the color blue and finding eclectic artwork.
We decided, after noshing on cinnamon rolls, that we’d simply pick up some pumpkins at the store and go over to The House Formerly Known As Mine to decorate them. Thoughtfully, Dave asked if that was okay with me. Considering I’d had my garage door opener – my one way into the house to collect my things – taken away, I was thrilled to go over there, decorate pumpkins and collect the things that were mine. I hadn’t taken much of the stuff from the house when I moved – the plan had been to keep The House Formerly Known As Mine “Switzerland,” so I figured leaving some furniture behind was okay.
We pulled up to The House Formerly Known as Mine and I noted the peonies, which I’d carefully planted many years ago, were preparing for winter, shedding leaves and turning an unsightly shade of green. I blinked the tears from my eyes before anyone could notice, wondering if anyone would be taking care of them as I once had – with unabashed joy.
As the kids got settled inside with their pumpkins, I began the arduous process of dissecting the pile of things that had been left in the garage – presumably my own stuffs – and moving the items I needed into the back of the van so that I could transport them to my own home. It only took a few minutes, but I wasn’t quite ready to enter the home that had once been mine – my forever home. It’s been extraordinarily difficult to see the places I once haunted; to realize that it is, in fact, all over now.
Without making eye contact, I grabbed a cup of coffee and went back into the garage, only this time, it was to sit and let the tears flow without fear of repercussion. I sat myself on the cooler we’d once bought together for this or that and stared around the garage, the sun shining merrily, my neighbors all working in their yards or on their cars in the same way they’d always done. While I’m not narcissistic to assume that life will not go on without me, it did dawn on me that it had and that inexplicably hurt.
I looked around the garage, which seemed a glaring reminder of what had come before.
There’s that rake up there, the one that’s made to look like a bumblebee that we bought for the kids to “help” in the yard after the trees had dumped their leaves. It had to be five or six years old, but there it was – still intact and still working.
And over there, the matching pink and red Red Ryder Big Wheels I’d bought on two separate Black Friday’s off Amazon: one for Alex and one for Mimi. I smiled, recalling how happy I’d been to find such a good deal on them; how much I’d loved riding my own and how I just knew that someday, these would be treasured toys.
Right there, in front of me was the adorable Power Wheels I’d bought Alex that March, well before I knew that I’d soon be moving.
To my left were a couple of buckets leftover from Easter. I’d moved them outside so that the kids could “garden” (read: dig holes in the dirt) with me, a favorite activity for the four of us. I wondered briefly if we’d be able to do that again someday; how joyful it would make me if we could.
On that shelf, the one we’d bought when we first moved in, I saw all of the sprays I’d bought to save my roses from the dreaded black spot, carefully applying it every other week so that their blooms would smell of heaven and their leaves wouldn’t turn an unsightly shade of yellow. I remembered how many hours I’d spent in that rose garden, lovingly tending to the plants, releasing my stress and watching something beautiful come from a small, innocuous plant.
And there, hanging up, the Baby swing that had fit both Alex and Amelia at one time or another, allowing them to swing alongside their older siblings until they both grew out of it. I remember carefully choosing a playset for the kids so that they’d have a backyard playground, Dave and I in agreement that it made our house feel like a home.
Tears rolled down my cheek as I wondered how it had all come to this.
I couldn’t answer that, so I swiped at my eyes and took a deep breath.
It was time to watch my babies decorate their pumpkins before I returned to my empty apartment, armed with stuff I’d left behind, leaving those things that were never mine to take.
You’ll be glad (or dismayed) to know that I am not dead.
While the freezer door did make an attempt upon my life, I am still upright and breathing. But after the gas leak from a dead pilot light the week before, I’m now warily watching the washer/dryer unit to see when, in fact, it will make its play to kill me. I can only surmise that it is plotting against me, but without real proof, I cannot be sure. So rather than being productive, I instead watch it with the phone book open to the number of the local hospital, as a warning of sorts, that if it does, in fact, try to kill me, I have backup motherfucker. And not Life Alert, although that may be a wise investment.
In that time, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lies we tell ourselves:“Tomorrow, I’ll feel better.” “It was the right decision.” “I can totally fit into those pants.” “I like being a morning person.” “John C. Mayer isn’t ALL bad.” “If only X happens, things will work out.”
I wonder, sometimes, if we tell ourselves these lies simply to avoid the truth: that the moment we’re in is hard; that the end is nowhere in sight; that we do really jam out to John C. Mayer when no one is looking; that becoming a morning person means that we are now able to be smugly superior to the rest of those crazy “late sleepers.”
I don’t know the answer.
And I don’t know if the lies we tell ourselves in order to believe that somehow Our Happy is just around that corner, ready to spring out and beat The Happy into our brains is a healthy way to cope. I don’t know if dwelling on the past, mulling over the mistakes we’ve made and the things we’ve done that have hurt others is a better solution.
I’d surmise that the answer lies somewhere in the middle – we tell ourselves the things that allow us to feel briefly better, like it was all meant something, that someday, the meaning of the tunnel of shit we’re wading through had a far greater purpose: without X, Y wouldn’t have happened. I like to believe that sentiment – normally I find that the tunnel of shit does bring about, in time, diamonds, and not rocks.
Take for example, my daughter, who was born with a previously undiagnosed neural tube defect called an “encephalocele,” which is a fancy way of saying that her skull got lazy, didn’t close, and brain matter developed outside of her head. While normally diagnosed prenatally during a routine ultrasound, someone somehow somewhere fucked up and managed to NOT see the hole in her skull. In normal conversation, I tell people that “it’s better that I didn’t know she had an encephalocele ahead of time,” because it would’ve “made the pregnancy that much more stressful.”
I don’t know if that’s true – if it’s another lie I tell myself to make myself feel better – there’s nothing like dangling in the labor room, listening to the NICU whirr and click and clack and whisper about your baby while you’re stuck there, delivering the placenta and getting your girl bits stitched up while your daughter, mere minutes old, is in the midst of getting an examination that will seal her fate as one of two things:
1) Innocuous, unsightly cyst
B) Something really, REALLY bad.
Any of you who’ve read my blog know what happened: she now has a handy skull graft and that pesky brain tissue exploding out of the back of her head, well, it’s been long-since removed. The scar is still there, growing along with her, as she whirls and twirls and plays and giggles. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for a situation so very dire.
While the situation was, to put it in the most mild way possible, terrible, some good has sprung of it.
When I first confessed my shame at having post-traumatic stress disorder (this post) it spurned an idea that had been rattling around my own brain for a long time – putting together a group blog for people to share their stories of darkness and light, and pair these stories with resources about a particular subject. I recall scouring the Internet for information about encephaloceles after Amelia was born only to find that the information was scattered; not put together in any real order. I wanted to change that.
I formed Band Back Together in 2010 to do just that: allow people a safe moderated environment to pull their skeletons from the closet and make them dance the tango, in the hopes that by telling our truth, we’d be able to grow, learn, and begin to heal. One of the most powerful things in the world is to realize that we are not alone in this world; that others have felt the way that we have.
That’s the reason the wonderful volunteers at Band Back Together (if you’re into volunteering with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org) continues to post stories – your stories – and create readable and informative resources. It’s also why I continue to write out my life for anyone to read, despite thoughts of, after eleventy-nine years, simply calling it done and walking away from my blog. I haven’t. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because if one person out there can read the words I’ve written – some good, some great, most bad – then I have done something with my life.
And despite my shortcomings and failures; the lies I tell myself to get one foot in front of the other, that means something.