…so how I managed to find this one when I was 18 years old, is beyond me.
I was sitting in the living room this afternoon, trying to get some photos of the dogs. They’re such buds. But I had the wrong lens on, and I couldn’t get a wide enough shot. So I stood up and walked around taking pictures of everything else in the room. The one of Greg above is my favorite. He doesn’t look mid-forties to me, but then I still feel like we’re in our thirties. In my head, we stopped somewhere around 35.
My brain age-locked with my mom when I was a kid, too. At some point in my childhood, I asked her old she was. She said she was 32 years old. For the next decade and a half, she was 32. Or 32 and some random amount hastily added as a wild attempt at accuracy. A friend would ask how old she was and I’d say, “Ummm….like….32…no wait…like….34 maybe?” Mom would squint at me. My inability to nail this information down baffled her, since as any woman can tell you, entering your forties is an event you don’t exactly miss sliding by. You can slide into your thirties. Your forties, you’re sort of flipping over a few times and trying to stick the dismount. So how did I not notice it happen? I was there. I was a prominent feature at her birthday parties. And yet…..she was just always 32. Until I was.
Here’s me disturbing him while he reads:
I think it’s okay if I tell the internet that he’s reading Sense and Sensibility, which I’ve never read, and he keeps giving me updates on how the book is different than the movie version we like (the one with Emma Thompson, of course). Apparently, Lucy Steele is not the innocent she appears in the movie. I had no idea. The only Austen I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice. We talked about the social expectations of society in Austen’s time, which would have exhausted me in under an hour. I wonder what Austen would have thought of Facebook. Imagine Devonshire on Next Door.
The little rose from my Mother’s Day breakfast has pooped out. It sits in the little glass, leaning its weary head over. It’s not dead. It’s resting. (Into the compost, tomorrow.)
Somehow I managed to get an even 3000 steps on my FitBit, which is nifty keen because I’ve never had an even number before, and because it’s over my average of about 2500. I’m really happy about that. Last year at this time my average was 6000, which for me is the biggest illustration of having gone downhill in the past twelve or so months. But I’m still fighting this. And a 3k day is a day to celebrate.
While we were sitting outside tonight, we saw a hummingbird.
My sock is working! It’s time to make a heel. I’m thinking Cat Bordhi’s Sweet Tomato Heel. I’m nervous to try it, to try anything. Anything, from this point on, is new territory. I’ve never made a toe-up sock before. I don’t want it to all fall apart.
And finally, my daughter’s friends came over today, and called me Angel Mom all day. One of her friends had come out to his mom, and when I heard the news, I’d given him a big hug. Apparently the story of this hug spread. I got to hear today how I have a reputation as a loving and safe mom to both my kids and their friends, and that was, without a doubt, the best compliment I’ve gotten all year. There is a lot I can’t do, but this thing, I did right, and my heart just overflowed when I heard that. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here. To be very clear, I don’t mean that in any kind of dangerous way, I just mean, sometimes I look around and think, “I’m basically just sick all day. I can’t work, I can’t even volunteer anymore. Will my life really mean something in the end?” But when the kids were asking me for hugs and calling me Angel Mom, I finally felt like I’d really done something meaningful. It felt wonderful.
I woke up at 8 am to Greg bringing me breakfast in bed, which was incredibly sweet except that I was actually still exhausted. I kept leaning my head back on the pillow while I ate, until we were both laughing and he just picked up the tray and set it on the nightstand and said, “Why don’t you see if you can get some more sleep?”
So I did, and I dreamt of cheese. My doc is having me do a food elimination trial of going off wheat and dairy. I’m on my third week, and I’ll write more about it later, but let’s just say the lack of cheese is grueling. I think about it all the time. Brie, fresh mozzarella, the lavender goat cheese some obviously genius person sells at our farmer’s market. I’ve dreamt about cheese every night for the last week.
The first cheese dream was me at a party, standing at a buffet table. Except instead of a mix of hors d’oeuvre, it was just a different kind of cheese on every plate, cubed or tubbed or sliced or in a ball. I looked down and began panicking. Nothing but cheese? Who does that? Where are the vegetables? The chips and dip? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? My hands were shaking and I was willing myself not to pick anything up. Then the dream shifted and I was mingling, seemingly triumphantly away from the cheese table, until I suddenly found myself back there. Except that now, every plate was empty. I looked around. Every conversation had stopped. They all stood in stony silence, staring at me. That’s when I realized who had done it. Who had eaten the cheese. ALL THAT CHEESE. And then I woke up.
I’m hoping the dreams stop soon.
The family asked what I wanted to do today, but unfortunately, the CFS/fibromyalgia situation makes days like this especially hard. Every restaurant in Seattle is crowded to the gills most of the time, but today it would have been impossible to get in anywhere without standing around waiting for an hour or even ninety minutes. I can’t stand that long, especially not outside in the sun. I haven’t reached the point of being able to ask a perfect stranger to give up their seat for my invisible illness (who knows, maybe they have an invisible illness). Crowds are also hard. So we decided to have lunch at home, and then go the yarn store, as I’ve decided to learn how to make toe-up socks.
Technically I guess I already know how to knit socks, I’ve knit two pair. One using the pattern from Cat Bordhi’s book, Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, way back in 2010 or so. They worked, beautifully! And I still wear them and love them. But I itched to learn the “normal” way. So I bought Getting Started Knitting Socks, and made a pair of cuff-down socks. I like them only so-so.
What I really want is a toe-up sock pattern, one that I can build myself, trying different heel types, until the perfect-for-me sock pattern naturally evolves. This really didn’t seem like it should be that hard, but I’m beginning to doubt myslf.
Phase 1 is Creating The Toe. Easy enough, I think? I’m using Judy Becker’s magic cast-on. Okay, done. I’m still messing around with how many to cast on at once, but I’ve created two prototypes. In both cases, the sock was way too big once it got over the toes and onto the foot. What I keep reading is that you’re supposed to keep increasing until your sock is just covering your toes. Yeah, did that, the sock was huge. But then my friend James said, “You want to knit until it just touches your pinky toe.”<facepalm> WELL OKAY, that’s what I was doing wrong. So I tried again. This time I stopped earlier. I decided to call these Westworld socks since that’s what I was watching while I knit. Things were looking up.
Before I knew it, I realized I was knitting a tube way too big for my foot. Again. I counted the stitches. I was actually 4 stitches bigger than the first.
This has been my year, but I’m not claiming it’s the worst. People around the world are having years of suck that make mine look like a fantasy of unicorns and daisies. In the US, many of us are just depressed. If you’re female or gay or black or Mexican or Muslim or you care about the environment in any way, then the election season may have brought any optimism you felt about your fellow Americans to a brutal and crushing halt. Personally, I’ve moved through different stages. Shock, grief, awe, confusion. No real positive or super pro-active stage yet. I guess I have developed an addiction to bowls of breakfast cereal and almond milk that is probably foritifying me with vitamins and minerals I didn’t previously get enough of. Maybe that’s a plus?
I feel like I’m settling on, “My heart is broken,” which isn’t good. I don’t know what to do anymore, as a citizen, as someone with an exhausting chronic illness, to stop the environmental destruction we’re doing on a global scale. Social justice needs a lot of work, but there I feel more optimistic. There I feel I can make a small but noticeable bit of difference, so it sucks but it’s a suck I can at least attempt to bring meaningful change to. But the environment? It just feels like doom. Unending doom. I’m not coping well. We’re killing the planet. I can go vegan, I can drive (or not drive) my Prius, I can reduce my use of plastics, I can do a lot of things, but in the end it just isn’t enough. We don’t have enough people in power caring about this, and it’s going to kill us all.
But it wasn’t just Trump. The year 2016 managed to suck in a lot of other ways.
Jiminy Cricket got squashed
In the first part of the year, a friend stopped speaking to me (and by extension, her whole family stopped speaking to my whole family) after I wasn’t supportive of her burgeoning relationship with an older married man. My whole family was blindsided. She’d been acting odd, but whenever I asked if we were okay, she said that me constantly asking this was wearying her (Really? Tell me about it). She said I was imagining things. Then she told me I was the sister she never had and I should never doubt her affection for me. This is gaslighting, and it’s a shitty way to treat someone.
I stopped bothering her about it, thinking she’d just come around when she felt ready to explain what was happening. Unfortunately, it only got more surreal. She came over to our house for our regular social night and didn’t speak to me. In front of mutual friends. For the entire evening. I actually had a panic attack and had to go upstairs and find my anxiety meds, my hands shaking. I hadn’t been treated to the silent treatment since the 5th grade, and experiencing it now was just as gross and awful as it was then. When she and her husband left (he’d made a heroic effort at small talk with me that night, I thanked him for that later), everyone in the room turned to me and said, “What was that?” If all these people hadn’t just seen it happen, I’m not sure I would have believed what I’d experienced. Who treats someone like that? What has to be wrong with you?
Finally, when she and her new guy friend dropped me on Facebook on the same afternoon (he and I had been friendly acquaintances from guitar camp, and had no conflict), it dawned on me what was happening. Of course. How could I not realize? I hadn’t been supportive of this one thing in her life, and that’s when all the weird treatment started. It was so obvious, in retrospect. But our family was in shock. We weren’t sure how to respond. Are we really not talking anymore? Did she actually just sever connections with all of us through Facebook?
We wrote to her husband something like, “Uhhhh, we don’t know what just happened, but what just happened?” He sent an apologetic and understandably cryptic reply. He said our son was still welcome to email him about gaming stuff. A few days later, I imagine under duress from her decent human being of a spouse to offer some explanation to the people with whom they’d spent two years socializing with every week, my ex-friend sent me an email that explained things had gotten “tense” and she was moving on. Just a notice of vacated premises. The chilly lack of apology, in stark contrast to her warm (very well-crafted) public persona, made me (and us) feel so stupid. How had we gotten so suckered in?
As a public service, and to avoid drama in the future, I made up this handy flowchart for any other married people who may need to decide whether they’d like to share with me any extra-marital feelings that may be developing:
Note on tone shift: I had Greg read this post, as he reads all my posts before I publish them. He’s my feedback guy, my spellcheck. He said, “I think it’s great, but there’s a tonal shift here. You’re pretty serious above this, but you have more elements of humor below. It isn’t something you need to change, but it’s there.” I thought about this. It’s because I’m still angry about how I was treated by my friend, so that part is less funny. I’m generally Chandler-esque, I deal with negativity by using humor. In the case above, I haven’t gotten there yet. Especially after I found out the damage to others, unrelated to our family, that happened because of the choices made in these circumstances. It was truly a long game that was played, and it was very cruel. I was not the worst hurt. So, I’m not finding it funny yet. In time, I’ll be able to joke about it.
And then our kitchen exploded
Most new refrigerators have a water feature. You can push your glass up to the fridge door, press a lever or a button, and water comes out of a little spout and fills your glass with exactly the same stuff that comes out of your sink. [throws up hands] [moving on].
Somehow there came to be a leak in this hose on the back of our fridge. Because our house is over a hundred years old and was put together by drunk, blindfolded ferrets, the floors are all uneven. This means that after the water leaked down the fridge and onto the floor, it ran downhill to the dishwasher six feet away. There it pooled, and then gently seeped out into the floorboards in front of the dishwasher. And this meant that for two weeks we thought our dishwasher was leaking, when really, the water was seeping through the floor and creating a flood in a basement storage room that we rarely enter.
But we didn’t know that. because it really looked like the dishwasher was just having some sort of midlife crisis (I hear that happens in your forties). We tried a different seal. We tried cleaning the filter. Nothing worked. We were at the point of discussing a call to a repairman, when the dishwasher caught fire and ended the discussion. Due to (one would assume) the puddle of water it was sitting on, it shorted out. The entire house began to smell like melted plastic and broken dreams. Thick grey tendrils of smoke were pouring out of the dishwasher buttons. It really did feel like watching the soul escape the body. Jason, usually the most safety-conscious of the household when it comes to home repair, bent toward the door. “Let’s just turn it on again and see what it does.” Greg and I yanked him back.
At least we didn’t have to deal with the leak anymore. Agreeing we’d buy a new dishwasher in a few days, we set about getting a dishrack so we could do dishes by hand. But then a couple days later, the floor in front of the dead dishwasher, commenced squishing. And when we stood in the right spot, water dribbled up from between the floorboards and pooled around our feet.
It was at this point we knew something was very, very wrong.
Maybe it was some tiny leak under the sink? We cleaned everything out and searched. Nothing. “I wonder what’s directly under that spot?” I said. “Maybe it’s a pipe? I’m going downstairs to see if I can see anything suspicious.” I looked around and made a mental note of about how many feet the puddle was from the surrounding walls, so I could estimate it from below. But all that thoughtful measuring was for naught because it turned out WATER WAS STREAMING DOWN THE ENTIRE BASEMENT CEILING AND FILLING THE STORAGE ROOM. If I’d realized I’d be writing about this on my blog nine months later, I’d have taken a little movie so you could experience the cascade, and hear my screams.
Panic ensued. There was a lot of cursing. The ceiling was raining! Ceilings are not supposed to rain! Boxes, furniture, blankets, everything was soaked. And that horrible, sickening realization that the whole time we just thought it was a few tablespoons of water leaking out of the dishwasher every day, water was draining literally out from under us into the lower floor. We bolted back up the stairs and called an emergency plumber. He turned off the water to the house, and spent an hour trying to diagnose the problem. Once he realized, he said, “Oh yeah, those hoses are a real problem. I don’t know why people install them. This happens all the time.”
ALL THE TIME.
ALL THE TIME.
Listen up, everyone-who-owns-a-fridge.
The plumber got the leak stopped, and for a few blissful seconds, we stood there in silence. What a relief. Water was no longer filling the basement! Then we looked around, taking it all in. It was dawning on us what a project we still had. Yes, this was going to be a big mess to clean up. Maybe we hire someone to come in and help us with the basement? That’s when the plumber threw up his hands. “Oh no,” he said. “You can’t just clean this up with towels and bleach. You can’t just dry things off. It will all mold. You need …[dramatic pause while all the homeowners in the audience grab their seats]… FLOOD REMEDIATION.”
I think at this point all three of us, Greg and me and Jason, who all co-own the house, were having little aneurysms. Greg and I had left a cohousing development many years ago, after our community suffered a protracted legal battle with the original builder over mold in our main building. We were familiar with mold and water damage, and it was not something we wanted to go through again. Jason is averse to risk, averse to large homes, averse to old homes, and averse to any intersection of these. He had only agreed to buy this old beast because he could walk to a cafe, have a garden, and because when I first entered the house I fell to the floor in a dramatic flourish, grabbed the leg of the current owner, and started begging to be allowed to live here. Not really. Maybe a little.
And I still maintain that this is the best house we’ve ever had. But this was not its best year.
For weeks we had these fans running. The constant noise was exhausting, but what was worse was not having access to our kitchen. They had to tear out the sink, cabinets, and then the floor. Guess what they found under the floor! More floor. Turns out the previous owners had just kept stacking new flooring on top of old, and by the time we’d peeled it all back, we now had to deal with asbestos remediation. Add on two weeks for that. Then problems with the new dishwasher, with the pipes leading downstairs, with the electrical outlets, with the painting……
This post is already too long, so I’ll just say this: THREE MONTHS LATER, our kitchen was back. I never want to go through this again.
And so I gained 15 pounds
Thanks to not having a kitchen, eating too much take-out food, buying a lot of snacks, and generally being under a lot of stress, I gained fifteen pounds. I’m already overweight, and with the fibromyalgia, the pain gets much worse with extra pounds. Picture the worst ache you’ve ever felt after a workout. Now picture living with that, every day, without end. Picture waking up every day and feeling like a truck hit you. And now picture that every morning you get out of bed, you’re forced to put on a 15 lb backpack and carry it around all day. See what I’m saying? I’m not saying fat is bad, that being fat is bad. I have a lot of fat love, I’ve worked hard to accept my body. But at this point, extra weight on my chronically-ill frame isn’t anything but extra agony. It isn’t a political issue, it isn’t anyone else’s business, and it doesn’t mean anything other than this: weight means pain, and I need to be lighter. I will have to deal with this, this year.
And then my friend died
Last September, a very good friend of mine called me on the phone, and then told me to sit down. She’d found out she had pancreatic cancer. I don’t want to write more about this, I wrote about it here, and that was enough. I miss her terribly.
So the fibro got worse
I need to write about this more, if only to add to the solidarity of so many fibro folks writing right now. The experience of living with this disease/syndrom/whatever the hell it is, is so taxing to the body and soul. And this year it really kicked itself up a notch. Stress + grief + weight gain = fibromyalgia flare-ups. I had a really awful end-of-summer and fall in terms of pain. I did, however, get on the waiting list for a program at Stanford University that will hopefully help me. I should get the call toward the end of summer 2017, and then we’ll fly down there, do some tests, and see what we can see. My fingers are crossed. In the meantime, I’m dealing with new levels of pain and fatigue. I’m very unhappy about it. And I wasn’t able to go sailing much at all, which deserves its own heading.
Which meant I wasn’t able to go sailing much at all
I love my little twenty-foot Flicka, Elska. She’s my dream. I’ve sailed her maybe a half dozen times in the last nine months. Greg’s new plan is to get good enough at docking that he can essentially take her out without my help. If he can single-hand her, that would mean I could come along and not worry if my energy pooped out and I spent the whole time sleeping in the forward berth. I still really don’t like the idea of going out when I’m this weak. If I fell overboard, I wouldn’t be able to get myself back in the boat. And I know he wants to learn to dock, but I’m such a control freak, I don’t wany anyone else docking my baby. This might be the last year we own a boat, and if that’s true, my heart will break. I had big plans for this part of my life. Crossing fingers here, too.
And then Orange Man got elected
For weeks Greg had been telling me, “Just stop reading the news, it’s fine, Hillary has it.” Election night was sickening. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Watching that map turn red changed my belief about our country, and the people in it. I have friends outside the US, and not one of them could believe what they were seeing. “How can you people elect someone like that?” I kept hearing. I don’t know. I have no explanation. Articles abound on how this happened, I’m not an analyst, I won’t speculate. I just know that it made me afraid. When intelligence isn’t a value anymore, when logic ceases to have influence in an argument, when evidence is reduced to opinion, when all that matters is money and who has the most of it, what will we become?
And then we got sick
First Greg was sick for three weeks. Then Miles got sick. Then I got sick. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, right when all the holiday chaos needs to be taken by the reins and steered into presents, a tree, wrapping, cookies, meals, organizing….was right when we were all laying in bed, trying not to lose a lung every time we coughed. It was the worst illness to hit our house in years. We’re still recovering our strength, and now…..Greg is sick again.
And then everyone died
Seriously, have you seen the lists? Elie Wiesel, okay, he was 87 years old. And John Glenn was 95. But Alan Rickman? Prince? George Michael? DAVID BOWIE? And then we lose Carrie Fisher? And then Debbie Reynolds a day later? And that’s just my heartache of the list, there are dozens of others! If ever the acronym WTF was more apropos, I don’t know when. What is UP, universe? I was praying for God to keep Betty White safe.
There were good things, too
The year wasn’t all bad. I started yoga teacher training! It’s wonderful. I re-discovered two friends I’d had for years, who worked together to get me through my rough patch where I basically wanted to look at all humans and hiss. One of them lives a few hours away, but the other is closer, and I see her every week. She’s part of the family now, she has her own key and just walks in (I love that). She eats from the cupboards freely. I tell her she’s going to retire with me someday, and I’m completely serious. I’m adopting her. I’ll admit I’m still skittish around new people. Especially very friendly people. I find myself thinking, “What are they hiding?” But I’ll get over it.
I also -rediscovered sewing, and that was the best craft therapy experience I’ve had in years. Even better than knitting, and I didn’t think anything could be better than knitting or spinning. It’s right up there with ukulele. Sewing made me feel enraptured, artistic, creative, inspired, and all for only a few gazillion dollars in fabric and a new serger. BARGAIN.
Also, I hated that ugly blue tile in the kitchen, and now I have black and white tile. So that’s nice.
And this year I didn’t lose two dogs to freak illnesses. That’s something.
When I exercise too hard, I’m in terrible pain all of the time.
The phrase “exercising too hard” in my case can refer to:
Walking more than two city blocks.
Getting out of bed too quickly.
Doing a forward bend in yoga.
Taking a bath.
What I haven’t written about before, and probably should, is that a big part of having a chronic illness is the frustration of looking normal (or in my case, like a regular out-of-shape fat person), but being in a lot of pain. You look normal, but you aren’t. The reasonable expectations of others are yours to dash at every turn. What fun.
Some people with an invisible illness wise up, get vocal, state their needs. Other people try to keep pretending they’re normal. I’m somewhere in the middle. I used to be way over on the side of pretending I was normal. I constantly over-did things. Pretty soon it became very apparent that this wasn’t a sustainable way to live. But I still like to see just how far I can push the envelope before I fold entirely, into a crumpled heap of paper under the desk. I don’t know why. I’m not ready to pull at that thread.
For instance, in the yoga incident on Sunday, I was invited to move into a somewhat quick forward bend. I knew I shouldn’t. I knew this class full of yoga teachers would advocate strongly for me (or anyone) to make any modification I needed in any pose, no matter how trivial. Or they’d be fine if I just stood there and smiled while they all did the pose. I knew this. Nevertheless I had the following conversation with myself:
Head: Forward bend, okay, I got this. Piece of cake! Mmmmm….cake. Can we make cake later?
Back: I AM NOT ENTIRELY SURE YOU HAVE THIS. Can we consult for a moment? I’m really not in top form right now. Maybe get a block? Maybe just stand in mountain pose while they run through this sequence?
Head: Did someone say something?
Head: Here we go…. <bends forward>
Head: Huh, I seem to be in a lot of pain. Oh! And we’re doing another forward bend. Okay.
Back: <throws up hands>
Head: Ohhhhhh no. This is bad. I think I just broke the muscles. All the muscles in my lower back. Starting today, I will reconsider my life choices.
Back: I hate you.
The irony is that yoga is all about clueing the body into the mind, and vice versa. In yoga, we use breath and asana and philosophy to join the mind and body together – and heart, as one eloquent yoga teacher put it this weekend. Mind, body, and heart, integrated. We try to bring balance and peace into ourselves, with the desire that in so doing, we’ll see reality clearly, and be able to respond to our lives with wisdom and compassion.
Not grabbing a block for myself, was me not doing yoga “right”. Generally in yoga we don’t like to talk about right ways and wrong ways, but in this case, I think it’s fair to say, I did it wrong. And that’s the one time when my own yoga teacher will quickly offer a correction: when you’re about to hurt yourself. This class was all teachers, a group where it’s assumed you know enough not to leap into a pose and hurt yourself. What’s needed is more practice. We become what we practice. I need to practice choosing safety over the chance to join in.
I need to practice choosing safety over the chance to join in.
I’m not sure how I’ll handle it yet. Part of me wants to train and train, be like Rocky, only without the whole beating-the-shit-out-of-people thing. Overcome! And then on January 20th, show up and walk that three miles. Have Greg take a photo of me at the end. HOLLIE CAN TRIUMPH OVER ANYTHING! Oh and in the meantime, I’ve gotten my rock-hard calves back, and I’ve probably lost thirty pounds, and I’m on my way to curing fibromyalgia for myself, through the sheer magic of just being awesome. I’m so powerful when I put my mind to something!
Another part of me is like, “Well, considering the event fee was $23, and you and Greg both signed up, you could just not walk and consider that a nice $46 donation to Planned Parenthood.” There’s something so soothing in this way of looking at it. HOLLIE CAN TAKE CARE OF HERSELF AND BE PHILANTHROPIC. Unfortunately it also means that there are two race bibs that won’t get used that day, when the whole point is showing up. Solidarity.
I laughed (a little bitterly) about it later. Let’s run a 5K for something! I love events like this, it’s a great idea – for people to whom running a 5K is fun, and, you know, possible. The solidarity is very meaningful. I really, really want to be one of those people. I want the Athleta catalog to arrive in my mailbox without irony.
I saw this opportunity and thought, “Look, I can do something!” When, if I’m honest, was code to myself for, “Hey look, I can join in with a lot of other white people and feel like I’m effecting change! And maybe I’ll turn into the athlete I’ve always wished I could be!” Reflecting on it later, as someone with a body that might actually be harmed by attempting such an event, I could have just sent Planned Parenthood some money, and spent a few of my energy units reading a book to educate myself. What will I choose to do? I’m not sure. But I hope that by articulating this, I can remind myself that I need to stop reflexively “seeing if I can do things”, and work toward being kinder to my body, and wiser with my focus and energy.
Today is Friday, June 10th. Honora died on Friday, June 3rd. And it was Friday, September 4th of last year, a warm and sunny fall day, when she called to tell me that she’d just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I know this because I wrote it down in my journal. September 3rd is a long entry about life, the universe, everything. September 4th is simply, “Honora is sick.”
Every previous Friday to that one, for about two years, Honora and some other friends would come over to our house, and we would play board games, eat a ton of food, and play music on our instruments. I played the ukulele, Honora went between uke and guitar. When we’d started this games-and-music night, which I dubbed Runes & Tunes, she didn’t have an instrument. She had played guitar “a long time ago”, but wanted to get back into it. She saw how much I loved my Taylor Mini, and went out and bought one of her own. Later, she picked up a uke.
One of the best compliments anyone has ever given me, was when she told me, a year or so after we started our weekly gathering, “Thank you for bringing me into this. You brought playing music back into my life. I will always be grateful to you for that.” She reached out and held my arm while she spoke. She looked right into my eyes. I felt like I’d really done something for her, which felt so good because I always felt like just getting to have her around was something she’d done for me.
Writing about someone who has died, here, on my public blog, feels a little weird. I feel so compelled to write something, but why? All of you who don’t know her – does it matter if I tell you that you were missing something? All of you that did – will this just hurt? I want to mark this, I want to say to the universe, I see what you did. I see that this happened. I feel this. I can’t move forward until I point at this enough: she’s gone. She’s gone, isn’t she.
Do you make it about them? Do you make it about you? I’ll start with her. She was brash, and funny, and a massive wise-ass. She was loud, and loving, and full of stories. Oh my god, the stories she would tell. I loved to watch her make people blush. Growing up in Hollywood; she knew celebrities, she knew people up high and down low. She had so much energy, she could laugh and talk all night, a glass of wine in hand, her low, booming alto echoing off the walls when she got excited about something. She could take over a room with this energy, which I had such a little-sister reaction to. It helped me, when she died and I was trying to figure out where to put her, how to shape and nestle her memory into my heart to keep forever, to realize this: that she was like my big sister, the one I’d never had.
She would take over the room, and I would do one of two things: be grateful, and hide behind her, or be annoyed, and wander off to the kitchen and make food. Most of the time I was thankful and hiding. We did this routine over and over again. Once, standing on my deck with her hands waving, angrily relating an interaction she’d had with a group of people who she just couldn’t get to liven up, she said with great exasperation, “Oh, the Seattle introverts.” I cocked my head at her, eyes wide, like, HELLO, I AM YOUR SEATTLE INTROVERT FRIEND, and she cocked her head back at me, like, I KNOW, OF COURSE I DON’T MEAN YOU.
I once asked my husband, “How I can I love her that much and be exasperated by her that much, at the same time?” He just laughed.
We had met a few years before and knew each other through friends, but we didn’t start hanging out until she began coming to Runes & Tunes. I don’t know remember how she started coming, only that I can’t remember what it was like before she did. “Life of the party” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
She loved my kids, and they loved her back. She was Auntie Honora, and she talked to them and gave them advice the way any Aunt would. There’s a short list of friends of whom we tell the kids, “If you can’t talk to us about something hard, talk to one of these people.” Honora was on that list.
She even loved our pets. Later, when our corgi Oliver died very suddenly, Honora came to the vet’s office. She dropped everything, and later I was to find out that the two days before that had been filled with some difficult stuff. But she didn’t tell me about it until much later. She came to the vet’s office, stayed with us for hours, took care of the kids. When it was time to say goodbye to Ollie, she was there.
I think, you know, she had so much life, so much energy, that I never in a million years thought it was possible for her to die before her time. And early fifties was not her time. I mean, if I had to pick a scenario, I’d think in her nineties, at some rock concert. She called me that September morning, she said, “Honey, I need you to sit down. I have to tell you something really hard.” I thought maybe something had happened to her daughter. Or a mutual friend, someone we both knew well. Maybe she had gotten the bad news first. Was it a car accident?
But it was about her. She said that she hadn’t been feeling well. Then she’d become jaundiced. She’d gone to the doctor with her best friend, she hadn’t told anyone because she didn’t want anyone to worry before they knew the diagnosis. It’d taken some time to get the results back, but now they were sure. She had pancreatic cancer. It wasn’t anything they could operate on. They said she had maybe a year to live.
I got up, I sat back down. I got up again. I walked around the room, pacing. I went into my Emergency Mama Bear Mode, I wanted to know how this was to be handled, what would happen next? Was she okay? She talked about treatment options. She asked if I could be the one to tell everyone on at the weekly gathering. I said of course, I’d do whatever I could. And then I cried. And then she cried. And she said this, she said it several times and I will always remember this, she said, “I don’t regret a thing. It’s okay. I’ve had a great ride. I’m going to be okay.”
And she was.
I saw her only a few more times. The last was a few weeks ago, we went to a Los Lobos concert. I got there late, we’d had kitchen demolition drama. There were two other friends there, women I’d met once before. When I held Honora that night, after the concert – I hugged her so tight – she had lost a lot of weight, but I didn’t feel like it was time. I didn’t get that sense. I think maybe I didn’t want to see it. We joked about her weight loss. “I get to lose forty pounds,” she said, “and it’s all out of my ass. Do you see how flat my ass is?” I have long been teased about my flat ass, so we compared asses. And then she took a drag on her cigarette and said, “But you know? Overall, I think I make cancer look good.”
After she got diagnosed, she made a video to be played at her memorial. She invited me to it, she said she wanted to have some friends over and have us all dance, and then there would be a part where she would talk. I went. It was hard. There were just a few of us. I didn’t know anyone – that’s actually one of the moments when I realized what I meant to her. The women I was dancing with were people she’d known for decades. I felt a little out of place, but not in a bad way. It was like, I’d gotten her for two years. And this was so hard. But I was looking at the faces of people who had her for most of their lives. Their faces said it all.
Her memorial is coming soon. I will go, and I’ll probably have more to write about then. I want to write about what she gave me. But right now, when I try to feel that so I can articulate it, I just hit this wall of ache. My hubby Greg came home today, and he was off. He seemed sad, distracted. I asked him if he was okay. He said he’d just realized it’d been a week. I felt the same way. Later, I went down to the boat. I said I had to check on the fuel line, but I really wanted to go someplace and cry for awhile. I did, and I lost my left contact lens. I came out, I couldn’t get it back in. I laughed, I said, “Honora, look at this! I’m a mess!” and I imagined her laughing. I chucked the stupid lens overboard. I remembered how much Honora loved to go sailing with us.
And then I cried some more. I drove home with one contact lens.
It’s Friday. And friends are here. They’ve been very polite, waiting for me to get done writing so I can go down and hang out. So I’ll end this for now. More later.
That last photo – you can’t see Honora’s face well, but you can see mine. That happiness is what I am holding onto. It’s the tender thing I hold.
Kitchen Katastrophe 2016, the going-on-week-seven aftermath of a burst water hose, is finally on its way toward healing. We have a contractor, which means we finally have one person coordinating all the work. Today the walls were finished being plastered, and next comes the paint. Following that, the tile backsplash, and then the cabinet and sink-reinstalled, and then the flooring, and then the fridge and oven can come back in, and then I sit on the floor and cry tears of relief, and swear that I will never, ever, take a kitchen for granted again. Nor fill one with water.
This is the palette of colors from Sherwin-Williams that I picked out. It’s called Color Pizazz. The idea is that every color works with every other color, so you don’t end up standing in your house gazing in horror, the realization slowly dawning that your living room doesn’t go with your kitchen. Or something.
I joke, but it’s true that it can really make a house feel “off” if the colors don’t work well. Putting color together is a huge challenge for me. I know how the end result makes me feel, so the ability to juxtapose color is one that I recognize and appreciate, but I don’t have it. I’m terrible at seeing the forest for the trees. I tend to fall in love with one color, and then I just monochrome the heck out of it, because pairing it with anything else causes me mild panic. Does it go? Does it not go? I DON’T UNDERSTAND. I’ve worked with a color wheel, I spin yarn, I knit, I draw a little, I know what the colors are supposed to do. I just can’t seem to get them to do what I want. I follow the rules, I break the rules, it doesn’t matter what I do; it all looks wrong. On my bucket list, I have simply: “Figure out color.”
For now, Sherwin-Williams and their color artists are helping. But the reason that paint palette is on the porch, and the reason the mug Greg made me seventeen years ago is upside down, is that I decided to start a truce with spiders. The truce goes like this: If you promise not to kill me, I promise to try and save you when I can. Sitting at my desk yesterday, a gargantuan spider crawled out of a stack of books, along a wall. My first thought was, “Australia. It’s like I’m living in Australia.”
But I didn’t scream, and I didn’t crush it against the wall. I did the cup trick. I dumped all the pens out of my mug, whacked the mug (carefully!) over the demon spider, and put the paint sample brochure under him, and put him out on the porch and set him free. Before I did, I got the camera ready, because I was sure it would be the biggest spider I had ever photographed, and I wanted to impress Greg and Jason, who have remarked before that they know there is a spider nearby by the pitch and intonation of the way I yell, “HEY!! YOU GUYS?! CAN YOU COME IN HERE?!”
Okay, I know he doesn’t look that big, but if you zoom in, you can see that it HAS HAIR:
I’m sorry but anything that is both BUG and in possession of the ability to BENEFIT FROM STYLING GEL is not something with which I want to be friends. And yet, I can’t seem to bring myself to kill them anymore. I’d rather let the spiders eat the insects I don’t like in relative peace, and whatever happiness spiders are capable of sussing out for themselves. This is a big life change for me. And the spiders.
Bicycling is still going well! My mileage is very low, but that’s okay. Fibro means I’m working up slowly. And my knees aren’t hurting anymore. My friend Elaine, also a Brompton rider, suggested I lift the seat up a little. I know that most people usually ride with their seats way too low, and I’ve been so careful with this, but her description of how she knows when her seat height was right did make me think that mine might still be too low. So I moved it up just a half inch, and that seems to have made a big difference.
Beth is now riding her bike to school sometimes, with her best friend, who lives a few blocks away. I like to ride Beth to her friend’s house, and send them off with warnings about walking across the busy street and being careful of cars, etc.
In other news, I’m trying to learn Norwegian using Duolingo. More on that later. But for now: Duolingo is a real hardass.
On Saturday morning, I woke up to a houseful of kids. Our two kids had multiple friends spend the night, and they’re all teens and tweens (how is that possible? Explain to me again how time works…), and they were all so loud. I love them all, they’re all great kids and they weren’t doing anything wrong. It’s just that living with fibromyalgia means you wake up every morning feeling like a truck ran you over in the night, and my quiet mornings are how I recover. Usually I come downstairs, do some stretching, make some breakfast, and sit with Finnegan in the quiet living room, thinking about what’s on my list of things to get done. When I feel centered, I start moving toward whatever task will begin the work of the day.
Except on this Saturday, there was so much noise and so many interruptions, that I couldn’t think, I couldn’t get myself centered, which meant I couldn’t seem to shake off the difficult night of half-sleep. Grumpier and grumpier I became, until finally I looked at Greg and said, “You wanna take Finn for a walk at the locks with me?”
“Sure!” he said. Bless him.
I meant to just get myself out into the sun, and away from the noise, for just a few minutes. It’s only a two-minute drive down the hill to the parking lot at the locks, and another two minutes of walking through a lovely garden and park to get to where we could see the water (and the boats!). Which meant that within five minutes we were there, and it was like magic. Instantly, I felt better. The water, the crisp air, the trees, the birds, the garden, the boats, all of it combined was like an elixir of anti-grump. I couldn’t stop smiling. Greg laughed at the sudden transformation.
We walked to partition in the middle of the locks, Finnegan sniffing everything and everyone on the way. We leaned on the railing and watched a little sailboat enter the small lock. One of my favorite things about sailors in Seattle is that it seems the smaller the boat, the more people they have on board. This one couldn’t have been longer than twenty feet, the lifelines didn’t even go all the way to the bow, but she had six aboard. “And twelve beers,” Greg noted, as they passed by under our noses after their lock opened.
“That’s all?” I said. “They must have more below.”
“They must have.”
They had a small outboard and were practically planing as they left. Under the railroad bridge they went, no opening signal needed for their wee little mast (if our sale goes through on this Pacific Seacraft 25, we won’t need a bridge lift, either).
Finn had a great time. Along with meeting several small humans and many fellow canines, he discovered that geese are AMAZING. They honk, they flap their mighty wings, and they poop dog candy.
Obligatory goofy selfie. Not at all obligatory, I just made that up.
On June 29, 1913 this paper reported on the progress of the canal and the “spectacular form” of this “mammoth bridge,” which it measured at 1,140 long and 26 feet wide “to accommodate a double-track system.”
Ugh. I love romance, but I hate this ugly and wasteful tradition. This is what it looks like when it really gets going. I’m sorry that it’s happening here. It just ends up in a landfill.
The small lock, the mast of the little loaded-up sloop visible over the double doors.
Ahhhh, glorious sun, glorious nature. I love it here. Ballard forever.