For as long as I can remember, dad called me mouse.  He said I was so quiet he never knew when I was there.  I tiptoed from room to room, looking for places to hide.  The clothes hamper perhaps, or up in the magnolia tree, if I folded myself tight enough I could fit in the living room of my moms old doll house and pull the roof shut. It was dark in there and I felt safe. But I never thought of myself as quiet. The thoughts in my head were so loud I never realized I was supposed to be speaking.  Absorbed in my own philosophical musings, I preferred imagination to reality. My parents, a photographer and writer/ballet dancer, were caught up in their own world and preferred me and my sisters out of the way so it worked. My report card always said, “doesn’t pay attention in class”.  “Doesn’t apply herself.” I was a B/C student at best, putting in exactly enough effort to squeak by, but not a bit more.  

The play ground was lonely though. I watched kids walk two by two, or three by three, out into the school yard at recess and realized I was the only one alone.  I wondered why everyone had someone but me. Was something wrong with me? Year after year passed the same, until 4th grade when I gradually began to understand making friends involved speaking to someone. Conversations swirled around me all the time, but I only half heard them. By the time I realized I should say something, or interact in some way, the moment had passed.  One day I was sent home from school early with a fever.  Mom picked me up and we were buzzing down the highway in her red VW bug with the windows rolled down while she smoked a cigarette. The car couldn’t go past 55 without the whole thing shaking violently and she was pushing it. I kicked my sandals off onto the floorboard and the vibrations tickled my bare feet. I stared out the window chewing my lip and thinking about the problem.  Maybe it was because I was sick and too tired to fight it anymore, but I finally decided I needed help. I would ask moms advice.  This was a big moment, it was something I had never done before.  Finally I spoke. To her credit, she showed no reaction. Foot up on the dash next to the steering wheel and arm hanging out the window she looked straight ahead and casually blew a line of smoke at the windshield. I could tell she didn’t want to scare the mouse. I began speaking hesitantly, then built up speed talking faster and faster, pleading with her to understand the direness of the situation. The words tumbled out of me. With a 10 year olds limited vocabulary, I explained that I felt completely out of control and I thought something might be wrong with my brain. I told her I wanted a friend like everyone else, but whatever disorder I had kept getting in the way.  I desperately wanted to be normal and I recognized I wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to stop thinking long enough to be like everyone else.  I tried and simply couldn’t make myself stop and pay attention to what was going on around me. It was too hard.  My heart was a lump in my throat. The words had been jumbled up so long I was almost crying as they tumbled out. Then I stopped and waited. I needed her to understand and have a solution.  I wanted her to rub the back of my hair and tell me it would be ok; that we would figure this thing out.  I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.  

Until she yelled at me. 

Mom had listened intently asking the occasional question until I was done.  A long moment passed after I stopped speaking.  I leaned toward her praying for a solution, needing more than anything for her to help. Begging for her to say something genius that would solve all this.  She waited thoughtfully, then squinted her eyes and took another long drag on her cigarette. Quickly as if she had made a decision she blew it out in a frustrated puff, smothered her cigarrette in the ashtray, then COMPLETELY let loose on me. “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? That’s the dumbest thing I have EVER HEARD! You’re telling me YOU CANT CONTROL YOUR OWN MIND?!  Do you think IIIIIII can control your mind for you? What the hell do you think I can do to help?!  I can’t fix this for you! YOU’RE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN FIX THIS!!!! If you want to talk- TALK, if you want to stop daydreaming all the time- do it dammit! OH. My. God. LISTEN TO YOURSELF! You’re not stupid. FIX IT! YOU CONTROL YOUR MIND!”

I was frozen; Shocked. My mom wasn’t much of yeller and only cussed in dire situations, like when she dropped the cast iron skillet on her foot, or there was a rat in the house.  Here I had poured out my heart. I had pleaded for help. I genuinely couldn’t figure this thing out. I was pretty sure something was wrong with my brain and she was telling me to get a grip?! She had not an ounce of sympathy for what I had been going through and to make it worse- she was my last resort.  If she couldn’t help no one would. It wasn’t the reaction I had expected to say the least.  I cried all the way home. When we got there she pulled up into the driveway, jumped out of the car, grabbed her purse and slammed the door leaving me there to finish hiccuping and crying. 

My mom was a strategist. Neglectful, but rarely mean, she knew sometimes to wake someone up you have to slap them. I didn’t realize it then, but she had given me exactly what I needed. She had freed me.  I now knew no one was going to come to my rescue. I had to save myself.  Like she said, “No one was going to fix me, but me”. The next weekend there was a slumber party at classmates house.  I was only invited because she invited all the girls, but I was determined I was going to make a friend. I didn’t that day, but I took big steps towards it, and little by little I forced myself, through a sheer act of self discipline to take control of my myself and who I wanted to be.  It was hard; but that year, I was voted class president.

Rainbow leaves.

You texted me photos of the “rainbow leaves,” on your campus this morning and suddenly I was there walking with you in your shoes.  With this one photo I realized we achieved for you my own dreams for myself at your age. You walk the leaves for us both sweet girl and every step you take, I will walk with you.


Blue or Red

There’s a strange closet in my new house.  It was probably originally meant to be your typical under the stairs closet, but somewhere in 50 years and 9 owners it morphed.  Someone put a phone jack in there and changed the door to a divided light glass door, not unlike what you see in an old phone booth.  Then in the back, there’s  wood paneling and an extra half door where the closet wraps around; At first glance looks like a fancy child’s lemonade stand.

Being fond of quirky details myself, I decided to go with it.  I bought an old fashioned rotary style pay phone, and agonized over whether to paint the door Superman red or Doctor Who blue. I couldn’t decide, so I enlisted my facebook friends in the great debate and a search for enlightenment.  That didn’t help at all.  It was a pretty even split. Half wanted red, half blue.  The folks who wanted red said there wasn’t enough blue in my living room (there is actually tons of it) and the folks who wanted blue, felt the red was too strong a statement. There were all manners of opinions.  Interest in what color I chose peaked to a level usually reserved for a birth announcements, chronic illness, or a death in the family.

At the same time, world news was bleak; particularly in my home state of Texas. News outlets featured the growing migrant crisis and spotlighted parents and children being separated at the border, possibly to never be reunited again, or only after long anguishing waits and lots of trauma.  The reunification plan seemed sketchy. So while I was trying to decide whether to paint my closet red or blue, my Republican and Democrat friends yelled at each other back and forth across facebook.  I dredged through articles trying to find as much information on a unification plan as possible and found nothing.  As usual the feds are scratching their heads,  and the yelling escalated.

I had two cans of paint. Red and Blue.

Sometimes there just is no right answer.  Should it be red or blue? Am I red or blue?  Do I have to choose? Is it possible they could both be right, or both wrong in different ways and if we choose just one, we miss something vital the other could provide.  A bit of light perhaps, a different perspective only one could bring.

So I was silent while I thought about this choice.  Friends I saw kept asking me what color I chose and I hesitated to respond because the debate in my heart had turned from a simple choice of color, to something more meaningful. The cheerful unveiling and detailed photos I thought I would do ended up being half hearted and unenthusiastic.  I sometimes have a hard time sharing things close to my heart. The decision fell flat to my own ears, not because there wasn’t enough to say about it, but because there was too much.

So apologies for my long awaited explanation. Here it is.

I painted my door both colors.

I would have never been comfortable with just red or just blue. Friends, this is isn’t team sports.  It isn’t boys against girls, or gays against Christians.  It isn’t team red, against team blue. Black or white. Those of you who have chosen the polarization of your perspectives standing 100% behind an extreme party (and that’s all you’ll get as red, or blue) sound completely insane.  I won’t choose one.

No sane person believes in abortion up to 8.5 months. No sane person thinks ANYONE should be able to own a AR15, or that healthcare should be completely privatized, OR subsidized. No sane person accuses a racist, while spouting racist remarks.  Yet pick a party, then raise your hand because you are guilty. You are either guilty of hate, or hopelessness and apathy. You’re allowing this to happen.

So while the world was fighting, I quietly slid one coat of paint after another over my door and thought about this.  Today the inside is red and the outside is blue. I love it.  Both colors bring value to my home in different ways.  I hope you like it too.



The Brussel Sprout Debacle

For Don

Once when I was a kid my mom tried to cook vegetables.  Suddenly pots full of brussel sprouts, broccoli and other foul greens appeared in our kitchen on the regular.  Thus began my earliest lessons in tragedy, ingenuity, manipulation and the importance of giving to the poor.  I was the middle child of three sisters.  Before the brussel sprout debacle (as it came to be known), we were just three kids at the dinner table, alone in our individual battle to survive and earn the right through struggle and triumph to leave the table before either poisoning ourselves, or growing old.   Things hadn’t reached a point so intolerable that we were forced to conceive of revolt yet.  But like many significant battles in history, when the misery of a province reaches climactic levels, rebellion is born.  That’s what happened at our home.

In hindsight, I think it started when grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.  All the sudden mom became aware of the importance of green leafy vegetables in our diet.  Items none of us had ever considered edible suddenly appeared on our dinner table and the battle of wills came into play, pitting parent against child.  Mom was never the best cook to begin with, so the first time she forced brussel sprouts on us is etched in my psyche vividly and with detail, as are other tragic memories like 9/11, or when we had to put our first cat Jenny to sleep.

The horror began one night as I was waiting at the table impatiently for dinner to be served. I recall swinging my short legs back and forth in mid air to distract myself from my growling stomach, but everything after that is blurry and trauma ridden.   What I do remember, is that we were completely shocked when mother put brussel sprouts in front of us and actually insisted we eat them.   At first we didn’t believe she could possibly be serious.  Then after we had eaten everything else on our plate and she still refused to let us leave the table without finishing them, we thought, “She might be serious right now, but if we sit here long enough, she will eventually see how unreasonable this is”.  We were wrong.  That first night after hours and hours of sitting there not eating, I semi-vomited trying to choke one of the nasty beasts down, and this seemed to do the trick. We were excused from the table.  We had escaped!

The second day was worse though. My dad, a military man and a fine example off all that entailed commanded a level of respect from us that stopped just short of terror; but then he commanded an army of solders who were all just as scared of him as we were, so that seemed understandable.  If he said we had to eat nasty stinkin vegetables, or a pile of steaming poop, the correct response was, “Yes sir”.   But what he didn’t understand was, by this point, the only thing we were more afraid of than him, were brussel sprouts.  We weren’t going to eat that crap under any circumstance. No amount of threatening us would work this time.  So he yelled and threatened to no avail and in the end, the folks decided to wait us out.  Once again, we were told under no circumstances would we be leaving the table EVER, until we finished our vegetables.  Puking was not an option this time; But since dinner was at 6:00 and my mom liked to go to bed early, we still believed we could win.  The three of us got comfortable and prepared to wait them out and hours ticket by.  Long after they had left the table we were still there, trying in vain to entertain ourselves until the ordeal was over.   Finally when we couldn’t take it anymore, we begged for mercy.  They ignored us.  They threatened us, we ignored them.  Then night fell.    Bed time came and went and finally, angry and emotionally spent, our battle weary parents called a temporary truce.   “Don’t think this means you won!” we were told.  “Dinner will be wrapped and put into the refrigerator with your names on it for dinner tomorrow night! Blah blah (insert various grumbles all ending in “wasting perfectly good food!”)

On the third day, as promised, the brussel sprouts were reheated and shoved in front of us.  By this time, they no longer resembled anything eatable.  In addition to our original leftovers, our dinner now included creative attempts at disguising their horrendous taste.  My big sister Julie tried grape Jelly.  Mine had been drown in ketchup and now resembled rotting intestines. My entire plate now looked like a miniature murder scene.  There was no way I was going to eat it.   I was pretty sure I would die.

Out of desperation, mom tried another tactic.  Calculating, she turned to my 4 year old little sister Carrie and went in for the kill.  Mother passionately explained that in a country far away called Ethiopia children were starving to death every day.  Those children would love to get just one bite of our dinner; It would save their lives.   In fact if we didn’t eat it right this second, she might just pack it up and send it to them.  How would we feel then?  Then we would be the poor unfortunate starving children, with distended belly’s and flies on our faces, who likely wouldn’t live to see their eighth birthday’s; We would be that hungry.  How would we like that then?   My sister Carrie was notoriously trusting.  She once traded Julie 10 penny’s for a silver dollar, because 5 was more than 1.  Julie told her so.  Carrie was horrified.  She didn’t want the starving Ethiopians to get her dinner.  The impact of this situation sent my brain reeling.  There were too many angles and the ramifications of what mother was saying were huge.  Do you want me to send your dinner to the Ethiopians Carrie?  “Noooooooo!”  My sister wailed panic stricken.   “Then you better eat it now,” mom said,  “Or I’m going to send it off!”

It was a lose, lose situation.   By now Carrie was crying so hard she had the hiccups, (something she got so frequently).   Julie and I looked back and forth between mom and our hiccuping sister like shock victims.   Carrie didn’t want to be the poor starving Ethiopian kid.  She wanted to live.   Slowly, Carrie began moving a fork half full of nastiness to her mouth.  Her dread was so palpable that her chubby little fist shook with fear.   She barely managed to get half a bight onto the tip of her tongue before she started gagging.  By this time snot had mixed with the tears of desperation on her face and doom was closing in on all sides.    I was so frozen in horror that for a second my wits had completely escaped me.  But Carrie’s gagging sent me into a flurry of quick thinking, analyzing the situation desperately for an escape route.

Finally, it dawned on me, nothing could possibly be worse than this;  and besides, exactly how bad WAS their proposal?  My parents wouldn’t really let us starve.  Doesn’t the bible have some sort of insurance policy against that?  So this arrangement with Ethiopia could be a good thing.  If we sent our food to them we would be rid of it and on top of that, we would save a kid who would be incredibly grateful, for just one taste of this nastyness.  So it was a win, win situation for everyone involved!  Hope surged in my heart.  “Stop Carrie!” I yelled, “You don’t have to eat it!”  I knew I had to explain quickly before it was too late.  “Don’t you get it?!” I pleaded.  Beseeching God, my parents and the universe, I told my sisters,  “If they send our food to Ethiopia, we won’t have to eat it and some kid there won’t have to starve!  This isn’t a bad thing at all!”   Julie’s face still registered shock.  Slowly understanding dawned.  Carrie looked back from me to mom, not quite daring to believe it yet.   Julie nodded her head encouragingly.  My mother, just seconds away from victory moments before, had suddenly become a blank slate.  I was so excited by the prospect that I was halfway to the garage to select a box for shipping before my mom yelled ” Ursula, STOP IT!”

I froze in my tracks confused.  Silence loomed.  In one exasperated syllable mother yelled at the top of her lungs in utter exasperation,  “Everyone go get in bed!  SCAT!!  All three of you!  If you aren’t going to eat, you can all go to bed hungry!   We were confused at the sudden change in our plight, but freedom had just presented itself to us and we weren’t going to question it.  The Ethiopians would just have to wait for our next nasty meal.  We scrambled like cockroaches caught in the light on the kitchen floor.

At that time, the three of us shared two twin beds that were pushed together and that night we cuddled close to each other.   We were no longer alone.  The brussel sprout debacle had united us as allies fighting the same cause.  From then on, we were the little girl version of the Three Musketeers.  All for one and one for all.

Brussels sprouts never returned to our dinner table, but their memory lingered.  Other vegetables that were previously major taste offenders, now seemed weak in comparison and Julie soon devised a sneaky solution to their quick disposal and became my instant hero with a plan to hide all sorts of nasty foods in the bottom of a glass of milk, or in a wadded up napkin.  The devious survival instinct Julie displayed on a daily basis had Carrie and I blinded by her brilliance.   She became the smartest person I knew.  I wanted to be just like her.


What it’s Like

My husband and I have been together 24 years now. Sometimes people ask me what that’s like. So this is for them.
The downside; Just because she’s pretty, doesn’t mean her farts don’t stink. Just because he’s strong and good, doesn’t mean he’ll never act like a wussy coward and lie to your face. Love is not a fairy tale. It’s morning breath and a messy house. It’s rocks, paper, scissors over who has to clean up the cat poop and “I forgot to pay that bill”. Love is waking up every day and loving someone, not because you feel like it, but because that’s what you promised to do, even when you’re not sure you should have. It’s seeing the good, not the bad and giving the last piece of pie, because you didn’t need it anyway. If you think you are going to be married 50+ years through thick and thin and never doubt, or wonder if you should have taken another road, you’re mistaken. After a few years you might not tingle every time they kiss you. There may be days you’re doing your grocery list in your head when your having sex.
The Payoff, should you decide to love someone more than yourself, is huge. One day you’ll wake up next to someone who knows what you want for breakfast, before you do. You’ll finish eachothers sentences and know their thoughts.  You’ll argue over who gets that last piece of pie because you both want the OTHER person to have it. You’ll never be alone, even when you’re not together. You’ll see the world through one pair of eyes, not two and you won’t need words for you both to bust out laughing, at something no one else sees. Love isn’t about someone who is willing to die for you; It’s about someone being willing to LIVE for you and that’s a whole lot harder.

Love Story

Two statues at the Villa dei Papiri, in Herculaneum have fallen in love. While Hermes may look like he is at rest it is all a façade, as he’s really just staring at the floor in an effort to look less obvious of just how aware of her presence he is. The “her” plaguing his stream of consciousness is the bronze “Woman With Water Jug” who is balancing her burden on her shoulder with the oh so sexy, aloof expression proper of such an expensive hunk of feminine metal. At night when the clip clop of the museum curator’s high heel pumps have gone home to her empty apartment and a can of cold beans, the air between the two becomes so quiet, it is loud.

In fact if it wasn’t for the uninhibited revelry of the drunken satyr (sculpted wearing only a lion skin) the tension between the two icons might have brought the decades old figures to a breaking point years ago. As it is, the rate of decomposition imposed by the lovers maddening inability to move from their current positions upon the dais, toward consummation, has created a whole new category of metal disease baffling the resident scientists who study such occurrences. This new and unspecified deterioration, recently captured the attention of world famous scientist Otto Droselemier, who himself admits to being baffled. The corruption witnessed within the two statues and has done more damage in 10 years, than the ravaging fires of Pompei and centuries of atmospheric degradation combined and all within the seemingly safe walls of Villa dei Papiri.

Other unusual events have occurred around the statues as well. It has been speculated that those who come within close proximity to the statues have sometimes been found to exhibit strange behavior. Cleaning lady Esperanza Morales happened to be mopping near the statues one night when she glanced up at “Woman With Water Jug”. Morales reported she was instantly filled with intense longing for head maintenance supervisor and widower Edgar Gonzalez, whom Esperanza had worked with for 15 years and barely spoken a word to. The two recently announced plans to marry in late October and have requested the right to hold the ceremony at the Villa dei Papiri at the feet of Lady With Water Jug to whom they credit their love.

Others have come forward with similar stories regarding the two statues.