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Day Fifteen

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

While preparing for an upcoming trip, I did the typical inventory of the correct documents for each child of mine who is traveling and felt I was coming up short. There were many days when I would hold documentation for four boys and myself, but things are changing fast.

My stack of social security cards, military ID’s, and vaccine cards seemed thin. Usually I held one set for each child, sans the vaccine cards (sign of the times) because, well, they were safer with me.

But, throughout the years, the pile becomes more slender as the boys become more responsible to hold their own important documents (ahem). Lately, the sparsity of them is making me feel like I’m lacking something. Now, I only have a set for Baylee and me.

What my heart is missing is having all my boys under my guidance, protection, and safe keeping. Although there have been times I’ve complained about having to carry large wallets to keep all the goods, I miss it.

“Mom, can you hold my water bottle? Mom, can you hold my DS? Mom, can you hold my Rey Mysterio guy? Don’t let Sam have him. Hon, can you hold my wallet? Mom, I need a Band-Aid. Mom, do you have any gum? Can I have two dollars?”

As they asked, they handed me the item.

This photo was taken during our trip to Texas in 2010. We flew out there less than a year after Roger died to see the memorial with his name on it.

My purse used to hold Hot Wheels, bags of Cheerios, water bottles, sippy cups, social security cards, extra everything. My wallet only has one Band-Aid these days, and it’s quite weathered.

It’s funny how the stuff we used to complain about is now the stuff we miss the most. My stuff is too clean. My stuff is too empty. My stuff is too lonely. I’m too lonely.

So, listen to me, young families. Embrace the diaper bags, dirty faces, and chaos, because having your kids under your protection is priceless. Letting them go hurts really, really bad.

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Day Fourteen

Photo by ud83dudc34chuanyu2015 on Pexels.com

I’m not a TMI person and tend to be annoyingly modest, but I need to talk about this.

My age is something I have never been stressed out about. I can’t do anything about it so there was no crying when I turned 30 or 40. I am 47 and I quietly embrace what comes with it.

I’m pretty sure I just did my first old lady thing, though, when buying new underwear the other day. I accidentally purchased what people call granny panties. This is probably too much information, and I am certain my sons stopped reading a sentence ago. My unpopular opinion is that underwear aren’t always necessary, but when they are, they have to be comfortable.

I bought undies in bulk, yes, bulk, like in a big, clear plastic bag. I opened this package of underwear, and took out the first one which was taped to the other seven. It just kept coming out, like it was three pairs. Oh no, it was one, luxuriously huge pair of skivvies.

“Oh, hell no,” I said aloud. Then, I tried them on. (I don’t know why.)

This must be a turning point for many, and nobody talks about it. When do we stop caring about what underwear looks like and start caring about what it feels like only?

No lines. No tugging. Just silky-smooth bigness that goes way up past my belly button. I mean, I look like a complete dork, but who cares?

Is there any hope for me? If there is, do I want to take the help? Is my vanity drifting?

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Day Thirteen

We call this Roger’s Mjolnir aka mewmew

I never took Roger’s Estwing hammer to his leg, but we did talk about it.

The days before his deployments were torture. Knowing he would be away from our little family for seven months or more seemed impossible to get through. His trips came to our family when the kids were newborns, tots, and in high school. He would spend seven months on a ship, half a year in Okinawa, or too much time in Iraq. A week or two before he left, tension in the house was quite strong.

“You don’t even care about leaving. How are you not sad?” I would ask him many, many times.

“I am sad,” he replied every time. I knew he was, but his outsides didn’t look like my insides.

There was a sense of relief when he finally took off on a deployment, because you can’t count down the days until they begin. I would always come home, clean the house (except for his coffee mug and laundry), and write him the first letter. Before he left, though, there was an audible quiet that weighed us down.

“What if you took a hammer to my leg?” He would begin the conversation this way before each deployment.

“Ok,” was my traditional reply.

For the record, the hammer talk was fantastical chatter on our part, mostly when my tears began after the boys went to sleep. We would have our time to talk in bed and sometimes it made us feel better because of the absurdity of it. Our conversations were in jest because he would never leave his fellow marines, and well, other obvious reasons.

It was our lottery talk, our pillow talk. We fantasized about spending regular days together as one would talk about what kind of car they would buy. Instead of buying mansions and Rolex watches, we talked about Christmas together and Sunday mornings with Peanuts and pancakes.

During our fantasies, we skipped past the actual hammering his leg because all I could do was shake my head to make the vision go away faster. When we got to the part of him staying home and me taking care of him with his broken leg while the rest of the marines went on deployment, that’s where I rested and lingered.

“Do you think you would have actually done this if you knew Dad would die?” Sammy said this when I told him we used to have these conversations.

“Someone else would have died,” I said. I’m not sure what to think about that one. Either way, I’m glad I didn’t know.

That takes me to the day we hugged for the last time in our bedroom at Shamrock Drive. It’s difficult to have this fantasy alone, because he’s the only one who understood, the only one who would understand.

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Day Twelve

Soulmates is a foolish theory.

The optimistic phenomenon used to mean that a person would only have one soulmate in a lifetime. Modern day definitions allow people to have multiple during their lives, and they may include significant others, friends, or even sexual partners. I’m not talking about the definition’s evolution, but its original meaning.

You’re familiar with the vintage concept, right? God makes two people ideal for each other and somehow, they meet on this massive Earth and live happily ever after. Or sometimes they never meet, like one was in Ireland and the other in Africa before boats or planes were invented. What if one dies? It’s all about fate, soulmate’s insignificant and very imaginary second cousin.

This declaration of mine doesn’t mean I don’t believe in love. I know what the butterflies feel like. Mine came when Roger would bring home some of the wild wisteria that swayed from the trees on base, or a king size Whatchamacallit. I felt it when he would change the baby’s diaper or mow the lawn in his dark green silkies and plastic shower shoes.

Maybe I took the word too literally. Maybe I am seeming bitter, even salty by broaching this topic. If the traditional definition of soulmate is true, and there is merely one person for another, where does that leave me?

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Day Eleven

Photo by Cameron Casey on Pexels.com

The United States holds more people in cages than any other country. Social media users share memes of Tigers in metal boxes or elephants with thick chains around their necks. I agree it’s disgusting, but I would love to see more memes about how people are being treated the same way. Some are incarcerated when they did nothing wrong as I just watched on a Netflix documentary.

How to Fix a Drug Scandal takes place in Amherst, MA, close to Northampton, the town I was born in. This is what originally sucked me into the program. I am a little homesick which comes naturally after a new move, so I decided to watch this documentary simply to see the familiar streets.

I recommend watching it, so I won’t spoil it for you. In a very small nutshell, it’s about two state drug lab chemists and their criminal activity while they were working, including tampering with evidence, friendly chatter with prosecutors via email, and personal drug use. Some of the samples from actual convictions came up negative for drugs when they were listed as positive, tainting drug convictions.

For real, watch it. I hope it pisses you off, but no matter what your opinion about this documentary is, maybe it’ll make you think about the fact that more people are in prisons in the US than in any other country.

“They should have known better. It was their fault. That’s what they get. They have a record.”

Whatever makes you feel better about tossing a person in a cage and forgetting about them does not align with the fact that they’re people who deserve to be treated like people no matter their background, record, and race. But it’s easier to wash our hands of it with our Bath and Body Works pumpkin spice soap.

The War on Drugs isn’t working. All it’s doing is breaking up families and tossing people away. Does someone belong in jail for 20 or 30 years because they were caught with some cocaine a few times? That’s too long! Then, once they are incarcerated, it’s simply too difficult to meld with the free population if they’re freed into the dirty snow holding a cardboard box of all their stuff.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

Untwist your panties because I’m not talking about major, violent drug traffickers, but of simple users who need help. Heck, maybe they don’t even want help, but a simple possession that happens too many times will send them to a metal room, and if they get out, they’ll never be released from the white-knuckled stigma that clutches them with dirty talons.

US is “the land of the free” and Lord knows I’m aware of who the brave is. I love my country but can’t permit myself to see past the fact that it’s hypocritical to call this place free when it’s technically not true. “As of May 2021, the United States had the highest prisoner rate with 639 prisoners per 100,000” (Statista). This is more than any other country. Yes, I know I already said that.

If one of my kids was in jail on drug charges and the lab technician who was in charge of testing the substance was in jail due to misconduct at her job, I would absolutely be fighting to get them out, but it’s more than that. People are wasting away in US prisons because the systems have corrupt sectors, bias, extreme and blatant racism, or simple time management issues.

Before I close, I must mention that there are more people in US prisons than in any other country.

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Day Ten

I went to my yearly salon visit this week in Wilmington and was treated like a queen by a sweet woman named Skylar. We talked about pets, her recent wedding, my time in Massachusetts, and more frivolous topics like being barefoot.

“I don’t really love wearing shoes,” I said to her.

“Oh, like in the house?” she replied.

“Like anywhere,” I said.

I wear shoes in public and in gross places like the chicken run, but generally speaking, I just don’t wear them. You’ll never see me in the house with my shoes on. Yesterday, Gisele and I went for a quick turn around the neighborhood because I said the word “ride” and she tilted her head. I didn’t wear shoes.

“So, are you a Tomboy?” Skylar asked.

“I think I am.” I was remarkably flattered by the comment.

I’ve never considered myself one because I never really played team sports and that’s what I thought it meant as a kid. Generally speaking, the term is odd. Why is all the fun stuff reserved for the boys, like getting dirty, playing baseball, and using power tools?  

Tomboy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a girl who behaves in a manner usually considered boyish.”

What manners are boyish?

My best friend, Kim, and I used to roam the neighborhood in our bathing suits when we were little. We’d walk down Camp Jahn Road where I lived with fishing poles resting on our shoulders and no shoes on. We didn’t wash our hands at all during the day, and we’d put our dirty hands in a bag of O’Grady’s chips and lick our fingers. Were we tomboys?

What precisely makes someone a tomboy? I asked Max and Baylee, and they gave me a list, “Fishing, overalls, skateboarding, wearing their baseball hat backwards, baggy clothes, no makeup, slouching, she doesn’t care what she looks like, barefoot, skater shoes, getting dirty.”

“So I’m a tomboy?” I asked because this list pretty much describes me, save one or two.

Max smirked sideways which I’m guessing is because he doesn’t want his mom to be one, which shows he doesn’t consider the word a term of endearment. I think this is a shared opinion in our society.

“Would you guys date a tomboy?” I asked them.

“That depends on how much of a tomboy they are,” Max said. “I wouldn’t mind dating someone that has tomboy qualities, but not a complete tomboy.”

“What is a complete tomboy?” I asked.

“I would like someone more feminine,” he said.

I’ve used the term before many times and never considered the meaning or origin of it. Thinking about it now, I realize it’s just silly for it to even exist. It’s insulting to suggest we girls should stay in our role decorated by frills and flowers while we quietly sit with our shaved legs closed.

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Day Nine

It’s time to introduce you to Gerald. Let me share his birth story.

Back in 2006, I was in labor with Baylee, my youngest. He is the fourth son so he should have popped right out, but he turned his head a little and became stuck in the birth canal, more specifically, under my pubic bone. (The kids don’t love that part of the story.)

Roger was in EMT class at the time, so my midwife allowed him to do most of the delivering. When the time came to push, Roger and I played tug-of-war with a sheet, him at the end of the bed, me, knees up trying so hard to push Baylee out.

After some time of pushing, the midwife was concerned because Baylee’s heartrate slowed. The room became quiet. Roger was always calm in the birthing rooms, no nerves, only excitement. This one time however, he hushed like the rest of us. The midwife turned Baylee’s little body around the smallest amount and there he was.

What a sweet little face he had all crunched up and pursed. He was my smallest baby weighing 7 pounds 15 ounces. (Tyler beat him by half an ounce.) I noticed on his face a slight, very faint bruise on his left cheek shaped like a sideways kiss. I showed the pediatrician and she said it was from being stuck in the birth canal and that it would go away in a couple days.

Well, Baylee is 15 now and his birthmark, or café ole, is a gorgeous brown color and still very much on his face. It’s always had tiny blonde hairs on it that he shaves occasionally. It’s never bothered him or anyone else, and he’s quick to explain what it is if he is asked.

His first day of soccer when he was three was the first time anyone said anything to him about it. All of the littles were sitting in a circle when I heard Baylee say, “It’s not a tattoo!” He said it plainly, then moved on with goofing around and giggling with the other tots.

Years passed and Baylee decided to name his birthmark, Gerald.

“Baylee, you know I love your birthmark but if it ever makes you feel comfortable, you may have it removed,” I’ve said to him a time or two.

“No way!” he would say, appalled. He even covered it with makeup one Halloween, then scrubbed the white paint off of the small area so it would be seen. It’s simply part of him.

I’ve always hoped he would never consider removing it. I really don’t think he ever will, and if he does, I will proudly display Gerald on a shelf in a glass jar and watch as he swims gracefully in formaldehyde. (Not kidding.)

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Day Eight

People used to refer to a widow in town by her marital status when they addressed her. For example, they would have called me The Widow Adams. I’m happy times have changed. The word widow may make one think of an elderly lady with white hair, a few whiskers, and a cat on her lap. The word is in books, real life, and on the big screen.

I am not an action film type of girl, but after years of begging me, I agreed to watch some Marvel with the boys. They all loved it and spoke a different language around me, so I felt a little left out.

“You should watch WandaVision with us.”

I watched the show and became hooked to the characters and the general oddness of the short series. It borrowed old soothing sitcoms to carry the show along like I Love Lucy, Family Ties, and Modern Family. Anyone who knows me, knows I love sitcoms. I became fascinated with Wanda, a widow and mother of boys.

After that show, I started watching more Marvel shows and movies with the boys including Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson. It started a months-long heated conversation between me and Sam.

“I just don’t understand how she can be called a widow. She’s never been married, and she doesn’t even have a love interest,” I told him. “She’s never suffered loss like I have.”

“It’s more about the spider and not a human widow,” he said.

National Geographic Kids shares information on the Black widow, including a map of where you can find one. I’ve seen this venomous spider many times in North Carolina and know to keep a good distance from her. Although she’s intimidating, I’ve always been quite fascinated. This site will tell you a black widow earned her name by biting the head off her mate after their sexy time.

Art by Baylee Adams

Sam and I revisited this conversation many times in the past few months, but he ended it last night.

“But she’s not a spider,” I said. “She’s a human.”

“They only call her a widow because she’s strong and scary like a black widow,” Sam said.

“I still don’t like it,” I said.

“A Black widow is more than her name. She does other things, too,” said Sam. Touché.

I just got quiet, smirked, and conceded.

So a lady who holds that title, human or spider, shouldn’t be characterized by her loss, but by her ability and spirit. She’s more than an event, more than a half of a whole, more than just a widow.

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Day Seven

Max did this

So I’ve had someone else’s bone in my mouth for about a month or two. Oh, come on, or at least compose yourself before you read the rest.

When I sleep, I grind my teeth so hard they break, and Gisele, my German shepherd, ate my night guard that prevents this type of thing. I never replaced it. One molar shattered so badly it became infected, and because of the abscess, I had to have it removed. There wasn’t enough good stuff left to work with. Sexy, I know.

I could have had a partial put in, where two surrounding teeth anchor an artificial tooth with metal wires like willow trees would a flimsy hammock. I decided to have an implant put in which is a longer process but it would be more permanent than the hammock tooth. In order to do that, there had to be something to screw it into after the old tooth was removed. (I know, gross.)

The dentist yanked my bad tooth after some time on antibiotics. (Shout out to Southland Dental for dealing with my anxiety.) After the tooth was extracted and all the goods cleaned out, she had to stuff it with some material so the partial would have a place to dive into. That’s when I heard the word cadaver.

“I’m having cadaver bone put into my mouth?” I asked her.

“Yes, it’s a really cool thing,” she replied. She then showed me a small glass vile with white dust in it, another human’s bone. (Don’t Google it.)

She mixed the grainy dust with a liquid into a paste, then used a Q-tip to cram it into the hole. I felt nothing. Then she topped it with a dollop of collagen and sewed me up real nice.

I’m almost healed enough to have the new tooth put in, but in the meantime, I have moments when I think about this cadaver bone.

It’s all funny and we can joke about the millions of puns that come out of this post so far, but in all reality, this person was mourned by people, and even if not, their life mattered.

Art by Maxwell Forester Adams

When an organ donor passes and someone receives their heart, the family may have a chance to thank them. I’ve seen the videos of parents listening to their late child’s heart in a stranger’s chest, beating. My gosh it makes me cry to watch those, but there’s no pomp and circumstance when a small, seemingly insignificant body part is donated.

So that’s all this post is about today, some words of thanks for the person whose bone is in my mouth.

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Day Six

There aren’t many photos of me smoking. I would always hide it behind my back or crop it out.

Quitting smoking was easier than I thought it would be. I had my last Camel Crush on July 19, 2017.

I liked menthol because I craved that bit of pain, like a tingling on the delicate tissue of my throat. I would take that first daily drag with coffee in the morning in my hot pink bathrobe, freezing my ass off but not admitting it. The brand I smoked had a small, beautiful blue ball in the filter that you would snap with your fingers before smoking. Hence, the name “crush.” It was audible.

I smoked in high school starting with Newports in the breakroom of Big Y where I worked, and continued off and on until I became pregnant with Tyler, my first son. I picked it back up again after he was born until I became pregnant with Sammy. After that, I didn’t smoke again until after Roger passed. I was smoke-free for nine years. Then, on and off, but mostly on, until July 19, 2017.

“You’re gonna get the black lung,” my niece, Shyla, would say to me, eyebrows wrinkled. She was six.

Roger loved tobacco, too. There were many times I found cigarette packs or dip tins hidden in his car. He wasn’t good at hiding it. It made me so angry to know he was sneaking it behind my back. We couldn’t afford it. Two packs of smokes equaled one pack of Luvs diapers, and I worried about his health.

After he died, we waited months to clean out his white Chevy Lumina. In it we found a few plastic water bottles filled with dried up dip spit under the seats. I still have them. (Don’t even. Someone just paid over $72k for a chunk of Elvis’ hair.) When the Army sent his belongings back from Iraq, there was a carton of Miami cigarettes in one of the big black plastic bins. I smoked them all.

It just became time to stop, so I used my son, Sammy, to quit. At the very end of his 19th birthday, I promised him and his brothers that I would quit smoking, and I gave it to him as a gift for his birthday. There’s that pesky, yet effective, accountability again. I cried, smoked my last Camel Crush, smashed it out unceremoniously, and we all went to sleep for the night.

The next day I woke up wanting one but feeling like it was impossible. I stayed in bed most of the day and cried but didn’t have one.

The second day of not smoking, I got up, had coffee, and forced myself to stay out of my bed.

1,517 days later, I’m still on it.

Of course cigarettes kill people, but they’re also expensive. One thing that helped my decision to stop was that in North Carolina, they only cost $5 a pack, but when I moved to Mass, I realized they were over $10 bucks a pack! That’s per day, mind you, because that’s how much I smoked. Usually.

I’m not a math girl, but since I quit, I have saved (whoa) $15,000. That much money could pay for:

This Rolex watch, plus change

Over ten acres in Anchor Point, Alaska  

62.5 ounces of  Lemon Tree at Insa in Easthampton, MA

Three or more associate degrees from my first college.

7,569 pounds of Skittles at Walmart

or my favorite . . .

You could help save a few animals by donating to The World Wildlife Foundation

What would you do with $15,000?

I don’t judge people’s vices. Lord knows I have my own. Smoking wasn’t my vice, I was its. I was the one who kept leaving conversations so I could go outside to smoke. I would watch my kids watch me smoke and was limited to what I could say to them because, well, hypocrisy, and my hair was always smoky. I feel better, I smell better, and I can afford groceries for a year.  

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Day Five

What are you doing on this twentieth anniversary of 9/12? Are you happy that 9/11 is over so you can enjoy your basic Sunday, or are you suffering from a non-alcoholic hangover of feelings that you haven’t successfully flicked away? I’m sure some, like me, aren’t on social media much these days so you may have missed some 9/11 posts to be gifted with them a day late. They’re good at peeling off new emotional scabs and dipping them into something salty.

Either way, it’s Sunday, my favorite day of the week, a day for me to distract myself with messy football and lazy Sundays.

Roger and I have always had this rule(ish) that no big work should be done on Sundays, no matter the time of year. Everyone agrees. I won’t run the washing machine, the John Deere rests in the shed, and the vacuum sits nestled in the laundry room closet. On Sundays, the only blaring noises are shouting at the tv or eager hands in crinkly bags of Doritos. Food is a big part of Sundays. (I would talk about football food, but that topic deserves its own post.)

Football is like a show, not only about the athleticism and machismo, but also about personal stories, adoration for one’s region, and the relationships between members of the team. (If you don’t know what I mean, look up Edelman and Amendola, previous stars on the Patriots whose relationship will make you swoon.)

This was a cold day.

There are characters like the swagged-out owner, Robert Kraft or the legend, Coach Bill Belichick, with his tattered hoodies and concealed smirk. It’s a shared love for a team, and the mascots adorn rooms, clothing, and memories. It’s the whistles, the cheesy food, and a delicious distraction from the fact that tomorrow is Monday. It’s communal.

There’s warmth in football stories, whether it’s pro or not, but I couldn’t figure out which one to use in this post. I texted Tyler:

Give me a heartwarming football story.

My interception at Dad’s last game he saw against White Oak.

(Click for inspirational music.)

When Tyler was on the Jacksonville Cardinals football team, Roger was that dad. He wasn’t the one who talked about golf with the other dads, and he rarely sat on his red, $30 bleacher seat from Kmart that read “Daddy Doo” on the back. He paced up and down the walkway so he would have a direct look, the dad who always had a baby on his hip.

Donning a birthmarked toddler, his 49ers hoodie, and a Red Sox hat, Roger stood on the sidelines waiting until he had to move. The Cardinals were playing White Oak, and there was a glorious rivalry between the teams. The Viking’s quarterback threw the ball and Tyler intercepted it. He ran 50 yards for the touchdown, turned around to face his dad, and pointed right at him. Roger’s grin was massive.  

Tyler and Roger when Tyler played for Northwoods Park Middle School

Football just takes you to different places in the same timeline like a Thanksgiving dinner in 1985 or a field on Camp Lejeune surrounded by strollers and small concession stands. It’s the sticky oranges at half-time, nachos in a clear plastic bin, and playing muddy tag under the bleachers.

It was our little family’s Friday nights.

Boys of Fall

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Day Four

A 30 day writing challenge isn’t immune to memorable dates. Today, of course, is the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, a day of darkness.

This date signifies the end of peacetime for our family. It altered the objective of our future travels and the way we looked at literally everything. It changed our nation’s way of believing, of loving, of trusting.

Instead of resharing the chapter I wrote about 9/11 and how it impacted us directly, I will talk about going down new roads and lingering. To make this happen, I will borrow some fuel from my new friend, Nancy, a woman who shows light to so many who suffer darkness. Nancy is grace. Modeling her heart-shaped glow, I will share.  

Roger and I always had minivans and they were usually filled with boys. Our four and their friends would sit in the seats while they got the sillies or watched Finding Nemo on the DVD player. Roger wasn’t one of those men who pounded his chest and had to be the driver, so we took turns.

Jacksonville was ever-growing when we lived there as a young family, and new roads were being built constantly. We would leave our small, brick ranch on Shamrock Drive to go to the commissary on base or an appointment at the pediatrician and it seemed like there was a new road every day. They built new housing developments with brand-new two-story homes, more Taco Bells, or a new coffee shop with a cute name like Moka Joe’s, and each time there was a virgin road to follow. The rate of growth was rapid, and I only saw it as a pain. My husband didn’t agree.

“Let’s see where this road goes,” Roger often said, hopeful.

“He really needs to nurse.” Nobody was crying or needing me.

We also took many road trips during our perfect life, driving twelve or more hours to visit family. Beeline was the way. I was all about Interstate 95 and he was more into the slower, longer roads. One time he convinced me to take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel in Virginia which was out of our way and was sure to add hours to our trip. I remember being annoyed. It was rare we would stay off the fast track on a trip, but he always tried.

“There may be a diner in this town,” he would say, or “What if we need to stop? It’ll be easier.”

“They can pee in bottles,” was always my answer.

God if I could sit in a mini van for 12 hours with Roger today with crying, red-faced babies and panting dogs. Oh, to pull over in some town in Delaware just so we could all have a picnic with homemade grinders, little bags of dusty Cheetos, and cold Coke in a can. I can still taste the homemade peanut butter cookies with sugared tops, and juice boxes that were on sale, and I can hear the pops as their straws pierce the tops.

Why did I think all that car time with Roger and the little boys had to be rushed when I could have soaked up the journey? Usually I think there’s nothing I can do because it’s too late. Maybe it is for me, but it doesn’t have to be for people who still take long boring trips.

On this anniversary of the day the world stopped turning, drive slowly and go down that new road. Let me know what it’s like.

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Day Three

It’s difficult to organically come up with something to write about. For me, I need inspiration, a prompt, or an assignment. I could mind map or brainstorm, I suppose, and will try that next time. Because I started this writing challenge, I have to think of something each day because people are reading these, even from different countries! Thank you!

Since my brain goes all over the place these days, I keep notes of things to write about on my phone of thoughts or ideas that come to my mind, and the list is weird. On it are things like “variant,” “chicken math,” “the way he washed me when I was pregnant,” and “Abby the Spoon Lady.” Sometimes I look at the list and have no clue what I was talking about. I remembered today’s, though, and brace yourselves, it’s deep.

I love slouching. It feels good on my back to round it out and turn my body into a heap. I feel like the lower I go into a slouch the more comfortable I am. In my defense, I have a long torso, so that counts for something, right? Knowing it’s not good for me doesn’t matter, but quite honestly, knowing it looks bad, does. Vanity is ugly and delicious.

I started 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene when I lived in Massachusetts, and because of our big move, I only got to Day 20 or something, then traded it in for pizza and packing boxes. Adriene is really great, letting you modify if you need to and she teaches with a chill and non-judgmental type of air. Some days are long and some short which makes it less daunting, plus she’s sweet and happy which just makes you feel good, so if you want to get mad at her, well, you just can’t. Oh, and who doesn’t love free stuff? She doesn’t charge! I love her.  Check it out: https://yogawithadriene.com/free-yoga-videos/30-days-of-yoga/

Recently, I picked it back up again, doing one of her YouTube videos every other day, alternating with two miles on the treadmill (which I loathe).  It’s a slow start but a start, nonetheless. I’ve just been so low-energy lately and I hoped some deliberate activity would help. It really has, but it’s reminding my body that I shouldn’t slouch. It just doesn’t make me as happy anymore to sit like a pile.

Even as I sit here next to my son, Baylee, who is doing homeschool work, I keep reminding myself to sit up because I feel a little odd in the practice. My body is becoming strong with the help of my new friend, Adriene. I think, “Ok, Teresa, tighten your belly, stick out your butt, and sit tall!” It just feels so dang good to fall into that C-shaped lean.

I’m never going to not be a sloucher. It’s just too lovely.

Namaste.

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Day Two

A very orange, cross-eyed hyena bit my right pointer knuckle in my dream last night, and I welcomed the classic, senseless nightmare as I awoke feeling refreshed and reset. It was nice to be granted with an unearned break from the horror of my current cyclical nighttime vision. Up until that point, our move from Massachusetts to North Carolina was my sleeping brain’s image of choice, and it continued every night, and I’m certain it’s not through with me.

Each night while I sleep, I relive the exhausting daily worry about finding a house for me, three of my sons, our German shepherds, cats, sixteen chickens, and a bearded dragon. My mind recreates my memories of winter house showings where we would leave the house with a stuffed truck to sit in the parking lot of our local pizza place, Paisanos, while strangers walked around our beloved old farmhouse, poked through our stuff, and laughed at my decorating skills. As I sleep, I am reminded of wiping off doorknobs to get rid of unfamiliar germs, frantically ensuring the cats are still in the house and not coyote food, and suffering general feelings of loneliness.

The dreams all have the same sensation. In the last one, I felt the soft green grass on my hands as I sat on the lawn on the side of my house watching everyone around me. (My yard in Massachusetts had very fine grass that was soft and cool even in August. The chickens liked it better than the centipede we have here, which is heartier and strong enough to withstand the hot sun and warmer days. I think of the silky, Northern grass more than I should.)

In the latest dream, it was already nighttime, dark with only the warm lighting from inside the house to show us the yard. The new owners were there measuring, whispering, laughing as they were side eyeing us. They wanted us out. The chickens and cats and dogs were running free of their fences and leashes. We only had a few hours to sleep until our trip in the early morning, our relocation to North Carolina. I could see through the living room window that the pictures were hanging on the wall still, and someone else’s chair-and-a-half was sitting in front of the picture window. In each of these dreams, nothing is packed or cleaned, I can’t talk, and I can’t move.

Although we are safe and sound in NC and have been since May 19th, I can’t shake the past few months out of my head. It mirrors reality too much, the parallels between my dreams and facts are vivid. I try to analyze them, but it doesn’t help, and I only hope they slither their way to a different timeline or universe. It’s been too long since I’ve been naked in class or have fallen from nothing, and I miss it.  

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Day One

I pre-cringe as I write because I know once I submit this, I have to follow through. I’m not lazy about writing, and I really do love the art, but I have some things to work on.

Perfection in writing has become an ever-growing obstacle for me. It wastes time causing me to not do it. I’ll fold laundry, feed the chickens whatever leftovers have accumulated on the counter, or rearrange the cereal cabinet. So, I have decided to put myself through a challenge to write a blog post every day for 30 days. It will have no true thread, length, or reason, but it will be something for the world, my potential accountability audience, to see.

I have goals: One is to become comfortable with writing again. It’s been a few months since I’ve done so regularly. Something else I’d love to accomplish is to learn how to submit a piece without going over it 20 times. Literally. If I get to paragraph 85 and there’s an error, I reread the entire piece from the top. I would love to do two reads then move on. (ugh. I’m already on my 5th 20th for this one.) Have you ever sent a text to the wrong person, or submitted a paper to a professor or boss and noticed an error? It makes my whole body feel weak and a little barfy.

Most importantly, and this goal needs its own paragraph home, is that I am desperate to control my thoughts. Because of the move and the world, I have been quite recluse again and it’s because of what I don’t purge. If I can share the darkness and the light, maybe focusing will seem less menacing to me. If I force myself to do it, using any readers I may have as accountability bosses, I will feel free. (Thanks, amateur therapists. I heart you.)

So this is it, day one.

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You’ll Think You’re a Tough Guy Too

Other than a slashing burn on your tongue, gums, and delicate throat, Da’ Bomb hot sauce offers your guts twisting cramps that begin at the base of your insides then dillydally through your organs and fat bubbles to your lower back. There it lingers until it casually fades leaving a dull ache. You are then gifted with about five minutes of hope that it has passed, until the warmth reappears and recycles with its crimson heat.

This challenge is the product of a well-calculated peer-pressure type event, and in my case, it was caused by my oldest son, Tyler. He watched a show called Hot Ones on YouTube that is hosted by the babyface, soft-spoken Sean Evans.

Evans speaks with the enthusiasm of a middle-schooler proudly reciting the preamble to the Constitution with a background of inspirational Olympicesque tunes all while directing your eyes with his finger guns. On his porcelain palette of a cleanly shaven head he wears a neatly manicured red beard and mesmerizing psychopathic green eyes. The angel of light shares the experience with his guest, reacting like a crying defendant with no wet tears.

Evans interviews celebrities like Idris Elba, Kristin Bell, Paul Rudd, and my favorite, Pete Davidson while they eat wings, sometimes bird, sometimes vegan. The sauce used on the wings becomes progressively hotter forcing the interviewee to be stripped down to their vulnerable, gelatinous core. And you can’t look away.

“Hot sauce has a way of humbling you, especially this one,” Sean Evans said in an interview with Drew Barrymore in August of 2020 via Zoom. He was speaking of their seemingly hottest sauce, which is number 8 out of 10. It’s called Da’ Bomb. (See below.)

As the veteran actor is visibly distraught from the effects of the bite she just took which was dressed in Da’ Bomb, Evans politely continues to rattle off questions about her career and daily life, a tactic he uses in all of his 219 episodes, showing no remorse or concern as he inquires. It’s brilliant!

I wondered why Tyler kept asking me if I watched the show so I did, and became hooked. Then, Tye said he ordered some of the sauces from the show, and that’s when my nerves started. We tried it. It was me, my three youngest sons, and our family friend, Ben. I tried to talk them out of it and especially concentrated my lessons of peer pressure on my youngest, Baylee.

I took some Morning Star Farms Chik’N nuggets, dunked them in the sauce that’s the color of dried blood, then baked them for 18 minutes. The world stopped as our past few days of anticipation was finally in our sites. We all took a bite, and while I was taking my second, the boys’ eyebrows lowered, and their weight shifted from foot to foot. Their mouths were opened like comedic alligators and their hyperventilating breaths were doing no good with the inhaling and exhaling “hees” and “haws.”

They paced and did pirouettes with their six-foot frames as their inner little boys took over causing them to alternate guzzling milk and lemon-lime Gatorade. The constant dancing and drinking lead them to the bathroom or nearest trash can where they unintentionally gifted their mouths with another taste of the putrid mash. I posted a video of our challenge for your diabolical enjoyment.

It burns down deep through the thin skin at the roof of your mouth through your nostrils creating the most unattractive drip. There is an overwhelming desire to wipe your eyes and dab your forehead which is thinly veiled in a cold sweat, not like you just ran a mile, but like you’re ill with the flu. You tell yourself not to lick your lips and no matter how hard you try not to, you just do with the instinct of a dog who kicks the ground after he pees.

There’s a sense of camaraderie that accompanies the challenge. People don’t just do this without video evidence or by themselves on a Tuesday night. That would be weird. It’s social. They do it to complement their fists while they pound their chests, to simply create new commiseration material, or for a spicy dose of relativity, as told my son, Baylee, 14.

After his pain began to subside, he said, “I feel really good, like better than I did yesterday.”

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“Happy” 25th

The Blues are the superior uniform of the Marine Corps. They call the jacket a blouse, and it is navy blue, so dark it looks black. I would rub the heavy, soft wool against my naked arms and watch the bumps rise. The blouse was trimmed in scarlet, and there were gold buttons straight up the front, three on each arm, and one on each shoulder. The collar had an Eagle Globe and Anchor, or EGA, shining gold on each side.

My marine was decorated with multiple ribbons on one side and clinking medals on the other. On his upper-arms, he wore his rank, scarlet and gold, proudly displaying his non-commissioned officer status as a corporal. There was a white belt that clasped with a gold buckle, showing his trim waist. The pants were royal blue and after a certain amount of time in, he earned his blood stripe, which is a sewn red line from hip to ankle on the outside of both legs. His black patent leather shoes looked liquid and whispered when he stepped, and the wide, metal-framed white hat, or cover, sat low over his brown eyes, and complimented his full lips.

I wore a form-fitting long, black velvet dress with matching sling back heels. I walked out of the hotel room and Roger grinned with his eyes as he looked at me. My hair was long, down my back in loose, glossy curls that felt soft on my bare skin. We were ready for the Marine Corps. Ball.

People were doing shots of Jägermeister, and their laughter invited the green odor to dance around the ballroom. There was a ceremony, then dinner of roast beef with gravy, and always mashed potatoes, no lumps. After we rested our full bellies, we ate a piece of the massive white cake with sticky red trim that was not known for its flavor.

My family and I were sitting at the table sipping vodka, straightening collars, and replacing lip gloss, when I started to wonder where Roger was. After a minute, I heard his voice echoing loudly over the hundreds of people partying. “May I have your attention please?” I thought he was talking to a friend, but he was at the podium at the front of the room, hands controlled in front of his waist, head slightly tilted, and the microphone receiving his question.

“Teresa will you come up here?” Oh, gosh. I saw his slight, nervous smile.

There were hundreds of people, including my family and many friends, all dressed in their sparkly gowns, Dress Blues, and suits saved for weddings and funerals. The lights had dimmed since dinner, and there was no music. I stood and made my way towards him. There was flat, crimson ballroom carpeting, dark with golden swirls, and many chairs in my way as I lifted my feet higher than normal as to not trip.

Bright camera flashes gave me a white tunnel directly to him, and I felt people’s eyes on me. The path gave me time to wonder and hope. It invited me to remember flashes of our talks.

“We could just get married now,” he said months before. His tone teased but his eyes wondered.

“Now?” I replied. We had a private moment to talk after taking Tyler, who was three to Casper the movie.

“Or we can wait,” he said.

“No, no, no, I can’t live away from you any longer,” I said.

I brought myself back to the present and continued my walk up to the podium, my hands were damp. My skin pricked and butterflies were crawling up my throat. My legs wobbled until I found his face. His smile was wide and warm, probably happy I didn’t run out of the room. I forgot about the other people. In his eyes, I found safety and adoration, and I finally noticed that he was shaking when he held my hand.

“Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” so only he could hear me. “Yes.” I felt my face stretch as he put the ring on my finger.

“What did she say!!??”

“She said yes! Wooohoooo!” The room shook with cheering and clapping, and he raised his hand that wasn’t holding mine in celebration.

The marines were roaring with shouts of “Oorah!”

We showed off with a long, respectable kiss. The band played our song, “I Swear.”

He wore those same Dress Blues one month later at our December wedding in the snow. I rented my dress for $80 and wore my plaid sneakers to tease him. He didn’t know until we were officially married. The gazebo in Easthampton, Mass. was surrounded by Christmas lights and sweet, undying love.

Movies

Is Tarantino’s Twist a Gift?

Charcoal drawing by Maxwell Adams titled Backwards Hollywood

*Spoilers
Quentin Tarantino blankets the big screen with a 1960’s ambiance as he reconstructs history in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He successfully enhances the despair that existed in 1969 when Charles Manson directed his followers to murder Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and her housemates. On the big screen, he turns the tables of the real-life bloodbath, and in doing so, he successfully magnifies the misery of the actual event.

The well-known movie creator uses his darkly colorful style and his arsenal of the actual events of the past, a recreated history, and trendy advertisements from the time period to share with us a delightful dish for our eyes. His focus is on the Manson murders with little mention of the tyrant himself, but more about the life of Sharon Tate at that time. He reconstructs history by saturating the vibe with sensory details Sharon Tate herself would experience while she walked barefoot down Cielo Drive, dancing to the music that lives in her free mind. Tarantino uses the human senses to tell his new story of old history with color, his own brands, vibrant memory-inducing fabrics and styles, and music from decades ago.

Tarantino’s use of tunes from the past sets the mental stage for his movie, even a song that Charles Manson wrote called “I’ll Never Say Never to Always.” Manson does not have a part on the soundtrack, rightfully so, no matter how catchy and sweet his song sounds, but listening to a group of young women sing the song while walking barefoot down the city streets of LA adds gloom to the sunny setting in the movie. Songs like “Hush” by Deep Purple and “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel set the mind’s stage to a 1969 atmosphere. There are also different versions of songs like “California Dreamin’” by Jose Feliciano, which offers a more ominous sound than the other, more well-known and chipper version by The Mamas and the Papas. This lends a hint to Tarantino’s audience of a less than cheery setting. Another thing that darkens the mood are the historical facts that did exist during the days of Sharon Tate, offering Deja vu to viewers who lived during that time, and a true likeness of the era to those who are too young.

The most vibrant authenticity comes along with the face of the character Sharon Tate. Even her sister claims the likeness is astonishing, including her sweet, gentle demeanor, her quiet voice, and free spirit. Margo Robbie portrays Tate and her loving qualities freely allowing the harmony to juxtapose the brutal murders that happened in the true world. One way she does this is by bouncing down the street on her toes, feeling a high from having watched herself on the big screen, showing her humility. The movie theater she visits is littered with posters and run by a girl who takes Tate’s photo even though she doesn’t know who she is. Tate’s interaction with the girl and all others in the movie shows her generous nature and this flows from scene to scene as she smiles, waits for them to speak first, and offers hugs frequently. The scenes that are blessed with Tate offer smooth beauty and classic clean lines with no interruptions.

The only breaks during the two hour and forty-minute flick are classic radio ads, which don’t take the viewers’ attention away from the story and time but allow them feelings of “oh yeah” and nostalgia. Historically, radio ads are omitted from movies. Who would want a commercial interrupting the atmosphere of a movie anyway? Tarantino invited brands like Mug Root Beer, Tanya Tanning Butter, and even Numero Uno Cologne to enhance the ambiance of the film. Also included in the queue in the soundtrack are local ads like one for a Vagabond High School Reunion, and even a weather report for KHJ, a popular radio station in LA, where the cheerful women sing, “Los Angeles Weather!” and the deep male voice of a radio announcer speedily says, “Low overcast tonight low around 58, mostly sunny tomorrow with a high of 68.” The sound of the ads act as an eerie addition to the already unsettling time period in Los Angeles, inviting the audience to bring back to their senses the scent of vinyl warmed by the sun, and a cigarette that drapes off the ashtray, acid-dipped or not. The ads play in the car of Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, as he picks up a hitchhiker, one of Manson’s family members named Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley, a beautiful young seductress with all sorts of hair on her body. Tarantino keeps some of the names and characters of the time like Tex and George Spahn at the ranch, blatantly omits others, and creates his own, but Manson’s part is trim and curt.

Although Charles Manson is the focal historical cult leader in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there are scant hints of his existence, and the facts are pristinely accurate. Spahn Ranch, the property Manson and his “family” called home, is portrayed as if the footage was taken from a 1969 news story. Manson’s followers are characters in the movie as well, but the character, Charles Manson, played by Damon Herriman, only appeared in a short, yet creepy clip, minimizing his existence and repainting history, taking away from him the glory of the murders he committed with other people’s hands. In the character list, he is called “Charlie” which also shows Tarantino and Hollywood’s hate towards the historical villain by leaving off his well-known last name.

Remember: Spoiler

With the ending comes the sparing of a very pregnant Sharon Tate and her housemates who were killed in real life. Although Tate and her friends were saved in the movie, it does not mean the ending was bloodless. The violence that comes at the conclusion mirrors the anger felt by Hollywood and people around the world in 1969, creating an ending with no loss. Accompanied by the eerie song “Miss Lily Langtree” by Maurice Jarre, the happy-ending occurred, but the juxtaposition of the heavenly big screen conclusion and the real-life murders is not as satisfying as one would expect, because the truth is evident in history. If anything, it makes it more unbearable.

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I’m Not Panicking. Promise.

I woke up this morning and felt the cool air come through the window into my bedroom, a nice break from the heavy thickness that has been lingering around town lately. I breathed it in and allowed it to turn into the feelings of autumn. My eyes remained closed as it speared its way through my mind with images of pumpkins and sweaters, until it found my basket of reasoning right next to my closet of rationale. At that, my eyes snapped open and panic set in. Again. Still.

These next few months will be quite full. I am merely expelling my growing inner concern and simple nervousness about wanting it all to fall into place. I’d love to sleep at night.

(Wow this feels good.)

I don’t hate it in Massachusetts. We simply don’t fit in and that’s OK. So, we’re off to North Carolina, where we belong. Where my Tyler is. Home.

I own a house in Southampton, MA. It’s a gorgeous 1800’s farmhouse that needs love. It will need to be cleaned and sold and I don’t see how that will even work with us living here. Have you met us? Have you met David? He’s loud.

This is David

Also, as I look at the place from a different perspective like from a mother of a darling little lacy girl, or the cleanest queen of Pinterest, I worry. I begin to notice, more, the hand prints on the ceiling from when Baylee finally could touch it with a spry jump. He keeps testing that theory, and so do the others (maybe me, too). Also, apparently when one walks up or down the stairs, the white walls are irresistible to the smear. If you have boys, you know what smear is.

I also see the gobs of dog hair that were missed by Max’s daily big-brooming. There are the most charming slants here or there in the house, a marble’s delight, possibly from being here for about 150 years. Also, our forsythia bush is overgrown because in the winter “the animals in there will be cold” and in the summer “but what if they have babies in there” so now it’s a giant mass of green waving vegetation. I realize this will be quite the job.

I love this house and its quirky angles and very wild wildlife. It’s eccentric with its whimsical creaking doors and out-of-place scent of lilac in the winter. I listen at night to the packs of coyotes traveling along the game trail, and I will miss locking eyes with a bear or young deer while I hang towels on the line. But, it’s time, and we need to work.

Want to live here?

Sammy is going to finish his degree in a hybrid environment as an environmental science major. I am overwhelmed with pride for this kid, and I know he can push through it, all while he maintains his position as my sweet listener.

Max will enter into his sophomore year of college which will be remote and is also learning to drive, and (oh yeah) he still has to decide where he wants to go next semester in NC.

Baylee, the youngest who just turned fourteen will be learning remotely if it’s allowed. Otherwise, we will find the right program for him to enter into homeschooling.

I will also enter into my last semester at Westfield State, and have tacked an internship on to that. During that time I will also be looking for a job. A job. I’ve stayed home with the boys all these years, so, yikes to the second power.

Why not wait until next spring? Because we already did that once and here we are. We are ready now and we want to leave as soon as we can. Baylee will be schooling from home so that part won’t matter. I am hoping to work remotely, and Sammy has that option as well.

Palms sweating again.

I dip deeply into my brain’s little knock-off purse with sequined hunter holly leaves and shiny red berries. In it are what Christmas could look like if we pull this all off. I go there when I need some supplemental energy. It tastes like peppermint and smells like a deep green Frasier fir that’s littered with tinsel and Popsicle sticks with dried Elmer’s. Roger’s village will be up no matter where we are, in a camper or cabin, on a mantel or the floor. I keep those hopes tucked away in the sequined purse because they can’t roam freely. It’s mine to look at when I allow myself to. My own little syrupy pill that helps me sleep.

I don’t care what the house we’re in looks like. We may rent until this place sells or buy something cheap in the mountains that we will live in temporarily. All we need is a place that has no cockroaches, no neighbors or ones who love roosters, and room enough for each of us to have our own little space.

I see us wearing brand new pajamas from Old Navy with prints like snowflakes or Superman. We will feast on something with white gravy or chocolate sauce, and soak in our brandnewness. I almost can’t handle that day already, but it’s all I want. It’s what we need.

Roger’s Village
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Heaven Must Have a Green Door

I took this photo in 1989 on Christmas

“I’d like to play a song for my niece, Teri.”

We may have been in a local bar in Western Mass., at the gazebo on a warm July day in Easthampton at the rotary, or even at an outdoor pavilion surrounded by a setting sun and dancing people, barefoot, fun liquid sloshing around in their red plastic cups. He also played music at Jack and Jill celebrations in American Legions, surrounded by dancing smoke and the scent of crock pot lazy Pierogis, and at birthday parties about ages that end in zero. Life stood still when he played, and people loved to listen.

Every time, I knew what song he would play for me.

“It’s called ‘Great Balls of Fire.’” At that, my Uncle Joe’s hands would dance around the keys flawlessly and his rich velvety voice would sing with smooth syncopation while it accidentally commanded attention. I don’t think he had to even look where he placed his piano fingers, no crinkled piece of notepaper held the lyrics for him.

When he played that song, our song, the one I told him I liked when I was a little girl decades ago, I felt like a kid again, little and loved by my big strong uncle, the one who served in the Navy, the one who really loved cats, and the one I shared my love of music with.

He played in a band for most of his life, many bands actually. His favorite music to play was old rock like “Penny Lane” by the Beatles or “Green Door” written by Jim Lowe in 1956, a peppy and very catchy song that offers a riddle about what’s behind the green door that is making people so happy. Uncle Joe sings the lyrics, “Don’t know what they’re doing. But they laugh a lot behind the green door.”

Oh, Uncle Joe

He was Joe Joe, a guy who said what was on his mind, even if maybe he shouldn’t. That’s what made him so real.    

I remember the phone call we had after I lost my husband in 2009. I was in North Carolina and Uncle Joe was unable to fly down. We didn’t talk much. All I remember is hearing him choke out, “I love you.”

Years later he talked about his college and said I should give it a try.

“I went to Westfield State College. I think it’s called Westfield State University now,” he said. “It’s a great school.” I took his advice, and this December I will be finished with my degree at WSU.

I never wondered with Uncle Joe whether I was loved by him. He showed me by carrying around a giant bucket of Lincoln Logs he bought for me at Caldor, and by not getting mad when I got sick at McDonald’s. All over the place. He was kind when he found out I was seventeen and pregnant, and he always looked happy to see me.

How I will always remember him

It was rare to see him without a smile all over his face, and he didn’t simply walk into a room; he bounced. He had a strut stroll that was more of a cool saunter with rhythm, like coolness took no effort with him.

I still hear his deep, booming voice in my mind, and am thankful that he lives on in recordings of songs he played, present tense, but more than that, he lives on in me through the love that I have for him.

Rest, Uncle Joe, not peacefully, but full of oldies, cheeseburgers, and long-haired kittens.