Orphan

“Loss pushes us to difficult places where we have not been before. We often question whether or not we have the courage and stamina to survive the pain. However, we often are given gifts that tell us that we are not alone and that we can withstand the journey.” 

Susan Barbara Apollon

When I was a child, I used to write stories. My mom loved them. She loved reading them and she was always so encouraging. I don’t know what made me start writing or why I wanted to be an author. I haven’t been very good about consistently writing over the years, but I never fully let go of that dream to write a book and be an author. Her encouragement never left me.

This is the story of how I became an orphan.

I lost both my parents when I was a child. It wasn’t at the same time, in some freak car accident, like many of my high school classmates oddly assumed. They were separate occurrences, four years apart. This happened when it was highly unusual for younger people to die. When my father died, my sister and I were the only children at our school who had lost a parent. Kids made fun of me for not having a dad. Four years later, it was a little more common, but not to have lost both parents.

My father died in February 1991. I had just turned seven years old. He had a very rare autoimmune disease called aplastic anemia in which his body stopped producing enough blood cells. I don’t have many memories from this time, and most of them are blurry. I barely remember my dad, even before he was sick. I don’t remember what happened when he got sick or even how long he struggled with it, but according to his death certificate, it was six months.

I remember a nurse that would come to our house. Once, my mom opened the garage door to find him smoking when he wasn't supposed to. And then there's the memory of Thanksgiving when he wasn't supposed to eat the cranberries. I'm not sure why. I just remember cranberries being this thing. And you know what happened? He ate the cranberries. I remember walking down our long carpeted hallway, bright red and blue flashing lights flickering across our living room curtains. I don't know why I associated it with the cranberries. I don't even know if the cranberries was a thing. Maybe that's what my 6-year-old brain gave me to deal with what was happening around me. 

He ended up back in the local hospital and then at some point he was transferred to Stanford Medical Center. They set our mom up with an apartment at the hospital and we stayed with our grandparents.

Things I remember about staying at my grandparents house: my grandma would gently caress my ear at night to help me fall asleep; they had one of those huge metal bed attachments that you put under the mattress so children wouldn't fall out of bed and I loved it; I could fit completely inside the nightstand, close it, and hide; my grandma made the best scrambled eggs, peanut butter & jelly, and tunafish sandwiches; they had mixed nuts that you had to crack with a nut cracker and a candy dish sitting out on the coffee table; and this huge front yard with cherry trees. 

One February morning, our grandparents woke my sister and I up to inform us we weren’t going to school that day. Instead, our aunt and uncle would be taking us to see our mom and dad. I don’t honestly know the last time I had seen either of them, I have little to no memory after Thanksgiving up to this point. I had a birthday, I guess. We lived in Sparks, Nevada, which is just outside of Reno and had to drive to Stanford, California. We got ready, left, and stopped at Burger King for lunch.

I don’t remember much about the hospital either. My memories are muddled. Apparently, my 7-year-old brain had made up some crazy memory that I lived with for years before a family discussion revealed I was asleep in the apartment when my mom had received the phone call that my father died.

The hospital nurses were really nice to us. They drew pig faces on the surgical masks while we waited to see our dad. I caught a glimpse of him through the window in the door and I hardly recognized him. I thought he was Grandpa. It was like he had aged 50 years in two months. He was pale and skinny and had lost all his hair. Who was this man? That's not my dad. When it was our turn to visit him, I could barely look at him. I didn't know what to say. There was an exercise bike in the room that I took comfort in immediately and focused all my attention on. I began to fiddle with the bike as my sister and this stranger talked like everything was normal. They were making plans for when he got out of the hospital. Someone asked me if I had anything to say to my father and all I could manage was to barely whisper, "I love you."

This is where shit gets weird.

The family split up for dinner. I went with Dad's side of the family to a restaurant and Mom's side stayed at the hospital and ate in the cafeteria. When we finished dinner, we drove back to the hospital. It was late at that point, and dark. As we drove up to the curb outside the hospital entrance, I saw my mom standing outside with my sister. I approached her and noticed she was looking up at my dad's room window, tears running down her cheeks. I whispered, "Did it happen?" and she nodded ever so slightly. I crawled into her arms, buried my face into her shoulder, and cried. 

That’s my memory. That’s the memory I carried with me for twenty-something years and truly believed that’s what actually happened in the end. In all actuality, after dinner, we went back to the apartment and I fell asleep. My mom got a call saying he had died. He was 39 years old. A month before his death, he had a bone marrow transplant, which weakens the immune system. But you wanna know what actually killed him? Mold. Fungus. Aspergillosis. Fucking mold. And that’s all I know. You wanna know something else I know? After all these years, I still feel like a giant pile of trash for not saying more to my dad before he died. Writing that memory sucked. And even after all these years and all the therapy I’ve been through… I still don’t know how to deal with my emotions and I still look for that damn exercise bike to distract me from focusing on the actual thing I need to. Glad to see I’ve made no progress in 29 years!

The story of my mom is a little more complex because I was older, I have more memories (although still boggy), and I was closer to her. My sister and my dad were best friends; my mom and I had a similar bond. We snuggled. My mom wanted a baby to cuddle and my sister would have nothing to do with it. Then I was born. And I was all about it. Ask me to cuddle now and I will cut you. Ask Markie Mark. So, our family links were set and everything was good and then people started getting sick and dying. What the fuck, life?

I don’t know timelines because I was a small child thing and I’m bad at absorbing information when I ask family. But at some point, my mom got breast cancer, I think it was around age 35? She had a lumpectomy and went through chemo and radiation treatment where she actually ended up with severe radiation burns on her breast. I know this because it affected our snuggles. Occasionally, I would accidentally smash her sensitive boob when climbing into snug position and she had to remind me to be careful of said boob. So, cancer happened. And lupus also happened. She actually had issues with her cancer treatment due to her diagnosis of lupus, scleroderma, and another autoimmune disease that I’m too dumb to know right now, or ever. Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own normal healthy tissue. I’m uncertain when it started attacking her brain, but after my dad died, she started deteriorating quickly.

She was slipping. She was nodding-off periodically throughout the day, during conversations and such. She was still working and still driving. One day, I was sick and went to work with her briefly in the morning. She only had a few things to do. We went home and I crawled into her bed to go to sleep. She had forgotten to do something at work and asked if I wanted to go back with her or stay home and sleep. I opted to stay home and sleep. Hours later, I awoke to my grandma sitting on the bed next to me. She's taking me to their house. My mom had been in a car accident on the way to back to work that afternoon. She was okay; she only had three broken ribs. Luckily, no one had been injured (she hit a parked car). The accident was her fault... she fell asleep at the wheel. 

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I opted to go with her that afternoon. Could I have prevented the accident? What would have happened if I was asleep? She got a careless driving ticket. She pled guilty but hoped for pity. She felt that if she lost her license, she would lose her independence, too. Before the accident, she had seen her lupus doctor concerning her issue falling asleep. They ran some tests and she was diagnosed with lupus cerebritis. At that point, her brain was so damaged she had the mentality of a 9-year-old child. The day of the accident, she was finishing stuff up at work so she could go on medical leave. Inevitably, after the accident, she was placed into a Rehabilitation Home for six weeks to prove that she could continue doing basic tasks like feed her children, cook food, use a stove properly, and take medication. But it wasn’t enough. She became so obsessed with some things, like couponing and folding linens so neat and perfectly, that she would forget to feed her kids. Most of the time, we would just make ourselves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So, our grandparents sold their home and moved their RV into our backyard.

I remember walking in and seeing my mom sitting on the guest bed of my grandma's house after the accident. She was still visibly shaken and seemed confused. Her head was down, like she felt utterly defeated by her illness and she couldn't understand what was happening to her. I see the image of her now and I understand what was going on. Then, I did not. I knew my mom was sick but I did not understand the extent of it. They tried to explain it to me. In the Rehabilitation Home, we discussed living arrangements for my sister and I if it reached the point my mom could no longer care for us. My mom made it very clear she did not want to lose her daughters. I did not want to lose my mom. I did not understand the seriousness of her disease. But I helped out when I could. I made sure she ate. I made sure she took her medicine. I made sure she was warm. She lost her pinky finger due to a cut and poor circulation and she had to re-learn how to write. Her skin got dry and itchy and she asked me to scratch her back almost every night. I hated it and I hated her for making me do it. And now I hate myself for not appreciating those moments more. 

Do you see a theme here? I wasn’t able to fully grasp the trauma I was enduring in either of these cases. Do you know why? Because I was a child. I was a child in the middle of a bunch of adults that were dealing with their own trauma… so I was pretty much left to my own devices. And I didn’t have any devices, so I created them. I did the only thing I knew how to do: I shut down and withdrew. I didn’t have anyone to talk to… so I talked to my stuffed animals. I sat alone in corners and hid under tables. And then when adults finally wanted to talk to me, I had already shut myself completely down and I refused to talk to anyone about how I felt. Because I didn’t know how I felt. I locked it down. I put up a wall. I went inward. And 29 years later, here I still sit. Inside. Behind a wall. Therapy has helped loosen some bricks and the wall is getting weaker, but I still don’t know how to deal with my goddamn emotions. I still don’t know how to express how I feel most of the time.

In the Summer of ’95, my grandparents decided to take my mom on a little vacation to revisit her home state of Washington. My sister and I were going to be dropped off at our cousin’s house in Felton, CA for two weeks, and they would pick us up on the way back to Reno. Keep in mind, these were the cousins we had ultimately decided would care for us in the event my mom could no longer do so. After two weeks, we received a phone call.

I was given the phone. My grandfather told me we would be staying with our cousins. I'm sure he said a lot of other things but I wasn't listening. I started to shut down. They were abandoning us. But then he said something that brought me back online. "I'm going to let you talk to your mother." He instructed me not to mention the move to her. They wanted her to believe it was her decision. I did not like that. I did not want to listen to my grandfather. I did not want to live with my cousins. All I wanted was my mommy. My mom got on the phone and I immediately started crying. I told her I missed her and I did not want to live there. The phone was taken away from me. 

I eventually got over it and started adjusting to my new life. I liked my cousins and we had a lot of fun there. Don’t get me wrong… it was still very difficult and I missed my mom very much. I never got to say goodbye to any of my friends in Reno and I didn’t have many of my belongings. But it was the first time in my life that I had a blank slate, a new beginning, a fresh start. It was like running away and starting a new life. And I kind of liked it. I get a few other opportunities in my life to run away and start over. This was just the beginning.

The first day of school was hard. Sixth grade, new school, new town. I didn't know anyone. I was terrified. I wanted to cry. Tears filled my eyes. My cousin walked me to class and stayed with me until I was comfortable. It didn't take long for me to adjust and make a few good friends. There was a group of seven of us that did everything together. I started piano lessons and got into 4H. I rode my bike everywhere. I helped care for the family animals which included chickens and a pig. My sister and I started therapy. We flew to Reno for a weekend and visited our mom. I started opening up. And I felt like things were going as well as they could. 

Things were going well for me. For my sister, they were not. She was struggling, silently, or at least unknown to me. Part of it was my fault. I was too busy making new friends and bonding with my cousins that I forgot to check in with the person who should have been my priority. I was just trying to figure out how to survive and so was she. And her vision of survival did not involve staying with our cousins… it involved moving to San Diego to live with our godparents.

Our godparents had been nixed out of caretaker possibilities because our godmother had a severe back injury and resulting medical problems. Our cousins, on the other hand, had five children (one of them adopted) and a big farm house. Our godparents didn’t have any children, nor any experience raising children. However, my sister truly believed there was a reason why our parents had chosen these two people to be our caretakers and insisted that’s where we needed to be. Conference calls were made. Discussions were had. No one asked me what I wanted. A decision was made. Two months into the school year, we were uprooting again and moving to San Diego.

I wasn't ready to start over again. I wasn't ready to leave my new life behind. I started shutting down again. Getting quiet. Withdrawing. I no longer had any desire to participate in any extracurricular activities. No more bike rides. No more social interactions. Back to the girl sitting in the corner with her stuffed animals, talking to herself. The first day of school was even more terrifying. My godmother stayed with me for half the day. I ended up with a single friend who I held onto for the remainder of my time at that school.

We moved to San Diego on Oct. 26th, 1995. By Thanksgiving, our mom wanted to come visit but our godparents thought it might be better if she waited until Christmas, giving us more time to adjust to our new home and giving her a longer period to visit. We agreed… it made perfect sense. I didn’t see any problem with waiting another three weeks. My mom was incredibly upset, but she made her flight plans and bought her ticket for December 17th.

I talked to her a couple days after Thanksgiving and it was upsetting. I'm not sure if there was much of a conversation. She fell asleep almost immediately and I didn't understand what was going on. I spent the next several minutes screaming "Mom!" into the receiver, with no response. Finally, I hear my grandfather in the background ask my mom what she's doing. I'm terrified, still thinking something terrible has happened while I'm on the phone with her. She wakes up, apologizes, and explains that she fell asleep. My terror quickly turns to annoyance as I still don't fully understand the seriousness of her illness. She has to go. Good, because I don't want to talk to her anymore. How could she fall asleep on me? During our conversation? Her little snug bug? I'm hurt. I want to cry. We quickly end the phone call and I'm not even sure I say "I love you."

That’s the last time I spoke to my mother. The week after Thanksgiving she ended up in the hospital. She had been vomiting up bits of brown that she assumed were chocolate because mama had a sweet tooth. Then they realized it was blood. They admitted her for pancreatitis because they didn’t have a diagnosis and they weren’t sure what was wrong with her. If I remember correctly, there was a lot of switching back and forth between different diagnoses in those first few days, but I’m not really sure why.

Saturday, December 2nd, 1995 
My sister and I woke up and walked into the kitchen to discover a post-it note on the counter from our godparents: 
Out running errands. Be back shortly. Don't eat breakfast... we are getting donuts!  
My favorite donut was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and nuts and I hoped they would bring back one of those. Otherwise, a plain cake was just as good. 
We sat around for sometime and flipped through the television channels trying to find something to entertain our easily bored little minds, waiting for our breakfast to arrive.  When they finally got home, everything seemed normal. They seemed normal. I got up and poured myself a small glass of milk, ripped off a paper towel, and picked out my favorite donut... because of course it was there. We sat down on the barstools and got ready to bite into our delicious cake breakfast. Our godparents had positioned themselves into the dining room chairs. 

"Before you start eating, we need to tell you something." 

We set our donuts down and swiveled around in our chairs. Something had changed. Their faces were different. They no longer seemed normal. Everything was not normal.  

"Your mother passed away early this morning........." 

I couldn't tell you what the rest of that sentence was. I stopped listening. Blood immediately rushed to my ears and face. My eyes welled up, blinding me. My heart started making its way to the top of my throat and I felt like I was choking. My sister's muffled wailing was barely audible over my brain repeatedly screaming those four words: your mother passed away. I was shutting down. I no longer wanted my donut. I no longer wanted to exist. All I wanted was my mom. And she was gone. 

“Losing your life is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to lose your reason for living.” 

Jo Nesbo

She was 43 years old. She died at 2:45 am from an upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to gastric ulceration. Basically, she had ulcers no one knew about and she bled to death. Alone, in a hospital, without her daughters. The one thing she feared more than anything was losing her children and her own parents turned on her. They separated us from our mom at a time when she needed us the most. She would have never recovered from her disease. But I think once she lost us, she completely gave up. She felt she had nothing left. It had been two months since I had last seen her. We went to see the movie Philadelphia (I know, super weird for a kid, but my mom loved Tom Hanks and I loved my mom). Two months since our last hug, our last kiss, our last snug. I wish I could have been there for her. I wish I could have comforted her and told her everything would be okay. I wish I wasn’t such a brat and I told her “I love you” more times. I wish I could have written her a thousand more meaningless stories for her to love and cherish. I wish she knew she could never lose me and that she had nothing to fear. And I wish she knew that I will forever be her little snug bug… no matter what.

“All the sorrows of life are bearable if only we can convert them into a story.” 

Isak Dinesen

The pain never truly goes away… it just gets a little quieter over time. It shouts at you constantly, always nagging, always there. You get used to it. You learn to live with it. You mute it, but somedays it breaks through and destroys you. And over the years, the shouting lessens and it becomes a whisper. And then it turns to guilt because you don’t suffer as much as you used to. But the pain is still there. It will always be there. We all have our pain. We are all broken. We all suffer. We are all dealing with some unknown bullshit, trying to make it to the next day. We are all just trying our best to survive. Writing is my current way of survival. It’s a form a therapy: it allows me to build upon my childhood storytelling and grow from it. I stopped writing after my mother died. I stopped writing stories and I started focusing on different career paths. I lost my confidence and ambition for storytelling because I had lost my biggest cheerleader. I had no desire to survive. I did not understand that writing could help me grieve. It could help me heal. I never truly lost my love for writing because I never forgot my mother’s encouragement. I suppressed it for years and now, with some helpful nudges, it’s finally coming back. I remember her words. I remember her love. The passion is returning. And one day, I will heal… because my trauma does not define me. I get to choose what defines me… and in this moment, I choose to write. Unapologetically.

“Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave bereft
I am not there. I have not left.” 

Mary Elizabeth Frye

Crescent Lake: A Liquor Story

“If all of our sins, bad habits, and poor choices were permanently inked into our skin like tattoos, we would all dress quite modestly.” 

Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons

This week, I’m still avoiding the shitty post. So, here’s another distraction! A short story on why you should never (never!) eat an excessive amount of Jell-O shots. Let’s begin!

This story takes place in September of the great year 2015. I was actually no longer in the employment of the liquor industry because of a few reasons. First, I had decided to quit because of horrible bosses. Yeah, they do literally ruin everything. Second, because of said horrible bosses, I had figured out a way to take some time off to “work on my creativity” or whatever that was supposed to mean. Basically, I was gonna try to write. Kind of what I’m doing now. (Spoiler Alert: It did NOT work out.) So in July, I had resigned and left the place I loved so dearly behind. Peace out, Bitches! I was still very close with my liquor store family, but after I quit, we didn’t hang out as much. I mean, this is very typical when you leave a group… even with the best intentions of nothing ever changing, things change. It wasn’t just me, either. The group was growing up and making progress with their lives. It was good. Luckily, we had one last opportunity to completely fuck our lives up with absolutely mortifying memories that none of us really remember.

At the liquor store, we had a tip jar. For a long time, I don’t even know what we did with the tips. Honestly. But at some point, we started pooling the tips in the cash drawer to save up for “something big” of our choosing. When it got big enough, the manager would let us choose what we wanted to do with the money. We ended up with over a grand at some point, and it was voted that we would rent a cabin at Crescent Lake for a few days and have a giant liquor store party. You could stay for as long or as little time as you wanted. Because I was a part of the tips, I was still able to participate in the activities, even though I was no longer employed and the owner was not speaking to me at that point. Heh. The cabin was rented and we set the dates for September. I don’t remember exact dates. That’s asking way too much of me.

The owner provided all the booze we could ever desire and he made a huge Costco run to buy all the food we would ever need, so we literally just had to bring what we needed for the night/nights we were staying. Not everyone could stay the entire time because some unluckies had to actually go back to work slinging booze. Sucks to suck geeks!

We were all looking forward to hanging out again and I think we all had pretty high expectations for this cabin. Friends, food, liquor, swimming, sun, and relaxing for a few days… you know? It was bound to be fun, whatever the outcome. The day of arrival, my liquor store bestical and I showed up early in the evening. We were the first ones there because I have massive anxiety and I didn’t want to feel weird showing up after everyone else. We waited for the “responsible” coworker with the money to get the key so we could check the place out. It was your standard lake cabin, I guess? I’d never rented a lake cabin before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s… basic. But they provided all the basic necessities. Bedding, kitchen shit, whatnot. We went down to the lake and walked around for a bit until a few other people arrived. I spent a bunch of time looking at rocks because that’s what I do to pass the time. Don’t judge me. I don’t think we really knew what to do in the beginning. I guess we probably waited around gossiping and playing around on our phones. I’m assuming we had our phones at this point. Later on, our phones magically disappear and there’s no evidence this night ever took place.

Because no photographs or evidence exist from this night, I had to steal this image off of the internet. This is what I imagine the beach looked like. It’s the same lake, so… good enough.

After some time, the boss man and manager arrived. They were dating. It was weird. It made things complicated. Ew. But that’s a story for another time. The important thing here is they arrived. And with them, they brought… life! And death. So much death. But not literal death, because fuck, what kind of story do think I’m telling here? Let’s just say death in this case is bad decisions. SO. MANY. BAD. DECISIONS. But hey… that’s alcohol for ya, amiright?

We unloaded all the food and drinks and stocked the cabin. Basics first, people! Then we started cooking up some food. Burgers and brats and stuff like that. Then, we made some drinks. (Oh, who am I kidding? We made the drinks FIRST, duh!) And I suppose it started off like any typical liquor store party we had before, except, then… the boss man brought out some Jell-O shots. Cool. We like Jell-O shots! So we started eating them. Just sitting at the picnic table, eating Jell-O shots with a spoon. Bad decision #1. At some point, I decided to eat one or two single burger patties. No bun. Just the patties. Maybe one had a slice of cheese on it? AND THAT IS LITERALLY ALL I ATE THE ENTIRE NIGHT. Bad decision #2. I was feeling okay. A little buzzed, but doing okay. Having a good time with my buddies, drinking, eating Jell-O, laughing, talking shit, hey where’s my phone? After some time, we realized we ate the entire tray of Jell-O shots. Alright. Oops. Our manager then proceeds to inform us that they weren’t just regular Jell-O shots. They were Everclear Jell-O shots. Hmm. Probably a nice little detail to have known before we ate the entire tray, but okay. This calls for another drink! We didn’t have any shot glasses. All we had were red solo cups. So we took “shots” of Tito’s vodka in a red solo cup. Bad decision #3. It was not a shot. It was a lot of vodka going into my mouth hole and I’m pretty sure it was that exact moment I instantly blacked out. I don’t know what happened after that.

I ended up in the bedroom. I’m pretty sure I made it there on my own, because I knew I was not in a good state and needed to lie down. Blackout-drunk Megan is semi-reasonable, generally, and I usually know when things are going downhill and what I need to do. I also usually desperately call out for Mark in a child’s voice because I apparently turn into a toddler when I’m blackout drunk. Things weren’t peachy for me in the bedroom though, either, because I obviously felt like I was going to hurl and I tried to make it to the bathroom, which was directly across the hall. Spoiler: I didn’t make it. Instead, I just puked on the door. And I guess I figured that was good enough of an effort so I turned around and puked on the bed. Then I laid down in my own meat vomit and passed out.

At some point, I woke up just enough to hear two of my coworkers find my meaty vomit (surprise!) and they were either so drunk or just fucking rad enough to clean it up for me. Good peeps. Then I passed out again. A lot happened that night. Boss man and manager left shortly after (or before?) I blacked out and spewed meat vomit everywhere, so that was cool. A bunch of other craziness happened that involved skinny-dipping, a group shower, and the toilet getting broken. Sorry I missed out on that. I slept off my Everclear drunkenness and woke up somewhere around 1 am. Amazingly, things had calmed down by then but there were still a few people awake. I covered up my meaty mess so I didn’t have to sleep in it the rest of the night because I was still drunk enough where I didn’t want to deal with it. I got up, ate some pizza rolls, and then went back to sleep.

The following morning, it was The Shame Show. No one wanted to stay any longer than they had to. I took the comforter outside and flung off as much meat vomit as I could and then tried to clean up as much of the remainder smell left over inside. Luckily, I had a small can of Odoban in my backpack, although I’m not sure how good of a job it did. Oh, those poor cleaning ladies. Only one coworker decided to stay the rest of the time, bless his heart. He packed up all the remaining food and booze and split it up between those who wanted it. The rest of us bailed as soon as we could. We wanted to try to forget the remaining 5% memory we had left of that night as quickly as possible. It’s probably a really good thing none of us decided to take pictures or keep our phones on us during this entire endeavor. I imagine multiple phones would have been lost and a few of us would want the evidence of the night burned. I don’t even know where my phone was the entire night. Maybe phones were lost. I can’t fucking remember. Oh, liquor. You did us dirty.

“Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.” 

Tessa Dare, Romancing the Duke

So that’s it. Looking back, it’s hilarious. At the time… fucking mortifying. But, even the following day I could laugh pretty heavily about vomiting meat all over a cabin. I mean, that is pretty funny. And compared to some of my other coworkers, pretty minimal on the embarrassment scale. Not nearly as funny as breaking a toilet, though. I mean, have you ever been so drunk you broke a toilet? That’s a pretty solid memory if you ask me. Regardless, the lesson here is this: Don’t ever eat a tray full of Jell-O shots with a spoon. Especially if they were made by your ex-boss who hates you. They could have been made with Everclear and that is NEVER a good decision.

Speedy’s 4-Day Camping Adventure

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” 

Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone

I’ve been working on this shitty post for a week now. And you’ll know why I say it’s shitty as soon as I post it. It’s been shitty for me to write and it’ll be shitty for you to read. Ha! You’re welcome, Blog World.

While I get my life together with this other post, I figured I’d take a break and write something else. Give myself a little mind break. So, for your reading pleasure…the second installment of The Speedster.

This week, we are diving into a short little story about the time I lost him because waffles. Yep, that’s right, waffles. It’s not some pet name or anything… it’s legitimately waffles. Like, the food you put in your mouth at breakfast time. Or whenever. Because honestly you can eat those delicious checkered pastry things any time of the day. I don’t judge.

Onward!

This story takes place after we moved out of the duplex, so Speedster did not have his fenced yard. We actually did have a fenced backyard, but it was a giant and terrifying thing I did not want to release a tortoise into. We owned a .55 acre lot and the house sat about midway in between. That gave it a pretty sizable front and backyard. The backyard was fenced, the front was not. We had a small fenced side yard that we let the dogs do their business in because I did not want to pick up poop in the huge backyard. I’m lazy. Also, if you recall from a previous post, the dogs eat dirt and do other naughty things when unsupervised in the yard, so the less space, the better. Obvi, we would let them in the back for supervised playtime, but. . . o k a y. This post is about Speedy. Turnin’ back around.

I let Speedy into the backyard on one occasion and lost him almost immediately. We had about 80 ponderosa pine trees and we weren’t very good about upkeep. He likes to burrow. Pine needles. You see where this is going. So I did not release him back there again. Plus, the fence we had was wire and I knew he could easily escape if he wanted. The neighbors had similarly huge yards. What a disaster. In my very intelligent mind, I figured it would be better if I let him roam around in our unfenced front yard that had ample grass, dandelions, clover, and sunlight. Such good roaming grounds. But no fence. He could just… waltz the fuck off. Or pimp walk the fuck off? Whatever a crippled tortoise does.

So I tagged the bitch. In duplex days, I put blue painters tape on his shell so I could find him more easily. In this house, I figured I would need something extra with all the grass, so I stuck a bright post-it note up like a flag and secured it with blue tape. I still lost him. But he was more easy to find. Sometimes.

I don’t have a picture of the post-it note cause I suck. But I swear it was a thing.

Most of the time I would only lose him temporarily. Like, for a few minutes. Or twenty. There was that one time we had a liquor store party and I forgot I put him outside. Then I was drunk and it was dusk. Like, pretty dark. Luckily, I had a bunch of other drunk people with me and we conducted a drunk search party for Speedy. We found him after about twenty minutes. He was in the neighbor’s rhubarb. Silly Speedy.

On Monday July 4th, 2016 (yeah, I know the exact date because it was a tragic day I will never forget), I was home alone, it was a beautiful day, and I decided to let the Speedster out to get some sun. Then, I decided it would be a great day to make waffles! Who doesn’t love homemade waffles? Yeah, I have a waffle maker. And that shit takes time. And I get really into cooking. So, I made waffles. And I was SO distracted by the waffles, I completely forgot I put Speedy outside or that I was even a tortoise mother. At some point, I went to the window and stared at the neighbors who were leaving in their RV. This had to have been at least an hour, if not more, after I put Speedy outside. I don’t know though. I got really into those waffles and I don’t honestly think time existed that day. So, these neighbors caught my eye because they were leaving their house in their RV and they just stopped in the middle of the road. No one got out. They just pulled out of their driveway and then stopped. And waited. For a good minute or two? And then they left. It was weird. I remember seeing them stop and I was like, what are they doing? Remember, I’m a hermit creep so I hermit and then just spy on everyone like a creep and avoid social interactions like a total freaking creep. Creep. But, I have social anxiety and I refuse to socialize with my neighbors so if I don’t spy on them how will I know the happenings of the neighborhood, huh? Tell me, how?!!

The RV left and I shrugged it off like they forgot something or they were just being weird. And I went back to my life of whatever else I was doing that day. Because honestly, I don’t remember anything else other than waffles. At some point into the afternoon, I remembered I had a tortoise named Speedy and that I’m the most irresponsible tortoise owner known to man and I put him outside that morning OMG SPEEDY! Obviously, I ran outside and searched for him EVERYWHERE. All of his spots where I previously found him. Nope. High, low, front yard, backyard, neighbor’s yard, rhubarb, under rocks, under the porch, car port, fence line, garden, under the car, EVERYWHERE. I walked along the street and checked out the neighbor’s yards. There was a trailer across the street I looked under. I asked my next door neighbor to look in his yard and he helped me. Nothing. I could not find that little fucker. I was devastated.

So, I drafted up a sign and posted it on the street posts and Craigslist. I felt so defeated.

The next day I had to go back to work. My heart was still broken. I told my coworkers and they were all very sad for me and hoped I would find him. I went home that night and continued my search for him, hoping maybe he moved or came home or something. I dunno… I don’t know tortoises. This continued for three more days. I looked for Speedy in the morning, went to work, came home, and searched for Speedy until dark. I looked on Craigslist Lost and Found ads. Someone had emailed me about a lost tortoise but it wasn’t Speedy. Kind of crazy how many lost tortoises are out there, huh? Yeah, I’m not the only irresponsible one out there. Ha! On Wednesday, I met the owner of the shop and trailer across the street and asked him if I could look behind his shop. He was very kind and gave me permission to do what I needed to find my little tortoise dude. Unfortunately, the guy didn’t upkeep his property very well because he just used it for work. And behind the shop was a literal fucking jungle. If Speedy was back there, I had doubts I would find him. I looked around for a bit and went home defeated.

“What you perceive as a failure today may actually be a crucial step towards the success you seek. Never give up.”

Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway

Friday July 8, 2016: After work, I asked my neighbor if I could look in his yard again. There’s a lot of hiding spots so we looked thoroughly. He gave me a yard stick to help with tall grass and noted I could tell if Speedy had been through an area because the grass would be disturbed and flattened. With no luck at his house, I went back through the front yard with my new yard stick. Then I got an idea. I had suspicions that Speedy walked across the street because of that whole weird RV thing. Did the RV see him walking across the street and stop there for a minute to let him cross? It’s a good thing he had his post-it note flag on, huh?! The timing would have been about right. It makes sense. And if he did, he would have gone for the most lush area available to him… THE JUNGLE. Where I could never find him. Bastard. I grabbed my yard stick and headed across the street to the shop. At the top of the hill, the grass was above my waist. There was a clearing and path leading down the hill so I started walking down. I saw some deer laying at the bottom of the property. Then, I noticed a disturbance in the grass and I remembered what my neighbor told me. I stopped walking and turned left to follow the disturbance. I wondered if this flattened path was from the deer. But I continued to follow it anyway. I walked several feet before I started noticing some familiar looking dandelion patches. I inspected them. Huh. These dandelion patches have bites taken out of them. Speedy looking bites. I continued my gaze further up the path from the dandelions and what do you think I saw? A happy-go-lucky Speedy tushy. Just merry along his way, pimp walking through the jungle, wet-ass post-it note still taped to his shell. Happier than a merry-fuckin’ clam. Like nothing was wrong in the world and he didn’t just abandon his mother for four fucking days! Yeah. He just took a little camping trip across the street. NO. BIG. DEAL.

I took this picture as soon as we got back to the house so I could let everyone know I found him. Doesn’t he look so happy to see me? Hahahahaha.

Needless to say, I don’t think he was happy to see me. I’m pretty sure he would have been content living out the rest of his days in that terrifying jungle until he’d get run over with a lawnmower, or made it far enough down the property line to make it back onto the street and get run over by a car. Honestly, I don’t know what would have happened to him or where he would have gone had I not found him that day. I don’t want to think about it. The only thing that matters is I found him. I never gave up on him and I never lost hope because that’s what you do for the things you love. I felt defeated and discouraged on many days but it never stopped me from continuing my search. I maintained my determination and never let go of that goddamn desperate hope I could find the little bastard. I was over-the-moon relieved I found the little tortoise dude… and he was okay! It was a traumatic enough experience for me that I upped my responsibility game after that. I made him a little wired flag with a return address, in case he ever left the property again, and it was way more visible than a post-it note. I also left myself several post-it notes throughout the house that said “SPEEDY” so I would never again forget I was was tortoise mother when I was too distracted by food. Most of the time after that, his visits outside were supervised, but when I did leave him unsupervised, it was only for very short periods of time and I would always makes sure to check on him repeatedly. See? I can learn valuable lessons sometimes. I still allowed him to roam, but I learned to be a little bit more responsible of a tortoise owner so we didn’t go through this again. I mean, I get it. Fourth of July Weekend is for camping and shit… but the least he could do is ask permission next time. Kids, you know?

The Pinkies

 “There is magic in this sad, hard world. A magic stronger than fate, stronger than chance. And it is seen in the unlikeliest of places….It lives inside every human being ready to redeem us. To transform us. To save us. If we can only find the courage to listen to it. 

It is the magic of the human heart.”

Jennifer Donnelly, Stepsister

I may have mentioned in the past that I like animals. I’m actually unsure if there exists an animal I do not like. I mean, probably, but off the top of my head, I can’t honestly think of one. I try to live my life without disrupting too much of the natural balance or local wildlife around me. Obviously, sometimes that can be hard. Neighborhood Murder Cat disrupts the local wildlife by murdering my birds, but she also helps keep the rodent population down, which I am thankful for. We live on a nice little piece of property in a lesser populated area. There are several empty lots surrounding us, and therefore, we get quite a few mice in our shop and basement. We have three cats that are indoor only, because, well… the birds. For about a year, we had the cats living in the shop to help control the mouse population out there. They had their own little Kitty Condo with a fenced-in outdoor enclosure. And they did a really good job with the mice.

Neighborhood Murder Cat

In February 2019, my eldest cat, Zeke, passed away. I had him living inside the house, and after he died, extreme guilt poured over me for the other three cats living in the shop 100 feet away (or whatever it is… I’m a bad judge of distance). At this same time, we noticed we were having an increase in mouse activity in the basement and they were being super sneaky about getting around our traps. I don’t generally like traps and I don’t generally like killing mice, but I also don’t like it when I find mouse poop or bird seed in my clothes. So, we moved the cats into the basement.

I assumed the cats were doing their job. We would still find mice in the traps, but we would also find random spots of blood, an occasional organ or foot, or the rare whole corpse. I always feel like a Cat Crime Scene Investigator when I find blood. Where did this come from? Is this from a mouse or did one of you get into a fight? Is there any evidence of a struggle? Organs? Feet? Is there a mouse in the Murder Box? Oh yeah, the Murder Box. One of my cats has a Murder Box. It’s a cardboard box that he puts his murderings in, or does his murderings in? I don’t honestly know what occurs in the Murder Box. I do know that when I throw the Murder Box away, he just makes a new one.

Murder Box.
Yes, I do photograph everything in case I need future evidence.
Case in point.

I don’t know where this post has gone but this is not where I intended. Alright. So. The cats were killing mice. All was good. Everyday, twice a day, I would check three locations: under the water softener, under the bathroom sink, and the machine room (which is a little Harry Potter-type room, but it’s not underneath stairs and all that’s in it is our furnace and some space for storage). In these locations, we have several traps. Occasionally, mice will not die when they get stuck in a trap and then Markie Mark will have to come in and assist because I cannot handle that kind of stress in my life. On three occasions I have been alone when this has happened. I don’t want to discuss what happened with the one. I will tell you, Lady Luck was with the other two and we’ll leave it at that. End of story.

I guess maybe there was four occasions. But there was a special occasion, and this one was very different, for several reasons. And I mean… several. Like, specifically… five.

In June of 2019, I came home from work one evening and did my normal check of all the locations. When I walked into the machine room, I immediately saw her. She looked terrified. Only her foot had gotten stuck in the trap. Okay, how do I deal with this? Then, I saw the other thing. It was just a small blob… this little pile of pink sitting next to her. Oh no. I moved closer to get a better look. Oh no. Five pinkies. All alive, all moving. OH NO. That was literally all I could think to say. Seriously, how do I deal with this? I can’t even deal with one mouse, one adult mouse, and Mark isn’t home. What the fuck am I going to do with a mother who stress birthed and the resulting babies? Well, what do you think I did?

Stress birthing is dirty business. The black specks are trap plastic she chewed off in her attempt to get free.

I made them a Tupperware nesting home. I drilled holes into the lid. I added paper towel, wood chips, straw, and dryer lint so mama could make a nest. I added bird seed so she could eat and a shallow lid of water (I read that I wasn’t suppose to do this because mice drown themselves but these are wild mice… how do they drink in the wild? Clearly not from bottles, right?) Yeah, yeah. Again, I am the crazy woman with the baby mice and the spiders in my room. Whatever. Stop judging.

Mama did good and took to nursing her babies right away. She made a little nest and nursed the shit out of those pinkies for two weeks… the exact time she needed to. She didn’t leave them at all for the first week, and then after about 12 days, she started getting antsy. I don’t think she ever stop being terrified of me. Every time I opened that lid, she was so scared. All she wanted was to get out. Looking back, I feel bad. I didn’t know. There was no way she would ever get comfortable with me. So as soon as she could, she started sneaking away from her babies, jumping up on the handle indent, and little by little, started chewing a hole in the plastic. She did it on the underside so I didn’t see what she was doing until it was too late.

Obviously, I checked on them morning and night. But a lot of times I just assumed everything was good and I tried not to disturb them too much. I peeked in, saw a pile of fur, and closed the lid. So, I’m not entirely sure when she escaped. In the evening, I would change out the water, inspecting more thoroughly. That’s when I noticed the hole. Oh no. I gently lifted up the top of the nest to look for a mama. Just five little babies wiggling around. OH NO. Fuck. Like, literal fuck. She abandoned her babies?!? It’s okay. Calm down. Maybe she’ll come back. Leave her like, a ramp or something. I did. I totally made her a ramp. She did not come back. Do you know why? Wanna take a guess? Yeah, you do.

She didn’t come back because she fucking died. My cats murdered her. And they were kind enough to leave the evidence behind so that I knew. I found her, two days later, behind the broom. She was completely intact, which is why I knew it was her. That little trap foot. Poor girl. She went the wrong way. Should have gone out the wall hole. Well, I guess now I’m a mouse mother.

I did some googling and… lucky for me! Mice only need to be nursed for two weeks. Mama did her job before she bailed and died. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to train them on how to actually be mice and survive the world. So that kind of left me in a predicament. What the hell am I supposed to do with five baby mice?

I continued to feed them bird seed. I added some cheese and dried/fresh fruit on occasion. I added some more dryer lint and paper towel. As they got older, they started building tunnels in the wood chips and straw. They mostly always slept together. They weren’t afraid of me and I was quickly becoming very attached to them. But I was also quickly coming to the realization that I needed to make a decision about what to do with them before it was too late. There were five of them and at some point, in the very near future, they were going to start “doing it” and making more babies and then I would really have a problem.

I had them for five weeks before I decided they were old enough to potentially survive on their own. I took them out to the back part of our property where there’s a bunch of trees and places to hide. I made them this super useless area of hay and bird seed and dried fruit that they very quickly moved on from and never touched and I cried when I released them. They sort of stuck together for a minute before going their separate ways. And probably lasted a whole 45 minutes before getting killed by Neighborhood Murder Cat or a hawk or something, I dunno, because they didn’t have any survival skills and they grew up in a Tupperware. Ugh. I’m the worst.

Be free, my children!

“As long as there’s light, we’ve got a chance.”

Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I have absolutely no idea what happened to my five little mice children after I released them into the world. I would like to think they lived out their short little mice lives in the empty lots around our property, or maybe somehow made it into the shop where there’s no longer the threat of cats. Of course, if they did survive, that means they probably bred and created more mice, which becomes more of a problem for me, and yes… I understand the contradiction. But you see, I truly believe that everything in the world, no matter how big or small, deserves a chance. And even though I had set up those traps to kill the mice coming into our basement, I still believed that the situation was not only unfortunate, but could be slightly remedied. Those pinkies didn’t understand the world they were coming into, and they didn’t deserve for me to take their lives as soon as they were stress birthed. They may have died as soon as I set them free that day, but at least I gave them a chance. And that counts for something, doesn’t it?

The Unknown

I haven’t wanted to write. The Grey Meh has consumed me and I spent the majority of the day sitting in front of a black computer screen, staring at dust particles having a dance party in a beam of sunlight. Have you ever done that? In all honesty, I do that a lot. Perhaps not specifically involving dust particles in sunlight, but just sitting and staring… and thinking. Many times there’s this blankness in my mind and I just observe my surroundings. I zone out a lot. It’s this tricky little thing that makes me look like I’m thinking, but I’m really not. There are thoughts ping-ponging around in my brain, but I’m so zoned out, gaze locked entirely on this Cheez-It box, that I don’t even know what those thoughts are. It’s tricky… and I know it’s tricky because I trick people constantly with it. I’ll find some place to direct my eyes, do this nervous tic where I either rub my thumbnail or my lips with my index finger, and someone will ask me what I’m thinking about. Ha! Nothing! Fool. So, a lot of that bullshit going on today.

Here’s why: I got a job. Three weeks to the day of being unemployed and I got not one, but two, job offers from the only two places I had applied. Seriously, life? Like, I have three dogs that are on death’s doorstep, I’m finally starting to get into the swing of this whole blogging thing, I still have a million things I need to accomplish at home that I’ve put off for two years, and I’m potentially moving at some point in the very near future. Not potentially… I WILL be moving. The thing is… it’s very much a giant hideous unknown. Like, so unknown there’s literally no guesstimate. Could be a month, or two, or four, or six, or a year! SO FUCKING UNKNOWN. How am I supposed to plan anything with this or be expected to get a job? How unfair is that to an employer if it does end up being two months? And if it is two months, I would have much rather stayed unemployed. And if it ends up being a year, well then I guess it’s a good fucking thing I got a job, huh?

I was fine with the unknown and going with the flow when I was at my last job. I was settled in, I had been honest and communicated this unknown with my manager (which killed me in the end, but lesson learned I guess), and I was happy working day to day until there was a known. But now, I have to start all over and it just seems very unfair. Plus, I’m either honest and potentially lose the opportunity, or I’m not honest and continue feeling like a guilty piece of garbage. So, I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting and staring and wondering what the fuck I’m doing with my life.

Also, who am I? Like, seriously, I don’t even know. You know when people ask you to describe yourself, all I can ever come up with are things I like or what I’ve heard other people say. Describe yourself: I like dogs and I’m smart. (I don’t actually think I am smart, but for some reason, others do.) What is my honest opinion of myself? How do I describe someone I don’t like in an unbiased way? Why am I like this? Why do I hate this post so much? I really miss therapy and I hate myself for not getting back into it immediately when we moved to Montana. Bad move.

I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I feel like I’m slipping. Grey is turning darker and everything is getting muddy. The hole is getting deeper. I had this brief glimpse of something that could have been and now I have made this decision to turn around and go back to the same shit I’ve been trying to escape for years. It may only be temporary… but why? Why do I make these dumb decisions? I could have sat on it. I could have waited. He gave me that option. I could have been honest and told him the unknown. I’m not sure where any of my decisions have gotten me except sunk further into the mud. And now things are getting tight and it’s getting harder to breathe. And I did this to myself.

There is a high probability I am overthinking everything and nothing will be as bad as I am making it out to be. I will start to feel like I am suffocating in depression mud, I will start working, and then realize it’s not that fucking bad. Or the opposite will happen and I will be totally correct in all of my anxiety, everything will suck, I will get completely engulfed in depression mud, and you will never hear from me again. I dunno… I guess we’ll see.

God, what am I even doing with my life?

*I’m not sorry for this post. I know, it sucks, but I told you… you get the bad with the good. And sometimes you just gotta write a shitty post to clear your head, ya know? Also, I wrote this post yesterday and sat on it for a day. I still hate it, but I don’t hate it enough not to post it. Now I’m going to write about something better, like baby mice.