Freeing the voices in my head

When my love graduated from Maritime College, we set a date to be married in October of 1979.  It was my favorite month: my birthday month, crisp Autumn days, and Halloween — my favorite holiday, so it seemed fitting to add a wedding in there.  Since he graduated in May and was immediately headed to a ship on the Great Lakes, it was left to me to do all the stuff involving the wedding.  He would be home in September, in time to help with final details and bring a good amount of money to pay the bills.

I was working at the local mall and used my laughable paycheck for small items.  We weren’t planning a big wedding; just a few friends and family members.  Our guest list was about 25 people long.  I went to a local stationary slash art supply store and discovered I had to order at least 100 invitations.  Plain, cream-colored with pretty calligraphy and no extra fancy stuff; okay, fine, order ’em so they’ll get here in time to be given out or mailed out.

A small bridal shop just down the road was next.  Nothing fancy, the owner was the only employee, and I was left to browse the racks of dresses on my own.  I fell in love with the first one in my size that I tried on.  It was soft, flowing, with no itchy lace and, best of all, was only $250 dollars!  I put down a deposit and happily went off to work.

July rolled around and nothing else was done because of busy days at work and, well, I had lots of time still for flowers, a restaurant, a cake, finding a church or maybe just a justice of the peace…then, my mother and sisters hit town.  “Do you have the rings yet?”  Um, no, I don’t have that kind of money, but Randy will and we’ll go pick something out when he gets home.  “What church are you using?”  No idea, we aren’t into religion, and neither are you, Mom!  “Where’s the reception going to be?”  Um…and the questions kept coming.  But what sent Mom and older sister into tizzies was The Dress.

“You already got The Dress?  The FIRST Dress you tried on?  Did you try on any others?  Oh, no, this won’t do.  We have to go, now!”

Sigh…

We descended on the little shop and my domineering mother took over.  While I rolled my eyes and mouthed apologies to the shop owner, Mom and Big Sis attacked the dress racks.  The first ten gowns were piled into my arms and I was shoved into the fitting room.  Gack, lace, ruffles, bustles, a gazillion pearl buttons no bigger than a pinhead, mile long trains — they apparently forgot how clumsy I am — and prices I expected to see on new cars, not a dress I was only gonna wear once!  Thank god we were the only customers but I still refused to leave the dressing room in those “things.”  I let the enemy peek in, gratified to see their faces scrunch up in dismay at the sight of me in their choices.

I didn’t even try on the next ten dresses.  The owner, bless her, had taken pity on me and brought me MY Dress.  I slipped it on, she zipped it up, and pulled aside the curtain with a smile.  It fit perfectly, it flowed, it soothed my crumpled ego…and it made Big Sis smile while bringing Mom to tears.  Hey, I know what looks good on me!  Mom paid  it off and got me a pair of matching shoes and a veil.  Whew, done and no one got pissed off!

Smooth sailing for three more months?  Nope.  Randy came home, early, really early, in July, with only one paycheck and a tale that should have sent me running far away.  He was off watch, sleeping in his rack (bed) one night as the Captain navigated the ship across Lake Superior.  He woke up when his rack tilted 180 degrees and dumped him on the floor.  Yeah, the ship was tilting that far because the Captain had run it aground.  Brand new Third Mate Eldred made it to the bridge and was the one who finally got the ship free.  Then he packed his duffel and quit, unwilling to work on a vessel where he had more experience navigating the ship than the Captain did!

Well, he returned home to wedding chaos.  The guest list had jumped to 125 people, thanks, Mom, not.  I bought a generic package of somewhat sorta matching invitations at the local mall.  My soon-to-be mother-in-law offered to bake the wedding cake.  Randy and I picked out our rings; just two plain wedding bands but mine had to be sized down and would be ready in a week or so.  My bridesmaid and maid of honor had two dresses that matched my wedding gown in style, so no one had to buy a dress they’d never wear again.  Randy’s littlest sister was our flower girl and his mom sewed her a pretty little dress that matched.  (That lady had seven kids and little money; baking from scratch and sewing clothes was second nature to her!  Besides, she wanted to help and my mother wasn’t giving an inch!)

Progress was being made, so, of course, we had to have another crisis.  From the moment he got home, Randy was calling around to shipping companies, calling the job list offered by the college, calling, calling everyone he knew to get a new job.  And, yes!  A company wanted him!  But, no!  They wanted him for a four month cruise and he had to be on board the ship by the end of AUGUST!  Well, shit!  We had to make a choice: postpone the wedding until December or January (ugh, my two least favorite months, along with February) or move the wedding up to early August.

We set the date: August 3rd.  Bless our families and friends; they rallied forth, they called in favors, they helped us make it happen.  My parents reserved the banquet room of a lovely Italian restaurant.  They were friends with the owners and got a good discount.  Getting my bouquet and the other flowers is a blur — my mom took me somewhere and the florist came up with the design.  All I was asked to do was pick my favorite flowers and colors: irises and roses, purple, blue, and green.

As for the church… We drove by a little church a lot.  It was one of the oldest churches in town, barely more than a chapel, but it was cute and although we’d never gone to a service there, we liked it.  With time restraints pushing us, we stopped in and convinced the pastor to marry us there.  Randy’s sister was hoping to pursue a career in photography and we contracted her to take photos of our day.  The only tux we needed was Randy’s; the other guys all had gray suits in the same style.

On the morning of our afternoon wedding, Big Sis woke up with an abscessed tooth.  It was a Friday and Mom called her dentist friend from when we were kids and our family lived three houses down from him (his office was in his home).  He would see her, if we could get her there immediately.  Panic, though, because who could take M.L. to the dentist?  Everyone was busy, busy, busy!  Except for…the bride.

Yeah, well, I had nothing to do until a half hour before the wedding.  My dress was simple, my hair would just be loose and flowing, the way I liked it, I was showered, shaved, and bored with sitting in a corner watching my drama queen family freak out over tiny details.  So I took Big Sis to the dentist.  I sat in the waiting room with my book, perfectly calm and content, and laughed out loud when I overheard this:

Dr. Glenn: “Well, what a way to start your big day, eh?  Don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up in no time and you’ll be a smiling bride.”

Grunts from Big Sis.

Dr. Glenn: “Oh, you aren’t the bride?”

More grunts.

“Really?”  And sweet ol’ Dr. Glenn actually stepped into the waiting room and stared at me.  I smiled and waved.  “Well, aren’t you nervous at all?”

Me:  “Nope.  I’m just happy this day is here.”

In fact, I didn’t get nervous until everyone had dashed off to the church and I put on The Dress.  My dad was the only one left at the apartment — he was the manager of a car dealership and was driving me to the church in a dealer’s demo car, a brand new Lincoln!

After all the agonizing over music, and the lovely gift of our talented friend Holly playing the organ and singing, I don’t remember any of the music.  Randy says all he remembers is his knees shaking and his dad holding him up (or keeping him from running away).

It was a wonderful day, pulled together in a few wild weeks because of so many people.  And it set the course for much of our life together — adventures done on the fly, on impulse, with pieces of what was needed appearing at the last minute.   There have been storms and calm waters, floods (for real!) and dry stretches, but we keep going, sailing along and hoping we won’t sink.

We just celebrated our 33rd anniversary.  If I had known a sailor’s wife must brave Life’s storms alone for months, would I have married my Merchant Marine?  I like to think so, because, yes, when he gets home, everything is worth it.  🙂

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Terror Alert: RED!

No, not “terrorist,” no one is attacking the USA.  It’s just Life attacking me and the people I love.  What is the most terrifying thing that can happen?  Well, if you’re a parent, it’s anything regarding your child.  Doesn’t matter how old they are, when something bad approaches or happens to your kid, you feel it – that heart-wrenching, gut-twisting, knee-buckling sensation: Terror.  At the same time, because you are the parent, you are not allowed to collapse screaming on the floor (which is what part of you wants to do).  Nope, you must act strong, calm, and deal with the situation.

About two weeks ago, we got a phone call late in the afternoon from our daughter’s ex-boyfriend.  She had been in a lot of pain in June from a pinched nerve in her shoulder that numbed her right hand and left her with fumbling fingers — yes, you can have pain and numbness at the same time; it’s happened to me.  She did go to a clinic, but not a chiropractor.  She has no insurance and little income because she only has a part time job.  By July 4th, she was better, but her hand was still kind of numb and tingly.

For the next two weeks, unknown to us, she battled a painful infection.  She did go to Urgent Care and took the antibiotic and pain meds they gave her.  The next day, she tried to call her friend for help.  By the time he could get to her, she was incoherent and having seizures.

We have a number of wonderful angels in our lives, most of them are our adult children’s friends.  Her ex-boyfriend has been through so much with her and she can trust him with some frightening issues, so she called him.  Then, he (thank you, son), called us.  When he got her to the hospital, two more angels went into action: our “other” son and his partner – paramedics.  They called us, too.  And then, the one angel I am most grateful for: the sweet wife of our “other” son, who works at the hospital, called.

Now, fed regulations protect private patient info so the hospital couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but from the little info our friends gave us and the tone of their voices, we knew a parent had to go be with our girl.  When you hear that one piece of info – “They’re sending her to the ICU.” – you jump in the car and drive.

Now, we got lucky in a few ways and unlucky in others.  The bad part was her dad HAD to leave for South America the next day for work and would be gone for an unknown length of time.  There was no money for a plane ticket and no way to get one at 9 pm, plus, no one to pick me up at the airport and no money for a rental car.  We live in the middle of Texas (bum-f@ck Houston), daughter is in Arizona – it’s a 15 to 17 hour drive.  And I suck at long drives…and dealing with authority figures like doctors…

But…I’m retired and could go to her.  Our younger son is here with us, still getting all his papers together for his job, so he isn’t working yet, and we could do the drive together in a really good car.  Hubby has a good friend who took the dogs, the cats were left with a huge bowl of food…and we all headed out to our assignments.

Once in Arizona, in the hospital, I learned more – they will tell a parent things in person, thank goodness, maybe, sorta…It is terrifying to hear your child (I don’t care if she’s an adult, she’s still my baby!) was “Code Yellow” – which is just a step below “critical.”  Terrifying to learn she continued having seizures and stopped breathing at one point, terrifying to see her hooked up to a breathing tube and in a chemically-induced coma…looking like she’s 12 yrs old…and weighing under 100 pounds when she’s 5’6″ and should have at least 20 more pounds on her.

We can joke about it now (ah, morbid humor  it’s the only thing that keeps us sane), but it took a four-point restraint and two burly staff to hold her down to keep tests done before they doped her.  The boys related how the ER staff was talking about the 90 pound girl throwing all the men around the room.  Our paramedic boys also told off the people who were speculating with disrespect regarding our girl’s behavior because she’s “our sister-friend.”

Ah, validation when the test results came back clean – no drugs or alcohol, but very low potassium level, electrolytes, nutrition values, etc.  Perhaps a reaction to the antibiotic or previous pain meds?  No one knew for sure, but she did, indeed, have a nasty raging infection in her body.

It took a few days before they allowed her to awaken.  And, of course, we all wanted to know what had happened, what she could tell us.  But her first words were “What the hell happened?”    She doesn’t know, either.  She took the proper doses of meds and went to bed, then woke up unable to control her body and fingers and frantically tried calling her friend.

We may never know what happened.  I believe it was a combination of everything.  I have seen a low potassium episode before – my mom was found wandering around her yard late one night in her pjs, yelling for my dad – who had been dead for six months.  She was confused and didn’t know me or my brother (this was way before she slipped into dementia).  She fought the paramedics, then flirted with them (75 yrs old and still feisty!).  An infusion of potassium and voila!  All better.

Our girl is also allergic to penicillin and some of its derivatives.  It’s possible the antibiotic – one she had never taken before – is another one she is allergic to; she did have trouble breathing.

Then, there was the infection and the fact that she hadn’t been eating much for almost two months…

Well, I took care of her once they released her, feeding her, fussing over her, and left her with lots of proper food, juices, and a clean apartment (!).  I’m back in Texas now, but I’m still gonna worry, that’s a given, that never ends.

Is the terror over?  Can I lower the alert from red to green?  Nope, never.  Maybe yellow?  No, I’m Mom – the terror alert remains at Orange, a constant gnawing bug I hide deep inside and try to ignore.

So please remember – if you have a friend who is a parent, no matter what age their child is, don’t ever call them late at night.  Because before she/he sees who is calling, the Terror Alert jumps to Red: “My child is in trouble!”

Hey, it’s a parent thing…  🙂

 

Loving A Man In Uniform

I married a Merchant Marine.  They are the sailors on merchant vessels  – tankers, freighters, dredges, cruise ships (not the “public crew,” the real crew; yeah, cruise ships have two crews – they’re nothing like the “Love Boat” TV show.), fishing vessels – they aren’t military, but they do go through basic training and such.  They are also the unsung heroes in wartime.  A lot of merchant marines died in WWII, but not many people know that.

And, yes, some of them wear uniforms, not too fancy or distinguished, just enough to help the public understand these men (and some women) have a specific job or career.  Hubby had to wear uniforms at SUNY Maritime College and for some of the shipping companies he worked for.  Mmm, dress whites – definitely sexy, so fitted, so neat, so authoritative (is that even a word?).  In the early years, he wore khakis (blah) or blacks (yum).  No insignia or badges, but just enough of a “look” to give people pause.

When he’d step off a plane, heading for baggage claim, and walk toward me, I could see people moving aside for him.  Of course, part of that is his walk; he walks with presence, like a leader.  He’s an officer, worked his way up from Third Mate to Master (Captain for landlubbers).  Many merchant sailors have that presence; one of my favorite memories is going to a game at Shea Stadium surrounded by six buff cadets, all on the soccer team, solid, strong, handsome, dressed in everyday clothing, but no one – and this is the heart of New York City (ok, sorta south of it, but still…), no one messed with us.

Hubby’s graduating class got to have their Winter Ball on the top floor of the World Trade Center.  The restaurant would be opening soon (this was 1978) and the guys from Maritime were a dry run for the staff.  It was gorgeous, fun, amazing – we could look out over the whole city…We had a blast.

When the planes hit those Towers, we were heartbroken and so furious.  Not only for all those murdered people, but for the destruction of a place that had given us a beautiful memory.  In the days that followed 9/11, we felt helpless, too.  Our oldest son was in Army boot camp at Fort Knox, under lockdown, possibly being primed to finish his tank training and go to war or strike back or whatever the President decided to do.  We didn’t know, parents received no info.  God, that was frightening, not knowing what was going to happen to our son.

My husband was on his three months off.  Merchant schedules can be weird.  His was three months on ship, one to three months home (the home part changed on the whim of the shipping industry).  He got on the phone to his company, requesting to be sent on whatever mission the tankers were doing regarding the disaster.  Understand this: merchant vessels, for the most part, are unarmed.  If there’s a weapon onboard, it is locked in the Captain’s safe and only the Captain has access or training to use it.

His company ran tankers: oil, crude, and dry cargo, too, of grain, wheat, etc.  The Middle East was and is NOT a safe place to visit for any reason, and hubby’s company was having trouble finding volunteers to crew the ships heading into that region.  They were part of the President’s Humanitarian mission: sending grain tankers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, those areas.  (We later found out that air-dropped food from the USA was left to rot because it was from us infidels.  sigh…but they apparently didn’t turn up their noses at grain brought by sea.)

So, off hubby goes to take a grain tanker to Afghanistan.  I got to stay home and worry about TWO of my menfolk.  Oh, joy…NOT!  But you man up and smile through the tears and insist you are proud of them and, and well, yeah, out in public, I was fine.  In the dark, alone, ah, well, they finally came home safe, thank god.

It’s what you do when you love a person in the military or the merchant marines.  You buck up, you present calm and hope and love, and you rarely ever indulge in any negative emotion, because what your loved one is going through is worse.  You quietly ignore rages and silences, offer hugs or private space, you dance around certain topics, and never ask “How was your day at the office, dear?” because that’s such a ridiculous question for these particular people.

They are different, changed.  Our normal everyday woes and lives are so meaningless compared to what they are doing.  Come on, really, is your day at an office so bad compared to someone who is facing Death every minute?  In our marriage, the main problem for me is that hubby IS a Master, a Captain, has been since he was thirty.  And he forgets that I am NOT a deckie or swabbie.  He’s used to giving orders without explanation and expects to be obeyed without question.  There’s a rough edge to him, and I have to grit my teeth and try to remember for both of us that I’m his wife, not his crew.  Chin up, mouth shut, smile, woman, smile!

This is long (for a blog, I guess), but I want to leave you with a funny story.  When Hubby took that tanker to Afghanistan, he was told (and told me to reassure me) that he would have a military escort of two or three destroyers.  What he didn’t tell me, until after he was home, was that the destroyers were needed elsewhere.  That’s right, dangerous waters, dangerous political climate, danger all around, and no escort.

Tankers are way too big to go into port or dock.  They sit at anchor a few miles out and other boats come to them to offload cargo.  Want a point of reference?  Rent the movie “Periscope Down” (I think that’s the title) with Kelsey Grammar as a submarine captain.  At one point in the movie, they hide the sub under a super-tanker.  The tanker in the movie was the sister ship of my hubby’s tanker.  Yep, big, REALLY BIG!  I think the call sign was BFV Alaska.  I don’t know what the letters really stand for; the guys translate the letters as “Big Fucking Vessel.”

So, no escort, but the Afghanis did send hubby some soldiers to guard his ship.  Six big brawny soldiers in uniform with rifles to guard the hatches because the crews on the small boats that were offloading the grain were not to enter the tanker for any reason, not even to use the head.  They could sit on deck for breaks and meals, but not enter the interior of the tanker.  Capt’n Eldred greeted them, but wasn’t very reassured when he discovered that, yes, the soldiers had rifles, however, they only had ONE BULLET.  Oy.

The laborers from the small boats did, indeed, have lunch on the deck of the tanker.  They built a bonfire, hauled some goats up, and proceeded to butcher and cook their lunch.  (Eww!)  Now, oops, they needed salt.  Capt’n Eldred said nope, none to spare, but, ah, maybe one of the other ships had some.  You see, we Americans weren’t the only ones trying to help.  Other countries were in on the Humanitarian effort.  The laborers putted over to a Greek vessel to ask for salt.  Unfortunately, no on spoke Greek and the Greeks didn’t speak, um, whatever.  And none of the Afghani laborers spoke English.

Via hand signals and nods, they finally received a bag of white grainy stuff from the Greeks.  They ate.  Shortly after that, they groaned and moaned, and since they couldn’t use the heads (bathrooms) on the tanker, they pooped on the deck or over the side (dangerous, easier to just poop on the deck.).

During the messy chaos, Capt’n Eldred finally got them off his ship, job finished, cargo gone, and his unhappy crew scrubbed the deck.  Hubby radioed the Greek ship.  He asked the Captain what happened.  Turns out, the Greek cook thought the laborers wanted laundry detergent and gave them a sack of powdered detergent.  Not salt, and no one thought to check if it was salt.

Yes, it’s funny, it’s also sad.  The language barrier made things crazy.  We think we’ve advanced so far, but we haven’t.  We’re still killing each other for stupid reasons.  We’re still putting our loved ones in danger.  Hug each other now, because the world is not a safe place.  Never has been, never will be, and if you believe differently, I hope you’re right and weird shit never happens to you and yours.

Ah, but we work through it, right?  Chin up, friends, and SMILE!  Because, hell, if we can’t laugh, then we really ARE in trouble!  🙂

Honor Guard

In 1943, 1944, 1945, the world was struggling through a Second World War.  My dad enlisted and at some point before he was sent to the Pacific Arena, he was honored with his first award.  He was one of the Top Ten Marksmen in the nation.  Cool, huh?  He was a Marine and reached the rank of Sergeant.  But he really wanted to be a pilot and fly a jet.  He couldn’t because he didn’t have 20/20 vision.  Ah, the irony – good enough to shoot anything on the ground, but not good enough to fly.

He was sent to a tiny island in the Pacific.  The trip over there involved being on a troop carrier.  Hundreds of Marines – the toughest bad asses ever – crammed together with Navy sailors.  Grunts and grounders, rookies really, with no idea what was about to hit them.  The sailors knew; they’d been out there, they had survived a few hits.

During the passage, the ship came under fire.  Being a troop carrier, they didn’t have the option of fighting back.  They had to run the gauntlet, let the better armed and fortified ships do battle.  Imagine the bowels of that ship, hundreds of young men (my dad barely out of his teens) crammed into crew quarters built for a handful; many of them had never been near the ocean and most of them were seasick.  There weren’t enough life jackets for all of them, and the Marines were under orders to keep their gear with them.

My dad asked a sailor what they should do if the ship got hit and started to sink.  He had to look up to ask  – that sailor was over six feet tall, built like a battleship, and seasoned; he had cold seawater for blood.  The guy shrugged and glanced at the heavy pack my dad was clutching.  “Ship sinks, you’ll sink.  Better ‘n burning.”

Ouch.  But I’ve lived with a Merchant Marine for 30 years, I know that tone my father heard in that sailor’s voice, I know what he meant – the ocean is a bitch, but she’ll kill you faster and less painfully than any human.  But for my dad, first time on the ocean, far away from home, that was a wake up call: Death’s right here, boy, stay alert!

They survived without taking any hits or damage and made it to the island.  It wasn’t a combat post, really, just a supply base with a few jets and jeeps, Quonset huts, those few hundred men – carved out in the middle of that island with a dirt road – trail, really – leading to a tiny village near the shoreline.  My dad had made a few friends.  His best friend was a pilot.  The day Mike took him up in a jet for a flyover…ah, my dad’s face lit up at a memory he cherished so that he couldn’t find words to describe it.

Dad often got the job of taking a jeep to the village to check for supplies dropped on the beach or to pick up fresh fish and local produce – the Marines couldn’t befriend the islanders, but they didn’t want to alienate them entirely.  One day, he was on his way back to base, fighting to keep the jeep straight on that muddy rutted track, when something  he didn’t remember what  ran across the road.  He jerked the wheel, the jeep hit something and went flying.  Dad remembers it flipped and he woke up beside it in the ditch.

As his blurred vision cleared, he saw something that made his blood freeze and his heart stutter.  He was surrounded by six Japanese soldiers, all of them staring silently at the unarmed Marine lying on the ground.  Dad slowly got to his feet, fighting off the vertigo, urging his body to stand tall and proud, stoic in the face of Death.

And then, something miraculous happened.  All six soldiers politely dropped their weapons at his feet, raised their hands, and surrendered to my dad.  No one spoke – why bother?  He didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t speak English.  Dad picked up their weapons and glanced at his overturned jeep.  As one, the soldiers went to it and heaved it upright.  They stood in the road and waited while Dad got in and prayed the vehicle would start.  When it did (thank god for good old fashioned solid manufacturing!), he drove up onto the road to his waiting prisoners.  They marched back to base – six men ahead of the barely mobile jeep and its barely conscious driver.

Dad thought they surrendered because they were tired and hungry and scared.  Maybe they were deserters.  They were in ragged mismatched uniforms, muddy, far too thin, and young, so heartbreaking young.  He never found out what happened to them.  The MPs and his CO took over the second sentries spotted his little parade.  By the time Dad was out of the medic’s hands, the Japanese boys were gone.

These are the only war stories my dad ever told us.  I don’t know if he ever saw real combat; maybe I was deemed too young to hear the other stories – the ones that weren’t funny or weird.  I wonder about that because there was a hint of something, a brief sentence overheard…

“He stepped off the ramp and just sank.  We couldn’t help him; we were dying.”  What ramp?  Where?  My immediate thought brings heartrending images:  men in those boats, trying to hit the beach at Normandy and some of them drowning before they make it ashore because of their heavy gear, and others being shot in the water while struggling to swim…My dad barely able to watch that beach sequence in “Saving Private Ryan,” the tears running silently down his cheeks…Where WAS my dad?  What else did he see and do?  He never said.

Ask any WWII vet and they say, “It was the worst time of my life…and the best.”

I salute you all and thank you.  May we always remember and honor you, our guardians of freedom.  Semper fi!

 

Aww…Poop!

There are some days when I just know I am not going to get any proper writing done.  Life is full of distractions and today’s distraction is…poop!

I wonder what started it?  Was it yesterday’s ongoing cleaning of the fridge by eating all the leftovers?  Was it a few too many (okay, possibly ten) cups of coffee?  Maybe it was cookies, fried mushrooms, and crunchy cheetos…yeah, 3 am snack after karaoke.  Oh, it isn’t just me.  Son is having a poopy day, too.  That wouldn’t be a problem – this house does have two bathrooms.  But no, we made the mistake of letting the dogs help us rid the house of leftovers.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, the so-called experts are freaking: “Ooo, never feed your pets People food!”  Eh, frack off, ya idjits.  Been doing it for years; our pets are healthier than we are and live longer than most people do!)

So, we are all in the bathrooms/out in the yard every fifteen minutes.  Even this would be all right, if, if, we were all pooping at the same time.  But no, as soon as I’m done and sit at the computer, a dog absolutely MUST go out!  Or the son needs more toilet paper, and then, the other dog absolutely MUST go out!  And by then, of course, I MUST dash to the other bathroom.

Constant interruptions kill the creative drive.  When my characters start hanging out in the bathroom discussing their poop, I know I’m not going to get any useful writing done.  When I’m frantically trying to complete one paragraph and it’s taken me an hour, it’s time to admit my brain can’t handle the ongoing type two words-dash to bathroom-type a sentence-dash to door for dog-type, wait, what?  Where was I?!  Um, hmm, not happening.

And ya know what’s really frustrating?  While on the white throne, staring into space, obeying the needs of my poor body, my mind scrolls through whole pages of wonderful plot-progressing words…which promptly go bye-bye the second I dash back to the computer.

That’s it.  Who needs an office?  I’m setting up the laptop in the bathroom.  It’s quiet, I won’t be disturbed, I can attend to my needs and write at the same time!

Wait, what’s that god-awful, eyes watering, can’t breathe, smell?  Aww…poop!

 

Restart…

When the “new & improved” Microsoft Office that came with my new laptop basically trashed my manuscripts, I fought to recover & rework them into Manuscript format instead of “Blog” or “Office” format (quotation words are Microshit Office’s descriptions).  I then discovered my new, oh-so-fab laptop hates WordPress, going offline within moments of logging in.

Now, as any writer knows, doing actual work correcting a manuscript can kill the creative process.  I wanted, needed, to WRITE, not mess around fixing what Microshit had ruined!  I did finish the fourth draft of my main manuscript & emailed it to my First Readers.  Now I just have to wait for their reports.  Finally, I could work on the rough draft of the second book manuscript, but I faced 148 pages of Microshit mess.

So, I dug the old laptop out of the closet, hoping the originals were still fine and that it would finally let me into WordPress as well.  Ta-da!  It works!

Okay, I can hear the questions:  Why FOUR drafts of one manuscript?  Well, to me, it’s a fourth draft; to my First Readers, it’s the third draft.  I write off the top of my head, a brief summary, idea or character moving my thoughts and fingers.  That’s right, I don’t do Outlines well at all.  As I write, the backstories of the characters, the locations, and background info gets written in a notebook; I jot things down as they pop up (I write notes to myself all the time, anyway.  Can’t keep a thought in my brain for longer than 30 seconds these days!).  A dictionary, thesaurus and Gregg’s Manual sit on my desk as well for quick checking of words, punctuation and grammar.  If I need to research something, I jot down a key word to check it later online because I don’t want to stop writing, creating, to get bogged down reading & researching.  All that can be put in later.

So that first draft is the roughest one, the idea growing, building, and no one sees that one!  By MY third draft, it’s a well-rounded story that can be shared – it’s been proofread, polished, and filled in, but by that point, I need outside input to find what I’ve missed because I’m too close to the world I created.  Too close to see what else needs doing.  Thank you, First Readers, for any and all criticisms and input!  🙂

I’m not a “published author.”  I’ve had a couple of stories published in magazines (years ago) and articles published (when I was a reporter for a local trade journal publishing house).  I don’t know how authors work.  I write for me first because I love to play in and with my creations.  I love letting others read my stories and enjoy the feedback, enjoying their pleasure from reading what I’ve written.  Will I ever have a published Book?  Don’t know, I hope so, but it isn’t the main goal.  My main goal is to just Write because it brings me Joy.

Okay, so why do I have a new laptop that won’t do what I need it to do, and why haven’t I returned it and gotten another or gotten that new one fixed?  Because it was a gift, specifically, a gift from my husband.  After thirty years, I’ve learned the hard way to NEVER return or reject anything he gives me.  Hey, I like gifts and want more!

Return the beautiful laptop he bought me?  Nah, I don’t think so!  It works for other stuff and I’ll eventually figure out how to fix the weirdness.

For now, I just want to write, to play, to get my joy fix each day as the words flow and my worlds come to life.  But even play needs to be practiced to be enjoyed, so I’m going to fire up whichever computer wants to behave!  🙂

 

 

The Buzz-Buzz Monster

“Here it comes again!”  “Outta my way!”  Shrieking, jumping, laughing… My little sister and I clambered up to the top of the couch.  From there, we plotted out separate routes across the living room.  Pixie claimed the easy road; down to the arm of the couch, across the side table to the back of the big armchair and then jump onto the dining room table.  I was more daring.  If I timed it right, I could jump down to the middle of the living room floor, run to the stairs and perch on the table sitting on the stairway landing.  Risky, but the monster might go after Pix and give me time to escape.

“Buzz, buzz!”

“Aarrgghhh!”  The monster had a long reach; if we slipped, he’d get us!  Pix took her chance and I jumped.  Strong arms grabbed me, “Buzz, buzz!” And the tickling commenced.  I rolled in Daddy’s arms, laughing and kicking.  Pix jumped on his back, trying to help me, but Daddies aren’t ticklish, especially when they are Buzz Buzz Monsters.

Her little legs pummeled his sides.  “Horsie! Horsie!  Gi-pa!”  And the game changed.  With a rear and a whinny, the Gi-pa took off across the living room, Pixie shrieking with joy, her hands fisted in his thick black hair.  I sat up, trying to catch my breath and waited for my turn.

Every family, I hope, has games.  Silly fun games.  I’m pretty sure Jim Carrey (in “Liar, Liar”, I think was the movie’s name) does not have the exclusive rights to “The Claw!”  Hey, my daddy was “The Claw” before the actor was born!  Daddy was the big sneaky shark before anyone ever heard of “Jaws!”  He would swim underwater to us and one hand would rise up.  He would corner us in the shallow end of the pool, hands crooked, reaching for us, and ominously announce, “It’s The Claw!  The Claw!” in a twisted accent.  If caught, more tickling…  I learned how to swim just to escape into the deep end.

That was a rule.  “The Claw” couldn’t get you if you were on dry land or in the deep end of the pool.  Same with the Buzz Buzz Monster – it couldn’t climb on the furniture to get us, but if we touched the floor, we were fair game.  We didn’t play these games with Mom.  I don’t remember a single tickle session with my mom.  She did come outside and push me nice and high on my swing, though.

Maybe they were Daddy games because he was home.  We were “latch-key” kids long before the phrase was coined.  We’d walk home from school or the bus stop, enter the unlocked house, and do whatever.  Our older brother and older sister were supposed to be our baby-sitters, but, honestly?  Between the time we left school until my Dad got home from work, we were out in the neighborhood playing.

Dad had the typical 8 to 5 job; Mom, as a Registered Nurse, tried to work only the 7am to 3pm shift so she could be home with us in the afternoon, but she sometimes worked doubles or she’d be sleeping because she had to work 3pm to 11pm or 11pm to 7am.  If she was home, sleeping or not, we’d grab our bikes and take off.  We didn’t want to bother her – that woke up a whole different kind of monster.

But once she left for work and Daddy was in charge, ah, the games commenced.  Did she know we climbed all over the furniture?  Did she find out Daddy let us sit in his big chair with him to watch “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” late at night?  Did she ever come outside and catch fireflies with us?  She did love to swim and I remember playing “The Claw” with her in the pool.  Mom made a good “Claw.”  She had long slender fingers and could cackle like a witch.

I have my dad’s hands – small with short chubby fingers.  But my fingers have Mom’s agility.  I played a variation of “The Claw” with my kids when they were little.  “The Spider” would creep across the table toward their highchair, creeping, “legs” extending up and out, wriggling forward…ooo, the suspense, the wide-eyed happy fear as “The Spider” advanced.  And then…Pounce!  Tickle, tickle!  If my baby swatted at it, “The Spider” would dash away.  If my child landed a hit, my hand would flop over, palm up, the “legs” curled in defeat.  Ah, but maybe the monster was just playing dead.  Maybe, if you poke it with your baby spoon (never your soft meaty little finger, oh no!), it will move and jump at you again!  Cats love “The Spider” game, too!

My husband makes an awesome “Claw.”  He has big strong hands with long slender fingers.  Back when we were first “going steady” in high school, I taught him how to swim properly.  Oh, he knew the basics from swimming in the river or streams, but he had few opportunities to swim in a real pool.  I took him to our housing development’s pool or up to Saratoga Springs Park – for a dollar, you could spend all day at the two big pools there, swimming and diving.  I taught that boy the crawl, the backstroke, the side stroke, taught him proper form for a simple racing dive, beat him in lap races the length of the pool…then he went to SUNY Maritime College.  My aspiring sailor came home, challenged me to a race, and was halfway across the pool before I’d hit the water!  College had taught him better than I and I stood in the shallow end, watching a man shoot through the water with clean strokes from powerful arms and efficient kicks from those nicely muscled legs.  Then, he disappeared in the deep end…moments later, something grabbed my legs.  “The Claw” broke the surface and, well, that game didn’t end in a tickle session!  Maritime instructors taught him how to hold his breath for a long time, too.  I hope I’m the one who taught him how to kiss like that!  😀

I also introduced my love to “Scrabble,” gin rummy and poker.  Just a few games later, he was winning every time.  Hard to win against a guy with genius IQ once he learns something!  I took him horseback riding.  I had years of training and experience; he settled in the saddle, picked up the reins, tucked his feet in the stirrups – heels down, toes out – and, yeah, a natural, no more lessons required.  He had the “seat” and the “soft” hands, and horses responded beautifully for him.

Men and games.  Kids and games.  Family games are necessary, made up games are the best.  Imperfect and dysfunctional as my birth family was, we had some fun times.  I worry that I’m the only one who remembers, that I’m the Keeper of the Good Memories.  They’re gone now, those two beautiful, talented walking wrecks of people, but, sometimes, I miss them.  My brother battles intense pain and struggles with a mind fogged by powerful pain-killer drugs.  My older sister is lost to us, buried in mental illness.  My little sister, Pixie to my Trixie (Daddy’s nicknames for us), is raising her family, working, living through the grief of having her oldest son die at the age of twenty.  So I frantically type, attempting to organize the memories and get the family stories out of my own failing brain.

Don’t be my mom; go catch some fireflies with your kids or point out the stars in the sky.  Better yet, let your children climb on the furniture while you, the Buzz Buzz Monster, crawl on the floor below.  Make the good memories now and they’ll help you fight off the Dark.