Sunday, February 4, 2018

Disaster Relief

How was that for a cliffhanger?

The good news is that the storm came and went, and the bad news is that I didn't drown or die of the dysentery scare that forced us to re-evacuate once we got home.

I found the cat, fuel, food, power, and cell service eventually and my little home was mostly fine. I packed everyone back up and we relocated to a resort owned by a friend on Fort Myers Beach once the sewage in the city started backing up, and when we arrived, little kid stepped out onto the beach and said, "I finally don't feel afraid anymore," and that statement resonated through every cell in my body.

There was still rebuilding to be done, but it was of my life.

The dissolution of my marriage hasn't been graceful, and exhausted with the struggle to support myself and tired of relying on friends, I accepted a six month federal job as a disaster relief assistance agent. Near D.C.

And I couldn't take the kids, since it was a temporary situation and I live in a hotel.

If you want to judge me for it, you'll have to get in line and I'm the line leader.

It's the hardest thing I've ever done -- EVER. Worse than confronting divorce or death. And yet, as these things often go, also one of the best.

I'm proud of myself for being independent and brave. I'm making money that will help support us when I get back. The boys and my mom were able to see D.C., and my sweet new boss sent me home to surprise the kids at Christmas. I've made life-changing friends. I've helped people in life-changing circumstances. I've learned a lot about myself and humanity and loss and love along the way.

I'm a new version of me.

I work long hours (up to 80 hours a week sometimes) and hotel life is lonely, and, to be honest, it feels like my imagination died. I used to be stuck in my head, creating elaborate storylines and character sketches with every interaction, eager to editorialize my time on earth...but now I'm just tired. Perhaps my creativity is hibernating and will awake once the sun warms my bones again. Because, guys -- winter sucks. So bad. I can't believe people do this willingly.

I'd do hurricanes once a week to avoid it. Fuck everything about the cold.

Anyway, so many of you have reached out and it means so much to me, even when I can't muster the energy to reply.

I'll try to be better, but that's pretty much my life motto these days. You try to be better too, and we'll meet back here someday.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Storms Come and Go

As I sit and wait (and wait, and wait, and wait) for the category 4 hurricane headed my way, it’s tempting to say I’ve never been so scared — but that wouldn’t be true. 

I’ve never been so scared in this way, certainly. I’ve never had so long to tally up the items in my home that were left behind, things that mean a lot and things that shouldn’t mean much, and lament their potential loss to a 15 foot storm surge. I’ve never looked at my children and done mental math on the imminent danger approaching and their best odds for survival. (Our evacuation retreat is in the direct path, too — I took a gamble based on gas shortages and traffic, and I lost.) I've been this scared, just a different flavor of it. 

This isn't my first storm, neither literally or figuratively.

I know we’ll be okay. I just don’t know what okay is anymore. 

My friends and I have used this gift of time to tell each other what we’ve meant to one another, to remind each other to close interior doors and to fill bathtubs, to exchange 3am texts about the possibility of not being able to go home if there isn’t one to go to, to make promises to check on each other's property after the storm has passed or to offer a place to stay if there's no longer property to report on. 

How have we not found more time to tell each other how much we love each other in the past? Suddenly, there’s plenty. 

The kids have been having fun but there's a quiet solemnity to their play, as they pass our frantic viewing of the Weather Channel and peer over our shoulders as we pass our phones back and forth to show each other coverage. I was delivering cheery, “Nah, we’ll be fine!” sort of lines, until yesterday when the boys confessed they knew they’d be safe but were worried about our home and city; their little brows furrowed, their eyes sad.

“Me too,” I finally admitted. “So, our worst case scenario is that we will lose stuff. What stuff would it hurt to lose?” 

For Big Kid, it was a binder of DVDs that make him nostalgic for his childhood and that contains a television pilot he starred in, little kid listed some toys, I mourned in advance for my tiny pink punch bowl, my Alice figurine from my first Disney trip, my childhood dollhouse. I have electronics and jewelry and art and clothes, but it’s these relics from my childhood that I ache for. Our family photos are at floor level, and surely doomed. My soft bed with its beautiful linens was flipped onto the floor in search of a cat that was never found (Goddamn Alexander Hamilton, I have cried a million tears for you and your obstinance), and all may be lost. 

“Yeah, that stuff might be gone,” I conceded. “But we won’t be lost with it. On Monday morning, we will walk out of that closet and we’ll start a new life. And it will be scary and it will be hard, but one day it will be a story we’ll retell to each other and there’s tremendous value in that. We’ll be okay.” 

This burst of honesty brought them comfort where my lies had failed. 

I’m with my mom and brother, his girlfriend and her beautiful daughter. We’ve played on the dock, drank Bloody Marys, read a book I bought at Walmart out loud; we’ve laughed, joked endlessly, given each other the finger during bouts of tension, made dinners, hid in our rooms and huddled in the living room, and sat around staring at our phones. 

“Garrett,” my mom said to my brother, “The neighbor said the power lines will come down. So don’t just walk right out front, but we need to think of a way to check.” 

“Gotcha,” he replied. “We’ll send little kid out as a test — hey, dude, why don’t you play in the front yard for a minute?” 

Hours later we googled what to do about downed power lines and she handed him her phone.

“Hey, little kid! Get down here and read this!” He shouted, as we laughed through our fear. Someone could make a movie about the evacuation process -- it won't be me. 

“Mom, can I have a Diet Coke?” little kid asked yesterday. 


“Seriously? I could be dead in two days and I can’t have some aspartame?” 

It sounds dark as fuck — and it is — but these moments of bizarre levity are what we have. 

I let him have the soda.

And I keep reminding myself that I’m rich in people — dozens have invited us to stay with them, my phone goes off non-stop with messages of love, everyone is promising that whatever comes next we will do together — and my brain goes, “Good. You’re safe. You have everything,” and my heart says, “But the baby pictures and the pink punch bowl and the comfort of that beautiful bedding and goddamn you, Alexander Hamilton, goddamn you and may your name keep you safe when I can't.” 

But this afternoon I will get a report about what’s left of my home and my city, and tonight I will get into a closet with my children and our book, and I will try to read louder than the storm. 

And we will be okay. 

Whatever that is. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dear Little Kid,

11 years ago today, the universe gave me the most beautiful gift in the form of one teensy-tiny peaches and cream newborn with velvety blond hair and squinty eyes. A sleepy, gorgeous little bundle.

As I gazed into your sweet face, I thought of all of the things I would teach you -- not knowing that it would be you who taught me. I have learned more about life from you in 11 years than I have in my own 38 of living.

You are joy personified and authenticity in action. You are playful and imaginative, quick-witted and kind, curious and carefree, and intuitive and thoughtful.

If everyone were like you, there would be no hate and no war and far less sadness.

You don't build walls and retreat when life is unfair or people seem mean, you charge headlong into battle with an open heart, bound and determined to win people over in favor of just winning. Your social savvy is both strategic and selfless -- your goal is to win friends and influence people by making others happy and you are wildly successful at it. You compliment grouchy grown-ups, clean up the cafeteria to help crabby lunch ladies, and offer assistance to overworked teachers and stressed out adults.

And you love me so well -- I don't know that anyone can or will love me like you do. You call me your princess and your pretty little mama, you laugh loudly at even my worst jokes and hug me tightly when I'm sad. You know when to talk and when to sit in companionable silence. You are the best company for any occasion. Always.

Recently, as I mourned over not being chosen for a job I really wanted, you said, "Mom, I know you're sad but I want you to remember: it's not that you weren't good enough, it's that someone else was better." I snort-laughed for a moment at the absurdity of that being offered as helpful before recognizing the profound wisdom behind that mindset, and how very "you" it was -- you don't take things personally. And neither should I. I think of that all the time now, and it brings me such comfort.

You just make me so happy. I cannot imagine a life without you.

You are the helium in my balloon, the wind that lifts my kite, the weightlessness of water. You are laughter and ease; relief in human form.

I wanted to be your role model, and instead you became mine. And I am forever lucky for that and eternally grateful for whatever karmic lottery landed the precious little package of you into my arms.

Happy Birthday, little kid.

I like you, I love you, and I'll always protect you.

Lucky and Loved,

P.S. Today your brother called you short and you said, "I may be short now, but one day I'll be as tall as Michael Jordan. Or at least Danny DeVito. And that's perfect for me." And it is. And you are.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dear Big Kid,

The other day I was sitting in my room as you played outside with your brother and some friends, and I heard the booming voice of a man speaking with alarming familiarity. Concerned, I rushed outside, prepared to ask this stranger what was up, why he was here, how he knows my children -- and it was you.

You were the man with the deep voice.

I don't know when that happened or how I missed it.

But I see your broad shoulders, your big feet, the way your arms rest on top of my shoulders instead of around my waist when we hug, how I can no longer kiss the top of your head because you're as tall as me -- and I realize this is our new truth.

It is more of a miracle to me than your birth. This evolution from wide-eyed, scrunchy-faced newborn -- a wordless infant I read Steinbeck's East of Eden to in order to fill our awkward silences of newly knowing each other -- to more man than boy, and the kind of man who can hold his own in any conversation, from literature to politics to science to popular culture and beyond.

You are a wonder -- to look at, listen to, and be around.

You are my roots and branches and oxygen. You keep me grounded in a good way, you encourage my growth in a broad way, you keep me alive in an everyday way. You fulfill me and sustain me -- you have made me just as much as I have made you.

And today you are 14.

It's wonderful and amazing and astounding and terrifying beyond measure.

Nothing has gone as planned, because that's how life rolls, but you have exceeded every hope I ever had for who you may become.

And I can take very little credit.

I mean, that won't stop me, but we both know it's true.

You have been extraordinary since day one, and my life is extraordinary because you chose me as your forever. And I have no doubt that you did.

Happy Birthday, Big Kid.

I like you, I love you, and I'll always protect you.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spit & Charisma

"Mom, if you could have one power that's not a superpower, what would it be?" little kid asked at the dinner table tonight.

I thought about it for a moment, trying to size up what a non-superpower power would be, when Big Kid confidently answered, "I'd want to be able to spit really far so I could spit on people I don't like without them knowing. They'd never suspect it could be me because I'd be way over there. It would be perfect."

He knew instantly. As if he'd been waiting his entire life for this opportunity to share.

"Hm. Interesting answer. I was gonna go with art or singing but maybe I should think more along the lines of spitting on enemies."

"I'd pick art or I'd level up on charisma," little kid said. He had been waiting to answer -- all of these questions are designed for us to hear his answers. I (mostly) love them.

"Level up on charisma? You have charisma." I told him.

"I got so much charisma. But I need more," he leaned out of his seat into my face, until we were nose to nose. "I like the girls," he hissed in my face, "and the girls like the charisma."

"True, they love that but you already have it," I laughed. "You like girls?" Both of my boys are "young" for their ages -- or so I like to think.

He grinned back at me. "Uh, everyone in fifth grade has their own little crush, mom."

"You too?"

He nodded, looking smug.

"Wow. Who is she? Do I know her? Would I like her? Is she pretty? Wait, wait, is she smart? Funny?"

"You don't know her and you won't know her, but would I have a crush on a girl who isn't all of those things? I got standards, lady." He turned his attention to Big Kid and said, "What I want to know is if bub has a crush."

I turned, fascinated to hear the answer but bracing myself for a fight because this isn't a subject Big Kid likes.

"Honestly, I hate everyone equally," Big Kid said.

"Seriously, dude? You don't like anyone?"

"I mean, I'm guessing there are human beings that exist outside of my school that perhaps I could one day enjoy the company of, but otherwise, no."

"Bro, you got to get you a crush! Get you a nice girl! A cute girl! One who smiles when she sees you!"

"Uh, why can't we just stick to me spitting long distances at my enemies?"

"Yeah, baby, do that. In fact, I'm going with that too, singing is kind of overrated," I agreed.

So, little kid will level up his charisma as Big Kid and I hone our long distance spitting skills, and it all feels really right.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Better Because of You

There's a tendency to only turn to you all for the very, very highs and the very, very lows and to become consumed with "real" life in the in between. In doing so, a lot gets lost and entire chapters of the story go untold.

Lately, it seems that I can only catch enough air to utter some form of, "Yeah, hey, I'm probably not dying!" -- too busy focusing on treading water and keeping it from spilling into my mouth as I try to stay afloat to share the rest, and I'm doing us all a great disservice by not telling more of the story.

Because sometimes I do float and, man, is it good. The sun is so bright and it is so quiet and I am so certain that one day I'll reach dry land again, and that I'll end up where I belong. But I don't turn to you all and say, "LOOK AT ME FLOATING!" because I'm busy quietly hoping that it continues for a few minutes.

But I have learned so much while drowning. And not in a cliched "silver lining" kind of way. I have gained insight and wisdom that can only be earned and I am definitely a more developed human being because of it. Although I know who I am no matter what people tell me, I've learned so much about myself from what people have shown me through this. And it's all so good.

I cannot even begin to detail the kindnesses great and small -- near strangers offering loans they'd be crazy to make (and I couldn't take) and friends offering plane tickets and a place to stay, job offers, dinners and drinks and dropped off muffins, secondhand furniture and bouquets of flowers, and messages reminding me of my authenticity, strength, and ability along with patience and acceptance of my emotional and physical distance. From everywhere. Every day. Including from some of you.

I also haven't talked enough about how sweet my little home is and how I have grown to love it.

My love seat came from a couple named Tom and Marian. They were in their 70s and lived in a mobile home he had remodeled beautifully and he glowingly gave her all of the credit. She had just hurt her ankle and he was doting and concerned and clearly in love. They both had cute convertibles in the driveway, with personalized license plates -- hers a VW Bug that said Luv Bug. The love seat was pristine and I sat on it and chatted with them about their house and history and health and lives, and said a silent prayer that one day I'd be that lucky in my old age.

My beautiful bed came from a mansion on the water, and was piled high with fine, white linen. The owner of the house was acting as a buyer while someone else worked the sale, eavesdropping on conversations about her home. I figured that out through my own eavesdropping and loved her for it.

My bedside table came from the home of an elderly man with a workshop full of clock parts who lived a well-traveled and interesting life, according to the contents of his estate sale.

I have an antique mirror that I have loved for longer than I've owned it -- it belonged to a friend who bought it from a vintage store in the U.K. 20 years ago. I couldn't imagine anything more perfect, and I feel like it's a piece of a fairy tale.

My brother's girlfriend lent me a television, my best friend gave me a side table, and I have piles and piles of books that are mine.

It is the epitome of lovely.

I went from attending galas to going to Goodwill and in spite of the struggle, I'm happier than I should be. Maybe because of the struggle. It's like after all of that treading and fighting the current and swallowing sips of salty water, floating and breathing is sweeter than it could ever be without all of that surviving.

I still cry. Unwillingly, even, like sometimes I'm not even thinking of anything particularly sad and suddenly my lungs and ribs tighten and I spend a minute or three sobbing quietly -- almost like an attack of sneezing in its unexpectedness -- before wiping the tears away and continuing on. And that's okay because I laugh twice as often and sometimes just as unintentionally.

The other day a friend said that I would die laughing, as they couldn't imagine my quickness to do so stopping even on my death bed, and I can't imagine a better ending or nicer compliment.

Right now my entire life is made of stories instead of stuff and people instead of property and I hope it stays that way, until I die laughing.