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.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dear Universe,

Okay. Where do I begin?

Getting real sick of your shit, to be honest.

I mean, I think I do my fair share when it comes to sharing the spotlight with you and trying to work through the chaos you are constantly creating (and it's not me that creates it, it's definitely you) but we are always having this same disagreement so let's get clear on my end.

I am the plucky and adorable heroine of this story.

It seems harsh to call you the villain, and frankly, I'd rather you just write yourself out entirely, but let's say you're the antagonist. Not necessarily the bad guy, just more the problem child of this tale.

(You're the bad guy.)

So YES, there will be struggles. How else will our resourceful and determined heroine save the day and her life?

HOWEVER.

This shit needs to be readable. There's a certain line when it's just so pitiful people either want to look away or GoFundMe into an institution (which I'm not opposed to, get organized, folks) and we're nearing that point.

For instance, my first weekend in the new place? Having me break a window 17 minutes into being alone was enough -- and I was a good sport about that shit, I even laughed before/during/after I cried. But you took it too far with the stomach flu, and really attention whore-d it up by starting that whole thing with me vomiting all over a CVS bathroom and cleaning it up with one ply toilet paper and ending it with me sleeping in a sweaty, shivering pile on the floor next to my new bed since I was too sick to get up.

Also, let's talk about the wifi situation here. Okay, the divorce, the humiliation, the car transmission, the uncontrollable vomiting, the constant comments about my appearance, missing my kids, the struggles with work, the loneliness -- that's all fine. It's whatever. But the lack of wifi in my new place is some fucked up level of hell and you know it.

It's like you were like, "What is this story missing? Is it Comcast? It's Comcast. This bitch needs some Comcast," and I'll admit that would be funny if it wasn't so very not funny.

You're not the funny one, I am. And I'm not that funny so we're both fucked.

But I called Comcast, motherfucker. I survived the stomach flu alone. I taped that window up with blue painter's tape and IT'S FINE. I even bought curtains this weekend because I am a GODDAMN HUMAN BEING. (Okay, my mom bought me the curtains, but still, I own curtains.) I am hustling with work. I am hanging out with old friends and making new ones, when and if I can put on pants/brush my hair so not a lot but sometimes.

Please stop trying to edit the story. You're the worst editor I've ever had and there's this one guy who is a serious pain in my ass, so that's saying something. I know what I'm doing (I don't. At all) and I don't need your help (I do. But you're not helpful).

So to summarize, I am the brave and determined hero here and you are the sinister but not quite as crafty bad guy who will be defeated by my cleverness.

So calm the fuck down, thanks.

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Treehouse Without a Tree

My BFF and I are making great progress on our commune.

I have secured my own house in her backyard.

10-year-old me is like, "FUCK YEAH!!"

38-year-old me is like, "Hey, remember this time last year when you bought a real house?"

10-year-old me is like, "IT HAS TWO WHOLE ROOMS THAT ARE MINE!"

38-year-old me is like, "It's 500 square feet."

10-year-old me is like, "That couch turns into a bed like a goddamn transformer!"

38-year-old me is like, "That's a love seat and not even a real couch."

10-year-old me is like, "We can ride our bike to the beach!"

38-year-old me is like, "You don't even have a bike!"

It all depends on the hour, really.

The goal is to keep the kids in one house for at least a year, while we move in and out as we figure out the intricacies of consciously uncoupling, as Gwyneth would say. It's either the best idea ever or the worst, which is kind of my specialty.

As I went to look at the place, my friend Lyn made a joke to the prior tenant that the only thing wrong with it was the neighbors.

She was a little old lady who loved the unexpected visits and joyful noises of four little kids. She said so, with a delighted smile, and told me she would keep the door open for their visits.

"Oh no. Not me. I'm buying an electric fence to keep them out," I told Lyn.

"They'll tunnel right under it."

I reminded the kids that Ms. Ashley really likes her naps so we'll work out a system. I suggested office hours or a flag.

I went to babysit them the other night and my favorite wrapped both arms around my waist and looked up at me with sheer happiness in his big blue eyes, a constellation of freckles across his pale nose and cheeks and said, "I can't wait for you to live in our yard, Ashley." And when I was done laughing at how hobo-like that sounded, my heart swooned in my empty-feeling chest.

Whose neighbor loves them like that?

I have a new favorite of her four hourly, by the way, always for a new reason. He's actually one of our reasons for being though. I held him after a swim event while she changed her older daughter into dry clothes. He was a chubby, happy baby with pale smooth skin and red curls and without thinking about it at all, I kissed him on his sweet little cheek and then recoiled in awkward horror about how many women would go absolutely berserk (understandably so) about some weird stranger smooching their baby. I apologized profusely and she was like, "Nah, it's fine. Who wouldn't kiss him?" And I knew she was my people.

They were so excited when I came to babysit because it meant I'd let them into the now vacant guesthouse. My mom bought me a beautiful bed with gorgeous girly linens and a pretty antique dresser and I was eager to put it all together and gaze upon its perfection.

Her just-turned-5-year-old twin girl, short cropped curls and wide brown eyes, looked at me and said, "Ms. Ashley, we're gonna make your house so beautiful! I'm gonna help you! My mama can make a bed so good and I'm gonna do it just like that, me and you, we're gonna make this bed. There's this thing where you can tuck the blanket under the pillows...my mama does it, I'll do it for you." She said this with big eyes and eager emphasis and I thought, "Yeah, we're gonna make this so beautiful."

I told her we needed a fire pit and she exclaimed with delight. "My mama's always wanted one! And me too!"

I told her to take her shoes off and she told me she hadn't worn any and I inspected her dirty feet and my clean carpet and she told me she hadn't walked through very much dirt at all, which seemed pretty reasonable. So we went in and smoothed my crisp white linens onto my very soft bed, and she jumped right up there to tuck that blanket under those pillows, feet first.

When I said, "Remember about your feet?" she said, "Remember how they're not that dirty though?"

And I did.

And they weren't. Well, they were, but left no evidence.

We spent some time thinking about where to hang a shelf before she agreed it just might not work in this space, and I could hang it in the closet for my bags if I'd like, that's what she would do.

I reminded everyone again that Ms. Ashley loves naps, and we will work out a really good system for visits.

"The new fun game is 'let's pretend I'm going to Ashley's house'" was the text I received a few days later.

And on my next visit, there were tiny Mary Janes on my door step, a marking of territory of sorts, or maybe a promise to have access to shoes next time, and my heart did that sweet thing again and I felt like maybe this could be home for both my 10-year-old self and my 38-year-old self and whoever would comes next. (I'm guessing my 39-year-old self but don't quote me on that because I don't know shit.)

Also, we're getting walkie talkies.

That's really the best idea we've come up with yet but I'm sure there will be many.




Thursday, March 16, 2017

To My Sons,

I'm so sorry.

I'm so sorry the life I had planned for you isn't going as planned.

I'm so sorry I stayed in this situation for as long as I did, and I'm so sorry I can't stay in it for longer.

I'm so sorry that your lives are being divided.

I'm so sorry I never know what to say or do next anymore.

I'm so sorry that you're more likely to remember how I burst into tears when I asked you to please not clink your spoon so loudly against the bowl today, and not that I was working every spare minute to build a business entirely reliant on my mental acuity and concentration at a time I have neither.

I'm so sorry that it's your friends providing the spring break memories that I used to live for.

I'm so sorry that I have to say "We'll see" knowing it's a definite "no" when neither of you ever ask for anything.

I'm just so sorry.

I know you're going to grow up and this will be the scary part of your story, and I wish I had been a better author of your lives so I could save you from it.

I hope one day we all understand, me included.

I hope you know that I have loved you ferociously even at my lowest or loudest point.

I hope one day you'll be proud of me.

I hope one day I can say I'm a really good mom again, with confidence I don't have right now.

I hope one day everyone will see that it was the only way.

But no matter what, I'm sorry.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Time Machine

I wake up every morning really scared, and if I don't pass out from exhaustion, I go to sleep that way too.

I cry every day.

I am realizing people are not who I thought they were, including myself, and learning things about my life I did not know.

I only put food in my mouth so I have an answer when people ask what I ate that day. And people ask. Every day.

I can only consistently respond to two or three people unless it's work-related, and only because I suspect they'd take some kind of action if I didn't. If you're waiting to hear from me, it's not you, it's me. For real this time. Sometimes it's you, but not now.

But, at the very center of my heart, there is a seed of happiness and I feel it straining to sprout each day.

And I know it's going to do it.

And I'm so excited for its progress that I am not as affected by the scared/sad/starving/solitude as I should be. I'm really proud that I can keep that little seed safe. I water it by trying to grow my business and make a new life, and I try really hard to make sure it sees some sort of sunshine each and every day, no matter how small or stolen that moment is.

I have a million funny stories for you -- little kid is killing it lately in true save-the-day fashion (he is often the sunshine for my seed), but it seems disingenuous to gloss over how things are going when I've packed you all along for the journey.

So, we're still on the Oregon Trail and no one has died of cholera yet (but little kid has given it a go with Strep twice now), and that's something to celebrate.

I'm something to celebrate. And I know that now.

So there will be funny stories again, and soon they won't all have to be prefaced with "Maybe I'm dying and IT'S FINE!"

The other day I asked little kid if he would go back in time and kill baby Hitler and without hesitation he said, "Yep."

"Okay, but remember, he'd be a baby. You'd know he was going to be Hitler, but you'd have to kill a BABY."

"I'd stomp it to death like a puppy."

"Like a puppy? Well, wait, that's --"

"I'd wear cleats."

"Uh, wow. Dude."

"It's Hitler, mom. You can't raise me to change the world and then be surprised I could stomp baby Hitler to death. I wouldn't kill a puppy unless it was Hitler too, though."

So. I don't know if I'm doing good at parenting or not, but there's that.

I think everyone other than baby Hitler will be okay. Probably.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dear Dad,

Three years ago today I was still awake as dawn swept in and as I looked out at the soft pink sky and the fog rising from the lake, I knew it was the day that you'd get on the road again. For good.

And so I cleaned your room, and washed your hands, and googled what part of the Bible people read in times like this, and honestly, as I read it out loud to you twice, I felt those words were lacking and wondered if everyone faked comfort from them or if my soul had died before yours had left.

I'd spent a week at that point bargaining with God and everyone who has left before us, and was fed up with the lot of them by then. I was actually no longer on speaking terms with God at all, we were co-workers wrapping up a final project before going our separate ways; I resented him for not pulling his weight and my stuff was already packed.

And as Ralph Stanley's, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot played, my mom and I watching the news and chatting around your bed, there was a shift in the room and I realized you were getting ready to go.

You left to one of my songs and not yours, and it was My God is Real by Krishna Das. A parting gift and solid reminder.

But the real parting gift was one more year.

I didn't tell anyone because I tried once or twice and got knocked down with, "Yeah, subconscious is weird," and realized it wasn't a shareable experience. I also didn't want anyone else to mourn that it wasn't happening to them -- I am either intuitive or highly imaginative. I knew my childhood best friend was going to have a baby before she did, because her father told me so in a dream. I have had an extra conversation or experience with every person I know who has passed.

But you came to me in a series of dreams. I once woke to you sitting serenely next to my bed while I slept, like I had for you.

I had an incredible experience walking through rolling green hills dotted with tiny charming houses full of everyone I had ever loved as boughs of pink flowers swayed overhead and rained down from the sky all around me, and as I wondered how on earth I could be experiencing such vivid beauty, there you were and we walked together.

And I even got the goodbye you couldn't give me in life.

On the eve before a one year memorial for you, I ran into you in my dream while I was out having lunch. I could see every pore on your nose and stray hair from your mustache and you looked like the old you, not the cancer you. I had forgotten what that looked like. I was freezing cold and you offered me a shirt and we walked to a truck that had two little boys waiting inside, in white t-shirts and cuffed blue jeans. They looked like you as a child, and I think they were your brothers who were lost in infancy. It was your dad's truck.

I begged you to stay, to stop by any time. I explained how if you couldn't find my house you could go to the yoga studio and they would call me. I asked you to come back for your shirt. I told you that my kids would love to see you. I outlined my daily schedule.

And you shook your head sadly, glancing away with wet eyes, and said, "I don't reckon I'll be back around this way again."

I realized then what was happening and that I wasn't awake, and asked for a hug. It felt empty and I knew you were slipping away, and I told you goodbye and that I was so glad to have seen you again.

And that was it. The last dream and my parting gift. And my proof that God is real.

I miss you, but the loss of you helped make a new me -- one with faith and perspective and the good kind of grit. You made me twice in a way.

And you brought me back to believing in Something Else, and I can't wait to see you there.

Love,
Ashley


Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway 
We're the best of friends 
Insisting that the world keep turning our way 
And our way 
Is on the road again

Monday, March 6, 2017

Flying Too Close to the Ground

My dad and I really only had three things in common -- music, politics, and a shitty sense of humor, and we disagreed on all of the above to the point of near fury at times.

When I was little I was force fed a steady diet of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and Ralph Stanley. His Kentucky roots mapped out our musical world and I resented it. No one talked like that or listened to that here, it was the epitome of uncool.

When I was a teenager and we really had nothing in common, we had The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Snippets of conversation, nostalgia for his 70s concert-going days, relief at common ground.

Eventually I grew up and fell in love with all music (except heavy metal and most electronic crap) and appreciated his again. I'd buy him CDs as gifts, he'd ask if I heard Willie's new song, we went to a few concerts.

Once we even saw Willie together.

He loved Willie Nelson so much and for so long, both as an artist and an individual. He delighted in the idea of a country boy owing the IRS $32 million and Willie's bemused nonchalance about the dilemma -- he quoted some Farm Aid thing so often I can't believe I don't remember it.

As he lay dying in hospice, at a complete loss over the helplessness of the situation and the end of our limited common ground, I made him a playlist full of his lifetime of favorites, all appropriate and meaningful for the journey he was about to make.

He was in and out of consciousness then, and had difficulty communicating, but at some point in the middle of one lonely night, he either indicated that he liked it or I just knew that he did. I would sit with him around the clock, both of us wrapped up in those songs while we waited for his ride home.

We had him cremated in a "Roll me up and smoke me when I die" shirt, one of his Willie favorites, something I know he would have found hilarious due to our shared shitty sense of humor and our love of shock value.

It sounds cliche to say the music died with him but the way it used to make me feel did.

My relationship with music changed altogether once I left that room.

My relationship with me changed too. I've got some issues that may surpass grief that are related to that time and I'm working on it. Or almost ready to start. Kind of. I've recognized that I need to.

But that was 3 years ago, the anniversary approaching this week. It's been creeping up on me, hiding around corners and making itself visible in the corners of my vision, whispering that I'm still alone and still scared and still not sure about life, somehow dovetailing with my latest personal drama. I've been trying to think of how to delicately tell my friends that I might need a day to lose my shit in a way that would be worrisome without the warning, and I need them to let me do it, to not try to distract me or lift my spirits.

My dad was offered Willie Nelson tickets as a last wish situation, and the concert was canceled and he passed away.

And last night Willie was back and they offered to honor the tickets, so my mom and I went. I wanted to go because I know this is the last time I'll see Willie (his age gives me true anxiety, his death will be the demise of another piece of me) but I didn't want to go because I'm so tired of feelings.

We were having subdued fun in our seats when an usher walked up and leaned down by my mom and said, "Are you getting all of this?"

She turned to him, confused.

"I know you're recording audio, just want to make sure you're getting this."

She couldn't even figure out how to zoom in on the photo she took earlier. Her purse was in her lap, with her phone inside of it.

"Excuse me?" I said. "Are you serious? She is not recording anything. You have some nerve." He apologized and walked away. I thought of his snarky, smug tone and followed. We ended up in the alcove by the exit, his back against the wall.

"How dare you interrupt our evening to accuse my mother of that."

"I'm sorry."

"It's outrageous. My father died to Willie Nelson's music and should be here tonight, these were his tickets and you're walking around like the gestapo ruining it," I got more angry as I explained, until I was speaking in a low tone through clenched teeth and pointing at him, leaning forward into his space.

"I'm sorry."

"Her phone wasn't even out or on. What's your name?" I peered at his name tag. "Drew? So Drew, do you think my mother, who is in her mid 60s, is going to upload this shit to YouTube for profit, Drew? Muffled audio of 30 year old songs from her purse? Is that the concern, Drew? Is that what's worth ruining my night over, Drew?"

"No. I don't. I'm sorry."

"This is ridiculous that I'm having to do this. You should be ashamed of yourself. Are you?" He nodded, eyes wide. "Good, you should, it's gross." I realized he was scared and that I was taking too much pleasure in having a target for my extra emotions, that maybe I had even out-jerked the jerk. "Don't come near us again, Drew, and I'm writing a letter to your boss."

Drew found a new place to stand. I'm writing that letter next.

I returned to my seat angry, at Drew and myself for being so affected by his crap. Here was my chance to feel the music again and I was busy bitching out some old guy. I was just frustrated and sad and sick of everything including myself.

The concert ended and people began filing out but the band continued to play, and I took it as a sign that Willie would be back. I stood and acted like I was walking towards an exit near the stage (we were at what used to be the Philharmonic, so not a typical wild concert scene) and stood for a moment near the end of the second row like I belonged there before slipping past an inattentive usher and leaning against the stage.

And Willie Nelson came back, and started shaking everyone's hand. I was at the end of the line and was agonizing over whether he'd stop and whether I should try to get a selfie or shove the program at him for an autograph like others were doing.

And then there he was. Right in front of me. Willie Nelson, close enough for me to see every line etched into that beautiful face and every stray hair escaping his braids.

He grabbed my hand and I looked up at him and said, "I love you, Willie. My dad did too. You're what we had together. You're my everything," and he leaned down and put his hand on my cheek, looking into my eyes and cupping my jawline for a moment before letting it slide away.

I still can't believe it. I will never forget the feel of that rough dry hand on my cheek. I don't know if I'll ever feel that kind of incandescent joy again. My dad would have told that story over and over again until I was sick of it had he been there. I'm so glad I didn't ask for an autograph, I got so much more.

I felt the music and it felt me back, and it felt so good to feel.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Inappropriate Happiness

As previously mentioned, my friend Lyn and I went to see My Fair Lady at the theater recently.

My Fair Lady is three and a half hours long, a previously unknown fact that required us to order two drinks at a time in order to cope with the thought. We were also the youngest (and hottest) by a solid 20 years, just to set the scene for you in terms of nightlife and expectations of behavior.

She had a mysterious case of hives and was on a cocktail of medication, coffee, and champagne. I was just my current sad self trying to be decent company.

I slid down into my seat as soon as we got through the gauntlet of disapproving ushers who think 5 minutes early is late and two drinks at once is too many and succumbed to sleep, openly and without shame before the end of the first act, rousing only to sleepily join in on the occasional round of applause before sinking back into it contentedly.

I woke with a start at everyone laughing at something that wasn't very funny, the kind of polite laughter the audience supplies because the script calls for it, and noticed Lyn was cracking up as everyone else trailed off into the return to silence. I turned in my seat to look at her, confused and tired, and she was shaking with laughter, hand over her mouth, eyes filling with tears. No one else was laughing now.

"You're high on Prednisone. It wasn't funny," I whispered, kind of incredulous at her reaction, starting to chuckle at the shrill nature of her laugh and realizing it was going to get embarrassing within seconds.

Her laughter took on a truly hysterical quality when our eyes met -- in the old fashioned sense of the word -- a sobbing, out of control, breathless sound of pure joy and insanity.

Which made me laugh in a way I didn't see coming, resulting in a loud snort which made us collapse against each other and choke with laughter while hissing at each other to stop, calm down this second, because everyone was looking, and then the other one would go I know, I know, for real, yes, let's stop, and we'd continue to laugh.

And when we calmed down, I fell back asleep.

It was so rude, so unfortunate for the other theater goers, but damn did I need that moment of out of control happiness. I mean, they had 3 hours and 27 minutes of silence from me, it's fine.

"You're covered in hives and I'm going to die alone, but come look happy for Instagram," I told her as we took a selfie afterwards.

And we were happy and having fun, in spite of being uncomfortable inside and out.

I'm cat sitting for a friend this weekend and imagine if Tom Hanks from Big was a recently separated crazy cat lady because it's going a lot like that. I'm jumping on their trampoline and playing their video games and riding a butt scooter thing in circles across their huge living room and singing love songs to their cat and having a whole lot of fun doing nothing and napping.

And realizing that it's easier to find comfort and joy when you don't have expectations of how something will or should be -- from a night at the theater to life in general. It just is what it is (the laziest phrase in the English language) and the work might just be in making the best of it regardless.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Factory of Self

"You don't seem like yourself," they say.

"I don't have one right now," I don't answer.

The first draft of this post was a funny Ashley story of a night at the theater, of the two hardcore old lady ushers who banded together to try to force my best friend and I to behave and follow the rules, and how irritated I was at their audacity until I realized that would be her and I one day. Enforcing shit no matter how mundane, no fucks given, together against the world.

But then the bullhorn in my head keeps saying, "No! Announce your disappearance" since that's the real news.

It feels like there's a need to show you regular Ashley, to promise that I am okay, bleeding out and all. A friend once said that it was funny my social media was so beautiful when my life was in shambles, and I pointed out that there was no duplicity in that, I'm just good at finding the beautiful.

I am, too. I still have that. I swear to you that I could be dying in a gutter and I'd still stop to admire the sunset before drawing my last breath.

And maybe put that shit on Instagram if I could manage.

Friends are worried about me. And I hate that. I need it right now, to know that I'm loved when I feel that I'm utterly unlovable, but I feel it happening towards and around me, can sense quiet conversations of what to do about Ashley when there's really nothing to be done but to lean in and prop me up a little as I find my feet.

(A little. Not too much.)

And don't take it personally if I stand here staring blankly back at you as you try. And I won't blame you for not trying. I don't want anyone to worry.

But there is less of me. I've been disappearing for a long time, in bits and pieces of willing sacrifice, but I'm finally getting to the parts people can see.

My bright is dim. My career uncertain. My time with my loves about to be halved. My tongue rests in the place my lost crown stood. My car is most likely on its way to the junkyard with a bad transmission. My house might be someone else's guest room every other weekend. My breasts strain to reach the cups of my bra and my legs are long bleached bones lost in the skinniest of skinny jeans.

Sometimes I think my skeleton is finally trying to work its way out so there's no more hiding. I can see it there in my mind, encased in denim instead of skin, tricking people into thinking I'm like them until I undress for the day and reveal my monstrousness to the night.

BUT DON'T WORRY.

And I totally see why you would. The skeleton thing is morbid as fuck. I'm dramatic, okay? You like that about me when it's funny.

But the reality of the loss of me is that I would not have room to grow without all of this new space. Now is the time to meet the challenge of sprouting in this foreign environment, like a weed through the cracks of a sidewalk.

I saw an abandoned concrete factory that had been transformed into a house the other day and as I was admiring its cavernous rooms, I thought that it would always feel empty and never like a real home.

And then I remembered that you could ride a bike, or do cartwheels, or keep a pony in there; that laughter would echo and a million people would fit inside. That you could keep every book you ever loved or wanted to read. That you could devote an entire area to the most kickass pillow fort in existence and leave it up forever.

Right now the empty space growing around me feels as vast and unfamiliar as the galaxy. But it also allows that much room for exploration and discovery and expansion and wonder, and so many fucking cartwheels.

So I am disappearing.

It's okay to worry but I will be back and I'll have a self with me again. There will be room in the new fort for you too.

And one day my best friend and I will lock arms at our volunteer jobs as senior citizens because we'll have the wisdom and experience to know that you'll survive not getting what you want.

Together forever against the world, you and me and everyone we know.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Lost Identity

In Greek mythology, there is a king named Sisyphus. He lived a life of punishment that involved being forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back and hit him whenever he made progress. I'd change my legal name to that if people would get the reference and give me a break.

But it's okay. If my progress can't be measured in feet, it can be measured by persistence.

Today was another day. That's the good and bad news.

I started dinner late, with an empty fridge because I needed to go to the store later. And realized I didn't have pasta sauce after I cooked the pasta.

I ran to the convenience store to get the sauce, knowing the pasta was congealing into a solid mass and the garlic bread would burn or be removed from the oven prematurely by Big Kid, who was keeping an eye out.

While there, I saw that the beer was on sale and decided FUCK IT. I will have this beer. I have earned this beer. I will not feel guilty about the price of this beer.

I swung it onto the counter, feeling pleased with myself.

"Do you have your ID?"

I am literally NEVER asked this. I was surprised to hear it. I also remembered that I left my purse in my car that broke down and was in the shop, and was lucky just to have a debit card.

"No, but -- " She started to shake her head.

"No, no, no. Look, ma'am. Look. I get it, it's your job and all. I NEED THIS. I am 38 years old," She gave me a hard look and half a head shake. She was my age or older, and we both knew it. "No, please, not today. I have an 8th grader! I was born in the Carter administration! I wore Z. Cavariccis in 8th grade! I have gray roots right now! I've had Botox before! Please help me."

She reluctantly smiled about the Botox and asked my birthday. I answered with confidence and she rang up the beer.

I got home and dinner was fucked.

But once I finish rolling this boulder for the day, I'm going to sit down with my back up against it and let it rest against me while I enjoy this hard-fought bit of relaxation, even if it means a small loss of progress.

And tomorrow the boulder and I will start our slow waltz up and down the mountain again.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Little Teapot

My marriage was like a porcelain teapot that was given as a thoughtful gift.

Intended to be purposeful and meaningful and beautiful, and it was all of those things throughout the years.

Sometimes we survived on tea, sometimes one or the other wouldn't crave it as we had before, occasionally it was forgotten about entirely. The teapot was always pretty though, and always useful even if it wasn't being used as originally intended.

And through the years, bumps and clinks from the dishwasher or clumsy hands would chip the spout just a little or the edge of the lid enough so it fit unevenly. That was fine -- affords the teapot character actually, and history. It adds another layer of sentimentality.

I was sad when the handle broke off and I tried to glue it back on. But the break wasn't a clean one so I turned that side to the wall and tried to ignore it.

The teapot still worked, you just had to be careful in case the glue didn't hold. It was pretty though, and had all that history. Everyone still admired it, imperfections and all.

It suffered a short drop last summer and the spout cracked off, evenly enough to glue back together but no longer functional for holding tea. All that history though. All those memories of comfort. All of the good stuff it had made. I couldn't bear to part with it -- it was beautiful. It had worked hard through the years. It deserved to be mended and displayed again, not everything has to work as intended. It was fine.

And then came the crash. The teapot fell off of a shelf, obviously because it was a little wobbly in its shoddily repaired state...a long, hard drop onto a tiled floor. The shatter was loud, in a room full of people, strangers and friends who were startled by its sudden tipping. They stifled their gasps politely and then either avoided my gaze or gingerly offered to help sweep up the pieces, while I tilted my chin up and tried not to cry.

It's fine, I promised, it was already a little broken anyway. I will tidy this right up, go about your business.

I looked again then and realized that it wasn't even a teapot. It was just pieces of something that once was, and it couldn't hold the tea or sit on a shelf or even accurately represent the memory of what it used to be anymore. It would bring me more peace to part with the pieces than to face the pile, and that was the only way I might be able to remember the pretty teapot with fondness for all it had been instead of regret for what it could no longer do.

Sometimes you have to let go of something in order for it to be honored and remembered in the way that it deserves, even if the sweeping up is difficult.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Breaking News

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Ernest Hemingway said that or something like it, or at least that's what the internet claims.

And for a long time that's what I did here. This was fun and this was journaling my life but this was therapy, too. It's hard to explain but the sitting down and bleeding is where it's really at with writing; I write all day long some days, content marketing pieces and catalog blurbs and other people's bios, without feeling like I've written anything at all.

It's the emotional release. The letting the blood of your feelings drip onto (what is now virtual) paper, like how medieval physicians drained bad humors through blood letting. It doesn't actually help at all, but it allows me to feel like I've done something and relieves me of a few ounces of emotion.

The surprising part about this particular medium is that other people stop to look at the wound, and often share the scar they have from a similar one, or a story about how they're bandaged up in the same way right now, or sometimes they just say, "Well, you do bleed beautifully, though," or they email me and tell me their innermost fears and secrets and dreams and I think, "Oh my god, me too, me too, and we'll be okay."

Hemingway needed some of that in his own life probably.

And then, as with all good things, it got complicated. The blog got popular. Work nudged me to do it under my own name. Local people began recognizing me from my newspaper column. The kids got older. The stories I wanted to tell weren't always my own.

So I slipped into the funny girl role, my mask online and off, when I can muster the energy to show up at all. Just a little louder, a little sillier, a little "no, not at me, look over there" instead. The autopilot, non-authentic, neutral while over-the-top, less conflicted or confrontational me with a hint of self-deprecating darkness.

Boring as fuck. Sorry about her.

There's this thing about motherhood -- womanhood? -- life? I don't know since I'm all of those things. But this thing where you're constantly giving stuff up for the sake of others. Little things like the last cookie and big things like small dreams. I'm down with that, that's the work and that's the job, but there's a realization that I've given up my voice and some of my part in my own story and I don't really know that it's a necessary sacrifice.

So. Breaking news. I'm a human being. A seriously flawed one, from the evidence I've been gathering. I guess the fear is that my children or reputation will somehow be tarnished if I'm honest about the extent of that (let's pretend we don't have years where I've already revealed it for the sake of this conversation, okay?) or maybe no one will love me.

That's pretty dumb though. So I'm going to just get that out of the way now -- I suck at all kinds of stuff. Even more lately. Like, you'd think I'd just get better and better at everything but that's not the case at all. I mean, I don't think I've played it off like I'm the non-prison version of Martha Stewart or anything and I think I admit that I suck often enough for you to believe it, but I just want a full on disclaimer from this point on that anything I say or do should not reflect badly on anyone else.

Unless I specifically tell you that person is at fault/to be blamed. Then you do it without question because whose friend are you anyway?

Anyway. That was a long and convoluted intro to announce the separation of my marriage. And writing about it right now is a dick move because I haven't even told some of our closest friends and don't know which family members know.

I am unable to communicate, really. But I need to bleed. Please don't take it personally. I probably would, but I'm asking you not to.

After 19 years of being together, I am working on finding a new way in the world. It is utterly, hilariously, horrifically, exhaustingly, chaotically, mathematically impossible in a way that makes me laugh, cry, shrug, shriek, sob, scheme and sigh all day long. From SWAT teams showing up next door at 2am, to frozen pizzas melting onto the oven heating element, to flu and pink eye and co-pays and failed job interviews, learning the pool pump and investigating the water heater and remembering trash day and wondering how grills work. The other night I had a headache and stayed awake until 3am wondering if the cats would start eating me before the kids woke up if I died overnight.

I challenge the children to rap battles and dance offs in the kitchen and then go cry on the bathroom rug while praying to a God I'm really reluctant to believe in. I help with homework I don't understand at the exact same time I'm sending out my constantly revised resume, while the frozen pizza is melting onto the oven element. I burn all the food, all the time. I have way too many cats and I could not live without them. I bought myself gummy bears the other night and lost a crown on the third one in. I also lost 10 pounds, which should be great but my clothes don't fit and motherfuckers keep telling me to eat a sandwich.

Don't tell people to eat a sandwich, maybe just make them a sandwich.

My personal mantra went from "You are strong. You are smart. You are sweet" (all things I don't quite believe) to "Just keep swimming" to "You're not dying" (and sometimes that fact makes me mad).

I mourn my marriage and fear my future.

AND IT'S FINE. I'M FINE.

That's the crazy part. I have literally no reason to have any hope at all, and I'm still dumb enough to do it. It's amazing.

I'm so human and that's so wonderful, even in the moments I wish it would stop.  Life is an incredible mess, and I mean incredible in the good sense of the word. It's fine. It really is.

One day it will be.

So. That's where we are right now. I don't know where we're going. There's an excellent chance we might burn the house down while trying to get there. People may starve along the way. I could end up homeless, which would be an exciting plot twist as long as I had wifi. Our journey will be more Oregon Trail and less Eat. Pray. Love.

Eat. Pray. Love was some bullshit anyway.

But I might need to bleed all over the place while we work this out and I need the world to know that I need you right now even if I'm still laughing too loudly sometimes. Thank you in advance for loving me anyway.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Random Acts of Compliments

Tonight little kid and I were sitting in front of the television eating a picnic of Chinese food when he reached over and rubbed my back, "I just want to let you know that you are beautiful when you're driving."

I laughed. "Yeah? When I'm driving?"

"Yes. You're all graceful and stuff, like you know what to do."

(I do not know what to do. I've handed my keys to a stranger and asked them to parallel park for me. More than once. I probably shouldn't be allowed to drive, actually.)

"Well...thanks."

"I was just thinking that earlier and thought you should know."

Please everyone in the world be more like this kid.

Not just in the tell-me-I'm-beautiful way (but that too, thanks) -- on the constant lookout for the best of people in the smallest of ways, and generous about sharing it with them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Play That Song

As we were driving to school this morning, I mentioned to little kid that we hadn't heard a song we both really liked in a while. He excitedly said he had just been thinking of the same song earlier in the shower, and agreed it wasn't being played as often and promised to play it for me later (he is both house DJ and barista, and honored to play both parts).

The song is "Play That Song" by Train which is a real nightmare for Siri to work out, so it remained unplayed as we drove.

As I pulled into the school pick-up line, he said, "I love you, mom," and paused before adding, "a lot," in a sweet and serious tone. "I hope you have a really good day, like the kind of day where you hear our song."

I was already feeling overwhelmed with wonder about what an incredible kid he is as he was hopping out of the car, and then just as he closed the door, the song came on the radio.

Magic.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mom's Mad

I am sick with a sore throat and a fever, after a long weekend of taking to the streets with millions of other women and mothers to give Donald Trump the "Knock it off or I will take your ass outside for a talk so damn fast" mom look on a global level.

And I had a delirious dream that I walked into the White House and it looked like a college party had just taken place. I followed the detritus to the Oval Office where I found our president sitting at his desk with an empty chip bag, the floor covered in potato chip crumbs that had been spilled and crushed into the carpet.

"This is the EXACT kind of thing I knew was going to happen! You have been here for ONE day -- ONE DAY -- and this place is trashed. How hard is it not to spill the chips? Or to clean them up when you do? Who do you think is going to get all of this out of the carpet now? Huh? You? Not you. You know it won't be you. You live like a freaking pig and who has to deal with it? The rest of us. It's disgusting and you should be ashamed, you're like a spoiled child who cares about no one but himself."

I don't remember his reaction to this scolding, just my strained mom voice and utter disgust about the trail of chips. I knew they wouldn't vacuum up easily and I wasn't cleaning up his mess.

I told Big Kid about it on the drive to school. "That's funny and something the both of you would do -- him spilling chips everywhere, and you yelling at him for it. He has really messed up making moms mad, that's a group you don't want to fight. They don't forget and talking back will just make it worse."

Yep. Clean up the crumbs, Trump, or we won't let you play with Putin anymore.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Grapes on a Plane

So, today is the coronation of our new dictator.

I'm not happy about it, and as a result, I'm not happy with people in general. Add rushed airport travel into that general demeanor and I just wanted the whole rest of the world to go away as I sat in the O'Hare airport two full hours before my flight yesterday, bored to tears and ready to snap the neck of the next motherfucker who snapped their gum.

Just lovely and charming all around, I'll admit it. Being frisked twice in 24 hours will do that to you.

I had moved seats four times in the search of a more comfortable spot, before acquiring a highly coveted end row seat with a small table attached, with an empty seat beside it where I deposited my bags, creating my own personal moat to keep people at bay.

I was reading and some guy lumbered up, approaching the seat beside the one my bags were in. In a moment of softness, I emptied the chair between us in case a companion was joining him.

He set his grapes and water on it. I gave it a sideways glance and returned to my book.

"Thanks so much for making room for me," he said, too loudly.

"Not a problem. Always a long day in places like this," I said, barely looking up.

"I'll share my grapes since you shared your space."

I looked into the container his germy hands were in and looked up at him to politely decline.

He was older, maybe mid-60s, and his face was badly scarred, like it had been cut off and sewn back on. He was smiling broadly and obviously eager to talk. He reminded me of my dad. I set down my book and asked where he was going.

He told me about his youngest son who had just become a doctor and moved out to Phoenix. It's too hot for him in Phoenix but he's so proud of his boy and his new wife that he goes as often as possible.

I told him that I was there for a job interview and that it was too cold for me in Chicago and he agreed, despite living there his whole life, and we talked about Florida and how he dreams of retiring there -- "although I'll never be able to actually retire," he clarified. Same, I said.

I described our beaches and he grilled me about the humidity and the differences between coasts. We talked about our favorite beaches around the world and the places we had traveled and what we loved about each.

He did something in sales involving waste management that was becoming obsolete due to government contracts and I joked that it sounded like the Sopranos and he laughed a big belly laugh and said, yes, not far off but less glamorous and asked what I did. "I'm a writer specializing in content marketing," I explained. He shook his head and said he doesn't do computers but he could tell I liked my work by how I smiled when I said that, and he bet I was good at it, whatever it was.

About half an hour into our conversation, he said, "You know, this is nice. No one ever wants to talk. Everyone's on their little computers all the time. Seems like the only strangers who want to talk are the ones who want something."

He clarified that he wasn't hitting on me and I assured him that I knew and was very taken anyway, and that I was enjoying his company too.

"You sure you don't want some grapes? We got an awful long time left."

I took some grapes, mostly because he really wanted me to and also because I was hungry.

He told me how he was in Vegas and a guy approached him while he was playing a machine, and gave him a sob story. "I'll give you 20 bucks to go away, I told him. Don't come back. And I looked down and won $27,000. He came back."

"NO WAY! It was karma!"

He scoffed. "It wasn't. I wanted to get rid of him. I give lots of people $20 to go away."

"Would you give me $20 to go away?"

"No, because I don't want you to go away. I'd give ya $20 if you need it though. Do you?" He asked with concern and I laughed and assured him that I didn't, just checking.

We ate more grapes.

"So what did you do with the $27,000?" I asked. "Save it or spend it on something big?"

"If I was the kinda guy to save it, would I be flying Spirit?" Probably not, I agreed.

He told me about his past as a bookie, and how you had to call a dedicated number and all of the guys' code names like Joey Monkey Nuts and Billy Ball Buster. About how the internet had ruined it all, and that's one of the many reasons he hates computers. Then he hastily added, "Sorry, I know it's your work and all," as if I might take that personally.

"I get it," I said. "And sounds like Goodfellas or something."

He laughed again and nodded. "But less glamorous." He added. "It's all fun and games until you owe someone meaner than you lots of money." I told him that I've had that same experience myself, on a much less glamorous level.

"Yeah, life ain't easy, is it? You're a good girl, though, you've got a good head on your shoulders. You'll do alright."

We were on separate flights and mine left first. I stood up to leave and he told me his name was Randy and asked for mine. I extended my hand and introduced myself.

"Ashley, I hope this isn't creepy but I'm gonna miss you these next 15 minutes while I wait. Have a good life and when I don't retire in Florida, I'll swing by Naples."

"I'll miss you too. This was nice. Come golf and enjoy the warmth."

I'm glad he made me put down my drawbridge so he could set his grapes there.

No matter who is in charge or what is happening on a grand scale, there are millions and millions of nice people who are genuine and kind just like Randy and my job is find them and love them, even if they're kind of annoying at first.

Let's all be the kind of people who would share our grapes and our lives at the airport.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Invisible Intruder

My mornings are normally like something out of a scene from the movie Groundhog Day.

little kid comes in to snuggle me, he starts getting ready, I have coffee, Mr. Ashley wakes Big Kid up, he gets himself ready as I drive little kid to school, I come home and get Big Kid and drive almost the same route I just drove to drop him off at his school and return home the same way.

I'm leaving town tomorrow and my brain was full of to-do lists so I started my morning productively, packing and gathering what I needed instead of waiting until even more last minute than I already had. I did some laundry, cleaned the house, and was doing stuff in my bathroom when I heard footsteps.

I knew I was home alone. I also knew no one had opened any of the doors. I froze for a moment to see if it was the cats and my overactive imagination and the footsteps continued to approach.

My heart hammered in my chest and I looked for my phone which was out on the bed, which would put me in line of sight of where I thought the footsteps were. Someone must have come in the unlocked house when I was dropping the kids off and was now waiting for me, and I was trapped and defenseless.

Once in Key West a stranger cornered me while I was alone in a bathroom stall and flashed me, with the intent to do more. In my trapped panic, I charged straight towards him and pushed by him -- laughing hysterically, which I guess was a weird and convenient side effect of my shocked terror since it wasn't funny but it definitely is now -- and he was so taken aback that he flinched a little, allowing my escape.

So the plan was to scream like a maniac, hoping the grandpa next door would hear and come to my rescue, and charge this motherfucker in a flurry of fists and fingernails and feet.

The footsteps paused at the threshold of my room and my blood was roaring in my veins and I took a deep breath and leaned forward on my toes -- and saw a sleepy and confused Big Kid.

Mr. Ashley never woke him up and my brain forgot the second part of my trip.

"Oh my God. You just scared the crap out of me, I almost attacked you."

"What's going on?"

"I forgot about you."

"That's reassuring."

"You're telling me."

Much to his dismay, I made him get ready and go to school anyway. As we pulled up, I offered to go inside and explain why he was tardy.

"What would you say?"

"That I forgot I had two kids today and I'm sorry."

"No, that's okay, I'll just tell them I overslept."

Then I had to call my husband and explain.

"What the hell, Ashley?"

"Can't we just all be thankful that I didn't punch him in the face?"

But no, I guess not.

"There was a change in routine! This is how babies get left in cars, at least he was at home in bed."

"Well, and he's 13, I mean, even if you left him in the car..."

"Right. This isn't really a problem at all. Glad we agree."

Parent of the year right here. And by year I mean decade. Plus three years. And those 10 months of pregnancy.

It's a lot to remember, guys.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Notes for their Therapist

Last night Big Kid wandered into my room holding his toothbrush and came over for a hug.

"Goodnight hug before teeth brushing?" I asked, since this is not the order the nighttime routine goes.

"Nope. Two hugs," he answered. "If that's okay," he quickly added.

"Uh, yeah, that's okay. I'm like the Oprah Winfrey of hugs -- YOU get a hug, and YOU get a hug, and YOU ALL GET HUGS!!"

"Mmkay. You're not like Oprah though."

"Actually, I am. I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want it to go to your heads, but I am actually Oprah Winfrey."

They stared back at me, unamused and unaffected because they've been raised with this bullshit.

"But you're not."

"Prove it."

"Prove that you are."

"Well, have you ever seen Oprah and I in the same room?"

"No. But I've seen Oprah fully dressed in front of a live studio audience while you were sitting on that couch in your stretch pants."

"Yeah, that's pre-recorded though. I do that while you're in school. And these are yoga pants, I'm an athlete."

"Alright. There's the fact that you're not rich."

"I'm humble. Modest. Classy about it."

"Okay. Well, I think the main issue is with you not being black."

"Prove that I'm not."

"Mom."

"It's a state of mind, really. And stage lighting is tricky to get right."

"Okay, well, you're not Oprah."

"I am."

"I'll skip the second hug."

"You still have to pay taxes on that first one, though."