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The Explosion

Warning: This story highlights child abuse

I write a lot about my father on this blog. It’s not that I don’t love my mother or that things didn’t happen with her; there were moments. But she was more predictable. Mom worked a lot, took care of us, and then would over indulge a bit with the beer. Life with her was generally pretty straightforward and uneventful with a handful of exceptions.

My dad, on the other hand, was different. While he has NEVER been diagnosed with a mental illness, being that he exhibits certain symptoms and behaviors and has mental illness in his family (including 2 of this brothers) I’ve always speculated at his issue. The consensus between me, my therapists and genetics would all strongly suggest bipolar disorder. Some days he was gentle and some days he lived to destroy (see The Blue Apartments). You never knew which one until it was too late.

He could sit on the floor with us for hours and play, or walk in the woods with us, showing us all kinds of neat little things we would have missed on our own. He would swim in Lake Michigan with us, go on bike rides, and let us help in the garage all with a childlike amazement all his own.

Or he would come home furious and silent with a low growl building into a roar. He would scream at us and hit us for things like getting hurt, he would fight with my mother and break as many things as he could. He would pack up all of our toys and take them to Salvation Army, or slash my mom’s bike tires so she couldn’t ride with us.

I don’t mean this as any kind of smear campaign against him. Anyone who loves someone with a mental illness can tell you that it’s difficult, but you still love that person.

But sometimes, this is how it was.

My brother and I had spent the night at our grandparents’ house. We did that about maybe once a week, if that often. It didn’t seem like we were there a lot. We came home and my dad was sitting alone on the couch, watching TV. He said my mom was at work.

“That kid from next door was over here looking for you,” he said, looking away from the TV and glancing at us, “I think he’s got a new toy he wants to show you.”

“Can we go over there and look?” I asked.

“You just got home,” he said.

“We don’t want to stay long, we just want to see what he has. We’ll be back in a little bit.” My brother answered.

“Ok, fine,” he sighed, “but don’t stay too long.”

Now in our family dictionary, too long would have meant more than an hour. Normally, he would have come out and yelled for us or whistled. These things did not happen. About 20 minutes later, a furious version of our father showed up at their house.
Our friend’s mom came and asked us if we came over without asking. We looked at her as if she were crazy and told her we had permission.

She looked worried and said “you’re dad’s here and he seems very mad.”

We looked at each other puzzled and went to the front door to find my dad tensed up enough to snap, snarling at us through clenched teeth.

“Where the hell were you?” he growled.

I was so confused, I didn’t know what was going on. Something was off.

“We’ve been here the whole time. You knew we were here, we just got here,” I argued.

“I’ve been out here yelling for you and whistling for you forever!” he shouted.

I didn’t believe him for a second, I didn’t know what was going on. The neighbor defended us.

“They just got here, they were looking at toys, they’ve been here the whole time…” she pleaded.

“You just shut the hell up! I don’t tell you what to do with your damn kids! You two see what you started, now you’ve got me fighting with the neighbors, get the hell in the house!”

Now I was terrified. She had made it worse. I had no idea what was going to happen. We scurried home and went inside. He started to yell at us and there was a knock on the door. It was the husband from next door.

My father slung the door open and barked, “what do you want?”

The neighbor had his shirt off. He was wiry and cut, sinewy and obviously strong. He didn’t seem like a stable individual and definitely looked like he could throw a punch. He was in somewhat of a rage over what my dad had just said to his wife. I was wondering how this could get any worse. And then it did.

“What the hell is your problem, coming over to my house talking to my wife like that? Do you need me to help you with your attitude? I don’t like you talking to my wife that way. And your kids didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t know what your problem is.”

“These are my damn kids and that’s none of your business!” He shouted, “Why don’t you tell your fat wife to mind her damn business too!”

All I could think was “oh my God, please don’t fight him dad, he will kill you, please don’t fight him”
They screamed at each other through the screen door for a few minutes before my dad slammed the door in his face. My dad looked at us and insisted this was all our fault. Look at what we had done, we had caused so much trouble.

We had no idea what was going on. I kept asking what happened, why he was so mad, but he wouldn’t answer.

He grabbed us by our wrists, one in each hand and dragged us back to the bedrooms. I went to go in our bedroom with my brother but he snatched me away and threw me across the hall into their room.

He rushed into the room and threw me on the bed. He grabbed his belt and with one hand held me still and with the other he whipped me with the leather belt folded in half. I don’t know how many times I was hit, I just know I screamed and wailed and tried to get away.

When he felt he was done, after a few minutes, he marched out of the room and walked down the hallway. I thought I had taken the brunt of the frustration and now hopefully my brother wouldn’t get it too bad. But I was wrong.

He came back with a fiberglass tent stick, the kind that connect together to support the spine of the tent. It had a metal farrell at one end that he held like a handle. I saw it and I panicked.

I ran towards the door “what are you gonna do? No, what are you gonna do?”

He looked at me with pure rage and growled at me to get back on the bed. I didn’t know what to do. Do I go in there and save him? Do I say something? Take the beating for him? He’d be mad at me if I got hit trying to help him. We were supposed to be a team in this, but my poor little brain didn’t know what to do here.

My dad told him to lay on his stomach. The stick cut through the air and struck him with a terrifying smack. He screamed out in pain. It sounded like my father was whipping a horse, except for the sound of a young boy crying out.

I carefully called out “No, dad, daddy, don’t!” wanting to help but not wanting to get them both angry with me.

After a minute or two, my father came out of the room, looking as though he had some relief. He threw the tent stick down and told us to stay in our separate rooms and not tell our mother what had happened. My brother quietly sobbed in the other room. I couldn’t see him. I called out to him, and in a small, broken voice he said “just shut up, Jessie.”

We stayed to ourselves quietly crying in our separate rooms until my mom came home.

In that one moment, so much brokenness and pain were locked away like horrible secrets. That moment changed us and our bond forever.

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How to Not Comfort a Child

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, and part of that is because I have had much going on (moving, family get-togethers, a funeral) and also partly because the only things I could think to write were very heavy stories, and I didn’t feel right about it.

But I did manage to dig around in my head and find something lighthearted.

During my childhood, we spent much time at a particular forest preserve on Lake Michigan. We had visited many times over the years, and the place was very precious to us as we became so familiar with the paths and landmarks and animals, it felt like another home. My father and I were (and still are) outdoorsy; we need our time in green space to re-center and rebalance ourselves.

However, we had people around us who were not outdoorsy.

My father had married someone who I liked very much. She had three children of her own and the 4 of them were very much city mice. My father and I were country mice.

He had an unusual logic of the circle of life that I had come to understand. But I also understood that not everyone share the same logic.

My dad took all of us kids down by the lake one day to look at the closed down resort in the forest preserve. The resort hadn’t been open since the fire (see The Smallest Hope) and that was years before. It was abandoned.

We walked around to the side of the resort facing the lake. It was a wall of windows. We peered in to see the ballrooms with peeling wallpaper, falling ceiling tiles and cobwebs. I remembered going to a Christmas party for the employees when my mom worked there and getting a cheap doll, but being excited to get something.

We talked about the fire and after we had poked around for a bit, my dad said it was time to go. We started to walk away, and as we walked, a bird sailed right in front of us and slammed into the window. He bounced off and flittered, tweeting frantically for a second, and then he stopped.

I closed my eyes “oh, crap” I thought. I knew this wouldn’t go over well, and I didn’t know what to say to fix it.

My sister, who was maybe 8 or 9 at the time, sat silent for a second and then began to sniffle.

“He died” she quietly sobbed.

“Don’t worry,” said my dad, instantly causing me to worry, “he’ll be food for a raccoon or something.”

I facepalmed.
My sister tilted her head back and let out a howl. She had absolutely lost it; that was not at all what she wanted to hear. She wanted someone to tell her about birdie heaven and froo froo stuff. Things my dad did not specialize in.

My dad laughed and said “what, that’s good, right? He serves a purpose.”

“You can’t tell normal people that stuff, dad,” I sighed, rolling my eyes, “that does NOT help!”

“What? Well I don’t know! All right, let’s get out of here,” he said, herding us kids to the car, my sister sniffling and wailing all the way.

My dad has always had a knack for saying pretty much exactly what you should not say to someone who is distressed. He’s not much of a comforter.

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Dad Shelter in the Storm

When I was very young, I had already had a few traumatic experiences, and they were having an effect on me already. I was quiet and withdrawn. I could silently play for hours. When I played with other kids, I was loud, sometimes unstable, and would occasionally explode.
At home, I would have nightmares and night terrors. I didn’t sleep well and frequently ended up in my parent’s bed in the middle of the night.
One night there was a thunderstorm. Normally, when we had bad storms, my parents would play loud music and we would all dance. I would sing and play air guitar and dance on the couch and the table. It conditioned me to not be afraid of storms.
But this storm was very loud and intense. I quietly walked into my parent’s room, eyes wide open in the dark to see if they were awake.
“Are you sleeping?” I whispered.
My dad turned and looked at me and whispered “that’s a mean storm out there, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s loud and I can’t sleep, it keeps making me jump.”
“I can’t sleep either, let’s watch the lightning”
He moved down to the corner foot of the bed and moved the curtain back. I walked over to peer out the window, and he put his arm around me and held my tiny body close.
The rain was coming down in sheets, you almost couldn’t see out the window. Across the street from us was a huge Victorian house. It was beautiful and looked like a little mansion. During the day it was French blue with white trim, but in the dark it looked like a small Transylvanian castle. Lightning flashed wildly all around, making it look like a scene from a movie.
“Woah, that’s cool, huh?” my dad whispered, giving me a little squeeze.
“That house looks like a haunted house, like a witch lives there!” I whispered in amazement
We sat together, watching the storm in the dark, quietly talking for a while. I loved that moment. I didn’t want to go to bed, I just wanted to stay there for a while. Eventually I climbed into bed between them and drifted off to sleep.
There were these quiet little moments with my dad where everything was calm and it felt like we were exploring things. It was like whatever was happening was just for us.
I think that’s the magic of the father-daughter relationship.

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The Morning Squeeze

I’ve mentioned before that my mom and stepdad are somewhat of an odd couple (see Stepdad at the Museum). My stepdad was a truck driver for a family business, and was very much trade minded. He knows a lot about trucks, construction and driving. He used to drive 18 wheel dump trucks, which it turns out, is bad for your health. You know, like most trades. Make decent money, but it trashes your body.

Shortly after we moved in with him, my little tiny mom got pregnant. My mom is about 5’2”, and at the time was probably all of about 110lbs, soaking wet. She’s always just been petite. During her pregnancy, she just looked like a little tiny blonde woman with a watermelon under her shirt. She didn’t really gain any weight and took forever to show.

My stepdad had a lot of really ridiculous habits in the morning. He would sing loudly, walk all over the house with his knee snapping and cracking so loud it echoed in the stairwell, and he could never find his clothes. Every morning, every single morning he would yell “Tamela, where’s my pants? I can’t find any pants!”

Every single morning my mom would yell that he was an idiot and they were in the same place as the day before.

I think this is why I’m not a morning person. I was just nuts every day.

One morning he came downstairs and yelled that my mom had shrunk his sweatshirt. He walked into the kitchen in a skin tight, hot pink sweatshirt and we almost fell over laughing.

“What’s so damn funny? You shrunk my shirt!” he yelled.

“No you idiot!” my mom yelled back, “That’s my shirt! It’s pink ya moron!”

Once he realized that yes, it was pink, he laughed a little at himself and changed.

He also had a habit of having really awful acid reflux, and would walk around gagging, nearly throwing up on himself, every morning. Just loud, forceful, gaggy coughs, over and over. If anything gross happened, it got even worse and he’d have to quickly walk away.

It was warm out, and I was getting ready for school. I sat at the table eating cereal while he went outside to start his motorcycle. I heard it start and thought we’d have a quiet moment. My mom was by the sink and we were having normal, quiet conversation (we didn’t get many, the house was packed and it was always crazy in there). It was the moment every morning I looked forward to.

My stepdad busted in the door, shoulders tensed, panic on his face. He was gasping for air and walking on his tip-toes. His whole body was desperate for breath, but couldn’t get it.

I was just confused. It was early in the morning and this made no sense to me. I had absolutely no idea what the heck was happening. I stared in amazement and confusion.

My mother flailed her arms and got on her tip-toes.

“Randy! Oh God he’s choking! He’s choking!” she shouted. “Come here!”
He bent over the sink but nothing came out. My very pregnant, watermelon-bellied mother wrapped her arms around him to give him the Heimlich. She thrusted into his gut and nothing happened. She tried again, harder and harder. She was lifting him off the floor. He was almost a foot taller than her, and here she was, ready to pop, picking him up off the floor.

After the third thrust, he gave a mighty hack, and whatever had choked him flew into the sink.

“Holy crap!” he mused, turning to look at us, “I can’t believe that just happened!”

He explained that the fumes from his bike got to him as he was bending over for something, and that particular gag was productive. He ran into the house right away, which is good because it might have ended badly if he didn’t.

My mom laughed, she thought it was all amusing. My stepdad left for work and I sat there, jaw on the table. I wasn’t sure what had just happened.

It was a “what did I just see” moment.

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Being the Messenger

For some reason, and I’m not sure when or how it started, but I’ve always been the person in the family that everyone calls when things go wrong. I’ll get the phone call when someone is in the hospital, that I am the liaison for the rest of the family to go check on that person. When someone has something emotionally traumatic happen, they call me to help sort it out. Whenever there was some kind of mess, I get called in as the clean-up crew. It’s been that way for a very long time, I’m sure longer than I even realize.

I moved out of the house when I was 17. I lived closest to my grandma out of anyone, so I had been charged with her care. I would go visit, make sure she was eating, that she had food in her fridge, get her out for a bit, things like that. It was also my job to go to my uncle’s house and get her mail. She still had most of it delivered to a house she had not lived at in years that was 30 minutes away, and much too far for her to drive.

She was mentally ill (more on that in Goodbye Granny), and for a few months every year, she would be hyper-manic. She wouldn’t sleep; she would become delusional and would sometimes hallucinate. It was also my job to try to talk her back to reality when she started to head in this direction.

We were coming into one of her manic seasons. I was getting phone calls and spending hours trying to explain that the government can’t see you through your TV, and fun topics like that. She had called me and told me that she should have a social security check in the mail at my uncle’s house and asked me to go get it.

My uncle had some issues at this time. He owned a bar, and along with that bar came some “bar habits”. Things were getting expensive and he was not managing money well. We all knew what was going on, but we didn’t say anything. We should have, he had 2 children and my saintly aunt to look after, but we all let it go.

I stopped over to get the mail for delivery. I walked in like I owned the place (since I used to live there) and called out.

“Hey, it’s Jessie, you got Granny’s mail?” I said loudly to the empty rooms.

My uncle came out of the den, seeming a little nervous, “hey Jess, yeah it’s right over here.” He walked into the kitchen, rubbing his hands on the legs of his jeans and handed me a stack of mail.

“She said she has no money and there should be a check in here” I said offhand, flipping through the envelopes.

“Yeah, I know,” he said shyly, “I had to spend it.”

I was infuriated. I looked at him like I was ready to punch him right in the face. Now his habits were literally costing an elderly mental ill woman and I was going to have to try to tell her somehow.

“She doesn’t have any money!” I shouted “What the hell is she supposed to do? She’s been waiting on that check! I don’t have anything to give her!”

“I know Jessie, I’m sorry” he said, looking sad and then looking down.

“When can you give her money? She needs food! What am I supposed to tell her?” I yelled.

“I don’t know, I’m sorry. I don’t know when I’ll have money. I’m sorry.”

I was sick to my stomach. I stormed out and then I was devastated. What was I going to say? How could I tell her this when she was slipping into another episode? Would this make her worse? How was she going to eat?

My mind raced and my head pounded. I was nervous and sick. I was disgusted with my uncle. I had looked up to him and loved him so much, like a second father, and now I couldn’t stand the sight of him.

The drive seemed endless. When I finally arrived, I took a minute to get myself together and figure out how I was going to handle this. I was only 17; I didn’t have the maturity to navigate this situation. I had just been thrown to the wolves. I decided to play dumb. She was always protecting my uncle; maybe she wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

I walked in and handed her the mail.

“I can’t stay long Granny, I have stuff to do”

“Ok, well sit down a minute. Is my check in here? I need my money.” She said, flipping through her mail.

“I don’t know, I didn’t look. I just grabbed it and left” I replied quietly.

She slowly looked up, with a look of shock and disbelief, “My check isn’t in here Jessie, is this all the mail?”

“Yes, that’s all they had.”

“Where is my check? I don’t have any money?” she looked devastated. There was the wide-eyed, far away look of mania and now the look of fear and tears in her eyes.

“I don’t know, it’s not in there?”

She knew that I knew the check wasn’t in there, but I still pretended.

“Where is it, Jessie?”

“You’ll have to call over to him and ask where it is, maybe he lost it”

She knew that wasn’t true.

“Where is it?” she whispered, sitting down, looking lost.

“I don’t’ know Granny, you have to call him and ask. I’m sorry, I don’t know where it is. I have to go.”

I got up, gave her a quick hug and left as fast as I could. She had no options. That was all the money she had and now it was gone because someone else was stupid with their own money.

The look on her face stuck with me. I cried all the way home. I was mad at my uncle and mad at my mom that they left me, a 17 year old to deal with this. I didn’t have the life experience to handle any of this and felt it was unfair.

When I got home, I called my mom and told her what happened. I blurted out “I’m not dealing with this anymore, you guys figure it out”

I didn’t go check on her, bring her the mail or take her out anymore. I would visit sometimes, but it wasn’t the same.

I didn’t talk to my uncle again for over 4 years.

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Hungry

If you’ve read my blog before, you may be familiar with the fact that we were not well off when I was a child. My parents were very young when they had us, my mother dropping out of high school and later getting a GED. Dad worked assorted unskilled factory or warehouse jobs and mom would occasionally work weekends as a hotel maid here and there. But in the 80’s there was a recession, and my father, the unskilled worker, was laid off when I was about 6. He would be getting some kind of unemployment benefits, but there was going to be a gap between those checks and our reality.

We had a large glass jar that was more than likely meant to be a cookie jar, and my parents used it for change. They would put their extra change or a spare dollar here and there in the jar, and around this time, the jar was full. Things would be tight for us, but we could get what we needed and pull through.

Everyone in the neighborhood lived like that, I just assumed everyone in the world lived like that. Second-hand clothes, hiding from the landlord, stealing from donation piles, garbage picking… was all normal to me. I didn’t know there was any other way.

We didn’t go out a lot, being as we definitely lived on a tight budget. Usually we just went and visited my dad’s cousin. We would play Atari, listen to loud music, play pool, they would all drink beer, young parent kind of things. We spent an evening at their house with the usual fun times and after dark, we went home.

Upon pulling into the driveway, my father was set on edge. The front door was open. My mom covered her mouth and we got very still and quiet. My dad was just fit to be tied.

“Stay in the car!” he barked, like we even needed to be told.

He went in the house and was out of sight for a few minutes. I was sick to my stomach. We didn’t even utter a word. We sat just holding our breath in my dad’s yellow S-10. I was wondering what was going on, if someone was still in there. What could have been stolen? What if they were killing my dad at that moment?

As you can see, I was a very relaxed and positive child (sarcasm).

My dad stumbled out a few minutes later without having turned on any lights.

“It looks like everything is still there, they didn’t take the TV or the stereo”

We all wandered in, bewildered. All lights were then turned on and the whole apartment was picked over. It didn’t take long to notice something that just terrified me.

Our change jar was empty.

My dad held it silently in his hand staring at my mom. He was beyond furious. He couldn’t even speak. My mom’s mouth fell open.

“What in the hell!” she gasped “what are we gonna do? Who the hell would want change?” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

He threw the empty glass jar in the garbage, absolutely disgusted.

The front door was still hanging wide open. My parents marched out without saying much. I was confused. I didn’t know who would steal from us; we didn’t have anything. Who would steal our change? Where were my parents going? Did they know something?

I ran to follow them but only to the sidewalk beyond the front porch. They knocked on our neighbor’s door, and she answered shortly.

“Where’s your damn kids” my dad growled. He just couldn’t keep it together, he was always rubbing them the wrong way.

“What the hell is your problem?” she snapped, opening the door to get ready for a confrontation.

“Our door was wide open and our money is gone. All that was taken was change. Sounds like neighborhood kids to me.”

She put her hands to her face in shock “oh my God, I was wondering where they got the money”.

“Well where they hell are they!” he shouted

“They came to me with all of this change and asked if I would take them to the roller rink,” she said, gesturing with her hands as if they were overflowing with coins. She sounded on the verge of tears.

She told us who came to her and asked for the ride with all the money, and she told us it was our friends. The kids my brother and I hung out with broke into our house and stole the only money we had. Money we were going to buy food with.

I wanted to throw up. We had been betrayed. We had no way to get food. Our cupboards were just shy of bare. They were so selfish they didn’t care and they just came and took from us. I was devastated. Silent tears rolled down my chubby cheeks.

My neighbor stood in the yard, profusely apologizing for what had been done. My mom sat silent in worry. My brother had mentally checked out somewhere else.

The next day, my brother’s best friend came over early in tears. He told my parents and my brother everything that happened between sobs and he was so sorry. I couldn’t forgive him; sorry didn’t feed us.

My friend came over and the four of us kids sat in the back of my dad’s truck. In my naïve youth, I honestly believed we were going to starve to death and nobody cared. I began to cry.

“How are we going to eat?!” I cried.

“Shut up Jessie” replied my brother. That was his answer for everything. He got up and walked off by himself.

We went to the grocery store to ask if there was anything they could do to help us, or if they knew of anything we could do. The woman behind the counter said she was sorry, but she didn’t know.

Dad was beyond frustrated. “Well come on. They can’t help us here” he said, herding us out the door. I wasn’t sure what he thought they were going to do.

My mom started calling churches and making trips to the food bank. After a day, we had things to eat. It wasn’t great but there was food. Mystery meat, broken chicken legs, powdered milk (dear God there was so much powdered milk) the huge brick of cheese, endless supplies of spaghetti-o’s and ramen noodles. Every meal came with a piece of bread with margarine on it to fill us up.

I knew we were going to be ok, I knew we would survive. But my trust had been damaged. My ability to believe in the people I thought were my friends had been shattered. I became quiet and independent and more or less just stayed that way. I know I will always make it through whatever is going on, but I don’t always know that I can count on anyone else.

Camping with Nutsy

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During my brief marriage stint, I liked to push the whole “family togetherness” agenda. I’d plan outings and trips with my ex and the kids. They hadn’t been exposed to much, and I just thought that should be improved upon.

We would do regular family stuff sometimes, like going to the water park or one of those awful arcade type places, or just out to eat for breakfast or dinner. Sometimes we would all go down to Chicago and walk around, go to the museum and pray we didn’t die during the cab ride. I exposed them to art, history, nature, volunteering, whatever I could.

They responded very well to camping. Something about having kids outside all weekend long in the warm weather just really adjusts their perspective. Temperament also. They run around, get fresh air, get sun, get dirty, all things that we as human beings really need and don’t get enough of.

Our early trips camping had our bulldogs as our guests. They were great, the never barked, never ran off, never went to the bathroom by the tents, and they were well received throughout the campgrounds. They didn’t require much, so I could focus on rounding up children and the arduous task of making a meal outside.

The last dog we owned was a pit bull. She was very sweet, and her name was Josie. She just had to be pretty much on top of you, hugging you at all times, with her face literally touching yours. She would just like snuggle up on your head. It was strange. At first it was cute, but it became clear she had some anxiety issues.

She was just like a very sweet, small version of the Craigslist Dog. Nutty and impossible to deal with, but not a threat. Just incredibly annoying.

I had planned a little long weekend outing for 4th of July weekend. We were going to a state park a few hours away that had some waterfalls and some lakes to go fishing in. We were all really looking forward to checking out a new place.

We arrive to our camp site, and it was really more or less a patch of gravel at the edge of a very large hill. The site just kind of ran over the edges. The kids were a little freaked out, but we were there and they had no other sites. So here we go.

I tie up the dog and we start unpacking the van. Maybe 20 minutes into setting up I hear “where’s the dog?”

I turn to find the smallest child holding the frayed end of an empty leash. We all turned and looked down the hill.

“Oh my god” I sighed, putting my hands to my face. I was torn between trying to find her and just letting her go. I know that sounds mean, but we were in the woods, and she was fast. Who knew how far she had gotten.

Two kids went involuntarily running down the very steep hill. You couldn’t walk it, you just had to roll with your feet and go with it. We shouted her name as we went. After about 10 minutes, she popped up, just ever so happy to be alive.

Great. Just great.

We started huffing back up the hill, me with the dog’s collar in my hand. The closer we got to the campsite, the harder she pulled, which I needed because I was more or less dying.

We get out the steel cable and tie her up with that this time and finish putting everything up. We had to run out and go get another leash that evening. But then we had dinner and settled down.

On my way back to the campsite from my evening bathroom run, I heard yelling.

“Jessie! Jessie where are you!”

I’m terrified, thinking someone is dying or the dog ate something “I’m here! What’s wrong?”

“There’s raccoons out there!!” the middle child cried. She was literally crying.

I grew up with raccoons living in our attic and eating our garbage, they were just like incredibly ornery cats. The kids didn’t have that experience, so these invaders were like masked aliens in furry pajamas.

I came running back, there were 4 of them. We were being ambushed. 2 of them had their grubby little hands in the cooler (they really almost have actual hands, it’s not right), one was in the food tent and the last was digging in the garbage. It turned into a Benny Hill episode very quickly. I’d chase off 2 and then turn around with another in the cooler or another in the food tent.

I shouted to my ex “Dammit get out here and help me!”

“I’m trying to hold the dog!”

“Let her out here, I need the help!”

I didn’t mean that, and he didn’t let her out. Eventually he put the dog with the kids, helped me chase off the bandits and put the food in the car. But they found a package of dog treats and tore it open as loudly as possible for about 15 minutes while the kids wept in fear. These were not tiny children, they were 10, 12 and 13, so I wasn’t sure why they were crying, but I just assured them that it was ok.

The next day we had rented a boat. It was a beautiful sunny day out, amazing blue sky with some puffy clouds. Not too hot but we could go swimming if we wanted. I just wanted to putt around the lake all day. I didn’t care if I swam or fished, I just wanted to relax and enjoy the water.

The dog was a hyped up ball of stress pretty much the second we got to the lake. Pulling and whining, huffing and getting all worked up. I gave her some sleepy treats and rescue drops and it didn’t do much of anything. I tried to keep her focused with a hot dog, no dice.  I decided my ex just needed to get everyone on the boat, get all settled and I’d get on there with the dog last.

The pontoon was great. We sat and talked and hit a bunch of little spots all over the lake to fish. The kids weren’t strong swimmers and the water was deep, so no one went in. We just all hung out, looking at the trees, looking at the other people doing the same thing, having a little picnic. It was great. I was so relaxed (finally) it was lovely.

I moved to the front of the boat while we chugged along at a steady speed. I had the dog’s leash in my hand for the entire ride. I didn’t trust her enough to let go. She sat next to me, then walked up by the gate at the front of the boat. The kids were petting her and making jokes about her being relaxed. Puppy was finally on vacation too! She sat and watched the water go by and we were all lounging and lazy.

Then she jumped.

Oh dear God.

She hit the water and I hung on to her leash for dear life. The kids and my ex were frozen in shock. I jumped up and couldn’t see her, she was under the boat. I had a horrible thought of our dog in the boat’s propeller.

“Stop the boat!” I shouted. My amazon-like bellow rolled across the lake. I’m sure everyone looked at us and just thought “Idiots gonna kill their dog”.

He threw the boat in reverse and I could see her paddling for her little puppy life. I tried to open the gate but couldn’t get it with one hand.

“Help me please!”

The middle child sprang into action (as was her specialty in times of crisis) she opened the gate, and I hoisted the dog up by the leash with one arm and grabbed her with the other. I got her back on the boat.

And then I collapsed into a pile of post-adrenaline nerves. I swear that dog was going to kill me. Not directly, but she would definitely give me a heart attack.

The rest of the trip was just trying to negotiate the dog’s nerves with the activities we wanted to go do. She really limited us. We found things to do without other people around, but she still got squirrelly and was difficult to deal with. I called her a “Richard” at one point in the trip. I think that’s about when I had enough.

She was a very sweet girl, she meant well, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For all her niceness she was ever the neurotic handful.

I don’t try to have dogs anymore.

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The Smallest Hope

As a child, I had been given the impression that the forest was very important. We spent lots of free time there. My dad was from upper Michigan, and he had been raised to know a lot about the woods. We would ride bikes, go for walks, take naps on the beach, have picnics in the woods, whatever we could come up with.

We lived in an area that was right by Lake Michigan and had a long corridor of preserved forest land between the water and the towns. There were lots of trails and different spots to hang out. Sometimes we would stay on trail, sometimes my dad taught me how to track or follow game trails in case I got lost in the woods (it’s not just find a deer path, please don’t use that if you’re lost).

There was a resort in the main part of the state forest area. It was near a campground, trails and a large public beach. It was our playground, and we would ride our bikes from our house to the beach and the trails and back home again.

My mom was working in housekeeping at the resort, and it seemed really fancy to me at the time. I just remember thinking it must be a fancy place, mostly because we had never stayed in a hotel and it seemed too expensive for us. In all honesty, everything was too expensive for us.

The resort was at the south end of the forest corridor. The center part, by where we lived, had been unused for years, and was just a series of blocked off bleached asphault roads that lead to the beach, next to the nuclear power plant. There were no trails, and you weren’t supposed to be there. We would camp on that beach, but not legally.

My mom really liked where she worked, and we loved visiting her there on bike rides we would take on the weekends. Things just seemed good when she had that job.

But it wasn’t meant to last.

One of the people she had worked with was a young man, about 18. He had gotten the job through a friend of his that worked there. They talked to my mom a lot and joked around. She was friends with the older boy, who had worked their originally, but the 18 year old gave her an odd feeling. She didn’t talk to him much.

He got fired for something, I want to say it was stealing, but I don’t remember for sure. He went to the resort at night, and started a fire.

They weren’t big on controlled burns back then, and the whole place went up. The resort itself sat mostly surrounded by beach and swamp, it escaped almost all damage. But over a thousand acres of woods around the resort burned.

Thick smoke choked the air for days. Everything was foggy. If you’ve ever been around a forest fire, you know how it is. The smoke just hangs out, colors the day, keeps a smell in the air.

We watched with worry and sadness as the smoke marched north. Over the course of a few days it got closer and closer to our house. Being that much of the area was dunes or swamp, it didn’t get close to our actual house. That wasn’t the concern. We were just worried there wouldn’t be anything at all left.

It got to the point where the last little patch was close enough to our house that the neighborhood kids could ride their bike down the block and watch the firefighters from a safe distance. It was nerve wracking. I felt sad and sick. I wasn’t sure my mom would have a job, or that the forest would ever recover. It was like everything just horribly changed for us.

When it came out that the teenage boy was the one who started the fire, I was furious! I was tiny, probably around 6 years old, but I just couldn’t understand how someone would be so selfish and stupid to take out their frustrations like that. It was awful and I hated him for it.

It was months before the park opened again. The resort lost so much business that they stopped paying the employees and eventually closed. My mom was in the paper with her coworkers, trying to collect their checks at the resort.

When the park finally opened back up, my dad took me down there.

“Is there anything to see? Is it all gone?” I asked sadly, trying to brace myself for whatever there was left.

“There’s gotta be somethin’ down there. Lets go look and see what it looks like.”

There wasn’t much of anything. Even months later. A thick, crunchy black carpet spread out from the trail. Trees were scorched and bare, and none of the younger trees survived. I thought it was awful. There was no way it could ever come back from this. We walked in silence. I was devastated.

“Where did the animals go?” I whispered, afraid for the answer.

“I’m sure most of them just left, they’ll be back.”

“There’s nothing for them to eat. They won’t be back.” I just wanted to cry.

As we walked, I stopped and looked down. There was a little fuzzy orange and black caterpillar inching along the crunchy ground.

I was amazed. How was he alive? Where did he come from? I pointed him out to my dad.

He poked my arm and said “See, even in all of this, there’s still life. I know it don’t look like much, but there’s hope. It’ll come back.”

If I hadn’t seen the caterpillar, I never would have believed that the woods would recover. I was new to life, what did I know? But seeing that come seemingly out of nowhere, it was almost divine. It’s been about 30 years since that little caterpillar, and I still think about it. It wasn’t the transformative nature of the caterpillar as a symbol, I was too young to grasp that. It was the simple lesson behind it all.

Even when everything is destroyed and devastated and it really looks like there’s no way back, there is always hope.

Craigslist Dog

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I’ve played a lot of roles in my life, and at one point, for several years, I was also a stepmom. I wrote a blog about it, well, until it was clear that my marriage wasn’t going to work out for me. It was a big part of my life, and it was challenging. If you have step kids of your own, you know all too well.

I spent the better part of two years just trying to be accepted as just living in the house. I don’t think I ever got more than glorified maid, and a lot of that was from my ex-husband (hence the divorce). But over time I had grown to be close with the kids and we enjoyed each other. I actually spent more time with them than either of their parents did, so it was inevitable that we’d have a trusting relationship. I came to think of them as kind of my own.

The oldest took to me pretty quickly. She was glad to have someone else there taking care of things. That hadn’t always been the case, and she was usually left to care for her younger sisters. She wanted to be just like me. It was both endearing and terrifying. I wanted more for her in life.

We had a couple English Bulldogs, and they didn’t live very long. Bulldogs are fantastic, they are just hilarious, sleepy, crazy little guys and you just fall in love with them. However, they are also the sickliest possible animal you could pick, and they both succumbed to cancer at a young age. It was heartbreaking.

When the second boy, Malcom, passed, I was alone in the house. My ex was in Florida for almost the whole month, so I had asked him to work out a schedule with his ex so I didn’t have the kids by myself all month (which I normally didn’t do, I would just take them myself and not say anything). But I had managed to get some time to myself, and then the dog became very ill, and it turned out to be liver cancer. His organs were failing and I put him down.

After a week by myself in the painfully empty house, my ex came home and so did the kids. He decided I needed a dog, so we began looking. There was a Mastiff/St. Bernard mix that I had found on Craigslist that I was interested in. We messaged the owner and made up a time to meet.

We met in a dog park and I was immediately apprehensive. He was in the last of his puppy phase, but was never really trained or made aware of his size. Worse than that, he was anxious. He ran circles around us, jumping up at us. My ex thought I was a miracle worker with dogs and that I would be able to train this one, but I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t know if I wanted him. My ex didn’t want me to be alone anymore, so he pushed, and just like all the other mistakes I made in my marriage, I listened even though I knew he was wrong.

The dog came home with us, and we were all only in the house together one more day before he went back to Florida and the kids went back to their mom’s. I worked on training him and he calmed down a bit, but when everyone came back, it was like I never made any progress.

They would ignore or forget the ways I told them to treat him or how to act. My ex insisted he sleep in the bed with us, which was a nightmare. Yeah, me, a 100lb dog and a 6’4” 300lb man in a full size bed. Deeee-lightful.

So the dog kind of became a jerk. And after a while, I quit trying so hard. I was too tired trying to work, take care of kids, a house, the dog, the car… life in general to be able to counter everyone’s awful training. I just hoped he grew out of it when he was done puppy-ing.

It didn’t happen. After months of training, vet visits, muzzles, hiring a dog trainer, drops to calm him down, hours of walks and playtime, nothing worked for this dog. I just let it go. We would go camping and he’d just be a giant jerk the whole time. Barking, wrapping us all up in his leash or tie cable (yep, steel cable) chasing nothing, knocking things over, and just being loud and obnoxious when we were trying to fish. He was exhausting.

After summer was almost over, I was in bed on my computer one day. The oldest stepdaughter had been out with some friends, so she came downstairs to tell me about her day. The dog was lying down next to me. When she was talking to me, her bracelet made a reflection on the wall and he sat up and waited for it to happen again. We laughed a little and she kept talking and put her hand on his back, and for a few minutes, he didn’t move or make a sound.

Then he exploded.

He barked and growled and lunged at her face with his jaws wide open. It looked like he had her face in his mouth. He was still growling viscously and not wanting to let go. It seemed like it went on forever. She screamed and swatted at him and tried to get away. Even though it was only a split second before my hand made contact, I swear it was like he’d been mauling her face for minutes. I was horrified.

As soon as I smacked him and started yelling, he stopped immediately and jumped off the bed. She ran into the bathroom crying. I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him upstairs. I thought for sure he just destroyed her face. I was terrified and sick, and ready to take the dog out behind the shed myself.

I put him in his crate and ran back downstairs to get to her as fast as I could. I was positive she’d have her cheek hanging off her face. I expected the absolute worst. Adrenaline coursed through me, and I was so nauseous. I ran to the bathroom and her sister was in there hugging her.

“Let me see” I said, preparing myself for a hospital trip.

She turned around, tear stained face, just a bump on her cheek about the size of two quarters. She was a little bruised, but no blood, all intact.

I grew weak and almost lost my footing. I grabbed the wall to hold me up.

“Oh my God!” I shouted, “I thought you weren’t going to have a face!”

She looked in the mirror, tenderly poking the puffy spot, “it’s not that bad Jessie. I hope it doesn’t get worse, picture day is next week.”

I told them to go get her an ice pack for her face while I reassembled myself on the edge of the bed. Holy crap, how awful! The dog has to go!

My ex came home and we told him about our excitement, and then I let him know we were getting rid of the dog the next day. I wasn’t asking, I was telling. I couldn’t handle nutsy in the house with the kids while I was at work. This experiment was over, I was done. I couldn’t get the sound of his loud growl mixed with her screams out of my head. He went to the shelter the next day and it was over.

So, don’t get a dog from Craigslist.

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Stepdad at the Museum

When my mom chose to settle down again after my father, she made an interesting choice. I mean, my mom is not an intellectual per se, but she’s smart. She’s pretty street smart and likes to learn things. She enjoys intelligent conversations. Maybe not about things like philosophy, but about advances in medicine, politics, normal smart kind of stuff.

My stepdad is a truck driver. He drove an 18 wheel dump truck for his family’s construction company for years, and then graduated to tankers for a bit. But basically, if it isn’t cars, trucks or construction, he doesn’t know anything about it.

They’re an odd pair. But he built a very big house and my mom wanted to have a very big house for her children to live in. So there it is. And that is what we tell people when they ask how those two got married, because they always ask. My mom is witty and funny and 5 foot nothing of lippy cuteness, and my stepdad is the physical embodiment of “huh?”

So one day, I got tickets to a Titanic exhibit at a museum by us. I had 4 tickets. My mom always wants my stepdad to feel included, so we invited him and I brought my husband. My husband had not yet fully experienced the depth of “huh?”

We’re walking through the museum, and my back hurts like crazy. “Old” back injury. So I take a couple things from my doctor to help with the pain (NSAIDs and muscle relaxers, nothing crazy) and I’m a little loopy. My stepdad was mystified by almost everything in the museum and it was epic to witness.

Leaving the dinosaur exhibit, there was a large panorama with giant, coneheaded squid in an ocean setting.

“Well what the hell are those?” the words loudly flop out of his mouth.

“Giant squid” I answered.

“I’ve never seen one of those” he said, rubbing his chin

“They’re extinct. We’re in the dinosaur exhibit”

“I was wondering why you don’t see those in Lake Michigan anymore”

I died! He was wondering why you don’t see giant squid in Lake Michigan! Which of course begs the question “anymore? Have you ever seen them in Lake Michigan?” But I didn’t ask. I just chuckled.

The wait for the Titanic exhibit was about 2 hours, so we tooled around a bit more. We walked through the life in the Midwest exhibit, which had all the animals native to the Midwest all nicely taxidermied for your viewing pleasure. They had a fox, a coyote and a wolf by a wall to display predators in the region. Above each predator were little wooden plaques that showed what they typically take for prey; rabbits, deer, and one above the wolf had a buffalo, and it said “bison”.

He was apparently not familiar with that word.

He stood there for a few minutes, looking at the plaque, then at the wolf, then back at the plaque again. I could see the gears turning, and I was just staring at him. Yes, I was being a jerk, but I was still loopy from the prescriptions, so I didn’t mind myself. My husband looked at me, wondering what I was waiting for. Then it came:

“Biiiiii-sooohhhn” he sounded out slowly, then looking at the wolf said “oh, that’s what that is.”

He thought the word bison was for this giant dog in front of him. My husband’s jaw hit the floor, and he gasped quietly to me “is he serious?” I was in tears at this point, I couldn’t even answer. My mom smacked my stepdad’s arm and said “what the hell is wrong with you?” sharply, which made it even better.

I couldn’t keep it together. I kept whispering “biiii-sooohhhnnn” and rolling in laughter with tears running down my cheeks. That was it.

We continued through the museum and finally got to the exhibit we came for. It was very well done and we really enjoyed it. They had simulations of the different types of rooms, the lifeboats, and some actual artifacts from the ship. I loved it. In the main hall of the exhibit (which was chilled) there was a big chunk of ice in the middle, I mean it was the size of a pickup truck. Someone had made a handprint indent on the side of the “iceberg”, and I wasn’t sure if that was something the museum did or just a visitor fooling around, trying to get frostbite.

He walked up to the ice chunk in amazement, “how did they find the original iceberg? Who’s handprint is that? Is that from one of the people that died?”

My mom shot “really Randy? Get a grip! God!”

I tried to keep a straight face and kindly as I could respond “no, that’s just for the effect of the exhibit”

I was just a bucket of chuckles after all that. My husband whispered to me “what is wrong with that guy?” and I just died.

The man is great with cars, knows everything about driving trucks and everything there is to know about any kind of construction. But don’t take him to the museum.

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Maybe Don’t Try This…

Growing up, I had young parents. They were growing up with us, in a way. My dad was a big kid, and wanted to make everything a game. Sometimes he took things seriously (the “moderately insane” dad kind of serious, I think all of our dads have freaked out at some point) but for the most part, he wanted to have fun. He wanted to have fun with us, specifically.

My parents were divorced and we were with dad on the weekends. We went on lots of adventures and did lots of interesting (crazy) things. Many of which there is NO WAY I would do with my stepkids. It seemed perfectly sane at the time, but I have my woman pants on now, and those things look crazy pants to me. Growing up really screws with your perception of things, doesn’t it?

We went on lots of car rides. Money was tight just about my entire childhood. I just assumed that no one had any, and this was the kind of stuff they did. We would get bored and drive down country roads or dirt roads and listen to the radio. Might sound lame, but I’ve always loved a good car ride.

Sometimes we would just try to find new things to do, sometimes it was the scenic route home. It depended on the scenario. We planned our weekends on a whim most of the time.

One night we were on a ride home from somewhere, probably our cousins’ house. It was late and we were back in town, close to his apartment. It seems like we were driving past our old apartments. They were the place I first grew up in, and my first “home” that I remember. That was where my parents were married the longest, so it held a lot of memories for us, and we would drive past from time to time.

It was near an old business park, and most of the buildings had been abandoned and some were partially demolished. It was creepy there, and I loved creeping myself out, so I asked if we could stop there. Dad gave his “Sure, why not”. Which is something I say to this day.

We drove over to a place that had been a cookie factory at one point, and we drove around the building to check it out. It looked abandoned. There was not much there. Then, dad had a moment that will go down in infamy.

“Hey, look at those old train tracks”

We stopped, looked. I thought he was just pointing out something antique and wondered what they were for and why they were there. They were pretty much just 2 rails standing on the ground. There was only a little bit of an incline (more like a wedge) so you could get over them, not like a regular crossing at all.

“I bet I could jump them!”

I was in awe “In the truck!?!” I gasped.

“Yeah, how fast should I go?”

“Gun it! Go fast!” I was so excited. I totally thought this would be like a Dukes of Hazzard moment. I was amped. My brother seemed a little nervous, and rightly so. He was older and smarter than me, and he knew a lot about cars. I think he had some insight into this experiment.

He gunned it and the little 4 cylinder truck rattled off towards the track like a wild pony. We gained speed and I was so excited. We had never done anything this cool! This was going to be awesome!

We hit the incline at what immediately seemed too fast. The truck got air. All 4 tires totally off the ground at the same time. I believe I heard my father say “uh-oh”. Indeed.

We. Hit. The. Ground. The springs under our bench seat compressed and all 3 of our butts hit the floor of the truck. We all groaned at the same time from being spinally compressed, the wind knocked out of us.

Dad could only groan “that was a bad idea” in pain.

We took a minute to try and recover, dad looked over the truck briefly, then we took the thankfully short ride home.

I don’t remember what became of that truck, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t keep it long after “the incident”. I think we broke that pony’s leg that night.

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This is a New Beginning

Hi everybody! Well, I’m getting back into blogging after a break and a total life reboot. So I’m kinda starting over. As part of my beginning, I’m writing my story. I’ve been told by countless people my entire life that my life story is crazy and needs to be told. It’s funny, sometimes just impossibly, can’t make this up, ridiculously awesome. It’s also sad, traumatic, frightening… really there’s something here for everyone. This is where I practice putting the pieces together for the full-length version. I’ll start light…

Sideways Trip

There was an odd period of time when my brother first became a teenager where he more or less disappeared from us. I silently understood, he was off with his friends, being himself and finding out who that was. That and things were tense for him with my stepdad and also with my father.

My brother wasn’t a person to start fights or cause trouble. My family always joked that he was born an old man, he was quiet, he slept a lot, worked on his car, kept to himself. Then he got some friends and a girlfriend and off he went.

It changed a dynamic at both houses. At my dad’s house, we had lost our voice of reason. We were allowed to just go and explore things we shouldn’t without anyone reminding us “this might be a bad idea”. My dad had always felt that I was an old soul and he listened to me. Albeit way more than he should have, I may have been an old soul, but I still had a wild spirit.

We were off on one of our adventures one day, riding our bikes in a forest preserve. It was an out of state preserve, so we parked our truck at a nearby school to avoid the sticker fee and rode in. The woman in the booth yelled something at us as we passed, but we just kept going.

Bad idea.

It was well into fall, and most of the colors had gone. There was a bit of a chill in the air, but it was crisp and felt nice during the ride. You push and tend to get a little overheated, so you don’t mind a little cool to the face.

The sun was out and danced on the dried grass that blew in the breeze. The nature preserve was an old military airfield, so there are some old pavement roads, heli-pads and landing strips you can find if you search long enough.

We had probably been going on gravel, then dirt and grass and now pavement for about 2 hours when we finally stopped. We always brought lunch with us on our rides, and we’d take a minute to sit on the side of the path and have a little picnic. We’d talk and listen to the birds and enjoy the view, then get up and go back.

We put our kickstands down on the bleached and cracked pavement, in a bushy, hidden area. My dad spread out a small blanket, declaring “yeah, this looks like a good spot”.

I got out our drinks and our food and we both just sat down.

“Do you hear that?” he asked, getting tense and still, “what the hell is that noise?”

I stopped for a minute, I heard a small, strange almost rolling coo noise.

“I don’t know, some kind of bird, I’ve never heard that before.” I whispered.

We sat perfectly still in silence listening to this bird that was very close to us.
“Where the hell is it?” he whispered.

We both hushed and looked around, trying to find the source of the strange noise.

“I think it’s a partridge,” he guessed “I wish I could see it.”

We were quiet for a minute. Then all hell broke loose.

BOOM! BOOM!

Rifle fire, almost right over our heads! It sounded like they were right behind us! We jumped up.

“Holy shit! Let’s get the hell out of here!” my dad yelled over the chaos. Dogs had now started barking.

More shots. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

We had no idea what direction they were coming from. I scrambled to pick everything up and it just seemed like I couldn’t get it all fast enough.

“Hurry the hell up! We’re gonna get shot!!” he shouted at me, like I was not well aware.

We grabbed our bikes and ducked and ran with them for a bit before hopping on and riding off as fast as we possibly could. It’s entirely possible we broke some kind of land-speed record. I’ve never pedaled harder in my life.

After pushing on feverously, we got back to the booth at the gate. The woman was trying to tell us to stay off the trails.

It was pheasant season.

We were nearly birdshot to death.

This is the kind of thing that happened when I was left with my father unsupervised. It always started off as fun, but then it would go a little sideways.

Hot Mess in the Hospital

The thing about family is even if you don’t like some of them, you still love them. Even if they’ve been hurtful, abusive, volatile, unstable, you still love them. The truth in this is they are still human, and even in their darkness, there are still those little moments. They may be rare, they may take you off guard, but a little bit of humanness, gentleness seeps through.

My grandma, Granny, had quite a tumultuous life, and in her later years, she suffered from mental illness. If you’ve ever lived with someone with mental illness, you know that you suffer too. They don’t go through it alone, the whole house goes with them. Granny certainly took us all with her on her rides. It was exasperating a lot of the time. It was just overwhelming and exhausting and felt like there was absolutely no end.

But that’s not who she was. The older she was, the more the real her got jumbled up with everything else and you had to dig to find a nugget of truth in her. But it was still there, it still popped up from time to time.

When I first lived on my own, I was summoned a lot to go check on her, go take her out, bring her the mail, help clean up a bit, whatever needed to be done. Especially after strokes, and those happened a few times.

After her first big stroke, she was in the hospital. She had made it to the phone and was able to call an ambulance. My mother and I went out to meet up with her and see how she was doing.

She was full of piss and vinegar, that’s how she was doing.

She ordered the nurses around, argued with us, gave everyone sass, I felt bad for the hospital staff. She was half joking but I don’t know if anyone knew that. They brought her some lunch and she turned up her nose.

“Well what if I don’t wanna eat? I don’t want anything.” She huffed. So much attitude for such a tiny woman.

“Just eat something, mom,” my mom pleaded, “they just need to see you eat. Here,” she helped her maneuver the plate and get set up to eat.

“Its fine, Tammy, I got it!” Granny insisted.

Her right side was like rubber. She had lost function but seemed to be in complete denial. Her arm flopped wildly.

“Here Jessie, you wanna carrot?” she asked, attempting to offer me a large carrot slice off her plate. Her small gesture was exaggerated and she flung the carrot off into some hidden corner of the emergency room like a tiny Frisbee. We all quietly chuckled, Granny was particularly tickled. It took most of the sass out of her.

After searching around the machinery and cabinets and chairs for some time, we came up empty handed for the carrot.

Granny had moved on and was eating a roll with butter. She swiped the roll into the tiny butter container and the entire serving of butter came out.

“Granny, you have too much butter…” I said, trying to help.

“Don’t try to tell me how to eat! I know how to eat a roll!”

I shrugged and gave her an apprehensive “ok”, and then watched her stuff the entire square of butter in her mouth.

“Oh,” she said, surprised, with a full mouth “I had too much butter.”

Facepalm.

The next day I came back to visit in the evening, and she had been put upstairs in a nicer room. There was something wrong with one of her machines and she was waiting for a technician to come to her room.

She had attempted to put on a few gowns to be sure she was fully covered. She sat upright in her bed with one of the gowns trailing off onto the floor. I walked over to her, looking at her puzzled with my hands on my hips.

“What do you got going on here, Granny?” I said, with a little smile.

“What?” she asked, then looking down and realizing she half had a gown on and it was all over the place.

“Oh! Well I don’t even know how I did that!”

I laughed and went over to help her with her gown. She looked like she had put them on in a tornado. One went over one arm and wrapped below the other and somehow was on that arm. They were wrapped on top of each other and somehow there was a third one in the mix somewhere. We dug through the fabric and started laughing at the mess she made on accident. I’m sure it was difficult with a half-functioning arm; at least she could laugh about it.

The male technician came in and we were already just a pile of chuckles.

“You gotta fix this machine over here” she announced, pointing to the one right next to her.

He went to roll it out, and the wheel had caught on one of her gowns and it began to pull it off.

“Woah! What are ya tryin ta do here!” she laughed. By this point we were useless. The man looked confused; we were just a mess, laughing till we were crying with Granny’s night gown pile. We got her untangled and off the bed, and I helped her in the bathroom so she could try to untangle herself.

I could hear her just out of breath, hysterical with laughter. She cracked open the door, still laughing.

“Jessie” she managed between laughing fits, “Jessie, help me, I can’t get out and I’m gonna pee on myself!”

We were in hysterics in the bathroom, trying to unwrap, over and under and where did this one come from? She had no idea what she did and I was laughing so hard I could barely see. We got her to the toilet just in time.

We began to calm down and get ourselves back together a bit. She finished up and I put her gowns on in a way that she could take them back off again without minor surgery.

Granny took a deep breath and said “whew! Wasn’t that something? I’m so glad you came, Jessie.”

We came out of the bathroom to see the both confused and slightly amused technician on his way out.

I guess he had never seen people have so much fun in a hospital before.

When she was herself, she could be fun anywhere. Even in the hospital.