I felt so perturbed by this that I told Paul in order to offload the creep factor, but he seemed more bothered than I was.
In my defense, I said, “But it was when Henry was younger. You know, in his salad days. When he was bombing Cambodia.” This did not have the calming effect that I hoped it would.
Plus I started thinking, “What’s the origin of the phrase ‘salad days’ anyway?” Apparently it comes from this quote:
“CLEOPATRA: My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then! But, come, away;
Get me ink and paper:
He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I’ll unpeople Egypt.”
I think Cleo’s saying, “If I don’t get to be pen pals with Caesar, I’m going to slaughter every one of my subjects.” I wish I could love like that. Sometimes literally.
I suppose the “green in judgment: cold in blood” part applies to Henry’s ambition to murder lots of Cambodians who were provocatively going to school or the dry cleaners, or maybe out to eat, so that works.
But then I remembered that there was literally salad in my dream. I was sitting at a counter in a diner, and a lady brought a salad to me while I sat there spinning lettuce in a spinner (which is much more efficient than throwing it at an oscillating fan).
I can’t decide if this dream is telling me I need psychotherapy or more roughage. Maybe I’ll just take a therapist out to lunch and spare myself money, time, and insight.
Every time I believe I know what I’m doing with finances, it freaks me out.
That’s usually when I find out I’ve forgotten to pay the electric bill or haven’t checked our bank account in two weeks and now we’re overdrawn by several hundred dollars or, as just happened, miscalculated our IRS tax payments, which caused our anticipated refund to drop by eight hundred dollars.
Even when I get things right, I experience heavy sweating, just waiting for the next fun monetary surprise. I’d like to feel good about the little things I do well, but that feels like total hypocrisy.
What’s it like to experience a sense of confidence that doesn’t lead to a panic attack?
I’m doing great with my commitment to hating spring. Last night I arrived at the portion of the program where I stay up too late on a work night, drinking vodka and watching such springtime classics as Natural Born Killers and Marilyn Manson videos.
It’s my own seasonal festival where I celebrate hating the world and myself, and somehow I revel in it.
I’m also feeling proud that I only missed, by one month, my most recent prediction of Paul’s youngest brother’s (let’s call him “YB”) latest Pabst-induced call to howl, “my life isn’t what I want it to be and why aren’t you fixing it and by the way you never call or visit me and that makes me mad even though I never take the initiative to contact you and also fuck that damned Cindy for causing all of my misery, starting twenty years before you and she even met, or the Big Bang, whichever came first.” Again, I paraphrase.
These conversations typically happen about twice a year, and even when I haven’t spoken to the guy for two years, somehow I’ve got the power to flush his life down the toilet. I feel mighty. Paul tries to tell him, “Cindy’s got nothing to do with this,” but to no avail. It’s flattering having someone obsess about me, I suppose.
I don’t feel cruel about this, and I do hope that someday the kid can pull himself together. It’s tough watching an intelligent person—and probably someone who’s got niceness buried below a six-mile layer of rage—destroy themselves. I know because I look in the mirror every day and yell, “Augh! What the fuck is that?”
But I can’t afford to care too much or get overly involved. I did that a long time ago, and I was rewarded with many late-night rage calls punctuated by the sphsss of beer cans being opened and honest-to-God growling.
(And before you start judging me for being judgmental about drinking, I refer you to the first paragraph.)
I’m mostly just indifferent and a little amused by the accusation that I’m destroying someone’s life, sort of like a wealthy person who makes small wagers at the track. There’s a little surge of adrenaline when I bet on the lead horse, but then it’s pretty much a meh after that. My predictions are usually spot on, but they don’t add much joy to my life.
On the plus side, just when I’m feeling crappy about life and wishing I cared enough to do better for myself, here comes YB to remind me how badly a person can trash themselves.
I have a herd of crickets following me, just waiting for the next awkward conversation moment I create. I wonder if a new eyeglass prescription would change this by helping me see the world like most other people seem to view it.
Like the time in Paul’s late father’s hospital room right after he had a quintuple bypass. Peter lay on the bed, hugging his heart-shaped coughing pillow, surrounded by his wife, three sons, and me.
Well, he wasn’t surrounded by the youngest one, who’d elected once again to make a serious situation about himself, this time sliding down the wall to sit on the floor “because I might pass out oh how I hate hospitals is everyone paying attention to me now? Good because no one knows my pain no one’s ever suffered as I do even starving children in third-world countries have no clue what pain is and here I am swimming in free money from a massive trust fund, white, male, and American. Dad who?” Or something like that. I paraphrase.
Although grateful for not being the only weirdo in the room, I tried to break the subsequent uncomfortable silence by Florence Nightingale’ing over to Peter’s bedside and asking if I could get him anything. He said he was fine.
I looked down at his table and saw a plastic cup with little numbered marks on it and thought, “That’s interesting. They measure how much water he drinks.”
Figuring fluid intake must be important to his doctors, I picked up the container and offered to get him a drink. I instantly knew there was a problem because the crickets began clearing their throats on a Wagnerian level, and the humans became mannequins, eyes bulging.
Ever the courteous Englishman, Peter declined as Paul whispered, “That’s his pee cup, Sweetie.”
Upon reconsideration, I prefer my eyeglasses the way they are.
Discussion question: Do crickets gather in herds? Gangs? Choirs?
For those who are considering writing their memoirs and those who are already in the roller-coaster process, I want to share a gorgeous, encouraging quote from Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer:
“In autobiographic writing as in journal writing, there seems to be an internal wisdom at work that guides us to write what we are ready to understand. Different memories will ask to be written at different times, and this is an instinct we generally can trust. For the most part, people’s natural defenses protect them from memories they are not ready to face.”
When I read this just now, I caught my breath and slammed the book shut for a moment to absorb it. As I work through this fabulous guide, the truth of her statement is becoming clearer by the exercise.
What a relief to know I don’t have to be the one totally in charge of this situation. My brain keeps deflecting what it isn’t ready to explore, thus proving it’s a lot smarter than I am.
I fucking hate this season. Every year I’m bewildered by all the sunshine and cheerful people dancing around and saying pointless things like “Isn’t this weather great?” I always smile and say, “Yes, it is!” but I don’t mean it. I miss the gray skies and drizzle.
Much like my fear of Seuss, though, I don’t usually volunteer my loathing of spring to just anyone. (Except, apparently, the entire Internet.) When I do, they keep an eye on me as they slowly back away, then run down the street as though they’re on fire. Or headed to put out a fire. Or maybe start a fire.
I’m not sure why I get into this annual funk, but I suspect my parents waited until the end of each winter to do their most exciting parenting. Perhaps the sun and warmer weather reinvigorated their feisty tendency to punch each other. Maybe this was their unique way of celebrating spring instead of hunting for Easter eggs, dancing around maypoles, and saying prayers to a guy who rose from the dead.
If I were to give their spring traditions a name, I’d call it “Punch-a-Palooza.” That sounds festive, and I think if I’d been culturally sensitive as a kid, I could have appreciated their customs more.
I got tired of celebrating these rituals decades ago, but I don’t feel any remorse about not keeping them alive. Evidently I used up all my guilt when I became an ex-Baptist.
But I actually do revel in my own way. My spring festival is “Reverse-Punch-a-Palooza.” When someone remarks on the beautiful weather, I celebrate by refraining from laying them out before they can put a period on the end of the sentence.
Maybe I’m like a high priestess of Reverse-Punch-a-Palooza. I wonder if the position comes with a cool outfit and a scepter. Maybe even a crown.
I’m in charge of our household budget. To me, this statement is as frightening as “Nuclear missiles are headed to Seattle.”
Mostly I do okay, but last December I accidentally paid the mortgage twice. Then I did great for three whole months, and just this morning I accidentally paid an extra half-mortgage payment.
I know what you’re thinking: “How does someone accidentally pay extra on their mortgage?”
Why the hell are you asking me? Haven’t you figured out I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing?
After I confessed my newest interesting financial move, Paul and I figured out the necessary adjustments to our accounts, and we’re fine. But I’m freaking out. I keep thinking, “What is my next mistake, and how big will it be?”
(I do understand that there are far worse financial errors I could make besides accidentally paying extra on our mortgage principal. I’m not stupid, entirely. But still.)
After the latest mini-crisis, Paul and I had this conversation:
Me: So do you still trust me with the finances?
(Translation: Please take this shit off my hands.)
Paul: Sure, I do! You’re doing great!
(Translation: You scare the crap out of me, but I sure as hell don’t want the job.)
Me: Well, okay. But at least you’re checking the budget spreadsheet updates I send to you, right?
(Translation: I’m totally alone in this, aren’t I?)
Paul: You bet! Well, I skim them at least. Mostly. From time to time.
Or at least sincerely offered support for the endeavor.
One of the fun things about mining my life for memoir material is that I thought it would be about dishing up dirt on those who’ve wronged me or I was sure intended to wrong me or at the very least would wrong me if they thought of doing it and had the chance.
But I’ve gotten some advice about including more than just revenge-based tales: “Allow yourself to be vulnerable. This lets the reader empathize and feel connected with you.”
I took this to mean that there will be sections in my memoir where the reader will become misty-eyed in wonder at my courage through such trying times.
This was going to be fantastic. As emotionally walled off as I can be in person—despite how much I blab about myself—this memoir stuff would let people see the softer side of Cindy. I’m a bit uncomfortable about it, but I’ll try.
At least I felt like being a sport until I realized, just this last weekend, that an honest memoir lets people see the shitty side of Cindy too. It’s as though someone’s thrown a bucket of cold water on my burning cross.
Despite this shock, I’m going to try the honesty thing about an incident I’ve been telling myself “really isn’t relevant or potentially interesting to readers, but I don’t feel this way because I’m ashamed. I respect people’s time, and why bore them with”—you understand the kind of horseshit I’ve been shoveling.
When I left my second husband, the air force officer, in 1988 and moved back to Seattle, I naturally moved in with an ex-con. It made sense to me because Brad the Felon had done his time, so that would make him honest. He was charming, skilled at reading people, and manipulative. I was so desperate for someone to love and care about me, I’d do anything. It was a great match.
Shortly after he moved in with me, Brad got into an argument with my landlord. I was a loyal girlfriend and stood up for him. So everything worked out great for the landlord when he evicted us and I went bankrupt from attorney’s fees that Brad didn’t help pay—because he was busy relaxing at the end of a workday while I took a second job as a stripper—and my credit rating went from triple-A to in-the-crapper.
If you’re at all under the impression that I’ve just confessed the shameful part of this story…
Even after this episode, plus his late-night gambling-and-whoring escapades while coming home and calling me his “plain Jane” in a tone that nearly approximated affection, I was still so craven in my need to be loved, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to impress him.
One day Brad told me he and a buddy from prison were working on the details for robbing a casino. I raised my hand like Hermione in class and begged to be included in the caper. And there’s my shame.
It made me nauseous to even imagine committing a crime, let alone having to pee in front of someone in prison. But in those moments, I had an overwhelming fantasy of sitting in separate prisons but mutually in love at last because he’d finally realized what I would do for him. Sort of Bonnie and Clyde with hopefully way less murder.
I don’t know if Brad ever hit the casino, and he’s dead now, so I can’t ask him. I don’t really care either way anymore about either of those things.
I do know that he saved me from myself. He declined my offer of assistance—which hurt like hell at the time, but seriously reduced the nausea—because I’m a world-class oversharer. Great for blogging. Bad for crime.
The first joint my mother ever rolled, she gave to me when I was fifteen. She enjoyed spoiling me, and even though I was an only child, I appreciated it. Like when she’d go to the store and remember to pick up my favorite brand of cigarettes.
But it wasn’t all about coddling. She was a consistent disciplinarian too. She used to say, “I don’t mind buying you the cigarettes, but I don’t want to see you smoking until you’re eighteen.” She knew the right things to say to make me feel loved.
Every time I got ready to leave town for the weekend with my boyfriend, Rockey, she said, “Leave me a note telling me what city you’re going to. That way I know where to tell the cops to start looking if you disappear.”
Mom taught me a lot about enjoying life too. One night Rockey and I bumped into her at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a local ambulance company. She was a sheriff’s dispatcher at the time, so she had lots of buds in the emergency-related business. But I’m not sure how Rockey and I ended up there, and Mom was surprised to see us.
I thought I was in big trouble, but Mom was as cool as ever. She laughed, patted me on the back, and bought us a round of drinks. Then she waved a cheerful goodbye to us as we jumped into Rockey’s car to chase one of the ambulances and visit the latest car wreck scene.
But Mom wasn’t just focused on fun. She felt it was important to teach me valuable life skills. One of the best lessons was how to cope with problems by running from them, even if you have to flee the country, which she eventually did years later at age sixty-seven. She knew how to walk the talk.
I’m a fairly quick learner, and I devoted myself to honing this skill for decades. I found that running from my problems can lead to many thrilling moments in lots of different states with tons of interesting strangers. I can’t count the number of times I had the opportunity to learn different job skills, live in different apartments, and even fear for my life. What an adventure.
Mom also taught me to appreciate youth. Shortly after she came out that summer, she started dating the slightly older sisters of girls in my high school class, and she taught me the value of community when she brought them home to meet me.
But probably the best lesson she taught me during this time came in 1976. Right after I turned sixteen, Mom and I noticed that there was always a giant, bright-blue Cadillac parked across the street from our house. The driver looked like a garden gnome in a pale blue polyester suit, and he would just sit there, staring straight ahead.
Turns out the guy was a detective that Dad hired to follow us around because he got the crazy idea that Mom wasn’t taking good care of me. He was concerned about the situation because he wanted to stop paying the seventy-five dollars a month in child support.
It’s understandable that Dad was so upset. When I was twelve, he had invited me to meet him at a local Kmart coffee shop to renegotiate my child support with me. It had to be frustrating to him that even though I brought zero negotiating skills to the table, I couldn’t be talked down to nothing because I couldn’t think of anything to say.
But Mom always came through in a difficult situation, and she had a plan to deal with Dad and his detective. She sat Rockey and me down and said, “If you two were married, Cindy would be emancipated as an adult. Then her dad can’t legally bother her anymore. Plus he can stop paying child support, so that should make him happy.” You can’t buy wisdom like that.
The next day, Mom, Rockey, and I piled into his 1972 primer-grey Ford Pinto and drove the nine hours from Santa Maria, California to Las Vegas. At the courthouse, Mom fudged a little on the documents and told the court that she had sole custody of me and she approved the marriage. I was learning so much.
Then at seven-thirty in the morning, the three of us went to a little chapel on the Las Vegas Strip, woke up a bleary-eyed, hung-over preacher, and Rockey and I got married.
After we drove back to Santa Maria, Mom wasted no time further embracing life. With me finally married and independent, she was at last able to hit the open road as an interstate truck driver.
We all lived happily ever after, so I suppose it’s just the typical childhood story you’ve heard a million times. I just wanted to honor Mom and Dad for how much they cared about me.
I’ve been thinking about when I was ten, and my mother was teaching me how to drive. She was great about finding activities we could use to bond.
Those were the days where if I’d crashed the car into someone else, there’d be some insurance issues, but people didn’t speed-dial their attorneys for every little insult. I didn’t crash this time, though, and that’s a good thing because Mom generally avoided having insurance.
I got a real taste for driving after these early lessons. Most summers when my visit with Grandma Valleley came to an end, Mom would take a nap in the back seat as I drove the three hours home. That was a blast.
Another cool thing Mom taught me was how to road-rage. She was an innovator of sorts because we didn’t even have an official name for this hobby back then. I remember many coaching sessions on the freeway where she taught me how to carefully tailgate someone, then zigzag around a bunch of cars, leaving some poor sucker trapped in traffic.
We had many warm moments where we’d laugh as Mom asked, “Did you see that guy’s face? Wow, is he angry! Good job!” All that positive reinforcement made me feel so proud.
I quickly developed a habit of snagging car keys when people weren’t around, like the time Mom was out on a date. I was twelve, bored, and home alone, so I took her Plymouth Satellite for a spin around the neighborhood.
It was pitch black out except for the occasional streetlamp, so I was careful. I drove about two miles an hour, and I kept the headlights off so that the cops wouldn’t see me. The car was dark grey, so I sort of blended into the night. This seemed sensible.
When I was trying to turn around to head back to the house, I almost hit a parked boat, but I got back to the driveway okay. About twenty-five years later, I told Mom about this adventure, and she was shocked. I honestly don’t know why. It wasn’t as bad as the time I took my friend Sharon’s parents’ Cadillac out for a joy ride.
Sharon’s mom and dad had gone on a two-month summer vacation and left Sharon in charge of everything. I was staying with her for a while because Mom had kicked me out of the house because I needed kicking out. Sharon was sixteen and had a driver’s license, and I was fifteen with five years of driving experience, so it was a setup for success.
One night at about two in the morning, I got hungry for a warm salted pretzel from 7-Eleven, which happened a lot that summer. I woke Sharon up to ask if she wanted anything, but she just told me where the car keys were and went back to sleep.
As I parked in the store’s lot, a patrol car pulled in behind me. The officer said one of my headlights was out of adjustment, so he wanted to let me know. He didn’t feel like doing the paperwork for an official ticket, but he did want to see my license, which was funny because I didn’t have one.
Fortunately he was able to take me to the local sheriff’s station, where my mother was working that night as a dispatcher. Mom’s face was full of grave concern, and her tone was way more serious than I was used to, so I was a little worried about how much trouble I was in.
The officer told her that I was a “polite little lady,” and he would just let me off with a verbal warning.
After he left, I braced myself for being grounded, but Mom started laughing and told me what a silly I was for getting caught. Then she gave me a ride back to Sharon’s place. She was cool like that.
It’s been decades since I last honored her teachings by road-raging, but I still appreciate these warm memories.
"I've always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position." – Susan Lowenstein, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy