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’ve developed a new psychiatric disorder: Dysfunction Envy.
The other day I started reading The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. In her introduction, Karr relates an anecdote about bullet holes in her mother’s kitchen walls. This is on the first page, and she hasn’t even started the memoir portion yet. What a hook.
Although I’m enjoying the book, I’ve fallen into a funklet (not bad enough to be depression, but I’m not giddy either). I’ve recently written a few things I’m not happy with, which is okay. I don’t mind trashing or savagely editing stuff. But for some reason, Karr’s book has me worried.
Have I run out of dysfunctional material to mine for my memoir? Is my nine-month class this fall going to consist of me sitting there, doing nothing, while my classmates turn their trauma into gold? Where’s the gunplay in my story?
Then I remembered that time when I was twelve, and I found the .22 pistol that Mom kept under her pillow, loaded, with the safety off. For my protection.
As you know, I’m not able to offer much defense for my parents’ exciting decisions, but there was an incident that caused her to believe that a loaded firearm in our house was the best choice for her daughter. I’ll talk about that situation another time.
So I’m standing in the living room with the pistol aimed at my piano. My finger’s on the trigger. The whole room’s in soft focus except for the piano, and everything gets quiet like our house is made out of a giant pillow fort.
When I decide to pull the trigger, it occurs to me that if I shoot the piano, I might not be able to practice my lessons, and my teacher will be disappointed in me.
As the rest of the room becomes visible again and the sounds of the world return, I switch the safety on the pistol so that at least it won’t blow Mom’s head off while she’s sleeping, and I tuck it under her pillow.
I never told her how close I came to shooting the piano, mostly because she was busy with Glen, the womanizing truck driver she pretended to marry in Tahoe, who later left her for a gum-smackin’ poodle groomer with a platinum up-do, frosted nails and lipstick, and leopard print miniskirts. Her reason for the sham marriage is part of yet another story.
I also believe Glen was Mom’s last-ditch effort to be heterosexual, and that leads to another story for another time.
The tales I’m telling now are reminding me of so many I’ve forgotten, and there’s no evidence that this twisted river will run dry in the near future. What a relief. It seems I’ve got what it takes to compete in Dysfunctiondome.
My office walls are sad. I mean in the sense they are pathetic, but if they could cry, I’d have toxic mold. I’m looking at this beige expanse behind my computer, and all I see are a couple of nails and a PAWS calendar.
As unevolved as this may be, I feel a sense of chick-based pressure to be amazing at decorating. This despite the fact that I work in ratty pajamas and Paul’s hand-me-down shirts in my home office every day. What makes me think my home should look better?
My first defense: I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. Although Virginia Slims gave women the confidence to burn bras while dropping acid as a birth-control chaser, there’s still this lingering guilt in my mind that I should be a classic homemaker. Apron, tidy hairdo, Laura Petrie figure.
It doesn’t help that seemingly out of nowhere, Paul recently blurted, “You want to nest, right?” He sounded a little desperate.
In fairness, I don’t believe he’s totally asking this because I’m female. I think it’s about the two of us. We’re lazy bums who keep hoping the walls will magnetically suck pictures onto them, in a tasteful way.
My second defense: Paul’s got the aesthetic eye. I mean, he paints and draws. Stuff you’d recognize. I’ve even hung a few pieces on the wall (and my pride over this is way out of proportion to the achievement).
I, on the other hand, paint as though I’m drunk. On a roller coaster. And I’ve just vomited all over the canvas.
My third defense: So why isn’t he nesting?
As I sit here in my blank-walled office, I’ve made a decision to stop apologizing and self-flagellating (at least about this). I’m going to enjoy my non-cluttered space because I have a style. I’m a minimalist.
There. I’ve revealed my sin in the title, and I feel reborn. Life is new again!
Or I’m just sleepy and grumpy because I haven’t finished my morning coffee, and I should work instead of blog.
I do write for my own gratification, but as you’re reading this (she says with uncharacteristic confidence that anyone is interested), you know that’s not completely true. Otherwise why would I inflict share my thoughts with the universe?
On that first day of blogging, lo those many weeks ago, I announced with deceptive confidence, “I’m writing for me!”
“Good for you, Sweetie,” Paul said, checking the horizon for shark fins.
“I don’t care if I ever become popular. Or publish my memoirs. Or Oprah interviews me because she’s fascinated by my life.”
Paul tossed “That’s the spirit!” over his shoulder as he checked his watch and bolted from the house.
And ever since that day, I’ve written and posted without worrying about whether or not anyone’s reading my stuff.
Or I’ve checked my blog stats every. single. day. How many views? How many visitors? How many views per visitor? I’ve had visitors from Ireland, Australia, and the United Kingdom today! There’s been drool.
I stunned Paul out of his office chair by blurting “I got another visitor from India again! It’s probably the same person, right?!”
As he ponders the laws of probability coupled with the population of India, he’s still kind enough not to cast doubt on my hopes.
Paul does try to find this as thrilling as I do, and I appreciate that. Although I would like my popularity to rise with him just a bit.
Yesterday I chirped, “Did you see I posted a haiku today?”
He smiled through his exhaustion and whimpered, “I sure did.”
“What did you think?” Big eyes, wagging tail, piddle on the floor.
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t had time to read it.”
Maybe I need to get into pornographic limericks. Or politics. Wait. Maybe I can combine the general concepts:
I’m starting to wonder if my brain has a vendetta against me. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to fears it can invent.
Paul knows that when he leaves the house in the morning and I say, “Be safe,” what I’m really telling him is:
Please don’t get into a massive fireball of a car wreck. Generally speaking, come home alive, preferably not maimed.
He’s pretty cool about it because he’s a freak who sees the positive in life. He always gets the great parking space, so why wouldn’t he see sunshine everywhere? It’s irritating.
I might be pushing my luck, though. The other day I finally confessed a new paranoiac low that may include a trace of the psychotic. He headed out the door to go rowing, and of course I said, “Be safe.”
Then I told him what I really mean:
Please don’t be murdered by a sniper hiding in bushes along the canal.
I know, right? But this fear seems reasonable to me. All they’d have to do is lead him a little.
My mind keeps telling me this is a legitimate concern despite the fact that I’ve never read a news report involving snipers and rowers. So whatever I did to piss it off, it’s not done punishing me. Bastard.
I just lost another round of Compare Yourself to Someone Else: You’re sure to win this time!
Yesterday one of our condo board members was distributing new building keys, so I went to his unit. I like this guy, but I hate his place. Everything is impossibly aligned with everything else. Knickknacks are set askew with perfection, and I think he organizes his shoes in the entryway with a T-square.
And everything’s so clean. It’s blinding. Even the floors. He could employ a five-day rule in the kitchen.
Then I come back to our place, with the empty plastic litter bins lined up in the front hall, judgmentally waiting for someone to recycle them.
There’s the occasional piece of kibble that bores into my heel when I step on it, sixteen feet away from the food dish because Molly enjoys her dinner to go.
I accept that I’ll never be like Martha Stewart, even if I had a rap sheet, but I’m afraid of dying in this mess and somehow still managing to be embarrassed when people discover my body nestled between a mountain of dirty laundry and a pile of clean, unfolded clothes.
The other day Paul met a cheese he didn’t like. I never expected this. I’ve seen him savor cheese platters that smell like an autopsy being performed in a college locker room during a natural gas leak. My world suddenly made much less sense.
Just as I was recovering from the shocking cheese aversion, he made the bed. For the first time in twenty-two years. I panicked and asked, “Why would you do that?” in the same voice I’d ask a home invader, “Why here?”
Paul said, “Because the people across the street can see our bedroom.”
I blurted, “But they’ve been able to see our unmade bed for five years. Why is this important to you now?”
He shrugged and ambled away, leaving me reeling in confusion and anxiety, somewhat like when my surgeon told me I had cancer. The fact that I’m reacting at all similarly to a bed-making crisis and life-threatening health news may surprise you, but not me. I have a long track record of overreacting.
Like that time in Buffalo, New York as it was approaching Christmas during our first year there. I heard a fire engine siren a couple doors away, so I chucked Muriel the cat into her crate, jammed my arms into a coat, and shouted at Paul, “Fire! We have to evacuate! Now!”
Paul complied, taking what felt like an ice age to get his coat and shoes on.
I burst into the foyer of our duplex, wide-eyed and sweaty, Muriel’s cage dangling from my hand. Her eyes bulged with terror as Paul slouched behind me with his hands in his pockets.
The couple next door were standing just inside the main front door with their three young children, all relaxed and smiling. None of them were dressed to evacuate during an Upstate New York winter. I understood nothing at this point.
They turned from gazing at the fire truck, and I shouted, “Where’s the fire?!”
The littlest kid pointed toward the truck as the vehicle slowly made its way toward us. He said with glee, “It’s Fire Truck Santa!”
I looked again, and sure enough, that sadistic holiday bastard was waving his Christmas cheer at all the happy kids in the neighborhood.
The three of us slunk back into our unit (as much as a cat trapped in a crate can slink) to the sounds of laughter. I mumbled, “Merry Christmas” as my face turned a bright Rudolph-nose color.
I suppose that wasn’t as bad as the escalator incident at Sea-Tac Airport. A tank-sized drunk guy passed out at the top and hurtled backwards, landing on a tot and his mother (they were fine).
Paul and I were standing nearby, and as I was unaware of the embarrassingly obvious red emergency stop buttons on escalators, I did the next best thing. I spread my arms out at an angle, and in my most commanding voice yelled, “Stand back! My husband is an occupational therapist!”
At six-foot-five, Paul did his best to be invisible as he slowly sidled away from me. Sadly for him, at this point there was no hiding. He came forward to help—which he would’ve done anyway—but his facial expression said, “Good God, I hope no one thinks I’m the guy she’s talking about.”
I probably should work on the overreaction thing, but I worry that Paul might be staying with me just for the entertainment value.
"I've always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position." – Susan Lowenstein, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy