Grandpa’s Garden

Before his stroke, Grandpa was my favorite. I would sit on his belly, round like Santa’s, and ask him if the battery above his heart hurt. I’d lightly press my fingers against the square shape protruding from his chest, and Grandpa would smile wide, toothlessly.

“Naw, Baby Girl. That’s my ticker,” he’d say. I imagined a tiny clock inside his chest, sort of like the Tin Man.

Grandpa was a self-proclaimed botanist, without using so many words. He planted tomatoes and other vegetables, mostly for canning to keep Grandma and him fed through the harsh winter months when the junkyard didn’t need his help sorting metals. I used to walk behind him. I watched Grandpa whisper to his green babies and touch the leaves carefully. He taught me about them, but I can’t remember his lessons.

After my grandpa’s stroke, between first and second grade, we moved in with my grandparents. They owned a duplex, and we lived on the second floor so my mom could care for him.

There were times I wanted to climb back on his belly, but Grandpa’s new oxygen tank made my belly do flips. I thought I could catch whatever was making him so sick. If I get too close, I’ll need one of those tubes in my nose too.

I don’t have a single picture of the stairs in my grandparent’s house, but I remember them perfectly in my mind: hand carved wood painted the same shade of red as fallen leaves just before they turn brown and crumble. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, so when I wanted to get away from everyone I would sit on the landing. I could hear my mom on the phone above and my grandparent’s television below. I sat there playing with dolls or staring at the cracks and chips in the yellow walls pretending they were a part of a roadmap to someplace magical where Grandpa wasn’t ill.

His ticker stopped that autumn. I was in school when it happened. He was there when I left and gone when I got home, crumbled and blown away with the leaves.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get a chance to hug him once more, or to really listen to his lessons.

This year, I planted an herb and vegetable garden. It’s nothing like Grandpa’s, small in comparison. I thought about him while I was out there with my hands in the dirt. I touched the plants with care like he used to. Small bits of food have managed to grow, regardless of my natural knack for killing anything green. Although, some of them are limp, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or right for that matter. If only I could remember what he taught me.

If only we had more time.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

That Time I Thought I Was Going to Die Parasailing

I should’ve climbed out of the boat when Captain Ron’s doppelgänger had me sign my life away on that little piece of paper, but I didn’t.

“You’ll be fine,” he said. “We make sure we take you far enough out to sea.”

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Captain Ron
Far enough for what? I should’ve thought. But not a single alarm went off in my brain.

Why? I’ll blame it on the blue drink.

***

We were on vacation in St. Thomas and I couldn’t just sit there on the beach and relax. NOOOO. I wanted excitement and action.

So, after our second day of lounging around on the sand, my husband and I looked into fun island activities.

“How about parasailing?” Justin asked.

“Sounds great!” I exclaimed.

Truthfully, I had no idea what parasailing was, but it sounded leisurely and fun. I thought perhaps it would include me sipping a special island cocktail on a boat, letting my hair get tousled in the salty breeze.

Boy, was I was wrong.

***

“Why am I signing this?” I asked. The contract mentioned things about death and injury. DEATH! What?! “Are you sure this is safe?” I asked Captain Ron.

“Dude we do this all the time. You should be fine.”

“Should?” I asked. “Well that’s relieving.” Justin and I were new parents. We had a four-month-old daughter at home and all I could think about was leaving her parentless.

Despite my fear, I signed the contract. After that, Captain Ron suited us up with strappy, blue contraptions that went over our shoulders and under our butts. Then he attached some ropes to what looked like a parachute.

The only things that would be keeping me from the sharks were a thin piece of fabric, some rope and a couple of buckles.

“Crap!” I said. “Do we have to do this?”

“We’ll be fine, Danielle,” said my husband. But I think he was trying to convince himself more than me, judging by the crackle in his voice.

“Sit down, legs straight out in front,” said Captain Ron. I listened and quickly assembled myself on the boat floor. The boat accelerated and before I was ready to fly, we were airborne. At first, it was alright. We were hovering just above the boat and the ocean sparkled like a blanket covered in loose diamonds.
“This is nice,” I said as I looked around at the green Caribbean Islands. I liked the way they sliced between the waves.72347_1673462715545_4468506_n

The boat accelerated again, and I felt a
pang of nausea. Suddenly we went from comfortably high to OMFG. The boat wasn’t more than a dot below us. The rope seemed so impossibly thin and possibly frayed, and I was certain it would rip at any second.
Clearly, I was having the time of my life.

Actually I hated it.

I thought I was going to vomit and die from choking on my puke midair just before my rope had a chance to completely unravel and send me plummeting to the ocean below where I would, instead, be savagely ripped to death by the sharks I couldn’t see.

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“Smile for the camera,” my husband said. I squinted my eyes and opened my mouth to expose my teeth, but it didn’t resemble a smile.

“Try and have a good time,” said Justin.

“But I’m terrified!” I whimpered.

“Just try,” he repeated. I tried. And I tried. And it didn’t happen.

Instead, I closed my eyes and waited for it all to be over while I whined like a puppy dangling over a pit of hungry lions.

“Hey,” said my husband. “He’s lowering us. You can open your eyes now.”

I opened my eyes and saw that we were definitely being lowered. But we were also coming in fast and hot. The boat was getting bigger and bigger. The ocean waves were getting closer to the tips of my toes; it didn’t seem like we’d make it. I braced myself, because there was no way this would be a Southwest Airlines clap-your-hands kind of landing. No.

We skidded.

To. An. Abrupt. Stop.

My ass slammed against the boat floor and left bruises for days.

“Sorry about the rough landing, dudes,” said Captain Ron.

I was so happy to see solid-ish ground that I didn’t care about my sore bottom.

“No worries,” I said. I’d had enough excitement and action for the rest of the trip. “Just get me off this boat and give me another blue drink.”

When a Friendship Burns

After high school, I moved in with the person I considered to be my best friend. She and I had the same blue corduroys, pixie haircuts, and infatuation with Brandon Boyd from Incubus.

We were inseparable. We’d go out dancing three nights a week, get wasted, and take turns vomiting in the bathroom after too many margaritas. We screamed Linkin Park songs as we drove around aimlessly in her little white pickup truck smoking cigarettes. She was my soulmate, the Thelma to my Louise.

During the height of our friendship, we made a promise that if we never found love, we’d be there for each other, no matter what. We thought we’d end up two old kid-less ladies in a flat downtown with one cat and two dogs. We’d be chain smokers with curlers in our hair and sparkles on our cheeks. A couple of cougars on the prowl, we’d hit the bars night after night getting trashed and having fun.

Oh, the dreams we have when we’re young and stupid.

Our wild behavior only managed to last so long, before we ran out of money. When that happened, I regretfully returned home to my parents. She started dating a guy she met at the club, and stopped spending time with me on the dance floor. There were no longer midnight cruises with our favorite rock bands. Instead, she stayed home watching movies with him.

I’ve learned over time that one person cannot be the sole communicator in a friendship. Without taking turns listening and talking, without being there emotionally, there isn’t much left to hold it together.

Our friendship was losing importance to her, and our communication was dwindling. Each time I asked her to hang out, she claimed to already have plans. It was a sign that she didn’t want me as her friend anymore. I kept trying, leaving her message after message, but she stopped returning my calls.

Eventually, I stopped dialing her number.

Cherie Burbach, a friendship expert, says lack of communication is “one of the biggest reasons” why friendships end. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces back together. Especially after we had already put each other through hell, and made it through without a single burn.

She took boyfriends from me and lied about it. I took jewelry from her and kept it. We fought over who got to wear the neon pink leopard halter almost weekly, and who got the last beer in the fridge every time we were running low. But we always picked the friendship over the fight. Nothing could tear us apart, until we didn’t have that willingness on both ends to communicate anymore.

Then we had nothing.

Today, we both have kids roughly the same age. We’re both married. We both have our version of white picket fence perfection. Our paths have been similar, but in opposite directions.

I wonder if our relationship would have lasted, had she and I had been raised today. If she could have texted me when she didn’t feel like talking, or messaged me on Facebook, would we have been better off? Or would it have only delayed the inevitable? In my heart, I know even in modern times with better access to communication tools, she would have eventually stopped responding.

So many times I’ve sat in front of my computer with a half-typed message to her, asking simple niceties. But my fingers hover over the enter button, never quite ready to reopen that line. We weren’t destined to be forever friends.

Our relationship was like throwing kerosene on a bonfire: it was intense, fun, and full of energy. But a fire like that can only get so crazy, before someone has to suffocate it. 

Maybe after all these years, I don’t want to find my matches.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Earle/Stocksnap.io

Adulting in the Digital Age

I have no clue what I’m doing.

Not with parenting. Not with cooking and cleaning. Not with social media. Not with putting on my own damn lipstick. No effing clue.

I mean, I’m sure if you looked at my Pinterest page, you would think that I’m this insanely organized person with perfectly planned kid parties, amazing eye makeup, color-coded closets, and healthy home-cooked meals seven days a week. If you looked at my Facebook and Instagram pages, you would find my kids’ happy faces on vacations, playing family games, and going out to eat wearing clean, matching clothes. I look like I know what I’m doing.

But let’s be honest, Pinterest is a place where dreams of healthy, easy recipes, DIY refinished cabinets, labeled spice racks in alphabetical order, and picture frames hung with precision on a pristine gallery wall are born, then immediately murdered. We’ve all “pinned now, to read later”. Right? Only for me, most laters never come to fruition. They just hang out on my cyber pin board collecting digital dust.

Here are some fun facts: I usually have a full-blown anxiety attack that lasts for weeks every time one of my children has a birthday coming up. It ends only when the party is winding down and people are filing out of my house. Pinterest has amplified that anxiety. Fun fact two: my closets are a disaster, with boots piled in one corner, and clothes that have been pushed and smushed in the other. I have so many of those gross metal hangers from the dry cleaner, but I never remember to take them back so they hang there, taunting me with their rigid ugliness. Three: I try to cook. Sometimes it’s edible, and sometimes we end up ordering Chinese. Four: I don’t have time to paint my 1990s oak cabinets, so I am secretly praying for them to eventually be vintage and cool. Five: most of my photos are floating in cyberspace, or getting dusty in a box, instead of being displayed.

And those moments of perfection posted on Facebook and Instagram? Fake!

When my children are in that moment right before chaos, where they both appear to be civilized, I document it. I #hashtag it. I share it. When we make a dinner that actually looks delectable, I post it for all of Instagram to see. But why? Do I want to make someone jealous of my moment? Have I been programmed by social media to broadcast my life across the web, sharing only the moments that make me look like I actually have my shit together? I don’t know, maybe it’s a little of both.

What if I shared the real life things my family does instead. Like when my kids hit each other or pull on each other’s hair: #sisterlylove. Or when my oldest refuses to eat and my youngest chucks her chicken across the room: #dinnerfun. Or maybe when we barely make it to the bus for the hundredth time #mamaislosinghershitagain.

Being so involved on social media makes my brain hurt. The real honest to God’s truth is that most people don’t care what my kids did today. Most people don’t care what ideas I have saved on Pinterest. And most don’t care what I’m eating for dinner.

It’s okay. I understand. The feeling is pretty mutual. So why, then, do I put it all out there? Why do I pretend like I live in a dollhouse where everything is made of cupcakes and my hair doesn’t move, whenever I go online?

Being a mess is okay!

My kids don’t care that I have three unorganized junk drawers and a constant stream of clothes folded in baskets we have to dig through. And they would rather have their parties at Chuckie Cheese instead of at home under duress. And they definitely prefer to eat pasta every single night of the week, than some homemade Paleo/21 Day Fix friendly meal I pinned for my own waistline.

They want me to close my phone and open my eyes, to make mistakes and problem-solve without parenting ques from Facebook. They want me to be real and present. They want my mess.

So maybe it’s time share and pin less. Maybe it’s time to unplug a little more, and stop worrying about the Joneses, the Facebookers, and the Pinners, so I can connect with the people in my small corner of this big world.

Once I have that down, then maybe I can figure out lipstick.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Ski Lesson

“First toe, then heel.”

The neon green rental skis lay before me, perpendicular to the mountain. Snow had started to fall, and perfect white flakes were landing on them, illuminating each scratch and dent from inexperienced skiers who wore them before me. 

I looked up to my instructor, a tall, slender man named Gunther with reflective sunglasses on. In them I could see myself bent into awkward right angles. I straightened my shoulders, and looked back to the skis. They looked more like big green boats, and I hate the ocean.

It was barely 20 degrees outside, but underneath my brand new ski coat, North Face fleece, and base layer, sweat was gathering at the small of my back. I pulled my goggles over my eyes with mitten-covered hands. My peripheral vision was limited because of the gigantic piece of plastic and foam on my face, and my range of motion was restricted because of all the layers. I pulled down the fleece neck warmer for a dose of oxygen, inhaled the icy air, and returned it to its position over my mouth. After that, I focused on the skis or, more specifically, the scratches on the skis. 

Why did I let my husband talk me into this?

“Toe then heel,” Gunther repeated. “Downhill ski first.” His German accent was thick, reminding me of my mother-in-law. 

Kids less than half my size zoomed around me, first to my front, then to my back. They traversed the mountain easily, back and forth, keeping their skis in a wedge shape. Each of them safely stopped at the bottom, not far from me and Gunther.

Toe. Then heel.

Balancing on my left foot, I picked up my right foot like I was told. The boot weighed at least five pounds. It took some navigating, but after several tries I got the toe of my boot lined up with the binding. I stepped down hard, and heard a click.

“Das ist gut!” he said. “Now your left foot. Dig the edge of your right ski in. Balance. Use your poles for support, right? Toe, then heel.”

I tightened my grip on the ski poles and tried to dig them into the snow. One pole slipped on a patch of ice, and I lost my footing. I fell forward, but my ski instructor caught me by the arm.

“Again,” he said, righting my shoulders. “Das ist easy. Don’t think too much. Just do.”

“Okay,” I said, “just do.” I found my center on my right ski and dug the edge against the mountain. I pressed my left boot in and it clicked. “Yay!” I squealed.

“Cool, right?” Gunther asked. The wrinkles on his face became more pronounced as his mouth stretched into a wide grin. He appeared to be having fun with my lack of experience.

“Yes,” I said. “Very cool.”

“Now, we ski.”

Crap.

* * * * *

I fell eleven times on the bunny slope during that lesson, crossing my tips, turning too fast, or catching the edge of my green boats on ice. Each time, Gunther pulled by the arm to a standing position and told me to try again. 

By the end of my lesson, the weight of the thick fabric against my skin felt like I had dumbbells hanging from my shoulders. Air was getting stuck somewhere in the top half of my lungs, never giving me a full breath. Sweat had pooled inside my mittens. And the muscles in the back of my legs were quivering, but I listened to him. I got back up and kept trying.

This is my fifth year on skis. I don’t use rentals anymore. Instead, I have my own. They are purple and black with silver sparkles. When I strap them on, they are an extension of me. I know exactly how well my edge will catch against the ice, and how quickly I can turn. After lessons with two other instructors and hundreds of runs down the slope, Gunther’s words are the only ones that echo in my head, guiding me down the mountain, and picking me back up when I fall.

Photo courtesy of  Unsplash.

The Cancer Chase

Cancer.

Everything about that word makes the bile in my belly rise and the hair follicles on my arms pucker in fear.

Cancer.

Saying or even thinking the word gives me shivers. The difference between the hard and soft ‘c’ sounds make the word sound like a scaly boa constrictor slithering its way around my chest. I’m suffocating from it.

No drinks with sucralose or aspartame.No furniture made with formaldehyde.No more chicken nuggets or hot dogs.Only eat organic fruits and vegetables.No household cleaners.No alcohol.No smoking.No microwaved popcorn.No artificial dyes.Stay out of the sun.Stay away from pollution.

The list of carcinogens, or cancer causing materials, is endless, and if I let myself think about everything I would need to avoid to avoid cancer, I probably wouldn’t ever leave my house.

Complications from cancer have killed strangers, acquaintances, friends, friends of friends, parents of friends, grandparents of friends, and family.

My grandma.

My mom.

My aunt.

It’s everywhere, tightening its grip on my lungs each time I exhale.

Since my mom passed away, I’ve had constant irrational fears that death by cancer will be my unfortunate, inevitable demise. I believe that I will end up just like her: in hospice on a morphine drip for my last days of life. I’m sure that the disease is already lying dormant in some unsuspecting corner of my body – ready to strike and steal everything I love away when I least expect it.

It’s not death that has had me looking over my shoulder in fear. I think the older we get, the more we come to understand that death, like birth, is a part of the cycle. We all must endure it at some point. But the pain, surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation that come with cancer – sometimes lasting for years – have given me the kind of nightmares where I scream myself awake. Nightmares that leave me in sweats with labored breath and a heart pounding through my chest.

And the drugs given to help cancer make me cringe, too. They wreak havoc on your insides, making your organs burn like they are on fire, and cease to function properly. Chemotherapy and radiation can kill your healthy, happy cells along with the sick ones and slowly take you from the life you love.

What happens if It catches up to me? Am I next? Am I strong enough to endure whatever torturous medicines I’m prescribed? Who would protect and provide for my girls and my husband if I were to get sick? Am I destined to die from the disease that keeps stealing the women in my family?

I now realize that these are questions I can’t answer.

The older I get, the more lives I’ve had to watch slip between the cracks of my fragile fingers from this disease. But I’ve decided not to coil away from that monster anymore. Instead, I’m going to look it in the eye, with my fists clenched so hard my fingernails bury themselves deep into the fatty part of my palms, and I’ll acknowledge the possibility of cancer, just like the possibility of no cancer. I’ll let the fear slide off my back instead of continuing to encircle me.

I can’t let cancer control my thoughts anymore.

It’s time to breathe.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

300 Words on 3 Days Sober

Seventy-two hours without a drink in my hand and thoughts are no longer smothered by pressure to reach for a glass, but instead eagerly hovering over the keys with clarity and ambition, reaching for ways to display their excitement through words.

I see expression in myself, my children, and my world that I never knew was there. It’s like I’ve been living with the lights out and ears muffed, stumbling and bumping into things, never quite sure of which direction to take. After making the conscious choice to drink less, the energy around me is palpable and bright.

My lungs are expanding with greater capacity and the crispness of air refreshes my mind, bringing focus to my little space in the universe.

But it’s the moments between each breath, where a feathery touch or tinkling laugh make me realize that staying present will continue to benefit me in ways I never knew were possible with a drink in my hand. These moments were ones the bottle convinced me to ignore most, draining vibrancy from my life.

Though these feelings prove that I am worthy of sobriety, my head continues to persuade me that I am missing out on good times without a glass of my favorite red. It’s a gentle tug pulling me backwards.

I’m hesitant to say that I am free, because I know I’m not. The days ahead of me will be long and filled with uniquely challenging pressures that I haven’t yet prepared myself for. But I will figure them out one by one.

Tonight, I’ll have a glass of wine because it’s the weekend and because I’m flawed. Maybe tomorrow night I’ll have steamy chamomile tea with a teaspoon of honey instead.

And for now, I stand here: three days sober, seeing the clear skies ahead.

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt/Unsplash