Happy Finish Eating the Almond Roca and Ribbon Candy Before it Goes Stale Time, My Dear Old Friends! I have some exciting news: ignoring this blog has finally paid off! I got an actual short story published in an actual literary journal! It took a couple of decades to get back to that place in my life, but here I am.
Obviously, the story is fiction (unlike the totally true adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Meanopause and all the little Pausettes, as recounted in the archives). No actual teacher, living or dead, etc.
I hope you’ll give it a look.
That day you longed for is finally here: that day when you load up the car with matching sheets and fairy lights and compact refrigerators and the last of your children and then kick it over the side of your warren of twigs and hope that it will fly or something; I don’t know, I’m not a fucking bird.
For all I know, the whole notion of birds and their empty nests is bunk. Maybe the eggs hatch and the little birdlings just stay in there until they’re big enough to eat their parents. You think that’s the mommy bird, staring sadly over the rim of her nest after her babies have flown away, but maybe it’s just a big fat cannibalistic baby bird, watching the feathers of her parents drifting from her beak after a satisfied burp.
But I digress.
If you’re like me, you have spent the last 22 years being a stay-at-home mother, and you are now suddenly, thrillingly, bewilderingly retired. So you find yourself saying to yourself (because there’s no one left to talk to): Wait, Self. How does this empty nest thing work?
Fear not, for I have taken the wisdom gleaned over the entire two weeks I have now (mostly) spent without children to create a sort of instruction manual for getting through the emptiest parts of the empty nest syndrome. Forthwith: a list of Dos and Don’ts that should carry you through until your babies come back home to you (or eat you, or whatever).
First, and most important: the long days ahead don’t have to be meaningless, nor do you have to spend them at home, all alone. If you can’t get an actual job because you have no real skills/and/or you’re not terribly likable, do consider volunteer work. There are tons of organizations that would welcome your help for a couple of hours, until they get to know you.
But it doesn’t have to be all work. Do give yourself permission every now and again to just relax and maybe play a game. And then take that permission away because Word Cookies is a privilege, not a right, and if you can’t control yourself then you can just go straight to your room and think about more appropriate uses of one and a half hours of your precious time. Like Words With Friends.
Do make an effort to get out from time to time and buy your children little gifts, because if you can’t get a job and/or all your local organizations have asked you to volunteer to stay home, you’ll have no other way of interacting with anyone until your husband comes home from work because the neighbors aren’t speaking to you anymore since you wrote that thread on “Nextdoor Shadyside” about those idiot kids playing basketball in the street, and you have enough groceries, for fuck’s sake. You have seven different types of cheese in the dairy drawer. Short of trapping the mailman between your car door and the mailbox and engaging him in conversation about DACA, you’re now pretty much out of people to talk to during normal working hours. A little “Thanks, you have a nice day, too!” once or twice a week should be enough to keep you from pouncing on your spouse as he unlocks the door and verbally assaulting him with all the important observations you have had to keep to yourself the entire day, like “What is that smell I keep smelling over there?” and “So it got really hot today, but then I heard this thing when I opened the window, like a baby crying, except it was maybe more like a kitten in distress, or maybe a bird?”
Don’t buy a bag of Taco-flavored Doritos™ and try to eat your feelings. And definitely don’t buy three bags of Taco-flavored Doritos™, eat one and then hide two of them for when you need to eat your feelings later. You will find both of them almost immediately, even though you still have no idea where you put the key to the shed last week or that gift you bought for your mother-in-law, who has been dead for nearly a year.
Do make the most of your new-found free time by pacing aimlessly throughout your house. This not only boosts the number of steps that get recorded by your Fitbit™, but also allows you to discover things you’ve never noticed before, like where you hid the other two bags of Taco-flavored Doritos™. Bonus: if you pace while eating the other two bags of Taco-flavored Doritos™, you totally nullify the calories and—bonus bonus!–create a trail of crumbs that you can then sweep up, so that you will now have only four hours and seven minutes until you can text the children to tell them about that weird baby/kitten/bird sound.
But don’t text them too much. Do give your children enough space that they will want to reach out to you. Studies have shown that after two, maybe two and a half days of classes, they will wind up in the emergency room with a mild concussion after walking into a concrete pole, and you will get to spend some quality time with them, cradling their bruised heads while you chat about their classes and catch up on their new relationships and ask, for the tenth or twelfth time, “Are you sure you weren’t texting when you walked into the pole?” Try not to be upset if your child ultimately withdraws again, because this isn’t about you. Studies have shown that most medical personnel, hospital workers, security guys, and valet parkers have already asked her if she was texting when she walked into the pole; don’t take it personally.
Whatever you do, Don’t run out of episodes of a ten-season show you’ve been watching the entire summer. It’s bad enough that you’re out of children. But now you’re also out of X-Files. And the X-Files probably won’t need you to take them to the dentist next week, or meet you for lunch during a break in class. The X-Files are never coming back. Well, I mean, until they make that next season. But what if it’s also only six episodes long? Don’t start sobbing. Except for season 9, it was a pretty great show, but now it’s all grown up and you’re a strong and independent woman who’s been waiting three whole months to get her life back, so suck it up and move on.
And when your chicks finally do flutter back to the nest for their first visit home, do make sure to set aside time to have any of the important talks you forgot to have with them before they went away, like about sex, or alcohol. Be gentle, but firm. Tell them that, from now on, you won’t be answering any texts after 8 pm, because you’ll be drunk. When they blink and ask you whether that wasn’t always the case, tell them the truth: that you’re not sure.
Wait, don’t have the talk about sex. The kids have enough on their plates. If you don’t know how to do something, just Google.
Finally, do make sure to check in with your spouse to see how he’s holding up with this whole empty nest thing, because it affects him, too.
And if you can’t find him, do make sure to check the children’s beaks, for feathers.
“This will never be fine.
This will not be okay,”
I said to my spouse
On that cold, cold wet day.
We sat at the rally.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, “How I wish
this election weren’t true!”
Too lame, the recount!
And too late to recall!
We were stuck with this louse.
We could do nothing at all!
And all we could say was just
Because we did not like him!
Not one little bit.
Someone said, “President.” And also: “TRUMP!”
How those words, put together,
Made the two of us jump!
And we saw him!
So orange and so matte!
And we saw him!
The Ass in the Hat!
And he said to us,
“You are not tens. You are fat!”
He stood there, the Ass,
His left hand on a book!
He stood there and raised his right hand.
And we shook!
Then he swore like no president
Had previously sworn.
He swore in third person,
His voice full of scorn!
“Trump,” said the Ass,
“Doth solemnly swear
That he can do what he wants
When he wants to. So there!”
Then he threw down the Bible
And turned to the Press.
“Trump will sue you for libel
If you print this address!”
Then he stepped on the Bible
To climb up on a ball!
And he spoke like one
Unused to speaking. At all!
“I have the best generals.
My plan is bigly! It’s YUGE!
It is unpresidented!”
He spoke like a stooge.
“Have no fear,” said the Ass.
“We’ll repeal and replace!
Healthcare is disgusting!
Healthcare’s a disgrace!
We’ll replace it with nothing.
That’s my plan; ain’t it ace?”
“He should not be here!”
Said some guy, smoking pot.
“He should not be here
When Obama is not!”
“Now! Now! Have no fear.
Have no fear!” said the Ass.
“I will drain all the swamps!
I will show you my tax!
I will show you my tax
While I stand on this ball!
And bring back your coal jobs!
And build a great wall!”
Then the Ass in the Hat
Grabbed the guy with the pot!
“You think that’s still legal?”
Said the Ass. “I think not!
And forget your gay wedding.
Take a look at my hat!
To make America great
We just cannot have that!”
“Put me down!” said the guy with the pot.
I do not like your plans!
I do not want to play!
You should not be here
When Obama is not!
We had hope! We had change!
And now look what we got!”
“Yes, look at me! Look at me!
Look at me now!
I can grab this pot smoker
While I stand on this ball!
But that is not all I can grab.
Not at all!
I can grab this pot smoker
While I dance the Watusi!
I can grab women’s rights!
Grab ‘em right by the pussy!
I can grab education
And take it away!
And affordable housing!
And art funding! Hooray!
And what will be left
When I’ve taken it all?”
Said the Ass in the Hat
As he danced on the ball.
“A lot of great stuff.
Really great, you’re darn tootin’.
Like more hate and more guns
And my good friend, Vlad Putin!
And more money for me.
More money for Trump!”
Said the Ass, with great glee.
Then he came down! With a THUMP!
And the guy came down, too.
He fell down, with his pot!
And he said, “Do I like this?
Oh no, I do not!”
He patted his jacket
And from it he pulled
An old piece of paper–
An ink-covered scroll!
“Now look what you did!
Look at this Constitution!
You broke it. In pieces!
You must make restitution!”
And the Ass? Well, he laughed
As he rose from the ground.
“Listen. Believe me.
I did not fall down.
I did not fall down
So I won’t fix a thing.
Now shut up and listen
While my nobodies sing!
They’ll sing you some songs
That nobody likes!
They’ll sing one. They’ll sing two!
That Yellow Ribbon song? (Yikes!)
And then you’ll go home.
You’ll go home, all you chumps!
Back to your houses!
Well, except for us Trumps.
Trumps don’t need houses.
Trumps live in hotels.
Sometimes with their spouses.
So you can all go to hell.”
“And that’s my address,”
Said the Ass. “Now it’s done.
I’ll do what I want, when I want.
‘Cause I won.”
Then he tipped his hat.
But as he turned to leave,
The guy with the pot
Grabbed the Ass, by the sleeve!
“Wait!” said the guy.
“I still have one question!
What could we have done
To prevent your election?”
“What could you have done?”
The Ass flipped his weird hair.
Then he winked. “Nyet, hon.”
And the Ass wasn’t there.
But I turned to my spouse
And he to me, at the rally.
And each person to the next.
Friend to friend. Pal to pally.
We turned to each other,
And to the guy smoking pot,
Asking what we could do
That, last time, we did not.
We asked and we asked
And we asked all the same!
And we cried: Who’s to blame?
Who’s to blame?
Who’s to blame?
But nobody answered.
Not one of us knew.
What should we have done?
I am asking you.
I’m asking because—
All things being equal—
“The ASS in the HAT Comes Back”
would be a terrible sequel.
Yesterday, I looked up from my computer to my window on the driveway and found myself, once again, hurtling out the door to stalk a red-headed man who was walking down my street.
I did this with no conscious plan of what I might do if I caught him. I did not think to take my phone so that I might capture his image or, if necessary, call someone (the police? my husband? my children?) for help. I just looked up, saw him glancing around furtively, saw his cloth grocery bag bulging with what appeared to be a large, square box, and off I went.
Because I’m losing my mind.
Or, more specifically, because I’ve carved out a deep section of brain that I used to use for solving problems (like backed-up drains or drawers that mysteriously no longer close or characters who refuse to be anything but stereotypes) and filled it full of rage.
You guys, I’m so angry.
What’s that you say? Haven’t I always been that way?
Can you do me a favor and go DIE IN A HOLE?
But I mean, well, yes, sure, if you want to get specific about it, my Ancestry.com DNA results did show that I am 37 % Eastern European Jewish, 36 % British, 7 % Irish, a tiny bit Asian and African, and 18 % Overdeveloped Western Sense of Injustice, but those figures are based on comparisons to the DNA of regional populations. I’m talking about a comparison of my own rage at this particular moment to my own rage of, say, November 7th or 8th.
Which, comparatively speaking, is now Yuuuuge.
That’s right: I’m talking about the election. But before you say something brilliant and original like maybe I should just put on my big girl panties and get over it, let me warn you that I appear to have broken my husband’s paper shredder, and if I get it apart, as I plan to, in order to solve the problem of its brokenness the way I used to, which I won’t be able to, because of that deep section of brain thing I described above, SERIOUSLY? Are you talking to me? ARE YOU TALKING TO ME ABOUT PANTIES??
And what is that, anyway, that “put on your big girl panties” thing? Did you think I had been sitting around wearing little girl panties? Or little boy panties? Or big boy panties, for that matter? Or, for that matter, no panties at all? Are you a pervert, as well as an insufferable, sartorial-advice-giving fuckwit, which is a British term I have decided to adopt because there simply aren’t enough American ways to describe the utter kakistocracy—a Greek word for government by douchebags—that we are just beginning to –
Hang on: FedEx truck. Have to focus.
Okay, okay. Woman with stroller; baby foot visible in air. Man with dog on leash. Car. Car. Bicyclist with bulging backpack.
But can catch bicyclist? Am wearing shoes? Phone?
Phone! Where is phone?
Here is phone! But where is Bicyclist?
Okay, never mind. I can’t win everything.
In fact, I can’t win anything.
Because this is 2016, a year that was only ten days old when it began its reign of terror, a serial killer specializing in the deaths of the extraordinarily gifted, whose body count includes not only David Bowie and Alan Rickman in a single, horrible week, but Muhammed Ali and Leonard Cohen. Edward Albee. Gene Motherfucking Wilder. Prince, you murderous son of a bitch.
Not content with the universal, 2016 made it personal, wiping out both of my husband’s parents within the space of a month. It gave one of my daughters a case of mono that put her to bed from early spring to late summer, and in the fall, it put the other daughter in a TSA detention-situation that scared her so badly it caused a resurgence of a neurological issue she’d finally managed to get under control. It shook my husband awake on the morning of his father’s funeral with a crippling bout of sciatica that has only now begun to abate. And just to be a total asshole, it had me serve not just once, but twice as a pallbearer with a broken wrist, having snapped my Tequila bone when all I was doing was reaching into my stupid purse for my fucking phone.
(Okay, fine: maybe it’s called the tricunem or triquetrum bone or something. I tend to turn words I don’t understand into words that I do, and if there’s one thing that I do understand, it’s alcohol. “Tequila bone” makes perfect sense, in context: it’s the bone you’d find at the base of your palm, to the left, as you rubbed lime and salt on your forearm. Conversely, if you’d flipped your hand over to study it while shrieking “Ow ow ow!! Stop hurting! I’m just trying to read a text!!” it’s the bone you’d find on the right—the one that hurts so bad that you pretty much need a margarita to even contemplate the 45-minute drive home from the airport that you usually require both your arms to make.)
And then this total dick of a year, probably realizing how bad it was making itself look, decided to pale in comparison to the horror of the years to come by ushering in the era of Trump.
Just, every day. Every day I wake up, and it’s: Trump has announced the nomination of Satan to serve as the head of Kill Me Now. Monster McNightmare Pants, who is on probation for giving his mistress secret government documents, will chair the Committee for Keeping Government Documents Secret. The KKK will be put in charge of the NAACP. Melania will campaign against bullying.
THEY DON’T MAKE PANTIES BIG ENOUGH TO—
Hold up: UPS.
I’m just gonna go, umm, check on the hydrangeas, to see if they’re still, you know, dead.
I am totally not going to follow anybody to see if they’re trying to steal packages, because, ha ha, I’m not even expecting a package today and it’s not like I’m some sort of self-appointed holiday superhero who is going to single-handedly keep our block safe from one small shitty thing in a year of massively shitty things except—
RED ALERT! RED ALERT! It’s that guy with red hair, who had the shopping bag!!! And he’s—
going into the apartment building across the street.
He, um, lives in the apartment building across the street.
Yep, yep. Hydrangeas still dead.
Okay, so where were we?
So here’s the thing: back in the fall, when my older daughter was detained by the TSA for being the sweetest, tiniest and, because, of a dormant neurological issue, least capable of dealing with random acts of petty power of all of my children who were traveling internationally with her but without their father (who was returning the following day alone because he didn’t want to feel bad about sitting in First Class while his kids rode coach, because he’s an utter DOU—)
Nope, nope, I can do this. YOU CALM DOWN.
So anyway, when they pulled her out of the security line and left her alone in a room with no explanation for why she was there or what might be her fate, her connecting flight minutes away from departure and her phone detained for its own presumptive crimes, she just lost it, as any tiny 19 year-old with heretofore dormant neurological issues might. She sobbed. She ticced. She ticced and she sobbed. And when the TSA finally released her, she tore out of the detention room, ticcing and sobbing and trying to reach her siblings at their departure gate, so what happened next was inevitable: she ran into a waiter carrying a tray of sushi, and smashed her arm.
(Wait, two things: 1) No, I don’t know why a waiter would be carrying a tray of sushi in an airport, especially just outside a TSA holding room, but I am willing to entertain any rage-fueled theories involving how our tax dollars are being spent; and 2) I feel compelled to admit, at this point, that she eventually suggested that the collision might not, entirely, have been an accident. “He had sushi,” she said. “I wanted sushi! The whole thing was so unfair!”)
So but when I picked the kids up from the airport after they miraculously made their flight, my daughter held out her arm to show me the injury. I gasped and clucked—her upper arm was swollen, a bruise the lush colors of a Florida sunset winding its way from her shoulder to her elbow–but she set her chin to its bravest height and suppressed yet another tic.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m just waiting for the swelling to go down.”
And that is the story of how our family motto for 2016 was born. And as I write this, I realize that I should have ordered pillows or samplers with the motto stitched onto them for each family member, but then that would have just given me another set of packages to worry about.
Because my point is that the swelling isn’t going down.
Instead of getting better, instead of healing, instead of doing the sorts of things that allow us to get over whatever it is that hurts, this has been a year where the injuries seem not just to linger, but to magnify. Drawers that won’t close still won’t slide into place, even after I’ve taken them apart and watched YouTube videos on how to put them back together. The paper shredder is in shreds. The drain is still clogged. My novel is full of drug dealers with hearts of gold. If I pick up anything even slightly heavy with my left wrist, my Tequila bone throbs. My husband still walks with a slight limp. My younger daughter comes home from school and falls asleep for hours at a stretch, where she never used to nap. My oldest daughter’s tics have begun to interfere with her ability to make it through lecture classes. My in-laws, who had started to fill in tiny spaces in my heart that the deaths of my own parents had opened wide, are gone.
As are Bowie. And Gene Motherfucking Wilder. And Prince.
And every day. Every goddamn day: Trump.
And now you think that I should just put on some giant underwear and get over the fact that not only did the woman who should have been the first woman president after we should have had a first woman president long, long ago not win, but that she lost to TRUMP and all he stands for, including greed and misogyny and racism and homophobia and narcissism and, above all, hate?
Listen up, 2016: maybe, eventually, I will get over you. But right now, the only thing you have on 2015 is that none of the holiday gifts I’ve ordered have been stolen so far. But it’s only because I have been on patrol.
And the way things are going, this year could easily get worse. There are still a couple of weeks left; thus far, most of our major appliances still work. Certain members of my family have escaped illness or injury. Some genius celebrities are still alive. The electoral college hasn’t yet sealed our fate. But until you’re officially dead and gone, 2016, I will pour all of that rage and betrayal and hurt and swelling you’ve engendered into the only thing I can do to mark this as a year in which something, anything, was better than the last. I will watch my street, and I will–
–jump up and run.
- Switch cleansers (poss. try “7th Generation” (?) b/c more eco-friendly; also, Mr. Clean likely source of rash).
- Deep Web search “Liza,Dear” for poss. defense witness w/r/t Bucket v DearGeorgie defamation suit. Saul: Def. “hole” too broad?
- Ask Cats & Dogs switch wknds in June (Cousin Pail wedding; 15th? Check evite).
- Urban Dictionary user-generated ala Wiki? If so, change def. from “troll sex” immdetly. “Incestuous slurry”??? Poss. alternative def.: To Bucket means to be extremely cool or to do something extremely cool (“He bucketed the novel and won both the Man-Booker and the National Book Award”).
- Remind Saul pursue KFC Cease & Desist (false representation! Box not Bucket of chicken).
- Also Saul: eviction notice sent Drop? Feel like still here.
- Netflix “Bucket of Blood”—accdg IMDB, comedy. Srsly? But: Roger Corman! How have not seen before??
- Revise limerick b/f podcast recording—NPR not use “fuckit” rhyme on air. Sub “suckit”? But: change meaning? Also, accdg Jonathan, Nantucket cliché. Jonathan cliché. But: island junket? Jimmy Buffet? Gah. Google.
- Interview Mom re Carrie appearance for Chapt. 7/memoir (confirm Sissy Spacek “kind of a jerk” [M. glad no stuntwoman]; verify settled lawsuit re permanent red dye stains destroyed film career [not alcoholism]).
- Chng FB cover pic Willy Wonka (Wilder NOT Depp); profile pic – Charlie. Status: “Another Famous Bucket!”/smiley emoticon? No: winky b/c irony (Charlie human).
- Do NOT forget ask Saul contact ALS foundation again—need receipt for 2014 ASAP!!! Accdg IRS, Ice claim entire charity deduction, so my half inadmissible?? “Ice Bucket Challenge,” not “Ice Challenge”!! Ice fall on heads by self?? Ice is asshole.
- Cnsdr contact Ancestry.com re clear maternal Pail line link to Jack/Jill/Hill incident. BUT: DNA sample reveal drug use? RESEARCH 1st.
- Next Celebrity death: copy/paste comment “OMG [s]he kicked the ice?” evry Facebk post. Fnd out how Twitter/ditto.
- DVR Knicks game.
Last week, my youngest child (a girl with mid-length, straightish hair; her name maybe starts with an S?) came to me seeking wisdom. Of course, I was deeply touched: despite my vast base of knowledge about world capitals and the lyrics of any Paul Simon song, my children seldom approach me for information other than how many vodka tonics I’ve had so far tonight, or whether I’ve gotten around to washing a load of laundry that includes socks.
“Mom,” she asked, looking up from her cell phone, “what are some of the things you gain as you grow old?”
A shiver of excitement coursed through me so strongly that it shook my drink: not only was she taking an actual interest in me, but here was a topic about which I was practically an expert! And unlike the plot of a movie I saw last week, this was a subject I couldn’t easily forget, since it was happening all the time, and usually on my face.
The most obvious answer, of course, was Weight.
“Especially around the waist,” I said. “For women, anyway. And your breasts, if you’ve had kids, though obviously I know nothing about that, ha ha!”
I was trying not to babble, but it was so gratifying to hold a conversation with her again that I’d nearly forgotten how it worked. “And you also get these jowl thingies, at your neck? And these fleshy wing things under your arms! And sometimes even your feet get fatter, or maybe just flatter, which is why you also gain a ton of extra money as you age, because you stop spending it on cute shoes that you actually like, and–”
“Mom, Mom, stop. I already have weight.”
What was she talking about? Whoever she was, she was ridiculously, enviously slender.
“It has to start with ‘G.’”
Now I was the one with the questions: “Wait. What? Why?”
“I’m taking a quiz. I already have Weight. And Money. I need something that starts with G.”
“Oh.” As disappointed as I was, though, I was still grateful to have been asked. I spent a minute thumbing through my steadily dwindling mental files. “I don’t know,” I said, finally. “Grandkids?”
“Already tried that. Thanks, anyway,” she said, turning back to her phone, her face once again lost to me before I’d had time to register its many distinctions, so that I might better remember who she was when next she looked up, probably in a month or so.
Still, the question stuck with me, suggesting that somewhere out there was a need for a sort of ABCs of ageing, like an alphabetical primer, only sad.
And here I haven’t had a blog post up in more than a month!
I raced to my computer and began to jot them down:
A is for your Age Spots, those freckle hate crimes on your face;
B is for your Bunions, which make it harder to give chase;
C is for the Consequence of youthful things that you have done
(like smoked too many cigarettes, while drinking, in the sun);
D is for Divorce and Date, and also for Denial;
E is for the Eyebrow Hairs you’ll have to draw and style;
F is for the Fabrics that you’ll now refuse to wear
(like anything that doesn’t stretch, or that makes you sweat down there);
G is for—what is it for? Not Grandkids, so it seems;
H is for the “Humor” you won’t find in Facebook memes;
I is for the iThings you’ll accumulate in drawers,
like dead iPods and broke iPads and useless iPhone chargers;
J is for the Jerks you’ll friend on Facebook, before you hide them;
K is for the Knees that fail (high heels, you can’t abide them!);
L is for the Lumps you’ll find in places where they weren’t,
like around your bra and down your back, an undulating current;
M is for the Memories you’ll—what’s the phrase? Start losing?
(those things you had before you sadly started all that boozing?);
N is for all the Numbers that you’ll no longer remember
(your zip code, say, or a child’s birthday, or the days hathed by November);
O is for real Orgasms, the kind you faked when you were younger
(what can I say? You tried to please. And you were so much dumber);
P is for the Pee you’ll make, an endless, rich supply!
Q is for the Questions that will begin to multiply
(like: Who are you? and: Where’s my keys? and: I’m in the kitchen; why?);
R is for the Regrets you’ll feel for your years of fashion no-nos
(that rope-belt dress with the shoulder pads? Were you a Businesswoman Hobo?);
S is for the Sunrises you used to long to greet
(you’ve been up all night, so shut up, all right? This is not a fucking treat!);
T is for the Teeth that start to Torture you, or crumble;
U is for Uttered Oaths you used to only mumble;
V is for Veins Varicose, and also for Veins Spider;
W is for the Weight you gain that makes your Waistline Wider;
X is for Xplethebid, a word I’ve just invented!
(it’s the sound you make when your techno things don’t go as you intended:
“’Xplethebid!’ the Crone exclaimed, when she accidentally sexted.”);
Y is for the Yearning you thought would build as you grew older.
You’re not what you imagined once, but in many ways, you’re golder;
Your big wish now is things stay the same; no ancient longings smolder.
(Wait! What about Z? And wasn’t this supposed to be a list of things you’ve gained?)
(Umm, who are you? And where’s my shoe? Did I tell you that it rained?)
(Never mind. It’s time to find a rhyme for things that start with Z.)
(You mean like Zebra? I’m gonna go with “Libra.” Now goodbye! I have to pee!)
(Things you gain, you jerk! How would “Zebra” work? Do you have more Zebras than when you were younger??)
(I don’t have fewer! Wait, what was it that you were saying about being dumber?)
(Hold up; scroll up! Don’t have a spasm. I think it was under O, for Orgasm. Xplethebid! Did you see what I did? I just deleted half the–
“Would you answer my question, please, Mom?” asked a child at my shoulder. It was a girl, with straightish, mid-length hair. My youngest, I think. She peered at the screen. “Oh my God, did you write ‘Orgasm’? Stop it! Whatever you’re doing. Stop writing that, right now.”
Suddenly, I remembered who she was: the kid who wanted to know what you gain when you grow older, that starts with “G.”
“Gray hair!” I said, triumphantly.
“What are you talking about?”
“Things you gain as you grow older? That start with ‘G’?”
She shook her head. “That was hours ago. I came back down to ask you if you’ve done any laundry that includes socks.”
“Grief,” I mumbled, reaching for my vodka. “You gain grief.”
I have a song in my iTunes playlist that I never listen to. In fact, as soon as it comes on (or as soon as I’m aware that it’s come on; there is a deceptive moment of what appears to be silence at its beginning that lulls me into a false sense of security), I quickly hit the forward arrow, almost always unwilling to take that journey into grief that the song has represented to me for more than 30 years now. But this morning, I can’t escape it: its lyrics are all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and even NPR greeted me with it as I started the coffeemaker at dawn: “Ground control to Major Tom. Ground control to Major Tom.”
Perhaps it is for the very reason that I can’t listen to it that so many have turned to the song this morning to grapple with what it feels like to learn that David Bowie has died: because there is no song that better captures both the bewilderment and desolation of being suddenly left behind (“your circuit’s dead/there’s something wrong/can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom?”) and our imagination of the bewilderment and desolation of suddenly leaving (“I’m stepping through the door/and I’m floating in a most peculiar way/and the stars look very different today”).
The metaphor is inescapable: Major Tom is both there and not there, simultaneously, Ground Control’s query–can you hear—braided with Major Tom’s lonely assertion of place (here/am I floating round my tin can), the lines running over and under one another in a chorus of grief and shock.
When I listen to the song—when I can bear to listen to the song—I am immediately swung back through time to the afternoon I learned that my brother, Tom, had been killed in a motorcycle accident at 23, and to that moment, just after the horror of losing him had swept into my consciousness, where I allowed myself to imagine the horror he felt as he left. As hard and as terrible as it felt to experience him as gone—gone for good, gone forever, never to sit in a booth in a bar with me and sing all the lyrics to “American Pie” again–it was harder and more terrible still to imagine that he was aware of his absence: that, like Major Tom, he was circling overhead, just out of reach, longing to come back home.
For a song whose first stanza ends with the lyric “and may God’s love be with you,” it is painfully existential: Major Tom, floating through space, is utterly alone. And while there is, arguably, a comfort in the notion that he isn’t crying out in fear or panic, I can’t hear the song without imagining what happens to the astronaut hours or days or months later, when Planet Earth is still blue, and there’s still nothing he can do. Is it better or worse for him to hear Ground Control, if he can’t reply to them? Is it better or worse for his wife to know that he loves her very much, if she can’t say it back?
Because the song raises these questions, it remains one of the sharpest metaphors for death I have ever encountered. And because it can’t answer them, it remains one of the most hopeless metaphors for death I know.
Which begs the question: why is this song on my playlist at all?
Because grief is a satellite that is forever tethered to my love for my brother, and this song is my portal to both. Sometimes, to honor or indulge his loss, I select the song, and weep. The problem comes when I hear it accidentally, the shuffle cruelly cueing it up while I’m raking leaves, or some department store’s peculiar musak blasting it through the speakers on the heels of an innocuous Rolling Stones song.
Or when I wake to discover that David Bowie has stepped through that same door, and we have all become Ground Control, calling out, unsure whether it’s better that he can or can’t hear our grief but unable to stop ourselves from expressing it.
‘Twas the fifth night of Hanukkah, when all through the house
Came the faint sound of beeping (heard not by my spouse
Who, though totally youthful–attractive, endearing–
Has grown just a wee bit–okay, a lot–hard of hearing).
The teen had been nestled atop of her bed
With laptop and iPhone and “homework” (she said),
While Jack with his Kindle and I with my ‘Pad
Had just settled our brains from all the booze that we’d had
(While raising our cups to the anniversary [sixth]
Of our very first date, which is why we had fixed
The candles so late in the menorah that eve
And then done what you shouldn’t, which was to get up and leave).
When out in the hallway there arose such kvetching
I sprang from our bed! I jumped up! Without stretching!
‘Twas the teen–with a shriek–down the stairway a’tripping
The peals of the smoke alarm steadily ripping!
Away down the staircase I followed—I flew!
Forgetting my glasses (cause I’m stupid, nu?).
And what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Not much; sans lenses, I’m blind, I fear.
Smoke billowed and pillowed; what tsuris! What horror!
Were those flames rising up from our gorgeous menorah?
“Oh my God!” the teen yelled; “Oh my God!” I repeated.
She grabbed up a towel and on the menorah she beated.
“Is that a towel?” I asked. “Why are you doing that? Why?”
“To smother the flames!” “But you’ll catch fire, and die!”
She pulled the towel back, and we huffed and we puffed
And within a few moments the flames we had snuffed.
Then there in the ruins I searched for the roots of
A fire of such force, of such holiday chutzpah.
“Did the candles fall over? Did they set fire to the matches?”
“Good God, Mom, go back up and put on your glasses!”
Away to my bedroom I flew like a yutz
To snatch up my lenses and wipe at their shmutz.
“Come, PeePaw,” I cried to my husband, “Come, Jack,”
“The menorah caught fire! It’s a schanda! Ack!”
And then in a twinkling we raced down the steps
(After time out for tinkling; the distance’s a schlep!).
Jack spoke not a word but went straight to the sector
Where the beeping still rose from our brave smoke detector
And laying a ladder aside of the wall
He knocked the thing down! (I couldn’t! I’m small.)
Then ‘round the menorah our family we clustered
To gaze at the mess that this fire had mustered.
We shook when we looked, like a belly unbelted!
Begosh and begorrah! The menorah had melted.
The candle-holders themselves made no claim to astonish,
Each still intact, from Night One to the Shamus.
But the Lucite base was the object most damnable
Because Lucite is plastic. And plastic is flammable!
“Good golly!” I sang out, in spite of myself,
“Where’d we get this piece of garbage?” “Be quiet, you elf!”
Said my husband, who was obviously feeling defensive:
This product, so schlocky, had been quite expensive.
And then he explained, once he’d thought theruponukkah,
That he’d bought it online for our first married Hanukkah.
So let me exclaim while I’m still feeling furious:
Don’t order your menorah from a source that is spurious!
Don’t order at all! Get off your tuchas, all right?
Online Hanukkah can kill you! Oy vey and good night!
But I’ll leave with a message from this Meanopause half-goy:
There’s still three nights to go. And then Christmas. Oh boy.
On the first night of Hanukkah, my mother gave to me
Nothing, because the gift she’d ordered was from an artist on Etsy.
On the second night of Hanukkah, my mother gave to me
Two bags of gelt, because the gift she ordered on Cyber Monday
Hadn’t shipped by Hanukkah Sunday
Nor had the gift that she’d ordered from Etsy.
On the third night of Hanukkah, my mother gave to me
Three pairs of socks!
On Nordstrom Rack she wished a pox
For a note of “damaged packing”
On my real gift’s UPS tracking
Two bags of gelt because the gift she ordered on Cyber Monday
Hadn’t shipped by Hanukkah Sunday
And no response from the artist who’d posted on Etsy.
On the fourth night of Hanukkah, my Mother gave to me
Four spinning dreidels
Because my too-big Kate Spade bangle
Was unreturnable by mail
(It had been a final sale)
Three pairs of socks, two bags of gelt
And another query to the artist on Etsy.
On the fifth night of Hanukkah, my mother gave to me
Five frozen Trader Joes’ latkes!
Four spinning dreidels
In lieu of my Kate Spade bangle
Three pairs of socks
Because of my gift’s damaged box
Two bags of gelt
And nothing whatsoever from Etsy.
On the sixth night of Hanukkah my mother gave to me
Six powdered donuts because my gifts still hadn’t shown up
Five frozen latkes because of undelivered tchotchkes
Four spinning dreidels while she wore my big fat bangle
Three pairs of socks instead of whatever was in that damaged box
Two bags of gelt, which were better, though, I felt,
Than that nothing that she’d ordered from Etsy.
On the seventh night of Hanukkah my mother gave to me
Seven promises to go shopping!
The type of mad she was was hopping!
Which was maybe why she was drinking!
While the candlelight was winking
From our just-lit menorah
While she recounted the horrah
Of that bitch Yvonne from Banana Republic
Who had another think to come if
She thought she gave two shits about
Her stupid shipping policy.
On the eighth night of Hanukkah my mother gave to me
Eight gifts she ran out and bought!
You could tell she spent a lot!
On top of all the money that she’d wasted
And all the notes she’d cut and pasted
Tracking packages that won’t turn up
Until the last candle’s burnt up
‘Cause Cyber Monday blows when Hanukkah shows up so
Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us here at Meanopause headquarters, where we spent every last waking minute of last month (except for Cyber Monday) trying to write a novel for “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month). Obviously, we shouldn’t have taken that Cyber Monday off.
Happy Halloween, Witchez! We here at Meanopause are celebrating this special holiday by handing out stories instead of candy (because we ate all the candy)! But we only have enough for 15 lucky trick-or-treaters, so hurry up and get yours before we turn off the porch lights and drink in the dark while we pretend we’re not home!
- The Bare Bitch Project
A middle-aged woman decides it’s time to pull off all her clothes and take a good long look in the mirror at what’s really going on with her belly and butt. Horrified at her own reflection, she struggles to yank her leggings back on but now she’s all sweaty, so she barely makes it out to her front yard in time to yell at the neighbor’s landscaper for blowing leaves onto her lawn.
- Fall of the House of Gingerbread
A middle-aged woman drives her family for eleven hours to St. Louis for the holidays, but the guest room is freezing cold, you have to go all the way to the basement for alcohol, the gingerbread house the children build with their cousins looks nothing like the picture on the box, and, when she peels a peppermint tile off its roof to disguise the smell of that weird Jager stuff her brother must have bought for a party, the woman discovers, to her horror, that it is stale.
- A Nightmare on Aiken Street
Detour?? From what?? To where??
- Phantom of the Oprah
Remember when she wore those size 10 Calvin Klein jeans and pulled a wagon full of fat around her studio to represent the weight she’d lost? A size 10 in 1988 is now a size 4. Your life is built on lies.
- Maury Stein
A middle-aged woman goes with her new husband to his accountant for help with their taxes, and notices that the accountant looks eerily familiar. Try as she might, though, the woman is unable to place him. After nearly fifteen minutes of not listening to stuff about investments, the woman suddenly realizes, to her horror, that both the accountant and her husband are now yelling at her for having taken money from a retirement account to buy Hannukah gifts the year before.
- Bride of Maury Stein
A middle-aged woman goes to the JCC to work out, only to remember how it is that she knows her husband’s accountant: he’s married to that skinny mother of one of her kids’ schoolmates who is now running on at least a 6 on the treadmill next to her, after upping her speed each time the middle-aged woman tries to take her own speed up a notch. Later, panting and wheezing in the changing room, the middle-aged woman tries to take comfort in the knowledge that the skinny woman has extremely frizzy hair, but then it turns out that she’s a doctor.
- Young Maury Stein
Throws his stupid sports-themed bar mitzvah party at Heinz Field, so a middle-aged woman has drive downtown to pick up her daughter. At night.
- The Sikh’s Sense
While stuck in detoured traffic, a middle-aged woman tries to listen to an NPR program about ethnic tensions, but some idiot keeps beeping her horn, and the woman can’t focus on the story. She turns off the radio, only to discover, to her horror, that she has actually changed it to a station playing rap music.
- Little Shop of Hors D’Oeuvres
Eleven dollars for a jar of olives. ELEVEN DOLLARS.
- Night of the Living Bread
A middle-aged woman’s husband returns from his weird running/drinking club covered in flour. Gluten-free for two years now, she follows him around until he showers, sniffing.
- The Texas Chainstore Massacre
The J.C. Penney at the mall closes for good, causing a middle-aged woman to have to walk all the way to the food court before she can find a working restroom.
- Rosemary’s Teenager
A middle-aged woman sends a text to her daughter to let her know that she has arrived to pick her up. 7 minutes pass without a response, so obviously the daughter is missing and probably dead. The woman begins to weep as she pulls out her phone to dial 9-1-1, only to discover, to her horror, that she had forgotten to press send. The woman pulls herself together, presses send, and her daughter responds almost immediately, chiding the woman for being late.
- The Science of the Lambs
A middle-aged woman’s daughter asks for help with her homework, but the woman can’t remember anything about genetics except that thing about—no, no, she can’t remember that thing, either.
- Carrie Bradshaw
In the middle of watching a Sex and the City episode with her teenaged daughters, a middle-aged woman realizes she is watching a Sex and the City episode with her teenaged daughters.
- Children of the Candy Corn
A middle-aged woman hides a stash of Halloween candy in her desk drawer, but just when she needs it most, it’s gone. Enraged, she summons her son and two daughters into the kitchen, takes the sharpest knife from the butcher block on the counter, and, while her kids scream helplessly, slits open another bag of Halloween candy and eats the entire thing in front of them.