Chapter One

Think, dumbass, think. Where are they?

She tore through the stacked boxes, unable to read the neatly printed labels written in purple Sharpie through tears sloshing across her field of vision.

Makayla Burke frantically wiped the back of her hand across her face.

What’s this one? Shit, dishes.

A blue ceramic salad plate fell and shattered in her haste to shove the heavy box aside and she had to fight back a fresh wave of emotion. Those were an early wedding present. More like a housewarming, really.

She hadn’t had any time to unpack, save for her work clothes and some makeup. Like she’d be needing those now.

Shoes…..shoes…..YES!

The box labeled “Workout Gear” had been underneath piles of Jared’s stuff – video game cartridges, tools, home brewing supplies. Makayla made a mental note to check the fridge before she left. Maybe there were a few bottles still in there.

At the bottom of the box she finally found her coral pink Nike running shoes and a wad of bunched up athletic socks. She kicked off the muddy men’s sneakers she’d been wearing, quickly shedding her drenched, ripped pantsuit, and tugged on her musty running outfit before looking for her rain gear. Since moving to the Portland, Oregon area five years ago, she’d learned the hard way that you didn’t get very far without waterproof clothing in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a good thing Jared got me into backpacking, ugh.

Makayla found the camping and outdoor gear shoved in a corner and located her backpacking pack, already halfway full of supplies she usually needed on weekend trips in the wilderness.

A scream ripped through the building, and Makayla froze, listening. She could still hear some sirens in the distance and now there was some shouting out on the street, but nothing too close. Just to be sure, she got up and tip-toed to the front door to make sure the deadbolt was still in place. She peeked through the peephole and could see nothing new. Only the apartment door across the hall, a fresh red stain smeared around the doorknob.

With renewed urgency, Makayla set to work looking for things that she might need once she left. Clothes, a hat, an extra pair of running shoes strapped to the outside of the pack (she knew one day all those shoes from Nike would actually come in handy). She placed a few stray water bottles down inside along the sides.

Goddamnit. I can’t count on you to go grocery shopping, ever!

Upon opening the fridge, Makayla was greeted by a half-eaten pizza and one last bottle of Jared’s home brew, complete with the little homemade labels she’d designed for him: a little white bunny under the words Hoppy Ending IPA.

Fucking Portlanders and their fucking obsession with pinesol-tasting beer. I guess it’ll have to do, one for the road.

She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or continue crying, so she did neither and gingerly wrapped the bottle in a sweatshirt and stuffed it into her pack. The pizza she shoved into her mouth before she did a final sweep of the apartment.

Makayla walked over to the big flatscreen TV, one of the few things Jared had unpacked, along with his now vintage Xbox, grabbed the remote and hit the power button. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to see, or rather, what she was afraid she’d see, but she still wanted whatever information was available about the state of the world. At the very least, she wanted to see if the TV would turn on at all.

Static. Not a good sign.

She flicked it off and shook her head in an effort to block out the questions bubbling up about what it meant. There were way too many unknowns right now and no way to be prepared for them all.

Heading into the bedroom, Makayla shielded her eyes from the shredded, bloodstained sheets, which were pristine and full of hope the last time she saw them. They were meant for a life she’d never have. She made a beeline for the dresser. While it didn’t have clothes in it yet, and now never would, it supported her jewelry box – a gift from her parents once upon a time. Not one for wearing much jewelry, Makayla selected a gold locket that her parents had given her on her tenth birthday. She zipped it into the front pocket of her rain pants. As she turned to leave the room she caught sight of a lone item on Jared’s bedside table – the swiss army knife he usually wore everywhere.

A lot of good it did him today.

She grabbed it and gingerly brought it to her lips for a brief moment before stuffing it down the side of her sock.

After going pee one last time and making a concerted effort not to throw up the pizza she had just gorged (she was going to need the calories), she heaved her now full and heavy pack onto her back and clicked the straps closed, yanked them tight across her body like one of those anxiety-reducing straightjackets. She closed her eyes and said a silent goodbye to the apartment. It was a goodbye to a place that was barely hers, a goodbye to a life that she wasn’t meant to have, a goodbye to a person who didn’t deserve her.

Makayla took a deep breath in through her nose, and turned the doorknob open as she breathed out through her mouth. After glancing down the hall in both directions and seeing no movement, she turned around and pulled the door shut as quietly as possible. Brandishing the streak knife she had pulled from the kitchen drawer, she power walked down the hall, down the stairs, and out the heavy metal side door to the complex.

There had been a break in the clouds and rain. Makayla took a step out into the blinding sun.


NaNoWriMo Day 1

997 words

We’ve Been Here Before

I’ve been feeling a weird sense of deja vu the past few days.

Here in the Portland, Oregon area we’ve finally had some smoke settle into the valley. I say finally because we’ve had a large wildfire burning southeast of us for a while now and we’ve been fortunate to not have the smoke-filled wind heading our way until a few days ago. Oh hello. I’ve been expecting you.

Last September, a windstorm blew smoke into our valley that stuck around for 11 long days. For a time, we had the worst air quality in the world. The sky was orange, the sunsets were bloody, my kids didn’t leave the house, and smoke seeped into our house as we tried in vain to tape up every source of air leakage. Covid had made my home and the outdoors the only safe places, but airborne ash and soot were able to reach every crevice where Covid had missed. My safe space had gotten so small, I was ready to start crafting a cocoon. The only thing left to do was to hibernate and hope the time for butterflies would come sooner rather than later.

Schools are getting ready to open again. A few weeks ago, we got an email saying that masks would not be mandated. Before this announcement, a survey was sent out to parents asking if we planned to send our kids to school in person if masks weren’t mandated because personal opinion trumps science now. I was prepared to send yet another letter to the superintendent urging her to hear reason over the deafening cries of anti-mask, anti-vax parents. Thank goodness our governor came through with a K-12 mask mandate sooner rather than later.

Last summer, I remember getting an instant injection of anxiety-dread each time a new email was sent by the school district, principal, office, whoever. Every new change was a jolt to my system, a new adjustment in expectation, another calculation of perceived safety needed. There were many. It was overwhelming.

And so, a year has gone by. I’m so tired. I suppose a better word for it is weary. Traumatized.

The major positive difference this year is that the adults in my life are vaccinated. While that’s not nothing, it’s also not enough. When my husband and I got our shots, family members commented to us that they were so glad we could relax now. We rolled our eyes. Relax, you say? These were not people raising young children during a pandemic, and it showed. Yes, we’re all in the same storm, but only those in this boat containing tiny humans (controlling for all other sources of privilege) know the special hell of the last 17 months. And it’s not even close to being over.

But I digress.

While the alarming rise in Covid cases, smoke, chaos preceding the upcoming school year, and still-unvaccinated children gave me that sense of deja vu, it also feels different this time. My response has been different.

I can’t quite decide, but it’s either that I’m so traumatized that these now seasonal stressors are not surprising, and even expected – right on time, just like the arrival of pumpkin spice – or it’s that I’m stronger this time. More prepared. We have air purifiers. N95s. We’ve done the whole distance learning thing and we rocked it and we know we can do it again. We’ve been here before. Oh hello.

Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way, we’ve done this before. We will do it again.

My Sunday Reset

When met with stress and hard times, people develop interesting coping skills. Whatever works and feels good, really.

Without really planning it or meaning to, I’ve developed a covid coping skill around taking hot baths. Like, ridiculously long, hiding-from-my-family marinating.

Pre-covid, I’d only take baths as a special treat, usually on Mother’s Day and any other random day I needed to feel pampered. Two-three times a year. Last spring, I decided out of the blue that a hot bath was in order. Maybe this started with Mother’s Day 2020 and I just kept going? Quite possible.

Back then, I’d dump in whatever bubble bath my kids had in their bathroom and I’d make the water as hot as it’d go. I’d drag in my hamper and place my laptop on it so I could watch a movie. Or I’d bring a book, my phone, or have all three. You know, just in case. I’d light a smelly candle whose scent my husband can’t stand, and I’d be in business. I’d soak until the water was cold and my hands were wrinkly, and then I’d soak some more. Eventually, I’d actually clean my hair and body and then rinse off all the soapy residue in the shower before reentering the real world.

Once winter started seeping into my bones and soul, I upped my game. I ordered proper Epsom salts and for Christmas and I asked for a bathtub pillow and one of those fancy bathtub trays so that I didn’t have to drag in my hamper and crane my neck to the side in order to watch a show or twelve. By the time New Years rolled around, I was feeling bloated and junky from too much sugar and probably dairy (the jury is still out, but that’s another blog post entirely) and my husband and I started walk/jogging at least four miles every Sunday – rain or shine but mostly rain. The only exceptions were when we escaped to the beach for my birthday and when Oregon froze over (not nearly as bad as Texas, but too many Oregonians are STILL without power). So, I’ve been taking a scorching hot bath every Sunday after our run in the cold and wet.

Sometimes – often – I spend some time in the water being still and quiet. No screens, no words, no distractions. I breathe and I let my arms float. It’s like returning to the womb, being vulnerable and suspended in warmth. Evoking my high school freshman English teacher, the water here and the ritual in which it is used is a symbolic rebirth of sorts. It’s my attempt to wash myself of my stress and watch it flush down the drain when I’m done. I shut out the noise and the world and just be. Hopefully emerging feeling refreshed and clean and rested and calmer, more centered.

That’s what’s become of my Sundays.

What coping skills and rituals have you developed since covid hit?


Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

Wait and Ruminate

I’m spinning out today.

Some days I feel fine. Great, even. Others it feels like the sky is falling. Today is the latter.

I woke up with a cloud over my head and, because I live in a glass cage of emotion, immediately began sifting through the contents of my brain to figure out why. I came up with a few reasons, and my guess is that by embarking on this blog post, I’ll discover one or two more in the process.

Recently some people close to me have gotten their first dose of the vaccine. This triggered a simultaneous range of emotions. First, I am happy for them. I want them to be healthy and protected. I was also filled with jealousy. And I’m owning this as a reflection on me, not on my loved ones. If I were in their shoes, I’d have gotten the shot too. In a heartbeat. This is about my longing to feel safe again. I see others around me getting what I desperately want, and of course it’s going to trigger a reaction. It reminds me of how I felt when friends or acquaintances announced pregnancies when my own fertility status was unknown and precarious. I remember telling my therapist that those yucky feelings were getting in the way of my happiness for my friends. It’s my own junk that I have to work through, made more difficult by the fact that I have no idea how much longer I have to wait.

This is all compounded by my firm, often stubborn, adherence to standards of fairness and justice. Oregon leadership has decided to vaccinate educators ahead of seniors, and it makes my blood boil. They have decided that opening schools is more important than saving the lives of our parents and grandparents. Even so, many school districts are charging full speed ahead and are partially or fully opening even before educators have had the chance to get both shots and have enough time to build the required immunity for full protection, all in the name of getting kids into school buildings for 8 weeks – behind masks and plexiglass and glued to desks and working on computers. All this, while thousands of seniors wait and die waiting for vaccine doses with their names on them.

I have never been more glad that my parents do not live in this state. I’m angry now, but if I had to watch my parents wait through this, I’d be absolutely livid and out of my mind with fear for their safety.

The other fairness piece is that my immediate family and I have been social distancing as health experts have advised. We have sacrificed a lot in an attempt to ensure our family doesn’t get sick and that if we do, we won’t get anyone else sick. It’s hard for me to sit here, feeling like I’ve been a good girl following the rules, and watch other people enjoying extracurricular activities. I understand that my ability to social distance to this degree is a largely a function of privilege. My husband has a white collar job that he can do from home. We can afford for me to stay home and do unpaid childcare, unpaid tutoring, unpaid-keep-the-house-from-falling-apart. We have stable housing and a reliable internet connection, etc. etc. It’s because of this privilege, including that I’m young and white and healthy, that I can afford to wait longer for the vaccine than almost all other populations. As it should be.

At the same time, we’ve also made many, many choices to stay home when we very well could have gone out and socialized and taken risks. In that sense, I can’t help but feel anger and resentment when I see others get vaccinated who haven’t “followed the rules,” whatever that means. My “fairness and justice” button is large and sensitive.

And so I continue to wait and ruminate and worry and doom scroll. (Not to even mention the slow-motion race we’re in to vaccinate people ahead of these more contagious covid mutations and that’s not even mentioning the Brazilian or South African strains that may not respond to current vaccines…welcome to my brain.) I remind myself on a daily basis that I am safe (what a relative word that has become) – and some days require more intense persuasion than others. That I am doing what is right for me and my family. That this hellscape will not last forever. In theory. You know.

Happy Rambling 2021

I haven’t blogged in over a month. I’ve been all over the place. I feel scattered – everywhere at once. In an effort to “get things done” I start one task and then pause that and start another until I’m simultaneously trying to do several while none of them get finished and I end up forgetting what the first task was. Indeed, I started reading an article and then decided I should blog.

I feel lost. Every day is the same, and now that we’re past Christmas and New Year’s here in Oregon, it’s all the same gray, wet shit. My therapeutic happy light used to combat SAD needs to be, like, turbo charged cuz it’s not cutting it. I often don’t know what day it is. I have a million nitty gritty things to do that are made harder by Covid restrictions and trying to not get sick. Returns to retail stores. Repairing my car’s tire (AGAIN!). Relying on whatever substitutions our grocery store pickup offers us, which is sometimes bizarre.

The political junk is unreal. I told my husband the other day that I had the vague thought about needing to finish that one book about the attempted coup because I wanted to know how it ended before I realized…oh yeah. Not a book.

And then Oregon schools are just now moving in the direction of opening up and I’m pissed. We’ve been in lockdown more or less for 10 months now, and we have several vaccines in the pipeline (if you follow Oregon news, our government is slow as fuck getting those needles into people’s arms for some reason) and the government, school boards JUST NOW are making decisions to open up. Hey, I know! We’ve waited 10 months to try and flatten the curve and that didn’t work so you know what we should do?! Open the fuck up so that we can perpetuate community spread at the height of Oregon’s case numbers and deaths after the holiday surge. High five!

Oh, and I’m doing Whole 30 again so there’s that. All this fucking rabbit food had better kick in and make me feel better because it’s a goddamn miracle I didn’t reach for the mint chocolate chip on January 6th.

One good thing to end on – I randomly decided to mention a lifelong dream of mine to the members of my moms group – that I want to learn the piano at some point. I have zero musical experience. I don’t know how to read music. Never owned an instrument. I sing a lot and was in choir once, but I learned the songs by ear. Aaaaanyway, what comes up on my Facebook feed just days after I make this comment? A local piano teacher offering zoom classes for adult beginners. THAT’S ME! There was no way I couldn’t not NOT do it. So the teacher actually helped me spend a chunk of my Christmas money to buy a used keyboard and I signed up for the class……and it starts in two days!! I’m super excited and intimidated and nervous, but hey. It’s Covid and it’s zoom so it’s convenient and I’m not doing anything better besides drooling at Amos’ abs on The Expanse (ANYONE ELSE?! Dear lord don’t get me started.)

So there you have it.

Happy rambling 2021, you guys. May you feel safe and loved and relatively sane. Ish.

Here’s Something

Today is going to be a hodgepodge of a blog post.

  1. Here’s something that annoyed me but I did not allow to ruin my day.

We went hiking today. The weather app on my phone did not predict rain. I live in Oregon. I’ve lived here for almost exactly 7 years now. Fricknfrack, I should know better to carry rain gear with me wherever I go after Labor Day, whatever the app may or may not say. I’m just so tired of lugging my entire household with me whenever we go on an outing. Jackets aaaaaand rain jackets, hats, snacks, water, plastic bags for when things get wet and/or dirty, extra snacks, and now I’ve included masks and hand sanitizer, plus the toddler potty in case the restrooms are closed due to Covid. Ugh.

At any rate, we got rained on. In true form, the kids complained at first that we weren’t going on the long hike. And then later on, they complained that they were “wet” and “tired.” We didn’t get completely drenched and we didn’t have any complete meltdowns so that’s considered a success in our book. The kids reported that their favorite part was the snack. Parenting high-five!

2. Here’s something that brought tears to my eyes and made my heart happy

We watched the SpaceX launch today. A multicultural, international team of three men and one woman got catapulted into space today and they’re headed to the ISS!! My eyes teared up as soon as they reached max q, a few minutes after launch.

What made me even MORE happy was to see a panel OF THREE WICKED SMART LADIES giving us commentary after the launch. I can’t remember a time where I have ever watched any sort of big, important science endeavor be presented and interpreted for the public via a panel of womenfolk. Moving forward, I’d like to get to a place where I am no longer astounded by this. But for now, good on you, NASA and SpaceX.

3. Here’s something that tickled my funny bone.

Yesterday, a lonely, lonely person with a sexual affinity for clowns stumbled across my blog and I feel like I owe that person a heartfelt apology.

I’m so sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for here. I hope you enjoyed a post or two before moving onto…more edgy entertainment…but if not, I understand too. The heart wants what the heart wants. Good luck to you!


Day 15 – we’re halfway, folks!

Holding My Breath

Like many Americans, I’m having some feelings this week. Lots of flashbacks to the last election.

Four years ago, I was pregnant with my daughter and I was excited. I was so sure my daughter would be born into a world where she’d be able to take a female American president for granted. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer: our country’s most qualified candidate in history was running against our country’s most unqualified, outwardly racist and misogynistic candidate. It should have been a slam dunk.

I believed the polls. I had faith that an overwhelming majority of Americans would not choose fear and ignorance and hate. Needless to say, the outcome was shocking and traumatic. The experience was definitely a loss of innocence.

That election day I attended a goodbye party for another mom-friend of mine. This was a sad occasion for my whole family since her husband was friends with my husband and they were basically the first friends we made after moving to Oregon. This party was also the last time I planned to leave the house for a while, as my goal was to potty train my 2 year old son as best I could before the new baby came.

We had election coverage on in the background while we ate dinner. We had to turn it off while my husband put my son to bed, and I remember sitting in my room on my phone, scrolling. My first indication that something was wrong was when Florida went to He Who Must Not Be Named. After that, we watched with growing fear and went to bed in shock and disbelief.

I woke up the next day in a daze and proceeded with the potty training plan. It was horrible, stressful. I spent a good portion of the day in tears, not knowing what exactly I was crying about. All of the day was spent elbow deep in piss and shit, one way or another.

I remember thinking that my daughter would be ALMOST FOUR before we’d have the chance to vote him out. Four years is a hell of a long time to do a lot of damage. And so much damage has indeed been done.

As I write this, it feels akin to how one might tell a story of where they were and what they were doing when the twin towers fell or when Kennedy was shot. It was a dark day; one I’ll never forget. Looking back, it spun me (us) into a crazy-ass couple of years. My daughter was born. My post-partum anxiety took off like a brush fire. I went back to therapy. I spent a good few years just trying to get ahold of myself and figure out who I was and how to leave the house with pants on. All this with a background of news reports on hate, ignorance, fear, anger, violence. Rolling back progress and denying human rights.

Fall of 2019, I finally started feeling better, consistently better. I, like many others, declared that 2020 was going to be my year. And it was…until the pandemic. And now the election.

So you can see (I hope) how I am holding my breath. I’m white knuckling this. I’m so angry and scared. I want to believe the polls. I want to have faith in people to do the right thing. But frankly, this country is not what I thought it was, and we’ve all been here before, on this abusive rollercoaster from which we can’t seem to get off. I’m honestly not sure how I’ll get through the next few days…or weeks…or longer, depending.

To those in power who are using that power for personal gain and to manipulate and spread fear: we see right through you. You might be fooling some, but you sure as hell aren’t fooling me.

Abusive people use anything at their disposal to have power and control over others. If they can’t control others, their power is gone. Abusive people try to stop others from voting. Abusive people try to sue for votes to not be counted. Abusive people lie and manipulate the system. Abusive people threaten violence. Abusive people intimidate (in this case, by bringing guns to the polls, or by blocking traffic, etc.). Abusive people gaslight others and deny any wrongdoing. All of these behaviors are coming from a place of insecurity, NOT love, NOT protection, because if these people knew they could be fairly reelected in a just, democratic system, then there would be no need for such devious theatrics.

Abuse is not strength. Make no mistake, we are in an abusive relationship and that is an incredibly powerless feeling.

I voted as soon as I possibly could. I even made sure my ballot was received. And now, I wait. Full of dread, fear…and some cautious hope.


Day 2

Come Play With Me

With Covid floating around in the air and threatening to jump into our face holes, we’ve had to get really creative about how we have fun, amirite?!

And if you know me or have read this blog for any reasonable length of time, you know that Halloween and creepy shit is the only thing that personally makes the slow, steady descent into winter oblivion worth staying conscious for. Adding Covid into the mix this year requires even more creepy and dark humor.

I started decorating my house – inside and out – for Halloween early this year. Let’s just say I was inspired by the orange smoky death cloud that hung over the greater Portland (Oregon) area for a good chunk of September. We were stuck inside and it looked like The Road outside so I figured celebrating the day the dead returns to the earth was a good call. Maybe they [the dead] could give us some pro tips on how to suffer in style.

I picked up an apocalyptic DVD bundle at the library and took advantage of the extra couch time. I revisited The Road and Hunger Games. I watched 1984 and Clockwork Orange for the first time and now I think I’m all set to hide under my bed and sip my Xanax milkshakes until the Supreme Court decides if it’s okay that Americans can experience safety and joy ever again.

I’m struggling now to remember how it came up, but a few of my mama friends and I text pretty much daily while hiding from our children. We were discussing Halloween and what freaked us out (I think?) when my friend mentioned she had a creepy doll stashed in the back of her closet that gave her the heebie-jeebies. Her mom had picked it up at a garage sale with care, love, and my friend’s daughter in mind, but I’m guessing my friend didn’t want her daughter to get sucked into The Upside-down so into the closet it went. “Isn’t this how most horror movies start?” you ask. And you’d be right.

We (and by we, I mean me) made a few jokes about haha, wouldn’t it be funny to scare some mom-friends by leaving the doll on their porch in a bloody mess and then running away? And then my friends texted back a tentative suuuuuure and changed the subject.

I then started texting only my doll-having friend to see just how willing she was to use the doll in this way. It will be hilarious! I said. It’s the perfect socially-distant creepy fun! I said. LET ME HAVE THIS. I screamed. At long last, she sent me a pic of the doll and I swiped right, my friends. This was happening.

My friend didn’t want to completely fuck up her doll so we compromised and I made a creepy sign with red paint to accompany her. We also wanted to scare the crap out of our victim friend without making a huge bloody mess on her porch, because we enjoy maintaining friendships.

Not to be outdone, the afternoon before we were scheduled to scare our mutual mama-friend, my doll-having friend dropped off the possessed plaything on my porch without telling me and then texted with: knock, knock. For one quick second after I opened my door, she scared the poop out of me.

Touche, my friend. Touche. The messers become the messees!

And so sweet, little Gwenivere (more on this later) came to live at my house for an afternoon. You guys, I had never seen a doll quite as uniquely creepy as she was. Her facial expression was very dead-in-the-eyes meets resting bitchface. When I picked her up, which I don’t recommend, she was surprisingly heavy in an unsettling way. She slumped over when set down. And the worst, by far, was that she fucking smelled. I can’t even describe it, but I’m going to try. It was a scent that used to be sweet, or was trying to be sweet, but missed the mark. It was like super, off-the-charts sweet that had gone sour with age, under a layer of mothballs. And the scent clung to everything it came in contact with. Sadly, I realized this after it was too late.

I set the doll at the bottom of my stairs for the afternoon and she scared my husband and me no less than 10 times. My daughter wanted to keep her. NO! I shouted, SHE’S NOT FOR YOU AND SHE’S LEAVING TONIGHT. Before I grabbed the doll to go scare my friend, my daughter came up and whispered in my ear that she had kissed the doll goodbye. Dear lord, I really wished she hadn’t. She [my little girl] smelled like rancid Koolaid mothballs.

During our magical afternoon together, the name Gwenivere for my little guest just came to me, out of the blue. My husband later informed me that it was the name of the ill-fated van from Onward, which we had watched the previous night, but I prefer to believe otherwise. On a whim, I decided to look up the meaning of the name, just to see if it fit.

Gender: female. Origin: Welsh. Meaning: white ghost, phantom.

Fuck.

My doll-having friend picked me up and we drove the short distance to our other mama-friend’s house. It was dark and windy and raining. In other words, perfect. Gwennie stunk up the car with her evil wrath but man it was worth it. We successfully deposited her and her bloody sign on their doorstep without the dog barking (until we rapped on the door), and then we ran behind a parked car to watch and giggle.

The initial response was underwhelming, but what turned out to be hilarious (from my point of view, anyway) was that my friend’s two daughters instantly loved Gwenivere and wanted to keep her. We were texted a pic of her girls cuddling with the smelly, possessed demon and I was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down onto my mask.

Needless to say, the fun won’t stop here. I think Gwennie and her sinister stank needs to be introduced to all of my friends. She has so much more love to give.

Happy Halloween, y’all.

Quiet, Sluggish Chaos

I’m feeling pretty drained. That’s an understatement.

I’m trying to think of a good metaphor for how I feel that won’t make me sound suicidal – because I’m not. But I have no energy left, you guys. I’m just trying to make it through the days and sometimes I dare to hope and then other days my state gets set on fire or RBG dies and I find myself at a new low that I didn’t know was possible.

Three things happened all at once: summer [weather] ended, fire and smoke made it impossible for me to breathe or leave my house for ten days, and distance learning began for my 1st grader. It sent the precarious balance we had achieved in our household over the summer into a quiet, sluggish chaos.

In 2007 the fire alarm woke me up and my boyfriend (now husband) and I grabbed whatever was in front of us and ran out of our burning apartment building. For months after I would go to sleep and hallucinate the smell of smoke. That thick, putrid, choking scent that makes one’s pulse jump. My heart would race, I’d get a rush of adrenaline, and then I’d have to get up and check to make sure there wasn’t any actual danger. After that, it was pretty hard to calm down and get any rest. It was bad.

I was in my master’s program for counseling psychology at the time and I had started therapy for the first time as a client that previous year. When the fire happened I was on a break from therapy in an attempt to stretch my mental health benefits to last until the end of the year. American healthcare – you suck. At any rate, when I returned to therapy I mentioned the fire and the difficulty sleeping I was having. PTSD, you say? Oooh, crap. So this is what it’s like. It’s always so much easier to diagnose other people. Well, shit.

And, while definitely not as bad, it came back recently. Our sense of smell is so powerful, so tied to our emotions. And the smell of smoke is a warning to everyone – it’s supposed to be. But put that together with absolute terror and it’s a horrible combination.

Plus, the chest pains I was getting from the smoke signaled anxiety to my brain aaand cue positive feedback loop. Sore throat, headaches. I felt physically ill on top of everything else.

With my bucket being pretty freaking empty, I’m struggling to be a good parent, teacher, wife, and friend.

As far as the friend thing goes, I struggle to be social. Being social in person really sucks because I’m worried about Covid the whole time. Being social, while I still enjoy it, often requires energy I’m not sure I have. It’s hard to pay attention and remember details. I find myself so worried about my and my family’s health and safety that it’s hard to be concerned with anyone else’s enough to ask. It’s not that I don’t care- I do. Stress just seems to push everything else out of focus. I’m really sorry if I forget about that thing going on in your life. I’m sorry that I totally forgot to ask how your new job is going. Sorry If my texts come across the wrong way. I feel like my stress and survival mode make everything come out wrong, even more so than my socially-awkward normal. I still love and respect my friends, and I still want to be friends.

I worry that writing about my mental health issues sounds…wallowy, self-centered, whiny. Repetitive. Fishing for pity.

While it might be repetitive (and none of the rest), I decided that talking/writing about it helps me. It’s honest, it’s real. If it helps normalize mental health struggles – great. But this is mainly for me. It’s a journal, it’s documentation, it’s creative expression, it’s cathartic.

In closing, I’ll remind myself that I’m surviving. I’m coping. I’m doing the best I can. I’m just happy to be here.

Dig Even Deeper

On Monday night, a severe windstorm ripped through Oregon and caused the already-burning wildfires to explode westward and threaten many communities. My area is still technically on alert, just in case we may need to evacuate, although it seems that the threat of fire has diminished. What we’re left with is putrid smelling smoke that has settled into our valley and is seeping into homes. I’ve heard that the hotels in my town are full of evacuees from neighboring rural communities. Besides getting groceries, the mail, and gas for the car, my family hasn’t left the house in 4 days.

My outdoor yoga class was canceled. Meditation class was canceled. Farmer’s market was canceled. The library closed. School was canceled. My husband’s workplace closed for the remainder of the week. The only good part- apparently Oregonians will only pump their own gas during a pandemic firestorm. Mmm, the smell of sweet, sweet anarchy.

This suuuuuucks. Just when I didn’t think that things could get much worse, holy crapnuggets they did. Now I find myself just wishing, bargaining (with whom, I have no idea) that things would go back to how they were last week, when we had pandemic with sun and blue skies. Either that, or for the rain to come early. Imagine that, me wishing for rain.

If nothing else, all this shit just forces me…us…to dig even deeper into ourselves to cope. In whatever way we can. For me, often times it’s shutting out the world. Often it’s getting creative in how we entertain the kids.

I find that I’m giving myself more and more permission to do what feels good. Staying up late. Sleeping in. Eating sugar. Having more caffeine. Numbing out with really craptastic TV. I’m trying to choose coping skills that aren’t completely unhealthy. Finding a balance looks quite different when you’re standing on a sinking ship, with one end submerged in water and the other bobbing up in the air.

My world keeps shrinking, and with that comes a narrowed, more focused view of what’s important. I got an email about my son’s boyscout pack yesterday and IT WAS FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! This year is gonna be so great you guys!! My eyes glazed over and I sent it flying into a folder where I wouldn’t have to look at it. Not important right now.

So. This brings me to the mental list of things that I find myself newly thankful for.

I am thankful that our power didn’t go out.

I am thankful that the outside temperature has dropped, so we can shut off our AC and still be comfortable indoors.

I am thankful that we got outside and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air when it was here. Boy do we miss it now.

I am thankful that we own a beautiful home with plenty of space for my family.

I am thankful that we had N95s, a respirator, and air filters before all the smoke hit.

I am thankful for firefighters who are putting their lives on the line to save human lives, animal lives, wildlife, and property.

I am thankful that we haven’t had to evacuate. We’ve been able to hunker down in the comfort of our own home.

I am thankful.