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.

Wrinkle Cream and Lounge Wear

What a year this has been. Holy freaking cow.

I like to blog and take stock of my life on my birthdays, but this year I don’t even know where to start.

I usually get a massage on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. (There is a part of me that just wants to say fuck it and go do whatever I wanna do, but the rule follower part of me won’t allow that fantasy to become a reality.) Even though holy crap I could really use one because I can literally feel the weight of junk that’s been collecting and that I’ve been dragging around with me. After said massage, I usually go and sit in a Starbucks where I drink coffee without kids and I blog and read. As I type this, I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a park overlooking a river. I have my Starbucks and I just inhaled a birthday donut. At least it’s quiet and there are zero kids in the vicinity.

Usually, my birthday evokes feelings around my long-ago cancer diagnosis. This year, I have some (because how can I not), but mostly I’m struck by how covid/the pandemic/quarantining has shoved my cancer history to the back burner. Comparatively, it’s made my cancer feel more like a distant memory than ever before. Not sure how I feel about that.

It’s been exactly a year since I’ve had a date night out with my husband. I haven’t seen my parents in 15 months. I haven’t seen my brother for even longer. I can’t count how many face masks I own now. It’s good to acknowledge loss and take time to grieve, and I do that from time to time, but….how do I keep doing that when the trauma isn’t over? And this is me, who’s specifically trained to help heal trauma.

I often wonder how time and perspective will shape how I feel about this experience, this season in my life. How will I remember it? What stories will I tell? How and when will this all end? How will this shape how I live the rest of my life?

I’ve realized that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Or content, at least. In a time when I’ve been stuck at home and can’t have nice things, it’s been the little things that have gotten me through. Kickball with my kids. Watching disaster movies with my husband. Reading really good books late into the night.

At the same time, I feel like it also doesn’t take much to trigger my anxiety. I anticipate having to retrain myself what safety feels like once this is “over” and we decide we can be social again. (Notice I didn’t say “normal,” because life won’t go back to the way it was before. In many ways, we’re forever changed.) About 3 years ago I went back to therapy for severe postpartum anxiety and in many ways I feel like the progress I made then has been shredded by covid. Covid is my anxiety’s best friend. Fuck you both.

I’m getting to the point where I am craving human contact and mentally crumbling under the cumulative weight of this crisis. Two of my peers lost their fathers recently, one to covid and one not, but both can’t grieve the way they want. I still don’t know anybody personally who’s died from covid but it’s getting closer and closer to home. It’s unsettling and I don’t like it.

I’m getting so sick of my family. I love them, but we’re always together. I have no opportunity to miss them. It’s a blessing and a curse because I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sweet baby jesus I’m ready to travel and go to the movies and hug my friends and have more personal space. I have never wanted a shot in the arm so badly in my entire life. I still have hope, of course, but what I need is some relief.

I know that many can identify with me that this year of deprivation has lit a fire under my desire to get my adult life started as soon as this is over. Life is short, and I want to go back to work. I want to see the world. I want my kids to build lives of their own, apart from me. I realize this will all happen in good time, but right here, right now, we can’t do it and I’m getting tired of waiting.

This morning, instead of a massage, I bought wrinkle cream and lounge wear on the internet.

So. I’m weary, I’m anxious, I’m hopeful, and now, I’m 38.

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

Short story: Together in the Muck

 

Two times this pandemic, I did something I’ve never done before.

I entered two short story writing contests. And – you guys – I came in second in both. I’m super proud of myself, especially because writing fiction is not usually my jam.

To be fair, the first story I submitted was about 90% fact with some embellishing thrown in. I had originally written it here, on this blog, about being pregnant with my first. The second story I wrote from scratch and it’s based on my experience working as a therapist in a nonprofit. I’m very proud of how it turned out. Here it is, dear readers.


“I know what you’re doing,” she interrupted me, “and I want you to stop it.”

“What am I doing?” I asked, genuinely perplexed.

“You’re trying to make me feel better, and it won’t work.”

I sucked in some air, immediately defensive.

Of course I’m trying to make you feel better! I’m your therapist, for Christ’s sake.

“Look, Madison, I’d like to be able to help you, but I can’t do that if you’re unwilling to answer my questions. I’m curious to know more about the positive things in your life.”

“My life is shit! That’s why I’m here.” Fresh tears made Madison’s heavy black eyeliner streak down her cheeks and disappear into her oversized black t-shirt.

“Your life is not shit. You just told me about your dog who loves you more than anything. Your artistic talent is incredible! That’s not nothing.”

“He’s just a dog! These are stupid doodles! And what do you know about my life?! You’re just a shrink that my mom pays so she doesn’t have to look at me.” Madison started shoving her sketchpad and pencil into her backpack.

I’m losing her, don’t lose her.

“I’d love to know more about your life if you’d let me. I think you downplay what could be sources of real happiness, like your mom. I’m sure she loves y-”

Madison was already standing. Tears had been replaced with fire in her blue eyes.

“I told you to stop it.”

She strode to the door, yanked it open, and stomped down the hall. I slumped down in my chair, defeated. We still had fifteen minutes left.

Session 3. Client presents in a depressed, irritable mood. Exhibits poor eye contact, sluggish movements, intermittent crying. Affect is blunted at times but mood congruent. Resistant and uncooperative in working towards treatment goals – client left 15 minutes early. Next session in 1 week.


The chunky, rough rope cut into her hands, but she gripped it tighter, resolve flowing through her. Feet planted, arm muscles tensed as she held the rope steady. She wasn’t able to pull it toward her, but for now, that was okay.

Just don’t let go.


“So, how have you been?” I gingerly chose my words as Madison settled in across the room. The more sessions we had, the more she seemed to move-in each time. Today I watched as she unpacked her sketchbook, a few pencils, a sweatshirt, and a half-eaten granola bar that she unwrapped and shoved into her mouth.

“Mmruph.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

She took her time chewing and swallowing. “Hungry. I dunno.”

Sigh. What do I do with that?

“What would you like to talk about today?”

Madison shrugged, then busied herself with sharpening a pencil and turning over a fresh page in her book. Wordlessly, she began to draw.

Not knowing what else to say, and worried I’d say the wrong thing, I asked, “What kinds of things do you like to draw?”

After several beats, “A bit of everything. You know. Animals. Landscapes. People.” She answered me from under a curtain of long, blonde hair dyed purple that had fallen in front of her face.

Rather than respond, I decided to try riding out the silence. Often it felt like I was doing too much work to try and keep the conversation, any semblance of a conversation, afloat. Clearly, she prefers doing things at her own pace. I should try letting her.

Minutes went by, where all we heard was the soft scratching of Madison’s pencil on the paper. Every once in a while, her eyes darted up and back down again as she hunched over her lap, focused. I watched her and waited.

“So do you have kids?” Madison asked without pausing her drawing.

Caught off guard, I robotically gave the classic therapist response they coach you on in training: “What makes you curious to know?”

She bristled while meeting my gaze. “You can just answer the question.”

I made a conscious effort to soften my tone. “I honestly don’t mind answering the question, I just want to know why you’re curious first.”

She paused, evaluating me. “I don’t know. You seem like you’d be good at it. And you’re always trying to get me to talk to my mom more.”

“Well, thanks.” Did not expect that answer.

“…so do you? Have kids?”

“Ha. I don’t, although I would like to someday.”

There’s something here, something she’s mulling over. What is it?

Our eyes met for a moment longer than was comfortable, and Madison hunched over her sketchpad once more. Silence fell for another minute. Wait for it.

“I got into art school. My mom wants me to go.” Her voice was a fraction above a whisper.

“What?! That’s incredible! Congratulations!” My surprise and excitement came bursting out. She deserves this! She’s suffered way too much trauma; it’s about time she had some good news in her life.

“It’s not a big deal. I probably won’t go.”

“What? Of course it’s a big deal! Why wouldn’t you go?”

Madison looked me dead in the eyes. “Why do you even care?”

She’s testing me. What’s the right answer here?

“I-I care about you, and you deserve good things, Madison. It’s okay to allow yourself to feel happy.”

Madison’s eyes narrowed. “…Did my mom talk to you?”

“What? No. Why?”

“Whatever.”

I felt all her remaining energy drain from the room. Mine went with it.

I glanced at the clock on the wall behind Madison’s shoulder.

“We’re out of time for today,” I sighed, “But I would like to continue talking about this next session.”

As she got up to leave, she tore the top page from her sketchbook. She crossed the room and before she turned for the door, she let the paper fall facedown on my desk.

I watched her disappear around the corner and then went back to my desk and turned the paper over. It was the most exquisite portrait of me, down to the mole on my left cheek. I was drawn seated in my cheap office chair, hands clasped smartly in my lap and my eyes gazed straight at the viewer, as if I were desperately trying to win a staring contest.

Session 6. Client presents in an irritable mood, reports feeling “hungry.” Exhibits intermittent eye contact, hunched body presentation. Affect is blunted at times but mood congruent; speech often quiet, slow, halted. Presents as resistant and defensive. Next session in 1 week.


She was being dragged forward, in the wrong direction. Her feet dug into the ground, but it wasn’t enough to keep her from sliding. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up.


“I need to get outta here.”

Madison was visibly upset, about what she wouldn’t say. She was rocking back and forth in her seat, tugging on her hair (now dyed blue), and if I didn’t intervene soon, she was going to start hyperventilating.

“Of course. Do you want to take a walk?” I motioned towards the door.

She nodded and grabbed her backpack.

As soon as we got outside, her breathing slowed. She seemed less agitated.

“I want to sit down.”

“Sure, let’s go over here.” I pointed to a park bench in the shade.

We sat at opposite ends of the bench and Madison bent over and put her head in her hands. I angled my body towards her.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. What is going on?! I wonder if her dad tried to contact her again.

“No. I don’t.” Her voice was muffled.

I just want to comfort you! Tell me how!

“Okay.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. I wondered if Madison could hear the birds or feel the breeze. She seemed a million miles away, unreachable.

“My life sucks.” I could barely hear her.

What happened?

You have so many positive things in your life!

You’re the strongest, most resilient person I know.

Your life can’t suck. I won’t let it.

I took a deep breath. “Everything is going to be oka-”

Madison let out a sound somewhere between a groan and a wail.

Stop.

Stop pulling and go to meet her.

Meet her where she’s at.

I sighed and turned my body to face forward, mirroring hers. “You’re right. Life sucks, especially yours. You got dealt a shit hand and it’s not fair. I’m sorry.”

Madison looked up and held my gaze for a moment before looking away.

“Yeah,” she said, “it sucks.”

Each of us dropped our section of rope. I waded into the mud pit to meet Madison, who was already there. I let myself sink down in and the sludge encircled us both.

We sat in silence, together in the muck, for the remainder of the session.

Session 8. Client presents in an anxious, depressed mood, reports “life sucks,” because it does. Exhibits normal behavior considering the circumstances. She’s doing the best she can. We both are. Next session in 1 week.

Sick and Burning

Nighttime is easier.

The kids are in bed and the sun is down.

I pull the blinds closed, so I can’t see the smoke or the creepy orange sepia glow.

Now I can fool myself into thinking things are normal.

I stand in the shower and zone out while the water pours over me, in an attempt to wash off my grief. The dread. It’s so much that it clogs the drain.

I turn the TV on and eat sugar and numb out. Forget the outside world. Forget the trauma. I get to yell at characters who aren’t real. Consequences that don’t exist. I judge their choices because I know better. People I’ll never see. Places I’ll never be.

Why not stretch it out? It’s easier when the world is dark. One more show.

I go through the routine of getting ready for bed. Like nothing’s wrong. Next I huddle under the covers and read. Old favorites or new worlds. Vampires that sparkle or dystopian kids doomed to die. I judge their choices because I know better.

Eventually, sleep. Far too late into the night, but it’s comforting.

Anything to put off waking up to a world that is sick and burning. Glowing orange and choking on its own smoke.

The Silver Lining

This post picks up where my last one left off, last Friday the 13th.

The next day, we woke up to snow. We couldn’t believe it. All winter, we’d been hoping for snow, wishing for some, and nothing. Until schools close and the world starts shutting down. It started snowing again during the day, and they were the biggest, fluffiest flakes I had ever seen.

THIS IS THE SILVER LINING! THIS IS PERFECT! I yelled as my family and I gawked out the window. My kids scrambled to put on shoes (no jackets) and ran out into our yard to play. Still wearing my pajamas, I put on a jacket, hat, and snow boots and decided to sneak out the front door to stand still in the (relative) quiet.

Several neighbors were outside also enjoying the weather, including my next door neighbor with their young son. Earlier, we saw our neighbors across the street letting their two retrievers frolic and play in their front yard. They looked like they were having the time of their lives.

“They should have their dogs on leashes.” my son dutifully said. He’s heard me complain in private and chastise people in person for not having dogs on leashes. It’s not safe for all involved, and I’m proud that my son now knows this.

“You’re right. They should be on leashes.” I replied.


I stood on the sidewalk and looked up. The fat flakes were falling so slowly that I could pick one out and position myself so I could catch it in my mouth.

I heard a shout from across the street and I looked up just in time to witness one of the gorgeous dogs get hit broadsided by an oncoming truck. It all happened in slow motion and all at once.

My other next door neighbor burst out of his house and started screaming. Apparently he had been watching from inside. He yelled at the owner something about how the dog should have been on a leash and pick him up, get him to the vet, RIGHT NOW. I also heard a voice whimpering oh no, oh no, oh no and realized it was mine. The owner ushered the still upright and walking dog into their house and closed the door. The truck was long gone; it never even slowed down.

Realizing there was nothing I could do, I turned around and made eye contact with my neighbor and his son. Oh god, I hope he didn’t see, I thought, and not knowing what else to do I turned and walked into my house and burst into tears.

I kept peeking out my window because I wanted to make sure they were going to get the dog emergency care. I saw a man come out and empty out the trunk of a car. The next time I peeked, the car was gone.

Over the weekend I kept watching for the car, and it didn’t come back until 48 hours later. I am both desperate and terrified to know how the dog is – too terrified to go and outright ask.

Needless to say, that event definitely spoiled my day and probably my entire weekend. I took a ridiculously long shower, trying to wash off the trauma. As a trauma therapist, I’ve heard every disturbing narrative you could imagine and many you can’t, but I’ve never actually seen something so traumatic. I also can’t tolerate violence toward animals, real or fabricated.

I spent the rest of the day manically cleaning my house. None of us went anywhere that day.

Since then, we’ve essentially been sheltering in place. On Sunday I saw on Facebook that our local library was closing the next day, so I ran out and checked out a buttload of books and DVDs to hopefully last us for a long time. My husband called in sick on Monday and then went to work on Tuesday only to pack all of his office supplies into his car so he could continue working from home. Besides walks around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, the dentist, and one trip to the pediatrician because my kids continue to be sick, we’ve been hanging out at home, just trying to hang on and get well.

I’m pretty terrified. I’ve said it feels like we’re waiting for an invisible tidal wave to hit us and the anticipation is crushing me. I’ve had to shake off the ridiculous expectations that suddenly mothers are supposed to homeschool their kids like we don’t have enough shit piled on our backs. Not only are mine still ill, but they are confused and frustrated and do not take well to their mom trying to get them to do fucking worksheets. To hell with all that. We’ve been taking temperatures daily, we’ve been watching a lot of movies, and we’ve been taking walks, reading books, writing letters to grandparents, and doing art. On our walks, I’ve been carrying chalk and writing positive messages around the neighborhood. Once the rains come and wash them away, I’ll go out and do it again. Not sure if I’m doing that for myself or for others, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been meaning to compile a list of the positive side effects we’ve been experiencing as a result of all this chaos.

  • We get to sleep in
  • We don’t have to worry about being on time for shit
  • All the hilarious memes and videos and late night shows being broadcast from celebrities’ couches
  • I don’t have to make school lunches every night
  • My husband is home during the day
  • My house is going to be spotless by the time this is all over
  • Our carbon footprint has been drastically reduced! Both on a local and global level; how exciting is that?! Perhaps this experience will drive lasting change.

Now go wash your hands and stop touching your face.

 

 

A moment of fear

Two weekends ago, B and I went to our first wedding since attending our own.  As was expected, I had mixed feelings about going, mainly because I love weddings, but I knew it would also trigger some sadness leftover from grieving the yucky parts of Brian’s and my nuptials.

I did feel some sadness, especially when watching the bride and groom do the traditional things that Brian and I didn’t get to do the way we had hoped.  But.  Overall, we had a blast and took full advantage of the fact that we were at a wedding that wasn’t our own.  The best part was that we got to dance like mad fools.  It was liberating, as if every spastic movement my body made was shaking off the grief and flinging it aside.  We definitely took this opportunity to create another little corrective experience for ourselves.  I’m proud of us, and each day this wedding crap gets just a little smaller and more distant.

The wedding we attended was in Southern California, and Brian actually flew us down for the occasion.  (For more stories on what it’s like to fly in a tiny aircraft with your pilot partner, try this post and this one.)  I hadn’t flown with Brian for quite some time, and it had been a couple of years since I had flown with him for any great distance (this flight was set to take 2-3 hours one way, depending on the wind conditions).  Looking back, I think it might have been due to my intermittent depression and the time elapsed since I last flew, but I found myself running through morbid scenarios in my head about what might happen if we crashed.  Honestly, I think I was just feeling insecure and vulnerable in general, and then the thought of putting my life into someone else’s hands in a tiny-ass plane with no oh shit handle (see previous posts) compounded the swirling in my head.

The plane ride down to the wedding was great.  We had very little turbulence (which makes my anxiety go through the roof in such a small plane) and everything went pretty smoothly, despite strong headwinds that made the trip last a little longer than expected.  I felt calm, and the trip reminded me that flying can actually be fun.

The return flight began without problems, but ended very abruptly in what I can only describe as the most terrifying 10 minutes of my entire life.  We took off a few minutes after 1pm, and it was about 1:30 when I got out my ipad because I had just had an idea for a blog post, of all things.  I was typing away when I heard the usual roar of the engine quickly dim and sputter and then return to normal in the span of about two seconds.  My head shot up and looked at Brian.  “Did you do that?!” I demanded.

The look on his face made a chill run straight through me.

“No,” he said, “That wasn’t me.”

Brian flew into action, pushing buttons and pulling levers.  My heart rate skyrocketed and my muscles went completely rigid with fear.

And then it happened again.

At this point I remember looking down at the ground below us.  It was all foothills and mountains.  With my untrained eye, I couldn’t see any place where we might be able to make an emergency landing.  My fear turned to panic.

I don’t pray in the traditional sense, but now I was doing the closest thing to it.  Please, just let us live.  Both of us.

I did the only thing I could do at that point: I focused on calming myself down (or at least containing my fear) the best way I could.  I turned off my ipad, threw it in the back, shook some tictacs into my mouth, and put on a playlist I especially designed to calm me down when I am stressed out at work.  I closed my eyes and focused on breathing.  I pretended that I wasn’t in a plane, that my ass was firmly on the ground.  I was able to get my muscles to relax for a few seconds.

Brian immediately turned the aircraft steeply to the left, back towards a small airport we had passed a few minutes earlier.  Since the airport was on the left side of the aircraft, Brian had seen it but I hadn’t.  Plus, he was the one with all the navigational charts and maps.

Brian then got on the radio and told air traffic control that we were experiencing engine issues.  He explained the temporary loss of engine power we had experienced and they asked how many souls were on board, how much fuel we had, and if he wanted to declare an emergency.

Souls?!  Why does he need to know that?  So that when we crash, they can know how many bodies they are searching for?!

Brian said he didn’t want to declare an emergency, but he did want to land as soon as possible.  Air traffic told Brian to switch to another frequency so the small airport could talk to us without any other aircraft interfering.  They offered to let us land on a runway that would have required Brian to circle the pattern, which would have taken time.  Brian saw another runway that we were headed straight towards, and he also requested a straight in approach.  The airport gave us the go ahead – whatever we needed to be able to land asap.

Brian pointed up ahead for me.  “See that runway?  That’s where we’re going to land.”

Once I had a target, a destination in place, I focused on that and time seemed to stand still, but my mind did not.

Would the engine hold out until we got on the ground?

Would we be able to land safely from this altitude, from this speed?

I looked down again, because the straight in approach meant that we were now flying over a densely populated area.  Now I was praying for the safety of the people below us.  If we didn’t make it, I didn’t want anyone else to be hurt as a result.

I was completely freaking out, still not really sure how much danger we were in, and all I wanted was comfort from Brian, which he couldn’t give me.  Both of my hands were clinging to the oh shit handle, because that was all I could do.  I couldn’t help, and I wasn’t fully understanding the situation, so my job was to trust Brian,  let him do his job, and not get in the way.

There was a lull in Brian’s communication with the tower, and I could tell that the engine still didn’t sound like it was running correctly, so I turned to him and asked, “Are we going to be ok?”

My voice came out sounding like I was 5 years old.  I didn’t even recognize it as my own.

Brian looked at me and paused.  “Yes.  We’re going to be ok.”  I knew that Brian wasn’t sure, and I love him for saying the right thing.  Nevertheless, I remember a whine escaping my throat that reminded me of a lonely puppy.

It took forever for us to reach the airport.  Indeed, Brian was trying to slow the aircraft down and still get us on the ground in as short a time as possible.  We were lower now and Brian said that he was going to put the airplane into a “slip,” which meant we ended up flying in sideways to create a bunch of drag and slow the airplane down enough to land.

It was a nail-biting landing for me, but Brian did a fabulous job as far as I was concerned.  He taxied so we were just off the runway and then cut the engine so we could get out and wait for the firetrucks that were now screaming towards us.

I immediately felt relief, and I also felt this numbness, this urge to act like nothing had just happened.

We got out of the plane, and we just kind of stood there for several minutes not knowing what to do.  It was cold and windy (and I think my body was in shock) so Brian got me out a sweatshirt.  But it was quite a while until we actually looked at each other, hugged, and emotionally acknowledged what had just happened.  We were also standing around and waiting with mechanics and firefighters who started to show up, and we oddly cracked some jokes and had a few nervous laughs.

To wrap up this long story, we spent another several hours at this airport waiting for the maintenance crew to figure out what was wrong with the engine and we ended up renting a car and having to drive the last 5 hours home, because there was no way in hell I was getting back into that plane, fixed or not.

We arrived home very late, very tired, and very traumatized.  I’m not sure that I’ve still fully processed this, hence the blog post. The process of writing it was interesting, because I had trouble putting all the events in the correct order.  It interests me how selective and fallible our memories can be.

After talking about this with Brian, he explained exactly what happened and I realized that I had irrationally assumed that if we had lost engine power, we would have just fallen out of the sky – which was the source of the majority of my panic.  Brian ended up doing some calculations, and had we lost all power, we still would have been able to glide to that airport and land – which both boggles my mind and makes me feel better.

The end result is that I plan to take some form of a “pinch hitter” course – a crash course in how to land a plane (pun intended).  The idea of taking the course scares me, but not as much as not taking it does.  At any rate, that experience should also make for another good story.

An unbearable feeling

Ok.  So this whole Boston thing has been weighing on me this week and I feel so pent up today that I just need to word vomit and vent…

So I imagine this post will be really raw, unorganized, and frenzied….kinda like how I feel.

I’ve felt particularly numb ever since Monday when I saw my Boston friends on Facebook start posting about bombs instead of about running and celebration.  For a bit, I honestly didn’t understand why I felt this way…but I think it just had to settle in.

This is the first time for me that a tragedy of this magnitude has felt so close to home.  Sure, I live in Northern California now, and I was born and raised here.  But I lived for 2 years, from 2006-2008, in Brighton, Mass while I earned my Master’s degree at Boston College.  I lived on Comm Ave., a few blocks away from BC and directly on the marathon route, just after Heartbreak Hill.  Right now, all those areas are locked down.

I was a spectator at the marathon, cheering on the runners, in awe that humans actually put themselves through such peril so they can say they’ve accomplished something awesome.

That place on Boylston where the bombs went off?  I’ve been there, I’ve walked that street before, where blood now stains the pavement.  It’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around this.

I have a lot of former classmates still living in the area, several of which who were at the marathon that day.  One of my bridesmaids doesn’t live very far away.  My dad went to MIT, where an officer was killed last night.  My parents first lived together as a married couple in Cambridge, which is now shut down.  I have an aunt, uncle, and cousins living in Cambridge right now.  My aunt and uncle are journalists and my aunt still went to work today to cover the story.

I spent time processing all that is going on with a client this morning who also has ties to the area, when I can barely process this myself.

I am worried.  I am so sad.  I am also so angry.  My client this morning made a comment that the tragedy isn’t about her or me personally, so why would we make it about us, about the fact that we feel close to Boston?  I see the point, but you know what?  This may not be about me, but it involves me.  It involves everyone.  I am involved because my loved ones shouldn’t have to lock themselves in.  They shouldn’t have to be afraid.  People should be able to be a part of a public gathering and be safe.

It pisses me off so much that these two young men (maybe more?), younger than myself, can wreak so much havoc and cause so much physical and emotional destruction.  That they took from us….took power?  A sense of safety?  Took life.  All of the above.

Shame on you.

I also hate feeling so paralyzed.  Because I feel such a personal connection to this crisis, I either want to help or I almost want to be a part of it, experiencing it along with the people I am worried about.  Because then, if I was there, at least my paralysis would feel justified.  Here, I was just able to take my Friday walk to go get lunch, and I almost felt guilty for doing so, because I know people in Boston can’t do that right now.

I can handle feeling mad, and even feeling deep sorrow.  But feeling helpless, powerless?

That’s such an unbearable feeling.

Eerie Images From An Empty Boston and Cambridge

UPDATE: a friend just sent me this piece, and it very much describes how I feel.

I read some books last year

This post is a bit overdue, but better late than never.

I keep a list of just about every book I have ever read since the age of 8 (first book on the list is Little House on the Prairie).  I find it fascinating to look back on the years of books that I chose to read, and my choices really reflect where I was at emotionally, personally, professionally in my life.  These books trigger memories and tell a story all their own.

I wrote a post last year around this time summarizing the books I read during 2011 and the story they told, and in this post I am doing the same for the books I read in 2012, in the order I read them.

First of all, I only read 15 16 (apparently I forgot one – which is now #10 on the list) books in 2012 (compared to 21 in 2011), which is the least number since 2005, and that makes me sad.  Looking over the list, I think the reason for the small number was because I was trying to get through books that didn’t fully capture my fascination, and that means the process took much longer.  For 2013, I plan to spend time choosing books that are more pleasurable to me – I’ve already started World War Z, so I think I’m on the right track.

(all pictures are from Wikipedia)

1.  Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

This book was recommended to me by Brian, and it was fairly interesting, but took me a long time to finish for whatever reason.  If I remember correctly, this book is set in the future, and I describe it as being like The Matrix, even though it was published in 1992.  The main character is named Hiro Protagonist, and he’s a high-speed pizza delivery man and professional hacker.  We’re introduced to this whole virtual world that has its own set of rules and ethics.  Hiro’s good friend is basically turned into a vegetable by this virus/drug called Snow Crash that affects a person’s nervous system in the real world when that person’s avatar is infected in the virtual world.  Hiro is then launched into this adventure with a sassy, scrappy young woman named Y.T. that involves murder, samurai sword fighting, cults, drugs, and the giant mass of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean.

2.  *The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The asterisk means that I had read this book before, and I was reading this book a second time in preparation for seeing the movie.  I lurve this book.  I love dystopian fiction, and I love a good fight-for-survival story, especially one where the main character is a strong female.  I admired Katniss for her strength, for her competence, and for her courage.  I also admired Effie’s outfits.

3.  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson

I had been waiting to read this book for a while, and I was definitely not disappointed.  Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess, aka one of the reasons I started blogging.  This book is a mostly true autobiography that was laugh-out-loud and pee-your-pants hilarious, blunt, vulnerable, and endearing.  I feel like I know her now, better than I ever did before, so maybe I can take a break from some of my weekend stalking escapades.

4.  Dune – Frank Herbert

I read this book because Brian and I struck a deal.  I really wanted Brian to read Half The Sky because it changed my life, and in exchange I told him I would read a book of his choosing, and he chose Dune.  This book was exciting during the action scenes, but it really dragged for me during the downtimes.  From what I remember, this book took place on two distant planets, where a ruling family moved from their home planet to rule over a foreign planet where water was a very scarce resource and sand dunes covered the land.  The family is plunged into turmoil when the husband and father is murdered, and son and heir Paul is forced to flee with his mother into the dunes.  There, they work to earn the trust and learn the way of life of the sand people who have entirely blue eyes (what would normally be the whites of the eyes are blue as well) due to consumption of Spice, which is the main valuable resource on the planet.  The story basically reminded me of Star Wars – picture Paul as a young Luke on his home planet.  One of my favorite parts was Paul’s struggle to learn the coming-of-age task of riding the humongous and highly dangerous sand worms.  Yee-haw!

5.  Politically Correct Bedtime Stories – James Finn Garner

This short, fast read was absolutely hilarious.  Ever wanted to shake the traditional damsels in distress and tell them to take control of their own lives?  Ever thought they should open up a bank account and run for congress instead of fretting about a lost shoe and caring selflessly for 7 little people?  Read this book.

6.  Night – Elie Wiesel

This book is Elie’s true account of surviving the holocaust, including the harrowing death marches right before the liberation.  I cannot even begin to describe how horrifying, powerful, and moving this memoir was for me.  This is the type of book that I am constantly drawn to (I have a problem picking “fun media,” which you’ll see gets worse as the year goes on), and I think it’s because of my thirst to read about human resilience in the face of pure evil.  This book definitely satisfied that need for me.

7.  The Tenth Circle – Jodi Picoult

After Night, I needed a much easier read, and Jodi Picoult was just the answer.  I’ve read a few of her books in the past, and they are all the same, so I knew exactly what to expect for this one…or so I thought.  This book hit a little closer to home than I thought it might since it dealt with rape and the after-effects of it.  Throw in some infidelity, murder mystery, and running away from home for good measure.

8.  Room – Emma Donoghue

This book marked my profound descent into the world of trauma and choosing traumatic books for pleasure that I manage to do every year.  This book was also unlike any book I have ever read in a way that’s hard to describe – I think because we get to see the world through the eyes of 5 year old Jack who has never been outside a 12×12 room.  The narration reminded me of the blunt starkness of Push, but the remarkable similarities to Jaycee Dugard’s real-life account of her 19 year imprisonment freaked me out.  Let me back up: Jack is narrating this story where we find that he and his mother are being held captive by a sick kidnapper who fathered Jack by rape.  Jack describes the normal-as-possible routines that his mom has created for him that involve mealtimes, reading, TV, bathtime, exercise, games – including one “game” that involves screaming at the top of their lungs towards the one skylight they have in Room.  I won’t ruin any more of the book for y’all, but it was exciting and an interesting look into PTSD from the confused and scared eyes of a very isolated, yet hopeful 5 year old.

9.  Fear – Michael Grant

This book is the 5th in a series of 6 books called the Gone novels.  My friend originally recommended Gone to me by saying that it was a young adult series where everyone over the age of 15 suddenly disappears.  My interest was more than peaked.  Basically, these books turned into Lord of the Flies on steroids pretty quick, with a hint of sci-fi in there because some kids realize they have powers.  Sam, the main character, can create balls of burning light with the palms of his hands.  A struggle for power and order ensues, good kids and bad kids emerge, leaders and followers are identified…and they are all trying to figure out where the hell all the adults went and how they’re supposed to survive without them.

I almost didn’t keep reading this series because it started to feel all crazy like Lost did in the second season.  When Gone introduced talking coyotes I figured I was done.  But, something lured me back to this series…it’s fun, they are fast reads, and I like the characters.  The plot is unpredictable and exciting.  I’ll be waiting for all the answers to be revealed in April when the final book comes out.

10. We Thought You Would Be Prettier – Laurie Notaro

So, in the first published draft of this post, I totally forgot this book.  I read it during my vacation to Puerto Rico because it was easy, fun, and it was paperback.  It was recommended to me by a friend because this author was like The Bloggess – and it was, in that it was absolutely hysterical.  I suppose I forgot it because of all those rum punches…

11.  Black and Blue – Anna Quindlan

Sigh, here I went again.  I dove back into trauma land and I kind of regretted it.  I had this book for a long time and just never read it.  It’s fiction, and it’s about a woman and her son fleeing a very abusive husband and dad who also happens to be a cop.  This woman basically goes into hiding, gets a new name for herself and her son, and tries to start over.  While you’re reading this, you’re fucking scared the whole time.  You’re just like the main character – at every moment you’re waiting for her husband to turn up.  This book had a sucky ending and it made me sad.  I usually like to keep books I read but I am planning to give this one away.

12.  Tomorrow When the War Began – John Marsden

Since I liked the Gone books so much, I decided to try this other young adult series that came highly recommended by Brian.  This one is written by an Australian teacher and is about a group of teen Aussie friends.  They go camping in the Australian bush and come back to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign country and all their families have been taken hostage.  What I love about these books is that the kids do what they can to fight back as guerrilla warriors rather than just waiting it out.  Also, all the cool Aussie slang is really great.  Did you know that “chooks” means “chickens”?!  Amazing, mate!

13.  The Dead of the Night – John Marsden

14.  A Killing Frost – John Marsden

There are 7 books in this series and I began to lose interest after the 3rd book.  The books had bursts of action, but really dragged when they were dealing with angst and squabbles amongst themselves.  The young adult books that I like are written as if they were written for adults, and these books are written in a way that talks down slightly to teens and seems to trivialize their inner struggles.  My waning interest directly influenced my next book pick.

15.  *Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer

I’ve read the Twilight books before, and I have a love/hate relationship with them.  Eclipse was my favorite book in the series, and I find myself going back to these mindless reads when I feel like I need to escape life for a while and live in the land of vampires, talking wolves, and annoying powerless females.

16.  Darkness Be My Friend – John Marsden

I tried one last time to get through this series, and I decided that this would be my last Tomorrow book.  Sorry, Mr. Marsden.  I gave it a good try…onto bigger and better books for 2013.

My fellow psychos – what was your favorite book you read in 2012?

Memories from summer camp: Dodgeball, peanut butter, and bodily fluids

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t know what the frick to write about.   This sucks.

So, I think I will post about a blast from the past, the best job I ever had – a summer camp counselor.

This camp was a day camp for different age ranges of kids in the town I grew up in, run by the local park district.  One week we’d have Tadpoles (kids 4-6), and the next week we’d have a combo of Explorers (7-9) and Ohlones (10-13), and these weeks alternated.  Camp was always M-F, and the Tapoles went home around 1:30ish, but the older kids stayed later, and for Explorer/Ohlone week, on Thursday nights they’d all stay for an overnight campout extravaganza!

This camp was called Summer Nature Camp, and it freaking rocked.  Every day the counselors planned a different theme.  Examples of themes: Reptile Day, Bug Day, Pond Day (usually a Wednesday, when kids would get to wade into the pond and catch amazing creatures), Unpopular Animal Day (you know – bats, skunks, snakes), Bird Day, Ranger Day (kids got to dress up like the rangers and learn about what rangers do all day.  hint: not much.  we taught the kids to write parking tickets for our fellow camp counselors, for instance).  For Explorer/Ohlone weeks, on Thursdays we did a big day hike, followed by face painting and games, then a campfire and stories, followed by an epic game of capture the flag at night.  Friday was always Adventure Day, where the counselors would plan a plot where some sort of evildoer was planning harm to the park, its plants and animals, and to the campers themselves.  The campers would then have to do a series of tasks completely unrelated to the danger at hand (like a trust fall, and passing kids through sections of a giant spiderweb made of rope), and magically the danger would be vanquished by the end of the day!

Some days, I think I had more fun than the kids, if that was even possible.  Don’t tell my former boss, but this job was so cool that I probably would have done it for free.  Below are the best examples of what I learned from working at this camp several summers in a row.

1. The younger the child and the greater the number of children, the more they must be herded like sheep

Always place one counselor at the beginning, one at the end, and several spotters throughout.  Try not to nip at the kids’ heels; parents really hate that.

Herding done right

2. Kids are hilarious when you least expect it

Some of my favorite quotes over the years:

During dodgeball: It’s like the Civil War, and that side’s Europe!

I love it when kids share TMI:  My daddy wears bandaids on his nipples!

I’m this many (holds up 3 fingers) but mom says to say I’m this many (holds up four).   Remember the age limit to be a camper is 4.  Yeeeeah.

My who-who itches!   Another wonderful example of TMI.  Keep it coming, kids.

3. Whipped cream spoils incredibly quickly in the sun

At the very end of the week, the kids got to cash in their Counselor Cards they had earned throughout the previous few days.  Counselors wrote these cards for other fellow counselors and no one counselor got to write the card pertaining to veself.  As an example, one of my counselor cards once read:  Melissa is a birthing cow.  Please encourage her young to be born quickly and healthy by spraying Melissa with whipped cream for 10 seconds.

10 seconds never felt so long.

4. It sucks trying to get peanut butter out of hair

For some reason, peanut butter is also a proven method for helping cows safety birth their young.  Who’dathunk?

5.  They’d better invent mucous and blood free humans when I’m in the market for a newborn, cuz I can’t handle the bodily fluids

It was summer.  It was hot.  There were rubber balls flying about, and there were kids running.  Kids broke skin a lot, but what was literally gag-inducing for me was when fluids flowed freely from noses in particular.  Skinned knee?  No problem.  Broken arm?  Come here, I’ll make a splint.  Walk it off.  Rub some dirt in it.  Blood running out of your nose and down your shirt?  Hells no.  You’re on your own, kid.  Actually, stay here and hold my hair while I throw up.

6.  I will never be able to rid myself of the trauma I suffered playing dodgeball at camp

Imagine this: you’re the only counselor still left on your team full of small, defenseless campers.  The reason you’re the last counselor on this team is because career counselor K is on the opposing team, and you’ve been hiding behind the chunkier kids on your own team for fear of ball-to-face humiliation.  Now, counselor K is fucking terrifying when playing dodgeball.  Picture a gorilla, all bent over with arms swinging and a look of intense concentration with knowledge of victory across his face.  His eyes practically glowed red.  He’d wait for the perfect moment when I wasn’t behind a kid, trying to grab a ball for a smaller tyke, and then I’d see it.  The wind up.  My body initiated an involuntary response that involved me hunching over, arms in front of my boobs and face (gotta protect the goods), one leg comes up to protect the abdominal vital organs, and then the scream.  Blood-curdling doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Wait for shame-inducing SMACK of the rubber ball against my exposed thigh, and then the collective sighs of disappointment from the little shits on my team.  Thanks a lot, you guys.  Then I went and cried in the bathroom.  I still have nightmares that involve my mom suddenly turning into a gorilla and serving me eggs that smell of sweat-covered rubber.