Lean on Me

These are exceptional times. There is no doubt. The political is personal. Not being able to get to a polling booth to vote is personal. Not enough beds for a hospitalized loved one is personal. Feeling unsafe in public spaces is personal. Losing a job is personal. Protecting vulnerable loved ones from a debilitating, even deadly virus is personal. Watching police officers who we depend on for our safety being attacked during an insurrection at our nation’s capital is personal. Watching climate change occur in fast forward is personal.

WHY AREN’T YOU CRYING?

 Everything on the news seems to land right on our doorsteps. In the old days, it landed in the form of a newspaper; now it arrives as actual events happening to us all. We are not talking about a faraway war or disease and starvation in an unrelatable third world country (which is awful enough). No, gone are the days of first world entitlement. The pandemic is here. Racial strife is here (always has been, but why still?). We actually had an insurrection at the U.S capital; who could’ve imagined? Climate change is happening so fast we can’t keep up. Fires, floods, drought, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, melting polar caps, animals quickly becoming extinct.  If you haven’t cried lately while watching the news, then I have to ask: What is wrong with you?

CALL ME

Today one of my dearest friends, one of my most favorite human beings on the face of the Earth (she knows who she is) called me. As soon as I heard her voice, I sensed stress. Tears. I immediately “got” it. We both acknowledge all the zillions of blessings in our lives. However, the early 21st century is hard. Yes, it is way easier for us than it is for most people on the planet. Neither of us deny that; in fact, the recognition makes it all the more difficult. When did this start? The intensity?

YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

What’s important here is that she called me. She reached out. I was able to be there for her, but in doing so she did something for me in return. She reminded me that I am worthy, that I am someone who can be depended on. Sometimes it is just as important to know that you can be depended on as it is to know there are people you can depend on. It’s a two-way street. It feels good to be needed. She is a person who has been there for me. I love that I can finally reciprocate no matter how small.

HEY SHITHEAD!

You know a friend is family when you go for a period of time without communicating but when you do get in touch it’s as if no time passed at all. It might be months or years or weeks or days. It doesn’t matter. We are always right where we left off. We can talk about today and refer to decades ago and it all makes sense. That is love. Who else can call you a “shithead” and you know it is a compliment! That’s better than family.

TOUGH TIMES

We are living in a time where we are touched by everything. Everything is connected. The insurrection of January 6, being laid off from a job, climate change, a divorce, a friend becoming widowed, the economy, the pandemic. Every single thing hits so very close to home. It’s knocking on your own effin front door. For this reason, we especially need to be reaching out to one another more than ever. Let’s be there for each other, even if it’s just to provide a smile.

GOOD TIMES

There are all the good things too; an impromptu trip to another state to visit a small-town bookshop, a wedding, college graduations, laughter, a phone call, an early morning run, watching your dog swim in the river, a job you like, a night out with your daughter. I promise, this list is much longer than the bad stuff. That’s the thing. A conversation that starts with tears and ends with laughing so hard you snort! No matter what happens, with some people life is just so beautiful. It’s always beautiful with beautiful human beings.

Hey Shithead, you are one of the most beautiful humans on the planet, and I love you.

On Being Frail and Mowing Grass

March 4, 2012—I started the mower and mowed the grass today. I am empowered.

To mow the grass may not sound like much but it is. For me it is a physical and social triumph. I grew up with older brothers. They mowed the lawn, not me. When I was married to a rancher, I often assisted in heavy physical labor but I was never wholly responsible for it myself. I helped with building fence, or repairing a water gap. I drove the truck while others hauled hay (my petite daughter included).  I helped with the cattle sometimes. If I thought my husband was asking too much of me, I threw a fit and quit.

But the key word is “helped.” Now, it’s just me. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. It is my responsibility as a renter here to mow the grass. It’s one reason why the rent is so cheap. I’m not good at estimating such things, but I will tell you the yard is very large.  When the yard became tall and weedy, I went into the shed to get the lawn mower, a small and primitive lawn mower with dull blades. I made sure there was gasoline in the little tank and I pulled the cord. I pulled again. And again.  It would not start. I have very little upper arm strength and I’m left-handed. I did the Lucille-Ball-thing. I wrapped one leg around the handle and tried to pull across my body with my left hand. That did not work.  At this point I was dripping with perspiration, breathing heavily and determined not to give up. I cursed. I yelled at God. I begged God. I screamed, “with your help, I can doooooo ittttt!!!” I pulled. The motor began to run and I let out a rebel yell. I mowed.  When the motor stopped I coaxed it sweetly, “come on, baby, you can do it.” I got the job done.

Then it rained and the grass grew. It seemed like the grass was growing faster than I could mow it like a Dr. Seuss character. There is much irony in this considering that we have been suffering from the worst drought in Texas history.  A few weeks later, I pulled the mower out again. Again, it would not start. No matter how hard I tried or cursed or prayed it would not start.  I sat down, covered in dirt and perspiration, and cried. I cried a good cry. I cried loud, and ugly, and childishly. Snot ran down my nose.  I called Vanessa. Rodger asked me about spark plugs. He asked about, I don’t know, other things. He didn’t know and couldn’t fix it over the phone anyway!

A few days later, Maggie and Justin came over. Justin cleaned the spark plugs. He diagnosed the mower as being “a piece of shit.” He started it for me. I mowed the front, leaving the rest since it was a week night and I was tired from the day.

Saturday morning I tried again. It started on the first pull! Don’t ask! It just did. I mowed half of Texas that day (the other half being desert)! I mowed until gasoline started spewing out of the tank like a sprinkler.  Yesterday, Nathan, the landlord showed up with three buddies. Each took a turn trying to start the mower. It wouldn’t start, not even for these big, strong men.  It wasn’t just me being frail and helpless after all. Nathan took it home with him after declaring it a “piece of shit.” I am hoping he returns with a brand new mower so I can mow the world.

Staying Warm

How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

While I certainly don’t pretend to have ever experienced the magnitude of cold that Solzhenitsyn did, I know I really hate being cold.  When I’m cold, I can’t do anything. I can only think about the cold. From my icy toes to my wet and runny nose, it’s an excuse to do nothing. It could be that I’m just too skinny. I have not an ounce of fat to insulate my bones! But it’s much more than that. Warmth is oh so psychological. Good things warm us—like laughing, and love, and snuggling, and soft wool, and sunshine, and chocolate chip cookies, and holding babies and good wine. When we are wanted we are warm.  When we aren’t lonely, we are warm.

My physical state affects me greatly and I will go to great lengths to maintain a just-right environment. That’s easy to achieve when you live with central air conditioning and heat which I’ve had most of my life. The brief periods that I went without were just that—brief, or so I thought.  I don’t pretend that I have not been spoiled and pampered in many ways.  I’ve never been able to help that, right? It’s what I was born into? Something like that? Whatever.

The first night in my little cabin didn’t feel cold. It was New Year’s Eve and I had been warmed by a bit of champagne and probably exhaustion. Vanessa and Rodger were asleep in the next room providing the emotional warmth we all need. Even though we slept on the floor that night, cold was not an issue.

The second night I froze half to death. Ok, Solzhenitsyn is rolling his eyes now. This is Texas not Siberia, but isn’t it relative? Ok, so I’m spoiled for not living in Siberia. I was cold that night and the little window unit made a lot of noise without making things the least bit toasty. I kept wondering how much electricity it was using to spit cool air into the room.

I had my bed now and began piling on the blankets. For Christmas my brother and his wife had given me silly bunny socks that were thick and soft. My toes felt like popsicles inside them.  I put on my flannel jammies and found my silk long underwear leftover from camping long ago.  I lay under the covers and didn’t even read a book. I lay there. I thought about what a long winter this would be, coming home every night and hurrying to get under the covers. Somehow I survived the night.

The next day, my daughter and her boyfriend came bearing gifts.  They brought me the cutest little portable radiator. It’s electric and has oil running through it. It makes no sound except for an occasional thick, oily drip.  I can pull it by its cord like a toy horse. I wheel it into the bathroom every morning before my shower.  It’s perfect! I’m learning other little tricks too.  I keep cookie dough in the fridge so I can bake on really cold nights—an excuse to turn on the oven.  I close off the extra room so I don’t have to heat it. I’ve learned that I don’t need that room anyway. Funny how I thought this place was so small and now I’m not even using all of it! Sacrifices I once thought to be huge have turned out to be no big deal at all.

Anyway, today reached 83 degrees. What will I do come spring without central air conditioning? Solzhenitsyn knows nothing about Texas heat!

Vanessa and Rodger: Moving Day

“And that’s the only thing I need is this.  I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray… And this paddle game. – The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need… And this remote control. – The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need… And these matches. – The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball… And this lamp. – The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one… I need this. – The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. “

The Jerk

 

Vanessa and her husband, Rodger, came to visit in the spring of 2011. It was so wonderful to spend time with them.  My boyfriend made margaritas and we had a good time. Actually, I drank far too much that day. Vanessa and Rodger knew something was not right but being the least judgmental people in the world ever, they didn’t say a word.  Their discreet actions led me to know that I had friends and that they would be there for me if I ever wanted to help myself.

Vanessa and I graduated from high school together. We were close. She came from Port Arthur and I was from Biloxi. We were both the youngest in our deeply southern families. We both grew up in yacht clubs around sailing. We shared a silly, goofy sense of humor. We have never agreed on politics but that never got in our way.  She is sensible and I, well, I am not.  We were in touch on and off through the years. Really more off than on.  But we were there. Somewhere.

When I talked to Vanessa, she never judged me or my boyfriend, or the living situation I was in. In fact, she embraced him and liked him. She saw, however, that it wasn’t the healthiest of relationships, that I was not making the best choices. She waited for me to realize that I had to make changes. She never said “this is what you must do,” but when I explained the situation and what I would try to do to solve my problem, she told me she was glad that I saw it that way. The name Vanessa is synonymous with the word supportive.

When I finally found my little cabin the logistics of moving became yet another obstacle in my attempt to fix my life. I was trying so hard not to spend much money. There was no one in the area who I felt comfortable asking for help. I didn’t want to hire movers when I was moving to a tiny place to save on rent. I couldn’t do it alone although me being me I actually thought about it!

So one day while sitting in Starbucks, Vanessa and Rodger gave me a call. It’s just one of those “just calling to see how you are” kinds of calls. No sooner had I told Vanessa that I was moving than Rodger asked if I needed help. I am embarrassed to say that I responded with a very quick “yes!” Probably too quick.  This was just before Christmas.

Vanessa and Rodger are so amazing. New Year’s weekend and their 28th wedding anniversary they drove up from Houston (excuse me, Perland) and helped me move. Rodger even brought a bag filled with good books and music cds for me.  After I spent a week giving away three full car loads of stuff to Goodwill, I packed what I needed and Vanessa and Rodger, and I loaded up a U-Haul truck. They waited patiently while I stood in the front yard of the house I had lived in with my soul mate and cried.

Together we lifted, pushed, pulled, rolled, dropped my large sectional, my awkward-shaped entry table with the large mirror I was sure would break on New Year’s Eve, and a bed made of mesquite and iron.  Together we took the door off the hinges in order to get the washer and dryer out. We drove the 25 miles to my little cabin and unloaded. For all the heavy lifting, packing, and maneuvering, the most important thing they did for me was be there. No hired movers could have understood the meaning behind the move I was making. This wasn’t just a move from one dwelling to another. This was a life changing event and it was intentional. I was taking a bold step in my life and Vanessa and Rodger were there to see me through.  Rodger never once lost his patience and Vanessa kept her sense of humor throughout. This is what friends do.

I am learning that I can’t live this life alone. No one can. We all need each other. Part of learning to take care of yourself is learning when to ask for help. As stubborn as I am, I could not have moved my furniture without help.  Without the help of a long list of friends and family, I would not be living independently and alone in my little cabin. 

We spent New Year’s Eve together, the three of us, sipping champagne under the big Texas sky on the porch of my little cabin. Well, actually Rodger hit the hay pretty early and Vanessa and I caught up on “girl talk.” But the stars were infinite in number and clear and perfect.