Friday, January 27, 2017

You're going to make it after all....

"I have to look for a job."
I waited for a beat before I spoke.
I tried to keep my tone even.  But I was really thrown.  She was the third one of my friends in the span of a year, who, post-divorce was finding that she was unable to pay for things like her mortgage, her car insurance, her light bill and at times, even groceries.
What is going on?!?
"What kind of job?" I asked finally.
I had a feeling I didn't really want to hear her answer.  Anika, was like me - a stay at home mom.  Neither of us had worked in almost two decades.  We're both in our fifties. Her answer could very well be my answer one day soon.  I braced myself.
"Maybe an executive assistant?"
I felt my shoulders tense up. I tried to picture myself as some woman's executive assistant, getting coffee and setting up meetings.
Do executive assistants have to take minutes?  Run personal errands?
"You'd be great at that!" I said encouragingly.  "Do you have resumé?"
"No," her voice was brimming with defeat.  "I don't even know where to start."

And neither did I.  I was a little further along than her, or most of my friends who are currently struggling with their new-found status.
My bestie (divorced one-year ago) who lives in Manhattan,  has always worked and contributed to the household bills, but trusted her husband to take care of their finances (after all, he is a Wall Street guy).  But post-divorce, she's finding New York City to be too expensive and her ex-husband to be a real jerk (with money and other things) - even when it comes to taking care of their son.
I have another friend (divorced four-year's ago) who moved three-hours out of LA , to a place she and her daughters could actually afford, because her multi-millionaire, celebrity husband believed that he didn't "owe" her anything for the 20-years they were together.  
I was on the phone with someone last night (she's mid-divorce) whose soon-to-be-ex-husband is a nice guy, but he stated that he simply can't support her and the kids anymore.
"I don't know what to do," she said.
"I know," I said.  I struggled to find better words.
"Albert Camus!" I quipped.
"What? Who's that?' She sounded annoyed.
"The french philosopher," I said brightly.  "The one who said, 'happiness too, is inevitable'."
"Yeah, okay," she said.  Her voice was flat. "But it's taking a really long time.  I need something now."
She was right.  And the truth was I didn't know what she needed.  Clearly money would help, but that wasn't all of it. For me, in order to keep going sometimes I just had to keep moving forward. I had to believe that it would be better one day.
"I hear you," I sighed. "And to quote our dearly departed George Michael, sometimes you've just got to have faith, right?"

It used to be that most of my friends were married.  Nowadays, when I get a call from a married friend I haven't heard from for a while, half the time it's to tell me that she is getting divorced or separated.  Sometimes, watching one of my friends leave their marriage feels like watching someone stagger out of a burning building.

"What happened?  What do I do now?  

When it came to my own divorce I was surprised by how much the actual word divorce stung my throat when I told people.  I was so very tempted to lie when the subject came up (you wouldn't know it by reading these blogs, but I really am a very private person).  But after a year had gone by, it started to feel like maybe I was in denial about the fact that I was divorced.  Why couldn't I just tell people the truth when the asked me how "we" were instead of skirting it.

"What?  Oh yeah, every one's good."

and then quickly flipping it to them...

"So how are you guys doing?"

Well, it wasn't exactly a lie.  Everyone was good.  Just not the way they were thinking.

Brian moved out and has a girlfriend and the boys go live with them every weekend. And oh, I have this great, new boyfriend, Scottie...

So finally (painfully) I started telling people the truth when they asked (I rehearsed my "casual" response in the mirror,  "Oh yes, you didn't know?  we've been divorced for a while now...").
I was shocked by how tender I still was around the subject.  As long as no one brought it up, I really felt fine.  But the moment I saw that look on some one's face,  all of this pain and shame came flooding in from nowhere and swallowed me whole.  Once I'd said it out loud, I braced myself like for their reaction, which stung much like the word itself.  It rang like a slap across my face.

"Divorced!  Not you two!  I can't believe it!"

And the truth was that I was really a cliche.  Like my bestie in NY, for all of the years that Brian and I were married I hadn't handled any finances.  I hadn't paid any bills in 14-years.  It had been over a decade since I'd been responsible for things like property taxes and DWP bills.  All at once, less than a year after we signed our divorce decree,  I had to sit with a patient accountant for three hours and nod my head (whether I understood or not) as we went over my taxes that first year.

"Thank you so much," I said when he finally put the ream of signed paper work down with a thud.
"So, do I get money back?" I grinned up at him.
His seemed to try to catch the look of exasperation before it spread across his face.
"No, dear," he said with a weak smile.  He picked up the stack and flipped back through a few pages.  "Should we go over this part again?"

Post divorce, when a pipe broke on our property (correction - MY property) at 2:00am, I was astounded to realize that I was the one who had to go out alone into the dark of night (with a flashlight) and locate the broken pipe and then find the mud-caked shut-off valve with frozen fingers, while on the phone with a 24-hour plumber.

I was scared at night after the kids went to sleep.  Getting Venus and Serena (our labradoodles) helped, but I just couldn't figure out how to feel safe.  Wearing a panic button around my neck (my fingers lightly hovering above the red ALARM button), I would patrol the house quietly in my socks and nightgown looking for the of the source of the noises I kept hearing. I would often get light-headed from holding my breath for so long as I listened to the stillness around me for floor creaks.

I felt very, very single amongst all of my married friends.  I was surprised to find that I was either very smug or every envious when they talked about their own martial troubles.  The smugness, I think, was just my ego hoping for company in that shameful, "failed marriage" category.
The envy was really my shame, taking on yet another form.

Why had my marriage failed?  Had I failed?  Why didn't I stick it out and try harder like my friend, Kari?  She'd made it work!

Thank God for Scottie.  I met him right away (See my blog post "For Medicinal Use Only").   Loving him and being loved by him made all of this so much easier.  To my newly divorced friends, I try not to talk much about how wonderful he is or how wonderful it was to have him as I went through those first few years.  I don't want to make anyone feel like they can't get through their divorce without a "Scottie."

But I am happy that he had I waited for so long before we moved in together (6 years!).  It gave me the chance to see who I was on my own.  As scary as that was, I think it was really important that I got to discover things such as, what I like to eat for dinner (I found out that I can eat salmon every night and NEVER get tired of it).  I discovered that I really like to get into to bed around 10:00pm and to go to sleep around 11:30pm.    I found out that I love to binge on the Real Housewives of Atlanta while eating a frozen Hershey Bar (with almonds - they're SO good cold!).  And by the way, I still do all these things even since Scottie and I moved in together, but if I had gone right from being Brian's wife to Scottie's live-in girlfriend, I might not have been able to stay on that "post-divorce" path of self-discovery for as long as I did.

I was rattled my Mary Tyler Moore's death earlier this week.  I grew up watching "The Dick Van Dyke Show" reruns and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (and "Phyllis" and "Rhoda").  This week, they keep showing her show opening over and over on the news.

"Who could turn the world on with a smile..."

Mary Richards, her character on The Mary Tyler Moore show, was single, over thirty (old for that era) and finding her way into a new career.
I think she was inspirational, both her character and the actress who portrayed her.  Mary Tyler Moore the actor, survived divorce,  losing her grown son in a gun accident, alcoholism (she talks about her recovery in several interviews) and diabetes (which I think is being credited for her decline and eventual death at the age of 80).  A few year's later year, (after everyone had written her off) she came back in the acclaimed film, Ordinary People and went on to win a Golden Globe (and received an Oscar nod).

All this to say, what?  I don't know exactly.  I wouldn't compare myself to Mary (Richards or Tyler Moore) except to say that we all (Mary R. Mary T.M. and me) have overcome terrific odds.  I got divorced and sober at the exact same time and I'm here writing this almost 9-years later from my beautiful little office in my beautiful home with my boys (Scottie, Miles and Justin) all sleeping in their respective beds.  Come to think of it, maybe "the Marys" and all of my friends who are joining me in this strange new "post-divorce" realm, do have something in common after all - we've, each of us, taken a leap in to the unknown.

It reminds me of something my friend Bird says (I'm paraphrasing)
Faith isn't jumping from point A to point B.  Faith, she says, is just jumping from A.

And divorce is definitely just jumping from "A."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lady Di

"I used to stand in the shallows and get pounded by the waves," she said.  "I didn't know how to get to the other side to where the water was calmer.  One day, I got up all of my courage and I just dove right into this huge, on-coming wave.  I thought it was going to kill me. I panicked because I felt like my body was getting crushed by the sheer force of it.  I was suspended for a moment in time, in that incredible pressure.   I couldn't breathe, I couldn't hear, I couldn't see.  Then suddenly, I popped out on the other side.
The pressure hadn't killed me after all.  It had actually just moved me all the way through the wave into the calm.  Now I know, when I'm scared and I'm getting pounded, I don't just stand there so I can get clobbered.  I jump in head first.  And I am always moved through to the other side."

Di (or Diana) was talking to a group of us women.  My friend, Claire, who had known her for years had invited her.  Di, was telling us that this is how she still felt, despite the horrific surf accident that left her with broken ribs, ruptured breast implants and bruising all over her body.
She went on to explain that she didn't blame the ocean.  It was an accident.  She talked about how even while she was recuperating, she longed for the solace of her mother.  That's what she calls the ocean, "Mom" (and she calls the universe "Dad").

"I've been resting for months," she said.  "I'm just now starting to get out and feel like myself.  But I keep asking the doctors,"When I can get back in the ocean? When can I surf again?"
In the meantime, she said, looking sad.  I stay connected to my "mother" through Facebook.
"Surfers post all of the time.  You can see where the waves are going off.  Where it's too crowded or the surf is too glassy.  Facebook's keeping me sane right now.  I need that connection."

Now she was speaking a language I understood.  I know all about the surfer Facebook connection.  I know about sites like Surfline that use cameras placed on cliffs and light posts near all of the "cranking", local surf breaks.  I know that some breaks are "left" and others are "right." I know that surfers follow weather systems all over the globe like they are forensic meteorologists.

"Did you see that system near New Zealand? That might send some waves our way...."

I know all this and yet I have never even really gone past my knees in the ocean off our California coast-line.  The two or three times I have been on a surfboard have been in tropical waters with sturdy, sun-kissed surf-instructors guiding me.

"Okay, pop up now, Laura!  POP UP NOW!  Okay, don't worry.  We'll catch the next wave..."

 I know all of this because the man I love is a surfer here in Los Angles.  And on any given morning he's on "dawn patrol" (when there is surf), which means he will rise quietly at 4:30am and slip out in to the cold morning to drive his car (pre-packed with surfboards, wetsuits, food and water) 20 minutes to an hour to get wherever it is that has the best left-breaking waves.  Yes, surfers, he's "goofy," (for the rest of you, that means right-footed).

"My boyfriend's a surfer too," I said to her after a few of the other ladies had drifted in to side-conversations.  "I'm going to tell him that analogy of the wave pushing you through to the other side.  He loves the ocean like that.  He calls it his mother, too."

"So you fell for a surfer, eh?" Her blue eyes sparkled with curiosity.  "And he calls the ocean 'mother'?" She laughed, but I knew it wasn't at me (or Scottie).  It was a "me too!" laugh.
I took her in for a second.  She looked to be in her sixties.  Her grey hair was cropped short.  Her face was sun-worn, smile-lines ran from her thin, white lashes to her temples.  Her eyes were stunningly blue.  Not turquoise or azure, just a pure, sky blue.  Her smile and speaking voice were that of a little girl.  But her laugh was throaty and mature.
I felt myself smiling at her.

"Yes, Scottie's all about surfing," I continued.  It's what keeps him centered."
Suddenly Di stopped laughing.
"Scottie?" she said as though I had somehow spooked her.  "What's his last name?"
"Slaughter," I said.
"Not Scott Slaughter from Facebook?!?" Her eyes grew big as her jaw gaped open.
"Yes, well maybe..." I said, not totally knowing what she meant by that.
"Scott Slaughter's Facebook posts have been getting through this whole recovery!" she was practically yelling.  "I read them every day."
My mind raced, This woman is reading Scottie's post every day?
"You read Scott Slaughter's surfing posts every day?" I said, emphasizing his last name.  "Blond, used to live in Utah?"
Surely she must be mistaking him for some other Scott.
"Yes!" she said triumphantly.
"Do you know him?"
"No, I've never met him!" she said resolutely.  "But I feel like I know him."
I started laughing,"Scottie's going to trip!" I said.  "Wait 'till I tell him.  Actually, you should message him," I said.  "He would love to hear that from you.  That's a crazy coincidence, right?"

That first Facebook message from Di to Scottie was the beginning of a year-long Facebook "pen-pal-ish" relationship.  Di wrote Scottie long, melancholy "odes" to her surfing days and Scottie responded by giving her daily surfing reports.  From her computer, Di lived vicariously through Scottie.  Through him, she was able feel the frustration of trying to practice his "cut back in the foam pile," while some dumb-ass that didn't know the rules of the line-up "dropped-in" on him. When Scottie had this the one epic surf day where a photographer snapped his picture on a beautifully, clean wave, it was Di that he shared it with after he got home.  Slowly, I grew used to laying in bed with him at the end of the day, as they "Face-booked" each other surf-story after surf-story.

Almost exactly one-year later, Scottie was helping me carry trays of macaroni and cheese in to a potluck lunch and Di came around the corner into the kitchen.  She looked from me to him and then back to him.  A huge grin of recognition spread over her face.
"Hey, hey!" he beamed as he put the tray down on the counter.  She walked quickly over to us.  I broke in to a huge smile.


"Di, this is Scott...," I began.
"It's really you!" she smiled
Their instant, delighted, chatter was really pretty sweet.  They knew what the other looked like from their year of messaging and posting on Facebook, but to actually see each other in person after all that time was something else.
"I knew that was you," she said.  Even before I saw Laura.
I looked from one smiling face to the other and felt the corners of my mouth turning up with pride.
Look how cute this is!  Look what I've done!

"I might take Di down to the beach with me tomorrow."
It had been three or four months since the day of the pot-luck and I felt like every day Scottie had another "Di" story for me.
I waited before looking up.  I knew that whatever was about to come out of my mouth wasn't going to be kind.
"Hon?" He was looking at me with that little boy look that seems to say, "what's wrong, Honey?"
I kept my eyes on my phone.  I was playing Words With Friends.
"You're going to take her to the beach?"  I said without looking up.  "Why?"
I heard my snippy, intolerant tone.  I could help it.

Wasn't it enough that they had been Facebook "pen-pals" for over a year now?  Why did she call him all  the time to chat about the surf? And actually just when and why did he give her his phone number?!?

"She hasn't been to the beach since her injury.  I just thought she might like to go."
"Okay," I said.  Of course, the swiftness of my "okay" indicated that it was anything but okay.

The week before, Di had come over to drop off a birthday present for Scottie.
"How sweet," I said as I grabbed the gift bag through the partially opened door. "But Scottie's not here."
"Oh I know, he went to Silver Strand.  I just got off the phone with him."
I narrowed my eyes.
Strike one.(Don't be knowing more about my man than I do.)
"Right!" I said lightly.  "That's Orange County?"
"Ha!" She laughed. "It's up in Ventura.  Haven't you ever been up there with him?"
Strike two. (Don't be judging me and my relationship)
"Not my thing," I said curtly.  "I don't really do the ocean out here."
"Oh you should," she said with some urgency.  "My last relationship ended I think partly because we didn't have surfing in common."
Strike three. (Don't try and compare me and Scottie to you and your little, failed relationship.  Girl, bye!)

"Is it?" he said peering at me over my phone.
"Is it okay if I take Di to the beach with me tomorrow?"
"It's fine," I said leveling my eyes toward him.
"Are you sure, Hon? You don't seem like it's fine."

I'm just a little tired of sharing you with her.  I'm more than a little tired of hearing her name come out of your mouth.  I'm also tired of her telling me things about YOU like I don't already know them!

"It's fine," I said finally. " Really, it's fine."

When Scottie got home from the beach the next afternoon he wanted to tell me about his morning with Di.  I "Umm-hmmm'd" and "hmmmm'd" without eye contact until he got the message.  I wasn't in the mood to hear about her.  And the truth was I wasn't going to be any time soon.  He could have his "little friend," but I wasn't going to participate in the "Di delight" sessions anymore.  He could hang out with her, but as far as I was concerned she was now his friend only.  If he brought up her name, the subject (whatever it was) would be dropped.  He was cut off.

Di's symptoms started showing up almost two year's later.  Scottie was concerned about the fact that she seemed to forget things and then get really agitated.  He tried to talk to me about it at dinner one night.  I listened politely but my mind was still closed to hearing anything about her.

"Probably just aging," I said taking another bite.  "How old is she?"
"I don't know," he said putting his fork down, I'm a little worried about her.
I fixed what hoped was a look of compassion on my face.
"I'm sure she's fine."  I reached out to touch his face.
This is exactly why I love him so much.  He so much different than me.  He's so much different than most people..."
"You are really, a dear, sweet man, you know that?"

When Di was finally diagnosed with dementia, I expected to find that all of my cold detachment from her would be suddenly replaced by a flood of compassion.  But instead, I still felt oddly removed.  I wasn't a stake holder in Di's life or her diagnosis.  I felt compassion for Scottie because he felt badly for her.  But I didn't really feel connected to what it must be like for Di.

"Did Scottie tell you that I entered into a medical study for Alzheimer's?  Apparently, I qualify."
Di was standing in our kitchen.  I was practicing being a gracious hostess and made sure that my eyes held contact with hers while she spoke.
Alzheimer's?  I thought she had dementia?
"It's kind of scary," she said in a confidential tone.  "I don't always understand everything that's going on."
I heard a loud cracking sound deep inside of me.  Like an iceberg in the movies when it begins to melt.  It startled me.  I felt my chest warm and soften a little.
"Do you," I stammered. "Do you go by yourself?" I asked.
"Most of the time," she said.  "And most of the time, it's okay."
"Oh wow," I said.  "No, I didn't know.  I didn't know that you had an actual diagnosis."
"I'm okay now," she said quickly.  "It's not bad yet."
I looked at her again as though I was seeing her for the first time.  Truthfully, I had seen her quite a bit over the last few years, but right there in my kitchen, for the first time in a long time, I really LOOKED at her.  Her short gray hair had grown out over the last few years and was now almost shoulder length.  Her face and body seemed to be about the same, but there was now a frailness about her, which I hadn't noticed before.
Scottie came out and they talked about her granddaughter who had been over the month before to hang out with Scott's daughter's, Lily and Nora.
When Di said goodbye a few minutes later, I found myself hugging her.  She stiffened up in my arms for a moment, then seemed to relax a little.
"I'll see you later," I said.  "Take care, Di."
"Okay," she called over her slightly hunched shoulders.  "You know me, one breath at a time!"

"Are you coming over for New Year's?" I asked her.  It was Di's weekly Saturday morning visit.  Sometimes she came a little early. This morning she'd arrived right on time.
"Huh?" she said.
"New Year's Eve," I said making eye contact with her.
I knew that asking her a week in advance was risky, but I thought I should plant the seed.
"Maybe," she said shrugged, "if I remember."
She was absentmindedly twirling her new piece of jewelry around her slim wrist.  It was a medical alert bracelet.  I looked away from it abruptly when I found myself staring at it.  It was an actual physical symbol of her condition.  My eyes kept going back to it.  I remembered that Scottie told me she was crushed when she finally agreed to put it on.  
Looking at it created a fresh wave of guilt and sadness inside of me.
"I'm going to hug you, okay?" Over the past few months, I'd learned to ask permission and warn her before I touched her.  Physical contact seemed to make her flinch as though she were in pain.  Loud noises and yelling did the same.  I moved mindfully around her now, careful to telegraph my every move.
"I hope you can come," I said.  "I'm sure Scottie will remind you."

Around 7:15pm on New Year's Eve, I was getting ready for our gathering, when I heard Scottie shouting in the bedroom.
"Do you see her?  She should be in the trailer in the parking lot."
I peeked in to the bedroom, "Who Honey?"
He grinned at me and pointed to the phone in his hand.
"You see the trailer? Yeah, that's it her rig.  It's in the back of that lot, right?"
"I'm talking to the Uber driver," he whispered (loudly) to me.
I looked at my phone.  7:17
Why is he having her picked up so early?
I walked back into our bathroom when I heard him say, "You got her?  Yes, she should have a little dog with her."
I cut my eyes at him as I walked out and began to light candles.
She's bringing her dog to our New Year's Eve party?!?

"I sent Di an Uber," he said when he hung up.
"I heard," I said curtly.  I was irritated that my old Di/Scottie-irritation seemed to be re-forming.
"She was scared to leave her dog alone in the trailer in a strange place, so I told her it was okay to bring him."
"Okay," I said.
"She wouldn't come without him," he had that look again (like, "you're with me on this, right?")
"Okay, Honey," I said forcing a smile.

Minutes later, as I was in my closet changing into my dress, the doorbell rang.
She's so early!

I heard Di and Scottie talking in the hallway.  He told her that he would take her dog into his office.  I heard them talking about how cute the dog was.  I felt my chest getting tight.
I came out of our bedroom after I had taken a couple of deep breaths.  She was standing  alone in the kitchen.
"You look beautiful!" she exclaimed when she saw me.  "Look at that dress!  Wow!
I'm sorry I'm so early.  I'm sorry I had to bring my dog. I'm sorry if I'm early..."
"It's fine," I said cutting her off.  I softened my face, "you look lovely."
And she really did look pretty,  She as all dressed up and she seemed to be sparkling.  She was wearing one of the NYE tiara's from the pile of festive hats that I'd placed on a table by the front door.
"Can I help with anything," she said.  "I really want to thank you for having me over."
"You're always welcome, Di" I said.  I found myself meaning it.
"I think we're okay.  Are you hungry?  Thirsty?"
"I'd like to help, please," she said earnestly.  "I really do want to thank you for having me over."
I caught the words before they came out of my mouth
"I know, you just said that."
"Would you like to light the rest of the candles?"
"Oh yes!" she said excitedly.
I gave her a long, Bic, pencil-length lighter.
"Where should I start?" she twirled around in a circle twice.  I could see the beginnings of confusion setting in.
I thought about the first time that I met her and that story she told about not wanting to get "clobbered by the waves" anymore and she dove in head first.
"Just dive right in.  You can do this room or the dining room.
"Okay" she said with a slight smile. She pointed her lighter like a sword as though she were leading the charge."
"To the dining room!"

Friday, January 13, 2017

What a wonderful world....

My mother came of age at a time when "the signs were still up." Which means that she grew up when there were still "colored" bathrooms, waiting rooms, water fountains, entrances, etc. (mainly in the southern states).  I've heard her heart-wrenching stories about how she and her Black classmates at her Catholic school in Chicago were regularly referred to as "dirty savages" by the nuns who taught there.
The lines were drawn everywhere.
When she once crossed that "invisible line" into an adjacent White neighborhood, the unkind remarks and stares of open-hostility sent her scurrying back to her own block.  
At age five, she was placed in the "colored ward" for a tonsillectomy.  Her terrified questions were met with cold silence by a stern-faced nurse. (The nurses wore starched, light blue uniforms and caps with blood-red crosses).  When those doctors and nurses saw my five year-old mother, they didn't see a scared child, they saw a colored girl.

At 3:23 am on August 27, 1964, my mother gave birth to me in the negro ward at Cook County hospital. My deeply creased, carbon-black and dingy-gray birth certificate reads "negro" under the category of race.  You see, by 1960, "we" had moved from "colored" to "negro." The year after I was born, the Civil Rights's Act was passed and the following year, the Voting Rights Act was also passed.  The signs came down everywhere.  No more colored or negro this or that. This was thought by some, to be great progress.  But for most of the country, the signs were the only thing that were removed.  Racism continued to flourish and segregation-practices remained in tact.   In the early 1970's our label changed again to African-American.  But I didn't grow up "African-American." None of my parent's friends referred to themselves that way.   As with everyone else who looked like me (that I knew) in the 1970's, I grew up Black.

After moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, my mother and I moved from one 1-bedroom apartment to another (she always gave me the bedroom and she would hang a "privacy" curtain across the living room threshold to denote her bedroom.)
The places were small, but the neighborhoods were always NICE.  The maple tree-lined streets were trash free and the roads were evenly paved. You waved at your neighbors on their porches as you walked by.

My mother wouldn't hear of public school for me (and certainly not a parochial school after those nuns!).  After she and my father scraped up enough money for me to go to private school, there were several school interviews - with my mother conducting the interviews.
"How many students per classroom?  "What do you do to encourage creativity and expression? Just how many Black classmates will she have?"

My mom's experience in that colored ward in Chicago had scarred her, so the search for the right pediatrician was especially crucial.  I liked Dr. Nauen (pronounced now-enn) as soon as we climbed the broad steps of her home-office and saw her kind, brown eyes and grey-streaked hair piled high into a bun.
But once we were in her office, I started to get nervous.  My heart pounded through my thin t-shirt as I sat on the exam table watching Dr. Nauen put on her stethoscope.
Dr. Nauen breathed on the end of it and kept eye contact with me.  Instantly a steam cloud appeared on the round, metal disc. My mother, who stood right next to her, nodded to me that it was okay.

"Perhaps 'vee-el' examine Pooh Bear first?" She said in her thick, German accent.
I followed her eyes of to the well-worn Pooh Bear with the faded red shirt on the edge of her desk.  She placed the stethoscope on Pooh's "chest" and glanced up at my mother.
"Okay, first 'vee-el' check Pooh Bear's heart beat.  -- Gooot, Gooot."
She shifted the stethoscope to my chest.  Her hands were soft and warm and smelled of peppermint oil. The stethoscope was cold by comparison.
"Now 'vee-el" check Laura's heartbeat.  Goooot.  Goooot...!"
After expressing an interest in music, suddenly my mom was working part-time at my school (teaching art?  I don't remember). I stayed late two days a week and took guitar lesson with Jackson, the blond, denim-clad music teacher.  Week after week, he would watch me struggle through the fingering and erupt in yelps of encouragement when I "nailed something."

"Okay, Tiger, Tom Dooley is really basically just two chords, first a 'G' and now back to a 'D'.  
There!  That's right! You've got it!"

It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that the "open-minded" people of Massachusetts weren't the reason for the rather idyllic "race-neutral" experience with which I grew up.  I met a women named Lynette in 2014 here in Los Angeles.  It turns out that she is just a few year's younger than me and grew up a couple of towns over from me in Boston.  As we were talking, I realized that in 1974, while I was skipping down our tree-lined street to the Cambridge Montessori School,  she was boarding a school bus in Roxbury that would later deposit her at a White, public school in South Boston.  Once there, as she and her classmates tried to exit the bus and enter the school, they were spat upon and pelted with stones and clumps of dirt.
When you juxtapose our childhood memories, it sounds like she and I we grew up in two different decades, maybe even two different countries.

The fact that I was so astoundingly unprepared for my first taste of overt racism (I was refused service at a nail salon on in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1985) is not a tribute to the virtues of growing up in the 1970's instead of the 1950's.  Lynette's experience is proof of that.  But rather, it is a tribute to how incredibly hard my mother (and father) must have worked to keep me from feeling the effects of the racism that had nearly destroyed her.  Behind the scenes, my parents had created this wonderful world in which my mother and I would both live, but only I would believe was real.

My mom and I took Miles and Justin to Cambridge a few years ago so they could see where I grew up.  It occurred to me on that trip, that they, like me at their ages, seem to enjoy an absolute freedom from daily fears about how they'll be perceived, with regard to race.
They know what the "N-word" means to me, but it doesn't mean the same thing to them.  For them, it's just like "brother" or "sister" was in the 70's.  A signal of a sort,  like a secret handshake.

"What up, N#@ah?!?"

I have always been vigilant about educating them as to what it means to be young, Black men in a post-millennial America. But I can only say so much to prepare them.  I can only run so many "drills" on what to do if they're pulled over by the police or find themselves in a precarious position at party (statistics show that more often than not, in racially mixed situations - young Black men are more likely to be blamed when something goes south at a party or social gathering).

They're bored with my lectures.  They, like me at their ages, don't see the world as an inherently dangerous place.  I can only hope that their father and I have given them to the tools they'll need when America's overtly racial underbelly is finally exposed to them for what it is.

I had thought (hoped) that when the time came, my boys would leave home and enter into a much more evolved America than the one in which I grew up.   As it is now, when Miles graduates in May, he will be entering in to a world ruled once again (and almost exclusively) by older, privileged, White men.

But if my own experience is any comparison, Miles and Justin may actually be ok.  I mean, I grew up with Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan.  And even though I was shocked when I realized that that salon owner in Ft. Lauderdale was denying me service because I was Black, my response was outrage, not fear or doubt.
I knew that I was (and am) many things, Black is just one of them.  I was angry that she couldn't see that too.  I called the local newspaper and reported her and then took my business to a different salon. Growing up,  I wasn't told outright that other people might see me differently, but somehow my parents must have prepared me for that fact.   My hope is that when my boys encounter people that only see the color of their skin and the texture their hair, that their hurt feelings will eventually be supplanted with feelings of compassion and understanding.  Until then, I hope that they believe that it's a wonderful world for as long as I did.  Thank you, Mommy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Inauguration Day

It's January and I've officially run out of TV shows to watch.  
Shameless had its season finale. Homeland comes back on the 15th, and This Is Us won't return until next week.  Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Ray Donovan and Orange is the New Black won't be on until spring and summer respectively.  So a few days ago, I sat on my bed with my Sunday NYT and began scrolling through my "B-list" of banked-recorded TV shows (shows I'll watch in a pinch when there's nothing else on).  I always like to have something familiar on TV while I read the Sunday paper.  It's just one of my things.

I settled on an episode of Quantico from October (I really want to like her  - Priyanka Chopra, but I kind of lost interest last season and haven't been motivated to start the second one). I unfolded the SundayStyles section and started skimming through.  Two pages in, it started to get dark outside so I got up briefly to shut my drapes and turn on my bedside lamp.  Quantico proved to be the white noise that I needed.  I was fully immersed in the 2nd page of an article entitled, George Michael - A legacy of Fashion, when a news promo broke through my focus.

"Breaking News! - An Oklahoma killing spree comes to an end in a shoot out with the gunman."

I looked up with a start. Oh no!  Another killing spree?!? How did I miss that today?

and then:

"Nearly a week after the news the FBI is conducting a review of emails found on a laptop belonging to Hillary Clinton's aid, the race for U.S. president remains close."

The race remains close...?!

Suddenly I sat up straight and pushed the pause button on the remote in my hand.  My brain struggled for a moment.  I could feel my heartbeat speed up. I stared at the frozen, close-up photo of Hillary Clinton's face.  My mind fought against the release of hope that had begun to course though my body.

It's recorded, Laura. It's from October - before the election.

But it was too late, I had already been transported back to what it felt like during those days before the election.    I was never Hillary's biggest fan, but everyone (that I knew anyway just knew that she was going to win.  In fact, my friends and I seemed to be collectively insulted by the fact that he was even allowed to take up ballot space.  We spoke to each other in restaurants and on cellphones in reckless whispers (laced with haughty laughter).

"Girl, you heard what he said about that judge?  Other countries must think we have lost our collective minds!  Imagine how they'll laugh at us if he actually wins!"

This would usually be followed closely by an automatic "God forbid!" or a "Lawd have mercy!"  As if we were all townspeople in a horror film, afraid that even joking about a Trump victory might bring unspeakable evil upon us all.

 The truth was that, despite what I saw as a lack of "likability",  I felt completely safe with the idea of Hillary at our nation's helm.  She had the experience, intelligence and strength that I felt were needed when it came to creating and implementing both domestic and foreign policies.  Hillary was going to protect "love is love" and women's reproductive rights.  She was on "our" side when it came to "stop and frisk" and immigration reform.  She saw what "we" saw when she looked at Muslim Americans.  She understood the meaning of words like diplomacy, patience and tact.   And yet, Hillary wasn't taking no mess from anyone.  Candidate Hillary was a shot-caller.  The kind, I decided, come election day,  I would trust with my life.   (By the way, I thought the rest of you had also made the same decision.)

In October of 2016, my only qualm about November 8, was that we would be one step closer to saying goodbye to our beloved first family.  
I see now what an egregious error it was to take that "pre- 11/9" feeling of hope and security for granted.  But I really just didn't know.  I didn't even suspect.

I sat up and folded the paper back together and continued to stare at the image on the screen.  

How long before I feel that safe again?  Safe, like I did during the days leading up to November 9? Four more years?  Eight more years?!

It's not that I don't actually understand that she lost the election.  I know that she lost.  I know that Donald Trump is our president-elect.  And yet it's been so hard for me to metabolize how I FEEL about knowing these things.  So hard in fact, I've been avoiding my beloved MSNBC lately because of how often they talk about it.  I've even been avoiding booking anything on or around January 20th, because each time I scroll past it on my iPhone calendar, the date opens and proudly proclaims 1/20/17 as Inauguration Day! (okay -- true, there's no exclamation point, but that's how it feels to me).  I am well acquainted with this feeling, but I'm not used to having it around anything political.  The truth is that I'm having a hard time equating these feelings I'm having with the events that took place on and after 11/9.  It feels very EMOTIONAL.  It feels very PERSONAL.  It feels like I was blindsided by some kind of major betrayal.   

Short story....

When I was 24,  I was "madly and deeply" in love with a young man who lived in Maryland.  During our year-long romance, we saw each other as often as possible and wrote each other long, torrid love letters when we couldn't.  One day on a whim, I used my rent money to buy a plane ticket to Baltimore and left my flight information on his home answering machine

Imagine how surprised he'll be!

When he picked me up from the airport, he basically told me that he was involved with somebody else and he couldn't see me anymore.

As I flew back to LA, (with my tears steaming up the airplane window), I prayed (pitifully) that he would see the error of his ways and come back to me.  For weeks after that, (if I could sleep) I would have this amazing dream that we were still together and that I had been wrong about his cheating.  When I woke-up, I tried to hold on to that dreamy feeling by keeping my eyes closed as long as I could.

Please still be my boyfriend, please still be my boyfriend...

But when I finally opened my eyes, I was always hit with the realization that it was true --  he didn't want me anymore.  I would then become flushed with a cold, heavy feeling that left my head ringing with pain. It was like being slapped awake with a glove that contained wet cement. 

When I saw that October news promo, I felt like I did on those mornings (post-dumping) -- an acceleration of hope followed closely by an intense feeling of let down, bitter-disappointment and anger.  

But the truth is on November 9, as baffled, angry and disappointed as I was, my life didn't actually change.   I mean nothing in my day-to-day life is any different than it was on November 8.   I still live in the same house with Scottie, my sons and our two dogs.  My bank account has remained the same, my circle of friends and family is unaltered.  I drive the same car, go to the same gym, etc. 

Having children changed my day-to-day life.  Going to treatment changed my every day life.  Getting divorced certainly changed my day-to-day life.  But Trump's victory?  It just hasn't really affected any of my daily logistics or any of my "rights" (that I'm aware of) as of this moment.  The only thing that has changed is that I know.

I read a daily email meditation.  A few years ago, one of these meditations contained a story about an ill-tempered man who purchased a weekly lottery ticket.  He remained as ill tempered as ever, until one day he discovered that several weeks prior, he had actually purchased a winning ticket.
In a matter of minutes after hearing the news, he was filled with hope, joy and generosity.  But nothing had actually changed.  He hadn't cashed-in his ticket yet.  His bank accounts and pockets were still empty. But just knowing that he'd won gave him such a shift in perception that he could finally access feelings of love and security.    

shift in perception.  

Knowing that inauguration day is actually looming before us has created the opposite shift in me.  What feels like a betrayal to me (i.e. the events that took place on November 8 and 9) have made me restless, fearful and on-edge.  

I absentmindedly opened the front section of the paper and began to flip through it.   The crispness of the news-page between my thumb and middle finger has a sound that is both comforting and familiar to me -- it's almost musical, like a staccato swish, swish, swish.   I zoned-out on the sound as I thumbed through page after page, until a break in the small newspaper print caught my eye --

A full page ad from John Lennon and Yoko Ono?

War is over.  If I want it....

I felt my shoulders slump toward my chest.  I shook my head slightly from side to side.

That's what it feels like!  Like we're preparing for war.  And I feel like I'm suffering from another kind of PTSD -- Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Because nothing has really happened yet.  I'm just so scared of what I'm sure is on the horizon.

My gaze shifted to the picture opposite the "War is Over" ad.  It was that now-infamous picture of our president with president-elect Trump during their post-election White House sit-down.  To me, Trump looks like he's in shock or really overwhelmed.  Or maybe he just looks bored, like a 6th grader in a two-hour assembly on safety.

But on the other hand....

Our president is smiling.  

Just two days after November's election, while the rest of us were either walking around in a zombie-like daze or celebrating (as the case may be), President Barack Obama took yet another opportunity to handle himself with the same level of poise and dignity for which he has always been known.  And unlike my life, our president's day-to-day life was immediately and directly affected by Trump's victory.  He had to get into right into action to protect his legacy and to keep his vow to ensure a smooth transition of power "no matter what."   And "no matter what" had happened.  Everyone knew it might be a close victory (hers, natch).  But no one, including him, had been prepared for the electoral-college vs  popular-vote "battle carnage," which started during the evening of 11/8, continued well into the morning of 11/9, and ended with a Trump victory - nay, trouncing!

Wow.  Our President managed to look attentive and fresh.  He even managed to smile.

Perhaps I can begin by simply following our President's lead and smile in the face of all of this.  I mean, I'm pretty sure were in for bit of a sh*# show come January 21.   But perhaps I can try and wait until if or when my life actually does change before I let what I know (or rather what I think I know), impact me  negatively


I closed the paper and shut my eyes for a moment before pressing "play" on the remote.   Quantico came back to life and Priyanka Chopra's husky voice filled the air around me.