My Runaway Heart

Have you ever loved someone so much that you would suffer any indignity to remain with them? Someone you loved so fully you’d forgive them anything? Someone you couldn’t imagine living without?

I have. In time, I hope someone will love me with that level of intensity.

Leaving a relationship like that is hard. The mind is a great deceiver when the heart is involved. Sometimes to protect ourselves, we have to flee. And that’s what I did.

How many miles do you need to put between yourself and your broken heart? In my case it’s 1027 miles. That’s how far I had to run to allow my mind to accept what my heart had known for over five years.

It’s been a tough year. So tough that it’s been difficult to write and too dangerous to blog. Most of the venomous, mental vomit I’ve had to spew has been confined to composition books inked with my favorite Pilot G2 pens rather than committed to the internet to live on forever, a toxic reminder of a difficult time. Because even though I know leaving was the right thing, late at night my inner mean girl whispers that if I’d been stronger, I could have stayed and detached rather than running.

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But in leaving I found boldness and courage and the opportunity to remake my life into something I’m proud of. I’ve found that the things my old life told me I sucked at aren’t true. I can finish things. I can stick it out. I can take care of myself financially. I can be alone. I can make friends. I’m not great at everything I attempt, but I can ask for help. I make mistakes. I recover from them.

I’ve found my voice.

It amazes me how much of my old life was based on fear: fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of being thought of as weak. Now I base my decision on my needs, and if things don’t work out the way I want them to, I make a new plan.

I’ve learned that even the worst plan can be reworked.

Most of all, I’ve realized that there is nothing worse than being with someone that makes you feel alone.

I left New Hampshire because I was weak. In leaving I discovered how strong I really am.

 

 

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A Farewell to Dad

He wasn’t the best father, but he was my father.  When my sister called and asked me to accompany her and my brother to his deathbed, I went, even though I hadn’t spoken to my dad in 22 years. I did it, I thought, for my siblings. Turns out I really did it for me.

Our family picture after the death of my oldest brother, Rod.

Our family picture after the death of my oldest brother, Rod.

When we entered the room where my dad lay dying, he looked exactly like his father had 22 years before. His head, covered with silvery gray hair, was thrown back on the pillow, his mouth gaped open, and harsh, irregular breathing filled the room.  Though the nurses said he could hear us, he was unresponsive.

Unlike my grandfather, who died at home in his living room, my father began his death in an intensive medical care unit. Outside the unit a sign warned us to wear masks due to a flu outbreak.  He was on contact precautions so before we entered his room we added gowns and gloves to the masks that covered our faces. The constant beep of monitors and the intrusion of nurses to empty his catheter, titrate his medications, and turn and position him widened the space between us and him.

It was hard to break that space.

The death of a parent, even a parent that never embraced the traditional role and remained more of a Peter Pan man-child than a King Triton type of dad, is hard. When it’s a father you’ve only seen from a distance for the past 22 years, one you’ve ducked down grocery store aisles to avoid and maintained at least a one room separation from at family gatherings,  it’s a little harder.

In Al-Anon they say one can detach with love or detach with dynamite. I’d always seen my choice, dynamite, as irrevocable.  As I smoothed his hair, wrapped his hand around mine, and reminisced about our shared past, I realized I was wrong.

Even though it was too late to repair the damage done to our relationship, it wasn’t too late to remember the good times we once shared.

In the time we spent alone, I played him the songs we knew together and the ones I’d grown to love since then. Kenny Chesney sang “Boys of Summer” in the background and I talked about fall in New Hampshire, football games my older brother played in, and towns we had rivalries with. Willie Nelson crooned “Always on my Mind” while I told him about the toast  my youngest gave at her sister’s wedding and how it reminded me of him. Craig Morgan sang “Almost Home” as I retold stories of the friends and family that had predeceased him. Over and over, I told him it was okay to let go.

But, he hung on.

The palliative care nurse practitioner said he wouldn’t survive once they stopped the medications, but the medications stopped and he didn’t. Then they said the ambulance ride to the hospice might kill him. One last road trip, I murmured as the stretcher rolled into the Florida sun and bumped up into the ambulance, yet still he hung on.  We can keep him pain-free, they said at the hospice, but it might hasten his death. It doesn’t matter, we told them, yet in spite of the pain and anti anxiety medicine, he breathed on. We sat by his bedside and laughed, prayed, told stories, cried. We watched him take one agonizing breath after another and we held our breath each time they stopped. But he kept breathing.

It wasn’t until late the second night, with all of his children around his bed, that he opened his eyes, took one last breath, and died.

My clearest memory of childhood is my father’s lectures at the dinner table. He’d tell us look around this table, these are the only people you can trust. These are the only people who love you unconditionally and will love you even if you grow up to be a murderer, a rapist, or a thief. For years I joked about his low expectations for us instead of focusing on the other part, how much he loved us and how much he wanted us to love and look out for each other.

Perhaps he hung on to make sure we’d learned the lessons he’d taught us. Even me, the daughter who had ignored him for 22 years.

If we get to make our own heaven, I have no doubt he’s in a place where the Jameson flows freely and the stories and laughter never stop and he is surrounded by people who love him.

He wasn’t the best father, but he was my father, and, in the end, I loved him still.

Alcoholism: A Family Affair

It takes an enormous amount of energy to live in an alcoholic family in denial. “Loose lips sink ships,” my father said and our family currency became half-truths and lies. My dad wasn’t a drunk. He liked to drink. He wasn’t an alcoholic because he didn’t go to AA. Even thirty days in rehab didn’t stop the denial. We unknowingly snuck him out one night when he begged us to visit and then told us we could take him into town for an outing. I knew it wasn’t because he missed us, but because he missed the liquor store.

العربية: مجموعة مشروبات كحولية. Català: Divers...

العربية: مجموعة مشروبات كحولية. Català: Diverses begudes alcohòliques. Cymraeg: Rhai diodydd alcoholig traddodiadol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See, no matter how many drunken speeches an alcoholic makes about how he loves his family, he loves the alcohol more. Deep down, his family knows this. We did. We heard it in the next-day apologies for his drunken behavior. We saw it in the glaze of his eyes. It reverberated in the clink of empty bottles.

As I grew older, it became harder and harder to convince myself that I was content in a relationship where I came in second to a bottle of booze. Eventually, he succeeded in pushing me away and I let him. For that, I am grateful.

Growing up with an alcoholic taught me to be careful and cautious and scared. It made me evaluate every drink I take. It forces me to analyze every slurred word or stumble I make when I’m drinking. All of my interactions with alcohol are judged on a strict scale because, due to my family history, I’m only a few drinks away from being an alcoholic. I carry that burden with every drink I take.

Maybe that’s where I break the cycle. I love my kids more than I’ll ever love booze.

Yes, alcoholism is a disease. Yes, some of us are genetically predisposed. And it might be unfair, and un-politically correct, but on some level I still believe that if my father had loved us enough, he would have given up alcohol and I guess I’ll never forgive him for that decision.

All I can do is not make the same mistake he did.

 

Toilet Seat Secrets

No one wants to sit on someone else’s toilet seat, particularly if it’s one of those soft padded seats. Doesn’t make a difference how much bleach or Mr. Clean with Febreeze is used, the warm little squish it makes as you settle your buttocks down is a constant reminder that someone else’s behind has come before you. My recent move came complete with a padded toilet seat. I added a new toilet seat to the Wal-Mart list and, though it was a DEFCON 3 priority, I didn’t change it out until a few days ago.

DEFCON explanation

Now, I understood that long, plastic screws fasten down through the seat and into the actual porcelain of the bowl. I’ve always considered it an inferior design as there’s no purchase for the screws, they sort of drop through the holes and hope for the best. At least that’s what I thought.

A few years ago, one of my husband’s friendshits (see previous post on the difference between friendship and friendshit) renovated our bathroom. As befits the motto I bestowed upon him after enduring many years of his repairs and hearing the horror stories of others who hired him, “crappy work doesn’t come cheap,” he made a mess of the bathroom renovation. A corner shower, the identical model that I’d had installed in another house, was obviously not plumb and a gap of 3-4 inches between the walls and base was liberally plugged with caulk. He lost ambition after installing 3 out of 4 shelves in the medicine cabinet. The sink stopper was never installed and never found in the wreckage. Couldn’t hazard a guess as to whether he didn’t know how to install it or thought we didn’t mind losing toothpaste tubes down the drain on a regular basis. All of these mistakes paled, though, next to the toilet seat.

Though he is a contractor, wiki how has this helpful post on installing a new toilet seat to avoid unpleasantness. Basically, in addition to what I believed were useless plastic screws, toilet seats come with plastic nuts. If our fearless, friendshit carpenter had installed the toilet seat properly, it wouldn’t have come loose on one side. Not loose enough to slide off, but loose enough to jump if you sat on it wrong.

Nothing more unpleasant than a loose toilet seat.

My husband, good friend that he is, cautioned us all not to jump on the toilet seat or make hasty movements. Like somehow we were responsible for the problem. And then I changed my first toilet seat.

Imagine my surprise when I unscrewed the plastic screws and couldn’t pull the seat off. I tugged, and swore, and tugged some more. Then I felt underneath.

OMG! You don't have to settle for a moving toilet seat.

OMG! You don’t have to settle for a moving toilet seat.

At first I thought perhaps the nuts on the bottom were new to toilet seats, the result of class action lawsuits from people falling off them. See, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But, I knew I was once again the victim of 21st Century Roofing‘s shoddy practices. Strangely enough, when I googled the name to ensure I had it right, they had a Better Business Bureau Rating  of F. Wait, that’s not strange at all. This man has left a trail of incompetence and screwed up jobs in his wake. He works damn hard for that F.

Anyhow, I installed my new wood toilet seat correctly. Bye-bye former tenant germs and no fear of knocking the seat loose if I come in for a hard landing. As far as my former toilet seat, that’s now someone else’s business.

Birthdays, Love Them or Hate Them?

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia) If my cake isn’t vanilla, don’t be surprised by my bitter disappointment.

I think my birthday is pretty special.  So special, in fact, that during my working career there has only been one year that I worked on the day of my birth. Every other year I have indulged in a minimum of my birthday off, though most of the time I extend it into a long weekend. (How, you ask.  A Monday birthday requires the previous Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off as well as the subsequent Tuesday. A Tuesday birthday requires the weekend, Monday and Tuesday off. A Wednesday birthday rolls into a premature weekend starting on that day. Get it? Good.)

On particularly significant years I like to spend my birthday on vacation. One milestone birthday was spent in Key West, last year’s festivities included a trip to Ireland. My birthday is probably the one time of year I indulge myself without guilt. It’s like I’m two years old again and the world revolves around me.  Makes me think of my nephew, Jack, who, on being told he was loved one day, said “Everyone loves Jack,” as if I was stupid for not knowing that fact. That’s how my birthdays feel. Everyone loves me and I can do whatever I want.

But, much as I love to pamper myself, I hate any sort of celebration initiated by others. I’ll tolerate a small family birthday party with a cake (but please make it vanilla) and a few presents (but, trust me, I have myself covered birthday-wise, there’s no need for anyone else to even try). I’ll smile and make nice if someone slips and tells the waiter or waitress it’s a birthday celebration, but don’t expect a tip if I get the birthday song or a lone candle on my desert and the attention of other diners.  It makes me uncomfortable.

If you check my Facebook page,you won’t find my birthday listed. I love the option of wishing my friends a happy day, but not so sure how to respond when I’m the one getting well wishes. Do I thank everyone individually? Post a group thank you to my timeline? Graciously accept like the Queen, but make no mention of the fuss? With so many questions tormenting me, it’s easier to let it slip by unnoticed.  Those of you who know when it is, your use of private messages rather than wall will prevent me from having to decide any of the above questions. Thank you.

I  make no judgement on those of you who like a big fuss on your birthday. I know people who do the slightly embarrassed, yet grateful “you shouldn’t have” when entering a surprise party. I’ve worked with those who are genuinely surprised and pleased when a birthday cake appears at the monthly staff meeting. I’ve watched fellow diners react with delight when the entire restaurant staff appears table-side to sing birthday greetings. None of those people are me.

I think of birthdays the same way I think of births. I prefer a quiet, private affair with attendance limited to those few who are directly affected. Though I admire those people who love the public hoopla of birthdays, I’m not one of them, and at this stage of the game, that isn’t going to change.

Choosing to Dye

I don’t want to grow old or look old. Yes, I have a birthday coming up. No, I’m not seeking a vampire’s bite to make me immortal (immortality is wasted on the middle-aged). Truthfully I’m going to grow old no matter what I do, so my only power lies in not looking old. But holding onto youth is a tricky business.

 

When the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch publicly identified their market as the cool kids and capped their female pant sizes at a 10,  the idea of excluding full-bodied kids rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But Abercrombie’s disrespect didn’t just extend to the uncool kids. In the same interview, when CEO Mike Jeffries (61 years old at the time) was asked why he dyes his hair blond, he answered, “Dude, I’m not an old fart who wears his jeans up at his shoulders.”

mike jeffries

 

The dude is 68 now. Instead of gracefully growing old, Mike looks like one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills who’s spent a little too much time under the knife. In fact, Paul Nassif, former husband of Real Housewife Adrienne Maloof, is quoted here with his opinion on Mike’s surgically sculpted looks.

 

But, I digress. Most of us don’t opt for plastic surgery for fear we’ll end up looking like plasticized versions of ourselves. Either that, or we shudder at the thought of spending thousands of dollars for elective surgery or, my own personal fear, don’t want our eulogy to include how we died on the operating room table in our quest to look young. We depend on sunscreen and skin care and hope that our genes keep the crow’s eyes and laugh lines at bay until late in the game. The one easy thing we can do to keep looking young is to dye our hair.

 

Now, there’s nothing worse than a too dark dye job on a woman with pancake foundation and ruby-red lips, but an expertly tinted, flattering hair color can take ten years off a man or woman’s age. I’m not quoting statistics or studies, just my own personal experience. In working at a doctor’s office, the last thing I look at is someone’s age (and since I don’t do math in my head, verifying their date of birth doesn’t help me at all). When I started to think about why there were some people I always identified as 5-20 years younger than their age, and others I always thought were older, I realized that people who dyed their hair looked younger than those who let their hair go gray or silver. This phenomenon even extended into people in their 70’s and 80’s.

 

Now, I’ve worked with many people, men and women, who have opted to choose the ease and low maintenance of naturally gray or salt and pepper hair. A few of them even rock the look. But, for the most part, their lack of hair color guarantees they will no longer be welcome in Abercrombie and Fitch stores and will be defined as “appears older than their stated age. ”

 

If I'd had a guarantee my hair would look like this as it grayed, I wouldn't have picked up that first box of hair dye.

If I’d had a guarantee my hair would look like this as it grayed, I wouldn’t have picked up that first box of hair dye.

 

Early gray, always sexy.

Early gray, always sexy.

Are there downsides to dying? Of course. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and a never-ending job to keep ahead of unsightly gray roots. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. Still, it’s the cheapest and easiest way to disguise your age and, let’s be honest, don’t we all want to look a little younger?