luck or no luck

I can’t make a step by step plan to force the stars to align.  And I can’t go back in time and change the course of events that have led me here.  The only regrets I am allowed now are the ones I am letting to grow in this very moment.  This is not a midlife crisis so much as a midlife reflection.  Today is all I have and all I can try to control.  If picking off my pink nail polish while I watch a tiny spider crawl across the papers on my desk to Joni Mitchell’s 2000 album is where I am choosing to be then I must accept with responsibility the moments to follow.  My coffee sits cold in my morning mug and I think back to my 20’s when I believed neither in luck nor regrets.  That was my age of pessimism and realizing that things out of my control will keep happening no matter how little I allow myself to eat or how far I tried to run away.  It also seemed like the age of endless possibilities, and it would have been had I stopped being so negative to notice how fleeting life is.  Which brings me to here where I am afraid my luck ran out before I realized it existed.

My 30’s have so far been an endless list of responsible decisions and accepting that luck may never be on my side long enough to propel me into something meaningful and fantastic.  My childhood dreams seem to have come and gone during my long awaited but short lived time in Chicago.  I don’t like accepting that my big city dreams came and went so fast before I had the chance to make something of myself, but now I am the owner of a small cabin in the woods fulfilling a different dream.  It’s not like me to stay planted in one spot, accepting what lies before me as THE one path.  Or maybe it is that I have always ran away when things became too real causing me to leave Chicago at a pivotal point in my young adult life.

I sit and stare at the wall before me on which hangs a photo of me at 18.  “So nieve, you.”  I wish I would have discovered Joni Mitchell back then.  Luck or no luck, pessimistic or not, running away or staying the course, it is the same things now as it always was leading up to this point.

luck or no luck

happy 4th

I had originally planned to spend the 4th of July weekend as a tourist in my own town, or more accurately as a vacationer in my own home.  The weeks leading up to my 3 1/2 day weekend I pictured a quiet and memorable holiday complete with bluegrass music and evening bonfires.  My grocery list read “marshmallows, hot dogs, alcohol…”  And I told myself that I would wake up and take my coffee to the porch, reading the news slowly and enjoying the ever warming day.

Day two of my holiday and I feel just as I normally do on any other given day off.  I still haven’t grocery shopped, and I don’t bother to take my coffee to the porch but instead settle into my recliner next to an open window.  I have debated bailing on tonight’s family dinner but know that it would just result in me laying on the couch watching the same tv show I always binge watch.

Last night’s family gathering at my aunt and uncle’s house two hours south of me did not disappoint.  While my father made a few remarks about me needing to have children my mother brought up my ex husband and wouldn’t take my hints from across the table to let it drop.  My sister with the children was absent from the occasion.  Her family was staying at a Christian family camp while my other sister had an engagement session to photograph and couldn’t even take a moment in her day to text me back.  Their missing energy gave my parents the time to focus on me, but this never yields positive results.  “Thank God I’m not an only child” I thought this morning as I sipped my coffee and wallowed in my parents disapproval.

I am sure they don’t mean any harm.  They only mean to pressure me enough that I will decide to have children.  “Do they think their stubborn comments such as ‘I’m praying for you to get pregnant so you better watch out!’ make me want to rush home and jump into bed with you?” I asked my husband on the way home from my aunt and uncle’s house.  “Seriously, do they think bringing up their dissapointment makes me want to produce children?”  My husband shook his head and kept his eyes on the road.  When we stopped for gas I demanded that he call his doctor first thing after the holiday to schedule a vascectomy.  “You know that’s not going to make a difference to your parents.”  And deep down I knew he was right.  But wouldn’t the argument hold less weight?

As for my mother’s remarks regarding my ex husband I have no explanation.  Again, I am sure she doesn’t mean to make me upset, just stirring the pot is all.  Typically after she’s had a couple of drinks the comments about my first wedding dress will be made, but since she was sober yesterday she was less severe.  To this my husband also brushes off saying he is not bothered by her remarks personally although, he says it upsets him that I am upset.  I chalk it up to disappointment as I sat rocking in my recliner, looking out the window to notice how high the sun had already become.

Through the open window next to me I listen to crows cawing as they fly over a dead deer near the end of our driveway.  I turn on some music to drown it out.  Yesterday morning my husband and  heard the thud.  We got out of bed and as I made coffee my husband went to check on the tourists that had hit the deer.  Instead of sitting on my porch and doing a crossword puzzle I peered through the kitchen window, looking past the rows of pine trees at the Indian family that paced up and down the road waiting for a cop and a tow truck to arrive. As my husband and I passed the dead deer on our way to my aunt and uncles I looked the other way.

But today there was something behind the crows and the music.  Something that I couldn’t drown out.  I debated not texting my dad but the sound just wouldn’t go away.  “It sounds like an animal crying, but I’m sure it’s not.  Maybe it’s a raccoon?”  My dad texted back that it was most likely a fawn left behind, calling for its mother and that I should go look for it. I hastily threw off my pajamas and put jeans and a tshirt on.  I slipped on my boots and grabbed my coffee.  It felt good to be outside, and I watched a hummingbird fly overhead, stepped over a small, dead, bloated mouse in the driveway, and tried to forget about the carcass down the road.  The bleeting stopped, and all I could hear were the droves of tourists driving past.  I thought about all of the litter I planned to pick up along the highway and made note of the weeds in my garden.  But I couldn’t find the fawn.  My eyes filled with tears as I thought of the abandoned baby, and I went back inside to hide.  This wasn’t the vacation weekend I had planned on, the heartbreak, the disappointment, the feelings of being a failure, it all made me want to go back to bed.  The forest surrounding me wasn’t making me feel at peace, and as I heard a tire pop on a passing tourist’s boat trailer all I could wish for was the holiday to end.

happy 4th

ham and cheese on bread

I should be working on a grocery list, but instead I lay in bed staring at the low ceiling and listening to Frazier playing on the tv at my feet.  It’s not quite my bedtime, and my to-do list sprawls off the paper and onto the floor.  The sunny hours of the evening were wasted sitting at a classy bar chasing my emotions away with a fruity cocktail and a salty burger.  The afternoon visit with my grandmother left me sad; a sadness that could only be treated with food.

“She has gotten worse,” my husband said quietly as we walked to our car.  We never know what to expect when we pop in to see her.  The dementia slowly steals more and more away from her, and I have noticed she no longer perks up when she see us.  In two years I’ve watched her slip away slowly, knowing it was only a matter of time before my husband and I could no longer cheer her up.  Now when we walk into the nursing home she stares at us as if we were strangers until I announce “hi grandma!” knowing at least that will still register.

Today her memory slipped in and out – at times she got me confused with my mom, other times she would completely forget what we were talking about or lose track half way through my story.  The tired staff looked busy as they tried to keep the residents content.  And then there was me, thinking I can entertain my grandma and bring her mind some relief.  I kept my stories overly animated and short.  She smiled, as did the other residents sitting within eat shot.

Before I get up to leave I notice the dry erase board on the wall behind her.  It states the weather, the day’s in-house entertainment, and the dinner menu.  “Ham and cheese on bread, fruit salad, potato salad” it reads, and I get a lump in my throat.  My gram used to be the best cook I knew; I ate like a queen whenever I was at her house.  I don’t know if it was so much the ham and cheese that made me sad or the realization that this was it.  She doesn’t enjoy eating anymore, and I know it has nothing to do with the food served her.  I could present her a plate of all of her old favorites and she would look the other way in disgust, forgetting the things that she used to enjoy.

As I lay in bed I cannot get that dry erase board out of my head, or the way she looked at me when I walked in, or the way my husband just knew without me saying, as we drove away, that I was sad.  Life doesn’t prepare one for these things, and my pillowcase fills with tears as I drift off to sleep thinking of my grandmother’s homemade dumplings.

ham and cheese on bread

spring comfort

After five years of trying to convince my husband to be content with our little home in the woods he has finally settled.  Set back from the country highway our house is blocked by a few rows of tall pines, and if one slowly drives by and looks down our driveway they will really only see our pole barn and two solar panels.  It’s a mostly quiet neck of the woods.  Logging trucks go by in the late morning, but the bird feeders are tucked back alongside the house and aren’t bothered by traffic passing by.  In the spring the birds are noisy; the red breasted grosbeak doing his mating dance while a gang of bluebirds looks on wth what I imagine is a look that says “little idiot.”  The chicken coop sits on the opposite end of our large yard, but the hens can be heard squawking as they run around looking for small snakes and pink little worms.  With the recent addition of an Ikea windchime on our porch the area has gotten a bit more nosey as the hallow wood pieces knock together.  But apart from these spring time sounds, the place is quiet.

We don’t have neighbors, which is the main point my husband brings up when he unexpectedly states that we will not be moving anywhere else any time soon.  On either side of our 40 acres are multiple other 40’s owned by people who only make a visit to their land a couple of times a year. Some of the properites have small, rough looking cabins tucked back into the woods.  In the summer time we hear the occasional gun shot, but other than that we sit undisturbed.  The lack of peeping toms and snooping neighbors gives my husband elaborate liberty to pee off the side of our porch into the patch of dirt that lacked grass long before we ever moved in.  He does this with pride as if he were a dog marking his territory.  And it makes me happy to know he finally sees this quiet place as his own.

As the ironic fate that follows me would have it, three months after purchasing my cabin of solitude as a single, independent woman, I met my now husband.  He was more than content with his centrally located apartment in town.  Cooley riding his bike to school and work it was beyond his mental capacity how someone could enjoy living 40 minutes outside of town, away from the action. While I was in my weed filled garden tilling until the mosquitoes ate me alive he was sitting in a restaurant’s outdoor patio with friends, his bike parked casually on the sidewalk.

How we made it to this point is hazy to me.  My social husband spends only a day a week with friends, and on weekends when I get all my outdoor chores done we go out to eat in town, sitting inside the dimly lit, modern restaurants while our vehicle sits casually parked outside.  Nonetheless, despite the five years of compromise, I am still a bit shocked he has grown so comfortable in our little home so far away from the hustle and bustle.  Three weeks ago I was finding us apartments to move into in downtown Chicago (a good 5 1/2 hour drive from our current rural existence).  When I told my husband I had found us just the right one on the river I am not sure what reaction I was hoping for.  I was ready to take my turn in the compromise and move to the land of opportunity and public transportation.  It turns out somewhere between the sound of chirping spring peepers and the grouses’ non stop thumping he found the peace to settle in.  So here we’ll stay, at least for a little bit longer.

spring comfort

beauticians’ lament

When I was young I would spend weeks at a time with my grandma in Wisconsin.  She was a beautician (as it was called back then) and owned her own salon.  The salon was in the same building that housed a gas station, but from inside it looked like any other small town salon in the 80’s.  I was very young, under the age of ten, but a well behaved child and proud to spend time with my grandmother all day at the salon.  She would keep my occupied by sorting perm rods or by letting me sit at the tall front desk where I would pretend to be the receptionist.  After a particularly stressful day for my grandmother I remember her pulling me aside, looking me in the eyes, and telling me to never become a hairstylist.  I heeded her words as if they would keep me from making the biggest career mistake of my life, forgetting for 20 years to ever question what this ultimate secret was that made doing hair the worst job ever.

Around the time that my grandmother’s second husband, a terribly unattractive person, large and with hair that looked severely fake, was gambling his life’s savings away, I was wondering whatever happened to that close relationship my grandmother and I had had.  And I was also contemplating going to cosmetology school.  When her husband died of cancer my grandmothers alcoholism worsened and dementia, diluted with a cheap jug of wine, came sweeping in. She was half in the bag when I announced I would be attending cosmotology school, and I was surprised when she didn’t tell me I was making a big mistake.  Because I have very few memories of my childhood I had assumed that the one about her telling me  to never be a hairstylist was important.  But while considering the career choice I argued the voice in my head, saying it had recently occurred to me that I had put too much stock into the words of someone who routinely made poor choices with men and alcohol.  Looking back, this argument probably came from a place of anger and confusion as I was watching my grandmother waste her life away.  And plus, how could I trust one childhood memory to dictate my future financial stability?

By the time I had finished cosmotology school my grandma’s dementia was ever more noticeable.  She was happy for me and said that it only made sense that I would follow in her footsteps.  A short time later, at my first salon job, I received a phone call from the receptionist at my grandmother’s eye doctor’s office.  It was not an approved phone call but she felt I should know that my grandma had not only driven herself to the office but had also ordered an abnormal amount of contacts.  I hung up, wondering how I would balance work and taking care of my grandmother.

Around the time I started to realize my hair coloring skills were not improving my mother was realizing the state of my grandmother’s mental health.  We were taking turns checking in on here, cleaning up after her drinking binges, and planning to take her keys away.   My mother eventually stepped in as her full time caregiver, and I went back to wondering if I had taken the wrong career path.  With each new hair coloring disaster the anxiety grew.  Every time a client stopped returning my heart sank.  While sitting with my grandmother at the assisted living facility I would confide in her that I didn’t feel like I had the nerves for doing hair.  Despite her infrequent memory she somehow remembered exactly what I was talking about and it was that feeling of not being alone that kept me pushing forward.

Now my grandmother is in a nursing home.  On her good days she remembers that I am a hairstylist.  She no longer tells my husband, like a broken record, about how I would go with her to the salon as a child.  She doesn’t seem to remember that I would sit at the desk with my crayons or that we shared that very fleeting bond over the anxiety of doing hair.  Three years into doing hair and I am still unintentionally turning women’s bangs blue, not getting all of the dye properly washed from the hair, and routinely crying in my car at the end of the day and wondering how I got myself into this.  And it turns out my grandmother was right.  But maybe not for the secret reasons I assumed she knew.  Maybe the reason all along was the anxiety that we both suffered from and the tole it would take on us at work.

beauticians’ lament

nursing ailments

When my husband was in nursing school I heard it said that when you are a nurse people come to you with all of their health questions.  Around his last semester of school my mother and sister would ask my husband’s opinions on things such as absurd health news they read on social media or diet fads that were preached on blogs.  He would cooley give his opinion, a mix of amateur knowledge and level headed sensibility.  When my nephews got  a boo-boo I would send them to their Uncle and watch as he gave them their prognosis and then send them on their way wearing a cartoon decorated bandaid.  This would only be the beginning of his off hours nursing.

Each semester of nursing school armed my husband with more knowledge, meaning each semester of school I was diagnosed with another ailment.  When complaining of a headache I was quickly assessed for a heart attack.  When my daily stomach ache flared up my mother asked my husband if I could be suffering “leaky gut” to which he declared I was missing three symptoms and therefore fine.  When he learned about labor and delivery and the complications that can occur our decision to not have children was solidified. When he told me that if I got pregnant at this late of an age that I would be considered an “at risk pregnancy” I stopped initiating sex.  By the time graduation rolled around I was regularly suffering from “heart attacks,” and  my husband had moved on to diagnosing our dogs.

With diploma in hand, and the dogs being cleared of epilepsy, our acquaintances were dropping like flies with my husband’s new favorite – borderline personality disorder.  When the heart attack diagnoses had all but ceased I couldn’t help but wonder if I too was now recieiving his secret psychological labels.  When my stomach aches got worse and the shooting pain in my arm lasted more than a day I was branded a hypochondriac, and he turned to ignoring my daily complaints.

In the beginning I was nervous to ask him about my female issues – periods, cramps, infections.  Just saying any of those words out loud made me wonder if I had crossed a marital line that one should never go near.  In my first marriage we never so much as mentioned the word “fart”, and I had preferred it that way.  My second marriage being different on many levels (and my digestive issues worsening) we openly passed gas in front of each other, and I prayed this openness was the key to marital bliss that my first marriage lacked.  So when I asked my first question about my menstrual cycle the awkwardness only lasted but a minute and the hypochondriac in me relaxed knowing this was a union that would last.

Every now and then I have an ailment that even I cannot ball up the nerve to have him assess.  I’ll be standing in the bathroom, naked, post shower, sweating from the anxiety that I may have just found something and hoping that he will accidentally walk in and find me.  He will give me one of his matter-of-fact responses: “you’re fine,” “stop being a hypochondriac,” or “well call your doctor if it’s bothering you.”  But his interruptions are never that timely, and I am left to my own anxiety. Maybe I should push him towards becoming a doctor.

nursing ailments

fish liver as jazz

I am trying to get into this new-to-me genre of music called avant-jazz.  The first song in and it seems one could almost accurately describe it as a child alternately smashing on a piano and a toy drum set.  It sounds like what I imagine a modern small plate meal with ingredients such as octopus, burnt sage, grapefruit, and barley would taste like; mostly muddled texture with odd flavors that somehow collide in an almost appropriate way.  Towards the end of the song I start to recognize what sounds like a few lines from a classic rock song.  It makes my ears perk up in the same way a bite of grapefruit amongst a piece of white fish and risotto would.  For a minute I feel like I might be understanding this genre.  And then song two starts.

I am trying new things, partly because it makes me feel alive against the backdrop of a rural town, but also because I am in my mid thirties, winter dragging on, and in a boring, rural town.  My father would argue the word “boring” to describe this town, saying there is plenty to do and “why would anyone want to live anywhere else!”  And he does have a point.  I feel blessed to live in what the locals refer to as “God’s country”.  But how else can I explain my need to listen to such chaotic music?

Throughout the beginning of winter I was on a strange subconscious adventure to rediscover my roots.  Not the roots of my heritage or family history, but THE roots – my 20’s.  It hadn’t occurred to me that I was going down such a path until one day, as I sat cuddled up in a bright green Surget-shirt, pink pajama pants, twisting my hair into faux dreads, and listening to Dave Matthews Band did I take a good hard look at myself.  As the clouds of Nag Champa lifted it became clear that I had found my old comfort zone.  It suddenly made sense why women in their 50’s were still wearing shag haircuts and wispy bangs.  Why budge from the days of your youth when you can forever stay surrounded  by what makes you feel young?

As winter is winding down, the days getting longer and sunnier, the snow melting to expose muddy grass and moldy dog turds I realize that staying in one spot, no matter how familiar it feels, is not my style.   So I forgo the belief that a retirement savings will grow on trees and put some more grown up hippy pants on – the kind that look like what a gypsy or a bohemian stay-at-home mom/blogger would wear to a casual dinner party.  But to me they signal a different path – the kind that includes eating animal livers, listening to avant jazz, and trying to grasp new ideas of what it means to love people.

I didn’t like people in my 20’s and I’m not sure why a decade filled with divorce, moving across the country twice, and working with the general public would change that.  Maybe it is a hormonal, maternal instinct, or the desire to be more like my role models and less like the family members who came before me blazing their own destructive path of coldness and the belief that pushing others away was a sign of strength and the ultimate method to protect one’s heart. Just like the avant-jazz song Juice by something (a toddler possibly?) called Krokofant I start out thinking loving people could be doable; then as the song progresses, nearing an end that resembles what I can only describe as a flock of seagulls being murdered on a drum set by an angry elephant, I ask myself, “is there a point?”

I don’t want to live in that gushy, all talk-no walk, preachy way that is written about in so many books written by female pastors.  I just mean, maybe a smile?  I cool pat on the back? A “yeah, you’re not alone” look that requires no words.  You would think for someone that spent their 20’s in dreadlocks and an apartment full of Nag Champa that the whole genuine, non chelant love thing would come a little easier, but I was a hippy of the 90’s, not the 70’s.  My moods resembled more of a flexitarian’s diet than that of a full fledged vegan’s.  Fish liver anyone?

I can imagine that, come summer (or even this evening) I will be through and over my avant-jazz phase.  Miles Davis will be on a playlist with Dave Mathews and Nine Inch Nails or maybe I will have discovered something completely new and inspiring.  Maybe I will be using my Surge t-shirt to wash the car thinking of the good ol’ days that seem so far removed.  But should I decide to recall former moments, this one with the avant-jazz won’t be it.

fish liver as jazz