Wednesday, September 28, 2011

T-Shirt Under My Pillow

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Many years ago in a galaxy far away, I was married. There were liars, flat tires, and bores, oh my. If I built it, he would never come help. We were never in Kansas because we couldn’t afford to go there, and I was saying “sorry” all the time, even though I did love my new husband and meant it.

I was not wise to the fancy world of living in a new house in a new development in a rich section of Scottsdale, Arizona. I had lived the previous 15 years in my own rented apartments, or—most recently—my own simple condo.

Because I sleep best when it’s pitch dark, I had lined the sliding glass doors in my bedroom in that condo with metal insulation and duct-taped the edges, preventing any light from entering my bedroom.

I can’t emphasize enough the fact that I like to sleep in the dark.

This only comes to mind because I have a habit, as many of us do—one or two, here and there. One of my habits is sleeping with a folded t-shirt under my pillow, and that falls from the one man who did not take care of me the way he should have.

My husband.

I remember sleeping in his big new fantabulous mini-mansion of a house and at first thinking, This is so great! Everything is so clean and new! And what a view!

But after many mornings of being woken up by the sun because there were no shades or blinds on the windows, I suggested to my rich and fabulous husband that perhaps it was time to buy some window dressings. “I can’t keep wakin’ up at five frickin’ a.m., you know what I’m sayin’?” I think is what I said.

My husband, always eager to please without opening his wallet, immediately began constructing three very large sun-blocking devices for the windows in our bedroom. As I recall, they were made of six foot long two by two scrap wood poles with black tarp stapled between them: the dead marriage scrolls.

Every night before bed, we would stuff these drug-dealing, third-word-country window dressings into the three tall and wide windows of our bedroom, and every night I would say, “When can we get real blinds? Or drapes or something? I can’t sleep when it’s light outside.”

Click here; this is long.

Soon we began receiving complaints from the neighborhood association about the ugly black tarp “things” in our windows. I encouraged my husband to recognize the importance of rules:

“We should not be living here if we can’t afford proper window dressings!”

And then, more calmly,

“We need to stop stuffing the windows with black tarp and actually get some drapes or something.”

And then, matter-of-factly:

“My friend showed me how to install a rod and drapes, so that’s what we have now. Enjoy.”

People talk about red flags, but when those flags are waving around you, dang…sometimes you can’t see them. Sometimes you’re in so deep, those red flags seem to indicate a kindly parade passing through.

I’m divorced now, as all of us know, and don’t we expect a good joke coming? Take my wife, please.

There are really no good jokes about getting rid of a husband like that.

*

In the time it took for my so-called husband to finally admit that our bedroom windows needed proper blinds and shades…in that time, I fell out of love. I would have been happy pinning up blankets over the windows, but he would never allow that: Don’t make a mark in the wall, be patient, wait for the best.

The best arrived in that situation, but it had nothing to do with my husband at the time. It had to do with my own problem-solving skills.

I didn’t go to college for nothing.

I started using t-shirts to cover my face in the morning, to block the morning light pouring in from the window. If I had been my age now or an older age, I might have embraced the natural morning or gotten divorced much more quickly. You don't know.

But I was 32. I liked to sleep in once in awhile, ignoring the world.

And that is why, still to this day, I keep a t-shirt folded under my pillow at night. It’s usually the t-shirt I go to bed in: convenient to slip into in the morning, right there under my pillow to grab and throw over my face if the sun rises too soon, if I have forgotten to close my bedroom blinds, or I need the comfort of darkness.

Sometimes I’m jealous of horses when they get to wear their blinders and hoods. How lucky are they to be protected from flies, to never be headed in the wrong direction.

Once in awhile, when the sun rises too quickly, or I have forgotten to close the blinds in my own personal bedroom, or—for heaven’s sake—I am distracted by a new man touching me in the morning, I don’t throw my t-shirt over my face. But I know it’s there if I want it.

My t-shirts are always cool, either from a concert or my college or an old boyfriend’s motorcycle ride. They are always mine at night, no matter where they came from. When I pull off whatever one is on my body and tuck it under my pillow every night, I fold it.

Some people do this in case of fires.

I do it to keep out the light.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Not Yet a Mermaid

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In the grocery store the other day—not having shopped for food in two weeks due to a bout of cholera—I was happy to once again be hunting and gathering. Freshly baked bread! Bananas and pears! Spinach and tomatoes. I had most of the food groups covered except one: protein.

Protein is always a bit of a problem for me because while I know I need it, I don’t really like to chew meat. I don’t have anything against meat, and I love a good steak every once in awhile, but still, I would make a good vegetarian.

I wandered up and down the aisles, pushing my cart full of fruits and vegetables and oatmeal crème sandwich cookies, and made my usual protein selections: peanut butter, cheese, lentil soup, eggs. I got some low-sodium turkey lunchmeat for me and the kitties, and threw a package of chicken breasts in for good measure. You can always make chicken taste like something other than chicken.

And then, I saw an overhead sign that said “canned meat”.

Visions from my youth popped into my head: Spam sandwiches, little flip-top cans of Vienna sausages in my lunchbox, more Spam in everything from cold pasta salads to hotdish. Normally I steer my cart away from the canned meat section, but occasionally—when perhaps I am missing my family, or feeling nostalgic…or naughty—I will steal into the canned meat aisle and pick up a few tins of smoked oysters.

Smoked oysters were always considered a luxury item in my family. When I was young, we only had them at Christmas, and you were only allowed to eat two because one tin had to serve seven people. We still only have them at Christmas, but these days my mother buys several tins because, of course, the family has grown. Even the great-grandkids love smoked oysters. In fact, anybody who does not love smoked oysters always gets looked at funny and promptly ridiculed. “What’s wrong with you!?”

For me, as an adult who can do exactly as I please, I consider smoked oysters to be just another form of protein and I buy them throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Feeling rich and healthy and cavalier, I threw a bunch of tins into my basket and headed to the check-out.

When dinner time rolled around last night, I thought, Hm, a plate of smoked oysters on some Wheat Thins would make a mighty fine meal. I reached into my pantry for the tin, set it on the counter, and peeled back the lid. Suddenly, I sensed that something was fishy.

Whatever was in that tin didn’t look like the little greasy brown oysters I was expecting. Whatever was in there looked more like real little fishies. I read the label again: sardines.

Oops.

Hm, I thought. I’ve never eaten a sardine. I used to eat smelt as a child, and herring is always good, and venison liver is a treat, and I did like the Spam, so…I should like sardines. Plus I don’t want to waste this. Plus Sara and Lucy were at my feet, crying as if they hadn’t been fed in days. They were obviously pro-sardine.

I gave them both a few tiny bites on a plate, and put the rest of my sardines on a sea of Wheat Thins for myself. Then I ate them all, and decided they were alright. They were definitely not as tasty as smoked oysters, and I will definitely not be eating them again, but the sardines I ate last night were okay.

After dinner, my niece called. “Hey,” I said. “I just ate a can of sardines. I thought they were smoked oysters when I bought them.”

“Gross!” my niece said. “You just ate a bunch of fish guts!”

“Whaddya mean?” I said.

“Sardines still have the guts in them! Gross!” Then she made gagging and puking noises.

I was not aware that sardines were not cleaned out before being canned, but I suppose that makes sense. It would take a lot of time to clean out every little fish.

I hung up with my niece and began to feel a little fishy myself. I sat in my chair to watch TV and continued to feel the essence of fish throughout my body. I went to bed and dreamt that I was a little fish in a school of fish, and I couldn’t keep up with everybody because I couldn’t use my arms. I kept falling behind.

It was a stress dream.

I woke up this morning and didn’t feel like a fish anymore, but I do know three things: I need to relax more. I need to reduce my workload. And boy, do I have a donation for the next food drive that comes around.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Suffo-Kate

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The last few mornings, I’ve been awakened by thumping noises outside my house. It always happens around 4 a.m., and the first time I thought: Finally,my murder. I’ve been expecting this for twenty years. Now that I live in a downtrodden area with foreclosed homes surrounding me and the one burned down next door, thugs are coming to get me. Thugs are thumping on my walls. Don’t you do that when you’re looking for a stud? No stud in here guys. Just me and my cats.

I bet they knew that. Such an easy victim.

After a few days of continued living, I knew that the thumping must be from something else. I went outside to feed the birds yesterday morning and was practically mowed down by a flock of fat pigeons flying off my roof—right over my bedroom. I stood there covered with feathers, a cup of birdfeed in my hand. I thought, Why is feeding the pigeons so romantic in England, and here in my yard it has turned grotesque. These pigeons aren’t cute anymore. They’re hopping up and down on my house.

I need to get one of those fake hawks or owls to scare the pigeons away, but I’m torn: the pigeons were always about entertaining my cats through the windows. I had been using them, and now: a traitor.

It’s always easy to make me feel bad, but when I’m down—as I have been the last ten days with something like pneumonia—it’s even easier. All the should-have’s haunt me as I go for naps three times a day: I should have raked my back yard. I should have been better to a friend. I should be grading faster. I should be doing something about those pigeons. Anything but napping three times a day.

Like my sinuses need more pressure.

I had a dream last night that I squeezed something on my face and a yellow root vegetable popped out. I identified it as a parsnip. I dreamed that my cats were entered into a beauty contest for buttholes: mine had the prettiest, because my cats’ butts are always clean. I got lucky that way with Lucy and Sara: they are clean kitties, and I lave them for it. I know these past ten days or weeks or years of whatever sickness has befallen me has been hard on them.

They don’t sleep around, but they’ve been sleeping around me. I open one eye and get two black ones back: Meep! I mumble something about love, and hope that some of my facial drippings count in the bigger picture of the love pool.

I would like my voice back, but even more, I would like my rituals back, my mornings and my afternoons and my nights. My cats would like it too: Normalcy, Mom. Could you just provide us with normalcy? I would like to be heady with love, not beheaded. We all would. What a better choice.

And then a friend threw this into the mix of sickness, “If you like sleeping alone, and you like your privacy, and you like keeping your own schedule, that’s fine. But you’re sacrificing intimacy.” This has been ringing in my ears: am I sacrificing intimacy? What is intimacy?

Maybe I’m incapable of it. My ears have been ringing for ten days, and that’s when I’ve been lucky to hear anything at all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

To Arizona, With Love

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Normally, I don’t enjoy seeing students fail. I don’t like it that they can’t write well, and I feel bad when they end up not passing a paper, or the entire course. I tell my students very early in the semester that we are going to have to work extra hard because “Arizona is ranked 48th for reading and writing and math.”

Some guy called out last semester, all bold and snarky, “Yeah, but out of how many?”

It’s hard to know how to respond to students sometimes. You want to be nice and polite and helpful, your best self. But sometimes they stop you in your tracks with their total need for education, at every step of the way and in every area you can imagine.

Some of my students do pull on my heartstrings as they lower themselves back into the pit created by Arizona’s dismal public education system. Down down down they go, beyond my reach or capacity for saving them. No matter what the president of my college says, we can’t help everyone. It’s impossible.

However, other students I would just as soon push over the edge of the pit, doing unto them as they have done unto me all semester long. Teachers are not saints.

Such was the case with Damien, a man-child in one of my on-campus classes (many years ago in a galaxy far away, of course). All semester, he sat in the back row of the classroom wearing a skanky denim jacket and a pair of aviator sunglasses, always with about twelve whiskers poking out of his chin. Every week I resisted my urge to slip by him and wipe off his greasy smirk with Clearasil pads, or make him wear a wrestling singlet. I wanted to break him, but English 101 is not supposed to be a rodeo.

Damien annoyed me by talking to people around him when I was talking, and letting other students in his group do all the work. He would stare at me when he was supposed to be reading his book. Sometimes he’d just stare at the wall. He made me want to flick him, but I never did. It wouldn’t have been professional.

By God’s good grace, this burden was finally lifted from me. I had put the class to work on an in-class writing assignment, and was using that quiet time to grade essays up front. I decided to grade Damien’s first, because I knew if it failed, Damien would then be unable to pass the course: he would have failed one too many assignments, and I wouldn’t have to man-sit him anymore. I pulled his essay out of the stack and put it on top, then started reading.

I knew one page in that I had myself a loser. I was marking so many comma errors, ungrammatical sentences and fragments that my adrenaline kicked in. The more errors I found, the harder my chest thumped, and when I was finished—when I went back and checked to make sure that there were at least thirty stupid and glorious mistakes all the way through Damien’s essay, which was also a full page short of the minimum required length, making it the biggest prize-winning pile of crap I’d seen in long time—I sat back in my chair with a satisfied nod, like I had just identified scat from one of the lesser known desert weasels thought to be extinct.

I couldn’t wait to alert the endangered person.

I should say once again that usually, when a student can’t write well or for whatever reason is not passing the class, I do not revel in his failure. But my friends, every once in awhile there comes a student who does not have his own best interests in mind, let alone yours or anybody else’s. A student who would have made Mr. Rogers call security…a student who would pelt his best friend’s ex-girlfriend’s house with baggies full of shit and urine as a show of solidarity.

I know this happened because that was the topic of Damien’s essay for our unit: A Significant Event In My Life.

Goodbye, Damien. Go swiftly into your dark night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No Complainers

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I’m ill. But I have memories of being well.

I remember once after a pleasant day of being out, I returned home to find a spray of blood in my hall bathroom. It must have been Sara; even as a kitten, she had allergies like me. This led me to wonder, hm, she’s been sneezing that hard for several days now: where else might she have sprayed bloody nasal mucus around my otherwise clean home? That my favorite colors run to wine and coral tones would not help in this matter. My old cat used to spray urine toward “the end”, and that became fairly obvious to find.

Don't ask why the west wing of my house is now painted harvest gold.

When I found these two new ones, Sara and Lucy, the nice people said at the shelter, “Let them come to you…let them pick you,” and I guess these two saw a sucker coming a mile away: “Let’s pick that one, over there, the stupid looking one. I bet she’ll let us shit and fart and vomit and spray blood all over the place. And hey, you know that trick when you get all tangled up in the plastic bag and you pretend to be scared so you take off running and you pee all over the place because you pretend to be that frickin' scared? Yeah, she looks like she’ll let us play that one at her house.”

For fun one night—and again, this was years ago, because I’m sick now and nothing good has happened in five days or maybe even five years, I can't remember--I put the kittens to bed and took nude pictures of the backs of my hands under the dim light of my desk lamp. That is to say, I photographed them and then zoomed in to stare at the veins popping up under my hand skin. I tried to interpret them.

On the left, we had the bald person in Edvard Munch’s The Scream, with a bat’s wings spread in the background. On the right, we had the headless figure of a woman in a low-cut dress.

I know this isn’t really funny. I want it to count as situation comedy or observational humor, but sometimes it doesn’t count like that at all.

When you’re having a bad day or a bad time of it, when something in your life has gone wrong, some people will try to make you feel better by saying, “Hey, it could be a lot worse!” And then they will go on to list certain horrible things that would indeed make your situation worse: Not only are you bipolar, but your car could need new struts too. Not only are your fingernails peeling off, but your AC could go out. Not only is your house in foreclosure, but you could have acne too. Not only do you have impetigo, but you could get a DUI. Not only are you an asshole, but your personality could be a complete blank. Not only does your house have termites, but you could have been born in Indonesia like the tree man, whose condition absolutely dwarfs any physical malady I personally have ever run across.

And then you might have double the number of termites.

So think about that the next time you complain.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Dad

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I miss my dad, what can I say. He’s a problematic character and still alive—so I should not be missing him so much—but still, I pine for him. The geographic distance that separates us seems like empty prairies and outer space, despite the fact that either of us could get on a plane and be next to one another in about four hours. The missing of a dad knows no boundaries, even when he’s still around.

My own personal dad has Parkinson’s Disease, which at first led me to bad humor: What, is he going to turn out like Michael J. Fox? Why is my father waving at me with his foot? How nice that my dad is in a worse funk than he’s ever been in…gonna be another great Christmas.

When I got over myself—years of getting over myself—I realized that my hard dad did not invite Parkinson’s into his life. It was just the way of the world. My dad is softer now, and it’s not hard for me to give him breaks anymore. In fact, I want to be closer to him, even though—if truth be told—he humiliated me and took my love for granted all my life.

I think that’s how you raised a child in the 70’s.

It’s not often that I talk to my dad on the phone; he’s not a phone guy. He’s not an e-mail guy either, so living away from him for twenty years has created those empty prairies. The nice thing about my dad is that he’s a forester, so he knows how to populate empty space methodically and productively. That’s why I have four siblings.

I got him on the phone last night, a treat for my heart. “Hi Dad,” I said. I have a sinus infection right now so not only am I sick, I sound sick. I think this tugged at his heart.

“How are you treating yourself?” he asked. My dad is now used to medications, treatments, and therapy, a far cry from the quiet woods.

“I’m toughing it out,” I said. I knew he would like to hear that. My dad is a tough guy.

“I have a question for you,” I said. My dad perked up. He likes being interrogated for some reason now, I don’t know why. He never used to be.

“I’m ready,” my dad said.

“Remember when you used to drive on our long road trips and I would lean between the front seats and ask you if it took physical strength to get up the hills?”

My dad was silent. “No, I don’t remember that, but continue.”

“I would lean between the front seats, with you driving, and we’d be going uphill, and I would think that it would take physical strength for you to move the car uphill. I was only ten or so…I had no idea about driving.”

My dad hesitated, trying to remember. “No, it took no physical strength to get us uphill. Why would you think that?”

“Because every time you looked into the rearview mirror at me, or turned your head to look out the back window, you grimaced. I figured you must be struggling to get uphill.”

My dad was quiet. “No, that’s not it. I just always had a pain in my neck.”

Coming off a week of coughs and pains of my own, a sinus infection, allergies—prescriptions lost in the mail—I finally kind of connected with my dad. “So you did feel physical pain when you went uphill, because it hurt you to look behind? Right?”

He laughed. “You’re right. Sometimes it hurt me to turn my head.”

Even though machines do most of the work for us now, I will never forget nor do I want to forget my father turning his face to the backseat of our car and looking like he was going to Halloween. That wasn’t a mask: it was my dad turning his neck and grimacing.

I had only asked him in the first place because I threw my own back out last week during an otherwise normal sneeze. I might as well have been kicked in the back by a horse. I don’t heal well; I am my father’s daughter.

“I feel like I’ve been kicked in the back,” I said to my dad on the phone, my mom hovering in the background, waiting her turn to talk to me.

“I have felt like that many times,” my dad said.

I wished it was spring, or at least Christmas.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Meat Treat

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I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had much chance to play with my cats, Sara and Lucy. Playtime is usually around 9:30 in the morning, after I’ve had my oatmeal and they’ve licked the bowl. The bowl-licking is supposed to immediately lead into my saying, “Should I get the toy?”, prompting Sara to run back and forth between me and the door to the garage, where the toys are kept. I have to keep them out there because if I leave them in the house, Sara finds them and Lucy eats them. Sara can open every drawer and cupboard in this house…but she can’t turn the knob on the door that leads to the garage.

So I go to get the toy—whichever one we haven’t played with for awhile, all of them homemade, some version of a stick to which I have tied a long piece of twine or fishing line with pigeon feathers or an earplug or a catnip mouse attached to the end—and sometimes the choices are so interesting that I dawdle over them. I should poke holes in this one so they can smell the catnip better, I’ll think. Or, Who knew that they would be so captivated by my earplugs? This leads Sara to throw herself against the other side of the garage door and yell at me: “Get back in here! What are you doing out there!? GET THE TOY!”

She is a bold girl. I don’t know where she gets that from.

Lately I’ve been choosing the new favorite toy: a long piece of kitchen string tied to one of those round blue plastic rings that come off jugs of milk and water. It is not on a stick. I drag it into the spare room where there is lots of room to play, grab the cloth runner off a table and throw it on the floor (making much better use of it than when it just lies there, looking pretty) and proceed to conduct the game of Where Did It Go? I sit on the carpet and mess up the runner so it has dips and wrinkles, then drag the blue ring underneath it. “Where did it go?” I’ll say to my two attentive kitties. It’s then up to them to prowl, pounce, and chase the blue ring. Usually they take turns; somehow they have worked this out.

Yesterday however, since I had skipped formal playtime two days in a row, Sara was particularly excited about chasing the blue ring, and she did not give Lucy a turn. Wild-eyed and bushy-tailed, Sara gave the runner a good beating—taking out her frustration at not finding the blue ring underneath immediately. She backed up and took several running leaps at it, burying her nose in the fabric and tossing it around.

Every day, I am happy not to be that runner, for it often finds itself between the hind legs of my cats getting bitten and scratched to death. I feel like the runner sometimes though, as I’m sure we all do: it gets abused and violated, then carefully placed back on display as if nothing happened.

Or maybe that just happens to me.

Anyway, Sara—my feline Flying Wallenda—exhausted herself by soaring through the air when I dangled the ring up there, and chasing the blue ring when I whipped it around and around me as I sat cross-legged on the floor, round and round from one hand to the other. Having run in circles, hard, for a good couple of minutes, Sara finally got the blue ring in her mouth and flopped onto her back. Sara has allergies like I do, so at this point she was wheezing.

During all of this, Lucy...my black one…lay patiently under a chair, watching her sister have all the fun. With Sara finally out of commission, Lucy leveled me with her dark gaze. “You know, Mom, it’s not really fair when Sara gets to play and I don’t,” she meeped.

“I know, sweetie, but I can’t always control the situation,” I said, leaning over to spank her lightly on the butt, which she loves. I don’t where she gets that from.

“You have to be more assertive,” I continued, Lucy’s butt high in the air, me patting away. “If you just lie there, you’ll never get in the game.”

“I know,” she meeped. My shy girl.

At this point, with playtime over, the energy in the air started sparkling; it became almost tangible because we all knew what came next. We all know what always comes next.

“Meat Treat!” I said. “Who wants a Meat Treat?” I stood up with the blue ring toy in hand, put the runner back, and walked out of the room singing, “Meat Treat! Meat Treat! Whooooo…wants a Meat Treat?” My girls trotted behind me as I went to the fridge and pulled out the turkey lunchmeat. Sara immediately started crying as if she was finally meeting her biological mother—so thankful, so moved, a once in a lifetime event—and I put her Meat Treat on the floor. I took another wad of turkey and went to find Lucy, who often runs for cover during snack time because she has multiple personalities and one of them fears the Meat Treat. I tracked her down under my bed and pushed the turkey towards her on a magazine. “Here, Black One. Eat your meat treat.”

“Okay Mom,” Lucy meeped, inching towards the turkey. “I love you.”

All was forgiven in my household: the days of no playtime, the inequitable playtime of that morning, the frightening offer of meat. If it was only this easy to communicate with my own family members, or to win over my students. If it only took a spanking and a meat treat, what a life it would be.

Friday, September 2, 2011

God the Pirate

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I am not ashamed to admit that I take some prescription drugs because my doctors have told me I need them. There is Solve-It-All, which makes me able to move without nerve pain pulsating throughout my limbs. I love my Solve-It-All. It’s nice to be able get out of a chair, off the toilet, off the treadmill without screaming anymore.

But to be honest, Solve-It-All doesn’t really solve it all. There are other pills for other issues, including allergy medication so I can keep two kitties in my house, work outside in my yard, and breathe the icky Phoenix air. If I don’t have my allergy meds, the tiny winged monkeys who lie comatose in my lumbar region awaken and fly into my face, causing my eyes to swell up, my nose to run, and post-nasal drip. The only thing I like about post-nasal drip is that it reminds me of my dad, who I constantly miss.

He has post-nasal drip too, and the best part of that (for me) is the memory of when he would clear his throat in church. You’d think God Himself had arrived: “UGHARGUGHARGUGHCUKCUKARGUGHWHINGRRR.”

God the pirate, booming, echoing throughout a shrine to somebody else.

If I was already in church, seated with my family (the Original Seven) in a pew, this outburst from my dad would simply bring peace to my heart, because I knew he was near. That was just his special noise. If for some reason I ran late to church—maybe stuck on the toilet that Sunday morning, or unable to find my good shoes in time before everyone else left—I would run through the neighborhood and stand at the back of the packed church, waiting for my dad to clear his throat. As soon as he did—and it echoed through the air, drowning out the priest—I knew where I belonged.

I would make a beeline towards that roar, embarrassed to be late but climbing over seated people to get to my family in our pew. I would squeeze between any two older siblings—eight inches of the tiny width of me in a dress and stockings—and we would start the pantomime for Kleenex.

We couldn’t talk in church, but we knew how to signal for a Kleenex, a sign that would be sent down the row to Mom, who would pull out a somewhat new tissue (maybe with lipstick on it) from her purse, and pass it down to whatever kid needed it, usually me.

The good old days, a family working together.

I’m a grown-up now and have to order my own prescription drugs and buy my own Kleenexes, and tell people “sorry” all the time in the morning because no matter what, I still have post nasal drip, and they can’t understand me.

“Arugula,” I’ll say on the phone to my niece at 6:30 a.m.

“What?” she’ll say.

Cacklelaughsnortickhmmmick. Pig snort for good measure.

“How are ya?” I’ll say, repeating myself without the snot in my throat.

***

So I found myself standing in line yesterday at Walgreen’s, trying for the fourth time to get my allergy pills…the fourth time because I didn’t want to pay five million dollars for a prescription that normally costs seven little ones. Everything is different now—not just in my life, but in the world of my school’s health insurance program—and I was still trying to get a two week’s supply of Breathe-Easy to tide me over until the big package of Breathe-Easy came in the mail. My allergy doctor had to pull a fast one and submit a new prescription for pills of a different strength to circumvent the system, which she had finally managed to do.

My face so full of allergies, my eyes so swollen and stinging, I paid and grabbed and ran out to my car, just wanting to breathe easy again. I opened the bottle of allergy pills and saw that they were the size of nickels. They rivaled the size of my calcium supplements. They were as thick as horse’s hooves. While my allergy doc had meant well, she had prescribed a fourteen day supply of hockey pucks for me.

I laughed for the first time in days—hot in my car, eyes swollen shut, sweating like a pig on the first day of September. I took those puppies home and carefully broke them in half and then in quarters with my meat tenderizer and a kitchen knife. Tap tap, tap tap, now small enough to get down my throat. I thought of all the old people out there splitting pills, anybody like me who has a hard time even holding tools like that, and all the good doctors trying to help their patients through the system.

I’d pay two million bucks to hear my daddy clear his throat to let me know where he is right now, and if I’m heading in the right direction as I get old like him. It was so much easier to follow his sounds, so much more difficult now to follow his silence.