January 19, 2006

There Is Such a Thing As Too Intimate

Tuesday I went to the IVF clinic for one last test (but that's what they always say, it's always one last test. Then I get a phone call asking me to come in and donate blood when the moon is in Aries or participate in a Hopi fertility dance or some other weird shit like that.) So I head off again to get tested.

This time, the clinic is empty. There are no hopeful couples holding hands nervously, no one staring studiously at the latest edition of Hello!, no one sipping coffee from a plastic cup. Strangely the newspaper was spread over the coffee table screaming about Gordon Brown about to become a father again (you'd think the hospital would weed this kind of thing out, as the waiting room is generally filled with infertile women hopped up on incredible amounts of synthetic hormones), but I guess that free speech does work even in fertility clinics.

I'm flipping through a magazine admiring Pink's wedding dress when the nurse calls my name.

'Hi Helen, sorry to keep you waiting,' she says, smiling.

'No worries,' I reply.

'This is Louise,' the nurse says, pointing to a young woman that looks like she's on the better side of her twenties (i.e. she lined up to get Baby Spice's autograph when they played Royal Albert Hall.) 'If it's ok, Louise is going to observe and assist?'

Oh dear.

See, I always get the newbies. Always. I recognize that it's all a learning process, that hands-on is good, that training is needed, blah blah blah. But it must be something about my face or my naïve 'I'm an American' accent-I get every trainee that comes along. If there's a trainee phlebotomist around, I am getting her, as she compliments me on my enormous veins in my arms and then fails to find a single one of them but does make enough track marks for anyone who sees me in short sleeves to ask if I've looked into an honorary membership to Narcotics Anonymous. If there is a trainee dentist I swear she gets out the Black and Decker drill and cackles with glee. But in general, I don't mind if trainees are around.

Except this test, it's a chlamydia swab, a standard for IVF patients here but the one test they forgot to do. And a chlamydia swab? Yup. It's a knees up in the stirrups deal. So trainee chick would be the first trainee that is looking eye level at the female equivalent of the crown jewels.

I sigh. 'Sure, she can watch. Just no pictures on the web, ok?'

We walk into the exam room, and the nurse starts raising the stirrups. 'You're long-legged, so we need to make sure the stirrups are nice and long,' she says. She hands me a long blue napkin that is the equivalent of the world's largest roadside gas station paper towel and instructs me to take my jeans and knickers off and wear the paper towel around my waist. I do this, and then I look up to see she's getting the speculum out.

The speculum. A woman's best friend. The next guy that whines to me about a prostate exam, I will level him with the following-you're bitching about a finger. A finger. Instead, try a speculum, a piece of cold steel that is shaped like a duck's beak, only once it's inserted in you it opens up wide, not unlike a duck's beak, and holds things wide open. So as far as the finger concerns go, until you get the equivalent of two hands reaching in and propping the butt passage open 4 inches, this conversation is closed.

'Are you ok with this, Helen?' asks the nurse.

'Oh sure, I breeze. No problem.' I reply, heading for the table.

And suddenly, I become a babbling idiot.

'I mean, I've had a number of speculums in me due to IVF, pap smears, you know and I've had sex. Lots of sex. I mean-not lots of sex with lots of different people, that would make me a whore and I am so not a whore, I mean lots of sex with the same person which is totally different.'

Shut up, Helen.

'And pap smears, they're old hat but you know how you always get those old duffer gynecologists that insist on making small talk with you when they're here but the whole time I'm like-seriously, man, just get the fingers in and out, woudja'?'

Ohmigod, shut up, Helen, shut up!

My legs slide off the edge of one of the stirrups, sending it wildly swinging towards the nurse's head. I go into babbling overdrive and am talking without breathing in a voice two octaves above my normal speaking voice.

'OhmigodI'msorryI'mnotnervousatallandIdon'thavetoomuchsexhowaboutwejust getthisoverwith?"

SHUT UP YOU FUCKING IDIOT, SHUT UP!

The exam begins. The trainee stares hard at my beaver, and it's difficult to feel normal about this. The speculum goes in, I try to take shallow breaths, and then at the end the nurse instructs the trainee on how to remove the speculum. 'You undo the screw but don't release the tension, as that causes the sides to flab in.'

Oh my God. I'm in hell. I have a flabby hooch.

'All women have this happen to them, when the speculum is removed it's like the Red Sea re-parting,' the mind-reading nurse says to me, raising over my raised knees to assure me.

Oh my God, my space is of Biblical proportions.

The whole embarrassment thus over, I dress and get my ass out of there as fast as possible, reassured that I am finally done with all of these tests.

Thus beginneth round 2 shortly.

-H.

PS-If anyone needs me I'll be on a 12 hour flight to San Francisco, where I hope to rabbit punch the guy who created Rice-a-Roni as I hate that shit. For the next 12 hours I'll be watching video on demand, hating humanity, stressing about if I picked the right seat or not and if the beagles will come by in the airport and find Statia's cheese, and missing Angus terribly.

I'll be doing that last one a whole lot.

Posted by: Everydaystranger at 07:30 AM | Comments (16) | Add Comment
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January 18, 2006

And the Other Thing

On the way from from Dog's Trust yesterday I found that the GPS gods directed me through Basingstoke. This was convenient as I needed to pick up more of my contact lenses and the shopping center in Basingstoke was where I was stupid enough to have my prescription. So I drove into the massive concrete wonder, parked up, and went into the Basingstok equivalent of a shopping mall.

January is the month of sales here, and so every store had whited out their window fronts with hure white and red signs screaming "50%!" or "60%!" or even "70%!". And it was the 70% welcome on the front of Monsoon that saw me enter.

Monsoon has some relatively cute clothes if you can work out why they sell sparkly tunics alongside what equates to a high school prom dress. It's an interesting store and a popular high street chain. The thing is, the cut of their clothes tends to be a bit strange, and when you're 5 foot 10 like me you find that the cut of the outfit, well, it's kind of an important thing.

I found a few shirts I wanted to try on-I have been all about the black and brown, but these shirts were in colors that looked like gemstones-a vivid green, a husky purple, and a sparkly burgundy. These were shirts that had a color to them that made me think of the Egyptian desert and pirate bounty. These were shirts that said: The person wearing me? She likes color.

But more to the point-these shirts were form-fitting.

And that's when I had my moment.

As I told my therapist a few weeks ago, my body is something I have a terrifically hard time with. The older I get the harder it is to shed pounds, and it's a fact that I have put on 5 pounds in the past year. But at the same time, my legs have become as strong as steel due to yoga, they are almost completely muscle. While fighting the middle-age spread that is backfat, I have put on some strong yoga shoulder muscles. And even when I used to starve myself, my clothing size would always stay the same simply because my frame is so specific-I literally do have a wide hook-that-yoke-up frame, with long legs, no waist, and no butt.

There in the hostile glow of the fluorescent lighting of the dressing room, I had a good long look at myself.

And I realized that I had to be more honest to myself about what I see.

I am in the frame of some of these pictures we took from the weekend, when we went to visit our soon-to-be-house. When I looked at those pictures, I was in shock. I looked so huge it was unreal, I looked like the Stay-Pufft Marshmallow Man, I was hideous. I wanted to never eat again.

But I looked at them in my mind as I looked at myself wearing a fitted shirt in the dressing room. I took the shirt off and put my sweater back on. I then swapped it for the fitted shirt again. And I realized that my own defense mechanism that was working so well it was even defeating me.

For some time now, I have been buying clothes a size or two too big for me. My jeans are two sizes too big and have to be belted just to stay on my pelvic bones. The sweater I was wearing was two sizes too big and bubbled up so much in the back due to the size that it looked like I was channeling Lou Ferrigno. Standing there in the dressing room, I took the belt off of my jeans and looked at myself with the shirt on, the jeans lolling somewhere around the jut of the pelvic bone.

I wasn't as disgustingly fat as I saw myself in my own head.

I wasn't Jennifer Aniston by any stretch of the imagination, but I wasn't fat.

I went and got a size medium top and tried it on, as opposed to the extra-large I had worn a minute ago. The medium fit me perfectly. And I realized that every moment I feel fat projects itself out into how I hold myself and how I dress myself.

They say that the average man (once he's finished lusting after Angelina Jolie) is turned on by a woman that is confident in herself. That although the average man says he wants a woman with a body like Naomi Watts to play with his Cadillac of Love, the truth is it's more about the woman than the woman's body. So we can look like Roseanne Barr, but as long as we are comfortable and confident in ourselves, then the men will love us. That if we're all about being willing to shed our clothes at the drop of the hat to have some wild monkey loving, it's less about what size we are and more about how we make the other person feel-like we love how we look so much we want to share it with them.

To which I say-riiiiiight. And this is why you have a comfy body like Star Jones in Playboy, as opposed to someone that hasn't eaten since 1987. Because men, they DO like round curvy bodies. They want more cushion for the pushin' and so they glorify the female wobbly body in all its glory!

But if the truth is that men don't mind an extra pound or two (or four or five or ten or twenty) they just enjoy someone that feels good about their body, then those are parameters I can try to work with. I can do the wild monkey loving and not worry about what I look like, because during Simian whoopie there are more important things to worry about. That's an easy one. But get me on a beach and suddenly I'm doing the dive and cover, as without fail there's someone there who's hotter than me, someone who makes me feel like I could do with a good two weeks without food.

Why is it so fucking hard to like how we look? Who are we judging ourselves against, and why does it have to be like that? Further to that, why do we have to feel less of a person around the Thinner People, or around the men that we kow idolize a female ideal that they will never achieve (bad news men-Demi Moore will never be yours. Sorry about that.)?

I've never liked how I look and have the anorexia paranoia scars to prove it. My One Person has always been a size 0, a tiny short petite thing that likes to have her hot fudge sundaes topped with nuts and a double bacon cheeseburger, thank you very much. Whereas for me, not only have hot fudge sundaes been off the menu since puberty, but if I eat so much as a grape I bloat so badly I'm into the Kmart nylon knickers category.

Kim always wanted me to look like Leeloo from Fifth Element, but that never happened. Mostly since the orange hair? A bit career limiting. And I wasn't so keen to run around in an outfit that was the equivalent of an Ace bandage, not to mention the fact that unlike Milla Jovovich, I like to eat. So I was never his ideal, really. I had the long red hair that he loved, but wearing Band-Aids over my nipples was not considered day wear for me.

Angus likes short haired, robust women. He likes women that look healthy and have curves on their bodies. Since short hair on me tends to make my face look like a lollipop on a stick I can see that I will be a long-haired chick for the better part of my life. But the robust? I got your robust. I have escaped Rubaneqsue, thank God, but I've got the curves. The good news is even after all the years we've known each other Angus still tells me that he absolutely loves my body.

I've never been the person I wanted to be (namely as thin as Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and cute and short like her to boot). That's the person I want to look like, but the person I am is tall (too tall), long legs, no waist and boobs that even after being reduced are (in my opinion) still too big. I am built like peasant stock, I could be used to hold up wooden window shields in a hurricane zone, I can pull a plow, I can survive a crop failure. I see myself as being huge and ungainly and unpleasant.

But seeing myself in the mirror...

I don't know why I'm putting myself in clothes that are the wrong size. I stood there, turning one way and then the other, looking in the mirror. With the belt taken off the jeans sagged, their two sizes sliding down my hips. Sure, there's an inch to pinch here and there on my body. There's room for improvement. But overall? It's not that bad. It's not going to win me America's Top Model, but then why do I need to? I may not be beautiful but people don't go running and screaming at the sight of me. I'm not tiny but I don't need two seats on an airplane (actually I do, but that's because my legs are too long and I can't sit still and I fidget so much that I always wind up the guy in front of me, so having two seats really fixes that.)

This morning I looked through old archived digital pictures of me from the past 4 years and think-my body looks great. I look healthy and good and slender. I look at those pictures and see myself and remember that I was embarrassed and ashamed of my body back then-but why? And I'm embarassed and ashamed of myself now-but I still wear those clothes, they still fit, so does this mean I look ok now, too?

In the UK, my body size is actually under-average. The average size of a woman here is a UK-sized 16, and I am not a 16. Grape-eating bloat notwithstanding, if I don't have the bloat the stomach's relatively flat. The legs are thin. My pelvis juts out. I punish myself constantly, I feel best about myself if I am skipping meals, I buy clothes so large that I am drowning in them. The comments from my boss and additional comments made by a neighbor haunt me.

But fuck them.

I'm not perfect. I'm not gorgeous or a size 4. I'd like to lose some weight and I hope to make that happen. But I need to stop beating myself up that I am less than I should be simply because I am not 100% proud of my body. I'm proud of my body when I'm in yoga class. I'm proud of my body when I'm having wild monkey loving with my robust-curvy-healthy-body-lovin' Angus. And while I was standing there, I realized was proud of my body in that dressing room.

I bought the shirts.

I am going to wear the shirts.

I am going to make myself wear the shirts and not cower under my extra large sweaters.

And I am going to work on accepting that this is the package I will live in for the rest of my life, so how's about respecting it. I don't kid myself that I'm going to be ok, that I won't watch something on TV and feel like shit for not being that small, that I won't feel nervous at snapping on that swimsuit and heading to the beach, that I won't hate how I look in pictures. I am not fixed, happy, or healthy about my body. But I have a lifetime ahead of me, one comprised of Angus holding on to my curves and my body stretching out its muscles onto a yoga mat. It's about fucking time I stopped punishing myself for being the person that people in my past think I should be and started accepting-this is me, and this me can wear fitted shirts.

Hopefully someday I will like myself.

-H.

PS-And she's agreed to help me shop for clothes, especially jeans that will fit me, as I head off on an airplane to her home tomorrow. You know. Because neither of us likes to shop or anything.

Posted by: Everydaystranger at 07:55 AM | Comments (19) | Add Comment
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January 17, 2006

One of Two Things

Two things occurred yesterday which gave me pause in my current thinking, which temporarily hid my blackened color walls with purple wallpaper-it's still dark, but it's different. The outside world is still cruel and evil, but for a while there was something to take my attention away. One thing I'll write about tomorrow after I've had a little more time to understand it, but I'm ready for the other thing.

It goes a little like this.

I take a shower and get in the car. I programme Dog's Trust in Newbury into the GPS and I drive, the radio off, the sun breaking through the winter rains over Berkshire's rolling hills. The heater is on in the car and I am wearing a hat pulled down low. When I get to Dog's Trust, I find it's an enormous expanded barn in the middle of nowhere.


Dogs Trust.jpg


I go in and fill out an application. As we haven't moved yet and our landlord company is a dirty rat bastard, there's no way we can have a dog until we move. But since the process takes time-they come to your house to check out your situation, they check the progress with the dogs-I think starting now is a good idea. We are the penultimate household-we'll have a huge house and a yard that's a fifth of an acre, all fenced in, with an enormous field just outside of our house for longer walks and games of fetch. I've had dogs all of my life, even "difficult" breeds, and have trained them before. It will be an only dog, and the only requirement we have is that the dog must like cats (as much as I want a dog, my girls have to come first. Since they were raised with a dog, I'm not worried about their part-they'll be pissed off, but I think they'll recover from that.)

The place is heartbreaking-throughout the place are older dogs, too old to adopt, who sleep on dog beds and look at you with kind eyes. They are not in the kennels or cages but take a small space in the hallway, under a bench, behind the desk. As they're too old to adopt the center keeps them until they pass away or have to be put down, and they are kind and gentle residents who seem so soft and grateful to finally have a place to call their own.

Dog's Trust is kind and friendly but they are a charity, and as such rely on donations (please, please consider donating. Please. That's my only plea for money, and it's not for me.) As Dog's Trust shelters are no-kill shelters, they take care of the dogs until they can find a home for them, and many of the little darlings were strays found lost and wandering, some were abused, some were abandoned, some just haven't found the right person that wants to love them as much as they want to love back. They work hard with the ones that were beaten, neglected, or have trust issues, working with them to teach them that not all people are bad, that sometimes the hand that reaches out is done so in kindness. Dog's Trust homes are being re-built with more lavish facilities, but for now it's the same as you'd expect at a shelter-rows and rows of metal bars and concrete. The English rain meant that everything was wet and cold, including the dogs.


Kennels.jpg


I don't fault Dog's Trust one bit-at least they're trying. Most of the dogs had worn out toys and even though staff had come by to pick up their blankets out of the rain, the blankets were worse for wear and the wind blew the cold rain all over the place anyway. It was freezing cold outside, and the concrete was soaked through. I walked through the rows, reading up the stats for the dogs that hang on the outside of each cage. Even though there were a number of dogs whose dossiers said they couldn't be with cats (the center has a resident cat that can seriously hold his own. They let the dog out near the cat, and if the dog starts to chase the cat then the dog gets stricken off for homes with cats.) my fingers went through the bars to pet them all. With soft whimpering and pleading eyes, each dog wanted to get out of the rain, to have a house where someone would just love them and throw a fucking ball for them from time to time. Some of these dogs are trying to overcome the horrible things that have happened to them, to just have a second chance.

And I'm a huge believer in the idea that we all can have a second chance.

I spent an hour there, going from cage to cage and petting the owners of the wagging tails.


Buddy.jpg


She was a sweetie, who nabbed my heart. She was painfully thin and extremely shy, but you could see in her eyes that all she wanted was to be on the other side of the bars and leaning against you.


Grommitt.jpg


He was a center-described cheeky chap. A nice Russell, and even though he was too small and a cat-chaser, he was good company.

But my heart was sold when I met Reggie. He was 5, and had been there for a while. He had a bright happy personality, isn't a cat chaser, and is housetrained. Apparently, he loves long walks and playing fetch. I looked at him and was hit by a strong feeling, an image of him and I going through obedience training. I would look down at him and say, "Hey babe. Are we ready to give this a try?". And in my image, he looked up at me, tail wagging, bright brown eyes grinning, and with a soft chuff he confirmed that we could do it.


Reggie.jpg


When I reached through the bars to stroke his face he held very, very still, as though the action was something that he had to pay complete attention to. His tail went at 100 mph. He spent the entire time I was kneeling in front of his cage trying to push his body on the other side of the bars, to be on the other side with me.


I Wanna Be Where You Are.jpg


I think I'm in love. But I am not kidding myself that I can have him now, we have to move first. So I'll go back often and spend time with him, and if he gets adopted I will be happy and sad. I hope for Angus to meet him, and if he loves him too, maybe we can see about being a family.

And when I go back, I'm going with toys and blankets.

Because it's not ok for them to be cold and wet, when the only thing they've done wrong is not be in the right place at the right time to find the right person to love them.

I know how that feels.

-H.

PS-I lied. Please, once more, if you find you have an extra $5 then consider winging it towards Dog's Trust. They're the kindest people who are simply trying to give a dog another chance. Spread the word, please-there are what, 6 million blogs? If we all gave a buck or two, wouldn't that mean that there would be no need for cold wet concrete?

Posted by: Everydaystranger at 09:42 AM | Comments (20) | Add Comment
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January 16, 2006

Just Making the Days Pass

So the weekend came and went, and now I sit here in my usual space-in front of the pc with my work email open and my headache present. I swapped Bird York for Howie Day this weekend, as once I heard the lyric "Even the best fall down sometimes" I thought, Howie? Let's talk. I am not the best but fuck it-I fall down, man, and half the time I don't know how or when to get back up.

I thought a lot about this blog this weekend. I wondered if I should close it down, password protect it, move somewhere else. In the end, I have decided that this is my space, my blog. I have been on this space for going on three years now, I have gotten comfortable with how this place feels, I have produced hundreds of pages of writing. I have lost and found myself and relived that rear-end accident that is my life again and again. I am not giving it up. If and when I bow out of this blogging thing someday it will be because I choose to, and not because I am driven out by honorary members of Narcissist and Co-Dependents Anonymous.

And the truth is, the name still holds true for me. I'm just an ordinary girl living in extraordinary circumstances. I'm someone that you could pass on the street and not notice, I am someone that just blends in with all of the other everyday strangers that cross our paths, walking in and out of our lives.

So I'm not leaving this site.

I am also continuing to not deal well. An email from my mother late last night set it all off again (naturally involving the words "the baby") and saw me crawling into the bathtub, complete with Lush bath bomb, wine candles, and insense (nothing wrong with imitating an opium den in the bathroom, right?) Angus had gone out to pick up one of his brothers from the airport, and when he came back we had one of those frank bathroom talks, him sitting on the toilet by the altar of lavendar joss sticks, me clinging to the side of the tub, hair wet, wine being downed.

I smelled like a candy bar.

I felt like shit.

I had to tell him I'm not doing well at all. In the past few days I have been prone to extreme acts of anger, I have been hit with hot flashes of rage that I haven't seen in years. Our toilet seat has always been a bit loose but since it's not our house, we only rent it, we don't care. I decided I was sick of doing the ass shuffle on the toilet seat to keep it from sliding one way or another, and so finally tightened the nuts on the damn thing. I haven't done a very good job, apparently, as the ass shuffle has to be more now in order to avoid the butt cheeks from touching the side of the toilet. I keep asking Angus to fix it, and I hope he does-I did the ass shuffle wrong on Saturday and very nearly ripped the seat off and beat the toilet with it, such was the wild burst of rage.

I had a go at our estate agent for being a dozy dickhead. The teenager at the supermarket faced my wrath when he was being an ass about the change. I am not myself right now, I am dealing with that pit of rage that I have pushed away, pushed down, pushed in for so long. I want to take an axe to a pile of wood, I want to kick down a fence with my bare feet, I want to throw the entire cupboard of drinking glasses to the pavement, I am so fucking angry I can't believe it.

In the end, I know I will do nothing but sock all the anger away like I always do.

What a week for my therapist to be away.

I continue to get that sucker-punched feeling. Putting socks away in my drawer-Bam! My sister's pregnant. Unloading the dishes-Whack! My family betrayed me. Making the bed-Wham! My whole world has changed. My mother's email another nail in the coffin and words in it have me feeling nervous about my father (if she's telling the truth, that is, and I never know who's telling me the truth and who's lying anymore. And, finally, I just don't care. I'm too tired to care.)

I am exhausted-all I want to do is go to bed and stay there. I find I am alternately clinging or unable to cling to my darling and lovely boy. I am pretty clearly depressed (although I am still bathing. But I am not using conditioner on my hair after I shampoo it! So there!) And through it all, I continue to cry easily. The Dog's Trust commercials get me every time, but the truth is they make me cry all the time anyway, that's why I give them money every month (in fact, I've decided to blow out this afternoon and drive to the nearest Dog's Trust in Newbury. We're proceeding with the house buying and I want to get to know the dogs beforehand, so we have loads of time to make sure we get the right dog and the right dog gets us. As Angus said-a trip to Dog's Trust could either depress me or cheer me up. Since I'm already depressed, what do I have to lose?). A Horizon documentary last night about Designer Babies had to be switched off, as a woman who'd gone through IVF for three years had me in bits. Living TV is to be avoided at all costs as they run "Twins and Triplets", "Mommies To Be", "Baby Wishes", and "Watch This-It'll Make Your Ovaries Bleed!" shows. It's all overwhelming.

So I am leaving on Thursday for a nice long weekend to go to visit her and her nice husband and their two nice dogs, and between the two of us we can devour a lot of nice alcohol and have lots of nice talks and go shopping, because that's what is needed here, I think.

In the meantime, I will quietly file away my feelings on this. It's hard, harder than I thought it would be, and at some point I'll be numb to it all only I'm just not there yet. It's all getting more and more compounded inside. On Friday night we rented Crash. It was amazing and heartbreaking and miserable and incredible. I cried three times during the movie and felt utterly defeated, realizing that it made me lose my faith in humanity.

Then I realized that part of what's wrong with me is I don't have any faith in humanity anyway, so I had nothing to lose to begin with.

-H.

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January 13, 2006

A Personal Go Away To Those Who Need To Go

I'd meant to be more upbeat today, after all I made it about ten hours with no tears. That's got to be worth something, right? Ten hours of no crying? I think that's something worth noting. I finally dried out.

But then I get an email this morning, one from my father. In the mail he indicates that the other family members bombarded him with phone messages about me. And what do they say? Why-you won't believe it! They say things that I wrote about ON MY BLOG.

Well I'll be goddammned. So even though said family members promised they would never read my blog again, it looks like someone has plum forgotten that promise, doesn't it? Or does it show that the promise was never intended to be kept anyway?

So all that time I believed you and thought-my blog is my private space, it's all anonymous, no one knows who we all are, well. Looks like I was wrong. So congratulations. You now know that I am planning on IVF, that work sucks, that I have a pink phone and that I'm off to New Zealand in 6 weeks. You know about my therapy, you know about my heartaches, heck-you even know when I'm getting my period.

In general, I have a rule about not blogging about family. I had to break my own rule and write about it after I hear the words "the baby" three times in as many minutes. I couldn't keep anything inside, it would have meant I would implode, I could have watched my organs go up in a conflagration. I don't hate the One Person-I just don't want anything to do with her right now. I imagine the feeling is mutual, to which I think...you know, I don't even know what I think. I guess, these days, I just really don't care (the division between sisters hurts you? Well, you shouldn't have called her your guarddog against me. Didn't help. Further, it winds me up that you called Dad and unloaded on him-that's out of order. Big time. My relationship with my Dad is no one's business but mine and his. I'm second, I've always been second, but let's let me have my one little moment of unrealistic happiness, m'kay?)

So I wrote about how awful I feel. But see, I thought you had kept your promise to not be here, so I could write my feelings about the One Person anyway.

I see I was wrong. Angus had actually not wanted me to write about the One Person, as he didn't want you guys to know how much it hurts me. Despite your misgivings about him, he actively wants us to work things out, to get close, to try to be a family again. He's not the bad guy. He never was-the truth is, there isn't a bad guy. We're all just people, people who need to know if there are limits and boundaries to how we can work together. Maybe this post will make things worse too, I don't know, I just don't know what else to do and I don't have reliable emotions to try to figure it out. I don't often vent about my life to you as I am-believe it or not-an extremely private person. That, and I know you have a lot on your plates, I don't want to add. I really don't. I figure I should just be in your lives as a support, which I can do, only I can't support the One Person, she's on her own (or no wait-she isn't. She has all of you, because as she reminded me last year I AM NO LONGER PART OF THE FAMILY.)

So congratulations. I thought it was impossible to feel worse than I already did, but the news from my Dad? Yeah. It's worse. The good news is my relationship with him isn't impacted at all (what, you're surprised that I thought it would be? Did you not realize what fucked up emotions I have inside, that the nature of my disorder means some of my emotions are frozen at childhood levels, unable to progress into adult comfort and "normal" levels without years of therapy? You didn't know that? Well, there you have it. I'm fucked up, but I guess you already read about that anyway.)

If we want to try to be a family, then stay off my site. I mean it. I would like us to have a relationship. I do hope things work out in the end. Right now it's not feeling positive on my end and, I imagine, on yours. I love you guys, but go away from here. I mean it-GO AWAY.

And my infertility site? Yeah, I'm not publishing the link for it on my site. If anyone wants access to it when it's up (which should be in the next week) then send me an email (it's the red link on my sidebar, under my picture that says: Write me an email!) and I'll send you the link.

If anyone needs me, I'm going to be curled up in the bathtub. I don't give a fuck. The ten hour subsidance of tears ended anyway.

-H.

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January 12, 2006

The 5 Stages of Grieving

There are 5 stages of grieving, or so say those bastards with shiny degrees from places I have never heard of. Since, you know, everyone's grief has a pattern, a form, it's all the same. Grief is generic, we can just fill out the form in the DMV. Name? Helen. Age? 31. Stage of grief? Denial.

5 Stages of Grieving:

1. Denial, shock and Isolation
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

I am clearly in Generic Grieving Category Stage 1: Denial, shock and isolation. That said, I do sample from the party tray of the other 4, with the exception of acceptance, 'cause one thing I am not good at is just accepting and moving on. But I have the bases covered on the generic 5 stages of grieving, which must mean that I am abnormal, because surely someone grieving can't feel them all in one go, right?

I don't really know what it is I am thinking and feeling right now. I can pass through the house, I light a few candles, I watch a bit of TV. I make dinner for us, I attend conference calls, and I walk down the Waterloo Bridge, I watch the twinkly blue fairy lights on the banks and wonder how it is they knew to use the color blue today, it should be blue, it must be blue. I don't feel a thing, nothing gets in or out save for the waterworks of tears and the continued Period Fairy flow. All I know is I don't want to talk about anything with anyone, I want to take long baths and play Sims and make my Nintendog Casper kick ass in the disc throwing competition.

My life goes on, even if my One Person's stomach is beginning to harden and protrude. At least my stomach is beginning to harden as well, but that's a form of exercise and eating right, there's nothing under the skin but muscle and blood cells. There's nothing in there. There's nothing in me at all.

It hits me about a hundred times a day, and I think I have cried about one hundred thousand tears. I stopped counting them right about number 23,498. I've cried a lot since then, so since I can't do calculus and the counting exhausts me I'm guessing it's right about the six figure mark.

I'm working from home today and have a load of conference calls, all of which I would like to bunk off of. I've been thinking of going to the movies today since I am sick of watching myself in my own movie, the disassociation blues have me so clearly outside myself I can't remember what my own toes feel like. I think I want to go see Brokeback Mountain, because what isn't cheerier than a gay unrequited love cowboy story? Nothing says "cheer my ass up" like some cowboy hats, baked beans, and KY loving, right?

And I've started to get angry. It's intermittent, but then I've always had problems with commitment.

I laid in bed last night and thought of the words my family member shouted at me on the phone over a year ago. "Oh yeah? Well your One Person still loves you and would give you a kidney if you needed one!"

And like a typical dumbass, I lay there last night thinking of all the comebacks I have to that one. You know, comebacks I thought of one year out. I punched the air repeatedly, thinking Yeah! THAT'S what I should have said!

Family member: Well your One Person still loves you and would give you a kidney if you needed one!

Me: Oh yeah? Giving me a kidney would imply that she had to care about me, and that's excercising a muscle she never uses!

Family member: Well your One Person still loves you and would give you a kidney if you needed one!

Me: Here's a hot tip-I'd give a stranger a kidney if it would help them, m'kay? So it's no heroic effort about the kidney, giving one up isn't a hallmark for caring. I don't have to care about someone to give them a kidney, they just have to be on a goddamn register!

Family member: Well your One Person still loves you and would give you a kidney if you needed one!

Me: I don't want her kidney! If she gave me her kidney it would just lay around on the couch and make my kidney do all the fucking work!

It's not really very helpful to think of comebacks one year on, but there you have it. I'm guess I'm less "Stage 2: Anger" and more "Stage 2: Raving Bitter Sarcastic Bitch".

I also leapfrogged Stages 1-3 and really headed into Stage 4: Depression. As in: I may need to be medicated. As in: Here are my favorite pajamas and there is my favorite bed now will the whole world please fuck off and let me alone? I have a date with a box of Man-Sized Kleenex (and why the hell are they called Man-Sized Kleenex anyway? What, only men get big kleenex? Women have to have wimpy pussy Kleenex that fall apart after two nose blows as we're allegedly so dainty? Listen up, Kleenex-when I sob I can blow holes in bedspreads. Snot comes out at 100 mph and my tears supply the Dead Sea. Don't waste my time and call them Man-Sized Kleenex and offend my feminist sensitivities. No go talk to that environment killer Kimberly Clark and come up with truly absorbant tampons and Kleenex that the Lost survivors can use as sails, ok?)

I'm not hungry. I don't want to wash my hair (but I do, so don't panic. I am freshly showered, thanks). I don't want to get out of bed, but I will. After all, I have to have a Chlamydia smear at the hospital next week, as that's the one STD test they forgot to do and nothing says "recover from depression" like a cold shiny speculum inserted between your thighs.

So I take from all the stages of grief. All of them.

Except acceptance.

I can't accept it.

I don't think I ever will.

And I still can't stop crying.

And I am worrying that it may involve a screaming poster and a house full of empty guest rooms.

Because I am already in Stage 3: Bargaining. Please God let me have a baby please God let me have a baby please God let me have a baby...

I am working on setting up the infertility blog.

-H.

PS-To all of you that left comments and sent emails-thank you. I read each and every one of them (as I always do), your own stories of pain, your own experiences, your own hurts. I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that I am not the only one with a One Person. We all have One Person. Here's to someday recovering from our Own Person, as maybe in the next life we get to kick their ass at arm wrestling or table tennis. It continues to be de-lurking week, so de-lurk if you want. If anyone needs me, I am in my pajamas wondering how I can pass the rest of my week, my month, my year, my life.

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January 11, 2006

The One Person

On Monday I went from London to where the IVF clinic we are using is. It was a quiet drive, taking less time than it usually does through the maze of roundabouts, and I made it there in about 20 minutes. Once there I walked through the long hallways, passing many elderly there for various treatments and ailments, passing the implanatation room with the many monitors and lights waiting for the next egg baby that comes along. I made my way up the stairs to the clinic and tried to register with the receptionist.

'Hi, I'm here for a blood test? I'm Helen A-' I started.

'Yes, right, please sit down,' snapped the receptionist.

The clinic is extremely popular, renown for its success rates, aided by the fact that there is a doctor and a nurse that work there who worked on the first successful IVF case in the world, Louise Brown, born in 1980. It is renown for its egg share programme, which has the highest success rate in the UK. It is not, however, known for its perfect bedside manner amongst the staff, but then I guess you can't have everything. After all, which would I rather have, scrambled eggs or a cuddle?

I wait in a mauve waiting room that is luckily stocked with all of the latest magazines, so I could amuse myself reading about Katie Holmes' pregnancy or stare into the glaring spotlight of Jordan's breasts. There were three other couples in the waiting room. One couple sat slightly apart from each other, flicking frantically through a Hello! magazine as though it had the answers to the problem they seek instead of just cheesy pictures of Rod Stewart. The second couple sat next to each other talking in murmuring tones, the sides of their mouths lifted, the tops of their heads angled towards one another. The third couple was young, and as they sat he held her hand by the thumb, his whole hand caressing and massaging the thumb as though all the comfort he had could be retained by that single digit.

I was alone, as it was simply a blood test and needles don't bother me. I looked at the walls of the clinic and the many hundreds of baby photos they have of successful baby births. There were many twins and triplets in these pictures, and in some of them the babies were held by smiling nurses, proof that the mothers had come back to say: Thank you. Look what we did together. There were notices for meetings and conferences on infertility. Support groups lined another wall-Mothers of Twins in Fleet, Single Mothers of Guildford, IVF Families of Woking. And there on the top of one wall, separated as though infected with leprosy, was a large poster for another support group-Are You Going To Spend Your Life Childless? it screamed in bright bold letters. Our Support Group Will Help You Learn How To Cope!

Great. That little injection of hope is all we need.

I was called by the nurse and we went into an exam room. I asked her what FSH measured and she explained the basics (Caltechgirl was correct, FSH is a measurement of the ovary function.) The nurse explained if I have a nice low level then my ovaries are functioning just fine. If I have a slightly elevated level then my ovaries will need extra help with the ovary stimulus drugs when I start IVF. If the number is really high, she explained, then my body is going into menopause.

Gah! I shriek. Menopause! What? Gah! Is this a worry?

No, she explained, cleaning off the space of my elbow to allow needle accommodation. That's just worst case scenario. I'm sure yours are fine. We'll have the results on Tuesday, and if you don't hear from us, then the results are just fine.

I didn't hear from them yesterday, so I guess I can rule "pre-menopausal" off my list of worries.

The nurse and I get a calendar out and start counting days. With my periods generally being shorter than the 28 days most women have, I face anywhere from 24-27 day cycles, the day it looks like I will be able to start the meds, depending on the period the beginning of March, is the 26th of March. We have an appointment a week after we come back from holiday to get the medication, set up the schedule, and start. And right now it looks like the suppressor nose spray will be for three weeks, the stims will be for two weeks and then egg removal happens. As the schedule looks right now, the eggs will be fertilized and re-implanted on April 20. Angus' birthday.

I go home and we talk about it all. I find out that someone I have just as high hopes for has a date change to meet with her IVF consultant, and that date is soon. I have a meeting with my therapist on Tuesday, whom I haven't seen since before Christmas. Once my head is shrunk, I head to Maidenhead for meetings. Once in there, it is all business with my team, the boys I love. We are talking and working through plans and I see I have a voice message. I listen to it.

And my head hasn't been the same since.

Here's the thing about trying to have a baby-it seems to never fail that everyone around you just has a drink of water and winds up pregnant. Like it's something that you don't even have to work for, it's something that happens. In England they don't call it 'getting pregnant', it's 'falling pregnant', like you're just walking down the street, trip over a crack in the sidewalk, and once you stand up and brush the grit off your hands whadda'-you-know, you're knocked up. I think it's honestly like that-the majority of my project team have had partners that tripped and fell down and stood up with a bun in the oven. It's a bit wearying getting all these people presents, and I know Marks & Spencer's onesies like nobody's business, as it has become my standard gift.

With other people going through fertility treatment, it's different. Should any of the women I know-and in the blogworld I can think of three of them-fall pregnant, it will be joyous. It will be bittersweet and a little painful and I'll be slightly jealous, but overall I will be fucking delighted for them and will send them baby shirts with the Union Jack on them just because.

And then maybe we all know One Person that if that person gets pregnant, it's going to be hard for us. Maybe that One Person symbolizes something, maybe that One Person is the One Person that it is impossible to be happy for. Call us selfish, call us bitches, I don't care. I just have to be honest. For every infertile woman I know there's someone they can't bear to see succeed. My neighbor Billie gets a look on her face of worry and fear when I tell her we have news-after so many attempts at IVF she has become one of that support group with the screaming letters, she is giving up. I think she worries that I will tell her I'm pregnant, and I worry about hurting her if it does happen for me. Maybe I'm her One Person.

We all have One Person. Maybe this person has always gotten everything they've ever wanted in life, and gotten it easily. Maybe this person doesn't realize what a fucking gift it is to have a child. Maybe this person was someone we competed with in high school. Maybe this person just doesn't deserve it in our minds. I don't know every woman's reasons for why they have problems with One Person, but every woman I have asked who is going through fertility treatment has a One Person, all for different reasons. None of these reasons may make sense to anyone else, and maybe we come across as selfish and bitchy but for once in my life I'm going to say yes-I am selfish in not being happy for this person, I admit it, but I am never selfish and I wish this moment wasn't here, but it is.

My One Person is pregnant.

I have known for some time that I won't be able to handle it if my One Person is pregnant.

I was right.

And with it, so comes the tumbling of the cards. Hot on the heels of the abject horror of my One Person came the fear that because of this, I will lose my father. I just got him. I only just got a relationship with him, and now he may dump me over the One Person. You might immediately think-well, then he's not a very good person and you're better off without him. It's not that easy. I've always wanted a father and I don't want to give him up.

And I can't go home now, not at all.

I had left the meeting when I heard the voicemail and walked into another empty meeting room. I gripped the table as I was punched repeatedly in the stomach and sobbed. Then I called Angus and sobbed harder. Then I tried to go back into the meeting, only one look at my face and the boys called a break, Peter and Robert guiding me into a meeting room to ask me what was going on. I broke down and told them, and included the fact that I was headed for IVF round number 3, that I had lost Egg and Bacon, that I had lost, I was lost. They hugged me and we talked and headed back into the room, my boys taking all the action points. I had finally broken down in front of some of my team, a rule I said I'd never violate, but the only other option would have been to walk out and drive home.

And at home, I cried. And cried. And even got those hiccup-sobs that I haven't had since I was a child. And I stared at the raised and bruising mark on my arm, the sign of my blood test, the only sign I have.

And today my face looks like it's been punched with tennis balls, my eyes red and puffy, and I watch the rain slide down the train window. Angus and I are working on it, even if he doesn't know why the One Person hurts so much and I'm not sure quite how to get the words out. Maybe it's impossible to explain if you don't have One Person. It hurts and it shouldn't and it makes me a bitch but I'm being honest, thus here it is. It hurts. It may make you hate me, think I'm a horrible person, that I'm a bitch, and maybe I am. I try not to be, but maybe this time? I hurt.

It just does hurt.

More than I know how to hurt.

-H.

PS-Apparently it's de-lurking week (meaning if you read and never comment, go ahead and leave a comment), so help a girl out and de-lurk. Angus and I often say at home that posts I write that end up with less than 15 comments must be Suck Posts. Please don't let today be a Suck Posts Day.

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January 09, 2006

The Process, or How About a Cookie?

We've been busy trying to book up accommodation and activities for our upcoming holiday. The Cook Islands, while have two islands rated as one of the top 10 most beautiful islands in the world, is apparently more of a 'honeymoon gazes and wine-soaked afternoons in a lagoon-side hammock' type of place than a 'let the kids throw spaghetti across the dining room' kind of place. Not that we are really into pasta flinging ourselves, but you get the drift. We have finally decided and booked a villa on the beach, a condo that has sliding doors flinging open to the sandy lagoon. It's the kind of place that we can leave our snorkels rinsing in the sink while we sit on the deck, eating with our fingers and talking about the day's activities.

I cannot wait. It sounds so completely fabulous, apart from the journey back (although we are stopping a few times on the way over, the way back has the following suicide inducing torture-a 6 hour drive, then a two hour flight, then a 12 hour flight, then another 12 hour flight. Moods will be high, and potentially not even video on demand will be able to pull us out of the blue.)

New Zealand is proving a bit trickier. We're going just as the New Zealand summer is ending, so accommodation is still at a premium. As we only have 7 days in New Zealand we've decided not to be brave and do a whistle stop tour-the north and south islands in 7 days! Never leave a car and forget what feeling in your legs was like! The truth is, I imagine you can live thereyou're your life and never see it all, so why try to do the whole thing in one week? Instead we are spending the entirety of the 7 days in one area on the South Island after we fly into Christchurch, as I think and hope we'll go back again someday.

New Zealand looks to be more family oriented, as though they expect and hope that you'll be there with a family of rumbly bumbly young '˜uns who flesh light and laughter into the place. And we will be there with two generally happy kids. The amazing thing is, the area we're heading into has more adventure than anywhere I've ever known.

One of the things we're thinking of doing (and which I am very, very keen to do) is to go swimming with the dolphins. They pack you in wetsuits and chuck you in the water with pods of dolphins that swim and dance and jump. The dolphins are often joined by sperm whales and killer whales. As these tours are eco-only, that means no touching or feeding them, you just swim along with them. Apparently, by all the counts I've read, they love swimming with the peoples, and the more your splash around they more they'll splash around. As I read up on it, I read the single item: The dolphins love pregnant women.

To which I think: Rub it in Flipper, and I'll re-think my pro-Albacore stance and push for you to be in the sashimi.

My period should hit right about the time I am donning my swimsuit in the Cook Islands. Naturally. But strangely, I am almost welcoming it (that said, I currently have the super extra plus stuffed up me as I type this, hoping to make it to London Waterloo before and leak through starts off and hopped up on enough ibuprofen to ward off the Dallas Cowboys' aches and pains.) I have another Period Fairy visit in about 25 days, then the Cook Islands Vampire Jamboree, and then I'm home.

Home, and hopefully reaching out to the other woman who is waiting in the same darkness as I am.

Home, and hopefully time to start the process, which is so serious it should really be The Process. I have to go to the IVF clinic this afternoon for some blood tests, the final in the rounds I have to go to as they need me to come in on day 2 of my period to test my FSH levels (I have no idea what FSH is. Something to do with hormones, babies, or pescetarians, I'm not sure. Either way, I've had the test before and it was just fine, the test results were only valid for 6 months and thus need re-doing). I also have to have an STD test that they forgot to do-I have no idea which one, but it does seem a bit torturous that they forgot one, seeing as I had the All-Ho Test Kit, the queen mother of STD tests they give to egg donors, one testing for STDs that I am pretty sure are old wives' tales (it was that jumping over the broom they made me do that convinced me).

Babies are a regular and heart-wrenching part of my thoughts. And it's not just me, Angus comments on it a lot-about the status of holidays next year (he's been thinking of infant-friendly places to go), how to manage Christmas, when to travel if pregnant, how to involve my family, etc. I keep thinking and hoping, hoping, hoping.

We won't be able to go through the process very many times. If it happens, it has to happen soon. I read about women that have gone through it 10, 12 times. I think I'd go mad well before my 10th try. The Process takes the whole world out of your hopes and soul and turns your heart into a ball of Play Doh. Ask any woman going through it all, and about the last thing we want to hear is 'You WILL be a mother, it is absolutely going to work!' It's called False Hope, and it hurts more than the Play Doh heart, because what happens if it's never meant to be?

I'll cross that bridge if and when I get there, and I have no doubt that if I have to cross it, it'll be the most rickety, difficult bridge I'll ever have been on in my life.

There should be a more gentle saying, one that doesn't imply hope while the purpose of it is to offer hope, encouragement and love. Something like, "Fancy a cup of tea?" or "How about a cookie?" Something benevolent like that.

In the meantime, I will swim with the dolphins who love pregnant women more than me, I will delight in the entire holiday, and I will wonder what's going to happen. I will avoid UK Lifetime TV (it's all babies all the time on that channel! Watch it for 30 seconds and you will find, to your amazement, that you will suddenly and incredibly be lactating as you swaddle the cat in the throw blanket over the back of the couch!) I will continue to take my pregnancy vitamins and my folic acid (if this works, the umbilical cord will be less of a cord and more of a titanium-structured rope the kid can bungee jump with someday).

And if we start after coming home from holiday, it will be a set number of days after my cycle. Once I made it to the office I idly counted up the days this morning on my Outlook calendar, and found that the number of days from my last period and the x days it will take before The Process can start would mean that if we started, I would start The Process on what is the English Mother's Day.

The irony is not lost on me.

-H.

PS-there are so many infertile bloggers out there, I am thinking of starting up an infertile bloggers website. I know we are scattered to the winds, I have seen long link pages all over the place, but what if we all had one place we could go to, a place where we could vent and cry and share info? Is anyone interested, or am I off my rocker? (By the way, you can email me, if you'd rather not let people know you're ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, you know, like me, the INFERTILES. My email address is just below the picture of me on the sidebar).

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January 06, 2006

What I Remember

There are some days when I miss living in the States-the heat and light that came with living in Texas. The wet windy weather that Seattle brought on a near afternoon basis. The sea grasses over the sandy azaleas in North Carolina.

I know I chose to leave-I know I live my life in a little English village and am about to spend half a million pounds on a house that will keep me here for many, many years, with a man that I would go anywhere with. Even though I get teased about being an American (often good-naturedly), I don't apologize for being one and I have absolutely no plans to try to shake off my accent, to try to assimilate like Angus' stepmother, an Australian who is so absolutely British now that you'd never guess she came from Down Under. Being an American is something that I am, like I'm brunette, I'm a veggie, I'm a nut. I don't shout out about any of these things, I live life on the down low, but they are parts of me that I care about and love.

She recently had a post about the things she does and doesn't miss about Dallas. Dallas, city of big dreams and even bigger hair. Dallas, the one city that I knew every single road through downtown on, so I could dive off the Mixmaster and race down the one-way streets, travelling through West End, Deep Ellum, Lower Greenville. I would zip through the streets in my green VW Cabrio, the top down and the CD player blaring. For some reason, when I think of Dallas, I think of Collective Soul and Toad the Wet Sprocket playing at top volume and the streets shimmering with heat, the sky cloudless and baking, the streets empty and the sidewalks quiet in the world's calmest downtown.

We watch a show sometimes on TV called Sheer Dallas, which seems to embody all of the absurd and ridiculous that Dallas can be. Although we're not fans of realite TV, it can be nice to watch them drive past the Cowboys stadium, it's nice to see the roads I knew so well, it's nice to remember what it was like to be there.

When I think of Dallas, I seldom think of my time in university, that horrible high school, or the years in the little house with Kim on Lower Greenville. When I think of Dallas it is with memories of the first house I owned, a house from the 1920's in Oak Cliff that was all my own. It cost me what was, at the time, a king's ransom to purchase-I paid $68,000 for it, and it was perfect. It was clean, it was lovely, and it was all mine. I had two dogs, a Rottie-mix named Boscoe and a lab-mix named Toby. I had a spare room that held all my books and my hockey kit for the hockey games I played in once a week. I had my work and I had a huge comfortable bed that I would spend most of Sunday in reading the paper with my dogs and I had a green and yellow kitchen that I loved being in.

Over time Dallas has become embedded in me as the Land of Memories.

Sometimes, I do miss Dallas.

I think back and remember what it was like living outside of Seattle at Tacoma AFB. There's not much I remember, but I remember the house with the large windows in the front, the front garden filled with my mother's roses. I had a pink bedroom and a Miss Piggy poster on the wall. I remember the time I took my Kiss Me Barbie's kissing lipstick and stuck it all over me, trying to convince my mother I had the chicken pox, which she didn't fall for as the marks were all lip shaped. Summers were purple popsicles melting down my arm, blueberries, and running around barefoot on warm grass, a clothesline spinning above me and clouds spending endless time drifting around, waiting for me to guess what shape they were in.

I remember not being a little girl anymore there.

Sometimes, I do miss Seattle.

I remember living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Trips to the Outer Banks with views over bridges that are impossible to describe, and even harder to imagine. North Carolina had quiet country roads and perfect bagels. I remember spending long Sundays with my best friend Jim, eating bagels and watching movies and pretending the world wasn't important. I remember sand at the side of the road, drives to bed and breakfasts in Wilmington. In North Carolina came working myself to death and many, many hours at the Raleigh-Durham airport as I got ready to go to Sweden, England, Singapore, France. I remember the bags under my eyes so deep the North Carolina sun couldn't get them out, I remember standing on a coffee table and screaming in joy as the Stars won the Stanley Cup, I remember one day later learning my grandpa was on his death bed.

There was overdosing. North Caolina had me sitting in bed, holding the phone in stunned silence as I learnt Kim was dying. There were rivers of tears. I spent hours going up and down, battling the mania and the depression, cleaning all night long and being unable to leave the house. I remember the feel of the North Carolina sun on my shoulders-different from Dallas, but no less loving.

I remember North Carolina in insanity-steeped memories.

Sometimes, I do miss North Carolina.

I do think about Sweden a lot as well. Sweden was my next stop in the world after North Carolina. I remember sparkling blue water and spiralling copper-topped buildings. There was love, fear, the smell of hospital straps and a happy Collie. Stockholm hasn't begun to register in the memories, I'm still really only on my Dallas years, but in time the memories will begin to fit into my past, and I suspect when these memories finally come they'll smell like gingerbread.

I have lived all over the States but the only places that stay with me are North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. Even though I left them, over time they've become a part of who I am. I can slide back into a slight Southern drawl without thinking about it (much to the amusement of Angus' kids). I can remember what it was like the day Mt. St. Helens exploded (we watched a lot of TV, had no school that day, and it was pretty damn dark), I know what the smell of plywood over boarded North Carolina hurricane windows smells like, and I can remember the purple-green sky of an impending Texas tornado.

To make life simpler I have sometimes been guilty of trying to play down where I'm from and where I've been. But all of these are a part of me, and the thing about these memories is even though some of the memories as so painful I could scream in agony, most of them are precious and dear, sights and smells and colors, patchwork pieces of places that has made me who I am today, and things I will remember until I die.

Here's to you, America.

And thank you.

-H.

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January 05, 2006

It's Real, and If I Can Just Get Some Toast I'll Tell You About It

As I sit here drinking coffee and battling a major headache, I realize it's that time again. Although I think I can get by it every month, I think I can escape the onslaught, the despair, the pain, I never do. It's as though I am beating my head against the wall, realizing with fruitless horror that I can't escape this, no matter what I do. I want to bury my head in my hands and cry, I want someone to help me fight my invisible demons, but I am alone in this.

But I cannot fight this alone anymore.

It's time to face and accept it.

I have PMS.

Men seem to pooh pooh the idea of pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS (strategically called PMT here in England, which means "pre-menstrual tension". We're not tense! We're fucking overloaded with progesterone! There's no tension here, it's purely chemical, and not in the space cake kind of way. Calling PMS by any other name is a mistake. Women! We must stick together! We must unite in our acronyms, don't give them a reason to divide us!) but I am here to say-it is real.

No, seriously. It is real.

PMS didn't use to affect me. When I was in my teens and early twenties (when the blood output of a period was equivalent to a sneeze), I was hapy-go-lucky as PMS passed me by. Now that the blood flow is equivalent to a fireman's hose, PMS takes me and bitchslaps me once a month. And that bitchslapping hurts. They say that PMS largely affects women in their twenties and thirties, so good news! 9 more years of this for me!

It's bad enough that the Period Fairy has to come at all (are you here again? Didn't I just see you 24 days ago? Didn't you stay for 5 days? And I'm not even going to mention that khaki skirt episode either!). I have to have PMS as well. Amazingly, the Period Fairy is the good part, the relief after the PMS. I could laugh and dance for joy when the period arrives as it brings with it my sanity, only I'm too busy stuffing a bichon frise up my hoo hoo and downing extra strength ibuprofen.

Now men. Sit down. Listen. This is the most important thing you can take away from this-We are not making PMS up. It is not a figment of our imagination, it is not us trying to sneak a cranky mood by you. We don't enjoy having a four day hall pass to take apart your dignity bit by bit. This isn't fun for us either.

First off, many of us have the Breast Swelling. Now while this may fulfill any juvenile fantasties men may have that suddenly we'll turn up in a French maid's outfit with Anna Nicole's rack and Pamela Anderson's desire to drop to our knees to please you, I'll have to set the record straight. We have the Breast Swelling, but they swell up with rocks, not soft Play-Doh like silicone. Our breasts are more suited for geologists and the Seven Dwarves mining operation than your hands playing Radio Tokyo on them. We feel these rocks with every move we make, as though the pointy flint edges are just aching to pop out of our mammaries. Touch the breasts and you may die.

Next up, acne. Now, my teenage years were fraught with taunts and horrors but one thing I escaped was the bad skin. I have never had a problem with zits, ever...until PMS! Then, suddenly, I am back to longing for Rebecca Grayheart's skin on the Clearasil commercials. I am nearly 32 years old but once a month I get at least two quite visible pimples, pimples that not even my Lancome Spackle can cover up. Do I want to pop those bad boys? Do I ever. Have they sunken down all the way to the muscle in my face when it's PMS time? Do I have to answer that?

Then we move on to mood swings. Do I love you? Yes. Do I hate you? Probably. Do I hate absolutely everyone and everything everywhere ever? Yes. Do I cry at dog food commercials? You betcha. Do I love you more than anything in the whole world ever for Christ's sake stop asking me so many questions I don't know the answer to and I never want to live without you, complete with singing birds and fairies and don't even ask me where the remote is I hate the whole world and I have a voodoo doll to prove it forever and ever? Yeah. D, all of the above.

It's honestly that bad.

That's not even including the headaches we get, the screwed up sleep patterns, the constipation so severe that Stalin would have approved of it, and the food cravings. Oh, the food cravings! I become a carbohydrate addict. I want toast, covered with cereal, a baked potato, and pasta. With cheese, of course. And once I escape the carbo phase, I head straight into salt territory, which is a strange part of the month as I hate salt, I never use the stuff. I want my toast cereal potato pasta cheese concoction covered with extra salty popcorn. I can't stand it.

But the worst part of PMS has to be the bloating. It's as though our bodies are mocking us that we aren't pregnant, so it swells us up enough to be so. The fat clothes get pulled out the days before the period, the extra space in the waistband, the beach ball like protrusion getting covered up. You could take a saftey pin and try to pop us, but all that would come out would be a river of progesterone and some partially digested toast. This is the K-Mart nylon knickers time of the month, when you need coverage that Gilligan could have used as a replacement sail for the Minnow.

According to this site, there are over 150 symptoms of PMS, and at any given time I guess most of us will have about 149 of them.

They say that there are herbal remedies to PMS. That you can take Primrose Oil, drink chasteberry tea, and up your calcium dosage. Well, I'm here to tell you-they're all a bunch of hippie love child liars. I have eaten whole gardens of primroses, I have drank so much tea I'm an honorary Englishwoman, did it help? Do I look like a happy camper? I don't want to even hear about herbal remedies anymore, the only thing I want to help cure the PMS is something that I have to get a prescription for, and something that when I go to pick up the prescription I have to show ID for and sign national drug safety documents.

PMS is real. Ask any woman. If I committed a murder while having PMS, the only trial jury of my peers would be a cast of 12 women with rock-hard PMS breasts. And of course they would let me off right away, not only would all I have to say is "I had PMS" with a shrug, but once I said that they'd start shouting at the judge to stop wasting their goddamn time, the hard chairs are uncomfortable on their bloated butts, of course I'm not guilty, and does the judge know where they can get any toast?

You don't like us during PMS time? Well, we don't like us either. For myself, I'd trade places with a man during that time anyday, and even allow myself to get racked in the balls by a ballerina wearing toe shoes once a day while the guy suffers my PMS, purely out of gratitude.

Now if you'll excuse me, I just saw a car insurance commercial that's made me all weepy and I have to go buy bread.

Lots of it.

-H.

PS-I have added blogads to my site, so if anyone wants to advertise, just click the link of the left and have at it!

PPS-The flickr experiment is ongoing and I am still trying to get the hang of it, but it's still on the left sidebar.

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January 04, 2006

Resolve Isn't Just a Stain Remover

So they say that we should all have resolutions to start the new year. The clock chimes midnight, and suddenly everyone has a sparkle in their optimistic eye. This is why I have to book up all my yoga classes through the end of June 2007 now, as suddenly it will be packed with people wearing new shiny yoga togs and with a gleam in their eye-It is 2006! I will go to yoga and be all bendy and soon be the size of Cindy Crawford after she lost all that baby weight!

But once they figure out that yoga isn't the weight loss dream that the stars purport it to be (I do yoga four times a week with an instructor, says the star with dreamy eyes. This is how I am a size 2, and that's only if I'm soaking wet! Teeheeheehee! Like hell you are, babe. Yoga is great but it's a toner, not a weight loss vehicle unless you're doing bikram yoga. And we all know bikram yoga will make you sweat and lose those little hair extensions of yours. So go ahead and tell the truth-you live on a can of Del Monte Niblet Corn every day, up until the days you binge on 12 packets of Mallomars and throw your guts up. Do not lie to me! I know that game you play!) they'll quit. Gonzo. And their yoga togs will sit in the bottom of a drawer whimpering miserably as they fail to complete their yoga pant destiny, which is to encase the ass of someone doing Warrior II.

I don't do resolutions. I figure, why set myself up to fail? If I suck so much at something, why do I have to wait until the 1st of January to try to address it? Nah. Resolutions are not for me.

That said, we did both start our diets yesterday, not as a resolution but because we simply could not bear depriving ourselves of good eat during the holidays. So we are counting calories, eating healthier, and working to slim down. We are also on a white week, which might explain why we are both so cranky.

Resolutions are a pain. It's like living with rules that someone enforced on you, only they enforce them on you the first day of the year so you will therefore associate the next 12 months with extreme suckage. Isn't life too short for that? Shouldn't we throw this tradition to the birds, and start our pilgrimages of better lifestyles on, say, Arbor Day? Why celebrate only trees, we can also stop smoking/drinking/eating/living/masturbating on that same day!

That said, the First did see me thinking about what to do when I grow up. I did get an email about getting qualified to be a yoga teacher and I have been thinking heavily about it. I would like to teach yoga, only the problem is I would have to get used to eating once a day, as that's all I'll be ablt to afford, and I'll have to put up with people in their new yoga kit for approximately two classes the start of each year. Plus I'll have to put up with the stereotype that I'm a fan of granola and tie-dye and that I walk around wearing too many crystals and talking about my past life transgressions.

Sorry, but tie-dye is so scarily ugly it gives me hives.

But I have been thinking. What got me thinking is that ultimately I hate my job so much I have to leave, I WANT to leave. The one thing I can think of jumping onto, besides being a librarian (but that requires schooling) is writing. And this guy helped deliver the kick in the pants.

So I've started. I know I have been saying this, but this time? I mean it.

This time, I am organized.

My hard drive is littered with things I have stopped and started, ranging anywhere from 30-90 pages long, from as far back as 1998 to last year. This time I have been thinking before putting fingerpad to keyboard, and I have also bought a large notebook to help me map out the ideas. Angus' brother is in the Phillipines and has offered to buy me a version of Mindmap. I have a mini recorder to help if I have an idea. I am going to get organized to try to do this, and although it's not my resolution (I do not resolve! I will not resolve!) it is at least a direction. Maybe I wind up sucking it up and working in telecom my whole life, but if I don't try, I'll be the failure I always knew I was. Maybe a pleasant surprise is what I need.

-H.

PS-Statia got my Flickr working on the sidebar. I will try to post a new pic each day, access permitting, so go ahead and check it out and mock my pathetic attempts with a camera (I am a quantity girl when it comes to taking photos) and comment away.

PPS-Many, many thanks to my anonymous benefactor for my lovely gift. There's a lot of TV watching to be doing in this household now!

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January 03, 2006

We're All Going On A Summer Holiday

I love to travel. With the exception of the motor marathons I used to take as a kid, where we would drive between one grandparents' and anothers' between Christmas and New Year, often with me squished between two seats playing with Colorforms and wondering when I could have the feeling back in my lower extremeties, I have loved travel for a long time. Travelling from Seattle to Des Moines with no overnight stop? Yeah. Long fucking drive.

As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to get the hell out of dodge (if dodge=Texas, and x=y, then x=strong desire to flee the Lone Star State laughing and giving the finger as I crossed the state line). And it was a big dream, something that consumed my thoughts and desires (and my bedroom walls, actually, as I was such a dork that I bypassed Duran Duran, New Kids on the Block, and Will Smith, substituting realistic teenage canvases with such pictoral orgasms as Brandenburg Gate, Norwegian Fjords, and the French Provence poster that is proudly displayed at every La Madeleine I've ever been inside). Maybe it comes from moving around so much as a kid, maybe it's because my father travelled to the far-flung parts of the world when I was a kid, travelling as he was on TDY so much, I don't know. All I know is that's all I have ever wanted, ever.

It started early, this travel bug. I may travel a fair amount now, but it hasn't always been like that, I was a one trip a year girl for many years. My first trip ever, to Paris, was done on a budget that didn't even qualify to be called "shoestring". It involved stealing croissants and applesauce from the hotel's breakfast buffet to suffice as lunch and dinner (the backpack I carried around Paris had to be trashed when I got home, it had so many croissant oil marks it was translucent in places). My trip was paid for by borrowed money, and while I was there I lived like a pauper.

I had a fantastic time. I was 20 years old and the bug had bitten me.

I came back and arranged for my employer (all three of them, thank you University of Texas) to take extra income tax from my paycheck, so that when the income tax refund came in it would be in one chunk of dough to pay for a vacation during Spring Break. I lived paycheck to paycheck, finding out how long checks took to reach creditors and clear, the cheapest places to buy gas, and I could float a check like it was made out of dandelion seeds. I think I am the one who single-handedly brought down the Arby's 5-for-5 deal to 3-for-5, cause I would buy 5 of those bad boys and have them last me a week, to hell with green-edged roast beef! So when that income check came in, there was only one thing to do with it-every penny of it went to a vacation.

And thus would ensue me spending many hours on the phone, the yellow pages spread open before me and amounts written on every page (Dear Baby Jesus-thank you for the internet. It has made travelling so much easier. I hate SWB yellow pages. Thank you and have a nice day.) I would wrench every cent from that income tax refund so that it could get me where I wanted to go, and it worked-everytime I came back with just enough money to buy a Happy Meal, but dammit I did it.

I got lots of weird looks. Once an employer wrinkled her nose and said what did I want to go to travel for, when I could buy an above ground pool? So wouldn't red chlorine eyes be way more preferable than seeing the Colosseum? Isn't it better to fend off all neighbors in a 3 mile radius and burn up the water bill in a drought-ridden Texas than get on an airplane and escape the heat? People thought I was mental to exhaust myself-and my income-on one lousy trip a year.

But it was what I wanted.

It is still something that excites and motivates me no end. It's been asked here on the site (and by some of my family members) that why am I travelling so much, what am I running away from? I don't see it like that. I don't escape anything when I travel, I'm still me when I go away, me with all the glorious problems that I already contain. But when I go somewhere new, I get to see things I never dreamed of. I get to talk to people, and walk on roads, and light candles in churches, and swim in waters so crystal blue I could never possibly have done them justice in my imagination. To me, life is too short to not see what else is out there. Maybe someday I will be in one place only, and I will need those memories of what it was like ot be somewhere else to make me smile.

You never know.

Travelling is easier now. I don't have to scrimp and save all year, while at the same time I know I won't be having an extended visit in the Waldorf any time soon. We both put money away each month in what we call our travel fund, and that fund gets raided once a year. And all of those years of working so hard for holidays has given me one massive benefit-

I can find a travel bargain.

I can spend days planning it, just to get the best deal I can. And Angus is also a master at massaging the internet to get us good deals. It's all about trying to be creative and putting up with a bit of inconvenience to do so.

We've been spending the last of our most precious holiday weekends getting ready for our next holiday coming up in February (well, he spent one day on it while I was laid up with a bad back, then I spent one day on it while he helped his mate hang a satellite dish. Tag team effort really.) This is one of two big holidays a year we want, as this one is the one that his kids have a week off of school and so we keep them out for another week to get more bang for their holiday buck. Research was tense.

"Look at this Helen!" He would shout excitedly while surfing the web on the laptop. "We can get an extra day in Kyoto if we're willing to stay in Lansing, Michigan for twelve hours!"

"Not bad," I say considering. "But what about this one I just found? We can go to Jamaica for £499 a person, if we leave before the full eclipse but not before the ice dancing in the winter Olympics."

"The finals?"

"It says here in terms and conditions 'Semi-finals'."

"Well that's ok then. Let's short-list it."

We surf some more. "Helen! I've found it! It's perfect!" Angus says with breathless wonder. "We can go hiking to Machu Pichu on camels and drink dodgy ciprhianis if we're willing to do an overnighter outside of Phoenix, Arizona!"

"Is that staying in an airport Ramada?"

"No, it says we'd be staying in local traditional dwellings."

"Abort! Abort!" I scream. "That means adobe huts, and we are going with two Swedish children that haven't seen the sun since early 2005! It'll be like sleeping in a kiln, when we wake up we'll have two kids we can use as cremation urns or an attractive fruit bowl!"

Angus pales and nods.

In the end, we manage to work that internet over like an Atkins dieter falling off the wagon with the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Last night, we clicked "confirm", much to the sweat and stress of the two of us, and we now have a holiday booked. We haven't sorted out all the hotels yet, but I am researching through this week to do so. We've pushed the boat out on this holiday and will be gone for 15 days (although two of those days are lost with us fucking around the International Dateline. I told Angus last night that he would have to explain the International Dateline to his young son as he might not understand it, and he shrugged and said he would but that his son already understood it. To which I wanted to secretly whisper: OK, actually, I wanted you to explain it to ME as I don't understand it. Oh well.)

We leave the end of February for the Cook Islands (in the South Pacific, which narrowly won out over Tahiti and Moorea) and New Zealand.

Yessssss.

-H.


PS-am trying to build a Flickr photoalbum that will run in the sidebar on my blog. If anyone knows how to do this, please let me know as I may kill people soon, or at the very least, walk away from Flickr.

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December 30, 2005

Time For a Re-Cap

So in two days it will be 2006. 2006. Sounds like some kind of sci-fi movie, where we should be able to read each other's thoughts and ride a hovering scooter to work, travelling on the inside of a tube as we skate through a clean, organic recycling type of environment.

I think the future is looking a bit more like Blade Runner at this point, but then again, I am a cynic.

2005 is nearly over. As I was walking into the village this morning to pick up some white wine I had a long think about what 2005 really was, and how it will go down in the annals of my dodgy memory. Although the adult years are easier to remember than the childhood years (and not just because I am getting old), I still forget a whole lot of shit as I go. Or, rather, it's all the shit I remember, which is part of the problem.

2005 didn't see the revolutionary changes that 2004 did. I didn't move into a new country, new job, new house, and all with a lovely new man. I didn't walk into an airport and head into a new life on the other side. I didn't bring my girls over from Sweden to live with me, and I didn't walk with wonder into Dream Job's office building for the first time.

But 2005 has a quiet goodness to it in many, many ways.

It has some serious suck factor, but some of the highs make the year.

The worst things about 2005? Has to be the job. No question about it, hands-down, what's-the-point-of-this-question, the job sucked a clown's ass. I survived it, I maybe even did well, but at the same time the job? Yeah. Not my life anymore. In 2005 I learnt that managers are not to be trusted, that no one gives a fuck if you work yourself to death, and that telecom still is a man's world. Having a woman in this man's world only has the same reaction as using a stick to stir up an ant hill.

It was also a turbulent year in the home market. After three failed sales, we finally lifted the great white elephant known as Angus' house in Brighton. There was much champagne, much elation, a bit of sadness on Angus' part, and a return to being able to sleep at nights.

We also had the Blackberries, we lost the Blackberries, had it, lost it, and now have it again. The bad news is the Blackberries is now in a unique English real estate situation called a chain. Chains are the bane of the average home buyer's existence. Say you own a house and want to sell it and buy a new one. Maybe you sell yours to a nice young couple who are selling their flat, and you buy a house from an elderly woman. The elderly woman in turn buys a house from a family moving to Spain, who can't move until they find a house in Spain. So all of us are waiting until each part of the chain moves on, we can't move into any propertt until it does and if any part of the links fail, the whole chain collapses.

We are in such a situation now. The woman selling us the Blackberries had arranged to buy a property. When the sale of our house in Brighton fell through in October, she therefore lost the house she was buying. Now that we are ready to buy hers she has to find another property to buy, but this process can take months and can result in all of us being in another chain.

In other words, we have the house of our dreams, but aren't likely moving anytime soon.

In terms of blogging, I think I am making progress to sitting my butt down and trying to write something down. I have low confidence, and on top of that am a bit lazy about writing long-term things. I also have to write in strict conditions-I tend to need to be alone, and I do better with no distractions. Blogging this year has become less of an "I MUST write 5 times a week" and more of a "Dear God, please let me have time on the train to write my next blog post" kind of activity. But I still love it, I still get a lot out of it, and although I visit other blogs daily I almost never comment, so please don't hold it against me.

In Blogland, I met her this year. She has become my drive-by buddy, my vent for infertility, and the one who seems to tolerate "Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld" with the greatest aplomb. I love her, even though she can wear lite tampons when the Period Fairy comes (did I mention to you, S, that I found a new type of tampon here, one called-I kid you not-extra super plus? It's like using a toilet paper tube stuffed with a bichon frise! I love the things!)

One of the greatest highlights this year is when I reached out and grabbed a therapist. Once a week I sit in a Scandinavian style loft, in the middle of an Edwardian neighborhood (the dichotomy, she kills me). Once a week I try to sort through the smoldering ruin inside of me. What I have found is that I am more profoundly damaged than I ever thought was possible. I have also found that with this therapist, I can be fixed, and if I can be fixed then I will no longer be an imposter among the living.

Someday, I can just be me.

Now that will be a hell of a blog post when it happens.

I travelled this year, to Hawaii, Egypt, France, California, Finland, and an all-expense paid number to Monaco, where I learnt that I can not only not gamble, but that I am in no way, shape or form a Versace girl. This year Angus became a certified diver, and the two of us, we love it. Up next is his daughter getting certified, and when his son is old enough, the four of us can see amazing things together. Our next holiday is coming up in February and we are aiming for warm places that we can dive, swim and snorkel in. When we return, I can't wait to start the nose sprays, as I think of that other childless woman who will be my partner in IVF every day.

2005 passed with a strong current of loving the norm. My two cats are so firmly entrenched in my heart and thoughts that they take away the still-daily sting of missing my dog. The cats drive me nuts, they try my patience, but I swear I'll maim the first person that hurts one of them and I'll enjoy doing so.

So 2005? I travelled on trains, I drank my Starbucks, I shagged my lovely Angus and I loved curling up on the couch with him. I forgave my father, gotten closer to my stepmother, and missed my grandfather. I fed the wild birds, I made killer risottos, and I loved this semi-normal life that I seem to have found. I stressed out before his kids visit as I want things to go well, but when they are here they are noisy, exhausting, and utterly and completely hilarious.

2005 is nearly over, and in thirty years when I think back on 2005, I hope to have one memory spring to mind:

Last night we went to our local curry restaurant, advertised as the county's finest (which, in my opinion, it bloody well is). We ate far too much curry and naan bread, we laughed and talked and had a brilliant evening, and as we walked back it was snowing. Angus picked up his son Jeff and carried him for a while, hugging him, the two of them smelling like korma and fireside evenings. Melissa came up to me, grinning, and linked her arm through mine. She demanded we skip home, and I showed her how to skip the Wizard of Oz way. We skipped home a la Dorothy and the Scarecrow, both of us giggling hysterically, the way lit by the twinkling tree lights of the homes on the cricket green, the chatter of Angus and Jeff beside us, and we left behind us complicated footprints in the snow.

Now that is a good 2005 memory.

Happy New Year, and I can't tell you how glad I am that you've been here, that the roller coaster of 2005 didn't have to be alone.

-H.

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December 27, 2005

Looking Forward to New Year's

Christmas Eve didn't go so well-a fight instigated by vegetables is never going to be a positive thing. But by the time we packed up the car with presents and made our way to Angus' family on Christmas Day, the balance of the universe had largely been restored. We opened some presents at the house-Santa had been amazingly generous in our house, and I lounged about in my softer-than-soft bathrobe, one which made me feel like I was doing something inappropriate to stuffed animals. I was having loads of fun-hunky boyfriend had bought me, among many fabulous gifties, a Nintendo DS and an E-Dog (I didn't want a PSP-I wanted a Nintendo DS as I am not of the "hardcore gaming" group. The E-Dog I have named Spot, and he doesn't like Alanis Morisette but he can party like a real dog with the Barenaked Ladies and Nina Simone. Excellent.)

We drove to Angus' brother's house, the motorways zooming with other cars stuffed with presents, all of us going to someone else's home to try to celebrate the holidays. When we arrived, we opened the front door and were met with a sheer wall of noise. It was as though the volume button had broken off the hifi system at a permanent level 10. Angus' three nieces-one of them seven, the other two age three, were standing at the top of the stairs screaming at the top of their lungs. Seriously. This was like the doorbell in an alternate universe, one which involved wanting to take a Phillips head screwdriver to the inside of the ear canal to just neutralize the problem in one go.

I looked at Angus and blanched. He looked at me and smiled. We walked inside.

And thus it went. It was not an easy day, necessarily, and purely from the volume of people perspective. I get on well with Angus' family and I do enjoy their company, it just means a lot of people in all areas all the time. My family is incredibly small, so all the people around are a bit disconcerting. Especially when three of them are reaching sounds that only dogs and myself can hear.

Their house had been done up for Christmas, and as Angus' brother is a bit on the posh side, it was all done expensively as well. Dinner was served on gold plates, with fake glittery maple leaves scattered around the table. Wine flowed. It was a nice lunch, actually.

But here's the thing I struggle with-now, I know my upbringing isn't considered normal by any conventional sense of the term. I know that I am on the extreme of one side of the spectrum of childhood. But one of Angus' brothers and sisters-in-law have a very unique approach to rearing their children. I think of it as Extreme Duvet, where the premise is to supply the kids with constant positive reinforcement. This is foreign to me, and not often fitting-for example, I find it impossible to want to positively reinforce the kids when they scream at their mother that she's stupid and hit her (which did happen). That, to me, is not something where we say "How do you think that makes me feel?" To me, that's where one goes "Give me that Game Boy right now and apologize. You'll get it back when I think you're ready to control your temper." These kids don't get in trouble for speaking to their parents this way, for interuppting adult conversations on a continuous basis, or for screaming. They do, however, get in trouble for putting their elbows on the table.

Surely there must be a middle ground between the Extreme Duvet and what I know as an upbringing. But I am not a parent, I am not the right side of sane, and I am not a part of the family, so this was where I looked at my plate and tried to find it very interesting.

Christmas continued, and later in the evening it all got to be a bit too much-the usual tradition of "let's have a go at the American" started to wear me out. I usually just brush it all off, it's generally not mean-spirited at all, but it was all too much. I get it on every holiday get-together and often on a daily basis, and I just wanted a break. I get worn out for being made fun of the fact I call them pants and not trousers, I get tired of the American jokes, I get tired of the fact we call it gas and not petrol. This time I had a meltdown and thus a truce was called by Angus and his brother, and with the exception of one or two small comments the rest of the evening my American-ness was left alone. Angus' brother explained that it's just so easy to have a go at me for being American, it's just so obvious. To which I want to say-Gee. Thanks.

We gathered for the gift opening in the evening (this concept is strange to me-there are presents in the house. Unopened presents in the house. How can this be? How can people spend the day and not open the presents right away? Are they masochists?)

It was a lovely time but I have to be honest-I was really, really hurt that Angus' kids didn't really think about me. He had a pile of gifts from his kids which I was extremely happy for him about, but I only had one thing, something that Angus had bought for his daughter to give me. Don't get me wrong, the issue isn't materialistic, it's not the gifts themselves-last year they both made me homemade gifts which I love madly and are proudly on display in the bedroom. To be honest I think I love the homemade gifts more than the store bought ones. To reiterate before anyone accuses me of being materialistic-I don't care about the loot or if it's store bought or homemade. The issue is that I wasn't thought of. I bought every single one of their gifts but one. I've been making a list of presents for them for ages. The Christmas cards to them were signed by me, too. The Christmas card they sent went only to their father. I feel a bit deflated, actually, and as though I had failed. A bit of the fun has gone out of making the lists for the kids next year. I know I'm not in any way their mother and I don't want to be, but I was hoping at least I am a friend.

Oh well.

I can tell you that I used to ignore my stepmother. I used to neglect and forget her. I stopped doing that about 6 years ago, and I sent her a card apologizing as I now know that she's the best thing in the world for my dad and that's all that matters. Now I send her birthday cards and presents and wish her luck before each of her marathons. Maybe someday I can get to that stage with Angus' kids, too. They'll be here tomorrow, so I hope it goes well and I hope they have a nice time visiting.

I went to bed that night, curled up next to a loving boyfriend/radiator, who held me tight through the night.

Christmas gave way to Boxing Day, which is a holiday I had always thought of as a Canadian event as I'd had a Canadian calendar when I was a kid and it had this foreign Boxing Day thing. I don't really know what the point of Boxing Day is, but it's a day off and we all planned to gather round at Angus' mother's house. The morning of Boxing Day Angus went to make coffee, and I emerged from the guest room and sat on the top of the stairs. As I sat there, the three little girls, their hair in wild waves from braids let loose before bed, came padding up the stairs to me, big grins on their faces. Pajama bottoms dragging on the floor behind their heels, they giggled quietly and as they came to the top step they all sat down on top of me, smiling and smelling warm and making me grin like mad. This must be what Christmas with kids is. The warm moments when they sit on your lap like a warm loaf of bread, happy and tired.

I was happy to be there. I had a great Christmas, I have a lovely boyfriend, and I am looking forward to the Melissa and Jeff visit later this week.

-H.

Because she asked, and even though I fucking hate memes, I had to do it for her, in the extended entry. more...

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December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas

A year ago I was struggling with Christmas. I had in myself the sad and commanding sounds of being a grown up, the demands that Christmas should be catered to as an alter to tinsel, shopping, and commercialism. Christmas was for kids, and I was a kid stuck in a grown-up's body, thus I was on the adult side of the fringe. I wasn't a Scrooge, I didn't despise the holiday, I just didn't feel that holiday cheer infection that Hollywood, staring down the banister at Santa Claus putting presents under the tree, or a philanthropist feels. Christmas had left me behind.

But at some point last season, I got Christmas again. I thought back on my history with Santa Claus and I decided that the whole season, it didn't have to be lost just because I had grown up, and grown up dark and bitter inside. Santa came to visit, the holidays passed, and I learnt that Christmas is something you have to work on, to want, to need.

Two weeks ago I went to visit my psychotherapist, a man that I trust instinctively, a man that I know is the only one who can get me through the maze in my head, a man that I know, at some point, I may turn against as the whole sordid mess starts to come out. In that visit, one thing was uttered to me that split the foundations of the walls I had put up so many years ago, walls I was busy re-inforcing with titanium, as a new millenium dictates new materials to keep me well away from the world and from myself. I had a falling apart that I saw ran in parallel lines to the one in Good Will Hunting, and when I watched that scene I felt raw and chafed inside.

My therapist told me I am described as "walking wounded". I told him my own description of me is "an imposter of the living." When I told him that, he broke down and told me that he hadn't heard anything so awful in a long time.

Welcome to my world, Doc.

Two weeks ago there was a change, and now I find I am, unbelievably, different inside. My Christmas Carol series was based on this change, this rumble and roar inside of me is something I can't figure out, but somehow I am seeing the world differently. I don't know why. I can't figure out what's changed. But something has, and in the early stirrings of rubble I see that I am still so completely broken and fractured, but I have been reached inside and someone knows that I am in here.

We have a very long, very painful road ahead.

But I've seen the difference a day makes.

Two weeks ago my doctor drove through the first defences, and inside I can feel it. Although I am far from fixed, something inside of myself has started to stop loathing the very sight and feel of me with every ounce of her being. Instead of being scared, instead of running (which I am so good at, so adept at strapping on those running shoes), I'm going to go on until every last fucking cobweb is removed. I'm going back to the beginning. I owe it to myself, or more to the point, I owe it to the little girl inside of me, the one I locked in there and never let out as I punish her and myself for being so fucking awful.

Freaky shit, really.

So two weeks ago my eyes opened just a bit. I may be an imposter of the living, but my finger? It's real. It's alive. It's just a matter to get to the rest of me.

And I have Christmas this year. I have it buried in my heart and head and that living little finger. I see the Christmas decorations and I love them. I sing carols all day and I have the house decorated and Christmas is the most fantastic of all seasons. I actually love Christmas and hold it deep inside my heart, wrapped in a layer of quiet and reverence.

A week ago I was in Covent Garden shopping. There was a singing group downstairs, playing with brilliant light, and I stood at the banister and listened, silencing my phone, my Blackberry, my heart. They played magnificently, and when they put their instruments down and announced that they were going to sing O Come All Ye Faithful acapella, I knew it would be good. And as the sound soared and carried across the halls of Covent Garden market, it was. It reached in and enveloped the hardened parts of myself, the sadness and sweetness of Christmas around my legs like a cat, around my through like a scarf. When they were done, I was crying, and it was Christmas, it was Christmas, it was Christmas.

Christmas is in 4 days. I can't wait, and as I look forward to it, I wonder what's next, both in the holiday season and in that quiet room I talk to my therapist in. What happens to walls? What happens to the person that I have for so long thought I was, that horrible disgusting loss to humankind? What happens now that blue is no longer blue?

If I can be redeemed, then we all can.

Merry Christmas to you all.

-H.


PS-and you may not believe it, but that angel on the table I talked about in my Christmas Future post? She's real. My grandmother gave it to me years ago. I pulled it out of the box this past weekend, and I was floored to see that her wing has, indeed, been broken. I couldn't believe it, it was just like I had written. She is going to be repaired, and will be a part of many Christmasses to come. There is hope again for her.

Sounds familiar.


My Angel.jpg

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December 20, 2005

Water Works

A few Fridays ago Angus, my mate Peter and his lovely wife, and Jeff and his wife all went to have an evening Christmas break. As is our yearly tradition, I reserved us all rooms at a Hotel Du Vin, home of The World's Greatest Showers Ever. This, despite the fact that my corporate card was screaming in protest and my own Visa card was warning me that despite the fact not all Christmas presents were bought yet, objects in mirror may be closer than they appear so seriously, consider a doll made out of lanyard as a Christmas present, ok? Hotel Du Vins are small hotels in strange locations, all usually made out of a building that once was something else (and since recycling is my thing, I support them wholeheartedly). This Hotel Du Vin happened to be a former brewery, and one that Angus and I hadn't been to.

The town is called Henley-on-Thames, and when we arrived it was a typical misty, murky English winter evening, all moody and men screaming on the moors for the woman that is way out of their league. I love this weather, and Angus' pictures make me want to curl up on the couch in front of a fire with a bottle of wine.


Christmas Evening.jpg

Christmas Evening 2.jpg


When we arrived, we immediately raced for the bathroom. Not because I had had too many Mountain Dews or because Angus had an issue with breaking the seal, but because Hotel Du Vins have the aforementioned World's Greatest Showers Ever. The shower head is the size of my dream pizza. It is like being under a waterfall, only without the tropical island or fears of something creepy being in the bottom of the lagoon.

The shower didn't disappoint.


Worlds Greatest Shower Ever.jpg


Ignore my freakish looking eyebrows.

We showered, shagged, and got dressed up for dinner. I had bought a beautiful necklace from Paris, one that looked as though it was made of flowers, and had been waiting for just such an occasion to wear said necklace. We dressed up, and then made our way to dinner. Around the table I'd laid what the English call Christmas Crackers-these are enormous cardboard things that look like Tootsie Rolls. You pull on both ends and they made a loud popping noise (which is why some airlines ban them as they do have a tiny explosive in them), and a paper crown and a toy of some kind is inside. This means you have to spend the rest of dinner wearing a stupid fucking crepe paper crown and covet your neighbor's toy, until you get them drunk enough to exchange their flashlight on a key ring for your miniature egg timer, at which point-HAHAHAHAHAHAHA-the joke is on them.

I dressed up but apparently hadn't realized that my lipstick was all wrong, and I looked like a future Buffy the Vampire Slayer target.


Christmas.jpg


I told you-I'm not posh.

It was a lovely dinner despite my food phobias, and the wine flowed, the conversation flowed, and I was pleased to be away with the added bonus of it being a corporate event, so the guilt was limited. We were all on good behavior, and even exchanged gifts-I was thrilled to death with my gift when I found Peter and Jeff had gotten me a label maker. Strange gift choice I know but I fucking love those things. I had my hands on one of them at one point during the project and it was no-holds barred. Everything was labelled. People's laptops, phones, desks, walls...you name it. It all got labelled.

It has continued at home, actually. Angus now regularly hides my label maker from me, to no avail. I know those games, baby, but that label maker needs me! The printer says "Yo ho, yo ho a pirate's life for me!" Our downstairs monitor says "Hi. My name is Bob." And that's just for starters.

Nothing is safe.

Nothing.


Labelled Mumin.jpg


After dinner we had a bath together, along with a bottle of champagne, and Anugs moved the LCD TV to the doorway of the bathtub so we could watch Ann Robinson's Weakest Link, shouting the answers at the TV and cursing those that don't bank (see? We're not posh.) The shower was fantastic, but the bathtub? That's heaven.


Rubber ducky.jpg


We slept well, Angus waking me up in the morning, and as we had breakfast with Peter and his wife we all talked about how tired we were, how utterly worn out, not to mention how broke and underpaid. We hugged and wished each other well. We drove home in happy company, Angus and I in high spirits, and when we got home there was a red box in the mail. I opened it, and found to my amazement that I had been treated to a Red Letter Day. A Red Letter Day is a day off, paid for by the company, to do different activities. Some are smaller activities, like the one I received a year ago to take helicopter lessons. This was the Gold Red Letter Day, the highest one, and a voucher for any number of activities-extreme yachting, fighter jet flying with the RAF, a day at a spa, an overnight trip in London at a 5 star place, parachuting for me and 3 friends, or the one I am going to do-a trip on the Orient Express. I was shocked, and shaking the letter out of the box, I lean heavily against the kitchen counter as I find it is a thank-you gift from Dream Job for the success of the rocket riding gerbil.

That, and I get a Christmas bonus of £5000.

Santa Claus? I love you. Do you gift wrap bills due for payment?

-H.

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December 19, 2005

As Long As I Know Where I Am In Relation To Mombasa

14 December 2005

Dear Laptop Who Hates Me But Which I Use In Lieu of a Diary Because That Way I Don't Have to Carry Too Much Crap In My Already Crap-Filled Bag,

I am flying to Helsinki for business meetings. I am in the front row seat, the seat that allows one to take one's shoes off and prop their feet up against the bulkhead. I am, in fact, doing so wearing blue and white striped toe socks that have candy canes on the bottom of each of the toes. I love these seats. I love even more that my Evil Boss is five rows back thanks to the collusion I had with the ticket counter guy. And that the seat next to me is empty, so I spend my time transferring things from my briefcase to the seat to my lap and back again, worrying the guy on the end as he realizes that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and baby I own these two seats. The seat next to me emptied just after we were airborne, as the guy with the poncy name on his boarding pass-Edgar von Baggendorffer or something like that-decided he couldn't possibly sit next to someone like me, someone who is wearing glasses and smells a bit like last night's alcohol, someone wearing jeans a size too big and a monstrous Marks and Spencer's cardigan. Plus he really threw a hissy when he saw the toe socks, and the fact that my laptop is fucked up and I have to hold the laptop screen almost vertical as otherwise the backlight goes off. So he moved away.

For this, I do not complain.

I'm on a Finnair flight, and I dig Finnair as not only are all the announcements made in Finnish, Swedish and English. I like the announcements, as although I don't speak Finnish, I can cover the Swedish and English bases and I try to figure out what words might be the same. They have a screen that comes down from the overhead compartments and shows what you're flying over so you can see beneath the plane even as you take off. From time to time the plane progress screen is mingled with a large animated map which shows the plane's progress from London to Helsinki. Thankfully, the map is large, and Finnair also shows on the map where we are in relation to Mombasa, which is a relief as I am constantly trying to figure out where I am in relation to Mombasa. That, and it's nice to be a backseat driver, so that I know if we cross that equator I can holler at the pilot if he could veer a little to the right, please?

I have much work to do, but am still feeling pretty ropy from a hangover. Hair of the dog has already been practiced-who's here to police me if I want a glass of wine at 11 am, after all, it's 1pm Helsinki time, and shouldn't I be trying to go native?

For some reason I can't put my finger on, I am feeling extremely odd about the trip. I haven't been to Finland in a few years, and although I have always liked Helsinki, something about this trip has me feeling off-kilter. It's not just the fact that I am going with my Evil Boss, because I am, but there's something that reminds me terribly of the Long Dark Winter, the winter of my discontent.

I'm sure I will be fine. We've been booked on business class seats and are staying in a five star place (the annoying companion that we have to go on the trip with pointed out to me that this is the finest hotel in Helsinki, and we must stay there, and the reason it is so perfect is Shania Twain stayed there. To which I think-Is this man serious?). I have a list of things to buy, and I love walking around Helsinki. It's a full day of meetings on Thursday and part of Friday, then a flight back home in time for dinner. We are being taken out to dinner on Thursday night, me, Evil Boss, Frank the Scottish wonder and annoying companion guy that drives me nuts. Evil Boss keeps trying to explain Scandinavian things to Frank and I, as he lived in Finland for 6 months. It's doing my head in as I gently remind him that I have been to Helsinki many times and, in fact, lived in Sweden for nearly 5 years, so I think I get the general mojo of Scandinavia just fine, thanks. He's been constantly telling me that I should expect it to be dark and cold, and I think: No shit, Sherlock. I sat on a fucking armchair and drank my way through one Scandinavian winter, how about them apples?

The business class toilet had many fresh wipes in a basket. For reasons I do not understand, I felt it was necessary to load up on those bad boys. I guess they don't expect fresh wipe kleptomaniacs to fly business class but if that's the case, I have news for them.

(Dear Laptop-this is where I ceased writing on you as, predictable piece of lovable shit that you are, the battery started to go. After 20 minutes. Seriously. Proving that indeed, portability is an optional feature on laptops. The rest of this post is all re-cap, baby.)

When we arrive in Helsinki I am asked, for the first time ever, of proof that I have a return ticket out of Helsinki. I have been all over and never once been asked to do this, but I show him my e-ticket with a shrug. I love Finland but historically they've not been especially embracing with regards to immigration-I remember reading that in 2002 they allowed 6 people to enter Finland with leave to stay. I show my ticket to prove I am not among those 6, and with a stamp from the the customs agent I made my way into Helsinki in a cab with the others.

And it's beautiful.

Snow and ice patterned everywhere. A tram moved smoothly up the road, and the darkness sat on the capital like a wool scarf. The hotel was fantastic, an absolute luxury-I even had a chandelier in my entryway, which is a huge mistake as items break within a 3 mile radius of me, in sheer anticpiation of my clumsiness. A chandelier is just asking for trouble (as proof, I offer you my life when I was 15. A chandelier actually fell on my head. It was made of iron, and I had stitches and now have a weird shaped bump on the bottom of my skull to prove it. So yes, chandeliers? Not so much). I had an enormous bathtub and two showers in the room (why, one must ask?) The toilet had its own little room, you know, in case it started to develop a complex, complete with another handheld shower unit whose function escaped me.


Helsinki Hotel Room.jpg


Yeah. And that's just the bedroom part of my room. My favorite food in the world is macaroni and cheese-someone like me, I am so not posh.

We went to dinner, I did a bit of shopping (Finland makes Aarikka, which is hands-down the coolest kitchen gear in the whole wide word ever. I collect the duck stuff myself-I've included the link, and there's masses of amazingly cool stuff on the website, so just be brave and click the hypertext with too many vowels because again-I don't speak Finnish. But their kit is great.) That night I sat in my boxers and T-shirt with the window open, overlooking the silent city from the eighth floor. While waiting for a sleeping tablet to kick in, I watched the silent streets and felt the slight draft through the window. I tried to find the silent part in myself that sat through the dark silent Scandinavian winter two years ago. I felt the cloth around me, I could tell that darkness was only a stone's throw away.

So I stood up and went to bed, and slept soundly and solidly all night long.

The next day was the day of business meetings. I dressed up and met the others for breakfast, all of us turned out in our business kit. Evil Boss led the way in the meeting, and I had to rub my eyes as often as possible, as it was such a long day. There was much posturing and preening, and Evil Boss, unable to remember all of the Finns names, simply resorted to calling them all Matti (a common male Finnish name, but alas, not the names of those in the room). When the day was over it turned out we made it all the way through the agenda in one day, so Friday morning would be ours.

Before the meeting I had time to walk around a bit. Regardless of where you are, if you open your windows you can smell a strange, burning plastic kind of smell. That smell? It's my Visa card. We got to know each other well. I visited Marimekko and Ittala. Finnish design is, to me, amazing-clean and simple. I walked around a Christmas market and breathed in the bitter cold air, feeling it sweep out months of London smog from my lungs in one exhale. I don't speak Finnish, Finnish is a language on a line related to Turkish and Japanese, I believe, and my Finnish extends to knowing how to say "thank you" and, for some reason, "welcome!" Lucky for me Swedish is the official second language, and so I can figure my way around as long as the signs have the second language.


Some Helsinki Signs.jpg


We were taken out for dinner, and when the dreaded event was over once again I met up with my friend the sleeping tablet. I waited for it to work again and watched Strictly Come Dancing in my pajamas, the curtains open to the falling snow. I slept like the dead, and when I woke up it was knowing that I had 9 hours of sleep under my belt. I woke, ate breakfast, and walked around the city, taking pictures of the stunning church I had first seen 6 years ago, the trams, the signs, the life that holds Helsinki in motion.


Helsinki Church.jpg


And I was constantly afraid-afraid that the darkness I knew in Stockholm would sink in to the darkness of Helsinki. Afraid that I didn't actually escape the depression, it's just been waiting for me to come back to the archipelago again. Afraid that people would point at me, laughing, saying We know her-she spent a Swedish winter in the dark, motionless and alone.

Instead I came home with a suitcase full of Christmas presents and a business deal done. I came home to a house ready for Christmas ornaments, complete with the Finnish star at the top of the tree that I brought back with me. I came home. The darkness, it's still out there, but I will kick the darkness' ass with my new Aarikka duck keychain, and I will tell myself that not every place I go has to have my ghosts, too.

-H.

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December 16, 2005

Quick One...

I have just got home from the airport after spending three days in Helsinki for business (more on that later).

Champagne is chilling in the fridge.

The house in Ovaltine has been sold-contracts signed and money exchanged.

We are free-the house is no longer ours.

And you know what? We talked to the owner of our beloved Blackberries, the house of our dreams, the house we lost twice and I cried bitterly each time. We talked to her, and we talked to her...

...and it's ours again.

God Bless us, everyone!

Tiny Tim can kiss my ass.

-H.

PS-note to self: go to Finland more often. Not only is the shopping utterly fantastic, but good things seem to happen when I do.

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December 13, 2005

The Ghost of Christmas Future

Alone again, I sit down on the floor, my back resting against the couch. I fold my freezing feet under me and look at the black coal dust laying here, there, everywhere on the living room floor. The shape that Bob made against the wall is there as well, and if I look at the spot long enough, I see it makes the shape of a question mark. I look back at the floor and cry silently.

A second later I hear a small sound in the kitchen. I don't look up. The sound progresses towards me, until I hear a massive crash in the kitchen, as my next ghost crashes into the clothes drying rack we'd set up in front of the radiator.

"Oh, gosh! Sorry! I'm terribly sorry!" comes the soft male voice. I turn my head to the doorway and there, walking into view, is a man.

"What, I'm finally being visited by someone who doesn't need a flea collar?" I ask, wiping tears off of my cheeks.

"What? Oh yes. Right. The other two. Well, we do come in many shapes and sizes, you know," chortles my new ghost. As he makes his way into view, I see him clearly. He's dressed all in dark navy blue, with bright red epaulets and a ridiculous hat on. He has long brown sideburns and completely round Harry Potter-like specatcles. On his hands are white gloves, and in one hand he holds a shiny silver trumpet.

"Are you serious?" I ask. "I've been sent a Salvation Army ghost?"

The Ghost of Christmas Future looks down at his trumpet. "Oh right. The trumpet. Well, we all had other things we did in life before we got here. I used to play for them at the holiday times, yes."

"Are you serious?" I ask again, dazed.

"Oh yes. Serious indeed, yes. I am the Ghost of Christmas Future, but you can call me Reginald."

"I've been sent a Salvation Army trumpet player named Reginald?" I reply stupidly.

"I know it might seem surprising, but yes. That's the scope of things." Reginald walks into the room and sits on the edge of the couch. His trumpet reflects the light of the Swedish Christmas lights we have in the window, and reflects it back into little crescents of light throughout the ceiling of the living room. His black patent leather shoes squeak as he rocks his toes backwards and forwards inside of them.

I reach out and take Reginald's hand-reassured for once by the solid familiarity of a ghost whose corporeal form is a little more recognizable-and we walk out the front door. I am no longer shocked by finding myself somewhere else, only I try to close my eyes and accept that where I go and what I see is going to depress and horrify me. As my toes curl out and stretch down, waiting for purchase, I feel a sigh shudder through me as I watch my feet.

And when my toes find something solid, I see the ground beneath my feet consists of smooth, worn hardwood floors. They are very dark and scabbed, something old, something new. My toes slide neatly along the floor, the grooves like marble against my skin. I look around and see that I am in a long, lovely room. Ice has formed over the sash windows, which look thick and sturdy, eyes to the world for over a hundred years. On one wall is a roaring open fire, the red flames greedily eating the logs that pop and crackle from time to time. The mantle is covered with pictures that are too far away for me to see, and the walls are a smooth warm amber color, the ceiling high. Near a window is a tall Christmas tree, covered in sparkly fairy lights and brightly colored balls. On the top of the tree is a white angel, her arms held wide in a gesture of forgiveness, of acceptance, of love.

'Look!' I shout to Reginald, pulling away. I walk to a small side table, staring in wonder. There, on the table, is the white glass angel that my grandmother gave me many years ago. One of her outstretched wings has broken in the past, and been repaired. 'It's my angel,' I whisper to Reginald. 'But what is she doing here?'

Reginald smiles and adjusts his glasses. 'Just watch, Helen. Watch and see.'

I stare at the room. Outside of one of the windows I can see, just above the frost, the icy pull of water. It is foam-topped and gray, a wintry pallor over it, but there it is-the water view I have always longed for. I run my hand on the mahogany table that holds my angel, and I give a start as I hear footsteps.

Walking into the room, a tall dog at her heels, is me.

I am older, much, much older, but it is me. My hair is shoulder length and completely gone white with age, shot through with thick streaks of gray. I have a number of wrinkles and my chin seems to have disappeared, but my eyes look just the same. I see, embedded on my cheek, the scar from the mole that was removed. I move slowly, with some care, but not as though I am in any pain. My hands-my hands!-they are so wrinkled and fragile looking, the nubs of the joints showing as I bend my fingers to touch the dog on the top of the head. I am dressed in a thick sweater and a long fleece skirt, and beneath the edge of the skirt I see, true to form, that I am wearing thick yellow slippers with some unidentifiable cartoon character on it with round boggy eyes.

'That's Ronaldo the Rhino,' Reginald says, pointing to the slippers. 'He hasn't been invented yet, but you're going to love him!'

The older me is humming to myself, and I watch in wonder as she goes up to the tree and straightens a ball that has gone wonky. I watch my old hands manipulate the ornament and right it, and as I do so, the old me starts to sing in a high, soft voice, Silent Night. The dog curls up by the fire on a thick red rug, groaning softly with delight at the warm fire.

'Settle in, Fido,' the Old Me says with a laugh. I start at the name-did I name my dog after the Ghost of Christmas Past? Really? Fido looks up at Old Me and blinks a few times, chuffs softly, and lays his head back down. 'It's just you and me in here,' Old Me says wistfully. 'It's just you and me. I think for dinner we'll have macaroni and cheese, what do you say?'

I heave a deep sigh. At least my favorite meal hasn't changed, even if I am all alone to eat it. I turn to Reginald, the sight of the Old Me in my periphery vision, still straightening the ornaments. 'So this is my future? I am old and alone, in a beautiful house with just a dog as my companion? I mean, I get it. I'm going to die all by myself, a hermit surrounded by a lovely home, and people aren't even going to care. It'll be just me.' I start to cry. I hate my fucking self so much I can't bear the feel of it in my young skin, let alone my old skin. 'At least I'm not a crazy cat lady! OK! At least I don't have a hundred fucking cats which I call my children. I get it. I'm alone. Can we move on now?'

Reginald reaches his arms out for me and holds on to my shoulders. I feel the edge of his trumpet along my right arm, the cold metal cutting through my pajamas. He looks me in the eyes, and I see he has dark brown eyes, so dark I can't even see the pupils begin and end. 'Watch and listen, Helen.' He says softly and urgently. 'This is all part of a bigger piece.'

I snuffle hideously and look into the pupil-less eyes. 'What piece? There's no puzzle here. I get it. I don't ever reach out to anyone, I don't ever forgive and forget, I never move on.' I am crying freely now, sobbing my heart out on a Salvation Army ghost. 'I am trapped inside myself forever, I am the ice queen, the white witch, the one that is destined to live and die alone as I just can't do it. I can't make a break outside of myself. I gave up. I give up. The fucked-up, the crazy, we get to live long, tragic lives, and we get to do it alone.'

I swallow and shudder and open my mouth when I hear-

'Helen? Are you in the lounge?'

And I am speechless.

I stare at Reginald, my eyes huge and full of tears. Reginald smiles, leans in and kisses my forehead, and whispers again, 'Watch and listen, Helen. Watch and listen.'

'I'm in here, darling!' The Old Me shouts. I watch as she turns enough to the doorway so that her fleece skirt brushes against the bottom of the tree. Fido raises his head, and his tail thumbs out a heartbeat of welcome. I look at the doorway as the approaching sound of footsteps echoes on the smooth boards, and there in the doorway, is what I never expected to see.

'Angus!' I scream. 'Angus! Angus! It's Angus!' I drop to my knees as the Old Me walks forward and reaches an arm out, smoothly kissing him and smiling up at him. Angus has aged just as dramatically as I have, his hair also completely white. His face is as deeply lined with wrinkles as mine is, and sadly he has resorted to the type of sweater vests reserved for those that don't give a shit about fashion anymore. But he is there, in the room.

'I thought you weren't due back from your bother's until tomorrow,' Old Me says with reproach.

'Some watchdog you are!' Angus chides Fido, who hastens the staccato of the tail on the floor in response. 'I was bored to tears, darling. I had to leave, and anyway we'd finished the re-wiring anyway. Have you eaten?'

'No, not yet. Fido and I hadn't gotten around to it, yet.' Old Me admitted.

'Helen, you know you're supposed to eat regularly. You have to eat with the medication, doctor's orders.' Angus admonishes me.

'You should talk! I saw that someone had once again neglected his blood pressure medication on the kitchen table this morning!' I rebuke back.

'I don't need the tablets! My blood pressure is fine, I'm completely fit.'

Old Me laughs and wraps an arm around Angus' waist, as he slides an arm around my shoulders and we walk out of the room, Fido bounding up and at our feet. 'Come, darling, let's go whip up some dinner. I fancy a curry'¦'

I am still on my knees in the living room. Reginald places a solid hand on my shoulder. 'This is your future, Helen. This is what is ahead.'

I have my hands clasped over my mouth as tears stream down my face. 'I still have Angus. It can't be all bad. I still have Angus.'

Reginald sits down next to me, his trumpet clattering on the floor. 'The future doesn't have to be bad, Helen. I mean, I know this one guy once, a real old geezer money bags? His future was really dreadful, but his future isn't every future. This is your future.'

'I can't believe it. How can I be here, and have all of this?'

Reginald smiles and indicates the fireplace. I look at all the pictures lining it, and standing, I walk over to it. On the mantel are pictures of faces I know and love, but only just recognize. There's one of Melissa, laughing with two teenage boys on a beach. She has her arms around them, a bright smile on her middle-aged face.

'Melissa has kids?' I ask, breathlessly.

'She does. And she's very happy.' Reginald replies, standing behind me.

I see a picture of my father, a completely wizened creature, as we sit at a table together. 'It's my dad.' I say, breathlessly. 'But he can't still be alive.'

'He's not, I'm afraid,' intones Reginald. 'He died some years back. But when he did, you were at his side.'

I turn to him, holding the picture. 'I was?'

'Yes. Although the two of you were close, it wasn't a complete catharsis in life. There were many unsaid things between the two of you, but at least you were there for him. You always promised you would be, and sure enough, when the end came, you were.'

I hug the picture close to me. I continue looking down the mantel. There's a picture of Angus and I laughingly holding up scuba kit. A picture of Jeff holding up an enormous fish, a ridiculous cap on his head. A picture of Angus with his kids and-I can only assume-his grandkids. A picture of Angus and I dressed up at a registry office, signing our names in a book that will make our names one. And there, on the side of the fireplace, is a picture of a middle-aged me with my arms around a young woman in a cap and gown. We both look so happy, and I notice with a shock, we both have the same smile. My hand shaking, I reach out for the photo and hold it like it's made of china.

'Is this'¦?' I ask hoarsely.

'That's your daughter, Helen. That's your daughter.' Reginald says softly.

I am crying as I trace the picture with my fingers. 'I have a daughter. I can't believe it. I have a daughter.'

I hear a sound outside the window and see a car pull up. The Old Me and Angus are walking outside, arms outstretched, and as the car door opens I see my daughter emerge. She is laughing, long dark hair and bright red coat on. She grabs us both and hugs us, and then opens the back door, reaching in, and emerging with a squirmy happy bundle a moment later who immediately opens its arms to a happy and grinning Angus, who has his arms open to receive the baby in kind.

'It's her.' I croak to Reginald. 'It's her and her baby.'

'They're surprising you for Christmas,' Reginald laughs. 'Surprise! She's a few days early, and Melissa and Jeff and their kids will be here tomorrow.'

I sob, holding the picture. 'I can't believe this is my life. You don't understand. This is my dream. This is what I want, this can't be what will be. I can never get here, I can never get to this. I don't get good things, it just isn't the way it is. I don't deserve it.'

Reginald sinks to the floor, crossing his legs and letting his trumpet hit the floor with a soft cling. He looks at me. 'This isn't about what you deserve. This is about getting to where you are headed. Your past, your present'¦they're just a part of what you become, but they don't have to be all that you become. Your future has so much good in it. Not everything will be perfect, there is setback and heartache, there is a great deal of loss and pain. There is so much work for you to do. But the bottom line is, you are going to create this future. You can create this future. The reason you were chosen to see it all is simply because you're falling down in your present, kid. You're falling down, you're beginning to doubt, you're beginning to give up and not see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is beautiful.'

I smile and look at his trumpet. 'Do Salvation Army guys ever play those things?'

Reginald looks down and picks up the trumpet. He licks his lips and burses them, puts them to the trumpet and plays a note that is loud and clear and beautiful. I close my eyes, and when I open them, I am back in my living room, the silent darkness reverberating from the echo of that note. I walk up the stairs and climb into bed, snuggling tight next to the furnace that is Angus.

'You know what I want for Christmas? I want a do-over. And if I can't have a do-over, I just want that stocking I made as a child. That's all I want. And you better keep taking your blood pressure medication,' I whisper, crying into his shoulder.

'The train's at platform 1!' shouts Angus, still asleep.

I lay down in the bed of my future, and I dream about a glittery red Christmas stocking hung by the fireplace, silver glitter falling to the ground in a halo.

-H.

Posted by: Everydaystranger at 03:32 PM | Comments (29) | Add Comment
Post contains 2849 words, total size 15 kb.

December 12, 2005

The Ghost of Christmas Present

I sit down quietly on the couch, wondering what the hell is going on. I feel chilled and grab the well-loved throw off the back of the couch, wrapping it around myself. From under the couch comes a bump and a jolt as one of the cats decides the coast may be clear.

A fluttering of dust puffs out of the fireplace. I look wonderingly at it, wondering if yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he is coming out of my fireplace. There is a rustling sound which sends the cats back under the couch, and a splatting sound that is followed by a string of swear words so ripe it even makes me blush. I stand up, leaving the blanket on the couch, and as I peer under the brick edge of the chimney a sudden shower of black coal dust coats the room. I see something dark moving...moving...and BAM! I am hit by something solidly the size of a football, and moving at about that speed. I trip over the open box of Christmas cards I left on the floor and look up in time to see the football slam into the wall, leaving an enormous black puffball of coal dust.

"Jesus Christ!" shrieks the football. It slides gracefully down the wall before moving and, in one movement, shakes itself off and frees itself of coal. I see the football isn't actually a football, it's a small barn owl.

"What the hell? Is my house suddenly Mutual of Fucking Omaha? Is Marlin Perkins coming in, too?" I say in wonder, looking at the owl shaking its leg off.

"What are you talking about?" asks the barn owl in a gruff voice.

"You're an owl. An owl! What, they're so desperate for help they hire wildlife now?" I ask. "I suppose you're the Ghost of Christmas Present, or are you just here to tell me how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?"

"I find your churlish remarks to be inane," frets the owl. "And your chimney is filthy, have you ever thought about cleaning it?"

"Didn't you just do that for me?"

The owl cocks his head, considering. "Fair point. OK, I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present, as you guessed. Name's Bob." The owl ruffles its feathers and a tiny wave of dust makes its way to the floor again. "Sorry about that," Bob says, looking down at the perfect halo of black on the floor around him. I look at Bob-he's got soft-looking white feathers down his chest, black eyes, and a line of brown around the bottom of his face like the thinnest of goatees. He's not large, roughly the size of a football, and he hops on slender well-clawed feet over to me.

"Could you bend down here? You're doing my neck in."

"I thought owls could rotate their heads 180 degress," I reply.

"What are you, a Discovery Channel closet case? Just get your ass down here," barks Bob.

I sit cross-legged on the floor as Bob flaps his wings and sits on the edge of the table only recently righted by Fido. He fluffs his feathers again, and I find he smells like soil, hay, and blueberries. He clicks his off-white beak together a few times and cocks his head to look at me. "Now Helen, I'm here to take you through your present. There's a lot going on that you don't really see, not really, and we have to fix that. You're not well, kid. Not well at all. And it's sad, 'cause it's only going to go downhill from here."

I watch him silently, thinking I've heard all of this before.

He clicks his beak again and, raising his wings with no effort at all, he floats up onto my shoulder. His claws settle in reassuringly on my shoulder, holding tight but not too tight. His weight is comforting and solid.

"Stand up, kid, and let's go for a walk, ok?" he twits.

"Ok." I say, standing. He settles himself in and balances as I stand up, and we walk to the door. "And Bob? If you leave a present down my back I'm going to be really pissed off."

"Don't pressure me, I've had a lot of coffee today," tweaks Bob, as I reach for the doorknob and open the door. As we step out the front door, once again my foot doesn't reach the soggy Ikea doormat outside the step. Instead I find myself in my mother's living room, her living room in Dallas, her living room so far away. It's just as I remember it-the plush couches forming an imaginary battalion, her hardwood floors slick and shellacked. On the dining room table a festive bowl of holly is set out, along with the detritus that my mother always used to collect and pick up and move around in the eventuality of it finding its home-bills, a tube of lipstick, a pair of fingernail clippers, a few CDs.

Bob coughs next to me. He looks at me, holding a wing over his beak. "Sorry. Pellet coming later on."

The Christmas tree is lit up in a corner, and I turn to it, looking for the familiar ones. Somewhere on the tree should be that horrible plastic of Paris ornament of a Victorian woman I painted when I was about 6. She has a garish face because I couldn't manipulate a paintbrush very well, so the black for her eyes melted across her face like a turn-of-the-century Batman. Her thick heavy purple gown should stand out among the tree...but try as I might, she's not on there. None of the crap ornaments I made as a kid are on there, as I see that the tree is actually not composed of any homemade ornaments at all, it has uniform, crisp, fresh-looking glass balls.

"That's funny. Mom always used to use the homemade ornaments," I say softly, more to myself, and Bob doesn't answer but I feel his head turn to look at me. I make my way through the quiet house. The dogs are there, and even though Bob gives a nervous hoot when he sees them, they don't even turn their ears up to Bob and I as we walk through the hallway. They can't see us. We aren't here. No one is home at my mother's house, and as I pass a corner I see the stockings hung up on the wall-there is a stocking for everyone, including the dogs...but there is no stocking for me.

Bob turns to look at me again. "You weren't expecting one, were you? You're not really a part of anything, Helen. Things go on."

"I know," I tell Bob without turning my head. I look around the sitting room and it is unfamiliar. Things have moved on, as they will do. I reach for the back door doorknob and turn the handle, and as we step outside we don't go into the fenced-in backyard, instead I find us standing in the middle of a busy shopping area. People are racing around, looking hassled. I feel stunningly uncomfortable, and my shoulders tense up automatically, causing Bob to hoot nervously and sway with the tension.

"Chill, Helen." Bob instructs. "They can't see you, can't touch you. Just chill."

I look around the shop and see, pausing over a shelf, is my father and stepmother. They are looking studiously at a brightly packaged box.

"Is that something for Helen?" asks my stepmother.

"I dunno," replies my father honestly. "I have no idea what she likes."

"We've been to three different stores already, babe," my stepmother says, exasperated. "We have yet to find anything!"

"She's just so hard to figure out," my father says, ambling down the aisle. "I just don't know her."

I sigh.

"It's funny," Bob says thoughtfully. "I know you're supposed to see the scenes that you're supposed to see. But the truth is, everyone who has been shopping for you is saying the same thing. No one knows what to buy you. No one." I look down an aisle and see Angus puzzling over a gift. Another aisle of the same shop has Angus' Mum holding something cloth and soft-looking, and she seems bewildered. Parallel to that aisle is my mother, holding something in her hand but looking unconvinced. It's impossible that all of these people are in the same store, but there they all are, picking things up and putting them down, wondering what the hell you get for someone you just don't know. "People just don't know you, Helen." Bob says softly. "They can't know you because you don't let anyone know you."

"That's not true!" I shout back at Bob as I watch the entire cast of characters in my life wandering around the same store, half-heartedly trying to figure out what to get me, like characters in a music video. "People do know me! I do let people in! I want to let people in, I just don't know how!"

I turn around and see myself, standing at the checkout. I recognize myself, it's from Thursday last week. I look tired, strained, unhappy. I am drawn, and there are lines around my eyes that I hadn't seen before. I place some items on the checkout belt-two large bottles of fresh juice, some yogurt, two boxes of mince pies.

Bob shakes his feathers gently next to me, and I feel the edges of them on my ear like a whisper. "I see you're buying mince pies for your Asian grandmother. I don't know why you are buying them-she doesn't really care about you, does she? I mean, she saw you earlier in the year, but she didn't come over to see you, she came over to see her other granddaughters. She even said that her other granddaughters were the most beautiful girls ever, right in front of you. I'm sorry, Helen, but you just don't figure in to the equation."

I feel my shoulders slump.

Bob leans gently into my ear. "Why do you try so hard to be accepted, Helen? Why are you trying to hard to be remembered? Why do you chase after people to be loved?"

I watch the mince pies make their way down the belt, and I watch myself smile at the cashier, the smile never reaching my eyes. I am embarassed for the mince pies. I am embarassed for being me. I shake my head and turn to Bob, feeling my tears well up. "What is this, tough love from a bird of prey? Is this the point of my Christmas visits? Are you all here to make me remember how shit I am, how scraping the barrel doesn't begin to sum me up? Is this fun for you, because I can tell you, it's not much fun for me."

Bob leans in and reassuringly takes my earlobe in his beak. "It's all a bigger part of something, Helen. It's all a bigger part of something. You made these walls, you chase these phantoms. I'm just here to show you what you're heading towards."

I shake my head, upsetting Bob, and I shout into the cavernous store, "I'm just fine the way I am! There's nothing wrong with me! I'm just fine!"

And with a soft click of Bob's beak I am back in my living room, tears running down my face and tiny footprints highlighted in black coal dust leading up to the fireplace.

-H.

Posted by: Everydaystranger at 11:13 AM | Comments (12) | Add Comment
Post contains 1931 words, total size 10 kb.

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