Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful, and that’s okay

UnknownIt’s not a secret to anyone who knows me, or reads my work, that the last two and a half years have been the crappiest on record for me. And by crappy, I mean moldy garbage full of week-old salmon crappy. I mean two entire years of shrunken donkey balls and snake excrement. (Snakes do poop, right? I’m too tired to Google it.)

I lost my hero, my sweet and funny dad, in July 2015. I knew I’d lose him at some point, but I had no idea how difficult it would be to not be able to pick up the phone and hear his voice. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after, and it’s been a speedy descent into memory loss and confusion and sundowning and finding 24-hour caregiving and hiring and firing agencies and feeling guilty that I can’t be there in person for her more than a few times a year. My once-vibrant, beautiful, take-no-shit-from-anyone Mom is now virtually helpless. I don’t think she would recognize me if I walked up to her in the HEB grocery store tomorrow. Yet I talk to her daily, trying to help from two states away. Every day, she asks for my dad. She needs him, she says. Where is he?, she asks. Why won’t he come get me? So every day, she has to feel the hurt of either a) his death again, or b) his not being there to take care of her when she needs him. I feel her pain of abandonment physically.

On top of those losses, there have been financial challenges and job transitions and substantial fear for my son’s future in this country and huge hurt from those I thought would always be there for me and let’s not forget important volunteer demands and mass shooting nightmares and months of sleep sacrificed to worry. (I’m sure this is the case for a lot of people right now; I don’t mean to imply my life is worse than anyone else’s. It’s sooo not. Just bear with me as I write through it.)

I told a friend recently that grief is kind of like this: Things always go sideways in life. Tires go flat. Sewer systems fail. Assholes thrive everywhere from Starbucks to the office. But when you’re grieving, your brain can react to those things like, “yes, the sewer repair will cost $8,000 … AND DON’T FORGET your dad is gone forever and your mom doesn’t know you anymore.”

I know I should practice better self-care, but I’m not very good at it. In fact, my body has recently said, F*ck you, in a very loud way, and I’m struggling to recover enough to even eat a bite of turkey on Thursday.

So yeah. Thanksgiving this year? Meh. Whatevs. Nobody really likes the cranberry sauce anyway. Am I right? And pumpkin? Please. There’s no way to make it look any less like runny camel shit. (How many times can I say shit in one post?)

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Buck up, sista! Things could be much worse. Stop yer whining already. You’re thinking that I still have a lot to be thankful for. And I know that. (Of course, I do. I’m sad, not dumb.) And I say those very things to myself all the time.

I have a roof over my head. My son and husband are healthy and happy. I work with some great people. I have good friends and my generous in-laws who seem perpetually on standby to pick us up if any of us fall. I live in Colorado with a view of the foothills from every level of our new home. Nature still surprises me if I let it. Our dogs are still funny and hanging in there most days. And we now have a truly caring and kind team of caregivers helping my mom.

But I wonder.

Why do we force ourselves to pretend, especially during the holidays, that everything is just fine? That we’re living a Target + Kay Jewelers + Folgers commercial?

Doesn’t the sorrow we feel also serve some purpose, just as gratitude does?

Is it just human nature to want others to snap out of it? And if so, why? What do we fear so intensely about sadness? That it will spread like a contagious disease?

The fact is I’m not good at pretending. I don’t have a bluffing face. I’m bad at poker.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re having a tough time, too, it’s okay.

If you feel like you’ve put on a good show for the past year, but you’re tired and have run out of energy to do so now, it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel what you feel.

It’s okay to say you are a little hopeless and lost right now.

It’s okay if you don’t feel like writing a gratitude list.

It’s okay to say “pass” as folks gather around the Thanksgiving table, with everyone saying what they’re most thankful for this year.

It’s okay to binge-eat pecan pie in the garage.

Yes, I’m absolutely sure that we all have much to be thankful for this year. We don’t live in Syria, after all.

But it’s also absolutely ok to acknowledge your wounds.

And honestly, it might even help more than you think to give the Folgers coffee commercials the middle finger every now and then.

 

Getting past grief …

Grief Poem #129

by Kathy Lynn Harris, copyright 2017

 

I saw an older man today

in the January-crisp morning light

walking a fence line—

faded ball cap down, blue flannel shirt,

shoulders hunched against the wind,

breath like smoke

from one of your old Marlboros.

 

And there it is again, that abrupt

catch of throat-breath,

quick-snag of heart.

 

As if I’m 14 and arm-crawling

under a sagging barbed wire fence—

dead weeds in my face,

 

following you into the

next section

of winter-brown pasture.

 

Moving as fast as I can;

trying to prove I’m good

at this sort of thing,

 

thinking I’m in the clear.

 

Then a razor-sharp

rusty prick

hits

 

and the back of my shirt rips

and maybe my right shoulder bleeds

and I realize I had misjudged

time and space …

 

And that I wasn’t past

the worst of it

 

at all.

 

 

Letter to the New Owners

 

Look, it’s my fault, I think.

I must have forgotten to mention the trees. Surely, if you’d known, they’d still be standing.

That little aspen grove in the corner of the yard? They were babies, not higher than my knee, when we moved in 16 years ago. Eight or 10 of them, connected in ways we may never understand. We watched them grow and struggle and grow and then finally thrive. They were a few feet taller than me when we packed the moving truck. They had survived a blizzard that dumped 9 feet of heavy snow on top of them, a storm of a century that broke the branches of our sturdiest pines. They survived several summers when no rain came until early September, when their stressed leaves turned not bright gold but a mustard brown, and fell to the ground in the slightest breeze. But they survived. Provided cool shade from a burning high-altitude sun, allowing ferns and mushrooms to grow in the patches of earth between them. Until now.

And that one thick lodgepole pine by the deck. For 16 years, that tree held the wooden birdfeeder my father built for me with his own hands, and that my husband hung snugly against the trunk, so tight no 120 mph wind in the dead of February winter could send it flying through the woods. I lost my dad two years ago, but I still had that weathered birdfeeder. That he made me. In that tree. Birds of all shapes and sizes ate from that feeder year-round. Chickadees, woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, bluebirds, gray jays, nuthatches, dippers, pine siskins, crows and the incomparable stellar’s jays, with their breathtakingly rich blue-sky wings and screechy call. Red-tailed hawks sat in that tree waiting for a rosy finch lunch, and once, a golden eagle rested there. Right there. My kid learned about birds from watching that tree. He knew the call of a chickadee before he knew any kind of rhyming song. I wrote and edited novels next to it, listening to the noisy chipper games of squirrels and chipmunks.

You see, these trees were quite possibly some of the most spiritual things I’ve ever accepted into my over-cynical mind. If there was a god of some kind, a power in the universe working beyond our control, I figured it must reside in the bark of those trees.

But now. Well.

So for future reference, here are a few other things to note.

The woodstove in the great room is your lifeline. Don’t treat it like an appliance, something that can be replaced easily. It will heat the whole cabin on a 50-below zero night with 60 mph winds howling outside, when there is no way a propane furnace could keep up with that kind of cold. Not all woodstoves pack that kind of punch. But our little one can. And did for 16 years. If you treat it well, it will protect you from the kind of cold you can die from.

Also, there’s a little piece of skinny, floor-to-ceiling wood that frames the closet in the extra bedroom. It has tiny marks and dates, indicating how our son grew, from when he could first stand with his head proudly flush against the wall, his chin a little raised. He’d let me mark his height there, in his room, and spin around to see just how much he’d grown since the last mark was made. We marked his last height the week before we moved. He’s 10. And I know those are our marks, not yours. And yet, they belong to that cabin in a way you don’t yet.

Let’s also talk about the creek behind the house. A selling point for our cabin, no doubt. But there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Stupid people sometimes come up to the mountains and dump their crap back there, near the creek. Don’t ask me why. And the winds, so fierce in the winter, blow things all around on the mountain, too, and a lot if can end up in the creek. So, you’ll have to stay on top of the trash in the spring and early summer. If you want the moose and bears to still visit for fresh drinking water, and the trout to still swim through it during snow melt-off. And that way, if you take care of it, you can sit by it in the summer evenings, listening to the still and then the rush and the flow, and know that it’s not polluted with beer cans and Styrofoam and parts of an old mattress, but quite likely renewing a whole ecosystem downstream. And maybe a part of yourself, too.

There is so much more to say. The little blue spruce that is about 4 feet tall along the rock walkway? I planted that our first year in the cabin. We were broke, but it was on a clearance shelf at Home Depot for $3. I bought it and planted it and cared for it like a child during the years when I suffered miscarriages and the emotional and physical pain of infertility. I couldn’t make a baby, but I could water that tree. After his adoption, my son and I hung Christmas lights on that tree many years. No tree was ever more wanted.

Oh, and the front of the house next to the large boulders? There’s a perfectly sunny spot there in the winter where you’ll want to stack your firewood. Trust me, we tried a lot of stacking locations over the years. But the important thing to remember is that you have to move that wood by middle of May, if there is any left over, because if the ground is allowed to feel the sun, it will eventually spring forth a mountain wildflower garden in late June. Purple fireweed will bloom, and wild roses, and yarrow and sunflowers, and pink clover, and even a few yellow wallflowers, and they’ll change your life every time you see them in the morning light.

The back deck. Where to begin? My son gardened with me on that deck, rode his Big Wheel on that deck. Learned to shovel snow on that deck. Took naps on summer afternoons on that deck. Had picnics on that deck. Laid, wrapped in blankets, on chilly August nights watching meteors showers on that deck. My husband perfected his barbecue techniques on that deck, with his old-school charcoal grill. We’ve listened to music on that deck as a family, made s’mores together around the firepit, wrote songs together, sang Rocky Mountain High together at midnight on that deck, ate lazy summer meals on that deck with good friends and family. A family of raccoons lived under that deck one winter. This year, it was rabbits. Lots of rabbits that our golden retriever mixes would visit 10 times a day. We have had bears on that deck. Red and black foxes that look into the sliding glass door at dinnertime. We made our most important decisions on that deck.

I could go on, but why? Why. We chose to leave. Life moves on. Things change. The raw, unbridled, sometimes-harsh life at the top of a mountain was exactly what I needed when I moved to Colorado from Texas so many years ago. I wanted to be tested. I wanted to heal whatever was broken. I wanted that log cabin and piece of land at 10,500 feet above sea level, with its surrounding snow-capped peaks, to save me, and it did. Again and again and again. I didn’t want to leave that cabin, or my mountain. But I had to, and now. It’s not mine anymore.

You are the stewards.

Please handle with care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New poem for #WorldPoetryDay

World Poetry Day

Breaking

I can count my broken bones

like milestones

like clean breaks

like short stories

maybe Lorrie Moore’s—

funny

but also kind of sad.

 

First-grade nightmares and hardwood floors

driveway basketball with two bare feet

recklessness and dank river air

missteps on a solo mountain hike

impatience in a Target parking lot.

 

But my heart?

You can’t really count

the fragile

hairline

fractures

on a fault line—

eventually spreading

 

like what happens

from the weight of beating

monsoon rains

on long-weathered wood,

rotting, wearing down

strength.

 

moments after days

after weeks after years

 

chipping love and naivety

into what must resemble

rubicund ceramic shards

scattered on an unswept,

linoleum kitchen floor

 

too many unkind boys

and unkind girls,

playground pranks,

and no way to measure

root-scraping betrayal

in familiar trees

or insecure men and unsuccessful lies

or the gradual creep

of a mind-tangled disease

or conversations I’ll never unhear.

 

My bones healed, I suppose

some smoother

and stouter than others,

some reminding me

on the last mile of a long day

that healing takes a long time.

 

But my heart?

It just figures …

that’s the way things are now.

 

 

Maybe We Weren’t That Different

On the surface, one might think my dad and I were not much alike. I’m liberal; he was conservative. I always vote Democrat; he never voted a straight ticket in his life. I saw him cry maybe three or four times in 46 years. I sometimes cry over a dog food commercial or when the fading sunlight catches my child’s face just right, all in the same day. He was rational and logical and a planner. I tend to be impulsive and approach life with the thought of, Why not? I’ll figure out a plan B later. I anger easily and have little patience. My dad demonstrated patience every day of his life — whether teaching a bunch of loud-mouthed eighth-graders or dealing with three daughters arguing over who needs the bathroom next.

I think because of those differences, he didn’t really know what to do with me. He shook his head in subtle disbelief — a lot — when I was around. I was the one who fell out of line. I moved away. I didn’t listen to advice (much). I had no interest in cattle ranching. I’d stay up all night reading when he’d told me, “lights out,” five times before. I wore socks with holes in them so I could afford to travel. I ate Cheetos and drank Dr Pepper for breakfast if the mood hit me. I mowed circles in the yard versus straight lines like he taught me. I chose to live where temps hit 50 below and bears hang out by the front door. Did I mention he shook his head a lot around me?

In fact, my very first memory at age 3 or so is of my dad shaking his head at me, grinning, as I tried to climb over a sagging barbwire fence. He waited to see if I could do it on my own, then quickly picked me up and over when my shoe caught the top wire.

Now that he’s gone, I miss that feeling so much, physically and metaphorically.

But something happened at his funeral that makes me think maybe we weren’t as different as I thought.

After he retired from teaching, my dad worked in my hometown county in Texas helping the area’s veterans and their families get access to benefits they might be eligible for through the VA. His office was in the county courthouse, across the street from the fire station. One of the firefighters came up to me at the funeral to tell me how much he enjoyed getting a wave from Dad in the mornings.

Then he asked me if I knew Dad was trying to help a homeless vet who slept down by the river and who hung out near the station some days. He said my dad would watch for the guy and bring over forms for him to complete. Several times, same forms. Tried to help him fill them out right there in front of the station. Told him about resources. The firefighter friend said my dad would always say, “I’m working on it!” when asked about the man who wandered around town, obviously needing services but not trusting anyone to help him.

I was so proud to hear this story. But it didn’t really surprise me. My dad was the kind of man who would stop on the side of the road to fix someone’s flat or run into a neighbor’s burning stable to get horses to safety.

But hearing the story did make me feel closer to him. Because my husband and son and I, every fall, put together a warm blanket and pajama drive for the homeless folks who stay in Denver shelters as winter moves in. It’s gotten really big over the years, and it’s something we look forward to all year. Last year, we collected nearly a thousand blankets alone. Now, knowing my dad had a soft spot for a homeless vet in my hometown … makes what we do even more meaningful.

I’m sure we had other things in common, too. The love of animals. A strong work ethic. Good books. Credence Clearwater Revival. Stubbornness when pushed.

But the next time I’m home, I just may try to find that homeless man. Maybe I could at least bring him a home-cooked meal or some clean clothes.

I don’t think my dad would shake his head at that.

photo 1

12 Ways to Avoid Crying When You’re Grieving the Loss of a Parent

  1. Do not listen to music. This is especially true of country music. Hip hop may be okay.
  2. Do not commute to work over long distances that leave you with too much time in your head.
  3. Take fast showers, and stay focused on hygiene, not the emptiness.
  4. Avoid looking at family photographs.
  5. Ignore the fact that the holidays will still exist.
  6. Abstain from drinking more than one glass of wine at any one point in time.
  7. Do not travel down Target aisles that pose a threat, such as those where you might see a can of his favorite kind of nuts (Beer Nuts) or catch the scent of Old Spice aftershave.
  8. Talk to your dogs about chewbones, the weather, or anything but how you’re feeling. Especially if they have big, brown-saucer eyes and floppy ears.
  9. Do not allow yourself to linger for very long in the company of compassionate and kind people who ask you how you’re doing.
  10. Do not text your sisters or call your mom.
  11. Tell your husband no thank you when he wants to simply hold your hand or massage your neck.
  12. Amp up your carb intake and emotionally overeat as necessary.

The Circle of Life Can Kiss My Ass

It’s been 26 days since my dad died. It’s been 26 days of waking up every day hoping that losing him has all been just a bad nightmare, and thank goodness, I can call him now and hear him say, “How’s life in the frozen tundra today?”

But I can’t. He’s gone. And it hurts. Like a primal, raw, curl into the fetal position at night, dry sobbing pain. Only worse.  A complete, ugly, want-to-vomit, overwhelming feeling of drowning in emptiness.

He was 74.

He had his first heart attack at 45, and we almost lost him then. But thanks to modern medicine and his strong will, he’d made it almost another 30 years. (After that bypass surgery back then, he quit smoking cold turkey and never looked back. I can’t even stop drinking Dr Pepper.) But if I hear one more person tell me how happy I should be that we had him in our lives for way more than doctors had ever predicted, I may punch them in throat. Twice. Three times. Maybe more.

Because you know what? I wanted 20 more years.

I know I’m in the anger stage of grief right now. You should probably stop reading right now if you don’t want to witness that.

Even though I’m smart enough to know that it does no good, I want to blame the hospital in San Antonio. If only he hadn’t gotten pneumonia or MRSA. After all, they knew he was at risk for both. If only they’d had better technology and infection prevention practices. If only the nurses hadn’t been so understaffed, someone might have been on top of his status, and stopped it, reversed it. Maybe if that one nurse had alerted the doctor on call just a few hours faster.

I want to blame his surgeon. What the hell happened during his procedure? He was never the same. Why did you go on home and relax for the evening when my dad was suffering and in pain? Where the hell were you?

I want to blame his cardiologist. Why didn’t you act sooner to replace my dad’s pacemaker? Why did you let him get so weak? Why didn’t you DO SOMETHING?

I want to blame the doctor treating his Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease. He told you he was getting weaker and weaker. He told you he needed help. You said you’d cure him. You didn’t. You lied.

I know doctors make mistakes. But why weren’t doctors working harder to save his life? Why didn’t just one of those doctors who are now sending their effing bills care enough to figure out how to help him live this time? He’d had some close calls, sure. But even they were all “surprised at his rapid decline.” Paying bills, taking work calls, and making jokes one day. Then a few days later, gone.

I know he’s just a statistic to them. A readmission. A hospital-acquired infection. A never event. A blip on their mortality radar screen.

But he was my father, dammit. And I wanted more. I wanted them to do more.

More, more more more more.

I wanted my son, who worshipped his grandfather (hat and boots and all), to have more time to soak up his rancher/teacher hybrid values and quick wit. For my son to not to have to cry when he reads Hank the Cowdog books now, because Pa was the one who always bought those for him.

I wanted more time to ask him questions. To get his advice. To hear his laugh. To talk football or weather with him. To hear stories of his father and mother and grandparents. College stories. Army stories. Stories about the land he grew up on and tended.

I wanted to hear him say he was proud of me.

I wanted him to be at home when he died, with his dogs near him. Not in some sterile, cold, stupid, dumb medical facility.

I wanted. Anything. Everything.

Oh, I know. I’m not the first person to go through this. I know, I know, I know. And it’s not like I lost a child, right? Or lost him in a tragic, horrible, accident or crime. It was just the circle of life. It happens. We move on.

You know what I say to that? (I probably shouldn’t write that here.) Just suffice it to say that none of that helps right now. It just doesn’t.

And I do appreciate all the well-meaning friends who tell me it gets better. I really do. That the memories will sustain me.

But right now, I don’t want the damn memories. I. Don’t. Want. Them.

I want him. I want our anchor. I want the sturdiness that his simple presence brought to the world.

I want him back, so he can continue to help veterans and their families in his job as a veterans services officer for the county.

I want him back so he can help my mom remember things she needs to remember, but sometimes can’t.

I want him back so his old dog, Jodie, doesn’t look like she’s lost her best friend.

I want him back to help me figure out why the hell my tomatoes won’t grow.

I want him back to figure out what kind of ants these are that are likely moving my home off its very foundation.

I want him back to laugh at the stories I tell about my kiddo and what crazy smart thing he’s done today.

I want him back by Aggie football season. I want him back by Thanksgiving. By Christmas.

Because all of those things seem pointless without him.

He would likely hate this, by the way … what I’m writing. He’d say “That’s the way it goes, kid. You win some, you lose some.” He’d expect me to push through it all, pull myself up by those stupid imaginary ducking bootstraps.

Other well-meaning people also tell me that he’ll always be with me. I do appreciate the sentiment. But remember, I’m angry. And I don’t think so. I mean, this was my dad. Everything was black and white to him. He wouldn’t be one to hang around. He’s already gotten the job done here.

And then there’s that whole heaven thing. I wish I believed in it, I do. I wish I could say for sure that he’s now happier than ever before. He’s back with his parents, his good dogs, his horses, his friends who passed away before him. Sunshine and tequila and unicorns. It all sounds nice. But honestly? It also just sounds like a good story. And no, I don’t want a lecture on Christianity right now, either.

I had to write his obituary, you know. In like 12 hours, to meet the small-town newspaper weekend deadline. (You can read it here, if you want.) I’d have rather written my own.

I don’t like what I wrote now. It’s not enough. It’s too ordinary. It doesn’t capture all that he was. It told the story of a really good man who touched a lot of lives in a small town, but it didn’t tell you so many of the more important things.

It didn’t tell you that he loved peanuts. And a good steak. And any kind of pie my mom makes. That we argued about politics and gun control and gay marriage. That he voted for Ross Perot and I never let him live that down. That he said “I love you” at the end of every phone call, even when he was dying. That he expected straight As from us kids and grandkids. Expected it. That he used to drink Evan Williams whiskey while playing dominoes or sitting in his recliner, holding court. That he used to play volleyball with his Pearl beer cap on backwards, while holding said beer. That he loved Big Bang Theory and Simon & Simon. That his barbecue was legendary. That he would take off work when I came home to visit. That he would take my kid fishing in 100-degree heat, even when he felt like warmed-over cowshit. That he had a party van in the 70s complete with a rocking 8-track stereo and swivel chairs in back. That he could hug and love on a dog all day, but he wasn’t a hugger when it came to humans. That he could get mean when he was working cattle. That he was never sadder than the day he sold them all. That his own father died when he was just 16. That he left a to-do list for my mom titled, “After My Death,” to make sure she got what was coming to her from life insurance, retirement, the Army, etc. That he really and truly loved teaching science, until too-many rules and tests changed how he had to teach. That he had the patience to help my son build a birdhouse at age 7, but got far too impatient with me when I was trying to learn how to mow the yard when I was 9. That he introduced me to Larry McMurtry books. That I never heard him use the F word. That he hated asking for help of any kind. That using a cane was hard on his ego. That he had a way of looking at you that could make you laugh out loud. That he liked Merle more than Waylon and Waylon more than Willie. That he always shined his boots before going dancing at the VFW or KC hall. That he loved to swim when he was younger. That he smelled good when he taught us girls to two-step. That he could grow anything from seed. That he was stubborn. So stubborn. Unbelievably stubborn.

I’ve read all the research, by the way.

One day, they say, I’ll wake up and I won’t be so angry.

And I really do hope they are right.

Because I just heard my son repeat one of my dad’s favorite phrases while watching/playing video-game football on Madden 25 (“Looks like there’s some extracurricular activity going on out there”) and now I’m in the back bedroom. In the near-fetal position.

Writing through my fury.

New Poetry: A Different Seed

texas-bluebonnets-081

 Photo by Texas Parks & Wildlife

So … I’m knee-deep in poetry right now, still.  And I feel almost guilty. I have so many people waiting on my next novel, but I’ve set it aside (again). I’m drawn to poetry and I’m gonna ride this pony til she stops.

Here’s one of my latest that I worked on in a recent Lighthouse Writers workshop. I can’t seem to get the line spacing right on this blog, but it’s close.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

 

A Different Seed

I was born in fields of bluebonnets,

ink-well-sapphire             dense petals spiked in sun-blind white

short-lived in the Texas spring —

each dew-soaked stem

flattened just yesterday

by the sharp nose of the coyote

the hoof-step of the Hereford

hiding the hiss and slither of the rattler —

always bouncing back

seemingly singular,

good for early-morning picking

before the heat sets in.

 

Yet by high noon

it’s never easy

to detach a wilted loner

from the rest      held together by a nest of roots

entrenched in the holy dirt

of Saint Sam Houston

el malvado Santa Anna

battle-blood of the Alamo

sweet bread of the German siedler

rusted barbed-wire of fences

oily cotton boll of the farmer

weather-worn skull of a fire-ant-stricken calf

my grandfather would’ve tried to save.

 

And even though Lady Bird’s highways are lined with them —

musky-sweet flowers,

family ties,

good intentions —

 

not every seed will grow

where planted.

 

Is it easily spread on the wind?

Can it tolerate full sun?

 

And what happens

when

the parched and crisp soil

becomes suddenly drenched,

clay-like —

unable to breathe?

My Kid Has Lost His Mother to a Sleep Number Bed

First, the history: I have slept on the floors of friends’ apartments where smells of cats past were strikingly fresh. I have slept on hotel room floors (I’m gagging thinking about it now) and pull-out couches (those springs can hurt like a mother dog) and non-pull-out-couches (there’s a joke in there somewhere) and even, once, a blow-up pool raft (tequila helped). I have slept on the cold, hard, bumpy ground in Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and a few hundred other campsites from Central Texas to Montana. And for the last nearly 20 years, in my own home, I’ve slept on a mattress that was so old and misshapen that it required special gymnast moves just to get out of it in the mornings. True story. But I didn’t really mind all that much. Gymnast moves keep you young.

But then I hit the mid-40s. And my body became sore from things like, say, unpacking groceries.

I started to make those legit moaning sounds when I would get up from sitting on the floor after playing Hot Wheels with the kid for a long time. I began to hear unnatural creaking sounds in joint areas where I’m pretty sure there should be cartilage. And then, after 14 years of manual snow removal without one injury to my name, I hurt my lower back tossing a big shovel-full of heavy snow over our deck railing. As in, “ummm … holy hell, I may not be able to walk now, or ever again” kind of hurt. And then, several days later, during an epic snowball fight (turns out I could walk again – hallelujah!), I landed smack-dab on my hip, on a bank of concrete-ice.

Suddenly, what I slept on kind of mattered.

And suddenly, the evil advertising gods told me that Sleep Number was having a sale.

And then, I found myself strolling unknowingly into a Sleep Number store to test out their product and witness my body’s pressure points with their whole heat-sensor technology thing.

I was a goner once that remote hit 55.

I’m still a little worried about what that salesman was thinking when I let out a When Harry Met Sally-kind of reaction. (You know the scene.)

Granted, in the week between purchase and delivery, I mourned the impending loss of my dilapidated BeautyRest. After all, I brought my baby home to that bed, and we did the whole family bed thing until he was 4 years old, like the good hippies we aspired to be. I’ve snuggled with hoodlum puppies and held aging, sick old dogs next to me in that bed. My husband and I have had some pretty fun times in that bed (reading and talking and laughing, of course! What were you thinking?). I wrote a lot of my second novel propped up in that bed, writing by the light of the laptop. That bed has spent many a night dragged in front of the woodstove in our log-cabin great room when the power went out for days and we needed to sleep near the flickering warmth. And that bed was where I spent a lot of time last year recovering from some seriously bad flu/pneumonia/liver and kidney failure juju. That bed served me well.

But now, the Sleep Number P5 has entered my life.

I have changed.

I used to make the family pancakes or migas or biscuits and gravy on the weekends. Now, the kiddo’s eating cold cereal and, most probably, Cheetos. I don’t really know because I’m still in bed.

I used to lay down with him in his bed as he fell asleep each evening. Now, I tend to just yell “good night!” from the comfort of my Sleep Number.

I used to get up early to take the dogs for sunrise walks. Now they’re constantly giving me these accusatory looks, as if they are puppy-mill-level neglected.

I used to read in the great room, near my family as they did other things. Now, they can usually find me curled into that P5 like a kangaroo baby in a mama’s pouch.

My husband and I actually joke that we may never, errrr, talk and laugh in bed again because once you sink into the glory of this new mattress, you don’t really want to move unless the house is on fire or something.

In fact, when the dogs go bark-shit crazy (I’m trademarking that phrase) at 3 a.m., instead of going to reassure them and get them settled down to avert internal damage to our home, we nudge each other, then ignore each other, and then simply hope they don’t tear down the back door to get to the mountain lion before morning.

I’m sure one day I’ll reclaim the life I was once led. My son will get his mother back. My dogs will get another sunrise walk.

Until then, I plan to celebrate a lower back that doesn’t ache, a once-injured hip that feels young again, and the fact that I no longer need professional climbing gear to remove myself from the prone position each day.

P.S. Sleep Number didn’t pay me jack-anything for writing this. Which only proves I’m not smart enough to figure out how to ask them. #blogfail #bigmoneyfail

 

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

New Poem: Invincible Ignorance

I I’ve been dabbling in poetry lately. While several of my poems have been published through the years, and one even placed in a literary contest here in Colorado, I don’t consider myself a poet, really. I’ve not studied the genre like I have fiction and creative nonfiction. But something about it has been calling me. I think I like that I can play around with language and punctuation and flow and metaphor in ways that you just can’t with other types of writing. And I can swoop in and out of thoughts and imagery on the page.

Here’s one of my latest poems, dedicated to Mom and Dad’s daily challenges as they work through their early 70s.

Invincible Ignorance

Her hair dark, shining, beyond her shoulders

thick as three horses’ manes

legs perpetually tanned

sure-footed

in the garden

on the sawdust dance floor

carrying her sharp-tongued wit

wherever it wished to go,

taking her children along

for the bright lights of

the Ferris wheel ride.

 

His hands rough,

capable

of moving livestock

and minds,

holding dogs

and the dreams of little girls;

his shoulders, those shoulders

carrying us

and keeping all things steady,

the shelter of reason

the home of

it’s all going to be okay.

 

But now

her hair,

turning a corner

to spun silver —

where there is no planting

on uneven ground,

and the fair

with its lights spinning

at the pink of dusk

is likely

leaving town.

 

And his hands,

those shoulders,

they’ve turned on him

with knots like centuries-old

live oak branches,

creaking in a South Texas

night wind,

and swollen joints

no amount of tools

from his truck

can fix.

 

Uncertainty creeps in

like a rattlesnake

slipping

through tall dry weeds

for a strike.

 

pain overtakes

the laughter

 

meds don’t mix

with beer

 

mornings

are a crap shoot

 

and

reaching for anything

is just too much.

 

Me? I can’t, won’t

wrap my head

around the present

or how it fits with the past

or how it shapes the future.

 

Yet I do know

invincible natures

live longer

than those

who are not

 

bone and muscle

are a fallible

source of direction,

salvation

 

and, mostly,

ignorance remains

a nice place to visit.

 

After all

their truth

is not my truth

 

and the state of

all matter

is relative

anyway.