December 28, 2009

Our Own Private Zoo

Not many folks at the zoo on a Sunday when the Saints are playing and it is 40 degrees.
But the animals were all out and about.
Even the Kimodo Dragon.
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December 16, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury...Like a Grieving Woman

My Memere, who was my mother's mother, told my sister and me in a rare moment of self revelation, that the reason her ex-husband (our late grandfather) had not lived to see any of us is because after she threw him out for dallying with his secretary, she put the gris gris on him. We were stunned and confused. First of all, no one had really confirmed for us before that Memere and the mysterious man who sired our mother and her 3 brothers were actually divorced. He was never mentioned and up until I was around 11 or 12, I thought perhaps Memere had just magically produced these children of hers without a mate. After all, she was a formidable woman who seemed capable of magic anyway. The fact that he was caught with his secretary and thrown from his house without the shoes on his feet was revolting and fascinating at the same time.

Our own parents had been married for decades by then and would remain married until my mother passed away. This concept of infidelity and divorce was something reserved for soap operas and the parents of kids who weren't Catholic. On top of this scandalous confirmation, we also learned our grandmother had the ability to put the gris gris on someone. This was perhaps more fascinating than her ability to make perfect iced tea and maintain a perpetually full candy bowl.  I am convinced the makers of York Peppermint Patties suffered a drop in revenue after my Memere passed away.

Although nothing was ever said outright or direct (we are Southern women after all) we knew there was bad blood between my mother's father and, well, the rest of the people we knew. Even though he had been dead for years, no one ever mentioned his name or his existence. Ever. Isn't that almost worse than spoken wrath? This man was so unworthy, no one bothered to waste breath on him. And, he had already been dead for 20 years by this point. That, my friends, is fury. It is silent and insidious fury.

I thought about this in a moment of crushing grief the other night. Max and I were lying in bed (as we often are...most of child-rearing seems to be coaxing someone else to sleep) and he said, "Your mommy can't come to our house because she is in heaven with Sam."

"No, she can't," I said. "But I wish she could."

Oh how she would have loved Max and his little hands and feet and elbows and toes. And, despite her consuming distrust of men, she always started each little boy with a fresh slate. Her father's inability to be a good and decent one never interfered with her love of her little boy grandchildren. In fact, more than a clean start, she also armed each grandchild with a huge resource of excuses and grandmotherly defenses - "he didn't mean it!" or "he's just a boy!"

I miss my Memere and my Mother...I miss their humor and their pluck. I miss their love and their stories. My Memere lived to be 89. My Mom lived to be 70. I would have given anything to have another 19 years with my mother. I want to hear more stories. I want to eat Sunday dinner at her house and have her attend grandparents' days at school. I just want her to love me like no one else in the world could...or should.

Instead, I have to swallow that grief and turn it into love for my little boy. Gulp.

December 8, 2009

With Friends Like These…

I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 years old. A few of us from 7th grade ended up at someone's house whose parents worked. Somehow we got our hands on a pack of smokes and a lighter that had been tampered with so that the flame singed your bangs. Frankly, I don't know how any of us lived past 15. But, there was one kid in the group whose brother or parent smoked and so he showed us what to do and the right way to smoke. I craved it before I had my first puff. I just knew that smoking and I were going to be BFFs. And we were, for a while.

In high school, I started smoking whenever I went out with friends and by my senior year, I was a smoker. So much so that my parents let me smoke on the front porch at home and mom even let me smoke in the car on the way to school. I really cannot believe she let me do this. She worked at the school and there was for sure some rule against smoking while in uniform, which I definitely was on the way to school. Still, I think because she used to smoke she knew how bad it is not to be able to smoke. Or maybe she thought if she let me do it, it would lose its appeal. Nope. I was hooked from the first whiff of the unlit cigarette.

I tried quitting over the years and would succeed for a few months here and there. I always fell back into it in the same way, I'd be out at a party or at a bar and would decide to have just one. And my intentions would be good, I would swear I was going to have just one cigarette or just smoke that night. I would vow to be a social smoker or to only smoke on the weekends or to never smoke in the car. No matter what the promise, I would break it, tearfully breaking down and becoming once again a pack-a-day gal.

After the first time I quit, I could not go back to Benson and Hedges Menthol Lights, which is what I had smoked all through high school. For some reason, my taste changed and I started smoking Marlboro Lights. All the cool chicks smoked Marlboro Lights anyway. I always had a hard pack of Marlboro Lights in my purse along with multiple forms of fire – lighter, booklet matches, box matches. To me, there is nothing worse than having cigarettes but no flame. I happily smoked like a chimney even after I quit drinking. In fact, I think I smoked more and enjoyed it more after I quit drinking. It filled the void and I if anyone gave me crap about smoking, I would always say, "I don't drink, so let me have one vice!"

But, life went on and by the mid nineties, smoking was really socially unacceptable. Gone were the days of smoking in the halls of the buildings of my college campus. When I was a bank teller in the early nineties, I remember we would smoke at our teller stations after the bank had closed. The girl next to me was pregnant and would complain, but we would just ignore her. By 1996, there were indoor smoking bans in all public places and my sister's kids would point at me and make faces when I lit up. I had also met my now husband and he said he wanted to quit.

So, in 1996, we quit. Well, he quit. I lasted about 4 weeks and broke down. I smoked again for about another week and then quit for good. Well, for 9 years.

And then came 2005. Fucking 2005. The year of Hurricane Katrina and Mom's death and the absolute chaos that ensued. It was 6 months after the storm that I finally broke down. I was in New York City for work. I had left Max for the first time and Mom was dying and everything was a mess. I was in the hotel room and there was a mini bar. In my mind I had three options: drink, smoke or sleep with a stranger. I am not sure why my brain works the way it does, but at that moment in my life, I honestly felt like those were my only three options. It never occurred to me to call a friend or eat a donut or got for a run.

So, I did the mental math…if I drank, I was definitely going to smoke and very likely sleep with a stranger. If I slept with a stranger, I was for sure going to smoke and drink to complete the Trifecta of Shame. But, smoking would not lead to the other two.

So, in my mind, I chose the option with the least amount of collateral damage and domino effect. But, I knew, when I walked down to that Walgreens and bought a $7.52 pack of Marlboro Lights that I was not having just one and I was not just going to smoke that night. I knew I was going back into the arms of a kidnapper. I was re-entering my own private version of Stockholm Syndrome.

Today, I have about 13 months off the dirty sticks. I smoked like a fiend for about a year. And then the start and stop cycle started all over again. I switched to American Spirit Cigarettes because they taste like shit and burn slower. I was thinking it would be easier to quit when it tastes like shit. It wasn't. I grew to love American Spirit. I think I could grow to love any brand of cigarette. I am not choosy. I am your basic nicotine whore.

It was being in New York City that prompted me to start smoking again and it was there that I decided to quit again. They were running these public service ads that showed young people, like my age, smoking through the holes in their necks and missing huge parts of their jaws.

My BFF, it turns out, has a dark side. The shame and guilt were just too much to bear. Smoking had become a cross, a burden, like an abusive husband. No one could "understand" why I chose to keep doing it. And I got tired of not having a very good explanation. And, I suppose, it had served its purpose. I didn't drink and I didn't sleep with a stranger. So, I let it go. We broke up. I hope for good this time.