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Thanksgiven [Nov. 24th, 2016|08:26 pm]
Phenylalanine
We had no invitations for tonight, but that's fine.  It suits the kind of year it's been.  The Year of Lost Friends.

One, I lost because he doesn't like my fiance, and what's the point of keeping me around when I have one?  Another, I let lapse because he'd been unkind to me one time too many.  Another went crazy, went on a rampage and called everyone toxic, including us.  I lost my entire Festival family, obviously.  It all hurt, but nobody expects much from me when I'm two states away.

Our fake Christmas tree twinkles merrily out at the forty-degree rain.  I can see the Space Needle, far past it; I can hear the heaters humming.  I took it easy tonight.  Turkey breast, buttered wild rice, sparkling cider.  There's coffee in my cup and music in my ears.  I wish I was at the Market, down at the waterfront, although there's nothing on my shopping list.  Maybe I'll go by there tomorrow.  Zorro has to work.

My family, my exes, my failures.  I'm a thousand miles away from it all.  There's nothing here but the sound of rain and I don't have to open my laptop at all if I don't want to.  I can just look out the window and stop thinking entirely.  Go ahead and hate me.  Who am I hurting?

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for being.
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Xanadu [Nov. 23rd, 2016|10:55 pm]
Phenylalanine
It's been weird, lately.

When I had that terrible dream, something shifted and the rules changed.

On a whim, I decided to burn an incense stick I'd been saving for 23 years.  It was Cold Eric who handed it to me, while we were listening to "Learn to Be Still" by the Eagles with our eyes closed, the way teenagers do; at the time I promised myself I would burn it when we married.  He married someone else, had five children, divorced, became a sort of recluse.  I was so angry I ran away to Los Angeles and became a terrible person.  We're friends online and talk occasionally, but he hasn't been my background process for a long time.  Still, I kept the incense; it sat in its plastic sleeve at the bottom of a wooden box, until a few days ago I decided to go ahead and burn it.

It turned into ash and smelled good, but there was nothing magical about it.  No regrets.  Go in peace, Cold Eric.

Then I decided to look at my old LiveJournal.  I seldom do that-- it makes me sad to see my dead love's comments, and to see how miserable and selfish I was back then.  But I looked, and nothing happened.  I unblocked everyone I'd blocked on Facebook.  Most of them were people who had hurt me but probably haven't given me a second thought in a decade.  I opened my late brother's box and looked at his photographs of us.  I looked happy.  I wasn't.

Today I drove to Renton and went to the only IKEA in Washington, where I bought a whole case of virgin glogg.  I made it home without looking at my phone for directions.  I set up the Christmas tree early, did laundry, mopped the floors, made an ornament, made a casserole, heated up some glogg and re-watched Xanadu.  Ordinary things that ordinary people do.

There probably never was a boogeyman under the bed.

We bind ourselves so tightly... it's up to us to roll into disco-Purgatory to fulfill our destinies.  I won't let it go to my head.  But maybe I'm finally getting closer to safe, closer to fine, closer to the person I was supposed to be in the first place.

Maybe someday I'll actually write again.  I huddle with my old back issues of Realms of Fantasy and daydream about meeting Steven R. Boyett and worrying about taxes and going to the Hugos.  There is no path there from where I have been chained up, full of terror and regrets and self-loathing, starving, drugging myself, digging my nails into my face when nobody's looking.

The shackles hit the ground, and I keep walking.  Welcome back.  Get some air, will you?  You look like Death warmed over if someone forgot to plug in the microwave.



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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sobriety* (But Were Afraid to Ask) [Nov. 21st, 2016|09:31 pm]
Phenylalanine

Two years, two months, eight days.  Not too shabby for a trainwreck from a long, proud chain of trainwrecks, all chugging along in the same direction.  This is a disorganized, upsy-daisy assortment of my thoughts on sobriety.

In Helloween terms, sobriety is where your life stops playing "A Tale That Wasn't Right" on repeat and segues into "Windmill".

One would think that breaking one’s fibula in two places while drunk and subsequently becoming crippled for life over a $500 deductible would scare a person into getting clean.  One would be mistaken, in my case.

People who bring “moderation” up with alcoholics, please take note: it’s been done.  By the time a person knows they need to abstain completely, rest assured that they have already attempted to cut back hundreds of times.  For what it’s worth, I was trying to take it easy the night I broke my leg, but I was out of control, the “on” switch stuck as it had been so many times before.

Active alcoholics do a lot of resource management and rationing.  One glass of water for every drink.  Or flat: three per night.  Or one drink per hour and a half.  Unless someone else buys.  (I didn’t notice when this stopped happening.)

If you are able to “pace” yourself, I don’t work like you.  I am not necessarily inferior to you, and it’s okay that we’re different, but my body does not work like yours. I’m an alcoholic. End of story.

I played with fire for nearly a year after my accident.  I hid my drinking from my increasingly impatient fiance; I hid it from everyone.  I had my last drink– a third glass of red wine, my preferred poison– sitting with my mother and stepfather in a British pub I seldom went to.  I hadn’t planned to drink that night and I hadn’t planned for those three glasses to be my last “drink”, but somehow it made sense.  We’d spent the evening at the Last Bookstore and I was in a good mood, wearing cute floral leggings with an office dress.  I drank the third glass unceremoniously, leafing through Fritz Leiber’s collection The Ghost Light.  Only I knew it was my last glass.  I like secrets.  The book still feels like a totem.  (That volume's titular novella deals with alcoholism, among other things.)

Much has been written about alcoholism and recovery, but most of it doesn’t hit home until you’ve been sober for a few weeks.  I discovered this the hard way.  I’ll do my best to explain what sobriety has done for me, but I encourage anyone to try it.  I believe that entire demographics are held back by alcohol.  It becomes part of your persona.  And why shouldn’t it, when it seems like everybody of note since the dawn of time has partaken?  We tell ourselves we deserve it, and who wants to argue with that?

“I’ve been working all week.  Where the Hell is my drink?” -Fergie

The 2000s were the Mommy Wants Vodka years.  Martini glass motifs everywhere, everyday people becoming wine snobs, bars seeing more business as people started to spend more money on experiences and technology than clothes.  Remember that mother who drove the wrong way down the freeway and killed a bunch of people, including her daughter?  The really scary thing is that I understand how that happened.

The Romans watered theirs down, just FYI.

For the first year or so, I kept fantastizing about being in my seventies, about how I'd dress slutty and sleep with everything in sight and go to the opera all the time and drink wine until I finally died.  I stopped having those fantasies eventually; I'm hardly ever tempted, now.  I miss something, but it isn't the drink itself.  It's losing track of myself that I miss.  I don't want to return to the bruised land of the drunk-- not even "later".

If you are an alcoholic, total abstinence relieves so much pressure, answers so many questions.  It takes the stress out of many things– your mileage may vary, but in the long run sobriety solved most of my problems, including problems I had no idea were related to my drinking.

Sobriety is eternal rest from the work of thinking about drinking.

I’m glad to have all of my abilities back.  I was never at my best, even while “sober”, during my thirteen years of heavy drinking.  It took months for my brain to get back on track.

I don’t miss waking up with indistinct shame. What did I say?  What did we fight about?  What did I post on social media?  Did I get wine on my favorite white punk rock shirt?  Did I crush the earphone cord in the corkscrew?  What’s this bruise about?  Oh dear God… is that me on YouTube, trying to dance to “Jump in the Line” at Trivia Night?  Okay, I believe you!

I don’t miss purple barf.

I don't miss wondering if everyone can tell I'm plastered.

I don’t miss forgetting to eat dinner, or picking up the check for everyone because I feel bad about bringing the bill way up.

People who say they have no regrets are usually assholes.

Some hard things about sobriety:

Feelings.  You start having them.  It’s rough.  You’ll cry a lot while your body adjusts.  After it has adjusted, you will be a nicer person and will cry much less on the whole, because you will be happier.  The upside of these feelings? You’re actually having them.  They are not part of the show you’ve been the star of for so many nights that it’s no longer a draw.

Late Night Shame Theater.  Your memory will try to piece itself back together as it dries out, especially when you’re trying to fall asleep, and you’ll remember ruining many perfectly nice evenings.  You might even remember saying “Are you sure?” while offering a glass to someone who had been sober for years.  You bastard!  It’s soul-crushing, humiliating, humbling.

Impressions.  You’re a whole new person, but some people will not change their minds about you.  Sure, you never stole money or did anything after-school-special-worthy, but people you alienated while under the influence will not necessarily welcome you back.  You can pretty much count on a lifetime of applying for jobs without a referral.  Some people will just never trust you.  This was hard for me to swallow.

Social Media.  Young people love to take photographs of delicious-looking beers and wines; people love to jokingly suggest booze as an answer to problems.  Most people under a certain age don’t know what “two years sober” or “on the wagon” mean.  Both here and in social settings, you will become acutely aware of the difference between yourself and super-hot supermodels who simply don’t drink, straight edge people and teetotalers-for-religious-reasons.  You are different because you used to drink, want to drink, and you like drinking, but you are terrible at it.  When asked why he didn’t drink, Pete Hammill once said: “I have no talent for it.”  That’s you.

Weight gain.  Okay, so John Cheese lost 30 pounds in the first month just by giving up beer.  For winos, the opposite can happen, because wine curbs your appetite and your detoxing blood will be screaming for food, especially sugar.  Just ride it out.  Sobriety is a full time job for the first month or so, and you must put it first.

These things are minor when compared to what I gained.  “Clarity” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Post-sobriety, I am healthier and more financially stable.  My relationship with my fiance is excellent, and he’s very proud of me.  My skin is better, and I have less headaches.  I’m able to finish projects on time and my cooking is much better.   Sleep is almost always restful.  I gained a lot of hours to squeeze productive, lucrative, good things into.

Most importantly, I no longer wake up after four restless hours with that sense of dread.  I’ll never have to deal with that again.  I always know exactly what I did last night.

Life is good again.  I thought it never would be.  I’m sad that I wasted my hottest years, my groundwork-for-success years, my years at my dream company, my childbearing years in a haze of alcohol, but I’m really glad I’m here to tell you about it.  This will sound unbelievably corny, but every day feels like a wrapped gift.

Sobriety is a decision you have to make on your own.  Otherwise it means nothing, and you will return to the comfy embrace of your addiction.

Some movies I recommend to people who wish to understand alcoholism: Smashed, The Days of Wine and Roses, 28 Days, The Lost Weekend.  I’d also like to gently recommend Young Adult, mostly because Patton Oswalt is wonderful in it and while the film deals primarily with extreme mental illness, it has one of the most harrowing drunk meltdown scenes I’ve ever seen.  Books: Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, Sacha Z. Scoblic's Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety.  (I liked Hammill’s A Drinking Life, but it’s not about sobriety; it’s an autobiography centered on his drinking, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking to understand alcoholism.)

salaryman, I have re-read your comments so many times.  They have helped me navigate so many parts of my head and I can't begin to tell you how much they helped, or to thank you.  You should write a book!

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Dream [Nov. 21st, 2016|07:13 pm]
Phenylalanine
So many tears, so many arguments, so much confusion and embarrassment, shattered and hammered into my soul by his death.

Thirteen years later, I'm getting married, but there won't be anyone to see it.  It's okay.  It was never about anyone seeing it.  It was about respect, about my worth as a human being.

It's decided: Zorro and I will do the deed at the courthouse in January.  We've been together for almost ten years now and he's my favorite person in the world.  We're out of reasons not to.  We looked up the steps we need to take here in Washington.  It's surprisingly easy for two citizens to marry.

Later that night, a very cold night, I had a terrible, terrible dream.  I don't usually remember my dreams-- maybe one time out of twenty-- but this one was like a movie, and my brain taped it.

The hotel was attached to a giant cineplex/outdoor shopping mall, multi-level and neon-lit, kind of like a much larger and futuristic Irvine Spectrum.  It was the current year.  I was staying in a hotel room with a vanity counter outside the bathroom-- the type they have at community theaters, with clear, round lightbulbs that tell too much of the truth.

I was standing at that counter trying on everything in my suitcase, finally settling on a weird dress over a weirder shirt, and trying to put my face in some kind of order.  I'm not normally this concerned with my appearance (keep it simple, stupid), but I was meeting B., who was not dead after all, his mother A. and my mother to see a new Star Wars movie.  I took too long and started to run down to the lobby, where I had last seen my mother, but I got lost.  I looked around me to try to find the escalator down, and a man stopped me and said "Let me guess. Looking for Star Wars?" I nodded mutely, looked down and saw that I was naked.  I woke up staring at the Decepticon tattoo I changed my mind about getting at the last possible minute twelve years ago.

Most days I'm fine.  I go about my business, I go to the market, walk by the lake, cook, clean, work, tell people how glad I am that I never had children, call my relatives, tell them I'm happy.  Hell, most days it's true.  I've literally had someone say "You have no idea what I'm going through!" when her husband died.  Is it terrible that I started laughing?  Not sure what came over me, but I chuckled, started sobbing, and gave her the time of motherfucking day.

Most days I'm a normal person, with safe ground under my feet and nobody out to hurt me.  It's a miracle, really.  I shed my name, my friends, my state like skins.  I am free.  No more seeing my comeuppance lurking behind every tree.  Nobody here knows who I used to be.  It's a fresh start.  This is what everybody wants, right?

But today, it's like the knives were left in, like the wounds will never close.  I wanted to call my mom, but what could she possibly say?  What could anyone say?

No maps for these territories, kid.  You're on your own.

All I can do is bake cookies and hope that was the last dream.
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Brokedown [Apr. 24th, 2016|11:00 am]
Phenylalanine
The only reason I've ever wanted to be wealthy is so that I'd never have to experience being stranded.  I've always had older cars, so I'm far too familiar with that feeling.  AAA is a godsend, so I cling to those three roadside assistance phone calls like a lifeline. Last year when Zorro used two of them to start dead batteries (!!!) I yelled at him, shaking.  To squander those calls felt like tearing safety away from me, in the future when I'd need it most.

Another memory came back to me.  I'm sorry these are all sad, by the way.  It's no coincidence, I suspect, that my brain filed them somewhere dark and out of immediate reach.

July 2001.  I'm 23, living alone in a very shabby $500-per-month apartment in LA-- it's technically a studio, but it's a huge perfect square.  It's over a dry cleaner, a discount market and a place called Chinese Food OK (yes, really-- and it was accurate).  Shenandoah and Robertson, Jewish ghetto.  I've had trouble making friends in LA, mostly because it's hard making friends as a grownup in a strange city, especially if you're a very attractive young female with emotional problems.  As a result, I still drive down to Orange County pretty often to see my longtime friends; I even drive down there to shop, preferring the familiarity and memories of Westminster Mall to any of the big, scary malls in LA.  (I hadn't discovered Fox Hills yet.) This particular Friday night, my friend Jim is having a party.  He has the best parties!  (Many years later, I drank too much at one of his parties, and I was never invited again, but this was long before I drank.)

I put on a black miniskirt and a strappy little olive-green tank top, which shows about a centimeter of my perfect 21-year-old midsection.  Black platforms, and I douse myself in a ton of pear-scented body spray.  I'm not looking for action-- I'm seeing someone newish-- but I want to look good.  I'm listening to Soul Decision's "Faded" on repeat.  Yeah, it's 2001!

My car (a metallic orange Toyota that I drove forever) starts to overheat right where the 22 hits the 405, so I pull off the freeway, onto a street that I know runs by Cal State Long Beach. where there are bound to be pay phones.  I recall that my old friend/ex-boyfriend Bryan had said to call him if I ever have trouble with this car.  He's a mechanic and I'm pretty broke, so I call him.  He tells me to bring the car by tomorrow.  Then I call my grandmother, who tells me sure, I can crash with her tonight.  (She lives nearby.)

The heroic tow truck takes my car and I to my grandmother's house, where she politely ignores my too-sexy outfit, makes me some fried potatoes, loans me some pajamas and I spend the night reading a mystery novel in a bed I slept in a thousand times as a child.  Stupidly, I don't ask to borrow a sweater or something and the next day I call another tow truck to take it to Bryan's.

I meet his wife, who is young, lovely, kind and also politely ignores my outfit, and we take a good look at the car.  I had given it coolant just a few days before.  He finds the leak, fixes it, and we talk for a while, just catching up.  I ask him how much I owe him, so I can send him a check.  He tells me I owe him a blow job.

He chuckles, but it hangs in the air.  He wasn't joking.  I stumble, tell him I need to pay with money, and he refuses to accept it.  I tell him it was good seeing him and practically run out the door on my awkward platforms.

I drive my filthy car back to LA, feeling disgusted.  I never see Bryan again.  During the two-hour drive home, I think about the nature of friendship, and how I've always had guy friends.  I thought it was because I had "guy" interests-- video games, comics, hockey, boxing-- but nearly everyone in my life has made some comment about how I don't really have friends; I just have a queue.  I wonder if it's true and hate myself for asking for a favor, and for being naive.  When I get home I scrub myself with a million pounds of soap, put on some flannel pajamas and don't go outside or answer the telephone until I have to go to work on Monday. 
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1983 [Dec. 24th, 2015|12:31 am]
Phenylalanine
I was on the living room floor, cheerfully wrapping Christmas gifts, when it hit me.

Where the Sidewalk Ends.  Shel Silverstein.  I loved that book.  We bought it for Zorro's niece, and I wrapped it in white paper with green wreaths on it, but before I did, I peeked at the first page, "Invitation".

Memories rushed out of the book, or maybe I toppled in when it opened.  Suddenly I was six years old and in my bed at the only house I've ever lived in, reading the book to myself under the covers with a flashlight.  I was kind of singing the words under my breath, trying to make them into a song.
invitation-candle.jpeg
Invitation
Shel Silverstein, 1974

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!



My mother comes storming up the stairs into my bedroom and starts screaming at me.  I rarely saw her this angry.  Her face was all screwed up, and she was spitting and furious and feral.  I didn't understand why she was so angry-- no, I wasn't supposed to be awake, but I was just reading.  She took the book and light away and left me in the dark to think and feel ashamed.

To this day, I am wary of invitations.

It took years to realize that I didn't have crippling insomnia-- I just need less sleep than most people.  Five or six hours is about right; eight or more and I get sluggish and sickly.  But for years, for hours, I laid awake in bed, forbidden to turn a light on so I could read, feeling abnormal and tortured because my parents had this idea that I was required to be asleep at specific times or they'd be bad parents.  Earphones that I could sneak under my hair saved me for a few years-- I would listen to the radio for half the night, daydreaming to the music.  I wouldn't go to the restroom, scared that my mother would get angry with me for being awake.

How would my life have been different if I had been allowed to have those hours, if I could study something in them?  Best not to think about it.
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1994-1995 [Dec. 24th, 2015|12:00 am]
Phenylalanine
I turned seventeen a month into my senior year of high school, and I had no idea it was going to be the most painful year of my life.  It shouldn't have been.  I was a beautiful, healthy, charming, well-read 120-pound 5'8" blonde, attending one of the best high schools in America.  But that year hurt so much that at 38, I still need to talk about it.  That okay with you, Blog?  Cool.  Thank you.  I'd hug you if you weren't made of code.

My parents had insisted that I get a job, despite my poor performance at school.  I understand why they did it.  We were of humble means, and they really couldn't afford to give me much beyond the bare necessities-- they couldn't help me buy a car or go to college.  They wanted me to have a better life and become less introverted, and they thought that me getting a job would take care of that.  It was normal for teenagers to work, even during the school year, when they were young (it wasn't in my time, and now it's unheard of).  Unfortunately, I was terrible at said job.

It was a mall gig at Natural Wonders-- the kind of place where you could buy windchimes, dreamcatchers, wolf sweatshirts, Tabra Tunoa earrings, New Age cassettes and $300 kaleidoscopes.  These are not easy sells-- nobody is in desperate need of a solar system blanket.

What's weird about being 17 and beautiful is that nearly every straight boy and man who crosses your path is interested in you.  Customers.  My adorable coworker Keith.  Boys at school.  Boys are everywhere, and they all pay attention to you.  I saw nothing wrong with letting customers flirt with me and leave me their numbers-- after all, most of the time, they would buy something.  Understandably, my manager didn't like this.  I was let go the weekend of my birthday, after working there for only a month.

A few days later, my boyfriend, James, broke up with me.  He didn't even give a real reason.  I went to my ex-stepfather's house, despondent, and played video games with him until three in the morning, shovelling cheese popcorn and Kudos into my face, and we talked about how relationships suck.  The next morning, my mother came to get me and told me my grandfather had three months to live.  I was very close to my grandparents, so the news hit me hard.

It was an unusually cold and rainy winter.  I don't remember how I scraped together money for Christmas gifts, but somehow I did, and afterward I took myself to the dollar theater to see The Swan Princess... and walked three miles home.  It was so cold I could see my breath, but I felt too proud to call my mother to pick me up.

I fell madly in love with a boy named Soren, then fell into a deep depression in the wake of my grandfather's death.  After my high school graduation, my ex-stepfather decided he didn't need to be my dad anymore (I was, after all, almost a legal adult, and he had remarried) and fell out of my life.  Summer came and I enrolled at the local community college, which made me feel like a loser-- most of my friends had gone to four-year schools.

I loved Soren, but he fell in with some vitamin-selling types, and he started to change.  He cut his hair and dressed differently and talked to me a lot about How Wealth Was Created.  I explained that I wasn't sure this was going to work out, and one night he and a stranger picked me up in a fancy car and took me to a mansion.  I kept asking what was going on, but Soren told me I would understand later.  I loved him, so I stopped asking, even though I was not allowed to ride in non-relatives' cars.  We went inside and a woman sat me down for a presentation.  She was playing a CD of arias, which it turned out she had sung.  Everything about her seemed very narcissistic and ostentatious.  About five minutes into the presentation, which hit just about every nerve I had, I just became so uncomfortable that I had to explain that I just wasn't interested in selling vitamins, at which point she started screaming at me, calling me rude, and threw me out.

I was crying hard, shaking, scared, confused and had no idea where I was.  Luckily, Soren's driver came and took me home, but the shame was unbearable.  I've never felt so ashamed in my life.  I was also angry-- they had taken the boy I loved and turned him into someone I didn't even like.  He broke up with me after that.

My first year of college was awful.  I dated a boy named Leigh, who inexplicably stopped speaking to me one day.  I dated a boy named Aaron who showered me with gifts and then disappeared.  I struggled with my classes, which I had not balanced well.  I was unbelievably poor and very lonely; sometimes I even missed high school.  I took up smoking because I couldn't figure out what to do with my hands, and I started spending more time with books than people.

For my eighteenth birthday, I received a silver ring, sort of medieval-styled, with red garnet hearts set in it, and a few volumes of the Sandman, which had just been collected.  I was wearing a floor-length purple floral-print dress with long sleeves; I had begun to dress very modestly after my bad first experiences with boys.  I decided to give the job thing another try-- this time, I was a watch technician and cashier at Target.  I was better at that.  I was still very lonely, but at least there was money coming in.

After that, things got a little easier.

I don't know why I was thinking of that year, tonight.  Maybe because it's cold?  Anyway, thanks for letting a fat middle-aged blonde talk 21 years later.  I still have the ring.
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