On the Importance of Always Remaining Just a Bit Out of Touch With Reality (Part VII)

The Girl had perhaps spent too many long, late-night commutes on the dark, empty highway.

On this night, the only light on the black road was that of the moon, the stars, and the blinking red light at the top of the cellular phone tower that she passed every night on her way to the office for her back shift.

On this night, as the Girl looked up to watch the crimson tower light recede in her rear-view mirror, she saw the Eye of Sauron winking back at her.  She felt the Ring grow heavy on the chain around her neck.  She suddenly felt weary, and wished the lembas bread contained more caffeine.

Why did she have to take the Ring to Mordor?  It was so cursedly hot there (air conditioning was expensive in these dark days of rising oil costs)…dark…so much death and calamity….  Perhaps she didn’t have to go to Mordor after all, the Ring whispered to her (my precioussss….)  Why not, say, Bermuda instead?  A little sun, sand, surf.  All-inclusive bar and buffet.  That might be nice.

Or she could always just return to the Shire.  Open up that stained glass studio she’d been dreaming about.  Sell some nice crafts to tourists.

But it was too late.  She was in too deep.  Mount Doom loomed ahead.  She had no choice but to forge on.

She was nearly there.  In one final burst of will, she heaved her (laptop) bag onto her shoulder, tightened her belt, and began the final climb (up the stairs).

A sudden scuffling sound above told her she was not alone.  Sméagol!  Had he somehow followed her?  The pull of the Ring was strong.  Perhaps it was not too late to slip on the Ring, become invisible, and sneak away…

“Oh, hey.”  The Girl’s co-worker appeared around the corner, brandishing a sheaf of unsent emergency reports.  “Your shift is gonna suck – the fax machine is still broken.”*

Just another dark, lonely night in Middle Earth Bridgewater.

[Click for Part I, Part II, Part III , Part IV , Part V, Part VI]

*Some artistic license has been taken in the paraphrasing of this dialogue.  Only this part, though.

The New Winter Sport I Just Invented

 The SuperLuge

THE VENUE:  Take one private road with several feet of hard-packed plowed snow on both sides, preferably one with a series of curves; add several days of rain and freeze/thaw cycles.

THE EQUIPMENT:   One mid-sized sedan (summer tires work best, but as demonstrated in the beta run today, brand-new winter ones will work as well).

THE GOAL: make it to the driveway from the main road.

POINTS DEDUCTED FOR: 360-degree turns; having to circle a neighbour’s driveway to gain traction more than four times. Most points lost for mistakenly believing the goal to be accomplished, only to have the empty vehicle slide at a high rate of speed out of the parking space and back onto the track.

POINTS AWARDED FOR: alternately luge-ing off the snowbanks without capsizing; rocking the vehicle out of a stalemate without resorting to calling a man for help. Most points gained for successfully re-entering the moving empty vehicle without running over oneself.

THE PRIZE:  You get to do it all again the next time you want to leave the house.  Like next April.

P.S. We may need more salt.  Or a dog sled.

38 Days

[I haven’t blogged in a really long while, but people keep asking, and I know it’s got a lot of you kind of freaked out.  So here’s how it all went down.  And forgive me if some of it comes off a little bitter, cold, damaged, angry, traumatized…it’s just ’cause I am.  It too shall pass, I’m sure.  For now, be patient with my peculiar way of working things out.]

So…my mom died.

I was at work, alone, about a half hour before the end of my shift.  My dad called.  (My dad never calls.  He always makes Mom do it.)  He was being cryptic.  “Can you come straight over to the house when you get done work?”  Someone was dead, obviously.  “Why?  Tell me why.”  “Just come over *badly-stifled sob*”  “Tell.  Me.  Now.”  “*pause*  I had to take Mom to the hospital last night.”  “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”


I immediately dialed my friend and screamed, “I think my mother is dead!”  Then my co-worker arrived to relieve me.  “I think my mother is dead!” I screamed as I grabbed my bag and flew out the door.

Dad was in the yard, walking the dog, when I got there, 2.6 seconds later.  “What’s going on??”  I demanded.  He wouldn’t make eye contact.  “I’ll tell you inside.”  He started toward the door.  “NO!  Tell me RIGHT NOW!”  I grabbed his arm.  “She’s dead, isn’t she?”  The dam burst – my dad, who is made of pudding and pocket fluff, began bawling.  “No,” he sobbed.  “Ovarian cancer…*snifflesob*”

I smacked him.  “GAWD!  Fuck, shit, Christ, fuuuuuuuuck, Dad!”  Smacked him again.  “I thought she was DEAD!”  Phew, it was just cancer.  Whatever.  I donate money regularly for that shit.  No sweat.  Hack it off, rip it out, buy a headscarf, we’re all good.  Crappy few months or, worst case scenario, years, we’ll be fine.  Hell, I have a background in nutrition – we’ll green smoothie that crap right out of her.  No problem.  My dad, the drama queen.

So I headed over to the hospital.  After stopping to make a buttload of lists in my iPhone with labels like “The Big C Battle Plan”, and stopping to buy approximately 8 million dollars worth of essentials like cashmere bedsheets to replace the hospital ones.  Because the key is just taking control of things, starting with your environment.  Comfort is important.

I’m not gonna lie – it wasn’t good.  My mom was unnaturally quiet – partially due to the NG tube down her throat.  (That’s hospital lingo for “nasogastric tube” – it sucks the poo out of your blocked bowel so that you don’t puke it up – you start to speak like this once you’re part of the ‘scene’.)  She had a considerable number of tubes in other places, as well.  But this was just ground zero – now let the healing begin!

Back story:  a full 12 hours or so before this (they didn’t call because they knew I had to work that night and didn’t want to wake me.  *—-*), my mom began spontaneously projectile-vomiting.  And it was green.

She couldn’t stop.  She was even puking the green stuff while they were stuffing several feet of the tube down her nose.  This turned out to be one of the most traumatic parts of the whole cancer experience for my mom.  After it came out about a week later, once the drugs had removed some of the abdominal swelling that caused the bowel blockage in the first place, every time there was any mention of the possibility of having it inserted again, she would get a stricken look on her face and the bargaining would begin.  Suddenly, she would be feeling so much better.  Suddenly, omg, she’d successfully had a bowel movement, a series of massive passings of gas, just that very morning!  A miracle!

It was heartbreaking.  This was a woman who couldn’t even stand to have the curtains open on the side of the house that faced the street.  This was not a woman that should have had her most private business on display for strangers – no matter that the strangers were people who had chosen for themselves a life of helping others.  They were still strangers, no matter how kind or sympathetic or knowledgeable they might happen to be.

But after a couple of weeks, she was able to get out of bed a bit, with the help of a walker (did I mention that this was a woman who, just 14 days prior to this was perfectly normal, walking the dog, climbing the stairs innumerable times during the day as she cleaned and puttered around a six-bedroom house?)  She was sipping tiny, miniscule amounts of green smoothies and organic squash soup brought in by me (because have you ever tried being a lactose-intolerant vegetarian with a bowel obstruction in a hospital?  They couldn’t even guarantee they could provide a dairy-free scrambled fucking egg for her.  And get ready for a lot of f-words in this post, because I’m still a little angry about many aspects of how this whole thing went down.)

But overall, things were looking good.  She was admitted on September 30th, she was diagnosed positively with cancer, stage 3 (supposedly), and now it was halfway through October and since she could move around with assistance and eat a bit on her own (and because she was practically offering me, her first-born, to get her ass out of the hospital), she was allowed to go home to await her first chemo session.

Wait, you say?  Chemo first, before surgery?  Oh, yeah – didn’t I mention?  The fucking tumour was 18-fucking-centimetres in diameter.  For you Yanks, that’s like a Canadian foot.  It was like a freakin’ basketball in my mother’s stomach.  AND SHE DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS THERE.  Scared yet?

The tumour was so huge, they were afraid to operate until it was at least half the size.  So the plan was, chemo to shrink it first; then surgery; then more chemo.  Yay!  What a fun year we were in for!

But then…two days after she went home – she hit the wall.  She just melted down.  She couldn’t move.  An ambulance was called.  She wanted to go back to the hospital.  She wanted to speak to someone about a DNR order (for all you firefighters, in hospital-speak, this doesn’t mean “Department of Natural Resources” – it means “Do Not Resuscitate”); she wanted to speak to someone in palliative care.  I lost it.  I arrived at the hospital ER ready to fight – and my mom was in a wheelchair, completely broken.  She was done.  My dad – who has spent a lifetime catering to her every desire – quietly muttered, “It’s what she wants.”  I lost it.  I cried.  Then I pouted.  Then I spoke to the palliative care doctor (who weirdly looked exactly like Santa Claus with mismatched socks) with a calm I didn’t know I had.  Then I cried a little more.  I told her I wasn’t ready to lose my mom yet.  She told me to stop pushing my hippy shit on her.  Then I stormed out.

This time around in the hospital seemed a little better at first.  Being on the “waiting to die” list gets you  a private room a lot faster.  It was much better than sharing with the overly-social, turban-ed, incontinent and slightly senile roommate she had at first, or the thousand-year-old hospital room party-thrower who liked to talk about Mom behind a very thin curtain that she had when roommate number one moved on (in which direction, I don’t know).

But things went rapidly downhill.  As it turned out, her hitting the wall was due to the blood clots she had in both lungs (which, looking on the bright side, really should have killed her instantly, so there’s that).  Turns out, certain types of cancer tumours actually produce pro-coagulants.  Nice, huh?  So anti-coagulants were now a part of her diet.  Which, like everything else, was tube-related.

I’m going to speed through the rest of this story, because what follows are three weeks (that honestly, seriously, truly felt like 600 years – and I’m not even slightly exaggerating about that…I have never, ever, EVER understood the “time is relative” theory, despite a mild Einstein obsession, until now) of a level of hell that I simply cannot, even now, process.  I actually am strangely calm writing this – so calm that my background in neuroscience tells me I am likely suffering a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Mostly because, while I don’t cry while talking or writing about my mom, I seem to have no problem bursting into tears while pumping gas or driving home from work or feeding the cats, etc.

Mom was only conscious for about another week and a half.  And it wasn’t really possibly to have any sort of meaningful conversation, like you see on TV, because of the drugs and the oxygen deprivation due to the breakdown of her body in general.  She rapidly lost the ability to even roll over, so each day was structured around her bath time, when the sole LPN (not the RN, because they are in high demand) came in to valiantly attempt to move my mom’s dead weight (shut up) while she bathed her and changed her sheets on her own.  Which, obviously, was impossible, so I was there to help every day – usually after having been awake for approximately 19 hours (having worked all night at my job, because, while I qualified for the oh-so-helpful-thank-you-Stephen-Harper compassion care leave, it only pays 55 percent of your income…which nobody can actually live on).  My mom, who was too weak to even speak at this point, would tighten her mouth and squeeze her eyes tight (she was at the beach in her mind, running with her previously-deceased spaniel, she managed to tell me during one rare lucid moment) while we rolled her over, stripped her, cleaned her, changed her bedding and then finally tucked her in again.  I would send the nurse away then, because I was the only one who knew how she liked her pillows arranged.

Ah, the pillows.  In less than a month, my mom had lost all of her subcutaneous fat.  She had nothing to cushion her bones or the massive fucking tumour from cutting into her skin.  Her hands were like mummy hands – she had had these pretty, pretty, dainty hands…but now they were shriveled and yellow and waxy, and they were like an anatomy lesson – you could see every single feature under the skin.  So pillows were important.  There was a six-pillow minimum in place.

And to add another layer of personal hell, while her upper body was wasting away (she was now unable to eat again – we discovered this after a particularly sad afternoon where she whispered, “I’m going to be sick” just in time for me to, with superhero speed, whip a basin under her head), her lower body was swelling like a balloon, because the Fucking Tumour (I feel it now deserves capitalization) was cutting off the flow of lymph, behaving like a cork.  Her legs were so inflated that the skin began splitting and the fluid started pouring out.  They had to place incontinence pads on the bed beneath her to soak up the liquid pouring out of her brutalized legs.

By now, she was also starting to hallucinate.  It wasn’t the drugs – her brain was shutting down and she wasn’t getting enough oxygen, despite being nose-fed it through yet another tube.  She was dehydrated (couldn’t drink any more than she could eat) and most of her delusions involved the conspiracy of the hospital to keep people from having water (they had to discontinue the IV fluids because it was all going to her poor legs and staying there).  She spoke of a lengthy conversation she remembered us having about a newspaper article about the poor people they found crawling on the riverbank, trying to reach the LaHave to quench their thirst after escaping from that very hospital.  She distinctly remembered me telling her about the 911 call I took about it (I work as an emergency dispatcher).  Heartbroken, I would nod knowingly and wipe her mouth out again with another glycerin swab and put some more balm on her dry lips.

Then there was Hallowe’en.  Oh, Hallowe’en.  The day that well-meaning hospital employees dress up, thinking it will cheer up the patients.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of things that change in your head once you are on the other side of this stuff.  But I’m telling you – there were no less than four – yes, FOUR – staff members dressed up as devils that day.  DEVILS.  On a ward full of senile, sick, heavily-medicated, DYING patients.  I mean…no.  Just…no.   One of them was a very dear friend from high school, and I had to tell her, “Um…you’re not going into my mom’s room today.”  Just no.  My dad and I had to stay with my mom in shifts for that 48 hour period (it would have been 24 hours, but she was confused about the date and thought Hallowe’en was a day earlier than it actually was until someone *me* let it slip about the actual date) because she was afraid the ghosts were going to steal her purse.

I was still, however, thinking, “Okay, we just have to get through this current crisis and then we’ll get back to the chemo plan”.  But then I had a looooong heart-to-heart with her doctor, who very kindly and warmly broke it to me that my mom was “not a candidate for chemo” anymore.  She was too weak.  And they didn’t foresee that changing.  I finally asked the question I’d been avoiding, because I know there is no way to really, truly know.  “How long?  I know I can’t hold you to it, but, in your experience, how long would you say?”  “Weeks, at best,” the dear doctor replied.  “We’re probably not talking days, but we’re not talking months, either.”  This was October 31st.

I had to call in sick for work that night.  I drank a lot of wine and it came straight back out in tears.

A few days later, I arrived as usual, right after work, and I went over to tell Mom I was there, and to brush her hair back like she liked, and for some reason – I don’t know why – I lifted the blankets a bit and looked at her abdomen.  Blood.  Everywhere.  So much blood….

Mom was semi-lucid that day, a rare thing.  But she had no idea that she’d bled through four layers of fabric, and I didn’t see the point in her knowing.  I had no idea where the blood was coming from, but her entire body was black and blue at this point, so I knew it couldn’t be good.  Feigning serenity, I chatted to her as I pressed the panic button on her bed.  When the nurse came, I lifted the corner of the covers and casually said, “We’ve just got a bit of blood here.”  The nurse’s face went full-on panic, and Mom said, “I’m bleeding?”  I brushed her hand away and flipped the blanket off the bed, along with her johnny shirt, and as the nurse began to investigate, I expertly slipped a new clean johnny shirt on her while balling up the bloody one so she couldn’t see.  But she was on fire that day – she used what little strength she still had and reached out and pulled the dirty one back toward her.  When she saw the blood, her face fell.  Whatever tiny shred of hope she had left evaporated utterly in that split second.  Her face hardened and she nodded, lips pressed together.  Then she closed her eyes, let us do our indignities to her body to get her cleaned up, and I could tell she was already at the beach.

The bleeding was from the injection site of a needle she’d been given three hours earlier.  A teensy, tiny little pin-prick that just didn’t stop bleeding.  The blood-thinners.  As it turned out, her catheter bag was also brimming with blood.  No pee – she wasn’t getting fluid of any kind, hadn’t been for over a week.  Just blood.

That was when the doctor said it was now a choice –  bleed to death right away or discontinue the anti-coagulants and wait for the blood clots to return.  The blood-thinners were stopped.

On November 6th, 38 days after she went to the hospital thinking she might be having a gallbladder attack, I spent the day at the hospital.  We did the bath, the bum-wiping, the tiny tear that always crept out of my mother’s eye during this even when she wasn’t able to open them.  I arranged the pillows, brushed her hair, rubbed lotion on her parchment skin, just like I had every day for the last 600 years.  Today was different, though.  She couldn’t speak – her vocal cords had long since seized – but she was trying.  She was trying to speak so hard, I wanted to stab myself through the heart for not being able to understand her.  Her lifetime of wisdom, lost forever.  Finally, she fell into a fitful sleep, moaning and whimpering for hours.  I scrunched up on the cot tucked in the corner, under the never-opened window blinds (because the light bothered her eyes), in that tiny dark dungeon of a hospital room where I had been watching my mother suffer for as long as I could remember, while I googled “ovarian cancer” and “signs of impending death”.

But it couldn’t be today.  I mean, it was cancer.  It takes forever to die of cancer.  I’d been awake all night.  I was supposed to work that night.  I toyed with the idea of calling in, but my shift started in like seven hours – it would be so thoughtless to make a co-worker have to fill in on a night shift with so little notice, just because I was feeling uncomfortable leaving the hospital to go sleep.  I mean, I had to bank those favours, because this thing could drag on for years, right?

I kissed her good-bye, and I wasn’t sure she would hear or understand, but I told her I loved her.  And in another one of those weird, rare lucid moments, she mouthed back, “Love you”, without opening her eyes.

I stood in the doorway for a really, really long time, watching her, before I left.  I cried all the way home.

I’ve only really touched on the horror that I saw that woman’s poor body go through.  I feel you should know, but I can’t quite bring myself to describe it in its gory detail right now.  But know this – it was so bad that, that night, when I went home, I – a devout atheist – prayed.  I didn’t really care who or what was listening – but I was willing to try anything at this point.  I prayed, not that she would live, I knew that we were far too gone for that to be a possibility – but that she would die.  I just wanted her suffering to end.  I wouldn’t have let a cat suffer like that.

The doctor, the week before, while trying to prepare me, gave me that look that told me she needed to know where I was at.  I knew she needed reassurance that I was going to be okay.  I told her, “In the beginning of this, she had the occasional good day.  And then it was the occasional good moment, even if it was just looking forward to her daily Popsicle.  She hasn’t had even a good second for a while now.  My mom is already gone.”  And the doctor smiled sadly and I could tell she and I were on the same page.

Two hours after I prayed myself to sleep, my dad called.  Sobbing, he just said, “Mom’s gone.”

And that was it.  Thirty-eight days.

So now you know.

And no, ovarian cancer does not show up on a PAP test.  It’s a fucking evil, dirty motherfucker (basically, in my case, literally).  All I can tell you is: if you are having weird digestive issues, find out why; if you are tired a lot, find out why; if you have relatives that had female cancers (breast cancer counts, too – they are closely linked), tell your doctor.  It’s all you can do.  And then just go fucking have some fun – there’s no point in worrying about it.  Live your life.


Me and Debbie. I’m the short one.
Deborah Anne Hepburn-MacMillan
November 22, 1950 – November 6, 2013



Published in: on June 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Race for Space

The moment you’ve all been waiting for is here!

Well…almost here.  It’s in the vicinity.

That’s right.  I’M GONNA BE AN ASTRONAUT!!!

But first – I need your help.  ALL of you.  Go here and vote for me :

The Last Drop in the Bucket (List)

via Race for Space.

And tell your friends.  Tweet about it.  Share it on Facebook.  Get me in that spaceship!!!

A Message for My Secret Santa

Dearest Sneaky MacSneakerPants :

In all the years that I have known you and worked with you, you have always been the quintessential keeper of secrets – a master spy if ever there was one…a veritable vault.  And now it has been brought to my attention that you might  perhaps, maybe,  just possibly know the identity of my Secret Santa.  Though I know you will be a hard nut to crack, I feel ready for the challenge.

My  source (who is very sneaky indeed, but not quite sneaky enough) has also let slip several hints about the alleged Secret Santa’s purchasing history (I know that someone as super-sneaky as you would never be so reckless with such sensitive information!)  But the hints are as follows:

A)  the gift is wearable;

B) the gift is actually two of something;

C) the gift is neither gloves nor socks.

Although I am known to be a profoundly patient person *ahem*, I cannot help but ponder this great mystery.

I have a feeling that if I should guess correctly and my Secret Santa was made aware, however sneaky and secretive he (or SHE) may be,  he (or SHE) might crack under the pressure and come clean.

So, although I have NO IDEA who that Secret Santa is, you do work in the same office, so I was thinking you might have connections.  Therefore I am sending my list of guesses to you in the hopes that you can do me a solid and pass it on (secretly and sneakily, of course).  My guesses are as follows:

Drea M.’s Top Ten Potential Secret Santa Gifts

  1. False eyelashes [already own some, but can always use an extra pair]
  2. Breast implants [don’t need these, thanks – trust me]
  3. Moon boots [REALLY REALLY like these!]
  4. Knee pads [might need these while using the moon boots]
  5. Wrist casts [might need these after using the moon boots]
  6. Nipple rings [I enjoy a good exotic piercing, but might be kinda weird to show off at the office party]
  7. Shoulder pads [the 80s are coming back]
  8. Ear muffs [can never have too many]
  9. Dentures [….]
  10. Pasties [there is a surprising amount of wearable things that involve boobs – ever notice that?]

Please tell my Secret Santa that I shall have no problem at all in waiting until Christmas, but I would hate for him (or HER) to have to suffer beneath the burden of keeping such important information to him (or HER) self, so he (or SHE) should know that I would be willing to share the load.

I know I can trust you with this message.

Thank you, and Happy (Early) Holidays.

Your friend, co-worker, and confidante,

Drea M.

On the Importance of Always Remaining Just a Bit Out of Touch with Reality – Part VI

It was late at night as the Girl drove through town.  The lights were red at the intersection, but as she pulled up to the line, the light quickly turned to green.  The same thing happened at the next stop, and the next.

Though she had a vague recollection of some nonsense told to her by a member of the public works commission about the lights being controlled by sensors, she knew the real reason for her good luck.

As each light transformed its hue from angry crimson to welcoming emerald, the Girl saw, in the periphery of her vision, the flashing of dozens of cameras as an unseen doorman consulted a V.I.P. list before lifting a red velvet rope and waving her through.  Liveried guards raised their spears and bowed their heads as she passed.  Fans cheered and threw flowers.

The Girl blew a kiss into her rear-view mirror.   It felt good to have connections.

Just another night in the head of Drea M.

[Click for Part I, Part II]

Dirty Little Secret (in A-Minor)

*DISCLAIMER:  I am not, nor do I claim to be, anything even remotely close to an expert on the subjects broached in this post (with the possible exception of the bit about spit puddles).  I am a total amateur in every single possible sense of the word, so take your snobbery elsewhere.

Most people, if asked what kind of music I listen to, wouldn’t hesitate – I make no secret of my obsession with, er…loyalty to certain musical brands.  (The Killers and The Cure, for instance…and not just because I enjoy the wordplay.  Which I do.)  Yeah, alternative/indie/goth/rock, mostly – I’ll even admit to the occasional momentary lapse into the Carpenters (usually in the shower, when I am still half-asleep and being primarily controlled by some lower part of my reptile brain).

But what people don’t know is that I’m a closet classical music freak.  (If you are one of the many, many members of the population who find classical music like nails on slate, you might want to bow out now.  You will not be judged.)  In fact, being judged is why I don’t usually tell many people about this.  People who rhapsodize about their love of classical music sound like assholes.  And many are lying.  Many are probably also basing this claim on their familiarity with samples from Carmina Burana in the soundtrack for [insert random movie title here], which is not necessarily a bad thing.

But I – I currently have Mozart’s early symphonies on auto-repeat in my car.  And as I write this, I am listening to a compilation CD of some of my favourites (and oh, yes, there are many clichés there, too – sometimes things become overrated because they are Awesome.  It’s just how things are.)  I was surprised at work the other day by my boss, who caught me listening to Wagner as I worked on my reports (she looked at me funny.)

And music truly does soothe the savage breast.  I can be in full-tilt moonphase demon mode, and three seconds of Vivaldi and I’m all better!  (And if anyone posts a comment giggling about me misspelling ‘beast’, there’s going to be a whole new post tomorrow about classical theatre.)   An ordinary day, full of ordinary dullness and the chores of everyday life…can be elevated to fine art by the simple addition of some really beautiful classical music.  It’s like getting a brain massage while doing the dishes.

And there is music for every mood!  Dreamy?  Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.   Need empowerment?  Peer Gynt by Grieg.  Tense and need to sort out the chaos in your mind?  Pretty much anything by Mozart (except…)  Miserable and want to wallow?  Mozart’s Requiem.  Jaunty and feeling like doing a silly walk?  Ravel’s Bolero.  Daydreamy or in love?  Bach’s Suite No. 3 (also very nice for setting the mood during an afternoon nap in the sun).  Bipolar?  Much of Beethoven’s body of work will suffice.

I don’t know if you can ‘acquire’ a taste for classical music, though.  Most people either love it or hate it, I think, and for me it truly was love at first listen.  I loved a lot of music as a kid, which was kind of weird, because there was never really much music in my house.  My parents had a small collection of eight-tracks (er, should I be admitting that?  If you don’t know what 8-tracks are…well, piss off) from their teen years, and I would commandeer the machine for whole afternoons of listening to Pink Floyd and Cat Stevens…but I also had this tiny little glass music box with brass cogs inside that played ‘Für Elise’ and I would wind that sucker up over and over, pressing my ear to it to listen to its tiny tinkly sounds.

Even so, I was never exposed, really, to classical music until I was around 10 years old.   I was in sixth grade and because we would be in junior high the following year, the junior high band came to perform a concert for us in an attempt to recruit future band nerds.

Now, of course, looking back, it seems quite laughable.  I can only imagine what the junior high band must have sounded like.  Trust me, I know.  But because I’d never been in a room of any size with a live orchestra, I had no idea what to expect.  As I sat cross-legged on my coat on the gym floor that day, I fell in love.  Watching those kids – those ordinary kids – looking all dignified and serious with their dainty little flutes and impressive-looking brasses and the timpani (just like in The Catcher in the Rye!), I felt myself lifting out of my body and floating up and up, out the open skylights and into the atmosphere.  I’d never felt anything like it.

I begged my parents to let me join band the following year.  But I was already heavily into skating and they really didn’t think I should spread myself so thin, plus the added expense of an instrument…so I entered seventh grade without joining band.  But don’t worry – by eighth grade, they were sick of me whining, so I was fitting myself out for a clarinet a bit late, but there I was.  In my grey skirt, white blouse and burgundy crested blazer, my shiny silver and black woodwind in hand.

Oh, I loved it.  Yes, I hated the feel of the reed on my lip.  I wasn’t crazy about the mutually-accepted nonchalance of musicians regarding spit puddles.  Being too keen moved me up to first chair before I was really ready for the responsibility of having to put in extra practice time for solos, which led to the occasional ‘Oops, I just split my last reed, sorry!’ moment.  But I loved the comradery, I loved the special occasion feeling of backstage before a concert, I loved being surrounded by and a part of the music during a performance, I loved getting out of class for rehearsals.

However, I still sort of sucked, and I eventually learned I preferred listening to performing.

The best was yet to come.  In university, I was enrolled in the core acting program and since we acting students were always around anyway and usually hungry, the performance hall that shared the theatre school space gave us first choice of ushering jobs.  That’s right – I ended up getting paid to sit in the back of a darkened theatre for symphony performances, operas, music recitals, ballets, letting the music wash over me…oh, my god, it was HEAVEN.

It was in those years that the music crept into my soul and I’m still as smitten as I ever was.  But I can’t help but wonder if my neighbors love it as much as me, ’cause I’m playing it kind of loud today.

Oh, well.

The Nut Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

My last name at birth was Hepburn.

My grandfather used to tell me, when I was too little to be suspicious or question what he meant by it, that I was “a true Hepburn.”

I also really, really like books.

How do these facts relate to one another, you ask?

Well, I was re-reading ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brönte the other day (because the last time I read it, I was seven…and funnily enough, a lot of it didn’t really stick with me).  And guess what???

One of my ancestors is mentioned in it!!!  (My Great-Uncle Firth keeps track of the family tree, and this dude is on it – and up until now I was marginally ashamed to be related to what seemed to be a long line of witches, murderers and horse thieves…BUT NOW I THINK IT’S AWESOME!)

Here it is (and if you don’t believe me, click here to go to the actual text):

“I like black Bothwell better: to my mind a man is nothing without a spice of the devil in him; and history may say what it will of James Hepburn, but I have a notion, he was just the sort of wild, fierce, bandit hero whom I could have consented to gift with my hand.”


So it’s hereditary.


Bad Boy, 16th Century-Style

The Sweet Smell of Freon in the Morning

I had a skating dream last night.

Skating dreams are frustrating, because unlike most of my dreams, my skating dreams do not stray far from reality.  (My skydiving dreams, for instance, are nothing short of epic – skydiving in real life is pretty freakin’ awesome, but in dreams I am like a superhero.)

In my skating dreams, I am usually in the same dingy small town rink that I spent most of my youth in.  It’s still cold, and I still can’t land a triple anything.  But for some reason, I wake up feeling nostalgic – which is interesting, because I sort of hated skating.

You see, I was forced to start skating against my will.  I was (yeah, I know) pathologically shy as a kid.  My parents thought it would be healthy for me to have some extracurricular social contact, and since we lived in a small town with limited choices, it was either girl scouts, a church group of some sort, or figure skating.  Figure skating it was.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t totally hate it at first.  I may have even been kind of happy after my first lesson, even though I was confused because I couldn’t tell if my instructor was a boy or a girl.  (She had a bowl cut and was wearing pants.  Gimme a break, I was seven.  I figured it out…eventually.)

And then I moved through the badges really fast and made some friends – one of whom would turn out to be my best friend when we both wound up at the same school for junior high.  Then it was suggested to my parents that I continue on to the group mysteriously known as ‘Juniors’.

I had no idea what ‘Juniors’ was.  But I became one.  And made a total ‘tard of myself on the first day.

In addition to being really shy (and therefore unlikely to initiate conversation even to ask a question which really should be asked, like, say, “So this Juniors thing…what’s that all about?”), I was also a pretty easy-going kid.  I was happy to live my life on a need-to-know basis.  I mean, I trusted my parents not to subject me to anything that would be bad for me (boy, did I grow out of that!), and so I figured ‘Juniors’ was where I was supposed to be and that was that.

The first day of Juniors was a Saturday.  Instead of just an hour in the evening once a week like the badge program, I would now be skating all day on Saturdays and would have private coaches.   When I came out of the dressing room, the other juniors were out on the ice.  There were only a handful, and they were scattered all over the ice.  I spotted my friend and made a beeline for her…and immediately got smacked-down.

Apparently there was this thing called ‘patch’, where each skater gets a patch of ice to work on their figures (yes, that means figure-8s, and…well, fancy figure-8s).  Patches are sacred.  You don’t skate across another skater’s patch.  I’m just lucky Tonya Harding didn’t skate out of my club.

Well, I caught on.

Yeah, I went on to ‘Seniors’ eventually and even got my coach’s certification – though I hope none of the little brats I taught ever wondered if I was a boy.  And the great thing about these hierarchical activities is that you eventually have others below you that you can act all high-and-mighty around and pretend you always knew not to skate over someone else’s patch.

I spent the next 10 years in rinks.  All sorts of rinks.  Nice ones, heated ones, big ones, ones with mysterious drips coming from the ceiling that formed icky yellow slush puddles on the ice.   I remember my dad picking me up in the Jeep on dark winter nights, so exhausted I couldn’t even speak, stretching my throbbing feet in front of me and dozing off on the drive home, where I would eat the supper my mom had kept warm for me before crashing hard.

It’s not just the dreams that make me sentimental now – it’s other things, too.  Like music.  Even now, hearing “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry” takes me right back to freestyle practice – that tinny, cheap 80s rink music.  Or “The Stray Cat Strut” – from the year my precision line group dressed in cat suits for the year-end carnival.  Any kind of waltz, and I’m right back in Tommy’s arms (Tommy was only boy in the club and had the burden of partnering everybody for their dance exams – poor Tommy), or worse, if Tommy wasn’t around, the arms of one of the two very-very tall girls in the club who had to stand in for him in a pinch.  I remember very clearly protesting to my freestyle coach when she assigned me the song for my first solo choreography – “Tea For Two” and a bunch of cutesy footwork was waaaaay too baby-ish for a nearly-nine-year-old.

I remember other sounds, too.

Like the sound of Mrs. Gilmour – she was a sort of house mother that babysat all of us, sitting in the dressing room sewing our costumes and knitting us Lopi sweaters.  “Get off that telephone, young lady!  Do you know how much your parents are paying for your ice time??”  The ooohs and aaaaaahs when our new dresses were finished – particularly my first dress with double ruffled skirts that flew out and looked like a tutu during a spin (custom-made by Mrs. G., of course).

The sound of skate blades scraping sideways to produce snow to pack on a fellow skater’s injury after a bad fall.  If you think skating is a dainty sport, think again.  I once put the end of my blade right through my shin-bone during a jump…not pretty.

Then there was the clack of hockey sticks on the hollow seats of the stands as the players filed in for practice after our session, and the hockey players bitching about us skaters leaving divots in the ice with our picks that even the zamboni couldn’t repair.  (Blah blah blah.)

Oh, the hockey players.  For some of us, that was about the only exposure we got to boys, other than school.  We only saw them at a distance, from our lonely isolated patches of ice, though.  I, of course, developed a long-standing crush on one, a boy with dark hair, dark eyes and a big smile.  We actually became friends later on, and in fact, he may or may not have been my first date.  Never did figure it out for sure.  He started asking me to dance for all the slow songs at the high school dances, but I figured it was just because I was short and so was he.  He used to joke around and eat popsicles over my shoulder while we danced, so I never took it seriously, even though I was mad for him.  Then one night he asked me if I wanted to (what else) go skating with him (I figured he wanted the practice).  He picked me up in his mom’s car and invited himself up to my room afterward.  But I was a 14-year-old four-eyed dork whose entire social life so far consisted of hanging out in a cold rink with a bunch of other girls and I’d never had a boy in my room ever …so when he came and sat next to me on the bed, I figured he needed more room, so to be polite, I went and sat in the chair.  He’s happily married with kids now, I hear.  Still cute, though.  Wonder if he still plays hockey?

And then there are the smells.  Freon.  Oh, the smell of freon, that cold ozone-y taste of the air in a rink.  I will never forget it.  (Or maybe I will – have there been any long-term studies on what those fumes to your brain?)  Boiled canteen hot dogs.  Vending machine hot chocolate and Lime Crush.  White shoe polish for your boots before a show or competition.  Band-aids (yes, they have a smell).

But it’s only now that I have these fond reminiscences.  When I turned 17, I rebelled.  I discovered booze and boys (yes, finally) and threw a tantrum and declared that I hated skating, hated the cold, and never wanted to skate again.  I got rid of all of my equipment except for one pair of skates (my best ones).  And then I didn’t hit the ice again for many years.

The funny thing about it, though, it’s like riding a bike, I guess.  Some years back, I went skating and I had been a bit nervous that I would fall on my ass.  It came back instantly – along with all the memories of alllll those hours.  It was awesome, despite how sore my feet were afterward from squishing them into my teenager-sized skates (which sadly, I hadn’t cleaned properly when I stored them in my fit of angst and it took the guy at the shop forever to get all the rust off the blades, amidst much ‘tsk’-ing over my treatment of such expensive gear, blah blah blah).

But as many hours as I spent there, I never did land anything great, like a triple-anything.  So wouldn’t you think the least my subconscious could do would be to give me that in my dreams?  But no.  In my dreams, I even have to coach the wee ones and make them learn basic choreography to impress the parents (which, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of 4-year-olds in snowsuits on a slippery surface, well, you can imagine the challenge).  I have not once done a back-flip combination á la Scotty Hamilton.  And the music is still canned.

It’s so unfair.  I really expect better of my imagination, you know.


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