Life

Something For Walter

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I must request that you indulge me in something.

I need to take a break from the madness; my madness and remember someone who was very close to me.  Someone I miss a great deal.

Walter Minter Tarpley was my best friend.

We had a strangely initmate love/hate relationship that only a gay man and a straight woman can have.  Our disagreements could divide a nation; our good times often bordered on criminal, but life with Walter was so much fun.    My life with him was amazing.

He didn’t believe in much, except that a good time was had by all .    His circle was small and I always felt quite honored to have stood at one of the corners.   Circle in a square; square in a circle and somehow, it…we always fit.     He could be extremely cavalier at times and his carelessness bothered me, but then again, he made me realize that I wasn’t really the hip, happenin’ chick I thought I was.   He was liberall;  Tim Robbins liberal.   I was Conservative and becoming more so as each year passed.  It had gotten to the point that I was inching toward being politically on par with Elizabeth Dole, save for the fuel injected Southern hair.

We argued about the ever growing abyss between the two parties, but we learned to sway the topic if politics reared its head.   And despite our differences, we cared a great deal for each other.   Our first outing together was  Halloween in 2005.  We made a vow that we would always spend Halloween together.   We had a wonderful time that night and the next day, I had a tough time working because I kept laughing at the things we’d done..said…felt.  I remember thinking that day that we’d be friends forever; but forever only lasted two years.

He died on July 4th 2007, a mere nine days after being diagnosed with AIDS-related pneumocystis pneumonia.

We used to go out and make merry every Halloween and frankly, I can’t let another one go by without honoring my best friend and remembering how his life cand death, altered the course of mine.

I wrote this post exactly ten years ago years ago.     I republish it today.

For Walter.

Twenty years ago, I dreamed of meeting one  special man that I could be friends with for the rest of my life…one man to laugh with, cry with….share my most intimate thoughts with.

He was given to me on a warm and sunny August day in 2005.

Walter came into my life quite by surprise, but hardly by accident. He sent me an e-mail at the radio station where I worked. It took no time at all for us to become friends and when we did, I found that I adored Walter.  He was devilishly handsome, brilliant, crass but polished, opinionated, fearless, acerbic, openly gay and hilarious.

To me, he was Perfection.

He was also a tortured soul. As was I, when we met. One would think that two fractured people would just create a pile of emotional shards. But that wasn’t the case with us. We seemed to provide the bonding needed to keep each other together. I think it was laughter that served as the consummate adhesive. We became best friends.

My relationship with Walter was rather cloistered. Few people understood our connection. I’m not sure even we understood the degree of our closeness. That was fine with us; we preferred it that way. When other people listened to us speak, it was as if we were speaking Esperanto. We jokingly said we spoke “TarKen”; our own language which was interspersed with many expletives and the requisite “Filthy” and “Dirty”, all spoken in a feigned British accent we used.

Few “got us” and that was OK.  We held on to each other, only letting go only when the other stepped free, but even so, the bond was never completely broken.   We were content  knowing that we’d found each other. We were happy to have found a certain “punctuation” to the paragraph of our lives.

We just clicked; my cup to his saucer—mismatched, chipped and crazing down the center, but still beautiful, even in it’s damaged state. Perfectly flawed.

Walter entered my life at a time I needed him most. He brought joy and laughter where there was none. He helped me learn to live again.   In fact, he was best time I’ve ever had. He felt like home. Comfortable, safe and secure. Like a hug, accented with the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, wrapped in a soft, familiar blanket.   He never dismissed me or made me feel anything less than extraordinary.

He was never aloof, nor did he ever exist passively in my life. He was a willing participate–fully involved, concerned and more importantly, he was there when I needed him. We were good about being there for each other. Walter understood that Life is inconvenient. So is Love. Neither will ask for permission and both can be obtrusive.   Still, he was never too busy for me, even when I was.  He was kind in the sense that he never decreed me as anything other than one of his very best friends. What an incredible honor!

Make no mistake, we had issues.  We had our disagreements which were legendary. And vicious!! Imagine a film recording of Joan Crawford telling off the board of Pepsico on a continuous loop that plays at painful decibels.We never stayed mad at each other;  at least, not that long.

Ultimately with Walter, I always felt loved. Unconditionally so. I could be thin, pudgy, hair perfect or teased up to a dizzying Elsa Lancaster’s Bride of Frankenstein height. I could be sans make-up or with a full compliment and wearing something that fashion-wise, would’ve have been considered only luke-warm from five seasons earlier. That didn’t matter.

To Walter, I was always just Laurie. No pretense.

To me, he was always Walter. No pretense.

One night he asked me why I couldn’t have been born a gay man. On that particular day, I had to fire six members of my staff. I was crying in his arms. I was wearing this silk blouse with, pink feather scuffs. I looked up at him, mascara streaming down my face and said, “Take one look at me, Walter. Look at what I’m wearing then take a gander at my make-up! I have to ask you, what makes you so sure I’m not?”

Our friendship was enduring and so incredibly special.  We had this idea that we’d grow old together. That we’d live long enough to comb gray hair, use our AARP discounts at dinner, complain about arthritis and those damn kids and their crazy music. We thought surely one day, I’d be Blanche to his Baby Jane. Aging wouldn’t matter as long as we could view the process through each other’s eyes. Together.

But the Universe had other plans. It gave me Walter, but the one thing it couldn’t give me was a relationship with him that could be measured in years. He was only in my life for a mere 23 months. That was all. Even though I have many brilliant memories that could rival the most dazzling, star-filled constellations, I felt this was and still is so incredibly unfair.   I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I’m still not. My first hello to him–seemingly uttered just yesterday– still resonates on my lips!!

I wanted more time.  No, I needed more time for one last look at his wonderfully handsome face; one more chance to absorb the warmth of his smile; to hear that wicked, wicked laugh; to read his soulful eyes; to feel the touch of his hand.

I grapple with the Divine more than I care to admit and when Walter got sick, I felt angry.  When he died, I felt cheated.  I’m told that people are put in our paths for special reasons.  Sometimes,  it’s to force us to give of ourselves and sometimes it’s for us to receive.   If so, then that means sadly, tragically, these beautiful, divine human gifts must also leave our lives for special reasons.     Why Walter left mine is something I’ll never, ever understand,  but I know why he came into my life. And that was to save my life  and as a result, I’m a much wiser and richer woman for my all too brief experience with this angel.

I love Walter and always will.

His death cannot negate my feelings or the relationship I’ll continue to have with him. The love lives on because I do. And I live on because this precious man gave me a reason to do so.   His friendship in many, many ways gave my life back to me.

I went to his memorial service and saw his ravaged body lying in the coffin.   He would’ve hated that.   He would’ve loathed how his make-up had been applied and how badly he looked.   I made myself look at him,  I needed to see him one last time.   I fought the urge to cry as I touched his withered and drawn face.   I stood there and actually mustered a smile for a few fleeting moments as I thought about the strange, cyclical nature of life and how for every mortal journey, death is the final destination.

This was Walter’s time to die, but unlike so many people, Walter also knew how to live.  And for an all too brief moment in time, his beautiful life intersected mine.

And I am so incredibly grateful.

Twenty years from now, I’ll dream of how I met that one  special man who I wanted to be friends with for the rest of my life…one man I laughed with, cried with…shared my most intimate thoughts with.

And I’ll remember how he was taken from me on a warm and rainy July day in 2007.

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The Politics of Dating

In Broadcasting, you collect a lot of unemployment and you end up out of desperation,  doing odd jobs for very odd people who really, really liked you on the air.   They almost only ever agreed to an interview just to see if one  looked  as hot as one sounded.     I made it through a couple of interviews….I guess that was because I was actually worthy of being the subject of  their fantasy; Laurinella, Queen of SultryVox, Land of CarboHydratia.    Eeewwwww.   I can remember having some of the creepiest temporary bosses.

Anyway, I was thinking back on my long  career and one particular  period of unemployment appeared front and center on ye olde memory banks or in my mammary banks according to some of my creepier bosses.

I’d been doing a little freelance work for a Houston magazine (heavy on the “free”, by the way).   Days earlier, my editor asked me what I wanted to do next in terms of a subject.

I told her that I really didn’t care–anything would be fine–I wasn’t picky. Whatever. I suggested  she throw out a couple of potential topics.

Right off the bat, she suggested I do an in-depth piece on the Interior Department’s finalized proposal to open 48 jillion  acres of previously off-limits land for oil exploration and drilling.

“Nah, that’s a little heavy. Too many facts and numbers”, I said. “But anything else would be fine. Really. I’m amenable to anything,  seriously.  Just name it.  What other topics do you have in mind?”

She then suggested that I write an article on Venezuelan despot, Hugo Chavez (he was still and alive and killing back then) and his ardent criticism of neo-liberal globalization.

I shook my head and told her no; too many abstract political principles. Nor was I in the mood to do a lot of boring research. Plus my head started to spin. I told her I’d do anything , ANYTHING but that.

She then suggested an overview of Nancy Pelosi’s first two years as Speaker of the House.

I vomited a little in my mouth, then suggested an overview of anything else.

She then told me of her idea for a story about the dating world for older Houstonians. (And by older, I mean age 40 and up)

I thought about it for a second: it had possibilities; some creative potential. There would be no mention of Hugo Chavez or Nancy P.  that I could think of and besides, I was a Houstonian over 40.

I told her I’d do it.

But I quickly learned that I wouldn’t be talking to older Houstonians trying to date. I’d have to become one of the older Houstonians trying to date.

The story, as it was conveyed to me, would be far more interesting if I participated in it. First person perspective.

As in, I should actually go out on a date.

Yeah, uh-huh.

A date.

I’m not even sure what constitutes a date in 2017 much less in what it was in 2008 when I was given this assignment,   Certainly not for a woman whose birth  predates Eisenhower’s incessant rants about then military- industrial complex.   

See, at the time, I hasn’t had a real by God date per se since December 2004.    I was Tin Man rusty and way off my game, but a few years earliermImhad some success at what I called “guerrilla dating”. I attacked it with Gunga Din-like precision; I had the enthusiasm of a Sandinista with new boots during the rainy season.

This was my M.O.—I’d get all tarted up and go to the nearest Barnes and Noble Bookstore (ALWAYS date a literate man and do brick and mortar book stores still esxist?).   I’d find a pretentious stack of books to stand near. If I saw a nice looking man, I’d grab a book and open it. Remember, the book really doesn’t matter, but the title and cover made all the difference .  Just make sure whatever you grab as a prop, makes you look intellectual and even a bit mysterious.

I remember on one occasion, I actually trained my eyes to go Marty Feldman. Seriously! One eye scanned the room looking for a mark, while the other focused on the book allowing me to feign interest in the Runic alphabet. I didn’t get that many dates, but I learned that Runic/Futhark is Runic for “how’s it hanging”.

That should come in handy if I’m ever going out with a holdover who’s lineage is that of the ancient Goths.

Still, I remember being nervous about all of it.  The dynamics of dating had changed since I last went out one a date four years prior.  Should I be worried I hadn’t changed enough to accommodate all the social changes? But surely, some of the basics were still in existence, right?

All the latest books and authors insisted that men and women have innate “hard wiring” that time can’t change.    They  wrote that it all goes back to that feral thing; when we lived in caves, communicated through grunts and screeches and were the mono-browed forebearers to that clever caveman Geico ad campaign eight years ago.

We all saw the movie, “Quest for Fire”, right?    We learned from that flick that prehistoric men looked at women and sized them up as breeding stock. They’d ask themselves, “Is she physically able to bare my progeny and propagate my DNA for generations to come?….Ugh!” If so, he grabbed her by the hair and pulled her into the cave where he would proceed make a big carnal Mesozoic smack dab all over her Jurassic.

So, what’s changed?  Women still do as they did way back then; we look at every man and subconsciously wonder if “he’s the one?”  . We can’t help it. We want to know if these brave, hunter/gatherers can provide for our families.   And by that I don’t  necessarily mean bringing home a brontosaurus or fire..

But we’re older now, so more than likely, we’ll still size each other up, but for entirely different reasons.

Older men look at older women and hope that we can prepare a meal that’s either low or no sodium and we older women will be hoping that men will still be able to—–my God! Is that a crease in his pants or is that his prostate???

Oh yes, things have changed.

And what if sex enters the picture??? There are so many factors now in place that weren’t there years ago. I was 49 then…..(Jeez, really?????) and at the time inconvenienced with “free range” periods–they came and went as they pleased and usually at the worst times!    I had to deal with that, plus, there was the awkward issue of Cialis and Viagra; performance anxiety and feminine…. whatever.

There’s nothing scarier than a “first anything”. Especially a first date. You’ve got a 50-50 chance you won’t like each other physically and if that attraction isn’t there, you know it right off the bat. That’s not to say that perceived looks won’t change as you get to know each other, but rarely will a couple on their first date, ever feel that need and desire at the same time.

The truth is we’re older. Much older.

In fact, too damn old to be dating in the first place.   Writing about it would be fiction.    I’d be Steven Glass  Glass with a better rack.

This whole damn idea is nuts.  Completely insane.   I remember sweating, feeling nauseous and burping up something akin to sulfur.   I stayed at home in fetal thought when Inshould have been out researching and  writing this story.   All it resulted in were days of complete panic.     My editor must have sensed this.  She called to check on my progress.   I was honest.  I vomited my panic through the phone.

So, long story short, s few days lster  my piece on how Hugo Chavez’s disdain of neo-liberal globalization affected his dating rituals  was on her desk and ready to go to print.

Jeez……The things  we do for a paycheck.

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A Toothache Can Be An Allegory

The second presidential debate is now history.   I refused to watch it, because had I done so, my death would have been imminent.   You see, I have no patience and intense short-fuse rage issues these days.  The culprit is an abscessed “wisdom” tooth which has to be treated with antibiotics before the wretched thing  can be pulled.  Proximity to the brain, dontcha know.

Pain above the neck is acknowledged through a short,  very direct route to the brain.    Below the neck, it all has to go through the spinal chord.   Make no mistake, if I stepped on a nail. I’d feel it immediately, but feeling the intensity can be slightly muted by distance, mere inches in some scenarios.   As my layperson’s mind perceives it, it could be compared to booking a non stop flight versus one with a lengthy layover in Denver.   There’s always a layover in Denver.

I finally got tired of burping up insane amounts of oral pain gels and faced my fears and  went to my dentist, an occupation that has scared me since seeing The Marathon Man as a kid.    The  kindly dentist took X-rays which revealed I had  a rather odd wisdom tooth that was quite infected.     He knew it was painful.   I confirmed that it was.  I was quietly praying for a script of Fentanyl; he suggested Naproxen.

I have to wait three more days for it to be pulled.     I’ve had a migraine, an earache, a sore throat and as mentioned, rage issues for the past week and a half.   Chronic pain, which I’ve lived with daily since a car accident on 1991, can wear on your heart and soul.   I was precribed an antibiotic which began working, but I only felt its defense forces for the first time this afternoon.  It was only then that I had an appetite, could chew and be civil.   It was the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to yell at those  pesky kids to get off my lawn, even though I have no lawn and I live in a gated community.  I’m the youngest homeowner here and I’m still south of 60.    I can remember “Let’s Make A Deal” while my mostly senior  neighbors can barely recall Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Age schism.   And many of my neighbors are of the nosey, gossipy variety, who hate my dog’s entire elimination system.    I responsible in that I pick up where he leaves off, but I’ve  been written up in the past and for another pet owner’s lack of duty regarding dog doodie.

Pets are barely tolerated, but I’m afraid children aren’t allowed here.  Of course,  no where is that mentioned anywhere in the contract with the builder or in  the HOA by-laws because well, it’s completely Illegal, but here, I get the sense it’s unspoken.  If there are any local kids missing,  authorities might want to check out some of my neighbors.   I walked by one house recently and got a strong whif of gingerbread.

I’ll move soon, and rebuild  and do as the late John Denver once warbled, come home to a place I’ve never been before.  Like an old Etch-A-Sketch from my childhood, I’ll erase a good part of my past.    Well, maybe not erase,  but I’ll make the bad stuff of memories far less retrievable.

Here’s a tip for you:  when God…the Universe….Putin tells you over and over again,  your life and everything in it isn’t working, acknowledge it don’t ignore as I did, cut your losses and run, don’t walk to the nearest exit.    Don’t sit there hoping things will change as you maintain the same currupted mindset that only served a purpose when climbing the ladder, not while stowing it away.   Minding these no so subtle cues often means leaving what’s familiar, but not necessarily healthy.    Taking it further, it also means excising certain people from your past, not because they’re bad, but because one or both of you have changed to the point nothing in the relationship is salvageable.   These are people I once knew from my childhood, a million years ago, from cities large and small,  a million miles away.    Depending on perception, we were victims and/or the fortunate ones to be where we were, when we were.    But nothing lasts, nothing is static.    Many people remain loyal to things which they have every right to do, but these are things I can no longer believe in, creating  a schism of a different kind.

I’ve recently spoken with some people in the psychiatric world about the changes I feel within and around me.   I wanted to know if this need to separate who I am with who and what I was is normal, given all my circumstances.   They each replied in their own ways, assuring me that shedding is perfectly normal and natural.   Dogs do, it; as evidenced by the fur on everything in my house, cats do it and people do it.  We shed dead skin cells to make way for newer, healthier ones.  The White Coats say what really matters is what’s really about the intention behind the mental aspects  of shedding.    Makes sense, so I’ve thought about, lost sleep over it, allowed guilt to eat at my being and arrived at this point.   It’s time to remove  things, leave things, and think differently about things because for me, it was and continues to be in in my best interests to move forward and stop looking back.    I had to remove myself from the things that hurt; which had become painful; which to due to impulse, neediness and bad choices, I allowed to become painful.

Not unlike my abscessed wisdom tooth.

The End of An Era

Joe Paterno is dead.  

I didn’t know that much about the man, other than he was the Penn State head football coach for as long as I can remember.    

I first became aware of Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions in December of 1971 when I learned that my as Southwest Conference champions, my beloved Texas Longhorns were set to play Penn State in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1972.

The Horns would end up losing that game, 30 to 6.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on Paterno all those years ago.  It was  in all the pre-Cotton Bowl media hoopla.    To me, it seemed he always wore that dark blue slicker; regardless of the temperature.  And I always thought he looked 65.    Even 40 years ago.   Here he is after the UT victory in the Cotton Bowl.   In this photo, he just looks like a younger version of himself….like maybe 64. 

Again,  I didn’t know the man, nor do I know much about his life, other than he designed all the X’s and O’s on the Penn State gridiron for 46 years and in that time, he amassed a hell of a record:   409–136–3.

And yes, I also knew that he was, for all intents and purposes, embroiled in the recent scandal at Penn State.    And of course, I learned more than I wanted to about  Joe Pa when the mess emerged about former  defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

In early November, Sandusky was arrested on 40-counts  relating to the sexual abuse of eight young boys over a 15-year period. Most of the incidents allegedly happened on the campus of Penn State.   According to a  grand jury investigation, Mike McQueary, who was at the time  a graduate student assistant, supposedly told Paterno back in  2002 that he’d seen Sandusky sodomizing  10-year-old boy in Penn State football’s shower facilities.    The report also says  Paterno notified Athletic Director, Tim Curley the next day about the incident,  A bit later, he also notified Gary Schultz, the Director of Business and Finance, who oversaw the University Police.  

Here’s where it gets a bit confusing:     Paterno said McQueary told him he’d witnessed “an incident in the shower” but said he never conveyed anything else;  certainly nothing specific and McQueary himself  denied ever using the words “anal” or “rape” when describing what he’d seen in the shower.  

Prosecutors stated that Paterno was not accused of any wrongdoing, as he fulfilled his legal obligation to report the incident to his immediate supervisor, Curley.  However, he was harshly criticized for not reporting the incident to police himself, or at least seeing to it that it was; 

He says he first told his father about the incident, then the next day informed Paterno, and then ten days later informed other university officials.  He was also criticized for not intervening to protect the boy from Sandusky, as well as for not reporting the incident to police himself. McQueary insists he made sure the  assault stopped before leaving, and that he discussed the incident with police but there are no records of this, either with university police or officials with the City of State College.  

The university senior vice president and others have been charged with perjury for saying that McQueary had reported only horseplay at the time. A prominent Pennsylvania physician says he was present when McQueary described the incident to his father and the description mentioned hearing but not seeing a slapping sound in the other room, seeing Sandusky put his hand around the child’s waist and later emerging wearing a towel. McQueary’s testimony for the preliminary perjury trial says that he heard ‘two or three’ slapping sounds before entering the locker room, and later saw Sandusky with his arms around the child’s waist while hearing ‘more than one  of the shower heads  running and saw that the child’s hair ‘was wet’; although he did not see any sexual contact at all….just that the positions of the bodies  told him something was ” extremely sexual” and  ‘over the line” . According to Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett,  who as state attorney general opened the grand jury investigation,  McQueary “met the minimum obligation in reporting the situation.   but he went on to say that it u”did not in my opinion meet a moral obligation that all of us would have.” 

Joe Paterno 1926 - 2012

On the night of November 8th,  hundreds of  supporters  gathered in front on Paterno’s home.  He addressed the crowd, thanked them and then said the  that kids involved at the center of the scandal are the real victims.  They deserve prayers.     The next day,  Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season, stating:

. . . I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can…
Later that evening, however, the Board of Trustees voted to relieve Paterno of his coaching duties effective immediately.   Tom Bradley, Sandusky’s successor as defensive coordinator, was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2011 season, but ultimately, Paterno was permanently replaced by New England Patriots offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien on January 7th—a very unpopular move within the Penn State Nation.   Mike McQueary wasn’t  fired and many assume that’s because he’s protected by Pennsylvania’s whistleblower law.    
 
In November 2011, his family reported that Paterno had a  treatable form of lung cancer. On January 13 of this year, he was hospitalized in State College for complications relating to his cancer treatment.   He died nine days later. 
 
I abhor what happened at Penn State but believe it or not,  my feelings on the scandal aren’t the gist of this post.   Therefore, I  won’t get into the politics of what happened  or what didn’t happen in this scandal.  Ultimately, that will be up to a far more nebulous judge.  But  know this much:  Joe Paterno died of a broken heart as much as lung cancer.   
 
The 85-year old had been coaching since 1950–a whopping 62-years.       It was all he knew.   The stress of having to quit, for the reasons he quit, coupled with an illness that was spreading ,only exacerbated his demise, I’m sure.  
 
Paterno’s death isn’t all that different from men and women who die months…weeks…in some cases, hours after their spouses,the loves of their lives.  Paterno may have been married forever and might have been tremendously happy and that marriage might have produced five kids who in turn, gave him  a slew of cherished grandchildren,  but I would venture a guess that coaching was the love of his life.  God knows I’m not dismissing romantic love, but what I’m talking about is that different kind of love;  one that solidly identifies you.  Molds you; shapes you, and only makes the love of a good man or woman even better. 
 
Paterno’s death reminds me of my parents’ mortality; both are in their early 80’s.   They’re slower than they used to be.  More frail; more narrowcast in their thoughts.  They make me think more and more about life…
 
…and death.
 
As I age,  I’m beginning to understand that life is about will.   Will is everything, but the problem is, heartache torments will.   And when that happens, the pain can keep us from eating, sleeping and from having a quality of life.   The mind controls the will and if the mind is sure there’s nothing to live for, then why bother living?    Conversely, there have been cases of people who survived on sheer determination.  They defied their odds.  We’re talking enumerable odds, too.   
 
Twenty years ago, I interviewed a man dying of AIDS.  His body was covered in the ugly blue/black lesions brought on by Kaposi’s Sarcoma.   He fought the mental haze often accompanied with this opportunistic disease and when he could, he’d lie quietly and focus on his body.  In his mind’s eye, he pictured a huge eraser poised above his body.  He envisioned erasing each lesion on every inch of his body and he’d rub and rub until they disappeared.   After months of this exercise, he noticed a difference….so did his doctors.  They were amazed at his progress.   Many of the lesions had either disappeared or were reduced in size and his T-cell count (T-lymphocytes or  white blood cells) were up exponentially.     They called it nothing short of a miracle
 
And even though I understand the variables–he was young and in good health prior to getting sick, plus he had the money to afford the best health care money could buy in the early 90’s and despite the stigma associated with the disease, he had a wonderful support staff that helped him physically and emotionally– this story has always stayed with me.    I’m a big believer in the power of the mind;  its ability to comprehend, to create, though not in an L.  Ron Hubbard way and not in a Timothy Leary way, though I think save for all the acid, that cat was actually kind of on to something.   But I do believe in the Law of Attraction:  we reap what we sow;  we create what we feel.   While I’ll never look like Angelina  Jolie (my mind is housed in made of a substance known as gray matter..NOT Harry Houdini!!!)  despite my best mental gymnastics, I do believe I have the power to be the best Me I can be.   I just have to want it….to need it;  to finally get bored with not reaching the potential that would transform me.  
 
I know this can happen, because it has.   I’m living proof.  You see, I recently lost 23 pounds in  relatively short time.    I simply decided to do it.  
 
That said, I will never again take the phrase, “I changed my mind”  cavalierly.
 
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, & acceptable, & perfect, will of God.”
—Romans 12:2
 
Or something like that. 
     

Realities

My family is fragmented.

We’re like this ancient vase:  cracked, pieces missing….beyond repair.   Anger and resentment makes a horrible glue.    

I’m not sure how it became so easy for all of us to turn our backs on each other.   We invented disposiblility.     At least that’s how it feels.    Most of my family doesn’t talk to each other and hasn’t for some.     Distance and silence are easy.  They also eliminate the awkwardness of effort.

It’s funny, teetering on pathetic, actually that at age 52, I still have this sophomoric fantasy of someday having this orchestrated nuclear family–straight out of one of those Little Golden Books, I had as a child.   

In my fantasy, my last name is Smith or Jones and it’s  a patriarchical unit that includes parents who exemplify love.  Broken down, that would include a mother who’s loving and nurturing; a father with a spine;  older sisters named Babs and Sis, a dog named Spot and Fluff, the cat.   And I would be this sweet, loving proportionately built girl-child; excelling through life because of an enviable support system that always made me feel loved and strong, win or lose.  

We had all the trappings.  On paper, it looked good.   As far as my sisters and I were concerned, we were very much like these three little girls; posed for the world to see.   Perfectly dressed in taffeta, crinoline and Niagara spray starch–posed in birth order, magazine smiles at the ready.

But that’s not really how it was.     That’s not how it ever is.  

While Child Protective Services never intervened, my childhood wasn’t all that great.   I was -like a million other kids–troubled.    Troubled people were the reason and I have spent years and countless paychecks on therapy and Zoloft trying to  understand  how and why.

Maybe it was because I always had that damned unrealistic family fantasy in the back of my mind. 

Anyway…

A few months ago,  I was summoned to the Texas Hill Country.    Partly by my mother; partly by a need to get out of Houston and breathe different air.  Daughterly duty also played a role

I stayed with my mother who now boasts a life consisting of 81 years on this planet. The woman who bore me 52.7years ago, truly is an amazing woman. She’s short…only 4’8″ (4′ 9.5″ providing her coif is sufficiently teased and Aqua Netted) but in many ways she’s the tallest woman I’ve ever known. Her personality is as it has always been: bigger than life. I appreciate her now in ways I couldn’t….

Or wouldn’t.

My problem is that I always allowed her mothering to get in my way. You see, she wasn’t necessarily a bad mother…perhaps, not the best for a woman like me. I wasn’t a bad daughter either…just hardly the one a woman like her should mother.

We’ve always had a rather tumultuous relationship. I’m not even sure why. I do think we’re both to blame though.

A little background: I knew I wanted to be a Broadcast Journalist since age six when a camera crew captured the top of my very blond head which appeared over the back of my centenarian great grandmother’s wheel chair. KENS-TV, the CBS affiliate in San Antonio had come to my home town to film her 100th birthday party. Guess life expectancy for former South Texas pioneer women wasn’t very high in the mid 60’s.

That night, clad in Winnie the Pooh footed pajamas, I sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor in front of the Curtis Mathis that night, waiting to see if I could see me on the news. Sure enough, there I was. You could only see the top of my head and only for a fraction of a second, but it was just enough to make me realize what I wanted to do, to be; to experience when I grew up.

I feel sure my mother had the same aspirations most of her life. But she dropped out of Baylor her Sophomore year to get married. Her hopes of being a writer were dashed when my oldest sister was born. Protestant procreation urges forced her to sprout two more groin fruit. I was the third and last bi-product of this Sealy Posturpedic co-mingling.

I am more like my mother than my two older sisters. In me, she saw herself and that was both good and bad. I became what she wanted to become but because of personal choices, didn’t. But I don’t think she always saw it like that. My mother has never been one to admit mistakes and because of that, at times I feel she needed to believe others stood in her way. This conveniently allowed her to cover up her own disappointment for never trying harder to do all the things she wanted. In fact, after a very tumultuous divorce, my mother was convinced that her marriage to my father–the result of falling for some line about his coercive fears of being made to fight the Korean hun and only returning to Texas in a coffin–was the main reason why her dreams of becoming a writer, were trashed.

The truth is, she never tried to write throughout her years of child rearing. I think she was scared of both failure and success. But that all changed several years into her retirement. She finally went for broke and took a few writing courses, but dropped out when the instructor harshly critiqued her essay. All of her life, her flawless dreams of being a published author never included being “edited”. No dreams ever do.

Sadly, she never wrote again and we all knew better than to ask why. The sad part is that we also knew that she actually could write very well. Even all these years later, I hate that she let one person’s very subjective opinion sully every aspiration she had.

Perhaps that’s only added to the conflict between us that has existed for decades. For reasons that I would suppose are deeply Freudian in nature, I feel certain that my mother both loved and hated my very public career in TV and radio. Whenever she had something to say to me, it was almost always critical. She found fault in every report; with my appearance in every TV stand up. She hated what I wore; how I phrased something. Then, if she couldn’t find fault with my performance, she criticized the station itself or the city it was in…or my salary. Yet I know she was proud of me because she would express her to other people but for some reason, she could never tell me she was proud of me to my face. I think she wanted me to succeed yet she needed me to fail. And that resulted in many attempts to shake my confidence. Most of the time, I deflected her negativity by striking back with arrogance. I acted like a know-it-all brat who fiendishly went for her emotional fontanel by rubbing her nose in my successes on more occasions than I care to admit. That almost always resulted in horrendous shouting matches that would make wharf whores and teamsters blush.

Regrettably, we’ve spent a lifetime arguing more than anything else. But this visit was different. At least, it certainly felt different.

This time, we weren’t rivals, but we weren’t friends either. I’m not sure what we were. But I do know the dynamic between us was very different. It was easy. I guess one could even call it effortless efforting, Somehow, the anger induced sparring of the past fell by the wayside. For one week we were civil. It was as if we’d managed to evolve into two much calmer women who understood each other…maybe for the first time ever. We celebrated that by drinking Scotch and sipping wine on occasion. We went shopping and tended to business. We watched TV together; we tried to out play each other on “Jeopardy”. We ran errands together; we had dinner out; cooked dinner at home and hosted a dinner party for family one night, but regardless of what we did in the course of the day or the plans we had in the evening, every afternoon at 5:00 like clockwork, we’d go outside and sit on her front porch to watch Monarch butterflies pilfer nectar from flowers wilted by a hard summer drought. We watched migratory geese fly south for the winter and wondered out loud how in the hell the geese selected the lead HGIC (Head Goose In Charge) and what a drag it was to be the weakest in the phyla and be forced to fly at the end of that famous “Y” pattern. We laughed at silly jokes and shared memories. We talked about love and life and failure and successes–other peoples’ mind you; certainly not our own. And yes, at times, she couldn’t help herself. She’d revert to type to do what she did best: she played mother and I knew I had no choice but to reprise my role as daughter.

And here’s the difference I wrote about earlier: I took it all. I just sat there and quietly endured six afternoons of being barraged with comments about my skin and how bad it looked. I learned that my hair was cut in a style that was much too young. I dressed all wrong for my age. I looked bloated. She’d ask me why I choose THAT eyeliner and how could I wear those shoes? And last but not least in order to meet a nice man and settle down, she insisted that I couldn’t just sit in my apartment and wait for one to knock on my door. I needed to get out there, take a chance, BUT I SHOULD AVOID GOING TO BARS TO MEET MEN!!

I said nothing. Arguing wasn’t an option, nor did I didn’t want it to be. I decided that I had two choices within this new ritual we were establishing: I could take the negative things she says to heart and flounder…OR…I can see my positives as I know them to be and refuse to allow someone else’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacies to rewrite my life’s profile page, even if that person is my mother; especially if that person is my mother. I had come to terms with the reality that this was who this woman has been and is; what she’s all about. It’s who she always will be and in the course of my week spent with her, I finally stopped fighting that fact. It was as if my life as her daughter and her life as my mother had reached some mystical reckoning simultaneously. And it all came into focus under the nuclear explosion of color that is a Central Texas sunset. In a way, she’d earned the right to be her whether I liked it or not and the late afternoon light proved that true. It illuminated her face and it showed every line and wrinkle, courtesy of so many years and experiences. It was odd seeing her like this….literally in ‘a new light’….and because of that, I never averted my gaze. I desperately wanted that image of her permanently emblazoned in my memory.

And as I sat on her front porch afternoon after afternoon, I realized that I no longer felt the need for approval that would never come. I no longer wanted her to compliment or coddle me. I didn’t want money or maternal recognition of any kind. I simply wanted time. That’s all. I wanted more time to be with this woman.

As twilight drew near, she’d always suggest that we go inside. I’d always oblige, but did so under silent protest. In many, many ways, I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to leave that porch. I didn’t want to leave her house.

The truth is, I didn’t want to leave my mother.

I once read that Life is but a candle’s flicker; out with a puff of smoke. All week-long, that sentence kept coursing through my head. I know her years left on this good Earth can be counted on a few fingers. Even so, I refuse to regret anything that’s happened between us. Even the bad stuff. Every afternoon, in the midst of butterflies, questions about flying geese and shadows that grew longer with each passing minute, I made a vow to replace every regret with better memories. Mercifully I realized or rather, I hoped, I’d still have time to make more.

Armed with this new strategy and mindset, I stood with her one last time on her front porch this morning. I got in my car after two hugs, a promise to return in a month, one kiss on the cheek and one “I love you”. I was the one who said it. She said nothing. She never does. When it comes to expressing emotions, that’s the one time when this normally chatty woman becomes utterly dumbstruck.

When I arrived back home to Houston after a long, three-hour drive, I looked in my purse.  Tucked inside I found one of her trademark powder blue envelopes which contained a $2.00 off coupon for some Oil of Olay anti-aging skin-care product; a $3.00 coupon for Metamucil and a newspaper article about the pros and cons of being loveless over the age of 50.

Two coupons and a newspaper clipping told me what she couldn’t:    that she loved me, too.

I guess every so often Little Golden Books, while tarnished, can have  some basis in reality.

Walls

Laura Kaeppler, Miss America 2012

This past Saturday night, I wrote a post about the excessive cringing I’ve been doing in my life lately. It’s the visceral response that I have when I think back on all the idiotic and in some cases, dangerous things I’ve done. We’re talking careless, reckless behavior. I alternate between feeling intense embarrassment, then shame…sometimes I feel both simultaneously. That’s enough to get to me think a bit about pulling a Lupe Velez…not that I ever could OR would do that. But I will admit, I am still appalled at my own  behavior.   Immobilized by my own audacity. 

Well, a post about all of that somehow degraded to  the subject of  Miss Texas, Kendall Morris making it to the Top Ten of the last Saturday night’s 2012 Miss America pageant, but not going beyond the top ten,  despite demonstrating what I thought to be the most talent of the nine other young women.   She was/is tall, young, and pretty. Beyond that she was/is this wonderfully fit specimen of womanhood. As handsome as she was/is, I suppose the woman who went all the way to be crowned and  then subsequently crooned by a CD of the late Bert Parks singing to her that as Miss America, she’s everyone’s ‘ideal”, was even prettier, talented and more fit.

Her name is Laura Kaeppeler.

For her talent, she sang opera, which I remember and to be honest, the performance made me cringe as much as reflecting back on that one particular Saturday night I spent drinking a lot of tequila in Nuevo Laredo. You can imagine the rollicking, frolicking evening I had. If you can, then please tell me. I don’t remember a thing. And something tells me I’m better off NOT remembering anything.

Anyway, see the pic above.  Pretty, right?

In the defining Q&A portion of the pageant, in which a question is selected randomly, she was queried via a slip of paper about the relevance whether ,  “a beauty queen should declare her political viewpoints or not’ . To that she answered…

 “Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well. And so in these economic times, we need to be looking forward to what America needs, and I think Miss America needs to represent all.”

Not bad. ‘Twas a nice demonstration of thinking on her feet in a calm, cool and intelligible way.

Hardly this ridiculous mental prolapse:

The platform she’ll support for her one-year reign is supporting and mentoring children of incarcerated parents. She should know–her father served 18 months in prison for mail fraud. In fact, her dad was sentenced when she was 18, just as she was graduating from high school. That was five years ago and her views about having a jail-bird for a pappy are very reasoned and obviously, honed through experience. In her words,, “I know there are many of you out there and I was one of you, but it doesn’t have to define you.”

We are the products of so many things; genetic coding, environment, religion, birth order, gender,  social status  and of course, choices. The one we make and the ones others make that affect us.

I like what I think Laura Kaeppler stands for, though I don’t know her from Adam. And it’s because I didn’t know her that for a few moments Saturday night after donning that rhinestone crown, I thought her only problem in life was getting a zit. Being lovely, pretty and publicly “showing well” were her only concerns. While in  her line of work as a pageant contestant, that understandably, would be the case– having a father serve time in prison for a felony outweighs an acne outbreak anytime.

Laura Kaeppler is a bright, shining example of the Big Get Even that sometimes life bestows on us. No one has it all. I don’t care who you are. If you’re pretty and smart and decent, you’ve got a father who bent the rules to get ahead fiscally and was sentenced to prison for it. The family shame. If you’re smart and funny, invariably you’re built like a Rubik’s cube and that physical limitation only exacerbates your rampant carb addiction and lack of willpower. If you’re pretty and smart, you have the personality of a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil eraser. If you’re a man who’s handsome and rich, you’re a self-centered rectal fissure.

Now, this isn’t to say that there are some who actually defy this and have it all, but these are rare finds, indeed. The truth is, no one experiences pure joy, elation and balance all the time. By our very nature as fallible mortals, we must endure the yin and yang of existence. The ups and downs; the highs and lows. Nature…God…the Universe (insert your belief system here), I swear, puts governors on our lives.   Whenever things are going well, something has to happen to temper it.  As if a law of nature.  George Harrison once warbled, “all things must pass”.   Joy comes as goes as fast as the violent thunderstorm.   

We’re given enough, never too much.

We are born free, but bound.

A million years ago, I grew up in a small South Texas town with small people who defined me by where I lived and the family I was born into. As I child and teen, I’d always heard others thought me lucky.   My family lived and played in what I suppose could be construed as small town opulence,  but lucky because of that????   Why is luck to some, defined by what one has? The people who thought I was lucky couldn’t have been more wrong. The home I grew up in had six bedrooms. It was big and that’s what people first noticed. Eventually, that would become all that they could see; just the outside walls and their dimensions. 

To me, that always exemplified perceptions and how different they can be depending on the eyes that’s doing the looking— the have nots vs. the reality of those who have, whether real or imagined.

In a way, that was the only thing I saw in Laura Kaeppler on  Saturday night. What she looked like..the fleshy walls that show the world a very lovely face and body.   I know she’s pretty, but that’s all I know.    I don’t know what her hurts are; what her needs are….her wants.   I don’t know what makes her cry…or cringe…in the privacy of a darkened room at 3:26 AM on any given Tuesday.

I don’t know her.    I just know what I see, which allows me to see her as one who has…so I can grieve as one who has not.

All of this is just fine, really.   This common distortion means the walls are doing their job.

They’re made to keep the roof on and the elements out.

Walls also help keep secrets hidden.

It’s Saturday Night

Not me. Pilfered image.

And I’m home and in the same jammies I put on when I got in from a few hours at work late this morning….yes,  I worked six straight days.     I got in from work around noon, tossed back a few Unisom gel tabs and drifted off to sleep for several hours.    It was needed.   It was appreciated.

Then I woke up in the dark.   I sat there for a few minutes gathering my diphenhydramine addled faculties for a second, then felt the need to do something I haven’t felt like doing in weeks— I wanted to write something in my blog.  

You see, my real job is taking a lot out of me.  My hours are ridiculous and I’m enduring that crazy, disruptive shift disorder syndrome thing that you hear medical personel and Joe Lunchbox from ‘down at the plant’ endure daily.   Sleep has always been lacking in my life…even as a kid.   And these days, it’s non-existent.  My schedule and a few other things that have reared their heads are making me question what I’m doing and where I’m doing it.    Make no mistake– I’m grateful for the opportunity to work.   God knows, I’ve prayed and made Faustian deals in order to find suitable employment.   Gratitude is even more in order considering I’ve spent most of the first 11 years of this century out of work and seemingly out of options.    But God and The Fates decided to work together.  This recent venture in broadcasting fell in my lap.    That said,  I love the theory of what I do (read into that whatever you choose) but the reality is, my life has changed in many ways–ways I’ve chosen not to share or make public.  And when you have options, the decisions that you have to make (or not make) aren’t so weighty.    I wish this for the world.    Having options.

And then deciding which works best for who you are in that particular stage of your life.

Decisions.

Earlier, I had the 2012 Miss America pageant on to serve as white noise.     It’s down to the Top Ten’s talent portion and I questioned some of these ladies’ choices.   Considering the talent aspect of what amounts to legal flesh peddling is 30-percent of the overall vote, it seemed some of these dames scrambled to think of something to do.   Singing sure isn’t a forte.   Modern dance wasn’t wise for one contestant.  Miss Texas had the most talent.  She played the piano with an almost animated speed.   If she made any mistakes, the orchestral accompaniment drowned it out which might have been on purpose.  If so, good call.  

That beckons the question:  is a mistake made worse only when others know you made it?  

Which beckons an answer—yes.

If Miss Texas hit a B sharp when she have played a plain ol’ B as the orchestra was in the middle of a  crescendo, but only she knew it, she could live with that.    At least I think she could, that is, unless she’s this over-the-top anal-retentive control freak who becomes one with every chair in which she sits.

I used to be Teflon coated like this.  I would even laugh at my mistakes and shrug them off and go on my merry way, but lately, I’m haunted by recurring memories.   I keep thinking of the silly things I’ve done;  the stupid caprices of youth and I am mortified by my actions  some 34 years after the fact.  And these memories flood my gray matter all the time–while standing in line at the check-out counter of Insert Store Name Here; as I drive, as I work; in the shower; in the middle of a meeting….as I balance my checkbook.  These memories are for a lack of a better word, ‘toxic’ and they make me shudder.

I think back on the knee jerk choices I made.   Who I found redeeming…and why.  I reflect back on the stupid and at times, even cruel things I did and said going all the way  back to those loathsome four years called High School.   

What I’m trying to say is that aspects of my life keeps flashing in front of me.  

Well, if I allow logic and rational  thinking to enter the picture, this is probably one of two things at work here:    I’m either dying…

OR….

This is simply part of my continuing effort to shed and let go. I have for years been this one big walking definition of static cling. I walked around carrying everything on me, in me. And then after a chance opportunity a few years ago snapped me into reality, I made a conscious decision to release all the things that had been weighing me down for years: the guilt of horrible choices (in men, mostly) and a few other areas in my life.  Behaviors;  some dating back to High School.     I keep telling myself that I should let that go– I was 17-years old and naive,  immature and traumatized, in a way, by certain things that were happening at home.     

But these memories are the last hold outs of a  part of my past of  which I’m having the most difficulty in letting go.   I know that in order to completely let go, one must own up to mistakes.   Some of these mistakes I made are so heinous (at least in my thinking) that the old Laurie enters the picture and desperately wants to apply that convenient salve known as denial on all of them.  I think that’s actually the problem—I’m all out of salve.  These are the last things that keep me anchored to a sad past…a past that will only hold my future at bay if I DON’T let it go.    And I have to raise the anchor.   Pummel the obstacles.  Own the actions and behaviors.

So, I’m letting go….Of petty things I did as a kid almost 35 years ago;  as things I did as a childish adult, seven years ago.    And as I let go, I’m forgiving myself.    Deepak and Tony would be proud of me.   They’re right about one thing:  there’s immense power in forgiveness. 

Miss Texas, Kendall Morris. Her name just 'works", doesn't it? Sounds confident; powerful...don't "F" with me.

So, I’ll go from the Masters of  that oh so important Masters of the Mind/Body Connection to Samantha  Stevens.   POOF!!!!   Nose wriggled….wand waved…edict made.   I am forgiven.   Regrets are such a waste of time, but necessary in that they’re annoying little barbs that remind you:  you must  remedy your life where it’s needed.

When it’s needed.   

By the way,  Miss Texas didn’t make the Top Five.    She has two choices in terms of ways to view this ‘develop0ment’:   she made it all the way through the pageant system.  She probably started out as Miss Hen House–crowned in some hot high school auditorium in some tiny North Texas burg.   And then  she packed her determination along with her  Maybelline and decided to head for glory.    

We all watched ‘glory’ unfold when her name was called to join nine other women in the top ten.      A coup to be sure.

OR….

She can choose to be angry and bitter  and hate the those who made it through.  She can also direct the negative feelings inward and hate herself for not being as talented or as pretty.     

Naaaaaah.   Something tells me this woman will display her Top Ten certificate proudly.   Of course she would have loved to have gone all the way;  to have been crowned Miss America would have been a tremendous milestone.   Perhaps then, making it to the Top Ten  was merely a mind pebble.  But an accomplishment nonetheless.   

I don’t know Kendall Morris.  I don’t her family or the support system might have helped to arrive at the Miss America pageant, but  I have a feeling that she did most of the driving herself.   Call it a hunch, but something tells me she has enough properly placed, well-honed self-awareness to go with that drop dead figure and face, to supply an employment office for  two years.