Robin Hood of Vegetables

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My brother texted me late last night. In honor of his 32nd birthday him and his wife (holy shit, I can’t believe my little brother is married) took their two kids (and has kids!) on a trip through Skyline drive.

“The kids only screamed two of the eight hours we were in the car” he tells me. I read between the lines. I get it. Sometimes you just want a ride through the mountains that doesn’t include passing around cheerios and sippy cups.

He texts me random rap videos from our youth and we joked about the lyrics we still knew. We grew up on a farm yes, but it was within a rather (sub)urban area, and just outside the city, you know? So we had no idea that there was anything but rap music until I met my first crush and he turned me on to Nirvana and Blind Melon. (Remind me to Google Antonio.)

We start with Warren G and end up somehow with Pantera. He was all into metal when we were teens. I never liked them because it reminded me of Pantene shampoo and I hate the way that smells.

Then we play a game of  “do you remember?” with childhood memories.

“Hey, do you remember that guy Red?”, he asked.

“of course!”, I replied.

“Always bringing us vegetables?”

“You mean always stealing vegetables and giving them to us.”

“He was the Robin Hood of vegetables”.

“OMG he totally was!”

“Who was he?”

“I have no idea.”

“Yeah, me either.”

And that’s true actually. I have no idea who the guy was, maybe some distant relative? But, all summer long he would go to my great aunt’s garden and then bring us bags of her vegetables and leave them on our doorstep. So she just started planting more and it became an understood thing. We looked forward to the double bagged vegetables every couple of weeks. It was like a treasure! Except for the patty pan squash. Because they just look weird like little fat spaceships, so nobody would touch them so they would just sit on the bottom and spoil.

That’s my childhood in a nutshell. Sitting on a farm eating vegetables from some red-haired old man I didn’t know while listening to Warren G.

Glad I have a brother to share that memory with.

Ruby Red Boots.

pink, white and red candied heart sprinkles

Trading in her ruby red boots for a pair of old soft cotton Mary Janes, she said goodbye to her girlhood. Today she would become someone’s wife and not even a year from now someone’s mom. But for right now she was still herself and the pathetic excuse for a mirror in the park bathroom–turned bridal dressing room for the occasion–echoed back her girlish features. Jet black hair cropped into a bob, accented by electric blue bangs, and pulled back by two sparkly butterfly clips in either side. Though the black vintage cocktail dress she wore hung a little too loosely to her frame, she hadn’t been able to afford to have it taken in. Still, she took pride in finding her dress in a shop down town for $50, leaving her $250 left to put towards the wedding decorations.

“Why don’t you just go down to the judge?” a friend had asked. “There is no shame in a court wedding”,  a cousin remarked.

Because she hadn’t done anything wrong, that’s why. A court wedding felt to her like a punishment. Something you do when you’re hiding a baby-bumped and forced into a wedding. Or when you’re on your third marriage and don’t believe enough in love to invest in another dress. Her only offense was that she had fallen in love a little too young and a lot too poor.

Needing a home to live in and putting their foot down on simply shacking up, meant the wedding was moved up from a late fall event and turned into a quaint early spring get together. In two weeks time she threw together a simple wedding with her husband-to-be. It wasn’t what every girl envisions–big white dress and veil; being walked down the aisle by a cummerbunded father to meet her beloved waiting at the front, music swelling and guests rising as she walked past. There was no way to aim towards something so extravagant without falling pitifully short, and so she took pride in making it her own style. She owned it by calling it her potluck punk wedding. In lieu of gifts, friends and family were asked to bring their favourite dishes and drinks.  First a wedding, and then a feast. Disposable cameras where handed out to friends who became amateur photographers on the spot. Everyone smiled, called her unique. Believed her when she said it was exactly what she wanted in a wedding and that long veils and big fancy gowns weren’t her style. They believed her so much, in fact, that she almost began to believe it herself.

So under stormy skies, and with the mountains behind them and the spring winds blowing so hard that they knocked over a candled centerpiece on one of the tables, catching it briefly on fire before someone thought to throw the punch bowl on it, she walked down to meet a baby faced guy dressed head to toe in black, tattoos decorating each arm, and eyes sparkling brightly. Right there, before a small audience of friends and several scurrying birds, she said “I do” to a life so full of hardships and so rich with love.

The Attic

 

Driveway of Traditional Craftsman HouseThere was this house where I used to hang out a lot when I was a kid. It was nestled in a sparsely wooded area between to two highways with a McDonald’s on one side and a 7-11 on the other. The house was old and creepy, and looked pretty much nothing like the picture accompanying this story.  Nobody lived there anymore except a large family of mice in the kitchen and two big tanks full of tropical fish in the living room. My best friend Grey’s grandparents had suffered the loss of their first born child, Ricky, in a drowning accident as a teenager and found themselves stuck between needing to rebuild a life in a new home which didn’t contain constant reminders of their son, and needing to hang on to whatever memories they had. And so they left the one house pretty much as it was–sofas, fully made beds, tropical fish tanks and all– and then moved into a new house and started over there.

Years later they opened a business across the street from the old house and so it became club house of sorts for their grandchildren and their friends. They kept ice cream in the freezer and the fridge packed with soda, and we were invited to take from it as we liked. And we did.

I kept going back under the pretense of hanging out with my best friend Grey. But, mostly it was because there was little adult super vision, and even though I had no intention of doing anything wrong, I suppose I like knowing I had the option to if I wanted to. A need for freedom that most teenagers have.

Summers were the most fun because we could trek around in the woods and play in the nearby stream. On rainy days we sat inside watching old videos, playing only dare–and never truth, and trying to scare each other with ghost stories.

“Dare?”, Teddy–Grey’s cousin–asked.

“Okay, go down to the basement, in the dark, alone, and stay for 3 whole minutes. With the door shut!”.

As the bravest of us all, my brother was the only one who actually lasted that long. The others gave up pretty soon after taking the dare. Lisa played it tough and held out for 30 seconds before claiming that not fear but a genetic case of claustrophobia passed down from her mother was the reason she wouldn’t be able to hack it. Katie cried the second she hit the last step, even before the lights where turned off. Me? I wouldn’t even attempt it. No way!

Then there were the scary stories, like the unsolved mystery of the blood that never dried. Some man/woman/child died in a motorcycle crash/tractor accident/fell down the stairs and was decapitated. Their head went rolling down the road/into the woods/down the stairs. Despite endless attempts the blood was never able to be fully cleaned up and no amount of paint could ever cover it. Until this very day, so they say, it remains wet with the blood of the deceased.

And of course how could I forget the one about the music box which played backwards? But, we all know music boxes are a direct portal to hell anyhow, so that’s no real surprise.

So we’d all be sitting in the living room playing chicken–each one of us too scared to leave the room but too proud to admit it, until eventually, some poor fool who had downed his entire Super Big Gulp from the 7-11 next door would run to the bathroom to find some relief and finally break the spell the room had on us.

“Hey guys, did you all know that Uncle Ricky’s ghost lives here?”, Grey asked one unusually chilly spring morning, when we were all huddled inside trying to stay warm. “He actually haunts the upstairs.”

“Shut-up Grey!”, I said, because frankly ghosts scared the living daylights out of me. Still do.

“No, I’m serious! Ask Grandma. It’s why she kept this house. Could you sell a house with your dead son haunting it?”

“I don’t believe you”, I gulped. But, I was shaking because of course I kinda did.

“Fine, but I’m not making it up. Sometimes you can hear him up there. Getting out of his bed. Walking around. Opening and closing the door to the bathroom.”

Just then, there was a bang upstairs. A door closing, opening, and some feet walking around.

“Stop fucking around up there you guys! It’s not funny! You’re not scaring me!”, I yell up to Grey’s cousin and my brother, throwing out the “f” word I’d be practicing when my parents weren’t around to slap me in the mouth for saying it.

“Sis, who are you yelling at like an idiot?”, my brother asked me as I turned around to see him and Teddy standing right behind me.

Probably just some squirrels that chewed their way into the attic, we all agreed.

“But, squirrels can’t open doors, can they?”, I asked quietly.

That house wasn’t nearly as much fun after that.

Lorelei

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When she looked up, all she could see were spots. Bubbles of gold, blue, grey, red… all floating in circles. She blinked her eyes to make sense of the blurry scene she saw before her. Straining to hear what was being said to her over the sound of rushing waters that seemed to fill her ears, she tried to ask for help but her mouth wouldn’t form the words. Her hands hung uselessly down by her waist as she struggled desperately to make them work.

Lorelei had passed out again. This time in a group full of strangers, at a CPR class she had to take before getting clearance to work in the hospital’s gift shop. It seemed so silly–she’s not a nurse or a doctor. But they required all employees, no matter their position, to know basic first aid and CPR. She had been sitting in the back when she was asked to come to the front and help demonstrate the proper way to check for a pulse.

“You’ve done this before, right?”, the teacher asked. Lorelei nodded. “Great! Then you could teach some of these newbies how an old pro does it!”

Her heart began to pound as she stood up and walked to the front of the room on shaky legs. She had taken this CPR once before, back when she used to babysit for local families for petty cash in high school. And having a fabulous memory meant she rarely forgot something she learned. She told herself she would be able to handle this. “Just don’t look at anyone in the eye. You probably won’t even need to speak.” But, when she made it to the front, and all 32 pairs of eyes were on her, she felt her face flush and her hands go numb. “Oh shit!” she said to herself. “Don’t you dare faint in front of all of these people!” But it was too late, and a moment later she was laying sprawled out on the floor.

A little while later, when her hearing had returned, the feeling in her hands and legs had come back, she assured them that she was okay. “I probably just forgot to eat breakfast this morning. I’m fine now.” She explained.

But she wasn’t fine and she knew it. It seemed like these episodes had begun to take over her life a little at a time until she felt that she was making her daily plans around how to avoid them. Slowly her goals and aspirations were replaced with hopes that she wouldn’t find herself stuck in the middle of an intersection on a rainy night or needing to use the tiny elevator in her apartment building. The stairs were even worse because with every footstep upward came an loud echo that made it known just how far down a fall it was to the bottom floor. After that last time, when she had to pull over on the highway because she was hyperventilating and dizzy, she decided she needed to find a job closer to home.

 

 

“What do you think triggered these attacks?” Dr. Ranshaw asked Lorelei one afternoon as they sat on her couch in her first floor suite. Dr. Ranshaw had been recommended to her by her primary care doctor when she described her dizzy episodes and they had ruled out any medical cause.

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here.”, she replied quite earnestly.

“Okay, so let me ask you this–do you remember the very first time you felt this way? Racing heart, feeling of panic?”

“I guess about 2 years ago.”

“Tell me a little about it.”

“I was driving to work and I look over for a moment to pick up my phone off the seat, and when I glanced back at the road I realized I had almost run into someone. A pedestrian. I was so scared! I immediately pulled over because I couldn’t stop shaking. I don’t even remember how I made it home.”

“So you had a traumatic experience. You realized they your vehicle could also be used as a weapon. Possibly take the life of another. How did that make you feel?”

“How would it make anyone feel? Horrible. I don’t want to hurt anyone. Just the thought that I could makes me… makes my… oh just thinking about it is making my heart pound. I don’t feel well.”

And so Dr. Ranshaw had talked her through the anxiety before it turned into a full blown panic attack. It was the first time that Lorelei had felt like there was hope.

Over the next several weeks they made progress, and in each meeting they discussed a new technique. Meditation, purposeful breathing, proper eating and exercise regimens. Lorelei was gaining back her old life little by little. One step at a time. Learning how to not only handle taking the elevator and handling herself in large crowds again, but also how to stay in the moment and not let the anxiety get out of control.

“It’s okay to feel anxious, you know. Anxiety is an emotion which lets us know something is wrong. Like a warning sign. It lets us know that there may be trouble up ahead. The problem is that when we let our anxiety lead the whole show, it puts us out of balance. Being in a highly anxious state is hard on the body. The blood doesn’t flow properly to your arms, legs and head. It prevents your stomach from digesting. It even makes your skin feel cold and clammy. You need to learn to take the reigns again. Keep anxiety as one of many tools in your toolbox. Otherwise you’re body will be in a constant state of fight or flight, and unless you’re trying to outrun a tornado or fight off a mountain lion, it really doesn’t serve you well. Next week I want to discuss you making some goals–getting back into your old life.”

On the way home Lorelei kept replayed the conversation in her head. She new Dr. Ranshaw was right. It was time for her to take that next step, but she was so scared. Her heart pounded just thinking about standing in front of a group of people with all eyes on her. But, there was this thing, a poetry slam–open mic night on Thursdays, that she’d read about in the paper. Back in high school she’d often been told her poems were really good. “Very moving”, her English teacher had written on the one which she had been most proud. She’d kept a private journal of them ever since. Even wrote one recently that she was particularly proud of about overcoming anxiety.

As she drove along the highway she saw that the exit that would lead her home was up next, but realized if she stayed on for another minute she’d practically be right in front of the bar where the reading was. It could be like a practice session. A trial run. The bar wasn’t even open this early so she could just turn around in the parking lot and head back home. Dr. Ranshaw would be so pleased with her, she thought. So impressed that she gave it her all.

She took a deep breath, smiled, confident and happy, and continued on past her exit ramp and turning instead a few moments later onto Downlane Rd. When she heard her phone buzz over on the seat next to her, she instinctively looked over, just for a moment–which is the only reason she didn’t happen see those two little girls stepping out onto the cross walk.