Slipping

12Jul13

I’m driving my son to fencing class when I get the call.  Before cell phones, calls like this came in the middle of the night.

A woman I know, not close enough to call “friend” but  more than a casual acquaintance has died.  She was in her early forties, had a talented son who played in the orchestra with my daughter in high school.  She wore bright red lipstick and talked too loud, moved her body like she was on stage with dramatic postures and sweeping arm movements.  She made me uncomfortable because she reminded me of myself – bold and bright and loud – threaded with ribbons of insecurity. She reminded me of myself because she was an on again / off again junkie.

When a former addict dies, the first thing you ask is “Do you know what happened?” Really, you want to ask “Did she overdose?” Because no matter how many days/months/years an addict is sober, one slip-up can be more than hiccup, it can be the end.  Maybe that’s why I’m so shaken when I hear the news, that this not-quite-friend with the black mascara and sexy dresses has passed away.

My son asks me what happened.  I tell him the truth, that someone I went to treatment with three years ago overdosed. It’s sad because she’s so young, a mom, an odd character in this often dull and beige and boring world. I talk about her in present tense, like she is still all of things, when in fact she’s not.

“How’d she die?” He asks while trying to do a yo-yo trick in the car.  The green string twirls and catches awkwardly on his finger, but he untangles it and tries again.

I tell him it was probably heroin. We have a frank discussion about street drugs, how they differ in potency, how you don’t always know what you’re putting into your body but when you desperate to escape you’ll do anything.

“How does it kill you?” He turns down the radio, a local pop station that plays annoying songs with bumping bass and snippets from bad 80’s songs I heard when I was a kid.

My words sound sterile and matter-of-fact, a text-book recounting the way a person dies when they overdose on opiates.  “First, your brain dies.  It stops sending signals to your lungs, the ones that tell them to breathe.  Your breathing becomes shallow and soft, your lips pale and blue.  Without oxygen, your heart can’t survive, it starts to smother and short out.” I’m unsure if this is exactly right, but I remember a lecture a nurse gave at the treatment center with slides and stories that showed how the brain shuts-off during an overdose. I don’t know if death comes fast or slow, but I’ve been told it’s peaceful and quiet.  Sometimes, I think it’s a lie, a fairytale spun to soften the pain when someone you know/liked/loved has tragically, selfishly died.

“What kind of drugs did you used to do?” He asks. We are pulling into the parking lot of the Minnesota Sword Club, parents and kids filing into a basement door with duffel bags stuffed with fencing gear.

I pause.  “Heroin.”

“Your not going to do that again, right? You learned your lesson?”

I nod. “Yes, I’ve learned my lesson,” I say.  But inside my head, the words are weaker and soft, whispering “I hope so” instead.

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I know it’s time to write when I hear the narration in my head.  You know, the one that never stops, a steady stream of words and ideas like you are in a black-and-white movie and there’s a smoky, dreamy voice-over that tells the viewer all your innermost thoughts? The ones you usually file away under “insane” and “awkward” and “god-i-hope-no-one-knows-i-ever-thought-that!”

I try, as much as possible, to not filter those thoughts and spill them out on paper (or in this case, on-line) because it’s easy to hide behind smiles and handshakes and “oh, I’m fine” when the opposite is true.  Usually, it’s a mix of “Having a Nervous Breakdown” and “Having a Brilliant Idea” sort of thing.  But that’s often difficult to explain in everyday conversation or when you are in line at the coffee shop.

I browse other blogs and am envious at their humor, notice all the “likes” and comments, and friendly, flirty banter.  I want to be funny.  I want people to say, “Oh, that Lennon Sundance. She’s a card. A riot.  I should really tell the world to check out her site and follow her like a religious leader and push to get her book published…”

Instead, I struggle with maintaining focus and reliability and consistency in my posts.  Like any good Bipolar, I have only a few speeds.  Mainly – “I can’t bear to brush my teeth” or “I’m a freaking a genius, let’s tear down some walls and decoupage the floor with flower cut-outs from Better Homes and Gardens.”

If you haven’t guessed it, today I have sharp scissors in hand.


Lucky

07Jul13

 

Last week, I quietly turned 38. I ate steak directly off the grill and drank cheap white wine with x-husband #1, my current beau, and my best friend.  The kids were there, too, though they are far from kids now.  My daughter is 18 and packing for college, our conversations filled with class schedules and text books, fancy computers, and what clothes to bring.  My son is six months shy of being 16, taller than I am, and has discovered some self-restraint: he only blurts out half  the dizzying thoughts that run through his head.

We talked about our day at the PRIDE festival, the sunburns and Italian ices and Drag Kind performances on the side stage.  My son strung up a misshapen, handmade pinata filled with chocolate and the handful of condoms he collected from different sexual health booths at the festival.

This birthday was far different from ones in the past, where I proclaimed all of June to be my “Birthday Month” and justified several gatherings and bought new dresses and bright flowers or spiked, tall plants for the garden I used to obsess over.

I would have costume changes and get too tipsy, play badminton in high heels and threaten to kick anyone’s ass with my cheap racket in hand.  I’d have party favors for kids – bubbles and sidewalk chalk and dollar store coloring books with ugly animals or knock-off pictures of Barbie.

Yes, this year was without the fanfare or spectacle (except the slightly adult pinata I couldn’t hit) but a glorious day all the same.  Maybe that’s the beginning of growing up, of appreciating the few important people who gathered at your party, the older kids who could be doing something cooler with their summer evening than hanging and having fun with their mother.  Sure, I bought a new dress from Target and a skinny, black belt.  I wore some jangly, silver earrings and bracelets. But it wasn’t based on how many people showed up or having a DJ.  In fact, I had the kids play Daft Punk’s summer smash “Get Lucky” over and over again.  Because that’s how I was feeling…

 


A storm swept through my city and pulled down power lines, ripped towering trees from the ground, snapped thick branches.  I’ve been without power for four days, stealing electricity from the local coffee shop when I can.  Flashlight and candle living has grown old as the temps have soared, the apartment dark and humid with heavy, stagnant air.

While stressful, I am surprised at how fragile I feel, like my sanity is somehow tied to bright bulbs and whirring fans.  I sort of wander around, waiting for the power to return, confused and lost.

Many people have commented on that we are too tied and reliant upon the modern, electronic world, though I see most of them pressing their fingers wildly on their smart phone as they say this or looking up the weather report to see if more storms are blowing this way.

Some folks have offered to fix me a meal or sit in front of their air conditioner, but it feels weird to be suffering and stressed in a strange place, always wondering when the lights will be back on at home.  It’s my new obsession, a very fruitless and unproductive one.

So this blog post is the modern equivalent of my message in a bottle, written from a coffee shop while soaking up their power, waiting to be rescued.

 

 

 

 


I’ll admit it… I’ve been phobic about coming online.  I’ve been stuck feeling somewhere between wordless and worried, distracted by graduation parties with meat trays and cubed cheesed stabbed with toothpicks.  The transition into summer hasn’t been smooth, and my vow to keep up on this blog weekly has fallen apart like a New Year’s resolution.

My house has gone to shit – dust in the corners and crumbs on the floor – and the pile of papers and stories I’ve been working on are covered in a fine, thin layer of dust next to a crumpled atlas of the United States. I’ve been following the Hong Kong leaker with an almost stalkerish vigilance and literally driving past the house of an alleged former Nazi holed up in NE Minneapolis.

My hair has faded from a popping red to a washed out pink and part of me doesn’t give a damn. My grandiosity has moved and forgotten to leave me her new number.  If you see her, send her my way.  Tell her I got a postcard with her name on it.

 


After dinner, Roan goes to the library.  I watch her fingers slip up and down the metal pay phone cord.  She whispers when she talks, but when she laughs it echoes against the dusty, stained glass windows.  It stings my ears, her happiness from the man on the other line.  I want her to get off the phone, to come and keep me safe from the rest of the girls with mean eyes and big fists.  But she only gets ten minutes of phone time, ten lousy minutes to connect with the outside world.  Jail is like that.  Only, the jail-bird has to call collect.

Roan hangs up the phone and skips towards me like she’s playing hopscotch. “Oh baby! I’ve got a secret for you.” She places her finger to her lips, another attempt at a sex kitten move, but she still looks like a little girl in mommy’s high heels with too much rouge and eyeliner.

“Come lunch time tomorrow, I’m a gonner. I’m skipping out with Mitchy!”

“Why?” Electric sparks shock my spine, my brain, my heart.  It skips around, never catching a rhythm, a regular beat.

“Cuz I love him stupid. Haven’t you ever been in love? I’d do anything for him, for his hands on my hips, his lips…” her voice trails off, her eyes cool and glassy as she floats to another time and space, away from wayward girls and rules and therapy circles. A place with strong hands and arms and someone who will weigh you down, keep you from blowing away like dandelion seeds in the summer.

“Of course.  Who hasn’t? Love is my middle name,” I say.  Maybe wanting to love or trying to love is more like it.  Being loved.  How does it feel? Electric, warm, like your blood is on fire.  It makes you feel immortal, so you won’t need to eat or sleep and booze and drugs and your best friends can all slip away.  Your shitty family doesn’t matter, your past, your pain.  All of it buried underneath the warmth of hands and arms and lazy morning.  Cigarettes and match sticks and secrets shared between drags. Love.

Roan leans forward, her skinny arms folded against her chest, her hollow little girl chest that waits for tits to bust out of button-up shirts and v-necks.  She hides her flatness.  I hide my voluptuousness.  Two sides of the same coin, flipped around for different reasons, but still the same. I’ll miss her when she runs away to Mitch. I wish I was him, that she’d run away with me instead, that she’d feel the same weight and safety from me.  But I’m just a stupid kid: a lost runaway without a car, money. I can’t heal her pain.


Shawna with the long braids and rainbow beads stares at me.  She chews with her mouth open, bits of soggy bread and turkey rolling between her teeth.  “So, get lost?” Her eyes narrow, sharp slits of brown locked on my face.

I stab at my turkey, slip powdered mash potatoes around in a circle.  I organize the peas like green pearls around my plate.

“Witchy, I’m talking.  You deaf? You don’t belong there.”

In a way, she’s right. In a way that is deep and true and sharp, a way that is carved into my bones where no one can see.  No one can see, but I can feel how jagged and uneven they are, split seams with steel stuffing that scrapes against my skin.  She’s right. I don’t belong.

“Deaf people are stupid, know that? Deaf. Dumb. Blind. Figures, some witchy white girl from the country. Probably married to a cousin!” Her biting laugh echoes in my ears.  A poor white girl lost in a sea of scars and toughness that is way too big, so far out of her league.

“What do you want?” I say trying to match the strength and force of her words. I want them to sting, to burn against her cheeks with embarrassment. But they’re weak, a whisper, a passive plea.

“What do I want? Girl, you have no idea. But you – you don’t sit there.  That’s for one of us.  Whiny, soft girls sit down there.” She points to the end of the table, five chairs down.

“No different than here,” I say, my words becoming stronger like cement.  But I’m all red, a brilliant cape dangling in front of the charging bull that’s been cramped in a cage for far too long.

“Fuck off, Shawna.  Go pick on first graders of something. You’re good at bullying babies,” Roan says.  Her voice is precise, sharp.  She knows how to protect me, how to protect herself even though she’s fifteen.

“You’re a dyke, Roan. Protecting your bitch? What you think this is, prison?” Shawna slaps her thighs and laughs. A couple of the other girls start to laugh, oohing and aahing, priming the air for an all-out fight.

“Yeah, well better watch your ass then when you sleep, eh?” Roan places her tiny hands on the table, pushes herself up with pride. I can see her staring, her eyes burning right through Shawna’s act. She has a fork in her hand, clenched tight.  But it’s plastic.

“Girl, girls, come on now. This isn’t how we act here. Don’t set a bad example for the new girl.  She’s just as welcome,” Casey says as she carries a plate of colored wafers to the table.  I wonder how long she’d stood there in the kitchen with her ear to the door, listening for the moment she had to come in to stop the heat.

Shawna rolls her dark eyes, a deep pit of brown like the bottom of a swamp.  I hate her. Fear hear. Am fascinated by her.