Posts Tagged ‘story’

High School Musical.

August 29, 2010

I’m pretty certain that earlier in the week, for no discernible reason, I was thinking about the Steve Miller Band. This morning I woke up with a craving to hear the CD. While I supervised breakfast, TMD went hunting for it (‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I think it’s in that CD case labelled Existere’s bullshit music from high school!’). Next thing you know, we are motherchucking ROCKING IT OUT.

Crazy people dancing, in other words. Like sort of bouncing up and down, doing our own thing, only to extend our arms and wiggle our spirit fingers in time with the music. Coconut was smiling and clapping. Snort’s eyes sort of glazed over (I think he was in self protection mode).

It got me to thinking: in high school, my First Love – let’s call him Redneck…no, that’s mean. How about …no, hmm. Okay. Let’s call him Steve, courtesy of the Steve Miller Band.

Anyway, when we broke up several things happened. One is that I turned into a crazy Catholic whore who kissed a lot of boys. Two is that my father offered him a job for the summer (Ultimate Betrayal Number One). Three is that I went to a Steve Miller Band concert with some friends.

It had been a raw summer. I was getting ready to move away from home at the tender age of seventeen and very scared about university. Steve, my boyfriend of two years who I was convinced I would marry had just dumped my ass – and on that same day, I threw a bowling ball at his head.  I was living at camp most of the summer, but this one weekend I hooked up with my high school friends in order to Party! It! Up! at this concert. (Our idea of partying is probably radically opposed to most people’s.)

Well, now, who should I bump into but my pal Steve?? The heartbreaker, the ‘I know I’ll always love you but I can’t be with you’ bastard who dumped me two weeks before prom. Oh, Steve.  And who was Steve at the concert with? MY FATHER. (Ultimate Betrayal Number Two.)

Oh, I got so fucking bummed out I spent most of the concert walking around with my pal Fishy. This concert place was outdoors on a big hill, and I spent most of it on the other side of the big hill, endlessly talking about the fact that my father had invited my ex-boyfriend to a fucking concert.

Meeeeemmmmmories. Sweet memories.

Incidentally, my ‘father’ has not sent so much as a card for Snort & Coconut’s birthday (Sister, I know you act out of love, but please don’t remind him of this. Just don’t mention us, okay?). In a way it’s a terrible relief.

Relief because I’d said to TMD that if he failed to acknowledge their birthday it would be further proof (if I needed it) that he has no place in my life. Terrible because it feels like he is rejecting me and my babies, and really I want to be the one rejecting him.

At any rate, Snort is asleep. Coco has shat herself magnificently, but I can’t leave him as he’s sleeping on the couch. I type as I wait for TMD to come in from installing their new car seats and change Coco.

When everyone wakes up, I’m putting on Jimi Hendrix.

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Authoring my own story.

June 4, 2010

And so it began: the longest, hottest, most challenging (and rewarding) summer of her life: the summer she learned to walk again.

She began that day with a memory of a few days earlier, walking, pushing her babies along till she was in a road she did not recognize. Ten or fifteen minutes in the sun and dappled shade. And that morning had started with a memory as well: five minutes of walking, past the point in the road she always turned back.

These were the building blocks set tentatively on a foundation of fear, pain, unease – all these big pieces stuck together by finger thin pieces of hope. The hope was cracked in some places, stained. In a few spots there was no hope, just rough slabs with uneven edges lying on the ground. Somewhere below these months and years of pain was the earth – a fragile memory of life, an intense freedom not bound to bed, wheelchair, small diameters.

That morning, that first good morning, she walked 26 minutes.

That was the morning she realised, about 14 minutes in, that she had a purpose. Her movement wasn’t a brief escape or respite; she was walking to learn. To be.

Eighteen months of crutches, of pain pills, of swollen belly and overflowing heart. You wouldn’t think eighteen months was long enough to lose faith in yourself, to begin to imagine an ever after that wasn’t over the horizon somewhere, but one that you were living in right now. A very modified happy (?)  ending – two lovely children, one unruly body.

This morning she thought she would never take it for granted again – the smooth rhythm of her feet on the hot pavement. The possibility of turning any direction she wanted, not knowing where she would end up.

This morning it was all sweet to her, that which would have bothered her in the past – that which would have made her stay indoors because of those niggles. Sun beating down at nine in the morning. Sweat covering her just washed body. The fullness of her thighs rubbing together. She knew, today, the reality of those things, those sweet things, those little pieces of life and womanhood and exploration. Her aching legs felt good, her stiff pelvis worried her (but she walked on), and it was so real. Walking past houses, talking to the people helping others onto the disabled bus for adults, the birds so loud.

The driver of the disabled bus telling her how lucky she was, that she should enjoy walking so well while she was young. She felt him watching her walk away from that bus of wheelchairs and walking sticks, she imagined him thinking that the abled bodied take it for granted, and a small secret smile curved her lips.

Never again. This is not something we all have, are all born with, all keep. This miracle of walking begins today, and this is the summer she remembers her future.

The Corn Chowder Story, part 3.

May 21, 2010

TMD has been reading this little saga right along with the rest of you, and she said it all seemed so foreign, that she didn’t recognise the characters in this little episode. ‘So much screaming,’ she said, with a grimace.

She’s right. I don’t behave like this anymore; I am more tolerant and amused, more sure of myself, less needing arguments to define myself. That being said, I recognise this girl well. I remember what it was like to feel so angry….and so afraid. So confused.

Parts one and two should really be read before this, the conclusion of one fight with my mother, but not the last. This was the start of creating a family out of friends who understood what I was going through, because they were going through it too. This was the first time in my life I’d felt that way, and so I cherish these chicken flavoured memories of a younger me.

I thank Opposite Gender Soulmate for his vivid memories and his skill with words.

——————

We must have looked like some kind of animals. Existere ripping apart the kitchen to find a can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup so she could verify, and perhaps photograph, its contents. J cackling wildly while pulling slimy pieces of chicken out of the pot and holding them up to turn them in the light. He squinted like a jeweler; it was some kind of righteous gold. “Look at the size of this baby!” he’d scream, pushing a wet sliver of meat into our faces. And I was pacing obesely, causing the giant bookshelf that dominated the living room to rock back and forth, its menagerie of books, toys, electronic equipment, and other gimcrack artifacts of college life dangerously on the verge of landslide.

I was shaking my head, going over and over the facts, enumerating points on the tips of my fingers. These points you see, when connected, would create a complete psychological profile of July… July, the mother… July, the control freak… (This is the part where you sit down and hold your breath) July, the homophobe.

“She is a Master Manipulator,” I explained to the other two, who franticly ignored me, “and she must be stopped.” Our motivation, of course, was the gratifying vision of calling July out, making her admit she was wrong, and then Rubbing It In Her Face:

Existere in a buzz cut and camouflage, holding a Ziplock bag so full of wet chicken that it looks like a lumpy, pink pillow; and J, snarling in full Christina Aguilera drag, hip jutting and limp-wristedly waving in the air a three page letter from the President of Campbell’s Soup Company; and me, flanked by the other two, delivering a rousing indictment, a Julia-Sugarbakeresque monologue. “And that, Marjorie, just so you will know, and your children will someday know, is the night the lights went out in Georgia!”

Six months before, not long after I’d met Existere, we sat at the edge of a lonely campfire, a black and unforgiving midnight pushing against our backs. With my arm wrapped around her she talked to me for the first time, in the smallest voice, about her mother. The woman she loved so much, but who—she was afraid—did not love her. Not ever, not really. It was significant, this moment of my life, to know that the fear we walked with, into and out of every day, was so simple, and yet it shook us to say it, to hear it said. Something inside of us made us vulnerable to vicious hatred, and it was something we could never change. And in Existere’s beautiful, glistening eyes that night I saw that her fear was my fear, too.

But in Existere’s face there had been rescue. Because she was so amazingly beautiful, so deserving, and she allowed me to see the same in myself. And so I stood up, for the first time in my life.

And half a year later we were still pushing—against that quiet, empty fear, and against the people in our lives before which we’d be the most vulnerable.

The phone rang. And someone handed it to Existere who was pacing now, in my place. “What?” she answered, pointedly aloof.

A pause. Existere’s eyelids beginning to twitch.

Something said into a telephone a hundred miles away ignited her. The other voice was loud enough I could almost make out what it was saying, and it threw Existere into spits of angry, frightened words.

“You are a bitch.” She accused, in a tone—a volume—that threw me back, and then she waited just long enough so a reply could begin—so she could cut it off.

“You have no concept of respect! Fuck you! Stop being so fucking stupid!”

Existere was crying through her rage, she never stammered, but gasped and choked at god-knows-what expletives and the violent denial her mother was spitting back. And I really did hurt for her. I imagined screaming at my own mother, which I’ve never done, and I realized how much I wanted to right then, to have the freedom to be so expressive. If only my mother would be guilty of such an otherwise overlookable offense, then I could let this anger and fear out. I laughed nervously with J.

“You put Fucking Chicken in corn chowder and fed it to your daughter who you Fucking-Well-Know is a vegetarian. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.” I could tell the frantic repetition was used to block out whatever her mother was saying right then, much better (more grown-up) than fingers in the ears, eyes closed, voice chanting I can’t hear you, over and over again.

“Fucking chicken!” she shouted one last time into an angry dial tone.

July had hung up, and Existere was alone again. Something had come between the two of them, as something often did, and she looked at me with terrified frustration.

And the chicken was the thing, but we almost knew better.

In the years since the smell of corn chowder first became eternally attached in my memory to what I’ve learned was the sound of love fighting for itself, I’ve watched Existere and her mother grow into a strong relationship. I remember being so afraid for her as I watched the splitting open in anger that day, or any of the times since. But I know now that these two women, in so many ways so different, yet irrefutably linked, without the freedom to fight with such fury, would never have found each other.

Postscript: July stubbornly maintains to this day that the chowder had no chicken. And we did do everything short of getting the letter from the president of Campbell’s to prove it to her. I have to think about what conceding to the accusation (the truth) would mean for her: the pride that might be wounded (but probably not); the chance lost to have a fun little spat every now and then around the holiday table (perhaps over a bowl of piping corn chowder), or the abrogation of the sanctimonious authority that is simply allowed to be irrational sometimes. And secretly, I’m mostly glad she won’t budge.

The Corn Chowder Story, part 2.

May 20, 2010

You could consider this a guest post, though I did not ask OGS’s permission to post these. He knows, though, and doesn’t care. Muhahaha!  Anyway, read part one here. This won’t make sense without it.

———————————

When I left home at 18 I put two holes in my left ear and one in my right and I became a vegetarian for ten months. It was an assertion of independence, a way for me to imagine I had established control. I was a grown up; I was sure of it. And I lost 30 pounds that summer, effortlessly malnourishing myself with Cheetos and Pizza Hut breadsticks and leaving out all the fatty, fleshy calories that help build strong, heavy bones and muscles.

Existere ended up a vegetarian for a slightly more valid reason: sometimes meat makes her throw-up.

Some women talk about establishing close relationships with other women to such an advanced degree that their physiologies begin to correspond, they menstruate at the same time and can actually feel sympathy pain for the other during physiologically stressful moments like childbirth or a breast reduction. My relationship with Existere, by this point, had advanced to a similar degree, and as I watched her eyes flood with the sour tears of nausea I felt a burble in my own stomach.

She’d dropped the spoon into the bowl of backwashed, rejected corn chowder and spit one last time and with a final nauseated shudder.

“Chicken…” she said quietly, like it was truly unimaginable, staring for a few minutes at the table, trying to make sense of what had occured: honest mistake? unforgivable betrayal? It was unclear to me what would happen next. On one hand, the nearly-full pot was still on the counter and my own nausea was starting to subside; if it truly was chicken that had ended up in this mixture, perhaps the remainder she would bequeath me and then I could eat as much of it as I wanted; I was once again ravenous. On the other hand, this was Existere, who was already scheming something behind her eyes, perhaps to photograph the soup flushing down the toilet, or flying through the window, to send the snapshots to her mother. “Thanks so much for the hearty corn chowder!” the note enclosed with the photographs would say, the word ‘hearty’ would be underlined.

When she stood up, trembling with the anger that was building inside her, I felt rage squinting my own brow into vicarious tension. I imagine this is what gang members feel right before they make good on the “I’ve got your back” promise and beat the teeth out of someone who has a fellow offended. Existere looked right through me and said, with a calm in her voice that reminded me of a kindergarten teacher or a serial killer, “Get me the phone,” and I obeyed.

Later that year, before I moved away from Existere, she called me at my Mom’s house. She asked me when I was getting back to the apartment in order to leave for our job as weekend counselors at a Girl Scout summer camp. When I told her I had decided not to work that weekend, that she would have to go without me, she screamed that if I was going to be such a “promise breaker” that I should not bother coming back to her apartment at all. We had four phone calls that day: twice she hung up on me, and twice her then-girlfriend called to say—”I swear”—Existere was not on the other line and that I could talk about anything I wanted, with perhaps the sound of a handheld taperecorder squeeking in the background.

What happened next amazed me. I watched Existere dial the phone, lick her lips, and smile sweetly. “Hi,” she said in response to what I imagined must have been her mother’s “Hello?”; their familiarity was automatic and a cordial conversation began.

“I was just having some of this corn chowder and I was wondering what all was in it.”

Her mouth puckered into a quiet suspiciousness.

“Mmmm hmmm,” she said, “What else?”

And then more pause until Existere’s eyes suddenly popped open in a precursory a-ha!

“And what do you think cream of chicken soup is made out of, July?”

“What?! You say you’re sure there’s no chicken in the chowder? And that cream of chicken soup contains no chicken?” She was repeating everything her mother said in exagerated enunciation so that I could perhaps later give testimony in front of a jury of July’s peers.

“Well, you know what July?” And then Existere’s rage blossomed once more and she screamed the most abrasive phrase anyone has ever known right into her mother’s heart, punctuating each word with a period:

Fuck. You.

And then she hung up, throwing the phone on the ground, and her hands went into the air as though to ask me “Why is my mother trying to destroy me?”

The next fifteen minutes we spent going over the facts of the situation. There had been chicken in the chowder, we had all seen it. Existere had J (the other roommate) and I touch the muscley fibers floating in her spoon just to be sure. Her mother had admitted to using Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup in the recipe, though she denied that there was any chicken in the product—”It’s just called that,” she had said. Existere was a mostly always vegetarian and her mother was well aware of this. They had even had a conversation in which Existere explained she only wanted the chowder if it was to be meat free.

It was obvious that someone was lying—perhaps, I suggested, in one last attempt to manipulate the goings-on of her daughter who had become a fiercely independent lesbian with a shaved head. Existere nodded her head painfully while crying into my shoulder.

By the time she was ready to make the second phone call, J and I had already pulled out a good quarter cup of the chicken pieces, ruining the entire batch of soup with our grimey fingers, throwing the chicken into a small Ziplock bag that would be frozen and presented later as evidence.

And then the phone rang. We all froze. We knew who was calling, because in our manic rush to build a case against the mother who then stood as a representative for all the mothers who had ever dared to frown upon homosexuality or vegetarianism, three homosexuals we were united, and we’d forgotten that this wasn’t just another mother stretching the skills of manipulation. This was July, the woman who had taught Existere everything she knows, and July had been hung up on.

To be concluded.

The Corn Chowder Story, part 1.

May 19, 2010

So, another three parter written by Opposite Gender Soulmate (OGS) in 2003. This was a term he coined for us shortly after we met – in fact, the first night we met he told me that if he was straight, he would have proposed. This made me feel so cherished and loved and understood and giddy. He was and is a funny, smart, cocky, talented man – the boy I  met caused me to fall into friendship with no qualifications or conditions.

This story about a time when we lived together features me at about age 19 or 20. I don’t think it’s flattering of me, or always literally true, but it is a very honest portrait of who I was at the time, in relation to my mother. My very, very homophobic mother. And of who we were – OGS, me, and our flamboyant roommate J – three scared, but proud, young adults who just happened to be gay.

Please read and enjoy.

—————-

chow·der (chou’dar) n. 1. A thick soup containing fish or shellfish, especially clams, and vegetables, such as potatoes and onions, in a milk or tomato base. 2. A soup similar to this seafood dish: corn chowder.

In the winter of 1999 I was on the verge of suicide. It is strangely liberating to admit something like this out loud today, only a few years later, and without the experience of extensive therapy or six months in a psych ward to validate the depth of my depression, or to comfort my readers. The hopeless sleepwalking through the last, bitter-cold days of that dead season I can vividly recall. It was me, who had learned to halt the grinding vitality of anxiety with lethargic exercise; I smothered the choking pain and confusion like a heavy, wet blanket over the mouth and nose. I emerged from near-death in April, without professional help, which is at least superficially disconcerting now because self-help comes without a guarantee against relapse. How can I claim recovery when there are are no prescription bottles in my cabinet and the shoes are still in my closet?

My salvation was a big-breasted lesbian who, the first time I locked eyes with her, looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. And she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And I remember that moment every time someone says “love at first sight” because of how instantly it began, the most valuable friendship I’ve ever known.

And that summer we rejoiced in knowing eachother, in the almost immediate familiarity of each other. And I was saved by the bliss of having found a soulmate.

And in the fall I became her roommate out of the necessity to rebuild my life. Sleeping on her couch, sometimes beside her, working 60 hours a week to recover from two years of debt I had acrued with my eyes closed, hands tied behind my back (she helped me to untie them). And as frightening a time as this was, I had never felt so much at home in myself or with another person; I had never felt so safe.

I was smoking nearly two packs of Marlboros a day then, and I’d spend my me-time sitting on Existere’s slim concrete patio throwing consecutive cigarette butts onto the lawn below while scribling frantically in a diary I have long since ripped to shreds and burned. Our life together became functional very quickly, generally looking out for each other, and involving each other daily in the details, extravagant and shameful, of our whole lives up to that point. We traded clothes and shoes. We watched horrible soap operas and sobbed through made-for-TV movies together. And we shared everything.

Well, almost everything.

Some things were off limits. We did not, for instance, share our bodies intimately. We also did not share the delicious food July would sometimes leave in giant pots in the refrigerator.

July is Existere’s mother. July is a nurse. July shows concern and pride in her children in such a manner that reminds me of the mother bear in Old Yeller who attacks little Arliss.

And one day, while Existere was napping, I sauntered into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator to find such a giant pot, with a small note carefully scripted and posted on the front of it with Scotch tape.

“For Existere only.”

But I could smell the contents of the pot in the refrigerator even with its cover on tight. And it smelled good. And there was a lot of it.

Another notable thing about that fall was the preponderance of things like Chef Boyardee ravioli and Taco Bell bean burritos in my diet. I distinctly remember being excited about corned-beef hash one night. “Home-cooked meal” was something I had almost forgotten about. I suddenly wanted whatever was in this pot, desperately.

And so, as was my habit that fall whenever the mood struck, I skipped down the hall into Existere’s room to wake her up. She’d had a long weekend and was exhausted, but I was lusting after her private stash of home-cooking—and besides, what are soulmates for?

She growled groggily and tried to slap me when I used both hands to forcibly roll her over and out of the bed onto my lap.

“Hey! Wake up!” I yelled while using the thumbs and index fingers of both hands to forcibly pry open her eyelids. I had already removed a bowl from the bowl cupboard and a spoon from the spoon drawer and they were sitting on the counter next to the refrigerator on top of a napkin I had carefully folded into a triangle. She grumbled and strugled with one hand to pull the blankets off the bed so she could sleep there, on the floor. With the other hand she continued to try to slap me.

“What’s in the pot in the refrigerator? Can I have some?”

And she layed still for a moment without saying anything, and just as I could feel her understanding what I had said, she sat up, fully awake.

“You didn’t eat any of it, did you?” She asked, alarmed.

“No.” I said. “But there’s a lot of it, and I thought you might want to share.”

“It’s corn chowder and My Mother put my special medicine in it, so I have to eat it all.” In those days July was only ever referred to as “My Mother” for dramatic effect. (She was referred to as “July” for a different kind of dramatic effect.) “And if ayone else eats it, they will be made sick by my special medicine.”

Existere’s “Special Medicine,” I’ve learned, imbues any consumable substance Existere wants to keep to herself. It allows her to be selfish without being selfish. It’s not my fault My Mother puts the medicine in it. How, exactly, does the girl at McDonalds know to coat Existere’s Chicken McNuggets with the special medicine? I’ve often wondered.

And suddenly, spurred on by my inquiry, Existere herself was hungry for a dose of medicine and squirmed out of the tangle of covers. I followed her into the kitchen like a scolded puppy who has not yet given up on begging. I watched her greedily scoop the yellow porridge-like substance into the bowl I had prepared. Its smell blossomed in my nostrils, sweet and hearty. In the microwave the bowl rotated and the thick liquid bubbled. It was a soup that eats like a meal.

I sat at the table and watched as she spooned the chowder into her mouth and told me about how it was her favorite thing that Her Mother makes and that she was so happy Her Mother had made it for her. “I love it SOOOO much.” She sang emphatically, the soup gurgling a little in her throat. I was resting my chin on my hands, hoping that if she got full, her resolve to keep all the corn chowder to herself would weaken. “And it’s one of the only things that My Mother makes that I can still eat now that I’m a veget…” She was speaking with her mouth full and stopped suddenly. Her head was hanging over the bowl, her mouth was open, and chunky corn chowder was dripping out of it. Her reaction was quiet, astonished. I could hear the wet pre-vomit cluck starting in the back of her throat, and she spit the rest of the food out of her mouth into the bowl as carefully as possible, trying to avoid the sensation of the liquid on her tongue and lips. Ready to perform the Heimlich Maneuver if it would be necessary, I put my hand on her back. Her whole body was trembling.

She spoke, her voice was cold and stoney. “July… put… chicken… in… this.”

July is Existere’s mother. July is the only only other person I’ve ever met who can stand up next to Existere in a shouting match, the only other woman whose blazing fury burns as hot.

…to be continued.

If Hell Had a Showerhouse, part 3

May 17, 2010

I think the thing that makes me giggle about this story is that OGS (the author) makes a pretty big fucking mountain out of a molehill. Because if I wrote the story? Well, number one, the title would be explained. And I’d also tell you what it was like in that living nightmare. But, bless OGS, and read parts one and two before reading this.

Next I may post his only other three parter, about us coming out as queer to our families. You wanna read that?
———–

My mother used to entrust me with the care and protection of my younger siblings on a daily basis. She’d pull me aside quickly with the arm that wasn’t carrying her purse and a grocery list, or hover above me as I lounged in front of the television set and she’d say with matriarchal conviction, “You’re responsible for your sisters, okay?” I almost never acknowledged her with more than a dull nod or a quick “uh huh,” the sound of my voice muted by a cheese ball or chocolate bar I’d just popped into my mouth. Disasters would ensue, due to a lack of attention on my part (sometimes as a result of my interference), and mother would return home to a six-year-old crouched in the kitchen sink and bleeding from the knees. While consoling the victim, she would turn to shine her disappointment on me with raised eyebrows while chewing on the corner of her mouth.

The first day of Staff Training at the start of the summer I was to be a counselor at a Girl Scout camp, Chirp, our feared leader, was already chewing on the corner of her mouth, shifting back and forth on the balls of her feet and eyeing us with matriarchal suspicion. “Welcome to Camp ” she said a little too brightly, just before her expression sharpened as she attempted to impress upon us with a tidy speech the nature of our new responsibility, which was the very lives and futures of hundreds of children. We could have been eating cheese balls if we weren’t so busy picking parking-lot gravel out of our brand new sneakers or re-securing brightly colored bandanas to the tops of our heads.

Responsibility always has a price, but sometimes you don’t know the exact amount until that day when that bill arrives.

And sometimes you don’t know exactly how much you have in the bank until the day you go to make that withdrawal.

As I ran once again through the muddy torrent, the heavy radio, which was tied to my waist and which slapped against my bare leg came alive with Existere’s voice. She was alerting other groups to the fact that we were “trying to verify the location of one of the campers” and I could hear the simultaneous screaming, crying, and singing of inside the shower house in the background. I imagined her smiling confidently on the deck of the Titanic instructing the second-class passengers locked behind an iron gate to please wait calmly as dozens of first-class ticket holders and their wives with barely intact pearl necklaces crossed their hearts and dove screaming into the icy water of the Atlantic.

Her radio search was coming up empty, and I was coming upon one of two lodges I would search before returning to the shower house, where we would officially sit and wait until the storm calmed enough to initiate the Lost Camper Drill.

Early in that very first week of training we went over The Drill. Once it was verified that someone was missing, cars and golf-carts blasting horns would circle camp, which would signal everyone to get off the horse or put on a towel and head directly to the parking lot. There, head counts would verify once again that a camper was missing before the majority of staff would start a search party. Campers would be instructed upon their arrival that if they were to get lost, they should simply stop moving and wait. It was easier for the group to find a lost camper if they weren’t moving, we’d say.

I wondered about the missing girl as I ran to my second search site. If she were out there somewhere, dodging falling tree-limbs and lightning bolts, would she remember our instruction? Would she stop moving regardless of apparent vulnerability? Was she now trapped under a log or choking on mud because we forgot to say “unless you get lost during the worst storm of the summer, in which case you should run like hell until you find shelter?”

I whispered “Oh, God” to myself quietly after the second group of counselors helped me confirm the missing girl was not with them, and I started back for the pool area. The storm was still raging when I found Existere and told her the news, hoping I wasn’t already crying, hoping that if I were, the rain that was running over my eyes would hide it. And then it occurred to her like an anecdote might occur to someone in the middle of a conversation. “Someone checked the laundry room, right?”

Attached to the shower house, the laundry room housed the washer and dryer and a counter big enough to fold a wash cloth, and was accessible by a door on the back of the building. Inside the laundry room I found a calm party of four campers, clapping each other’s hands and singing about Miss Suzy, as though the world wasn’t crashing down all around them.

I barged in and asked loudly their names, my heart pounding hopefully. The youngest one of them, with a squeaky voice and blonde curls giggled as she introduced herself.

I’d say that I’ll always remember that name, the girl I needed so desperately to find, if only I hadn’t forgotten it long ago. I do remember wanting to run up to her and pull her into my arms like Sally Field in the heroically acted film, “Not Without My Daughter.”

“You’re all wet,” she said, and pushed past me out into the open air, into sunshine and chirping birds. The storm had ended, even more quickly than it began, and the shower house began discharging streams of disoriented, ruddy-faced girls.

An hour later we were handing children back to their parents who asked innocent questions and marveled out loud how talented their children were for being able to string beads on a wire all by themselves or for not crying the whole time. And they thanked us and shook our clammy hands before packing into minivans and leaving us there in the humid August afternoon, in the relief of exhalation.

For the counselors and support staff, composing ourselves after close brushes with death and dismemberment had become easy, and just like the surviving characters in the Final Destination movies, we laughed nervously and walked away from it all occasionally stealing brave glances at the sky from where it seemed maybe God was watching, testing our constitution with these life-tests, throwing them out playfully like Frisbees for us to catch in our teeth. Or maybe it was a more malevolent force that was trying our resolve, or actually trying to run us off the tracks. Maybe if Hell had a shower house we knew exactly what it would be like because the Devil himself had put his hand into the clouds that day and damned us all.

Only we hadn’t been damned at all. We had been successful again, only this time in the path of a slightly bigger hurdle than usual. It was an uncomfortable experience, just like so many mornings that summer when it seemed none of us wanted to get up and face it, this job that was either going to swallow us or spit us out. And looking back, I loved (almost) every minute of  it.

If Hell Had a Showerhouse, part 2.

May 16, 2010

Here is part 2 of the infamous showerhouse story, written by Opposite Gender Soulmate in 2003. This particular storm happened a few years before he wrote this story, so clearly the expderience has been burned into his mind. Please read part one first!

And just so you know, his views on always being alert for the death of a camper? Yeah, he’s fucked up. Of COURSE safety was our priority, but not in this manic, compulsive sort of way he describes. Really…

—————–

I can’t remember being scared of the dark before I went to camp—not really. My mother could probably cite pre-adolescent instances: when I obnoxiously demanded the lights in my room remain on all night long, or when I refused to open the backseat car door after sunset because someone (a killer) could easily be crouched, beyond my perception, behind the driver’s seat. Withstanding, I’ve never been as scared of the dark as I have been at camp.

Early memories of fright pale when I conjure the entire summer of nights I spent walking alone through the lonely woods—through blackout—to my cot, which was distanced enough to keep both campers and female staff members safely out of my masculine, assumedly pedophiliac reach. It is my gender that has betrayed me, I’d think after breaking into a sprint along timeworn trails, having all the grace of a maimed water buffalo. “No,” I’d mutter to myself, panting through a cold sweat, deftly dodging roots and stones while dozens of imaginary attackers fell in my wake. “This organization is sexist. Damned Girl Scouts.”

As I approached the forbidden shower house that Friday afternoon, my awareness smothered by the falling water and the sounds of terrific confusion coming from within the small building, the sky was inked over with a barely luminous green that reminded me of photographs I’d seen of hurricanes, or a movie about an alien invasion. It was 2 pm, but the storm blocked out most of the sun. As I noticed the dark impressions of giant trees bending themselves dangerously above the shower house, which was topped by a molded Plexiglas skylight, I wanted to go home.

Moments like this remind camp counselors how fragile the situation has always been. In fact, midway through the summer, half of our job had become only to perpetuate the illusion of security. You’ll notice, if you check your camp literature, that it was never guaranteed your child would emerge without shards of skylight embedded in her skull. You drove up, saw the warm smiles on our faces, and totally forgot the fine print as you signed the two page medical release. Now it’s Friday, you’re driving three hours to pick up your daughter from her week at summer camp. You notice it’s a little windy and there is some cloud cover. You have no idea that at that very moment, your little girl is choking back tears, wet and shivering in the cute two-piece peach and chartreuse bikini you purchased at Wal-Mart one week earlier as she follows the lead of a manic 19-year-old with Baby-Jane mascara running down her cheeks and sings the chorus of “Thunderation” at the top of her lungs for the eighteenth time, all the while reluctantly wedged between two girls she’s never met and trying to ignore the sour smell of urine and adolescent sweat which is getting stronger and stronger by the minute.

I was standing outside watching the storm, no longer concerned with my own dryness, as a smaller-than-average girl emerged trembling from the shower house in khaki shorts and a blue one-piece. She spotted me and ran over barefoot, blinking through raindrops that pelted her face. I pulled myself together and summoned an authoritative baritone, which had become a useful gift for commanding attention among a camp staff that was otherwise made up of young women.

“Please, back into the shower house. It’s no fun out here in the rain,” I said trying to smile and holding my palms out to create an imaginary boundary no camper would dare cross. A blue-white jag of lighting struck almost immediately above me illuminating her face in three flashes. Her wet brown hair was stuck to the sides of a crumpled expression I can officially describe as acute distress.

“Where is my sister?!” She demanded. “She’s not in there. I mean, she’s not with her group. Shouldn’t she be with her group?” Her sentences were perfectly articulated but came out franticly on top of one another.

“Let’s go look again,” I said, holding one of my do-not-cross hands above her head without touching her. It was almost always enough and they usually responded as though I was touching them, guiding them with actual force. If her sister was missing, this day was about to get a hundred times worse.

Earlier that day, I sat on the edge of the pool scanning the water for drowning victims and enjoying light conversation with Goldie, a counselor imported from another country. “What do you think would happen if a camper did drown?” She asked me. It was always on our mind, the potential funerals we would attend en masse, crowded around a miniature casket wearing our camp staff sweatshirts and singing a slower, minor-key version of the camp theme song that opened every week of camp. We’d sing the line “whether your stay be long or short” and brave tears would stream silently down our faces.

“I don’t know. “ I said blankly. “I guess they’d close the camp. It would be really, really sad.”

When the rain had started, about thirty minutes into pool-time, the water was teeming with frail limbs and oily hair. When the first lighting struck, we pulled them out of the water, one group after another. Five minutes later, the storm was on us, and campers were ordered into the showerhouse because there was no place else to go.

The little girl walked through the mud in front of me spraying bits of dirt up on my legs. I could sense her anxiety over the missing sister and it began to fuel my own. When I got to the shower house entrance, Existere was standing there, half of her body under the shelter, and half of it out in the blowing rain. Her face was half smiling at me with the familiarity that was my greatest comfort that summer, and half trembling with expectation that the world would end at any minute. She was half singing “The Littlest Worm” and half spitting water away from her face. I knelt down and asked my charge her sister’s name.

In three minutes we had confirmed the girl was not in the shower house, that she should have been in the shower house. A kind of intense calm washed over Existere’s face and she put her hands on my shoulders again.

“Take my radio. Find her.”

To be continued…

If Hell Had a Showerhouse, Part 1.

May 15, 2010

People wonder how I do so well with twins. I’m like, twins ain’t nothin’. No, I’ve been responsible for the actual lives of up to 250 five to seventeen year olds at the same time, not to mention the lives of the sometimes dumbass staff at Girl Scout Camp. TWINS? Two kids? Fuuuuuck. You have no idea.

So for your pleasure, here is part one of a real life story written in 2003, by my friend Opposite Gender Soulmate. It is about the summer he worked at camp with me, when my job was the imposing title Staff Director. Him? He was simply The Boy Counsellor.

————————

I can immediately remember the slurping sound my sneakers made as I ran through patches of mud, like a toilet plunger into peanut butter, and I can also remember the strain on my hamstrings as I did this, trying not to stumble in panic at the near-miss sound of trees falling against each other and into the soggy ground all around me, which was glittering with the pounding rain.

Much earlier that day we’d predicted this, the worst storm of the summer, which had rolled in from the west and then hung there, formidable in the distance, backed-up against a sky of clear blue and white sunlight, angrily building it’s strength through the morning hours. We’d spent the after-lunch hour singing songs and leading single-file lines of little girls into the shower house where they would emerge transformed into miniature spandex superheroes, bounding in energy and the occasional pink ruffle. They scampered in twos and threes, out into the pool area, which was fenced in and regulated like a prison yard. It was Friday, the last day of camp for most of them, and in small groups they moved unpredictably in and out of order through the Friday pool-party ritual, testing the dozens of procedures that made up our system, which was designed to prevent the kind of unimaginable tragedy it was our job to imagine.

Oh yeah, not to put a mute in the brassy morning bugle that rouses your rosy-cheeked children from their cabins in your blissfully ignorant summer-camp fantasies, but camp is all about your children almost dying. The rosy-cheeked teenagers who are paid sweatshop wages to keep your children alive know this; they spend the summer sleep-deprived and with high blood pressure, motivated through each day by the threat of catastrophe. Luckily, they’ve probably been trained extensively in the basic skills of first-aid and survival; they know what steps to take if your daughter gets a sinus headache, turns up missing, or is struck by lightning.

I’d spent the day supervising the goings and comings of several groups, darting from one end of the camp to another in a sluggish golf-cart that left in its wake a trail of gasoline fumes. The only male counselor at a Girl Scout summer camp, I was the Sports and Activities Director most days, but was utilized in an administrative capacity on Fridays due to a shortage in staff and the fact that I was not allowed inside the shower house. I carried a bulky, black walkie-talkie strapped to my waist, which I used so infrequently I’d learned to resent its weight and sometimes forgot to turn it on at all. The storm had caught my attention sometime during lunch and I had asked the camp director, while pointing a finger into the sky, if we would move forward with the pool party.

“The camp brochure says the kids get a pool party. So unless there’s thunder, they get pool-time, even if it’s for five minutes.” Chirp gave mandates with the kind of arms-crossed authority that inspired confidence, and at the sound of her conviction I had forgotten about the black edge of the firmament and focused on the beauty of a sunlit noon. My forehead was beginning to burn, despite the coat of sun block I had smeared on my face at 7:30.

Later, as sheets of water ran down my face I felt the sting of SPF-30 in my eyes as the lotion washed away. It tasted like plastic, like licking a Malibu Barbie. I blinked my eyes rapidly so I could find my destination, a building named after one of the early Girls Scout leaders, Old Lady Lodge. “Make sure they’re all inside. And do a head count,” Existere had said with her hands on my shoulders, struggling to look me in the eye for emphasis as rain slapped the side of her face.

Head counts were typically done every seven to ten minutes at camp. It was this way because the second worst possible thing that can happen is for a camper to turn up missing, and the first step in finding a missing camper is knowing she’s missing. So each day we counted heads obsessively, and we taught the campers to count off as a backup procedure. They’d shout out the consecutive number they’d been assigned the first day in shrill, outside voices, until eventually each girl thought of herself and her fellow campers as a number from 1 to 30. When the numbers stopped short, it was usually because one of the girls was staring into the distance, perplexed by the emotional distraction of homesickness, or the palpable exhaustion of no sleep; the others would bring her back with impatient whoops. “Helooooo!? Wake up twelve! Marcie! You’re tah-wel-vah!”

At Old Lady Lodge my clothes were soaked down to my boxers and I dripped from everywhere. I coughed and shivered from the workout and my face was red; I could have been sobbing and no one would have known the difference. Things looked relatively good. The children, who seemed to be working very hard to repress the terror incurred by every roar of thunder, were singing and clapping and otherwise busy with the often-inane hand motions that necessarily accompanied every song we taught them. The counselors there greeted me and we each did a head count until we came up with the same number. I turned on my walkie-talkie and left it with them, since they’d forgotten to take one that morning, and then I started back running to the pool.

Traveling with the wind was easier, and I took deep breaths and hummed “The Princess Pat” to myself, doing small versions of the hand motions while running. As I approached the pool area, I saw no one where just moments earlier there had been dozens of small people scrambling in chaos. Good, I thought to myself, everyone is safely inside somewhere. And then, just as I entered completely into the clearing beside the pool I began to hear a vague hollow bellow which then sharpened as I came closer to the shower house: dozens (hundreds?) of voices, all shrieking at once, like a purgatory of tortured souls, invigorated by every flash of lightning, every clap of thunder.

Inside a shower house the size of a very modest two-car garage.

To be continued…

More on egg collection. Also, I heart private health care.

December 4, 2008

I’ve got a picture of the gross vein thing in my right hand, but fear not, it’s not on the computer yet.

I’m not exactly sure where I was in the Telling of the Egg Collection Saga. Fairly certain I stopped with fearing I would slide off the table, and the nurse telling me I was going to feel totally wacked up after the second injection.

And that’s the last shred of conversation I remember. I don’t remember any talking during the egg collection – surely there must have been some? I also don’t remember my feet getting up on the stir-ups. I was told beforehand that the ‘twilight sedation’ (will avoid any obvious jokes!) would mean that I could hear the nurse and talk to her. God only knows if I did.

My real fear was farting during the procedure.

Anyway, I also have no recollection of being put into a wheelchair, talking to TMD, or falling asleep for ten minutes in recovery. I guess I kept asking the nurses and TMD over and over how many eggs had been collected. In a loud voice. Along with my declaration of, ‘I felt everything’ at the near-top of my lungs. Shortly after waking up, which happened pretty quickly, I hurt. I immediately asked Ann, my pal the nurse, for some painkillers.

Time seems wobbly at this point. I swallowed two pills. Then the nurse-with-the-serious-drugs came over and said, ‘I heard you’re in agony.’  She was going to inject something into me, before that damned Ann told her I’d taken tablets. I heard whispered conversation along the lines of, ‘Why does she hurt so bad?’ Then Ann ‘fessed up and told My Drug Dealing Nurse that they hadn’t given me the ass bullet designed to thwart pain, due to my asthma.

Then Lovely Druggie Nurse came back to sit by my and rub my leg. She suggested I shift over onto my side and lie flat, as this would take the pressure off my ovaries. She stayed and chatted for ages, and then said she would come back to see how I was doing in a bit, as if I needed more pain meds she could dose me up.

I remember saying we had to call Aussie – so I did. Also asked TMD again (!) how many eggs had been collected.

A short while after, I was up and at ’em. After being told I would feel sleepy all day, I was a bit surprised to feel completely awake. Druggie Nurse came back, I said I was much better, so she took the IV thing out of my hand. She also said that the drugs she had given me had a side effect of euphoria, so I might be experiencing the tail end of that.

(Trust me, dear readers, euphoria was NOT my frame of mind! Ha!)

Nursie also explained that if I got heavy cramps with my period, it was unavoidable that I would feel more pain after an egg collection than others. Not quite sure of the logic of that, but it sounded good.

We then got a visit from the  lady who had done the egg collection. She explained they’d got seven vials of fluid from my ‘very juicy follicles’, and that seven was a high number. Also something about the number 4? Fuck knows. After given the all clear to leave and a paper bag full of pessaries (ass bullets!) we left. Got a taxi to the train station, at which point we had a slight detour while I demanded we go across the street to buy veggie sushi.

I just felt tender, sore, full – but could already tell those eggs were outta me. Apparently the ovaries go into mini-seizures after an egg collection, so that’s why. They’re also still very swollen. I had some bleeding after the op, but it’s done today. Thankfully. That made me nervous – I suppose it was essentially spotting, but with a couple of strands of clot-like substance. (TMI? Deal.)

Despite the feast on the train and feeling wide awake, I passed out within minutes of getting home and slept for hours. Then last night we had our first at-home ass bullet insertion. This was less crazy than the first shot, though I will say I dropped it on the floor and put it in anyway. Go ahead: judge me.

Today I feel much better. Only took painkillers when I first woke up, which is a big difference to gobbling mass amounts every four hours yesterday. My ass is a bit peculiar, though. (Okay, it’s going to be TMI for a minute, so you can skip ahead if you don’t like poop talk.)

I still feel like I’ve got to poop a lot – just as I did before the egg collection. But when I sit on the toilet, even for a pee, sweet jesus. It’s like a mass amount of pressure pushing down, and it is tres painful. Particularly if actual poo is involved. You know those occasions when you are trying to push out a piece of poop that is clearly too big for the alloted space? The ripping pain? Yeah, it’s like that every time. Add that to my anxiety around pooping out my pessaries, and you’ve got a version of me that is even more shit-obsessed than I was before this whole IVF thing.

Because, incidentally, I did poop out some pessary yesterday evening.

I think I can switch to sticking them up the hole where it’s much more usual for things to be stuck once the embryos are transferred. I guess that’s messier than the poop shoot, but who cares? I want to be able to poop when I need to poop, you know?

The only other thing I haven’t written about on here is my stomach pain. This is decidedly different from my ovaries, which I can still feel with an unfortunate deadly accuracy. This feels like I haven’t eaten in a week – very sharp, severe pain.

I took my hCG trigger shot on Monday night. I woke up before dawn on Tuesday morning with ripping stomach pains, sure I was somehow starving. The same thing happened on Wednesday morning. This does NOT happen normally.

Today the pain has been there all day. My natural reaction is to feed the hunger, as though it is a rapid dog to be feared. So I shove food in, the pain goes away for a few hours, then the hunger gods need to be appeased once more. Let me reiterate: this is not normal hunger. This is PAIN.

WTF, you know? Any enlightenment welcome, particularly as my last bout of frantic eating only appears to have muted the pain.

I’m thinking – gas, stress, or the trigger shot. But I don’t get gas pains as a rule, and let me assure you that in the parping department, much air is flowing. (A side effect of the bullets is flatulence. TMD is not amused, because I already do more than my fair share.) I guess another possibility is the shitty food I’ve been eating.

But, ow.

My embryo transfer is arranged for 11 am on Saturday. Start crossing your phalanges now!!

PS – Seriously, I need to remember to tell you about de-icer and spilled cologne.

PPS – TMD is so cute. I got a text earlier saying that she can’t concentrate because she is so excited. Me? I am just sitting here stinking up the flat. Even the cat is disgusted.

Pulling the trigger. (or: go on, congratulate me) (and: the shot was completed only 4 minutes late)

December 2, 2008

Dude, what the fuck. I wish we had just videotaped The Final Shot, just so you could see how cracked up we look. I had been lying on the couch in a stupor for about an hour beforehand, thisclose to falling asleep – and terrified of doing so because we would miss our 10:30 appointment with our little science experiment.

So my glasses are all crooked, my eyes are red, I’m so tired I’m shaking. TMD is all serious and scared. She has cleared off the end of our (new!) table. I begin to lay things out – two vials of powder, one vial of liquid, two needles, one syringe, the SHARPS container…She says, ‘Let’s just stop for a minute. I’m going to take a picture, otherwise I know you will be sad.’ Sensing the innate wisdom in this, I pause and smile obligingly.

My hands were shaking as I tried to suck up liquids from various vials, flick needles, bead medications. I think the final vial we were in a position of TMD holding the tiny glass vial in the air, tilted – so I could suck up the medicine while also being able to see how much was left in the jar through the 2 mm area where the label did not cover.

I have to say, that was the absolute best shot of the entire treatment. Not just because it was the last, although that was awesome, but because it didn’t really hurt at all. Nada. And it was a whole lotta shot, let me tell you.

So. My tummy gets a brief recovery period from the endless needles. Somehow I don’t think I can enjoy this, since I am so bloated and pained that every time I sneeze I have to yell, ‘Oh JESUS, the PAIN,’ afterwards.

Now. Did you know I was raised Catholic? My whole family is very into superstition and omens. Here is my brief foray into it.

I called my mom to tell her I’d finished the shot. This was also a novel experience since I would never call her on a weeknight. With the time difference I’m usually asleep before she would get home. While I’m in (the baby’s) the spare room, TMD runs in and says, ‘Oh my god! Look what the calender says on Monday. It’s the Immaculate Conception!’

My mother says, ‘What is she saying?’

‘December 8. The immaculate conception.’  I raise an eyebrow at TMD, who is so tired she has burst through the wall of Crazy and is clutching the calender and dancing around chanting, ‘The immaculate conception! Ha! That’s brilliant!’

My mother says, ‘I’ll tell you what else is December 8.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Mass at 7 pm. I was just writing it on the calender.’

Now, this is creepy coincidental. We certainly do not go out of our way to buy calenders that showcase events in Jesus’ life, though one or two seem to come standard. And as TMD points out, we’ve never taken note of the immaculate conception before. And TMD and my mother both looking at December 8 at the exact same time, on opposite sides of the globe?

And you know why this is special?

Because if the embryos go back in on Saturday, there is a very real chance they would be implanting – thus making me properly pregnant – on December 8. Semi-immaculately, you could argue.

If you aren’t stunned by this amazing and shining coincidence, then you need to stay awake for 20 hours, play with impossibly small vials of medication that are VERY IMPORTANT, inject yourself, and then read this again. I guarantee it will gain some sort of significance then.