One night in the 90s my phone rang with the Caller ID showing a number I didn’t recognize. The area code of the number was for the region where my grandparents and several other relatives lived, so thinking that it was either one of my relatives are about them, I answered. The voice on the other end asked rather hesitantly to speak to me, by my old name (before I legally changed it). This made my heart race a bit, because if something awful had happened to my grandparents, I would expect anyone trying to contact next of kin would use that name.
I said, “Speaking. Who is this?”
“I don’t know if you remember be, but I’m —– ——-, I was one of your teachers at __________ Middle School?”
“COACH! What a surprise to hear from you!”
It is true that he had been one of my middle school teachers, but more importantly, he had been the coach of one of the team sports I mostly flailed at and specifically he was the coach who had taken time outside of school time to get me to a weight room and try to turn me into someone who wasn’t picked on so much at school. It was great to hear from him, but also a bit confusing. We hadn’t talked in decades.
He had gotten my phone number from my grandmother, and he’d been wanting to talk to some of his old students, specifically the ones he felt he hadn’t done enough for. I tried to argue that he had gone above and beyond for me, but he interrupted and told me to let him say his piece.
“We knew,” he said, “all of us knew which of the students were being mistreated at home. Some of you had the disturbing recurring bruises and such, others had less severe signs. We all knew, and we talked among ourselves about how we could help. But the law was different, then. If a teacher accused a parent of abuse, the teacher almost always lost their job, their career ended. It was our word against the parents’ and usually the kids would deny it, too, because they were too scared of the abusive parent…”
He went on for a bit, and I tried to assure him that I understood. I was well aware of how laws that protected teachers and doctors and so forth if they reported suspected abuse didn’t become common until years later. I also assured him that he had helped. “You believed in me. You talked me out of quitting. You showed me I could do more–could be more–than I believed I could. And that’s part of the reason a year or so later I was finally able to stand up to my dad. You’re one of the reasons I’m still alive to talk about it.”
As I said, he arranged for me to have work out time at the weight room up at the high school. That part that I haven’t mentioned is that he set it up so that the other kids didn’t know I was getting extra help. He made it clear that he understood that if my bullies knew I “needed extra help” it would make their bullying worse. He didn’t manage to turn me into a winning wrestler. But I got better, and discovered that I was actually good at running, so I joined the track team and later cross country. I was never a champion, but I stopped being the team member who always came in last. It didn’t make everything else in my life wonderful, but it made some parts better.
He still felt the need to ask forgiveness for not doing more. As we talked, I was able to put a few more pieces together. His wife had passed away less than a year before, so he had been rattling around their house with nothing but his memories and regrets. As he said, I wasn’t the only abused kid that had been one of his students. He mentioned a few who had died early deaths, from alcohol or drugs or suicide, and clearly he felt that their abusive childhoods had played a role. “I ran into your grandmother in the grocery store earlier this week, and she told me you lived in Seattle, doing something with computers. I was so glad to hear that you’re well.”
I tried to assure him that he had done good for me, and I knew he had done right by many others. “If it helps, I’ll say ‘you’re forgiven’ even though I never, ever felt wronged by you.”
It was an emotional night. I still tear up writing about it.
Domestic abuse is a complicated problem. So many forces in society enable the abuse and silence the abused. Abusers are good at presenting a respectable, reasonable facade. They are even better at casting doubt as to the reliability of any of their accusers. They are really good at teaching the abused to doubt themselves.
There is no simple solution to domestic abuse. Coach thought that if he made me into a better athlete, since my dad had been a champion in school, that maybe Dad wouldn’t abuse me as often. That’s not how it works. Abusers want control, and no success is ever good enough.
Yeah, Coach’s efforts to make me less of an athletic loser helped in many ways, but even more, his willingness to offer his time and ecouragement–to be a loving positive adult presence in my life–did far more in making me into a person who could make my own life better.
A few years later I learned from my aunt who still lived back there that Coach had died. I hope he believed me when I said he was one of the reasons my life had become better.
Thanks, Coach Clemens. Thank you for believing me. Thank you for believing in me. And thank you for teaching me to believe in myself.
The plastic ferris wheel is battery powered, and it had two modes: it could light up and the wheel would turn slowly. The ferris cars rock on the wheel, and the wheel has always been a little bit jerky in its motion, so the little plastic snowmen and penguins and beers and reindeer seemed to be waving cheerfully as the wheel turn. In the other mode you got the lights, the rotating wheel, and you got tinny versions of Christmas carols. It was like a dream come true for me, and my husband’s worst Christmas nightmare all in one!
I’ve had it for years. Every Christmas season since Kats gave it to me, I’ve unpacked it along with the ornaments we’re using that year, put batteries in it, turned it on to listen to the music at least once through its medley, then put it somewhere in the living room where I could see it. I would turn the ferris wheel on silent mode a few more times (since the music really annoys my husband). And I would turn the music on at least one more time before taking the batteries out and packing it away with the other ornaments.
Over the years there have been a few glitches. Pieces have broken off and had to be glued back on. One bit of fence broke off several times and eventually I had to admit that it was more glue than plastic and it couldn’t really be put back together. (Side note: in a testament to how awesome my husband is, he did spend some time trying to scan the broken bits to see if he could 3D print me a replacement.) One time a few years ago when I turned it on the ferris wheel wouldn’t turn. My husband fiddled with it and got it working again, but it was always with a more jerky motion than before. The motor was always loud enough to hear from across the room even when the music was playing. And over time the motor sound has gotten louder.
Then this last Christmas, when I put batteries in and turned it on, the lights came on, the motor made its usual sound, the wheel turned jerkily… and the music started to play, then glitched, then played a bit more, then glitched, and started to sound a bit off key. I thought maybe the batteries I put in were nearly dead, so I swtiched them out. Nope. The sound chip was definitely dying.
I set the ferris wheel up, because it’s still cheerful looking, and put off the decision of whether to keep or dispose of it until the end of the Christmas season.
Then we got the first official notification from the new owners of our building that they weren’t going to be raising anyone’s rent, no, they were going to evict all of us. They were applying for permits to do a major renovation to the building, and needed everyone out. They have a guesstimate it would be May or so when they would need everyone to go (once they got the permit process going, we got more official communication and a somewhat more certain timeline). That’s why, when I put the Christmas decorations away this last year, I pulled out all of the containers of decorations (we have way more than we can use in a given year), and went through them selecting stuff to get rid of. I reduced our collection by a bit (though we still have way too much). The ferris wheel, clearly, needed to go.
Except I wasn’t ready to let it go, just yet.
So, I didn’t pack it away nor throw it out. I moved it to the bookcase over by my favorite chair. It’s not Christmas time, but I don’t care. The ferris wheel gets to stay until we leave, I decided. Then it will be retired for good.
We have professional movers scheduled to come deal with the heavy furniture and whatever else we haven’t moved ourselves in about 10 days. So the ferris wheel’s end is looming. It’s just a thing. And as I recall, Kats said she bought it at a second hand place, so I’ve definitely gotten her money’s worth out of it. And my poor, long-suffering husband has already told me he’s going to buy me a new tacky Christmas thing to replace it this next year. So I shouldn’t feel too sad about it going. I am a little amused at myself to realize that some of my anger at the new owners (evicting everyone regardless is the least annoying thing they’ve done; there will be catty snarky blog posts about it eventually, but not now) has become focused on a few weird possessions.
The truth is that I probably would have gotten rid the the ferris wheel once the chip died even if we weren’t trying to reduce our hoard before me move. But I find myself blaming its demise on the new owners of the building. And maybe it’s a good thing to have something concrete to focus the annoyance on, you know? The ferris wheel, the tacky hanging lamp (I’ll talk about that after the move for… reasons), the rose trellises, and so forth are better ways to expend that kind of negative energy than some of the alternatives.
My walk home later that day was fun and weird. It was raining, but the sun was also out, so I had to put on my sunglasses. When I got to the corner, where our office building was no longer acting as a wind break, I found out it was really windy. At the next corner I swear a whirlwind touched down on me and threatened to sweep me away. The rain got much more intense as I walked the third block… and then it turned to sleet. I had sleet for about three blocks, with the wind buffeting me from many directions. The wind is particularly weird now because of my new hat, which has a much broader brim than my old broad-brimmed hat. So the amount of lift it was putting on my head was disturbing.
And I should mention that even when the rain and sleet were coming down hardest, the sun was still shining right in my eyes, since it was close to the horizon and there were blue skies visible there.
The sleet let up to just a light drizzle by the time I was at about the 11th block of my walk, and the wind shifted to a fairly steady breeze coming straight out of the north—right in my face.
The rest of the walk home (about 4 miles total) was breezy with occasional drizzles. The sun was just dipping below the horizon (but the sky was still lit nicely) when I got to the house.
The new hat, by the way, didn’t let any water reach my head. Some of my previous hats would have been soaked and my head would have at least been damp by then.
Seattle weather is like that a lot—by which I mean, weird mixes of things that change quickly throughout the day or that just change from one neighborhood to the next. One of the consequences of this is that I own several different coats and jackets. This was another part of the co-worker’s disbelief: she’s used to owning one heavy coat for winter, and a light jacket for the fall. She was freaked out at how many different types of raincoat she tried (and returned) before she found one she liked last fall. And now neither of her three coats work, because it will be too cold for the light coat or rain coat when she leaves the house in the morning, but too warm for the heavy coat when she goes out for lunch in the middle of the day. I and several co-workers said (almost simultaneously) “That’s why everyone in Seattle wears layers.”
I have several coats. My heavy winter coat, which is leather and has a hood and that I waterproof regularly (and also has a removable extra liner) gets me through several months from the late fall through winter. I start wearing it without the liner mid-fall, add the liner about a month later, then take out the liner around the end of January. Then I have a medium jacket, which is puffy and insulated and looks like it might be for colder weather than the coat, but because it only covers my torso is inadequate for winter. Well, not totally. It gets worn on weekends a lot during the winter when I’m only out of the house to go shopping or visit friends and mostly driving rather than walking and busing. The jacket works for part of fall and a bit of spring. Then I have a lighter jacket that still has some insulation. It tends to take over around April and is the jacket I wear until about June. And then there is a light windbreaker style jacket with a hood that gets carried around in my backpack starting in late May or June and usually through September because you often need a jacket for part of the day during those months.
When we were out looking at apartments (again) on Saturday, I wore the medium coat, and regretted it because it was too heavy for how warm it was. So I switched to the lighter coat Sunday, when I ran out to buy a money order because the property manager of the apartment we put in an application for called and asked us to bring the deposit the next day. Finding a place to sell me a money order using a debit card on a Sunday was more of an adventure than I expected, in part because of that switch in coats. When I switched, I wasn’t diligent about moving things from the medium jacket to the light one, so my emergency granola bar I always carry in case I have a glycemic crash wasn’t in my pocket. Because I’m on timed-released or long acting insulin, I have to have small snacks of meals every couple of hours, or my blood sugar drops too low and I have a glycemic crash.
For me, glycemic crashes mean my mood gets weird, I usually get a headache, and my brain just doesn’t work right. The problem is that the low blood sugar headache feels just like a hay fever headache, so if I don’t realize it’s been longer since my last snack or meal then I think, or notice that my fingers are trembling if I hold my hand up, I don’t realize what’s going on.
I won’t go into all the details of finding out I couldn’t get a money order from debit at the first place I went, or the rude customer in line in front of me, and so on. But what should have been a clue was that once I had the money order in hand, there at a counter at the second place, with my wallet in my other hand, I had this thought that I shouldn’t put the money order in the wallet because I might lose it if I didn’t keep my eye on it. So I walked out to the car clutching the money order very tightly in my hand, and only when I was inside the car and needed both hands to operate the vehicle, did I decide I should put the money order in a pocket or something. All of the pockets seemed like a bad idea, and I finally remembered I could put it in the wallet. Which I did.
When I’d left the house, Michael had asked me to pick up a very specific brand of juice. Instead of stopping at the grocery store on my way back with the money order, I drove right past it and was just pulling up in front of the house when I remembered the juice. So I went back to the store, parked in the garage under the store, grabbed a shopping bag from the bag of the car, and ran upstairs. It was while I was having trouble finding the juice that I finally realize that I was in the middle of a glycemic crash, so once I found the juice, I grabbed a cold bottle of thai iced coffee, which would give me both caffeine and some much needed carbs, and headed to the front of the store.
All of the registers were open except the express line, and they all had really long lines. So I ran down to the self serve checkout. I’d scanned my items and was feeling around in my pockets for my wallet. Which wasn’t there. I had to cancel my transaction, which meant the clerk monitoring the whole section had to scan her card in and authorize the cancelation. I told her that I seemed to have left my wallet in the car. She said, “It happens to everyone. You want me to keep these up here for you?” I thanked her and ran down to the car.
And I couldn’t find the wallet.
The wallet with all my usual wallet things plus, today, a very large money order. I was trying not to panic. I pulled out my phone to fire up the Tile app and ping my wallet, hoping that it had just fallen on the floor of the car and rolled under a seat or something. I hadn’t quite gotten the app up when, because I was leaning into the car slightly differently, I saw where the wallet had bounced when, apparently, I had tossed it at the passenger seat after putting the money order in it. I hadn’t slipped it back into my pocket because by that point I had strapped myself in (don’t ask me why after pulling the wallet from my pocket while sitting in the car but before I put it back I had decided to put my seat belt on, making the pocket inaccessible; my brain wasn’t working right, see above). I grabbed the wallet, ran back upstairs and only when I got to the clerk did I realize I’d left my shopping bag behind.
I paid for my purchases and was on my way out when I saw another clerk who had helped me earlier and I had seen dealing with an unreasonable customer, and I stopped to thank her for her help before and hoped she was having a better day.
Back at the car I drank down the coffee drink so I would start to get my blood sugar back where it ought to be. I strapped in, turned on the car, checked all my mirrors, looked over both shoulder, and put the car into gear. I heard an immediate crash and the car jolted funny. I stomp on the brake, put the car back in park, and looked around. There was no other vehicle. No sign of anything that I had hit or had hit me. I turned off the car, suddenly remembering that I had seen someone walking by as I was starting the vehicle, and had a complete panic that I had actually hit a person who was currently trapped under the car.
So I jumped out and ran around the car.
I took a deep breath and squatted down to get a better view under the car. I slowly circled the car again, looking under at several locations. Nothing and no one was under the car, thanks goodness. I circled again looking for scratches or dents on the fenders and such. Still nothing.
I took another deep breath and held up my hands. My fingers were still trembling, but not as badly, so my blood sugar was coming back up. I climbed into the car. I opened up my Breathe app on my Apple Watch and went through a cycle with it. Half of the reason was to just not move for a minute and let my blood sugar keep improving. I started the car, foot firmly on the brake. I looked carefully around. And then I hurt the crash again. I turned up the volume on the stereo. We keep an old iPod (really old) in the car plugged into the car stereo set to random play. It is loaded with a bunch of my music and a bunch of Michael’s music. There’s a particular They Might Be Giant’s track that has a lot of these dramatic orchestral blasts that sound a lot like a crash.
I remembered that sometimes, if I take the Subaru out of Park and let my foot slip from the brake before it gets all the way to reverse, that the transmission does this little thing that makes the car wiggle just a bit, once. I had apparently managed to set off the wiggle at exactly the same moment that one of the musical crashes happened, when the stereo was turned down so that I could hear only some of the music, and not realize what was happening. So I hadn’t run over anyone or hit something.
I drove home. I told my hubby of my misadventures while he had juice and I ate a yogurt. When gathered things up, I swapped laundry loads, I tested my blood sugar and made certain I had a granola bar in the jacket pocket.
And then we headed out to pay our deposit and get on with the day.
I didn’t make as many runs to Value Village as I would like, but otherwise, the rest of Sunday was great.
Not everything that has hit me like a stab in the heart has been stuff that was hidden away.
My late husband Ray passed away 20 years and 5 months ago. It wasn’t a surprise, and yet it was. Almost four years previously doctors said he probably had less than two years to live, you see. There had been so many doctor visits & tests, then surgery and chemo and more tests and so forth. But, like that line from a Buffy the Vampire episode, when Tara is asked, regarding the death of her mother, “Was it sudden?” she answers, “No. And yes. It’s always sudden.”
It was mid-November when he died, and everything in my memory for the next gets a bit jumbled from that moment when they turned off the breathing machine through the next few months. There are some moments that stand out for different reasons. One day probably right around the beginning of February, not quite 3 months after Ray died, I walked into the grocery store that’s a few blocks from our place. I had grabbed a hand basket rather than a cart, because I was only planning to pick up a few things. Just inside the door they used to have this sort of miniature gift shop? It had a small variety of greeting cards for many occasions, some gift bags, and a few tiny toys, trinkets, and/or small plushies. The sort of thing you could grab as a last minute present because you didn’t have time to go elsewhere. I was walking past this thing when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.
I stopped, glanced over, and there was this cute little stuffed brown mouse holding a red heart. I picked it up, a warm feeling washing over me with the thought, “This would be perfect as a little surprise Valentine’s present for Ray!” The sort of thing I would attach to the outside of a gift-wrapped box with something bigger in it.
Before the thought had completely articulated itself in my head, I crashed right into the recollection that Ray was dead and I wouldn’t be sharing any of our usual Valentine’s Day activities with him. It wasn’t the first time that I had that particular momentary internal dissonance. Those moments were among the worst: for a second I would forget that he was dead, and have a normal thought about something I would tell him when I got home for instance, then the realization, which was a shattering moment reliving that first wave of grief when the doctors convinced me that Ray was brain dead and I needed to let him go. It really felt as if I had lost him again. And then, a moment after that, an equally devastating stab of guilt—how could I possibly forget that he was dead?
So there I was, standing in the grocery store suddenly sobbing my eyes out. And when I say standing that’s being generous because I had to lean against something to keep myself upright for a minute. A complete stranger asked if I was all right, and I shook my head, then nodded my head and managed to stammer out something about “I’ll be okay in a second.”
I put the mouse in my basket, because damn it, I was buying it for Ray, anyway!Ray’s ashes are in an urn that has been resting on a shelf in one of the bookcases in my current living room for 20 years, 4 months, and 2 weeks. The urn is attended/guarded by three of his tigers, two of his teddy bears, and the little mouse that had me sobbing in the store three months after his death. This is just one of the reasons I don’t want to move. This was the last place Ray lived. Of the three homes we shared, this was the first that he really loved (because when we first got together we were both coming out of messy break-ups that left us both in bad financial shape, so we first lived in a really crappy studio, and I was still digging myself out of the previous relationship’s debts a few years later, so we moved to a slightly less crappy 1 bedroom, before finding this place). Ray loved having a yard, even though it was very small, and being in a neighborhood that felt much more like a small town than part of a city.
I know that we shouldn’t get too attached to things. And life is about change. I’ve lived in the same place for a long time, maybe too long. And we’re never completely ready for change when it comes. Even though Michael and I have known that this was likely to happen since September, and that it was definitely going to happen since December, it still feels like it’s too soon. It’s not sudden, but…
My specific tasks for March were:
- At this point it’s time to just pack everything, so pack! We’ve been packing. There are boxes stacked everywhere.
- Get the new living situation sorted. We’ve contacted a number of property managers, but haven’t gotten a place nailed down.
- Make reasonable progress on writing/editing knowing that the above is going to eat up most of our available time.I got a small amount done, but not much.
- Disconnect from the internet at least one night each week. I managed to do this every week!
- Write at least two blog posts about things I like. I gave myself a lower number for this month because I figured with the packing and trying to find a new place I wouldn’t have as much time to write or blog. I still managed to beat this number by writing four posts about things I like!
My overall goals for the year, where I’m trying to follow the idea of replacing bad habits with better ones:
Don’t get mad, get busy. My tasks are: write about about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in; write at least one blog post a month about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight.
I did fairly well on this one.
Reduce, pack, and prioritize. We now officially know that we have to find a new place to live this year. We have lots of stuff to go through and decide what to discard and what to pack.
Packing, hauling, getting rid of stuff continued apace. My hubby found a great charity to ship a lot of our books to. That helps me feel better about getting rid of them.
Take care of us. My initial tasks are related to some specific medical things that aren’t urgent, but need to be dealt with. I am going to remain vague on the details of this one.
My husband had his surgery and I tried to play nurse. He’s recovering, and it’s a great relief to get this taken care of before the move!
Submit and publish. Initial task was to organize how I’m going to find calls for submission and set reasonable targets for the novel revision/finalization.
I worked on three submissions. Got one done. I’m frankly amazed at the amount of progress I did make this time given everything else.
Finally, my specific tasks for March are:
- Pack and move!
- Pack and move.
- Squeeze some writing time in somehow.
- Remember to have fun at NorWesCon (whether we attend the whole weekend or not).
- Write at least two blog posts about things I like.