One present was dead, but there was cake.

So my birthday was exhausting, but there was cake.

It was ice-cream cake, and it was really good. Oh my goodness, that was some good cake. The only thing that could’ve made it better would’ve been more cake and less ice cream. It had two heavy layers of ice cream, vanilla and chocolate, with a thin layer of cake between them. But it’s a slight complaint.

We started the day by going to the zoo, which was a bit of a letdown. They’ve closed off most of the special areas, like where you mingle with the macaws, and the petting zoo, and the indoor penguin play area, and so forth. It was disappointing as I really like the petting zoo and the birds. It felt like we were having a half-baked zoo visit. To compensate, the zoo was decorated with huge, life-sized lanterns of animals. They were gorgeous. About halfway through the zoo I saw a sign saying not to touch them, and I was like, “Oops. I’ve been bad.”

Then we went to the local crystal shop that’s right around the corner from here. I got this with some of my birthday money:

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What could bring me more happiness than a glass rainbow star? Can you believe it only cost $24? It’s stunning, and by hanging it from my light I don’t have to put a candle or LED light inside it. (It has a holder.)

I’m completely in love with it. But the whole time we were at the shop my dad kept touching everything despite the signs saying not to touch anything. I was afraid we’d get yelled at. (I guess “no touching” was yesterday’s theme.)

Then I took a nap, and when I awoke we went out to dinner at a restaurant my dad wanted to show me. Bad idea. First off, his driving was terrifying me before we even got there. He was flying through highly congested areas like a madman with no concern for life nor limb. Then he veered his car into a bad part of town. That’s where the restaurant was.

Here’s the thing: it’s not a bad part of town in a crime sense. I don’t like it because it feels sort of… rundown, as if no one’s bothered to spruce it up. Atmosphere is a huge deal to me, and a bad atmosphere can trigger my paranoia. Not in a sense of like, “they’re out to get me,” but more in a sense of like, “I’ve been abducted by aliens.”

Whenever my environment is foreign to me (not enough color, not enough bling, not enough tidyness or pizzazz, unkempt, rundown, and/or otherwise unfamiliar in a bad way), I feel like I’ve been abducted by aliens. I don’t fear the “aliens”, but I’m trapped with a horrific sense of otherworldliness where it’s like I don’t–or I can’t–belong. I’d liken it to how a “normal” person might feel if they were taken aboard an alien craft and deposited into a snot chamber. It’s that feeling of total foreignness of place. That’s how I felt at the restaurant.

I had a job once right after I graduated from college. At the job, the white walls of the workplace were terrifying to me and made me feel as if I were abroad and suffering from extreme culture shock. I just wanted to go home. So once I got home, I quit the job after that first day. No one understood, and people yelled at me for quitting. (Not my parents. Their attitude was, “Oh well, that was the wrong job for you. Keep looking!” The people who yelled were the people at Bellarmine who helped me find the job in the first place.) And there was no way I had the vocabulary or understanding to explain it to anyone, so I wound up internalizing a huge sense of failure and an even huger sense of doom. How could I ever find a job that felt right?

That worked out when I became employed by the reading center. Anytime you’ve got a place that’s tailored to kids, there will be colorful decor. That was nice. But ultimately that job didn’t work out either. I swear, my employers from that job could see into my soul and they magically knew that I’m mentally ill. Or I just couldn’t hide it. I’m not sure what the case was, but they were always looking inside of me as though they hoped to find a more competent reading teacher in there. I had the sense that I wasn’t good enough for them. Granted, I think they made everyone feel that way. They had impossibly high standards for all of us.

Anyway, oh, right! Dinner. My dad introduced me to his friend, the man who’s the owner of the restaurant. He sized me up and said, “I’ve heard wonderful things about you. You look normal!”

My first thought was, oh, hell, no, he didn’t. But I just raised an eyebrow. Did my dad tell him I’m schizophrenic?

“I mean, considering how ugly your dad is, I expected you to be a dog!” he continued. “Your mother must be a beautiful woman.”

Ah. I see. Okay, I’m on board now. But I had no clue how to react because no one’s ever called me or my mother beautiful. We’re not an attractive family. My dad is rather ugly, too. He looks like a grizzled war veteran. I never stood a chance at being attractive. And if you could see how both of my parents have humongous ears… I was destined to inherit them.

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Gee, Meg, which direction are you taking this blog post in? 

My parents also both have short legs, so even though I’m 5’8″ tall, I wear petite-inseamed pants and have a super-tall torso. I’m no ballerina.

I tried to master some small talk, but I was shutting down. In retrospect, I think he may have been coming onto me. Seeing as no one’s ever called me beautiful before (even in an implied instance such as this), how was I to know?! Men never go for me. So I wasn’t positioned to reciprocate. I sort of regret that now.

The young woman who took our orders answered the phone before my dad could pay her. “Fish house,” she said. Several seconds passed. “FISH HOUSE!” she screeched. “HELLO!”

I shuddered and recoiled.

The owner showed us where to get drinks and cocktail sauce, and then my dad and I sat at a table. I shut down completely and became unable to talk. My eyes were open wide with fright. When our food came I had no ability to even make eye contact with the young woman (a different one) who brought it. Then I was also rendered unable to eat. My dad ate about half of his meal before he gave up on me and got us some carryout boxes. I slunk outside.

“He didn’t mean anything by it,” my dad explained in the parking lot. “He was making a joke.”

I got in the car and didn’t reply. My body felt frozen. But after we got home I told him that that wasn’t the problem. I’d understood the joke. I ate my food and found it to be good but a bit greasy. Then I ate more cake.

I felt sad and empty somehow, as if something was missing from my life. But what? What could be missing?

I decided to go upstairs and check my email. But before I could get there, I found a dead lizard on the landing. A rather mischievous kitty was peering at me from atop the stairs. Ah. At least there was no longer a sense of something missing from my life. The dead lizard made my life and my birthday complete. “Thanks, Mr. Kitty,” I mumbled as I tossed it into the trashcan. “You’re a nice little cat.”

Meow? 

“Yeah, you’re a fearsome predator,” I assured him as I climbed the stairs. “I’m impressed.”

Meow? 

So that was my birthday.

*****

The canned food diet is still going great (and I’m back on it today after my birthday) except that I can’t quit sneaking into my dad’s room to pilfer his Oreos. How on earth can I get myself to quit doing this?! I’ve eaten nine Oreos so far today. So not healthy! But I’m not having any other issues with the diet.

I haven’t been to the gym yet today because I feel exhausted and hungover. My car’s back from the shop and my dad paid to have it repaired, which was nice. I’m glad to have my car back.

I’m sure that being 44 will be fun!

What are you saying?

DEAR ABBY: After a bad breakup, a good friend and her husband offered me a room in their home. They have two wonderful teenagers. Then the pandemic came, and we all became infected.

What started out as a few months’ plan for me to get back on my feet has lasted 14 months. I have offered to pay them some money, but they will accept only $200 to help with the groceries.

My problem is I have noticed that the husband is not very happy with my presence. I told my friend I’m ready to start looking for my own apartment, but she insists that I stay just a little longer so that I will be really stable on my own. She tells me how “I am family,” and I’m not bothering anyone, and they have no complaints about me. I did not tell her what is really driving me out.

I’m really uncomfortable with his attitude toward me, and I understand that perhaps I have overstayed my welcome. My question: Should I leave and tell her I felt that I was no longer welcomed by her husband? Or should I just leave without telling her? Thanks for your input. — UNCOMFORTABLE IN MIAMI

DEAR UNCOMFORTABLE: Do not sneak away. Do find a place of your own. Express to your friend that she has been a saint to allow you to live with them during this extended period, but it is clear the time has come for you to go. Tell her you will not only be fine but forever in their debt for their kindness to you.

P.S. As soon as it is feasible — not before — give them a nice gift for their home. (c) DEAR ABBY

Wow. It’s hard to imagine being so obtuse.

What does she think would happen if she were to tattle on the husband to his wife? Is she trying to get the husband in trouble? That’s hilarious. I think it would go more like this:

Letter writer: “Donna, your husband is making me feel uncomfortable.” 

Donna: “Oh. You figured out he wants to have a threesome?” 

Letter writer: “No. Um, wait, what?! Um, no. He’s just been glowering at me like he wants me to move out.” 

Donna: “Oh, good, that. Uh-huh, I know. And?” 

Letter writer: “And… And what?” 

Donna: “Let me level with you. We want our house back! Please!” [At this point, Donna beseechingly hurls herself bodily to the floor and grabs the letter writer’s ankles in a penitent gesture.]

Letter writer: “Oh my goodness. What… what are you saying?” 

HA HA H AH A! That’s hilarious. What are you saying? Ooh! We have a blog post title!

Yeah, it’s… really clueless.

I suspect (although this is just a guess) that the husband and wife are playing “good cop, bad cop” with the letter writer. The wife’s doing the whole, “You’re always welcome here,” routine while the husband’s providing the muscle. I’m not sure why, but that just made me laugh out loud all over again. She’s oblivious!!

Yeah, she needs to move out. And then, in case I’m wrong about the staged “good cop, bad cop” thing, she needs to make extra sure to make this up to the husband somehow.

*****

In other advice-giving news, Annie Lane’s column hasn’t showed up today at her syndicate, Creators.com. I’m wondering if they’ve finally fired her. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination. This was in her latest column (from yesterday):

Dear Annie: I’m a 34-year-old man with a superb wife. We’ve been married eight years, and things are great between us. The problem is my mother-in-law. I’m sleeping with her.

She is an incredibly attractive woman and still in her prime. She and my wife look like sisters. But my mother-in-law knows a thing or two more than her daughter in the bedroom.

This affair has been going on for four years now. It’s getting hard to not want to be with her all the time, instead of just a couple days a week.

If this should come out, it will wreck two families, and I don’t want that. But I think I’m falling or have already fallen in love with my mother-in-law. Plus, the sex is incredible. Any suggestions? — My Own Mrs. Robinson

Dear MOMR: Get yourself together, man. This isn’t advice I should have to give, but please: Stop sleeping with your mother-in-law. Come clean to your wife. And be prepared to pack your bags. As much as I try to encourage married couples to work through thick and thin, honestly, I can’t see how someone could come back from this. Your wife deserves to be in a loving, respectful relationship — and not stuck in whatever kind of sick game this is. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

And it’s so cringeworthy. (For one thing, I’d wager it’s a fake letter.) I feel awful for Annie Lane. It’s not this often that I’m able to get inside someone’s head, but I feel like I can see inside hers (and I’ve felt this way for a while), and she’s just… inept at giving advice. She doesn’t have a knack for it at all. 99% of all answerable questions intimidate her and have her drawing a blank. That’s not good. I mean, I guess I feel sorry for her.

It’s not that she’s afraid of people disagreeing with her advice, although that could be a contributing factor. She’s simply unable to come up with answers. She chose the above letter because it has an obvious answer. I mean, which advice columnist extant is going to advise this guy to continue screwing his mother-in-law? [Eyeroll.]

(“And does your wife have any aunts? Dude, you need to come at this from every angle! And don’t discount the granny. Octogenarian females are just starting to reach their sexual peaks. And maybe you can get your mother-in-law to give your wife some discreet tips on being a better lover.”)

jesus

I guess I can relate to the feeling of inability. There are things I wish I was better at, so I know how it feels. I’m sure we can all relate in one way or another. Ugh. I’ll keep you all posted.

Run! The zombies need affection!

Dear Amy: I have an acquaintance, who every time I see her wants to hug me.

I don’t mind an occasional hug with someone, but this is almost like a demand.

This person is a neighbor. We are friendly with each other, but I wouldn’t characterize our relationship as a close friendship.

Since we have had our vaccinations, she uses it as an excuse: “Now we can hug!”

I do not want to be mean or alienate this person. I would like to stay on good neighborly terms.

Do you have any suggestions of how to curtail all the hugs?

— Need Some Space

Need Some Space: I believe the pandemic has had at least one small silver-ish lining for a lot of people: Liberation from unwanted hugs.

Please, take advantage of this temporary break and assert your preference — and right — not to be hugged. Do it honestly, nicely and quickly.

It is not “mean” to state your own preferences regarding being physically touched by another person. Try saying, “Honestly, experiencing the pandemic has made me realize that I don’t really like to be hugged. So, I hope a hearty ‘hello’ and air-hug will be enough.” (c) Ask Amy

Someone at the Washington Post’s Ask Amy column left this comment in response:

My husband once had to give a speech about his difficult and abusive childhood, where he revealed that he had never experienced a hug until the age of nine. Much to his alarm, after he finished he was approached by a huge number of people in the audience who all wanted to give him a hug! He has vowed never to mention that particular aspect of his childhood to strangers ever again.

Which led someone else to reply:

Your poor husband! That sounds like a horror movie scene.

And that’s so funny that I can’t help but share it. I’m picturing huggy zombies descending upon the poor man, arms outstretched not to eat his brains but to hug him. It’s too funny. I think instead, the speaker should’ve said, “My abusive parents never gave me an allowance, and all I ever wanted was twenty dollars.” That would’ve worked out better. I’m laughing out loud now.

I love to hug people, but mainly in a romantic or friendship capacity. Either one is great by me. But most of my friends are online, so I almost never hug anyone. I’m not huge on casual hugging. I find it odd that a neighbor, like in today’s letter, would be insistent for hugs. There must be something strange going on there, but I have no idea what. I also don’t like hugging family members. (I’d feel different about a husband.) It feels awkward to me and forced and… I don’t know. [Shrug.]

*****

I’ve been feeling better lately, which is great. I’m totally primed to celebrate my birthday tomorrow. In fact, in some parts of the world, it’s already my birthday! YAY!

My mom sent me some birthday money, and I’ve ordered a few fun things for my second-floor rainbow paradise up here. I bought a rainbow tray to put all my Tarot and oracle cards into. Society6 makes too many fun things with nifty artists’ designs! I also ordered a T-shirt from LL Bean because I had reward points that removed $15 from the bill. I’m a total LL Bean fanatic, and I generally buy winter clothes from them more than summer clothes, but this T-shirt is so pretty!

Every year when winter comes, I love getting out my LL Bean clothing collection. Ohh, it’s a special experience, going through all the nice clothes and remembering what I have, and waiting for colder weather! It’s not the same in the summer. Cotton T-shirts, yay! Eh.

Please pardon how materialistic I’m being today! Well, my birthday’s tomorrow, and as a Taurus, I love having a stable, beautiful environment around me.

I still love the pillow I got for my birthday last year, and the pillow that Emilia got me for Christmas! Both are in this photo respectively:

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What fun!! Do you all like how I tripped out my file cabinet with shelf papers and blue handles? I’m still sort of in love with it. (I have this bizarre love of colors, for those of you who don’t know.)

Speaking of colors, I can’t remember if I blogged about this, but my life coach wanted me to wear something colorful to think of rainbows and thus not react in anger. This is what I chose, and it’s coming from Amazon today!

I also still love and regularly use the tea maker I got for my birthday last year! I love it! It’s in great shape, and I use it about three times a week so I always have a pitcher of this lemon dessert tea in the fridge! (I’m not affiliated with any of these. I just love material things!)

I swear, my life coach is a genius. She did this thing with me where she got me to start visualizing rainbows, and within, like, thirty seconds, I felt giddy as all get-out. It seems so obvious now! I mean, I’m a rainbow fanatic.

Oh! That reminds me. I entered my rainbow poem into a contest by uploading it onto a site called vocal.media. I felt as if the contest had my name on it. I don’t have high hopes of winning because it’ll all have to do with what they’re looking for. I’ve learned that about contests, like when I submit my novels. But hey, the 15 winners get $2,000 apiece. Sign me up!

I’ve still been eating canned foods. Corn! Yum. I also got some muffin mix for a late-night dessert. Two muffins have 300 calories (total) and are very yummy.

My mom sent me a generous birthday check, and my dad said, “There she goes, upstaging me again with a huge check,” and I replied, “There’s still time! You’re totally in this, old man.”

Quakes.

Things didn’t improve when I tried to discuss my sister’s situation with my dad again. He’s just in deep denial. Fortunately, I found an ally in my brother. I was really starting to fear that I was being crazy about the whole thing.

This was our FB conversation:

Me: Do you ever feel sad that Ellen’s going to abuse her kid and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it?

My brother: Nope that’s one reason why I never even want to meet it

Me: YOU TOO?! I feel the same way!! 😮

Now, to any outsider, the fact that he referred to our niece as “it” would seem bad. But my brother’s not a heartless jerk. It’s a reflection of our fears that if we care about our niece, we’ll be awash in helplessness. Best not to let her into our hearts. She’s been alive a year and a half, and neither I nor my brother have met her. This is definitely for the best.

I’ve got to accept my parents’ denial. It is what it is.

Today has been a day of rest and repose. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed my mind slows down and I just feel distant and disconnected. I’ve probably been dissociating today, except I’m almost not aware of it. I just keep gazing at my closet door and thinking of nothing.

I haven’t been to the gym today but I’m still eating canned foods.

I feel like my dad hurt my psyche. He doesn’t understand. But maybe I don’t understand. What would it be like to have a daughter like Ellen?

My gaze just keeps going back to the closet door, and unaccountable time passes in missing chunks of nothingness.

He triggered my abuse issues by acting all intimidating. That was incredibly unkind of him and grossly thoughtless. I’m just trying to divert my thoughts, but I keep feeling humiliated. Maybe I’m supposed to feel that way for my whole life, like a punishment or a curse, or something. Constant humiliation. Hmm… I might need more EMDR. I can always bill my dad.

Too much awareness of how vulnerable kids are, of how many have been hurt by bad parenting over the decades, the centuries. Seems to burden me.

And at the same time I’m playing Words With Friends against a new opponent, and I just played QUAKES for 118 points. Triple letter on the Q, triple word. My brain is a strange thing. Other than that, I just keep staring at the closet door. I’m not sure where the time has gone since I started writing this post an hour (?) ago. Sometimes I get gobsmacked and progress comes to a screeching halt. He can apologize for the argument but he damaged my psyche.

I lived a past life in Central or South America. I had long, straight black hair, a huge nose, and wide hips. I was a female who grew up with stable, supportive parents in a loving home. I had no siblings. When I was eighteen I moved out and supported myself with my job. I had a friend at that age who was a twelve-year-old boy. He visited and stayed with me often because his parents were constantly engaged in domestic disputes which were hard for him to witness. I offered him a safe haven. We were friends.

When he turned eighteen, he moved in with me and we got married. We struggled in our marriage because of an intense inner conflict he was saddled with: he appreciated that I’d always been there for him, but he’d grown up seeing his mother being mistreated by a misogynistic husband. And so he was torn between appreciating me, versus mistreating me as he’d modeled from his parents. It was a constant source of conflict. However, we never gave up on each other and we kept at it for our whole lives, always trying to find peace. Decades passed. We remained together, forever committed to our tenuous connection.

Well, I finished narrating that tale and immediately spaced out again. Oh well.

That came to me in a dream one night, and it felt like more than a dream.

What am I doing?! I’m so spaced out. I keep gazing at my room without seeing it. I should go take my nightly sedatives. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Maybe watch The Golden Girls or Frasier. 

Can’t ever keep from falling apart…

Last night was dreadful. I’d spent the day exercising and eating canned foods. Late at night while I was in the bathroom, I heard someone acting hysterical on the other end of my dad’s landline phone. (He uses the speakerphone due to his near-total deafness.) I had a bad feeling when I exited the bathroom. The call ended rather abruptly and I asked who it was. He said it was Ellen. She’s my evil sister.

It was horrifying to hear her losing it. She’s very emotionally immature in the sense that she gets hysterical a lot. I do too, but the problem is that she’ll become violent. Now that I’m no longer in a position to be her chief punching bag, I’m afraid the honor will pass to her daughter, Li’l Sweetmeats, who’s 18 months old.

It was triggering. There used to be a lot of emotional upsets in my family. There’d be hysteria, screaming, name calling, violence, histrionics, panic, and extreme negativity. Sometimes the police would be called. I hate seeing vulnerability in my sister but the truth is that she’s very unhinged. Not in a mentally ill sort of way, but more of an emotionally immature sort of way.

I remember once she came up here to my room and begged me to get her unplugged, dangling curling iron out of her hair. It was stuck there. She was a weepy mess. I prefer to remain calm in those sorts of situations because there’s a lot of emotional pain associated with coming undone. Oddly, if I come undone, I’m okay with that. If my mother and/or my sister comes undone, I feel terrified, hopeless, overwhelmed by their vulnerabilities, and like life is horrific. I hate that feeling. At their cores, my mom and my sister are very vulnerable and raw and messy. I don’t like that.

I told my dad that Ellen was getting closer and closer to becoming an abusive parent. He got mad and insisted that I’m engaging in paranoid delusions. I accused him of being knee-deep in parental denial. He kept claiming I’m being ludicrous, that there’s nothing to worry about. I told him I can’t handle ever meeting Li’l Sweets because as soon as I care about her, I’ll want to kidnap her to protect her, and then I’ll wind up in federal prison. He complained that he wants to have his granddaughter come over to our house, and I told him that was fine as long as he could give me notice to move out first. (Not that I have anyplace else to go.) He said I should be able to run errands so Li’l Sweets could come over. I said I’m not willing to risk it, and since we don’t use cellphones, it would be too risky that I’d come home and see the ugly little brat. He said she’s not ugly. I explained that I’m trying to dislike her so I won’t care about her, as a self-protective mechanism. He insisted that I shouldn’t blame Li’l Sweets for who her mom is, and I insisted that I’m not doing that. He doesn’t get it. I have to put myself first here, or I’ll go to prison.

Basically, there’s going to come a point when Ellen becomes abusive. Hopefully no one will ever breathe a word of it to me because my hands will be tied. As soon as I report her to CPS, she’ll explain that I’m schizophrenic and that she’s a reputable social worker, and that will be that. There’s nothing I can do to protect my niece. Nothing. She’s going to be abused, and I can’t protect her. So I can only look out for myself here.

I hate being misunderstood. All the people in my family who see it from Ellen’s perspective don’t understand what it’s like to be the victim of repeated assault over the years. She has this diabolical way of seeming normal and good to others while openly admitting to me (when no one else is within earshot, of course) that I’m her personal punching bag, and that she regrets how she sometimes has to “get physical” with me.

And she’s eight years younger! Growing up with her was the easy part. Being siblings as adults has been pure hell. She outgrew me when she was eight and I was sixteen.

For years–decades–I kept trying to see the best in my sister and to give her the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that she was taking baby steps toward betterment. Then I finally just got sick of the charade and gave up. It was pain, emotional pain, and anguish. My whole life would be happier without her in it.

At any rate, my dad apologized today. But I feel emotionally hungover. I’m just in a fog, so I’m not even trying to do anything but sit here. I haven’t taken a shower in a few weeks, and then I just quit caring. My hair is draped atop my head in clumps. It can stay that way.

*****

The canned food diet is going great. One huge and unexpected plus is that canned food is filling. Who the freak knew? There’s no uncomfortable hunger at all. That’s been a problem in the past while I was trying to count calories, and also when I’ve tried eating other healthy foods. Eggs, for example, aren’t filling, even if I make four eggs, so it’s like eating empty calories. Why bother?

I had a slip-up this morning before my dad came home from lunch. I sneaked into his room and ate twelve of his small chewy cookies. I have very weak will power before I’ve woken up fully. I’m not going to let it derail me, and I doubt it’s a huge diet killer.

I mean, last night I was so distressed that I wanted to go on a junk-food binge courtesy of our local drugstore. I would’ve bought Pringles, Wheat Thins, a chocolate candy bar, and baked Lays. Oh, and ice cream and cookies. I talked myself down and made some popcorn. I really don’t mind if I snack; and in fact, I’m trying to work out how to do it in controlled moderation, which is major.

One idea is that I might get some muffin mix and bake myself a nice muffin every evening. I can’t really binge on them because it takes about twenty minutes to cook one in our toaster oven. (Slow motion bingeing?) I like that idea. I’ve just got to quit relying on snacks, bingeing, and eating snacks all day long. I think it’s all good.

Anyway, so far, I like:

  • potatoes
  • green beans
  • any fruit (no added sugar)
  • slivered beets (sort of)
  • corn
  • mushrooms
  • and I’m convinced I’m forgetting something… oh, yeah, podded peas

I tried chickpeas, and that didn’t work out.

So although I’m in a fog today, I guess my life is going okay, and my birthday’s in three days on Monday the 10th. YAY! My dad and I are going to the zoo, the local crystal shop, and the local kitty cat cafe. The last two places are around the corner and next door to each other. And then the zoo is within walking distance, but we’ll drive. There will also be ice-cream cake. I have a good feeling about turning 44. I think it’s a spiritual number somehow. I dunno. It sounds good. It looks pretty. I think it’ll be a nice age.

Annie Lane’s take on EMDR.

I blogged about this letter a while back.

Dear Annie: My ex and I got married when I was 19. We stayed together for 10 years, during which I was dealing with untreated depression. That did not make life easy for either of us. Eventually, he left, leaving me to care for the kids. He gave us some financial support but was not present in their lives.

Unfortunately, I did not give my kids the attention I know now they badly needed. I was preoccupied with my worry about being alone forever. I have tried to make up for this since, but my daughters still harbor a deep resentment for me. I have told them numerous times how much I regret my behavior and offered to hear all their sadness as a consequence of my actions without trying to defend myself. But they have both cut me out.

My son, the youngest, is still in my life and has reassured me that I was not a terrible mother. He also suffers from depression, and for years he abused drugs. I blame the fact that he had no father in the home for those important first years.

Even after all these years, I am still preoccupied with my time married to my ex. Random thoughts are always about him — what could have been — and I always feel on the verge of tears.

I’m about to turn 70. Is there a way to finally put this behind me? I’ve had much therapy over the years but still revert to the pain and sadness about the childhood I was unable to give my kids and the loss of my marriage. I think that if I go into therapy again, nothing will change. But should I try again? — Regretful Mom

Dear Regretful Mom: To the question of whether to try therapy again, my answer is always yes. In your case, especially so. You’ve been dealing with clinical depression since you were a teen. That black dog, as Winston Churchill called it, can’t just be shaken off. Therapy won’t wash away all your pain and regret, but it can help make your feelings more manageable and life more enjoyable.

Additionally, in light of your son’s drug abuse, you might benefit from a support group such as Nar-Anon (www.nar-anon.org), LifeRing Secular Recovery (www.lifering.org) or Families Anonymous (www.familiesanonymous.org). (c) Annie Lane

Today, we had this follow-up letter:

Dear Annie: This is in response to your reply to “Regretful Mom,” who has struggled with depression and regrets not being present for her now-adult children. Another choice she can look into for helping her with working with the emotional memories connected to her past is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, also known as EMDR. Although people think of post-traumatic stress disorder as being related to extremely severe accidents or traumas, psychology is now aware that for lifetime events over several years, sexual abuse, multiple or ongoing difficulties that cause extreme emotional and mental anguish can also put someone at risk for suffering from PTSD. By using EMDR with a qualified therapist, a patient can recall these past events without experiencing the anguish. It is constructive in combination with talk therapy, and, when necessary, medication, whether short term or for a longer duration.

Thank you for letting me share this information. — Lorrie Finley

Dear Lorrie: Thank you for sharing it. Controlled and randomized clinical studies show that EMDR is efficient to treat PTSD. And although this is purely anecdotal, the treatment technique has helped friends of mine.

Hmm. Let’s tear this apart:

Although people think of post-traumatic stress disorder as being related to extremely severe accidents or traumas […]

Right! Yes, let’s define it, shall we? That definition works for me! I’m on board so far!

[…] psychology is now aware that for lifetime events over several years, sexual abuse, multiple or ongoing difficulties that cause extreme emotional and mental anguish can also put someone at risk for suffering from PTSD.

Yes! Absolutely. I believe it’s called C-PTSD (chronic PTSD), referring to the trauma as having been ongoing, like an abusive situation that took years to escape, being in a war, being bullied repeatedly, etc.

But there are a few problems. One, um, the reference to sexual abuse offended me. Yes, being sexually abused repeatedly over time (and consequently developing C-PTSD) would be horrific. But it technically only takes one act of sexual abuse–one isolated incident–to form trauma. So let’s not downplay sexual abuse by implying that it has to happen to you over a long period of time for it to have an impact. Abuse is abuse.

Also, um, how did we go from discussing this woman’s depression to lumping her in with C-PTSD sufferers?

My ex and I got married when I was 19. We stayed together for 10 years, during which I was dealing with untreated depression. That did not make life easy for either of us. Eventually, he left, leaving me to care for the kids. He gave us some financial support but was not present in their lives.

Okay, so… life was hard…? I’m not unsympathetic (well, not any moreso than usual), but that’s not the same as trauma, whether we’re talking about PTSD or C-PTSD. It’s not! I’m sorry. Having a difficult marriage because you married young and had a lot of kids right away isn’t traumatic. It’s some other kinds of bad, yes; but it’s not trauma. There’s no indication of trauma anywhere in the original letter. If her husband had raped her, or if their house had burned down, or if they lost a child in a car wreck, etc., etc., then yes–trauma. But nothing like that happened to cause her misery, or she would’ve said so.

Just because something upsetting happens, like her husband leaving her, doesn’t mean that what happened was traumatic. It might have just been upsetting. If she’d reacted to his disappearance by showing signs of being traumatized, then I might entertain the notion. But she was depressed before he left. And going farther back, if something from her childhood caused her depression, she would’ve told us.

I’m not diminishing her depression simply because it’s not trauma-based. And it’s possible that EMDR has farther reaching implications than we know, meaning, who knows? Maybe it can treat depression somehow. More studies are needed. But it’s offensive to imply that this woman is a trauma victim when she clearly isn’t.

PTSD and C-PTSD are rare mental illnesses in that they require an obvious occurrence. (E.g., without his tragic car wreck, there would be no PTSD for him.) For that reason, PTSD and C-PTSD remind me of dissociative disorders that develop from sexual abuse or some such similar horrors in early childhood. There’s an obvious external causal factor. And thus it’s offensive to me that this (second) letter writer made glib references to sexual abuse AND implied that anyone who’s had a hard life would benefit from trauma therapy in particular.

Some people are derisive about people who lay claim to trauma over every little thing. “I couldn’t find a parking spot at the mall! I’m so traumatized.” (I’m sure the speaker would be guilty of being sarcastic, but I couldn’t think of a  better example offhand.) But here’s the thing: if you aren’t having flashbacks that horrify you or destroy your psyche; if you don’t avoid situations or “triggers” that bring back the memory; if you don’t have ingrained issues, phobias, nightmares or other neuroses related to it; then you probably haven’t been traumatized.

That said, and this is important, if you ARE struggling with those symptoms, then I’d never want to be dismissive and say, “Really? You’re traumatized over such-and-such minor incident?” Because we don’t need to say, “Oh, that’s invalid trauma,” or, “Oh, get over it.” Trauma is trauma. But in the absense of those symptoms, it might not have been traumatic. And it irritates me when people claim to have been traumatized by something that wasn’t traumatic.

In logic class in college, we learned that A can lead to B, but just because B is true, we can’t know that A caused it. I.e., trauma can lead to depression, but just because someone’s depressed, we can’t assume that their depression was brought about by trauma. It’s basic logic. I keep trying to pinpoint where the logic broke down in the second letter, but that one sentence in the middle is so heavy that I can’t figure out exactly where the logic went off the rails. It’s a stumper! How did the second letter writer go from depressed to traumatized?

Okay, I found it. She’s referring to the original letter writer’s “emotional memories of her past,” and then she segues into sexual abuse and extreme emotional distress, as if living with depression equates to experiencing longterm sexual abuse.

I’ve been hoping for years that Annie Lane would mention EMDR, but it’s not surprising that she never knows when to mention things. EMDR is great for trauma, but the original letter writer hasn’t experienced any (that we know of). It’s also not surprising that Annie Lane let a letter writer write today’s column. (Well, that was part of the column. The rest of today’s column was a list of signs that you might have a brain tumor. I think she copy/pasted it from somewhere.)

Prince Albert in a can!

Guess what? I’ve created a new diet for myself. I’m calling it the canned foods diet. I guess it’s rather self-explanatory. I’m not wanting to only eat canned foods. Technically, I don’t care what I eat if it’s healthy. But I’ve realized that canned foods are affordable, healthy (I’m trying to get BPA-free cans), and tasty. Who the freak knew?!

So, yeah. Today, I ate a can of corn lightly seasoned with sea salt. (Hold the butter. Yucks.) It didn’t even require cooking. And then I had a fruit cocktail with no added sugar. It wasn’t bad! I also know I like canned pairs; and I bought some green beans, beets, and mushrooms to try, because I like those non-canned, so here’s hoping.

I mean, could I possibly have a weight issue if my normal snacking tendency would be to open a can of corn? No, really, would I? It’s like those guys on SNL who are sharing a friendly head of lettuce. I’ve always figured that overeating would be a non-issue if you’re overeating veggies. Like, “Whoa, you’re eating too many of those brussel sprouts! Slow down–you’ll gain weight,” said no one ever.

(Overeating isn’t really my issue, I don’t think. I just love me some junk food!)

So, we’ll see how it goes. It made me realize that my problem is habits and lifestyle choices. Here’s the thing: there are bad choices that I can make all day long. When I wake up at around 10:00 or 11:00 AM, the first bad choice would be going to the local pastry shop and getting a bagel and a huge cookie for brunch, or some such. That’s strike 1.

The next mistake would be eating dinner several hours later by heating up some chicken nuggets and tater tots. Strike 2.

And the third mistake would be going to the drugstore late at night and buying chips, ice cream, and… more chips. (We’re being honest here, right? Yeah, more chips.) Strike 3.

It’s sort of become my expected normal, and I need to veer away from that. I’m sure I can find a way to eat unhealthy stuff in moderation if I try hard enough. But in the meantime, pass the beets!

It occurred to me that I just need some canned food onhand for all three of those daily occurrences (although I’m not opposed to eating something more filling for dinner like grilled chicken, etc.). As crazy as this sounds, it’s 11:00 PM now, and if I need a late-night snack, it’s going to be mushrooms. I know, right? It seems weird to me, too. But prior to today, it never occurred to me to give consideration to any groceries in the canned foods aisle. New discovery!

*****

In other news, I met with my life coach today (virtually–she lives in South Africa). I like her a lot because she’s like a therapist but without the credentials. I know people typically consider it better to have more credentials, but… [shudders]… I’ve had too many bad therapists.

My life coach, Leonie, really cares about me as a friend and is great at helping me process what’s going down. We discussed the grocery store incident and how it played into my mother’s power struggles when I was growing up, but she also helped me think up a strategy: I’m going to earn points every time I feel antagonized and don’t react. (Minor reactions probably won’t count. We’re talking major meltdowns here.)

It’s not about earning rewards, but who doesn’t love rewards? It’s about coming to see that someone can push all my buttons and “get away with it”, and I can survive it. That I’ll still be alive even though I left behind the opportunity to tell the person off. So I want to accrue ten points to gain confidence. Also included would be angry emails. That’s been substantially less of an issue lately, but you never know. Points! Confidence.

She was trying to motivate me by pointing out my professional author reputation, but… there are never any sales, except for when I do promos, which all cost more than the sales by a multiple. So I realized she was trying to find a way to motivate me, and it got me to thinking, and I came up with the points thing. For one thing, I have many, many people in my life who would be massively proud of me if I were to just walk away. And it would give me confidence, like I said.

Oh! So she told me to buy a rainbow keychain, or some such, so I have rainbows onhand at all times. She pointed out that when I think of rainbows, I get giddy with joy. Colors! Rainbowfy! Not a bad idea. I ordered a rainbow bracelet on Amazon. Wearing it will remind me of my mission. Be virtuous! Develop good comportment. Walk with your head held high. Act like a lady.

I’m excited for my birthday on Monday! I’ll be 44, which seems like a nice number. It’s double, like my birthyear of 1977. (I’m a numbers freak.) I was born on Tuesday, May 10th, and if I’d been born three days later… yeah. Friday the 13th!! Too bad, so sad! I like the 10th. 5-10-77 is pretty.

*****

Sorry this blog post is so long! It’s tomorrow now, and I never bothered to publish the above post, so now I’m adding onto it! Here I am, still eating canned food. I know, right? It’s wild. It makes life a lot easier. I used to try eating healthy in a moderate way, but that never panned out. I’m going to get some Wasa bread to eat with the canned food. (Meg needs some crunch.) The stuff’s so gross that it has to be healthy.

I earned a point today. I went to the UPS store to make some Amazon returns, and the lady there started yelling at me. For seriousness. I’m starting to think the problem isn’t me, but everyone else.

Gorgeous one, that’s a dangerous and intoxicating idea. Nix it. 

Well, anyway, I gave her some labeled boxes for returns, and then I handed her some printed out QR codes since I don’t use a cellphone. I had three unpackaged paperbacks that corresponded to the two QR codes. She yelled, “I need to know which books these go with!”

“Uh, one is for two of these books, and the other is for the third,” I replied.

“No! No! No! I need to know specifically, you moron!” (She didn’t really call me a moron, but trust me on this: she was being very mean about it, and for no good reason.) (I don’t get triggered if someone’s nice about it, but when they act like I should’ve known and they’re needlessly mean about it, I just can’t cope.)

“Oh. I figured you could scan these, and it would show on your screen,” I mumbled.

“No! It doesn’t work that way! Do you think I’m a mindreader? Look, my screen has no information on it when I scan this.” She turned her screen toward me.

“Yeah, I didn’t actually think you were lying about it,” I uttered darkly.

“I know,” she said right away. Score for Meg. “Do you have a cellphone?”

“No, I don’t use one.”

“Well, what do you expect me to do?!” She seemed to have come undone. Her voice had a desperate edge to it. “I’m only trying to guarantee that you get your refund.”

I rolled my eyes. Too little, too late. She should’ve opened with that instead of tacking it on as a last-minute justification for being a [bleep].

So many things I wanted to say. I collected my printouts and the three anger management books that failed to help me (ohhh, the bitter irony of it all) and stormed out.

“Do you want a receipt for these other two packages?” she called after me.

I ignored her. But suffice it to say that if the two packaged returns don’t wind up back at Amazon, then Amazon will be getting an earful from me about my UPS experience.

So, yeah, I just earned a point because I kept my cool. I’m like The Rock Obama from SNL. I’m cool… when I’m not engaging in defenestration.

So, this gets better. Then, I went to the gym, which is next-door to the UPS store. And… I did my treadmill routine again! Yeah, I’m back in action. I’m surprised it went so well, but I was so excited! Go me.

Maybe there’s something to be said for moderate expressions of anger. I don’t hate myself for being a bit snarky to her, since she started it. And I’d have to come home and match up the QR codes anyway.

So, things are going great! Thanks for reading! I hope everyone out there is having a great day!! 🙂

Be still my heart! No, really, slow down!

So I finally broke down and sought out medical care today when I took my resting heartbeat once again, and it was 100. Same old, same old. I figured that can’t be healthy. I haven’t been able to do my treadmill routine ever since I was vaccinated twelve days ago, and nothing has improved.

I went to the immediate care center, and they were very nice and helpful. They told me that a resting pulse of 100 isn’t abnormal or too concerning unless it gets jacked up to 120 and stays there, at which point I should go to the ER (since I don’t have a primary care doc). They said that an exercise pulse of 155 on the treadmill isn’t worrisome if I’m not lightheaded. (Sadly, though, when my heartbeat goes that high on the treadmill, I do get lightheaded.) They said I can resume using the treadmill if I can go slower, and I can stop for a full minute if I feel iffy.

They did an EKG and said my heartbeat’s fine. That was a relief! I had no clue how that would turn out. I’ve been worried, because nothing has improved since after I got the vaccine. Nothing. And the side effects were supposed to last a day or two. (Or, at least, that’s what they chose to tell the public…?)

Oh. And I’m fat. (They didn’t say that, but my weight’s on the paperwork. Ugh. Their scales were conspiring against me! Bad scales.)

Gee, Meg, like you didn’t know you’re overweight? 

Seriously, I was fat three years ago, but I weighed twenty pounds less then than I do now. Now, I can only aspire to be as fat as I was then… if that makes sense.

They said, “Your heartbeat’s 98 now. That’s good. You should seek out a primary care physician, who might want to put a monitor on you for a few days.” They’re going to send me a referral to a gen doc, which is nice. I told them how my last gen doc fired me because I didn’t get sick for three years, and they were sympathetic to my plight. (Stupid doctors! Ugh. Of all the idiotic, bureaucratic reasons to fire a patient!)

So, armed with this knowledge, I want to return to the treadmill. I’m going to do things a little bit differently. I’m forming a plan of attack:

  • Better hydration: I’ll make sure to have a beverage at all times. Sadly, the water fountain at the gym is turned off due to the coronavirus. However, you can still get refill water from the higher spigot, so all I need is a basic drinking container.
  • A thinner mask: I’ve been wearing the extreme KN95 masks, but hello, I’ve been vaccinated. I’m going to switch to a mesh mask, and woe betide he who says anything to me about it. Hey, I’ve done my duty with the masks thus far, but with the vaccine, I’ve earned some leeway, yes? This alone might make it doable for me to have a fabulous treadmill comeback. I  mean, MASKS! It’s hard to breathe in them.
  • Lowered expectations: until I manage to rediscover my fitness joie de vivre. Hopefully that’ll happen soon.

I guess going to the immediate care center has put my mind at ease about a lot of things. But it seems so senseless. Almost two weeks have passed, and I’m not feeling 100% anymore. Like, why? No clue. I want to go back in time and skip the vaccination. Is that wrong of me? Of course not. Geez, Meg.

Message to all of my internet loved ones: my period’s scheduled to start tomorrow or thereabouts. I’m concerned it might be a helluva doozy because:

  • People are reporting menstrual issues after the vaccine.
  • The vaccine has slugged me in other ways, so I have trepidations.
  • Every time I make a change in meds (and this could include receiving a vaccine), my next period is hellaciously hormonal.

Hellaciously hormonal! Patent that, Meg.

So you all will have to bear with me. I’m trying to think positive thoughts similar to those thoughts that are thought while you’re hiding in the basement from an impending tornado. [Groan.] I always take extra Prozac for the week leading up, and I started it a day early this month, just in case. Trying to cover the bases here.

So I’ve got to thank my dad again for taking me to immediate care. Yesterday he rescued me when my car broke down, and today he took me to the immediate care center. (It’s right up the street, but still.) And how, pray tell, have I thanked him so far? I broke into his room and ate all the cookies. Yeah.

jesus

He was aghast. “You ate all of them?”

I shrugged. “It’s been a hard day.” [Groan.] (In my defense, they were small cookies of about two inches in diameter, soft chocolate chip. Bite-sized, really. I mean, what did he expect? His halfhearted attempts to hide them were pitiful, and… yum!)

I found a local weight loss clinic, but I was perturbed by the opening of their video (scroll down for the video) in which the doctor makes a pejorative comment likening psych meds to ice cream. (It could just be me, but I find that ice cream tastes better that Prozac. Oh, good one, Meg. I see what you did there.) It’s disheartening, considering that their Google reviews are beyond stellar. I emailed them to ask about that comment, and I’ll report back. Hopefully they’ll have a valid explanation or… some other miracle. If not, I can go elsewhere.

I want some professional help with weight loss. I think I can do okay with exercise if I can get back to the treadmill soon. But what I can’t handle on my own is eating healthier. I need professional intervention and around-the-clock support. I can’t use Noom because it’s cellphone-only, but I’ve heard that it’s helped my mom’s boyfriend. If I could find something similar, or something local, I think that would be good. I could probably put up $50 to $150 a month, tops. I mean, it would be worth it, I’d hope. And I still have my $10 monthly gym membership. That’s crucial and very much worth the cost.

This just in: I was about to publish this, and the power went out. I can’t remember if I had any unsaved content. Oh well. At least it’s not our house, but rather an issue within the neighborhood. There’s rarely a dull moment around here! One minute I was blogging, the next I was cast into pitch-black darkness. Life is wild!

My father, my hero!

So, my car broke down at the pet store that’s about five miles from home in St. Matthews. It had been making funny noises, and I had a bad feeling. After I put a heavy bag of dog food and another heavy bag of kitty litter in the car, I couldn’t get Carlene to start. (Carlene is my 1995 Saturn. She has an ashtray and a cigarette lighter and a nonfunctioning audio cassette tray. That’s right–audio cassettes.) I tried to start her several times, checked the parking brake, checked that the car was in park, and so forth. It yielded no fruit. She wouldn’t start.

Darn it all! I went back inside and approached the nice young woman who’d checked out my items twice. (I bought dog food and then decided to get the kitty litter.)

“Hello,” I said. “I’m one of those rare idiots who doesn’t use a cellphone, and my car broke down. Is there any way I can call my dad?”

She immediately handed me her cellphone and then turned to ring up another customer. This is where it gets funny: I had no clue which buttons to press, and I was pretty scared I was about to be looking at her private content. HA HA HA. I was thinking, okay, Meg, seriously, quit pushing the screen. Just wait for her assistance before you violate her privacy. Somehow I wound up on a web browser, and then I gave up.

She gave the man his receipt and turned toward me. “So, yeah, I don’t know how to use it.” I couldn’t help but laugh. It just struck me as hilarious. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how tricky cellphones are! They don’t have buttons like a landline. They just have… a screen, I think…?

She took it and asked for my dad’s number, so I reeled it off. She handed it to me, and I held it up to my ear. Oh, how lovely. His landline machine came on. “Hello, this is Old Man Kimball, the codgerliest elderly gentleman to have ever fought in the Civil War. If only I could recall which side I fought for! Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder. Please leave me a message, including your phone number, and I’ll call you back as soon as possible. If you want legal counsel, you’ve come to the right place.” Beep. 

“Pick up the phone,” I intoned. “Pick up the phone, pick up the phone, pick up the phone.” The young woman started laughing with me at this hilarious turn of events. “Okay, don’t pick up the phone,” I said. “Just come and rescue me. My car broke down at Shelbyville Plaza. Help! Shelbyville Plaza. Okay. Bye.” I handed the phone back to her.

She offered to let me know if he called back, but I said it was unlikely, as he uses a landline and hasn’t yet mastered the magic that is caller ID. Strangely enough, I was wrong. Not five minutes later, she came rushing out to where I’d gone to wait in my car, yelling, “He called back! But he doesn’t understand what I’m saying.” (As it turned out, my landline phone was plugged in at home. Usually my dad chooses to use an older landline that doesn’t have a display screen.)

“Oh, no worries,” I assured her. “He’s deafer than I am.”

She handed me the phone, but he’d already hung up. Oh well. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “My money says he’ll be here in ten.” I handed the phone back.

“There must be a right way to talk to deaf people, huh?” she asked.

I nodded. “You have to speak clearly and enunciate.”

She giggled. I have a tendency to speak clearly and enunciate beyond normal levels, and I think I was doing it as I spoke without meaning to. Speak clear-lee and ee-nun-see-ate. That’s how I talk. All the time. I have recordings of my voice if anyone doesn’t believe me. (Whereas my dad lost his hearing due to an unfortunate lightning strike, I’ve been hard of hearing since birth. I overenunciate as a Golden Rule sort of thing, because I wish everyone would do it. Thus, I can’t break the habit.) I hope she didn’t think I was being patronizing. Hopefully not, since I’d already interacted with her several times, and I was probably enunciating then, too. Heck, I enunciate all the time, and I’m not ashamed of it. We need less enunciation shame in our society.

“Right,” she said. “Clearly and loudly.” (I think that’s what she said. I mostly pretended to hear her comments, but she was quite the mumbling motormouth.) (I choose to like her anyway.)

“It’s nice of you to care so much,” I said, glancing at her nametag. Emily. “I’m going to leave you a wonderful, stellar internet review.” I gave her a big thumbs-up.

“Ohh, it’s nothing! I understand when people are in a bind! Just let me know if things work out. Do you want me to call a mechanic?”

“Oh, no thanks. We have a good mechanic. I’ll just send him over here tomorrow.”

Emily went back inside, and I waited for around ten or fifteen minutes. It was hot in the car. I got out to watch the entrance for signs of my dad’s old clunker.

It showed up next to me from the back entrance, and I cheered. “Woo hoo!”

He exited his car. “What’s the matter? It won’t start?”

“Nope, but I know you won’t believe me, so here are the keys. Go right ahead and see for yourself.”

“Sure.” He took my keys and got in Carlene’s driver side. Two seconds later, my car was running.

This was my agitated response: “Oh, HELL, no.”

Several seconds passed. My car was still running. “Okay, you’ve made your point,” I muttered. “Now turn her off already.”

“Nah, I’m going to keep her running and follow you home.”

“Okay, if you’re sure that’s wise.”

“Yeah. If anything goes wrong, I’ll be behind you.”

I shrugged. That sounded good. I saw Emily watching from inside the store, so I gave her a thumbs-up. Then I drove home. After coming inside, I spoke to my dad for a while.

Predictably, he complained about the way I came home. “Why’d you go home that way?”

“I always come home that way. Are we having issues with my route, geezer?”

“It’s two miles longer than necessary!”

“Um, okay. You said you wanted to follow me home, old person.”

“I’m just saying…”

“Uh-huh. Thanks for rescuing me. YAY!”

I came upstairs and left a fab Google review for the pet store and for Emily.

I could’ve walked home, but… gracious saints. It’s a long, long walk. I wouldn’t have gotten lost, but it would’ve taken forever.

So this is a tribute to my dad, the world’s greatest living Civil War veteran. (Between you and me, I’m pretty sure he fought for the Union.)

Trading in secrets.

Dear Amy: My adult sons are so estranged from my ex-husband that neither invited him to their weddings.

While I still have difficult feelings toward my ex, I try to have some level of civil interaction with him.

He often asks for updates as to what our sons are up to and how they are doing.

He is their father, and it seems to me that he has a right to know at least a bit about what is going on in their lives.

Is it inappropriate for me to share general information, such as buying a house or changing jobs or is that something that only they should share?

Since they want no contact with him, without some information from me he would have virtually no knowledge of them.

While I do hope that at some point my sons’ feelings toward their father will soften, I have never pushed them to have more interactions with him.

Still, it does seem sad to me that he should not be able to have any knowledge of what is going on in their lives.

He rarely tries to contact them, although I know he has in the past.

I don’t pass along anything I would think of as a confidence. But sharing basics doesn’t seem wrong to me.

Am I off base?

— Unsure

Unsure: You don’t say why your sons want no contact with their father (and perhaps you don’t know), but this is an issue you should run past your sons.

What might seem like benign “general knowledge” to you might strike them as private and intrusive.

Your compassion toward your ex-husband is commendable, but you seem to be placing his desires and “rights” over those of your sons.

You could use this as an attempt to build a rickety bridge between all of these men: “Dad often asks about you; I don’t want to violate your privacy, so I want to make sure it’s okay if I share very general knowledge with him — just to let him know the basics?”

Respect their decisions. (c) Ask Amy

Wow. I like Ask Amy’s advice, but I would’ve been firmer about it. This is a major pet peeve of mine, given my dysfunctional family. There are people in my family from whom secrets must be kept, you know.

Anytime I hear from my brother or find out anything about his life, I have to be completely mum when talking to Mother. She’ll try to drag it out of me and use it against one of us. It’s become rote now that whenever she asks if I’ve heard from him, my answer is no. She sees the answer coming and will ask, “But what if he’s dead?” to which I often reply, “I’m sure he’s fine. He’s going to pull through whatever… you think might’ve killed him.” (For seriousness?!)

Likewise, I recently asked my dad if my sister ever asks about me. Apparently she does, conversationally, like, “What’s Meg up to?” or, “What’s up with Meg?” And darn it all, he tells her. [Eyeroll.] None of her stinkin’ business. On the other hand, he pumps me with info about her, too. Yeah. I guess it works both ways.

(I often take the info and file it away in my brain for future reference. Just in case she commits anymore violent crimes, or whatever.)

And then–this is dreadful–whenever anyone from my extended family talks to my mom about me, my mom always goes this route: “Meg is doing as best as she can with her severe mental illnesses. Oh! Oh! What did I do wrong to have a daughter who’s schizophrenic? Why has this happened to me? I never did anything but smother her with love. Oh! Oh! She can barely function, and it’s all my fault.” (Naturally, she never admits to having been abusive.)

She’ll continue unencumbered: “Just crossing the street is hard for her! And did you know her father has to get her medications for her at the pharmacy? She can’t handle interacting with pharmacists. And just the other day, she told off someone at the grocery store. Oh! My heart, my broken heart. My life is ruined.”

I suspect my mom gets a lot of sympathy this way, but it seems ridiculous to me. It would be nicer of her to discuss some aspects of my writing: my books, my contest participation, etc.

(Oh hey! If anyone wants to enter the next contest, it’s time to register! Here’s the link! Let me know if you enter, and we can help each other with our stories!! Write for glory!)

This really offended me:

While I do hope that at some point my sons’ feelings toward their father will soften […]

[Facepalm.] This letter writer needs to release any attachment to that and come out of denial about whatever her ex did to her sons. It was probably pretty darned bad. Gruesome, even. Horrific. I can’t help but wonder if the letter writer is clinging to some sort of hope that she herself wasn’t to blame for whatever he did, because as long as she can persuade herself that her ex is a decent person, then she won’t have to face what she was complicit in. More often than not, if one parent is abusive, the other parent shares some guilt… or they should. Looking the other way when your spouse is abusive is so not cool.

Also, it’s pejorative and condescending to suggest that it’s the sons’ faults for being unforgiving. I hate that insinuation! I hate it! They’re under no obligation to let their feelings “soften”, and even that word sounds patronizing to me. “After all this time, you haven’t gotten over it yet? I figured your feelings would soften as you matured.” No. Just no.

This is an issue you should run past your sons.

Oh, Ask Amy!

I’d wager anything that she has ran it past her sons. They’ve probably both tried to shut her down, and she’s having none of it, so she wrote to Ask Amy. Or, here’s another possibility: she likes having the power to give info to her ex, and so there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that she’s going to ask her kids if it’s okay. (It’s not okay.)

I’m normally a believer in moderate discretion; i.e., choosing what’s “public knowledge” (and therefore not gossip fodder) to share with people. Like, “Yeah, Maisie got the job! YAY!” However, that level of discretion flies out the window when someone has committed heinous acts against someone. The letter writer doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

But even if she were to run it past her sons, that would just create more drama. “How can you be so heartless? The man is your father, and he has every right to know what you’re up to. I can’t believe you’re not more mature already.” Um, go jump in the lake, Mom.

He often asks for updates as to what our sons are up to and how they are doing.

I hate that level of hubris. Yuck. If you’ve “earned” the estrangement, then you have no right to be nosy. And both parents are showing hubris here: the dad, in asking behind his sons’ backs; and the mom, in feeling powerful for being the source of all intel.

Since I doubt this letter writer is going to discuss this with her sons, her litmus test should be this: Would my sons be upset if I shared this? If that means that nothing gets shared (which would be the ideal outcome here), then so be it.

Oh no, I have another childhood tale of woe. When my periods started, my mom told my dad because, “As your father, he has a right to know.” Um. Uh-huh. She used similarly ridiculous justifications for reading my dairy (“I have to make sure you’re not doing drugs!” even though I’d never seen any drugs and my friends were squeaky clean).

This reeks of control. The letter writer needs to quit boosting herself up as the trader of intel. Surely there are ways she can boost her ego without its being at her sons’ expense.

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