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The Rescuers

When I was small, I had an LP of the old Disney movie, The Rescuers. Now, this wasn’t just any LP. This was the ENTIRE MOVIE, start to finish. Of course there was the music, but every line and every sound-effect was captured as well. I can’t be sure, but I doubt I’d had more than one opportunity to see The Rescuers before I got that LP. I’d sit and listen, over and over, like our parents listened to Little Orphan Annie on their radios.

I was drawn to The Rescuers as a child… still am, I suppose. This dear, sweet orphaned girl – considered by herself and those who would hurt her to be “homely.” She thought nobody wanted her. Now, to be clear, Penny was far worse off than I. I lived in a house full of grown-ups, all of whom loved me. But still, I feared that I was homely – unwanted – never good enough – longing for rescue. My entire life has been one effort after another to gain approval… sometimes, from people I care about, and sometimes, from anybody who’ll give it.

Now, my tiny girl has fallen in love with The Rescuers. She’s too young, I think, to understand the reasons for Penny’s sadness, but she does grasp that there are some very mean things happening to Penny. She shows real concern for Penny, and for Cody in The Rescuers Down Under too. But I think she watches them for the adventure. She begs, “Watch Mice?” and then is glued to the screen, giving her own tiny-girl commentary. “Penny sad… Sweet kitty… pretty bird… Whee!!!! Airplane Birdy!… Awww, Penny cwying…” and so on.

I’d forgotten that old LP. But the other day, the mice were doing that rescuing thing they do, and I suddenly saw myself sitting in our old attic “apartment”, listening and trying to picture what was going on. I remembered crying when Penny cried to the tune of “Someone’s Waiting For You” – and I found myself crying yet again. It’s so strange how large our childhoods still loom. I realized quite recently that I tend to couch my analogies for friendship in terms of rescue.

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It’s Your Day

That’s what they always say, right? About birthdays?

I was an only child ’til I was 8, and Mom made or got awesome cakes. A giant chocolate chip cookie with Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in icing. A doll cake, where the cake was a giant hoop-skirt. With an October birthday, I got a witch cake one year. One year it was a big, cleverly-iced teddy bear. We had little money, so presents weren’t the focus, but I always got a great cake.

Later, there were all kinds of interfering circumstances. It’s not that the birth of my siblings killed my birthday or anything, but lives change, and by the time they were born, well, life had changed. Dad worked 18 hour days. Mom was working hard and also trying to be a super-mom. Money was very, very tight, thanks to an unscrupulous former boss of Dad’s and the fact of being a two-teacher-parent family. We moved around a lot, so in October I hardly had friends to invite to parties, much less having a house unpacked enough to throw parties in.

For my Sweet 16, I remember getting flowers and a cake, plus a bottle of Lady Stetson and a big package of Big Red gum. It still strikes me as very… odd… And since I wouldn’t let my Dad ride with me while I was driving (a prerequisite for getting a license in my household), 16 didn’t come with a license. There was no way it would’ve come with keys.

Just before my 17th, I remember having a knock-down-drag-out with my mom about how birthdays are about privileges now and not presents (not that they were ever about presents in our house), and she wouldn’t even let me see a rated ‘R’ movie. So she said, “OK, I’ll see how well I can trust you with that privilege.” The first movies I checked out with my boyfriend after that point included Cape Fear, my Mom lost all composure, and I lost the privilege.

At 18, I went with my boyfriend and his car, and got my own driver’s license – no parent required. But I made no use of it for several years anyway. He bought me a lovely jewelry ensemble – a ring, earrings, and necklace, each with a gold heart containing a flower of rubies. His mom said, “You’re investing a lot in her.” He said, “Well, I don’t intend to lose her, so the investment isn’t lost.” Ah, how wrong we are about love at 18.

But mostly, birthdays have been like any other day. Everybody who knows says, “happy birthday,” and usually I nag enough that I get to go out to lunch. But it’s just a bad time of year. In school, it was always right near the first big marching contest, which we hosted at my school. In college, it was right near the first mid-terms. Since I’m married to an academic, mid-terms are still relevant. I mean, it’s not like my birthdays have always been awful. Just more or less forgotten. My birthday is the 8th, Mom’s best friend’s was the 10th, so she never could remember which was which.

Last year, I was moving into my house that day, but at least Mom and Sher were here. A couple years before that, I found out I was going to have a baby, just a day before my birthday. And this year, I got a card from work – it’s nice to be thought of when I’m so far away – and I just had a fun little chat with my two best friends online. So it’s not all bad. But…

I started feeling queasy at 5:00 yesterday. By 10, I had a relatively unpleasant headache. By 1AM, the place where my head was touching the pillow hurt too much for me to keep lying down. Then I started coughing. I got up, took cough medicine, and sat down in the recliner. I fell back to sleep before even kicking out the foot-rest, so I slept bolt-upright in the chair ’til my tiny girl came tromping down the stairs (at 5:30AM) asking, “Watch Hello Kitty?”

I called in sick, with the light of the LCD on the phone hurting my eyes, and feeling guilty that people would think I was “calling in sick” instead of just calling in sick because it’s my birthday. And who gets sick on their birthday? I went to bed and slept for four hours. I got up and visited with The Philosopher for an hour and went to bed for another three hours. Then, off to a neighbor 6-year-old’s birthday party. Kids 2yrs-9yrs running, squealing, eating, playing games. Adults standing about drinking champagne. Wanting to smile, wanting to mingle, but feeling vague and not-all-there, keeping an eye on the tiny girl… so much smaller than the others… watching her eating enough cheesy poofs to make Cartman proud.

And so goes 33. I shouldn’t care so much. It’s just a day. People shouldn’t care so much about birthdays by this point anyway. And so there’s also the guilt of being sad about my birthday, when I should be grateful I made it through another year, more or less unscathed, and that I’m prosperous enough that it’s even on the radar.

I really haven’t noticed the sunny, breezy weather today. Fall is supposed to be my favorite season, and yet I find myself longing for winter. There’s a snow globe on my desk reminding me that business trips end, usually with a hug and a silly souvenir. La Joconde (Mona Lisa) looks at me with that half smile, a secret she’s hiding for centuries. The gloss on the postcard is wearing thin now that she’s been moved to so many different places; different offices, apartments, boxes…She’s even looking at me now as I write, and she’s taunting me.

I got that postcard in Paris. It was winter then and I was in love with France. I came face to face with La Joconde that season. No one was in the room. the Louvre was empty of tourists who on any other day would shuffle through the line to get a glimpse of the small, unimpressive painting, then ushered along to see some other work of art in some other hall. Her face has been an enigma for years.

I look at her and see “almost’s”. She is almost flirtatious. She is almost sad. She is almost smiling. She is almost crying. She almost can read my mind because maybe she too has been sad for a long time and longs for a winter. I wonder if she is beautiful like I wonder if I am beautiful to anyone who has seen my face. I’m no masterpiece. I’m not framed in some famous musuem.

I have my bathroom mirror and she has the world.

The funny thing about sad is that more often then not, I have no real reason to be sad. I’m selfish I suppose. I want things I can’t have. I want to be transformed into someone I’m not. I “gimmie gimmie!” more than anything. And somehow, even as I look back on my trips to Paris, seeing Mona before me, and all the other things I have seen, done, eaten, had…

….incomplete.

Halfway Through

“I misss youuuu,” I whine as I roll over in my bed, sliding on my new red satin sheets that he finds ridiculous because I’m not a porn star and because sparks of static electricity dance on his long, leg hairs when he turns over.

“I know, I know,” he dismisses.

I know that he misses me too. I know that he knows he’ll be coming home in just under 2 weeks from now, but it still hurts to only speak to me for 10 minutes a day. I know this. I remind myself of this on an hourly basis some days.

Some days, I go 3 hours without thinking about him. I’m busy at work, or worrying about paying bills, or trying to conceive new creative ideas. And then it hits me again: he won’t be home for dinner tonight. You have no plans this weekend. Pick up his mail today. And then that “Oh yeah….” sigh comes over me, and I realize that he’s just not here.

And then I start to wonder if he is thinking the same thing- going through the motions of his day, wondering what he’s missing on my dinner table, how I’m wearing my hair today or if I’m sleeping well. I wonder if my face is slightly fading in his mind as he wakes up each day thousands of miles away from my porno sheets.

I’m in between ok and sadness which is a very strange place to be. I’m almost sad enough to cry, I’m almost ok enough to not write about him.

“I should let you get some rest,” I hesitantly say, knowing that he will agree with me and it will be another 24 hours before I talk to him again.

“Yeah. Busy day tomorrow,” he replies ready to hang up.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetheart,” he says like I should have already known that.

We hang up. I wait to hear his hands shuffle to find the END button on the phone before I let my cell slide down my face to lie next to me, only to wake me up at 6:55 a.m. to start another day without him. It’s not as tragic as I write, really. Just a fact of life.

Mine!

I am a woman. That does not make me a traditional feminist, but while I say that, I’m also not an old-time fundamentalist either. On my hardest days at work, I think we’ve got a raw deal – I’d rather be home playing (and napping) with my tiny girl than slogging through the blech all day. But then, when I do get to stay home, I’m reminded of how hard my husband’s job really is, I re-appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given, and I also re-appreciate all the men and women who’ve been stay-home parents.

What I want, though, is respect. A woman at work put it very concisely this week when she said, “men are pigs.” Another has a bumper sticker on her desk saying, “Men are NOT pigs. Pigs are sensitive and intelligent animals.” OK, now, I’m guessing that there are at least three men who read this blog relatively regularly… so please take no offense, Handsome Panda, The Philosopher, and The Chemist. Just as men stand around and joke about how long it takes women to get ready to go out, women can generalize too. We love you. I know one of you Biblically – and another of you very well – and I’ll be the first to say that you’re two of the best. Which means that you probably can admit to having been a pig, at least once or twice. However, this post is most definitely not directed at y’all.

And, while I’m caveating up a storm, let me say now that this has absolutely nothing to do with the current political environment and all the cries of sexism that are being bandied about. I abhor political rhetoric, and all of that is political rhetoric for its own sake. Yuck. No, this is personal.

So. As I said. Respect. I’m not a frumpy dresser usually, and I do take some pride in my appearance (whether warranted or not). I clean up, fix my hair, apply my makeup with as much care as I can with a toddler hollering “me too, me too!” at my feet. I work in an office where the people mostly dress up – men in ties, women in skirts or slacks and heels, jeans on Friday. But even on Fridays, many still dress up, and “jeans” doesn’t mean grungies, it means trouser-style, dark dye, often still with dress shoes or boots. So I really don’t mind a second look, if offered. I’m self-conscious enough to think I’m having a wardrobe malfunction when I get a second look, anyway. However, by and large, I expect to be treated just like every man or woman, old or young, minority or majority, person in the office, in the neighborhood, or among my acquaintances.

By “respect” and “treated just like,” I’m not even referring to the equal-pay-for-equal-work rant that many women have. It’s hard to quantify all the differences that go into how a person is paid, including things like life decisions that take them away from work, but also including how aggressive they are about asking for what they deserve. Another generalization – men not only are more aggressive by nature, but also, an aggressive man is perceived as a “go-getter,” while an aggressive woman is considered a “bitch.” Go figure.

What I’m talking about is this. What makes it OK for a man (who’s not her husband or best friend) to ask a woman whether she’s “expecting”? Since when is it OK to ask a woman how old she is? Or her weight? Should I be flattered rather than offended if a man I hardly know saunters by saying, “Well nobody told me this was where all the cute girls hang out!”? Well, hmm… I do appreciate being told I look nice today. And I do compliment people when they’ve done something well or I like a particular pair of shoes, piece of jewelry, tie, whatever. But whether I’m speaking to a female acquaintance or a male one, I don’t want to be wondering whether they’re a) contemplating the health and occupancy of my uterus, or b) contemplating how to change the status thereof. If you’re close friends with somebody of the opposite sex, those lines blur a bit. You can joke around more without feeling like your privacy has been invaded. But if you’ve reached that place with someone, you know it, and if you haven’t… well… you damn well should know that too.

This is my body, and it is reserved.

For my 5th birthday, my grandparents gave me a stuffed Gund puppy dog that I promptly named “Puppy”. An unoriginal yet practical name, Puppy was a fluffy, adorable, small stuffed dog with soft long hair and an expressionless face. He had two large, dark eyes and a hard, black plastic nose that had the texture of a real golden retriever’s.

Even though I appreciated the gift, somehow I misplaced Puppy during a trip to my grandparents’ house in North Carolina and I returned home to New Jersey without him. Soon after, I remember sobbing to my mother in a rare display of panic that I had lost Puppy and was desperate to find him. On the phone to my grandparents, my mother pleaded with them to search their home and after rummaging through their hall closet, under the snow jackets was Puppy’s small face, neither happy nor sad, that he had been left behind for months.

From that day forward, Puppy remained within close distance of me. At first, puppy accompanied me on long car trips to visit family members and family vacations. The summer before my 8th birthday, Puppy took on new role in my life: a guardian, a comfort, a best friend.

My parents’ bitter, traumatic separation led to a long, tedious divorce and through it all I depended on Puppy. His face, constant yet loving, helped me through my father’s awkward visitations- uncomfortable trips to bowling allies, Disneyland, and the movies. My father took pictures of me atop a horse while riding, a frequent Saturday afternoon activity of ours, with Puppy dangling in my 10-year-old arms. I chronicled my visitations with my father in my “little girl” journal and Puppy was a recurring character. I recorded my limited time spent with my father and my “little girl” rage at why life had changed so drastically since my father left.

At times, Puppy came to my child therapy sessions and acted as a mediator between the harsh realities of a divorce that my therapist needed me to face and my wild imagination that everything would return to “normal”. At times, when I didn’t know which parent I missed most, I would squeeze puppy tight and pretend that he would tell me, “Everything will be OK.”

Fluffy fur gradually turned into matted hair as the years went on. I started to notice the nicks and blemishes on puppy’s plastic nose and eyes. I would tell myself that each little tuft of matted hair was a hug I had given Puppy and I must have loved him too much.

When pre-adolescence faded into womanhood, Puppy’s place soon moved from the side of my hip, to a throw pillow on my bed, to the back of the closet, a place he had familiarized himself with shortly after he came into my life. And though I’m an adult now, he sits quietly in the back of my closet- alone and acquiescent, with that same expressionless face, waiting to be by my side if ever I need him again.

A Counting

“When you think things are bad, when you feel sour and blue, when you start to get mad… You should do what I do! Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky! Some people are much more…Oh, ever so much more…Oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!”
–Dr. Seuss, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

When I was a child, my Mom read me DIETYHLYA? about a gazillion times. She did and does have it memorized. As a melodramatic teenager, I listened to her pull phrases from that book and drop them to me as a gentle and loving reminder that I’d be OK, and that it’s not so bad.

Well, there are two kinds of blessings to count – positive ones and negative ones. I gave DIETYHLYA? to a friend when her son turned one year old. The boy’s daddy read it and said, “What? So everyone else’s misery should make you glad?” He entirely missed the point. You can enumerate all of the good things in your life, to remind yourself to be glad. But enumerating all the ways it could have gone wrong but didn’t… the “negative blessings”… that’s a way to remind yourself how quickly it all can change and how appreciative to be right now.

Well, in the past few months, I have had occasion to reflect on just how… safe… I should feel. The gambler’s fallacy says that I’ve had a run of good luck, so the odds of it changing now are greater than they were before. Superstition would say that to enumerate the good things in my life is tempting fate. But then I’m also told that “thoughts become things – choose the good ones” is a motto to live by. I like that better.

1) I have been married to my husband for ten years. We rarely fight and have virtually never gone to sleep angry. He’s carried me through the toughest times in my life, and I’ve tried (although feebly, at times) to do the same. And although some would say that it’s naivete to think this, I’m fully confident that 10 years from now, I will love him just as much and more. I love him more than I did 10 years ago, for a start, and I trust him to do the right thing.

2) I have a sunshine of a daughter. She is persistent as only a toddler can be, but she’s also easygoing, happy, and full of life. She’s rarely sick, she’s usually polite, she likes to sleep at naptime and nighttime, and she’ll eat almost anything. My daughter dances in delight at the simplest of things and is patient enough to sit [mostly] still long enough to get a haircut.

3) I have a family I adore. I was left behind by one deadbeat dad, only to acquire a Dad I know would never let me down. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but he has a heart of gold. I have a mom who nurtured me when her own heart was ready to give way, who taught me how to be a lady and a woman, and whose moral stature is unparalleled in my experience. I have three siblings, all at the cusp of adulthood. It has been challenging, to say the least, to watch these three grow up. Each has taught me a lot about life – compassion, internal contradictions, generosity, fear, addiction, passion… so many things that I remember feeling and not understanding at the time. And having watched my mom and dad navigate these rough waters (and helping them when I could) is bound to strike a chord when my own little one(s?) is there.

4) I have the best friends a person could ask for. And better friends, I often think, than I deserve. They’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, sick and healthy and sick again, generous and down-right mean. The winds of change have blown some of them away; I desperately feel those losses, but they twinge as a reminder of those I still have and those I’ve gained.

5) I’m healthy. I know, you laugh. But consider how much worse it could be. Everything that’s wrong with me is manageable, and none of it is terminal or even dangerous.

6) I have a well-paying job, with excellent benefits, working in the air-conditioning. It is satisfying, rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and busy. At the high point of frustration at my previous employer, I learned a lot and things got easier. At the next highest point of frustration, another job practically fell into my lap. At the high point of frustration at my current employer, I learned a lot and it got easier. I developed sustaining friendships to carry me through, and my personal life took a turn that took my mind off work for a while. And then, at the next highest point of frustration, I got this transfer. The first six months were hell on wheels, and I thought I might die. But somehow, here I am, happier than ever.

6) I could go on and on. Last but not least for now, though, is this. On September 11th of 2008 I went to work. On the way, I listened to the radio, and people were recounting where they’d been 7 years ago. Once I got there, I sat in a conference room all day. I watched and listened to a room full of brilliant scientists discussing dozens of ways to make the world a better place. Sure, each one of them had an agenda… an interest to preserve… a gain to be had. But at the core, each one of them had and has one central goal. To make things better. Going to work, and working hard, for that goal is the most patriotic thing we could’ve done that day. I left there proud to be one of this group.

A few “negative blessings” bringing all this to mind.
I didn’t just find out my husband’s been having an affair (or several). I didn’t just lose my parents in a tragic accident. I didn’t just lose my only child in a tragic accident. I wasn’t just diagnosed with cancer at an unreasonably young age. I didn’t just break my arm and have never broken a limb. The worst damage I’ve ever suffered in a storm is just enough hail damage to allow the insurance company to increase the value of my home. My auto accident totaled my car, but I walked away with brain and body intact. Not only do I not live several states away from my beloved, I live in the same house with him.

Enough said. I lead a truly charmed life.