Thursday, January 27, 2011

If You Chuckle About this Post, You're a Nerd. Welcome.

Today, some of my classes began "The Hobbit".

After handing out the books and asking the kids to look at the summary, copyright page, and (dreadful) cover illustrations, I overheard one of my more quiet students whisper to herself,

"Oh, Coach Naz. Where on Earth are you taking me now?"

Another of my kids, whom I refer to as "The Ninja", responded, "Don't you mean -- 'Where on Middle Earth are you taking me now?' "

And this is how The Ninja earned every kid in class a Tootsie Pop.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Highlights

Results of today:

Still breathing. And sometimes just the act of breathing seems like a miracle.

And lunch with my brothers helped ease the pain. I literally cannot remember the last time the three of us were together at one time.

That, and that alone, was the highlight of the last 67 hours.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Even the Smallest Steps are Better With Girl Scout Cookies

Whenever I have to do something I don't want or am afraid to do, these are the steps I take:

1. I tell myself that it's important.
2. I breathe deeply.
3. I remind myself that breathing is an involuntary response, and that no matter what happens, my body will not let me stop.
4. I begin to feel pretty good about #3.
5. I cry.
6. I bargain.
7. I set small goals to accomplish on the way to the bigger task. If I manage those, my stress lessens.

Goal A: Get up. This is the hardest sometimes.
Goal B: Brush your teeth. Minty breath is soothing.
Goal C: Eat something. Diet Coke will only take you so far.

8. Sometimes I cry a little more. Maybe it's just whining during other times.
9. Find something to hold onto.
10. Make an exit plan.
11. Start.

I think I'm at Step 3.

But I feel step 4 getting closer.

It doesn't matter though. I'm still mother effing terrified. And now I'm out of Girl Scout cookies.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brothers

The running joke amongst my friends is this:

"Hello. My name is Deana. And this is my brother, Jimmy. And my other brother, Jimmy."



If you never watched the Newhart show, you probably are only getting half of the joke. I'm sad for you. Larry, and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl were perhaps my favorite part of the show. I wonder why.

Both of my brothers (who are my half-brothers and step-brothers to one another) are important in my life. My middle brother taught me to read. He taught me to be tough. He taught me to be competitive. He paved my way through school with teachers who knew that if I were Jimmy's sister, I must be quite smart. He knocked down the age restrictions in the school library ahead of me. He was the brother who lived with me, so he was also the brother I traded torment with. That's an important sibling bond because from those experiences, he also taught me not to take any shit off of anyone. He is my "everyday brother", my constant through my life. When I pick up the phone with him, we shift into our natural places, tormenting or supporting, whichever might be appropriate. There is an ease that follows our relationship which I cannot explain.

My eldest brother was different. He lived with his mom and, in truth, he was my "vacation brother". Holidays and summer breaks brought him into my life. And at 9 years older than I, he was the epitome of everything that was cool and different. Being from Dallas, he made me exotic and unique in my tiny, tiny hometown. Handsome and strong, he was the epic hero of my childhood. He lived upon a pedestal, and I was in awe to be his tiny sister. Every gift I created at school went to him, and he raved and treasured each one. His girlfriend became his fiancee and then became his wife. And this girl I had known since I was 7 has always been my sister. When he became a father, he brought into the world another handsome and strong blond-haired boy. And when he held that boy, I knew that I would witness fewer perfect things in my lifetime.

Many things have happened since those childhood days. I grew up and went to college and began a life of my own. I became consumed by my job and my students and my friends. I moved to a city where my home was less than 20 minutes down the highway, but no matter how I tried, I did not know how to love this "vacation brother" when I was no longer on vacation. And days and months and a decade crept by, and the emotional distance became the barrier instead of the physical distance we'd known our whole lives. I did not know how to be an adult with this person; I only knew to be the silly 9 year-old tagging along.

As I got older, I found myself drawing closer to my friends. Not because I loved them more, but rather because I needed them more. I needed them to hear and witness all the things I could not put upon my family. All of the hurt and shame and sadness. During the darkest moments of my life, it was their love and their words which pulled me through. They watched me grow and change and become who I was meant to be as opposed to who I thought everyone wanted me to be.

What I did not realize, however, is that the whole time I was being saved, my epic hero was going down with the ship. He was Odysseus crashing upon the rocks. Beowulf battling the dragon. Perseus warring with his Gods. Each time I saw him, there seemed to be less of him to know. The sadness in his eyes began to overcome his smiles, and for the first time in my life, he began to seem small and fragile. Our family's depressive curse threatened to bury him from both sides, and at times, I wondered if he would willingly wrap himself in its shroud.

Within the last year, however, my brother has begun to seek help. To speak up for himself and let his demons out -- not to be tamed, for I don't know that they can ever be controlled, but at least to stop allowing them to tear the cage apart. I do not know the words he speaks, but I know that those words keep him alive. They keep him connected to his wife and to his son. For that, I am grateful. And with that, I have seen the return of my brother, back from the walking dead, ready to find his place among the living. And back into my life. It has not been easy. We are continuing to find our way back to one another and develop this uneasy friendship as adults, but he has yet to give up on me even when I push away. In the past few months, all I've wanted is to push away. But he finds me, and drags me to the shore, even when he is barely afloat himself.

I am old enough to know now that those heroes in the books are merely legend. They are painted so boldly to give us all hope that there will always be someone to save us when we are lost. That one human can rise above all the rest. We forget, that in the end, he is still just a human. With flaws and vices and secrets and shame. I don't remember much from those old legends with complicated story lines and hard to pronounce names, but I do know this: that whatever the quest, the epic hero met it with bravery even when the odds were stacked against him.

And when I begin to lose hope, when I begin to worry that I will lose him in this storm encompassing my family, I remind myself that Perseus did survive his trip to Hell and back. That Beowulf followed the dragon into its own lair. And that after 10 years, Odysseus did find his way home.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Because This is How The Universe Effs With You

Two of my all-time greatest professional days followed up by a heaping dose of personal devastation.

Because this how the universe fucks with you.


Luckily, unbeknownst to the dumbass universe, I have back-up.

Dear, sweet Taylor who spotted trouble at 20 paces and sent me packing ahead of the storm.

Mark and Helen, whose love for me never wavers, even in the midst of emotional turmoil (theirs or mine -- doesn't matter).

Sweet Elliott, whose "Hi, Neena. Hi, Neena's" led me to a safe haven when normally I would have chosen to hunker down and go to radio silence. Your tiny voice is my siren song.

My Courtney and Heather who continually bring me back to the land of the living with a little emotional CPR. (This post title is dedicated to you.) And Laurie, who even when hundreds of miles away, is trying to stem the tidal wave via text message and inappropriate humor.

And Chris, who allowed me to break wide open in his living room and still had the decency to feed me Whataburger and Diet Coke. Falling apart leaves you starving and kinda dehydrated.

And my sister-in-law who, when push comes to shove, is willing to shove back for me and my family. Especially when I am frozen.

You are all proof that there is a God. And that He wants me to stay put. Even if I'm holding on by the fingernails.

I love you.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Boo-Yah: Part 2

Tonight, my team continued a 5 game winning streak.

Tonight, they beat their rival on the big, scary high school gym floor.

Tonight, they won the Zone Championship.

Tonight, they came together and toughened up and pulled off something that 3 months ago, I deemed not just highly unlikely but damn near impossible.

If you had gone to Vegas and put $100 on this occurrence at the start of the season, I'd have called you a sucker. I'd also be curious as to why Vegas bookies are taking money on junior high girls' basketball. Then I would have checked your pockets for your crack pipe or begun measuring you for your straightjacket.

But they did it. Holy schnikies... they. totally. did. it.

Yesterday, I said that I didn't think I could be any prouder of a group of kids.

I spoke too soon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Boo - Yah.

Just when I was ready to take my last $200 out of the bank and risk it all on the lottery -- BAM!

Out of nowhere, Redemption strikes.

During 4th period, Mr. I'm-Too-Cool-to-Participate totally participated. And won my High Five o' the Day.

During basketball practice, I was sinking shot after shot and one of my girls told me I was on "Fi-yah". Not the best thing when I am trying to get them some rebounding practice in, but it was a good self-esteem boost nevertheless. For reals, I sank 2 in a row while shooting underhand.

Oh... almost forgot. Today, I also realized that on the last district test, my kids had a 95% passing rate. Someone told me this yesterday, but until I started putting names with the stats, it didn't mean much. Of 128 testers, 46% made a 90 or better. Eleven kids made a perfect score. E-lev-en.

That's the same number of years I have waited for such percentages.

I literally could not be more proud of my kiddos.

I know it's sometimes perceived as tacky to brag, but since when did being tacky ever stop me?

P.S. Remember the Mediocrity Marathon? No? Refresh your memory of my outrageously bitter tirade here. This time they're at 88% passing.

Can I get a WHAT WHAAATTT?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today

Most of my life, I felt that I was a pretty peaceful person. Rather, I thought I was a person who was at peace with most things. I accepted what came to me as it came to me. The good things I accepted with gratitude and hesitation. The distressing times, I met with as much strength and humility as I could muster. In all moments, my sense of humor was my saving grace. But after lots of soul-searching over the last few years, and the last few weeks specifically, I have decided that I did not meet such things with peace exactly. More like a sense of resignation. And sometimes even numbness.

I sought shelter by cutting off portions of myself. I found myself expecting the least out of others, and then congratulating myself when I was right and chalking it up to luck when I was wrong. I took refuge in a shroud of cynicism. Because when the cynic expects the worst, when he predicts the dropping of the other shoe, it must hurt less, no?

Yeah. Not so much.

What I've discovered is that I have a real need for control. For order. For a beginning and an end. And when I have those things, I am calm and patient and positive. It's when those things are beyond my reach, when I feel in the dark, when the answer cannot be found in a book that I feel the worst. When I wash my hands of the situation and pretend not to care. Or I fly to an uncontrollable rage that only makes me feel wrung out. Or I lose hope. I take my hurt and fear, and I wrap them up tight and lock them away in the darkest corner of my heart. And not unlike the boxes of clothes and decorations and junk in my spare bedroom -- the junk that I promise myself, "Next Saturday. Next Saturday, I will sort through it all" -- they sit and rot and fester.

It's been 1,068 Saturdays already.

Tonight I was able to go see my dear friend in the hospital. As with most things, I have little patience, and I have struggled to see past today and all the days before. I have so desperately tried to see the outcome, and I have prayed and bargained and worried about the many days yet to come. Because if I know the ending, maybe the journey will be less frightening. On the drive over, I wondered what words I could say to bring peace to her. As if I could do so.

Of course, the majority of our visit was the same silly, funny conversations we typically have. About our friends and our families. About The Bachelor and about work. And as the conversation wore on, I found myself relaxing a bit. But when she told me about being at the hospital, about how every morning she begins the day with a good breakfast and the sound of her baby's heart beating, I realized she was bringing peace to me.

How does that even work?

On my drive home, while getting completely lost in my own city, I made a promise to myself. I pledged that I will try not to worry what the days and months may bring. I cannot agonize over things out of my control. I can only recognize and rejoice in what happens today. Today is the most important day.

And I took the smile and wisdom of my sweet friend, wrapped it up tightly in my heart, and tossed some of that old rotten junk to the curb.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Review Monday

Not that I plan on reviewing a movie every Monday or anything. I just like alliteration.

So, I fulfilled my wish that I've been wishing for the last two weekends. I made it to the thea-tuh today. Well, the theatre, but since the Golden Globes last night, I've been feeling fancy.

Here's another tidbit about me. I love going to the movies. Literally, my idea of a fun day is theatre-hopping from one great movie to the next to the next. My all-time record is 4 in a day. I love the big screen, the surround sound, the comfy seats and the total darkness. Add buttery popcorn and a jug o' Diet Coke, and I will pay whatever the price. If I won the lottery, my first big expense would be a house. Followed closely by a lavish in-home theatre. But I'd still probably go to the movies because, basically, I just like the act of going. Even if it's by myself - like today. (Only problem -- no one will catch you up on what you missed while you were gone to the bathroom).

Anyhow, today I saw "The Fighter", starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams. Here's another weird factoid: I love boxing, and I adore movies about boxing. It's weird as I tend to shy away from most confrontation (especially of the violent persuasion), but I totally am entranced by boxing. Maybe it's that most movies about boxing are about the underdog (and we know I love an underdog story). Maybe it's the weirdness of getting into a ring and knowing that the other person's one goal is to knock your mother effin' ass out. And that's so completely opposite of what I would ever want to do that I am intrigued by the mere lunacy of it.

The other weird factoid: I love movies about Boston and other Massachusettsy-type places. I think it's the accent. Maybe it's a latent desire to watch "Cheers" re-runs. Maybe it's that I think every Boston-ite looks like Ben Affleck or Matt Damon or either of the Wahlbergs. They don't... but still. I don't know. But it's weird, admittedly.

What am I talking about again? Oh yeah... the movie.

I loved it. Loved it.

But I didn't love it for the boxing. The boxing is really the sub-plot for me. I loved it because it's about the interactions among the people who you love best but don't always know how to love you in the way you need. It's about the ties that bind which sometimes gag us, stealing away all the words you want to say but can't. About the pain we endure by choosing to look past the faults of those closest to us because they're too difficult to admit. About recognizing that your hero is just as effed up, or more, as you might be. And how their demons become our own.

It's about making the choice to break away... to live and not simply survive. To stand in the sun as opposed to hiding in the shadows. The moment where doing what you must do supercedes what you want. It's about the possibility of redemption when maybe no one thinks you are worthwhile.

And most of that happens nowhere near the ring.

It didn't make me sad in the way that some movies make me, but it also didn't give me the cheesy "everything's gonna be alright" feeling either. What it gave me was something to chew on. To think about. And those are the stories I like best.

It also gave me the chills. Christian Bale can play a crackhead like no other. Scary.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Ball Gown is at the Cleaners

I just watched the Golden Globes with my fingers crossed, cutting deals with God for my favorite stars to win. I even made sure to take a shower and made sure I had on clean pajamas before the show began. Because it's fancy. And, yes, I kept score.

The Globes are my favorite awards show for a couple of reasons. A) They include tv. The sound of a tv on is the soundtrack of my childhood. And 2) The stars get to drink. As the night goes on, the guests - and early evening losers - get more and more hammered. Sometimes, as the commercial break ends, you can catch them stumbling back to their seats from the bathroom. Awesome. Lastly) they ignore all the dumbass sound effect/costume/set design categories. I know they're important in film making, but let's be honest. Lame.

Sadly, I missed most of my new movie viewing time (Christmas break), so I'm very behind in my Oscar research. I may have to be the weirdo flying solo for a couple of Saturday film festivals in order to catch up. That's right... me, a vat of buttery popcorn, a gallon jug of Diet Coke, and the bite-size Snickers I smuggled in inside my purse.

I think I have a problem.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Only Kind of Math I Like... Or Can Complete

Final exams + 13 year-olds < Bitter exchange with co-worker + weeklong freezing temperatures

Vodka tonics + good conversation + friends - teenagers x 5 hours = Happy Deana

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Here's a Way to NOT Defeat Me, You Moron.

I am an English teacher.

Most people I know realize this. Therefore, most people I know understand that poor grammar irritates me and make their best attempts to avoid my biggest pet peeves.

I am by no means a Nazi about it. I will not flog you publicly for your grammatical mistakes, no matter how horrendous. I do not go about defacing signs to correct even the most shocking of mistakes. Nor do I always have perfect grammar -- especially when it comes to ending my sentences with prepositions -- so I try to cut people a little slack. My spoken grammar can become especially troublesome. When I am riled up, my editing skills cannot keep up with my mouth. Typically, however, the increased number of swear words will usually hold the listener's interest much more than my ability to avoid split infinitives.

But, so help me God, if you are a highly-educated person who still send emails with incorrect spelling and no punctuation -- emails that you have time to re-read and reconsider -- I have no respect for you. Especially when you are a highly-educated person who is in the business of educating others. Practice what you mother-effin' preach, people.

Today, someone tried to argue with me via email. It wasn't enough that the reasoning was transparent or the sequencing became muddled. Nope. It wasn't enough that this person cannot distinguish between "you're/your" or "their/there/they're". Reading also was a problem apparently as questions I did not ask were somehow deserving a nonsensical answer. What really blew my mind was when the idiot tried to tell me that I didn't make any "since".

For real.

Here's a tip. If you're going to argue with me, do it in person. Face-to-face is my weak point. My emotions get the best of me. I get flustered. I am usually so angry that I cannot think straight. I will eventually give up just as a way to get you out of my face. You should not argue with me in writing, and if you choose to do so, use your best grammar. Because once I see some jacked-up language skills, I know that I am going to annihilate you. By sending me your electronic bullshit, I have time to take a deep breath, sort out my emotions, and craft a carefully worded, delightfully wicked, stinging response. I also have time to revise just so I can make it hurt a little more. And I will never give up. Repeat. Never.

It's worse than bringing a knife to a gunfight. You might as well be armed with a fucking popsicle stick.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Life in the Dirty South

My 8th period class is what I call "The Dirty South". The majority of my kids do not hail from Texas but rather Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, etc. My favorite, a skinny little big mouth boy, made his way here from Arkansas. And his thick country accent makes me smile each and every time he talks to me. He drawls out words, drops letters, and basically mangles up everything I try to teach him. Then you add in a little whine and some lip smacking, and you're there. You might have to read the following exchange out loud to get it just right.

Here's today's installment of Life in the Dirty South:

I overhear Arkansas arguing with a group of girls while they're supposed to be doing their review. After a decade of teaching, I don't even have to look up to know they're not working; I can tell from the low hisses and super-speedy talk that they are up to no good.

Me: Arkansas, what on Earth are you doing now?

Arkansas: Miss! These girls be tryin' to get me to flex! And I toolllddd them you'd ketch me and chew me up you be so mad at me.

Me: What is it you're planning to flex?

Arkansas: (incredulously) My muscles!

Me: And why would I "ketch you and chew you up" just for flexing your "muscles". (Brief interlude while I explain "air quotes" to one of my other kids who replied, "I had a feelin' you'd be doin' somethin' sarcastic.")

Arkansas: Weeellllll... if start flexin' then them girls gon' be gettin' all worked up and start sweatin' over me. Then that's gon' make the room all stanky. (Smug look as if he's made perfect sense while every girl falls out. Literally, falls out of the chairs laughing.)

Me: Annnndddd....?

Arkansas: And you ALWAYS be gettin' own us if we be stanky up in here.

Me: Ohhhh.... I see where you're going. Good point, Arkansas. I do not like stanky kids.

Arkansas: Thass right. Noooo flexin' here today. I cain't be making teacher mad. Not 'for grades come out. Show. Is. Over. (Big, wide smile as he pushes up his sleeves to discreetly start flexing his little pipe cleaner arms as he struts back to his chair.)

Me: (Head on desk)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do What You Do...

For many people I know, their job is just their job. They show up at 8:00. They leave at 5:00. A lunch break. Maybe a smoke break. Some chit chat with co-workers and knocking some tasks off the to-do list.

When they go home, they might worry about a deadline. Or an evaluation or even how they'll pay the rent.

I go home and worry about who will wind up pregnant. Who will go to jail. Who will graduate on time if at all. I twist my hands over how my students will ever remember to pay the electric bill someday if they can't even remember to bring back their homework. I wonder if the bruises on their arms are really from falling down. I question who is worrying about these children when I see them, still on the back porch of the school at 8:00 at night or at 6:45 in the freezing cold morning, shivering without even a jacket.

I grew up in a school, in a town, where if you can't feed your family, everyone knows. Everyone knows because there just... aren't... that... many... of you. Where if you're at school at 8:00 PM, the principal gave you a lift home. Where everyone is expected to graduate and teen pregnancies and jail terms were still thought of as statistics as opposed to realities.

I live in a different world now. I am reminded every day.

Tonight, I saw a student who hasn't been in my classroom in 8 years. A student who redefined laziness. His biggest exertion in my class was to roll his eyes, smack his lips, furrow his brow, and let out an exasperated sigh every time I asked/re-directed/prodded him awake. I can clearly remember worrying, night after night, about where life would land him. I was pretty sure it was nowhere good.

Truthfully, I am still unsure as to where life landed him. His appearance is relatively unchanged. His slow walk still feels like molasses running uphill, and I still get the eyeroll every time I "be startin' in wit' dem questions". And he evades "dem questions" when they get too personal, too near things he doesn't want his ol' teacher to know. And I am now careful in what I ask because, believe me, some things are better left unknown. But every time I see him, he is looking out for his little brother. He is shaking hands with every person he encounters, shooting his slow, easy smile at every kind face he sees. Even before I see him, he is ambling toward me, arms outstretched. And he hugs me around the neck and asks me if I "still be doin' whatchoo do?"

For a split-second, I take a break from worrying and just enjoy the moment.

And then I respond, "Of course I AM still doin' what I do. I don't BE doin' anything else." Which, of course, is met with an eyeroll and a lip smack.

But this time, it's followed with a slow, easy smile.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year's Resolutions -- Only 9 Days Late.

I love the written word. I collect words and phrases like some people collect coins - saving them, re-visiting them often, polishing them to a brilliant shine. Only unlike a rare coin, their value does not intensify by keeping them locked away; their true worth is only measured once spent.

At no point in my life do I remember being unable to read, and my appetite for books has never ceased. In as much as I enjoy the plot or the characters as I read, I am also studying and judging the construction. The beauty of the precise word. The power of a single image. There are lines, even mere words, in literature which rob me of my breath and leave me numb. Rolling around in my head for days, I study them from different angles, searching for the author's true intent. I did not understand, however, that this was abnormal. I simply assumed everyone read books this same way.

Writing is a passion for me. It provides a mixture of challenge and frustration like no other portion of my life, but in truth, it has never frightened me. If anything, it calms my nerves. Slows my thoughts. Clarifies the world spinning past. Writing is my therapy. It is my way out of the darkness or confusion. It lets me find the words that I am unable to speak aloud. It marks moments, both joyous and despairing, I never want to forget. When confronted with that blank page or screen, never in my life has it gone unfilled. I may not adore what it says. I will most likely search for improvements until it is ripped from my hands. But somehow, the words flow forth, and before I realized what's occurred, they've arranged themselves into an order and rhythm like a flashmob in the street - startling and strangely beautiful in their sudden appearance. And everywhere there are opportunities to create -- a birthday card, an email, a facebook status. A chance to bring a smile, a laugh, a tear, a connection. This is why I write, not to make money but rather to feel alive and connected to the world around me.

Stephen King holds the belief, like many others, that writers - true writers - are born and not created. It always seemed so pompous when I read that line, but as I've begun to scrutinize the actual art of writing, to break it down and study its parts, I find myself agreeing with him. They all speak of their writing, from the earliest memory, as an ever-present need to fill the page, scavenge the perfect word, or create an indelible image.

So the thought of trying to teach someone how to write overwhelms me. It always has, and the frustration of seeing my students ignore, even detest, something I love so immensely, devastates me. I feel the same way every time a student claims to hate reading. Yet, in all my eleven years of teaching, I never realized that no one ever taught me how to teach someone else to write. Truthfully, even as an education major, I only took one class which was supposed to teach me how to teach someone else to improve their reading skills. It is no wonder that I feel as though I've floundered about with a thousand different teenagers who could care less about comma placement, metaphors, or mood. In that thousand, there are still only a handful who I sincerely felt enjoyed themselves when they wrote. Only a few who considered themselves to be writers. And even those I'm not sure I ever pushed far enough.

In December, I went to an incredible training for teaching writers. Even now, I get a little fluttery thinking of how much easier I am hoping this will make things. So, here's my New Year's Resolution. (I know, I know... it's January 10th, but in my world, that's actually right on schedule.) I am going to have a better attitude about my struggling readers and writers. I am going to put effort into adapting what has worked before with what I believe will work now. Today, 3 different kids asked when we'd start back up with our Writers' Notebooks. All 3 expressed a real excitement to put pen to paper, and that's 3 more than I've heard in a long, long time.

Stephen King, watch your back. We're gonna put your theories to the test.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Never Better

This is from one of my angrier, darker days. During a day of intense frustration and unequivocable loneliness. It's not especially a proud moment but a truthful one at least in regard to such a day.

December 16th

What do you say when someone asks you how you are? Because except for the rare occasion, they're usually just being polite. Feigning interest or concern. Sometimes just making small talk, filling the void. So what do you say? What's the "polite" response that will discourage further probing or awkward silence or deep concern for your sanity?

Sometimes, for once, I'd like to just come straight out with the truth. Just to see some mo' fo' fall. the. freak. out.

Unassuming Stranger: "Hello. How are you today?"
Me: "I'm at the point where ripping off my skin seems like a viable option."

OR

Friendly Acquaintance: "Hey! What's goin' on?"
Me: "Well, right now, I'm wondering if it would be possible to kick you in the nuts so hard that you actually blacked out."

OR

People Who Know You Best: "That's great, but I really wanted to know how YOU are."
Me: "Well, mostly I'm kind of dead inside. Every morning, I wake up, cut away all emotion, and attack each and every task in front of me with a robot-like attention because if I, for even one second, let myself feel, I will suffocate. I will be unable to draw even the slightest breath. And then a flood of anger -- anger at healthcare, at shitty diseases yet to be cured, at God, the world, at you and your feeble attempts -- will rise within me beyond my control, pushing me to points where the fine line of sane reasoning wavers before me and threatens to break me wide open, beyond repair. In truth, I am best when you don't even ask how I am because I literally have no idea. Other than the fact that I am alive. I am breathing. And those are the only two things I am happy about today."

But I don't. I don't ever respond this way. Even with the people who genuinely are interested in my truest feelings. I give them the "okay", or the "fine", or if I really want to jack with them, "never better". And except for those 5 or 6 people who know me best, it's enough. No further investigation needed.

I have always been the Queen of Apologizing for Shit That's Not My Fault, but I also hold the title of Empress of Sparing You the Truth.

Not because I'm polite. Not because I'm socially graceful. Not even because I'm afraid you'll think I've gone off the deep end because somedays, I've got the Deep End plugged into the GPS, and I'm simply calculating at what point to start pumping the brakes.

No, it's none of those things. It's because I can't stand the look on your face when I tell the truth. How your face goes blank and your eyes go vacant. Because I can't take the shame that you feel. Because your hurt begins to hurt me. Because I'm not sure where the truth will send you. Because I know it will send you to all those places I cannot reach. It's not about my being a Truth Teller, it's about being a Pain Avoider. And so I spare you as many gory details that there are. I lock the demons away, put on my smile, and make my face calm before I tell you how I am.

"Never better."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Date Night

video

This is the son of one of my best friends, Courtney. His name is Elliott. He is almost 2, and he was my Saturday afternoon date. He (and his mom) called me up today to ask me over. The voicemail said, "Hi, Deana (her)." And then, "Hi, Neena! (him)". Not many things can force me to cut a Saturday afternoon nap in half, but this did.

No child's voice since my nephew was small has melted my heart any faster. And it has been 16 years since my nephew was this age. Even now, I can still feel his tiny hand in mine, his chubby arms around my neck, see his big blue eyes twinkling, as he yelled to me to "Chase me, DEEE-NNNUHHH!" But I was 18 then, young and dumb, and I didn't realize how quickly those days would pass. I thought that in just a few years, there would be another tiny hand in mine, but this one would be in my hand forever. But things don't always work out like you plan.

I think this is why Ell is so important to me now. Because someday, I realize now, he will be tall and strong, and his hand will no longer fit in mine and Saturday afternoon trips down the slide will be ancient history.

Over the Christmas break, Court and her husband caught Elliott calling two other blonde-haired ladies "Neena". One might be hurt that her name had been associated with the wrong person, but not me. For me, it simply signaled that I had a place somewhere in that two-year old brain, and I'm sure as hell not gonna let my place get taken over anytime soon.

It is a wondrous thing, the voice of a child. Even more so when it's calling your name.

P.S. I truly believe that if everyone in the world simply yelled out a "WHEEE!" before they took on any task, the world would be a much more content place. Try it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's a Dollar General Christmas

So, like I said before... now that I'm back in the Dee-Eff-Dub, I promised to share some of my experiences from my month-long trek to my parents' home. My journaling while I was there was sporadic at best, and some things will probably never see the light of day. If I were going to do this the right (and most logical) way, I'd just post in the order things happened/I wrote. But I've never erred on the side of logic instead of emotion, so instead I'll post as I feel. And today, I want to feel good. So I'm leading in with one of my favorite portions of the trip. Odd as it was actually the day I dreaded most when I first decided to go. So here it begins...


December 25th

For the past two years, this day has been the Single Girls' Christmas. When my family really began to crumble emotionally a couple of years ago, my mom told me that maybe it would be better if I didn't come home for Christmas. Their situation was a wreck, and she believed that my shot to have a joyous holiday would be significantly improved if I spent the time with my friends. This is the gift my mother never realizes she has. The gift of putting me first and herself second; to let go even when it causes her pain. This is the gift I did not inherit. I am a chronic hanger-on; I have never known the appropriate time to let go and just let things be.

Therefore, I made my peace with being alone on one of my former favorite holidays. I felt miserable at the prospect.

Then two of my funny, sweet friends shared a secret with me. They felt miserable at Christmas too. As single women, they believed themselves to be lifelong prisoners of the family holiday. As they re-enacted their former Christmas Mornings Past -- backing up the SUV, unloading the 1/2 ton of presents you thoughtfully picked out especially for each and every member of your family... watching them open dozens of presents from husbands, sons, daughters, in-laws... and then spending 38 minutes meticulously opening your "gift from the family", stretching it out so as not to be twiddling your thumbs as holiday cheer erupts in a mass of crinkly paper and shiny ribbon, only to find a 4 pack of needlepoint tea towels or a soap on a rope in the shape of a cat. And then you put on your best smile as you hold up your brand spankin', possibly new reindeer sweatshirt up for the customary photo while your cousin fires up their brand spankin', definitely new laptop. All the while reminding yourself that this should be about the Baby J in his cozy manger and not about your simmering jealousy over the diamond earrings your sister just hauled in. This, they said, is the completely effed-up fact of The Single Girl's Christmas Morn.

But not that year. No way. That year, they had a plan. A plan to skip the family festivities and celebrate how they wanted to. And I was invited. We bought thoughtful presents which we opened while we drank bourbon milkshakes. We watched old movies and sipped mimosas while gorging on the goodies from our overflowing stockings. We refused to change out of pajamas until only moments before leaving for a movie marathon at the local cineplex. It was the beginning of a brand new tradition.

With one member of the Single Girls' Christmas getting married this year, I knew that my former favorite holiday would change again. And, just like the past two years, my mother tried to put my feelings first and scheduled her hip surgery for the 28th, so I could celebrate with friends since she and my dad just "don't have the Christmas spirit anymore". Her pain, however, began to increase daily, and her doctor had no other choice than to move her surgery earlier and earlier. Still her biggest concern was that my being home, taking care of her, would ruin my holiday break. Selfishly, I was concerned too.

As December 25th crept closer, no decorations were pulled out. No stockings were hung. No lights turned on, and no presents to shop for and wrap. By Christmas Eve morning, everywhere I turned, sappy holiday movies and cheery carols and the joy of others bombarded me. And it pissed me off. This feeling, of course, quickly turned to shame as it so often does with me. I was ashamed at my jealousy and spite, but I could think of no way to get past it.

That is, until I walked into the Dollar General. As I was browsing the aisles, picking over the day-old Little Debbie snacks and generic bath oils, it caught my eye -- the Christmas clearance aisle. Surely, the Aisle of Misfit, Shitty Decorations would only make me feel more depressed. I wasn't sure what was drawing me to it. Not until I spied a box; a box which described something that could only make me giggle at the sheer absurdity. It was a 3.5 foot pink artificial tree, complete with hot pink lights.

For real? I mean, nothing says "Celebrate the Savior" like an effing Disco Dynamite tree. It was so tacky that I simply had to have it. Christmas is nothing without a tree. And I am nothing without a little snarky tackiness. So I tossed it in the cart. Within moments, I'd found silver accents and a myriad of presents for both my mom and dad. Presents which were not only useful to them but also not going to melt my credit cards. Sometimes the Dollar General is a friggin' gold mine. As I went on, aisle by aisle, my mood began to lighten, and I even began to smile.

Maybe I couldn't have my bourbon milkshakes and heap of presents to open, but I could still have a good Christmas morning. Because I could do something unexpected.

Early this morning, I slipped out the front door, rescued my stash of gifts and decor from the trunk of my car and hid in my room, wrapping gifts and unfolding my tacky-ass tree. Sadly, I forgot to pick up Scotch tape, so while I wrapped, I had to improvise with some medical tape.






Incredible, I know.

I snuck out, set up the Pink Thing and its accompanying gifts only to find this.




A sweet message my dad had spelled out with dozens of dominoes once I went to bed. It took me a little while, but it's code for "Deana, Merry Christmas. Love, Mom and Dad." Apparently, we don't have quite as many dominoes as I thought. Or else, we need another card table. Either way, I still got choked up.


Pay special attention to the red dominoes. They are special.


When I saw these dominoes, I recognized them but only faintly. I could not place where I'd seen them before. Then my dad reminded me that these were my grandmother's favorite dominoes. They didn't play actual domino games with them often, but I remember building many a domino house with them as a child. The red ones made a much prettier homestead than the plain white ones. "Now," he said, "they're yours. Your Grandma Henrietta was one of the best ladies I've ever known. I'm sure she'd want you to have them." And he also gave me two of the domino scorers above. I spent many a summer evening as a child watching my parents and grandparents marking their nickels and dimes with these very scorers. Each time I play, I feel connected to my grandmother and her sweet laugh and kind eyes all over again. And I am comforted and reassured by this. P.S. That's my scorer on the left. That's me beating both my mom and dad by over 100 points each. A true Christmas miracle if ever there was one.


The very best part of the morning, however, had to be my mom's face when she came into the living room after waking up. She took one look at the Pink Thing... the Disco Dynamite Christmas Tree... and her weary and pained face twisted up strangely. Her eyes began to tear, and for a moment, I worried that I'd done the wrong thing. That somehow I'd made the morning worse with a silly tree and some dollar store gifts. That she'd be embarrassed at the fact they could afford no gifts for me. That a time when the house should be full of activity and fun was still relatively silent and a little lonely with just the three of us.


Then she started to giggle. My mom doesn't giggle. It was strange but awesomely so.

I am not a mom. I have never had a child to witness his delight on Christmas morning. But in seeing my mom's reaction, I can only imagine that it was similar to my face when I was young. When what I wished for (even if I didn't ask) would always magically appear. When it wasn't Christmas until there was a Christmas tree. Even if it looked a little something like this.


And that's how, even without the bourbon milkshakes but with an $18 pink tree, I still had one of my favorite Christmases ever.