Mixed Family Blues

“Susan, please do the dishes, it is your turn.”

Mother Gothel & Rapunzl

Mother Gothel & Rapunzl

I am standing in front of the kitchen sink stacking and clearing the plates. Frantically, I’m trying to get it all done before we go out for the evening. My back is facing the rest of the kitchen and dining room. Susan, my fifteen year old stepdaughter, is sitting on the floor between the kitchen and dining room. Her attention focused on her (as usual) self. Head bent over, one hand is holding her foot and the other is holding the nail clippers. She is showing more skin than clothes.

Without turning my head, I calmly state, “Susan, I have asked you many times not to do that in the kitchen. Who would want to eat your toenails?” My voice might have been calm outside; however, my insides were comparable to an atom bomb that is in place to explode on the count of ten. I wonder to myself if anyone else is hot in this air-conditioned room.

“It’s not my turn to do dishes. I do them all the time, why don’t you ask your son to do them.”

The phone rings several times. Since, no one hears it or they do not know how to answer it, I step over Susan and walk past my husband who is sitting nearby on the couch reading the newspaper. After I finish speaking on the phone, I walk by my husband, step over my step daughter, and return to the sink stacking and clearing the plates so she can do the dishes. If either one of them raised their heads to look at me, they might have noticed my hair is a different color.

“Bob that was your sister letting us know they will meet us in twenty minutes at the movie theater.” Bob has not moved except to flip the paper to the sports section.

“OK, hon, but let’s get going. I don’t like to keep them waiting.” I really think he is singing the words while an atom bomb is ticking in my body.

Susan, still focused on her feet, asserts that she is picking up her toe nails as she is clipping them. I know she is here physically, but mentally she is nowhere to be found. She swings her long, beautiful head of blond hair. I hear her say, “I am pretty sure it is not my turn. We went out last night, so that counts as my turn.”

“Hon” my husband again sings from behind the newspaper. “Hon, are you ready to go? You know I don’t like to keep my sister and her husband waiting.” Didn’t he just say that so Susan and I could hear? My inner bomb is starting the final, final countdown.

I can hear her mumble something about someone being so lame.

“Susan, please do the dishes quickly. You have not done them all week and it is your turn.” The bomb is ready for takeoff. My husband is standing in the doorway, jackets in hand ready to go.

Susan jumps to her feet, tilts her head and puts one hand on her hip. “Fine, but I can’t do the dishes now. My toenails are drying. ”

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LAND OF THE UNKNOWN

VIEW FROM SCREENED BACK PORCH

VIEW FROM SCREENED BACK PORCH

After all the dishes are cleared and washed, I walk out onto my screened porch. I breathe in the quiet, peacefulness and exhale the frustrations of the day; listen to the hum of the wind whistling through the trees; the low music of our wind chimes; the cacophony of the toads and crickets singing and the occasional squawk of the turkeys.

And then my eyes open to the total blackness. There is no light, not even a moon beam. My neighbors are acres away in this rural part of Northern California. At times I seek solace in the glimpse of their lights shining in the windows. Tonight there is no glow.

The silence and heavenly peacefulness I cherished moments ago have been replaced with overwhelming fear and intense angst in the blink of an eye. The calm breathing quickly transitions into hyperventilation. The once peaceful heart is pounding at record speed.

Why am I afraid of the dark? The majority of children have a fear of the dark and then they grow up. As an independent adult woman, this fear remains with me to this day. Unlike Mack in “Where the Wild Things Are”, I am unable to conquer my demons. Being one of the 5% of adults who admit they are afraid of the dark, I do suffer terribly from insomnia. There is even a name for this condition: achluophopia or nyctophobia. It is “a phobia characterized by an acute fear of the darkness; it is triggered by the minds disfigured perception of what would or could happen in a dark environment” (definition from Wikipedia).

Some scientists believe this phobia is coded in our DNA. Remember the movie where the lions enter the African village and take their human prey willy-nilly? Freud believed fear of darkness is linked to separation anxiety or absence of our mothers converted to fear of darkness.

Personally as a youth, when I had nightmares, Supergirl (the brave me) would fly through the air, hair and blue cape flapping in the wind, and save the day. It was around the time of Super Man reruns on TV.

On business trips I sleep with the lights on. After I have locked the door, I place a chair under the doorknob. Never do I watch “Law and Order” or “Twilight Zone” alone.

Warm baths, glow in the dark stars, night lights, classical music and other tools to eliminate this fear and insomnia leave me restless and irritable. I’ve counted up to 1000 sheep jump that fence. My brain never stops thinking.

But I do know where this adult insomnia stems from. Nine years ago I stoically and heroically conquered breast cancer. The doctor gave me a sleep enhancer because sleeping is imperative to maintaining a healthy immune system.

Fortunately for me, there have been no side effects even when I have stopped taking them for periods of time. However, attempts to not use this medication, leave me bumping into Freddy Krueger in the middle of the night or waking up to Hannibal Lecter sleeping next to me licking his lips “Well Clarice have the lambs stopped screaming” or “How about some fava beans and a nice Chianti”.

My last thought as I leave the porch and prepare for bed is a scene in the book and movie, “The Road” by Carmac McCarthy. Charlize Theron is tearfully saying goodbye to her husband and slowly walks into the darkness. Unable to deal with this new apocalyptic world, she chooses to walk into the cold dark night, the land of no light, the land of cannibalism, and the land of the unknown.

So I take my pill and sleep like a baby. I do not want to be Charlize.

NOW I UNDERSTAND

lushI am thinking of taking a part of this essay and adding to a short story I am writing. Please leave your constructive criticisms and advise. It would be greatly appreciated and will be paid forward.

Sada glances at the blank page on her lap. Pen to paper she is thinking about the story she has to write for the next day’s assignment. 

Her mind empty as the document that lay before her, she quickly looks at the baseball game on TV.  Score is 0 to 1; third inning; San Francisco Giants against Colorado Rockies.  Favor Giants, Aaron Rowand up, no one on base. What is up with Brian Wilson and that beard? The hum of the clothes dryer can be heard in the background.

“What do I have to say” she thinks with opened eyes and wrinkled forehead as she sits in the overstuffed chair, wrapped in a blanket hoping for the epiphany to arrive.  She notices the shadow of her pen in hand as it skates across the lined tablet.  Written words make little sense but could be the birth of a new person or split personality. She rereads the assigned chapter “Juggling” for inspiration.  Jerome Stern, the author advises “use actions you can describe authoritatively”.  She outlines a list of her specialties.  Long career in stocks and bonds; motherhood; spouse; divorce; fencing; racket ball, now golf and other usual life experiences. Oh, the disappointment this essay is not flowing with words and ideas, vivid descriptions, detailed and deep expressions that all would enjoy reading.  Pamela Houston, a recent speaker in the class, emphasized writing is not easy, it is incredibly hard.  Sada smiles at that thought because Pam is a talented, experienced awarded writer, and she has the same issues.  What would Amy Tan do?

“Buster Posey up at bat, bottom of fourth, no one on base” screeches the TV announcer.

Frustration increases, distress increases.  Her stomach muscles tighten.  Her throat becomes parched.  She is on the third bowl of stoned ground white tortilla chips.  She pauses for the right theme to race from her brain to her hand and onto that lined tablet.   Every topic that comes to mind simply does not make sense and is not good enough.  The sound of the clock ticks a second, a minute, an hour has passed. Sada closes her eyes, holds her head in her hands and tries to visualize the story. 

She sees a scared little girl sitting in the second seat, third row in the large Catholic city school classroom.  The black board walls and tin lockers surround the 60 little girls dressed in the same navy blue plaid jumpers over white blouses with puffy sleeves.  The eight year old students stare at a large crucifix that hangs on the wall they face daily.  There is a man’s figure suspended on a cross.  He is scantily dressed with blood on his body and thorns crowning his head.  There are nails in his hands and feet supporting him on the cross.  All the eyes are down and hands folded neatly on their desks.  Sister Mary Margaret, dressed in the Sister of Charity habit, stands before the class.  Her fingers fondle one of the large rosary beads wrapped around her waist.  The nun’s eyes scan the classroom back and forth looking for the unfortunate child to answer the question.  Please, dear God, don’t let it be me.  No matter what answer I give, it simply won’t be good enough.

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