Tums & Tarantulas

tarantula

We all have demons to slay; those personal little horrors that sit quietly gnawing at the back corners of our sanity until common sense and equilibrium start leaking out of the hole in our souls. Such is grief when never properly allowed to be expressed, and if you came from a family that put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’ you can identify with this. As such, I’ve carried 3 camels worth of sorrow for my beloved best friend. Further, I’ve never found a way to process it; so, when in the flash of an instant it came crashing back over my psyche, I was a sobbing huddled-in-sorrow mess on the floor of my office.

For me, part of the healing process comes with writing about this unique friendship and the bizarre joys of our time as roommates. It was the eighties, I’d just barely escaped the clutches of an abusive husband and Mary had lost her previous roomie (a cousin) to job changes. Fate had us looking to move closer into town from the wilds of the suburbs, and as luck would have it, a rather fashionable townhouse had opened up just down the block from where I was working.

This was both opportune and serendipitous as not only was the grocery store within walking distance, should I choose to change my current employment situation, the metro stop was fairly close as well. I was working as an assistant credit manager and deposit clerk in an upscale department store, Mary was working as the educational liaison for a chain of nursing homes. We were both fairly happy in our positions and loved the proximity to entertainment, restaurants, etc. that our new home would provide.

The townhouse had a gated courtyard and a willow tree that I happened to adore with all the romantic bliss of the ignorant. It also had a fireplace; something Mary and I both insisted upon because hot cocoa and Grade B romance movies were a passion on those long Friday nights without dates. I’d taken the upstairs bedroom and en-suite bathroom, she’d chosen the downstairs. I loved my room with its lovely bay window shaded by the willow tree, she was happy with the room downstairs and its relative quiet as I was working long hours.

For the first six months, it was bliss. We’d have lunch together in the food court of the mall attached to the store where I was working when she was in town and we’d chat, laugh, and catch up on what was going on in our lives. Her job required travel no less than 4 days a week, so our lunch dates were special to both of us. We’d also plan out menus, shopping, movies, laundry, carpet shampooing, mundane household tasks, and when we could escape to go see her folks in North Texas. Her Dad had simply ‘adopted’ me as another kid in the family and when we went to see them, I had chores just like everyone else.

Then, early one spring morning I was pouring a bowl of Corn Flakes and discovered a very nasty buddy in my bowl; in fact, several. Cockroaches had infiltrated the cereal box and were feasting on my morning munchies. I’m not squeamish, but I squealed a very loud squeal of disgust. Mary’s howl of horror was not far behind. Then, when she went to open the refrigerator, several came flying out of the rubber seal of the door. We opened the cupboard doors under the sink and discovered a cavalcade of critters under there was well. She immediately called the 24 hour maintenance line and demanded extermination services.

For the next month or so, we were in chemical warfare against the little 6 legged invaders. We bought hermetic containers for any foodstuff that usually resided in a box, changed out canisters, and basically robbed the bastards of any foodstuff we could think of. Until, they broached the last bastion of our sanity. When deprived of any foodstuff humans normally consume, they turned to the electronic and proceeded to eat the plastics and coating within our video cassette player and television. Cry HAVOC!

We were at our wit’s end, eating lunch in the food court and were discussing everything from radiation to relinquishing the place we loved so much when, this tall rangy fellow from the exotic pet store comes over to our table and introduces himself. “Hey, there ladies! My name’s Clint, and I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation and your problem and well – I think I have the solution.” Mary and I were stunned into silence with the sudden, unexpected introduction to the fella, but nothing could have prepared us for Clint bringing a small terrarium with a HUGE brown tarantula in it around from behind his back and placing it right in the center of our lunch table. I immediately attempted to see how far my butt would fit in the large planter behind me and I remember Mary attempting to climb Clint like a tree in order to affect escape. Yes, there were the usual accompanying sound effects of squealing, screaming females.

Clint, in the process of prying Mary out of his hair and off of his person, remained nonplussed by our reaction and began calmly explaining that tarantulas give off a pheromone that sends roaches packing. We looked at one another; which one was going to do terrarium or rather terror-ium duty? Who was going to feed the eight-legged monster once he’d eaten every roach? How often do they pee/poo and what does cleaning up after a tarantula entail? We were not convinced that any amount of salesmanship was going to confer ownership of the spider to either of us. “Ok,” Clint sighed, “Ladies, look. I’ll loan you the tarantula for a month or two. I’ll even come over once a week to check up on him and see how he’s doing. Heck, I’ll even set the whole thing up.”

“Look,” Mary replied, “as long as you take care of that thing and neither of us have to do one thing that remotely involves removing the top of the container he lives in, we’re good. And DON’T get funny and slip in a pregnant female thinking it a joke because we WILL hunt you down!” Clint sorta turned a bit pale, but true to his word, that evening after the mall closed he came over and set up “Hairy’s” home in a corner of the galley kitchen of our townhouse.

A couple of nights later, we were curled up watching MASH and Mary looked with a funny glance at me and muted the sound on the television. “Do you hear a funny crunching noise?” She asked.

“Yeah, I do. Sorta like someone eating Frito’s.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“But, it sounds like it’s coming from the kitchen.”

“I ain’t going in there alone.”

“Me neither.”

“Come on, Roomie.”

“Oh, God! Ok.”

What we did not expect was to see something vaguely reminiscent of a 50’s science fiction thriller; Clint had set the terrarium up with a pickle jar lid of Cheerios in the corner. We’d assumed that this must be some sort of unknown treat for the tarantula, what the Hell did we know about tarantula diet? Nope, good ol’ ‘Hairy’ was crunching down on the cockroaches that nearly covered the small pile of cereal in the corner of his habitat, like a kid crunching on Cheezy Poofs. We would have screamed in horror, but the objects of our more immediate disgust were being permanently removed from our environs one juicy crunch at a time.

True to his word and ‘Hairy’s’ appetite, within six weeks the roach problem was reduced to the ‘damn near extinct’ level in the townhouse. Clint came over to take ‘Hairy” back to the pet shop, but Mary decided that as long as Clint would come over and “service” the beast we’d buy him and give him a home. Then, Clint gave us one more little trick to address the cockroach problem.

The fella was a good salesman because if he’d shown us this little trick, we might never have agreed to ‘Hairy’s’ presence. From a bag, Clint retrieved beer bottle caps. I asked, “What, we’re gonna get them drunk and toss ‘em out the door?” “Nope.” He grinned.

He placed a bottle cap next to the baseboards at the common wall between us and our neighbor’s townhouse. Then, out of his pocket he produced a roll of Tum’s antacids and he placed one in the bottle cap. “Now,” he smugly noted,” we wait.”  Within a minute or two, a cockroach came up from under the baseboards and began nibbling on the tablet. After a couple of minutes, the insect left the tablet, replete. It then began to walk across the carpet and it didn’t make it six inches before we heard a distinct “pop” and the insect jerked once and rolled over, dead. “Roaches can’t burp, ladies.” Clint calmly announced.

Mary would have fumed, but Clint was grinning such a gamine smile, she just threw her hands up in the air and for the next hour or so we were placing bottle caps with Tums tablets in them all over the townhouse. Granted, for a couple of nights the sounds of exploding roaches was a little unsettling, but we vacuumed up the conquered invaders with a sense of satisfaction that we were no longer engaging in hazardous chemical warfare, and we’d taken a homeless tarantula off the streets.

So, there you are. A little story that will forever remain in my heart about our escapades as roomies and how we simply didn’t give up the little townhouse we both so loved. Perhaps I also believe that in sharing this a wee bit of the grief that I’ve carried for 27 years has melted. Love ya’, Mur….

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I Weave On Her Loom

friggspinning

 

What is it about being human that hurts so damn good and so damn bad at the same time? I ask this because, in a fit of that strange sanity that attacks me from time to time and kicks my arse into cleaning and organizing, I stumble over things like birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, and old pictures that have me sighing in blissful joy or sobbing like baby. Perhaps, it’s also because the college kid is winging her way back to campus in about 24 hours more or less; and it’s always an emotional wrench to let her go.

On the other hand, there are the insane conversations that leave her father howling with laughter, trying to catch his breath and me blinking in confusion, “What did I miss?” It simply must have been hysterical on some level, because if I caught their eye throughout the day, the giggles and guffaws were painfully stifled. I’d like to say that I’ll promise revenge later, but I’ve also learned at the knees of Chaos that my chance to laugh like a madwoman at their foibles will come soon enough.

It’s been insanely crazy with the weather locally. When you consider that Kat left her winter clothes on campus because she was coming back to the locals of Texas for the Winter break, it’s been a bit of a stunner to awaken to a morning when the mercury on the back porch barely struggled to make it over 20 degrees. Oh to be sure, it gets better – her plane leaves tomorrow morning and the ever-so-rare event of threatened SNOW is a distinct possibility overnight.

This is Central Texas, folks. No one with any sanity dares to drive on the inevitable iced roadways. Personally, I’m convinced that this is a Universal slap-tickle because I refused to book any flights through Chicago O’Hare either way for our girl. I felt that no child of mine would be forced to sleep on the floor of a snow-bound airport and Truth be told, O’Hare gets more than their share of snow delays. Looks like the joke is going to be on me if ABIA is doomed to a weather delay.

In the mad stroke of domestic desire to clean and organize, I found my Josh Groban CD’s. (Yeah, whatever…I’m a shameless, hopeless romantic. I’m convinced we’re a dying breed, so I’m not going to make apologies.) Everything was going along swimmingly until I found a picture of my eldest child’s godmother at the same time that the CD reached the selection “To Where You Are.” It was emotionally devastating on the order of a 9.5 earthquake.

Mary was my beyond-best-friend/sister-by-a different-mister/anamcara (before I knew what the word meant!) We’d seen each other through really tough times, and she’d held my hand as I made those first tremulous steps of independence after an emotional and physically abusive marriage. Of course, those of us that find ourselves in that horrific quagmire usually find ourselves there again unless there is some drastic intervention. The genetic benefactor of my firstborn child was no exception; I’d seen him as a “Knight in Shining Armor” and he was in reality a “Rat Turd in A Tin Can.” In reality, when he abandoned the baby and me, she was angrier at him than I was! Because of health reasons, she was unable to conceive children, so the day I was able to place my daughter in her arms and name her godmother, her eyes shone so bright with tears of joy that I’d wished I’d been able to just give her the baby. She’d finally met and married a man that she loved to distraction before my daughter’s birth and the two of them loved to take my baby and spoil her rotten.

Life being what it is and having an equally generous hand with joy and sorrow, there was a phone call shortly before Christmas of 1987. I was going to take the baby down for a visit, and Mary had called to tell me that it would be better if I reconsidered the trip. Then, the gut punch – she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She wasn’t clear with the stage, etc. She said she was going in for a hysterectomy and would do some follow-up chemotherapy; treating the diagnosis with an attitude of nonchalance. I, in turn, managed to keep the quaver of tears out of my voice until after we completed the call. Somewhere in our conversation, she’d mentioned that her chemo would finish up in early March. I promised her that I would plant King Alfred daffodils then; by the first week of March, they would be up and blooming. I would harvest them and bring them down as a celebration.

We’d touch base now and then, throughout her treatment and surgeries. I’d send pictures of the baby as she was growing, and Mary sent me a copy of the picture of herself and my daughter during happier times. The first weekend of March dawned foggy and cool, and I padded into the large kitchen at my parent’s house to start the morning’s coffee. After grabbing my housecoat, I stepped outside to make the long trip down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper. The small Arizona ash that I’d planted the daffodils around was awash in eye popping color. Not only had the daffodils bloomed overnight, but the Dutch irises I’d planted with them had bloomed early as well. The small garden was simply breathtaking in its bright, transcendent colors, and I was overwhelmed with joy. It was Saturday, and I could harvest these after breakfast and take them down to Mary today, remembering that her last round of chemo had completed the previous Thursday afternoon.

Somewhere around nine o’clock that morning, I was gathering the basket and the shears and the phone rang. There was a pause, then a deep breath on the other end. Then the voice on the other end informing me that “We lost Mary last night.” I was stunned in a silence of denial. NO. No. No. Everything within me screamed that this couldn’t be so. The daffodils were blooming, and the irises bloomed early. But, the strangled voice of the newly widowed husband on the other end of the phone assured me that he was in just as much shock as I.

On a morning so foggy you could have cut it, bound the edges and used it as a blanket, Mary’s ashes were scattered at sea with a lone bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.” To this day, I cannot stand to hear even one measure. Part of my soul left to be eternally with the ashes of Mary, the elements of her earthly body returned to the Universe via the waters of the Mother.

On the other hand, her death spurred my own “bottoming out” so to speak because my use of barbiturates and alcohol accelerated until I found myself in an AA meeting by the end of May. I will always maintain that my best friend gave her life for mine, and no greater sacrifice can be given. However, the entire matter also spurs another windmill I tilt at until the Universe gasps its last erg of Light; that of healthcare for women.

Those of us who identify as female know on a gut level the inequality of care for our bodies by a medical system still slanted towards patriarchy. Our psychological health has long been treated with a “there, there” pat on the hand and prescriptions that do nothing to address the underlying self-hatreds, self-doubts, wounds from survival in a word-wide society that condemns most of us to a ‘less than’ status, and denies education to many. Women suffer genital mutilation, denial of pregnancy termination, denial of access to contraceptives and hormonal therapy. Endometriosis is a horrifically painful malady, and there are national figures that think the hormonal therapy needed to control the worst of the symptoms brands the woman using it as a “slut.” We are sexually shamed, our body images manipulated by greed, ignorance and stupidity. Additionally, we are asked to turn on one another should we counter this insanity with Truth; demanding that our passions be illustrated as feline or canid in their fury.

In summation, there is but one sentence to forewarn and advise those who listen: The Goddess is Awakened, and Her Will Be Done.

 

Behind “Home”

trail home

There’s been a ghost of an idea sitting on the back burner of my mind for a few days; more than just the usual ‘because’ that grants perpetuity in the writer’s mind. This niggling, this fomenting creation of firing synapses and fulminating neurons is much more than that. It’s a concept that is being borne out every day in some new way by hard science and prattled upon mercilessly by one guru or another.

In a very simple derivative, it is thus: all that we are is the summation of what is around us at any given time. We must needs be mindful of this at every moment or accept the consequences. Breaking this down into chunks or simple bits of digestible concept much like cold cereal follows. (Yes, stuff like this really DOES bubble around in my brain…maybe I should have had a bit more support in the educational realm.)

There now exists hard science that our bodies shed cells on a regular basis – we are ever in the process of becoming who we are on a regular daily, almost, cycle. Given this, stop for a moment and think. Where did your breakfast come from? Was it grown locally? Touched by the hands of a neighbor? Was it harvested by machine or by hand? Was it transported in a refrigerated truck far away from where it first saw sunlight? Did it sit in a warehouse waiting for its lot to be bid upon before moving on to a distribution center? Where does every iota of what you eat come from? Where are the hands that touched it in some form before you purchased it and brought it home to grace your oven, hotplate or microwave before it graced your plate and table? Do you know these people? Would you have them share your dinner with you? You do, you know.

Every time you eat, everything you eat has been touched by others in the process of here to there; unless of course, you grow and harvest every morsel of food you put into your mouth. So with this in mind, let’s track your day. Who grew the beans that were later harvested by another, transported by yet another, processed by an additional handful, roasted, blended and ground to be put into a container that found its way to your kitchen pantry and thus your coffee cup? Do you ever think to thank the blessed hands, hearts and minds of each person that touched the coffee you now drink? How about the hands of the laborers that went into making the coffee machine that brewed the beverage you now consume? Like it or not, we are all creations of energy; we expend it in myriad ways throughout our day, but we take it in likewise. The sum of each person’s touch is in every item of clothing we wear, every morsel of food we eat, the cars we drive. Our days, our world, our presence is literally filled to the brim with the essence of another – in fact many others.

When we allow Oligarchs and Plutarchs to rule, they seek to stifle, muffle, and silence the voices and the energies that make this energy exchange bright and joyous. Without the love of the land as expressed by a human farmer, the beauty and health of the wheat field loses something in the process of providing life-sustaining grain. Without the loving hands of those that prune, tend and harvest them, tomatoes seem to lose the vibrant flavor that dances upon our tongues and sings within the sauces and dishes that they later grace. Let us add the additional dimension of presence of place.

Many of us choose to live within an urban environment, some of choose instead to thrive well off of the beaten paths of civilization. Some of us live upon the water, and some of us have no door to close nor roof to shelter our heads. Wherever we find ourselves, we need be mindful of where we are for many reasons; the least of which was stated earlier – we change, we recycle, we regenerate our cells on a regular basis. The building blocks of who we are we must get from somewhere.

Think about this – think about it hard, for more than just the moment that you are taking to read this blog. Do you know the barista that made your coffee? Do you know the hands and heart of the person who crafted a cheese Danish for your consumption? Are you aware that the chicken that laid the egg you are eating may very well be living out her short miserable life in a 1 x 1 foot cage and force fed nutrients that do nothing more than force her to lay egg after egg?

There’s a very simple reason why home-grown tomatoes taste so good. The obvious reason is the vine picked freshness, but think of the joy and energy put into the plant with the daily watering and hand care received by the plant itself. But, you argue – I cannot raise the wheat that makes my bread, or the corn that goes into my tortillas, or the beef and fish and chicken that I consume. Maybe there’s another Truth you need to embrace and integrate. Are you within reasonable commute distance to a farm? Have you ever made an effort to get to know where your food comes from? When was the last time you kicked off your shoes and let your naked feet embrace the soil?

As a whole, we humans have forgotten our sense of tribe, our sense of unity with all things living and growing. We’ve neglected to remember our bodies crave communion with the earth our bodies are made of. We’ve forgotten the music of the winds, the waters, the hymns of feather, fur and scale. What’s even worse, we’ve convinced ourselves that wandering from place to place without discovering the “feel” of where we are is a ‘normal’ thing.

As a result, our children are numbed out with medication, we take pills to wake up, go to sleep, and keep our attentions focused on the production of mindless crap. We’ve neglected to embrace our elderly in a healthy manner and allow them to pass their stories to our young. We’ve failed to place adequate value in sound judgments that will stand the test of common sense and altruism. Further, and perhaps even more shameful, we refuse to govern ourselves beyond electing a sound bite and carefully packaged automaton whose sole purpose to exist is for the elite.

If we can, it is now past time to put our courage to the sticking place and take charge of change with both hands. If you only have one hand, make sure it’s your neighbor’s that you grab because like it or not, we’re in this together. None of us can single handedly raise the food, shelter and transportation required of our lives; but we can remember and learn to accept as family those that can.

The “Me” generation was wrong; it is past time that “We” stand up, get over the petty issues, address the serious ones and move into our tomorrow – mindful of who we are, where we come from , and where we intend to go. At the very least, before you consume anything; eat food, pump gas, buy a piece of clothing, perhaps it would be a good thing to be mindful of the hands behind its creation – and give thanks.