In August the Rocky Mountains beckoned, or maybe it was my friend Cheri in Denver—Girls Trip 2020, Telluride, Colorado. Cheri has a Telluride connection, and she invited me and three other friends for a complimentary weekend at a posh three-bedroom condominium in the heart of the action. We grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle. We’ve all known each other since fifth grade or before. I had never been to Telluride. AND we all rolled up to fifty within the past eight months or so. This was a celebration of empowered women and a new decade, the ultimate slumber party and the feat of forty-year friendships, hot tubs in the mountains and an offer I couldn’t refuse. COVID, shmovid.
One Thursday, after sitting on my ass for 155 nearly-consecutive days with minimal human interaction since mid-March, I made my way to and through George Bush International all masked up and onto an airplane that touched down at Denver International. Denise from Dallas, my friend since age five, arrived ahead of me and waited with Cheri to pick me up. The three of us worked really hard to stay out of trouble before Starla, my friend since age seven, landed later that evening from California. On Friday morning, we three road-tripped into the Rockies and picked up Pamela, who flew from Austin to Montrose, sixty miles or so from our destination. Pamela has been my friend since age ten. Do I realize this is rare? Grown women, who grew up together, now staying connected, and still growing?
I’m sure I could tell some stories, but I would prefer to keep our secrets, just like I know they will keep mine. At the end of our time together, we shared photos and take-aways and one last hug. I can’t stop thinking about how the gondola carried us up and over the mountain, just like the best of friendships.
You see, when I returned home, the sky fell off my life, again. My son Drew, who lives with paranoid schizophrenia and dysfunctionally depends on his dad and me, returned to the hospital for the first time since 2015. An overdue hospitalization. His medication of the past five years, no longer effective. His doctor has been telling me for three years there’s nothing he can do. Me—after living through the 2017 hurricane, and in a hotel for ten months while rebuilding home, and starting a new job in 2017, another in 2018, and then a long-term sub job in 2019, and finally returning to school as a graduate student in 2020—well, I’ve stayed too fucking exhausted to look for a new doctor. Besides, Drew is an adult, and so he must agree to any changes. That’s the problem with seeking help for a person who doesn’t believe he has a problem. Meanwhile at home, Drew shouts at the voices he hears in his head most of the days of the month. His words. Terrible and angry. Racist and sexist. Filthy and threatening. His body odor vile. I don’t care to dive into further detail. All of this is an ongoing battle, Drew is now safe in the hospital, and of course, he wasn’t always this way. This brain disorder has transformed my son and stolen ten years of his life, and of course, I’m sad. In no way do I mean to imply schizophrenia is worse than cancer or Alzheimer’s or drug addiction or Lou Gehrig’s disease or any other infirmity leading to ultimate death. Wow. This post suddenly turned dark as tends to happen when I go down the path of what is wrong. Therefore, I focus on gratitude. Otherwise I may remain in fetal position for the rest of my days. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And so—I continue to count my blessings. When I don’t even care to put one foot in front of the next or speak a single word, I am so very thankful for the friends and family I have who carry me and for their prayers that lift me like a gondola up the mountain I continue to face.
“Who is set up for the tragedy of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.”Philip Roth
And by the way, if you are the type who prays, please join me in believing Drew will understand there is better for him and that his dad and I are here to help and that we love him and that God will direct our steps and give us wisdom in dealing with this illness and that there will be a helpful, hopeful outcome to this hospitalization including a new doctor who believes along with me.
Amen. And thank you.
I love telling people
how I crashed her party
and met her on the day
she turned five.
It was July the Fourteenth,
She was blonde haired,
tiny, and hazel eyed—
my new friend, Denise.
In school we shared
with Mrs. Shaffer,
with Mrs. Goff
with Mrs. Lane
and so on
and so forth
through senior year.
The Class of Eighty-Eight
Reunion. In Oklahoma.
We both lived in Texas.
She lived nearby,
this girl I had known
since we were five.
I needed a friend,
and she did, too.
We met for margaritas
and Mexican food.
More years pass.
We ate and drank.
We told each other
secrets, even when
Forty five years
from the day we met,
July 14th, 1975,
a day I’ll never forget.
Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to run away. I was five when I loaded my Radio Flyer red wagon with a few necessities and made it as far as my next door neighbors’ house before my mom showed up to check on my plan. When I was thirteen, I thought my life couldn’t be any worse, and I wrote my Granny and Gramps in Oklahoma City and asked if I could move in with them. My parents put an end to that fantasy. I suppose it only makes sense that I’ve run away from my adult life a few times. It takes so many years to learn how to adult properly. I’m still not sure I know.
In 2007, Misti moved to Sitka, Alaska for the sake of adventure. She had visited a friend who lived there, and a teaching job manifested itself. We always stayed in touch.
In 2008, my marriage teetered on the brink of demise, and I felt that urge to run. At Misti’s invitation, I booked a flight to Sitka through Seattle. Misti is one of those people (it must be the teacher in her) who makes everything seem easy and leaves a person feeling empowered. During my stay, we hiked mountain trails and chased waterfalls. We boated all around and cast our lines. I caught a fifteen-pound salmon and (mostly) reeled it in. We spotted eagles soaring and whales breaching. We hot-tubbed and karaoke-ed. Every time I hear Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” I smile and shake my head at the memory of Misti with the microphone.
As a teacher and a mom of two teenagers, I hadn’t had the opportunity to book flights and travel solo much, but Misti talked me through everything including a layover in Seattle on my return. At Seattle-Tacoma International, I stowed my carry-ons in a locker and hopped a bus downtown to Pike Place Fish Market. I entertained myself for hours, and I found my way back via taxi unscathed and on time for my flight.
In 2009, Misti moved back to Texas and drove her car home, the first leg via ferry. I flew to Sacramento and met her there. The last half of Misti’s move was a road trip adventure across the American West for both of us. First stop Napa. Then San Francisco.
In 2012, thanks to our friend Michelle, Misti and I both landed jobs in the same new school in another school district just north of Dallas where suburbs meet country and kids greet teachers in the hallways. We had waited three years for open positions, and we took them together. And so our friendship continued with lunch daily and outings to Shakespeare in the Park and dinners and concerts and art museums.
In 2016, my friends from school threw me a farewell happy hour. Kody’s job had been transferred to Houston, and so had we. The occasion called for a martini—dirty. Bourbon on the rocks for my friend. I like Houston regardless of some bad luck here, but I miss my friends made over the course of seventeen years—like my friend Misti. But you know what? If I ever need to run away, she has a room to spare.
I jumped on to this A-Z blogging challenge at the last moment and without a plan, and it looks like gratitude has brought me to the half way mark. Thanks so much for reading! All posts are clickable below:
A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle and I for an I and J is for Jesus and K is for Kody and L is for the Lovely Lauren
Do you have a favorite apple? Mine is the Honeycrisp. Pricey for an apple, but worth every sweet and juicy bite. And we all know the saying about apples and doctors, so I picked some up on my last run for groceries.
I drove over to Austin back in December for a birthday celebration with my lifelong friends Pamela and Denise. Pamela was in Mr. Hale’s fifth grade class with me, and I crashed Denise’s five-year-old birthday party uninvited. We grew up together, and we continue to grow together by sharing cool things like skydive simulations and apples.
Before I left Austin that weekend, Pamela packed me a snack of assorted nuts in one Ziploc bag and apple slices with a squeeze of lemon in another. We hugged and said our goodbyes, and I hopped back into my car for the return trip home. I sped down Highway 71 lined on both sides by barbed-wire fences and open pastures, and I slowed down in the small, one-stop-light towns all while enjoying some good apple love. The lemon adds a freshness.
Yesterday, April 1st, I came across the A-Z blogging challenge. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some extra time on my hands. This seems like a good month to take on a challenge. So for April I’m committing to blog each day using the letters A-Z as inspiration, skipping Sundays, and sticking to a gratitude theme.
I’m sure I need a master plan, but for now I’m taking it day by day. After my morning walk, I headed to the kitchen to cut up a Honeycrisp. But lo and behold, I had lemons in my refrigerator, too, and so…
Some sweet things have happened these last few weeks, and I wanted to shout out a few blogger friends who have inspired me. Cue Julie Andrews. These are a few of my favorite things (from the last couple of weeks):
Thanks to Barb at letitgocoach.com, I have a bathroom that sparkles down to the shower liner. Who knew that you could throw a plastic liner into the washing machine? The biggest part of the triumph—this is Drew’s bathroom, which I normally avoid. I just happen to have some extra time on my hands. Click on this link for Barb’s post on Showers That Shine.
Another blogger friend who goes by the pen name Terrified Amateur posted a recipe for Baltimore-Style Crab Cakes, and I’m a sucker for crab cakes, one of my favorite appetizers when we dine out. Of course, we’re not dining out at the moment, so I thought these would be a treat. And treat—well, that’s an understatement!! They were divine!! Like straight out of heaven. One pound of crab made eight cakes, so we had them two days in a row. On the second day, they were even more amazing (my pan was hotter—medium high). I thought I had peanut oil, but I didn’t, so I used canola. I thought I had Dijon, but I didn’t, so I used spicy brown. And you know what? I braved the grocery store one more time (for alcohol) and round two of lump crab.
Then there is Eliza over at Journey to Life, who has been posting a daily Gratitude Challenge. I’m a big believer in gratitude, but even so, there are times when I lose focus. As I reflected on my blessings, feeling thankful for things like the roof over my head and my sweet dog and my family and friends and extra time to read and write and the gorgeous Spring weather and my walks and music in my ears, I remembered a note to self that I typed into my phone on Sunday, August 19, 2019. Now seems a right time to post it.
This Sunday morning I’m thankful for my eyes that opened to another gorgeous day and the sunlight at play, silver gold reflections in the emerald treetops. I’m thankful for strength of body and mind that carry me to my oasis of calm through my own backdoor. For a delicious breeze and the songs of birds in the trees backed by the choir of cicadas. For two little black dogs with waggity tails smiling faces and so much love in those deep brown eyes. For all of this. This moment in time when all is right in the world.
So here’s the thing—life is bittersweet. I’m heartbroken by two deaths this past week. One of my best friends lost her Dad, and I lost my dear friend Desi who was my lunch buddy all through junior high and high school. Cancer is a bitch, and so is Covid-19. And as I scroll through Facebook (because I can’t see anyone in real time), I see so many others facing losses and illness and pain. Obviously, not all is right in the world, but there is something good in every day. I went to church this past Sunday (in my living room online), and later a friend asked me what I heard that was meaningful. Here are a few words that resonated with me from the sermon and the good book:
Philippians 4:4-13 New International Version (NIV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I find peace and strength in these words in a time when I need peace and strength, and I’m finding contentment in circumstance. I pray the same for you. I try to keep my thoughts on the true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable things, and I try to thank God for the excellent and praiseworthy—like good people and clean showers and crab cakes and reasons to live.
To the left of the Winmau dart board hung a stenciled wooden sign that read, “Póg mo thóin.”
“I wonder what that means,” I said with a tilt of my head and my hitch-hiking thumb pointing toward the sign.
“Right?” Kody said as he aimed his dart. “It sounds nasty.”
We had dropped into a new Irish bar, new for us, where the green twinkle lights on the covered patio drew us in, green velvet bar stools invited us to sit, and a darling bartender with long red hair poured us drinks—a Wild Basin Black Raspberry seltzer in a chilled glass and a Jameson Caskmates IPA neat for me. To our delight, there were nice dart boards in a room on the other side of a partitioned half wall and darts with pointed tips. I emphasize nice and pointed because we have a tendency to play in a place with a terrible board and darts with blunt tips that don’t stick. Like the twinkle lights and green velvet, these were wonderful surprises.
I had been practicing my aim, and our game was tied. It was a matter of shooting two more bullseyes. I already had one, and so did Kody. With my eyes on the board, my ears overheard a conversation between two guys at the bar, “What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? I mean, not with your parents as a kid, but that you drove yourself.”
I couldn’t hear what the other guy said, but the bartender said, “Probably Austin. I never drive anywhere.” She seemed very young, but now that I’m fifty, so many people do.
I wanted to pipe into this conversation, but I was busy concentrating on my target. Ready. Aim. 5. Ready. Aim. 16. Ready. Aim. 2. Kody said, “I’m telling you, you’re on the spot.” My darts were close, but not close enough.
Kody couldn’t hit his either. His darts fell on the 9, the 14, and the 8. He breathed out with a huff.
“Thanks for giving me another chance,” I said with a smile. My wins against Kody are few and far between.
The first road trip that came to mind was the one I took with my friend Misti back in 2009. She had moved to Sitka, Alaska for a couple of years, and she was moving back to Texas and driving her car, the first stretch for her via ferry. And so I flew to Sacramento and met her to keep her company for the rest of the way home. We stayed in Sonoma Valley that first night, toured Napa, and dined at Bottega, Chef Michael Chiarello’s restaurant, where I had my favorite meal of the trip—Tortino Rustico Southern Italian ratatouille in a mascarpone pastry shell, fresh goats’ cheese, heirloom tomato sauce and arugula salad. I hate to be one of those people snapping photos in fancy restaurants, but I don’t regret keeping the memory.
I threw my darts again—6, triple 12, 10. By the way, if you don’t play darts, I hit the twelve on the small red strip on the inner circle, which means absolutely nothing. Triples on 15-20 is exactly what you want, but I had closed those numbers.
From wine country we spent a couple of days in San Francisco, drove down Lombard Street, toured in a double decker bus, walked on the Golden Gate Bridge, ate at Fisherman’s Wharf, caught a performance of Wicked, and ate pizza in a parlor alongside the famous San Francisco twins. From San Francisco, Misti and I traded off driving first down Pacific Coast Highway One and then east toward Las Vegas. And you know what they say about Vegas—what happens there, stays there.
Kody had another opportunity to beat me, and as he threw 20, 17, and 16, I heard the guy who proposed the road trip question mention his travels between Houston and Odessa. “It’s a good ten hour drive, but I just take my pee bottle.”
“Did he just say pee bottle?” I said to Kody in a voice quiet enough that no one else could hear. “Who needs a pee bottle? Just stop the damn car.”
Kody said, “I don’t need that much time. I’m already driving 110.”
There was a note of truth behind his joke, and suddenly his driving seemed better than traveling with a bottle of pee. No offense if you happen to use a pee bottle, just not my style, and I laughed and shook my head.
From Vegas, Misti and I drove southeast a bit before hitting the Historic Route 66, stopping for restrooms and gas along the way, and after an overnight respite somewhere in Arizona, we sped on toward Santa Fe where we spent another night at a nice resort and celebrated with massages in teepees. Misti planned every last detail, and I’m the friend who says, “Okay!” I’m not sure who was Thelma and who was Louise. Brad Pitt may or may not have shown up along the way. But instead of running away and driving off a cliff, we drove right into Dallas back to our jobs and the reality of our lives. No one was hurt in the making of our escapade. Well, Misti might have been, but that’s her story to tell. Anyway, that is how you road trip with one of your besties.
I held the dart with three fingers, my index and my thumb with my middle finger to steady it. I stared straight in the center of the bull. I threw. I missed. I refocused. I threw my second dart. “Kody?” I said, pointing.
“Is that it?” he said, and he walked forward for a closer look at my dart in the red center of the board, worth a double bullseye.
“Didn’t you have an opportunity to take some points on me?” I said, rubbing it in just a little bit.
“You really gonna say that? I’ll be taking my points next time. Another game? I’m bringing the pain.” He was totally jesting.
“Well, game on.” I said with feigned bravado. “Game. On.”
“My Name Is Human” played in the background. This was Kody’s playlist. To think that jukeboxes can be controlled through the touch of a phone. Anyway, I had a friend tell me that he always liked my playlists. So Tim, this is for you—a random sampling of our Wednesday evening songs, old and new, from the jukebox to the car radio to videos on our TV in the living room. And for those of you who don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day—try, “Póg mo thóin.” St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner.
Last night’s winter moon reminded me of an Apache blessing I know. I snapped a few photos as it rose through the trees.
I thought about my family—one by one—and then my friends—each by name. I thought about people reading now who might need some new energy, restoration, and strength. This is my prayer for you:
When I stepped into the wind tunnel from the safety of the doorway, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival.* I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope. At home on my laptop, I had skimmed a release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that indoor skydiving can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH and signed the electronic copy. Then I hopped in my car and drove to Austin for some girl time and a sleepover with two of my elementary school besties.
Pamela, Denise, and I arrived at the iFly in leggings, t-shirts, and tennis shoes before receiving our flight suits, ear plugs, and helmets. During the safety debrief with our instructor Drew, we learned the basics of maintaining a stable flight position, sort of like assuming the airport security position, hands above your head, elbows bent, except with fingers spread strong, feet further than shoulder width, and pelvis forward with a slight arch to the back and a bend in the knee. Drew said, “Tilt your hands to the right to fly right,” while demonstrating with his hands. “Left to fly left.” He tilted his head back, “Chin up to fly up,” and then dropped his head toward his chest, “chin down to fly down.” He straightened his arms to Superman position and said, “Extend your arms to fly forward.” I forget what he said about flying backward, but it didn’t really matter. I was ready.
I stepped up to the doorway and gently leaned into the wind. There was no jumping or falling. Just a sense of peace, floating in the air with an instructor by my side and a second instructor observing, coaching, and manning the camera from outside the wind tunnel. I never once feared for my life. None of us crashed into the wall or fell to our doom. Once back on solid ground, Drew gave me a high five and an enthusiastic, “You’ve never done this before? You were amazing!”
And I felt amazing. Little kids were suited up and waiting to fly after the three of us, and I thought to myself, Sometimes you need childlike faith.
Even before iFly, Pamela and Denise concocted a 50th birthday plan to actually jump out of an airplane with a parachute. Skydiving wasn’t exactly on my bucket list…
Now I might just join them, and maybe one day I’ll finish this one…
When I stepped into the clear blue sky from the safety of the airplane, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival…*
*This post inspired by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”
For so many years, my students have studied and discussed George Ella Lyons poem, “Where I’m From” and then written their own.
So many years later, I wrote mine.
Where I’m From
I am from wide open spaces,
from endless horizons and Oklahoma skies.
I am from dancing lessons on Main Street.
(Pirouettes and plies
and a shuffle ball change,
it felt like Broadway.)
I am from faith and gratitude, peace and hope.
I’m from banana bread and books,
from Sharon and David.
I’m from “Treat people how you want to be treated”
I’m from “I can do all things
through Christ who strengthens me” and
“When you know better,
you do better.”
I’m from Ada and George, Catherine and Ed,
many more books and second-hand shopping.
From lifelong friendships
and hometown happenings,
hard work and hellos.
From mistakes and heartaches
Turned pages of my history
bookmarked to guide me
through the next chapters of
my unwritten future.