Month: February 2015

Broken Heaters: On Taking a Snow Day

This is the sixth day of the coldest part of winter in Nashville, and we have no home.  Our landlady says it will be any day now that she will make good on her promise to fix the heater that went out a week ago, but each day we are told one more day still.  Who can account for an ice storm in the south?  Who can predict a city transformed to abandoned cars and wandering zombie hipsters post apocalypticly scattered on every street?

A northerner, dumbasses.


Now we find ourselves huddled under the charitable roof of people who love us while the trees outside bend their tallest branches down in a seeming effort to replant somewhere warmer– like the molten lava we hope is in the center of it all.  A particularly malicious limb has already fallen and impaled the back window of one car, and every crack and rattle outside the tightly sealed front door takes us to the window to ensure another vehicle hasn’t succumbed to a similar end.  We are pacing longer strides as the days stretch, wild as circus tigers, waiting for our proper moment to turn on the ones who are caring for our misplacement.  Here, we are warm, the dog is fed and has friends, we can watch all the Netflix we want, we are fed and have friends… and we just want to go home.

I am the most ungrateful of beggars.


Being tucked away in a haven with enough elbow room for everyone, enough goodwill to go around the city twenty times twice, there is an element I miss more.  It’s not a nostalgia for the heydays of sled riding down Great Uncle Paul’s hill, making last second rolls to keep from oncoming traffic in the persistent neighborhoods of Western PA.  It’s not for hot chocolate or chicken soup from a packet mom added the right amount of hot water to, sipped from Strawberry Shortcake or Keebler Elf mugs printed with our names.  I don’t want to build a snowman or ride my bike around the halls.  I want fewer options.


One day, when the city falls into a coma of ice and danger, I want to heed the mayor’s urging to stay off the roads.  I want to pace less.  I want to not think about what I am missing, how a day of work lost is a bill less paid, how guilty I feel for wanting to spend the day reading.  I want to not think about how few these days are.  I want to not immediately scatter my brain to think of how best to use the time, and when the brain reconvenes, I realize it is 5 o’clock with my hands still wringing.


It seems I am already making a list for next time this happens, as the trees have not even started their dripping thaw.  Who can lay everything down for a day and sit still with the cold on one side of the window and a hot kettle on the other?  Who can stop their pacing long enough to remember the ice storm of 2015 as it is happening, instead of as a hopeful hindsight months down the line?

A southerner, you dumbass.


Insomnia: On Suffocating the Midnight Hour

I come from a long, healthy line of mild insomniacs.  My father, alert and awake by– what my mother begrudgingly informs me– 3AM.  4 on good nights.  Not a single hour was left unturned.  Our house, calm and dark and sure of itself on its hilltop perch each night, had the rattle and squirm of a termite infested doll, its eyes asleep while its inhabitants move to push through the seams.  Whether it was my brother on his late night Nintendo 64 addiction, or my father’s just-past-midnight toss-turns-to-WWII-mini-docs on the History Channel, my mother and sisters’ bathroom runs, or my own spark of 2AM inspiration that found me lamp on and awake with the pen and paper I kept religiously by my bed for exactly these divine moments.  I’m not sure a member of my family knew what REM cycles were.  And what we didn’t know may have hurt us, but we didn’t miss it.


The charade of early-to-bed-early-to-rise created a strange sanctity of sleep, more appropriately found in phrases like let-a-sleeping-dog-lie (which, most often, actually referred to our dogs), and don’t-poke-a-sleeping-bear (which always referred to our father snoozing in his La-Z-Boy, the only place other than church he seemed to get good rest).  These paired with mixed messages of you-can-sleep-when-you’re-dead (my adolescence) and you’re-going-to-sleep-your-life-away (my teenage years) birthed the confusing and guilty relationship I currently hold with the nightly slipping of consciousness.

Insomnia accompanied me most of my life, until the introduction of whiskey and Nyquil and late-night-early-mornings.  Never mind the years it had aided in journal scrawlings and half-writ songs and solutions to world hunger and decisions to leave home.  I could squelch that 3AM involuntary wake-up with the clink of a glass or an unproductive evening of late night shows I’m too embarrassed to watch during the day.  Post college, I was nearly ahead of the sleeplessness by several days.  By the time I got married a couple years later, I was sleeping through the night like a Olympic gold medalist of Snooze.

And then, like a good fairy, the night of my wedding, it returned.


When I opened my eyes to the beautiful Western North Carolina B&B at 2AM, my ankle throbbing from an attempt at ironic dancing at my reception, my brand new husband snoring next to me, and hours before a plane to our honeymoon, insomnia reached her thick wisp of a hand around my head.  We have some work to do, she seemed to say.  I had made a terrible mistake.

When the panic subsided, I respectfully submitted to her.  Whether I stayed or went would need to be decided between us, in those quiet moments between midnight and dawn.  She awoke me nearly every night, save those times on the road away from home, for the three years of my tumultuous marriage.  Early on, I was alone.  Even my dog learned to ignore the incessant 2AM pacing and 3AM research on Eva Braun.  I spent the time writing, willing myself to love the life I was in.  Later, the sleeplessness felt more like a defense mechanism, waking at midnight to escort my drunk husband back to bed.  In the last days, she stirred me like a cry from the crow’s nest, opening my eyes in my separate bed to find him hovering over me, angry, and waiting, the tiny room thick with whiskey vapors at 1AM.

When I moved in with my sister shortly after, I slept more than I was awake.  We had made it, and Insomnia moved to someone else’s wide eyes for a change.


I have resumed a very adult idea of sleep since.  I have come to terms that it is necessary, even though a comedy podcast once told me that scientists have no idea why we do it.  That not having enough is inconvenient.  That when she returns on nights like these, I should bitterly turn the pillow to the cooler side and punch it down for dramatic effect, to tell the universe that I am a functional human being that adheres to the natural light-and-dark-means-awake-and-asleep convention.  I tell myself I’ll be miserable in the morning without it.  I down another cap of Nyquil.

Whatever she is trying to tell me can wait til morning, I think.  But the quiet that lets the ears perk inward, that lets the heart tell the brain tell the body tell the heart in the should-be-asleep hours is vampiric in every way, waiting for my invitation and running for cover at the first hint of dawn.  I want to believe there is no healing left to be done in the midnight hour.  And as I kick the old bag out with still another cap of Nyquil or a healthy dose of nicotine, I realize I am ungrateful… but I’ll worry about that after I sleep…

Fingernails and Stockings: On the Anointing of the Sick

Roy died last Saturday night.

It was Superbowl Eve, as America seems to claim it, but I don’t think Roy gave two shits about a game.  He seemed to make his bets on the sun.  He dared it in the mornings when he would step on his porch, testing the sky with a squint, hands to his hips, and pulling up on his belt in the classic way that old men learn through some sort of private schooling mandatory at age 65+.  Then, “Hey, hey, hey, you two!” he would call over to our porch.  And I would respond with an, “Uh-oh, here’s trouble,” before he would laugh and we would enter into the meandering patter of weather-speak and how-do-you-do’s.  He would end with a prediction of the sun’s next appearance, or insist that we enjoy it if it was already there.  Then he would holler to our big, sunbathing dog who had stopped barking at him within two weeks upon our moving in– her personal best– before politely excusing himself inside while we smoked and enjoyed the sun.  Or waited for it to come when Roy said it would.  Roy always seemed to know when it would.

It was overcast all day last Saturday, and rained all day Sunday.  While the rest of the country was fixed to a screen, my neighbor friend lost his last bet on the sun.

As a kid, I envied the Catholics for their ability to fearlessly enjoy their lives with the knowledge that they were going to rot in Hell at the end of it for not being an Evangelical Protestant like me.  When Roy died, I envied those old Italian Catholic women of my hometown.  They had not only the precise baked rigatoni dish to transition the remaining through their loss, but an abundance of spiritual protocol to keep the spectators from pacing their house and peaking through windows to catch a glimpse of the grieving family next door.  I’ve been lately creeping through Christianity and Catholicism’s windows, looking with the same intention: How is it that you intend to deal with this mess?  I want those beaded necklaces and thick smokey incense and rote prayers I was taught to be afraid of.  The sort of things that make death everyone’s business, and not the heavy undertaking of one family behind closed doors.  Throwing in that damned rigatoni recipe would be helpful, too.


“Grandma’s going to need a lot more help like this,” she said, referring to herself in the third person.  I looked up at her from my place at the foot of her bed, where she had coached me on removing her sheer knee high stockings.  “She’s sick, you know.”  But I didn’t know.  Maybe I had caught the darkness moving in whispers and the bustling appointments my parents were keeping, but this strange announcement solidified in the act of aiding my grandmother with her night gown.  Our roles changed then, and my mornings spent reading her the same chapter in Matthew while I waited for sliced pickles would be transformed into requests for silence by hospice.  I was ten, and it was time to learn how to anoint the sick.

From what little I have gathered on this holy sacrament, I may be the least qualified to grant a clear conscience and good faith into the afterlife.  But I am also afraid we take on the anointment too late.  Maybe this lofty rubbing of oils and feeding of Jesus Christ’s body and blood is the reassurance we need before we fall into a forever sort of sleep.  Or maybe we also need the anointment of our granddaughter to help us get our stockings off our feet because the cancer is keeping us from bending over to do it ourselves.


My ex-husband’s grandmother was getting frail, and may be frailer still, now.  It wasn’t long after my own grandmother asked for that small anointment that she was sung out on the hymns of a hospice nurse’s memory.  Then, on the eve of my future-sister-in-law’s wedding, a tiny grandmother of no relation sat in front of me.  It was me, she decided, who would paint her nails.  I objected.  I complained of my unsteady hands and tomboy nature.  I nominated her daughters and her granddaughters.  But she was a firm, persistent woman, and I sat and painted an old woman’s nails into pearls as she instructed, long even strokes.  She may not remember it, or be alive to remember it, but I can recall her exact delight as she inspected my wobbly work as the-finest-I’ve-ever-had.  This particular anointment brings me one of my few regrets in leaving that marriage behind.  I hope when we recall the ways that others have anointed us when we are sick or unable, that we can forgive long enough to allow that anointment to pass through to whatever awaits us after this.

Maybe the anointment we wait for as we age isn’t something we wait to receive from someone holier than ourselves, but someone even smaller.  Maybe the anointment we need isn’t even something we have to wait for.  Maybe we need to ask for it– sooner, more frequently.  Maybe we make a practice of anointing those who are well on the off chance that they are really sick and not telling their smoking next door neighbors about it.  Maybe all the anointment anyone needs is to tell them when the sun is coming next.