Month: March 2016

Apple Pie and Cigarettes: On Abstinence

Kristie called me just outside Hunstville, Texas, the prison town that executes more inmates per year than any other in the nation.  We shot the shit as my fingers twitched in that familiar motion, and my body lurched for the end of the day.  I just needed to sing pretty one more night, then my body was my own again to self destruct, a glorious roll of lung cancer and ash seeping in and up to quiet the part of my brain that says I need, then yells at me for giving in when I do.  My gums ached with the smoke as I envisioned tooth decay from the inside out.

“I have an eating disorder,” Kristie said abruptly, “Not like anorexia or bulimia or anything, it’s just that I can’t stop, I am…”

And I finished her sentence with her.  A flood of last Sunday morning’s binge of popcorn with melted cheese and a fork– my secret eating– flashed into my brain.  My hankering for a cigarette turned into a yearning.  My lungs ached, my throat hurt.

“…a compulsive eater.”

What else have I been suppressing with my decade-long love affair with smoking?  A clear voice on the other end of the line–

“Everyone’s struggle with abstinence is the same,” she said.


Weight Watchers and Curves and homemade apple pies and early mornings at the track and fresh baked bread and long sighs of disappointment as she stepped on the scale.  My mother’s struggle with the love of food vs. the way she wanted her body to look was passed to her from her mother, and as much as we fought it, has passed down to her daughters, too.  It’s not my mother’s doing.  It’s not the sole responsibility of our skinny obsessed culture, either.  My fingerprints were not the only ones found in the icing the next morning after everyone was to be sleeping.

Because everyone’s struggle with abstinence looks the same.


We had only stepped out for ten minutes or so, just enough time to see the new house she and her husband had been building next door, and for me to confess to Jessica that I had again fallen in love.  When we stepped back inside, not only had my 97 pound dog managed to pull the Tupperware bin of dog food that was not hers from the bottom shelf of the coffee table, but had also managed– without a tooth mark– to pull back the snap latches, remove the lid, and eat over one half of a 40 pound bag.

We induced vomiting.

We walked it off.

We spent days of her moaning back in Nashville on a soft bed with a fan pointed squarely at her to ward off the discomfort.

“Like mother, like dogger,” I said to Jessica.

Because everyone’s struggle with abstinence feels the same.


It was behind the Church of Christian Science on the tailgate of my yellow truck, accompanied for good measure with my pal, Phill, and justified by the theater.  How was I supposed to know how to direct a couple of Christian College Freshman on how to look “natural” smoking when I, myself, had never partook?  It was art.  It was college.  It was necessary.  And so, ordering the “slimmest, most feminine young person cigarette, please” from the gas station, where my ID was scrutinized over twice, I found myself at the beginning of a decade.  This decade would have me playing out roles of early-morning-thoughtful-coffee-and-cigarette artist, late-night-drinking-bourbon-and-talking-theology 20-something, long-drives-between-states-with-moody-music traveler.  All justified by theater.

I recently attended a reading in which the author described the act of smoking being that after the first cigarette of the day, you spend each consecutive cigarette trying to recapture the feeling of the first.  And now, ten years later, I am still trying to capture the feeling of 19, 20, 21, 22…

I made a promise that I would smoke no longer than a decade, and I’m running right up against the rails.  With 30 less than a week and a half away, my mostly-on-again-sometimes-off-again relationship with smoking is coming to a blazing halt.  And despite the 2AM panic attacks of emphysema and the dull aches in my head and lungs, I persist to smoke more than I have in the past year.

“Pre-binging,” Kristie said, as I confessed to her just a couple days ago. “When you know the diet is coming, so you eat as much as you can to pre-reward yourself.”

I told my Someone that it’s not so much quitting, as agreeing to spend this decade being quit– that we can pick it up again for our 40’s.

Because everyone’s struggle with abstinence goes the same.


And maybe that’s where the sympathy comes in.  Maybe that’s where I find myself a little less angry at my ex-husband’s late night rants and stumbling to bed.  Maybe this instance of vulnerability and fear of parting with my long-time friend, who had kept me company through my ugly divorce and my new spackled marriage, helps me see that his long-time friend– not burnt down, but drunk down– has a hard time leaving, too.  And it may not all look like digging food up from the garbage or testing the limits of lung cancer, but everyone’s struggle with abstinence is the same.

Drinking Like Dogs: On Gideon’s Army and Fitting In

I could only assume that the criteria was the same for God’s as it was the Gideon’s, and I was doing my best to avoid both as I gulped down water, alternating each night between cupping it in my hand and slurping it straight from the faucet.  It wasn’t unwarranted: repetition taught me that even if I wasn’t marching in infantries or riding in Cavalries or shooting artilleries, somehow my draft card was perpetually up for the Lord’s Army– this at a time when my ten-year-old self was secretly discovering my pacifistic tendencies.   And now, due to an alarming amount of overly sodium preserved prepackaged garbage I ingested on a daily basis, I found myself one foot on the bus to boot camp each night at 2AM as I hung over the sink trying to remember if it was the men who drank like dogs, or the ones who brought their face to the water who were chosen by God for Gideon’s Army.  When my memory wasn’t fluctuating, my allegiance was, so this night, I drink from the cup of my hand, tomorrow I drink from the faucet…

…and the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself, likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.”  And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water.  Then the Lord said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.  Let all the other people go, every man to his place.” *


This consistent, middle-of-the-night thirst became my gauge into adolescence and teenage.  My brother joins the Air Force: I lap from my hand.  I get shamed in front of my friends by a church leader: I sip from the faucet, letting the water run down my cheeks onto my pajamas.  My spiritual temperature flared and fainted, and the cool water quenched it regardless.  And, then, whether it was the grown up thing to do or my conscience caving or learning from my hangovers, the Gideon Drink, as I started shelving it, was replaced by the question-less, quiet cup of water on my bedside.  This glass never asked me if I was for or against the Devil or God or the Midianites or the President, it just asked if I was thirsty.  And with the addition of bourbon to my potato chip addiction, the answer was always, Yes.

I stood with the dog lappers in most cases.  Or at least with the dogs.  And most of the time, it didn’t carry me overseas to fight an entire nation with 299 of my closest lapping dog friends.  Mostly, my tendency to hang with the dogs kept me furthest from the line of fire, particularly during Deer Season.  My easily wounded heart throbbed unexpectedly each year as both of my parents, my brother, and my sister woke early on those cold 5AM mornings, head-to-toe in blaze orange and camouflage.  When the last door latched behind them, our three bird dogs and I settled in for a long morning of crafting with Popsicle sticks and listening for the gunshots to echo off the side of the Allegheny Mountains to our little cabin in the valley.  I consoled the three, read them Deenie and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, shared Ramen noodles, and threw the tennis ball as we waited for the first sign of hunter orange to come creeping out of the woods for lunch.  In the afternoon, we started again.  These are the dog days– my favorite days– the quiet, question-less days of locked-in freedom and setting my cup of water next to their bowls just to see what it was like to drink only with my tongue.


It was Bird Season I came to dread, when not just the people, but my animals friends, too, were called out to the front lines.  These are the days I drink right from the faucet.  These are the days that my cup remains on the table, not by the dog bowls on the floor.  These are the days of being sent home alone.

I don’t want to go to war, not against Midianites or demons or ruffed grouse or anybody.  But I didn’t want to be left out of the pack, either.  This brought a considerable amount of confusion in years of hearing preachers regard the dogs with an emanating disdain, withholding food and pearls and things we lapping dogs love from us just because of how we sip our water.  We are good enough for Gideon, but not good enough to eat anything but the crumbs under Jesus’ table.

These days, with what’s been served, I think I prefer to be under the table, anyway.  But I’m not alone.

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Last November, when a javelina attacking our dog turned our short visit to a long stead at my Someone’s Aunt and Uncle’s home in Mesa, the three of us– plus a lab named Sam– dog piled in the living room as we waited for Butter’s wounds to dry up.  The waiting brought long visits of short moments as we settled into a pattern together.  Aunt Margaret made no indication that her life had been disjointed by the ragtag troupe in the living room.  Instead, she bought us bread that we could eat.  She boiled the water for coffee.  She asked us questions and said kind words and let us cook her and her family dinner, too.

The day before we left, packed and cleaned and on the mend, we sat present and talking– Uncle, Aunt, Someone, me– when Aunt Margaret walked casually to the kitchen faucet, turned the water on, cupped her hand, and drank quickly like a member of Gideon’s Army.  From there, she didn’t haul off to battle, she just returned to the pack, and resumed her poised, kind presence at the table.

I don’t know what it means to be part of an Army of any kind.  I’m not sure what it means if I drink like the dogs, or even drink with them.  But I do know that if Aunt Margaret is on that march, I am happy to be in the company of my comrades.



* you know, the Bible.

Theories of Being Rich: On Carrying Everything All at Once

I have a friend, he has a theory about the things that people carry.  It’s that the poorer you are, the more bags you carry– your extras of cameras and computers and phones and the ways that expensive new technology consolidation is unaffordable.  But those who are rich carry only one sleek appliance to do it all.  Those who are really rich hire someone else to carry the rest.

He’s been right, except in matters of love.

Because in matters of love, when you are full and rich with it, you are carrying more than you have ever carried; all of the person you can’t help but to carry all of, because you are in love.  And the poverty of love is carrying none of the person you love at all.

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So heavy with love, I am.  And I am so happy and sad to carry it all.

But I keep carrying, because I am rich with the stuff.

(I am a bag lady of love with him).

Punchlines: On Loving and Being Loved

My Someone’s name is on both of my marriage certificates.  Both times, he is the best man.


This fact we laugh about with our friends two months, two weeks, one week away from the weekend my Someone and I decided to allow the government to acknowledge us as a united, functioning single organism.  But then, when the weekend is beginning, and our best pals from the other town we call home begin to trickle in to the first town we call home, we don’t laugh about my Someone’s promotion from Best Man to best man.  Instead, we laugh for the happiness that tickles our bellies.  We laugh for the bourbon that fills our cups.  We laugh for the secret wedding that will take place on Leap Year Day that will finally set the history books straight.

Those creaky jokes of second husbands, those awkward words of remarriage– we swallow them all weekend.  And then, we forget to say them at all.  I’m not forgetting where the jokes are from.  I am not jumping on board with evangelical ideas of second virginity.  I am just choosing that our story is not built on what I did wrong, but what we are doing right.


The first time I had a conversation with my first husband, I approached him in the dark.

“My last two exes drove Jeeps,” I said, as he loaded his things into the back of his Cherokee.

“Let’s make it a third,” he said back.

And then, in a few long and short years, we did.

And I’ve been chasing everyone to the punchline ever since.


With my Someone, we fell in love loudly, but we kept it to whispers.  We stepped lightly with loud jokes.  And then, as we rolled into one, the jokes became crutches and the crutches became apologies.  I became a hobbling comedian, too happy to keep from going on, too frightened to leave my mistakes.  So when I reworked the punchline to my future mother-in-law, there wasn’t any laughter left.

“I know that I am a hard sell to this family,” I said.  And she nodded.  It wasn’t an agreement.  It was an audience waiting for the laugh track to cue.  But there wasn’t a laugh track, because there was no longer a joke.  There was just a hobbler heaped with a hope that the joke was over.

I spent the next couple months wondering where the laughter turned to a cringe.  Where the funny story became a regret.  Where I had become the sad counterpart to a perfect partner.

On the day after Leap Day, we sat with our remaining friends.  A balloon flower bouquet and a few candles held vigil of the perfect day.  I recounted my apology to my future in-laws, and tried to formulate a new joke of how my Someone was easy to love.

“Compared to who?” Jessica said.


This is why we instinctively held our tongues all weekend.  This is how I stopped hobbling: compared to no one.  My Someone is so easy to love.  And then, as she turned back to the pan on the stove, I heard what I had hoped anyone would say each time the jokes were made–

“I think you are incredibly easy to love.”

I am.

And now, my Someone and I are so free to love and be loved.  And we will choose to refrain from the punchlines lest the punchlines become ourselves.

Except maybe for the funniest jokes.

What Carl Says: On Never Fighting

Together 41 years and married 37 of them.

“I don’t know why anyone would do it more than once,” Carl told me.  And then, with a fresh silence, we stood there looking at one another, the memory of my last song’s introduction sinking in–

“Here’s one I wrote about my first husband.”

“We made a pact,” Carl continued, pushing past it, “that if one of us decided we wanted to leave the other one, we would have to kill ’em before we moved on.”

“Oh. Sounds hard.”

“I can count on one hand the number of times we fought in those years of marriage,” he finished, proudly.

“Thank you for coming tonight,” I said.


My Someone told me later that for 36 of the 37 years, Carl’s now-late-wife was dying.  Something in the kidneys.  So they spent their time never fighting and always loving and, now, on this side of it, can tell a couple of newlyweds that there is a bar, and that bar is themselves.

I told my Someone that it was unfair– that it would be easy to always love and never fight when your partner is dying.

Two beats.


“But we are both always dying.”