Other Bits

The Enya Tax

Originally written June 22nd  2020

Tonight I paid the Enya tax. I didn’t have to; I do it voluntarily to remind me of a particular time in my life. As a very young woman, on my own for the first time, I believed there was no such thing as a good guy. This was because of a great deal of trauma I experienced. I knew about lots of trauma from other women too. I was experiencing for the first time how the pain is still with you all the time even when the persons who caused the original harm are gone. To be honest I was in a tailspin of destructive behavior. I sought out harsh things, I drank too much, and I didn’t let anything touch my heart.

Then one day I met Mr. Right. Literally, his last name was Wright. He was the good friend of a friend. They were both guys I had met at punk and metal shows in a mosh pit. Both were decent musicians. Long haired, unacceptably weird, and exactly the sort of people I felt most comfortable getting a bit wild and destructive around. In short, my people.

One night after an evening of heavy drinking at a show I stumbled home in a cab with them to their apartment.We sat around talking about the show, dissecting the music while one of the guys made up the couch for me to sleep. Neither knew I played violin or that I knew anything about music. They both looked at me quizzically when I answered correctly "what key was that song in?"referring to the night's performer's original music. So I owned up to my fiddle playing and other musical experience.

Upon this discovery Mr. (W)Right ran to his room and returned with a mix tape he had made he wanted me to hear. Our mutual friend rolled his eyes and was shaking his head,"Not this again."

This guy, Mr. Wright, was literally the best looking man I had ever seen in real life. Long dark hair, tall, with perfect teeth and a warm smile which betrayed his otherwise carefully chosen cold vampiresque style. He was in two local rock bands with a stage presence that reminded me of David Bowie. I expected some obscure goth music or maybe King Crimson to come blasting from the hifi which took up an entire wall and place of pride in the tiny apartment.

It was Enya. Like a whole mix tape of Enya and Clannad. I was lying there on the sofa speechless when he asked me “So do you think you could play on some stuff similar to this?” I laughed and said sure and asked had he written anything. He pulled out notes, and tabs and scribbled sheet music from the coffee table, eagerly showing me.

I looked over, still wondering when the joke was coming. “So why do you like this stuff?” I asked, trying not to dampen his enthusiasm as Enya, which I considered the “woodland creature” elevator music of the day, played on.

“It’s like another world: another complete and different world from my own.” He looked up from his pages. “And that’s what I want my music to do.” He looked totally serious. “I want to make something so it’s its own thing - it is the mood maker.”

“So you’re willing to pay the Enya tax?” I asked. “The fact that literally every other musician will think you are soft in the head and a corny cheeseball,” I said rather teasingly.

“Yes, because I learn something different every time I listen to something I don’t understand.” He blushed. “Plus fuck what anyone else thinks.” 

Later, after we had all had many more drinks, Mr.(W)Right was tucking me into the couch when I tried to kiss him. He stopped me gently.“Oh you’re great, but I don’t do that.” He petted my head. “Kiss me when you’re sober.”

The next day they were both gone to their day jobs as breakfast cooks. I stumbled into the kitchen - pleased to see they had left me some coffee - and then to the bathroom where a note with my name in calligraphy was tied to a bottle of bubble bath.

“We cleaned the tub. Take a bath. And pay the Enya tax. The tape is rewound, just press play.”

So I did, and as I slipped into the bubbles holding my coffee I for the first time imagined really good men could exist and they might even be worth getting to know as more than just friends. I never did kiss him. But, literally every time I hear Enya or Clannad I think about him. And I still have the feeling the world could be filled with good people I haven’t met before who are worth knowing.

I still need to be reminded of that feeling from time to time. So thanks Mr. (W)Right, wherever you are. I hope you are out there happily making music that is its own thing.

Broken Ones

Originally written on April 17th 2020

I am tired, too tired to convince you that other people you don’t know have a life important enough that your shopping trip to a big box store doesn’t matter, nor does your fishing trip or ball game, or "right to gather."

I am tired, too tired to spend my energy and my words defending my position from the safety of my home while my nurse friends grieve for strangers who die alone.

I am tired, too tired to argue with anyone who thinks jobs and money are greater than the lives and well being of other human beings as bags full of bodies are cooling in trucks in my city because the business of death is stretched over capacity.

I am sick, too sick when I remember what death smells like, when I wish you could smell it too.

But the trucks are cold, too cold, just like you.

I am tired, too tired to try to save you from our sadness as the graves are being dug, as parts of life you have yet to know try to shout a warning to you, a warning you refuse to hear.

I am angry, too angry, and I think you should suffer and maybe die for your stupidity because you deserve to be six feet under if you can’t stay six feet apart.

I am ashamed, too ashamed when I remember you won’t die without some nurse, or a doctor, or a child, a friend, or your family crying when you pass, even in death you’ll take a toll on someone else. You'll be a scar on another's heart.

I am scared, too scared that you and people like you will make this last longer. My friend’s orphan children will grow up with you telling them how their parents’ lives didn’t matter if you survive the illness that killed them in their prime.

I am tired, too tired for this to last longer but I will not break with my resolve because I believe in love, not hate. We will not join your parade of selfish crime.

I am sad, too sad to hate you, to fear you, to hope for you, to argue with you, but it doesn’t mean I agree with you. You will not break me. You are the broken one.

Why can’t you stay home- you get the comfort of choosing to be safe. Why? 

You are the broken one.

You are lucky, too lucky because you haven’t had someone die.

You are careless, too careless if you don’t see why.

You are greedy, too greedy to let this time pass by.

You are foolish, too foolish to see the effects of your greed, your racism, your nasty self-appointed superiority.

You are the problem, the real problem with humanity.

I am tired, too tired to tell each one of you this every time you appear but I’ll say it this one time.

I'll say it this time, this time for solace, and solidarity.

You will not break me. You are the broken one.

The price is high, too high to let you risk us all.

My love is fierce, too fierce to forgive what you have done.

My memory is long, too long to forget who you are.

You are the broken ones.

Becoming One of the Sick

Originally written May 7th 2020

This morning I was struck by something I haven’t really let myself think about for a while because I get so angry. There’s a very big disconnect between people who have suffered chronic illnesses and/or survived serious illness versus the people who haven’t ever really been sick or had the threat of serious illness until now.

I can’t remember the last time I had a perfectly healthy day. But I do remind myself often how lucky I am to even be alive and not suffering as much as many do. I remind myself that I have been given the chance to continue surviving by using my mind and being careful with my body so that I can thrive, even in a continuous state of less than good health.

This new plague doesn’t just kill people. It makes some people permanently damaged and some people will never fully recover. Once your health is damaged that’s it, folks. You can heal sometimes but usually you just have to adapt to the new suffering. And health issues have a way of compounding themselves over time.

Sure, you say, you know that. Well, here’s something you might not know: the illness itself is less difficult to deal with than the people around you. When you are Sick (and we’ll capitalize it so it’s a group) you become a second class citizen. Truly, people view you as damaged goods, and/or they pity you. Some people even blame you for being ill as if you got that way because of something you didn’t do right. They pretend to care but truly most people can’t bear to even hear about what’s happening to you, let alone empathize or be helpful. You are a burden in the minds of most people whether they admit it or not.

Even some of the people you date will focus their opinion of you around your Sick status. Some of their mothers will hope you are a phase and not marriage material. Their friends will consider you too much baggage. People will applaud your partner(s) for being so kind because they are in a relationship with one of the Sick. And those are the nice people.

You'll have to try to hide your suffering most of the time - at least in the beginning - if you want a new job, new friends, or even a loan from a bank. Sick people are the last to get chosen if they are chosen at all. If you get that job you'll have to never take a sick day because your secret could come out. You'll work bone-tired everyday and spend large amounts of energy masking your suffering with pleasantries while you listen to often trivial problems of your co-workers. Your friends will complain about the sniffles or that massive hangover they have and you'll stay silent about shitting blood or the new strange stabbing pain you hope is a phase but darkly worry is the next fresh hell.

Eventually they will figure out you are one of the Sick. Then you'll have a whole new pile of pretending to do.

"You don't look sick" is one I get all the time with the implied "she can't really be that ill" in their mind.

People who haven’t been sick a day in their life will feel now is the time to impart their sage advice they read on the internet about your disease, or how some cousin of theirs did this thing so “you’ll be fine too” if you just do that. 

You don’t have to be one of the Sick. You could change it if you just do what they tell you. You have already tried and nothing really works because the truly ill can’t be healed by any amount of magical cures, prayers, yoga, pills, positive thinking, essential oils, and/or fancy diets. Sure, some of those things can help, but not cure.

You will wake many days only able to think about pain and about your shortcomings. Sometimes, you secretly wish to die so you don’t have to figure out how to live through all this.

But you find ways to cope. You find people who are kind and understanding. You commiserate with other damaged Sick people who want to survive. You let it be the new normal because you have no choice. You seek joy in the small things. You accept things you can’t do anymore and you search for new achievable things to make life full. Eventually, you come to understand that the healthy don’t mean to be so annoying and unthinking, they just can’t understand at all what it is like to be you.

If you are lucky the illness teaches you how privileged you have been; if it doesn’t you become a bitter sick old fuck that nobody gives a damn about and people are just waiting for you to die. But regardless of what you become - either a grateful, joyful person who makes the best of it or a sick, old fuck who is a horror to be around - you will not be the same again and many people will always view you as expendable and as "less than."

We, as a society, have made it a very long time, relatively speaking, since the last airborne plague affected the whole world. Those lessons from people who survived those times are being ignored because no one alive really remembers it. I guess the closest thing people might remember that compares is Polio. I am not really sure many people are around to talk about that either.

What we have left is people who are survivors of chronic illness to try to teach us how to view this situation. But, alas, it seems no one is listening to us because they view us as expendable and/or that we are just trying to make it safer for ourselves. How wrong they are! It hasn’t been safe for us for a very long time- we are just trying to prevent the rest of you from destroying yourselves and becoming one of the Sick.

I get insanely angry about how ungrateful people are for the health they do have. Many of us who are sick didn’t get a warning that this would happen to us. We didn’t get a CHOICE. You can choose to avoid this illness, at least long enough to have real treatments that could mitigate the extreme damage it could do.

I think almost everyone will eventually be exposed to this virus just as we are the flu, but if we can use our brains and be strategic about when and where that eventuality occurs the chances for survival and good health are high.

It’s not a choice only between life and death. Becoming one of the Sick is not something you want to choose because you need a pint, want to go shopping, go to a show, or want to go to a beach. You don't want to look back to realize that was the last time you felt good doing those things.

Please be careful out there. Use a damn mask and stay at least 6 feet apart, because 6 feet under isn't the only consequence.

I've survived this long under some very trying circumstances and it doesn't make me expendable because I am one of the Sick. It makes me useful, valuable, and most of all aware of how precious life really is even when it seems unbearable.

I am not Sick because of some shitty choices I made- though even if I were that doesn't mean I deserve suffering. Don't think that you can't become sick just because your health is good and you take zinc, eat well, and exercise. You aren't invincible and neither are your children.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane. This will pass.

Long Past Due

Originally written July 7th 2020

I used to work in a geriatric home with about 40 high care patients- most were grandparents. One of my favorite ladies was not a grandparent and had been single her whole life. After a year I came to know her very well and no one came to visit her the whole year, so I wanted to be there for this lady beyond the "care" aspect of my job.

She was so funny and kind under a grumpy surface attitude. She was 96 years old, living out her last days in a too-white and fluorescent lit tiny room, but she was sharp and engaged whenever I chatted with her. She used to try to get me to sneak her the half burnt coffee on her wing because she was forbidden to have any. I did it more times than I should have because she was convincing- always saying "at 96 if the coffee takes me that'd be an easy way to go."

One afternoon we were talking about her life before the home while everyone else was watching "Jeopardy!" in the next room. I asked her why didn't she have children or a husband, because in her day that was very uncommon. It had to have been a choice. She got silent for a few seconds and looked off distantly.

So I began to apologize and she shushed me. "No, no, girl I am just trying to figure out how to tell you the truth without making that spark of yours dampen." So I waited for her to speak.

"When I was a real little girl my father died in the Great War." I said how sorry I was.

"He wutten' very old- only 18. We didn't get to bury him. There wutten' any funeral just one of them supper things when everyone brings bad casseroles for a couple of days."

"My pregnant momma lost her baby from crying too much and my little brother died of flu. Then my momma's sister died of flu, the one who helped watch us when he was sick. My momma thought it was her fault. Two years later she killed herself because she couldn't understand why God had forsaken her." She had a tear streaming down her cheek. "She couldn't feed me or watch over me on her own but she couldn't live with giving me up." The expression on her face when she turned back to looking at me was one I had not seen- it was cold and hot all at once. "I lived in an orphanage until I was old enough to work on my own."

"When was this?" I asked, because it had never occurred to me someone could have lived through both wars as a young woman.

"Them was King Roosevelt days," she told me. That's what they all called him. Years later another extremely old lady I met used the same phrase about him.

"I was too poor to get anyone to like me- everybody was poor then but I wasn't the prettiest girl around neither. But when I was 27, becoming an old maid- like they used to say- I met a young fella when I got a job working as a cleaner at a hotel. I literally was becoming an old maid." She laughed dryly.

"He was a busboy. We was sweet on each other. We was getting married. Then he went to war against Hitler and he never came back. Germany took the only two men I ever loved."

"After all them hard years I decided I was better off not to get too close to anybody because they would die before me. And I could already understand how my momma felt when she killed herself and I didn't have no baby yet. 'Course I couldn't totally stick to that. Now I am 96 and everyone I've ever known is dead. All my friends passed on before me. I am the only one who remembers most of them, because you become friends with other people without kids when you don't have kids for some reason; not everybody, but most of my closest friends had no children or their children died before they did. Most of them I didn't get to tell them how much they mattered to me before they died."

It was the saddest thing I had ever heard. "I am sorry. I didn't mean to bring all of this up." I apologized. She was the funniest woman of all the people there so I was surprised by this deeply grief-filled past. I was a teenager; now I know it's all too common for the funniest person to have a tough story connected to their character.

"No, no, girl. It is good to remember them to you. It affected you- I can see that. You will remember them and me when I am gone too. You are that kind of girl. You'll survive just like me- I know I can always pick the ones that will make it. I went to work for the orphanage after that for 15 years before I became a nurse just like you are going to do. I always knew which little ones had enough fire to keep burning. Someday maybe you will tell everyone about me in one of them stories I always catch you scribbling on the evening shift when you are stuck in the hall with all these rotting old farts."

"Do you regret not having children or a husband?" I asked.

"Sometimes I regretted every breath I took. But no. Even with such a life alone, I made friends and things got better. I had a good life. A life of my mind and one with a heart still."

"Do you believe in God still?" I couldn't resist asking her because I had already changed my beliefs by then. "No, not really but as the preachers always say 'He must believe in me,' 'cause I am still here. I hope there is a heaven, but I am satisfied with the life I lived if there is not. Every day we get is a gift."

I wrote that conversation down that night on my break. I just found it as I was packing up my most prized journals this morning for our move back west. She was one of those ladies I have been lucky enough - as has happened many times in my life - to meet and be changed. So I thought it was long past time to share her story that I scribbled down more than 30 years ago.

Every single day we get to live is really a gift. I never knew I would understand her perspective so keenly as I do now. I hope you are all taking care to remember to tell each other how much the other people in your life mean to you, just in case you don't get a chance before they die. It never feels bad to hear it.

Much love to you all.

What lies beneath this stolen sea

The body of water formed of you 

and what was once me

Once together freezing in a forest lake

You like a river became me

Now our waves wash on unknown shores

With secrets I cannot keep

Flowing fatally to the dark stolen sea 

Tides of regret sink beneath the deep

Alongside the body of you and what was once me

Magic Always Has a Price

Everyday you wake me you growling monsters of the world

While I watch my friends struggle in despair

As I peek at you from behind my magic window 

How powerless I am, how weak I am to stop you from destroying our world

Sharing pictures to disgust and words of distress never balancing 

While others worship you from their magic windows 

Constant chatter and adoration

Endless hours sound the hum of a disgruntled singing monster’s aria

They become your priests, you growling greedy monsters

At sunrise raising a chorus refrain 144 characters lauds 

Singing straight through to a compline of capitalism

Consume, fume, and resume

If I matter so little why do you need to remind me constantly?

Why must I too sing your song of consumption?

I can not sing this song in harmony.

Everyday strangers and friends sing in despair about all you greedy monsters of the world

Screaming about you, your crimes, your plans to do more evil 

Making you grow bigger and bigger

Since you feed on our attention and our wasted energy

You roar back with poison that can reach us through your infected followers

Reminding me we are too weak to stop you all

As we peek at you from behind our magic windows

Why are you so loud? You don’t need to be. Why do you need to pretend?

Are you tricking me? 

What if there is some other voice you are trying to strangle?

With your acolytes and your magic windows

Maybe that voice is mine

And my friends too

Exhausted from singing the right song the wrong way

Everyday seems a step closer to the end of the world as we know it

This world of who shouts the loudest being worshipped by the many

Tricking me into weakness as I peek at you from behind the magic window

Maybe this world should end 

My song whispers to me

Maybe this is the wrong kind of magic, the window of the wrong world

Especially if everyday I must keep company with you growling monsters

Who peek at me from behind your magic windows

Maybe there is freedom in silence if my voice will go hoarse before anyone can hear me

Singing from the other side of your magic window

I want to talk about something else, sing another song, speak a kinder tongue 

But my friends can’t hear me because they are yelling too loud 

Like growling monsters under my bed 

With too many magic windows in their head