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BY suzy

10/01 Direct Link

“Why can’t I find a girlfriend?” her brother asks plaintively. “Because you’ve either done them, or you don’t want to,” she answers, opening her email. She figures it’s okay to have personal calls at work as long as she’s working at the same time. She has a talent for typing one thing while talking about another. Sometimes she wonders if that makes her psychotic. Memories of her bi-polar mother flit across her mind. I sure hope the crazy gene doesn’t catch me, she thinks, saying “Want me to fix you up with someone?”  

10/02 Direct Link

The thing is, you kind of have to have people set you up when you live in the country. As his sister so elegantly put it, you've either done them or don’t want to. The available pool of girls has pretty much dried up.  Most of his friends have imported their girlfriends or wives from the city, like hunters venturing on safari to bag an exotic species. When he’s in the city, though, the beautiful girls all seem conceited and unapproachable. Maybe you just can’t look that good without knowing it. Maybe the knowledge is personality poison.   

10/03 Direct Link

He had a girlfriend for a couple of years. They lived in his drafty wooden shack, lit fires in the winter, gardened in the summer. They went camping, winter and summer, even though his sister said that the way he lived was already like camping. She never got used to the composting outhouse or the outdoor shower. She claimed that most girls would find the sanitary arrangements a deal-breaker, though he pointed out that his girlfriend could handle it. “We’ll see,” his sister said annoyingly. She turned out to be right. The girlfriend ultimately moved to New York.     

10/04 Direct Link

Then there was the casual friend-with-benefits. That went on for years, sometimes to the detriment of other relationships.

 “I don’t see why I can’t leave Friend's kid with my girlfriend – if I had a girlfriend – and go camping with Friend,” he said.

 “That’s why you don’t have a girlfriend, “she said, trying not to laugh. 

 “I don’t see what the problem is,” he protested.

 “The problem is asking your girlfriend to take care of another woman's kid while you screw her in the woods. That’s the problem,” his sister replied, exasperated.

 “Oh.”   

10/05 Direct Link

Eventually the friend with benefits faded away. She decided she was gay and her new girlfriend, not surprisingly, did not enjoy her new girlfriend spending time with an old boyfriend.  The old boyfriend, of course, found this unenlightened and unnecessary, complaining to his sister about how possessive and unreasonable women were.  Where was the trust? Where was the love? Can’t we all get along? His sister couldn’t believe how naïve he was sometimes. Could he really be only three years younger than she was? And could he really have learned so little in twenty years of dating?      

10/06 Direct Link

“If I wanted to get married, he said, “I’d just go with that person to the desert and stay there until we felt married. No dress, no fuss.”

“Again, I have to say that finding a willing participant is going to be a challenge.”

“Anything good is a challenge.”

“There’s challenging, and then there’s challenged.”

“Not every girl wants a big, poufy dress, you know.”

“Maybe not, but most of us want our friends and family at our wedding. It’s kind of the point of the whole thing.”

“They’d be there in spirit.” 

“Uh huh."    

10/07 Direct Link

“Wow. What’s with the beard?’ she asked. She was visibly surprised.

He said, “Well, I’m so baby-faced. It makes me look older. Anyway, it’s a goatee.”

“Didn’t you get offended when someone said you looked ‘weather-beaten’?”

“Well, yeah, but everyone’s always telling me I’m baby-faced.”

“A weather-beaten baby,” she laughed. 

 “You’re really not funny, you know. Did anyone ever tell you that?”

She considered his ruddy face, blazing blue eyes, and blonde hair.

“You know what?” she exclaimed. “You look just like Hulk Hogan!”

“You are such a bitch.”    

10/08 Direct Link

She flopped down on his bed. “Oh my GOD!” she yelled.

“What?”

“What? What? What do mean, 'What'? What’s with the rock bed, dude?”

His bed had absolutely no give to it. She thought her spine would shoot out through the top of her head.

“If you had a broken back, you’d have a hard bed, too.”

“Not this hard.”

“I need it that way. Sit somewhere else if you don’t like it."

"Where? The floor?"

"Might be softer," he sniggered.

“Well, if you ever get arrested, the bed in the cell will seem just like home.” 

 

 

 



 
 
 

 

 

10/09 Direct Link

“I can tell you from personal experience that jail beds are less comfortable than my bed. At least I have a featherbed. There are no featherbeds in jail.”

“What were you doing in jail?” she asked, petting her brother’s ancient, almost toothless cat, a retired killer turned cuddle bug.

“Waiting to get out,” he laughed.

“Ha ha,” she said. “Seriously.”

“Remember when Rob and I stole that car when we were fourteen?”

“Uh…no.”

“Well, we did. And Dad let me spend the night in jail. He thought I’d learn something.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah. Don’t get caught.”  

10/10 Direct Link

“How did you break your back?” she asked, opening a bottle of wine.

“Fell off a mast,” he replied, turning on the radio and taking out the chopping board. He had one for garlic and onions, and one for everything else. 

"You fell off a mast?”

“Yeah, when I was working at Hyde Street Pier. The funny thing is, I couldn’t find anyone to cover for me, so I just kept working. Later, they told me at the hospital that if I’d gone to bed I would have been paralyzed. Pass me the garlic, wouldja?”

“The funny thing?!”   

 

10/11 Direct Link

“Don’t you remember I kind of walked funny at your wedding?”

She reflected, going through a mental rolodex.

“Not really. But I had other things on my mind.”

“I bet. I went to see a doctor while I was there and he said the same thing.” He paused, looking suspiciously at the jar in her hand. “Is that mustard?”

“No…”

“No.” He stopped stirring to look at her. “OK, yes. Yes, it is mustard. Call the police.”

“I’ll call the food police.” 

“It’s only a bit. You won’t even taste it.”  

“Then why put it in?”   
 
 
10/12 Direct Link

“It’s amazing how picky we are about food,” she mused over dinner.

“It’s true,” he agreed, pouring wine into their glasses. “You won’t eat beef or pork.”

“You won’t eat mustard or mayonnaise, you freak. What do you put on sandwiches, anyway?”

He ignored her question, saying, “Well, at least we agree that dairy products, other than cheese and ice cream, are totally gross.”

She nodded. “Also, fungus.”

They both shudder at the thought of mushrooms. “I’ve always thought mozzarella was the vanilla ice cream of cheese,” she said. “I mean, what’s the point?”   

10/13 Direct Link

Sometimes she wondered if their adult eating habits were cause or effect.

They’d had to eat everything on their plates. Even when the plates contained something repellent, like Brussels sprouts.

Her way of dealing with the nightly horror of drinking milk was to hold her breath, swallow it as fast as possible, and then eat something immediately to remove the milk slime from her tongue.

This backfired once, when the milk had turned and she was halfway finished drinking it before she noticed. She swore she’d never drink milk again once she grew up. And she hasn’t. 

10/14 Direct Link

After dinner, they sat in the hot tub he’d made from a huge old wine barrel and listened to an old radio play starring Vincent Price.

The sky was bright with stars, so many more than she could see at home in the city.

“There's millions of stars!” she sighed extravagantly.

Vincent Price was being trapped in a lighthouse by a horde of rats.

“There’s the same amount as there are in the city. You just can’t see them there because of the light pollution.”

“I wouldn’t want to be Vincent Price in about ten minutes.”   

10/15 Direct Link

“I really wish you had a bathroom,” she sighed, putting on his rubber boots and wrapping herself in a sweater. “I hate peeing in the woods, especially in the middle of the night.

You need a flashlight, there’s always some creepy noise, and then I always end up peeing on my feet.”

“You have to work on your technique,” he laughed.

“Easy for you to say. When you’re a boy, the world is your toilet. If not your oyster.”

“Well, girls get boobs. It’s a fair trade-off.”

“I’m so glad I’m wearing your boots.”  

  

10/16 Direct Link

When he and his girlfriend were fighting often, he promised to add a bathroom to the shack. He roughed in the floor and had even bought the plumbing supplies when she said she was moving out. Not only moving out, but moving across the country. It was like she was making a point of moving as far away as possible while still remaining in the United States. She refused to reconsider, even when he showed her the plumbing supplies.  Which still remain, rusting in the grass, under the platform of the bathroom that never was. Forgotten by everyone but me.   

10/17 Direct Link

It’s never as simple as plumbing, is it? Or the desire to live in a city of eight million people instead of an isolated burg of three hundred? You always think you’ll know the moment your relationship goes sour, becomes irretrievably broken. Or at least that you’ll hear the creaking or feel the bruise. Instead, you look back from the shambles you’re currently living in and try to pinpoint that place where it all went wrong. But you never can. At least thinking about the past stops you from thinking about the future. If there is one.  

10/18 Direct Link

“Why don’t you and Husband come up for Christmas? Get away from the city, cut down a tree? I made some cider this year.”

She shifts nervously next to him in the car. She notices all over again how dark it is in the country at night. 

“Well…we’re – we’re breaking up.” Her voice catches in her throat and she looks out the widow.

“Oh, man,” he says, putting his arm around her, drawing her close. He doesn’t say another word, and she keeps her head on his shoulder for the rest of the long drive.  

10/19 Direct Link

She spends the next month with him, helping with their difficult, aging mother who is battling cancer in her own way. This includes eating nothing but candy and ice cream, and insisting on treatments while denying that she’s sick. A nurse refused to perform chemo on their mother, who was in such a fragile state, and was almost fired.

They go to the hospital to sort out the drama. Every time they enter the hospital, her stomach clenches at the smell, a combination of stale cafeteria food, disinfectant, and fear. She doesn't think she'll ever get used to it. 

10/20 Direct Link

All those Lifetime TV movies are wrong. The terminally ill do not become noble and self-sacrificing. They become more demanding and querulous. Yet another disappointment of adult life.

Their mother complains they don’t visit her enough, even though one of them is there every day. Some people, her brother points out, don’t have any visitors at all. Their mother is superbly uninterested in this, her only concern being herself. Some things never change.

“Don’t leave when I fall asleep,” she orders. “I hate waking up to an empty room.”

So they take turns watching her sleep.   

10/21 Direct Link

Their mother has beaten the odds. She’s been fighting cancer for seven years now. One of the many things that are dfferent in real life than they are in the movies is that doctors don’t say “You have six months to live.” They don’t give you any idea how long a patient has. You just have to wait and see.

For the past three years, their mother has lived with her brother in his tiny house. He has weathered this better than most. Sometimes she feels guilty. But mostly, she feels relief.

She can never tell anyone.   

10/22 Direct Link

At least three times, their mother has been pronounced to be on death’s doorstep. She bounced back, and each time, it is called miraculous.

It’s surprising how much doctors don’t know or won’t tell.

Two weeks before her death, she insists on having chemo. “I’m a cheerleader for my patients!” says the oncologist. They stare at her in disbelief.

Their mother refuses to admit she’s dying, but she has animated conversations with her parents, who died thirty years earlier. It’s surreal to watch her carrying on these one-sided conversations, animated and happy.   

10/23 Direct Link

They are both there when the end comes, on a bright August afternoon.

It’s not as dramatic as they expected. Nothing about this long, painful process has been the way they expected. So they should have expected it.

There’s no Victorian death rattle, no last words, no significant glances or gestures as she literally passes away. Her last breath is as unremarkable as the breaths before it. They only realize she’s gone after a few minutes.

They gaze at their mother, so small in the hospital bed. Her deep eye sockets are more pronounced than ever. Gone. 

  

10/24 Direct Link

Their mother’s death, they find, is easier to bear than their father’s had been, two years earlier.

Their mother’s death had been a long journey, their father’s a sudden shock. Their mother had abdicated most of the parenting to their father when they were babies. Losing him sent their world out of orbit. Losing their mother was almost a relief. They were glad that the suffering was over. Her capacity for enduring pain was astonishing.

She wondered if her mother could have been saved if she had just admitted to the pain earlier, gotten help sooner.     

10/25 Direct Link

The call came early in the morning. No good news is delivered at 6 am, and from that time onward, whenever the phone rang late at night or early in the morning, she steeled herself for disaster.

She hung up in shock, remembering how her father had slowly slid to his knees as he received the call telling him of his own father’s death.

It was the first time in her life she had ever seen him cry.

Now she had to tell her brother that their father was dead.

She thought, “Let him sleep.”  It was her gift.

10/26 Direct Link

It was time to go.

She picked up her bags and walked down the stairs to the waiting taxi. It was so early in the morning that it was still as dark as night.

As the cab drove through the dark city, she marveled at its beauty, as she always did. No matter how long she lived there, its beauty always took her breath away. Even at a time like this.

She rang the doorbell and her brother stood there, bag in hand. He looked over her shoulder at the breaking dawn and grabbed her hand.

“Let’s do it.”   
10/27 Direct Link

Jet-lagged and shell-shocked, they go to get coffee. Anything to get them out of their father’s house. Their stepmother is hysterical.

As they walk toward the village, familiar to her and unfamiliar to him, who rarely visited, her brother looks around.

As they wait to cross the street, he observes, “You know, there no good-looking girls around here.”

She can’t help laughing. 

“Yes, well, you’re spoiled by California girls,” she replies.

“They don’t write songs about ‘em for nothing.”

“I think Princess Diana and Kate Winslet are about as good as England gets.”   

  

10/28 Direct Link

Back home, things are not normal. She thought that when she got home, everything would be all right. Instead, she wakes up every day and remembers all over again. The grief almost suffocates her. She’s like a zombie.

“I got halfway to work and had no memory at all of getting there,” she tells her brother.

“I had the same thing when I drove to the store yesterday. I couldn’t remember what I wanted, so I just went home again. I don’t think I ever remembered.”

“It’s never going to be better, is it?”

“Not really.” 

10/29 Direct Link

He shows her the site of last summer’s wildfires. She is appalled to see how high the flames had been.

“Sixty feet high,” says her brother, pointing. “A wall of flames.”

Walking down the road, he points to another spot. “Here’s where we had to wrap ourselves in mylar blankets when the flames rolled right over us,” he says.

Tears spring to her eyes, imagining his peril.

“The fire was only about a quarter mile from my house,” he adds. “I was ready to evacuate.”

She throws her arms around him, in tears.

“What? Everything turned out okay."

10/30 Direct Link

As a volunteer fire fighter and EMS worker, he’s seen his share of horrifying car wrecks and other disasters. Once, he opened a car door and blood poured out. He pried a man out of a logging truck which had plunged 100 feet off a bridge, and the man survived. He’s rescued people from cliffs and the merciless ocean. Whenever he gets together with his fellow emergency workers, they swap stories like this which horrify civilians like her. But one thing they all agree on: suicide scenes have a certain feeling that no other does. They always know.  

10/31 Direct Link

Their lives have taken different roads, but the road has come full circle. She married, went to college, bought an apartment, had a good job, lived in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. He did none of those things, preferring a simpler life, off the grid and independent. Not many Americans could live the way he does, with no TV, power from solar panels, an outhouse, and water from a well he dug with his own hands. She now lives less than a quarter mile away. They may be different, but they’ll always have each other.