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The No-No

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

September, 2012

While access to a computer had been a nicety in 2006; by 2011, it had become a necessity.

Not only was the computer the best way to research and plan travel, but it had become Niko’s main source of companionship apart from Hanna. Unable to work and frequently apartment bound, Niko had come to rely on their laptop for entertainment and as a portal to the outside world.

You know by now that Henry and I had thought about our computer situation in advance. We had agreed that it would be very difficult to deny Niko use of my laptop, especially after having previously given him carte blanche. We had also agreed that it would be best to do so.

For some reason—and I suspect some fuzzy-minded state of denial and avoidance—I had not connected the dots. If I had, it would have been evident that a month-long visit sans computer would pose problems for anyone visiting a major metropolitan area. For Niko especially, computer access had become crucial to his sense of wellbeing and mastery in a sometimes hostile and often overwhelming world.

Maybe you have had this feeling too…when one half of your brain, red faced and breathless, brandishes a red flag in your face; and the other half of your brain responds: “Strange weather we’re having. I feel all melty and mushy,” and then proceeds to the freezer for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s followed by a food coma and a dreamless sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat…with any number of diversions.

I knew, but did not want to let myself know, that confronting the matter of the computer with Niko head on would, at some point, necessitate my confessing that I had concerns beyond those related to the condition of my laptop.

To be blunt without being gratuitous: In 2006, Niko had had trouble sharing the computer with the 5 other people who wanted time. And he had used the family computer it in ways I believe most hosts would not condone.

Shortly after Hanna and Niko departed that year, our new desktop had (terminally) failed. I wondered if his habits had played a role. Realizing his activities had occurred during prodromal and illness states, it didn’t seem right to classify them as Bad Behavior. How much true choice had been involved? And thinking it unfair to blame him for the demise of the desktop without clear evidence, I hesitated to speak. I wasn’t mad at him, and I certainly did not want to shame him. He had been so worried that his psychosis had damaged our friendship. Yet, I feared the same things could happen again in 2011.

Niko is a highly-verbal, detail-oriented, analytical, intelligent, and intuitive man. And he is persistent. He is good at debating, and he never misses an angle. To engage him on these issues at all would have been to open the whole can of worms, and I was afraid he would catch me out.

Why did it matter if he did?

I’m not sure.

I harbored no ill intent. But I was young and unsure in my attempts to prioritize my family. I knew I was making a healthy change but Hanna and Niko were unaware. In some fashion, I felt disloyal. Maybe even sneaky. For the first time, I was putting the needs of Henry and the girls over those of my best friend–and by association, her husband.

This is all hindsight, of course. In the moment, one half of my brain was sending up frantic smoke signals while the other half was smothering them with plans. Layers of plans, which were to provide insurance against ever having to have this conversation.

This is the eleventh installment of The Story of Hanna, a story of friendship, loss, and aging. Please click here for installment ten. Installment twelve is here.

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Hypothetically Speaking

Hypothetically Speaking

What would you say if I told you….

It had been an exhausting day.

I changed out of my work clothes and into my shorts and t-shirt so I could get dinner on the table and take care of some (euphemism alert!) deferred housework. I was an itchy mess so I removed my glasses and stopped to splash cool water on my puffy eyes. Ahhhhh. Our area had had its rainiest June in recorded history, and I am allergic to mold.

Henry rolled in, exhausted as well. He had a meeting in an hour and wanted to eat something before he headed back out.

“Go ahead and take a quick nap,” I reassured him. “I’m just heating up last night’s leftovers, and I’ll call you in a little while so we can eat together.”

He made himself comfortable in his favorite chair, and it was lights out.

I reheated the salmon, couscous, and asparagus and set the table for two. We were empty nesters this week, and things were quieter than usual. I’d let Henry rest a bit longer since his meeting was close by. What else could I do to make his night a little easier?

His Father’s Day coffee! Of course! Our daughter Bec had given him a bag of delicious beans: Banana Nut Cream. Their only drawback was his having to work for every cup. Our electric mill had broken down years ago. We had never replaced it, and Henry disliked grinding by hand. I knew he would want a mug of coffee after dinner to get him through his meeting.

I like hand grinding! I love the aroma and the contemplative, tactile experience. Since I had a few minutes, I got our old wooden grinder down from the shelf where we display it. I miscalculated a bit in trying to funnel the upturned bag of beans into the mill, and the next thing I knew, beans were spilling in every direction.

The dog! I had heard that coffee is toxic to dogs.

I invoked the five second rule, dropped to my hands and knees, and frantically swept the beans into a pile. These beans were too special to waste. A little dust wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I sat down and started grinding.

The old coffee mill is a thing of beauty as well as a reminder of all the good times I shared with my German friend, Hanna. Her grandfather had owned two of them. After his death many years ago, she had given the best one to me and kept the other for herself.

I checked the clock. I still had time before I had to wake Henry. There was something soothing about this process. I decided I’d surprise Henry by grinding the rest of the beans and securing them in an airtight container.

Done!

Henry, grateful for the extra moments of rest, gulped down his dinner, grabbed his mug of coffee, and bounded for the car. I ate in peace, savoring the homey smells and gathering momentum to tackle the housework.

I was already in the kitchen, so I might as well start there. I cleared and wiped the table, washed the dishes, and wiped the counters. Time to sweep the floor. Daylight was fading, and I hadn’t yet replaced the missing bulb above the table. Hmm…where had I left my glasses?

I retrieved them from my dresser and returned to sweep. Now that I could see better, I realized I had let things get a little grungier than usual.

Oh. I had missed a handful of coffee beans. I swept them into the dustpan and was just about to dump them into the trash when I realized that a few of the beans were…mummified June beetles.

What would you say if I told you….

I have decided to cut out coffee for a while. Henry agreed that I seemed a little agitated at breakfast. I am sure the coffee is to blame.

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Credit for coffee bean image here.

Full Plate

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I created a rule for myself called “One Friend at a Time.” I had to.

This is one of the junctures. It’s one of the joints where Family Rules and The Story of Hanna dovetail. They lean against each other like a house of cards.

I have explained trying, and failing, to create closeness and safety within my family of origin. You can go back and read about it if you want but I’ll sum up here: I was never going to get everyone in my family to get along at the same time AND the effort was taxing AND I kept trying. Just call me Sisyphus.

This dynamic is one I have played out many, many times: finding, or happening, or arranging myself between two individuals–or as a hub for several–who then begin to relate to one another through me. I try to be all things to all people. I don’t do it on purpose. At this point, I have become so conscious of this trap that I rarely get too far into it before I smack myself silly.

I see my counselees doing this all the time: they unknowingly recreate their painful pasts in the hope that their story will eventually end happily. This madness even has a name: repetition compulsion. ‘Round and ’round and ’round she goes. Where she stops, nobody knows….It can’t be an accident that I sought specialty training in couples therapy. At least now I use my damage for good. And in most cases, we all get a better outcome.

Back to the rule.

I knew how to be a friend. That wasn’t the problem. I just had a hard time being friends with more than one person at a time. I sought one-on-one interactions because they were the safest. Being with one person made it less likely I’d disappoint, annoy, or get stuck in a triangle in which I had to manage more than one relationship at once. I do mean manage. Parties gave me palpitations well into my 30’s. I had to have a single neat box for each friendship. On my plate, the peas; carrots; and mashed potatoes weren’t supposed to touch. Mixing them could get too messy.

The best way to work the one-at-a-time method was to have only one really close friend. I took the title “best friend” as gospel. I had to find one person—Karen was my first best friend–and squeeze close enough so that we practically heard each other’s thoughts.

I don’t think I would have betrayed my family in any serious way; but in in day-to-day matters, I chose my best friend over my family every time. When Karen came over, I played cruel pranks on my sister and made rude gestures at my mother’s back while she stood at the kitchen sink. When Karen went home, I behaved differently. My conscience troubled me but my best friend thought I was funny; and securing her was paramount. I needed a sure thing.

Hanna was my last best friend. I am no longer willing to use that designation for anyone except my husband. I’ve retired her jersey.

I always said my husband was my best friend because that is what wives are supposed to say. I’m not sure I was completely truthful. Maybe I crossed my fingers behind my back because he was my best male friend and there was no competition.

Hanna and I had been “family” for over a decade by the time I met Henry, and it was as though we agreed to shove over a bit and make room on the plate. Did I love him? Yes! Did I want to want to spend the rest of my life with him? Yes! Did I want to have his babies? Oooooooh, yes! He was and is the only guy for me. But did I actually leave and cleave?

Well.

Yes.

It just took me decades to complete the process.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the trouble this hanging chad has caused. Maturity came late in this area of my life. I’m glad I’ve grown up a bit but the collateral damage has been considerable.

This post belongs both to Family Rules and The Story of Hanna. You can find the prior post in the Family Rules series here and the next post in the series here. You can find the prior post in The Story of Hanna series here and the next post in the series here.

The Brownie

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I am a very selfish person. I like to come and go as I choose. I prefer my own company. I readily ignore the needs of others when they bump up against my immense longing for solitude, my need for achievement; or when my ideals are challenged. I am deaf to your requests, and sometimes your cries. My heart is small and flinty. The Grinch and I are twins, separated at birth.

This does not bode well for a married mother of three.

How is it that you, my husband, and you, my daughters, have taken up residence in the largest chamber of my heart? You have warmed my blood and massaged life into that atrophied pump, transforming its creaks and clanks into chocolaty purrs. Your dwelling there causes me to declare war daily, such that each hard-won battle yields the gifts I want to give—or rather, want to want to give—but can’t. Yet somehow, I do. Again and again.

I give you my time; my sleep; my cooking; my cleaning; my chauffeur service; my presence, spoken words, listening ears, and comfort; my tutoring; my prayers; my tears; my praise; my privacy. I gave you things I didn’t even know I had given you: my makeup; my socks; my cds; my pony tail holders; my stacks of index cards; and apparently, my laptop. I gave you my belly, my breasts, and my shoulders. My bed. I give you my dark chocolate, and I just gave you the blueberries I had stashed at the back of the fridge. I didn’t even mind. At times I become tired and impatient but the struggle is well worth it. In the end, I am happy to give to you, whom I love so dearly; you, who have enlarged and softened my stingy heart. I can authentically say, most of the time: “These are gifts to you, freely given.”

Just don’t take my brownie.

Today I sat at the table after lunch, quietly contemplating my afternoon cup of coffee when you reached across the table, Hand. Thoughtless and confident, you slithered over to the lone brownie on my plate and began to pick at it. Four feet away sat a full plate of brownies, one of my gifts to you. You knew this. I watched your leisurely fingernails dig out a walnut and carry it away.

Startled by sudden rage, I felt myself begin to tremble. Scalding words rushed from my chest and poured out of my mouth. Words a mother should never speak to her child. Violence was discharged in one beat of that same heart.

Jesus.

If the Shoe Fits

If the Shoe Fits

If the shoes fits, smell it
You know you will

Do it

Grated Parmesan
Black truffle?

Inhale it

Dismiss the watchmen
Close your eyes

Embrace it

Children, take out your pencils
Draw lines to match

sweaty shoes                                          gin
stinkbugs                                                culantro
loaded diapers                                       oxtail soup
bananas                                                  fish sauce
Scotch tape                                             sex (says Barbara)
kids’ dirty undies                                  Parmesan
armpits                                                   kimchi

Stop playing dumb
You get it

Admit it

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