Thursday, May 31, 2007

People I Have Known, Part 1

Oh, you think I'm gonna rattle off a story about how I met Paul McCartney, or when I ran into Johnny Depp at the tatoo parlor or that time I got a letter from Stephen King when he was ass deep in writer's block.

No. Sorry.

Not to say I haven't met my share of famous people: Cesar Romero...Shaun Cassidy...Bozo the Clown. You know, the biggies.

But this is more about real people I've known. Real people are incredibly more interesting that Paul or Johnny or Stephen. Not that the famous aren't fascinating, but we only know them one dimensionally...or only know what they want us to know. I remember reading an article about Robert Redford, who, for my dollar is still one of the sexiest men on the planet, and he pays publicists to keep his name OUT of the paper. And while I do an inordinate amount of fantasizing about my fantasy men, I still have enough grey matter focusing on reality to keep me grounded.

For now. At some point, Barry Manilow is going to have to go into the Witness Protection Program. (oh, fine -- take aim. I like Barry Manilow....can we just get past it?)

Anyway, I started thinking about people around me and the stories that I've heard and probably shared when I shouldn't have. Rest assured, I've never broken the "Chick Code" but I have changed names to protect the innocent in search of a good community laugh.

I would like to pick a moment in the life of Aunt Bernie. Trust me, it's worth it...and I bet you've got one tucked away in your family closet.

Aunt Bernie was one of those very few women who actually scared me when I was little because her face reminded me of an alligator. Her jaw flopped open and closed as she related some new terrible event, like who stole her favorite teaspoon or that she was sure the guy who stared at her in line at the grocery store had a picture up at the post office. She looked ancient when she was 30. Life just didn't seem to be kind to her ever -- and she never tired of telling you about it. She never married....although my dad took me aside one day and said Bernie was kind of married to the bottle.

Anyway, the story goes that her niece Christie and husband Jack had invited her over to see their new house. It was right after they had gotten married, but the memory of 60 year old Bernie getting drunk at the reception and trying to seduce the 25 year old head waiter had faded in everyone's memory. (We all decided it was a good damn thing the kid had a sense of humor. We passed the plate between the whole family and tipped him $250.00 at the end of the night.)

So it wasn't a huge surprise when she perhaps "had a few to settle the nerves" prior to her visit to Christie's. Bernie believed alcohol cured everything. It was especially helpful dealing with: anemia, shortness of breath, night disturbances, headaches, chills, bad leg circulation, nervous jitters, urinary incontinence -- all of which she had and why she could attest to alcohol's miraculous healing ability.

But Aunt Bernie was one of those people who was unhappy drunk and unhappy sober. It was hard to tell when she'd had too much until she'd cross a line and start yelling out racial slurs or trying to seduce any man in residence. After all, she LIKED sex...and she didn't get it....but she wanted it....and why shouldn't she? She was a normal, healthy woman who liked sex.... and on and on and on. And on and on. At all family functions, we had a designated "Bernie driver" who was in charge of tossing her ass in the car and driving her home when she first uttered the words men or sex. Off she went. Yelling about the indignity of it all.

So basically, she's tanked and on her way to visit Christie and Jack when she ended up grazing a neighbor’s dog with her car. It was summer, everyone was outside and stood stunned, watching all this unfold. The poor little dog was injured and needed help but Aunt Bernie is three sheets to the wind and trying to back the car up so she can hit it again. She’s hollering out the window that she’s doing the humane thing, trying to put the dog out of its misery. Well, the dog is snapping to and trying to get its bearings. Fido knows it’s way smarter than the person driving the big, banana yellow Buick and it smells danger. People are now running at my aunt, running for the dog, running for the dog’s owner, running to Christie’s house, just plain running.

Jack eventually saved the day. He grabbed the dog as Aunt Bernie flew past him and just kept on going, oblivious to the fact that she was on her way to visit her niece and her husband when all this happened in the first place.

Yes, Aunt Bernie. Still alive, still drinking at the ripe old age of 90. We no longer celebrate her birthday, but the day they denied her a driver's license.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Issues Weighing On My Mind

Had an appointment today with my cardiologist. I have a great doc. A woman, a mother. I was telling her about my weight nightmare, and as she would like to see me shed about 20 pounds, has a vested medical interest in my tonage struggle. Well, she checked me out and gave me the thumbs up…which I was happy about. Then she started giving me that usual “doc talk” about coronary artery disease and weight and diet and exercise and my age and and and. I told her I was in total agreement. I told her diet and exercise issues interrupt my sleep patterns most nights. I told her there probably isn’t anyone in this galaxy or neighboring ones that has those issues foremost on their minds more than I do. I have created and nurtured a whole new angst over weight and diet that would cripple some.

Well, my doc (who’s about 115 lbs and about 5’5”) sighed and put down the white coat and stethoscope. Here’s what she told me.

“I had weight problems when I was younger too. I was a doctor, worked full time, had small children. I struggled to watch my diet, and absolutely never had time to exercise because of my schedule and the children. I truly didn’t start effectively exercising until my kids were in college. So what I’m telling you is: I understand what you are going through. I wish I could make it easier for you. But for now, just practice moderation in your diet. As for exercise, stop beating yourself up and worrying about it. Worry isn’t going to help you. Just try to do small things. Take the stairs. Go for a short walk at lunch. Park farther away at work. Move every day and be proud of the small things you do.”

But what about the new Food and Weight Loss Pyramids released by the government last year? 90 minutes of exercise a day to LOSE WEIGHT??? I'm not kidding. Did you see what they say about Weight Loss? Here:

“Exercise at least 30 minutes a day to reduce the risk of chronic disease. (okay. I can understand that.) Increase to 60 minutes to PREVENT weight gain. (just PREVENT? I’m starting to sweat now.) Increase to 90 minutes to lose weight or keep weight off that you have lost. (like 90 minutes A DAY? 90? 9 – 0 ?)"

My head is swirling and my brain hurts.

They are saying that every day, every single day, I need to find 90 minutes to exercise in order to shed unwanted pounds. I can barely find 90 seconds in my day.

And I am totally at a loss to decode the Food Pyramid. You need a PhD in mathematics to make any sense of it -- there are like 12 different color-bar-coded Pyramids and an accompanying 1000 page manual. Can't we just go back to: Meat/Dairy/Fruits and Veggies/Fat?

My doctor smiled and patted my hand. “Just try to do small things to take care of yourself…..and stop worrying.”

After I left her office, I had to sit in my car in the parking lot and ruminate, ponder and generally think. Don’t worry? If I stop worrying, won’t I create some kind of vacuum, which nature abhors, and end up the cause of the universe being sucked into a black hole? Stop worrying. Stop worrying. Stop worrying.

I shall begin to worry about how to not worry.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Luckiest Woman in the World

Believe me, I've thought this through carefully during all my "down" when I'm supposed to be getting my full 8 hours of desperately needed sleep. I wouldn't throw a title around like that aimlessly, without contemplating precisely where the arrow should land.

Now the precursor to this "Luckiest Woman" revelation is that there are several subcategories I've discovered. As women, we are unfortunately defined by our roles as daughters, sisters, mothers and wives in a larger capacity than men are. Men, it seems to me, are more defined by "what they do" or "what they like" rather than their connection to others. This personal observation supports that "men are from another planet" theory. You know, as in, "hey, why do I have to communicate? I'm a longshoreman."

Men are viewed as "accountants" or as "a big Bears' fan" (, "yeah, Mark? I know Mark. He's a Cubs' fan") where women, even if they are a Bears' fan and an accountant, are labeled as a single mom, or a stay at home mom or a single woman who just broke up with a guy, but has a big family to help support her through this terrible time (, "Susan? I know Susan. Her dad is really ill with cancer. Her husband is a moron and she has 3 kids").

Am I right?

Anyway, in naming "The Luckiest Woman in the World" I believe there must be clarification by stating the subcategory. And this is: wife/girlfriend/significant other. My choice would be different if the subcategory was, for instance, single woman or daughter.

Now that we have the rules down, let me tell you about that Lucky Woman.

She's had 2 famous, talented men completely and totally fall all over her, woo her and marry her. Even after divorcing the first one to marry the second, her first ex only had glowing and loving things to say about her (I don't know why Ripley's Believe It or Not didn't get a hold of that one). She eventually divorced the second one too, and he didn't utter a negative word about her either.

Keep in mind, both these men are famous. You will recognize their names. They've been on the cover of magazines. Starred in movies. Are internationally known. Generally, divorces are ugly and nasty, even when played out in private. Famous people divorcing usually gets a lot of press...especially when the woman is divorcing the first one to marry another. And the men are friends. Yes, I said FRIENDS.

I think we are all surprised the whole mess didn't end up on Court TV.

Uh huh. You know who I'm talking about. Patti Boyd Harrison Clapton (and maybe back to Boyd and then I think she married someone else, but that's beside the point).

Beatle George Harrison met Patti Boyd on the set of "A Hard Day's Night" and fell head over heels. At the time, Patti was engaged to someone else and had a promising modeling career. She really didn't give him much of a notice (which, in and of itself, was novel in 1964), but eventually George won her over. She gave up her fiancee, her career and they married in January, 1966. (Beatles' fans ---you may check my dates without hurting my feelings).

He wrote "something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover" for her. They were in love, hip and mod. However, by the late 60's as the Beatles' fell apart, so did George. He found solace in religion and wrote what I consider another great love song: "My Sweet Lord". However, as he was composing and praying in solitude, Patti got left out in the wind. She found shelter in the arms of George's friend, Eric Clapton, who immediately wrote "Layla" for her. The guitar work in "Layla" is about as beautifully woeful and longing as you'll ever hear.

Anyway, as George was happy in his quest to "know" God, he let Patti go, patted Eric on the back and went to their wedding. His comment? "At least she didn't marry some jerk."

Really. No bad press, no harsh words, no finger pointing, no taped conversations between the lovers released by the soon-to-be ex-husband. Nope. Not ever. And they all stayed friends happily ever after.

Patti Boyd Harrison Clapton (Boyd..whatever..etc, etc). Luckiest Woman in the opposed to the other Patti --- Patti Hansen, to whom Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones wrote "tits and ass with soul, she's my little rock and roll."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Good Mother

Remember that movie with Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson? Diane Keaton is a single mom who falls in love with Neeson. Her ex-husband eventually takes her to court over custody of their daughter because he believes Keaton's affair with Neeson is "unhealthy" for the child. It was directly very sensitively by Leonard Nimoy -- Mr. Spock from the classic Star Trek series. I won't give you any more information about it and watch it.

So what makes a "Good Mother"? You don't need to be a single working mom to wrestle with that everyday. And if you have kids with medical problems or other issues, your load is twice as heavy.

Are you a "Bad Mother" if after healing from divorce, you begin dating again? Or are you hoping to show your children what a healthy adult relationship looks like? Now in the movie, Keaton makes an error in judgement concerning her daughter and Neeson. A mistake her ex-husband jumps on swiftly. He thinks he's doing the right thing, she doesn't think she's done anything improper or worthy of being called an "unfit" mother. They end up leaving it in the judge's lap.

Fortunately, I do not have much valid intervention from WAM. He works by insinuation that I'm a bad mother. He's told the kids I have no backbone and am weak willed. Wow. That hurts. He's yelled that I've interferred with visitation. He's spewed that I've "bad mouthed" his wife. Right. Whatever. But bottom line, he doesn't have the balls to back up anything that squirts out of his mouth. There is some functioning part of his brain that knows if he gets a lawyer and drags my ass to court, that he's looking at a staggering amount of documented damage he's done emotionally and physically to both me and the kids. So what's a bully to do but bully some more? The difference is, I've moved on, the kids are moving on and he hasn't.

So you tell me. What makes a Good Mother? I work full time, I have a great 4-year relationship with a wonderful man. My kids have a good relationship with Sam and I have a loving relationship with Sam's son, Thomas. Should I not have tried to move on and just stayed home, totally devoted to my kids? Or is it right to show them that I am a person, that I need adult time -- that most people do not want to be alone and enjoy the companionship of someone of the opposite sex?

Maybe it comes down to the bottom line choice: if my daughter was vomiting with 103 degree fever and Sam and I had a date, no, I wouldn't go out. If my daughter ever needed me to be somewhere for her, I would be there. The same holds true for my son. They come first before me right now (at ages 16 and 10) because one day they will be grown and on their own. And what I want them to remember is that Sam made me happy and I made him happy. That I worked so we could have a nice place to live and because I enjoyed what I did. But that most of all, through everything, that I was a pretty Good Mother.

Monday, May 21, 2007

An Affair of the Heart

Now that I've shared a couple of my nightmares: abusive ex-husband and weight control, let's move on. I will warn you tho, from time to time these very subjects will rear their ugly heads. I've actually polled my dear friends to pick their favorite WAM (Wierd-Ass Mason) stories. There are so many to choose from. For instance:

“The ACL Tear Nightmare on SuperBowl Sunday.”
“The Final Act Before Divorce Saga.”
“The Shower Query Affair.”
“WAM as Dad…The Whole Untold Story.”
“The Hamburger Restaurant Debacle.”

I could go on and on. And I will. Later.

Right now, I thought I'd take a minute and maybe help you save your own life. Yes, I'm writing down my journey through an abusive marriage, divorce and recovery to help myself and maybe help others. I know I've probably personally financed my psychologist's house in the country, but it was so worth it. Make yourself a priority and get the help you need if you are in an abusive relationship. It's even doubly important if you have children.

And here's something else to think about: your emotional health impacts your physical health more than you realize. Like I said, I had a heart attack at 41. A real, complete heart block, occluded right coronary artery, heart attack. Being a woman and 41, well, when I got to the ER of my local hospital complaining of stomach pain, they began working me up for gallstones, pancreatitis, etc. I was home alone with the kids and began experiencing terrible stomach pain, right in the "pit" of my stomach. Then I started flop sweating beyond belief. I was home alone with my kids (ages 8 and 2) and my 8 year old called 911. I went to the ER with no one suspecting I was having a heart attack. Luckily, I was in the ER having an abdominal ultrasound when I had the actual heart attack. I heard them say "atropine and nitroglycerine" and I knew what was going on. When I woke up, I was on my way to the cath lab for a balloon and a stent, signing the release as they wheeled me down the hall.

I was lucky. Very lucky. I don't have any residual problems because I was treated so promptly. So listen to your body. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women -- and we don't present with the usual symptoms you've heard of: chest/jaw pressure, left arm pain. And just to make it more difficult, I didn't have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. I don't drink to excess or smoke or have a family history of heart disease. I was a medical cardiac mystery....except that I lived day to day, every day, 365 days a year for 15 years under the constant strain of a bad, abusive marriage. Dr. Dean Ornish wrote a book called "Love and Survival" about the relationship between physical health and emotional health. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sneak peak into the past

Considering my previous post, you may be asking when I found the time to get to the health club. This decision was part of a 6-month contemplation phase. (Yeah, more like 6 years, but let’s get past that). Do I get up at 6 am and turn on LifeTime television and perky Denise Austin? Oh, dear god. No offense to Denise, but I can’t take that at 6 am. I know my ex-husband had told me that I was an expert in excuses not to exercise…that I was weak, no backbone, no willpower. But truly, it’s not that I have an aversion to exercising in the morning…I just believe in conserving your energy as much as possible before the kids get up and start ruining your day. That, and the fact that I had a heart attack in the morning (I was only 41 at the time...I'll explain later) and have some left-over angst in that area. If my heart rate gets above 80 before 9 am, I’m running for Xanax and Nitrostat.

Perhaps now would be a good time to explain the ex-husband thing.

My ex-husband had a long, long, very long history of bad behavior. I said “I do” and he said “I own her now.” One of my very first memories of being married revolves around car repair. My car needed maintenance. I called the dealership where I normally had taken it and made an appointment to bring the car in for service. I asked Mason (the ex) to meet me at the service department so he could then drive me back home. That was agreeable.

I left the car with the clerk, turned to Mason (aka "WAM", which I'll explain later) and realized something had set him off. I don’t know what it was. It could have been that he was “disrespected” by the service attendant. It could have been that he had been cut off in traffic on the way over. It could have been the woman at work didn’t answer his request in a timely manner. I don’t know. What I also didn’t know at this point is that it had nothing to do with me, but I was a newly-wed and figured this time was supposed to be the golden highlight of my life and our relationship. I mean, when was it gonna get better than newly married?

Anyway, for some unknown reason, an argument started. Back then, I was ….. well, different. More self-protective, more willing to speak up for myself, unafraid and mostly unaware of what anyone could do to me. He started yelling at me and I carried the conversation outside. I, of course, was at first perplexed. Then I realized he was pretty out of control over something that was probably pretty ridiculous, if I could remember what the hell it was.

It was dark outside, there was really no sidewalk, just a path worn in the grass in front of the dealership. When I realized this was going to get ugly, I told him to get away from me; to leave me alone, that I was walking to my parents’ house, which was probably 7 or 8 miles away. I didn’t care. I wanted to get away from him and his rage. However, he had other ideas of which I had no clue at that point. That idea, I came to discover, was that NO ONE LEAVES HIM. NO ONE TURNS THEIR BACK TO HIM. TO DO THESE THINGS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE IS NOT ALLOWED.

So he started to pull my arm and yell in my face to the point that I was utterly terrified. I was frozen. One section of my brain knew husbands do not treat their wives like this. My father never raised his voice to my mother, ever. WAM was swearing and yelling and I just wasn’t hearing him anymore. I grew more petrified as his rage increased and I knew I had to do something before he hit me.

My brain was spinning and I was more scared of him that I had been of any human being ever……so I urinated on myself and fell in a heap of hysterical crying.

No. This is true. But don’t worry, he apologized. Said it would never happen again, was so, so, so sorry, took me to K-Mart and ran in to get me a pair of sweatpants so I could change out of the wet jeans (size 7) that I was wearing. He was beside himself with horror at what he had done and what had happened. Really. He was so sorry.

Then I made my very first mistake. I believed him.

Let me backpeddle a bit. I was no 19 year old babe in the woods when I met and married WAM. I was 29 when we tied the knot. I was living on my own, very happily, working, going out with friends, taking trips when I could afford it – Hawaii (to hunt down Tom Selleck - hey, it was the 80's), Las Vegas so see the shows. I dated. I enjoyed myself. I met WAM and I don’t know what happened. I thought he was a nice guy. But know you, my Dad never liked him. Didn’t voice it too much, but didn’t like him. My Mom sort of remained quiet on the subject, simply stating if I was happy, she was happy. Here’s another little piece of information: if your parents don’t like your intended, take a VERY LONG look at what you're are doing.

More later ... my psychologist wants lunch.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Welcome to the Pork Farm

Upon facing another day where my jeans size is 18 (okay, 20 comfortably), I walked into the health club that I have been a member of since its doors first cracked open during the Johnson Administration. I went consistently before I was married, before I had kids, before my life spun totally and completely out of control. However, several years have passed by since I plucked up the courage to cross the threshold. I don’t know what I thought would happen. I mean there were times when I would actually drive to the health club, sit in parking lot for 10 minutes and leave to go get a donut and coffee (with extra cream and sugar). But this time I actually walked in and nothing happened, except that I realized my married name was still on the membership card and that ferry had crossed like 6 years ago. Of course, that’s a whole other story….abuse, infidelity, kids, divorce, suicide attempt….but let’s hold off on all the really juicy stuff until I tell you what happened on my first venture into the health club in probably 10 years.

I didn’t die.

Didn’t die of embarrassment or humiliation or from the fact that my major muscle groups haven’t moved like that in near decades. No one looked at me like I was the worn-out, ugly, stupid hag that I thought I was. Well, maybe they thought it -- but if they did, they hid it well.

I hear and read so many stories about women stuggling with weight and self esteem. I married a man who thought that you should just shut the hell up and move. Get to the club you lazy ass…and there’s golf, karate, running, bowling, this, that, etc. However, he said this in the same breath as “where’s my dinner, how come there’s no fruit in the house and I need my baseball pants washed by tomorrow.” Followed by “see you later…I’ve got a fantasy football meeting….say hi to the kids for me. Bye.” So you can see where some of my issues lay. However, I will take total responsibility for my tonage. No one held me at gunpoint and wouldn’t release me until I shoved a Big Mac and large Chocolate Shake down my throat.

Anyway, it would be lovely if we could all get to the healthclub and go for a manicure and maybe stop at the mall for a little shopping, maybe ring up the Queen to see if she’d like to join us for an afternoon cup of Earl Grey…but you know, there’s like…life. There’s kids and shopping and laundry and cooking and homework and the PTA….and dishes and the cats and the gardening and social obligations and and and. Oh, and working full time. Finding any time for anything is an undertaking of monumental consequences. When a mom wants to do something, she needs to consult: her kids and their schedules including piano lessons, guitar lessons, soccer, pre-set playdates, birthday parties, school parties; any commitments all ready in place to co-workers, family, neighbors, local church. Are there any upcoming: dental appointments, doctor appointments for children, mother, father, grandparents? When is registration for school, baseball, field hockey and the YMCA summer camp? Oh, and what about work? Any projects coming up? Any promises made to cover for a co-worker? You get my drift. Never mind the stuff that blindsides you like your car won't start in the morning or you hear your youngest throwing up at 3 am.

I think as moms, single or married, we struggle with alot and honestly benefit from sharing our journeys. I struggled through 15 years of a bad marriage, I struggled through divorce and depression, I struggled with getting fat, I struggled with bad health, I struggled with isolation and having no family other than my children. The only thing I never struggled with was wonderful friends and wonderful kids. God blessed me completely, total and unequivocally when it comes to that. They have kept me afloat when all I wanted to do was check out permanently.

But that's another story for another day....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Just step away

That's my advice to you. Hit "next blog" and move on. However, for those of you who sit through bad movies and listen to even the most pathetic co-worker with sympathy, this blog is for you.

Truly, I've found that everyone’s life is a series of miraculous stories. Yes, even yours. Even mine. I’m about as average as you can possibly get without being Perry Como (God Rest His Soul). I have no particular reason for spreading my life history out like a bad Jerry Springer episode other than ….well… see if I can. And not to go off on a tangent, but here’s a little slice of knowledge for anyone who’s spouse, significant other, mother, sister, brother, best friend, next door neighbor or boss suggests they appear on Jerry Springer together: when all is said and done, it won’t be good news.

As I said, the relationships, ups and downs, triumphs and defeats in our lives and in those that are close to us make up a rich history of who we are. My face shows the laughter I’ve shared, the tears I’ve shed, and my heart carries the warmth of a woman with children, with friends, with family. My body shows the wear and tear of chronic depression, anxiety, heart disease and the coping mechanism of using food to comfort. I’ve been about as far down as you can be without having died from sheer emotional pain, I’ve been as happy as a pig in slop, surrounded by friends and family. I’ve eaten my way up to 210 pounds, down again, up again, down again and up again. Through it all, I’ve gotten to this place I am now by not giving up, by relying on my friends, family, doctors, psychologists --- and by just having faith. Faith that tomorrow just had to be better. Faith that the world is basically a fair place filled with mostly kind, generous people. Yes, I’ve been screwed. Who hasn’t? But there must be some underlying base knowledge that as the sun rises in the east, there’s someone, something, bigger than us driving the bus. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we just need to let the bad stuff happen. No one said it was gonna be easy, but putting one foot in front of the other every day and going forward, using our friends and our family as buoys, believing in a higher power, well, somehow we get through it all.

I’ve lived through a fairly happy childhood, a tough teen life, the beginnings of panic disorder in my 20’s, a disastrous, abusive marriage through my thirties and ½ my forties, but I’m stronger now than I ever was or ever would have been if I hadn’t gone through hell and back. So settle on in and take a trip through my life. I may be pretty average, but I’m not boring.

Well, my editors -- as you can see -- have advised me to stop here. Besides, the kids are yelling for something.

Story of my life.