It’s all over now, Baby Blue

My grandpa Trav died. He was old and it was a peaceful death after a few falls. Probably one of the sweetest men anyone’s ever met. He loved my grandma Nena til the day he died, which has got to mean something.

My aunt called me to tell me this. I was already crying, feeling sorry for myself because this year’s been hard. I cried some more on the phone with Donna and then watched a movie about a guy getting cancer and marrying his girlfriend impromptu style just to die 128 days later. So you know I cried out that one glass of water I forced myself to drink yesterday.

My aunt told me my cousin got a job offer in NYC and she’ll be moving here next year after she graduates college. The family’s worried she’s going to lose her values in coming to the city. My cousin’s a 21-year old wwwwwwhhhhhite appearing, god fearing, Republican sorority girl who uses the N word freely, posts pictures of her ass on Instagram and plans to work in finance.

I want to know which of these values they’re afraid she’ll part with.

What they’re really afraid of is that she’d turn out like me. Or at least their idea of me, which is hilarious because I’m still incredibly naive and about as pure as the driven snow…on day two when it’s still cute and novel and not yet peed on, compacted and mixed with salt and grime.

In Tucson I had this cleaning lady my dad would bring to my house because I couldn’t clean to save my life. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t. So it was clean for four days and then slowly turned into the talking trash heap from Fraggle Rock.

I didn’t clean and I also didn’t cook. So I made smoothies with protein powder and Daily Harvest containers of pre-portioned frozen things. It kept messes to a minimum, but I still managed to be a slob.

Somehow, the cleaning lady got it into her head that my residue protein powder was cocaine. She told my dad and my dad confronted me about it. Now, I’ve since seen vials of cocaine and people with familiarity for such things have familiarized me with prices for various quantities, so I know things.

If I had that much cocaine just strewn on my countertop, my father shouldn’t have been worried about my alleged illicit drug use. He should have been worried about my extravagance and wastefulness.

But that’s just it. For however naive I am, my father and his family are basically cave people looking at shadows on the wall cast by a fire they don’t know exists, making up legends and tall tales about monsters that lurk in the dark.

Whatever danger that girl could get into in NYC, she has already been exposed to at Pi Phi mixers by FIGI boys. And if they didn’t want her becoming the love child of Gordon Gecko and Jordan Belfort, well maybe they should have steered her away from becoming a fucking FINANCE major.

NYC is gonna shake that kid, but I knew her at 14 when she was already talking about getting an abortion if the issue ever came up. When I was 14, I didn’t even know how sex worked. My level of sophistication was limited to finding the right shade of Revlon lipstick that perfectly matched my actual lip color.

These people are afraid of snarks and grumpkins.

But people who fear evil and go looking for it in others rarely understand how intimate a relationship they already possess with it.

The other thing my aunt said is that my cousin has been offered a job that the bank said “usually goes to men.” As in “Women don’t do this job because women just want to make babies.”

And my cousin’s a “family girl who wants to make babies and live in sunny California.”

They think it’s a flex for this 22-year old to take a job that’s usually given to men. As if that’s a accolade or a gauntlet instead of a HUGE FUCKING RED FLAG!

How do I know? Because when people warned me about going into private practice as a woman and how partner track was for men, I saw it as a challenge, too.

My dad’s side of the family come from peasant immigrant stock. They believe God favors the industrious. They value money and they see financial success as the marker of a good person.

I was never going to be a part of that because I was mixed goods. I had a Protestant dad and a Catholic mom and they each undermined the other’s beliefs and values enough to make me not take any of it seriously. I didn’t go looking for trouble. But my curiosity nagged at me like the loosed end of a label that I was gonna peel off a bottle if it meant the death of me. You called something a sin and eventually I was going to check it out for myself to see what it was all about. I was afraid of the monsters, just not enough to keep me from dangling my arm off the side of the bed into the nightly abyss.

It hasn’t yet…killed me, I mean. And I live in a place where every measure of sin is available for the right price. It turns out that my morality came about more from exposure to hypocrisy than good Christian values.

There was a point in my life, or a succession of them, when I had to become comfortable with people believing lies about me and creating narratives that meant I’d lost at life because I don’t work in an office, wear a suit, and have a bunch of plastic trophies on an oak credenza.

I’m obviously not hashtag winning. But I’m also not crippled by shame at failing at a lie.

My aunt told me a bunch of gossip about my uncle and aunt out on Coronado that basically amounted to my aunt choosing her cats over my uncle and spending exorbitant amounts of his money on a herringbone driveway. Yeah, cats and bricks. So I can imagine what legends and tall tales they’ve concocted about me to keep the snarks and grumpkins at bay.

I’ll take notariety over religious sobriety any day, but especially on Sundays.

I wanna prove to you

There was this night in early September 2018 when I just knew.

I’d just come home to Tucson from a month away in Brooklyn that felt like a punch in the gut followed by a sweet caress and a sad farewell. I begged for home those first few weeks and kicked myself for having sublet a room sight unseen in a place I’d never stepped foot in.

You do that at 19 or 22 and no one blinks an eye. You do it at 39 and the mistakes don’t seem precocious or cute anymore. They tend to leave a mark. By the time I’d gotten home, though, I came back with heavier shoulders than the ones that ached with wanderlust a month prior.

Tucson didn’t feel like home anymore. But the thought of picking up and moving terrified me. I felt like I was hurdling toward a decision point that I’d never even set out to make. I didn’t go looking for a midlife crisis. If anything, I’d been weary from searching for youthful resolve for years.

It all came to a head at a Lemon Twigs show in downtown Tucson. The Twigs came to town and 20 people showed. Maybe ten of them got it? Maybe two of us loved it? I’d just seen them two weeks prior play to a packed house in Williamsburg.

They didn’t belong in Tucson and I didn’t belong in Tucson. And I wasn’t doing myself any favors by pretending I had so much to risk in leaving.

I didn’t tell anyone. Before I’d resolved to leave, when people would ask me why I hadn’t moved to NYC, I pretended not to care. Caring too much meant heartbreak and letdown because it was never really going to happen. After I resolved to leave, I kept it pretty much a secret because I didn’t know if I’d flop. It wasn’t insecurity. It was that my mother could turn any aspiration of mine into shit with a few well-placed words and I needed this to work out.

I finally started saying it as though it were a done deal in January. But holding that secret was one of the loneliest things I’ve ever had to do.

Those last months of September through May were just stages of grief cycling over and over. I had to say goodbye to everything that ever felt safe. Every meal I had was potentially the last of its kind. I tried to remember the freckles on friends’ faces and how they smelled. The whole process was grueling. Therapy got really dark. I cried a lot.

My mother did manage to get her say in. In a drunken stupor, covered in snot, with my hand pressed to her face she told me I’d kill myself if I moved to NYC. In my darkest moments here in the city…her words echo in my head and I choose to live just to fucking spite her.

Things didn’t feel right until months of living in Brooklyn. But I got healthcare insurance. I started taking writing classes. I started learning my way around. It wasn’t what I daydreamed living in the city would be. But it was good.

I left behind a lot. Everything nice I had pretty much got lost, stolen or broken. It cost me a lot of money to move here twice. There are times when I feel like I’ve been pummeled with a meat tenderizer. But I’m better for it.

I have health insurance here. I have friends. I don’t feel so alone in my eccentricities. I can tell people to fuck off if I want. I’m not constantly sucked into my parents’ subterfuge. It’s not easy for me here. But it’s not easy for anyone. We all know it. And we’re in it together.

I saw the Lemon Twigs play Elsewhere tonight to another packed house. It was a very loose set. I loved it. It isn’t some giant metaphor for anything. I’m still me. They’re still them. I can love them purely without needing them to be something they’re not. Things can be complex and still have a purity to them.

Everyone I went with was a giant pain in the ass in completely expected ways. John freaked out because they required vaccination cards. I get it. Showing papers is a scary proposition, civil liberties wise. Emily had to be an ironic GenXer with bullshit observations. Jon had to be a square and a downer, checking his phone.

I just wanted to have a good night. And I can’t be myself around this shitty energy. It’s depressing and I’m compensating by drinking and smoking weed. They won’t fix what’s wrong. I’d rather be lonely by myself than lonely with people around. I feel lighter.

Footsteps

I’m reading Meet Me In The Bathroom right now. It feels like talking to friends, partly because I am the same generation as the people in the book and came of age to their music, partly because I responded to the siren song NYC transmits, and partly because I have friends who were here when all this stuff went down.

I read the 9/11 chapter between Sunday and yesterday. I had to put it down and take breathers. I experienced it from afar. But now I’m hearing first person accounts from people who went to Union Pool that night and stood on Williamsburg rooftops. They talk about the smells and inhaling concrete and bone dust. Fuck, man. That’ll do things to you. There is no going back to the way things were before. Trajectories get changed.

Everyone’s a dirtbag in the book, which I get. I loved Tucson when it was dirtbaggy. When it started looking slick and monotone, I felt betrayed. At least when it was dirtbaggy, it was authentically Tucson. Now it’s just trying to be Scottsdale trying to be L.A. Tucson is such a copy of a copy of a copy it doesn’t even know how derivative it is. Even if NYC is a cliché, it’s self-aware at least.

At the same time, Brooklyn can be too much. We all have to talk about critical race theory and class warfare and environmental hazards and trans pronouns. None of this is bad. I’m so grateful that these discussions exist. I just don’t want another single lecture from someone who listened to a podcast about this stuff and now wants to school me about it. I didn’t get my information from two comedians with a mic between them. I have an actual substantive education in social justice, these issues impact my life in non-theoretical ways and I’ve actually worked in the field.

It gets pedantic and it stops the actual exchange of ideas because we never get past the superficial.

If I could make my Lego happy place, it would be a place where people don’t have too much or not enough money, where you can walk to places to catch a movie or dinner, where the water is clean, where people aren’t worked to the bone, where healthcare and quality of life reign supreme and where communitarian values persist but don’t stifle individuality.

Name the place and I’m there. I don’t know that it exists. I need NYC snark. But I also need wholesomeness. I need excess and austerity. I need noise and quiet. I need anarchy and order.

Maybe the answer is back and forth between two worlds…the functional equivalent of sleeping with one leg uncovered.

Unrelated, but generally related in theme, is that I need to find a new muse to get the words flowing.

Brooks Brothers Date Rapists: the obligatory Promising Young Woman post

It’s fabulous. Dangerous Liaisons level fabulous. Count of Monte Cristo level fabulous. Everyone should have to watch it. If you’re a woman and you haven’t been date raped yourself, you’ve come close to it or you know someone who has. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. People know. But why ruin a man’s life just because a woman drank too much and made some very bad decisions?

September 23, 2017

It’s three a.m. and I’m in bed at my sister’s house in Phoenix. The day before I’d driven to Mesa to see Jack Antonoff play with Bleachers at an open air amphitheater. I didn’t get to my sister’s until late because I’d hit on the sound guy (an amazing blues musician who happened to be Israeli) and we’d gone out for drinks. I was exhausted. Nothing happened. He’d been a gentleman and so had it. It was just that I’d worn a black pair of five inch jelly platforms all day. I loved those things even though they were precarious to walk in. I tripped in them because I’m a klutz.

Ready to fall asleep, I checked my phone one last time. There was a new comment on a post from a friend. A friend who was never up at 3 a.m. I texted her because this kind of out of the ordinary behavior rang alarm bells. Now, I can be dramatic. I intentionally have my phone beside me when I’m asleep in case someone dies in the middle of the night. But I was right to worry.

I texted her to see why she was up. The texts came in. She wasn’t making sense. Something about sitting on her friend’s couch. Not wearing her clothes because they were being washed. Because of the blood and the vomit. And her head hurt from where the blood had spewed.

The full picture wasn’t there, but I knew her well enough to know something was terribly wrong. I called her and got as many details as I could out of her and then forced her to wake her friend up, who was asleep in bed, and pass the phone to her. When the friend got on the phone I told her:

“Get out of bed. M’s been assaulted and you need to get her to a hospital. Take her to TMC now. Whatever you do, don’t take her to UMC. Do it now.”

She didn’t want to do it but she did. M got her rape kit done. Negative for GHB (it has a short half-life and goes undetected a lot) but positive for his DNA. The clothes couldn’t be collected for evidence because the friend had already washed them. My instruction about which hospital to take M came from the fact that M worked at the University of Arizona and I didn’t want UAPD called in to investigate. There’d be a conflict, and frankly, those monkeys shouldn’t be in charge of a missing psychology book investigation.

What I pieced together later was this much. M had gone to a football tailgate on the U of A Mall. It was her usual tailgate with the usual crowd. Everything seemed kosher. She remembered leaving to go back to her car, parked in a garage in her usual space, accompanied by a usual face at the tailgate, J. And then she remembered nothing until she was lying in a pool of vomit and blood on the floor next to her car. Someone had found her and UAPD came to assess. The cops knew her. They didn’t want to “embarrass” her so they didn’t call an ambulance. They just made her call a friend to take her anywhere…it didn’t really matter.

From their perspective, she’d drank too much and made a scene. Best to just get her home.

But I knew things about her. She wasn’t the type to drink too much. Definitely not the type to drink til she blacked out, puked and injured herself. And this guy who’d walked her to car? Where had he gone?

M managed to piece parts of the story together. But none of it made sense. And J was being cagey. His initial story was that she made the moves on him. They’d been making out up against her car when she hit her head and blacked out. There was blood. He got scared and ran away.

His story kept changing. But no one believed M but me. I’d met all those friends at a previous tailgate. Friendly people who knew each other well. Jovial party goers who planned their parties so well that they had grand buffets and a fully stocked bar, even though only beer was allowed at tailgates. These people partied together a lot. They seemed like they were super tight friends. But they’d all turned their back on M the minute she said something wrong had happened.

I could set my watch by M. She’s a good girl. We went to law school together. She went to church on Sundays. She loved baseball. She lived with her parents. And, at the age of 37, she was still a virgin. But even if she’d been the biggest slut of all time with a sordid past, I still would have believed her. Only because something similar had already happened to me the year before.

———–

I was 36 and maybe two months out of the mental hospital. I know, so much credibility just flew out the window with that sentence. These things are never easy. Many women with less issues than me have questioned their sanity after such an event. Only I’m not prone to exaggeration or lying. So dismiss me as insane. You wouldn’t be the first. But it’s relevant.

Before Christmas, I’d joined the board of a local Tucson non-profit. I’d met members of the board while attending their annual fundraiser party the year before with M. They seemed cool.

The non-profit board served as sort of a feeder program. The purpose for its existence was to train young professionals in all the glorious offices and affairs of leading other Tucson non-profits. Everyone was more or less cute, more or less ambitious, and more or less fucking conventional. At the time I had no job and as many professional ambitions but a lot of time on my hands. I had a law degree and a real estate license, and I could snob it up with the best of them, so it wasn’t like it was too hard to join the group. I won’t say which because the organization they’re with does good work in Tucson but the people I met ran the gamut from quality to reject.

They held board meetings every month. I’d missed January because I happened to be in Palo Verde, like I said. But I went to an all day inservice to plan they year’s events and met everyone. They seemed like fun. And then I went to February’s meeting which involved a tour of a medical center. After the meeting, we went to happy hour at a nearby bar on the west side (again, vagaries to protect the innocent). I had two drinks. Whisky gingers. I was lonely and bored and didn’t want the night to end at seven p.m. So I stuck around until it was two guys and me. They wanted to play pool, so we took two cars to another bar on the west side. They ordered a pitcher of beer and started playing. I didn’t see who poured my drink but it wasn’t me. The last thing I remember was Selena playing on the jukebox. And then…nothing.

I can tell you what I was wearing. I was dressed in business goth. Eyes rimmed in kohl. Dark lipstick…almost black. I can also tell you that it had been five years since I’d had sex with anyone. And only on two occasions had I made out with anyone since D. I was sober both times. I can also tell you that I don’t generally get drunk. Even tipsy takes concerted effort. I’ve blacked out twice, maybe three times.

So why did I wake up, suddenly completely alert, sitting on the center compartment of a BMW X5, making out with a stranger as he drove through traffic? He kept asking for my address. He wanted to go back to my place and have sex. We’d been driving for a while, by the looks of it, because we were already in midtown, just blocks from my place.

In the few minutes it took to go from Grant and Swan to my house, I tried to figure out what had gone on. He pulled into my driveway. I said I just needed to use the bathroom and clean up a bit and he could come in. He was pushing hard. Like he was adamant about the sex. He asked if I wanted any coke and poured some onto a mirror from a vial. It looked like little crystal rocks. He started cutting it with credit card. I’d never seen cocaine before.

I again said I needed to go to the bathroom and this time make sure my sister, who was visiting, was asleep (my sister was not visiting…but I had to stall for time). I went inside, splashed some water on my face and stared at myself. My makeup was everywhere. I was a total mess. I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts so I go back outside and face this guy I’d met twice before. But when I went outside, he was gone. My purse and meeting notes were on the floor. I was very confused. Something had happened but I couldn’t have told you what. For some reason, thankfully, I sobered up before anything truly regrettable could have happened.

I stayed on the board for a few more months and would see this guy every time. He refused to look me in the eye. He acted cagey. I quit sometime that summer. I couldn’t deal with having to see him and face this shame I’d claimed as my own.

Later that year, one of the board members threw a giant Western themed birthday party at Pinnacle Pete’s. I ran into T, the president of the non-profit board there. I told him what happened, down to the slightest detail, and why I’d quit. He listened, thankfully. Later he would tell me that the only reason he believed my story about that night was the detail about the cocaine. This guy, apparently, only used top quality cocaine, and the fact that I had mentioned that made my version of the events ring true.

————-

So, yes, I believed M. But, like I said, her friends did not. UAPD botched the investigation and made M’s life hard. Her mother wanted nothing to do with her. Her friends turned their backs and supported J. They would call her and try to shame her into dropping the charges. They asked her to see it from J’s perspective. His life was being ruined by her accusations. Suddenly her whole social life was gone. And she questioned herself in a way that we do when we don’t know for sure what happened but we blame ourselves.

By the next year, things had not quelled. She asked if I would go with her to the non-profit’s annual party. I did. I told her I’d dress to the nines and protect her from J or anyone else who had the temerity to confront her. I wore my jelly platforms. No one hurt her that night. But I did stumble and fall in those shoes. I wasn’t drunk. They’re just huge and we were walking over power cords in the dark parking lot of the masonic temple at night.

A week later, the guy who ran the tailgate again harassed M. He told her that she needed just to accept the fact that she’d made a mistake by getting drunk and hitting on J. J, who by now had changed his story several times and lawyered up. And in these texts he mentioned me…being drunk…at the non-profit party the week before. I guess he’d seen me fall. As if that were enough to condemn me. As if that were enough to condemn her.

I wrote to him and made it plain. I knew about his new restaurant and his trouble with getting a liquor license. I wondered, what would the liquor board think if they knew that he had personally overserved a woman at his regular illegal tailgate and then harassed her after she had been sexually assaulted leaving the tailgate. I mean, maybe they wouldn’t care about such a thing. But then again, maybe they would.

I told him to keep my name out of his fucking mouth. That he didn’t know who he was dealing with. If he wanted to ruin my reputation, good luck, I didn’t have a reputation anymore to ruin. I had nothing left to take away. But he had lots, and I would dedicate all my free time to making sure that it all got taken away. That was, unless, he left M alone and made sure that none of the other assholes who’d been harassing her ever bothered her again.

He wrote back and said, “Ok.”

It wasn’t the Count of Monte Cristo and it wasn’t Dangerous Liaisons. But it was about as much as I could do to protect her from people who blamed her for taking away their fun and protected a man who, at a minimum, watched a woman hit her head, pass out, bleed profusely on the third floor of a parking garage and then just simply…ran away.

J left Tucson after that. There wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him. There usually never is.

I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose*

*The irony of discussing autism and mental illness with a song featuring Sia is not lost on me. She’s persona non grata in the autism world for her video about autism, her association with Autism Speaks, and her comments to the autistic community after they voiced they concerns. The whole point is that I am so much more than an outdated stereotype or a monkey who does corporate speeches on command. I’m actual flesh and bone, a gorgeous mind and a will of iron. Or, you know, titanium.

It’s amazing how wrong people get things. How they fill in the blanks like Mad Libs and then don’t understand that the gobbledygook they’ve concocted is nonsense.

I’ve never had to be stronger than when I was in a mental hospital over the 2015-2016 winter holidays. I’d attempted suicide on Christmas, spent three days in the ICU on machines, gotten transferred to a room where I was watched 24 hours a day by someone paid to make sure I didn’t harm myself, and then transported across a parking lot in an ambulance to Palo Verde, where I was marked with a barcode bracelet. Even days after waking up, I could still feel the pain of all those sternal rubs given to me by nurses and doctors to wake me up out of a self-induced drug coma.

Visitors were allowed to come twice a week. I was so angry I didn’t want to see my parents or my sister or anyone else for that matter. They’d all been witness to my dissent into a mental health crisis, and each one, in their part, had done nothing to help and mostly done things to hurt.

When I did see them, they acted like I’d committed a crime. My mother was a wreck who needed all the caring for herself. My father was dismissive and glib. My aunt made it seem like I was at a spa.

The story they created in their minds was that I was an alcoholic and probably using cocaine. There was a lot of alcohol in my house. For a holiday party I’d thrown for fifty RSVP’d guests and only 10 had come. And the powder on the counter? It wasn’t coke. It was protein powder. But what are facts when you have proof positive that she’s a wreck? Save any conclusive proof otherwise, I was unredeemable.

I knew this time would come. I’d attempted before and landed in the hospital. So when I got my divorce settlement, I went to a lawyer, set up a trust for my money so my father couldn’t get to it, and had a living will and durable power of attorney drawn. I needed to know that the person making the decisions would be dispassionate and reasonable. I chose my aunt Kaliz, my father’s youngest sister.

But during my time in the ICU, my mother had gotten to her. Kaliz was sick of my mother’s insanity and wanted out of the responsibility. Not because of anything I’d done, but because of how awful my mother was.

There’s been weak times before when I’d come close to suicide attempts earlier while at home in September 2015. My parents had a really rough patch for years after my mother finally acknowledged that my father had been cheating and everyone knew. She went Jane Eyre wife-in-the-attic insane and I was holding everyone together while trying to get through my own divorce and start life over. My father stole $15,000 from me during this time like it was nothing. I’d had to blackmail him to get the money back. My aunt Kaliz would call me during this time, constantly asking for divorce advice because her piece of shit husband Chris may or may not have been fooling around and she wanted to protect her money. At the same time, my sister needed a place to live and I tried to help her buy a house and all the pressure broke me down to a pulp doing the job of five normal human beings. Nobody saw the impositions they made. Only that I failed to carry them all with grace.

I think that’s when my mother burned out my psychiatrist. I decided to show her the pills I’d bought and the alcohol I’d planned to down them with. She called my psychiatrist. Afterwards, my doctor told me she hated my mother.

Yeah, I know, join the club.

So it was about to become 2016 and I was stuck in a hospital. But the hospital doctor who’d seen me once for fifteen minutes said I could go home in time for New Year. He’d said this because I’d convinced him of my sanity, newly returned. I wasn’t manipulating him. I really was ok, no thanks to the zoo they’d filed me away in.

And then, on our second appointment, he just dropped the fact at the last minute that I would have to stay in the hospital until I had a doctor’s appointment with my psychiatrist on the outside. No appointment, no discharge.

He couldn’t get a hold of my psychiatrist because she was on vacation. I’d previously scribbled her number on a piece of paper I had with a crayon (no pencils or pens allowed in psych wards…too dangerous). I called my doctor and she was angry at me for attempting suicide on Christmas and angrier that she’d had to deal with my mother. But I explained things calmly until she agreed to give me an appointment.

I begged her to talk to the doctor but he wouldn’t take the call because it was in a public hallway. He was five feet away from talking to the person who would have given me an appointment and he wouldn’t do it. I’d have to sit and stew in the hospital until he could come back in the new year to reassess me. And, he said frankly, my behavior in trying to get him to talk to my psychiatrist was conclusive evidence that I was manic.

I was not. I wanted my freedom because every day that ticked away that I was in that place I was treated like an animal by the staff at $1200/day and my family were building the case against me.

The doctor filed a 5150, paperwork to start the process of commiting me to the hospital against my will. If successful, it would be up to the courts and my aunt, who had durable power of attorney, to decide what would happen to me over the long run. Loss of freedom to me is enough to set me ablaze with rage. You might never know how that feels because you’ve never been confronted with the loss of your autonomy. I spent the first 31 years of my life that way, never doing a goddamned thing that wasn’t sanctioned or forbidden by someone else. I’d fight like a fucking tiger to make sure it damn well never happened again.

My only hope was my aunt Kaliz. She came to visit. From the moment she sat down, I could tell she was nonplussed. She’s heard the stories about the alcohol and drugs and it was her opinion that I probably needed a month or two in the hospital to get the help necessary for me to begin to deal with my substance abuse and mental illness.

A month or two.

I don’t know what any of them thought happened behind the locked doors of a psych ward, but it certainly wasn’t anything that would help me deal with these issues, if I’d even had them. What they called therapy was taking us to a craft room and having us create collages on construction paper with things cut out of Golf Digest. What they called doctor’s visits were 15 minute sessions with someone you’d never seen in your life who thought that pills cured trauma. What they called medical help was a daily blood draw, a blood pressure test, and a tiny paper cup of whatever pills they happened to have that day in stock whenever the pharm tech had the time and inclination to pass them out.

The only therapeutic things we had in there were old VHS tapes and string cheese and apple juice doled out at 8 p.m. as a snack. And maybe half an hour in a courtyard walled eight feet high if the weather permitted. It usually did not.

We could socialize amongst ourselves. On December 30th, a white woman, with all the markers of success, checked herself into the ward. She was scared of all the poor people, so she sort of clung to me. But it was pretty soon obvious that she was actually insane because she started telling the other patients that I’d threatened to beat her up. For that, I got written up. And when I demanded to get my medication on a timely basis, I got written up for that too. A therapist cornered me in one of the day rooms and told me I was trouble. That what I’d done by attempting suicide was hurtful to my family. That I’d never get better. And that I would eventually kill myself. That is what they considered “therapeutic.”

I had to plan my survival to a tee in that place. With absolutely zero resources outside or inside. The other patients looked up to me like I was some bougie font of wisdom, so I was technically the most capable person around, medical license or no.

I had to keep from decompensating and it wasn’t easy. When you are trouble, they sedate you. They restrain you. They confine you to small padded spaces. And they lock you up and throw away the key. That woman who accused me of threatening her wound up that way. I saw her two days later, through a window, now dressed in nothing but a medical gown and scrub bottoms, dead-eyed and slobbering like a zombie.

That could have been me. It’s a lot of autistics in mental hospital whose real issues are hidden under the sensory overload that takes place in mental hospitals (getting woken up every 15 minutes, the never ending cold or barrage of sounds, the five a.m. blood draws, the terrible food, and on and on).

I got out after some two weeks of hospitalization, so overwhelmed and exhausted by having to keep it together that I felt disoriented on the corner of Grant and Swan, where I’d been thousands of times before. Over breakfast, my Aunt Donna filled me in on the passion play that was my mother’s suffering Saint act, my sister’s neurosis, but also my aunt’s concern over my “substance abuse.”

I had zero credibility. It would have been pointless to argue with the one person who even had the decency to come pick me up.

She dropped me off at my house. I couldn’t think straight enough to pack. I charged my phone to find 18 texts from Michael, wondering what had happened since I called him in a rage on Christmas Day on the way to Tucson from my parents’ house.

I threw pajamas in a red Kipling bag and drove home back to Nogales, where I’d fled from on Christmas, because I had nowhere else to go and I couldn’t take care of myself. I needed a vacation from life. But home was a far cry short of a respite.

My mother interrogated me about everything she’d seen in my house, but mostly about one thing in particular. I’d been thinking of writing a novel and I’d plotted things out on a poster board with post-it’s for each chapter. She’d read it and she didn’t like it. There were characters with familiar names, and, without having even asked me what it was about, she’d made assumptions that it was about her and her family. And she strictly forbade me from writing it. I was 36 and she was still telling me what to do. Still using threats and demands and shame.

Only what she didn’t bank on was that I had no shame left. You cannot use shame against someone who has lost everything, up to and including her credibility. Had I still some semblance of character or any exterior worth to cling onto, maybe her threats would have held more weight to them.

But the dead don’t die. You couldn’t kill me twice in two weeks.

Where do my strong boundaries come from? Where does my intolerance for cruelty and cowardice and evasion and deception and incompetence come from? From having nothing and being able to turn it into something. From having to see the motives people hide, masked in good intentions and feigned ignorance.

I can play nice but, like the saying goes, never confuse my kindness for weakness. Behind the jokes and the references and the witty banter there is a person who could lead an army into hell and come back to victory march carrying the decapitated head of the Devil himself.

Snowflake: Odyssey storytelling

Phil Gordon reached out to me to invite me to tell a story for The Odyssey in Tucson for December’s Snowflake show. I didn’t know he would say such nice things about me.

Telling stories over zoom will never take the place of standing on a stage in front of a live audience. But we do not choose these times. They chose us. Hope you enjoy it.

Here to face the fortune and the bile

City life told in the contents of a purse:

The purse I stole from my sister Andrea in 1996. It has mother of pearl buttons and seed beads in white, orange and maroon. The black fabric has faded and begun to tear but I still love wearing it because it is the perfect size for carrying everything I need and light enough that I can wear it across my body and never be bothered.

The coin purse my aunt Michelle gave me in 1994 for Christmas. It’s from Dooney and Burke. Yellow signature tea-colored leather. Inside are a bunch of quarters left over from laundry. I never used to carry cash on me in Arizona because I had no need really.

Pulparindo candy wrappers, from a care package sent by my father. I keep candy on me in case I run out of energy mid-errand day.

A yellow, blue and green keychain with a soccer jersey I got on a trip to Brazil for my 30th birthday. On it are the two keys I need to come home; one to get in the building and one to get into the apartment. In Tucson, I carried around car keys and a car alarm fob but I never locked my front door.

Several shades of red liquid lipstick I wear on days out because it sticks to my face and doesn’t rub off on my mask.

Two hand sanitizer sprays. One in lavender and one in grapefruit. When I’m stressed, I use the lavender. When I’m tired, I use the grapefruit. Sometimes I even spray them on the outside of fabric mask for additional aromatherapy.

Lighters I always have on me because I smoke. But I’ve transitioned to blue American Spirits from Marlboro menthol 100’s. I used to smoke those in my backyard. Now I smoke the hipster cigarettes on solo walks and nights out with Maddie or Mikey. I’ve lived here long enough that I know to ask for the cigarettes that don’t have NY state stamps. The ones with no stamp or out of state stamps are trafficked over state borders and at least $4 cheaper. It takes me a week to smoke a pack, which averages out to 2.8 cigarettes a day, though there are days when I don’t smoke at all and nights where I pass them out to friends. In the city, the good strangers will offer you a dollar for a cigarette, though I never accept. Once I was sitting with Tyler outside of Peaches and a girl tried to bum one off of him without offering to pay so he told her he didn’t have any more. I waited til she was out of earshot and then laughed because it’s so indicative of his personality and we were 60 feet from a bodega so she had no right asking. In Tucson, strangers just bummed.

A Metro Card with maybe $28 on it? I always put cash on my card now. When I moved here I made the mistake of buying a week long ticket and then quickly losing it and the $55 I’d doled out on it. Uber’s were cheaper then because you could share them with strangers. I miss overhearing the conversations of fellow travelers. Now I take the train almost everywhere. I don’t lose my card anymore because I’ve become more disciplined. I had to in order to survive this place, something Terry told me in the tarot cards before I moved here.

Tetraptych: sketches done in ball-point pen

PART ONE:
I can take care of myself but I don’t know if I could do that if I had a job. I’m proud of the life I’ve built. I was only able to do that because I survived through a horrible divorce, but one day in particular.

There was a hearing. In front of a judge. And I had to sit there while my psychiatrist testified over the phone about how helpless I was and how little potential I had for taking care of myself ever. I had to testify to the same. I had to sit through D’s testimony about how awful I was. The point was made. I was pathetic. I was a failure. I couldn’t and wouldn’t cope and would most likely fall flat on my face without him.

It was all true at the time. You might never really know how bad off I was because there is still a sliver of pride left in me. I wrestle with talking about how bad off I was and would be for years to come. It still amazes me that from all that I could deliver myself to get to this point. I’m so grateful.

I’m a little down today. I’m in need of a soft place to land. I’m just trying to be so proud of myself. No one is here to baby me. I’d love someone to manage some of my needs. Just relieve me from having to use so much of my brain constantly and never letting my guard down because I will do something monumentally stupid.

When I fought for myself back in 2012, sitting there as a party to a lawsuit instead of the lawyer I’d trained to be, as strangers discussed what a waste of a human being I was, I never could have imagined that I would be anything more than that. But I fought so very hard because I had just a tiny bit of hope that one day I could be more. And I needed time to become it.

I wasn’t wrong. I just have to keep going.

PART TWO:
So, before I had the lawyer who got me through the divorce, I had a different lawyer. A woman. I think I hired her because D hadn’t filed yet and I was hoping that if I had to had to get divorced, well, at least it could be amicable and we could go through mediation. She was recommended to me because she was good at the mediating stuff. But after I’d paid her retainer and at our second meeting, she fired me. I guess my questions led her to believe we weren’t a good fit. And she was terse and discourteous. I walked back out to my car and cried. Getting dumped by the man you married for forever, painful. But getting dumped by the lawyer you hired to divorce you from the man you married for forever, and you’re a lawyer so you know what it means…fucking brutal.

I went to Rome and got on my knees at the Vatican and begged a god I didn’t believe in to save my marriage. I came home from the trip…home was a rented room in a condominium on River…to a package. A “Thank You” Hallmark Card from the ex and divorce papers. The “Thank You” card might have been sent in earnest. As much emotion as he could eek out from our completely ringed out relationship.

I didn’t grow up in a family that exchanged greeting cards. I think that’s an American thing I only did when I was in that relationship. Before that, it was calling cards with my name embossed on them that my mother bought from Patti at La Galeria. And then F.A.O. Schwartz. After him, it was personalized stationary. But with him, there were greeting cards.

The first one was on my 18th birthday. He sent a package to me in La Jolla from Rio Rico, Arizona. A greeting card, a copy of Catcher In The Rye that he’d inscribed to me, and a mixtape that he made with nothing but punk love songs. His handwriting, so distinct, on the tape and actual liner notes in the cartridge. On the first side, he’d run out of space mid-song, so he started it again on the second side. I played that tape so much that summer that I memorized where the song cut off. Even though I knew it was going to end abruptly, I’d let it play to the end and imagine him fumbling with the recorder and restarting the song…so much in love with me that he might even have been angry at himself for not getting it perfect. The tape got scrapped in a car accident in 2004. The copy of Catcher In The Rye I still have. It’s the first thing I received in my whole 18 years from a boy who loved me. It’s the only artifact of that relationship I intentionally kept. Physical evidence I once was lovable.

This “Thank You” card was the last thing I ever received from him.

I scrambled. I had to find a lawyer who wouldn’t fire me and would protect my interests. D was coming for me and I was scared. I asked all my law school friends and they told me to go John Bolt. I did. It was not a good relationship in the beginning. This guy was a fucking shark. He was a veteran in the business and of the highest reputation. He took evergreen retainers at $5000 a pop. And he scared the shit out of me. But if he scared me, maybe he’d scare the lawyer I told D to use. Aside: That he used the lawyer I selected for him was probably ignorance on his part. My first lawyer had suggested her because they worked well together in mediations. He never switched horses.

I cried a lot more in John’s office. I told him never to tell me how much money was at stake because, as it was, the stress I went through on a daily basis had left my body wrecked and I was in constant physical pain and brain fog. But even without the details, I could barely hold it together. I finally had to write him a letter explaining how hard my life really was, and begged him to be nicer to me.

It worked. He liked my writing. He started having me read cases. Not just for my divorce, but for other motions in other people’s cases. He respected my opinion. Our appointments became pleasant. And if John managed to read something I’d written…mostly Yelp reviews (I know, I know, but I’ve since repented)…he’d let me know what he thought of the writing.

And when it came time to cross-examine D, he had me write the cross. That wasn’t him shirking his duties as my lawyer. And it wasn’t me trying to skimp on billable hours. He had me write it because he knew I’d be good at it. You might never have seen me as a lawyer, but my logic is infallible, I know how to create a story, and I can write a cross so beautiful it would leave you dizzy. I might not be perceptive to when it comes to someone lying at first. But my autistic pattern detection is so tight I can tease out lies from the tiniest of crevices. And John knew that I was up to the job.

He told me once…that I’d make the best family attorney in the city. But then immediately afterwards said, “But I wouldn’t wish it upon you.” At our last appointment ever, he told me I should be a writer. Both of those things touch me so deeply right now I could cry, but this time from joy.

PART THREE:
I love my therapist so much. Before I started with him, I’d met him once and just didn’t like his vibe. It was 2015 and I was in complete self-denial.

And then in 2016, when things had fallen apart as much as things can without turning to dust and floating away on the wind, I started going to him. In the beginning I really did treat therapy like I was a guest on a late night show. And I charmed him. It was masking, I know that now. And he was charmed. I could tell because first it was a couple minutes of pleasantries. And then the next visit it was five minutes of him talking about a movie he liked. And the next time it was a YouTube video. He wasn’t shrinking me. He was talking to me like we were friends.

The minute I’ve charmed someone, I lose respect because I’ve won them over with fake me and they let me get away with it.

I confronted him. Told him he had to stop falling in love with me (platonically…nothing perverse or unethical) and stop the chit chat. I was there for therapy. No time for love, Dr. Jones.

I’m glad we stuck together. After 2.5 years of therapy, everything was different. I went from a mental hospital on NYE to a fourth floor apartment in NYC. And we did laugh a lot. And I did regale him with stories at our weekly meetings. And we’d talk about everything from Italian lessons to carburetors and all these big, crazy ideas we had. There wasn’t one idea I had that he couldn’t follow along with and vice versa. I miss our weekly meetings.

He texted me today: rain in Tucson. And he said he was rooting for me. Well, actually, he said he was so rooting for me.

PART FOUR:
No one would have bet on me in 2012. Or 2016. But I’d bet everything on me now. I’d throw my gun over the top of the trench and then jump over onto No Man’s Land to fight for me now. I’m committed. I might not have the confidence to try something new but my big mouth will open before my brain has thought and suddenly I’m doing something I never would have otherwise. I take chances. I say yes. I ask for things. I say things out loud to friends that I’d always kept inside because my ambition was embarrassing and I had nothing to back it up with. Now, I can get swept up in self-aggrandizement because I dare to hope. How I got here, I don’t know. I’m just so grateful I stuck around to get to see the good side of life.