Why make new friends? Keep the old . . .

It’s funny, but in a posting just a few days ago, I was talking about signs, and then today my “Daily OM,” which is supposed to be a page with words of wisdom for the day, was all about how we should react when someone just does not like us for whatever reason, because as people, especially women, our natural reaction is to expect everyone to like us first, and then to adjust to the fact that someone may not like us, even though we may have never wronged this individual. Interestingly enough, both of my husbands have made the same observation about my relationships or non-relationships with other women: other women either hate me or love me. There is no grey area with them, and usually this is an automatic response. I truly have no idea why this happens. I have observed myself to see why this might happen, but so far, I have been unable to come up with an answer.

I have learned a few things along the way, though. I do attract one certain type of woman immediately: the woman who wants to be my instant friend, do everything for me, be my helper, buddy. And almost every single time I am naive enough to trust this person immediately, be drawn in. For some reason, my usually acute radar does not work with this sociopath, and every single time, this person ends up causing me a world of pain and sorrow, almost always in the workplace. Too bad for me, though, I share so much of my personal self that this person then has a foothold in my personal life, too. I remember only one time in which the boundaries didn’t cross, and that was because it was during grad school (the first time), and I met her personally, so there was no crossover into work.

The pattern has been the same every time: lots and lots of shared experiences–it’s almost like we’re sisters (more on that later), a lot of time spent together–shopping, lunches, a lot of proprietary time–telephone calls, a lot of political maneuvering, but not so obvious at first. And then there comes a time I’ll call “The Judas Moment” when one of two things happens: 1) I am suddenly persona non grata with this person, and I do not quite know what happened or 2) I have fallen from grace at work, and I have no idea why. More often than not, it’s a combination, but once in a blue moon, I will have the good sense to cut off the relationship on my own before this moment befalls me.

I have a feeling that I am so vulnerable to this personality type because I have no sisters, so I have never learned the defenses that go along with protecting myself from female territorial behavior. No, I’m being serious here. Imagine that you have a female lion that has never been indoctrinated into the behaviors of the pride as a young cub, and then when she grows up, you throw her into the pride with only her claws and say, “good luck. You have a really nice coat.” Well, hey, I’m an only child. I got along better with my dad. My best buds in high school were guys. You tell me where I’m going to get this subtle indoctrination from? These claw-sharpening skills? I know straight-forward, in your face, and that revenge is a dish best served cold. These are my fighting skills. That would be why the term bitch served me well when I was younger, but you also always knew where you stood with me. I was a better manager for it because if I thought that you were doing something wrong, I told you so that you could fix it. Would it have been better if I were your ‘friend’ and then fired you a week later?

To this day, there remains one person in one particular job who I am certain did everything that she could to get me fired, but luckily she couldn’t for reasons I won’t go into. She did, however, leave me feeling emotionally battered and bruised, and there remains another job that I left on my own but not before I’m certain my reputation had been tainted irreparably by my sanity-questioned co-worker.

But I have read that in life, the number of true friends that you have throughout your life, if you are lucky, you can count on one hand, two if you are very lucky. And I find that to be true. I know that there are a few people that I let fall out of my life that I really regret losing, and that is my fault. One of them worked at the Museum, and she was truly a wonderful person. I ran into her at the store about five years ago and promised to call her, but I didn’t. I know that she was going to move to Richmond, and I hope that she is happy. I still think of her often and remember her fondly. When I started work there, she bought me flowers, but not just any flowers. She bought me a bird of paradise. I didn’t even know what one was. She said that she wanted to buy me a flower that looked like it matched my personality. I thought that it was one of the most wonderful compliments that anyone had ever paid me. I was lucky to have her in my life for the years that I did.

I do still keep in touch with a few other friends who don’t live around here. I’ve mentioned them in my blogs. They’ve all moved away, but not completely out of my life. It is hard for me to make women friends, simply because I tend to give my trust too early and to the wrong people, and so I am gunshy.
I made a few friends during my recent stint in grad school, but being the commuter, it was hard to get close to most of the people who already lived near the metropolitan area.

And so, for now, I’ll keep up with people electronically. I don’t have to watch what I say. I don’t have to worry about pissing of someone by wearing the wrong thing. I don’t have to play office politics. I can be myself, whatever that is on any given day, whether it’s the poet, the dark angel, or Lola, or the woman who really just wanted to make a new friend. If you are offended, don’t read my posts.

Things that break or touch my heart or bring me to tears (in no particular order)

In the Gloaming
In the Gloaming

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings
The scene in The English Patient in which Almaszy is carrying Katherine from the Cave of the Swimmers
Finding a picture unexpectedly that I haven’t seen in years that brings back painful memories
When one of my children is hurting and there is nothing that I can do about it
The scene in the final M*A*S*H after Charles has taught the Korean musicians to play and then finds out that their truck has been blown up, and he breaks all of his records
Finding a dead baby bird
Knowing that I wasn’t with my dad when he died
Arlington Cemetery
“Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes
“Taps” played anytime
Thinking about the poem “My Mother’s Pink Sweater”
Seeing pictures of flag-draped coffins still coming home
The Viet Nam memorial
Remembering how I used to be able to hike the trails on Skyline Drive
The time Alexis brought me a dead baby rabbit and I had to bury it
All of the times the boys’ frogs died
Hearing that tone in Eamonn’s voice when he is hurting
Not hearing the water from the pond outside my bedroom window
Missing all of the wind chimes that used to hang from the rafters of the house
Not having Mari nearby on a daily basis, or Jammi, or Rebecca
The smell of baby blankets
Memories of CHKD
Richard Shelton’s poem “Letter to a Dead Father”
Not teaching college any more
Not being able to roam the galleries of the Museum when it was closed
Hearing a beautiful pipe organ well-played in an empty church
Hearing the closing Hallelujah at church
Listening to the twenty-one-gun salute at my father’s funeral
Hearing Kelly sing “Because of You” at Wanna be’s takes my breath away
The scene in Return of the King when Frodo leaves on the boat with Gandalf
Still waking up from hospital nightmares screaming and crying
Seeing that look in Brett’s eyes that lets me know that he just can’t do it today
Knowing that one of my dogs is getting too old to go on
Realizing that someone I confided in betrayed me
Waking up in pain yet again
Hearing Alexis’s voice on the other end of the phone and knowing that she is in pain
Watching the planes fly into the buildings
Memories of Caitlin’s dark brown hair
Having to acknowledge how different life has become for everyone because of my physical changes
Looking at Corey and worrying about where his dreams have taken him and just how much has been taken from him
Remembering how I used to drink in authors and pour out that knowledge to waiting minds and missing the ongoing challenge of that so much
The beauty of Ondaatje’s book The English Patient and the equally haunting beauty of David Lanz’s “Cristofori’s Dream,” together they are almost too much to bear
Finding out that I have actually been mistaken in believing in happiness
Wondering where all of the time has gone

What Makes Me Happy or makes me cry tears of joy


These are some of the things that makes me happy in life (in no particular order):

Brett’s laugh
Playing ball in the pool with Shakes and Tillie
Pepsi over crushed ice
A great mix of music that I have created
Knowing that I have just captured a great shot with my camera
Sharpies in new bright colors
A really great thunderstorm when the lights go out and the lightning is wild
The feel of Eamonn’s hair
When our bed turns into the family bed again because everyone piles onto it at once
The smell of Corey’s skin when he is wearing my favorite cologne
Pictures of my dad
Finishing the last twenty pages of a book without anyone interrupting me
Finding a new author to add to my collection
Discovering a new brand of ink pen that writes smoothly and isn’t too thin
Pepperidge Farm Chess Men cookies
When Corey wears jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt with the sleeves rolled up
Watching Tillie have a tantrum when she wants to get away with something
Floating in the pool and listening to the birds sing
The smell of fresh cut lilacs and gardenias
Waking up without too much pain
Getting a card for no reason at all
Having a good hair day
Finding the perfect pair of black boots
Watching The Lord of the Rings (again) with one of my sons
Taking Alexis shopping and being able to buy her anything she wants
Fresh peaches with just the right amount of juice running down my chin
Rolling over in the middle of the night and finding Corey’s arm
The feel of clean sheets on freshly shaved legs
Listening to Corey sing “I Cross My Heart” to me when we go to sing karaoke
The smell of fall
Seeing a perfect sunset over aqua blue water
Looking at old pictures and reliving good times
Looking at Alexis’s beautiful eyes
Thinking about Caitlin before the hospital
Writing a poem that I really like
Watching a movie that actually holds together and I that I wasn’t able to predict the ending of
Hearing from old friends and knowing that they really still love me in spite of time and distance
Seeing my exhusband and knowing that I don’t hate him, that I’ve made peace
A good vanilla bean milkshake
The fact that W will soon be out of the White House
The smell of 4711 and everything that it evokes
Wrapping Christmas presents and getting the house ready for the holidays
Going on a cruise with my husband and discovering new places
Feeling safe
Learning new things
Watching my dogs sleep, even if they do hog all of the space on the bed
Being outside in the mountains at night with nothing else around except the stars and the sky
My beautiful computer screen and its uber high resolution
Listening to the bird song just before dawn
Knowing that even though we have our rough patches, my family is what saves me
Ice cream
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
Reading a book that is so good that it leaves me gasping when I’ve turned the last page
Looking at all of the beautiful gardens that Corey has created around our house
Slow dancing with Corey
Having Corey wash my hair
Getting my nails done with Alexis and stopping for slurpees on the way
Having long talks with either one of my sons
Sweater weather
Knowing that I’ve nailed it when I sing “The Georgia Rain”
Driving over a bridge and seeing the water when it’s particularly beautiful
Taking a long bath with all of the candles lit
Painting my toenails
Finding pictures of old doors or arches
Making love in front of the fireplace
Getting a foot massage
Corey’s tequila salmon over rice
Memories of my mom and dad getting dressed up to go out to the club in London
Memories of dancing on the table at the Christmas party when the Beach Boys played
Finding seashells on the beach after a storm
Watching the sun go down from the pier with Corey’s arm around me
A big kiss on the cheek from one of the dogs
A big hug from Brett when he knows that I need one
Listening to Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”
and finally, for now, faith, hope, and belief when I need it most.

Coffee, cigarettes, and more bad habits

I drink too much coffee, even in the summer. My best friend Mari turned me on to iced coffee many years ago, so if I’ve brewed too much in the morning, I just make iced coffee in the afternoon. Now I know better because coffee is a migraine trigger, but when I try to wean myself from this, one of my only vices, it gives me a headache, so I justify it by saying ‘hey, there are worse things that I could be doing.’

When I go to see the doctor, and the questions about drinking and smoking come up, as they inevitably do, I can answer smugly, hardly ever and no. But in the last month, my relatives from Germany have been visiting, and we have used this excuse to have a couple of big get togethers, and I have used this excuse to do something that I rarely do any more: drink alcohol. You see, whenever we go out, as in my husband and I, I am the designated driver, so I will probably have one drink very early in the evening, and then hot tea and water for the following four hours, and I really don’t have a problem with that. But these parties have been at my sister-in-law’s house, which is about four blocks from my house, which means . . . no designated driver status for me. And so, I drank. Now you can probably guess my tolerance level since I rarely drink: it’s non-existent, and I was drinking lots of fruity, slushy things and shooters. No, I did not get sick, just incredibly silly (and there are pictures).

Anyway, at the latest party, I took it a step further and did something else that I haven’t done for years–I smoked cigarettes. I’m surprised that my body didn’t go into full body shock. This is a bad habit that I gave up years ago and never really had as a full-blown habit. I was one of those casual smokers, during times of stress, exams, and at bars, and then sometimes at the weirdest times I would have a craving. But I haven’t had a full-blown craving until the other night, and I blame it totally on my sister-in-law, who is the person with whom I would always smoke the most. Guilt by association. I also happened to be very pissed, so it was a good time to throw all good restraint out the window and let Lola loose, and boy did I ever.

I got into a political argument with my nephew, poor boy, and I even considered jumping into the pool with my clothes on, but I was having a very good hair day and didn’t want to ruin that. I ended the evening sans shoes, but special drinking glass in hand. I awoke without a hangover, still pissed, craving coffee.

So mea culpa and all of that. But if I confine myself to this exhuberance once every five or ten years, I suppose I can survive. After all, the night began as a celebration for me. I had gotten very good news about a lump in my breast. Being the half-empty kind of person that I am, I was convinced of the worst-case scenario, but it turned out to be the best-case scenario, so I was feeling very good about things: life in general, my life in particular, our life as a couple and the future and where we were going. The future was full of possibilities and I was feeling them spread before me, in spite of the fact that my wallet was empty and the money fairy was not due to visit any time soon. I felt a tiny inkling of that elusive thing called hope. Maybe, just maybe things would start to get better.

So you’ll have to pardon me if I just couldn’t understand why someone close to me chose that particular day, moment in time, to take a stand in his freedom of expression on one particular issue that weighs heavily on my heart, even though I have said that I will try to stay out of this issue. The timing was selfish and ill-considered. Perhaps I am being selfish for wanting to have joy and hope unsullied. Sometimes I don’t know if my expectations in life are too high, truly. After all, I am no peach in the best of times, admittedly. I don’t know. I’ll never know. And that, friends, is the heart of the matter: we never really know, do we?

“Whisper to me sweetly now”

Jann Arden’s “Unloved”

There will be no consolation prize
this time the bone is broken clean
no baptism, no reprise and no sweet taste
of victory. All the stars have fallen
from the sky
and everything else in between
satelites have closed their eyes, the moon
has gone to sleep


here I am inside a hotel choking on a
million words I said
cigarettes have burned a hole and dreams are
drunk and penniless
here I am inside my father’s arms
all jagged-bone and whiskey-dry
whisper to me sweetly now and tell me I will
never die

Lonely Landscape
Lonely Landscape

here I am an empty hallway
broken window, rainy night
I am nineteen sixty-two and I am ready
for a fight people crying hallelujah
while the bullet leaves the gun
people falling, falling, falling and I don’t know
where they’re falling from
are they

hoping that the kindness will lead us
past the blindness and
not another living soul will ever have to feel

The first time that I heard this song was several years ago, and it was as a duet with Jackson Browne. I found the words absolutely haunting because they could refer to so many things: 1962, the bullet leaving the gun, and the refrain of unloved . . . unloved . . . unloved. But the words that have always gotten to me the most are these: “here I am inside a hotel choking on a million words I said, cigarettes have burned a hole and dreams are drunk and penniless. Here I am inside my father’s arms all jagged-bone and whiskey-dry. Whisper to me sweetly now, and tell me I will never die.”

How many times have we choked on words we’ve said, but more than that, felt that our dreams have been left with a big old hole burned in them? Wouldn’t it mean everything if we had someone to hold us and tell us that everything is going to be okay and that we will never die even though we know it’s a lie? Sometimes we need the lie. Sometimes, after someone has just torn us apart with the truth, nothing would feel better than a lie, whispered sweetly in some foreign room that we don’t belong in so that we can pretend for just a moment that our life is something else, somewhere else. Because if we can let ourselves be blind to all of the pain that surrounds us for just one moment, just one pretend second after that bullet has already left the gun, then we can allow ourselves to feel the kindness, even if it isn’t real. Then we don’t have to feel unloved.

Sometimes, even when we are surrounded by love, by all of the people who love us, care for us, those who mean the most to us in our lives, we can still feel unloved. That is one of the great, tragic ironies in life: That in the midst of happiness, we can still feel lonely and unloved, if only for a moment. If you have never had one of these moments, then you cannot understand what I am describing, and you probably think that I am odder than usual. But if you have experienced one of these oddly, out of place moments, then you will understand the sadness of which I speak.

It is unsettling and disconcerting at best, and usually indicative of an impending low, which can be viewed in a number of ways:

  1. Oh shit, not again
  2. Maybe I’ll get a poem out of it this time
  3. Do I have a good stash of books?
  4. I wish that I had the stamina to go on a road trip
  5. How many days in a row can I wear this night shirt?

These are the things that I thing about, at least. But getting back to Jann Arden’s lyrics, I think that “Unloved,” is one of those songs that you absolutely cannot listen to unless you are feeling down or sad because it is just too intense, and god, I wish that I had written it. It really is crafted well. “Inside my father’s arms, all jagged-bone and whiskey dry”–I don’t know about you, but the phrase just gives me chills because it is too descriptive.

But I’ll say this about it, “Unloved” is the perfect song to listen to right after someone says “fuck you” to you because after all, what can be said after that?

“But I have promises to keep . . .”

The meaning of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the woods on a Snowy Evening” has long been debated because of what comes after the above: “and miles to go before I sleep.” Many scholars have contended that Frost was talking about suicide because of the use of the word “sleep,” with sleep long being associated with the image of death, especially by the romantic poets. But I have never read this particular poem with dark images in mind:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I have always loved this poem because I can relate to the imagery: a traveler stops in the woods for a moment to take in the beauty of the snow falling, the frozen lake, the gentle wind. I have been out on a snowy evening much like this when there was very little sound, just the crunch of my shoes in the snow. It was when I lived in Blacksburg years ago before it had grown, so there were still places where there was absolutely nothing around except trees. The snow had been falling all day, but by evening, it was falling lightly. It was beautiful. There were drifts; trees were covered. We walked up a hill and looked out and just watched the snow falling. It was hypnotizing. If there had been a horse and cart, he might have shaken his harness in impatience to move on because it was so easy to forget everything for a few minutes. It wasn’t terribly cold, and the wind wasn’t blowing, just a slight breeze now and again. I felt no need to move on, to be anywhere in particular. I just wanted to stand there and listen to the silence forever. Moments like these are stored in deep memory so as never to be forgotten.

As to the last two lines of the poem: an interlude in the woods with nature of this sort, pure, peaceful, uninterrupted, would be intoxicating and hard to leave. But if you must return to the realities of life, those who await you, those who depend upon you, those to whom you have made promises, then it is a shake of the head, and the realization that there are miles to go still before the warm bed and then sleep. And that is what I have always believed the last two lines to mean. The speaker could have stayed by the woods for hours, drinking in the beauty of the night, but at last, he had to put aside what he wanted, and return to reality and his duties, as mundane or as taxing as they might be.

Walking down that hill and returning to reality that night in Blacksburg was the last thing that I wanted to do. But there were people waiting for us, and we had promised to be somewhere, and even though sometimes promises become burdens that we just wish that we could ignore, we have made them, and so we must keep them. We spend years teaching our children this lesson, about honor, and how important their word is, how they must do what they have said they will do and follow through because it is the honorable thing. But oh, how much easier it would be sometimes to walk into those woods “lovely, dark and deep” and not look back.

I haven’t seen snow like that winter in many years, and I miss it. I miss the silence and stillness of snow. I miss looking out the window at night and seeing the blueness of the moon on the snow. I miss a lot of things, but that is one thing in particular that my heart has an ache for. Not the craziness of people driving in snow, or the wretchedness of bitter cold. Just the silence and the beauty of snow banked against trees and fences. Birdbaths frozen like small ponds. The snow in the cemetery, turning the stillness of the gravestones into beautiful statues: “downy flake” and “lovely.”

Is it timing, or is it signs?

My husband Corey likes to give me a hard time about one of my favorite phrases: “It’s a sign.” I’m a big believer in signs, for example, the appearance of mourning doves versus the appearance of ravens. If I awaken to the caw caw of ravens, I always have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that it’s going to be a terrible day; whereas if I hear the soothing coo of a mourning dove, I feel that it will be a good day. I have absolutely no scientific study to back up my morning bird meter. That’s just the way that it is for me.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have believed in signs or portents. Now don’t go off half-cocked and start to classify me as a wiccan, not that I have any particular feelings about wiccans; I don’t. I’m just not a wiccan. If anything, I’m a pantheist; to clarify: a pantheist is someone who believes that the greater being exists in all things in nature, including humans beings. It’s not any sort of religion. It’s just a belief system. I don’t carry it to extremes; by that I mean, I don’t believe that flies or cockroaches are sentient beings and deserve to be left alone. I’m sorry, and perhaps someday I’ll come back as some kind of insect, but I just absolutely hate cockroaches, having once lived in a townhouse in Alexandria that had a basement and as a result, suffered co-existence with cockroaches the size of small rodents. I have never quite gotten over the trauma of having one of these giants crawl across my arm while I slept. I cannot even find the words to describe the physical reaction that my body still has whenever I recall the memory of waking up to that. So let us move on.

I was expounding on signs and the role that these illusory portents have played in my life. For example, for as long as I can remember, I have been hyper-sensitive to smells, as they evoke instant associations in my subconscious. I remember looking at clouds when I was a child and trying to find meaning in the shapes. And I would look for four-leafed clovers and press them between the pages of favorite books to save up luck for the future. If I found an oddly-shaped rock or shell, I would save it, just in case. I was never quite sure what “just in case” meant, but for me, it meant something. Admittedly, I was an odd duck of a child. But only children tend to have wild imaginations, especially pre-cable, pre-video games. Egads! However did I survive?

When I became a teenager, I suppose I continued to feel things, although I was much too busy to notice. But the telephone rang one time, and I knew that I did not want to answer it. I answered anyway only to hear my uncle’s strangled voice on the other end telling me that my cousin had been hit by a truck at a rest stop, and he had died at the scene. I did not know this cousin very well lest you think we talked frequently, and we had some kind of connection. The same thing happened with another telephone call years later when the phone rang and rang and I could only stare at it. I would not answer it. Later, when my mother came home, the phone rang, and she answered it, only to find out that one of her brothers had shot himself. I did not know this uncle at all. I know, I know. It’s weird. Coincidence? Probably. Was it just timing that somehow on those days I had an aversion to the telephone? Perhaps. Who knows.

Electric Sky

I love a good thunder storm, and I don’t find lightning scary in the way that many people do. In fact, I find it very comforting in an odd way. That’s not to say that I don’t respect its power in the same way that I would respect any force in nature. I’m not an idiot. But the ocean and water are my elements and where the water meets the sky is always fascinating to me. I’m not sure how that fits in with signs exactly, except that I always tend to feel very much in touch with my inner being when I’m on the open water, and thunderstorms have such a calming effect on me that there must be something in the electricity that connects with me. Just a thought.

I’ll share just a few more signs or moments in time. After my baby daughter died and I thought that I couldn’t go on, I received what I believe was a very significant sign. One night, it was the night before Easter, the children were with their father. I was newly single, and I was having a very hard time understanding how I had arrived at this place in my life. I sat on the living room couch by myself for hours trying to decide if I had anything left to contribute to this world. I had written for hours, and I had nothing left to say. The house was completely quiet, and dawn was very near. Then suddenly, I began to hear the soft, sweet sound of a mourning dove right outside my living room window. She started cooing slowly, and then her song grew stronger. She didn’t move from my window for what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes. When I finally looked out, she flew away. And that is why awakening to the sound of mourning doves is a good sign for me because it is a sound that saved me. I met the dawn with peace in my heart.

And I will close with this: On one of the last days that my husband was to drive me to Alexandria for class, we got in the car, and I turned to him, and I said, “I have a funny feeling. Do the speed limit today.” He looked at me oddly, and then said he had the same feeling. On the way to Alexandria we normally see three or four state troopers. That day we saw 22. Timing? Maybe we’ve just been together so long that I’ve rubbed off on him. I’m not sure what the omen is for state troopers. And don’t even get me started on my dreams and how they’re signs for things because we could be here for another three pages.

I will end with this: I don’t read Tarot cards, but I do have rune stones that I have had on a string in my car for over a decade. But I tend to rely more on my funny feelings and my connections with nature. But as I said, I am a bit of an odd duck. But you already knew that. Didn’t you?