So, I’m sure that most of you have heard Keith Urban’s song “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” And if you haven’t, it doesn’t really matter because it’s the title that’s relevant. I’m sitting here in my sweats, new Christmas socks (gingerbread men), a bag of Christmas peanut M&M’s (red and green only), and I’m feeling completely sorry for myself. It’s colder than a witch’s tit outside (have no idea where that completely nonsensical saying came from), my toes are cold, and my neck won’t turn to the right.
But none of these things are what’s causing me to be down. It’s more of a global kind of down, one of those system failures, you know, like when your computer just isn’t acting right but you can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with it? That would be me tonight. I wonder why they don’t have a Symantec scan for people, one that you could plug into your ear and run to find out what’s wrong: A few beeps and knocks later, and then a message appears on the screen: system infected with rhino virus, aka common cold. Take an ibuprofen, orange juice, and get eight hours of sleep. Or system screwed . . . too much information to process. Suggest shut down for 24 hours. Microsoft or Symantec could make another billion.
It’s not a holiday letdown because I never really went into a holiday high this year, too much stress from losing the wallet and its contents prevented that. In fact, it just never really felt like Christmas at all this year, just another day, too weird. I sent out the cards; the tree was decorated, packages wrapped; dining room table was put together, but none of it seemed to permeate me.
I think that I can attribute this low partially to two things: Sarah McLachlan and Carnival Cruises. It seems that whenever I turned around, there was Sarah Mac on late night television singing “Angel,” and if I didn’t turn away quickly enough, I would see pictures of dogs and cats with one paw wrapped up, one eye missing, clawing to get out of a cage, a beagle shivering in the cold, a beagle of all things. Sarah Mac is evil I tell you. She has this angelic voice, and that’s what sucks you in, but then she shows you these pictures of these poor animals, and you want to run to the nearest shelter and bring all of them home, especially the beagle and the old golden retriever who is trying to get under the gate.
Why is that evil, you might ask? She is only trying to do a community service ad. Oh, but you don’t understand the evil intent behind it. You take Sarah Mac’s beautiful voice and these helpless, beautiful animals, and then try to look away. You can’t, you simply can’t, and that’s the point, and she knows it. At Christmas, she changed the song to “Silent Night.” How much can one person take?
Corey had to put the television on mute for my own good. If not, I’d be coming home with about six more dogs, and the reality is that this home is way too small for six more dogs. We’re pushing it with three. I cannot go to a shelter and leave without an animal. I simply can’t. They are all calling my name and wondering why I’m not taking them home. It’s much too painful.
And as far as Carnival Cruise Lines go, the economy is obviously hurting them because they are sending me e-mails every other day offering me wonderful prices on 5, 6, and 7 day cruises as a return guest. Belize is calling my name, they claim. And you know what, I can hear Belize calling my name. I can hear fruity drinks with umbrellas and white sand calling my name. I can hear total irresponsibility calling my name. I can hear a suite upgrade calling my name. And boy does it sound good.
I’ve had 365 days of pure crap, and 7 days of cruising around the Caribbean sounds like bliss to me. But it isn’t going to happen any more than I’m going to win the Lotto, so I’m sitting here shoving M&Ms into my mouth and wondering how it got to be 2009 with no major changes happening.
An old friend of mine used to jokingly say that if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. I know that’s from an old country song, but damned if it isn’t true still. Then another person said that you make your own luck. I thought about that, and I wondered how exactly you make your own luck. Is it the thinking happy thoughts, looking on the bright side of life kind of thing?
Well, what if I were born on a Wednesday? Remember that, Wednesday’s child is full of woe? I used to think that that was the most unfair rhyme ever. Only Wednesday got the short end of the stick because someone couldn’t figure out a better way to fit the rhyme scheme. Great. I’m given woe because of some bastard’s laziness. Figures. At least I have a beautiful portrait to look at by Maureen Mahoney.
But as usual, I digress . . .
Why so blue, you might ask? as if there were one thing in particular bringing down the Lola, the Carlotta, woman of many guises but no single self. Well, it’s the new year, so new things should be on the horizon, but nothing is looming, no Fata Morgana, no signs of change, and I do not think that I can take months and months more of this sameness.
I feel as if something bad is waiting on the periphery, but I cannot see it yet; I can only begin to feel it, and it does not feel friendly. Attribute it to my signs, if you will. I have no way of holding it at bay any longer. Too many signs are pointing in bad directions. My empty wallet never turned up with just my pictures in it as I had hoped; who would need the picture of Caitlin that I had carried around for 20 years? I know that they just trashed it, and that breaks my heart.
No signs yet that Corey is going to get the Coast Guard approval that he needs for his upgrade, and until he gets that, he cannot apply for the jobs that he wants, and near-coastal jobs are at a standstill. Everyone has boats tied up in the yard for lack of work. No signs that Eamonn is going to come around any time soon, and I am just numb to that situation because I simply don’t have anything else to give at the moment.
I had hopes that we would do more on the house after Christmas, but that momentum seems to have died already, and I can’t really say anything about it because I don’t have any momentum left in me. I can’t even get out of bed in the afternoons, and I honestly don’t know what is wrong with me. I want to get up. I want to do things. But I simply, physically cannot. I am drained to my last corpuscle.
Hence the need for a system diagnostics and reboot. I wish that humans could do what computers do when they go off track. I don’t even have the energy to read one of my new books or to watch a DVD. And this pity party is starting to wear on me. Even the dogs are looking at me cock-eyed as if to say, “Hey. Enough. We haven’t played in days. What’s your problem?” And I can’t say that I blame them. Being this run down makes you more tired than you should be, and even a dog can only sleep 22 hours a day.
Snap Out of It
I know that it’s bad when my new Christmas socks don’t really make me happy. I’m hoping that this down time doesn’t last too long. I don’t handle them as well as I used to, and Corey isn’t as empathetic when he is already down himself. My mother is no help. Remember, she’s the one who used to say, “snap out of it. Watch something happy on television. You just make yourself sad.”
Her latest thing is that my antiques make me sad, keeping things from the past, like some of my Dad’s old things, make me sad. If she had her way, she would throw out anything old and buy new everything. No nostalgia for her. No sir. Why have memories. They only make you sad. “That’s why they’re called memories, Ma. Because you remember.”
“Who the hell says I want to remember anyone or anything. Get rid of it. That’s what I say.” She kind of reminds me of Heath Ledger’s Joker in an oddly strange way: “Why so sad?” Neither of them can understand why people might want to feel things.
Oh well, enough of the pity party. Maybe I’ll try going to be early and see if that helps. Yep. Whatever. More later. Peace.
When I was a little girl, I mean really little girl, about 8, my Aunt Ronnie used to have one of those electric chord organs in her back bedroom. My Aunt Ronnie is my mother’s oldest sister and has pretty much served as my surrogate grandmother on my mother’s side. My mother was the youngest of 12 children, and Aunt Ronnie was the oldest, so there is a big age span between them, which is why I have always viewed her as my surrogate grandmother, that and the fact that she is the grandmother to all of my second cousins who are my age.
I should probably be explaining this better, so let me regress a little. When we came back to the states after being in England, we settled in Norfolk for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was that several members of my mother’s family live in Great Bridge, which at that time, was still a pretty rural place in Chesapeake. Every Sunday, my mom and I would drive to Aunt Ronnie’s house for Sunday dinner, and I would spend the afternoon playing with my second cousins, which was a wonderful thing for me because as an only child, I wasn’t used to playing with family members my own age.
Those Sunday dinners deserve some space all their own. My Aunt Ronnie and whoever happened to be in the kitchen helping would turn out these incredible meals: roast chickens, chicken and dumplings (home made dumplings), pot roast, but the main course was always accompanied by southern style green beans, home made biscuits, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and some kind of homemade dessert, like banana pudding or an apple pie. None of it was frozen. Nothing out of a can.
I remember my first dinner—It was my first taste of southern sweet tea. I drank it down in one big gulp. Everyone looked at me as if I were some kind of weirdo, which, of course, I wasn’t. I just had never had anything as wonderful as sweet tea. Those were also the days of the kids’ table and the big table. We had great times at the kids’ table . . . until the adults remembered to look in on us. But, as usual, I digress.
My first cousins, Aunt Ronnie’s three daughters, were mostly my Mom’s age. Those Sundays were some of the best times of my childhood. Before them, I knew nothing about running wild through fall leaves, playing tag, playing hide and seek, finding toads, having sticker ball fights, getting bruises from climbing tall trees, swinging on tire swings, all of the fun things that normal children do.
In England, I had friends, and we went to the park, but it wasn’t with the same wild abandon that I had with my cousins. It was the difference between being in a city and having to be watched and being in what was still relatively untouched country neighborhoods with few cars coming down the streets. We could play in the streets, and every once in a while, one of the grown ups might yell out the front door to get a location on us, and we could hear from ten houses down. The windows were open. Everyone knew who we were. We could run through everyone’s yards, and no one really cared.
Of all of my cousins, I was probably the one who was the most scared to do things, not because I was a girlie girl, but because I didn’t know how to do a lot of the things that seemed to come second nature to them, and I knew that they would laugh at me. For example, they never could get me on a minibike. But I was one of the best at climbing trees. I wasn’t afraid to climb anything. Stick ball. Nope. I pretty much sucked at connecting any kind of bat at any kind of ball (I had bad eyes but wouldn’t admit it for years). I tried a couple of times, but decided that I liked rolling sticker balls in the mud and then playing war with them until we were cold, wet, and filthy.
“How Sweet the Sound”
Sometimes, my mom and I would go to my Aunt Ronnie’s house during the week, and none of my cousins would be around, and then it would be totally different. It would just be Mom and Aunt Ronnie sitting around drinking coffee, and I would have to amuse myself however I could. That’s when I discovered the small electric organ in the back bedroom. I think that these organs were probably popular during the 60’s. Some were small enough to sit on desks, and others were on stands. This one was on a stand, and I think that it had 18 keys on it. There were a few chords on the left. Very simplistic.
At that time, I hadn’t begun formal piano lessons. I was playing instruments by ear only. I picked out some rudimentary tunes: “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells.” And then I found an old hymnal, and I taught myself a couple of hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Amazing Grace.” Now, in all of the times I was in the back room playing with the organ, no one ever bothered me. They just drank their coffee, and once in a while said something about how nicely I was playing. But when I played “Amazing Grace,” I knew right away that I had done something, but I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.
My mother came into the bedroom with this strange look on her face. I had been playing and trying to sing the words as I was singing. She asked me very quietly to stop. Of course, I wanted to know why. The only thing that she would tell me was that Aunt Ronnie didn’t like to hear that song. So I stopped, but being a child, the next chance that I got, I played “Amazing Grace” again. This time, the reaction was much stronger. My mother came stomping back to the bedroom and turned off the organ and gave me one of those looks. I got up and started reading my book, and that was that.
I never played the organ again at her house other than the occasional Christmas carol, and that was much later when the cousins were older, and by then, we were sneaking bourbon, beer, and wine into the back room. The organ was just something to play to irritate the adults with more noise. I never found out why the hymn upset my aunt so much other than a quick explanation that it reminded Aunt Ronnie of something sad.
“And Grace Will Lead Me Home”
Personally, I have always loved “Amazing Grace,” and I decided years ago that when I die, it’s one of the few things that I want played at my memorial service—on the bagpipes, of course. Because, if nothing else is true, I believe in grace, perhaps not in the most traditional sense, but grace nevertheless. And I believe that even though the child in me could not understand how a song could elicit such painful memories in my aunt, something led me to that particular song in that hymnal.
And more than once in my life, I have been brought back to the lines “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me.” They have come out of nowhere, when I have least anticipated it, at times when I have most needed it. As always, my spirituality is very personal and private to me and therefore, I am not willing to say more about it, nor do I believe that this is the forum in which to do so.
But mulling over Thanksgiving dinner brought back fond memories of those really wonderful Sunday dinners with my family in a time and place long gone. Those streets are unrecognizable now. Everyone has moved on to different places. My aunt wouldn’t know me if she saw me. The tragedies of Alzheimer’s. I have third and fourth cousins who I have never seen since we stopped going to the family Christmas gatherings long ago. But it’s nice to revisit these memory sand castles that we have tucked away in long-term niches gathering dust in grey matter, if for no other reason than to know that we still can.