Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Part 2 of Seamus and the brain tumors

This is Part 2 of Seamus and the brain tumors. Here is Part 1. I would highly recommend you read Part 1 first, or it will not make any sense to you.

I showed up on Sunday to take Seamus to lunch. When I rang the front doorbell, all kinds of dogs started barking. Seamus's sister told me that this was not a good day for him. Apparently the paper had printed the wrong date the day before. Seamus looked to the paper to tell him what day it was, and was highly agitated that it was Sunday two days in a row. He could not, would not let that go. His sister said he would probably obsess about it till the next Saturday. Also, the noise level in the house was driving him crazy. When I showed up, he could not even acknowledge my presence because he could not find his Yankees hat. He could not leave the house without his Yankees hat.

We then went on the puppy issue. Seamus ranted about the Goddamn dog that could not be trained properly in this house full of other dogs and all those kids. And the dog didn't like to do his business outside, especially in the rain, and was constantly running off to visit the neighbor's dog up the street.

When he was ready to go, his sister suggested that after lunch I maybe take him shopping, he likes to go shopping. I had no problem with that, Ocean State Job Lots was right around the corner from where we were going to lunch, we could putter around there for a while and give her a break.

As we're walking out the door, Seamus calls the dog over and picks it up. I suggested we leave Brute at home because he wouldn't like being shut in the car while we were in the restaurant. I was informed that Brute goes wherever Seamus goes, and does not get left in the car. Huh? We're going out to eat, you cannot bring a dog into a restaurant. Seamus countered that you could bring a seeing eye dog into a restaurant. But, I pointed out, that is different. His sister just shrugged it off and said that they tell everyone it's an
anti-seizure dog.

As Seamus was getting visibly
agitated by this, I agreed to keep the peace. But I warned him that if there was any trouble at the restaurant, the dog was going back to the car. Seamus, are you going to put a leash on the dog? Nope, don't need one. His sister handed me one, just in case.

He wrapped Brute in a sweatshirt to bring it into the restaurant. We got a booth way in the back, the place was packed. Seamus put the dog on the seat next to him, covered in the sweatshirt and admonished the dog to "lay still and be quiet, you little fucking bastard" while flicking the dog's skull so had I could hear the thump across the table. Now
I was getting agitated.

Brute keeps poking his head out from the under the sweatshirt, and keeps getting flicked on the head for his efforts, with Seamus leaning over and saying through clenched teeth, "knock if off you little motherfucker" and other sweet things along those lines. He kept saying to me over and over, "do you know what it's like going from perfection to this shit?"

After the food came and we were properly distracted, the dog makes a run for it. I was up and running after it before Seamus could even react. People were staring, but no one that worked there had seen anything. I hand the dog back to Seamus and suggest we put him in the car now. Seamus proceeds to ignore me in favor of flicking the dog at least 5 times while muttering angrily, and puts the dog back on the seat under the sweatshirt.

The dog waits about 5 minutes before he tries it again. I'm now trying to get around little old church ladies to get at the dog who ran under their legs. He almost made it to the kitchen when I caught up with him, and immediately proceeded outside and I put him in the car.

Seamus wasn't happy with this decision, but too fucking bad. On top of it, he was also being a royal prick. Gone was any hint of the wonderful sense of humor he had, and he was outright insulting more than once. After lunch was over, I couldn't believe it had only been an hour. I had promised his sister I would keep him out for a couple of hours, so off to Ocean State Job Lots we went.

They both behaved themselves there and the store didn't give us a hard time having Brute in the carriage. We came to the pet section where they had little doggie sweaters and jackets. Seamus got it in his head that he wanted the dog to have a raincoat because the dog wouldn't do his business outside in the rain. Of course, they didn't have any. I offered to take him to the pet store around the corner.

When we got to the pet store, Seamus opened his door and before he could grab the dog, it took off running, across the parking lot and down the sidewalk of a very busy four lane road. Seamus takes off running down the road and I hop back in the car and follow with my hazzards on, hoping the dog doesn't run out into the road. As luck would have it, about a 1/4 mile down, all traffic was stopped at a red light, and the dog unbelievably crossed all four lanes of traffic
in the crosswalk, and into a major shopping center.

The more we chased him, the more he ran. People were stopping, trying to help, it was a major traffic cluster fuck. Finally, a half hour after this started, all the way on the other side of the shopping plaza, some lady had a container of gold fish crackers for her kid that she shook to get Brute's attention and while he was eating them, she grabbed him. She looked at us to see who to give the dog to, and I said, "oh please, please give him to me."

When we got back to the car, I went to put Brute in the back seat, but Seamus wasn't having any of it and wanted the dog up front with him. While the dog was on the floor, Seamus started stomping his feet at the dog, muttering that he was going to break the dog's mother-fucking legs. I had finally had it and told him to STOP. That is ENOUGH. I put the dog back into the back-seat and we drove back to the pet supply store.

I am apparently nothing if not a glutton for self-punishment, but I didn't want his sister to have to deal with the rain coat issue if I could fix it before I dropped them off. It took less than about three minutes for us to get from the parking lot where my car was to the parking lot where the pet store was. When we pulled up in front of the pet store, Seamus casually said, "Wow, it feels like we were just here." I'm thinking, thank God, he still has a sense of humor, and I look over at him with a great big smile on my face, ready to believe this has been a bad dream of a day. He was being totally serious. I needed a minute to wrap my brain around that one.

I said, "Sweetie, do you really not remember what just happened?" He said, "No, should I be upset about something?" "No, absolutely not, there is no reason for you to be upset, about ANYTHING."

I made sure Seamus had Brute in his arms before we got out of the car this time. We went into the pet store, where they did not have any raincoats, or any doggie clothes of any kind. They tried to explain to Seamus that it was May, they do not sell dog clothes this time of year. Seamus very loudly tried to explain to them that it rains all year round, which I thought was a valid point. This went on for a little while before I was able to get him out of there.

On the way back to his sister's house, I told Seamus I would try to find a raincoat on eBay for Brute. The second we got back to his sister's house, he again didn't have the dog in his arms before he opened the door, and the dog went running up the street to visit its friend.

I went right into the house and gave his sister back the leash and gave her an update and was ready to be out of there. Seamus was so agitated by the dog that when he got back he couldn't say goodbye to me. I called a couple of days later to let him know that I had ordered a raincoat for Brute, but he said it had already been taken care of.

I may be a terrible person, but the truth is that I cannot even remotely deal with this. That was May and I haven't called him since. I know myself, I don't have the extra empathy capable of handling this on a regular basis. I don't even know how he is doing and feel so guilty about it that I am ashamed to call and find out.

What would you do?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Seamus, a short pictorial

Before I post Part 2 of Seamus and the brain tumor, I decided to post a short pictorial of what he meant in my life. His outgoing personality attracted me to him. Nothing in my short life had prepared me for Hurricane Seamus.

I met him for the first time at his 18th birthday party, I was 16 at the time. We started talking at school, and I actively pursued him. He was an unbelievably funny guy, and I asked him if I could carry his books for him. I asked him out, and pushed him until he could say no any longer, anything to get this girl to stop badgering me. Except, it turned out, he liked me, too.

We had a LOT of fun for the next few years. We hosted great parties, but nothing rivaled our Halloween costume parties. His mom would buy the kegs, and the Grain alcohol that I put in my punch, we had live bands in the basement/garage, I decorated the whole house, and put dry ice in my punch which was served out of a witch's cauldron. We had a blast together.

It didn't matter if it was a party, or just us; it didn't matter where in the country we were, or even out of the country. If we weren't actually fighting at the time, we were having a great time together.

It turns out that very few pictures were taken of us together. Here are the best of the ones taken of him, at least.

I give you Halloween 1987, and the pregnant nun in the miniskirt, with fishnet stockings.

The pregnant nun with his girlfriend, a devil. (We had on the same red lipstick)

Early 1988, Maniacal at the Meadowlands

Summer of 1988, Grand Canyon

Halloween 1988 - the Dick Head

May 1989, Jamaica (no there was no weed in Jamaica, we weren't stoned at all)

Fall of 1989, dressed up for his father's wedding:

He had a big red car, that he did this to when Desert Storm was announced. It took 3 days straight:

Part 1 of Seamus and the brain tumor

My high school sweetheart, Seamus, and I dated on and off for about 5 years. We have remained friendly, if not exactly good friends.

He used to get migraines, but never got it checked out. He just thought it was something he had to deal with, you know - manly men stuff. About 15 years ago, his mother called me while I was living in Florida to let me know Seamus was in the hospital. He had started having pain in his neck, and was diagnosed with a pinched nerve. Then he started having double vision. While at the doctor for the double vision, he had a seizure. They finally sent him for an MRI and CT scan, where they found a benign tumor the size of a large potato in his brain.

He had surgery and they removed what they could, but they couldn't get it all. Part of the tumor was under part of his brain that controls movement and speech, and they didn't want to mess with it. After the surgery, they hit him with both chemo and radiation, even though it wasn't cancerous. They were hoping that would shrink what was left, and keep it from growing back. Unfortunately, benign tumors are often more aggressive than malignant ones, and grow back it did.

Within 5 years he had to go through it all again. The chemo and radiation made him so sick the second time, they had to keep starting and stopping it, waiting for his white blood cells to recuperate. The second round lasted 9 months.

He told me in no uncertain terms that he would rather die than go through it a third time. In the meantime, all that messing with his brain altered his personality. He had always been very outgoing, but now he became reclusive. He was on permanent disability and he never left his room, never mind the house. He became addicted to the
oxy they were giving him for the pain. He spent most of his disability money on weed. And whereas before he was a pretty funny, albeit kind of aggressive guy, he now had no boundaries. Anything he thought - he said, and it was usually rude, crude and socially unacceptable.

I would visit him occasionally, but stopped having him over to my house and stopped bringing my son to his house because Seamus scared him. Seamus's idea of rough-housing was pretty violent, and my son was not used to that, and usually got hurt.

The more time that passed, the less Seamus wanted to be around people. He went 2 years at one point without returning my phone calls. I still called and left him a message every once in a while.

This past spring I finally called his mom to ask what was going on. The last I had heard, the tumor was growing again. He was scheduled for an MRI every three months so they could keep an eye on it. According to his mom, he just stopped going. He didn't want to know. His mom called me back the Thursday after Easter with the news that Seamus had collapsed on Easter Sunday. The tumor had started hemorrhaging and they had to drill into his skull to drain the blood and take the pressure off his brain. It had the same effect on him that a minor stroke would have. I was told not to visit. I tried calling, but was was told that patients on the brain trauma unit were not allowed to accept phone calls.

His sister stepped up to the plate and took him to her house because he couldn't be left alone when they released him from the rehab facility. She was able to rearrange her and her
childrens' schedules so that he was never alone. But he was not at all the same person, any longer. I spoke with her a couple of times before I spoke with him.

She warned me that he was easily agitated and often confused. He was now very aggressive, and in fact had to be restrained by her husband a few times when he decided the noise in the house was too much for him and he was just going to leave.

I asked who was taking care of his mini-pincher, Sampson. I was sad to hear that Sampson had gotten hit by a car on a busy street, right in front of Seamus, a couple of months before Easter. Seamus had not taken it well, at all. I was told not to bring up Sampson, under any circumstances. Seamus had Sampson for many years. He had that dog trained to a tee. He loved that dog more than he had ever loved any woman. They were
inseparable, because the dog was portable. Remember this part because it plays a key role in Part 2.

A friend of Seamus's gave him a new mini-pincher puppy. Seamus named him Brute, which is as close as I can get to his real name which is German for little brother. Seamus had just started training Brute a couple of weeks before Easter.

When I finally talked to Seamus at his sister's house, he seemed okay. He knew who I was, he knew that he hadn't spoken to me in a while. He didn't seem agitated to me, at all. As a matter of fact, I thought maybe his sister was overreacting, maybe because she was overwhelmed with her blended family of 5 kids, plus having Seamus and his dog in her house. When he and I spoke, he was very calm and told me how much he appreciated the things everyone was doing for him, and how he was now able to tell people how much he loved them.

This was not like him, he was never a lovey sensitive guy. He even told me that he had been thinking of me, recently, and that he needed to tell me how much our friendship meant to him, and that he was thankful that I hadn't given up on him, and that he loved me. He seemed confused one or two times on the phone, but nothing that I wasn't already expecting.

I asked him if he would like to go to lunch the following Sunday. I figured I would get him out of the house for an hour or two, give his sister a break, and give him a break. He had to clear it with his sister, and also his doctor. When I spoke with his sister, it went something along the lines of, "Are you sure you want to take him out?" I said, "Of course, it's just lunch. He's walking by himself, he can feed himself, what would be the problem?"

**I'm breaking this up because it is such a long story. This is a picture of us when we were young, and very much in love with each other, and life, and following The Greatful Dead around the country.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Moms are soooo embarrassing!

My son had his first Homecoming Dance, tonight. I had never been to one, myself, so I wasn't sure what etiquette called for as far as getting a corsage for his girlfriend. I checked around on-line and the best I got was that it wasn't required, but what girl doesn't like flowers? Right? Remembering that the only major dance I went to in high school was my junior prom, where my date forgot to bring me a corsage, I decided the girlfriend was getting one, period.

We didn't know what color dress she would be wearing, she just bought it today, and I wanted to order the corsage in advance. So I went with a neutral wristlet, 2 white roses, white opaque ribbon neither silver or gold, just in case. It was really very lovely.

I took my son shopping for his outfit, today. After 2 hours, he finally decided on black dress pants with a subtle stripe, just a little long so they bag at the bottom, a white button down shirt in a little more relaxed style than a traditional oxford, a black tie with a silver stripe, and his black dress shoes that he wears to school. He looked very much the part of a sharp dressed young man. I was gushing over him like a retard. That's what I do.

Having no idea what the other was wearing, the girlfriend bought a black dress with silver accents and a white sash. They are going to look great together.

I had asked him in advance if he wanted to take his girlfriend out for dinner, before the dance, my treat. No. Well, can we go to her house and give her the corsage so her mom and I can take pictures? No. Can I get out of the car at the school and take pictures of you together? No. Will you take my camera and have someone take a picture of you together for me? No. Can I at least get a couple of pictures of you before I drive you to the school? Okay, but I'm not going to smile, and you better not post the picture on your blog. Will you hold the corsage while I take a picture of you? No. Okay, don't forget to open doors for her, and stuff.

I drove him to the school where his girlfriend was supposed to be meeting him outside (thank God it finally stopped raining for a while). He knew in advance that a lot of his friends were going stag. If you go stag, you don't have a date to buy a corsage for. None of the girls were wearing one. NONE.

The following is a conversation between my son and I, with a little paraphrasing thrown in because I can never remember exactly what was actually said (I'm not great on the short term memory thing): "Mom, no one is wearing a corsage." "I know, honey, but maybe all those people are going stag. You are lucky enough to have your girlfriend as a date. You cannot go wrong giving a girl flowers." "But mom, what if I walk in there carrying a corsage and it was totally the wrong thing to do at a semi-formal? I'm going to feel so gay." "Or, honey, you are going to look like the confident young man you are that is bringing his date a corsage. I paid fifteen dollars for this corsage, please don't let it go to waste." "Mom, I'll pay you back for it if you don't make me bring it in." Silence, silence, people watching, silence. "Baby, I'm not going to make you do anything that you don't want to do. It is your choice."

The child stares at me trying to ascertain whether this is just another of my Jedi mind tricks. How much guilt is he going to have to endure by actually getting out of the car without the corsage? "Go, baby, have a good time." He continues to stare at me. "Have a great time, I love you, now GO." He gets out of the car, without the corsage, off to take another step toward adulthood. Another decision toward his independence.

As I drove out of the school's parking lot, I thought a lot about what had just transpired. I have been both his mother and his father since he was born. I have mostly tried my best, with not always the best results. He has seen me at my worst when I wasn't capable of keeping it away from him. I am hoping beyond hope that he will be a good man, building on what I have taught him. I am hoping that he will be a good man because of me, because of how I tried to raise him, and also despite the many failures I have made as a mother.

I hope he had a really great time at the dance, that he mingled with his friends, and slow danced with his girlfriend. I hope that he is building a foundation of his own that is stronger than the one that I had. I hope that his life is going to better, that is what I am busting my ass for. He is going to be a better person than I could ever hope to be.

While we're waiting for the results to come in, would anyone like a really pretty corsage that is just going to rot in my fridge for weeks to come before I can bear to throw it away? Otherwise, I'm going to have to wear it on my wrist for the rest of the weekend.

As you can see on the left, my son helped me figure out how to convert the picture to HTML, so if you would like to share the corsage, let me know and I will send it to you. It can be like the sisterhood of the shared corsage. Yes, I do know how queer I am.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Happy 70th Birthday, Esther

70 years ago today, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine and a Protestant immigrant from Ireland, by way of Canada, had a baby girl. They decided to burden her with the name of Esther Agnes.

Here's to you, Took, Polly-Esther, Testy-Esty, Saggy-Aggy, and the many other nicknames we've come up with for you over the years that I can't put on here.

I love you very much. We know how much we have put each other through. It has not been an easy relationship for the past 30 years or so. We have mentally haggled, tit-for-tat. Although, anyone who knows you knows you win the tit part.

To your credit, you laugh at those kind of jokes. You laughed at a lot much more than I would have, and you still do. That takes a special kind of crazy.

On that note, mom, I hope you found this card funny even though I meant every word of it.

Happy Birthday. Here's hoping you have many more. From many hundreds of miles away. Now can you please stop having heart attacks and quadruple bypasses and getting into car accidents? Because I'm really busy on the internet right now.


Your favorite daughter

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I need a miracle

I went to a lot of Greatful Dead shows between 1986 and 1992. The first one I went to, I knew I was in love - not with the guy who brought me, but with the band. I remember feeling like we were all in the same living room, grooving to the same live band. All of us were on the same wavelength.

I had never much felt like I belonged anywhere, before. I certainly didn't feel like I belonged to the family I was born into. As we moved around so much, I didn't really feel like I belonged to a group of friends before then.

At the point of this story, I had been dating Seamus for about six months. He was a pretty popular guy among the stoners. His mother let him throw huge keggers with live bands in the basement, and would go out and cover to the cops for us if they were called about the noise. She was drinking right along with us, which we thought was awesome, at the time. That was actually how I met him, at his 18th birthday party right after school started our senior year. I'll devote a whole other post about him because he deserves it. We are still in touch and something happened recently that is blog worthy. CRAP, I just realized I missed his birthday exactly one week ago. I know you are not reading this, Seamus, and that is not your real name anyway, but Happy Birthday and I love you.

Seamus and I, and a large network of friends all traveled to The Meadowlands in New Jersey for a Dead show. If I recall correctly, which I don't, many of us were going to crash out on the floor of someone's apartment in New Jersey, and drive home the next day. This someone was a friend of a friend of a cousin of a neighbor of a friend. I don't think I ever even knew this person's name.

Seamus and I didn't have tickets to the show. If you knew the scene during that time, it wasn't a big deal. We had money, we would try to get tickets if we could. If not, it wasn't a big deal. We went for the

I'll try to liken it to going to a fair or an amusement park. It was a much different theme, of course, but just as enjoyable unless you were planning to go on rides. Add in hallucinogenics and you don't even need rides! The best part, the side-show was free! All you have to do is walk around, or wait for people to walk to you.

People were selling things, giving things away, talking with each other, playing music and singing. There were two huge parking lots full of tie-dyes, jewelry, Guatemalan ponchos, Indian batik, gauze shirts and dresses, pipes and bongs, fallafels, whippets, Rastafarian weaves and tams, water and beer out of some one's cooler, crystals and stones, runes and tarot cards, musical instruments for sale, music on cassette tapes for sale, Indian blankets, veggie stir fry, hackey sacs, rain forest sticks, and anything else you could possibly think of. Including, and especially, the drugs.

One of the people in our group set up a pop-up camper on a grassy patch at the edge of one of the parking lots. This was basically home-base. We all went our separate ways with the intention of meeting back at that spot at some point after the show was over. The group not camping would then drive back to the apartment of which we planned to sleep on the floor.

Seamus and I very early on split a quarter pound of mushrooms. I don't think I had ever eaten mushrooms before this, but I remember they were horrible. Swallowing them down with beer was even worse, but that was the only option. In retrospect, this was way too much for my system, and swallowing a hallucinogen with alcohol did not help matters in any way. A large group of us set out to see the sights. The effects of the mushrooms and alcohol set in to me almost immediately.

While Seamus was very anti-cigarette smoking, I really liked to smoke. The more he tried to get me to stop smoking, the more I rebelled. And by rebel, I mean very passive-aggressive shit like telling him I would quit and smoking behind his back. Breath mints and perfume shit. Especially when I was drinking. Which was every weekend at his house.
Add mushrooms, and forget it.

I didn't even care that he saw me smoking right in front of his face! He was pretty upset, we got in a fight that I don't remember, and the party split into two groups. He was in one group, I was in the other. And I got to smoke.
I considered it a win-win situation until the concert was about to start. At which point I found out that every single person in my group had a ticket to go in to the stadium except me. I walked them to the stadium doors and wished them a good show, and then realized I had no idea where I was.

Not only did I have no idea where I was, I basically had no idea
who I was. I was tripping my face off, walking around a parking lot in New Jersey where I didn't know anyone and couldn't find my way back to the pop-up camper home base. By this time, the sun had gone down, and the show inside the stadium had just started.

If you are not familiar with the Greatful Dead, one of their songs is called "I need a miracle". Many fans would stand outside the shows with a piece of cardboard like a homeless person asking for "a miracle". I don't know if they were asking for a free ticket, or a discount on a scalper's ticket, I know I never did that. Sometimes they would even hold up one finger. That showed they only wanted one "miracle" that day. There were always way more people outside the shows than the amount of seats inside, no matter what.

Back to me, because really, isn't that what it is all about? I was walking around a parking lot in New Jersey after dark, 17 years old, with no idea how I was going to find the people I came with. Did I mention I was tripping my face off? Tears were pouring down my face. Out of nowhere, someone walks up to me, puts his arms around my shoulders and says the magic words, "you look like you need a miracle". The dude just gives me a free ticket into the stadium, no strings attached.

I walk in, and go to my section. The first thing I see is my friends, Nicky Z and his brother and sister. All is right with the world after that.

This is literally the picture that I took immediately upon discovering them. This is before Nicky (on the right) becomes the jerk I have already mentioned. This is also right before Seamus and I decide to travel cross-country with these siblings and their cousin, following the Greatful Dead for the summer. Stay tuned for more craziness!

Update: after consulting YouTube for a link to the I Need a Miracle song, I have been obsessed with seeing and listening to other people's video to Greatful Dead concerts. This was way after I stopped going to shows. But it is close to what I was talking about the experience.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is 911, how can we help you?

My sister, Kouf, had us over for dinner one evening. My sisters, Bouf and Shouf, joined us. My son had recently started kindergarten, and was learning lots of new and fun things.

Kouf and Bouf both had teenage daughters at that point, but neither of them was there that night, for whatever reasons.

After we finished a wonderful meal, Kouf suggested my son would have more fun in the childproof room upstairs. She adored her nephew and had a chair set up for him in front of a television with a vcr playing Disney movies. This was also the room outside of her teenage daughter's room, there were t.v. trays and a phone and games and books, mostly on built in shelves. This was a really cool room.

Anyway, the sisters were downstairs chatting and singing, and maybe drinking, and generally having a good time when the phone rang. Kouf turned down the music and answered, and immediately gave us the blow-by-blow. "What, this the State Police?" Our dinners immediately came up in our throats thinking about her daughter.

The next words we heard our sister say were, "No, no one called 911 from this line.". "Oh, okay, I understand.". Apparently, someone had learned about the importance of 911 in his kindergarten class and decided to test the system. And called and hung up on 911 FOUR times. Their policy is that if they get a 911 call, even if they call back and receive a response that they are not needed, they have to send a police officer over to check things out in case a hostage is trying to send them a signal. A hostage could very well be trying to signal 911, but when they call back, someone could have a gun to their head telling them to say that everything is all right.

When I heard that there was a state police officer on his way to my sister's house, I WAS PISSED. I yelled up First Name, Middle Name of my son, Get Your Butt Down Here and Put Your Shoes On, Because You and I are Meeting That Police Officer Outside and Explaining Why We Wasted His Time.

Luckily, the police officer in question was unbelievably understanding. He explained to my son that now he knew if he ever had to call 911 that they would always be there for him. He didn't give my kid a hard time about a false call, but did try to explain that he shouldn't use 911 if he didn't really need to. I was so impressed by the way this particular officer dealt with my kid, when he really didn't even need to be nice.

Needless to say, my son has not ever needed to call 911, again.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The importance of wearing a seat belt and locking your car door

One of the many places we lived when I was growing was on a very busy street. I loved this house, I still do. It was on the market recently, and I would have bought it in a heartbeat if I could have afforded it. It was set way back off a dirt driveway, surrounded by overgrowth and trees. It was a raised ranch with 4 bedrooms, 1-1/2 baths and a fireplace in the living room. At the time it was a dump that really needed a lot of work, but I remember it with fondness.

This was where I got my purple Schwinn bicycle with a push button horn that my brother taught me how to ride down the big hill in the front yard. This was where my brother taught me how to play baseball in the back yard. As there were only two of us, we had to say, "ghost on first", "ghost on second". This was also where the little creep shot me in the leg "by accident" with his BB gun. I have a lot of great memories, there. I spent much of my time outdoors, exploring in the woods, often with our German Shepherd, Schnitzel, who was probably my best friend at the time.

My mother had a big blue Rambler. The back seat was a bench seat, and seat belts were unheard of at the time. It was kind of fun because if my mother took a really hard turn, we'd all go sliding across the back seat and crush each other on the door. It was like the amusement park ride that goes really fast in a circle and you can't keep yourself from crushing the person sitting next to you, depending on which way the ride is going.

One day when I was probably 7, my mother piled four of us into the car to go to the grocery store. I don't remember who was sitting next to whom, but I was on one side of the back seat and Bouf was in the middle. Mom was taking a left onto the very busy street and she gunned it because there were cars coming. We all went sliding across the backseat toward me, which should have been fun - until the door popped open. I fell out of the car onto my knees with a line of traffic coming at me at anywhere from 40-60 miles per hour.

My adrenaline must have kicked in, because I remember getting myself up and over to the side of the road, and then when the traffic eased, getting back over to the side of the road that our house was on, while my knees were bleeding down my legs. And waiting and waiting for my mother's car to come back. She didn't realize at first what had happened but finally registered Bouf's hysterical screaming that I had fallen out of the car and turned around to come back for me. I think to this day that Bouf may have been more traumatized by this incident than I was. She saw me falling out of the car and couldn't catch me!

I got an honor position on the couch for the rest of the day with a blankie and everyone treating me like a princess. Bouf even walked up the store and bought me a stuffed animal, Bimini, that I treasured and slept with for at least a year before he was stolen from me on a cross-country bus trip to Las Vegas.

I always locked my car door for at least 10 years after that.

For a long time I couldn't understand how my mother didn't know I had fallen out of the car until I was writing this and started to think about it. A couple of years ago, I was driving my son and two great-nieces to the mall. I often tuned out the younger niece's screaming, because it was almost constant, and I'm the kind of person that really needs to concentrate on my driving. It had started raining, and I closed the rear windows. My younger niece started screaming, but I ignored her because I assumed she was just upset that I had rolled up her window. My son starting yelling, "Mom, Mom!" but he was in such a panic that he couldn't get the words out. "MOM - HER FINGERS ARE STUCK IN THE WINDOW!". Wow, did I feel like a loser! Thankfully, no harm was done to the poor baby, or her fingers.

When is this "you're turning into your mother" shit going to stop?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dolphin Lab

When I was in my early 20's, I decided to go back to community college part time. I had been working for the same insurance company for a few years, and they agreed to let me go part time at work. I moved back in with my mother to save money, and get some education. In the second semester I threw in one class that had no reason for being on my agenda - Ocean Sciences. I've always been drawn by the ocean, but it also terrifies me.

I have to say I was enamored with this semester. I was getting tutored by a friend who was in the same algebra class I was in - and it finally started making sense to me in a way that it did not when I was in high school. My brain has never been able to comprehend math, and I was doing it, and passing. Also, I was doing exceptionally well in my honors level creative writing class, and also in Ocean Sciences - much to my surprise!

And then my world came crashing down around me when my brother died on March 28, 1993. The only class I went back to was Ocean Sciences,
because another teacher in the same department had started a little program called Dolphin Lab. If you signed up for Dolphin Lab, you had to pay a large fee, but they took care of all the details for a week long working vacation in Florida - for which you got 2 credits. I had originally hoped my brother would have been able to go on this trip with me, he would have really loved it. I decided to do it anyway, alone.

The fee included air fare both ways, a dormitory style sleeping arrangement, and meals. Best of all, we interacted for 5 of the 7 days with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center, DRC, on Grassy Key, Florida.

DRC, was home to the 6 dolphins that played Flipper on the television show. This is one of the most humane places that a dolphin can live. While many of the dolphins are born there, many came from places where they had been neglected or abused, or they needed medical treatment that only DRC could provide. One old girl had been a Navy experiment, quite a few had survived shark attacks in the wild.

This facility does not keep their dolphins in captivity, in the traditional sense of the word. Each enclosure has a low fence that allows the seawater, and fish, to come and go freely. Those low fences could not possibly keep in a high diving dolphin, should they choose to leave. The fences are there mainly to keep out sharks.

If a hurricane is coming in, the staff opens the fences and encourages their dolphins to swim out to sea where they have a better chance of surviving. Most of them return, although when I went in 1993, one had not returned from the last hurricane. There were reports of an incredibly friendly dolphin in the area for months after, but she eventually joined a wild pod and moved on.

They try to keep their enclosures as close to what they would have out in the wild. The biggest enclosure is for mothers, teenage females, and the very young. Other enclosures have a couple of adolescent males, as they would do in the wild by going off on their own in twos or threes; or a matriarch on her own not wanting to be bothered by the youngsters.

There are so many amazing things about dolphins that I learned on this trip. One is that they name themselves. They have what is called a "signature whistle". A female is able to give herself whatever whistle name she wants for herself, although it is very often similar to her mother's signature whistle. A male, on the other hand, adopts his mother's signature whistle for his own. That way, in the wild if a couple of boy dolphins come across a pod of females, and they're all like, "how YOU doin'?", once they find out each other's names, they're all like, "ew, you're my brother", or "ew, you're my mother".

Dolphins don't do incest. The really interesting part is that they are the only mammal other than humans to have consensual homosexual relations. The adolescent boys break off into those pods of two or three, and if they don't meet up with any hot dolphin girls, they use each other for target practice. In the words of one of my teachers, "it's really long". In the words of one of the trainers at DRC, "do NOT touch them DOWN THERE!". They are highly sexual creatures.

I really wanted to know what would happen if I Touched Them Down There, but I didn't. I was afraid I would get kicked out and be stuck in Grassy Key, Florida. Which is 90 miles south of Miami, and 54 miles north of Key West.

I learned so much while I was down there. They taught us how to treat the dolphins with such respect - not that it was hard to do. Each one has their own personality, shy, playful, mischievous, funny. And they are attention hogs! They love to be talked to, or sung to. They chatter at you, and show off. They are amazing, intelligent creatures. If you ever want proof, see the video at the bottom from the beginning of the movie, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

We learned how to approach them, how to hide vitamins and pills in their food, how to feed them, how to give them hand signals and commands. Best of all, we got to touch them and be affectionate with them and love them - and get in the water with them. I fell utterly and completely in love! There is so very much more to say about that trip, and DRC in general. I could just go on and on, but I won't.

The second I got home, I started planning my move down there. I quit my job, pulled all my money out of my 401k and started packing. I kinda lost my mind after my brother died, and for some reason I really felt at peace when I was down there. I decided I was going to become a marine mammologist and work at DRC and live happily ever after. More on that another time.