Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I cannot bear funerals anymore. I went to my share of them when I was younger and other than being upset to see my loved ones sad, it didn't bother me that much. I would go on with my life afterward as usual. My grandmother's funeral in 1999 was different, maybe because I was so close to her. I hate that my final and overriding memory of her is lying in a casket. For a couple of years after her funeral, I would be overwhelmed with sadness, thinking of her in that box, out in the cemetery, all alone. I could not deal with it. I vowed then that I wouldn’t attend any more funerals. I just cannot handle it anymore.

I know that most people feel that a funeral will give them the closure they need when a loved one dies, but just the fact that I won't see them anymore is closure enough for me. My family is very important to me. You can always make the argument that the funeral business is a racket: it’s prohibitively expensive and people can guilt you into going into debt so you won’t be dishonoring your loved one. And there are people who feel that unless you show up at every family function, then you obviously have no regard for your family. I prefer to visit my family while they’re alive.

When my father-in-law passed away, he wanted only to be cremated with no funeral. I was astonished; I never knew anyone who died and didn’t have a funeral. He was also the first person I knew who wanted to be cremated. My Mom was impressed with that too. We discussed it when she became terminally ill. I asked her what kind of funeral she wanted, where wanted to be buried, etc. She told me she wanted to be cremated and to not deal with a funeral. If I wanted to do a memorial service, that would be fine. I told her to tell everyone, so they wouldn’t be mad at me when she died, but some of them still were. It wasn’t my decision. If I had had the money, I would have given her a full Viking funeral with fireworks, dancing bears, cheerleaders and the Rolling Stones playing, if she had wanted it but she didn’t. Her co-workers and friends at the hospital where she worked gave her a memorial service that I didn’t attend. I wasn’t able to handle that either.

My wonderful, sweet, big, gorgeous uncle Larry is gone and his funeral is on Saturday. I won’t be there. I want to remember him the last time like I saw him earlier this year: sitting at his kitchen table, laughing about some book he had read. I want to remember his snuffling giggle and his stories about the cool things he found at the flea market, or what his grandkids were up to. He was a good man and I’ll miss him very much.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Turning Points

1. When I knew I didn't want to be a parent

I never particularly liked children I wasn't related to, even when I was a child. I adored my little cousins, but other little kids mostly annoyed me. I figured that as I grew older, my biological clock would start ticking and I would want a family of my own. That's how it works, right? My mind was made up by an incident when I was 17 years old.

My aunt lived in an mobile home with her husband, who was away working, and their young son. She called me one day and said that she was sick with the flu; would I mind staying the weekend at their place and taking care of the toddler? She could barely get out of bed. I adored my little cousin, so naturally, I said yes.

The first night, I was asleep on the sofa right outside my little cousin's room.  He woke me up by screaming. I opened the door to his room and a wall of stench poured over me. I turned on the light and there he was: standing up in his crib and shaking the slats on the side, brown smears all over his face, his body, the wall, the ceiling, the was a world of shit.

Gagging for all I was worth, I gingerly picked him up, taking care not to get any more shit on me than was necessary. I took him to the bathroom and washed him off, then got him settled on the sofa so he would fall asleep again. I wiped up as much of the shit as I could see and tried to clean the room as best I could. The shit was EVERYWHERE, he must have been flinging it like a monkey at the zoo.

I looked at the sweet toddler sleeping peacefully on the couch and thought to myself, "I don't ever want to have to do this again. Babies are shit machines, so I don't think I want to have kids. Nope, I do NOT want to have children".

You know, I'm 50 years old now and I've never regretted that decision. I made sure to marry someone who felt the same way. I don't get pangs of regret when I see cute little kids. I like hearing about my friends' grand kids, but don't ask me to baby sit.  I recoil when asked to hold newborn babies. Babies are like elephants. I like them just fine, but not in my house, 24 hours a day. As for toddlers, I prefer to get them all sugared up, then send them back to their parents.

2. When I knew I wanted to be married

I was introduced to my husband by a mutual friend. We were attracted to each other from the start; there was an immediate spark between us. He was not in a good place mentally or physically when we met; he was terrifically depressed. Lest the pot call the kettle black, I had also been only a year or two of a psychiatric hospital myself for depression and had battled my "black dog" since I was a child. We both seemed to know that we were each others savior and that we needed to be together.

We moved in together about a month after getting together. He started in with the "when we get married, we'll......." talk right away. I was shocked; I thought no one would ever want to marry me because I was too damaged. Even his father was in on it. As his Dad was calling for a part to my POS Renault, he told the guy on the phone that it was for "my son's fiance" and he winked at me. I blushed furiously. He's told his parents? He must be serious! It started to seem like a good idea and a feasible one at that.

Several years went by, and I was finally able to attend the University of North Texas, but only if I could qualify for financial aid. Being married would solve that problem, so I told him that we should probably go ahead and get married. Nothing would be different, we had been living together for the past 4 years anyway. So we did it. I've never regretted it, I knew it was absolutely the right decision. We've had our problems at times, like every couple, but he's the one for me. Our separate weirdnesses complement each other perfectly.

3. Moving away from home

My Mom had been dead for a little over a year. Every time I went home to visit family, it was painful to me that she wasn't there. I couldn't call her every day anymore. My husband's sister had been living in Austin and we would go down to visit her and her husband for wild weekends, always enjoying ourselves and marveling at what a great place Austin was; wouldn't it be great to live there? There was always something to do: cool places to shop, great restaurants.....why not move here?

My husband had been supporting me after Mom died while I was getting her house ready to be sold, then I started working at an antique mall in Dallas, a job I loved but it didn't pay. We decided in late 2003 that we should go ahead and move to Austin. One of our friends also lived in Austin and he was able to hook me up with a job at a mortgage company. In February, 2004 I came down and found a rent house close to the in laws and we were set. Life has been pretty good since then.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My sense of humor is not shared by everyone

I suffer from depression. I've had it for most of my life. The way I've always tried to relieve that depression is through laughter. If you can laugh at it, it doesn't seem so bad. When I can't laugh about something, I will plummet into the abyss of sadness. I don't think there's anything that doesn't have some element of humor to it, even the most horrible things. Sometimes, they're difficult to find.

I have what could be described as a complex sense of humor. There are times when things like a relatively sophisticated Monty Python sketch about "woody" as opposed to "tinny" sounding words will have me in hysterics, while on other days, a fart joke will make me giggle for hours. I was the only female I knew who enjoyed the Three Stooges.

Whenever I hear something that prompts a wise-ass response, I cannot resist responding to it. People will either laugh or roll their eyes. Sometimes I'm paralyzed by anxiety that my mental filter has once again failed to subvert a wildly inappropriate remark. I'll let loose with an offside remark I think is witty and an uncomfortable silence will ensue, making me think "why on EARTH did I say that out loud?" But yes, I went there, as the millenials say.

I love to make people laugh and I love to hear people laugh. I've had a lot of pain in my life, so I try to find the humor in anything, just to relieve the heaviness in the atmosphere. Whenever I've met people who seemed to enjoy or share my sense of humor, I've held them close to me and I perceive  them as close friends, even if I've never met them in person or know them only superficially. People who can make me laugh are rare, so I consider them precious to me.

A lot of people I know consider being funny an "immature" response, when an adult should be somber and solicitous. Some situations demand solemnity.  I can be as sober as a judge on the outside, but inwardly, I am usually trying to think about what can be amusing about the situation. Laughter is important. There are scientific studies proving that laughter can help to cure illnesses. There may not seem to be much to laugh about in the world lately, but there's humor in everything.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Cold air and Cigarettes

I used to think that men should smell like cold air and cigarettes, like the scent of my father when he came to pick me up for his weekend visit; or earthy and sweaty, like my grandfather when he came inside from milking cows or baling hay in the hot Texas summer. Dad always smelled like he just stepped out of an air conditioned room or car with a cigarette hanging from his lips, beer on his breath and cologne on his collar. Dad always wore loafers, I never saw him in oxford type shoes. He wanted shoes that he could slip in and out of easily. He seemed to sweep in and out of my life just as easily. Now that he's old, he wears comfortable shoes, but he doesn't seem to be very comfortable in general. He's 6'1", but he seems small and vulnerable now. I don't have much anger left to direct toward him anymore, just pity. He's not happy with himself. I'm the same way. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Papaw smelled like sunlight, tractor grease and freshly tilled soil. He wore cologne only when attending weddings or funerals, also the only times he took his precious Resistol cattleman's hat out of the box. It wasn't a cowboy hat. He wore straw cowboy hats in the hot weather, but cooler temperatures and fancier occasions called for the cattleman's hat and the pointy toed boots. Papaw always wore overalls for work with long sleeves and a neck cover even on the most oppressive summer days. He wore a gimme cap to keep the sun off of his bald head and round toed leather work boots, suitable for slogging around in blackland mud and cow manure. He didn't complain about his life, he just got on with it. He doesn't have to drive his tractor very often nowadays, but he tools around in his scooter and drives his big pickup truck. He enjoys his life. He's worked hard since he was a child. Now he gets to go fishing whenever he wants; not a bad trade off.

I'm glad that I had both my father and my grandfather in my life. They were the male yin and yang in my social awareness. If all men were like my father had been like when I was a kid, I would probably have grown up to hate men.  I also had my grandfather and my uncles in my life,  who were all good, solid men who took care of their responsibilities and treated their loved ones well. They gave me hope that I could someday find a good man to be with.

As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that men are flawed human beings, not terrifying mythological creatures with the ability to wreck my life or make me hate myself. If only men could feel this way about women. We're both human beings and we have only one world to live in, so we have to learn to live together. We also have to learn to be honest about ourselves. That may be more difficult.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A will to live and a time to die

I'm sitting beside my mother's hospital bed, reading a magazine. Mom was finally calm and asleep, after undergoing yet another pleural draining. A full liter of black, slimy liquid was taken from around her lungs, making it easier for her to breathe, and with the aid of morphine, she had fallen into a drugged oblivion. I read my magazine, trying to calm myself after witnessing the traumatic procedure.  A drain tube had been inserted into her pleural cavity to drain off the liquid, and although heavily sedated, she had moaned and cried throughout the ordeal.
Before she had been wheeled down to the procedure room, I had taken Mom outside to the parking lot. She cried, big tears sliding down her face and wheezed, "If I'm going to get better, I want to get better, but if I'm going to die, I want to go now. I can't take this any longer". She had been ill with ovarian cancer for 2 years then, once going into remission and actually going back to work for a short time. She got to see me, her only child, graduate from college. She told me that it was the proudest moment of her life. We spent the graduation weekend together, shopping and just enjoying being together outside of a hospital room. She felt like she had her life back after venturing too close to the other side. Then, the cancer came back. She had been back in the hospital for two weeks now.
I sat on a bench next to her in her wheelchair, holding her hand. I wiped the tears from my eyes and I didn't know what to say. I knew she wasn't going to get better. People with Stage 4 ovarian cancer didn't get better. I didn't want to lose her. I was afraid of losing her. How would I cope without my mother? She had been all I had for so long, and even though I was married now, I completely depended on her for so much. I had tried for 2 years to prepare myself to be without her, but I could not imagine it. What could I say to her but I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry.

Mom breathed deeply and quietly, sleeping peacefully. I finished my magazine. It was getting dark, so like I had done so many times in the past 2 years, I kissed her forehead and whispered that I would see her in the morning and to sleep well. I walked out to the parking lot and drove home to my husband. We didn't talk much, we just watched TV in silence then went to bed. I slept exhausted but dreamed fitfully.

The phone was ringing. I sprang up out of bed and ran to answer it. This was the call I had been dreading. A nurse told me that I needed to come to the hospital. IMMEDIATELY. That word reverberated in my head. My husband started to get dressed to come with me, but I told him to stay home. He wanted to come with me but I said no. I had to do this alone.

I got to the hospital and stood outside her door, watching 5 people huddled around her in bed. One of them was frantically trying to resuscitate her. Mom's naked left leg was hanging off the side of the bed. One of the night nurses noticed me standing there looking horror struck and she pulled me back towards the waiting room. She told me that Mom had woken earlier that evening not long after I had gone home. She had forgotten where she was and had tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Her heart had given out and she collapsed on the floor, pulling out her IVs. The nurses heard her IV alarm go off. They had almost gotten her breathing again and were still trying. The nurse asked if Mom had a living will or a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order. Mom had filled one out a month before, when she realized that she was not going to get better.
 I whispered to the nurse that Mom had told me that she didn't want to be resuscitated. She had told me that she never wanted to be a "vegetable".  She didn't want to be hooked up to a lot of machines, depending on a mechanism to keep her breathing, a tube to carry away her waste, a pump to keep her blood circulating. That wasn't living, she had said. If it came to that, please let me go, she said.

The nurse told me to wait there. She went back into the room and came back out a few minutes later. She sat beside me and took my hand.
"I'm so sorry. She's gone."

I stared at the nurse uncomprehendingly. My Mom was dead? I had just been with her a few hours earlier and now she was dead? After all the pain and misery she had gone through in her 58 years, after two failed marriages and so many years working hard to raise her only child by herself? She was gone? I guess I should tell everyone. That's what people are supposed to do, right?
The nurse gives me a phone and the code to dial an outside line. I called my Uncle first. He was stunned and asked if I wanted him to come there to get me. I said no. He told me he loved me. Then I called my grandfather, letting the phone ring a long time. He burst into tears, the first time I had heard him cry. I couldn't bear it. I called a couple of others, then I went back to the waiting room and sat down again, staring at the floor.

It dawned on me what I had told the nurse. Had I told them to kill my Mom? They were keeping her alive when I got there, now she wasn't alive, all because I had told the nurse about the DNR Order. A loud moan escaped me and the nurse rushed over. She put her arm around me and said that Mom was not suffering anymore. She wasn't in pain anymore. She said that I had followed my Mom's final wishes to the letter and to not worry. I calmed myself down after a bit. I called my husband and told him that I would be home in a little while but I had to say goodbye first.

I was allowed me to go to Mom's room a few minutes later. All of the life saving equipment had been removed from the room, and Mom was laid out on the bed, covered except for her face by a blanket. Her forehead was cool and smooth and she looked so peaceful. I held her face and kissed her temples, smoothing her hair. I told her I was sorry that I had not been able to buy her the diamonds I had promised her when I was a child. I wouldn't be able to buy her a fancy new car that wasn't always breaking down, like I had planned. I said I was sorry I had worried her so much through my depression and suicidal episodes. I told her I was sorry for everything.

I stayed in her room, my lips on he forehead, for quite some time, until a nurse came in and asked if I was all right. I was not and I would not be for some time to come.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My black dog

I'm not now nor have I ever been wealthy or even middle class. I come from a solidly working class background and that's not a bad thing at all. I know the value of hard work and manual labor, but I'm very glad to have an office job now. I have enough money to live on, if not travel or shop indiscriminately. My marriage is secure and my health, although not fantastic, seems to be holding steady. So what's the problem?

Way back in the pit of my brain, I still need that assurance from other people that I am "all right". That assurance doesn't even have to come from people whose opinions I greatly value. When I look into the mirror, I see a mass of insecurities. I've never felt good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough. Knowing that I still feel that way at almost 50 years old is disheartening.

When I was younger, I assumed that as I aged, self-realization would finally drag itself through my door like a half-eaten sparrow. That has not happened. It will probably never happen. I've lived most of my life with a mental illness called chronic depression. I usually refer to it as my "black dog" because Winston Churchill called his that and it's an apt description. I've tried to eke out whatever happiness I could from my existence, whilst simultaneously trying to keep the Hounds of Baskerville from swallowing me whole. Sometimes, my black dog snapped at my heels; sometimes it followed meekly behind me. Sometimes, happiness appeared and I was almost able to forget my dark companion for a while. Then years would go by and my existence was just that; existing, gaining no pleasure or contentment from life. I suspect that my outlook may be shared by many, except those who are talented or lucky enough to dredge their happiness out of the smallest things and make it last; or those who can rely on a crutch like addiction or religion to help them escape the darkness. By "crutch", I mean anything that can help you forget your troubles for a while, or something that can give you guidelines on how to deal with living. Crutches can be helpful or injurious, depending on your viewpoint, but we all have them in one form or another.

 I have no escape from myself, so I try to take pride in my stoicism, my refusal to allow depression to overtake me completely anymore. I certainly do not fully trust anyone who hasn't had some experience with depression, whether short term or long. How can you live life and not suffer with depression at one time or another? How can you see all of the evil and injustice in the world and not feel angry? How can people just say that it's "god's will" or "there's nothing I can do about it, so why even think about it"? Anyone who says that they don't suffer from depressive episodes at all is not being truthful. Depression is a part of humanity. It's lodged firmly in our DNA. Humans can be happy, calm, depressed, annoyed, violent; no one is only one of those emotions all of the time. I can be all of them in the same day, the same hour. I've been in the pits of despair when I was making loads of money and I've been happy as a clam with very little. My dark periods help me to appreciate my happy periods more fully. That is a realization that actually did come with age.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Elementary, my dear!

I moved back to my hometown in the middle of second grade. On my first day at Bowie Elementary, I was wearing my dark blue fake fur coat. I loved that coat; I have a picture of myself in my coat, sitting on the back of a huge Galapagos tortoise. The coat was warm and cuddly, like wearing a teddy bear. I felt the eyes of all my new classmates boring into me as I took my seat, so I pulled my coat up around my head. The teacher kept asking me to take it off, but there was no way I was going to do that. I eventually lost my shyness and settled into small town life. Some girls wouldn't play with me at recess because their parents had told them not to. My parents were divorced, you see. That somehow tainted me, but I wasn't sure how that related to my influence on my fellow second graders. My Mom and I lived in some apartments directly across the street from my school. She and I were both sick with the flu on the day my 2nd grade school photos were being taken, so I have no photos of my first or second grade classes.

My third grade teacher at Bowie Elementary was a sour faced old woman who was probably only a year or two before retirement. She would always find a way to punish the whole class for the most minor infraction, such as someone coughing during a film or talking out of turn. A girl named Sarah gave us all head lice that year, so Mom had to comb through my short blonde hair with a nit comb and wash the sheets in special detergent. I started hanging out with a girl named Dee Ann, who looked just like Ruth Buzzi. She was a bit too goody-goody for me; she seemed to be mortally shocked by even the least "naughty" things I said.

My mom threw an 8th birthday party for me that year. My friends Cathy and Kim and my step-sister Nicki all came to my party. Dee Ann was out of town and couldn't make it. I had a Pentecostal friend, who came to a sleep over one Friday night. She had been bugging me to accompany her to church, where her father was the Pastor. I kept saying no, because Mom had told me stories about how wild the Pentecostal services were. She referred to them as "Holy Rollers". My regular family life was wild enough for me; I didn't need to go to a wild church as well. My friend was enjoying the sleep over until she asked to try on my new striped jeans. Pentecostal women and girls could not wear makeup or pants, so putting on jeans would be a first for her. She pulled them on and almost immediately burst into tears, blubbering that she was now going to hell. She got so hysterical that my mom had to take her home. I felt so bad that my pants were involved in her downfall into the pits of hellfire, I actually agreed to go to church with her.

Sunday came and we walked into the room for Sunday School. The teacher started to relate the trials and tribulations of Job, with rivulets of tears streaming down her face. My friend and I were still at an age where, if adults were crying, something was WRONG. My friend was crying sympathetically like everyone else in the class, while I stared at the floor and waited for it to swallow me up. My alarm level was already raised but it immediately shot through the ceiling when we entered the sanctuary for the main church service. As soon as my friend's father the Pastor walked to the pulpit, he slammed his fist down on the wooden lectern, looked directly at me in the first row sitting next to his wife and daughter and shouted "YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!!!" The effect was like flipping a switch. All around me, men started pounding the sides of the pews, shouting "AMEN!!", "PRAISE GOD!" and "HALLELUJAH!"; women began to rock back and forth, tearing at their hair, all the while speaking in unintelligible gibberish, moaning and screaming. I was eight years old and absolutely terrified. I crawled on my hands and knees underneath the pews to the back door of the sanctuary. As soon as I saw the door open, I burst through it and ran as fast as I could all the way back home. My mom was frying chicken for lunch when I staggered through the front door, babbling nonsensically about the crazy people who told me I was doomed. She tried her best to calm me down. My friend's mother called later that afternoon to see if I had made my way back home. My mom told her that the experience had been a "little too much" for me.

My Southern Baptist church experience was trying to stay awake through Sunday School (boring), then singing hymns during the church service (not boring, actually very nice). I liked to watch the hands of the little old lady who played the piano for the services. Her gnarled, arthritic hands pummeled the keyboard like she was kneading dough. At the end, we would sing "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling" and whomever needed "saving" could go down the red carpeted aisle to the Pastor, get dunked and ensure their divine rewards. Any kind of overt emotion was frowned upon. I remember my Mom mentioning that the Pastor would cry during his favorite hymn "Bringing In The Sheaves". She thought that was entirely unnecessary.

Fourth grade was a big change. My teacher was a lovely black woman with a tall bee hive hairdo that landed on her slim shoulders with a small flip. She was my favorite teacher of all time, because she could tell that I was from a dysfunctional background and she took extra care to include me and praise me when I did well on my lessons. On the first day of class, I noticed my classmate Miles perusing a copy of "The Guinness Book of World Records". I asked if I could take a look at it and Miles calmly murmured "", never once looking up. Mrs. Gilstrap reprimanded him and he sulkily thrust the book at me. I'm sure if you looked up the definition of "teacher" in the Oxford English Dictionary, there would be a small picture of Mrs. Gilstrap there. She didn't just teach lessons, she taught me Life. She taught me how to listen correctly and comprehend what I heard. My subsequent successes in my school years were entirely due to my year in her class. I was very sad when fourth grade ended and I'd have to go down the hall to Mr. Caldwell's fifth grade class.

Mr. Caldwell was a jovial man with a smile always on his face. He was also a bus driver. We did fun stuff in class, like talent contests and "Bring Your Pet To School". My grandmother brought up my pet coyote to show off and he was a big hit. I can just see my Mimaw driving her huge, boat-like LTD through Greenville, with a coyote in the back seat. On the talent show front,  my pals Jimmy and Miles and I opted to lip sync the Steve Miller song "The Joker", complete with sunglasses and energetic smoking with rolled paper "joints" in our lips. We also had to choose whether we would continue choir or start band the following year. I chose band and although I wanted to play the glockenspiel, I was forced to choose the more lady-like flute instead. I think the band instructor saw my world-class buck teeth and knew that I had a fine embouchure for flute playing. I did eventually get to play percussion, but not until my junior year in high school.

On the playground during recess, the boys and girls were not allowed to play together. All of the girls would run to the merry-go-round or the monkey bars when the recess bell rang, because we got to play on those first. The boys would start playing dodge ball or climbing the flag pole. Then, about 15 minutes later, the PE teacher (?) would blow a whistle and the boys and girls would switch. One day, I was a little too slow getting off the merry-go-round when Mark grabbed my arm and pulled, making me trip and fall to the hard packed dirt. When I got up, I looked down at my left wrist and noticed an S-bend in it that wasn't there 10 seconds before. That sent me screaming to the Office, where a secretary tried to get my mom on the phone to tell her to come and take me to the hospital. Mom was at lunch at the time, so they didn't reach her for another hour. I sat there next to the secretary's desk whimpering with my arm cradled inside an ice bag. Finally, Mom came and we went to the hospital, where we spent another 4 hours in the ER before we got called in, me on the verge of puking and/or passing out the entire time. I held it together until the Radiology technician helped me  stand in position in the X ray machine. He looked at me hopefully and said, "You OK?" I looked up at him, then projectile vomited all over his crotch and legs (he was really tall).

The bone doctor injected me with painkillers, then set my arm in a hard cast. I wore the cast for 2 weeks. I could move my broken wrist inside it, so I thought that I was already healed and celebrated that belief by bouncing a rubber ball on my cast. When I went back to the bone doc for a check up, he noticed in the new X ray that I had knocked my delicately set wrist out of alignment. I waited on the table for another painkilling injection, but instead, very quickly, he grabbed my hand and my forearm and roughly jerked them apart, giving them a short sharp grind before satisfying himself that my wrist was again properly aligned. He had probably learned that technique in 'Nam, or in a Viet Cong prison. I only had time to croak "aaaahh!" , which brought my Mom rushing over, ready to punch the doc in the face. He stepped back and growled, "Maybe you'll remember this the next time you play ball". I was hysterical and Mom burst into tears. A trip by the doughnut shop on the way home helped us both feel better. Years later, I was visiting my Mom in that hospital when I recognized him in the elevator. I held my wrist up and said, "You set my wrist without painkillers when I was in 5th grade." He held my wrist up and muttered, "Did a good job, didn't I?" I wish I had a rubber ball with me then, so I could have shoved it up his nose.

Fifth grade was especially memorable because I met my BFF that year. Misty and her older sister Robin had moved there from Lubbock. Misty and I were inseparable from first sight. She was my secret sister from another mother, my other half. We completed one another like only giddy fifth graders can. We would have slumber parties and walk through the rural neighborhood where she lived. My Mom had started working for Misty's dad at his insurance office, and I loved her mom and her sister, so we made one big, happy family. Misty and I would dance around to her "American Graffiti" soundtrack and her "KC & the Sunshine Band" LPs. We were both closet hams; we would have been welcome on any stage, I'm sure. We could make each other howl with laughter, plus Misty had a Barbie townhouse. We made Barbie and Ken hump enthusiastically on all floors (and in the elevator) of the Townhouse. We would write notes to pass in the halls at school, complete with portraits of teachers we didn't like. Even when I talk to her now, it's like no time at all has passed.

During sixth grade, our little group of friends has broadened to include Sherry, Ann and Pam. Puberty had made us all start to notice boys, but we were still too young to do anything about it. We were all looking forward to junior high the next year....