Too Much

Here’s another memoir excerpt in the order the excerpts appear in Left of the Dial:

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Now I was alone with the memories of last New Year’s Eve. It was the end of 1986, and Sinead was spinning records on-air that night. I drove over to the radio station with a couple of six packs of Harp’s. Carny and I hung out in the women’s room across the hall, drinking and laughing and having a good time.

We weren’t allowed to drink in the studio or the radio station office and most likely shouldn’t have been drinking on campus at all. We hid the containers in a stall while drinking in front of the sinks. Willy joined us at nine o’clock. His eyes were sullen moons, and his nostrils flared as if he had done a bump. I got the idea that my presence was an inconvenience to him, and he went along with Carny to please her.

We ordered pizza, and he reluctantly trudged outside to the guard booth of the parking lot to retrieve it. Domino’s—they would deliver in under a half hour. He ordered one with pepperoni and, to humor me, bought a second one with mushrooms only.

Sinead slipped in during a long song to have a slice.

For the last hour of the radio show, we joined her at the microphone. She called her show “The Year-End, Rear End Review of 1986 Record Picks” and mixed the top 120 songs the disc jockeys played on the radio for the last twelve months.

Carny and Sinead both announced the songs with glee, laughing through the chorus of “Year-End, Rear End Review of 1986 Record Picks.” Over and over they shouted out those words.

It was like I was hovering in space. That night I was far away from the island and suspended in hope.

Sinead closed down the studio and locked the office doors at two in the morning. We each carried a six pack out to my car so I could dispose of the evidence elsewhere. I drove everyone home like my car was an airplane—with a sure hand. I had stopped drinking when Willy arrived and was clear-headed by the time we had to leave.

Tonight I tucked this memory in my mind to retrieve again when I was feeling blue. At six in the morning, I stood washing and scrubbing the dishes at the kitchen sink. I looked out the window at the silent, empty world that would never be mine.

Tears flowed uncontrollably. It was the lowest point of my life. I had hit rock bottom and couldn’t see a way out of my pain. I sat in the wicker chair in my room, crying for two hours.

The Fetchin’ Bones lyrics to the song “Too Much” drifted into my head. I saw my whole life, and it was truly too much. I was ready to consider pulling the plug.

 

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Memoir News

I hope to have Left of the Dial go on sale in 7 weeks on November 10th.

Next Monday I will publish another memoir excerpt here. I will try to post a memoir excerpt to this page on the coming Mondays up through when the book goes on sale.

It will be available as a paperback and I hope to have it available as an e-book at the same time.

I’ll give links here and on my author website to the online booksellers.

Stay tuned.

Cupid Is Blind / A Comedy Routine

I want to perform a comedy routine onstage at a poetry reading about adventures with Internet matchmakers.

I signed on to eHarmony and Chemistry.com one year ago in the summer and also tried OKCupid.

OKCupid rated me as “less kinky and less adventurous” so hardly any guys contacted me. Chemistry.com rated me as a Director and “sparks fly between Directors in the bedroom.” So what is it: am I frigid or do I have a raging libido?

No eHarmony guys contacted me because they were all conservative Christians who wanted to meet and marry church-going hausfraus. I abandoned organized religion for good after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result: I’m guilty of being crackers. A year later, I signed up for HowAboutWe.

The guys and gals play a game that’s artificial: picking and choosing to meet people that fit their ideal views; like assembling the parts and traits of their perfect partner like cars on an assembly line. A woman has to be a red Porsche, not a wood-paneled station wagon, to compete online with hundreds of other women. Guys seek the female equivalent of a “Bitchin’ Camaro” (cue the Dead Milkmen lyrics.)

I got nowhere on HowAboutWe as well. I have a gorgeous face, I’m skinny, and so guys were sending me messages without reading my profile. I wrote: “absolutely no smokers.” A guy sent me a message and his bar graph stated he was a chimney. NoMeansNo isn’t just the name of a 1980s Canadian punk band: it’s a clear indication that the woman doesn’t mean yes.

You smoke enough cigarettes in your life: you’ll have to sleep with an oxygen tank instead of your wife. I know a woman who smoked two packs a day for 40 years. She has to sleep with an oxygen tank beside her instead of her husband. A ringing endorsement for cigarette smoking, right?

It was my psychiatrist who told me OKCupid is only for hook-ups. How did he know that? I had no idea it was.

At all the online dating sites, men in their fifties were looking to start a family. A number of guys in this age bracket answered the question about kids with “want ’em now.” Little do they know that the older the father is, there’s an increased risk his kids will develop ADHD, autism or schizophrenia. You have only yourself to blame then if you bring into the world a kid with a disability when you’re nearing retirement age.

I would rather date a guy with a mental illness who is normal than a normal guy who is f*cked-up.

The woman who published the book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. GoodEnough is still single and most likely hasn’t tried to meet a guy online. These guys live up to the lyrics of a Beck song.

I listen to the Alternative Project radio station that you can listen to by going on http://www.iheartradio.com and typing in The Alternative Project. It broadcasts insulting jokes like the following:

“Why do single women take dating advice from other single women? Isn’t that like Stevie Wonder giving Ray Charles driving directions?” Yes: it is. I refused to take dating advice from a woman with a string of long-term fruitcakes under her belt.

If I want advice, I’ll ask a woman who celebrates her 20th wedding anniversary in 2015.

Cupid is blind. His arrow is striking everyone else not me.

This is my comedy routine. I hope you find it funny. I’d like to hear from other women about their own escapades in the dating scene.

Courage: A Sister’s Prayer

After:

Firefighters have died. Police officers have died.

Papers and papers are blowing around the streets.

People are donating blood that is in short supply.

The Twin Towers no longer stand . . . what’s next? A missile attack while everyone’s looking elsewhere?

Those that survive will bear years of survivor guilt.

The Nine-Inch Nails lyrics popped into my head: Bow down before the one you serve you’re going to get what you deserve.

A teen stood in black boots with a black Nine-Inch Nails tee shirt on in front of the school where I passed on my way home. Once inside, I turned on the CD player and listened to the song, “Head Like A Hole.”

I called Aunt Rose. My aunt said my brother M. is at his firehouse right now.

Firefighters have died.

Police officers have died.

A triage area has been set up at Chelsea Piers.

“A million tons of rubble fell down on people.”

“Hundreds have lined up to give blood.”

People walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home.

How can I trust?

How can I serve God best unless I do not wear my faith on my sleeve?

My life will not ever be the same. None of ours will.

Allah, God, Yahweh, the Lord, Jehovah, Buddha . . . all are one and the same.

Whose God is any better? Whose mission more sacred? What has anyone done to you?

Black, White, Asian, Caucasian, Gay, Straight, make love, not hate.

Oh, I am glad I had the courage to follow my vision and get away from that life as I had known it. The different drummer I march to now beats a tune I cannot forsake: to join my God in liberating others from stigma and oppression.

When I die, it will not be in vain. I will have done everything in my power to rise up and fight these obstacles.

None of us are crazy-these terrorists are the insane ones, for they have used your Word to justify killing innocent people.

Cardinal Egan, on the radio, is cool, collected, and offers wise words: “We are in the hands of God.” He asks us to understand that good can come of this.

I shut off the radio now. It is hot again. I wear my long polyester black skirt and red tee shirt.

God bless my cellulite!

God bless my panty lines!

God bless my funky red plastic eyeglasses!

God bless the downtrodden!

God bless the heroin addicts!

God bless the Arabs!

God bless my meager salary that puts food on the table and clothes on my back.

God bless all of us, and bless all of our imperfections.

Evening:

I called Mom. M. is now in Manhattan. “He is trained,” she tells me. My brother is licensed to be an EMT as well; he’d gone to school for that before he became a firefighter.

I kneel at the side of my bed and pray aloud.

88 AM radio:

“They are still operating in a search-and-rescue mode.”

I cry to God: “How could we have veered so far from your plan for us?”

He knows the seed was planted long ago.

My throat is thick, the apartment is hot-I have every window open.

Will I sleep tonight? Against my will: I am so tired now. I do not trust. I will sleep anyway.

Night:

My friend Samia called. I told her my brother is a firefighter and has been dispatched to Manhattan. We talked. She said, “It’s the work of a coward to kill innocent people.”

I responded, ” A coward? You know what they said.”

“Yes,” she told me.

Samia is a Muslim.

At 8 p.m. I turn on the radio. This is unfathomable. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I will keep the radio on this evening. I am so tired. It takes an act of courage to continue.

This day re-affirms my belief that I’m here to be compassionate. The future is not secure for any of us now.

“About 200 firefighters and police are presumed dead.”

“There are literally hundreds of people who will not come home from Manhattan tonight.”

What matters most for us? God’s final plan: unconditional love.

It is indicated that members of Osama Bin Laden’s team may be responsible.

“Half of the firefighters who responded first on the scene may be dead.”

Later:

I am afraid to call D., who is pregnant with M.’s child. Two hundred firefighters, the first ones in, are declared dead; ninety-eight police officers are missing.

I want to talk to God; I want him to speak to me.

Why? Why? Why?

I will not rest until I know my brother is okay. How can I sleep? I will try. It is only 10:30 p.m. and I am exhausted from listening. I am so tired.

The morning after:

I’m alone in the kitchen at work. I call the hotline for the families of firefighters.

M. is NOT on the list of the missing. M. is alive.

Truth

I typed up word-for-word the journal entry I wrote on September 11, 2001.

The library had been shut down because of the terrorist attacks. I stayed home: my year tuned to the radio because I didn’t have cable so my TV reception was halted.

At the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) poetry event years ago I read this journal entry.

A woman in the audience told me she went home and cried because of what I wrote: it was that powerful.

I’m going to keep this blog entry short and then publish here the original journal entry.

I will not ever go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero.

I consider the firefighters who were first responders to be civilian veterans who served our country in a time of war. I consider the terrorist attacks to be an act of war committed on American soil.

The responders who died are in a far better place than our world will ever be.

The ones who lived: we might not get them back either.

How I See Things

I find that making the diagnosis an albatross around your neck is unhealthy: you’re responsible for it if you magnify the impact it has on your life.

The only power the diagnosis has over you is the power you give it. The only power the stigma has over you is the power you give it.

You can put it in its place because it can become a small thing, just something you have, no bigger than that.

How I see it is that the illness is like my eye color or height, a genetic thing, a part of me. I would no more regret it or anything that happened in my life any more than I would regret having brown eyes or standing five feet tall in my bare feet.

You get over it or else you’ll be miserable the rest of your life. You find your own path to go on: the road to you. Like Paula Cole sang in the 1990s in “The Road to Me” the house and car are only steps along the way.

They’re not who you are and the illness is not who you are either.

I tell no one. I recommend you tell no one either except an intimate romantic partner.

It’s not often appropriate to blab about any illness or personal topic. You might feel a weight has lifted off your chest when you tell someone. Yet I don’t think it’s right or good to transfer the burden of that weight to someone else.

Once you tell, in a way, you’re responsible for your part in whatever the outcome is.

I say: tell only the people who have earned your trust and earned the right know.

Forget what I do. I’m luckier than most people. Not everyone with a diagnosis gets the star treatment in society. The risk is still great.

It’s always your choice. Do what you’re comfortable with.

Be a robust activist or go your merry way in silence. The choice is yours.

I decided to become a mental health activist because the cost of my silence was too high a price to pay: for myself and most of all for others in society who are denied treatment and thus denied the equal opportunity to succeed.

The untold cost of the loss of human capital in the world: in the cost of wasted lives: is too great for any of us to stand by and cower in the face of stigma.

If you fear the stigma, you have to examine what’s really holding you back.

The only thing to fear is the fear itself.

Find what gives you joy, and do that: because when you love the life you live nothing else matters.

Christmas Eve

I’ll publish here the second entry of the memoir excerpts in the order of when the scenes appear in Left of the Dial.

I’m 49 and The Night of the Seven Fishes has been going on since I was 7 years old: 42 years.

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Christmas Eve was a sad and strange music, the ending of an era I was unable to let go. I felt beat up against myself, subliminally drawn to be who I was: a girl I fancied to be courageous, someone who went against the grain. How could I miss her when I still wanted to be her?

Dressed in black, I was pulled into the instinct to hibernate inside my body: I wore muddy eye shadow and brown lipstick.

The windows of my soul were closed; locked; shuttered. Only the smear of lipstick was a clue: like velvet in a panic.

With my grandfather gone my father now headed the table, where everyone bumped elbows. The old oak table in Aunt Rose’s dining room was long as a highway and with many stories along its worn surface. My Aunt Liz was here with my four cousins. Did they know I had been in a hospital? No one mentioned it.

One of the stories was Aunt Millie. She wore like a cloud her Jean Nate after-bath splash. We could set our clocks by the money cards she gave us at Christmas—in which we each received a crisp twenty dollar bill.

Tradition like this held us together, though this year my grandmother sat on a chair against the wall in the kitchen, watching as Aunt Rose and my mother took over the cooking. Always, for Christmas Eve, the seven fishes: lobster, shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, crab, and scungilli. And forever, family: together clasping our hands as my father said grace.

Aunt Millie sat next to me, eating her food in careful bites, and sent fresh shrimp to my plate in not-so-covert operations.

“Eat, eat,” she nudged me.

Aunt Millie worked at the OTB—Off Track Betting—and loved horses. She lived on Lenox Road just off Flatbush, and had been in the first-floor studio for thirty years. Pictures of derby winners lined the walls. She was afraid to take the subway, and wouldn’t ride in elevators.

We used to visit Aunt Millie every Thanksgiving, when I was a child, in the years after her favorite brother, my Uncle Jerry, died. My mother and father would urge her, “Come, celebrate at your sister’s, and spend the holiday with family.” Though she was a great aunt, we called her, simply, aunt. I remembered the cart on which the liquor bottles preened. She was a good friend with Johnnie Walker.

Years later those bottles were indented in my brain, a curious memory. Each time we’d go there, Aunt Millie would make a fuss, and reluctantly bundle up in her one good coat, and get into the Impala—or not. Only sometimes. She dried up and came around slowly, until she wouldn’t ever miss her real family for the world. Here we were, feasting on fish and hearing the story we pretended we were hearing for the first time, our eyes shining intently.

“Hot dog wagons, that’s the ticket,” Aunt Millie said, pointing her fork in the air. “If I opened one up on the corner of DeKalb in 1957, I would be a millionaire now.”

“I coulda bought a race horse if I had the money.” She looked forlorn.

My grandmother was losing her moorings. Trying to make the coffee, she poured the grinds into the boiling water in the pot. My mother secretly replaced the contents when my grandmother went into the living room.
My grandmother and Aunt Millie were sisters from a family of nine children, some of whom weren’t here, others scattered far away.

My aunt, whose given name was Carmela, was thin as a rake handle. “How about some blackjack?” She always wanted to play card games. Aunt Rose went into the kitchen and came back with a deck.

I always lost, asking Aunt Millie to “hit me” until it hurt, and I went over twenty-one. It involved luck and skill I didn’t have. “Unlucky at cards, lucky at love” was the double bind because the reverse was true too. But I was willing to bet on love; I held out the hope that I’d find someone who’d take it slow and easy.

“Blackjack,” Marc called out. And we started again.

Aunt Rose folded after three rounds. My father won one game.

At nine o’clock, he drove us home. I was scared of the changes and endings, of losses and letting go. When I fell asleep, I dreamed of a horse out of Belmont named Aunt Millie: winner, by a nose, in the third.

 

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