Nana falls on her tailbone and decides it will be fine if someone puts a finger up there to “adjust” it.

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old-lady-squat

Living with OLDS isn’t easy.

I basically wake up each morning in a state of panic until I’m sure that everyone… including the OLD dog is still breathing.

And once I’ve made the rounds of the geriatric crowd… sure in my belief that we all can make it through one more day… I let my guard down and ready for other battles.

But not the morning of the broken ass incident… I don’t know if I will ever let my guard down again after that particularly disturbing event.

It was about 6 am when I heard a loud startling CRACK from the living room.

I knew immediately that my mom had taken a fall: It wasn’t the first time she had landed hard.

Eighty-five but still absolutely obstinate that she was not ready for a walker… that a cane would do her just fine… but the truth?

The cane was unstable.

Add our slick hardwood floors and it was literally a recipe for disaster and so… on this morning… it was.

I jumped from the bed and ran down the hallway to find my mom; legs splayed out in front of her, back pressed against the leg of a chair that had luckily inched back and pinned itself on the brick wall somewhat breaking her fall. Her cane flat on the floor next to her… a large angry scratch on the floor betraying the truth: that she had leaned on the cane for help but it had buckled and let her down.

I wanted to pick it up and throw it through the plate glass window and scream at her for not using the walker but, I held my temper and waited for Dylan as I knew he would soon be rushing down the stairs, to help me lift her into the chair and assess the damage.

“Something’s wrong with my butt,” she said. “It feels like something’s stuck up inside of it.”

Dylan, my son, looked at me and though he didn’t want to laugh at his Nana, especially if she was truly hurt, had to fight back amusement in regards to the cadence of my mother’s voice: Her comic timing, without realizing it, was impeccable.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I laughed loudly.

“Oh you think it’s so funny to have something up your ass?” She snapped.

At this time, Dylan completely lost it.

My mom frowned at both of us.

“Wait until it happens to you,” she said.

“You mean wait until I have something stuck up my ass or wait until I refuse to use a walker and fall on my ass?” my sarcasm beyond blatant.

“Oh you think you’re so funny,” she said as she grabbed hold of my arm and Dylan’s, righting herself, as she made Dylan hand her the cane.

“But Nana,” Dylan said sweetly. “What if…”

“I’ll be fine,” she barked at him. “It’s just a swore ass.”

She hobbled off to the TV room where moments later I heard Regis and Kelly blasting from the set and so I assumed… “it was only a flesh wound” and that she had already gotten over it.

I told Dylan to go back upstairs but to keep an eye and an ear out for Nana once I left for school.

He kissed Nana on the head and walked away… a bit of a giggle escaping unexpectedly somewhere around the 10th stair-step.

I got dressed, left for work, believing everything was okay until later that day my mother fell again.

This time, she just slipped right out of her recliner and fell butt first on the floor.

Luckily, my good friend Darryl was doing some work on the house, and heard her calling for help over the sound of his power tools.

When I saw his number pop up on my phone at school, I told the students that it might be an emergency and I’d have to take the call.

They all leaned forward in their desks, wondering what “Ms. Wood escapades” they would be privy to this morning.

“Hey D.D.” Darryl said. “Your mom fell out of her chair and hurt her butt.”

“Is she okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was able to get her back up into her chair but…” he paused. “She says she has something stuck up her butt and I can’t really do anything about that.”

“She actually told you that?” I asked. “She actually told you she had something stuck up her butt?”

I couldn’t believe it. My mom was totally out of control.

At that moment… I was reminded how much like my mother I was… when I turned to see 35 young and highly interested faces wonder:

Who was on the phone?

Who had something stuck up their butt?

And thank God Ms. Wood was so absent-minded she would repeat the up-the-butt scenario in front of her entire class.

I saw Tyler Ericksen in the back of the room turn to A.J. Santos and mouth the words “Up her butt” before they both just fell out laughing.

I turned my best glare at them and they immediately silenced themselves.

“Does she want me to come home?” I said to Darryl.

“No,” Darryl said. “She’s okay. She said she could wait to get up when you get home and… I’m here.”

“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone.

“Who’s got something up their butt?” Tyler asked as he tried not to smirk or giggle.

“You’re gonna have something up your butt Tyler if you don’t crack that book and get back to work.”

A.J. put his face down on his desk. His shoulders heaving with laughter.

“A.J.?” I asked.

He looked up, tears streaming down his face and whispered, “You said crack.”

“OH JESUS!” I screeched. “It’s my mom. She took a fall. She hit her ass. Now she thinks somethings stuck up there!”

The entire room went silent.

“My brother stuck a small mallet up his butt once,” Kylie said. “Maybe your mom landed on something and it…”

“My mother does not have a small mallet up her ass!” I screamed.

Kylie looked around the room as if she was only trying to help.

Everyone else just seemed dumbfounded that 11th grade American History had turned into Local Current Affairs in under a minute.

“Let’s just go back to work,” I said calmly now. “My mom will be fine. I’m sure she just bruised her tailbone.”

And so… my class went back to silently working and I counted the minutes until I could get home and check on my mother.

By 3 pm I realized my mother was not fine.

Darryl was long gone, smart man, and mom was bent over the kitchen sink.

She had her arms folded in front of her and her ass up in the air.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Taking the pressure off.”

I watched her shift her weight from one orthopedic sandal to the other her short cotton blend roomy capris moving with her.

“I think I need to go to the doctor,” she said.

I waited… listening… watching her in action.

“Yep,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”

Here she turned to look at me head on.

“You know when it just feels like you need someone to stick a finger up there and set it right. That’s what I need. A finger adjustment.”

I cannot describe my face at the moment these words registered in my brain.

In fact, I’m not sure if Hemingway could have described it.

Or even Palahniuk or Leonard.

“Did you really just say that?” I asked.

“What? That I need a finger up my ass. Yes Dede. That is what I said. I need a finger up my ass.”

I couldn’t take anymore. “Jesus Christ Old Woman!” I screamed. “Do you hear the shit that comes out of your mouth?”

I stomped from the kitchen and down the hall, where I slammed the door behind me and called my oldest daughter, who was in nursing school, to help me out with this situation.

Lexi answered the phone on the first ring.

“I hear Nana needs a finger up her ass,” she said followed by her hysterical laughter. “Don’t worry Mom,” she said. “I’m already on the way.”

I stayed in the back of the house unwilling to watch the full-blown fiasco of Dylan and Lex trying to get Nana out the door, and into the car, to go to the doctor’s to get her much needed “finger adjustment.”

I actually laid on the bed the entire time they were gone and tried to envision Dr. Yeske’s face when my mom repeated to him in her perfect comic tone. “I just feel like I need you to put your finger up my ass and adjust it.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

When they returned, Nana was upright with a frosty chocolate shake in her hand as if all was right in the world.

“You okay,” I asked though I was terribly afraid of the answer.

“Yes,” she said as she took a giant slurp off her shake. “I have a small fracture in my tailbone. I don’t need a finger adjustment. It’s just going to take a bit of time to heal.”

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I said as the kids put a pillow in the seat of her recliner and helped her to sit back.

“Yes,” she said as she took another slurp of shake. “Will you put a movie on for me?’

“Sure,” I said. Happy in the knowledge that we were moving past butt talk. “What do you want to watch?”

“Get me Bad Santa,” she said. “I just love that movie and all this ass talk reminded me of that great scene when he…”

“Don’t!” I screamed. “Don’t say it.”

She took another slurp off her shake and smiled. And though she didn’t say a word… I swear I could hear her say, That’s right, Sweetheart. I’m not out of the sarcasm game yet.

The Food Poisioning Incident: Or how I found out that Stephen truly loved me.

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poison

Many years ago, when Stephen and I were first dating. We liked to go out to Hof’s Hut for dinner.

It was just one of those silly stupid things you do when you are first dating: Go to “your” regular spot. Order “your” regular dish… and try on “being” a regular couple.

It had only been about a month, but we seemed to be doing a pretty good job of getting along and easily bonded over our shared love of Chicken Tortilla soup.

So one night, we followed our regular routine: soup at Hof’s… and then headed back to my house to lay on the bed and watch some mindless TV.

I don’t remember who fell asleep first… but I do remember who woke up first: that would be me.

I felt funny.

I felt woozy and sweaty… poo sick basically and so I quietly snuck off to the bathroom where in just a matter of seconds… I eliminated what I thought was my entire dinner and most likely also my meals from the previous day.

Like most people… for a moment… I felt relief and was sure that I was fine.

I washed my hands, splashed water on my face, and then headed back to bed.

It wasn’t more than a moment later that my stomach began to cramp and I knew that I was in trouble.

This time… there was no “walk” to the bathroom… I raced towards the toilet… just making it in time… where once again… I thought that everything exiting my body could not have been found even if I had chosen to do a HIGH colonic.

I put my elbows on my knees… I felt the room spin…. I was hot and irritated and upset that I was dating.

I was irrationally angry with Stephen who was sleeping peacefully in my bed.

I heard an Exorcist style voice from inside me hiss, “GET OUT!”

But there was no movement from the other room.

Stephen slept on… blissfully unaware of the horror that was taking place in the bathroom.

This time… I was unable to exit the toilet for a good fifteen minutes.

I knew then, that something we had just eaten had made me sick.

We had basically had exactly the same thing yet Stephen was fine.

It must of been the Ranch salad dressing, I thought to myself. He had the Honey Mustard. I seethed. “Fucker…” I whispered. “Fucking men.”

When I felt able to rise, I quietly crawled back into bed, weak and worn and hoped that I would be able to sleep.

“Are you okay?” I heard Stephen whisper from the other side of the bed.

I wanted to say, “No. Go home now. I’m sick and I don’t want you here to witness it.”

But we were new in our relationship and I was still trying to hide behind the facade of the perfect woman and so I said, “No I’m fine. I was just a bit sick to my stomach but I’m okay now.”

I would have to say… that amongst my many “famous last words” that these sit firmly at the top of my “wish I hadn’t said that” list.

I closed my eyes… and fell to sleep… thankful that I seemed to be stable after my incident.

I don’t know how much time passed… ten minutes… fifteen… but I had crossed over to the place in which you are definitely asleep but still… something in your brain… is awake and watching. Like… when you are observing your own dream or listening to someone rustling around in the kitchen late night… a quiet alarm really somewhere off in the distance… but still not yet in a place where you are “willing” to wake up and see what’s going on… and that… is when I needed to fart.

I could feel the urge to push and yes… somewhere… inside of my twilight… I thought… maybe it would be a bad idea… but I was too far gone… too far worn and groggy and so I pushed and immediately felt the warm rush of wet sludge fill the back of my panties as if filling a hot jelly doughnut.

My eyes opened wide… I moaned in embarrassment when I realized what had happened. I saw the stain on the bed and ran to the bathroom, hoping nothing more would escape my pants.

I barely made it to the toilet before I began vomiting.

Can you imagine?

Four weeks of dating…

Still in the limerance of the moment…

Never a burp or a fart or a misstep and now… on the floor… shit seeping out of my underwear…. my head halfway down the toilet… vomiting and crapping myself… sobbing uncontrollably between bursts of excrement and bile: the perfect picture of Aphrodite in all of her glory.

I heard a gasp and looked up to see Stephen standing at the bathroom door and that is when I completely lost it.

“GO AWAY!” I screamed. “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

But look he did.

In fact, he even walked into the bathroom, grabbed a hair clip from the vanity and pulled my hair back.

My crying grew louder… so touched by his small act of kindness and so embarrassed that my current “love interest” was seeing me at my absolute worst.

“Please go home Stephen,” I cried. “Please… I swear I will be okay. I just need you to go home now.”

I felt him place his hand on the back of my head for a moment before he walked out of the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind him.

I cried hard against the rim of the toilet seat. My sobs echoing in the bowl before I once again lost all control and my body gave way at both ends.

I stayed there for sometime before my pain eased… and then I stepped into the shower: panties and shirt still on… to clean the excrement from my body and clothes, before stripping naked, drying off with a towel, and heading back to the bedroom to clean up the mess that I had left all over the sheets.

But when I opened the bathroom door, and walked to the bedroom… there was no mess.

There were fresh sheets on the bed… a large towel placed across the spot where I would be sleeping… a lined, clean trashcan by the side of the bed in case I got sick again in the night… and a good, good man waiting to see if I was okay.

“I couldn’t leave you,” Stephen said. “I wouldn’t have felt right about that.”

I can’t tell you how much this still touches me today: to be with someone who doesn’t leave… who doesn’t abandon someone at their worst.

I sobbed all over again knowing that this time… I was the lucky one.

Stephen helped me into bed where he held me close until I fell into a deep sleep that lasted into the early morning.

Of course… by then… Stephen was also shitting himself… vomiting uncontrollably… and writhing around on the bathroom floor in pain.

It was the soup… not the dressing: Our shared love of Chicken Tortilla had betrayed us.

But seriously… it was okay.

We spent 24 hours caring for each other living on Saltines and Gatorade.

We laughed… we cried… we crapped… we vomited… and we swore… and then… we shared a vow… a solemn vow… that we would never eat the Chicken Tortilla Soup at Hof’s Hut ever, ever, again… as long as we both shall live.

Saturday July 13th through Saturday July 27th: Ms Wood will be on SUMMER VACATION!

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no swimming

Enjoy one of your favorite posts from the past until I return to entertain you!

And thank you for your loyal following.

D.D. Wood

Eating Dean Karlen’s Booger: Or How I Learned Eating Boogers is a Bad Thing

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nose pick

When I was very small, I loved to eat my boogers.

Kindergarten.

First grade.

Second grade.

Yep.

I didn’t stop at a normal age.

I just kept going.

I loved them.

I became a booger connoisseur.

I knew exactly the type of booger delicacy I needed to be satisfied: crispy on the outside, thick and meaty in the middle, salted just so.

They were delicious.

And I probably would have gone on eating my boogers happily until someone caught me, or until I became interested in boys, if Dean Karlen hadn’t ruined it for me.

Yep.

Ruined it.

I probably had at least one or two good booger eating years left but at seven: Dean Karlen destroyed my favorite pastime forever.

I was at the Karlen’s house one day, after a Friday night sleepover with my best friend at the time: Terri.

Terri was the oldest Karlen and their were several little Karlens besides her: Kirk, Kim, and of course, baby Dean.

Terri, Kirk and Kim were long past booger eating for all I knew… I never saw them delve into the realms of the dark cavern but then again… I was very secretive about picking myself. I often hid in the playhouse in our backyard, or a closet behind my dad’s coats. I rarely asked someone to join me unless I was absolutely sure I had seen a small finger go up a small nose. So maybe… they were secretly picking their boogers and I just didn’t know about it. But at the age of seven: I didn’t make that connection.

Somehow I just believed: that they had moved on.

But Dean… the baby… a tiny little blue eyed man…  I felt was still young enough to be down for some booger picking activities and so, I grabbed his hand, and dragged him out of the family room, past the kitchen, down the hallway to the formal sitting room, where we threw ourselves onto the nice couch and where I believed we would secretly sit and enjoy a booger eating extravaganza together: Picking away… enjoying our salty little treats… giggling conspiratorially like a couple of stupid idiots until we had to go back and join the group.

But… that didn’t happen.

Dean bounced up and down on the couch a few times, reached down and rubbed his hands on it’s edge, and then slapped me hard on the top of my head before he ran back off down the hallway to find Kirk or Kim or someone else to play with.

I sat quietly slumped on the couch… upset at first that I had lost my little playmate and would now have to eat my boogers alone but soon I settled in and began my routine.

I was deep in thought and about three boogers in, when I decided to take a pause and rest.

I placed my small hands by my side and relaxed into the couch as I kicked my feet against the edge.

“Terri!” I heard Mrs. Karlen yell. “You kids better not be in the sitting room! You better not be on my good couch!”

My eyes grew big.

I loved Mr. and Mrs. Karlen as if they were my own parents and I didn’t want to anger them in any way.

I held my breath as I silently slid off the couch, and curled up into a small ball on the floor, hoping I wouldn’t be seen and now anxious for Terri to come back from wherever she was and find me.

I lay there for a moment… praying that I wouldn’t be punished… that I wouldn’t be sent home… when I noticed a small perfect booger stuck to the side of my index finger.

It was lovely in color and shape, golden really like a perfect raisin, and I was thankful that I had one more good one to eat and enjoy as I waited in my self-imposed prison on the tri-color shag carpet.

I rolled it around on the tip of my finger: massaging it into a perfect booger ball… before I popped it into my mouth without hesitation.

I chewed that booger with glee…

I waited for the familiar taste I so loved…

The enjoyable sensation of the booger-licious flavor I had come to cherish…

But as I mulled the small but powerful bouquet of taste on the surface of my tongue I realized I had made a horrible error in judgement: this booger was foreign.

This booger was not mine.

Yes.

I had eating someone else’s booger.

The taste was odd and metallic.

The smell similar to that odd smell of new puppy breath and it piped up the back of my throat and into the back of my nose.

For a moment… I thought I was going to puke: I couldn’t get that booger out of my mouth fast enough.

I spit it onto the floor and actually wiped my tongue across the shag carpet several times trying to remove every remanant of the foreign matter from my mouth but even today… I can still taste that thing.

I lay there… trying not to gag… trying not to puke… and I probably would have laid there all day praying that I would recover, if Dean Karlen hadn’t ran back into the room at that very moment, picked his nose right in front of me, and wiped his tiny booger laden finger on the edge of the couch before running away.

I raised my head up as my mouth fell agape.

There, on the length of the couch, I could now see Dean Karlen’s booger minefield that he had been planting for God knows how many months of time.

Dried ones.

Crispy ones.

Little mummified pieces of booger clinging to each micro-fiber of the couch and of course… the newest patch full of juicy baby booger specimens where the one I just ate had obviously come from.

I jumped up and ran away from that couch as if I had just witnessed a bloody accident or a brutal murder.

I no longer cared where my best friend was, where any of the little Karlens now were, or if I would be punished.

I ran out the side door, grabbed my pink Schwinn banana seat bike… and pedaled as fast as I could for home.

I wanted Dean Karlen’s boogers far behind me.

I wanted that memory to be erased forever from my brain.

But my bad booger behavior had been broken for eternity in that one moment.

And though forty-one years of time has now passed me by… the taste and the memory of that rotten foreign baby booger sticks forever in my sensory memory and mind… like the day it stuck to the edge of that couch.

Getting Even with Dylan James Wood: The Three Day Slap

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Dylan James Wood is my son.

Those that know him know that he is like a giant bear: large and fuzzy, hands as big as grizzly paws.

He stands about six-foot-one and even on my BEST day I can no longer take him.

Well actually, I might get away with running him over in the mini-van but he’s quick for a big guy so I would have to catch him by surprise which… is exactly what I did the day I slapped the holy shit out of him.

Now, feel free to judge, I really don’t care.

If I want to slap the shit out of my 22-year-old, 250 pound bubba of a baby, who is completely out of line with his mother then I will damn well do it.

I don’t believe in the “no beating” policy.

To quote M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs: “Tell Graham to swing away.”

I like to live by the laws of nature: swift, painful, parental punishments.

And probably right now, someone out there is mumbling, “I hope one day he hits her back. Abusive old bitch.”

And I would say to you: he better start running after he takes a swing.

It would be a good show though and actually it was.

I don’t know what started the incident.

Who knows how he incited me into violence but he did.

We were in the middle of the kitchen, standing toe-to-toe.

I was screeching at him about something that I deemed incredibly important at the time, when he mouthed off and I went to slap him.

I watched as his giant paw of a hand reached out and grabbed my wrist.

My arm stopped mid-swing as my face registered shock.

I looked up at him, this furry Baby Huey of a man, and stared, stunned that he quit my vigilantly justice with one grasp.

I actually heard the sound track from Clint Eastwood’s, A Few Dollars More, reverberate inside of my head as I raised my other hand, furious in my inability to control him, and took another swing.

No way in hell was “Indio” gonna get the better of Clint aka “Monco” I was gonna wind this little jackass’s pocket watch and good.

I swung at him with all my might and watched as he easily bested my shot and now had both of my wrists pinned within the grip of just one of his giant hands.

I was beyond furious: I was enraged.

It was as if I lost my mind: I literally could not control myself. I bent towards him and tried to bite him repeatedly.

He laughed as he used his strength to manipulate me into various positions by changing the degree of bend on my trapped wrists.

I began to growl and snarl like a wild animal as I kicked at him, all the while, Dylan laughing at my idiocy and the fact that I no longer had any control over him.

I exhausted myself with the effort and like Santiago in the, Old Man and the Sea, crumpled to the floor, worn and beaten, yet still refusing to admit defeat.

“You promise not to hit me if I let you go?” Dylan said, lauding his youth and new found bravery and power over me.

I said nothing.

I glared at him.

A beast ready to snap.

I watched as he walked towards the backdoor, before I shouted, “You will pay for this!”

He chortled with glee as he kicked open the door, kicked it closed behind him, and strutted off to the garage, whistling a little tune of satisfaction that soon faded off into the distance.

That little shit. I thought to myself. I am going to make that mother fucker pay.

And as I sat on the dirty linoleum floor, I quieted my mind and came up with a plan.

A three day plan.

I would lead him to believe I had forgotten all about the upsetting incident.

I would act “as if” and bide my time until I could slap that little bastard but good.

I regained my footing and stood tall; I had lost the first battle but I was certain that I would win this war.

The next few days passed by just as I expected:

Dylan flinched each time I walked by him: sure that I was about to retaliate at any moment positive that I had not given up within the first 24 hours.

I ignored him… busied myself with the tasks at hand.

48 hours later, he was eying me pensively from the corner of the living room: trying to figure out if I had truly forgotten the incident or if this was some type of new defensive tactic.

I folded laundry and once again pretended I hadn’t even noticed him in the room.

He fell for the ploy.

By the third day, I was beyond excited. I couldn’t wait to get home from school and make my son pay.

My anticipation was rabid by the time I pulled up to the curb.

I could hardly contain myself as I ran up the porch and opened the front door.

There he was.

My baby Sasquatch.

My furry Yeti.

He was in the kitchen, large bowl of cereal cupped in one hand, spoon midway to his mouth, crumbs of a cheerio hanging tentatively off of his beard.

“Hey mom,” he said.

His sweetest voice.

His best cherubic face.

But I did not falter in my anger: revenge had gotten the better of me and my “higher spiritual self” had exited our home days ago.

I laid on like I have never laid on before.

My slap hit his chubby pink cheek so hard that his whole giant meat pie of a head sharply snapped at an angle before his eyes rolled back and his mouth fell open.

But still my blow barely made a dent of pain.

He centered his head, and looked at me: his bowl still set neatly in his hand, his spoon still resting mid-air, shocked but for a moment, before he laughed, this beautiful genuine boy of a laugh, and then said, “Good one” as he walked past me and climbed the stairs to his bedroom.

I stood in the kitchen and watched as his giant Fred Flintstone feet disappeared up the stairs.

The moment was bitter sweet.

I felt the relief, the joy of revenge washing over me, the sense that all was right in my world and then the horrible realization that my son was now completely immune to any physical punishment I would ever try to dispense in the future.

Suddenly, I felt old, truly old, until I heard from the top of the stairs, “Damn mom, that really hurt.”

And I smiled, knowing that my son was indeed a good man, I had raised him well.

I knew he wasn’t hurt at all, he was letting me “save face” unwilling to swing away at his mother’s pride.

The Big Box: A Cautionary Tale Regarding a Woman and her Period

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This is a cautionary tale about a woman, a period, and a big box.

Men will never truly understand the whole “period” thing… I’m sorry men… but you just won’t.

Women are basically cycling through an exciting array of hormones every 28 days, of every month, of every year, for most of our life time.

We are up and down and up and down (no pun intended) and you men never know when you are going to get your “calm little kitten” or your “crazed steroid driven psycho” that screams at you for doing just about anything, while fisting chocolate covered zingers into her mouth at an alarming rate.

It isn’t pretty.

We try to maintain.

I’m telling you gentleman… we do…

But it is impossible as this organic chemical concoction called “womanhood” surges through our body, driving us to mate… then hate you before our 28 day deadline for that month is over.

Any husband knows the horror of heading to the Albertson’s at ten o’clock at night and asking, “Umm, can you tell me where the BIG BOX of Tampax medium to heavy unscented pearl pack is? Oh… and can you direct me to the aisle where I can also purchase the BIG BOX of Nestle Ice Cream sandwiches and the FAMILY SIZE frozen chocolate chip cookie dough? Thank you so very much.”

Come home empty handed and you will be sorry.

I’m telling ya… I had a complete period break down just last month when I told Stephen that I was going to get a taco at Taco Bell.

“Well, I’ll drive with you,” he said.

But I didn’t want him to.

I was trying to sneak away.

I knew what I was going to do: go to the Taco Bell and binge. Pumped up on my monthly hormones and jonzing for sugar, salt and fat, I knew a taco wasn’t going to hold me over… but I didn’t want to admit it… when I’d been trying really hard to uphold the image of “breezy sexual vixen” to this man.

“Ummmm, well I was going to run a couple of errands,” I said, hoping to deter him from tagging along.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll just ride with you.”

And I thought, Why do men always WANT to be with us when we don’t want them around? And then it’s just the opposite when we do?

“Fine,” I snapped at Stephen, as he climbed into the mini van, totally oblivious to my situation, and stared out the window waiting for me to drive.

I floored it.

“Whoa,” he said, and he sounded just like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “Taking it a little fast today aren’t you?”

I felt my face go red and I fantasized about reaching over, opening the door, kicking him out to the curb, just so I could watch him roll around on the street in pain while I screeched donuts around him in my 96 Isuzu shouting, “A WOMAN GREW YOU IN HER WOMB YOU SMUG SON OF A BITCH! NOW YOU WILL FEEL OUR PAIN!”

But I controlled my period rage and rushed towards my salvation.

When we pulled into the drive-thru and I heard the familiarly soothing song of, “Welcome to Taco Bell” I thought I might be okay.

“Yes, could I have the BIG BOX MEAL please?”

Stephen turned and looked at me.

“I thought you were just getting a taco?”

Now, I’m sure Stephen asked this question in all innocence, but my eyes narrowed, my demeanor became sinister as I turned to him and asked, “What did you just say?”

And in that moment… Stephen suddenly realized the gravity of his situation…

Just in that moment… the man that had once been married to someone for over ten years… realized that he had willingly entered a car with a women who was cocked and fully loaded.

“Mmmmm, that sounds good,” he said, pretend joy plastered to his face as he rubbed his hands together, trying to appease me until he could run from the scene. “But I think I’ll just have a drink today.”

I kept my eyes fixed oh him… waiting for the smallest sign… the smallest gesture… of what could be perceived as “mock” but he kept his gaze steady until the sound of the speaker…”Anything else?” …distracted me from my prey.

“What are you getting then?” I asked him: my tone… complete annoyance.

“Ummmmm,” Stephen said as he leaned over and tried to get a better look at the drink menu.

I felt my fingers twitching on the steering wheel…

“Ummmmm,” he stalled again. “Uhhhh, I think I’ll have…”

“Jesus, Stephen!” I shouted. “What the fuck do you want to drink?”

Stephen’s eyes grew large, there was a bit of a shocked smile that crept over the surprised little “O” of his mouth.

“Ummm, a Strawberry Lemonade,” he said to the speaker.

I felt the proximity of his body next to mine and hissed, “Now back away,” as I rolled around to the drive-up window.

Stephen sat back in his seat and folded his hands on his lap, he waited quietly until the register girl handed our drinks out the window and then… the BIG BOX MEAL.

The girth of it was embarassing.

There it was: The BIG BOX.

I handed it to Stephen and drove away from the window.

Stephen didn’t say a word and in fact, it remained quiet in the car… until I realized that Stephen was silently reading the description on the side of the box.

“What does it say?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Stephen said.

Smart man.

He knew better than to engage in the car but I had him cornered.

“No what does it say?” I demanded as I stared him down and watched as he cautiously held the box up higher and read out loud in a slow steady voice, as if he were a student in one of my high school classes, worried that he would receive extreme punishment for any verbal error.

“It says…” he started… “The Taco Bell Big Box Meal. This value meal on steroids comes loaded with our latest masterpiece, the Volcano Taco, as well as the Burrito Supreme, the Crunchwrap Supreme, Cinnamon Churro Twists, and a Large Drink. All for only $4.99. Don’t even ask about our calorie count on this one. Let’s just say, minus the drink you’re talking 4 digits. 1300 calories in this bad boyNot for the faint of heart. Watching your waistline? No worries, carrying this sucker will be enough of a workout. A meal made for a man!”

We pulled up to his house as he finished the last sentence.

“Give me that!” I shouted as I snatched the BIG BOX from his hands and watched as one of my churros went flying up into the air and landed somewhere in the back seat.

Stephen calmly opened the door and climbed out of the car before he turned back around, reached over the passenger seat, and picked up the now dirty churro from the car floor.

“You sure you don’t want this one?” he asked, the safety provide by the middle of the street making him suddenly brave.

I didn’t even respond.

I hit the gas and watched as the door slammed, leaving Stephen, dirty churro still in hand, gawking from the middle of the street, as I railed the corner and headed for home.

“Meal made for men my ASS!” I shouted from the open car window.

I pulled up to my house, went inside, and ate my BIG BOX MEAL in the privacy of my home.

Happy in my hormonal dysfunction.

Period shame be damned.

The True Story of Nico’s Beaver

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Before Barbara Kramer was a famous Rock and Roll star touring the world with her band, Avi Buffalo, she was my student.

If you were to ask any of my former students what they remembered most about my class, their first answer would not be, “Studying Catcher in the Rye” or “Learning about John Adams” but would have something to do with the stories I tell them about my life.

They all loved my stories and over the years, I got into a habit of always starting off my class lesson with a “Story of the Day.”

Today, I was reminded of one of those stories by my friends: Rodney Zaccardo and Steve Hendrix.

No, they are not former students, but Rodney almost became a former friend, when he posted a photo on my Facebook page of a bar of soap titled, “Filthy Beaver” with my name tagged to the beaver.

Steve, smart man that he is, commented with, “I don’t know where to begin…” and I honestly didn’t know how to respond myself.

What the hell was Rodney thinking?

Did he really just call my beaver filthy on Facebook?

Luckily, my friend Margie, who was sitting across the table from me working, looked up from her computer and said, “He’s talking about your beaver. You know.. the one that has it’s own Facebook page. That beaver that travels around the world with the band.”  She then looked back down at her computer again before I heard her laugh and whisper, “Dork.”

I felt like an idiot for not getting the joke.

One phone call and two text messages from Rodney later… I realized he was worried I hadn’t gotten the joke either.

But don’t worry Rodney.

You’re not in trouble.

I get the joke.

The whole thing with the beaver started because of my chihuahua, Nico.

Nico loves to carry around little toys. He has a buzzy bee, two brightly colored wiener dogs, a piece of a stuffed tiger, just one leg, that he refuses to give up, and… a beaver.

These toys are usually scattered all around the house. And Nico, likes to pick one up and then drop it down to pick up another, changing them randomly, as he shows them off to house guests and moves then about, unwilling of course, to share them with any of the other dogs.

Yes… he is a stuffed animal hoarder.

One day when I was getting ready to go teach school, I heard a loud “SLAM”  from the living room and then silence.

I ran out of the hall and looked around but saw nothing but Nico’s beaver on the floor and Nico, standing close to Nana’s lounge chair wagging his tail as he seemed to look off into the backyard.

Now, it was rare to walk into the living room and not find my 84-year-old mother sitting in her blue lounge chair watching TV but, it was even stranger to walk into the living room and find the chair empty AND the room in complete silence:

No Two and a Half Men blasting from Nana’s TV cabinet.

No dogs barking for Nana’s McDonald’s breakfast meal.

Just a beaver lying in the middle of the room and a small chihuahua looking actually, quite suspicious.

Something inside of me told me to call out for my mom and so… I did.

“Mom?”

Immediately I saw my mother’s pudgy little grandma arm waving at me from behind the blue lounge chair.

“I’m over here!” She shouted as I watched her hand flap back and forth more like a windshield wiper than an actual signal of salutation.

“What the hell are you doing over there?” I asked as I hurried towards her and worked to pull her back up.

“Oh,” she said as I righted her and sat her back in her recliner, “I tripped over that damn beaver.”

I looked at the stuffed beaver lying on the floor.

I looked at Nico still wagging his tail, pretending to be the perfect dog in every way.

My mom looked at me as if I was stupid because I hadn’t responded quick enough to what she just said, so she rolled her eyes and snapped, “That thing!” as she pointed at the stuffed lump on the floor. “Nico’s beaver!”

For a moment, my mind went to one of those weird places… a place where it associates words with a specific period of time, a place where random images collide with random events… a place where you really don’t want your mind to go and suddenly… I pictured my mom tripping over a giant 70’s porno bush: Nico’s beaver.

I could see it vividly.

The giant vagina somehow detached and misplaced in our living room…

My mom, shaking her head in exasperation as if she knew it had been there all along hiding in the tri-colored shag carpet…

And somehow… she had just forgotten about it while worrying about other 70’s calamities such as my dad’s polyester pants or Dr. John’s latest hit: Right Place Wrong Time.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

I was trying to shake this horrific image out of my mind.

You never EVER want to put “Mom” and “porno” in the same thought box or even in the same paragraph for that matter, and the thought of the ridiculousness of what I was invisioning only made the whole situation worse.

Finally, my mother became totally annoyed with me and said, “I’m fine now. Just go to school. It’s not that funny you know.” Which made me laugh all the harder as I left the house and drove over to my classroom.

When I told the kids my “Story of the Day” of course I had to share Nico’s Beaver.

Everyone was in hysterics except for Barbara Kramer who seemed to be skeptical. Her eyes narrowed as she ran her tongue over her braces, before saying, “Is there really a Nico’s beaver?” with a smack of her lips.

The entire class paused.

They had never even considered the idea that I might be lying, that I might actually just make all of this shit up like a comedy routine I was trying out on unsuspecting English classes.

They all turned to me, begging for confirmation that I was telling the truth, and so, I gave Babs my best, “I’m so disgusted with your question face” before I said, “Yes Barbara, of course Nico has a beaver. Why would I make that up?”

She continued to look at me as if I was a fraud but by then, the rest of the class was convinced I was definitely telling stories in the genre of “non-fiction” and so we moved on for the day.

Weeks later, Barbara came to my house to play with my son Dylan. They were both in a band called “Return to Radio” and  practice would take place regularly at our house.

Babs walked inside and met my mom.

“Hi Nana,” she said as she waved to her.

“Oh, hi honey!” My mom waved back.

And then Nico ran up to Babs: growling and wagging, fussing and barking.

She stared at him, as if he somehow had the answer to her question regarding my authenticity as a story teller.

Was I a true raconteur? Or… was I a cheap side-show sham?

I knew what I had to do.

“Nico,” I said. “Go get your beaver! Go get your beaver!”

Nico shot off across the living room floor as if he was in a dog show and knew he was about to win first place for performing this trick.

We watched as he rooted about in his little doggy bed of toys and then plucked his favorite worn brown and beaten beaver out of the batch and rushed back to show it proudly to Babs.

Her face radiated bemusement. She couldn’t contain her glee.

She looked at me as if I was the Holy Grail of Honest Teachers before reaching down and taking the beaver from Nico’s mouth.

“Nico’s beaver,” Babs whispered and the rest, is history.

Babs joined Avi Buffalo. She began to tour the world, and she took Nico’s beaver with her… photos of him appeared with Ben Stein and on ampitheater stages in Canada, Europe, and everywhere in between.

He became legendary, that beaver, and I think Babs loved him. I think that beaver kept her grounded as she learned the world of music first hand… on stage…. and that beaver… always represented love, truth, family, and home.

An Interview with Pat Tobin: Award Winning Author of “Cake”

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Today’s guest writer is award winning Long Beach writer and USC film school graduate, Patrick Tobin.

D: Pat thanks for being here today.

Patrick: Thank you, I was hoping I would be on your blog.

D: It seems to be a pretty exciting place these days.

Patrick: If it’s anything like your household… I can imagine.

D: Funny….So Pat… I have admired you as a writer for years and of course, CAKE was the first story I read. I was just amazed with the idea of it and since I teach high school and write young adult literature, I was impressed with how such an adult story featured a teen so prominently. How did you come up with the idea for your story?

Patrick: Well, one of my Swedish friends was running an all woman’s support group and he was telling me how wonderful all of these women were and how supportive they were of each other and suddenly, this idea popped into my mind and I heard… “Yeah… but what if one of the women wasn’t?”  and I thought, “Oooooh this could be good.”

D: That would change the group dynamic now wouldn’t it…

Patrick: Ummm yeah… my lead character is a bit of a… well… bitch and it was really hard to find a way to keep her like-able to the reader.

D: I loved her….. she is hard… but when you find out the place she is coming from… you get it… we’ve all been in those places where we come off like we are being a total jerk and then someone finds out the back story and goes…. “Oh”

(laughing)

D: So no teen in the beginning?

Patrick: No, it was really weird… this is the first short story I ever wrote where I had no idea what was going to happen at the end. The part with the teenage girl and the bus ride came to me after many different adaptations.

D: Speaking of adaptations… how easy was it to adapt “CAKE” the short story to the new screen play that has been receiving RAVES across America… I mean… I think you’ve  been a finalist in six prestigious film festivals including the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

Patrick: Yeah…

(pause)

D: You aren’t going to make me spout off about all of your awards are you? Do you want me to start with the Pushcart?

(laughing)

Patrick: It wasn’t easy at all… to adapt a short story to a screen play you basically have to write a three act play. A short story is basically the “last act” of a three act, so I had to go back and write the first two acts and keep my character, as I said before, a bitch but STILL like-able.

D: Well you did a great job. I saw CAKE performed live during the New Short Fiction Series in Beverly Hills and it was really made for film.

Patrick: Thank you.

D: And you make a really great cake by the way. Do you think you might share your recipe with our readers sometime?

Patrick: Maybe…

D: Alright then, tell me how it felt to be selected by Dave Eggers for the Best Required NonFiction Reading 2008 anthology?

Patrick: That was great.

D: Did a lot of new opportunities come to you after you were featured?

Patrick: Yes. I had a great response from young adults, college students, and agents…

D: We’ll get back to agents later but first… how did it feel to have young adults and college students validate your work? You’ve always been an adult fiction writer and of course Dave Eggers uses a panel of young adults to help him select stories for BRNR. In my experience, young people tend to be really picky and very genuine about what they like… did you feel honored? And did it open you up to the possibility of writing for a larger audience?

Patrick: Yes I did feel honored and yes it actually did open up the possibility of writing for a larger audience. Suddenly I had a lot of young students writing to me and telling me how much they admired my work, asking for writing advice or critiques, and my story was then used as a teaching tool in colleges across America. The response was fantastic and I have thought of writing for the young adult audience now.

D: Well I thought your teen character was very realistic and quite complex. I’ve read the story to my students and they love the ending which I won’t share here since everyone is about to read it!

Patrick: Thank you.

D: Pat, you’ve been a serious professional writer now for almost 20 years… any advice you’d like to share with other writers?

Patrick: Ummmmm just write what YOU LOVE… not what you think will sell… I know everyone says it but it’s true…. and don’t give up….. you’re gonna have to live with a LOT of rejection and just know that you are a good writer and keep going… Oh… And get a lot of feed back from other writers….

D: What about agents? Any suggestions for finding a good one?
Patrick: Don’t take the first agent that wants you… shop around make sure you find an agent that fits. It’s so easy to be excited and think, “SOMEONE LOVES MY WORK” … but you don’t need a friend… you need someone to be diligent about selling your work and committed to your career.
D: Thank you Pat for taking the time to be here today.
Patrick: Thank you
D: And now everyone…. read on… and enjoy CAKE:

 Cake

By Patrick Tobin

First Appeared in Kenyon Review

Included in Dave Eggers Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008

*****

Annette the facilitator pretended to be Kate, a woman in our chronic pain support group who killed herself. We went around the circle, Annette in the middle, each of us given the opportunity to tell “Kate” what we were feeling.

Gail with fibromyaglia: “How could you give up?”

Stephanie with the botched spinal fusion: “You should have reached out for help!”

Liz with diabetes-related neuropathy: “What about your children?”

There were a lot of tears. A lot of hugging. Then it was my turn.

“I have a question,” I said.

“For Kate?” Annette asked. “Or for me, Annette.”

“Makes no difference,” I said. “Is it true she jumped off the San Pedro Bridge?”

“Yes. But—”

“Is it also true that she landed on a Maersk cargo ship headed out to sea?”

Annette shifted uncomfortably. “Claire, we should focus on our feelings—”

“And is it also true that Maersk sent back what was left of her body in a Rubbermaid cooler, that the cooler was stuck in customs for a week before Kate’s husband could take custody of it, that the cooler was stolen on the way to the funeral home because a homeless guy thought it contained a picnic?”

Annette looked around the circle at the horrified faces. When she looked back at me, she nodded.

I started applauding.

“Why are you clapping?” Annette asked, her big fat cow eyes filled with confusion.

“For a job well done. Personally, I hate it when suicides make it easy on the survivors.”

*

When I got home there were two messages. On the first one, Annette said the group had stayed late after I left, that it had been a difficult session for everyone and she didn’t want to minimize my feelings, but—

She and the others feel it’s in everyone’s best interest if I find another support group—perhaps one specifically to deal with my “anger issues.”

The second message was from my ex-husband Jason. He said he wanted to come by and pick up the last of his things. He asked me to call his assistant with a time when I won’t be home, because he feels it’s prudent that we don’t see each other right now.

I’m sure his mother told him exactly what to say on the message because he never used to say things like “prudent.” He always was a big mama’s boy.

With all the excitement it was no wonder I was experiencing breakthrough pain. Breakthrough pain is my worst nightmare because it means the meds aren’t working right.

Imagine the most excruciating thing you ever experienced. A migraine. A kidney stone. Giving birth. All of these I’ve experienced, by the way.

Now try to imagine that the nerves involved in that pain are being pulled out by a sadistic fuck, one by one. No matter what you scream to make the sadistic fuck stop, he won’t. The sadistic fuck just keeps laughing at you because he’s enjoying your agony.

That, in a nutshell, is breakthrough pain.

*

Guess who got a private room at Cedars with her very own morphine drip?

Morphine is like being wrapped up in warm towels fresh from the dryer. Morphine is like your mother rubbing your back when you have the flu. Morphine is like drinking cold water from a hose on the hottest day of the summer.

Who am I kidding? Morphine’s even better than all that.

Thank you morphine.

Thank you.

Thank.

You.

Morphine.

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #1:

There was a boa constrictor slithering under my sheets. The snake tried to convince me that As You Like It is Shakespeare’s most unjustly criticized play. I stared at the mound under my sheets and didn’t move a muscle for hours. I knew if I made any movement the snake was going to stop arguing literary theory and devour me.

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #2:

A group of young kids was standing outside my room, talking loudly. They didn’t go away. I got angrier and angrier.

I finally rang the nurse and told her to tell those fucking brats to move it somewhere else, if that wasn’t too much fucking trouble. Or was I interrupting her goddamned fucking break?

That’s when the kids started throwing a basketball against my door.

“Don’t you hear that?” I asked the nurse.

She pulled the drip out of my arm and started jabbing the needle in her eyes. “I can’t hear a thing.”

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #3:

Kate walked into my hospital room carrying a cake with a bunch of candles on it. I told her I liked her new look.

“Thanks,” she said. “I wish I could say the same about you.”

“The morphine makes it kind of hard to fix myself up.”

“You’re probably wondering about the cake.”

“I didn’t want to be rude, but yes.”

“Remember that time when Annette asked us what our dream would be if we didn’t have chronic pain?”

“I always hated her drippy little exercises.”

“You said your dream involved the Brazilian soccer team.” Kate crinkled her nose in disapproval.

“And you said you wished you could bake your kids a birthday cake.”

Kate lit the candles. “Everyone in the group cried after I said that. You didn’t though.”

“I had my reasons.”

“I know that now.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the whole Saint Kate thing.”

“Saints don’t jump off the San Pedro Bridge onto a Maersk cargo ship.”

“Nice touch.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

Kate brought the cake over to me. “Make a wish,” she said.

I closed my eyes and blew out the candles, even though I couldn’t think of anything to wish for. When I opened my eyes, Kate threw the cake out the window and jumped out after it. There was a sickening thud and someone started screaming from the street below. A nurse ran into my room.

It took me awhile before I realized that the person screaming was actually me.

*

The remote didn’t work so my TV had been stuck on the Discovery channel the whole time. No wonder I was having nightmares about fucking boa constrictors. I told the mousy Filipina nurse to change the channel manually.

“No problem your highness,” she said.

“Ooh,” I said, “somebody developed a spine while I was out of it.”

She left the TV on the History Channel after I told her to turn it to HBO. Touché, Imelda.

I watched a documentary about the demise of drive-in theaters in America. Apparently there aren’t any left in California except for one in Barstow.

Jason took me to a drive-in theater when we were dating, back when we were both in law school at UCLA. He’d been mortified when I found the Carpenters: Greatest Hits in his glove compartment. I teased him about it, until he cued the tape up to “Close To You.” He held me in his arms while we listened to the song—I’d never felt as safe as I did at that particular moment.

It was only the second time I’d ever gotten drunk. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum and Coke, on top of a large carton of buttered popcorn. After I threw up his car smelled like sour cinnamon toast. He gently stroked my hair and told me everything would be okay.

I was stupid enough to believe him.

*

When I got home I made two phone calls. First I called Rosalva, my cleaning lady, and asked if she had a driver’s license. When I found out she did, I asked her if she wanted to make an extra couple hundred bucks.

Then I called Jason’s office. I told his assistant to tell him I was going to be out of town tomorrow, so he could come by the house then.

I told her to tell Mama’s Boy I’d changed all the locks, but I’d leave a key in the bottom of the deep end of the pool for him.

*

For the road trip:

1.     Vicodin.

2.     Oxycontin.

3.     Methadone.

4.     A nasal opiate from Glaxo that’s still in the trial phase.

5.     The phone number and Mapquest directions for a pharmacy in Barstow. Just in case.

6.     A fifty-dollar ergonomic travel pillow I bought at Sharper Image.

7.     A two hundred dollar lumbar support pillow I bought off the Internet.

8.     Orange juice.

9.     Chips.

10.  My sunglasses.

11.  A change of clothes. Just in case.

12.  A bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.

13.  A six pack of Coke.

*

The drive to Barstow should normally take two hours, not five. I had to get out every twenty minutes to stretch. I felt like my breaks were starting to get on Rosalva’s nerves.

“No, no, no, Mrs. Fine. Is okay,” she said.

I told her I was still freaked out by the crow we killed near San Bernardino, the way it dived head-on into our car like a kamikaze pilot.

Rosalva acted like she was about to cross herself. “No more please.”

“Sorry. We don’t have to talk about the crow.” I offered her some chips and a Coke and that seemed to improve her mood.

*

The pain got bad near Apple Valley. That annoyed me. It also annoyed me the way Rosalva looked at me when I took my pills.

“Could you do me a favor?” I asked.

“Yes, ask me what you need.”

“Don’t call me Mrs. Fine,” I said. “I’m divorced now so I don’t want to be called Mrs. Fine.”

“But what to call you?”

“How about Claire. That’s my name.”

“Okay Mrs. Claire,” she said.

With a sweet smile. Oh fuck it. She’ll get it right one of these days.

*

Rosalva loved The Passion Of The Christ. I found it kind of weird to listen to all the torture through the small, tinny speaker. I started chipping off the polish on my toenails.

“You must be seeing this,” Rosalva said, her eyes filled with tears.

“I am seeing this,” I told her, as chunk number forty-five flew off Jesus’ body. “I’m also seeing we’re out of Coke.”

She seemed relieved when I offered to go to the concession stand so she could keep watching the movie. It’s okay, I get it: The Jews killed Jesus, so we should have to go to the concession stand during The Passion of The Christ.

*

The desert night sky is dreamy this time of year—a deep purplish blue and stars that look like Christmas lights. The cold air hurt my lungs, but in a good way.

I crawled under the low wire fence behind the concession stand and walked through shrubs and gravel down to the train tracks.

What would Jesus do? I think if he were in my shoes he would lie down and wait for the next Union Pacific freight train.

*

When you think you’re going to die imminently, you choose your final thoughts carefully. I tried to think of beautiful things, like Michelangelo’s David. A Bach cantata.

That got me thinking about the Nutcracker Suite. When I was a little girl I danced as a mouse two years in a row. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.

My thoughts turned to Jason.

I hated to admit it, but I did understand what he meant when he said I wasn’t the only one suffering—right before he handed me the divorce papers he’d personally drawn up. It was hard at the time to react graciously to what he said, because, after all, he’d walked away from the accident with only a sprained shoulder.

But now—I can see.

I can see that we were both the wrong kind of people to deal with this kind of situation. Problems that could be solved by money: that’s the most we could handle. Not the loss. Not the pain. Not all the thousands and thousands and thousands of pills.

Too bad Jason’s such a mama’s boy that he’d never take methadone, because it really does help take the edge off life.

I felt the low rumble of a train. Then I heard a voice, getting closer and closer.

“Mrs. Claire! Ay Dios mío! Mrs. Claire!”

I struggled to sit up and saw Rosalva scrambling towards the tracks. I tried to gauge how far the train was in relation to her distance from me.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said, “I just got tired and needed a rest.”

*

During the drive back Rosalva kept looking at me like I was going to jump out of the car.

“Knock it off with the attitude already,” I said.

She scolded me in Spanish. I think she said something about how it was a good thing Jesus told her I went “loca.”

I was thinking of the most profane thing I could say when the car started making a grinding noise. Right before the “service engine” light went on.

*

The guy at the garage in Barstow said it was going to take at least three days to fix the car. He tried to explain the problem to me.

“I don’t need to understand what a head gasket is,” I said. “Just make the arrangements for a rental car.”

Blank stare.

“Okay,” I said, “maybe you don’t understand Triple A. I have the platinum coverage that gets me a free mid-size rental if repairs are going to take more than twenty-four hours.”

“There’s nothing open now,” he said.

“Why? Is it a holiday?”

“It’s nearly midnight. People have to sleep.”

Now it was my turn for a blank stare.

*

Inside a dark Greyhound bus, strung out on opiates, traveling through the high desert in the middle of the night, I started to feel like I was in a rocket flying through outer space. I stared at Rosalva while she slept next to me. She opened her eyes.

“Gracias,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“For putting up with me,” I said. “I wish I knew how to say that in Spanish.”

“Sleep Mrs. Claire.” Rosalva closed her eyes again.

I heard muffled laughter from the back of the bus. I turned around and saw a group of teenagers passing around a joint. Everyone else on the bus was asleep. I waited a few minutes, the smell of pot becoming stronger.

I made my way to the back. The leader of the group, a girl with a bad tattoo of a python on her arm, glared at me.

“Toilet’s broke, bitch.”

Her friends laughed.

“I don’t need to use the toilet.”

She sneered. “Then beat it.”

Her friends were enjoying the show. I leaned down into her face.

“I used to be married to a federal prosecutor in LA. Even though I hate his guts, I have no problem getting on my cell phone and asking him to send a marshal to the bus station.”

The sneer disappeared.

I pointed to the joint in her hand. “Is that just pot or did you morons cut it with something else?”

*

I’d hoped the girl—Becky, a runaway from Idaho—wouldn’t want to talk, but once we started on the second joint she wouldn’t shut up.

“I want to be an actress,” Becky said.

“Can I give you some unsolicited feedback?”

“Hell no.”

“You’re going to end up doing porn. Or worse. That’s what happens to girls from Idaho like you.”

“Gross! I won’t do porn!”

“Right. Do any of these stars ever say in an interview, ‘I ran away from Idaho when I was sixteen and ended up doing Hollywood movies’? No. That’s what porn actresses say. Not Scarlett Johansson.”

“I hate Scarlett Johansson,” she said.

“If I had your body I would too.”

“At least I don’t look like you.” She pointed at my face and arms with a vicious little smile.

“Give it time honey. You’ll get your own scars some day.”

I asked if she had another joint.

“I hope you know these weren’t free,” she pouted.

I pulled out a hundred dollar bill. “Let’s skip the soul baring. It’s starting to get on my nerves.”

*

Becky finally passed out. The bus was absolutely quiet as we went down the Cajon pass. The sun was just coming up. The San Gabriel valley glowed from under an ozone shroud.

Rosalva woke up. She panicked when she didn’t find me next to her. I waved from my seat next to Becky.

“Who is this?” she asked, eyeing Becky’s tattoo.

“I’m starved. I want a yellow cake with lots of fudge frosting.”

“I make one tomorrow.”

“I want one the minute we get home.”

“Mrs. Claire, I must go to my home. Later I come to your home.”

I realized I had no idea where Rosalva lived.

“Downey,” she answered. “You do not know this place I am sure.”

“Isn’t that where the Carpenters were from?”

“I have not met them.”

When we sat down in our seats Rosalva pulled out a brush and started combing my hair. I began to sing.

“Why do birds…suddenly appear…”

Rosalva smiled. “This is very pretty song.”

“Every time…you are near? Just like me…they long to be…close to you.”

*

At the L.A. bus station I sent Rosalva to Downey in a cab. While I waited for my own cab I noticed Becky’s friends had deserted her. She walked up to me with a shy look on her face.

“What are your big plans?” I asked. “Oh that’s right, you’re going to be a star.”

“Shut up.”

“Want to make an easy hundred?”

She gave me a look of disgust. “I knew you were a dyke.”

“I don’t want to fuck you. I just want you to bake me a cake.”

“You’re a freak. You know that, right?”

“Can you follow directions on a package, or are you illiterate?”

“Am I what?”

“Jesus. Can you read? Do they still teach that in Idaho?”

A cab pulled up. I opened the door and waited for Becky. She studied my face, trying to decide if I was a good risk or not. I felt bad for her until my legs started killing me again.

I sighed. “Do I look like someone who could hurt you?”

“You’re mean enough.”

“You outweigh me by at least fifty pounds.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fine.”

I got inside and gave the cabbie my address. We were driving off when I heard Becky’s voice.

“Wait!” she yelled, running after the cab.

I didn’t look at her when she got in the car. “Offer’s fifty now.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life’s not fair. Any more lip and it goes down to twenty five.”

*

Becky decided to make the cake from scratch. We were at the grocery store right by my house, in the baking section. I’d become distracted by the Disney-themed birthday candles.

“Do you have baking powder?” Becky asked.

“I’m not sure.” I was starting to lose focus. “Is that the stuff you put in the fridge to keep it from smelling?”

Becky rolled her eyes. “That’s baking soda.”

“Then I don’t think I have baking powder.”

“Who doesn’t have baking powder?”

“People who order out, that’s who.”

“You’re pathetic,” Becky said while were standing in the checkout line.

“You’re only just now realizing that? God you are stupid.”

“What about booze?” Becky asked.

“Can you handle liquor? I don’t want green puke all over my carpet after you drink a whole bottle of Midori.”

“Why are you such a cunt?” she hissed.

“Paper or plastic?” the clerk nervously asked.

*

While Becky made the cake, I went through the house. The last of Jason’s clothes was gone. All the tools were missing—not that I’d ever use them. All his books were out of the den. With his collection gone it really exposed my intellectual laziness—Clive Cussler no longer propped up by The Collected Works of Shakespeare.

I found the picture on the desk, the framed photo of Jason and me and the twins. We’d hired an expensive photographer, a guy who does fashion spreads for Los Angeles magazine. The year before the accident, for our holiday greeting card.

I picked it up and studied our faces, until none of us was recognizable. I thought I’d made it clear to Jason he could keep the picture.

I called his office.

“Mr. Fine’s not in. Would you like to leave a message?” his assistant asked.

“Tell him he won.”

“Won what?” The assistant sounded nervous.

“He’ll know,” I said, before I hung up the phone.

*

I took so much methadone I just barely made it to my bed. Becky yelled from the kitchen.

“Where’s the fucking booze?”

“Be resourceful!” I yelled back. “You need to be resourceful!”

My last thought before I passed out was that maybe primitive cultures are right—I think the camera did steal my soul.

*

When I woke up, Rosalva was wiping my face with a cold washcloth.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Too many hours,” she said.

“Is the girl still here?”

“No. I think she stealed.”

Rosalva helped me get up. We discovered that Becky had taken my purse, all of my jewelry, all of the liquor, and the entire stash of pain medication, including the methadone.

How did she find the methadone? I’d completely underestimated her.

“I call the police,” Rosalva said.

I stared at the frosted cake on the kitchen counter, covered in plastic wrap. “No.”

“She does wrong when you are sick! This is bad girl!”

I dabbed my finger on the top of the cake and tasted it. Homemade fudge frosting. A little on the sweet side, but definitely homemade.

*

It’s impossible in L.A. to find out where someone lives if they haven’t given you the information. The white pages are useless; 411 is a fucking joke. I needed to talk to a human being and not Verizon’s annoying computer, so I called Annette.

“And how are we doing Claire?”

“We’re doing great.”

“Well, that’s super. Did you find another support group?”

“Funny you should mention that. Ever hear of Gloria Allred?”

“Uh, well, yes I have.”

“Because I’ve decided to sue you for discrimination.”

“Goodness. A lawsuit?”

“Just kidding. I’m calling to get Kate’s address.”

“I don’t think I’m allowed to give out that information. Was there something I could help you with?”

“That’s hardly possible.”

“Well I’m certain I can’t give you that information. I’m sorry.”

“Remember when I said I was kidding about the lawsuit?”

“Uh huh.”

“Now I’m not kidding.”

*

The address was in Palos Verdes, for a house that looked like the bastard child of a mansion and a small hotel. Rosalva, bless her heart, drove me there in the mid-size rental. I told her to wait for me in the car.

“I help you Mrs. Claire.”

“Thanks, but I need to do this by myself.”

I wonder what Kate’s husband will say. I have to remember his name before I ring the doorbell. Ken? Ben?

Fuck it. I’ll just mumble something.

I hope he doesn’t freak out and think I’m a crazy person for bringing a cake with cheap Disney-themed candles. Will I actually tell him it was something Kate had wanted to do for the kids? Jesus, I hope he doesn’t start crying, or worse, ask me to come in to meet the family.

I stand outside the front door, my hand ready to press the bell. I hear children’s voices inside. Lots of children.

I take a deep breath.