Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Goodbye, The Corolla

Today, I watched my car as it was towed away, destined for charity auction and some vague promise of a tax-deductible donation certificate. It was my mom's car. She'd given it to me when she got diagnosed, so that I could visit her more frequently before she died, which ended up being about six weeks after we transferred the title. It's gotten me around for five years now. Much like (or not at all like) my fantasy of how long I'd get to have Mom around, the time came too soon to part with the '96 Corolla. I got side swiped in May, and due to ambiguous liability in the crash, and lack of collision insurance on my part, I just couldn't afford to fix it. And, really, ultimately, I can't afford the insurance, gas, 100,000 mile service and repairs and regular maintenance anyway. It was time to say good bye.

I wrote a slightly different version of this piece a few years ago, not too long after Mom died:


I'm fifteen. I'm sitting on one of two well-worn recliners in front of the TV in the living room; Mom sits on the other. We're watching a “M.A.S.H.” rerun. There aren't too many shows we both enjoy; she likes cop shows, procedural dramas like “Hill Street Blues,” “Kojak,” and lately, “Murder She Wrote.” I'm into “Brady Bunch” and “Leave It To Beaver” in syndication. “M.A.S.H.” is a major overlap for us, now that I'm old enough truly to appreciate it.

Mom lights a cigarette, and I go into my defensive stance. Recently, I've taken to pulling my tee shirt up to cover my mouth and nose, so I can breathe through the cleansing filter of 100% brushed cotton.

“They brainwashed you at that anti-drug conference, Bree.” She's offended.

“I was in junior high when I went to that conference.” My eyes are still on the TV. 

“That's when you started covering your nose,” she insists. 

“It's disgusting, Ma, I don't wanna breathe it.” 

“You don't seem to mind when your friends smoke. I know B and your other friends smoke.”
“Mom, I'm not pickling in a house full of cigarette smoke when I'm with my friends.” I look over at her. She ashes her cigarette onto an empty plate nearby. “I hate it when my friends smoke, too.”

A commercial comes on; I can tell by the volume of the broadcast. There isn't a thought that Mom would eventually get lung cancer and die from it. Dad had died of a heart attack, and somehow I just figured she would, too. It wasn't clear to me then that smoking was implicated in heart disease as well; it just seemed like cancer was too obvious, too direct a consequence. I thought she'd just keep on smoking True Green 100's for the next fifty years, til she suddenly died at a very old age. Dad died too young; Mom would not. 


I drive her car now. It's a 1996 Toyota Corolla, and owing to Mom's relatively short driving radius, it only has 60,000 miles on it. I've put on 10,000 of those just in the last eight months. It's smelling less of stale cigarettes now, but I think the tar and nicotine essence has a half life that will leach indefinitely from the upholstery. 

Cradled in the drink rest below the dashboard is a diminutive ceramic mug, handle long broken off, rough nubs in place of the two points of attachment. It's a mug I made for Mom when I took a ceramics class my senior year of high school, and it lived for many years, largely unused, in her kitchen cabinet with other cups and odds and ends. At some point, long after the handle had broken off, it became her overflow car ashtray, and while the glazed cobalt blue stripes remain sharp and bright these twenty years later, the inside is coated with ashy soot and the ghosts of stamped out cigarette butts. 


I remember vividly the “M.A.S.H.” series finale in 1982, when I was ten, the scene with Hawkeye on the bus and the South Korean woman who killed the chicken sitting in her lap, so that its shrieks wouldn't give away the envoy's position to the North Koreans. Only Hawkeye had to have a couple of sessions with Sydney, the visiting army shrink, to uncover his distorted memory of the incident: the “chicken” was actually this woman's baby. 

“She smothered her own baby!” Hawkeye wailed in cathartic horror, the horror of the whole war. 

I'm angry that the car still smells of cigarettes, the recirculated air from the heater kicking up more stale smoke every time I run it. I'm angry that she picked the ceramic mug I'd made her as a makeshift ashtray: what a wholly sentimental use of your kid's ceramics project. 

As it was with M.A.S.H., it's deeply good that the anger and the grief give way to comedy, eventually.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Memory Lapse 1.0

I caught a glimpse of a friend of a friend on the bus this evening, someone whom I've met a bunch of times. Several bunches of times, even. I could not remember her name. Could not. And could not, still. I turned away from her, sinking deeper into my earbuds, and scrolled desperately through the friends list of our mutual connection on Facebook. Perhaps I could slyly glean her name and then make breezy contact, as if I had just been too absorbed in the Judge John Hodgman podcast to notice her sooner.

I failed to find her name, and I failed to remember her name, as we bumped along the 22 route for another fifteen minutes. It became way too late on this bus ride, and seemed too many years into our acquaintanceship, simply to engage in a mea culpa chat and ask her to remind me her name. I slunk off at my stop, feeling both embarrassment and an odd neutrality (or was it numbness?) about the coming storm of my senility.

I’m not even joking.

I’m 43, and it’s been happening for the last two years or so. Words, particularly names, are dropping out of my head. A couple years ago, I asked my sisters, both ahead of me in age by some years, “Do you forget words sometimes?” Both answered yes. “How old were you when you started noticing it?” “Oh, around 40.” Hrm.

After ascending the stairs and starting up my computer, I immediately attempted to Google this person to find out her name. I know a lot of things about her: she’s a published writer, and a Buddhist, and runs writing workshops, and I’ve read pieces she’s written. And, thank whatever deity or spark in my neural pathways, I finally remembered her name without the internet having to jog my memory. I just needed about an hour of active and passive recall time.

Aging is so odd, and fascinating, and scary.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Yes, really.

Am I really 40 years old and getting my internet service cut off because I have been that behind on my payments and playing chicken with AT&T's willingness to roll me to the next month? Yes, yes I am. Did I just pay them my entire past due amount of $138.35, because I happened to have $202.88 in my checking account, and because I am so desperate for and addicted to internet connectivity that I've probably sacrificed my ability to pay some other essential bill that's direly overdue, leaving only $64.53 in my account to eat on til my next paycheck? Yes, indeed. I guess this is hitting financial bottom. I need to work more. Unfortunately, bookkeeping pays a lot more per hour than psychotherapy internships, so it looks like I need more bean counting gigs. The elusive quest for meaning in employment continues to fade away over the horizon. In other news, I still like my life, so I feel pretty grateful for that. Thank you, friends and family, lovers and playmates, for all the sweetness.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Still Life with Ambivalence

I've had a drink (or two) daily since resigning, again, not to drink on weekdays. A little harm reduction strategy that's vexing me, it seems. As I write this, I'm anticipating the Bulleit rye on the rocks I ordered from the bar. I'm attempting to be gentle, neutral to myself about this, rather than using it as an excuse to lash myself. One or two drinks in an evening is not a grievous offense to my own physical health, after all.

It is definitely something I want to get ahold of, though. It's frustrating, and anxiogenic, to set an intention for myself and feel the compulsion to break it. To feel, and then to gratify, the compulsion. It's the same exact feeling when I stay on Facebook past the time I intend to log off, or put off a task I intend to do. There is a very natural, it seems, feeling of anxiety, shame, and dread in not following my intention, in violating my sense of what's best and most healthful for myself. The gratification of the urge is momentarily pleasurable, sometimes even glorious, but it's eventually replaced by an even greater sense of anxiety and shame, and, then, by whatever consequences follow, like deprivation of sleep, or acidy stomach in the case of alcohol or coffee.

I'm sure this has all been written about before, but it's good to articulate the patterns to myself. I'm successfully feeling neutral and curious while writing this, which is really good.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

And then there was one.

I'm ditching the 30 Days Meme. I completed two out of 30 entries, and I've rapidly found that that particular list of prompts just isn't doing anything for me. Scrapped. Gonna try my hand at going back to writing my own free-form narrative, even if I have to write about shit I don't wanna write about. I've been ambivalating enough for the last year-plus. I need to get back to the Breeness of it all.

Two things you probably know if you know me In Real Life, but don't yet know if you only know me via Toothpick Labeling or Limburger, my previous personal blog:

1. I got bit really badly by a dog in September, and now I've got a killer motherfucking scar on my left hand. By the grace of randomness, luck, and privilege, I've got most functionality back, and a family who can help me cover the medical bills.

<--How it looked two days after the bite.
How it looks now.-->

So, there was that.

2. Astrid and I broke up about a month ago. You, the reader, met Astrid nearly seven years ago, when I wrote about our first date. Since then, those tentative and doubtful and sexy beginnings became the longest relationship for either of us, the longest shack up, the deepest intimacy, and ultimately the most slow-motion, excruciating breakup in my life. The last year and a half have been fucking painful. Now that we've broken up, we both feel a lot of relief, release, and freedom to find ourselves in different ways. It's actually been, on the whole, easier between us since we made the decision to end it.

And here's the interesting part: we still live together. Tune in next time for more!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 02 - Your first love, in great detail

We were teenagers. J. and I had developed a deep and deeply romantic friendship and it was completely platonic. [Except for that dream I had about marrying her. And the dream she had about me joining her in the bathtub. (I think Tom Petty was there, as well.) And that time we went camping with her mom and stepdad, and I was giving her a back rub on our sleeping bags in the back of the truck, and it was freezing, and it was the middle of the night, and I straddled her, laying my hands on her warm back, and she said,

“Mold me like clay,”

and I was so sexually aroused and so scared that I jumped off of her and had to wait til my heartbeat regained its normal tempo.]

J. was the first friend I came out to. Our heart-and-mind connection was beautiful and hilarious and mutually doting, and she was one of the first people in my life I had those epic conversations with about the nature of the universe and the nature of tiny, seemingly inconsequential things that were actually totally profound. We had been close friends for several years before I woke to the reality that I was utterly in love with her. I existed til then in that liminal passageway between the conscious and unconscious knowledge of my desire for other girls; our friendship and the erotic energy between us lingered in that blurry borderland between fantasy and reality, mutuality and unrequition.

I finally gathered the nerve to write her The Letter in 1991. We were both 19. She was in a relationship with a significant boyfriend, and had a good deal more sexual experience than I had at the time. In fact, my own exploration with boys to that point had been marked by a couple darkened living room gropes and botched attempts at fellatio. J. actually knew what being in a relationship meant, what love meant. Here I was, a 19 year-old who'd never even gone on a proper date, declaring my intense love and desire for J. in a letter laden with angst and written with such urgency and self-absorption that I almost forgot she had a serious boyfriend (a guy I really dug, by the way, and had no intention of hurting). There was urgency on her part, too, because when she received the letter, she immediately called me and we made plans to rendezvous at Denny's in Fremont (a reasonable half-way point between her house in the East Bay and mine in the South) to discuss these Weighty Issues.

I don't remember the finer details of our conversation that night, or if we ordered chicken strips or “Moons Over My Hammy,” but the gist of it was this: she had a boyfriend, and being with girls wasn't what she could do. But oh-my-god-if-she-didn't-have-a-boyfriend...could she maybe, possibly, fall in love with me too?

J. turned out not to be my first girl kiss, to my displeasure, though I was so looking forward to holding her and pressing her lips to mine in the vinyl booth of that most romantic of generic American diner settings. We shortly drifted apart into the adventures of our own early-20s lives and touched base now and again. I'm so happy to say that we reconnected over the years, and that we still totally adore and admire each other. Things turned out exactly the way they should have for us both.

But damn, that would've been something good.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 01 - Introduce Yourself

Hi. I'm Bree. Only, I'm not actually Bree; Bree is a pseudonym I've been using since I started blogging about eight years ago. Actually, it's a pseudonym I created around 2000ish when I had a brief and fairly dull foray into cyber chatting in those lonely little virtual chat rooms when people were still on IRC channels or some such shit that I didn't understand then and don't understand now. So I've gone by Bree in some circles for 'bout a decade, plus/minus.

I grew up in San Jose and Los Gatos, California, suburban sprawl about fifty miles south of San Francisco. Most of you reading this blog probably already know that. Maybe I should introduce myself in a more enticing way. Let's see now...well, I'm pushing 40, I'm a big ol' dyke (who makes infrequent exceptions for an occasional boy as long as he's fey, geeky, and submissive enough), I took the Meyers-Briggs personality type test when I was 17 at Jewish youth group camp, and was revealed to be an ENFP, and I think it's still pretty accurate.

What else? I wear two career hats, well, really one job hat and one career hat: my money-earning work is bookkeeping, basically paying other peoples' bills and balancing their checkbooks (something I've pretty much never managed to do for myself) and my career path work, which hasn't quite made me money yet, is as a psychotherapist. I'm an intern working in private practice in Berkeley, and I mainly work with queer and trans folks, and individuals and relationship partners who are in polyamorous relationships or who are identified with alternative sexualities in some form.

I think a lot about death and grief and loss.

I really enjoy the minutia of consciousness and perception and exploring the endless mental and emotional crevices of experience and memory and fantasy and nostalgia and here-and-nowness.

I enjoy documenting things. One day a year, I try to document every single thing I do from waking until slumber on my Facebook page. Hundreds of Facebook friends seem to be fascinated by this myopic, indulgent navel-gazing exercise, or at least are polite enough to make comments every now and then. For seven years running, I blogged about every movie I viewed, every book I read, and every noteworthy experience I had in a series of annual year-end wraps. You can read the last one right here.

I have several friends in the world who I cherish and who I feel deeply emotionally tied to. I really adore my family. My nieces and nephews are some of the smartest, kindest people I know. I live with my girlfriend Astrid and our dog Dorrie, a pit bull-border collie mutt, who I'm totally in love with. Astrid and I have had a really tough year together, and I've scarcely blogged about it. Maybe I'll share more of this process later. Maybe I won't.

My mom died about a year ago, of lung cancer. She was 73. My dad died 37 years ago of a heart attack, when he was just 43. I'm an orphan, I guess. I miss my mom, and I also feel just a shred of a bit more freedom to move about the world as myself since she's been gone. I feel lighter, but also somewhat guilty about this. I can't imagine my life without my sisters.

I'm slutty. Usually more in my imagination than in actuality, but I do get around some. I really enjoy riding my bicycle. I eat a lot of meat. I listen to quirky emotional indie rock. I like excruciatingly cheesy pop culture. I can talk a blue streak, and I often get bored of the stories I tell over and over, but also I often remain freshly amused by myself.

That's some of me.