Cookie Monster

Every year, as part of my fundraising efforts for the ACS, I bribe friends and family with a box of homemade cookies to make a donation.

The cookie-making process has gotten more involved and rigorous with each passing year. I make a cool dozen or more batches of cookies and candy. The selection is varied, and the cookies are bundled in separate treat bags and assembled in boxes.

Behold, the glory.

Behold, the glory.

Last year, I made an extra box for someone who wasn’t expecting it. “Next time I see him,” I thought, “I’ll bring him the box.”

Weeks went by. Months.

Then one night, in a fit of desperation and insomnia, I pulled the box out of the freezer.

“I’ll just have one of these bags. No one will know.”

One bag turned into three, turned into ten, turned into the whole box.

There, in the darkness of my living room, illuminated only by the flickering light of the television, I beheld the carnage. The casualties? Empty cellophane bags, a spray of crumbs, and some tissue paper.

I could throw away all of that and tuck the box away with my wrapping supplies. No one would know.

Except that the empty spot on the freezer shelf was sure to rat me out. Husband knew the box was there; he kept asking about it when we jockeyed for space in the freezer. “Who is this box for? When are you going to give it to him?” He would notice the box was gone, just as sure as he’d know that I hadn’t seen its intended recipient.

I stared at the box, gauging the space it left behind in the freezer. There really was no other recourse.

Carefully, I assembled all of the cookie waste—the bags and silvery ties, the tissue paper, the crumbs—all evidence of my misdeed, inside the box and closed the lid.

I stood up from the couch, flailing a little with my full cookie belly, and waddled to the kitchen. I opened the freezer door, took one last assessment of the items inside, and placed the empty box back on the shelf.

I don’t tell you this because I want to warn against the dangers of the late-night hunger munches.

I tell this story because it’s that time of year again, with fresh boxes of cookies in my freezer, and this empty box of shame wrappers was only evacuated three months ago.


In the Numbers

Dad’s breath grew erratic and ragged. He drew one last, long burst of air and pushed it out, exhausted and spent. That was it.
Dad was gone.
This gentle, wry man—the one who showed me the numbers running throughout our entire lives—was gone.
From him, I learned that numbers are everywhere, pulling order out of chaos. Say, for example, the geospatial trajectory of a BB shot through the air by a malicious brother.
Numbers were in the kitchen when I asked Dad a cooking question, like how many cups were in a gallon. “Pint’s a pound, world around,” he’d respond, matter-of-factly. Beneath those words, layers of equations and calculations would produce the answer I needed (16).
Numbers were with me even when Dad wasn’t. In gym class, I mentally graphed my deceleration as that Presidential Fitness mile wore on—an exponential curve with speed along the y-axis and time over the x-axis.
In second grade, I caught hell for using the top of my desk to track the ratio of times the teacher called on girls versus boys. Sitting at that desk over recess, scrubbing away the carefully penciled charts and graphs, remains a vivid childhood memory.
The moment after Dad took his last breath, his empty shell lying on the bed, the numbers were silent. No equation could graph our pain.
I grappled behind me for something, anything solid, and found Charles. I turned into him, buried my face on his shoulder and sobbed as he held me tightly.
My Charles. He was there with my family that whole horrible week. He took shifts like the rest of us, staying up with Dad, plying him with morphine. He ran errands, made phone calls, smoothed ruffled feathers. He stroked my back and held my hand.
In the days following Dad’s death, Charles was there. He pooled music for my dad’s wake and funeral. He brokered peace between brothers at the funeral home. He made sure my mother ate, helped hustle her out of the house when she would have lingered indeterminately, and corralled all the paperwork needed for the business of death.
On the day of the funeral, we sat in a straight line in the front pew of the church—all fixed points in a cruel equation of life balanced with loss.
Charles pulled the eulogy he wrote from the pocket of his suit jacket and walked up to the stage. Numbly, I sat, holding my mother’s hand. Charles began talking about the strong and quiet man my father was. Suddenly, we heard a catch in his voice.
Then, a sob.
Two weeks of attending to our grief, and my husband had forgotten about his own. All that time, he was anything and everything my family needed. He did it all without fanfare, blending into the background of grief. But his pent-up emotion would no longer be set aside.
Suddenly, the numbers snapped into focus. I could see a graph for how I’d loved my husband (y-axis) over time (x-axis). Far from a straight line, the points on this graph jumped around, snuck up on me, surprised me. This moment in time soared above the rest, as Charles grieved for my father and I saw my husband for the man he was—for me, for all of us.
Charles was still crying. Everyone sat, silent and waiting.
I jumped out of my seat and onto the stage. I hugged my husband, took his hand, and looked down at his notes. I began to read, “For Dad, God was in the numbers.”


Negotiations Are for Turkeys

I’m shoring up shopping plans for tomorrow. This, of course, means consulting a half dozen cookbooks and the Thanksgiving Spreadsheet. The following conversation with Husband ensues:

ME: We need to buy a turkey of 12 to 14 pounds.
HIM: What, now? I’m not wearing pants.
ME: No, tomorrow. When we’re at the store.
HIM: Hmm. Okay.
ME: Good.
HIM: Wait. I think we need a bigger turkey.
ME: No, we don’t. Remember last year?
HIM: No, it’s more than a week ago.
ME: Last year, you picked out the biggest turkey they had. Kitchen disaster ensued. And we had waaaay too much turkey.
HIM: No such thing.
ME: Yes. You even admitted as much.
HIM: That doesn’t sound like me.
ME: I don’t know what to tell you.
HIM: Shouldn’t we do some math, figure out how many pounds of turkey per person?
ME: Who’s eating POUNDS of turkey?
HIM: Me, easy.
ME: Listen, it’s like four people who will actually eat turkey, and you’re one of them. I think 14 pounds of turkey will suffice.
HIM: I don’t know…
ME: Pal, this is not a negotiation. We are getting a turkey of 12 to 14 pounds.
HIM: 14 pounds, then!

Inside the Bubble

“You doing okay, buddy?”
After one minute on the phone, Husband knows something is wrong. He claims he can’t read my mind, but the Marriage Mind Meld makes him dangerous enough.
The answer to his question, “no,” lacks all evidence to support it. Nobody died. Nothing went wrong at work. There was no call from home with drama. I am not hurt, or sick, or crying, or worried. But I’m not okay.
Nothing’s wrong. But something’s not right.
Numbness crept back in where I thought I had beaten it back. I found myself in that dark bubble, where time moves slower, food tastes muted, and all ties between me and the world dissolves. My existence distilled down to the couch and a subscription to Hulu.
I’m letting Husband down. I’m letting myself down. Vaguely, I worry about falling into old habits. In the end, though, I don’t care enough to do anything.
You doing okay, buddy?
“No. Yes…I don’t know.” It comes out petulant, like a seven-year-old girl stamping her Mary Janes.
“Okay. We’ll talk when I get home. Do you need anything?” Like what? A new brain? A fucking time machine? Food? I can’t be bothered.
Then Husband is walking into the dark house, finding me on the couch, dimly illuminated by the glow of the television screen. He offers me his hand and pulls me up. I stand, immediately folded into a hug.
“Scientists say that hugging releases dopamine. Or endorphins. Let’s say endopamines. They make you happy, but you need twenty seconds for the hug to work.”
“One Mississippi…two Mississippi…three Mississippi…” he whispers in my ear.
I sink into him. We stay like that, him supporting me and counting softly, for a full twenty Mississippis. Finally, he pulls away, kisses me on the forehead, and sits us down on the couch.
“Why don’t you tell me about it?”
No judgment. No admonishment. No you-should-do-thises. Instead, he sits and listens. I tell him the everything and the nothing of it all. He says, “Whatever this is—if it’s work, if it’s me, whatever—we’ll figure it out.” Eyes brimming with tears, not trusting myself with any more words, I nod, then sink my head down onto his chest.
He loves me. So much.
He’s not here to charge in and chase anything away, or even shine a light on it. Depression, the sneaky bastard, doesn’t work like that, and he knows it. Rather than stand outside the boundaries of that darkness, taking shots at it, he sneaks inside the bubble with me. He sits. He takes it in. He’s here.
He shares it all with me.
Already, I feel lighter for it.

Shower Friends

Water sluices down on us,
ricocheting off black marble.
Soft gentle words speak in my ear,
sharing tales of those living in the wall.

Jaunty Pirate Bunny,
eternally in profile—see his nose?
His hat?
Pirate Bunny sails the water rivulets,
down the walls,
circling the drain,
searching for carrot loot.
(He won’t find any of that in here!)
Shh. Don’t tell him.

Austere Rat,
Not cavalier or chipper. Nobody
likes a cheerful rat.
(Everybody likes a cheerful rat.)
Not when he’s your dentist.

Moving on…

Eyes, horns, ears—
Upside-down floating cow.
(Maybe upside-down floating bison,
with the frizzy mane?)
No, upside-down floating cow!
So high.
Aliens zorped him up here,
that’s why.

Happy monkey
(You sure that’s not you?)
No, he is tricksy, so the confusion
is natural. Happy monkey,
(Smug Monkey)
sneaks up behind Pirate Bunny,
something clever up his sleeve.

Sad frog (Why is he sad?)
He’s a sprained hopper, flies
killed his mother.
Day and night he hops
and drinks (and drinks), out for
vengeance. For meaning.
For hope.

A gust of wind, a beak here,
windswept feathers there,
The Great Gun-Slinging Ostrich.
(You can only see his head. Where’s
his gun?) Look at him:
Grizzled, grim.
He’s packing heat.
Bringing order, keeping
peace, his great burden
to bear.

A small wet kiss, dropped
on the neck.
Don’t worry, Wife.
You’re safe with me.