What If?

I look down at you in the bed with all that hardware—tubes and wires running around you, over you, through you. The machines have assimilated you, like the Borg—an entire species that now exists as a metaphor for how we’ve turned you over to the machines as caretakers, task makers (eat this, drink this, breathe now). Resistance is futile.I want to crawl in the bed with you, to comfort you and reassure myself, but machines can be delicate. I won’t disturb the precise bend of a tube or the embedded point of a needle. Instead, I pull up a chair and reach for your hand. You open your eyes.

I wish we had known each other longer, you croak.

Shush.

You shush. We should have met sooner.

You weren’t ready for me then.

Bullshit.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe we’ve known each other our whole lives.

Tell me.

We were eight and your family moved in up the street. I was never lonely or bullied on the bus; you were there. At recess we’d huddle in the large tunnel, sequestering ourselves from the rest of the kids.

‘Cause they were big mean stupid-heads.

Exactly. And we made a fort in my basement, with sheets and blankets and pillows. No one allowed but you and I. When my mom died, we snuck away from the adults to hide in our fort. When I cried, you cried.Tears brim on your eyelashes, so I move on.

Remember when I spent the night at Sean’s house when his parents were out of town?

Sean, what a tool. You smile.

That’s not what you called him the next day, after he ignored me at school. You remember?

What did I call him?

Fucking dickwad.

You chuckle. Sounds like me. What next?

Surely you don’t think it was my idea to cover his car in shaving cream? Or syphon gas out of his tank?

No, but you were the one to suck the gas out of the tube.

Seemed only fair. It was my revenge…I spent days getting the taste out of my mouth.

The taste of gas or the taste of Sean?

I wiggle my eyebrows.

What next? What next?

We graduated high school. We went to college. You learned key lessons about tequila. I learned about men named Keith.

You were at my wedding, you whisper.

Maid of honor, baby. Your bachelorette party remains legend. We still can’t go back to the Bellagio.

I time-travel through our stories, sewing them together, knowing you before you were tied down by husband and children and family. Before you were you. I run over the seam between our tales until I reach the place where they are one, where you marched into my life all tubas and twirling flags and sparklers.Children were born, a couple divorced, and a husband got sick. These stories need no thread.

How does it end? you ask.

I don’t know.

Yes you do.

I look down and begin to cry. You squeeze my hand until I look up. With a nod, I move to the closet of your private room and grab the spare sheets from the top shelf, along with some extra blankets and pillows. I turn around to see the question on your face.We’re going to need a bigger fort.

               

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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.”


               

Thanksgiving Countdown

Double double,  boil and trouble

Thanksgiving may be Thursday, but I’ve been making food for four or five days now.

Today’s adventures included Apple Cider Caramels from the Smitten Kitchen. (Deb Perelman is a god, by the way.) Do you say kair-uh-mel or car-mul?
The best part of making caramels? Feeling like a witch over a cauldron as the concentrated liquid love grows and grows and grows in the pot on the stove. The color deepens as the sugars, well, caramelize.
I would make an excellent witch, mostly because I heed carefully constructed and documented scientific procedures. Heat the potion to precisely 252 degrees Fahrenheit? Check. Remove from heat and stir in final ingredients? Check. Chill in refrigerator for an hour, then cut into precise one-inch squares? I got this.
 
Go ahead. Try one. I promise it isn’t poison.

‘Soup?

Whose idea was it to make soup out of cheese? For this person, I would like to start a church, sacrifice some virgin cows. What good would virgin cows be, otherwise? Everyone knows the first step on the road to cheese involves a knocked-up lady cow.
The pinnacle of this culinary breakthrough came to my house tonight, in the form of a cheddar and ale soup with crispy shallots. I found the original recipe in this cookbook from Williams-Sonoma. Soups are my favorite way to pack a bunch of nutrient-dense vegetables into a meal without having to go to all the work of chewing them.
This recipe is no exception, though the veg is balanced by approximately a metric ton of dairy. We start with some basic produce: potatoes, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, shallots.
All is fine and good until we consider my market, the premier purveyor of mutant produce. This market only stocks vegetables that could take down Tokyo, or one of its many distinct neighborhoods, at the very least. Only the largest, most robust produce will do.
For example, this carrot.
The runt of its litter
I’m pretty sure that, when the recipe calls for two carrots, it’s not thinking of this fellah. But I started with two gigantic carrots and one enormous onion. For some reason, though, I could only find baby yellow potatoes this week. Next to their 2-pound Russet brethren, all scale was lost. So, I brought home three baby potatoes instead of the two regular-sized ones the recipe demands. In the pot they went.

As more produce made its way to the stove, I realized that this thing had gone off the rails. A real shitshow of guesswork and compensation, the mass continued to grow and morph, like an illness. Or an alien pile of organic matter.The soup began to take over my stove. “Soon, it’s coming for YOU.”

Next, I added non-produce things. I had to round up the quantities for good measure. In order to maintain balance, I needed more more more. Two-thirds cup cream became one full cup. Twelve ounces of ale was promoted to sixteen.

I feared the soup was getting away from me.

Exhibit A:

What do you mean, I still have to add the cheese?

We’ll talk about those biscuits in the background later.

For now, let’s talk about the soup. The bite from the ale underlines the hot, cheesy, creamy nectar. This soup, if properly applied, could bring about world peace. I should submit it to the Nobel committee. Certainly they would like to open up a new category for food, which this soup would dominate.

Thanks to my oversized vegetation, I now have enough of this world-changing concoction to eat every night for a week and a half. I settled for freezing most of it in individual-sized containers, labeled GOD LOVES ME, Nov 2014.

For tonight, though, I poured some in a soup bowl, sprinkled with those crispy shallots, and sidled the whole thing up to to freshly baked buttermilk biscuits. It’s the very definition of comfort food, perfect for curling up on the couch and eating in front of an episode of the Gilmore Girls.

Dinner: It is served.

Dontcha wish your girlfriend made dinner like me? (Dontcha Baby, dontcha)

Hello Jewel, Is That You? It’s Me, Megan. (I Think.)

A strange thing happened tonight.

Overwhelmed with the desire for cake, I rushed to the grocery store. I hemmed and hawed, Which kind of cake do I want? What sounds good? I settled on chocolate with buttercream frosting, just enough to get me into trouble, but not so much that it would tower over my entire weekend.

I wandered through the store, picking up this and that, all needed in my kitchen. With my items acquired, I made my way to the registers to check out. Suddenly, I was overcome with a desire to not eat cake. My head and my stomach told me not to eat anything sweet, in fact.

At the register, I handed the cake over to the cashier. “I’m sorry; I changed my mind. Can you take this back?”

I know. It doesn’t sound like me, does it?

And now I’m hungry.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Reasons I Probably Maybe Ought to Go to the Gym:

  1. Climbing three flights of stairs to get home
  2. Feeling tired–a lot
  3. Getting out of bed in the morning, which shouldn’t really be that hard
  4. Building strength, which I strongly suspect will help my ankle recover
  5. Skating with zero stamina
  6. Spending $20 a month for a gym membership that I don’t use
  7. Dancing
  8. Aching body parts, pretty much every day
  9. Sweating–enough said
  10. Jiggling my belly like a bowlful of jelly, which is only okay if I were Santa

Excuses

Reasons I use to convince myself to skip the gym:

1.       You’re hungry; go home and eat dinner.
2.       You’ve had a hard day; go home and relax.
3.       You have too much to do at home.
4.       It’s Wednesday. Isn’t it better to make a fresh start on a Monday?
5.       What if your workout clothes don’t fit?
6.       It’s too cold outside.
7.       It’s too hot outside.
8.       It’s dark.
9.       Your ___ hurts too much.
10.   Maybe you’ll hurt your ___ again.
11.   You haven’t shaved.
12.   Your skin is dry. Maybe it’ll itch when you sweat.
13.   You don’t have music to listen to.
14.   You didn’t write a workout plan.
15.   You don’t have any snacks to eat afterward.

Lost and Found

I walk through the park in the center of town as a fine rain begins to fall. There’s no umbrella in my hand, but I don’t mind getting wet. As the drops grow in size, I turn my face upwards to greet them. Lamp posts throw light behind the rain, illuminating it in turns and degrees.
Out of sheer contentment with the rain and this beautiful night, I open the door to that otherinside me and push it out to my surroundings. It expands around me in a sphere that grows out, out, out. Gradually, like coming out of a satisfying nap, I gather awareness to me. I am the blades of grass experiencing the percussive landing of a million drops; I am the parched soil greedily soaking water into myself. I am the rain drops, tracing the path I traveled from the heavens.
I rotate in a circle on my patch of land, basking in a rare moment of peace. Suddenly, I sense a presence. I drop my eyes to the horizon and scan. There, on the opposite edge of the park. I feel her. I see her, silhouetted in shadow. I can’t see the face, but I know who she is.
Is it possible?
Anything’s possible. I long since learned that lesson.
But what does it mean?
She turns and starts to walk away from me. I can’t let her leave me again. I’m still opened up to the air, the water, the earth. I close my eyes and reach into myself to that space within, resonating with the frequency and beauty that I can and cannot see. My power whispers to it, shapes it, molds it.
I open my eyes. The rain in the air has slowed almost to a stop. The drops are falling so slowly now that only I can perceive their movement. I peer past the rain; a couple hurrying through the park to find shelter are seemingly frozen in place; a dog running past is suspended, mid-leap, above the ground. I focus on my target; she’s frozen in her retreat.
My heart races, pushing blood through every cell of my body. I forge a slow and steady path through the suspended rain. Gingerly, I run my fingers down the frozen prisms, parting them in front of me like a beaded curtain. They crowd together, pear-shaped diamonds shimmering against the night sky.
Four. Four years since my sister died. She was only fifteen, overwhelmed by her own power. I watched as it consumed her, forever taking her from us.
Or did it? Though we held a funeral for her, there she is. I keep walking.
My sister. The light of living and loving in stark contrast to my own brooding presence in our family. With her, only ever with her, did I fit.
Now I can see hair falling over her shoulders, divided into a series of canyons and ridges by tiny rivers of water. Any doubts immediately disappear. I walk around to face her.
Where have you been? Are you really here now? 
What happened to you?
Finally, I see her face—at peace, a small, knowing smile cocked at the side of her lips. I reach up and brush lethargic, plump drops of water off her cheek. Like a flipped switch, the features of her face catch up with me suddenly; I see recognition dawn in her eyes.
The water begins to fall again.

Gym Barbie

The day of our first boot camp, the original derby wife and I approach the training room at our YMCA. The metal door has a small square window placed at eye level, like the door of a padded room. One nervous look through the window shows us that it is, indeed, a padded room. The floor’s covered in 2-inch thick exercise mats. Weights and other devices of torture line the walls.

Despite our own self-protective instincts, we walk into the room to meet our instructor. We take great care to brief her on our special needs: Wifey has short bones and a hypermobile body; I broke my tailbone playing roller derby like a boss. She can’t do certain arm exercises; I’m allergic to lunges.

Class begins with a series of exercises; remarkably, we keep up. This isn’t so bad. I can do this. Then Instructor explains that this was our warm-up. Wait. This was just the warm-up? Should I be ready to go home already?

I’m looking longingly at my water bottle when Gym Barbie enters the room. Just as I’m wondering if it means anything that already I would trade State secrets for a drink, she breezes in without a care and joins us on the mats. I drink it all in; her skinny frame, her shiny hair, her skin-tight crop pants, her halter-style sports bra. Christ, the swoosh of her Nikes matches the graceful swoop of pink ribbon on her pants. She doesn’t even bother putting up her hair before jumping in.
Class continues; I flail my parts around roughly the same way Instructor demonstrated. My body pulses with pain and exhaustion. I hear grunting. Is someone whining? Wait, that’s all me. Gym Barbie isn’t grunting. Rather than dragging deep, erratic breaths in through her mouth like a dying mummy, she’s taking controlled breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth. Her exhales are cute little bursts of air, almost a whistle.
We begin a new set of exercises with one-minute planks. I plant my palms on the mat and lift up onto my toes. In fascination, I watch as sweat rains off my face. My hands struggle to say in place; they squeak against the mat as my wet palms slide outward. I sneak a look at Gym Barbie; she looks like she could stay like this all day. Not only is she not pouring sweat all over the mat, but her hair is hanging around her head, dry as when she walked in the door.
Burn the witch.
Now Instructor wants us to do tricep dips. I wedge myself in front of a chair, palms on its seat, doing a sort of reverse pushup. I am no longer in control of the noises coming from my body. Gym Barbie is still breathing steadily. Finally, she emits a noise that hints at how hard we’re working. A tiny little grunt, followed by stacatto syllables timed perfectly with her little dips, “Woo! I…hun…ger…for…the pain!”
I can’t decide whether she represents what I hope to someday be, if her presence pushes me to perform better, or if she exists merely to taunt me with what I can never be. I do know one thing for sure.

I hate her.