We’re seated by the gate at Logan, held captive by the airline’s whim, watching a steady stream of half dressed, overdressed passengers walk, toddle and run by, but the place remains stale and lifeless somehow.
Until a little princess, right out of a storybook, walks into the seating area of our gate. She is unhurried, functions in her own dimension, immune to the chaos, the germfest, the push to get to point A to B.
Her presence casts a tiny spell on me. My book collapses into my lap. I’m drinking her sweetness in: a beautiful, clean-faced, bright-eyed little girl—a gene pool homerun.
What would my path have looked like with children in it?
Rarely do I question my decision to forgo becoming a vessel of reproduction. My goal in life was to become CEO of a wildly growing company, not wiping little beasties’ noses. I even left my husband when he wanted them. But as sometimes happens, this delightful girl seems to be showcasing my poor decision. She looks like what I imagine my little girl would have looked like had I not married my sandy-haired husband of 5’7” and 27-inch waistline, but Bob Redford.
Not to mention that I never did become the CEO of wildly growing company, and the jobs I have had have been sort of wildly unsatisfying.
I watch her, feeling that regret wash over me. She stands on sea legs between her mother’s thighs, crunching Cape Cod potato chips with less than perfect execution, savoring what makes it into her mouth. She babbles, a form of self-engagement, and randomly feeds “Kit-Tee,” a wide-eyed cat peering out from a crate on the floor.
Women of all ages watch her, heads cocked, wearing expressions of maternal yearning, remembrances, maybe regret, like my own.
I bet she still has that baby smell thing going on, you know, like puppies.
I surmise, too, that Zoe’s recently graduated from applesauce and whipped franks to adult food. And now, I think, and a disgruntled flatline my mother used to wear when I was in high school settles on my lips, her parents are giving her junk food, creating an unhealthy palate and a rhythmic type of oral indulgence.
I elbow Dennis. “If that sweetness were mine, I’d give her a hard cooked egg and fruit to eat, not crap food.”
He eyeballs Zoe for a nanosecond, nods and returns his gaze to his handheld.
I think of the other things I’d feed Zoe: Greek yogurt, kale crisps (much softer than potato chips), hummus, non-GMO whole grain crackers, organically grown vegetarian stuff.
And then, Zoe begins to choke.
When adults get something caught in their throat, we place a napkin to our mouth, cough, grumble it away. If that doesn’t work? We set into panic. We choke like hell to obtain clear passage. We don’t care how much attention we draw doing it. We want to live and we fight like hell to continue doing so.
Zoe, on the other hand, doesn’t understand death. Maternal instincts, ingrained in women’s DNA, alert three to their feet. Those not wearing headphones or enthralled with an electronic device, register a disturbance.
Zoe has one hand on her mother’s knee, stabilizing her squat before Kit-Tee’s crate. She brings herself upright and faces me. Her blue eyes have teared up, no sound comes from her windpipe. The fragments of crap food are lodged in her throat. She is the little girl I never had and wish was mine and she can’t breathe.
Someone, do something.
The book slides off my lap and crashes to the floor, and then Zoe’s mother scoops her up and lays her across her knees.
The little girl lies there flat as an ironing board.
Three deft pats on her back and Cape Cods chips in a variety of shapes project from Zoe’s mouth. Saliva slips over her lips. Oxygen returns to her lungs. She cries.
The maternal patrons lean in, ask if Zoe is okay. Her mother waves them off. “Yes, thank you,” she says.
My dream child is back on her feet; the waterworks have subsided. Her father strokes her cheeks dry. Her mood changes back to the state of pre-choking as if by a flick of a switch.
She’s perfect again.
She asks for another chip.
This makes a number of bystanders chuckle.
I listen, curious to learn if good ole mom is going to give her toddler just off Gerber Stage Four another chip.
“You can have some Goldfish,” she says.
In a Mickey Mouse sort of voice, I say onto the open pages, “How ‘bout some yogurt?”
Dennis elbows me, a prompt to behave.
Over the P.A., a flight attendant announces the initial stages of boarding.
We gather our things. I impart a secret smile to Zoe, which she catches. Means nothing to her.
When we’re settling into our seats, an emaciated gray-haired woman with a Tom Petty overbite slides in. Her thighs are the same width as my forearms, and Zoe appears in the aisle. She’s screaming like a banshee. Ear piercing stuff. I barely get a glimpse of her because she passes by so swiftly—her father carries her like a surfboard. This must be a common position for her—flat and rigid.
Zoe’s mother follows behind, toting a handbag crammed with baby survival equipment and the crate containing Kit-Tee. She wears an expression indicative of the relief she’s feeling that her husband has finally stepped up to the plate, but also of deep embarrassment about her imperfect daughter.
Emaciated Woman and I snap together our respective seatbelts. By the sounds of it, Zoe has been strapped into a seat four or so rows behind us. Amid the chaos of the 737’s boarding, she has stopped crying and is sweetly introducing Kit-Tee to neighbors.
And now again, I wish she were mine, mine, mine.
The cabin is packed. There’s tight clearance, cramming of luggage in overhead bins. Last minute phone calls are made. The air is stale. Actually there is no air. Tim is giving emergency landing instruction, his props old and yellowed. The teenager across the way is licking the remnants of a BK cheeseburger from his thumbs. Zoe’s voice pierces through all this clear as a bell. She has dismissed her affections for Kit-Tee and is dead set against keeping her seatbelt fastened.
“No, no, no, Mama!”
My dazzling opinion of this little girl, wanting to drown in the pools of her aquamarine eyes, having envisioned birthing her through my own womb and canal, flickers like a film noir played on an old projector. I don’t want it to. I want her to remain fresh, magical, novel, her presence filling me with regret about what I could have had.
The flight gets underway. The minutes slip into hours, it’s horrendous. Not because of turbulence, the crew, Emaciated Woman, or lack of turkey, sprouts and avocado sandwiches. It’s because Zoe’s steady stream of “no!” is now followed by parental correction with an edge and curmudgeon-type shushing. My iPod is packed away in cargo below; I have no way of tuning out the racket, which would have kept Zoe magical to me. Instead, I watch the display that shows the plane’s elevation, speed, and the long ass Midwest state we’re hovering over. We’re practically standing still at 500 MPH.
Dennis types away on his laptop, the time flies by for him. I listen to little Zoe carry on; tearing apart her magicalness. She was so perfect before.
When descent at last begins from 40,000 feet, cabin air pressure intensifies. Zoe begins wailing with a set of lungs worthy of crossing the English Channel.
I know this: if I stayed married, I couldn’t have had all the daring affairs with executives my father’s age. I wouldn’t have experienced the freedom of telling off Gloria Steinem and discovering the rugged beauty of the West, proving myself and doing “boys’ chores” where my leg “got broke.”
So what’s the seduction of remorse, regret?
Even if we are self-actualized, accomplished people who have had good lives, why do we actually sort of like that deep longing for what we could have had? And that’s when I discover something really genius about not doing things.
It makes us heroes in our own minds. It buoys us up. We can’t do everything, there will always be paths we could have taken. And the brilliance of that is we get to imagine doing it all and being perfect at it. I know I know we’re supposed to stay in the moment, but most of us don’t because the moment can be as boring as a…well, a long plane ride.
So, thinking of all those unlived lives can be a way to boost self-confidence for one happy soaring moment.
If we’d written the novel, we would have written a bestseller. Not going to Hollywood to audition for all those bit parts and staying back east, we get to imagine our lives as movies stars. Not going to law school means we can tell ourselves we would have been kick-ass prosecutors, killing it in the courtroom. People tell us not to regret what could have been, but actually it’s sort of fun. Not becoming a mother is so much better than actually becoming a mother because I can imagine I would have had the perfect child. Never mind the choking, the quick-switch moods, the screaming like a banshee. I would have nourished my daughter perfectly, and she would have been absolutely flawless.
Zoe snaps me out of my reverie. She’s back to her ear-piercing scream. Somewhere around 15,000 feet the display shows the aircraft has overshot SFO. The plane’s nose is sticking into the Pacific.
I see around me that people are glimpsing in Zoe’s direction—even Emaciated Woman—and shrugging their shoulders in a way that suggests they wish they could envelope their ears with them.
Land is drawing ever closer out Emaciated Woman’s window, but we’re back on track, the pilot tells us the 737’s nose is destined for the runway. We drop elevation in big chunks until at last the wheels skid. Only minutes remain before we get off this tin bus and little Zoe will disappear from my life forever.
When she and her parents file out before us, I catch those beautiful aquamarines, her body is horizontal and at waist-height again. In my mind I make peace with her, thank her for giving me the chance to be a perfect mother to a perfect child.
She has returned to lightheartedness and answering the saint-of-a-lady behind her about what color Kit-Tee is.
“He’s pink and purple,” she says.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi
My mother and I are in her bedroom.
I have the rare opportunity to administer healing energy to her, an act that will draw us together—physically, emotionally, spiritually. We are awkward about touching one another; emotionally, we don’t discuss matters close to the heart. The idea of God and a Higher Presence is strictly private.
This is the nature of our relationship, dictated by her upbringing.
Overwhelmed at the prospect of laying hands on her, I ask her to lie down on the bed. I recall when I needed her support and love—when I first got my period, the aftermath of boyfriend breakups, amid broken bones and excruciating pain—and she conveyed little.
Her convictions, tainted by my bouts of rebellion, are as big as a mountain.
I underwent Reiki training when writer’s block saturated every molecule of my body. Explaining the premise of the healing art to my conventionally-minded parents was like conveying Einstein’s theory of relativity in Swahili.
I read their expressions like an open book.
They figured, like my memoir writing, practicing Reiki was an escape from reality—another endeavor to keep me from returning to the workforce. But to counter their belief, I didn’t offer to demonstrate the various Reiki positions on them—I felt defenseless against their skepticism; this most recent act to sabotage their “please-just-do-the-right-thing” campaign.
On top of it, my dad mispronounced Reiki. No pun intended, he called it “wreck-ee.”
The whole notion of “healing energy,” however, must have taken up residence in my mother’s mind. For a week later, as we were getting out of the car, she asked me to do Reiki on her.
I panicked. Slithered down the driver’s seat like Bugs Bunny doomed in fighter aircraft; blurted some excuses. “I can’t do Reiki on you, Mom. I don’t have my massage table.”
“That’s okay, I’ll lay on my bed.”
“But I don’t have my Reiki playlist.”
“We’ll do it without it.”
“But, I don’t have my sage candle.”
“I don’t need a sage candle.”
“But, Mom, I don’t—”
“Let’s try it anyway.”
We entered the house; Dad is visiting the pharmacy. I tagged along after Mom, up the stairs and to my parents’ bedroom—a charming and spacious room painted robin egg blue, decorated with Victorian furniture and “delicate things.”
Sunlight pours through the dressed window; beyond it, birds chirp, fountains burble. Mom’s lying on her four-post bed and I’m splaying out my hands. Here’s the rare opportunity to impress her with these healing hands.
I tell her to relax, a strange thing to say to my mother. She closes her eyes and her expression softens. I rub my hands together to warm them. I study the features of her face and describe where I’ll be placing my hands.
I take a deep breath as I lay my hands in a V on the crown of her head, crushing her frosted, poofy hairdo and pray her skepticism will melt away. That she’ll leave the room having experienced peace and healing.
She is instantly receptive to my touch. Her trunk sinks deeper into the 500-thread Egyptian cotton duvet. I feel grounded in healing light, my hands growing warm with the energy. The moments elapse, lengthening, slipping us into a realm of peace.
I the giver, and my mother, the receiver.
Love and light…
It emerges from a great distance away, perhaps all the way across the Atlantic, an outer, invasive stimulus. It repeats, drawing closer, skimming the surface of the sea, its frequency pricking up the hairs of my inner ear. It’s tearing a hole in the veil of peace, popping it stitch-by-stitch up the middle, bringing me back to the place I left several minutes ago—the sunlight, the blue bedroom, the depiction of my mother’s body impressing into the duvet.
I shake it away—my higher self resisting it, swatting at it with my tail as if I were a horse with a fly on my hindquarters—my head writhing, my lips bristling.
“Hello?” The source of the invasion sounds from the bottom of the stairs. “Helloooooo…?”
Dad, I scowl in my head, please occupy yourself elsewhere. You seem to enjoy spending a great deal of time in the bathroom. Why not do that now?
He keeps calling helloooooo—as if my mother has gone beyond the 900-square foot perimeter of the second floor and escaped into some magical fairyland through the guest room crawlspace.
I lose patience at the sixth iteration and shout, showering my mother with spit. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! We’re up here doing Wreck-ee!!!”
Things quiet down. Dad is mostly likely smoothing his balding head with his open hand in a gesture of acknowledgement. His loafers walk the rest of him down to the family room.
I hone my concentration back on Mom, breathe. She has, despite the disturbance, remained still and relaxed: a state of being that is the typical response to my father’s elaborate greeting and any of his inquiries, for that matter.
I continue doing the Reiki, envisioning golden energy entering and circulating in my mother’s body. When I squint an eye open to read the bedside clock and whisper that the twenty minutes are up, Mom awakens as if from a deep sleep. She begins to speak about her experience. Excitedly. A surge runs through my insides.
Was the Reiki a success?
I squeak out a smile. She isn’t aware of my nervousness; the punch of credibility her testimony could bear.
“Oh,” she begins, speaking softly. “When you placed your hands on my forehead, my mind quieted—the thoughts just scattered. I felt so peaceful.”
That’s totally what Reiki’s supposed to do, Mom! I want to say, clapping my hands together in praise.
Mom’s blinking at half-speed, astonished. “When you placed your hands on my stomach, your hands felt hot, almost too hot.” She sits up, her brow lifts. “When you held your hands around my ankle, a wave of energy radiated at my knee, shot down my shin and out my big toe!”
Yes, yes, Mom! That’s the healing energy of Reiki, not Wreck-ee! I want to say but afraid I’ll lose her in its mysticism. As I gaze at her poofy hair listing to one side and her incredulous grin, I feel something heavy disintegrating: a mountain crumbling.
Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off. ~ Raymond Chandler, author of the Big Sleep
The bliss in that first taste soothes my soul.
It’s six ounces of Ketel One vodka with a dribble of brine. Not the nasty liquid that comes out of an olive jar, but twice filtered brine from premium olives. This subtle saltiness takes the bite of the vodka down just a notch to pleasurable, an inviting clean crispness that sterilizes my insides and satisfies the palette like nothing else.
This drink and the art in making it is what symbolize the end of an arduous day, or not so arduous, a ritual nonetheless.
It’s a beautiful thing, the vodka martini. Even the word vodka sounds terribly exotic, so undeniably Russian. I’m wearing a sable hat, standing amid the tundra, my breath streaming before me in smoky condensation as I set my implements about—the cocktail shaker, ice, olives, pick, the 1.75-liter bottle that takes the support of my two hands to pour it.
How is it that I came to drinking dirty martinis? Gradually so clean one can no longer detect the color of the brine?
It stemmed from a stretch of unbearable time when I had been writing for seven years without any validation, an ounce of fruition.
I’d bleed all day long over the page, feel isolated long having abandoned my corporate career, determined to make something of myself writing. What I found in my dear friend, the dirty, was a form of self-medication—a crutch, a reward—the delightful anesthesia that numbed the anxiety of feeling like a failure, the taking of a wrong turn.
“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
The thing, too, that’s commendable about drinking the dirty is it gets you to where you’re going. Fast. And instead of looking like a thirsty drunk, you can do the deed looking poised like Holly Golightly, long stem glass high in hand, three beautiful olives appearing larger than life through the condensation forming from the rim down where you’ve already sipped away.
The art, the sophistication, the ritual—its downright writerness.
I am a seasoned, one per night, quite functional vodka martini drinker. To some that may not sound bad, but I know what my physician would say and I’m staying clear of her examining room.
The margin, however, between quite functional and fully functional is a subject to be questioned.
Certainly, the gain is to be numbed from pain, some sort of intolerance for various fragments of life, the daily grind. The loss, in the slightest incremental stages that’s widening the margin, is found in a loose tongue and the voracious appetite that follows in the martini’s wake; the inability to read before bed, remember little things in the morning.
The loss, the slippery slope, is outweighing the gain.
It’s evidenced in my ever-expanding girth and my two arms, which now resemble loaves of bread. For the dirty, the escape it brings, frees me to consume a serving fit for Pat’s defensive tackle Alan Branch. Sugar and salt begets more sugar and salt.
And chicken parm tastes best when complemented by what?
A robust red wine—two glasses worth.
It’s stops there, right?
With an overstuffed belly, a shot of Remy Martin in a handsome snifter comes afterward. I’ve had a love affair with food all my life, well-managed through biking my butt off, but throw in this consumption at my age, it’s gonna lead to the end of me.
Obese essayist dies of ever-consuming consumption: she drank and ate herself to death, despite what she’s thinks, not so artfully.
Shakti Gawain, a new age author, whose methods of creative visualization I practiced like a junky when I began writing, says of validation, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”
Sorry Shakti, I just can’t buy that.
I’m wired differently, tethered to the physical. I do not trust my intuition; I don’t even think I have any. I need validation to keep on.
Once upon a time when no validation was coming, I delved into taking in cute and furry animals until a person of well intention adopted them. The vodka soothed my nerves, caring for the animals gave meaning to my life. I’d be hard pressed to count the number of lagomorphs and tiny whiskered fur balls that have moved through our home.
Validation is crucial to my existence.
There’s a change blowing in the proverbial wind—there’s no need to anesthetize myself to endure the operation of life. I’m quitting the vodka although I’m on the third bottle beyond the one that was to be my last.
I’m gearing up, you see.
Why, might you ask, am I “suddenly” willing to give up my dearest friend, the dirty? The beautiful thing that took me away from reality; facing the endless number of untethered days ahead of me?
Because my work is getting picked up. There’s the validation, all that I’ve been striving for. No more crutch needed.
Getting published, I find, tastes as clean and pleasing to the palette as the vodka.
And, by God, it’s healthier!
It is the dawning of my existence.
Right now I’m crafting another essay with my writing coach, someone who validated my existence long before I was born and frightfully knows me better than myself.
We have a lot of things in common she and I, except outside of writing, she’s not obsessed with the dirty—she’s obsessed with yoga.
Yoga sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it?
Elephant Journal published My Dear Friend, the Dirty in December 2014.
A great holiday story! Rudy here, posing with Santa, is a former foster bun of mine that was rescued from a horrible situation by Sue W., a great lover of all animals. Sue surrendered him to House Rabbit Network thinking she could live without him. End of the story? She couldn’t and adopted him today!
Mae is in my foster care awaiting adoption. She is cat, dog and rodent-friendly. Check out her debut!
Our newest foster, Hopscotch insists on speaking for herself and I wouldn’t dream of preventing her from doing so. Here’s her pitch…
I’m an adorable lion head house rabbit, a very special breed that came into being in Belgium. This means I speak English with a Dutch accent.
Far from Belgium and anything Dutch, I ended up for sale as an 8-week old baby and was bought by a young boy who feared for my life at a New England fair. He could not keep me.
Since then, more than a year later, I have been moved around a lot and grown wary about being picked up and even touched, so I would do best in an experienced home. Experienced means you are seasoned in caring for a rabbit like me, have patience, and don’t expect me jump on your lap and shower you with kisses. At least not right away. Don’t get me wrong I want to trust you–I just need time. I’ve been with my new foster mom and dad for nearly three weeks now and already taking treats from their fingers—bits of banana and their slow movements have enticed me to do so. Banana also happens to be my favorite thing next to Stella Artois, Guylian’s Chocolate Seashells, and Ridley’s “The Liz,” a road bike. (My foster mom is budding in here saying never give any type of beer or chocolate to a ‘bunny.’ She also says she’s never seen a ‘bunny’ ride a bike no matter how fantastically engineered it is).
Most rabbits, even Belgian ones like me use a litter box and I’m quite tidy—I like to think of myself as low in maintenance and high in entertainment. I am “a petite” at just 3½ pounds, but I’m a spry girl and prefer being kept in a pen so I can run its perimeter as fast as my little feet will carry me and do binkies. What’s a binky, you ask? In the language of a lagomorph, it’s when rabbits become so overwhelmed in glee, we jump into the air and twist our head and body in opposing directions—to a first time observer, it looks like we’re having some kind of convulsion. In reality, it’s actually a conniption, a form of hysterical frenzy.
Talking about binkies, do you know that cats can bink too? My foster mom sometimes straightens out my pen so I have access to most of the first floor. The only bit of mischief I get into is sneaking up on and startling the cat that often shares my pen—she binks straight up into the air!
After a great while of exploring the place, I begin to feel tired and climb up on my cardboard box tunnel. Like the bun diva that I am, I survey the room feeling secure and confident until I grow so sleepy that my eyes close and I fall asleep sitting up. How I love to have room to exercise, feel safe and be cared for. And, I find, I have developed a certain affinity for cats.
Won’t you consider adopting me as one of your companions—developing a bond with me, have me trust you? I’m so much fun to have around, I just need a permanent loving home in which to blossom.
Please contact House Rabbit Network to inquire about adopting me, the little caramel-colored rabbit with a Dutch accent and a lion’s mane.
Consider fostering too!
Lisa Mae DeMasi lives in Natick, Massachusetts with her boyfriend Dennis and a fluctuating number of animal companions–some live with them full time, some are fostered, some board. This animal husbandry is a compulsion, saving just one more neglected cute and furry creature warms her heart. Dennis loves them too; the landlord is exceedingly tolerant. Her mother thinks she’s nuts. Lisa is also a blogger and avid writer, her work has been published in Shark Reef Literary Magazine, HuffPost and Elephant Journal. She considers Massachusetts her home, but has lived in Connecticut, Vermont, New York State and two other planets called Wyoming and Arizona. She earned a B.A. from Regis College and an MBA from Babson College, and possesses over 25 years working in administrative support roles in small Boston consultancies. She also holds a Master certificate in Reiki and practice this form of holistic healing on the animals in which she cares for.