Why I Love Bike Commuting in Boston

With Sabrina and My Jamis Coda

Commuting to work on my bike has brought my competitive spirit back—a quality I thought I left behind on the softball field my senior year in high school. My heart pounds in excitement as I gear up to ride, just like it did when I stepped up to the plate. The ride into Harvard Square means exertion and potential hostile territory as I move in and out of the flow of traffic through the Boston neighborhoods.

I savor the challenge of the road, the required vigilance. I’m one of the only 50-something women out there amid college girls on candy-colored bikes, wearing headphones and flip-flops. For them, a bike is a frugal means to get from point A to B. Not me. Riding my bike renews me; makes me feel like a kid again.

Commuting during the summer is a piece a cake, the best of times. I have free reign over the construction-laden bridge into the Square and Bert’s Electric isn’t squeezing me into the orange barrels vying for command of the lane. The driver will have longed passed this way before me, eager to get a jump on his schedule so he could suck down beers and fish in the Charles come three o’clock.

When Labor Day gets behind us, the worst of times, tradesmen aren’t reporting to work early and city bus drivers are laying claim to the asphalt. I’m a part of this, a moving component amid congested traffic, doing my best to obey the rules of the road and thank those drivers who are courteous. Courtesy is an act tradesmen do not extend to bike commuters. And city bus drivers? I’ve lost count how many times I’ve played chicken with ‘em and won.

One morning on North Harvard Bridge I lay claim to my share of the asphalt by scaling my way in between a Jersey barrier and Stan’s Heating and Cooling. That’s one foot plodding along the van and the other along the barrier, when the driver catches sight of me in the passenger side mirror. He goes wide-eyed as I slap my hand down on the front fender with a “You’re-seriously-blocking-my-right-of-way” expression playing across my face.

It is dangerous out there. Risk is 360, whether the bike commuter obeys the rules of the road or not. But because I behave on the road—I expect respect. As with the tradesmen that squeeze me off the bridge, when someone moves in on my turf, I feel compelled to take it back. Think of Kathy Bate’s character in Fried Green Tomatoes when she rams the car of the young girls who rob her of a parking space: “Face it girls, I’m older and have more insurance.”

Yesterday I encountered bad sportsmanship. At Watertown Yard, I break off the river path and onto the road. I’m up out of the saddle pedaling like hell in the middle of the right lane to catch the green to make a left. But time runs out and the light turns red.

I’m closing in behind a Ford truck when a VW passes me and zips in behind it. This infuriates me to no end, but damn, it’s too bad he leaves a good five feet of space between his front end and the truck’s bumper. Now, what do I have to do? Exercise my right to asphalt again. I ride past him. The 30-something driver has his window closed and stares straight ahead like he just didn’t pull a fast one.

“Am I invisible?” I huff, and wedge what I can of my bike and person between the two vehicles.

My focus steadies on the red light. The guy is seething, staring at a heavy-set chick on a sleek bike donning an orange jacket so bright you can see it from outer space. The effin nerve of this lard ass.

Perspiration slips into my mouth.

It’s a matter of principal as well as law in the Commonwealth. I’m just after my share of the asphalt, fair play, and I’m willing to fight for it. Sure, there’s an obvious disadvantage. I’m on a two-wheeled 18-pound carbon frame and this guy’s driving a ton of steel.

I’m ready. Got one foot flat on the ground, the other poised on the pedal. I take getting out of people’s way seriously, although its plain I’m not going to come out of this showdown with the least amount of respect.

My foot plunges the pedal down at the green. I’m standing up on the bike. Sisters are doing it for themselves. I pump hard, try to break out in front. The air moves in and out of my body in breathy bursts. The VW and my bike continue to advance, accelerating. The driver forces me to shadow his car on the inside, squeezing me to the median. I grunt; want to pound my fist on his door, but my brain warns me good and loud that my jacket could get caught on his side mirror. What’s even more upsetting is I’m incapable of conveying my disgust; he’s still eluding eye contact.

“You bastard!” I yell over my shoulder. It’s a novelty this outburst. Why I don’t call him an asshole is beyond me, it’s usually there handy in my on-the-road arsenal of expletives.

Hell, I’m not even afraid. Should I be?

Reality is too much for him to bear; the witnesses are screaming lawsuit. He breaks away, swerving his VW to the far-right lane. I straighten out in the left; wave a clenched fist and pump to the right side of the road knowing the traffic behind me is minding my back.

Competition over.

Once I’m seated on my bike navigating Boston’s streets, the risks and venturing the unknown enables me to handle the challenges life continues to bring. I’m still the same, the fearless girl swinging the bat on my high school field; invigorated and ready for action.

This essay was picked up by Adanna Literary Journal, 9/17.

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The Kickass Formula that Restored My Libido

Through the closed lids of my eyes, I feel the morning sunlight streaming in.

Hey, it’s the weekend.

I take inventory of my brain for traces of a hangover.

We’re in the clear.

And then I check for any activity that might be stirring in the netherworld between my legs which has, of late, been about as playful as a schoolmarm.

Nothing.

I can hear Chris breathing beside me. Sweet beautiful man, and yet for weeks now no amount of touching or stroking or licking on his part can bring back the phenomenon of rapture, nothing eases our hearty pursuit of it. Chris has tried, I’ve grimaced.

Sex-wise, everything was going great until I hit 50. Because it had been so easy before, I couldn’t understand why climaxing had become like trudging up Mount Washington with a dead body strapped to my back.

A quick Google search advised me to: “Get a pedicure, touch up your roots, spritz on your favorite perfume, get some exercise, schedule your sex, add a toy or two, try porn…”

Nothing.

But lately I’ve wondered if this was about something that KY Jelly can’t fix.

Hidden in my bedside drawer are sweet almond and rose oil and some ylang ylang I got at the organic food store. These oils are aphrodisiacs, but they are also antidepressants, hypotensives, nervines, and sedatives, and while I want that man sleeping beside me to slip inside and have a go, there’s also a reason I want the regular, easy cures to work.

I don’t want to acknowledge the changes going on in my 50-year-old body, the fact that I am no longer wet at the drop of a man’s hand feels like a failure somehow.

And, because I feel like a failure, I’ve been avoiding my body and therefore my self-Reiki practice. Reiki, a wild healing energy we can apply to ourselves, seeks out what’s maligned and out of whack in the body — blocks to creativity, depression, grief. It’s a catalyst to deepening spirituality that can offer glimpses of the divine.

On this Saturday morning with the aromatherapy hidden in my bedside table, I think: And isn’t sex divine?

With self-Reiki, you put your hands on yourself (absolutely anywhere, it really doesn’t matter… your arm, your belly) and bring your life force through your hands and into the body.

So, on this light-filled Saturday morning, because I am dying (literally) to be with the guy I used to crave, because last night during a scotch-induced haze I fell asleep while he was saying, “How about this?” and I was saying, “Nothing,” I put my hands on my abdomen and start.

My hands get warm, and I feel a deep sense of relaxation, not sleep but something wider, more alive.

That energy, whatever it is, doesn’t care whether you can have sex or not, how old you are, if you are getting a pudge around your middle, how many wrinkles have settled around your eyes.

Time slips away, I slip away, all that remains is blissed-out peace. Like drinking a martini — without the edge.

When I finish, I eyeball Chris. His eyes are half-mast, he’s styling an alfalfa hairdo, an imprint from a crease in his pillowcase runs across the right side of his face.

Not exactly a turn-on, but I don’t care. “Let’s give it a go,” I say.

Being a man in love (if he’s not too far under the influence of scotch), Chris is always ready to give it a go.

With a blind hand, I pull the end table drawer open and fumble for oil I concocted from the health food store.

Forget the sticky KY goop, this stuff glides like heaven.

Chris gets his hands on the love rub, goes about the business of inducing the hopeful rapture amid my numb equipment.

I anticipate the onslaught of banter that has ensued for the past few months like doc to patient:

“Here?”

“No.”

“How about here?”

“Nothing.”

Those myriad times when I can no longer tell if his are the hands of a green gynecologist or a prospective cow buyer at auction.

But today something whispers: Hang in, be still.

Be still?

Stop trying so hard; relax. Look, there, out into the horizon.

That little voice sounds suspiciously like my intuition. I don’t hear it very often, mostly because I’m too busy listening to the voices saying I’m not supple enough, pretty enough, I’m past my prime…

The horizon? I ask it.

Behind your eyes.

There’s a horizon in my head?

Just close your eyes.

The atmosphere changes.

And the change is charged.

“Here?” asks Chris.

Humidity — wet blanket type — sweeps in.

“Lisa?”

The storm hits.

The rapture fills me — a delicious swell that comes from the bottom of the ocean, too big to be experienced but a moment or two.

The wave recedes, leaving me pie-eyed, legs in rigor, fists clenched tight.

I look to Chris, who is hovering over me, his expression one of delight, the crease from the pillowcase stretched thin against the smiling muscles of his cheek. Given that he has a technical mind and has a limited repertoire of reactions, it’s rather comical.

“The self-Reiki,” I say, “the essential oils.” I catch wind of my torso. It’s charred in places and emits wisps of smoke.

We may have a formula to bring about a bit of the ol’ spark.

As the blood begins to seep back into my flesh, I let out a laugh — ribald, raucous. Besides having a great partner who will push and prod without feeling like a jackass, and will let you get as woo-woo as you want in the sack, I no longer feel old. Sex can last until 90. We just need to nurture ourselves in order to feel sparked about anything, including our libido.

And, in order to feel the wonders of the Universe, we need to let go and let god, whatever the hell your definition of god is, to be a part of it.

This essay appears in the anthology, Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty

T-boned [Gravel Literary Magazine]

Outside the ER it’s a winter wonderland. Snow pelts the ground. Visibility is practically nil. Two men dressed in bright lime-colored gear, crisscross one another gathering snow in the plastic blades of their shovels. The sliding doors retract and close; the sensor dumb to their indiscreet footsteps. Sirens scream into the dense moisture-laden air; an ambulance appears in the circular drive. Its beacons intermittently strobe the exterior of the entryway. EMTs hop and pop from the circus of lights and noise, emissions choking out of the vehicle’s exhaust; open the rear doors wide to wheel out the wounded.

It’s the perfect sort of day for a boy and a girl to curl up with Grandma’s crocheted afghan, a movie, and bowl of hot soup, one of the EMT muses. Cop a feel when a parental unit isn’t paying any attention. Watch the snow coat the ground and evergreens with a fresh blanket of white. Stay out the elements, keep safe and sound. Like what Barry Burbank, WBZ’s weatherman, said this morning.

Keep safe. And sound.

I am not aware of the siren screams, nor the strobes and snow falling, the men shoveling and carting in damaged bodies. I don’t recall that I’m in the midst of college break, it’s right smack midway through the glorious eighties, I’m nearly twenty and leaving my teens behind. I don’t know my first love, the one I’m supposed to be curled up with and swatting his hands away from my breasts, is reluctantly chatting with his mother in the small ER waiting room designated for loved ones of the injured about which new car she’ll buy since the Jaws of Life just destroyed her other one.

I lay comatose in an adjacent room. My mind, the faculty of my consciousness and thoughts, remaining numb to stimuli. There’s no perception, no transmission; it’s void, dark, deadly quiet. My brain is busy sustaining that void, deploying an arsenal of chemicals to compensate for the split in time, suppressing the sensory receptors from the blunt trauma—my broken bones, the hit taken to my abdomen that’s pulverized tissue and organs, and punctured veins and arteries. My heart, the renegade, the betrayer, as always, is not listening to my brain—its pumping blood out at a spastic rate through the holes.

An external disturbance registers. A voice. It’s relentless, miraculously breaking through that mechanism of my brain’s fortification, bringing me into the present. Breathe, Lease, breathe, it commands. There is only one person that calls me Lease. My mother. The person who heard Burbank’s forecast and eyeballed the elements herself and tried to protect me so my brain wouldn’t have to. I am granted a fleeting window of awareness. But not through my eyes. My lids are heavy, steel traps. A depiction of involuntary desperateness is felt in my body. Each gasp caused by my choking, thrusts a knife’s blade deep into my gut. Choke. Stab. Choke. Stab.

“Airway’s bloody.”

Something foreign is tickling the back of my throat. I listen to my mother, it’s a precedent. I stop resisting. Succumb. A tube slips down my windpipe. I can breathe. The stabbing doesn’t abate, giving rise to the melodramatic statement, it only hurts when I breathe. And not breathe. My brain is wrestling, calling me back to unconsciousness; the pain galaxies beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before, flirts with my semi-consciousness, invites me to become fully awake. It’s a struggle. A shot of morphine provides no contest. My brain, working in concert with my mind, fires the artillery it has left. A barrage of fireworks ignites behind the closed lids of my eyes. I fall into that quiet dark place again.

Why Not Having Children Was My Perfect Path

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.

Zoe?

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.

Goldfish?!

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.

Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty

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.

 

Not Having Children Was My Perfect Path was published in Huffpost and Fiftiness.

 

 

 

What Happened When I Performed Reiki on My Conservative Mother

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.

Floating…

Deeper…

Love and light…

The breach.

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.

 

What Happened When I Performed Reiki on My Conservative Mother was published in Elephant Journal.

My Dear Friend, the Dirty

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?

Nope.

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.

But, wait.

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.