The Sound of Silence

According to something I read somewhere, the top song on the day I was born was “The Sound of Silence,” by Simon and Garfunkel.

The first time I went to a neurologist, she asked if I had tinnitus. I have seen the commercials with William Shatner, and I know that if you have tinnitus, you hear ringing and clanging and whistles, so I said that no, I did not have tinnitus.

She turned around and wrote something on my chart, and then I said, “I just have that normal waves crashing on the beach sound that everybody hears.”

She turned back around and said, “That’s not normal. Why didn’t you tell somebody?”

I just said, “I thought everybody was hearing it. Is everybody not hearing it?”

And it turned out that I was the only one at the beach all day, every day, and I do have tinnitus. So she prescribed something that made the waves go away.

For the longest time, I kind of missed being at the beach and marveled at how people got along listening to car horns honking and random people having outbursts and the various other aural intrusions we all suffer on the regular.

It occurs to me that there is irony in the number one song on the day I was born being “The Sound of Silence” and the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced complete silence in my entire life.

I guess life is funny like that.

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On a dime

That’s how things turn, on a dime.

I assessed my life and quit my job and sold my house and moved back to my hometown to be near family.

My stepfather is nearly 94 and has dementia. My actual father is fine, but not getting any younger. I have brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews who aren’t getting any younger either.

I am not getting any younger.

Something needed to be shaken loose. I am keenly aware that you’ll never get anywhere with one foot on the floor applies more and more everything.

Since I got here, I’ve enrolled in a program for a degree in diagnostic ultrasound. I started class just two days after closing on my house, and I spend my days studying Human Anatomy & Physiology.

I haven’t unpacked everything and I can’t find my pants, but I’m here.

Send up a signal if you’d like to go to dinner or to a movie or to the Market on Madison or something; aside from studying, my schedule is embarrassingly open.



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A heartbreaking true story of innocence

Many years ago, when I was an adult, but still young, my roommate and I were throwing a party.

One thing we needed was an astounding amount of grated cheese. This was before you could buy your cheese already grated.

In one of the boxes that had come from one of our mothers was a tiny, rudimentary food processor. It was nothing like the giant one my mother used on a regular basis, being a wizard in the kitchen, but it would do to grate the cheese.

I sliced the cheese into blocks that would fit in the removable plastic part and was merrily grating along when my friend Brantley arrived.

Brantley has always been more sophisticated than I.

He surveyed the situation and asked, “why are you putting cheese in the bean grinder?”

I stopped what I was doing and asked, “Bean grinder? Why would you grind beans? (the you dumbass was implied). Just mash them with a fork.”

He didn’t say another word, and I finished grinding the several pounds of cheese.

I just went in the kitchen for something, and my own bean grinder is sitting on the counter, a reminder that I was not always the woman of the world you are accustomed to.


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On Missing My Dog


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I had my bad little dog put down on December 29th.

She was elderly and her breath stank and her arthritis made her grumpy and she had grown incontinent.

I held her in my arms in the vet’s office, her nose buried in the warm spot of the crook of my arm.

She always wanted her nose covered and warm.

The life slipped out of her, and along with it a bit of my heart.

Sometimes I miss Puppy so much my throat aches with the effort of unshed tears.


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I made pizza from scratch tonight. I started it last night, with the yeast and the 00 flour (this part required a ridiculous amount of research). I measured out the ingredients on the scale (so European) ever so carefully; I even remembered to figure in the tare weight.

I kneaded for the prescribed amount of time. It is worth mentioning here that I have marble countertops. I always wanted marble countertops because I have always wanted to make pastry on a marble countertop. This is the first time I’ve actually used my marble countertops in this fashion.

I rested it and covered it to rise and I did not peek.

I should have stopped with the scratch part right there, because when I came home this evening and took up my charge again it all went downhill. My sauce sucked and salmon does not belong on a red pizza.

I cooked it in a cast iron frying pan in the oven at 500 degrees. The fire alarm went off and the lady told me to exit the house.

Next time, I will cook it on top of the stove in the cast iron pan and just top it with goat cheese and some arugula and a little prosciutto, like I meant to do in the first place before I got all distracted.

Next time, it will be not just edible but fargin’ delicious.


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Terror on your average Tuesday

Last week, on Tuesday, I stopped at the grocery store for some trivial thing or other.

I had parked and was sitting in the car, reading some messages, when I glanced up at the rearview mirror and saw that there was a large white vehicle blocking me in.

I looked to the sideview mirror and saw that it was a white couple, at least in their mid-70s, and he was recording me.

I opened the door and leaned out to ask if they needed help and he started screaming at me, calling me a “fucking bitch” and then saying, “I’m going to kill you.”

I went to get out of the car and he peeled out so fast I couldn’t get his license plate.

The woman in the car had a look on her face such that I would have asked her if she were afraid or needed help, had the circumstances been different.

I went in the store and as I crossed the threshold into relative safety, I realized that I had just been in grave danger, that he might have had a gun.

The security officer was standing nearby, so I walked up to him and told him what I just told you above. His response, “are these people you know?”

No, they are not people I know. People I know don’t call me names and threaten to kill me.

I described them and he said he’d keep a look out for them and then take me to my car when I was done, which he did, going ahead of me and looking inside the car and under it and around it before letting me get in.

Fear is not my default, and it might even be said that I have an abundance of confidence in my personal safety, but I was shaken – I am shaken.

I have literally no idea what brought that on. All I can really think is maybe the Abide sticker on my rear window pissed him off.

I have no idea what to do about this, in the larger sense or the smaller sense. This is the world we live in, I guess.

Be careful out there. It’s a great big world and a million things could happen.


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Sewing as metaphor

I haven’t been here since my mother died. I haven’t known what to say.

At first I was in utter disbelief that people were out tending to their daily affairs, like nothing had happened. How could they not know? How could they not need to sit down and take a minute?

Now I am still occasionally surprised by how the world just keeps turning, but it’s no longer like being hit in the face with a pie every fourteen seconds.

Since then, I have been doing a lot of sewing, bent over the machine, feeding fabric through in nice, straight lines.

And ironing, ever ironing. Pressing the seams open and then to one side, after every run through the machine, then pressing the entire garment. It’s the pressing that makes the difference between looks like you stapled it together and I’d wear that,” you know.

I press and press and press, as though doing so will even my world out again, nice and flat and smooth, no loose threads.

I did not have a store-bought dress until I was in my early twenties. My mother would have me stand on the table, turning slowly while she made adjustments, resulting in my utter inability to not tweak every little thing in my world until it hangs just like I like it, like she liked it: it should skim, not squeeze.

Buttonholes had always eluded me, but the week before last, I sat down at the machine and decided it just had to be done. I cannot spend my life avoiding buttons and buttonholes.

I made one buttonhole and then I made ten more, just because I could.

The urge for perfection comes naturally to me; I have ripped out seam after seam after seam, repinned pieces over and over until the fit was just right, like by doing it again I can put it all back like it was, before the dementia.

The thing about fabric, though, is once you cut it wrong, it’s always wrong. No amount of alterations can fix it, it will never look right and it will bind you up somewhere.

I learned that from my mama, and I am ever so careful to make long, smooth strokes with my shears so as to not bunge it up.

Over and over I check the pattern to make sure it’s right, just in case she’s somewhere watching me, hoping that she is, hoping that she is delighted at my buttonhole making and pleased with my fine seams.

And I wander off to press it again, because we like it just so.



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On Friday night, late, Mama came to the hospital with a UTI, pneumonia, and sepsis. In the wee hours of Saturday, she had to be resuscitated twice and was put on a ventilator.

She is not in a coma, but she is not all the way here or all the way on the other side, either.

My brother and I made the difficult decision to have the ventilator removed and for her to go on comfort care, which is exactly what it sounds like it is.

There is no telling how long she might be in this state – it could be hours or days.

Some of you also know that Mama has been suffering with dementia for several years, during the course of which her very vivid imagination spun out stories beyond our wildest dreams – funny stories that sounded true, up until the point where it all just went off the rails.

This woman in this bed is our mother, but she is not our mama. Our mama is brilliant and does her taxes (the long form!) in ink and creative and can make anything out of a handful of raw ingredients as varied as a Coke bottle, a piece of screen wire, and a light bulb.

She has used more than her fair share of felt and she never met a can of spray paint she didn’t love.

She is an enthusiastic beginner of flower beds and has baked and decorated cakes that people still talk about decades later. As long as she lived at home, there was always a white-frosted sheet cake, in the freezer, ready to be decorated, just in case.

Her sense of humor is sly and dry, and upon being startled, she comes out with colorful exclamations, my favorite being, “My butt just swallowed my underwear!”

She is married to the love of her life, Bill Coward (fourth time’s the charm!), and she will make her grandchildren Rice Krispy Treats on demand.

She has made so many cheese straws that she figured out how many inches of cheese to cut off a giant block to make a pound. She catered her own wedding because she just knew if anybody else did it, it would be “tooty,” whatever “tooty” is.

Our mama can turn you sour with a glance, and if fact, she just gave me one because she thinks I’ve put her in the nursing home. She has a knack for voicing her displeasure and she holds us to the same high standards she holds herself.

I have never seen her not help someone who needed it, and I have seen her help many, many people who she didn’t know and who had no way of knowing she was the one who helped.

She is a voracious reader and can ignore anything if she’s in the middle of a book, except for the sound of a corn chip being crunched, which she cannot abide.

Mama is a piano player, having learned as a child from her aunts and then saving up to buy her own piano. We could always tell what kind of day she had had by how many times and how fast she played “The Entertainer” in rapid succession.

Even through dementia, she has never lost the ability to read music and play flawlessly from memory; she played the day she had to come to the hospital.

We hope for peace for the rest of her journey.

My personal hope is that Tom Petty is there, his smirk matching her smirk, and asking her to be in his band.

I guess now I’ll never know if a cat has a running gear.

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Long time, no write

Frankly, I haven’t had the gumption to write. Or do much of anything.

After the inauguration in January, the most overused term of the year, dumpster fire, became the only one really suitable for the nation that is.

My main client became more than I could deal with and it was just time to go. And it was just time to be back in an office around other people.

I’ve spent since April looking for my new real job and have been temping, which was actually kind of great.

I’m pleased now that I am finally gainfully employed again. I think getting my hair cut off changed my luck.

Not only did I find my real job, Burt Reynolds kissed me.

If I died right this very second, I’d be perfectly okay with it. Because I have kissed Burt Reynolds, my first love. He smelled exactly like I thought he would.

As if that wasn’t enough, on the way home from some contract work, I found a dog loose in the street, eating out of a styrofoam take-out container. I lured him to my car with a peanut butter sandwich and brought him home.

Booch is right here on the couch with me and Puppy. He has a shiny new collar and leash and a plushy new bed and I’m not giving him back. Whoever lost him and left him out in the cold to scavenge for chicken wings should have planned better.

So here I am with the two loves of my life, one of whom won’t poop when I tell her to because she can’t hear and the other of whom won’t because he doesn’t want to.

It does not suck being me.


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Uncle, dammit!

My name is Susan and I’m superstitious.

New Year’s Eve and Day are minefields for me. There are about a bajillion things that have to be done and not done or the coming year will both blow and suck.

Every year I rush around taking care of the details. This time last year, I was getting the laundry finished up and sweeping and taking out the trash. I already had money in my pocket and plans for lunch to make sure I had pork and greens and blackeyed peas.

I did all that and most of it still went to hell.

On the upside, I made new friends and kept most of the old ones, and I spent almost a month in Italy. My dear daddy didn’t die from aneurysms or surgery therefor. My bad little dog is elderly now but still chugging along. I learned to paint, or at least get the paint on the canvas.

People I know and love had catastrophic illness; some of them died. Favorite musicians and actors and other public figures who I don’t know died. The presidential election was a complete and absolute shitstorm.

So this year, today, I am not doing any of that. I’m not doing the laundry or taking out the trash. I’m going to a memorial service tomorrow instead of to a hoppin’ john, even though that might portend more deaths throughout the year. I have money in my pocket, but I always have money in my pocket.

Tomorrow, I will get up and wash a load of clothes, washing relationships down the drain be damned.

I hope that my utter disregard for my superstitions will somehow fix things, like taking a break from poker when you’re on tilt.

For all the truly wonderful things that happened in 2016, I am so grateful. I hold the rest of it in utter disbelief and await the day when we’ll all be able to look back on this time and laugh.

Happy new year to you and yours. Be tender.


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