Drive, she said.

Driving  a Long Island highway after dark,  air cool and damp the way it does when winter turns to spring, how it does in early summer near the beach, air so heavy with moisture I turn my wipers on to shear away the mist, the beach air, and the cool and damp; loud music, turned up to 11; blacktop gently curves. I move smoothly between broken white lines; turn the music up until it drowns out the car, the other cars, my thoughts; following red tail lights going as fast as I am, passing the ones who refuse to speed up to double the speed limit whatever the speed limit is and there is that moment. That moment when I am here, right now.  And here, forty years ago.

Speeding down a Long Island highway at night coming home from a day caring for my mother slides into that other night/many other nights, four decades ago, driving home to my mother’s house from Long Beach after a crowded club and loud bands, Twisted Sister turning it up to 11. I exist in both nights, two of me occupy the same seat in one car, two cars become one: the 1975 Ford Pinto is the 1999 Volkswagen Golf. One littered with empty cigarette packs, beer bottles, and cassette tapes. One with empty candy wrappers, water bottles, and CDs. Steering wheels feel the same, the cool damp air still keeps me alert, and driving calms my nerves. I’m twenty and I’m sixty.

I taste vodka in the back of my throat. I have not had a drink since summer, 1990. The ashtray overflows with cigarette butts, all Marlboro. I smoked with delight, with panache, windows open, smoke and scarves and common sense flying out the windows behind me, Isadore Duncan without the talent, or the untimely death. There is no ashtray.

There is no ashtray.

Like rivers and creeks, time eddies and swirls, spins in and out of little whirlpools, diverts, evaporates, pools in gullies, returns as rain, seeps into the ground/pulls me into the mud/deeper still, rises as mist, settles like dew, washes me clean, pummels me, and chills my bones.

If a pack of Marlboros appears on my dashboard, I will smoke without a single thought. If a glass of vodka and seven was nestled in the seat next to me, with a single red swizzle stick, I would drink the same way I had night after night after night all those nights ago. Drinking, driving, smoking, and speeding. Some nights are just made for that, no matter how fast you’ve driven, how long, or how far you’ve come.

Makin’ Food My Bitch

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January 2017: Week One: Cut dairy out of my life. I’ve bagged up all the butter, gorgonzola, parmesan, Asiago, and cream cheese. I gave up real cows milk long ago, and now I’ve given up the “just a little half & half” in my coffee and switched to tea. No mac & cheese, no grilled cheese, no more bagel with a schmear. I’m giving myself a full year to get things right (and figure out what dinner will look like when I give up my go-to popcorn-is-a-vegetarian-meal stance), but the goal is to come off all my medications. And I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this coming year I’m going to want to be in fighting shape.

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with food. I know, how surprising, a single middle-aged Jewish cat lady with food issues.

My family was a Jewish/Italian mixed breed, meaning we were Jews who married Italians, so anything that happened in anyone’s house happened around the kitchen table. The good, the bad, and the casseroles with canned fried onions on top.

Despite always being worried I will not have enough food (Depression-era parents), that I will go hungry, I have never gone hungry a day in my life. For us, food was love. If we didn’t offer you food, we didn’t love you. If you didn’t take it, you didn’t love us. Maybe it’s not complicated after all. I eat my feelings.

I never thought I had food issues, I’ve been happy to eat the same thing, every night, night after night. If there is a box of doughnuts in the house, I’m happy to eat them, all. One at a time. If there is only one doughnut in the house, I’m equally happy.

I’ve been a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescatarian, and a locavore. For years I was off beef, but ate poultry. Turkey burgers were a softer, kinder world. But, the more I knew the less I would eat: I stopped eating any factory farmed foods at all. Until I craved salted meat and ate it like it was the air I needed to breathe.

I eat secretly, refusing chocolate or bread in your presence then stuffing myself in my car when I leave. Sometimes the decisions were based on health choices, sometimes on moral issues, other times, childhood issues (that’s the complicated part, best left for another time).

I was a junkie AND a vegetarian for a short while.
There was a suicidal eating disorder that consisted solely of Cheese Doodles and Guldenbergs Peanut Chews. Another that consisted of only soup and ice cream.

I fasted.
I cleansed.
There were literally years when I ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Three Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, two slices of Kraft American Cheese – appropriately placed to completely cover the crackers, with no overlap, no blank spaces, and no leftover cheese – and a glass of diet iced tea. Also, gallons of wine, vodka, Kahlua, etc., but not even a single bar peanut to eat.

When I was premenstrual I craved raw meat, which I’d season to make hamburgers, but easily half never made it past my mouth to the frying pan.

I am probably lactose intolerant. Cheese is my favorite thing in the world. The night I ate the cheese equivalent of a human foot (or a shoebox, if that visual disturbs you) and wound up doubled over in the bathroom for hours is when I had to finally accept this lactose intolerance thing. What my version of acceptance looks like: I take pills and continue to eat shoeboxes full of cheese.

I am probably gluten intolerant as well, and have a deep and loving relationship with all things bread and bread like (with the single exception of the body of Christ cracker), from muffins and rolls to bagels and bialys, matzoh and arepas; from fresh warm bread from the oven to packaged off the shelf grocery store bread; and challah, scones, corn bread, noodles, waffles, pancakes, toast, English muffins, Italian bread, French bread, focaccia, crackers, Naan, sourdough, rye, pumpernickel, biscuits, dumplings, pita, pretzels, the leftover pizza crust you don’t want, croissants, or brioche, to the pièce de résistance – the thing you make from leftover bread (as if) –bread pudding. Me and bread, we have history.

Family and friends have gone out of their way to accommodate my various food jaunts by providing a seafood option, buying humanely raised poultry, or asking me each time, “Are you still not eating (fill in the blank)?”

I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds, gone from a size 8 (hospitalized shortly afterward) to a size 16 and bounced around in between.

I have gone from a woman who made her living showing off her body to one who cannot tie her shoes without unzipping her pants.

And now, at almost 60 years old, I’m taking another food stance. Auto-immunes are the original clusterfuck. Like nuns, if you see one, there are probably more lurking around. Recently, I was diagnosed with my second auto-immune disorder. One medication was recommended, and another for a pre-diabetic condition which I’ve had for years and years. Taking the new meds would mean changing the old meds and starting from scratch on things I knew worked. Someone said the word biologics. Biologics are good stock investments, but I don’t want them in my body.

This all makes me sound sick, which I’m not. I’m…fat & sassy. But, my morning regime is a healthy handful of pills and I just can’t anymore. I can’t go forward with the mindset that my body is betraying me. Granted, I was not exactly kind to this body for its first thirty-five years and it has every right to be pissed off, but this all smacks of treason.

I won’t view my body as an enemy.

I met a traveler once, named Elijah. He told me he walked all over the country, slept outdoors, and never got sick or cold. The secret, he said, was that the earth gives you what you need for where you were. The way root vegetables are fall harvests, and they digest slowly and keep you warm. Citrus in Florida where it’s hot, to cool you down. Eat with the place and season, he said. Elijah was barefoot, dirty, with matted hair, he had no shirt and his pants had eroded down to little more than a denim loincloth. I get it. I know he was a homeless guy. And possibly crazy. Or maybe he was just free, because it made sense to me.

Healing yourself by eating the right foods at the right place and time.

The Auto Immune Protocol diet claims to be the key to getting your body back on track, and there are a million websites you can check out if you’re interested in learning more. It’s extreme, but I’ve done tougher stuff in my life (see earlier reference to the first thirty-five years). If I could live off of nine crackers a day with the military discipline with which I did it, I can do this.

The plan is to give myself one to two weeks on each “give up” to get used to it, have a proper mourning period (this week we are mourning the gorgonzola, but glorying in bread) and get myself ready for the next step. All of these will have to go before I can live a full 30 days “clean” and attempt to bring things back a little at a time. So, no gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. No nightshade vegetables like peppers, eggplants or tomatoes. Eggs, gone. Artificial sweeteners will be history (goodbye Crystal Light!). Nuts and seeds, although what is the point of a sesame seed if it is not sitting atop a bagel? No additives, which will mean reading labels. I’ve already eliminated the booze. Eventually, I will get myself down to the basics: meats and vegetables.

The good news is sugar snap peas, wild caught fish, bacon, asparagus, beets, sweet (but not white) potatoes, fruit, meats of all kinds, avocados. It means planning and thinking ahead and no more dollar pizza. But you did hear me say bacon, right?

Praying for the Enemy

I spent a good part of dinner talking about a person who irritated me, who set my teeth on edge, a person whose head I wanted to smack upside until it bounced like a bobble. I was completely justified in my irritation, but that didn’t make me any more fun to be around. I was annoying myself—I can only imagine how annoying I was to everyone else who doesn’t love me as much as I love me.

Someone said, “Have you tried praying for them?”

I thought: No. Really? Maybe. Really?

I thought about praying this person got the life I thought they deserved because I was, at that moment (honestly, there have probably been way too many of these moments) auditioning for the parts of both judge and jury of the whole wide world (which is different than the World Wide Web in several ways, the most important of which is the capitalization*). I’d already elected myself the Diva of the DMV, (Too slow to merge? Afraid of changing lanes? Not signaling when you turn? Not turning your signal off after you do? No driver’s license for you! Doomed to a life of public transportation.) so judge and jury of the known universe was not exactly a stretch

I thought a little bit more. I wanted this person to know how much they irritated me and why. So, I tried it. I prayed for their life to be filled with compassion, kindness, and awareness of their effect on others. I’ve done it for a few days in a row now.

I don’t know if they’ve changed at all. I don’t know if prayer works that way— changing other people or events or things at all. What I do know is that the chip on my shoulder slipped off somewhere along the line.

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*There will be grammar. There will be Oxford commas. I cannot guarantee there will not be pop quizzes.

No, he says, you don’t.

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I say I want to live in a small town.

No, he says, you don’t. You’re such a wonderful person and you’re so beautiful.

I can be wonderful somewhere less crowded.

He says, You don’t want to isolate, you’re so gregarious.

I’m not.
I’m a yappy little shelter dog who has learned enough tricks to keep the world at bay. That’s what I think.
I say: I like my own company.
I mean: I don’t think I like yours.
I think: How soon can I get off the phone?
I think: I want to be somewhere I can hear my own thoughts.
I think: I want to be somewhere I can walk down a sidewalk, a road, a dirt path and not have a man who doesn’t know me tell me who I am.
I know perfectly well who I am.
I have known me all my life.

He is still talking. Now, about how much I will love Fiji.

I have deliberately moved places people would not want to visit.
Several times.

I’m training to be a cranky old woman, I say.

No, he says, you’re not. You’re not old. Or cranky.

Looking at my watch, I think: I am older and crankier than I was before the phone rang.

You would have loved Belize in the 90s. You will love (insert hot tropical place).

I like Vermont. And I can like more than one place. But if the world crumbles until there is only Fiji and Vermont I will be the Queen of Vermont and you can be the King of Fiji, I think.

He’s written a script for his life and in his movie we live on a desert island, we backpack through Europe. A Rom-Com with no Com, I imagine that sounds to him like him and me against the world. Or him and me discovering the world. Or sharing. Or something tender and sweet.

I think: Who wrote this Hallmark Lifetime Mr. Rogers script for you, bub? Quentin Tarantino wishes he could option the scripts in my head. Chuck Palahniuk steals my dreams. Damon Runyon named a cheesecake after me. Nora Ephron wished upon a star for me. Patricia Highsmith wanted to be me. Hank Bukowski was my hero. These are my script writers. My collaborators.

I have intimacy issues I say, I’m a runner.

No, he says, you’re not.

Stand Up.

Every day I wake up, scan the news, Twitter and Facebook and every day there are new stories of:

Every day I see the rights and lives and safety of women and people of color disregarded and crushed by white men in uniforms and white men of influence and white men with academic *futures*

Our police system is broken. Our justice system is broken. Our prison system is broken. Our education system is broken.

White non-Hispanics make up only 63% of this country, down from 80% in 1980. Folks of color are on their way to becoming the majority.  There are already more women than men here. Standing together we can fix what is broken, alone we become targets in ways we have not seen for decades.

I don’t know how this gets fixed, but I believe it can be.
And I know that answer isn’t silence.
Or protest votes.
Or looking the other way.
It is in action, not reaction.
It is standing up for what you believe in.
Standing for what is right for the world, not just for myself.
Standing for what is right, not just what is easier.
And standing up for the rights and lives of total strangers.

You must stand for something! It does not have to be grand, but it must be a positive that brings light to someone else’s darkness. – Anthony Carmona, President of Trinidad and Tobago