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.

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.

Shoot Me

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what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Big Edie: It wasn’t such a good day.

Me: What can I do to make it a better day for you, Ma?

Woman with gunBig Edie: Shoot me? (Big Edie’s standard answer.)

Me: I don’t have a gun anymore.

Big Edie: You had a gun? What did you do with it?

Me: I sold it to my coke dealer.
(silence)
I bought it from my heroin dealer, sold it to my coke dealer, and gave two pockets full of hollow-point bullets to a dirty cop who moonlighted in the after-hours clubs.

Big Edie: A cop?  You should have called the cops on him.

Me: That’s what you took from that story? I bought an illegal gun from a heroin dealer, sold it to a cocaine dealer, and you think I should have had the cop arrested?

Big Edie: Well, they’re not supposed to moonlight.

She’s got a point, there. You have to admit it.

 

 

 

That Girl

mirror-1Sometimes I  don’t recognize myself. I know it’s me in the mirror or the reflection in the store window—I recognize my clothes and my hair (it’s always all about the hair, I never don’t recognize my hair). But like some kind of Freaky Friday body swap, I have a face that’s not mine. Sometimes, it’s some other regular person’s face. Sometimes, it’s monstrous and lumpy and it looks like kittens and snakes fighting under my skin. Sometimes, I see it’s mine, but it doesn’t seem right. There’s a nose, two eyes, a mouth, but it just doesn’t add up to human the way other people’s faces do.

There was a time—especially during the heavy drinking and drugging days (and all drinking and drugging was heavy) when I’d be putting on makeup and I’d look at my eyes or my mouth, but not my whole face. I knew it wouldn’t look like me and it would freak me out. Luckily, those are all some-times, not most-of-the-time. Now, it’s just part of who I am.

Used to be I wouldn’t look at my whole face in the mirror because I knew it wouldn’t look like me.

It’s called depersonalization and it’s an aspect of dissociative disorder. It can last for only moments or return over and over for years. Some people say it feels like you’re watching yourself from outside your body, a third person POV. There’s a sense of emotional detachment or numbing. In my case, my memories play out as if I’m watching myself in a movie. I don’t remember things from my own perspective, but as viewed from the invisible camera set just outside the scene, or an audience member in the theater seat, watching my life play out on a the big screen. In other words, in my memories, I am not me. I see me.

I love taking tests, so I took this one: Steinberg Depersonalization Test. I got a 33, which put me “in the range of Severe Depersonalization (25-75).We recommend that you be evaluated by a professional…you have a treatable illness with a very good prognosis for recovery. Your illness is widely shared by others who coped with trauma by using the self-protective defense of dissociation.”  Often it’s the result of severe abuse in childhood, but I’m not saying that’s what happened in my case. “Emotional abuse, in particular, is a strong predictor of depersonalization disorder in adult life.” Yeah. That sounds closer to the truth.

There was a time when leaving my body was what I needed to do to survive, and it worked.

And although I no longer have that kind of life, those kind of learned behaviors are slow to change. But, they’re not hard-wired and it happens less and less often.  I know the what and why—I know it is me, even if I don’t recognize the face. Years ago my life required that kind of quick-escape survival mechanism. It worked for years. Kept me alive. Kept me sane. It was the closet I could hide in when I’d grown too old to hide in closets. And for that, I will always be grateful.

 

Some people cut themselves when the numbing gets to be too much. For me it was tattoos and piercings, and it took me years to make the connection between what I was doing (piercing my skin with color or metal) with what I wasn’t feeling (anything).

Disclaimer: My experience by no means covers the breadth and depth of depersonalization, nor it is meant to attribute this sort of disorder to anyone else’s tattoos or piercings. Not even all of my own.

For a more light-hearted view watch OnlyTheJodi on YouTube: Middle Aged Lazy – Episode 7: Whose That Girl?

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Numbers

I’m oddly superstitious, by which I mean I’m superstitious about odd things, like red cars, green motorcycles, and numbers. I have favorite numbers: 7, 23, and 57. No real mystery, I was born on 7/23/57.

So this year, I was 57, and two days ago I turned 58 and it feels like what I just finished? That was my last great year. There are no more good numbers.

I got to be 23. I got to be 57. I’m never going to see 723, so what is there? There is me turning 58 and I have real hate-hate relationship with 8s. First of all, eight is an even number, which, unlike most of the world, I don’t like. They’re doubly bad because they’re symmetrical. And being 58 means I’m practically 60. I’m this close to being a sexagenarian, and I’m pretty sure there will be less sex happening when I convert to sexagenarianism, than there were veggies when I converted to vegetarianism

I worked for a woman who used to say that nothing was a big deal unless it resulted in bringing a baby into the world. That was the kind of thing you couldn’t take back, that everything else was re-doable. You could get married, divorced, then married again. Buy a house. Sell a house. Everything had a do-over.

I amended that to:  if no one died, no one was born, and no one sold a baby into porn, it’s not that big a deal. Giving a life or taking life, those are the deal breakers. Everything else is re-doable.

Except it’s not. Time. There is no do-over. I’m practically 60 and while I don’t regret anything I’ve done, I do regret things I haven’t done. I regret wasting time, because there isn’t a do-over, and I can’t go back and study veterinary science ten years ago. I can only do it now, which means I’d actually be 60 by the time I was able to be certified as even a vet tech––a highly underpaid job that would make me extremely happy and which I would have a helluva a time finding work as since it involves lifting heavy things like Great Danes and St. Bernards.

I’m not loving the numbers. I know I have a good thirty years ahead of me, if not more. But, still, there are a lot of sixes and eights in there.