28 May 2014

One year.

One year ago, the Spouse Thingy and I took the bikes out for a ride; we needed to run gas through the lines, and decided that would be best accomplished with a ride into Vacaville and lunch at Mel’s.

One year ago I sat in a booth with a half-eaten French Dip in front of me, when my sister sent a text; she thought our mother had had a stroke. Or it might have been a heart attack; the truth is that I don’t clearly remember, I only remember telling the Spouse Thingy, and that this wasn’t going to be good.

One year ago I rode a motorcycle home on the Interstate at 70 mph, trying hard to focus on the ride and everything that can go wrong when you’re on a moving motorcycle; I fought to keep my head where it needed to be, and it needed to be clear in order to ride those 10 miles to home.

One year ago I sat in the living room, waiting for my sister to send a text what I didn’t want to see.

One year ago, my sister called and spoke to the Spouse Thingy, to confirm: our mother had died.

One year ago it was one day before what would have been my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary, and I tried to wrap my heart around the idea that they would get to spend it together, and that the timing of her death was not a coincidence.

One year ago I had a relationship with my mother that was complicated…until it wasn’t.

One year ago the chance for it to ever be uncomplicated left with her.

And that’s all right. In that one year I have spent countless hours thinking about her, mulling over all the what-ifs, and I know now that our relationship would have never been uncomplicated. There was no possibility for it to become anything other than what it was. She was never going to change, and not because of any lack of want on her part; she was never going to change because she couldn’t.

But I’m still here, and I can still change.

It’s taken the full year to pick through the detritus of our relationship; it’s taken the full year to stop being angry about the things that never should have happened and the things that would never have a chance to happen. It’s taken that much time to push past the things said that hurt, and get to the things that were good, and to remember the woman who was happy and social, for whom parenthood was a highlight and not a burden.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering when the tide turned; when did she stop being herself? When did those angry little voices worm their way into her head? How long ago did the demons of dementia start pulling on the strings of her soul, the threads that wound their way from her head to her heart? How hard did she fight them, purposely ignoring the whispers that told her hateful things about the people she loved? And when did she get tired, too tired to shield herself against them?

Hindsight is a hell of a thing, when you can see past your own fog. I can see her indifference creep up in little increments, starting from the time I was in 6th grade; it all happened in such minute, fragmented, tiny shuffle-steps that sometimes erupted into episodes of depression followed by periods of normal that I don’t think anyone could see it for what it was. Certainly no one living up close to her, and definitely not the doctors to whom she went time after time, unable to tell them anything other than “I don’t feel well,” and “I just don’t feel right.”

She could feel it sneaking up on her, but she couldn’t put her finger on what was wrong, and neither could anyone else.

I sometimes think that the adult me should have understood it better; the woman who barked into the phone that she didn’t want to talk to me anymore was not the woman who raised me. The woman who sat with a couple of her kids at the table, trash talking one of the others, was not the woman who years before would have had sharp words if she’d heard those same kids doing that exact thing. The woman who shouted at one of her own kids that she didn’t love them and never wanted to see them again was not the woman who had been once so proud of her kid’s accomplishments.

It took decades for my mother to be swallowed by those shadows, and because I was living in the middle of it, I don’t think it was possible for me to see it.

But in this last year, I think I’ve been able to sort some of it out. She went from being happy, to being bipolar, to suffering from dementia, and in all those years no matter what she wanted, she couldn’t control the direction she was headed.

It wasn’t really her fault; not all of it, not even most of it. And of the things she had control over…I can stay angry, or I can let it go.

One year ago, I don’t think I ever saw myself getting past being pissed off at all the little digs and insults, at trying to understand a mother who never had anything nice to say about just about anyone, especially her own kids. But now, it feels a lot like blaming someone with a broken leg for wanting something to smother the pain. She had demons picking at her that no one could see, demons that were sneaky enough to hide in the shadows where the people who should have been able to find them couldn’t see.

Staying angry, wrapping myself up in the disappointments of what could have and should have been, does absolutely no good.

There’s not even anything to forgive; life was what it was, and crap things happen to good people.

I’d give just about anything to still be frustrated over all the petty things, to know that if I picked up the phone and were able to understand anything she said I would hang up later upset. I would rather she still be here and cranky as hell, but that’s really just a selfish thing. I don’t think anyone wants their mother to die.

She didn’t like me, but she loved me. From the moment I drew my first breath, she loved me.

I miss her.

It looks a lot like this...
And yet…I have this picture in my head of my parents together again, both finally free of dementia and Parkinson’s and heart disease, happy and healthy and whole, and how can I wish for anything other than that?

I can’t.

My mother loved me, and I loved her, and in the grand, Technicolor, IMAX 3D scheme of things, that’s the only thing that matters.

I won’t sing it, but…

I’m letting it go.


15 May 2014

Last October I received a jury summons; the only moaning I did about it was the timing, because the report date was for mid-November and that time of year is not a good one when you’re night blind. I could get to the court house in Vallejo—40 miles away—but coming home would be a pain in the asterisk.

The nice thing about CA is that you can pop online and tell them you want to postpone and for how long (up to 6 months) and they allow it, no questions asked. So I did that, postponed until May, and my new summons came a few weeks ago. There was still the chance that I would check in the night before I was supposed to report and be told I was not needed, but there was an equal chance I would be told I was still required to show up.

No big deal; I would have preferred to get the court house closer to home, but the dice rolled for Vallejo again so on Tuesday morning I dragged my sorry self out of bed after little sleep at 6 a.m., was out the door by 7, and there before the report time of 8. Along with a bunch of other people I waited outside the locked jury assembly room, trying not to yawn too much, and engaged in some idle chat with a few.

One woman said she’d "been there done that with this whole thing 6 or 7 times" and served on several juries; she really didn’t want to be tapped for another one. She seemed a little amused when I said I kind of wanted to be picked; this was something new, and as long as it wasn’t gross or months-long, I wanted to be there for the duration.

I’m not one of those people looking to get out of jury service; I wanted to be there, though I would have been happier if things started at noon instead of OhFark O’clock. And it looked like a majority of the 150 or so other people there when the jury assembly room was finally unlocked felt the same thing.

We were all there for a single case; half of us would be the first into the court room, the other half would wait around to see if they were needed. The first 18 names called would line up and be seated in the jury box, and the rest of that half would sit in the audience chairs and listen to all the questions being asked of those in the jury box, because at any point they could find themselves there.

Our seats were a lot more comfy than these, I think...
My name was the 6th called. I wound up in the court room, in the juror box, in the 6th seat.

Juror number six.

Since I wasn’t looking to wiggle out of it, I was pretty sure the only thing that would keep me off the jury was having Diabetes Insipidus. We were asked if there were any hardships, medical issues, etc, that would be relevant, and if any issue was private or embarrassing, we could speak to the judge and attorneys privately…but I’m not shy about it and didn’t care if 80 other people knew I have a condition that frequently causes excessive thirst and urination as often as every 20 minutes.

I refrained from saying I pee like a freaking maniac and opted to use my big-girl words.

The judge was cool with that; I was allowed to bring as much water in with me as needed, and if I had to get up to use the restroom, I only needed to tell the bailiff.

So I was a shoe-in for this jury.

I knew I was. And I was counting on it, because I’d never done this and was curious about the whole thing, and while the case itself didn’t seem all that interesting, the process did.

A few people were dismissed right off the bat: some had childcare issues, some needed deferments because they had work things that couldn’t be missed but they would serve later, and a couple of people were dismissed because they had vacations planned and flights to catch before the predicted end of the trial.

Then the questioning began in earnest.

One of the first, from the judge…do you have any particular bias, either in favor or against, police officers, and how will that affect your perception of their testimony?

I answered it honestly; I do have a bit of a bias. If push comes to shove, I’m going to believe a cop over someone else. There was some back and forth with the judge as he wanted to understand exactly what I meant, and he seemed cool with it, and said what I opined was fair.

There are no right or wrong answers, he reminded everyone.

And the questions kept coming, for everyone. There were some who were either so jaded and hurt by the entire judicial process that simply being there was painful, or they were using anger as a way out. Some didn’t understand the questions asked, but tried to give the right answers anyway, even though they were reminded often that there was no right or wrong.

Then the lawyers began asking questions: from the defense, what did we think about the fact that the defendant was not present? Would we hold it against him for not testifying in his own behalf?

No one seemed to care, but we were asked individually. I mused that everyone has the right to not incriminate themselves, and not everyone has the eloquence to give well-thought-out testimony even with the exactly correct questions being asked of them. We all have the right to face our accuser, but I thought that also meant we are not required to; I would not hold it against the defendant at all, and presumed it was his right to not be there.

Others answered basically the same thing, in varying degrees of confidence; there was quite a bit of Ummm and Uhhh as they searched for words, but everyone made their point. It was fine if the defendant was absent from his own trial.

I thought I was done; what else could they ask me?

But the defense attorney came back to me.

Why did I think a police officer’s testimony should be given more weight than someone else’s? As a jury, we are supposed to follow the rule of equal consideration in testimony. What makes an officer more truthful to me?

*See footnote
We all have varying degrees of perception bias, I said. Right or wrong, we all have an inclination towards one thing or another or to feel more for something than another thing; to my mind, the cop on the stand testifying is just doing his job and has nothing to gain from presenting anything less than truthful. A witness who is friends with the defendant, on the other hand, could be more likely to sway his testimony to benefit his friend, whether he did so intentionally or not. It would come down to conflicting testimony, not general testimony, but if an officer stated one thing categorically and the witness contraindicated that, my gut is to believe the officer.

Does someone being a police officer automatically make them more truthful than someone else?

No. Again, it would be down to conflicting testimony. And I would do my best to give equal weight to all testimony.

It went on for a bit; this was obviously a sticking point. But she moved on to other people…until she came back to me, with a completely different questions.

You are married to someone who works in the medical field. What does he do? Does he ever deal with mental illness? Do you ever discuss cases?

I explained that he’s a registered nurse anesthetist; his job doesn’t deal directly with mental health patients on a daily basis but I assumed he occasionally has a patient with issues. And yes, we frequently talk about some of the things he does. Sometimes he tells me about cases, but he does not give me identifying details about the patients.

Then came the prosecutor…right back to me. Can you be fair?

Yes. I think I’m generally a fair person and will do everything I can to maintain that fairness. I would not intentionally abscond from a position of fairness.

I realized, as he moved on to someone else, I’d been fighting for my position on that jury, and I thought I’d garnered it.

We took a break, the third for the day, and it was only 2:10. I headed for the restroom, and then the assembly room, to wait to be called back in, still unsure what the rest of the day would be.

The woman I’d been talking to earlier sat down near me. You need to dumb it down if you really want to be on this jury. Half of what you’re saying is going over the heads of most of the people in the room. If they think you’re as smart as they are, you’re going home.

Apparently I needed to hem and haw a little more. And I was unsure if there was any truth to what she was telling me, although I’ve heard it before.

Ten minutes later we were back in the juror’s box; before anything else, the judge turned to me and asked point blank: can you set aside your inclination to believe a police officer over another witness?

I would do my best.

Can you say for sure? Yes, no, or not sure. There is no wrong answer.

I honestly do not know.

And I didn’t; I didn’t have any facts other than the charges against the absent defendant, I knew nothing about him, or the people scheduled to testify. I believed I could be as fair as is humanly possible, but I could not state 100% for sure that my personal belief that when there is conflicting testimony, I would give at least a small measure of weight to the cop.

I am dismissing you, Mrs. Thompson. This is not the trial for you.

And that’s all she wrote. By 2:40 I was in my car, texting the Spouse Thingy that I was on my way home.

I had a feeling early on, a small whisper in the back of my brain, that if I wavered and said I could give absolutely equal weight to testimony under the hypotheticals as described, I would have been on that jury. Afterward, I was fairly sure it was the defense that didn't want me. But I also knew I couldn’t be anything but honest about it.

My brother in law is a cop; I don’t believe for one minute he would get on the stand and say anything less than the truth just to convict someone. I don’t think there’s anything much to be gained from any officer under those circumstances.

So I’m done for the year; I won’t be summoned again until this time next year at the earliest. Hopefully next time it will be at the closer court house, and a case where perhaps my issue will not be an issue. And hopefully wherever I am summoned to, the vending machines will be full and fully functional, because when 2 out of 3 won’t take your dollar bills, and the one that does is out of bottled water, it’s a problem.

* Just before things got underway, when all 150+ people were in the assembly room, one of the prospective jurors was busted for having stolen a gavel. Seriously. They had his picture from the close circuit TV...he'd gotten into a court room and shoved it into the pocket of his way too big shorts.


11 May 2014

This is my mom; the picture was taken somewhere around 1970 while we were living in Germany.

Those are teabags pinned to her shirt.

It's her t-shirt.

Yes, she was a walking dad joke. And trust me, in 1970 that was hysterical, and shows just a fleeting glimpse of her sense of humor.

I think because there were more opportunities to be involved--the American communities overseas were pretty tight back then--she was an incredibly active and involved person. She loved being a member of the Wives' Club and for a time served as its president. She was a room mother, she chaperoned trips, once to Berlin when it was still a tricky trip to make. She organized fund raisers for the schools, and once even spearheaded a drive to raise money for a desperately needed fire truck in a town in Washington...and did it while we were still in Munich.

If I recall correctly, the money was raised.

When we moved back to the U.S., she wasn't nearly as involved, but a lot of that was because we were all older and there were fewer chances to do things for our classes and schools, though she did keep up with the Wives' Club.

She was as social as she could be, until the last 20 years, I think. I don't know if she got tired, lacked places to go with friends to whom she was close, or if she was just done. I used to think she was weighed down my my dad's increasing agoraphobia, but I'm not so sure now.

Maybe she wanted it that way.

I hope she did.

I miss her. Some of the time it surprises me how much I miss her. Still, I can't sit here and say I will miss her more on Mother's Day and feel terribly sad, because I won't.

How can I? I believe there's something after this life, and in that I believe she's where she's not old, not fighting dementia, not ill or angry or frightened. I believe that she's the woman standing on the stage, showing her t-shirt to the crowd, happy and clear-headed, and laughing her asterisk off.

This is her first Mother's Day not here.

Together, we tortured the poor kitty, Ataturk ;)
Her first in a very long time with her own mother.

Yes, it sucks that we don't have her here anymore, and the idea that it's Mother's Day and mine is gone feels a bit odd...but I can't feel sad about it, because she's just fine where she is.

I can't miss her more than I do on any other day.

But I do miss her.

I suspect I always will.

And that's a gift, my friends. That's one hell of a gift.


5 May 2014

Things that went through my brain and annoyed me before noon today and I share in an unnecessary display of passive-aggressive bitchiness, so if your feelings are hurt I'm sorry but only a little because I gotta get this out or I'll chew on things all day. Also, I'm apparently learning writing skills from Buddah:

I already know, okay?
♦ Seriously, do not look at a picture I've posted and then cave into your want of messaging me to say, "Hey you really do have resting bitch face!" 1 - I already know it, and 2 - I don't find it as amusing as you do. When several people apparently have some need to point it out, it's definitely not funny; you all might as well PM me and say, "Hey, you're kind of ugly." I know you didn't mean it to come across as it did, but damn...

♦ Yeah...that motorcycle you claim to have just purchased? Cropping the picture of it in an artful way did not conceal the fact that it's a charity event bike, one I have seen a couple of times already. What makes it even more bizarre is that you're the second person I know to claim to have bought this same bike in the last year.

I don't really care if you actually own a bike or not; there are no extra fake Internet points for having a motorcycle. I already like you; if you have a need to impress me... stop. I'm not worth that kind of effort. No one is. I don't understand it. But if you have a need to own an actual motorcycle? I have two in the garage and both are for sale. I'll even cut you a deal.

Not the posted tattoo...just one I like
♦ On that same note: that tattoo you got last night and posted to Twitter? It's beautiful. In fact, I liked it a lot the first time I saw it on reddit. Last year. On the same shoulder. With the exact same clutter in the background. And damn, when did you dye your hair blonde? As far as I knew, you were a brunette. I can understand sharing the picture as something you saw and loved, but come on...don't try to pass it off as your own.

♦ When I die, the first person to utter the words (or post them online) that I've "sprouted wings" or I've "gone to be with Jesus" will be haunted hard core for roughly 6-8 weeks. Don't use cotton-candy coated words. I'm dead. You can say it. She died. Euphemisms aren't necessary; if you HAVE to use one, I'm "headed for the Bridge to play with the cats and dogs" because that would  be my first stop if I had a choice. But really...those soft, saccharine ways of saying someone died are part of why I dislike institutional religion: the words, the whole mind-thought of the church, tends to infantalize people.

I won't have wings; I'll be dead. Simple as that.

If I do have wings, terrific, but I really don't think so. Somehow I doubt they're needed in the next life or afterlife or whatever you want to call it.

♦ Cat breath .25 mm from my face as I'm waking up. Dude, I know I feed you the stuff that makes your breath smell like death, but come on. I don't need to share in your joy of it.

♦ Stupid shit annoying me. Stupid shit should not annoy me, but it does.

♦ Not having a nice way to end this.