Can I tell you a story? I text RHJ. I am in a south-bound Uber, in a rainstorm, headed to meet JRA at a Richard Shindell concert.

Sure, I will read it – I am on the treadmill, RHJ replies.

I am listening to Lyle Lovett’s If I Had a Boat, which I disclose for context.

I love Lyle Lovett, I say, I’ve seen him in concert multiple times, all over the country. And I call “If I Had a Boat” the “Pony Boat Song,” and most people have no idea what I’m talking about. But there’s a verse in it about Roy Rogers. Which is what this story is about.

My dad is the kind of guy who stops at weird roadside attractions – who will even drive us out to the middle of nowhere just to see some off-beat museum. One day, he drove us to Victorville, with his parents who were visiting from Pittsburgh, to go to the Roy Rogers Museum. I have no idea why he did this, but I think he thought we’d like it; maybe we were headed somewhere else and it was on the way. But I think he thought he was capturing some America that he wanted to live in as a kid.

I am definitely my father’s daughter. For years, I pretended that I hated those side trips, but they grew on me; got into my consciousness. When Andrew and I drove across the country when we were in law school, I took him on a detour to Mt. Rushmore, which wasn’t that odd, but I made him stop everywhere along the way – from the Corn Palace, in Mitchell, SD; to Wall Drug, to Carhenge, in Alliance, NE. This was back before GPS; back before you could simply plug an address into the super computer in your pocket. We’d gone to AAA and picked up stacks of maps and guide books. The navigation was all done by hand.

Even as I got older, I continued the family tradition. On the way back from my hen weekend in Newport a few years ago, I’d stopped at the Pez Museum in Orange, CT, and dragged Jade and eee into the cavernous factory for a look at How Pez Was Made (in truth, they were happy to do it). Those sorts of things were just part and parcel of Being My Friend.

So we walk around the museum for hours – HOURS – pretending to be interested in Roy Rogers and we lose Grandpa Henry. Finally, we find him outside chain smoking beneath the larger-than-lifesize fibreglass statue of Trigger, Roy’s horse, in the parking lot. And then we get back in the car to go home, and my dad’s in a huff because the trip has been something of a failure, and then my grandfather says: “Tommy, did you see the set on him, Tommy?! Did you see the set on that horse?!”

Because the horse HAD had a set on him. The horse had been not only anatomically correct, but perhaps exaggerated to show what a MAN’S MAN Roy Rogers had been. (Trigger, for his part, had been taxidermied and was located inside the museum for anatomical comparison).

At the time, my dad must’ve laughed; he must’ve agreed with his father – my dad probably pointed out the set on the horse as well, because in the deeper end of thirtysomething years I have known my father, my dad has never been one to shy away from a dick joke.

I must have been younger than 10 when we took that trip. They closed the museum in Victorville and moved it to Branson, MO and it closed for good a few years ago. But even at like, eight years old, it dawned on me that day that families were much more complicated than I had previously understood.

Now whenever I hear the Pony Boat Song, I think about how families are not very simple.

It is funny to me, to think about the West like this, in the context of Westerns. Of growing up in the Land of Reagan, and being one of those Didion-esque girls who moved East for school and then became lodged in the New York orbit – at first uncertainly and then intractably. I think, growing up in the West, you develop a weird sense of nostalgia for things that never happened. Everything is new, even the history, so maybe you struggle to find a sense of Where You Fit In, especially if you are not a native.

But I realise, too, that maybe it’s not just Growing Up in the West. Maybe we are all Fundamentally Lonely and trying to connect with each other and with our memories of things past; things that never existed. Sometimes the adventures form new memories. Sometimes they’re abject failures.

But sometimes, they connect us in other ways. Like how the Great Roy Rogers Incident of Nineteen Eightysomething made me realise how intensely my dad loves us; how much he loves to explore; how deeply ingrained in me that Loving-by-Doing is.

I think this is a blog entry, RHJ texts back.

(This conversation actually happened, but the messages have been significantly edited & condensed for privacy and clarity)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

Wicked tongue
You have me lashed to you now.
Your vain voice,
The gentle rolling cadence
Lilting laugh,
Falling timbre.
Darling,
It’s a vicious, thrilling ride.

(March, 2008)

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song
I’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long
Time hurries on
And the leaves that are green turn to brown
– 
Paul Simon

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s September’s prompt. 

September // Back to School: Back when you were in grade school, what were your favourite and least favourite subjects and why?  Did you become what you dreamed you would be when you grew up?  Or did your interests completely change?

I have been best friends with my best friend since grade school. The story of how we met has something to do with her moving to our town, and me offering her some orange candy in the schoolyard (to this day, I love orange candy), and that was that. We were both weird kids in a ticky-tacky suburban town – where all the houses were pink boxes with tile rooves and everyone lived in Planned Communities and swam on swim teams at community pools.

At first blush, my family could have Passed for Normal in that kind of town, because we were waspy, and preppy, and my father had a fancy job where he wore suits and was gone a lot. But my parents were from Elsewhere, and gave zero shits about my social status in the hierarchy of vicious packs of LA County blondes. Jade’s family, on the other hand, had moved south from the Bay Area, and she was a Child Actor, so there was basically nothing she could do except join a swim team if she wanted to be Normal.

But we found each other, and together we were invincible. There’s something special about finding a friend who makes you feel…normal.

Jade and I were both good students – she was more of an artist and I was more of a jock. In school, we were both good at language arts, and because we grew up in the era where if you were so inclined as a kid, you could just kind of disappear from the house all day in the summer, we used to vanish from one home to another and put together our own shows, and films, and dramatic productions. I’d walk or ride my bike to her house (which I now realise was Not Near to Mine, and undertaking this sort of ride as a child of 11 would probably result in a call to Child Protective Services today), or she’d come to mine, and we’d spend all day and night Doing Creative Things.

We were especially clever and creative in the days leading up to the return to school, when I think the anxiety of facing our classmates and peers ramped up in our unconscious. We’d stay up all night singing songs into the tape recorder, or making weird videos on my parents’ giant CamCorder (legendary among these is the night we decided to make a music video to If I Had a Hammer, including an actual hammer, which we shook menacingly at the camera as we lip-synched to Peter, Paul & Mary – totally missing the point of the song – until the head of the hammer shot off the handle and hit the camera lens.)

Even as a good student, there was something about the anxiety of school for me. I was an A+ kind of kid; lots of activities; varsity athlete; a strawberry blonde almost-Tracy Flick. I was good at school, but I didn’t like it. My mother always told me I’d be nostalgic for those First Days, and those dusty halls, and those shitty subjects, but xx number of years out, I still feel relief that it’s over.

So as Jade and I got a little bit older, we expanded the scope of our arts lessons from merely playwriting and filmmaking to interpretive dancing. We were Very Serious Tweenagers in the Greater Los Angeles Area, exposed to too much, but not enough, and so we’d sit on the lawn outside her family’s house, and Make Up Dances.

We were young so we were pretty limited to our parents’ music as the backdrop for our dancing. We’d flip through the tapes and find something “cool.” This usually limited us to the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel. So we began making up interpretive dances to Simon & Garfunkel songs.

One afternoon, we created an epic interpretive dance to Paul Simon’s Leaves that are Green. We were 12. We practiced and practiced and practiced, and lip-synched our way through the song. For some reason, every dance move became second nature to us and deeply ingrained in both our memories. We very obviously did not understand the lyrics, or what the song was about, because, well, we were 12.

From there, we went on to an illustrious career in interpretive dancing to nihilist songs, including a turn in Eighth Grade Drama class when the actual assignment was to perform an interpretive dance, and none of the other kids even understood what that was. We not only had to debate which one to choose from our extensive repertoire, but selected The Sounds of Silence, and performed it from memory.

This is all a long-winded way of saying, my favourite subject in school was interpretive dance, and to this day, if you ask nicely, Jade and I will still perform The Leaves that are Green. 

 

The world has been fairly awful over the past few weeks, and I have no real desire to comment on it at this point. I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to be actively engaged in current events, but as a privileged, white Western woman, I think I have a lot of listening to do before I start making proclamations about The State of The World.

As recent events have unfolded, I have watched about half my friends take serious political and moral positions and share them on social media. I have watched the other half post photos of something called the Spouse Challenge, wherein they post a bunch of photos of themselves and their spouses to show the rest of us how much they love each other. I have gotten a little bit of crap (some good natured, some not) for not having a Hot Take in either direction.

Because Paul does not use/understand social media, he finds things like the Spouse Challenge deeply intrusive and upsetting. I find them unnecessary. We are the sort of people who don’t sit next to each other on planes because we both like the window seat, so the thought of us posting photos on social media celebrating Our Love in order to prove it to the world is…ridiculous.

We both came to this point in our lives, and this relationship, Gently Used. It would be weird to pretend that I’d never loved anyone before Paul, or that my entire life Up Until This Point had had no meaning, or bearing, on Anything I’m Doing or Experiencing Now.

With all of that said, here is a brief playlist for your enjoyment detailing the past decade of my romantic history, and how I got to where I am now. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, police brutality, gun control, race relations, or how much I love my spouse.

Okay, maybe a little bit with why I love my spouse.

Bonus points if you can guess which of these songs corresponds to which era.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth and sixth.

We have made it to the end of May. I am still on crutches, but I am not yet losing my mind. I have Prepared for This – large joint reconstructions are apparently What I Do in the summertime now.

It is the morning of the last day in May, which is also my mother’s birthday, and it is a perfect, slightly cool New York City Early Summer Day. I take Roo out for his morning walk, hopping along beside him using one crutch, and hoping we finish his constitutional quickly. Everything takes so much longer when your mobility is reduced, and even walking and scooping after the dog seems to take hours longer each day than it did when I was fully in control.

As I carefully thread us between the fussy dogs and I navigate the uneven brick pavers on my block, Roo suddenly takes off for a man standing by his car. He is an older man; well-dressed; and is putting some sort of box into the trunk of a late-model black sedan.

I’m sorry, I apologise as I try to steady myself, He doesn’t normally take off like that.

I didn’t think he’d recognise me, the man tells me. I am not looking at the man’s face as he says this; I am looking down at my dog, who is sitting prettily beside this stranger like he has known him forever. But when the man mentions being recognised, my eyes are drawn upward. In New York City, it is not uncommon for a person unknown to a dog’s owner to recognise and be recognised by the dog – Roo is walked by a walker during the day and makes friends all the time. This is to say that, on its face, this exchange is no where near as weird as it might sound to a non-New Yorker.

But before I can ask how this man knows my dog, I realise what striking resemblance the man bears to my dead grandfather – my mother’s dad. I look at his face, and he looks like a very well-dressed, not-dead version of Bop. I am speechless for a moment, because the resemblance is so uncanny.

He bends down to pet Roo, then looks at me: Tell her I love her, he says as he stands up. He puts his hand on my shoulder, like he is resisting asking me for an embrace. I am dumbfounded, and not ordinarily a touchy-feely person, so I nod and I toddle away home with my dog.

I burst into tears in the lift, because I am either going crazy or have already taken too many pain-pills for the day. My mind is racing with questions. When we die, do we simply go on to live as our Best Selves in some other realm – successful, calm, and happy – waiting to bump into the occasional friend and relative along the way? Did I really have a conversation with my dead grandfather on a New York City street in broad daylight? Why would a stranger tell me to tell someone he loves her – unless it were my mother’s father on the day of her birthday?

Am I losing my mind? I am losing my mind.

My mother follows closely in the tradition of her people: Emotional Spaniards Who See Things. She often mentions her conversations with dead people, like this is something perfectly normal, and no one ever bats an eyelash at it. But my apple fell closer to the staid tree of my northern European father, whom I have only seen cry three times in my life: Once each upon the deaths of his parents, and then when I informed him in no uncertain terms that I would not be majoring in accounting.

I feed the dog then hobble off to work. I resolve to go back down and talk to this man; ask him how he knows my dog; let my rational mind take over and figure out The Reason For All This. But by the time I get back downstairs, the man has disappeared.

Am I dreaming?

I do not tell anyone about this encounter, because it sounds insane. In the past, I’ve always loved the subtle signs that I thought represented Bop waving from beyond – his name appearing in unexpected places; the time I thought I heard his laugh in the middle of the night. Those tiny events, which always happened at Just The Right Time, seemed ordinary and easy to explain – a consequence of my brain looking for comfort and reassurance after a protracted period of Complicated Grief.

How do I explain this; how can I make this make sense? I wonder in the taxi on the way to the office.

With my EDS diagnosis, the doctors believe that the genes for the disorder were passed from my grandfather, to my mother and Margaret, to me. And so I have been angry at my grandfather – the man who could do no wrong. I am mad at a dead guy, more than a decade after his death – mad that my grandmother had to feel like she was at fault for the death of her child when my grandfather’s shitty collagen gene was the likely culprit; inconsolable that I’ve spent the past few summers having my body put back together and it took so long for anyone to figure any of this out.

I am also suddenly super annoyed that despite spending decades talking and writing about how different and distant we are, I am turning into my mother.

This is the second in a brief series of posts. The first post is here.

It is March, 2016 and I am standing at the finish line of the Fitbit Paris Half Marathon. It is cold, and windy, and as with every finish, my feet are hot, so I strip off my shoes. I have run the whole race without stopping once because some primal part of my brain has said Do not stop; keep going till the end.

I know at the finish line that this is not my Triumphant Return to Running after my 2014 hip reconstruction and my 2015 knee reconstruction. I know that Something is Not Right, but I cannot yet put my finger on what. I fumble in my waistpack for paracetamol with codeine, and I gobble it greedily. I drag myself back to the hotel, where I order ice and Pringles from Room Service, and fill the bathtub with cool water and ice cubes, lowering myself into it like a professional athlete. Then I watch shitty movies on my iPad and eat Pringles in a questionable hotel bathtub.

I am able to make it through the weekend and arrive back to New York. Days later, I am standing in paper shorts in my hip surgeon’s office when he knocks to enter the exam room, his entourage of physician’s assistant; student fellow; nurse in tow. He is one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in the world – his patients are typically professional athletes. He’s also a really nice guy with a good bedside manner. I’m still not sure how I got so lucky to get on his roster.

He begins to talk to me about my right hip, and how great it looks on the x-ray I’ve just had, when I interrupt.

No, I say, I mean, yes. It does look great. But I am here for the left side.

He frowns. Okay, let’s take a look.

With labral tears, femoroacetabular impingements, and certain other impairments/ injuries of the hip, a doctor will rotate your joint around and push it this way and that to see if you have the injury before ordering a scan to confirm. The manipulation feels excruciating.

The surgeon looks disappointed – his goal for me was a complete recovery. I know that I am a typically fun patient because I am motivated, and I follow instructions. I am disappointed; I am a Bad Statistic now. He orders an MRI, but we all already know that I will be splayed on an operating table sooner than later.

The MRI results come back quickly, and the surgeon’s nurse practitioner calls me to tell me that they have a variety of areas of concern. They have compared this scan to the one they took in 2013, and it seems impossible for me to have injured myself so badly when I have spent the better part of three years in sports rehab. The bone marrow edema is significant; the tear in the cartilage is obvious; there is an impingement; so on and so forth. Before they can do anything else, before surgery can even be an option, I am given a list of specialists I need to consult.

This is March.

I do not say much about this to anyone, because people tend to think that People Who Run are to blame for everything that happens to them. When I slipped and fell in August and had to have my knee emergently reconstructed, a bunch of probably well-meaning friends and family sent me messages telling me that this was God/The Universe’s way to say Don’t Run Any More!

I wondered, then, if I had been hit by a car if those same people would tell me that it had been God’s way of letting me know I shouldn’t walk outside alone anymore. As if I should be personally responsible for every possible contingency resulting from my mere existence or participation in society or recreation.

(But I am also related to a lot of rightwingers and Bootstrappers; I have dated more Eagle Scouts than even your average Mormon, so I do wonder if I it is partly the company I keep.)

As the weeks tick by, I see specialist after specialist, each of whom takes my blood and asks me questions. One doctor thinks I have blood cancer. Another doctor thinks that this is the legacy of a previous bout with an eating disorder. Nobody has answers.

I am sent for a DEXA scan, and I am asked to track down the DEXA scan I had performed on me in 2008. I call NYU Hospital and ask them to sift through Hurricane Sandy-affected records under my old-married name to find out whether I can have the test done on the same equipment. This feels weirder than it should – saying my old name; digging through old files; looking at old diagnoses.

It feels almost like we are talking about a dead person – this Sick Woman; this anorexic; this woman who couldn’t hack it in BigLaw; this Woman who was Married to Andrew; who loved Frederic; who couldn’t Recover. I am not That Woman.

In the midst of This March, it is Frederic’s Birthday. I text him, because I have wished him a Happy Birthday by some sort of message since before Texting Was a Thing – it is reflexive. I could never help myself where Freddy was concerned. Thank you, he says, Of course you remembered. I feel a need to reconnect with you. We should make lunch happen.

He had relapsed; he is sober again. I had appreciated his honesty in telling me, but now I am left to wonder if the whole rekindling of our friendship; our business relationship (which took place during his relapse) was a lie. It is the Same as it Ever Was, except the promised lunch will never happen.

I have the new DEXA scan. This time, they scan my wrist, too, for good measure, and they have forgotten to tell me to take my Love bracelet off. They look irritated with me when I ask if they have a screwdriver. They push the bracelet up my arm, but the bangle shows in the scan, and I am secretly glad of it, because now I know it is Me in these pictures, and not Her – not the Sick, Dead Girl.

I do not have blood cancer.

It is April.

This is the first in a brief series of posts.

It is May, 2013, and I am standing in a hipster bar in the middle of Amsterdam in the middle of a long afternoon-into-evening.

I have just come to The Netherlands to receive terrible news. To soften the blow of having to tell me how bad this particular situation is, a group of lawyers is taking me out for drinks. But I am jetlagged and angry about How We Got Here in the First Place, so I have become rather tipsy, rather quickly. But instead of paying attention to the Dutch happy hour and the attorneys who have graciously arranged it, I am frantically texting with a man I have loved for a long time, trying to focus his attention on me. In my head, I feel I am the embodiment of a Joni Mitchell song – winsome, wistful, lonely, pining for a man who is not ever going to be mine alone.

By now dangerously tipsy, I message the man a loaded question – a question that is meant for winesoaked lovers’ lips next to each other in bed, or the shadows of a bar, and not from halfway ’round the world via electronic pings. I ask him: Don’t you love me and want me to be happy?

He replies: I want you to be happy.

It is clear that I have made A Terrible Mistake. I gather up my things and leave the bar. I meet my colleague for dinner like Nothing Ever Happened. By the door of the restaurant there is a large, ostentatiously displayed wheel of stilton. My colleague fusses over it like it is a puppy or a baby. We English love stilton, he explains, as if that excuses his behaviour over a wheel of cheese. We finish an unmemorable meal by ordering a cheese plate – the stilton is standout. They cut it freshly from the giant wheel.

It is after Midnight when I arrive back at the hotel and I put myself to bed.

The next morning, I am up early to catch a plane to Edinburgh to run the 2013 Edinburgh Half Marathon. On the flight, I sit and observe the bracelet I am wearing, which I inherited from my grandmother – my mother’s mother.  I am flying on what would have been her 100th birthday, and the bracelet is stamped with scenes from Don Quixote.

photobracelet

My grandmother was a tiny, peculiar woman, and had been the mother of four children – two boys and two girls. She had lost one of her daughters at the age of six weeks. Years earlier, when my grandparents had still been living in their house in Florida, and I was a tweenager, my grandmother and I had gone through her jewellery and she had taken tiny enamelled pins out from a case.

Those were Margaret’s, she said. Before that moment, I’d never even known such a person had existed, or that my mother had had a sister. Margaret had been born with an oesophageal condition and the surgery to correct it had failed. The absence of Margaret had left a hole in my grandmother’s heart that my mother could never fill. Perhaps any parent who has lost a child will confess to this; perhaps any after-born child will bemoan it. It did not occur to me until much, much later that maybe the Complex Grief was why my own mother and I were not particularly close: Those sorts of gaps; wounds couldn’t close so easily in just one generation.

The irony does not strike me at the time – that I have been chasing a non-existent love and fighting off imaginary giants. That my own Complex Grief has had a hand in tanking my first marriage and subsequent relationships. I just think that I am honouring the dead.

My friend Smplefy meets me in the Edinburgh Airport with a sign that says International Woman of Mystery, and I laugh for the first time in days. We go to pick up our race numbers and talk about running, and Scotland, and Things That Are Easy to Discuss.

I am grateful.

That night, we part ways early so we can each prepare for the next day’s race. I message my mother before bed, hinting at my romantic failures. You just need to put yourself out there, she advisesNobody is going to come into your office and sweep you off your feet. I roll my eyes from 6,000 miles away.

For once, I draw the blackout shades in a hotel room, because it is 10.30pm and the Scottish night is still purple and blue. It is beautiful – I could drink it in forever. But I have to go to sleep because I have to run the next day. I am filled with missing, and longing, but I am limbo because he wants me to be happy. I should be happy. Alone.

The next day, Smplefy and I meet at the Start, making it by the skin of our teeth, and running the course in the unusually pleasant Edinburgh morning. We run past the landmarks, through the city, along the North Sea. It is Perfect. My heart is breaking, but it is a Perfect Day.

I run a slow race, which is confusing. My body feels like it cannot work. I am in good physical shape, and at the finish, my hip seizes for the first time. I blame a twitchy IT band, and jetlag, but I am baffled.

That afternoon I shower at the hotel and cancel my reservation for the night; opting to head back to London then onward to New York. I have failed; I am failing. I am inordinately sore. My then-assistant manages to get me on the last flight out of Edinburgh that afternoon and by evening, I am safely back in London, my grandmother’s bracelet clanging on my wrist as I exit the Tube and make my way to dinner with my friend PG.

It is the end of May, 2013.

I do not know then that within days, someone will walk into my office and sweep me off my feet – and will later become my husband. I do not know that the pain in my hip is not my IT band – it is a serious cartilage injury that will sideline me for a more than a year. I do not know that the bracelet on my wrist and the story behind how I came to possess it will later hold the key to unlocking a serious family medical mystery; that I will be fighting a different kind of giant.