Do the Right Thing

I used to call myself a “reformed” perfectionist because my house was sometimes messy and I’d surrendered to the chaos. Laundry baskets were heaped with folded clothes and shoes were piled near the front door. I’d leave dishes in the sink overnight.

Rather than feel despair, I accepted the flaws in my life and in myself. A perfectionist wouldn’t allow it. I’d joke about not being Martha-Stewart-approved. Ha ha ha, I’d laugh without mirth.

I like to put photos unrelated to my posts here. This is Seaside, Oregon.

A perfectionist definitely wouldn’t live like this.

Recently, I’ve indulged in naval gazing via a personality typing system which pegged me as a perfectionist, one who desires to improve, to reform situations and to bring order to chaos.

I realize now that my belief that I am never quite good enough is part of perfectionism. My looming fear is that I am at the core a bad person. Consequently, I try to hide that fact by doing the right thing as much as I can. Frankly, it’s exhausting. (It’s also why criticism stings so fiercely.)

Unfortunately for those around me, I also see their flaws and mistakes so my bossy side comes out. Please use this pan (it’s the right one). Do this paperwork that way. Put your stuff where it belongs. Do this, then that. Why? Because it’s right.

I want to do the right thing. I want everyone to do the right thing. I believe there is a right way and a wrong way and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to pinpoint the right way. Furthermore, I want everyone else to do things the right way. (I’m looking at you, idiot driver, merging onto the freeway “wrong.”)

I’ve lived a lifetime being called “Miss Perfect” and being accused of thinking I am perfect when inside, I am so aware of my flaws that I want to cry. I am mortified by mistakes I made as a child, by flubs and missteps taken as a teenager. Just a glimpse into a mirror or my closet has my inner critic yelling at what she sees.

I was a “perfect” kid growing up–if you weren’t inside my head. I never caused any trouble, other than that time in seventh grade when I was sent to the principal’s office for questioning a teacher’s decision to run through every single question and answer on a worksheet. I followed rules, I made good choices, I avoided the rebels and the troublemakers. I won awards and certificates and accolades.

But once I realized I would never be a concert pianist, I stopped practicing enough. I’d laugh and call myself a renaissance woman because I’d tried so many things but do you see me perfect any of those things? No.

Why when my inner critic was so loud and nit-picky? I thought the voice in my head was just me observing myself and drawing conclusions but come to find out, most of you don’t have an inner critic who is constantly nagging you and criticizing you and telling you that you will never be good enough.

Fortunately, along with age comes a realization that this life is really just a vapor. Do you really want to spend it trying to control the uncontrollable? Do you really want to listen to that mean voice in your head all the time? Do you care that you aren’t perfect and never will be?

No. (Well, a little bit if we’re being frank.)

But I really do wish you’d all do things the right way . . . which, shockingly enough, is my way. (Trust me, I’ve done the research.)

Quarantine and limbo

I know we are all living in limbo, but I’m in double limbo.

Like everyone else, I’m waiting for movie theaters and restaurants to reopen. I’m searching fruitlessly for paper towels. I’m wondering when we’ll be able to walk the local trails. When will the thrift stores open?

Also. I scheduled a date (July 29) for Mayflower to come and pick up our belongings. I’ve ordered a chair and had it sent to my new house in Minnesota. I’ve purged and sorted and sorted and purged. I’ve packed boxes and driven carloads of stuff to Goodwill.

I’m waiting, waiting, waiting. I have a new life waiting for me–though from past experience, I know that I will adjust to a new setting, a new house, new friends and discover that I’m still the same me–minus two kids who don’t plan to move to Minnesota. <insert crying face emoji>

So my nest will be smaller and emptier and I’m sure that I feel distraught about that but I’m burying my feelings in fatigue and chocolate, so I can’t really feel them properly.

I’ve told my husband not to tell anyone about this blog but of course, he already did because our new next door neighbor is a Blogger (hi neighbor, I hope you don’t look up my blog because I’m just a lower-case blogger, typing away on this thing intermittently for 17 years now . . . ).

She’s a real life Blogger with 250,000 followers on Facebook and I’ve just been rambling on here for years without making a ripple anywhere . . . though as I think about it, I did manage to parlay my blogging hobby into an actual paying blogging gig which then transitioned into an 11-year paying job with health insurance and the like, so I guess I shouldn’t be so embarrassed. (Should I? Don’t answer that.)

I haven’t told my work supervisor about the impending changes in my life (four months from now!) because it just seems too far away to give notice, but two of my co-workers know. I just accidentally told them and it’s a relief to not have to pretend one hundred percent of the time that I’ll be in this exact current life for the rest of mine.

I’ve got places to go and things to do but I’ll be here in my house, washing my hands frequently and baking cookies, watching mindless television and trying to stop scrolling long enough to read.

The continuing saga of “what day is this?”

I had to drive my son to work at noon, so afterward I drove toward the beach to see what I could see. It’s in the sixties and sunny here in San Diego county.

Carlsbad was busy, lots of people walking and driving and bicycling. A police car was parked on the sidewalk to enforce the closure of the beach and seawall, but a little farther down the beach becomes a state beach, not a city beach and as far as I could tell, it was open. Available parking spaces were few and far between.

Scattered people walked along the top of the bluff and a few surfers were catching waves but I only saw two or three people actually on the beach. So I walked along in the surf, eyes down to avoid stepping on rocks. The rhythm of the waves is so soothing and almost makes one forget that it’s the end of the world as we know it.

After finishing my loop (along the bluff, down to the beach, up the bluff and to my car) I drove home and tried to relax. But when I rinsed my feet in the backyard hose, I was reminded that the succulents really needed attention and if I didn’t do that today, it’d be another four days before I have free time.

So that explains why I have dirt under my fingernails and sweat on my brow.

It’s only 4:20 PM and I’m not cooking dinner, so I intend to actually relax, maybe watch something on television, but more likely pick up the book I’m reading (Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid).

Tomorrow I’ll be back at work at 6 AM, feeling normal and abnormal but mostly just tired and wondering what’s next.

Weekend (whatever) accomplishments:

  • Sorted, purge and set up Easter decorations;
  • Baked muffins, chocolate banana bread, bread in my machine;
  • Cooked potato soup (last night), hamburgers and baked potatoes the night before;
  • Vacuumed, laundered clothes, cleaned kitchen (repeatedly), shopped at Costco and Albertsons and Grocery Outlet but still could not find any paper towels or liquid hand soap;
  • Sorted through a gigantic four-drawer file cabinet. Why do I have so many papers? I don’t want to keep any papers I don’t need. But do I need this one? Or that one?
  • Wrote this blog post. Clearly I’m out of blogging practice because I’m just listing the stuff I did.

The end.

Day Whatever of Whatever

My three days off are winding to a close. At 8:30 PM I have to pick up my son from work (at a grocery store, “essential employee.”) It’s still possible that I could be sound asleep by 10:00 PM, though my sleep schedule has become erratic during these days off. This morning, though, I woke up at 7:25 AM and stayed awake, knowing that tomorrow I’d need to be awake at 5 AM.

It’s like Daylight Savings Time beginning all over again in my body.

Yesterday I completed a sorting-purging-organizing task which involved old handwritten letters. Letters are a time capsule that I’m glad I have. I tossed the ones written by friends I could no longer remember (yikes) and relatives who are dead or dead to me. (I kept some. I’m not a complete monster.) My old letters are some of my most treasured belongings.

Last night I watched ‘The Sixth Sense” for the first time. I’ve been catching up on old movies.

Today my intention was to relax because yesterday’s task took way too many hours and I was tired. I woke up early-ish and went for a hike (seeing so many people outside exercising with their families) and then to the farmer’s market for some produce. I showered and carefully dried and straightened my hair so I won’t have to do it again for three days. (The hair, not the shower. I’m not a savage.)

Then I took my daughter and her two pet rats to the vet for their free Humane Society adoption checkup. This is “essential” according to the government (apparently).

Because of social-distancing, we had to call from the parking lot and the vet tech came out and took the box of rats inside for their examination. Maybe fifteen minutes later, she came back out . . . minus the rat box. My heart sank a little. What was wrong with the rats? They’d seemed so healthy.

She explained sheepishly that one of the rats slipped out of their hands and hid in a tiny opening between the cabinet and the wall and they’d been trying without success to lure it back out. (They had no idea the little space existed between the wall and cabinet.) She apologized and told us they’d keep trying.

Fifteen minutes later, she came back out again. The new plan was to remove the cabinet from the wall where it is attached. The boss was coming. She said we should go and they’d call when they retrieved the rat.

An hour (two?) later, she called and said they were unsuccessful and that they intended to set a humane trap to capture the rat. My daughter headed off to pick up the one rat while the sister rat was left at the vet until tomorrow.

So, that’s took up a good hour of my Day to Relax.

I stopped by the grocery store to get trash bags and ingredients for some fancy-schmancy chocolate chip cookies I plan to bake. There were no crowds or chaos, just some empty shelves. (Still no pasta and very little flour.)

When I got home one of my sons was making himself a late lunch before he headed off to work delivering pizzas (“essential employee”). I sat watching him and chatting and got out the bread machine that I’ve never used since we’ve lived here. I’m not even sure it’s my old bread machine. I think I got rid of the old one in Washington and bought a new one at a thrift store here.

Anyway, as I was lugging a 25-pound bag of bread flour (only slightly past its “Use By” date of 11/2019) into the kitchen, something crashed. I thought for a moment that I’d tipped something off the bread machine shelf.

Then I looked over and saw shards of glass beneath the pantry door.

I opened the pantry and saw this:

My son had warned me yesterday that a wire shelf on my pantry shelf was unstable. I pooh-poohed it but today he was proven correct.

A giant bottle of barbecue sauce mingled with sliced olives, whole pickles and maybe more sliced olives. If you’ve ever had to clean up a glass shards mixed with liquids, you know. You know.

The clean up took another hour. (Two?)

I finally got my bread ingredients into the machine.

I gave up my plan to mix up those fancy chocolate chip cookies.

I began cooking dinner (chicken curry and coconut quinoa, yum).

Thus, my Day of Relax ends. Wow, I feel so refreshed.

Dispatch from the Edge

Monday at work the boss came to tell us that we’d be splitting our team into two and working opposite sides of the week. I work in police records, an essential job supporting essential employees. They want to limit our exposure to one another because if (God forbid) one of us got the virus, the rest of us would be exposed and then quarantined and then who would do the work? Our work must go on.

So, Tuesday and Wednesday my new team of three worked twelve hour shifts. It was fun to have a small team and to be busy, busy busy.

Then I slept eleven hours last night. I can’t even tell you the last time I slept past nine.

Today, I went to Costco. I stood in a line that snaked into the parking lot but which moved surprisingly fast–way faster than any line at Disneyland. Once inside, the store was uncrowded but definitely full of people. I didn’t check out the water or toilet paper supply, having enough of both in my house.

I was not able to get eggs or pasta, but otherwise, I purchased everything I needed. My entire trip, including standing in line, took less than an hour. Afterward, I topped off my gas tank at the low price of $2.79 a gallon. People were focused and kept to themselves, taking the six-foot social distancing rule very seriously. The air felt of scrutiny, like everyone suspected everyone else of harboring the plague.

Then I stopped by another grocery store and scored three dozen eggs, yogurt, buttermilk, rice and . . . no pasta. What’s the deal with buying up all the pasta?

I’ll have three days off before going back to work Sunday morning at 6 AM. My co-workers and I are planning to prepare food together at work. We had pancakes and sausages yesterday and then quesadillas for lunch. Sunday I think we’re making baked potatoes for lunch. It’s like a snow-day and Christmas Eve with our front lobby closed and the continual confusion about what day it is. The rules are loosened but the workload continues. It’s weird.

I have at least a thousand things to do here at home but so far I’ve just baked cookies and brownies and cooked dinner and washed dishes and scrolled endlessly on my phone.

(Earlier when I took out trash I saw my poor succulents drowning in their pots full of water, so I tipped them all upside down to drain them. We’ve had so much rain here. It actually feels like the rain and the virus are partnered. Again, it’s weird.)

I have a book and my Kindle sitting next to me on my bed and if I could muster up just a tiny bit of self-discipline, I’d start reading something.

But honestly, I’ll probably just watch some mindless television before falling asleep.

Tomorrow is the first day we are to “shelter-in-place” here in California but that won’t look much different than my life before that edict. I still have to work. I still have to make sure my family is fed. So I’ll be doing both and wondering when things will go back to normal.

(Will things go back to normal?)

It's the End of the World As We Know It

I’ve never been one to panic, although I admit that last year when water was pouring through the shrieking ceiling smoke detector that my heart rate may have been somewhat elevated.

I’ve been watching the news with eyebrows raised and eyes squinted.

Friday was my normal day off so I thought I’d run to Costco first thing and pick up my weekly groceries. I normally have to go on Saturday or even Sunday when it’s crowded. In fact, the previous Sunday when I went people were beginning to hoard water and toilet paper. I hurried out of there as quickly as I could because there were just so many people everywhere, entire families, snapping at each other and dodging giant shopping carts.

Back to Friday. I headed toward the Costco three minutes from my house. At the corner where I normally turn, Costco traffic was backed up to the intersection. The parking lot was full, like day-before-Christmas meets the zombie apocalypse (minus the actual zombies).

I gave up on Costco and headed to Trader Joe’s. I only needed a few things. I found a parking spot easily but then ominously, found only one shopping cart left. I took it and began gathering fruit and vegetables. The aisles weren’t so crowded, I thought, not much different than a normal day here in Southern California where you just learn to navigate crowded stores on a regular basis.

Then I turned a corner and saw the long lines snaking through the store, into the first aisle and beyond. I ended up waiting thirty minutes in line to pay for my meager two bags of groceries.

(A man two carts up from me jokes and said he picked out green bananas at Costco and by the time he paid, they were brown. The lady directly in front of me told me she canceled her family’s Hawaiian vacation even though she’d lost all the AirBnB lodging money. One man walked into the store and said, “So many stupid people.” Another woman walked in, took one look, said, “nope” and turned back around.)

In a contradictory turn of events, we are being advised to maintain our social distance, yet we are crowded together in stores purchasing provisions as if the end of the world has arrived. It’s bizarre.

My kids (college and high school aged) are now all doing their classes on line. None of them seem particularly worried. I’m keeping my incredulity under wraps because people I run across are so truly freaked out and panic-stricken. I don’t have one worried molecule in my body.

I know that everyone says it’s different, but I remember the Swine Flu. I remember the hysteria over Y2K. I’ve never seen anything like the government response and the public response is equally frantic . . . but is it really the end of the world as we know it?

I feel fine.

(Also I have to go to work tomorrow just like it’s any other day but I will enjoy the light traffic on the roads.)

About face

I flew on a jet plane from Orlando, Florida, back home to San Diego yesterday on what felt like the world’s longest flight. I finished reading a book (Daisy Jones and The Six) and then watched most of a movie (on my phone) until my headphones died.

Then I still had two hours to fly.

After rejecting the idea of a nap, I picked up my phone and decided to purge photos. After all, how many photos of the ocean/beach/sunset does one person actually need? Deleting them is a tedious and time-consuming chore, perfect for a captive on a plane.

While pursuing images, I came across old photos of myself as a child, as a teenager and then a college student, newlywed and younger mom. I didn’t recognize her. The woman in the mirror doesn’t look like that.

Then I realized that even then, the person I saw in the mirror was a surprise to me. “Is that how I look?” I’d say when I’d see a photograph of myself. The person in the mirror today surprises me.

I started to wonder if I could even describe my own face to a forensic artist. What do I look like? I have no idea.

The me I can’t see is sarcastic and nit-picky and hilarious. She’s smart and hates formal attire and has probably eavesdropped on you if you’ve been having a conversation in earshot. She’s a lot of things, but most of them are invisible to the mirror.

I know she has brown eyes and blondish hair (depending on her stylist) and that it’s never the same two days in a row. But what’s strange is that I always assume people won’t recognize me if they see me in a store. I don’t recognize myself when I accidentally flip my phone on “selfie” mode.

Anyway, maybe other people know what they themselves look like. I just don’t. The mirror surprises (and usually disappoints) me. Am I weird?

To be clear, I am not great at recognizing or describing other people, either. I usually fixate on a trait or two–God forbid I remember you by your outfit and then you change clothes.

Maybe this is just what it’s like to get older. The gulf between what you really look like and what you feel you look like widens until you can’t see either shore.

Let’s face it. It might just be me.

Transition

The seasons in San Diego county blur together. Intellectually, I know it’s winter now because the sun sets before I’m home from work. Christmas just ended and already I’ve noticed buds on the fig tree on the side of my house. The succulent I thought was dead has sprouted new growth. Meanwhile, autumn leaves are finally falling from trees, just in time for spring.

It’s confusing.

Life around here is equally weird. My daughter will be 18 years old this year and as the days slide past, I can feel motherhood as I’ve known it fizzle out. The “kids” aren’t kids at all anymore. Sure, everyone still seems to expect me to wash their clothes and scrub their plates but honestly, I don’t mind. It’s one of the few things I can control around here.

My college friends’ lives have marched along, right on schedule. Their children have gone to college, graduated, married and produced the first grandchild or two. From what I can tell on social media, pretty much everyone in the world takes an annual vacation. As usual, I’m not in step.

But that’s okay. The older I get, the more I know what I want. (Time to read. A nap. Sunsets over water. More books. Clean sheets every Sunday night. A delicious salad. Twinkle lights. More years with my beloved.) Truly, the small things in life delight me.

I’m in a season of transition, a season of purging and sorting and discarding what no longer serves me. Neighbor Bob, the man across the street, taught me to say, “Thank you for your service. Goodbye,” when he helped us cut down our beautiful palm trees which had outgrown their space. I’ve been very busy, then, with my stuff. It takes time to touch everything, to consider it and bid it farewell.

Moving on feels bittersweet but I know that the next season will be beautiful, too.

Thirty years and one day

It was a Thursday. The last day.

The day before, an ambulance had transported my dad back home. Although he had roused the tiniest bit, enough to chew up his medication and gnaw on the straw I raised to his dry lips, he never really woke up.

I went to work that Thursday. Does that seem odd? I’d been off work so many days because he was dying. It had been eleven days in the hospital. That day though, a calm had settled and my great aunts were ensconced in the house with him, to watch over him. So I went.

I checked in by telephone at noon and Aunt Lu said he was resting. I drove into the driveway at 4:30 PM and she met me on the porch and told me I needed to go get my sister from her workplace just down the street.

I drove to Kentucky Fried Chicken and asked for her, my voice breaking. I hugged her there and told her we needed to go home.

I wasn’t in the room when he took his last breath. When I entered the room with my sister in tow, he was seizing and I quickly backed out of the room, taking her with me. We went into the darkened living room and sat in tearful silence.

What do you do when your dad is dying down the hallway?

Thirty years later, I can’t remember who told me he was gone. My mother, maybe. She was there, even though they’d been divorced for a dozen years. When I knew, I went to my dad’s office in the garage and told my husband and my stepmother (who was there, though they’d been divorced for six years) and my dad’s best friend.

For my whole adult life, I’ve lived without him. He never knew my children. He never knew the story of my life, the arcs, the obstacles, the heartbreaks, the solutions, the mysteries.

I miss him the way you miss the warmth of the sun in the midst of the most dismal winter of your life. You almost can’t believe that it ever existed. I wish I could hear his laugh, hear him speak, tell him my stories.

Thirty years and one day later, here I am in my house in southern California. The sun shines nearly every day. My children are mostly grown and my marriage is beautiful and strong. I never could have seen this life from that vantage point in the house on 44th Drive.

The loss of him tore a hole in the fabric of my world. Since then, I’ve been patching together the frayed edges, trying to make something beautiful out of the remnants. I think he’d be proud.

I miss him.

And now for a surprise start to the work-week

Monday morning.

I’m driving to work and I will arrive exactly on time at 7:30 AM.

I’m listening to a podcast in which two people mention how they routinely worry about car crashes.

I make a right turn, onto the freeway ramp. This particular ramp is metered, so you have to stop at a stop light before entering the freeway, two cars at a time.

I stop at the red light. A car crashed into the back of mine so hard that my seat ends up in a reclining position. I feel myself flopping backwards, hitting the headrest. I start screaming.

I’m not sure what I’m screaming but I’m enraged. I drive my crippled Toyota Corolla to the side of the freeway–thankfully there’s a large shoulder–and climb out, still yelling. Immediately after, I remember screaming, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD” but in my memory I’m screaming something like, “YOU ARE KIDDING ME!”

I don’t really know.

I struggle to remember how, then dial 9-1-1. I tell the dispatcher that I was in a car crash on the 78. I am hysterical and the dispatcher has to tell me she can’t understand. Was I injured? I don’t know! I don’t know! I’m not bleeding but I don’t know. Do I want to be evaluated? Yes!

I want everything. I want the police. I want a traffic collision report. I want the fire department to tell me I’m okay. I call my husband and The way he responds tells me I must sound hysterical. He asks if he should come and I don’t know. Do I need a ride? I tell him where I am and say that I guess I need him to come. I don’t know.

Am I okay? Everyone keeps asking but I don’t know. I think I’m crying–I feel like I’m crying but when the fireman walks up to me and I point to the car and he asks me if I’m okay, he looks me in the eyes and says okay, let’s breathe. I don’t think my face is wet so maybe I haven’t been crying. Maybe I’ve just been gasping and yelling.

I look over at the fire trucks arriving and the highway patrol vehicle and the flashing lights and the woman in yellow who is holding her wrist, grimacing and he tells me, hey, look at me. There’s a lot going on but it’s okay, just breathe.

And I breathe.
I tell him I was just listening to a podcast that was talking about car crashes!

He tells me the Captain will talk to me and sure enough, the Captain comes over and speaks to me and I tell him the same thing about the podcasts. The sheriff walks up, a short man, and talks to to me.

I call my work, calmer now. Tell them I won’t be in. Tell them I was in a car crash.

Then the highway patrolman comes and takes my statement. I stopped at the light, I tell him, because it was red. And she didn’t stop! She didn’t even slow down! I didn’t even see her! And then I pulled over to the side and called 9-1-1.

I’m furious all over again.

Her Nissan Altima is still blocking traffic but it doesn’t look as damaged as my car. My husband arrives. We take out the reusable shopping bags from the trunk and the stuff from the glove compartment. When I open the door, I can see that it does not close right. Even I can tell that the car’s frame is bent. I notice that my phone charger was dislodged and flew backwards.

The driver’s seat is tilted back.

Something’s leaking from the engine.

The tow truck comes. The tow truck driver drives my vehicle up a ramp onto the flatbed. He hooks up her car. I leave with my husband.

When I get into the car my husband drove, I start gasping again. My brain and body are still terrified. I’m sure it’s the adrenaline still surging through me. But I ask him to get off the freeway. It feels dangerous.

I never do speak to the other driver, a woman who looks a little older than me. I am so angry with her for smashing my car and throwing me backwards.

I call the insurance company. My husband calls the Toyota dealership–it was a leased car. I take to my bed and try to sleep but every time I start to doze, the phone rings. Insurance people, tow yard people, more insurance people. It’s dizzying.

I go to the doctor the next day. I have a headache and my upper back hurts–I purposely haven’t taken any pain reliever since the day before so I can see what really hurts and my head definitely hurts.

The doctor was surprised I wasn’t more injured. She diagnosed me with whiplash but I have to say that other than this headache, I don’t feel too bad. She said it was lucky that I didn’t see it coming because if I had braced myself it would have been worse.

She told me to stay home from work and wrote me a note. So I’ve been resting and sleeping and trying to have good posture so my neck isn’t strained more. I am grateful to be okay.

The vehicle was officially totaled by the insurance company.

This was the first time I’ve ever been involved in a major crash. I do hope it’s my last. I am grateful I knew what to do, grateful for firemen, the sheriff, the highway patrol, the tow truck driver, the lady who stopped On the freeway to ask me if I were okay and to give me a hug, the insurance people, the medical people and my husband.