Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 232

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

He told me he takes care of his mother, full time. She can’t walk, can’t drive, needs a chauffeur for shopping. But she takes care of him too. He can’t afford a house, can’t work due to a lifelong back injury keeping him on disability. He loves her, but he calls her a job. He’s embarrassed when he says it, but I get it. We talk a little more about her, then he tells me about how proud he is that he won a bit in the lottery and got to pay his back-pay in child support.

A couple years ago, I got taught about care-taking by a friend whose family was caring for her grandmother with dementia. I was invited over sometimes, joined them all for home cooked dinners or take-out Chinese, chatted on the couch, watched old episodes of British sitcoms, and in those fits and starts it was easy. I’d hear her grandmother’s circular stories, the way she’d mention the same place twice, and I’d see my friend steal away for an hour in the evenings to help her get ready for bed, but what looks simple on the surface is hiding an always-on exhaustion. Love can be a ring of iron roses around your neck.

There’s this image that the family bonds that bind us make things easier, and they certainly can, but not without a lot of behind the scenes work. Kids, parents, anyone you’re taking care of constantly, whose wellbeing is directly dependent on you, is nothing short of a full-time job. And though it might be a job you love, there shouldn’t be any shame or stigma in saying it’s exhausting.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Everyone expected Emily to take care and take charge. It had always been this way. When her mother was sick, she’d filled out her own permission slips for school. When Jess signed up to bring home the kindergarten rabbit for the weekend, Emily took care of it.

Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 140

Hi.

Coffee: House Drip, Fiesta Ole Mexican Restaurant; the coffee came in a cup with three creams on the side; I’m always thrown off when restaurants give you those tiny plastic cups without you asking – like you expected this, you were owed; dreams of deep reefs gone white from sun bleach, starved fish nibbling the thin plastic sand; comfort is predicated on waste; oh, and the coffee tasted good, but not as good as I was expecting

I took my father out for a belated birthday lunch at Fiesta Ole. It’s a Mexican restaurant halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill and it used to belong to a family of restaurants called ‘Torerros’. The name changed but the menu didn’t, same big bright plates and large portions, and we all enjoyed our food.

The building was bright on the outside and dim in the middle, two stories, though the second was gutted so you could see the rafters. The booths were small but spacious and the place smelled like a fresh coat of wax. It was busy. Lots of people eating, a good sign. The way the light slipped out of the kitchen made me feel like I was being transported, a big black barge, high waters, the kind of cabin that takes you somewhere, drops you off, and leaves without looking back.

It was good to see my family. We talked like we used to. They told stories about different uncles. When the food came, we ate together and the boisterous dining hall got quieter, like the steam was a blanket, and we were making a fort from it, and this space was only for us.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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The tone of the repartee was familiar, as was the subject matter, a strangely comfortable background music to most of my waking hours over the last two decades or so – and I realised that, my God… I’ve been listening to the same conversation for twenty-five years!

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 83

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

A kid at the Chinese take-out squirmed around in his mother’s arms enough to look at me and said: “What did you order?”

I told him what I got – two spring rolls and tofu. He was puzzled, then I asked him about his order and he lit up: “Shrimp fried rice!” All the while, his mom’s got that look that says ‘isn’t my kid everything?’ but ‘I’m watching your every move’ at the same time.

While they were leaving, she says: ‘Say goodbye.’

And he says: ‘Goodbye!’

And I say: ‘Fried rice is classic.’

That was the most interesting thing that happened at the Chinese take-out.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, it’s effectively illegal to get an abortion. The only cases where the doctor’s not liable for a life sentence are where the mother’s immediate health would be compromised. I say immediate, because there’s many physical and emotional impacts of birth and pregnancy that don’t quite tally to death but are still significant and severe. Anyway…

There’s lots of good arguments going around for why this new anti-abortion law is bullshit. A lot better than anything I can say, I’m not a woman and no-one’s got a gun to my bodily sanctity. But here’s a thing I thought about that I think gets brushed over: what does it say to parents to tell them having a child is not really their choice? Accidents happen. People get tossed up in each other and then there’s this new bit of DNA. Maybe you want what it’ll turn into. Maybe you don’t. But Alabama says you’re not allowed to make that choice. Even if you want to be a parent, the kid’s not there because of your intention. She/he’s there because some privileged men knew how to slap a legislative stamp. She/he’s born independent of want or love.

I don’t know about you, but that sickens me.

While he was still on her lap, the mom was rocking the kid with her knee and nonchalantly running one hand’s worth of fingers through his hair. She was checking Twitter with the other. Normal, calm, simple, but wrapped up in her was someone that wanted to be a part of this vibrant, questioning person bouncing on her knee. If I had to guess – accident or otherwise – when push came to shove, she made the choice to offer up nine months of blood and eighteen or more years to give life to her son. Can you feel the weight of that?

But no, Alabama says to hell with that kind of love. You might be screaming ‘state’s rights’ and ‘small government,’ but you’re eager to slip the government’s fingers into other peoples’ pants, or put your long, bureaucratic proboscis into their hearts. You rob them of both their bodily autonomy and the freedom to love. You spoil not only a woman that says ‘no’ but the one that says ‘yes.’ In a grand act of irony, you have devalued both the individual woman and the concept of a family. In fact, the only thing you haven’t touched are greedy, self-obsessed men.

Oh, I get it now.

You are the closest I will ever come to magic.

Suzanne Finnamore, The Zygote Chronicles

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 22

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Most days, I go home on my lunch break. My apartment is only two miles from the bank. I make sandwiches or leftovers in the kitchen. Today, this is what I saw:

An old man walking his dog in the dog park.

Whenever I take my evening strolls around the complex, I pass this one apartment on the first floor that has a black fence around the patio. It’s a waist-high fence. The apartment is across from the pool.

On nice days, this burnt orange chow sits behind that fence. He never barks. Hardly looks at me. He’s used to people passing. And behind him, the deck door is always open. You can see inside the apartment. There’s movies on all the time. You can’t see what’s playing, though, because the TV’s facing the other way.

That’s where the old man and his dog live. I’ve seen the guy watching me when I walk by. Not in an off-put way, more curious. He and his dog have a lot in common. Before today, I’d never seen him out of his recliner.

I watched the pair walk around the dog park from my second-story window. I followed them for the whole time it took to microwave some slices of soy bacon. They padded and plodded. The dog didn’t run. The man didn’t either. When they left the fence, the chow walked alongside the guy without a leash. It got a little turned around where the sidewalk goes up a hill. The old man waited for his dog to catch up.

That was the nicest part of my day.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED! 

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A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes


Coffee Log, Day 346

Hi.

Coffee Tea: Black Tea; I got home late last night and didn’t feel like getting the coffee ready. So I didn’t have coffee this morning. I microwaved a cup of water for two minutes and popped in the tea bag. It was sweet, a little nutty. It was just fine.

I had to work today, despite it being Saturday. I spent the morning listening to a young Colombian talk about getting engaged.

My cousin posted a video of him doing a penguin dive in Montana. The lake was frozen so they’d cut a square off the ice by the shore. He walks out in shorts and a tie-dye t-shirt, stands in line with a lesbian couple in matching tu-tu’s, and jumps. He does a cannonball. Spoosh! I’m a little worried when he hits the water, but then again, I don’t really know the guy.

In high school, I used to joke with R that his brother didn’t exist. At that time, his brother was off in college so he didn’t come around too often (at least that I could see). But if anyone had made the same jokes with me – that whatever aunt or uncle wasn’t real – I’d be hard pressed to prove them otherwise.

My family keeps the four corners of America. That’s a busy enough job that no-one ever visits each other. There’s a sliding scale of bad blood between them. And even when the blood’s decent, no-one feels like they have much to share.

The older I get, the more it sticks with me that I don’t have an extended family. Sometimes that’s a sad thought, other times liberating. It makes you feel like there’s just no chance that you’ll walk outside and see someone who shares your DNA. A tourist in your own home town.

I’ve got another cousin who came by last summer. He’s a big guy, friendly, a little drunk on fancy words. He makes movies. Or really, experimental film. He’s been posting snippets of a video he did on cow auctions. They fix the cows in a vice so that they can only face forward. Cattle all around, belting and hollering, but try as you might, you’ll never get your eyes on them.

Novel Count: 21,067

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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What are they, Dad? Cows, son. What are cows, Dad? Cows are cows, son.

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes


Coffee Log, Day 307

Hi.

Coffee: Folger’s Breakfast Blend, Brewed by my Father; My Dad drinks coffee like it’s been prescribed to him; he brews it weak, two scoops for a 12 cup pot; I must have had five full glasses of the stuff; by pot two, he made it stronger, just for me; there’s no coffee that’s as good as the coffee your father makes.

My parents have this dog that’s shaped like a sausage that my mother wraps presents for every year. We toss them down the hall and she goes running. In half an hour, the house is littered with wrapping paper.

That’s Christmas to me: something full of energy that you expect to follow a toss.

Merry Christmas. Or Merry Winter. Whether it’s with friends, family, or at home alone with a good book, I hope you got to have fun unwrapping your plans for the day. Maybe you even surprised yourself a little. And if it’s messy – if there’s paper everywhere, or if the day tore you up in it’s teeth despite the safe veneer we all expect of the holidays – then don’t worry about picking it up right now. Catch your breath. Do whatever you have to to take care of yourself.

Not every person or every family can find joy. The world’s not fair. But everyone can look inside themselves and see something worth opening. Every time you take a breath you’re proving something valuable. And I’m glad I live in a world full of so many curious persons full of curious things.

Thank you. Happy holidays.

Novel Count: 5,924

Currently Reading: Nothing! Will pick a new book after the holidays.

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One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.

Andy Rooney

Coffee Log, Day 293

Hi.

Coffee: Dunkin Donuts Drip from the bank’s breakroom; it could have been sweet, could have been bitter, but my nose is stuffed up more than an over-eager Build-a-Bear so I could hardly taste it.

Still sick. I got off work early to go to the doctors. They gave me a ‘breathing enhancer.’ It was a fancy word for an inhaler. It was my first time having albuterol. They fed me to it for fifteen minutes. By the end, I couldn’t tell a difference.

My dad’s always had asthma. He grew up with it and it got so bad his parents moved him out to Arizona for a while, empty air. So I’ve got all these memories of his inhalers from growing up. They seemed like space-age technologies, something out of Star Trek. I liked the fancy cartridges with all that tiny writing. I liked the colorful capsules he’d fit through his beard. Then there was that sound – a suck! – like the last balloon was undone. It signified something important, something I was too young to understand. Later, I realized, it signified my father was constantly working at keeping himself alive – for himself, for our family, for me.

And in the weirdest way – sick on my 29th birthday – I’ve had that same medicine touch my lungs, and I feel connected, and I feel a little closer to my family, and I feel his old strong bones pushing down those albuterol puffs beside me, and I’m thinking that whatever breaths life still has for me, however many birthdays I’ll get to see, I’ll be forever breathing a legacy of Arizona deserts, modern medicine, and a complicated will to keep going in the world no matter how much it’s prettiest things like cats and flowers might be denied you.

I appreciate my family, my father and mother. I’m glad you gave me this chance to turn 29.

Novel Count: (on hiatus while I recover from this cold)

Currently Reading: Cherry, Nico Walker (Finished! Mixed feelings overall; I’ll try to get to a review this weekend)

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and I wonder if Beethoven held his breath
the first time his fingers touched the keys
the same way a soldier holds his breath
the first time his finger clicks the trigger.
We all have different reasons for forgetting to breathe.

Andrea Gibson