Archive for the ‘Facebook Notes’ Category

Dating Pet Peeves

April 18, 2011

Following up on my “Guy Pet Peeves” post, my beautiful online pal Saida Latigue (@MochaMama42 on Twitter), had a few pet peeves of her own to share. I thought it best for Saida to express herself in a separate post. Without further ado, here are some of Saida’s dating pet peeves.

 1. A self-proclaimed gentleman has respect for my time.

You’re a man and you want to be treated and respected as such. If I am supposed to meet you at 10:00 am, calling at 10:40 am “to see if I’m on the way” is silly. If I’m meeting you somewhere crowded and popular, and I haven’t called to say I won’t arrive at the agreed-upon time to meet, shouldn’t you make yourself visible in the crowd and call at 10:15 at the latest to inquire about my ETA if you don’t see me or haven’t heard from me?

My time is valuable and I actually arrived at 9:55 am. You have no respect for me or my time, so …. NEXT!

2. Being a man means you pursue me.

You say you’d really like to get to know me better. However, to communicate with me, you text my phone intermittently. You email vague one line questions, and when I ask for an in-depth explanation, you don’t respond. You think of “conversation” as attempting to engage me in “relationship style” banter on mutual friend’s threads on Facebook.

I am no longer in grade school. I can infer you’re interested in me, but if it comes across as such a half-hearted attempt to get to know me, it’s a turn off, big time.         

3. A man is decisive and knows what he wants.

I decide to meet for drinks with someone I’ve dated in the past. As a single divorcee, sometimes I just want to spend time with a member of the opposite sex. The conversation is easy and out of curiosity, we ask each other why we’re not in a serious relationship at this time. I completely understand the “people are in your life for a reason or a season” rationale; however, when you share with me that you felt DUPED in your last relationship because the woman you were dating said she didn’t want marriage or a serious relationship and that was why you were in a relationship with  her — only to find out a YEAR later, she shares she would like to “take the relationship to another level” of  commitment and monogamy…and you join a dating website ( in retaliation) and only choose potential dates by photo — those are RED FLAGS that you haven’t yet figured out what you are doing. STILL. Sad, particularly when I have known you going on six years.          

4. GROW A SET.

Get some CAJONES about yourself. Be a man about it, do your thing as a man and be one, because I’m definitely very much a woman and don’t want to be the man. Period.

Phew! Saida laid it out there, didn’t she?  Do you agree or disagree? The floor is yours.

Advertisements

Facebook Friending Ghosts of the Past

January 18, 2011

A few weeks ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a man I’d known in college.

Someone I’d avoided for most of my college years.

It wasn’t always that way. [Name Redacted, or NR for short] was smart, funny and charming. And attractive. He was built like a linebacker, big and tall. We girls wondered if NR was big and tall all over.

I decided to find out.

After weeks of flirtation, one night NR invited me to his room. There was alcohol. There was an attempt – a fumbled, bungled and ultimately unsuccessful attempt. Equipment failure played a major factor.

There was the late night walk of shame back to my side of the dorm.

And the next day and the weeks that followed, there were the rumors of how wild I was, what a freak I was, how NR had been all up in that.

The big, baggy shirts I liked to wear at night provided unexpected grist for the rumor mill. I had taken a few of my father’s old shirts to college. At night, I would don one of Daddy’s shirts over a pair of shorts or sweatpants.

I was wearing shorts under one of Daddy’s shirts the night I went to NR’s room. Of course, the rumor mill said I went to NR’s room wearing just the shirt, with no pants or panties underneath.

I never knew if NR initiated the rumors or just went along with everyone else’s assumptions. I could have ruined his reputation by disclosing the equipment failure issue. But I just wanted to forget the whole thing. 

The rumor mill wasn’t about to let that happen. Thanks to the rumors, I started getting all sorts of unwanted attention from NR’s boys.

One of NR’s boys, however, appeared sympathetic. He claimed not to believe what everyone was saying about me. He invited me to his room to talk, and I tearfully confessed what really happened, and didn’t happen, with NR — all the embarrassing details.

Sympathy Guy claimed to be upset and angry about NR’s lies. He pretended to be a friend, a big brother.

And then Sympathy Guy raped me. He forced me to perform oral sex on him that night. I will never forget the gagging, choking, spitting; the feeling like I’d never breathe again. I felt lucky he didn’t force intercourse as well. I begged him to let me leave, and he did.

Although I didn’t press charges, I didn’t keep quiet about what Sympathy Guy had done. The rumor mill got the word out. I guess not even a ho deserved that.

I steered clear of NR, Sympathy Guy — the whole lot of them — from then on. Thanks to them, I also learned to stay out of men’s dorm rooms at night.

Although I can’t hold NR responsible for what Sympathy Guy did, they are forever linked in my thoughts. Sympathy Guy’s flawed logic went like this:

a) According to his boy NR, I was a ho.

b) A ho could be had, without the need to question whether she wants it or not. Either she always wants it, because she’s a ho, or it doesn’t matter whether or not she wants it, because she’s a ho. Therefore, he was entitled to shove his penis down my throat.

When I got NR’s friend request, I thought about accepting it, as a symbol of forgiveness. NR had made a stupid, young adult mistake. His lies led to Sympathy Guy raping me, but I couldn’t say he was the cause of the rape. And anyway, it all happened such a long time ago.

Furthermore, what does being Facebook friends really mean, anyway? I have over 600 Facebook friends, and communicate with less than 100 of them. Accepting NR’s friend request wouldn’t mean we have to actually become friends.

On the other hand, forgiving NR doesn’t require me to feel differently about what he did. NR let people think we’d had some kind of wild, crazy sex rather than admitting we didn’t have sex at all. I have a right to still feel some kind of way about that.

Forgiving NR also doesn’t mean I have to allow him access to me and my contacts — or expose myself to his. For all I know, NR and Sympathy Guy might still be connected, and Sympathy Guy is someone I have no desire to hear from ever again.

No matter how insignificant Facebook can be, it’s still a level of access to my personal life that I have the right to control.

While I mulled it all over, the friend request disappeared.

If NR tries to friend me again, perhaps I’ll link him to this post. I’m not seeking an apology. I’m not even sure an apology would change how I feel. His friend request reminded me of an unpleasant and painful learning experience.

My own daughter is only 4 years younger than I was when I had my encounters with NR and Sympathy Guy. I will share this story with her, in hopes that she can learn from her mom’s mistakes.

And if NR and Sympathy Guy have daughters, I hope they teach them to avoid young men who are like the young men they each used to be.

Fighting Christmas Depression

December 12, 2009

Used under license from FreeFoto.com

I wrote this on December 21, 2008.  A lot has changed in a year.

Everyone always says that Christmas is not — or shouldn’t be — about giving, but receiving. Over the years, people have offered me wonderful, well-meaning suggestions for raising children who want to spend Christmas serving others instead of being served, children who are more excited about giving than they are about receiving.

I have not met the children of these well-meaning folks. I am sure their children are terrific. But in my experience, young children are terrifically selfish and self-centered. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect them not to want stuff. A lot of it.

I tried out a few of those suggestions on Cami. Earlier today, I said, “Hey, how about next year, we stay home for Christmas and serve at a soup kitchen?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I’m not kidding. Why would I kid about something like that?”

“Ummm . . . then no.”

“Why not?”

“Because – eww – I don’t want to spend my Christmas serving at a soup kitchen! Christmas is MY day! Christmas break is the longest break of the year. I don’t want to spend it serving other people. Let other people serve other people.”

“Well, Cami, if everyone said let someone else do it, then no one would do it.”

She looked at me. “Seriously, Mom, you don’t want to go to a soup kitchen, either. Where is this coming from, anyway?”

I knew better than to ask Randy.

My children are not, at this stage in their lives and development, interested in giving. They don’t even buy me a gift for Christmas. My children want stuff. A lot of it. And they’re not shy about demanding it.

I also wanted stuff at Christmastime when I was a kid, but I knew not to expect it. My father was a Ford auto worker. My mother worked only occasionally outside the home, typically in low-paying service jobs. And I am the youngest of six. Even in years where there were no worries about union strikes or company layoffs, big Christmases simply weren’t an option. I would study the JC Penney and Sears catalogs like I used to study our encyclopedias, and a trip to Hudson’s was like a trip to Heaven, but I wasn’t silly enough to actually think I was getting much of anything.

I make just enough money, I guess, to delude my children into thinking that they should have presents under a tree somewhere. Indeed, that there should be a tree somewhere, with presents for them under it. I suppose I have no one to blame for that but myself.

When I was married, my ex-husband and I shopped separately for the kids. As with everything else, we couldn’t agree on what to buy or how much to spend. While I was buying robots from Sharper Image and globes from Imaginarium and educational software and books from Barnes & Noble and magnetic building toys from Toys R Us and FAO Schwarz, he would be at some down-market toy store in or outside Philadelphia, buying up every marked-down, leftover, on sale toy he could find.

The net result was that the kids always had a lot of gifts under the tree. They treated each group of toys with equal disdain. They would ignore my educational toys until there was nothing, absolutely nothing, else to do. The stuff he bought would be played with, broken, and in the garbage by New Year’s Day. Yet, every year, they expected more, and we obliged.

The first year of my separation, I had no energy for Christmas. I couldn’t imagine trimming a tree and cooking and shopping and wrapping and baking and creating this wonderful special Christmas all by myself. I wasn’t feeling wonderful and I wasn’t feeling special. I was feeling broke. The divorce was nasty, contentious and expensive, and took place during a down economic cycle. I had just taken a job paying about 40% of what I used to earn as a law firm partner, and I watched legal bills, on top of day-to-day living expenses, eat through the rest of my savings like cartoon termites.

In desperation, I turned to my good friend Claire, who loves my children and Christmas seemingly in equal measure. Her own children are now adults, and she missed having little people at home baking cookies for Santa, decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, and running downstairs at break-neck speed on Christmas morning to tear open wrapper after wrapper and squeal in delight. So I brought her my kids for Christmas. My mother loaned me some money to buy the kids a few presents – and Claire supplied the rest.

Going to Auntie Claire’s for Christmas has now become a tradition of sorts for us, if four years can make a tradition. My financial situation is more stable now, so I try to bring more than just greedy kids to Virginia. Despite my baking phobia, I even bake cookies at Claire’s – chocolate chip ones, following the recipe on the back of the Nestle’s chips. I’m told they’re good, and whether they actually are or not, someone always eats them. Thanks to Claire and her family, my kids get that wonderful, special Christmas experience that I couldn’t and still can’t provide them on my own.

But the kids’ Christmas gift expectations haven’t changed since the divorce, even though their father hasn’t participated in the spending frenzy in over three years. I still feel a certain amount of pressure every year to make sure that, in addition to tree-trimming and cookies for Santa and a fantastic Christmas feast, they also have a decent number of gifts under the tree.

It wears me out.

This year, Cami told me, “Oh, I only want two things for Christmas this year – a laptop and a pair of UGGs.”

“Oh, so only $2000, and I’m done with you?”

“You wouldn’t have to get such an expensive laptop,” she offered as a compromise.

Later, she added a Blackberry to the mix, in place of the iPhone requested previously. I have never, ever, in my entire life, received a $2000 Christmas gift. From anyone. Not even myself. The package is an easy no. Other than the Blackberry, which is patently ridiculous, the components are harder.

Cami makes a convincing argument for needing a laptop. She uses the computer a lot for school. She has a school e-mail account, which is supposed to be used to email assignments and communicate with teachers and peers about assignments. Of course, it is also used for gossip, chat, uploading songs and music videos, and other non-academic purposes. I wouldn’t mind the extra activity, except my daughter cannot multi-task. Excess socializing, at school and online, led to poor grades and placed her on academic probation for the first grading period. Her grades have improved recently, but I have decided she’s not mature enough to handle the responsibility of having a laptop in the privacy of her room. That’s part of the story – the part I tell her whenever she renews the laptop discussion.

The rest of the story is financial, because if I could afford a laptop, I’d buy one and figure out a way to enforce responsible use. The real reason I’m not buying Cami a laptop, even though it almost rises to the level of a “need,” is that I do not want to spend thousands of dollars on Christmas presents right now, with the economy in such bad shape. Watching friends get laid off from high six-figure Wall Street jobs serves as a reminder that my job is not guaranteed. It would be illogical to deplete the emergency fund so the kids can have a fabulous Christmas, and with tax season just around the corner and summer camp payments coming due right after that, Christmas needs to be a low-key affair this year.

I feel badly about always having to say no. I know many, if not most, of her friends at school have laptops. The layout of my apartment requires that the desktop computer remain in my room. She can use the computer in my room for homework, but after a while, I get tired of having her in my room, and I start demanding that she “get on with it.” I tell myself that I’m keeping her from wasting time and teaching her to be efficient, but mostly I’m just being a nag, and I know it.

And as for the UGGs – no, they’re not definitely not a need, any more than the Blackberry. Yet I remember ogling pearl-button angora sweaters at Hudson’s the same way she ogles the UGGs in my Bloomingdale’s catalogs. I would love to get her at least one thing she doesn’t need but just wants. In light of the tough economy and looming bills, I can’t justify buying the UGGs, either. It may be irrational, but that bothers me.

Then there’s my son. I thought he would be easy. When we first started talking about Santa lists, he mentioned only a Bakugan toy costing about $20 at Toys R Us. I guess he must have then spoken to Cami, because the next time we talked, his list had expanded to include a new Nintendo DS, a Wii, and a lot of new games. He still believes in Santa, so I told him that since a lot of mommies and daddies lost their jobs this year, Santa was not giving anyone a lot of Christmas gifts this year, and was instead helping the mommies and daddies with some of the things they need, too.

 He was fine with that explanation, but yesterday, I made the mistake of reminding Cami, in front of him, that “I’m not buying a lot of stuff this year.” He caught on.

“So, Mom, it’s you? Santa isn’t real?”

Cami immediately jumped up from the computer to whisper in my ear that they’d just had a discussion in her Philosophy class about the morality of perpetuating the Santa myth. I wasn’t interested in philosophy in that moment. I told her to shut up and sit down.

“Randy,” I said, “will it make a difference to you one way or the other?”

He didn’t hesitate. “I want Santa to be real.”

“Well, Randy,” Cami piped up, the weight of Kant behind her, “I have some bad news.”

I hissed at her the way our cat used to hiss at the dog we no longer have, the way I now hiss at the cat when she’s on my furniture. He already isn’t getting 75% of the items on his Christmas list. If Santa is still important to him, why take it away?

Cami often misses non-verbal clues, but between that hiss and the look on my face, she stopped cold.

“Well, then,” I told Randy, daring my daughter to contradict me, “if that’s what you want to believe, that’s what it is.”

He was momentarily satisfied, although he’s made a few doubting references to Santa since then.

I know it’s silly for me to be even slightly depressed about not being able to spend a lot of money on Christmas presents this year. I know – it’s meaningless, they won’t remember the presents but they’ll remember the great times with friends and family for a lifetime – yada yada yada.

And bull.

I don’t remember the presents I actually did receive, the few Christmases when we did get presents, but boy do I remember, even today, the stuff I wanted and didn’t get. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it. I don’t yet know what I’m getting them, but they will have presents under the tree. Not everything they wanted, and some things – like clothing – that they don’t want, but definitely need.

I know we’ll have a great time at Claire’s, and the kids will be happy with whatever they get. I just hope, by Christmas morning, I manage to get over my own disappointment at not being able to do more.

Losing Mom

October 23, 2009

“This is the second big tragedy of the summer,” my eight-year-old son announced glumly, tears welling up in his eyes.

I was momentarily grateful for the thought patterns of an eight-year-old, which put a smile on my face for the first time all day.  I couldn’t fault my son for ranking the death of his grandmother second to the death of Michael Jackson as the summer’s worst tragedy.  Grandma didn’t have a Thriller video in her legacy.  But then, on the other hand, Michael Jackson couldn’t bake pies like Grandma.

For me, it’s no contest.  As my son later said, “This must be even harder for you, Mom, because Grandma was my grandma, but she was your mom.”

Indeed.

I got the call I had been dreading and anticipating and wishing away at about a quarter to 5 a.m. on August 14.  I knew it was bad news.  “No good news comes at this time of morning,” I muttered to myself as I awoke to answer the phone.  The only question in my mind was, was the bad news about Mom or my brother Greg?

“Carolyn, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Mama died this morning,” my sister Cheryl said.

“Oh.  Okay.”

At least, that’s what I think I said.  I don’t remember what I actually said, or what we specifically talked about.  I understood that my brother Greg had found my mother in the dining room floor, unresponsive.  She had fallen out of her favorite chair at the table, the chair where she ate, received visitors, and sat to read her Bible every night.  Greg called my other siblings in the Detroit area and told everyone to “come, just come.”   Someone called 911.  The EMS medics pronounced her dead of a massive heart attack.  My oldest sister called me.

These are the facts as I know them.   I wasn’t there when my dad died, and I wasn’t there when my mom died.   My own selfish ambitions had taken me far away from the city of Detroit long before.  Somewhere deep inside, I feel just the tiniest bit of guilt about that.

I went upstairs and told my 12-year-old daughter, then gently extricated myself from her arms to go downstairs and tell my nephew, my second oldest sister’s son, who was visiting from Howard University. 

I decided not to tell my son until later.  It was his last day of baseball camp, and I saw no need to ruin his day.  I told him after he returned home from camp, after more of the details of the broad strokes of the day had been filled in, after I had accepted in my head but not my heart the truth behind those words:

Mama died.

My mother suffered her first heart attack in about March 2004, during her second and last visit to New York City.  She had come to help me.  My marriage was falling apart and my husband was erratic and unstable.  I was afraid of him and didn’t know who else to call. 

In the back of my head, I must have had a vision of my mother going to help my aunt get rid of her incorrigible husband many years ago.  Mama had packed her brother-in-law’s things in garbage bags, set the bags out on the front porch, locked the doors and put a huge pot of water on the stove to boil.  When he came home and demanded to be let in, my mother gave him two options: take his shit and get to steppin’, or force open the door and get a pot of boiling hot water thrown in his face.  He chose the first option and went to his mama’s house.

I don’t think I expected my mother to put a pot of water on the stove to boil for my ex.  Nor did I ask her to.  I did figure he’d stop acting like a madman with her around.   It never occurred to me to ask Mama how she was feeling, if she was up for the trip.  She offered to come and I accepted.

When I picked her up from LaGuardia Airport, I was startled a bit, as I had been in the last several years, to realize that this little old lady in the wheelchair was my mother.  I wasn’t used to thinking of her as old.  Mama had always been a giant, even though she was only 5′ 2″.  She was formidable and stubborn, with an iron will that could move mountains.  If Mama said it was so, then that’s how it was, or how it was going to be.  She had been more God to me in my childhood than the Holy Trinity combined.

As always, Mama was a little old lady until she started talking, and then she was back to just being Mom.  I drove her home, and she seemed fine.  She said she was hungry.  I hadn’t cooked.  My kitchen cabinets were pretty bare, but I did have a tin of sardines (but the good ones, packed in olive oil, OK?).  I offered her sardines and crackers, and she accepted.

A few minutes after she started eating, she ran to the bathroom.

I raised an eyebrow.  I hadn’t seen my mother run like that in decades.  I heard the sound of retching.

“Mom, are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” she said, and then I heard the sound of vomiting again.

Mom was on the floor, clutching the toilet, vomiting like I’d never seen before.  She told me the sardines must have given her heartburn. 

“I feel this pressure in my chest, and that’s what’s making me feel like I have to throw up,” she managed to explain before vomiting again.

I ran out of the bathroom and picked up the phone.  “Mom, I’m calling EMS,” I said.

“For what?”

“For you.”

“I don’t need no EMS.  This is just heartburn,” she protested.

“Then they’ll send you back home,” I said as the 911 operator began to take my information.

I am not a doctor, and had never heard heart attack symptoms described as pressure and nausea, but something in the questions the dispatcher asked — something in her tone — made a little thought enter my mind: “Mama’s having a heart attack.”

That little thought was confirmed when the EMT techs showed up and gave Mom a nitroglycerin tablet to put under her tongue.  By this time, my ex-husband had come downstairs to see what the commotion was all about.

“She’s having a heart attack,” he announced, even though the EMT techs hadn’t said anything.  “My mother had heart trouble.  I’ve seen this before.”

Shut up, I hissed at him in my head, but I said nothing.  There was no point in arguing with him and causing her additional distress.

But he had been right.  She was rushed to St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital, and within two hours, she was in the cath lab, getting two stents implanted into her arteries to clear near-complete blockages. 

I found out later that Mom had been having symptoms all week before she boarded that plane.  She had been out of breath after walking a very short distance.  She had complained of “heartburn” and mild nausea all week.  She had her first heart attack within two hours after landing at LaGuardia Airport.  I shudder to think what would have happened if her flight had been delayed.

Back then, we were told she had achieved a good result.  She was treated just as her heart attack symptoms began, so there was little damage to the heart muscle.  She was advised to get a pacemaker, but she refused.  So she was advised to start a program of moderate exercise, change her diet, control her high blood pressure by taking her medication regularly, take the anti-cholesterol drug Plavix, and put herself under the regular care of a cardiologist when she returned home to Detroit.

Mom did . . . pretty much none of the above.  She kept frying her foods and cooking with salt.  She continued to refuse a pacemaker.  She stopped taking the Plavix.  She refused to take the new blood pressure medication she had been prescribed.  She saw her cardiologist a couple of times, and then stopped.  She tried walking around the block, but after a few outings, she realized she was too weak to do it alone.  She feared collapsing or being attacked by some thugs in the neighborhood who decided to prey on an old lady.  She sat in her favorite chair and rarely left the house.

And that was how she liked it.

I argued with my mom, begged her to go the doctor more often, implored her to listen to her doctors when she was hospitalized again three years later, and it was pretty clear things were not going in the right direction. 

(There was one final hospitalization prior to her death, but she was released with a bunch of prescriptions she never would have been able to take on her own, and she died at home, as she obviously wished.)

I wasn’t the only one, of course.  My sister Caroletta worked even harder to try to get Mom to do what we thought was the right thing.  Mom said and did just enough to shut us up, and then went right back to doing what she was going to do.

My mother’s will was unlike anything I have ever encountered from anyone else in my life, with the possible exception of my 12-year-old.  When she made her mind up to do something, there was no stopping her.  This was a woman who sat in the back of my elementary school classrooms to see and hear first-hand what and how I was being taught.  When she was dissatisfied, she would call the teacher out into the hallway to speak with her.  When that didn’t get the results she wanted, she went to the principal and threatened to go all the way to the school board.

(Did I mention I was an unpopular kid in elementary school?  You’re not surprised, are you?)

Mom fought for me to get a great education in a mediocre Detroit public elementary school.  She somehow coerced my notoriously cheap father into sending me to Catholic school for 8th grade, because she worried I was succuumbing to the negative influences of the bad neighborhood middle school. 

I tricked her a bit for high school, by failing to tell her I’d gotten accepted to the Catholic high school she wanted to send me to, so that I could go to Cass Technical High School, Detroit’s top citywide public high school, instead.  But by then, she didn’t have to fight for me anymore.  She believed in me so much that I was more than a bit cocky when it came to academic achievement.  I’d learned from the master how to fight for myself.

My mother also was a woman of incredible talent.  Her vegetable garden was the stuff of legend, where everything grew and nothing ever died.  (We used to joke that Mom’s garden was the real Pet Sematary, but we were too afraid to bury a dead thing there to test out that theory for real.)  She made pies — as recently as a month before her death — that were better than any restaurant — “store-bought,” as she said with disdain — pie I’ve ever eaten.  Because of her — and my father, but mostly her — I made it from the “hood” to Harvard Law School, to partner of one of the country’s most prestigious law firms and vice president of one of the world’s premier cosmetics companies.

And it bothers me to no end that she never turned that iron will on herself, and willed herself to live, instead of allowing herself to die.

Since her next-to-last hospitalization, I would periodically dream about getting that phone call, hearing those words — “Mama died.”  And then I would immediately wake myself up, thinking, “That’s silly.  Mama’s not dead.”  I wish I could wake up and find out this was still a dream, that I could just call Mama and hear her voice and assure myself that she was truly, 100% alive.

I know better, but I still wish.

I used to think of Mama as a series of contradictions.  She used to infuriate me because I couldn’t make sense of some of her decisions, including her decision to refuse medical treatment and accept the risk of a massive cardiac arrest.  Since her death, I’ve been consumed by trying to resolve those surface contradictions to find the common thread.  For example: Mama was an excellent cook and would prepare meals for people for free, but never took up the suggestion that she could open a restaurant or catering business of her own.   She made all my clothes until I was in middle school and decided I was too old to still wear “hand-made” clothes.  She would give our neighbor, who ran a tailoring business out of her home, advanced sewing tips, but she wouldn’t try to get business of her own. 

She was a snob extraordinaire, but not in the usual sense.  She was not impressed by money, or people with money, or the things they possessed.  She taught us that class had nothing at all to do with wealth, and that there were plenty of people with money who lacked class, and vice versa.  She wouldn’t let us associate with the classless, regardless of income or family net worth. 

Yet she couldn’t stand to see people go hungry.  The same people we were not allowed to play or associate with as children, grew up to be the adults, the neighborhood drunks and winos and crackheads, who she fed and whose children she fed, because it wasn’t the childrens’ fault that their parents put their substance abuse ahead of their children.  She leveraged all of her talents for the care of her family, and when we were gone, she took care of the people in the neighborhood, the struggling adults who had been children with her children, and who became like her surrogate children.

I’m no longer as angry with my mother as I was when she died.  I was angry with her because I had convinced myself that her death was due to her stubbornness, that it was avoidable, that she could have been with us many, many more years had she only cooperated, acquiesced, done as she was told.  As I type those words, I am reminded of the beginning of the Book of Ecclesiastes:  “Meaningless!  Meaningless!  says the Teacher.  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”  On one hand, I wonder — what difference does another five, ten, fifteen years make, compared to the eternity that you spend in death? 

On the other hand — in five years, her youngest great-grandchild would have been five, and would remember her great-grandma.  In five years, my children would be 13 and 18, respectively.  She would have been able to see both of my kids reach adulthood and young adulthood.  

We would have had five more years to try to crack those apple and sweet potato pie recipes.

Five more years of everything I miss about her, and would miss about her even more five years from now.

So I try to hold onto the things that make me smile, the special moments that were our moments alone, that no one else shared. 

When I was growing up, my mother was a notorious prude when it came to topics like sex.  When I started my period, she handed me a book.  When I had questions about sex, she handed me a different book.  “Let me know if  you have any questions,” she said in a way that made it clear that questions were not welcome and would not be easily entertained. 

I had tons of questions, most of which were answered by the porno books and magazines I found under my brothers’ mattresses, or in Harold Robbins’ novels.

After she came to New York to help me with my ex-husband, my mother and I began having “girl talks.”  

Somehow, a floodgate opened up that I wasn’t expecting.  When I would come to Detroit to visit– after the kids were in bed and her favorite televangelists were off the TV — we would sit at the dining room table, Mom in her favorite chair and me in the chair next to it, and chit chat about woman stuff. 

And by woman stuff, I mean sex.  

And by sex, I mean the stuff you don’t usually discuss with your 70-something year-old mom. 

Mom did most of the chatting.   I was too busy most of the time being appalled.

And oh, boy, did Mom have some stories.

I was real good at listening — and laughing — but less so at sharing.   Once, she asked me very directly about my sex life with my ex-husband — after oversharing some info about my dad that I never needed to know — and I totally punted.  I gave her enough of a response to keep the “girl chat” thing going, but inwardly, I froze.   Talk to my mother, my Mom, about stuff like oral sex and anal sex and oh my God are you fucking kidding me?

And yet, in these months after her death, it’s the girl chats that make me feel the least like crying, that make me feel warm and special and happy, as if she was still here.

There is no “over it.”  Every day without her gets a bit easier, until it doesn’t.  I have dates embedded in my brain that will forever be difficult:  August 14, November 21 (her birthday), Thanksgiving, Christmas. 

Then there are just the times I want to call her, the random triggers that I suspect will never go away.  I recently traveled to Las Vegas and Miami within the same week.  When Mom was alive, I would always call her before I got on a plane and give her all my flight information, just in case.  I would call when I landed, to let her know I landed safely.  I would call when I boarded and de-planed again at my final destination.  And if I traveled someplace I’d never been to before, I would tell her all about the places I’d been, in hopes that one day I could encourage her to travel more, to see more of the world.

This time, I felt lost when I was traveling.  I kept texting my flight information to my sisters, since someone in the world should know where I was.  I wanted so badly after those recent trips to pick up the phone and call her and tell her all about Vegas and Miami.

After a few months, people stop asking you how you’re doing, are you OK.  People sort of expect you to get over it and move on.  And death is a subject most people want to avoid, anway. 

So, in case you were wondering:  I’m OK, except for those times I’m not.  I’ll never be over it.  I’ll never stop missing my Mom.  I’ll never stop wanting her to be at the other end of a phone line when I call, or rising up from her favorite chair when I enter her house.  It will never be OK that she’s gone, until I’m no longer here.

Other than that, I’m fine.

Leave Me Alone

July 19, 2009

Most days, I love Harlem. 

I love seeing the historic Apollo Theater every morning as I go to work.  I love passing it on my way to the gym. 

I love that the Magic Johnson Theater on 124th & Frederick Douglass Blvd. is still thriving.  When it opened, Magic wanted to prove that multiplexes in black neighborhoods could profit without attracting undue gang violence.  (Now, of course, he reps for Rent-a-Center, helping them bilk our communities out of millions of dollars.) 

I love that in Harlem, 6th, 7th and 8th Avenues are named for important black historical figures — Malcolm X (6th Avenue), Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass (8th Avenue). 

I love that there are two Starbucks on 125th Street, within a block of each other — one on 125th & Malcolm X Blvd., the other on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 

But when it comes to exercising outdoors, I really, really hate being in Harlem. (more…)

Waiting

July 9, 2009

A day at Family Court is a day of waiting.

Although the cases are calendared, there is no set time for your case to be called.  You wait until you are called, which could, and sometimes does, take all day.  This type of waiting requires Zen-like patience.

Most of the people in Family Court — poor, uneducated (or under-educated), lower-class — are not patient.  So Family Court is noisy and uncivilized. 

It is also not a place where people dress like they are in court.  Unlike the U.S. federal or New York State Supreme Courts, only the lawyers and court workers wear suits, skirts and dresses.  Women wear tight tees stretched over sagging bellies and explosive muffin tops, their thighs and hips sausaged into low-rise jeans.  Men wear baggy jeans.  Everyone is tattooed. 

Most overheard conversations include liberal doses of the “f” word.

I have to go to work after I leave court, so I am one of the few petitioners or respondents who is dressed properly for a court appearance.  My dress and heels feel wrong on the benches with the masses.  I feel a greater kinship with the lawyers and caseworkers than the people sitting on the benches with me, waiting like I am for my case to be called. 

I feel out of place.

For the last sixteen months, I have been coming to Family Court every other month for a hearings in connection with a visitation petition filed by my ex-husband.  As the case is still pending, I will not comment on the merits or any of the specifics, except to note that  in those sixteen months, there have been approximately three or four face-to-face visits between my  husband and our kids.

I comply with my legal, moral and ethical obligations to appear on time for each court appearance, and to come back, and back, and back, with no end in sight.

Family Court is the only time I see my ex-husband.  I strongly prefer it that way.

Seeing him incites no feelings of nostalgia for our moribund relationship, no stirrings of attraction towards the man with whom I shared a bed for eight long years of my life.  My memories of our relationship are generally unpleasant.  The few fond ones have nothing to do with romance. 

He looks at me with disgust, and I look at him with confusion, trying to figure out, once again, how I ever wound up with him.  It is plainly obvious to me now that we simply never should have been together.  The mismatch is so clear to me now.  I can’t help but wonder how I overlooked it for so long.

There was a time when I wouldn’t look at him at all, fearing that he wanted to intimidate me with his glare.  Now, I stare openly at him as I try, in vain, to figure out what I ever saw in him.  I do this not to understand the past, but to avoid making that same mistake in the future.  He’s the one who drops his eyes to avoid my gaze. 

I notice he is reading The Daily News and carrying a book as well.  For a minute, I think, “well, that’s it — he always did read a lot, and I always admired that.”  But I don’t think I was desperate or shallow enough to marry a man just because he was literate.

We wait.

One of the men on the benches walks up to him and speaks.  He rises and greets the man with the universal not-a-hug, not-a-handshake gesture that seems peculiar to black men.  Or at least, black men of a certain ilk; those who have been steeped in black culture.  My 8-year-old son has not yet learned that gesture from his father, and won’t learn it from me.  I am not OK with all the ways that I can’t teach my son how to be a black man, but since I wasn’t planning to be a single parent when he was conceived, I accept it.

The gentleman speaking to my ex is not anyone I ever met while we were together.  I guess that the man is the same age as my ex, although he looks much older and, in his baggy low-rise shorts, dresses much younger.   He is of a type that became familiar to me during the time I was with my ex.  My ex is a substance abuse counselor, and many of his friends are recovering addicts.  On the man’s weathered, limping legs are legions of scars.  Healed injection sites.

I am not sitting close enough to overhear their conversation, but my ex has made a few covert gestures in my direction.  I imagine he is categorizing all the different types of bitches I am, especially since I have dared to not just roll over in these proceedings.  He doesn’t introduce me to his friend, nor do I expect him to.  We are not friends; I’m not sure we ever were.

We wait.

We are both pro se in these proceedings, meaning we are each representing ourselves, without benefit of counsel.  Although I am a lawyer, I do not practice family law, and my legal training gives me no advantages here.  I have done nothing to prepare for this routine court appearance.  There is nothing to prepare.  At this point, I can anticipate — accurately — what will happen.  Hiring a lawyer for this would have been a complete waste of time.

Today there will be no surprises.

We wait.

I am writing in my journal when he approaches me, wordlessly, and hands me a cold bottle of Poland Springs from an unseen vending machine.  I accept it and say, “Thank you.”  He does not respond.  Perhaps he grunts a response I don’t expect, and so do not hear.

I make sure the seal is intact before I open it and take a sip.

It dawns on me that I haven’t yet seen the law guardian assigned to represent the children in our case, and I realize her absence is the reason we are still waiting.  I know she has been ill, and I hope she’s well enough to attend today’s session.   If she is not there, the case will be adjourned and re-calendared, and I would have missed a morning of work for nothing. 

Just as I complete that thought, I see her.  She looks well.  We chat briefly, and I look around for my ex, who is convinced that she and I are conspiring against him.  I know the sight of the two of us chatting fuels his conspiracy theories.  I don’t see him.

Finally, our case is called, and it goes exactly as I expect it to.  In sum — nothing happens.  We are scheduled to return in September.

The court officer hands me a slip of paper with the date and time of our next scheduled appearance.  I try to take my time leaving the courtroom, but when I reach the elevator lobby, he is still there, waiting for the next elevator down. 

I walk past him and duck into the ladies’ room.  I stand in the full-length mirror, adjust my dress and admire my calves until I figure enough time has passed for Elvis to have left the building.

He is gone when I return to the elevator lobby, but still I take my time to get downstairs.  He is not smoking a cigarette outside, not waiting to ambush me as he has done in the past, but still I wait. 

I take out my journal again, writing as I watch and listen to a man and woman arguing about how he treated their kid during his last visit.  It isn’t long before the argument settles into a tired, worn groove of arguments past:

“You spend all day at the beach instead of working,” she says. 

“You can’t hurt me anymore,” he says.

I put my head down and keep writing.  I no longer feel out of place.  I used to have these arguments with my ex in the hallways outside of the courtroom during my divorce proceedings.  My advanced degree didn’t shield me from this drama.  My ex and I don’t have these arguments anymore, because we simply don’t talk at all.  

However, I would never tell him he can’t hurt me anymore, because he can — by hurting my kids.  They are hurt most by the lack of a meaningful relationship with their father. That’s why I continue to participate in these proceedings, hearing after hearing — because I hope that this will somehow lead to some type of renewed relationship among my ex and the children.

But I am tired of waiting.

I’ll Get It!!!

May 13, 2009

I wrote this piece when my daughter, who is now 12, was 8, and just starting to talk to her friends on the phone.  Now that she’s 12, I find that things have turned out pretty much as I predicted back then…

“I’ll get it!” my daughter shouted over the din of the TV, some wannabe singer screeching out something on American Idol.  She practically jumped off the top bunk down to the floor.  “It might be Nick!”

Before I could say anything, she had answered the phone and was talking into it.  “It’s me!  Hey, Nick!”  Then to me: “Mom, I’m going to go get the other phone.  Can you hang up when I pick up?”

I nodded, still shell-shocked.  This child, who just a few minutes earlier had been arguing with me about the Idol wannabes (“Mo-om, Carrie soooo can sing!”), was no teenager.  She wasn’t even a pre-teen or tweener.  She had just celebrated her eighth birthday two months earlier. 

Granted, there was the whole early puberty thing — she had just undergone a whole series of tests to determine why she was already budding breasts and sprouting hairs, and earlier that week I finally had to stop denying her the right to wear the little training bras she had received as a Christmas present from her former babysitter.  (I still don’t know what a training bra is “training” the breasts to do.)  But I wasn’t ready for her to fly off the bed and grab the phone because she was expecting some boy to call.  And as I half-listened to my daughter’s side of her conversation with Nick, I was both satisfied that the conversation was entirely innocent, and disturbed by the harbinger of things to come.

My daughter has always found boys easier to befriend than girls.  Boys tend not to judge you based on what you’re wearing, or what clique you do or don’t belong to, or how cool anyone thinks you are.  At the same time, she has always longed for that one true girlfriend.  This eighth year of her life has been especially difficult, because with all the changes going on already in her body, she seems to need that elusive best girlfriend now more than ever.  Eight-year-old boys, who are silly and irritating most of the time, are a poor substitute.  

In my daughter’s case, with the simmering hormones of precocious puberty stirring up all kinds of emotions she can’t yet identify, let alone name, it’s inevitable that she’s going to start becoming truly aware that the boys she chats on the phone with, hangs out with after school, and has playdates and even sleepovers with, is a bona fide member of the opposite sex.  And, come to think of it, they’re kind of cute.  In my experience, that recognition usually blows the friendship to pieces.  I’m grateful she’s too young for that recognition to occur, but I know it’s going to happen — and when it does, I suspect (and fear) some of her male friendships won’t survive.

I listened to my daughter in the other room, talking to Nick about school, other kids and parents.  She spoke in cool, calm tones, without any of that exaggerated language, copied from Nickeledeon and Disney Channel tween-focused shows, that 8 year olds use when they want to talk the way they imagine teenagers do.  There was no “what-EVER!,” no “Oh.My.GOD!!!!”  It all sounded frighteningly grown up. 

After a few minutes, I had to see what was going on, because suddenly I couldn’t hear her side of the conversation.  Her voice seemed to have dropped an octave or two, and that’s when I knew it was time to get her off the phone.

“Okay, Cami, five minutes,” I said anxiously, trying to be fair, but wishing I’d just told her it was time to hang up.

“Okay!” came the again-audible response.  Phone privileges were still pretty new to her, so she was unusually malleable.

A few minutes later, I again couldn’t hear my daughter’s voice.  “Cami, time to get off!”

“I’m already off!  Nick’s mom told him it was time to hang up already!”

I smiled.  I knew there was a reason I liked Nick’s mom.  I was glad at least one of us hadn’t wimped out of our responsibility.

The next day, as I was leaving my daughter’s school after dropping her off, I ran into Nick and his mom. 

“So, our guys have become quite the little phone pals, I see,” I said.

“Yeah,” she grunted.  We shared a knowing smile, an unspoken expression of relief that they were still only 8.  Nick was oblivious to the parental disdain going on above his head.  But he didn’t call that night.  Fortunately, being only 8, my daughter didn’t even notice.

Field of Dreams

April 9, 2009

One of the most confusing things about my childhood was the endless series of contradictions that was and is my mother.  My mother was strict.  So strict we had to come inside when the street lights came on.  So strict that we had to walk home along the same route, every day, and straying from that path meant trouble, and in all likelihood, a whuppin’.  My sisters and I were not allowed to let other little girls play in our hair.  We had to sleep in bras from the moment the first breast buds made their awkward appearance.  There were more rules than any child could possibly remember, and the devil to pay if you broke any of them.

And yet, with Mama’s permission, our brothers smoked weed in the house, every day.

My parents converted our attic into a shared bedroom for my three brothers when puberty made the already infeasible — three boy children and three girl children in one bedroom — downright impossible.  We didn’t have air conditioning, so on hot summer days, my brothers would crouch to catch whatever breezes blew into the small windows of a hot attic, and blow smoke back out.  As I walked home from school, I smelled our house long before I got to it.  Once inside, the familiar smell wafted down the stairs and into the rest of the house, overpowering my mother’s more pleasant cooking aromas.  

My mother didn’t like it, but rationalized it this way:  “If they’re going to do it, I’d rather they do it in the house, rather than out in the street somewhere.” 

In The Street was a place my mother distrusted with all her heart.  I grew up thinking In The Street was actually a street where everything imaginable took place.  Of all the questionable streets in the City of Detroit, I never could figure out which street In The Street actually was.  When I was old enough to start going out by myself or with friends, I began to understand that In The Street was, for my mother, anyplace off our front lawn.

My brothers’ friends knew our house was the place to be when the time came to get your smoke on.  We lost track of how many guys came to our house every day, trudging through the house to the kitchen and up to the attic bedroom.  Even if they’d never been to our house before, they needed no directions; like dogs, they would track the scent straight through the house — past my father on the living room couch, watching Tiger baseball; past us girls in the dining room, talking on the phone or doing homework; past my mother cooking or washing dishes in the kitchen; and up the attic stairs to my brothers’ room. 

And, like dogs, sometimes they would get themselves in trouble by lingering just a bit too long, staring just a bit too hard at us girls as they made their pilgrimage.  The smart ones figured out how to sneak their looks as they walked past, or bought themselves some time by pretending to make small talk with my parents along the way.  The dumb ones just stopped and gawked.  The dumb ones generally weren’t repeat visitors.

Deliberately or by accident, marijuana seeds, tossed out of open attic windows, landed in the fruit and vegetable garden my mother kept, and still keeps, in our backyard. 

Like all the houses on our block, our house was a tiny structure on a relatively large lot.  The backyard lawn had been reduced to postage stamp size to make room for Mama’s garden, which extended along the two edges not occupied by house or driveway.  A peach tree just to the right of the back porch grew the peaches that went into her completely homemade peach pies (she refused to call them “cobblers”).  Along the fence that separated our property from the neighbors, she grew tomatoes and cucumbers.  Beyond the far edge of the lawn, Mama’s garden extended from the garage to the alley.  In this larger space grew collards, mustards, and broccoli.  Mama collected the rinds, peels, stems, skin and pulp of all the fruits and vegetables we ate, and every day, she scattered them throughout her garden.  Accordingly, the soil stayed rich and full of nutrients. 

As a child, I had no idea Mama’s garden kept us fed through UAW strikes, plant closings, and Daddy just being too trifling to come home with enough grocery money to feed two adults and six children.  I just figured that she, having grown up a farmer in Mississippi, was used to having fresh produce in her backyard and had chosen to carry on familiar traditions even after moving to Detroit.  

Sometimes, either my sister Caroletta or I would ask my mother if we could try growing something else in her garden, in addition to the staples she planted year after year.  When Mama was willing, we grew carrots, potatoes, strawberries, sweet corn and beets.  We planted the seeds experimentally, but nothing ever failed.   My mother’s garden was like our very own field of dreams — if you planted it, it would not only grow, but flourish.  (When I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, I kept imagining all the weird dead things that would come to life if planted in Mama’s garden.) 

It was no surprise to any of us how quickly the discarded marijuana seeds sprouted and grew in Mama’s garden.  My mother complained bitterly about the little plants that started popping up.  She was aware they were marijuana plants, but to her, they were literally weeds. 

For some reason, however, she took a liking to one plant and let it grow.  Before too long, we had a knee-high marijuana plant in our yard.

My brothers were amused at first.  They would go to the back door to see how big the plant had gotten, and then ask, “Ma, how long you gon’ let that grow?”

“I don’t know,” was always her response.

The plant grew bigger and bigger.  My brothers told her, “You know the cops could come after you if they saw that.”

“I’m not going to do anything with it,” she would counter, as if her lack of intent to sell or use the plant was dispositive.

My brothers argued constantly about whether or not the plant would actually yield any good smoke.  Michigan summers were too short, one brother opined.  Marijuana needed lots of sunlight to develop high levels of THC.  The weed wouldn’t be potent enough to be any good.  Yeah, the other brother would say, but that plant’s been growing in Mama’s garden.  You know how good that soil is.  And on and on the debate would rage.  It was their version of Batman v. Superman.

I liked the plant, and thought it was too bad it was illegal.  It was pretty.  It grew as well as the sweet corn we grew one year which yielded the sweetest, most tender ears of corn I have ever eaten.  I had no idea back then what good smoke actually meant, but in the ongoing debate, I silently took the side of the brother who voted in favor of Mama’s garden.  That soil was the truth. 

My neighbors were not amused by the new plant growing in Mama’s garden.  One neighbor constantly threatened to call the cops about the plant.  We took the threat seriously.  This was a neighbor who had “handicapped only” parking signs installed in front of her house — even though she wasn’t handicapped and didn’t have a car.  She would call the cops if anyone parked, or even left their car idling too long, in front of her house.

Every time this neighbor saw my mother in her garden, she would come to the fence and complain about the marijuana plant.  “That plant’s not bothering you,” my mother would say, dismissively.

Still, we were getting nervous.  As the plant approached the height of the back fence that separated our property from that of the bitchy neighbor’s, the possibility of police intervention became more real.  The plant was growing large enough to be visible from a distance.  If a police car happened to drive by and see a huge, well-tended marijuana plant growing in someone’s backyard, they were likely to stop and at least ask questions. 

My brothers — aware of their own upstairs stashes, and I suppose out of concern for my mother and our family as well — started trying to talk my mother into chopping down the plant.  It had gotten to a size where chopping would be required. 

My mother, by her dismissive remarks, clearly didn’t want to destroy the plant.  It had grown big, fast, proving yet again the superiority of her garden soil and organic farming methods.  But logic and sensibility prevailed. 

One day, the plant was gone.  I never knew exactly how she got rid of it.  I am pretty sure my brothers didn’t smoke it.  And I can’t imagine she set fire to it.  Whatever she did, it was gone, and that was that.

Except, for a while, it wasn’t.  For a few more summers, marijuana plants sprouted in the garden.  My mother would let them grow for a couple of weeks, and then dutifully pull them while they were still ankle-high. 

But now we had a new problem — the seeds, kept in the attic and no longer tossed into the garden, attracted mice.  On more than one occasion when I went up to my brothers’ room (most likely to read about secretaries’ panties), I saw baby mice stumbling about and moving very slowly.  Fortunately, high mice proved pretty easy to trap and kill.

Clouds and Panties

March 21, 2009

Blue Sky with clouds

When I was eight or nine, I developed a fascination with our World Book Encyclopedias.  I thought all the knowledge in the world was contained in those 28 volumes, and I intended to read each one.  I knew if I did that, I’d be the smartest person in the world.

 

The encyclopedias were kept on the bookshelf of the attic that had been converted into one huge bedroom for my three brothers.  For some reason, the “upstairs” was off-limits, unless you went with one specific purpose in mind and left once you’d accomplished that purpose.  This was not an edict issued by my brothers, it was an understood rule of the house, which meant that my mother had deemed it necessary. 

 

At eight, I paid my brothers no attention.  They were all several years older than me and all in high school.  Greg, the youngest of the three, was sixteen, an age that seemed unfathomable to me then.  I was simply the little pest, and the secrets of “upstairs” didn’t fascinate me at all.  I wanted those encyclopedias.

 

I don’t remember if Caroletta coaxed me into it or if it was the other way around, but my older sister and I started going upstairs (after Mama said it was okay) and bringing down one volume at a time.  We agreed that the A volume was too big; we’d save it for later.  The Ci-Cz volume was a good starting place – it was thin and, we decided, easy to finish.  We skimmed through it, looking for interesting topics, and Caroletta stopped on the section entitled “Clouds.”

(more…)

Pre-Teen Drama

March 21, 2009

This is a re-post of one of my favorites.  My daughter is now 13 and is still not allowed to wear makeup other than a little sheer lip gloss.  Hasn’t stopped her from trying, though.

I discovered my daughter’s MAC makeup purchase completely by accident, the way moms have been busting their children for generations.  In this case, it’s because at eleven, my daughter hasn’t learned the necessary skill of covering one’s tracks.  She dropped the receipt from her MAC store purchase on the floor of my bathroom. I almost threw away the receipt without looking at it, assuming it had fallen out of a bag I was now using as a trash liner. But something — call it mom’s intuition — made me look at it before I tossed it.

“A., Cammie” had purchased an eyelash curler (?) and black liquid eyeliner, for a grand total of $36.  I squinted at the receipt.  This had to be wrong.  Maybe our babysitter had told Cami to use her name, since our babysitter’s English is not very good.  But I knew that couldn’t be the case, because the babysitter was very good about keeping track of receipts.  Whenever I left money for her to buy milk or cat food or fruit or whatever, she always left the receipt, the exact change, and any necessary explanatory notes, in her neat handwriting but sometimes incomprehensible Spanglish. (more…)