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WELCOME TO THE GRAND ILLUSION

WELCOME TO THE GRAND ILLUSION

“Getting in a new shiny bad ass car is like a great push up bra,” my long time incredibly body confident friend, Sara said so matter of factly as we discussed the car the other day on the phone. She called me because she had read my writings chronologically last week and thought they sounded like something was awry. We share the same birthday and have known each other for over twenty years. She is a great friend and knows me on a highly spiritual level and she has witnessed my sometimes erratic shopping behavior as well as lived through several of my previous car purchases. They usually are symbolic of something going on and as usual, she was right. I didn’t have the heart to remind her that push up bras are unnecessary these days, my upper body is a walking push up bra, but point taken. Buying new cars is clearly connected to something deeper and complex, but in the moment, all of this is completely out the window.

“No I don’t want the apple car play,” I kindly said to Gary Garafolo, the smart salesman at the car dealership. “I actually have this in my car right now and I find it incredibly distracting. As a matter of fact is there any way to get this car without the almost ipad look alike screen daring me to tap it as the bluescreen simultaneously screams at me “Warning, using the screen while driving can be distracting!” No shit. But there is no option B, this car as all the cars on the lot come with the blue screen, your only choice is apple car play or just blue tooth. But as I sighed with the knowing that when you are purchasing a high end car that looks like a cross between a bat mobile and a shiny black portable Royal typewriter, tinted windows and all, there are certain notions assumed by the people designing them. I am trying to not see the car as one of those black beasts frequented on THE HANDMAIDS TALE sending shivers in my spine every time I watch just one more episode. I am guessing that the majority of the design team are men and I am making a broad assumption that like a bathroom layout in a sporting arena, they aren’t thinking about a woman behind the wheel as the one hundred percent driver and purchaser.

A new car is invigorating, the smell, the neatness, the shine. Learning all of the buttons is a full time job in itself and with all of the computer generated commentary going on every time I get in and out of it, Gary let me know when I purchased it that the car would take some time to get to know my style. Creepy to say the least. Why did I even want this car, one may ask. The main reason (at least on the glossy outside who people on the outside think I am) is the pick up and delivery, the your wish is our command at the dealership, the we’ll pick it up, pick you up, bring you a car, drop you off kind of service I just really was willing to pay for the older I get. And older I get is what I hope for.

There are bells and whistles and more bells and whistles, there are three different navigation options, not including the voice command I have to practice like a language enunciation class so that the she voice recognizes my tone. She still hasn’t figured me out and I haven’t appreciated her help when I am trying to dictate where I want to go. This happened last week when I got lost in Fall River looking for Flint Street so I could take my aunt to Sam’s bakery for our beloved Lebanese pies. After speaking in a calm tone, then a slightly raised voice, then a slow deliberate one, I finally had to pull over and put it in my iphone and use Google maps which completely defeated the purpose. Then I remembered about an app on my phone that allows me to put the address into it and like magic, the address was projected into navigation. The app, by the way also allows me to lock and unlock my car and turn my car on from my living room ten minutes before I am ready to depart. No wonder the world is getting lazier and fatter by the minute. I can’t believe I have purchased a car that does these things. In most ways it is completely out of character. At least my inside character to people who really know my insides, not the glossy outside chick that people assume is the one on the inside too. It’s like I live in a camoflauge. When I pulled up last weds after picking it up to drive my friend Chris, the first words out of my mouth were, “Does this car make me look too Jewish?” He had no idea what I was talking about. Leave it to a full bred Wasp. “What does that even mean, he asked, somewhat startled by my question. I didn’t have the heart to explain to him that if I had to explain it, he likely wouldn’t get it anyway.

I brought the car over to another friend’s house to show him, it seems that this is the protocol when purchasing a crazy car like this and he looked at the back of the car where it said 4matic. “Does this car have four wheel drive?” he asked curiously. “I have no idea.” Among many other features the first week that my new set of wheels likely has that I have no idea about because honestly it never would occur to me that someone would even think to put a feature in the car in the first place. He asked me where the spare tire was, yep forgot to ask that too. “It must be somewhere.” I half said. I love the weird button by the super large skylight that I can push at any given time and be connected with the magic Mercedes person. Need a dinner reservation? Push the button. Need help on the road? Push the button. Who needs Triple A when I have Mercedes on demand. Running late for a meeting? Push the button and Mercedes will send to the navigation an alternate route. I love America. Or maybe I should be saying I love Germany, but I can’t bring myself to say that. I love the absurdity that I can decide I want a new car, go to a dealer and in less than 24 hours, drive away in one. Irresponsible, impractical, careless, all these words spin wildly like my grandparents voices in the back seat telling me to be more pragmatic, my father rolling his hippie eyes from the grave disbelieving he has a daughter who would even want to drive a car like this let alone buy one. But see this is what cancer does, it gives you a quick jolt into the LET’S LIVE NOW.

As I approach my second week with this new sparkly set of wheels, I looked down and noticed that I have a cd player, old school. I also remembered that on my last minimize jag of cleaning and having a yard sale I didn’t end up selling my stellar collection of CDs. I went into my basement where they have been patiently waiting for my return, like they knew I would need them again someday and pulled out a few round discs to take with me hoping they wouldn’t skip. Mary J Blige, a cd I had purchased when I bought my Cooper convertible when I was forty. Seal, a cd that my brother turned me on to when he was alive, we had listened it to in in a rent a car driving from North Carolina to Dc to our cousins’ Bar Mitzvah a million years ago. Santana, because the guitar at almost full volume makes you feel like Carlos is in my back seat giving me a private concert. And Styx. Welcome to the Grand Illusion. I put it in the player at as loud as my ears could handle and I was transported to an CYO dance in the basement of St. Marks Church, I was time traveled to times spent hanging out with my friend Joe, whose nickname in his former pre AA life used to be Toad smoking joints in my 63 vw bug at Beavertail. The music made me smile as I reminisced about a group of us misfit kids with absent parents hanging around an island with barely a hint of adult supervision, walking barefoot, around town and not realizing how great our little and free lives were despite our missing mothers and fathers. I had to call him immediately to tell him, he didn’t answer, but I knew he would recognize my zest for these times. It is easy to sensationalize the good stuff and forget about the painful parts.

Life is and can be a grand illusion. There is something energizing in approaching my second year of the cancer survivor story- something that makes me throw cares to the wind, live on the edge, jump in naked and full throttle. No one gets out alive. Why not enjoy the ride?


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IN MY MIND

IN MY MIND

As a non married woman by choice, buying or leasing a brand new high end and high performance car without a man by my side, also by choice, is a psychological mind twist. I have only owned two other high end cars. My first one was a Cooper Mini Convertible, purchased when they were barely out of the showroom. As most of my car purchases have been in my young life, it was impulsive. They usually are. But this Cooper was the car that defined a unique time in my life. My business and life felt successful, I had just turned forty and I had learned independence, oddly, through the security of my marriage. This convertible was filled with all of the bells and whistles that a sports car could have, chrome everything, six speed manual and I felt like I was in a James Bond movie every time I placed my hand on the almost sexual, smooth and velvety round knob that was the shifter. That car was amazing, completely impractical unless it was a perfect summer day in July. Winters, forget it, terrible. I didn’t have a garage and snow an ice were not good companions for this car. It would have been a great second car, but even I knew this was not practical, the narrative in my head said so. I cried the day I traded it in. My son, who I think was about eight at the time, looked at me with his big brown wisdom filled eyes and said, Mom, it’s only a car. Touché. Out of the mouths of babes, surely.

Five years later, when Dave and I were going through our divorce, I got into a slight accident, distracted, not paying attention and actually side swiped a parked car. If that wasn’t the universe telling me to slow the hell down, I don’t know what else could. It was a week before my son’s Bar Mitzvah and my car would be in the shop for at least three weeks. This seemed like a perfect time to buy a new car, actually a used car, the first used car I ever bought as an adult. This car was big, bold and totally not me at all, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean, I mean seriously we are talking cars here. It was one of steroid type Lexus SUVS and it drove like an airplane taking off on a trip to Europe. Smooth, sleek and really big. The sound system alone made the car worth the purchase and this was by far the stupidest purchase I had ever made. I thought my soon to be ex husband was going to have a stroke when he saw me driving this thing. It cost well over sixty dollars to fill the tank, only got about sixteen miles to the gallon and I think it was around the time that gas prices were headed to over four dollars. There was talk about the apocalypse coming and with a car that only got sixteen miles to the gallon, impractical was an understatement. When I picked my grandparents up at the airport in this thing, I am sure they thought their oldest granddaughter had lost her mind. After all our family drove Prius’ and practical, understated cars. We didn’t drive Lexus’. At least the Cooper wasn’t as in your face as the Lexus so I got by with that because it was also compact, small, non gas guzzling, responsible.

That Lexus lasted about six months, I never should have bought it and it cost me dearly to get out of it. Being the queen of rationalization, though I traded it in for a very family approved pragmatic Prius. That car fit my family’s personal narrative surely. Plus it got like five hundred miles to a tank of gas and the amount of money I saved on gas alone each month more than compensated me for the loss. This car though fabulous on gas had terrible pick up and no power, but it took me through my son’s high school years. When my friend came home with a VW golf, I decided to trade in the Prius and get one. This car, still small, had pick up, was good on gas and was a sporty little reasonable automobile. Meanwhile my son was driving one of my favorite cars ever, bought in 2002, one of the first Toyota Highlanders. I had traded in my Camry what seemed like a lifetime ago back then and bought this car on a five year loan. I remember leaving the auto dealer that evening. I had installed the car seat in the back and strapped Michael in and he and I looked at each other. I briefly thought, wow so much can happen in five years. My brother had been gone for seven years and I was definitely a deeper thinker since his loss. Car payments for five years had a definite calendar awareness of life coming at you.

Last week, though, the Highlander finally gave out. Of course my son is living off campus this year so he needs a car. Putting the Highlander out of commission is sad actually. This car has been our family vehicle when we were a family, it was a beat around car for Dave when we got divorced so he could grieve in the way he knew, gardening and lawn and tinkering outside. The car came back to me when our son needed a car for high school and then became the car to pack up when Michael headed to college. We thought the Highlander would get us all through the entire college years, but this week we learned this would not be so. My son needed a car and though I am completely aware he could well buy his own car and this could give him one of those textbook life lessons, I didn’t want to. I wanted to give him my Volkswagon as a gift.

My son has already had some good life lessons in his young life, parents going through a divorce, witnessing the death of our Aunt by taking her off of life support, his mother having breast cancer twice, and watching his grandmother stop speaking to his mother to name a few. No- these are not life and death life experiences, but as I recall my own twenties, this is my way of making up for it giving him an easier way to enter his twenty first year. In leasing a new car this past week I have been listening to the non stop chatter in my head that seems to consistently scream words like irresponsible, careless, will you ever learn, silly and the volume of other negativity to somehow be a voice of reason. I don’t know whose voice this is, but the difference this time around is that I have witnessed it from a different perspective. I am my own power. No one has any over me, I am not going to “get in trouble” for buying a car or buying anything for that matter and this chatterbox is from a long ago past. It is a judgmental sour sound that creates feelings of lack and guilt and serves no purpose. I release the voice. I have my own voice now and the way I use it is important. Many women I speak with have these feelings about items they have purchased, from the smallest trinket to buying furniture for their homes, there is some sound in our heads that go off like a fire alarm. We are brought up surrounded by messages to shop and buy and fill and then we feel guilty when we spend. It is a weird conundrum, perhaps it is self protection, but ultimately it is harmful, at least to me.

When I stand at the shoreline, I am struck by how vast the sea is, I often see myself with a bucket trying to collect the water or the sand and no matter how much I scoop, the ocean and the beach still look exactly the same. There is plenty. There is enough. Life is abundant. These are the messages I replace the ornery cranky ones with. My partner has a sign that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” When those negative lack themed thoughts arise, I replace them with I am enough, I am always divinely protected and cared for and life is abundant. I am aware that abundance takes action too, you can’t just wish for it, but what I do know is when I replace negative thinking with a positive one, I feel better, more open, more calm. And amazing life gifts come my way. These are the little life nuggets that help quell that chatterhead. Time is short, buy the car, own your life and live on the edge occasionally, it wakes up the soul with a brightness that even the sun can’t compete with.


life is short, enjoy the ride, there is plenty to go around.
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BRAZEN AND BADASS

BRAZEN AND BADASS

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain,” or is it out in the rain? It’s a desert so I’m thinking that it is out of the rain, but I’ll pay closer attention next time the song blasts on. When that America song comes on the radio, regardless of the correct phrase, I am five, in the front seat of my mother’s pale yellow triumph, top folded down by unsnapping it before we left because automatic tops didn’t exist except in James Bond movies. My mother endlessly smoking from the familiar blue and white box of Parliaments, one after the other. She lit them with the automatic lighter provided as standard along with the ashtray to collect the cigarettes looking carefree as she and I headed towards Third Beach, to meet her friend Ann and Ann’s son who was about my age. I can smell the ocean and the salty breeze in our hair as we sped down the road listening to America and Carol King belt out familiar tune after tune.

My mother was only twenty-five when I was five, but it never occurred to me that anything was particularly odd or young about this. I am not sure where my brother was or if she was still pregnant with him but when I do the math, she would have had to have been at least six or seven months pregnant. I am sure with my good memory I would have recalled this. So he was either born already and would have been seven months and home with someone and this would have made me six instead of five and it would have been the summer of 1971 instead of 1970. Or he wasn’t born yet and therefore I was four and it was 1969. This is sad to me because I don’t recall a lot of my brother’s presence in my young life; there was a bit of invisibility to him. Of course there could have been the possibility he was tucked away in the little back area of the Triumph, a definite consideration because there weren’t many child safety laws back then. Regardless, my beach memories are some of the fondest ones I recall when it comes to me and my mother, Ann. These memories unfold with a gentle smile like the black and white Kodak prints locked away in the five or six yellowy albums Ann gave me when she moved to North Carolina almost the same day I announced my engagement. At least that is what it felt like at the time, Ann always running, farther and farther.

Mother daughter relationships are layered with complexity. Add to this recipe alcoholism and a slew of other emotional injuries and our relationship’s potential became weaker and less likely the older we became. The further away I am from my mother though, I have a more objective view of how I move and dance with my mother who doesn’t want to have a relationship with her only surviving daughter. For the most part since the words came in that stark and abrupt email, “I prefer you never contact me again,” almost three years ago, the untangling of her hold on my emotional state has been one of freedom and release. She might say the same thing about me; I readily admit that we both didn’t bring out the best in each other. In a sad and unraveling way, it has been healthier for both of us.

But I still miss her. I have reached out and have attempted to break that awkward silence by those damaging words. She in turn has responded in her own way and for this rare communication, I feel like at least the relationship cannot be labeled as estranged. Estranged feels immature, permanent, unforgiving, unapologetic. This is not who I am. So we both seem to accept the space between us and realize that this is probably as good as it ever is going to get. I know I have broken the cycle of abrupt family endings by having a strong relationship with my son and my former husband and the life we had and have now. The thing about Ann though, is that she is a part of me, whether we agree with each other, whether we judge each other or feel frustrated by either of our behavior. She shows up in ways I have grappled with despite countless Alanon meetings and therapy sessions trying to learn what it is about me that I can control or change.

My mother has used shopping to fill the hole in her heart for as long as I remember, way before my brother died, way before my father left. This was my example. When the going gets tough, go shopping, Ann could have written this mantra. In Ann’s case, to be more specific, it would be when the going gets tough, buy a new car. When I was a young girl, we had lots of different cars, so it will likely come as no surprise that I have the same contagious problem when I am relationship triggered. I wish I could recognize the fall down the rabbit hole before I ended up at the car dealer signing on the dotted line, but this time around, once again, I ignored the signs right in front of me that caused the tornado.

This time it is different; this time I changed the narrative. This time when the blah blah voice on my right shoulder came up to scold me for being irrational or irresponsible, I stood tall and looked at that voice, hands on hips, legs firmly planted, thigh muscles contracted and said, Whose voice is that anyway? Whose voice does that belong to? And why do I get these out of body commands to buy a car anyway? What is the trigger? Like Ann leaving, one of my oldest and dearest friends abruptly left too, without so much as a note; I know this is the trigger, this is the familiar way I deal with grief and loss. This is why the feelings come up because it connects me to my mother for a fleeting moment; there is a familiar rush with it. And during this whirlwind, I forget that I am the grown up superchick who has basically raised herself and raised a business with these two strong hands on her own. If I want to throw all cares to the wind and buy a new car, or in this case, lease one, I am a grown woman who gets to unabashedly make this choice. I am not five, I am fifty three, getting closer to my mid fifties by the minute and I can’t get into trouble by anyone. There is no timeout or punishment for my decisions, rash, planned or everything in between. It is the first time I have looked at that voice and challenged it and the freedom that washed over me stabilized my core like a long held warrior pose as I stood up to this familiar voice. At Last.

I can feel sad and feel grief and for a change not punish myself for the ways I deal with that grief. As soon as I challenged this blithering voice, it went back in its shell, and I marched forth, brazen and bad ass with a new bat mobile in my driveway. I wish I could call Ann and tell her. She would be laughing with her infectious laugh and would likely recognize that despite our distance, we do share some similarities. It is those that I miss.

Yep.
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NOT BUYING A CAR

NOT BUYING A CAR

One thing I know about myself is when I feel anxious, it translates into shopping and or eating. I learned this from Ann. When in doubt, when sad, when worried, shop. The spending of money whether you have it or you don’t have it satisfies. It is a distraction. Because I surely don’t need more stuff, I have taken to shopping for immediate gratification items like cars. Yes cars. Ridiculous, complete waste of money, but the thrill of getting a car in my head and walking into a dealership and buying a car and then driving off the lot with it in the same day is electrifying. For the past few days, I have had this bug in my head, but I refuse to allow its energy. Like a drink for an alcoholic, I keep saying to myself, the car will be there after my son graduates from college or in this case, a day at a time, tomorrow. Thankfully I have not caved because I do not need a car, nor do I want one. I am paying for my son to go to college and that is my car at this time in my world. Besides, my dearest oldest best friend needs a car badly and if I were going to have any whim it would be to get her a car. Yep, I can rationalize anything on the thrill of the hunt.

I am sure that this feeling that comes over me is to fill the hole of worry and fret that has stemmed from MY DOCTOR VISIT. There are two voices that go like this.

VOICE # 1 (the voice of reason aka my grandfather, Herbie, Mr. pragmatic and Mr. live till you are 99 and counting)

“You do not need a car. You are paying for your son to go to school and that is expensive enough for a sharing parent to have to accomplish. You have a car. Save your money.”

VOICE # 2 (the voice of Ann? Dad? throw caution to the wind, buy now, fill the hole now, worry later, you can always worry later, right? It’s only a $___ monthly payment. GO for it.)

“Oh just buy the flippin car, what the fuck, you work hard, you had cancer twice, who knows how long you will be on this side of the ground, enjoy your life, buy the car.”

As I write this, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. The ability to rationalize irrational thoughts astounds me. The fucked up thing is I am not even drinking alcohol or eating sugar right now which is usually my go to reason for irresponsible behavior. It is stress and worry. No hiding it.

What if my son has the BRCA2 genetic mutation? Will it be like an instant replay rewind of my brother all over again? I am trying hard not to visualize this because I surely know from many experiences not to affirm negative thinking. I think it is a totally natural thought, self-protection to prepare myself for worse case scenario. I am pragmatic, resilient. I know that my work is to work on staying in the moment. I know that everything about this scenario is out of my control. I must let it go.

So today when I woke up after my coffee, after my morning garden walk, after my inhalations of honeysuckle and my new rose bush, I did what usually gives me a full on sense of calm, besides chocolate or sweet bread French toast that is, I called my friend Karen. Karen is like a maternal soul to me, I lived across the street from her for almost twenty years and when Dave and I separated I left my neighborhood with Karen and Bob in it too. I asked her if she wanted to go to Lowes and the consignment store with me.

Like Lucy and Ethel. Like Wilma and Betty. Shopping for more flowers for our gardens, laughing our asses off as I can usually persuade her to buy things she didn’t know she needed when she left the house with me. Birdfeeders, birdfood, garden project items to label our veggies. I laughed so hard as I watched her come out of Ace Hardware with the long wooden sticks we would need to ask her husband to cut for us to glue the plates onto for our garden label idea I saw at Mt. Hope Farm in Bristol, RI last week. I am talking laughing so hard I started crying. Better than a cry, a hearty deep, can’t catch your breath laugh is like a deep gut scream on a thrilling roller coaster ride. It releases your stress like nothing else and it comes out of nowhere. The laughing present.

Just what I needed.

Way cheaper than a car and way more responsible than a car.

Maybe.