Neighbors, Sadness, and Connection…Oh My!

There’s a woman who walks her dog down my street every day. At least four or five times a day, she heads past my front window. Her walk is purposeless. Slow. Her dog walks dejectedly next to her on a leash made of rope. They appear filled with sadness. Every day. Sadness.

————–

When I first moved into my home, I began the arduous process of renovations. My non-existent kitchen, which resembled a tiny triangular room with a dropped-ceiling you might find in an office from 1976, was transformed to a more open space with new floors and countertops and cabinets…oh my. This doesn’t even include the new appliances, backsplash, removal of three doors, and the tearing down of half a wall.

I lived in my house the entire time this was happening…with no working kitchen…on a mattress…in the bedroom…on the floor.

I finally moved out of my house when the renovations took a turn for the dirty – apparently, sanding your hardwood floors down brings up a lot of dust.

I packed up my five dogs (yes, five dogs…don’t judge) and moved back in with my brother and sister-in-law. Did I mention that I had lived with them for nearly 5 months prior to purchasing my house? They clearly love me.

So, I moved into their guest bedroom with my five dogs. This was in late September, a few days prior to my birthday, whereupon my house, which was not completed in the slightest would be the location for a fundraising birthday/housewarming party. But I digress.

I finally got to move back into my home in mid-October; the renovations weren’t over, but the dust had settled. I came home in the middle of the afternoon with all my dogs in tow.

I immediately went out to the backyard where my gate had been left open. First, Legs took off, then Georgia followed. The two smallest, Feyita and Speck were curious, but were more nervous than anything. That’s when Durango began to go, but I used my stern voice, (I don’t use it often ‘cause usually they just laugh at me) and she halted. I swung the gate shut and went sprinting after my two dogs.

Now, to be clear, Legs and Georgia weigh 20 pounds combined, so they’re not exactly menacing…unless you’re walking on the street with your dogs. And, that’s exactly what happened.

Just in front of my house was a man, walking three large dogs. As Legs and Georgia took off towards him, he stammered, “No. No. No.” until it was a full-fledged scream, “No! NO! NOOOOO!”

The next part happened in slow motion: Legs and Georgia began circling the man, barking at his incredibly large dogs. He’s screaming, “Get your dogs!” His dogs began circling him, trying to get to my dogs, entangling his legs in three leashes. Then he falls. To the ground. In the middle of the street. His dogs are barking. My dogs are barking. I’m profusely apologizing, but can’t help him because I’m trying to wrangle my dogs. I pick them both up and head back to my house.

The man remains in the road, bleeding on his knees and elbows. His dogs howling at me as I make the long trek back up my driveway into my garage. I don’t look back – like a bad breakup – I know if I do, I’ll regret everything that just happened.

I close my garage, then watch the man from my window as stands up and corrals his dogs, freeing his legs from the entanglement of leashes. It takes about a minute and a half. Then I start laughing. Hard. I can’t even be mad at my dogs, even though they deserve it.

It’s at this point that I notice the sad lady, and she notices me through my window. She had stopped just up the street, a silent witness to the madness. She meanders past my window. No nod. No wave. Nothing. But we made eye contact, I’m sure of it.

A little tidbit about me – I’m a fixer. You’re sad? I’ll make you laugh. You have a problem? I’ll find a solution. You need help with something? Got it. I fix things.

So, a woman who lives on my street who appears dejected and walks by my house every day…? That’s a fix waiting to happen. She just needs to make a connection…know someone sees her.

Fast forward to a few hours after the dog debacle. I see her coming up the street and just so happen to need something out of my car.

“Hi!” I enthusiastically yell to her as she approaches.

“My dog is shy and bites,” she throws back.

“No worries. I’ll stay on my side of the street, so you don’t end up on the pavement. I actually don’t enjoy it when my neighbors bleed.”

Nothing. Not a smile. Not even an acknowledgement of the afternoon’s festivities.

“Have a good walk.”

I spent the next several months catching her outside. Miraculously, as she was walking by my house, I was outside. I couldn’t get her to crack. She didn’t even wave when I drove by her. Her sadness was palpable. I wanted to fix it. This woman with her dog on a rope leash.

She wouldn’t crack. She did not want a connection. I was an idiot for thinking she needed someone to see her…that was my own ridiculousness, I guess.

————

So…today.

Today, was not a good day for me. For a woman who lives at a 12 on a pretty consistent basis, I hit -2 today. The particulars are unimportant. I was just not having a good day. It happens. Some days it happens harder than others. Today was one of those days.

So, this evening, around 6:30, as the light in the sky was dimming, I was trying to work at my dining room table. The curtains were open; the dining room light was on.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Sad Lady pass by my window. Her slow trod just as filled with despair as any other day. Only this day, she looks up at me through my window. We lock eyes. And she raises her hand in a slow wave.

We connect.

And today, the fixer became the fixee…because sometimes all it takes is a connection.

You’ve Been Walking in Your Sleep

I’m a sleepwalker. I also talk in my sleep.  And the dreams I dream are crazy vivid and, oftentimes, scary. Oh, and I’m an insomniac.

So, on the rare occasion I do actually fall asleep, I often find that it is restless.

This morning, for example, I woke up in my garage. No, really. In my garage. With a pillow.  And an empty pizza box. No, really.

I was fully dressed – apparently on a mission that got derailed by my washing machine.

Over the years I have awoken in my car, in my living room, and in my backyard. I have packed luggage, gotten dressed, rearranged furniture, and started cooking – luckily, I woke up when I was putting a plastic bowl in my oven.

The sleepwalking ramped up just in the last year.

A quick googling of the interwebs shows that I’m not alone. In fact, just googling the word “sleepwalking” scored over 10 million hits. Anxiety, fatigue, and lack of sleep are all associated with sleepwalking. Which is ironic if you think about it because sleepwalking, for me, causes anxiety, fatigue, and lack of sleep. This is a list of other things that can cause sleepwalking: alcohol, sedatives, or other medication; medical conditions, such as partial complex seizures; and mental disorders.

I tend to sleepwalk when I haven’t been drinking, and I don’t use sedatives or other medications. I don’t have seizures, at least that I’m aware, so context clues here should tell you that I’m not ruling out mental disorders. But I digress.

In other confessions of today, I have an overactive imagination and am slightly petrified of the dark. Both of these things began when I was little. Blame Freddy Krueger – that son of a bitch.

In fact, I recall standing on my side of the house in the middle of the night, building up courage to run across the living rooms – both the formal one no one ever used and the one with the TV – to get to my parents’ room. I did this every night of fifth or sixth grade. Every night, I slept in my parents’ room. RIght in the center of their bed. I link this to their divorce. You’re welcome, Mom.

So, sans sleeping pills or alcohol, here’s how my night went:

  • 11:00pm: Fall asleep on the couch watching a rerun of “Glee.”
  • 11:45pm: Awake in my bed to the sounds of someone inside my home.
  • 11:46pm: After careful consideration of the noise and my ability to do karate late at night, I grab the lamp on my bedside table – my weapon of choice – and make my way into my hallway with my dog, Durango (Cesar Chavez Blvd.) Cox. (She is the scariest of them all and will bite someone if need be.) To be clear, during a horror film, this is when I would be yelling, “You idiot! Don’t go looking for the intruder! Just call the police. You’re a moron, and you deserve to be killed!”
  • 11:47pm: I walk halfway down the hall and realize the noise is coming from my office/guest room. The door is closed, which is unusual. At this point, my house alarm siren goes off. This is my train of thought for the next 4.2 milliseconds: “FUCK!!! SOMEONE IS IN MY HOUSE!!! THEY’VE JUST SET OFF THE ALARM!!!! I NEED TO CALL 9-1-1!!!! Wait…the alarm company will call them! Tear open the door to scare the person away! Don’t do that, you asshole, they’ll stab you. Open the door. DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! Durango will eat whoever it is…it’s ok…open the door! Holy shitballs, the alarm is loud. Maybe my neighbors will hear it and come over to help. How far away are the police? Will they get here before I’m killed?!? If I am killed, who will take care of my dogs? How heavy is this lamp? I don’t know if I’m ready to kill someone by hitting them on the head. Open the door. DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!”
  • 11:47pm (and 30 or so seconds):  I open the door to the office and find…death, destruction, a killer with a ninja sword…? Nope. I find…Legs, my long-legged chihuahua. He appears bloated. “Holy crap,” I think, “the alarm is so loud. It may not scare a burglar away, but it’ll make his ears bleed, making my getaway easier.” A quick scan of the room shows some things out of place, but since I do not see a killer, I run to turn the deaf-making siren off.
  • 11:48pm: I go back into the office and survey the damage. The dog food, which is in a plastic container on top of a kennel, is toppled over – most of it is eaten. (I’m assuming the toppling of the container is what woke me.) I also assume that when Legs heard me coming down the hallway – the hallway with the motion detector (OHHHH, I set the stupid alarm off!) – was when he began mass-consuming the food, which is why he appears bloated.
  • 11:52pm: I’m wide-awake, after having plotted my own demise by the non-intruder in my house and cleaning up copious amounts of dog food. I realize that I fell asleep on the couch, but woke up in my bed. In pajamas. So, in my sleep, I set the alarm, put on pajamas, and got in bed. I may have accidentally shut Legs into the office, too – one can never be sure.
  • 2:47am: Still awake, watching reruns.
  • 3:15am: Fall asleep on the couch.
  • 5:45am: Awake in the garage, fully clothed, on a pallet of dirty clothes with a pillow and an empty pizza box.

You would think I’d be embarrassed to share this photo. I’m not. It explains why I needed a nap today (which I didn’t get) and may strap myself in tonight.Anxiety, fatigue, and lack of sleep. Check, check, and check.

 

Names

My mom tells this story about the day I was born. I don’t know if it’s true, but I assume my mom lies only if it’s necessary – “I didn’t get your email” or “I never saw that text” kind of stuff – not about my birth.

The story goes something like this:

She wasn’t sure if I was a boy or girl, (while in her womb, not after I was born). She knew that if I was going to be a girl, my name would be Molly. If I was a boy, however, she was leaning towards the name John Michael…clearly hoping I would be a country music singer or a rodeo clown.

When I was born, the doctor pulled me out and proclaimed, “It’s a Molly.” The story has been told to me at least 473 times.

“It’s a Molly.”

“Michelle” was the name I wanted.  It sounded right.  It was simple and normal.  There were Michelle’s around.  I didn’t know any, but they were there. Out there. Living a normal life.

“Molly,” on the other hand, was old-fashioned and different.  And it was never “Molly.”  It was “Holly” or “Mary” or “What?”.  Never just “Molly.”

I decided on my name change early.  Not three or four, but early—maybe eight or nine.  My parents were still married.  We were still living in our house.

I was standing in front of the dark brown, built-in bookcase in our “formal” living room that no one ever sat in, and “Michelle” came to me.  I had been deciding on an encyclopedia (we had a full set) and the name suddenly struck me as right.  I don’t remember which volume I settled on (or if I even settled on a volume or why I was settling on an encyclopedia to begin with) because I had just decided I was going to change my name.  From now on I would be…wait for it…Michelle.

I do remember going to the mirror in the bathroom on our side of the house and getting up on the counter, a wiry eight or nine-year-old, and saying it over and over: “Hi, my name is Michelle.”

I studied myself in the mirror.

My eyes were big.  Very big.  And brown.  My hair unruly.  And brown.  I might have been fifty pounds by then, but I covered myself in oversized t-shirts stolen from my mom’s closet—a fashion of the times that happened to also fit my personality.  Did I mention that I was abnormally wiry?  My arms and legs were these appendages attached to my body but somehow of their own mind.  I was not a fan of how I looked.

But, after my name change, suddenly it was OK.  I could look exactly as I did, but at least with a “normal” name it would be bearable.

To be gangly and have a name like “Molly” was a cruel joke.

No one knew my new name, but every time someone called me by my “given” name, I would silently correct them. Defiantly, I would utter, “My name is Michelle.”

Today, marks my 34th year – the last year, in fact, that I’m closer to 30 than 40. If time worked backwards. It doesn’t.

Growing older doesn’t bother me. My friends, many of whom are older than me, say that it will. Perhaps. Currently, it doesn’t.

Today, I feel pretty comfortable as a Molly. I may be doomed to have a 4-year-olds name for the rest of my life, but I’m pretty comfortable with it. And while I know some pretty stellar Michelles (and even a couple of awesome Micheles), I’ll leave their name to them.

I’m a Molly, and I’m OK with that.

 

9.11.12

We were about to air a produced segment. We had given ex-Presidents/politicians new careers. Bill Clinton had opened a brothel; Al Gore had a comedy club – there were a lot of crickets when he took to the stage.

I was literally about to press play as the song came to a close, and the phone line lit up.

On a music station, during a morning show, the phone lines are always lighting up:

  •  “Can you play Alicia Keys this morning?”
  • “What’s that song that the guy sings, and it’s slow, and it’s got a drum that’s kind of heavy…”
  • “Hey! Can you play Do It Like a Lady by Aerosmith?”

On a music station, you learn to answer with things like:

  • “It’s coming up.”
  • “You’re thinking of Lifehouse.” And…
  • “It’s Dude Looks Like a Lady, but I might be able to get it on here in a sec. Thanks for listening! Have a great day!”

On a music station, you don’t answer the phones if you can help it. But I felt compelled to answer it.

“102.3 The Planet.”

“Molly, it’s Heidi.”

Heidi is my best friend. She knew me with big hair, when I chain-smoked, when I was less than forgiving, when the world was still very “or” and not very “and” – black or white, right or wrong. She loved me anyway. Loves me anyway.

“What up, Bitchie.”

“Something has happened. A plane hit the World Trade Center.”

It was 11 days before my 23rd birthday; a month before my wedding. Life is funny; things change. I was slowly computing what her words meant. We segued into the next song. The ex-Presidents/politicians bit would not play that day.

“Hold on.” I logged into the computer – this old, slightly large computer that crashed on the hour, every hour. I couldn’t get online.

“Piece of shit. I can’t get online. Heidi, I need you to go on air and tell me what’s going on since you can see the TV.”

“OK.”

It was brief. She simply explained what she saw. We hung up – “I love you. Bye.”

People were trickling into the station. We broke into our General Manager’s office – he was the only one with a TV. We turned it on just as the second plane hit. I remember the “smack” as it made contact.

That morning, I became a reporter. These are my notes from that day.

I remember scrolling through music that was coming up and trying to take out the stuff that felt inappropriately happy – Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” was one I clearly remember.

We watched as people jumped to their deaths. As the towers fell. As people ran.

Then, I would go into the studio, turn on the mic and just tell people what I was seeing. I spent the next two hours on air, reporting. Only I wasn’t a reporter. I was a 23-year-old morning show host who kept saying things like, “As I learn about stuff, you’ll learn about stuff.” And “Umm…I have nothing confirmed.” And “Holy crap! I have no idea what’s going on.”

Later, at Clear Channel music stations across the United States, a list went out. I wasn’t part of Clear Channel, but I got the memo, forwarded from a friend with “What the hell is this?!?”” as the subject line. The memo offered a list of songs that perhaps shouldn’t be played for a while. Things like “Bennie and the Jets,” “Mack the Knife,” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” I didn’t save it. I’m sure it’s on the interwebs somewhere.

Later, when she and I would talk about it, I remember cry laughing as she said, “What the fuck The Gap Band ever do to you?”

I still love that song. “I…I – I…I – I…I won’t forget it.”

September 3

Today, marks the birth of my best friend’s sons. They are 19.

I met these boys when they were two, and while I could recount countless, horribly embarrassing stories about them – ‘cause I knew them when they hated wearing clothes – I will, instead, focus on their amazingness.

One year ago today, I woke up hungover. Severely hungover. I was in my best friend’s guest room.

It was the morning after my dad’s memorial service. It was a simple service at his golf club. I was asked by his friends to lead a story-telling session. Then, it was like pulling teeth to get people to speak. I told several stories, some of them I’ve written about here. Finally, some people spoke – more to make me feel better than to share. I remember feeling like I was alone and out on a limb – my stories making sense only to me as the wine started to really kick in. Then, just as I would get a little nervous, a fresh glass of wine would appear in my hand – my family and friends making sure I was never without. Liquid courage.

I was driven home that night by my best friends. They took my contacts out, put me in bed, then just stayed with me while I cried. A lot. Something I hadn’t really done yet.

The next morning I woke up. My entire being ached. It was the remnants of alcohol, but also the feeling of permanence – he was gone.

I got up, slowly, and went to the bathroom to shower. But I couldn’t do it.

What if I got in the shower and didn’t feel better at all? In fact, what if I got in the shower only to get out to find that my dad was still gone?

I sat on the edge of the tub, fully clad in my pajamas. That’s when one of the twins, an 18-year-old man-child, walked by the bathroom.

“Morning, Mollycox,” he grumbled as he shuffled past, trying to walk the sleep off.

Then, just as suddenly, he reappeared in the doorway. He looked at me, took in how I’m sure I appeared, and came over to me. He perched himself on the side of the tub next to me, put his arm around me, and said simply, “I love you.” Then, got up and left.

I went back to bed and was awoken by his brother a couple of hours later. He was going to work – on his birthday no less – and wanted to say goodbye. He kissed me, said “I love you,” then left.

On their 18th birthday, they gave me the gift of understanding – “We know you’re hurting. We’re so sorry. We love you.” It gave me the strength I needed to rise that day and shower.

So, on this, their 19th birthday, I will not tell the stories of how they would speak in a bizarre language only they could understand; or how one time, the fit they threw at a store was so over-the-top that security wanted to know if they could help; or how even after being at school all day, they would come home and strip naked before they would hang out with us; or how jumping naked on the trampoline brought them incredible joy; or the time that their dog, Froggy, got a lit cigarette caught in his hair, and we kept screaming “Stop, drop, and roll, Froggy” while their mom chased him around with a hose.

Oh…wait…I guess I just did. I guess they’ll provide the understanding, again, when they realize that I am the one who also provides embarrassment.