Soup

10.9.19

Moonlight lovingly edged the ancient cobblestones. It wasn’t a square or plaza – nothing so grand. Osteria No. 8 (or maybe it was Osteria No. 7 or Osteria No. 21 – I don’t remember anymore) had its outside seating in a wide place in the street. Rome passed along beyond the low planters, but the pace was leisurely – just right for an Italian summer after sundown

We were having dinner at a place we just happened across after a day of tourism. The waiter set a large, shallow bowl before me; almost a broad dish. It was filled with heaven. A broth, fragrant with fresh herbs. Pliant, compliant potatoes, cubed and fetching. Beans – blameless and curved. Fresh carrots. Onions, sweet and nearly translucent. The occasional coquettish and winking noodle.

“Minestrone,” he said with a shrug that said both “nothing – air – merely the bare minimum for life’s survival” as well as “others may have fallen from the pure path but we hold to the old ways here at Osteria No. 8. Spoon up the glory and feel your life’s essence restored. Here is a reason to rise each morning; something to give your soul to – something worth dying for.”

I’ve never forgotten that simple, extraordinary soup…

…so when I tell you I know how good soup CAN smell, please believe me.

That’s not how I smell.

No one talks much about menopause. Sure, you finally put paid to the messiness of menstruation, and that’s a bonus. The underwear takes a decided turn for the better. And we’re all taught to fear hot flashes.

But no one told me that the change in my hormones would alter the way my sweat smells.

I keep smelling soup when I work out. Not ethereal, ambrosial Roman minestrone – no. I’m talking about the tinny, salty odor of cheap canned soup. Condensed, so the smell is strong and assertive.

WHAT THE HELL??

It turns out that’s ME smelling like a bad chicken noodle soup.

My pits still smell like the primate house at the zoo, and my crotch still has that secret hot scent when I get an unplanned whiff (which sometimes happens; those trainers at Body Dynamics sometimes get me in strange positions where I’m confronted, astonishingly, with my own Lycra-clad genitalia).

It’s the rest of me that smells different.

“Jeez,” said Barbara as she was putting me through bird-dogs. (Hands and knees; now reach out, fore and aft, with one hand and the opposite leg. Don’t let your hip dip. Don’t arch your back.) “It smells like soup back here again.”

“It’s ME!” I collapsed to the mat (which smelled a great deal better than I did). “Menopause has made me smell like bad chicken noodle!”

There aren’t many things you can say to a trainer with Barbara’s experience and knowledge, but I think I really did startle her with that one. “What?”

I explained that my body chemistry had shifted WITHOUT MY PERMISSION and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. This made her laugh – but I still don’t know how to handle this. I can put deodorant on the primate house, and I can keep the nether regions clean. But what am I supposed to do when the skin over my chest exudes the smell of cheap soup until I hie me to the showers??

And if I ate a better quality of minestrone – say, if I moved to Rome and ate exclusively at the various osterias – could I improve the quality of my personal fragrance?!?

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And wouldn’t it be a delicious experiment to try?

Wu-choink

10.1.19

Let’s be clear – it’s important: That title isn’t “WOO-choink” – it’s definitely “WUH-choink.” Can you hear it?

It’s the sound I make when I walk around my house. “Wu-choink,” I say, “wu-choink, wu-choink, wu-choink.”

I am, of course, providing the soundtrack to my glutes grabbing my femur and pulling it back. Now that Barbara and Chip and Grace and Gwynn at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA have done the impossible (only took three solid years) and turned my glutes on.

So now I mutter “wu-choink” as I walk. Unless I’m on the stairs, going down. Then I say “brraaa-aa-aa-ack?” Because I’m a lot less sure that my glutes can actually do that… despite the fact that I’ve been going down stairs for 59 years now.

(Well, maybe 58. How old are babies when they start going downstairs? I mean upright; not the bump-ba-dump method on the butt. I have a child and I remember when such milestones were important to me, but the actual date is gone now.)

Now that I think of it, I seem to have a permanent soundtrack going in my mind, helping me graduate from bump-ba-dump to thud-thud-thud to brraa-a-ack. Next up on my body playlist: Woosh! The sound of glutes gracefully lowering this body from one step to the next. No “falling with style” here – I shall slip effortlessly down the steps as if on rails, my toned and obedient butt muscles at last working as they are supposed to.

Soon. I’m sure of it.

It’s a good thing I live alone. I think this constant verbalization (not to mention the fact that I now keep my hands UNDER where I thought my butt stopped so I can feel the muscle connect to the thigh) would drive anyone else mad.

I was lying in my bed yesterday. (A brief round of intestinal distress made sleepytime a requirement; it wasn’t MY idea to sleep for 48 hours straight with brief but action-packed forays to the potty.) When I lie on my back with my knees up, I can feel a long, scary-hard muscle running down the back of my thigh.

I’m pretty sure that’s a hamstring… but I think it’s suddenly popped up like tensile steel because of wu-choink, wu-choink, wu-choink.

(No, not the noise – I mean the awareness of the glute’s role in ambilocamotion, duh, which deserves, nay – REQUIRES, that I make that noise as I prowl around the house at a pace just slightly faster than a wedding march.)

And if the hamstrings are suddenly waking up… is it possible that the hip flexors might one day soon be able to take a vacation in Tahiti? Lie on a beach in a hammock and drink fruity beverages adorned with cocktail umbrellas?

Come to think of it – you know what it sounds like when you rock gently in a hammock? That’s right. Wu-choink… wu-choink… wu-choink…

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This is not a picture of my ass. This is about a third the size of my ass. But this is how my ass is beginning to FEEL. Oh, Lordy.

A Trifle Less Well

9.29.19

Borborygmus – this word makes my “top ten best words” list. It means the rumblings and grumblings of the stomach and various innards. Sometimes doctors will stick a stethoscope on your belly and have a listen; they’re  enjoying the borborygmus concerti. A healthy gut is not quiet.

But when I woke up this morning, most of the intestinal orchestra had fled – all the flutes and clarinets and violins suddenly decided they needed to go for coffee – because the tympani section had all indulged in a marathon session of movies like “A Clockwork Orange” and were raising one hell of a rumpus. Kettle drums and huge standing chimes and clashing gongs had replaced the more sedate borborygmus.

“What’s up?” I thought, surprised. Usually my belly is peaceful and placid under its pale, downy layer of insulation. But barely before the question had formed in my mind, I bolted for the bathroom.

Fluid in the solid waste system. Uh-oh. Something’s not right, and I am today rather less well than usual.

As the percussionists in my intestines continue their riot – rumbling over here, suddenly popping up wild-eyed over there – it occurs to me that this is the first time I’ve actually been sick (as opposed to just overtired or stressed or temporarily flattened by a cold or something) since before Jonathan died, more than two years ago. And this is just a stomach thing; the tympani section is going to get tired eventually and will settle down to sleep it off.

My point is – I think all this working out and at least fretting over sugar (if not actually limiting it) has had a tremendous effect on my immune system. Knock on wood. I seem to be pretty healthy for someone with a stomach orchestra run amuck.

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Another favorite word for the Top Ten list? Syzygy. Isn’t that a honey?

 

 

 

 

A-Ha

9.24.19

The tiny step sits in the middle of the room, exuding waves of innocence. “Who, me? Just a tiny little step. Maybe five inches tall. Nothing to me – I mean you no harm.”

BUT I AM NOT FOOLED.

That step is like a poltergeist. It doesn’t mean any real harm… but it’s going to mess with your mind for as long as it can. Barbara moves it from its resting place against the wall in the Body Dynamcis Fit-er-ex room and I think to myself, “They’re heeeeeeere.”

Because, you see, I don’t go up stairs right.

Since before the earth cooled, I’ve gone up stairs thinking that you put one foot on the upper step and then pushed off from the toes of the lower leg. BUT HERE’S THE THING (and it’s wild):

Barbara believes that you put one foot on the upper step and then use the glute muscle of that bent leg to pull your thigh bone back into vertical again, because – we will remember – the glute isn’t just riding around on your butt like a remora on a shark. The glute extends down your leg to end up much farther down your thigh than you thought…

…so if you grip with the glute, it’s actually drawing that thigh bone back.

This is SO confusing to me. I feel like the dog when my husband or son would make kissy noises through a tube of wrapping paper. Ears up, head cocked to the side, confusion in every inch. I know you’re making that noise, but why am I hearing it all the way over here?

I was PUSHING to go up; Barbara has at last (three years, this took!) shown me that you can PULL instead. The blind fold is off; I’m blinded by the light!

She put a belt around my hips and hooked me up to resistance and then brought out the poltergeist step – the one that has always made her grimace in the past. “Watch what your hips are doing. Keep your weigh in your heel. Pull forward onto the step – no, that’s not it. Here – watch again.”

But yesterday… she smiled.

“Yep,” she said. “That’s it.”

A-ha!

“Does it ever frustrate you?” I asked her. “It’s taken me three years to get to this point. How many times have you said all this stuff, and I just couldn’t understand it?”

“It’s not frustrating,” she said – “it’s fascinating.” (I’m sure. Watching a fat lady step up and down on a five-inch step can hardly be fascinating.) “What you’re doing is very hard.”

She’s not just a brilliant trainer; she’s also extremely nice.

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Children of the 80s will get why I used this image for a post entitled A-Ha. The rest of you will have to live in ignorance.

Unicorn?

9.22.19

In the far distant future, when our brains are preserved in jars hooked up to electrodes and we won’t have to care for these overly-complicated bodies, everyone will rest in a warm amniotic bath and read books all day. THAT will be the future as we were promised…

…but until then, I keep having to do maintenance on my body – the furnace/AC/energy delivery system that my brain is currently hooked up to. And it’s been years and years of poor maintenance that I’ve got to repair!

As you know, I’m learning all kinds of earth-shaking things (like sugar is poison AND the devil, and the glute muscles are holding on to the upper thigh bone like claws from the coffin). But I’m also learning truly insignificant things.

Here’s today’s observation, after running stairs:

My face sweats.

I know everyone’s face sweats; I’m not talking about everybody else. I’m saying I think I’m the only one – a rare unicorn! Dig me! – whose face sweats for HALF AN HOUR after I get the heart rate up. Surely that’s not normal?

After I run stairs, I have to sit around panting for a while, because if I jump in the shower right away, I can stand under icy torrents and still when I get out – all dewy and clean and scent-of-soapy – then out of nowhere, I’ll start sweating all over my face. Big, round, cartoon-like drops which sometimes roll down disgustingly.

I end up looking like the windshield of a car that’s just been Rain-ex’ed.

This doesn’t only happen when I’m running stairs. On Thursdays, I go to Barbara’s Balance Class. (Which is hard and fun and you should join us.) We work out madly, ignoring the contempt of the far-tougher cardio workout class that happens one room over.

(That’s literary license; there ARE no contemptuous looks at Body Dynamics.)

After I’m fully sweaty – and my fellow victims and I have strong-armed Barbara into adjusting the thermostat until the room is chilled to impossible lows – then I stay in that room for Stretch Class.

Now, because of the aforementioned strong-arming, Stretch Class is the polar opposite of Hot Yoga. It’s Icy Stretch. Anyone who comes to Stretch Class without having first gone to Balance Class has learned to bring a sweater or jacket because man, those industrial air conditioners really work. Praise be!

And fifteen minutes after my high-energy Balance Class playlist has been replaced by temple bells and waterfalls and mystic, new age spa music – long after we’ve done our deep breaths and arm circles and frog poses – I am STILL reaching for my gym towel to blot my face of the epic amounts of sweat that appear to have been generated by a simple figure-four butt stretcher.

But it’s not the stretching that’s making me sweat in the icy air; it’s Balance Class, now just a distant gasping pant in the past.

And no one else is scrubbing their faces during Stretch Class.

So I think it’s just me. I am as rare as (if far less lovely than) a unicorn!

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If you’ve ever noticed – and you probably haven’t – I’d be grateful to hear if your face sweats hard long after exercise, too. Perhaps I can find my herd?

Gob-smacked

9.17.19

“The glute muscle attaches WHERE??”

I was having one of Those Conversations with Barbara the guru trainer at Body Dynamics. Surely you know the kind of conversations I mean. The one where someone says “well, of COURSE you exhale after you inhale. What else could you possibly have thought the pattern was?”

I was having a dawning revelation: I have HOPELESSLY MISUNDERSTOOD MY OWN MUSCULATURE. Like, since before the earth cooled, I’ve been wrong in a really big way.

First – my utterly erroneous assumption:

To run, you throw a foot forward and use the quads (the long muscles on the front of the thighs) to pull you up to that foot. Repeat on the other side. I thought that’s how we were all running.

Second – my equally erroneous mid-education assumption:

To run, Barbara somehow coiled up all her power to her back foot and sprang forward, driving her toes into the ground and using her glutes magically to spring forward like a straight-legged gazelle popping over the cheetah lying in the grass. I thought that’s the secret; that’s why Barbara can run and I can’t. I just can’t do that.

And finally – the correction I finally understood today but it took THE ENTIRE HOUR I was with Barbara:

To run, you throw your foot forward and then the glute on the forward-leg side (whaaaaat??) contracts, forcing the thigh bone to pull back towards the butt.

How’s that possible, you ask (if you’re like me)? If you pull back on the top of the femur – which is already as close to the butt muscle as it’s going to get – then nothing happens.

“Not at all,” Barbara replied. (By this point, she was actually touching me. No one at Body Dynamics, save Gwynn the Gandalfian masseuse, will touch you without fair warning and express permission.) “Your glute doesn’t attach here” (she poked the top of my thigh on the side). “Gluteus maximus attaches HERE.”

And damned if she didn’t reach pretty far down my thigh bone.

Still clearly in the range of my very large posterior but nowhere near where I thought the glute went.

Actually, I’m not sure where I though the glute went; I think I assumed it sat on my backside like a dinner plate, complete unto itself.

BUT NO! It attaches way down the thigh bone, so when it contracts, it’s like wrapping a big fist around your leg and tugging backwards. NO FREAKING WAY.

I stood in the big room in utter stillness, one leg in front of the other like an Egyptian frieze, my hands on my butt. Then, my head wrinkled in concentration, I squeezed the glute of the forward leg…and got pulled up to that foot. The other leg naturally swung ahead and I did it on THAT side.

Barbara wrapped a rope around my hips. “Do it with resistance,” she said, and I dragged her slowly across the open space, wood smoke pouring from my head for concentrating so hard. “Stand up,” she said, “don’t lean over. Relax your arms.”

Of course I was walking like a mime in a high wind. I relaxed and tried some more. I’ll be damned. I’ll be god damned. This is kind of… it’s working!

She let go of the rope and I powered my way across the room, pulling that thigh bone back each time.

And then I broke into a run.

“YES!” cried Barbara joyfully. “NOW you’re moving forward!”

It was weird. Really, really weird. I’ve been in the machine of my body for 59 years and I’ve been using it wrong all this time.

“We’re going to have to go over this again. Maybe two or three times,” I said to my brilliant trainer. She nodded, grinning. “Of course. It’s a big change.”

“I had no idea that’s how it worked.”

“Don’t tell me what you thought was going on; I don’t think I want to know!”

Chicken!

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I’m still sort of reeling. I had it ALL WRONG. How strange is that?!

Mind-Freak

9.16.19

We were six years old and lying companionably across a cellar door – the kind that ramps up diagonally, providing an ideal lean-backer for little kids taking a breather during a romp.

(You know – like the kind Auntie Em pulls open when the twister comes, only this one was on a quiet, sunny street in Old Town, Alexandria in 1966.)

Lisa Schumaier, lying next to me, spoke with the wisdom of six-year-old girls. “What if,” she said, “the color that I see as yellow is the color that you see as blue? How would we ever know?”

“What?” I asked, startled.

“Well, what if I look at the sky and I see a color that I call blue, but it’s actually the color yellow to you, but you’ve learned to call yellow blue?”

I was stumped, and a little horrified. “But the sky IS blue.”

“Yeah, but what if what I call blue is what you think is yellow?”

The sky loomed over me with sudden menace. “And the sun is really blue? In the yellow sky?”

“Exactly!” she said happily.

Half a century later, Stephen Colbert would look into the camera with a mischievous glint and ask “Did I just blow your mind?” But he was long decades away, and I spent an impossibly long time for a six year old – maybe five whole minutes – having my mind well and thoroughly rocked with uncertainty.

Then I decided it was a cool concept but unimportant, since we were all calling THAT color the same thing, even if we saw it differently, and we could let it go.

Of course, that was before I realized that a writer can sit down and think ‘er over, choosing exactly the right words to explain something so the other person could perceive it the same way. Me, I favor the analogy – you might have noticed. I love a good “this thing is like that thing, and here’s why.”

For example:

I lie in my bed having a lazy Sunday morning. (All right – a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s been a tough week, and judge not lest ye be judged.) I revel in the lazy morning (afternoon) euphoria in my legs and feet.

A warm, benevolent sun is radiating gently in my feet and up my legs, all the way to the hip flexors. Every muscle is perfectly relaxed and at peace. If that’s what the afterlife is like, sign me up.

From the hip flexors up, everything is normal. I feel fine – but not basked in gentle warmth and relaxation. And I’m thinking this is the gift of exercise. You know – running is great because eventually you get to stop. And if I could just explain that to people – if they could somehow get inside my nervous system and experience this utter contentment – then no one would ever again roll their eyes when considering my slothful morning routine.

But what if my morning euphoria is what amazing trainer Barbara – a long-distance runner – feels all the time? What if wonderful neighbor Bob Gaylord, who can barely wait until he gets to run his next ultra-marathon, walks through life with this sense of delicious peace in every muscle AND THAT’S WHY HE RUNS?

What if the color they perceive as yellow is the color I think is blue?!

It’s a mind-freak.

We’re never really sure we understand what it’s like inside someone else’s skin or muscles or eyeballs or nervous system. I have not one but two friends who have recently received absolutely devastating news (the kind that makes you realize that maybe death isn’t the worst thing after all), and they’re both going through their days with the compassion to offer ME comfort upon the death of my mother and my dog.

We never know what’s really going on inside the entire universe that is the person right next to us.

Yes, this blows my mind.

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Doesn’t Work

9.14.19

You can HEP to Bill Maher – that is, do the Home Exercise Program. For the most part, he’s not a visual comedian. You can lurk in Downward Dog throughout his monologue and never miss a joke; all you need is hearing.

And he’s funny. Snorting during Downward Dog makes the pose more bearable.

So I watch him – well, I listen to him – every week.

Last week in his end-of-show rant, Bill wasn’t picking on Trump or Putin or any of the people I wish I could have a few words with myself. He was picking on me.

His rant was on fat-shaming – which he approves of and wants to see more of.

Bill Maher is snarky. I know that. He’s weird about food, and he’s immensely dismissive of fat people. But he also dislikes religion, and I’m okay with that… so I figured that I needed to let it go. He and I were just going to disagree. In fact, after working with Barbara (my brilliant trainer at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA), I’m beginning to believe that Bill Maher’s view of fat is …

… well, it’s old.

He’s largely wrong.

My blobby belly and broad tail are – it’s true – not particularly attractive. But I can walk down a street without feeling pain in my back. I can grumpily shuffle my way through a mile-long jog. My bloodwork shows better results than it has in decades. I no longer measure my value by the number on my scale. So Bill Maher can suck an egg, for all of me.

I let it go.

And then this morning, I found that James Cordon had taken on Bill Maher on HIS show… and as I watched and started to grin and then began to cheer, I realized I hadn’t quite let it go as much as I’d thought.

I’m going to try to embed the link to James Cordon’s response; I can’t imagine his network will mind. But in case it doesn’t work, you could probably look it up And the most brilliant thing he said was “fat shaming doesn’t work. If it did, there would be NO fat children in schools. And I’d have a six-pack by now.”

Amen, brother.

You and I work so hard to change our attitudes about our bodies and our progress. It’s worth remembering that the world is continuing to try to put you down… so stay strong. We are not alone, and Bill Maher isn’t always right.

Bile

9.12.19

Selma had been wandering through the sleepscape with increasing frequency.

The cat wanted something; I don’t know what. No, that’s a lie – I knew what she wanted, but it wasn’t in my power to give it to her. She wanted her brother-dog, but that wasn’t going to happen.

She had food, she had water, her kitty litter was clean. I sleepily offered her affection, but that wasn’t it. Cats pick their way across the nighttime covers as if someone was following and she’d said “Step only where I step – if you don’t follow this winding yet exacting path perfectly, the whole place is going to blow up.”

She’d walk across my head; I’d reach out a sleep-heavy hand to stroke her soft fur, but she’d move just beyond fingertip-on-tail range. I’d go back to sleep. She’d do it again. I grabbed her and tucked her under the covers; she lay still until I stopped petting her. Then she’d slither off again.

Next began the Knocking Things Off phase. (In my youth we had a cat who learned to knock the phone off the hook, knowing that eventually the horrible beep-beep-beep that meant “hang up your phone” would awaken my sister, who would then open her bedroom door to let the cat out; mission accomplished.)

Selma was knocking off hair combs and fingernail clippers. Nothing breakable; I’ve had cats for a long time and have learned this lesson. Once she dumped a glass of iced tea on my head, but now it was just stuff I could pick up tomorrow morning; no need to awaken. “Have at it,” I muttered and kept sleeping.

Then she discovered a pile of photographs I’ve been going through and began to loudly gnaw on them. “Oh, come on!” I said, shoving a pillow into the shelf and over the photos.

Thus foiled, she exacted The Cat’s Ultimate Revenge. She vented her bile by… well, venting her bile.

My sleep was interrupted by the sound of a bilge pump firing up. That “urk, urk, urk” sound that every cat owner knows well. Selly was presenting me with proof that she did, indeed, have plenty of food. And cats always know exactly where the flight paths are; she was opting to vomit exactly where my bare foot would step when I finally got up. (Is it better to tread through warm or cold cat york? I can tell you from experience that both are a very bad start to the day.)

I was cleaning up this morning, dimly admiring the cat’s ability to barf as an expression of annoyance, when it occurred to me.

Wouldn’t it be AWESOME if people could do that??

Let’s say I was on the treadmill and gasping to Barbara. “Four intervals, right?” And she would – as she does – shake her head and say implacably, “Five.”

And I’d just lean over, open my mouth, and present her with my breakfast yogurt and cashews. You’ve annoyed me. Here.

Or the guy at the bank. “You’ll have to come in and sign these papers to access your mother’s accounts, and we’ll have to have them notarized, and then reviewed, and this will take a few weeks.” And I could say “Step over here, brother – I’ve got something I want to share with you.”

As my scenarios got more embroidered for when I’d like to be able to hurl on command to give back some of the annoyance I’d been given, I got to giggling. Down on the bedroom floor with wads of paper towels and just snorting in amusement. And I am NOT a one to find gastro-intestinal humor funny on almost any level – but this one got me.

Venting my bile. Messy… but satisfying!

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Selma seems to be feeling better this morning. She looks so innocent and sweet, doesn’t she? Yeah – no. We’re learning our new normal.

Reckoning

9.10.19

I don’t mean to usher you down into this particular rabbit hole with me – I see my role as more of an inspirer than a depressive type – but it has occurred to me that if you die young, then you don’t have to go through watching other people die.

And watching other people die turns out to be … just not at all fun.

So why am I working so hard to remain healthy?

You don’t have to answer. I know. It’s because sometimes deaths are drawn-out and painful. We’re not all guaranteed a super-fast, fully-fatal heart attack like my husband, about two years ago. (It wasn’t his fault that the EMTs revived him so his entire family could gather around his hospital bed for a 24-hour deathbed scene while his body caught up to his brain, which was already gone.)

We’re not all guaranteed a six-week precipitous decline into COPD and dementia before a very sudden and entirely tidy death like my mother, about two months ago.

And so far, the nation doesn’t allow euthanasia, as applied to my dog about three days ago. I took him to the vet because he had a little cough; the chest x-ray revealed very advanced cancer. The vet gave him a few weeks to live, and without seeing him again I gave the order to have him put to sleep. I simply couldn’t face watching him die, too.

So I’m feeling quite shattered. Alone. Terrified that my son or my cat will suddenly go toe-up on me (and if sacrificing my cat would save my son, hand me that bloody Aztec sacrificial dagger, would you?). I really don’t know if I can handle more death right now and still maintain my sanity.

And tomorrow I’m supposed to go running with Barbara. All I can think is – why? Why bother? If I just sit here very still and hold the cat and text the son, maybe I could just ossify and turn to stone and slowly drop out of life and not deal with this shit any more. I’m just so very tired.

I can’t believe I had to kill my dog. I’m becoming a country song.

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I’ll be better soon – don’t actually worry about me. I’m a cork; I can rise from anything. At least, I always have. And exercise creates endorphins. I’ll be better able to handle this after Barbara cajoles me into running. Assuming I can get out of bed tomorrow to get to the appointment.