Growing gills

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If you grew up with a passion for comic books and dreams of flying…

If you were a science fiction kid with fantasies of alien planets and otherworldly landscapes…

If you imagined being an astronaut and turning somersaults in zero gravity…

… then I cannot encourage you strongly enough to check out scuba diving! Hovering at a depth of 60 feet in front of a massive reef wall, watching fish of every color, eels sinuously writhing in and out of the landscape, crabs, lobster, sea turtles, feather dusters, orange barrel sponges big enough to swim into, vase coral with brittle stars hiding inside it, rainbow parrotfish in shimmering pastel colors. I’ve done seven dives in four days, and already have two more dives scheduled for today.

My only regret is that I don’t have a camera that is up to the task. I borrowed a friend’s disposable underwater camera that is rated for 60 feet, but I might have pushed that rating a little, as the case had traces of water in it when I surfaced. We’ll see if any of the pictures came out. When I get home, it will be time to start shopping for a camera solution.

Reframing

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This morning, Melody and I did the first half of our official “open water dives” as part of getting our scuba certification. As we drove to the dive shop, I said, “We still don’t know how our ears will handle the pressure as we descend in the water. I gotta say, I’m feeling anxious about that.”

Melody responded, “I’m choosing to interpret that feeling as excitement.”

Which was such a brilliant reply, I wanna take some time to talk about it.

Within the last couple of months, Melody and I have listened to a long podcast on emotions and how they operate, and then went to a #ScienceOnTap lecture on emotions (different professor, unrelated to the podcast).

Both sources raised a really good point that I hadn’t previously encountered. I will attempt to convey it in my own clumsy words, with zero citations. Caveat Reador.

Emotions are often a person’s attempt to put a label on a set of bodily sensors that are firing at that moment. I’m going to meet a friend, my heart is racing, my breathing is fast, I’m moving with speed and a light step; I must be crushed out on them. I’m waiting for a phone interview, my hands are sweaty, I’m fidgety, my muscles are tense and trembly; I must be anxious.

The thing is, a number of emotions can be associated with a specific collection of bodily sensations. Which emotion you choose to glom onto in a given situation can be influenced by your culture, your past experiences, your current frame of mind, all kinds of things. But if you really pay attention to the bodily sensations, sometimes you can manage the trick of reinterpreting the signals your body is giving you into a more productive label. As in my case this morning, Melody pointed out that I had decided to label my somatosensory feedback (fancy phrase, eh?) as anxiety, but I could just as easily view it as excitement. Fair enough. The worst possible outcome (shark attacks notwithstanding) was that I would find out scuba wasn’t for me. Bummer, but hardly a huge deal. I could reframe the feeling as excitement, use that as a way to get pleasantly amped up for the experience, and leave the fear/dread/anxiety behind me.

That was a really powerful observation (thank you, Melody) and one I expect to utilize more in the future.

PS: Oh, I suppose I could share the outcome, huh? We survived the experience! My ears were challenging enough that I had to descend exceedingly slowly, equalizing my ears often and in a variety of ways, but I finally got down to 40 feet. The second dive was roughly the same depth and I got down there a bit faster, without quite so much work. I’m am choosing to believe this is the sort of thing that will get gradually better as I do it more.

Dizzy!

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This past Summer, a carnival rolled through Portland’s waterfront and Melody & I decided to bike over and check it out. We wandered the fairgrounds from end to end, and eventually decided to ride just one ride, then head home. The ride was a favorite of mine, one I’ve ridden a dozen or more times. You enter into a circular room (often shaped like a UFO), lean back on sloped ramps along the wall, and when the room starts rotating, centripetal force sends the ramp (and your body) sliding on rails towards the ceiling. It’s a very simple ride, but quite playful, and I used my time lifting my head against the g-force of the ride to get double extra dizzy. Fun!

As we were leaving the ride, I was a little unsteady on my feet and laid a hand on Melody’s shoulder to steady myself as we walked. A little dizzy, but hey, that’s what you ride carnival rides for, right? That’s the whole point. My head soon righted itself, we got back on bikes and pedaled home. We stayed in that evening, a mellow relaxing night. At the end of the evening, as I slid into bed, I had a wave of vertigo as I went from standing to sitting on the bed. I gave it little thought, laid down flat, and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, I awoke with a full bladder and headed to the bathroom. I was so dizzy and unsteady on my feet I had to trail a hand along the wall to stay upright. Making my way back to the bedroom, I made myself so dizzy that I fell back into bed and promptly threw up from nausea. Melody sprang into nursemaid mode, I slept a lot more, and had a very undemanding day reading in bed. At this point, I still wondered if I had caught a flu and that was making me light headed.

The next day I was vastly improved, doing chores about the house and yard, feeling energetic and (mostly) steady on my feet.

The following day I was dizzier than ever. Just standing still in an upright position was enough to make the world tilt sideways. At this point, I was beginning to freak out a little; this wasn’t a flu! I had an appointment downtown to get a suit fitted. Melody had to drive us downtown; there was no question about me doing it. As we walked from the car to the store, I kept a hand on Melody’s shoulder to help guide me. That was the intention, at least. Instead, I leaned into her through my arm hard enough to nearly guide her path right into the street. Repeatedly. With equal measures of worry and amusement, we somehow got through the suit fitting and returned home. As I relaxed in a horizontal position in a darkened room, Melody got to work Googling my malady. Like you do in this DIY-healthcare world we find ourselves in. She found “benign paroxysmal positional vertigo” (BPPV). In very crude terms, the semi-circular canals in your ear have these structures called “otolith organs”, and those contain these little crystals. For any number of possible reasons, these crystals can get dislodged and float about the semi-circular canal. In my case, the carnival ride probably helped jar the crystal(s) loose, and that rattling about in my inner ear was causing the vertigo.

Further research led to a potential fix for BPPV that you can do in your very own home! It’s almost like science, except with none of the safeguards. There is a sequence of head movements the patient follows. “Turn to the right 60° and then wait 60 seconds. Then tilt your head back and wait 30 seconds.”, that sort of thing. The guidelines we settled on suggested the movements could be done on a bed or exam table. “Hey, I’ve got a massage table upstairs! It’ll be perfect! Let’s use that!” So we walk and unsteadily totter upstairs, I lie flat on the massage table, and Melody holds her laptop balanced in one hand while she narrates the steps for me to emulate. The movement pattern is uni-lateral; you do it one way for the right side, then the mirror-image movements for the left side. Since it’s not clear which ear has dislodged crystal(s), you arbitrarily decided what side to start with. I started with the right.

Melody narrated each step. Turn this way, wait 60 seconds. Turn that way, wait 60 seconds, several stages. It culminated with “… then roll onto your left side. Wait 60 seconds. Now slowly, gently push yourself upright to a sitting position.” I sat upright with poise and confidence… and immediately pitched over backwards nearly failing off the side of the massage table, and Melody juggled the laptop while trying to restrain me. Okay, so apparently my problem wasn’t in the right ear! With much hilarity and leaning, I finally got laid back on the table and Melody kept a hand on me this time as I went through the mirrored movements for my left ear. “… then roll onto your right side. Wait 60 seconds. Now slowly, gently push yourself upright to a sitting position.” This time I sat up and held reasonably steady! It was a very clear, significant improvement, probably 60% of the vertigo vanished. With some excitement, I laid down and we repeated that set of motions for the left ear again. Further improvement, and we decided to leave well enough alone for the remainder of the day. The next day I felt markedly better and started moving about tentatively. The following day I was at full speed and the vertigo hasn’t been an issue since.

BPPV. Crystals in your ears. The more I learn about how our bodies work, the more amazed I am that they work at all.

Assuming Responsibility

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On the first day of the Canadian Roadtrip Part Une this year, Melody looked over at me with a big grin and said, “We’re going on an Adventure! Are you excited?!”

I took a moment and gave the question serious consideration. I was excited about the trip, but… it was a cautious, tempered excitement. When I plan a trip like this, there’s a certain amount of anxious nervousness that goes along with the planning. Did I pick good campgrounds? Will we enjoy the planned activities? Are my directions going to be adequate? Is the RV in good shape for the trip? Did I allot enough time (or too much) for driving? Will customs be a hassle? How is the cat going to cope with the RV? (I could go on and on and on.) The questions and uncertainties around a trip I’ve never done before leaves me with a low-lying level of fretting that gets in the way of me being fully relaxed and excited about what lies ahead.

By contrast, the Canadian Roadtrip Part Deux will revisit some places I saw and loved on a trip in 2004. For this adventure, I am genuinely excited and much less fretful, in no small part because I have a much better idea what to expect, what lies ahead. I know the landscape is stunning, the activities will be a joy, and I have far fewer questions occupying the hamster wheel in my brain.

I’ve longer been aware of that vacation conundrum: what’s better, repeating a previous vacation that you’ve loved, or striking off for new experiences and fresh adventure? I absolutely do not want to be one of those stodgy people who follow the same rutted routine year after year, but it’s fruitless to deny that I like an occasional taste of the tested and familiar. Keeping those two choices in balance will take some mindfulness.

 

Sitting and meditating with these thoughts over a few days, combined with some other discussions I’ve had lately has tied this to another issue. I have a tendency to feel responsible for things that I shouldn’t, to an extent that I shouldn’t. If I suggest a new restaurant and it turns out to be mediocre, that’s my fault. If the campground I picked has no privacy and nothing to see or do, I’m to blame. If the route I picked has horrible traffic and lots of delays, I should have anticipated that and picked another route. If I try out a new recipe and it’s lousy, I should have made something else. (Again, I could go on and on and on.)

I don’t have a clear answer for where that impulse comes from. There’s cheesy pop psychology around being the youngest child, and how those people tend to be the people pleasers, the ones who look for the compromises and solutions that will make everybody happy and maintain the peace. As much as I want to dismiss that as unsubstantiated bullshit beneath even undergrad psychology, it certainly resonates with my personality and the role I fell into in my family of origin. I have also been the fulcrum in three polyamorous V relationships, dating back to my high school years, and I think that has been a significant contributing factor. Trying to keep one girlfriend happy can be enough of a challenge; trying to keep two girls happy simultaneously can be an exhausting effort, weighing each of their (very) individual likes and dislikes, preferences and needs, weighing all of that and looking for the solutions that will satisfy each and keep the peace. And then if you have a relationship that is some degree of codependent, that might result in trying to take on too much ownership of meeting your partners’ needs *cough* whims. If you have a partner who isn’t very capable about taking responsibility for her own emotions, perhaps with a dose of narcissistic personality disorder, you might find yourself getting a substantial amount of external feedback that blames you for how she feels and encourages you to take responsibility for the things that upset her. You know, hypothetically speaking.

Okay, so there might be some reasons I got to where I am today. That doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable or healthy place to be. It’s something I want to be more aware of and look for opportunities to grow out of it. Thankfully, I am in a relationship presently with an amazing person, someone who is very good about owning her own emotional issues and very thoughtful about not pushing those off onto other people. She is also deeply perceptive and terribly kind and gentle about noticing my own foibles and giving me the opportunity to move past them. She has boundless patience for talking through such habits and is extraordinary about giving me reflection and feedback as I look at the habit from multiple vantage points. As is true with some many issues, simply developing an awareness of the issue and attempting to be mindful about it in the moment is the majority of the battle. It becomes something we can note in passing, “Look at you, trying to take ownership of something entirely out of your control”, and the more I can see it, the less hold it has on me and the more I can start leaving those habits behind me.

Memphis, day 5

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We woke up a little earlier than would have been ideal, still slightly hung over from the wedding reception the night before. With a brief shower to restore us, we ventured out for a day with my Dad and his partner. We started with breakfast at  place on Mud Island. Yes, Memphis has a site on the banks of the Mississippi River named “Mud Island”. SMH. In a stroke of luck, we caught my brother and sister in law before they left their downtown hotel room and they joined us for a leisurely breakfast. Everyone was delighted with how the wedding and reception had gone, and Melody and my sister in law commiserated over how sore their feet were from dancing. It turns out my niece and her mother had done a great deal of the work putting the wedding together, so there was also a certain amount of relief at simply having the event done at long last. 🙂

After breakfast, my brother and his wife departed and the rest of us headed down to the marina where Dad keeps his houseboat. We met a bunch of people in the tight-knit community of the marina, toured a bunch of house boats, and generally sat around and visited and swapped stories. We puttered about a bit in a guys’ deckboat (a boat descriptor I hadn’t heard before), and played with a recently acquired six-week-old puppy! The marina was having a meeting of their board, punctuated with an honest-to-goodness catfish fry. I don’t think I’ve been to a real fish fry since I was about seven years old, so this was an extraordinary treat for me, and I ate an immodest amount of catfish and hushpuppies. Ahh, Southern bliss! Aiieee, my waistline! Because of all the people and festivities, I didn’t quite get the extended deep-and-real talk with my dad that I might have liked, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

In an amazing stroke of fortune, my best friend from high school saw my recent posts about Memphis and it turned out he was also in town for the first time in about eight years, so we arranged to meet up for dinner. (My lord, all we have done on this trip is eat!) I met Lance and his eventual wife Lisa when we were all kids in junior high, and stayed fast friends through high school and at UT Knoxville. I hadn’t seen Lance in 29 (!!!) years, when he and his wife graduated college and departed for North Carolina. They are practically the only people I’ve stayed in touch with since high school, first through very occasional letters, then emails, and now from watching each others’ Facebook posts. We talked about where we all are in life today, I got the update on Lance’s three boys and Lance and Lisa’s career. It was fascinating to see small mannerisms that I so very clearly remembered from Lance as a teenager; the way he held his fingers to point at something at the menu, the tilt of his head as he listened closely. I also took a moment to say explicitly to Lance how much his and Lisa’s friendship meant to me in that time of my life, and how very much I needed and appreciated that. Now that I’m coming to terms with what can only be called my retirement, I’m embracing free time and travel in a big way and we will definitely be using that to visit Lance and Lisa in NC next year! We met and parted with enthusiastic and heartfelt hugs.

For the first time on this trip, we got back to the condo well before 11 o’clock and had a relaxing evening to unwind. Monday morning is also currently unscheduled, and then we head to the airport mid-day.

The last thing I will say before I close this little travelogue is how wonderful and amazing and delightful Melody has been. She has cheerfully been at my side every step of the way, meeting a barrage of total strangers, hearing endless stories of people she’s never met, fulfilling family obligations, taking photos, buoying me up, and looking effortlessly amazing while doing it. It is almost comical how many of my departing hugs with family members included being pulled extra close and told, “She is amazing!” or “This one is a keeper!” or “Don’t let her get away!”; I heard this from both of my brothers, my sister-in-law, my aunt, my dad’s partner, a cousin, the other cousin’s wife… Melody charms everyone she encounters. If I ever come back to town without her, I will not be nearly so warmly received. I am fortunate beyond measure to have her. She is my boon companion and my dearest love.

Memphis, day 4

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The wedding ceremony started in the early evening, so we had a day free for a change! Rather than load in more family time, Melody and I took a trip to the Metal Museum in Memphis. I didn’t even know this place existed, even though it opened while I still lived in town, back in 1979. It was unexpectedly delightful! There were lovely grounds and gardens with larger metal artwork, atop the bluff on the banks of the Mississippi River. The museum included a working foundry and blacksmith, and two historic buildings with a broad variety of smaller metal artwork.

 

We sheltered from the worst of the afternoon heat in the dark cool condo, and finally showered and suited up for the wedding. Living in the casual Pacific Northwest and being ungainfully unemployed for the past several years, the last suit I wore was for Mom’s funeral, 13 years and 50 pounds ago, which meant that suit was completely… unsuitable. For this occasion, it was decided that a new suit was called for. I went high end and got a very nice Italian suit, black, lightweight enough for Memphis in June. I’m not the best judge of these things, but Melody seemed to be entirely pleased with the result. Apparently, I clean up quite nice. And, it should go without saying, Melody herself looked staggeringly lovely with what seemed to be the most minimal of efforts.

The wedding was held in a trendy boutique hotel in downtown Memphis. The service itself was held in the hotel basement in a converted bank vault. From where I was seated, a number of the photos I could take were shot through the bars of the bank vault. I’m not saying that’s a metaphor for the institution of marriage, but…

The ceremony was very short, and soon thereafter everyone moved to the roof of the hotel for the reception. By the time we got up there, the weather had started to cool a bit, the sun retreated behind clouds, there was a soft breeze blowing off the Mississippi, and we were treated to a lovely sunset. My brother and niece did the traditional Father and Bride dance to Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, which was the point at which I couldn’t resist tearing up (and neither could they). The groom and his mother danced to Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”, which the crowd responded to very enthusiastically. I had only met the groom’s mom the night before and I instantly took a liking to her. After the dance I told her how much I loved the unconventional choice, and she told me the song was a hit when she was pregnant with her son, and she used to sing it to him as an infant. Whew, did that make me feel old!

 

The food was diverse and lovely, but of special note was one dish; sweet potato biscuits topped with a medallion of pork tenderloin, an overt homage to my mother’s cooking, since we all grew up eating her sweet potato biscuits with country ham. So there was yet another excuse to tear up joyfully.

The DJ mix was outstanding and playful, running from Kool and the Gang to the Jackson 5. Melody danced enthusiastically with more than a few people, including my sister-in-law and brother, and after more than a couple of glasses of wine, I danced several songs with her, in my own talentless but enthusiastic way. It didn’t take very long before the dance floor was crowded with people, including my cousins and their partners. We were silly and playful and it was terribly lovely. I can’t recall when I’ve had such a good time.

The only sad and hard part of the night was seeing my middle brother Allen at the wedding. Allen has a host of physical and emotional health issues, compounded with a history of substance abuse. He looked very rough, with a suit that didn’t fit, an unkept mane of hair, and a slurred mumbly voice from several missing teeth. After a lifetime of trying to help Allen, or trying to put him in a position where he could help himself, and countless burned bridges, the family seems tragically sad and resigned to the present state of affairs. It was more than a little heartbreaking.

We finally left the reception a little after 11, walked through downtown back to our condo, and fell into bed.

Memphis, day 3

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Last night was another late night, this morning was another slow, lazy morning. We emerged from the condo about 10:30 to head out into Millington (a city north of Memphis) to meet my aunt and two of my cousin’s kids for lunch. The conversation was easy flowing and light hearted. It was a relief to see my aunt was in pretty good shape and seemed to be in good spirits. We talked about trips we had all done recently, about one kid’s first year in college, and generally laughed and grinned and hugged. After Melody said how much she enjoyed seeing how much my family so evidently cares for me. I think that’s something I have a hard time seeing or recognizing in the moment, so it was really welcome to “see” that through a fresh pair of eyes.

The weather in Memphis is turning hotter for the remainder of the trip, breeching 90° F with unrelenting sun and an uncomfortable blanket of humidity. I know all too well that it’s not nearly as bad as it could be, but it’s still kind of intense after my years in Portland.

Early evening we went south of Memphis into the northern edge of Mississippi to the house of the parents of the groom for a rehearsal dinner. Well, not exactly a rehearsal dinner, given that we’re not members of the wedding party, but more of a mingling of the two families. I saw my niece (the bride), and offered my congratulations, and chatted a while my oldest brother Bill (father of the bride) and his wife. I even talked a bit with the groom, Travis, and compared notes on shaving one’s head (him) versus buzzing it very short with a beard trimmer (me). I can barely bring myself to shave my cheeks; I did for this trip, but the previous time was a 2009 trip to Hawaii so my beard and mustache would not interfere with a snorkeling mask.

I also got a few minutes to talk seriously with my cousin Tim about his health; I was terribly relieved to hear he is handling his MS extraordinarily well. The medication he is on is working very well, with little side effects. While he is still a big man, he is about 100 lbs below his maximum weight and being very thoughtful about his eating.

The gathering ended early and Melody and I returned to the condo, switched to more casual clothes, and walked down to Beale Street again. Despite it being Friday night, the crowd was considerably thinner than Wednesday, and we didn’t feel like hanging out in a terribly loud bar to listen to one of the bands playing, so we returned the condo and bed at a modest hour (for a change).

Memphis, day 2

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Memphis, day 2

The previous night, we didn’t get to sleep until after midnight, and so we enjoyed a leisurely morning and slept in. We finally emerged for lunch with my dad and his girlfriend Faye at a very nice place adjacent to a lake in the far eastern part of the city. We had a lovely time, and Dad and I filled two hours with catching up and swapping stories. Mentally, my dad seemed sharp as ever, but physically he is really showing his age in a way that I haven’t seen before. He’s about to turn 80, so I guess that’s to be expected, but it was still hard to see and contemplate how much (or rather how little) time he may have left. As we were driving back to the condo afterwards, I asked Melody for her impressions. The main thing she mentioned is Dad’s emotional reserve. We talked a bit about my dad’s childhood and upbringing, and the ways in which he isn’t particularly comfortable showing affection. It’s something I’ve seen my whole life and don’t think particularly think about, so it was interesting to examine that through fresh eyes.

We stopped at a market and bought a small pile of supplies for the grocery, mostly soda water and coffee. It seems as though every social gathering on this trip will be over meals, so neither of us are feeling much call for having food available at the condo.

On that note, we had dinner with my cousin Tim and his girlfriend Christy, and my cousin Mark and his wife Tammy. The original plan had been to eat barbecue in a Memphis suburb called Germantown, but the destination had about 30 people milling outside waiting for a table, so I opted for an old favorite place of mine with a really nice creole-influenced menu. My cousins are both Memphis firemen, good ole boys who love hunting and fishing, very conservative politically, religious without any interest in church. We have very little in common, and yet have such a close shared upbringing that I love them both deeply. We sat out on the patio of this restaurant and laughed and told stories and ate wonderful food. Melody got to hear me called “Bobby” and even “Little Bobby”, which tickled her greatly. I don’t know how aware my cousins were that we spent so much time talking about people who aren’t with us anymore; our grandparents, their father, my mother, etc. When we left, my belly was overfull and my heart was overflowing. I’m still hoping to get a little time with Tim later this trip to talk about some more serious issues. I’d like to know how his MS is progressing, and the relationship with his girlfriend seems very serious and there are hints towards marriage, and I’d like to hear where his head is on that.

Much of the day was spent driving through some better parts of the city, which was vaguely reassuring. It lightened my dire prognosis for the city slightly, and I could see how people might make a happy life here. The extraordinarily nice weather certainly helps in that regard, but the temperatures are about to jump ten degrees and I expect there is some sweltering in our future.

Memphis, day 1

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Here I am, back in the city of my youth, for a brief five day visit. Ostensibly, the trip is for the wedding of my niece, but primarily I’m here to see my remaining relatives for the first time in over three years.

Visiting Memphis is a challenge for me. My memories of the city are so intertwined with memories of my mother. Thirteen years after her death, you’d think I would be more settled and at peace with it, but coming back here reminds me of her a dozen ways every day.It’s also hard to see how dramatically the city has gone down hill. Memphis feels as though it has been hollowed out from the inside by white flight to the increasingly distant suburbs. What remains is a decaying core, with ample boarded-up buildings and weed-choked lots.

Getting here was effortless, and even something of a luxury. For the first time in my life, I splurged on first-class plane tickets! Melody and I rode up front with the glamorous people, got hot towels to clean our hands before getting a hot breakfast that was surprisingly adequate for airline food. Real metal utensils! Cloth napkins! I even watched a movie I missed when it was in theaters, Birdman, starring Michael Keaton. As a former theater geek, I deeply enjoyed the reminders of what the backstage life in a theater is like.

Once we arrived in Memphis and acquired the rental car, we attempted to reach our housing. For this trip, I skipped booking a hotel and rented a small condo via VRBO. The price is the same (less, actually), and having a full kitchen and a washer/dryer feels especially nice. The sense of privacy and space is also welcome; for instance, I can sit in the living room and type this while Melody gets another hour or so of sleep.

However, getting into the rental condo was frustrating. I didn’t get any kind of contact from the property manager in advance of our arrival, and when I tried to reach them once we landed, the call went directly to voicemail. I drove by the address and from an external glance, I was a little apprehensive about the part of town it was in and the distance from Beale Street (one of the factors that led me to select this place). With no luck reaching the property owner, I spent some time parked at the curb calling a few hotels downtown, looking for an alternative. Surprisingly, everything seemed booked and I was getting worried and short-tempered about not having planned this better. Grrr… Finally, I got a message back from the condo owner, who got me in touch with the property manager, who got us into the place. The condo was much nicer inside than one would guess from the exterior, and once I was oriented I realized we were indeed only a short walk to Beale (some of the only nightlife in Memphis). Whew, crisis averted.

Wednesday night we had to ourselves, a night to rest and get our bearings before facing the greeting line of family. We made a very brief stop at the fire station where my cousin Tim is the lieutenant, but they got a call and had to leave soon after we arrived. We drove across town a bit and I boggled at how unrecognizable so much of it had become. I showed Melody my old high school, which continues to look like a high security penitentiary in a suburb that has gone to seed. The shopping mall where I frittered away so much of my teens is in the process of being bulldozed.

We made it back to the condo and walked down to Beale Street, where some sort of motorcycle show was happening. Several hundred choppers, with elaborate lights, sound systems, and deep throaty motors rumbling. We walked up and down the short four blocks of what felt like a miniature Bourbon Street, and found a touristy place to grab a bite of food. I had catfish and hushpuppies for the first time in ages, along with sweet tea so intense that it made me gasp. It’s not swelteringly hot yet, and the extra bit of humidity makes the air feel buttery.

We got back to the condo around 11, and listened to the next door neighbors watch the very end of the NBA Finals game that was just wrapping up. (They were terribly sad when Cleveland lost the game in the final two minutes.) Thankfully, they fell silent after the game concluded and Melody and I fell into bed and slept solidly. Well, until about 6 am when I decided I couldn’t sleep any more and decided to write all this.

The attic

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A cold visited me on Thursday, simultaneous with the arrival of a solid week of house guests, my out-laws. For the first few days, I tried to power through and be the perfect host. I’ve cooked big sit-down meals (washing my hands compulsively) and yesterday drove them all the way to Smith Rock, hiked for a couple of miles, and then drove them back. When we got home from the epic day trip, I went to bed almost immediately. Sleeping has been really rough with the cold, dealing with congestion and post nasal drip and … eww. I’m grossed out just describing it. When Melody finally came to bed, I quickly decided I wouldn’t be able to sleep with someone else in the bed, and I retreated all the way to the attic bedroom.

The attic bedroom was last used by my ex-, the Sorority Girl. No one has lived in it since she left; the space has since been rehabilitated into a play room. There’s still a bed and tissues up there, so it seemed like a reasonable place for a sick person to sleep for the night. It worked well; I slept better than I had in three days. It is utterly quiet up here. You can’t hear a single noise from the rest of the house. Really, you can’t hear much from the rest of the world. On the main floor, you can hear neighbors walking by, passing street traffic, lawn mowers, kids playing. Up in the attic, everything is still and quiet, terribly peaceful.

As much as this is exactly what I need right now, I can’t help but imagine how disturbing a steady dose of this could be. It could quickly get disorienting, isolating. A person could get stuck in their own head, running in circles around the same mental paths over and over again, going nowhere, a hamster in wheel running frantically and going nowhere.

I begin to wonder if living in this room had something to do with the Sorority Girl getting increasingly distant and incapable of communicating over the last four years of our relationship.