Stupid COVID

“Stupid COVID” has been my constant refrain over the past two and a half years, and at long last, it got its stupid hooks in me. Today, I’m supposed to be spending time with a friend who’s visiting from California. We haven’t seen each other in seven years. Instead of giving her a big hug, I’m texting her places to eat, shop, and hang out in my own damn town while I sit at home on the couch. ARGH. Hmph x 1,000,000.

But in the interest of holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other (thank you, Francis Weller), I’m going to focus on the upsides of my current bout with the plague:

  1. I got sick now instead of next week when we’re heading to the beach.
  2. My dogs are still willing to hang out with me.
  3. For fear of catching the covids himself, JR is cleaning everything in the house. 🎉
  4. I recently started a giant, epic fantasy novel, so I have that to keep me company. And if this sickness lasts a long time, I have another one waiting in the wings.
  5. It’s warm and sunny outside.
  6. I don’t have a fever. In fact, my temperature yesterday was 96.7. What the…is there such a thing as a reverse fever? Or is that just hypothermia?
  7. We have an extra bedroom where I get to sleep without the usual addition of a 130-pound dog in the bed.
  8. The chapter I’m currently writing in the third book of Aret is deeply bleak and disturbing, which is a perfect match with my physical/emotional/mental state. So…yay for that.

All right, I seem to have hit a snarky patch in my attempt to be grateful, so it may be time for a nap. The most important thing I need to remember right now is this: I normally long for downtime to focus on things like reading and writing, so resenting it simply because it’s been forced upon me is pretty stupid.

But not as stupid as COVID. 🤬

We Miss You, Mister Buttface

Some dates have weight, and for me, September 14th is a heavy one. On 9/14/2012, I arrived on Orcas Island, where I lived alone in a magical wonderland and wrote Aret. And on 9/14/2020, Dad died in his sleep, setting my world off its axis with his sudden, permanent absence.

The juxtaposition of those two dates reminds me of Francis Weller’s guidance to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, which is also how I try to balance memories of Dad. For each that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes, I try calling to mind one that makes me laugh.

Like this:

My sister and her two boys were visiting my parents for the weekend. While the boys were goofing around during bath time, out of the clear blue sky, 4-year-old Henry called my dad “Mister Buttface.” Upon seeing the resultant, terrifying look on Dad’s face, Henry cried, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” And that should’ve been the end of it, right? But no. On his way out of the bathroom a few minutes later, Henry called, “Oh, Graaaaaampy!” When Dad turned around, naked Henry made brazen eye contact, smacked his little butt three times, and dashed out of the room.

I arrived in the aftermath of this incident, and when I asked Dad how he felt about the unexpected, unprovoked attack from his normally sweet grandson, he gazed into the distance and replied, “I’m just trying to imagine what my grandfather would’ve done if I’d ever called him Mister Buttface.”

Dad had a framed photo of the two of us on his dresser, and now it’s on mine. Soon after he died, I had a necklace made from one of the pennies he’d kept in his penny loafers, and when it’s not in use, it hangs on a corner of the picture frame. Each morning, I lift the necklace from the frame and say, “Mornin’, Dad.” And at the end of the day, I return it and say, “Goodnight, Dad.” Sometimes I share news that would’ve been of interest to him, like, “We’re meeting up with Mom to celebrate her birthday,” or, “The boys start school today.”

This evening, to balance out the weight of September 14th, I think I’ll change things up a bit. As I place the necklace back on the frame, I’ll look down at Dad’s smile and say, “Goodnight, Mister Buttface.”

Brave Bird

I love rollercoasters. Not everyone in my family shares this passion.

See how much fun everyone’s having?

So when I decided to spend this year’s birthday at an amusement park, I left my family in peace and conscripted two friends to spend the day having their bodies thrown wildly through the air at breakneck speeds. One of the friends (Rhonda) is a fellow coaster fan, and the other (Andrea) was excited at the prospect of the day’s adventures, citing that she hadn’t visited our chosen amusement park since high school.

What I discovered on our ride to the park was that Andrea had not been to ANY amusement park since high school. While Rhonda and I were concerned we might not be as comfortable on rollercoasters after shying away from germ-ridden rides for the past couple years, Andrea was facing a thirty-year drought.

When we got our first glimpse of the park’s pièce de résistance, The Fury – a 325-foot steel coaster with an 81-degree drop and speeds up to 95 miles per hour – a nervous laugh sounded from the car’s back seat. Andrea told us she’d texted a photo of the coaster to her husband, and he’d replied: You’re a brave bird! She went on to explain that their friends own a parrot who was terrified of grocery bags until the friends taught it to say, “I’m a brave bird!” whenever it saw one. Andrea and her husband then adopted the phrase as something to bolster their spirits when they feel anxious. As we walked under The Fury on our way to the park’s entrance and a train of shrieking riders passed overhead, Andrea looked up and softly stated, “I’m a brave bird.”

Upon arrival, we marched right to The Fury, skipped to the front of the line (we had passes allowing us to do so ~ I didn’t just yell, “It’s my birthday, losers!” and charge past everyone), and got in the first car. The next thing we knew, we were hurled straight off a cliff and into oblivion.

That’s real fear, folks. Note the white knuckles.

(Andrea referred to this process as “ripping off the band-aid.”)

At the end of the ride, Andrea declared: “That. Was. Terrifying!!” – a callback to what my poor nephew had cried after we kind of accidentally (or at least thoughtlessly) took him on one of the fastest wooden rollercoasters in the world as his inaugural coaster experience. 😬 (Please refer back to that first photo.) Andrea was a bit shaken but admitted the ride was fun, while simultaneously being kind of awful.

We left The Fury and headed off to check out others coasters, informing Andrea we’d only be going on rides rated at a Thrill Level of “Aggressive” (a decision she graciously, at least by outward appearances, accepted). Eventually, we headed back to The Fury for a second go. Before riding this time, we made a couple changes. I tucked in my shirt (you can see in the first photo how the ride tried to disrobe me) and tightened the straps on Andrea’s tank top (same thing happened to her. Cheeky ride!). Rhonda and I, who’d gotten our coaster legs back by then, committed to putting our arms up for the first big drop. Hearing our plan, Andrea just gave us the side eye, as if to say, I promise nothing. And away we went!

“How about one arm? Is that good enough for you lunatics??” – Andrea

After that ride, all three of us declared The Fury as the best ride in the park. We spent the next few hours riding more Thrill Level: Aggressive coasters and trying not to pass out in the 100 degree heat. At the end of the day, on our way towards the exit, we hit The Fury one more time. By that point, Andrea had become the Coaster Queen.

All in all, we did 14 rides in 6 hours. The next day, while I attempted to facilitate a Governance Board meeting and couldn’t seem to find my words, I realized I might have a mild concussion. But whatever. Brains heal, right? And it’s not every day you get to watch a friend transform into the bravest bird ever to rock a rollercoaster.

Close Encounters of the Ursine Kind

Here in Western North Carolina, black bears abound.

They’re everywhere – clambering onto people’s decks, wandering through yards, invading dumpsters and cars…even doing our taxes (not really, but that would be nice). Compared to the danger factor of brown bears and grizzlies, black bears are more like oversized stuffed animals, but it’s still a bit alarming when they make a sudden appearance. But startling things (provided they don’t kill us) are fun, little reminders that we’re alive, right? So I’m a fan. I guess bears are my Appalachian equivalent of California’s earthquakes, because I thought those were cool, too.

The other night, our dog Titus sounded the alarm that something was amiss outside, and when we threw open the curtain that covers our glass front door, BOOM! Bear.

JR was not at all pleased. With one hand on the doorknob, he shouted, “What do we do?!”

“We don’t do anything,” I replied. “Don’t open the door.” (This seemed like a silly thing to say, but he really looked like he was about to open the door. When I asked him later if he’d planned to do so, he said yes, so I sure am glad I told him not to.)

I banged on the glass, but the bear didn’t give a shit. Giving us a sidelong glance, it stretched the bungee cord on our dumpster just enough to pull out a trash bag, then dragged it into the neighbor’s yard.

By this point, JR had broken into a sweat. “This is not okay,” he said. “He’s way too close!” I reminded him that this sort of thing is the norm when one lives in bear territory, but he wasn’t soothed in the slightest. Even the dogs, who will bark at the neighbor’s cat as if it’s plotting to unleash Armageddon, were utterly cowed by the bear. When they’d gotten a good look at the creature responsible for all the commotion outside, they looked at us like, You know what? You’ve got this. We’re gonna go lie down.

After the bear went away and relative serenity settled back into our home, I thought about JR’s and my differing reactions to the incident. I then recalled that he wasn’t with me for either of my previous close encounters with bears, neither of which involved the luxury of a door, glass or otherwise, standing between me and the big, black fur balls.

Bear encounter #1 took place during our first year in Asheville. I was out walking our dog Libby when something resembling a Newfoundland ran across the street in front of us. Libby was extremely dog-aggressive, so I was actually relieved when I realized the animal was a bear, not an off-leash dog. The relief wore off quickly, however, as it dawned on me that I was alone and unprotected in the presence of a large wild animal. The bear climbed over a fence and into someone’s yard while I left my mom a high-pitched, warbly voicemail about my very first bear sighting.

I’ve already written about my second bear encounter, so there’s no need to revisit all the details here. In a nutshell, I ran myself and my dog Jasper directly into a bear. In my defense, I was distracted by high levels of crankiness at the time.

I suppose, because I’ve had these up close and personal experiences with bears without getting mauled or killed, my panic meter is calibrated differently than JR’s. That being said, I may never throw open that curtain in the den with the naive nonchalance of the past. You just never know what might be lurking on the other side of a glass door.

Keep Calm and Don’t Recycle Your Socks

There is a tiny piece of blue paper taped to the top of my laptop screen. On it is written one word:

(For those of you who are now confused, it says slow, not 5/ow.)

At the beginning of 2022, my mom, sister, and I began a new challenge. At the start of each month, we each pick a word from a list of about 300 choices, and we focus on it for the duration of the month.

For June, I chose the word “slow.” This was due to an incident in late-May when I found my socks in the recycling bin. While I could’ve blamed this on multitasking-gone-wrong, there’s a far bigger issue at play. The reason I tried to recycle my socks is that I have developed a complete inability to focus on anything.

I have a pretty good idea what caused this fun new character trait: 2+ years of being in mental and emotional overdrive. My mind is continually racing, hopping spastically through a hundred different thoughts and scenarios with no attention paid to what I’m doing at the present moment.

So for this month, I chose slow – as in SLOW DOWN, KELLY! DON’T RECYCLE YOUR SOCKS! – then wrote it down and taped it to my computer so I wouldn’t forget it immediately. Throughout each day, I remind myself of this word on a continual loop. Basically, I’ve brought the Breathe in – I know that I am breathing in. Breathe out – I know that I am breathing out meditation into every aspect of day-to-day life, which manifests as a ridiculous, ongoing inner dialogue. I am pouring a glass of orange juice. I am brushing my teeth. I am getting into my car. I am putting on my seatbelt. I am sending a text message. I am folding towels. And on and on.

Realistically, it’ll take longer than a month before I’ll trust myself to recognize the difference between a hamper and a recycling bin. That little blue paper might stay stuck to my laptop indefinitely. And if things get worse instead of better, I may have to stick little blue notes all over the house.

This is the oven. Do not put socks here.

This is the record player. No socks allowed.

This is the dresser – a perfect place for socks! 💙

If holding onto my socks (and sanity) means my world is awash in blue notes, so be it. As life marches on, we all need contingency plans.

Diagnosis: Dead Butt

A few weeks ago, I found out my butt has forgotten it’s a butt. After I told a massage therapist that the backs of my legs are always tight, he led me through a series of leg lifts, then declared, “You can stretch your legs all day long, but it won’t help. What you’re dealing with is gluteal amnesia.”

Although the phrase pretty much spoke for itself, when I got home I googled gluteal amnesia and learned the condition is also known as “dead butt.” So that’s fun. My butt is dead and has no memory. Hopefully that means it’s unaware of its passing.

When faced with stupid things like gluteal amnesia, I’m reminded of why I write fantasy. As the dragons in my books age, they just get bigger and more awesome. They don’t get dead butt and have to incorporate a million squats and donkey kicks into their already-lengthy daily exercise routines.

I suppose I should do some research to find out if there are other body parts that can forget themselves and expire without warning. It would really suck if my ears suddenly decided they were feet, set out on a hike, and died on the trail. Or my spleen decided it was a pancreas, and…like…bad things happened. 🤷‍♀️ [Note to self: Find out what spleens and pancreases do.]

This situation has been added to my ever-growing life list titled: Things I Never Knew Were Possible And I Guess I’m Kind of Glad About That. Also on the list:

  • I can pinch a nerve in my back just by turning my head.
  • At some point, the date on a penny becomes nothing but a blur.
  • Hairs can grow in the most unexpected places.

The good news is: there are ways to combat gluteal amnesia. Whew. And while I focus on resurrecting my butt, to maintain a general sense of sanity, I’ll trust all my other body parts to remain alive, self-aware, and secure in their identities. Seriously, is that so much to ask?

The Joy of Aging

This morning, I pooped in a box and mailed it to Madison, Wisconsin.

If you’d like to know why, read on. If you’re thinking, Ew, she said poop, I suggest you click away now.

I felt pretty confident going into my physical last month. I knew I’d be referred for a mammogram, but I got my first one last year and learned it wasn’t as big a deal as I’d feared. The next unpleasant scan I’d have to face – the dreaded colonoscopy – wouldn’t be an issue until I hit 50. Or so I believed.

My doctor ran through the regular rigamarole while I sat on the table in a stiff paper gown, swinging my legs without a care in the world. Then, to my horror, I heard the words: “Colon screenings are now recommended beginning at age 45.”

Wah.

All was not lost, however, as she went on to describe a possible alternative to the traditional colonoscopy: independently collecting a stool sample and sending it to a lab. Since that sounded way better than giving myself a bunch of enemas, then having a camera shoved up my butt (that is what happens, right?), I asked her to sign me up for the stool sample option.

The box arrived at my home yesterday. Inside, I found a few pieces of equipment and a 30-page booklet that should have been titled: “Poop Collection For Dummies.” The instructions included helpful hints like: “If you cannot remove the stick from the tube, pull harder,” and: “Do not drink the preservative liquid.” One page featured this lovely drawing and reassuring tip:

As I read the endless instructions, all I could think of was the fact that actual people doing actual things had led to the creation of this booklet. Someone made the decision to drink a bottle of preservative fluid that arrived in a box from a medical lab. Someone looked at their poop and thought, What the hell just came out of me?? It’s obviously not poop! It looks nothing like that drawing!

Somehow, I managed to get through the complicated set of tasks, sealed up the box, and drove on over to UPS to send it on its way. Happily, I was not asked what was in the box when I dropped it off, although I had an answer at the ready: “It is literally full of crap.”

Getting older is a mixed bag. I appreciate the increased sense of calm, awareness, and understanding. I’m far less stoked about getting my boobs squished into a machine by a stranger and having to poop in a box. But I suppose I should count my lucky stars. At least I’m not employed as a box opener at that lab in Wisconsin.

You Gotta Laugh

For obvious reasons, as I think back on my husband’s heart attack last weekend, I choose to focus on the funny parts. I did plenty of crying and screaming already. Now, laughter seems like the best option.

Memory #1: I arrive at the ER and am led approximately 2.5 miles through endless, winding corridors to a friendly person who lets me know I’m in the wrong place. I’m then led back to where I started and given a new guide who walks me another 2.5 miles through a different maze of corridors to an empty waiting area where I’m told to sit and await further instructions. I sit and think, Well, I guess I live at the hospital now. Because I will never find my way out of here.

Memory #2: A friend I texted earlier calls while I’m talking to the cardiac surgeon. When I check the voice-to-text interpretation of her voicemail, part of it reads: “It’s just a glitch, and his wife is dead.” I am? I think. Sheesh. What a way to find out. [Note: She actually said, “It’s just a glitch in his life, and…yeah.”]

Memory #3: A nurse is sent to collect me from the waiting area and bring me to JR in the ICU. He introduces himself, explains he was part of JR’s surgical team, then asks, “So, can I call you Mrs. Fox?” I want to tell him he can call me Mrs. Fox if he really wants to, but my name is Kelly Wolf. Instead I say, “Kelly’s fine.” He just helped save JR’s life, after all. He doesn’t need to be subjected to Mrs. Fox’s snarky attitude.

Memory #4: I reunite with JR in his hospital room. He’s pretty freaked out but also on lots of drugs, so he’s in relatively good spirits. There’s a nurse in the room asking questions, and while she records his answers on a computer, JR asks me if I’ll go get us burritos. I don’t reply. He then asks the nurse if I can get us burritos, and she gives me a stern look, as if it were my idea. She then provides a lengthy lecture about the heart-healthy diet JR needs to follow from here on out, which should *not* include burritos. [Pft. Whatever. That woman clearly didn’t know who the hell she was talking to.]

The nurse concludes her battery of questions and leaves. A few minutes later, another nurse comes in, and JR asks him if he can have something to eat. The nurse says he can probably dig up some graham crackers. He then says (and I swear this is true), “But later you may want to have your wife go pick up burritos or something. The food here is really bland.”

😲

But the funniest thing by far, out of all the absurd circumstances surrounding this traumatic event, is the sign posted in the dance studio where it happened:

I guess some folks take that guidance literally.

Toy Story Moments

The first time I saw a toy come to life, I was eight years old. As a child, I was highly imaginative and extremely sensitive, and as such, I was certain my toys – especially the stuffed animals – were alive, had a complex range of emotions, and were simply waiting for the right time to reveal their true nature to me.

As I lay in bed one night, I detected motion in my peripheral vision, coming from the corner of the room where I kept my stuffed animals. My heart skipped a beat as I looked over and confirmed that, indeed, the animals were moving. Then, right before my mystified little eyes, my stuffed unicorn took a step forward! And my eight-year-old brain erupted.

OH WOW OH WOW MY TOYS ARE ALIVE I ALWAYS KNEW IT THIS IS SO AMAZING WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WILL THEY SPEAK TO ME DO I SPEAK TO THEM WHAT SHOULD I SAY?????

But before I had a chance to say anything, my cat Tory jumped out from behind the stuffed animals, sat down, and began licking a paw, casual as could be, as if she hadn’t just crushed a little girl’s dreams into dust.

Hmph.

The second time I saw a toy come to life was much later, when I was in my mid-20s and living in Santa Cruz, California. It was a weekend morning, and I was washing dishes and gazing out the window when I noticed some movement on the windowsill, where JR had arranged a bunch of action figures he’d recently purchased at a yard sale. I dropped my gaze and watched with wide, alarmed eyes as Darth Vader walked along the windowsill, then pitched himself over the edge and into the soapy water.

Since I was no longer eight years old, my initial reaction was more like: Am I drunk? No, I just woke up. What the hell was that? But beneath all the layers of cynicism I’d gathered since childhood, there was still a tiny part of me that gleefully squeaked, See? I always knew toys were alive!

Then JR’s voice shouted, “Get in the doorway, Sweetie!” and I spun around to see him braced in the kitchen door frame. Only then did I realize it was an earthquake, not a spark of life, that had sent Darth Vader bopping across the windowsill and into the sink.

I searched for “soapy Darth Vader,” and this came up for some reason. Now my life will not be complete until I get to fly in a Vader head hot air balloon.

So there ya have it, folks – two incidents in which my MAGIC IS REAL! bubble was inflated, then popped immediately by a hard dose of boring reality.

(Although I suppose earthquakes aren’t really that boring.)

(Also, I’m still pretty sure toys are alive.)

When Dad Was in Charge of My Social Life

I grew up in the 80s – the age of big hair, Jazzercise, jelly shoes, and landlines.

And yes, the transparent phone was actually a thing.

One of the challenges of landlines was having to rely on the members of your household to let you know who called while you were out. While my mom and sister were reliable when it came to delivering messages, Dad was hit-or-miss. Case in point: I came home one day when I was around 10 or 11, and Dad informed me that Bar had called.

I stared at him a moment, then asked, “What?”

“Bar called,” he replied, his eyes glued to the television. (I can’t remember what he was watching, but it was definitely a Western, fishing show, or football.)

“Bar?” I replied.

“Yup.” As if to drive the point home, he handed me a piece of paper on which he’d written: KELLY BAR CALLED.

“I don’t know anyone named Bar,” I said, but Dad declined further comment. As far as he was concerned, his work as messenger was concluded and the conversation over.

I paused to think. Who could have called whose name sounded like Bar? I ran through my friends’ names, and none of them fit the bill. I then remembered I’d been assigned a class project with a boy named Paul. Had Paul called about the project? Did Paul sound like Bar?

“Was it a girl or a boy?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad replied.

Sigh.

Now, I was in a sticky situation. I’d never called a boy before, and the very idea was horrifying, but if Paul had called and I didn’t call back, he might tell the teacher I was shirking my responsibilities. Argh! So with my heart hammering in my ears, I found his family’s name in the phonebook and dialed the number.

His mom answered, and I squeaked out, “Is Paul there?”

“Sure, just a moment, please,” she replied, friendly as could be. “Paul!”

I almost puked in the five-second interval between speaking to his mom and hearing his voice say, “Hello?”

I swallowed hard. “Hi, Paul. This is Kelly Menser. Did you call me?”

“No,” he snapped, snide as could be. His mom’s positive role modeling clearly had no effect on him.

“Okay, bye!” Utterly mortified, I slammed down the phone, then stomped upstairs as my cheeks seared and mind swirled with furious thoughts about my father’s message-taking abilities.

That evening, my friend Laura called. “I called earlier and talked to your dad,” she said. “He didn’t tell you?”

I closed my eyes and heaved a breath out my nose. Dad knew Laura very well. He had probably talked to her a hundred times. “He told me Bar called,” I grumbled.

“Bar?” she replied.

“Yes. He even wrote it down.”

“BAR?” She burst out laughing.

When she’d quieted down a bit, I added, “And I thought it might’ve been Paul, so I called him.”

“You called PAUL?!” she shrieked. “AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!”

So at least Laura got a good laugh out of it. After I got off the phone, I went into the family room to inform Dad that it was Laura who’d called earlier.

“Okay,” he replied. Thinking back on it now, I imagine he had no idea what I was talking about.