Pushed

Pushed

carrotFood has always been a thing for me. Growing up, junk food was easy to come by. Both of my parents love to cook, but even more than that, they love to feed. It wasn’t unusual for us to have cherry chip cake batter for dinner, homemade caramel rolls just because or fried chicken as a snack. And during my adolescent years, my parents owned a fast-food restaurant. Imagine all of the onion rings, chili cheese dogs, cheese balls, ranch dressing, pork fritters and root beer floats at your disposal. That was my life. Food was always there.

Until I went to college and moved away. I took control, immersed myself in health magazines, cut out fried foods and exercised. I shed some pounds and felt healthy. But I’m not one to do things in moderation — it’s all or nothing. So, not long after kicking off my lifestyle change, I became obsessed with counting calories and burning them off.

During the week, my routine was strict: eating mostly fruits and vegetables, and ending the day with at least an hour and a half of intense cardio. On weekends, I allowed myself to be a little lax with my diet, if I intensified my work out. And if I indulged too much one day, I’d punish myself with fewer calories or more sweating the next. It was a vicious and exhausting cycle. But the high I got off of getting a hunger pang and not giving in to it was as seductive as it was addictive.

Eventually, I stopped menstruating. The good part about that was — well, there were a lot of good parts — but mainly, as a sexually active woman, I didn’t worry about an unwanted pregnancy.

I was 36, dating and gaining weight with Greg. Happy hour at Durant’s or spin class was an easy choice. A weekend at the Royal Palms, eating fancy food and lounging in the pool with a cocktail, instead of training for a marathon suddenly seemed like a no-brainer.

I started menstruating again. My doctor gave me birth control but after a month I stopped taking it, citing headaches. Really, I was petrified it might make me gain more weight. I told Greg I went off, but we weren’t worried about pregnancy. Who gets pregnant a week after they go off of birth control, anyway?

Me. That’s who.

I ended up gaining 45 pounds. Pregnancy made me sick and tired. Vegetables and fruits made me want to gag. Grease is what I craved. I can tell you how to get to every Mexican restaurant in the Valley. I can also tell you that I don’t regret eating buffalo wings for breakfast. I did try to balance things out by walking during my lunch breaks, but mostly I just laid my head down on my desk. I worried some about how I was going to get the weight off, but really I was too tired to care.

Archer Porter Ensell was born at 9:06 p.m. on December 13, 2015. I still haven’t lost all of the weight and I’m OK with it. People tell me I look better, healthier than before. These same people once told me I’d never be able to imagine just how much I’d love Archer.

These are trustworthy people.

 

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One Dollar Per Minute

One Dollar Per Minute

scott-rodgerson-375874-unsplashI hate making decisions. I get anxious in line at Starbucks. When I get a pedicure, I have the pedicurist pick out the color she thinks would look best. And in certain situations, I don’t know whether or not to get mad, so I ask my mom. “Take the emotion out of it,” she says. I don’t know how to do that, so I take a Xanax. And when it comes to relationships, I never know if I’m in the right one, which is where my psychic comes in.

I’ve been going to Alexis for seven years — sometimes I meet her in coffee shops, sometimes at her home, but most times we chat over the phone. I get a reading every three months — it’s all she’ll allow. Apparently, the spirits get pissed if you do it more often.

Anyway, Alexis is usually pretty spot-on. When I was five months pregnant she knew it was a boy. And one time, she could see a trip — I ended up going to San Francisco. Another time, she sensed I was tired, maybe I was hypoglycemic? No diagnosis yet, but still. She also sensed my mom and I were close. So it was made sense to call her five months ago when I was unsure if Greg and I should be together.

It was Friday night and my reading was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. I got home from work, poured a vodka, grabbed my notebook and sat by the pool. I needed quiet — away from Greg — to meditate for five minutes. I don’t know if drinking while mediating is taboo, but I do know meditating is a judgment-free zone.

After Alexis read my energy, which was yellow — signifying empowerment — and pink — symbolizing wanting to start a new chapter in my love life — she asked, “Do you have any questions?”

“Yeah, my relationship,” I said, not really posing a question.

I could hear her shuffling and pulling the tarot cards. Then she said she saw a spiritual connection between Greg and me, but different priorities. She told me I wanted more, marriage to be exact. And then asked me why.

“He’s only interested in himself,” she said, “He’s narcissistic. “I’m getting that there was a time he was unfaithful, but he’s done with all that now.”

She finished by telling me I wanted vulnerable love and to be careful what I wished for because, in a couple months, a new man would come into my life and make a move.

That sounded kind of nice, but I was mad about this new revelation. I hung up and went into the kitchen where Greg was cooking dinner — we were due for company in an hour.

“You cheated on me,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” He asked, a dish towel draped over his shoulder.

“I just got off the phone with my psychic and she told me.”

“Meghan, are you serious?”

Yes, I told him, I was serious.

“You’re going to believe some unemployed psychic over me?”

“Yes. Why would she lie?”

“Fucking unreal,” he said before texting our friends not to come over because we were fighting.

I wondered, what if Alexis was wrong? Was I being crazy? Also, I wanted to have dinner with our friends.

A few minutes passed as I struggled with my neurosis and then I tugged on Greg’s apron, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Silence.

“Oh, come on. Let’s laugh about this. I got mad at you over something a psychic said!”

Slowly, he smiled and pulled me in for a hug. I texted our friends: Fight’s over! Dinner is back on!  

Three months later, I made an appointment with Alexis.

From Coachella to Mama

From Coachella to Mama

994108_10206633131330114_1337834319862022648_nWe’re where we are now because he thought I was hot and I thought he was powerful. We did the things you do when you’re newly dating and trying your damnedest to impress someone. He took me to fancy galas, four-star restaurants, out-of-town resorts, new cities, Coachella and his bedroom. I bought gowns I couldn’t afford, cooked intricate recipes, played coy, shaved my legs and wore Coco Chanel perfume — always. And, together, we ate expensive cheeses and drank. A lot.

Greg (that’s his name) and I were never without booze. Initially, I needed a vodka before I’d see him because I was intimidated. He stood over six-feet tall, with broad shoulders, a bald head and wore a questionable mustache — confidently. He drove a sporty BMW convertible and had a career — not a job — that allowed him to attend events I never really quite fit in at. These people, his crowd, were politicos. They believed in things, belonged to organizations and took actions. I dreamed of things, belonged to L.A. Fitness and took Xanax.

Greg knew all of the hip places to go, dressed in thrift-shop clothes and traveled the globe. And, he knew how to properly taste wine. He was a self-proclaimed wine snob and always had a glass poured for me when I showed up to his apartment. And then, being a gentleman, he’d refill my glass. And, refill it again. And, I’d drink it.

Most mornings, I’d wake up in Greg’s bed and stumble into the living room to find a half-eaten brick of cheese, tipped over empty wine bottles on a wine-soaked coffee table, and a hangover. I’d always apologize, just in case, and then jet off to my place to get ready for work.

This routine went on for nine months. And then, we went to Coachella. A place I quickly learned a 36-year-old shouldn’t be. Even with the skimpy sundress, flower crown, stick-on tattoos and tab of molly, I felt out of my element. And, you know what fixes that feeling? More alcohol.

img_2583
Before the break up.

As I’m sure you know, or have heard, bad things happen at Coachella: binge drinking, drugs, too-short shorts, one-night stands and fights. And Greg and I had an epic one that ended in a late-night drive back to Phoenix — and a break up. Three years later, and I still find the fight ridiculous. It’s hazy, but I remember enough to know that it all started when a group of us were sitting around the kitchen table at the rented house where we were staying, picking at leftover burritos and pharmaceuticals. A little blue pill caught my eye and I, perhaps a little too quickly, called dibs.

It was Viagra. But before I tell you more, let me be clear that in no way was I insinuating Greg was lacking in the bedroom. I just wanted to have sex more. And by the way, what’s wrong with that? Either way, he took it as an attack and attacked me back.

Later that night, next to the porta-potties, out of nowhere, Greg spewed at me, “You don’t have any friends!”

“Yes, I do!” I yelled back, stammering as I tried to think of names.

“No, you don’t. We only do things with my friends,” he shouted at me, over AC/DC.

“You are so mean,” I told him, “I’m done. Fuck off.”

And with that, he jumped on his bike and rode off, leaving me next to the toilets and a group of dancing unicorns. It was dark, I was drunk and didn’t know where my bike was or how to get back to the house. It’s amazing how quickly adrenaline can sober you up. I found my bike and raced after Greg. The only reason I caught up with him is because he got a flat tire. Karma? I’d like to think so.

We didn’t talk at all during the four-hour ride home. He dropped me, my bike and my house key off at my apartment around midnight. It was over.

A week after the break up, I was feeling relieved. Sad, but relieved. While we were dating, I had stopped counting calories and let my intense exercise routine slip, in lieu of drinking wine and eating cheese with Greg. Now, I could get back to focusing on myself. My friend, Seteara, had even pointed out to me that my bra wasn’t fitting quite right.

While we were out doing some therapy shopping, Seteara looked down at my chest, poked a lump of fat protruding from my bra and said, “You need a bigger bra.” I looked down. There was no room for a rebuttal. She was right. At the time, I was wearing a size B. I’d been that size for over eight years. The only reason, I could think, that they were growing was because I’d been eating so much cheese. Blue cheese, mostly. Cheese is full of fat and so are boobs, so it made sense.

I bought a size C bra and called it a day. And then, I called my mom. As the saying goes: Moms know best. In passing, I told Mom that I had to buy a bigger bra from eating too much cheese. “Cheese?” she asked. Yeah, I told her. I had been getting carried away with the blue cheese. “Meghan! That’s not from cheese. You’re pregnant!” she announced, laughing.

No way could I be pregnant, I told her. And then, I hung up and drove to Target — to buy a pregnancy test. After peeing on three of them, it was confirmed. I was knocked up. And, alone.

How in the hell do you tell your ex-boyfriend that you’re pregnant? I mean, I knew I had to tell him. But, I didn’t want him to be with me just because I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be with him just because I was pregnant. We’d both said some pretty ugly things to each other and neither of us were begging for the other to come back.

A year later, when we’d lawyer up and sue each other for custody, I’d wish I never told him. But that night, three years ago, I did the big-girl thing. I had my mom text Greg. She told him I was upset and needed to talk. Within minutes, he called. I told him I missed him and loved him and there was no reason we couldn’t work things out. We weren’t beating on or cheating on each other. “Let’s go to therapy,” I said. He agreed with me and committed to go. “One more thing,” I said, “I’m pregnant.”

 

Shedding Chaos for Corporate, Courtesy of Phoenix

Shedding Chaos for Corporate, Courtesy of Phoenix

Surely, this will be "The One."
Surely, this will be “The One.”

When I was 10, living in Iowa, I watched my mom – from Highway 169 – hitchhike into a rusty, brown truck with two strange men. She was trying to save herself from my dad. I screamed after her, to take me with her, but it was too late. She was gone. And a short while later my brother, sister and I were sitting in the back of a police car, which took us to my mom; while my dad was taken away in a different police car.

Five years later – with Dad back in the picture – Mom moved on to saving other people. My parents owned a restaurant and employed several teenage girls, many of whom found themselves pregnant and homeless. Mom took them in, fixed up our spare bedrooms and made them comfortable as they bloomed and glowed.

Naturally, I wanted to fix people, too. Prisons are full of people to fix, so after college I began working as a counselor at a medium/maximum security men’s prison. However, I wasn’t the born fixer that my mom was. In other words, I got off to a rocky start. I made a satanist attend Alcoholics Anonymous. He had a bit of an alcohol problem, so I put AA on his treatment plan.

Being only 21 and fairly naïve, it didn’t click that AA believes in a higher power, which many groups refer to as God. Whereas, satanists, well, they have an issue with God and worship Satan. Some might say this is a conflict of interest. After AA, the satanist came into my office to confront me. I validated him, but at the same time, tried to justify my behavior by saying a higher power could be anything – even the chair I was placing in between us. He wasn’t buying it and left with the devil in his eyes.

During this time, my parents’ marriage crumbled, tearing our family apart.  I wasn’t going down with them. I was going to do better for myself. So obviously, the only way I could do that, was to move to Phoenix.

To get me on my feet, my uncle gave me a job at his bank, which really isn’t worth getting into. In part because I only worked there for a year, but mostly because I have no idea what I did there – besides get paper cuts. By this time, I had my master’s in clinical psychology, so I was hired as a therapist at the Arizona State Psychiatric Hospital – working with the Guilty Except Insane population – where I felt right at home. If you’re wondering what the place is like, it’s probably how just how you’d imagine.

I worked with patients who strangled their mothers with phone cords, patients who walked around cuddling and kissing Cabbage Patch Dolls as if they were their children and patients who were rapists.

Forty-year-old S was a rapist. I adored him. We had sort of a special relationship, whereas, he would come to my office every morning fill me in on the hospital gossip, tell me some pretty stellar jokes and devour the latest In Style magazine with me. But then, things got weird.

One winter morning, S came to my office with a grocery sack and handed it to me. I opened it to find a pair of red, silky pajamas. It was a set, you know, a pair of pants and a top. I carefully examined them. They were frayed and had visibly been worn. The sleeves and ankles were lined with black feathers. I detected must. And then, I saw the tag – size XL. He did not order these from Victoria’s Secret and I could not picture myself falling asleep in them, let alone simply wearing them around the house, drinking my morning cup of coffee, reading the news. I was offended. After all of the In Style’s we read together, how could S give me these? And then, he told me they were special. They were his mother’s.

Now, I feel like I’m probably sounding like the crazy one here. I’m describing these pajamas to you like they were a real Christmas present from a boyfriend – not a mentally ill person. Why would I do that? A normal person would probably have just shoved them right back in the bag and been super creeped out. I was becoming desensitized to his behavior and so, after five years of working with the criminally insane, I left.

I needed to make things better for myself. So clearly, the next career move for me would be to go to an adult boutique store and work as a sex and relationship expert. I was totally qualified – I’ve had sex before.

I was not totally qualified. People were writing to me, asking my opinion on the best sex positions. What, there was more than just missionary? People wanted details on furry fetishes. Huh, did that mean spooning underneath a thick, furry blanket? And, I received questions wanting to know the proper way to ask someone to swing. Like, make love in a hammock?

I was clueless, but my intuition told me this was not what these people were referring to. Ultimately, I ended up doing more research for this job than I ever did for my dissertation.

I was writing about objects I had never seen or used before, teaching classes about activities I had never done or heard of, and overseeing events that made me more uncomfortable than wearing pantyhose in the middle of August. I began pathologizing every customer I came into contact with at these events.

Gauged ears, cheek and tongue rings, sleeved tattoos and she’s a dominatrix? Clearly this girl is into pain because she was sexually abused at some point, felt a loss of power and this is her way of controlling it. He dresses up as a baby, wears a collar and likes to be spanked by much older women? Surely, his mom abandoned him as an infant resulting in insecure attachment issues.  And so on, and so forth.

And then, it hit me. These people were here for fun. I was here for work.  Also, what gave me the right to pathologize them? What about me? Maybe I was the sick one. I kept putting myself in all of these chaotic, dysfunctional situations, after all.

And, so I entered the corporate world, writing about incredibly boring things. I encounter much fewer satanists and rapists, and no longer receive hand-me-down pajamas, but it’s something I can live with. Because I came to Phoenix 10 years ago to escape dysfunction and finally, I have.

Losing My Family, Keeping My Home

Losing My Family, Keeping My Home

I'm not going anywhere. Unless you push me.
I’m not going anywhere. Unless you push me.

Growing up, I didn’t have the best dad. And, by saying that, I mean he just wasn’t really around, and when he was there I walked on eggshells. His presence was large and frightening, so I tried my best to stay out of his way. I spent a lot of time in my room reading Francine Pascal, V.C. Andrews, Judy Blume and R.L. Stine, writing wistful poetry, listening to depressing music, watching Nick-at-Nite and eating Doritos and Pop-Tarts. Anything to self-soothe.

My parents never had a stable marriage. It was riddled with addictions, domestic violence, cheating, and well, all the awful stuff you see on Lifetime and Dateline. When I was nine, I vowed to never be in a relationship like theirs. And, we all know how promises like that turn out. I attracted every man who drank too much, shot himself up with steroids, punched me in the face, was married or lied just for the hell of it. And maybe, I even sought them out.

And then, when I was 24, I discovered my dad’s affair. Torn, but my mom being my best friend, I ratted him out. And, she torn as well – I’m sure – kicked him out, and then took him back. Dad was never mad at me, but I couldn’t handle it. I had interfered in my parents’ marriage. I had called my dad’s girlfriend. Maybe even threatened her, who can remember? And, I had broken my mom’s heart. Oh, and I had gone against my brother and sister’s wishes: they wanted me to keep the secret. I had caused major distress in our family.

So, I ran away.

Phoenix seemed like a plausible choice. I had family here: Uncle G, Aunt J and two cousins, S and B – both around my age. They would take me in and help me start a new life. Also, they weren’t fucked up, like my family. I could learn important life skills from them. Things I missed out on amidst the chaos.

And, I did. I learned how to host dinner parties, make small talk, carry myself like a lady, treat a man right, color block and accessorize, order a vodka soda and swill wine. But most importantly, as a lady, I learned how I should be treated.

After 45 years of marriage, G heavily doted on J. He would toss his arm around her shoulders, drop her off at the door when it was raining, buy her jewelry, lavish her with compliments and just overall spoil her. He was visibly and excessively in love with her. I loved watching it – mostly because it was so novel to me.

Over the years we all became very close. They treated me as their own. They were my people. I was over at G and J’s every weekend for family dinners and I spent holidays, birthdays and vacations with them. I was in on family jokes, family gossip, family secrets and family fights.

I felt particularly close to and was very fond of G. I slipped and called him ‘Dad.’

G was a real man. He co-founded a bank when he was young and became insanely successful and admired. G had a soft spot for dogs and horses and wept during sappy movies and sad stories. He wore an apron in the kitchen and the finest suits to work. He played golf at Firerock Country Club and had a voice that rivaled Tony Bennett. He had impeccable taste and loved taking us to places like Nobu, Binkley’s and The Italian Restaurant; yet knew how to enjoy a brat at a Diamondbacks game. He got manicures, wore a mustache and threw a more spectacular temper tantrum than a two-year-old getting his Legos taken away.

The Grand Canyon couldn’t contain G’s personality – or his generosity. The moment I’d walk through the front door, I’d get a whiff of his cologne. It made me smile, but his smile, when I’d tell him how good he smelled, made me smile more. There would always be a drink waiting for me and Norah Jones playing – he knew she was one of my favorites. But, before I’d even drive over to G and J’s house on Lakeview, I’d study the news because I’d want to have something topical in my arsenal, so we could banter. G was intimidatingly brilliant and had no qualms in showing off.

Last year, unexpectedly, G got very ill.

It was bizarre seeing him so weak, because he’d been such a force his whole life. G was in ICU for a few days before he passed away. He died a week before his 66th birthday. The devastation of his death was collective and overwhelming. G’s employees and friends were overcome with grief. And his family, his family was shattered and shocked. G was the patriarch of the family and without him, they felt lost.

Death does weird things to people. It causes them to act out in strange ways. This situation is not out of the ordinary. After the funeral, my aunt and cousins distanced themselves from me. I was excluded from things, from events, from grieving together. Not only had I lost G that month, but I lost the rest of my family, too. I was alone in the desert.

I wanted to run away, again. It would be the easy and natural thing to do. The emptiness was consuming and the aching relentless. So, I prepared to go to the only place I knew bigger than my heartache: Texas. My brother was there and I could purge my pain into the Rio Grande or maybe just coat it in queso.

I sold my condo in Old Town and rented an apartment in Midtown. My job was a contract position, so essentially I had no commitments. Nothing was tying me to Phoenix. But as much as I’ve snubbed commitment in the past, I quickly discovered how deeply I was committed to The Valley.

I didn’t want to move.

Arizona was home. I worked hard to create a life here and didn’t want to abandon it. I thought about everything keeping me here: my friends – whom I love greatly, the mountains I hike weekly, the kids at Chrysalis where I volunteer and the arts community I’m involved in. Even the monsoons, haboobs and driving in traffic when it’s raining hold a special place in my heart. And, I met someone. Someone eerily reminiscent of G. So a piece of me stayed for the unknown.

Ultimately, I’m home. Savoring old memories and creating new ones.

Are You Dead Yet?

Are You Dead Yet?

Have a bowl of this stuff. It will make it all better.
Have a bowl of this stuff. It will make it all better.

“Is he dead, yet?” I asked my mom, apathetically. It was dark and we were speeding down Highway 83 in my dad’s tangerine pickup truck, trimmed with red racing stripes on either side. My mom at the wheel, me scrunched between she and my 3-year-old brother, M. I was 8.

No answer.

M had swallowed some fishing line and it was unclear if anything was on the other end. Naturally, Mom was worried so we were headed to the ER. I, on the other hand, didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. The only bouts I’d had with death at that age were second-hand. I’d merely overheard the adults talking about it. Things like, “Did you hear June Foster died? You know, she was Al and Linda’s daughter. Yeah, with folks like those, you’d think she would have taken better care of herself. Such a shame. She’ll be missed. ”

I tugged at the fishing line. M gagged. He wasn’t dead.

And, he didn’t die. A couple of X-rays concluded nothing was at the end of that line and a few hours later, we were piled back in the truck, cruising back down Highway 83. During the ride home, I still felt the same: apathetic. M, I’m sure, felt more comfortable. And, Mom clearly felt calmer. Her hands were lighter on the steering wheel, the radio was playing and she was humming along to Anne Murray’s, Daydream Believer. When we got home, we were treated to ice cream. Lots of ice cream.

The next time I would ask if someone was dead, I would be asking myself. Over the course of the last few months, I would wonder daily if my mom was dead. If the man she was living with had killed her. I would call to check in on her. If she didn’t answer her phone, I’d text her. And if there was no response within an hour, I’d call or text my brother and sister to see who had talked to her last. Each day felt like an episode of 48 Hours – but with no resolution.

So my brother and I tried to resolve it. We’d move her away – with one of us, since we both live out of state. She’d just leave her things behind – they’re just things – and fly to either of us. Or, we’d fly to Iowa and get her. On numerous occasions, after numerous assaults, Mom agreed. And then, he was nice again. Or, maybe next week? Or, crashing into our lives just didn’t feel right.

Each time, I’d be heartbroken. Hearing about my 60-year-old mom getting her head beat in by some piece of shit made me want to kill him. I’d beg her to get a restraining order. She wouldn’t. I’d plead with her to go to a domestic violence shelter. She’d ignore me. I’d tell her to kick his ass out. She’d lie. So, I’d cry.

But in the end, or as of this moment, none of my tactics worked. And really, I get it. I get all of it. The older we get, the scarier moving becomes. And we can’t make someone change – they have to want it. Me, sitting here, with big expectations only yields disappointment. And, Lord knows I’ve got enough of that in my life. But I will always offer my support – and a big bowl of ice cream.