Warrior Princess

May 30, 2008

My Grandmother, Chihuahuas and Guinea Hens

Filed under: Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 12:07 pm

Before I go any farther, I forgot one of my aunts.  Her name was Dan and she was also dead by the time I was born.

So the family in which insanity runs rampant is not necessarily a source of reliable information.  I never knew many of my aunts and uncles (even those who were alive as I was growing up).  The following is the bare outline of my grandmother’s life, gleaned from tales by my father and some of my aunts.  I decided that, if there was a general consensus, it was probably more likely than not to be true.

My grandmother, Blanche, lived with us off and on several times.  She made me feel safe, because up until the butcher knife episode, my father was never violent around her.  She was completely lacking in social graces, a tough and stoic woman.  I admired her stoicism and I tried to develop it in myself.  I was ungodly successful.

Blanche always liked boys more than girls.  I was a special grandchild, because she liked me anyway, even though I was born without the proper equipment.  Her sons were alternately coddled and neglected.  How could they not have been neglected when there were so many children and such economic deprivation?  The coddling is another thing altogether.  I think it brought out the worst in all of her male children.  None of them ever seemed to truly grow up and, at the slightest sign of trouble (which they generally created themselves) in their lives, every last one of them went running home to mommy.

The first three or four children were already grown by the time my father and the second set of spawn arrived.  My grandmother already knew the consequences of breeding with my grandfather, but she did it, anyway.  After the second group, he predictably left and sent no money for their care.  I always wondered how such a forceful, fierce, tough woman would allow that to happen twice.  They supported themselves by picking cotton.  Picking cotton stories were staples of my early life.  My father used them to make me feel guilty for not having to do it myself.  He wasn’t only being manipulative; they all tended to feel incredibly sorry for themselves.  It was the basis of my dad’s entire life.  He was happily pitiable in most every aspect of his life.

My dad reported to me that he once saw Blanche in bed with a man other than my grandfather.  I have no idea whether that’s true.  If it is, it’s not surprising in the least.  Knowing my grandmother, she might have done it just to spite my grandfather.  He also told me that he once heard my grandmother and Sis concocting a plan to murder his dad.  My dad seemed to be angry about that, but frankly, after the first round of kids, I would probably have hunted his sorry ass down and killed him myself.  Or maybe I’d have made him wish I’d killed him.

Blanche (according to relatively independent sources) hated her youngest daughter, Ruby.  My grandmother knew that her husband was sexually using the child and, of course, held it against her, not my monstrous grandfather.  I learned this after my grandmother was dead, so I didn’t have a chance to hold it against her.

My grandfather was the first in a family populated by male sadists.  He never let my grandmother have any shoes and, on one occasion, when one of my aunts gave grandma a pair of hers, my grandfather beat her for her generosity.  My grandmother and grandfather eventually divorced.  My grandfather remarried and treated his second wife with much  more respect than his first.  I don’t think they ever had any children and I know absolutely nothing about my step-grandmother.

Other than that, I know very little about Blanche.  I know she consistently cut the sleeves out of every single dress she ever owned, no matter how much they cost or how weird they looked without sleeves.  She really loved fig newtons.  My grandmother developed two addictions (other than the one she had to my grandfather) as she grew older.  Along with virtually everyone else in the country, she never missed an episode of “Dallas.”  She was addicted to soaps generally and, for the longest time, thought that Detective Mike Carr on the Guiding Light was a real guy.  We had long conversations about him when I was a little girl.  Blanche was devastated when Mike left the show and she wondered about his whereabouts for years.

She also developed a deep and abiding love of chihuahuas.  After I was around 12, I never knew my grandmother to be without one.  I believe they were all males.  Blanche really liked guinea hens and kept some tied up in the backyard whenever that was possible under city code.  They never held a candle to chihuahuas, though.  Luckily, for years we had about a hundred of them running around our backyard and she could always take the pick of the numberless litters.

After I grew up, I tried to get her to tell me about her life.  I was not successful, so I can only count on the stories I heard from her various children.  Of course, I had personal knowledge of the chihuahuas and the soaps, the sleeveless dresses and the Newtons.

I’ll go through what I know about the siblings next week.

May 27, 2008

You Asked About My Father’s Childhood

Filed under: Destroying My Childhood, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 12:08 pm

You asked about my father’s childhood.  I can give an incomplete and not necessarily thoroughly accurate account.  The truth is, there’s no one from whom those facts can be obtained.  No one in my father’s family was completely trustworthy.  Only one of his siblings is still living, the uncle who sexually assaulted me numerous times.  I’m not certain he’s still alive, but as of ten years ago, he was the only one left.  I would never ask anything of him.

I’m going to try to remember the names of his brothers and sisters, though the names I knew them by were nicknames or terms of endearment my grandmother used.  The sisters:  Jewel, Sis (I never knew her name), Eddie, Ruby, Audrey.  The brothers:  Frank, Melvin, and Jack.  Eddie and Frank died before I was born.

When I say that the family wasn’t trustworthy, I don’t mean that they were all liars (though they might have been).  I mean that mental illness touched all of them, that their singular and shared histories were heavily colored by that illness.

My grandmother was orphaned when she was a girl, along with a brother with whom she was very close.  I’m not sure how she lost her parents, but I believe there was a fire.  I think she had other siblings who also died.  Blanche, my grandmother, and her brother Ernest were sent off to an orphanage and ultimately farmed out to various families where they functioned essentially as indentured servants.  I can’t imagine the treatment they must have endured.

My grandmother married the son of one of those families.  I think his family was well-to-do.  Or maybe they only thought they were.  My grandfather was ultimately disowned, but I don’t know why.  I don’t know how old my grandmother was when she married.  I don’t even know my grandfather’s first name.

Jack, Sis and Eddie were the first set of children born.  There was a significant amount of time between the first children and the second group.  My grandfather fulfilled his responsibilities to both sets in exactly the same way:  he left.  He always found a need to work elsewhere, leaving his wife and children to sharecrop in order to survive.  Though my grandfather was working, he never sent money to his family.  It was a harsh survival.  Many times they had nothing to eat, they had very little clothing and it was probably not in the best condition.  My dad said that he and his family were ridiculed at school because of their financial circumstances.  I have no way of knowing  whether that’s true.  I think it’s just as likely that they were ostracized and made fun of because they were crazy.  Who knows.

Both of my grandparents were brutal disciplinarians.  One of my father’s ears was permanently injured from my grandmother’s penchant for twisting the kids’ ears as punishment.  According to several of my aunts and uncles, my grandmother would throw or strike with anything that was handy:  a frying pan, a piece of wood for the stove.  She had a savage temper.

I don’t have any specific tales about my grandfather’s disciplinary techniques other than that my father couldn’t bear to bring himself to discuss it.  I believe that he sexually abused all of his children.  My father had a dark secret that he wished to share only with me after I became an adult.  I heard him once speak to my (abusive) uncle about him, saying, “You don’t know what he did to me.”

What I know is that sexual and physical abuse ran rampant in my family.  Perhaps my grandmother was sexually abusive, too.  I think that’s a distinct possibility.

I can’t continue at the moment.  Sometimes when I think about my father’s family, I’m emotionally overwhelmed.  I was very, very close to my grandmother.  I can’t tell you how it pains me to believe her capable of that behavior.  So on that note, I have to stop.  With any luck, I’ll be able to continue the tale tomorrow.

May 21, 2008

Lone Wolf in Crazy Land

Filed under: Crazy Land, Office Hell, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 1:19 pm

This weekend, I made a bold and daring move:  I bought a manual for FileMaker (my relational database software).  Of course, this goes against all the unspoken tenets of Crazy Land.  If it makes work easier, you must not take that option.  Crazy Land requires the single most irrational problem solving method available.

I taught myself a great deal, but a little help has greatly expanded my knowledge base.  I can reach new heights of user-efficiency and simplicity.  As a result, I’m having even more fun than usual.

I have breached the rules.  I’m anticipating that, as soon as someone finds out, I will be separated from the pack.  Wolves aren’t really loners, despite the myth to the contrary.  However, in Crazy Land, one of the wolves always stands away from the pack.  Wonder who that could be?

May 20, 2008

Charles Barkley and Crazy Land

Filed under: Crazy Land, Office Hell, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 12:41 pm

I’m busy working these days, so I’ve missed visiting friends’ websites and responding to email/comments.   Have they no sense of priorities in Crazy Land?  Obviously not.  I hope to return to my regular schedule very soon.

My only comment today is that, if Charles Barkley says a team is going to win, never ever select that team as the winner in the office pool.  Rules to live by.

May 19, 2008

Thumb Twiddling in Crazy Land

Filed under: Crazy Land, Office Hell, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 1:20 pm

I have another client survey to complete this week and, as usual, I need information from Mr. Moneybags.  I’m psyching up to twiddle thumbs.  The 3 day rule must be enforced, for whatever reason.  When the waiting time is predictable, does it make it any easier?  No.  I’m breathing deeply while twiddling.

In the meantime, allow me to entertain myself with a recount of a short run-in with Loathsome that took place on Friday.  He was at the copier as I passed by on my way to the Information Superhighway’s office.

“Well, hello, Ms. Ggirl.”  He always calls me that.

“Hey Loathsome.  How’s your mom?”  His mom broke her hip a couple of weeks ago.  This is a diversionary tactic.  I try to get him to talk about something that won’t drive me crazy and hope I can wrap it up before he starts telling me about his latest proposal.  Or how busy he is being a manager.  Or, God help me, how well-dressed he is today.

He filled me in on the latest then, attempting to engage in normal human conversation, he asked,
“So how did things go at….”  Loathsome mumbles at this point, as if he can’t quite bring himself to focus on someone else enough to actually know where I went.  Maybe he’s one of those people who’s superstitious about things like cancer:  say the words “M.D. Anderson” and get struck with prostate cancer next week.  Who knows.  I couldn’t begin to speculate on Loathsome’s motivations.

“Did they check your gallbladder?”  He smiles knowingly.  Loathsome is convinced that my fatigue is related to a diseased gallbladder.  If you check your WebMD website, you will find absolutely no reference to fatigue as a symptom for any gallbladder-related illness.  It’s downright shocking, really, given his “medical background” (orderly in state psychiatric hospital in the early 1960’s) that I didn’t specifically ask about the potential gallbladder issues.  He also finds it shocking that my Internal Medicine doctor didn’t mention it at all.

Time for another diversionary tactic.  Luckily, I’m quick on my feet.

“They prescribed Ritalin while we wait for the test results,” I volunteered.  There’s still hope for
the gallbladder result, so he’s happy to move on.  Loathsome proceeds to give me his version of the history of Ritalin use in psychiatric patients.  He explains that it’s now used for kids with ADHD.

I stand around patiently, smiling and nodding.  I occasionally throw in an “Oh really?” or a “Wow” because I know I’m not going anywhere until I acknowledge his incredible knowledge base.  After what seems like an eternity, while casting pleading glances at Superhighway, who can see me from her office, she throws me a line.  I slide on past Loathsome, who knows that when the Information Superhighway calls, it’s probably something more pressing than my personal problems.

Now that I think about it, deep breathing and thumb twiddling don’t seem like such a huge waste of time, after all.

May 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Daddy

I almost forgot.  Happy birthday, Dad.  I’m still angry.  I’m still heartbroken.  I’m still wounded.  I’m still haunted.  I still love you, anyway.

You’re the only father I’ll ever have.  I wish everything could have been different, that you could have been different.  Nonetheless, without you, there would have been no me.  For better or worse.

Thank you for the gifts you gave me, even though they were harsh gifts.  Thank you for the many lessons in compassion.  You had a terrible life, that I’m sure of.  I celebrate your will to survive, at whatever cost.  I celebrate your talent and intelligence.

In the infinite, numinous universe, we have always been in agreement.  You were the Buddha sent to teach me.  I hope I learned those lessons well.  I hope you’re finally proud of me.

I miss your craziness.  I mostly miss the hope  that I could understand your pain, that I could heal you of your suffering.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

Ritalin

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 11:05 am

Clink.  Clink clink.  Clink.  Clink clink clink.  A teenager sat to my left, opening and closing windows at the speed of light on the public computer.  Her bangle bracelets jangled together every time she moved her arm.  A couple of men of Middle Eastern descent walked arm in arm from the elevator area to Nuclear Medicine, on the far side of Internal Medicine, where I sat, waiting.  They passed in front of me ten times in the two hours I waited for my appointment.  I never could figure out where they were going or why they had to keep leaving and coming back.  I wasn’t nervous about it; I was puzzled.  Over the two hours, four people wandered up to the coffee machine, some of them stood there and looked at the empty carafe for a few minutes before they left.  Others actually attempted to make coffee, going so far as to remove the coffee basket, only to find that the filters and coffee were nowhere to be found.  Being a pro, I knew they were locked in drawers under the cabinet.

Two hours.  My appointment with the Internal Medicine physician began to seem like an incredibly stupid idea.  I’d already completed the 50 page (no, seriously) questionnaire within the first half hour.  Why wouldn’t I get up, leave the questionnaire and drive home?  Why wouldn’t I just continue to be exhausted?  I was getting ready to check myself out when they called my name.

I’d handed over my completed questionnaire an hour earlier, but no one could locate it.  I guess a search party was organized.  They found it about ten minutes after I’d been sitting in the tiny exam room, still contemplating whether I could get up and leave.  I knew the exam was going to be lengthy, because I had two scheduled, back to back.  I had the Advanced Nurse Practitioner, then the Internal Medicine doctor.  I was almost certain there would be blood work, which would mean I’d have to probably wait another 45 minutes in the lab area.  Then there would be a four hour ride home.

Fatigue is hard to quantify.  On the questionnaire they asked things like, “How much does your fatigue interfere with your ability to clean the house?”  Please define the word “interfere” in this context.  “Can you walk around the block?”  Yes, but then I have to lie down for two hours.  There was no place on the form to note the toll the walk would take.  I can do virtually everything, but there is an energy cost and it’s high.  They attempt to quantify by assigning numbers to all of the answers and adding them up so that you fall into a range of fatigue levels.

Luckily, my new doctor didn’t rely only on the answers to the questions.  The nurse and I talked for about 45 minutes, then I spent another hour with Dr. Escalante.  It was worth the wait.  She listened to me, prompted me when she needed more information, then examined me.  She ordered lab work.

Dr. Escalante reminded me that long-term fatigue is very common among breast cancer survivors and it’s more likely for those of us who’ve had multi-modal treatment.  That’s a fancy way of saying that they’ve beaten me down with chemo, radiation and four surgeries.  Of course I’m tired.  There are some new research studies underway to try to determine why this is so, what internal mechanisms are factors in creating fatigue, but no one knows exactly why right now.  Dr. Escalante acknowledged that I’m doing everything I can to improve my quality of life, so she suggested another alternative.

My new anti-fatigue drug is Ritalin.  The other drug they use is something called ProVigil, which is FDA-approved for treatment of narcolepsy.  I understand why that works, I think.  I fall asleep sitting up, using the bathroom, anywhere I have a moment of inactivity.  It’s supposed to help with chemobrain, too.  Some days I’m able to think clearly, but mostly not.  I’m in a perpetual fog.

I got home around 11:00 Monday night.  Wednesday night there was a terrible storm.  We’re still dealing with the aftereffects.  It’s been a long, long week.  I can’t feel any upsurge in energy since I started Ritalin.  Next week, I’ll tell you about Loathsome’s take on the fatigue issue.  You’re going to love it.

May 14, 2008

Tattoo

It was a standard-issue M.D. Anderson day:  Arrive early and wait…and wait…and wait.  I thought I had an appointment with Dr. K.’s nurse to have myself tattooed.  Brenda and I had a difference of opinion, though.  I wondered why she never appeared on my schedule.  We had a couple of phone conversations about it, but she neglected to pencil me in.  After about 30 minutes of waiting as she scurried around getting the necessary approvals, we got down to the ink.

It took a couple of hours to finish, including the prep time spent finding the right colors, drawing the template, etc.  There were a couple of areas where I had some pain, but I’m virtually completely numb.  In case you don’t know, scabs will form that must not be disturbed or the color will come off with them.  I can’t wear a bra for 5 days and I have to apply Aquaphor twice a day.  I hated to see the jar of Aquaphor.  They gave me that during chemo to stave off the sores on my hands, but it did absolutely no good.  My brain automatically rejects everything that was related to chemo.

So here I am at work, bra-less.  Being a member of the groovy generation, I used to go without a bra rather frequently, before propriety and gravity asserted themselves.  I don’t think, even in my youth, that I ever showed up at a job lacking adequate foundation garments.  Today I wore a large NBA tee shirt from the year the Phoenix Suns were in the Finals, but the Aquaphor almost immediately created a dark round spot the exact size of the tattoo (or aureole).  I’m not sure how I’m going to get through the rest of the week.  I simply don’t have that many XL tee shirts, even of the NBA variety (of which I have quite a few).

The other issue is one of bounce.  The girls are pretty perky and, no matter how slowly and carefully I walk, they tend to move around a bit.  The thought that Loathsome or Mr. Moneybags glimpsing the girls actually moving makes me a little queasy.

There’s ever so much more to share; the day actually went downhill from there.  However, in my absence, Crazy Employee has managed to make part of one of the databases malfunction.  I can’t figure out how she did it.  She’s gifted, I suppose.

Due to database repair and exhaustion, Part Deux tomorrow.

May 13, 2008

Another Typical Day in Crazy Land

Filed under: Crazy Land, Office Hell, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 11:16 am

I wrote this post on Friday, only to have our Internet connection go down for the rest of the day.  Ed (our previous IT guy) used to blame it on a “wire” being cut in San Antonio.  I’m not sure if Techy boy even offered an explanation, but I guarantee that Owner was peeved when our IT staff of one left the office early on Friday.  A little catching up now….

We’re having an off-site bridal shower today for one of our Crazy Land employees. I am so not in the mood. Nothing like spending a couple of hours with Crazy Employee and the Foot Lady. Obviously, I need to work on cultivating a more positive attitude about this.

The Information Superhighway, the Ladies’ Man and I just spent about ninety minutes talking about the Superhighway’s husband. He still hasn’t gotten a job, but he suggested last night that they drive a friend of theirs to Canada, then come back via the East Coast. Yes, that’s sane.

Hemorrhoid Guy is out playing golf with Mr. Moneybags and the Golf Pro. H.G. called me this morning to point out that we all owe him now for getting Moneybags out of the office all day. I’m sorry for the Hemorrhoid, but I take some wicked pleasure that the Golf Pro and Mr. Moneybags are having to spend the day together. They hate each other. Well, everybody hates Golf Pro. Except me. I’m like Switzerland; I’m officially neutral.

My biggest concern with the shower is that Foot Lady will find an opportunity to plop her foot up on the table at the foofy cafe where we’re having lunch.  You laugh.  Do not underestimate Foot Lady’s brazenness in whipping her shoe off, hiking her foot up onto any flat surface and launching into a recitation of her most recent woes.  She seems to believe that viewing the foot is the only way we can fully appreciate the sorry condition of her feet.  Sometimes I wonder if complete strangers at the grocery store, for instance, are treated to a lesson in podiatry complete with visual aids.


Monday, I’ll be in Houston once again. I’m having the tattoo done finally. I also have an appointment with an internal medicine physician to talk about pain and fatigue.

May 8, 2008

The New Rules, Reiterated

Hubby and I both forgot our anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  It dawned on me over the weekend that we’d missed it…again.  I’m not good with the anniversary/birthday/special event thing.

I wonder if that’s because, as I was growing up, we never celebrated anything.  I’d get a birthday gift and Christmas gifts, I got cards for my Mom and Dad and bought gifts when I could.  It always felt like work, though, even (or especially) when I was the recipient.  “Celebration” was never a word that had much meaning to me.  Observances of that type were onerous and treacherous.  Bad things were guaranteed to happen; they were danger zones that cropped up from time to time in the endless, gray progression of time.

As I grew older, I learned how important it is to honor special days or rites of passage.  Celebrating became a “should” in my life.   If I’m a mentally healthy, spiritually grounded person, I should incorporate some times for rejoicing in my life.  That’s the rule.

Unfortunately, because it was never a part of my growing-up experience, those observances never became a habit.  It feels like something I’ve tacked onto my life and, when I forget anniversaries or birthdays, I feel like a failure.   If I manage to remember and make special arrangements for festivities, it’s stressful and joyless. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

Every day I get up in the morning and give thanks for all of the blessings in my life, past and present.  This is celebration, also.  I have to remind myself that I’m not a failure if I forget “special” events (including my own birthday).  I have to remind myself that, because every morning begins with prayer, every single day is a celebration.

Hubby and I forget our anniversary on a regular basis.  It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other or that either of us feels unloved because we’ve forgotten.  It’s a thing we laugh about together.

I’m trying to learn to let myself be as I am, especially right now as I continue to struggle with fatigue and pain.  Learning that lesson and living it is its own challenge.  Everything in my life is exactly as it should be, including the consequences of a life I did not choose.  I’m officially lightening up.

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