This is the fourth time my family – my mom, dad, husband and I – have piled in a rented minivan and burned up the interstate between New York and Kentucky. It is also the fourth time we’ve checked into one of the two hotels in this tiny no-stoplight town. This will be the fourth time I’ve seen my aunt – and my father’s side of the family – in eight months. That’s more than I’ve seen them in the last ten years.

If not for my husband, we probably wouldn’t be here. He’s been the driving force – both literally driving and figuratively pushing – in getting us here. If left to us, my family and I would be putting off these visits…we’d find excuses – no time off, too long a drive, nothing to do while we’re there, too much to do at home – and then find ourselves here only when summoned, like we were with my grandfather, by announcement of death.

My aunt was diagnosed with ALS just over 2 years ago. She went for some time without any symptoms to speak of and then – BAM – her body started slipping away. First her hands, then her arms, the disease crept up her extremities and slowly robbed her of the things she loved to do the most: keep her house, hug her grandbabies, cook huge southern dinners with too much butter and too many deep fried components. Before long, her legs started to betray her, giving out while she walked with her girlfriends, refusing to let her stand for any length of time. Before she knew it, she was confined to a wheelchair. Not that it was easy to get her to admit she needed the wheelchair. Like her father before her, and her brother after her, that side of my family is legendary in its stubbornness. 

At my wedding, my aunt was walking. Today, she’s barely breathing.

When her legs started to give way, it was my husband who said we needed to visit her. See her “now, while she can enjoy you. Before she’s too far gone.” My father and my mother and I all came up with excuses. We didn’t want to bother her. We didn’t have the time off of work. We had other things planned. We were busy. Really, we were scared. We were afraid to see her slowly fading. We were afraid of it being awkward, of not knowing what to say or what to talk about. Afraid to ask how she was feeling, afraid of what was happening to her. So we buried our heads and went about our business. 

And then my grandfather died. The last time I had seen him was at my wedding. My father had a plan to see him, but Paw Paw died two weeks before that plan was realized. We missed seeing him. We didn’t get to say goodbye. We waited too long to see him, and it was too late. That vacation my dad had planned to spend with my Paw Paw? He spent it tending to Paw Paw’s estate. Going through his house and looking at pictures that Paw Paw wouldn’t get to explain now. It was awful. And it was also a wakeup call. My husband had been right. What the fuck had we been waiting for?

At my grandfather’s funeral in May, my aunt’s ability to speak was showing the first signs fading. “She’s dying, Anna,” my husband told me. “We can’t wait to come back here.” He was right. My grandfather was 91 when he died; there was a time that it was a very real possibility that he would outlive his 66 year old daughter. We decided to visit again for the Fourth of July.

By July, my aunt’s ability to speak was grinding to a halt. Her brain knew what she wanted to say, but the struggle to form the words was evident. Her mouth moved too slowly, her tongue seemed fat and thick and useless. The little use she had of her hands was now limited to her fingers, and the most she could do with her legs was swing one back and forth.

“She won’t make it through the holidays,” my husband said. “We need to go back.” He couldn’t come with us, but we planned a trip in the fall. And the difference between her summer and fall self was stark. Her voice was almost entirely gone. She was waiting for a computer system that would speak for her. She used a motorized chair that she could control with the movement of her head; which was the only thing that she could move anymore.

I suppose that every time we left, I felt like it was the last time we’d see her. We’d pull out of their driveway after our week-long visit and I’d see her there – at the top of the ramp they’d had to install over the front porch of the house she’d lived in for the last fifty years; her hands helplessly limp on the arms of her chair, her face curled into honest and heartbreaking tears, her head buried in her sad husband’s belly – and I’d think, “This is it. This is the last time I will see her face. This is the last time my dad will hug his sister.”

She had a feeding tube implanted just after we left the last time. But she doesn’t want to use it. She made her husband sign a DNR. She told her children – via a letter that she had type at an excruciatingly slow pace, using a special computer program that registers the movement of her eyes over a keyboard – that while she had wanted to prolong her life as far as possible, she’d changed her mind. Because this was not a life, she said. She couldn’t hug her grandkids. She can’t fold laundry. She can’t feed or clothe herself. She can’t even talk. It’s not living, just existing. 

Despite growing breathing problems, increasing pain and frustration, she had a beautiful holiday with her family. I thought of her the whole time, knowing that she knows this is probably her last Christmas. 

When her hospice nurse told my cousin that they’d be lucky to have her for another four weeks, my husband once again insisted we visit. 

And here we are, in a hotel room. He’s sleeping beside me, recovering from a long over-night drive. My parents are already there, at my aunt’s house, visiting her for what we all probably think is the last time.

I’m scared of what I’ll see when I see her. She’s thinner and she can’t speak and she’s hurting and she’s frustrated….and there’s this thing about someone so helpless and quiet, who looks at you with wide, frustrated eyes and an open, silent mouth; it makes you want to treat them like a child. But she’s not; her mind is sharp as it was when she was an Registered Nurse in the pediatric unit of the local hospital. It’s not that her body’s not working because her brain stopped. On the contrary, her whole body stopped working while her brain is just as good as ever. She’s a prisoner in her own body. She feels everything, but she can’t move. She hurts, but she can’t do anything about it. She knows what she wants to say, but the words won’t come out. It’s like everyone’s worse nightmare, come to life. It might be the cruelest disease imaginable. 

I wonder, but I don’t know, how she feels; I’m afraid to ask her. I don’t know why. Maybe because I think it would hurt her to explain it? Maybe because I think it’s about as impolite as asking a woman her age or her weight? Maybe because I’m afraid I don’t want to know, because I can’t even imagine the depth of her sadness and hurt.

I also don’t know how my father feels. Once she’s gone, he’ll be the only one of his family left. I can’t imagine the loneliness that comes with that; your family is the only witness you have to certain parts of your life. To have them all gone, to have to carry those memories and stories and experiences all on your own now, must be terribly heavy. My heart aches when I think of what he must feel. Watching him watch her is the hardest part of being here. He looks at her like my little brother looks at me. It’s heartbreaking.

But I’m glad I get to see it. I’m glad my husband champions our coming back. I’m glad we’re not falling short on goodbyes this time. I’m glad we’re here for her; I’m glad we’re here for my daddy. I’m glad we’re here. Even if it’s scary.

Sometimes, I have these fantasies. In them, I take the socks I find – balled and out of place – and throw them as hard as I can at the door. I hurl dirty pots and pans through windows. I throw shoes and hunting paraphernalia at walls. I cherish the crash and the shatter and even the soft thuds that erupt when they make contact with their targets. Dishes, which were supposed to be washed, make a glassy splash against our tile floors, utensils – still grimy from their use two days ago – clang against our granite counter tops.  The house is alive with the sound of destruction, and it delicious.

He doesn’t understand it, but, to me, that’s exactly reverberates between my ears when I come home to find the sink full of the dishes he swore he’d wash; when his dirty clothes – destined for the washer when I left this morning for work – still lay like fallen soldiers on the battlefield of our hardwood bedroom floor. In my mind, the chaos of our house isn’t limited to sight. It  is visceral. I feel it in my gut, my ears, my fingers, my chest.

I’ve never been a neat person; my adolescence was for my mother what my adulthood has become for me. Call it karma, or comeuppance; whatever it is, it haunts me. I have a terrible habit of leaving a trail of where I’ve been when I visit my parents’ house. Yet, within the walls of the home I share with my husband, one out of place magazine, and I’ve come undone.

It’s not just hard to explain it to my husband: it is impossible. The chaos that I see when I come home to a messy living room is merely home to him. I’ve tried the sweet approach. I’ve tried begging. I’ve tried suggestion. I’ve tried the age-old nag. But nothing seems to work. Instead, we have the same fight day after day.

Last month, my husband and I celebrated our one year anniversary. We didn’t go nuts with a vacation and fancy gifts; we went out to a nice dinner and talked about what we were doing that exact moment exactly one year ago. We talked about how happy we are together, and what a good match we are for one another. It’s true; our life together may not be charmed in terms of wealth, but to say it’s anything less than magical in terms of romance and being well-matched would be a lie. He is the yin to my yang – making me laugh when all I want to do is cry, pulling me out of the even the foulest mood, being the laid back answer to my constant anxiety. And I am his – paying the bills that he can’t be bothered to remember, keeping the clothes clean, reminding him that he is the most intelligent man I know.

This year has not been easy, either. In August, he quit his full time job to become a full time student. His dream to become a doctor is one step closer to becoming true. We now rely on my income, the VA and a generously-paying part time job he was able to land to pay our bills. I lost my grandfather to old age, I am losing my aunt to ALS. We have moved. He was in the hospital. But through those and other things, we have remained a united front, curling into each other in our bed at the end of our longest days.

And, yet, one thing remains: the household chores. It’s the one thing we can’t come together on. The one thing that, on nights like tonight,  forces us to speak in clipped little sentences and drives a dirty, out-of-place wedge right down the middle of our best friendship.

It seems so silly, to have a relentless fight over dirty dishes and the laundry. Cliche, even. I catch myself talking to friends, saying things like, “If I find one more dirty sock on the living room floor….” Who is this person? And why does she care so much about dirty fucking socks?

The truth, and what I’ve tried to articulate to my other half, is that I feel like it’s a personal attack. As much as I know it’s not the case, I picture him peeling the sock off of his tired foot, throwing it precisely in the middle of the living room floor, and saying something like, “I could pick that up….but I know Anna will get it.” I picture him walking five, six, ten times past a sink full of dishes, and making the conscious choice to not wash them, because he knows that if he leaves them long enough, I’ll take care of it.

I know that’s not the case – that it just doesn’t bother him like it does me – but I still feel like it’s a chore he’s chosen to leave for me. And feeling that way makes me neglect to appreciate his efforts. When he does do the dishes, instead of being grateful for the ten pots he washed, I’ll focus on the one lid he neglected – oh, and there is always one – still cloudy and mottled with pasta water, sitting alone and forgotten on the stovetop.

It’s only when I take a step back that I can see how ridiculous it is. It’s a lid. It’s nothing. I’ve been in relationships where I wasn’t sure I was the only woman. I’ve been with significant others who took me for granted. I’ve heard that I was fat, that I was crazy, that I was making it hard to love me. I’ve heard so many hurtful, awful things…and my husband would never say any of them. Not in a million years. He would never betray me. He brings home flowers for no reason. He puts me first, always. He treats me like a queen. He appreciates everything I do. He would give his life for me if I needed it. And, yet, I stop talking to him because of a sock on the floor.

Everything is relative. Being taken for granted and cheated on and called unlovable makes you appreciate the smallest romantic overtures. Dating an asshole can skew your perception and appreciate the most asinine overtures. Like Weezer said in Steel Magnolias, “He’s a real gentleman. I bet he takes the dishes out of the sink ‘fore he pees in it.” While marrying a wonderful man – the kind who drives your grieving father across three states, overnight, to a funeral for a man he’s met only once – apparently makes you aware of the smallest of grievances. It’s as though I suddenly have nothing to complain about, so socks will just have to do. Because who am I without my constant complaining?

But then again, who would I be without him at this point?

I’ll pick up the socks.


My phone rang in the middle of my monthly Board meeting. It was my mom. Twice. I hit ignore both times, because I was sure she was calling to tell me about how her mom had pissed her off during the day. It never occurred to me that she’d need to tell me something more. Instead, it was my husband who delivered the news my mom had been trying to impart: My Paw Paw, at 92, had finally given up and passed on that morning. “I’m so sorry, baby,” he said.

My stomach fell into my pelvis. I struggled to maintain my composure amid the faces of the just-adjourned meeting. I didn’t want them to see me crying into my blackberry. I didn’t want anyone to see the color drain from my face, the sickness I was feeling.

I was sad for my Paw Paw, of course. Sad that I hadn’t been able to see him, sad that he was gone. But he’d lived a life fuller than most, and his passing wasn’t altogether surprising. I felt like he’d been ready – tired – for a while, and passing on was a formality a long time in the making. He wasn’t sick, just blind and old. But he’d been ready to go.

My first thought was for my father: He had a trip planned to see his father in just three short weeks. It seemed so unfair to have his father slip away without being able to spend one last moment with him. And, having lost his mother over ten years ago, it put him in the saddest place I can imagine: Parentless.

We all grow up knowing that we’re going to lose our parents; it’s the natural order of things to say goodbye to the people who gave us life. But, from what I’ve heard, there’s a terrible weightlessness in not having any parents left. Like you’re bouncing around on the surface of the moon, tethered, now, to nothing.

And when I called my parents after my husband delivered the news, it was my dad who answered. I could hear the hurt in his voice, the tears in his throat. “I’m so sorry, Daddy,” I told him, my words painfully impotent in the face of his loss. “We’re coming over tonight, okay? I mean, is that alright? Or would you rather be alone? You tell me…”

There was a long pause, the sharp intake of breath that told me it wasn’t that he didn’t have words, it was that he couldn’t get them out. “I would like it,” he said slowly, “if you guys came here.”

So my husband and I got in the car and drove to my parents’ house and, once there, went through the painful process of planning how we’d go to the funeral.

My father’s sister and her husband took care of the arrangements while my father, mother, husband and I drove, in a rented minivan, the 16 hours south to Kentucky. I found myself unusually upbeat, the joker to my father’s king, hoping to bring whatever levity I could, to distract him from his surely prevalent thoughts that he was, suddenly and sadly, without his father.

But whatever joking I could do was limited to the car. Pulling into the no-stoplight town where my father grew up – where flags were at half-mast for my Paw Paw’s passing, where every backlit sign in town sang my late grandfather’s praises – proved more than even my father-daughter bond could overcome. My father’s eyes were perpetually red-rimmed, his face constantly strained with the effort of holding back tears.

The afternoon we arrived, the local pastor visited my aunt’s house to gather stories from the family. It’s normal, he said, for the pastor to talk about the departed, but the only stories he knows are the stories our Paw Paw gave him. He wanted to know our stories, our memories.

I listened as my cousins, far closer – physically and emotionally – to my grandfather than I could ever hope to be, ticked off story after story. And I watched my uncle, my Paw Paw’s son-in-law, deliver his own tome of his relationship with my grandpa. And whenever my aunt spoke, all mouths fell silent; as the child who’d stayed close to home, she was surely the closest link any of us had to our dearly departed. But suffering from ALS, her disease had caused her words to soften and blur into each other, demanding the sort of attention that I’m sure none of us had ever offered anyone.

And I listened to everyone offer their story, their little anecdote from the bloodline I shared. But I had grown up the child of an Army officer, whose career took him from his small hometown right after his high school graduation. My interaction with my grandparents was limited to holidays and summer vacations, when my family – stationed or living states away from my father’s parents – could afford the time it took for a vacation. In the face of my cousins’ clear and present memories – their detailed and copious accounts of my grandparents – my own experiences felt meek and worthless in comparison.

I searched frantically for a memory that somehow matched the levity or gravity of the stories my cousins were sharing. But there was nothing. They saw my grandparents every day. I saw them once a year. My memories kept circling back to my grandmother’s passing, over ten years ago. This isn’t about Maw Maw’s funeral, I reminded myself. You have to have a memory of just Paw Paw.

But I didn’t. Except for one.

“What I always think of,” I began, somewhat timidly, during a lull in the conversation, “is the way he’d hug you.” And I looked at my brother, whose face crumbled into tears of loss, and then my father, whose face was buried in the safety of his handkerchief. I crossed my arms in front of my chest to demonstrate, “It was so tight,” I continued, noticing the nods of agreement from my cousins, my aunt and uncle. “When he hugged you…you knew it. You know? And he’d sort of…clap you. On the back. But his grip on you was so tight….”

“He could’ve broke your back if ya’d let ‘im,” my cousin chimed in. And we all sort of chuckled for a second….

And then there was a moment where we were all quiet. Where we all, collectively, realized that we wouldn’t feel that sort of all-encompassing hug ever again.

And when I think of my grandfather’s funeral now, a scant two months later, there are a lot of images that come to mind: My father smiling at the people who knew him when he was just a trouble making kid; the sound of Taps echoing through the cemetary; the image of firefighters paying homage to the man who started the department in town as his procession passed; Fire Truck #1, that my Paw Paw purchased for his town back in the 50s, carrying his casket behind no less than 15 firetrucks from neighboring towns. I’ll never forget my father’s sadness, and I’ll never forget my mom – who had been uncharacteristically even-keeled throughout the week – lose it in the car on the way to his grave.

But it wasn’t until this weekend that I remembered the hugging. Because my own father has started to hug like his dad used to.

“Woah,” said my husband the last time we had my parents over for dinner. And over the clap of my father’s hand on his shoulder blades, a playful “Don’t break my back!”

The legacy my grandfather left was simple: Don’t wait. And my father isn’t.

It seems to me that somewhere along the line, my daddy decided that he’d carry on the tradition that my Paw Paw left. That he’d hug you so tight that you wouldn’t forget it. That he’d hug you tight enough for all of the hugs he couldn’t give to his own dad. He wants us to know it now, my Daddy.

And I do know: I know his sadness. I feel his hurt. But, mostly, I feel his love. And I know that it won’t take his passing for me to remember that being in his arms feels like the safest place in the world; like there’s no where in this world I’m more loved. And he’s willing to squeeze tight enough to break us to prove it.

Which, looking back, is probably what Paw Paw was doing, too.

Dr. Laura is on at 5 every day, just as I get into my car and make the half hour drive home from work. Today, I climbed into my car a full hour early, having been released from work early after a long meeting. Between traffic and trying to remember the list of things I would need to pick up on my first trip to Wal Mart in well over three months, I barely even noticed that, despite the time, Dr. Laura was blasting through my speakers.

I’ve picked up the habit of listening to her since my mom gave me a book for Christmas, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. She listens to Dr. Laura every day, and thought I might enjoy the book, being a newlywed and all. I didn’t know much about Dr. Laura before Christmas morning when I opened the book; I only had the vaguest of bad tastes in my mouth from the mention of her name. Like I didn’t like her for some reason, or I shouldn’t like her, or something. Severely left-wing? Severely right? Extremely religious? Obnoxious? I couldn’t remember. But I read the book. And, actually, I liked it. Sure, there were things I disagreed with, but the principle behind it was something I tend to believe in: Men are simple. Love them – love them right – and they’ll love you right back. So I started listening to the show…

And I realized that I spent some of the time agreeing with her – I, too, believe in the principles of marriage and forever and family and devotion and good sex and being your husband’s girlfriend and so on and so forth – but I spent a majority time incredulous at some of the things she was saying. “Dr. Laura, my husband and I have two kids. I walked in on my husband sleeping with another man, and I don’t know what to do. Should I get a divorce?” “Since you have children, you should stay with him. But tell him it is unacceptable to ever sleep with anyone outside of your marriage ever again.” Oh, is it that easy, Dr. Laura? Just stay with a cheating husband? Okay. You know, he probably slept with that other dude because in our wedding vows, I didn’t specifically say ‘don’t sleep with any men,’ and saying it now will probably do the trick. And the fact that he completely betrayed me, and probably would’ve done so forever if I hadn’t caught him, that’s no big deal. I’ll just tell him to stop and that’ll be it, and we’ll be a happy family. Thanks!

But for whatever reason, I can’t not listen. I mean, sometimes, sure, I agree. But more than that, I like hearing what she has to say – it’s always interesting to hear other perspectives. And most of all, I like hearing people’s stories. And, really, I think all this time I’ve been waiting for someone to call in with my question, my story. Today, someone did.

Just before theoverpass that always interrupts my Sirius signal, a bubbly woman came on. “Hey Dr. Laura! I’m so nervous, but I’m so excited to talk to you!”

“Nice to talk to you too, dear,” cooed Dr. Laura, condescending despite her sweetness. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I’ve been married just about a year to a wonderful man. I really think I picked the right guy,” she giggles.

“Good for you!” praises Dr. Laura.

“Thank you,” says the caller, sounding so grateful and proud to be praised by the likes of Laura. “Thank you. I’m happy. So happy….It’s just that….well….I’m 31, and I’ve had a long history of dating….guys who were….bad for me….bad boys, I guess I should say. Like, one-foot-out-the-door-boys. And I’m having a hard time with my husband, because he’s not that way at all. He’s so sweet and caring and kind and good to me….and I don’t get that same thing I got with those other bad guys. That….I don’t know. High? That feeling, you know? Chemistry? I guess?”

As is her M.O., Dr. Laura interrupts: “Are you saying you don’t love or you aren’t sexually attracted to this wonderful man you’ve married?”

“Oh, no,” the caller rushes to clarify. “It’s not that. I do love him. Very much. And of course I’m attracted to him. It’s just that I don’t get that high, you know? I used to get such a high when I was dating those one-foot-out-the-door types. And I don’t know, this is just so different. It’s not bad, but it’s different, you know? And I feel like maybe there’s something wrong because I don’t get that same high I used to get…And-”

“Listen to me,” Dr. Laura interjects. Sternly, I might add. And at this point, I had pulled over, my car idling in a strip mall parking lot, just to be sure I didn’t miss a second because of that stupid overpass. I sat there, marveling that this woman – this stranger, on the radio, from God knows where – is my age, is recently married, and is feeling the same weird confusion I’ve felt. And I just sat there, staring out at the road in front of me, waiting to hear what Dr. Laura would say about something that is essentially my very story.

“Okay,” says the caller, deferring to the doctor. I could almost see her sitting back, hands clasped together with hope and anticipation, waiting for the answer to all of her problems. They key to some weird lock on the secret of a good marriage. A happy one. The kind where women just adore their men. The kind of marriage she thought she’d have. The kind of marriage where she would have the same feelings she had about those bad boys; only, she’d have those feelings about the good boy.

Dr. Laura takes in a breath and spells it out matter-of-factly. “You’re never going to feel that high again.”

The girl and I both push out a meek, “Ooooh-kaaaaay?”

“You’re never going to feel it again. You just won’t. And you know what?”

“WHAT?” the caller and I both ask, wide-eyed and eagerly.

“That’s a good thing.”

“It is?” We’re both confused. We thought that high was what love is. And we’ve been thinking that maybe something’s wrong because we don’t feel it. I mean, sure, we both know nothing’s wrong. We know we love our husbands. We know that we’ve chosen right, and that we’re happier than we’ve been, ever. We even kind of know that what we felt for those guys was more about winning them, making them love us, than it ever was about love, or mutual respect, or care, or any semblance or real affection. We know that the guys loved us because we were available and would only love us when it was convenient for them, and we know that our husbands love us because of who we are and what we are and that the love our husbands show us is unwavering; it doesn’t hinge on us biting our tongues when we want to disagree. Our husbands won’t leave us because we dared to speak up for ourselves. Our husbands’ love is not conditional. But that high? The high of meeting the conditions? Of getting it right? Of winning? It’s like crack. Heroin. Meth. It’s bad, sure. We know it, in our heads. But, fuck. It is good. And like any addict, we think that high is where it’s at.

“Of course it’s a good thing,” Dr. Laura says. Like it’s the simplest thing in the world. The caller and I both feel a little sheepish as we listen. “That high wasn’t real. And it was bad for you. And you went and did the smart thing and traded it in for a warm, mature, sweet, kind relationship….”

I don’t know what else she said. I can’t remember. All I know is that I keep thinking about that moment where she said “You’ll never feel that high again.” Because it really is that easy. And I can’t believe I just didn’t see the simplicity of it before that moment.

Because it’s not that I don’t feel a high with my husband. Not at all. But it’s so different. And my whole life, I was used to this high that came right before or right after some terrible low. And I’ve said it a million times, but somewhere along the line I started to mistake fighting and being unfulfilled for love. That high-low pattern I lived for the last 10 years of my life became my definition of love. And while I always knew that real love didn’t have to hurt to be right – that real love was what my parents had, not what I was muddling through – I started to feel like the dysfunctional language I’d started speaking was the only language there was.

I haven’t regretted marrying Michael for even one second. But I have spent a lot of time worrying about the fact that I don’t worry about him. Us. That I don’t feel the need to check his phone when he leaves it with me….that he’s so open with me, he just gives me his phone, and doesn’t care what I do with it. I’ve never experienced that, in my whole life. In my past, there was always secrecy and a definite line between where His Life ended, and where Our Life began. The two never ran together. But here, now, there’s no secrecy. And the fact that I’m not worried about where he is or what he’s doing somehow worries me. Does it mean I don’t care?

Of course it doesn’t. I’m fully aware of the fact that the very thing that worries me is the one thing I always wanted out of relationships: Trust.

I trust my husband. Fully. Completely. And I don’t quite know, apparently, what that feels like. And like a deaf person who can finally hear is surprised and frightened by the sudden sound in their ears, I don’t quite know what to do with the safety I finally have.

The caller sounded so relieved when Dr. Laura’s explanation was over. “So I’m okay?” she asked, happily and hopefully. “We’re okay?”

Dr. Laura laughed. “Of course you are!”

Of course I am. I’m better than okay. I’m grateful. And I’m lucky. And I’m only starting to skim the surface of exactly how lucky I am.

I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been smoking for a looooong time. Sure, I’ve quit for a week here, a month there. I’ve talked myself out of smoking almost as easily as I’ve talked myself right back into it.

Two weeks ago, I decided, with no particular amount of flourish – and with no meaning attached – that tonight would be my last night as A Smoker.

I figured that it would be better if I just did it, you know? Without any grand-standing, without any big heft behind it….just quit on a random Monday morning because it was time. I mean, I knew I had to set a date – because “they” say that it’s the best way to go – but I didn’t want to put too much gravity on a certain date. Because I tend to wither when there’s too much hoopla, I wanted it to be a sort of private thing. I didn’t want to go around bragging about how I’d be a quitter, gloating about my resolve, because, honestly, what I fail? My habit of not seeing it through has, much like my relationship history, made me reluctant to make any sweeping declarations about how it’s going to be different this time.

But, much like my current relationship being oh-so-different from my past ones, this quittin’ time is also very different from the ones that came before.

This time, I have a very real goal in mind. And a very real center of motivation.

I quit taking the pill almost as soon as Michael and I got married. The idea wasn’t to get pregnant right away, but to facilitate the process when it was time. It’s been almost six months since the wedding, and while we’re not quite ready to be parents yet, it’s time to get serious about turning my body into the kind of environment that’s worthy of the miracle of life. We’re working out more, we’re eating mindfully, and now it’s time for me to up the ante.

A few months ago, we were – how shall I say? – careless. And for two (long) weeks, I was nearly certain we’d made a little baby. And the second I thought we might be pregnant, I threw away a half pack of cigarettes and very easily talked myself out of every craving by picturing a little piece of us growing inside of me. It was easy, yes. But that didn’t stop me from lighting up after the third negative pregnancy test result.

But this time, it’s not the idea that I have to quit because I’m pregnant. It’s the knowledge that I’m quitting because I want to be someone’s mother, and this is probably the least difficult thing I’ll do in that journey. And I’m feeling really strong – having been through the quitting process a number of times, I know that the devil within me will try to convince me to have just one. I know that I’ll reason with myself that it doesn’t count if  no one sees it. I know all of those things, and I’m feeling like there’s enough opposition within me these days to fight it. The fight, this time, is bigger than I am.

The point is, I’m quitting. In twenty minutes or so, after I’ve closed down the computer and grown tired of the Oscars, I will sit outside on my porch have my last cigarette. And I’m feeling really good about it. Wish me luck.

But not just for the quitting. For the life – lives? – that will survive beyond it.

We moved into our new place on June 18th. On June 20th , Michael and I started what would become a running joke in our house.

“Hey, guess what happened today!”
“There was a moving truck outside?!”

 “I’ve got great news!”
“There’s a moving truck outside?!”

“You know what I’d really like right now?”
“A moving truck to show up outside?”

You get the idea.

Anyway, for well over six months now, the idea of The Moving Truck has become a beacon of hope; the symbol of a new day, a new era; a point of light in overwhelmingly violent and uncomfortable storm. Picturing The Moving Truck has become one of our favorite pastimes, as we lie in bed, letting the screeches and stomps of the family upstairs rain down upon us. “Imagine what it will be like,” one of us will whisper to the other in the darkness, curled up together, cringing from the latest string of obscenities our neighbor has screamed at her children or husband. “It’ll be so quiet.” The thought will linger in the air, possibilities of falling asleep before midnight stretching out before us like a candy coated yellow brick road. And we’ll smile and settle into the fantasy…Until someone throws something upstairs and shakes the pictures hanging over our bed.

Our last incident with the neighbors led the development’s office to confide in us that the neighbors would, in fact, be moving by March 6th. Normally, they wouldn’t give us that sort of information, but considering I was vaguely threatened, the girl in the office thought it was only fair. But Michael and I had our doubts. The husband upstairs had told Michael, back in July, that they were only temporary residents. That they were building a house and would be out by October. We believed them, and dreamed, even during our September wedding in Kentucky, that perhaps they were moving out right then. But October came and went. “Construction has delays,” Michael assured me. “Give them till November…” And then November gave way to December and I came home one day to see a wreath on their door.“They’re not leaving,” I said to Michael, as I closed the door behind me and slumped against it. “There’s a wreath on their door and I’m pretty sure I saw a Christmas tree near their window. They’re settling in. What if they NEVER leave?”

We thought we were done-for in late December when we heard their worst fight to date, where she railed on for an hour about how he can’t even afford the rent, how does he expect to afford a big house. She colored her rant with every expletive imaginable, reminding him, in addition, that she hasn’t shopped in months and that she’s not his slave and that she hates being a mother and the kids are driving her crazy. But the part of her rant that we truly clung to was the money part. What if their financing fell through? Oh God, please don’t say their financing fell through.

So we were understandably hesitant to believe the news that they’d actually be leaving.

But this morning, as I locked my front door I heard the unmistakable beeping of the backing up of a large truck. And I turned around to see it, in all of its glory:

The Moving Truck.

For real. In front of my apartment, in front of my eyes, ready to change my life.

I smiled immediately, and walked past the movers to my car, wishing them good morning and good luck – though I’m not sure they understood why the luck was wished – and hopped into my car. And I stayed there until I watched the men walk up to and knock on my upstairs neighbors’ door.

I called Michael immediately and gave him the good news. “I’m buying a bottle of wine on my way home. We are going to celebrate tonight,” he promised. I imagine that there will be toasts, the song “Hit The Road Jack” playing at full volume on a constant loop, maniacal laughing and possibly some jumping on the bed.

My friends, it appears that the Reign of Terror is over. And dreams DO come true.

Michael and I have a lovely little place. It’s an apartment, even though our development calls it a “condo.” I think they say condo because it sure sound sexier than apartment, but merely having your own entrance does not a condo make. Sure, I know that there are actual definitions for “townhouse,” “condominium” and “apartment,” but the only definitions I really care about are the ones I have set in my mind. For instance, I’ve always felt that the word Condo implied that you owned the space above and below you….Namely, that you wouldn’t have neighbors in either of those spaces.

And here we are, in our “condo,” my lasagna soup in its simmer phase on the stove, and literally the ONLY thing I can think about right now is the flurry of footsteps – and the occasional screaming tirade – going on just above my scalp. There’s this feeling that takes me over whenever I hear them up there. It’s very physical: A tightness in my chest, the clenching of almost all of my muscles, a very determined frown that, more often than not, makes its eventual turn into tears.

It’s not the noise itself, though. Sure, that bothers me. Of course it does. Coupled with my dangling wine glasses that shimmy around in their slots in my bar and the picture frames that rattle against the drywall, the noise itself is enough to drive anyone crazy. But it’s not just that. It’s the carelessness – the complete lack of consideration – and the powerlessness that truly drives me crazy.

I’ve never officially met the family upstairs. But I’ve passed them often enough in the parking lot on their way to or from their noisy door to know what they’re made of: A straight-laced, suit-wearing husband, a heavy Latina of a wife, and two children – two and four years old, maybe? – whose feet I have literally never seen touch pavement. Or anything outdoors, for that matter. No, this family saves their running and playing for the times they’re confined securely in the one thousand square feet directly above my body. With absolutely no regard for the lives going on beneath them, the parents encourage their offspring to run, chase, squeal and stomp through the house; most times, they’re even progressive enough to save playtime for the hours between 9 and 11 in the evening.

Lest I be seen as the crotchety childless woman, I must make mention of the fact that I have no issue with kids being kids. I don’t love the noise, but I can understand it. Many times, I’ve said to Michael, “How can I tell a kid not to play?” But, while I have no issue with the occasional pitter-patter of feet above my head, I have a huge issue with the STOMP STOMP STOMP of feet both big and small at any hour they damn well please.

In all fairness, it’s not totally their fault I can hear them. I really shouldn’t hear their bad parenting choices….I’m sure they don’t realize how swiftly sound can travel from their place to mine. I’m sure the thought never crossed their minds that, when they decided to play “Monster” at 11:30 on a Tuesday night, they never supposed I’d hear the whole thing.

At least I hope they never considered I could hear them. Because then that terrible mother living less than twelve feet from me would know, and not care, that I can hear her scream obscenities at her children. And she’d know that, a few weeks ago, when she screamed at her husband that he’d better find another bitch to be his fucking slave, I could hear the whole thing. When she threatened her sister that she should “DIE, how about THAT, bitch?”; when she told her husband that his whole family could rot in hell; when she told her kid not to “fucking apologize.” I could hear it all. And I sure as shit hope she didn’t know I could hear her.

When the kids cry – blood curdling screaming in the middle of the day, middle of the night, whatever – when she fights with her husband, on the rare occasion they have sex, I am privy to the whole thing. I know that apartment living affords you a view – whether you want it or not – into the lives of your neighbors, but this was more than I bargained for.

Far more, actually. Because this weekend, it hit a fever pitch. She banged on her floor and screamed “Who the fuck do they think they are,” and “fucking complaining about us all the time. It fucking stresses me out,” and, “they harass us EVERY DAY,” and “let them fucking knock on our door again. I’ll fucking open it with a baseball bat,” and, my personal favorite, “that white bitch better know how to fight, because I’ll fucking kill her.”

I can’t be sure that I”m the “white bitch” to whom she’s referring, but I suspect I am. It’s unfair, though, because we’ve actually never formally complained about them. Instead, we tried – at first – to approach them directly. Michael knocked on their door, he tried to speak to the husband. When that didn’t work – when they stopped answering their door (despite their footsteps and screams before and after the knocking), and when the husband scurried past Michael in the parking lot (despite Michael’s calling his name and asking if he has a second) – we took to the time-tested method of fucking banging on the walls.

So we guess that they’d only assume it was the two of us who’d filed a complaint against them – even though Michael and I know for a fact it was their other, adjacent neighbors (a woman who also cries at the hand of their late-night playtime routine) – and we suppose that the “daily harassment” to which they refer is our daily bang on the wall, when their noise gets to be too much to take.

But because of what she said, Michael no longer wants me to walk to or from my car alone. And it prompted us to actually file the complaint she already assumed we’d filed. But what it’s really done is to, ironically, silence me. I don’t want to invite further wrath. I don’t want to add fuel to whatever crazy fire she already has burning.

It doesn’t even matter that the lady in the development office told us not to worry, that they will be moving in two weeks. “Normally,” she said, quietly and secretly, even though it was just us in the office, “I wouldn’t share this sort of information. But considering the circumstances, I should tell you that they’re supposed to leave by March 6th.” I was grateful she told us, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t make me feel any safer.

So because of this awful woman’s shouted threat – directed at me or not – I’m afraid to tell them to shut up. Even now, when they’re screaming so loudly that I can hear them over my music, when their footsteps are so heavy that the flowers Michael gave me last week shake in their vase, I say nothing. Do nothing. It makes me feel helpless and weak – like I wish I was one of those women who didn’t give a shit, who would walk right up to that upstairs monster, look her in her fat eyes and tell her to shut the fuck up. But I’m not. I’m the kind of woman who, now that I’m scared, save even my weakest, most pathetic and passive attempt at speaking up for myself for my blog. I won’t bang on my ceiling, and I’d probably smile at her if she went to punch me in the face. Instead, I’ll bide my time and pray for a moving truck to show up out front within the next few weeks. 

Pray for me.


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