The Best Friend Episode

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A year before I married my husband, I asked my co-worker Lisa to be my maid of honor. I would’ve liked to say she was my best friend growing up, or that we were even all that close since we met at my first real full-time job.

But that would be a lie.

I have a hard time making friends. I always have. It wasn’t for lack of trying — at least early on.

Girls, especially, were hard to make friends with. This is why I’m ridiculously forgiving of the girls my son, 15, knows, and their crazy drama.

Girls go through a horrible trial by fire that doesn’t really ever end until they’re past their 30s. They learn early on not to trust appearances, that a best friend can easily turn on you to join up with the more popular squad by the time everyone reaches middle school. Or worse, that all your so-called friends can abandon you when you need them the most, during the hard times.

You never know who your true friends are until those times.

Growing up, most of my friends — and I could literally count them on my two hands — were boys. With boys, what you see is what you get, and most of them only viewed me through the friend filter, as I was never a bombshell. (Although, looking back, I wasn’t a dog either.)

So it wasn’t a surprise that when my time came to marry, I wouldn’t have a soul to pick as my maid of honor. All my friends from high school, all three of them, had disappeared off the face of the planet. I was a military brat, too, which rendered friends from elementary school null and void.

I looked around at my workplace, where I hung out the most. About a year prior to my engagement, Lisa joined our office as an administrative assistant. Lisa was a former beauty queen contestant, tall, willowy, beautiful, and charming in that exacting Libra way I tend to be fond of (I married a Libra). She was also easy to be around.

Every so often, we’d all get together for lunch outside the office. At work, she would be the first to help me out of a minor jam in the middle of my deadlines as the editor of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii newsletter.

Much to my shock, Lisa agreed to be my maid of honor, despite her feeling both delighted and shocked herself. I’m sure she wondered why I asked her when surely, I had other, older friends to call on. Nope.

With that admission, she kindly guided me through the minefield of a mostly traditional wedding. She even threw me a G-rated bridal shower up in Hawaii Kai, with a cooking foodie theme, everyone sharing their recipes (kind of prophetic, considering my latent interest in baking, I’d say).

She made a wonderful maid of honor, and even more amazing, would remain one of my dearest friends through the many more years to come. When it was her turn to get married, she invited me to her wedding at the lavish Moana Surfrider on the edge of Waikiki.

When I visited Hawaii last year for almost two weeks, I spent two separate days with her. Almost every time I’ve gone back home, she’s been available to hang out. Read: She makes herself available.

We still keep in contact, through the births of our children, through health scares, her back-to-back cancers, my husband’s, my own bout with depression when another friend, Terri, died of liver cancer. In fact, we’re supposed to talk on the phone today — Lisa is an old school princess; she hates texting, LOL.

To this day, I still feel a twinge of shame about my wedding day. I wished I had a lot of friends there to celebrate with me. I wish I knew what it was like to be like Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King.

Remember that infamous best friends episode on Oprah’s talk show? Still hurts me to think about.

Not long after this show aired, I found myself at a church acquaintance’s house for a Pampered Chef or Silpada Jewelry party. I remember sitting opposite her and her best friend as they reminisced about their fun camping adventure, just them and their roster of kids. I wanted to scream at them. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hole up by the Pacific ocean in a tiny little one-room shack with my ’80s Walkman, my crochet afghan, and my 20 cats, and wait for the next lifetime.

Instead, I just sat there trying to smile, counting the minutes until I could reasonably leave. These two best friends, sisters in Christ, would split up in two years because one of them was toxic to the relationship — a status that made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Back in the late ’90s, I honestly thought I’d found my own best friend via a soap opera message board. We corresponded through email. Intense, intimate emails. Almost met IRL several times. We were even born on the same day. But she couldn’t continue our friendship when she was dealing with her own heavy issues. She hurt me more than I could ever express, more than those girls who claimed to be my friend then wrote in my yearbook or said to my face how much they secretly hated my guts. I trusted her. I believed in her. I gave her my entire heart, and she—

I’m too old to try to get to the bottom of my friendship issue. Maybe I’m better off with strangers who become acquaintances, not too close, not too much. Maybe I’m just a touch-and-go kind of person. Maybe none of this matters, the labels, the talk show brag books, as long as I gave 100 percent, as long as I did love.

 

Loosely covered purveyor

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It is 30 minutes till the show, another dream. I am reviewing the artist’s live album, I think he is the late Tim or the established guest artist in town for another round.

You are there setting up. So is she, a rotating vocalist with children straddling her hips, begging for attention.

I can’t figure out the headline. These are covers, sure. Damned good covers, of songs nobody listens to anymore. They cross mainstream lines but originate from the classics. He plays… electric guitar… leading the musicians through everyone’s favorites. I scribble words, taking a stab in the darklit confines of this blue room.

Somewhere in between the downbeat and the first set, we find time to embrace.

“How are you? Are you in a better place?”

“By better, if you mean the same, yes.”

I should write.

The Northwest Jazz Collective reconvenes at the Anchor Pub in Everett, Wash. 7 p.m. tonight. For real.

About that mouse

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Pat me on the back.

I’ve really been good about calming my innumerable phobias during the one week when the shit truly hit the fan (Eeek! A mouse!).

What helped?

People who went beyond the “I’m praying for you” platitudes to share their own experiences, even if it was, “You’ll be fine. It’s not personal.” (Said at an actual Home Depot in Everett.)

As I drove my son home from his soccer practice, both of us barely simmering with anxiety — hey, he’s the one who stared down the mouse in our family room — I took this moment to go over another life lesson, mostly to calm my own ass down.

“I know I say this a thousand times, but it bears repeating,” I began. “We learn from bad experiences, so that when others go through something similar, we can help them. Don’t ever forget that. I know it sucks right now to have a mouse in our home, or back when you didn’t make Premier tryouts. But I never want you keeping it to yourself if you have a chance to reassure someone else who maybe thinks the world is ending. Too many people keep things to themselves, or act like they got their shit together. You don’t be that person. Don’t waste what you went through.”

Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed. Has anyone’s burden been lighter today, because I was willing to share? Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way? When they needed my help was I there?” — Will L. Thompson (music and text)

If we’re too busy to help other people, we’ve missed the mark. Taking the time to spontaneously — as well as planned — helping other people is one of the greatest joys in life. Helping others opens you up to new sides of yourself. It helps you connect deeper with those you help and humanity in general. It clarifies what really matters in life.

—Benjamin P. Hardy, “50 Ways to Live On Your Own Terms,” Thrive Global 

As Thomas Monson has said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” That would truly be a failure.

This mouse situation has scared us all. But the people who extended themselves by sharing their own stories…it literally only takes a minute, honest to god… they helped the most. They gave me the courage, the confidence to plow through my fears.

Imagine what a better world this would be if we all did this. Our experiences are similar, the good and the bad, they bond us, really.

The worst feeling in the world is feeling alone, or worse, abandoned.

My inclination is to always reach out. Unfortunately, too many of my so-called friends and family choose to take the observer role, as if they’ve never ever been through anything negative like that — until it happens to them. They seem to perch on their thrones, issuing simulations of compassion (appropriate words) but little else, making sure I know that such a terrible situation has never happened to them.

That’s not helping. That’s certainly not being a friend or using our time here wisely.

If I acted like that, I’d end up in the funny farm real quick.

So after the mouse incident, I went about my day quietly freaking out, trying not to make a big outward display of it as to scare strangers. Alone.

My husband left for work, his day job and his musician gig. He would be gone all this weekend, leaving me to deal with Mickey Mouse and god knows how many cousins were running around in our family room, and a teenaged son who wanted to stay in his own hotel room (“Can they go upstairs?”).

The fate of the world depends on me? We’re fucked!

Oddly, strangers were the ones who helped me out the most…random strangers at a Walgreens, where I loaded up on mouse prevention contraptions and athletic tape for my soccer-playing teen, and Home Depot, more mouse contraptions and home-spun advice.

After weeks of getting four hours of sleep on average, now this, running around trying to get a handle on what’s going down at my house, wondering if I’ll ever focus long enough to prevent more shit from hitting the fan navigating invisible rodent minefields … I finally cracked in Aisle 1.

A few tears spilled out as I thanked a Home Depot lady for bothering with me. She’d carefully explained the various options of no-kill traps. Now, she was patiently listening to me as I blathered on about potential airborne dangers.

“You’re gonna be fine. It’s just a mouse, who probably strayed into your house and is just as eager to escape. Don’t take this personally.”

Two friends did stand out when I texted about my dilemma. Even though one was very sick with a cold after a hard week of working long hours, the first thing she told me was that she had plenty of mice come in and out of her home. Her cats would bring them in, and they’d humanely take them out, no problem.

Another friend today immediately texted back that her family had a mouse they called Houdini who lived in their home for a month before they found him with his hands on the back of a toilet and his little feet against the wall. A month! Can you believe it?

Their shared stories did more to help me than all the “Oh, that sucks!” “I’m sorry you’re going through that. It must be awful” well-meaning bullshit.

Btw, what’s with everyone recommending I get a *cat?

  1.  I’m allergic to cats.
  2. Cats aren’t a guarantee against rodents wandering into the house. Haven’t you watched YouTube videos of cats farting around with mice already inside?

Here’s how it works, kids. You go through your own particular brand of shit. When someone else goes through something similar, you step up and let them know your story, including the part where you freaked out first.

You don’t leave them hanging. You don’t keep to yourself. You don’t talk around the problem. You don’t go around hand’s off. Any computer simulation can be programmed to do that.

*Fuck it. I’m getting a dog.

Diamond Girl

“Can’t you feel the whole world’s a-turnin’
We are real and we are a-burnin’
Diamond Girl now that I’ve found you
It’s around you that I am” —Seals and Crofts

“The Big Lebowski’s” on HBO, Seals and Crofts are playing their greatest hits, and I’m on the precipice of a decision: Writer or Slouchy Hat?

This dream, I knew it would be involved, intense and erotic, a whirligig of early Beatles impressions on a post ’60s high — with influences from the pulled pork Eggs Benedict I just ate rotting and shooting up my esophagus, as well as several weeks of major insomnia from the thundering approach of menopause.

I’m back in the music world, accepted as one of them even though I don’t play a note. These musicians, a startling array of them, seem to want something from me ticket money can’t buy. They play and I respond, or maybe vice versa.

One of them’s playing now, an aging rock star with a familiar lick from my childhood. I remember jumping down up front onto a pillow to get a closer look. He only cares about his show and the fact I nudged a bassist friend’s guitar face up, because he’s too famous.

As I debate whether to right the bass up, “Diamond Girl” pipes in from stereo speakers everywhere. Maybe the Seals and Crofts song has been playing all this time, waiting for me to pay attention.

The universal language of dreams is energy, we all exude some form of it. The closest manifestation of that energy, for me anyway, is music — music I can identify with, whether it’s a scorching solo out of nowhere that burns down forests, or a 1973 pop hit that used to play constantly on the radio when I was a child running around in Louisville, Ky.

I hear music constantly, dreaming or awake. Music or lyrics, makes no difference. It’s the vibe, the soul, the spirit behind the notes.

Sometimes the music is original. Other times, it’s this… A dedication of sorts from this man I know in real life who plays flugelhorn — someone who would be one of my best friends growing up in Kentucky chasing fireflies and exchanging comic books from our rising collection — waiting patiently through some amazing sets for me to look up and hear myself in the song he plays in his head over and over.

When I stop filling up the precious seconds with borrowed chatter, I finally do, as if hearing it for the first time. I hear it through his point of view, incredulous, almost disbelieving were it not for the Greek chorus in the many people who have crossed my life, many lifetimes.

Yet, this is the kind of lovely sentiment for other women, beautiful, charming, normal, accepted women, women up there on the marquee and the center of attention at cocktail parties — not me.

“You,” he said. “Only you.”

I looked at him, too, for the first time. Words could never describe what that meant. Therapy and truth. Support and freedom.

Everything at this point opens up and I’m blinded, as if I just stepped into the early morning light on the first day of spring.

There’s no attachment here, not to the past or the future, societal rules of etiquette or who’s fucking who, just pure mushin. Dreams, real dreams, aren’t about that boring life stuff anyway. Musicians know. Why do you think so many of them are misunderstood?

Energy, remember? I do and I did, and it was — for a blissful moment — wonderfully validating.

When I woke up, I immediately went to Google for the lyrics and then YouTube to listen to my song. It really does fit, in a spectacularly offbeat way.

And hey, the song’s not bad either.

Passwords and Mice

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From Nik Payne’s “Case Study—Starbucks Bathroom Codes

 

I didn’t get much done this week.

I had no idea a mouse was in the house as I blissfully crocheted stitch after stitch night after night for two, three weeks, oftentimes up till 6 a.m.

That is, until my son James loomed in the doorway Thursday morning before school to tell me “a rat’s running around in our living room,” right where I was crocheting.

The rat turned out to be a mouse, and we still don’t know how Michael Jackson got in here.

The Terminix guy came today to inspect the crawl space and assort other hot spots. He looked for telltale signs of a rodent infestation — mouse poop — but didn’t find any, which was odd. He didn’t find any activity under the house, either. The crawl space was definitely compromised, though. So somehow this mouse or mice found a way inside, worked through to the plumbing under the sink, and Bob’s your uncle.

My husband discovered about 10 rice-sized droppings under the kitchen sink three days ago, but didn’t tell me, which was dumb of him.

Terminix thinks it’s a stray mouse, again, very rare. We’re having a specialty team from Terminix come in this next week to double-check all possible entry points, to see if there are any new holes into and out of the house, then to fill them up.

If you know me, you know I’m quietly losing my shit. Oh, lots of people say they’re losing their shit. But I really take losing my shit to the next level. I am the President of the OC-D Anxiety Club.

Every fear, every phobia, every minor worry is triggered right now.

When my son went downstairs Thursday morning to get ready for the bus, he came face to face with Michael Jackson right near my crochet projects, the yarn, the hooks, my quarter-filled cup of coffee, everything.

MJ tried to bolt but saw my son in the way, turned tail and headed back under the ottoman and the very lounger I sat on night after night crocheting “Chain one, single crochet…,” probably over all that beautiful yarn and all those beautiful Starburst Granny Squares.

{{Sound of a middle-aged woman screaming into the night}}

Having no idea how long the mouse was living under the same roof, I (il)logically concluded that I inhaled its many viruses through the 1, 2, 7 afghan throws and scarves, plus one new hat I’d been obsessively chain one single- and double-crocheting the entire month of Feb.

Fuck!

Not only did MJ possibly give me Hantavirus, but he effectively shut down my crocheting operation and the one hobby that gave me a mental escape from my daily stresses.

We also got a new, big screen TV screen, with Fios, Netflix, and YouTube, which I’d been enjoying with my cup of coffee or tea and crocheting. Well, that’s over.

I suppose I should get off my ass and do something more constructive. Like continue reviewing music on Medium, adding to my novel in progress, be with real people outside this house, bake another bundt cake for a friend, go running…

Earlier in the week, I experienced a really bad IBS-D attack right in the middle of getting Panda Express take-out for my son. I knew it was building as I drove from Trader Joe’s, my third grocery stop, but pressed on. I try to avoid stacking errands, because I tend to have accidents at the most random times and finding a public restroom nowadays is tantamount to a top secret special forces mission (thanks, homeless druggies!).

After I picked up the takeout in the drive-through, I thought, “Maybe I should be smart, park right here, and stop in the Panda Express restroom.” As I turned off the ignition, I felt my bowels unlock. The act of physically moving out of the car turned on the faucet completely, releasing the floodgates.

I reached the door, praying for the flood to ease up so I could at least clear the residue and empty the rest in peace when I saw a line of people order to my left, then walked for what seemed an eternity to find the restroom door locked with a numbered combination and that familiar sign, “See us for code.”

Fuck!

The rest of my untamed shit came flooding into my Depends, forcing me to go back into the car and make the longest drive of my life home.

Of course I wound up behind someone sitting at a green light — with five minutes more to go, refusing to go. I felt like getting out of the car and smearing some of my shit on the guy’s window.

Once I got home, it took me an hour to clean myself and the downstairs bathroom.

I didn’t just shit liquid. No, too easy. My shit contained twigs, pellets, bark, nut shavings, god knows what else, chunks that flew out every which way as I wiped the upside of my backside, the toilet seat, the floor…

In the middle of all this, I’ve been having a helluva time simply loading the Starbucks app so I could pay for my other habit by shaking my cell phone. How can one person memorize so many passwords? Another app, ala a new dedicated password memorization program to load.

Fuck!

To top it off, for some mad reason, Christina Aguilera’s “Come On Over (extended version)” kept playing in my head the second my son reported the presence of Michael Jackson.

I think I’ll play that while I Google some more about mice, mouse traps, the Hantavirus, and forgetting passwords.

 

10 miles from Keauhou

For Jon Komatsu.

It is the life we dream, you downtown in your own little world of x-rays, vegan Indian, and keeping boogie men away, me up in the ‘burbs married with children and a forest of surround sound.

I touch your bare chest. You leave me paper butterflies on the hotel windowsill overlooking a crowded beach the tourists have all heard about in Condé Nast and Yelp reviews.

In six hours’ time, when the sun touches down on the decayed horizon gone hazel, bleeding its polluted water toward a man-made carnival of Dixie cups and beach mats curved into the world’s biggest ash tray, you will return, my hand in yours to walk along the Pacific ocean that once saw our youth from two islands away. We never miss the sunset, you and I, Jon and Carol, former lovers, former best friends, nothing now as soon as my eyes open again.

As I wash your prized Telecaster and that old radio we discovered in an antiques store off Ballard, I remember where I am.

Keauhou, I dreamed of you once or twice. Maybe we can take a drive before he feeds me jasmine rice and Palak Paneer.

She’s a real good writer

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Every Asian kid wants the validation that got from her mom today.

The “Top Chef” finale turned out exactly the way I thought: Brooke Williamson got her Last Chance Kitchen redemption, ala Kristen Kish — full circle in full effect. But in the midst of the cooks and the pronouncement, I found myself near tears over Shirley Chung’s rice pudding.

It wasn’t so much the rice pudding, although the dish looked lovely and inviting. It was Chung finally getting validation from her mom after years of disapproval for choosing a career in cooking rather than medical school.

“Through my cooking I feel my mom finally understood me,” Chung said after her mom said, “Beautiful Shirley. I’m proud of you.”

These are words every child, especially every Asian child, longs to hear. Words I never heard, words I know I never will.

My mom doesn’t understand me.

All my life she only saw me through a filter of profound disappointment and inconvenience. Her young, beautiful party girl friends urged her to abort me before I ruined her life. When I arrived, all her hopes were dashed, because I was not born as beautiful and vivacious as her.

She saw me as an anti-social tomboy slob, lacking in the feminine wiles necessary to capture a wealthy man. I refused to learn to play piano. I refused to wear make-up or take to her perms and her stilettos. Nothing I ever did was good enough.

It was the same with my dad, but in different ways.

I used to think it was because she came from a different era, dirt-poor and definitely not worldly wise. Neither of my parents went to college. I don’t think my mom ever graduated her version of high school.

So maybe she didn’t understand what it meant for me to write, maybe her generation only knew of the primary vocations that generated a sizable income, doctor, lawyer, trophy wife.

That changed last year, the year we visited Hawaii again, where she, and now my brother and his wife, live.

She and my brother have always bragged about Cris’s abilities as a writer, sometimes pointing me in the direction of her essays, always with reverence. Last year, my oblivious mom took the fawning to the next level; she couldn’t stop raving about her daughter-in-law and what a great writer she was.

It hurt me, deeply.

My mom never raved about me that way. I used to wonder if she even knew what I did for a living.

I know damned well my brother never cared what I did. I only received kudos from him when I married a jazz musician and computer programmer then bore our only son, James. Same with my mom.

It’s easy to lose yourself in family affairs. After my son came into this world, whatever was left of me faded into the background. I was Ed’s wife and James’ mom, cooking, baking, cleaning, doing their laundry, scheduling their appointments, doing for them while they lived vibrant lives finding themselves, pursuing their bliss, becoming all they could be.

The me before school and marriage and family disappeared more and more each day until I didn’t recognize the rotting face in the mirror anymore.

Even when I wrote — for practice, mostly to keep my brain functioning — I wrote about other people and their interesting lives. I chose a career in journalism back in high school, as a sophomore, because the counselor told me I had to in order to know what to study in college. It never occurred to me to do whatever I wanted, even if that meant going against the grain of what’s considered normal back in the 1970s-’80s.

If it had, I might’ve taken off those college years to travel the world, volunteer, find myself. Maybe I would’ve become an actress, lawyer, or doctor, after all. Maybe I would’ve gone into the nunnery. Who knows.

I never did any of those things. Instead, I listened to what the world told me to do, first my parents, then, the administrators, teachers, and counselors at school.

I didn’t think I ever had any plans outside of their edicts. But I was wrong. Somewhere in the back of my mind, while I was busy dutifully following what other stronger people bullied me to do, I held onto one goal: No matter what, I would never become like my parents.

I would never be so self-involved that I couldn’t see my son or understand him. I would always be his advocate, always encourage him to pursue his heart’s desire. I wouldn’t spoil him, but I wouldn’t ever ever EVER make him feel like he wasn’t good enough.

I also privately hoped and prayed my son, the only one I’ve got, would grow up to see who I really was, and would like and respect that person — not just because he had to since I was his mom, but because he thought I was awesome all on my own, with all my own special powers.

I cried watching the “Top Chef” finale because I knew I would never have that moment with my mom. She has chosen strangers over her own daughter so many times, and now, she is her daughter-in-law’s biggest fan. She even encouraged me to read Cris’ writings, something I’ve never heard her say about mine… This Korean woman who doesn’t read, who doesn’t really like to read, when there’s a cocktail party going on surrounded by her admirers…

When my son, now 15, walked in to see if I’d like to go to the movies to see the new “Lego Batman,” I asked him — voice shaking, tears spilling over — if he knew how proud I was of him, explaining what I went through as a kid.

“I am your biggest fan, James, you know that right?”

His face instantly opened up, breaking for my broken heart. With a voice as kind as the morning after a storm, he said, “Yes, I know! You’re always there for me, mom. I trust you more than anyone. I believe in you, mom. You’re such a good writer.”

He isn’t just saying that. I’ve caught him bragging to his friends about me, about more than just my writing, about my wicked sense of humor, my amazing baking and photography, about the way I always go the extra mile for people.

Strangers I’ve reviewed over at Medium, AXS, Examiner, they’ve written to extol my virtues. It’s ironic that they can see what my own mom or brother, most of my closest friends never could. They say such wonderful, unbelievable things… Like this:

Hi Carol,

I can honestly say this is the most accurate and poignant review I’ve ever gotten. Your perspective, and how you articulate it, feels like art responding to art. I hope that makes sense.

I am very grateful to you,

Connor 

***

Carol-

I love that you “get” what I do; you most certainly “get’ me, all the way around.  I consider myself fortunate that you review my work. By what I read on your blog, you review heavy weights (Level 42 being a favorite of mine, I had every album) amongst others, but you review me.  

I so hope I can play near where you live so we can meet face-to-face and I can give you a well deserved hug and proper “thank you”.

Lili

So my own mom, brother, and friends who are supposed to know and love me the most don’t understand me outside the role I play. So what.

The rest of you do. I touch your lives somehow.

Somehow, that has to be enough for me.

Thank you.