When life hands you lemons, toss them in the trash and eat cake

Archive for the tag “Family”

First Love – Part 2

Continued from First Love – Part 1

Note from author: The conclusion of this story may be a bit of a downer for a Friday… but try to look at the black comedy aspect of it. At the very least – laugh at my dysfunctional family – and love them dearly like I do. I would be a really lousy writer, otherwise.


Mabel: 7 p.m., May 15, 2000

Mabel had been so busy lately with the fundraiser for her anti-abortion non-profit. And with leading the group who said the daily rosary outside the local Planned Parenthood clinic, she had been working long hours and could barely make it home in time to make dinner for George and feed the dog.

Speaking of Indy, feeding him had become irrelevant. She came home most nights to find the food untouched from the night before. Taking him out for walks had become a chore, too. Sometimes she used a towel as a sling, fashioning it under his stomach to hold him up while he peed.

Lately, George had started talking about putting Indy to sleep, using phrases like “quality of life” and “it’s the most humane thing to do.” She refused to listen; killing the dog was just wrong. Sure, she was worried, but he was old and nature would eventually take its course. George could be so infuriating; he always chose the quick fix and never wanted to get his hands dirty. She shuddered to think what would’ve happened if she had not married him. It was her lot in life to keep him in line and, well, prevent him from killing living things, like the dog or the rose bushes out back.

Mabel had just arrived home after another hectic day outside the clinic. She dropped her purse on the counter and propped up the signs, with pictures of dead fetuses and the tagline “Choose Life,” against the kitchen wall. George was at the table, nursing a cocktail and doing the New York Times crossword, no doubt waiting for dinner to be served (which at this point seemed unappetizing, as he glanced at Mabel’s signs). The doorbell rang; it was their neighbor Mr. Langston, holding a soaked and traumatized mass of fur in his arms

He wandered into my backyard and fell into the pool. I had to fish him out with one of those pool nets, he said, depositing the dog into Mabel’s arms.

Unfazed, Mabel said thanks, shut the door and went into the kitchen.

George pounded his fist on the kitchen table, upsetting his cocktail glass and spraying scotch on one of the doily place mats.

Dammit, Mabel, it’s time, he just basically tried to off himself in the neighbor’s pool. I think it’s time to go see Dr. Maxwell.

Ignoring George, Mabel cradled the wet dog in her arms and headed to the bathroom, to wash the chlorine out of his fur.


George: Dawn, May 26, 2000

George was exhausted. He had been up all night. He had searched his medicine cabinet for the right combination of drugs, added water to form it into a paste and shoved it down the dog’s throat. Indy had been thrashing and crying out in pain all night; he didn’t put up a fight when George pried open his jaws and administered the lethal dose. George had wanted the vet to put him down weeks ago, but Mabel was against it. Now George’s Jack Kevorkian hat was planted firmly on top of his balding head, as Mabel slept soundly in the bedroom.

Euthanasia is wrong, it’s not God’s plan, argued Mabel when George had first brought it up two weeks ago.

Never mind she doesn’t think animals have souls, so what the fuck does God have to do with it? George thought. Jesus, if I get to the point where I have to be held up to urinate, just pull the plug.

His mind wandered back to Mabel, as he gently scratched the dog’s back. She had been a study in contradictions and stubbornness during their 35-year marriage. He had resigned himself to it, at times even laughing at the idiocy of it all. However, now, in the present, it made him angry. There was no humor to be found in killing the family dog with a cocktail of drug samples given to him by pharmaceutical reps, when it would’ve been far more humane to do it at the vet’s office. But this was his only choice right now.

He held the dog’s head in his lap, as both his and Indy’s crying and shaking began to subside.

George and Mabel: 3 p.m., May 26, 2000

Okay, so I need to dig the hole at least four feet deep and wrap him in how many trash bags? George bellowed through the receiver at the Health Department rep. He refused to admit that his hearing was beginning to go.

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First Love – Part 1

Bea: 10 a.m., May 26, 2000

She heard a ding. She had a new email in her inbox. It had no subject line.

 Indy died early this morning.

She ran to the bathroom, hid in one of the stalls and cried. Public crying was frowned upon at her high-pressure, male-dominated job at an equity research firm. She could hear someone in the stall next to her puking, no doubt a victim of last night’s raucous party hosted by the coke-snorting traders on the fifth floor. She crouched on the toilet seat and tried to figure out if she was more upset by her dad’s sucky method of communication or the death of her first love.


Bea: 1985

That spring, Bea started the great Push for a Dog Campaign with George and Mabel. She had already shown conscientious animal ownership by keeping a goldfish alive for nearly five years (unheard of among goldfish enthusiasts!) and nurturing her one-legged finch, Captain Hook, for seven years. And then there were the gerbils, which could go either way in the animal care plus and minus columns (but she was leaning more toward the PLUS side of things). It wasn’t her fault: Troy Henson swore the two gerbils he sold to Bea were females, but after 14 hairless, maggot-like creatures appeared in the cage two months later, Bea had serious doubts about Troy’s gender-determining abilities. She found out years later that he had become Tory Henson, after a sex reassignment operation, and was a hedge fund manager in NYC, having given up his/her dreams of being a rodent entrepreneur.

Once Mabel banished the gerbil breeding factory from the house, selling the surviving 12 to the local pet store (four were consumed by papa gerbil, a vision that years of therapy had yet to erase from her sister Meg’s psyche), Bea started campaigning for a dog. Dogs didn’t swim listlessly around in algae-encrusted prisons or hop around on one foot inside a tiny cage. They didn’t procreate like rabbits and then slap their young between two slices of bread and eat them for lunch. They were protectors of the family, tail-wagging packages of unconditional love.

Mabel and George did not want a dog; to them, a dog was a flea-filled, shed-a-holic germ factory that had no place in their home with its white-washed walls, gleaming hardwoods and expensive china. However, after incessant begging and pleading from Bea, they struck a deal with her: Do your research, find a low-maintenance dog and we may consider it.

Bea always played by the rules. She purchased The Encyclopedia of Canines and dog-eared the pages of breeds she suspected would meet Mabel and George’s approval: small dogs that didn’t consume and then defecate 40 pounds of kibble each week; dogs that needed less exercise than Greyhounds and Labradors; family-friendly, courageous dogs that would most undoubtedly save Timmy after he fell into the well.

Bea proudly showed Mabel the marked pages one afternoon, following a particularly long research session.

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The Bulgarian Princess – Part 3

This is the third and final installment of this story. Read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t done so already and want this to make sense. Or maybe you don’t want to read those parts, and that’s fine. OR, maybe you want to read them out-of-order, which is also great. Enjoy!


After more than eight years of marriage, I thought we, including my brother, would have grown to like her. Wishful thinking is a dangerous thing, kind of like chain-smoking Marlboro Reds for 40 years and expecting that the CT scan will reveal the unsullied lungs of a newborn. Their marriage was a mess due to my brother’s recent job loss, a house in foreclosure, and her refusal to seek legitimate employment in lieu of her current money-making hobbies: performing body painting at nudist resorts, chauffeuring my seven-year-old niece to local beauty pageants, and black market trafficking Levis jeans in Eastern Europe. The Bank of My Dad kept them out of a cardboard box and her in designer duds and platinum-blonde hair extensions.

As Fall fell upon us that year, I started to dread the looming holidays. I concluded that I would rather shove a meat thermometer into my eyeball than spend another family gathering drowning in the palpable tension created by two married people who hate each other. (No, I’m not talking about my parents, they might actually like each other, on most days.)

On Turkey Day, they arrived at my parents’ house, the location of the Dad ATM machine. This year, the machine screen displayed “Out of Order.” Perhaps my dad’s spine reappeared because the turkey still had 30 minutes to go and he was two-thirds of the way through a bottle of Bordeaux – or maybe he valued his retirement savings far more than her pedicures and Coach bags.

News of the ATM malfunction did not go over well. Panicked and shocked, they locked themselves in one of the spare bedrooms.

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The Bulgarian Princess – Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

After the fake-marriage divorce was final six months later, my brother proposed. My father’s only comment was “Your brother in store for a lifetime of misery.” That would make a great greeting card, I thought. I must remember to pitch this to the Hallmark people. She asked my dad for $5,000 as an engagement gift. As we would find out during the next several years, gifts for anniversaries, birthdays, Christian and Jewish holidays, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Mother’s Day, and even Arbor Day, involved cash, flashy jewelry or designer handbags per Bulgarian customs dating back thousands of years. Does she think we’re that stupid? said my dad, as he sat hunched over his desk writing another check.

On their wedding day, my mother fainted when the Bulgarian Princess marched down the aisle in a corseted dress with a skirt (and price tag) larger than the Louisiana Purchase. My mom came to with the aid of smelling salts just as my older sister showed up halfway through the homily, teetering down the aisle in stilettos, which hit the marble tiles with a clack clack clack that echoed as far back as the vestibule. She plopped herself down beside me in the pew and whispered, “I guess I got the time wrong,” her breath reeking of bourbon.

As far as we could tell, the Princess had not worked since she arrived in the states; she had met my brother while loitering outside the pharmaceutical lab where he worked. She was attracted to men in white coats like a lion to an innocent, unsuspecting gazelle that had stopped to take a sip from the watering hole. She once told me, “I am not a alone job girl like you, or how you say, career? My most greatest dream is to be mudder and marry American, how do you say, doocter?” Mudder I soon figured out was not a quaint term for a horse-stall mucker or archeologist; she became pregnant two months after the wedding and six days after my brother started medical school. Mudderhood was on the horizon, whether any of us liked it or not.

To be continued…

The Bulgarian Princess – Part 1

She charged into our family like a rhino that had broken free from the Barnum and Bailey tent. Problem was, most rhinos on the lam eventually moved to other places, like a nice city park or retention pond. She stayed.

Prior to moving to the States seven years ago, she married an American in order to secure a work Visa or something like that. (Early on, I didn’t pay close attention to the details; I just assumed she would be making a quick drive through the dysfunctional, one-stoplight town called My Family.) She and the American were “fake married” and would soon be divorced, which she proudly shared with us during her first visit to our house; this admission made my mother’s left eye twitch uncontrollably and her arm hair visibly stand up. It was spooky. Not the fake marriage thing, but the hair thing. Anyway, I finally figured out that “Give me money,” “I am much prettier than your ugly sisters,” and “Marry me or I’ll poke holes in your condoms and go off the pill” were the few American phrases she could say with ease, so practiced they flew off her serpentine tongue with the agility of an Olympic gymnast dismounting from the uneven bars. She didn’t, however, have a proper understanding of the English language when someone asked “Have you found a job yet” or “Stop asking my dad for money.”

My brother and the Bulgarian Princess were an item, my old-fashioned dad said with a sad shake of his head. To me, items were groceries that passed by on their conveyer-belt journey to the cashier’s scanner, a I-will-die-if-I-they-don’t-have-these-in-my-size pair of leather motorcycle boots, a mid-century modern armchair upholstered in chocolate brown, a piece of red velvet cake. Two people who made out at the dining room table and blurted out not-so-discreet comments about their sex life during dinner were not items. They were an embarrassment, a fleeting one, I hoped.

Three weeks into their relationship, my brother called me. He never calls me.

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Holidays on Eggshells – Recap

The Family that Wiis Together Stays Together

It’s taken me a few days to decompress after the holiday trip now that I’m back in Providence (where it is so NOT 83 degrees, like it was in FL on Christmas). I’ve felt a whole range of emotions while reflecting on the six days spent in the womb of my childhood, where I was treated like a child and probably acted like one at times, too.

Yes, there were fights and misunderstandings and clashes of liberal vs. conservative viewpoints and heaping helpings of guilt pie. My brother, who got in a knock-down drag-out fight with my sister at Thanksgiving about Glenn Beck, tried to pick the shit with me about Anthony Bourdain. Seriously? What’s not to love? But apparently my brother thinks he’s a liberal, arrogant, toe rag. And my spoiled nephew threw the gifts that he didn’t like at us (my mother got the book “The Story of Santa Claus” hurled at her head), and I still detect the chip on my SILs shoulder, albeit a smaller one.

All that aside, a Rockwellian scene unfolded at my parents’ house from the hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on December 25. And do you know what the glue was that held us together? A Wii. Yep, nothing like a shiny object to serve as a welcome distraction and social lubricant. My parents have it at the house for my nephew, and one of his Christmas gifts was the London 2012 Olympics Wii game. I have never laughed so hard watching my brother try to do the rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming routines. (My mother, by the way, is very proficient at the sharpshooting game. Scarily so.) My father didn’t play; instead he videotaped the hoopla for prosperity’s sake, as we were ALL in the same room… and not choking one another. (I told him if it ended up on FB, America’s Funniest Home Videos or YouTube that there would be hell to pay). We”re just not a “videotaping” family. It was bizarre, but strangely nice.

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Holidays on Eggshells, Day 5

First off, Merry Christmas! I wish every one of you much happiness during the holidays and a stellar 2012. XOXO.

Now on to the other stuff…

A Christmas Miracle & A Sound of Music Rewrite

9:56 p.m. (December 24) — Watching The Sound of Music on network TV, alone and perfectly content (dare I say happy?)

I avoided the SIL Christmas Eve gala! After attending a stress-free and happiness-inducing Children’s Christmas mass this evening with T (I can’t continue this charade — you know who you are and you are definitely not a “Denise” my friend) and her dear son M, I decided to not drive 120 miles round-trip to an uncomfortable evening. This evening would’ve featured a very lumpy rug, because so much stuff had, and will continue to be, swept under it. My sanity is hanging from a frayed and fragile string and I didn’t want to tempt fate (or gravity). I am also sad tonight about my ex and need to reflect in a chaos-free environment. Yes, everyone thinks he’s an ass and that I should hate him, but not tonight. I spent last Christmas with him and it was a special weekend with his family. (Cue Memory sung by Babs.)

So after mass, I called Mavis — who was already at mySILs, an hour away — and said N O P E, not coming. She was not happy. Pissed, actually. So here I sit, blissfully watching The Sound of Music on TV,  nursing a Jameson’s and waiting for the cow manure to hit the fan when Mavis and Dick get home. The wonderful part: I don’t give a shit.

So in the spirit of the holidays, I give you a rewrite of the The Sound of Music‘s “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” (NOTE FROM AUTHOR: Edited song lyrics below are in bold. And yeah, nothing rhymes and I really don’t care.)

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Holidays on Eggshells, Day 4

A Vocabulary Lesson

5:22 p.m. (December 23) — Again, in my childhood bedroom trying to ignore the crucifixes on the walls

I received this most excellent quote from my friend K, via text, as I was was watching “The Help” with my mom last night. The timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous: I was in the midst of trying to extend the proverbial olive branch by renting this movie for my mom’s enjoyment. I think the branch worked, at least for the 2-hour-long movie, during which we didn’t talk. It was nice, but not quite paradise.

Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much, much better.
Laurie Anderson

Ms. Anderson got my insomniac self thinking at 3 a.m. this morning about the definition of things, and how definitions are defined by each individual’s perspective. For instance, the official definition of paradise is:

1. a : eden; 2 b : an intermediate place or state where the souls of the righteous await resurrection and the final judgment;
c : heaven

2: a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight

I like Laurie’s definition better. Take note Merriam-Webster.

I also realized I’ve picked up a few “new” definitions after spending the last 3 days in my childhood home. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled the following dictionary:

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Holidays on Eggshells, Day 3

Vacationing with Monks

Day 3 (December 22) — 10:16 a.m.,  Sitting at the kitchen table alone


That is what happens when one smashes their head against the keyboard. Repeatedly.

The honeymoon is over. Oh days 1 and 2, how I miss thee. Mavis and I had our first real throw-down. The conversation about Christmas Eve was just a warm-up to the main event. I’m thankful she’s gone off to work now so I can just be alone.

I woke up early this morning, with a slight I-imbibed-on-too-much-wine headache. After Mavis returned from morning Mass, we sat down at the kitchen table and had breakfast together. Spanish Inquisition #2:

Mavis: What are you going to do today? Do you need the car? Don’t you want to go out and take care of some things?

Anna: No, I’m good. I’m going to hang out here and wrap presents and burn some CDs for Elise and Vanessa.

Mavis: Are you sure? You can take my car of you want. You can just drop me off at work. Or I could stay home from work and keep you company.

Anna: Mom, I’m fine. Really. Go to work.

Mavis: You know, your dad is really worried about you. He thinks I should be here with you as much as possible.

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Holidays on Eggshells, Day 2

The Honeymoon Period?

Day 2 (December 21) — 11:29 p.m., Sort of tipsy

Four days until Christmas, and not a creature is stirring at this late hour, except for Mavis. I hung out with Elise and a couple of her friends tonight, and perhaps had a little bit too much wine.  I just got home 15  minutes ago, and Mavis was waiting for me at the door. I thought she was going to whip out the breathalyzer. Now she’s puttering around the house and lurking outside my bedroom door as I sit here writing. Just go to bed for the love of God, please.

Day 2 was pretty uneventful, but I have the sneaking suspicion that my parents don’t want to leave me alone. Do they think I’m going to spiral into some deep depression? (Oh, wait, been there done that already.) Find me in the bathtub clutching a razor blade? See me wandering the streets in my bathrobe while babbling incoherently and clutching a bottle of vodka? I wish they would jut let me be.

While my parents were both at their respective jobs, I spent the day reading, writing, napping and sitting outdoors on the terrace enjoying the weather and feeding peanuts to the squirrels. It was relaxing; for all the bitching I did about this trip, I’ve made the best of it. However, when Dick got home, it felt like the Spanish Inquisition:

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