Sunday, July 1, 2012


We were driving down the road earlier in the week when a small bomb of information went off in my lap, preceded by the signaling "can I tell you something?" which, these days, sends a surge of panic chemicals through my bloodstream and pushes my skull against the headrest. It was a here's-what-is-going-on-around-me piece of info that could have sent me through the roof. But all things being relative, I took a breath, stated I was not mad, and proceeded to explain why this was not something that "we" can be involved in. I was proud it was brought to me, I was proud she was proud, and I followed up with a few off-color comments throughout the evening, letting my opinion be known about both the company and the behavior while still cracking jokes. Don't be fooled. None of it was funny to me. It was a parenting tactic used in the vein of 'let's keep the data flowing, shall we?'

It does not pay for me to freak out, I have learned, which is not to say that I will not freak out five times before next, say, Thursday. And like I said, it is all relative. In particular, this little of nugget was relative to an A-bomb that was detonated (also in the car) three days earlier, of the variety that often requires sedation. I did freak out a little for that one, briefly, because it was both ancient information and gravely serious and I was just finding out now. It rattled me for a few days, and was thankfully tempered by my best friend's gracious receipt of my story-vomit. You know what I mean, ladies. The kind of thing girlfriends do for each other when something monumental has come their way without warning. You basically hold your hands out and prepare to receive a "download". It's a reciprocal act among the closest of friends and you must be prepared to do it in any location:  a restaurant bathroom, a coffee shop booth, a parked car on a quick store-run away from a barbecue. It is an emergency debriefing and you do not have to be able to handle it, you just have to pretend you can.

Mostly, however, when it comes to this stuff lately, I find myself walking robotically - mainly out of obligation - through the next activity and quietly imagining what I would love to have done instead. Cry, maybe. Scream like my hair is on fire, sure. In this instance, I would love to have gotten out of the car on the side of the road, leaned against it, and bent over to place my head between my knees to stop the dizziness. And maybe while I puked a little, wondered:  Why on earth is there never a witness to these types of moments that I handle the crap out of?!  It is not about seeking a pat on the back. Not at all, because I will not know for years if I am even doing this right. It is about someone close to me getting a glimpse of what I am made of from time-to-time (to balance out the fumbles, of course). For all I have mishandled in my life, sometimes it would just be nice to have a significant other witness it. And yes, there are perfectly good reasons why I am equally glad there is not someone to witness all of this, but my self-soothing daydream goes something like this: 

"Oh hon-…..…oh wow! I knew you were…….but I had no idea you can actually…..That was…that was…did you learn that in a movie?!  And oh my God, you didn't even crash the car! You were operating a MOTOR. VEHICLE. when she hit you with some really freaking heavy information! I totally would have run into something!  She's all, 'Mom, this blah blah blah, but I take the blame for this and that' and you're all 'okay, now let me explain why this is a problem, and it is not why you think'………..Babe, that's so hot! You're…wow.  Just wow. Can I kiss you right now?? Oh-…okay, not now? Ok. Yeah, you do look a little pale still……………..And YOU!  (turning around to the back seat) You are a good kid! Don't screw this up, because, you know, it was looking… was looking a little rough there for a minute…"     (For the record, no guy I know sounds like this…but anyway.)

This week got me thinking a great deal about the bomb blast moments in life, the grenades that fall in our laps on the most gorgeous days. And how no matter how they are handled, you can never negate the fact that they create a cleave in time. There is always a moment before and a moment after The Knowing that cannot be erased. We are almost always subjected then to a repeating loop, a split-second montage of shrapnel bits reversing to become a whole grenade. For some time after, there is that repeated pause, rewind, replay sequence that forces you to remember yourself in that innocent but now shamefully ignorant moment just before you found out.  Before that ugly fact, before that bomb. It could be a death, an affair, a firing, a miscarriage, an unexpected disagreement between friends, what have you. There is always that moment when someone could - if they had the power - reinsert the pin.  

Nothing, I think, is more cruel than the moment that repeatedly arrives with the first few mornings of fallout.  In fact, forget the moon landing.  Humans have really accomplished nothing of significance if they have failed to invent a pill to erase that bile-filled mental hiccup that occurs a few seconds after waking up….normal….normal….wait, there's something I should remember………Oh yeah.  That's it.  "X" happened.  The knowledge we can live with.  It's the forgetting and remembering.  Yes, Eli Lilly.  Get on that, would you?  

Coincidentally, I was already writing this when news of author Nora Ephron's death circulated and reminded me that she was a woman who wrote about bombs dropped in her lap. She made brutal situations funny but no less meaningful. In fact, I would probably not feel free to write in the voice of my thoughts (some of them anyway) had it not been for her. When I read Heartburn as a teen, a novel based on her failed second marriage, I had no idea how much of it would be mentally referenced later in life. One specific moment I am not proud of came to mind while recalling her dealings with her husband's cheating, but it made me laugh a little at the irony. It was in the raw, venomous stage of having just discovered a betrayal in my life when a statement, rocket fueled by anger at a million things, flew from my mouth: 

"Don't you know? If you ruin a family for another woman, you are!"  

After it landed somewhere on his neck like the product of a good cough, I clearly remember thinking two things:  1) They don't mention anywhere in the scorned-woman handbook that uttering such ugly yet justified-in-the-moment statements only feels good for about 1/2 a breath longer than the last word spoken and then simply becomes a stain on your character; and 2) THAT line would have been hilarious…if this was a movie based on a Nora Ephron novel.  

So I have to thank her for planting the idea fairly early on that pain and comedy are not necessarily an acceptable pairing for every crowd, but definitely for the ones that matter most to me. The people who know that we cannot be expected to behave perfectly when bombs go off in our laps. I would also like to think that Ms. Ephron would appreciate an idea that came to mind this week while trying to discuss some sleepover logistics with a friend, just barely hiding a rough day on my face:

I really wish there was a 'human dashboard' option to switch brimming emotions to stealth mode.  You know, those frustrated sleep-deprived tears that threaten to bust through at the most inopportune moment. And the fact is, I rarely shed tears but Internal Crying would be so pleasant for everyone involved. By my design, they would be as unnoticeable as Kegel exercises. Yep. These are the things I think about while shrapnel is flying around me.  

I dream of the day I can stand in the produce section, assessing the ripeness of an avocado, while also having a damn good cry on the inside.      

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