My wife,

I would’ve liked to meet you at eighty. Our busy lives behind us, perhaps we could’ve watched all those movies we missed. I would’ve liked to see Hangover II. I would’ve liked to watch JAWS one last time. I miss you already. I know, we don’t believe in Heaven, but tell me, please, when we meet again, somewhere, even if we’re just two amoebas sailing over the waters of some new world-promise me you’ll notice me. Forgive, my wife, it was I who lost our wedding rings. We never did make that trip to Jeweler’s Row. It was I who never had the money. I had hoped to take care of you. I had hoped to buy you a ring. I had hoped to buy you an entire house. I had hoped we might sit in perfect stillness and wait for the good news. I had hoped to take you to Barcelona. We will never see Barcelona again. We will never share ice cream again. Forgive me, I let my illness make me crazy.

I would’ve liked to meet you at ninety, my wife. Our busy lives behind us, perhaps we could’ve experimented with drugs. I had hoped to discover the mystery of salvia. I had hoped to discover the mystery of your nightie, how, upon waking each morning, you’d slip out of your nightie, fold it into a perfect square, and hide it under your pillow. Don’t get me wrong, I had hoped to revel in that mystery for years. I had hoped, for decades to come, to reliably discover your nightie folded into a perfect square under your pillow. And yet, at eighty, I had hoped to ask, “Why, my wife? Why do you that?” You were so mysterious. You never squeezed out the sponge after washing the dishes. When confronted about this, you said, “I’m still washing the dishes.” And yet, I could see clearly: you were in bed, reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, and the sink was empty, and the sponge, absorbing its weight in soapy water, was sitting on the counter, just one more example of how you compelled my world, how you made everything remind me of you.

I had hoped, someday, to meet our children. I had hoped we’d have a daughter. Gloria or Isabella. Or, as you once said, “Francine!” Just kidding. You never said that. You never seriously suggested a name. I would’ve liked to hear what you’d come up with. I know you would’ve waited until the moment you met her. I always admired that about you. You always waited until you met someone to decide. Even then, you never made up your mind. In the wine store. At the movies. Standing in front of a case of ice cream-a glorious predicament! You never made up your mind. Don’t worry. Even if we’re just two rocks zooming around the universe-I promise, despite your indecisiveness, I’ll love you again.

I promise I’ll use the last of the ketchup before I open a new bottle. I promise, if we’re called upon to sit in perfect stillness and wait for the bad news, I will hold your hand.

I promise, the news won’t always be bad.

By the time we meet again, I predict a cure! Forgive me, I let my illness make me crazy.

Thank you, my wife, for saving my life. Thank you, my wife, for using the last of the ketchup. You were never meant for the dregs. And yet, for me, you took the dregs. Even if we’re the dregs at the bottom of some new world’s primordial puddle-promise me, my wife, promise me, you’ll tell me about the future. Skyscrapers! Plums! iPhones! Forgive me, I broke your iPhone. I broke your iPod.  I broke every single thing. I only wanted to see what was inside. I broke you, my nesting doll, and discovered another you.

I promise, someday, somewhere, I’ll make it up to you. Wedding rings. Mint chocolate chip. Three or four daughters: Gloria I, Gloria II, Gloria III, Gloria IV.

Oh, my wife, I miss you already, but I just know we’ll meet again. Even if we’re just two amoebas sailing over the waters of some new world-I promise, I’ll notice you.

For now, goodbye, but only for now.

love,

Me

Please explain what just happened.

The chorus started.  It’s Dire Straits.

What is your earliest memory?

Trying to compete with my big brother by walking along the side of the bath like he did, then falling and breaking my arm.

If you weren’t a rock and roll drummer, what other profession would you choose?

Librarian. What could compete with that adrenaline rush? The rock star thing would do if all else failed, though.

It recently came to my attention that there is an actual diagnosis in the DSM IV for a childhood behavioral disorder called “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” (ODD for short).

Symptoms include:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Often questioning rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Frequent anger and resentment

It should occur to anyone that in most cases of small people whose brains are not yet fully cooked and who have not had 20 years of experience in social artistry, these things will happen.

But DSM has that covered.

A child with ODD will do these things “more than normal.”

It is important that I point out two things:

First, I have no children.

I have no desire to tell people when their kids’ behavior is or isn’t normal, to try to make them feel or even suggest that they should feel guilty about seeking help for behavior they think may not be normal, or anything even remotely to that effect.

Second, there is a good chance that, were I born 15 years later, I would have been diagnosed with ODD.  There is a good chance that the more wise-assed amongst you will diagnose me with it now.

It’s a tired question:  Why does it seem like virtually every incidence of childhood misbehavior or difference or difficulty is suddenly treated as grounds for declaring children pathological?  Conspiracy theories abound:  It’s the conservatives and drug companies inventing diseases so they can sell drugs for them; it’s a liberal plot to subdue and pussify children for ease of federal control of civilians in the future; it’s an attempt to pathologize individuality, answer-seeking, and the questioning of authority in general; along with vaccinations, it’s a government plot to sterilize and/or lobotomize the population.  Maybe there are aliens involved.  Or the Illuminati or Free Masons or the Priory of Scion.  Someone get Dan Brown on the phone.

As a child I was…difficult.  I was not violent, and I was not harmful or antagonistic towards other kids–at least not more than was normal.  I have discussed, in another piece, my childhood propensity to tell rather spectacular (but generally harmless and seemingly purposeless) lies.  More than anything, I liked to tell adults and other authority figures where they could stick it.

This is my recollection, at least.  I don’t know exactly what the view was like for the adults in my life.  I was strong-willed enough to cause my mother to buy a self-help book on dealing with me.  I would argue relentlessly, feverishly, dramatically to get my way.  At one point, maybe around 8 or 9 years of age, I suggested one of my teachers was an asshole (or maybe it was that he did or should eat shit), and the powers-that-be at my experimental hippie elementary school threatened to put me in special ed or even kick me out, actions against which my mother, after insisting that nothing was wrong with me, was offered “take her to a child psychologist and prove it” as the only recourse.

It is important to point out that one of the guiding premises of this experimental school was that children were autonomous individuals, capable of thinking for themselves and, with a little guidance, managing their own schedules and making the “right” decisions.  But even as they shouldered us with this adult-like responsibility and somewhat non-specific expectation, we were still treated as children–that is, with the attitude that, as children should, we would accept adults’ assertions about what decisions were “right,” do as we were told, and maintain an attitude of capitulation and submission toward authority figures.  Talk about confusing.

So, reluctantly, not believing for an instant that anyone other than the school was messed up, my poor, beleaguered mother hauled me off to a child psychologist for evaluation.  I didn’t get it.  I asked my mom:  Was I stupid? “No,” she said.

“Are you sure? I took a long time to learn money, and I can’t write 2s or 5s.”

She was sure.

Was I messed up?  Why did I have go see a doctor for crazy people?  I was not messed up, she said.

“We’re going just to prove it to everyone for good measure.”

“Why do we have to prove it?”

“Because you’re smarter than they are, and they don’t know what to do about it.”

I went weekly over the period of a handful of months.  I had to role play with dolls, answer endless simple questions, look at pictures and describe what was happening.  I think she advised my mom to do some kind of rewards system thing, maybe with gold-star stickers that went on a bit of tagboard on the fridge when I managed to refrain from arguing.  I knew it was contrived–intended to manipulate or trick me in some way.  I could not be enticed to care about the gold stars.

“What kinds of things make you angry?”

“When I’m watching TV and my dad comes in and just changes the channel to watch football without asking.”

I remember that question and answer distinctly.  It was a slightly warmer-than-normal winter day and the blinds in her office were pulled against the sun.  I was facing the window and she was facing me.  I remember, vaguely, having misgivings about whether my shrink might like football as much as my dad did and wouldn’t be sympathetic.

I remember, for our last meeting, we didn’t sit in the boring office.  She took me in her sports car to get ice cream.  I think the place was in downtown Minneapolis’ famous skyway system.  Maybe not.  At any rate, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t really care for ice cream, and she gave me a hug when she brought me back to my mom.  The shrink was a nice enough lady.

The finding, incidentally, was that there was nothing wrong with me, aside from a bad case of not knowing my place.  Or knowing what it was supposed to be and simply rejecting it.  I had no personality disorder and I wasn’t retarded or in possession of a learning disability.  There was a personality clash with my own father–something about a power struggle.  I was a bit spoiled.

In my mother’s defense, she believed I was wrenched from the hands of death himself to be in the world (I was, in a manner of speaking), so she coddled me.  I. Me.  The miracle baby.  I got away with things that children with less dramatic births may not have.  I was special.

I was a difficult individual, but not a pathological one.

My impression of the situation, both at the time and in hindsight, was that I knew and understood more than I was given credit for.  I could not stand being talked to, reasoned with, or treated like I was a child, even though I was.  I would say to people, “don’t talk to me like I’m a kid!” which they often found adorable and worthy of a chuckle.  Laughing at me was about the worst thing any adult could do; it made me all the more furious.

Even now, the slightest whiff of condescension is to me as the word “chicken” to Marty McFly.

In the end, I was not put in special ed or kicked out of school.  I was given a more structured schedule than some of my peers, and that helped.

Thus began my long-standing academic habit of being difficult enough to be a monstrous pain in my teachers’ asses, but never out of control enough to suffer any very serious consequences.

I vacillated between As and Ds in jr. high and high school.  I’d escape summer school, barely, every year, and spend my semesters maxing out my tardies & unexcused absences, bribing the man at the parking lot gate with Egg McMuffins & coffee.  I was a master test-taker and walked out of high school with a sparkling ACT score and a C average–an average average–though everything else about my record indicated I was a born delinquent and hopeless loser.

My life certainly would have been easier had I left high school with an A average.  Had I not spent so much time forcing my way and fucking around for rebellion’s sake.  I made a lot of headaches for myself, in addition to the headaches I made for other people, often just to prove a point.  To assert my self-ness.   My am-ness.

My 2s and Zs remain identical, as do my 5s and Ss.

My first Facebook status update after I graduated college with my B.A. was something to the effect of “Haha, suckers!  I win!  I WIN!!!”

(My outstanding student loan balance begs to differ, but that is a separate issue.)

I wonder what would have happened if I had been put in special ed?

Part of me fears that I had been born 5-10 years later and my mother were a slightly more pliant woman, I would have been medicated into oblivion.

Would I even be here, talking to you?  Would I have been beaten down, told I was a walking malfunction, tranquilized into capitulation for long enough that I would never have found the confidence to go to college, let alone do as well as I did?  Would I have been made afraid to challenge, to question, to search for unique answers to run-of-the-mill questions? To reject answers that I found insufficient?

We don’t need no education…

Or would my early life and education (both scholarly and social) simply have been easier for everyone involved, including me?  Maybe I wouldn’t be here because I’d be a shrink, a lawyer, a doctor instead?  Maybe I’d be too busy rolling around in money and influential connections to care about any of this stuff?

The answer is: I don’t know.  I can’t know.

But the question is important because there is a good chance that either by virtue of genetics or simply knowing me, any future children of mine will not be entirely easy to deal with, either.

They may inherit my husband’s much more agreeable personality, but should they not, should the moment come when I’m sitting in a principle’s office somewhere, my child staring at her shoes, kicking her heels on the chair, answering some administrator’s questions–or mine–monosyllabically out of either shame or fury, I wonder if I’ll be strong enough, prescient enough, lucid enough, to recognize the reality of my–and more importantly, my child’s–situation.  To discern whether it’s my child or the adult system around her that, in fact, has the problem.  To act accordingly.

The challenge, no matter how speculative, frightens me.

I have to hope and trust, though, that my mother’s example wasn’t for naught.  That because my mother knew her child, because she didn’t let them wrest it out of me, when the powers that be are wrong, I’ll still have the ability and willingness to look them in the face, narrow my eyes, cross my arms, and with total disregard for their authority, say, “No.”

I will try not to stick out my tongue.


The Body of Christ melts in your mouth
not in your hand.

Jesus would be better served as milk chocolate
laced with expensive shiraz
and dusted with dehydrated lake trout

They sell cheap centimeters of his tunic on Ebay
and people twitter about him sixteen times a minute:

Jesus is with me
Jesus is with them
Jesus is my co-pilot
Jesus is my co-signer

And so on

If Jesus were to die tonight
Fox News would be on it
raising questions about his alleged affair with Mary Magdalene

Mormons would start digging holes into hills
until there were hills no more
just odd Seussian organic monoliths
allegedly in the shape of the late Jesus Christ

Then they would retire to the dairy store for ice cream
conversing like big geese about the infinite potential of Resurrection

Whooshay poses as one of them
replete with white shirt and crisply ironed tie
licking blue moon out of a waffle cone
saying:

If he doesn’t come back in this dimension
surely he will return in one of the others

Elder Johnson writes it all down
wonders what his chances of being an apostle are
and wiggles closer and closer to Whooshay

We need more ice cream
he confides
a halo of industrial smoke rising behind his head
from the chocolate factory the next town over

A moment of enlightenment falls upon all 227 of them
and for once they forget about Jesus
and obsess about delicious ice cream flavors instead