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Jun 11

Does facial hair make me a witch?

Posted on Friday, June 11, 2010 in fears, Me

When I was little we went to the Methodist Church each Sunday and always sat in the same pew. (There must have been de facto assigned seating.) Around us were people I knew and felt comfortable and safe with. Except for one woman in the row in front. She had facial hair. That clearly meant that she was a witch. Everyone knows that witches have moles and hairy faces. I don’t think this woman had a mole, but she definitely had a mustache. So she had to be a witch. Except she was in church. I wasn’t sure if witches could get into a church or not. And I didn’t know why the adults around me weren’t scared of this woman. But I was sure she found some way to both worship God and be a witch. Adults were always coming up with strange logic to explain themselves. I was always afraid that she’d look at me and know that I knew she was a witch.

Me with a mustacheSo one of my biggest fear about aging has been that I’ll get facial hair and turn into a witch. Or maybe just a bitch. I must be well on my way because I do have a few strong and healthy hairs that grow on either side of my mouth. I try to keep them well plucked. Sometimes my vigilance wavers, the hairs grown and I find myself actually playing with them. My tongue seems determined to seek them out and wiggle them back and forth. I’m betrayed by my own tongue. My tongue loves those hairs, but I do not. They mark me.

It’s not that I am particularly turned off my facial hair on women now that I’ve grown up and better understand folk and fairy tale illustrations. I spent several years not shaving my underarm or leg hairs. It’s not like I think women should look prepubescent. I have friends with polycystic ovarian disease so I assume they have facial hair, but I’ve never really paid much attention. It doesn’t matter to me. I certainly don’t assume that they are witches. You have to have both wrinkles and facial hair to be a witch.

I just have this lingering sense that in my case, a few hairs on my lip or chin might signal a personality shift. As if each hair might represent an old resentment. As if each hurt or wrong I’ve experienced and not forgiven finds its way out via a facial hair. A long, strong, black facial hair. People will see this and know that I’ve grown old and bitter.

So how do I deal with this? I look up “women mustaches” on Google. People online are cruel to women with mustaches. Now I’m scared of my face showing up on one of those sites. But I’m still not going to wax. Too painful and I’m too much of a princess to stand for that. And I’m too much of a cheap peasant to spend money on electrolysis. So when you see me and my witch hairs, don’t assume that I’m evil or a bitch. Just know that I’ve been too lazy to pluck them. Or just assume you won’t be kissing my lips and try to ignore the hairs. And I’ll try not to frighten your children.

Jan 17

My mother’s passing

Posted on Sunday, January 17, 2010 in fears, Mom

My mother hasn’t died yet, but she is passing away already. She’s sleeping more and translating the activities of the present and past less fluently.

Monday she obsessed about a brown blanket and the fight people had in her room over it. I asked questions to try to determine if she meant a black scarf that had come in the mail last week that I opened in her room or if this memory was about something else. As I was going through her mail I came to a full-page glossy ad and Mom got excited, saying “You found it. That’s the blanket.” So a brown blanket had never actually been delivered to her. But nevertheless the “memory” was strong for her and upseting. She wanted to just shake them (whoever they were) for fighting over something that was hers. She brought it up several times during both my visits this week.

So she’s passing away. She’s passing to places I can’t navigate. I just don’t have enough clues to use or the proper instruments. They don’t make a dementia GPS. Until now I’ve been pretty good at being able to wander through the world she’s described to me and understand it in terms of what I know about her past and how she thinks. She doesn’t seem to think the same way any longer. And her past is now murky and its pathways lost in the fog. So of it is kind of cute. She wonders how many times she was married because she’s sure it couldn’t just be that one time she remembers. Some of it is a little unsettling like when she asked me if I had a daddy.

When my father died it was all so much easier. He had been going to doctors and having tests to determine why he no longer had an appetite and it was hard to swallow. I called Mom and Dad one Mother’s Day, and Mom told me that Dad had told her not to be alarmed if he died during the night. He declared that he was through with doctors and that he was dying. He still looked healthy to me, but I took him at his word and flew to Texas to help get him hospice care.

Dad took control of the process as much as possible. He insisted on having a do not resuscitate form completed and prominently posted above his bed before he would allow a nurse into the house. He told me what to gather together in his workshop and who should get what. He eventually had the hospital bed put in the middle of the living room. He had me call a family friend and make sure that Mom could move in with her after he died. He tried to discharge all his responsibilities.

He had one big meal of catfish after I arrived and then stopped eating. He talked about WWII. He and I spent a lot of time just sitting together, with me massaging his legs and feet. We began saying good-bye, knowing exactly what we were doing. And, for the most part, doing it in silence. I have a powerful memory of laying next to him in bed and his fingers curling around in my hair. In that way he told me all I needed know and I completely accepted and acknowledged his love.

After the hospice nurse came and I explained his care schedule to him, Mom and I talked about whether or not either of us would be able to give him an overdose if he requested one. Mom didn’t think she could. I was pretty sure that I’d have a hard time, but that I could. He tried morphine once and declared that he hated the dreams it gave him and would not take it again. So neither Mom nor I ever were confronted with the reality of an administered overdose. Dad would die on his own.

Which he did, but it took several weeks. We watched him starve. This is not an easy thing to do, but it did give us time to say good-bye and understand what death means. It made me incredibly angry with death. I felt like the Grim Reaper was loafing somewhere and not doing his job. I became certain that if Dad asked for an overdose I would have given it to him. Being made to wait for death when you had already put out the welcome mat for him seemed cruel.

I’ve never thought of death as a terrible thing. Maybe because when I was in high school I was able to have a long talk with a woman who had been in and out of hospice care three times. This was a woman who was angry with death for taking so long. She was very comfortable talking about being ready to go, even while she had her nails painted every week and her lipstick applied every day. She was an amazing teacher.

I’m not sure what happens after death but I’m incredibly curious about it. It seems like it must be a great adventure. You’ll finally know the great mystery. Everyone learns it eventually, and I’m in no hurry to rush to the discovery, but I am excited about the future after life is past. I don’t know for certain that there is a new form of life after death, but I believe that there is. If there if conservation of mass, why not conservation of soul? Life is amazing and wondrous, so why not death?

So I’m not worried about Mom’s death. I think I look forward to it on her behalf. Like you’d look forward to someone’s graduation or wedding or other major life event. I’d like for death to allow her through those gates, pearly or otherwise, before she loses touch with her life here and now.

What does frighten me is that Mom’s life will become confusing, confounding and comfortless. I want her to be able to leave it while still having a sense of wonder about all that life has offered her. I want her to be able to tell me what she wants before she dies, just like Daddy did. I want to be able to give her a few last gifts before she leaves for a new world.

I feel blessed in that I don’t have anything that I wish I could say or wish I could do before Mom dies. I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to be forgiven for or to forgive.

I do hope that I get to be near her when she dies. I was holding Dad’s hand when he passed away. And Mom and I were able to wash his body before we called the hospice. That times alone with his body was very moving and healing. Mom thought she wouldn’t be able to touch the body after Daddy died. But we both found it comforting. We had already said good-bye to the man we knew and washing his body let us say good-bye to it, too. I’d like that experience again, but I think Mom might be the type of person who wants privacy when she goes. And I can respect that. It’s probably what I would choose, too.

My friends should know that after Mom does die, I won’t be grieving in the manner that seems to be expected. I’ll be excited for Mom. I’ll feel relief that I don’t have to care for her. I’ll feel relief that she’s no longer upset by things which haven’t actually happened. I’ll have her ashes in my living room, mixed in with her husband’s. I won’t have a funeral unless her friends want one. And I’ll only want people there who knew her, and who can tell funny or endearing stories about her.

After Dad died, Mom and I went to the grocery store, bought orange juice with pulp (which Dad didn’t like so Mom never bought), and came home with a carpet cleaner. Mom was ready to move on her own life because she had already said good-bye. I think I’ll be like that. So don’t be surprised if I want to celebrate a little after my mother dies. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t love her, but that I’m thrilled to see her off to the solve the great mystery.

Sep 10

Fears: Part two

Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2009 in fears, humor, Me, random science

I’m currently afraid that the fly the cats can’t seem to catch is going to land on my face while I sleep. Then it’s going to crawl up to the corner of my eye and take a drink. Like they do to horses.

Thanks to a friend who educated me about these things, I’m also scared of dermoid cysts and teratomas. These are tumors with hair or teeth in them. According to Wikipedia — which I may have to stop reading — teratomas have even been know to have an eyeball inside. This is seriously screwed up biology. I want to know exactly where I have hair, teeth, and eyeballs. But I can’t help but wonder if if did have a dermoid cycst (and maybe I do, how would I know?), would the hair be gray or still brown?

I fear that Wikipedia will soon be authored only by men who think it’s fun to include photos of things like dermoid cysts to their entries.

I worry that the seas will rise and while we look pretty safe here in Minnesota, people from Miami and Virginia Beach might come knocking. Or people from the West Coast.

On a related note, I fear that not only will a warmer climate make life harder for polar bears and birds in the Amazon, it will all mean soggy and pale pork chops. I love pork chops.

I could cry tears of blood. Now that’s a pretty cool thing for a vampire to do in a movie, but can you image what that would do to your makeup?

I have anxiety about my wardrobe. I could be wearing the wrong color and people are judging me for it. I’m not referring to my fashion sense, but to how your brain is wired. I guess I better start wearing red to job interviews. I wonder if red cowboy boots are enough red.

I fear that I might be average. Luckily I don’t think I ever received a “C” while in school. And my personality type (INTP) is a very small percentage of the population. I worry more about becoming a typical old lady and somehow acquiring the three chronic health conditions that most senior insured women have. Really I’d prefer to have no chronic conditions. I’ve hit middle age without any so keep your fingers crossed for me. Unless you have chronic arthritis.

I think I share this fear with many others. I fear that I married a mutant. I think it would be OK if I was the mutant. Then there would be no way I could be average. But I don’t want to be sleeping next to one. I mean the guy might have teeth growing somewhere in his abdomen.

I’m also afraid that I might be reading too many stories about science.

Feb 2

Shoot!

Posted on Monday, February 2, 2009 in Army wife, fears, Me

I think there’s a myth that children like to do things to scare themselves. I’m not so sure. Yes, I jumped off roofs, played chicken with cars, and listened to ghost stories, but only to prove how tough I was. It was not to scare myself. But as an adult I’m trying to do a few things that frighten me or take me out of my comfort zone. Last week I went to a professional group’s mixer and talked with people I didn’t know. But a few months ago I did something much scarier. I took a defensive handgun class.

Now I’m not a fan of guns. I recall, correctly or not, my grandmother telling me in hushed tones that she had another brother who they didn’t talk about. He had died. Her older brother had shot him when they were both little kids and if you said his name the older brother would walk out of the room. That made an impression. There were guns in my house when I was growing up. I think. I never saw them, but I did see a holster my father hand-tooled in leather. I played with cap guns. But only if we playing Big Valley and I got to be Audra who carried a little deringer. It was really more of a fashion statement than a weapon.

Then I grew up and married a gun nut. I’d be quite happy if no one was allowed to own guns. Then I welcomed this man into my bedroom and all his arms into a closet with a new lock on it. The guns make me nervous. They symbolize violence and death to me. These are scary concepts now made visible in my home.

I realized that I might, if threatened, decide to take hold of one of these weapons. (In the past I’ve tended to arm myself with pens or butter knives when investigating an unknown noise downstairs.) If I didn’t want to be holding something in my hand that scared me as much or more than an intruder, I should learn how to shoot the thing. So, for that reason, and because I wanted to scare myself by doing something out of my comfort zone, and because I knew it would make HabMoo very happy, I told him I wanted to take a class.

The first thing I had to do was go to a sheriff’s office to get some sort of credentials. I didn’t pay  much attention. I gave up a fingerprint and $10 and received a form after they ran a background check of some sort. That and a handgun, lots of ammo, magazines, eye and ear protection, and some lunch was all I needed. I let HabMoo take care of all of it except the lunch.

I was nervous driving out to the range. I had discovered that all my jeans come all the way up to the waist and a holster up that high might make it uncomfortable to draw. Which turned out to be true. I had shot a few times before, but unless I was shooting something I hated (like an old DVD player) or something that produced a few special effects (like a jug full of colored water) it didn’t really capture my interest. So ahead of me was 8 hours–yes a full day–of shooting at a paper target.

We drove up to what looked to me like an abandoned gravel pit/newly created junk yard. There were some old drums full of garbage, a couple of folding chairs, and other refuse. It didn’t really inspire confidencee. A few other vehicles drove up and it did appear that we were in the right place. And, no suprise, I was the only woman. And the toilet was basically among the small bushes and grass behind where we all parked. So far, so good. I could deal with all of this.

But I had no idea what culture I was in. What were the norms? What would be considered appropriate behavior? I put on the belt and holster and gun. It did not feel comfortable. But no one stared at that. HabMoo took my photo. Everyone was friendly and talked about nothing in particular. The instructors began and we had to introduce ourselves and our weapon. I had asked HabMoo to tell me what kind of gun I would be shooting before we got there. So the first round of questioning posed no problems. I aced it. (Don’t ask me today what I shot, however. I have no idea.) And the first part of the course was going to be lecture. Not a problem. I could calm down.

I didn’t receive any range safety information, but I did learn a lot more about what people who have carry permits worry about. We discussed how to transport your weapon, what might set off alarms in a police officer, when it might be legal to shoot, when it might not be, and why. My concerns with personal safety have always been along the lines of how to not look like an easy mark for a bad pick-up line or a purse snatching. I look inside my car before I get in it and I know how to do the testicular jerk. I’ve never worried about riots or someone entering my home with a weapon or having my family threatened.

After the lecture/discussion came some real shooting and then my nerves kicked into action. I had to load a magazine. This I need way more practice in. Or more finger muscles or something. Thankfully HabMoo brought along some little device that made it much easier for me. But I was still the last one to get loaded. And now I had a loaded gun in my holster on my hip. And so did all these other guys. I was walking along with armed men. That is scary even if I couldn’t imagine them all using me for target practice. I could trust these strange men that much.

I told myself that the only thing I had to do to make this a sucessful day was to make it through the day. I didn’t expect to be able to shoot well. I would even allow myself to take the dumb girl role if needed. (Act like the blonde stereotype and giggle at everything as if it were a joke.) And I didn’t shoot well. But I was able to press the tringger and I was able to produce holes in my target. The fact the one instructor seemed to devote himself entirely to my instruction could be seen as kind of flattering. Right?

We took breaks to reload and rest. I really needed the rest. My shoulder started hurting after maybe 20 minutes of shooting and we  had the rest of the morning and all afternoon ahead of us. The guys seemed to really be enjoying themselves. One seemed a little concerned with his abilities and equipment, but I was there so he didn’t have to worry about being the lowest common denominator. We all chatted and no one showed surprise about HabMoo and I being married. (With some regularity people first assume that I’m his mother. But I’m sure it’s uncommon for sons and mothers to attend handgun classes together outside of Texas.) They expressed their approval of the reasons why I was taking the class and I relaxed my well developed social anxiety muscles.

Then came more shooting followed by lunch in the junkyard portion of the site. I was the only person there eating a vegetarian lunch and drinking carob soy milk. I felt like a cultural envoy.

More shooting followed. It was determined that I had a terrible flinch, because I anticipated every shot and recoiled from it a bit. Well, yes. I was shooting bullets. A part of me was still recoiling just from that fact. I had twice violated range safety and received only a gentle redirecting of my gun by the instructor or the marksman next to me. If someone had slapped me for it, I would have accepted that as appropriate punishment. I was unsure of myself, still scared of the gun’s potential uses, and experiencing pain in my shoulder. For the entire afternoon I shot with blanks interspersed with regular bullets so I wouldn’t know when I’d have a live round and when I wouldn’t. To build my confidence perhaps, the instructors reminded us that it wasn’t necessary to hit the head of the target. Hitting anywhere on the body would tend to discourage an assailant. Hitting a real person with a real bullet really wasn’t what I wanted to be thinking about.

We were all assured that we would pass the final test of shooting our targets from various distances. I didn’t care if I passed or not. I just didn’t want to pass out.

I passed. I was in pain and I had the fewest holes in my target, but I passed. I was disappointed that there was no written exam. I’m sure I could have outscored someone in a written test. Certificates were handed out and we headed for home.

This was the best part of the experience. Since HabMoo and I don’t agree on issues of handguns, or many political issues, we don’t often discuss them. Now we talked all the way home. Neither of us had had an experience to change our opinions, but we’d had a shared experience. We could begin the discuss from that point. I complained about the lack of safety issues covered, and he talked what he thought of their advice on what a citizen’s reaction to the police should be following a lethal force incident. I can’t even imagine that scenario (or use that language), let alone argue what the proper reaction should be. But listening to each other was transformative. I hadn’t expected this marriage enrighment side effect.

The outcome for me? I felt proud of doing something scary and not falling into the stupid girl role. I felt that while I had married a nut, he’s a nut who is comfortable with me disagreeing with him, and I love him. And I decided that I did want to carry. I decided to carry a flashlight.