Monday, March 29, 2010

Ponytails: The Life Cycle of A Girl's Soccer Team

The ponytail just fell into her hand.  What else could she do?  It happened so fast.
After a hard breakaway bump-o-matic,  squinchy-faced,  stretched-out gazelle sprint, they were alone in the corner with the ball.  They toed, touched, and trapped the ball between them with cleat-clad feet, teeth gritted with spiraling frustration.  
Tardy teammates were no immediate help, jogging, seemingly in slo-mo (but not really), to catch up/mark up.  By some trick of physics and raw passion, slow motion and hyper action co-existed on that field. 
No one moved in to provide “a little help here” for either player.  Everyone knew the two girls in the tangle were due to duke it out.  It was expected.  Even the Field Marshals noticed the defender had taken a dirty barrage of low blows, trips and hooks from the striker from the first touch.  It was inevitable they would lock up once the defender decided to defend herself.
Circling like a flock of ospreys, all the players moved into position transfixed by the potential of this open-air clash.  They were ready to dole out the leverage should the ball squirt free from the girl gladiators.
The defender’s only immediate companion, a crouched, captive and queasy goalie, shouted and prowled the pitch ready to bat it away, or worse, helplessly watch it fly by her outstretched glove encased fingers, should the defender lose this battle. 
 On fire, in an Amazonian warrior fury of jabbing elbows, lethal knees and streaming ponytails, they connected skin to skin in resounding bitch- slaps causing the spectators to intone, “ooooooh.”  The trick of physics made this dancing dust-up seem like forever.
With every panting breath:  This is for coach. This is for mom.  This is for my team. This is to bond us, best friends forever.  This is for all the training and the money and the sweat and the tears.  This is to win State CupThis is for my future
Turn it and burn it.  Turn it AND BURN IT.  TURN IT AND BURN IT!
The ponytail fell into her hand. A column of hair smooth and whippy and tempting in her fingers.
She couldn’t resist in the nanosecond it took to decide.  A sacrificial offering.  A retaliation. A stop to this stalemate.
She yanked the ponytail. 
They disengaged.
And the whistle blew.
And in clear ringing syllables here it came. 
What the fuck is wrong with you?” shouted the striker. 
The defender raised her hands to her face in shock.
For a beat, only the chattering of the green parrots nesting in the field lights was heard.  The rubber band, stretched beyond its capacity, had snapped. The play was over.  Both received yellow cards from the referee with a stern warning. The defender for the hair pulling, the striker for the language.

What the fuck was wrong with the defender became abundantly clear as she and her team lost two games and tied just one during this high-end tournament where scouts were taking note.  They should have won, they have the skills, strength and talent.  At times they have played brilliantly as linked and like-minded as if they were sisters from other mothers. But when it counted, like this tournament, when there was pressure, they could be angry and distant from each other giving opposing teams the gaping chink in the armor.   The defender knew she’d be alone in the box dancing for her life, and what did it matter.  What was wrong?  Everyone could see and hear the cracking fractures.

At the volatile age of 15, her team mates don’t share the same vision of the sport.  Boys, hormones, cars, malls, cell phones are carving chunks out of the girls she had come to love.  The need to make college soccer scholarships materialize or never see higher education is exacting its pound of flesh in this repressed economy.   At 15, real life is forcing choices.   Real life is shouting in their faces to grow up, choose.   Do you play this game, or do you play more grown up games now?
The team?  It is splintering. 
“If we split up now, I know I’ll never see some of them ever again. Starting over with a new team is so hard.  I am so tired.  I am so sad."
And for a defender who thought her beloved team would last forever, grief gave way to an angry yank of a ponytail.

photos by Linnnn

Monday, March 15, 2010

Calamity Jane And What Heaven Looks Like

When one of them touched her emaciated scarred body, she raised up her head and with great dignity tried to lick his hand. He still speaks of the light in her eyes, and how profoundly alive she seemed even though her skeletal body showed signs of horrific abuse and the painful insult of having been hit not once but twice by cars on a busy highway. The men, who knew each other from work, agreed to take her to the vet at Animal Services to be treated. And both men conspired to get her a new home. They knew their mark.

It was me. They knew that I am the biggest sucker for animals in the known world so they snapped a heartbreakingly beautiful picture of this noble Labrador Retriever/North Carolina Coon hound mix and immediately sent it to me. She had been dubbed “Lucky” by the pound since she had barely a scratch from being hit by cars, plural. She had been somebody’s dog, since she had already been spayed, and was thought to be between 3 and 6 years old. Wherever she was for those first years, she was a ghost dog now with animal bites old and new barely healing. I could count her bones. I could feel her pain. There are dog fighting rings here and I wondered about her terrible injuries. Could she have been a “bait dog” for this barbaric blood sport? I contemplated the notion that she may have run into traffic on purpose.

There was another name for her.

Calamity Jane came home to a house with two kids, two other older Labrador Retrievers and probably about six cats. She knew she was home, or maybe this was heaven, and carefully went from room to room selecting one item of clothing, preferring T-shirts, socks and underwear, from each of our dirty clothes bins and created an aromatic nest in the absolute center of the house so she could see all the comings and goings.

An acre of land, all she could eat, and unending snuggles, cuddles, ear stroking, and back “skritches “ was what she was going to get. Her ears were butter soft and warm and her fur was short, black and glossy as a seal’s. Taking a photo? Janie was right there ready to “photo bomb” it in her own special way. The postal service named her “Fangs at the Door” because she took it seriously this thing about protecting the territory from invaders. She always got the last tidbit of anything I was eating, and would delicately take it from my fingers with a soft and gentle mouth.

She was not perfect by any stretch. She liked to eat paper, chase raccoons, play the “catch me if you can” game, rush up to and slime guests, and could produce farts like a human being. Once late at night in the dark I heard such an emission and literally thought there was a flatulent intruder in the house. It was just Janie.

After full day and a hearty meal, she would sleep. Often, her legs twitched and she howled pitifully in her sleep, her dream life still captive to the nightmare life she lived before. She would settle when she heard her family’s voices saying,

“It’s ok Janie, you’re ok now. Sleep peacefully dear doggie, we’ll be here when you awake.”

(The following is a letter I sent to our neighbors to apologize for Janie’s rather assertive behavior. She could be intimidating and we got a little visit from the authorities.)

August 29, 2008

Howdy Neighbor!

My name is Calamity Jane, Janie for short, and I wanted to apologize for running willy-nilly into your yard. I have a really stupid way of playing “catch me” with my owners. I used to do it all the time but as I have gotten older, I do it less and less. They keep me on my leash in the front yard just so when I get a wild hair and bolt they can run after me and stomp it to stop me before I run too far. And sometimes I do “escape” when my owners are trying to get into the house with me after a ride in the car because I get so excited. My stupid side sometimes overrides my otherwise pretty good training. Especially when I hear your canine buddies barking in the house or when your cute kids are right there to be completely sniffed and slimed.

I can cop to being an idiot. I admit it.

I heard from my peeps that I annoyed you, probably pooped in your yard or even scared you all when I went on a tear just recently. Holy moly! So much so you felt like someone in authority should deliver the 411. I apologize and just so you know I submitted to my annual rabies shot and a thorough nail clipping as a result. Not fun but I needed and deserved it.

Just so you know, I am a rescue dog, a mix of Labrador Retriever and North Carolina Coon Hound. Most folks think I look like a Rottweiler, which can be alarming. But I don’t have that really bad stuff about me. I love my cat buddies and I regularly play with many other breeds of dog at the Barber Park Dog Park with no bad incidents.

I know, I know, I bark hard and look crazy when your dogs (Max, Topper and Diesel?) are in the yard but that is mostly because I want to play! Not happy with the fence that separates us… Maybe they can visit in my backyard sometime so we can have our own “dog park on the block.” There is fenced space to race around in plus yummy squirrel chasing galore.

Anyway, I have been feeling so bad about it that I wanted to do something to atone for my goof up, so I hope you enjoy the book (perhaps a good read for the boys out loud!), the chew bones and the sweets for the kiddies. Again, I apologize, and want you to know I will be on leash at all times in the front yard no matter what. And because my peeps are only human, if I accidentally lose my marbles, pull away and take a run, please know I would never hurt you, your kids, or your pets. Sniffing and sliming happens, and I might poop on your lawn. But no bad stuff other than that and my owners would be glad to pick up my waste if you like.

So ok. Thanks for listening. I am Calamity Jane and I endorse this message.

(And just a few more photos of sweet Jane...)

You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.       ~Robert Louis Stevenson

To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace. ~Milan Kundera
Rest in Peace darling dog.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Boy And I Put Meningitis In A Headlock

The Boy’s voice on the phone was gravelly and sounded like pain. “Mahhhm, we’re thirty minutes out. Pick me up please at the usual place ok?” Click.

He was on his way home from a crew regatta with all of his rowdy cohorts, male and female, in the big yellow tour bus they usually rent. It was a dodgy notion to allow him to go on this overnighter in the first place. He was sick all week prior with blazing sinus and throat. But if he didn’t go, they may as well not compete. His crew posse is a mind-and-body-linked team and to force an unfamiliar rower into his seat would be a something to do, but not a winning thing to do. The Boy is tough as nails, I thought, he’ll prevail and we’ll attend to the “crud” when he gets back. But what if I was wrong…

It’s not like I haven’t been wrong before.

“Mahhhm? Can I sleep in here with you? I’m burning up and I want to be here in case something bad is happening…”

The Boy was silhouetted in my doorway rocking back and forth so I battled the nightstand lamp to get a load of what was really going on. I knew he was sick for about two weeks, but it seemed like sniffles or allergies; nothing severe enough to keep my na├»ve Catholic boy from his first days of public high school. Other concerns, like how are we are going to cope with the crime, the fights, the tasings and the outright meanness of public high school, crowded my mind. I pushed him that week to just suck it up. Shove nasal spray up his nose, take Tylenol and soldier on just as I was instructed to do as a kid. Tough being the daughter of a doctor. They just don’t cut you any slack!

The bedside lamp popped on and revealed a wraith of my son. His face was pale and blotchy, he was shivering, and his eyes were as red as Lugosi’s in the classic Dracula movies. I don’t know why it came to me so quickly. It could have been the nightly dinner table exchanges with my doctor father when I was a child about different illnesses he was curing. Or it could have been our beloved Sarah, The Boy’s guardian angel at whom he pointed and called by name as soon as he could speak. I suspect she may have whispered in my ear as I lifted my hand to feel his molten brow. I said:

“Can you make your chin touch your chest?”

He tried. And damn near fell over trying but that chin was going nowhere south. “Stiff…hurts,” he mumbled and slumped onto the bed.

“Let’s go, NOW!”

I threw on jeans and a sweatshirt, bundled him in a blanket, put ice on his forehead and burnt rubber to the first Emergency Room sign we saw, lit like a blood red beacon in the night. As we travelled deserted streets, The Boy felt waves of pain. “My eyes are going to pop out! Mom! Oh God!” I leapt out of the car at the ER, grabbed the first wheelchair I could see, and clean lifted my now half-conscious 165 pound son out of the car. Through the glass automatic doors and right up to the nurse station I talked to every medical-looking person I ran into. I was chanting.

“He’s got meningitis, he’s got meningitis, he’s got meningitis, please see him NOW! NOW! Please!”

And to their credit, they did. They did well even though their swift adherence to hospital protocols was still not fast enough for me. The Boy was placed in isolation on a bed in the ER, they ran an IV, took blood for labs, hooked him up to telemetry, and let me sit with him in the dark. The lights were hurting his eyes. He was in such excruciating pain I tried not to weep for him.

Can’t they do something for his pain? Not yet.

I devised some distractions instead. His heart monitor would beep faster as the pain would advance or we talked, which we both noticed. So I proposed a little experiment.

“Hey, say a really bad word.”

“Mom…stop. Come on.”

“No do it! Let’s see where that monitor will go when you do.”

“Ok. Um. Tits.”

Sure enough, The Boy’s heart beats faster when provoked by the utterance of forbidden words. I took such comfort in his devilish smile, even though it was through red-eyed tears of pain and fear.



“Fuck! God damn this hurts like a bitch!”


After the nurse came rushing in to attend to The Boy’s “rapid heartbeat,” (She was not amused.) the ER doc came in and concurred with my instincts about the possible meningitis. So a spinal tap was required. He would be back in five. We were to keep our fingers crossed that if it was meningitis, it would be viral, not bacterial. The bacterial form kills in 24 hours. But we won’t know if it is either for three days. What?

They assured me they would light The Boy up with cosmic uber-freaky bacteria doom antibiotics either way so if it was bacterial, they’d kill the thing. Viral meningitis is still dangerous but not deadly if managed. I felt a little better, but the Boy only heard “kills in 24” and went still on the bed. After everyone left to prepare for the tap, The Boy said:

“Mom. Can you get up here on the bed with me? Please.”

I pulled aside all the wires and tubes and oxygen delivery things, and snuggled up against his burning body. He turned his head to me, which hurt like hell, and said:

“Mom, if it is my time to go, I am at peace with that ok?”

My earth tipped off its axis. I looked deeply into my son’s chocolate brown eyes, which were swimming in tears, and said:

“Well, I am NOT at peace with that. So no. I say no. No is my answer to that.” And I held him so hard.

No to you, God. You cannot have him yet. You know as well as I do that he is bringing something to this existence that will shine on. You just take me right now and let him alone. Sarah, you have my back here Angel?

“Ok Mom.”

At that point I almost replicated that scene from that Shirley McLaine movie…well, here it is:

But they brought morphine in just in time so I didn’t have to get medieval with them. (They would not share with Mom though, the stingy boogers!)  I held his hands while they pierced and pulled spinal fluid from his back, and we prayed that there were no bacterial beasties in it. A CAT scan filmed his brain and turned up very little, thankfully. And then the antibiotics flowed like green beer on St. Paddy’s Day. As did the morphine, so he slept and the peaceful visage of my saintly son will remain in my heart forever.

I spent 4 days in the hospital with The Boy as his symptoms slowly backed off. It was viral and he suffering only a few side effects such as light sensitivity. The only theory as to how he may have contracted it was linked to the never-ending sinus infection he had been battling all summer. The sinus infection I chose to brush aside as the sniffles.

So the other night, I picked up The Boy at the usual place, and he looked and sounded miserable. I hugged him hard (checking for fever and he had none – hurrah!).  The next morning, I took him directly to the doctor where we opened a can of cosmic uber-freaky bacteria doom antibiotics to whack this bug in the head before it burrowed into his head.

And I could be certain not to be so very wrong again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Give You the Future President Of The United States

The Boy is six foot four inches tall and growing so fast, groceries evaporate. A jug of milk barely takes a bounce and – poof! – it is gone. If one meatloaf was good when he was a little kid, three is good now, if you want any leftovers. Even broccoli is inhaled with yummy noises and requests for more. I am finding that if I don’t make a plate for myself and literally hide it, I would starve in the wake of his laser-like focus on what’s munch-able.

Am I complaining? No. I grocery shop with the single-mindedness of a pillaging Viking shore party, and then stand back and smile like Buddha when he stokes his engine with fuel. The Boy is turning into a superior man who actually accomplishes lofty things like making straight A’s in a Law Magnet high school. He’s an Eagle Scout, for real. He’s pursuing an appointment to the United State Naval Academy where he wants to serve his Country by flying or engineering or even by practicing law.

He guards his popular blonde social-butterfly soccer-star sister from an ever-present posse of hormonally-charged pubescent horny boys. One piercing glance of disapproval (I call it the Angry Eagle) from him and the little bastards scatter like so many cockroaches when the kitchen light comes on. But what totally taps his physical energy like nothing else?

He rows. His sport is called Crew. Into a long needle-nosed scull, he loads his lanky muscular frame, bravely clad in a stretchy “unisuit” that leaves very little to the imagination as to the contours of his, ahem, package. On the flip side, he closes his eyes and smiles when I ask him why he enjoys Crew so much and says, “Girls in spandex. Need I say more?”

With three to seven other young men, and encouraged into a winning rhythm by a coxswain, they pull together jetting down the race course. They split the water like a stiletto knife, no maybe more like a scalpel, leaving hardly a wake or hole in the water where their oar blades dip in and displace their swirling liquid medium.

So you see? I have won the Kid Lottery. He’s got his priorities straight. And I feed him whatever he needs whether it is meatloaf or love, he gets it with seconds and thirds if he wants it.

Next: The Boy and I Get Meningitis in a Headlock!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Chardonnay Cure for Mercury in Retrograde

I am taking a fashion risk and clicked the "new post" button without carefully contemplating and authoring with spellcheck, a new blog post in Word and then carefully copy/pasting it with the inclusion of pithy images; owned/not owned jpegs.   God, I am such a poser.  It's not a fashion risk, it is the Chardonnay talking.  It has been a month of sere desert conditions mentally/intellectually and I feel like I need to morph into some kind of bumpy clay-colored golem monster and slam into the hallway walls like Bill Hurt did in that lame sci-fi movie...can't remember it's begin writing again.  What ev.  Bueller?  Beuller?

Mercury is/was in retrograde.  All things that move must break.  Plate tectonics have now legitimized this notion. As has my roof which sports many leaks.  Globally that lends creedance to the earthquakes in Chile that pushed this blue vulnerable globe off of its axis by three inches and, in effect, made our days a bit shorter.  Does that strike you as foreshadowing just a little?

Shiba Inu.  My new mantra.  Must intone Shiba Inu.

It will be less than 35 degrees tonight in Florida where I live.  The heat pump is busted so we are giving hypothermia a bit of a go here to keep from being gouged by over enthusiastic repair jerks and the toxic combine that is Progressive Energy. 

It is March for the love of global warming!  I sold gave away all my "warm winter clothes" because for years there maybe was ONE DAY OUT OF THE YEAR to officially wear them.  With old El Nino this year, there have been many days I have been forced to wear the highly vaunted "layers" to keep warm.  All I need to do is mutter incoherantly  to myself, and voila, BAGLADY!  Subsequently, the people at Winn Dixie have expressed concern of late.  I start with the leggings and socks, add a t-shirt, then put on a sweatshirt, jeans, knitted hat, bathrobe over all and a blanket.  Then I have to pee.  The hell?

That's all for now.   Back to the Chardonnay.