October 1, 2018 is my forty-second birthday. A party seems unlikely. All I have to celebrate is still being alive. I never expected to make it this far. With my previous addiction and alcoholism downward spirals? Multiple mental illnesses? What a surprise. Will I live to see one hundred like grandma did? I must prepare for the long haul. Instead of preparing for death. As I was. I came to Reno to die.
My little sister calls. Suggests a surprise visit on my birthday. Convinces me that maybe it is worth getting festive. I decide to throw us a tiny, fancy, two-person party. About the only kind of party my social anxiety can stand, these days.
A few weeks ago. Starving insomnia night. I crave pizza. Late night and early morning I search online for something to stuff in my mouth. To fill this painful ache. No pizza delivery places are open at such odd hours. Provincial Reno lacks the until 4 am Pad Thai delivery glory of Los Angeles. In deep searching Yelp, I discover magic. At seven am the local cupcake shop opens. They deliver. I order up a delicious dozen.
“Let them eat cake,” indeed.
With this new need to entertain a guest? My pantry lacks the dairy and eggs to bake us a birthday cake. More Mix Bakeshop cupcakes are a simple solution. I go online to Yelp. Order up a bakers dozen. A tired looking women shows up at my door half an hour later with a big pink box. Each cupcake unique in flavor. Red velvet. Chocolate fudge. Carrot cake. Maple nut. Freshly baked that day. Topped with rich buttercream frosting. Maximum festive. I arrange them on a silver platter on the antique coffee table.
The silver platter is really plastic. Before she died, my wife and I bought a few “silver platters” at an Echo Park garage sale. We carried many a platter of cupcakes and crostini to parties and readings in our heyday of literary Los Angeles. Now that she is gone? LA forever behind me? The platters rest unused at the bottom of my china cabinet.
The seventh anniversary of my wife’s death in October 15, 2018. A traumaversary staining the entire month. My birthday opens this PTSD mourning maw. Halloween seals it. Samhain. Day of the Dead. I am usually useless and bed bound for all October.
I try to rally for my sister. Get ready for a very exclusive party. Two people: two cats. Darcy is in the special VIP club of people I will hang out with. Trust. Family and a few very old friends only. I tell her this at the party. She is sweetly excited.
I put on a black studded deconstructed dress I haven’t worn since Los Angeles. Black tights beneath. Grandma’s lush brown fur stole. I don’t take environmentalist issue with wearing the furs grandma left me. Given whatever animal they used to be died before WWII. By 2018 this cute little fox would be long dead. Bones rotted to dust. I top these widows weeds with grandma’s black chapeau. A big pearl button on a pin on top. Black veil falling over my face.
As always, I wear the wedding rings. My wife’s and mine worn together. After wearing just the engagement diamonds for months. I learn ring code. One ring means engaged. Two rings means married. I bought Katie this simple ring long ago. My hands show I am married to her ghost until the end of time.
I set out small forks on the coffee table. Amethyst glass dessert plates, cups and saucers. The set looks black until I hold a piece up to the light. See deep purple inside. I brew a pot of Café Bustelo coffee. Open my laptop to Spotify on the IKEA desk. Play “Top Songs of 2017.”
This playlist holds many iterations of “The House of the Rising Sun.” This house I inhabit. This house Katie haunts. This house where the sun rises on my future. I gave up on having a future decades ago. By now my life seems done. In the past. I’ve done what I came here to do. Surprise! A future is possible. If I made it this far. Cockroach cyborg of leather and steel.
Darcy arrives to hugs and delight. She settles in on the green velvet couch. Her long, white, green and brown mermaid hair flows over her shoulders. My hair is now a similar mermaid. Gray. White. Robins egg blue. Dusty brown. Looking like a delicate balayage dye job strangely without roots. In reality just letting myself go and Clairol Shimmer Lights blue shampoo and conditioner.
I pour coffee into the delicate glass cups. We set upon the cake. To eat one of those cupcakes is to know God. A pagan God of gluttony. Dionysus. A satyr’s lust. I boldly remark it is a toss up to me whether I or Mix Bakeshop makes a better cupcake. Darcy laughs. We gorge ourselves until sugar highs demand we stop.
Darcy sweeps out the door. I put away the party mess. Sleep the first full night since I switched antipsychotics. Changed from Saphris to Abilify. With Saphris, I fell into a comfortable lengthened circadian rhythm for many years. Sleep twenty hours, be awake thirty to fifty hours. Wikipedia told me I had sighted non-24. Non-24 is incurable, so I leaned in. Went with it. Awkward as it was when dealing with the outside world. My mental illnesses and PTSD impair that skill. I stay in a house-sized bubble. Perhaps this sleep disorder was just the Saphris. Now with Abilify? I forgot how to sleep. Without soporific instant blackout tablets under my tongue.
I endure a difficult medication adjustment period. Spontaneous projectile vomiting into my lap. In my bed. Hot flashes like being burned at the stake. Tardive dyskinesia twitches wracking my skeletal form. I thought I’d hit peri-menopause. Right on schedule. I first rejoiced. No man can ever forcibly impregnate me again. Freedom of the crone to abandon traditional beauty standards. I held onto fashion and makeup so hard in my vain femme youth. Sephora’s stranglehold can finally suck my dick. Yet the unexpected severity of these menopause symptoms gave me pause. Must I clear my calendar for the next ten years?
Menopause means no more menstrual blood magic. Thinking ahead, I saved one moon month’s blood dried to a powder. My most prized, valuable witchcraft ingredient. I usually produce far more blood then I can use, anyway. I can only draw so many menstrual blood pentagrams on the bathroom floor. Fun as it is. Put my hand over them. Try in Latin to summon ancient gods.
“Ave Satanas. Hecate invocabo. Praesidium. Imperium.” I pray to the strongest powers I know for protection and power. Every time my menstrual cup accidentally spills blood on the bathroom floor. Not a mess, but an invitation to an invocation. I wipe up after. I try this ritual every month I bleed. No supernatural beings ever show. I am alone. If magic was real, a blood ritual this hardcore should work. If magic was real, my House of the Rising Sun should be haunted as fuck by now. It’s not. Quiet as a tomb. I lose faith in witchcraft for a time.
After that week of brutal sickness, all symptoms disappear. Respite returns. That wasn’t peri-menopause. Yet. This is what happens when I self-diagnose with Wikipedia. That must just have been the powerful side effects of starting Abilify. Antipsychotics are nothing to fuck with. Unless you need them. Unless you really do scry visions on blank walls. Hear phantom voices speaking inside your brain. I do. So routinely I’m not afraid. Now, this psychosis is eliminated.
I sleep so late the day after my birthday party, I miss a phone therapy appointment with my paternal uncle’s first wife. She emailed me her CV in the intake process. Coincidentally has the most hardcore psychiatric credentials I have ever seen. Thus can take me on. A complex mental case oft turned away by more inexperienced therapists.
I call my therapist aunt back as soon as I wake up. In a panic. I usually never miss mental health appointments. They are my highest priority. Luckily, she’s still free. We have our session. Get deep. In closing, she tells me she’s going on a cruise with her current husband for the next week. We schedule our next session for October 15. The seven year anniversary of Katie’s death. Katie and I have now been apart longer then we were together. Still the never-ending ache of true love lost. Therapy will ease that horrible day.
The next night is an extended family dinner. I am anxious as usual. Gird myself for the necessary masking of interacting with sane people in the real world. Put on tight navy underarmour leggings. Knee high flat boots. A black lace Target minidress. Navy cardigan. One of grandma’s old hook on fur collars. Her furs give me strength. I can’t explain it. Residual energy of long dead mystery animal? Grandma’s guardian ghost?
I feel the same power from her hats. I would wear them every day if they didn’t publicly confirm my batshit crazy. Special occasions only. I put on grandma’s same vintage hat as my birthday party. I love how a black veil of mourning sets up a barrier between introvert me and the world. I feel more comfortable with this barrier physical in vintage netting. As it is already felt so strongly psychologically.
My little sister picks me up in her U-Haul. Rented to finally take home our paternal grandparents dining room set. She inherited it long ago when they died. The table and chairs sat in our maternal grandmother’s basement for a decade. Waiting for her. Until that grandma too died. Her house must now be cleaned out to sell.
Frolicking lapdogs I knew well from Instagram greet us at the door of uncle Jim and auntie Ruthie’s house. Warm hugs and hello’s. We sit on purple burlap barstools in the kitchen. Nibble rosemary encrusted almonds. Dinner is tender pink pork loin slices with apple sauce. Trader Joe’s baby potatoes. Grilled broccoli.
Although it is near my birthday I do not predict this to be a birthday dinner for me. Yet it is. After dinner I am surprised by the lights being turned out. My extended family of aunt, uncle, cousin, his wife, their child and my sister sing “Happy birthday.” In their melded voices I hear the love I want. I bask in it’s light.
Auntie Ruthie sets a plate with three heavily frosted bundt cakes in front of me. A single red and white striped candle. I blow it out. The three small cakes are lemon, chocolate and carrot. We devour two pieces of two flavors each. Trailed by a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Pure and refreshing with the rich cake bites.
I planned to spend my birthday in silent solitary mourning. I am shocked again when my aunt places a present and cards in front of me. It is a gift basket she made. Food is the perfect gift for me. Perpetually food insecure sans car. I peer through the plastic. See more of those rosemary almonds. Trader Joe’s chocolate covered orange sticks I destroy later that evening. A Lara Bar. A coke. A packet of olives. Delicious snacking ahead. I open the cards. A twenty dollar bill falls out. The card from cousin Eric and his wife Jamie has a beautiful cut paper gardenia. I exclaim of its loveliness. Thank her.
The next day, Darcy and I take my two cats to the vet for shots and check ups. It’s been a long time since they’ve been to the vet. I don’t think you can take animals on a lyft. My fur babies are healthy. Get sharp nails trimmed. Vaccinated for rabies. Good call, as bitey as the little one is. When I die, she’ll be first to the face eating buffet. The vet calls the brown tabby kitten simply “Illuminati” to my delight. Not batting an eyelash. Little Betty Illuminati has not yet has his balls cut off. Darcy schedules it for Halloween. What happens when one castrates the Illuminati on Samhain? A less aggressive male cat? Or a curse out of a Dan Brown novel? I’m ready to find out.
On the drive back Darcy wants take out. She knows there is no food at my house besides cupcakes. Flats of canned fruit cocktail. Mushy canned vegetables. Jars of pineapple chunks in sweet juice. We order food online on her phone. A green kale smoothie and Cuban black bean burrito for me. A different smoothie and burrito for her. I give her my birthday twenty dollars to cover the meal.
Darcy pulls the teetering U-Haul up to a cute storefront that speaks of Reno’s growing gentrification. I wait in the car while she picks the food up up inside. Darcy know me very well. Knows instinctually I am not as other people. Broken beyond repair. Generously, she acts like a personal assistant or caregiver. Handles all conversations with strangers at the vet and café.
We return to my House of the Rising Sun. Sit at the carved wood dining table to devour lunch. On grandma’s plasticine lace tablecloth ripped by playful cats. The succulent burritos are wrapped in foil. As all good taco truck street burritos are. It take me a moment to remember how to eat that. Muscle memory returns of unwrapping one foil end only. Eating my way down, peeling foil off along the way. Sweet plantain I have not tasted since San Francisco. Kale smoothie slides down my throat with the siren song of California. I miss it. These memories of things I did before that I will never do again.
That night is long stretches of insomnia with two to three hours naps. Relearning how to sleep. The next day I stay in bed in a Cambodian black silk kimono. Late afternoon muster the will to look at the CNN app. Always a bad idea, these days. I see Susan Collins will vote for Brett Kavanaugh. He now has enough votes to be confirmed. Despite being a drunken rapist.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice is a gut punch to every woman in America. We don’t matter. Our sexual assaults don’t matter. It feels like open season on rape. Now that all men know how easy it is to get away with. Without it ruining their life one bit. Proven rapists hold the highest governmental positions in the land. My protective agoraphobia ramps up many notches.
One sexual predator felon under investigation by the FBI successfully nominates another sexual predator under curtailed FBI investigation to Supreme Court Justice. Such injustice it kills me. Kavanaugh has the power and values to take away the civil rights of all marginalized groups including my intersections for my lifetime. Dark days.
I feel as if we are tumbled back into the 1600s. Lie in bed weak with despair for the next few weeks. Given Katie’s deathaversary, this is normal October. Betty Illuminati climbs on top of me. Purrs. I get up only to open and put away Amazon Prime boxes of pineapple chunks. Lara Bars. Rx Bars. I must eat to stay alive. To see what fresh hell this becomes.
Wonder of wonders, will I outlive Kavanaugh to see a better America? Doubt it. Given the Supreme Court’s conservative majority for the next forty to fifty years? It feels like the end of the world. Despite my previous joy in surprise birthday feasting? Familial love? My grief is palpable.