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In the Wake of Surviving a Rip Current

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Last week, my family went to one of our favorite haunts: The Outer Banks of North Carolina, or “OBX” as it is known to the anointed.

The OBX is a geographic miracle: at points it is less than 1/4 mile wide with sound on one side and the mighty Atlantic on the other. The fact that the area is still above sea water (i.e., dry) astounds me every time we visit.

The scenery is beautiful from Pea Island, with dunes 20’ high on either side of the road. As far as “pull over” areas go, there aren’t any, as just a few breezes will begin to reposition the dunes onto the travel lanes of NC 12, the road to and from OBX.

It rained the first four days. Wednesday to Friday, we had clear skies. On Thursday, my husband and I hit our 26th wedding anniversary. We were thrilled to celebrate with our sons, their friends and my beloved eldest niece. I didn’t care if it rained. The rental house had plenty of covered deck space to watch the sea and the storms. Just the fact of being away home, in quarantine, was tonic.

We arrived when a storm was clearing and we left when one was beginning. I had to rush to close up my car. The drops were as big as quarters.

Because the storms had been hanging over the OBX for a few days, the water was turbid and the waves were huge; at least 8’ above my son’s head as he and his girlfriend played in the sea and destroyed my nerves from waiting for them to come in frolicked. The water coming in had at least three breakers before finally crashing at its final destination.

Those are two 5’7” people from my beach team.

These multiple wave breakpoints created troughs in the ocean floor, likely several inches to a foot deeper than the other areas where there were no breakers.

I am a Great Lakes girl. Waves are something that I’m familiar with, and there’s sometimes an undertow, but nothing like a rip current. Undertows are below the surface. Rip currents are ON the surface. Because giant waves are exclusive to the sea, I have always considered myself to be respectful and wary of the sea. I trust it, but always verify. Never turn my back to it.

On Thursday, because the sea had settled somewhat, I decided to join my niece in leisurely wave bobbing. My mostly grown children and their friends were still in the house putting on various degrees of anti-sun goo.

She is a tall and very strong young woman. She is experienced with the sea. She is savvy to the sea as she has likely swum in maybe four of the seven.

I am not as tall as she. I have an app on my watch that tells me the tides. The main rule of rip currents, other than stay the hell away from them, is to not go into the water within an hour of low tide, on either side of the clock, but especially close to the lowest point, because that’s when a rip current is the strongest.

For some reason, I said the hell with that and went into the water. I didn’t have any food in my belly, so there was no 15-minute rule to ignore. I also ignored my own rule of: if you go into the water, make sure someone is on shore to help if needed. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to show my husband, who grew up on the shores of Delaware, that I could handle the waves. I should have put myself on restriction.

Something in him impelled him to join me and my niece in the water.

My first step into the ocean from the shoreline put me at 15” depth, solely because of the waves crashing at that point for days. Immediately, the water was just below my knees. About twenty more steps, and it’s up to my ribs. The water is refreshing but not terribly cold. The waves can carry my weight and I can enjoy the ride. My feet are still landing on the ocean floor. All is well.

A couple of big ones come in and I had two choices: get slammed or dive under the crest or into the wall of water on the approach. I dove into the wall and avoided the washout. A couple more waves like this come in and I start to lose my footing… I don’t feel the floor anymore. But it’s been only 30 seconds or so, how bad can it be, right?

Bob bob bob some more. No more footfalls and something in me says, “maybe take a look around, check your distance from the shore…”

To my astonishment, I’m about 150’ feet from the shore. My husband is about 12’ away from me, but closing in. My niece is slightly beyond me, deeper into the water, by about 10’.

I have a small “moment” (as I like to call them) and say, “Holy shit, >name of niece and husband<, we are in a rip current. I can’t feel the ocean floor….”

Immediate HORROR overcomes me and by this time, my husband is RIGHT next to me.

All my training in yogic breathing and meditation is now sealed in my mind palace and I don’t have the key. I’ve left it on my beach chair.

I start to struggle emotionally and alert my niece and husband that I’m not ok, that I’m fearful for my life and that I don’t know what to do — EXCEPT I DO KNOW WHAT TO DO, but doing what I’m supposed to do in a rip current feels like the COMPLETE opposite of what my instinct says to do.

My instinct to survive says, “swim, get out, survive.” My awareness of rip currents, even before this moment, in fact for years preceding this moment, is to get on my back, float with the current and let it take me where it will take me and then eventually dump me somewhere and then I can swim back in, or in the more recent studies I’ve seen on rip currents, they magically take swimmers back in …

I have mentally decided that 1) I don’t know where the fuck I am in the water relative to how far the shore line is. 2) I went in at exactly the wrong time: within an hour of low tide. 3) I’m a fucking emotional wreck. 4) I’m getting really tired. 5) The last thing I want to do is just ride this out, because of “1.” 6) What if this thing doesn’t bring me back in but instead spits me out 800’ from shore. I’M SUPPOSED TO SWIM BACK IN?!

So it gets even worse: my emotions. Meanwhile, I’m apologizing to my husband. He’s telling me, “stop it” >pant pant pant< and somehow he gets the lung power — he whistles his amazing DadWhistle, gets our eldest son’s attention and shouts in his most DadVoice “Get the board! YOUR MOTHER IS IN TROUBLE! NOW!!!”

Meanwhile my niece is also shouting to our son to get the board as she is getting back in to shore. She then rushes out of the water with the intention to grab our other boogie board for my husband who is now starting to scare me because he’s really tired too. He’s been repeatedly shoving me through cresting waves; I feel like a piece of soggy cardboard.

We’ve been at this for at least a minute, trying to calm each other down, stay afloat, navigate this thing, and not die.

On our 26th wedding anniversary.

In front of our children.

Three-hundred and fifty miles from home.

Every second felt like an hour. As our son runs through the water, he passes our niece and tells us when he gets to us, that she’s coming back for Dan. Which she did with surprising speed. It’s as if she had wings.

My son plops me on the yellow board, but he’s exhausted too because he had to fight the incoming tide’s waves to get to me and his father to help. He is starting to get a little unnerved by all the tumult and I could hear alarm in his voice. I suspect he’s concerned about how wiped out we were too. He couldn’t get his bearings.

I think about this time we are on minute three. We are making headway back in, but I’m still HAVING AN OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE. I had no clue where we were, relative to the shore, because I couldn’t get a view — I was on my back. My son was tired and my husband… where was he? Was he ok? What about my niece?!

Oh GOD, is this it?! Am I going to die out here?

My son tells me, “Kick Mom. Like really hard, empty the tank.” (This is a rowing phrase.) I am crying and I am exhausted and I am scared and I can’t kick. Instead I choose none of the options he offered and decide to hyperventilate. “MOM. GET IT TOGETHER. YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR YOGA BREATHING AND KICK. I NEED YOU TO HELP ME. NOW.” So I helped. I started my kicking, and the sound of his voice scared me into gear. I started to kick so hard, because I knew that if I didn’t I was putting him at risk. We all hear so many stories about how the helpers of people in the water in near-drowning experiences die.

I am a mother. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him or of being the cause of his . . . I can’t write it. So I won’t.

So I kick. I decide to be a survivor, but I was still afraid.

“Mom, I can feel sand. It’s here. I can feel it,” he says with incredible hope and relief.

So I try. I drop one leg to test. “I CAN’T!” I cry. We must’ve hit a trough in the floor. “IT’S NOT THERE!” I say. I’m going to die here.

Suddenly the urge to call to more people on shore occurs to me. “HELP. CAN YOU HELP?!”

Whatthefuckaretheydoing? Canttheyseeourstruggle? Whywonttheyhelpus???

Dan and my niece are alongside us now or close.

“Mol, who are you talking to? Why are you calling out?” Dan asks, exhausted, confused, almost angrily — exasperated.

All I could think of was “human chain.” I don’t want to put more people at risk, but I’m so delirious and exhausted that I thought a human chain would solve our problem and there were so many people on shore, surely, it could happen.

I’m so tired. Crying, Salty. Still kicking, water coming up behind us, washing over my face. My hair is in my eyes and over my mouth. Can’t see. Can’t breathe. I’m so depleted.

Sand.

I felt sand under my foot.

My husband pushes my board hard toward the shore. I can hear the urgency in his growl to get it done. My niece stands up and pulls him in while he holds onto the board. The water is about hip high now. We are 20’ from shore.

We stand up and walk out of the water.

My son and niece bid their adieus and collapse wherever they ended up on their towels.

Dan and I sit on the boogie board that I rode in on. I sit there. Crying. Breathing. Shaking. Unmanageable, desperate, grateful … shaking and crying. The sun is on my skin and there’s sand under my ass. The remnants of a just-crashed wave rolls up to us and I startle.

“It’s ok. You’re safe,” says Dan.

We’re safe.” says I.

We lean on each other’s shoulders. We sit there and breathe. I feel a >tap tap tap< on my wrist. It’s my Apple Watch with a prompt: “Swimming workout detected. Would you like to record?”

NO.

This is one anniversary I won’t ever forget.

Dan and I are pretty good shape. He runs or rides his bike several miles, several days a week. I had just gone for a run the day before and had practiced a vigorous vinyasa two days before that. I work out at home all the time. I had just done some yoga on the beach before it all happened.

This thing nearly killed us.

When I got back to shore, I went on YouTube to look for rip current videos and began immediately to share them with our beach team via our “OBX” chat thread.

I learned that in a standard rip current, one that is not connected to any big storms, that people can be pulled out at a speed of one to two feet per second. In a storm-related rip current, the speed is up to eight feet per second, which NO OLYMPIC CHAMPION can best.

I don’t know how fast ours was, and I’m good with that. There was a storm two days before that and that was the third day in a row of near-constant successive storms.

I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t stop replaying what had just happened. I’m extremely well versed in therapy, in “ruts” and the risks of “intractable thinking.” I was afraid I was going to really mess myself up. Yet I couldn’t calm down enough to slow my breathing to where I could get ahold of my thoughts.

Yoga. said something in my head.

So I did a headstand. It calmed me instantly. I was able to balance on my head for almost a full minute. Then I did another. It helped so much.

The science is behind this: cranial pressure calms the central nervous system. Some upside down poses can calm us.

But it didn’t last. I couldn’t sleep well that night. I felt as I laid on my back that I was gasping for air. That I was gulping air. I felt like I was sinking. I took .125mg Xanax. I slept well.

The next night, I was marginally better, but I wasn’t going to take Xanax. I took Benadryl and did legs up the wall, a yoga pose, instead. It helped.

I shared a brief synopsis of this on FaceBook. I heard from many people about their experiences with rip currents and of their witnessing the sad outcomes of people who weren’t as lucky as we were to come out. Experienced surfers, average beach goers, stories about people who saw others struggle and tried to help but couldn’t save everyone. People shared some really intimate stuff.

The OBX, in particular Cape Hatteras (which is very close by where we stayed) is called “the graveyard of the Atlantic” … did you know that? I didn’t until last week. More than 600 ships have wrecked there.

I went back in — for a bit, thigh high — the next day. Dan never let me go. I bobbed in a wave or two, but I’d had enough.

My perspective on a lot of things has changed.

I had therapy today. My therapist defines trauma as a negative event that changes your life; something that feels close to death or is positively monumental enough to change your appreciation of life, that has a “before X and an after X” delineation. I considered this event to be something traumatic.

We did something called “recent event processing,” a cousin to EMDR to process the event. “EMDR is geared more for PTSD, which the DSM-5 defines as something that occurred at least six months prior,” my therapist explained. What I experienced “is PTS,” she said. Some things that came up were super deep, tangential to my upbringing, but we had to stay on task to process the rip current.

I came out of that EMDR-esque session resolved. I wouldn’t describe how I feel as a “new lease on life” or a “second chance.” I’m grateful as hell to be here, but I don’t want to turn what happened to me into a cliché.

The reality is that I am going to live the way I always have, but with more assurance that I really have a reason to be here. I’m going to be less concerned with disappointing people. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about people; to the contrary. I care about the bigger picture enough to risk upsetting one or two people. I see the forest for the trees.

I can’t give what I don’t have, so whatever I touch or influence will be what I believe is best for everyone I serve. I don’t have to agree with people anymore to do what I think is best. I am ok with disappointing some people in order to do what I think is right.

I’m humbled by this entire event. My child and niece saved our lives. They risked their own. I know I didn’t “do anything wrong” — but it’s been hard to shake the feeling of responsibility.


They did what I would’ve done. They are beautiful people … and their response was “well, that’s over…” and within 30 minutes they went back out and frolicked like usual.

To my selfless, courageous and strong son, my relentless and giving husband and my strong, brilliant and brave niece: Thank you. You’re stuck with me.

Thank you, yellow boogie board.

Resources

The Tides app: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/tide-charts/id957143504

The videos

To My Sons: About Life In A Pandemic

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I believe we are in week 5 almost 6 of the stay-at-home exercise. It wasn’t actually an order until late March or April where we live. I do know that the concerns about COVID19 and “social distancing” protocols and chatter were newly and effectively implanted in our psyches about three before Governor Northam, also a physician, made the order effective until June 10, 2020.

Everyone was a suspected carrier. We knew so little (and still really don’t know a lot) about the virus, but we did know that it was super contagious, spread through air (coughing and sneezing and droplets) and while not really super deadly to those without underlying health issues (“co-morbidities”), we had to be aware of our fellow citizens, and do our best to not spread the disease. China was a mess.

We were being constantly reminded to frequently wash our hands and not touch our faces and if we did touch our faces, we were asked to wash our hands afterward. If you didn’t have water, what about hand sanitizer? If you didn’t have hand sanitizer, don’t touch ANYTHING until you can wash or clean them. For 20 seconds. To sing “happy birthday” as we did. I remember thinking frequently “is this an Orwellian novel come to life…?” I always washed my hands after using the bathroom, but I touched my face a lot. Still do. But less.

The two weekends before things really slowed down here we had two events at the house: one was an impromptu dinner party in very early March after a cold and windy DC United soccer match wherein your father invited good friends to attend instead of myself and you guys suffering through the event. Just about everyone had a date who arrived with them or came soon after.

People brought wine and fruit or bread. We were glad to do something spontaneous for once. That’s where we shine, actually, in the spontaneous things.

We cooked three pounds of ground turkey, I cut up the veggies, opened the salsa, scooped out the sour cream, and we made tacos and taco salads for whomever desired it. That evening goes down as one of my favorite non-family relations at my dinner table ever in recent memory. You all were at the table and we had a great time.

There we were: 13 of us taking up every possible seat at our massive dining room table. I didn’t take pictures with my camera; but I have stills in my mind from that night. I remember where people sat and how they looked in the light of the candles and the laughter. The conversation flowed, everyone was very new to each other (except to our family) and we really had a great time. We discussed the virus, but we didn’t focus on it. It was almost like we were rebelling. We were going to get together, dammit.

Around 11pm, people needed to go but didn’t want to; but it was time. So we said our good nights. This was in the days of “elbow bumps” or awkward hellos from across the room.

There was reluctance in me to comply; I didn’t want to not hug the people I knew and not be a gracious host to those who were better known to your father. I am a hugger. So we asked first and hugged when we could. Everyone hugged. We were in this together.

But things had begun to change rapidly in just 36 hours. Dr. Fauci was now a household name and press briefings about the virus were daily if not the talking heads on various news networks. People were beginning to hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I know this will surprise you (sarcasm): because I try to be a better parent than my own parents, we have things like band-aids and Kleenex tissue in our house. So, in that vein, I actually myself in late February placed an online order for more oregano oil and elderberry syrup to help with immunities; a two-pack (HEY — it’s the only way it came) of household cleaner with bleach; and a four-pack (again, sold this way) of Lysol spray. Face masks became a thing. We were all sensing the clouds rolling in: it was becoming a constant thing on the news and in social media that we were being asked to not socialize in groups of larger than 10 at this point. We were complying… we were just at 10 depending on whether my middle son was sitting with us or flowing back to the house for a few moments.

It was fine. Really. It was. Honest. RIGHT?!?

At the same time we were outside at the fire pit, our middle son Donovan invited his four of his friends over. They all gathered in our kitchen. I remember one of my new friends joking as she came back from using the bathroom “there is a bunch of cool teenagers in your kitchen and I feel really old and dorky now” and I remember thinking to myself, “you are so young (half my age), I feel old and dorky now.”

I also remember thinking, “is this safe?” My son hadn’t seen his friends in a few weeks — he was super busy with his sound engineering work and certification studies. So it was unusual that they’d be over, especially on a Sunday night, but there it was. School the next day had been cancelled so it was all cool. I also remember thinking — Donovan’s work and studio buddies just came back from NYC like a week ago. Is he safe?

True to form, 11pm rolled around again and it was time to depart. We all gathered in our kitchen — about 15 of us now and we were definitely not 6’ apart because the space is small and I recall us all nervously looking at the younger set and saying, “you all are too close to us! >awkward laugh, are you sick?< Ha ha … naw, just joshing it’s all good … >please move over there….<” (but there was polite unease). We were all cool but after about a minute of forced socializing proving that none of us had a cough or a fever, the younger troop took off for the tv in the basement and left us to fan out a little upstairs.

Elsewhere in the country, NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio had asked New Yorkers to not go to restaurants and use carry out and delivery instead. People in NYC were getting sick with the virus at exponential rates. Face masks and PPE, other essential gear for medical personnel were becoming scarcer and scarcer. National debates about the seriousness of this virus were not really a thing yet. That said, New York was beginning its lockdown and other large metropolitan cities were paying attention. Wuhan had been locked down for weeks now — people were literally quarantining in their homes to slow the spread and little did we know … soon, we would be too. #flattenthecurve was becoming a thing on social media. It was a new form of patriotism and coolness. And if you broke the protocol, you were basically an asshole.

It was very strange. That morning we had gone to a St. Patrick’s Day brunch (the same day the New York Times published its OpEd, “Please Don’t Go To Brunch Today [Gathering in groups right now is selfish and puts the lives of others at risk]” with T&J and kids. Oops. I didn’t see that OpEd until after I got home… AFTER we went to their house after for a few hours to spend some more time together in a known environment (I think because we had this sense that it was going to be the last time for a while that we’d see each other… with each passing hour, things felt more grim).

That was the same day I shipped to my doctor friend in Dallas two unopened boxes of N95 masks and three unopened boxes of child-size masks that we had in our basement. Let me explain: they were provided by a dear friend who worked as a DHS consultant during the aftermath of 9/11 and H1N1 virus and he wanted to make sure we would be ok; when he gave them to us he said, “this didn’t happen and you don’t know how they got here.”

Mmmmk. But they were in our basement for years. We used a few last year when cleaning out your grandparent’s house on St. George — you remember that place. The mask wasn’t such a bad idea then, was it?

So between brunch and the after-party at T’s, your dad and I ran around town trying to ship these masks. I finally recalled there is a stand-alone FedEx box outside the yoga studio. So OFF we went. THEYHAVETOGETOTDALLASOR’K’WILLDIE was in my mind. I felt a little like Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas” when she is driving with Ray Liotta and that DEA helicopter is following them all over town. Except I wasn’t hiding or distributing or using cocaine and we weren’t being surveilled. So, there’s that.

But the urgency was there. Time was compressing. I had a sense that we were going to start to live very differently soon. In fact, a small part of me was hopeful for it. I was tired and I remember saying a few weeks before all of this had happened, that I needed a break. I had recently gotten over an ass-whooping, nasty case of vertigo that started on February 20 (I rolled over in bed that morning and immediately felt like I’d fallen out of bed and landed on my face and then I threw up a couple times). While I felt really shitty and unbalanced and was largely incapacitated — people had to drive me places and I couldn’t teach yoga, much less walk well, for about a week. I consulted my Dallas doctor friend and she suggested a shot of decadron (a steroid) on in my ass to help the inflammation, but that didn’t happen for a few days (my GP here of course loved it when I started out by saying, “I have a friend in ER medicine and …” but I had been super dizzy for almost four days at this point and she agreed it was time for steroids.

But during that time when I was convalescing, I remember feeling better, mentally. I remember feeling as though I really needed the break and that I needed and wanted more. Incidentally, it was during those days of vertigo that I ordered the oregano oil and Lysol because I really didn’t know wtf was going on with my immunity. I had never had this and I had no symptoms. My ear didn’t even hurt, but I was being treated for water in ear drum and a latent sinus infection.

The shot worked and I was largely feeling more normal. When people asked, I said I was feeling 80 percent better 80 percent of the time. Bending over, looking at my feet and demonstrating some yoga poses was still out of the question though. I had to be careful and driving was not a challenge, but not much fun either. It was hard to drive a car like Nigel and be ok with taking turns at 7 miles an hour. First-world spoils.

The next event at our home was the following weekend. The orders had not yet been issued, but the schools here had closed for a couple days as parents were keeping their kids home. Plans were in the works to begin distance learning training for the faculty the following week and so things were beginning to feel a little compressed. I recall uneasiness about it all. I wasn’t in the mood necessarily to just hug people now. I knew the people I knew, and I trusted them and I knew they were in good health, but … the paranoia does start to kick in. Things were more tense and less glib.

I remember one of you giving me a hard time about talking about it — even mentioning it around the world; that to you it was no big deal and that things were greatly blown out of proportion. That China is a mess because China doesn’t care about its people.

I care about our people. So I brought a can of Lysol to the yoga studio and asked people to wipe down their yoga blocks and hand weights, and rubber straps, and bungee cords, and mats, and knobs, and faucets, and handles, and the remote for the lights, and the light switches, and the keypad to get into the studio, and the heating system, and and and and… I own it: I was spinning.

But it wasn’t just me. I was feeling the vibe; I was open to it too. I had been working for months to open my intuition — with my therapist, with healers, meditation and other interests. I had felt so blocked after my father died — I was all reactive and angry and closed off.

So I was in a feeling mode. Things had begun to change here. And by “here” I mean America. This was when cruises were reporting cases of the virus; New York City was also growing because a man from a cruise attended an event in NYC suburbs and that spread it there. I believe the nursing home cases in Kirkland, WA, were also blooming (I’m trying to write this without consulting The Google and go by memory, so I could be off by a few days, but things were starting to ramp up).

Sometime after the vertigo and before the DC United game, Dad and I went to dinner with T&J at a small and adorable French restaurant in Occoquan. In their bathrooms they had red toilet seats (mmmk) and also a really cool idea: instead of using paper towels which are such a waste and environmentally backwards, they had a wicker basket filled with white cotton washcloths to use after washing hands. The receiving hamper was beside the door so you could use the towel to dry your hands, open the door with it and then toss it as you left the restroom.

I LOVED THAT IDEA, so I borrowed it and used it here at home, but because the after- soccer game dinner crowd was a spontaneous gig, I didn’t have the time to set all that up. But I was concerned about everyone’s health, so I set up the single paper hand towels for peoples’ use and hid the household drying towel under the sink.

For the fire-pit weekend, we were ready: because Connor and I went to Costco and bought a 24-pack of new white cotton washcloths to put to use here. I wanted to be socially correct and medically “forward”; I wanted to be aware but not a jerk. I set them up on the sink counter and put the receiving basket on the floor in the corner.

This is how it is here now.

I had taught a vinyasa class that morning (my advanced vinyasa classes are pretty inventive and aggressive); I remember now as I write this that someone in the studio community had brought in a bottle of Purell a week before. That morning, someone else brought a container of disinfectant wipes, gesturing to the bottles of essential oil -based spray cleaner we’d been using for years, “that spray is good and it’s helpful for regular stuff, but it ain’t gonna cut it with this crap going on out there, so here’s my contribution. I ordered them over the summer and they come in packs of four, so here’s one for the studio…”

So it wasn’t just me. And we weren’t being unbalanced; but we were trying to be cool about protecting ourselves while demonstrating community care in the name of everyone. And I think this is is how it’s been largely managed from a social norm aspect: if you wash your hands, and wear your mask, you’re helping NOT shed your biomes to other people… but you’re also practicing self-preservation. So we get to be selfish under the guise of altruism.

Whatever… I’m good.

After that vinyasa I could feel that I was still in need of a workout; the stress was climbing in me. Increasingly, my sleep was disrupted. I was feeling more anxious because I didn’t know when would be a good time for me to say to my employers, “you know… this yoga stuff is pretty hands-on at times and we definitely have our mats closer than six feet apart, and there are definitely more than ten of us in many of my classes, so … should we call the ball?” In fact, a studio owner where I work was also wracked with concern and she didn’t know what to do — yoga and meditation, fitness, community, and stress release is our business, and during the early days of this pandemic, we needed to serve ourselves and others more than anything. There were no orders — yet — but there were rumors and people including the studio owner, wanted to do the right thing. But what WAS that right thing?!

Gaaaaahhhh… too much to think about, so many layers. I hit our basement for an interval training workout on the treadmill. It worked. I cut it close to the arrival time of our guests, but my workouts are my medicine and my habits are established: if I say I need another one, I know I need another one; no one really asks. So I arrived from my shower to greet Dad’s friends and got to work being authentically cheerful, curious, and gracious.

That was the last time I taught yoga at the studio. Saturday March 14.

Having another gathering was a much needed distraction. I was excited to meet new people, three people from your father’s work at LA., and hear about their lives. After I worked out, I tossed homemade pesto on tagliatelle with grilled chicken. Water, ginger ale, wine, bourbons were poured and tasted (it was like that). I made my current favorite beverage, an Aperol Spritz. It was a nice time; this group was familiar with each other and instead of having that difficult and awkwardness (when one cluster joins another cluster it can be weird), it all blended well. Everyone had a great time and yet again, 11 rolled around and off they went.

Apparently it went so well that the next night, they came back. I really liked our new friends and we all got along so well; I felt an instant kinship with the young women. To keep things a little more COVID19-aware, they joined us after their own dinners and we all sat by the fire pit out back (that was the intention of the previous evening but it got to be too late so we didn’t) and they just came over to get out of their houses. I felt a little like we were being “bad” — going against the grain. Even though nothing yet had been put into effect, I felt like we were flying under the radar.

It was a really nice night. Clear, cool but not cold and a light breeze. We were also joined by a new person: Connor’s girlfriend had an internship in D.C. for the spring semester and one of her coworkers, an Australian, was now sort of in limbo about things — the internship had effectively ended onsite and while she had to go back to Australia, she also needed to bunk somewhere while they figured out her travel. San Francisco was becoming a bit of a hot zone, and she’d likely have to fly out of there, but nothing was certain. Flights were being cancelled left and right, some countries had begun banning flights to / from other areas of the world… as such, she ended up staying with E a few days before heading home. So naturally, she and E joined us that evening at the fire pit as well. She enjoyed it so much — s’mores, casual conversation, a fellow ex-pat amongst the group (Dad’s boss), optimistic people, and the dogs — that she asked E if we could do it again the next night. That warmed my heart.

The next day, I was due to teach at the studio at 10:45am. Hours earlier, that class was cancelled. Our studio owner made the call to cancel the class based a combination of mounting internal and social pressure to do the right thing, people dropping out of the classes, and instructors having to draw lines for their own health and safety.

That afternoon, I met with my studio owner and we put together an outdoor class for whoever wanted to come by the next day, St. Patrick’s Day. The weather was pretty nice, and warmer than usual for that time of year. Everyone really enjoyed the practice and it was important to do for all of us: we needed something close to normal in the ever-mounting situation.

Three days after that outdoor class, we switched to online classes. The weather was unpredictable and some people were still concerned about their health or the health of their families. The whole “six feet apart” thing was new to us and some people were too close. So we started with Facebook Live videos which was utterly baffling for me, personally. The first classes were held at the studio for about two weeks and then the hammer came down from Northam: no more fun of any kind. Everyone must stay home for at least two weeks. No nonessential travel.

We had to cancel our housecleaning crew. I sent them some money to help support them, but I can’t keep doing that. My paychecks are smaller. So now I clean our house but not your rooms. I won’t make your beds. I won’t vacuum your carpets. But I’ll clean the bathrooms, kitchen and communal areas of the house. Except for the basement teen zone. Not mine. This has been going on for six weeks. I don’t mind it so much. I clean deeper than the crew does and I come to appreciate my home. I see how lucky I am. We have a beautiful home. We have many blessings.

Then what felt like three days (but was probably a week or two) later, we were on double secret probation: Dean Wormer had spoken and he had put down his foot, “and that foot is me.”

So we had to start broadcasting from home. I immediately hated it. The technology wasn’t hard to grasp, but the concept of staring and remembering to smile and thank people and be gracious and to recite what I’m doing when I’m doing WHILE I was ALONE, all of this, into my iPad and TALKING to it, hoping and praying that someone was out there, someone was watching and talking back to their iPad or whatever and joining in the practice was just too much.

I felt like a crazy person. Like I was seven years old and interviewing my teddy bears and the CREEPY Vogue baby doll that smelled like talcum powder my mother kept giving me (even though I’d destroyed two of them because I didn’t like that their eyes opened and closed and that their hard plastic legs had dimpled knees and toes and sewn into a soft bodice) in my bedroom. Hoping that someone would rescue me from it.

In the meantime, people had started making their own face masks. I began to feel like an asshole for not wearing one when going to get the mail or walk the dogs. Even after a while, I felt like the face masks were some sort of delineator: if I don’t wear one, I’m an infidel. If I do, I’m not. Sometimes, to be quite honest, I just forgot. Or it wasn’t in the car.


After a couple weeks of the Facebook Live videos, at the studio, we decided to switch to Zoom. I’m so glad we did. The community aspect is really so important; and I have been able to correct peoples’ form and see where things could get dicey if I didn’t intervene. The people participating feel safer because I can see them and I feel better knowing I’m connecting and making a difference.

We have all brought each other into our homes. They see what books I’m reading or how I live and I see theirs. Sometimes our pets come in and participate. Rooney has been a yoga star the last few weeks and it’s been very funny. People enjoy seeing them and I think it must be so nice for people — especially those who live alone — to have quiet moments on the mat with their faithful friend nearby.

Warriors 2. He’s a lover not a Warrior.


The country club had switched to virtual classes via Zoom almost instantly after this whole thing came down. I was not teaching for about a week between St. Patrick’s Day (my busiest day at the club) and that was helpful because I could see other people and they could see me and they were doing what I was proposing when I said it. So I didn’t feel quite so weird then.

Then the announcement came from GMU: Connor’s classes would all be online in a few weeks and his spring break would extend for another week. Then another week later: no commencement ceremonies on campus in May. Then a few days later, no events on GMU grounds until further notice. Then more: UVA, W&M, VPI, JMU, CNU, VCU, Virginia State… no more classes on campus until who knows when.

He wasn’t so bummed out about not going back to campus, but he was bummed out that he wouldn’t have a ceremony to speak of and some of his classes he really liked attending. Going to online only meant that professors wouldn’t necessarily be lecturing anymore; apparently they are too good to stare into a camera and hope someone is listening. So the experience is more passive for him and his fellow graduation candidates.


Somewhere between the new washcloth hand-drying system and three weeks ago, our 14-year-old washing machine died. We were desperate. Dad and I went to Best Buy and bought one that could be delivered ASAP. But we also knew that we had to get a good one and Dad didn’t like the idea of going cheap, so we bought one and it was delivered and our lives could resume normalcy in the beginning throes of this global awareness.

Then Hollywood spoke: Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were COVID19 positive. And other people, of course, but Tom and Rita were the first to share it.

Two days after we had our fire-pit night, E’s Australian friend had solid plans to fly back home. We wouldn’t be seeing her again (perhaps never) and she was lovely.

This is the age of instant media and super fast sharing. It’s not all bleak and not everyone is dropping like flies, but things are changing and it’s a sad state of affairs for people who’ve lost loved ones to this virus and for those whose lives are ruined because of the financial fallout of all the stay-at-home orders, and other reasons. We have been through this before as a nation, or at least something similar. But what we haven’t ever experienced is a massive pandemic AND financial destruction. This will take some time to unknot.

Numerous stares are deciding to “reopen” their stores and businesses, but it seems that for some: tattoo parlors, hair salons, nail salons, it feels like it’s more of a test of the most vulnerable canary in a coal mine: “Hmm… let’s see if these people who we consider nonessential can reopen their businesses and they don’t die then we will open more…”

Domestic violence rates are calls for help are up 15% these days. People are trapped home with people they don’t feel safe around. Alcoholism is up; Dad couldn’t find acid reducing medicine at Costco (but then we learned it was recalled for cancer concerns), so we bought another type. Included among most states “essential” businesses are liquor stores and hardware stores. People are improving their homes (we got our deck washed and Dad resealed it this week), but restaurants are closed. We’ve participated in weekly happy hour food from the country club and that’s been a nice change.

It has also been a correction —of lots of things— of politics, of consumerism, of mindlessness, of carelessness, of business-first mentalities amongst people, of destroying the environment.

We’ve played Monopoly, Clue, and the current repeat favorite: Mexican Train Dominoes with Tequila Tastings. At Monopoly, I crushed everyone (hotels on Park Place, Boardwalk, Baltic and Mediterranean. It was a fast death for everyone after that. We tried another game after that one, but it was not ideal… so maybe again soon.

We’ve watched movies, played corn hole, held dance parties. We are blessed.

When in Mexico, drink Milagro. Just so you know, I received that bottle as a gift on my 50th birthday and I’m 52 right now. So I can truthfully say we didn’t drink much of it until the pandemic.



We have participated in a number of family-only Zoom happy hours and game nights. Ian’s ability to figure out all the technology to allow theses things to feel seamless has been amazing. When we switched to home-based / virtual classes Ian and I set up our DSLR to be my webcam. I thought it was a great idea — we did this so we could project the image the camera captures onto a large flatscreen behind the camera. The only issue was that the lens was too narrow.

So I went went to the camera store around the corner and bought a wide-angle lens. From there, he did all the wiring and it was awesome.


Until Zoom changed their software and my DSLR could no longer connect. Now that wide-angle is useless for this endeavor, but I shall trudge on. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper has returned to the shelves but you can’t buy more than one pack per visit.

Ian made Connor a birthday cake in the midst of all this new normal. He has been baking a lot: several loaves of banana bread (which met their demise too soon).

It is glorious, but suffering under its own weight. A chocolate cake covered by mint frosting under chocolate ganache.

And so here we are. The day after Connor’s birthday. The country’s still divided politically and Biden is running for President. I can only support him because I know he will surround himself with adults and intelligent independent thinkers. I don’t want another four years of Trump and people who think just like he does. The nation will not survive it. But I’m also really not thrilled with creepy Grampa Smell My Hair for president.

Thanks for reading.

An Actual Query For Assistance…

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So I’ve been on this “fictionalized memoir” stance for a bit; thinking that it would be easier and cleaner within my family to go with a sanitized quasi-fake version of the story of my parents, my family and my life.

Then I realized that while I can do that, sort of, I’m really struggling with the aspect of falsity. I grew up in a world where duplicity seemingly flowed like water (and shaped my world and appreciation of truth); where obfuscation and deflection were abundant; and where gaslighting was the norm.

“How can I write my truths while filtering in fiction? How do I reconcile this?”

So I stopped. I had to. The content I’d created was good; I have no doubt it’s quality writing and is entertaining. That sounds arrogant — but you have to trust me: my source material is SO GOOD that I had an easy task: tell someone else’s story and let it go from there.

So I took a few weeks off — COVID19 and other issues — and then sat down last week and started again. Instead, though, this time: I was tearing off the band-aid. I was going to tell my version of my stories and that was that.

That in the beginning, I’d have to tell what were shared stories (those of my parents and I want to be careful with this because I am not an only child), and I was going to be very clear about how I am re-telling these stories as they were told to me and how I observed them as I aged.

Then, as I grew up, I’d naturally depart into my own stories of my own life and the family tree I’d planted with my husband. Then I’d have to be careful so as to not disturb and not betray the stories of my children. I have this strange ethos that makes writing a memoir almost impossible.

So I share these issues and conflicts and challenges with my therapist who has become part-time cheerleader and part-time head-clearer. I’ve gotten back into EMDR for some of the memories that are coming up because of the writing. She assures me this is natural and normal.

She tells me: keep going. Remember: you have the option of not releasing ANY of this for publication, ever. That said, she continues, your story is rich, and I know you will tell it brilliantly. (I gush.)

So I continue from my left turn at Albuquerque (I hope there are some Bugs Bunny fans amongst you) and decide to let what I’ve started sit idly by.

I go back to my new idea of starting a whole new book. This time from my perspective. No longer any “3rd person” narrative and trying to thread out who said what and where it went and the details of names, places, fake cities and whatnot. I was just going to start with my story. But my story has to begin with my parents otherwise, there is just me — and I didn’t spring from a flower in a garden or meadow, despite what you all might think. ;o)

So we go from there… and I’m humming along, really writing some heartfelt and authentic stuff. I am fair, but real. I am kind, but sincere.

A couple days go by and I decide to go through a box in my office. I have COVID19 to thank for this, I suppose: if I weren’t teaching yoga from home via Zoom, then I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about my “studio” and I wouldn’t have decided to take down a big yellow box emblazoned with my initials from my shelves. In that box were some keepsakes from my parents’ home that I’d sold just over a year ago.

In that box you guys, are love letters to my mom from the beau immediately preceding my father. So many letters — maybe 30. And we are talking marriage-level conversations. The phrase “when we marry” or “in our marriage” are actually stated. Also in that box were letters Mom wrote to me, that I’d never seen. Letters about growing up, being a good woman, being true to myself. Things that I never heard her say to me in person. Things that — who knows? — might’ve made the difference between a shitty choice and a safe choice in my behavior.

I never felt she was “there” for me, so I behaved as though I didn’t really have anyone cheering for me. My mother was an alcoholic and addicted to Xanax and other prescription pills. Way back when, I thought she was weak but what I know about Xanax now — holy cow, that is some awful stuff. Don’t take it regularly if you can avoid it. Truly limit your use to occasional and not more than three days in a row if you must.

Also included in that box was a journal of hers from 1987 when she suffered a gran mal seizure. At the time, my father told me that she was trying to self-detox from alcohol. The diary tells me it’s a lie: that she had overdosed on Xanax. Her doctor, Dr. Moon (my mom had such a great sense of humor — she called him Dr. Half Moon — lol) said to her, and she wrote it twice in the journal: “I am not surprised you overdosed. Your husband is an irrational man.”

None of that surprised me — other than that it was Xanax and not booze — my father was a highly irrational man. He died an irrational man. Hospice did NOT quiet or soothe his inner savage. What I’m realizing and remembering now is that Mom never said it was booze; she never really referred to it as a withdrawal from anything. Only my father did that — he was the master of spin for the family because any negative spin about Mom’s health made him look bad as a spouse — that whole “in sickness and in health” thing. Dad ALWAYS depicted Mom’s seizure as stemming from self-administered alcohol withdrawal. But he knew better. Mom overdosed on Xanax.

Now I can wonder and speculate all I want. I can play Colombo all I want. But I will never know. My gut is telling me that Mom was so sad that she wanted to end her life. She had threatened it many times when I was a child and a young adult. Often I would come home from school wondering if she was ok. That’s not ok.

And later, in 2009: she tried again. That is what spawned my first book, that is so far, unpublished. It was a known that Mom had overdosed on Xanax in 2009 — that shit is HARD to get off of; it messes with your brain, your senses, your intellect and your metabolism,

So I have all these letters now. I have her proof that her young man in law school loved her and planned to marry her. And that these letters explain SO MUCH of her continued mooning over him and wondering and when she was intoxicated why she asked — the ether — so much about him …

What do I, her daughter with a story to tell about my own life but that demands the backstory, do… ?

She’s not really a villain anymore. These letters are like gifts from the grave. I sympathize with her. My father was NOT her ideal match. But she was an adult. She chose to basically destroy my childhood. I’m not kidding. I could get hammered every day and ignore my kids, but that’s not my style.

The work I’ve done to get a sense of normalcy was hard and it continues to be hard. It’s ok though — because I’m breaking cycles. But what do I do? I want to be fair — and I want so much to write and get this off my chest and share how beautiful she was and how smart they both were… but I also don’t want to turn this into another Bridges of Madison County (despite the similarities).

I feel strongly that my mother died with (not of) a broken heart.

Any help would be really appreciated.

Thanks for reading. Xo

We Have to Change

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I was just watching Goodfellas with my son and husband. Then when it was over, I went upstairs to wash my face.

It occurred to me that unless we see this pandemic crisis as a life-altering moment, all is lost.

What matters is that we change. If we don’t change, the same things will continue to recur. We will go back to being unwell.

My parents were both addicts. My father to his pride and my mother to her escapes.

They did not change. They faced numerous crises. Nothing changed.

I have relatives and friends, who think that things should be different — but by the hand of others — when this is all over.

Nothing will change with us unless we change.

I do not need the J.Crew sweaters. I do not need the Coach leather. I never did.

My mother had literally 120 vintage Coach leather purses, handbags, and briefcases when I gutted their house last year. Most of them never saw the light of day and they were scooped up for pennies on the dollar at an estate sale.

I do not need the cheap crap made in China. I do not need the cheap crap made anywhere. I have enough cheap crap. Do you need your cheap crap? Really need it?

Yesterday, I colored sections of my hair blue. I decided I was bored. That I needed a change and what the hell did it matter anyway — even if I had to go in for a job interview, it wouldn’t happen for the next six weeks at the earliest anyway. I wanted to live a little of the childhood I didn’t get to live.

That’s not a tail; it’s a hose. 😏


As a child, I was the grown up. I had to take care of my mother. I had to pack for my father to leave for his big job and I made arrangements with him and his secretary to pay the bills because my mother was emotionally and tactically unavailable. I’d ride my bike up to the bank around the corner with signed checks and the utility bills in my messenger bag.

I’d get off my bike, park it outside the branch office and walk in with all the papers I’d need — the statement , the check, the proof of residency — to make sure our power, or our water, or our phone, or our heat wasn’t cut off. I would face the teller behind the 1” of bullet-proof glass and slide my papers into to welled tray at her window. She would take the papers, verify the funds, use her rubber stamp here and there, sign or initial various papers with her teller number and then slide them back to me under the glass. I’d ride back home and call the utilities with the verifying information and hope we were safe for that month.

After a while, I realized that I needed a system. The haphazard approach was not efficient or emotionally stabilizing. Sometimes it didn’t work, sometimes I was late with the payment. So I devised a plan. After talking with my father, we had agreed that a consistent time each month would be best.

I had created a standing appointment: the 24th of each month or the Friday closest to that date. In the morning, I’d quietly go to my father at his bedside and ask him to sign the checks I’d made out to whomever was due the payment. I was 14. This went on for years. Sometimes I’d make the deadline, sometimes I wouldn’t. The reactivation fees for the service we’d exploited was often 1/3 the cost of the monthly fee and my father greatly resented having to give them more of his money to get back what we had before. Sometimes a few days would go by.

But he knew he had to pay it. He was a father. So he’d pay the reinstatement fee. We’d pay the overage for them to simply flip a switch and turn things back on. Even though I know now I wasn’t responsible for any of this, I felt I was. If we missed the deadline, it was my fault. If we went without water service, it was my fault. If we went without power, it was my fault. No one ever said that it was or it wasn’t my fault, but I knew that if I’d only gotten things arranged sooner or earlier, than it wouldn’t be my fault.

This went on for years, well beyond the time I thought it would transition back to being his responsibility. And it wasn’t an issue of not having the money. It was that he lacked the executive functioning skills to properly deal with it or simply chose to abdicate onto a child. After all, it’s so much easier to not deal with bills… At the time I felt it was an honor to serve the family this way. I felt as though I was like a partner.

I realized many years later that I was only band-aiding the situation. My father and mother were not going to change unless something catastrophic happened to them. In time I came to realize that their catastrophes could be out-catastrophed and nothing ever changed. They continued to calcify and corrode their relationship and our wellbeing.

There was never enough gravitas in any situation to get them to change.

So, as an adult, with my parents long gone, I see clearly now, that COVID19 makes me feel like I’m 14 all over again. Except it’s everyone who has something to lose now.

If we don’t change, this will happen again. We will be confronted with huge choices.

Can we stop our compulsive and mindless behavior?

Can we sit with “now”?
Can we be OK with not being OK? Can we pause? Can we decide we don’t need it?


Do we need the vacations on the massive cruise liners? I know a friend who booked a cruise on a smaller vessel that is environmentally aware and doesn’t dump its garbage into the sea.

Do we need the waste and soulless existence in empty experiences? I get the need for a break and a shift in perspective but we can do more. We can grow.

What are we running from?
Can we confront it? (I assure you it’s not that scary.)

About mindless consumption: This isn’t a matter of choosing the better brand. It’s a matter of looking in our closets and realizing we have enough. It’s a matter of looking inside our medicine cabinets and knowing we don’t need another kind of lotion or to try another anti-aging cream or yet another fabulous mascara. We are enough.

Eventually we will die. The crap we will leave behind is overwhelming to consider. I had to sell my parents’ homes and one of them — oh my lord! — was a museum to a sea of unused anything, unopened that, collections of this and waste.

Would any of us look at the person who may be on a ventilator in an ICU and say to them, “You really should have done that addition to the house”? Does it take people dying to realize that none of what we fret over doesn’t matter and that everything we avoid does matter?

Who will we be when we come out of this experience?

Let’s live responsibly and with presence. What are we so afraid of? Share love. Share compassion. Unload your burdens. Create space in your heart. Let shit go.

Thanks for reading.