275 days

wp-1468187743004.jpg275 days of saying goodbye. 275 days so far.

We’ve made it through the first month, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday, the first 9 months.

275 days since they found you lying on your floor. 275 days of imagining you lying there alone.

It started with a phone call, an email and a long drive home to police tape and a stain on your carpet. Days of cleaning and loading parts of you I wanted into my trunk, an obituary and another long drive back. Later a eulogy, a service with your family, your daughters, my daughters, poems, songs, readings, prayers, food, friends family and a goodbye. Another drive.

20160130_122314-01.jpegThen a flight, a Sedona hike with your nephew, a candle and a prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Cross. Another hike, an offering with the same prayer, “I love you Johnny”. I left part of you in Arizona in one of the most sacred places I know. I left your ring, our father’s ring in The 20160130_143710-01.jpegAmitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a place full of love and peace. I left it there wearing your shirt, the sleeves rolled up in the heat.

And this week a drive, a sacred fire, prayers and songs, an offering to the creator in the tradition of the Lakȟóta people. And last night a bamboo leaf, the same prayer, and a candle floating away into the sunset.

 

 

 

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I love you Johnny

not in never falling

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A repurposed necklace, the charm is mine, the cord was part of a gift from someone I loved (the original charm, it went the way of the love – gone)

I can’t find the right words to describe this. This feeling that comes when I least expect it. The feeling, as Rilke would say, of pushing through solid rock.

 

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

 

“Our greatest glory is in rising every time we fall.” Rising. I’m working on that, because I fall a lot. I fall all the time. And I rise, I do, but it’s exhausting

There’s a hollowed out feeling when I think of you, there’s sadness and anger too, but mostly I’m  hollow.  I can usually distract myself, with sleep, with TV, with work, with art, with words, with movement, with anything handy. The thought of actually sitting still with myself still overwhelms me, so I move, or I sleep. When that doesn’t work, when you bubble up unbidden, on those days, I run the same circles in my head, the same tiga786edce21585b714a56abbaa981ffafht circles that loop back on themselves and spin faster and faster.  I tell myself I’ve been an idiot once again for loving people who leave, for banging my head and my heart against your rock wall, constructed to keep people like me out. I sometimes think a different version of me might have been enough, could have make it through your emotionally unavailable barracks, but that’s not true. Occasionally I feel like throwing a rock,  a brick, or smashing a plate, perhaps that would at least get your attention. I won’t, but the thought remains attractive, if only for the moments I pick it up and hold it, pass its weight back and forth between my hands.

 

You huddle in, becoming
the deathless younger self
who will survive your dreams
and vanish in surviving.
– Self and Dream Self excerpt, by Les Murray
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It’s not just you, of course, it’s been a brutal fall. Somedays, all of its hurts lay on top of each other and weigh me down. I thought we were connected, but we weren’t, that was me telling me stories and you telling me your well practiced lies of convenience. That level of connection, of honesty, was the last thing you wanted.  At my core sits a small hard bit of certainty that if I love, you will leave. My head and my heart know somehow this is not correct, but my bones know that it is so.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything 
That is how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
There isn’t a light coming in, at least right now. It’s cold and it’s dark and it’s empty. He  also said “The Heart beneath is teaching / To the broken Heart above”, maybe that’s what this is, healing.
 
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“Into the pit” – aptly named

I don’t think you’ve ever allowed yourself to be opened, to let someone break your heart, your shell is too hard, too thick, too well formed to allow that to happen. Or maybe you did, once, and then swore never again, and that is why you remain frozen, hard, hidden and clinging to that past trauma that you will never release. You turn your focus on yourself, withdrawing into your shell if anyone gets too close, only pretending to connect, to engage, to care. If that doesn’t work  you manipulate, gaslight, play controlling games, run tests, that will always set you up as the winner. You don’t know how to live openly, you don’t know what it is to fall, and to rise again, only to withdraw and hide. There is no glory for you, only more hiding, more controlling, more walls.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall
– Confucius 
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I do know the feeling. I once had walls. They had a hollow sound behind them, but they were solid. With them in place I could play happy, charming, funny, but was just acting. Taking the walls down was excruciating, and also exhilarating; still, there are days I wish I still could hide behind my walls.
And so, I’ve fallen, and risen, and fallen again.  I’ve fallen into this mess that I have to push through (not go around, not go over, or go under). I will, push through this.
Ten Things I Hate (Love) About You / The Taming of The Shrew
10. The cold way you looked at me (the warm affection in your eyes).
9.   The way you’d protect yourself from me (the way your arm moved to protect me).
8.   Waiting hours for you (the way you greeted me).
7.   The way you made me cry (you made me laugh).
6.   Your lies of convenience (your lies of flattery).
5.   The part of you that understood me and then left  (the part of you that understood me and seemed to want to stay).
4.   The drive-in (sneaking into movies).
3.   The plans you never meant to do (the future plans we talked about).
2.   Waiting for your call (your goodnight texts).
1.    Blowing cigar smoke in my face.
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The truth is my struggles, my demons, all come from, and aim directly at the very things I am most insecure of, mainly not being lovable, being abandoned, and when they strike up the band and start to play my thoughts and emotions get sucked into that spinning wheel where no good ideas ever emerge. Don’t believe everything you think, don’t believe everything you think especially when you are tired, hurt, raw, emotional and generally broken up inside. Those are the times when throwing the rock, or smashing the plate seems like the best idea ever. Those are the times where you, as Pema Chödrön says, have to lean into the sharp points, the pain, and the discomfort, even when, especially when, this makes it hurt even more.

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Which means this won’t last forever.  I will emerge.  I might even grow a little.  Maybe not today, today is pretty awful. Today I am pushing through solid rock. Maybe another day this won’t be so heavy. At some point you do free yourself, and take your power back – flaws and all. Someday.

solid rock

Alex Colville, 1954 Horse and Train

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

Whatever I thought it would be like, it wasn’t this. And I did think about it, we all did. We thought about it a lot in our own ways. Of course there were, increasingly faint, bits of hope that we would cling to, even against all logic, we would hope. Just the same, we knew this day would come, and when it did it was all the things we feared it would be, but also nothing we expected.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neruda

It was a good service, as these things go, nice music, a moving slideshow of photos of you, appropriate and moving readings and memories, a traditional hymn, and a choir rendition of All You Need is Love, complete with kazoos. It was very John like, right down to the fabulous food we shared afterwards. Everyone seemed pleased. It was closure, it was a send off, it was people holding each other up, it was all you could hope for really.

scribble face 3It was all you could hope for, and yet, I still find myself walking through mud, through fog, through solid rock. I forget things. I lose hours doing nothing. I stare at nothing. I stare at your things that now are in my home, but are still your things. I sleep longer, and am still tired. I stay up too late.

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This is the grief work they talk about. Pushing through solid rock, an apt enough description. I dream about you sometimes, not the comforting dream where you tell me all is well with you now and you are in a better place, just confusing dreams. Someone said that to me, a couple of people did actually, said that you ‘were in a better place’. I so wanted to punch them in the throat, to wipe the smug, sympathetic, head tilted ever so slightly to the side expression on their faces. I think that would be the anger stage of Loss.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the 5 Stages of Loss are:

  1. Denial and Isolation – buffering
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining – the ‘if onlys’, the ‘what ifs’
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I honestly believe I did everything I could. Wait, that’s not true. What if I had shown up on your doorstep, dumped out all your alcohol and physically dragged you to the hospital? Would that have worked? I don’t think so, but I still take out these thoughts and hold them awhile, feel their weight in my hands, build a fantasy around them where, in the end, I save you. After a while I put them down, but I still feel their weight. More than anyone I should have been able to save you. It was everyone else’s first experience with this disease, I was a seasoned veteran. I had done this dance before, I knew all it’s steps. I saw you leaving well before anyone else.

buddha-grief-quoteI saw you leaving, and I let you go.

I let you go. I talked to you, wrote to you, I wrote about you. I wrote about our disease. The one that killed our father, has a hold of my son, the disease that I only get a daily reprieve from.

But I didn’t save you. I know, in my head, that I didn’t cause, couldn’t control or cure you. I know this in my head. Sometimes it helps, but not always. A year ago we almost lost you, but you came back. I thought you might stay. Maybe that was the time to save you that I missed. Maybe.

I still don’t know what to do with your clothes. I don’t know what to do with our stories, the ones only you and I understood. Where do I put the parts of myself that were yours too? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with a lot of things, things I should be doing, raking the leaves, clearing out the house so it will sell, making appointments, the business of living.

So I sit, pen scratching across paper, drinking coffee, and staring at the still green willow leaves, who will only fall after all the other leaves have been dutifully raked. Mostly I sit staring and nothing. Four of my orchids are re-blooming, did I tell you? No, of course not, what was I thinking. They’ve spent a year deciding to bloom, a year of somewhat attractive foliage, but now, now they are spectacular.

There is a metaphor in that somewhere, but I can’t quite grasp it. Anyhow, you get my meaning.

 

 

eulogy for my brother

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“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
-W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues

To paraphrase Emily Brontë, my love for my brother was like the eternal rocks beneath, not always visible, not always a source of delight, and no more a source of pleasure than I am to myself, but necessary, it resides in my bones, not just in my heart, or my thoughts, it lives in every cell in my body. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

To say John was brilliant, or merely complex would be an understatement. He was so many, many things, – to paraphrase myself – a brilliant creator and solver of puzzles, a talented player and lover of music, a gifted conceiver and expresser of visual arts – be they paint, pencil, wood, clay, or words, and an inspired and – sometimes overly – creative chef.

He created. He created games, puzzles, paintings, delicious food. He created a home for his daughters.

He made you laugh.

John would have had you in stiches by now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Brilliant, witty, irreverent and always ready with a joke or amusing observation.

Everyone in this room has laughed, and not just once because of something John said or did. He was the original photo-bomber, he was always ready to drop to the conversation lowest common denominator, which generally involved loud bodily functions, burping, farting, burping and farting together, burping songs, making fart noises in his arm, in his arm pit, and then drawing everyone in.

20151019_144255-01When my son first started struggling he sent him homemade Hero cards, featuring Greek, Roman God, with points and skills assigned. Each and every one said “Kicks Butt” and Hercules “Occasionally goes BESERK” The last card he sent was the Uncle John card. The Uncle John Hero was described as “The Sharpest Spoon in the drawer, fancified dancer, can kick his own butt – plus that of Uncle Ruth’s, yep, that’s what he called me when he wasn’t calling me Big Nose. His Attack number was 42, a Douglas Adams reference I’m sure, His Thoughts were listed as “Not Often”, his Symbol was “Messy Hair and Stinky Socks” – although his stinky socks, as many of us knew could be better listed as a Weapon. His special skills were “Sarcasm and Burping” – okay, that part was pretty accurate. The card was quintessentially John, from the stinky socks to the self deprecating humour. he also sent Graham a rubber chicken, a series of original Canadian comic books, still in their protective covers (a state that did not last long), and a hand sewn teddy bear.

He was generous. With his love, with his art, food, with everything he gave openly and freely.

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

He also called me Big Nose, even made me a little drawing of Big nose. I called him No Chin. It was a special sort of endearment between us. He also called me Bruce, well my whole family calls me that, between that and the Uncle Ruth is surprising I don’t have a gender identity problem. At my wedding he gave a brilliant speech – it included Ode to a Grehian Urn, my driving skills, my applying makeup while driving skills, my applying makeup, singing to the radio, while shifting gears, driving skills – you get the idea. He was brilliant. He was also charming, and a beautiful person all the way through.

Where I have been described as feisty, stubborn, Little Miss Splendid – yes, they gave me that book, John was the sucky second child, the one who charmed his way through things. I would dig my heals in and cross my arms – metaphorically and often literally when faced with obstacles, John used charm. It made me crazy. One fateful year when I was visiting from school I came home to a little brother who was now taller than I was. It was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life. In the den he wrestled me to the rug, sat on me with his hand over my mouth and the poked and tickled me all the while yelling “mom!!! Ruth’s hurting me!!” Needless to say by the time my mother arrived he had jumped back and assumed an injured stance in the corner looking beseechingly at our mother, who may or may have believed him, but certainly played along. That is how my brother rolled. Many of the times I have laughed the hardest, the stuff coming out your nose, tears coming down your cheeks, the immanent danger of peeing your pants kind of laughter, those laughs 20151019_152813-01originated with my brother.

Which makes his ending all the more tragic.

A few months ago, a friend of mine died. He was in his 90s, had lived a full life, was productive right till the end, and then one night he died peacefully in his sleep. We took comfort in that. The rare times we think about our own deaths, this is often the one we want, the good death, the peaceful, after a long well lived life death. This is what we want for ourselves and our loved ones. No one wants to die like John did, no one. There is nothing comforting about his death. It is utterly heartbreaking and tragic. It is unfair. It was wrong for him to die as he did.

The thing about a brain disease, which is what John died from, a brain disease called alcoholism, the thing about it, is that it takes away the personality, and then it takes away the person that you knew and loved. We lost John, but before that he lost himself. That guy, the one who made us laugh till we cried, who sang to us, read to us, who made wonderful art and delicious food, that beautiful person, was lost to a disease that affected and distorted the way he thought, the way he saw the world, and mostly the way he saw himself.

John felt things very deeply, maybe too deeply. One of my first memories of us is me wrapping him in a blanket during a sand storm on a beach. I have no idea what the context of the situation was, what I remember is wanting to protect my brother above anything else.

I couldn’t protect him from this. None of us could. There was never something that one of us did that caused this, there was nothing that we didn’t do that would have cured this, and there was never a way anyone else could have controlled his disease. Cunning, baffling and powerful is how alcoholism is aptly described, and it is, it is all of those things. It took our father, and it took John, both before their 50th birthdays.

John’s behavour for the last several years was baffling, it was heartbreaking. He pushed us away. His brain, his thinking was so distorted by this disease that the only way he could cope was to continue to try and numb his thoughts and feelings. It never meant that he loved any of us less. He loved his family, his daughters and Tamara were his life. That never wavered, not for a instant. He loved us, all of us, and in the end that’s what we need to hold on to. As painful as this has been, hold on to the times he made you laugh, the times he showed his love to you, the times he was his exceptionally lovable and goofy self. It won’t happen today, or maybe not this year, but start to let go of the painful memories, and hold on instead to what you loved about him. Remember him as someone full of love, caring, stinky socks and really terrible jokes. His personal favourite was “you know the corduroy pillows, the ones that are making all the headlines?”

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last ——

I was right. Love is the thing that endures. Love is what we have left of John, love and some pretty wonderful memories.

12108267_10207722033310124_8293890433605817967_nHang onto those, and hang on to each other. He loved us all, what we have to do now is continue to love each other, to create in what ever way we express ourselves, eat good food, play games, solve puzzles, and make the odd fart or burping joke.

this is what the living do

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Johnny,

I have become a person who people send sympathy cards to, someone people want to nurture with food, chocolate, flowers and kind messages. People hug me when they see me, and ask how I am. Most of the time I have no idea.

I’m wearing your pj bottoms as I write, and drinking tea from one of your cups. The pile of your newly washed, and neatly folded clothes sits on my bed and asks me what are you going to do with us now? I don’t know, that’s why I tried on the pj bottoms. I had to roll the waist because you were taller than I am. Were, I have to get used to speaking of you in the past tense.

We’ve been speaking of you in the past tense for two weeks, two weeks tomorrow, Saturday at 4pm. I’m still getting used to that.

I also wear your wedding ring, the one that dad left you after he died. It’s on my thumb. I play with it constantly, twisting it, rubbing it. I think about you and dad, and how I ended up older than either of you, and wonder if wearing this ring is a good idea or not.

I think you would like your service, it’s in two weeks, and I have spent a lot of time working on it. It has readings, poems, and we’re playing Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, actually the choir, the one you used to sing with, will be performing Hallelujah and All You Need is Love. They said they would be honoured to sing for you. Honoured, I wonder what you would think about that. We’re doing two of my favourite prayers. To be honest I don’t know what you would think of the whole thing. I finished the first draft of your eulogy, I’ve never written one of those, but I’d never written an obituary either, and I think your’s turned out alright.

When I went through your clothes that first week, the week we went through and cleaned and organized your apartment, I mainly thought of ones for Graham, so he could have something of yours. I thought about taking a box of your books for him too, but then didn’t. You two had so much in common, but he walked out of his treatment centre 3 days ago and we don’t know where he is now, so I’m back to looking at the pile of clothes, and I’m still don’t know what I will do with them.

I sit here, healthy, safe and warm, and you’re gone, you’re not even a body anymore, you’re ashes siting in a container somewhere, I don’t even know where. They gave mom your glasses and your watch. That’s what she has, your glasses and your watch. I can’t begin to know how that feels. Did they put them in a special box with gold lettering? A velvet bag? Or did they just shove them in a brown envelope? Does that help? I don’t think it would. I think it would equally excruciating to receive the items from your child’s body no matter how they were presented to you.

You broke my heart, Johnny, you broke all of our hearts, and I let you die. I let you die alone. I let my son become homeless, and I sit in my house and feel sorry. I feel sorry, and sad, and tired, really, really tired. Somehow that seems wholly inadequate. It seems there should be larger consequence for not saving you, or Graham, or even dad.

There is more, obviously. You can’t tell by looking at me, or by talking to me, most of the time anyhow. On the outside I look and sound pretty much the same. I’m not. I’m unmoored, I am no longer somebody’s sister, I no longer have a brother, and you were it, my only sibling. It’s just me now, and that feels unnatural. All our private jokes, our code words, things that only we talked about and knew, all those things are gone, and what’s left is just space.

This was not how all of this was suppose to turn out. We were going to be great. We had grand plans. Happy lives mapped out. Lives with spouses, and happy children, successful careers, and somehow bits of that got lost.

I have to stop now. I have to find a place to put your clothes, and I have to go back to the actions that make up my life now.

I found this poem for you. I think maybe you would have made fun of it, but you don’t get to speak for yourself anymore, so here it is.

What the Living Do
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Goodnight Johnny. I love you.

“I just sit by and let you fight your secret war”

my life in bullet points and pictures

All images by Allie Brosh from Hyperbole and a Half, because she gets me, ya know? http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com

So many things. So many feels. ALL of the feels. That would be my life right now.

Menopause + Mercury Retrograde

 The Highlights, The Lowlights, The ‘No Lights at the End of the Tunnel’ Lights

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Mood Swings: MORE moods, MORE often, ALL the moods in ONE day, ALL the moods in ONE moment, Ten moods for the price of One!, BUY ONE and get 3 Bazillion FREE moods, ‘Happy Roller coaster moods’, ‘Sad Roller coaster moods’, ‘Happy/Sad/Mad Roller coaster moods’, ‘Roller coaster without a seatbelt moods’, ‘Roller coaster without a seatbelt and a broken rail moods’, ‘Completely overworked roller coaster metaphor because you couldn’t come up with anything else, so just sod off will ya’ kind of mood.

images-2 images-6hyperbole-and-a-half-thank-you-sorry-sad-cry-frenchyincali-2

Tears: Sad tears, Happy tears, Mad tears,  ‘Happy/Sad/Mad at the same time’ tears WITH boogers, ‘Stupid love song comes on the radio’ tears, ‘Drive by that restaurant you had that date in’ tears, ‘Friends being nice to you’ tears, ‘Nobody will ever love me’ tears, ‘Rejection’ tears, ‘Why I am watching this stupid fecking movie’ tears, ‘somebody ate the last slice of pesto pizza’ tears, ‘why didn’t I buy the stupid waterproof mascara’ tears, ‘we were suppose to do that together’ tears, ‘we were suppose to ride the roller coasters together, dammit’ tears.

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Communication:
Stupid texts, ‘Happy/Sad/Mad’ texts, ‘completely overworked roller coaster mood metaphor’ texts, ‘Foot-In-Mouth’ texts and emails and words coming out of my mouth (around my toes), cell phone glitches, computer glitches, music glitches, ‘omg, ALL the fecking spreadsheets’ glitches.

images-8images-10Appearance: Hair: Lord. In all the wrong places, in “honey, you should really get that waxed’ places, in the ‘feck it, I’m just going going to grow the hair on my legs and wear long pants because no one will ever looks at my legs again’ places. And Very poorly behaved hair in the proper places. Skin: ‘buying ALL the kinds of cream in the Beauty aisle’ skin, skin doing all the wrong things on all the wrong places.

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Indignities: People having ‘banal conversations below your waist whilst your (unwaxed) legs dangling in the stirrups’ indignities, ‘little cough now dear’ indignities, ‘this will only hurt for a moment dear’ indignities (also not true), ‘the whole fecking reason for all the indignities evaporating in one phone conversation about too much drama’ indignity.

images-9 images-2 ecf34cd99c872d993abbcdc6c8636db5Food: Doughnuts for breakfast, cereal for dinner, ice cream for dinner, pizza every damn meal because I just feel like it, okay?! Cake, because Cake. Chocolate, dark chocolate, dark chocolate truffles with fancy expensive tastes added stuffed in my mouth three at time, dark chocolate with pizza and ice cream by the fist full while watching television that makes me cry, chocolate on the fecking tissues because apparently I can’t stuff chocolate in my mouth and cry at the same time without making a mess and wasting chocolate.

Allie’s images are brilliant, she manages to convey a wide range of emotions with a few lines and still manages a sense of humour. I’m working on the sense of humour part.

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this one’s mine, computer generated

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So yeah. It’s been a ride. An overused roller coster metaphoric kind of ride. It will pass. Retrograde will end, I’ll figure out the menopause thing. All of this will pass.