Tons of Steel

Hey there, old friend. I need to write just to give myself a check and for my own personal sanity. It’s always been that way, but here I am, returning to my worn and beloved space, where I am safe and I can take a second to get my bearings and focus my eyes. It works better here than crying under my desk.

DAMN things are rough right now. From the outside, it’s fine, but man…the crackers are crumbling inside. Tomorrow I register for my last semester of law school, if you can believe that insanity. It also feels like I am a blown-out steam engine with seized wheels on a bowed track dragging about eighteen-thousand tons of steel. I may make it, but it’s not going to be pretty.

This semester, over a year into a global pandemic, on isolation, while taking care of my family and maybe sometimes of myself, I also will have pulled off 38 units of law school, by some miracle. I am tired. I am…so…tired. Because of pandemic *waves hands around* we didn’t have breaks or holidays, we just buckled in and went for it. I will never know what law school is like for other people, but for me and my cohort, it’s been something. Would I have picked it? Hell no. HELL NO. But like nearly everything else in life, what else are you going to do when things go sideways? You just keep going. (and sometimes you crawl under your desk and cry)

I keep mentioning that, but it’s not hyperbole or affect. I really do get under my desk and cry sometimes, when I don’t know what else to do. Once, before my doctor gave me some anxiety meds, Jeffrey crawled under there with me and just stayed next to me, making calming noises and waiting for me to stop crying. Did I mention it’s been a hard year?

This weekend, along with all of my regular reading for Monday’s classes (it averages about 100 pages a night of cases and opinions over Constitutional Law II, Federal Courts, Criminal Procedure, Legal Profession, Immigration, and a seminar course) I had to edit a couple of articles for the civil rights journal, tweak my own piece, contribute to a moot court opinion due Sunday afternoon, pick all my classes for fall not knowing what the logistics are going to be with in-person v. remote learning, contact my supervising attorney for my summer internship, and work on my outlines because finals are in 5 weeks. I also have a 20-page draft due next week I haven’t started yet, and Jon and Abby’s respective 50th and 15th birthdays are between now and then. And then regular life, like kids’ school demands and meetings, groceries, meals, pets, and family stuff. I think I am supposed to sleep in there somewhere, but law school is really not meant for people with families—or at the very least, it’s super harder if someone else isn’t managing the needs of the family and preparing delicious meals for you.

I’m so tired.

Eternal caveat: I chose this. I picked law school. I knew I had kids. I am fortunate. I have a stable home and am not at risk for housing or food insecurity. I have in the past experienced all of those things, and trauma has some long legs, and things can still be acknowledged as hard, even when I know they could be worse and I am privileged.

Last night, after hurting myself trying to fix the dog crate Dingus keeps finding ways to escape from (I screwed my thumb while twisted up at a weird angle inside the crate) I wandered into the kitchen to get a piece of key lime pie I made. I got out the canister of whipped cream, and was placing the pie on a paper plate, when the dog spooked the cat, he knocked into the metal stool which startled me, and I dropped the fork and metal canister—it’s the old-fashioned kind you fill yourself with cream and CO2. Whipped cream sprayed everywhere, hitting Jeff and the wall and the door, the cat tore off, digging his claws into my foot and leg in a panic, and I yelped some choice words before leaving everything and running upstairs to stand in the shower and cry. I could hear Bean downstairs, “THAT WAS AMAZING, LIKE THE BEST CARTOON EVER!”

Today has been better.

I hope your world is calmer and holds more sleep than mine. Onward, right? Onward.

Happy Birthday David…

You would have been (are? I don’t know how these things work, I only know that you are not here) 56 years old yesterday. Because I was swamped with homework and I didn’t order all the right ingredients, we had your birthday dinner tonight. It’s become a sweet family tradition, your papa’s pappas with a red, white, & blue smoothie. I cracked a joke that no one got, but it was really just for you anyway.

We miss you. It seems like such a silly, obvious thing, but when I was looking through pictures, I realized that I simply will never have any more. What we have is all there will ever be, and I was suddenly achingly sad. I rang your bell and I lit some nag champa, and watched the rainbows on the wall through my open window. It’s unseasonably warm, and I appreciated that today. I feel so inadequate to convey who you are, who you were, how important you were—and remain to me in inconceivable ways. None of it is enough. And it’s all we’ve got.

I miss you. I have deep love in my life, and great happiness and stability, and the duality of life and love is that I can have all of those things, and they can be deeply real, and nothing minimizes the other. That the sharpness of your loss still catches me in the small of my heart and makes me hold my breathe, my eyes sting, my belly hollow, even now, years later. I miss you.

We all miss you.

Pandemic Check-In: One Year On…

Kelsey’s 17th birthday was the last family outing we had before we shut the door on the outside world to keep our family safe. Yesterday, we celebrated her 18th birthday on the back deck, with everyone masked and distanced. She has in-person school so she has to exercise care around us. We are hopeful she can be vaccinated sometime soon and we’ll be able to hug her again safely. I know not everyone has to be (or can be) as careful as we have been—but I’ve already gone over why we made the choices we did; at this point I am grateful my family is safe, both here in Virginia and across the country, through Utah and on to California and Oregon. We’ve been very lucky— while we didn’t escape unscathed, most of us are ok.

We’re starting to dare to contemplate what the new normal will be like. I have no delusions about things returning to some mythical normal. I doubt I will ever be casual about hand-washing or crowded spaces ever again. I expect to wear a mask when I eventually fly again, and I think we are all more aware of the links in our societal chain that keep us going, fed, safe, and sound. It’s maybe not who we thought it was either—it’s work perhaps I shamefully took for granted. It’s grocery workers, postal workers, farm workers, nurses and nursing assistants, teachers, childcare workers, bus drivers, sanitation workers. I find myself robustly supporting pro-union movements—not just because of the pandemic, but man….case law is an eye-opener when it comes to exploitive labor practices and we’ve got to make some changes. As I know better, I am able to do better.

Law school continues to…do whatever it is that is happening each day. It’s hard to tell alone. I have less than a year until I am done, and that feels incredibly surreal. Like, how did that even happen in this weird extended collective experience we’re all stuck in? I don’t know. I’m taking six classes this semester (federal courts, constitutional law II, criminal procedure, legal profession, immigration, and a seminar court in legal literature) and it’s a lot, but it’s how I am planning to graduate in December. I’m open to changing plans if that proves too much, but for now…here we are. I want to walk with my cohort next May, even if I am officially done earlier. I really want to put on that fancy robe and dance across that dais with the people who came through this mess with me. I want to celebrate them as much as my own accomplishment, and it’s something that carries me when I want to quit. I want to quit far less often now than I once did, so that’s a thing that happens, I guess. Basically y’all? Law school is hard.

Bean, Jeff and I built a new crate for Dingus. He outgrew his puppy crate, and ordering a new one was crazy expensive, and then we didn’t have a spot to fit it. So we took matters into our own hands and I found the circular saw and don’t look too closely, but it fits under the dining room table out of the way, and Dingus likes it just fine. It cost less than $10 in hardware, and we had the wood. Feeling pretty okay about that ingenuity, even if it’s imperfect. Turns out I am not the best wood cutter. Maybe I should have been doing my reading for Monday instead of building a dog crate.

One of my quarantine discoveries (because for reals, cooking is my relaxing treat after hours of reading/studying) is tutorials by people in other countries. It is wonderful to find that while I may not understand the words, cooking is universal and as long as I’m generally familiar with the ingredients, I can follow along. I have learned things I wanted to know forever. Find a Vietnamese cook to show you how to make bánh xèo (crispy rice pancake stuffed with pork and veggies), or a Brazilian cook to show you pao de queijo (though Jon speaks Portuguese, I can follow the recipe for cheesy rice bread puffs without him) and I can make baleadas and pupusas from following Honduran and Salvadoran cooks. It’s been like finding a vein of gold and if you love food and love to cook, I highly recommend watching native-language cooks demonstrate their recipes.

The other thing that has been bringing me joy is one I save for a treat at the end of the day. After everything is done, I fall into bed and we watch an episode of The Muppet Show. When I was a kid, I would sneak next door to my aunt’s house, where she would let me watch it (Crazy Chicken Annie’s, which will surprise no one) and it brings a simple happiness that I haven’t felt in a very long time. It’s so weird. And creative. And purely what it is—and I love it so much. It’s an odd cavalcade of weirdly a-list stars and people I have never heard of, and it doesn’t matter at all, because there will be oysters singing, rocks singing, giant blue monster puppets eating opera stars, odd disco men clinging to trees while they sing and bear Muppets try to eat them, Elton John looking completely at home, and it’s just pure delight and I love it.

That’s my happy place for the week. That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. I hope you’re doing ok. I hope you’re hanging in there, and your mental health is doing alright. I hope you found your equivalent of cooking tutorials that bring you joy. If you, like me, were a child of the late 70s or early 80s, give the Muppet Show a try.