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The One Where I Slap Down a Youngling

I was honored to be asked to write a few columns about writing for Kristin Kindoll’s Writing Goal Group. She wanted them to inspirational and give advice on a few of the things I’ve learned about the writing life.

Here is one of them.

So, one night, while hanging out with some writer friends, drinking, talking shit as one does, this little 20-year-old thing, says to me, “Hey, Nik, do you regret waiting so long to start writing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, like, you didn’t really get started until you were, like, you know. Old. In your forties. Aren’t you afraid you waited too long? Like, you should’ve started sooner?”

Because of the outright rudeness of the question, I was stunned and I think I sputtered out something like, “Yeah, I guess so?”

But I’ve had time to reconsider my answer.

*Insert the noise of cracking knuckles here*

Listen up, sweetheart.

The Arts is one the place that maturity is a freaking asset, sweetie.

While, yes, I will admit that I wish I had the vigor and energy that I took for granted as a lithe twenty-year-old but, as an artist, the years I’ve acquired have given me flavor and insight.

Oh, sweet beautiful thing. With your flawless skin, white teeth and high metabolism, you don’t understand life. Not yet. Not until you lived it.

It’s a cruel paradox.

It’s only after you’ve been through the fire do you understand the heat.

There is a perspective that comes with being able to look back on life in the rear-view mirror that you simple cannot have until it is all in the road behind you.

And it is from this, the best and greatest stories are born.

Do I think for a second that Past Nik would have understood regret? Absolutely not. She had read about it, watched movies and seen it from the outside but she had never felt it.

Now, I get it.

I can see all the hurt I caused my mother. The cutting words I hurled at her never caring about damage it did because I felt that the truth was all the mattered.

As if I understood what the truth was at twenty.

She died at 49; I am currently 52 years old. I have outlived my mother by three years.

And I have regrets.

I have been pregnant, went through labor and delivered children. I was a mother. Not the best one I could’ve been, I know. I suffered through years of depression where I was only a shadow mom. I had no money to give them what they needed and I have so many regrets.

I have 30 years of crap jobs that led nowhere but several that gave me some great stories.

I have traveled to different countries and lived in foreign lands where going to the grocery store was traumatizing.  I once bought toilet paper thinking it was butter because I couldn’t read the labels. That taught me compassion.

And it took the passing of time to wear away my body so that I was no longer beautiful. To be a woman who is overlooked and unseen. That taught me to be myself because, fuck it, nobody else really gives a damn anyway.

While you are still swept up in the maelstrom of life, whipped around by youthful indiscretions and casual cruelties, I am outside the dance. I watch it, a chimera of Adult/Child and I can see all the movements.

So, the answer to your question, my sweet, gorgeous, simple child, is no. I do not wish I had started sooner.

I started exactly when I needed to become the person my stories need me to be.

Hidden

I have a cat named Mushashi. He is, in a word, nuts.

When we got him, he was maybe 8 weeks old. There were two of them. Beautiful, fluff balls. White and black Himalayan kittens with huge blue eyes. We only meant to adopt one kitten but when we saw how attached he was to his sister, Yasuko, we knew we couldn’t separate them. She was fierce; I didn’t worry about her at all. But, Mushi…I could tell he was different. He needed her. I don’t know what happened to him in those first few weeks of life that made him such a cautious, scared kitten but, whatever it was, the damage was deep.

Those first weeks, I never saw hide or hair of him. He ate, drank and went to the litter box like a ninja.

Eventually, he’d pop out of whatever dimensional rift he hid inside to play with his sister. But only in secret. The moment he was spotted, POOF! Back into the shadows.

He is eight now. He is still the King of the Introverts and spends 20 hours of his day in my daughter’s room under her blankets. But whenever my Shy Boy appears at my feet, meowing for a scratch behind the ears, it is a treat as much for me as it is for him.

This morning, while sitting at my desk trying to conjure up words, he burst into my office, chasing a sock. He tossed the black raggedy thing up in the air and caught it in mid flight. Falling to the ground, he’d clutch it to his tummy with his claws, his tail wagging in triumph. He’d jump up, pushing the sock away and the chase began again.

He didn’t notice me so I froze, kept silent and just watched him. It was glorious to see him so free, so alert, so CAT. I wanted desperately to say something, tell him how wonderful it was to see him so happy and just how so goddamn cute he was!

But I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t. It would break the spell.

And then I wondered if this is how God must feel sometimes. Desperately wishing to connect but knowing that if one word was uttered, the spell would break and everything would turn to dust.

That must be incredibly lonely.

 

 

ECK!

Real quick: Brian found a weird, soft, small squishy ball on the floor. He picked it up and showed it to me, “What’s this?”

I looked at it and immediately flashed back to a childhood of roaming in the woods.

“THAT,” I said. “Is a well fed tick.”

“What?”

“Yep, when they become fully engorged they fall off and go into a stupor.”

Brian dropped it and, in the most manly voice a former USMC sniper can muster, said, “ECK!”

I have been giggling ever since.

 

P.S.

“What should we do with it?” he asked.

“Burn it.”

“What?”

“When we were kids and found ticks like that, we’d burn them. They pop like little blood bombs. POP!”

“ECK!”

 

 

 

Black Dog

It snuck up on me.

At first, I brushed it off as fatigue caused by the time change. My body reacting to the weather being so wonky. 70 degrees on day and 19 degrees the next. I even checked the calendar, hoping maybe it was hormones, even though that isn’t a reliable scapegoat since I started menopause.

Yesterday, I had to finally admit it. The all over muscle aches, the inability to concentrate, not appreciating the blue skies and sunshine that heralded that Spring was definitely on the way. The way my leg kept jack hammering with anxiety. My appetite swinging from nothing to wanting to eat everything. Not being able to keep my eyes open at work but unable to keep them closed at night. Or worse, sleeping for 12 hours and still feeling exhausted.

The feelings of utter worthlessness. Worse, thinking you were the cause for everyone else’s failures. YOU let them down. You did. If you had done THIS then they would’ve had THAT. You are a loser, a waste of carbon, a bad mother/friend/employee/sister/wife/hack writer/general human being.

I knew I was in for a deep dark run when I opened the drawer on my nightstand, saw the loaded .357 magnum I keep in there and thought, “Maybe I should…”

I slammed the drawer shut and came to grips with it.

The Black Dog was back.

And this Bitch was big and very, very heavy.

I sat on the toilet and cried. I hadn’t felt this bleak in a long, long time. And suicide? Man, I hadn’t had those thoughts in over a decade. Hell, two decades.

Shit. This was going to be hard.

The first thing I did was go to bed. I forced myself to wait until 8 p.m. I promised myself that if I felt better in the morning, I’d go to work. We could always hope that my brain would suddenly start spurting out some sweet, sweet serotonin overnight.

My alarm went off at 4:50 a.m.

Fuck it. I told Alexa to set another alarm for 7:00 a.m. I’d write a quick email, telling my primary boss and all the auxillary bosses at the day job that I was taking a sick day. I wouldn’t go into the reason. I didn’t feel they needed to fucking know.

And went back to bed.

I forced myself out at 8:30.

Time to begin the Battle for Nik’s Brain.

Go to the gym, I told myself. Sweat it out. Get the wheels turning.

I went. I could barely work up enough energy to breathe hard much less break a sweat.

I gave up.

Went home, showered, put on clean(ish) clothes and Brian and I went to First Watch, a restaurant in Hendersonville.

We talked about stuff. I tried to put on the Face but it wasn’t working.

Brian said, “What we need is a lap dog.”

I said, “LET’S DO IT! Right now. Let’s go buy a dog. A little dog, like maybe a pug or something. I don’t want another big dog like Sage. Something small, we can baby.”

Brian said, “Don’t tempt me.”

I said, “I’m not joking.”

I Googled, “Animal Shelters near me” and found Sumner County Animal Shelter 2.8 miles away.

We ate and went straight over.

There was a large guy sitting behind the counter. Brian told him we were interested in a dog. He said, “We’ve got all the dogs out in the kennels out back since it’s so nice. But we’ve got two puppies available, if you’re interested.

“But I have to warn you: they are going to get big.”

My heart dropped. “What breed?”

“Pyrenees and Labrador Retriever mix.”

“Jesus! Those things are like horses! You could put a saddle on them.”

“Yep. Wanna see them?”

A few seconds later, Brian and I were looking down on two puppies, a brother and sister. The boy was all black and his fur was smooth as satin. His sister was black and white and furry as a teddy bear. It was obvious which one got the double dose of Pyrenees.

Shortly after that, we were in the visitation room. We met the boy. He was shy, very calm. Almost sleepy. Then they brought the girl. She was also shy but more amiable. I was sitting on the floor and she put her head in my lap and looked up at me with chocolate brown eyes.

“Don’t make me fall in love with you, dog.”

She wagged her tail and dropped her jaw in a sloppy, puppy grin.

“Dammit.”

“What would you name her?” asked Brian.

“Freya.” It was the first name that came to my mind.

“Okay. I’ll go see about adopting her.”

And that’s how we went shopping for a sort of pug kind of lap dog and ended up with what will be a giant.

Did it help my depression?

Frankly, it’s better. It really is. I can still feel the Black Dog circling, waiting to pounce but, it’s on the edges now.

I have a new black dog. One that was bred to guard and herd its flock. Maybe that’s what I needed.

 

freya

 

Family Love

I sneezed.

“Bless you!” says my son.

I sneezed again.

“Bless you!” says my husband.

I sneezed again, multiple times, my nose is like a tommy gun exploding into a tissue.

“Blow your nose. Seriously. Damn.” says my daughter.

Guess who will dump me by the side of the road when I’m old?