I photograph to feel things through

When I need to think things through, I write. When I need to feel things through, I photograph.

Rae and Velvet: two kitties lost in one year. I hope there is a cat heaven – an after life to run and play and catch mice/katydids in.


Withdrawal and the Death of Rae

One of my cats died today. We’ll call her Rae. Her name is unique and would reveal my identity and Rae is the sound she made when she meowed. “Raerae. Rae Rae Rae.” she’s say. Such a small black kitty with a lot of “rae” to say.

When I let the big dog out to run this morning, he kept running toward the road in front of the house. He doesn’t normally run toward the road so I kept hollering at him. What Jonathan could see from the porch that I couldn’t see from down the hill was the that dog was running into the road, nosing Rae’s lifeless body, and running back to get me.

When I came up the hill I saw an animal in the road which had been hit by a car.  The animal was clearly deceased. No wonder the dog was acting like a total weirdo. Oliver saw the dog nosing the animal and wanted to investigate thinking it was a possum. Possums aren’t black, I told Oliver, and walked into the road knowing in the pit of my gut from the ear shape it was a cat. It was my cat, Rae.

I’ll spare you the details, but Rae clearly died on impact. Her position indicated a car had swerved purposely to hit her. She was not thrown. Rae had never gone within 30ft of the road before. She was scared of the road and of cars. It was hard to imagine what could have lead Rae into the road. Being a black cat, the driver probably thought Rae was a skunk or possum. At least, it’s more comforting to believe someone would hit a skunk or possum intentionally than a small black cat.

“I think Rae got hit by a car.” I mutter to Jonathan down the driveway to keep Oliver from knowing at first.  Jonathan tried to convince me that Rae was inside, but I knew she wasn’t. She didn’t come in at night or in the morning which was odd for Rae. I called her name through the house. Nothing. I cried in the garage knowing that I needed to get gloves and a bag to remove Rae from the road. Jonathan came in and grabbed a bag for Rae’s body.

“You’re going to need a shovel. She’s in pieces and I don’t want Oliver to see.”, I told him.

Hand over my mouth with tears streaming down my face, I told Oliver that Rae was the animal in the road. Oliver stared at me in shock, mouth agape, having never seen me cry before…not like this. Not the ugly, sobbing, cry with tears and snot and sound. Not the time I fractured my tail bone, not the time I fell down the stairs, not the time I blistered my hand on the oven. “I’m tough. I’ll be fine.”, I’d tell him. I don’t cry and here I was, moments before Oliver got on the school bus, ugly crying and being the opposite of tough. He was too shocked to speak.

Jonathan lead me away and hugged me tightly. I buried my tear drenched face in his jacket. The school bus arrived. I turned my back as Oliver got on the bus and the other kids exclaimed loudly about Rae’s dead body.

Jonathan scooped Rae from the road. Bare hands. No shovel. He placed her tiny limp body in a bag for protection and we made plans to bury her.

I fixed my makeup. I went to work. I sat at my desk and quietly experienced the withdrawal symptoms brought on by the pharmacy mistakenly refusing to refill my pain medication…quietly walked myself through telling Luke about Rae, quietly thought about all the things Rae would not be doing any more when I got home.

My God, today was horrible.

Luke’s 3rd Appointment

Luke’s third psychotherapy appointment is scheduled for this afternoon. Jonathan and I are to attend a parent-teacher conference before the therapy appointment. It’s a busy afternoon so I’m only working a half day. Really I don’t feel like working at all.

Luke’s behavior has improved. He’s acting happier. Jonathan has stopped calling him dramatic and loudly asking Luke what his problem is when Luke misbehaves. I think Jonathan’s starting to get it. Oliver is a huge source of dissatisfaction in Luke’s life. Oliver left a bowl in the sink. Oliver eats too much. Oliver poured juice but didn’t drink it. Oliver only ever sits in his room watching YouTube to the exclusion of all else. Luke finds fault in everything Oliver does. Every activity. Every assignment. Every family activity. Oliver simply eating breakfast at the table throws Luke into a tizzy. I don’t know how to stop this. Oliver is just acting like an ordinary kid. Luke’s illness is not Oliver’s fault but Luke blames him just the same.

I can’t keep taking off work like this. I already need to take time for my own health issues and, while I try to keep that to a minimum , that time adds up .

I feel like I should have the answers to so much but I have the answers to so little. I’m exhausted. I just need a break but there isn’t a moment in sight that isn’t used up by work or kids or Jonathan or chores.

Luke’s Depression and Breaking the Cycle

Somehow, I managed to talk BioMom into meeting with Jonathan, myself, and Luke’s therapist. TheTherapist asked Luke a series of questions and rated them against a scale composed of other children’s answers. Luke is in the 90th percentile of childhood depression. Less than 10% of kids report feeling more depressed than Luke.

During Luke’s private meeting with TheTherapist, he indicated his mother BioMom and younger brother Oliver as the primary reasons he feels worthless. Oliver calls him names, teases him, steals his things, and destroys his room. In reality, it’s been months since Oliver and Luke shared a room and Oliver is no longer allowed in Luke’s room to steal or destroy Luke’s things. Each time I catch either child calling the other a name, I reprimand the child who is name calling.

Luke’s problems with BioMom are harder to nail down. Luke reports that she makes him feel worthless, like he can’t do anything right, like he’s stupid, and like he’s a bad child with no redeeming qualities. I’m not around when Luke is alone with BioMom and I really don’t know what’s going on. Several months ago, however, Luke reported that BioMom slapped him, screamed at him, and pulled him by the hair regularly. Of course BioMom denied all of this and Luke ran into the woods instead of getting in the car to go to BioMom’s house on her scheduled custody day.

We have assigned reading…The Optimistic Child. I downloaded the e-book version immediately, but I’m not so sure BioMom will follow through partly because she’s unpredictable, partly because she sees Luke as the problem, and partly because the book is written with college level vocabulary and BioMom typically refuses to read books altogether.

After reading much of The Optimistic Child, very little about my interactions with the kids has changed. I never said things like, “You’re dramatic.” or “What is wrong with you?” in the first place. I’d say, “Your behavior choices are really stinking right now. You need to make better choices and stop doing _____.” or “Why are you choosing to act this way right now? Are you feeling ____?”

Yes, I have read a number of child psychology books. The most clear communication book I’ve read is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk. I also clearly remember the things my mother said to me and how her statements made my life a living hell growing up and into adulthood.

“You’re so stupid. Why can’t you study like your sister?”

“You’re such an ungrateful little bitch. If I knew having kids was going to be like this…mm. mm. mm.”

“I can’t do anything without you fucking it up. You’re the reason I’ll never be a writer.”

“You have to stop eating so much! You’re eating the family out of house and home!”

“I’m so glad you’ve finally started dieting.”

“God you’re lazy. You’ll never hold down a job because you can’t even get out of bed on time.”

“No one touched you, you lying little bitch.”

“I don’t see how you’ll ever get married. I can’t even stand to be around you. Your personality what polite society calls an ‘acquired taste’.”

I spent my childhood feeling worthless and miserable. From the age of 7 on, I wanted to die or kill myself so my mother could be happy as she vocally blamed her live circumstances, misery, and the disintegration of her marriage on me. She blamed any problems my younger siblings experienced on my behavior and encouraged them to participate in her abusive tirades. My brother and sister were allowed to take my belongings, and verbally or physically assault me without consequence.

Growing up this way was horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, let alone my very own Luke. Therapy continues. Techniques to help Luke continue. Jonathan sullenly asked what on Earth we will do to help Luke and my answer is: the best we can. We will make changes and if those don’t work we will make new changes. We will talk and make changes and read books and keep going to the best of our abilities because that is all we CAN do.

Suicidal Thoughts

After watching the second to last episode of Doctor Who on Netflix, Luke just sort of blurted it out on his way to bed.

“I think I know why [TheCounselor] wants an emergency meeting with you. I think about killing myself.”

Then Luke just walked down the hallway to his room as though I’d forget what he said just after the words escaped his mouth.  Like it wasn’t important to him. Like he thought I might yell at him or have some explosive reaction…

Earlier on Friday, Jonathan, BioMom, and I received an urgent call from the counselor’s office requesting a meeting ASAP. We made plans for 2PM Monday having no idea what could possibly be so urgent.

Suicidal thoughts are what was so urgent…

I followed Luke to his room and closed the door so we could talk without Oliver bursting onto the scene with loud exclamations of his latest video game revelations. He thinks about killing himself, but doesn’t have a plan. He feels worthless, stupid, and useless.

“Do you know that I love you? That you are worth more to me than the things you do for me or than the money I spend on you? I look forward to your accomplishments and to seeing you do amazing things in your life. You’re my kid and, if you killed yourself, I would be so sad. I’d cry every day from missing you so much.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. “I know how it feels to want to kill yourself and I feel sad that you feel that way too. I wanted to die when I was a kid because things were so awful at my house. My mother always said mean things about me and hit me and my dad just didn’t care. It was a very sad time. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me at all. The good thing is that those feelings passed. Now I have lots of people in my life who love and care about me like you.”

Luke curled up in a pile of stuffed animals on top of his toy box as he listened.

“If you were me and I told you that I wanted to kill myself, what would you say to me to help me?”, I asked.

“I’d talk to you.”, Luke replied.

“But what would you really SAY? What words would you use?”

“…I’d say the same thing you’re saying to me right now.”

“That’s good. I just want to make sure I’m saying things the right way to help you. I love you.”

Luke asked me not to tell Jonathan and we chatted about mundane things for a while before we went to bed. I felt like Luke believed me, but there’s no way to know for sure. There is no reportable metric to gage how well your suicidal, 12yr old, step-son understands how much you love him or how dearly he would be missed. You just make the best estimate you can based on facial expressions and his acknowledgements and hope a little of what you said sticks.

Jonathan Smokes Weed

Jonathan smokes weed. I didn’t know this before we lived together. I mean, I was vaguely aware that he had in the past, but not that he smokes weed every night. Every night, I smell it on his clothes. It’s not my imagination. The scent is unmistakeable. Only burning walnut tree leaves and branches smell similar.

My mother’s “friend” would smoke weed before he came to my room at night. I was 5, maybe 6, and he would come in my room and get in bed with me on nights when my dad was at work smelling of cheap beer and weed. I thought that if I tucked the Care Bear Comforter tightly around my body like a sleeping bag that he couldn’t get to me, but that never worked. The smell brings back the memories.

I suspect Jonathan uses weed to treat anxiety. He is lovingly referred to “Anxiety Man” by a few of my friends who also suffer from anxiety attacks.

Jonathan knows I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. However, Jonathan doesn’t know I was raped by my mother’s boyfriend. Jonathan doesn’t talk about certain things that happened during his childhood but he does allude to those things. The things which happened that he’ll “never tell anyone about”.  Since he will never tell anyone, I will never tell him.

We all have our secrets, I suppose.

Loud Cricket; Long Night

Well, the dog is afraid of Jonathan now. This afternoon he relocated her bed since he’s been tiling the floor. The dog ran away, tail tucked, to the corner of the room peeing all the way there. Sensitive dog feelings. I’ve since tasked Jonathan on making up to the dog. He has to take her out and give her treats – no more yelling.

I should be sleeping, but there’s a cricket in the bedroom. I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find it’s hiding spot. Since today is a bad pain day, I also took a muscle relaxer. Muscle relaxers make most people tired, however they keep me wide awake. I just wish I was in less pain so I could accomplish something positive with my sleepless state. Between the SUPER LOUD cricket and med-induced insomnia, tonight is going to be a long night.

A very long night indeed…

Jonathan yelled at my dog

The Daily Headache

At work today. I wish this wasn’t the case because I’m terribly busy with painfully boring work. A few offices away one of my middle aged coworkers is talking on the phone loudly to a client who “doesn’t care about infrastructure”. So very loudly. Perhaps it’s only loud because I have a headache. The kind of headache which starts at your eyes and wraps around your head. Is it the too bright fluorescent lights? I don’t know why I keep getting headaches while I work. I’ve tried to adjust my desk, the monitor, the lights, drinking water, changing my diet… Every day I still get a headache even if it’s just minor.

Jonathan Yelled at My Dog

This morning Jonathan yelled at the dog. He didn’t just grumble at the dog, but screamed loudly with curse words. I thought the dog was about to pee in the floor because she a was cowering and shaking so I put the dog in the bathroom with me. Jonathan is a raging asshole in the mornings. He typically doesn’t shout at me, but he does shout at the kids. I suppose he’s kinder to me because I’ll tell him to shut up when he’s acting like an ass for no reason.

I don’t know if I should move my makeup station to the upstairs bedroom to escape his morning bullshit (and take the dog upstairs with me of course), or if I should leave my makeup station in the downstairs bedroom and tell him to get over it. If I leave my makeup area in the bathroom beside out bedroom, he will continue to gripe about me occupying the bathroom and continue yelling at my dog.

For the record, he could use the upstairs bathroom in the morning, but he doesn’t like want to walk upstairs to do so. I keep my makeup and supplies in the bathroom beside out bedroom to discourage the kids form using my things. They are fascinated by things like my face lotion, shampoo, and hairbrush. Luke especially likes to watch me put on makeup and enjoys asking about the various products I use. Luke’s bio-mom would always shout at him for asking questions while she got ready in the morning. Point being, although they’re boys, they’re curious about my things and likely to go though them if left in the upstairs bath.

Why are such basic elements of human interaction and morning routine so annoyingly complex?

Chores And Dichotomous Luke



The Chore System

This week Jonathan and I implemented a chores-for-video-game-time plan with Luke and Oliver. Do the chores, earn game time. Refuse to do the chores, no game time for you. Tonight is the first “official” night of chores-for-games and it went well. We ate dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, took out the trash, did a load for laundry, packed lunches, watched Doctor Who and went to bed on time. Hooray for a good start!


Dichotomous Luke

Luke’s next therapy session is next week so I’m working on a list of “issues” to work on with his counselor. His counselor used to be my counselor so I know her well. So far, what I think Luke needs to work on most is rage quitting everything. For example: throwing the dog house into the yard. This evening at the dinner table, Luke flopped onto the floor pretending to choke, then crawled across the floor, and stuck his head in the cat house in an attempt to get out of doing chores. Fortunately, this episode was short lived. Luke’s “episodes”, which start with silliness, often end in crying, screaming, angry, tantrums.

Oliver, 9, has realized that Luke is abnormal. Luke’s anxiety prevents him from focusing in school resulting in bad grades. Oliver calls Luke an idiot or other derogatory term because Luke annoys Oliver with bossy behavior. In spite of repeatedly telling Oliver to speak kindly to Luke (and vice versa), Oliver continues to call Luke names when the chance presents. Luke then repeats those names to himself when anything doesn’t go his way. This evening, Luke couldn’t pack lunch because he is “too stupid”.  Oh, Luke…

Yesterday, Luke spent the entire day by my side as I unpacked the room which will soon be my office. Since Luke downloaded some bad software, I was teaching him how to clean up a malware infection which meant his computer was scanning archives for several hours. No games for Luke. So, he looked through all my artwork from high school and college as I cleaned. He looked through a box of toys and books from my childhood. Most parents save things for their kids, but my parents did not. Luke found it all fascinating. As he flipped through pages of sketch books and art, he concluded I should already be a famous artist.

“Already”, like being a famous artist is easy.

The $300 Electric Bill

Since moving in with Jonathan and the kids, we’ve been living on my income alone. Jonathan took two weeks off to work on the house then, when it was time for him to go back to work, his jobs have been riddled with scheduling problems. (For the uninitiated, Jonathan is a carpenter)  Living on my income alone has gone fairly well, at least until this week. This week I was slapped with a $300 electric bill from the old house. Apparently the electric company’s “budget plan” severely underestimated the amount I would owe monthly.

For groceries, I spend $5 per person per day which is a little less than $150 a week. The $300 electric bill is 2 weeks of groceries. Frustrating.

Since Jonathan worked a few days this week, he gave me most of his paycheck which should make up most of the difference and buy groceries for the the next 2 weeks. The money Jonathan gave me was supposed to pay for several other bills so I’ve got to come up with that money later this month.

Yesterday I purchased a new back pack for Oliver, new lunch boxes, new lunch containers, and new water bottles for both kids. Oliver’s friend broke the zipper out of his otherwise excellent condition back pack. Unfortunately, the zipper was too broken to sew back in place. Oliver’s friend is persona non grata in this house at the moment. Luke and Oliver have also had trouble packing lunches in their small, elementary school size, lunch boxes so they really needed something bigger. This purchase added up to nearly $100 which puts me even further in the hole for this month. Sigh…

I’m the only person in the house who knows we’re short of cash this month. Jonathan, Luke, and Oliver have struggled through poverty for their entire lives and I don’t want an ill timed electric bill to bring back their worries. This is on my shoulders and my shoulders alone.

(To explain: Jonathan and I both went through divorces where our respective spouses stole thousands from us. We agreed not to share a checking account when we got married. We have no knowledge of the other’s bank account and Jonathan gives me money when he works to pay for things like bills and groceries because his income is so unpredictable.)