Half and Half

“Make sure it’s exactly half and half. Half Pomegranate, half Original flavor. Last time it was 3/4 pomegranate. And go to the Pinkberry on Montana Ave, it’s the only one I trust.”

“Got it.”

“My new Ferragamo loafers have to be dropped off at Roberto’s, he needs to put a protective sole on them. You do that with expensive shoes. But I guess you wouldn’t know that, you wear Nine West, I mean no offence, but…”

“Non taken.” you privileged narcissist bitch

“At Whole Foods get me the snap peas and sesame tofu and a ginger kombucha. And Jett needs to eat too…maybe the barbecue chicken, potato salad and some kind of cupcake. Large containers for him, small containers for me.”

“Can I get you anything else while I’m out?”

“No that’s all. Except gas, you know I always like my gas topped up to 100% full.”

“I sure do.” you freak

In the Range Rover Emily cranked KCRW then let out a death-metal loud scream:

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

She chewed CBD gummies as she ran errands in Santa Monica. Using voice memo she left notes for herself for the screenplay she was working on. It was about a personal assistant who falls in love with her boss’s 18 year old son and the two of them plot to kill his mother.

Her phone rang.

“And it goes without saying don’t forget to pick up Jett from school at 3:00. I gave you snacks for him, they’re already in the car. Gotta go, my acupuncturist is here.”

God it would be so fun to stick needles in you

“I’m on my way to pick him up now.”

“Get in loser we’re going to Taco Bell. I mean unless you want this rotting apple, melted cheese sticks and nuts that you mother packed for you.”

“Why the fuck does she pack me the same snack every single day?”

“And the nuts are always from Starbucks.”

They laughed as they pulled into Taco Bell’s drive-thru.

“How do you eat this five days a week? It’s gnarly.”

“How do you work for my mom five days a week? SHE’s gnarly.”

They drove a couple blocks and stopped at a park where Jett liked to eat outside so he could smoke a little weed before going home.

“So was school scintillating today? Did you finally talk to Ben? Are you guys ever going to get together?”

“We hung out for like a minute at lunch. His parents are going away this weekend so he’s having a party. I’m gonna feel the vibe out then.”

“Cool. But just be careful and safe and all that shit. Your crowd is wild, you know that right?”

“Don’t worry Mama Emily, I won’t do anything other than weed, I never do. It’ll just be dope to spend some time with Ben. It’s not like I can have him over to the house, Mom would lose her shit.”

“Honestly Jett, I don’t think she would. Your mom fucking loves you. I mean she packs you after-school snacks every damn day and she does it herself. I know she drives you nuts, she drives me nuts too. But when it comes to Ben she would be okay, trust me on this one.”

“Ok, I’ll think about it…want some? Jett offered Emily his joint.

“No, I’m good. I gotta get you home and we need to pick up Pinkberry for your mom.”

“Jesus Christ.”

He took a final drag and tossed his Taco Bell wrappers in the garbage.

In the car Jett blasted Led Zeppelin, they were his newest obsession. They drove with the windows down with Jett’s right leg sticking out and his shoelace blowing in the breeze.

“Want anything at Pinkberry’s?”

“Maybe like a bowl of those rainbow colored toppings, no yogurt, just the toppings and some gummy bears and chocolate chips too.”

“Can’t tell that you’re high at all.”

Jett gave her the peace sign, put on his Warby Parkers and turned up the music.

“I love living in Southern California” said Jett as he ate his bowl of Pinkberry toppings. “But like when I go to college, I want to go far away. I guess like New York? I mean where else is there to go?”

“Don’t be so elitist.”

“What do you mean? I’m not elistist. I feed the homeless once a month.”

“Los Angeles and Manhattan are not the only cool, interesting cities in the U.S. Think outside the box. Maybe The University of Texas in Austin. Austin is super cool and liberal. Plus, I think it would drive your parents crazy if you went to college in Texas, so there’s that added bonus.”

“Love that idea, gonna research it tonight, thx Em. By the way, what happened with that guy Ron?”

“His name is Jon and I’m not dating him anymore.”

“Why? He sounded like halfway cool.”

“He has a pet rabbit.”

“What? Who the fuck has a pet rabbit?!”

“But wait, there’s more. We were watching Netflix and the rabbit, whose name is Stacey, sat next to him the whole time on the couch. And he petted her over and over and over. Like OCD petting. Like I’m surprised she has any hair left petting.”

“Come on,”

“Jett, I shit you not. That damn rabbit sat with us for two episodes of Designated Survivor and I swear to God she was giving me side-eye the whole time, like “get away from my man” kind of energy. So so epically creepy.”

“That’s wack and you can never ever see him again. That dude would for sure chop you up and feed you to Stacey and then mom would have to hire a new personal assistant.”

“Thanks for the love Jett.”

“No problem.”

“Alright, let’s do this, pop some gum because you smell like hot sauce.”

“I’m on it.”

“Emily where have you been? You’re late! We’ve got to go over next week’s calendar before you leave. Next week is challenging. I’m hosting a small dinner which I forgot to tell you about. I’ll pay you time and a half of course. Jett did you eat your snack? How was school? How was that wretched Mrs. Taylor? I’m going to talk with your principal if she doesn’t start treating you better.”

“Hey mom, what’s up? Mrs. Taylor is all good man, nada to worry about.”

“Half hour of video games then homework. I don’t want you up half the night finishing your math. And call your father. You didn’t call him yesterday and he was livid. Livid.”

“My yogurt is melting, give it to me Emily. After you put everything away meet me in my office. I am just so stressed. I mean I just have too much on my plate, what with hosting dinners and appointments and Jett and planning the new guest cottage. It’s simply too much. Women are expected to do too much in our society, it’s not fair. And bring me a glass of Rose, there’s a bottle chilling in the fridge, I need something to take the edge off.”

Wow. Just wow.

“Okay, I’ll be right there.”

After putting the groceries away Emily went into Mrs. Jeffries’ Birkin, grabbed a few Ativan and slipped them in her pocket. Then she poured her a glass of wine, taking a few sips for herself first.

“Emily? I’m not getting any younger.”


Sent from my iPad

The Peas Are Working

The city of Toronto is run by raccoons. We have north, south, east and west-side gangster raccoons. They are afraid of no one and do as they please. One summer we could barely use our deck due to an east-side family having taken up residence there.

The raccoons are the reason I currently have two metal pins sticking out of my ring finger. Two weeks ago I took our dog Lexie out for a midnight pee. A massive pandemic-fat raccoon named Fred was perched on our backyard fence. All 34 pounds of Lexie went ballistic. But Fred didn’t move an inch, he just stared at us with a look that said, “you are inferior to me, go away.” Lexie wanted to battle Fred over her turf, but instead I dragged her down the alley and around to our front door.

Turns out that during the drama Lexie had, on her adrenaline high, pulled me quite hard. My ring finger was swelling quickly and turning black and blue.

“I’ll just ice it with some peas, it’ll be fine,” I told my partner as I grabbed the frozen bag. He eyed my finger, then eyed me like I was completely nuts.

“Your finger is twisted, you probably fractured it.”

“It’s fine. It doesn’t even hurt, these peas are already working.”

The next day, after emailing finger photos to my doctor, (by then even I had to admit it looked a bit crooked), she immediately sent me to get x-rayed. After x-raying me the technician said:

“Ya, it’s totally fractured, go to the hospital right now.”

Yay, it was only fractured, I thought, not realizing that fractured was the same thing as broken, (I have zero excuse for not knowing what fractured meant.) A couple of days later I was operated on by a lovely plastic surgeon, awaking from surgery to find two metal pins sticking out of my finger. I also had a large cast that because of the anaesthetic felt like a 100 pound salami.

Throughout the week as I became accustomed to the cast, (I’ve never broken a bone before), I started doing more things. I decided that my lockdown-hair, (Ontario has been in lockdown for a thousand years), needed to be twisted up in a bun. I almost had the bun complete, though to be fair it wasn’t the chic-est of buns, when I realized that my hair was caught on the two pins sticking out of my finger.

“Oops.”

“What did you do now?” my partner asked.

I walked over to him with my arm stuck to the top of my head.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“I just wanted to put my hair up in a bun, I…”

“Christ Almighty.”

He carefully extricated my hair from the pins without having to cut my hair (though to be honest a little haircut wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world). He sighed deeply.

“Can you please just take it easy, this thing needs to heal, it’s serious.”

“I know it’s serious. It’s just that, what am I supposed to do with my hair? I look like Crystal Gayle from the seventies. Remember how long her hair was?”

“For the love of God. I’m going to Costco. Don’t touch your hair while I’m out.”

Why tho?

#torontolife #torontodogs #raccoons #personalessay #pandemiclife #pandemichair

Finding Urethra

“Let’s have you pee in a bed pan today!” My nurse exclaimed with an air of excitement, like we were about to go see our favorite band.

I had been in the hospital for almost four weeks, (to treat Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare cancer), peeing through a catheter the entire time. I was game to try going on my own, but I was weak and wasn’t sure I would have the strength to pull myself up on the bed. My nurse took out my catheter then helped me into an awkward position, crouched above a cardboard pan.

The pan looked like a larger version of those biodegradable herb pots, with my vulva like an alien spacecraft hovering above the brown pebbled earth.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” said my nurse, leaving the room.

I looked out the window at the falling snow. No urine was exiting my body. “I command you to pee!” I said in a theatrical voice to an empty room. Nada. Not a drop. I was sweating and wanted to lie down, the position required too much strength to hold.

The succulent-crystal gurus say, “Ask The Universe – with love and gratitude – for what you need. Then visualize having what you need – and poof! – you will manifest it.” So I asked the universe to help me pee, in what I hoped was a loving and grateful manner. Then I visualized a long river-like flow of urine exiting my body – swoosh! I paused, ears tilted, in full manifestation mode. Nothing. Maybe the universe was busy helping people with more serious problems, like those living in war torn countries. I couldn’t blame the universe, I’d do the same thing if I had magical powers & everyone was hounding me for help.

I was sure I was due for another blast of Hydromorphone. After two surgeries and HIPEC, (hot chemo poured in the abdomen and swished around), I was ablaze with pain. I buzzed the nurse’s station:

“Hi. I can’t pee. Nothing is coming out. Also, I think I’m due for more painkillers.” My nurse responded, “be patient, keep trying, it’ll come. And no, you’re not due for more pain meds yet.”

I stared gloomily at my crotch. “I know you’re in there, come out come out wherever you are!” Still nothing. I tried reaching for my water cup and fell into the pan.

My nurse appeared, “don’t worry sweetie, your bladder is just waking up from a long sleep, we’ll try again tomorrow.”

She helped me lie down and inserted a new catheter and we chatted about her weekend plans. I loved my nurse, I loved all of my nurses – they were like athletic shoe-wearing angels tending to me with care and quiet confidence.

“I’ll see about your pain meds” she said, as she handed me a damp towel for my sweating brow.

After five weeks in the hospital – and no peeing on my own – I was transferred to a Rehab Hospital to work on regaining strength, gaining weight and learning to walk again. My left femoral nerve had conked out during surgery, (from being splayed out for so long on the operating table) and I had awoken to find that I couldn’t move my leg.

The nurses at the rehab hospital were hardcore, they were like the Marine Corp of Nurses. They immediately took out my catheter and started “bladder training.” They seemed confident that I would be peeing in no time.

I was instructed to try peeing on my own every two hours. I would slowly make my way over to the bathroom using my walker, trying my best to avoid looking at my emaciated body in the mirror. Sitting on the toilet with the sink water running, I would wait five minutes, then get up and do my haunted girl shuffle back to bed.

Bladder training required waiting six hours before being allowed to have a catheter inserted to void the urine. In between physiotherapy, sleeping and doing my laps around the floor, my bladder would fill up to the brim; it was horrible. At this point I was no longer on pain meds, but I would often sneak a Xanax from my private stash just so that I didn’t completely lose it.

The nurses were required to scan my bladder to see how much urine I was retaining before they were allowed to insert a catheter to drain me. A catheter, in this case a long rubbery one which looked like a hose, was lubed up then inserted into my urethra. The urine would then drain out into the brown organic pan – it was called doing an “in and out.”

Then came the day when one of my favorite nurses dropped a bomb: “you’ll be going home very soon and your bladder nerves are still not working. So today I’m going to start teaching you how to do your own in and outs.” Dear God, have mercy on me please.

Thus began a brief chapter in my life called “Finding Urethra.” Because if you want to drain your urine, you first need to find the hole that it comes out of. And by hole, I mean a really tiny, almost imperceptible slit that is kind of hidden by the rest of the female bits. Maybe I’m in the minority or I missed a crucial health class back in high school, but I honestly didn’t really understand where the urethra was. So I used a mirror to watch the nurse and at night, under my blankets, I examined myself by the light of my cellphone.

I had an irrational fear of doing the procedure on my own. It’s like all my anxiety about having cancer was projected onto this one procedure and I couldn’t imagine that I would ever master the skill. I envisioned myself at home, swollen like a balloon with unreleased urine, until one day I just exploded, spraying pee everywhere.

But like anything in life, when your back is against the wall and you have no other options, you figure things out. One day, having finally located my elusive urethra, I successfully performed my own in and out! I basked in the glory of the moment, telling everyone on my floor my good news. I celebrated by eating an extra cup of ice cream (side note: the little hospital ice cream cups are, unlike all other hospital food, strangely delicious).

A few days later I was discharged from the hospital with a supply of tiny, clear catheters, lube, a giant splint on my leg, a walker, crutches and a cane. It would be six more months until my bladder woke up. Then, one day, while sitting on the toilet, I suddenly heard a beautiful noise – the swoosh of urine! The universe had finally granted me my wish.

Author’s Note:
My bladder nerves only partially woke up; I still have to self-catheterize twice a day. This is what the little catheters, aka, pee sticks, look like:

Skinny Jeans

It was my first time trying on skinny jeans and I was excited. My legs are stocky, inherited from my mom’s side of the family who were all strong Irish farmers. As a teenager I had yearned for my dad’s long, pole-style legs and had even asked my parents if I could get my legs stretched (I had read somewhere that a lengthening machine existed).

At forty-six years old I had long ago accepted by body, but when I slipped into a pair of size 24 skinny jeans and saw my legs looking strangely slim, suddenly my insecure teenage self reappeared and she was ecstatic. Yet the reason they looked slender was because I had lost weight due to cancer. I was newly diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare, incurable form of abdominal cancer and I was in denial. “I’ll take them,” I told the shopgirl. And though I’m ashamed to admit it, for the next few weeks I actually liked how I looked. How sick is that? Speaking of sick, during this same period I did not feel well: I had difficulty eating, major nausea and twice daily panic attacks where I felt like my throat was closing.

My cancer “de-bulking” surgery was eight hours long and included the removal of my reproductive organs, a section of my small intestine and my primary tumour which I had named Maude. It also included a treatment called HIPEC, which is essentially hot chemotherapy poured directly into the abdomen while the patient is still on the operating table, aka a chemo bath.

After several days in the ICU, I was moved to the step-down unit. It was there, ablaze with pain and high on narcotics, that I made a decision: I had suffered enough. I would run away from the hospital and fly to Oregon where I had read they had passed legislation that allowed patients to “die with dignity.” But such an escape would be impossible without my skinny jeans.

“I need my clothes,” I whispered in a raspy voice to my partner. Not wanting to upset me, but suspicious of my intentions, he retrieved my hospital bag and put it next to me on the bed. I pawed at it in a drugged-out frenzy, then passed out.

I awoke to a large tiger staring at me from across the room. And someone had brought their dog to work: “I can’t believe they let animals in the hospital!” I said to myself, horrified. My great escape would have to wait, the hospital needed me; I had to keep watch over the creatures infiltrating the building.

Also, I had a new friend whom I had become very attached to and I didn’t want to leave her. A nurse’s assistant had been placed in my room to guard me, since in my delusional state I had made several attempts to get out of bed (while attached to multiple tubes and monitors). Not understanding that she was there to keep an eye on my crazy self, I thought I had my own private nurse-friend and I adored her.

Due to a myriad of complications, I spent two months in two different hospitals. At the second one, a rehab hospital, the nurse weighed me: the scale read 94 pounds, I usually weigh 120. I had lost a great deal of muscle mass; my legs were emaciated, atrophied sticks and my bum was pancake-flat. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror, it was too upsetting. I begged God to help me gain back the weight, promising never to complain about my thick legs again.

In retrospect I think my early fixation on my legs was simply my way of avoiding the intense emotions that were surfacing. I was scared of dying, who wouldn’t be? But what really troubled me was the idea of hurting those I loved. I was blessed with a partner, family, friends and a one-eyed elderly street dog who all loved me. I didn’t want to cause them pain.

Now, two and a half years later, I am back up to 120 pounds and I’m as stocky as ever. I am extremely lucky to be alive, many people with Mesothelioma don’t live more than a year after diagnosis. And though I’m grateful, I’m also aware that I’m living on borrowed time. So now I wear skinny jeans as often as possible. It’s my way of giving cancer the middle finger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I is for Ida

Ida sat at her kitchen table and scanned the morning newspaper. She sipped her coffee and took a bite of her honey-slathered toast. As usual the news was all depressing. “Screw this Noise” she said out loud, though there was no one around to hear her. She called information and got the phone number for the newspaper’s subscription department. When an associate named Wiley asked Ida why she wanted to cancel her subscription she said, “because there is nothing good left in this world, we have gone to Hell in a Hand Basket,” and she hung up.

After completing her morning chores, Ida put on her face, then drove to her local supermarket. With a short list in hand she walked slowly down the aisles with her cart. A young boy pushed by her on his way to grab a box of cookies, “young man, show some respect to your elders” Ida yelled. He looked at her, terrified and his mother glared at Ida. “Don’t talk to my precious boy like that” she said. “Precious?He’s hardly precious, he just about knocked me down. I could sue you!” The woman, dressed in drape-y expensive neutrals, accented by faux spiritual jewelry, grabbed her son and hurried away.  “I can hardly wait to see what kind of a nightmare he grows up to be!” Ida yelled after her.

She turned down the aisle marked “International Foods.” Ida felt superior to the schmucks who just shopped the “regular” aisles, as if she were more worldly and progressive. She placed a package of Italian cookies in her cart, then added a box of Abuelita Mexican style instant chocolate drink mix. “Es Muy Delicioso” said Ida loudly to a woman standing nearby. “Good to know,” answered the woman, quickly turning her cart away from Ida. “At least I know a little Spanish,” Ida grumbled.

At the check-out counter she stood behind a young man who had several containers of Tofu, along with many vegetables. “Are you a Vegetarian?”  Ida asked him accusingly. The young man eyed her, smiling slightly.  “Yes Ma’am I am,” he answered. “That’s why you’re so thin and pasty, you need to eat some meat. But you have good manners, so that’s something I guess.” The young man sighed, paid his bill and took his canvas shopping bags with him. The cashier started ringing up Ida’s purchases, hoping to avoid any conversation with her. “Did you color your hair yourself?” asked Ida. The cashier flinched. “Yes, I did, why do you ask?” “Well, I think you went a little overboard on the red, it’s too bright. People are going to see you coming from a mile away. You should stick with a nice light auburn.” The cashier gritted her teeth. If her Manager wasn’t standing nearby she would tell Ida to go jump in a lake. “Oh well, to each her own I guess,” she said cheerily.

On her way back to her car, Ida saw the most adorable little black dog tied up to a pole outside the store. “Unbelievable!” she exclaimed. She hated people who tied up their dogs while they were busy running errands. It was too dangerous, anything could happen – the dog could break free and get run over by a car, a mean kid might tease the dog, the dog could eat something and get sick…She would like to tie the dog’s owner to a pole and see how she or he liked it! Ida put her groceries in her car and then went back to the dog. She bent down and petted the dog and spoke to him lovingly. The dog seemed to take to her immediately.  “Your owner does not deserve you,” she cooed. And then, just like that, she untied the dog, picked him up and when he didn’t resist, she carried him back to her car. He rode shotgun with her back to the house, not seeming to mind one bit that he was with a complete stranger.

Back at the house Ida found an old frisbee in the hall closet and she and Sammy – the perfect name for him! – played in the backyard until Sammy was tired out. She then set down a bowl of water and made him a cozy bed from old comforters and pillows, though she knew she would let him sleep with her tonight. She figured he deserved a special meal, so she would cook him chicken and rice for dinner. Sammy, exhausted from the exercise and sudden life change, immediately passed out. Ida made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watched him sleep. He snored like her long dead husband, Earl. But Sammy was much cuter than Earl. Earl had had a face that not even his mother could have loved, but he had been a good man. Well, he had been a reasonably good man. Ida lay down on her beige chenille couch.  Actually Earl had not been a very good man at all, what the hell was she thinking?! He had been mean as a snake! Ugly and mean – there’s a winning combination for you! Ida chuckled to herself. She had been so happy the day Earl died that she had gone out shopping to celebrate. She had bought herself a pair of blue sandals, a matching purse and a perfume called “La Vie Est Belle.” Ida closed her eyes and was soon fast asleep. Sammy eventually joined her on the couch, jamming his face under her left armpit.

 

Branding Queens

Is it just me, or does it feel like we are all starting to Brand Ourselves?  Through social media we each curate our lives and reveal in mostly filtered perfection, (or sometimes purposely non-filtered perfection), images and witty sound bites creating in essence our own brand.  The Brand of Me.  I am part of this trend too, I post regularly on Instagram: there is Mary Ellen the Pit Bull Advocate, Mary Ellen the Living with Cancer Through Humour Gal, Mary Ellen the Vintage Loving Stylehoader.  Is this a bad thing?  I don’t know, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable.

It used to be that creating a brand was done primarily by companies in order to sell a product.  To this day fashion retailers continue to be focused on creating a desirable brand in order to make money: “Understated elegance for the woman who knows true luxury.” “Affordable classics with a twist!” “The only watch for the man who works hard and plays hard.”  But now that we are all self-branding, are we in some strange way selling ourselves?  And to whom and for what reason?  Many successful fashion & lifestyle social media wizards are actually selling items, often through sponsored ads, so that makes sense.  But what the hell are the rest of us doing?  I realize I am probably just overthinking all of this, but it still kind of freaks me out.

The other issue with everyone becoming a Branding Queen (or King), is that – at least for me – it can lead to increased depression & anxiety.  If I see one more perfectly decorated home with that damn fury IKEA bear rug thrown casually but not casually over a mid-century chair I am going to stab my eye balls out!  Or another reclaimed wood dining-room table, sparkling with glitter and pastel food and champagne bubbling over in mis-matched but perfect vintage glasses with an incredible floral arrangement in a milk jug bought for just $2 at a garage sale!  I can’t take it!  This past weekend I actually suffered from a bout of “Insta-Madness:” I went to my favorite Leslieville bakery – Sweet Bliss – and bought myself three delicious treats (luckily for me my partner is Paleo, so I get all the sweets to myself!)  Upon arriving home and admiring my goodies in their low-key unadorned box, I found myself thinking that they would look much prettier “styled” on a vintage floral China plate.  OMG!  What has happened to me?!  Thankfully I am not THAT insane and I happily enjoyed my sweets on a regular, almost ugly plate.  And they were damn tasty!

I guess for now I will just cut back a little on social media so that I can remain sane-ish.  But then again, I did just buy my dog a new bandana, so I might have to Instagram that as part of my “I’m a Pit Bull Advocate” Brand.  #stopthemadness