“Oh rainy day come around Sometimes I want it to slow down”

Tags

, , ,

img_0307

 

Saturday night was a maelstrom of compatriots, weather, and words all washed down with a delicious bit of fancypants gin and juice.

And just like that it was over.

For those of you who missed it (including me), below is a link to my Litcrawl debut, courtesy of my most stealthy friend, Jill Eyres. Photo credits go to none other than the cunning Leah Toeniskoetter.  Thank you, ladies, for taking the time to document the evening. I’m so glad you thought of it!

Behold, the prologue to The Kind of Woman Who Would, as read aloud on a very rainy evening in the Mission, on my 42nd birthday:

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154677103059962&id=675999961

 

 

“Act the fool, play the calf, and you’ll always have the last laugh”

Tags

, , , , ,

So, I’m a little behind on this whole blog thing. It seems I’m only capable of juggling seven tasks at once–that eighth plate gets tossed in the air, and suddenly all bets are off. At least (at least!) one of them is going to come crashing to the ground. I’m pleased to report the baby is still in one piece. The dog hasn’t run away. The house hasn’t fallen down. I’ve even managed to finish writing another chapter of the book, but the blog, well…I’m here now, aren’t I?

Part of the problem has been trying to figure out my subject matter. At various times throughout the week I’ve been alternately moved to rant about the election (“Trump will rape you. Pence will force you to keep the baby.” And I have family members who are still actively campaigning for them. Gah!), laugh about my toddler (Hi Facebook. It’s me, Dana. Can someone please call my phone? Jonah’s done something with it.), wax poetic about the return of autumn (hands down my favorite season), and then there’s that whole thing about the clowns…

I think I just dared myself to tackle all four at once.

Notice I didn’t choose eight.

October is my favorite month. The leaves are changing. The days are getting shorter. The sun is sinking ever so slightly in the sky, bathing the hills around my home in an earthy golden glow. Some days are still baking hot, but others crispy cool, giving me an excuse to make soup, buy a baguette, and hunker down on the couch with my knitting again.

Okay, that’s enough of that.

I’m not going to lie. Ahem. There is a part of me that wants to launch into an all-out tirade about the decline of Western Civilization. The fact that there is a large sector of our society that has either failed to recognize the overt signs and symptoms of mental illness, or worse, chosen to ignore them in the name of racism, sexism, and partisanship, makes my hair stand on end. And that’s putting it mildly. I worry about the future for my child. And not a generalized will-he-get-into-the-right-preschool kind of worry. I mean a Kristallnacht-1939-dawn-of-the-second-world-war-bone-chilling worry. Trump is a madman. Fortunately, he’s no Hitler in one very particular, and all-important way–he’s dumber than his stump speeches. I’m hoping, come November, the rest of our country isn’t.

But since I do want to keep the tone of this blog largely positive, I will utter a few words that I never thought I would ever say. Ever. Thank you Bush family–Junior, Senior, Barbara, Laura, Jeb. Thank you Glen Beck. Thank you Condoleezza Rice. Thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thank you Michael Chertoff and Paul Wolfowitz. Thank you Richard Armitage, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich. Thank you Mom! Thank you each and every Republican who has forsaken, or will forsake partisanship in the name of sanity, humanity and world safety.

Thank you.

So anyway, I walked into Jonah’s room yesterday to find him with his pants down around his ankles and a wad of toilet paper in his hand. “Be-pee,” he said, as he wiped himself over his diaper. “Be-pee.” Weird, but I guess it’s a start.

As for the clowns, they first cropped up in my writing workshop two weeks ago. Not literally, thank goodness. One of my nearest and dearest is working on a memoir too, and the chapter we were dissecting mentioned the fact that her first boyfriend ran away to clown school. No joke–he went off to clown school, became a clown, and joined the circus. For whatever reason, this hit our mentor’s funny bone, and before long we were collectively cackling and rolling, beeping our pretend red noses, honking invisible horns, practicing pronounced pigeon toes and squeaking in non-existent oversized shoes. A day later, this turns up in my inbox, from my Nextdoor subscription:

A young lady was driving home in the Cascades (my neighborhood) tonight and encountered a man dressed as a clown standing in the middle of the road, just staring at her as she approached…”

Really?

It turns out, this a national phenomenon. I’ve heard it has to do with the reprisal of a Steven King novel (“they all float down here”), but my gut tell me it has more to do with a red red face and an orange toupee.

Sigh.

It’s that time of year again–time to hunker down on the couch with my knitting. And try not to gouge my eyes out.

 

“Let me tell you ’bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above”

imageDon’t worry. This will not be a blog about how babies are made. Particularly not about how I went about making a baby, which is certainly different from the way in which most people make babies and an interesting story in its own right, but one I think I’ll save for another time. No, instead I’m climbing out of three weeks of tedious nursing certification renewals (Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and Transport Professionals Advanced Trauma Certification to be exact) to tell you the story of how my 18-month old son discovered the moon, and a few other things while he was at it.

There was no space suit. Not unless you count the green Godzilla footie pajamas that could be a space suit if he were old enough to want to pretend he was wearing one, but he isn’t quite there yet. No, it was just our regular Monday night routine. I dropped Jonah off at Uncle Jimmy’s house where the two of them spent the early evening carousing in the park, followed by dinner and manly things like playing ball in the house, turning the TV on and off a thousand times just for the electronic bleep of it, and reading bedtime stories about dars and ducks (read: cars and trucks) so that I could go off to work on and workshop my book.

Every Monday night Uncle Jimmy puts Jonah to bed in his Pack n Play while we (his Mama and writing “Aunties”) attend Uncle Tom’s class, then return home from our workshop for a little late night dinner and dishing. And every Monday night we collectively wake him from a deep sleep where he is all groggy smiles, nuzzles, and hugs, and tuck him into his car seat so I can take him home to bed.

This past Monday night was an unusually warm one for the Bay Area so we weren’t in any rush to get him from the house, out of the elements, and into the car. The moon had just risen when we all–Uncle Jimmy with Jonah in his arms,  Auntie Kathy and I–stepped out on to their front porch to say goodnight. It was a waning moon, but nearly full still, looming large and low in the the sky.

Jonah gasped and pointed, “Huz-zah?” As excited as he was, this was not sheer exclamation, but a question, too–his version of “what’s that?”

“That’s the moon!” I said, delighted. It makes my heart leap when he notices a part of his world, particularly a beautiful part, and wants the word for it.

“Moom!” He repeated, pointing. Smiling.

“La luna,” Uncle Jimmy said.

“Yuna!” Jonah turned and immediately pointed toward the house.

“Yes! Luna’s in the house. You’re right!” Kathy laughed. Luna is the name of their pet parakeet who lives in an elaborate enclosure in their kitchen. “Luna the bird is inside. Luna the moon is up in the sky.”

“Moom.” Jonah pointed to the sky. “Yuna.” He pointed to the house.

“Yes,” I reaffirmed.

Someday he’ll make the connection.

On the drive home I started thinking about all of Jonah’s words–from his firsts, “woof woof” and “Bubba” (the name of the family dog that has become the signifier for ALL dogs). And even before “Mama” came “trees.” Then dars and ducks–he will even distinguish between the “vroom vroom” duck and the “quack-quack” duck when asked, the latter of  which sounds more like “cock cock” but we’ll save that for the blog where I tell you about how I didn’t make a baby. Or something.

The words he has now are all concrete words for concrete objects and I wondered when he would make the leap from concrete to abstract? Luna the bird to luna the moon.

We’re working on it. He knows my morning cup of coffee is “hot.” He reminds me everyday, just as he knows the oven and kettle are hot, too. We’re also working on “art.” I live in an eclectic community. Many of my neighbors have paintings on their gates, sculptures in their gardens, and collections of what I might otherwise label “junk” if I weren’t trying to teach my son kindness. As we walk through the neighborhood, we always stop to look.

“Art,” I say, showing him the weird Scooby-Doo-style swamp monster covered in Mardi Gras beads that hovers over a large wooden doorway at the top of our hill.

“Art,” he repeats.

This may in fact backfire on me someday.

The next night he made a new discovery. In the bathtub.

“Huzz-ah?” He pointed and asked.

Here we go. “That’s your penis,” I said.

“Pemit,” he repeated.

“Yes. Penis.”

“Pemit.” Then he crinkled his nose and laughed.

For every moon, a penis. I laughed, too.

But on Wednesday morning, as we sat together rocking in the chair in his room, my coffee in hand, Jonah with his milk, he gestured toward the mug and said what I thought to be, “hot.”

“Yes, hot.” I wasn’t about to try to explain luke warm.

He said it again, only this time I heard, “art.”

“Art?” I asked.

“Art,” he repeated, then used his little finger to trace the geometric pattern on my mug.

“Yes! Art!” I exclaimed. Luna the bird, luna the moon. “Art is on the wall. Art is on our walks. Art is on mama’s coffee mug. Good job, little man!”

He smiled a milky smile, the bottle’s nipple still pinched between his teeth, and I beamed right back at him. It was a few beats more before he crinkled his nose, released a hand from his bottle and dropped it down to his diaper.

“Pemit,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Pemit.”

(Sigh)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“‘I could tell you my adventures–beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly, ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday. I was a different person then.'”

Tags

, , , ,

Dana in Wonderland!

What: Memoir Pool at Lit Crawl

When: Saturday, October 15th, 8:30-9:30PM

Where: Wonderland SF, 1266 Valencia Street, SF, CA

Why: It’s my birthday! (And some really amazing writers will be there preaching their word, too)

 

I’m taking a little break from storytelling this week in the name of shameless self-promotion. I’ve hit a literary milestone and I ain’t too proud to shout about it. After more than fifteen years of celebrating my birthday by stumbling buzzed through San Francisco’s Mission District in search of literary enlightenment, I have at long last been invited to take part in Lit Crawl…as an author!

For those of you not-in-the-know, Lit Crawl is a literary pub crawl, the culmination of Litquake, a week long Bay Area festival of words that has been bringing writers, readers and drinkers together every October since its inception in 1999. Throughout the Mission (and parts beyond) authors gather at various venues–bars, restaurants,storefronts, banks, galleries, laundromats–to read, discuss, and wax poetic about all things literature. The scope is broad. Three years ago I went from listening to fiction over gin martinis at Dalva, to the memoir of “Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls Speak Out” at The Beauty Bar, to a barbershop quartet singing the poems/songs of Leonard Cohen IN a barbershop, entirely on foot (hiccup!), all in the course of about two hours.

This year I will be reading as part of Memoir Pool, my dear friend and mentor Tamim Ansary’s group of writers. I have been workshopping with Tamim since my early days in San Francisco (1996! Twenty years! Oy!) and it was in his Sunday memoir class two years ago that my book came into being. Now, for another shameless plug, if you’re even thinking about writing memoir, start Here.

Now then, where was I? Oh yes. Come help me ring in my 42nd year with a cocktail, a smile, a chapter from my book, and some of the finest memoir you’ll see this side of the Mississippi. We’re not reading until Phase 3, so come early and wander the Mission and experience all that Lit Crawl has to offer.

Please.

 

 

“Take a load off Annie, take a load for free”

Tags

, , , ,

They used to call me “Troika.”

It was a nickname bestowed upon me in the 4th grade by Brett Rosenbaum* and “The Michaels” (of which there were three), and had very little to do with the actual definition of the word–“a Russian vehicle drawn by three horses abreast”–which I doubt they ever knew. To them it was a made up term. Onomatopoeic. A name to match my size.

I was a big girl. A fat girl. A troika.

The moniker caught on and followed me into middle school, through high school, and though I never heard it uttered aloud thereafter, Troika did make her way to college–tucked in next to my Brother word processor, a Jane’s Addiction poster, and two sets of extra long sheets.

It was a conscious decision.

I used her pain, my newfound freedom to feed myself, and the knowledge I gained working part-time in a health food store to lose the “freshman fifteen,” the “sophomore twelve,” the “junior eight” so that by the time I graduated, I was, in fact, a thin person. And I’ve been a thin person ever since. At nearly 42, I have now officially been a “skinny bitch” longer than I ever was a “fat girl,” but if you could hear the voice of Troika in my head, particularly on a bad day, you might think I was still pushing 200lbs. For better or worse, I’ve carried her with me for the last 33 years. But I’m pleased to say she’s finally evolving.

In my 20s, she manifested in department store fitting rooms. I would choose all the wrong sizes, sweat profusely as I tried things on, lose patience and leave with nothing. Until one day my best friend (Hi Betty!) had the “come to Jesus” talk with me in the middle of Urban Outfitters.

“Dana! Why are you picking up anything large? Honey! That’s not you anymore. You are not large. Let me see these.” She ripped a pile of clothing from my arms. “Size 12, size 14? What the hell is wrong with you? You’re small! You’re like, a size 2! Here.” She threw a pair of jeans at me. “Go put these on.”

They fit. She was right. But I didn’t see a size 2. I saw Troika.

In my 30s, after a few years of the blessed talking-cure, I came to a place where I knew that I needed to look in the mirror a solid three times before I could get past Troika to see what the rest of the world saw when they looked at me. I developed a sense of humor about it, too. I became known as “the fat one” among my cycling teammates–a nickname I could finally enjoy precisely because it implied the opposite. But it’s worth noting that I was, at the pinnacle of my amateur racing career, all of 5’7″, 120lbs, and about 8% body fat, and yet I still had to be convinced (again in a fitting room, this time in the Old Navy on Maui) that I could “get away with” wearing a bikini. Oh, Troika.

But 40 changed everything. I was finally pregnant. I’ll admit, going into it, I was a little worried for myself, for Troika, and the metamorphosis I was about to put her through. She could be so cruel. For starters, my OB-GYN recommended I gain 10lbs before even trying to conceive–“the hormones you need to sustain a pregnancy are stored in fat, and you, my dear, could really use more body fat.” My desire for motherhood far outweighed my desire for ripped abs, so I listened. I slowed my activity down–waaaaay down. I embraced the avocado, nuts and cheese, and took myself from 120lbs to 130lbs over the course of about a year. Troika survived. Barely. She refused to wear shorts in public. But soon there was a baby on board.

Those first few months of pregnancy–that awkward time when you aren’t telling anyone, and your breasts explode out of B-cups into Ds, and your belly protuberates into a babyless blob before hardening into an actual bump–I kind of wanted to hide. I would run into people, nurses I used to work with in the ICU, bike racing acquaintances, and I could swear they were looking me up and down thinking damn, she really let herself go. But once there was a bump, an actual, recognizable, she-ain’t-heavy-it’s-the-baby bump, Troika all but disappeared.

I LOVED my pregnant body. For the first time in my adult life I felt truly, unselfconsciously beautiful. I marveled at myself in the mirror. I wore dresses that clung to every curve. And at  8-months pregnant, sitting in a bathtub, my giant belly rising out of the suds, I made a promise to myself and my unborn son: I was going to love and honor my post-baby body in the same way that I loved this pregnant one. Troika-be-damned.

Eighteen months later, I have kept my promise.

Parts of me jiggle now. My post-baby body weighs in at a respectable 129lbs, and yet there are parts of me that jiggle that have never jiggled before–not even when I was young and round. And I don’t mean the tennis-balls-in-tube-socks that were once the tidy Bs before they fed my kid. I mean my ass, my thighs, my belly. They jiggle and sway with my swagger, but I refuse to lose my swagger ever again.

I hike every day. I strap my son on my back and head for the hills, sometimes for hours at a time. We sing songs, touch tree bark and moss, distinguish yellow flowers from purple. We stop to watch deer. We swim together once a week. Every Sunday I put on a bathing suit and head to the local Jewish Community Center for a mama-baby swim class. It’s hard not to notice that I’m one of the only mamas in a sea of papas and babies in the pool. The mamas are there of course. On the deck. Fully clothed. I think I know why, and I completely understand, but I wish it could be different. For everyone.

Troika hasn’t left me. I still pause to acknowledge her when I look in the mirror most days of the week. But lately, instead of pulling at my clothing, turning every which way, trying to get past her, I imagine her as that sweet chubby 9-year old girl and I give her exactly what she needed all along: a little love. I thank her for being with me, for keeping me honest about my health and food choices, and I move on. I want my son to grow up with memories of us splashing together in the waves, of his mama running down the beach unselfconsciously, laughing. To raise my little boy, I needed to raze my little Troika. It may have taken the better part of 33 years, but I think I’m finally, finally there.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent

image

 

 

“Jump in the water sweet little princess Let me introduce his frogness”

finger-coral-tree-frog-62889_1280

To the kind, gentle, handsome, beautiful soul who has been trying in earnest to date me:

There were frogs. I mean, a lot of them before you came along. I have, after all, been at this game for the last 25 years. I could tell you about the Fire Bellied Toad, Bombina Maxima, who ditched me for my best friend mere days after I finally gave in and gave up my virginity. Or the Yellow Banded Poison Arrow who liked to call himself “John” when he was with me, but went by “Jack” when he was out with my coworker, Jenny. I don’t know what he called himself when he went home to his “roommate,” but I heard through the grapevine that the “roommate” was a bear, and he liked to be called “Daddy.”

I was lucky enough to have a few more princely selections in between. Maybe, if I had been more _____ or less _____, they might have fulfilled my happily-ever-after. Maybe I might have fulfilled theirs. But I was in my 20s. I had shit to do. Shit that didn’t involve shacking up in anyone’s childhood bedroom because it was cheap, chasing someone else’s dreams, or living in silent competition with memories of those long dead and gone.

Then came The One–the Fairy Tale Frog. I lay sleepless on a pile of mattresses, lowered my hair, slipped effortlessly into the shoe. I donned my pointy princess hat, draped myself in tulle, mirror-mirrored on the wall. And then he left me. Quite spectacularly. For an 18-year old girl.

He had his reasons.

From there was the Red Mantella–perennially unemployed, a seemingly perpetual student who said one day out of the blue, “I think I might like you better if you were blonde.” I laughed because I thought he was kidding.

He wasn’t kidding.

Then came the Common Frog, Rana Temporaria (ah, Latin). He was a courteous workaholic. Lovely. Boring. Ribbit.

There was the Poisonous Blue Dart. We had a real estate agent. We were looking for property to buy together when I walked in on him screwing another woman. “What?” He said. “It’s not like we’re in a committed relationship.”

And I rounded out my 30s with the Bull Frog. “Ayn Rand is my spirit guide. No, I haven’t been taking my meds–what’s it to you? And I only lie because you make me.”

You can see why there might be a problem.

Now, to be fair, I’ve done some work. The 50-minute hour has been a dear friend to me. There was a reason why I chose to kiss all the wrong frogs, and I think I might have gotten at least a whiff of understanding. But the how-not-to-ever-again remains somewhat elusive, and of vital importance.

I know in my bones that you are different. I know because you call. You ask. You “just because.” I can tell by the way the dishes are done and put away, and the glass of wine is waiting for me after I’ve put the baby to bed that you are in this for real. You don’t push. Or pull. You listen. You share. It’s the littlest things, and the weight of them is enormous.

But you have to understand. There were frogs. And after the frogs came this life–this incredibly rich and blessedly drama-free life. I have the house, the car, the dog, the kid. I did it. On my own. I didn’t–I don’t–need you.

But do I want you?

As nice as “here-take-my-hand-I’ll-do-the-dishes-let-me-help-you-with-that” is, it doesn’t come without a price.

I don’t ever want to know about being trapped in a castle again.

I hear my mommy friends bitching about all the things they want and need and can’t get from their partners. I hear the sighs. Ache at their compromises. I signed up to change ALL the diapers and any one I don’t change is a gift. I have no expectations.

I’m not sure I ever want them again.

But the lure of Original Myth is freakishly strong. Happily-ever-after looms large. On Tuesdays I’m quite certain that yes, “I’ll take the baby to swim lessons so that you can sleep in” is exactly what I’ve always wanted from this life, and “let’s go to Tahoe for the weekend as a family” sounds amazing! But by Friday I think, hell, I must’ve been tired! I’m fine, thanks–I’ve got this. 

Tahoe is no match for sovereignty.

Dear man, there were frogs. And after the frogs came an existence so sweet, and simple, and easy by comparison–as simple and easy as our limited time together has been. Please forgive me for my hesitancy. For my distance.

I am very, very afraid.

“And silence sounds no worse than cheers After earth has stopped the ears”

Tags

, ,

A funny thing happened while I was watching the Olympics.

As many of you know, I used to race a bicycle. I was far better at suffering than I ever was at winning anything, but that never mattered. I loved every second of it. Well, maybe not some of the vomit-inducing workouts that my coaches subjected me to, but I even had an affinity for those–when they were good and done. I can still think of no better feeling than pedaling a meditation for hours at a time, over mountains, to the coast, and back again–except maybe swapping out some solo zen time for the raucous laughter of my teammates. I haven’t ridden more than 50 miles since Jonah came along, but these women remain some of my best friends on the planet (hi ladies!).

A few years ago my bike racing “career” came to a crashing halt. And it wasn’t even my crash. I’m tempted to say more about it here, but I won’t, because I’m hoping you’ll read about it below. Let it suffice to say that on Sunday, as I yelled and screamed and scared the dog and made the baby cry while cheering on Mara Abbot, Kristin Armstrong, Megan Guarnier, and Evie Stevens in one of the most exhilarating bike races I’ve seen in a long time–the women’s Olympic road race–I found myself right back on the side of the road in Mariposa County, CA circa 2012–my last bike race.

For those of you who weren’t watching on Sunday, in the final miles of the Olympic race, Annamiek van Vleuten, a Dutch cyclist, crashed horrifically. And I couldn’t do anything to help. So, um, I burst into tears and had a panic attack instead.

Apparently I still have some work to do.

By the time the race was over we knew that van Vleuten was conscious and on her way to the hospital. Later that night she appeared to be Tweeting with her own two thumbs, stating that she was okay, but had suffered three non-paralyzing lumbar spinal fractures. She was (in mostly her own words) “most disappointed that the crash had happened in the middle of the finest ride of her career.”

I moved on to other heartbreaks–Mara Abbot, who also had the ride of her life, but was caught in the final kilometer of the race, and Megan Guarnier, current world champion and one of the kindest, most joyful women in cycling today–I know they both, and Stevens and Armstrong too, wanted a very different day for themselves and the team. Nevertheless, I’m so proud of all of them.

But that crash. It still haunts me.

 

Butterflies and Angels

I’m careening down a hill on two wheels, balanced on nothing more than fifteen pounds of carbon fiber and steel, elbow to elbow in a pack of thirty women, all of whom are trying to kill me. Not literally, of course. No one is actively throwing sticks into my spokes, launching arrows, daggers, or even insults my way, but when you’re a trauma nurse and you dare to race your bicycle, you race as though you are perpetually trying to save your own life.

I have seen the spectacular carnage that can happen with one false move–someone else’s, or my own. Two wheels kiss, and in the next beat there is a pile of women and debris–broken collarbones, cracked bicycle frames, busted knees. I have suffered a concussion, road rash, and fractured ribs at the hand of this sport, and yet, I cannot give in to the fear. I cannot quit. Instead I choose to believe I can, as my coach would say, “race smart.”

I’m a trauma nurse who knows what it feels like to crash a bicycle, who has wiped the asses of countless fallen cyclists with fractured pelvises, traumatic brain injuries, and here I am, careening down a hill at 40mph in a pack of thirty women who are all trying to kill me. But my elbows are out, my front wheel is protected, and I am scanning the pack for sketchy riders–there are always a few. I am racing smart.

It’s Mother’s Day, and the fourth and final event of the Mariposa Women’s Stage Race, the only multi-day bicycle race in California held exclusively for female cyclists. In just one weekend, women from the Northern and Southern California racing circuits come together for the only time all season to compete in a time trial, a hill climb, a circuit race, and a road race, all in the blistering May heat of Mariposa County, somewhere near, but not near enough to Yosemite National Park. We are now on race number four–the Bootjack Road Race–55 miles of climbing and descending with nary a flat section to be found, and the only thing left standing between me, a camp chair, and an ice-cold beer. My legs are toast. I’m spinning them even on this downhill, trying to flush the lactic acid through me so I have something left to get up the next hill.

The peloton–the technical term for a group of cyclists–has formed three lines of riders across the road. I’m sitting fourth wheel on the far left hand side of the pack, next to the woman my teammate Penny and I have dubbed “Scary Shit.” Scary Shit likes to make sudden lateral moves without looking, a definite no-no in group riding, and I’m in her direct line of fire. It figures. I flex my elbows again, to make myself seem bigger. There is a Murphy’s Law in bike racing–you will always end up on or next to the wheel of the person you least want to be on or near. As such, Penny is on the opposite side of the pack directly behind the other sketchy wheel of the weekend, “Ribbon Chick.” Of course she is.

Ribbon Chick, nicknamed for the pink ribbon neatly tied to the bottom of her French braid, is in her early forties and stronger and faster than most of the rest of us in our amateur racing category. Rumor has it she’s a former competitive marathon runner who nearly made it to the Olympics before she blew out a knee and was forced to take up cycling for rehabilitation. This weekend marked her third, fourth, fifth and sixth bike races ever, and her first four were individual time trials. She’d never raced in a pack before yesterday, and she terrified us. Like Scary Shit, she too liked to make sudden lateral moves. She seemed afraid to get too close to the wheel in front of her, so instead of drafting neatly behind a rider in the sweet spot, she would suddenly pull right or left without looking to see if there was anyone in her path, or worse, slam on her brakes, causing a chain reaction of sudden slow downs (and a lot of shouting) behind her. We knew she was strong because she could ride in the wind without resting in the slipstream for an entire race and still place in the top three. She was strong, but she was scary as hell.

Penny offered Ribbon Chick and Scary Shit some friendly feedback and bike handling tips after yesterday’s race. They both accepted with grace, but neither appeared capable of implementing it in time for this morning’s event.

We are careening down a hill at 40mph. I’m watching Penny out of the corner of my eye. She is fearless on a descent, and absolutely despises climbing–my polar opposite. We are on a beautifully banked, long sweeping grade with impeccably smooth pavement–just her thing–and I have a feeling she is about to pull out into the wind and around the group to give herself a head start down, then ultimately up the next hill. She is not afraid of hitting 50mph on a bicycle. I am, and I can smell the fear in the rest of the peloton. Things are starting to get twitchy. I sit up just a little bit to allow wind resistance to regulate my speed. A small gap forms between my bike and the racer in front of me, Marla, whom I know and trust. Nevertheless, I’m a trauma nurse. I want reaction time.

We are careening down the hill at 42mph now, a pack of thirty women, following the road as it gently swoops around into a wide curve, tall trees flanking us on both sides. As we round a bend, we can see one of the support vehicles up ahead, a white van, pulled off to the far right hand side of the road. There are two people–a racer from the field ahead of ours and a support crew member–bending over her bike to change a flat. There’s not much of a shoulder, so part of the van is jutting out on to the pavement, but the road is wide, with plenty of room for the peloton to pass without having to alter our course.

“Car up!” Someone shouts, in the appropriate way a cyclist is taught to call out an obstacle up ahead. I can hear the squeal of brakes.

I can hear the squeal of brakes–oh shit!

I see a blur of hot pink and blue fish tailing, wobbling, skidding across the road, bikes and women flying through the air, the smell of burning rubber, then, the sound–that sound–the sickening crack of carbon and steel and flesh slamming into metal at 40mph.

Time stops.

Then, it proceeds on instant reply.

There I am, careening down a hill at 40mph, in slow motion. Someone shouts, “Car up!” I hear the squeal of brakes–oh shit. I take a deep breath. I know what happens next.

That sound.

Time catches up again.

I am darting around bodies and bikes, in the air, on the pavement–“Keep moving, Dana!” I can hear my coach’s voice in my head, “Whatever you do, don’t look back!” I’m riding into dirt and pine needles and stones on the opposite shoulder from the van, then leaning my body right, steering onto asphalt again, plowing over the wheel of another woman’s bike. “Keep going, keep moving. If you look back, you’ll crash, too.”

I’m careening down the hill, but a little slower now. The crash is just behind me. My heart is pounding in my head. I am upright, trembling. Rubber-side down. Alive.

That sound.

Carbon and steel and flesh against metal. Someone has to be dead.

I’m careening down a hill at 30mph, but I’m a trauma nurse. I have to go back. But there are women up ahead, too, and I need to take stock–Marla, Scary Shit–“Where’s Penny?” I bellow. I don’t see Penny.

“Not here,” Marla answers.

That sound.

Someone has to be dead. I have to go back.

I’m grinding up the hill at 10mph. My legs are toast, but maybe I can help.

I hear a car behind me. I wave frantically. The race promoter’s van is pulling up next to me.

He rolls down the window. “Can it wait? There’s been a crash.”

“I know. I’m a nurse. I need to go.”

“Get in.” The side door of the van opens and someone is lifting my bike, then me, into the moving vehicle as it continues up the hill.

“There’s a first aid kit here.” The promoter points to a tackle box between the two front seats. “Look through it. Take what you need. Take the whole thing.”

It’s mostly Band-Aids and gauze and Betadine.

That sound.

Band-Aids will be useless. But underneath it all, I see what I think I will need. I grab two oral airways and the nasal one, just in case. They’re used for opening up a passage into the lungs of someone who can’t do it on her own, someone who might need help breathing. I had a feeling. No. I knew. I put them into my jersey pocket along side the Clif Bars and Luna Moons. If I need them in a hurry, I know where they’ll be.

“Penny!” I leap out of the van and she is all that I can see. She’s in the middle of the road, knees bloodied, but she is standing, with her arms outstretched. She must have run up the road in time to stop the field behind ours from barreling into the crash sight. There is a pack of racers lined up behind her, waiting.

“Dana! Thank god you’re here!”

I start moving toward her.

“No!” The force of her word stops me in my tracks, “I’m fine! They need you!” She points toward the shoulder.

I scan the scene. There are bike parts littered across the pavement and women in various states of brokenness and disarray standing, sitting, kneeling, and lying on the side of the road. Someone is sobbing and someone is moaning–a bone-chilling, guttural sound that instantly raises the hair on the back of my neck. A wounded animal. No. A dying animal. I move toward it.

“It” is Ribbon Chick. She is rolling from side to side, or trying to, but her head and neck are being held in alignment by one of her teammates. She’s no longer wearing a helmet.

A second woman from a different team is trying to grab a hold of her at her hips, to keep her still in case she has a spinal cord injury. I move in to help and we get her pinned down.

“Has somebody called an ambulance?” I ask.

An answer comes from somewhere behind me. “They’re on the way.”

“What’s her name?” I ask her teammate.

“Roseanne.”

“Roseanne!” I shout. “Roseanne! Open your eyes!”

Nothing. Just the horrible wailing. Gasping. Her bike shorts are soaked with urine. There is no blood that I can see.

“She has a huge hematoma on the right side of her head,” her teammate says, “It’s under my hand.”

I slide her eyelids back. Her pupils constrict appropriately in the sunlight. “At least her pupils react,” I say out loud. I rub her sternum with my fist. Nothing, still. “Roseanne! Open your eyes!”

“Are you a doctor?” Her teammate asks me.

I instinctively move down to her groin to check for a pulse. “Nurse. Neuro-Trauma ICU.” She has one, and it’s appropriately slamming against my fingertips. I unzip her jersey to inspect her chest.

“Me too. Cardiac ICU,” the teammate says.

“I’m a doctor,” the other woman says, “but I’m just a GP. I’m out of my league here. I’ll follow you.”

“I don’t like the way she’s breathing. Roseanne! Open your eyes!” I reach into my pocket for the oral airway. “If she’s in there anywhere she’s not gonna let me do this.” Her jaw is stiff, but she’s not resisting. I slide it into her mouth without difficulty.

“Roseanne!” I pull her eyelids back again just in time to watch her pupils black out all traces of blue. “Oh no! No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Check a pulse! Check a pulse! She just blew her pupils!”

“I can’t feel one,”the doctor says, panic in her voice.

I’m on her chest in an instant. Her ribs crack beneath the weight of my hands.

“What’s your name?” I ask her teammate.

“Jen.”

“Jen, can you just stay on c-spine?”

She nods.

“I’m Sandy,” the doctor offers.

“Sandy, you keep her airway open as best you can. Do you have something to use as a barrier so you can breathe for her?”

“I’ll use my jersey.”

“Where’s the goddamned ambulance,” I say to no one in particular.

A voice behind me says, “They’re coming.”

Then another. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Then finally, “The fire department’s here.”

But it’s not the kind of fire department I’m expecting. It’s the local volunteer fire brigade. A man in coveralls is trying to hand me a machine as I’m doing CPR.

“Is that an AED?” I ask. He stares blankly. “A defibrillator? To shock with?”

“Oh. No.”

“What is it?”

“A blood pressure machine.”

“Do you have an AED?”

“No.”

“Nevermind. It won’t help us anyway.” Roseanne needed blood.

“You need to take her blood pressure.” He’s still trying to hand me the contraption.

“Do you have anything to start an IV with?”

“No. We don’t start IVs. You need to check her blood pressure.”

“Can you do CPR?”

“You need to check her blood pressure.”

“Sir, with all due respect, I AM her blood pressure right now, and I’m getting really tired. Can you take over chest compressions?” The color drains from his face, but he nods his head yes.

“Okay, one, two, three.” He leans in and takes my place. I try to reassess. “Her belly is getting bigger.”

“Do you think it’s from my breathing?” Sandy asks.

I tap her belly with my fingertips and there is a dull thud. “It doesn’t sound hollow. I think she’s bleeding. I think it’s blood. Do you guys see anything else we can be doing for her right now? Is there anything we’re missing?”

“Besides a trauma surgeon?” Jen asks.

“We need an ambulance,” I say again. It’s become my mantra, then I think–we need a miracle.

“They’re here,” someone shouts.

The rig pulls up and the team spills out of the back. In what feels like an instant Roseanne is on a backboard, hooked up to a monitor, and drilled for IV access. I’m doing chest compressions again, and for some strange reason, maybe because I’m a control freak, I’m still calling the shots. “Get that fluid wide open. Get ready to hang another bag. Give her a milligram of epi. Get her the hell out of here!”

In less than five minutes she’s loaded an gone. Sandy, Jen and I sit down, dazed, on the side of the road. I can’t bring myself to look at them.

“She’s a mother, you know.” Jen breaks our silence. “Her kids were upset that she was going to be away for Mother’s Day.”

All I can do is nod my head.

Penny sits down beside us. “You guys were amazing.”

I lean into her and take a deep breath. It catches, but I don’t cry. Not yet. Penny isn’t a touchy-feely person, but she wraps her arm around me anyway.

The race promoter comes over and thanks us. “Do you think she’ll–“

I shake my head no.

He nods in understanding.

We sit quietly for a few more minutes. The pro women’s field comes whizzing by us, laughing, cheering, blissfully unaware of what just unfolded.

“Is your bike okay to ride?” I ask Penny.

“I think so.”

“Are you okay to ride?”

“I should be.”

“I think I want to take a lap around the course.”

“Okay.”

I’m careening down a hill at 30mph with Penny at my side. I’m a trauma nurse. I know what can happen. A woman just died in my arms. Ribbon Chick. Roseanne. A mother on Mother’s Day. I’m careening down a hill at 30mph, and I know–with total certainty–I will never race my bicycle again.

“And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”

Tags

Welcome to my blog! I’m not entirely certain of how you found me, but I’m sure glad you did! I’m still trying to figure out how I managed to land here myself…

If you would have told me, even a month ago, that I would be blogging, ever, much less by the end of summer, I would have laughed at you–maybe even hysterically–because single-motherhood in combination with working the night shift aboard a medevac helicopter frequently leads to bouts of hysteria. But I would have thanked you, too. If I’m going to get hysterical, especially in these tumultuous times, great big belly laughter is certainly my preferred form.

Most days I barely have time to pee much less sit down to ponder the great mysteries of life for all the world (read: three of my closest friends and I’m so glad you’re here) to see. If I were to take the time to write anything, it would surely be a grocery list (I forgot the dog food AGAIN this morning and the odds of Bubba-the-husky going back to kibble after three days of organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef are slowly dwindling), or, even better, another sentence, section, or chapter in the book.

The book.

Let me be honest. This is why I’m here.

For the last three years I’ve been slogging through, er, I mean, gleefully chipping away at the telling of a story. At first, it was simply going to be a collection of essays about my experiences as an ICU nurse with death and dying. But I began writing my very first essay, Mr. Srinivasana, while smack dab in the middle of a break up. And not just any break up–the break up that happened in the last gasps of my thirties, and signified the likely abandonment of my lifelong dream of motherhood. Or so I thought.

As I wrote about my patients, I started unpacking all of my relationships too, in a journal, on the side, for myself. How did I get to be 39, single, and childless? If not motherhood, what was next for me? For a time I thought I had two different stories for two different books until, with a little encouragement from some writing friends (blog readers 1, 2 and 3–you know who you are), I began weaving the narratives together.  And it worked. I think. At least, they told me it worked. Somehow, the weight of so much death seemed far less burdensome when paired with the ridiculousness of my love life. And as I wrote I began to realize something else: I had control over another major storyline.

In February of 2014, six months into my writing endeavor, I made the decision to become a single-mother-by-choice (seriously, it’s a thing!)–to use a sperm donor to conceive a child on my own. In February of 2015, my son, Jonah, was born. The book, The Kind of Woman Who Would, will be finished in February 2017 since all those hearts and flowers seem to bode well for sending my creations out into the world.

In the coming months, I plan to bring you a smattering of single-motherhood in conjunction with the writing life, tales from my ICU nursing days, and stories from the EMS frontline (hint: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists NEVER win). I won’t be talking politics. Or religion. Unless I can’t keep my mouth shut. Which I probably can’t. So nevermind, there’s a good chance I will be talking politics and religion, too. I’m bound to offend someone somewhere (blog readers 4, 5, and 6?), but I’m hoping to get a few right-ons while I’m at it.

And now for my shameless plea: Please follow this blog. Please open it and read it. Or just open it and pretend to read it. Then tell your friends to follow and open and pretend, too. I’ll pretend to read yours if you pretend to read mine! Or something like that.

(Ahem) Thank you!