Monday, September 18, 2017

Convention Curses: Part 1

HAIL SATAN!!!!!!!!!


Dear Daddy,

I have an interesting story to tell you.  Well, quite frankly, all of my stories are interesting, but this one has to do with a recent event involving my mom and the curses that Chrissie and Nevaeh put on her to stop her from fully carrying out her plans to intimidate my partner and I.  They also stopped her from intruding on our lives on a very personal level as well.

I want to write about this while it's still fresh in my mind.  And, unlike some of the other stories on my blog that are still waiting to be finished, I fully intend to finish this one relatively quickly so as not to forget anything.

Here's what happened.

So, as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I am still in contact with my mom and grandma.  Sometimes it feels good to talk to them, but many other times, it does not.

So, about three weeks ago, Mom called me sounding very happy.

Uh-oh, I thought glumly the second I heard the upbeat tone in her voice.

She's up to something and it isn't good.  It's going to effect me somehow, I just know it.

Right away, I was filled with an impending sense of doom.

"Guess what?" chirped Jennifer in my right ear as I began pacing my apartment.

"What?" I asked, trying to keep calm.  I didn't want her to notice my uneasiness.  She thrives off of my discomfort and, on that particular day, I felt strong enough to not give her that kind of satisfaction.

"There's this convention happening in Olympia in September.  It's from the fifteenth through the seventeenth, and it's being held at the Red Lion Hotel!"

I took a deep, calming breath, then grasped one of Bryan's branches with my left hand to center myself.  After all, he is my tree of laziness.  If anyone could help me, it would be him.

"What kind of convention is this?" I asked, hoping to sound genuinely interested.  In a way, I was.  I wanted/needed to gather as much information as I could from her to better prepare Chris and myself for her upcoming arrival.

"It's a NAMI convention.  There are several conferences that I am interested in attending."

I'm not quite sure how long my mother has been working with NAMI, but it's been at least a year.  NAMI, by the way, is an organization that is there to "help" the mentally ill.  It stands for National Alliance On Mental Illness.  I just looked it up on the computer before starting this story because I absolutely want to get all of my facts straight and documented.

Chris wasn't sure whether it would be a good idea for me to use the real name of the organization, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.  He said that maybe they really do help people, and perhaps, he's right, but they also do their fair share of meddling in people's lives, too.  Probably way more meddling than helping.

When I pointed this out to Chris, he agreed that I was most likely right.

"You can never be too trusting of an organization that says they are there to help the mentally ill," I told Chris last night.

"The people who are involved with NAMI are the type of people who probably voted in last year's ballot that the mentally ill shouldn't be allowed to own guns.  This is to "protect" them, or so they say."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Chris agreed again.

So, I decided, with the help of all of my demons, of course, to use the real name of the organization, and so I am.

"So, where is this Red Lion Hotel?" I asked, praying to Satan that it was nowhere near downtown.

"According to the web site, it's on Evergreen Parkway," she answered brightly.

Evergreen Parkway? That couldn't be right.  That is the road that leads to the Evergreen State College.  There aren't any hotels there, are there?

Those were the thoughts that were spinning around in my head like clothes being violently spun around in a dryer.

I would soon later find out from Chris that she meant to say it was on Evergreen Park Drive, which wasn't anywhere near the college, nor was it too terribly close to downtown.  It was closer than I wanted her to be, but at least she wouldn't be staying in the Governor Hotel, which is only a block or so from my house.

"It could be worse," the optimistic part of my brain told me.  Only, it wasn't a silent, me thinking out loud sort of thing.  It was an actual voice, a female voice, that sounded a lot like my mother, only slightly lower-pitched.  It also spoke more slowly than my mother speaks, giving me the impression that maybe it's an older version of my mother, what she might sound like in another fifteen or twenty years down the line.  No body, just a voice.

A very annoying voice that often tries to invalidate my feelings and make me feel stupid for feeling a particular way.

"Couldn't be much worse, though," the pessimistic part of my brain rattled back.  This voice was the voice of an old man, the old and decrepit version of my Grandpa Greg, my mother's father, when he reaches the age of ninety or so.

Again, no body.  Just another stupid voice fighting with another voice.  Voices that come and go according to stress level.  Voices that I've coped with for some time but that I still haven't quite gotten used to yet because they are so intrusive, especially when they don't go away for days on end.

"I'll email you the dates so you can mark them on your calendar," Jennifer continued.

"Maybe you can spare some time in your busy schedule to see me some, even if it's just for a bite to eat."

"Okay, I said.

"Email me and I'll see what I can do."

Because the convention was so far away, I didn't start to really panic right away.  After all, there was nothing I could do about it.  America is a free country.  And, as much as I'd like to, I can't keep her from coming to the capital of Washington.

Maybe Chris will get a big order or I'll get some money from watching Denise's dog and we can skip town, I thought to myself whenever the uneasiness would start to creep up.

Don't panic, lots can happen in three weeks.

This particular thought is really my own thought, No voices.  They'd gone away for the time being.

So, about a week goes by and Mom doesn't say anything about the convention and neither do I.  I wanted to know more about what she was up to, like when she was planning on coming to Olympia, what time the convention started each day and what time it ended, etc.  I considered attempting to look it up online for myself, but felt too lazy and, honestly, I was also ashamed of how afraid I felt.

It has been years since she physically assaulted me, and a lot has happened in those years to make her be more careful.  As impulsive as she is, she also knows that I have the power to expose her if she ever tries anything, and she knows that I will do just that whenever she steps out of line.

She knows that I am no longer the helpless, defenseless child I once was, though I know she doesn't like to think about that fact much.

Still, knowing all of this, I still felt very much afraid and unsafe.  I also felt violated, but then would switch from feeling violated to feeling idiotic for feeling that way.  After all, conferences do take place here sometimes.  One of the voices kept saying over and over again, "What if she really is coming here just for the conference and nothing else?

What if this really is just an innocent thing, and the location of the convention just happens to be in your  town Ashlee?"

And yet another voice yelled, "What if this is all just another lie?

What if there is no convention at all here and she's just trying to scare you? Better to look it up online for yourself to find out for sure what you're up against.

And still, another voice said, while laughing at my growing discomfort, "You're making a mountain out of a mole hill.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  A part of you really does miss your mom and wants to see her.  And what's the harm in a little bite to eat? Or, perhaps, some room service at her hotel.  She says there's a hot tub.  Wouldn't it be nice to soak?!"

Yes, it would be nice to soak in a jacuzzi.  I haven't soaked in one for a very long time.  The voice was right.  I did want to see my mom.

But I also didn't want to see her either.

I felt very conflicted inside.

"Don't be ridiculous!" snapped Smm Smm.

"If you really want to soak that badly, you can always walk over to Radiance and use the hot tub there.  It's right on our block! But you never go there, so obviously this isn't really about you wanting to soak."

Of course, Smm Smm was right.  I said nothing in response, because, really, what was there to say? I had nothing to argue back.

"Yeah, and you really don't like soaking in hot tubs much, anyway!" yelled Chrissie impatiently.

"Every time we go soaking, you only stay in the jacuzzi for, like, five minutes, and then you're ready to get out because it's too hot.  And, if you feel cold, there's always the bathtub."

"Yeah," Nevaeh piped up.

"Chrissie's right.  But, let's just say you do really want to soak with your mom, so you go ahead and make plans to see her.  You know what's going to happen as soon as she sees your naked body."

"We all know what'll happen," said Mary Meyers in a tone that clearly stated she, too, was fed up with me.

I nodded.  They were right, of course.  The moment I undressed and Jennifer saw my unshaved armpits and legs, she'd go off on a tangent.

"And, if you're in a vulnerable enough state where you do go through with it and see her, everything she says will make you feel bad.  You won't be able to come back at her with equally insulting comments.  And, that certainly won't be very lazy."

I'm sure you know who said all that.

"Don't you dare call her!" shouted Chrissie, bouncing up and down in front of me.

"If you do, I will seriously bite your nose! It will hurt for a week!"

As time went on, I could resist no longer.  I asked Chris to look up the NAMI convention on his I-PAD to see whether there really was a convention going on in Olympia.  Bryan told me that, if I must know, the laziest thing would be to have Chris look it up.  Looking things like that up online is easier for him to do than it is for me to do.  Some web sites, a lot of them, actually, are quite inaccessible with Jaws, my screen reading technology that is installed on my dinosaur computer.

And, as far as the braillenote is concerned, it, too, is as old as a dinosaur and won't even go online anymore.

Yes, Bryan was right.  If I had to know, which I did, it would be lazier to have him look it up for me and report back to me.

Thankfully, he was willing to do it, and, sure enough, there really was to be a NAMI convention at the Red Lion Hotel.  It was to be held from the fifteenth through the seventeenth of September, just as Jennifer had said it would be.

"What is the schedule like for it?" I asked him.  For me, this was crucial information.  If I knew the general schedule of the convention, I could plan my days accordingly so as to hopefully not run into her.

"It's from 8 to 5," he answered.

"On all three of those days?" I asked rather breathlessly.  I needed to know everything.  It felt like I might just die if I didn't.

I can't quite remember what he said, but I think he told me it got out earlier on Sunday.  I'm going to try and find a link to the convention that I'm talking about and post it on the blog along with this story.  I will need Chris's help finding and posting the link to it, and he's very busy and overwhelmed with taking care of our Smm Smm children (yes Daddy, I now have Smm Smm kids, and I'll tell you all about the newest addition to the family in another story), so I don't want to promise that there will be one because he is so tired lately, but I'll try.  The reason why I'd like to have a link on my blog with the story is because it will, perhaps, make it more real for my audience if there's a link to it.  Maybe it will give people an idea of how real and terrifying and confusing this whole experience was for me.

I thought that Chris would exit out of the site now that I had all my questions answered.  A part of me hoped he would, for I felt quite embarrassed about asking him to look up those details for me.  I didn't want him to see through the wall I was trying to create to hide how utterly terrified the notion of her coming to Olympia really was for me.  I'm sure my effort was futile, though, for he has a rather annoying knack of being able to read me like a book, so, in hindsight, it was probably a waste of time and mental energy to try and hide it from him.

When I'm in the moment, though, overwhelmed and frightened, all I want to do is hide my true emotions.  I don't want people to see my fragile side when I'm feeling vulnerable, not even Chris.

Heck, I realize now, that when I try to build that wall so no one can really know how I'm feeling, I'm also trying to hide from it myself because it's too much to bear all at once.

"What are you doing Smm Smm?" I asked Chris after he continued to stare silently at the screen.

He took a moment to answer, but, finally he said, "I have no idea why your mother is going to this.  This conference is designed for social workers, not the general public.  She is going to be so out of place there, and, if she says anything, she's going to sound so stupid to everyone else.  It will be obvious right away that she doesn't know what she's talking about and that she shouldn't really be there."

"She's probably only going there with the hopes of maybe finding out a secret way to get me committed," I said in what I hoped was a neutral tone, though, in reality, I felt very disheartened, for, upon receiving that information, the voices started commenting again and I had just gotten a reprieve from them.  I wasn't eager for them to start up again.  Really, I didn't have the energy for them  anymore.  They hadn't shut up in days, and I felt drained on all levels.  Even my appetite had vanished.

Right then, it felt like the voices had received some unseen signal to start speaking, or like some invisible button, that I could not control, nor had I pushed, had been pressed, activating the part of my brain that decided to place invisible headphones over my ears where different voices spoke in various degrees of pitch and loudness and there was no stopping it until they grew tired or the headphones got unplugged somehow.  Until that happened, there would be no blissful silence.

Still, despite the return of the voices as well as the arrival of harsh reality coming to give me a nice, hard slap in the face now that I was certain she would be coming up and that this was not just a scare or prank, I was glad to know what I was in for.  If I had it to do over again, I still would have asked Chris to look up the information about the convention.  It was more torturous, in a way, not to know than it was to have all the facts splayed out in front of me.

"Maybe there's a magic word that she'll learn about in there to get me committed once and for all.  Or, that's what she thinks anyway," I said, more to myself than to Chris or my imaginary friends.

On top of everything else, a new and unwanted seed in my mind had sprouted suddenly.  What if there was a magic word or fraze that she would learn about at that wretched conference?

What if she gets what she wants in the end?

What if I do get committed?

When I voiced my fears about this to Chris, he immediately reassured me that she couldn't do that.

"This is reality, not the movies.  If anything, psych hospitals want to get people out of them, not keep them.  There aren't enough psych beds for everyone who needs them.  Trust me, you have nothing to worry about."

I once read that very thing on a web site I frequently visit called Ask Reddit.  Someone had made a post about psychiatric hospitals, and one of the things I remember very vividly reading on there was that mental hospitals are like restaurants in a way.  People come and go quickly.  Due to the shortage of beds for the mentally ill, hospitals like to free up the beds as quickly as possible in the same way that restaurants like to free up their tables when they are busy to keep the money and the customers flowing.

Too bad psych hospitals aren't as enjoyable to go to like restaurants are.

No, actually, scratch that thought.  It's good that they aren't.  If they were, there would be an even worse of a shortage in beds than there are now.  Better to keep them sucky to encourage people to leave.

"She might still be lying to you," the voice that had previously yelled at me to just look it up to find out for myself whether a convention was really happening or not said.  It was a boyish voice, sounding very much like my cousin, Alex, when we were both kids.

"She hates being out of place, so why would she go somewhere that will make her look and sound stupid? I'm right! She's lying about going to the convention.  She's not going, she's not going, she's not GOING!!!!!"

"Yeah, she's just using it as an excuse to come here and stalk you," piped up the decrepit Grandpa Greg voice.

"Jesus Christ, SHUT UP, ALL OF YOU!" I shouted.

Lucky for me, I was at my own house with no one around to see or hear my angry outburst.  This happened when I had left Chris's house, needing to be away from him and the kids so I could try and cope with the voices with no one around.

No one PHYSICALLY around, anyway

In my world, I am never alone.  It's just that people who don't know me all that well have no way of knowing that.

When it's just me and my imaginary friends, life is good.  It's when all the others start interfering that life really starts to suck.

Fortunately, the "bad company" isn't a constant thing.  If it was, I would have put myself out of my misery a long time ago.

But Chris and the children need me, as do my "good" imaginary friends, so I live on.  I couldn't do that to them, leave them behind forever.  I love them too much to put them through that kind of pain.  And, if I killed myself, I wouldn't be able to talk to Chris or my kiddos for a long, perhaps forever.  Who knows whether there's really an afterlife like so many people believe.

Chris may be right.  There may very well be nothing after death.  I guess none of us will know until our time here on Earth is up.

"We're NOT good!" Chrissie is yelling in my ear right now.

Chrissie, what I mean by the word "good", is that you don't say mean things to me like the other "bad" demons do.  Sure, you annoy me sometimes, but you don't make me feel bad and crazy and like dying the way they do.

Trust me, you are by no means "good" in the real sense.  Go on now, go cause trouble.  I need to finish this story.

Or, part of it anyway.

Okay, Chrissie seems pretty satisfied with that explanation.  I wonder where her and Nevaeh are off to?

"Why," the Greg voice taunted.

"Why should we shut up? We're having so much FUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNN!"

More time passed, and, as the convention drew closer, the more panicky I was beginning to feel.  Chrissie wasn't around much, and, when she was, her and Nevaeh sat in the corner of my living room, heads bent close together, whispering.  I could never tell what they were whispering about, and that in itself was aggravating.  I could hear them speaking, but I could never make any of their words out.

It was like listening to a conversation, or, rather, TRYING to listen to a conversation, only there was a thick, sound proof wall separating me from Chrissie and Nevaeh, making their words nothing more than very quiet mumbling.  Only, this time, I could see them because they have bodies and don't hide from me like the coward voices.

Or, maybe the voices just don't HAVE bodies to reveal.

Beats me.

Maybe next time they come to pay me a visit, I'll challenge them by calling them cowards and commanding them to reveal themselves to me.  If they don't, I'll ask them where their bodies are, and, if they still don't reveal themselves, I'll taunt them, just as they taunt me.

Sometimes, if I'm mean back, they go away.

But, only SOMETIMES.

When I would repeatedly ask Chrissie where she went and what her and Nevaeh were up to, she'd just yell, "Ha ha!" and run around the apartment like a crazy beanie baby demon.

Under less stressful circumstances, that  would have made me laugh, but right then, it only added to my already humungous wall of frustration and desperation.

So, I turned to Nevaeh and pleaded to her to tell me what was going on.

"You'll see," she said, jumping up on my left shoulder to caress my cheek comfortingly.

"Just have faith in us, okay? We've got your back.  And, oh yeah, don't do anything impulsive.  PLEASE!"

Like Jennifer, I also have the unfortunate habit of being impulsive when super stressed.

DESTRUCTIVELY impulsive.  Not so much in the way of damaging property or hurting people, but more in a self destructive way that causes me much regret when it's all over and there's no turning back.

When it's too late, when the damage has already been done.

There was a time when Chrissie was gone for a whole day and a half.  I tried desperately to reach her on her walkie-talkie, the one that I had made for her, but there was no answer.  When I confronted Nevaeh about Chrissie's whereabouts, she would only say, "You'll soon see, just be patient."

"I hate you Nevaeh!" I snapped at her.

"Go away! Get out of my face!"

Later on, after this whole fiasco was over, I did apologize to Nevaeh for being so mean.  She said that she understood and that all was forgiven.

Finally, after what seemed a decade, Chrissie finally showed up.  She was breathless but seemed very proud of herself.

"Where have you been?" I demanded the instant she came through the window of my bedroom.

"I've been worried sick! I've tried to reach you a THOUSAND times on your walkie-talkie!"

"I know," she said, unconcernedly.

"Well then, why the FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK didn't you ANSWER?!!!!!!!!!"

"Because I had to concentrate!" Chrissie hollered back.

"You'll thank me later, I promise."

I shivered.  That was something Jennifer often said to me as a child when she did something that I didn't want her to do.

To this day, I can only remember thanking her later for ONE thing.

JUST one.

"I mean it," Chrissie said to me.

"This isn't your mother speaking to you, it's me! Chrissie! And you really WILL thank me later, I PROMISE! You just have to WAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIT!"

Glumly, I turned my back on Chrissie and said nothing.  Turning up the radio to my favorite station, 95.3 KGY, I got up and began to dance.  Dancing to oldies music really helps me cope with difficult situations.  And, sometimes, it even coaxes the voices into silence for a little while.

The next day, I talked to my mom.  I can't remember if she called me or if I called her.  I think I called her, though I hate admitting it.

"so," she said in a very businesslike tone that made me tense up immediately.  I could tell she was going to ask me a serious question that I could not avoid.  Unless, of course, I hung up on her.

But, I didn't.  I just sat there, holding my breath, one of my habits when panic is immanent.

"Do you know if you can see me yet and when?"

I knew what she was talking about.  The convention was only a week away at that point, and she meant business.

I squirmed uncomfortably on my bed.  Ordering myself to relax, I said, "Nope, not yet.  I'm very busy helping out with Rachel (that's the baby's name), and I never know what I'm doing from day to day.  Why do you need to know right now anyway?"

"Well, somehow my hotel reservation got canceled or, maybe not even put in the system at all, so I don't have a room at the Red Lion after all."

My stomach did a flip-flop.  My heart leapt with hope.

she won't be able to come down here anymore, I thought to myself excitedly.

She's SCREWED!!!!

"No, stupid," the Alex voice hissed in my ear.

"She's still coming! Why else would she be asking when you could see her?"

My heart immediately sank.  My stomach followed suit by tightening.  A huge, almost debilitating wave of nausea threatened to overtake me.

Swallowing hard and forcing myself to take a deep breath, I said, in what I prayed to Satan was a disappointed tone, "Well, I'm sorry to hear about that.  Are you still planning on going to the convention?"

"Oh yes," she said without hesitation.

"I'm going to commute to Olympia and back.  I'm only interested in attending some of the conferences anyway, not all of them."

I wasn't out of the woods then.


"Which conferences are you going to attend?"

I just HAD to know.

"Well, there's a morning and afternoon conference that I want to attend on Friday, but I'm not staying for the dinner afterward.  As for Saturday, I'm interested in one of the afternoon conferences."

"What about Sunday?" I asked, hoping that I didn't sound too eager.  If I did and if I asked too many questions, she would get suspicious.  And I didn't want her to be mad at me OR suspicious.

I still receive some help from her financially, so I have to walk the find line between keeping her happy, or, at the very least appeased, and yet still enforcing my boundaries and keeping her at bay.  It's a very hard, thin line to walk, and very draining physically and emotionally to do it.

I guess I don't HAVE to walk the fine line, but, I do because I'm scared.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Stove Top Pudding and the Tree of Laziness: Part 2

HAIL SATAN!!!!!!!!!

HAIL SMM Smm!!!!

Dear Daddy,

The raw cookie dough was excellent! All noses (5) of my imaginary friends feasted on it like they hadn't eaten in a week! The word noses has 5 letters in it, hence the reason I use that word when referring to the number five.  And, I just happen to be quite taken with noses.

It feels so good to have the first part of this story already published on my Satan blog.  I hope my folks see it really soon.

Chris just couldn't believe how stupid my grandma is.  When he read my story, he said, "Your grandma is soooooooo stupid.  She really couldn't figure out how to turn the mixer off?"

Laughing, I said, "Nope, that is a true story."

So, back to the story.  I just had to share all that with you first, especially about how amazed Chris was by Giovanna's stupidity.  Come to think of it, so am I.

So, once Grandmama figured out how to turn the electric mixer off and succeeded in doing so, she handed me the mixing spoon again, and began to hastily clean up the pudding mess.  Lowering my head way down toward the inside of the bowl, pretending to inhale the luscious smell of the rich chocolate, I whispered very quietly, "Bryan."

There was a few seconds pause, in which an overwhelming sense of dread tightened the muscles in my stomach, threatening to overtake me and cause me to vomit.  Disgustingly enough, vomiting is how my stupid, weirdo body deals with overwhelming emotions, like anxiety.

Before the dread and panic had the chance to take over my mind and body, Bryan leapt onto my right arm with a little cooing sound, and the horrible dread immediately disappeared.

Bryan was covered from end to end with pudding mix, which he began happily to lick off himself.  I began stirring more constantly then so that Giovanna wouldn't ask me why I wasn't stirring the pudding.

Come to think of it, I wonder why we stirred the pudding for all that time off the stove.  Whenever Chris makes me stove top pudding, he always stirs it on the stove the whole time.  Or, at least I think he does.  I know absolutely nothing about cooking and making food, nor do I usually give a rip about how it's made, but I do wonder what her reason for that was.

Perhaps it was to give me the opportunity to help and to feel proud of myself for contributing to the creation of what would end up being one of the yummiest, or, as you would say, the "nummiest" desserts I had ever tasted.  I hated and feared the oven and the stove because of its powerful and potentially dangerous heat, so I tended to stay away from all ovens and stoves to avoid injury.  Or, maybe it was how her mother or someone else in her family had made it when she was young.

Did they even have stove top pudding when she was a young child? I wonder.

I stirred and stirred, and, at last, Grandmama came over, examined the contents inside of the mixing bowl, and said, "nice job Ashlee! I'll take over from here.  On the stove it shall go."

Relieved that she didn't expect or ask me to stir it once it was on the stove, I went over to the kitchen sink and washed my hands.  I didn't really have any chocolate on my hands, but my grandmother has always had this retarded rule about washing your hands before eating, even if you are going to use silverware and the hands have no hope of even skimming over your food, let alone touching it outright.

"Use lots of soap," she instructed me as though I'd been stirring filthy toilet water with my hands rather than stirring maturing pudding mix with a long, metal spoon.

"I did," I told her.  But, just to make her happy, I squeezed another dollop of soap into my left palm, and re-washed my hands all over again, all the while thinking about how much soap and water I was wasting by having to repeat the process again.  Vaguely, I wondered to myself just how much soap and water Grandmama wasted in a day and realized, with a heavy, sinking feeling in my stomach, that I didn't actually want to know after all.

Grandmama stirred the pudding for what seemed like an eternity.  Once my hands were clean and dried (you couldn't wash your hands without drying them for a full minute straight because Grandmama believed that even a single drop of water would mean the end of her precious wood floor, and she insisted on watching you to make sure you dried them thoroughly enough), I walked over to the right-hand bar stool, pulled it a ways from the counter so I could sit down since it had been pushed up right against it, and took a seat.  Bryan, who had licked every scrap of pudding off of himself, crawled slowly to the palm of my right hand, and watched my grandmother continue to stir the pudding with curious blue eyes.  Blue, just like yours.  I hid both hands underneath the counter, which was also used as a table since Grandmama didn't have a dining room table at the time, and just stroked my beautiful little seedling.

Tiny little branch buds were starting to develop on his tender, still fragile body, and I could feel the indentation on his head where the trunk was starting to form.  The little branch buds felt like tiny fragments of blades of grass.  I began to rock back and forth slowly because it relaxed both of us.  Grandmama was so preoccupied with the pudding, making sure it didn't burn, that she didn't notice me rocking.  If she had, she would have said, "Ashlee, you're rocking!" insinuating that I should stop at once.  She didn't seem to dislike my habit of rocking nearly as much as Jennifer did, but she still discouraged me from doing it whenever she caught me.

Since she hadn't noticed the rocking, I braved a quick "I love you Bryan," in a whisper that only he could hear.  Or, so I hoped.

Despite my slow rocking back and forth, Bryan was still antsy.  By this time, the smell of chocolate had, indeed filled up the entire condo, and it was torture for him.  It was torture for me, too.  When were we going to get to eat it already? Hadn't we waited long enough?

Again, I realized something.  Not only had chocolate resurrected in me an emotion I had thought died right along with you, Dad, excitement, but it also resurrected something else.


So, not only had chocolate brought me a thrill, it had also gave me awareness that, even though you were gone to me forever, or, at least forever in this lifetime, there were still things that I could look forward to.  All was not lost as I had thought it before that day.  There was hope for me after all! .

That may seem like a small and pathetic thing to have resurrected and to be proud of, but, to me, it was a huge step forward in the healing process.  I had a long road ahead of me in the healing journey, but at least I had taken just one step forward along that long and bumpy road.  Even that made a difference to me.  A little progress can go a long way sometimes.

Another great lesson that I have learned from you.  My mom always used to tell me that, but you, Dad, were the one who truly tought me the value of that saying by showing me what it felt like.  Words don't often express the true and full meaning or gravity of a concept.  It's the feelings and actions that really do the trick.

At last, the stirring finally came to a halt.  I straightened up in my stool and said, "When do we get to eat?"

"Sooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnn!" sang out Grandmama as she opened another high cabinet and grabbed two bowls.  One for her, one for me.

Now, don't you be a stinge, I told her through mental telepathy.

We've been through hell and back with that damn mixer, and I deserve to have a mountain of it.

I felt that my thoughts were justified.  After all, it hadn't been my idea to use that mixer.  It had been hers, all hers.  How in the world was I supposed to know what disastrous consequences it would bring?

Either Grandmama felt extra generous that day (I doubt it, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt just to be nice since I'm feeling generous today for some strange reason), or my mental telepathy worked.  Or, luck felt sorry for me because it had dealt me so many bad and angry strokes that it decided to finally make up for its cruelty and give me a gentle caress that time around.  Whatever it was, Grandmama dished me up a large serving and set it right in front of me, spoon already in the bowl, wincing a little, as the pudding was still so very hot.  I felt sorry for the spoon and, for a split second, I was tempted to pull it out of the piping hot pudding to give it some relief, but I knew how angry Grandmama would be with me for doing that.  It would make a huge mess, and a mess was not allowed.  That was the rule of thumb at her house and at Mom's house, too.

I could see the steam rising up into the cool air, it was so hot.

Bryan immediately leapt onto the counter.  Afraid that he would jump all the way inside the bowl and would be boiled alive, I snatched at the air, trying to catch him, but...


Fortunately, Grandmama had her back to me.  She was dishing up a serving for herself.

It was so unbelievably hard for me not to call out to Bryan aloud at that very moment.  Somehow, I managed to stifle the urge.  I almost did call out to him, though, because I was so frightened for him.  But, never underestimate a young tree and the power of instincts.

He did jump onto the bowl, but the steam acted as a barrier for him, and he stopped right there on the edge of the bowl, and just stood there, full of curiosity and wonder, as the steam continued to rise into the air.

Instinct told Bryan not to go any further, so he listened and stood there, still as a statue, waiting to see what would happen next.  Waiting to see what I was going to do.

"Don't just sit there, Ashlee!" Grandmama said, turning to me.

"Blow on it! Stir it around with your spoon! It's not going to cool off very quickly if you just sit there and do nothing about it."

Grandmama always had a way of making me feel like I was brainless.  Like I knew how to do nothing at all without instructions from her.

feeling stupid and a bit degraded, though, at the time, I didn't know what the word degraded meant, I began blowing on the pudding.  Then I picked up my spoon and began to stir it, just as she'd told me to.

She had filled the bowl nearly to the top, though, so, no matter how gently and carefully I stirred, the pudding began spilling out onto the outside of the bowl and oozing down the sides onto the counter.

Immediately, Bryan began to lap it up.  Before I could apologize to Grandma for making such a mess (both her and my mother absolutely hate it when people make a mess), a low, contented humming sound emanated from Bryan, and all thoughts of feeling stupid and worthless for not even being able to stir the pudding correctly without making a mess vanished.  All I could do was sit there in utter awe while Bryan hummed on, a low, continuous noise that almost sounded like the purr of a kitten, only it was lower, deeper, and there was no break  in the sound.  I had never, in all my life, heard anything like it.  Bryan had never made that sound before, either.  The only sounds he would make were little squeaks and squawks when he needed or wanted something, and he would grunt when relieving himself, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Not like that day with the pudding.

"here, I'll get it," Grandmama said, annoyance clear as a summer sky in her voice.  For once, I didn't care.  It had zero effect on me, even though I was so emotionally fragile.

She immediately got a wet washcloth and began wiping up the little spot of pudding on the counter, then wiped up the bowl's exterior.

Bryan had done a pretty good job cleaning up the mess, but Grandmama expected the surfaces of everything that she owned, as well as the insides of them, to be spotless, so, before Bryan had the chance to finish the job, she had beaten him to it and had ruthlessly wiped away all traces of pudding not gotten to quite yet.

Mess done away with, as she'd put it, she began stirring the pudding and blowing on it.  After a while, she said, "All rightie, it's okay to eat now.  Oh, and I have these to eat with the pudding!"

Hurrying over to yet another one of her kitchen cabinets, she took out a large box, opened it, and pulled out a package, which she handed to me.

"Gram crackers," she said, as though speaking to a three-year-old who had never seen anything like it before.

"Don't eat all of them.  Save some for later."

I opened the package, took one of the crackers out, careful not to get crumbs on the counter, and began breaking it up into the pudding bowl, then smashing the fragments down even smaller with my spoon, who, by this time, had stopped wincing from pain because the pudding was cool enough to eat.

It was Bryan who took the first bite.  His original plan was to wait and see what I was going to do with the hot, steamy substance, but, upon smelling the gram crackers on top of already being tormented by the blissful aroma of the pudding for so long, his willpower broke and he fearlessly dived right inside the bowl, mouth wide open, expecting nothing but bliss.

Sweet, sweet bliss.

And, that was exactly what he got!

THE pudding was so thick and all-incompassing that he was immediately buried underneath the warm, sticky, smooth substance.  But, rather than panic, he simply ate his way out, humming beautifully all the while without ever stopping.

Picking up the spoon, I took my own first bite.  And, oh my dark, unholy Lord, it was one of the very best things I'd ever tasted.

Imagine drinking hot chocolate.  You know how that tastes.  Well imagine the hot chocolate being really thick so that it was now edible rather than drinkable.

Yeah, that's what it tasted like.  Only smoother and with gram crackers all crushed up inside of it to make a crust.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch!

Boy, had Bryan sure gotten a mouthful of gram cracker!

Taking another cracker from the packet, I dipped one of its edges into the pudding, then stuck the pudding-soaked end of the cracker into my eagerly awaiting mouth.

The pudding had made the end of the cracker all soggy and mushy, and that added to its deliciousness.  It didn't take long for the wet, creamy, rich pudding to soak into the cracker's tender, obsorbant, sugary body.

"So?" Grandmama said expectantly.  I could feel her sharp eyes boring into my skull.  It was then that I realized I hadn't said a word at all.

I had literally been stunned into silence from the utter deliciousness of it all.


That was the closest thing to a word I could get.  For the first time in a month, but which seemed way longer to me, I had been overwhelmed with a good emotion.

Incredible, purely divine bliss.  That's the only way I can describe how I felt at that precise moment.

"I thought so," Grandmama said, and she sounded quite satisfied herself as she stood across from me on the opposite end of the counter and ate her portion.

Even Cathy, the uppy was happy.  She loved Grandmama very much, for Grandmama stood more than she sat.

I always thought it quite uncomfortable to stand and eat, but not Grandma.  When I'd asked her about it before, all she said was "I prefer to stand while eating.  Food digests easier when we are in motion and are upright."

Whatever.  Cathy could hate me all she wanted, which she certainly did.  I was going to make the downies happy, for they were so skinny from lack of food due to the little amount of time Grandmama sat or slept.

Bryan continued to eat.  His humming would sometimes change to a high-pitched cooing sound, like that of a human infant for a while, then he'd go back to humming and cooing  in his deep, rumbling way, like thunder rolling nearby, warning of an impending storm, but not as low and as deep as the constant humming sound that almost sounded like a growl.  It was something in the middle, sounding like the purr of a kitten but also like the growl of a huge monster or troll.  It wasn't at all scary-sounding, though.

Then his low, constant humming would return.

When the bowl was finally completely empty (Bryan stayed inside of it and licked it until it was spotless and nearly shone), I sat back in the stool as far as I could without tipping it over, closed my eyes, and sighed with pure contentment.  I had thought myself to be dissatisfied and joyless for the rest of my life until that very day.  With the real world, anyway.  I had managed to find some itty, bitty fragments of satisfaction with Bryan, but that was my imaginary world, not reality.  In the real world, I had found nothing but sadness and sorrow and anger and fear.

"Whoa, you really must have liked the pudding a lot!" commented Grandma loudly as she came over to me with a wet washcloth in her hand.

"You literally licked it clean, didn't you?"

She had always been a much faster eater than me, so naturally, she finished her serving much sooner than Bry and I had finished ours.  Once she had finished hers, she'd gone straight to the bathroom to brush her teeth.  To avoid erosion of the gums and cavities, she would explain whenever I asked her why she immediately brushed her teeth after every meal or dessert.

She encouraged me to do the same, but I never could.  I always wanted to savor the lingering taste of chocolate or whatever it was that I had just finished eating, not kill it away with the harsh, sour taste of toothpaste.

Just recently, I read an article somewhere online that said people should actually wait a while, can't remember how long exactly, before brushing your teeth after you eat.  According to the article, whenever we eat something, even if it's just a snack, the enamel of our teeth softens, and when we brush our teeth right after we eat, it is easier for us to brush away some of the enamel that we have.  Better to wait for the enamel on the teeth to harden back up before brushing our teeth.

So, all along, I've been doing it right, not Grandmama!


And, according to her and Mom, I'm the irresponsible one.



Let's let our teeth be the judges of that one.

Because she had gone to the bathroom to chase away the wonderful taste of chocolate, a thing that she so heartlessly took for granted, she hadn't been around to witness Bryan and I finish off the rest of the pudding.

No, I hadn't licked it clean.  That was for Bryan to do.  I did, however, spoon the last little bit that I wasn't saving for Bryan out of the bowl and into my mouth with my fingers, then quickly licked them all clean before she could catch me doing that red-handed.  All the rest of the handiwork is all Bryan's.

Eating with your hands for non-finger-food items is considered a big no-no in the family.  But, unless Grandmama had hidden cameras in the house, which I strongly doubted she did, there would be no way for her to prove that I had been "indecent."

"No," I answered innocently.

"Guess I'm just getting better with the spoon."

"Yeah," she said, her voice oozing sarcasm.

"Yeah right."

Then she proceeded to roughly wash my hands and face with the warm washcloth.

I never minded when she was rough washing my hands, but the face was another story.  I would have to literally squeeze my eyes shut to keep her from gouging them out with her long, pointy fingers.  I'd also keep my mouth tightly closed, lips tightly pressed together, to prevent loss of teeth.

I don't know if she did this on purpose to torture me or whether this was normal behavior for her.  Perhaps her mom treated her and her siblings the same way when they were little.  From the little tidbits of information I've managed to gather about her mom, she was pretty nutso.  According to my grandma, her mother used to pull her by her hair when she got angry with Grandmama, and there was much shouting and anger in the family for Grandmama growing up.

Then, supposedly, her brother Luey, who hated Giovanna with a passion, choked her one day until she passed out cold.  When she came to, expecting her mother to defend her and punish Luey, she instead demanded to know what Grandmama had done to make Luey choke her.  Then she defended him rather than her.

My mother's side of the family are all pathological liars, so I have no idea of how much of what she said, if any, is true.  But, I am inclined to think that at least part of it is true due to how whacked out my grandmother truly is.  And, people don't just get into drugs for the fun of it.  People usually do drugs to numb themselves from feelings or trauma that they have experienced.  So, while I am by no means defending my grandmother, I do feel that the reason she is so fucked up is because of her own mother and father, and the reason why my mom is the way she is, is because of Grandmama.

I sure hope and pray to Satan that I do not repeat the cycle.  I try so hard to be different from my mom, but it's not easy.  I used to think it would be, but it isn't at all.

I sat through Grandmama's torture-wash for what seemed like the rest of the day.  At Mom's house, I could simply get up from the table once I had finished eating and wash my own body parts.

Not at Grandmama's house! She had to oversee everything, even when it came to intimately private matters, like taking a shower.  Back then, I still had some respect for my grandmother and did love her in spite of everything she and my mom put me through.  But I certainly did not like the lack of privacy that I had when I stayed at her house.

When I was very young, I used to think that what she did was normal.  But then, as I grew older and wiser, I began to notice that not everybody did what she did.  Whenever I would stay at Grandma Chris's house, for example, she would never brutally wash my hands and face after every meal.  Nor did she stand in the bathroom and explicitly describe in great detail what body parts to wash and how to wash every single one of them.  Sometimes, Grandmama would even so much as get into the shower with me, snatch the washcloth out of my hands, and roughly scrub my vagina.  Sometimes, she would scrub me down there so hard it hurt, and I'd wince and try to get away.

But, there is only so much room in a shower.  Not many places to hide in there.

Once I was declared clean, I got up and went into the living room and looked out the window.  Bryan, by this time, had gotten himself out of the bowl and had returned to my hand.  He was warm from the pudding and, although he was still humming, it was much quieter.

Outside, darkness was already falling, and it wasn't even five o'clock yet.

Yawning, Bryan stretched and then closed his eyes.  Warm food always made him drowsy.  Between being stuffed to the hilt with warm pudding and gram crackers and finally being, at last, completely warm through and through, he fell into a deep and cozy slumber.

As he drifted off to sleep, he was lulled to sleep by the Beetle's song that goes, "Here comes the sun,

Here comes the sun,

It's all right."

Grandmama loved the Beetles and had decided to play that song from her bedroom computer before she began washing the dishes.  The volume was all the way turned up, so it could clearly be heard all throughout the house.  It wasn't turned up too loudly, though.  It was just fine.

And for the first time since you died, Dad, I actually agreed with someone, the singer of the song, that it really was all right.  The sun was finally starting to come shining back into my life at last.

We had leftover pudding for the next day or two before it was finally completely devoured to the point of no return.  Like me, Bryan had enjoyed and appreciated it most when it was still warm, right off the stove.  I did like how a thick skin appeared out of nowhere on the surface of the pudding.

And, although it was not quite the same cold as it was warm, Bryan still continued to coo whenever he ate some, but the humming didn't return.  I still found great enjoyment in letting my gram crackers become waterlogged with chocolate.  Sometimes, I would put an entire cracker in the bowl full of pudding and would just let it sit there, soaking up all the chocolate.  Then, much to Grandma's disgust, I'd pick it up with my hands and eat it as quickly as I could before the whole cracker totally disintegrated in my hand, it was so squishy and slimy.

Bryan enjoyed the slimy, chocolate crackers as much as I did.  When his tiny roots would bite down into the slimy cracker, he would do an almost-hum, telling me that, despite the fact that what he was now eating wasn't quite as good as the stove top pudding when it was still warm,  he would still take and accept it gladly.

HAIL SATAN!!!!!!!!!