September 25, 2011

And then I offer up an excerpt of my life . . .

Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let fifty cents.

As my mother's music coiled around my 10-year-old eardrums, I laid in the crosshairs of an early morning sun and a late summer breeze, flat on my back with covers pulled just above my chest. I blinked lazily to coax myself awake, when something weird caught my attention: two hair-thin antennae fanning the air near my chin.

My groggy eyes strained downward. What's this? Staring back at me was a cockroach the size of a bulldozer with a waxy brown body that could move faster than a wind-up Hot Wheel. I cringed at the thought of its ugly underbelly on my skin and barely opened my mouth to call for help. What if it scuttled into my throat?


My hands were stuck under the covers, the roach rocking atop my chest like a ship in shallow surf. Despite all efforts to be perfectly still, I could not stop breathing.

In my Technicolored imagination, the beast was plotting the nearest breach. Any moment, it would plunge into my nostril, feelers smoothed back along its shiny body armor, while prickly legs skittered frantically toward my brain. Lodged up there for the next decade, it would have nothing to eat but my brain matter.

My eyes cut to my six-year-old sister in the twin bed across from mine, sound asleep and sucking her thumb like a starving piglet—which was actually quite brilliant. Plugging one's mouth and positioning one's fist that close to one's nasal orifice was the ideal blockade for behemoths on the prowl. But my fate augured differently and, finally, I succumbed to tears.

Now it has to be said, roaches had long been the bane of my existence. It didn't help that school friends liked to bastardize my name by calling me Kimmie Cockroach. That only fueled my loathing and instilled in me the feeling that I was the Isaac Newton of roach lore. What else could explain the gravitational pull of the entire cockroach kingdom to our Phoenix home, a modest clapboard dwelling on cinder blocks? Their invasion bordered on the tyrannical and included the spaces between our walls, the pipes under our floorboards, and the empty crannies of our attic. They crept like insurgents under the cloak of night and scattered in all directions when we surprised them with lights. Caught with their putrid bounties, they tore gleefully across our linoleum like frisky dogs with wet butts. I envisioned them frolicking in our cesspool below the caliché, buoyed by their unflappable endurance in the evolutionary hierarchy.


My feeble call to Eryn through clenched teeth sounded guttural, but I feared startling the vermin into doing the unspeakable. If Eryn didn't wake and come to my rescue, time promised to march a thousand years with me in the same fossilized position, roach-rammed into catatonia. The signpost was up ahead. Next stop, the Twilight Zone.

My parents would be grief stricken. "No, it can't be! She was the good daughter." My siblings would stare and poke at me and jump on my bed just to watch me bounce like a two-by-four with no way to retaliate. Our relatives would visit en masse and remark how sad it was that I never blinked anymore. Walter Cronkite would appear dumbstruck on TV news, reporting that doctors the world over were confounded about my mystery ailment. Walter would take off his black-frames, rub the tears from his eyes and choke out, "And . . . that's . . . the way . . . it is."

Eryn might be the single witness, if only she'd wake up! I clamped my lips together and threw my voice, "Eehhnnnn!"

Then the beast lurched to attention, its legs in pounce position. I'd seen cats do that very thing before they attacked!


"What!" my mom said as she entered my room.

She must have seen my terror. She hurried quickly to my bedside and, with one swoop of her hand, hurled the roach into the air. I feared its escape, but my mother was already committed. In a belligerent frenzy, she stomped the carpet, twirling and lunging and shouting obscenities. The hammers of destruction were her bright red Keds, and she crushed the beast like Rice Krispies under white rubber soles.

Snap, crackle, pop!

"You guys get out of bed now," my mother said, as if nothing whatsoever out of the ordinary had occurred. She then slipped into the bathroom and returned with a wad of toilet paper, entombing the carcass before flushing it down the toilet.

A fitting burial, I thought. Maybe upon seeing their kin washed through the poop chute with its body dismembered, the other roaches that lived down there would be too scared to venture into my room ever again.

Humming King of the Road, Mom departed without the cheers, fanfare, and confetti she so rightly deserved.

Eryn popped her thumb out, yawned and stretched, completely unaware of our close brush with the sinister shadow of sepsis. Just as well. A six-year-old thumb-sucker might not have handled it as well as I had.

From my memoir in progress:  Growing Up Cockrill:  Mostly True Tales of My Childhood.

September 10, 2011

I Know Stuff

That's right. I said it. Contrary to the rumors, I have learned some things about life—like seventy-three terazillion things, to be exact. (Frankly, no one even knows I can count that high, so I'm really showing off if I remind my family of this milestone, which I totally won't do, in case they feel inferior.) But please, go ahead and call me Teacher. You know you want to.

Look! I'm Doris Day!
Listen, I fully expect to continue learning the hard way until I get to toast my century mark or until I have learned every single thing there is to know or until my brain reaches capacity—whichever comes first. Till then, here is just a sample of my vast cerebral knowledge:

Lesson #1:  Fear is one of the most toxic obstacles to authentic happiness. So is apathy, but I really don't care about that. Too often our decisions to do or not do, stay or go, say yes or no, are based on fear. I say, Take a chance. This is no time to shrink, Cowgirl. Lean into the discomfort so you can experience the joy.

Lesson #2:  People are going to judge you. Resistance is futile, and while you don't want to internalize their judgment, you can accept that judgment happens, just like shit. And accepting your story—your whole flawed story, including those things you're not proud of or that embarrass you—regardless of the ambient chatter, is the path to overcoming fear and shame. I say, So what? I do what I want with whomever I want. Plus, I am writer—beware.

Lesson #3 Patience is a virtue—and a bitch. Seeing what you want unfold naturally before your eyes, like a flower shooting from the earth toward the sun, is pretty cool. But the value of waiting for the full bloom increases or decreases with your level of fulfillment, and the pivotal moment inevitably arrives when you must stand tall and say, I'm all in with this, or I'm leaving it behind. Case in point, my Fantasy Football team, led by QB Drew Brees. Dude, what happened with the Cheeseheads? I'm totally gonna have to get rough with him.

Lesson #4:  All problems have a life span. Sometimes they go away on their own, sometimes you need outside help. But more often than not, pain and suffering is resolved by making decisions you don't want to. Giving yourself permission to let go, to forgive, to be free, to give your heart away or to take it back can seem as easy as going off your meds and chewing an entire fiery habañero. Slowly. Stone-cold sober. I say, This misery gets no more power over me. I choose to pursue happiness—with some peanut butter crackies and a big ol' pitcher o' milk. Naturally.

Lesson #5:  A good man is not hard to find. An extraordinary man is. Like it or not, part of discovering who's extraordinary for you is opening up and exposing your aorta—and sometimes other stuff—at your own peril. It is leaping and having faith that the net will appear. Sometimes you get a bloody lip and a rug burn. But I remind myself I'm worthy while exploring whether he is. I say, Be patient, lean into the discomfort—and the joy—shrug off other people's judgments, and know that soon enough the extraordinary relationship I deserve will appear.

Can I get a witness? I know stuff. That'll be two-hundred dolla. Class dismissed.