Pita Jungle Tears

Who knew a falafel pita would stir such emotion?

Who knew a felafel pita would stir such emotion?

This is a story about how Pita Jungle made me cry in my cubicle.

I had a lunchtime meeting so I asked Lou to grab me some Mediterranean food (the benefit of working in the same office with your sweet husband). With my order in hand, he and a friend scooted out to Pita Jungle.

I was disappointed. I don’t like Pita Jungle as much as the little pita place around the corner.

That’s okay. I thought. His friend probably wanted to go to Pita Jungle so he could ogle the under-21 female wait staff. Haha, what a dog.

I was smirking in my cubicle. Then I imagined Lou would probably ogle as well.

Suddenly, I saw red. My eyes stung as I pictured the short skirts and lack of bra-wearing that always seems to happen at Pita Jungle.

What was this? I never think this way!

Then I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and utterly confused. My emotions were out of control. I felt like a little kid. I was in elementary school, crying in the middle of class for no reason.

Lucky for me, I’m now armed with higher levels of reasoning.

It’s because we recently stopped using birth control. I’m not currently knocked up, but I might be soon. And then I’ll be a mom. And that means he won’t like me. Especially if the scales tip more to “mom” than “wife”, I’ll lose him.

This is a very vulgar and misguided interpretation of what happened to my parents. It’s humiliating to admit that I experienced any of these feelings. But, clearly, this unfair formula became one of those hard-wired laws in my silly emotional being. I just hadn’t undone the equation yet.

During the drive home later that day (yes, we are the annoying couple that carpools to work), I sheepishly told Lou what happened. (Oh, I skipped the part in this story where I sent him a nasty text, shortly followed by the “I’m CRAZY” apologetic text.) He was, of course, understanding and reassuring as always.

Then, poof, it was all gone. I’m totally fine now.

Maybe that’s part of being a grown up. If you think hard enough, you can usually figure out why you’re crying, share it with a trusted partner, and probably never feel that way again. Children can’t do that.

I’ll have to remember this when my future kid cries for no reason. Poor little future kid…what a rough gig.

My Mom Had a Stroke. And How Are You?

I'd rather not see this again anytime soon.

I’d rather not see this again anytime soon.

When my mom had a mild stroke almost five weeks ago, I turned Lou and said, “I think I need to blog through this. It will help me. And maybe it will help someone else.”

Jesus. I’m really glad I didn’t.

First of all, now that my mom is walking on her own, fixing meals, and completing chores, it seems like a real whiny thing to do. Writing about my “struggles” during this experience is insulting to anyone who has had to endure a normal or severe stroke. Heck, it’s insulting to describe MY struggles at all. I’m not the one who can’t use her left hand.

Five weeks ago, however, I didn’t know everything would be okay. I completely lost the ability to imagine improvement. I guess that’s why they call it a crisis.

But things have improved. Including my attitude. And to celebrate, I’m capturing some of this crazy business in a list.

Ten Things About My Mom’s Stroke (in no particular order)

1. “Don’t freak out.” That was the lede when Brother #1 called to tell me mom was in the ER. I didn’t freak out. Not until much later.

2. My freak out. On her first night in the hospital, she assured us all that we should go home to sleep in our own beds. Lou, after picking up takeout for me, scooped me up from the hospital to take me home. By the time I arrived home, I was sobbing hysterically. Lou simply gathered a few things for me then drove me all the way back to the hospital so I could spend the night with Mom.

3. I ate a sandwich. This, in itself, is not memorable. But when you eat a sandwich on the drive back to the hospital mid-freak-out, it’s quite a sight. Sobbing with tears and boogers streaming, I moaned, “Why the FUCK did this happen?!?!” over and over. Meanwhile, I was shoving a sandwich in my mouth as avocado and tomato slices slid out from between the bread. I picked up the avocado slices with my fingers and ate them. I didn’t have a napkin. (This item would also make my list of top five most unattractive moments of my entire life.)

4. I forgot. Lou tells me that in the days following the stroke, he managed to sneak me away one morning for a hike on North Mountain. I have absolutely no memory of this. None.

5. Hair is down. When I arrived with Lou and Brother #3 in the hospital, Mom’s hair was down. Gray, wavy, and thick, it covered most of the pillow. She always wears her hair in a french braid because she hates having it in her face. As soon as we walked in, she burst into tears. Then she asked me to braid her hair.

6. I learned how to french braid. “Who did your braid?” I asked Mom the other day. I figured it was her friend, Sammie (the other frequent braider). “You did,” my mom answered. I felt proud. It was a fine braid.

7. Mom squeezed my hand. On day one, her left hand couldn’t do anything. One morning during week three (or so) I put my hands in hers. She looked me right in the eyes, scrunched her brow, and squeezed my hand. I squealed.

8. Spring training. Mom spent two weeks at Scottsdale Osborn Hospital. While I stared out her window, endless families flooded the streets to watch spring training baseball games. They were wearing ridiculous hats, drinking beer (or whatever), hopping in pedi-cabs, and having a blast. I was in hell. But I was happy for them.

9. I became a lady. Sorry to be gross, but this was total bullshit. The day of the stroke, I unexpectedly got my “lady-times” while we were all at the hospital. Whatever!

10. I got mad. I wish I could tell you that I handled this entire thing with grace, love, and patience. I didn’t. Not even close. But I’m not ready to write about that yet.

Visualize This

This photo makes me think of Phoenix. Then I think of the silhouetted power lines I often see in the evening. That makes me remember a tattoo that a friend of mine has on his forearm. And then I contemplate how the imagery of tall palm trees and power lines against a skyline has been adopted by so many Phoenicians as a symbol of life in Phoenix. That leads me to wonder about our collective identity as a city…and then I remember that most of us could care less. Which makes me think about how Phoenix natives never talk to their neighbors. I COULD GO ON. All this happens because I look at a simple photo.

I’m taking a break from making maps.

It’s actually my favorite part of “writing” this book (I guess since I enjoy it, I’m not really justified to take a break but whatever). For every hike, I must turn in a map so the cartography department can accurately create another map that’s included with the trail review.

I like to do it because I get to make pictures. I use the image from my EveryTrail app or a scanned trail map and then I add arrows and notes using Snagit.

It’s not a far cry from what I do in my current day job in which I must find the most meaningful way to accurately communicate complicated information.

In short, that means turning most things into pictures.

I’m probably betraying my kind here, but I believe that humans are much more sophisticated in reading the pervasive visual language than the traditional written language.

Don’t argue with me. I learned this in my Art History classes.

They say the average modern-day American views [it's too late in the evening to look up the estimated number right now but think about every billboard, computer icon, television show, packaging design for products, etc. you see each day] a whole shit-ton of images in a day. Compare that to the actual words you read in a 24-hour period.

See what I’m getting at?

When my book comes out, I can expect most “readers” to flip through the pages, scan the photos, glance at the maps, and maybe, maybe read a caption or two.

I can’t blame them. I do the exact same thing.

Taking that into consideration, I suppose I shouldn’t feel so guilty about busying myself with map-making in order to avoid the writing.

Like Humans Do

I can’t help but to wonder…

When I see a stranger on the street, my imagination is spurred. These are just a few of the things that happen as I’m silently contemplating other nameless human beings.

If it’s an adult, I assume the person has most likely had sex. Like, passionate love-making sex. And then I picture their facial expressions and I get embarrassed.

If the person is old, I imagine they’ve raised children, buried friends, buried their parents, seen a war, and now feel forgotten.

If it’s a cute girl, I try to assess how she has managed to look cute, then I make a mental notes to steal her style.

Unfortunately, due to my morbid curiosity, I often imagine what unattractive strangers look like when they are buck naked.

When the person is an old man, I automatically assume that he’s “seen some shit” so no one should fuck with him.

I imagine every person has broken down and sobbed at least once in their life.

If it’s a homeless person, I wonder if they have ever been in love.

If it’s a teenager, I assume that they’ve probably started having sex. And then I get grossed out as I realize that my friends and I were that young when we did it for the first time.

If they have a unique outfit on (good or bad), I imagine that person getting ready for the day, looking in the mirror, and saying, “Okay, yes, this works!”

If it’s a cute boy, I immediately feel guilty for even noticing that the guy is cute (and now I feel guilty for writing that — sorry Lou!).

If it’s a small child, I worry about their home life.

And if I recognize a “stranger” to be someone I know, I get really excited (I ran into my brother in a Target parking lot one time and I got giddy…even though I had just seen him the day before at family dinner).

Happy Friday, everyone!

Now enjoy this song about humans…

Very Arizona

I can’t resist you.

I’m feeling very Arizona.

I’m also feeling inspired by my grandmother’s writing.

Right now, I’m stuck in my office and staring at a screen. But my mind keeps wandering back to these sights, sounds, and moments on the trail…

I love you.

Powdery plumes of iron-rich, red dirt exploding with each step.

Green mountain slopes covered in a far-reaching thicket of prickly pear.

Mismatched socks of a 10-year-old hiker, eager to ditch her brothers to join me in the shade.

The grating sensation of my first blister…right between the toes.

I want to be inside you.

Slippery, moss-covered rocks bombarded with the rushing creek.

My white toes peeking out from frigid water as I floated on my back.

A scream followed by our cackles when my friend poked a “dead” spider with a stick.

You’re lovely.

Distant masses of clouds threatening to pound the dirt with fat, violent raindrops.

A lone coyote trotting across a dry wash.

Sheets of torrential rain marring my visibility.

Flushed cheeks and matted hair of my overheated hiking companions.

Yes!

A lovely mess of overlapping ancient petroglyphs carved into rock.

The constant buzz of whirring insects’ wings echoing off canyon walls.

Total solitude in a craggy, shaded canyon.

A swarm of insects hovering over the stagnant water trapped in a tinaja.

Toads the size of my thumbnail hopping out of the way.

I will return to you.

…all this in just two days of hiking.

Dream Lou

By Alpha TangoBravo Adam Baker on flickr Creative Commons.

Terrible creatures can ruin a good night’s sleep.

I’ve always had vivid dreams and nightmares.

Since I met Lou, my general sense of safety has changed. I feel more secure and the nightmares have subsided.

But, every once in a while, a bad dream worms its way into my slumber.

I had one last week. It was about Lou.

In the dream, we were still married. But he was distant.

No matter how hard I tried to engage him, he resisted conversation. And when I mentioned the palpable shift in our connection, he only rolled his eyes. With increasing anxiety and devastation, my attempts to reach him escalated. I was sobbing and begging. But my desperation only made him recoil in disgust.

He was done with me. And there was no getting him back.

In real life, my alarm clock chimed and I could feel Lou next to me.

We were both half asleep when I rolled over and mumbled, “You love me and you still want to be married to me, right?”

“Yes!” he said. “And I’ll never, ever leave you ever.”

I didn’t have to explain the details. I’ve had dreams like these since we first started dating.

“Dream Lou is a real dick,” Lou always says.

Yes, he is.

But real Lou is the best.

My Friday Morning, A True Story

By chatfly, flickr. Creative Commons

We only see what we choose to.

I had to run a few errands early this morning. For the entire trip, I listened to NPR on my iPhone. This way, as I hopped in and out of my car to complete necessary tasks, I could continue to listen to the day’s news.

After finishing, I returned home. I was listening to a story about the Women’s Olympic soccer event as I pulled into the driveway, unlocked the door, and rushed into the my office. I was running late. I was also thinking that I would talk to Lou when he got home from work. Our yard is overgrown and looks like hell. I’m embarrassed.

Still listening to the news on my iPhone speakers, I powered up my laptop. Then a man walked into the room.

I thought I was alone in the house.

I screamed.

Then I noticed this person was wearing my husband’s shirt. Then I noticed this person was my husband.

Lou grabbed me, pulled me close, apologized, laughed, and kissed me.

“Didn’t you see me?” he asked.

I hadn’t.

Then he explained that not only was his car still in the driveway, but he had been sitting on the couch when I walked in the house. As I cruised by, he waved and said hello.

“I thought you were mad at me so I followed you in here.”

I didn’t notice any of it. Not his car, not the wave, and not his hello. I had assumed that by the time I got back, he’d be gone. So my eyes and ears ignored all evidence of his presence.

Dude.

Ghost Marriage

By rohitdixit, Flickr Creative Commons.

Marriage can be abstract.

This is how I look at things: there’s me, Lou, and the marriage.

The marriage is a third entity — an ever-present ghost. Because I dearly cherish my marriage, I love this ghost and will do anything to defend it.

When Lou and I are nice to each other, it makes the ghost feel good.

Sometimes, Lou accidentally hurts my feelings and I’m so hurt, that I want to make him feel terrible, too.

That’s when I have to try really hard to remember the ghost. Transferring my thoughts to this conceptual third party defuses my rage.

“I will explain this to you for the benefit of our marriage,” I say in a measured tone when I’m angry. “But I want you to know that I’m resisting the temptation to say something harsh….because I want us to have a good marriage.”

And then I calmly tell Lou whatever the hell it is I feel I need to say. And it’s usually a text-book statement like, “I felt ______ when you did/said ______.”

Because that’s the way the experts say one should communicate with a partner.

And, this way, I don’t hurt Lou or the ghost.

It’s a handy trick.

Author’s Note: This has nothing to do with me being recently mad at Lou or anything silly like that. It actually stems from a conversation he and I have shared many times — when we aren’t mad at each other — about how we can practice good communication. Go team!

Dear Lilia

Today is my 31st birthday and, naturally, it’s a good time to reflect. This morning, I imagined what adolescent Lilia would think of adult Lilia.

Here’s a fictional letter from my 16-year-old self to my 31-year-old self. And, for the record, 16-year-old Lilia wasn’t actually this mean to other people…only to herself.

Vintage Adam Ant shirt, mailman pants, spike bracelets, and a JEM lunchbox that I carried as a purse. This was my favorite outfit at 16.

Lilia,

Wow. You didn’t turn out the way I thought you would at all.

First, let’s talk about your style. Blonde? Really? What happened to your jet black hair? And where’s the eyeliner? No tattoos? No piercings? What happened?!?

Also, I can’t believe you own and wear khaki pants. Don’t you remember how you wrote an essay about the evils of khaki? Stop shopping for clothes at the mall (sweet Jesus, not the mall!) and consider returning to the thrift store for your outfits. It’s cheaper and more authentic.

I see you’ve turned into one of those women who won’t show her feet unless they are pedicured. That’s pretty superficial, don’t you think?

Next comes the love life. You married a red head. That was random. Also, waiting until 29 to get married? Dude, that is old.

And as for your career, actually, I think it’s pretty cool that you’re a writer. Since that’s been a secret dream of mine (not that I would ever admit to it) I’m really happy to see that this worked out. I’m also glad you’ve figured out the whole exercising regularly thing…that was always a tough one. Also, I see you have become a punctual person. Nice improvement there.

In spite of these accomplishments, I have to wonder…what are you still doing in Phoenix? Why didn’t you ever move away to a big city like you planned? And you still don’t speak Spanish? It’s probably too late now, you know. Because your brain can’t absorb new languages at age 31.

All in all, however, you seem happy and I know that’s the most important thing.

Love,

Lilia

P.S.

Your cats are really cute.

Coping with Anxiety

Come with us now on a journey through time and space…

I have a mild case of anxiety.

Not right now. But, frequently, I feel the irregular pulse, the erratic thoughts, and the potentially-debilitating nervousness that can ultimately cause an experience of sheer terror.

One time, I had a full-on anxiety attack in the Chandler mall (go figure). If you’ve never experienced this, it feels like a heart attack. I was convinced that there was something medically wrong with me. So Lou rushed me to Urgent Care and I braced myself for the news that the doctor finally found the hole in my heart that I’ve always suspected was there.

“It’s lucky we found it now,” Dr. X would say. “There’s no cure. But if you stop eating all delicious things and quit drinking entirely, you might live to be 35.”

Of course, the real-life doctor took one look at my EKG and sent me home with a pill.

Shortly after, I tried a low dose of a daily anti-anxiety medication. It turned me into a zombie.

So, after a few unsuccessful trials with that, I decided to ditch the medication and talk to a therapist. A good one. I’m lucky for finding her but I’m also lucky to only have a mild case — my heart breaks for people who suffer from severe anxiety because it is fucking Hell, people!

Anyway, my therapist taught me a meditation technique that has worked extremely well.

Here’s how it works.

Close your eyes. Let your mind wander. As it drifts, identify what happens using four categories:

Touch, Feel, Image, and Talk.

Anything tangible that happens during your meditation (e.g. the cat jumps in your lap, you hear your husband snoring, or you suddenly notice the feel of your shirt fabric) falls under the Touch category.

All emotional feelings (e.g. nervousness, anger, fear, relaxation, etc.) are included in the Feel category.

The pictures that run through your mind (e.g. what you imagine the cat in your lap looks like, how you remember the way someone’s face is put together, or any other picture) is categorized as Image.

And, finally, the voices in your head that fire off a bunch of messages (e.g. “I should get up and check my email,” or, “I’m hungry,” or “I should be sleeping instead of meditating because it’s 3 a.m. and I have to work tomorrow,” etc.) fall into the Talk category.

When I first started to practice, I would set a timer for two minutes. I’d close my eyes and say the words out loud. I probably looked like a lunatic, but I was surprised how quickly I fell into the rhythm.

“Talk…Feel…Image…Image…Touch…Image…” and so forth.

The goal is merely to continue identifying the things that happen in your head. That’s it. You don’t have to clear your mind (which is something I’ve never understood).

Allow your mind to stay active, acknowledge the activity, label it, and then move on to the next one.

Now I don’t have to speak out loud (unless I’m really in the depths). Most of the time, I don’t have to do it all. But if I have a bad week, I’ll set the timer (for ten minutes now that I’ve had more practice) and meditate each morning for a few days.

It’s magic. My symptoms subside…

…until they return, of course, because there’s no sure-fire way to cure this type of thing for good.

So, if you’re like me and you have similar difficulties, try this.

Seriously.

(I have more tricks up my sleeve for dealing with anxiety so maybe I’ll blog about that later.)