The Affected

The hardest lesson I learned of grief was not how to grieve, rather, how to accept that everyone around me grieves differently. As relative as time, love, and happiness, grief is something only identifiable by name and felt to such varying degrees that it has no direct translation in my eyes. Grief means so much more than being sad, or depressed, or lost. Grief is a mindset, a state of being even, that takes over the affected individual for months and sometimes even years. After a certain period of time, when those affected feel like they have a grip on reality, and like they are able to turn over a new leaf – to rebuild – they are triggered. Sometimes the body catches it before the mind does. Sometimes, there is a cold tingle that starts at the top of the head and pushes down through the body and towards the toes and anchors the person into the floor where they cannot move and don’t know why. Their heart begins to race and their vision becomes erratic trying to identify where this thing is that must have caused such a knee-jerk reaction for them. What comes as a shock, though, is this trigger isn’t physical. It’s a smell, a sound, a feeling, or even a movement or passing memory that reminds the affected they are still vulnerable; there are still cracks that exist where the affected looked over, thinking it was safe, thinking they were fine, thinking that everything was copacetic because they were no longer crying for reasons unknown throughout their work week.

Grief came to me in the form of rage. Which is funny, I think, because rage (anger) is a side affect of grieving, and grief is defined as a “deep sorrow.” When you are grieving, though, your brain, your subconscious digs into that sorrow. It makes you question what sorrow is. It makes you reconsider all the things of your past that made you sad because what you’re feeling in a time of grief is a kaleidoscope of billowing colors and pulses that rip into your body, each wave a new feeling, destroying you and at the same time making you beautiful and human. Grief stripped me down to a vulnerable, raw core of a being where I lost recognition of myself each time I looked in the mirror. I lost sleep, I lost feeling, I regained too much feeling, and I lost more sleep. Ultimately, grief reached through me, and revealed to me the greater aspects of this life. It gave me a new-found perspective on emotions; it gave me a gauge of values deeper than the shallowness in which my glasses once only viewed.

Alternatively, grief can sometimes meet resistance of those unwilling to allow themselves to be recreated through tragedy.  I had to accept that members of my family and even friends needed to utilize their own form of self preservation. I had to accept that I could not save them anymore than my mother. Grief was an unconscious tough love I had no control over that forced me to look at myself, to focus on myself, and to understand that what was happening in my own world was necessary for me to be rebuilt. It was a sculptor to whom I relinquished all control. Through uncertainty, I emerged sure of myself. I became my own canvas, metaphysically reworked and renovated in order to ensure what I experienced would not destroy me completely for the rest of my life. Through grief, I became one of the affected.

 

To Die Smiling

I spend so much time thinking about my mother’s passing; how it could have gone differently, how she looked, how she smelled, how it all sounded. I remember the drumming in my ears of my own heartbreak when she stopped breathing. I remember sizzling yellow overhead lights and yellowed skin, bloodied lips and scabbed nostrils. I see her carotid artery pulsing through her neck; she was so frail I could see her body fighting through her skin. Her once-voluminous hair was matted all around her face, bangs fallen to the sides like wilted flowers. Her death itself was so anti-climactic and quick and so final, that although the end of a chapter, was not the saddest part of the story.

When I think about those two weeks of  pain and torture and confusion,  I no longer cry. I no longer weep over death, and I no longer fear it. Death itself is one of the only things that we as humans have in common besides breathing, and seeing someone die made me fear it less. What I fear now, is suffering. I fear that uncertainty when you are suffering and do not know if you will wake up again. I fear not knowing if your last words will, in fact, be your last. I fear saying something and never being able to touch back upon it.

Towards the end of her life, my mom said very little. She never wanted to discuss her addiction, she never wanted me to help, and it was hard to try and speak on anything else when the elephant in the room was the person who raised me. I remember so vividly sitting in wicker chairs on the deck, the summer sun on the creek, saying nothing with her. The world around us spoke from the grass to the trees to the ospreys in the sky and she and I shared between us a silence that deafened them. I knew she was sick. She knew she was sick. She knew that I knew, and neither of us had to say it. I watched the water while she slowly dragged at her cigarette, using her free hand to lift a glass of ice water to her lips, bracelets dangling off her wrists and ice cubes clanking the crystal like wind chimes in the dead of August. She put her glass down and, without breaking eye contact with the shore, reached across and grabbed my hand in hers. We said nothing as I maintained a steady gaze on the world before me, and we agreed in our silence that we knew.

A month later, I stood in the darkness of the ICU, looking at her while she looked around wildly, incoherent and afraid.

“Please stay with me, just in case.”

I said nothing back. I couldn’t say anything back. I stood frozen in the doorway while her bottom lip quivered in fear and she called out, the nurse telling me I couldn’t stay past 8:30 PM. “I love you.”

I love you. I love you. I love you. I don’t know if she ever heard me say it that night, because she was so beyond a steady stream of consciousness. I was escorted out of ICU. She slipped into a coma alone, in the dark, sometime in the night. And I made sure I stayed with her until she drew her last breath beside me.

I think of the fear and the uncertainty. I think of how, in that moment, I saw how much she didn’t want to die, and that her last words to me were of a helpless child, finally asking for my aid her after months of defiance and silence. When I think of her death I no longer cry, yet when I think of her last words, I fight to control myself. I do not want my last words to be those of fear – I do not want last words at all. I want my last exchange to be like the silent embrace she and I shared on the deck in August. I want to look up at my loved one, and smile. I want them to know. I want them to smile back.

I am Grateful

Recently, I encountered a piece of writing – about 70 pages – that I scribbled out in 2012, eleven months after the loss of my mother. It encompassed the dark, secluded, depressed state that I was in for so long after she died, and I read it for the first time since I wrote it. When I wrote this particular novella (I guess), I did so out of anger. I took my insomnia, my fleeting thoughts, my questions, my hate and confusion, and poured them out of me like hot lava over the course of about two weeks. I remember, when I finished this piece, not feeling angry any longer, which is exactly why it stayed a mere 70 pages or so. It hurt me to read it. It rubbed back over all of the emotional scars that I spent the past five years allowing to heal while I tried to figure out how to trudge through the hell that was the death of my mom. The writings were so raw and painful to recognize – to see it as myself, as I was. I cried throughout the Intro (released onto my blog before this post itself). I cried for the girl who I was and for the amount of hurt and loneliness she experienced. The entries lashed out at the world around her; at neighbors, at family. They were paranoid, twisted, irrational ideas, but they were natural and real for someone who feels like they have everything ripped from them at once.

It’s certainly difficult for anyone to lose a parent, no matter what way, or at what age. Loss as I have observed simply within my own family is perceived, absorbed, and handled, dealt with or otherwise, differently by each person. It is a relative experience, felt on a varying scale. I do not share my stories – my loss, struggles, and personal insight – with the idea that how I coped is the right way, or how I survived is the only way to do so. However, I share the stories I write with the hope and intention that someday, somewhere, someone will read what I went through and actually feel like they aren’t alone. In the end we are all looking to feel like we belong, and I know for myself, the hardest time to feel like you’re part of something is when you’re torn apart.

I am grateful. I am grateful to have a passion for writing. I am grateful for the small community of individuals I know who tell me that the things I write about helped them get through something. I love when someone tells me I made them laugh, and I have a mildly sadistic joy inside when someone tells me I made them cry. I love telling stories, and other people’s stories, and I am grateful I can tell them. I lost fear of judgment for writing and being read because, in the end, my writing is my feelings and no one can feel those feelings except for me. The goal now is to have others respect those feelings, or relate to them in some way. If someone feels less alone, then I feel I’m doing something right.

Intro

 

Wake up. I glared bright-eyed into a thick dark nothing while the oscillating fan breathed life back into me with each methodical pass. The outlines of my room became more apparent as the urge to get up increased. I fought my way through the queen-sized down comforter. It’s August. My feet touched the carpet; dirt and small objects imprinted themselves gently into my heels. Although rough and calloused from many summers trudging through sand and gouging on broken shells, my feet were still so sensitive. More sensitive now even after the profession I had taken up in this small, shallow town. I searched helplessly for the light and as it illuminated my room, my eyes momentarily flashed back to darkness with the shock. My graduation tassels hung delicately on my wall, shadows dancing with the fan, ebbing and flooding like a tide that relentlessly touches upon shore.

My door creaked open as I switched up to the balls of my feet on the grainy wooden floor. With each step the panels moaned as the seemingly forever trip to my bathroom became more hurried. I slipped passed my grandfather’s open door, unaware of the conversation he was having with Death, as the invisible cold black figure took his unconscious hand into the moonlight, preparing him for his own end. Then I heard my grandpa snore and roll over and Death shook his fist to the sky in defeat.

The only thing awake besides Death and myself were the crickets – insomniacs that lulled me to sleep with their chirping and chiming ever since I was a little girl. The toilet seat was cold for an August night. I pulled the blinds shut and stared down at a helpless spider I thought I killed hours earlier when I was brushing my teeth. It crawled and crawled up the yellowed siding of the bathtub while its weak threads clung to nothing but soap scum and history. This bungalow had seen better days and so did the people living in it. If walls could talk they would shout through the paper at guests and residents alike, warning them of the death that happened, of the unrest, and of the religious excuses for the actions of others. The fresh coat of paint and new half bath were mere distractions, like a woman reapplying her make-up so people wouldn’t notice that new pimple or her wrinkle she got from fighting with her husband the day before. As each horrible thing happened in my house, we kept fixing it and adjusting the tapestry.

I am stuck in my own personal House of Usher as Poe laughs at me from a higher bookshelf next to my empty diploma case. I feel like my grandpa is nesting; like a woman does for a newborn, except he’s doing it for Death. He tells me almost every night that he isn’t ready to go yet – “The window people are coming tomorrow.” I suddenly became lost in my own thoughts.  I flushed the toilet that would be cleaned tomorrow and washed my hands lazily. The mirror gleamed back at me with pale lights as I stared into my tired eyes, purple bags slouching below them. My hair stood up on many frozen ends like they were trying to escape my thoughts, too. I looked so tired. I always looked tired nowadays. Sleep is for the weak and the dead and I was told I couldn’t be either of those things. I could only think about those in my own mind. My mother, for instance, was always on my mind, and now that she was separated in jars between two dressers and a mantle piece, was more apparent these days. Only she knew how much I thought about just never waking up in this world only to wake up to see her again in the afterlife. This kind of talk warranted my therapist on several occasions to question my mental stability and she always approached with, “So…are you suicidal then?” I always replied with, “No, I’m Catholic.” I had to applaud her boldness in asking me, though. No one really ever asked me how I was doing, especially these days. I returned to a town and a house that boasted wealth but those dwelling inside it were poor in spirits. The stench of the decaying elderly mixed with plug-in air fresheners gave the appearance of a funeral home in this once enjoyable abode. The floral carpeting, spotless hardwood and prescription pill bottles would suggest an older crowd, and I was thrown into the mix as a twenty-one year-old college graduate, waiting on her diploma and her big break.

I, instead, live with my grandfather who is well into his 90’s but still insists on driving and cooking and giving himself the false identity of someone much younger than he is. I have been living here since last November, originally in a room sizeable to a closet with a closet inside of it. I only recently upgraded to the room my mother used to sleep in; the one my Aunt Eleanor died in, and the one next to the room my grandmother took her final heaving breaths in. My mother almost died in this room as well. It was bad enough that I slept in the bed she slept in for almost a month, but that isn’t what bothered me. She actually attempted to die in this bed. I was away at school, and she refused to tell me that she was sick, or dying, or killing herself slowly, and she just expected to expire, engulfed in old floral cotton sheets, head resting on stale pillows that were never replaced, without a care for dignity or admiration or acceptance. She wanted to end it and didn’t care who witnessed it. She wanted to beat her father in the race to Death’s door and rang his doorbell multiple times before he finally answered. And because she didn’t want to die like a dignified person, she unfortunately did not get to choose the manner in which she’d go. This manner, however, was chosen by doctors, and by family, and this was the only decision she was not allowed to have the responsibility over. And because of her, I am now battling a combination of depression and the automated Weight Watchers online guide in a room next to a man who talks to Jesus in his sleep more than I have in my entire life.

 

It’s on nights like these where the August humidity seeps into the blossoming September evenings and attempts to choke you in your sleep that I sit up and contemplate just what in the world is going on. I sit in the dark on top of my sheets and stare at a ceiling poorly lit by the blind moon as he throws around his light carelessly through trees, peering into my window. He imposes on me like a nosy neighbor, like the many we have in this town. My night vision kicks in after a long and tumultuous battle with blackness and I examine my room in its dark form, as if that’s any different from what it looks like during the day. Nothing looks that appealing in the dark except for bodies, and the expansiveness of the twilight hours seems to push my room in on me. My bed is too large. My room is too small. My closet is too close. This mirror is too close to my bed. All of these things impede on my personal space and crowd my body like my thoughts that push against the barriers of my skull. I stare and stare until night takes me away and pushes me into the throes of my dreams where I must be alert in order to see the morning again, no less allow them to take me over.

 

My dreams have been abstract and unpleasant for the past eleven months, where torturous situations place me in the kitchen I grew up in with my mother standing at the stove. We talk about current events as she drags on her cigarette and fries eggplant. She throws each fried circle, crisp and bubbling, onto a paper plate lined with paper towels and I eat them as fast as they touch. Her smoke is comforting and sticks to my body along with the heat and grease of the summer cooking. She tells me she should have never left and that she’s sorry I’m stuck with everything and that I should have the house left to me. She tells me that she never really wanted to kill herself and it spiraled out of control towards the end. I get several apologies, thanks for not judging her, and remorse for not being able to remember what her hug will feel like in the morning. I tell her it’s fine because she’ll stop in on my dream in a couple of weeks again. Things turn fuzzy and incoherent after that hug, and every time someone crashes a car, or I wind up being chased, or I step out onto some weird endeavor that really has no end until I wake up to a buzzing alarm clock. I fight to remember her hug, and her cigarettes, and eventually give in to the morning sun and my full time job. The monotony kicks in and it’s not the pleasant monotony I was hoping for after my mom died. I was hoping for a full house of family; for bonding; for summer days simmering on the beach under the hot July sun like the eggplant in the pan. I prayed for silence and peace and a belonging where everything suddenly and perfectly made sense. But then I wake up again and realize I work seven days a week. I crush my own spirits down to prevent the environment in which I enter everyday from doing so. If I’m anything like my mother, it’s that I would never let anyone but myself bring me down. I lowered my expectations of this summer and the future so much that indifference is the deciding factor in everything that happens. This leads to everything playing out like a radio song on repeat and I can’t change the channel. I just go with it. I’ve become sucked into a routine of work work work and then going home to clean clean clean and then sitting in the black black black dark until I pass out.

I know that every Thursday is cleaning day, where I clean the toilets, mop the floors, vacuum, and dust everything within reason only for it to be disheveled and dirty by Thursday evening. It’s like I can’t make the dust disappear; it just runs away from my Swiffer and hides in the corners and under the couches until I leave. But, I do it relentlessly, and I do it without complaint, because I have a free room to sleep in and a roof over my head. It’s because I’m guilted into feeling like I have done something wrong to deserve the life I’m currently living. Like I’ve done nothing even remotely commendable, I am the Help. I am the live-in maid, psychologist, referee, and janitor. I mop up the sorrows, sweep away the pains, break up the fights, and diagnose the troubles. And just like the dust that is not mine on the floors that I don’t own in the house that I don’t pay for, the problems that do not belong to me resurface and I sweep them away again. And they cannot be ignored. Oh no. Because the second I turn on a fan to relieve myself from the blistering heat the dust swirls up in my face, causing discomfort and I can’t just not get rid of the dust to try and make myself more comfortable. When I get to the point of inconceivable intolerance, I put on my sneakers and walk. I walk for miles and hours in the humid and I push through it as it grabs my arms and pulls me back like everything else. I tell it to go screw and turn the corner, up the hill, make a right, pass some horses, and another right turn. Eventually my left knee gives out but I keep going because the physical reminders that I’m still alive push harder than my numb brain and next thing you know I’m up the hill and going home. I don’t mind the soreness, or the shin splints, or the sweat, because that can just go away. Things like that disappear, and it only happens when I make it happen. It’s control, and it’s all I have.

In this world of confusing monotonous chaos that I exist in the only things I have control over are my bodily pain and how much I eat. If the monotony were a pleasant array of excitement and surprises and happiness this would be different. However, I am stuck being Atlas except I eat more and exercise less. The ratios are currently off in the favor of intake, but at least I can still control it. It is something unpredictable; my feet go until they cannot, and I never know when that will be until I get a shooting pain up to my hip telling me to stop and I shrug it off and drown it out in the soupy summer heat as I pass a field that has more vastness than the confines of my own mind, where everything has become a beehive overloaded with unnecessary troubles and information. I’d rather be sick in the body than sick in the head and the lack of flare and individual input put a damper on my usual taste for excitement. I predict the conversations I have with my grandpa before they happen, I know exactly what my dad will talk about when I get out of work, and I still can’t seem to figure out my own processes. I go back to the thick, dark, soupy night in my bed that’s too big and wonder about the most unknown thing: myself.

I was in constant opposition of staring myself down, especially during those late night stints attempting to solve the crises of the world from the toilet seat. In those nights where I would stare at the ceiling asking where the fuck did I go wrong? I would pray that the answer would fall from the darkness and smack me square in the face. My eyes stay wide but tired as I heave my thoughts around in my head like heavy boulders until I exhaust myself into oblivion yet again. I would wake up several hours later and make that ever-so-familiar trip into the darkness where fear is my only friend and I stare deeply into a bathroom mirror from 1974 and see the same thing over and over again. I would never see change, and Thursday would still be cleaning day.

This horrendous and unacceptable amount of unadventurous life was starting to get the best of me, and I knew that I had to press on with my ambitions. And at the same time, I knew I couldn’t. My life had begun to play out like a sappy and stupid indie film where everything is ironic and the awkward kid gets through school and finds love. I did one of those things, and as a disclaimer my heart is as hard as a rock. I spent days just staring at old pictures and acknowledging that I allowed myself to become sedentary and fat over the past few months (years) up to and following college. Subconsciously my body gave up and decided that years upon years of learning and unbearable, unavoidable trauma needed to take a back seat while I focused on myself. I missed the memo, however, and just sank into oblivion with food and unnecessary spending. My mind would swim for hours with thoughts and ideas of what I could have done, how it could have been, and how much I was pissed off now seeing how everything decided to pan out. Seeing how people chose to take their separate paths and how they indirectly, yet so effectively, dampened my own strenuous existence. I sat undeserving in my Oxford University sweatshirt thinking of better times and the what-haves until I either got hungry or cried or just went to bed.

This unconnected and indifferent chain of events that all somehow swept in and smacked my life square in the testicles equally confused and devastated me. I spent years and months and minutes screaming why out to the ceiling until I realized no one would hear me. When I stopped screaming at the vertical nothingness I was struck with the deafening tones of rejection from the universe. No one wanted to help me, because everyone was busy helping himself or herself. Then when I actually swallowed my pride and asked for help, it was thrown back at me, and I learned quite painfully that I’m the only person I can rely on 100 percent of the time. That idea was comforting and terrifying, because I realized quickly how little faith I have in my own strengths – boasting it in public and unable to find it when alone. I needed to get back on good terms with the universe, and that is a chapter that hasn’t ended yet.

The First Summer I Remember

My childhood was spent in a cape house on Goose Creek in Southold. I lived under the barnacle-covered dock, in the trees, on the sandbars, and in a boat cabin. I was a sailor, a pirate, and an explorer. My imagination was my reality, where time did not exist – it was home. The neighborhood children would roam the quiet side streets, barefoot and wild, picking stones from their toes and walking across each other’s yards. Sometimes we would converge for nighttime games, other nights were spent in solitude in a confessional with nature. Our bodies smelled of salt and fire as our memories struggled to hold on in between the cracks of our skin. We showered outside under the oak trees and dried in the sun, laid out in our bathing suits, only to return to the creek hours later.

One day, I left my creek, my home, salt clinging to my neck as I closed the gate doors one last time. Chipped white paint and rusted hinges, caressed year after year by salted air, clung to the sleeve of my shirt saying, “Don’t go yet.” I shut the flood lights and stared over the dock and saw myself on the water’s edge. I saw my mother, her spirit left behind to guard the kingdom. I wanted to mourn, but instead felt myself smile. I felt warm. Decades under that same summer sky, endless memories, yet in that moment, I recalled my first.

I was two years old, with knotted gypsy hair and doe eyes that were guarded by long eyelashes and the nape of my mother’s neck. My skin was coated in salt and oils from the Mother creek and my mother’s hands. The first smell I ever remembered was coconut. My brother played as I sat in the grass of an infinite lawn. Cool green blades dusted me off while the sun left marks on my face. My eyes grew heavy. I crawled to my mother who lay in a chair, palms to the sun. Her legs were thin and long and rough, and smelled of coconuts. I wedged myself between her legs and rested my head on the belly that once held me, and sleep took me.

**************

We were salty children. We were raised at the shore, feet soaked in brine; our mother taught us to trust the minnows that cleaned our toes while we squirmed and giggled. We built empires of sand and dried reeds that housed defiant crabs. We were the crabs. The water’s edge was our kingdom.

The creek was the cure-all. If we were cut, bruised, or sad, Nana would send us “into the drink” to marinade and heal. “It’s good for you,” she’d happily insist, although she never joined us. We would disappear under the dark water and come back up like bufflehead ducks while she watched from land. Loons would perch on dock pilings around us, contrasted black against the summer sun, water-soaked wings outstretched in patience. I saw Nana once dip into the creek, old and regal, as she appeared to wash the years off her soul, only to come back old and regal – and pure. She became sick, and the creek called, but she never did go back in. We missed her on the summer days to follow, when the sun faded and the humidity broke as if God himself took the cover off us. We sat on the shore, examined our scarred feet that lay infinitely beyond us, leathery from the sun; the sand seemed to grow over our bodies and made our skin our own homes.

At night we rested on the dock and watched the moon jellies glide underneath the water’s surface like Hades’ souls, aimless and uncontrolled. The delicate blue lights of the jellyfish mirrored the stars that hung above us, closer than usual over our creek. They illuminated our eyes, and we lay still on the dock as to not wake up Time. He sat behind the treeline for us, and he always came back around with a torch and baked the salt into our shoulders, left his mark on our faces and put knots in our hair.

 

One …Whole Bagel?

An homage to St. Patrick’s Day in Boston. I return to you March 17, 2016.

 

This story is embarrassing.

I turned 21 November of 2011. This meant that legally, I couldn’t drink until the end of my first semester of my senior year of college. My closest friends were all gorging themselves on the bar scenes, while I wasted away in my dorm watching movies on my laptop and waiting until the next house party, where I had to leech off of the older friends for liquor. I didn’t dare try to run out for my own liquor, considering that’s what got me a night in jail my freshman year, so I swallowed my pride and sent my friends to the packy with cash in hopes of them returning with that I asked for. But no longer! I told myself, I am now legally allowed to drink!

My birthday party was spent at a local bar directly off campus, where my New York license was questioned (twice), and my free shot was peppermint schnapps. My roommates and I – all six of us – threw fruity drinks down, danced like cheap hookers, and took pictures that now, five years later and fifty pounds lighter, make me depressed to look back on. We stumbled back to our apartment complex at the other end of campus, Stephanie roused our neighbor at 2 AM who came over with a bottle of rum from Belize that had a piece of bark or the barrel or just a hunk of driftwood that gave it “character” and “flavor” and “splinters.” We drank it anyway. I picked my roommate, Stephanie, off the floor of my room, and tucked her in, kicked out the neighbor, and passed out.

The next morning was something likened to the Hangover. I woke up in a daze, headache present, but not overly nauseous that I couldn’t go eat the remainder of my birthday ice cream cake in my underpants in the living room. Jackets and shoes littered our common area, cabinets were carelessly left open and all I cared about was ice cream cake and Spongebob started at 10. The previous night was successful, but I wanted more. I hadn’t really ventured outside the lines of public drinking since my scare with the law and my probationary period, and I wanted to at least go out in style my senior year. I’m spending Saint Paddy’s Day in Boston.

Almost four months passed. My roommate, Catey, lived in Quincy when she wasn’t at our apartment in Bridgewater, so it only made sense to drive to her place in the morning, pre-game, and then roam the streets of Boston until I forgot I was in Boston.

I woke up with a tummy ache.

Oh no. Not today. Why does my stomach hurt?

And it wasn’t that kind of sharp pain ache either. It was that grumbly, gurgly, growly stomach ache that meant you had to go to the bathroom…and a lot. I immediately ran through all the school food I had the day before in search of something suspicious, but nothing out of the grody ordinary turned up in my mind. Maybe a shower. Maybe it’ll pass.  The shower definitely succeeded in making my hair wet, but failed in settling my intestines. Bathroom one more time, then I’ll be good.

I met Catey and her friend at a Panera, where they wanted to grab a starchy lunch before the drinking began.

“I just have to run to the bathroom.”

They ordered pick-2 meals, I, a plain toasted bagel with butter on the side. Plain bagels are good. Maybe this will be fibrous enough. My rumbles turned into pains. I was too embarrassed to tell my friends that I had to frequent the toilets, and kept it under wraps. That was, until, Catey suggested we hang out at her house for a bit before heading into Boston. She was right – it was too early to start bar hopping, and I needed to lay down.

“Before we go, I just have to run to the bathroom.”

I couldn’t be getting ill. This wasn’t fair. I had my “I *heart* Beer” shirt on where the heart was actually a mug full of beer. I waited 21 years for the stars to align and me to be in Boston on the most Irish of holidays to pub crawl around some of the most Irish of pubs in the US. I had to go to the bathroom again.

“Are you OK, Kaitlin? You don’t look so good.” I came out of Catey’s bathroom, clammy and shaken. “I honestly don’t know. I can’t stop going to the bathroom.” What I wanted to say was, I can’t stop peeing out of my butt oh my God why is this happening to me make it stop I’m scared and I haven’t had a virus in like seven years. 

I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know what happened to the bagel an hour earlier but I figured my stomach destroyed it prior to exit. Catey’s mom fed me pretzels which made me writhe in pain, and, naturally, feel like I had to go to the bathroom more. “Here’s some pepto,” in a Boston accent. I swigged the chalky bubble gum down and on contact with my stomach, a fire broke out. My body was on fire. I was freezing, I couldn’t stop shaking.

“Holy shit you look awful. We should go to the hospital.” I could see the sympathy in Catey’s mom’s eyes along with the quiet desperation of, I’ve never met this girl and she’s dying in my house. Get her out right now. “I hate hospitals.”

By the time I agreed to go to the hospital, I was sweaty, cold, laid out across Catey’s back seat, floating in and out of consciousness. I don’t remember the drive to the hospital, only that every time I opened my eyes I dry heaved and every time she hit a bump I prayed to all celestial beings to not shit my pants in front of my friends. I felt defeated as the sun went down and Saint Patrick’s Day would be missed.

We walked into the emergency room where I handed my information to Catey and bee-lined for the bathroom with my sweaty self in my holiday attire, clutching an opaque water bottle filled with ginger ale. I stared at my face in the mirror as if I was looking at a stranger. I was so angry at myself. I was angry at the day. I was angry at my lower intestines. I was angry at whatever school food got me sick. I walked out of the bathroom and saw all eyes on me. The people in the waiting room, glared up and down at this dehydrated, sick girl, on Saint Patrick’s Day, in Boston, holding an opaque water bottle. Shit, I thought, everyone in here thinks I’m wasted.

“Have anything to drink tonight?” The nurse strapped me in to take my blood pressure. I could barely talk without being winded. “No,” I gasped, “I just can’t stop shitting.” Within minutes I was put in a room, stripped down, and thrown into a hospital gown. A nurse stuck me with an IV and I instantly began to cry. I started to have an anxiety attack, because I realized the last time I was in a hospital was when my mom died. I’m dying. Catey, my pillar of strength, and her friend who I met for the first time that day who was now staring at me braless in an hospital gown while I shuffled myself to and from the bathroom helped me to relax until the doctor came in.

“What did you eat today?” The lady doctor was scribbling on her official little doctor clipboard while I squirmed around on the bed.

“Well, the first real food I had was a bagel, and it just came right out the other end.” Immediately, she stopped writing. Her eyes widened as she looked me dead in the eyes, “A…a whole bagel…a whole bagel just….came out?” I laughed, and then realized that this wasn’t a joke. This woman – this medical professional who was to take care of me thought I crapped out on whole toasted plain bagel with butter. “Well no, it was very much digested.”

“Oh. Right then. I might require a stool sample.”

“I have nothing to give you.”

“Right. Well, regardless, it seems you have gastroenteritis. A little bug sticks to your intestine, your body is trying to get it out. It’s been going around. And it should pass within the next couple of days. Here’s an anti-nausea prescription. Stay on the IV until you can drink water without throwing up, then you can go home.”

“I haven’t thrown up yet today, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Catey drove me back to my apartment that night in my truck while her friend tailed us in her car. I felt much better with a body full of IV. I got home around 10 PM. My whole day was spent in pain and in a hospital bed. Saint Patrick’s Day was lost. I lay my head on my pillow. Finally, I thought, now I can get some sleep. Then it hit me. The ice water I drank before I left. It waited in the shadows until I got home. I sprang up from my bed. There’s the throwing up part the doctor mentioned. I searched for my anti-nausea prescription, only to remember it was left on the hospital bed on my way out. The defeat sunk in again. I crawled into my bed, shut my eyes, and slept for 14 hours.

 

 

I am a Speck

FB_IMG_1457514094169    Often times, as tiny people on a big planet, the world seems unjustly overwhelming. We get so bogged down with problems, and snags, and hitches, and tragedy, that we feel like there is nowhere to go except under our covers. We bury our heads in the sand, we isolate, we brood, and we wait it out to try and make that feeling pass. I recall overhearing conversations between my dad and grandpa,

“She’s depressed. She needs to see a therapist.” They would agree and I would just listen, never going to therapy and never wanting to speak about my problems. As far as I saw it, what was a third party going to tell me that I didn’t already know? I was depressed, I missed my mom, I had PTSD, I wasn’t suicidal, I was binge eating, I was sad, lonely, frustrated, emotional, numb, regretful, angry, grieving. I knew everything that was going on inside of my head, inside of my soul, and the last thing I wanted was to hear it repeated back to me. I was twenty-one years old, and less than two months earlier, I watched my mom succumb to the damages of alcoholism. I grew up only to watch her suffer more and more, year after year, and feel increasingly helpless and she became increasingly more destitute of hope.

After her passing, more than anything, I wanted to escape. I was living between Massachusetts and New York, driving countless miles, finishing my bachelor’s degree on time, and wondering if life was worth it anymore. I felt singled-out, small, and useless. I felt like I was out of my body, floating above my friends and family, jaded and undeserving of the “normalcy” they all seemed to possess. It was like the sensation of drowning, without being granted death. I longed to just run away, back to Oxford, back to an unfamiliar place to make me find myself again, and as if it were an omen, my best friend Candice entertained the idea of traveling to Portugal.

Eighteen hours of travel and limited sleep mattered very little when we arrived at the empty resort in the empty resort town. I liked the isolation. I liked the solitude. I was with my friends but part of me wanted to stay alone. I wanted to get lost in the streets, and sit in cafes and exchange eye contact with people I would never see again. We walked up and down the piers and beaches, drinking cappuccinos and eating traditional food. Quickly, we were acclimated to the slow and steady drum of that coastal ghost town.

One morning, walking towards the beach, we noticed a sign, and a beaten down foot path. When we could have gone straight down to the water, three of us hooked a right and, single file, began walking. We didn’t know where the path was going to take us, and we didn’t know where we were going, but we could see the whole oceanfront from where we were, and the sun was high and the breeze was inviting. We passed old leaning trees, towering succulents, and rigid dips in the cliff-side. The view was amazing. The ocean – so blue – and so massive from where we were. I strained my eyes as far west as I could, but I only found the bend of the horizon. My friends and I stopped to take photos, inspect the flora, and snoop around fences of houses lucky enough to line the cliff. We walked for what seemed like hours, as if we were headed towards that bend I kept looking to. Red clay dust kicked up, and the earth switched from dirt to grass to tree covering. On the far side of the trees was a large opening, and a sign warning us of where the ocean tore into the cliff, telling us to stop; we didn’t have to go further.

I looked at the midday sun illuminating the world before me. Seagulls perched along the rocks, and I was jealous of them to not have the luxury for myself. I breathed in the salty air – the air that tasted like home. In that moment, I felt like a speck. I was so overwhelmed by the size of my surroundings, I was so far away from home. And yet, I was breathing in the same salt air, and standing under the same sun.

53 Kinds of Cow

Candice and I took our next international adventure in September of 2013 throughout the hills of Ireland and Scotland. Upon our return from Portugal in November of 2012, our flight home was cancelled and we were forced to stay over an extra night in Dublin. We fell so in love with the accents alone, that the day after returning to the states, still jetlagged and marginally broke, Candice threw a trip for two to Dublin on her magical American Express card.

“Are you on Expedia? Yeah? OK, I’ll check Kayak.”
“A castle.”
“What?”
“We can stay in a fucking castle in Dublin for ten days and it’s $1,400 each with the plane included.”
“Give me the link.”
We flew Aer Lingus on the way home from Portugal, and when they had to cancel our flight, the airline was beyond accommodating, and refunded our flights for the 600 Euro it would have cost normally to fly home. An extra $728 in the bank made us a little cheeky in our plans, and within minutes Candice and I had European takeover 2K13 in the books via Skype conference from our kitchens.
We had some extra money leftover, which is why Scotland was thrown into the middle of our excursion, as well as a side trip to Limerick, about a two hour bus ride from Temple Bar in Dublin, to have lunch with my friend Christina. She and I met at Bridgewater State when I was a junior in college and she was visiting for a semester as an exchange student. We played rugby together for a short amount of time, and shared an Irish Literature class. Christina was tough, had a raw sense of humor, and enjoyed whiskey, which made me believe that yes, every Irish resident must like whiskey. Which later proved to be true – at least at UL.
We arrived on a soggy Tuesday afternoon, tired and excited to be greeted by Christina and taken to lunch. Coffee and a lamb cheeseburger with rosemary steak fries….college food. No wonder she complained about our cafeterias so much. Candice and I toured UL – the gyms, the rugby pitch that the Munster Rugby Team practiced on. Swoon.
“Why go home? Stay here for International night. Pizzas and Jameson.”
Sold.
We sat at a table, low-light, taking turns paying for pizza and Jameson and Cokes. The wonderful thing about having international friends is, if you are open-minded, the potential for deep, multi-faceted conversation is very real. We spoke of foreign policy, student loans, welfare, and 9/11. Whiskey and genuine expression from Christina made me emotional to see how affected she, a foreigner to the United States, was when the Twin Towers fell. Conspiracy theories aside, judgments aside, lay the undeniable fact that thousands of lives were lost, and the hand of humanity reached many countries who had compassion for the families, and the victims. Brought together, and bonding with someone from a different country on a subject that ultimately affected the world drunkenly restored my faith – even if only for a moment – where I first truly experienced how good food, good drink, and good conversation united people.
“Let’s take this into town.”
The three of us hopped into a cab and met with Christina’s friends at a pub in the heart of Limerick, where the population was minimal, middle aged, and sloppy.
“It’s usually busier than this.”
It’s usually busier than this…on a Tuesday?
 
On downing what I believed was my ninth Jameson and Coke, Candice and I were soon engulfed in a conversation with a tall, portly, jolly young man, an acquaintance of Christina. No older than twenty, he smiled wide and his eyes brilliant with passion as he spoke of the farm his family had, and the fifty-three (of fifty-five) different breeds of cow he could recite. Maybe even in alphabetical order, but I was drunk, and this kid was crazy.
“Shut. Up.”
Drunken disbelief pulled Candice and I closer to this stranger. He spoke of his favorite cow, her name, what breed she was, why he liked that breed so much.
What in the….
She and I mouthed this about a dozen times over and over, ten Jameson and Cokes in at this time, while one by one this kid named cow after cow. I discern cows by color. Black, white, white with black spots, black with white spots, brown, chocolate milk…but I learned quickly my whole life-long cattle knowledge was a lie.
All of the cow talk made us hungry, and that led to Chicken Hut, AKA the KFC of Ireland, but worse. By worse, I mean worse for you. By flavor, I mean the tastiest thing my drunk self has ever consumed in my entire life.
Fried chicken with gravy that had the consistency of lard (amazing), fries, a soda, all washed down with impending regret and the continued disbelief that this kid was still talking about cows.
Drunk and tired, Candice, Christina, and I made our way back to Christina’s dorm, and arranged ourselves like drunk little piggies horizontally on her bed. I lay on my left side, facing the wall, knees tucked up, teeth un-brushed, still in the same clothes. Candice was in the middle, flat on her back, arms spread like a little drunk starfish. Christina, cocked diagonally and already unconscious lay at the head of her own bed. I tried to count my breathing in an attempt to make myself sleepy, but the Chicken Hut sat like a brick and I too, now, found myself trying to recall fifty-three or fifty-five types of cow. Candice, I assumed was dancing in a dream, because her jazz hands leaped out at my side, and my knees jerked over and over against Christina’s wall. To break the silence, Christina, in her drunken sleep, methodically ripped the loudest, yet odorless farts from six feet away from me. And thus was the night, a symphony of tickles, wall knocking, and gas, until we rose the next morning for our walk of shame back to the bus, and our hungover ride back to Dublin, penniless, nauseous, and educated in Irish bovine.

Cattle and a Unicorn

Candice and I saved a decent amount of money booking our trip to Dublin, and about three months after setting our dates and planning our excursions, I suggested a side trip to Edinburgh.

“I’ve never been to Scotland. It’s a bucket list. And Ryan Air is stupid cheap.”

“Great. And we can find a bed and breakfast or something.”

Our Skype meetings were frequent yet efficient these days. I would say “hello” to her mother in background, who never met me in person, yet knew me as the girl from New York who traveled the world with her daughter. I looked at flights, while Candice hunted down a website that wasn’t suspicious and also had low enough rates for a bed and breakfast.

“Ryan Air. We can leave Wednesday, middle of the trip, come home Friday. We’ll have a full day to explore. I want to see the Edinburgh Castle.”

“I want to see King Arthur’s Seat.”

“OK done. Booked on my end.”

Just like that, we were headed for Scotland…as if we were to become bored with having to spend ten whole days in only one country – one castle – what first world problems. We desired so much to hit as many places as we possibly could, and that’s what I loved about traveling with Candice. I had control issues with always being on time, booking trips, and Candice just smiled and trusted me to make sure we didn’t get kidnapped and there was always a pint of something in front of us. We had this strange, calculated way of moving around foreign places, where we booked the trip, but once we arrived, we had no concrete idea of exactly what we were to do. Everything in the country was decided generally the day before it happened, and we just rolled with it until we hit our next adventure. It took off the pressure of travel, and also made us feel less like tourists, and more like explorers.

******

Our flight to Scotland was booked for the part of the morning where it’s blacker than what nighttime should be. We didn’t sleep at all the night before, and thankfully the hotel was accommodating enough to book us a car to the airport, so all we had to do was make sure we had enough euros for the cab as we slumped into the back seat, and a very pleasant older gentleman zipped us off through the chilly morning.

Wow. We were so very tired.

“We should have slept.”

Candice gazed at me over a cup of coffee while we sat on the floor at the gate, putting our shoes back on, watching equally exhausted people wander like a herd of cattle, disheveled and regretful of their time choice to fly. Suddenly, I saw a unicorn among the cows. Tall, thin, wild curly blonde hair, his face looked like a Ken doll – almost perfect – and his style was amazing. Donning all black everything, wearing heavy black boots and a black jackets with spikes on it, Candice and I turned to one another and had a telepathic moment of recognition. How did he get through security with that jacket?  I could see it across as I struggled to figure out how this man was so well-dressed for 4:30 AM. He was so much his own style, so strange, so pretty.

Get a load of that guy. With our luck, we’ll be sitting next to him on the plane.” We both shared a laugh, and deep down, we both knew we so wanted to sit next to this man on the plane.

The cattle and the unicorn and the only two American people were herded down across the tarmac in the dark and up the stairs onto the airplane. We were told the flight would be about forty minutes, a first for Candice and I, who were used to anywhere between six and eighteen hours of travel to get to our destinations.Walking hurt. We were so unbelievably exhausted from not sleeping the night before, that our tiny airplane seats were the La-Z-Boys we longed for. People trickled in slowly, sleepily placing bags above them, slumped over in walking comas, when the unicorn stepped onto the aircraft and bee-lined for our row. Candice and I both tensed up and screamed a little on the inside when he sat beside us, gave a half smile, and we were sent into an immediate bout of giggles as she and I narrated the emergency instructional photos on the seat in front of us.

The safety demonstration began and a pleasant Irish girl unconsciously moved her hands along with the audio instructions of what to do in case of emergency. I could barely pay attention as Candice held back her slap happy laughter and the unicorn looked about like he was about over with us and with the emergency instructions. I leaned forward to my backpack on the floor, and in the process smashed my face into the seat back in front of me. I grabbed my forehead, and Candice, no longer able to contain herself, burst out in laughter. It wasn’t the hearty har-har type of laughter when a good joke is told, but rather a desperate wheeze of a person trying not to laugh at an obviously inappropriate time. Her face was changing color. I began to cry. The unicorn looked over the both of us, and chuckled.

Yanno, I’m doing this for your safety, you best not laugh.” The flight attendant was moved from her demonstration to scold us, threatening our removal from the aircraft, and I fought through my own laughter to explain I wasn’t laughing at her, I just hit my face into her close-quartered seats. Candice affirmed that I really did, in fact, hit my face, and we passed through the rest of the demonstration like elementary school children who were caught doing something naughty.

The plane took off, and Candice passed a comment about how these types of things only ever happened to us, which caught the attention of our unicorn, who began to engage in conversation. We learned he was called Nikolai, and was a hair stylist from Dublin. His family, originally from Russia, lived in Chicago at one point, and now settled in Ireland. His carry-on was filled with hair styling equipment, and he was heading to Scotland to visit his aunt, which he did every two or three weeks. Soft-spoken and polite, Nikolai engaged us in conversation for the short duration of the trip, and as we parted, the herd of sleepy cattle, the only two Americans, and the unicorn shuffled off the plane into customs.

“Nice meeting you.” We trudged through the automatic doors of customs for the only two American people traveling that morning into Edinburgh, and came across an empty white room. There were no employees, the computers were off, and there was no one to stamp us into the country.

“Where the hell is everybody?” Candice looked around, I peered in corners thinking maybe it was a surprise party, and we stood listlessly in this room for about ten minutes before making the decision to exit. Half-upset at the fact that we didn’t get a Scotland stamp for our passport collection, we passed through the next set of large automatic doors, only to be greeted by a large poster of an old man offering up a lobster, and Nikolai! Our unicorn waited for us! He waited as we gave our Facebook information, and said he would request us, but we weren’t able to tell until we reached another Wi-Fi hotspot, so we went on faith that we would hear from our new friend again. Nikolai wished us luck, as his aunt alerted him of her presence outside the arrival gates, and we watched our unicorn disappear into the harsh Scotland rain.

 

Chinese Food is a Universal Language

There are a handful of comfort foods that I turn to depending on the situation. And comfort food can be different for anyone; some may prefer savory, some people sweet, some a combination of both. Personally, I get cravings for red meat, particularly cheeseburgers (my diet is voluntarily 90 percent poultry, fish and quinoa), or anything involving chocolate because, let’s face it, I’m a girl. Girls love chocolate. Fact.

Okay, so not every girl loves chocolate – however my own love of it makes up for a large portion of those who do not consume it. Comfort food is great. It can be a safety blanket, in a sense. For example, when my mom passed away, I turned to chicken noodle soup and lasagna. Neither were particularly nostalgic of her cooking, but they were hearty, and made me feel better. Or, comfort food can be an accentuation to a good time like say, ice cream on a summer night with friends. Hot chocolate after shoveling your driveway, pop corn at the movies, all amazing snacks and treats tied to events that bring people together, or bring a happier feeling to that person indulging. Food is universal, and Chinese food, in particular, and in my humble opinion, is the most universal.
Sure, you have your chain restaurants that find their ways into the nooks and crannies of the globe, providing people with low-cost and “safe” choices. It’s why they’re so successful. What I like most about Chinese food, however, is that each dish in each restaurant, regardless of whether or not it has the same name, never tastes exactly like each other. Each restaurant kind of adapts its flavors to the surrounding environment but still manages to maintain a homely, familiar tone that comes with ordering Chinese food. It’s the whole, “I got full and in five minutes I know I’ll be hungry again,” feeling, and it can be found anywhere.
We knew when we booked our trip to Portugal that we were going to spend Thanksgiving there.
“I can’t believe you won’t be home for Thanksgiving.”
“Dad, I’ve been home for twenty-one Thanksgiving’s.”
“You’re going to miss out. Who’s going to make the fruit salad? Just your brother? There’s tradition.”
“Well, maybe it’s time for some new tradition.”
My dad rolled his eyes at me, but I really thought he was searching the banks of his brain, pulling as many excuses as he could for me to not go to Portugal and miss Thanksgiving. It’s too much money. It’s dangerous. I heard Portugal is cold in November. Their economy…the people…haven’t you seen the movie Taken?
Nothing deterred me. The trip was booked and paid for before it even passed my lips to him that I wasn’t going to be home for the holiday. I was determined and hell-bent and going and that was it.
And it was so worth it.
One of the most dysfunctional, yet memorable trips I ever went on, Portugal was top five. I learned so much about the people, their kindness, the natural beauty, history, and amazing Portuguese cuisine. Sure, I was almost poisoned by exterminators and almost drowned in a sea cave on the first day, but the next six were amazing. We took all of the public transportation, not once were kidnapped, were never bothered by anyone, and even made a couple of friends at a local pub. Portugal, particularly Portimao, was a dream. It was where we were tourists treated like locals – how I try to make every vacation go. These touristy-locals, however, had a holiday coming up, and needed to find a place to eat.
McDonald’s.
We almost did. Almost. Dear baby Jesus, if I could just have a quarter pounder with cheese…
“Guys, we can’t. We’re in Portugal. Americans. Getting McDonald’s. On Thanksgiving.” The three of us agreed that fast food was not the best course of action, but we still had nostalgic yearning for the tastes of home: turkey, stuffing, gravy, other miscellaneous items to make up a 4,000 calorie plate. They didn’t celebrate the overtaking of American in Portugal, though, so where could we turn?
Chinese food.
A small, welcoming Chinese restaurant sat along a line of stores, strip clubs, empty off-season hotels, and vendors. It was surprisingly busy, but we were seated right away, and the staff was friendly. Our menu was in English, and we picked out our favorite tid-bits from home, sipped green tea, and spoiled ourselves with a little dessert. I knew what I was thankful for. Even though we sat across the world, across from each other, we felt a little more at home that evening.
Not only was I thankful for Chinese food among Candice and Vicky but, it saved my life in Dublin.
Candice and I woke up hungover and possibly dying in an overcrowded bed at the University of Limerick, Christina already awake and at work, instructing us to use her toothpaste and whatever else we needed to freshen up before our bus ride back to Temple Bar.
Fresh underwear, a toothbrush, a hair brush, some leftover dignity, I thought.
We got ourselves put together the best we could. I lost my favorite owl necklace that I bought the year before from a street gypsy in Portugal, and my shirt was covered in coffee from lunch the previous day and we both felt equally disgusting. Doing the smart thing, and utilizing the magic plastic rectangles we had, Candice and I wandered the university in search of the gift shop, where we purchased men’s sweatshirts in sizes XL and XXL, grabbed coffee, and slumped into our seats on our bus back, as far away from each other as possible as to not nauseate one another.
Spice Girls was blaring, and I couldn’t see straight without seeing stars, double-digit Jameson and Cokes and two pizzas and Chicken Hut knocking on my uvula. Candice looked pensively out the window, contemplating what I assume was her own mortality and dipping in and out of a possibly still-drunken stupor. The bus stopped to allow more passengers, and a woman boarded loud, Irish, already drunk, and openly attending to the flask of vodka that lived in her breast pocket. Naturally, she plopped herself in the seat between Candice and I, and we made eyes at each other while this woman opened and closed her flask, the smell of alcohol reminding us of our horrible decisions and the fact that we were in the same clothes as the day before.
This went on for nearly three hours until the bus finally stopped near Trinity College and we leaped off out of the time warp of 90s pop icons and poor life choices and stereotypical Irish people.
“Oh my God I think I’m dying. How many buses till we get back to the hotel?”
“Just one.”
“We need to get there as soon as possible. I feel awful.”
“Me too.”
At the risk of projectile vomiting through our words, Candice and I spoke very little as we walked our way through Temple Bar, over the foot bridge, and towards the bus stop to Clontarf.
Suddenly, a rumbling.
Not of our agitated tummies, rather, of voices. Chanting together, we learned quickly that these individuals were protesting the injustices of the wealth. They were sitting down in the middle of a busy intersection. They were getting rowdy. They began shoving.
I’m way too hungover for this shit.
We walked along the sidewalk as the crowd came closer and closer like a wave, only threatening to pull us back into it with a rip tide of oppression. And that’s when we saw it. Unfamiliar characters, universal only to our appetites: Chinese. Buffet. We ducked into the building, now only concerned for our safety and completely forgetting that we were both terminal about twenty minutes earlier.
Well, when in Rome. Or China or….Dublin?
A lovely young woman seated us and gave us a pitcher of tap water with two shoddy glasses. We didn’t care. Our tongues were thankful. She gave us plates, and a fixed price, and said it was all we could eat. Well damn! We sat in that palace of MSG, that neutral zone of General Tso, that haven of noodles, and stuffed our hungover faces as if we never saw food before. Soon we forgot about the protests, the angry people, the two-day old clothes, the coffee stains, the Jameson permeating through our pores, and we reveled in the safety of our bottomless plates. Nothing could hurt us now.