living underground in the real world

That One Time I Hung Out With My Mom’s Dead Body (Again)

 

(I wrote this last week and it helped me realize how fucked up I was. Since then I’ve gone back to FRAMES, doubled my meditation time [if you meditate for 20 minutes a day you will feel like a goddamn human god the rest of the day, fact], made a plan to go to therapy every week for three weeks instead of every other week like I usually do, and have stabilized a lot. Don’t get freaked. I’m dealing.)

Dear Diary,

Things didn’t fall apart because my mom died. But they didn’t not fall apart because my mom died.

Eighteen months this week. Let’s take stock.

Work.

Three businesses, as of a year ago. It’s not much more work than I was doing before. I just shifted from being a maker to being a manager. Instead of working with my hands I work with my computer and lists and errands primarily and food and chocolate peripherally. I mind. Not as much as I would have thought I’d mind, though. Mostly what I mind is that my brain is overstuffed with bullshit every second. Being at work means twenty people + customers throwing information at me for eight (sometimes now I work eight hour days! It’s true it’s true) or more likely twelve or fifteen hours, crawling home with exhaustion not at all the same as “I’ve been rolling truffles for twelve hours, man this bed is soft yayyyyyy.” Exhaustion more like “If anyone fucking talks to me I’m going to cry stop talking to me oh fuck I can’t do this anymore oh god help me oh shit wait I need to call the dishwasher repair people” cry cry cry sort of exhaustion. Brain-tired, zombie phone-scroll tired modern malaise tired screen-tired too-tired-to-sleep tired.

But I’m carving out space to be a human, too. I don’t pretend to actually do the work of the businesses anymore. I make chocolates almost never. I make ramen every week at Commissary! just to remember how to cook. I invent specials at Commissary! and teach them to everyone then I never make them again. The chocolate shop runs itself, mostly. I run things to Confectionery! as often as I can, because in the car by myself driving to NYC no one can make me fix the stripped screw on the cover to the ice maker or unstick the enrober belt or talk to me about their schedule they’re unhappy with or how cashews didn’t come in and now we’ll be out of mac & cheese all week so the world will end.

(I wrote that paragraph a few days ago and was feeling like I was whining too much, then today in the space of three minutes a customer said to me, “Can I give you some negative feedback?” and Alan wanted to know how many hours he had saved for paid time off and Jasper wanted to change their schedule and Ilianna wanted to suggest that we rotate all the mugs on top of the espresso machine every day. Three minutes.)

I don’t stick to strict hours like I used to when I worked the work everyone else works. If I’m tired or can’t stop going into the bathroom to cry, I go home, I take a car-nap, I meditate in the car, I go home and stare at the wall for a few hours (depression mostly involves staring at the wall, it’s fucking horrifying) and come back to work when everyone’s gone. It used to be very important to me to always be at work when the businesses were open, working alongside everyone else. I don’t care anymore. I do my work when it works for me to do my work.

*

Politics. 

Just like you I’m Trump tired. Just gotta block it out, worst strategy. Times are so bad out there, but times are so bad inside here, this panicked weary heart. Can’t help you until I help me.

I’m still on the Planning Board. Six years, can you even. Now I’m co-chair. I’m always conniving not to be co-chair. But I know it makes a difference, trying to make sure small businesses don’t get screwed over while trying to nudge applicants to do things in more eco & community-minded ways. It’s mostly excruciating. I get so antsy in the meetings I mostly stare into the camera like Jim from The Office, wondering if anyone at home is noticing this inanity/insanity. I still go. I complain about it the rest of the week. I still go.

I’m quieter about things that make me mad now. Being a small business owner in a small town and on an even smaller internet, you get freaked. So many crazies. Plus I go to therapy now to deal with the rage.

Last week this friend send me this after a rare flare-up:

You know, way back when you first posted the video of you pushing back on the New Paltz council over the idea of saying the pledge of allegiance before meetings, I said to my now-wife, “Lagusta doesn’t just fight the good fight, she fights ALL the fights”. I thought that was pretty funny at the time. What a luxurious time that was, when I didn’t think such a thing was necessary, and I didn’t feel a bit of shame for watching you say what needs to be said, all the time, especially when I get the feeling you’re only saying half of what you feel. And wow that video isn’t even from that long ago. I can tell even from afar how tired you are. It’s like watching the couple newspapers left that are still punching every day, except they’re doing it in the hope that history will bear them out and they can say they were the only ones screaming “the emperor has no clothes” the whole time, whereas I gather you’re just being you. Re-consider the Lobster indeed, tee-fucking-hee. Let’s remake the Godfather while we’re at it, but this time as a screwball comedy about a kindly old pizza-maker with a round belly and a hilarious accent. I mean what’s the big deal, right?

It meant a lot.

My brother.

He’s homeless in LA and every day is an emergency. How can all these things exist at the same time but they do

  • He’s a good kid
  • He’s lazy
  • He’s not addicted to anything
  • He wants to work
  • He infuriates me
  • He refuses to follow up with the many many many shelters, counselors, service agencies, and job prospects my little team of helpers has arranged for him.
  • He’s not ever been a person who could live in a house or an apartment by himself, or with roommates, or anyone but my mom. He’s a born bum, and if the stakes weren’t so high it would be OK.

No matter how much money I send him he burns through it immediately. “It’s very expensive living on the streets.” It is. Yeah. I know this. One day I ask him where it goes.

Food bus snacks socks shirts

I’ve been eating at del taco it’s very cheap

He does these things like getting a cheaper and cheaper phone, even when I offer to pay his phone bill, which makes it harder and harder to get in touch with him. If he loses his phone and he doesn’t have my phone number memorized, what then? Would he think to Google the shop, call me there? Everything is tenuous. If his bank charges him a fee he switches banks, which means my transfers to him are delayed and he has no food for a few days until he can sort it out. Everything takes him a very long time because he doesn’t get logistics. He panhandles. He takes showers at the showers at the beach.

Once Jacob was on his air-conditioned tour bus—fridge and cabinets stuffed with rider snacks, per diem treats, post-show pizza, junk bunk, back lounge for parties, swag bags, late load-ins, endless beer and water and whiskey and runners at the venue to get you anything else you need. Gifting tents at festivals. Tour life. My brother was set to meet him at his hotel room, where he’d stay for the few days. The tour bus rounded a corner past an underpass with a small tent city, bum town. Jacob looked idly out the window and saw my brother doing his jerky body-movement twitchy thing, talking to some other homeless people. In a few minutes my brother met him at the hotel, put his legs up on the couch, drinking mini-bar beers, used the wifi to catch up on YouTubes. He tells Jacob about some Instagram stars he befriended. Young Asian girls with many hundreds of thousands of followers. Definitely something strange is going on. Jacob doesn’t press. He says he’ll come to the show that night, then never makes it.

Homelessness is a funny thing. My brother always smelled bad, it’s often an autistic thing, but now it’s one more strike against him. Hard to get jobs, hard to be trusted.

He doesn’t see the small ways his strange decisions ripple outward. He sold my mom’s car for a van: live in it, do food deliveries in it. Twofer. Food delivery is the best job for him. He can’t be inside a building for too long without going crazy. Motion is best. Small tasks. Go here, get a little tip money, go there. You wouldn’t believe labor law violations restaurants get away with because people don’t know labor laws. At some restaurants he’s worked for there hasn’t been a salary, it’s all tips. Twelve hour shifts with no overtime. Twelve hour shifts with five hours in between. But now I’d kill for him to have one of those jobs. Sometimes he gets day labor work. Folding boxes in a stifling box factory. After a while they tell him that he needs to wash his clothes, or he wasn’t folding fast enough. Something always happens.

He sold the van, which he’d never bothered to register or transfer the title over or get insured (“One misstep and you’re in prison, do you realize that? Panhandling is illegal, you’re driving an illegal car, add it up.” Sometimes I try to get real with him, because he’s not scared. He’s just numb, bumbling around, frustrated but inured.). He sold the van for way too little and frittered away the cash. Nice to have some cash, for once. Pawned his bike, even though I was like—dude! Did you learn nothing from our childhood? You * Never * Get * Your * Pawned * Stuff * Back: theme of living with my father. But you get money for your stuff, and you need money, so you pawn it. So he carries everything on him. The implications of this are amazing. You lose that pack, you’re done. So your motion is restricted. He mostly rides the bus. There are little hacks you learn, some drivers let you just hang out on it all day.

I spend some time every day calling agencies, texting him nags, sending him money. Some combination. I hate it except when I’m texting him and he’s nice and ashamed to ask for money and trying to preserve a little of his dignity and then I’m overcome with love for him, so scared for him I can’t breathe.

You’re wondering why I don’t move him out to New Paltz. Short answer is that I’m an asshole and that’s also the long answer. So I either have a homeless brother in a town where I know literally everyone or my brother lives in my house for the rest of our lives. Asks me where I’m going every minute. I don’t have disposable income like that, I have debt and I have slim margins and I make it through, but taking that on? When I come home at night I cry if anyone but a cat looks in my direction. I grew up in a house that smelled disgusting, I won’t go back to that. And I sure won’t do my brother’s laundry.

In LA it’s sunny. I gotta go out there soon, somehow raise money to buy him a cheap car, help him get it insured and in his name, drive him to Jewish Family Services, fill out job applications. If I get him stabilized, will he stay stable? What’s the alternative?

*

Me. 

Last week on my day off I was getting so many texts from my brother and my mom’s two best friends, who hate each other but have come together for the purposes of Project Brother and who send about thirty texts a day cajoling my brother to take a shower, go to that agency, privately discussing with me next steps and frustrations and ideas—I kid you not, one of them just texted me and the other called me as I was typing this sentence—that I did something I’d never ever done to them: admitted my own humanity.

Guys I’m so sorry but I’m just not feeling OK these days, I’ve got some crises going on and — I want to be there for you so bad but for today I just have to turn my phone off. I’m really depressed and need to work on some of my own problems. Just for today. Xoxo

This had never happened. My brother was so stunned at the strange idea that maybe my life wasn’t perfect that he sent me a nonstop parade of sparkly heart emojis, didn’t stop asking how I was for three straight days. My mom’s pals called and texted quizzically, offering varying degrees of love and support, depending on their own neurosis levels.

Last summer I stopped sleeping.

Something was going on. Now I see it was an iceberg melting inside me, drip drip drip. I was getting three or two hours of sleep a night. “Restless” is one way to describe it, not the whole of it, but it’s something. On Easter I sat in my car in the back of the chocolate shop and decided: no. Melting iceberg, you’re crushing me. Melting iceberg sitting on my chest, hard to breathe always with melting iceberg crushing/melting. Make some decisions. So I did. It’s real rough stuff. Exciting, rough stuff. Because it involves other people, that’s all I can say. I luv a good overshare as you well know but I’ve learned the hard way over & over to zip it a bit, so. But by mid-July the Easter Revelation will have come to fruition. Will I feel less restless then?

There are people who just need a steady supply of change. For a long time things like a new Chocolate of the Month gave me that hit. Then it became the unfolding process of learning to be a boss, cautiously expanding my business.

Since November 13, 2014 it’s been having crises. Year of mom caretaking. No longer mom-caretaking. Grieving. Two new businesses. This February a sad decision was mutually made that meant months of reeling. And last summer, that iceberg. Titanic-level shit.

Last month I cut off most of my hair. I’ve had the same hair my whole life. 39 years of Winnie Cooper. Now it’s something else.

I’m scared of change but I need change so I keep changing, waiting for the changes to add up to my brain changing.

But soon. I’ll be ready for change to stop. I’m ready to feel that my life is a good home for me again. I’m ready to step out from under melting iceberg.

I’ve got so much good shit in my life. New projects, new people, I love my jobs that make me cry with exhaustion, I love them like puppies, their wags their shitting in the corner is so cute your heart aches all day. The only problem is my brain. Ah, always.

About a month ago I gave myself until August 15 to feel better. I’m super good at deadlines. Not a procrastinator, love the looming date. What happens after August 15 if I don’t feel better? Let’s not think about it. Until then my assignment is to use everything I can. First step: admit you’re fucking falling apart. Done! I talk about it all day long. I text friends now just to talk. That’s never happened before. I have a small team of mental-health friends I can unload secrets and shame to at all times. I cry every day couple days. Not always grief cries, mostly just tension/rage-release cries. I have a panic attack every month or three weeks or so (remember when I’d had just four!).

Sometimes I just walk out of whatever work I’m in and go home. That’s never happened before. Sometimes I’m driving and I realize I’m not OK to be driving. So I pull over and take a nap or cry or text a friend until I’m steady. We do a Lagusta’s Luscious yoga class at Commissary! one night after work and I go religiously. I cry at the end, tears in my ears, always. I bought something called a jade roller because my friend Meredith said to and now I do something called “jade rolling” every day. I don’t know the fuck why. But I like it.

I’m glued to my phone at all times as a strategy to stay out of my head. My body is tensed up in crazy ways always. I realize a dozen times a day the reason I feel like I’m going to pass out is because I’m holding my breath, clenching everything. I hate meditation, but meditation is what makes me feel best. So I meditate, with hatred for it and very badly. It still helps. You don’t have to be friends with it. You just have to do it.

In January I read a book about keeping habits. It was making me insane that I couldn’t keep a habit. I fucking hated this book about keeping habits. The woman who wrote it gets up at 5 AM every day and launches in on a routine of daily habits that doesn’t let up until it deposits her neatly in bed, at 9 PM. Every day is exactly the same. She eats no sugar including fruit. Even on vacations she sticks to her habits with obsessive and insane obedience. Her habits are completely bonkers, just stupid, just nonsensical. I hated the book so much that I rage-invented my own method for sticking to habits. It’s changed my life for the past six months. Two weeks ago I stopped it because the walls started closing in even more and I figured giving myself extra rules might not be helping. But until then it had been helping. My habits system gave me just enough structure to get through the day, it gave me a sense of accomplishment and reward for tiny tasks. I love it.

It’s called FRAMES, but yours could be called whatever you want. Every day I write FRAMES on my planner. A neat line of FRAMES running across the week. I take Sundays off and Wednesdays when I work in NYC I give myself permission to sort of half ass it. Every time I do something in FRAMES I get a small, neat check mark. Six more nice check marks on my to do list every day is all the incentive I need. I’d burn down a building full of children if I put it on my to do list.

FRAMES doesn’t solve my obsessive compulsive need to accomplish, but that’s what therapy’s for. FRAMES makes me feel good & that’s all I fucking care about.

FullSizeRender

FRAMES

F = Flossing. I never flossed ever ever but I’ve flossed pretty much every day of 2017. You do stop bleeding after a few days, it’s true. Check!

R = Reading. Not on a screen. Minimum ten minutes. Ten minutes turns into twenty, half an hour, an entire book. Clawing my way away from my phone, and I get a checkmark out of it.

A = Activism. On days I do Planning Board work, that counts. The other days I make a call. I get a text every day telling me who to call. I press the number on the text and listen to a recorded message telling me what to say and connecting me to the senator or congressperson or office or governmental branch. Lemming liberalism, I’ll take it. Not only do I get a check mark, but I get a thank-you text for every call I make. Text DAILY to 228466 to get going.

M = Meditation.

E = Exercise. I used to use the cop-out “my job is exercise” excuse, but now my job involves a lot of sitting, and I know that a sure way out of TheBadBrains2k17 is to jostle myself out of it. A ten-minute yoga video before bed counts. My thresholds are low.

S = A song. I wanted a morning ritual. Listening to one song while preparing for the day. January-March it was Feeling Good by Nina Simone, April-June it’s been The Orchids by Psychic TV. When I hear my morning song out in the world I sort of freak out. MY SONG.

Until I surrendered to shit-town, FRAMES was working out well for me. I’ll go back to it. Soon.

*

Mom.

The other day I was in the city. I do this thing where I slip down there all the time now. Part of my new life plan. I very rarely run into anyone I know. It’s not like New Paltz at all. Even though I have a job there, I mostly don’t get too near it if I’m not working there that day. The only way I’ll take a day off is if I’m not too close to work, and 85 miles works nicely.

I live entirely for myself in the city.

On my drive home I pass my mom. You know I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.

So this Friday. The little talky lady in my phone led me right there. It was rush hour traffic. I didn’t listen to anything in the car. I was just real quiet and trying not to hold my breath and trying to get out from under the knots in my stomach. Second gear the whole way. Summertime northbound rush hour out of the city. Of course I had to pee by the time I got there. I had no idea where I was going, so I pulled into the first small parking lot I could. In order to get in you had to press a call button. Eventually a nice-looking guy walked over and buzzed me in. That’s the first thing I noticed. You look nice. I asked if I could use the bathroom. He said, “You came all the way to the detention center just to use the bathroom?” The doors were locked to keep people in. I came out of the bathroom and he asked me if I was a medical student at the college. I stared at him.

“Hey, can I ask you a question?” He said sure. I burst into tears. Not something I do around anyone usually. Private crier, most of us are. He ushered me into his office. Literally ushered, waved me in, here, here, come on in. Gave me a tissue. Profusely apologized for a plastic deer with a target on it. “See, I work with a lot of troubled kids, and we use this deer as a tool, it’s not about hunting—really.” I guess I give off anti-hunting vibes. He looked at me sniffling. “So, um…my mom died? About a year and a half ago. She’s…here. Somewhere. I was just wondering—I don’t need anything. Just wanted to sit in my car…if you knew, like, maybe where.” He was a social worker. He told me about his brother who’d died twenty years ago, that he thinks of him every day, brings rocks home from trips and puts them in a special place for him, visits his grave all the time. He told me it was totally normal, this insane thing I was doing. “You don’t have a grave to visit. That can be an important part of the grieving process.” “I was just in the area, you know? I mean, Manhattan. I live in New Paltz. It’s on the way, sort of?” “Yeah, I get it. Grief takes so long. A year and a half —that’s nothing. Most people usually have lots of days where everything is really, really hard for them at that point. Please don’t judge yourself. What you’re doing is so normal. Why don’t you call the main number of the medical school when you get back in your car, I’m sure they can help.” He gave me his card, he made me take a bottle of water for the road.

IMG_0811

I got in my car and drove around. I didn’t call anyone, because what was I going to say? The campus was so nice. Real Pauline-type vibe. Flowering dogwoods everywhere. Spring 2015, we were so into the flowering dogwoods. She could still walk fairly well, not great but sorta, and we really had a spring. Usually I just go to work and one day there’s flowers and one day there’s new leaves and then it’s fall but spring 2015 we smelled the peonies and picnicked under the magnolias. Her favorite was the dogwoods. The flowers have that weird flatness, a 2-D thing.

IMG_0805

I took a bunch of pictures. I pulled into a random lot, and went into a random building. The guy at the desk in the lobby stared at me. “Uh, I’m going to have to call my boss.” He put me on the phone with his boss. I gave her name. He said he’d be right by. The guy at the desk said he thought they were all here. “I think they’re all in this building.” They. The little corpse-gang, waiting to cure cancer and facilitate heart surgery dry runs. I sat, and looked out the window at a squirrel. If my mom, if my refrigerated mom could see squirrels from her slot in the walk-in, things seemed pretty OK. Feeding squirrels outside her apartment was always a big thing for her.

Finally this guy came up who looked just like a rangier Steve Buscemi. He shook my hand and asked if I had any ID. I’d left it in the car, and he said he could walk me there. I took off at a nervous trot. “Hey, it’s OK, I’m not in a rush.” I showed him my wallet with my ID and my mom’s business card in the first pocket. He told me that she was there, on the fourth floor. “Do you see those big windows? That’s where she is. It’s not open to the public, or else I’d take you up there. There’s no lobby or anything.”

He said it happens all the time. One guy used to come every few days, sitting on the benches, bringing lunch, staring inside where his wife was. “They haven’t, ah, done anything with her yet. They will in 2018. Then there is a ceremony every year for the families of the deceased where the medical students thank the families. A tree is planted at the ceremony to commemorate the donation. Then we’ll send you the ashes.” It was raining which was a good thing, movie-like, right.

He said I could hang out as long as I liked.

IMG_0820

 

 

 

 

10 Responses to “That One Time I Hung Out With My Mom’s Dead Body (Again)”

  1. Randal Putnam

    Nice to hear from you. We think of you often and then do nothing more about it. I guess this is something (next to nothing). We’ll keep thinking of you, though. Be well.

    Reply
  2. Cheryl

    People are incredible. You’re incredible Lagusta. I cried reading.

    Reply
  3. Emily

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. I really respect and admire you, as a businessperson, activist, and human being just trying to feel okay. However you’re feeling right now, know that I really care about you. (That’s not creepy for a stranger on the internet to say, right?

    Reply
  4. Just Wondering

    Me again. This made me quietly, painfully cry at my desk, in that sick, cathartic way I think I needed. I’m struggling too, with so much. Everything is so difficult these days–even the easy stuff is difficult. Thank you for sharing yourself on here again.

    Reply
  5. Stephanie

    I don’t know you personally but I found your original “rants” years ago, as a young, vegan college feminisit looking for voices with courage and authenticity. You taught me that it was perfectly ok to stop shaving my pits and that I was still a good animal rights activist even though I hated PETA. I’ve followed you ever since and my heart broke for you and news of your your mother. I actually haven’t checked in in quite some time but thought to today. Thank you for sharing the hard stuff, thank you for sharing anything at all. You were an inspiration to me back then and I admire your strength and vulnerability. I hope you find peace and continue to write. Much love to you and thank you.

    Reply

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