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Grandma Goes Home

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What do you do the morning after you lose someone you love? Even if that death was for the best, following months (years) of illness, suffering, and grief? We lost Grandma Schwind last night: the last remaining grandparent in my family, the matriarch. She left us at 7 PM. She navigated her way past the pain, the hospital bed, and all the other old, sick, and suffering at her nursing home to see Heaven and Papa and her beloved son, lost much too soon, Barney. Last night, Grandma went home.

It’s a relief really. Ten minutes prior to The Call from Ohio, I was having trouble eating. I was telling my husband how the wait was killing me. My chest ached with tears that would not fall, not until I felt Grandma’s absence. I’d been holding onto phantom pain for two days, ever since Grandma’s breathing changed, ever since she stopped eating. I hadn’t cried. The tears wouldn’t come. The saltwater simmered in my chest but would not boil, not until my mom called sobbing at 7 PM to say, “She’s gone.”

With those two words, tears came in earnest—sobs that shook my body as Jake held me until even the dogs came and wrapped us in their tail-wagging embrace. Jake said, “Some dogs can smell cancer. What makes you think they can’t smell when you’re upset?”

0011Leonilda Schwind was once a Macy’s sales clerk in New York City. Of Italian descent, she had that wicked foreign appeal; plus, she was gorgeous. I think my grandfather fell for her immediately when they met at that picnic in Central Park. They were married for sixty-six years before Papa died last October. They had four children, three grandchildren, and lots of great-grand dogs.

By the time Papa passed, he was one of the last of his friends still standing. Same with Grandma, and if the clouds rumble today, it’s because there is a huge party happening right now, above our heads. You might hear Frank Sinatra on a chilly breeze or maybe smell gin.

I don’t feel sad this morning. I’m sure, over the course of the day, there will be bouts of stark reality—the reality of death. It’s difficult, living so far away, when someone you love dies. It’s easy to pretend it isn’t real. A few months ago, even, there was a moment when I was on the phone with my mother, and I almost asked her to put Papa on the phone. I didn’t say the words, thank God; I hung up and stood there, shaking. And even years after my Uncle Barney’s death, I still have those moments when I think, “Oh, my GOD, he has to hear this …”

I know death is real. I know Grandma has gone home to her Lord, her family, her friends. I mourn the loss of the stubborn, funny, beautiful woman she was, not the bedridden sick person she became. There are so many memories, so many stories (too many to tell here). It’s a relief to know Grandma isn’t sick anymore. She’s probably in Heaven, her twenty-five-year-old New York self, glitzed up in the latest fashion (I picture a big hat) with her curly, black hair; big, shining eyes; and a smile that could light up all of Times Square. Papa is there, too, in his sailor uniform, his ears a little too big for his head. And Barney: thin and smoking cigarettes and laughing, laughing …

The older we get, the more people we know on the other side. Grandma might have had us here on Earth, but she had a crowd of revelers waiting for her arrival last night in Heaven. And of course, a kiss from Papa, and perhaps a quick, “What took you so long, Lee? I missed you.”

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Screw You for Saying Life Sucks

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I’ve had a lot of people tell me lately that life is not a bowl of cherries. I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish by the routing of this cliché. Is this supposed to make me feel better?

I was in Florida for a week, and I never wanted to come back to Phoenix. I wanted Jake to move to the beach with the dogs and me. Burn our house down. Forget about our jobs, our belongings. Become perpetual beach bums. I could bartend; he could fix and rent out bicycles. So long as we were near the sand, the water, and the lifestyle.

While there with my brilliant Aunt Susie, we scattered Grandpa Schwind’s ashes into the sea. She reminisced; he never missed a sunset when he was down on Longboat Key. He would wander to the beach at night and say, “Thank you, God.” He planned his whole day around it.

Saying goodbye to Papa.
Saying goodbye to Papa.
Susie and I had an amazing week together. We rode beach cruisers to visit the friendly peacocks down the street. We spent all day at the beach and saw two baby sharks. We drank Kryptonite cocktails at the Daiquiri Deck, and I ate enough oysters to kill a small child. I even took a long walk on the beach in the middle of a torrential rainstorm.

I came back to Phoenix, hoping to keep the “beach mindset,” and I failed immediately. Life got in the way. First, there was the aforementioned “chicken incident.” There was an overburden of work and the stress of trying to sell our house. There was a premenstrual emotional breakdown on Saturday. Finally, yesterday morning, a close friend of mine passed away.

The bowl of cherries comment came about when I admitted to someone I didn’t really want to live in Phoenix anymore. I want to move back east. I want to be near the ocean again, and the longing to do so is a resounding ache in my chest.

Then, David died yesterday, and a friend told me death was just part of life and that life isn’t easy and mortality is a bitch and blah blah blah—I don’t know if this kind of talk helps other people, but it only makes me angry.

beach picPeople telling me life is hard does not help. People giving advice only makes things worse. I need to channel the girl I was on the beach last week, walking in the rain with the tide on my toes. She was so blissfully happy, filled with joy. She was free.

My Grandpa Schwind would have wanted me to be that girl always, every day. David (who reminded me so much of Papa) would have wanted the same. In the past six months, I’ve said goodbye to both of them—such joyful, peaceful, kind men, who would never, ever say, “Life is not a bowl of cherries.”

I need to find the girl I was on the beach, but I need to remember these two important men I’ve lost, as well. We scattered Papa on the beach because now, he can watch the sunset every night. Every night, he can say “Thank you, God.” I am utterly lost, but I can’t buy into this bullshit about life not being fair, life being hard. The negativity will drown me.

I won’t listen. I won’t hear. I’m done being told to keep a stiff upper lip, to be strong. Another friend recently said I needed “joy and ease.” She wanted me to say it like a mantra: “joy and ease.” Okay, I can get behind that. Life might be hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. Screw anyone who says otherwise.

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Why My Husband is Hot

Jake Bauer1
My husband is cut like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. He has honey brown eyes that melt women into puddles of lusty angst. He has a single dimple when he smiles, and he smiles a lot. He has an ass that Michelangelo would have sculpted into a fifty-foot statue. He has a voice that makes Jell-O quake. And those are his lesser attributes.

Jake married a girl with depression. He married a difficult wife, and yet, he makes adorable growling noises and kisses my neck until I laugh. He holds me when I cry. He tells me—no, he makes me believe—everything will be all right, because he will never leave me, never stop supporting me.

He volunteers at an organic farm, and I love when he comes home all sweaty and covered in dirt. He always kisses me and says he needs to shower, but I don’t let him because I want to hold him. He makes me proud to be his wife.

Jake is so funny, he could make Louis CK laugh and blush. It doesn’t matter if he’s having a bad day; he will drop everything to make someone else feel better. He does it with a smile—a joyous smile that’s wrought with happy wrinkles, from his mouth to his eyes.

He dances like a white Usher. We joke that it’s because his brother is gay, and his bro can dance, too. Jake dances with no ego. He doesn’t care if people think it’s funny that a straight guy just loves to dance. He also doesn’t care that people thinks he’s a nerd for loving bad eighties elevator music.

My husband lives with no inhibitions, no fear. He is the bravest, most honest person I know. He is immediately embarrassed if he gossips. He sees the best in people, and he has taught me to try to do the same. He has taught me so much: how to be comfortable with myself and how to believe I am beautiful.

My friends have a nickname for Jake: Mr. Hottie McHotterson, and it’s not just because he fills out a pair of jeans. It’s not just because he rolls up the sleeves on his button-down shirts to show off his ripped forearms. My friends think he’s hot because he makes them feel better when he’s around. He does that to everyone.

My husband should be on posters. He should be on billboards with his six-pack abs hanging out. But he should also be on posters that say “This is a real man. This is what every man should strive to be.” He is perfect within his imperfections—his sweet snoring, his messy cooking style, and his bed head, half-mohawk blond hair.

He is what I spent my life looking for, and that makes him hot. Hotter than the desert in July. Hotter than the love anyone deserves.

Jake Bauer 2

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You Are a Broken Toy

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Depression makes you feel like a broken toy. You once had use, but now, you’re forgotten, sprawled in the dust beneath a child’s bed. You can’t remember what it’s like to not be broken. You can’t imagine anyone fixing you.

So you lie there, tired, broken, and no one can reach you—not even mom’s feather duster.

Depression destroys you. It makes you forget how to work or how to eat. It makes you want to sleep but not cry. You are beyond crying. You feel nothing but a crushing pain in your chest. You feel nothing but aching muscles and the strange beat of your heart that seems louder in the silence.

It’s very quiet under the child’s bed. In the dust.

It’s not scary under here, not like the movies would have you think. There aren’t monsters under this bed—just you, the broken toy. You are in pieces. You can’t hurt anyone.

Depression is the bad thing you’re waiting for that never happens.

Depression is loss, but lost what?

Depression is the hope that this day will soon be over, because maybe you will wake up not so broken tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Maybe tomorrow, the child will find you under his bed. He will dust you off and sew you back together. He will play with you again and remind you what you’re here for.

You will remember how to work and eat and maybe even smile. Tomorrow.

For now, you lie in the dust and watch feet pass the foot of the child’s bed. You wonder: how do they do it? How do they go about their days? How do they keep their pieces together? When you are so broken.

You’re not even old! Barely played out! How did you end up in this dingy, under-bed place? How did you get here? But you don’t remember. One day, you were fine; the next, you weren’t.

Depression is the dark thing in your dreams, half remembered by morning.

Depression is the thief that takes and makes you forget how to give back.

Maybe you should rest now, sleep for a while, under the bed. Stop looking at other toys. Stop wondering how they stay together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll be fixed again.

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To be an Introvert

I attended a fantastic book signing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this weekend to see Ransom Riggs: a hilarious, talented young man who penned Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children as well as its newly released sequel, Hollow City. Ransom was sociable and clever, great at off-the-cuff jokes and comic tidbits. Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck in my seat because there were too many people and the chairs were too close together.

Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.
Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.

I’ve fought for years to act the part of an extrovert. I do public speaking. I throw parties at my house. I come off as confident, outgoing, and a little eccentric. The truth: I’m painfully introverted, and it takes an awful lot of emotional energy to leave my house.

According to About.com’s Psychology page, “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.” Introverted does not mean shy; it just means we’re happier in our own heads than in the center of a crowd.

Even the social butterfly can be an introvert, which is a perfect example of me. I am a social butterfly, but only for a certain amount of time. After awhile, I run out of words, and I literally need to get home before I have a panic attack.

The Huffington Post has an article entitled “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert,” and it gave me a laugh. Among the listed items:

  • Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards. (Can you say “Ignite Phoenix?”)
  • You screen all your calls—even from friends. (Guilty.)
  • You have a constantly running inner monologue. (The voices! The voices!)
  • You’re a writer. (Literally, this was on their list. No joke.)

I could go on, but you get the idea. As I said, I’ve fought to be an extrovert, because I admire people who are. Some of my best friends and social icons are extremely extroverted. They’re charmers. People like them, remember them. They love “doing things,” and I’ve wanted to be like that for years, but you know what? I’m thirty-one, and maybe I’m getting a little old to be someone else.

f4da910154a970b30270c93711ec96daSometimes, it sucks really knowing yourself, because you might not like what you find. For instance, I’m grumpy and unpleasant when I’m around people for too long. I’m horrible at returning voicemails because I hate talking on the phone. I’m in my head so much, I feel like I occasionally neglect my husband, my family, my friends … these are flaws. I don’t like them, but they are mine.

I once considered being an introvert a flaw, but no longer. It’s who I am. It’s who a lot of people are. I’d like to be like Ransom at Changing Hands. I’d like to be relaxed in a crowd and feed off the energy around me, but I can’t. And maybe I should stop trying.

The older I get, the more weird and introverted I become. Does this worry me? No. I’m just growing more comfortable with myself.

I am an introvert. I don’t want to go to that dinner theater performance because I’m terrified they might pull me on stage. I refuse to go on weekend trips with people I don’t know well, because I can’t be trapped in a hotel room with them. I know when to say “no,” but I say YES to introversion—because that’s who I am. Hear me roar … while sitting happily alone on the couch in my living room.

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The Christmas Letter

The Dobie-Schwind-Bauer family in Ohio, 2011.
The Dobie-Schwind-Bauer family in Ohio, 2011.

This morning I received the yearly Christmas letter from the pastor at my church, and it came as a surprise because so far this year, I haven’t acknowledged the most heavily celebrated holiday on the Christian calendar.

In his letter, Pastor Bob enumerated the many things he loves about Christmas: the lights, the music, and the atmosphere of joy—and it’s all true; just ask my neighbors. They’ve had their Christmas lights up since November 29th.

Usually, on December 1st, I’m ready for the holiday season, too. By December 1st, I finally allow for tinsel and 99.9 FM (the Christmas station). This year, something is different, and I’m not entirely sure what.

Is it Grandpa being gone? He was the ultimate lover of Christmas and Frank Sinatra’s “The Christmas Waltz.” He was our patriarch, and this is our first Christmas without him.

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been oddly emotional. While shopping for tree trimmings at Michael’s, for instance, I told Jake, “I gotta get out of here” and started crying as soon as we stepped outside. The next night, my husband (who is not into holidays) was the one who dragged out our fake Christmas tree.

I don’t feel giggly inside. I don’t feel joyful. I don’t believe Santa Claus is coming to town, and let’s not forget: my parents arrived last night. Yes, this will be the first time I’m not in Ohio to celebrate Christmas, but the grief people at Hospice say this is good. After a death in the family, you’re supposed to change up the holidays so the absence of a loved one isn’t quite as obvious. Yet, even with the arrival of mummy and daddy, I still don’t feel like decorating or singing carols or baking cookies.

But this morning, Pastor Bob’s Christmas letter was a revelation, because along with not thinking about Christmas, I also haven’t thought about Jesus.

From Pastor Bob’s letter: “My prayer for you is that as your scurry about with many and varied preparations for Christmas … the real meaning and message of Christ’s birth will not be lost. Pause and remember the message of Christmas is simply this: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.’”

This holiday season may be tougher than most. My family will be separated into east and west coasts. I’ll be in the sunny desert when I really want snow. We’ll all be without Papa, and that will be hard. But Christmas isn’t about the decorations, the presents, or Frank Sinatra. Christmas is about a baby born in a manger—and it’s time I remembered.

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Entertainment in AZ · Television · Uncategorized

Giffing Out

Kmart recently launched a new ad campaign for Christmas that features two happy shoppers “giffing out.” I know what you’re thinking: Kmart still exists? If you’re not thinking that, you’re thinking: What the hell is a gif? Well. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite time wasters.

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A “gif” is an image format. Unlike the boring “jpeg,” a gif format supports animation. Basically, you can turn any video into a repeating image that repeats and repeats and honestly grows funnier the more it repeats.

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Who has time to turn videos into gif files? I have no idea, although I often wonder because they show up so fast. You see something funny on the news? It’s probably a gif before the show even reaches your TV. I mean, these people are fast—like, faster than a Cumberbitch with a camera at The Hobbit premiere.

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For me, gifs exist to make me laugh—and they do, often. And who doesn’t need a laugh, right? I’m not a computer nerd, but I did laugh at the new Kmart commercials. I say bravo to them for being hip with computer folk.

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True, there are those who think the “giffing out” commercials are immature–but laughing at gifs is immature, so the advertising makes perfect sense.

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Thanks honestly to all the insane fangirls, comics, and internet-obsessed who give me the gift of gif. Merry Christmas to me!

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In Memory of Barney Schwind

Barney Schwind is dead: the man known across the Toledo area as “The TV Repair Man.” He wasn’t known to me as that. I called him “Papa.”

Saturday night, October 5, Papa passed on. For years, we watched him lose weight, lose his appetite. We watched him physically shrink, the man he used to be shed like clothing on the floor. Yet, despite old age and dementia, he was still Papa, who loved gin and tonics, always had Tic Tacs in his pocket, and did magic tricks with pieces of tissue paper.

Barney Schwind and Sara Dobie BauerPapa never lost his spark. He still yelled, “Sara, baby!” every time I called the house. He still made bad jokes, and I still laughed. He still jokingly held blankets to the side of his face every Christmas and sucked his thumb like a little kid. Despite the dwindling physicality—the mind that forgot my husband’s name—he was still Papa. And we didn’t love him any less.

He’s gone now. He died Saturday night after a huge, Papa yawn. We, as family, are left with many memories of this great man who wore gold chain necklaces on the beaches of Long Boat Key; who visited the Jagermeister tent at the German American Fest to hit on chicks; and who kissed me on the cheek each time I arrived and left his house on Walnut Street.

My family has lost our patriarch; my grandmother has lost her husband. Perrysburg, you’ve lost Barney Schwind. You were lucky to have him for so long.

Papa taught me how to be an optimist every day. He taught me how to have a smile for everyone. He taught me how to love unconditionally—and love eternally. He will be greatly missed … but in a way, I feel like he’s still here, giving me a big Papa hug and telling me he’ll always be close.

(Thanks to the Perrysburg Messenger Journal.)

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Back in Black

fe53ea027d8a55833af2d9ed7ed2a357When I was a depressive teenager, my parents hated the black I wore—even my hair. I remember I once snuck out of the house with black eyeliner on, and when my mom finally noticed, she freaked. Granted, I probably looked like a raccoon. That black eyeliner was the first makeup I ever wore.

As an adult, I look back and laugh, because now, those things that made me creepy and “troubled” as a teen have become my trademark. I wear black eyeliner every day, usually paired with dark purple lipstick. I wear tons of black clothes and skulls—skulls galore. Even my friends love this; so much so that when they see anything skull-related, they spend their hard-earned money and buy it for me.

The things that were once exterior manifestations of my depression have become … style.

When I was a teenager, the black hair and dark makeup were cries for help. I wanted to show people how disturbed I was; isn’t that what writers are supposed to do—show not tell? Now, I wear dark makeup because I look good in dark makeup. I have purple streaks in my hair because I like lookin’ funky. No longer does darkness on the outside mimic darkness within. Darkness on the outside just means I’m keeping up with Vogue.

Day of the Dead goth.
Day of the Dead goth.
The last week has been a week of endings. I finished my novel, Something about a Ghost, and my grandfather passed away Saturday night. The dark makeup has been smeared by tears that wash in like high tide. My toenail polish started peeling, so I painted them black. I try on three outfits before I put on a black tee and call it a day.

For the first time in fifteen years, it is possible that my exterior mimics the internal pain. When I was a teenager, my grunge-phase call for help was hormonal. I suppose today the black couture and blood-red lipstick are purely circumstantial.

When I was a teenager, I listened to Nine Inch Nails to drown myself in auditory misery. As an adult, their music reminds me of sex. Many things change, but depression doesn’t. I have good days, bad days, but I’ve been fighting this disease since the eighth grade, and there is no cure. There is no magic pill. This has been a week of endings, but not an end to sadness.

Playful goth.
Playful goth.
I will not be deterred from the way I look. No matter how I feel, I’ll still wear skull jewelry. I’ll still paint my nails black and go total goth for Rocky Horror Picture Show at the end of this month. I may be depressive, but I still got style. I also still have sadness, and I admit: that teenager in the Kurt Cobain t-shirts still lives inside me. She says hello whenever I buy Urban Decay lip gloss or hear Jim Morrison sing “The End.”

We are who we once were. We change in many ways, but certain things remain the same. I embrace the old me—pay her homage—every time I bemoan another sunny day. (Sunshine can be so depressing.) But I sometimes turn my back on teenage me, too: go makeup-less and lay in the sun.

I am in a dark place for now. The black fingernails and dark lipstick are more than elements of style. Yet, I will move forward, and soon, this pain will pass. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll buy something in a shade of pink.

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Everything Ends

As I near the completion of another novel (Something about a Ghost), my feelings are mixed. I’m excited at the prospect of completing a new project—a land speed record for me, a novel in two months. This year, every novel I write finishes faster. In time, I might be Ray Bradbury, locked away in a basement, writing Fahrenheit 451 in four days.

Each time I finish a novel, there is a forty-eight hour period of celebration. Following the celebration comes the depression, the mourning. By completing a novel, I kill my characters. You must understand: when the book ends, so does their story. They will never say something new, do something new. They are dead, and when this realization strikes, I wish I still had work to do.

My therapist suggests I write a letter to my dead characters, telling them how much I miss them. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s an idea. Characters, when you spend enough time with them, become friends, and no one likes saying goodbye to a friend.

In conjunction with the completion of Something about a Ghost, I struggle to come to terms with my grandfather’s ensuing passage. As of last Sunday, the Hospice nurses gave him one to two weeks of life left.

Papa Schwind, 2011, at my wedding.
Papa Schwind, 2011, at my wedding in AZ.
Papa Schwind is the grandfather I grew up with in Ohio. My Grandpa Dobie lived far away, in Arkansas, and he died when I was very young, so I identify the word “grandfather” most strongly with Papa. He lives five minutes from my childhood home. He was at my house for every birthday, national holiday, and random Sunday afternoon.

Now, he can’t get out of bed. He recently told my mother that he and Grandma were on vacation—that they would be going home soon. I’ve tried talking to him on the phone from far-off Arizona, but he doesn’t respond. I don’t know if he knows who I am on the telephone. If he saw me, maybe it would be different; maybe not. He’s drugged. He sleeps constantly. He truly is ready to leave.

Everything ends. Life. Novels. Summer. Let’s not forget it will soon be October, and I’m shocked. October is my favorite month of the year—the month of pumpkin-flavored everything, daily horror films, and spooky décor. I am ill-prepared, perhaps because of all that’s gone on this week: the impending loss of not only favorite figments of my imagination but of the man I’ve loved all my life.

In my imagination, Papa and my novel are on a timeline together. I call my family every day; I write every day. Papa fades; the characters in Something about a Ghost will, too. I’ve reached the level of literary maturity to know that finishing a novel carries a lot of baggage; so does death, because I don’t know how I’ll respond when the final phone call comes from Ohio. Will I cry? Scream? Fall apart?

Papa has been sick a long time. The man he was—the man I most remember—is mostly gone. He still smiles. I guess Sunday, when they first thought he was gonna go, he woke up and asked for a cookie. That’s Papa. He’s still in there, but I’ve already grieved. I’ve been grieving for two years.

Everything ends. People say every ending is also a beginning, and this is true. Papa’s life in Heaven will soon begin. The ending of my novel will release my mind and allow me to wander down new paths of creativity. Yet, I do not rejoice at the prospect of these endings. Instead, I feel a daily ache and wonder what beginnings hide in shadows so thick.