August 30, 2002

It wasn't fear of flying ... although that was part of it.

Until last week, I hadn't been on an airplane since our honeymoon, two months before 911. So I'll admit I felt some apprehension with my mom & my sister about entrusting my life/my luggage/my mortal soul to fate and Alaska Airlines. In fact, as I sat in the middle of Oakland International on Thursday afternoon, waiting for my flight, it occurred to me that I could sneak across the terminal to the airport lounge and belt down a quick quadruple gin-and-tonic to calm my flying nerves ... and nobody would ever know about it. David had kissed me goodbye over an hour ago. It would be dinnertime before the Tots picked me up on the TicTac end. I was completely alone ... and completely unsupervised. I could even continue self-medicating once I got onto the airplane, if I felt like it: maybe order some wine or beer or a couple of eight-dollar cocktails. A squirt of Binaca before I got off the plane, a drop or two of Visine, and who would be any the wiser?

In the end, of course, I went to the airport snack shop and bought a couple of junky magazines and an Elizabeth Berg paperback instead. On the airplane, I ordered my usual: club soda with a wedge of lime.

Flying wasn't the problem.

It wasn't fear of all the money I'd be spending once I got into town, either. That just goes with the territory when you're The Visiting Mom. One of the key objectives for this trip, after all, was hitting the malls and buying new school clothes for the one Tot who is still in school -- Son #Only, who starts his junior year my remaining *student tot* at TicTac High in a few days -- and any mother worth her Mastercard knows that if you buy a bunch of trendy/ugly/ridiculously expensive clothes for one Tot, you're required to buy a bunch of trendy/ugly/ridiculously expensive clothes for everybody. (Including yourself.)

Money wasn't the problem.

It wasn't fear of being separated from David for the first time since we got married. It wasn't fear of my mother calling me "Terri Lynn" in public. It wasn't fear of running into ex-high-school-boyfriends at Taco Time. This stuff is all part of the annual *TicTac Experience* ... along with overcast skies, iffy radio stations and Tony Ventrella's ugly mug, leering into the camera. 

No, the thing that had me tied up in knots about going home for a few days -- the thing that scared me more than flying, finances, childhood nicknames and ex-boyfriends, put together -- was this:

The fear of drama.

I knew before I even made my airline reservations that this was going to be one of those High Drama Visits. How did I know, you ask?  Because -- basically -- EVERY visit to TicTac is a High Drama Visit. My whole family is hopelessly addicted to the rise and fall of huge swirling emotions ... myself sister debi, the world's cutest nephew, jaymi I am your basic recovering Drama Junkie. These days I have the problem pretty much under control, thanks to sobriety, clean living, daily doses of norethindrone/ethinyl estradiol and marriage to the world's most placid and optimistic human being. (Most of the time I really have to stretch to find interesting stuff to gripe about. My bike tire is flat! The KLEZ Virus has infected our hard drive! The Main Marketing Guy spelled my name with a 'y' instead of an 'i' again! )  Over the past couple of years, I've grown very fond of my calm, stable, undramatic life. I was afraid that four days in TicTac might trigger all of the dangerous emotional impulses I work so hard to keep under control. 

Impatience. Insecurity. Irrational anger. Unfounded jealousy. The nail-biting. The multiple personalities. The overwhelming compulsion to sing the Sunset Junior High School Fight Song in the middle of the produce aisle.

The next thing I knew, I would be slamming doors and hurling casserole dishes against the wall again.

As we entered TicTac airspace, though -- as I got my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier out the starboard window -- some of this groundless anxiety began to dissipate. It was swiftly replaced by giddy maternal anticipation. In a matter of minutes, I would be hugging ALL THREE OF THE TOTS for the first time in over a year! Daughter #1 and Son #Only have both been to California to visit since the wedding -- Jaymi has been here three times since then, in fact, and will be visiting again at Thanksgiving -- but I hadn't seen Daughter #2 since before her recent legal problems. I planned to wrap my arms around all three of them at once, right there in the middle of TicTac International, and enjoy a nice juicy Tot Sandwich. jaymi, joel & kyle at dinner on saturday night

As soon as we landed I sprinted off the plane, ran the 43,897,621 miles from Gate D-4 downstairs to baggage claim, looked around the terminal in search of familiar faces ...

... and all of a sudden: there they were!

Daughter #1, looking slim and radiant and gorgeous ... her intrepid boyfriend Joel, beaming broadly ... Son #Only, who actually appears to have grown another four inches taller since last April ...

... but no Daughter #2.

My son and daughter looked at me, shrugging apologetically. Somehow their sister had managed to drop off the planet at the last minute, once again, and nobody had a clue where she was or how to reach her.

"Sorry, Mom," said Daughter #1.

But I wasn't upset. At least ... not much. I wasn't surprised, either, even though I'd talked to Kacie on the phone just the day before, and it sounded as though she was planning to be part of the Homecoming Committee. If anything, I was momentarily disappointed: I'd really been looking forward to that big Tot Sandwich. But I knew we would catch up with Daughter #2 sometime over the course of the weekend. The lure of free meals and new clothesjaymes would coax her out of hiding eventually.

And in the meantime, I had two out of three Tots standing right there in front of me ... and it was time to celebrate!

We picked up my suitcase, hopped into Joel's car and immediately headed for the nearest Taco Time to satisfy my Soft-Taco-and-Mexi-Fries craving. (The earnest young counterperson tried to talk me into ordering something called a 'Baja Taco' instead. "I've just flown seven hundred miles for a Beef Soft Taco," I growled at him. "Don't mess with me.")  Just as we were sitting down to eat -- just as I'd popped the first Mexi-Fry between my trembling, eager lips and had begun to lovingly unwrap my Soft Taco from its aluminum foil receiving blanket -- the cell phone rang. Daughter #2, calling from Destination Unknown ... sounding forlorn and overlooked. Why hadn't she been invited to lunch?

And thus it began.

We spent most of the weekend trying to fit our shopping-and-visiting schedule around the whims and vagueries of Daughter #2's non-schedule. Part of the problem is that she doesn't actually appear to live anywhere, officially -- she's staying 'with friends' most of the time, and we're not permitted to know exactlykacie where or with whom  -- so it wasn't as though we could just show up on her doorstep and ring her doorbell three or four or eighty-seven times until she answered. What we had to do instead was make arrangements to meet at various places ... and then hope she actually showed up. Plus she kept providing us with phone numbers that were disconnected or out of range or no longer in service ... which meant that we had to wait for her to call us, rather than the other way around. It was a little bit like trying to schedule lunch with Houdini. Eventually we did manage to hook up, of course. We picked her up at her Dad's house on Saturday afternoon and dragged her along on The Great School Clothes Shopping Expedition. When she walked into my ex-husband's living room and I hugged her for the first time in over a year, my heart executed a perfect two-and-a-half somersault pike. I felt joy at seeing her/holding her/being with her again ... and sorrow over how thin and tired she looks. It was a duality of emotion I would feel for the rest of the weekend, every time I looked at her.

But Daughter #2 wasn't the only source of drama ... nor were the huge swirling emotions she generated the only huge swirling emotions I experienced over the weekend.

During the four short days that I was in town, a family friend was arrested on drug charges. Jaymi and Joel's cat had to be rushed to the veterinary hospital in the middle of the night, after a marauding pack of neighborhood cats literally tore her a new asshole. Value Village burned down.* My mother, who has been ill recently, was sporting her new portable oxygen unit. My ex-husband was sporting his new dog. My ex-husband's new live-in "friend" was sporting an unhealthy tan and a pair of *my* old earrings. The World's Cutest Nephew experienced a major potty-training meltdown in the middle of the family barbecue. Somebody broke into Joel's car, while we were all asleep on Saturday night, and stole his car stereo and Jaymi's entire CD collection. I accidentally watched The Anna Nicole Show.

It was one trauma after another, basically.

But here is an interesting discovery I made, in the midst of all this drama and turmoil and swirling familial emotion: if you project yourself as calm and capable and tolerant -- even if what you're actually feeling is Oh god! Will they notice if I lock myself in the bathroom for the rest of the evening?? -- you are magically perceived as calm and capable and tolerant. And that's what I did: I projected calm and capable and tolerant. I found myself smiling enigmatically a lot. I found myself doing a lot of emotional cheerleading ... especially when things were falling apart all around me. I found myself nodding sympathetically a lot, and listening to a lot of Deep Dark Secrets, and offering up lots of vague useless motherly/daughterly/sisterly advice. (I'm not sure how or when it happened, exactly, but somewhere along the line I seem to have become the person that people confide secrets to, rather than the person they confide secrets about.) As I was doing all of this smiling and cheerleading and sympathizing, though, I suddenly realized something else:

I love this!

It wasn't just the planned activities that I loved, either ... but the spontaneous moments along the way. I loved watching Joel play his video games. I loved trying on perfume at Long's Drugs with Jaymi. I loved sitting on my mother's deck, overlooking downtown Seattle, and looking at her China photos. I loved standing outside of the dressing room while Kacie tried on leather halter tops. I loved combing my sister's hair with my fingers, and watching my little nephew push a toy shopping cart around the living room, and talking bicycles with my mom's boyfriend. I loved watching my son dribble pizza down the front of his $67 T-shirt. I loved listening to my seventeen-year-old niece talk about her rehab. I loved sitting around the table, eating and gossiping and looking at all these dear, familiar faces.

And I loved all of the huge, swirling emotions.

Why shouldn't I? It's part of who I am, the same way my mother's chin and my father's ears are part of who I am. Fearing it -- or fighting it -- are exercises in futility. Besides: dramaddiction isn't like alcohol addiction. I'm not going to come home to California, after a couple of days of exposure, and suddenly start picking fights and throwing things and slamming the phone down in people's ears. (Except for heavy breathers, maybe. Or telemarketers.) Four days' worth of drama isn't suddenly going to make me crave a daily dose of emotional upheaval. The way I see it, dramaddiction is more like Taco Time: I live without it, three-hundred-forty-some days a year ... and the rest of the time, I'm going to eat it until it makes me sick.

And I'll love every minute of it.

By the time I flew home on Sunday night, my suitcase was filled with $200 worth of trendy/ugly/ridiculously-expensive clothes I couldn't afford ... my stomach was filled with $65 worth of Taco Time I couldn't digest ... and my heart was filled with an incalculable amount of huge swirling emotions I couldn't leave behind.

Hopefully it will all be enough to tide me over until Christmas ... and my next *fix.*

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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

* ok. technically, value village burned down
BEFORE i got to town.
but for *me* ... it was as though
the tragedy had just occurred yesterday.