What Love Is

When I was a little girl and my brother was leaving for college, I gave him one of those “Love Is…” cartoon statues.  It said, “Love is…never saying goodbye.”  I was devastated that he was leaving home, and I cried myself to sleep for a week.  That statue gave me a little comfort that my brother wouldn’t be gone forever.

My first memory of my brother is when I was three years old.  I know I was three because we had just moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and we were unpacking.  My brother was playing his music loudly.  He was listening to Credence Clearwater Revival, and the song was “Looking out my Backdoor.”  I stretched my arms up, an indication that I wanted Ken to pick me up.  He did, and he carried me outside to our new back porch, and we danced around while I giggled and tried to sing the only part I knew – “do, do, do…my…door.”

When I was seven years old, my school teacher gave us an assignment to write about the person we admired most.  Of course, I wrote about my big brother.  What was not to admire?  He was funny, cool, one of the greatest athletes of all time as far as I could see from my small room in Broken Arrow, and he let me sit on his motorcycle once, against my mother’s wishes.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that my brother was the good child, which meant he had more influence with my parents…especially my mom.  He often used his status to intervene on my behalf.  When I wanted to go to college at Vanderbilt in Nashville, my mother was up in arms.  “Why would you go all the way to Tennessee when Tulsa Junior College is right down the street?”  My brother was the one who talked my parents into letting me go.  He told them it was a good opportunity, and they would understand one day.

When I moved to San Francisco, my mother was livid.  “Not that Sodom and Gomorrah!” she said.  Again, my brother stepped in and argued my case.  Then he bought a Road Atlas for my trip and highlighted the route I should take from Broken Arrow to San Francisco so I was sure to be safe and not get lost.

Yes, I have always adored my brother.  I am admittedly and decidedly blind to any of his faults.  If someone told me Ken had done a bad thing, I would call them a liar.  I cannot ever remember being angry with him or arguing.  That was probably because with more than ten years between us, there really wasn’t much to fight about.

On January 17, 2010, I received a phone call from my brother.  He began the conversation by telling me how much he liked my stories.  How he had laughed until he cried at the story about mom and her next door neighbor because it was a much more potent story for all of us who knew my mother.  He told me he was my biggest fan, and I think that’s definitely true.  Big brother bragging eventually subsided, and he said he had some news.

He had been complaining about a persistent winter cough that wouldn’t seem to get better.  The doctor ran tests.

“Lung cancer,” he said.  I heard everything else in pieces.  “Stage four.”  “Spread to the adrenal glands.”  “Deciding a course of treatment.”  “Planning to fight it.”

The reason I did not mention this important development early on in this year’s blog is because he asked me not to.   He wanted to keep this a private, family matter for now, and I understood why.  People can have the best of intentions, but once a diagnosis like this is made, it tends to define you.  He didn’t want to be labeled only as a cancer patient, and I didn’t want that for him either.  Truth is, I would have honored absolutely any request he made of me, and this one seemed simple enough.

So when I wrote about my brother being sick on the day of my mom’s surgery, he wasn’t just battling a cold or flu.  He was in the midst of a brutal round of chemotherapy that left him hairless, emaciated, and in excruciating pain because he was rarely able to keep pain medicines down.

One of my Phuket list goals this year was to get a map, point to a destination, and road-trip it there spontaneously to escape some monumental problem.  I did that after I heard the news about my brother.  I drove from San Francisco to Las Vegas.  And then, I realized I wasn’t in the mood for Vegas, so I turned around and came back.  The trip didn’t help, but we can cross that one off the Phuket list.

My brother has always been an optimistic person, and that’s how he approached his battle with cancer.  After completing a round of radiation therapy at MD Anderson in Houston, Ken reported that the main tumor had shrunk and was considered inactive.  Now all we had to do was go through chemotherapy to tackle the cancer that had spread to his adrenal glands.

In late March, he began some very aggressive rounds of chemotherapy.  Whenever I called, no matter how sick he felt, he always reported that he was having a good day.

Living in California meant that I didn’t see Ken every day, and I only received progress reports over the phone.  I visited him in Houston while he was getting radiation treatments, but that was back in February, very early in the process.  On May 31, I came home for my mother’s surgery.  When he walked in the door of my mother’s house, I didn’t recognize him.  I would not have recognized my own brother walking down the street.  The former defensive line backer, Oklahoma football player and state heavyweight wrestling champ now looked like a frail, old man.  His cheeks and temples were hollowed out, and something was wrong with his eyes – like he was here, but not here.

After my mother’s funeral in early June, I committed to spending more time in Oklahoma.  I came back for a week in July, and we had a great time together.  My brother seemed to be feeling better and he was still getting around well.

Ken lived in the middle of nowhere, about 18 miles outside the small town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  He had acres of land and had recently purchased ATV 4-wheelers to ride around the property.  My brother was not a frivolous person, so I was glad to see him splurging a little bit on something fun.  I couldn’t drive the ATV, so I sat behind him and held on to his weak body while he took us for a ride.  His bones were so pronounced that they poked into my arms and chest.  Yet, I held tightly to my brother, trusting he could still keep me safe.  As we rode around his property that day, I rested my head on his back and breathed in deeply.  I wanted to remember the smells, the lines on the back of his neck, the tiny white hairs starting to grow back on his otherwise bald head, his tired arms still controlling the machine that carried us.  I remember every detail.

On my next trip, I asked to go with him to the doctor.  I wanted to understand for myself exactly what was happening.  The only information I could get from Ken was his standard mantra – everything was going well and he was having a good day today.

The doctor came in with Ken’s latest CT scans.

“As you can see, the tumor in your lung remains stable.”

Good news, I thought, and I smiled at my brother, a bit relieved.

“However, the tumor next to your kidney has grown by 5 centimeters, and the tumor on your liver has grown by 6 centimeters.  This one over here has grown by 3 centimeters, and this one here also has grown by 3 centimeters.”

Dear God!  How many tumors were there?  I thought we were dealing with one or two!  The fact is, my brother’s body was covered in tumors.  He simply never told anyone.

The doctor continued.  “At this point, I think we stop treating this as a lung cancer, and start treating it as an abdominal cancer.  So, let’s discuss drugs that are primarily focused on the abdomen.”

I looked at my brother, and I could feel the tears coming, though I knew crying was the last thing he wanted from me.  He saw me anyway.  “Don’t worry, Janie.  This is good news.  Now we have some additional information and we can attack the problem from a different angle.”

I asked the doctor where I could find a restroom.  My intention was to get in there and just cry.  But once in the bathroom, I couldn’t cry.  All I could think was, breathe…breathe…breathe.  Just go back into that room and do one thing and one thing only.  Keep breathing.  And that’s what I did.

That evening, I tried to talk to my brother about his wishes.

“Ken, one great thing that mom did for us was have a well-documented plan for what to do in the worst case scenario.  Now, I’m not saying the worst case scenario is happening here, but we should talk about it just so we know.  I’ll tell you what I want in case I die, and you tell me what you want.  That way we’re both prepared.”

“I’m not giving up,” he said.  “I’m not giving up.  Don’t you give up either.”

“I won’t.  I’m not.”

And that was the end of the conversation.

One good thing that was happening during this summer of family trauma was my business had picked up and I had some fantastic new accounts.  One gig in particular had me working with the Boston Red Sox, and that meant I was in Boston for much of the summer.

My plan was to go back to Boston for 2 weeks, pass off my work with the Red Sox to a colleague, pack a bag and come back to Oklahoma indefinitely.

On Tuesday, August 17, I called my brother from Boston to check in. He said he was going in for a blood transfusion later that day.  This had become a standard part of his week.  His blood counts were so low from the chemotherapy that he was getting blood transfusions once or twice a week.  Otherwise, it was “a good day today.”  He had mowed the lawn and done some things around the house.  Not as much as he’d like, but he got tired easily these days.

That night, I had a dream.  I was talking to my mom.  She was bringing me up-to-speed on all the deceased family gossip, but then she changed the subject.  “When are you going to Oklahoma this week?” she said.

“Saturday,” I said.

“Saturday is too late,” she said.  “You need to go now.  When you wake up, get the first flight out and go to Oklahoma.  Your brother will wait for you, but you need to go now.”

This did not sound like something my mother would say, so I said to her, “This is just a dream.  How do I know it’s true?”

“Get on the first flight out.  When you cross through security, you will see a red piece of paper on the ground.  Then you’ll know it’s me.”

Right then, I woke up.  It was 3:00 in the morning, but the dream had startled me because it was one of those that seemed so real.  So, I did the crazy, illogical thing.  I booked the 6am flight back to San Francisco.  I would only stay in San Francisco long enough to pack a bag and then take the 3:00 pm flight to Tulsa.

By the time I crossed through security at Boston Logan airport, I had almost forgotten about my dream.  But then I saw it.  There was a glossy red piece of paper on the ground.  I leaned down and picked it up, and I knew.  My heart began to pound.

When I landed in San Francisco, I turned on my phone and it immediately rang.  It was my sister-in-law.  “Janie, we’re still at the hospital.  Ken had a hard time with the transfusion, so they gave him a port.  Now he’s really struggling.  They say they’re going to put him in hospice.  They’re giving him 2 weeks.”

“I’m already on the 3:00 flight today.  I’ll be there tonight.”

I ran home, packed my bag and went back to the airport to catch the 3:00 flight.  There are no direct flights from San Francisco to Tulsa, so I had to connect somewhere.  This particular flight connected in Minneapolis of all places.

When I arrived in Minneapolis, I had a text message from my niece.

“Janie, you need to get here.  Doctor says he’s not going to make it through the night.”

What??? How could he have gone from a transfusion, to 2 weeks, to not going to make it through the night in just a few hours?

“I’ll be there in 3 hours,” I said.  “Tell him I’m on my way.”

I boarded the connecting flight and we taxied towards the runway.  Just as we were about to take off, the captain announced that an indicator light had come on and we would have to return to the gate.

As soon as they let us off the plane, I went to the gate agent.

“I need to get on any flight going towards Tulsa.  I can’t wait for this flight.”  I explained that my brother was literally dying and I had to get to Tulsa.

The agent said there was nothing else going into Tulsa that night.

“Check anything in the area.  Fayetteville, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Little Rock…get me anywhere close and I will drive.”

Nothing was going out.  The last flight out was the one I was on.  “But don’t worry,” the agent said.  “They’re still going to fly out tonight.”

After an hour, they couldn’t fix the plane, so they arranged for another aircraft.  Again, we taxied down the runway, and the same thing happened.  Another indicator light.

When we got back to the gate again, I was hysterical.  “Get me out of here,” I begged the agent.  “This is literally life and death.  Get me to Detroit or Chicago or any hub where there are more flights.”

Absolutely nothing was going out that night.  The best they could do was put me on the 6:00 am flight the next day.

I sat down on the floor, somewhere in the Minneapolis airport, and I called my niece to tell her the news.  She said the doctor was in talking with Ken right then.

“Does he know what’s going on?” I said.

“Yes,” my niece said.  “He knows.  He’s fully conscious.”

How can a man who is fully conscious, able to speak to a doctor who is telling him his prognosis, and completely comprehend said prognosis be sick enough to not make it through the night?  None of this made sense to me.  My niece gave the phone to my brother.

“I can’t believe it,” he said.  “I just can’t believe it.  I thought I had more time.  I just can’t believe it.”

“I can’t either,” I said.   “Listen, Ken, I’m coming to you as fast as I can, but I’m stuck in Minneapolis.  My flight was canceled and there are no other flights out tonight.  Now, I know this is the most selfish thing I’ve ever asked of you, but I’m going to ask anyway…if you can, wait for me.  If you can’t, I understand.  You and I have had the best relationship.  There are no regrets.  No harsh words between us.  Nothing that needs to be said or unsaid.  I love you more deeply than you’ll ever fully realize and I know you love me too.  So, if you need to go, then go and I’ll understand.  But if you can wait for me…”

“Come on,” he said.  “Just keep coming.  I’ll be here when you get here.  That’s a promise.”

My brother’s birthday is December 29th.  As I mentioned in my last post, my mom wrote out all her birthday cards for the rest of the year and left them for me to send.  I had been saving Ken’s card, hoping I wouldn’t have to give it to him early.  But I’d had the presence of mind to grab it when I was packing in San Francisco.  I told him I had a note for him from mom, and I read him his birthday card.

When I finished, I reminded him again, “I’m coming to you, I promise. Wait for me.  I’m coming.”

I spent a long and sleepless night at the Holiday Inn near the Minneapolis airport.  At 4:00 am, I went back to the airport to make my 6 am flight.

Boarding was scheduled to start at 5:30 am.  Yet, no boarding announcement was made.  5:45 came and still no boarding call.  At 5:50, I went to the desk to ask what was going on.

“We’re waiting for one more flight attendant,” the agent said.

I once again explained my situation to the agent.  “Do something,” I told her.  “Do anything.  Call anyone.  But I have to make this flight.  Get this plane off the ground.  Get me to my brother.”

To Delta’s credit, they made calls and moved mountains to get a back-up flight attendant.  Within 20 minutes, we were taking off.  I hope to never see Minneapolis again.

Unfortunately, there were no direct flights into Tulsa until later in the day, so I had to make another connection via Memphis.  Our delay out of Minneapolis meant my connection was extremely tight.  We had landed in Memphis and were headed towards the gate when there was another ominous announcement from the captain.  We were being held on the tarmac for traffic control reasons.

The flight attendant already knew my situation, and I was in the first row, so she could see the panic on my face.  She picked up the phone and spoke to the captain.  “We’re calling the gate to tell them about your family emergency.  We’re going to do everything we can to hold your connecting flight for you.”

When we finally got to the gate, they held everyone else on the plane while I made a run for it.  I yelled at the gate agent as I ran past, “Call the other gate and tell them I’m running.  I’ll be there in 2 minutes.”  I did not wait for confirmation.  I just kept running.

When I got to my departure gate, an agent was waiting for me.  “You’re going to make it,” he said as I ran to the gate.  “You’re ok.  You’re going to make it.”

I called my niece to confirm that I had made my connection and was one 30 minute flight away.

“Hurry,” she said.  “Please hurry.”

When we landed, I sprinted off the plane, skipped baggage claim, showed my Avis Preferred card and told them to give me the closest vehicle to the door and I was out of there in under 10 minutes.

Again, I called my niece.  “I’m here!  I’m driving!”

“Get here, Janie.  Get here as quickly as you can.”  Then she said to my brother.  “Janie’s coming.  She’s in the car right now on the freeway.  She’ll be here really quickly.  Just hold on!”

I hung up the phone and drove as fast as I could.  When I got to the hospital, I didn’t bother with parking.  I pulled up to the ER door and just left the car.  My brother’s friend met me at the door so she could show me directly to his room.

Finally, I burst into my brother’s room.  He had an oxygen mask on that was forcing air into his lungs.  His mouth hung wide open under the mask as he sucked in air.  He couldn’t speak, and he was too weak to move much, but he turned his head slightly when I came in.  I ran to him.  “I’m here.  I’m here.  I’m so sorry!  It’s Delta’s fault.  They’re aware.”

I took his hand, and he made an attempt to lightly squeeze it.  A single tear dropped down his cheek.

“Thank you for waiting for me,” I said.  “It’s the best gift you’ve ever given me.”

A few minutes later, I heard someone say, “This is it.”  Then everyone leaned in and started saying goodbye.  “We love you Ken!  We love you!  It’s ok.  You can go.”

NO!  It’s not ok for him to go!  It’s not ok!  What’s wrong with you people?

And before I could really grasp what was happening, my brother died.

Ken waited over 12 hours for me to get to him.  I can’t imagine what kind of pain he went through to keep his promise to me.  But he was still there when I got there, just as he said he would be.  He was my big brother to the very end.

Everyone left the room, and I asked if I could have a moment with him.  I don’t know why I wanted that.  I don’t think I’ll ever get out of my head what his body looked like, lifeless on the bed.  But there was so much to reconcile.  My entire nuclear family was gone now.  There was no one to call who could help me remember what my family did on that trip to Dallas in 1976, for example.  The only memories left were mine.  No one else could fill in the blanks.

As sad as I was to be the last one standing, I was so grateful that my parents weren’t alive to see this.  Unbearable is the only word.

A doctor came in to call the time of death.

“12:42,” I said.  “That was the time of death. 12:42, August 19.”

“Um, I understand,” he said very gently.  “I just have to go through some standard procedure to call it.  I’m so sorry.”

The doctor quietly did his work.  “Is this your father?” he said.

The disease had made him look so old.  “No.”  I began to sob, finally.  “He was my brother.”

At the beginning of this year, I put on my bucket list that I wanted to find love.  I meant something completely different, but as fate would have it, I found out what love is the day my brother died.  Love is not “never saying goodbye.”  Love is waiting for as long as it takes to say that one, last, precious goodbye.

Ken at 13, Janie at 3

(I wrote this post on December 29, 2010, on what would have been my brother’s 55th birthday.  It’s my birthday present to him.)

My Mother, the Terrorist Target

My mother  is 83-years-old (I came along in her 40’s lest you mistake me for a very well-preserved 60-year-old) and still lives in the same house where I grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma because she likes her neighbors and she doesn’t like change.

Mom grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her family was poor, and she had 13 siblings.  As the second-oldest, my mother was kept home after the 7th grade to help care for the other children.  She has always been self-conscious about her lack of education, especially with a smart-ass daughter who liked to correct her grammar and spelling (the karmic retribution for this bad behavior towards my mother will be outlined in a later post.)

My mother is also extremely suspicious of things she doesn’t understand, be it cable TV or people. In fact, she is so scared of electronic devices that her clocks spend half the year an hour off because she refuses to change them during Daylight Savings Time for fear that they will break.

If my mother starts a sentence with ‘Bless her heart…’ it means she’s about to gossip about someone or say something really mean. And rest assured, she’s got the gossip. Her volunteer work for the church’s meals programs means she takes dishes to people’s homes after a funeral or when they’re sick. That sounds very sweet, but think about it – she knows where the spare key is to just about every home in Broken Arrow. Nothing gets past this woman. Moreover, if she’s unsure what the real story is, but she’s pretty sure there’s a story to be told, she’ll just make up the missing pieces and form a more bizarre tale than could ever take place in reality.

For example, when I first went to college, ATMs were not prevalent, so I wrote checks to the student union to get cash. My parents were still receiving all my bank statements, and when mom saw that I had cashed a series of checks to the Cornelius Vanderbilt student union, she became convinced that I was being blackmailed by the Vanderbilts for my petty student wages. She was so convinced that she called my roommate and begged her to help free me from the grips of the Vanderbilt mafia. That’s just a taste of her imagination and ability to find the worst possible scenario in any situation.

Because my father was a marine in WWII and served in the South Pacific, my mother has always been a true, mid-western patriot.  But there is irony even in her patriotism. While home visiting a few years ago, a pipe burst during a snow storm. Of course, my mom has used the same plumber since she moved to Broken Arrow. When she discovered that her regular plumber had retired and left the business to some young ‘whipper snapper,’ she panicked. I convinced her to let the whipper snapper do the work, as I would be there with her to make sure he was ‘ok.’

Whipper Snapper showed up to fix the pipes, and I tried to do my job and elicit information about him by using my only skill, social butterflyness. So, I asked what brought him to BA (because clearly he’s not from here or my mother would know him and his ancestors.) Our conversation went like this:

Me:  “So, where are you from originally?”

WS:  “I just moved here last year from Hawaii.”

Me:  “What? Why in the world would someone move from Hawaii to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma?!!”

Mom:  “Well, if y’all don’t like America, you should just move on back to that foreign country!”

Me:  “Mom, Hawaii is part of the United States.”

Mom:  “Not as far as I’m concerned, it’s not!”

Me:  “Mom, Daddy went to war because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor…which is located in…HAWAII.”

Mom:  “I don’t care what y’all say! Ya’ll can just move on back to Hi-wi-yah if you don’t like America!”

Sigh.  Luckily, the young whipper snapper had been schooled in foreign relations and was more competent than I.

WS:  “Oh, I agree with you, ma’am. That’s why I moved here.  Learned my lesson.”

He gave me a wink.

Mom: “Well….alrighty then. How are those pipes lookin’?”

He is still my mother’s plumber.

Suffice it to say, my mother does not like change. Even the inclusion of a new state to the union 50 years ago has not met with her acceptance yet. But, alas, the times, they are a-changin’. The country is changing, and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma is changing too.

Our long-time next door neighbor passed away a while ago, and the children sold the house. The down market meant the house remained empty for a long time. The yard became overgrown and the house started looking a bit ‘tired.’  In September, the for-sale sign finally came down and a moving van pulled up. My mother strained all day to see the new neighbors, but only saw moving personnel. On the day the family moved in, they used the garage-door-opener and entered their new home quietly, unseen.

Over the next week or so, workers came to the neighbor’s house. The lawn was manicured, the house painted, and mom was relieved to have such responsible neighbors again.

Mom kept an eye out for the lady of the house during the day, but the house always seemed quiet. “The wife must have to work,” she whispered to me over the phone, like she’d said something dirty.

A few days later, on trash day, my mother struggled to take her garbage to the curb.  She uses a walker for assistance, so trash day involves the following long process: toss the bag a few feet ahead, take a few steps with the walker, slowly bend and pick up bag, toss it again a few feet ahead, take a few steps, pick up bag, toss again, etc.  You get the picture.

My mom had made it about half way down the driveway when she heard some rustling in the yard next door. She turned around to see a woman in an all-black burqa headed straight for her.

Now, I would like to explain to you what my mother is actually seeing and thinking: Armageddon! I knew it! That friggin’ Obama IS a Muslim, just like I said… and from HI-WI-YAH!  I told that smart aleck little missy that it wasn’t a state! Now he’s let all the terrorists in, and we’re under attack!

Ground zero of said invasion is the very sought-after target, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and the 83-year-old nosy neighbor on Hickory Street must be taken out first!

My mother was so frightened, she couldn’t catch her breath to scream. She tried to scurry up the driveway back to the safety of her home, but couldn’t outrun the terrorist woman in black. The woman grabbed my mother’s walker and said, “You stay.”

Mother was frozen with fear, so staying or fainting was her only option. Then, the lady in the black burqa walked over to the garbage bag, picked it up and took it to the curb. She saw another bag in the garage that needed to be hauled down, picked it up, and placed it on the curb as well.

The woman came back to my mother and said, “I sorry. No English,” and went to her house. My mother called me immediately to tell me about the incident.

“Bless her heart, I don’t know what she was thinking wearing that black robe in this heat!  She’s gonna smother plum to death!”

The next day, the woman in black came back to my mother’s house and rang the doorbell. While my mother was still leery about living next door to terrorists…well, they seemed nice enough. She opened the door, and the woman in black was holding a cell phone, which she handed to my mother and motioned for her to speak.

The woman’s son was on the phone. He introduced himself and said, “My mother is new to this country and very lonely. She is taking English classes, but doesn’t have anyone to talk to. She would like to know if you would mind helping her with her English.”

After that, my mother had a whole new attitude.

“Guess what?” she said on the phone to me.

“What is it, mom.”

“I’m an English teacher!”

Silence.

“Janie?”

Apparently, my mom has been meeting with the lady in the black burqa for a few months now. They have lunch together and talk in simple English words.

“I tell her a word, and she pronounces it back, and if she don’t get it right, I say it again for her.”

Great.  My mom is teaching this poor woman to speak English with a hillbilly accent.

“Oh, we snack on chocolate chip cookies and some crazy tea that tastes like cat pee to me, but I don’t want to be impolite. Bless her heart, she’s only been here a few months, so she don’t know good food yet.”

My mother and the lady in the black burka next door have become good friends now.  They even spent New Year’s Eve together (well, until about 10:00pm).  “We couldn’t really understand each other, but she’s good company.”  (which means my mother can talk without interruption or disagreement. )

And that’s how my mother, the English teacher, thwarted a terrorist attack in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  Thanks to her, peace once again reigns, Broken Arrowans are safe to roam the streets and our homeland is secure.

 

The Days of Wine and Botox

My birthday was a few weeks ago.  I’d like to say I turned 25…and I might actually say that after a few glasses of wine, but one look at me would give away the obvious falseness of such a statement.  Lately, I’ve noticed some disturbing changes.  There is a crinkle between my eyes that has embedded itself and is quickly growing from wrinkle to crevice.  Worse, the line makes me look eternally angry, and I assure you, I’m not. I’m generally a happy person…except for that darn Grand Canyon forming between my eyes. I mentioned my concern to a friend of mine who suggested I try Botox.

For the record, I have always been wildly opposed to the idea of Botox. I think it’s an evil tool used to perpetuate sexism, ageism and feed that ugly monster that constantly tells us we’re not good enough. More importantly, it’s not like it actually does what it’s supposed to do – make you look younger. Truly, it fools no one. You’re still a person who is aging, but now with poison injected into your forehead and a Joker-wannabe look.

That brings me to my biggest objection – poison. Seriously, I can see the headlines 10, 15, 20 years from now:  “Botox – The Silent Killer; New Investigation into Michael Jackson’s Death.” Generally speaking, poison is a bad thing. For such a health-conscious society, we seem to have no problem whatsoever with things like ‘botox’ (tox…as in toxin); ‘acid peel’ (something I was told to avoid in high-school chemistry); stomach stapling (seriously??? You want to staple an organ shut?) or my favorite, fat injections (which basically involves pulling fat from your butt and putting in your face).  While fat-injections are the most natural of the bunch, I’m kind of creeped-out by the idea of taking a piece of me that has housed my anus and all its leakages, and injecting it into my mouth.

Despite all these concerns, my friend assured me that I didn’t have to go crazy with the Botox. I could just ask the doctor to smooth out that ugly crevice between my eyes and that’s it.

So there I was, a middle-aged feminist succumbing to the vainest part of myself, sitting in a plastic surgeon’s office waiting for the numbing cream to kick in before willfully allowing myself to be injected with toxins.

Doctor:  “So, we’re just going to smooth out some of these lines on your forehead and give you a little lift.”

Me:  “No, no lift!  Let’s just get rid of this line between my eyes.”

Doctor:  “Yes, but you don’t want that line to turn into an odd-looking bump, right?  We have to make it look smooth and natural, so I’ll just do a couple of injections a bit higher to even it out, ok?”

Me:  “OK, but I don’t want that frozen, surprised look.  You’re not giving me the surprised look, right?”

Doctor:  “Oh, no!  You’ll hardly notice.”

And she was right. After a few quick, stinging pricks to my forehead, I was out of there and really didn’t notice much of a difference.

UNTIL…

A couple of days later, I found myself screaming in front of the mirror.

“But why, Janie?  What did you see that was so frightening?” you ask. The horror is almost indescribable.

My left eyebrow had migrated about halfway up my forehead. My right eyebrow was still in place. What I saw in the mirror was the mutant love child of Cruella DeVille and Popeye.

I called the doctor immediately and made an emergency appointment.

Covering my crooked face with a hat and sunglasses, I rushed to the doctor’s office.  A nurse with enormous, swollen, veiny lips brought me to an exam room. I removed the cap and sunglasses, hoping she would realize the gravity of the situation.

Nurse:  “You’re not supposed to call us until after the first week, you know. The Botox needs time to settle.”

Me:  “Settle? It’s settling on one side of my face, so I think we need to encourage it to move to the other side before it settles permanently!”

Nurse:  “Well, I don’t see a problem, but I can get the doctor if you think it’s urgent.”

Me (resisting the urge to cut her and drain the collagen right out of her overly-pouty lips): “Yes, I believe I would classify this as urgent.”

Waiting, waiting, waiting….doctor finally comes in.

Doctor:  “What seems to be the problem?”  (Doctor is apparently blind).

Me:  “Well, as you can see, one of my eyebrows is now VERTICAL on my forehead, leaving me with an “L” for “Loser” marked on my head. I don’t think that was the look we were going for.”

Doctor:  “Oh, I meant to do that.”

Me:  “You meant to make me look like an angry stroke victim???”

Doctor:  “Your face is asymmetrical, so I wanted to even it out a bit.”

Me (drumming my fingers because I can no longer express true emotion with my face):  “Listen…DOCTOR…I assure you that there is not a person on this planet who is more critical of how I look than I am, and I can say with absolute certainty that when I walked in here 3 days ago, my face did not have severe symmetry issues…unlike now, of course.”

Doctor:  “The nurse should have told you that we usually don’t see patients until after the first week. The Botox needs time to settle.”

Me:  “Yes, I was told. But surely, you’d want to know if the settling process had gone seriously awry.”

Doctor:  “Actually, when I look at you, what I think we need to do is raise the other side a bit.”

Me:  “So…..what you’re saying is….the vertical eyebrow is the more correct one, and your proposed solution is to give me TWO vertical eyebrows……because that’s obviously better than that horizontal eyebrow look you see so many people wearing these days.”

Doctor:  “Well, some people just have uneven eyebrows.  Yours just grow upwards.”

Me:  “AGAIN…and I don’t mean to lose patience here, but I’ve never noticed that my left eyebrow has a tendency to grow in a Spock-like manner!”

Doctor:  “What we should do is pluck that eyebrow to even it out a bit.  Let me get my assistant to help.”

A woman with NO EYEBROWS came into the room with tweezers. I’m not kidding. She was one of those women who plucks her eyebrows clean and then just draws a new set on.

Doctor:  “She’ll even it out for you.”

Me (leaping from the table to the door in a single bound):  “NOOOOO!!!”

No-brow lady:  “It’ll only take a second.  I’m very fast.”

Me:  “No way!”  Clinging to the door.

Doctor:  “Well, if you’re not willing to let us help, I’d suggest you give it a week or two and it will all even out. That twitch in your eye should go away too.”

Unfortunately, the next day I had to leave for a business trip to Vegas where I would meet my newest client in person for the first time. I tried to rehearse my introduction in the mirror so as not to frighten the man too much.

What I said:  “Hi, I’m Jane Gideon, your new publicist.”

What my face communicated:  “HI, I’M JANE GIDEON YOUR NEW PUBLICIST AND I’M SURPRISED AND DESPERATE TO BE HERE! BUT YOU SHOULD TRUST ME TO HANDLE ALL PRESS ISSUES WITH THE SAME GRACE AND CALM THAT JACK NICHOLSON SHOWED WHEN HE SAID ‘HERE’S JOHNNY!’ IN THE SHINING.”

I decided that the less scary and odd thing to do would be to wear sunglasses and head scarves to all my meetings in Vegas, claiming my right eye had been mangled while wrestling the paparazzi for my client Celine Dion (what were they gonna do?  Call Celine Dion and check?). My back-up plan was to keep them liquored up so that they wouldn’t remember what I looked like anyway after leaving Vegas. One night, I did get a bit sloppy and let the sunglasses and scarf come off, thinking it would be too dark for anyone to notice. My client physically jumped back and actually said out loud, “What the…?” before he caught himself and then pretended not to notice…and subsequently ordered a shot of whiskey.

After a week or so, the wayward eyebrow did calm down, but I had to pluck the lower half of my right eyebrow and the upper half of my left eyebrow to get them somewhat even.  Alas, the twitch has not subsided.

Let this be a warning to all of you who wish to look younger – get over it. Embrace your wrinkles. Appreciate your eyebrows for being symmetrical and in their correct places. I just want that little crinkle between my eyes back because now I really am angry, but no one knows it. And I can report that I don’t have that perpetually surprised look.  No, I’m perpetually in shock and awe.

The Poet Laureate of Pina Coladas

My friend recently hosted a party to celebrate her birthday. She is a well-known writer. Therefore, I should have known to be on my best behavior. Instead, I decided to use the party as an opportunity to check the ‘flirt with someone mercilessly’ goal off my Phuket list. In order to do that, I felt I needed a drink. There’s where the trouble started.

Several glasses of wine later, a friend asked me to recant the Korean spa story. While I feel the story comes off better in written format rather than spoken word, I figured I’d at least be more animated while tipsy (read drunk). So, I was telling the story of getting scrubbed by a Korean dominatrix when this very handsome man joined the party and took a seat behind me and my friends. I figured I’d try to get his attention with my story of semi-girl-on-girl action. Unfortunately, I did.

The handsome guy was alone, so I coyly invited him to join our conversation, thinking he’d see how funny and entertaining I was and surely fall madly in love with me on the spot.

The problem with this scene is that Drunk Jane is now in control of my body and words. Sober Jane has left the building. Drunk Jane believes that she is a goddess who is highly-intelligent and Angelina Jolie-level-sexy (think Angelina’s badass years when she wore vials of blood around her neck, not diaper bags and babies). Sober Jane controls all aspects of reason, wisdom and discretion, so none of these characteristics are within my grasp…but I didn’t know it.

Handsome guy introduced himself, but to protect the poor man, I’ll keep that private. We were talking about my friend’s birthday, and he mentioned that his birthday was in November. Apparently, I could still deduce that he is a Scorpio. Therefore, I offered my professor-like analysis of Scorpios and why they’re bad with those mean stingers. In fact, I spent a great deal of time talking about his ‘big stinger.’ My friend Susan gave me her stern “for the love of God, shut up” look, but I did not heed this warning. After delivering my manifesto on Scorpios, I realized I may have gone on a bit too much, so I said, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Wonderful! So am I!” (in my dreams, not in any form of reality). More droning on about my non-existent writing career. In fact, I think I somehow managed to drop in a discussion about Graham Greene’s use of existentialism in my favorite book, The End of the Affair, assuming I could actually pronounce existentialism at that point. I believe the man tried to interject his thoughts on the novel, which were certainly much more valuable than mine, but I rudely talked right over him. Who knows what gems of literary analysis he was going to offer up had I not squashed them like annoying bugs.

“Have you been published?” he asked. Yikes! Dreaded question. I had to come up with some brilliant recovery, but Drunk Jane was at the wheel. This is what she said: “No, but I was a finalist for a Rupert Holmes award.”

Let me translate what Drunk Jane just said: “I was nominated for a writing award named after Rupert Holmes, the guy who wrote the poetic line ‘if you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain.’”

What Sober Jane so desperately wanted to say was that I was a finalist for a Rupert Hughes award, which is a writing award named after an actual writer.

Unfortunately, handsome guy was also a music buff so this slip of the tongue, which would have probably gone unnoticed under most circumstances, did not in this scenario. His head cocked in confusion. “Wow. Rupert Holmes sure got a lot of mileage out of that Pina Colada song.”

I changed the subject.

“What about you? Have you been published?”

“Yes, but only in some writing journals.” Ok, people, just for the record, this is actually a very hard thing to do. Magazines and journals that are primarily written for professional writers only choose the best of the best to include in their publications. I was starting to realize that I was out of my league in this conversation. I believe all I said was, “wow.”

Then he said, “Yeah, but my dad has written about 10 books and is the Poet Laureate of California, so I have a lot to live up to.”

There is an awkward pause in the conversation while I desperately attempt to revive Sober Jane. “Your dad is the Poet Laureate of California?”

“Yes.”

Here’s where I beg Sober Jane for an eloquent response, but instead say, “Holy hell!” (This is an oxymoron for those who have your red pens at the ready. Hell is not holy…nor is it eloquent).

My only hope was to change the subject…again.

“I’m a Pisces. We drink a lot. We’re, like, fish. So I’ll just swim back to the bar.”

Needless to say, the conversation died from there and no, he did not care to have the phone number of the poet laureate of pina coladas.