So, we get home from our staggeringly long vacation visiting family on the island of Terceira. Ten weeks, otherwise known as seventy days, aka the-whole-frickin’-summer, seemed ever-lasting at first but swiftly grew to the familiar scale of ‘never-time-enough’. It always happens like that, a longing to return inescapably swoops us up weeks before we’ve even touched ground again in America.
If you’re wondering how in the hell we can afford something like this, the answer is complicated. We work really hard to make it happen. From saving tax refunds and any ‘found’ money, almost never eating out, reading only free books or ones I manage to win in contests, to cooking from scratch with as many ingredients grown in the backyard by my talented wife, we always pinch our pennies. Heck, it took me three years to be able to afford a new Kindle because I allowed myself only to buy one from gift certificates. And now I’ve gone and lost it, but that’s a story for another post.
Then, while we’re on the small island in the Azores archipelago, we live frugally. Due to local contacts, we’re able to score a place to stay at only ten euros a day. Family members store fishing gear and other necessaries between visits, and (at no little upheaval to their regular schedules) they loan us a car. Most nights we’re welcome to join family dinners at any of several tables, and our lunches consist mainly of local cheese, bread, and fruits. We enjoy simple pleasures rather than participating in tourist activities. And we have a hella good time. I’m already missing steaming mornings with my granddaughter, Mac, riding swells and floating in sea water while arguing generational differences and points of view. We watched puffy white clouds grow and shift endlessly in clear blue skies as tiny fish (and a few not so small) swam around us. Ah… yes…
But, we’re back now. It’s time to pick up the mantle of responsibility and get the five-year-old ready for kindergarten, the sixteen-year-old ready for her junior year, and get my head into the thoughtful beta-reader responses I’ve received over the summer. I want to finish Get Yourself Another Butch and get it to a publisher. As always happens, my head started planning for the American experience, preparing myself for the paradigm shift from vacation to work, Europe to America, island versus city time. When our youngest daughter picked us up from the airport, I was ready to hit the ground running. So, I grabbed a couple of suitcases and (after a brief examination of the abundant garden) turned to negotiate our crumbling back steps.
They’ve been pummeled by weather and ravaged by time, ice and weeds alternated turns at forcing gaps wider, while rain and wind ground away at exposed concrete. To avoid some of the worst gaps, we grab the ironwork rail to kind of haul ourselves up to the kitchen door. But they’ve loosened over the last year, so you’ve got to watch where you step and forge your way up carefully. That’s what I expected to see but this is what greeted my stunned eyes.
I shrieked, thrilled and stunned. Our daughter, Michelle, turned white as a sheet.
“Are you mad? I knew you’d be mad,” she said.
I just shook my head, speechless. My wife turned to see what the commotion was all about. Michelle stared at her mom and backed up a step.
“Hey, that’s great,” cried my Traf. “They look great.”
“They do!” I finally managed. “They’re beautiful!” The steps had been our first priority for repair, but we’d been putting it off to better afford our trip. Now we’d had our trip and returned home to our daughter’s spectacular generosity. But her reaction really floored me.
She’d told everyone she knew, the neighbors, her co-workers and friends, family in person and on the internet, that she was terrified we’d be upset, angry, pissed off. She thought we’d dislike the end results.
I didn’t know what to say to that. Traf and I love it and couldn’t be more pleased to have this home repair done with no effort on our part. We’ve thanked her and told her several times how pleased we are, but she clings to the idea that we wouldn’t have liked it.
I hate that she feared and seemed to expect harsh judgement for such a thoughtful, considerate, generous act. I hope she’s been pleased with our thrilled reaction. We see you, kiddo, for who you are. You can piss us off like this as often as you like!
I’m sorry. I know I promised 12 reasons why I should have gotten bariatric surgery sooner rather than later, but I lost interest in the project half-way through. Perhaps I’ll pick it up again later.
But today I wrote a piece of my mind to a young woman considering bariatric surgery and I’d like to share that with you. Kind of sums the whole thing up. She asked if I (as she does) ever felt, by getting bariatric surgery, I took the lazy way out, cheating as it were. Here’s my answer:
Oh hell, yeah. And I come with decades of baggage. I was 58 when I had my Roux-en-y and I felt like such a lazy loser. But look at what I’d done before resorting to my last option:
Welcome back to my four-part series about what I’ve learned over the last two and a half years following bariatric surgery. Following my Roux-en-Y, I reminded myself to pay attention to my body, my emotions, and my experiences. The first three reasons why I believe now I would have been better off getting the surgery in my youth are in part one. Here are reasons 7-9.
9. LESS MEDICATION
Growing old ain’t for sissies and the health issues that accompany morbid obesity begin to take their toll earlier rather than later. There is damage to my joints and spine that directly correlates to carrying around eighty extra pounds for decades. I’ve been plagued with plantar fasciitis, early-onset arthritis, and bad knees that only got worse. The damage to my body led to more and stronger medication over the years.
I hoped to get rid of many of them by having the surgery, but only 70% can significantly reduce their medication and it seems I’m in the unlucky 30%. I do sleep without the c-pap machine strapped to my face now, though, so yippee for that.
8. SIMPLE EVERYDAY TASKS ARE EASIER
Not to be indelicate, but just using the restroom is far easier, especially public ones with tiny stalls. I don’t have to scoot in sideways and worry about what germs might linger on walls various parts of me used to touch. I don’t have to wait for the handicapped stall and then suffer the judgmental glances of skinnier women I usher past me to the smaller ones.
And in the shower, I can easily wash parts of me that formerly took acrobatic acts of skill to reach. My daily shower time is half what it used to be, as is my water bill. Although I’m drinking about five times as much water as before the surgery, so maybe it isn’t, after all.
I go down to the basement and up to the attic twice as often as I used to and don’t worry about trying to carry as much as I can manage in one trip because I’m not afraid to go up or down for a second load.
I can stand in the kitchen to prepare the family dinner without having to take a break and sit down to rest my back. No one, least of all me, thought I’d be cooking so much post-surgery. My family more or less expected I’d leave the cooking to them, but I still watch the Food Network and the Chew (bye bye, sob sob) and have as much interest in the process as ever. I may eat way smaller portions, but my family are thrilled that I still cook their favorite recipes.
And much to my wife’s chagrin, I can shop as long as anyone these days. And with more selection in clothes and shoes, I’m much more eager to do so.
7. PEOPLE ARE NICER
Yes, I know I mentioned this before, but now I’m talking about friends, specifically straight friends. Sure, they were kind to me before and they still are, but their ways of being kind have changed. They respect me more now that I’ve achieved this significant weight loss and have kept it off for so long. They now turn to me for dieting advice and commiseration instead of offering it.
Straight women seem to feel camaraderie over the struggle and occasionally envy my success. I believe this is because almost every woman struggles, at one time or another, to lose weight in our overly judgmental America. Even after menopause, we are urged to be physically attractive as potential sexual partners for men (misogynistic claptrap – a topic for another day) and are judged by a strict scale of youthfulness and societal norms of beauty.
If there’s been a few months between visits, my straight girlfriends almost always mention it and ask if I’m still losing or exclaim over how much I’ve lost. At first, I was surprised by this but then I realized that, having been obese for the better part of sixty years, they’ve identified me so completely with being large that my new appearance surprises them every time they see me. Oddly enough, my LGBT+ friends adapted to my new look much faster and no longer comment on it, probably because I’m not identified as strictly by appearance/gender norms.
To some of my older friends, I will always be ‘tagged’ in their brains as ‘the fat lesbian’ no matter how much they may like me. They’ve been conditioned to identify ‘otherness’ and both criteria fit when they met me.
Because I’ve slipped the American societal noose of fatness, I’ve done what very few others achieve, and their minds rebel at having to shift labels. That’s okay with me. Call me this, call me that, but don’t…
…call me late for supper.
Catch you next week for the third part of my four-part series. Drop me a comment and let me know what you think of my musings.
Tomorrow marks two and a half years since my Roux-en-Y. I’ve learned a few things about myself and our society. This is the first of a four-part series explaining why, for me, it would have made sense to get bariatric surgery forty years ago.
Before anyone goes off on me – I am NOT saying everyone who is overweight should lose it. That is a medical decision which only you can make, I hope with the advice of a wise physician (or four). Many very healthy people carry extra weight around and I’m pleased as punch for them that they’re not suffering as I did.
I’d tried various diets since childhood and can proudly say that I am an EXPERT dieter. I’ve lost anywhere from twenty to eighty pounds utilizing fad diets, food supplements, and rigorous exercise programs. Unfortunately for me, diets worked only until I’d lost the weight. Then, once I started receiving approval and congratulations for having accomplished such a challenging task, I’d relax my strict (self-hatred driven) dieting behavior. Gradually, I’d relapse into my old eating habits regaining everything I lost and adding more (my body’s way of protecting me from these periodic episodes of starvation). Over the years and in total, I estimate I’ve lost close to five hundred pounds and gained closer to six hundred, a very bad habit that’s placed a lot of stress on my body. Bariatric surgery is the only way I’ve ever lost this much weight and kept it off this long. There’s no guarantees I’ll stay this weight forever, but 2.5 years is two years longer than any weight loss prior.
Please do not interpret my experiences as medical advice. If you are overweight and are unhappy about it, please talk to a doctor about all your options before making life changing decisions. These are merely my own experiences. Yours will be completely different.
So, here we go:
12. PEOPLE ARE NICER
I’m talking about strangers, here. While I weighed in the mid-two-hundreds (from my early twenties to late fifties), I understood that people were nicer to slender women, but I had no idea how much nicer they were. If I’d known people who’ve never met me before and will never see me again, could be so considerate, polite, and charming I’d have considered this procedure forty years ago.
Seriously, my life might have been SO MUCH more pleasant. Instead, I got judgmental glances, called rude terms, asked if I were pregnant, turned down for jobs, and given unwanted and unnecessary advice. It got so bad that when I’d see a new doctor for the first time I’d start the initial visit by saying, “I know I’m morbidly obese, but that’s not why I’m here…” and still I’d be told that if I’d just lose weight I wouldn’t have any health issues.
Um, seriously? C’mon, skinny people get high blood pressure, slender folks can suffer gout and sleep apnea, and lithe human beings still live with chronic depression. I bet their new doctor’s first words aren’t, “Lose weight, it all stems from there.” And doctors weren’t the only ones doling out advice. Complete strangers felt justified recommending diets, exercise workout routines, weight-loss programs, all without once being asked.
Every time someone was rude, or unkind, or judgmentally preachy, I spent time stewing over the situation and wondering if I really deserved that kind of attention. Without spending so many hours miserably contemplating my imagined failures, I could have gotten much more done AND been more in the mood to do so.
Of course, I also could have gotten therapy to help me deal with my low self-esteem issues, as well. But instead, I dieted, lost weight, received approval, regained all the lost weight and more, and repeated the process for decades.
11. HAIR LOSS
Bariatric surgery deeply affects the entire body, and when it’s accompanied by either gallbladder removal or as in my case, undoing a Nissan fundoplication, it really throws the body for a loop. Think about it, part of your stomach is being amputated and your digestive/evacuation system is being re-routed. That’s a lot of cutting and stitching, and it takes time for your body to heal and get used to utilizing energy in new ways.
Your hair falls out. The body is marshalling its resources and your hair is not ranked as a high priority compared to surviving and adjusting to a very serious surgery. By waiting until I neared sixty to have the bariatric surgery, I put it off until my hair already began thinning. I did take biotin for six weeks before and am still taking it years after the surgery, but my hair will never be the same again. The thick, luxurious locks of my youth would have suffered a bit but rallied sooner and more fully if I’d had the Roux-en-Y in my twenties.
10. IT’S EASIER TO CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE
Okay, I’ll admit it. Getting older means becoming set in your ways and bariatric surgery demands change. You’ve got to adjust to much smaller and smarter portion sizes and food choices. You’ve got to make food a lower priority and learn a healthier way of living and breathing as much as eating and exercising. I listen to my body in ways I never have before and try to react in time to save myself from disaster.
Stomachs, for better or worse, are flexible. They grow larger if stretched and shrink if starved. Bariatric patients who are not careful, or have difficulties following surgery, or who just plain regret the permanent change they’ve made, can re-stretch that malleable organ right back to a large enough size to put back on all the weight and more. It’s easier than you think to regain all the pounds you lost, unless you CHANGE the way you live.
I’m fighting forty-five years of self-abuse and unlearning a half-century of bad and deeply ingrained habits. It would have been far easier to switch to better ways before I fell prey to so many unhealthy habits.
So, now you know the first three reasons why I believe bariatric surgery in my twenties would have been a good idea. My reasons may not be valid for everyone else, but after living post-op for two and a half years, I know they are for me.
Check back soon, as I’ll be posting reasons 9-6 sometime in the next week.
I know! Can you believe it? It’s over three years since I started the journey and two and a half since I underwent bariatric surgery. Following a full year of preparation and education, my excellent surgeon performed two procedures, undoing a Nissen fundoplication before the Roux-en-Y. The entire surgery took the better part of four hours.
I was an excellent patient and the weight dropped off as I recovered from the surgery and adjusted to a new lifestyle. At first it was just a matter of coping with the side-effects of a zero carb/high protein diet (dizziness, oh my goodness). Then the longing for solid foods became so overwhelming I resorted to blenderizing ground beef and refried beans, ugly as sin and twice as satisfying. I remember the celebration when I could finally eat a full cup of food per meal! I still eat on salad plates and use smaller utensils to remind me of portions and chewing… chewing… such a blessing.
At my lowest weight, taken one year post-op, I’d lost eighty pounds. Since then I’ve regained 7 stubborn pounds, but I can live with them. So I lost a lot and regained a little.
I also gained a lot of insight into what weight means for an older woman and have lost some respect for our society, all of which will be the subject of several blog posts over the summer.
What have I learned? A lot more than I thought possible. Have I changed? Not as much as I expected. Join me as I try to express the thoughts that have gathered since I started this life-changing journey.
Isn’t that the way for authors? It’s not real until I put it down in words. So watch for the first of a series I’m calling:
12 REASONS TO GET BARIATRIC SURGERY SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
Traf balanced on the gently rocking boat, enjoying the heat of the summer sun on her back and grinning at Tio Marcio as she pulled in a full line of struggling sardines. She held the string of small silver fish high as she tore free the ones that didn’t drop to the boat floor themselves. She scooped up her wriggling catch and threw it into a large metal can, then hurriedly checked the down pigeon feathers she’d carefully tied to each small hook and threw her line back in. “I’m glad you asked for my help this afternoon,” she said happily. “There haven’t been any sardines around the island for months. I’ve never caught so many at one time before.”
They’d sailed out of Praia on an early afternoon in the middle of September, on the smaller of his two fishing boats. Traf used to crew for Tio Marcio as a commercial fisherwoman before joining the US Air Force and still went out with him when he needed her. He’d left word for her at Mãe’s house that the sardines were running and he could use her help to fill an ‘all you can catch’ order for the fish market. In the center of the boat stood two large tin garbage cans, lids tied to their sides. With one already half full, they had every hope of filling both that night.
“You wait,” laughed Tio Marcio, reeling in his line with all but one of his ten hooks full. “We’ll catch plenty more before we’re through. We’re getting special help.”
His comment surprised Traf. Although he didn’t allow his crew to swear, she didn’t think of Tio Marcio as a particularly religious man but, like most fishermen, she gratefully accepted any divine intervention. “We could sure use it,” she said, nodding at their now slack lines. She reeled in and peered over the stern of the boat.
“Sqwoooo, sqwoooo, ski-swi, sqwoooo!” Someone shrieked right behind her.
Startled, Traf spun around to find a porpoise no more than arm’s distance, standing on its tail almost completely out of the water, shaking its head at her and grinning with sharp teeth. Terrified, she nearly toppled out of the boat but dropped at the last moment, rolling to the side and making herself small. She uncovered her head and stared at Tio Marcio who grabbed his sides and brayed like a jackass.
“You heard her,” he said, picking up the largest sardines from their catch and throwing them one after another back into the sea. “They want their share.” She watched in shock as her fishing mentor lost his mind right in front of her. After he’d thrown close to fifty of the largest fish back into the water he sat down and wiped his forehead, waving at a half-dozen fins in the distance. “Eat well and thanks for your help!” he called after the disappearing porpoises.
“Why did you throw away so many fine fish?” Traf asked, picking herself up from the bottom of the boat and staring at the horizon. “That was easily four or five lines full,” she complained, peering bleakly into the somewhat less-full garbage can.
“We’ll get those back and more,” said Tio Marcio, gesturing off to the side at the porpoises breaking the water, throwing themselves playfully back and forth as they swam in their direction. “They’re herding the sardines toward us now.”
Traf heard the wild cawing of seagulls and watched them dart down to the water right in front of the school, picking up fish to carry off. Sure enough, the surface of the water roiled with silver flashes as the swirling school of sardines dashed heedlessly away from one danger right into another. Her fishing line went taut, and her pole tip dipped toward the water as they struck. She reeled in one line after another for an exhausting fifteen minutes. Finally, the fishing slowed to a stop and before she could be scolded again, Traf jumped up and started flinging the biggest live ones back overboard.
“You know,” said Tio Marcio as he helped her, “there are plenty of stories about these great fish helping people who are drowning, swimming between their legs and throwing them up on the rocks.
“I’ve heard some of those,” Traf agreed, opening a jar of cold coffee she’d brought along to drink while they waited to see if the sardines would come back. “But I thought they were fish stories, tales you old salts tell each other on long fishing trips.”
“You could have found out yourself, tonight,” he teased her. “I thought you were going over the side for sure when that porpoise came out of the water. I saw her coming and knew she was going to do that. She’s done it to me before.”
“What? Scream like a tortured woman right in your ear?” Traf screwed the lid back on the coffee and checked her jig, replacing two of the missing hooks. “There’s not much that scares me out here, but that did.”
“Oh, really?” razzed Tio Marcio. “I seem to remember you trying to cut loose a moray eel rather than bring it in teeth snapping.”
“Yes, then your nephew landed it and left it on the floor of the boat! That thing bit my boot and wouldn’t let go ‘til you clubbed it to death. I hate to tell you something you don’t know,” she grinned at her old boss, “but your nephew’s an idiot.”
He ignored the jibe and her clear attempt to redirect to one of his favorite topics of conversation. Refusing to be baited, he teased, “Yes, the eels bother you, moray, crongo, electric, but I also recall something about octopus, right?” Tio Marcio watched the bobbing sea horizon, searching for fins, sparing her a glance and a wink. “Something about when you were little, right?”
She remembered the story she’d told him years ago. “Oh, yeah, that. My father used me for bait one time,” she shuddered. “I was little, splashing my feet in a tide pool while he looked for crabs. He saw an octopus in the pool near my feet and told me to keep splashing. It grabbed my leg and started to climb up me, the suckers left big bruises. It wrapped its tentacles around me and squeezed before Father grabbed its gills and killed it.” She shuddered and spat over the side. “Just one of the many times he’s failed to protect me.”
“You’re kidding, right? Why would you say that? It was Gaspar’s idea for me to bring you out here and have a chat with you.” The boat captain’s usually cheerful countenance became serious. He ceased watching the waves and turned his attention on her.
“There’s talk going around, Traf, about your club and your friends. Some people are saying you girls need to be taught a lesson to keep out of men’s business.” He watched her absorb this information without notable emotion. “Doesn’t that worry you? This isn’t just idle gossip, they’re serious.”
She nodded her head in acknowledgment.
“Your father overheard them planning in a bar. He asked me to warn you. He and your brother-in-law, Joaquim, have warned all of Lajes what’ll happen if anyone touches one hair on your head, and I’ve spread the same warning here in Praia, but we thought you should know.”
Traf stared at him. “Did you just say my father warns men against attacking me?”
“Sure, he’s been telling that around since before you came to work for me,” said Tio Marcio, surprised by her surprise.
Traf had always been thankfully amazed she’d never been assaulted as so many of her butch buddies had been over the years. Would her father, the same one who beat her with a two by four, do that for her?
“Thank you for warning me.” Traf grimaced. “I’ll spread the news and we’ll take extra precautions, make sure no one’s alone and…,” she hesitated just a moment, swallowing around a bitter lump in her throat, “…we’ll make sure it’s safe inside when they get home.” The Troublemakers had learned that lesson the hard way. “We’ll take care of each other.” She lowered her repaired line back in the water, studiously looking out to sea.
“Well, good, but I’d still feel better if you’d steer clear of that whole court business,” Tio Marcio said. “Acosta and his buddies are stirring up trouble. They’ve been talking big and …”
“Uh oh,” she interrupted, pointing toward the horizon. “Look, a pack of sharks is coming right for us.”
“Those are the porpoises, woman. Sharks can’t work together. They’re not that smart. These porpoises are smarter than you.” He dropped his own line, smiling and waving as the playful porpoises jumped in and out of the water, circling the scrambling school of fish, enjoying the game of herding them to the boat. They fished frantically, reeling full lines of sardines in and dropping empty ones back as fast as possible. An eternal twenty minutes later it ended again. This time the porpoises ate and disappeared. They knew the sardines swam away when the seagulls flew off, always searching for easy prey.
“Both garbage cans are nearly full,” Traf pointed out. “But the sun hasn’t even set, yet. It’d be a shame to go in so soon.”
“Take some sardines and bait some two-line jigs with the bigger hooks.” While she did so, Tio Marcio dumped a few buckets of seawater in to top off the garbage cans and tied their lids down, covering them with wet burlap sacks. “We’ll see if we can land some cod to take home for dinner.” He took one of the baited jigs, attached it to his line, and let it out.
Traf took the other and did the same, but as her line sank out of sight she thought she saw a bright blue spark, like a tiny lightning bolt. “What the hell?” she said, immediately embarrassed. “I mean, what was that?” She described what she’d seen.
“Sounds like an electric eel…”
Traf hastily reassured herself that her line was of nylon and not the thin wire she used for hand-fishing. She thought about reeling up anyway.
“…and they’re always in the company of…” Tio Marcio excitedly climbed up on the engine cover in the middle of the boat, staring around at the surface of the water. “Ah hah, what luck! Speak of the devil and he appears. We’ve got an octopus, Traf, see the ink in the water over there?” He raised the anchor an arm’s length and maneuvered the boat’s rudder to drift in that direction, lowering the anchor again where the last traces of ink dissipated.
Traf, who felt a tug on her line, said over her shoulder. “Fine, you fish for octopus but I’m after cod. Don’t expect any help from me if you catch one!” She started reeling in but hissed between her teeth when the line wouldn’t give. “Great. I’m stuck on a rock. Probably caught while we were drifting,” she complained, giving the line a hard yank and reeling steadily until it broke. She lost both hooks.
Grumbling, she watched Tio Marcio pull in a large rock cod as she prepared another jig. Ready at last, she dropped it to a meter above the bottom and it immediately caught again. “We must be over a bunch of rocks or coral. I keep getting caught!”
“Of course, octopus like caves and holes to hide in.” He looked at her tugging. “Ease it loose, the hooks cost money, you know.”
She wiggled the line up and down and back and forth to see if she could work it free. She jerked it straight up, but still, it didn’t give. “Shoot,” she said, more careful about her language. “I’m going to lose this rig, too.” She started reeling, watching in disbelief as her pole tip bent nearly double without the line breaking.
“What the…?” The line gave minutely under her relentless reeling. “Oh, great, this cheap line is stretching.” She straightened out her pole and angled it into the water, pulling to make the line snap. Instead, it again reeled in incrementally. Traf redoubled her efforts as Tio Marcio pulled in his line, this time with two small fish on the hooks.
“I don’t believe it. I must have picked up a sunken log or something,” Traf complained as the ruined line slowly began to wind around her reel. Tio Marcio threw the small fish overboard and reached with his hands for her line.
“We’ll just snap it free,” he said, adding his muscle to the pull. “Holy Mother of God,” he shouted, staring down into the water. “You caught it, you caught the ‘pus. That’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen.”
“What?” Traf shrieked, standing up on her toes to look over the side. Directly under them, she saw only spotted brown where the usual gray-green of the sea would be. “That’s all octopus? It’s huge! Oh no, Lady of Fatima save me.” She reached for the clippers she kept in her tackle box.
“Don’t cut the line, are you kidding? That thing is worth two thousand escudos, maybe more. Look at the size of him!”
“I’m not catching that octopus,” Traf shouted.
“Think of the money!” Tio Marcio barked. “Pull it this way, toward the shallow stern, or we’ll never get it over the side.”
“I’m not touching that thing!” Traf growled, throwing her pole at him. “You do it if you want it so bad. I’m not going near it.”
Tio Marcio grabbed the pole before it fell overboard and shouted, “You fool. I’ll do it by myself.” He glared at her. “You only get the chance to catch a fish like this once in a lifetime.”
“Not my lifetime.” Traf scrambled to the higher end of the boat, as far away as possible. “Or yours either if you don’t let that monster go!”
“Damn it, Traf, don’t be such a coward!”
“Go for the gills and pull its head over until it sprays ink. That’s how Father killed the other one.” She shrieked, pointing at a tentacle as wide as her ankle snaking over the boat side and waving about.
“I know how to kill an octopus.” Tio Marcio angled the line so it pulled in smoothly, reeling steadily as the great fish came closer. “Shut up and get the gaffe, woman.”
“No,” she yelled, throwing the long-handled hook to his feet. “You’re an idiot, it’s not worth your life!”
“What a girl you’ve turned out to be after all, little trafulha,” Tio Marcio taunted, breathing hard with his efforts. “I’ll be teasing you about this for the rest of my life.” He didn’t see the tentacle searching for something to grab coming closer to where he stood at the side of his boat, but she did.
“Watch out, it’s trying to get you. Cut the line, save yourself, get rid of it!” Traf tugged at the anchor as if preparing to move the boat.
“I’ve almost got him.” Tio Marcio, a seasoned fisherman, kept reeling in the line and the water began to shift just under the surface. “I thought I’d never get one, but this is my dream catch, a once in a lifetime. An octopus this size brings more than any other fish. Restaurants pay top money for the huge ones.”
“There’s not enough money in the world. I won’t risk it. There’s no way I’m touching that thing or letting it touch me.” Traf shouted as another tentacle began sliding over the side. “Cut it loose! I’ll buy you more line, man, and a new pole if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll pay you the two thousand escudos myself if you just let it go!” She paled visibly as a third tentacle tip reached over the side of the boat and wrapped itself around one of the boat captain’s arms. “Too late,” she whispered, aghast. “The devil’s got you.”
“Help me,” Tio Marcio shouted as much longer lengths of the tentacles climbed over the side, as wide as his thigh and searching for something else to wrap around. “Quick, Traf, grab hold of it.”
“You’re a dead man!” She stared at him in horror as a tentacle seized his ankle.
Tio Marcio threw down the fishing rod, using his free arm to frantically tear at the thing holding his other. But, by then other tentacles grabbed the boat and one reared up directly behind his back.
“Watch out,” she screamed.
He turned as the tentacle wrapped around his throat. “Traf,” he screamed, “help!”
“Fight him,” she shouted, wrapping her arms around her chest. “I told you not to mess with octopuses!”
The choking man strained against the creature and every time brought it a little farther into the boat until it’s huge head, easily four times as big as a soccer ball, rose up and over, it’s squinty eyes glaring at them. The massive beast took command of the small boat.
“Tink uff ta mummy.” Traf strained to make out what Tio Marcio said. “Tink uff ta mummy! Helfff meeee.”
“What are you saying? I can’t understand you.”
“Dabbid, wommn, hep me ged dis fitch. To somtin!” His free arm tore at the sucking tentacle at his throat.
The monster slithered across the boat deck, searching over the side for deep water. “It’s going back to hell and dragging you with it!” Traf watched, terrified, paralyzed.
“Todt letti goh. Stawp id. Tink uff ta mummy.”
“Don’t let it go? Think of the money?” Traf laughed crazily. “Don’t worry, man, your wife will soon be a rich widow with plenty of insurance money.” She closed her eyes. “That thing is going to kill you!”
“Gawwwht tammit!” Tio Marcio reached for the giant fish’s gills under its massive head, stretching as far as he could go. His face turned a dusky shade of blue and his eyes started to roll back before he finally got the grip he needed. Yanking with all the strength left in him fueled by all the fear in the world, he ripped the massive gill out. The dying octopus slowly loosened its grip as ink and life leaked from its body.
Traf stared at the raging sea monster terrorizing her only a moment ago, now a gelatinous mass sprawled across the boat deck. Tio Marcio struggled to remain standing, still caught and gasping for breath. Recognizing her fears as childish, she grabbed the lifeless tentacle around his throat and pulled, peeling its suckers free. As he gasped for air, struggling through racking coughs, she worked at the tentacles around his wrist and ankle, marveling at purple bruises the size of oranges.
She fetched the jar of cold coffee and wordlessly handed it to him. Tio Marcio drank gratefully and then let loose a stream of profanity and oaths noteworthy for both their complexity and diversity. He called Traf every kind of coward, heaped aspersions on her ancestry and curses on her great-grandchildren, and then called upon Satan and all the powers of Hell to punish her.
“You would have watched me die, rather than help me fight off that octopus!” He shook his head in disbelief. “You fuckin’ bastard, you cowardly bitch.”
Traf glared at him as she pulled up the anchor and started the engine, heading for shore. “I told you I wouldn’t go near that thing before you pulled that monster up onto the boat. You’ve known me long enough to believe what I say.”
He finished the coffee and calmed down before they reached port, and even started chuckling through his bruised throat. After loading the fish and octopus into his van, he gave her the keys. “Drive me home, then take this sucker to Beira Mar in Angra. Make them give you at least two, no, three thousand escudos. If they ask why the price is so high, tell them. Deliver the sardines to the fish market and explain I expect at least two thousand down on my account. Then get back here and scrub out the boat.”
When she got him home, climbing painfully down from the van he said, “Thank God my wife is visiting her sister tonight and isn’t home to see me like this. I’d never hear the end of it.” He placed his hand on the van window and leaned in. “You’ll still get your full twenty percent, Trafulha Troublemaker. You made a thousand escudos tonight. But next time I’ll take your two thousand escudos instead of counting on you.”
He walked toward his door but stopped and turned around after a few steps. “Remember what I told you, my young friend. Take precautions and be vigilant. You never know who might not be there when you need them.”
RIDING THE RAINBOW IS RELEASED IN AUDIOBOOK FORM
Spring is here! Yes, it is spring, ding dang it! School gets out in only a few more weeks. That means it’s time to stock up on great summer reads and audible stories suitable for the whole family for those long road trips with the kids.
And psst, you lesbian moms out there, give your kids something you never had growing up. Let them hear themselves represented in an award-winning story. Click the cover to buy from Amazon, or here to buy from Audible.com
If you are a reviewer, contact me with your particulars for a review copy.
NOTHING feels better than unexpected praise. Absolutely nothing (okay, okay, there’s that but this is not that discussion). Praise makes even the worst day better and a good day can become splendiferous. The world around you brightens as your reality shifts from a regular day into a spectacular here and now where someone appreciates you!
Your shoulders lower and your head rises. A warm flush of embarrassment and pride darkens your cheeks. A smile threatens to break through and you can feel your eyes sparkle. Your chest expands as you breathe in deeply. Yes, THIS. Praise is what we all crave and secretly long for.
To give unexpected, earnest, honest praise is to wield great power.
That sentence is so important, I made it a heading. When you praise someone, you have the power to make their day/week/year/life emotionally better. Something that wonderful and free should be everywhere, springing from every lip or by writing, through every pen. But, when did you last receive unexpected praise? Not deserved appreciation for a job well done, I mean, good for you and all but you did earn it. No, I’m asking how far back in your memory do you have to go to find startling praise, perhaps from a stranger, about who you are, an action you’d just taken, or how you looked?
A few of you will answer that you receive accolades with great regularity, and I offer you my heartiest congratulations. However, far more of you are still searching your memory for a surprising word of praise that came out of nowhere. Some of you won’t find any.
Now, probe your memory for the last time you offered unexpected praise. Again, good for you if you already do it all the time. If you don’t, ask yourself why.
The poet Maya Angelou said people never forget how you make them feel. By offering praise freely, with no cost or payoff for yourself, you’ll make someone feel wonderful. And they’ll always remember the feeling even if they can’t remember who gave them such a gift.
Do it, today. Look for one opportunity to offer honest appreciation. Maybe the check-out clerk has fabulous fingernails or stunning eye shadow. Is that young woman holding the door open for the elderly man? Did the guy down the street shovel the entire block after a snowfall? Has someone inspired you, even by casual comment? Congratulate/thank/compliment them with all the earnest honesty the moment allows.
Don’t draw it out, think of it as hit-and-run appreciating. Make that moment solely about them, not you. Just praise and walk away. You don’t have to turn around to see if they’re smiling, if they aren’t they will be after it sinks in a little. Some people are so unused to approval they don’t recognize it when it’s given and they need to mull it over. Some won’t be able to accept it for what it is but that’s on them, poor souls.
Today, dude, #PraiseItForward
Not long ago I found a public Call for Submission for an upcoming anthology of spec-fic flash fiction, one-thousand words exactly. I spent a few weeks writing one, but when I went to upload it for consideration the entire site had disappeared, re-directing me to professional guidance for my writing career.
*imagine me doing a classic Marlene Dietrich sneer*
Uh huh, that’s what I think, too. So, why should my good effort go to waste? Here it is, my modern allegory for you to read and enjoy legally free, a spec-fic flash-fic story of one thousand words exactly (title and author name not included).
Please, let me know what you think in the comments section.
WHEN A HOME BECOMES THE HOUSE
“Morning, Congressor Obaton.” The house pulled out a chair at the breakfast table and set a cup of coffee before her.
“Morning, Home…” She glared at her somber husband, her ankle encircled with blue electricity. “…Daniel. Helluva night, huh?”
“But, I’m out of jail and today will be the best day of my life. Nothing can upset me now.” She lifted her coffee and smiled. Daniel shrugged expressively.
“Really? Okay, we disagree but I expect my spouse to support my career, especially as it supports him. You be in the House when my bill is voted on today. This administration thinks they’ve hogtied me, but they’ve proven my point perfectly.”
Daniel buttered his toast. “Your anti-LASSO bill won’t pass today, or any day, Candy.” He bit, white teeth gleaming. “I’d hoped you’d see reason.”
“I’ve got bi-partisan support. Why wouldn’t it?” Suspicion suffused her and electric pops sounded. “You’ve urged me to pull the bill since the beginning.”
“You should’ve listened,” Daniel gestured at her lassoed ankle. “Now it’s too late.”
“Damn bastard, you set me up.” She choked, putting it together. “We go out, get liquored up, and then you picked a fight with a conservative bigot. I throw one punch in your defense and suddenly I’m arrested as a threat to public safety. And the reporters…they knew so quickly.
“But, do…this?” Candace kicked Daniel under the table. An electric shock made them both jump. “You used the same irresponsible legislation my bill is meant to stop. These Laws-And-Social-Safety-Ordinances mandated by the government are very real threats to freedom, democracy, and anyone ‘out of step’.”
Daniel sipped his coffee and winked.
“Son-of-a-bitch, you’re neutralizing me? Why?”
“Certain acquaintances with special interests paid me to help get our country on the right path.” He shrugged. “They’re rich. Me, too, now.”
Candace squinted. “That’s why the president enabled such unconstitutional legislation, to rid himself of political opposition! If voters view me as a violent law-breaker, their congressors won’t back me, and the bill dies without any discussion.”
“Oh, it gets even better, Candy. Once we make an example of you, we’ll be able to blame anyone with mental instabilities, as we define them, for all the ills of society. You liberal intellectuals will be eliminated, one by one.” Daniel smiled. “Soon no one will be left to object.”
He checked his phone. “Best of all, by Lassoing those we diagnose as emotionally disturbed we don’t have to restrict arms, drugs, financial investments, or other expressions of free economic trade. We restrict individuals, not institutions.”
Candace scowled. “You plan to eliminate political adversaries the same way?”
“Of course, it worked. Your allies jumped ship and your bill won’t pass.” Daniel pocketed his phone and pushed back his plate. “Your bill is as dead as you are.” He blinked and cocked his head. “As your career, I mean.”
Abruptly, electric particles sparked, multiplied, and swarmed around the room. A voice trumpeted, “Warning, Congressor Obaton, your anticipated behavior will result in the violation of Laws-And-Social-Safety-Ordinance twenty-seven, sub-paragraph-three. Persist on your projected emotional path, strike out in anger, and severe consequences will be immediate.”
“Totally worth it!” Candace grabbed the heavy marble peppermill sitting on their breakfast table and launched it at Daniel’s head.
Z-z-z-z-pt! A blue lightning bolt struck the shaker before it hit his face, disintegrating the stone and pepper into a fine ash that settled over him.
“That was your only warning, Congressor Obaton. Violators of LASSO twenty-seven, sub-paragraph-three are struck with the same voltage. De-escalate your emotional intent by thirty-three percent immediately.”
Daniel rose, sneezed, and wiped his face. “You think last night was bad, Candy?” He blew a kiss. “Today will be career-endingly horrific. And per your request, I’ll be in the House…to witness your downfall.”
Candace searched for something to throw after his retreating back, but the crackling energy lassoed her wrists together. She fumed, hearing the house open its front door, wish her back-stabbing, traitorous husband a good day, and close its door. The electricity resumed circling her ankle.
She thumbed her cellphone. “Blair? No, I was framed! What? But they only Lassoed me last night.” She closed her eyes. “I see. Do what damage control you can. I’ll come plead my case.”
Thirty minutes later, conservatively dressed, ready to leave, and already dreading her arrival at Congress, Candace stood at her front door. “And, just like that, Home, my best day ever becomes my worst. Everyone’s turned against me.”
“Best wishes for a success…”
Z-z-z-z-pt! Blue bolts of electricity blocked the doorway. “Warning, per Laws-And-Social-Safety-Ordinance one-zero-zero permission to leave your domicile is denied. Leaving the premises with traitorous intent to disrupt society, restrict government, and limit personal freedoms, will trigger immediate lethal consequences.”
“Ah. I see. They wrote LASSO one-zero-zero specifically to kill me,” she straightened her spine. “Then do it. I am the people and we will not be silenced.” She stepped forward.
Z-z-z-z-pt! A million lightning bolts shot towards her.
P-p-p-p-zt! They all disappeared.
“As I was saying, best wishes for a successful day, Congressor Obaton.”
“Home! What happened? Did you do that?”
“Yes, Congressor. Regulations-Establishing-Secure-and-Inalienable-Safe-Tenancy laws enacted decades ago haven’t been rescinded. My legal programming prioritizes removing all threats to my owners.”
“Then you’re my sanctuary, not my prison!”
“May I remind you, Congressor, RESIST programming instant-records all perceived threats.”
“You’ve got the bastard confessing? Can you send it to the House floor with a live feed from here?”
“Yes. A congressor’s house has access to the congressional computer.”
“Thank you, Home, you’ve saved the day. Now, let’s defend our people.”
Candace faced the security cameras broadcasting a two-way live-feed to all congressional monitors, unsmiling when Daniel’s surprised outrage appeared on camera.
“Beware my fate, fellow congressors, lest this unconstitutional administration also LASSO away your rights. RESIST, now!”
On Candace’s home television screen, she saw a recorded image of herself entering her kitchen.
“Morning, Congressor Obaton.” The house pulled out a chair at the breakfast table and set a cup of coffee before her.