Monday, October 17, 2016

No One Mentioned the Gargoyles

Small town living means that when you dial 911 you get the volunteer ambulance crew. It's just five guys. Five guys who can leave work when the pager goes off.

As you may know, I am an intensely private person in real life. It may not seem like it to read some of the stuff I post here or on other social media, but it's true. I don't let people into my home all willy-nilly. I really have to want you there to invite you in. If one's home is one's castle, then mine has a sizeable moat around it. A moat full of crocodiles. And the drawbridge is always up.

On one recent occasion, however, I had to make an exception.

Thanks to a herniated disk or two (or three), I've had some pretty significant back trouble recently. Normally I don't wear much to sleep in (Wait, what did I just say about my love of privacy?!) and I'm immensely, humbly grateful that on the particularly painful morning in question I managed to get out of bed and get dressed. I accomplished this by doing something, then lying flat on the bed to let my back realign before accomplishing another task or two and repeating the process.

Once I got my clothes on, I laid down again before tackling my shoes, and that's when it happened - a serious spasm that left me unable to sit up. After the requisite gnashing of teeth, I realized I had no choice but to call for help.

That sort of pissed me off, but what must be done, must be done.

The ambulance was quick to arrive. The crew dragged a stretcher in through my unlocked front door and down the hall, struggling to manipulate it through the narrow space and into my bedroom. Once inside they surrounded the bed and stared down at me.

It was a most welcome invasion of privacy.

They discussed my situation amongst themselves, briefly, before deciding the solution was to lift me by the bed sheet and transfer me to the stretcher.

I was not going to be able to lie flat because they had to raise the head of the gurney to get it out my bedroom door and into the hallway. I was not looking forward to that ten foot bit of the trip, so I took deep breaths and tried to psych myself up for this tiny trauma. Just before lifting me, the man positioned at my left shoulder leaned down and looked into my face. I didn't really focus on him. Not until he said "I wondered why you weren't in your office yesterday when I went to see you."

Suddenly I recognized the face I'd paid scant attention to. A face attached to a man, in my bedroom, who was preparing to move the top of my fragile spine and the bits of me attached to it.

Have I mentioned that I'm a probation officer?

He didn't drop me. He didn't jerk the sheet. He didn't even whack my head against the headboard. I should probably give him community service credit for that.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Because It's Fun To Do This To Monica.

This morning I met with a woman who'd arrived in town only moments earlier, after spending almost a year in a treatment center.

We had a lot to talk about.

In the past 18 months she has lost custody of her children and now there is a restraining order in place, preventing her from attempting any contact with them.

Her father died.

Her mother, who was coddled and cosseted by her husband for the majority of her life, has collapsed into deep and abiding depression and the accompanying ill health.  She will not survive for long.

She has committed a felony offense that will forever prevent her from working in any field associated with her four-year college degree.

Her husband continues to use any and every illegal substance he can get his hands on.  When he picked her up from the 30-day program she tried prior to being sent to long-term treatment, he had a car full of his latest score and a motel room rented just minutes from the treatment center so they could use uninterrupted until it was gone.

This woman is a little younger than me, but not much, which means she's old enough to know better.  Her bachelor's degree is in psychology.  She has been through almost a year of the best treatment the court system can provide.  It may not be Betty Ford, but it's still pretty damn good.  Her family is desperately supportive of her.  She has friends from a Christian community group that have provided her local housing with a couple who run the only 12 step group in the county.  They have a car for her so she can drive to the neighboring county for work and recovery meetings.  She will be receiving one-on-one counseling through a program my office provides.  She'll be seeing me at least twice a month. She has already paid an attorney who will handle her attempt to regain custody of, or at least access to, her children.

All of that.  She has all of that.  And she chose to have her (ex)husband to pick her up from the treatment center and drive her 400 miles to see me.

I stood with her next to the window of my office on the first-and-a-half floor.  We looked down at the truck parked below, with the twitchy guy sitting at the wheel.  And we talked about choices.  And how she was choosing prison if she chose to get into that truck with him.

At that moment, in a truly inspired bit of timing, the man who is offering her a place to live, food to eat and a car to drive, showed up at the office door.  He knew she had to see me as soon as she got into town.  He was there to offer her a ride 'home'.

How much more of a godsend could there be? The woman, who is overly emotional on even her most sober days, rhapsodized over her good fortune.

He and I double-teamed her on the importance of "be still and know".  (He started it, but I've been to lots of southern revival meetings and I could play right along.  I've always thought that verse was God calling humanity to aspire to the deity and perfection of introversion, but I digress.) Promises were made by one and all.  Expectations were tendered and checked.  Small steps were plotted along a slow and steady path.

Then they left.

I shuffled papers.  Read an email.  Got up to stretch my back.  It's been giving me trouble and sitting too long is a problem.  I stepped over to the window and looked down.

I watched her get into the truck with the (ex)husband.  And then they drove away.


I told my secretary I needed to move around and I was going to pace the hall for a bit.

Walking past the County Clerk's office, I recognized one of my guys, leaning over the counter to study a form, along with his girlfriend.  He saw me too and on my return trip he came out into the hall to talk.

He's not a smart man.  He doesn't have mental retardation, but he's not far from it.  He's not had an easy life and drugs and alcohol were his only escape for a long time.  Now he has his own struggling auto body repair garage. And a woman to care for, which makes him feel like a man.

He peered up at me, his eyes huge behind the thick lenses and thicker frames of his charity eye glasses.  "We had a miscarriage," he said.  "We're here to get permission to bury the baby on the farm."

I offered what few sincere condolences I could.

"I've forgotten when my next appointment is," he said.  "Can you tell me when it is?"

I told him not to worry about it.  We would send him a reminder.  At his last appointment he'd made a special effort to get there.  They were driving in from the doctor's office, 50 miles away.  They'd had an ultrasound that day and he had pictures he wanted to show me.

Side by side, we leaned against the cold marble wall, pretending to read the posted foreclosure notices.  We stood together, dry-eyed and silent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

LizWatch 2016

Just thought you'd like to know.  Liz came to see me this afternoon.  She called this morning and said it had been a rough morning.  She was going to be late, but she was going to be here.  I told her that was ok, I'd see her when she arrived.

She arrived with cash.

She paid off everything she owes me.  It took a trip to the convenience store to cash a small check, plus a couple of handfuls of quarters, but she paid all the money she owes.  In full.

Her probation will end successfully.  Provided she doesn't do anything crazy between now and Christmas Eve.  (Really.  Christmas Eve.  The sentence ends on freakin' Christmas Eve.  HA!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

"The code is really more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules..."

Liz drives about 50 miles to come and see me.  Today she almost made it on time, which is an improvement for her.   She lives on the farthest edge of the farthest county in my jurisdiction.  Soon she will move across the line back into another jurisdiction, but even then she will travel to see me.

I've transferred her case to that jurisdiction once before and it did not end well.  The poor guy working those counties is also a one man dog and pony show, just like me.  However, he has to do both adult and juvenile probation.  There is not enough tea in China to pay me to do that.  No ma'am!  Therefore, I try to be a little more understanding of him than I might otherwise be.

The problem is his method of coping is to be a sticker for detail and a fanatic devotee of rules.  All rules.  Any rules.  Liz doesn't work well inside strict parameters.  Her existence is more lateral than logical.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't get along with the guy any better than Liz did.  I'd rather keep her case and not be paid for it than to have to deal with him again.  But that's not the story I'm gonna tell you.

Last time I saw Liz, we finally got busy and completed the state's newest, shiniest assessment tool for her case.  I was months late doing it, but we'd had other more pressing concerns on her previous visits.  The state won't like this, but that's ok.  It'll give them something to pad their reports with and we'll all go home feeling fulfilled.  (Perhaps you can see why Mr. Rule Book and I didn't get along so well?)

The assessment tool is as fabulously un-useful as any such mandated instrument, but it is a great interview starter.  It helps to aggregate information into a single interview that might take me months to cover without it's guided questioning.

We spent a lot of the interview talking about the depression that Liz suffers from to a debilitating degree.  Today she looked better than she has in a long time.  Her hair and her clothes were clean.  Her eyes had not a spark, but at least a dull gleam.  And she sort of ghosted a smile as she came in the door.  It was a good day to talk about why she's depressed.

Liz is an educated woman.  Not liberal arts, but she's had a Certified Nurse's Aide license and completed a 2-year associate's degree in office management, with a minor in accounting.  She's worked in several offices as well as a lengthy stint doing purchasing for a state prison.

Despite her education, Liz is desperately poor.  And she married a poor man, in pretty much every sense of the word.  She knows he's worthless, but they stick it out.  They've been together a long time.

Their first child was a son.  He was born without any major incident and pronounced acceptably viable before being sent home for cuddling and coddling.

Once safely ensconced, he promptly stopped breathing.  Luckily Liz's mom was there and knew just what to do.  She remembered Liz had done the same thing as a baby.  It was sleep apnea.  The doctor confirmed Grandma's diagnosis and told Liz all her children would need to be monitored for it when born.  She was never to have a baby sent home from the hospital without a breathing monitor.

Liz had a second child, also born healthy and normal.  The breathing monitor showed no signs of apnea and all was well.

Liz had third child, a daughter.

You know where this is going.

Liz did all the right things, the things that my chronically poor people are seldom able to do.  She got prenatal care.  She kept the same doctor who'd treated her other two babies.  She was ready to have this baby.

The baby was ready, too.  Her daughter was born while the doctor was away on vacation.  A teenager in scrubs delivered her, according to Liz.

All went well and they were both released from the hospital at the earliest possible opportunity.  Except there was no breathing monitor.  Liz told the teenager the baby was supposed to have the monitor - just in case.

Dr. Howser assured Liz that she was just being an over-protective, overly-worried new mother.  God had given her the gift of a perfectly healthy baby girl and she needed to take the baby home and enjoy her.  He wouldn't listen to Liz's protestations, probably dubious of what a Medicaid mother could possibly have to tell him about medical care.

When Liz got home she still tried to do the right things.  She called her doctor's office and made an appointment for as soon as he got back into town.

Things went well and there were no problems with the baby.  On the morning of the appointment, Liz went into the bedroom to awaken her daughter and get her dressed for the trip to the doctor.

You know what happened.

All the doctor could do for Liz at that point was to help dull the pain.  "The drugs turned me into a potato," she said.  Her emotions were so flattened she couldn't even cry at her daughter's funeral.  She tried to read a poem during the service but could only stand and stare bleakly out over the audience until someone helped her down off the stage.

Liz stayed medicated for months, but could never function on the meds.  She wasn't interested in the "vegetable lifestyle". She had two other children who needed a mother, not a potato.  So she stopped taking the drugs.

The legal ones, anyway.

Now Liz cycles back and forth from deep depression to exhausting mania.  She has waking nightmares of finding that bloated purple face staring up a her from the crib.

Her living situation has not improved.  She's been practically homeless twice in the short time I've known her.  She can't find a job - there are none to be had in the community of 150 people where she lives.  She has no transportation of her own, so she can't get a job out of town.  The minor support she receives from family members would evaporate if she moved somewhere else.  She at least has a roof over her head where she is.  Her husband just got felony probation in another county due to a dumb mistake.  She owes me all kinds of money.  

Liz recognizes that she probably needs treatment for bipolar disorder, at the very least, but her husband's aunt was diagnosed with that disorder after the aunt tried to kill their grandmother while searching for some sort of imaginary treasure she was sure the grandmother had hidden from her.  Liz thinks she cannot afford to get the same diagnosis, given the complicated family dynamics and the fact that she is dependent on that family for food and shelter.

And there I sit, behind my desk, staring at the next question on the assessment form.

"Do you belong to any groups or clubs?"

She just snorted.

Next question:  "Do you belong to a church?"

My face probably betrayed my skepticism about that question because Liz laughed.  "No," she said.  "I didn't think it would really help me to have a bunch of people telling me that this was God's will and part of his plan.  I always assumed God wasn't that much of a shit."

It was my turn to laugh.  "Ohh, you are so smart," I said.  "Yeah, God is not a dick."


I don't like to follow rules, just for the sake of following rules.  I need reasons for rules.  Otherwise, I tend to ignore them.  Sometimes that gets me in trouble.  Sometimes it doesn't.  When I was young I was quite complaint and conscientious but the older I got, the more I realized that everyone else is making it up as they go along, just like me.  Experience has taught me a lot and I do have some hard and fast rules that I've set for myself.

I never ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
I turn my socks right side out before putting them in the hamper.
I don't complain about paying my taxes.
I don't wear anything pink.
I vote.
And I never start discussions of religion or spiritual beliefs in my official capacity.

Despite my adherence to that last rule, there is seldom a work day that doesn't involve some sort of spiritual discussion with one or more of my people.  They bring it up, not me. There were many times, when I worked in a larger department, that I and the other officers would marvel at the frequency and occasional depth of these discussions.

Some people who want to talk 'bout Jeezus do it in a smarmy attempt at manipulation.  'Look - I go to church.  We cool.  I'm a good person, so you can't treat me like all those other people.'

The majority though, are seeking. They want comfort and answers.  And they want to talk.  Sadly, many of these conversations end up being an attempt on my part to push back against the prosperity gospel bullshit.

The poor and the magical thinkers among us are prime targets for that type of teaching.  The rich person is not only going to stay out of needle eyes and other places, they're not going to 'buy' into the practice of 'blessing' the pastor/prophet/teacher, either directly or indirectly, with money and expensive gifts as a means to securing a financial blessing of their own.

The poor person is going to think it's worth a shot and they will give all they've got left to the church.  All they've got left after picking up a few scratch-offs, that is.

Liz is not a victim of the prosperity gospel.  Neither does she have patience for the sort of theology that tries to force encouragement by assuring her that tragedy is God's horrible, horrible will. Unfortunately, her experience has been that those are her only two choices when it comes to religion. Given where she lives, there aren't any other options, really.

And yet, even with all the stuff she deals with, she could still make jokes about how thoroughly unhelpful sanitized, white-bread religion is to her down and dirty daily life.

And that's the point.  (You knew there had to be one somewhere, didn't you?)  Despite the cesspool of her existence, she can still make a joke.  She can still smile.  Liz is not some Norman Vincent Peale success story.  She's just human.  And humans are fantastically resilient.  That's why we have to take an interest in one another.  That's why we have to listen to one another.  It doesn't take much to make someone's life a little better.

Will Liz find a job?  Get her mental illness under control?  Pay the water bill and the electric bill both in the same month?  Nope, not anytime soon.  Possibly not ever.  She's not going to join a church or the PTA or the athletic booster club.

But she will survive.  And she'll keep a roof over her family's heads.  And she won't join those groups or churches, but she also won't join the KKK or whatever passes for a gang in these parts.  And maybe her kids will get an education and have a better life.  I'll do whatever I can to keep her out of jail.  That's about it.

Too bad there is not a cool punchline here.  The truth is life is pretty precarious for a lot of people.  Do whatever you can to help them move away from the precipice.  Sometimes there's not much you can do.

Sometimes, it doesn't take much.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

100 Things Divorce Taught Me: 7th Heavenish

52.  I am occasionally 'entertaining' again, to borrow a wretched phrase from HGTV.  I did it all the time when I was single.  When I was married, we intended to do it. We talked about doing it. We never did it. There is that pressure to be good hosts, to have the perfect party, to invite the right mix of people.  We always talked about doing it, but never did, knowing it wouldn't be perfect.
How lame.

Now I'm back to hosting people like I did, lo, these many years ago.  I vacuum and try to get the worst of the dog hair off the seldom used furniture.  And that's it.  People know to come bearing food or prepared to go hungry.  I don't cook or try to have the perfect setting or guest list or anything else.  I just open the door and enjoy the laughter.

One thing has improved, though.  I used to call these BYOC parties.  Bring your own chair.  Because I had no real furniture in those post-college, single days.  Now, at least, I do provide you a place to sit.

53. I think I might have found a way to watch college football games without use of satellite service.  We don't even HAVE cable service available out here in the sticks.  If this works, I'm canceling satellite.  This whole thing of not watching TV unless you actually want to WATCH TV is really a life-changer.

55.  I think maybe I like baseball.  I have hated watching baseball my entire life.  Loathed it actually.  I don't mind softball, as it is a much faster paced game.  Learned that from being married.  But since being divorced, I've missed football -  season's end grief is a normal yearly experience, regardless of marital status - and I wanted something to just listen to while drawing.  There is only so much of the ungratefully pretentious white people you can stomach on HGTV, so I fell into baseball by default.  I may be a convert.

56.  How do you divorce a woman who loves football and fishing?  What were you thinking? Mindy declares me a closeted lesbian.  That made me smile, but alas, no.  I am, however, really good girlfriend material.

57.  It takes me a really long time to get to the point of asking for help.  Personally, professionally, metaphorically, any other "ly"s I can think of.  Lots of different reasons for that, I guess.  Most of the time I can fake my way through just about anything.  I'm a pretty capable person. But here and there life would be much easier if I would just say "Hey!  I could use a hand here."  This is not some sort of vague facebook-esque post where I'm hoping you will all jump up with your hands out and offer to pull me from the depths of my as yet undeclared despair.  Not at all - I truly (see what I did there?) do not need help at the moment.  It's just something I'm becoming aware of - a character flaw, a flake in my personality.  Something to work on.

58.  It's been almost exactly one year since my marriage ended with a single ten-minute conversation.  When I think about it, it feels like it's only been a matter of weeks.  Most of the time, I don't think about it.  (Contrary to what you might think from reading these lists.  ha!) I've got better things to do and lots more books to read.

59.  I am going to have to give in and pay someone to give me a back rub.  

60.  I don't know what this has to do with divorce, but I need to buy a new pair of cowboy boots.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jeezus Weejus

A few months ago I told you about Jimmy the Lions Club Prayer Guy.  Jimmy was a true patriarch of the community and deaf as a post.  He was a master of the institutional prayer.  He couldn't hear a single word I said for the entirety of my tenure as Lions Club president.  But he knew when I gestured at him, he was supposed to do his thing.  "MAY WE PRAY?"

Jimmy died.

My year as the grand poo-bah of the local Lions Club is thankfully also at an end.  I am ever so happy about that. Ever bloody so.

The new Lion Boss has declared pay back upon me for the many times I asked him to do bits of the weekly program.  So far that payback has included making me lead the pledges to the American and Texas flags each week.  This week he upped his game.

I was in the middle of stuffing fajita chicken into a warm tortilla when he knelt next to me at the table, pen and agenda in hand, and asked if I would do the prayer.

I looked a little stricken, fajita filled fist frozen halfway to my open mouth.

"That's ok, right?" he asked, halfway serious.  "I mean, you're right with the Lord and stuff, aren't you?"

"We talk," I admitted.  "Are you sure you're not worried about lightening strikes though?"

"It's not like I'm gonna be standing next to you or anything," he admitted.  "I'm just hoping the whole building doesn't cave in around us.  You're not going to call down snakes or our heads or anything like that, are you?  I mean, I've seen Carrie.  That sort of stuff doesn't end well."

I assured him I would leave off the incantations and praise of the dark side.

His request was unusual.  Singular, even.  I wondered if perhaps he asked me to do the prayer because of my outfit.  Mindy describes this particular ensemble as my Anton LeVey garb.  It's a black priest-looking shirt and a necklace of black crosses.  I did soften things a bit with a pair of blue jeans instead of the  black pants I normally wear with it.  But I still wore black boots with silver studs.  

(Lord, I've owned at least one pair of black boots with silver studs at all times since the late 1980's.  And how many years have I worn this shirt?  Maybe I should get a new one.  Wonder where Anton LeVey shops?  Demon Marcus?)

While I finished my meal - including almost all of my vegetables - I tried to think of something to pray.  It has been years since I've been asked to do an extemporaneous prayer.  Long, long years. For starters, I am a woman.  That precludes me from these duties in most social and civic circles here.  And forget being asked to do it in a Baptist church.  Or most of the other denominations we have here.  Besides, the weekly club meeting is really the only gathering I attend that requests extemporaneous prayer these days.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing.  Not at all.

A well-written prayer trumps pretty much all extemporaneous attempts when it comes to public performance.  Admittedly, I do love to count the repetitions and churchy phrases that most of us don't realize we've fallen victim to when put on the spot.  One of my favorites from childhood was the church treasurer who could never pray without requesting to be delivered from the lust after filthy lucre.

I've been enchanted by all the good stuff in the Book of Common Prayer since becoming an Episcopalian.  In years past I've been the designated pray-er more often than not at any sort of institutional gathering that I was a part of, outside of church.  It's a dubious perk of being the preacher's kid.  I have prayed at every single graduation ceremony I've ever been in. I've prayed Catholic prayers, poetic prayers and my favorite was a particularly beautiful Baha'i prayer.

After my college graduation my grandmother admitted to having 'peeked' during the prayer.  "I wasn't sure that was really you.  You sounded so...different!"  That may well have been when the probation voice was born.

The probation voice doesn't get as much use these days.  It's my own attempt at the voice of God.  Or at least Morgan Freeman.  It's all about gravitas and authority.  The older I get, the less I use both those qualities.  Now maybe I'm more about consensus.  And really listening.  And finding a solution rather than demanding one.

And then, if all that doesn't work, it's time to use the probation voice.  That normally doesn't work either, but it's at least kind of fun.

Today was not a probation voice day.  I managed to quietly say a few words of thanks for the meal and request that we'd all be blessed as we returned to our lives and work in the community.  Blah, blah, blah.

I don't know if Jimmy would have been proud or not.  But I do know what he would've said.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Downward Headed Dog

When I retire, I might want to live in a city.  Big towns fascinate me.  I love to visit.  Lots of times I wish I lived in one.  Lots of times I'm glad I don't.  My only plans for retirement so far are to live somewhere with trees and rain.  That's it.  Although I'm considering adding one other requirement to the list:  a yoga studio.  I cannot imagine living in the vicinity of an actual yoga studio.  That is just the height of  decadent existence as far as I'm concerned.

Some day maybe I will live near a yoga studio.  And maybe even a Whataburger.  

But today is not that day.  

Today I am grateful to live in a small town because things happen in small towns that are precluded, by the laws of physics, as well as probably those of the University Interscholastic League, from happening anywhere else.  

It was a little after 7:30 this morning when I finished getting dressed for work.  As I was about to leave the bedroom, I noticed Parish.  He's a dog.  He was sitting in the doorway I needed to pass through, which made him hard to miss.  And he was doing some odd licking and shaking.  

One quick glance showed that his groin was hugely swollen.  I prodded the large knot, which was behind and to the side of his boy bits and discovered the area was unnaturally hard and unyielding.

The veterinarian's office opens at 8:00 a.m.  At 8:01 I was on the phone with the secretary/assistant, who told me the doctor was "in" and would be willing to examine my dog.  

I put Chapel, Parish's brother, out in the back yard alone, something he decried at ear-splitting levels, and bundled Parish into the truck. 

The vet watched us get out of the truck from  one of his waiting room chairs, legs stretched out in front of him, nursing a cup of coffee.  We took Parish into the back and put him on an exam table while I explained the problem.  Then I helped the vet turn him over onto his side so he could examine the groin.  

The growth was gone.  

No knot, no tumor, no nothing.  

The kindly old veterinarian looked at me with warm brown eyes and, without laughing, told me that sometimes when a boy dog really, really likes a girl dog...  Well, no he didn't.  But he did say that when a dog is ready to mate, there is a gland that can become very swollen and that this can happen even with a neutered dog, like Parish the Mortified. 

Imagine my chagrin.  

Thankfully, the vet didn't even charge me for the 2 minute consultation.  (He's also about to retire.  Anyone know of any good veterinarians that want to move to a small town?)  I got Parish back in the truck, not taking nearly as much care about it as I had initially.  

On the way home we had "the talk".  The talk about how 'they ain't nobody in this house gettin' any.'  Not me, not the cats and certainly not him.  Especially not when he doesn't even have all his parts!  Parish just hung his head and muttered "yes ma'am" at the appropriate points.  

Before I'd left for the vet's office, I texted my secretary to tell her that I would be late.  She reminded me that we were having court.  I'd completely forgotten.  Thankfully it was here and not in one of the out-lying counties.  When I got home, I put Parish out back with a delighted Chapel, then went inside and changed into more court-appropriate, less dog-hair covered clothing.  

I jumped back in the truck and headed to my office, ten miles away.  I walked in the door at 8:39 a.m. - only nine minutes late.  

Maybe I'll never be able to do a decent warrior pose or sun salutation here, but living in a tiny town does have its benefits!