Over the past few days I’ve been on mom duty.  Yes, I’m always on mom duty, but sometimes it takes up more time than others.  Lately mom duty has been all about studying and preparing.  My son has four tests this week.  He’s in 8th grade. I realize it’s the end of the year and teachers want to get tests out of the way before the holiday break (because they no no one will do any school work over the break and will likely forget everything once they’re back at school), but four tests (and two quizzes) in one week is a bit much.  We had notice for two of the tests prior to the weekend so we were able to focus on those but didn’t find out about the other two until yesterday.  Giving kids two days to study for two tests when they’ve got other activities is a lot if you ask me.

I don’t baby my kids.  I never have.  The real world is tough and they’re not going to be babied (though it seems that’s happening more and more, but I won’t go down that path in this post), so I believe it’s important to prepare them for the real world.  I’m not a coddler and honestly, wouldn’t even know how to do that if I tried.

I do think it’s important to help a kid when they need help and I felt my son needed help, so I stepped up to the plate.  I’m not sure if it’s hormones or what, but this year has been a struggle for him.  He’s not the smartest kid on the planet, but he is smart and he is in all advanced classes but I think he’s struggling with the extra effort he needs to put in.  And by struggling I mean he doesn’t want to do it.

This is where I come in.  I’ve tried to figure out a way to help him improve his study habits, and it’s not been easy.  My oldest daughter is wicked smart and knew when it was time to hunker down (she may have not done that her freshman year in college, but she learned that lesson quickly).  My other daughter hasn’t been a studier and that’s been a big problem for her, but my son is mostly like my oldest.  He can memorize anything, but now memorizing isn’t enough. He needs to find a way to apply and truly understand what he’s learning.

Of course, being the google queen that I am, I researched and researched ways to help him learn but I got a whole bunch of crap.  Be organized, review, etc.  I know all of that.  I’ve tried to teach him all of that, but so far it’s not working.  He can’t grasp the concept of ‘reviewing for a few minutes each night’ even though EVERY teacher has suggested this.

So needless to say, we had to learn 29 vocabulary words for language arts and a whole butt load of Georgia and US government history.

I took his social studies study guide and used his online book (because they don’t have enough money for actual books anymore) and went through and found every answer.  No, I didn’t give it to him.  I made him go through and find every answer also.  He’s not going to learn if he doesn’t do the work.  I did it also so I could make sure he had the right answers.  What’s the point of doing it and learning it if you’re learning the wrong information?

Once I finished that, I copied all of his worksheets and notes and along with the study guide, made about 100 note cards.  I gave him those to review, which bored him to death.  So I took the note cards and wrote out about 100 questions on individual note cards and 100 answers on another set of note cards.  We laid the answers out on the floor in rows and he took each question and matched it to the answer.  He loved it.  Then we reversed it.  He loved it again.  He busted through it and got every single one right, and even corrected the ones I did wrong (hey, it was a lot to cover in a few hours and I haven’t been in school for a long time!)

We did the same with the vocab cards and he nailed them.  Then I made him use them in sentences and did word association with them, too. His vocab quiz was yesterday and he missed two that he knows of.  I feel like  I failed him.  He missed two words that were similar.  One was nefarious.  The quiz required him to fill in a word in a sentence.  His sentence was about the Grinch being nefarious.  He didn’t believe the Grinch to be evil, which is part of the definition.  I guess technically, the Grinch isn’t, but I really can’t make that argument with the teacher.  Either way, considering he’d had the words for TWO WEEKS and hadn’t touched them, I’m good with missing two.

The social studies test is today.  He knows it all, except possibly the last few amendments to the first 1o on the Bill of Rights.  Have you read those things?  I haven’t in years, but in finding them on the internet, I couldn’t tell you what any of them meant.  He had a ‘cheat sheet’ from class that shortened them into understandable verbiage, but left it at school.  I sure hope he doesn’t blow it with those.  I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting to find out.

He also has a math test.  The kid is in advanced math, and they’re doing algebra.  Waaaayyy past my level of knowledge.  I made it to long division and then went down hill from there.  My husband helped him some and we got him a tutor because my husband travels and I can’t answer any questions that require me to add, subtract, divide or multiply a number with a letter.  X, regardless of what they say, does not have a numeric value in my head.

The next two tests are Spanish and science.  I’m pretty sure he’ll ace those, because he usually does.  I’m pretty sure he’ll ace the government test too.  The vocab quiz would have been a big fat fail because he hates language arts. Who birthed this kid?  How can he hate language arts?  As for math, he’s struggling, but that seems to be the general consensus of all of the kids in that class.

Needless to say, my creativity tanked over the past few days.  Focusing my brain like that has worn this menopausal woman out!  I’m so glad I don’t have to learn things I don’t want to learn anymore.  Give me stuff that interests me any day but the rest, let’s just leave that to the middle schoolers.

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Yikes. 

Things are happening and it’s not fun.  Not fun at all.  Now I completely get why old people sit around and talk about their ailments.  It’s because they’re so totally freaked out and fascinated about what’s happening to their bodies they simply feel compelled to find others who understand. Share the grief, if you will. 

I do it now, too.  I have two friends with whom I text on a regular basis.  We joke and laugh, and share and vent about everything and anything and I cannot even tell you how many embarrassing secrets we’ve shared.  (Chicken fat). If we published that stuff, we’d be totally horrified, but incredibly rich.  It’s priceless.  Anyway, I share with these two, things currently happening to my body, or the body I now have.  Honestly, this can’t be my body.  My body would not, under any circumstance, betray me the way this one has. 

My body, the one I rarely appreciated, took somewhat decent care of, and now miss terribly, would not grow chin hairs without prior approval.  That body would not develop these funky little brown spots I initially mistook for freckles, but are, in fact, age spots.  My body would not appreciate age spots.  My body would not, no way, no how, nuh-uh, ever, EVER dribble a little when I pick up the pace on the treadmill, or cough.  N.E.V.E.R. What the hell is that all about? Note to those younger than me.  Kegels.  All day.  Every day.  Kegels.  Who knew those would end up being so important after all? Obviously not me. 

Whomever swapped out my formerly unappreciated, and now terribly missed body, please return it, and take back this crap you left with you because it does not belong here! 

I’m only 46, and just turned, at that.  Yeah, I know, if you consider the average lifespan of a woman (wikipedia reports it as 69, but I’m calling BS on that!), then I am far past ‘middle age’ and well into ‘old age’, but the thing is, while my body may be aging, my mind has yet to catch up. 

Sure, I’m older and wiser, but I still think like I’m a 30-something, so when these old people things start happening to me, I get a little freaked.  Then reality hits and I realize I am, in fact, bordering on the brink of old.  And that makes me want to cry, which by the way, is not something I ever really did until the changes started happening.  Now I seem to tear up at everything.  (remember the moose?) 

Truth be told, I’m okay with the old part.  It’s the changes that happen because of the old part I can do without.  I sleep less, but seem to need more.  I tolerate less unhealthy foods, (which would be a good thing if I were less stubborn!) and gray hair is coarse.  My hair is already a bundle of frizz, I don’t need the wire-like grays to make it worse.  My once tight facial skin seems to hang a little more than before and while I may not have a lot of wrinkles (thank you, God for that!), I feel saggy.  Feeling saggy is not fun. 

Oprah said the new 30 was 40, then she turned 50 and said the new 40 is 50.  I was kind of going with that thought when I hit 40, but I’m not much liking the thought of what 50 is going to bring, even if it’s new.  Had I known my 40’s would include this crap, I would have, well, I don’t know what I would have done, but I wouldn’t have been happy, that’s for sure. 

I can happily report the hot flashes have ceased.  Actually, they stopped a few years ago.  Sadly, that means the real stuff is starting.  I didn’t like the hot flashes, but I’ll take them back if this other crap will hit the road.  

I hear that once I’m through actual menopause life will be great.  Great? Facial hair growing in mass volumes, other important hairs turning gray, sagging facial muscles, DRIBBLING and age spots do not sound great. 

Can someone tell me what the great part is? 

Chapter Two

 

 “Honey, it’s time to wake up.”  My husband, Jake, shook me gently.  “We have to go to the funeral home.  Come on, your brothers will be there soon.  Wake up.”  He shook me a little harder. 

 I sat up. “Where’s Ma?”

      He looked at me, his expression a mix of sadness and compassion.  “I know this is hard but it’s going to be okay,” he hugged me, and it felt good, comforting. I let him hold me a little longer, and then I remembered the night before.

“No,” I told him, pulling away, and rubbing the sleep fog from my eyes.  “Ma.  She was here.  Last night.  I know she’s dead, but she was here. I saw her.”  I grab his shoulders, trying to show him how serious I am, and whisper, “she told me she’s a ghost.” 

He looked at me, and all of the sadness and compassion flew right out the dining room window.  Jake is a fantabulous husband, and supports me in ways that often try his patience, but to see the gray area of what he considers to be only black and white, is asking too much.  Fantabulous and all, he has his limits. 

“Ang, it wasn’t Fran.  It was a dream.  I’ve read that that kind of stuff happens.  People dream about the person who died and think it’s real.”  He made a small attempt at comforting coos, but they just sounded like our cat before she died.

I push away from him, and get up.  “Stop it.  You sound like a sick cat, and I need coffee.”  My mind barely works without a good night’s sleep, but without coffee, even the simplest conversations are practically impossible.  Besides, now is not the time to get into a debate about the hereafter.  I walk to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee, and say a silent thank you to Jake for making a pot.  I’d say it out loud but I’m a little miffed at him for discounting my ghostly experience.  

Jake was kind enough to get our two kids, Emily and Josh, off to school without waking me.   I feel a sense of relief at not having to deal with them this morning, then feel a little guilty because of it.  They left me a handmade card near the coffeepot, knowing I’d be sure to see it there.  It has red hearts and sad faces drawn all over the front, most likely by Josh, because he draws eyes with eyelashes.  The inside of it reads, “We’re sorry for your loss.  We loved Grandma and miss her.” 

They weren’t here last night.  I knew it was Ma’s last day, and Jake and I didn’t want them to see her die, so we made arrangements for them to spend the evening with friends.  Jake picked them up last night after the hearse left.  I lacked the energy and courage to talk to them, so Jake asked them to give me some alone time. 

The card is sweet, and I get a lump in my throat just reading it, even though I’m sure they’ll never work for Hallmark. 

“What time is it?” I ask, and then look at the clock.   “It’s 10 AM.  What the – we have to be at the funeral home at 11:15.”  I finished pouring my coffee, took a huge gulp, and cursed myself as it burned my throat, then rushed upstairs to get ready.

We arrive at the funeral home just before 11:15.  My long blond hair is pulled into a ponytail, since I didn’t have time to style it and I don’t have on an ounce of make up.  I’m dressed like a typical soccer mom heading to a yoga class.  Normally I wouldn’t go to an appointment like this, but considering the fact that my mother just died, I don’t really give a crap.

We walk in through the front doors, into a sitting area I’m sure ismeant to seem comforting and inviting, but instead feels like a grandparents family room.  The couch is a ridiculously huge, 20 years outdated, 1980’s floral print of mauve and grey, flanked with humongous pillows in matching solid colors.  There are two matching and equally uncomfortable looking chairs, and ugly, ornate tables that don’t match, intermixed with the seating.  A few magazines and tissue boxes sit on the tables. I grab a couple tissues just in case I need them later.  Overhead, they’re playing soft music, and I’m sure they think it makes someone in my position feel better; but mostly it’s just annoying. 

Carnations in various colors sit in vases on stands around the lobby, attacking my nasal passages like an old women drenched in White Diamonds perfume. I instantly feel a headache coming on from the sensory overload.  The entire room smacks of old people, but I guess it should since it’s really mostly old people who die.  Jake crinkles his nose at the smells, too.  We both move quickly as we follow the signs to the assistant funeral director’s office.  I silence my cell phone, knowing my best friend, Gen will probably be texting me any minute.  I’d talked to her after Ma passed, but haven’t yet this morning and I’m sure she’s worried about me. 

Before Ma died, we talked about what she wanted and I promised her I’d honor her requests. They were simple.  She wanted to be cremated and buried with my grandparents in Chicago.  Since we’re in the suburbs of Atlanta, we’ll have her body cremated here and the rest we’ll handle on our own.

My brothers, John and Paul, are already in the Funeral Director’s office.  There is a spread of coffee and its fixings set out on the conference table, and I make a beeline for it.  I’d have an IV of caffeine inserted into my wrist if it were socially acceptable.  Actually, forget socially acceptable. I’d do it even if it weren’t.  Coffee for me is like sex to a 20 year old man, never too much, and never too often.

     My oldest brother John, lives near by, and was with Ma and I when she passed.  Paul lives in Indiana and didn’t make it here in time.  He was on a business trip and couldn’t get a flight here.  I can see the angst and regret on his face.  I say hi, hug both of them, and blink to stop any surprise tears. 

“Ma wanted to be cremated and buried with her parents,” I tell the assistant funeral director, a short, squatty man, with a bad comb-over and a blue paisley tie that doesn’t quite fit over a mid-section that rivals Santa’s.  

“Yes, your brothers told me,” says Comb-over.  “It is our policy to return the remains to the loved ones for proper burial if our services are not being used.”

We all nod in agreement, and then Paul asks Comb-over if he can see our mother before she’s cremated. 

Comb-over gives us what must be his really sympathetic face, and says, “Oh, no.  No.  I’m sorry.  It’s against our policy to allow family back into the crematorium.  You understand.”

Paul nods in agreement. 

Seriously? 

“Excuse me,” I say.   “My brother wasn’t able to see our mom before she died.  He lives out of state and couldn’t get here, so I’m sure you can make an exception.” 

Jake smirks in my direction, liking my passive aggressive technique, and I give him a quick smile. 

 “Well,” Comb-over says, back peddling. I’ll see what I can do.”  He gives us what is obviously his, I am not making enough money for this job, face, and excuses himself, closing the door behind him.  A chill fills the air, and I hug my arms to my chest. 

My brothers look at me.  “Well, it’s a stupid rule and someone had to call him on it.”

“Thanks,” Paul says. 

I smile at him and then see my mother floating behind him, smiling. 

 “You’re such a good girl.  I knew you loved your brother,” she says.

“Uh, I guess I do.”

Paul looks at me.  “You guess you do, what?”

Well, crap.  For a brief second I consider saying, sorry I was talking to the ghost of our mother, who is, by the way, floating behind you, but instead go with, “Sorry, I was just thinking out loud.”   Probably now isn’t a good time to tell my brothers I’m seeing ghosts.   Probably there will never be a good time.

Paul starts to say something again, but Comb-over walks back in.  The man may be a fashion nightmare, but his timing is impeccable.   He coughs lightly and straightens his tie.  “We don’t normally allow anyone into the crematorium, but given the circumstances, we’ll make an exception.”

We.  Uh huh.  We, as in the big boss, I bet.  I smile my, I won smile, and thank him.  Comb-over explains that since our mother is being cremated, they don’t prepare her body as they would for a traditional burial.  I assume that means she’s not made up and nod my understanding.  He walks to open the closed door behind my brothers and walks right through my mother. 

She shudders.  “Oh, Madone, that was creepy.”

I look at the wall and ignore her.

Through the doorway I can see my mother lying on a gurney, the one that’s not floating in the room with me, that is.  I look back and forth between the horizontal Ma and the floating Ma.  This is all a little confusing.  First I had one Ma, and then she died.  Now I have a dead Ma and a ghost Ma.  If they both start talking to me, I’m getting up and driving myself straight to the loony bin.  I stand up quickly, shake off the crazy, and say, “Ah, Paul, you can go first.”  And he does. 

We all say our goodbyes to my mother.  I can’t hear their private whispered words, but I can hear Ma responding.  Not the Ma lying on the gurney, the ghost one.  As I said, it’s confusing.  Like the loud Italian woman she was in life, her raspy, I’ve-had-one-thousand-too-many-cigarettes, voice envelops the room, for me at least, since apparently I’m the only one who can hear her.  “Oh Pauly, it’s okay.  I’m not mad that you weren’t here.  Don’t be upset.  It’s okay.”  

I always knew he was her favorite. 

Paul and I haven’t always had the smoothest of relationships.  In fact, as a child he wanted me dead.  No, really.  He pushed me in front of slow moving cars a few times, but thankfully I wasn’t hurt.  Highly embarrassed from peeing in my Granimals, but much to his frustration, still alive.  Angst and sibling rivalry aside, my heart aches for him now.  The guilt of not being there when Ma passed will haunt him forever, and I can’t help but wonder if that would be easier than being haunted by her ghost.

An hour later, the four of us are having coffee at Starbucks.   Before we left the funeral home, Paul asked Comb-over to let us know when Ma’s body was cremated.   I’d prefer not to know, but everyone handles death differently. 

We’re discussing the arrangements of her burial when I get the call.  Comb-over tells me they’ve started, and as I nod to Jake and my brothers, a heavy sadness fills the air. 

I disconnect from the call and say, “Okay.  When should we go to Chicago?”

“That’s a good question,” John, the over thinker of us siblings, says.  “I’ll call the cemetery later today and find out if we can bury mom with Grandma and Grandpa.  If they won’t let us, we’ll have to figure out what else to do.  I was thinking maybe we could each take a portion of her remains and do something with our kids to honor her.”

Oh, no.  No, no, no.  That is not going to happen.  I promised Ma I’d do this for her and I’ll be damned if I don’t.  Especially since she’s haunting me.  There is no way I’m going to spend the rest of my waking days with the ghost of my mother pissed off because we didn’t honor her final wish.  No way.

“It’s okay,” I blurt out before Paul can agree.  “Ma was worried about the same thing, so we called the cemetery a few weeks ago and found out that it’s fine.”  I take a quick breath, hoping God won’t strike me dead for lying.      

“They told me that as long as we’re not getting a stone, the plots are ours to do with as we please. Except for digging up our grandparents, that is.”  I quickly look out at the sky, but still no lightening.  Phew.

My brothers nod and say, “Okay.” 

What’s wrong with a few little lies?  This is what Ma wanted and eventually I’ll tell them the truth, once she’s buried and we’re on our way home, or maybe next year.  What’s the saying?  Ask for forgiveness, not permission.  That’s what I’ll do, eventually.

I offer to make the memorial arrangements even though we all know they’d have asked me to do it anyway. 

“I already called Roxanne, who said she’d make the rounds of calls and since the funeral home here said they would put the obituary in the Chicago papers, that’s covered.  Does the weekend after next work?  This gives us all time to plan accordingly.”

“I don’t see a problem with that, but I’ll have to check with Elizabeth and see what her schedule is,” John says. 

Jake nods in agreement, not looking up from his iPhone.

Paul nods his agreement too, and says,  “Let’s go through all of our pictures of Mom.  I can make a video with music, and we can show it at her memorial.” 

We all agree that’s a great idea, make plans to confirm the date over email by tonight, and my brothers leave.  Jake and I share the same addiction to the warm, smooth taste of coffee, and get refills before we head home, too.

 

First, it’s important to note that I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert on menopause.

I am a just-over-the-hump-of-middle-age, if I live to be over 90, wife and mother.   So while I’m not an expert at anything, I’m actually an expert at everything.  I never know what I’m talking about, yet I’m always right.  I have ESP.  Things I say will happen, do happen, and I’m proud to admit, “I told you so,” is my favorite saying.  I can find anything lost, misplaced or hidden, in seconds flat.  The eyes in the back of my head can detect poor manners at the kitchen table through thousands of dollars worth of hair product, and I can smell a fresh pile of dog poop three floors down, while sleeping, through a closed door, with a Glade Plug In in the room.

I can cook a four-course meal while simultaneously cleaning the house, wrapping holiday gifts and getting glam, and not bat a fake eyelash.

I am superwoman.

I cannot however, stop myself from tearing up when I see a picture of a puppy.   Or a moose.

I’m not sure why a moose chokes me up, but it does, and I bet the next time you happen upon a moose, you’ll get choked up too.

Because menopause is contagious.

This I know for a fact.

The other day while sitting in Starbucks, critiquing all of the women standing in line, because admit it, that’s what women do, including you, I felt a hair tickle my chin, and while brushing it away, I noticed it stuck.  Okay, so it wasn’t actually stuck, more like attached, but the point is, it was there, and it had to go.

It’s not like I haven’t had a random hair growing, at lightning speed, on my chin before, that’s not the issue.

All women have hormonal hair.  It’s not a big deal usually.  Once a month we feel the prickle of a whisker, rub it repeatedly because we either want to force it out, or are in shock that it’s growing out of us, you pick.  Eventually we get to a place, like our bathroom, where we can tweeze it out, star at it and think to ourselves how freaking huge it is and revel in the fact that it was ATTACHED TO OUR FACE.  Once a month, since sometime in our twenties we’ve done that.  Once a month.  Except that I’d just had my hormonal hair a two days before.  So yeah, I was a little freaked.  Two hormonal hairs in one week isn’t the norm and I wanted that thing gone, and quick.

I gently and inconspicuously pulled at the hair, yanking it out in one swift jerk.  Actually, in retrospect, I may have screamed in panic as I grabbed the hair with a finger and a thumb and yanked full throttle.  Either way, that little MF’er was gone.   After examining it and tearing up over the thick, coarse blackness of it, I quickly flicked it into the seat next to me, and tried to pretend the horrific incident was just a bad dream.

My friend happened to come over at that time, and noticing the look of horror on my face, was truly concerned.
“What’s wrong,” asked concerned friend (whom, by the way, I did not criticize in the line because she’s my friend and I only criticize friends when they look like they’ve lost weight).

“I just pulled the biggest freaking black hair out of my chin,” I told her.

“Oh, no biggie. It’s a hormonal hair.  I get them once a month,” she innocently replied.

“I just had one the other day,” I shuddered at the thought, and might have said a little too loudly, too.

Concerned friend tilted her head and looked at me like a confused dog, and then slowly, face ashen, eyes wide, she reached a hand up to her chin.

And felt it.

“Holy shit,” she said.   “I have one too, and I had my period last week.”

Yup, menopause is contagious.

And multiple hormonal hairs are just the beginning.

I admit to threatening my kids sometimes.  Nothing life-threatening of course, just the typical threats of a mother on the brink of losing her mind because her kids have driven her to the point of insanity.  Because I’ve picked up the 10th pair of socks in the family room in 24 hours or because someone, *eek* drank the last of my Diet Coke (also known as mommy crack in my house).  Mostly I’ve told them I’m going to send them to the moon, send them to Mars and send them to live with their grandparents.  Two of them have always been a remote possibility, but now, the third might be an option. 

School doesn’t start until Thursday.  If I get one more eye roll before then, someone is going to Mars.  You can count on it. 

Please note that this is not edited for grammar.  I’m working on it!  

Chapter One

The air in the room felt frigid, sending an icy chill deep into my bones.  Searching for comfort, I laid on the rented hospice bed, closed my eyes, and snuggled under Ma’s floral print quilt, breathing in her scent, a mixture of Dove soap, Calvin Klein Eternity perfume and stale cigarettes.  The stench of death lingered in the air, trying hard to take over my senses, but I refused to let it in.  Death may have taken my mother, but it’s not taking her smell.  Not yet.

“It was you.  You stole my Hershey bars, Angela.  I knew it, you little thief.”

I opened my eyes and searched the room, but other than me, and my Pit Bull, Grey Hound mix Gracie, it’s empty.  Sensing my ever-so-slight movement, the dog looked up from her spot next to the bed, sniffed the air, and then laid her head back down.  I can see my breath, which wouldn’t be a big deal except it’s May, in Georgia.  I closed my eyes again.

“I know you can hear me, Angela.  Don’t you ignore me.”

“Ma?”

Floating next to the bed, in the same blue nightgown she had on when she died, is my mother, or more likely, some grief-induced image of her.

“Ma,” I said, and then laughed out loud.  “What am I saying? It’s not you.  You’re dead.  This is just my head messing with me.”

The lips of the apparition speak.  “Of course I’m dead, Angela, but I told you if I could, I’d come back.  And I can, so here I am.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head, trying to right my brain, or maybe shake loose the crazy, but it was pointless because when I opened them again, she’s still there.

“Oh good grief, stop it.  It’s not your head messing with you, Angela.  It’s me, your Ma.  Now sit up and listen to me.  This is important.

As children we’re conditioned to respond to our parents when they speak to us.  We forget it as teenagers, but somewhere between 20 and the birth of our first child, we start acknowledging them again, maybe even believing some of what they say.   Apparently it’s no different when you imagine their ghost speaking to you, too.  Crazy, but no different.

“How do you know it was me that ate your Hershey bars?  That was over twenty years ago.”

The apparition smirks.  “I don’t know.  I just do. I know about all of the stuff you did, and your brothers too.  It’s all in here now,” she says smirking, and pointing to her slightly transparent head.

She floats up to the ceiling, spins in a circle, and slowly floats back down.  “And look, I’m floating.   Bet you wish you could do that, don’t you, Angela?  You know, I’d sit in that chair, but I tried that before and fell right through to the damn basement.  And let me tell you, that was not fun.  It was creepy, and it scared the crap outta me.  And the dust between your two floors?  Good Lord, it wasn’t pretty.  I don’t know how, but you need to clean that.”

The apparition pauses, then looks at the bed.  “Ah, Madone, that mattress.  That was the most uncomfortable thing I ever slept on, but don’t get me started on that.  That’s a conversation for another time.”

Another time?

“And anyway,” she continues, “I hated that chair,” she says while pointing to it.  “You should have brought my chair up here instead.  I was dying and you wanted me to sit in that chair?  What with that uncomfortable bed and ugly chair, my back was killing me.”  She smiled at her own joke, but I sat there stunned, watching the apparition’s lips move, my own mouth gaping, as I tried to get my mind and my eyes to agree on what floated in front of me.

“Ah Madone.  Stop looking at me like that, Angela Frances Palanca.  It’s me, okay?”

“My name is Angela Panther, Ma.  Palanca was your maiden name.”  My mother always called me Angela Palanca, and it drove both my father and me batty.  She said I was the closet thing to a true Italian she could create, and felt I deserved the honor of an Italian last name.  She never liked Richter, my maiden name, because she said it was too damned German.

“And that recliner of yours was falling apart.  I was afraid you’d hurt yourself in it.  Besides, it was ugly, and I was sort of embarrassed to put it in the dining room.” I shook my head again.   “And you’re not real, you’re in my head.  I watched them take your body away, and I know for a fact you weren’t breathing, because I checked.”

Realizing that I’m actually having a discussion with someone who cannot possibly be real, I pinched myself, trying to wake up from what is clearly some kind of whacked-out dream.

“Stop that, you know you bruise easily.  You don’t want to look like a battered wife at my funeral, do you?”

Funeral?  I’m not talking about my mother’s funeral with a figment of my imagination.

“They almost dropped you on the driveway, you know.”  I giggled, and then realized what I was doing, and immediately felt guilty – for a second.

Ma scrunched her eyebrows and frowned.  “I know.  I saw that.  You’d think they’d be more careful with my body, what with you standing there and all.  Here you are, my daughter, watching them take away my lifeless, battered body, and I almost go flying off that cart.  I wanted to give them a what for, and believe me, I tried, but I felt strange, all dizzy and lightheaded.  Sort of like that time I had those lemon drop drinks at your brother’s wedding.  You know, the ones in those little glasses?  Ah, That was a fun night. I haven’t danced like that in years.  I could have done without throwing up the next day, though, that’s for sure.”

Lifeless, battered body?  What a dramatic apparition I’ve imagined.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes and considered pinching myself again, but decide the figment is right, I don’t want to be all bruised for the funeral.

Here I sit in the middle of the night, feeling wide-awake, but clearly dreaming.  “This is just a dream,” I said out loud, trying to convince myself this apparition is not real.

“Again with the dreaming.  It’s not a dream, Angela.  You’re awake, and I’m here, in the flesh.” She held her transparent hand up and looked at it.  “Okay, so not exactly in the flesh, but you know what I mean.”

This isn’t my mother, I know this, because my mother died today, in this bed, in a dining room, turned bedroom.  I was there.  I watched it happen.  She had lung cancer, or, as she liked to call it, the big C.   And today, as her body slowly shut down, and her mind floated in and out of consciousness, I talked to her.  I told her everything I lacked the courage to say before.  And I kept talking as I watched her chest rise and fall, slower and slower, until it finally stilled.   And because I still had so much more to say, I kept talking.  I told her how much I loved her, how much she impacted my life.  I told her how much she drove me absolutely crazy, and yet that I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

So this wasn’t Ma, couldn’t possibly be.   “You’re dead.”

The figment of my imagination shook her head and frowned, then moved closer, and looked me straight in the eye.  I could see through her to the candelabra on the wall.  Wow, it looked dusty.  When was it last dusted?

“Of course I’m dead, Angela.  I’m a ghost.”

I shake my head, trying hard not to believe her, but God help me, I do.

My name is Angela Panther and I see dead people.  Well, one dead person, that is, and frankly, one is enough for me.

In my continued quest for the best way to market my book, I’ve read many blogs, seen many comments and found many websites that say, “POST FREE CHAPTERS”.  I’m all for getting my book out there, but here’s the thing, what if no one likes it? What if I do, and everyone is negative and I can’t figure out how to delete their comments fast enough?  What it I do and no one reads it?  What if? What if? What if?

There is, of course the reverse side of the what if syndrome, too.  What if I post it, and people love it and I become the next best selling author of the modern world? (If I’m going to dream, might as well be big, right?)  What if authors I admire, like Harlan Coben and Robert Crais want to hang with me (because they write insanely great stuff and are hot, too.  Hey, I’m only human!)? I can’t handle that pressure. Okay, so maybe I could handle THAT pressure, but it could get annoying.  Maybe.  A little.  I guess. 

There is so much fear and angst building up inside of me, pushing its way out, and really, seeping from my pores.  My writing is a statement of me, and everyone wants to be liked, so if my writing isn’t, does that mean I’m not?

Should I just go on anti-anxiety medicine and shut up already? I confess to being slightly neurotic and maybe a little crazy at times, but that’s because I’m a perfectionist and have a severe case of Type A personalityitis.  

It’s rough being me sometimes.