February 28, 2012

The Five Stages of Aging Grief - April Aasheim

As another birthday approaches I am conducting my traditional ‘take stock of my life’ assessment. For the most part things are going well. I have an amazing husband, a loving and supportive family, and a group of awesome, imaginary friends. I have a roof over my head, a car that works, and a subscription to The National Geographic. I may not be rich but I’m not poor either…in fact it’s probably been far too long since I’ve missed a meal. And when someone asks me what I do for a living, I now say “I’m a writer” without apologizing first. I realize, for the most part, that I’m a lucky woman.

Of course, I can’t stop there, with the counting of blessings. That wouldn’t be me. There is more to taking stock of what I have. There is also taking stock of what I lost. So every year I trudge down the hall, enter the bathroom, and confront the ‘mirror of truth’ for my annual physical evaluation.  

Who is this person, I wonder, as I gaze bleary-eyed at my reflection. It sort of looks like me but the coloring is off. The chin is doughy and there are lines where there used to be smoothness. Actually, it kind of resembles…no…Oh shit!

I start applying stuff: lotions, conditioners, putty, anything to de-line and de-dough. Just a little fix to get me through the next 365 days. I check my notebook, the same notebook I’ve used every year to chart the progress. Every new line, vein, and divet is recorded and it seems there is a steady upward slope of crap coming my way that is exponentially increasing. Gray hairs that have been creeping in are staying and bringing friends. The property value on this scalp is going to tank. My eyes are so puffy and dark it looks like I haven’t slept in 22 days, up 3 days from last year. And my knees, the cruel pranksters, allow me to squat down but not get back up. Maybe it’s time to consider getting a Life Alert. I write it all in my notebook and punctuate it with a sad-faced period. The end is nigh.

Another birthday means saying hello to some things: wisdom, new opportunities, and 10% discounts at fine, major retail stores across the country. But it also means saying goodbye to other things, like the body parts I’ve long held dear. Years ago I made the decision that I would age gracefully and not become one of the Botox monsters I’ve seen on reality TV.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t lament my losses. And in the spirit of dealing with things the way I’ve always dealt with things (by bitching about them on paper) I’ve come up with the Five Stages of Aging Grief:

Denial: I’m not getting older; I’m advancing into my future.  That isn’t a wrinkle on my brow; it’s a sleep crease. My butt isn’t drooping; my legs are extending. My gums aren’t receding; my teeth are growing. I’m not losing my mind; I’ve developed Adult Onset ADD. When I look in the mirror I don’t see my mother staring back at me, I see…Oh Shit!

Anger: Oh, cruel Universe! Why hast thou forsaken me!? One morning I’m young and nubile, frolicking in the park and the next minute I’m dragging my bat-winged arms and I can’t remember why I’m even in the park. And the hair. Why did you give me long, thick hair just to scraggle it up, thin it out, and make it an entirely new color!? I don’t think you’re very funny! I want no more of it! I’m out of here!

Bargaining: Universe, I’m sorry about that last rant. Hormones. You should know. You gave them to me.  I’m taking supplements now. I do have one small favor to ask. Please don’t take the boobs…anything but the boobs.

Depression: Why did you have to take the boobs? There’s nothing left for me here. I might as well eat a bucket of ice cream and retire to the couch to watch Hoarders and Lifetime Television until I’m dead. The remote controller is too heavy to lift anymore. Do they really have to air Latrisse and Depends commercials every five minutes?

Acceptance: Lifetime Television’s not so bad. As a matter of fact, Desperate Housewives is starting to make sense. Lynette really did face some obstacles in trying to get back into the work force at her age. You go girl! And look at Madonna. Still doing cartwheels at 80.  Hope she’s got on her Depends. And actually, now that I think about it, my mother isn’t so bad. Sure she might have a few wrinkles but she can also do a mean downward dog in Yoga class.  And she does have all of her hair, even if she dyes it purple. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all.  

And with that I settle into another year. Time to saddle up, sling the ole boobs over my shoulder, and ride off into the sunset. Who needs young and nubile? I’m going for old and crazy.

February 16, 2012

A Room of My Own

Every woman needs a room of her own if she is to write...

Okay, Virginia, I hear you. And I fought you for years. I had my reasons.

A room is...confining. You can't be out in the world when you are couped up in a room. Better to spend your creative time in coffee shops and park benches, if not producing, then at least eavesdropping so that you will have things to write about later.

A room is...unnecessary. If I were to take a room of my own, I would have to find a new place to store our unused telescope, three broken snowboards, and the collection of Party in Cabo coffee mugs from our last vacation.

A room is...gratuitous. If I take a room, by my logic, somebody else will lose a room. Not anyone who lives in the house, mind you. But someone, somewhere - maybe those out of town guests I keep expecting - will not have a place to lay their weary heads. Worse, what if 'Crazy Uncle Earl' finally gets out of the halfway house and needs a place to crash for a few weeks while he 'gets his head together'? He might come wandering in, take one glance at my lilac painted walls, and high-tail it out of there faster than you can say rehabilitation. This could have been his one chance to really clean up but instead he's back in recovery and everyone in the family will hate me. Just because I took the room.

Okay. I'm crazy. After laying out all of my reasons on paper, they do seem a bit bizarre. But even so, having my very own room did not seem to mix with my feminine sensibilities. After all, I am the woman of the house, mistress of my domain. I have an entire home I can write in and there are numerous rooms - the kitchen, the living room, the guest bathroom - that already belong to me (at least according to the laws of who gets to clean them). But the moment I sit down to write in any of these afore mentioned rooms, the energies of my surroundings call out to me.

April...what are you doing? Clean something. Cook something. Sort something. You can't possibly write a story until all the condiments in your refrigerator are alphabetized, can you?

Inevitably, I leave my laptop for a nooner with Mr. Clean.

It wasn't until my mother, bless her heart, suggested I claim a room for myself that I had even considered this a real option. "Your husband has his mancave, you need to make a space for yourself." Hearing this from my mother was shocking. She had been raised in the 1950's and was chairwoman of the Women's Martyr Committee.

"What will the neighbors think?" I whispered as we conspired in a booth at Denny's.

"Dear, the neighbors won't even know."

And suddenly I was freed. My mother and I got to work, converting  a room used for bin storage into a space that was feminine, quiet, and all mine. I decorated the walls with old photos I had stored in the garage. Childhood dolls I had long since abandoned were resurrected on a thin, white shelf that ran the perimeter of the room. Old poems I had written and books I had cherished were stacked and scattered in places to remind me of the beauty and the power of words.

I had my room. My very own room. I was liberated.

I discovered something as I removed the junk and replaced it with treasures. All women should have a room of their own, not only to write, but to live; A space to remind them that they are more than employees, mothers, and wives. We allow our husbands and our children to have their space, but we often sacrifice ours. Why?

Now my room, my beautiful room, is the most inviting place in the house. I write here. I read here. I hide here. I live here. My husband often wanders in and I sweetly send him back to the pit he created for himself in the den. The focus, in this sanctuary, is on me. And it will only help me be a better wife, mother, daughter, friend, and writer, when I need to face the world.

February 14, 2012

Many Types of Magic


by April Aasheim

Cinderella woke later than usual, the stabbing sensation in her right temple a reminder of the Royal Ball the night before. As always, it had been a lavish event, with beautiful gowns, important guests, and enough champagne to make the Duke of Worthington look borderline handsome.

Cinderella looked about the room and saw her silk gown crumpled across the foot of her bed and two glass slippers strewn across the floor. “Oh, my head,” she said, rubbing at her angry temple and trying to reclaim the memory of how she had found her way back to her room. Even after five years of living in the castle, navigating its endless corridors at night was still a challenge (especially when she’d had a sip or two of champagne). Perhaps the Prince had escorted her back? She frowned and dismissed the idea. She had lost track of her husband sometime after the fourth waltz and he rarely stayed till the end. She took a sip of water from a glass sitting on her nightstand and decided to puzzle it out later.

Cinderella stretched then reached for the fallen pins that lay on her pillow, carefully pushing them back into her hair. She located her tiara under the blankets and placed it on her head. It felt tight somehow, constricting. Still in her nightgown, she tumbled from her bed and walked barefoot towards her window. Squinting her eyes to avoid the impending sunshine, she threw open the shutters. The smell of spring air was crisp and inviting. She felt revitalized as she took in the majestic view of the kingdom: rolling valleys and winding rivers, bountiful orchids, towering trees and neat little cottages for as far as she could see. The scene never failed to astonish her and she forgot about her headache.

 “Good morning, Miss. Lovely day, isn’t it?” Cinderella turned to see Sophie, the wild-eyed, dark haired, serving girl standing in her room. “Sorry, I am running late. I was in the garden.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, miss. Before I came here I had an eye for growing things. I do miss using my…abilities.”

Cinderella nodded. She missed things from her old life as well. “I just need to have my room straightened a little. I’m afraid it’s quite a mess after last night.”

Sophie picked up the glass slippers from the floor, turning them over in her hands. “Was the ball nice, Miss? I’ve always wanted to go to one.”

“Oh, the first few are nice,” Cinderella said, staring out the open window and rubbing her shoulders, “but after a while they can just feel like work.”

Sophie’s face fell and Cinderella regretted her comment.

“But last night’s was wonderful!” Cinderella continued. “I danced with the King and a few of the noblemen, and Sir John…”

“Sir John!” Sophie’s face lit up at the mention of his name.

Cinderella surveyed the girl. Though she was sweet and pleasant, her chances of meeting any of the nobles were very slim. “There is another ball this week, Sophie. I have a gown and shoes that would probably fit you. Maybe you can attend as my guest. If you like, of course.” Sophie squealed and Cinderella smiled, stepping into the pink dress she would be wearing for the day. “Then it’s settled. Now, I must go find my husband.”

Cinderella excused herself and made her way into the dining hall where The Prince would be having his breakfast. “My Dove,” he said, rising to his feet as she entered. “I’m not sure how you do it. All these years and you are still as beautiful as ever.” The Prince took her hand to kiss. “Sit. Eat. I missed you.”

Cinderella slid into the seat next to The Prince. “Husband,” she whispered, as the table filled up with hungry guests. “Perhaps we can go for a nice walk in after breakfast? I hardly saw you at the ball last night and I was hoping for some time with you today.” Cinderella blushed and looked down at her folded hands.

“Not today, I’m afraid.” Said The Prince, swilling down his juice. “Today Sir Rodney, Sir John, and I are going fox hunting. We leave in a few minutes.” Cinderella looked towards the entry way and sure enough her husband’s friends were there, motioning for him to join. “We will do something later. Perhaps take in a sunset.” He gave her a wink before disappearing out the door with his friends.

 Her mother-in-law, The Queen, settled into the empty seat beside her. “There, there dear. At least he’s only hunting foxes. I don’t want to tell you the things his father used to hunt.”

#

The Prince returned that afternoon, smelling of horse and whiskey.  “My Dove,” he said, entering her bedchambers. Sophie, who had been brushing Cinderella’s hair, excused herself and hurried from the room. The Prince removed his feathered cap and flung himself onto Cinderella’s bed, closing his eyes as he sank into the mattress.

“Was it fun?” Cinderella asked, joining him on the bed and rubbing her hands along his stubbled jaw.

“It was. I was the top foxer again.”

“You always are.” Cinderella kissed him on the cheek. “Shall we go take in that sunset now?”

“Soon, My Dove. It will take several hours for the sun to leave us. First, I must take a nap. Foxing is hard work.”

The Prince closed his eyes and within minutes fell into a deep slumber. Cinderella lay very still, listening to the sounds of her husband sleeping. Though she was disappointed they weren’t watching the sunset together, she liked having him in her bed. It was only then that she felt he was completely hers. The hourglass emptied several times and the room grew dimmer. Finally, his eyelids fluttered awake.

“What a great nap!” he said, scratching at the side of his face. He patted his mop of brown hair into place. “If we hurry we can catch the end of the sun’s journey today.”

     “I will get my shoes,” Cinderella said, excitedly.

“No, come look at it from this window. Isn’t it glorious?”

“But, I thought we would take a stroll…” Cinderella looked out the window to a trail they used to walk together.

The Prince kissed her on the forehead. “I fear I cannot. I have another hunt I must attend to. We can’t let the Sirs get in any practice without me.” He took her hands in his. “Perhaps I can escort you back to your room after tonight’s ball?” The Prince winked and deepened the dimples in his cheeks, then dropped her hands and grabbed his feathered cap to leave.

Cinderella felt the tears well up in her eyes. She tried to stop them but before she knew it they were sliding down her face and she was making strange huffing noises like a forest animal. 

Now what’s wrong?” The Prince asked, throwing his cap to the floor. “You are acting so strange lately. Is it your moon time?” Cinderella held her breath, trying to get the tears to stop. She shook her head no. “Then what?” The Prince continued. “Are you upset because I’m going out with the Sirs?”

Cinderella collected her thoughts, trying to articulate her feelings before she gushed out gibberish. She hated confrontations with The Prince. No matter what she said or how she said it, she always ended up feeling like she was in the wrong. “You went out with the Sirs this morning. You went out with them yesterday. And the day before and…”

“And..?” The Prince leaned against the wall, folding his arms and crossing his feet at the ankles. “Do you suddenly have a problem with the Sirs?”

“No, I just…miss you.” Cinderella gulped back a tear, trying to get her lips to stop trembling. “Can’t I come with you?”

“Come with me? And do what? Cheer me on? A fox hunt is no place for a Princess. You stay here where it’s safe.” The Prince reached inside the pockets of his pantaloons. “Here are two gold coins. Take Sophie to the Market tomorrow and buy yourself a new dress.”

“We never do anything together, anymore.”

“Dammit, Ella!” The Prince marched towards the window and slammed both of his hands on the sill. “We have breakfast together. We take naps together. I waltz with you at the balls. Do you know how much I hate waltzing? Do you?” The Prince turned towards her, his face reddened with anger. He looked like he was trying to wring out an invisible towel with his hands. “What more do you want from me?”  

Cinderella’s tears went from a trickle to a river and she rushed to her bed, plunging herself face down into her covers. “You would rather be with the Sirs than me.”

The Prince turned to her, throwing up his hands in frustration. “You know what I think? I think you have gotten too princessy all of a sudden. You buy expensive gowns. You have a servant girl who cleans up after you. You eat Golden-Fricken-Goose for supper. Now you think you can have anything you want.” The Prince snatched his cap from the floor, threw open the door, and paused. “Just remember - when I found you, you were scrubbing floors and talking to rats.”

He left, slamming the massive wooden door behind him, and Cinderella melted into a puddle of tears. Sophie slipped back into the room and lay beside her friend. “No more tears, I promise you,” she said, stroking Cinderella’s cheek until she fell into a deep sleep.

#

“This way, My Lady.” Sophie escorted Cinderella onto a cobbled path, hidden beneath layers of sticks and moss. Around them the forest darkened, and the trees, barren of leaves in this part of the woods, seemed to lock them in with their long, twisted branches. A howl from somewhere deeper in the forest made Cinderella jump.

“Sophie,” Cinderella said, squinting against the darkness, “are you sure this is a shortcut to the market?” The Princess paused, removing one of her slippers and emptying it of the jagged pebbles that had accumulated. Sophie nodded and encouraged her forward. At last they arrived in a clearing, a lush green meadow with a babbling brook and jumping fish, and the darkness dissipated like a dream. It wasn’t the marketplace but at least Cinderella wasn’t afraid anymore. “Where are we, Sophie?” Cinderella was about to remove her shoes and place her feet in the creek when she caught sight of the most perfect apple she had ever seen, plump and ripe, dangling enticingly from the branch of a tree. She went to pluck it but Sophie stopped her, pointing to an old woman with a long hooked nose, dressed in rags, resting in the shade.
 

“Excuse me,” Cinderella tapped the woman softly on the shoulder, hoping she wasn’t being too impolite. “May I buy that apple?” Cinderella removed the velvet money pouch from the pocket of her skirt and pulled out two copper coins.

The woman stirred, her dark, birdlike eyes fastening upon the Princess, and staggered to a standing position with the help of a cane. The old woman shook her head, motioning for Cinderella to put her coins away. When the coppers were back in the money pouch, the old woman took Cinderella’s hand and traced the lines that crisscrossed her palm with her index finger. “I see…” she said, a thin, knowing smile snaking across her weathered face. She closed Cinderella’s palm and squeezed it shut. “You have known magic already, my dear?”

Cinderella turned to Sophie, and her friend nodded that it was okay. “Yes.”

“There are many types of magic,” the old woman said, lowering her dark eyes. Cinderella felt the chill of a wind sweep through the clearing and touch her shoulders, raising small goose bumps on her flesh. “And not all magic comes from fairy godmothers.” The old woman pulled the apple from the tree and offered it to Cinderella. “Do not eat this apple yourself,” she continued. “Give it to your Prince. With one bite all that has been troubling your heart will be resolved.”

Cinderella held the apple in her hands. It was as smooth as glass and as inviting as the first rays of sunlight after a long night. Her stomach roiled as a powerful hunger swept through her and she wondered if she could avoid the temptation to eat it on the ride home. But with a snap of the old woman’s fingers, Cinderella was back in her bedroom with Sophie by her side.

“Look!” Sophie pointed to three cloaked figures through the Princess’s bedroom window, “Your Prince returns.”

Cinderella looked at the apple and then out at her husband, laughing in the company of his friends, and nodded.

#

Cinderella patted her stallion’s head. He snorted happily in return, and she climbed on, grabbing his reins and giving him a gentle nudge in the side to set him galloping. Sophie’s horse ran alongside hers and the two women whooped with joy as they raced towards the group of trees where the little fox had scurried to.  Ahead of them Sir Rodney and Sir John ran with the full force of their youth, but had missed their mark.

“Shall we let them win this time?” Sophie asked, bringing her horse to a full stop to drink from a creek. “I’m starting to feel bad for them.”

Cinderella grinned, raking her hands through the mane of her stallion. “Not a chance Sophie. Not a chance.” The sky turned pink and Cinderella let the last kiss of the sun settle over her cheek. “If only my husband were here to enjoy this with us…” she let the words trail on, and for the first time in weeks felt a hint of sadness.

“You know, you can wake him up at any time.” Sophie said, gathering the reins in both of her hands. “All it takes is the kiss from his one true love.”

Cinderella shrugged. “I’m not sure it would work yet. Maybe in a few more weeks.”

“Still sore about the ‘rats’ comment?”

The Princess smiled. “Maybe a little. Anyways, we have a fox to catch.” Cinderella pulled the tiara from her head and tossed it to the ground, letting her dark blond hair spill across her shoulders. “Last one there has to dance with the Duke of Worthington at tonight’s Ball.”

Sophie wrinkled her nose and pushed her horse into a trot but Cinderella was already ahead of her, hair flying in the wind, a laugh echoing through the valley, urging her horse to push through the long shadow of the castle and into the lush clearing ahead.




February 1, 2012

Clean and Wish-I-Wasn't Sober

"April!" My mother, standing in a neon bandanna, old sweat pants, and a t-shirt that says I Have a Black Belt in Crazy calls to me from atop the stairs. "Where do you keep your tam-pons?"

She isn't asking to borrow them, thank the Gods. She is trying to be helpful and put them away for me. I imagine her with a handful of my personal artifacts and a confused look on her face and I cringe. Since I haven't responded she asks me again, in a voice loud enough for the neighbors to hear, where I would like her to put them. She pronounces them tam-puns, enunciating the second syllable, making the whole event sound dirtier than it is.

"Just put them anywhere." I holler back. "It doesn't matter. I will find them."

I hear her shuffle around in my bathroom drawers and medicine cabinets and I wonder what other embarrassing items she might find. The cackle from the upper floor lets me know she has discovered...something. "A bottle of adult toy cleaner? Where did you get this? And won't soap and water just work?"

I have learned long ego not to react to these types of conversations. When I was 14 she told my first boyfriend the reason I was afraid of snakes was because penis's scared me. When I locked myself in the room for hours afterwards, I had to endure a behind-the-doors 'facts of life' talk I wasn't ready to have. So, I just pretend this is any old conversation we are having now. "I got the cleaner at a Passion Party. It was a free give away for a game I won." There. I said it matter-of-factly. That should quiet her down.

"Just use good old fashioned hand soap and water." She insists, carrying the bottle down to me. "Look. The ingredients in this stuff will give you a rash. Your auntie had a rash on her hoo-hoo before and they hospitalized her for that. You don't want that, trust me."

Holy Hell. Is she almost done here?

I scratch my head, trying to remember why she is even cleaning my house. Apparently, eons ago, I did something nice for her and in return she promised to clean my house once in awhile. I told her I didn't need to be recompensed but she insisted. Besides, it made her feel good to return the favor. Now I can't even remember what my gesture was and mom still cleans my house while examining my life on a permanent basis. The only thing that can save me now is if the Mayan 'end-of-the-world' prophecy comes true.

I should be more grateful, I realize this. Especially since I HATE cleaning the house. It's not the physical labor I mind, but the time it takes me away from other pursuits. I want to be dancing, or walking, or writing. And cleaning is the ultimate buzz kill to all those things. Still, I'm not fond of bugs or dust bunnies so big enough they warrant names, so I clean. So, the fact that my mother is kind enough to do it once a month should positively thrill me.

"April. You should check the expiration date on your condiments." She rifles through the refrigerator. "Trust me, I know. You don't want salmonella."

It should thrill me. It really should. But I'm a private person and the fact that my entire life is being exposed, even to someone I love as much as my mother, kinda freaks me out.

I guide her into the living room, a room I know is devoid of personal belongings. Surely, she cant offer much commentary here. But alas, the living room is also home to the television, which she turns on to keep her company whilst she washes the floor. Every talk show, every commercial, every Jerry Springer special is accompanied by her narration. "I don't mean to tell tales out of school but I think Obama is starting to lose it..." "Do they really expect you to buy that kind of cheese? You can get cheese that's just as good at the dollar store for only a dollar...sure the date says its old but I know my cheese." "Is this show still on? I thought they would have cancelled that show long ago. It can't compete with Bones. Have I told you about the latest episode of Bones?" I think the government should use my mother when they are trying to get someone to confess something. An hour with my mother will make even the hardest criminal crack. Sure, it's cruel. But it's fast and effective.

At 2:30 it is time to take my mother home. The place smells like Lysol and cigarette smoke. My mother looks around at her work and smiles. "Not bad, huh April? I'm so happy I get to come over and help you with this. I know how busy and stressed you are. Want me to come again next week?"

"Sure, mom." I say as I load her into the car. The place does look better and the pain of her visits, like childbirth, does ease after a few days.