Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Divination Project: Part 8: Saturn

It has been difficult for Alice to write for the last few days.

After she posts Part 7, she feels like a giant weight has been lifted and that she can move forward with her life. On Sunday evening, Carl tells her she is the most intelligent person he knows.

This is after they have slept together. She doesn't know how to respond. She is wondering what his motivation for telling her this is, because he doesn't give out many compliments. What does he want? Is he love bombing her?

She recognizes instantly that this is why she doesn't take compliments very well, why they unsettle her on a very basic level. She suspects a hidden motive.

"I have told you this before, haven't I?" he says.

"No, you have not. I would remember," she responds. Would she remember? Her memory feels so unreliable. He knows so many very intelligent people - probably some of the most intelligent people in the country, since they live in an area with one of the highest education rates, and his friends are mostly retired engineers in their 50's through 70's. His friends are people who design semiconductors, power supplies, antennas, rockets, artificial intelligence.

She's been picking up poop, doing dishes and laundry, maintaining the vehicles, and trying to get someone she doesn't know already to buy her art, with little luck.

Twenty-five years they have been together and he has never told her this. She is pretty sure. It seemed like he was always questioning her motivations for everything she did, so she would have remembered if he had suddenly made some declaration of inherent trust in her wisdom.

"What's funny is I have heard this from many other people," she tells him.

In a way, she feels like it is too little, too late. Does he expect this one-liner to make up for everything? Well, she will know if he can keep up the positive vibes in the coming days whether or not it is sincere, or just placation.

When she hears him lightly snoring, she puts in her earbuds and listens to music, tears falling down her face. For 25 years she has felt she had to constantly prove herself, and she is so tired.

***

Lou has left for a trip to Australia. She tells Alice that Australia is where her heart is, and Alice thinks about how badly she would like to go someday. Lou is divorced and has been single-ish for a few years. Alice and Lou have known each other on the internet for probably 8 years, but didn't get to meet in person, despite living in the same town, until two years ago, when Alice decided to take a few of Lou's yoga classes, and then hired her as her personal trainer.

Lou is highly intuitive and is a healer. She was also in some abusive relationships, including one with a boyfriend, which she cut off recently after three years with him. Alice and Lou talk a lot during Alice's sessions. When Lou was with her boyfriend, she was a different person. Now that Lou is single and dating, she is playful and full of ideas. She tells Alice about the men she is seeing and how she is feeling about them. There's not an intense soul connection, but they have great sex. Alice is enjoying getting to know Lou better, and learns a lot about herself from listening to Lou. Lou has a place she lives with an ex-boyfriend who doesn't charge her rent in exchange for her being kind of a mommy to him. This is an arrangement Alice thinks she could handle just fine with the right guy. She's a pro mommy.

They both like to fart around with astrology and tarot. On Sunday morning, Lou sends Alice a funny post about brutal horoscopes.

Under Leo, it says, "Leo will interrupt conversation to talk, and they will place themselves bodily in the way of someone who is trying to leave before the Leo is finished saying what he or she needs to say. All Leos want parades on their birthdays. Leos never marry because no one is good enough for them. If they do marry, they keep their spouses locked under the sink."

She shows it to Carl and he laughs. It is all true. He takes note of the sink comment in particular, and Alice is happy that astrology has pointed out a tendency that he might be more mindful about.

Alice's is true, too.

"The Aquarius loves a party. Anytime, anywhere is their motto. It is not unlikely that an Aquarius will consider a wake a good place to meet chicks." Okay, this level of truth is a little scary. It's not that Alice goes to funerals to meet people, but she can and does meet people and gets into deep conversations anywhere and everywhere, and is not above laughing at a funeral. She kind of wonders if this might be related to having so much Native American ancestry. "Aquarians use the phrase 'Dude, man...' frequently when describing philosophical concepts. Aquarians have out-of-body experiences on a daily basis. If you are talking to an Aquarian and he or she zones out, consider the conversation hopeless. He or she is talking to the guy three feet away from you. Aquarians are fun because they channel people. Plus, if you tell them to, they will run around naked. Aquarians like astronomy because they've been to all those places. If you want to know what the food is like on Saturn, ask an Aquarius. They can also walk on water if they try really really hard. This usually happens in the bathtub. Aquarians can allow themselves every possible vice on the planet, and don't think twice about it. This is why they piss everyone else off. They are cosmically entitled to do this. Most rock stars are Aquarians."

It's really hard to be a rock star while being kept under the kitchen sink, but Alice has been trying.

***

On Monday morning, she's feeling a little bizarre. She sleeps in because Carl has taken Nolan to his Geology class, and decides to see what her skin container is looking like. She's really indulging in sloth, and kind of wants to record it for posterity. She snaps a few photos of her laying in bed in a babydoll negligee and decides she loves the way she looks. She can't believe she actually likes the way she looks. This is a woman who never lets anyone take her photo, or secretly hates it when they do.

She's feeling up after Carl's compliment. She feels like part of her intelligence is knowing when to apply effort and knowing when to take the opportunity to relax.

She decides to post the picture on Instagram with a musing about how odd it is that she is seeing her own beauty, finally. She still had a bunch of unread message requests from the last time she did something similar, and over the next few days, a few more come in, all from men. Some of them want to sell her kratom, which she's sure she doesn't want or need. Most of them have a sexual vibe and she wonders what their intentions are, but despite being able to fend off two overtly sexual solicitors in person before Halloween, isn't sure where these kinds of things might lead.

She thinks of other women who post pictures of themselves in the vein of body positivity, and wonders if they also have a lot of strange messages from men. Some of the men are also trying to spread a message of love and light, and so she follows those ones back.

One of them comes in censored, and she is not sure what to do with that one. She's wondering what her readers would do. Probably most of them would ignore it, and that would be the normal thing to do, right?

She and Carl had watched a documentary about sexting several weeks ago where she learned that photos of women sent to men can be posted anywhere on the internet, and wonders if these men are trying to get her to play a little game for their own fun, or to sell whatever photos of her they are hoping she will send. It seems like a potentially dangerous game to play, but also maybe harmless, if it's with someone she trusts.

She learned early on in her relationship with Carl that men can and do fantasize about women they know or see, and so she knows that this has happened over the years anyway, and doesn't worry about it. A male friend told her this about her recently, and she said she was happy she was able to help him feel pleasure, even if she wasn't there physically. She thinks there are a lot of worse things men can use their time and energy for.

***

Over the weekend, Sally needs a new winter coat and picks a few out online for Alice to order. To save on shipping, Alice looks through the other offerings on the two websites, and discovers the motherlode of sweater dresses, and a sale - buy one get one for $10. Alice loves sweater dresses, tights, stockings, and velvet during the winter. She loves feeling like a big cuddle. The initial offering that she can't refuse is a lavender chenille v-neck sweater dress. She has shrunk out of many of the things she wore last winter, now out of plus-sized clothing, and she's been meaning to buy some new sweaters, anyway. The initial order comes over the weekend and much of the stuff is too big, so she must return it to the local store. Unfortunately, she has to re-order things from the website, but the replacements come quickly.

When the replacement clothes come on Monday, she tries them on in the kitchen. Nolan is gone, and Sally is still asleep. Sally comes down while she is in the middle of swapping one dress for another, and apologizes and turns to leave.

"You don't have to leave. You've seen my body before," she says. Carl is there, too, and has obviously seen her body. Nolan is at school. Sally sits down at the kitchen island, and Alice steps into the nearby bathroom to look at the sweater dress she has just donned in the mirror. The lavender chenille one is not flattering, but she doesn't care. Sally comes over and pets her arm.

"This is amazing. You have to keep it," she says.

"I know! I feel like a stuffed animal!" Alice replies.

She knows it looks dumpy, so she jokes to Sally that she used to have this giant Mickey Mouse pajama top she would wear, and since she had to retire it, the lavender chenille sweater might just have to take its place. Carl used to moan and groan about the Mickey Mouse sweater being a subtle message to him that she was not in the mood. Sometimes she did put it on, knowing that it was like kryptonite to him. Eventually she had to throw it away because it had too many holes in it.

The other sweater dresses are, well, let's just say they're a little more daring than she is used to wearing in public, but last week she wore one of her old ones to school and got lots of compliments. She figured if she couldn't wear a sweater dress in public, she wasn't confident enough to model, so she had to be brave and give it a try. She calls her own bluff.

They're a little short for a woman in her 40's, maybe. Or is that even a thing? Maybe that is a level of shaming she needs to transcend. Someone has to be brave, right? That gives permission to others, if they choose to see it that way, rather than be judgmental.

***

Alice has also received her new bras and tries them on. To her delight, they fit perfectly around her ribcage, and she won't have to bother with sending them back. One is maybe a bit too tight in the cup, but she'll just have to deal with that, she decides.

Her breasts feel like such a liability. Each year her doctor tells her she needs to have a $1200 mammogram. She has conflicting feelings about this, having had two scares, in which radiologists always pronounce her breast tissue too dense to make sense of, and then they order an ultrasound, which is less expensive, anyway. She thinks it is stupid that the insurance company or imaging center or whatever requires her to schedule an appointment for an expensive test that may increase her risk of cancer and also not tell anyone anything, and also cause Carl to be upset. She knows many other women whose breast tissue is too dense and who have to fight this same fight every year. How many sessions of coupon-cutting does it take to earn oneself an expensive and potentially useless mammogram each year?

Carl actually used to design mammography units when they lived in California and has mixed feelings about their safety. He is an expert on radiation. Going to the dentist with the kids is always frustrating because of the dentists' insistence on annual x-rays. Everything in the world is moving away from trust in the expertise and intuition of people and toward the hard numbers provided by machines, because people have this inherent belief in the accuracy of machines. But the thing is, machines don't have any wisdom or intuition.

One year Alice had gone to the dentist, who told her she had a cavity in a molar in the upper left quadrant. At the time, she did not have money to fill the cavity, so she just let it go. She never had pain in the tooth, anyway. Six months later, she went to the dentist again and he did another x-ray, finding cavities in the lower right quadrant. He instructed her to make an appointment on the way out, and she asked him, "What about the one in the upper left quadrant?"

"What are you talking about?" the man, who had been a dentist on the news at one time, questioned.

"I had one in the upper left quadrant six months ago. Does it not show up on the x-ray?" she asked. The dentist had a fancy shmancy new x-ray machine with digital processing in it, which Carl had warned her about. Many of the post-processing techniques can amplify any sort of irregularity, making it appear more emergent than it really is, or turning nothing into something. So, if a patient chooses to have a very early cavity drilled, it wouldn't have the opportunity to heal.

Yes, heal.

The dentist looked really flustered. He went into the file system on the machine and brought up her x-ray from six months prior. There was the "cavity" in the digitally-processed file, in the upper left quadrant, nowhere to be seen in the new picture, even with processing. The dentist started sweating.

"Well, I don't know what to tell you. Why didn't you get that one filled?" he stammered. He was now sweating profusely.

"I didn't think it was a hurry. It didn't hurt," Alice said.

It was from that experience that Alice became a believer in the human body's ability to heal, and also very cautious about the use of diagnostic imaging.

Carl would like her to get a new mammogram this year, and she doesn't really want to, because if she has breast cancer, she's not sure she would undergo treatment anyway. It would be too much of a financial burden on Carl, because any huge thing like that makes it harder for him to retire someday. She'd be better off in that situation if she were much poorer or much richer.

Her last scare happened after an underwire broke in her bra and she had gone skeet shooting with her mother. There was a lump in the bottom of her left breast about the size of a little smoky sausage. Then, there was another one under her right underarm that was similar, and her doctor found a troubling mass above her right breast, and ordered a diagnostic mammogram. This was the only mammogram she has ever had, and the film was completely unreadable. The radiologist sent her into the back room with Carl, and an ultrasound technician squeezed cold gel onto her breasts and fumbled around for a while in the dark and quiet.

When the technician was done, they waited worried in the dim room for the radiologist to come in. It was at this moment that Alice realized the masses were from being poked by the underwire in her aging bra (for just one day), and then shooting with the 20 gauge rather than the 12 gauge shotgun at the dude ranch with her mother a month or so earlier. The muzzle velocity on the 20 gauge is much higher, but a new man who filled in for the sheriff had told her to use the 20 because it is lighter. She only got 5 shots off that year before she had to stop because the shotgun had left a huge bruise (where the new mass was). For a few years prior, she had shot many rounds out of the 12 gauge shotgun with the sheriff of the county without getting a bruise or getting tired.

"It's benign. Just some fibrous masses," said the radiologist. Fibrocystic breast disease means that she will be a human pincushion if she doesn't put her foot down. She's had this talk with many friends, and has four who are survivors, who have varying opinions about what to do.

Vitamin A is protective against fibrosis, she wants you to know. Not everyone converts beta carotene easily. She has been more mindful of getting enough Vitamin A since the skeet shooting and old bra incident. Now the only lump in her bra is a piece of labradorite she carries for good luck.

She had started taking Vitamin K2, which aids in bone mineralization, in the months between the two dental x-rays. Maybe it healed her cavity. Who knows.

***

In the afternoon, she takes Sally to Lydia's house to hang out with Lydia's daughter. Lydia has a day off her job as a bookseller and so Alice joins her for a half hour to catch up on things.

Alice tells Lydia what Carl said to her the night before about her intelligence and Lydia says, "Yeah, well it's true."

Lydia is extremely intelligent, even though she didn't finish high school or go to college. Alice has realized that a lot of people who struggle in school do so precisely because the school system is not serving them appropriately. It fails people on either end of the bell curve, really. She knows lots of parents who insist on trying to make the system work for their above-average children, rather than just recognizing that the system doesn't really have resources to nurture significant talent in children. If the kids' parents have time, then they can supplement the child's education. If they have lots of time, they can supply the education entirely. It doesn't even require that much money, even though people often think it does. People spend a lot more on designer clothing.

Lydia has been offered a managerial position at the bookstore, but doesn't want to take it right now.

"I told you so!! What I said, what I said," laughs Alice. They had a discussion a few months ago where Alice mentioned that Lydia's household was one of the few where the housework was shared pretty well among the members of the family, without having created adversarial relationships. Lydia is a big fan of Nintendo and gamified everything in their lives, especially chores. She had a fun, playful spirit and people were always drawn to her for this reason. Alice had said she would make an excellent manager, and that she thought it wouldn't be long before she was promoted.

Lydia asks what is going on with Campbell, and Alice fills her in.

"Really? 'Put a pin in it?' So, everything is just on hold?" Lydia asks.

"Yeah. Funny, isn't it? I feel like I get this big break and then he finds someone to stick his dick in, and I'm just out in the cold," Alice says.

"Sorry," Lydia says.

"You warned me," Alice reminds her. "Thank you for that. She is pretty. Older, has grey hair. Kind face. He is apparently totally mushed up in the head about her, or at least that is his excuse." Alice feels a twang of pain, wondering if as long as she stays with her family, opportunity will always pass her by. Men will always act like they are interested, but unless she can go the whole 9 yards, she will get passed over for someone who will, at least by a man. Plus, men will always end up distancing themselves from her when they discover the true nature of her relationship with Carl, she realizes. She is tainted goods. They want a woman who can stand on her own two feet, who isn't dependent.

The alarm on Alice's phone goes off. She has to set alarms for herself because she gets so lost in conversation she will forget to leave if she's going to get on her with day, and she is supposed to meet Charlotte to write at the coffee shop in just 15 minutes, after she has returned the ill-fitting sweater dresses.

***

She tries to text Charlotte, but her phone never recognizes Charlotte's last name when she talks to it while driving. Luckily, Charlotte texts her and she can just reply.

"I am sorry, I am running late," Alice says.

"No worries. I will wait in my car or go in and get coffee," Charlotte says.

The traffic is unusually thick out to Centerra, and when she arrives, someone is driving 5 MPH in front of her through the parking lot. She feels a little worried for inconveniencing Charlotte, but otherwise is happy to take the slower approach. Alice's mind is quite busy, so slowing down is usually a good thing.

At the store, a beautiful young woman who is differently-abled helps Alice and she takes this as a definite sign to slow down. She has some really nervous energy after launching Part 7 into the Universe, and can't wait to see Charlotte. She remembers how cashiers often thank her for her patience, and thinks of Lydia's experience in retail dealing with impatient cashiers, coworkers, and sometimes managers, and decides that often that energy can be tempered with just a bit of patience from any direction, which she can surely provide. Any sense of hurry is in her head, even though she hasn't had much in the way of solid food, yet.

***

When she finally gets to the coffee shop, Charlotte is still in her car. They decide to "go for a walk" (Charlotte's words) before heading into the coffee shop. The day is sunny, the first one in quite a few days, so they walk along the trail behind the coffee shop and share their new vape pens. Charlotte's is blueberry, and she decides to lend it to Alice for the week. They get lazy about trying to hide what they are doing. They are writers. Some writers do this kind of stuff to get past their shame and dig in to find the words. Life can make it hard to find the words.

Alice couldn't hold it inside for long. Charlotte had been proofreading her writing so she wanted to let her know that she felt like maybe Jeff had sent her a smoke signal after Part 6, and that she wrote Part 7 as a way to let him know that the ball is in his court, and smoke signals don't count anymore. But she hadn't heard from him, so maybe it is all a figment of her imagination. She feels a twinge of pain in her heart when she says this. She worries a lot about maybe having delusions of grandeur, or erotomania, which can be indicative of the prodromal phase of schizophrenia. She doesn't know her maternal grandfather's health history, and she carries a polymorphism in her catechol-O-methyltransferase gene, which regulates B-12 recycling as well as dopamine, and has been inconclusively linked to schizophrenia. Schizophrenia and cannabis use may have some connection, too. Siggy has told her that she does not have schizophrenia, but she hasn't told Siggy that she believes the Tarot might actually be channeling something. The scientist in her squirms when she thinks this. And then, she thinks of most of the world's population that believes in something out there, and wonders whether or not most of the people in the world have schizophrenia, too.

Or maybe he just has no idea he is playing a game with her. And in that case, he's totally not the guy, by definition. The right guy will know how to play.

One day in therapy, Alice told Siggy she finally realized that everyone is at least a little bit crazy. As in, "We're all mad here." Siggy smirked. It was part and parcel of therapy for Alice to throw out diagnoses for Siggy to refute. Alice sees the Tarot as kind of a computer simulation of what could happen for a person given certain actions. It might not resonate for a person if they can't imagine themselves in that energy. But sometimes the energy is right on, and can be helpful in guiding elevation in consciousness. At the very least, Alice thinks the tarot to be potentially useful in her creative work as a writer and artist, but it is proving to be much more powerful than that. She would really like to believe that if one's heart is in the right place, the Tarot can guide them to manifest whatever will bring joy and abundance to as many people as possible. But she also believes that she can't possibly know how that will manifest in her life, just that she has to follow a loving path to figure out what that is, because in doing that, the Universe will guide her, step by step.
 
Yeah, Alice is an idealist like that. It's probably her best quality. Sometimes she slips up, because she is human, but she really really does want to be an agent of compassion and love in this world, and she believes if that's what she really wants to do, and she practices it as much as possible, the Universe will make it more and more rewarding. The Universe will bring people who share the same vision to change the world.

When Charlotte and Alice go into the coffee shop, Alice orders a ham and cheese croissant. She desperately needs some protein. And then she orders a caramel and white chocolate latte to go with it. The barista asks her if she wants sweetened or sugar-free whip, and it dawns on Alice that they may have changed their cream vendor, because she doesn't remember these options from before. There is only one producer in the area that doesn't use carrageenan, something Alice used to put on rats' paws in the laboratory to cause pain in order to test the effectiveness of opiates. She cannot believe this is a common dairy additive, and wonders how many people eat this and believe they have lactose intolerance. Charlotte is clued in to carrageenan's effects as an excitotoxin like MSG, and that's why she likes to come to this particular coffee shop. When Alice asks, the barista informs her that yes, they still use the trusted local vendor for cream. These kinds of things annoy the hell out of Carl. Over the years he has made no bones about being bothered by Alice's peculiar requests, which originated through her trying to help Nolan with his sensory integration issues. She discovered she had a lot of the same issues, actually, and has learned that many people have the same issues, they just haven't taken the time to figure out what is at the root of their depression or their heartburn, because it takes time and energy they simply don't have. But Alice and Charlotte do.

Charlotte is so very compassionate. Alice wishes that Charlotte could extend the same compassion to herself as she does to the other people she knows. Charlotte is teaching Chi Gong, participating in an Eckhart Tolle Power of Now discussion group, and reading a Deepak Chopra book. Alice read Chopra's book on parenting when she was pregnant with Sally, and everything resonated with her. It was probably around this time that Alice and Charlotte first met on the internet, long before they would meet in person. It was a relationship they had both put mindful effort into over the years. They had both witnessed incredible transformations in each other, sharing insights and helping each other along.

They talk about how powerful NaNoWriMo has been for both of them. Alice has an idea about creating a website where people in abusive relationships can write anonymously about their experiences and maybe have patrons. Alice shares a lot of herself with other people and never gets monetary reimbursement for her effort, and she wonders if this is part of what is keeping her stuck... giving away so much of herself without expectation of any return. But she knows inside that she could just start charging money for many of the things she knows how to do already, which she enjoys, and probably make an okay living.

She asks Charlotte if she should write out several endings to her book in kind of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" kind of way. She always liked those books when she was a kid. She jokes to Charlotte that she could write each one out as a separate piece of erotica and then put them on her site for money. Then she asks Charlotte if every writer who Charlotte knows ends up writing erotica. Alice knows three women who write erotica, now, so why not, she thinks. But then she wonders if she will get the same amount of catharsis from writing about her fantasies as she gets from writing about her trauma, and she doesn't know.

Alice brings some oracle cards with her, and Charlotte wants to do a reading for Alice.

The middle card in the spread, the challenge, is Leap reversed. Charlotte reads from the book, and the passage talks about letting go of what doesn't serve her highest good anymore. Charlotte thinks this means Jeff, but Alice points out that we often don't know what the Universe has in store for us for our higher purpose, and that it is possible it is time to let go of Carl, or maybe even just fully let go of thinking she knows what is supposed to happen in her life. Alice doesn't think she has to make up her mind, anyway, because she believes the Universe will give her little signs along the way. She knows how to navigate the pain in her current relationship, so nothing is pressing, and she can work on it. It's really hard, but she's growing a lot and making a lot of progress through the challenges, and Carl is growing, too. She knows so many people who divorced and held on to a lot of the pain, rather than trying to heal, and she knows that the pain of his parents' divorce is part of the reason why Carl hurts so much, so she doesn't want to do that to him, again.

"Yes, remember," Charlotte reminds her, "no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader."

"Exactly," Alice replies, "Plus, there are many fish in the sea."

It's so hard, though. Is life supposed to be this hard? she thinks. Her life has been so hard. She never really got to be a kid. Kind of like Drew Barrymore, who also lost her childhood around age 7. She really just needs to be a kid again. She needs someone to play with her, to be her friend, not her daddy. She thinks of Jeff's last Instagram post, a picture of himself with a good old fashioned cardboard robot. She loved making things from cardboard. She knows what joy is and she wants to share it with the world. She doesn't want to give her brain trust and energy to engineering companies for free anymore.

Alice cries openly in the middle of the coffee shop. She is not embarrassed. Charlotte does not leave her, but gives her a hug. Charlotte didn't get to be a kid, either, so she understands.

"It's nice to have a best friend again," Charlotte tells Alice.

"Yes, it is," Alice says, holding her arms out for a hug.

***

Carl had left her crying on a bus bench on their 22nd anniversary this year, on the eclipse, while waiting for a table at a restaurant in Fort Collins. It was right after they had seen the Mister Rogers movie, and she had pulled the car over to comfort him as he cried before heading to the restaurant. It was the day of the total lunar eclipse, July 27. Multiple horoscopes had told her that some undeniable truth about a relationship would make itself obvious, and there it was, staring her in the face. She had told him about her concern that after giving her life to raise her children, she would be heading into caring for all of their parents. She is pretty sure that will be the case with her parents, because her sister is perpetually under water with her career and children, but at least their parents have a supportive community around them. Carl's parents have very few connections in their community, and Carl's sister, who is most close to them lives an hour away in Denver. Alice and Carl have been told in no uncertain terms that the reason they are executors, administrators, etc. is because they are the responsible ones, and neither of them can get over the feeling that they are being punished for being "responsible" which essentially means that they have asked their parents for very little over the years in comparison with their siblings. Alice has done research online and has figured out that women on average give up $324,044 in lost wages and social security from caregiving. Their other siblings have two income households. Earlier in the week, Alice was put on the spot by Carl's mother in front of another family member in a healthcare career, asking her to review her medications for her post breast cancer care, since she had just had another seizure. Alice had simply mentioned to Carl while sitting on the bench how uncomfortable she was under the circumstances, while crying, and Carl got upset with her and walked away.

She wasn't sure what caused him to walk away - was it embarrassment for her public display of emotion, or was it frustration that she had been, in his eyes, living off the fat of the land, and now unwilling to give back?

Siggy had asked her once if people ever told her she was selfish. Nobody ever said that out loud to Alice's face, but she worried about it.

***

Later last week, Carl had realized that maybe the United States wasn't the good guy. That maybe the United States is actually a narcissist. He finally sees the evil in believing that vengeance is the answer, which he admits has always been his belief.

Alice suddenly realized, in that moment, that she never really understood Carl, and wonders if she ever will understand him, or anyone.

It probably doesn't matter, as long as she understands herself.

***

When she gets home after picking up Sally, Carl is visibly irritated again. He informs Alice that he has purchased tickets to see their client in January and also to California in early December. She ordinarily would panic, but she is still relaxed from the toke she had earlier with Charlotte. She tells him she hopes he isn't getting all riled up over hosting Thanksgiving, that it need not be perfect. When she cleans for guests, she does so because she thinks it an opportunity to tidy up. She never feels like it needs to be perfect. She is worried that the family might think she needs it to be perfect, so she is sure to tell Carl and Sally several times that it doesn't need to be perfect, and she tells Nolan he doesn't have to help if he doesn't have time. It's near the end of the semester and he is overwhelmed with homework and projects.

Carl seems calmer after having dinner. She goes upstairs with her phone and the Blueberry flavored indica Charlotte lent her. She watches all the current Tarot videos and is struck by one discussing her need to leave an energy which is keeping her back. A person who can't celebrate when she is happy. A person who is always competing with her. In the next few days, Alice would feel, according to the reader, an intense need to make a 90-degree turn in the relationship.

Holy crap, Alice thinks, this sounds just like my relationship with Carl. Siggy had asked her if she felt he would be willing to see a therapist now, and Alice had been hesitant to ask him at the time. But now, she had realized that so much of her being was tied up in his moods from his disappointment with work that she was needing a lot of cannabis to make it through. It was only fair for her to explain this to Carl so maybe he could get his wife back. Yes, this is what I need to do, she thought.

She sends the video to Charlotte, who transcribes the eerily accurate words into text, amazed at the accuracy of the reading.

***

The next day is Tuesday, which is typically a busy day for them. Carl has his networking lunch that day, and so Alice ends up driving Nolan out to Greeley for his gig as President of the English Honor Society at the community college. Typically Carl drops Nolan off at his morning class in downtown Loveland, but this day, he comes upstairs to find Alice clothed and brushing her teeth with a towel on her head, and says to her, "Oh good, you're taking Nolan."

From the tone of his voice, and his demeanor the day before, she is afraid to decline, but bothered because after Monday she is feeling like an uninterrupted morning at home would be awfully nice.

Galaxy Tarot App notifies her that the Tarot Card of the Day is The Fool. As discussed previously, Alice is a Fool, and so she takes this to mean that she can't expect anything in particular from this day, but that it will probably be a good one. She decides to be brave, and she feels the Fool energy, anyway, so it shouldn't be difficult.

She drives Nolan to class wearing the towel on her head.

When she gets home, she takes the towel off and goes to her studio to catch up on her Tarot class.

After a while, Carl comes down to her studio. His mood is clearly low. The other engineering consultant in the area was going to fly with him to Asia, but changed her ticket to a different airline at the last minute. Carl really hates traveling alone. Also, he hasn't been able to choose his seats.

It's way too early in the day for this, she thinks. "I have been thinking... do you remember how you said about a month ago that you were willing to see a therapist? I think that would be a really great idea. It's difficult for me being your only emotional support person right now."

She doesn't mention that online it is mentioned in many places that a woman never act as her husband's therapist.

He is not happy.

He goes to his networking lunch, but to the wrong restaurant.

When he comes home, he is even less happy, and barely speaks to her. Then, when he leaves the house again, he calls her to ask her to make his seat selection for his flight, just as she is settling in to meditation. She stays on the phone with him, clearly discussing each of the seats, concerned that when he goes on the trip he will not be happy with what she chose for him. She fears his anger, and then realizes how ridiculous this is. She cares for him and is doing her best. If he doesn't understand that, it's his problem.

In the afternoon, Alice goes to Maggie's house. They are going to paint together, but Alice doesn't have her art stuff with her, so instead they end up sitting in Maggie's sunroom, using Alice's vape pen and some hash in Maggie's PAX2. For folks who don't know what hash is, it is "the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant (Wikipedia)."

Alice and Maggie have a lot of catching up to do, because they haven't seen each other since the Doors concert. Alice gripes about asking Carl to go to therapy. Maggie talks about her own family's therapy experiences.

Alice offers to model for Maggie, but Maggie isn't interested this time. Alice thought to mention it because she was trying to keep up her efforts in the positive self image department, slightly concerned that by the time Adam can get together with her again, she will chicken out. Thank goodness she doesn't model this day, anyway...

The solar installer guy comes early for an appointment, and Maggie needs to manage Cujo, her German Shepherd. Alice uses her phone to Google "work at home marriage," and learns that it's common for men who work at home to become increasingly isolated and controlling, and for women to end up taking on the larger burden of chores and becoming depressed. This actually gives her hope, because often when she realizes something has become a certain way because they have just fallen into a pattern that is easy to fall into, the awareness allows them to choose to be different.

It's like seeing an evil and calling out its name to dispel it. The Native Americans have this concept in the word "wetiko" - Google it when you get a chance.

The women take Cujo on a hike up to the top of the Devil's Backbone and they look out over the city, talking about how hard their husbands' jobs have been over the years.

Maggie and Alice talk about what's next for Alice, and Alice says she doesn't know. Maggie tells Alice that her honest advice is that she needs to get out there and talk to people and write about it because it's what makes her happy and she has a lot to share with the world.

Alice jokes with her about writing out all of her fantasies as a Choose Your Own Adventure end to her book, and then asks her if she thinks doing that will help her let go, or make it harder.

Maggie thinks it will be harder to let go because it will make them more real.

They both tell each other how happy they are to have each other in each other's life, and Alice feels abundance.

Alice leaves at 4:45 after her alarm goes off to take the kids to Lydia's house for Top Gun Tuesday. Every year for several years, Lydia and her old best friend celebrated Top Gun Tuesday on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Lydia and her friend had a huge falling out during a very stressful time for Lydia, and they aren't talking anymore. Lydia's daughter Saoirse, Sally's good friend, still wants to have Top Gun Tuesday, so she invites Nolan and Sally. When Alice gets home, she finds Sally and Nolan dressed up in an improvised flight suit and Navy white uniform, complete with aviator glasses. From first glance, their costumes are very convincing, but on closer inspection, Sally has an olive green raincoat tucked into her skinny jeans and round Flipside Arcade stickers for badges on the shoulders and chest. Nolan had on khaki pants and a white button down shirt emblazoned with duct tape "stripes."

She drops the kids off and watches them go in the front door of the church-turned-house while Lydia's husband steps out the side door, waving. Alice waves back. Maybe she should stay and chat with him. He spends a lot of time alone outside, smoking and watching videos on his phone, standing next to a propane heater. He is a lot of fun, and Alice considers him her friend. But she also thought there might be something exciting to look forward to at home...

The elusive empty house. Alice was almost never home alone, in 17 years. She could count the number of times in the first 15 years after Nolan's birth on one hand!

She quickly runs by the post office to get the mail for their business and then pulls into the driveway at home.

When she gets there, she realizes the trash cans she had wheeled to the garage door to go into the garage are gone, and that Carl is most likely home.

She enters the code to the garage and steps carefully around the mower in the dark. The bulb on that garage door opener has been burnt out for years, and she could have changed it 25 times in the amount of time it has taken to type this chapter, but she hasn't.

The car he took is in the garage. He is definitely home.

***

She walks into the kitchen. It is just the two of them, and his energy is heavy.

"Have you eaten?" he says.

"No," she answers. "I am hungry."

"Would you like a brie sandwich?" he offers, reservedly.

"Yes, please. That sounds nice," she says.

She empties the dishwasher and reloads it while he is making the sandwiches. They don't talk as much as they usually do, and it dawns on Alice that they are never home alone and that this is a real gift.

"Hey. I know you're not happy, but we have the house all to ourselves until 8:30. Do you really want to spend this time in an icky way?" she offers.

"I don't know," he says, coldly.

She takes a gamble and calls his bluff. She takes off her shirt, exposing her new bra to him. He shakes his head.

"Oh, come on. Anyway, if I can't feel comfortable naked around you here in the house, then I can't do this modeling thing," she reasons.

No response. She remains quiet for a while, thinking.

"You know, it's been forever since we have fucked in the living room," she says.

She looks at his face. "I see your dimple," she says, and then she takes off her pants.

She eats her whole sandwich and then some blueberries, standing in the kitchen in her bra and panties. It feels wonderful. Liberating.

"Aren't you getting cold?" Carl says.

"No, not really," she responds.

"I'm cold," he says.

"Well, we'll have to warm each other up!" she announces.

She hears her phone give a notification, and checks it. There is another message from an unknown man. "Wanna see all my dick pics?" she says.

"You have dick pics?" he asks.

"No, I don't know what they are, really," and she accidentally clicks on the one that is censored, and it is a portrait of a younger looking male, smiling, with a little heart on the side. No penis. It was actually quite sweet. Now she wonders if she has unfairly judged all the messages she got from the men.

They lie down on a studio sofa by the window with the lights out. They are there, in the quiet, saying nothing. He is feeling her leg, her belly, her side, her arm. Rubbing, gently.

"I love our living room. It's so cozy. It's nice to get to be in here like this, just... natural. You know?" she says.

"Yes, it will be really nice when the kids go," he pauses and softens his voice just a little, maybe to a level he thinks she won't hear, but she does, "If you stay."

That pang pokes her in the heart, and she swallows. He knows she is just waiting to answer The Call, whatever it is, and in the meantime it is with him. What he doesn't know is that she hasn't given up hope that he heals and they are able to answer the next one together. He doesn't know that she and Maggie were dreaming up businesses the four of them could do.

He is still gliding his hands over her body.

She remembers a few months earlier when she tried to get him interested in the Tantra, and he didn't understand what was in it for him, and thus didn't want to learn about it. She had read an Instagram post about rebuilding passion in a relationship through spending some time not "going all the way" - just maybe holding hands, or feeling each others shoulders.

She tells him about it, and he indicates that he won't be satisfied with that level of connection, but still continues touching her gently.

As they start to get more serious, he asks if they should close the curtain.

"No, the light is out. That is fine," she says.

***

About a year ago, Alice became interested in reading about Female Copulatory Vocalization. In other words, the noises women make during sex. There is some amount of research in humans showing that these noises serve to increase pleasure in both the male and the female.

So let's think about this for a minute.

How many households with children in them get to take advantage of the benefits of female copulatory vocalization?

One of the things that Alice learned about herself in the shower was that if she let herself make just a little noise, the release was better. So when she saw the research showing that making noise made sex better for men and women, it made sense to her.

She remembered when Sally and Nolan were little and slept in Alice and Carl's bed, there was a lot of shame from the Christian Fundamentalists for sharing a bed with children. In a lengthy discussion on some attachment parenting board, some people who had lived overseas commented that in various other cultures, parents often have sex in the same room as their children because that's just the way it has to be. There is no shame in it. One woman even recalled that boys are allowed in the women's side of Japanese bath houses with their female relatives until they are about 14 years old.

So, one day, she decides that she doesn't have to be so quiet, that maybe it is actually healthy for her children to hear their parents' lovemaking a little bit, and that ends up being somewhat of a game changer.

Kind of like adding cannabis to their sex life.

Carl and Alice have a little game they play called "Top 10," where they compare the most recent orgasm to their top 10 of all time. The best ones moved from being in the early years of their relationship to the time when they added cannabis.

Cannabis + not having to be quiet = Yowza. It was easily one of the best. Definitely in the Top 10.

***

She lay there, too sensitive to move, drifting in and out of sleep. All of a sudden, she wakes and says, "Why in the hell would you think that because I was asking you to see a therapist, I didn't love you anymore? I was asking you to see a therapist precisely because I do love you! I think a therapist can help you work through a lot of your work issues, and can maybe even help you figure out what you want to do next in your career! I want the best for you, and I think a therapist can help you better than I can."

She gets divine inspiration like this a lot after orgasm.

But she can't remember if he said he would go or not, because she was on Saturn when he replied.

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