Monday, December 3, 2018

The Divination Project: Part 9: Eat Me

It is the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, and Alice realizes that she still can't remember if Carl agreed to see a therapist or not. She got the words out and he didn't balk. She remembers that much. Things between them have been better than they have been for most of their marriage. They are fixing problems as they come up, speaking frankly.

Alice and Carl wake early, thinking they will take Nolan to school, grab breakfast, and then go to the grocery warehouse to fill the now empty refrigerator. Instead, what happens is Nolan calls an hour before his class is scheduled to let out, just as they are pulling into the grocery warehouse parking lot after their breakfast.

"Of course," they say together. "We'll be there in a few minutes."

This semester, all of Nolan's classes are in Loveland, which was briefly a huge relief to Alice, for numerous reasons, not the least of was having nowhere to make art, unless she was a student, too, and the last thing Alice really wanted was more homework. But alas, Nolan was elected President of the Book Club on the main campus in the next town over.

Alice was glad this happened for a strange reason. When Alice was in high school, she was president of several different clubs all at the same time, perfecting her martyrdom. She actually cannot remember all the activities she did in high school, but not a lot of time goes by between moments where she wonders where she learned something, and remembers learning it in an extracurricular activity during high school. Honestly, she thinks the most important lessons she learned were not in the "required" courses, but in the extracurricular activities, where (mostly) friendly competition or co-creation was the name of the game! Perhaps these were rich learning experiences due to their passion-driven participation, and how failures are viewed as "good tries." And, thus, they have given good fodder for wonderment for the rest of her life. What if her dinosaur robot made of stepper motors and 1"x2" lumber would have gotten her Odyssey of the Mind team to the World Championship, if her inner-city high school had just had access to pneumatics in keeping with the budget limitation of $90 garage store pricing like the winning suburban high school team did? This was a major lesson for her in haves versus have nots and how access to wealth influences opportunity.

Nolan has always been willing to say yes to anything, much in the same way Alice did when she was a kid. Nolan is such a sponge! But, like Alice, Nolan has his limits and can easily exceed them with his ambition. This is a kid who randomly decides to program a physics simulation or a mandlebrot set viewer even though he never had physics or calculus, just because he can't stop thinking about it. He needs time to play, or he gets anxious. When he plays, amazing things happen.

However.

It can be very tempting to want to spend all of one's time alone, and miss out on the richness of life, unless we learn to work with others.

And yes, Alice rolls her eyes and curses at the Universe when she thinks, very consciously, "This will look good on his college application!"

Barf. That is NOT why Nolan accepts the nomination. He accepts the nomination because he loves books, as much as Alice does. As much as Alice's parents do. This is a kid who often ran into and tripped over things because his nose was always buried in a book, from age 5, onward. When his grandparents come stay, he has to clean his room for them to sleep in it, and that amounts to putting away as many as three to four dozen books from the floor next to his bed. He has always been like this. It's not for his college application. It's for his soul.

So.

This semester has had a heckuva lot of driving in it, and Alice and Carl have split the task. They have tried to make it work for them, by spending quality time together, quality time apart, or getting errands run around Nolan's school hours.

Nolan always thanks them for the ride. Every time. And they tell each other they love each other, because they really do.

On the way home, they get to listen to him describe all of the amazing things he learned in college.

How many people get to have that experience?

When Alice was in grad school and working as a scientist, she had exactly three female superiors, all of whom said their careers never came close to lighting a candle to the experience of being a mother. The third one was her boss during her short career in research. The boss worked part time, and explained to Alice that the reason she worked part time was because she needed something for herself, but she also needed to be there to pick up her children from school.

This is one of those memories that is burned into Alice's mind, sitting there, newly pregnant, probably one of the last times she wore a pencil skirt, hose and heels on a weekday, legs crossed, lab notebook and journal articles on her lap. Lab coated arms resting on the contents of her lap. Twiddling a black gel pen.

They were just talking about vitamin E and its isoforms. She was researching gamma-tocopherol and its effects as a natriuretic factor. The lab also had projects investigating the effects of the R-enantiomer of flurbiprofen. Alice had been working in an associated lab cultivating the cells of a now famous deceased Black Woman, Henrietta Lacks, to use them to figure out if R- and/or S-flurbiprofen inhibit various cytokine pathways. Her work is used to barter a deal for the startup's purchase by a huge pharmacogenetics company in Utah. It may have been the first of its type. This was the year 2000.

Her boss, always cheerful, explained, "If you don't see your kids in that 10 minutes after they get out of school, you never know anything about their lives."

It is probably one of the biggest things that keeps Alice going through the rough times - seeing how her kids love learning. Knowing what makes them happy. What they can't not do. She gets constant positive feedback in that regard.

***

Alice and Carl decide to take Nolan home and stay there for a while, postponing their grocery purchase.

Nolan and Alice sit down in her studio to choose Nolan's course schedule for the following semester. She asks him the critical question first - what day will his club meet?

Much of Alice's scheduling over the years has kept the practicality of under-commitment in mind. She learned when Nolan was little that their limit for social engagements or other trips out of the house was twice a week. More than that caused temper tantrums, sleep disturbances, illness and exhaustion. For Alice. And Nolan.

She would make sure to keep in mind where she was driving, and try to cluster her errands geographically around the kids' activities, except for the years that were spent driving to farms and health food stores for the highest quality food, when that was the priority. She would also try to optimize right turns, as if she was a UPS driver.

So, the schedule optimization goes without question.

Nolan needs only 6 credit hours to graduate with his Associate's Degree next semester. He finds a literature class taught by his club's sponsor and a good survey class for history which fits with his club's meeting, and it is so easy this time that Alice sits there and looks at this young man she used to hold like a football when his tummy was bothering him as a newborn, and feels a little wistful. She does a lot less talking this time, and a lot more listening. He is nearly a man and asks the kinds of questions about the classes that a man would ask.

"Well, which History class is better?" he asks, knowing of her tendency to consider many angles. She made it a general practice to wonder aloud when discussing serious topics with her children so that they understood there were always multiple perspectives to consider in any decision.

"It depends on if you want to learn the history of a specific place, or if you want a specific time, or if you just want to know how we got to now," is the gist of what she says. She says if it were her, she would take the survey course, as long as the instructor is good. They look up the teacher on the internet and discover that he is very well respected and even adored.

***

Not much later, Alice and Carl head back across town to the grocery warehouse. Alice tells me whatever I do, do not give this place free advertising, even though she's very happy it exists so that she can feed two very hungry teenagers and a 6'4" middle-aged man. She considers this place a necessary evil in her life right now.

After going through the store and finding the essentials, then checking out, the two get into a discussion with the person at the front who gives quotes on renovations (their bathtub has been leaking into the dining room below for the last 7-10 years, and a plumber told them it would be $500 just to pull it out to find the leak), and after a very lengthy and friendly discussion, the woman says something about "You know what I don't like? Those Mex..."

Alice's eyes become huge, and her heart speeds up. She's had a few people use these words with her. People close to her. She went to bilingual schools growing up, due to the busing situation in Denver at the time. Many of her school friends growing up were People of Color. Several were descendants of migrant workers. She may be, too. She learned just a year ago that her biological grandfather had Mexican heritage. Sadly, he passed away in 2015, so she will never meet him. She has yet to contact the two uncles and aunt on that side of her family, because she isn't sure she can handle the stress of getting to know more family on top of her very time-consuming identity crisis that is already in full force.

"Well, I would just like you to know that the border with Mexico extended up into the middle of California long before we ever got here! So, technically, it's US who invaded THEM!" Alice speaks very deliberately.

"AND. I AM HISPANIC."

"I am so sorry, I didn't know..." the woman says.

"Yeah, well you never know for sure, do you?" Alice says, trembling. "I pass pretty well, don't I?" as she says this, she thinks of her mother, who is one quarter Native American. She had learned through watching genealogy programs on PBS that many people with Cherokee membership only have 1-2% Native American ancestry, whereas the typical amount in the Southwestern US Hispanic population is 50%, and many of them cannot prove membership to any particular tribe.

At home, Carl tells Nolan and Sally the story, claiming that he had immediately identified the woman as a Trump supporter due to her codified language.

Alice wishes she had said, "I would like you to know that the border with Mexico extended up into the middle of California long before our Hessian ancestors who fought on the side of the British got here!" Or maybe, "It is only thanks to these hardworking people that I have produce in my cart, or that you have nicotine on your breath." She only thinks of these things later, during her rumination, which can go on for days. Her first answer, she decides, is sufficient, and most considerate.

***

On the way home in the car, she realizes she is fried. She doesn't want to have to unload the groceries or put them away. She wants to go lay down. In her bed. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... her amazing princess bed she got on Craigslist for $180 while Carl was out of the country. She knew he would love it. Carl likes big things because he is big. She got it because for years they had slept on mattresses on the floor, and she was tired of the dog waking her up in the morning. Alice is a little extra about sleep, especially at the end of her menstrual cycle. Anyway, this thing is huge! Alice is a little worried that someday there will be an injury getting back in bed in the middle of the night after a trip to the restroom, because she will need a ladder, eventually.

But anyway, the thing is so cozy, finally, after years of "taco-ed" king sized spring mattresses. They ordered a memory foam mattress off the internet from Costco (who pays their employees a living wage and gives them benefits and STILL keeps prices low), and they've had it for a year, and it is the best! And it cost one fifth of what their last mattress cost. Go figure.

So yeah, that, and a handmade quilt from Carl's very talented mother!

She inhales.

She exhales.

She plugs her phone into the cord coming out of her nightstand, and mindlessly starts cycling through apps.

A text message from Adam comes through.

"Hi there, Just thought I would touch base to see if you wanted to schedule a model workshop."

Oh yeah, she thinks, I did have some irons in the fire.

"Sure!" she responds.

Very quickly, they figure out that Thursday, tomorrow, is the best day.

She is going to do her very first nude modeling.

She is feeling really tired. She wonders where she is in her cycle, and clicks on the "Flo" app which immediately tells her in no uncertain terms that there are 7 days left in her cycle.

Not exactly the best time to model, she thinks. Like most women, her adipose takes on a lot of water before she bleeds. It is an effect of the spike of estrogen and serotonin which also cause mood imbalance and aches and pains. She decides it will be a worst-case scenario (a good thing), and, like Adam suggested, a way for her to see her body in three dimensions and decide how she feels about it. Besides, when she sets her mind to something, she follows through to the best of her ability. This is not about me, she decides. This is about tipping the first domino so other women can heal, too.

***

On Thanksgiving Day, Alice receives a text from Jeremy wishing her a Happy Thanksgiving. Jeremy and Ruth have been heavy on her mind since she wrote the first chapter in this book. She had sent them multiple text messages and they had not replied. She is worried she did something wrong, but also knows that they are busy with their new pit bull puppy, Grohl.

She did wonder, just a bit, though, if perhaps Jeremy were trying to contact her through other means (they discussed astral projection, and Jeremy was starting to look into Akashic records) and she just wasn't getting his messages because she was totally slacking on the meditation front.

But now, as she is relaying this information to me, Alice realizes that messages often come through synchronicities, or even things that remind us of the person. That is why, Alice realizes, she has been thinking about getting rid of a lot of her furniture which has bad memories associated with it, including the bed. She wonders how much of the economy is driven by people just trying to bring new energy into and get old energy out of their lives.

Alice tells Jeremy and Ruth that she has a hair appointment the next day and wonders if Ruth will be there. No, they are in another part of the state, visiting Jeremy's parents.

"Aww, darn! I will miss Ruth the Cheshire Cat when I go in to my appointment!" Alice says. Ruth sits outside the office building where the salon is and puffs away on nicotine and CBD oil, sitting in a brick alcove elevated about three feet in the air. Her bangs are purple and she has a giant "Notorious RBG" portrait tattooed on her upper thigh. Alice has seen it. It is The Shit. Alice gives props to Ruth for putting her money where her mouth is.

Ruth and Jeremy both express pleasure in the likening of Ruth to the Cheshire Cat.

"Whoooo are you????" Alice asks herself. She may never know, she decides. She is constantly evolving, which is fine, as long as her core truth is love for herself and love for others.

She would be sad to lose the friendship of Ruth and Jeremy because she sees how they are kind and include people, building community around them. People like that are very special. Ruth gives free and discounted hair services to women with children with Autism, and did so for years before learning that Alice is an expert on nutritional interventions.

She is so delighted that they thought of her on Thanksgiving. She has been thinking about them a lot. She's hoping they'll have some time to hang over the holidays.

***

Alice and Carl spend Thanksgiving morning vacuuming and cooking.

She pulls the CBD/THC gummy candies out of the vitamin cabinet and puts them on the counter for the guests.

Her parents are the first to arrive, and they come an hour early. Thankfully, Alice has the foresight to agree with Carl that they will be happy with good enough housecleaning, so they can be more resilient for the day. Carl's family's standards are much higher than anyone else she knows in this regard, so they just need to come to an agreement that any pressure they feel is subconscious and not real. Their house is theirs. They live in it, they use it for their own hobbies and interests. For their own life's work. It is their safe space, not someone else's. Mostly, she wants to get the house clean enough that maybe they could hire someone to vacuum, dust, and clean the bathrooms and kitchens on a monthly basis. They have collected a lot of books and learning materials over the years, and Alice feels very strongly that the children, Carl and herself should not be forced to put their halfway finished projects away just for the sake of cleaning. She actually had a wonderful dream once that they lived in a house with a huge loft area with a grid of 16 different work tables, so each of them got several to have their various creative experiments.

Their house is large. Much larger than she can or wants to care for, actually. They bought it thinking they would be entertaining their family and friends a lot, but that's not the way it ended up working out for a few reasons, but mostly stemming from Carl feeling like the house needed to be thoroughly clean before any guests come over, due to his own programming from childhood. Alice had a friend growing up who lived a block away whose mother always said the same thing. No, she couldn't come over because the house was messy. She remembers, as a guest, how it felt to be turned away over something so silly. She didn't care, as a child or a teenager, how clean someone else's house was. In fact, she has the most fond memories of the people in the most cluttered homes, where no effort was made to apologize for the mess that was made during the normal course of living. And so she makes sure to tell all of her friends not to worry about cleaning. Hannah has told her that she believes brilliance arrives through chaos, and in Alice's own experience, this is absolutely true. If things are too orderly, happy accidents are much less likely.

Happy accidents, you see, are the magic of life. Alice wants to encourage rather than discourage them. That's how co-creation with the Universe works.

The energy feels strained this year, and Alice is worried that she may have contributed to that through her discussions with family members during the worst of her and Carl's problems. But then there is the whole complicated issue of the ouroborus-like relationship between the families. Connected through property through Carl's sister, and through marriage through Alice. If there is ever a parting of ways, it must be amicable, for the sake of everyone.

They set up all the food on the island in the kitchen, somewhat unceremoniously, and have everyone serve themselves, buffet-style, right out of the pots and pans, appearances be damned. Alice has inherited all of her great-grandmother's china, but she's sure it is dirty, and doesn't have the energy to hand wash dishes and silver this year. If she had something like the chip and dip container her aunt had, which was painted like a swimming pool and hot tub, complete with fat people in the hot tub and a diver and a diving board, she would have used that. She is tired of efforts to remain proper to please others. She wants other people to laugh and experience joy, and she's better kept in that mood if she keeps down the pretense in preparation.

After they eat, Alice suggests a quick walk. She, Carl, Lynne, and Carl and Lynne's stepfather head out around the neighborhood and then the nearby park. Alice and Lynne are behind Carl and his stepfather. The men get further ahead as Lynne's feet get sore in her booties. Lynne always looks very put together, but has found a way to do so and be comfortable, except for the footwear. Lynne and Alice discuss how they both feel it's impossible to get ahead unless you use your sex appeal to your advantage. Lynne has several friends who work as escorts who she met when she was staying home with her son in Denver. There were no mothers at the park back then, just nannies, and some of those nannies were from foreign countries and had friends who worked as escorts. It was an interesting dynamic they talked about all the time, how there is a secret language of affluence that men use to identify potential sexual partners in bars, how much money they make, and how, in the end, maybe love is a farce, anyway. Lynne married for love, not money, and she has to face that every day, but is still clearly in love with Matias. Alice is the Pollyanna who offered her that advice, and while feeling a little culpable, also feels proud of that advice, because Matias is an amazing human being with a beautiful heart.

They talk about going out over the holiday weekend together.

When they return, Alice offers the gummies after the kids have left to the basement to play Guitar Hero. Her parents do not take them, and Carl's stepfather does not. Everyone else partakes.

The kids want to play Secret Hitler, the family's favorite social deduction game. The game requires at least five people, and it is one of the very, very few things that make Alice wish she had another child, but now it's too late. To her surprise, Lynne, Carl's sister, decides not to play and sits in the sunken living room on the sofa. Alice decides to keep her company, because she really likes Lynne, and doesn't want her to feel left out.

They talk about a bunch of existential stuff, which Alice cannot remember now. After the gummy takes effect, Lynne says she doesn't like how it feels, to only be able to think of one thing at a time, and Alice remarks about how that sounds like what Carl said about it, and how it reminded him of his seizure medication. Of course, Carl still partakes, but takes breaks to get his mind back to its chaotic chatter.

That was actually the big reason Alice and Carl decided to experiment with cannabis. Carl had a seizure in January of 2015 while getting ready for a business trip to visit their clients. She was not home when it happened - she was at a painting lesson at Maggie's house. When she got home, there were firefighters and paramedics in her house, and Carl wouldn't let her touch him when they wheeled him past her. This image haunts her - seeing him shirtless on a gurney, writhing in pain, moaning, grabbing his right shoulder with his left hand. His shoulder blade had fractured from the force of the seizure, but they didn't know it at the time.

For several months, life was a blur of physical therapy appointments, trips to the grocery store, trips to playdates for the kids, shoveling snow, bills, cooking, doctor appointments, and Alice's one night going to figure drawing.

If it weren't for art, she's sure she would have drown.

They lived in fear of him having another seizure.

They bought an expensive car because of its advanced safety features, just in case he had another seizure while driving, but he hasn't had another. Thank The Universe.

Carl did not like how the seizure medication he was on made it so he could only focus on one thing at a time. Typically, he thinks about many things at once. Ordinarily, Alice would do a ton of research on medications and diagnoses, but she had sworn off helping people like this unless they ask for it. People have a tendency to take advantage of her in this regard, for one thing. They are things she enjoyed learning and sharing, but sometimes her relationships with people wandered into the realm of entitlement. She thought of all the practitioners out there with certificates from little grassroots places who were making okay money with a lot less training, and how she had a nasty habit of giving herself away for free, like she had no value. Also, she had to defend so many of her health choices to him over the years, she didn't want to assume he wanted her help. So Carl had gone quite a few weeks after his seizure before he started begging her to read up on his medication.

When she did, what she found was upsetting. There is a very good chance that patients who take that particular medication develop status epilepticus after six months of administration. Status epilepticus is essentially a condition where seizure activity has become constant as measured on an EEG. This actually made perfect sense to Alice because it just means that the body has found a way to re-establish equilibrium, typically through the upregulation of the expression of receptors for whatever pathway is being suppressed. This is another reason why Alice has never taken prescription medication for depression or anxiety. Medication typically begets more medication. She does not judge others for their use of medication, because she knows the stress of being unmedicated. And she knows that modern life necessitates certain coping mechanisms that not everyone can afford in order to avoid medication. They had gotten a second opinion from the Neurology Department at the University of Colorado, and the doctor there said that no seizure medication is warranted after a single seizure. Approximately 4 percent of the population or something like that has a seizure in any given year, and some huge percentage of people never have another. That is why epilepsy has specific requirements for the diagnosis, including having had two or more seizures.

So, armed with this information, Alice advised Carl to stop the medication. She felt very strongly that the perfect storm had been created for his seizure, and because every year for several years they had significant health challenges in January after the holidays, Alice saw this event as no different. Carl had been under tremendous pressure from their clients, being kept up late to handle things in Asia, and then having a 5 am phone call many mornings to be able to coordinate meetings between them and a potential vendor (and previous abusive employer, but the best in its industry) in Eastern Canada. There may have been coordination with the Netherlands, too. Alice can't remember. Anyway, Carl was preparing to head to Asia during this time, and had decided to drink a lot of water. In her memory, Carl had made it a point to drink a two-liter bottle of sparkling water every day. As a neuroscientist, Alice knew the dangers of over-hydration and typically erred on the side of dehydration for herself. Plus, she just couldn't deal with others' mindless water-drinking because they thought it was 'healthy' rather than just listening to their own thirst. So, in her mind, it was a perfect storm. No sleep + stress + too much water = seizure.

So, she got her husband fired from his doctor.

And that, my friends, is why Alice doesn't give out unsolicited medical advice.

However, that being said, Alice and Carl were very happy to be fired by that particular doctor, because he was an old school, non-listening, my-way-or-the-highway authoritarian, representative of the general trend in medicine for many years as insurance companies took over the profession. He couldn't handle the stress of having thinking people for patients, so they didn't want him, either.

Anyway, Alice sometimes is very focused when she is high, and sometimes her mind is all over the place. She likes both ways of feeling and finds them both a gift in their own ways.

Carl's mother and stepfather decide to go home and feed the dogs fairly early. Alice and Lynne are disappointed, because Lynne's mom was just getting to the point where she was being pretty funny. Carl and Lynne's husband Matias go down to the basement to play Guitar Hero. Matias really likes wine, so he's pretty loosened up already. Alice gets the water pipe from her bedroom and takes it down to them. She takes a couple of hits and goes back upstairs to hang out with her parents and Lynne. Her mother has had a rum and coke, her drink of choice when sweet wines aren't available.

They sit and talk about many interesting topics, probably including but not limited to radium buried under Denver's streets in the early 1900's.

At some point, Alice starts to nod off and decides to head to bed.

Everyone else follows suit.

***

The next day, Alice's mom is downstairs when she finally gets up, around 9 am. Carl has been up for a while and is in his office playing Fallout 76.

They all eat pie and drink coffee for breakfast. They make some hard boiled eggs to go with their pie to balance their sugar with protein. They play Insider, a new social deduction game which reminds her of 20 questions on steroids. Twenty questions is the game Alice's family growing up played on their numerous car trips around the state of Colorado, and back east.

They go to a local pizza shop downtown and enjoy lunch before Alice needs to get going for her hair appointment.

On the way to her appointment, she texts Carl asking if he'd like to go out that evening, hoping to celebrate their new beginning. The energy is uncertain, now. She doesn't know what's next, for some reason. And she is kind of excited about that. Not knowing holds within it both calm, and the infinite. She's feeling playful, and she asks him if he would be willing to play a little game with her and Lynne for the evening. She wants to see if either pair are approached by other people. She had talked about it with Lynne on the walk, she thinks. Maybe not. Anyway, Carl says yes.

Alice's hairdresser does a marvelous job on her hair, and she is happy she has plans to go out, rather than stay home. Before her appointment is even over, she gets a message from Carl saying that the group is in downtown Fort Collins, and asking where to meet her. She gets a list of places from her hairdresser, who writes them on a sticky note for her. She thanks her and makes her way to the downtown area. She ends up parking in the garage, takes a few tokes on her vape pen, and walks a few blocks to meet them. Then, they walk through the square, and to Linden, before deciding to head to the place that is like a speakeasy. They are all hungry, so they order some food, which takes a little while to come out.

Alice is pretty silly at the first place. She is hungry, and drinks hard liquor while kind of high on an empty stomach. So, let's just say, they are having some very candid discussions about some stuff, including implementing Alice's idea at the next bar, but Matias isn't having any of that.

They walk to the other bar, which has live jazz music, and reminds her of when Lydia made up the story about being an out of work lounge singer. Carl and Alice wonder if the hostess will remember her like she did the last few times, and she does. Alice decides to ask her her name, and she says "Cat." They shake hands and Cat asks Alice her name. Each time Cat comes back, she uses Alice's name. Lynne and Carl tease her whenever Cat comes and talks to them.

Cat comes back and flirts very openly with Alice, trying to get her to order another drink. Alice thinks about it for a second, but she had a drink at the other place, and she really doesn't like hangovers.

"Nah, I'm okay. Thank you, though. Could we get some nuts?" Alice replies. She is still hungry and not ready for the night to be over. She wonders if Cat is just coming by because it's her job, or to flirt, or what. Or because she knows she can get a sale out of Alice, because clearly, Alice is dying to have a good time.

Alice has a stroke of genius, thinking about how gracious Cat is, and how she has a way of softening the hearts of others. "What if we started a company which provides stealth compassion to public spaces like waiting rooms and businesses?" Alice is always thinking of business ideas and inventions to try to change the world through compassion. It seems to her that compassion is pretty virulent if a strong enough seed is planted. What if people are waiting in a doctor's waiting room, and there are some really kind, compassionate people in that space, seemingly waiting for an appointment, but actually getting paid to be there, to spread goodwill? That would have a positive effect on the work lives of the office staff, the doctor, and the patient! And their children!

She wrestles with this part of her identity - how she tries to spread love to the world and not require anything in return, and wonders if she should be more selfish. Maybe more people would take work that prioritizes compassion over productivity seriously if we placed a higher monetary value on compassion. One of Alice's restorative yoga instructors once said "Money is energy," and Alice is still evaluating for herself how she feels about that statement. Initially, she finds it highly distasteful and classist.

Then, she thinks about her attitudes about sex work, how she sees it as a necessary and important function in the world, and how, like most things, the inherent problems with it are those that are linked to authoritarianism. Who gets most of the money in the end? She has watched a lot of documentaries about it in the past few years. One of her favorite female characters is the Companion Inara from Firefly, an intergalactic sex worker. She is more therapist than sex worker, kind of like how hair stylists are as much therapist as they are hair stylist. That's why Alice pays the big money. Not for the hair, even though the salon does tremendous work, but to be one less narcissist sitting in the seat of a beautiful soul who went to cosmetology school because she loves styling hair, but instead spends much of the day getting yelled at and having to figure out on a case by case basis what level of abuse she is willing to tolerate. It just so happens that her stylist has amazing skills, as well as being part of her soul tribe. Barbershops have long been community hubs. Hair stylists and other service workers are the glue that hold society together, yet we value their contribution so little that we are not willing to pay them a living wage.

Alice decides that another great business idea is a salon that is also a cannabis club. Alice thinks this is great because so far everyone she knows who smokes weed is pretty nice. Matias says Alice is fooling herself, that there are plenty of jerks out there smoking cannabis. Then they decide that Alice attracts mostly kind people who happen to smoke cannabis. So it would be cool to have a place where one can get pampered and have full self-care, all while tokin' up. There would be a psychologist, a shaman, a mud bath, mani/pedis, massages, and compassion. Maybe an ASMR experience. Guided meditations.

Yeah, man.

The four eat the nuts and then decide to go home for the evening.

***

On Saturday, Charlotte has plans to get a futon or something comfy for the spare room in her rental, and Alice has agreed to help. She grew up on a commune, so she gets pretty creative with her agreements with people, and in this one, she has been looking for a tenant for a long time who would be able to care for her aging father who lives in the basement apartment, and who would also be okay with potentially having a roommate, or just being okay with Alice and Charlotte having a place to hang out and write and use cannabis indoors. Or, if Alice needed it, a safe place to stay.

As it turns out, Charlotte's new tenant is a woman, Jess, who is getting out of an abusive relationship. She works for a local dentist's office. Jess is 30 and Alice recognizes the kind people-pleaser in Jess that she is still working with in herself. The first time Alice met Jess, she really liked her. She has a big German Shepherd named Hugh, and this was at a time when Alice was seeing German Shepherds everywhere, and Hugh's name is actually the same as someone else she had met through Jeremy and Ruth, with whom she had a very strange interaction. So, she took this synchronicity as a sign.

At that time, there was a young man in Jess's car who was driving for her because she had broken her foot. He kept to himself, for the most part, staying out of the detailed discussions about smells in the garage and the needs of Bob, Charlotte's father. As Alice listened to the convolutions, she was again relieved that Jeff moved to Denver, and that she put the effort in with Carl, because it feels like a lot more responsibility than she communicated to Jeff, when she and Charlotte first realized it might be a good living arrangement for him.

The other reason she, Charlotte and Jess were planning to get together on Saturday after Thanksgiving is because they all recognized that they might have a decent shot at friendship. Before Thanksgiving, they had gone to a nearby dispensary together to stock up for the holidays. Alice's hybrid distillate cartridge was running low, and she wanted to see what was available at a dispensary on the south end of Fort Collins, rather than driving all the way to north Fort Collins, like they had been doing. Also, she wanted to get the edibles which were best for newbies - something measured, something balanced with CBD. Jess told her that her favorites were some gummies with 2:1 CBD:THC, 10mg portions. Alice herself had problems that many people described after having sativas alone, or THC extracts. She experienced a mood slump the next day, and often racing thoughts while high, which she likened to finding her Inner Robin Williams. Sativas and THC turn on her inner brilliance, but the come down the next day is not pretty. She wonders if it has to do with the COMT polymorphism she has. Perhaps it is the disproportionate amount of CBD to THC in the gummies that gave Lynne the unitasker feeling, because Alice felt a calm happiness, rather than the racing Robin Williams. Or something else. Alice will research this later when life slows down. Maybe January.

She likes to use cannabis as a tool not just to manage her anxiety and depression, but also to aid in her creativity, and knows there is a very fine line between using it as a tool for those things and recreational use. She's still wondering if addiction is possible - if it's possible to become addicted to feeling happy. Does that count? What about people who need prescription medication to be happy? She likes that this is under her control. When she went to California with Pearl in June for 7 days, she had no cannabis, and didn't need or want any, but that was very much an adventure, and Alice craves adventure. Maybe cannabis just helps her push through the Groundhog Day-like repetition of housework, since it helps her see the beautiful in the mundane. That's something she can surely do without cannabis, as it's at the heart of making artwork, which she has mostly done sober (or "straight" as Charlotte would be quick to correct her), but it's just so much more challenging to do while loading or unloading the dishwasher for the second or third time each day.

After they all choose what they will purchase, the budtender informs them that for one penny, they can choose any 100mg THC chocolate bar they want. They decide to get a strawberry white chocolate flavored one because Charlotte has oxalate intolerance and can't do dark or milk chocolate. Alice has had this issue off and on over the years and has seen it improve significantly since losing weight, exercising and being more mindful of her fat consumption, B6 and mixed tocopherol supplementation, but recently she has felt some sensitivity to it, too. With NaNoWriMo and the colder weather, she was not sunbathing at all or walking much, and she only used the elliptical a few times. She was also not meditating much. She just didn't have time for it all, but tried to get it in when the opportunity arose, but it probably wasn't enough to mitigate the metabolic effects of the stress. Another thing to research in January.

They agree to get together over the holiday and enjoy the edible together. Charlotte doesn't have much experience with edibles.

So back to the Saturday after Thanksgiving... Alice offers to bring her SUV, which is loaded up with stuff she wants to get out of her house. It is all kitchen overflow, and unfortunately a lot of it was things her mother believed she needed after staying in her house with the kids while Alice and Carl went to Europe the year before. A dish rack, a bunch of melamine dinnerware, a lovely Japanese tea set. Alice's mother was raised by people who were adults during The Great Depression, and so the tendency to hold on to items and collect them was strong. But Alice had done hoarding of her own. She had a huge dehydrator meant for hunters with a flaky switch. An old sewing table with a warped top which was a family antique. The top had become warped from having a humidifier on it one winter. Alice thinks she needs to get rid of all this stuff before she drives up to Fort Collins, but then realizes that Jess and Charlotte might want some of it.

When she gets to the house, nobody else is there. She waits outside, realizing she is hungry, and hopes they have time to get some food. Jess and Todd, who she thinks might be the quiet man from earlier, arrive first. She goes in the house with them and they are packing up a vacuum cleaner which had come from Amazon in a box that looked like it had been trampled by a horse. First she watches them packing it up and they realize they forgot to put the return slip in, so she slips it in the end. She finds Todd curious. He seems keen to do anything Jess requests of him, and she is good at delegating. Something in his energy reminds her of her brother-in-law Wes. Wes is a specialist doctor and is married to Alice's sister who totally rules the roost in her home. He is quiet, generous, and a hard worker, and never seems to balk at how busy Alice's sister keeps their lives. Wes and Todd are so different from Carl, who has been so protective of his head space and time for so many years, as a reaction to the dictatorial upbringing in his teen years. He had once told Alice that he didn't help her with home improvement projects because he didn't want to enable her. Yes, she is ambitious, but some things are just necessary to improve quality of life. Because of this, she has taken the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, because if he doesn't care, and it's not hurting anyone, why should she? This actually was the first step toward a great deal of freedom for her as a mother.

Jess ends up being interested in almost all of the stuff in Alice's SUV. Maybe to sell, maybe to use. It doesn't matter to Alice. She just needs it out of her life, and if it helps someone else, that's all that matters. She says she'll go through it later and she and Todd will take it to the thrift store.

When Charlotte arrives, she considers the sewing table and ultimately decides not to take it because the top is so damaged. Alice is pretty sure the thrift store won't take it, but is sure that some artist will. It could be made into something really cool, kind of like the stuff the Queen of Hearts, who works in assemblage, makes. Or, if she could get a handle on the mess in the garage, maybe she could make it into something amazing. But ugh. She already has too many unfinished projects, and too many barriers to progress within her home. She needs to hire someone to help her get rid of stuff, or burn the house down. She has words now. Maybe that is enough. Or maybe once she gets the words out, she'll have the energy to create physical things again.

The dehydrator is still in the car, and Alice just wants to know where it should go so she can move it, but Jess instructs Todd to take it out and put it somewhere. There is also a really funky seashell lamp that Carl won for his hippy costume at a 60's barbecue hosted by Maggie and Guido during the summer. It has a blacklight bulb in it and used to belong to their daughter. Charlotte wants to put it in The Room. At the car, Todd insists on carrying the awkward dehydrator himself. Alice is worried he will get hurt or slip on the ice, and offers to help, but he isn't having any of it. She is wearing a sweater dress, leggings, and $5 flats with no tread, and the north facing driveway is steep. They have to navigate getting the items into the house through the garage without letting Hugh out.

After the car is emptied, they head to Charlotte's friend Sonja's house in a caravan. Alice knows Sonja from Charlotte's online support group that she had for many years, but the group folded a few years ago, and Alice had not seen Sonja for maybe 5 or 6 years until she went to hear a local author speak the week before. Sonja is soft spoken, has a beautiful smile, and teaches piano.

Jess rides with Alice and they get to talk a little bit, privately. Jess shares with her that she is waiting for her second marriage to end, is finally not getting text messages from her ex any longer, even though she is still wearing her ring and is still in love with him. She explains that she met Todd through work and they got along just great, but that he had told her he was in love with her after only two weeks. She explains that she got into her first marriage after being raped. It lasted for six years, was physically abusive, and that her second marriage was verbally and emotionally abusive, and that her husband never wanted to cuddle. Alice understands this dynamic, and how one gets into it, very well. She had been raped at age 16 by someone she connected with and trusted, ignoring the warnings of her friends. She had talked with this young man, 19 at the time, while creating her dinosaur robot. He was the first person outside of the school psychologist she ever spoke to about being physically abused as a child. And after he raped her, he never spoke to her again.

In college, she had decided that she would not have a second date with a man if she had any inkling she couldn't spend the rest of her life with him. First, she dated a graduate student in the mechanical engineering department who identified as a feminist, but pulled her around by her upper arm on their date and told her what she was having for dinner. He was from a Middle Eastern country, and so she figured he was fairly conservative in his beliefs about what women could and couldn't do, even though he claimed otherwise.

The next guy she dated she actually had a crush on for several weeks before getting up the nerve to ask him out. He was a fifth year architecture student she met through her roommate. That date was a disaster. They got into an argument about abortion on the way to their dinner destination on the streetcar riding down St. Charles in New Orleans. Final destination Riverwalk Mall, which was a long haul. It was actually so bad that they debated whether or not just to ride the streetcar back to campus instead of eating. But, being the nice Catholic he was, he paid for her dinner and they rode home together, mostly in quiet.

When she first arrived at college, she had a long-distance boyfriend who was in his 20's who she had met in the chat rooms on America Online, who drove all the way from his hometown in Ohio to meet her. He was the very young owner of two newspapers in his hometown, and they got along quite nicely. He burned out his brakes coming down Pikes Peak on their visit, ignoring her suggestion to downshift, and had to get them fixed before he returned home. Ultimately, he met someone else and decided that he couldn't do a long-distance relationship. Alice wonders what he is doing, and curses his common name. He might as well be John Smith.

Sometime in all of this, she made another friend online who went to the University of Mississippi and who came to Tulane for Thanksgiving to meet her. She did not make this arrangement. Her second roommate, who was also in the engineering program and also in the same chat rooms, had invited him. He had bipolar disorder and was on lithium. He needed a lot of validation, and because Alice had a boyfriend in middle school who reminded her of this fellow, she knew it wouldn't be good.

By this time, she had met Carl. They met on November 7, 1993. Alice will tell this story later, as it is a good story. So, when UMiss guy got invited to stay in Alice's dorm room by Alice's roommate, Alice decided to ask Carl if she could stay with him instead. He was the first man who was romantically interested in her who didn't try to control her or use her as a psychologist.

This was not enough of a hint for UMiss guy. UMiss guy followed Alice to Colorado over winter break so he could visit her there, too.

Dave Chapelle is right. It is hard to have a vagina. And he doesn't even know about pelvic floor issues personally.

In any case. We know the end of that story, which is that Carl and Alice end up getting married after Alice hurries up, taking 24 credit hour and 27 credit hour semesters, to graduate a year early with a B.A. in Physiological Psychology. As mentioned before, they have had a very active sex life, and Alice has razzed Carl many times for his inability to spoon. "You only know spork," she says. So she often demands to be the spooner rather than the spoonee for this reason. She can use the closeness to fall asleep, since Carl can fall asleep so easily. She just matches her breathing to his, and sleep comes easily.

Siggy has told Alice that relationships become less and less abusive, the more partners one has. When divorce seemed imminent, and Alice felt like she would never be able to be with anyone ever again, Siggy assured her that she would be able to date, and that she would get better and better at recognizing red flags. She and Campbell talked about red flags a lot. She feels grateful to Campbell for helping her realize what the red flags were in her own relationship, and giving her the courage to speak up.

So, the point of that whole digression was to say that Alice knew exactly what Jess was talking about when she said that she was not sexually active with Todd, but that she was cuddling with him. And she was a little jealous that she found a guy who was willing to just cuddle. Is that even a real thing, or just a slippery slope? she wonders.

When they arrive at Sonja's house, Sonja has a futon mattress by the front door, and it is much smaller than any of them imagined, so they decide to take it in case it works somehow, and they will get rid of it later if it doesn't. Sonja invites them in for coffee. There is beautiful guitar music spreading through her home. Alice's home is often silent because everyone is trained to be careful around Carl's need for head space. The kids spend a lot of time wearing headphones, communicating with their friends, playing games, reading online or watching videos online. Alice loves music, and loves to "feel it in her soul." She will crank the music in her studio, crank it in the car. Nolan and Sally typically turn down the volume. The family is worried about her hearing, they say.

As the women sit down for coffee, Sonja offers them fruit, too. Alice is delighted because she is starving. It is now 2 o'clock and she has only had coffee and a biscotti because mental gyrations around what to wear for the day and whether or not to stop at the thrift store on the way kept her from eating lunch.

The music stops and Sonja's husband emerges from the basement. "Oh, wow. Was that you playing that beautiful music? I thought it was a recording!" Yes, it turns out Sonja's husband is a very talented guitar player.

The women sit around and talk about their lives, and kindness and community, and pretty soon it is time to go so Sonja and her talented husband can go to a pot luck.


***

On the way back to the house, they stop at a mattress store to see about thicker futon mattresses, but the smell of the store alone is too much for Charlotte. Standing outside in the fresh air, they realize they are all starving and go to the grocery store next door to get food to take back to Bob's house.

When they get there, they are all still starving, and Alice decides to get into the groceries and just start eating the crystal rolls she got. She crams them into her face like a cocker spaniel on a kitchen counter. Charlotte is downstairs talking with Bob, and Jess and Todd are discussing how the women have all just messed up Todd's beautiful kitchen cleaning job. Alice can't tell if Todd is being a ham, or if he is really frustrated by this, but decides not to be bothered by it, even though she has said exactly the same thing a million times herself. That's life in the big city, she can hear her mother saying in her head.

Nobody is addressing her, though, so she continues to eat.

Bob and Charlotte come up the stairs, and Bob is not doing well. They haven't done any vitals, but he is diabetic and hasn't eaten in too long. They negotiate what he might eat while Charlotte opens up a roast she purchased. He ends up having some, and Jess digs into her prepackaged sushi. At some point, Todd disappears without telling anyone.

Once they have all eaten, Bob and Charlotte head back downstairs and Jess and Alice wonder where Todd went. Jess texts him.

"Where'd you go?" she thumbs.

"I decided to leave," he says.

"Come back! I love you," she texts. "I just told him, 'Come back, I love you..." she tells Alice.

"Oh. Okay..." Alice says, thinking that is an awfully confusing message.

***

He must have not gone far, because he gets back fairly quickly.

They pull out the candy bar and Alice carefully cuts her 10mg square into halves, and then quarters one of the halves. They watch her quizzically and ask her why she is cutting the square up.

"My limit is 7.5mg," she says, recollecting the time she and Maggie had 10mg pieces on their trip to Oregon, and Alice got a visit from Robin Williams in the company of strangers. She kept telling joke after joke after joke to the women, mostly in their 60's and conservative, and they seemed to be highly amused. But then after a little while, she thought they were laughing at her and not with her, and the jokes were coming too fast for her to share them, anyway, so she shut up.

"Okay..." Todd remarks, loading up the bubbler.

She can't remember how it came up, but after they had a little of the bubbler, Todd or Jess share that Todd wrote Jess a love note after knowing her for only a short time. The tone from Jess is a little rough.

Alice looks at him, knitting her eyebrows.

"Well, I know what you are feeling, because I did that, too, only it was after about 18 months, and I was told that I didn't know what love was. It really hurt," she offers, as genuinely as possible.

"Yeah," he sighs.

"Yeah," she sighs back.

She looks into his eyes, big and brown like hers, and feels something, but she's not sure what.

***

The four of them take their snacks, including a huge tub of chocolate chip cookies, into the spare bedroom. Alice spreads the thin mattress out on the frame, and collectively they decide it needs to go sideways to fit right. The frame is low, and when Jess, with her broken foot, attempts to sit down, she falls backward into it.

"Are you okay?" they all ask her.

"Yeah, I'm okay. I don't know how I am ever going to get out, though!" she giggles.

Todd has put himself right next to the window and a bookcase, next to Alice, on an old office chair. He lights the bubbler and offers it to Alice. He and Charlotte had tried to rig something up to vent the room so the smell wouldn't stay. Bob, Charlotte's father, is an old Hippy and chronic user who is using cannabis to manage pain, and won't be bothered by the smell, but Charlotte owns the house and is worried about renting again or having to sell. They come up with something involving hand towels and three paper towel tubes linked together to blow the smoke into. Alice laughs, thinking about the unlikely scenarios she gets herself into, even without recreational weed use. This experience is fitting the bill already.

When it is Jess' turn, she holds out her hands, and Alice pulls her upright, switching places with her, carefully. The futon is much more comfortable than she imagined, and she decides to see how it is laying down. She knows this is unladylike, but Robin Williams is starting to tell her not to worry. She carefully falls to the left and slides along the crevice in the mattress. She is surprised at the angle of the seat - she has to lift her neck slightly to communicate.

"I feel like I am in a taco," she says. They all laugh.

They pass the bubbler around and Todd keeps saying to clear it by removing the mouthpiece, but Alice isn't quite sure what he means, and she never does this with hers. She thinks he is kidding.

"What are you, a Pot Connoisseur?" she asks him.

"Actually, yes," he says. And she thinks, for a moment.

Maybe this is a person I team up with to write about therapeutic use of cannabis? she thinks, looking at him, noticing how straight-laced he looks. She's a neurobiologist, he's a connoisseur, Charlotte grew up with it, and Jess is a newbie. They are an eclectic crowd.

She hammers him with questions and finds out that he worked in the cannabis industry and that he was partially homeschooled as a child. Her interest is officially piqued.

He keeps looking at her and offering more, and she keeps saying yes and yes and yes. Why am I doing this? she wonders. Because, I am finally having some fun again, she realizes.

Alice had timed her edible so it would be about 7 hours before she had to leave to meet Pearl for jazz music in Loveland. About 2 hours before, she decides she needs to stop using the bubbler so she will be safe to drive. They have a VR headset in the living room, and Todd is eager to get them playing.

Jess has eaten the tub of cookies halfway down. While Todd is setting up the VR, the women stand in the kitchen and compulsively eat more cookies. Jess realizes she can put the lid back on the tub. Alice sticks out her lower lip and pouts.

"Bye, bye, cookies," she says, waving goodbye to the cookies.

"How are you doing?" Charlotte asks.

It is right at that moment that Alice realizes she can feel every granule of cookie on her tongue, and that every sense she is feeling is amplified, like she is the only one there in the room. She is aware of Charlotte, but wants to just enjoy the feeling of wholeness she is experiencing.

"I feel weird," Alice announces.

"Weird like how?" Charlotte inquires.

"Um. I don't know. I just AM. It's really wonderful," Alice notices her breath.

Todd moves into the kitchen to let them know he is done with the setup and takes the lid off the cookies.

***

Alice is the first to try the headset. Todd gives her the two remotes, and they are different than the controller she is used to using. She had done VR with Pearl's son on their trip to California, and she wowed them with her abilities in the haunted rollercoaster shooting gallery, but she was not high then, and she had a regular controller. Alice, despite being liberal, had a membership to a local gun club to tackle her fear of firearms a few years ago. She was a mediocre marksman with a pistol in the Ladies' Combat League, which shot the same course of fire as the Men's Combat League. She hasn't shot a firearm in a few years, because she was satisfied with tackling her fear (originally irrational, now rational and knowledgeable). Sometimes she does okay on digital platforms, sometimes not, but that time she did great!

Todd asks her if she wants to play Skyrim, and she just can't seem to maneuver around at all. After really struggling with the two wands, she announces that she thinks she might be too high to play. Todd helps her out of the headset and she sits down on the sofa, a little wonky.

"How are you doing?" Charlotte inquires. Jess is sitting in a chair to Alice's left, with a blank look on her face.

Alice looks at her and she begins to laugh, which makes Alice laugh. Then Jess laughs, and Alice laughs, and finally they reign it in, and Alice tells Charlotte she feels really strange.

"Did you put something else in this?" she asks Todd.

"No," he says, shaking his head.

"Remember how we had that discussion about how with enough pot, you could get similar effects to LSD?" Charlotte reminds her.

"Oh yeah," Alice remembers. "Oh wow. I am not here anymore."

Alice doesn't know what Todd and Jess were doing - she was just aware of them in the room.

"Why don't you lay down and tell me about it?" Charlotte says, scooting away from her on the sofa so she can lay on her left side.

"I don't know where I am..." Alice muses.

"Let's try a little guided meditation," Charlotte suggests. "Feel your toes..."

Alice thinks about her toes and then all of a sudden, she is in a place that feels like a cross between outer space and the desert, and she feels Timothy Leary speaking to her.

"You finally made it..." the voice remarked, calmly, "we've been waiting for you."

"Thank you," she thought, "it's nice to be here."

Then, all of a sudden, she found herself flying over the Pacific Ocean at sunset, wind in her face and hair, arms spread like a bird. This is incredible, she thought, it's better than I ever imagined!

It was at that very second that she was brought suddenly to earth by the sound of Hugh loudly squeaking his toy.

"Oh my God," she said, suddenly aware of Hugh in the middle of the room, Todd standing near the television, Jess on her left in the chair, and Charlotte at her feet. "That was hilarious!"

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