Please don’t ask me how I am.

The socks I am wearing today came into my life exactly one year ago. They’re the warm non-slip kind, and I got them from the Emergency Room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. They’re the second in a collection I don’t want to curate, gathered on a long, boring, annoying, painful, ridiculous, mysterious journey I don’t want to remember.

I have Occipital Neuralgia. It’s a long story, and I’m tired of it. You can Google ON and you will learn that it is a painful condition involving the nerves in the head. You will not learn how to deal with it, but if you look hard enough you will find other people who have it. You will not be encouraged by their stories. You will try to accept that it is chronic, but not fatal, so at least there’s that. You will think “at least” a lot. You will find treatment options that might help, but you will not find a cure.

And if you’ve gotten this far, I hope you will adjust.

As with depression, you might not get it unless you get it, and I hope you never, ever get it. That’s my wish for you. Here are my wishes from you.

First, please don’t ask me how I am. I know you don’t mean anything by it, but you don’t expect an honest response, and I’m tired of lying. The thing is, I am terrible (thanks for asking.) I am always in at least some pain. Always. Even when I say I’m doing okay, it’s this new version of okay where I’m in bearable pain. The monster in the back of my head is sleeping, leaving a dull ache I can ignore for a while. I can function; I can act like one of the humans for a few hours, but it comes at a price.

Second, please don’t tell me I’ll get better. My current treatment plan is through the Mayo Clinic; I am looking into every avenue; I am seeking advice from others who have it. I rest. I put bags of frozen vegetables on my head. I cut off most of my hair to remove the weight from my scalp. I’m still in constant pain. I am trying to do everything I can to kill this monster, but the reality is it might never go away. I’ve had time to come to terms with that, but when you tell me I’ll get better, it just reminds me of the opposite.

And finally, please don’t give up on me. ON has affected every single part of my life, and I’m still figuring out the balance. I’m sorry I’m a burden. I’m sorry I’m unreliable. I’m sorry I’ve missed so many events that you don’t invite me anymore. (Nobody goes to parties to hear about my health problems, anyway.) I’m sorry I’m so grumpy and self-pitying that I do things like write this. I’m sorry I make you feel awkward when all you’ve done is ask, “How are you?” and expected a normal answer like a normal person.

Although I guess making people feel awkward is pretty normal for me, so that one’s on you.

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Thank you for your patience. Here’s to a hospital-sock-free 2017.

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Find me.

It’s 2003 and I’m on a beach in Isla Cristina, Spain, a few days shy of my 18th birthday. It’s my first time out of the country; I’ve spent 2 weeks traveling Spain with a busload of other American high schoolers, but at this moment it’s just me and one other student with our host siblings on the beach. My Spanish is limited and we are barely trying to understand one another, but it doesn’t matter. Our host siblings are drinking wine and Fanta, and Krista and I are taking photos of each other, two Minnesotan girls just giddy just to be on a beach. I’m running sand through my fingers and laughing when she snaps this picture.

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I brought this picture when I went to college a few months later. I remember it was in a gaudy frame with fake seashells and a starfish on the edge, and I kept it on my nightstand. Some girls from my dorm told me it was weird to have a photo of myself like that. (This was before selfies.) They asked me why I had it, and I said, “Because I look so happy.” It’s not a particularly good or flattering photo – I am wearing a dark shirt and jeans on a beach – but I didn’t care. I was happy in that moment, and my smile is genuine.

I don’t have this picture on display anymore – I had to dig it out of my closet just now – but I still think of it the same way. It’s like a totem for happiness. I have others – a video of my niece laughing; lyrics to a Sam Cooke song – and I need them around me as a reminder. Maybe not everyone needs proof that happiness is attainable, but I do, and I’m not alone.

I’ve battled depression for about a decade. (Before I go any further I should clarify I’m doing well right now, despite a really, really shitty year. The fact that I’ve managed my mental health well is probably my greatest accomplishment in 2016. More on that on a later day, maybe.) I spent a long time being quiet about it because it’s personal, and it’s hard to explain, except to people who get it. The thing is, it’s hard to find people who get it if none of us are willing to come forward, and that can make depression seem even more isolating and dangerous.

A few weeks ago, a woman who was on this same trip to Spain with me took her own life after a long fight with depression. It hurts me to my gut to think about her family. It hurts every time I hear about someone losing the fight. That’s why I dug out the picture, and that’s why I’m writing this.

I’m not going to try to explain what depression is like, except to say it is hard. There was a time when telling just a handful of people what I was going through seemed insurmountable; finally doing so saved my life. Since then, finding other people who get it has made it easier. So that’s all I’m doing. Saying I get it. Lots and lots of people get it. We’re here if you need us.

Katy Perry Mad Libs

I listen to the radio because it’s the only thing that consistently works in my 19-year-old car. Starting the car means turning the key, then turning up the volume; unlike the windshield, the mirrors, the engine, the tires, the fuel pump or the battery, the radio does not break down (brakes, that’s another one). Flipping through the stations, resting on one for a song or two, and singing off-key by the flickering lights of my faulty dash is the only way I know how to drive. Right now, there are about a dozen stations I roll through every day; sometimes I stop for Led Zeppelin, sometimes for Doomtree, and sometimes I skip them both to belt out the stupidly catchy Ke$ha part of Pitbull’s “Timber.”

Because here’s the thing, I like all music, including top 40 pop songs. I’ve seen Aerosmith, Barbra Streisand, New Kids on the Block, Childish Gambino, and Tool in concert all within my adult life.  31 Songs by Nick Hornby and The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop are two of my all-time favorite books. So I try not to judge anyone’s taste in music; don’t listen to what you think makes you cool. Listen to whatever brings you joy.

But I have some seriously complicated feelings about Katy Perry.

I cannot decide if I like Katy Perry’s music, or if I like hating it. Occasionally I am impressed by her voice, while other times she reminds me of an Eastern Spadefoot toad. Sometimes I think she’s a genius getting the last laugh through slick satire, and other times I want to rage against everything she represents for pop music, feminism, and the future of the species.

Like I said, complicated.

“Roar,” I think, is the perfect Katy Perry song. Observe.

It has everything: the patented Belting/Heavy Breathing/Random Sound Effect style of Katy Perry vocals, occasionally within the same word (“Ro-a-a-a-a-a–uhuhr!”). It is Uncannily Current, in the sense that it sounds exactly like what else is out there at the time (Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”).  And most importantly, the lyrics that are Nonsense Clichés Strung Together In a Forced-Rhyming Fashion (“Now I’m floating like a butterfly / Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes / I went from zero, to my own hero”).

In college, I had an English professor who could not stand a single cliché in anything her students wrote. She was an older Sister with an attitude and  health problems, and she would slam her cane on the floor for emphasis as she wheezed out “Clichéd! Clichéd! Clichéd!” She was a little scary and mean, and it took me years to realize how much I actually liked her and appreciated her guidance, by which point she had passed away. This is what I think about every time I hear Katy Perry sing I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything: a nun who yelled a lot and then she died. I am not the first person to notice and be bothered by Katy Perry’s clichés – here’s a list of all 226 found on her most recent album – but I am willing to bet I’m the first person to tell that particular nun story.

And now there’s this new song, “Dark Horse,” which I initially thought I hallucinated due to my clearly unhealthy obsession with Figuring Out Katy Perry.

A) It has the singing style that haunts my dreams. B) It sounds Uncannily Current in that it sent me down an internet rabbit hole, starting with Miley Cyrus/Mike WiLL Made It collaborations and ending with too much information about what is or is not “ratchet” culture (don’t look it up).  C) The title itself is a cliché. And D) I can’t stop hate-listening to it. Katy Perry may be a complex genius hiding behind bright colors and loud noises because that’s what sells, or she might be so simple that singing “I know a place where the grass is really greener” while dressed as candy is equivalent to her baring her soul. I don’t know.

But I do know she’s a multimillionaire while I drive a ’95 Lumina. So. Dear Katy Perry, I am willing to give up all my English-major principles and follow your formula to success. I’ve done the research and I’ve got some ideas. Here’s a little something I came up with while cleaning my bathroom:

I’m taking out the trash
You’re my receptacle
I can’t see the light
You’re my spectacles
Your reflection! It’s perfection!
Think it’s a Jedi mind trick
You ask do I love you?
Boy, Is the Pope Catholic?
(random vocalization breakdown, Tuvan throat singing, maybe you go “Catholic! Lic! Lic!” for a while, etc)

Yeah. There’s more where that came from, Katy Perry. I bought a book of Mad Libs and filled in all the spaces with clichés, euphemisms and glitter. Let’s collab.

Dedicated To My Roommate

A few days ago, I met up with someone I hadn’t talked to since early August. She asked me what was new in my life, and I laughed in her face.

There’s just a lot going on right now, guys.

One of the best things to happen to me recently – and probably in all of 2013 – is acquiring a roommate. This is not usually the top of the list for the almost-thirty crowd, but my roommate is not a stranger I’ve found on Craigslist; she is my best friend hetero-lifemate, Lacy. Who I found on Craigslist.

No, that’s not true, I found her in high school.  A dozen years later, we’ve finally fulfilled our teenage dream to get an apartment together and fill it with books. Nerds in high school, nerds 4 life!

So far, living together has resulted in texts like this:

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And notes like this:

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And nights like this:

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Currently, we’re following up our traditional Margarita Monday (two weeks is a tradition, right?) with some Futurama in our pjs. She doesn’t know I’m writing this. And she just texted me an emoticon of Zoidberg from the other side of our couch.

So far living with my best friend is as amazing as I imagined it would be, but with more cartoons.

I know; it won’t always be this way. Check back in six months, and maybe the “Dedicated To My Roommate” post will be nothing but “It’s YOUR Turn To Re-Alphabetize The Books” or “If You Drank All The Wine I Will Eat Your Babies.” But right now, it’s great. It’s comfortable, and comforting, and more than I could have asked for.

Life is not perfect, but my life has some very good people in it. I’m lucky to be on this adventure with one of the best.

I was not prepared.

When I first started working at my current job, I shared an office with Sister Nora. She was 78 when I met her and did not clear five feet – not by a long shot. But she was a nun, and I was intimidated by her. That is, until one day I turned to ask her something and saw her reading a romance novel at her desk. And I mean a real romance novel, with Fabio on the cover.

I silently turned back around, blinked, and thought, “…I was not prepared for that.”

It was a true moment of surprise, and how many of those do we get as adults?

I immediately warmed to Nora. I learned how much she loved romance novels, horror movies, hot tamales, and soap operas. We spent one Mardi Gras eating cupcakes and watching “The Bold and the Beautiful” in our office. I started picking up romance novels at Goodwill and bringing them in for her. For her eightieth birthday, I made her a card featuring her favorite things.

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Nora got sick in early 2012. Or, sicker. This time she went to the hospital, so I went to visit her. She wasn’t expecting me and when I walked in, she was on the phone with another coworker of ours.

Nora looked at me. It took a second, then said into the phone: “Oh! It’s…it’s the girl who gives me all the dirty books!”

Yes, she knew my name. But maybe she knew me a little bit better.

This St. Patrick’s Day, it will be one year since I last saw Sister Nora. It was her birthday. She was wearing a paper party hat and opening cards with her friend; it was a good last memory.

Now I sit at her old desk. I read more romance novels than I used to. And I remember how the nun who read all the dirty books became my friend, and how much I miss her. I was not prepared for that.

The Minnesota Vikings, My Pops, and Me

I wrote this last year, but I’m updating and re-posting it in light of yesterday’s huge Vikings win.  I got to experience it in person, at MOA Field, with my pops. It was great – I am still hoarse from cheering, Pops almost clapped once, and the whole day was pretty much everything I love about being a Vikings fan.

I once theorized that my relationship with the Minnesota Vikings is not unlike my relationship with men (why yes, this theory was developed in a bar!): 1) I care very strongly for them; they are basically unaware I exist. 2) I am always looking for a good tight end; they are always looking for a horny blonde.

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Like that.

3) Eventually I’m going to have to stop pinning all my hopes and dreams on men who wear purple and tight pants and chase each other. 4) And finally, it’s all my father’s fault.

From age 2-6, Bonding With Pops meant watching whatever action movie was on television while falling asleep on the couch. They have fused in my memory into one long action movie I like to call Crocodile Die Hard Jones and the Hunt for the Lethal Weapons Under Siege 2. From ages 7-12, Bonding With Pops meant getting outdoorsy and going camping and fishing. Sadly, this camping tradition ended about when my dad woke up to me burning an entire deck of cards, one at a time. I wish I was kidding; that is super creepy. Ever since, Bonding With Pops has simply involved sports, and it started with the Vikings.

Together, we watched the 1998-1999 season with as much pride (and then overwhelming despair) as the rest of the state, and despite that famous miss, I was hooked. In 2000, Pops took me to the Vikings training camp to watch a scrimmage. The facts say that I was fifteen at the time, but the memories suggest I was closer to seven. I was giddy to be there, with Pops, watching Cris Carter! Robert Smith! JOHN RANDLE! And we were in the front row, somehow; probably because Pops is early for everything (I did not inherit this trait), but at the time I was pretty sure it was because my dad was magic and/or secretly important. I thought this might be the case when he perked up at some announcement and said, “I think that’s my cousin Rod doing the announcing.”

Before I could say, “You have a cousin Rod and why aren’t we using this relationship to get VIP treatment?” The announcer said, “and here comes the quarterback, Cunningham. Uh, I mean Culpepper…” To which the crowd gave a little boo and Pops said, “Yep. That’s Rod alright.” I decided not to follow this lead after all.

Despite needing to be the first person in his seat that day, Pops couldn’t stay in it for long. He got us a bag of popcorn that (again, in my memory) was as big as me, and I was not a small kid. He also ran off and bought me a Cris Carter jersey. Again, I was not a small kid, but Pops overshot it a bit — to this day, we call that my “Cris Carter dress.” I loved it immediately.

After the scrimmage, we went to the autograph line. Pops plopped me next to the gate with my camera and my notebook and disappeared while I gawked, star-struck, as all the pros walked past me and the rookies stopped to sign autographs.

If you’re wondering what kind of father would leave his teenage daughter alone in a crowd like that, so was I. I finally brought this part of the memory up to my dad last week. “Where did you go?” I asked, thinking he ran away from the crowd to smoke. He stared at me. “I was right behind you,” he said. “I had a hand on each of your shoulders! Don’t you remember? You were the same height as Denny Green!” What kind of father would leave his teenage daughter alone in that crowd? Not mine. You’d think I’d remember being held in place by a large man, but no. There is no large man in my memory other than John Randle. I may be a terrible daughter with a foggy memory of one of the best days of my young life but eh! John Randle!

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Actual picture that I actually took of the actual John Randle. I am that bad of a photographer, and I was that excited. I’m still proud of this.

That was the last time my dad and I went to a scrimmage. Until yesterday, he did not even own any Vikings apparel (I bought him a purple hat – he’s actually lucky I didn’t buy him one of the helmets with horns), whereas I’ve upped the ante with a “cousin” Adrian Peterson jersey, Robert Smith jersey, Vikings sweatshirt, two or three purple pride t-shirts, and one of those sweet blonde-with-horns hats (I will fool you yet, men). I was banned from The Boys’ apartment after Favre threw the last interception of 2010 and I let out a guttural scream that scared the cats. I went to three games at the Dome last year (all losses). And I once picked a fight in New Orleans, with a Priest, because he was wearing a Drew Brees jersey.

To be a Vikings fan is to be stubborn and proud without reason.  I’m a HUGE Vikings fan, and it’s definitely all my father’s fault.

Love you, Pops.

SKOL VIKINGS!

Rachel and Pops

Fitting.

Last Friday, I rediscovered how terrible I am in panic situations when CK got in a car accident and called me.  She said it was because we had just parted ways and she knew I wasn’t far away, but I’m pretty sure I was her only option in a thirty-mile radius.  That’s the only reason I would call me.  Even though she said she was okay, I still went into Panic Mode: Overdrive at the sight of her crunchy van and did my thing — parked my car in what might not have been a parking lot, tore off across the intersection and asked the man working the tow truck “WHERE’S CK?”  I was led to a cop car, but CK was facing the other way; instead of opening the door, or knocking, I said to her over the phone, “Am I looking at you right now?  Turn your head the other way.”  Unh.  At least I gave the cops a laugh.

Anyway, she was and is fine, and after a bit of “omigodomigodomigod”-ing, I was too.  We chilled in the back of a cop car, taking time to notice how it was not built for comfort as even CK’s tiny legs did not fit well. CK even had the presence of mind to reach through the nonexistent back window of the van and collect her belongings, which had started the evening much closer to the dashboard.  Then I took us home and went pretty much straight to sleep.  Unnecessary panic is draining.

My grandfather died on Saturday morning.  I tried to come up with a better transition, but there isn’t one, and I guess that’s fitting.  He was 87 and sick, which makes it okay and expected, but he was many other things too, which makes it hard anyway.  The whole weekend was a big blur of family, mixing the crying parts with the laughing parts.  I learned a lot about my family.  My aunt makes a strong drink, for one.  My mom has a natural talent  for Guitar Hero, for another.  And I re-evaluated some things I already knew, like the 18 months grandpa spent as a prisoner of war in WWII.  He was just a year older than me when he was captured.  It’s hard to believe.  And I thought about how everytime I saw him, he asked me how the Model T was running.  In a previous life, Lula the Bad-Ass Lumina was grandpa’s pride and never-driven-over-forty-miles-per-hour joy.

Before the public visitation, we tried to come up with something grandpa loved for every letter of the alphabet, except we weren’t very good at it.  We’d say “dog” before thinking of “daughters,” and “Elvis impersonators” before “Eunice,” my grandma.  And then of course the xylophone.  I imagine everyone who is the subject of this game ends up loving the xylophone.  Since grandpa was who he was, the whole weekend was decked out in Americana (after Elvis and Eunice came Flag).  And since my family is what it is, the photo display included a picture of grandpa with a Boob Cake.  Fitting.

So that is the last of my grandparents.  My mother is now my oldest living direct ancestor (she was less-than-thrilled when I pointed this out).  Patrick, gone before I was born; Euni, who We the family unit still cannot think about for long without crying; Zedana, a wild woman after my own heart; and Leroy, who left in his “All-American Grandpa” sweatshirt.

Fitting indeed.