About my vague health posts lately…

Here’s what’s been going on with me:
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A few weeks ago while in the shower, I thought I got shampoo in my eye because I had sudden patches in my left eye’s vision.  This stupidity seemed very typical of me, and I didn’t think too much of it.  After a week, these grey patches had quieted into a small blurry spot in the center of my vision. Then, while trying to relax in a jacuzzi at my parents’ house, the patches suddenly returned. The next morning I went to my mom’s ophthalmologist, and thus began one of the scariest times of my life.
  ***
The ophthalmologist took pictures that showed my left eye was hemorrhaging “like an eye mini-stroke,” and the pooling blood was causing my blind spot.  (You know when you have a vision test and you’re supposed to read the letters?  I couldn’t even see the giant E at the top.)  I was sent semi-emergently to a retinal specialist in Grand Rapids, and there further pictures and an angiogram confirmed that my eye was hemorrhaging in about 8-10 places.  The pics of my eye looked like craters on the moon.  Also, for some reason the blood flow into my eye was slow – 20 seconds when it should be about 4.  It wasn’t inflamed enough to suggest an arterial occlusion, so that was some good news.  But if it developed into an occlusion, that could mean I’d lose my vision entirely.
  ***
Thing is, this should not happen in someone my age with absolutely zero risk factors.  (I’m pretty sure the specialist thought I was lying when I kept answering “No” to his ROS questions.)  So, the specialist ordered about 14 blood tests and an MRI/MRA to sort out what the hell could be causing this.  He sent me home – my eyes fully dilated for 10+ hours and exhausted without any treatment – with the knowledge only that “it could be something pretty scary.”  (A terrible thing to tell a medical transcriptionist, btw.  Knowing the multitude of things that COULD be wrong = hypochondriac freakout.)  Then, because of some office snafus, my MRI wasn’t properly scheduled and no one bothered to call me for 4 days until my mom called to yell at them.  So I went from being treated as an emergency on Monday to not hearing anything for the rest of the week.  DID.  NOT.  HELP.
  ***
Since my eye externally looks completely normal and I’ve had no pain whatsoever, this all would’ve gone completely undetected were in not for my blurry vision.  But something is “seriously wrong” as an underlying mystery diagnosis. Plus now I’m afraid to bathe because that seems to be a hemorrhage trigger.  So that’s awesome.
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This has all been completely new to me.  Aside from having strep so often as a child that I had to have my tonsils out, I’ve had near-perfect health my whole life.  I’ve sprained several ankles, sure, but I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, never been on medication, never had a cavity, and I’ve never worn contacts or glasses.  I have NEVER taken my health for granted.  I have felt incredibly blessed my whole life to have the health I’ve had.  So maybe I’m due, I don’t know.
  ***
As an avid reader, as a writer, and as an artist, the possibility of losing my sight is heartbreaking.  As someone planning a wedding and finally making plans for a future I’m looking forward to, being told I might have something that could kill me (“do not exert yourself” was expressed, as a blood clot was another possibility) is even more terrifying.
  ***
I don’t do well not having control, and I was properly freaked out for a good while.  I hate not knowing.  At least if I knew what this was, I could find a way to cope, to prepare, or to move forward.  But the not knowing is the hardest part for me.  (They HAVE ruled out the random test for syphilis, so I guess that’s something.)
  ***
But here’s the thing:  It’s always during times of freaking out that I feel most held.  You are free to not believe in God, but I do.  During my times of fear, I always feel like God goes, “Ah-ha, see? This is what I’m here for,” and then I feel cocooned in a love/peace that I can’t explain.  This has happened time and again, and it’s happened now.  I again have reached a place of acceptance that I’m not in control, and “let whatever happens happen” is an incredibly freeing headspace to be in. I don’t want to go blind or die; I want to live.  But at least I’m being given time to evaluate and appreciate the life I’ve had.  This too, in a way, is a blessing.
  ***
And that’s not all.  For a long time in my life, I didn’t let people in.  I didn’t let people help me.  (I certainly never would have publicly acknowledged that I was terrified.)  Now, going through THIS crisis, I feel incredibly blessed to have so many people who genuinely care about me.
  • I have a mother who’s been a saint through this whole process.
  • I have a dad who I know would do anything for me.
  • I have a brother who was willing to watch my monster-cat while I stayed at our childhood home because he knew I needed to feel safe.
  • I have a fiancé who’s called every day to check on me while he’s been out of state for work, and I know he’s worried but trying to joke and keep me calm.
  • I have future in-laws who’ve taken it upon themselves to become MRI/MRA experts.
  • I have friends I’ve known since childhood who demand updates. (My phone now knows to auto-fill “hemorrhage.”)
  • I have college friends who’ve expressed concern and willingness to help however they can.
  • I have a friend in Florida who called because she figured out that that might be easier for me than emailing since the whole problem is my vision.
  • I have a church family who prayed for me the second they heard the news.
  • I have family who’ve expressed their love in a variety of ways.
  • I have online friends I’ve never met who don’t know what specifically is going on but express unquestioning compassion whenever I post something about needing mental/emotional/spiritual support.
Please know that I do not take any of you for granted.  Your kind words and thoughts are extremely appreciated.
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During my checkup this week, a visiting retinal specialist from the Philippines was shown a picture of my retinal hemorrhage and said, “Wow, that’s so rare I could have gone my whole life without seeing one.”  My specialist reviewed my blood work and found basically nothing (thereafter getting creative and ordering a test for what is essentially cat scratch fever).  I did finally have my MRI/MRA, and fortunately that came back as a normal study free of occlusions or vascular malformations.  (Ever had an MRI?  It was very hard for me to come out of the machine and not say to the tech, “I know Kung Fu.”) But basically, nothing so far hints at the cause of this anomaly.  We decided/joked that maybe I would have this named after me, although we agreed “Sunshine Disease” doesn’t sound scary enough.
  ***
So now?  My left eye’s vision has improved to 20/40, so that’s something I can live with.  But it might never get better, and at any time I could hemorrhage again so it gets worse.  On the one hand, it is wonderful to hear all the negative results of these tests.  On the other,  there is NO diagnosis and I’ll never know if this could happen again of if something worse could happen.  Right now, there’s no way to treat this mysterious underlying cause.
  ***
So I’m still a bit freaked. I still need your prayers, bright thoughts, positive vibes – whatever you’ve got to throw my way.  But I’m trying to hold to that feeling of being held and reminding myself to trust and let go.   It helps nothing by being tense.  And I think it’s important to appreciate the blessings I have, now more than ever.
***
  • I feel fine and still “have my health.”
  • I can see well enough.
  • I’m not in pain.
  • I have a God who probably knows what He’s doing.
  • I have my people.
  • And at least I won’t die of syphilis.

Where Have I Been?

Sometime early this year – winter, most likely, when I was stir-crazy with cabin fever – I had a very weird night of prayer.  I basically told God, “Okay, look.  I need something to happen, but something GOOD this time and not something that’s just going to be drastic and unwanted and make me spaz.  Things gotta change here.  Let’s say by…October.  Deal?  I don’t know how this is a deal exactly, but can ya do that for me?”  And in that moment, I felt a very weird but familiar calm as an answer.

I kind of forgot about this through the spring and summer, which were nice and pleasant but not particularly exciting.

Then, mid July, through a series of “Don’t tell me what I won’t do!” moves combined with my obsessive need to prove I’m right, I took a friend’s challenge and signed up semi-incognito for Match.com.  (At this point you’re thinking this post is going in a different direction, but stay with me, because this is only a minor point.)  Hilarity ensued, and I very much proved my point that my options around here are terrifying at worst, sad at best.  …I might have made a collage of pictures from the worst candidates.  And yes, that might seem mean, but seriously, men – you can do better than taking selfies in your bathroom mirror when the toilet seat’s up behind you.

I told my friend that I would willingly go on 3 dates to “take this more seriously.”  Dates #1 and #2 were fine but further convinced me that I’m pretty much dead inside.  Then I remembered a guy I’d talked to earlier about movies – literally that was all we talked about, and if you know me you know that’s kind of enough.  So I agreed to meet date #3 at one of my favorite breweries with the idea of “Hey, at least I get to drink, and we’ll probably talk about movies.”  About 10 minutes in, I found myself thinking, “Damn it, I like this one.”

So, my friend who sent me to Match in the first place became a big I-Told-You-So as I subsequently began to spend more and more time with Date #3.

Then around September, my apartment complex informed me that my lease was up in October and that my rent was going up by over $100 every month.  THIS finally reminded me of that prayer/deal God and I had made, and I might have gone, “What the hell?!”  However, since my brother also was looking for a new place, we decided to gather our eggs ($$) and get a place together, somewhere more downtown and bigger and cooler.  This meant spending hours and hours house-hunting and planning and finally actually moving.

Through all this, I tried to keep up at least with my reading and reviewing.  I managed okay, but quite frankly WRITING was the thing that got put on time-out.  I flat out just didn’t have time to write anything other than the occasional review – no blogging and definitely no novel…ing.

So, for those who’ve been wondering why I haven’t blogged in forever, the sum-ups in bold above are why.  For those who’ve asked how my 4th novel is coming along and then wondered why I respond with “meh,” the sum-ups in bold above explains how it’s coming along – it’s not.  (And for those of you in real life who haven’t seen much of me in the past few months, I promise things will calm down now that I’m living out of only one location.  And maybe I’ll finally let ya meet Date #3.)

 Now…

It’s October.  (Okay, it’s a few days into October, but 10/10 has a nice symmetry to it.)  As I sit here typing out this blog in my new little office nook, I’m pretty happy with where October has brought me.  This is DEFINITELY a lot of change from where I was last winter.  And it’s all pretty good.  I really should have known better than to give God any kind of challenge, because obviously He thinks He’s funny and enjoys throwing me for a loop – kind of like how telling a certain someone “You’re not going to circle around and around in the roundabout, are you?” means that of course he’s going to drive around and around in the roundabout.

Anyway, it’s October and I’m settling down again to play with all these new life changes.  I also hope to get back to the one constant activity that I’ve missed and finish this stinkin’ book series.

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Muppet Christmas Lessons

[This is from a few years ago, but it’s still appropriate. And still a lesson I struggle with…although I hope I’m better. Anyway, ’tis the season.]

I am proud of Jason Segel.  I don’t know him.  Never met him.  I know being proud of someone you’ve never met is odd, but it’s true.  He brought the Muppets back to life.  The Muppets were essentially dead for over a decade, and now my whole generation has back this wonderful element of our childhood.  Better yet, as one of my friends pointed out, we are free to love the Muppets without irony (the culturally acceptable attitude painted over long-forlorn objects of childhood affection).

After watching the new Muppet Movie, which happened to release around my birthday, my friends went on a Muppet binge for over a month.  It helped that this was around Christmas, and the Muppets’ several Christmas specials fit with perfect timing.  Chief amongst these was, of course, A Muppet Christmas Carol.  Admittedly, I’ve always been partial to Muppet Treasure Island and hadn’t watched their Christmas Carol in several years, but it’s still one of my favorite adaptations.

This time, however, I for the first time noticed something about the general story of the Christmas Carol that got to me – Scrooge.  I’m sure several people who know me would say that I should always have identified with Scrooge, but that’s not exactly what hit me.  The thing about the story that I noticed this time was this:  After his midnight ordeal, Scrooge wakes up in the morning a changed man, and though we only see his first morning after, the projection implied is that Scrooge was a changed man ever after.  That made me think, as many a jaded adult should probably admit to thinking, “Yeah, but how long did it last?”

Then I watched Young Adult, where Charlize Theron plays a woman so self-important and miserable that she honestly thinks it’s not only a good idea but a possible one that she can steal back her now-married ex-boyfriend.  As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help make the connection – she’s a scrooge.  She’s entirely focused on meeting her own needs; she sees the world only from her own viewpoint.  However, unlike Scrooge, when her climactic moment of decision arrives and she realizes that she must change or else be miserable the rest of her life…she doesn’t.  She reverts.  She not only doesn’t learn her lesson but she believes that there was no lesson necessary to learn.  It’s a disturbingly accurate portrayal of our contemporary approach to choosing to be better people, I think.  (I never thought I would accuse Dickens of being optimistic, but by comparison to Diablo Cody, I guess he was.)  In Young Adult, this scrooge thinks there’s nothing really wrong with her, and it’s deeply disturbing because you come to want so badly for this person to grow up and be better.

So.  When/if we repent, change, heal, whatever, how long does it last?  At least for me, the answer is usually “not very.”  I have all the gusto in the world and have every honest intention of being a better person once I’ve been slapped in the face with my own idiocy, and I might even make a really good go of it for a week or two.  But pretty soon, old nature sneaks back in and my enthusiastic decency-revival fades.  Or, worse yet, like Young Adult, I talk myself out of needing to change because I’m so comfortable wallowing in my own mess that I can’t see how to do anything else.  I’m not really that bad, right?  Maybe it’s everyone else who’s wrong.   Maybe I just need to focus more on myself.

Example:  Lately (I use that liberally but feel free to replace with “for quite some time”), I’ve been a pretty sulky, victimized, snippy, unpleasant brat.  I can easily admit that my biggest problem is that I quickly find flaws in people and expect too much from them, and I was living from the position that all my problems were caused by everybody else.  (Let’s face it, this is an easy road to go down.)  The stupid thing is that I’m horribly self-aware and knew I was being an ass, but I have always been able to rationalize my behavior and thoughts – okay, maybe that’s my worst quality.  Anyway, I was definitely being a scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations.  Fortunately, what finally got to me was not as traumatizing-ly supernatural.  While reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, I realized that I was being completely, self-righteously ridiculous.  The problem was me.  Yes, everyone else has problems and nobody’s perfect, but I CAN change ME.  For starters, I needed to at least realize I had a plank in my eye.  If I can rationalize my flaws, why can’t I do the same in others?  I needed to be more forgiving of other people’s flaws.  It’s only fair.  What right do I have to think I’m better than everyone I’m upset with when I know I’m being a jerk?  Why can’t I be as forgiving of other people as I am of myself?

As a Christian, I believe that the great, great thing about God is that he’s just waiting for us to realize we’re idiots.  I always imagine a spiritual finger poking me when I need to realize I’m being stupid.  The scary thing about us humans (or maybe just me…but I doubt it) is that we get really good at ignoring the poking.  Sometimes it takes something to get our attention, and in my case is was Not A Fan (I’m really happy it wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Future, because that guy always freaks me out, even in Muppet form).  As I finished reading a chapter, I felt a weight lifted, and I knew it was my own stupidity.  I acknowledged for the first time in way too long that I was being a self-righteous, judgmental idiot.  And just like that, I felt God going, “Ah-ha, there ya go.  Welcome back.”  I realized at once that this was yet another time when I had to decide where to go and how to be better.

  1. Be fair – treat people at least as kindly as I treat myself.  If I don’t like something about someone, first ask myself if that’s because it’s something I don’t like about me.
  2. Be a more invested friend – show up when people ask, because they might stop caring if I don’t.
  3. Get out of my own head.  Empathize more.
  4. Let things go.  People aren’t perfect.

Of course, in this approaching time of New Year’s resolutions, there is always the question of “How long will it last?”  There will be slips.  I’m not perfect, and no one ever completely changes.  Within a short time, I’m sure I’ll catch myself saying something or doing something that will make me feel that finger-poking rebuke again.  But I intend to remain aware and try to fix my behavior and thoughts as often as possible.  

NOT THIS:                                                         THIS:

adu       scro

NOT THIS:                                                          THIS:

adul                scroo

Zombies, Halloween, and Death

On Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asks the question, “If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say when you come to the pearly gates?”  Not that Lipton will ever interview me, but if he did I have my answer all prepped – I’ve always hoped God will smirk and be like, “That was interesting.” 

Of all the things I don’t take seriously, death should probably not be one of them.  But here we are.

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Halloween 2011

I think about death probably a little too often.  I’m not sure when this started.  It may have something to do with wanting to be an assassin when I was little.  I also know that my “storylines” when we played as children often ended in my death(s).  Then there’s that recurring drowning dream I used to have where I would wake up choking.  I like mythologies about the undead and have enjoyed playing with the weight of immortality in my own fiction.  I really don’t know what the appeal (if that’s the right word) is, but I know that I’ve never been afraid of being dead.  This may be overconfidence that, when I wake up in whatever life is to come, God’s going to be happy with me and/or I’m not going to be reincarnated as a cow.  It may be that I have an unnatural detachment problem and am a little too curious about whatever comes when I’m gone from here.  But whatever the reason, I’m not afraid of Death.

Don’t get me wrong –  I think dying is terrible and agony is terrible and the pain it causes everyone involved is terrible.  I hate loss, grief, sorrow, sickness, despair.  When I see people cry, I cry (a reaction recently developed, as apparently my soul grew back or something, har, har).  Funerals, saying a final goodbye – all of that is awful.  It is the most painful thing to release someone from their life, our lives, and everything Known.  Suffering comes in some way with every death, and that, if nothing else, is a curse that touches us all.  I DO absolutely hate other people’s deaths.  I become semi-dysfunctional whenever someone I love dies.  I even have an odd reaction of anxiety whenever someone has an accident or goes ill or something – I become incredibly creative.  I don’t know why.  When I am anxious about someone else’s life or death, I go to a place in my head where I can’t stop myself from painting, or writing, or whatever.  It’s odd, I know, but for some reason that is my coping mechanism.

Sidenote:  I first noticed this uber-anxiety about others’ deaths when my great grandmother started fading.  I was a teenager.  Since great grandma lived alone (and there’s a wonderful story about her shooting a gun in her house to get the squirrels in the wall, btw), towards the end each member of the family took turns staying with her at night.  This usually meant my mom, my aunt, or my older cousins, but for some reason one night my mom made me do it.  Alone, with a person who could potentially die any minute, I don’t think I slept all night. It freaked me out.  When I finally got to go home, I remember sequestering myself in my room and writing for hours.

Anyway, while death is bad, I personally am okay with it, if that makes sense.  I accept that, at some point, I am going to die.  I don’t see the point in being afraid or taking it too seriously, letting it haunt this life.  It’s GOING to happen.  I don’t want to die of a long drawn out illness, a painful demise, or go screaming in flames or anything.  I certainly don’t want to leave behind my loved ones or have my life end before I’ve done and seen all I can.  But I find death a little bit fascinating.   It is the ultimate Unknown.  Death is the one thing that happens to us all that none of us can ever know about until it happens to us personally.  It’s the one thing we all have in common.  It’s what makes this life all the sweeter, because we know it’s going to end.  Death happens, and by searching to understand it as much as possible, I think we take as much of the sting away as we can.

My own faith and belief system obviously comes into play here.  That’s probably a big part of why I’m not afraid and have a kind of peaceful relationship with the idea of death.  It probably also explains some of my fascination with whatever comes next.  But the interesting thing to me of late – in this past season of Halloween especially – is that I’m clearly not alone in this curiosity about the afterlife.  I’ve been reading a LOT of zombie fiction lately, and everywhere you look these days there are books, movies, TV shows, etc. about what life would be like in a post-apocalyptic world.  (Don’t get me started on vampire fiction.) We seem really fascinated by the idea of The End and what comes after.  The thing that keeps standing out to me is that we are oddly drawn to the horror of death and kind of romanticize it.  I’m sure this says something about our culture at the moment, and that’s probably enough for a whole other blog post, so I’ll let it go for now.

I’m not saying that we should revel in the idea of death or have a blasé attitude about it.  I do think it is important to prepare for whatever you believe happens at death.  But I don’t think we should fear death or getting old – THERE’S definitely another possible blog topic – to the point that we let fear of the Unknown infect our daily, walking life.  Whatever your belief system, how you live in THIS life matters.  There is plenty to fear and worry about now.  There is plenty to make sure you get right now.  There are other, much more manageable fears to focus on and try to heal.

I know what makes me sad.

I know what makes me hurt.

I know what makes me unhealthy.

I know what makes me guilty.

I know what makes me regret.

THESE are things to fear to the point of doing something about them, if that makes sense.  These are things we have a shot of doing something about.  We’re all going to die – you can’t control that.  What you can control is how you live in this life.  The better you manage this life, I think the easier the idea of death becomes.

So, yeah.  Death happens.  But I guess the point is what we do before it hits us.  Suffering happens.  But I guess the point is how we react to it.  For me, I really do hope I can continue to see death as something that should make me appreciate life and joy all the more, death as the ultimate Unknown that reminds  me to instead focus on those things I can control.

“Bad Gene Thing”

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My family is very good at self-mockery – both sides, but today I’ll focus on my dad’s side.  “Bad gene thing” is a long-running joke, but all our quirks (genetic and otherwise) are loved, as they unite our little branch of the Somerville clan.

The Somerville family has instilled in me things I appreciate deeply.  It is from Dad’s side that my brother and I get our intellectual bent.  It’s from here that we love learning, science, literature, debate, wit, puns (oh, the puns), etc. Our grandparents, while not completely understanding the cultural generation we came from, always treated us with what I can only call respect.  They never talked down to us, and they took what we had to say about various issues seriously – I cannot begin to explain how this strengthened my adolescent confidence. My faith comes from all over the place, but the fundamentals I am grounded to come from what I gleaned from Grandpa Lloyd and Grandma Judy – this is a good legacy.  I know that my love for literature stems from the books on tape my Aunt Sharon  (my dad’s only sibling) read for us, and we listened to Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator so often that we wore out the tapes.  And, the Somerville side has always talked about “Irish this” and “Scottish that” so that through family I feel like a part of something stretching back into history – a something full of outlaws, circus owners, poets, Celts, hymn writers, and dragon slayers.

(Sidenote: An early Somerville family shield holds a picture of a dragon on a cart with flames coming out both ends.  The story is that an early Somerville gained lands by slaying the last “Wurm” by rigging a cart with a spear that gored a dragon through the mouth and out the other end.  Classy.  Another Lord Somerville instituted the custom of giving a side of bacon to house guests – loving bacon as I do, I like this connection.  Of course, then there was the much more future Lord Somerville who partied away all the family wealth.  This also seems to fit.)

It was difficult as kids to watch what we said around our conservative Somerville grandparents.  One time I blurted out how I had won at euchre the night before, and I remember my dad stiffening — as part of the “filthy five,” card playing was not encouraged.  (I should have known better because of the story of how my dad as a kid had been punished for watching “Mary Poppins” – this was his first movie, his second later being “The Godfather,” which I always thought was a hilarious contrast.) My dad was always more subdued around my grandparents; we were always scolded about little things that in our own home would have been fine.  I remember, as a kid, knowing that this was a way of showing respect to my grandparents.  But, I also thought that we were hiding who we really were from them, and I never liked it.  It felt like a lie, even if we were doing it to make them more comfortable.

 At Grandpa Lloyd’s 80th birthday celebration, something changed.  I think we had the first real, open, free discussion.  It started with what in years past would have been avoided subjects – war, civil responsibility, and our relatively liberal stances. For some reason, we just started blurting our real thoughts.  I don’t know why the wall fell, but it did.  Aunt Sharon even went so far as to say to Grandpa, “You’re the only Baptist in the room.  We’re liberated Baptists,” which years ago would have been sacrilege.  Christian and I, as always, were listened to with equal standing, but we argued too, which took this whole experiment a step farther.  As unusual as this all was, Grandpa took it all with less confusion/disturbance than I would have thought.  He of course went on a preacher-ly detour into the nature of grace, but we jumped back in at times – definitely a new turn – and somehow managed to remain in the conversation.  It was…beautiful.

The Somerville side of my family is not exactly stuffy or devoid of fun.  My great-uncle Alden once said with a twinkle in his eye that our ancestors traveled “one step ahead of the posse,” and I quite believe it.  Alden also once said, “If I’ve done anything in my life to be sorry for, I’m glad.” I love these witty people on this side of my family.  Also, we are supposedly related to both Emily Dickinson and P.T.  Barnum, and Aunt Sharon has pointed out that this is the perfect description of the poles of our family – we’re poets and circus freaks all rolled into one. We take little seriously.  Even at Grandpa Lloyd’s funeral, when the fire alarm went off because of the caterers in the kitchen, we started laughing, which eased the “oh, no” looks of the guests immediately.

My aunt Sharon is definitely in the running for the quirkiest person of the Somerville family, and I’m pretty sure I grew up hero-worshipping her a bit for her love of stories, eclecticism, and all around verve.  My devotion may also have been based on the fact that I look like a mix between my Aunt Sharon and my mom – people have often seen my mom, aunt, and me together and assumed that Sharon was my mom’s sister instead of my father’s.  I have the Somerville dark eyebrows that are darker than my hair, and so does my aunt.  Dad commented once to Aunt Sharon and I that our shared appearance was simply a “bad gene thing,” but I think the comment rose out of childhood bitterness from when my aunt used to tease him that he was adopted because he looked nothing like either of their parents.

I love listening to stories from when Aunt Sharon and my dad were kids.  I’ve probably heard the stories a hundred times – knowing Dad – but I like the nostalgia.  The stories show that my brother and I are merely continuing the pattern of Somerville siblings with overactive imaginations.  For instance, I like the one about how my aunt used to sing in their front yard when cars drove by because she read a story about a famous opera singer who’d been discovered at the age of eight by a famous opera singer who’d driven by her yard and took the little girl in as her prodigy.  Then there are the many stories of how Aunt Sharon used to torture Dad, like when she left teeth marks in his arm and, when accused, denied biting him.  That takes a fun mix of guts and stupidity, and I applaud her for it.

As for my father, Dad doesn’t take anything too seriously, and I definitely have inherited this approach to life from him.  I fully admit to being a Daddy’s girl when I was little, and apparently this started very, very early.  When I was 5ish months old, Dad allowed me to be a part of the best April Fool’s Day prank ever.  While changing my diaper, he knew my mom was listening from the other room as he rattled off “This little piggy went to market.  This little piggy stayed home.  This little piggy had roast beef…” dramatic pause… “Paula, Sunshine has 6 toes!” My mom came running.

Other examples of my dad being a nut:

  • One time when Christian was around 6, we were fighting until Dad sat us down and gave us some long lecture, and at some point Christian and I wordlessly made up because we were bored.  Dad, with his most serious face, said to Christian, “Look at your sister and say, ‘I. Am so.  Sorry.’”  Christian then turned to me and mimicked, “I.  Am So. Sorry.”  Dad lost it laughing and all was forgiven.
  • Dad once asked me to smell his head because he was sure it smelled like a cucumber.
  • Dad has attempted to win an argument by insisting, “I only hear when I’m right!”
  • He once literally skipped through a screen door.
  • Dad arranged pennies on our kitchen table in even stacks of 10s, and I rearranged the piles to spell out “OCD.”
  • He told the doctor discharging him after getting a pacemaker that he was going to KFC for dinner.

Dad’s ability to find and make humor in life definitely affected my childhood, and I learned from his example not to take myself too seriously.  Dad taught Christian and me a lot by example, probably more than he realizes.  We were taught Biblical Truth and right and wrong and each received our fair share of spankings, but along with that we saw from his example that a godly, loving father wants only what is best for us.  Even Dad’s OCD-like interest in numbers and science showed us that God has created a world that is fascinating.  He showed us that we could be creative and funny and weird and still be smart, confident, fairly well-adjusted people.  Growing up around my friends’ parents, I always, always felt grateful for my father in comparison.  My dad showed interest in us, what we cared about, what we thought about, and who we were turning into as people. Dad treated us like we were capable of making right decisions on our own rather than browbeating us.  Honestly, I feel a little gypped because I never had anything to rebel against.  Dad has taught me many valuable life lessons, even if only from stories of his own poor choices in earlier life (these would be the 1970s, or his “herbal period”).  I have been spared from making many mistakes in my own life because I heard what the consequences were like for him and I had no desire to go there for myself.  I will forever be grateful for how Dad nurtured us and allowed us the freedom to think for ourselves.  Dad was and is our friend.

Looking at everything, I don’t apologize for saying that my mom’s Gummer side has had more impact on my daily life because it is true, but I don’t want to forget the Somervilles at all.  While my mom’s larger family has more of an apparent influence in my life, I do deeply appreciate the Somerville side because its depth, passion, and faith balance out the Gummer…well, craziness.  But more on that later.

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