The Plagues of Texas

The LORD saw that Governor Abbott’s heart was hardened against social justice, the realities of climate change, the truth of health care and science, the murder of Texans by agents of the state in the name of “policing”, the murder of Texans by radicalized young men with unfettered access to weapons, inherent racism and misogyny in existing state laws, and the evils of cronyism and putting money before the lives of his constituents. Even though Governor Abbott claimed to pray to the LORD every day and seek His council, the Governor would not accept the truth before his eyes to help guide his policy and actions.

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Kat’s Holiday Gift Guide 2021

A Christmas Tree and Stockings

I love holiday gift guides. They make me feel fancy and wholesome at the same time, like I’ve got a lot of ideas on how to make people happy even if I don’t have the money to do it. 

I also like to promote local businesses, especially in the towns where I live, so this year, what with supply chains being what they are, I thought I’d push a few of my favorites from both my hometown of Albuquerque and my current city of Austin, plus a few other local businesses scattered around the country. Buy local! 

Instead of telling you exactly which gifts to buy, I listed places that have a variety of items or experiences so you can find just what you’re looking for this holiday season.

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The Story So Far

When I was very young, I learned that I did not make anyone’s life better.

I don’t know where or how or from whom I learned this. There’s no “aha” moment in my memory that I can point to. It could have been the Southern Baptist Church’s teaching that you are literally worthless without God. Or just the small T “trauma” of growing up as a highly sensitive person in a house overrun by three girls under four years old (two of them twins!).

But somewhere along the line, I came upon the belief that not only did I not improve the lives of people I interacted with, but I actively made them worse.

This became more potent in my young adulthood, when I lost my faith (and thus the one thing that would render me not worthless), and felt like a major disappointment to my parents, and went to a college where I never really felt I fit in.

I never felt that I could be close to anyone, not really. I couldn’t be vulnerable. They’d hate me if they knew me. So I’d do things, unconsciously, to prove that they didn’t mean anything to me, because I knew I couldn’t mean anything to them. I would push people away, quietly usually, but sometimes loudly and irreparably, because I could not communicate the utter turmoil that was going on in my heart and lungs.

Then when I was 20 years old I fell in love with a man who had a terminal illness. And the first year we were together, he got better. Whereas, before me, he would normally need to be hospitalized every six months to take IV antibiotics, he didn’t need them for a full nine months after we got together. Suddenly, there was someone for whom life was actually better with me in it.

This was all an illusion of course; no one with a truly terminal illness “gets better”. The long march toward their death may be temporarily slowed or their symptoms alleviated briefly, but the terminality persists.

So when he went back to being sicker, a little switch in my brain said, “Ah, see, that wasn’t true. That was a fluke. You do not make his life better.”

And there I was again, engaging in self-sabotage as a maladapted method of self-protection. I was a cheater. I ran away. Even though I loved him more than breathing, I couldn’t handle it.

We split up.

And then when I was 24, my best friend hanged himself. Deep down I knew it was because he had developed schizophrenia. But the part of my brain that looked for the hurt I caused also made a list of how our relationship had changed in the year or two before he’d died. He’d hated me for cheating on my boyfriend. He’d hated that I was depressed when he was working so hard to get out of his own sadness. He’d stopped responding to my text messages. He’d quit asking if I might consider officiating his wedding.

These major events cemented in my mind that I was, in fact, worthless, unloveable, unwantable, and just a burden. There was proof! Fickle as that proof may be, it existed for me.

And because nothing is as isolating as grief, I was further isolated from any proof to the contrary.

In fact, every iota of my life became part of the proof: every job I left with my tail between my legs; every man I dated who stopped calling me back; every milestone I missed that my sisters attained with ease; all my losses and failures were my just deserts. It solidified the narrative further.

Ten years later, I met and married a man who actually told me I was “a nightmare”. He complained that I wasn’t fun; that I talked too much around other people and bored them; that I was getting fat because I had no self control, and that he “couldn’t help what he was attracted to”; that I slept too much; that I cared too much about money; that I needed to wear tighter clothing (even as he criticized the size that my body was becoming)…

Overall, he just let me know in ways big and small that I just wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t worth doing what he said he would do, from something as small as unloading the dishwasher to something as big as taking care of things for a day when I got out of surgery. I wasn’t worth being on time for. I wasn’t worth buying flowers for. I wasn’t worth listening to. I wasn’t worth therapy.

He had his own issues and his own insecurities, and those devolved into alcoholism and self destruction of his own. And I was not a nice person to him, because he had one job for me: further proof that I was worthless. When he fulfilled that purpose, I needed to get away from him, and the only way I knew to do that was by kicking and spitting and screaming.

But something was changing. The pandemic, probably, and the civil unrest around protests and politics all woke something inside of me. I started to do things to take care of me. I saw a nutritionist and got my weight under control. I started running more. I cashed in a retirement fund for a down payment on a house. I got a full-time job with good benefits and excellent pay so that I had some security. I took care of things.

So when he spent $600 on sex videos from cam girls and sex workers in the three weeks after my last major surgery and went back to drinking, I had an inkling of some flicker of self worth. I kicked him out. I filed for divorce. I let him stay on my insurance so he could go to rehab, and then I cut him off.

In the 10 months since I kicked him out, I’ve gone through an enormous transformation, mostly just of realization.

I see now that the quiet little tape recording of my worthlessness informs a lot of what I do or don’t do. It makes me anxious when I’m not invited to parties, rather than wondering if I actually like the people throwing the parties. It makes me seek out flaws in potential romantic partners so that I can justify dumping them, or to settle on those who can’t give me what I need so that I can fulfill the narrative of my own worthlessness. It makes me turn to comfort food when I am uncomfortable, rather than sitting with the feelings and finding ways to confront them. It makes me choose the escape of sleep rather than the reality of feeling joy at finishing the things I need to do.

As the seasons change and I deal with summing up a year that could serve as a very fine proofpoint of my worthlessness — a divorce (the only one in my family); weight gain; debt; endless dates with men I haven’t been interested in; a messy house that may or may not be falling apart; months of putting in the bare minimum at work and relationships — I am confronted with changing the narrative again.

I don’t quite have the tools to do it. I don’t know how to ask for help, either, because I don’t even know what I need. When people make suggestions, I resent them for criticizing me (even though they’re not; it’s just my worthlessness tape recording coming into play).

It may be that months of solitude are in order, although that’s an extreme that could do more damage than just sitting in the middle ground, grieving for my losses without assigning them as my own fault. There is no fault. There’s responsibility to deal with them, but that’s all.

And when I find myself listing the proof that everyone would be better off without me, I can just see the list for a moment. And maybe think it’s true. Or maybe just let it be another list, like the things I need to do today or the groceries I need to buy. Lists are meant for checking off and then moving on.

Le Loup-Garou Pt 3

A wolf with something in its mouth running through a dark forest

The drive home was a complete blur, except for how he felt, which was vindicated and energized in his righteousness. When he parked in front of his house, it occurred to him that he might be covered in blood or wearing shredded clothing. What if his wife saw him that way? But in examining his hands he didn’t see any evidence of blood or guts or gore. And, he realized, his hands were back to human form — no claws, no wiry gray fur on his knuckles. His Browns sweatshirt wasn’t shredded. There was no evidence, from what he could tell; it could all have been a dream.

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Le Loup-Garou pt 2

A wolf with something in its mouth running through a dark forest

Doug didn’t remember going to bed, and he figured the entire event was just a frenzied dream when he awoke before dawn fully refreshed. There was no cigarette ash on the kitchen table when he went downstairs to make coffee. Perhaps he’d talk with Pastor Bob about dreaming of meetings with the devil, as well as the idea of renouncing one’s faith to save children. It was strange, to say the least. 

The only thing out of the ordinary was how energized he felt. Even before the coffee was finished brewing, he found himself doing squats, lunges, and pushups in the living room. He considered going for a run, which he hadn’t done all year. He was in a very, very good mood. Maybe the dream had reminded him of his purpose in life. 

When he opened the door to the medicine cabinet to start his daily shaving routine, though, he saw the vial from the devil’s pocket standing front and center. Its amber color seemed to glow in the low light of the bathroom cabinet. Doug didn’t touch it and quickly got out his shaving soap and razor and closed the cabinet door. He had a long day ahead of him at the VA, with a stacked schedule of clients in need of therapy for their PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

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Le Loup Garou pt 1

A wolf with something in its mouth running through a dark forest

Pastor Doug was laden with basketballs as he brought up the rear of the youth group on their way back to the church from the public court at the end of the street. He was yards behind the slowest kids, but could see all 17 of them as they sauntered back into the small church for Wednesday night devotional. The early autumn sun was setting and there was some time before youth devotional was set to start, so the kids who weren’t really interested in basketball weren’t quite showing up yet.

He put the net bag full of basketballs away in the youth group locker in the side room next to the main sanctuary. When he came out, he saw the group of 8th-grade-girls standing in the corner giggling over a cell phone. This was not an unusual occurrence, and Pastor Doug was sure he’d see something funny from Facebook or Instagram — a kitten riding a robotic vacuum or a pig rolling down a hill. These almost-14-year-olds were just old enough to have accounts on these social media per their terms and conditions, although many parents pushed to keep their young girls off the stuff until high school.

What was unusual was that as Pastor Doug approached, the girls hushed and the girl in the center, Stacie, hid the phone from his view.

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A postcard reminding people in Iowa to vote in the 2020 election.

Josie felt sick to her stomach. It was only five minutes into the presidential debates and already the sitting president was acting like an uncontrollable toddler and the other nominee was faltering. They were both febrile white old men who seemed incapable of getting their facts straight or even completing a full sentence. The moderator seemed like an angry kindergarten teacher unable to assert control over the noise. How was she supposed to be excited to vote for either of these rich assholes?

“Just cut his mic,” Josie found herself muttering as the incumbent president once again interrupted the other nominee about some conspiracy theories around election fraud or the mainstream media being mean to him or something else incomprehensible to people who didn’t read the exact same blogs or websites he did. “Unbelievable,” Josie said. 

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Spirit That Form’d This Scene

A road in the desert of New Mexico showing brown and yellow sage and the Sandia Mountains in the far distance.
Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Ken escaped to rural New Mexico in the summer of 1969, running from both the Vietnam War Draft and some “bad people”, as his mother called them, in his hometown in upstate New York. He simply hopped on a Greyhound bus and went as far as his meager money would take him.

He found work on a construction site outside of a small city in the south. He would be laying pipe and other lines for the growing city, and it would take several months. Since he had nowhere to live, Ken volunteered to live onsite and watch over the equipment at night, and the supervisors set him up with a simple shack and some water to do so.

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Black spraypainted letters on a street that says "I'm so sorry"

It was the first day in a month that the temperature dipped below 80 degrees even after dark, and Nana was happy to be wearing her shawl as she watered her plants on the front porch in the predawn quiet. It was still pretty dark, and she still had her silk hair wrap on, which was not collecting sweat for the first time in a month as she went about her morning watering routine.

Nana was rounding 78 years old and starting to get tired of the increasing heat of the summers in her hometown. There was no relief from the heat, not even in the early morning, not even when it rained. This “cold snap” was a godsend.

She heard the neighbor lady before she saw her, arguing out loud with a big yellow dog on a lead.

“No,” the neighbor lady was saying, “no cats! Gemma! No!”

The dog was struggling against the leash, pulling backwards. The lead went over the dog’s nose and neck, but was just loose enough that the dog broke free.

“No!” the neighbor lady cried as the dog bolted for the SUV across the street from Nana’s house. 

The neighbor lady was tall and thin and white, with a perfectly messy blonde updo and long fake eyelashes, all tucked up into an expensive-looking athletic outfit. Her leggings had cutouts; her top was nothing more than a sports bra with mesh in strategic places. Nana assumed she was from California or New York, just like all the other rich white people who had taken over the neighborhood in the past few years. They were moving into the neighborhood for the ample space and comparatively cheap prices, driving up property values and therefore taxes on the families that had lived there for generations. Nana’s house was falling apart around her, but she’d lived there her whole life and would be damned before she sold it to some yuppie from Silicon Valley. 

The neighbor lady was exasperated at the dog, and was darting clumsily back and forth to try and catch it. She and the dog circled the SUV, and Nana saw the prey — a young black cat that had sprung up among the neighborhood strays lately — dart out from under the SUV and cross the street in Nana’s direction.

The dog circled the SUV once more, with the neighbor lady following in vain, calling “Gemma, Gemma, no, Gemma!” while she fruitlessly tried to put the leash back on. “The cat’s gone, Gemma, let’s go!” As if by the woman’s suggestion, the dog appeared to notice the cat’s absence and darted into the street, heading towards Nana, nose to the ground like it was a bloodhound tracking its prey.

“Now, you come here,” Nana said, trying to corral the yellow dog who was now sniffing on her property. She waved her arms at the dog.

The dog stood where it was, raised its hackles, and barked at her. Nana recoiled naturally in fear. Was this dog trained to attack, she felt herself wondering?

“Stop that, Gemma!” the neighbor lady called, following as quickly as she could in the dog’s footsteps. “I am so sorry!”

The dog stopped barking and took off in another direction, neighbor lady on its heels.

“Does it bite?” Nana asked the neighbor lady. Her adrenaline was racing. She wondered if she would have a heart attack. But she moved towards the dog, trying to help as best she could.

“No,” the neighbor lady said over her shoulder, still frantically trying to keep up with her pet. “She’s just trying to get the cat!”

Jeffrey, Nana’s grandson, stepped out the front door, having heard the commotion. “What’s going on?” he asked, as Nana watched the neighbor lady chase the dog down the street, finally catching the yellow beast when it stopped to sniff a bush and allowed the leash to be put back securely over its nose. 

“Some neighbor lady just lost her dog for a minute,” Nana said, turning back to her watering can and plants. 

“Are you okay?” Jeffrey asked, reaching out to his grandmother to examine her. “Did it bite you? I heard it barking.”

“I’m fine,” Nana said. She breathed deeply to calm herself, brushing the encounter off. “The dog was just excited.” She puttered back toward the porch.

“Just excited?” Jeffrey repeated. “She shouldn’t just be letting her dog off the leash like that! It could have attacked you!”

Nana shrugged. 

The neighbor lady was walking away, still talking to the dog, admonishing it like it was a child rather than an animal that had instincts that needed to be trained.

* * * *

The next morning when Nana went out to tend to her plants she found a small white envelope propped against the screen door. She paused, thinking about the package bombs that had gone off on unsuspecting neighbors’ porches just the summer previous. Could this be such a device? Or perhaps anthrax or something that destructive people sent through the mail? It wasn’t out of the question. There were crazies all over the city, sending bombs to perfectly nice people for no reason other than hatred and ignorance. 

She bent over, aching at the bend in her waist, and picked the card up. Nothing exploded. On the envelope, it said “for my neighbor” with a heart.

Nana shook her head and opened it up. It was a small white card with a cartoonish drawing of a dog on the front, under the words “DOGGONE IT — I’M SO SORRY” in thick black font. 

“Dear neighbor,” she read slowly in the dim light of the porch light. “I am so sorry for yesterday! My mommy says I can’t run off my leash and bark at people like that. I’m afraid of hats and I think yours scared me! But I promise not to do it again. Love, Gemma, 1201 B.” 

The neighbor lady’s handwriting was childish-looking and stunted. She had drawn a paw print after the signature. 

Nana rolled her eyes and shook her head and put the card in her pocket. After she’d watered her plants, she put the card on the kitchen table, trying to decide what to do with it. Jeffrey picked it up as he ate his breakfast.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s an apology note,” Nana explained, pouring herself a cup of tea.

“From whom?” Jeffrey asked, turning it over to inspect it.

“That neighbor lady,” Nana said. “Or her dog. I don’t know.”

“An apology note?” Jeffrey said to himself as he opened the card and looked at it. “Huh,” he huffed, shaking his head, turning it over to look for anything on the back of the card. “What kind of promise is this? She didn’t even introduce herself. She should just get rid of the dog if she can’t train it.”

Nana shrugged as she sat down in her armchair. “None of these white kids train their dogs,” she said. “They have them instead of children. I’ll bet that dog has its own bedroom.”

Jeffrey laughed. “Probably,” he agreed.

* * * *

When the neighbor lady went to take Gemma for a walk the next morning (at a later hour, hoping there would be fewer cats even if it was 10 degrees warmer out than before dawn), she noticed someone had spray painted something on the concrete in front of her house.

“I’M SO SORRY” it said in quick black letters.

She looked around but didn’t see anyone. Had someone painted that because of what had happened with the old lady? She felt embarrassed and paranoid. She wanted to yell, “I wrote her a card!”

But there wasn’t anyone around to hear it.