THE CARE AND KEEPING OF A PTSD AFFLICTED BLADDER (OR HOW I ENDED UP FALLING ON MY FACE, SPILLING MY WINE, AND PEEING MYSELF WHILE SCREAMING, “THERE IS NO TOILET FOR MILES!”)

I’ve had chronic urinary tract infections since I can remember, meaning I am perpetually in a state of bladder induced agony.  If you have never had an acute bladder infection, and you want to understand how it feels, light your genitals on fire.  When I was young, I had this weird, chauvinistic doctor who, when I showed up in his office with yet another urinary tract infection, told me in no uncertain terms that if I kept it up (as if I were rebelliously choosing to live in interminable fiery genital hell), I might end up with a scarred bladder, which would lead to incontinence problems when I was older.

Well, I kept it up.  And I’m older. I don’t have incontinence problems, per se, except I have to pee every 20 minutes, and the second my brain announces, “Hey, we are heading toward a toilet,” my poor little, scarred, disoriented bladder thinks it’s time to let go.  I can’t blame her.  She’s been through a lot.  She has bladder PTSD.

I’ve learned to combat this disorder by talking to my bladder gently.  You know, like people do.  As I’m walking toward a bathroom, especially if I’m in a public place, I keep a little inner monologue going, designed to trick my bladder into believing we are nowhere near a toilet.  I think, “Man, I wish there were a toilet in this store.  Too bad there isn’t.  I think the closest toilet is like an hour away.  We’re just walking to the freezer to grab an ice cream cone.” I walk quickly while I’m talking to my bladder, but I don’t run, because if I run, she knows there is something for me to be running toward (namely, a nearby toilet), and she lets go.  File all of this under FML.

If I’m alone, or with family, and I have to pee really badly, I talk to my bladder out loud.  Which is weird and probably slightly psychotic.  My kids don’t bat an eye if they see me rushing toward the bathroom saying, “There is no toilet for miles.  Too bad we don’t own a toilet.  I’m just casually walking to get a book from my bedroom.”  Sometimes, they shout encouragement.  “There isn’t a toilet anywhere in the state!” my beloved daughter Desi will cheer, glancing up from the canvas she’s painting, sounding very much like a soccer mom trying giving a pep talk to a particularly inept 6-year-old.  “Yeah, we haven’t seen a toilet in years!” my lovely son Tim will agree without every looking away from his video game.

Believe it or not, it works.  In addition to having PTSD, my bladder is inordinately gullible.  But when I get to the bathroom, I have to drop my pants really fast, because the second I see the toilet, my bladder is onto my tricks, and she lets go.  I’ve been this way for years, so I’m really good at tricking my bladder, and also really good at getting my pants down quickly when the jig is up.

I’ve only ever wet my pants once, and that was during a road trip.  Desi and I were driving across an endless New Mexico desert, and I’d had one of those trough sized sodas they sell at truck stops. I had to pee really, really badly.  We drove for like an hour, but there was no bathroom anywhere.  Just cactus and sand as far as the eye could see.

At first, conversing with my bladder out loud worked, but then, it stopped working, even when Desi tried to help.  My bladder didn’t care if Desi said we were in a desert, and there really wasn’t a toilet for miles.  My bladder was going to let go.

“Pull over!” I screamed.  Knowing how wily and unpredictable my bladder can be, and not wanting to mar the seats of her brand new charcoal gray Charger, Desi slammed on the breaks and screeched to a halt on the shoulder.  I hopped out of the car, dropped my pants, squatted, and started to pee by the road in broad daylight, hoping against hope no other cars would come along.  Because God is sadistic, when I was halfway through the peeing session, a cop drove over the hill.

I pictured myself on the stand in some courtroom, trying to combat my public indecency charge.  I pictured trying to explain it to my employers, my readers, my friends.  I ordered my bladder to stop peeing and whipped up my pants, only my bladder thought there was no reason to stop peeing, as I had proven conclusively to her that there was a toilet in the vicinity.  So she kept going, and while the cop drove by, I stood there peeing my pants, saying, “I’m peeing, Desi!  I can’t stop peeing!”  Desi just pointed and laughed.

But that was years ago.  Ok, maybe a year.  Anyway, since then, I’ve been accident free.  (I feel like I need one of those little boards they have in factories that says, “This facility has been accident free for 376 days.”)

Which brings me to tonight.  I’d had a long day, so I decided to have a little me time.  I grabbed a glass of pinot and filled the tub with water and bubbles.  I stepped in and was preparing to sit when my bladder saw the toilet that was two feet away and announced that she had to pee NOW.  (She can go from zero to Niagra Falls in three seconds flat.)  I know better than to disbelieve her when she says she has to go, so I jumped out of the tub and lunged for the toilet.  But my feet were wet.  And the tile was slick.  My feet made that weird little “whoop whoop whoop” motion cartoon character feet make after they slip on a banana peel, and then, I fell in slow motion, dumping my wine all over myself as I went.  “There is no toilet for miles!” I yelled as I plunged toward the tile.  “I was just getting out of the tub to get some bath salts!”

But my poor traumatized bladder had already seen the toilet, and no way in hell was she going to put the brakes on just because I was tumbling ass over tea kettle. So she let go.  I wrote all this to announce that I just had the distinction of being the first woman in history to fall on her face, spill her wine, scream “There is no toilet for miles!” and pee herself simultaneously, all while completely sober.

After I’d mopped up the wine and urine, I texted my son and said, “I went to get in the tub, realized I had to pee, started to get out, slipped, spilled my wine, and fell on my face while peeing myself.  Classy.”  His reply?  “Des says go to bed.”  No shock.  No, “Wait.  What? How did this happen?”  Just another day in the life of Freaky Bladder Mom.  Go to bed.  That’s all my sweet children could muster.

I questioned the prudence of sharing my story with the world at large, but it was funny, and I am almost always willing to humiliate myself for a laugh.  My bladder isn’t the only one with issues.

This facility has been accident free for 0 days.  And counting.

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I didn’t have a picture of me peeing my pants to accompany this blog post, so I decided to go with a pic of me and Desi.  Here, we see Desi making fun of girls who do “duck lips” in their selfies.  Desi is a brilliant writer/visual artist and is working on a comic called “The Real Tawni Waters: Not As Cool As She Looks On Paper.” I tell her she can’t publish it until I’m dead.
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I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY

I know I’ve been inordinately quiet lately.  There are socially respectable reasons for that.  I’m launching a new novel in three weeks. (Count them-three!)  My third literary love child, The Long Ride Home, will be welcomed into the world first at Albuquerque’s Bookworks on September 8, and then at Phoenix’s Changing Hands on September 9.  The Long Ride Home is already getting great reviews.  Kirkus loved it, and so did School Library Journal.  Brandon Hartman of Second Time Books wrote this gorgeous review. So I have hopes for this baby of mine.

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As if all that weren’t enough, the day after my second book launch, I fly off to Philadelphia to be the writer-in-residence at my beloved Rosemont College for the fall semester.  I’ll be teaching two classes for the Rosemont Writer’s Studio while I’m there, as well as doing various readings, signings, panels, and appearances.  I can’t tell you how stoked I am about all the good things that are happening in my life. In addition to being kick ass, all these opportunities are keeping me very busy.

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The beautiful house in which I will be staying while at Rosemont.

But if I said that was why you haven’t heard from me, I’d be lying.  My life has been weird and wonderful and excruciating all at once lately.  I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you about the excruciating part.  In June, I was teaching at Rosemont’s summer writer’s retreat when I found out my beloved mother has stage three breast cancer.  I felt like someone punched me in the stomach when I heard.  Not that I didn’t know it was coming.  I’d seen the worst lump, and clearly, something was wrong. Mom had gone in for her biopsy results the day I left.  So I’d tried to emotionally prepare myself for the worst.  As is usually the case with these things, my emotional preparation did nothing to stave off the ugly, black, curdled grossness that came to live in my belly when I got the news.

Currently, I’m spending tons of time with my momma and my big brother on our family’s land in the New Mexico mountains.  We hike a lot and talk a lot and look at the stars a lot.  You’ve never seen stars until you’ve seen stars from the vantage point of an isolated New Mexico mountain.  They are so close you can touch them.

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Me and my momma, outside the lodge where we stayed on our spa trip

We spent some time at a spa in Colorado, dipping in hot springs and getting massaged and eating things that were bad for us.  I have this amazing feeling of being closer to my family than ever before, which is saying something, because we are a really tight knit clan.

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Me and my homeslices in Colorado, about to eat things that were really, really bad for us.

A few nights ago, right after the 24th anniversary of my precious father’s death (I got a tattoo to memorialize it—this year, I am exactly the same age he was when he died), a storm knocked the power out, and I dreamed magic dreams.

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My “daddy died, and I’m taking up where he left off, and living a life of pure love and faith” tattoo

 

In one of them, my brother and I were sleeping on the floor in my mom’s room in sleeping bags we used to own.  (When we were kids, one of us slept on the other’s floor every night.  We couldn’t bear to be apart.  The scene at the beginning of Beauty of the Broken where Iggy and Mara are holding hands, watching the moon, is me and my big brother all the way.  But I digress.)

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Me and Bryan

In my dream, my dad was sitting on mom’s bed, watching over all of us.  He said beautiful things to me in that dream.  I woke up full of hope to a night that was the blackest black I’ve ever seen.  There were no lights for miles, and storm clouds shrouded the stars.  In that silent darkness, I felt strangely happy, more content, more myself, more at peace, than I have ever been before.  I touched something at the core of me that is unmoved by the darkness.  I like that piece of me.  She’s come out to play often lately.  She came into her own just this year, barely in time to see me through all of this madness.

But even my zen-ny core can’t always save me from feeling the mess.   I am also scared and sad and sometimes a little bit desperate.  I feel raw and unready to speak to anyone outside of my family at great length.  When I sit down to write, nothing comes.  I want to say so much, but I think I want to say it with paint or interpretive dance or underwater basket weaving.  Something that doesn’t require me to name my feelings, and make them poignant, or funny, or captivating.  I lie awake until four every night praying.  I can talk to God, but she doesn’t ask me to be pithy.  I run every evening.  (I’ve lost 16 pounds in a month, partly due to the running, partly due to the fact that my mom and I are doing a plant-based “cancer be gone” diet together.)  While I run, I cry because the sunsets are pretty.  And because I’m out of the house, and alone, and I don’t want to cry at home in front of my mom, because she already feels shitty enough, and she doesn’t need to be worrying about me.  I see deer every time I run.  I’ve decided to believe every single one of them is a sign of hope.

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These guys let me get really close to take a picture.  They seemed to know I had good intentions.

So that’s why I’m being quiet.  For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say.  I want the people I love to stop hurting.  That’s all I know.  I guess it’s not all I know.  I know I will be off to the East Coast in less than a month.  I know I will return from my residency in time for Christmas, and to help my mom during and after her surgeries.  And after that, I’m off to teach in Mexico.  And then France (I think).  And then, my mom and I will maybe travel together, if she’s well.  She wants to cash in her life insurance policy and travel with it.  I want her to do it.  This is how I live right now.  Halfway in this magical mountain space with my family, halfway in an imagined future full of cathedrals and ruins and sunsets over mosques.

That’s all I got.  See.  Wasn’t that boring?  This is why I’m not writing right now.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to turn all that is happening, all that I’m feeling, into a cohesive narrative.  Always, my heart is full to bursting.  I just can never figure out quite what it’s full of.

Outside my window, crickets are singing in tongues.  Wind strong-arms  cedars.  The stars hang heavy and close, like they want to sneak in through the glass and lick me.  I’d probably let them if they asked nicely.

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A rainbow over my favorite dead tree (yes, I have a favorite dead tree) during one of my recent runs.  This too filled me with hope.

PYTHAGOREAN PRAYER

Me praying

The Pythagoreans believed that ten was the most sacred number in the universe.  They used it when they made their most holy oaths.  In loose homage to that belief, this poem is a prayer in ten parts, one of the poems I’m working on for my collection titled So Speak the Stars.  I write these at night, when I can’t sleep, and the whole world seems to speak to me in the language of eternity.

PYTHAGOREAN PRAYER

I.

I have turned in on myself,

a blossom unflowering, bleeding purple

a beehive collapsing, seeping honey

a black hole swallowing space and time

until nothing remains but

 

this cold ache

this stony place where you once sat

the hole I refuse to fill

with anything but your missing face.

 

Dogs howl in the streets

as if crying can bend time backward

turn what is into what was.

I do not want that.

I want something that has never been

not in this world

not in this life.

 

II.

The knife of your spirit comes to me in the night

cuts me until I bleed visions.

I see your pores leaking light.

I save every sacred word you say.

When day breaks this time,

I beg you,

do not float away.

 

Do not evaporate like mist.

 

I have already been kissed by death.

I am alive only because I love a ghost

that may someday slip back into his body

and run to me.

 

III.

Allergic to sun, I moonbathe.

Trees buckle knobby knees,

bend to pet me.

I let them.

In lieu of men

I love star-beams.

I give my body to the wind.

The sky licks me.

I spread my legs wide,

let Life inside.

 

I am never

and always

 

alone.

 

IV.

I have given up on trying to understand.

Madness eschews method by definition.

It is only this:

Make it through today,

then sleep,

and his ghost will creep to your bedside.

Maybe this time

when midnight splits,

and a slit of horizon gives birth to dawn’s tattered tangerine sky,

he will un-die, come in the flesh

riding on the back of something mortal and meaty.

A lucky, buckle-backed horse, rescued from a glue factory.

A rusted out truck, lifted from the city dump.

 

He will shuck the corn of you,

swallow you whole

lend his lips to your skin.

Your sins will be undone.

You will bow before him.

You will call him God

because always

his invisible spirit has been

 

The alpha and omega

The unseen mover

The bread of life

The silent prayer

 

The only thing

that has kept you breathing.

 

V.

Sun still seeps from aching ground.

You are all around me and nowhere at once.

I stumble on through a thick night blighted by stuttering owls and thunder.

Red rocks rip my feet.

Yuccas tear me.

I stay silent, having become accustomed to perpetual gutting.

 

Crickets speak in tongues.

Wind runs fingers through my hair,

whispering my name in your voice.

Come, come, come.

When you call, I can’t run.

My shattered legs betray me.

 

Am I undone completely?

 

VI.

Unraveled, I clatter like lightning over rain swollen clouds.

Pointless, I splatter like a wandering squall, sloshing and scattered upon boulders.

 

What is left of me when there is no you?

 

A pile of bones,

A puff of hair,

Three ounces of air,

And a stiletto.

 

Have I given my best meat to the dogs?

 

VII.

If only grief were good for something.

If only I could weave it into a coat

wrap it around me

keep out the cold,

but grief is made of nothing but holes.

 

In dreams, I braid your hair into a cocoon

crawl in

sleep peacefully, finally.

 

VIII.

Starlight splints my shattered bones.

Soon I’ll be ready to run.

Whisper again, my love.

Come, come, come.

I buy new legs

a bag of silk fresh from the worm

butterfly wings, still wet,

and a kite.

 

Cocoon cracks.

I poise on a branch, ready to take flight.

My tongue becomes a proboscis

penetrates the dark.

 

Night’s nectar tastes like you.

 

IX.

When midnight cracked, the black rolled back.

You walked out from nothing, being light,

and there was my reason to breathe.

Newborn star, fall into my mouth.

Be a coin to this corpse.

Pay the ferryman to row me to place of the deathless.

 

Infinite love, breathe your life into the mud of me.

 

X.

Make me rise to God.