All posts filed under: Love+

Fall in love, shrug off that bad date, walk the dog, be a friend

Silly Things People Have Said to Me When I Tell Them I’m Not Having Kids

There will be no children in my future. Ever. Yes, I am married. Yes, my husband knows that I do not want children. Yes, we both realize we’re extremely fortunate to be able to elect to live childfree. He doesn’t want kids either. It’s part of the reason I married him. (That, and he has excellent hair.) He married me knowing that and also because I always clean the litter box. I probably brought up the topic of kids on the second date — it would have been a deal breaker. My husband would make the world’s greatest father. But that alone isn’t reason enough for me to become the mother I’ve never wanted to be, to take on a crushing financial burden or to add more to my already too-full plate. I love my friends’ children. Because I don’t have to take care of them. Their cuteness is there to fulfill my need to see cute things. I don’t expect them to behave for me, and they don’t expect 18 years of dinner from …

The Real Cost of Caregiving

The Real Cost of Caregiving

When I was recently in Pittsburgh, giving my sister a much-needed break from taking care of our mother, I heard a sharp cracking sound, followed by something hitting the floor. I was sitting in the kitchen at the time and raced down the stairs to find my mother on the floor, beside the desk, in the den. The keyboard shelf was lying next to her, with the keyboard dangling slightly above, still attached to the computer by a cord. “Are you okay?” I asked, helping her up and into the chair. She didn’t seem to be injured. “I’m okay,” she said. “What happened?”  “I fell,” she said. “What happened to the desk?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. She must have used the keyboard shelf to help herself up from the desk chair, and it couldn’t support her weight. “I don’t know,” she said, with a sense of surprise. “Really?” “How’d that happen?” she asked. “Did Ollie do that?” I asked, referring to my 14-pound Westie, who had spent the morning downstairs with …

Grandma’s: A House Manual in the Age of COVID

Welcome to Grandma’s house. We understand this was not your first choice for a week away from the toxic San Francisco air, especially when the air down here in Central California is even worse. We are aware that this week-long vacation puts both you and Grandma at risk, COVID-wise. We appreciate your business. Because this is not a standard vacation rental, we hope you will spend some time reading these warnings and suggestions so that your stay will be comfortable, or at least tolerable. Volume and noises Grandma is deaf as hell and refuses to get a hearing aid. When you enter the house, make sure to slam the door hard enough to make the whole house rattle. Shout her name as loud as you possibly can. Several times. You will get no response, and you will dread what you will find in the TV room where she spends most of her time. The TV, of course, will be at maximum volume, and you will see her sitting upright, eyes closed, motionless. You will wonder …

Come Sleep with Me: Caretaking Mom

When I turned 50, I rediscovered the splendid stretch of my own bed. Marriage-free after 25 years, children grown and gone, no pets with their whiny demands, I could haunt the night without fear of rousing man, child, or beast.   There are those who long for the late-night solace of someone else’s arms. But solitude cracked the night open for me, and my bed became my sanctuary, my spa, my office, my library, my snack bar. On my nightstand, Alexa played Esperanza Spalding when I was writing, or read me Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed as a bedtime story. Next to Alexa was a lavender-scented candle, and usually a glass of red wine or a cup of strong, black coffee. The marriage bed, the birthing bed, the family bed, was finally the ark of my own joy.  Then in the summer of 2016, I abandoned my Detroit home of thirty years, put my belongings in storage and moved to coastal Virginia to live with my parents. They were in their 80s, their minds fading much faster …

Taking Care of the Strongest Man I Ever Knew

  My father asked me, “How long does it take?” I felt all the sound, light, air — everything — leave the room; only the weight of those words remained. I was standing at the side of his bed, lightly stroking his forehead. Mom was exhausted, slumped in a chair in a dark corner. He was dying and wanted to know when it would be over. He had seen so much life and death on the farm — animal life and death — for 40 years, he knew when death was near and he was ready for it. But for him to ask me… that took me a minute. I was the youngest and a girl. You didn’t reveal this kind of vulnerability to your youngest daughter. Four months earlier, I’d come home for a visit and it had been clear to me: Dad was not going to make it. It was upsetting to see him so much thinner and weaker than just a month ago. It was before the dialysis. Before the hospitalization. That January afternoon, he …

My Search for the “Oh Yes!” When Sex Was a No-No

Sexual education in my conservative, southern, Christian upbringing was strictly on a need-to-know basis: I needed to know what I should avoid. An entire sexual revolution swirled around me, giving not thought at all to my existence, yet it was I, I, who madly sought it. My curriculum was carefully curated so that I might be informed, but still avoid the rising tide of desire. Too much information would no doubt trigger the awakening of the wanton sexual temptress hell bent on besmirching my family name with gonorrhea and out-of-wedlock children that ignorance had allowed to lay dormant. I dubbed my sexual curiosity my white whale — an obsession that consumed every waking moment I spent away from the Bible or Knight Rider, sure to lead to my undoing. I had to use context clues for everything else. I asked my parents where babies came from when I was six. They gave me a splendidly clinical “a-man’s-sperm-meets-a-woman’s-egg” spiel. “How? They rub stomachs or something? Does he feed it to her?” It wasn’t until a year …

Two Old Friends on Growing Up Black and White in Lincoln, Nebraska

(Photo courtesy of Sara Gilliam) A few weeks before the 2016 election, we shared a conversation about race between Sara, a white woman, and Eric, a Black man, who had grown up as neighbors in Lincoln, Nebraska. In light of the many race-related horrors that have transpired since the election, including the present moment, we reached out to Sara and Eric to find out what’s on their minds. Their original conversation follows this update. What’s changed for me since we worked on this interview is that I no longer question my role in the movement. Years ago, I remember asking Eric, “Should I be posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media?” I was afraid of co-opting the fight. I wanted to be respectful of the movement and acknowledge my privilege. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years. I recognize that to deal with the cranked-up racism and xenophobia perpetuated by the Trump presidency (but certainly by no means limited to rhetoric from the White House), we all have a significant role to play …

Baldwin & Baguettes: A Mother’s Burden at a Distance

The worn cotton fibers of Emmanuel’s hoodie rubbed gently against my cheek when he went in for a final hug. “I love you, Mom”. “I love you too, Boo. I’m so glad I got to see you.” I marveled at the immensity of his shoulders and chest as he enveloped me in his arms. My baby boy had grown so big. Those moments —  his tender little arms wrapped around my neck and later, my legs — were long behind us. After a flurry of goodbyes between me and Emmanuel’s father, Raliegh, I stepped out into the brisk San Francisco air. This was my first official visit to their cozy little home, back in February, and I left with the reassurance that all was okay.  A year and a half prior, I had officially handed Emmanuel off to Raliegh. We decided it was his turn to do the heavy lifting of parenting while I made a life for myself in Paris — a move I made from Brooklyn. It was a major transition for all …

Self Care Tips When You Are Utterly Devastated

Watch Karrie’s video below. Shortly after the 2016 election, astrologer and wellness guide Karrie Myers Taylor penned this essay to address our collective post-election blues. And here we are, not four years later, utterly devastated again by the manifestations of white supremacy that are woven into the fabric of this country. We’re thankful for Karrie’s tips, but sure as hell wish we didn’t need them. Practice forgiving… yourself: Trump did not become President because you didn’t know enough or didn’t do enough about the presidential campaign.  Learn how to forgive yourself and move on.  Here’s a great book to get you started: How To Forgive Ourselves Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes Turn off negative media: Choose two media sites that you trust and only read those.  Quietly stop following the Facebook feeds of friends and family who are sharing inciting media on their pages. Medicinal baths & body brushes: Take 30 minutes a week to soak in a steaming hot bath to get some clarity.  Add some magnesium flakes and essential oil, and be sure to …

Wenderella: A Gen-X Fairytale of Viruses and Princesses

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful middle-aged woman named Wendi. Or Wenderella, as she called herself one night after she took a lot of cold medicine and watched RuPaul’s Drag Race. Wenderella lived in a far-off, foreign land called TEXAS in a big, big castle. More specifically, a single-story house in a cul-de-sac that was a little too tame for her liking, but whatever, the school district’s good. Not everybody needs to be Carrie Bradshaw. Wenderella ruled her queendom along with her dashing husband and two strong teenage sons. There were also a couple cats and a white dog you may have seen on Instagram. But they were a happy family because they didn’t see each other very often. They frequently did something called “going places.” All was well. All was good. Until one day when everything changed.  “Hear ye, hear ye! There’s an evil disease afoot!” Wenderella’s husband proclaimed to the family. “We must stay inside our castle, or we shall perish!” Why did she order so many rice cakes on Instacart? …

I’m Willing to Dye for Normalcy

I haven’t worn makeup in 34 days. Or pants, for that matter. Since my family and I decamped from our New York City apartment to our upstate home, I wake up every day and slip on one of the two pairs of black leggings I have with me, and one of two stretched-out sports bras. Apparently, when packing for a pandemic, it’s smarter to bring an assortment of workout clothes than it is to bring cute sweaters. Those sweaters, along with a couple of pairs of jeans, remain folded in my duffel bag, next to the flat iron I thought I might use.  Use for what? To make my rooty hair look better as I trudge between my kitchen and garbage shed for the hundredth time? Or sit across a silent breakfast table from my shell-shocked family who could care less how I, or they, look? I was never much one for elaborate beauty routines but my regimen has now been reduced to face splashing and teeth brushing. Last night I tweezed my eyebrows for …

Child hugs Mom during downward dog

Finding Equilibrium: When You Both Need Care

My jaw clenches as he yells at me from less than two feet away about a video game character’s ability to perform some amazing feat I immediately tune out, despite the loudness of the words being drilled into my head. He’s woken up far earlier than usual, and the things I needed to do to make sure that I am taking care of myself before he gets up are forcefully blown into the wind, like someone else’s heartfelt desires against dandelion seeds. “Please lower your voice. I’m standing right here.” “I’M NOT YELLING.”  He says this genuinely; without guile or sarcasm. “I know you don’t think you’re yelling, but trust me when I tell you, it sounds way louder out here than it does in there. And you have to remember that there are other people in this house; we’re not home alone anymore. Please lower your volume.” He scowls, takes in a breath, and then proceeds to say the exact same thing at the exact same volume, except now in a deeply exasperated tone. …

Moo Sexy: Getting Out of My Comfort Zone for Love

Ten years ago, my boyfriend, Greg, and I are lying in bed on a lazy Sunday afternoon when he says he needs to talk to me about something. My mind instantly goes into overdrive. OMG. He’s cheating on me. He has an STD. He’s breaking up with me. Maybe all three! Thankfully, it’s none of these things, but it’s the last thing I expect to hear. “You don’t make me feel special,” he says. Whaaaaaat?! I think. As the shock takes over, my heart breaks. Over the past year, I’ve done all kinds of things to make him feel special. I’ve written him love notes that I hide in his dresser and in his bathroom (not under the toilet seat). I’ve cooked him dinner when he’s the far better cook. On his birthday, I gave him specific hard-to-find gifts that he’d casually mentioned months earlier in conversation. I’ve even folded his laundry despite the fact that he possesses the one quality I find sexiest in a man: He can fold a fitted sheet. I’m truly …

Corona Parenting: Do My Kids Need to See Me Cry?

Photo of Ericka by Sarah Sido I was lying next to my seven-year-old son at bedtime. He doesn’t ask for this often because he knows I always say no. One week ago, I had two backpacks to unload, two lunch containers to scrub peanut butter off the sides of, a dishwasher to fill and run, as well as make sure their basketball outfits were cleaned for the after-school game, and sweep all the rice, Legos, sand off the floor before finally settling down to get to my work, which was memorizing lines for an audition or sitting down to edit photos for a deadline. 8pm was my time, my alone time, my work time. But now there is no work. And none in sight. There are no bento box containers to clean, no backpacks to unload. There is little to organize or prepare for. The sports gear is already shoved away deep in the closet. So I laid with my oldest son. Because I had no excuse and really, why not? We are all anxious …

I Kept My Mother’s Secrets for Decades — Then Told Them All

On a morning like most, I sit beside Mama at the dining room table, eating my bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes and watching her work. She’s on the telephone, its receiver in the crook of her neck as she records her customer’s three-digit bets in a spiral notebook, repeating each one. The crystal chandelier blazes above. “Five-four-two for a quarter. Six-nine-three straight for fifty cents. Is this both races, Miss Queenie? Detroit and Pontiac? Okay. Three-eight-eight straight for a quarter. Uh-huh. Four-seven-five straight for fifty cents. One-ten boxed for a dollar.” Mama writes the numbers 110, draws a box around them, hesitates. “You know, I got customers been playing one-ten all week. Yeah, it’s a fancy number. Oh did you? What’d you dream? He was a hunchback? Is that what The Red Devil dream book say it play for? Now that I didn’t know. I know theater plays for one ten. Well, I can take it for a dollar, but since it’s a fancy, I can’t take it for more than that. You understand. What …

Her Voice Will Always Be Here: Remembering My Friend Nancy

I scrolled through old text messages to find bits of audio. Here was my friend Nancy Falkow McBride speaking to me direct from Ireland, from her hospital bed. That low, slightly raspy, South Jersey accent — not at all what she sounded like when she sang. Which is how I first met her, her voice. I listened. She was right here. Still. Nancy preferred to talk her text messages, which, to me, was all the better: I could get a living, breathing sample of my friend so many thousands of miles away.  Sometimes I’d listen to her messages in the moment and we’d message back and forth. Sometimes she’d send them at 8am her time — 3am EST — and I’d listen to them later, when my day began.  Once, she left me a blessing of sorts. “My wish for you,” she paused, with a hint of a giggle in her voice, “is that your book comes out, and that it gets made into a movie. And then you’ll put your pal Nancy Falkow on …

I Said Goodbye to Bad Romance

By Heather M. Graham I walked into my last relationship certain that I just wasn’t good at being with another person. Every relationship I’d had since I had 17 concluded with an unhappy ending. One boyfriend declared that he couldn’t see himself married to me (after having moved in with me), and another was spooning me when he told me he’d gotten another girl pregnant — and her name was Heather, too. But this new thing seemed to have a chance. He was an old friend who’d already seen the unpretty sides of me and he was still in. He reassured me that I’d be OK, and that made me feel safe enough to try. And I was OK. This relationship proved to be different than the ones that came before. There wasn’t a dark and desperate side to it that drove my belief that I was inescapably broken and fundamentally unlovable. It was the exact opposite. It’d only taken me 25 years to get there. * * * * My first love was beautiful, …

I Wanted to Say Thanks; I Ended Up Saying Sorry

When I decided to mark my 50th birthday year by writing thank-you letters to people who had helped, inspired, and shaped me in my life, the last thing on my mind was forgiveness. But writing those thank-you letters turned out to be harder, deeper, and more meaningful than I’d ever hoped, in large part because it drove home the ways in which gratitude and forgiveness are twinned in human nature. By challenging myself to acknowledge all the ways in which I had been helped over the years, I necessarily faced facts: there were situations in which I hadn’t always conducted myself in a way that made me deserving of the help. And in situations where I’d clung to historical slights by a family member or close friend, writing a letter documenting all the ways those people had supported me over the years made me blush with embarrassment over my hard work and determination to maintain ancient disappointments. Making amends as I went, whether in the text of the letters I wrote or simply by promising …

Am I Bullied by the Past? Or Just by My Memories?

In the very early days of Facebook, back when people “poked” each other, I received two friend requests, both from women I’d originally met in Grade 8. Both sent me chatty messages, congratulating me on the arrival of my new baby, commiserating about the trials of integrating newborns into the emotional lives of their toddler siblings, and updating me on their whereabouts, relationships and careers over the previous 20 years. The irony of their sweet messages wasn’t lost on me. In the eighth grade, I’d been the new kid, parachuted across the country from my tiny, all-girls, private-school class in Vancouver, British Columbia, to a public junior high in suburban Toronto. I was awkward, friendless, and scared, all of which was likely noted by the group of girls I half-fell in with. I spent that year in a state of watchfulness, arriving at school each morning wary about how my status in the group might have shifted overnight.  Toward the end of the year, an anonymous, handwritten note appeared in my art folder. The letter, …

The 5th Grade Mehndi Mishap

In the early 1990s, most people didn’t know what henna was, let alone the variation of the word “mehndi.” You see, Gwen Stefani had not happened at that time, and mainstream audiences hadn’t quite accepted that South Asia was “the land of colors and magic” just yet. During that time, my family lived in a town called Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. I say that as if the town does not exist anymore, but it does, and we still have extended family who love living there.  The Mechanicsburg of the early ‘90s was different than it is now. There weren’t many minorities. In fact, in my entire elementary school there was one African American kid. He was the adopted son of our wonderful and white Principal, Ms. Ingram. The other minorities in school consisted of: me, my younger sister, and an Asian girl named Chloe whom I tried, and failed, to befriend. She was cooler than me back then because the early ‘90s was also not the age of the smart-girl dominance. Despite the lack of diversity, Mechancisburg …

Heather Barmore at Pride Festival

I’m Proud That I Never Had to “Come Out” to My Parents

There is a photo of my friend Hannah taken during the Pride parade in Philadelphia. Her arms are raised to the heavens, the sunlight landing perfectly on her face. Her eyes are closed but she is joyous in a white tee emblazoned with the rainbow colors of Pride. She exudes the freedom of expression that all Gay Pride events represent: gathering, inclusivity, community, and ever present hugging, as we each send well-wishes of ‘HAPPY PRIDE!’. Our community and our allies are exuberant, happy to dress up, to be free. It’s the freedom of loving and being loved.   I posted the rest of my Pride photos to social media for thousands to see, glad that I could revel in a day of such happiness and solidarity. Apparently, there is a thin line of pride between affirming your identity and announcing to your moderately conservative family that you have the right to be happy loving who you want to love. But still, why ruin the illusion? Compartmentalize. Compartmentalize. Compartmentalize.  *** When I was 16 years old, I …

Learning the Truth About My Real Father

Growing up, I never knew my name. I mean, I had a name but I never knew it because I was called “Piggy” since I was born. Story goes, when my mom gave me a bottle, I curled my hands and feet like pig’s hooves around it. How fucking adorable. Just call me bacon why don’t you?! We lived in Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, & Prospect Heights, Brooklyn in the late 60s and early 70s. You could say my mom was a rolling stone and wherever she lay her hat was her home. By the age of 25 she had seven kids by six different daddies. Yeah, I know. My mom was rolling more than her hat back in the day. No judgment! My Dad must have loved my mom because by the time they met, she’d already had three kids by three different men. He still wanted to be with her. I love my Dad for his persistence in getting with my mom but looking back, they broke up mainly because my mother continued …

tuenight retire 39 freelance writing penny wrenn

Why I’m Throwing My Own Damn Retirement Party

At 38, and soon to be 39, I am nowhere close to receiving social security checks or living off a cushy pension or a seven-figure Roth IRA. But financial security hasn’t stopped me from declaring my retirement at the end of 2016. That’s right. I said retirement. This is retirement in the tradition of the thirty-something-year-old NBA basketball player who retires from the hustle of the game. (Except I’m neither as rich nor as famous as Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.) I have been writing professionally for 15 years, and most of that time I’ve been a freelancer. That means that I’ve been floating from assignment to assignment without an employer to call my own. But this year, I am retiring from that writer-for-hire life. I have not made a lot of money, I have not made an indelible mark (whatever that means) and I have not achieved all that I’d hoped to accomplish in my professional writing life. Having written my way to mediocre success, I am choosing now to say to myself, “Good …

The Mazel Tov Slap: The Jewish Tradition You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

When I told my mother I got my period for the very first time, she slapped me across the face and shouted, “Mazel Tov!” It wasn’t a punishment slap — more like the way you’d slap a person who fainted, or something out of the Marx Brothers — and it didn’t feel violent. I don’t remember the moment in great detail, and I don’t remember it as something terrible that happened to me. I mostly remember knowing that it was part of long-standing tradition from shtetl times, passed down from Jewish mother to Jewish daughter, the purpose (supposedly) being to bring the color back to your face (because it’s all draining out through your vagina now!). It’s possible I even knew it was coming, that it was something we discussed in advance — probably with all of my female relatives! — as I eagerly awaited the big day. And yes, I so desperately wanted my period, because at 14, it felt like ALL OF MY FRIENDS had theirs, and I was on the outside of this magical …

Pregnancy, Menopause and Learning the Ukelele — Not Necessarily in That Order

At 36, I decided I was ready to get pregnant. I had quit drinking two and a half years earlier, and had just met someone new — an AA-approved boyfriend who was financially stable, mostly trustworthy, and as tired as I was of being a destructive, melodramatic alcoholic. He also had a wonderful Irish accent. Most of my life I had been late to the game. I took the SATs without preparation, applied to college weeks before the semester was set to begin, schemed my way into a study abroad in Amsterdam at the last minute*, took a job with AOL after the merger with Time-Warner (thus not benefitting from any of that stock-splitting that made nearly everyone in the DC suburbs filthy rich). Having a child in my late 30s would fit my pattern. Besides, it’s what I wanted. I was 36, but I always looked young. I often joked that all the alcohol I drank in my life pickled me. At that point, my situation was as good as it was going to …

What is an Orgy Dome? This Midlife Couple Finds Out

Burning Man is a festival — really a temporary city — that appears for one week every summer in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada, and then disappears. Started in 1986, it’s a lot of things — at the very least a hugely wild art and community gathering, a place where exchanging money and commercialism of any sort are prohibited. Participants (70,000 last year!) live in tents and trailers amid fierce dust storms, ride around on bikes, and admire ginormous sculptures on the playa. Clothing is optional, electronic music blares all night long, and drugs and alcohol are plentiful (if kept hidden from the police, who are there to keep everyone safe). Imagine Mad Max meets Alice in Wonderland, and you’ve pretty much got it covered. Of course, these ingredients lead to some wild adventures… On the third or fourth day, biking around in the hot desert, we passed the famous “Orgy Dome,” a place we’d both heard about, but never discussed. We stood, we stared, we felt uncomfortable, and then we rode on. But …

Flashing Back to the Playboy Mansion, Paris & Prague in Search of a Better Body Image

Cannabis lube and three orgasms in one night. Yep. That’s what my middle-aged, present day, post-divorce sex life looks like… sometimes. While some friends are complaining about atrophied vaginas, my legs are open for business and I’m letting hot suitors visit my grand canal. My curves are being adored and admired and I feel sexually, like the song “Free Bird.” It certainly has not always been this way. Long before my hot romps of late with the Joes, Peters, Pedros, Fabios and Juan Miguels, I would look in the mirror and dissect myself. I didn’t trust or love my body as much as Louise Hay wanted me to. My screenwriting professors always told us to use FLASHBACKS sparingly, but I decided it was time. I wanted to see a time-line of my body image psyche. Flashback, 1980s. I’m a 17-year-old virgin spending the summer in L.A on a film internship. My roommate is a Malibu bombshell who is very “in” with the “LA fast track.” She’s about to attend Hugh Hefner’s Midsummer Night’s Bash and …

How The Flash Inspired My Perimenopausal Alter Ego

8:15PM on a Tuesday Family bonding time. We’re all huddled in my bed watching The Flash on Netflix, a bowl of popcorn propped precariously between my younger son and husband’s thighs. I’m wrapped in a fuzzy sweater under the duvet even though it’s May. In three hours, I will look like Heat Miser doing a striptease when my hot flash hits, but right now I’m shivering and pissing off my older son by using him as a human heating pad for my ice-cold feet. And I want to punch Barry Allen. Barry, AKA metahuman speedster extraordinaire The Flash, is such a whiny bitch. He needs to face the evil Reverse Flash in some bad acid trip called the Flashpoint or all his friends and what’s left of his family will die. But. He’s. Too. Hot. Barry’s friends are science-ing in a panic to literally chill Barry the fuck out and create a new superhero suit that can withstand the burden of saving the world. Meanwhile, I get eyerolls when I ask my kids for a …

artwork by Jenny Laden 2018

Unmasked: The Day I Visited Dad in the AIDS Ward

artwork by Jenny Laden 2018 In the hospital lobby they looked at me funny when I told them I was visiting the 3rd floor. I took off my headphones, turned off the Pixies on my CD player, wrapped the cord around it and shoved it into my backpack. In the hallway, the tv’s were showing interviews with Magic Johnson, who’d just told the world he was HIV positive, and Anita Hill, who’d just told a bunch of politicians about how shitty her male boss was and instead of dismissing him, they put him on the Supreme Court. This was my first,  “I’m visiting my super sick parent in the hospital regardless of the fact that I’m only a teenager” hospital visit. They don’t have special passes for visitors like me. Nobody seemed to notice I’m not even voting age.   “I’m here to see my dad, Richard Laden, Room 323.” I said. The woman there didn’t look at me, but acknowledged I was there with a quiet “mmhmm,” and handed me something blue. A mask. Like …