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Dec. 31st, 2014

So Long, 2014. I Won't Miss You.

The last day of 2014, and as far as I'm concerned, it can't be over soon enough.

This has been a difficult year, and it might just be my Nortriptyline and morning pages that have allowed me to keep it together. I feel like the whole year has been a long, slow splintering of my heart.

At the end of March, my mom found out that one of her brother's was attempting to wrestle all his siblings inheritences away from them. My aunt--and the mother of my goddaughters--was on board with him. The rest of the five children resisted. My uncle and aunt's greed broke the whole family apart, which has been such a long and painful process. It's not just about their greed to gobble up assets when my grandparents pass away -- they also actively made my grandparents' life miserable. They had my grandfather convinced not to spend ANY of his money (so that there would be more in the pot for them to exploit), which led to my grandparents living in substandard conditions because Grandpa wouldn't spend any money to fix up the house. The worst part was that they had to severely limit their water usage, which led to my grandmother having repeated UTIs because there wasn't enough water pressure to flush more than a couple pieces of toilet paper each time she used the bathroom.

I lost my relationship with my goddaughters and went almost an entire year without speaking to them because their mother was the gatekeeper to my interactions with them, and her repeated betrayals of my mother and her family made it increasingly difficult to forgive her as the year went on. I spent months afraid for my mother's life as she tried, unsuccessfully, to somehow stop the evil that was unfolding around her. When she finally decided to let it go in October, I stopped worrying my uncle would mete out violence upon her, but I didn't stop worrying about her broken heart, or the way she's basically lost faith in the world.

This was the backdrop to the entire year, this constantly unfolding drama and betrayal that made me feel as if my family were the cast of A Game of Thrones. Against these concerns, my cat Phoebe died in May. It happened so quickly -- she died one week after I first brought her into the vet because she had stopped eating. Losing her was traumatic enough that it divided my year in half -- everything that happened when I was blissfully unaware that Phoebe was in her last days with me, and everything that happened afterwards. Seven months later, there are still days when my heart aches with a desire to have her back again, where I feel jarred by the "wrongness" of having her gone. Perhaps what's worse is that the further I get from her death, the harder it is for me to conjure her presence in my mind, to remember the details of how she looked and felt and sounded. Sometimes it's hard to believe she was ever real at all, or that I spent 10 1/2 years with her at my side.
Our last night together.
Over the summer, my grandmother's health began to decline, and she moved into hospice in September. My part-time employer doubled my workload around August, which forced me to drop one of my freelance clients and introduced a constant struggle for me to balance the rest. I felt as though I had at last attained the perfect balance of paid work that I had been striving for since making the decision to go freelance in 2008, earning enough money to meet my needs while leaving lots of time for me to write. But now I'm back to squeezing my writing into nooks and crannies, often exhausted by the balancing act. I fear dropping any more of my freelance clients because when we have kids I'll probably stop working for my part-time employer and rely solely on my freelance work for income. So this year I just have to somehow find a way to keep making it work. There have been some weeks, when all my freelance clients and my part-time employer seem to converge on me at once, and the thought of one more deadline or request has been enough to make me cry out of frustration.

I saw my grandmother for the last time the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when the half of my family that is still speaking to one another had a gathering. She was coherant and happy to be away from hospice, but I kept looking at her and noticing how she always seemed to be staring off into the distance, and I felt in those moments that she was already leaving us. She died on December 9, and the fracturing of her family has made the grieving process a complicated one. My mom has been so angry about how "the two" who screwed everyone else also are trying to dominate the dispersion of my grandma's possessions that she's only recently begun to process the pain of losing her mother. And it is hard to get past the anger to engage with the grief, especially since my uncle and aunt accuse the others in the family of being like "vultures" every time they mention their desire to go into Grandma's house and take some of her belongings to remember her by. I have my grandmother's rosary, and my mom has her devotional book, a few of her plants, and a small urn of her ashes. This may be all that we ever have from her, as "the two" are the only ones who have keys to her house and are pillaging it as we speak, taking anything they don't want to Goodwill rather than offering it to her chidren and grandchildren who might find some comfort in it.
Everyone is pretty much in agreement that the stress from the dispute among her children hastened her decline, which provides more fuel for anger all around. Still, we're also glad she "got out" of it so that it doesn't have to hurt her anymore.

In the midst of these complicating factors, grieving Grandma has been difficult for me. I feel as if it was easier for me to process Phoebe's death than it is to process hers. I held the entirety of Phoebe's life within my own memories, but only ever saw a fraction of my grandmother's. I made the decision to euthanize Phoebe when I saw that her body was destroying her from the inside out; I was in the room with her when she died; and when she came home, I felt her absence in my day-to-day life, my whole house holding memories of all the places I would find her. It's just a lot harder for me to wrap my head around my grandma's being gone -- she stopped traveling in her later years and never even saw the house where I live now. And I'm 100 miles away from everyone else who knew and loved her. I feel like I managed to do my grieving over Phoebe "right," but knowing how to properly grieve my grandmother has been far more difficult.

So I have a remembrance candle on my bookshelf, and her rosary hanging up beside my bed, and the readings and program from her funeral taped into my journal. The rest just feels too big.

We have no plans for New Year's Eve, although I expect Ivan to realize at the last minute that he wants to party with friends, so I'm mentally preparing myself for the possible interaction, even though I'd rather have a quiet evening -- go out to eat, maybe, and come home, and let this year that has brought so much strife just quickly make its exit.

I know that New Year's is an arbitrary line between one part of your life and another, just as a birthday is. But this year, I'm grateful for this arbitrary line that lets me take stock of my heartache, and gives me hope for a new beginning.

Sep. 3rd, 2014

Welcome Home, My Little Sunspot

Yesterday I went to the Humane Society and brought this little girl home with me:

I had been watching her for months. Even though I said I didn't want to get another cat after Phoebe died, I found myself occaisionally browsing the Humane Society website.

In the last days of Phoebe's life, and the first week after her death, I kept getting this vision of a gray cat. I felt as though Phoebe were showing me my next cat companion. Still, I thought I would not get another cat until after Joker passed away, which hopefully will be many years from now. It wasn't as if I was "catless" after all, and I knew introducing a new cat into the family would stress Joker out. After the initial shock, she seems happier with Phoebe gone.

Still, there was something healing about visiting the shelter to cuddle cats. I think I needed the reminder that there were so many wonderful cats waiting for love out there in the midst of losing my own wonderful cat.

When my new cat arrived at the shelter, she caught my eye on the website right away because her name was "Phoebe." She had a little descriptor alongside her photo that said, "I got lost, and now I need a new home." In the type of semi-black humor that has cropped up in the midst of Phoebe's passing, I said, "Oh, so THAT's what happened to Phoebe. She just got lost!"

As the weeks went by, I noticed that she was not getting adopted, and I started to worry about this poor little lost kitty. When my parents were in town two weeks ago, we visited the shelter, and I went to meet her. I thought perhaps she would be unsociable, since at this point she had been at the shelter for over two months. But I found quite the opposite to be true. The moment I picked her up, she started purring like mad and melted into my arms, putting her head on my shoulder.

She captured my heart immediately, but I did not feel ready to take the big step of adopting her. I decided that if she were not adopted by that weekend, I would bring Ivan by to meet her. Sunday rolled around, and she was still at the shelter, so I took Ivan over. We spent a couple hours there as I agonized over the decision about whether to adopt her. I was waiting on payment from several clients and my checking account barely had enough in it to cover her modest adoption fee, and I knew I would need to get her spayed within a week of bringing her home. In the end, I got cold feet and left without her.

But I still couldn't stop thinking about her. So I told myself if she made it through another weekend without being adopted (lots of animals get adopted on weekends), I would once more consider bringing her home.

She made it through another weekend. (What in the world was wrong with these people that made them keep passing her up?!?) I knew then that she was "mine." I wanted to pick her up on Monday because I had the day off, but the shelter was closed. So yesterday, I got my hair cut, got a tooth filled, and then went to the shelter. I was not indecisive this time -- I knew that the fact that I still couldn't stop thinking about her even after "deciding" not to adopt her the week before let me know how much I really did want her. I went straight to her kennel, removed the adoption card, did a cursory visit to the other cats, and marched to the front desk to announce my intention.
As I walked out to my car with her in my kitty carrier, I felt elated. Elated that I was taking her home after all. Elated that I was saving her from her life at the shelter. Elated that the unknown adventure of getting to know her and falling in love with her was spread out before me. This was my first time adopting a shelter cat -- my first time choosing my own cat -- and I was giddy.

I've been thinking about my yearning to add another cat to the family even though Phoebe's death didn't leave me "catless." I know that I can never replace her (and I immediately changed new kitty's name to break that association), but after 11 years with two cats in the household, I just couldn't shake the feeling that something was "missing." It was as if I had a vacant room in my heart -- it had been conditioned to accommodate two cats, and it felt empty with only one.

I also realized that I think adopting another cat is an important part of the grieving and healing process. I'm glad that I didn't rush into anything -- although I don't think I would have lasted three months if Phoebe had been my only cat; for me, a catless home doesn't quite feel like home. But the only "silver lining" in losing a beloved animal companion is that it gives you the opportunity to give another worthy animal in need a good home. I had a good home and extra room in my heart, and thousands of cats needed that. So a period of adjustment for Joker seemed a small price to pay.

I really believe that if we are open to it, some "higher power" acts as matchmaker to bring the right animals into our lives. Ivan is dismissive of my "vision" of a gray cat (although the orange spots were a surprise!), claiming that it just created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think others might be put off by the fact that I adopted a cat that had the same name as the one I recently lost. But instead, I feel like these were all signs pointing me in her direction because, even after the second guessing and initial backing out, she and I were meant to be together.

Sunspot Adopted

Jun. 1st, 2014

You Can Haunt Me Anytime

First experience of a Phoebe ghost:

I crawl into bed for a grief-nap.
Joker nibbles cat food in the corner, then jumps onto the bed.
Joker snuggles under the blankets in my arms, purring madly.
The unmistakable sound of more nibbling from the cat food dish.

May. 30th, 2014

In which grieving sucks

I was dreading saying goodbye this morning, but I held up fairly well at the vet's. I stayed in the room for the euthenasia, and I'm glad that I did. If I hadn't, my last memories would have been of how weak Phoebe was in those last days, how she could barely move from room to room, how she turned her face away from the scent of food, how I could feel all her shoulder bones and spine when I rubbed her back. Last night, she started bleeding, which confirmed that I had made the right decision. I couldn't stand to see her suffer, and I guess that was the one thing that was worse than telling her goodbye.

Instead, my last memory of her is a gentle one. She purred for me and Ivan as we stroked her in the vet's office, all curled up in her kitty carrier with the top taken off so we could reach her. I told her how much I loved her, how much I would miss her, how somehow Ivan and I would manage without her around to run the place. Then she turned her back to me, and I knew it would be easier if I didn't have to look at her eyes when it happened. She was still purring, but it felt like a signal -- "OK, Lacey, you can let me go now."

And so I did. The vet came back in, and gave her the injection. I feared the worst -- I feared a struggle, twitching, gasping, an emptying of her bowels, all responses to death that I had prepared myself for. But instead, her head, which she'd been holding erect, just gently lay down, as if she was finally allowing sleep to take her after days of being awake -- which is literally what happened, because I think she was in too much pain at the end to sleep more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. There was almost a palpable relief emanating from her body, as if she were sighing, "At last."

I said, "Is that it? It happens that fast?"

And it was. I bent over and kissed her forehead one last time, and then Ivan and I wept for a few moments in the empty room after the vet took her away.

Ivan cried more than I did, I think because for him this hasn't been quite real until now. I've been crying several times a day every day since last Saturday. Somehow in my heart, even though she was still mostly herself when I brought her in last week, I knew she was nearing her end. I wanted to be wrong, but I started letting go right then.

I felt at peace as we left, and relieved, and surprised that I didn't feel devastated. But it wasn't as easy as all that; now that she's gone, I have to remember that grieving is a process. I feel listless right now, so much so that I just tried to sleep but it wouldn't come. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the reality that she's not ever coming back. And of course, there's all the memories -- of her little chirps when she was happy to see us, of her squawks when she was annoyed, of her strange idiosyncracies, like how she loved to lie on cell phones and MP3 players, and how she claimed anything new brought into the house as her "bed" within an hour of its arrival. I'll miss seeing her on top of piles of clean laundry, in half-packed suitcases, downstairs on the couch. Most of all, I'll miss her weight and her powerful purr on my lap, or on my feet while I slept, or the way that sometimes she and Joker would sleep on either side of me. Once I woke up from a nap with the blankets wound around me tightly, and Joker pressed against my frontside, Phoebe pressed against my back. I didn't want to move, because anyone with cats knows how loathesome it is to interfere with their repose. So I texted Ivan, "I am trapped in a kitty sandwich!" and he texted back, "That sounds like a very comfortable trap!"

God, I will miss that comfortable trap. When we first adopted Phoebe and Joker, Phoebe immediately attached herself to me, Joker to Katrina. So I've always had this certain connection to Phoebe, felt "chosen" by her. For all those years in Duluth, I felt like Phoebe was an outward manifestation of my inner neuroses. She was an anxious cat, always wanting to be fed on time, swatting at Joker when Joker came too near, meowing insistently between the bedrooms and the bathroom when she thought it was time for us to get ready to go to bed. And I was indulgent of it all, because I saw in her all the things I hid from the world.

But in her later years, Phoebe mellowed out. She conducted herself with such dignity -- even at the very end, she never stopped using the litterbox and trying to groom herself. Ivan and I would tease her, putting jewelry and shirts and hats on her, and she always bore it so stoicly. I think perhaps she really was a manifestation of my inner self, and as I mellowed out, she did, too. I think she was that tuned in to me.

And with that realization, perhaps I can believe that she was tuned in enough to know when I woud be able to let her go. I never, ever, ever wanted to do it. I used to "joke" with my pets about how they had to promise to live forever. Every time I saw her on the couch downstairs, on her back, her big round belly in the air to be rubbed, her eyes bright, I would say, "Promise me you'll live forever."

Of course, I always knew she couldn't keep that promise. Instead, I'll have to believe the next best thing, that she chose a time when I would be capable of letting her go. She's left me with Ivan and Syrus and Joker, a house full of love that I didn't have for many years when she and Joker felt like my only family when I lived alone. I do believe that on the other side of great pain is great peace and great beauty. I've passed through this dark place before to emerge in better places. But it's still hard being here. Knowing that the only way past grief is through it. And that it will be a long time before my mind and my heart realize that she's really gone.

I loved you so much, Phoebe. People keep telling me that I gave her a good life, and I know it's true. But she gave me a good life, too, and she's left it just a little more broken with her departure.

Jan. 19th, 2014

We've been having lots of deep and meaningful conversations of late

For the Week of Jan 20th, 2014 -- A deep and meaningful conversation with your partner this week might help you forge a greater bond, physically and spiritually. Don't worry about freaking out your mate with wild or eccentric thoughts now. Sharing what's really on your mind is what your lover craves from you and what he or she will respond to most. Even if it's a silly fantasy or an irrational fear, talking about it will help you feel more connected to your mate. Open your mind and your heart.

Aug. 1st, 2013

Three Green Beans are Three Green Beans

I don't like living in town next door to retired people with beautiful lawns and gardens.

My second attempt at a garden is failing almost as miserably as the first; and what's worse is that, this time, I have neighbors around who watch it fail and feel the need to comment on it.

"You need to water your cucumbers more."

"What are you trying to grow there?"

(When I answered that cucumbers, watermelon, green beans, beets, and cilantro seem to be what are coming up, she said, "Well, the rabbits will eat the beets and the rabbits will eat the green beans and the carrots." When I said, "Syrus is pretty good about chasing off the rabbits," she said, "He doesn't get all of them." -- As if he could in our neighborhood, which is the land flowing with rabbits and pigweed.)

It squashes the simple pleasure of being close to the earth. Of seeing how much progress I've made finally getting all those weeds out of there. Of being thrilled to have enough cilantro to use in my recipes last week and some green beans to bring in to Ivan tonight.

Two nights a week, I don't return home until after dark. I don't work in the garden during the day because I don't want to get sunburnt. So on the nights I'm not working, I take Syrus for his walk after the sun starts going down, and usually spend some time in the garden, too. Except that's also when the neighbors are hanging out in their lawn. Gossipping about the neighbors' gardens.

I want to say, what I really need is time.

Ivan and I have full-time jobs. We're committed to making time for each other. We make time for our friends and for our families. We have passions of our own that we could spend 40 hours a week on, easily. Instead, we squeeze in an hour or two here, a weekend there. We try not to eat processed food, not to eat out too much, which leads to a lot of shopping and cooking. There's laundry and there's dishes, and I seem to be the only one on the block who is committed to walking my dog every day, the way you're supposed to.

If those 40 hours of paid work were taken care of, our garden would look a lot better, too. As it stands, it's just not my highest priority right now. My life and my days are full, and I'm not going to find the room to accommodate their judgment. Except that, in some ways I already have, by not even wanting to attempt this garden thing again.

I've never missed living in the country so much.

Jun. 9th, 2013

Just Say the Word

"If you can find a place where you can talk to someone special without shouting, you could have a very intimate conversation that leads to a loving connection." - Last week's "weekly love horoscope."

On Saturday night, Ivan and I were in bed discussing a couple of his friends who got married deciding they never wanted kids. Now the husband in the couple does. Ivan said, "I wonder if he hit that magic age, whatever it is, that makes you want to have kids."

I said, "I don't think it's so much about a magic age as about getting to a certain point in your life, when you feel like things are pretty secure and you want to take a next step." I paused, and then I added, "I know that I've found myself wanting kids a lot more now that we've been married a year. I was just so adamant that I didn't want to get pregnant in the first year; and now that that's over, I feel like my body is asking, 'Well, what are you waiting for?'"

Ivan asked, "What are you waiting for?"

I said, "For a time when the urge for kids becomes almost constant. Right now, I feel it really strongly sometimes; but other times I just feel so grateful that it's just the two of us and we don't have to worry about kids yet. I'm waiting for the time when my desire for kids becomes greater than that feeling. Right now it's about 50/50." Then, wanting to get a sense of where Ivan was emotionally on the whole kids issue, I asked, "What are you waiting for?"

I expected him to say something about getting more work done on the house, or deciding what he wants to do next with his business. But all he said was, "Just you."

May. 31st, 2013

It's About Humanity

Earlier this week, Ivan let himself get talked into letting a door-to-door salesman come to give us a "product demonstration." (In return, Ivan was supposed to get a "free gift" that he wanted to use for his business.) The salesman came on Tuesday, dressed in ripped jeans and a turquoise T-shirt. I had just pulled dinner out of the oven, so I invited him to eat with us. He accepted. As we chatted, he talked about how he grew up on a farm in Minnesota, has relatives in my hometown, and spent a couple years at the men's school that is the counterpart to my alma mater. Then, pleasantries aside, it was time for "the big sell."

Ivan and I are fairly united when it comes to being talked into purchasing something we don't need, so I wasn't particularly worried about this. But I should have been. Something strange that I still don't completely understand happened. It was as if the salesman hypnotized us. How did he convince us to buy? But he did, and right afterwards, we were disappointed in ourselves. We cancelled the transaction the next day (which we were allowed to do within 3 days). In retrospect, all of it seemed very weird, so that it was hard to tell what about it was even real. After doing some research, I found that many of the claims the salesman made were not substantiated (although some of them were), and we both found ourselves questioning what was part of "the sale" and what was real. He mentioned his wife and son, although sometimes he referred to his son as 2 and sometimes as 3. He had a phone conversation with "his boss" that still feels as though it was conjured to me, as in, he was simply having a one-sided conversation on the cell phone. And yet, he seemed to believe in his product so much that it's almost embarrassing to think about.

But then there were these moments of pure humanity, where the person burst through the salesman persona. During his presentation, a hot air balloon launched right outside our window (one of the weird and delightful things about Sioux Falls -- there are often random air balloon sightings). We all rushed to the door to watch, for a moment sharing a magical experience. During his spiel, he glanced over at Syrus, who was lying in his trademark "show off his package" position, and he suddenly burst out laughing. It was an interesting experience because, as both an introvert and a cheapskate, having someone come into my home and try to sell to me is about the worst thing I can imagine. And yet, even though Ivan and I were both embarrassed to be talked into it afterwards, even though I question the salesman's tactics, ethics, and truthfulness, I still feel no ill will toward him as a person. I hope I can carry this awareness with me into other dreaded social interactions -- this recognition of common humanity so that I can see a person as a person rather than a nuisance. Perhaps a combination of anti-depressants, marriage, and more time to myself (since I recently quit a very time consuming job) are resulting in a more evolved Lacey. I hope so!

May. 13th, 2013


It was Easy for You to get Inside

Last night my dad and my sister presented me with a guitar they had made me. My dad did the assembly and the staining, and my sister did the woodburning artwork.
I played it a bit while they were here, but after they left I brought it into the basement where I have my music so I could play a few of the songs I wrote way back in 2003 - 2006 on it. Ivan was in the office next door, so he could hear me playing -- although I told him that I didn't want to "officially" play for him until I'd regained a little bit of my former basic competence.

I haven't played since before we were married (the last time I played was shortly after we met, because falling in love prompted me to express myself through music. I even remember what I played -- Like a River by Kasey Chambers.)

That means that Ivan has never heard me play. There are still all these places that, despite our being married, I haven't found the best way to share with him. I talk often of my life in Duluth, but I think him hearing me play, and especially hearing some of the songs I wrote during that time, will do more to bring him into that part of my past that was so crucial to forming who I am. So I feel grateful for my dad and my sister for giving me this guitar, this reason to play again, this catalyst to share myself more fully with the man I love.

Going through my songs brought back so many memories of those years, and I was glad I'd written them to encapsulate my most defining experiences during that time -- learning to play guitar, coming to terms with being bisexual, falling in love with Brie, getting to know my goddaughters, and ultimately, feeling on the verge of everything changing. Fittingly, the last song I ever wrote was called, "Left Behind" -- as if I knew I was leaving that part of my life, both the experiences and the songwriting, very soon.

During all those years in Duluth, it was so hard to imagine that life not being my entire life. I still get melancholy when I think about it, missing those huge windows, those wide-open apartments, all that self-discovery. I feel as though I've lived two whole adulthoods, one with Ivan an one without him. And while I sometimes wish I'd met him earlier so that we could have been married longer before we had to seriously consider the issue of kids, in my heart I know that I wouldn't have given up all those years of being single for anything. They weren't a period of "waiting" for my life to begin or to become "complete" the way people often refer to their life before meeting the one they love -- they were the period when I most let my life happen, and learned how to be complete within myself. And those are things that ultimately made me ready to share myself with Ivan, and that will hopefully, someday, allow me to give myself to my children, too, without resentment about having "missed out" on anything.

May. 2nd, 2013

My Marriage is Longer Than Kim Kardashian's!

In honor of being married for a whole year (with no "oopsies" babies to boot!), I'm posting my favorite poem that I wrote during NaPoWriMo. I didn't post it to my writing blog because it felt a little too personal. But it's not too personal for the LiveJournals!!

Poem #17 – Blizzards

I dreamed about blizzards with you
that day in April, my dress
white as snow.

Spring came early that year
and sunlight spilled all over the floor
as I sat amongst piles of books
and I knew when they were all
on the shelves,
I would be home.

Dreaming of a tiny Christmas tree
in that same sunny window
Knowing the next time the snow fell
all my tea and blankets and cozy
would be yours, too.

Last week the branches cracked
beneath the weight of the ice
I stayed huddled up in the cold,
the light too gray to be cozy
making the bed and packing away sweaters
wishful thinking for another spring.

The world still subdued
beneath the oppression of cold
Last night I once again waited for snow
the disbelieving look you gave me
as you mopped up the mess in the bathroom.
“I'm not mad,” I promised,
but you retreated anyway,
disappearing into the garage,
the first time you ever shut me out
and when following you didn't help,
I shrank back into the house
The heater and the lights all on now
but somehow not warm enough.

We love now as if it never happened,
as if I never saw this new tear in the fabric of us.
It's a blip swallowed by hours
of laughter and kisses
pasta and Woodie Guthrie
and the way I went into the cold this morning
to try to make it right--
and the way you called me from work
to tell me to stay home, stay safe
because you love me and
you had a bad feeling about this all along.

Now I pull into the driveway,
the wind lashing at my windows,
stinging my cheeks as I open the door.
But I stand in the fury
for a moment
watching a fat squirrel
wiggle her tail impatiently
as she stuffs corn kernels into her mouth.
“It's spring, dammit,” she seems to say,
and God help me, I'm not going
back to sleep again.
- April 18, 2013

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