He was cute and kind and funny. I fell for him fast.
Once I loved a boy. He was young like me, clueless like me. He had a way with words, this boy. Back then, before I knew forever was temporary, I didn’t know things like those don’t last forever. I didn’t know to shield my heart.
I loved a boy and he loved me. There were rain songs and secret stories. And adventures, lots of them.
Once I loved a boy and he loved me. We had a good time, him and me. It was not my first love, nor my biggest, but it was my deepest.
It went on for some time, then one day the boy went away. He had his reasons. He left without much explanation, with a quiet unsmiling goodbye. He left me grasping at the retreating tendrils of forever, my heart gaping.
Once I loved a boy and he left without kissing me goodbye.
It took me forever to get over him.
One thing I learned from this boy: The only cure for love is to love again. And again. Again.
My sister’s been dead to me for years, but last fall she decided to finally make it official. Funny, it wasn’t the decades of abusing crack and heroin that did her in after all. She slipped in the shower, broke her ribs, and came down with pneumonia in the hospital. (Like mother, like daughter, if you know the story.)
I was ready for the call; hell, I waited for it for, what — 23 years. Still, it hurt to hear my sweet niece tell me that her mom had died. The funeral was outside, graveside, underneath gnarled trees shedding fiery leaves on a glimmering fall day. It was painfully beautiful. There was a rabbi, a gaggle of old relatives, and a surprising number of more recent friends. My niece, Sarah, and her fiancé, Dan. Kim’s third child, Zack, with his adoptive family. An old black guy who sat in front, pouring his eyes out. Me, Geoff, and the kids, wide-eyed to be at their first funeral, for an aunt they barely even knew they had. A fresh hole in the family plot and a coffin on rollers.
Kim’s cousin Randi did the eulogy. She called me Chrissy. She talked about growing up with Kim in Baltimore, about the art projects she and Kim used to do with my mom. About sleepovers at their bubbie’s house, when Kim taught her to French kiss using pillows. She made us laugh, which I didn’t expect to do.
If I had done the eulogy, I’d have probably told the story of how Kim pierced my ears with a sewing needle when I was nine, overtop of her kitchen sink. I would have told how she dyed my hair blonde when I was eleven, and how it took me two agonizing years to grow it out. She was the one who taught me to shave my legs, the one who’d come get me for sister time and take me shmying at the secondhand shops, the one who’d ask me about my crushes, the one who’d always encourage me to be bold. I would have reflected on the good bits – how probably more than anyone else in my life before or since, Kim taught me to experiment with this life of mine. To try and see.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I would have talked about how heartbroken I was at sixteen, the day Kim came to tell my mom and me that she had just done heroin with her new boyfriend. The day we begged her to stay, but she left anyway. Forever. I wouldn’t have lied, like her cousin Randi did, and said that Kim was a good mom. She wasn’t. She bailed, to gradually worsening degrees, on all four of her kids. On all of us. Including herself.
I’m glad that I didn’t do the eulogy. I needed time to let myself feel, and it took me awhile. Now that I’ve had a few months, I’d like to go back and visit Kim’s grave. I’d talk to her, let her know that I’m glad to finally know where she is after all these years. I’d tell her I’m sorry that I shut her out. I’d tell her I wish we’d had the chance to turn things around while she was alive. I’d tell her I’ve missed her all this time. That I forgive her. That I love her still, despite everything.
Have I ever mentioned Matt, my hair stylist? He’s been cutting my hair for almost ten years. Aside from working magic with scissors, he’s intuitive. We have these great conversations that always go deeper, like there’s a trapdoor under his styling chair and he can just push a button and flip me down into his own personal underworld. He’s into reiki and healing stones, self-improvement and energy drinks. Sometimes he’s a little out there, but every single time I get out of his chair, I leave feeling more like myself on the outside and the inside.
Matt’s salon closed in January. He promised to get in touch when he found a new salon, but in the meantime, I decided to try out this cute little place near the coffee shop where I write. It’s got bookcases and art on the walls, and it’s adorable. I was psyched.
But everything went wrong: The stylist ran late, really late. She had bedraggled brown, shoulder-length hair and she wore an outfit that should have sent me running. She hesitated to start cutting my hair, then got carried away and cut it too short. She mumbled incoherent cutting rules to herself as she worked, Swedish chef–fashion. She took cell phone calls while I was in her chair. I left feeling glad to get away.
My haircut wasn’t truly horrible, but when I looked in the mirror I could see the new stylist’s unkempt hair sort of superimposed over mine like a hologram. It’s freaky, but it’s almost as if she spilled some of herself out onto my hair.
Fast forward three weeks. Time has worked wonders. I can look in the mirror without seeing her and I can almost pull my hair back into a ponytail again. And it turns out that Matt found a new space just down the street. But I’m still wondering whether this happens in all of our relationships. Do we hijack each other and glom on our own preferences, just to further our own interests? Or do we adopt each other’s traits without even realizing it? And if so, what happens to our true selves in the process?
Can you tell I’m still reeling from a shocking citique?
I’m late to the game. The basketball court is gloomy, almost dark. You’re already there, alone, slunk against the wall on the top row of a worn set of wooden bleachers, a beer bottle in your hand even though it’s a school game.
I sit with my kids at the far end of the bleachers and keep my eyes on the court. The space between us is empty. You and I feel each other’s presence but don’t acknowledge it.
It’s warm and I’m squirmy, unfocused. You get up to leave before the game ends, come over, and take two of my fingers with your bottle hand. You could be sharing your beer but you’re not; the bottle is a decoy. You look at my fingers – index and middle, with a potent mix of joy, concern, and regret. It’s an intense look, but then it passes, replaced by a grin at the kids. You leave me holding your beer.
I met a guy at a party last weekend, at a writing conference in Michigan. He was hot, but don’t worry, he’s married with kids, and plus, he’s a pastor. Still, I was attracted to him, in that way that I can’t explain except to say that we didn’t arrive together, but within minutes, we were. We met over a table of stickers with adjectives on them, where we decorated our name tags with descriptions of our writing. He chose dark, I chose twisted. Five minutes into our conversation, he told me how he watched his ex-fiancée spiral into drug addiction in L.A.
Here’s what’s bugging me. There I was, at a party, excited to be mingling with a room full of writers, ready for anything to happen. Five minutes in, almost without any effort, a hot guy opened up to me about what was probably the most difficult experience of his life. It could have been just what I’d hoped for, a deep connection. But in the moment, I thought only about a dear friend of mine who lost her husband to the underworld of drugs. Still a connection, but without any emotional risk of my own. I don’t think I even mentioned my friend. In the moment, I laughed and made a joke. To make him feel better, I thought.
In the moment, I forgot all about my own, very similar story, about how my big sister went on crack when I was sixteen. Standing next to that guy at the party, Kim never even crossed my mind. It was like I couldn’t access my own memories, or worse, like I didn’t even know the memories existed.
The guy and I chatted for a bit, then we drifted apart. The next morning, he sat several rows ahead of me in the auditorium. The collar of his sport coat was sticking up, and I imagined folding it down for him. We bumped into each other before lunch, and he almost but didn’t quite ask me to eat with him.
That’s it. We didn’t get a chance to talk again. He cut out of the conference early; I saw him walk out of the auditorium but didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t think much of it until my drive home. In the privacy of the car, my memories came rushing back to me: the time I begged Kim to stay with us (she left anyway, and never came back), the insomnia that plagued me through my twenties (lying awake at night, wondering if she was dead), that feeling of utter helplessness (at the pain of losing someone I loved).
When I think of Kim, all these years later, I’m left still asking the same questions I asked back when I was little, long before she became a crack addict. How can someone whom you’ve poured your love into choose to waste that love, and instead head down a path to ruin?
Now I realize that we all make mistakes. We go through life on the surface, moment by moment, sometimes without access to our deepest memories. We choose what makes us feel good instead of what helps us grow. We miss connections that might make all the difference in our lives, simply because we don’t risk our emotions.
I haven’t spoken to Kim since our mom died almost a decade ago. Yesterday, she popped up on Facebook and asked to tag a photo of mine. It was a shock to see her, but I said yes.
My daughter idolizes you, Donald Trump. You’re the star of her comics, and she does a killer impression of you. You’ve infiltrated her ten-year-old psyche. You’re rich, and she has a thing for money. You’re powerful, and she craves power. Plus, you’re funny, and she has a great sense of humor.
Not to disappoint you, Mr. Trump, but Hillary has my vote. Still, I pay attention to my kids, so my daughter’s infatuation with you has given me pause. I’ll admit it, I’ve given your candidacy some consideration.
Every time my daughter tells her brothers to DEAL with it, I think of you.
You’re scrappy, Mr. Trump. You started out small, with only a $1M investment from your father. Everyone deserves an investment, if not in money then in time and attention. I hope my kids make the most of my investment in them, same as you. You’ve worked your way up, worked tirelessly to put your mark on the world.
My daughter knows exactly where to find your tower on the Chicago skyline.
I hear you’ve got a concealed carry permit, Mr. Trump, and I like knowing that you want to defend yourself. Like I teach my kids, you’ve got all the tools you need within yourself.
Good, honest people should feel safe inside and out.
I like how much you want to protect us Americans, Mr. Trump. When you say you want to build a great wall on the Mexican border, I know how much you want to keep us safe. Trust me, I wish I could put a layer of cement between my kids and the rest of the world. Sometimes I even want to protect them from one another.
But one thing I’ve learned is that once you start putting up walls, parts of you die.
I know you care about the world, Mr. Trump. I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve seen what wonders you’re capable of producing with a bit of money and raw materials. And I know you’ve got to tear down the old before you can build the new. So when you suggest bombing the hell out of ISIS, part of me gets where you’re coming from, Mr. Trump.
Like I tell my kids, when you’re mad it feels really good to punch someone, anyone. But it’s funny, when you hurt someone else, you’re always hurting yourself, too.
When you suggest deporting Muslims from the U.S., Mr. Trump, I think you’re just scared. Everyone has their fears, but be careful, Mr. Trump. Fear can make you reductive, and even worse, reactive. I’m not proud to admit the relief I felt when a bully was removed from my daughter’s class a few years ago, never mind that the bully was just one child in a class of twenty, acting out, making a desperate plea for help. Never mind that all children act out at some time or another.
It’s simpler to shut down in the face of adversity than to face our fears head-on.
I like how you want to invest in mental healthcare for veterans, to treat the invisible wounds of war. It’s introspective of you, Mr. Trump. Everyone has those subconscious wounds, you know. I know I do. I often wonder what scars my kids will bear by the time they escape their childhoods, what damage I’m inflicting on them, or they are, to each other.
Mr. Trump, I see how you want to send all kinds of trouble packing, to lock it up somewhere so we Americans can find the solitude to consider the best course of action to ensure a safe future for ourselves. Trouble is, Mr. Trump, solitude is a luxury that even most Americans can’t afford, and silence is virtually unattainable these days. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about with three kids at home.
If you can manage to calm your thoughts though, you’ll find the quietest place on Earth right inside your own head. It doesn’t matter what’s raging outside.
I believe you really want to be a nice guy, Mr. Trump, and I have an idea for you, a gentle suggestion. Take your own advice: Deal with it. In fact, let’s all try it, regardless of race, orientation, or belief. Deal, as in cope, rather than confront or bargain. Be still. Look inward, be honest. Acknowledge your emotions. It’s difficult to weather the storm, I know.
You’ll probably find that you remember things that you haven’t thought of in years. You’ll recall what your life was like before you became a success. You’ll remember hurts, fears, and doubts that you’ll probably wish had remained buried. But it’s never all bad: You’ll also recall loves, and joys, all the small things that have lit you up inside over the years. And that’s when you’ll know what you’re made of.
It’s hard to admit that we really are all made of the same stuff.
Like I tell my kids, eventually the storm will pass. Your emotions will settle down, and you’ll be able to build something new from all the rubble.
A month ago I started taking my six-year old to a therapist. He’s shy, and with the onset of first grade, he was talking less than ever. Pretty much his only means of communicating with his new teacher was by whispering into her ear.
When the threat of no recess (hers) and even the offer of a new LEGO set (mine) only seemed to make Gabe more anxious, I complained to another mom, who came to the rescue with a therapist recommendation. This isn’t the first time I’ve weighed the possibility of taking one of the kids to a therapist. In the past I’ve always decided against it, thinking that paying too much attention to the problem would only make it worse. This time, though, Gabe seemed genuinely fraught about going to school, so I called the therapist and Gabe and I have been visiting once a week since.
This week his therapist began with some art therapy. She handed Gabe a sheet of paper and a box of markers, and asked him to draw his worry as if it were an animal or a monster.
Gabe started to draw right away. He drew a devil engulfed in multicolored flames, and even before he finished it I was almost crying. “This is a worry demon,” he whispered into my ear. “He talks to me. He tells me he hates me, he’s stronger than me, and he’ll beat me up if I talk at school.”
I nodded, trying to figure out the questions that would help more than harm. While I was choosing my words, the therapist asked Gabe to draw a weapon that he could use against the worry demon. He turned to another page and drew a red and blue rocket. “This is a worry blaster,” he whispered triumphantly. “Whenever I talk, it blasts the worry demon into ashes and he DIES,” he explained into my ear. “The worry demon’s flames set off the rocket,” he finished, clearly proud of putting the demon’s flames to good use.
Gabe is only six years old. He and the other kids have had a relatively calm childhood so far, and play fighting with his sister and brother is his only actual daily torment. Yet, still, Gabe is living with a demon inside him. He, thankfully, has no idea that mental illness runs rampant on both sides of his family: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and dissociative personality disorder, to name a few. No, thankfully, he has no clue that demons are a thing beyond television and Halloween. Hopefully I can protect him from that harsh reality for a very long time.
Yet something about the way he dove into his drawing, so sure of his worry demon, just breaks my heart. Something about the worry rocket, fueled by his demon’s flames, strikes me as uncanny.
The human mind is a mysterious place.
It’s been awhile since I posted something personal, I know. This demon thing has really gotten to me.
I have a friend who’s hot. I’ve thought so for so long that I can no longer recall what initially attracted me to her. I’ve thought so for so long that I can no longer recall whether I liked her just as a friend first (I did), if her physicality became sexy to me because of how she acts (it did), or if I thought she was irresistibly beautiful (she is) and our friendship grew from there (maybe it did).
I have a friend who’s hot. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years. We became friends in high school. She was the one who painted not just her face but her entire (beautiful, sexy) body for football games. She was the one who dragged me along to the grocery store to buy flowers for a guy she liked. She was the one who was always up for a party. She was the one who tried to get me to sneak a beer with some cute guys when we were 17. She was the one who was always ready for an adventure.
Now listen up, this is important. This friend of mine? She’s smart. Intimidatingly smart. If there’s one thing that’s hotter to me than her body, it’s her mind. I have to work hard to keep up with her intellectually, and I never get tired of it. I always feel just a little less smart than her, and somehow my brain interprets that to mean that I’m just a little less sexy too. I know, it’s not a contest. But if it was, she would win.
That’s cool with me. I have a friend who’s hot, and she makes me work harder than I usually do. She makes me want to be just like her, even if I never quite get there. I have a friend who’s hot, and she makes me want to be just a little imperfect so she can always be hotter than me.