Celibacy sucks

Let’s talk about my mom. It’s time, don’t you think? I’ve been putting this off for a while because, well, it’s hard for me to talk bad about my mom. But if you’re really going to know me, then you need to hear this. I’ve mentioned it once before, but my mom was a slut.

If you ever met my mom – you know who you are – you’re probably laughing right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Okay, okay, wipe the tears off your face and hear me out. It’s true, that doddering old lady you remember truly was a slut. I know, it’s not easy to comprehend. I probably sound insane to you.

Let me think. My mom grew up in the 50s, long before the women’s movement and the hippie years. She messed around in high school and barely began to explore her slutty tendencies before she married a jerk at nineteen. The jerk fucked around on her before he walked out and took their ten-year-old daughter – my sister – with him.

Now, if you’re still paying attention, this is when my mom made a break for the dark side. I wasn’t around yet, so I can’t give you the gritty details. All I really know, I learned from my sister on a gruesome night at the beach that began with an argument and ended with me lying awake on the floor of a scummy motel bedroom listening to the sounds of my sister fucking her girlfriend. So let’s take a detour.

Yes, the night began with a screaming fight. “You don’t know what it was like,” Kim screamed.

“What?” I asked. I was fifteen. I still trusted her.

“Mommy used to be different,” she always called her Mommy.

I stared at her in disbelief.

“She used to have men over every night,” Kim yelled. “I used to lay awake, listening to them. Yeah,” she screamed. “You have no idea. They used to come knocking at the back door late at night, calling her,” her voice was shrill. You know she enjoyed hurling those truths at me.

My sister hated me. It’s a truism and it’s beside the point. I mean, come on, if you watched your slut mom completely reinvent herself for your bratty little sister, if you watched her swear off men altogether, learn to put a dinner on the table every day, learn to keep a house, learn how to love for God’s sake, you would hate the object of her affection too.

My fifteen-year-old self had a lot of trouble handling the truth. See, my mom never fucked around while I lived at home. From when I was too little to remember until I went away to college, my mom was celibate. She threw the word around like a prayer. So from that night at the beach until I saw for myself how much men could destroy her, I denied the truth about my mom. I watched my sister walk out of our lives into the shady underworld of drugs and I was a little bit glad to see her go.

My mom clung to her celibacy until I left home. She avoided sex even while I didn’t, and as a parent I’ve got to admire that kind of dedication. But don’t you know that just about the minute I traded in my bedroom for a dorm room, she found a creep at Walmart and started fucking him? I was disappointed at first, and then it got worse. She found a – what do you call it – a sugar baby? Some black guy a good twenty years younger than her with a penchant for running up credit card bills and beating on old white ladies while he was fucking them. Yeah, great, I know. I kind of avoided home while that was going on. Then she found Mike the used-car salesman, and you know how that ended up.

So, you know, maybe I should love celibacy. Maybe I should be thanking my lucky stars. My mom’s celibacy gave me a normal life. I grew up thinking the best of my mom, never having to deal with the truth. But you know what? Celibacy just put a cork in my mom’s life, it didn’t solve any of her problems. In the end, my mom ended up dying for some guy she met in a phone sex chat room. Once a slut, always a slut. I hate self-denial.

Where I grew up

Where I grew up, there were dumpsters next to the parking lot out front. I grew up in gritty strip mall suburbia in a crummy apartment that wasn’t hideous but it wasn’t pretty either. There was an asphalt covered play lot with a metal merry-go-round and a set of monkey bars but no swings. There were concrete tunnels for us to hide out in and those dumpsters always smelled bad but not as bad as that grape candy smell from the McCormick’s plant down the road.

Where I grew up, everyone was poor but us kids never knew we were poor. We existed in some alternate plane where we were queens and kings ruling from the top of the monkey bars and meting out punishments in the concrete tunnel dungeons. We held trysts in our gardens: the forsythia-lined collection of air-conditioning units. We were mean to each other and nobody told us to stop.

Where I grew up, we hid behind a tree and watched a couple of thirteen-year olds make out behind the bushes and we liked it. I can still taste my shame, hear my laughter, and feel my legs stretching to get away when they noticed us watching. Nothing will ever feel that good again.

Where I grew up I used to be brave. I walked by myself to the store starting when I was seven and a friend’s big brother used to chase me every time. I always narrowly escaped.

Where I grew up we had lug our clothes to the communal laundry room. More than once my clothes were tattooed by the neighborhood badasses, and after that we hung out in the hot small room while the clothes dried. My mom wanted me to be a good girl.

Where I grew up the kids were mean to me. They called me French fry because I was a skinny white girl and they used to push on me and nobody ever stopped them. The kids were mean to me and I had to deal.

Where I grew up everybody was just getting by. There was a girl named Brandy whose dad was a drinker. She and I were fraught, like girls always are. We fought as much as we played. My mom sort of adopted her for awhile until I don’t know what happened but we didn’t see each other anymore. Brandy was cool. I don’t think she minded dropping out of school in ninth grade to take care of her dad. I saw her a couple years later on her way out of the Planned Parenthood by the mall, her hands on her big belly.

Where I grew up I couldn’t stand to go outside on summer days because of the grape smell but I never really minded the dumpsters until I got to high school and had to beg rides home from the cool kids who had cars. You know, the ones who never saw a dumpster before. Where I grew up, I learned to like ugliness.

Where I grew up, I found a story around every corner.

Thanks for the inspiration, Samara.

Somebody please tell me to shut up

There are some things about me that I can’t tell you.

I’m talking about speech, not secrets.

There are some things about me that I’m not capable of telling you because words ruin them.

I resisted my name for years. Until I was about five, I refused to say my name that is really my middle name, my second name, my mom’s afterthought. It’s only one of many names I’ve had, but knowing it leads you into a maze of incorrect assumptions. Did I know that at age three? Maybe. If I had been named like my preschool friend, Summer, maybe I wouldn’t have been so silent when the other kids asked my name.

I’m the shy kid swinging alone on the playground while the other kids play on the monkey bars.

At twelve, I must have misspoken to my best friend’s rabbi. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me as I sat by her at Hebrew school.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your name?” he asked, kind, hopeful.

His face fell when I told him. Confusion furrowed his brow, shock glimmered in his eye. “Don’t you know what that means?” he asked.

Yes, I did. Of course I do.

I’m a Jewish girl who can never say her name in a synagogue.

On my honeymoon, thrilled to be in Paris, I tried out my conversational skills at our first dinner. The waiter turned my question into a little joke, I’m pretty sure a pun at my expense. After that I stopped speaking except in emergencies, preferring to remain still and silent as much as possible. Silent, the waiters were much more polite.

I’m French, but only when I’m absolutely silent.

There have been more times when speech has betrayed me. It definitely did in grad school. There was a night long ago in a crummy motel room. Every time I’m driven to yell at my kids, speech stabs me in the gut.

Yes, it’s true, we’ll know each other better if I don’t speak. Silence never contradicts itself.

My algebra teacher was a prophet

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I used like being sick. I got sick a lot. I caught colds all the time, I had at least a sinus infection a month. My mom drove herself crazy dragging me to the doctor; I even had sinus surgery.

Only I was faking. For several years while I was in my early teens, it felt safer somehow to hide out at home, so I exaggerated my pain. I liked being sick, and I didn’t mind that I wreaked havoc on my life. I flunked math, and to this day I can’t do much beyond addition and subtraction. Complex equations elude me.

Around the time that I had that surgery, I had a really cool algebra teacher. I remember him with crystal clarity despite missing most of my time in his class. Mr. Cross was older, cute, male, and funny, and he liked me; in other words, he was perfect. He showed concern about my lack of mathematical ability, but much more compellingly, he showed an interest in me. Nothing out of place, just genuine concern for a girl who he could tell was stumbling.

He wrote me a message in my yearbook, and I’m telling you, I still think about it on a regular basis. He wrote, “Good luck, Christi. You’ll do great if you just stop being sick.” I liked Mr. Cross. I admired him, and I wanted his approval. So I did it. I stopped being sick.

You know, I still caught the occasional cold. I had not seen my last sinus infection. I just stopped using my colds as excuses to hide out at home. It wasn’t easy.

Years passed, and all the typical things happened: college, marriage, more college, work. And a few years into adulthood, I found myself in the gastroenterologist’s office with a bout of acid reflux. I followed the doctor’s instructions and traded spaghetti, wine, and chocolate for a daily pill that took the pain away. Just because I didn’t call myself sick doesn’t mean that I wasn’t.

At 28, I hesitated before I got pregnant with Anna. My medicine was off-limits for pregnancy. In blind faith I went cold-turkey, and I thought of Mr. Cross. I’d like to say that I willed his yearbook message to be a prophecy, but it was more like desperate hope than anything.

Blind faith paid off and I’m not sick anymore. But Mr. Cross was no prophet, only an algebra teacher smart enough to know that when you find the flow in life, things work themselves out. Thanks for the equation, Mr. Cross.

I like black

Black brought us together twice. The first time I was four years old. Your mom brought you over. We went outside to play, our moms had coffee inside. I slung my new pink purse with the cherries on it over my shoulder. Tucked inside I had my art book and my crayons.

So we went outside to play. I led the way up the hill, that hill that seemed so large back then but that was really rather small. We climbed it and sat down next to each other at the top. I opened my purse and pulled out my art book.

“Can I see it?” you asked.

“Okay,” I said and handed it to you.

You flipped through my drawings as I pulled out my crayons and lined them up on the grass. Your eyes roamed over my pages, taking in my imaginary friends, my master plans for a motor home, my silly four-year-old dreams.

“They’re all black,” you said, confused.

“Black is my favorite color,” I told you, putting the crayons in rainbow order because they were not all black. I like to choose.

You laughed.

The laugh cut through me and I hated you. I reached for you and yanked a handful of your sweet, shaggy, golden hair.

You cried.

Your mom saw everything through the window and blamed me. But she was wrong. You deserved it. I gave you my secret and you tried to destroy it.

Years later you reminded me. “Black was your favorite color,” you laughed.

Yes, I know it was. It always has been.

The day before you asked me to marry you, you hid my engagement ring in a drawer. I looked. Damn my intuition.

The next night you wanted to walk on the beach. I knew what you wanted. I stalled, lurked in the bathroom, and bided my time. I don’t know why. When we reached the gloomy beach just after sunset, you got down on one knee and slipped the ring on my finger. You didn’t even have to ask. We lingered awhile until we couldn’t see each other anymore, the black night sky dropping heavy on us and the black water crashing on the sand. The scene was straight out of my art book.

It’s funny, black brought us together and black sealed the deal. You always knew what you were getting, even as you laughed about it. So I think that you like black too.

I dated a guy in a band once

The guy was young and awkward about his shaggy good looks. He was cool and funny and he loved his guitar. The guy wrote sad songs and he liked being in a band almost as much as he liked having a girlfriend.

I was young and shy and I should have gotten up on stage with him to sing his sad songs. I could have shaken a tambourine and snuck sips of beer. I might have flirted with his weirdo band mates. I should have had more fun than I did, sitting quietly on my barstool playing the good girl, wishing I was at the library studying instead.

I should have been different. I should have been less careful. I should have grabbed my camera and gone to more of his shows. I should have put on a skimpy dress and cheered louder than I did. I definitely should have demanded a quickie in the alley around back.

Once I dated a guy in a band and who played guitar. I should have told him that I loved his music more than I loved him. I should have photographed him, drawn him, painted him so that he could see himself the way I saw him: awesome. I should have let his thing be my thing because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there are two kinds of love. There’s the scared kind, where you say no and hold on too tight. Then there’s the true kind where you say anything is possible. Anything, even the impossible. And you let go.

I dated a guy in a band once, and you’re not going to believe this, but I told him to quit. I told him that the band was not for me. I told him to choose.

I’m telling you, he should have let me go.

My two-year old is a monster


Yeah, Nate is a real monster, just like every other two-year old in the world. They even have their own moniker, like some kind of generational coup condoning their bad behavior. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

On the walk home from school today, he pulled me over to the row of snow-capped ice piles lining the sidewalk.

“I yant to climb on the snow mountains, Mama,” he told me, slipping off of the nearest one onto the concrete. I held his arm tightly and helped him navigate.

The five-minute walk took twenty monster minutes and I arrived home chilled and with a left arm sore from dragging the happily oblivious terrible two-year old. He was red faced and thrilled that his day included a mountain-climbing adventure.

At lunch, he yanted my pancakes, and helped himself to my food without asking.

Now, he’s looking for the dimes he calls diamonds that he hid in his cargo pants this morning. He doesn’t yant to nap, so he’s busy setting booby traps for his brother and sister who get home in three hours. He’s yammering, always yammering, invading my consciousness, making me angry.

Honestly, this kid invaded my consciousness long before he was born, even before his conception. He lurked in my imagination, demanding a life of his own. He haunted me, and against my better judgment, despite all logic, I gave him what he yanted.

Come to think of it, all of my kids are monsters.


Thanks to this guy for inspiring me to write this post. I think he knows what I mean when I say that sometimes we parents just have to give our kids what they yant.

Getting lost


Nothing prepared us for this small Caribbean island, not our maps, not our omnipresent iPhones, not our best intentions. From the moment we arrived, everything assaulted us. The colors, vibrant; the people, guarded; the sun, brutal. We wanted an escape. Liberation from reality. A break from our cold, gray, gritty winter. The chance to turn bitter truths into lies.

We drove the twisted island roads, where we had to navigate by feel rather than sight. Carefully planned trips to dinner quickly dissolved into goose chases as restaurants eluded us. Nothing lasts on an island. By the end of our trip we’d sampled a wide variety of island cuisines, from simple pinchos by the road the first night to tacos on a bluff overlooking the rainforest to empanadas and croquettas in a café on a busy square. The unpredictability riled us.

In our wanderings, we found fences. Fences edged even the most run down homes, staking off territory, setting boundaries as if the island itself weren’t solitary enough, as if this spot of land could ever be owned. Barbed wire fences lined the glimmering beaches, grates locked up the defunct restaurants, blocking access. We respected our limits. We did small things – hiked to a stone tower, stumbled our way into a cave, ferried to a tiny island with a strip of brown sugar sand. We found an old church, its joyful music pouring through its wrought-iron grates. In the old city we found a few more places where life escaped the fences – rounding a street corner we came to a window without a pane, a woman just inside sitting at her kitchen table. We said hello.

Who could we be here? Certainly not who we thought we were. The island had its own ideas, its inhabitants, others. The island tried to darken our skin and lighten our hair; it tried to change us. Its inhabitants spoke to us only in English, refusing to teach us. The island initiated us, its inhabitants imitated us.

Our old ways failed us. You, driving, always chose the wrong fork, and I, frantic, would cry out, “Stop!” and then, “Turn left. Here.” And despite your irritation, we found that this new way, this irrational and immediate method of judgment-making, worked. We went in-between. We were forced to stumble, jerk, grope, seep, abandon our desires in favor of finding the surprises. So maybe this will be our new thing.

Where are you right now?

Last week I took a trip to Puerto Rico. Where I live, it’s winter – bitter, gray, snowy – and it has been for awhile. So Geoff and I tossed our swimsuits in a bag, bought some sunscreen, grabbed the kids, and headed for the airport. A few hours later, we squinted in the late afternoon tropical sun and shed our sweatshirts.

We spent our time on the beach, swimming and building sandcastles. Geoff opened a coconut for us and poured the water into our mouths. We hiked in the rainforest and we explored cobblestone streets and centuries-old castles. I took a lot of pictures, and of course, I posted some on Facebook. I shared my sunny moments, my too-cute kids, my lucky life with my winter friends. I did it not so much to show off as to bring my half-frozen friends with me, even if just for that one second that they scanned my photo in their Facebook feeds. Because, let’s face it, winter is long and hard and everyone needs an escape.

On our last evening, we stopped at a beachside park before dinner, to let the kids play and watch the surfers. As I sat on a stone bench, my phone tucked away in the rental car, I watched the people at the park. There was a young mom chasing a toddler younger than Nate, one hand on her phone at all times. There was a young woman in professional-looking skirt and blouse, perfect hair, clearly just off of work, typing madly on her iPhone. She never looked up at my kids who were playing on the grass around her. An older man sat on a bench a little ways down from us, eyes locked on his phone, and never even glanced at the surfers just yards away and directly in front of him.

Everyone else in the park was elsewhere. I’d love to believe that they, like me, might have been posting photos to help thaw their winter friends. I’d love to believe that all the people in the park were sharing their version of paradise. But I fear that they were trying to escape themselves. That reality is just as ugly even when you sit just yards from the beach, beauty staring you in the face.

I’m back at home now, and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to escape from the polar vortex outside. Ice is forming inside my windows. Our vacation feels distant, dreamlike. It’s tempting to read my email, text a friend, flip through my Twitter loop, anything to avoid looking at the snow piles outside and wondering how long it will be until I see grass again. Reality is hard to take and escapes, even real ones, are only temporary.

Still, if you’re reading this from paradise, text me a photo.

Is love adorable?

What did you think of my story?

You haven’t answered me. Did you read the comments? Were they right, is love cute? Is the photograph of us on the hill as kids truly adorable? I don’t think so.

Maybe you disagree. Maybe you treasure those old memories the same way that you might enjoy taking the kids to the top floor of a tall building and showing them how to crush people on the street below with your thumb and forefinger.

You can’t really do any damage, you know.

The photograph on the hill captured the start of our love. Imagine it as a delicate wrought iron cage, its door left open to let the birthday guests run back inside for cake. Nothing is really locked up yet, just held loosely.

Years pass with the cage door still open. You even escape for a while, leaving me light and wondering. Can you believe that I desperately asked myself, at twelve, if anyone would ever really love me? The answer was always there, a little clue tucked inside my photo album.

At nineteen, when you brought me flowers on my birthday, you were not shy. You snuck up on me quietly in the rain and stashed those flowers inside the cage. I didn’t even notice you slip the door closed.

At twenty-one, you brought me a puppy wrapped up in your shirt and while I was playing with him, you used the new leash to tie up the cage door. You were not shy.

At our private, sunset engagement party, you were bold. You asked the question as if you already knew its answer. You dead bolted the cage with my diamond ring, and I was thrilled to be inside with you.

Now that we are older, the cage is getting full. It’s cluttered with tombstones and birth announcements. Adventures are falling out, littering the floor underneath. The mess has made us both shy, wary. Inside the cage, we stoop down and flip through the pages of our photo albums, searching for that one reminder of what we both really are.

Only the photograph on the hill doesn’t really exist. I made it up.

Is love adorable? I don’t think so.